Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

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Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC), Canada's oldest and largest astronomical organization, is a non-profit, charitable society, with headquarters in Toronto, and devoted to “the advancement of astronomy and allied sciences”. It traces its roots to the Toronto Astronomical Club, established in 1868, was incorporated as “The Astronomical and Physical Society of Toronto” in 1890, replaced “of Toronto” by “of Canada” two years later, and obtained permission to add “Royal” in 1903. As of 2012, the RASC has 29 branches (called “Centres”) from coast to coast, and about 4,200 members, either in these branches, or “unattached”. It has two francophone Centres, and it partners with the Fédération des astronomes amateurs du Québec (FAAQ). One of the strengths of the RASC is the good balance between national and local (Centre) activities. Until the 1960's, its membership was a mixture of professional and amateur astronomers, but most of its present members are amateurs, and professionals play a lesser role.

The RASC is well known for its publications. In order to disseminate Canadian astronomy to RASC members and the world, the Transactions were founded in 1890 and, in 1907, replaced by the Journal (now bimonthly) and the annual Observer's Handbook, for which the RASC is still known worldwide. It also publishes The Beginner's Observing Guide, SkyWays (a teacher resource), an attractive annual calendar, and an excellent centennial history, Looking Up. These, along with Centre newsletters, assist members in satisfying their diverse astronomical interests. Some members are “armchair astronomers”, content to read about astronomy, and attend astronomical lectures at Centre meetings. Others observe and/or image the sky, many with a high degree of skill. Some carry out useful astronomical research, such as discovering comets or exploding stars, or measuring variable stars. Notable “amateur” members include authors Terence Dickinson and David Levy, and astrophotographer Jack Newton. The RASC is a leader in light pollution abatement, campaigning for more effective lighting, and administering Canada's “dark sky reserves”program, by which the public can experience the full beauty of a clear, dark sky. The RASC is especially known and respected for its public education and outreach activities, in the form of “star parties”, presentations to schools and the public, and a variety of other creative activities. Along with professional astronomers, the RASC and FAAQ organized over 3,600 events during International Year of Astronomy 2009, reaching almost two million people. In 2003, the RASC won the Michael Smith Award, a prestigious national award for excellence in science outreach. The RASC offers its own awards for excellence in amateur astronomy service, research, writing, and outreach.

The University of Toronto has had a long and fruitful relationship with the RASC, especially during its first century. Professor C.A. Chant was editor of the Journal and the Observer's Handbook from 1907 to 1957, and held many offices in the RASC and its Toronto Centre. Many other U. of T. faculty and alumni have played important roles in the Society, including Don Fernie, Jack Heard, Frank Hogg, Helen Sawyer Hogg, Ruth Northcott, John Percy, and R.K. Young. For many years, the University hosted meetings of the Toronto Centre, and has hosted several of the RASC's annual General Assemblies, some of them jointly with other astronomical organizations. The University of Toronto Mississauga was instrumental in establishing the Mississauga Centre, and the Centre still meets at UTM. Since 1906, the RASC (more recently the Toronto Centre) has awarded a Gold Medal to the student graduating from the Astronomy and Physics program with the highest first class honours.


Broughton, R.P. (1994), Looking Up: A History of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Dundurn Press ( up)

Jarrell, R.A. (1988), The Cold Light of Dawn: A History of Canadian Astronomy, University of Toronto Press.;


Astronomical and Physical Society of Toronto
Clarence Augustus Chant
Donald Fernie
John Frederick Heard
Frank Hogg
Helen Sawyer Hogg
Ruth Northcott
John Percy
R.K. Young

John Percy