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Happy Anniversary All! It has been a full year that we have been holding virtual meetings. Full marks to all those involved in making sure we never missed a beat (Chris and Dave). Well done and I’m sure I speak for the entire membership in offering our sincere thanks.
We have another jam-packed issue for you this month. We continue with Rick Scholes fabulous series reviewing the history of our FLO through the logbooks. Taras Rabarskyi shares his search to see the elusive Horse Head nebula visually in his telescope. We have a brief bio of the namesake of our Telescope Loan Library, Ted Bean courtesy of Rob Dick. This month our Member Profile is of one of regular meeting contributors and perennial winner of the Observer of the Year Award, Paul Klauninger. We have lots of images to share with you and this is over and above all our regular features.
We don’t have any FLO Moments for you this month, but I know there must be all kinds of them. The Ottawa Centre Observatory, no matter what it was called at the time, NMO, IRO or FLO has been used by a large number of members over the last 50 years. In all that time I’m sure there special moments, special memories that are related to a quiet evening of observing, a personal triumph, a bond of friendship or a special discovery. Please think about sharing your “moment” with us.
Don’t forget that we “Spring ahead” next weekend. That means our FLO Star Party will start on time but if you need to be up for 6:00AM you will have to leave an hour early.
Did I mention we have lots of images again this month? Keep them coming. And a special “Thank you” to all those who submitted. You are the people who keep this newsletter interesting.
Clear skies and stay safe,
By David Chisholm
March 28 - Full Moon. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be fully illuminated. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Worm Moon because this was the time of year when the ground would begin to soften, and the earthworms would reappear. This moon has also been known as the Crow Moon, the Crust Moon, the Sap Moon, and the Lenten Moon.
Comet 141P/Machholz steadily climbs in altitude as it moves east this winter. Stars in this and all maps are shown to magnitude 6 unless otherwise noted.
Chris Marriott's SkyMap
March 6 – Greatest Western Elongation
Look for the planet in the eastern sky just before sunrise.
Rise/Set 05:39/15:22 -> 06:25/17:48
March 6 - Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation. The planet Mercury reaches greatest western elongation of 27.3 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.
Rise/Set 06:39/17:08 -> 06:58/19:29
Visible in the evening.
Rise/Set 09:34/00:40 -> 09:36/01:13
Rise/Set 05:51/15:30 -> 05:09/15:06
Visible just before sunrise latter half of month.
Rise/Set 05:28/14:47 -> 04:38/14:03
Visible all evening.
Rise/Set 08:48/22:39 -> 07:54/21:49
Rise/Set 07:10/18:28 -> 06:14/17:36
The Ottawa Centre Observatory:
A History -
Book 3: The Indian River Observatory in the 1980s (1980-1989)
The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of what is now known as the Fred Lossing Observatory. Logbook 3 covers a nine-year period from September 1980 through July 1989. During this time, it was known as the Indian River Observatory (IRO), located on the grounds of the Mill of Kintail, near Almonte, where it has remained to this day.
As before, I present the observatory logbook highlights in chronological order, selecting entries for their interest, significance, or humour. Additional information from a source other than the logbook has occasionally been inserted in [square] brackets.
Another Comet Discovery
Beginning with this book, the log transitioned from a loose-leaf binder to a proper hard cover lab notebook. The title page is headed, “Chapter III (according to the Ottawa Centre)”. It begins with the deep sky weekend preparation by Frank Roy and Robin Molson, who mowed grass, vacuumed, and worked on a troublesome RA drive. The 8th annual deep sky weekend in early October offered very clear skies for a welcome change. The next month, on 5 November 1980, Rolf Meier discovered and photographed his third comet, noting its position and “time 9:24 moving SSW 2’/hr 1950 position mag 10.5.” He took photos with Fujichrome 400 film. By 8 November he confirmed it as Comet Meier 1980q.
Robin Molson installed a fence along the outer end of the observing mound. Some remains of this rail fence are still embedded in the ground. As the colder weather arrived a heater was added to the RA drive, and users experimented with leaving the drive powered. Frank Roy made a Christmas Day entry, removing the RA drive for modifications and returning it on Boxing Day, despite the entry road being blocked with snow. Drive problems continued through the winter. The breaker panel suffered failures and breakers had to be replaced with spares from NRC. These breakers are now obsolete.
On 6 April 1981, catastrophe: “Outhouse blown down!!” No mention of its repair, but it blew down again the following January. Later in April, Fred Lossing and Ted Bean re-aluminized the 16” diagonal (for the second time) and also revised the telescope tie-downs to avoid contact with the roof during roll-off. This would later require further improvement as well. In May, Rolf contributed to site maintenance by painting the observatory stairs and clubhouse roof. Robin Molson repaired the observatory roof flaps along with other site maintenance work. [At this time Molson had become chairman of the Observatory Committee.] The telescope was upgraded with the addition of a homebuilt digital LED readout for RA and DEC. The downsides of heavy site usage were messes requiring cleanup, improperly stowed gear, frequent need for various repairs, and spurious comments or scribble in the logbook. Other site-related items mentioned in this era: a screen door existed on the clubhouse; shoveling a path to the snowmobile trail and the barn; the cable used to roll the observatory roof off breaking and being replaced (more than once). Remember in those days the current access road did not exist; access was via the farmhouse lane to the southwest.
The Tenth Anniversary
In June Frank Roy “saw a -8 [magnitude] fireball heading W from overhead made Jupiter look dim!” At this time, he was comet searching in addition to IRORI work. In August 1981 some visitors (Ed and Mary Kay, last name illegible) brought a 22” telescope which drew a crowd of twenty or more. The Star Nite, only 4 nights later, on 21 August, was attended by nearly 30 members and friends. The 9th annual Deep Sky weekend in early October was degraded by clouds, although it cleared after midnight and allowed Rolf to view “deep sky in 6”, 8” and 16” scopes” and continue his comet search.
On 21 October, during an early snowfall, Robin Molson and Ted Bean affixed a plaque to the 16” commemorating 10 years of operation. Three nights later, twenty members gathered to celebrate that milestone. The observing comments only mention cold, aurora, and a C-8.
On 1 May 1982 computers came to FLO! Frank Roy noted, “First sampling with apple computer on radio telescope.” Those of us around in those days will remember the amazing increase in data collection power those simple machines allowed. For those who complained about “8 miles of chart paper on floor,” computerization may have been a welcome sight. Always careful to note aurora, Rolf Meier reported, “10/10 at twilight. Vivid red, green, purple, blue,” in July 1982, surely unique even for those aurora-filled times. Rolf Meier and Frank Roy dominate the entries that summer. Comets Austin and D’Arrest were observed that fall.
One of the IRORI parabolic antennae under construction, 1978 (courtesy of Rob Dick)
Art Covington with the IRORI rack and chart recorder, 1978 opening (courtesy of Cathy Hall)
Outreach continued with Barry Matthews hosting a group of Lisgar High School students. The 10th annual Deep Sky Weekend in mid-October had one clear night during which deep sky, meteor, and aurora were all observed until 3am.
A new heater and timer were installed and wired to the panel in November 1982. Rolf and Frank both noted new tenants moving into the adjacent “farmhouse”. A cross-country ski trail was also noted “going around the observatory”. The observatory door had two locks in those days, often giving trouble and needing lubrication or replacement. The observatory suffered a break-in in late April 1983. The door and flaps were damaged but fortunately the telescope was not. Repairs were also required again on the leaky flat clubhouse roof. In August of 1983 Linda Warren and Rolf Meier added to the site capability by installing a 10” f/4.5 telescope and ‘observatory’ [a garden shed], and it was used through the fall, then disassembled for the winter. On 19 September Linda visited again with [comet discoverer and author] David H. Levy, who wrote “A very inspiring place.” The October Deep Sky Weekend that year was primarily marked by the occurrence of an earthquake on the second night, noted by Rolf Meier.
More outreach was done with Hillcrest High and the Algonquin Astronomy Club that fall. The year ended with ice and snow preventing cars from driving in. The member comments from 30 December 1983 until April 1984 mostly refer to skiing or snowshoeing in to observe. In May 1984, and again in November, the outhouse was blown over by high winds and the observatory roof blown partly open due to insufficient clamping. That spring new siding was purchased and installed on the clubhouse by various members, with Robin Molson and Malcolm Lambourne taking lead roles. Caulking work continued into the summer. In the fall, Robin tarred part of the problematic flat roof. Late in the year he also wrote “here to glean some information from logbook for Annual Report”, the first mention of such.
On 2 July 1984 Rob Newton, Ken Tapping, and Fred Lossing wrote, “With 800x three of us saw the central star in M57” [presumably with the 16” telescope]. That summer the use of a ‘nebula filter Lumicon UHC” is first mentioned by Simon Tsang. Doug George used an H-Beta filter to observe the Horsehead Nebula around this time, and also observed moon shadows on Jupiter more than once.
A huge public star night took place on the night of 24 August, with 20 Ottawa members hosting “~ 60-80 members of public”. Not everybody signed the log.
On the night of 17 September 1984, Rolf Meier recorded “discovered a comet at 15h 9m +11 20”. This was his fourth, Comet Meier 1984o, all discovered with the 16” telescope. It was a crowded night, with 6 others signed in: Sandy Thuesen, Malcolm Lambourne, Linda Meier, Roy Fox, Doug George, and Simon Tsang. Simon and Roy were observing Seyfert’s Sextet and other NGC objects; perhaps more than one telescope was in use. Most of this same group came the next three nights to catch brief glimpses of the comet through clouds.
There is no mention of a deep sky weekend in October 1984. However, more than a full-page worth of members and visitors signed on 14 November. The many comments were nearly all positive and thankful, with a few complaints about the cold and one who noted “it was pretty dumb.” There’s one in every crowd...
Use of the site was unusually low - only 4 nights - during January and February 1985. This was made up for in March when 11 nights have entries. The first mention of Comet Halley occurs on 9 March by Rolf Meier, observing with Linda (now Meier) and Sandy (now Ferguson). They photographed the famous comet, observed variables, and enjoyed using a new 10.5mm Plossl. On 15 March a group of six members observed, with Doug George noting, “very, very Dark almost no glow from Ottawa, etc.” They took advantage: another person (possibly Simon Tsang) wrote, “Did half the Messier Marathon ... Wow!” On 18 March Rob Newton took “Photos of Mercury + Venus”, which confirms that the tree line was much lower in those days.
The logbook pages in this section are water damaged due to the roof leaking yet again. Bunk beds were still present at that time, though the supports were “not too secure.” Doug George performed repairs on the RA display, the control paddle, and the backup drive. He also added a Telrad finder. Robin Molson changed the clubhouse lock. The donation tin contained $1 bills - remember those? After another outhouse failure, a new one was built and installed by Robin Molson, with help from Brian Underwood and Malcolm Lambourne.
The Ottawa Citizen visited again in April, as did Ottawa Cablevision in September. Several new members were tested for keys. Frank Roy found and photographed Barnard’s Star, as well as working many days on IRORI improvements throughout the summer. Aurora continued. On 11 July Doug George wrote, “Incredibly bright aurora tonite! Casts a shadow!” A porcupine was found on the clubhouse front step one night - descendants of this animal still live near FLO. Visitor star nights were held for the MVCA, the Almonte Public, and the Lanark Rosetta Women’s League.
Comet Halley was frequently mentioned again as it brightened through the late summer of 1985 and on into the fall, and winter. A film crew for ‘Nature of Things’ visited in December, for a show to be broadcast the following February. Halley interest peaked in the very cold January of 1986; Doug George commented, “with this weather who needs a cold camera”. Frank estimated the comet at magnitude 4 with a 2-3degree tail. A Citizen photographer took a 3-minute exposure on 10 January, with Doug claiming, “Halley’s Best Yet!”
Snow sometimes blocked the access lane and sometimes resulted in cars getting stuck. Finally, Doug George took up a “collection towards 2 plows a month during good moon phase,” noting the cost was “$25 a shot.” Despite temperatures as low as -35C, use of the site was high that winter, with twelve visits during January (mostly for Halley) and eight more in February.
A flurry of work on IRORI in February and March, including the addition of a GaAs FET amplifier at the antenna, led to this entry by Frank Roy on 22 April 1986: “XXXX Breakthrough XXXX FIRST QUASAR 3C380 ... certainty 50% ... 3C395 ... 100% certain.” Twelve days later he reports, “QUASAR 3C298 ~39 Jansky this makes us the first amateurs in the world to positively identify a radio Quasar. Certainty 100% ... Enormous RF interference from 60Hz power line i.e. hydro.”
One of the IRORI radio antennae with the 16” in the background (photo courtesy of Cathy Hall)
Meanwhile, Comet Halley had reappeared after perihelion and was a naked eye object. However, late spring rains leaked in yet again causing “rain” in the clubhouse and on the logbook pages in May. Robin Molson wrote on 24 May: “Checked roof - tarred crack again as temporary measure pending decision by council on new roof. Took dimensions ... in order to get estimates.” [Unfortunately, the council did not, or was unable to act on this promptly.] At the same time Bill Day donated a new fridge.
That summer Doug George noted: “Jupiter, Mars, Saturn form beautiful arc across the sky - you can see the ecliptic!” (They formed a similar arc in 2018.) It was a good year for Mars. The planets were enjoyed on a member’s Starnite in early June. On 17 June Robin Molson and Sandy Ferguson hosted a group of students from the New Cedar Hill School. Amid the “Thank You’s” and “Great’s” is my all-time favourite, by Christine: “ - speechless!” I’m betting Saturn did that.
The Perseids put on a good show over three nights that August. The diagonal of the 16” was removed for re-aluminizing (again), resulting in “Great improvement. Could see central star in Ring Nebula in spite of nearly full moon!” according to Fred Lossing. On 16 August, possibly two records were set on the same night: the visitor from furthest away (Daniel Overbeek, from South Africa) and the youngest visitor (Matthew Meier) [aged 10 months], both guests of Rolf and Linda. The arrival of an infant explains why Rolf’s name was largely absent around that time. While there he did appreciate, “1) new focuser 2) great optics (i.e., diagonal) 3) clean, painted clubhouse.” Frank Roy was responsible for most of that work. Carpet was also added to the clubhouse. Cracks were discovered in the observatory walls due to the foundation settling. Perhaps as a consequence, the observatory roof stuck that winter, and despite the assistance of an OPP officer it had to be left half open one night, until the winch assembly and cable were repaired.
In 1986 the stone farmhouse adjacent to the observatory was sold to the Mary and Terry Lumsden and their young family. The new owners were given a site tour on 27 January 1987 by Robin Molson and Rob McCallum. It was decided a new access road was needed, to obviate the need for using the Lumsden’s driveway. A member who signed in simply as “Mortfield”, noted in February, “Hope we find a new road or plow this one. It’s a pain dragging stuff.”
The MVCA [who wanted better access to this portion of their grounds as well] began constructing the new access lane to Bennies Corners Road in August 1987. Eleven RASC members assisted with a work party in September. Finally, a gate was added at the road and secured with a chain and lock on 4 October by Robin Molson.
Route of new access road (white); previous access lane and farmhouse (black oval)
A large group from the Ottawa Field Naturalists visited that fall, and Comet Bradfield put on a show that was “better than Halley’s!!”. Frank Roy added a Schmidt Camera to the 16’ that year and used it on and off for some time. A photometer was also experimented with, as mentioned in a few entries.
Early 1988 was primarily radio observing by Frank, until 16 March when Doug George wrote, “Successful Messier Marathon, got all of em! (Except M30, of course!)”. Sandy Ferguson did her usual “spring cleanup” in April. The annual roof leakage in May resulted in the new clubhouse carpet being thrown out. The second annual picnic held in July was notable for “good clouds 10/10” and some famous names: Carl Sagan, W. Scotty Houston, and Patrick Moore” - however, the handwriting of these visitors looks remarkably similar to that of a certain member...
Vandalism was again reported on 1 December 1988 by Doug, “someone kicked in the door of the 10” shed! Fortunately, the telescope is out for servicing!!”
Linda and Rolf reappeared in March 1989 to host a group of 30 cub scouts; they “toured M42.” Though entries were starting to thin out in these years, the Star Party held on 8 April brought out “lots and lots of people, ~40” according to Frank Roy. The names Pat and Hilderic Brown appear for the first time on that date.
The roof leaked yet again several times in May 1989, soaking the carpet and endangering the computer running data acquisition software for the RT. Another patch job was done yet again in July. Frank writes: “Raining in clubhouse. Where is our observatory com.??”. [The roles of the observatory committee members, whose number ranged from 3 to 7 over the years, were not overly formalized. Job descriptions were finally written in 1989 to improve the governance.]
Next month: Book 4 – The Indian River Observatory in the 1990s (1989-1997)
Namesake for the Ted Bean Telescope Loan Library, Ottawa Centre, RASC
In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, and beyond was the dynamic era when I was most involved with the Observers’ Group of the Ottawa Centre. The productivity and creativity of that time was, in part, due to the support of a number of people, young and old, who shared a passion for the environment, the night sky and astronomy. This short essay is about one of those for which the Ottawa Centre’s Telescope Loan Library is named.
Ted was a quiet man who worked in the background helping to assemble the loose, double sided pages into our monthly newsletter (AstroNotes), stapling them together and sticking the address labels on each edition – a manual process at the time. These would be made available at our monthly meetings. Those that were not picked up by absent members were collected, had postage attached and mailed out to the remaining members. Although most members attended the Observers’ Group meetings, postage was still one of the greatest expenses for the Centre.
Like most of the Centre leaders, Ted contributed in several ways. He also provided the refreshments that were offered after every meeting. He replaced our other long-term “refresher” Ken Perrins. Ted was subsequently replaced by Anne Fraser.
He also tinkered and built a few telescopes. I remember him saying that his home-made careful testing of the finished mirrors rather difficult. He lived on McLeod Avenue less than a block from the busy Bank Street. Trucks rolling past set up vibrations in his basement that made the fine shadows of the Foucault test more difficult to judge.
Telescopes were “precious”. Except for the department store 2.4-inch Tasco “No-No’s”, all the ‘scopes I remember people using were either binoculars or homemade reflectors. To put this into perspective in the late 1960’s a reasonable telescope (6” Newtonian reflector) could cost $500 but salaries were less than 1/10 what they are today (2020). In contrast, to buy the mirror blank and the materials to build an optics tube and mount (without a drive) would cost less than $100. However, putting it all together took talent.
Senior members like Ted, and the half dozen or so other experienced members, provided the encouragement and advice, and when problems became insurmountable – help. Ted was one of those who helped us out of a “hole”.
He also had another “talent”. He made us “grown”. He was known for his “terrible puns”, in which he took great pleasure dropping during idle conversation during “star parties” at Quite Site1 and later at North Mountain Observatory – the first site of the Centre’s 16” telescope and Observatory.
As age and health began to take its toll, Ted was seen less at meetings. He died in February 1987 (AstroNotes, March 1987). However, his contributions to our Centre, and the nurturing of the next generation of members is recognized with our Telescope Loan Library - a library that began with the donation of his own instruments, and those of other members.
Ted was helpful when a need arose. We were all thankful for the behind-the-scenes contributions of all our senior members, though frankly we did not know the details of what they did. As a “youngster" in that time, I was somewhat naïve when it came to the Centre Operations. In retrospect, "the grey-hairs" just knew how to get things done. That knowledge came with age, and as I later found out, detailed planning and insights about how to motivate the energies of the younger members. They thought critically yet creatively about things before they took action. A talent that is sadly missing in our current society.
Hunt for Horse’s Head.
My first exposure to astronomy was through this picture.
A first grader, I saw this image in my sister’s (who was grade 10 then) astronomy book. She was in grade 10 at the time. I was stunned and puzzled by its resemblance to the real specimen. My sister’s explanation about the dust (in space!), glowing gas and stellar wind simply blew my mind, and the word “astronomy” was for me associated with this object for many years to come. I hoped that some day I would see it with my own eyes, and all I needed was a telescope.
You know this object very well: it is the Horsehead nebula in the Orion constellation. The red glow originates from ionised hydrogen gas and is caused by the nearby bright star Sigma Orionis. The dark nebula itself, named Barnard 33, shape of a horse head, is formed mostly by thick dust blocking the light from the glow and stars behind it.
The nebula was first recorded in 1888 by Scottish astronomer Williamina Fleming on a photographic plate taken at the Harvard College Observatory.
The hydrogen glow around the dark nebula is quite dim, and it takes a dozen minutes with a regular telescope and a DSLR camera to expose it so that the shape of the horse head can be recognized. This also explains why it was discovered by photography, when the longer you expose, dimmer objects can be revealed.
After having learned more about how dim it is, I used to think that observing it visually is next to impossible. So, when Rick Scholes, Director of Fred Lossing Observatory, sent me email with a question about the possibility of observing the nebula visually, I was up for the challenge!
My previous attempts to observe it visually through my 8” SCT with no filters failed, even though I could clearly see the nearby Flame Nebula (which is a bit brighter), there was no hint of anything special in the region, where the Horsehead would be.
My response to Rick was that perhaps if we use the FLO’s 18” StarMaster and a H-a filter, then maybe it would be possible to observe it visually.
As most of the glow comes from the ionized hydrogen, I thought that an H-a filter will easily filter out other light frequencies, such as the bright glow from nearby Alnitak, light pollution from Almonte etc., leaving only the red glow of hydrogen-alpha spectral line to be seen by our eyes.
That’s what I attempted on January 9, accompanied by Konstantin Popov and Andrew Brown. We had a set of different eyepieces and filters to try, including a 2” H-a filter and an L-eNhance narrow-band filter which allows H-a, H-b and O-III frequencies get through. And it all failed. There was just a hint of nebulosity, or rather a slightly brighter than background patch of something spreading between the stars, but that also could have been a product of my imagination. Just in case, I made this sketch, processed it a bit in Photoshop and inverted it.
This was observed through a 32mm eyepiece with an L-eNhance filter. What was surprising was that I saw (or at least I believe I did) a faint nebulosity along the row of dimmer stars (circled red in the sketch) - in an area where there is seemingly not much hydrogen glow - if you compare it with the actual photographic images. I have no explanation as to why that area seemed a bit brighter and would attribute it to some side-effects of my visual perception. The lLocation where the Horsehead nebula would be is circled in green - but there was nothing visually distinguishable there.
I tried different combinations of eyepieces and available filters that night and summarized my observations in the table.
The worst result was actually with the use of the H-a filter. It appears that this filter has very high optical density, such that even Alnitak, - the brightest star nearby, which was expected to be blinding and killing our night vision, - looked quite dim through that filter. Also, I used to believe that the longer the focal length eyepiece used, the brighter the image through it will be. This happened to be not exactly the case. The best visual image was actually with a 24mm eyepiece. There is an excellent book on this subject, “Visual Astronomy of the Deep Sky”, which explains this phenomenon. To be short, the specifics of our night vision are such that with HIGHER magnification, the CONTRAST between background and a dim object LOOKS greater to us because of the increased detection capabilities of the eyes.
These results were quite disappointing. Not only we were not able to see the dark nebula, but we couldn’t even agree on the nebulosity. Was it there or not? So, I went home and started reading about this object a bit more. And, to my surprize, I found quite a few cases when astronomers reported observing the Horsehead with their own eyes and even published some sketches.
Apparently, this is possible if you use an H-b filter. So, I ordered one.
The ionized hydrogen gas emits not only red light – corresponding to 656nm frequency, but also at 486nm frequency, which we visually perceive as “aqua” in colour. Unlike red, our eyes are more susceptible to this colour, and the filter looks optically less dense. So, if we use such a filter to observe the regions where hydrogen is glowing, we, supposedly, will get to see the hydrogen-beta line emissions, while the rest of the frequencies will be blocked. That’s the theory.
After the filter arrived, the first opportunity to take a look at the nebula through it was Jan 31. This time I used the 24mm eyepiece with this filter. The sky transparency wasn’t too good, 3 out of 5 I would say, but I believe I was able to see some of the hydrogen glow. This time in the area where the hydrogen gas is. As for the dark nebula itself, at some point I could say there was a soft semi-circular shadow there (which I tried to sketch), but when I asked Konstantin to confirm my observation, he couldn’t say with certainty. We agreed that this observation attempt was inconclusive, and we would wait for a better opportunity.
Such an opportunity happened on February 11, when the transparency was better. This time the nebulosity was clearly seen, stretching almost vertically across the image, especially well noticeable after adapting your eyes to night vision and using avert vision; the dark nebula was seen quite clearly too, although its shape could not be clearly described. It still looked like a semi-circular shadow. Konstantin this time was able to confirm it too and even called it “right in your face” type of clarity. When scrolling the image through the field of view by using the telescope’s control buttons, you’d be able to see it drifting by, slowly and graciously – and it was especially easy to see the entire picture then, with stars, nebulosity and the shadow.
I was really excited that night. Horsehead nebula is indeed a very challenging object to see visually. I was happy that my efforts were rewarded by a beautiful view of something which might not necessarily be meant to be seen by human eyes.
Member Profile – Paul Klauninger
AstroNotes: Could you give our readers a little bit of info about your background? How did you get into astronomy?
My connection to astronomy has been a lifelong affair and has shaped a good deal of my background. I was born in Toronto and spent my first two dozen years there. When asked how I ever got interested in astronomy living within a large city, one of my earliest memories always kicks in. I remember sitting with family in front of an old black & white TV and watching one of the first manned Mercury launches. I think it may have even been Alan Shepard’s flight, and the sight of that became permanently etched in my mind. I became increasingly more interested in all things space and started reading anything related that I could get my hands on. This interest kicked into high gear when Ranger 7 became the first successful US probe to reach the Moon and sent back close-up images from just above the surface before its impact. I still vividly recall seeing one of those images splashed large on the front page of the Toronto Telegram. That was the day the bug permanently bit me … I got astro fever!
Over the next few years, I continued learning more about spaceflight, rockets, and astronomy. My universe was expanding. Gasoline on the fire occurred when one Christmas I found a small Newtonian reflector under the tree with my name on it. I was breathless! And I have fond memories of sitting out in my backyard scanning the not very dark night skies of suburban Toronto night after clear night for anything my telescope could resolve. I even began my first foray into film astrophotography with that little scope, taking pictures of the Moon and a partial eclipse of the Sun in 1970.
Later on, in high school, I had the good fortune of being introduced to the magic of the photographic darkroom. Unlike today, doing photography in those days was an expensive pursuit. Taking a 24-exposure roll of black & white film to a lab for developing and printing would set you back about $10, and in colour, more than twice that. Learning to do this work myself made photographic experimentation affordable, and more importantly, taught me some of the core concepts of image creation and processing.
I attended the University of Toronto, where I concentrated my studies on electronics, astronomy, astrophysics, and computer science. There I had access to the 8” refractor and 16” SCT in the domes atop the McLennan Physics Laboratory. These scopes were magnitudes above anything I had seen or used before and opened the door to deep sky photography. Even using film, they yielded eye-popping results.
My introduction to computers and programming also came at the U of T. That certainly whetted my appetite to learn more about the new-fangled personal computers that were just starting to become available and affordable. In my graduation year I also traveled out to Brandon, Manitoba in the dead of a prairie winter to witness my first total solar eclipse … it was a truly breathtaking sight!
After university I completed a stint with the Canadian Armed Forces and then became involved with the high-tech industry in Ottawa. The use of personal computers had started to explode in the few short years following my graduation and I found exciting opportunities to combine my experience in photography with the emerging field of computer graphics and multimedia animation. Coupled with my love of writing and all things technical, I wound up working with a number of Ottawa’s early high-tech pioneers including Corel Corporation, IDC satellite communications, Nortel, and Newbridge Networks. Corel was particularly influential since they were just starting to develop state-of-the-art graphics and image processing programs for personal computers. The timing there was perfect since affordable digital CCD cameras for astro imaging were then also starting to become more available. So, I took the plunge at that time and bought my first upper-end telescope, a 10” computer-controlled Meade LX200. Now I could explore thousands of celestial objects and my passion for astronomy has just continued to grow since then.
AstroNotes: What excited you about astronomy? What excites you still today?
I think at the most fundamental level, the thing that excited me about studying astronomy is how it revealed the fact that we live on a very small planet in an almost unimaginably enormous and dynamic universe. That’s quite a jolting realization and it certainly fired my imagination. What continues to excite me is the fact that we are now actually going out and physically exploring the space surrounding us. Add to that the explosive growth in our knowledge of the cosmos in just the last few decades. Black holes, warps in space-time, alternate universes, quantum realities … all of these things have moved from the realm of science fiction to leading-edge scientific investigation in our present era. It’s like we’re in a grand awakening and I find that really irresistible.
AstroNotes: What aspects of the hobby have particularly held your interest? What kinds of observing do you do?
I’d have to say that the aspect of amateur astronomy that has held the most interest for me is the ability to go out and directly observe some of these strange new realities, especially in the last decade. My home is under some wonderfully dark skies out in the rural Lanark Highlands and eight years ago I built a permanent observatory there. I decided on an 11” Celestron EdgeHD SCT as the primary telescope, along with a collection of sensitive imaging cameras, and it’s all controllable year-round from an adjacent warm room. This setup has hugely increased my available observing time and opportunities. I’m typically out 70 to 90 nights a year, as weather permits, and save my image processing tasks for the cloudy nights.
Being able to just open up the dome and turn on the power has enabled me to conduct imaging projects that would otherwise not be easily feasible. Specifically, it has allowed me to really push my gear and image processing capabilities to the limits. I love actually observing some of the wonders that instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed to us over the last 30 years. Of course, it’s nowhere near the capabilities of the HST, but seeing and capturing views of colliding galaxies, ghostly nebulae, and gravitationally lensed galaxies billions of light years away is an unparalleled personal thrill of exploration.
NGC 2359 – Thor’s Helmet
NGC 4038-4039 – Antennae Galaxies in collision
Gravitationally-lensed galaxies in Abell 2218
The other type of observing and imaging I really enjoy involves objects, phenomenon, or events that require planning to be in the right place at the right time and usually a good deal of luck. These include auroras, comets, and eclipses. Auroras are fleeting and highly variable and you never really know what you’ll encounter until you’re out looking at them. Comets can likewise be finicky objects and they change their location and appearance from night to night. Even seeing them can be quite challenging due to their often-close proximity to the Sun when they’re typically at their best. Field work from different locations and using smaller visual and photographic instruments is usually required to capture these ethereal beasties.
Comet Lovejoy – January 14, 2015
Comet NEOWISE and aurora – July 13, 2020
Aurora over Hidden Lake – April 29, 2011
Comet NEOWISE and the Big Dipper – July 23, 2020
AstroNotes: What connections has the hobby made to the rest of your life?
Astronomy has been so interwoven with the other aspects of my life that I don’t really see it as a hobby. For most of my working life I have been a self-employed freelancer, by design. This has enabled me to be involved in numerous employment pursuits in addition to my primary focus in the high-tech sector. It has also allowed me to keep the unusual hours required by an astronomer. Though I retired from high-tech telecommunications work a few years ago, I’ve maintained some of my astronomy-related employment opportunities, including teaching at Algonquin College and even writing technical manuals for Doug George’s new family of SBIG astro imaging cameras. I’m also hoping to resume teaching my previous courses in astrophotography and image processing at the School of Photographic Arts – Ottawa (SPAO) once Covid-19 is behind us.
AstroNotes: What advice would you give to novice amateur astronomers?
Amateur astronomy has come such a long way from when I first became involved. The advent of the internet, the invention of digital imaging, affordable and sophisticated computer-controlled telescopes and mounts have all contributed to make this a hobby with incredible depth, but at times, with also a steep learning curve. It begs the question: “How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?”
I would certainly recommend attending star parties and the meetings of astronomy clubs such as the RASC once Covid-19 is done. That’s a great way to meet and talk with others about their experiences and to be able to look through a variety of telescopes. Definitely do that before laying down a sizeable chunk of money on an instrument that may turn out to be more or less than what was wanted. Folks that have never looked through a telescope don’t usually know what to expect. Or if they’ve seen amateur images in magazines or on the internet, they may be quite surprised when they see how differently celestial objects appear when viewed with the naked eye. Astrophotography is a pursuit within the realm of astronomy that has its own equipment requirements and a notable learning curve. Other than basic wide-angle photography with a DSLR or a cell phone on a tripod, I would certainly not recommend that as an entry point into the study of astronomy.
I think investing in a guide such as Terence Dickinson’s NightWatch and a good pair of 10x50 binoculars to start exploring the constellations and the Milky Way would be a great way to begin the journey.
Monthly Challenge Objects
By Oscar Echeverri
From Andrea Girones
IC 1613 - Andrea Girones
M 78 - Andrea Girones
The Flame Nebula (NGC2220) & The Horsehead Nebula (B33) - Andrea Girones
Leo Trio – NGC 3628, M65 & M66 - Andrea Girones
From Bob Olson
Moon in a mauve sky – Bob Olson
M 38 – Bob Olson
M 36 – Bob Olson
M 36 & B226 – Bob Olson
M 82- The Cigar Galaxy, a 30-hour exposure over 6 nights – Bob Olson
M 51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy, 20-hour exposure over 5 nights – Bob Olson
From Paul Klauninger & Jim Thompson
Janssen Crater in SE Lunar highlands – Paul Klauninger
Leibnitz Mts in 3D_photographic - Paul Klauninger & Jim Thompson
Leibnitz Mts in 3D_simulated - Jim Thompson
Simulated Apollo 15 Hadley site in 3D - Jim Thompson
Estelle’s Pick of the Month
The Library is closed until our physical meetings resume.
Carp Star Parties
We are looking for a Public Star Party Co-ordinator. If you are interested in taking on this fulfilling position please contact our new President, Stephen Nourse at firstname.lastname@example.org
FLO Star Party Dates for 2020
Our Ottawa Centre’s Members’ Star Parties at the FLO will continue this winter. If you haven’t attended before, be sure to mark at least one of these dates on your calendar. You are welcome to bring family members or a guest. The GO/NO GO call will be made on the Centre mailing list, about noon the day of the star party.
SUMMER & FALL DATES
February 13 – Waxing Crescent, 2 days old, 4.5% illuminationNO GO
March 13 – Waxing Crescent, 30 days old, 0.3% illumination
April 10 – Waning Crescent, 28 days, 2.3% illumination
May 15 – Waxing Crescent, 3 days, 12.6% illumination
June 12 – Waxing Crescent, 2 days, 4.3% illumination
7:30 PM Friday April 9, 2021 This will be A VIRTUAL MEETING ON ZOOM. Watch for email updates. Note there will be no $4.00 parking fee. The meeting runs until 9:30 pm
PLUS: all our regular meeting features: Ottawa Skies, 10-minute Astronomy News Update, Observation Reports and, sadly, no Door Prizes!
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!
The Ottawa Centre 2020 Council
President: Stephen Nourse (email@example.com)
Vice President: Dave Chisholm
Secretary: Chris Teron (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Treasurer: David Parfett (email@example.com)
Centre Meeting Chair: Dave Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Councillors: Carmen Rush, Gerry Shewan, Jim Sofia
National Council Representatives: Paul Sadler, OPEN
Past President: Mike Moghadam
2020 Appointed Positions
Membership: Art Fraser
Star Parties: OPEN
Fred Lossing Observatory: Rick Scholes (email@example.com)
Light Pollution Abatement: OPEN
Public Outreach Coordinator: Jean-Sebastien (JS) Gaudet
Hospitality: Art & Anne Fraser
Stan Mott Astronomy Library: Estelle Rother
Ted Bean Telescope Library: Darren Weatherall
Webmaster: Mick Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
AstroNotes Editors: Gordon Webster & Douglas Fleming (email@example.com)
1 A radio quite site for the Shirley’s Bay Communications Establishment. A government research facility west of Ottawa (north-end of the Riddell Road on the Ottawa River). The area was used for research into radio communications, ionospherics and later was the site for the Ottawa Solar Observatory. Our Centre gained access to the remote sight and a small “van” beside which we constructed “coffins” for meteor observing.