Interview with Steve Mallia from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
I had the pleasure of being able to interview Steve Mallia from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC), who is a frequent visitor and supporter of DIAS Dunsink Observatory, during Irish National Heritage Week (18th – 26th August 2018) when he dropped by. I sat down and had a chat with Steve in Hamiltonâ€™s Sitting Room at the Observatory.
Steveâ€™s interest in astronomy was sparked when he saw Halleyâ€™s Comet as a child. He always had a keen interest in wanting to know whatâ€™s in the night sky and the constellations so he started to keep up with research and developments within astronomy from a very early age. Then 15 years later, Steve bought himself a telescope and began to enjoy astronomy from his backyard. He then joined the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) where he found being around like minded people who also had an interest in astronomy helped spark his interest further. He is now the Center President for his center of the RASC in Ontario. Steve says he likes participating in outreach and getting more people interested in the hobby practising citizen learning.
Within the RASC Steve helps to run many different events. They hold monthly star parties for the public within the city when thereâ€™s a Quarter Moon. Volunteers from the club bring their telescopes for viewing. They also hold member events each involving a specific theme ranging from imaging a planet to sketching the Moon. The members also show others how to use their newly purchased telescopes, so passing on the knowledge to all members including younger people. In 2017 there was a Total Solar Eclipse in the US. The RASC held an event that was attended by 3,000 people who used 8 telescopes to view the Eclipse. The RASC holds these events to promote and grow their club. Their mandate is not only to grow their club but also to promote STEM and help more people get involved in the sciences. In Canada astronomy isnâ€™t part of the core curriculum so if young people are interested in it they must look for a club to join. Steve thinks itâ€™s inspiring to many people when they get out to a dark site as the majority of people live in cities.
One of Steveâ€™s favourite aspects of the hobby is astrophotography. He works with Trevor Jones, who runs a website called astrobackyard.com and from whom Steve has learned a lot of different techniques. For a Deep Sky Object, a DSLR is used to take a lot of pictures and stack them up using software which allows the detail to come out more. For Planetary photography, a webcam is used to make a movie of the planet. Then thousands of frames are stacked together and sharpened using software. Steve finds astrophotography a fun aspect of the hobby. Trevor and his astrobackyard channel have a lot of tutorials to help beginners.
As Steve began to get into the visual aspect of the hobby he decided that he wanted to sell equipment so he started his own company, Ontario Telescope and Accessories. The company started out really small with 2 used telescopes and now they represent close to 30 manufacturers and are the Number 1 dealer in Canada for Explore Scientific, iOptron and ZWO. Ontario Telescope and Accessories is an online webstore that sells telescopes, accessories, eyepieces and cameras and ships worldwide. If someone wants to buy a telescope they talk to them to find exactly what they need, sometimes advising the person to join a club and borrow a telescope to find out what they like best.
Steve is very impressed with Irish Astronomy and Irelandâ€™s contribution to astronomy in the past and present and the promotion of the astronomical knowledge. When he first came to Ireland 3 years ago he was invited to Dunsink Observatory for a tour from John Flannery from the Irish Astronomical Society (IAS) along with Hilary Oâ€™Donnell of DIAS Dunsink Observatory. He was completely blown away as he had no idea about the amount of Historical history, Scientific history, Physics and Astronomy history that has emanated out of Ireland. He thinks that the fact the history is being retold by every generation and being kept alive is very important into the future.
Canada has made a big contribution to Space Science and Exploration. Two examples of this are the Canadarm on the Space Shuttle and Col. Hadfield who commanded the International Space Station (ISS) for a period of time. Canada is very active in the satellite industry and is at the forefront in design for space debris management. Looking into the future Steve thinks that looking at big data will be an important focus for the next generation, with new and upcoming Telescope Arrays producing huge quantities of data. He thinks the next step for space science lies outside of our planet and sees going to Mars as being a reality within 20 years.
It was wonderful to meet somebody like this who has a true interest in astronomy and bringing it to the wider public. We’re looking forward to Steve being back in Dunsink Observatory again and maybe he will have time to give a talk next time round. We at Dunsink Observatory thank Steve for visiting and we look forward to welcoming you back soon.