PeGASus Newsletter Issue #41 – Oct. 1993

  • Editorial Comments
  • Thank you
  • President’s Message
  • A PGAS of a Summer
  • Where in Space
  • PGAS Organization
  • The Sky
  • Meetings
  • The NOA Workshop
  • Image Gallery

Prince George Astronomical Society Executive 1993

Bob Nelson 562-2131 President: 563-6928
Alan Pretty Vice President: 562-3562
Brian Potts 565-3625 Secretary: 562-8113
David Sundberg Treasurer : 562-5774/6655
Jim Livingstone Mem. at Large 964-0155
Rod Marynovich Mem. at Large 562-0952

PeGASus Project Directors

Ted Biech 562-2131 Director: 564-2838
Orla Aaquist 562-2131 Programs 964-9626 Coordinator
Bob Nelson 562-2131 Observatory 563-6928 Director


Editorial Comments:

To avoid having to construct coherent paragraphs, I resort to point form:

  1. It is that time of the year again when you are asked to make a small contribution to show your continued support for the club by paying your membership dues.
  2. I was out at the observatory today to collect the images for this issue’s Image Gallery. Bob Nelson was there (with a handful of volunteers) putting up the interior walls of the classroom. Bob could probably use a lot of help.
  3. My cats are bringing several mice into the house on warm days. Sometimes they are alive and a great commotion ensues as I chase the tiny beast around the house with an empty ice cream bucket and knocking over plant pots. Sometimes I find a motionless corpse on the carpet in various stages of digestion. How do you react to a slimy, grey ball of fur and intestines about as big as a human thumb lying very close to your bare foot and a voice in your mind saying, “You could have stepped on that, you know.” My kids think that its ‘cool’. They burst out the front door and call to their friends, “Hey! Want to see a puked up mouse?” Thank goodness winter is almost here.

Thank you

You may have noticed recently a new addition to the observatory classroom. This is the 6″ home-made Newtonian reflector on loan to the club from Dave and Katherine Matthews. The telescope was built by Katherine’s late husband, Elmer Matthews. Katherine and Dave thought that Elmer would like the telescope to be seen and appreciated by astronomy enthusiasts. Thank you Dave and Katherine from the PGAS.


President’s Message:

Hi, folks! This will be my last message as president, as I have decided to step down, as of October’s meeting when the annual elections are held. It seems appropriate that I should reminisce a little about where the society has come from and offer a few thoughts about its future.

The concept of building an observatory originated in a discussion with the students in my introductory astronomy class at CNC in February of 1979. We immediately established ourselves as a registered society and applied for a grant from the B.C. Lotteries Foundation; we were awarded a sum of $12,600 in August of the that year. (Grants of $1500 and $3500 followed later.) In December of 1979 we purchased a used silo dome in Vancouver, hauled it to Prince George, reconditioned the panels that spring, and reassembled it outside in May. The physics technician at that time, Ed Loerke and a summer student, Bob Sedlock fabricated a base ring, adapted wheels to rotate the dome, cut the 5′ wide slot, attached arches, made the shutters and added mechanisms to open the shutters.

Construction of the building began in the summer of 1980. We cleaned up the bedrock at the site and laid a circular concrete foundation and a square pad for the pier. We hired a bricklayer to build the circular building and at the same time installed the joists ourselves for the second floor. (Almost all lumber was donated.) The dome was installed that November, although it was not until the next year that we were able to make it operational. A heavy fibreglass tube, 30 inches in diameter and 10 feet long together with a “cage” of rebar welded together was then installed to serve as the form for the concrete pier.

In the next three years, working with small groups on available weekends, we constructed a helical stairway, put in the upper and lower floors, poured the pier, added outside steps, framed the warm room, painted the building and finished the interior generally. The wiring was installed in the fall of 1984 by a class from the electrical program at the College.

Construction of the telescope lagged somewhat behind that of the building. Although the telescope “tube” was constructed in 1980, it was not until 1982 that construction of the mount began in earnest at the millwright shop at CNC. The telescope was completed in the spring of 1984 (the welding students did all the welding and I did about 75% of the machining) at which time the mirrors arrived. Installation up on Tabor Mountain occurred shortly later.

Highlights of the telescope’s earlier life on Tabor Mountain include a cold winter day in January of 1986 when we had around 75 people to look at Halley’s comet; a measurement of a minimum light of VW Cephei (an eclipsing binary) using my OPTEC SSP-3 photometer; astrophotography of the moon, planets and deep sky objects plus the usual observing.

Unfortunately, the Tabor Mountain Observatory was plagued by break-ins. The latest and most serious was in 1988 when the secondary mirror (and other things) were stolen. We closed the observatory at that time, removing all items of value.

In 1991, the decision was made to relocate the observatory to its present location on Tedford Road. We got our existing B.C. Lotteries grant switched to this goal and held a couple of casino events to raise money. Northwood kicked in $1000. In late June of 1992, we broke ground for the observatory on Tedford Road and in July, put in the foundation and block walls. After the summer we put on the roof, moved the telescope and dome, and closed up the building. Over the winter, we put in the main floor and rough finished the interior.

In the spring, we received a $16,000 grant from the Science Council to add a classroom wing. Construction began in May (Ted Biech and I worked full-time and were assisted by numerous volunteers) and we were able to close up the building by the end of July. The telescope and observing floor were also completed by about this time.

Also in the spring, we received a $25,000 grant from the Ministry of Higher Education to put on the PeGASus project. As you know, this involved the ordering of much equipment (which the society will own) and the hiring of students to put on tours throughout the summer. The tours for the PeGASus project started August 1 and continued through September; many new members joined and the observatory has become very popular. There were many clear nights throughout September and the observatory was used for many or most of those nights. Much credit goes to Ted for obtaining the grant (some of us were not too optimistic), ordering the equipment and giving up his summer to see that the tours went well.

Although the site on Tabor Mountain is more spectacular than the present one, everyone will agree that the move to Tedford Road was a vital one for the success of the observatory. The advantages are numerous. Unlike the former site, we now have power and telephone; we have neighbours that can keep an eye on the place; we have not had a hint of vandalism so far; the site is much more accessible (only 20 minutes from town on mostly paved roads); and the sky quality is virtually identical with the former site. With the completion of the classroom wing (heating and washrooms), we’ll have a fine facility usable year-round.

In the 13 years since its formation, the society has grown from a struggling 15 members to the present 40-50. The membership has become more active with good attendance at monthly meetings, there has been much enthusiasm for observing (Orla’s beginners’ observing group is an excellent idea), and many new directions have opened up now that we have more members. In fact, there are so many jobs that the executive last month presented a proposed reorganization of the society’s positions. (See the summary elsewhere in this issue.) The society’s future indeed looks bright.

In closing, may I express my gratitude for the steadfast support of the various executives over the years and the many club volunteers too numerous to name up who worked on Tabor, at casinos and on Tedford Road. Thanks also to personnel at various departments at the College without whom the observatory could not have been built. And finally, thanks are due to our many corporate sponsors over the years (who will be publicly thanked when the observatory officially opens next spring). We were all working for the betterment of astronomy in Prince George and it is a real pleasure to see it all coming together. I’ll still be around, but we will have a new president to lead us on. Thanks again to you all.

Bob Nelson


A PGAS of a Summer: by Orla Aaquist

In 1979 Bob Nelson founded The Prince George Astronomical Society (PGAS) and began building an observatory on Tabor Mountain. Bob completed the task five years later with help from a handful of volunteers and CNC’s machine shop. After its completion, the club operated the observatory for a number of years, providing an exceptional view of the sky to school groups, the general public, and club members.

In 1988, the observatory was abandoned. My understanding of the events leading to the closure of the Tabor Mountain site is unclear; however, the retreat from Tabor Mountain had something to do with the dome being used for target practice, and the desire for some thief to possess a mirror that reflected the true size of his (or her) head.

Shannon and I moved to Prince George at the close of 1991 and I started work at the College in January of 1992, and Bob saw to it that I was introduced to the PGAS posthaste. During my first summer here, Bob (and a handful of volunteers) began construction on a new observatory near West Lake, and by November the telescope and the dome from Tabor Mountain were installed in the new building. On Tabor Mountain, there remains the old observatory walls: an empty concrete shell punctuated by the central pier. Soon, only the pier will remain.

During the spring and summer of 1993, change again sprang upon the PGAS with the successful application for funds from two sources: the Ministry of Advanced Education, Training and Technology ($25,000) and the Northern Interior Science, Technology and Innovation Council, NISTIC ($16,000). A flurry of activity within the club ensued, and my summer was swallowed up by a horse.

Shannon called the horse PeGASus. Actually, it was all Ted Biech’s fault. Ted wrote the proposal to the Ministry of Advanced Education, Training and Technology because his workload at the College was not challenging enough. I clearly remember him complaining to me one Friday in early October of 1992 that his summers were idle because of too much grey time and vacation time allotted to the CNC instructors. “Ted, I want to paint my house this summer”, I insisted, when he showed me the proposal and where to co-sign. When I signed, I crossed my fingers and hoped that the proposal would get lost in the mail. It didn’t.

The PeGASus Project began in mid March. From March to June, I visited about twenty elementary school classrooms to talk to students and teachers about astronomy and telescopes. On May 1, we celebrated Astronomy Day at the Fraser-Fort George Regional Museum; surprisingly, nearly one hundred people joined us for the evening despite the rain. When so many people came to take part in astronomy during the rain, I knew that the citizens of Prince George were desperate for astronomy. The time was ripe for PeGASus. This was confirmed later in the summer when, about one hundred people came to the newly open observatory to view the Perseid Meteor Shower despite the thick cloud cover.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we had some club T-shirts? Lets get Shannon to make some! She’d love doing that. And how about some PeGASus business cards … and some PeGASus posters … and a PeGASus donation jar … and?” While Shannon was busy, we created the PeGASus booth and adorned it with astronomy posters and post cards, PeGASus T-shirts, mirrors and lenses, telescopes, pamphlets, newsletters, astronomy magazines and our official PeGASus donation jar. The booth was a wonder to behold (I wish I had taken a picture). On Canada Day and the International Food Festival at Fort George Park, over a thousand people visited our display and looked at the Sun through our solar filter.

Meanwhile, back at the observatory, construction was under way to attach a classroom to the existing observatory building. The money to do this came from NISTIC through the second grant application written by Bob Nelson. Bob and Ted (and a handful of volunteers) worked (harmoniously, I hear) through the summer rains (hip deep in mud up to their necks, and fighting refugee mutant mosquitos from Manitoba) in order to complete the classroom before the end of June in time for Canada Day. They almost made it! It was so close! But, the slow motion camera captured the final frames: the rain came and the roofers didn’t.

“On August 6, 1993 the Prince George Astronomy Society opens its new observatory on Tedford Road near West Lake, to the public. The observatory houses one of the largest amateur telescopes in Canada, as well as a solar telescope (for safely viewing the Sun) and various other items to entertain visitors. During the months of August and September, the public hours are from 9 P.M. to midnight on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and from 1 to 5 o’clock Saturday and Sunday afternoons.”

During the two months, Ted Biech and Matthew Burke (and a handful of volunteers) faithfully staffed the observatory. People came and the PGAS membership grew. The reign of PeGASus ended on October 2, 1993 when the PGAS participated in the Science and Technology display at Pine Centre. We were sage veterans sitting behind the display table. We had PGAS membership forms, PeGASus newsletters, and PeGASus business cards before us. On the computer monitor, images of celestial objects taken by us during the summer flashed relentlessly across the screen. Lenses, mirrors, magazines, and astronomy postcards handled by many curious little fingers were strewn across the table top like fall-out. A large poster of the Helix Nebula and a T- shirt bearing the rendering of a flying horse hung calmly on a display panel in the background, the letters

PGAS

next to them. Little fingers groped at the eyepiece of the telescope standing majestically behind the booth. Curious eyes peered through the telescope at price tags in Sears at the other end of the mall. People asked us questions and we answered.

We were astronomers!


Where in Space: THE SOLAR SYSTEM (Part two) by Carmen

IAU Nomenclature Conventions:

Features of the planets and moons of the solar system are named according to conventions set by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

There are a number of standard terms used in naming features. The first group corresponds to names of albedo features which rarely have to do with actual terrain (as might be expected for those which would involve bodies of water or vegetation). The second group is terrain descriptive:

  • Collis: hill
  • Lucus: grove
  • Cornu: horn
  • Mare: sea
  • Depression: depression
  • Palus: marsh
  • Flumen: river
  • Pons: bridge
  • Fluvius: river
  • Portus: harbour, port
  • Fons: fountain
  • Promontorium: headland
  • Fretum: strait
  • Silva: forest
  • Insula: island
  • Sinus: bay
  • Lacus: lake
  • Catena: chain of craters
  • Mensa (Mensae): mesa
  • Cavi: hollows, irregular steep sided depressions
  • Mons (Montes): mountain(s)
  • Chaos: chaotic terrain
  • Patera: shallow complex crater with scalloped edges
  • Chasma: canyon
  • Planitia: low plain
  • Dorsum (Dorsa): ridge(s)
  • Regio: region
  • Fossa (Fossae): ditch(es) long, narrow, straight, or curved valley
  • Rima: fissure
  • Labyrinthus: intersecting valley complex
  • Tholus: small domical mountain or hill
  • Vallis (Valles):sinuous valley(s)
  • Vastitas: widespread lowlands

PGAS Organization:

At the last monthly meeting, the executive proposed the following organizational structure of the PGAS. In general, this structure seemed to be acceptable to the members present at the meeting. If you have any suggestions, please present them at the October meeting. At that time a motion will be put on the floor to adopt this structure.

ELECTED POSITIONS

  • PRESIDENT: Plans and chairs meetings, deals with executive, sees that the committees function and tasks are done.
  • VICE PRESIDENT: Assists the president, chairs meetings in the president’s absence.
  • SECRETARY: Keeps notes from meetings, maintains membership lists, deals with members, files society’s reports.
  • TREASURER: Maintains bank accounts, handles money, pays bills, does income tax, issues financial statements.
  • MEMBERS AT LARGE: Attend executive meetings, lend advice

APPOINTED POSITIONS

  • PROMOTIONAL DIRECTOR: Oversees the promotional aspects of the club. The promotional aspects of the club includes such things as meeting or other event notices, the newsletter, new or prospective members, casino events (deals with Public Gaming Branch, rounds up volunteers), and social events.
  • TECHNICAL DIRECTOR: Ensures that the equipment and facilities at the observatory are maintained. The technical aspects include such things as building and ordering of new equipment, construction of classroom , maintenance of existing equipment.
  • OBSERVING DIRECTOR: Deals with all aspects of observing at the PGAO. This includes leading the observing groups such as the NOA workshops and ATM, writes tour programs, lines up volunteers, accepts bookings. (Immediate task: chair group to recommend guidelines for assigning telescope time. It is expected that a neutral person will be asked in future to assign time following the guidelines.)

by Bob Nelson


The Sky:

The November highlight will be the total lunar eclipse on Sunday evening, November 28th. The eclipse will occur high in the sky after twilight. It has been many years since such a favourable eclipse has occurred in western Canada. Here are the times of the eclipse events (PST):

 Faint enumbral shading first visible  8:00pm
 Partial eclipse begins (moon enters umbral shadow)  8:40pm
 Total eclipse begins (moon fully in umbral shadow)  10:02pm
 Mid-eclipse  10:26pm
 Total eclipse ends  10:50pm
 Partial eclipse ends  12:12pm

The earth’s outer shadow is called the penumbral shadow. As the moon moves into the penumbral shadow, the moon experiences a partial eclipse of the sun due to the earth covering part of the sun as seen from the moon. As the moon moves deeper into the penumbral shadow, the sun is progressively covered by the earth so that the moon is illuminated less and less. Then the moon moves into the earth’s umbral shadow which is much darker but not black, due to refraction of sunlight by the earth’s atmosphere which bends some sunlight into the shadow. The earth’s umbral shadow is darker at it’s centre than at the edges and may show quite a range of colours. The moon’s north polar regions should be the darkest at mid- eclipse as the south polar regions will be just inside the southern edge of the umbral shadow. Watch the constantly changing colours and shading as the moon moves through the shadows. The moon will be between two large, bright open star clusters, the Hyades and the Pleiades, affording an excellent photo opportunity.

People tend to assume that cloudy skies in their backyards are representative of conditions everywhere. This is not necessarily the case, especially if the clouds are low clouds, which often cover only a few square miles. Matthew Burke wrote an article a few months ago describing his successful pursuit of a break in the clouds to view the May 21st partial solar eclipse. I viewed the January/92 partial solar eclipse with nearly clear skies at my Chief Lake Road residence, but both this newsletter and the Citizen reported that Prince George was clouded out, when in reality, only the “bowl” was. So, don’t be too quick to assume that this eclipse is clouded out if it’s cloudy the first time you look. The “bowl” has more fog and low cloud problems than surrounding areas because of the mix of moisture from the pulpmills and smoke particles from the beehive burners for the moisture to condense on and form fog and clouds. A drive of a few miles may reveal much clearer skies. Since this will be the best lunar eclipse in years, a little extra effort to see it should be worthwhile. If you elect to stay at home, check the sky every ten minutes or so during the eclipse and you may be rewarded with clearing skies or at least a strategically placed break. Finally, the partially eclipsed moon is often visible through clouds.

Your unaided eye will give you a fine view of the eclipse. Binoculars and low-power telescopes give the best view of the complex combinations of colour and shading in the shadow. If you use a larger telescope, use the lowest available power. In my experience, binoculars will give a much more esthetically pleasing view of a lunar eclipse than, say, a Celestron 8.

PLANETS:

Saturn is south at sunset and sets around midnight. Venus and Jupiter form an attractive pair during morning twilight, very low in the SE. At dawn on Nov. 8, Venus passes only 0.4 degrees N of Jupiter. Binoculars may also show Spica, about 8 degrees upper right of Jupiter. The waning crescent moon passes the pair on the 12th, but it will be only 31 hours before new and may require binoculars to see.

Binoculars will probably be needed to pick out Mercury as it passes 0.7 degrees N of Venus on the morning of the 14th. Nevertheless, it will be a golden opportunity to identify Mercury, especially if you’ve never seen it before.

These events will occur during bright morning twilight and will require a low SE horizon to be seen at all. However, they may be attractive enough to warrant a short drive to a flatter horizon. Bring your binoculars and plan to start viewing about 6:40am.

If adjacent Venus allows you to find Mercury in a good telescope, follow it carefully as it rises higher after sunrise to an altitude affording decent seeing. You should be rewarded with a view of Mercury’s crescent, only about 24% illuminated on the 14th.

Rise a little earlier on the 17th and you can watch the Leonid meteor shower. The Leonids will probably only produce about 10 to 15 meteors an hour. i once saw two bright jade green Leonid fireballs follow the same path a few minutes apart. Both left ionized trails in the upper atmosphere; the second train lasted many minutes in binoculars as it twisted in high altitude winds.

Allan Whitman


Meetings:

Next Meeting: The October 27th meeting will start at 7:30 P.M. at the College of New Caledonia. Come to the Physics Laboratory on the second floor by the main entrance. The room number is 2-223.

It is time to pay your annual dues: $10 youth, $20 regular, and $30 family. If you are a new member who paid your dues during the summer, please ignore this notice. If you cannot make it to this meeting, please send us your money along with the application form elsewhere in this issue.

At this month’s general meeting the members elect the new executive. Last meeting, a few nominations were made for the various positions:

  • President : Orla Aaquist
  • Vice President: Bob Nelson
  • Secretary: Jon Bowen
  • Treasurer: Dave Sundberg
  • Members at Large: Jim Livingston, Matthew Burke and Vince Hogan

Nominations close just before the elections at the next meeting so there is still time for you to nominate someone. Come to the meeting and practice for the upcoming federal election!

While the ballots are being counted, Brian Potts will tell us about the basics of astrophotography, and Vince Hogan will give us an impromptu talk on binocular astronomy. Coffee/tea, cookies and discussions will follow.

Last Meeting:

The last meeting was held at CNC. The business part of the meeting lasted for about 1 hour (sorry) wherein the progress at the observatory was described and people’s arms were twisted into voluntary service. The only names I have here is Rod Marynovich (who volunteered to look into obtaining a fire permit for the PGAO so we could burn our garbage). Several members volunteered to help out with construction at the observatory and to help keep our facility open to the public on a couple of Saturdays every month.


The NOA Workshop:

The first series of four workshops for New Observers to Astronomy (the NOA Workshops) finished on Monday, October 18. These workshops are intended to help PGAS members get acquainted with the sky, the observatory, telescopes, and the methods of astronomy. The first series of workshops were organized by Vince Hogan, Robert Frith, Jon Bowen, Don Goldie, and myself under the following format:

  1. What is in the sky, and naked eye astronomy.
  2. Using star charts, and star hopping.
  3. Seeing more with binoculars.
  4. Using telescopes.

These four topics were covered in four successive Monday evenings (excluding Thanksgiving). The and then to cycle through them again on another evening of the week, and-so-on throughout the year. Because the lessons are very informal, it is doubtful that any one series of four workshops will be the same as the previous, so members can attend the workshops as many times as they wish and get something new out of them each time.

The first series of workshops are being held on Monday evenings from 8 to 9 P.M. at the observatory, starting September 20 with an introduction of what is in the sky and naked eye astronomy. The second workshop, using star charts and star hopping, will run on September 27, and-so-on. Feel free to join the workshops at any time, and to participate for as many sessions as you wish. We hope that as NOA matures, the topics will change to suit the needs of the PGAS participants. In the next issue, I hope to keep you informed of the progress of NOA and the scheduling of the next set of workshops.

If you have any suggestions or questions give me a call at 964-9626. One final note. Please do not expect formal, prepared lessons in these workshops. The idea of the workshop setting is for all the participants to get involved learning some basic observational techniques. Vince and I will hopefully be able to gather the necessary materials to make the workshop successful and fun. If not, then we’ll do better next time around.

Orla Aaquist


Image Gallery

crab_a moon_a


PeGASus is published monthly by the Prince George Astronomical Society. Contributions to the newsletter are welcome.

Deadline for the November issue is Friday, November 12

Send correspondence to: The PGAS 3330 – 22nd Avenue Prince George, B.C. V2N 1P8