Northern Prairie Star Party 2016

20161001_NPSP Shirt Design - LIGO MAKE WAVESThe thirteenth Northern Prairie Star Party will be held at the Black Nugget Lake campground south east of Tofield from September 27 to October 2, 2016. Most of our group activities will occur on Friday, September 30 and Saturday, October 1.

For more information, please review the schedule and rules & regulations (PDF) and the Northern Prairie Star Party main page.

Keynote at 4:00 PM on Saturday, October 1, 2016

David Levy
My life as a comet searcher


NPSP 2016 T-Shirt Design
Order yours by Monday, September 5

Public Talks on October 1, 2016

Doveed and Pegasus in J2

David Levy (4:00 PM)

David H. Levy is one of the most successful comet discoverers in history. He has discovered 22 comets, nine of them using his own backyard telescopes.

My life as a comet searcher

50 years ago, on 17 December 1965 near midnight after taking the dog for a walk, I began my search for comets. That search is still going on. At the time I set it up as a lifetime project because I believed that it might take my whole life to discover a single comet. It turns out that I’ve been a bit luckier than that; as of today I have found 23 comets. Although none of these comets have dominated the sky from dusk to dawn with tails wrapping themselves around the North star, four of them have been particularly interesting. The one I found in 1988 was a fragment from a larger comet that split apart thousands of years ago, and two years later I found a comet that became fairly bright and visible to the unaided eye during the summer of 1990. In 2010 Wendee, Tom Glinos, and I reported a comet using the telescope Tom had in our backyard. Because the object was not identified as a comet it was named Jarnac after our observatory which in turn is named after my grandfather’s cottage near Ripon, Québec. Finally, comet Shoemaker-Levy nine gave humanity its first glimpse into the mystery of the origin of life, as it slammed into Jupiter in the summer of 1994. This talk explores my life as a searcher of comets, and is accompanied by slides and musical selections.

About the Speaker

With Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker at the Palomar Observatory in California David Levy discovered Shoemaker-Levy 9, the comet that collided with Jupiter in 1994. Levy is currently involved with the Jarnac Comet Survey, which is based at the Jarnac Observatory in Vail, Arizona but which has telescopes planned for locations around the world.

Levy is the author or editor of 35 books and other products. He won an Emmy in 1998 as part of the writing team for the Discovery Channel documentary, “Three Minutes to Impact.” As the Science Editor for Parade Magazine from 1997 to 2006, he was able to reach more than 80 million readers, almost a quarter of the population of the United States. A contributing editor for Sky and Telescope Magazine, he writes its monthly “Star Trails” column, and his “Nightfall” feature appears in each issue of the Canadian magazine Skynews.

David Levy has given more than 1000 lectures and major interviews, and has appeared on many television programs, such as the Today show,  Good Morning America, the National Geographic special “Asteroids: Deadly Impact”, and ABC’s World News Tonight.

Jay Anderson (3:00 PM)

Jay Anderson is a meteorologist and a long-time member of the RASC with a passion for chasing tornadoes and eclipses.

So you want to be an eclipse chaser?
Get real.

What could be easier? Pick a spot, drive, set up, watch the eclipse, go home. Or how about this one: pick a spot, drive, set up, race around frantically to find an opening in the clouds, promise you’ll be better prepared next time, go home, disappointed.

The coming solar eclipse is the first in North America (don’t be picky) since 1979 – leaving two generations of eclipse newbies to be initiated into the secrets of the lunar shadow. This presentation won’t say much about physics, but it will tell you how to be successful in 2017 – where to go, how to pick a site, and when to leave that site if bad weather threatens. The focus will be on climatology for long-range planning, and the use of models and satellite imagery as August 21 approaches. We’ll drop in on a few favourite spots and offer suggestions for those with a higher risk tolerance – and if it doesn’t work for you, there will be another one in 2044, right over Edmonton.

About the speaker

Jay Anderson’s passion for eclipsing was born in 1979, when the last solar eclipse to present itself to North American crossed the Prairies. Since then, he’s been “there and back” with his wife Judy to view many others.

In 1979, Jay prepared a small climatological study of weather conditions beneath the Moon’s shadow track over Saskatchewan and Manitoba to help visitors evaluate the weather prospects and select an observing site. In the years following, his climate studies became a regular chapter in the eclipse circulars prepared by the US Naval Observatory. When the USNO ended those publications in the 1990s, Jay joined with Fred Espenak to continue the series through the NASA technical circulars. These ended with Fred’s retirement, but the climatological reports continue online and, for 2017, in a book co-authored by the two of them.

Jay obtained a degree in Honors Physics and Astronomy (after clearing high school from QECHS) from UBC before joining the Meteorological Service of Canada as a forecaster. As a part of that job, he’s worked in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto, Regina, Saskatoon, Churchill, and Seattle. Along the way, he picked up a Master’s degree in a subject totally unrelated to anything else that he does. After retirement, he worked as a Research Associate at the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, and taught meteorology, climate change, hydrology, and storm chasing at the U of M.

RS Cyg near the Crescent Nebula Image courtesy Richard Bloch

Luca Vanzella (2:00 PM)

Luca Vanzella is a very long-time amateur astronomer, long-time member of the RASC and current President of RASC Edmonton Centre.

Hunting Carbon Stars

August 24, 2009, at the Blackfoot dark site, is when Luca’s interest in carbon stars was born. He was looking for the Crescent Nebula in Cygnus when he noticed a red star that stopped him in his tracks. Not a red star like a red giant, but a ruddy red star that looked like it was painted on the sky. It turned out to be RS Cygni – one of 55 carbon stars plotted in the Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas. That redness was so intriguing, that it started a new observing project right then and there. And thus began the saga of the Carbon Star Hunter list and a quest to complete that list.

In this presentation, Luca will talk about what carbon stars are, how he stumbled on to them, pursuing his first carbon star list, compiling and then pursuing the mother of all carbon star lists, touring other objects along the star hops, the development of a personal colour scale, and the joys of the carbon star hunt.

About the speaker20161001_luca_vanzella

Luca Vanzella has been an avid amateur astronomer since 1975, when he purchased his first telescope, a classic, orange-tube Celestron 8″ SCT. Since then, he has been mainly an observer, occasional astrophotographer and sometime eclipse & transit chaser. As an observer, Luca worked his way through the Messier and Finest NGC catalogs, with a special interest in globular clusters. In March 2016, Luca completed his first Messier Marathon. Luca is currently working his way through the Herschel 400 list.

Luca joined the RASC Edmonton Centre in the mid-1970’s and was a member for a few years. University and work life caused a long hiatus from the RASC (but not the hobby), until the year 2000 when he rejoined the RASC. Since then, Luca has served the Edmonton Centre in various capacities, including schlepper, volunteer, organizing committee for the 2012 RASC General Assembly, outreach event coordinator, secretary, national council rep, webmaster, and vice-president. Luca is currently the President of the RASC Edmonton Centre.

Observing Certificates

First introduced by Warren Finlay for the 2014 NPSP, the observing certificates are meant to give attendees a specific goal to accomplish with their observing during NPSP. This year, over the duration of the star party, participants are welcome to complete one or more Observing Certificate (four levels, from observing “with keen eyes and no optical aid” to “uncommonly observed objects for advanced observers”). New for this year is a mini-bimarathon interweaving five laps around a short cross-country course (each lap is 700 meters in length) with observing 10 specified Messier objects. The mini-bimarathon is a shorter version of the bimarathon, a unique observing challenge invented by Warren Finlay.

The lists and instructions for the lists will be given out when people register on site at NPSP.


The 2016 NPSP t-shirt commemorates the historic, direct observation of gravitational waves by LIGO. We will preorder the t-shirts like we did last year. Please let us know by email to Rick Bramm if you would like (1) long or short sleeved t-shirt and (2) size extra small, small, medium, large, extra-large or double extra-large. Deadline for ordering your shirt is Monday, September 5.

Spectacular Prizes!!

When you attend the 2016 Northern Prairie Star Party, you will receive two tickets. One will be for a variety of prizes given out at the end of the presentations, donated by All-Star Telescope, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – Edmonton Centre, SkyNews, Starizona and a number of individual Centre members. This includes eye pieces, moonfilters, children’s science books, white light solar binoculars, calendars and more. The other ticket will be for the prizes to be awarded at the BBQ, including a telescope donated by
All-Star Telescope.

Sky-Watcher Heritage 130 mm

Here is more information about the grand prize telescope. The Sky-Watcher Heritage 5.12-inch diameter (130 mm) collapsible telescope is a great beginner telescope, designed to be easy to use and portable, with consistent performance. It weighs less than 15 pounds (6.8 kg), and its tube collapses to 14.5 inches (36.8 cm). Retail value is estimated at $300. For more details, check the All-Star Telescope website. (Image from Skywatcher.)

A big thank you to All-Star Telescope for their steadfast support of the Northern Prairie Star Party!