Volume 28, Number 3
May 29, 1997
Concluding two years as Ernie Seaquist's PDF, Dave Frayer will be moving
to Caltech in August. Congratulations on your new PDF, Dave!
Don and Yvonne Fernie spent the first week of April on a Caribbean
cruise as guests of Regent Holidays, with Don acting as guide to and
lecturer on Comet Hale-Bopp. The marvelously dark night skies out at
sea (with the ship's deck lights off) were somewhat offset by the low
altitude of Hale-Bopp at those
latitudes, but it was still a very enjoyable experience.
Bob Garrison and Chris Corbally used the Vatican 1.8m telescope on Mt. Graham
in Arizona to observe for ten nights in late April. Their project is the
metallicity of the Milky-Way Halo, using G dwarfs as probes, extending their
previous study to five kiloparsecs at the North Galactic Pole.
On Friday 18th April, Phil Kronberg gave the weekly colloquium at the
Max-Planck-Institut fuer Radioastronomie in Bonn, Germany. Title:
"Extragalactic Magnetic Fields and their Growing Significance"
Phil Kronberg gave an invited key lecture in the Astrophysics
Section of the week-long Symposium "FRONTIERS OF CONTEMPORARY
PHYSICS" that was held at Vanderbilt University during the
week of 11th to 16th May 1997.
Ian Shelton gave a talk to the Toronto Center of the RASC on April 23rd,
entitled: The Unseen Galaxy, Pushing Back the Optical Frontier.
In April Phil Kronberg (Principal Investigator), Harald Lesch and
Ulrich Hopp, were awarded a NATO International
Collaboration Grant to pursue studies of the generation of
intergalactic magnetic fields in the early universe. The collaboration,
between the Universities of Toronto and Munich will begin this
year, and will involve brief stays by Prof. Lesch and Dr. Uli Hopp at the
U. ot T., and similar visits by Philipp Kronberg to Munich, Germany. Many
will remember Harald Lesch from his time as Visiting Professor in the
Department of Astronomy a few years ago.
Congratulations to Sara Poirier, (Undergraduate Astronomy Specialist program), who was selected to attend the Vatican Summer School in June.
The countdown continues; unless we succeed in getting private funding by 30 June 1997 to fill the gap in NSERC funding, the telescope, dome, house and site will be abandoned. To keep the department informed, we are including here two messages sent to the users community. As of press time (26 May), there have been a few nibbles as a result of the Quirks and Quarks interview, but nothing definite. Some commitments have been made regarding users' fees, but not enough. The memo on users' fees applies to potential users as well as current users, so if you are interested, please contact Bob Garrison.
MEMORANDUM 8 April 1997
TO: UTSO User Community
FROM: R.F. Garrison, Associate Director, David Dunlap Observatory for Chile Operations.
It is with deep regret that I am writing to inform you that the University of Toronto will close the Chile observatory after 30 June 1997, UNLESS supplementary funding can be found to fill the widening gap between the level of government funding and UTSO expenses. I am doing all I can to find such funding, but time and money are running out.
As you may know, UTSO in Chile has been suffering financial difficulties since a deep cut was made to its level of support by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) last year. The reason was very clearly the combination of cuts to NSERC by the federal government and a decision by NSERC to take the cuts from infrastructure rather than from individual operating grants. Most of the comments by referees and by the committee were very complimentary and emphasized the unique niche filled by UTSO: a well-equipped small telescope at one of the best sites in the world, giving access to the wonders of the southern skies.
An internal appeal of its own decision was conducted this past year by NSERC in the light of its realization that the level of support offered was totally inadequate. I regret to inform all of you that, due to further cuts in its own budget this year, the committee was unable to restore support, which thus remains at the reduced level for two more years. As soon as we learned of this, Ernie Seaquist, DDO Director, called a meeting of the DDO academic staff to discuss this situation and it was agreed that we could not fill the gap from endowment funds. The decision to close UTSO unless supplementary funds can be found before 30 June was unanimous.
It is most unfortunate that such a decision had to be taken when the telescope is at the peak of its productivity and is in demand more than ever (60% over-requested), due to the closing of other small telescopes around the world. It means a further decline in certain kinds of essential research (e.g. large surveys and precision observations of relatively bright stars), for which astronomers will not succeed in getting time on large telescopes, indeed for which large telescopes are inappropriate.
Presuming that we must close the facility and that additional funds will not be found easily, it means the end of more than 25 years of highly successful operation. We will be closing a chapter on a long-standing cooperation with the University of Chile and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. It will also mean the end of the Helen Sawyer Hogg Telescope, dedicated to her on 19 June 1992, when she was still alive.
Within the next few weeks, Ernie Seaquist and I will be discussing the implications of the closing with the top administration of the University of Toronto and with the Director of the Carnegie Observatories.
If anyone would like to consider the possibilities of joining us in partnership, please let me know. At present about 50% of the minimum total costs (including DDO shop time and other non-site costs) are paid by the University of Toronto and staff donations; less than 20% is now paid by NSERC; we must find the missing 30%. The university cannot continue to pay such a high percentage of the costs, let alone fill the gap. This is partly because Toronto's usage is only about one-third of the total. Astronomers from the rest of Canada comprise another third and foreign usage is about a third. Negotiations for supplementary funding, either from partnerships or private sources will have to be concluded before irrevocable steps to closure are taken.
Thus, we are looking at the end of a 25 year experiment, which has been a success in every way other than funding. This success merits one more big effort to turn this funding situation around and avoid a disruption to YOUR research program and the research of many others at UTSO.
MEMO: 20 May 1997
TO: UTSO Users
FROM: Bob Garrison
RE: Users' Fees
Your expressions of concern arising from last month's memo about the closing of UTSO were heartening. We do have a loyal family of users, who realize the potential of a small, well-equipped telescope at one of the best sites in the world. Several of you responded with suggestions of users' fees, as well as questions about just how much money would be needed to keep "Helen" alive.
I had a particularly spirited debate with Rene Racine, and I am grateful to him for patiently hearing out my arguments against users' fees, then helping me to see the possibilities. Rene finally convinced me to give them a try by asking what I hate more - users' fees or closing a telescope I believe in and have spent 27 years nurturing? Hence this followup memo.
As a minimum, we need $75K seed money (cash) plus substantial, but not impossible, users' fees. A minimum figure in Canadian dollars is $200/night, cloudy or clear, visiting or service. That amounts to nearly $3K for a two-week observing run, plus airfare. As an option, we could offer service observing at $300/successful night.
For users' fees to be a strong enough option to keep us open, we would need actual commitments from people for enough time to fill the first nine months, starting in October. If they are still interested, the NASA ExtraGalactic Database program and MACHO could provide a beginning, but we would need other surveys like them in order to continue.
Most desirable would be a single gift of $500K which would keep us going for more than five years, even without users' fees. That seems to be a small amount, but it is not possible to find it here at the University of Toronto. For that size of gift, the name of the UTSO would be given to the donor. (The telescope is named after Helen Sawyer Hogg, but the observatory has only a generic name at present.)
If we were to obtain adequate funding in time, the plan would be to delay opening for 3 months. DDO technicians (mechanical, electronics and computer) would be sent down to overhaul the telescope and equipment, spare parts would be ordered, and a new Resident would be well-trained. All this should substantially improve the performance over what we've been able to offer recently, with such severe budget cuts.
Attempts to raise private funding are continuing (within the restrictions from the UofT Development Office). The funding crisis was aired on Quirks and Quarks last Saturday, and on the Discovery Channel on Friday. In both cases, an appeal for private funding was included. Terry Dickinson will be writing an article for the Toronto Star this week or next. The June issue of the JRASC will contain a note, but that is rather late in the day.
So far, no angels have appeared with cash in hand. The countdown to the closing of UTSO on 30 June 1997 continues. After that date, we can no longer pay our bills. We plan to strip the observatory, leaving only the basic telescope, house and dome.
If we are to stay open, we need commitments from enough of you to
fill the schedule. Please let me know as soon as you can whether
users' fees are an option for you.
I had a 10 night observing run with the Helen Sawyer Hogg telescope at Las Campanas at the end of April and the beginning of May. The weather was fantastic. The night time temperatures were 18 or 19 degrees Celsius with very little wind and every night was photometric. At this time of year, one usually encounters temperatures between 5 and 10 degrees and moderately high winds. It was a very nice way to say "Adios" to Las Campanas. The day I left the mountain, May 8, 1997, was exactly 25 years after the night that I made my first observations from Las Campanas, May 8, 1972.
Over the years, I had 22 observing runs with the telescope, and I spent most of this time observing RR Lyrae variables in globular clusters. The data that I have will keep me busy for the next few years.
Currently, there is a great deal of interest in RR Lyrae variables because
they are important distance indicators, particularly for globular clusters.
Thus, a full understanding of RR Lyrae variables has important implications
for the age of the globular clusters, a subject of hot debate in astronomy
No excuse is usually needed for a trip to Venice, but I had one: the symposium at which the results of the HIPPARCOS astrometric/photometric satellite were first presented, and the databases (to be released in June) introduced. HIPPARCOS has received very little publicity. It did get mention when it was launched into the wrong orbit: highly elliptical instead of geostationary, but not when its scientific program was brilliantly and successfully reprogrammed. So now we have 120,000 stars with milliarcsec astrometry, and a million stars with somewhat less accurate (but much better than before HIPPARCOS), and with 3.5 years of photometry.
It would be hard to do justice to all the new scientific results presented; besides, most of them are preliminary. But it is nice to know that fundamental astronomy is alive and well, and to realize that I had better re-learn all those things which I learned 30 years ago about parallaxes, proper motions, galactic structure and motion, open clusters, binaries of all kinds - as well as the sophisticated matters of random and systematic error in studying these.
There were predictable results for the nearest stars: some stars have been added to the Catalogue of Nearby Stars (within 25 pc), and some have been removed; there is one new entry at 5.5 pc; one star (Gliese 710) will approach within 0.2 pc of the sun, 810,000 years from now. There were also new results for (and much confusion from) binaries: dozens of "clean" orbits were improved, resulting in a better mass-luminosity relation; and many "close" and astrometric systems were discovered and/or measured.. For star clusters: there are distance moduli for the Hyades and Pleiades (3.33 and 5.33 respectively) good to +/- 0.01; and the reality of some of Eggen's "moving groups" is confirmed. There are new and/or better results on galactic structure and motion - the Oort constants, for instance. The "big questions" were the extragalactic distance scale (which seems to be 8 per cent longer), and the age of the globular clusters as determined from MS fitting or RR Lyrae stars; here, there is less agreement, in part because of conflicting (at first sight) results on the luminosity of the RR Lyrae stars, and its dependence on metallicity.
Hipparcos impacts on many other areas of astronomy: from measurements of asteroids, a mass of Ceres, accurate to better than 10 per cent, is determined; the observed bending of light is found to be within 0.003 of the value predicted by GR (as we knew before).
The other remarkable thing is the new developments on the near horizon,
namely interferometric astrometry. HIPPARCOS relied on "mechanical"
scanning; the next generation of satellites: DIVA in five years (?)
and GAIA in ten (?) will use the more sophisticated technique, and be
able to achieve microarcsec astrometry and hence accurate distances
throughout our galaxy. And imagine the general relativistic light
bending effects as these photons traverse the solar system!
There are over a hundred countries with some significant degree of astronomical activity. The majority of these countries are less developed, astronomically, than we are, so we should learn more about their needs, and "lend a hand" as best we can.
Six countries of Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama) have recently set about to develop astronomical education and research in a co-operative way; see Sky and Telescope, April 1997, pages 100-101, for more details. The International Astronomical Union, the world organization of professional astronomers, has chosen Central America as a site for its new Teaching for Astronomical Development program, co-ordinated there by Professor Maria Cristina Pineda de Carias of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras. The six countries have applied to join the IAU as a group - a unique but sensible arrangement.
Professor Pineda de Carias has established an astronomy centre at her university, with a Meade LX200 0.4m telescope provided by the University of Madrid. The observatory is being used for a variety of useful and effective purposes, ranging from research and student training, to school and public visits. Her approach is a "model" for other small observatories to follow.
One initiative of the group is to hold an annual "course" or conference on astronomy and astrophysics, in one of the six countries. The 1997 course was held in Guatemala City from April 21-25. As president of the IAU's Commission on the Teaching of Astronomy, which administers the TAD program, I was privileged to participate in the course, thanks to a travel grant from my department, and local hospitality from the course organizers. I gave presentations on International Astronomy Education, on Practical Activities for Teaching Astronomy, and on Variable Stars in Astronomy Research and Education. I took two suitcases of books and other materials donated to the TAD program by the American Association of Variable Star Observers, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and the University of Toronto. I also gave a talk on Variable Star Observing to the most active amateur astronomy organization in Central America, the Asociacion Astronomica Guatemalteca, and presented them with a copy of the RASC Observer's Handbook, David Levy's book on Observing Variable Stars, and an information packet from the AAVSO. Time will tell whether variable star observing takes root in this part of the world. We shall try to nourish it as best we can.
One of the topics of interest at the course was the meteorite which was believed to have fallen in Honduras on November 22, 1996 (see Sky and Telescope, March 1997, page 12). There were many eyewitnesses, but no evidence of a meteorite has been found. The terrain, however, is rugged and constantly-changing, due to brush fires which are used to clear the land each spring. Another topic of interest was the 1998 February 26 solar eclipse, which will be total in part of Panama, and partial in the rest of Central America. The local co-ordinator in Panama is Professor Hector Castillo S, PO Box 445, La Chorrera, Panama; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guatemala ("land of many trees"), as the heartland of the Mayan
world, has a long and admirable astronomical tradition. Let us hope
that - with our help - the tradition will be revived in Guatemala and
its five sister countries, and that they will soon be active participants
in the international astronomical community.
The Dubai Men's College recently had its annual Paper Rally - a hotly contested event where the participants drive to a secret location and get a cryptic clue that will lead them to their next destination. At each destination there is a "challenge" to overcome, and points are awarded based on performance. There are also bonus trivia questions and items to be obtained. The Rally lasts from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, and you spend most of it in the car.
The teams had three people, either three students or two students and one teacher. Extra people can be involved but they cannot win a prize. Sharon and I were with two students, Saeed and Sultan. Since none of the four of us really knew Dubai very well, we had trouble finding the locations - at one point we were well on our way to Oman before realizing that "surely this couldn't be right!"
At our third stop we had a particularly challenging challenge event - we had to climb in a dune buggy and go racing over the sand to a hill. We were given a blue flag and asked to return with a red flag, that was already located at the top of the dune. It was Sultan and I that sped off. Sultan had to drive since my glasses wouldn't fit inside the helmet. So I was sitting, blind and helpless, strapped into this little buggy, while Sultan literally floored the accelerator and we went FLYING off into the desert. About halfway to the hill we passed a herd of camels, and one of the big ones came galloping after us. Colliding with a camel is the same as colliding with a moose, in case you were interested.
At the foot of the hill we managed to bury the wheels of the buggy in about 40 cm of soft sand. I had to get out and run up this dune to replace the flag - the air temperature was just over 40 C at this point, but I'm sure that the sand was twice that. Meanwhile, Sultan and a few observers had to push the dune buggy onto harder turf. Once that was accomplished, we sped back to the base camp, where we clocked a time of 5 minutes 30 seconds - you had to be under 5 minutes to score full points.
Sultan and I were covered with sand. As we were driving to the next
location, I had rolled down the car windows and was pouring sand out
of my shoes. By the end of the day we had collected 168 of 350 points.
The 30th place team earned 208 (the top 30 cars won prizes), and the
first place team earned 348! All the contestants gathered for a
fantastic Arabic-style meal afterwards. It was a long, but fun day.
Jun 11 Martin Rees tentative (Joint Ast/CITA colloq.)
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Carlberg, R.G.; et al. Faint K-selected galaxy correlations and clustering evolution. 18-Apr-1997. Preprint No. 97-0482
Garrison, R.F. Personalities of Mira variables as revealed by their spectra. Verdict : Bizarre!. 24-Mar-1997. Preprint No. 97-0351
Koktay, T.; Garrison, R.F. Spectral classification of carbon-peculiar G-type stars. 27-Mar-1997. Preprint No. 97-0366
Percy, J.R. Astronomy education: an international perspective. 27-Mar-1997. Preprint No. 97-0364
Percy, J.R. Variable stars in astronomical research, education, and development. 27-Mar-1997. Preprint No. 97-0365
Percy, J.R. Small observatories and astronomical development. 31-Mar-1997. Preprint No. 97-0399
Percy, J.R.; et al. Sorting out W Boo and its comparison
stars. 3-Apr-1997. Preprint No. 97-0407