Eye on the stars

Nelson Walker, president of the Victoria branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, on the allure of the night sky

Nelson Walker, president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Nelson Walker, president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

I am a “serious amateur astronomer.”  That means that I own a couple of telescopes; a pair of binoculars; a tackle box full of filters; eyepieces; lenses and sketching equipment; two milk crates full of charts, maps, sky guides; and enough cold-weather clothing to keep me warm while standing still when it is cold. I am also current president of the local astronomy club, RASC Victoria Centre, which has been in existence here since 1914.

While many amateurs specialize in imaging the beauties of the universe, my main interest is in simply observing objects in the night sky: the moon, planets, interesting stars, star clusters, nebula, and galaxies. I make sketches of what I see in the eyepiece of the telescope. Most observers like me work from lists of these objects, or announcements in astronomy journals. One such list is that of the “Messier Objects,” which includes more than 100 objects catalogued during the 18th century. Observing these objects is a rite of passage for beginning amateurs. There are dozens of such lists, some requiring a large telescope and travel to a dark sky location.

Far-flung night-sky objects are best appreciated by realizing just what, and how far away they are. The Andromeda Galaxy, a commonly observed object and sister galaxy to our Milky Way, is more than two million light-years away. When you look at it, photons that originated there enter your eye and land on your retina. Those photons have travelled an immense distance to reach your eye. They have come so far that when they left Andromeda, there was not yet a mammal on earth as large as a human, or a monkey, or even a rat. That it can even be seen is barely believable. For me, that is a profound meditation, no matter how often I experience it.

I would recommend that anyone interested in astronomy as a hobby visit our website. In addition to a large program of public outreach, clubs like ours provide guidance on equipment and observing sites. We provide telescopes for the use of our members. We have our own observatory. We have monthly lectures on topics of interest to astronomers.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chelsey Moore’s character Chloe in the upcoming virtual reality game Altdeus: Beyond Chronos. Screengrab
Vancouver Island actress finds success in a virtual world

Black Creek’s Chelsey Moore lends her voice to a new video game set for release in December

Ceramic artist Darrel Hancock working on a clay jug in his home studio in Qualicum Beach. (Submitted photo)
Qualicum Beach potter Darrel Hancock celebrates 40 years in business

‘It’s wonderful to do what you love and make a living at it’

Artist Daniel Cline discusses his sculpture, Harmony Humpbacks, during the June 20 walking tour of Oak Bay’s 2019 ArtsAlive sculptures. Harmony Humpbacks was purchased by Oak Bay as the 2019 people’s choice winner and is permanently installed at the Beach Drive entrance to Willows Park. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Influx of donated art a ‘fantastic problem to have,’ says Oak Bay mayor

Oak Bay goes from zero to 10 permanent art pieces since 2015

Nanaimo graphic designer Amy Pye has written and illustrated her first children’s book, <em>G is for Grizzly Bear: A Canadian Alphabet</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Nanaimo graphic designer releases first children’s book

Amy Pye teaches the Canadian alphabet in ‘G is for Grizzly Bear’

The Vancouver Island Symphony’s Back Row Brass Quintet – including trumpeter Mark D’Angelo, tuba player Nick Atkinson and French horn player Karen Hough (from left) – were scheduled to tour the Nanaimo area with Christmas Under the Big Tent, but the concert series has now been cancelled. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Symphony brass quintet’s Christmas concert series cancelled

Performances were to happen at venues in Parksville and Lantzville next month

The Sheringham Point Lighthouse, near Shirley. (Contributed - Lee-Ann Ruttan)
New book shines a light on Sheringham Point Lighthouse

Publication examines history, lightkeepers, and volunteer society

Victoria-based guitarist Eric Harper performs at the Port Theatre on Nov. 27. (Photo credit Tatum Duryba)
Classical guitarist to play at the Port Theatre

Eric Harper to play new songs composed during the pandemic

A sample of some of Lou-ann Neel’s jewelry.
Lou-ann Neel wins the Fulmer Award in First Nations Art

Originally from Alert Bay, Neel’s family is steeped in renowned Kwakwaka’wakw artists

I-Hos Gallery manager Ramona Johnson shows some of the paddles available at the retail outlet. Photo by Terry Farrell
I-Hos Gallery celebrates 25 years of promoting First Nation artwork

K’ómoks First Nation-based outlet has art from all over the country

Bard to Broadway Theatre Society may stage shows outdoors next summer. (PQB News photo file)
Qualicum Beach’s Bard to Broadway group may stage shows outdoors

Theatre society plans smaller productions due to ongoing pandemic

Most Read