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Local to address Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Robert Conrad's astronomy guides caught eye of group



Learning consultant by day, stargazer by night.

It may sound like the plot to a bad superhero movie, but it's an everyday reality for Robert Conrad, the head of the Whistler Astronomy Club, who estimates he's spent over 1,000 hours of the past year on a hobby that has developed into a full-blown fixation.

"To some extent, I'm obsessed," said Conrad. "When you've worked on something that long, it's kind of like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind with his obsession with numbers. I'm kind of getting to that point where I'm seeing patterns and things like that in the sky."

It's a passion that hasn't gone unnoticed. This May, Conrad will share his expertise with a larger — and slightly more intimidating— audience than the handful of attendees who attend his twice-monthly club meetings: the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's (RASC) General Assembly.

"They have guests speakers who are leading edge; astrophotographers, astrophysicists and people like that," Conrad said of the annual meeting, held this year in London, Ont.

Conrad may not have the credentials of some his fellow astronomers, but his latest projects caught the eye of the RASC nonetheless.

"I've always kept my eye on the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Facebook page and I posted a few of the things I was working on... and some people picked it up and said, 'Wow, what a great learning tool this is,'" Conrad explained. "One of the guys even hung it up in his observatory."

With no formal training, Conrad has managed to create two handy guides that can help amateur stargazers learn the constellations and identify deep-sky objects like comets, nebulae and far-away galaxies.

The first guide is a matrix that shows all 47 constellations visible at this latitude, and what time of year is best to spot them.

"There are some constellations that are only visible three months out of the year, so if you want to learn that constellation and be able to recognize it in the sky, well, you've got to get out there in those three months," Conrad said. "My hope was to give people this resource and then tell them 2016 is the year they're going to learn all the constellations, and this will help them do that."

The second guide was designed to help chart deep-sky objects, and identifies the "prime time" when the night sky is at optimal darkness for viewing each of over 1,000 celestial objects Conrad has listed on any given day of the year.

"It's organized in such a way that it makes it very efficient when you're star-hopping and looking for objects," explained Conrad.

It's information that can all be gleaned from the Internet, but Conrad said there isn't really another place you can find it all on one page, making it the perfect field guide.

"This is not easy to compile," he said. "You can go online and it will only tell you when the constellation is visible on that particular day. This is the whole shoot and shebang, all-in-one matrix and that's why people are impressed with it."

Through it all, Conrad has been able to use his experience as a learning consultant at multinational professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to help distill complicated information and share his passion with others, like a group of Waldorf students at a recent presentation he led.

"Being a learning consultant, the idea is I want to give people the resources, encouragement and motivation to learn on their own and give them some strategies ... to really get them not only passionate about astronomy but also passionate about learning," said Conrad.

To view Conrad's guides, and a whole host of other useful information for astronomers, check out the Whistler Astronomy Club's page on Facebook.


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