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.

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.

Just Posted

Let Downchild chase those blues away

Donnie Walsh and company celebrate the band’s 50th year with an Oct. 18 concert in Victoria

HOROSCOPES: It’s all about you, Libra and Scorpio

Monday astrologer Georgia Nicols serves up her best bets for the coming month

Burton Cummings’ Up Close and Alone tour offers more intimate rock ‘n roll setting

Canadian rocker playing two sold-out shows at Mary Winspear Centre in October

Catch the Motown sound on stage in Oak Bay

Dave Dunnet Community Theatre hosting Motown Magic on Oct. 3

Scottish flavours abound at the McPherson during Skerryvore’s return

Acclaimed Celtic rock fusion band here Oct. 6; whisky tasting, acoustic pre-show added

VIDEO: ‘Thrones,’ ‘Fleabag’ top Emmys

Billy Porter makes history as first openly gay black man to win best drama-series acting Emmy

Set your alarm! Night Shift Halloween tix on sale Friday morning

Royal BC Museum’s adult-only costume event expected to sell out quickly

Canadian author Graeme Gibson, partner of Margaret Atwood, dies at age 85

Gibson remembered for putting his words into action for both cultural and environmental causes

Trailer released for Jason Momoa TV series filmed on Vancouver Island

‘See’ will debut on Apple’s new streaming service on Nov.1

Victoria bookstore looking to earn a place in the record books

Russell Books still collecting Guiness World Records books from public for massive tower

Eddie Money, ‘Two Tickets to Paradise’ singer, dies at 70

The rock star recently announced he had stage 4 esophageal cancer

Cross-cultural flamenco production tells personal story through dance, music

Indian, Spanish influences seen in Nritya, coming Sept. 26 to Glenlyon Norfolk School theatre

$9.8 million announced for B.C. arts groups by province

BC Arts Council to distribute 394 grants across more than 50 communities

Most Read