Thursday, 14 February 2019

Looking Back at the RASC's 150th Anniversary

The Royal Canadian Mint's coin celebrating the RASC.

Now that 2019 is well under way, I am looking back on last year’s 150th anniversary celebrations held by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, whose membership includes more than 5,200 amateur and professional astronomers from every part of Canada. These celebrations were especially memorable for me because midway through the year I had the honour of becoming President of the RASC, succeeding my friend Colin Haig from Ontario. 

In 2018, the RASC obtained recognition in the form of special stamps issued in June by Canada Post, and a commemorative coin created by the Royal Canadian Mint that includes a piece of a meteorite. As a long-time stamp collector, I was thrilled to help unveil the stamps at the 2018 RASC General Assembly in Calgary. The anniversary coin sold out within hours of going on sale, and I was lucky to find one in a local post office for my own collection.

Much of the credit for this recognition goes to the RASC's Executive Director, Randy Attwood, who persuaded both the Mint and Canada Post to include our sesquicentennial in their 2018 commemorative programs.

The RASC had two national star parties in 2018, and the first one in January was carried live in a nationwide webcast. Members across Canada, including myself, have contributed astrophotos, sketches, and other artwork to our  imaginingtheskies.ca website, and prizes are now being given out. 

My colleagues on the RASC History Committee have been busy. Committee chair Randall Rosenfeld and Board Member Heather Laird have created a great set of podcasts on our shared history in RASC, which can all be found on the RASC.ca website. Much of our General Assembly in Calgary was taken up with an excellent set of papers in a seminar called A Shared Sky: The RASC 1868–2018. We are now working on revising those papers for publication in a book in the near future.

Like many other RASC members, I enjoyed the great hospitality and terrific speakers at the 2018 General Assembly from June 28 to July 1 at the University of Calgary. The opening ceremony involving local First Nations’ speakers and dancers at the U of C’s Rothney Astrophysical Observatory was especially memorable.

During 2018, I was able to visit a number of centres, including the Toronto Centre where the RASC was created in 1868. I also spoke about the Hubble Space Telescope at my home centre in Victoria and at the Vancouver, Winnipeg and Sunshine Coast Centres as well.

A special highlight for me was enjoying the magnificent beauty of Yukon when I spoke at the Northern Nights Dark Sky Festival at Kluane National Park in September, which I wrote about in this blog in October. I rarely get to see the Northern Lights at home on the West Coast, but this display took me back to the time many years ago when I first joined the RASC as an adolescent at the Edmonton Centre, and where I quickly became an enthusiastic auroral observer.

My home centre in Victoria took full part in the RASC sesquicentennial activities, and it also was involved in celebrations led by the National Research Council of Canada marking the 100th anniversary of first light at the 1.8 metre Plaskett telescope at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Saanich. 

In 2019, I have already visited the Edmonton and the Prince George Centres, and I am looking forward to visits soon to the Calgary and Okanagan Centres. The 2019 RASC General Assembly will take place at York University in Toronto June 13 to 16. Members of RASC will be meeting jointly with members of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, and we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic landing on the Moon with a talk by James Hansen, author ofFirst Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, the book that inspired the recent movie.

As the RASC’s sesquicentennial goes into the history books, it is being followed up by plenty of RASC activity in 2019.

RASC members and visitors mark the 100th anniversary of public outreach activities at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

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