January/February 2000 Table of Contents
that is awesome. Look at those moons, they're like tiny diamonds.
I never thought Jupiter would look like that!"
enraptured visitor to my home observatory one beautiful evening
in September is typical of so many others who have enjoyed their
first views of planets and galaxies in all their glory. Place a
solar filter on the 10-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, and their wonder
on viewing close-ups of sunspots for the first time lets you know,
without a word, that they will be telling their friends and relatives
about their new-found discoveries for a long, long time. Such is
the joy of letting people in, to view with their own eyes, a secret
realm they know so little about.
a teenager in Manchester, England, at the close of the Second World
War, I and a friend bought a cheap 6-inch reflector to discover
what planets looked like. At that time the blackout was still in
effect, and the nighttime darkness was profound. Stars and the Milky
Way splashed across the unpolluted blackness in glittering masses
that provided enough light to find your way around.
we found Saturn and marvelled at the rings. They were real. They
were actually there. They were not just pictures in a book. And
from then on we shared what we found with others who also appreciated
the beauty of the night sky. My friend and I also attended meetings
of the British Interplanetary Society and soaked up fledgling, rudimentary
ideas of how space travel could be accomplished based on Wernher
von Braun's infamous V2 rockets that pounded London towards the
end of the War. Firmly hooked on astronomy, my interest never died
but had to wait for its revival until long after my family had emigrated
to Canada, and, at the age of 59, my business had been sold.
with time to spare, I joined the Victoria center of the Royal Astronomical
Society of Canada in 1989 and immediately plunged into buying a
telescope and CCD equipment and built an observatory to house it
all. Accessible from my home's sundeck, the observatory was to be
built about ten and a half meters high to clear the surrounding
trees. City hall was tickled pink that something so novel was to
be built in the district. Unfazed, they classified it as a watchtower,
and I was handed my permit with so little fuss and bother I must
confess to being both surprised and delighted.
Last year's annual picnic for the
Victoria center of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Photo
courtesy of the author, who sits in the front (second from right).
new-found friends in the RASC include professional astronomers from
the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and the Department of Physics
and Astronomy at the University of Victoria, and I revelled in the
wealth of information they taught amateurs like myself at our regular
monthly meetings. Many amateurs are capable of extraordinary accomplishments,
considering their lack of funds and materials, and our members'
nights frequently produced splendid examples of their expertise.
were also fortunate that until 1998 the center enjoyed having Jack
Newton as a member. Once a month we gathered at his home on top
of Mount Matheson where he had a large observatory built into his
house. Alice, Jack's wife, is a fun-loving hostess who made everyone
welcome and kept the not-so-enthusiastic observers occupied with
coffee, cookies, and conversation. The big attraction for most members
was the never-ending stream of new products that manufacturers shipped
to Jack for testing; everything from software to a 16-inch Meade
Lowering the dome onto the author's new observatory
- a watchtower, according to the city. Photo courtesy of the author.
a night we stood around in the freezing cold watching Jack's computer
monitors as his telescope and CCD cameras captured images of faint
fuzzy galaxies whose light started the long reach through space
when dinosaurs trampled the undergrowth looking for tasty tidbits.
Then in 1998, he sold the house in Victoria and built two homes,
one in Chiefland, Florida, and another in Osoyoos in British Columbia,
spending six months at a time in each of them...Florida in winter,
naturally. I recall one occasion, sometime around 1993, when Jack
triumphantly showed me a device he had rigged up to take tri-color
images through his ST4 CCD using gel RGB filters. It was the first
time it had been attempted by anyone and his pioneering efforts
led to the development of commercial software and equipment that
have become a routine part of many an amateur astronomer's night
M33, a spiral galaxy in Triangulum, as captured by
the author. Image courtesy of the author.
was also one of the first to purchase an SBIG ST4, and I had a learning
curve so steep that a military jet couldn't climb that straight
up. Not only was I getting back into astronomy after many years
of languishing, but I'd made a typical beginner's blunder of jumping
into the pool at the deep end before I could swim. Jack came to
my rescue many times, drawing on his years of experience and closeness
with the CCD manufacturers to enable me to make my first image,
the Trapezium in the Orion Nebula, M42. Since then, I've enjoyed
showing guests to my home, especially children, some of the spectacular
colors that can be captured by filtered long exposures. After looking
at, say, the gray Lagoon Nebula through the eyepiece, they look
bewildered when the Lagoon's glowing red image appears on the computer's
monitor and it's necessary to explain to them that their eyes cannot
see the beautiful colors because the light levels through the eyepiece
are too low. The walls of my computer room are decorated with delightful
pictures drawn by enthralled youngsters who got their first look
at a "real" planet or the Andromeda Galaxy.
A child's drawing as "thank you" for a night of seeing
the heavens. Illustration courtesy of the author.
being one to sit idly as a passive listener meant that before long
I became a Victoria center council member, first as treasurer followed
by the presidency. In 1998, during my two-year term as president,
the center decided to host the RASC's annual general meeting, which
would draw members from across Canada for the three-day assembly.
As organizing chairman, part of my responsibility was to contact
potential speakers and build a timeline for the event.
for me, the University of Victoria was holding a conference on radial
velocities at the same time as our meeting, and Dr. Geoff Marcy,
of extrasolar-planet fame, was to attend. With the assistance of
Dr. James Hesser, at the DAO, contact was made with Dr. Marcy, and
he agreed to arrive a few days early to give a talk to our mostly
amateur audience. Geoff received a standing ovation for announcing
the discovery of a new extrasolar planet, days before the professionals
were to hear of it. Also, with the assistance of Jean Godin at the
Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, in Victoria, I was able
to contact Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, and to my astonishment
she agreed to give an audio-visual presentation which she subsequently
gave with extraordinary passion and energy. Consequently, we weren't
in the least bit surprised that the Canadian Space Agency employed
her as their public relations star following her trip to the International
Space Station as mission specialist on STS-96 Discovery.
then my attention has been drawn towards the problems of preserving
some semblence of dark sky for professional and amateur astronomers.
The Victoria center has organized a light-pollution group, and we
have discovered that very few municipalities on Vancouver Island
have lighting-standard bylaws of any kind on their books. This must
be a widespread discrepancy and one that should be addressed by
all astronomy clubs around the world if anything at all is to be
done to minimize the problem of stray, inefficient light. It may
not be too difficult. Most mayors and councils are willing to listen
to positive suggestions.
good follow-through, bylaws can be amended and a dent can be made
in the ever-encroaching light pollution of our precious night skies.
We recently joined the International Dark Sky Association and have
taken advantage of the voluminous literature and slides that they
produce. Now we are hoping that the audio-visual presentations we
make to mayors and councils on southern Vancouver Island will succeed
in moderating the unthinking destruction of the dark night sky caused
by uninformed authorities who believe light is good and dark is
bad. Together, I'm sure we can make a difference.
newspaper printer by profession, BILL ALMOND's
working life has been spent entirely in daily newspapers both in
England and Canada. He and his wife Janet raised four children and
now have nine grandchildren. On 31 December 1999 he retired and
will now spend more time with his family and in his observatory
in Vancouver, British Columbia. Almond, a member of the Royal Astronomical
Society of Canada who has been recognized for his work in CCD imaging,
can be reached via email at email@example.com. And his thoughts of the future? "Here's
to retirement and clear skies!"