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Astrophysicist explains the science behind the beauty of the cosmos to Nanaimo astronomers

Chris Vaughn presents ‘Astronomy: the Art’ at Nanaimo Astronomy Society’s meeting Feb. 23
Chris Vaughan, astrophysicist and earth scientist, will take his audience on a cosmic journey as he explains the science behind the beauty of images of the universe at Nanaimo Astronomy Society’s meeting Feb. 23. (Photo submitted)

The beauty of the cosmos and the science behind it will be explored when Nanaimo Astronomy Society members are taken on a tour of our universe, from Earth’s backyard to its observable limits.

Astrophysicist and earth scientist Chris Vaughan, aka @AstroGeoGuy, presents ‘Astronomy: the Art’ at NAS’ next meeting.

Vaughan is an operator and tour guide for the David Dunlap Observatory’s 1.88-metre great telescope, as well as a presenter in the observatory’s Skylab room and speaker at its public programs. His work appears in smart phone astronomy apps SkySafari 6 and Star Walk 2 and on Starry Night software, which include recommendations on where and when to look for stars, planets, comets and cosmic events, based on his writings for blogs and podcasts. He is the author of Astronomy Skylights, a weekly astronomy blog for non-astronomers with subscribers worldwide.

“I’ve collected a mere sampling of what I think are spectacular views of different objects and different places, both in our backyard and far away from home,” Vaughan said. “I like to bring up an image and then explain what’s going on.”

One of the images shows a young crescent moon in the sky with a comet.

“In that picture you can see earth shine, the old moon in the new moon’s arms, the comet has two different tails. I like to just break down what’s going on. What everything is about and put the science behind the picture,” Vaughan said.

Using images from amateur and professional astronomers, and space-borne telescopes and robotic spacecraft, the tour starts “close to home” with views of satellite passes, star trails and meteor showers, comets and the aurorae and then continues outward in light minutes, light hours and light years.

“We sort of venture farther and farther and farther away from home until we get to the Hubble deep field image, 12 billion light years away and then I roll it around and return us back and we do some fun stuff along the way,” Vaughan said. “That allows me to put a mixture of looking-up astronomy, a little bit of astrophysics, a little bit of planetary science, a little bit of solar science, space weather, all kinds of different things that I sprinkle in there.”

The astrophysicist said he’s been fascinated by space since he was six years old when his father bought a rural property outside of Toronto, where he would lay on the lawn and gaze at the night sky.

“I grew up with some relatively nice rural skies, got the astronomy bug at an early age and it never went away,” he said.

Since 1996, he has brought his portable planetarium to school classrooms, hosted science-themed assemblies, run science clubs and held stargazing parties for schools and other groups in southern Ontario.

Vaughan also started doing regular podcasts for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s The Insider’s Guide to the Galaxy when COVID-19 restrictions closed schools.

“Schools were shuttered … and I thought, could I occupy some time for the kids, let their parents park them in front of the computer and do something fun and educational in astronomy? So we set out to do … live sessions that were meant to be an intro to astronomy on a variety of topics,” he said.

The sessions are targeted at Grade 6 students, but suitable for all ages and accessible by anyone. He recently recorded the 65th episode.

“We’ve kept it going. We haven’t run out of topics yet,” he said.

NAS’ next meeting happens Thursday, Feb. 23, from 7-9 p.m. at the Beban Park social centre and via Zoom. For more information, visit

READ ALSO: Nanaimo Astronomy Society guest speaker warns about ‘intruder’ satellites in the night sky

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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