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Okanagan Falls

July 7, 2018 Saturday – Southern Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

After having coffee and my wonderful breakfast of French Toast and fresh berries at the B&B, As a dedicated amateur astronomer, I have always wanted to visit the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, so this morning I finally get to take a personalized tour kindly offered by their public outreach officer:

  • 10.7cm solar radio flux monitoring telescope – over the last 50 years, this telescope has reliably measured the Sun’s activity!
  • Synthesis Telescope – a 7-element array of 9m telescopes
  • Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). This instrument maps hydrogen density – large instantaneous field of view (~200 square degrees) and broad frequency coverage (400-800 MHz). Astronomers are discovering new “Fast Radio Bursts” and it is also used for monitoring many pulsars on a daily basis. Global News, August 3, 2018 – Canadian radio telescope records mysterious low-frequency bursts from outside our galaxy
  • John A. Galt Telescope – 26m prime-focus, equatorially-mounted telescope. First radio astronomical observations using Very Long Baseline Interferometry (with Algonquin) Apr 17, 1967.
  • 22MHz telescope – Instrument consists of 1,700 telephone poles supporting miles of wire. It mapped the entire sky in very long radio wavelengths (13.6cm) from 1960s-70s. There is a panoramic image of the Radio Milky Way on display in the main building foyer, which is derived from data from the Galactic Plane Survey done by this radio telescope over 10 years.

Wild Goose Pino Gris white wine bottle

Wild Goose Pinot Gris white wine

I drive to Penticton to charge my Tesla Model S using the DC Fast Charger located downtown, and then return to the B&B for a light lunch. The main reason I am staying two nights in Okanagan Falls is to reconnect with a school friend who lives in the area. We went to school together when we were kids, but only reconnected a few years ago after decades went by. I drive over to his place this afternoon to reunite with him in person, and to meet his family. We go on a short wine tour south of Okanagan Falls, but since I’m driving, I abstain from most of the tasting as we visit:

After we return, my friend barbecues salmon for dinner, and we all have some wine on the patio while he and I catch up a bit after all the years that went by! It was a lovely way to end the day…

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RASC General Assembly 2018 in Calgary

June 29 to July 1, 2018 – Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s General Assembly held at the University of Calgary is probably not too interesting for people who are not members of RASC. That said, I’m going to combine the three day conference into one report on this page, just to complete my road trip travelogue.

June 28, 2018 – Arrival at the University of Calgary and the Welcome BBQ

I arrive in Calgary in the late afternoon. JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; First Nations dancing at the opening of the General AssemblyThe RASC General Assembly (GA) registration desk is setup in the hotel lobby, so after I get settled in my room, I go downstairs to pick up my delegate’s package. I connect with a few people I know in the lobby while we wait for buses to take us to the Members’ Welcome BBQ dinner and First Nations performances at the Rothney Observatory, in the country south of Calgary. We also get to tour the observatories operating from this site.

June 29, 2018 – First day of the General Assembly

JoeTourist: Calgary &emdash; Stampede breakfastThe Calgary Stampede put on a Stampede Breakfast for delegates this morning before the GA started, serving pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage.

Dr. Robert Thirsk, astronaut and Chancellor of the University of Calgary welcomed delegates to Calgary and the University. today is his last day as Chancellor, and our event is his last function before leaving. He tells us that being in space showed him the interconnection of the natural world with humans, and illustrates the point with many spectacular photos taken from the International Space Station. He also speculates on the question –Will we be here into the future? (100 years probably, 1,000 years probably not), and also reviews the next steps humans will make in space  (Moon base will be part of it)

JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; Wildflowers in the grassIn the afternoon, I take the Nocturnal Preserve Tour to the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area south of Calgary. This is a RASC-recognized nocturnal preserve, which supports the notion that pristine night skies are not only good for humans, but all creatures on this Earth. We all depend on darkness to restore our health while we sleep, which helps all lifeforms prosper, not just those that are active at night.

We walked part of their extensive property to appreciate the varied ecosystems found in what is now mainly the farmland of southern Alberta. Grass suitable for grazing cattle displaces the native grasses, which disrupts the ecology in the area, but remediation is possible.

After dinner, out Plaskett Medal Award Lecture is “Dicke’s Superrradiance in Astrophysics” by Dr. Fereshteh Rajabi, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Rajabi gets into quantum mechanics and masers, and how they cause celestial objects to emit previously-unexplained bursts of intense radiation. I’m always happy to see such smart people working to understand our universe better, despite me not fully appreciating what they are describing!

June 30, 2018 – Second day of the General Assembly

1896 Solar Eclipse observed from Bodo, Norway by Mary Protctor

1896 Solar Eclipse observed from Bodo, Norway by Mary Protctor

The Annual General Meeting is held in the morning, and our President highlights the robotic telescope located in the mountains of California which RASC recently acquired, and is in the process of making available online to all members. Other presentations of note today include: RASC Calgary Centre’s 60th anniversary and history; Early Women Astronomers in RASC; Aurora image processing using Hugin software; Eclipsing Binaries; NOVA Junior Program (astronomy basics); Space for all Learners (bringing astronomy to undergraduates); Telescope in “Rainy” Victoria Celebrating 100 years of looking up (the historic Plaskett telescope located near Victoria); Public Outreach at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (the observatory was/is a tourism draw); Minor Planets (asteroids that might hit Earth, and landing missions on small rocks in space); Once Upon an Eclipse (upcoming eclipses); First Race for the moon 1609-51 (first observations of the Moon);

After a buffet dinner with my fellow astronomers as part of the conference, I attend the public lecture: “The Golden Age of Solar System Exploration” given by Emily Lakdawalla, The Planetary Society. Emily reviews many of the more exciting recent missions to explore our solar system: Hayabusa2, New Horizons, and Cassini, to name a few. She also highlights how amateur astronomers are using data from these missions, and how they are contributing to the resulting scientific discoveries. Emily takes lots of questions from the audience.

July 1, 2018 – Final day of the General Assembly

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover - NASA photo

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover – NASA photo

There were more presentations this morning, concentrated on the history of RASC and astronomy: RASC in Travelling Mode (historic solar eclipse expeditions); Styles of Observing in the RASC Since 1868 (taken from the RASC archives, including telescope-making); RASC and the Space age (amateurs as both participants and spectators); The Cultural/Social Anthropology within RASC (who makes up the ranks of RASC members?); Female Participation in the RASC (RASC leads as an inclusive society in Canada).

The speaker at our banquet is “The Past and Present of Water on Mars” by Dr. Tanya Harrison – brings the missions on Mars to life, including the Curiosity Rover, which Tanya was involved with. She also describes what “water on Mars” really means. There were lots of questions…a fascinating talk!

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Kitt Peak in a Tesla

February 21, 2018 Wednesday – Driving from Tucson up to Kitt Peak in a Tesla Model S

Energy graph showing triple consumption while climbing Kitt Peak and 25 miles of gained range while descending the Kitt Peak road

Energy graph showing triple consumption while climbing Kitt Peak and 25 miles of range gained from regeneration while descending

2018 Southern Arizona and Astronomy

The reason I wanted to charge the Tesla last night and not have to drive east for 15 minutes to the Tucson Supercharger is that I want to take the 11AM solar telescope tour at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. It takes an hour and 20 minutes to drive westward from the hotel, so driving east to the Supercharger would be inefficient.

I have breakfast downstairs in the hotel, and I’m on the road by 9AM. The Tesla uses about triple the energy to climb the 1,200 metre (3,400′) elevation change on the way up the mountain, but there is only about nine miles of actual steep climbing. The Model S still has120 miles of range by the time I reach the top of the peak.

Since I am so early, I am the only visitor for the telescope tour when I meet the Docent in the Visitor Center. She convinces me that the 2.1 meter observatory tour would be a better choice, since the solar observatory is closed, so all we can do is walk around it on the outside. A Docent-In-Training  and a few more people show up before the tour leaves – we stick with the plan to visit the 2.1 meter telescope.

I take a few photos, but restrict myself to areas of Kitt Peak that I didn’t photograph last year. By 1PM I’m ready to return to Tucson, so I rig up my GoPro Hero 5 Black as a dash cam and drive down the mountain and along the highways back to the hotel. The Tesla gains about 25 miles of range due to the regeneration on the way down the mountain road, so I still have just over 100 miles of range after arriving at the hotel. Since the staff have left the Tesla Destination chargers powered up, I plug in for about four hours to top up the charge for tomorrow’s adventures.

Driving to Kitt Peak in a Tesla from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

Kitt Peak photos taken 2017 & 2018 – galleryslideshow
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Dragoon Mountain Ranch – more astronomy!

February 17, 2018 Friday – Dragoon Mountain Ranch – astronomy!

2018 Southern Arizona and Astronomy

There is fog on the ranch in the early morning and clouds but no rain today.

One of our group leaves us this morning to pick up her rental car in Tucson, and drive to Sedona to visit with her family. I plan to drive to Sedona tomorrow to stay two nights, so we might connect up there for a visit. I also plan to drive further north to see the Grand Canyon, but we’ll see how the weather cooperates for that adventure, because if there is too much snow, I won’t go!
RASC Victoria Centre: John McDonald &emdash; Observing with the 25"
By sunset, there are only clouds on the horizon – it is clear overhead! Everyone gets their gear together, we open up the observatory, and pull an all-nighter. One of our group is a dedicate visual observer, so she operates the 25” Newtonian, climbing a ladder every few minutes to observe visually, and sketching many celestial objects. I join her to enjoy the wonderful views through this massive telescope, and add many entries to my astronomy log book.

The three of us who are photographers are using the 20” Newtonian astrograph this evening. Since my images taken a few days ago on Feb 11th turned out so well, I have some time to take more photos, but after taking two good images, we soon run into problems. I decide to enjoy some visual observing instead., so my buddies use the rest of the night to take some images of objects they are interested in while I observe using a 25″ Newtonian, my binoculars, and unaided-eye visual observing. I only last about an hour in the cold before I have to pack it in and go inside where it is warm.

February 18, 2018 Saturday – Dragoon Mountain Ranch

I am the first up this morning since everyone else stayed up into the early morning hours observing and photographing the night sky.

It isn’t raining today, but there are big clouds drifting overhead constantly. I decide to shoot a time lapse video of the clouds forming and passing over the Dragoon Mountains. I rig up my Canon 6D dSLR on a tripod with an intervalometer and shoot medium-sized JPG files all afternoon until sunset when the battery dies. After dinner, I make it into a one and a half minute video and show it to my friends on the living room TV. I also show them the video I shot of the wildfire on the day we arrived.

Dragoon Mountains Afternoon from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

The rain returns this evening with a vengeance – we can hear downpours happening outside all evening. I check the forecast for Sedona, and it looks abysmal, with torrential rain, hail and winds! I go online to cancel my arrangements up there, and also for Grand Canyon. My Plan B is to stay in Tucson for the next few days, so I reserve a hotel at the last minute. Thank goodness for online booking systems!

The rest of us are all leaving tomorrow morning, so we all use the down time do some laundry, pack, and cleanup the house.

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Tucson to Dragoon Mountain Ranch

February 10, 2018 – Tucson to Dragoon Mountain Ranch

Joe in La Cocina's courtyard in the Presidio

Joe in La Cocina’s courtyard in the El Presidio

2018 Southern Arizona and Astronomy

My Tesla Model S rental car (Turo.com) is delivered to me mid-morning in the hotel parking lot. Both the owner of the car and I inspect it for damage, using the Turo app to document and photograph for the handover process. After the formalities are completed, I am handed the fob and the car is mine for the next two weeks. I then drive my friends to the downtown car rental location so they can pick up their rental car. We then go to the old part of Tucson to walk around the El Presidio area and have some lunch at La Cocina Restaurant & Cantina. We take a few photos in the area and we then split up. I find the Tesla Supercharger east of Tucson, since the car needs to be charged up. We buy a few things in the adjacent convenience store, and then leave for the Tucson Airport to pick up another friend arriving on a later flight.

We drive about 45 minutes from Tucson east on the I-10 freeway to Benson, where we pick up a few groceries and other supplies from Safeway. Our friend at the Dragoon Mountain Ranch calls to advise us that there is a wildfire near his place however the danger level is low since the prevailing wind is blowing the fire further away. There are road blocks into the area, but he has asked the officers to let us through. Needless to say we are all concerned since the flames and smoke from the wildfires are clearly visible in the area we are heading to! The officers let us through the roadblocks and we arrive at our friend’s place before dark, which I’m thankful for.

Dragoon Wildfire from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

I park the Tesla Model S in my friend’s garage, so we can plug it into a 115 volt 15 amp outlet. The car starts charging slowly at 12 amps, which means about a 20 hour charge time to 90% state-of-charge. This isn’t an issue, since I don’t expect to be driving anywhere close to the maximum range of the car – about 210 miles at 90% SoC. We have some pizza and salad for dinner, and get settled in after our travels. After dinner, we all go out to see the wildfire in the distance, and then go to the observatory for a quick look through the 25” telescope. There is a beautiful sunset with an arched cloud formation in the west, but ultimately there are too many clouds for observing tonight, so we call it an early night and go to bed.

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Kartchner Caverns & the night sky

February 24, 2017 Friday – Kartchner Caverns & the night sky at Dragoon Mountain Ranch, Arizona, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Garry reserved (a few days ago) the Big Room Tour for the Kartchner Caverns for this afternoon. We depart around 1PM so we have time to look around the visitor centre before the tour starts. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed, and they even insist that we leave our cellphones behind in a locker. The tour starts by everyone being taken up the hill in a tram, and then we enter the caverns through a series of doors and air locks. The Big Room is indeed very big, and the history of the caves is interesting, with lots of stalagmites, stalactites, and other cave objects to see. We also learn about the bats who inhabit the cave and use it as a nursery.

On the way back, we go to the Benson Golf Course for dinner. It is a modest place, but the food is good and inexpensive. This is our last meal together, since John, Wendy and I leave the group tomorrow.

We head back home to do some observing – my last night at Garry’s observatory. Garry and Matt struggle to get focusing working while using the Ha filter, but eventually have to admit defeat. Garry restores the system back to normal so I can image an object of interest – NGC 2174, an emission & reflection nebula. I stay inside the house to stay warm while the system takes the images until the series finishes at 2AM. Garry and Diane get up at that time to observe Omega Centauri (photo), so I join them to have a look before heading off to bed. My observing report

RASC Victoria Centre: Joe Carr &emdash; NGC 2174 emission & reflection nebula

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Mirror Lab

February 23, 2017 Wednesday – Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Both Reg and I drive the group into Tucson to visit the University of Arizona’s Mirror Lab. John and Garry have visited the lab before, but come along again since it is fascinating. For Reg, Diane, Matt and I, this is our first visit. This lab produces many of the world’s largest astronomical mirrors.

The Mirror Lab’s current multi-year project is to make the seven 8.4 metre mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), which will be located at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Combined together, the seven mirrors will form a single parabolic surface some 24.5 metres (80’) across! GMT is scheduled to be operational in 2022 with four mirrors, and will be fully operational in 2024 with all seven mirrors. The first mirror is completed, and the second through fourth mirrors are currently in the process of being made.

The weather is wonderfully clear this evening, so Diane, Reg and I use the 25” telescope for visual observing from Garry’s observatory. My observing report

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Kitt Peak

Feb 22, 2017 Tuesday – Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

We leave this morning around 10AM for the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Reg is driving us from Garry Sedun’s place to the observatories, with Matt, Diane and myself as passengers. We take the 4 metre Mayall optical telescope tour at 1:30PM, which takes a couple of hours, and involves climbing the hill to the high point-of-land. It is exciting to hear from our guide that this venerable optical telescope has found new life and a new funding source, which will allow it to contribute to finding answers about dark energy in the Universe. The facility closes at 4PM, so we don’t have time to explore further, so we head back down the mountain road.

It takes about 30-45 minutes to drive SW to Kitt Peak from Tucson on the West Tucson Ajo Highway, and then up the access road. It takes us over two hours each way from where we are staying east of Benson. We passed the Border Patrol security check point on the way to Kitt Peak, and on the way back everyone is stopped for a dog inspection of the vehicle, and a personal ID check. When traveling in this region so close to the Mexican border, be prepared for security check points by carrying your ID with you. Non-US citizens should carry their passports.


We stop in Benson on the way back to stock up on a few food and drink items. John and Garry did not join us today, so they are ready with dinner upon our arrival. Everyone enjoys our meal and we are eager to get outside to do more observing. Unfortunately, the weather isn’t ideal this evening with cloud cover dampening our enthusiasm, so we have to entertain ourselves playing a new board game for many of us: Mexican Trains (a domino game).

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A ‘down day’ and imaging at night at Sedun observatory

Feb 21, 2017 Monday – Dragoon Mountain Ranch, St. David, Arizona

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Today is a “down day”, meaning we have no daytime activities planned, so the group can relax and do what they want. I catch up with my social media and email, and work on my journal entries. My blog is still behind – the last entry was for Victoria-Seattle – the first days of my travels, but at least I now have the material to write those blog posts.

It is my turn on the imaging telescope this evening, but when John and Garry try to take some flat frames before sunset, the sensor ices up. This means the desiccant inside the CCD camera is saturated with moisture, and needs to be baked so it dries out to make it effective again. This delays my imaging session of M1 the Crab Nebula by an hour and a half, however I am imaging on the 20” Newtonian Astrograph by 9:20PM and wind up my run just after midnight. Without a doubt, this is my best image of the Crab Nebula. The detail within the object is fantastic, and this is the first time I’ve imaged the green fringe around the nebula! My observing report

RASC Victoria Centre: Joe Carr &emdash; M1 Crab Nebula

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Total Solar Eclipse 2016 from Indonesia

March 9, 2016 – Wed – Total Solar Eclipse in Makasar Strait, Indonesia aboard the Volendam cruise ship

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

I get up at 6:30AM to prepare for the solar eclipse this morning. Of course when I get up on deck, there are lots of people already setup, but the ship is big and has lots of open deck space. I find a nice spot near the stern on the Sport Deck 9 and drag a lounge chair to sit on and to park my gear on as I setup next to the rail. Totality doesn’t happen until 8:35AM, so I have over an hour to wait until things start to happen. The ship is slowly cruising at 3-5 knots perpendicular to the eclipse centreline off the coast of Sulawesi in the Makasar Strait. Conditions are excellent, with calm seas, light winds, and although a bit cloudy, there are huge gaps between the clouds.

Joe on deck for the solar eclipse

Joe on deck for the solar eclipse

Due to the track of the ship, everyone is setup on the starboard side facing east. I setup my tripod, tape my Kestrel portable weather station to a nearby bollard, and decide to just aim my video camera out to sea in the direction of the Sun. I mount my camera on the tripod with the solar filter in place, and adjust it so I can remain seated while operating the camera. I’m soon taking photos of the partial phases of the eclipse as the Moon slides in front of the Sun after First Contact.

Fully eclipsed Sun with Venus and Mercury above observed from in the Java Sea aboard the Volendam in Indonesia

Fully eclipsed Sun with Venus and Mercury above observed from in the Java Sea aboard the Volendam in Indonesia

Totality soon arrives at 8:34:39AM at Second Contact. Bailey’s Beads are visible all red and sparkly on the left side of the solar disk at the start. By midpoint in Totality, they are also visible on the other side of the solar disk…a beautiful display! Of course, plasma streamers are flowing away from the Sun, with a bit of a gap in the flow at the 4 o’clock position. Both Venus and Mercury are clearly visible above the Sun during Totality, and as it ends, a huge, bright Diamond Ring pops out – a real treat, and the brightest I’ve observed!

My weather station measures the temperature drop during the eclipse at only 1.5°C. I’m a bit surprised at how little the air cooled off, but I expect the air mixing at sea reduced this effect similarly as it did with the 2012 Eclipse when I was aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea in 2012. I don’t stick around to watch the last partial phase of the eclipse, packing up my gear and leaving by 9AM. Once 4th Contact is over, the ship turns around and heads south back down the Makassar Strait to the Java Sea and Komodo Island, our next port-of-call the day after tomorrow. This is a 500 mile run for them to get us on position this morning.

The diamond ring and lots of plasma streamers as Totality ends

The diamond ring and lots of plasma streamers as Totality ends

The captain and the rest of the bridge crew did an outstanding job getting us to the centreline of the eclipse this morning. The captain made his decision last night on our final position based on meteorological reports, and it worked out beautifully. We had some clouds, but there were huge gaps, and Totality was observed with perfectly clear conditions.

My detailed eclipse observation log

After getting cleaned up, I go up to the Explorations Cafe to have a celebratory cappuccino, since I missed breakfast this morning. That keeps me going, so I can quickly extract three photos and post a brief message on Facebook to tell my friends I had success with the eclipse. They almost immediately respond, saying that they virtually observed the eclipse from a feed coming from somewhere in Micronesia. It is a connected world!

Shortly after Noon, I go to the main dining room for some much-needed lunch, and compare notes about the eclipse with everyone around the table. We are all thrilled to have had the chance to observe the eclipse…both dedicated eclipse chasers and regular travellers alike.