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Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mothers in the Ottawa Centre. Thank you for all you do.
I hope you are all keeping busy during this lockdown and taking advantage of the few clear nights we have had recently even if you are limited to your backyard. I am always amazed at how much I really can see from my light polluted backyard on a good night with a little patience. As I’m sure most of you have noticed, the full moon always seems to cause clear skies for a couple of nights one side or the other of that date so why not take advantage of it and do some lunar observing. If nothing else it will give you a greater appreciation for the darker skies of the FLO which, we hope, will be open before the end of the month.
As I’m sure you all are aware, this is the 50th Anniversary of our observatory. We are planning a major event for September, COVID, vaccinations, the Provincial government and common sense permitting. Our target date is Saturday, September 11 so please pencil it in your calendar. We will have more information in the next month or so.
Those of you who have been following Paul Klauninger’s lunar project since January will be pleased to read his wonderful article detailing his research. Those of you who are hearing about here for the first time here have a fascinating read waiting for you. In fact, you have two fascinating reads waiting as we also have the fifth installment of Rick Scholes history of the FLO as told by the logbooks. And of course, we have all our regular feature plus some amazing images from our regular contributors.
Clear skies and stay safe,
By David Chisholm
Full Moon May 26th - The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at 11:14 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Flower Moon because this was the time of year when spring flowers appeared in abundance. This moon has also been known as the Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon. This is also the second of three supermoons for 2021. The Moon will be near its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.
The Eta Aquarids is an above average shower, capable of producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. Most of the activity is seen in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, the rate can reach about 30 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet Halley, which has been observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from April 19 to May 28. It peaks this year on the night of May 6 and the morning of the May 7. The second quarter moon will block out some of the faintest meteors this year. But if you are patient, you should still be able to catch quite a few good ones. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius but can appear anywhere in the sky.
French astronomer Jean Louis Pons discovered this comet in June 1819, which was then rediscovered in March 1858 by German astronomer Friedrich Winnecke. Comet 7P/Pons-Winnecke belongs to the Jupiter family of comets, short-period (6.4 years) comets with orbits primarily determined by Jupiter.
Rise/Set 06:23/21:25 -> 06:19/21:40
May 17 - Greatest Eastern Elongation. Look for the planet low in the western sky just after sunset.
Visible after sunset.
Rise/Set 06:22/20:53 -> 06:25/22:04
Visible in the evening.
Rise/Set 08:53/00:37 -> 08:25/23:46
Visible before sunrise
Rise/Set 03:21/13:32 -> 01:31/11:51
Visible before sunrise.
Rise/Set 02:42/12:11 -> 00:45/10:14
Visible before sunrise second half of month.
Rise/Set 05:56/19:56 -> 04:02/18:07
Visible before sunrise
Rise/Set 04:14/15:39 -> 02:18/13:44
The Ottawa Centre Observatory:
A History – by Rick Scholes
Book 5: The Indian River Observatory becomes FLO (1997-2006)
The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Ottawa Centre Observatory, located on MVCA grounds near the Mill of Kintail on the Indian River, near Almonte, Ontario. This history summarizes the observatory logbook highlights, which are presented in chronological order, and have been cherry-picked for their interest, significance, or humour. Additional information from a source other than the logbook has occasionally been inserted in [square brackets].
During this period, the directorship passed from the long-serving Robin Molson to the capable hands of Al Seaman, who was to remain in the role for twelve years. Sadly, founder Fred Lossing died in 1998. Council promptly carried a motion to rename the observatory in his honour later that year.
Sincere thanks to Duncan Seaman for providing digital photos from his family collection. Thanks also to Brian McCullough for additional help, and to Chris Teron for providing access to council records.
Rolf Meier and Brian McCullough at the FLO re-dedication, October 1998 (archive photo)
The Trees Just Keep Growing
Book 5 begins in March 1997 and is titled “Indian River Observatory Log Chapter V According to the Ottawa Centre.” The front cover of the book must originally have been labeled, “Indian River Observatory” and later altered to “Fred P. Lossing Observatory.” The first entries are by Al Seaman, who was in the process of taking over the management role from Robin Molson. Molson had been on the observatory committee since 1980, an astounding 18 years, and was effectively the director for at least the last third or half of that. [The records are unclear. It was also around this time that the Observers Group meetings became the ‘de facto’ primary centre meeting, and the more formalized, hard-science oriented meetings were discontinued.]
Comet Hale-Bopp was enjoyed, and aurorae were mentioned being “beautiful” and “spectacular”. Glenn LeDrew conducted training on the 16” and estimated “naked-eye limiting mag ~ 6.5” in that era. Seaman noted in July 1998 that the observatory wall “SW corner now about 2 inches low and roof drags a bit.” The trio of LeDrew, Luoma, and Benson remained very active, observing many NGC objects. On 29 July Doug George did some CCD imaging with the 16” and was accompanied by Peter Cerevolo, who wrote, “Great night! Spent most of it sleeping in Doug’s van. Couldn’t find NGC688 in the sixteen. Gave up in disgust. Contemplated suicide but slept it off.” In August Paul Comision was “Observing with 5-inch binoculars”, which were a hit with LeDrew and Luoma. Rob Relyea began to help with grass mowing, accompanied on one occasion by daughter Heather, who added, “I saw deer.” Rolf Meier made a rare visit in September to do an hour of comet searching, with his son Matthew who observed, “Shadow on Jupiter.” That month future director Bryan Black made his “first time” visit.
Al Seaman mentions hosting a Cub Scout group that fall, making reference to them at an “adjacent camp site”. A nearby campsite may have contributed to vandalism that began to occur around this time and continued into the 2000’s. On 10 October 1997 a large group of over 26 people from the Ottawa Field Naturalists and McCoun Club were treated to views of “Jupiter, Saturn, M31/32, M57, M13....” as well as a spectacular aurora. LeDrew wrote that the aurorae expanded to “cover 2/3 of the sky” and “even the waxing gibbous moon was no competition!”
Also in October 1997, Seaman met on site with Ross Ferguson of the MVCA, “to discuss tree obstruction problem. Sounds promising that we can reach a reasonable agreement shortly.” Said agreement appears to have been that RASC members could do the trimming. Rick Wagner mentions, “out doing a bit of pruning to bring the bottom of the sky a little closer to the horizon.” Seaman and other members continued trimming through November. The locations were not recorded. [Twenty years later another meeting with Ross occurred for the same reason, but this time Ross arranged for MVCA to cut the trees.]
1997 entries finished on 31 Dec when Rick Wagner entered, “D-D-D-Darn It’s C-C-C-Cold. Also dark, clear, and quiet (except the haunting snapping and cracking of trees in the forest.) Excellent night - 42 Messier, NGC, and IC objects.” These comments presaged the coming ice storm.
The Ice Storm
Those of us older than twenty-five will not forget the Great Ice Storm that began on 4 January 1998. Al Seaman made the first post-storm visit on the afternoon of 10 January. Site power was off, thick ice coated the roofs and rails, and one radio telescope was badly damaged. The many trees down on the access road took Al and Rob Relyea until 14 January to clear, by which time power had been restored. It took several more visits into February to finish chopping and clearing ice so the scope could be used. Although on 18 January Rob wrote, “Don’t attempt driving road!”
The telescope was very sparingly used that winter, in part because users had to walk in from Bennies Corners Road until mid-March. Despite this, on 22 February Lee MacDonald enthused, “Great night! … At times had 6 or 7 galaxies in the eyepiece!! Completed my Messiers!!” After a snowplow was arranged, Rolf and Doug George hosted an astronomy class group of 18 people, earning nothing but rave reviews.
Attendance was high in April 1998, with entries on 14 different days or evenings. Regulars including the Browne’s, Wagner, Taylor, Benson, Relyea, and John Thompson, observed extensive lists of M, NGC, and IC objects. LeDrew and Luoma conducted training, and Seaman and Relyea made daytime visits for maintenance. Deep sky observers benefitted from Seaman fixing the NGC-Max. Al carried out the annual spring changing of the clubhouse lock change, indicating Robin Molson, whose last entry was made in June 1997, had fully stepped away.
The night of 18 July 1998 has 13 names entered and a note by Luoma, “hard to find a parking spot - 14 cars! Al Seaman says that’s a new record. Beautiful night. Saw 5 satellites (including 2 MIR passes...” A week later John Douglas noted, “Iridium flare was as bright or brighter than Jupiter.” Satellites were beginning to encroach but still a novelty. Around this time there are more mentions of people using their own scopes, binoculars, or just their eyes. Hilderic Browne’s 15-inch Obsession [which I now own] saw first light on 26 August. The first entry to mention improved nebula viewing with an OIII filter appears courtesy of Eric Benson and Pat Browne. A C14 scope and pedestal are mentioned, although their location on-site was not. Perhaps in “Fred’s Shed”?
Luoma documented the night of 22 September as follows: “Wonderful (best night in years for me). Transparency ... M33 - naked eye, California nebula binoculars (8x40), Horsehead nebula unfiltered IRO scope.” Seaman also conducted another “Star Nite” for cub scouts and for a Mill of Kintail astronomy course.
Maintenance jobs by Seaman and Relyea that year included: dealing with wasp nests, adding the hooks on the roof beams for the C-clamps, replacing the gate lock, re-painting the observatory and clubhouse, replacing the clubhouse door, rewiring the clubhouse heater, adding a GFI, and topping off more pine trees. No doubt some of this was preparation for the upcoming dedication ceremony.
Fred Lossing Observatory Dedication
Though not mentioned in the logbooks, all members would have known that Fred Lossing had died at the age of 82 on 22 May 1998. IRO was officially re-dedicated as the Fred P. Lossing Observatory at a ceremony held on site on 24 October, led by Brian McCullough. He wrote, “A great turn out to honour Fred’s memory. [This was his first official function after assuming the role of centre president from Paul Hillebrand, who had moved out of the area for work.] Thirty-eight names are listed attending. Rob Dick wrote, “it has been a loooong time.” The clubhouse sign and telescope end cover were both swapped out for new FLO versions. Rick Wagner stayed on to observe overnight.
Brian McCullogh (on ar left) conducting the FLO dedication in October 1998 (archive photo)
Al Seaman adding the new FLO 16” scope cover (archive photo)
Al and various work teams put in a great deal of effort that fall, adding mortar to the cracks in the observatory walls and floor, digging out and adding drainage tiles, and re-grading. All this was presumably an effort to slow down the settling that was causing the wall and floor cracks. This seems to be when the stairs to the mound, by then 20 years old, were removed and replaced by the sloped pathway which now exists. The bulletin and white boards were added in the clubhouse.
In November more vandalism occurred on two occasions, resulting in damage to the clubhouse door and the observatory roof flaps. The clubhouse fire extinguisher and donation jar were stolen. This required multiple visits by Al and others for repairs and to install a new door. It also resulted in many, many additional visits, often daily and mostly by Al, to check that the club assets were secure. (Al would often write “all seems normal”, almost as if he expected to find more problems.) Council considered an alarm system, but instead installed a security camera as a deterrent. Despite these setbacks, Dave Lauzon and Al found time to provide a “tour of the universe” to 18 Notre Dame High School students in November, 15 people from the Mill of Kintail astronomy class in January 1999, and a Kinburn scout group in February.
Road plowing was done less frequently in those days. Rob Relyea wrote, “Brought my snowshoes expecting an unplowed road, pays to check your E-mail daily!” This was still the early days of email, which we now take for granted. It is helpful to know what to expect on site before you go, without having to arrive and read it in the logbook!
A glowing entry by Bryan Black in February 1999 reads, “~20:00-21:00 sat and looked up in amazement ... overwhelmed with appreciation for the universe.” In March, five observers (Peter Williams, Doug George, John Douglas, Glenn LeDrew, and Eric Benson) were treated to a fireball “brighter than the full moon. Broke into pieces. Nearly vertical path due south.” LeDrew’s excellent, detailed entries always included sky and weather conditions.
Log Book 5 page from April 1999 with detailed entry by Glenn LeDrew
Mars put on a good show that year and a few entries include sketches of detail on the planet. Nonetheless most of the entries are comprised of long (and short) lists of Messier and NGC objects spotted. John Douglas completed his Messier hunt that June; no doubt a few others did as well. In July LeDrew reported, “very good night for transparency. With 10x50 binos I could see both halves of the Veil Nebula ...!” – yet another indication that the skies were darker twenty years ago. At the same time, Dave Lauzon “noticed the light pollution over the last few years.” That fall, LeDrew brought home-built 18x60 binos, saying, “Built from 3 different binos. Views are awesome.” They were later referred to as his “Frankensteins.” The 16” scope was upgraded with a helical focusser donated by Peter Cerevolo that August, and a Telrad finder is mentioned for the first time that summer.
The first member to visit in 2000 was Geoff Meek on 5 January, a regular around that time who always left detailed log entries about the conditions and his Messier observations. Other frequent users around this time were Bryan Black, Ron St. Martin, and Anthony Dore. Newcomers commented several times on what a treat the 16” was and how easy it was to use. Doug George and Dave Lauzon both hosted astronomy classes on site. That winter Al Seaman did lots of snow shoveling, arranging for contractor snow clearing only after the moon reached 3rd quarter.
The summer of 2000 was exceptionally busy. July alone takes up four full pages with 18 different names. Comet Linear was a popular sighting. Cathy Hall returned for: “meteors!”. In August we find the first mention of a digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 800, by Richard Taylor, who used it with the 16” for photos of Messier objects. Up to that time, all mentions of photography referred to film cameras. Aurora, which had not been mentioned for a while, recurred on a few nights in late October and early November, mostly green but also some red, observed by Black (“all over the sky, fantastic sight”) and Meek (“the best aurora I’ve seen”).
In February 2001 the 10” reflector was returned to FLO with a new DOB mount. This telescope enjoyed immediate usage and is still available in the clubhouse for members.
10” DOB refurbished for FLO by Bryan Black & Anthony Dore in 2001 (photo: R. Scholes, 2021)
In April 2001 there is the first mention of using a GPS on site by Rob Relyea. He recorded N 45 15.027’ W 76 15.619’ and elevation 151m. Also, that month Geoff Meek observed a star being occultation by the moon, a rare occurrence in these logs.
Observers sometimes showed up on cloudy or even rainy nights in those days. Sometimes it cleared, sometimes not. [Attilla Danko’s Clear Sky Clock did not debut until the following year.] On 20 May 2001 Rick Wagner noted, “Goodness what a crowd.” Seven names are listed - this would not have been a huge crowd in the 70s and 80s. Nonetheless, the 10” surely came in handy on such nights. On 19 July Bryan Black wrote, “a lot of people” and Dave Fedosiewich added, “lots of ‘scopes!” In August Geoff Meek wrote, “Up with my 16-inch DOB. Eric Benson helped me collimate it! That fall an ISS sighting is mentioned for the first time by Matt Weeks.
A Leonid Spectacular
November 2001 was a busy time. The night of the 17th saw two different visitor groups hosted by Al Seaman, Brian McCullough, and Pat Browne. Staying the overnight into the 18th, Dave Fedoseiwich, Anthony Dore, Al Seaman, and Rick Wagner witnessed a most memorable Leonid meteor shower. Their euphoric log entries practically leap off the page. Dave wrote, “8 hours later, this has turned out to be my first and possibly only 1000+ meteor night. Simply speechless!” Anthony added, “2 1/2 hours of absolute wonder! More meteors tonight than past 30 years of stargazing combined!!”
Equipment wear and tear began to increase. Al Seaman made multiple visits in 2002 to troubleshoot and repair wiring problems in the hand controller, drive and even the power line to the observatory. The mirrors were washed per the “Lossing procedure” that fall, Al noting, “really dirty, clean now but some small spots where coating is degrading.” Washing the mirror became a regular fall occurrence during his tenure. He also added a cooling fan to the drive controller.
Comet Ikeya-Zhang put on a fine show in the spring of 2002. Dave Fedoseiwich again observed Pluto with the 16”, having first done so in 1979. [Pluto was to be demoted to dwarf planet in 2006.]
Many of the observers at this time were working on their Messier and Finest NGC lists. Matt Weeks completed his Messier hunt in August, and the Finest NGC list on Boxing Day 2002. The Hershel 400 is mentioned by John Thompson. Geoff Meek was also a regular observer of NGC objects, finishing his Finest NGC list in November 2003.
More Maintenance and Vandalism
In May and June 2003 Al Seaman made five consecutive day visits to repair ruts in the road, then taught a new user course on the 16”, and finally made an “evening visit to cut grass or hay.” In August the gate lock had to be changed after it was found damaged apparently by hammer blows. In November he added a new heater in the clubhouse. In a very cold January 2004 he removed the roof winch mechanism and bike chain for refurbishment … when he wasn’t clearing snow. He was tireless!
In August 2003 we find the first “Neighbourhood Blitz!!!!”. Ross Taylor and Pat and Hilderic Browne hosted over 15 of the local Bennies Corners neighbours for a sky tour. The benefit of good neighbour relations is obvious: night-sky-friendly behavior and lighting. The Browne’s were to continue these regularly until they left the area 15 years later. Some names that reappear that year after absences of different durations were: Glenn LeDrew, Frank Roy, Peter McKinnon, and Eric Benson.
On 3 August 2004 Seaman arrived to conduct a training course and found yet another break-in had occurred. The upper observatory door was “kicked in” and the eyepiece box and fire extinguisher were missing. He conducted the training session, went home and returned later with material to repair the door, and again the next day with the OPP. A new set of Antares W70 eyepieces was purchased [at a cost of $400] and delivered in their aluminum case on 13 October, henceforward stored in the clubhouse rather than the observatory. [The stolen eyepiece box and contents were later recovered.]
FLO in 2005 (security camera visible at the apex of the clubhouse roof)(photo: Al Seaman)
Director Al Seaman with the 16” telescope, 2005 (photo: Al Seaman)
Although the site was regularly used that year, not so on the night of 27 October. Al Seaman “set up the 16” for both SLR and digital camera and spent the evening on the lunar eclipse. Very nice and no clouds as well. Amazing ... Strange that no one else came out tonight.” Star parties and class groups were not reported that year at all.
In July 2005 Tom Ray made a very positive though atypical entry: “Grounds user, out 10 times in the last year, this is a fantastic location, I really appreciate having access. Keep up the good work!” This is one of those tip-of-the-iceberg things. The actual number of site users over the years is a huge unknown because many do not leave records in the log.
On 8 August 2005 Eric Benson, a regular user at that time, made the following comment about limiting magnitude: “l.m.6.2, this seems to be the limit even under very transparent skies due to increased light pollution as compared to previous years where 6.4 to 6.6 was the limit.” He and other observers were able to see the Martian polar cap and other surface features, however.
Damaged and overgrown radio telescope prior to removal in 2005 (photo: Al Seaman)
Piles of scrap being removed from site in 2005 (old outhouse on far left) (photo: Al Seaman)
In October, Al Seaman began preparations to finally remove surplus structures which had fallen into disrepair: two donated domes (7’ and 8’ diameter), and the two radio telescopes. In doing so he noted some fresh bear scat around the site. [None has been seen since, to my knowledge.] Assisted by several helpers the scrap was gathered, piled, and then trailered to the dump. As soon as that was done a drive tracking problem was reported on the 16”, requiring disassembly of the worm gear, clutches, and DEC drive for refurbishment. Despite all the repairs it was only down for one week. A couple of users reported good scope performance, but site usage dropped off that winter due to heavy precipitation. Most of the entries were by Al, clearing snow, ice and fallen trees.
The 16” mount, RA drive, and NGC max in 2005 (photo: Al Seaman)
Guts of the RA drive mechanism undergoing repairs in 2005 (photo: Al Seaman)
Logbook 5 ends with Doug George hosting a small astronomy class on 1 March 2006.
Next month: Book 6 – The FLO Reaches its Fifth Decade (2006 to 2019)
Exploring the lunar south polar mountains – Paul Klauninger
A shiny bauble!
The Universe is a big place full of splendors, mysteries, and unimaginable scenery. So, it’s no small wonder that when we start to investigate that vastness we can be presented with uncountable pathways to wander along. Whether one’s interests are in exploring distant galaxies, imaging fantastically intricate and beautiful nebulae, monitoring the variability of distant stars, following ethereal comets, or watching leftover debris from the birth of our solar system zip through the night sky, there is no shortage of avenues to spark our imaginations. That’s the nature of astronomy … experiencing the greater realm beyond our immediate world. So many things to see … so little time!
One such avenue presented itself back in December 2020 while I was taking images of the close conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn. Though I was snookered by clouds in my area on the day of closest approach, I did manage to capture some nice views on a few nights prior as the planets drew closer together.
December 17, 2020 – Jupiter-Saturn conjunction and Moon_Paul Klauninger
I overexposed the image to try to catch some of the major moons of Jupiter and Saturn, along with the earthshine that was obvious on our own Moon that evening. Using the sharp contours of the Moon to focus the view, it was then I noticed a bright knot of light near the southern edge of the lunar limb.
At first, I thought this was a star undergoing a grazing occultation by the Moon, but when it didn’t change its position in subsequent exposures, I realized it must be a lunar feature, likely a mountain near the south pole. What struck me as unusual though was that in all my years of celestial observing I had never observed such a bright and compact feature so widely removed from the tip of the illuminated crescent. It really caught my eye, especially in binoculars, where it appeared almost as a jewel dangling from the crescent. The view certainly sparked my curiosity as to which feature on the Moon would create such a view. I didn’t realize at the time that this dazzling little bauble would lead to the wonderful avenue of investigation that followed.
ince the image taken on December 17 was one of low resolution captured using only a 70mm lens, it was difficult to determine precisely where on the Moon the feature in question was located. This is always tricky anywhere near the limb of the Moon, where foreshortening flattens the view of large tracts of terrain into very narrow bands due to the shallow viewing angle. It makes round features such as craters appear as sausages! Thankfully, a lunar mapping program called Virtual Moon Atlas (VMA) can generate precise views of the Moon for any given time and location and includes accurate renditions of the current phase and libration angles. So, I was able to overlay a projection of the Moon on that date onto my image, complete with a grid of latitude and longitude coordinate lines. This certainly narrowed down the possible location.
From this I learned that several prominent mountains were in fact situated in the area. These are the Leibnitz Mountains, a name no longer officially recognized but still widely used informally. They are actually outliers of the mighty mountains that ring the enormous South Pole-Aitken Basin situated on the Moon’s far side. Fortunately, the VMA grid overlay provided the coordinates that allowed me to then link other data sets to my image, specifically the overhead polar imaging of the Clementine Orbiter and the polar topographic mapping done by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
After scaling my image to those data sets and orienting them to account for the libration values and solar illumination angle that evening, I started to become more certain of what I was seeing. The bright knot of light appeared to be the Leibnitz Beta Massif (Leibnitz peak “E”), with its smaller neighbour to the west, the Malapert Massif (Leibnitz peak “D”). These are two of the tallest mountains on the Moon and lie only four to six degrees of latitude from the south pole. On December 17, the Leibnitz Beta Massif was situated right near the limb of the Moon as seen from Earth, due to the degree of latitudinal libration that night. Its towering height of nearly 7,000 meters above the lunar datum would allow it to poke up prominently above the limb and catch sunlight streaming in from the far side. Even the smaller Malapert Massif would have sufficient height to jut above the limb, though it would only be slightly illuminated on this night.
If correct, this was an exciting realization, since I knew that both of these particular mountains were under consideration as prime landing sites for the upcoming return to crewed lunar missions in the American Artemis program. Unlike every other lunar site humans have set foot on, here was an upcoming one that could be easily observed by anyone on Earth with even just binoculars, provided they looked at the right time. I was eager to share this information with others in the club and so presented these preliminary observations at the January 2021 meeting. I also planned to do some follow-on imaging at much higher resolution to get a clear look at this area of the Moon and nail down a more certain confirmation of the feature identifications I suspected. This would require imaging the region when it was more fully illuminated.
January’s weather was a bit of a give and take. The sky was overcast for the next possible opportunity to observe the Moon at mid-month when orbital conditions were similar to December 17. However, the last week of the month was very cooperative on a number of nights. This allowed me to capture detailed views with the 11” Edge HD at the highest resolution available to me.
January 24, 2021 - The Malapert and Leibnitz Beta Massifs_Paul Klauninger
At this high resolution and degree of illumination, feature reconciliation and identification with the LRO topographic data was much more certain. I presented these new views and findings at the February 2021 club meeting, again mentioning that I hoped to image the mountains near the cusp of the thin lunar crescent in mid-February, when conditions would be similar to December 17. As it turned out, my mentioning this would open some unexpected pathways, and not just for myself.
An unexpected wormhole opens
After that meeting Jim Thompson contacted me and expressed his piqued curiosity regarding this bright lunar feature. Jim is our club’s most prolific lunar imager and has consistently presented amazing high-resolution views of our nearest neighbour in space. To that end, Jim’s curiosity led him to go through his collection of lunar south polar imagery. He then forwarded me a link so that I could peruse these views to see if they might help in positively identifying the feature and its surrounding terrain. We also then agreed to collaborate on this study and combine our efforts to further examine the region. There was one image in particular that Jim sent that allowed me to see and evaluate the effect of lunar libration on the region over the course of just one day. But more significantly, it enabled a totally unexpected and thrilling new look at this area.
As it turned out, Jim had taken a high-resolution image of the same area as one of mine and only about 27 hours earlier. When I examined the two views closely, it struck me that the differences in shadow angles and shift in libration between them altered the perspective just enough so that a three-dimensional stereoscopic view might be possible. That realization comes from my past experience at university and in the Canadian Armed Forces working with aircraft photo interpretation, where I learned how to resolve stereo image pairs into 3-D views without the aid of a viewer. So when I matched the scale of both our lunar images and placed them side by side, I was truly jolted by what I saw … hovering above the Moon’s south polar region and seeing it in 3-D!
Leibnitz Mountains in 3-D_Jim Thompson (2021-01-31 at left) and Paul Klauninger (2021-02-01 at right).
To see this in 3-D, zoom in to have the image fill your screen’s width. Sit squarely about a meter or so in front of your display, relax, and focus on the black line separating the two panels. Slowly cross your eyes slightly and you’ll notice the text from both sides trying to merge. Try to bring them completely together and into focus. Tilting your head slightly to the left or right might help to align them. Unfortunately, some folks have difficulty seeing this without a stereoscopic viewer, but If you can manage it, the whole view should snap into focus and become very three dimensional, allowing you to really explore this fascinating moonscape.
The Leibnitz Beta and Malapert Massifs jumped out of the view and immediately gave me an appreciation of how they could act as huge reflectors when libration situated them near the lunar rim or even some distance behind it. The surrounding topography was equally impressive, with deep craters, valleys, and other lesser mountains filling the moonscape. I was mesmerized by the view, as was Jim! Neither of us had ever seen a 3-D view of the Moon like this done using amateur imagery, only those done by Apollo missions and robotic space probes. It made Jim dive into his image archives where he found a number of high-resolution image pairs taken only a short time apart that he thought might be useful for stereo pairing. He sent me these and I saw that one specific pair of the ray crater Anaxagoras seemed particularly suitable. I scaled them and oriented the pair side by side and again, the 3-D view jumped out at me. The rich detail captured by Jim revealed the smooth terrain of the northern shore of Mare Frigoris at the bottom of the scene, progressing upwards to the relatively fresh crater near the centre and then through the more rugged surrounding highlands heading towards the lunar north pole at the limb. The pronounced variety in the terrain elevations becomes very evident in 3-D.
Anaxagoras crater in 3-D_Jim Thompson
These three-dimensional views sparked a realization in Jim that involved another interest of his, namely 3-D modeling. We had both attempted to image the Moon again on February 14, when I had estimated it might once again clearly show us the peaks near the south pole. However, the sky was not very cooperative, and we only had limited imaging success that night. The following nights were completely overcast and so foiled our efforts at trying to pin down the conditions necessary to easily view the mountains.
At this point, Jim felt that we might get around the lack of clear sky if he could create a 3-D model of the Moon using publically available elevation data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and applying the Caligari trueSpace modelling software he was familiar with, and so down the rabbit hole he went! He experimented with a couple of different approaches and achieved success in producing an accurate 3-D surface model that he could then configure for any combination of lunar librations and angles of illumination by the Sun. In effect, this allowed him to produce simulated views of how the Moon’s south polar region should appear at any point in time. So, coupling that ability with the libration and illumination data generated by the Virtual Moon Atlas program, we could then generate simulations that could be verified against some of the images we had already taken. If that panned out, his model should then let us predict with a good degree of certainty when the next best opportunities would occur to see the mountains as they appeared back on December 17. And by a stroke of good fortune, we had access to a wonderful image taken by fellow club member Andrew Brown on that night at a much higher resolution than my original view and so we could use that as a test of Jim’s model.
The correlation positively confirmed the identities of the mountains and gave us confidence that the model could accurately predict when optimum viewing and imaging conditions would occur in the future.
But the rabbit hole was deep, and Jim realized that his model could also be used to create simulated stereo image pairs, not only of the south polar region, but indeed of anywhere on the Moon where the LRO elevation data was available, such as the view of the Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley Rille. It even enabled him to render a 3-D stereo movie of the south polar region showing the changing shadows over the course of a full lunar day!
Simulated Apollo 15 Hadley site in 3-D_Jim Thompson
Jim and I presented these exciting developments and shared our 3-D images in a joint presentation at the March 2021 club meeting. We were so pumped by what we had created. And now with an accurate predictive model of the lunar south polar mountains in hand, we ran the data for the next likely imaging opportunities. These turned out to be the nights of March 15 and 16, and this time the sky accommodated us!
Jim rendered his simulation for March 15, and I coupled it with the LRO topographical view seen from above the lunar south pole, along with the illumination from the Sun and the angles that sunlight would strike the mountains allowing them to be seen from Earth. Correlation with the image taken that night was great.
March 15, 2021 - The Moon at 2.6 days after New Moon_Paul Klauninger
But the view on the following evening was spectacular and even better than December 17!
March 16, 2021 - The Moon at 3.6 days after New Moon_Paul Klauninger
The Leibnitz Beta Massif was highly visible in 15x70 binoculars, looking like an iridescent pearl. It was very bright and distinctly separated from the tip of the crescent. The smaller Malapert Massif was also very easily visible just to its left and it recorded strongly in the image. This was quite a contrast from the evening before, when the Leibnitz Beta Massif was just barely visible in the binoculars and the Malapert Massif not at all.
I presented these observations at the April 2021 club meeting along with a summary of what Jim and I had derived from our investigations into the visibility of these two particular lunar mountains. In summation, our lunar images, LRO topographic projections, and 3-D modelling simulations indicate that the observation windows we’ve had since December to see these peaks as distinctly separate points of light have been approximately 34 hours in duration per lunar cycle. This critical window is centered on a point in time of about 3.1 days after the New Moon phase. In essence, any amount of elapsed time less than about 2.4 days after New Moon wouldn’t have the illumination streaming in from over the far side at the required angle to light up the peaks. Any elapsed time greater than about 3.8 days after the New Moon would by then sport a crescent that has grown large enough to have its tip of light touch the Leibnitz Beta Massif.
However, there is another major factor linked to this time frame. The visibility of the mountains during the window of interest is not only dependent on time, but also on the amount of latitudinal libration the Moon exhibits at that time. That libration (or “tilt”) results from the inclination of both the Moon’s equator and its orbital plane with respect to the Earth’s orbital plane and it can be as much as +7 degrees. It varies constantly as the Moon moves in its orbit and the change is observable even on a daily basis.
We’ve only been able to view the Moon for a few months since my initial observation on December 17, and for all those months the latitudinal libration has consistently been several degrees down (positive) from the North during the critical windows. This means that the northern latitudes of the Moon have effectively been tilted more towards Earth and conversely, the southern latitudes have been tilted away. Since the two mountains of interest lie at latitudes of approximately 85 degrees south, that tilt has actually shifted them closer to the southern limb of the Moon as seen from Earth during those critical windows of time. As a result of this orientation and since these mountains are several thousand meters in height, their peaks could then easily intercept the sunlight streaming in over the limb and reflect that light to Earth. Meanwhile the terrain at their bases would still be shadowed and only lit by earthshine, as seen in the various images presented here.
By the same reasoning, if the amount of latitudinal libration were instead to be several degrees up (negative) from the South during the critical window, then the mountains would effectively be shifted northwards towards us. Even their highest elevations would then not poke above the lunar limb. They would remain in darkness even when the extent of the illuminated crescent is identical to that on December 17 or March 16. Due to the celestial geometry of the Moon’s orbit (its inclination to the ecliptic and the current orientation of its nodes), that is precisely the situation that will occur over the next few months. May 14th may show just a hint of the Leibnitz Beta Massif according to Jim’s simulation model. However it won’t be until October 9th that the latitudinal libration will once again be tilted down from the North during the critical time window and allow the mountains to clearly appear as bright separate knots of light beyond the cusp of the waxing crescent.
These different libration scenarios are illustrated below. The middle panel represents the situation from last December to April and then again later this year by October. The bottom panel represents May to September.
Given these factors, it’s not surprising that seeing these mountains in this way is a bit tricky and can certainly be fleeting. Even though the critical window of time is about 34 hours long per month, the Moon’s phase when it occurs puts it fairly close to the Sun and so one must wait until an hour or so after sunset to get a good view in a darkening sky. However, this also means that the Moon will set only a couple of hours afterwards.
The bottom line here is that ideal conditions at your particular location may only occur six or seven times per year, and be visible for only a couple of hours on any of those occasions. But if you are lucky enough to have clear skies and catch the Moon through binoculars or a telescope during one of those times, you’ll be treated to a very special view. The location where humans will likely next set foot again on our nearest neighbour in space in the coming years will be prominently lit by the two bright beacons of the Leibnitz Beta and Malapert Massifs!
SpaceX Starship lands on the Moon as part of America’s Artemis program (Image credit: SpaceX)
Moon 2021-04-14 – Paul Klauninger
Monthly Challenge Objects
By Oscar Echeverri
From Andrea Girones
M81 & M 82 - Andrea Girones
M 106 and surrounding galaxies - Andrea Girones
Rosette Nebula - Andrea Girones
From Taras Rabarskyi
Mars and the Pleiades - Taras Rabarskyi
From Jim Sofia
Mars – Jim Sofia
From Bob Olson
NGC 2440 - Bob Olson
NGC 2440 cropped – Bob Olson
UGC 6253 – Bob Olson
M 87 – Bob Olson
M 87 – Bob Olson
M 5 Bob Olson
Thor’s Helmet – Bob Olson
M 101 – Bob Olson
Estelle’s Pick of the Month
The Library is closed until our physical meetings resume.
Virtual International Astronomy Day in Ottawa
The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) Montreal Centre invites you to join us in celebrating International Astronomy Day 2021 with three exciting events: a talk by the 2020 Nobel Prize Winner, a fabulous Global Star Party & the launch of Creation Station: a new kids' program for ages 5-12. Posters for all three events are attached.
On Tuesday, May 11th at 7:30pm EDT, the National RASC and CASCA (Canadian Astronomical Society) present the 2021 Helen Sawyer Hogg Prize Lecture by Dr. Andrea Ghez, the 2020 Nobel Prize Winner. This annual lecture, in recognition of the sustained and diverse contributions of Helen Sawyer Hogg to public appreciation of the universe around us, will present Dr. Ghez's contributions to the discovery of the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* at the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy. This free public event will be streamed live on the RASC National YouTube Channel, followed by a moderated Q&A.
On Saturday, May 15th, beginning at 7:00pm EDT (23:00 UTC) the RASC Montreal Centre will be co-hosting the 45th Global Star Party by the Explore Alliance. These Global Star Parties have been reaching audiences in the thousands, sharing our wonder of the Night Sky with enthusiasts of all ages. Over a dozen Montreal Centre members will share their experiences with the world during this year's International Astronomy Day event! The night's program will be divided into three parts: with Observing Stories leading off the event, followed by Outreach Stories and Imaging Stories with a short break between each Part. The night will end with an after-party where the audience can also join in to share their Astronomy stories.
The event will be simulcast on all the Explore Alliance Platforms and on the RASC Montreal Centre YouTube Channel.
Creation Station for Kids ages 5-12
Station de Création pour Enfants 5 à 12 ans
To celebrate International Astronomy Day, the RASC invites kids ages 5-12 to share your short stories, drawings, poems and comics about Astronomy and Space. These wonderful creations will be shared on our website for all to enjoy.
Between May 15th-June 13th, submit your creation with your parents' help and become the first contributors to Creation Station.
Visit https://rasc.ca/creationstation or email firstname.lastname@example.org for additional details.
Pour célébrer la Journée Internationale de l'Astronomie, la SRAC (Société royale d'astronomie du Canada) invite les enfants de 5 à 12 ans à partager vos nouvelles, dessins, poèmes et bandes dessinées sur l'astronomie et l'espace. Ces merveilleuses créations seront partagées sur notre site Web pour le plaisir de tous.
Entre le 15 mai et le 13 juin, soumettez votre création avec l'aide de vos parents et devenez les premiers contributeurs à Station de Création.
Visite https://rasc.ca/creationstation ou email email@example.com pour plus de details
Mark your calendars for our next RASC Montreal Centre Public Event
Saturday, June 5th at 7pm EDT: Encouraging Girls into STEM Fields by Fusing Art and Astrobiology by Bettina Forget
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% illuminationNO GO
April 10 – Waning Crescent, 28 days, 2.3% illuminationAnother victim of COVID
May 15 – Waxing Crescent, 3 days, 12.6% illumination Not likely due to Lockdown
June 12 – Waxing Crescent, 2 days, 4.3% illumination
7:30 PM Friday June 4, 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)