Videos: RASC/AAVSO 2019 General Assembly

RASC GA 2019

Here are recordings of the talks given at the RASC/AAVSO 2019 General Assembly which was held at York University in Toronto from June 13-16, 2019.

Please check back as more videos are added.


The Zooniverse
Dr. L. Clifton Johnson / CIERA Postdoctoral Fellow, Northwestern University 

Zooniverse has become the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research since its modest inception in 2007 as Galaxy Zoo. Zooniverse research is made possible by volunteers hundreds of thousands of people around the world who come together to assist professional researchers. The goal of Zooniverse is to enable research that would not be possible, or practical, otherwise. Zooniverse research results in new discoveries, and datasets useful to the wider research community.

This presentation highlights the history and highlights of the Zooniverse, as well as presenting some personal perspectives of a researcher who has benefited from citizen science work on star clusters in the Andromeda Galaxy and Local Group. It also highlights future efforts regarding variable stars and upcoming all-sky surveys.

Dr. Johnson’s current research focuses on understanding star formation behaviour at spatial scales ranging from that of galaxies down to individual star-forming complexes, through the combined study of stellar populations and the interstellar medium. Citizen science and crowdsourcing are important tools in his research. He is currently a member of three survey teams: the SMIDGE survey, analyzing Hubble Space Telescope imaging of the Small Magellanic Cloud; the SMASH survey, analysing DECam imaging of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds; and the PHAT-M33 survey, analysing Hubble Space Telescope imaging of the Triangulum Galaxy.


BRITE Constellation: Tiny Satellites for Big Science
Prof. Gregg Wade / Head of the Department of Physics and Space Science, Royal Military College, and Professor at the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy, Queen’s University

The BRITE (BRIght Target Explorer) Constellation mission was described, as were some of the results to date. A collaboration between scientists in Canada, Austria, and Poland, BRITE is a network of five nanosatellites investigating the stellar structure and evolution of the brightest stars in the sky, and their interaction with the local environment. Forms of stellar variability—Micropulsation, and wind phenomena among others—are recorded via high-precision photometry in two colours (red and blue). The massive BRITE target stars are extremely important in producing the chemical elements in our universe, and recycling them in winds and supernovae. They are “laboratories” that help us to understand a wide range of the astrophysical processes in our universe.

Prof. Wade’s work concentrates the structure, evolution, origin and impact of magnetic fields in stars. He is the Principal Investigator (PI) of the Magnetism in Massive Stars (MiMeS) collaboration, co-PI of the Binarity and Magnetic Interactions in Stars (BinaMIcS) project, and Chair of the international BRITE Executive Science Team (BEST) for the BRITE-Constellation mission.


The Invention of Outer Space: Chesley Bonestell, Willy Ley and Imagining the Final Frontier
Prof. Catherine L. Newell
/ College of Arts and Sciences, Religious Studies, University of Miami 

An exploration of the importance of religion and art in sowing the seeds of success of the US space program in the 1940s-1950s, and the roles of Chesley Bonestell, Willy Ley, and Wernher von Braun in inspiring a technological and scientific faith that awoke a deep-seated belief in a sense of divine destiny to conquer the “final frontier.”

Prof. Newell’s research interest lies in the conjoined histories of religion and science (specifically technology, ecology, and medicine). She is particularly interested in how scientific paradigms frequently owe their genesis to a religious idea, or spiritual belief. Her most recent work examines “food faiths”, in which individuals in contemporary society use scientific concepts about food and diet as the basis for a spiritual practice. In addition to this current book project, she has published articles and book chapters on dystopic science fiction and nature religion; the spiritual origins of vegetarianism in America; and how Biblical injunctions to “rule over the Earth” still inflect debates about environmental science and management in the 21st-century.



The Science of Planetary Atmospheres
Prof. John E. Moores
/ Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering, York University

Professor John Moores discussed why the atmosphere is the easiest part of a planet to study and is a feature that can be examined from a great distance, even light years away. He covered what we have learned about the atmospheres of the planets in our own solar system and how this knowledge can be applied to exoplanets.

Prof. Moores is currently developing planetary simulation facilities at York University as part of the Planetary Volatile Laboratory. He contributed to the 2005 Huygens Mission to Saturn’s Moon Titan, to the 2008 Phoenix Mission to the Martian Arctic, and led experimental studies into interactions of volatiles with the Martian surface and polar caps, and supported Surface Operations on the Mars Science Laboratory Rover. He participated in the development of the Surface Stereo Imager for the Phoenix Lander, and has been involved in several conceptual space-mission design studies, and analogue planetary missions. His work has led to the first direct detection of fog on Mars, to estimates of the methane content of the Martian atmosphere from exogenous sources.



The Hume Cronyn Memorial Observatory
Prof. Jan Cami / Department of Physics and Astronomy, Western University, and Director of the Cronyn Observatory

Historic facilities and instrumentation can be more than static artifacts for display. They can be brought to life as powerful engines for education and public outreach (EPO). Jan Cami talked about the challenges and rewards of repurposing the historic Cronyn Observatory (Western University) as an instrument of effective EPO, and the cooperative synergy of the groups involved—the university astrophysics community, and the RASC.

Prof. Cami’s main research areas are molecular spectroscopy, dust mineralogy in evolved stars, and the Diffuse Interstellar Bands (DIBs). His work is both observationally and theoretically oriented, using data from ground-based and space-borne telescopes, and comparing the results with theoretical models. He has been honoured with the 2019 Qilak Award for Astronomy Communications, Public Education, and Outreach by the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA).



Revealing the Universe with the James Webb Space Telescope
Dr. Nathalie Ouellette / Coordinator, Institut de recherche sur les exoplanètes (iREx), Université de Montréal, and JWST Canadian Outreach Scientist

We have all heard of the James Webb Space Telescope but do we really understand how complex it is and how important it will be when it is put into orbit? Dr. Nathalie Ouellette explained the challenges and the dramatic advances that one of the most complex machines ever built, the James Webb Space Telescope, will have on modern astronomy.

Dr. Ouellette’s research is on the formation and evolution of galaxies, particularly those found in groups and clusters such as the Virgo Cluster.  She obtained her Ph.D. in 2016 with a thesis on “The SHIVir Survey: A Dynamical Catalogue of Virgo Cluster Galaxies and their Scaling Relations”. During her graduate studies, Dr. Ouellette lead many observing programs on telescopes in Hawaii, New-Mexico and Chile. She is an avid science communicator, and was the Queen’s Observatory Coordinator (2010-2016), and the Communications, Education & Outreach Officer for the McDonald Institute at Queen’s University (2017-2018), where she developed and delivered the new astroparticle physics research institute’s education and public programs. She still serves as an analyst, contributor and speaker for various media outlets et organisations working to promote science and astronomy to the general public and youth.



Helen Sawyer Hogg: One Woman’s Journey with the Stars
Maria J. Cahill, PhD
/ College of Science and Humanities, Husson University

Helen Hogg (1905-1993), Canada’s premier female astronomer and science writer, appeared to live a blessed life with a successful career. Not only did she rise through the academic ranks at the University of Toronto, but a list of her awards and honors fills more than one page. As we look back at Helen’s life, we see success, but we do not immediately notice that her journey as an astronomer and science writer was complex; the road she travelled was full of twists and turns which she strategically navigated. This talk illuminates some of the personal and professional forces that influenced Helen’s work and supported her along her journey, demonstrating how she remains a model for future scientists.

Prof. Cahill’s current interest explores research about and development of successful English programs in a quickly changing and progressively technological world. Currently, she is involved in publishing on that topic, as well as editing an issue of the South Atlantic Review dedicated to sustainability of the humanities. Another one of Dr. Cahill’s passions is reading and writing about women scientists and how they write science. In her dissertation, The Stars Belong to Everyone: The Rhetorical Practices of Astronomer and Technical Communicator Helen Sawyer Hogg, she analyzes how technical communication has been and may continue to be used as an alternative voice and catalyst for success, particularly for women in science and technology, and how this practice may inform pedagogy.



Some Memories of the David Dunlap Observatory
Dr. Donald C. Morton
/ Researcher Emeritus, NRC Herzberg

Dr. Morton talks of the time he worked at the David Dunlap Observatory as a student in the early 1950s. He covers some of the things he learned from established astronomers who worked at the DDO, how this experience helped him in his future career in astronomy, and allowed his directorship of the Anglo-Australian Observatory.

Dr. Morton was a doctoral student of Lyman Spitzer and Martin Schwarzschild at Princeton, and as a faculty member there lead the productive ultraviolet rocket spectroscopy program. He became the second director of the Anglo-Australian Observatory (1976-1986), and then returned to Canada as Director General of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics at the National Research Council of Canada (1986-2000). He was instrumental in securing an active role for Canada in the era of 10-metre telescopes realized in the Gemini Observatory. His personal research has mostly been in various areas of spectroscopy.



Into the Future with the CFHT...
Dr. Alan McConnachie
/ Research Officer / Instrument Scientist at NRC Herzberg (Dominion Astrophysical Observatory), and Professor at the Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Victoria

The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT, 1979-), a 3.5-metre class instrument, has been a consistently productive and competitive instrument during its decades long life. Science evolves, and the instruments for science must evolve too. The CFHT will be decommissioned in 2021, and the plan is to replace it with the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE), an ambitious 11.25-metre dedicated multi-object spectroscopic facility, which will be the leading instrument of its kind at first light in 2026. Canada is the originator, and one of the leaders in the project, which represents an exciting opportunity for the country and its international partners to explore cutting edge science.

Dr. McConnachie was trained at the University of St. Andrews, and the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge. His research interests cover all aspects of galaxy formation and evolution, particularly in relation to the nearest galaxies and their resolved stellar populations. He has been active in the area of Galactic Archaeology, which uses the positions, dynamics, ages, and chemical properties of the resolved stars to reveal the evolutionary paths of galaxies. This approach perfectly complements observations of the more distant Universe, where we see snapshots of many more galaxies at earlier stages in their evolution, but for which much less detailed information is available.



A Nightwatchman's Journey with David Levy

Like many of us, David Levy discovered that he was an astronomer when he was very young, but unlike most of us, over the course of six decades he has made an enviable slew of discoveries. He is credited with the discovery and co-discovery of 23 comets, including Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 (1993) which spectacularly collided with Jupiter (1994), and of 150 minor planets. Education and public outreach have been important to him, motivating his delivery of over 1,500 astronomy lectures, and he has published more books than the average star-gazing possum can total on its toes, and more articles than there are OB supergiants in NGC 869. He has been a member of both the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the American Association of Variable Star Observers for most of the time he has been an astronomer.

David Levy has lived through a most interesting period in our exploration of the universe, which has seen many profound changes in the professional understanding of astronomy, amateur participation in the science, and the means of communicating it to the public. He has known some of the outstanding figures in amateur and professional astronomy such as Bart Bok, Leslie Peltier, and Gene and Carolyn S. Shoemaker. Nor has his life has been uneventful otherwise.

David talked about A Nightwatchman’s Journey in conversation with award-winning science journalist Ivan Semeniuk of the Globe and Mail.

Ivan Semeniuk is an award-winning science journalist and broadcaster with a special interest in humanity’s exploration of the universe. He reports on science for The Globe and Mail and is a contributing editor to SkyNews magazine as well as host of the astronomy television series Cosmic Vistas.



RASC Paper Sessions – Toronto’s Astronomical Heritage
Dr. John R. Percy / Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

As a project for the International Year of Astronomy 2009, Dr. John Percy developed an astronomical walking tour for Heritage Toronto, which highlighted the remarkable individuals, organizations, facilities, and structures which have enabled Toronto to become a “centre of the universe” for astronomical research, education, and public outreach. This profusely-illustrated”presentation” version of the walk has been given over a dozen times, in various venues, especially during Canada’s sesquicentennial year in 2017.

The nature and growth of astronomy in Toronto closely parallels the growth and maturation of the city, and the country, from the 1830s to today. It illustrates the many ways that astronomy impacts society and culture. Dr. Percy also provided links to further information, and to a brochure with a map for a self-guided version of the walking tour.



RASC Paper Sessions – On the Construction of the Heav’ns: A Multi-media, Interdisciplinary Concert and Outreach Event
James E. Hesser, David Lee, and W. John McDonald

Polymath William Herschel (1733–1822) began life as a professional musician who, after immigrating to England at age 19, became in midlife, a renowned astronomer, eventually working in close partnership with his sister, Caroline (1750-1848). Sadly, his delightful music is very rarely heard today, a situation which a Victoria team aims to correct. Over the past two years, multi-media concerts of chamber and symphonic music based upon original research in the British Library by Michael Jarvis (harpsichord and continuo) and Paul Luchkow (violin) [The Luchkow-Jarvis Duo] have provided exceptional opportunities for engaging the public with images and sketches by Victoria Centre members accompanied by dialogue comprised of enlightening quotes from the Herschels’ writings.

Pre-concert explanations put the science and the music in context. This presentation will include recordings and images from the 2018 concert. Inspired by the excellent public reception of the Victoria concerts, then the team is preparing to take the program on tour starting in fall, 2020, with the intent of involving local astrophotographers and astronomy clubs in each presentation. Expressions of interest in partnering with us are welcome!



RASC Paper Sessions – Who doth not see the measures of the Moon/Which thirteen times she danceth every year?/And ends her pavan thirteen times as soon
David H. Levy & R.A. Rosenfeld

The later Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods (1570s-1620s) were marked by an unusual richness of dramatic naked-eye astronomical events – supernovae, great comets, and eclipses. It was also the period of Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo, and is seen as one of the most dynamic periods for the development of astronomical theory and instrumentation. It was also a stellar era for English as a literary language. Astronomy and literature were not worlds apart at the time. Curious about the Elizabethan’s curiosity about the night sky? David Levy reads some of the most memorable expressions of early-modern astronomically inspired poetry and prose, accompanied by R.A. Rosenfeld on a reproduction of a 16th-century flute.


RASC Paper Sessions – Dorner Telescope Museum

Rudolph Dorner presented the rationale for a major new gift to the RASC, which will enable it to tell the story of the telescope in Canada through a world-class institution.

Randall Rosenfeld, Director of the Dorner Telescope Museum, discussed the potential of the museum, its purpose and contemplated programs, some of the challenges to be overcome in its realization, acquisitions achieved and acquisitions to come, what the museum could look like, telescope museum precedents and the unique nature of the Dorner vision, and the potential place of the Dorner Telescope Museum in the cultural landscape of the country.


RASC Paper Sessions – Science of the Stars: The National Heritage of the Dominion Observatory
Sharon Odell

After the Dominion 15-inch telescope was removed from the Dominion Observatory in 1974, there was an enquiry as to whether this architecture should still stand if it no longer served its original purpose; for keeping time, seismology and astronomy for the country. Astronomers joined fellow Canadian citizens to challenge this declaration, by claiming that the architecture alone was worthy of national heritage designation. This presentation examines the documents, actions and historical scientific merit put forth to the Canadian Government, in a determined effort to safeguard Canada’s National Observatory. Additionally, it compares this past challenge to a similar one facing it today, with the construction of a new hospital super campus that is about to be placed on its grounds.

Sharon Odell is an RASC, Ottawa Centre Member, A.H. (MA), Carleton University, with a 27-year career in Museology with interest in History of Astronomy, Physics, Sciences, Art and Architecture.


RASC Paper Sessions – RASC Robotic Telescope Project
Paul Mortfield

An up-to-the-minute account of the instrumentation, operation, and results of this exciting national initiative.

Paul Mortfield is a Professor at Seneca College teaching Astronomy and Natural Sciences. He has worked on several NASA spacecraft missions studying the Sun and Moon and hosted educational broadcasts on NASA-TV. He is a former Director of the David Dunlap Observatory, past President of the RASC Toronto Centre and former Chair of the AAVSO Solar Division. To date, Paul has discovered 4 asteroids.


RASC Paper Sessions – The Past, Present and Future of Youth Outreach at the RASC
Jenna Hinds

With about 8% youth membership nationally at the RASC, youth members can be few and far between. While many volunteers focus their effort on engaging young people by reaching out to cubs, scouts, schools and camp groups, we often don’t see an increase in membership because of these outreach efforts. What have we offered to our youth members in the past, and what are we doing now to engage more young people in the future?


RASC Paper Sessions – Bringing Astronomy Alive – Student Engagement at John Abbott College
Karim Jaffer

The approach to Introductory Astronomy at John Abbott College puts the depth and direction of content in the hands of the students, utilizing the partnership with RASC, Montreal Centre to mentor students in observational techniques and public outreach. Recognizing that students have access to recent discoveries and current data that best represent the direction of space sciences, each student is given an opportunity to put their stamp on the learning outcomes of the course. Combining this with regular (weather pending), non-compulsory observing opportunities and public outreach events with RASC, Montreal Centre allows students to embrace the field in a manner that best suits their interests and motivation, resulting in incredibly diverse term projects, and several initiatives that have moved beyond the scope of the Introductory Astronomy Course. Other departments and courses are now taking advantage of the Astronomy activities to engage their students beyond the classroom.

Karim Jaffer has been at John Abbott College (JAC) since 2006 teaching a variety of Physics and Pathways courses and began teaching the Introductory Astronomy course in 2016 – expanding the course to include Astronomy observing activities and outreach for the College. He is currently the Public Events Coordinator and a Board Member for RASC, Montreal Centre. He is an active researcher in Physics & Science Education, having served and coordinated several provincial projects in Math & Science education across the Secondary, Cegep and University levels. He has also taught in Physics, Mathematics, Education and Exercise Science at Bishop’s University, in Physics at Carleton University and at Marianopolis College.


First Man – The Life of Neil Armstrong
James R. Hansen / Professor of History & Director, The University Honors College, Auburn University 

Neil Armstrong – the first human to set foot on the Moon – made history and inspired an entire planet. James R. Hansen, author of the acclaimed biography, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, upon which the recent film was based, and professor of history at Auburn University, spoke about the amazing life of Neil Armstrong as we reflect on the 50 years since Apollo 11.

Following his talk, Prof. Hansen was interviewed by RASC member and CBC science journalist Nicole Mortillaro.

James R. Hansen is a professor of history at Auburn University in Alabama. His book From the Ground Up won the History Book Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1988. For his work, The Wind and Beyond (NASA) – (six-volume series), he was awarded the Eugene Ferguson Prize for Outstanding Reference Work by the Society for the History of Technology in 2005.