2017 General Assembly in Ottawa

Thank you to everyone who helped to make the 2017 GA on June 30 - July 3 such an enjoyable and memorable event.

Calgary Centre is hosting the 2018 GA from 28 June to 02 July.

Ottawa Centre wishes the very best to the 2018 GA Committee in their efforts. Here's to a great 2018 GA in Calgary!


Daily Synopses by Brian McCullough


2017 RASC GA – Day 1 Stuff

Hi Folks,

I hope you have been able to enjoy some of the first-day events of our 2017 "Maple GA." We could not have asked for a better opening to an assembly that has been in development since October 2015. Please take a moment to acknowledge the effort of the volunteers who are working the desks, cameras and computers to offer every one of you the best possible GA experience over the Canada 150 weekend in Ottawa.

The keynote address by SkyNews Associate Editor Ken Hewitt-White about what makes the RASC the RASC from a "Ken Aitch-Dub" perspective made for an outstanding launch, with several people mentioning it was the best "no slides" presentation they'd ever heard. Way to go, Ken! He’s had this one in development for us since the fall of 2015, but I was never quite certain what he might actually deliver. Ken has a wicked sense of humour, and also a strong sense of what it means to be an RASC amateur astronomer. Ken was a member of Ottawa Centre during the 1967 centennial, so it only made sense to have him back for the nation’s sesquicentennial. I am sure everyone sees now why Ken was our ONLY choice for keynoting a 2017 GA in Ottawa. It was nice seeing him chatting with some of his old pals.

Congratulations as well to Dr. Brendan “Ben” Quine on a fascinating look at an active observing undertaking involving one of the most basic of tools – radio waves! How deliciously Old School, but in an ultra-modern application. His was a perfect opening day presentation that appealed on multiple levels, which is not an easy thing to do. I am still hearing excellent feedback from people who really enjoyed Ben’s talk.

Thanks also to the people who stepped forward as panelists and audience commentators for the panel discussion. It was nice to see one of our youngest members – Ruby Lacerte – getting involved, with our regular Centre Meeting Chair Kelly Jordan doing an amazing job as moderator before transitioning nicely into her yummy tummy astro-dessert talk. It was a tasty appetizer to the well-run BBQ supper managed by our two Algonquin College hosts, Jennifer Thurston-Saunders and Laura Dimic. These two women have been working very hard indeed to ensure our food and room services are to your satisfaction.

The weather for our star party might have been a tad on the cloudy side, but you get some idea of the resources Ottawa Centre is able to marshal at the Carp site for our popular and well-attended regular public star parties. (To say nothing of the GA Chair ordering up a nice First Quarter Moon for the event. ;-) Mike Moghadam has done wonderful work with an equally enthusiastic team of scope drivers to make these events happen. He also shouldered a great deal of the late-stage GA operational burden by organizing the volunteers and registration desk, and keeping the buses on track. No one does it better than Mike when it comes to rolling out a game plan.

What did you think of the Diefenbunker tour? Those guides really know how to interpret a strange story from Canada's past, don't they? And like I always say, there's nothing like the smell of damp culverts and concrete to stimulate the imagination. I was glad we were able to get our Ruth Northcott lecturer Dr. Eric Steinbring from YOW to the Dief in time for some of the tour.

I have to admit that it is a little bit spooky seeing everything unfold more or less as planned. From square one I had a clear vision of the way I wanted to stage this general assembly – what I wanted to include, and how I wanted to present things. It's almost exactly what you see in the program, along with some special outreach and in-reach we are conducting. Ottawa Centre has done an amazing job of helping us continue to do what we do best throughout the GA itself.

What you do not see is how the members of Ottawa Council and others have helped me to fine-tune this sometimes fanciful vision into reality over the past 20 months. Kelly Jordan, energetic and resourceful as ever, sourced at the last minute something I've wanted for this GA from the get-go – a small maple (butter) centrepiece "prize" for every table at the Sunday banquet.

What you most certainly see is the quiet, seamless work of our a/v coordinator, Chris Teron. He does this for all of our Centre meetings, and it is a pleasure to share and showcase his talents with all of our presenters. His capacity for remembering things I've forgotten to do is downright life-saving.

If anyone deserves a gold star of appreciation in all of this, it is Tim Cole – our GA vice chair and current Centre president. There are not enough stars in the universe to properly acknowledge the commitment and sacrifice he has made, and continues to make, to ensure the success of this General Assembly. Our two- and three-hour late-night phone calls during most of the past 600 days have been both slogging hard work and calming therapy at different times. It really says something that we are still on the most excellent of speaking terms, possibly because we have allowed one another to blow off a little steam once in awhile with no harm done.

As if his share of the load weren't already outrageous enough, he has stepped up in recent weeks to give me space to complete some urgent deadline work for my day job. Please say hi to my friend Tim.

And see you all soon for the first session of Day 2! I hear the presenter has something interesting up his sleeve that will involve several youth helpers from Ottawa and Montreal.




2017 RASC GA – Day 2 est dans la baguette!

Hi folks,

What a day! It was a perfect rainy day for being indoors, and we made the most of it with a full schedule of presentations and intentionally longish coffee breaks to give us ample time to chat. What a great GA vibe we had on the go all day long. Thank you for all of your comments of support in person and over the email yesterday and today. What a boost.

I have to admit that for myself the highlight was having the young astronomers work with me to set up and run my Educators Outreach Workshop. If that isn't the name of the game, I don't know what is. Taara, Ilyas and Ruby were amazing. I was a bit tired and harried when I arrived in the morning, but they, along with Sharmin and Julie, got me back on track like no one else could. Thanks guys! Give me some time to decompress the GA team, and we will put today's outreach tips up on our website, along with a few more I didn't have time to share this morning: Ping-pong planets, classroom rocket fuel, remote sensing...the list goes on.

I offer my thanks to Eric and Eunice Kujala for their great live video support for the meteor impact demo, and for videotaping the lunar sketching activity outside the classroom that was being so ably conducted by Gordon Webster and Julia Webster. Julia, our Centre's youngest presenter, has shared her lunar observations with us on several occasions, and I was so pleased she agreed to come in and do this with her dad.

And what about that Simon Hanmer! I ask you. If ever there were a geologist who knows how to jam a stick into a planetary pot and stir things up, it's our Simon. What I like best about the way he presents is how he lays out the evidence, and then challenges each one of us to come to our own conclusions. He teases us with his intellectual high-wire approach, no question, but his end game is always to make us stop, think, and evaluate the science data in new ways. Easy to see why he is a "fan favourite" presenter at Ottawa Centre meetings, and why we had to have him in our GA lineup. Merci bien, Monsieur Hanmer.

The lunch break was next, but while our a/v guru Chris Teron was grabbing a bite to eat and setting up for the Ruth Northcott Lecture (RNL) in Salon A, the rest of the GA team was scrambling to unravel the Secret of the Lost Key. Nancy Drew could not have solved this mystery any better than our crack team of...um...crack case crackers.

We were so pleased to introduce Dr. Eric Steinbring from NRC in Victoria as our presenter for the prestigious 2017 Ruth Northcott Lecture (RNL). What a great thing it was that he could take us on such a fascinating journey into Canada's High Arctic to learn about sublimation baseball and other aspects of life and work in an extreme environment. [My wife Bridget Madill and I have learned much about Eighty North from our own astrophysicist daughter's work at Eureka during polar sunrise/set. However, Dr. Daughter Emily McCullough, who recommended Eric to us, also likes to scare Mum and Dad with selfies of herself with big wolves in uncomfortably close chomping range. Always a treat.] What I loved about Eric's presentation, Astronomy From Coast to Coast to Coast, was that he used his humorous and revealing "travelecture" to let us better understand what it takes from a human factors standpoint to actually go out and do groundbreaking, innovative astronomical research and testing in some of the planet's harshest and most unforgiving environments. It also made us think more deeply into the debate over sending humans or “bots” out on our specie's voyages of discovery. Thank you for taking us along in your carry-on, Eric. What you gave us was as entertaining as it was informative – the perfect public lecture.

And thank you to veteran RASC Ottawa-based astronomy educator Paul Klauninger who was standing by to conduct our post-RNL public outreach session. We knew we had to include public outreach as part of our GA program because, hey, it's what we do, but as it turned out, the members of the non-GA public who did attend Dr. Steinbring's presentation were already conversant with all things astro. Thanks for preparing nonetheless, Paul. I believe the fact we were set up to do this offers an encouraging challenge to Robyn Foret and his Calgary 2018 team to include the public in the RASC sesquicelebrations. No pressure.

Okay, so I thought I knew a thing or two about documentary scriptwriting, and had an artsy idea in my head about what's involved with producing a film, but Holy B-roll, Batman! I don't know whether I should thank Sunshine Coast Centre President Charles Ennis for delivering such a clear, well-paced account of what it takes to drop a doc, or call down a pox upon his house for pulling back the curtain to show us what it is really like. Great job, Charles. I learned much from your captivating talkumentary describing the complicated art of producing a documentary. Really well done. Thank you.

When Ottawa Centre Councillor Gerry Shewan pitched in to help with the support from this general assembly early on, we had no idea he would be able to connect us so neatly with the Canadian Space Agency. The agency is barely two hours down the road from the nation's capital, but we simply do not reach out to them as often as we should. I say "should" because, as the questions and comments surrounding Dr. Denis Laurin's fine overview of our national space activity indicated all too clearly, there are as-yet unexplored creative ways in which the RASC and CSA might possibly collaborate. It was very interesting to hear what Dr. Laurin had to say about the broad and significant contribution Canada makes toward the exploration of space, especially regarding the James Webb Space Telescope. I felt like I was transported to the future. Merci Denis.

My personal friend Glenn LeDrew has long been associated with RASC Ottawa Centre, but you might not know that you already know him – or his work, at least – from the pages of SkyNews magazine. Check out the charts and illustrations in your back issues of this fine publication, and look for his byline. If you get a chance on Sunday afternoon, bend Glenn's ear on just about any aspect of astronomy science. You won't be disappointed by what this self-educated amateur astronomer can tell you about our place in the universe, including how we live in 3-dimensional space amidst a moving stream of stars. Thank you, Glenn.

I hope not too many of you got too badly rained upon on Canada Day evening, and that you felt the history at play as Canadian confederation turned 150 years old. But don't let's sit in damp, idle reflection. The Annual General Meeting is first up in the morning, and we need to get out to show our support for the organization, and to help shape the decisions that will move us forward in the best way possible.

If I might, I'd like to say thanks again to keynote speaker Ken Hewitt-White for staying with us for the entire GA. We appreciate the important thread of continuity this offers us. If any of you have never had an opportunity to speak with Ken one-on-one, consider taking a few moments to do so before the GA closes out. We have brought our lineup of speakers together for a reason, so please take advantage of the opportunities.

Clear skies,



2017 RASC GA – Final Days

Hello everyone!

Forgive me for not sending out my daily update immediately following our Sunday evening banquet, but I was out of gas. You might have noticed during the banquet that I took some time to wind down by going walkabout with Baby James Meier, which also gave his parents Melissa and Matt a chance to eat their supper. When our food services host Jennifer saw how quiet the baby was with me, she said she was going to hire me as a baby whisperer.

More on the banquet later, so let's shift to the events from earlier in the day. The folks from National will give us all the official bumpf coming out of the Annual General Meeting, but I have to say that as a member I was encouraged by the attendance, and by the quality of the interaction I was able to observe. By necessity, I had to pop in and out of the meeting as I attended to GA matters.

As we reconvened after lunch, it was a pleasure to introduce you to the woman who has been offering such amazing talks about astronomy's historical figures to Ottawa Centre for so many years – RASC Ottawa Councillor Carmen Rush. The retired teacher always does her homework very well by digging out the most interesting aspects of a historical figure or event she can find, and then crafting a story that will engage us from start to finish. Thank you, Carmen, for a wonderful presentation on Charles Messier.

Kingston Centre president (and Ottawa Centre member) Richard Wagner was next up with a fascinating, multi-layered presentation on his photometry program, and on the equipment he uses to conduct what I feel is the best of Old Time amateur astronomy. Taking nothing away from our other excellent presenters, you might recall that I introduced Rick as the first person I knew I would invite to be a presenter if I took on the 2017 GA because of the way he responded to a challenge I threw at him during our Ottawa Centre centenary GA in 2006. You could tell by the questions from the audience that Rick did not disappoint. It was an excellent “all-round” presentation. Well done, Rick!

On a personal note, I offer my deep-felt gratitude to Rick and his wife Jeanette Wagner for their enthusiastic participation on so many levels, from fundraising to sign painting, to letting me blow off a bit of GA steam in their ears once in awhile during our after-RASC snack at Grace O'Malley's. I can't wait to put my feet up to watch the Roman Holiday DVD they gave me at the banquet. It is my absolute favourite movie. Thank you, my friends.

Dave Turner from Halifax was up next with the perfect companion piece to Rick Wagner's talk on variables. The presentation he made on the strange goings-on with Mu Cephei was fascinating in every way. The depth of the detail that was so well represented in the light curves should be encouragement to anyone who wonders what is achievable in the world of amateur astronomy. Thanks, Dave. I’m glad you were part of the GA program.

While it fell to me to introduce most of our speakers, I asked Paul Klauninger to introduce the brainchild behind our GA-inspired Starry Nights Astronomical Art Exhibit – Dr. Janet Tulloch – because of his close involvement with Janet's inspired undertaking. Janet worked hard to find an excellent selection of artworks to display, and even harder to find the best way to bring them in front of the maximum number of visitors. I can tell you first-hand that she pulled together an excellent exhibit that showcases a most interesting aspect of our work as observers, astro-artists and astrophotographers. By sharing the story of her multimedia project with us on Sunday, she made sure this worthy effort stayed connected to our GA. Thank you, Janet.

We closed the day's formal presentations with another great pair of back-to-back talks about eclipses. Ron Macnaughton got us rolling with one of his "patented" historical talks, this one on how the ancients predicted eclipses. Animated as ever, Ron used slides and a hula-hoop to demonstrate how the early astronomers viewed and interpreted the movement of objects in our solar system such that eclipses would occur. Great job, Ron.

Ron's talk was a good way to tee-up the next presentation about the upcoming August 21, 2017 solar eclipse visible across North America. Our presenter, Dr. Al Scott, offers regular 10-minute Astronomy News updates at our Ottawa Centre monthly meetings, and I asked him to give us something on the eclipse for our General Assembly. Al always seems to find just the right balance of in-depth astrophysical information and popular appeal in his short presentations, and he came through for us in style. Has anyone done the math to find out exactly when the Moon, receding from us at 3.7 cm/year, we will no longer be able to completely cover the disk of the Sun? Great presentation, Al, and it was nice to see your family in attendance.

Next up for the briefest of announcements was Charles O'Dale, who led the tour to Holleford Crater on Monday. The scouting reports indicate that Chuck did an outstanding job of organizing and leading the tour to this wonderfully accessible crater 132 km southwest of Ottawa. I wish I could have joined the trip as people told me later that the evidence was there for everyone to see what happened 450 to 600 million years ago when an extraterrestrial object estimated to be some 90 metres in diameter intersected the Earth. [http://craterexplorer.ca/holleford-rasc-2017/] Chuck is an avid crater explorer and general rockhound, and we at Ottawa Centre have enjoyed many of his Great Big Holes in the Ground presentations over the years. You did a super job with this tour, Charles. Thank you. Thanks also to Gillian Sullivan, David Lauzon, and the accommodating property owners for their support.

Keynote speaker Ken Hewitt-White, who opened our 2017 Maple General Assembly on Friday, closed the daily program of talks on Sunday with a humorous and touching personal anecdote about San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers co-founder John Dobson, the humble man who invented what we know as a Dobsonian scope. And this is what made Ken the perfect choice for our GA weekend here in Ottawa. Apart from his close association with RASC Ottawa Centre, his wealth of personal stories related to the RASC and to amateur astronomy in general added a wonderful dimension to our proceedings. Thanks again for making time for us, Ken. I also enjoyed our quiet breakfast together on Monday morning.

Take it from someone who knows: Wrangling 175 people for a group photo can be tough, but by the time I scampered into place just before the Say Cheese time, our erstwhile GA photographers – Stephen and Suzanne Nourse – had everything in hand. I hope everyone had a chance to get in front of their lenses at some point over the weekend. It takes a lot of focus to stay engaged as event photogs, and Suzanne and Stephen were there when we needed them. Thank you so much for documenting our General Assembly in photos. We will be sending out the link to the photos shortly.

And then we were off to the banquet, an evening I will never forget.

To begin with, congratulations to all of the worthy award winners. It was a special treat for me to have Ivan Semeniuk with us to receive his well-earned Simon Newcomb Award in person. Back in the mid-nineties when he was guest speaker for RASC Ottawa's Annual Dinner, Ivan stayed with my family rather than accept the proffered hotel room. I have to tell you, he made a memorable impression on my daughter Emily – now known as Dr. Daughter the Astrophysicist. She was about 12 years old when she and Ivan shared a piano bench in our living room, and turned a simple Christmas tune into a jazzed-up version that blew us all away with delight. It was so wonderful on Sunday to say hello to this gracious and wonderful man again.

I expect it came as a surprise to everyone when, after taking a moment to acknowledge our missing friends, we invited David Levy on Skype to offer a toast to his own missing friend, Rolf Meier. David, I can't thank you enough for going through all of the necessary preparations to make this happen so seamlessly. All I will say is how deeply you touched the people in that banquet room with your reflective insights and the well-chosen words of your most respectful salute to a fallen friend. I am sure you have already spoken to her, but Linda Meier told me how touched she and her family were by what you did for them that night. Thank you, Doveed.

Our Ottawa friend Penelope Goranson offered a touching closure to the quiet moment of grace during the banquet by singing Stargazing, a song she wrote for her own soul mate, Focus Scientific owner Kent Goranson. Penelope, I know how difficult this was for you in front of a large group, but you sang your heart out, and it was appreciated by all of us. You probably didn't even hear the applause. Thank you so much for doing this for us.

It was GA Vice Chair Tim Cole who first raised my awareness about a Quebecoise astronomer doing good things for the Canada-France-Hawai'i Telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea. He had corresponded with Dr. Nadine Manset in preparation for his successful solo trip to the big island for the 2012 transit of Venus. The more he told me about the types of things she was doing with a telescope that was – and I'll never forget his words – "punching well above its weight limit," and the more I learned from my own research about her work with the telescope at l'Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic in Quebec, the more I knew that Nadine had to be our closing banquet speaker.

I don't know how many people came up to me afterward to say how much they enjoyed your presentation, Nadine. The way you developed your comparison of the 1.6-metre OMM scope and the 3.6-metre CFHT was brilliant. Like the professional educator that you are, you made your talk informative, humorous, and thought-provoking, and accessible to everyone in the room. I think even Baby James must have enjoyed the wonderful timbre and cadence of your voice. Nadine, thank you so much for making the long trip to visit with us from your island home in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Your thoughtful cooperation during our early travel preparation discussions was most appreciated, and it's nice you were able to visit with family in Quebec during this trip as well. Mahalo!

So much work went into planning and setting up for the banquet, and seeing it roll out so smoothly was, well not so much a relief for me as it was satisfying to see everyone enjoying the program. Algonquin College food services and venue manager Jennifer Thurston-Saunders and her colleague Laura Dimic did an amazing job for us all weekend. The hours and hours of preparation we put into the GA events with Jennifer paid off with the well-organized coffee and meal breaks, and of course with the success of the Sunday evening banquet. We all enjoyed some great food and drink, and everyone managed to find a seat.

We have our Ottawa Centre Meeting Chair Kelly Anne Jordan to thank for setting out the maple candies and setting up the Table for Missing Friends, and for sorting out how to award the small maple butter table prizes. I've already told her how the small maple prize for every table was one of the most important aspects of the GA for me because it was an idea that flashed into my head in October 2015 just moments after conceiving this maple-flavoured general assembly. Thank you, Kelly.

I was so thankful to have the volunteers we had, as they took charge of their responsibilities and made things work like a well-oiled machine. They are named inside the program guide, so please take a moment to review who they are. It takes special folk to handle an influx of several hundred people, some requiring more assistance than others, and doing it all with a smile and a determination to fix whatever needs fixing shows like nothing else the fine calibre of volunteers we had working our general assembly. From me to them I say thank you and good job done. You were outstanding.

We also had some very generous supporters who quite simply made this GA work on so many levels. I am still reaching out to them privately to express our deep appreciation for their input, and to offer my personal thanks for playing GA with us.

As we wind things down, I offer my thanks once again to our a/v coordinator Chris Teron who took on the huge task of wrangling the presentations into a seamless, smooth-running show. I think we could all see the result of his insisting we all work with his PowerPoint template and presenter instructions. As if that job weren't big enough, Chris also carried the additional tasks of creating the venue signage, and managing the database for our registration. His registration spreadsheet kept us sorted out during the final two hectic weeks before we opened. Thanks to what he and Tim did to ensure the input was correct, we always had the accurately crunched data we needed to ensure our preparations were what they needed to be. The entire GA owes you a vote of thanks for being 100-percent on board with Tim and me from the very start, Chris. We especially appreciated your counsel during those days when the end wasn't clearly in sight. You certainly made life easier for me in too many ways to mention.

To Mike Moghadam, I have nothing but monster thanks as well. When you came on board with our committee during the latter stages to order the buses, organize the volunteers, set up the star party, and coordinate the registration desk, it was at a point where Tim and I were stretched to the absolute limit. With "Operations Mike" stepping in like a relief pitcher in a 13-inning ballgame, we breathed a huge sigh of relief as we then knew we could make it to the end. Thank you, Mike. You had a lot of other things on your plate, but you threw your weight behind the wheel and pushed us over the top with your characteristic energy and attention to detail. I don't even want to remember how many times you changed the bus orders as our registration grew, and grew...and grew some more! Thank you.

To my wife Bridget Madill, who helped me focus my initial vision for a maple-flavoured General Assembly on a napkin (that I still have) while we were out to supper in October 2015, thank you, dear. Not only did you put up with an ever-growing stack of papers, bins, prizes, decorations and maple products over the past 21 months, you happily helped me pick out things that would be useful for an event that was still far in the future. Thank you also for preparing the presenter gift bags more sensibly than how I was thinking of going about it. I especially appreciated touching base with you each day when we were in the thick of things over the GA Canada Day weekend.

I don't even know what to say to you, Tim Cole, for standing by me through thick and thicker. I could not have survived without your steady support and wise counsel over the past 21 months. I could not have done this without you, Tim.

Finally, I say thank you to all of you who placed your trust in Ottawa Centre to roll out a general assembly worthy of your time, your energy, and your money. As I said at the banquet, we kept the responsibility for your trust foremost in our minds during every step of our preparations. Thank you for sharing this weekend with us. We hope you enjoyed the 2017 RASC General Assembly in Ottawa.

And with that I give you my very best regards.

Clear skies,

GA Chair and Baby Whisperer