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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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Canadian Space Society

Excellent meeting of the Canadian Space Society last night. We had astronomer John Percy talking about his work on variable stars, and the contributions amateurs and students can make in the field.

Which is a lot, because variable stars require regular measurements over years to pin down their ordinary behaviour, with additional monitoring to catch any sudden abnormal behaviour. The American Association of Variable Star Observers currently handles over 300,000 observations a year by its members, and processes the information for professional astronomers.

One amazing bit of information from last night was that for about half the price of a car today, an amateur can set himself up with a 16-inch telescope and CCD (charged-coupled device, an extremely sensitive gadget to take astronomical pictures and observations with, far superior to a camera) that will equal the performance you could achieve 30 years ago with the historic 200-inch Mount Palomar telescope.

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It's true, and I'm more or less there. I've spent less than $10 000, and the only difference is my telescope is 8 inches. Because I am sane. Anyways, in photography the aperture of the telescope does not determine sensitivity to dim objects. The ratio of the aperture to the focal length does, and this is the same between 8-inch and 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrains.

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