About me – the whole story!
Like many of us sky freaks, I got interested in astronomy at a very young age after receiving a very rudimentary little telescope for Christmas that I didn’t know how to use (it’s even pointed upside down in this photo!) I was 11, this was in 1965.
The telescope picked up dust until, a few months later, I woke up in the middle of the night and saw a star so bright it didn’t look “normal” to me.
I took out the telescope and eventually managed to point the star in question to discover that it was a crescent. I didn’t even know that we had to use the focuser to make the image clearer; it was therefore very coarse. There was no internet back then. I discovered after digging through my father’s encyclopedias that it was the planet Venus. That is when I became addicted!
In 1968, at age 14, my father then bought me an excellent quality 60mm F/15 scope from Harrison in Montreal, mounted on a good quality equatorial mount. I immediately began to jot down my observations in a notebook.
I then joined the Société d’Astronomie de Montreal and, at age 15, in 1969, I polished my first telescope mirror, an 8 ” F/6, and assembled it with the parts available at the club store and machined by Mr. Adélard Rousseau, one of the members. This mirror was phenomenal and allowed me to make detailed observations while I lived on the south shore of Montreal where the sky was still relatively dark at the time. I then set up my telescope permanently on a concrete pillar with a wood and fiberglass shelter that rolled up to expose the telescope.
In 1970, I had the honor of being invited to a special TV show hosted by Henri Bergeron during an Apollo mission on Radio-Canada television. This was to cover the amateur astronomy component. It was rather intimidating!
In the summer of 1971, at the age of 17, I had the immense opportunity to join the team of instructors at the Astronomy pavilion at Terre des Hommes. What a pleasure to express our passion to visitors from all over the world. We even took out our telescopes in front of the pavilion, at Ile Notre-Dame, every evening when the weather permitted.
The discipline of note-taking ...
From that moment, I started to write down and draw my observations on small index cards, and on observation reports, which I still have!
Around 1974, still a student, penniless, I sold all my equipment, found an apartment in Montreal, and stopped practicing astronomy. However, the passion is dormant and never dies.
It was only 36 years later, in January 2010 and at the dawn of the early retirement scheduled for June 2011, that I actively returned to astronomy and joined the ranks of the Club des astronomes amateurs de Laval. How technology has progressed! I find myself confronted with complex choices and, to test the waters, I purchase a Celestron CPC800, a Schmidt-Cassegrain “go-to” on azimuthal mount. But my plan is to graduate to a much bigger telescope as soon as I retire.
A big dream come true:
In June 2011, the time for early retirement came, and at the same time, the time to make my dream come true: to acquire a 14-inch-diameter Celestron telescope with sophisticated electronics.
Phew, this is not a toy! But it was definitely a premature Christmas for me …
My budget takes a hit when I see that the telescope is only part of the whole arsenal that we “must” get (well OK, there is no real obligation but… ) to accomplish all the tasks you want. To this day, the equipment inventory continues to grow but I tell myself that I have deserved it. I think we call it “self-indulgence”.
A milestone journey:
In December 2011, a trip with my wife brought me to Mendoza, at the foot of the Andes in Argentina and I brought my CPC800 there to see the southern sky
The neighbors of the house we rented were captivated by what we see through the telescope and I ended up leaving it on consignment at the local astronomy club (Grupo de Astrónomos Mendocinos Aficionados) to benefit as many people as possible, because amateur astronomers of this region rarely have an instrument worthy of the name. I could also benefit from it during subsequent visits. I have established a solid friendship with Leo Cavagnaro, the president of this club, and we are fortunate to meet again regularly. A remarkable visit in my journey. I continue to correspond with other members of this club as well.
A dream trip, and long live astrophotography!
Since I have always loved taking pictures, astrophotography was a very natural development for me.
During my trip to New Mexico with 4 other astronomy enthusiasts from October 18 to 26, 2014, I was able to capture photos of ten celestial objects in a completely dark sky. Nirvana! It took a few months to process all this data …
Finally an observatory!
It is becoming increasingly evident that transporting, assembling and disassembling an instrument of this size is no small task. An observatory will represent an important step forward in my quest for comfort and efficiency. So I begin to sketch a plan for a rolling roof observatory housing two pillars for equipment. Start of work in May 2015 and inauguration in November 2016. Thanks to the invaluable help of Diane and Gilles Patenaude, the work is carried out in a very professional manner.
I also got another telescope to put on the second pillar. A SkyWatcher Esprit 120mm. This is very useful for celestial objects that are too large for the narrow field of view of my 14inch telescope.
Since the observatory has been in operation, I have accumulated a large collection of astrophotos which are witnesses to my learning and which I like to rework as I learn new things. This is one of the great joys of this hobby, we never stop learning.
Participation in knowledge sharing and promotion of astronomy
A passion usually leads to wanting to share it with others. Astronomy and astrophotography are fairly specialized fields of knowledge which offer a lot of opportunities to anyone who expresses the desire to get involved at this level.
I have given more than 115 presentations or workshops to astronomy clubs or in public outreach events from 2016 to 2022, in the greater Montreal area. We should also mention a few presentations at the Colloque astrophotographie (formerly Colloque CCD) and workshops at the ACAIQ (Ateliers Conférence Astro-Imagerie du Québec). I am always available on request and I can tackle several different topics in astronomy.
Meeting the general public at popular events gives me great joy. I love being surrounded by listening ears and telling them about the wonders of the universe!
Snow festival at Parc du Bois-de-Belle-Rivière Mirabel with the club of the same name (CABBRM)
I also had the opportunity to organize a live session to present the Mont-Tremblant astronomy club and the Velan pavilion observatory in the St-Bernard area during a collaborative session with amateur astronomers and the French public during their Festival Étoile du Sud in April 2019 (South of Paris). The experience was greatly appreciated there and we will do it again as soon as we can.
Elementary schools are another fertile ground for spreading seeds of curiosity and hoping that a few may one day bloom! And the questions asked sometimes make me think, they are so unexpected … (here, class in Ste-Dorothée in 2013)
As the cause of the Fédération des Astronomes Amateurs du Québec (FAAQ) is close to my heart, I decided to get involved by being part of the Advisory Committee on the FAAQ’s financial situation in 2019. The Federation was at a pivotal moment of its existence and I am happy that in a subsequent vote among the members, the federation received the necessary support to build its future on solid foundations.
2019 also saw the emergence of a pin program for a wide variety of observing programs as well as the one for astrophotography. I am currently part of a small committee that evaluates the photographs received as part of this program.
Involvement in a dynamic astronomy club
I could not ignore my involvement in a wonderful astronomy club that is booming: Le Club d’astronomie Mont-Tremblant. The club has doubled its membership in two years and we now have over 150 members, the second largest in Quebec. I run two astrophotography groups there and the enthusiasm and growth of the members is very motivating. I am honored to act as President of the club since March 2022.
We do science, real science!
A major discovery in the scientific world took place in 2015: the discovery of gravitational waves caused by collisions of neutron stars or black holes by the highly specialized LIGO and VIRGO detectors. In 2017, a visual manifestation resulting from one of these collisions was discovered and caused a stir in the scientific community.
A network of professional observatory telescopes around the globe called GRANDMA has been set up to detect other more visual counterparts of gravitational waves. This consortium is led by Sarah Antier, astrophysicist at the Astroparticle and Cosmology Laboratory in Paris. At the same time, in 2019, Sarah set up a network of good-sized telescopes owned by amateur astronomers from several countries to intervene even faster. This is the pro-am KILONOVA Catcher Collaboration Group. I joined this network and my 14inch telescope allows me to be able to contribute to this research.
In July 2019, a first alert was sent to us and I submitted a first observation with a negative result. In February 2020, another alert reached us and I was able to produce images of 6 suspicious fields. Unfortunately, our network has not yet succeeded in confirming an optical manifestation of these phenomena, but we must be patient and persevering because the places we are asked to look for are vast and imprecise.
In April 2020, a report of this third observation campaign was published and I was fortunate to see my name mentioned as a collaborator. It’s really very rewarding and I’m very motivated to continue this collaboration and others that may suit my equipment.
So that’s where I am at the moment. Astronomy is a really very large field where there is room to learn, teach, promote, and grow in many ways.
I conclude by thanking my loving wife, Sylvie Schirm, who encourages and supports me in my follies and passions and without whom all this could be very complicated.