AstroNotes 2017 May Vol: 56 issue 05

Editor’s Message . President’s Message . Announcements . Member News . National Update . Feature Article A. Article B . AstroNotes Bookshelf . Next Meeting . Centre Information



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The Newsletter of the Ottawa Centre, RASC

Volume 56 - No 5 - May 2017


Editor’s Message

Karen is away this month. Any gaffs, blame Janet

President’s Message

By Tim Cole

With the GA coming up in less than three months, it's been a busy year. We've got a good program planned that we think will appeal to Ottawa Centre members as well as visiting RASC members, and we've worked hard to keep attendees' costs as low as we can manage. I'd encourage you to consider attending the 2017 General Assembly. The GA pages on the Ottawa Centre website provide plenty of information, but if you have questions, you can always contact us directly. Of course, there's more going on than just the GA. Many members responded to our survey earlier this year, and we're using your comments to guide our planning for the path the Ottawa Centre should be following. In particular, we are working on changes to the services and programs available to members, and we think you'll find these upcoming changes will provide even
more value to your membership.


International Astronomy Day: April 29, 2017. Visit RASC Ottawa at the Canada and Aviation Space Museum. This year we offer indoor displays, solar observing, a telescope clinic, and an evening star party.

Summer Experiment: Partnering with Harrowsmith 100% Canadian Almanac. As Astronomy editor of Harrowsmith, Robert Dick sees an opportunity for RASC Ottawa to broadcast our activities to a new audience. As their publishers are expanding to include web content, a partnership with Harrowsmith, could allow RASC Ottawa to reach people unfamiliar with our web-site or activities. One component of this partnership could be the free offering of Ottawa Centre video recordings of meetings and/or workshops of potential interest to the Harrowsmith readership. This is an experiment scheduled for this summer to see if our posted videos or workshops are popular with their audience. A release form, currently being designed by RASC Ottawa, allows individual speakers to opt in or out of this partnership before his/her talk is published on the Harrowsmith website. An assessment of their audience response will take place later this year.

Rideau Ferry Observatory Open House, May 26-27 Robert Dick is holding his annual springtime Open House at his Observatory with a 24" f/4 telescope at Rideau Ferry, Ontario south of Ottawa. As well as opening the Observatory, you can bring along your own telescopes and set them up in the field around the building. Late Saturday afternoon members gather for dinner in Perth, then return to the Observatory for observing and stargazing. If it's cloudy - no worries - a gabfest is always in order. Email Rob if you would like to attend.

Member News

While many recent members might never have heard of Paul Comision, I remember him as the guy who sat in the front row of the auditorium at the Canada Science and Technology Museum who would call out not only the Messier number for deep sky objects in his own observations but in the observations of other presenters as well if he or she did not know their Messier Catalogue! This year Paul was granted an Ottawa Centre Service Award for his longtime service to RASC Ottawa. From 1990-2004 Paul presented the "Cutting Edge of Astronomy" at monthly meetings. He also served as RASC Ottawa Councilor, National Rep, Vice-President, President and Councilor - Item 1 from 1987-1996. At his last talk in December 2004, the Ottawa Centre renamed the “Observer of the Year Award” to the “Paul Comision Observer of the Year Award”. Congratulations Paul!

Past RASC Ottawa president Gary Boyle has become immortal. No, "The Backyard Astronomer" has not become a god, rather the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has renamed asteroid 22406, which orbits approximately 327 million kilometers away, after Gary who was nominated for the honour by fellow RASC member Peter Jedicke.

A “Celebration of Life” gathering will be held for former RASC member Sandra Ferguson on June 10, 2017 in Richmond ON. Sandra was a member of Council for many years and was Chair of the Observers Group. For more information, please contact Karen Kantor at:

Please welcome new RASC Ottawa members: Stephen Cousins, Rory Laing, Amanda Riddell, Marc Legrand, William Lenselink, Delaney, Gary, Mayve, & Sharon Odell and Brook Yitna.

National Update

Last Call: The Nominating Committee of RASC National Board of Directors is seeking candidates to fill three positions as Directors of the Society, each position holding a three-year term. The Nominating Committee is seeking at least three candidates to run for the Board of Directors. The Deadline for nominations is May 1, 2017. For further information, please see:

Next year the RASC celebrates its 150th anniversary. You can now follow plans for the celebration on the 150th anniversary page: See logo below.

2017 General Assembly - Please register now!!

By Brian McCullough, GA Chair

As most of you know, we are up and running with our registration website for the General Assembly. Already, we are beginning to feel some of the buzz as the early registrations roll in, mostly from other centres, with orders for merchandise, donations (Yay!) and reservations for the tours.

We ask that Ottawa Centre members who are planning on attending this once-in-a generation event here in Ottawa, please register as soon as possible so that we can get a good feel for numbers. Tim and I went to considerable effort to locate and invite three major speakers who we felt would appeal to our large local membership. Remember that Ottawa Centre represents what should be the largest block of attendees at this General Assembly, so it is important that we show the rest of the country we are serious about supporting this high-visibility event in our home town.

Please do what you can to make this happen. See you at the GA!

Clear skies,

Brian McCullough and Tim Cole 2017 General Assembly Organizing Committee

Feature Article
Remember that Survey? ...

By Jim Sofia

Thirty-three percent of the membership responded to the survey taken in February. Some survey questions were answered by all who participated and some were not. Therefore, our interpretation of the following survey results in the form of reported graphs, percentages and text comments are only based on this sample, as well as the proportion of those members who responded to a particular question posed by the survey. With those caveats in mind, here is a snap shot of some interesting results.
Survey feedback was quite positive with respect to the Ottawa Centre activities as a whole! Positive comments about our meetings, (especially the presentations, topic variety and astrophotography) as well as our sponsored events and publications were reported. AstroNotes, SkyNews, the Bulletin and Observers Handbook have high reported readership.

Over 93% rated RASC sponsored star parties as “satisfying” versus “neutral” or “poor.” Comments regarding the benefit of having designated “instructors” to help those who need technical assistance at star parties were reported. An alternate east end location would also be appreciated.
While public outreach was viewed as very important, more “members-only” events such as workshops and group observing sessions were often recommended. The graph below showing length of membership of the survey respondents indicate that over 33% were new members (0-3 years).

Suggested presentations and workshops mirror this fact placing some focus on the beginner and well as the “expert.”, i.e. how to set up various telescope equipment, learning about basic equipment, the night sky, constellations, star hopping, etc. The proportions seen in the graph also show a high percentage of experienced or longer time members as well.

The annual dinner was attended to in the past three years by 22%. More publicity and exposure to what the dinner entails may increase attendance. A number of newer members reported a hesitancy to attend and some perceived the event as formal and cliquish, which would negatively impact attendance to the event.

The Stan Mott Library was used by 29% sampled. Those that used it cited a good selection, variety and range of topics related to astronomy available at the library. Such a resource may need further promotion among the membership. The Ted Bean Telescope Library was used by 9.65% of respondents to this question as many reported no need to use the facility. Some who did use the library appreciated the opportunity to learn about the instruments but wished the equipment borrowed came with instructions or guidance.

There appears to be some interest in SmartScope as 41 out of the 116 respondents (35%) gave a 4-5 interest rating in using the facility. Additionally, the table below, based on 33 respondents only, show the number of individuals willing to volunteer maintaining the scope in each or multiple areas listed:

The Fred Lossing Observatory (FLO), near the Mill of Kintail, was visited or used by 57 of the 110 respondents to this question, representing approx. 52 % of the sample while almost the same amount have not visited the site.

Those who did visit FLO liked the dark skies and reasonable distance to Ottawa. Disadvantages included a limited horizon because of the trees, site building and scope condition and maintenance, tricky access road and lack of concrete pads to set up. However, with the needed repairs suggested, there appears to be an interest in resurrecting this site! Seventy seven percent use the site only and not the equipment. Of those who use FLO with their own equipment, 75% would use it more with access to the warm room. The projected interest in using the 18” Dobsonian mounted Starmaster and 14” Meade SCT at FLO revealed 23 out of the 95 question respondents rated moderate to extreme likelihood in using the equipment (24%).

With respect to a proposed ride sharing program, 31 out of 93 respondents (33% of this sample) stated that they would participate in helping others without cars attend meetings and events. Correspondingly, as a member who may have need for this service, 12 out of 52 would be interested in using it (23%). Hopefully the ride program initiative will alleviate the angst in getting to the Aviation Museum location as some members prefer the former Science and Tech location.

With respect to measured interest in being a mentor to members requesting support with their telescope and observing, 32 out of 87 respondents (37%) stated that they would act as a mentor and 39 out of 94 respondents (41%) stated that they would be interested in receiving such support from a member.

Sizeable interest was shown in obtaining Observer Certificates (47 out of 100 or 47%). Info is available at:

Interest in member-only classes such as observing the night sky, telescope maintenance, astrophotography, video astronomy and solar observing was good, especially “introduction to astrophotography” which demonstrated the most interest (50 out 78 respondents or 64 % of the sample).

Many concluding positive comments were made about the opportunity to learn more about astronomy, attend star parties and public outreach activities, and socialize within the membership. More members-only events such as workshops, star parties, impromptu observations, trips, and social events would be welcomed.
RASC Council intends to follow up on some of the key suggestions and recommendations posed by the membership. Thanks for participating!

Observing the Night Skies? Check out:

By John O’Hanley

As a hobby-project at home, I've made a (non-commercial) web site for amateur astronomers.

The idea is that:
• It gathers together on one page the data that a typical amateur is usually interested in;
• It tries to answer the two basic questions: can I go observing tonight? And if so, what can I see?
• It's customizable for your own observing location.

Here's an example of its main output:

I started building this site in October 2015. It's not finished yet. It still needs more work. But it's not bad, so you may find it amusing to use. I would be happy to hear feedback on it. (As an example, I need help with how it renders on Apple devices. I don't have such a device, so it's not possible for me to test that...) Also, I hope to find a few programmers out there who might like to contribute improvements to the site. With that aim in mind, I've open-sourced the entire site on github:

Please feel free to contact me at: with comments.

AstroNotes Bookshelf

Edited by Janet Tulloch

Each month our librarian, Estelle Rother, chooses one book from our library of about 800 books to feature. The library is located in a cabinet behind the Aviation Museum theatre and is open immediately after meetings. You can also consult the Centre’s website for most of our titles.

Estelle’s pick for April 2017:
The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson.

“A dramatic human story of an epic quest, The Hunt for Vulcan offers insight into how science really advances (as opposed to the way we’re taught about it in school) and how the best work of the greatest scientists reveals an artist’s sensibility. Opening a new window onto our world, Levenson illuminates some of our most iconic ideas as he recounts one of the strangest episodes in the history of science.” – The Publisher

Book Review

By Frank Johnson

Fashion, Faith and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe.
By Roger Penrose. Princeton, 2016

Those familiar with The Emperor’s New Mind by Roger Penrose (1989) will be delighted with this latest romp through cosmic physics. If mathematics daunts you, turn immediately to page 451 where Penrose “proves” that the sum of the infinite divergent series
1 – 4 + 16 – 64 +256 - … = 1/5

This sets the playful, fun-loving tone of the book in which he explores the pathos of fashion in string theory, noting that armies of graduate students slave away at 27-dimensional constructs because, well, 27 is (or was yesterday) the fashionable dimension of the universe. Whether it makes any sense is immaterial.
Moving swiftly on to the faith required for quantum physics to be swallowed, Penrose takes us into the worlds of Schrodinger’s cat(s), addressing the ‘seemingly blatant discrepancies between experienced reality and the U-evolution process’ where U is the quantum world beneath the waves of our classical world. Our escape from this is a continuous stream of steps of faith.

The next hundred pages lead us through the increasingly fantastic cosmic theories which parallel the faith steps in the infinitesimal world. The core ‘singularly peculiar’ problem is the Big Bang, with its necessary suspension of belief in all the theories learned thus far.
A final chapter permits Penrose to consider his own “Twistor theory of cosmology – New Physics for the Universe?” This chapter addresses the principal disadvantage of String Theory – the departure from four-dimensional space – and integrates known particle-physical processes. It was first mentioned by Penrose in 1967 as a possible path to a theory of quantum gravity, and given impetus in 2003 by Witten to avoid the fashionable dimensional leaps of string theory.
Anyone who thinks that physics, cosmology and the math behind it is dull and boring will find Penrose a well-informed breath of fresh air and a certain work-out for those (quantum driven?) neurons to which we attribute consciousness.

Editor’s Note: Sir Roger Penrose is an atheist. The term “faith” in the title of his latest book does not refer to religion. Our reviewer, Frank Johnson, PEng, PhD (UofT - Neurophysiology) works in medical and oceanographic engineering.

Next Meeting

7:30 PM Friday May 5, 2017 at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum (directions). Note there is a $3 parking fee for museum parking. The meeting runs until 9:30 pm.
Our main guest speaker will be John Evans speaking about “Space Psychology”. Gordon Webster will speak about plans for FLO and Jim Sofia will give us further details on the membership survey results.

PLUS: all our regular meeting features: Ottawa Skies, 10-minute Astronomy, Observer Reports, and of course, the beloved Door Prize!
All RASC monthly meetings are free and open to members and non-members alike. Refreshments will be available and this will be a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends who share a common interest and chat in a relaxed, stimulating and fun environment. Please join us!
If you cannot attend in person, follow the proceedings over our live stream here.

Centre Information

General enquiries:

The Ottawa Centre 2017

Council President: Tim Cole (
Vice President: Mike Moghadam
Secretary: Chris Teron (
Treasurer: Oscar Echeverri (
Centre Meeting Chair: Kelly Jordan(
Councilors: Carmen Rush, Gerry Shewan, Jim Sofia National Council Representatives: Brian McCullough, Robert Dick
Past President: Gordon Webster

2017 Appointed Positions

Membership: Art Fraser
Outreach / Star Parties: Maya Meeds
Fred Lossing Observatory Directors: David Lauzon and Rick Scholes
Hospitality: Art & Anne Fraser
Stan Mott Astronomy Library: Estelle Rother
Ted Bean Telescope Library: Al Scott
Webmasters: Taras Rabaryski
AstroNotes Editors: Karen Finstad ( and Janet Tulloch (