Globe At Night: Fight Light Pollution

Less of Our Light for More Star Light
Join the 6th worldwide GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign: Feb. 21 – March 6
What: The Globe at Night Campaign
When: 8pm to 10pm local time, February 21 – March 6, 2011
Where: Everywhere
Who: Everyone
How: See

GLOBE at Night encourages citizen-scientists worldwide to record the brightness
of the night sky. During 2 winter/spring weeks of moonless evenings, children
and adults match the appearance of a constellation (Orion in February/March and
Leo and Crux in March/April) with 7 star charts of progressively fainter stars

The GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign dates are February 21 – March 6 (worldwide)
and March 22 – April 4 (for the Northern Hemisphere) and March 24 – April 6
(for the Southern Hemisphere). 52,000 measurements have been contributed from
more than 100 countries over the last 5 years of two-week campaigns, thanks to
everyone who participated!

This year children and adults can submit their measurements in real time if they
have a smart phone or tablet. To do this, you can use the web application at With smart phones and tablets, the location, date
and time are put in automatically. And if you do not have a smart phone or
tablet, there are user-friendly tools on the GLOBE at Night report page to find
latitude and longitude.

Through GLOBE at Night, students, teachers, parents and community members are
amassing a data set from which they can explore the nature of light pollution
locally and across the globe. Please make a difference and join our efforts in
2011. For activity packets, one-page flyers and postcards advertising the
campaign, visit .

The sorry state of Amateur Telescope Making

As a person who grew up in considerable envy of people who cultivated skills, I do my best as time allows to gain some. From my uncle, I got patience. From Robin Allen R.I.P., Crossbow-Maker, more patience and the appreciation of fine workmanship. Robin also taught me that NO DETAIL however small is too small to make perfect.

ATM came to me in a typical fashion as most I imagine: I wanted but could not afford a scope, so I built one.

I couldn’t finish the polishing stage, so I got help from an old hat who’s name has escaped my memory into the dark confines of history.

It had a few sleeks, the sure sign of an awkward touch during polishing but no matter. The wonders I saw through it. Of no small matter was the respect it earned me in a small town: a small teenager who built something that people couldn’t quite fathom.  When that telescope made its way onto my sundeck (or a dark field) and people looked through the eyepiece, it was apparent why I built it.

Skip ahead decades, I have time, money and inclination for astronomy, and especially telescope making. I have bought a few instruments, from two small 3″ telescopes which show details of Jupiter to my 6″  and 8″ Maksutovs. Fine instruments to be sure, but the small size of the former two limits what you can see with them and the latter require me the haul out a heavy and expensive mount, putting limits on my spontenaity. I do like the new GOTO scopes but I thought it short-circuits some of the learning involved.  A chance reading of a newspaper [Star-Trails] with an article on making a tile tool for grinding and  bypassing the step of using an expensive and heavy glass tool caught my imagination. A second-hand 12 1/2″ Pyrex blank someone abortively started got me going. Along the way, an article about John Dobson and his mount furnished me with the other end of the problem.

A trip into someones dumpster (thank you G. Swann) for some discarded tiles (where he gave me two BOXES of 100 lbs of new ones), some grits by mail-order and some plaster was all I needed. I began on a 6″ glass tool left over and got that to a state of polish. If this is a workable mirror, only testing can answer that.

Two years of work, interrupted by sore backs, freezing cold work spaces and plain laziness has resulted in this: As of September 2010, I have a well-polished but poorly figured 12 1/2″ f/4.9 mirror, not coated. I hang around in a telescope store, looking for fuel to this folly of mine. I haven’t bought much recently, coasting on previous expenditures to allow me to stay. I came across the other mirror I need for this telescope: the diagonal. As important as the main mirror, it reflects light (and the image it carries) to where you can access it. It still had its package from its purchase back in 1987. I paid the same price as it had been bought for: $90. The name on the package caught my eye also: Lance Olkovick. I joined RASC in 2005,  and paid dues starting in 2007. Lance is well-known and regarded in the ATM and astronomy community here but sadly he passed before I started going to meetings. There are some others who did this but they don’t attend any more. I want to learn this somewhat arcane skill but sadly few are available to learn from. By a strange co-incidence, the spider I bought online was made by a second local ATM of note: Gary Wolansky.

I have been indesicive with the design of the mount. I do like the Dobsonian but I also like the usability of the Porter equatorial and how it can easily be made to a tracking mount. This mirror/telescope is an experiment to some extent. Trying out ideas, seeing how and why things work the way they do.

Now, in early 2011, the mirror is much further along. It has a smooth figure that isn’t quite deep enough. Another two hours should do it. The 8″ polishing tool doesn’t have a lot of weight so it changes the figure only slowly, making it less likely to overshoot the mark. The upper cage is built now and while it is a bit rough, I think I made a good design choice by keeping the weight of it down.

This won’t be my final large telescope. I have a 18 5/8″ X 2.1″ thick Pyrex blank from EBay for “just” $425 plus shipping. A bargain. A fellow ATM did the diamond generation for me, as I want a f/4.5 or deeper mirror for this. By using a diamond tool to remove most of the glass of the curve, you get a deep, smooth depression that you can go straight to 220 grit, saving an enormous amount of effort and time.

With the advent of the Paracorr 2 for fast ratios on Newtonians, less coma will be seen and these faster mirrors are more useable. With a 9″ diameter to the outside of the light path plus 6 inches of back focus, the distance from mirror to diagonal is around 67 inches.

I still go into Van Tel to look around, slowing adding parts. I sold my `smaller`but totally excellentMN-61 (VanCam) Intes Mak-Newt 6`f6 for a 7`deluxe version with a motorized JMI focuser. It is a great optical package but I need to make the focuser work better. Needs more extension than any other of my scopes to achieve focus and somewhat slooooooow. Damn thing is bolted on to the tube, so removal is difficult. This should make getting focus with a camera possible.

I do have other ideas in the mix though.I found a SECOND identical cellular blank, ground and polished, but otherwise never mounted etc. He kept it at the pre-generated ratio of around f5, which makes it a 82` focal length, fairly high for a no-step Dobsonian. This gives me leave to be experimental with my un-ground blank, like turning it into a 16.5 inch R-C.

I don’t really wonder what happened to AMTing. Cheap scopes from China etc did most of the damage.  Asking someone about the quality of these optical packages gave me a rather sour look. He pointed out that they have great coating, but are polished so hard and with little hand work they do end up being rough but since most people use low powers, they never realize it. The mirrors are also mostly BK7 optical glass or even plate glass most times for cost reasons. Since these mirrors are never fully exploited at high powers, people never bump into these shortcomings.




Introducing "What's Up?", a new prelude to our monthly meetings

Starting at 7pm , half an hour before each monthly meeting, “What’s Up?” features a brief presentation of things to see in the sky that month.  Usually the presenter will also speak a few words on a topic of interest to new astronomers, especially young ones.

Our first “What’s Up?” presentation will take place at 7pm on February 10, 2011.  The topic will be ““Where’s the centre of the universe? What’s it expanding into? And where is the limit of our vision into space?” RASC President and SFU Professor Howard Trottier will demonstrate a do-it-yourself expanding universe and take questions from the audience.  He’ll also tell you how to find the Orion nebula and the moons of Jupiter!

Whats Up? February2011-PDF

SUPERnova Episodes 1-6

Episode 1 – “Telescopes and Orion”

Episode 2 – “The Stars, Our Sun & Ursa Major”

Episode 3 – “Light Pollution, Messier Marathons & Böotes”

Episode 04 – “The Moon, Astronomy for Kids & Lyra”

Episode 05 – “Cosmology, Deep Sky Observing & Aquila”

Episode 06 – “Imaging & Cassiopeia”

President’s Message for January 2011

On behalf of the Council of the Vancouver Centre of the RASC, and as its new President, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to the exciting start of a New Year of activities that is sure to inform our membership, reach out to the public, and provide many opportunities to experience the cosmos! I would also like to look ahead to a new set of opportunities for us to collectively strengthen our Vancouver Centre (VC).

I first wish to extend my warmest personal appreciation and affection to our Immediate Past President, Ron Jerome. At our 2010 AGM, Ron was publicly recognized by council for “his kind stewardship, and sage advice in directing our centre over the last two years as president” (to quote from Secretary Alan Jones’ AGM report). His leadership has set the stage for many of the new initiatives that will be brought forward by council this year, in concert with you, our membership.

We start off the year with a truly exceptional “catch” for our public meeting on January 13, when (thanks to our resourceful Speakers Chair, Barry Shanko) we host Dr. John Mather of the Goddard Space Flight Centre, co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics! Dr. Mather is currently a principal investigator for the James Webb Space Telescope (set for launch by 2015). He will talk about his work from the early 1990’s that led to his Nobel Prize, and will look ahead to the potential for the discovery of alien life by the new space telescope! (Looking for a short backgrounder on Dr. Mather’s Nobel Prize work? I give my take below ;). Our speaker line-up for the rest of 2011 already includes a noted amateur telescope maker and astro-imager, and a science writer with an intriguing story to tell, long-forgotten until now, of one man’s (impossible) dream to build the world’s largest telescope, on Grouse Mountain!

Look forward as well to a wide range of community events and star parties! VC is partnering with several groups committed to astronomy outreach, to put on events throughout the year and across the Greater Vancouver area and beyond. These groups already include Metro-Vancouver Parks, Simon Fraser University, the International Lunar Observatory Association, the NRC/Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, the Vancouver Telescope Centre, and of course the HR MacMillan Space Centre.

Council has also set an ambitious set of goals to strengthen VC in 2011. First among these is to increase the value of VC for our membership. In particular, in February we will change the format of our monthly public meetings at the Space Centre, to include a short new “What’s Up?” segment, geared especially to newer and/or less experienced members, including practical tips on observing the night sky, and accessible segments on new developments in cutting edge astronomy and space science. This content should also help to attract new members, and might even be entertaining for more seasoned members ;).

Of prime importance is to increase membership, especially young families and university-age students. To this end, council aims to increase the presence of VC on the web, which will also increase service to our existing membership. This includes a revamped and higher-profile web site, with content to attract the public and of interest to our members. And we aim to connect VC to the public, and our members to each other, through Facebook and Twitter, including real-time postings from our events, and messages on anything astronomical that happens to grab the interest of our members! We also aim to capitalize on VC involvement with the successful Simon Fraser University outreach program for young families (on this I’m wearing two hats: see below).

Council also aims to establish new ways to encourage our members to volunteer, and to better coordinate our public events; to build on the recent successes of our Light Pollution Abatement campaign; to increase our media exposure (see our web site for my appearance as the new President of VC on the GlobalBC morning news show in December!); to make improvements to our observatory in Maple Ridge (the Antony Overton Memorial Observatory), and encourage use of that facility by our members, as well as by invitation to local university students; and to improve our telescope loaner program for VC members.
This might also be a good time to answer the questions “Who the heck am I?”, and “How the heck did I get on Vancouver Centre council?”, for the many members who I have yet to meet ;). While my day job is as a Professor of Physics at Simon Fraser University, my nighttime identity has for sometime been best described as Obsessive Amateur Astro-Imager (more on that in a future NOVA article!). But over the past two years my obsession for astronomy has fused with my day job, with SFU hosting a program of public outreach that has welcomed over 2,500 grade-school age kids at daytime astronomy workshops on the Burnaby campus, along with hundreds of their teachers, parents, and guardians. SFU has also hosted some 2,000 members of the public at evening star parties and special “theme” events over the past two years. And here’s the rub: None of this would have been remotely possible without the extraordinary support provided by Vancouver Centre, in the form of the many dedicated RASCal volunteers who assist at SFU events, and financial support that has provided educational resources through SFU to kids, teachers, and schools. Joining Vancouver Centre council began as a way for me to return a small part of that support. But this has turned into a wonderful avenue for doing more of what I love: sharing experiences with fellow amateur astronomers, and reaching out to the public. As President, I hope to help realize the many exciting new initiatives of Vancouver Centre, with my number one personal goal being to recruit new members, especially young people, who represent the future of VC.

Here finally is the backgrounder I promised on the work that won Dr. Mather the Nobel Prize ;). In 2006 the Nobel committee recognized Dr. Mather and Dr. George Smoot “for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation.” Their work as principal investigators of the COBE satellite mission in the early 1990s dramatically established the presence of very small variations, or anisotropies, in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, the leftover “heat” of the Big Bang. These variations trace the tiny contrasts that were present in the distribution of matter in the early universe, and which grew to become the large-scale structures (immense galaxy clusters and super-clusters) that we see in the universe today. The detection of the anisotropies in the CMB (which “had” to be there) had been a “holy grail” of astrophysics ever since the discovery of the CMB itself in 1964, by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, for which they received the 1974 Nobel Prize. More precise measurements of the anisotropies in the CMB, to more deeply probe the physics of the early universe, continue to be an extremely hot pursuit in space science. These include stunning measurements of the age and geometry of the universe obtained by the NASA WMAP satellite, launched in 2001, and with still more penetrating results expected to come from the Planck satellite mission of the European Space Agency, launched in 2009.
In closing, I look forward to getting to know many more of our members, and I hope to encourage you to come forward and volunteer for any one of our many activities and initiatives. Please contact me, or any other member of council. Our contact information can be found on the VC web site.

Here’s to clear skies and more time under the stars!

Howard Trottier
President, RASC-VC
Professor of Physics, SFU


This page has links to astronomy-related websites.