Thursday, 3 July 2014

The RASC Looks Back and Looks Forward

Lauri Roche of the RASC Victoria Centre and Dr. Jim Hesser of the DAO cut the special birthday cake. Chris Gainor photos

The Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada celebrated its 100th birthday in style last weekend with a highly successful RASC General Assembly that brought RASC members to Victoria from across Canada.

General Assembly participants looked back with an excellent panel in the Centre of the Universe at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on the life and work of John Stanley Plaskett, who founded the DAO a century ago. Dr. Jim Hesser, who recently retired as DAO director, spoke about how he regularly encountered Plaskett's spirit at the DAO in the form of the high calibre research there that has put DAO astronomers in the front ranks of world astronomy. Other panelists, including Plaskett biographer Peter Broughton, spoke about Plaskett's life and times.

The evening also featured a barbecue capped by a birthday cake in the shape of the famous dome enclosing the Plaskett Telescope at the DAO. And Victoria Centre historian Bill Almond marked the completion of his long-awaited history of the Victoria Centre, which is now available for download at the centre's website.

The General Assembly included what was called the strongest session of papers presented at a GA in years, starting with a discussion of Mi'kmaw traditional calendar and going on to many other topics, including RASC Archivist Randall Rosenfeld's talk about how Victoria Centre members held a symposium way back in 1931 on life elsewhere in the universe. A highlight of the paper session was 10-year-old Nathan Gray from Nova Scotia talking about the success he and his sister Kathryn have enjoyed discovering supernovas.

What about the looking forward? There was a session on Canadian astronomers' 2020 vision for new projects in the coming year. Those include a major update to the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, a cloud computing scheme for astronomical data known as CANFAR, and a plan for a Canadian space telescope, CASTOR, along with participation in major international astronomy programs, including the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Serro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope and the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope. On top of the many new programs in work or just coming on stream with Canadian participation, this vision means Canadian astronomers have exciting work ahead as long as they continue to enjoy support from the federal government and the public.

The GA was rounded out with well-attended talks by Dr. Laura Ferrarese of the National Research Council on galaxies, Dr. Andy Pon of the University of Leeds on star formation regions, and CBC's Bob McDonald on tourism in space. And finally, the RASC held business meetings that included the installation of a new president, James Edgar of Melville, Saskatchewan.

The next RASC General Assembly takes place July 1 to 5 next year in Halifax. I'm already looking forward to it.

RASCals enjoy a barbecue at the Centre of the Universe

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