The “All New!” Burke-Gaffney Observatory

1 11 2014

bgopreviewOver the past 18 months Cosmoboy has been honoured to be a part of the Burke-Gaffney Observatory renovations at Saint Mary’s University. Built in 1972 to honour Father Burke-Gaffney, it has become an icon of the Saint Mary’s campus. But in all that time it has never had significant renovations – beyond CCD upgrades – and much has changed in astronomy technology. By the time of the 40th anniversary it was clear that revitalization of the BGO was needed!

Plans were hatched by the Observatory Director Dave Lane and Cosmoboy in the fall of 2012. The ambitious renovation proposal included a new 24.5 inch telescope (from Planewave, their CDK24 model), and adding an observing deck so we could show more of the sky at a given time. That would also increase the student and visitor capacity of the observatory – we’ve had days when the queue went down the stairs… Which doesn’t make it much fun anyone.

Medjuck_familyThe University was supportive from the get-go, but budgets were tight and we were asking for significant funds. In the end, our Office of Advancement came to the rescue and through our President’s Office the well known local philanthropist Dr Ralph M. Medjuck was approached. As many people in town are aware, Dr Medjuck and his wife Mrs Shirlee Medjuck (right with their daughter Linda) have donated considerable sums to Halifax universities in support of education. To cut to the chase, Dr Medjuck agreed to support the project, and we named the telescope in his honour.

I’ve said thank you to our benefactors so many times already, but I can’t write this blog post without saying thanks again to Dr and Mrs Medjuck. Without their support, and that of Saint Mary’s University at large, this project would not have been possible.

bgo_titleBut cut to April 2013, things were moving forward. At that point we decided the project was a “sufficiently big deal” for the university and the department that we should make a short documentary on it. Local filmmaker and astronomy fan Martin Hellmich agreed to take the challenge on! The resulting film can be seen here – watch it in HD! There are some really fantastic time-lapses in there – we were pretty gobsmacked when Martin first showed them to us! Go watch it!

BGO_telescopePainting of the dome and mount happened during the summer of 2013 and turned out to be much more of an adventure than we had anticipated. To cut a long story short, you really need to prime well! But we all think the final look is great – the white of the pier matches the black and white of the Medjuck telescope perfectly, while the blue accents the small details on the ‘scope. Kudos to Dave Lane for picking out the colours! Note, the paint has to stand up to some tough conditions – the observatory gets brutally hot in the summer and cold in the winter (snow will often sneak into the dome through the gap between the rotating and stationary parts).

obsdeckFencing off the observatory deck also encountered a few glitches. The initial drilling was done at the end of exam time and understandably some complaints were made about the noise! So we held off finishing that until all the exams were done. But the end product looks great, and we all agree the view from 22 floors up is simply mind-blowing – especially at night! So if we get parents that aren’t too interested in astronomy bringing their children along to open houses, we still have something to take their breath away.

install_scopeOf course, the most fun part of the whole project was the new telescope arrival and installation! With a 6 month delivery time, we had our fingers crossed it would be delivered just before Christmas 2013 so that we could swap it in for the new term starting in January 2014. Everything went to plan. But installing a new telescope in the middle of December in Canada is a chilly proposition! So we had to borrow a 5kW heater to warm things up. The 40 year old mount bolts were just fine as well, despite us being very worried about the possibility of things breaking!

press_confAnd finally bringing the story up-to-date, this week (October 2014) we’ve been able to celebrate the installation and thank everyone involved! There’s still a lot of work to be done on the social media side, but the hardware is all in place. The press events this week went off fantastic, and some of our friends in the media did an awesome job of letting people in Halifax know about the renovations (here, here, here, here). We’re just over the Moon (sorry! 🙂 ) to have everything get to this point!

So please, if you’re in Halifax and want to take look, reserve a ticket and come to a public night! We’d love to see you there!


Portfolio 6: Towards the sea

22 09 2013

I got up early Sunday morning after the wedding celebrations and looked out our little dormer window at the top. It was gorgeous outside, so I quietly left the hotel to walk by the waterfront. As on most early summer mornings in Nova Scotia, the water was very calm.  The mirrored stillness in addition to the bright soft morning light resulted in lovely reflections everywhere.

I liked this particular image for a number of reasons: the contrast of the crisp yellow lines against the blue; the more organic patterns of the rust stains tracking salt water pouring out of the drain holes, the shapes of various openings, all of which tell stories about the ship, its use and its design.  The ship itself cast a shadow on the side I was on, so its reflection in the water was darker. However, the water itself acted as a reflector of the bright sun, thereby brightening up the side of the ship itself.  This back and forth conversation of light and colour, industrial design and nature, created a dynamic image full of both tension and stillness. The yellow lines create an arrow pointing towards the sea, which to me, created a sense of destination and movement within this static tension.

Yellow stripes on a ship reflecting on water create arrows

Portfolio 5: False Blue Series

20 09 2013

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Portfolio 5 – Blue door

21 07 2013

The last image in the Portfolio 5 – Vertical Blue series is of a historical house on Tower Road in Halifax three months ago.  What caught my eye was the arrangement of the two blue cars bracketing the blue door. I only had my infrared camera with me so I decided to give it a try. To my surprise, the blue colour of the door was very vivid in infrared, and even the two blue cars had a bit of a lovely blue false colour in this image. The serendipity of this composition was particularly striking especially as it was a cool overcast spring day when I least expected any photography opportunities on my rush to get back to work!

Historical house on Tower Road with blue door

Portfolio 5 – Seaweed

20 07 2013

This image is of seaweed washed up at Point Pleasant Park in late May.  Different types of seaweed reflect IR differently — so do different plant parts.  In this image, tree twigs are mixed up with a type of seaweed commonly known as rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum). Visually, those were of the same colour of green, but in infrared, the twigs came out a blue while the seaweed became very white.

Seaweed and twigs at Point Pleasant Park beach

(Near-infrared photography is also used as a scientific and a mapping tool to identify vegetation and land cover over terrestrial surfaces of the planet as well as algal blooms in lakes.)

Portfolio 5 – Strange Adventures

17 07 2013

Halifax has its share of creative public art and approved graffiti, many of which have been approved by the municipality or various businesses. These works make for interesting and often inspiring strolls through downtown Halifax and the various urban settings of Halifax Regional Municipality and I enjoy collecting examples of spontaneous and supported art using photography.

The photograph below is of a sidewalk art panel next to the Strange Adventures store in Halifax taken on one late summer afternoon few weeks ago. Each sidewalk segment in front of the store is a panel depicting comic book characters and is painted in various colours.  This one caught my attention due to the colours and the two characters facing each other, still vivid despite the slow wear of passing-by feet.  The dark green weeds growing through the cracks in the shade has become a strong white in infrared. The worn blue paint has resulted in a lovely false-colour blue in the infrared image.


Here is what the original looked like when freshly painted!

Portfolio 4 – Halifax cats

7 07 2013

The highly photogenic cats featured in Portfolio 4:

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