A Guide for Our New Members

January 2024
Welcome, beginners and experienced astronomers, to our Society and the Ottawa centre. We have some useful information to share about our centre, about the Society, and we invite you to explore the many resources available to you as a member.

About the Centre

You are now a member of the local Ottawa Centre, which is one of 30 Centres of the national organisation called The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. You are entitled to national member benefits as well as Ottawa-specific benefits.

The Ottawa Centre is run solely by volunteers. There is a governing Council, with elected Directors and Officers as set out at the end. Council is elected annually at the AGM in December. In addition, there are several non-voting, appointed positions for the volunteers who support various Centre activities, events, equipment and libraries.

Membership benefits

We meet on the first Friday of every month (delayed by one week when there is a holiday weekend). The meetings are your chance to meet with and learn from people like you interested in astronomy. The agenda is posted at the front of our website at ottawa.rasc.ca. There is usually a mix of presentations by guest speakers as well as Ottawa members, and the topics range across science, history, practical tips and astrophotography.

Our meetings are also an opportunity for members to present their images or “observations” of astronomical targets or events. Any member may present an astronomical observation; just contact the Meeting Chair at meetingchair@ottawa.rasc.ca to arrange a slot. There is a swap/sell table where members may wish to sell or trade gear and on occasion door prizes.

Currently our meetings are conducted as a blend of in-person and Zoom participation. The in-person component takes place in the theater located near the main entrance to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum . Once you arrive to the main door you will be directed to the theater. You must pay the evening parking fee of $6. The parking fee can be paid on site at the machine or by using the mobile app Indigo Neo. 

Friends and Family are welcome to attend the meetings. To attend via Zoom you will need to register for a link to participate in each Zoom meeting – look for a monthly email from the Meeting Chair with the link, or visit the website at ottawa.rasc.ca or our Facebook page. Meetings are recorded so you may view them at a later date on YouTube. See the index of videos at ottawa.rasc.ca/meetings.f

2. Voting Privileges.

As a member you have one vote at our annual general meeting in December when elected positions are determined for the next year(s), as well as one vote at the National AGM, usually held in June.

RASC Ottawa members have access to our observatory, located on Bennies Corners Road, about ten minutes from Almonte and 40 minutes from downtown Ottawa. Contact the Observatory Director flo@ottawa.rasc.ca to get the code to unlock the gate and the Site Guidelines document. Members may bring their own gear, connect to electricity, use the warm room, or request training on one of the club telescopes. More information is available at ottawa.rasc.ca/flo. Monthly FLO star parties -weather permitting, of course- are open to members and their guests who may bring their scope and/or see what others are doing with the observatory’s equipment. The schedule can be found at ottawa.rasc.ca/flo/; you may also ask the observatory director to add you to the mailing list for FLO-related news.

Members can borrow equipment at no cost from the Ted Bean Telescope Loan Library, whether to try before buying, or to complement equipment you already have. The 70mm Skywatcher or the Coulter Dobsonian are great instruments for beginners.

 See ottawa.rasc.ca/telescope-library for the list of telescopes, binoculars and other doo-dads available. Telescopes can be borrowed at no charge. A bino-viewer eyepiece adapter is also available with matched 20 mm eyepieces. Please contact our telescope custodian at ottawatelescopelibrary@gmail.com to see how to proceed.

Membership also allows you to borrow books and DVDs from the Stan Mott Astronomy Book Library. The library is located at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and is opened after each monthly meeting by our current librarian See ottawa.rasc.ca/book-library for more details, and contact librarian@ottawa.rasc.ca if you have particular requests.

6. RASC Publications

You will receive:

  • the RASC Observer’s Handbook annually by mail
  • an electronic subscription to the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Should you wish a paper version, you may pay for an annual print subscription or pay for a specific individual issue. Please visit the RASC national website for more information. https://rasc.ca/rasc-publications
  • AstroNotes, the newsletter of the Ottawa Centre, monthly by email

    The National website also offers many astronomy publications and merchandise for sale at rasc.ca/store.

7. Email lists

By joining the Ottawa Centre you provide your consent to receive Official-from-Council emails. In addition there are two other email list that you can opt into.

  1. By joining the Ottawa Centre you provide your consent to receive Official-from-Council emails. In addition there are two other email list that you can opt into.
  2. The Ottawa Centre members’ email group will keep you up to date on the latest events and conversations at the Ottawa Centre, and let you ask questions to the membership. Typically you provide your consent to be added to the list when you join or renew your membership. You can be added to this email list at a later date by contacting secretary@ottawa.rasc.ca.
  3. An Ottawa Centre mailing list specific to FLO users and which provides updates about the observatory site and club telescope training opportunities. Contact the Observatory Director at flo@ottawa.rasc.ca to be added to this mailing list.

The National office has a member discussion list called RASCALS and other forums addressing light pollution, and education and public outreach. See secure.rasc.ca/membership/forums/ home for details.

8. Social Media - Facebook, Discord, Instagram Meetup

Members are all invited to join our member’s only Discord server.

First, you must download the Discord App on your desktop or  your mobile device . Then you click on the invitation link. Here is a link that clearly explains how to download the Discord App. Discord recommends that you start on a desktop computer for the best experience.

Once the application is downloaded you must click on an invitation link. Discord invitations can be obtained from any Council member.

Video recordings of prior meetings can also be found on our Youtube channel. Please follow the Ottawa RASC on Instagram, Facebook and MeetUp for information about our events although this information is mainly directly to the general publi.

9. Free access to pro features of Astrospheric.

Being a RASC Ottawa member enables you to access the ‘pro’ features of the Astrospheric tool for forecasting observing conditions. It employs access to weather Canadian government meterological data to model forecasts four times a day for each of hundreds of locations. With the ‘pro’ feature provided to RASC Ottawa as an official astronomy, you get at no cost access to additional models plus an ensemble mode which provides enhanced ability to cross-check and compare among the forecasts

10. Observing Programmes.

Being a RASC member allows you to participate in and earn certificates in our many observing programs. They are an excellent way to learn astronomy and improve your observing and imaging skills. Programmes are available at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. See rasc.ca/certificate-programs for more details.

11. Awards.

At the Annual dinner meeting in November and the AGM in December of every year the RASC Ottawa presents annual members’ awards, including the President’s Award, Observer of the Year, Planetary Observer, Best Presentation at a monthly meeting, and Best AstroNotes article; there is a specific award for Youth Members The centre also grants Service Awards for long-term service, and nominates candidates for RASC National Service Awards. The National office also grants special named awards for contributions to astronomy.

12. Membership Services.

RASC National Office at secure.rasc.ca provides services such as when your membership requires renewal. These are “members-only” services which require that you have a username and password. Your username is the email address you provided RASC when signing up, and if you haven’t yet established a password you can just log in with your username and click the button saying that you forgot your password. You will have a chance to set a new password. you will receive an email notice from the National office. Other changes to your membership status can also be arranged there.

Other Resources

a. Star Maps.

Most amateur astronomers start by learning the constellations, the names of bright stars and how the sky changes over the course of the year. (In order to use a telescope this knowledge is essential.) You may use the star maps located in the centrefold of various magazines such as the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, Sky &Telescope and Astronomy (these are easily available in local bookstores and other outlets) or you can use cell phone apps such as Stellarium, SkySafari and SkyGuide. You can also find a current edition of “The Evening Sky Map” at https://www.skymaps.com/downloads.html.

Generally, it is good to start with identifying various “asterisms” or groupings in the sky including the Big Dipper, Summer Triangle, and Winter Circle. You should also learn how to find the north star Polaris with the “pointer stars” of the Big Dipper. Here is a link to the Astronomical League’s guide for each season.

b. Equipment.

There are many different kinds of telescopes and each has pros and cons. Many people enjoy astronomy with a good set of astronomical binoculars. Included in your welcome package are two recent articles on choosing telescopes and binoculars. If you did not receive them, please email starparties@ottawa.rasc.ca

The popular book The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide has a detailed section on equipment and is a worthwhile read before spending large sums of money on a telescope. This book is available from the Book Library.

c. First Targets.

Some of the best targets to start with are the big and bright ones. The moon is big, bright and easy to find. The moon changes every day and is a dynamic telescope target. The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide has an extensive section on observing the moon.

As targets get smaller, it becomes more and more important to be able to identify the bright stars in the sky in order to navigate or “star-hop” to your target. Some popular beginner targets are the Orion Nebula (winter), the Hercules globular cluster, the Andromeda Galaxy (fall) and the Milky Way nebulae including the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae (spring, summer).

Planets are usually easy to find in the sky and can be much brighter than stars. Their position changes every year and often daily so you do need to refer to your most current sky magazine or an app. While planets are easy to locate in the sky, they can be unimpressive in a small telescope although you should still be able to see Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings in a small scope.

Observing the sun can be very dangerous if not undertaken with specialised filters or specialised telescopes. However, the sun is also a popular and exciting target with the correct safeguards and equipment.

Many astronomers enjoy keeping track of their astronomical journey by keeping a log, either written or electronic. The RASC Observer’s Handbook (which you will receive as part of your membership) has a section devoted to maintaining a logbook and explains what data is important to track. If you wish to be considered for the “Observer of the Year” award, a log book is an important piece of data to maintain.

d. Stargazing Community Events.

RASC Ottawa runs public stargazing events open to all, as well as private events. At all events newcomers are welcome to attend with or without a telescope and to request help as needed. The events are generally posted on ottawa.rasc.ca, the Ottawa Centre Facebook page and in the RASC Ottawa email list.

e. YouTube.

The astronomical community is very active on YouTube and there are experts in almost every field of astronomy. Some of our favourite YouTubers include:
Astrobackyard ( Canadian-Trevor Jones)
Nebula Photos
Alyn Wallace
Dylan O’Donnell “Star Stuff”
Cuiv the Lazy Geek
And, of course, the RASC Ottawa website and YouTube channel maintains all of our past presentations as recorded.

We hope that this guide is helpful. Please reach out to any of our Council members should you have questions or concerns and we look forward to meeting you at our next monthly meeting, at FLO or at a public observing event.

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