New Smart Telescopes – sans eyepiece

A new crop of high tech telescopes aim to provide observers with enhanced views of astronomical objects using high definition cameras rather than traditional eyepieces. These smart telescopes also integrate high tech features into small portable packages aimed at newbie observers.

Stellina Telescope
The Stellina telescope is a 3.5 inch refractor

Three examples are the Stellina from Vaonis, the eVscope from Unistellar Optics, and the Hiuni but they all have a number of features in common. Be forewarned that they are all just taking pre-orders with no expected deliveries until 2019.

Where is the eyepiece?   These smart telescopes forgo a traditional eyepiece by incorporating  digital camera that makes live-views visible on a small display or remotely on a phone or tablet.  The sensitivity of the camera boosts the brightness and colour of  objects that appear dim and colourless in an eyepiece.  To be fair, the eVscope does have an eyepiece but it is non-traditional in that it uses their “Light Amplification” technology to enhance the view.

eVscope image
The eVscope is a 4.5 inch reflector from Unistellar

Easy setup –  all you have to do is attach the tripod and turn it on.  Your location is found using GPS then the telescope, camera, and mount then work together to automatically align the scope. The telescope determines where it is pointing using a process traditionally called plate solving: the camera takes an image and compares this field of view with a database of star patterns to calculate the sky coordinates (right ascension and declination).

Image of Hiuni Telescope
Hiuni’s 6 inch Cassegrain telescope

These scopes can automatically find and track thousands of objects similar to today’s goto-mounts.  The user experience in using an tablet or phone app can be better than using a traditional hand controller.  For example, you can easily enter the name of an object rather than scrolling through long lists on a hand controller.

The built-in camera makes astrophotography easy.  Images can be taken and downloaded with the phone/tablet app.  Standard astrophotography techniques such as image stacking and stretching are applied to improve the image quality.

These new smart scopes are not without heir detractors. One argument is that viewing a digital image is not the same experience as seeing the object with you own eye. Others argue that a higher quality system with equivalent features can be put together at less cost using existing equipment and free software.  It will be interesting to see how these smart telescopes evolve and how the major telescope manufacturers respond.





Collecting More than Moon Rocks

You are likely aware of the Moon rocks returned by the Apollo missions – in fact, you may have touched one at the H.R. Macmillan Space Centre. But the manned Apollo 11 mission in 1969 was just the first of several successful sample return missions that have returned pieces of other Solar System bodies.

This year features two new sample return missions: Japan’s Hayabusa2 arrived at asteroid Ryugu in June and has just launched two rovers that have landed and hopped along the surface of the asteroid.

Image of the surface of asteroid Ryugu
Surface of asteroid Ryugu captured by Hayabusa2’s Rover-1A on September 22 while moving during a hop. Image credit: JAXA.

In August, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx started taking pictures of asteroid Bennu.

First images of asteroid Bennu from OSIRIS-REx
On Aug. 17, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft obtained the first images of its target asteroid Bennu from a distance of 2.2 million km, Bennu is visible as a moving object against the stars in the constellation Serpens.

Both spacecraft will start by surveying their target asteroids, later they will collect and return surface samples to Earth. Sample return missions are difficult and not cheap. They demand safe transit and return, like manned missions, along with the autonomy and deep-space operations of robotic missions while keeping the sample uncontaminated all the way from space to laboratory. The Planetary Society has a interesting list of  ten failed missions where the solar system reminded us sample collection is hard.

Scientist crave  pristine samples that can be analyzed by Earth-based instruments that are not limited by the power, size, complexity, or weight limitations of space-based instruments. Up to the present, samples have been collected from six Solar System bodies as well as he solar wind. Extraterrestrial samples have been collected from meteorites and cosmic dust at clean locations on the Earth’s surface, by airplanes in the upper atmosphere, and by satellites in orbit. But these methods often come a with a great deal of uncertainty in linking the sample with its parent asteroid or comet. Sample return missions resolve this vexing source of uncertainty. The  comet Wild 2 and the asteroid 25143 Itokawa were visited by  unmanned spacecraft in sample return missions.

Samples from comet Wild 2 collected by the Stardust mission in 2006 have furthered our understanding of how the solar system formed and the origins of life. The comet samples showed that the outer regions of the early Solar System were not isolated and were not a refuge where interstellar materials could commonly survive. The data suggested that high-temperature inner Solar System material formed and was subsequently transferred to the Kuiper Belt. In 2009, NASA  announced that a fundamental chemical building block of life, the amino acid glycine,  was detected in the material collected by the Stardust probe. This discovery strengthened the argument that life in the Universe may be common rather than rare.

Sample return missions  can also provide detailed understanding of the hazards and engineering challenges in future missions for mining asteroids.

Prospecting precedes on Earth, and sample return is the prospecting that will precede mining in space.
-Keiko Nakamura-Messenger, scientist on the OSIRIX-Rex and Hayabusa2 missions.

Mars remains as the ultimate goal and most challenging sample return mission. Its deep gravity well implies a hefty cost and high risk that has repeatedly created conflict between the scientific community and White House budgeteers. As a compromise, the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission includes plans to cache samples for future return. Meanwhile, NASA and China are planning sample return missions to Mars for the late 20s or early 30s, and Japan’s MMX mission plans to bring back a sample from Mars’ moon Phobos.

Blame Aquarius

The constellation Aquarius can be seen during September evenings in the southern sky.  Perhaps the recent rains are from another pouring from the Water Bearer.

sky map for the constellation Aquarius
The constellation Aquarius, the Water Bearer, can be viewed in the southern skies from Vancouver during September.

The Aquarius myth follows the story of Ganymede, a young prince of Troy. Zeus kidnaps Ganymede and decides that Ganymede will become his personal cup-bearer bringing him drinks whenever he pleases. One day Ganymede has had enough and he decides to pour out all of the wine and water of the gods. All that liquid falls to Earth as endless rain for days upon days. In a rare moment of self-reflection, Zeus realizes that he has been a bit unkind to the boy, so he makes him immortal as the constellation Aquarius, the Water Bearer.

Aquarius is not a prominent constellation but you can find it by drawing an imaginary line through Scheat and Markab in the square of Pegasus, down about 10° to a point below the circlet of Pisces and then look a little to the right to find 3 stars marking the water jar.

If you have a telescope then the globular cluster M2 is located a few degrees to the north of Sadalmelik, the brightest star in Aquarius.

Globular Cluster M2 by the Hubble Space Telescope
Globular Cluster M2 by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/STScI/WikiSky

This year, Neptune is  located in Aquarius between the 4.2 magnitude star Phi-Aqr and the 3.8 magnitude Hydor.

Sky map with Neptune between Phi Aqr and Hylor
Neptune between Phi Aqr and Hydor

Nova Newsletter – Sep/Oct 2018

Our NOVA Newsletter for Sep-Oct 2018 is available as a hi-res or low-res pdf file. An archive of older issues can be found on our Newsletter page.

Contents of Volume 2018, Issue 5, September-October 2018:

Deja Vu (Perseids Wiped Out Again) by J. Karl Miller

President’s Message by Leigh Cummings

Rethinking the Red Planet by Francesca Crema

Sea of Stars by Scott McGillivray

Telescope and Equipment Loaner Programme Policies and Procedures

Observing and Imaging at the Trottier Observatory by Ken Arthurs

Science Fair Director Receives the Order of Canada

Science Fair Foundation of BC Director, Bryan Tisdall, was awarded the Order of Canada in Ottawa on Thursday September 6th, 2018 for his contributions to improving youth science literacy and for his dedication to fostering a love of science among the residents of British Columbia. The award was presented to him by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada.

Tisdall came to Vancouver and spent nearly two decades as CEO of Science world, from 1997 to 2016. In his time at Science World he was pivotal in building the organization to become the renowned, not-for-profit, leading symbol of the science community it is today. He joined the Science Fair Foundation of BC (SFF BC) Board of Directors in 2010. Tisdall is a trusted advisor on the SFF BC Board of Directors and continues to volunteer as emcee at the annual Science Fair Fun Run.

Part of Tisdall’s success in the Science Community of BC, he attributes to learning to think like a scientist. “It’s being analytical. It’s being questioning. It’s being open,” he said. “It’s appreciating you may never have all the answers.”


Astronomy Weekend at Manning Park

RASC Vancouver is participating in the Manning Park Dark Sky – Astronomy Weekend on October 12th-14h, 2018.

Milky way over mountains

The Dark Sky in Manning Park offers some of the best stargazing around. With multiple viewing locations and very limited light pollution (Bortle class 2), the views are incredible!

The event includes presentations  on Beginner Astronomy 101, an Introduction to Astro-photography, and the Basics of Observational Astronomy.

On Friday and Saturday night, weather permitting, RASC members will have telescopes setup for stargazing, observing planets (Mars, Uranus and Neptune will be visible) and hunting for deep-sky objects such as nebula, globular clusters, and galaxies.

The complete schedule, including several other family-friendly activities, can seen at




Observing and Imaging at the Trottier Observatory

Selected nights at the SFU  Trottier Observatory are currently allocated, by the kind auspices of Howard Trottier, for the use of the telescope by members to observe and image the night sky.

We would like to offer any members who may be interested in astrophotography or similar scientific pursuits ( or simply observing) to schedule sessions using the telescope hosted by the Director or Telescopes  or another RASC council member.

To be added to an email list notifying users of available time, please email the Director of Telescopes (please include your name and the target you are interested in studying).  Whenever there is time available, the Director of Telescopes will schedule a session, send out an email to interested members and ensure that the session is hosted.

Email – [email protected]


Comet 21P Expected to Brighten More

Our Observing Driector, Robert Conrad, has posted several times  on this Facebook page about the bright comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. It was recently close to the famous Heart and Soul Nebula in Cassiopeia and imaged by some amateur astronomers.

Comet 21P With Heart , Soul Nebulae And Double Cluster. Taken by Roman Kulesza on August 15, 2018 @ Tiny Twp. ON , Canada

The comet will pass through the constellation Auriga during the first week of September. It will be close to Capella, the brightest star in Auriga, on Sept 1st and 2nd.

Comet 21/P Finder
Comet 21/P at midnight on Sept 21st. 2018

It is now, as of mid-August, very bright at magnitude 7.8 and is expected to brighten up to 7th magnitude through September. It should be easily visible in backyard telescopes and some binoculars, especially from dark skies outside the city and when close to the new moon on Sept 9th.

Actual and expected brightness curve for comet 21P 2018 from

21P is a periodic comet with an orbital period of about 6.6 years. It was discovered by Michael Giacobini in December 1900 at the Nice observatory. Ernst Zinner unknowingly observed its return 6.5 years later while observing variable stars.

Giacobini–Zinner was the target of the International Cometary Explorer spacecraft, which passed through its plasma tail on September 11, 1985.


Ready for the Perseid Meteor Shower?

Next weekend, August 10th-13th, you’ll have a chance to see one of the best meteor shower in years. The annual Perseid Meteor Shower is expected to peak on the night of Aug 12th-13th.

Image of 3 Perseid Meteors from 2016
Three Persied Meteors taken on Aug 12, 2016 at the south end of Pitt Lake in Maple Ridge, BC

You can expect to see 50-75 meteors per hour when observing from  a reasonably dark site outside of the city such as Aldergrove Regional Park where RASC Vancouver is holding a meteor shower watch.

Annual Perseid Meteor Shower Watch at Aldergrove Regional Park

Saturday, Aug 11, 2018, 8:00 PM

Aldergrove Regional Park
Lefeuvre Road at 8th Avenue Abbotsford, BC

58 Astronomy enthusiasts Attending

Please join us to enjoy Metro Vancouver Regional Parks annual Perseid Meteor Shower Watch at Aldergrove Regional Park. It is the only night of the year that overnight camping is allowed in this park which makes this a very magical experience for all ages. Metro Vancouver Regional Parks puts on a great event with lots of activities for all ages. The…

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The Perseid shower occurs annually when the Earth passes through the debris left by the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. There are a number of factors that make this shower special:

  1. For the Perseids, the Earth passes close to the center of the comet’s debris stream.
  2. The Perseid debris stream strikes Earth at high speed, around  50 km/s. Faster speeds mean more energy, and hence brighter, more visible meteors.
  3. This year has a new Moon on August 11th, ideal for minimal light pollution and seeing fainter meteors.

Meteor showers are named for the constellation from where the meteors seem to originate. The radiant of the Perseids are in the constellation Perseus, which will be well positioned in the northeastern sky around midnight.

You don’t need a telescope or binoculars, just get out of the city to a dark site and look up at the darkest part of the sky.  And put away that phone – the white light will hamper your ability to see faint meteors. Lying down is a more comfortable way to observe the show, so find a blanket and just look up.