York to host Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s general assembly

Borrowing from a well-known, if now tuneless, CBC television show, the theme of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s (RASC) 2008 General Assembly has been dubbed "Astronomy Night in Canada". Instead of stick-handling a puck, some of Canada’s brightest minds in science will discuss the latest in astronomy from June 27 to 30 at York. In addition, internationally renowned astronomer Phil Plait will give this year’s Helen Sawyer Hogg Lecture.

Right: Phil Plait

The national astronomy convention, hosted by York’s Department of Physics & Astronomy in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, along with three local centres of the society – Mississauga, Toronto and Hamilton – will highlight how the RASC, the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) and the Federation of Amateur Astronomers of Quebec (FAAQ) can create 365 "astronomy nights in Canada" during the International Year of Astronomy in 2009.

In addition to being an astronomer and former academic, Plait is an author and lecturer based in Boulder, Colo. He has made a career out of debunking myths, clearing up misconceptions and correcting common mistakes people make about astronomy. Organizers saw him as a natural choice to deliver the Helen Sawyer Hogg Public Lecture on June 30, given in recognition of Hogg’s lifelong efforts to increase public awareness and appreciation of the universe, and sponsored by the CASCA and the RASC.

Left: Jim Hesser

Plait will also give the keynote address in the second period on June 29, titled "Seven Ways a Black Hole Can Kill You". Plait has appeared on hundreds of radio and television stations across the United States talking about topics ranging from lunar eclipses to the fate of the universe. He is also the author of the trade science hit book, Bad Astronomy (Wiley and Sons, 2002), and a blog of the same name, and he is working on a second book due out in the fall, titled Death from the Skies.

Jim Hesser, director of the National Research Council of Canada’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria and Canada’s representative for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), will give the first keynote speech of the conference, titled "IYA in Canada". Hesser’s research applies ground- and space-based facilities, such as the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope, to questions concerning the history of how the Milky Way and other galaxies formed and have evolved, with particular emphasis on the oldest stars and on clusters of stars.

Right: Terence Dickinson

Terence Dickinson, editor of SkyNews since the magazine’s first issue in 1995, will give his talk, "50 Years of Amateur Astronomy in Canada", on the final day of the conference. Dickinson has been involved in astronomy full-time since 1967 as a writer, editor, teacher and broadcaster. He is Canada’s leading author of astronomy books for both adults and children, some 14 in all, including NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe (Firefly Books, 1998), one of the best-selling stargazing books in the world. His popular articles on astronomy have appeared in dozens of magazines, from Reader’s Digest to Popular Mechanics, and he is a weekly columnist for the Toronto Star and a regular commentator for the Canadian Discovery Channel and CBC Radio. Asteroid 5272 Dickinson is named after him. In 1995, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

Left: Roberto Abraham

Astrophysicist Roberto Abraham, winner of the 2005 Steacie Fellowship from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada and a winner of the Distinguished Teaching Award at the University of Toronto, will give the final keynote address of the conference at the closing banquet. As past honorary president of the RASC’s Toronto Centre and an accomplished amateur astronomer, Abraham’s current research interests focus on the period of reionization, which he studies with advanced techniques using the Gemini telescopes in Hawaii.

Remi Lacasse, president of the Federation des Astronomes Amateurs du Quebec and a former member of the Centre francophone de Montréal, will highlight opportunities for sharing expertise and resources between the RASC and the FAAQ during one of the event’s paper sessions and at Monday’s IYA panel discussions.

Right: Remi Lacasse

In addition to the keynote addresses, there will be a panel discussion on Bringing Astronomy Night to Canada in 2009, tours of York’s observatory, the Ontario Science Centre, a little "All-star Hockey" and a tour of the Carr Observatory near Collingwood.

For a complete listing of speakers, sessions and events or to register for the 2008 General Assembly, visit the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Web site.