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April, 2009 Astronotes

Vol. 48, No. 3 ISSN 0048-8682 April 2009
“Leo Trio” by Sanjeev Sivarulrasa.
This small group of galaxies consists of the Messier
objects M65 (NGC 3623) and M66 (NGC 3627)
as well as the edge-on spiral NGC 3628.

A Proposed Fee for Printed AstroNotes

Paul Harrison, RASC Ottawa Centre President

One of the many benefits of membership in the RASC Ottawa Centre is our monthly publication, AstroNotes. Over the years it has provided Centre members with the opportunity to publish articles on a wide range of topics of interest for the benefit of others. It has also served as a valuable medium for the Centre Council in communicating with the membership at large, including announcements of upcoming meetings (both our monthly meetings and our Annual General Meeting each December) as well as public astronomy-related events. The Ottawa Centre council has every intention of maintaining this monthly publication as an important service to our members. However, we very much need your help in doing so.

Over the past few years the costs of printing and mailing out AstroNotes have been rising, to the point where these costs now account for approximately 44% of our total annual membership revenues. Many members are not yet aware that AstroNotes is available to them in electronic form as a PDF file. Many people today in fact prefer to receive newsletters in this format, yet the vast majority of our members currently receive the paper version. To address the higher service costs to our Centre, while avoiding increases to general membership fees, Ottawa Centre council is proposing to continue offering the electronic version of AstroNotes free to all members, while providing the paper version at a small annual fee to those who prefer to continue receiving it in this format. The exact fee has not yet been determined, but would reflect the costs to the Centre of printing and mailing each copy of AstroNotes.

Please note that this has not yet been formally adopted as Centre policy, although it is very much under discussion within council. As council members, we of course welcome any comments you may have. We hope that you will support us in our goal of reducing operating costs, while continuing to make AstroNotes available for the information and enjoyment of all of our members.

Take Time to Observe

by Richard P. Taylor

RASC Ottawa Centre and PAS Manila I am a Physics teacher as well as an amateur astronomer, so most people peg me as an analytical and mathematical kind of guy. I'll admit it - I also do killer Sudoko puzzles for fun. So, according to the usual categorization, I'm a "left brain" person. You know, the left side of the brain is supposed to be the side that's oriented towards symbols and calculation and analysis. It's also the side that does the naming side of things. The right side of the brain is supposed to be the side that is more creative and artistic and emotional - not scientific at all.

Well, I don't think that is necessarily true, or at least it's not quite complete. Science and astronomy can include a lot of creativity, artistic perception and emotion. That was certainly shown at the wonderful concert that started Ottawa's celebration of the International Year of Astronomy. There were many examples of art and emotion that were inspired by people observing the night sky.

Several years ago, I spent a summer exercising the right side of my brain. It gave me some very useful insights into how artists observe things, and I think scientists can benefit from this kind of interdisciplinary exchange. I strongly recommend the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. She suggests a series of exercises designed to switch of the left side and focus on the right side so that you can learn to draw exactly what you see. The amazing thing for me was that after trying some of these exercises, I could actually feel the switch taking place.

Usually, when people (ESPECIALLY astronomers) observe things, they tend to name them and jump quickly to analyzing what they are. Many of our public observing sessions are full of talk like, "What's that? That's the Orion Nebula. See those three stars in a row? That's Orion's belt. Now look below the belt for a fainter set of stars. That middle one is a bit fuzzy, isn't it..." All the time, we're naming and describing and pointing out, and keeping the left side busy and in charge. I don't want to say that this is wrong, but I would like to suggest that it's not the ONLY way of doing things. Sometimes it can be useful to turn off the talk, lie back on the ground and just let your mind wander.

Having been introduced to astronomy in the true North, I am most familiar with the names and the standard shapes of the northern constellations. More recently, when I have travelled closer to the Equator, I have seen areas of the sky that were new to me. There I can feel a new sense of wonder and discovery as I see patterns and clusters that I have never seen before. Even the northern constellations look different when you seen them from a different place. Betty Edwards suggests an exercise like this: take a picture of a person or a face, turn it upside down, then try to draw it. By turning it upside down, you confuse the usual left brain identification of the object and let your right brain perceive it as it really is. If you go to the equator or the southern hemisphere, the northern constellations will look upside down, and you are given a new chance to see them with fresh eyes.

This fresh perception of things can be both refreshing and can lead to new discoveries. If you always follow the same landmarks to the same destinations, you may never see the comet that appears off the beaten path - until someone else points it out. There have even been instances of large and prominent asterisms that didn't get identified until recent times: Kemble's Cascade springs to mind. I remember noticing a new northern constellation one night. It seemed quite obvious to me, but I didn't recognize it. Then when I turned around, I realized that I had made up a new constellation from parts of Draco and Hercules. This is often a fun exercise to try with kids who are discovering astronomy for the first time. They can make up their own constellations! It can make them feel more comfortable with finding their way around the sky, and some of the ideas they come up with are much more relevant to them than those old Greek myths. Last semester, some of my grade 9 students decided that the stars in the north looked much more like a shopping cart than a bear or a dipper.

Observing without naming can be a very relaxing and rewarding experience. Amateur astronomers who try drawing what they observe will tell you that they gradually learn to see a lot more. It takes time. But it's worth it. Instead of flitting from one object to another, try spending several minutes looking at a single object. Watch for changes as the atmosphere swirls past. Try different parts of the eye. Most experienced amateurs are familiar with "averted vision" - the center of your field of view is NOT the most sensitive to low light levels.

With practice, you can learn how to notice things without looking directly at them, and you will find that you can see fainter objects that way. I have found that "star-hopping" is also a good way to let my right brain take charge of the observing. When I am trying to find an object using a star map, I look for little patterns on the map and try to find them in the eyepiece. Each pattern is used to point the way to the next. Some people like to name these patterns, but I find it better NOT to name or describe them. I look at the map and try to hold a shape or pattern in my head then let my eye scan the star field until I spot the matching shape. If I describe them, then the description never seems to match the detail and subtleties of the unnamed pattern.

This kind of observing is very boring for the left-brain. Some people find this annoying or frustrating. I just let my left-brain get bored and go to sleep. My right brain stays awake and happy, quietly watching and admiring the beautiful patterns and shapes. I feel no need to neither describe them nor analyze them at the moment; it's sufficient to see what's there and appreciate its unique beauty. An evening of this kind of observing is refreshing and relaxing. This is so different from most of modern life.

Some time this year (when the weather is warm and clear), I hope you will spend an evening lying out under the night sky, just observing. Take a friend, but don't talk. Take the time to look up and appreciate the beauty of astronomy.

The Tafelmusik Astronomy Concert: Our First Major IYA Event

Mike Moghadam, Ottawa Centre Public Outreach Coordinator

It was the Ottawa Centre’s first major IYA event and, by any measure, it was big - unexpectedly big! The Tafelmusik Astronomy concert (The Galileo Project: The Music of the Spheres) held on March 6th at Dominion Chalmers United Church was a memorable event for those of us – near 1,100 in all – that had the pleasure of attending. Before I describe what made this event a success, let me briefly introduce Tafelmusik and explain how this astronomy concert idea was conceived. Tafelmusik is a Toronto-based orchestral group that was founded in 1979. Over the years, through a string of successes and extensive touring throughout the world, it has achieved international stature. At home, Tafelmusik has been the recipient of nine Juno awards.

The Galileo Project had its genesis back in 2007 when Dr John Percy approached Tafelmusik with an idea to celebrate IYA. With his support and the creativity of the Tafemusik team, the idea evolved into a polished program that included astronomy-themed music synchronized with high-resolution astro photos from Alan Dyer and others. To complete the program, the concert was nicely packaged with a narration from an entertaining actor who speaks the words of Galileo, Kepler, Newton and others in a fascinating portrayal of the science of the times.

The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra performing The Galileo Project: The Music of the Spheres.

I first heard about The Galileo Project back in October of last year. At that time, Debra Ceravolo and myself were talking about hosting some sort of IYA cultural event. We looked at several options and then Tafelmusik entered the scene. We jumped on them right away and proposed an association at their Ottawa venue that would include astronomy displays, public stargazing and so on. The Tafelmusik team immediately embraced us.

The next step in our journey was to work with the Ottawa Chamber Music Society (OCMS), which was the group that was responsible for bringing Tafelmusik to Ottawa. Our relationship flourished right from the start when both groups saw a good fit with our objectives.

After weeks of planning, countless e-mails and building excitement, the big day had finally arrived. A group of five volunteers (Mike Lalonde, Ron St Martin, Tim Cole, Gary Boyle and myself) came equipped with a large display of telescopes, meteorites, astrophotos, a slide show, IYA freebies, a light pollution display, a lunar display and a telescope outside that patrons peered through to gaze at the crescent Venus as they linedup to enter the venue.

The sheer size of the event was beyond anyone’s expectations. The OCMS was expecting no more than 400 people to attend the Ottawa concert. Well, what a surprise. A sell-out crowd of 1,100 people rolled in likes a Tsunami! No one expected such as massive turnout.

Ottawa Centre volunteer Mike Lalonde answering questions from the large crowd.

Nothing can prepare you for a crowd of this size from hitting you all at once. The questions came at us in rapid-fire from multiple directions. We had people that had completely surrounded our displays.

Ottawa Centre volunteer Ron St Martin sharing his passion of meteorites with a fascinated crowd.

It was nice to see that many Centre members also attended as patrons. When they saw how busy the event became, several of them rolled-up their sleeves and changed from patrons to volunteers. This helped!

One measure of the success of the event was that we signed-up nearly 100 names/e-mail addresses of people who would like to be notified about future stargazing events. Equally gratifying is that we have been receiving inquiries from other Centres who are looking to host a similar event.

Our success at the event is a testament to what our Centre is capable of offering in IYA. We have the people, we have the talent and we have the energy. We should all be proud of ourselves.


National Council 2009 Spring meeting-an informal report

by Debra Ceravolo, Ottawa Centre National Representative

The National Council of the RASC met in Toronto on the weekend of March 28th, 2009. The Executive and National Reps from cities across the country were in attendance along with many reps teleconferencing. I was able to attend this meeting in person along with Barry Matthews who is also the Chair of the Historical Committee. For those who would like the official actions of the meeting can get the minutes when they become available on the national RASC website.

On a personal note, it was nice to see the familiar faces along with some new ones at the meeting and at dinner afterwards. The RASC National Council is interesting to be a part of in that we are all brought together from different cities from across the country for the good of the society. We are like an extended family, all with its common theme, financial issues, various opinions, busy activities and good times.

This informal report addresses a few of the items on the agenda that members of the Ottawa Centre may be interested in:

  • The Executive has worked hard with the budget and the statements show that the RASC is heading in the right direction. The decisions that were made to increase the membership fees, sell the National Office building and keep the International fees at a constant level during the fluctuations of the economy has brought the RASC to a new level of optimism.
  • Life Membership issue- the National Council can no longer keep the Life Membership program going and made a motion to accept the proposal of a proportional one-time payment to Centres to encourage the Centres to financially support their existing life members at the local level. This proposal is a compromise that was accepted by the large majority. No new life members will be permitted except for the provision for new Honorary Life Members will be retained. All future obligations to Life Members will be entirely up the individual Centres and the life member. Ottawa Centre has 38 Life Members and would normally receive $23 per year for each member. The one-time payment from National will support our life members for about four years. After that the Ottawa Centre must cover the costs of the remaining Life Members.
  • The Light Pollution Abatement Committee Chaired by Ottawa Centre Rob Dick announced the nomination for the Bruce Peninsula National Park and the Fathom Five Marine Park. This will be the eighth Dark Sky Preserve in Canada. The Council has accepted this nomination. For further information on nominating a DSP, please contact Robert Dick (
  • The Observing Committee wanted to bring to everyone’s attention the new observing list in the Observers Handbook, David Levy’s List of Deep Sky Gems. The Committee is interested in knowing if there is a desire by observers and Centres in the development of a certificate for those that have observed the new list. Also in June a donor came forward with funds for the observing committee to produce and award observing pins. Two pins have been designed and made for Messier certificate recipients and Explore the Universe awards. If you have received these certificates, you will be receiving a pin, which was handed out to the National Reps at the Council meeting for distribution. The names of the Ottawa recipients for the pin and the year they received the certificate are: Harry Adams(1998), Dale Armstrong(1984) Pat Brown(2001), Peter Ceravolo(1987), Jason Colley(2003), John Douglas(1999), Donald Dunn(1995), Mike Earl(2003), Cathy Hall(1995), Andre Hiotis(2003), Peter Manson(1998), Brian McCullough(1997), Geoff Meek(2003), Roland Prevost(2000), Paul Sheppard(2005), Howard Simkover(1994), Richard Taylor(1999), Chris Teron(2004), Jenn Tigner(2003), Janice Tokar(2000) and Matthew Weeks(2002). For the Explore the Universe pins: Larry Burnett (2007) and Robert Lavoie (2004).
  • The Council discussed the IYA and the RASC has just passed 100,000 hours of registered Galileo moments. The handout materials supplies were very popular but supplies are limited. The RASC hopes to produce more for the Centres with the money received from the items sold. The Galileoscope was passed around for Council to see. The design is very impressive and takes apart and assembles together easily. Views were reported to be very good. Saturn’s rings, Orion Nebula and the Moon were reported to be excellent with this scope. It also can be mounted on a tripod. The numbers but promise to deliver starting the end of April 2009 had overwhelmed the company that is producing these telescopes. Ottawa Centre hopes to purchase several of these items for public outreach and to have available to schools etc.. For more information on the Galileoscope go to
  • The next meeting of the National Council will take place at the General Assembly in Saskatchewan, which is also in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party. For those wishing to attend, the rooms are all booked however; there is room for camping. Registration for the GA will open very soon.
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