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Speaker for 12 May: Dr. Sun Kwok

stardust_b (2)At 7:30 PM, 12 May 2017, at the Sunshine Coast Art Centre, 5714 Medusa St., Sechelt, The Sunshine Coast Centre welcomes Dr. Sun Kwok, whose topic will be “Stardust: the cosmic seeds of life.” How did life originate on Earth?  For over 50 years, scientists believed that life was the result of chemistry involving simple molecules such as methane and ammonia cooking in a primordial soup.  Recent space observations have revealed that old stars are capable of making very complex organic compounds.  The stars then ejected the organics and spread them all over the Milky Way Galaxy.  There is evidence that these organic dust particles actually reached the early Solar System.  Through bombardments by comets and asteroids, the early Earth inherited significant amounts of star dust.  Was the development of life assisted by the arrival of these extraterrestrial materials?  In this talk, we describe discoveries in astronomy and solar system science over the last 10 years that resulted in a new perspective on the origin of life.

Prof. Sun Kwok’s research areas are astrochemistry and stellar evolution.  He is best known for his theory on the origin of planetary nebulae and the death of Sun-like stars.  His recent research has been on the topic of the synthesis of complex organic compounds in the late stages of stellar evolution.  He is the author of many books, including The Origin and Evolution of Planetary Nebulae (Cambridge, 2000), Cosmic Butterflies (Cambridge, 2001), Physics and Chemistry of the Interstellar Medium (University Science Books, 2007), Organic Matter in the Universe (Wiley, 2012), and Stardust: the cosmic seeds of life (Springer, 2013).  He has been a guest observer on many space missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Infrared Space Observatory.

Prof. Kwok currently serves as President of IAU International Astronomical Union (IAU), Commission on Astrobiology.  Previously, he has served as the President of IAU Commission on Interstellar Matter (2012-2015) and chairman of IAU Planetary Nebulae Working Group (1994-2001).

Admission is free: donations gratefully accepted at the door.

Cosmic Rays in the Classroom: Francesca Crema


2014-15_BPS_STEM-2 (1)

At 7:30 PM, Friday, 14 April 2017, at the Sunshine Coast Art Centre, 5714 Medusa St., Sechelt, The Sunshine Coast Centre welcomes Francesca Crema, whose topic will be “Cosmic Rays in the Classroom: My experiences with muons, variable stars, and project-based learning.”

Francesca Crema is a 17-year-old grade 12 student participating in Templeton Secondary’s STEM Program in Vancouver who intends to pursue a career in the sciences, specifically physics (specifically, high-energy particle physics). Francesca is the youngest at-large council member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, serving on the council of the RASC’s Vancouver center as their youth rep.

Ever since joining her school’s STEM program, Francesca has received the opportunity to research and analyze data collected from a cosmic ray detector, and is currently studying spectroscopy and photometry at the SFU Trottier observatory. Francesca has been updating old data (e.g.: radial velocity, apparent magnitude) on RT Aurigae. Because her school’s STEM program has provided her with these opportunities and more, she will also talk about it and detail the benefits of project-based learning. Her talk will detail her experiences with these projects, as well as provide an introduction to the scientific principles – from elementary particles to variable stars – that they are based on.

Admission is free: donations gratefully accepted at the door.

NOTE: RASC members will hold a very brief 10 minute meeting at the outset to vote on the new bylaws.

Sunshine Coast RASC President Charles Ennis:



Speaker for 10 March: Dr. Stanley Greenspoon

At 7:30 PM, 10 March 2017, at the Sunshine Coast Art Centre, 5714 Medusa St., Sechelt, The Sunshine Coast Centre welcomes Dr. Stanley Greenspoon, whose topic will be “Are We Alone?
The Search for Extra-Solar Planets.”

Beginning with the achievements of Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Earth lost its privileged status in our Solar System. Subsequently, the Sun was found to be a rather ordinary star among the estimated 200 to 400 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, which itself is now known to be one of at least 1 trillion galaxies in the Universe.  While it had long been assumed that there were planets in orbit around other stars, it was not until 1995 that an extrasolar planet orbiting a Sun-like star was confirmed to exist, the first of over 3000 such exoplanets discovered since then. I will discuss, and in some cases demonstrate, the techniques used to detect exoplanets and measure their properties. The criteria for the presence of life on exoplanets will be discussed, as will the issues involved in our being able to gather data conclusively proving life’s existence.

Stanley Greenspoon earned his B.Sc. degree (Honours Physics) from McGill University and his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Waterloo. He is a faculty emeritus at Capilano University, having retired in 2014 after having taught physics and astronomy there since 1988 and serving as chair of the Pure & Applied Sciences Division from 2006 to 2014. Earlier in his career, Stan taught at a number of universities and colleges in Quebec, Ontario, and Newfoundland. When he was in his twenties, Stan served on the Secretariat of the United Nations in New York City as a science affairs officer, involved with the application of science and technology to development. His scientific interests, publications, and conference presentations have been in the areas of Statistical and Condensed Matter Physics, Astronomy, and Physics Education. From 2006 to 2014, Stan was chair of the British Columbia Physics and Astronomy Articulation Committee, at which representatives from universities and colleges across the province meet to facilitate student transfer between institutions.

Admission is free: donations gratefully accepted at the door.


ALMA photo of proto planets forming about a star 540 light years away

Speaker 10 February: Dr. Howard Trottier


Dr. Howard Trottier

Our speaker at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre, 5714 Medusa St., Sechelt, at 7:30 PM on Friday, 10 February, 2017, will be Dr. Howard Trottier, who will be speaking about “Outreach, Education, and Science at Simon Fraser University’s Trottier Observatory and Science Plaza.”


Telescope at the Trottier Observatory at SFU

Enceladus Issues


Nasa photo of Enceladus

At last Friday’s lecture (by Dr. Jon Willis) I asked about the plans to get the probe back from Enceladus. I thought the speaker’s response that “what comes up must come down” was flippant and contrary to Newtonian physics. For instance, geosynchronous satellites do not “come back down” and have never been brought back down to low orbit for repair or refueling.

This is a non-trivial problem. Enceladus is the second most proximal moon to Saturn and is therefore deep in Saturn’s gravity well. Return to earth involves raising the probe to a heliocentric orbit (effectively Saturn escape velocity) then converting to a Hohmann transfer orbit with Earth perihelion at 1 AU. My understanding is that transfer between two circular orbits (E.G.: Earth and Saturn) using a Hohmann transfer orbit requires the same delta-v independent of the direction of the transfer. Since the probe relied on multiple gravity assist manoeuvres to get to Saturn, I doubt it has the luxury of carting a lot of fuel for the return trip.

At Earth orbit perihelion it will need to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at close to Earth’s escape velocity.  I don’t know of a successful re-entry from a heliocentric orbit, or if it is feasible.

I’m not saying return can’t be done, just that getting the probe home is as difficult as getting it up there in the first place. The project invites some interesting jiggery-pokery. Like more gravity assist or aerobraking.

My second question was about return of the plutonium battery and potential radioactive contamination upon re-entry. There have been several inadvertent re-entries of plutonium batteries (Apollo 13 Lunar Module being one). The issue has been addressed by containing the batteries within their own re-entry heat shielding so they would land  in one piece (hopefully not in my backyard). Also, the Plutonium-238 isotope used in batteries has a half life of only 64 years, not the 24,000 years of weapons grade plutonium. I feel much safer now.

Bruce Woodburn


Speaker for 14 October: Dr. Julio Navarro

navarro_0On 14 October, 2016, at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre, 5714 Medusa St, Sechelt,  at 7:30 PM, our guest speaker will be Dr. Julio Navarro from the University of Victoria, whose topic will be: Dark Matter and Dark Energy: the Puzzling Forces that Shape our Universe.

NOTE: Members will be holding their AGM to elect the new board at 7 PM. Public will not be admitted until 7:30.

Speaker for 9 September: Dr. Jon Willis

dr jon willis

Our speaker for Friday, 9 September at 7:30 PM will be astrophysicist Dr. Jon Willis from the University of Victoria. His topic will be: All These Worlds are Yours.

NOTE: This meeting will take place at Capilano University, NOT the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre where we met in the past.