Tuktoyaktuk '96 Star Party

The Mission

In honour of the 75th anniversary of the London Centre, RASC, a trip to the annual Tuktoyaktuk Star Party (we all started calling it "Tuk 96") was arranged. This little known star party is sponsored by the Dept. of Astronomy & Northern Sciences at the University of Tuktoyaktuk. Nestled on the shores of Beaufort Sea in the North West Territories (Lat 69'30" N), this site, despite the extreme cold, offers almost 20 hours of observing time per day. True, one is limited to circumpolar stars, but the view of those stars is quite increddible.

The Trip

As news of our trip spread by word of mouth, we were pleased to be joined by amatures from many other RASC Centres. To facilitate both a common assembly point and a chance to "climatize", we all met in Edmonton, Alberta between Nov 5 to 7, and billited in private homes with much appreciation to the members of the Edmonton Centre for thier great hospitality. For people form more southern climates, the shock going directly into a high arctic enviroment can be too severe, so in some cases people spent an entire week in Edmonton getting used to the cold weather. Again, we cannot express enough our appreciation of the kind hospitality of the members of the Edmonton Centre who went far beyound the call fo duty to show us hospitality during this time.

A special plane was chartered to move us from Edmonton to Yellowknife then to Tuktoyaktuk. Specail thanks to London Centre member Michael Hanes, a commercail pilot with Air Ontario, who spent much time and effort making these arrangements. It was found this was the only was to move both people and equipment in. In some cases, extra fuel and generators had to be brought in for this trip. Fundrasing for this trip took place over the previous year. Many thanks to Peter Ceravolo for donating one of his 5.7" Mak-Newts for a draw; David Lane for issuing a special "Tuk 96" edition of his ECU program and donating the proceeds, and a strange but non the less hearty welcome to Mr. Kendrick for his padded and heated toilet seat covers. While the later may sound strange, it proved to be, int he words of one member of the trip, "a life saver".

The Setup

We were all billeted in the student quarters of the University. Mostly we slept in common areas - cafetterias and gymnasiums converted for the weekend into sleeping areas. While there remained little privacy, due to the fact all of use wore either complete body suit undergarmets, long johns, or other layers of thermal under clothing, there was very little modesty about the situation. Indeed, the main sleeping areas were kept to a cool 5 to 10C. Any warmer, and the shock from outside to inside movement became unbearably noticeable. Average outside temperatures were -30C, plus wind chill.

Before any equipement could be used or even setup, everything had to be taken to the "Telescope Clinic". The maintainece shop of the university was used for this. In here, all mouints were disassembled and regreased with thermal resitant lubricants. One common complaint of many Canadian amatures is that the lubricants used in telescopes built in either Japan or Californai always freeze up in the winters of southern Canada, so one can image the problems facing use in the Arctic.

Jim Kendrick brought a large supply of specially modified "frost zappers" that worked off 24 volts as opposed to 12 volts. Peter Ceravolo supplied specail, opitically clear and flat lexan windows to go over the fronts of different telescopes. Apparently int he past, in extreme cold, the glass covers on sone telescope (such as schmidt corrector plates) become so brittle that they can easily be shattered. It is a compliment to Mr. Ceravolo's expertiese that his optical windows did very little to degrage images.

One interesting problem was for those members with CCD cameras. Up untill this year, all work had been either visual or photographic. The extreme cold acts as a natural cold camera, so photographic work is very popular.

As it turned out, on the first night, none of the CCD cameras appeared to work properly. It was Mr. Jack Newton of hte Victoria Centre, arguably Canada's leading CCD amature astronomer, who discovered the fault. The peltier chips were overr - cooling the CCD chips. Most of Satruday afternoon was spent by the CCDers removing and reversing the peltiers in their cameras. Saturday night's results proved this worked fine.

The Telescopes

Due to space limitations and transport costs, only 18 telescopes were brought in for use by about 250 hardy souls. These instruments ranges from the London Centre's specially modified Meade DS-16 down to a Tele-Vue Pronto on a Celestron GP mount.

However the most impressive instrument is the Universiy's expermental variable diameter liquid mirror casselgrain. This isntrument uses liquid mercury for a primary mirror. Every year, starting from about October into either March or April, a new focal ratio and apature is chosen (usually between 18 to 22 inches diameter) and the liquid mercury is spun on a rotating base. This rotation is kept up untill the liquid mercury freezes into place. The most interesting thing is the source of the mercury.

After years of mining and enviromental disreguard, the Dept. of Northern Sciences ad U of T has been experimenting with different methoids of mercury removal fromt eh water table to varying degrees of success. All mercury removed is truned over tot he astronomy Dept. who practice strict guidlines and controls handling this most toxic substance. Thus, as the more mercury is gathered and the astronomy department gains more expertise in liquid mercury mirrors, the size of the telescope grows.

The dome of the experimental liquid mercury mirror telescope (ELMMT) was covered with caribou hide decorated by local Inuit artisans. Apparently this is only done once a year. Talking privately with one of the local Inuit elders, I was told "a complete waste of good hides, but what the hell, makes all those stupid tourists from the south happy."

The Observing

Despite the extreme cold, visual observing was very popular. We were also blessed by thankfuly clear skies for 2 days. Weather can turn severe very quickly, so most popel who made the trip ensured they took enough time off work in case we were all socked in for a few days. This did happen on Sunday evening, but we were able to move out during a small window of calm weather on Monday.

Most of us take for granged the brighter Messier and NGC objects in the northern sky because "they are always there." It is a joy however to rediscover that which one takes for granted. The area around Cassopia and Andromeda provide a delight of both galaxies and small open clusters.

My personal favourites are the two small small galxies near M31 knwon as NGC 182 and NGC 195 - both around mag 9.2 to 9.5. One thing I found interesting was that the northern light did not seem as severe as in places like Edmonton and Churchill. It was explained to me that the brightest zone of the northern lights is actually a "ring" around the north magnetic pole and that our location was on the northern end of the ring, we being so close geographically to the north magnetic pole.

T-Shirts and Sweat Shirts

To celebrate this trip, we have recieved permission from the U of Tuk to sell T-shirts and sweat shirts featuring the Tuk 96 Star Party logo. Soon I hope to have an example in GIF format of what the logo looks like. Centre secretaries will receive ording information upon request.


This page is in it's infancy. I will be adding more reports form other members of the trip as they come in through e-mail, and perhaps some pictures too. Please watch for further reports on the Tuk 96 star party, and many thanks for taking the time to drop by.

Any comments should be sent to: joneil@obs.empath.on.ca


This is a sample of the proposed crest that will go on the T-shirts and sweat shirts. Please send in comments and suggestions. Things like constellations inteh background, etc.

The "Official" Tuk '96 Poster!

Madness does not end with t-shirts! Here is a proto-type of the poster we will have available. All the macabre and pollitically incorrect ideas we dared not incorporate into the shirts we have put into the poster...


There are two graphic files here. A GIF of the front of the order form, and JPEG of the rear of the form.

Please make note that all prices INCLUDE the GST, but Ontario residents must add PST.

Click HERE for a 100k gif of the front of the order form.

Click HERE for a 250 jpeg of the rear of the order form.

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