RASC National Society Videos: Speaker Series

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Join us for one of our talks!

Speakers from across the country will be joining us to share their areas of astronomical expertise. Check back here regularly to see who will be speaking next.

Are you from a RASC Centre and have a favourite centre speaker? Send us an email with your recommendations!

Apollo 13—The Flight That Failed

Randy Attwood, President, Mississauga RASC
Fifty years ago, the third mission was launched to land two people on the Moon. On the third day of the flight, a problem occurred which cancelled the plans for the lunar landing and instead, started a race to get the astronauts home alive. In this talk, the speaker will detail all the things which had to go right to save the Apollo 13 crew.

30 Years of the Hubble Space Telescope

Chris Gainor, RASC President

The Hubble Space Telescope has provided amazing images of the universe from its location in Earth orbit for three decades. With the help of space shuttle astronauts, Hubble overcame a major technical defect built into its main mirror, becoming a key tool in making discoveries that have fundamentally changed our view of the universe and transformed the way astronomy is done. RASC president Chris Gainor, who is writing the official NASA history of Hubble operations, will tell this amazing story 30 years to the day that the telescope was launched into space.

In his talk, Chris will be joined by Ray Villard, the longtime Public Information Manager for the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore Maryland, who has told the story of HST since it was launched in 1990.

Canadian Women in Astronomy

Heather Laird

A brief history of some of the important women actively involved in the advancement of amateur and professional astronomy and astrophysics in Canada over the last century.

Heather volunteers her time as one of the Directors of the Ambassador Program for the American Association of Variable Star Observers. Still relatively new to observing and astronomy, however, her passion for the science, history, theory and physics motivates her to continue learning as much a possible.

Truth at the Eyepiece—exploring disjunctions between past and present astronomical imagery

Randall Rosenfeld, RASC Archivist

Since the advent of telescopic astronomy four centuries ago it's been a constant that visual records of observations should only show what is seen at the eyepiece, and no more. The integrity of astronomy as an observational science depends on this. Looking back over the images produced in the course of those four centuries can be an unsettling experience, for many of them don't at all resemble what we perceive at the eyepiece now, despite the claims of the original observers for the faithfulness of their visions. What is going on here?

This webinar surveys some of the issues involved through confronting the images, and explores some of the possible reasons why they may look odd to us, and the implications for what "truth at the eyepiece" may really mean.

As background to this talk, the sort of images which will be discussed, and questions they raise can be found in this supplement.

Loony Moons

Christa Van Laerhoven, PhD Planetary Sciences, UBC Teacher Candidate

The collections of moons that orbit our giant planets are very like miniature planetary systems, each with their own dramatic history. In my presentation I will talk about the various moons of the solar system and how they have been shaped by orbital shenanigans with their fellow moons and their host planet.

The Art and Science of Observational Astronomy

Robert Conrad, Observing Director, Vancouver RASC

Are you interested in learning how to navigate the night sky? Do you have a telescope or pair of binoculars and not sure how to use them to their full potential? Join astronomer and learning consultant Robert Conrad for a one-hour workshop on Thursday, July 16th. Robert has taught two astronomy courses at SFU and is the observational director and education co-director for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Vancouver Centre. He has coached hundreds of beginners and amateur astronomers to turn a hobby and interest into a passion. He has studied how people learn and has spent hundreds of hours understanding the challenges that many beginners struggle with and filled the gaps that for most enthusiasts, still prevent them from using their telescopes to their full potential. After attending his workshop, you’ll learn that the journey can be more rewarding than the destination and you will be able to:
• Use star hopping to navigate around the night sky.
• Describe how the sky appears to move throughout the night from various points on earth.
• Plan observing sessions taking many factors into account, including how the sky moves, visible constellations and when the object is best seen.
• Access the various resources that are available to learn the night sky (including mobile apps, software, planispheres and sky maps).

The Canadian Comet Sleuth

David Levy, author and comet hunter

Comet NEOWISE has been the sensation of our July skies, the first naked-eye comet for the Northern Hemisphere in ages. David Levy knows all about comets that snag the spotlight. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which broke apart in July 1992 and collided with Jupiter in July 1994, garnered the “Canadian comet sleuth” media attention around the world, including the headline on the very first cover of SkyNews 25 years ago.

Join The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's Jenna Hinds and SkyNews' Allendria Brunjes as they sit down with Levy in the next Speaker Series, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 30.

Levy has discovered 22 comets, given innumerable lectures and written countless articles and more than 30 books — including an autobiography, A Nightwatchman's Journey. There’s an asteroid named in his honour, and his awards include the Chant Medal of The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Hawaiian Nights: A Personal Journey from Vancouver Island to Maunakea

Cam Wipper, telescope operator and scientific observer at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope

Growing up in Nanaimo, Cam never imagined he would be spend nearly a decade (and counting) living in Hawai’i and working on Maunakea, the best place on Earth for astronomical observations.

In his talk, Cam will tell the story of how he found himself on Maunakea, from his days as a student at Vancouver Island University, to his first night up on the summit of Maunakea, nearly 14.000 feet (4200m) above sea level. This will include a brief history of astronomy in Hawaii, as well as an exploration of how a modern astronomical observatory conducts scientific observations. All will be told from the perspective of a telescope operator and scientific observer; a position Cam has held at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope since 2015.

Mars through the eyes of the RASC: the visual evidence from past oppositions

Randall Rosenfeld, RASC Archivist

This session introduces the surviving images recording views of Mars by Society members at past oppositions. The material circumstances of the images (astronomical media and instruments used), and the non-observational factors possibly influencing what was seen at the eyepiece will be discussed. What can a considered perspective on past visions of the red planet teach us about our own observations at this opposition?

The Research Legacy of Lowell Observatory

Klaus Brasch

Percival Lowell founded his observatory in 1894 and commissioned the famed firm of Alvan Clark & Sons, to build a 24-in aperture refracting telescope among the largest in private hands at the time. Clark himself deemed it as one of his best. Both Lowell and his great refractor soon gained notoriety with reports of putative canals on Mars, allegedly the work of a dying civilization to channel water from the planet’s poles to its desert equatorial regions. Amid all the ensuing controversy, the Observatory’s many other scientific achievements are not as widely known as they should. This talk will review some of those and also current research and educational efforts at this historic institution.

Klaus Brasch is a retired biomedical scientist and a volunteer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ. Born in Germany, his family emigrated to Canada in 1953, where Klaus got hooked on astronomy in his teens, joined the Montreal Centre of the RASC in 1958 and has been an avid amateur ever since. He earned his BSc at Concordia and Ph.D. at Carleton University, before joining the biology faculty at Queen’s University in Kingston. In 1990 he joined California State University, where he served as department chair, dean of science and director of campus research. Klaus has translated popular French astronomy books into English, lectured widely on topics ranging from life in the universe to astrophotography and published articles in Astronomy, Sky & Telescope, SkyNews, JRASC and elsewhere. Asteroid 25226 Brasch, was recently named for him by Lowell Observatory.

Star of Bethlehem: the New Discoveries and Solution

Bradley E. Schaefer (LSU)

The nature of the Star of Bethlehem has long been a scholarly question posed by astronomers and planetarium shows. For this particular Christmas season, we have the spectacle of a very close Jupiter-Saturn conjunction on 21 December, harkening back to the claim that a Jupiter-Saturn triple conjunction in 7 BC was the Star. But Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions are rather common (once every 20 years or so), so it was not a sign for the birth of a Messiah. Further, Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions had no astrological meaning for the ancient Middle East, so the conjunction would not have motivated the Magi to make a long perilous trek. It turns out that all of the other prior claims for astronomical solutions (usually of spectacular events up in the sky) can be readily refuted. So it was startling in 1999, when Michael Molnar (Rutgers Univ.) came out with a completely new solution for the origin of the Star, and this convincing explanation has largely swept the scholarly world. (With the usual social-inertia, it will take a while for popular knowledge to catch up.) The solution is not astronomical (well, the event is with the planets up in the sky), but rather astrological. But this makes sense, as the only characters in the Bible that recognized the Star were the Magi, and they were, in part, Persian astrologers. So the Star must have been some planetary configuration up in the sky that indicated, with the astrology of the day, the birth of a very great king in Judea.  Throughout the 1990s, Bradley Schaefer has been following Molnar's excellent work on the astrology history applied to various emperors and kings around the eastern Mediterranean, so he knew that he was the world expert on applying the relevant astrology. When Molnar finally turned to the birth of Jesus, he realized the convincing astrological solution, and it is not what any of us would have imagined…

Should J.S. Plaskett be a Canadian Icon?

Peter Broughton

John Stanley Plaskett (1865-1941) was one of our country’s first professional scientists, and our first astrophysicist. After getting his start in 1905 with modest equipment at the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa, he soon persuaded the federal government to establish an observatory (the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory) on the west coast. In spite of World War I, the project was completed in 1918 and it housed the world’s largest operating telescope at the time. With it, he discovered a record-breaking massive star, established the wide-spread presence of interstellar gas, and accurately pinned down the rotation rate of our home galaxy—the Milky Way. Though he was showered with recognition and awards by his colleagues, few Canadians know anything about him. Do you wonder why?

Murder at the Observatory: a Forgotten Chapter in the Legacy of Alvan Clark & Sons

Clark Muir

During the celebrated history of Alvan Clark & Sons, founded by the legendary lens- and telescope-making family, there was a stunning chain of events that had a profound impact on the business and its future prosperity. Although many of the details were of a highly personal nature, they were not ignored by the media. Among the episodes was an apparent kidnapping within the family, followed shortly thereafter by a death at the Clark’s observatory that led to a sensational murder trial. A series of other litigious matters continued to trouble the family and keep them in the public consciousness for more than a decade. Here, we will review some of the triumphs of the family business and examine the lasting impact these scandals had on its legacy.

A Walking Tour of Optical History – Artifacts and Anecdotes from the Astronomical Lyceum 

John W. Briggs, Magdalena, New Mexico, USA

Pioneers in optics allowed a revolutionary ascendancy in astronomy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Astronomical Lyceum in New Mexico, originally built in 1936 as a theater and gymnasium, now houses a collection of telescopes, optics, archives, and literature from this ascendancy. Its volunteer staff finds the artifacts and associated history surprisingly engaging for visitors of all interest levels. This presentation includes unusual items, large and small, created by some of the America's greatest early optical artists, including Henry and Harry Fitz, Alvan Clark and Sons, Carl and Robert Lundin, John A. Brashear, George Willis Ritchey, and the pioneer of astronomical spectroscopy and photography, Lewis Morris Rutherfurd. The collection includes artifacts originating right up through the Space Age, including from the amateur telescope making movement and its surprising influence. While time allows only an overview, this presentation hopes to remind participants how the history of science and technology can be powerfully engaging and interesting for essentially anyone when offered in the right spirit. In some cases, the written remembrances of pioneers spell out the inspiration they had, often taken from the beauty of Nature. Arguably no one was more eloquent in such words than Albert A. Michelson. In other cases, the artistry in the artifacts themselves is a similar testimony, and intense pride-of-workmanship is dramatized by how instruments were signed. It is necessary and worthwhile that we and our students remain aware of these inspirations – they are all lessons to be learned.

Son of Hubble: Confessions of an HST Historian

Chris Gainor

This year NASA issued Not Yet Imagined, written by the history journalist and astronomer Chris Gainor, covering the first three decades of Hubble Space Telescope Operations.

Hosted by the RASC History Committee, in this Speaker Series talk — “Son of Hubble: Confessions of a Hubble Space Telescope Historian” — Gainor will tell the story of this book, and along the way, talk about Hubble itself, which is much more than a telescope that happens to be located in space.

Not Yet Imagined documents the history of HST from its launch through its first 30 years of operation in space. It focuses on the interactions among the general public, astronomers, engineers, government officials and members of Congress during that time. This book also covers the impact of HST and the images it produces on the public’s appreciation for the universe, and how HST has changed the ways astronomy is done.

The James Webb Space Telescope: Canada’s Role in the Exploration of the Universe

Jean Dupuis, Nathalie Ouellette

Jean Dupuis, Ph.D., is a senior mission scientist in space astronomy at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). He is currently the CSA mission scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope and the scientific authority on several studies for future space astronomy missions being considered by CSA. He is working in close collaboration with a community of scientists and engineers across Canada to help them meet their science objectives and prepare for future space astronomy missions. After receiving his Ph.D. from the Université de Montréal (1991), he spent many years in the United States working at Dartmouth College, at the University of California at Berkeley and at Johns Hopkins University as a scientist for space astronomy missions before returning to Canada in 2005 to join the CSA.

Nathalie Ouellette is an astrophysicist and passionate about science communication. She received her Ph.D. in astrophysics from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario in 2016. Her research focuses on the formation and evolution of galaxies, particularly those found in groups and clusters. In addition to being an active researcher, she is frequently featured in the media talking about astronomy to the general public. She is currently the coordinator of the Exoplanet Research Institute at the Université de Montréal and the scientific coordinator for the James Webb Space Telescope in Canada.This year NASA issued Not Yet Imagined, written by the history journalist and astronomer Chris Gainor, covering the first three decades of Hubble Space Telescope Operations.