Volume 27 - Number 4 - August 1996

The Newsletter Of The Halifax Centre Of The RASC

c/o 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS, Canada B3H 3A6

WWW: E-mail:

NOVA NOTES, the newsletter of the Halifax Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, is published bi-monthly in February, April, June, August, October, and December. The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the Halifax Centre. Material for the next issue should reach the editor by October 4th, 1996. Articles on any aspect of astronomy will be considered for publication. "Letters to the Editor" or to our resident expert: GAZER are also most welcome. Contact the editor at:

David Lane, 4-26 Randall Avenue, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3M 1E2

E-mail:, Phone: (902) 443-5989 (home) (902) 420-5633 (work)

Inside This Issue...

President's Report

Nova East Report by Paul Gray

The Burke-Gaffneys by Peter Broughton

St. Croix Observatory Status Report

Astronomical Amalgamation by Pat Kelly

An extract from "The Blue Box (Recycled Ideas)" by Don Cox

Notice of Meetings and Other Stuff

Observatory Donations! Thank you!
The Centre would like to thank those listed below for their tax deductible monetary contributions towards our St. Croix Observatory project. The total raised to date is about $3900. For a project status report.

Solar (<$100)
Janet Allan, Ian Anderson, Roy Bishop, Larry Bogan, Heather Cameron, David and Jodi Clarke, Bruce Evans, Michael Falk, Norma Fraser, Tom Harp, Bob Hawkes, David Huston, Walter Kauzmann, Graham Miller, Shawn Mitchell, Marianne Rohrl, Ron Thompson

Stellar ($100-$249)
John Connelly, John Jarvo & Daryl DeWolfe, Tony Jones, Peter Leyenaar, Blair MacDonald, Greg Palman, Harvey Slaunwhite, David Tindall, Mary Lou Whitehorne

Star Cluster ($250-$499)
Milton Doyle

Galactic ($500-$999)
David Lane, Clint Shannon, Bill Thurlow, Joe Yurchesyn

Quasar ($1000+)
Annapolis Basin Group (for the land lease donation)

Observatory Worker List

The Centre would like to thank those listed below for the donation of their time (otherwise known as "sweat equity") towards the construction of our St. Croix Observatory project.

Jason Adams, Ian Anderson, Roy Bishop, Paul Gray, Tom Harp, Tony Jones, Pat Kelly, Dave Lane, Shawn Mitchell, Doug Pitcairn, Darren Talbot, Mary Lou Whitehorne, Joe Yurchesyn

President's Report:

by David Chapman

The summer is nearly over, and we have had some significant happenings since the last Nova Notes. Nova East was great (see the detailed report elsewhere). This is a great event for folks to observe together, try out different scopes, and generally yak about astronomy all weekend. Since we didn't have an annual banquet this year, Nova East was also our first social function. We had a first-rate line-up of public speakers (and I'm not just saying that because I was one of them). Attending NE was an enjoyable way for my family and I to end our annual vacation, which took us in a big loop through New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, New York, and Maine. My daughter and I watched the Perseid Meteor shower from the Niagara Peninsula (I tried to hook up with the Niagara Centre, but all the keen observers were at Starfest).

As well as public observing at Nova East, there was public observing on the Halifax waterfront and Dollar Lake Provincial Park. The more people and telescopes there are, the more fun this is. The waterfront event in July was especially interesting, as there was a wide variety of people of all ages who seemed surprised and delighted to find us set up on the boardwalk. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who have never seen the Moon through a telescope. The best answer I found for "Why are you doing this?" was "We're astronomy buskers!" By the way, for the next time, I need to find out the Arabic word for "Jupiter", and possibly the Chinese word as well (Contact Blair MacDonald if you want to assist in future sidewalk astronomy events).

Much progress has been made at our dam observatory at St. Croix (C'mon folks, let's settle on a name!). Although I have not visited the site since early July, I see by e-mail that there now is a warm room structure in place (Gee, maybe I should provide an armchair...). The names that keep cropping up on this project are Shawn Mitchell, Dave Lane (again!), and Roy Bishop, although I imagine there are more volunteers whose names have not been specifically mentioned. Quip-of-the-month goes to Dave Lane who has dubbed the project "The observatory built of comets", a reference to the story about E.E. Barnard's "house built of comets" - upon which I based my Nova East talk - and the fact that much money has been raised for the observatory through the sale of members' photos of Comet Hyakutake. By the way, congratulations to Shawn, who has secured a regular job as physics technician at SMU (Shawn, I trust this trivial matter of going to work won't interfere with observing!).

Speaking of summer, every time I see a sundial in a park, I am reminded of one of my pet peeves: sundials that don't work (I am NOT complaining about the lack of sunshine this year). Although there are many fine sundials to be seen, there appear to be just as many that are incorrectly set up or are so poorly designed that they have no hope of indicating the correct time. The worst example I have found (for sheer enormity) is the sundial/memorial that has been erected in Seaview Park (a.k.a. Africville). It is pointed in the right direction and is cut for the right latitude, but whoever showed the stonecutter where to carve the numerals had no idea what they were doing. Check it out.

The best place to find ersatz sundials are in garden shops and nature stores (who should know better). These places typically sell absolute junk sundials for outrageous prices (Sounds like department store telescopes all over again, doesn't it?). I have been meaning to write an information sheet on choosing a sundial to make available to these outlets, so that they can stock their shelves intelligently. Perhaps I will do this one long, dark night this winter.

To end on a positive note, I have found yet another use for empty plastic film canisters: I discovered that the translucent kind fits nicely over the head of my Ray-O-Vac Roughneck mini-flashlight that I use for camping. Using a red marker filched from my daughter's pencil case, I was able to convert the white translucent canister into a red flashlight filter that can be popped on and off readily.

For talks this Fall, what better person to lead off in September on the topic of "Tides" than Roy Bishop? Following Roy, in October, we have another MAG (Minas Astronomy Group) member, Ivan Smith on "When does Spring begin? Curiosities of the Calendar". At present, we have nobody for November and beyond, so please contact me if you have any ideas for speakers.

Nova East 96 Report:

by Paul Gray

Nova East was held for the tenth year in 1996 as usual in Fundy National Park, which is located in south east New Brunswick. The location within the park was changed this year from the Micmac Group campsite to the Chignecto South overflow campground, which is on top of the mountain and farther inland. This proved to be an advantage for many reasons. With fog located at sea level along the coast every morning and evening, it was beautifully sunny and warm at the site. Clear weather was granted by the sky gods on Friday evening with the best skies many of us have seen in recent years! A limiting visual magnitude of 6.4-6.5 was recorded by the keenest observers. The observing was great to say the least.

The events were really kicked off with two public talks on Friday evening in the Assembly Hall, which was filled close to capacity. After the talks, the public was invited to the site to observe through our telescopes and to see the wonders of the night sky. Many stayed for a couple of hours and the attendance numbers were in the 150 range! Again on Saturday there were public talks in the Hall with a capacity crowd, however it was cloudy that night so no observing could take place. A third talk was presented in place of the observing. Earlier in the day some of the public did get to look at and through telescopes, since for the first time we had scopes set up at the Visitor Information Centre for solar viewing. Again, there was on the order of 100 people who passed through the lines during the hour in which we were set up.

Besides the public talks and viewing that we do, there are several events just for the astronomers. During Saturday night, when it was cloudy, there were a couple short talks in the cookhouse about the Halifax Centres' Observatory project as well as some comet slides. For many years, people have liked to hike in the park, so this year a scheduled hike was in the list of events. On Saturday morning, after a night when many were up until 3am observing, a dozen of the attendees rose to go for a hike to the highest waterfall in the park. The hike to and from "Third Vault Falls" took just under 3 hours including a good stay at the waterfall which is some 55 feet high! The early morning time of the event had us at the falls just as the sun shone directly on it producing a beautiful rainbow. Another event that was scheduled this year was the round of golf on Sunday afternoon. We had only 12 spots booked for golfers and there were more who didn't pre-register that wanted to go! A good time was had by all and at the end of the 9th hole there was a small crowd gathered to watch and applaud as we all finished.

The entire weekend was fun and enjoyable. All those who volunteered did an excellent job and I would like to thank them all for their help. I would also like to thank Shawn Mitchell for taking our idea of a NE logo and producing a nice shirt with it. All of the public speakers gave interesting and entertaining talks. Nova East was a huge success this year with a total gathering of some 75 people of which 40 were astronomers. Some came from as far away as New Jersey, Ontario and even Michigan. Our surprise attendee would have to have been Roger Tuthill and his wife! Yes, that is the same Tuthill who advertises in every Sky and Telescope. He also donated a solar filter as a door prize. I believe that most people think this was our largest and best yet and that Nova East has a long life ahead of it. I hope to see you all there next year.

The Burke-Gaffneys:

by Peter Broughton , 2nd National RASC Past-President

Father Michael Burke-Gaffney, had he still been with us, would have been 100 on December 17 this year. The centenary of his birth is an opportunity to remember his contribution to Saint Mary's University as Dean of Engineering and Dean of Science in the 1940s and early '50s, and as Professor of Astronomy after 1955. The observatory which crowns the top of the Loyola building is named in his honour. He was instrumental in establishing the Halifax Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 1955.

His accomplishments are remembered in the display outside the observatory (Editor's Note: that display is no longer at the observatory), but the remarkable family of which he was a part may be less well-known. He had five brothers and three sisters, many of whom had distinguished careers in various parts of the world. Their parents, Thomas and Joan (O'Donnell) were married in 1885 and lived in Dublin where all the children were born. Thomas, like his father before him, worked as a civil engineer, ultimately becoming chief of the technical branch of the Valuation and Boundary Survey Department. The two oldest sons, Edward (born 1887) and Patrick (1888), both became engineers - Edward in Kelantan (Malaysia), Patrick in Canada. (Michael emigrated to Manitoba in the 1920s and worked with Patrick, designing bridges for the Manitoba government.) John (born 1890) became a professional soldier, winning the Military Cross and other decorations for his valiant service in World War I. Thomas (1893) was a renowned scientist in Australia, and Henry (born 1901) became senior government pathologist in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information about the daughters, except that Mary was listed in the 1911 Dublin census as a 19 year old scholar living with her parents.

The two brothers, Thomas and Michael seemed to be most alike. Both were described as unassuming, kind, and graced with a delightful sense of humour. Both were ordained Jesuit scientists with an interest in astronomy. Thomas Burke-Gaffney became director of the Riverview Observatory, Saint Ignatius College in Sydney, Australia in 1952 and served as President of the New South Wales Branch of the British Astronomical Association from 1956 until his death in 1958. Thomas's main research interest, however, was seismology, and under his direction the Riverview Observatory reverted to its original purpose and away from the astronomical work the previous director, Father D. J. K. O'Connell, had developed. A measure of Thomas's stature in the scientific community is an obituary in Nature where K. E. Bullen wrote "Australian seismology has suffered as almost irreplaceable loss."

The Census of Dublin, 1911 (ref: 41/19) confirms that the Burke-Gaffneys named in this article were indeed siblings living with their parents at 66 Eccles Street. Information about the Burke-Gaffneys has been gleaned from various editions of Thom's Irish Who's Who, The Catholic Who's Who and Year Book, and The Dominion Office and Colonial Office Lists. Obituaries of Thomas appeared in Nature 182, 1343 and the Australian Journal of Science 21, 133. His connection with the BAA is in BAA Memoirs, 42 (2), 48 and with the Riverview Observatory in Australian Journal of Astronomy 1, 57. A considerable amount of information about Michael Burke-Gaffney is in the RASC Archives, while his obituary (by Randall Brooks) appears in JRASC 73, 100.

St. Croix Observatory Status Report:

by: David Lane

Since the last observatory committee report in the June issue of Nova Notes, considerable progress has again been made.

In late June, a contractor was hired to complete the site preparation work. This involved the delivery of several loads of crushed rock and gravel and the use of an excavator to prepare the two gravel pads which form the base for the concrete foundations. Several holes were also dug for the roll-off-roof footings and driveway gate holes.

In early July, another contractor was hired to do the concrete work. This involved the pouring of two concrete slabs (one 12'x16' for the warm room and one 16'x20' for the observatory) and the roll-off-roof footings. He did a wonderful job - the slab surfaces are nearly as smooth as glass (too bad they're not parabolas!).

On Saturday, August 3rd, a large work crew of members nearly completed the warm room - door and windows included! A smaller crew on the following Monday completed the exterior cladding and installed a temporary plastic covering over the roof.

On Sunday, August 24th another work party began closing in the eves and installing the exterior vinyl siding, making it round the building up to the eight foot level before quitting time.

The exterior work remaining on the warm room includes finishing the siding, installation of the steel roofing, and the painting of trim.

To date, approximately $7500 has been invested in the project - about $1000 of this amount purchased a 4400W AC generator.

Work on the roll-off-roof observatory building should be underway by the time of the September meeting. We will show lots of slides showing the progress at the meeting.

Why not go out and have a look, I'll think you will be suitably impressed.

Astronomical Amalgamation:

by: Pat Kelly (a.k.a. Pot Belly)

Now that the amalgamation of the Halifax and Sydney metro regions has successfully taken place and the merger between Dalhousie University and the Technical University of Nova Scotia is well underway, the Nova Scotia government has decided to turn its efforts to the night sky. While some of the details are sketchy, internal memos obtained from the Department of Astronomical Affairs under the Freedom of Information Act give an indication of the wide ranging scope of the reforms.

Constellation boundaries will be redrawn to eliminate a lot of the smaller and lesser-known constellations. Coma Berenices (Bernice's Hair) and Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs) will be combined into one constellation Coma Canes (the Hairy Dogs). Leo Minor will disappear completely, becoming a tuft of fur on the end of the tail of Leo. Also slated for removal are Camelopardalis and Lynx, both of which will be added to Ursa Major, making it by far the largest constellation at 2370 square degrees; Hydra will now take a distant second place at only 1303 square degrees. According to the premier, Canada is a large country and deserves to have the largest constellation in the part of the sky that is circumpolar from our latitude. Also enhancing Canadian content, Crater the Cup will be renamed Crater Stanlius, Stanley's Cup, due to its resemblance to the famous hockey trophy and the fact that it is best seen during the Stanley Cup playoffs. When asked about this, the Minister of Astronomical Affairs, Galle E. Leo, stated that hockey was really going over really big in the United States and he could not see that the Americans would object. "Besides, since precession will gradually cause Crater Stanlius to appear later and later into the summer, it will fit perfectly with the recent trend of the playoffs."

The biggest surprise is the merger of Corona Borealis with Hercules. The crown's asterism will officially become part of Hercules, but will get a new name, which has not yet been decided on. In addition, three new stars will be added to the crown over the next two years in order to strengthen its shape.

All of the constellations that are being affected, will also have all of their stars relabeled to avoid duplication of star names. Tradition will be followed, using the Greek alphabet. Due to the large number of stars in the "new" Ursa Major, the Greek alphabet would be followed by the Hebrew, Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets. Since many Arabic characters have a different form, depending on whether they are located at start, middle or end of a word, the form that would be used would depend on whether the star was located closest to the beginning, middle or end of the constellation.

Constellations are not the only area where reform will occur. Catalogs of astronomical objects have also been updated to eliminate unnecessary duplication. The Messier list will lose at least three objects. M40, a double star, will be dropped completely. M43 will be merged with M42, the Orion Nebula. M51, the Whirlpool Nebula will benefit from the new system as it will now include NGC 5195, which is connected to it. According to Mr. Leo most astronomers cannot tell the difference between M42 and M43 anyway and it has been a long time since astronomers used telescopes that were so small that the bridge between M51 and NGC 5195 was not plainly visible. "Why, I hear that with a CCD camera, it is even a snap from downtown Toronto."

To avoid confusion between objects in the New General Catalog and the two Index Catalogs, the latter will be abolished. All of the objects in the Index Catalogs will be numbered in order of right ascension, but continuing the numbering sequence from the last item in the NGC. As a result, all deep-sky objects will belong to the NGC, making the three letter prefix redundant. Since the prefix N is used to denote nova, and to avoid conflicts in the event that extensions are made to the Caldwell Catalog, all objects will have G as the prefix. Also, there will no longer be a space between the prefix and the number. Thus, NGC 1 becomes G1, NGC 2367 becomes G2367 and NGC WHIZ becomes GWHIZ. It is expected that 10,000 man-hours of labor, 200 kg of toner and 25 metric tons of ink will be saved each year by eliminating the three extra letters in the prefix. Premier Johannes Savage is quoted as saying that while there is bound to be opposition to the changes as well as some initial expenses for the productions of new atlases, etc. astronomers will save a lot of time, effort and money in the long run.

When asked for comments, several local amateur astronomers, expressed their doubts that the new system would win many converts. Dust Lane, one of the co-discoverers of SuperNova Scotia was quite skeptical. "Look at what happened when Patrick Moore tried to introduce the Caldwell Catalog. It made a lot more sense then these proposals do and it received nothing but ridicule. I don't know anyone who could tell you the number of a single object in the Caldwell catalog."

According to Merrylou B.E. Whitestar, it was just another example of the government not consulting with people before trying to develop a policy. In her opinion, the government should have consulted astronomy groups as well as the National Action Council for the Status of Women. "Everyone knows that women are much better at organizing than men are, but do you think that they asked us for advice? Besides, if constellations were going to be reorganized, the new ones should have been used to put more women in the sky. After all, most of the constellation figures represent men, a little equality wouldn't have been too much to ask for." Similar sentiments were expressed by Dewglass MacPitcairn. "I was one of the founding members of the Astronomical Refoooorrrrrrmmmm Party and we had made proposals similar to these before the last election. said Mr. MacPitcairn. "Now that the government sees that the people are leaning in this direction, they are making the changes and then taking the credit for it."

One amateur who was not immediately critical of the government's plan was planetarium lecturer Pot Belly. "I was training a new instructor one time and he spent half a day trying to pronounce Camelopardalis properly. When we got into the planetarium, he found that the stars in Camelopardalis were so faint that the projector didn't even have them! Good riddance as far as I am concerned! Even so, I don't think that it has a snowball's chance on the sunny side of Mercury of succeeding. I mean, you can't find a more conservative lot than astronomers. Even so, this sort of thing will generate a lot of interest in amateur astronomers all across the country. What I really like, though, is that I'm the editor of a national newsletter, and I'm a bit low on material for the next issue. I bet that I could get almost a two column article out of this story!"

Professional astronomers also had grave doubts about the plan. Dr. David Tourniquet, the chairman of the astronomy and physics department at Saint Mary's University, and editor of the Urinal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada expressed his concerns. "It has taken astronomers centuries to perfect coordinate systems and methods of cataloging and naming objects, so that they are totally indecipherable to someone not trained in the field. I mean, even a few astronomers cannot understand the way things are set up. Well, actually a lot don't, but that is beside the point. It is sort of like the way that some people have an office or a workshop or a desk that looks like it is a total mess, but yet they know exactly where everything is. The last thing that you want to have happen is for someone else to come in and start trying to clean things up."

When asked whether these changes would be accepted by the other provinces, a spokesperson for the government said that since the sky was not covered under the charter of rights or the constitution, the province was free to act unilaterally in this area. The spokesperson also said that if these reforms are as successful as it is hoped, the government will start looking at other areas, such as crater names, merging many of the solar systems small moons and other areas where amalgamation can potentially save money.

An Extract from "The Blue Box (recycled ideas)"

(a weekly internet column)

by: Don Cox of Buckingham, Quebec

Last week we had our annual Perseid meteor shower, and I know that hundreds of you were out scanning the Heavens, marveling at the sight of dozens of shooting stars racing towards terrestrial oblivion. To see this remarkable annual event you would have to have traveled somewhere beyond the urban and suburban light pollution. It used to be that any farmer's yard was a convenient place to view the sky, but nowadays most of them have yard lights. There are fewer and fewer places on the planet where you can see the stars.

Back in the late 1850's there was a particularly good Perseid meteor shower, and a mob of frightened citizens in Washington gathered on the White House lawn to seek help from the President, Mr. Abraham Lincoln. "Mr. President, the stars are falling" said a frightened spokesman for the crowd. Mr. Lincoln took a long and thoughtful look at the Heavens and remarked, "I notice that all the old stars are still there." This seemed to satisfy the frightened throng, and they dispersed quietly. If only they had had yard lights and street lights then like they do now, no one would have been able to see the meteor shower, and the president could have had a full night's sleep.

(Full version available from upon request.)

Notice of Meetings and Events

Regular Meetings

Date: Regular Meeting - Friday, September 20 at 8pm; 7pm for the council meeting.

Place: Lower Theatre, Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, Summer Street, Halifax. Access is from the parking lot.

Topic: Main Speaker: Dr. Roy Bishop. His talk is titled "Tides." Roy has lived his life near the Minas Basin, the location of the world's highest tides, and no doubt will present an excellent talk about the Earth's ocean tides. We will also be showing slides of progress made on our St. Croix Observatory Project.

Date: Regular Meeting - Friday, October 18 at 8pm; 7pm for the council meeting.

Place: Lower Theatre, Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, Summer Street, Halifax. Access is from the parking lot.

Topic: Main Speaker: Ivan Smith, a member of the Minas Astronomy Group. His talk is titled "When Does Spring Begin? Curiosities of the Calendar."


Abigweit Autumnal Astronomical Adventure 96: This star party is organized by the Athena Community Astronomy Club in Summerside, PEI. It was held for the first time last year. It will be held this year on the weekend of September 13-15. Call Bill Thurlow at 902-436-1083 for further information.


The Halifax Center has several telescopes for loan to members. These include a Celestron C8 equipped for photography, a Questar 3.5", a 4" rich-field telescope, a 4" Maksutov-Cassegrain, and a 10" Dobsonian. Contact the Observing Chairman, Paul Gray, for further information.

Astro Ads

Tasco (older model) 20-60x 60mm Refracting Telescope

with table top tripod, $75 or best offer.

CONTACT: Mary Yoshinari PHONE: 429-2012

13.1" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

with homemade fibre-glassed tube, Novak spider, secondary holder, and 9 point primary cell, 2" focuser and Telrad (no eyepieces).

New Lower Price! Asking Price: $1200

CONTACT: Paul Gray E-mail: PHONE: 902-864-2145

Celestron Firstscope 80 Refractor

80mm diameter refractor with alt-az mount, wooded tripod, and 18mm eyepiece.

New Lower Price! Asking Price: $450 (was $900 new)

CONTACT: Tom Dolhanty (Truro area) PHONE: 902-893-2453

1996 Halifax Centre Executive

Honorary President Dr. Murray Cunningham

President David Chapman 463-9103

1st vice-president Blair MacDonald 445-5672

2nd vice-president Shawn Mitchell 865-7026

Secretary Tom Harp 465-4928

Treasurer Ian Anderson 542-0772

Nova Notes Editor David Lane 443-5989

National Representative Pat Kelly 798-3329

Librarian Clint Shannon 889-2426

Observing Chairman Paul Gray 864-2145

Councilors Darren Talbot 443-9373

Dr. David Turner 435-2733

Mary Lou Whitehorne 865-0235