Monday, November 20, 2017

the view from 63

Rhonda asked me if our solar system plane (the ecliptic) was at the same angle as the plane of the galaxy. Nope. I knew it wasn't. But I had to look it up.

63 degrees.

Which makes sense! When you factor in the tilt of the Earth to the ecliptic, that puts the galaxy at nearly 90. That's why are certain times of the year, the Milky Way goes straight overhead.

I also said that for all other systems, it would be random. Every exosolar system would be different.

types by galactic view

Ron's talk at last week's meeting was intriguing to Rhonda. But I offered to present the types of celestial objects against a galactic oriented map as opposed to what he did, showing them in maps that followed the equatorial grid (which is an extension of the Earth's terrestrial grid). The sinusoidal line of the galaxy threw her. It just makes sense to me that we take a view most like how we see the galaxy when we look up.

I recalled that the old application Where Is M13? supported a "Sky View" cylindrical projection chart with the plane of our home galaxy flat, along the horizontal. Fired it up.

The horizontal line in the middle, at 0 degrees, shows the plane of the galaxy and alludes to the location of the main disc and the Milky Way's spiral arms.

The vertical line indicates where the centre of the galaxy is, the galactic core, and the suspected bar of our spiral.

screen grab of our galaxy - globular clusters

Above is the built-in "all globular clusters" preset filter. You can see the orange circles are buzzing around the hub of the galaxy with some well above and below the plane of the Milky Way. They are old structures, perhaps important in the formation of a spiral galaxy.

screen grab of our galaxy - diffuse nebula

I made a custom filter for the "diffuse nebulae" to show the dust and gas that may be the fuel for new star systems. The green squares follow along the arms of the galaxy. There is a big void around Aquila.

screen grab of our galaxy - open clusters

Chose the built-in preset for "all open clusters." It is very clear how tight they are to the arms of the galaxy. Note the obvious gap around Aquila. The big yellow disc is Collinder 285 aka the Ursa Major Moving Group. I believe our Sun is considered a member.

screen grab of our galaxy - planetary nebula

Again, I made a custom filter. This one shows the planetary nebulae. Not surprisingly, the blue marks are fairly in-line with the arms. The ones above and below are likely close to us.

screen grab of our galaxy - young hot stars

I found an interesting filter, the "OB associations." Ron did not address these. These are regions of hot, young stars, living life fast. They tend to go out in spectacular fashion, as supernovae, starting the whole cycle again. The stippled patterns, you can see, are in the arms. And all around us. Except in Aquila.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

checking visibility part 5

That was serendipitous.

I was looking for star charts which presented the Milky Way galaxy "flat" or a chart that was oriented in the galactic perspective. Found a map on the Shade Tree Physics web site by Bob Fritzius on a page called Commentary on Star Atlas in Galactic Perspective.

When I revisited the page and read the entire article (with references back to the Apollo missions), I stumbled across his hand-drawn Local Meridian Finder figure. Wow! This is very useful as a quick and easy low bandwidth tool for predicting visibility. For example, the graphic says that on 20 Nov at midnight, objects between RA 3 and 5 will be well placed.

Shared on the RASC forum.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Arecibo continues scanning

Read an article at Astronomy Now. I was happy to learn that the Arecibo Observatory will keep scanning the skies. It escaped significant damage from Hurricane Maria. And now the National Science Foundation is planning to continue its support of the facility.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

checking visibility part 4

Chris jumped into the "best day to observe" thread. He said:
You could also add (or subtract) twelve hours to (from) the desired object's R.A. and then adjust the date to place the sun at the calculated R.A... Then revert to night time and adjust the hour to put the object on the meridian.
Ah. Is it that simple? By adding (or subtracting) 12 hours against the target RA, it puts the Sun opposite the target. And then the target will be high in the night sky.

This gets it near the meridian at midnight.

What a cool trick.


Not knowing the sky, in my head, in terms of celestial coordinates, I would still have to use software. And if you fire up Stellarium to do all this, then, well... you can just go to the object and figure it out that way... If Nick is after a calculation he can do in his head or do on a scrap of paper, I'm not sure it is possible now.

Ed has been alluding to this in a way in his comments that the "best night" is also impacted by other factors. The big one, for me, is moonlight. If you're going for dim fuzzies, you want maximum elevation on dark nights. The elevation is pretty easy to get. But then the lunar cycle comes into play...

fits like a glove

Grabbed the Vixen Super Polaris mount. Installed the new cap. It fit! Amazing.

When I bought this mount on consignment many years ago, at the time, I did not know it was missing many pieces. Like the fore and aft polar axis scope caps.

Slowly, I'm getting it back to its original state.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

what about flat?

Rhonda and I chatted on the way home. She enjoyed the evening. Learned lots from the presenters. She particularly liked Ron's talk on the Milky Way and spiral arms of galaxies. I wondered about viewing the charts though a different way, with the galaxy plane flat—I think it might be more powerful that way.

a new part

It freaks me out a little bit. This little plastic object did not exist in the world a few hours ago. The cap I made for my Vixen SP mount I drew in computer 3D software, copied to a memory card, converted to print code, loaded into a 3D printer, which extruded white PLA in the appropriate pattern.

finished 3D printed part

I showed my new prized possession to Peter H. He said they too use 3-dimensional printing, for their electronic equipment projects. Showed Rhonda. She was excited for me. Showed the gang at dinner. I thank Chris V for spotting it all the table as we were leaving. That would have been heart-breaking if I had immediately lost it.

delivered TSTM

Delivered The Sky This Month presentation at the Ontario Science Centre for the RASC Toronto Centre.

The time frame reported on runs from 15 Nov to 13 Dec. The meeting was streamed live; final video will follow soon. My presentation notes were used to form the web page article. As usual, it includes a downloadable month-at-a-glance calendar. There are observing list files available for SkySafari and SkyTools. New, this time, I made an Excel file.

Wore my red LED name badge programmed as "Blake. Space Tour Guide." People liked that.

Wore my eclipse t-shirt too.


View the captured rough-cut video on YouTube. Sheesh, I look funny.


Accolades from various members. No, thank you.

checked out LXD55

Inspected a telescope a member wishes to donate. A 8-inch f/8 Meade LXD55 with its equatorial mount and accessories and custom case. I don't think I've ever seen this particular one before, a Schmidt-Newtonian.

made cap

Completed my first ever 3D print job. Thanks to the Toronto Public Library staff at the Reference Library for their support and assistance. Produced the telescope part I had designed last night.

Lulzbot printing telescope part

We struggled with a finicky Ultimaker 2 printer and later switched to their fast LulzBot. Made my polar scope outboard cover for the Vixen Super Polaris mount. The 4-gram piece was completed in about 12 minutes.

Printed in white PLA. The original Vixen part was black. OK with me the bright colour. It will be easier to see if dropped at night.

A little boy with his mom looked in as I started my print job. She asked him to ask me what I was doing. I told him I was making a cap for my telescope because I had lost the original part. His mom liked that story. Learned he has a telescope too. And if he loses any parts, he can make a new one.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

quickly designed cap

As I planned a trip to the Toronto Public Library, I considered what I might produce with a 3D printer. Didn't think I should proceed with making the replacement latch for Mom's old cassette deck. The iOptron motor cover I had designed back in March 2016 was not an option. Didn't need a spacer for the C8 and Williams Optics focuser. I wasn't prepared to design (or refine) the new deep red flashlight case. I checked Evernote for ideas. Ah. A cap for the Vixen Super Polaris mount to cover the sky-facing port of the polar axis scope. A nice little small project...

polar axis scope cap designed in 123D

Quickly dashed off the design in Autodesk 123D. Saved the STL file to a SD card.

plotted distant moons

As I prepared for my TSTM presentation, I wondered about the moons of Uranus. I wondered if it was possible to view them in a graphical way, in a sinusoidal chart like what is shown in the RASC Observer's Handbook, for the moons of Jupiter. Initially, I considered that I could make such a chart myself if I could get the periodic data. On a whim, I conducted a search on the interwebs, and was pleasantly surprised to find the Uranus Moon Tracker tool. Perfect! Pretty easy to use. I made a chart for my TSTM article showing Oberon, Titania, and Ariel. Verified that 10 December will be a particularly good evening.

checking visibility part 3

We heard from Nick!

He thanked everyone for their responses.

He shared he's been using many of the tools we've already referred him too. And he indicated he's using the "intro" version of SkyTools. I think he means the Starter edition.

He also told us about objects he likes looking at. Sue French's Asterisms list, Palomar Globulars, Harvard objects, Abell objects, Jones 1, Klemora 4, Basel 1, Jonckheere 900, ESO galaxies, some red variable stars, etc. Whoa. Some of those are faint.

SkyTools Starter edition only includes 4 million stars, down to magnitude 12.5.

Nick said that DSO Browser was the best tool for him but doesn't allow the adding of objects. He also said he cannot search by RA & Dec. Oh.

He asked again, "What is 'this easy calculation?'"

Binary Universe: aligning to the pole

I saw on Facebook that the December RASC Journal was being upload to the RASC server for members to retrieve.
cover of the RASC Journal 2017 December

Lots of wonderful images by members some of whom I have met.

Lots of interesting articles. I look forward to reading an account of zodiacal light, the history of astrophotography, more eclipse reports, observing tips, etc.

My software review column Binary Universe featured a simple Android app for the polar alignment of an equatorial mount. Polar Finder by TechHead version 1.34 works well, supports different reticule patterns, and supports different field of view presentations.

Monday, November 13, 2017

next council meeting noted

Funny. I was just thinking about it. And Tom posted a notice. The next RASC Toronto Centre Council meeting will be on 21 November. It will be at the St Joan of Arc Church.

correction applied

After checking with Patrice, Michel, and Richard, James updated the double star supplemental materials with the correction I had suggested on 31 Oct. gamma Cru showed as having SAO number in 239791 but that's for delta Cru. According to various sources, the SAO number should be 240019.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

checking visibility part 2

Sent a follow-up to the RASC TC forums regarding Nick's issue of checking the visibility of objects (after my 8 Nov remarks). I had popped into DSO Browser to check something on one of my astrophotos and I spotted the elevation graphs. Similar to SkyTools but online.

elevation charts from DSO Browser

The image shows the data for the Pleiades given the viewing location of Orillia.

The first helps verify the best time to view or shoot in an evening; the second tells you when the item is best viewed in the year.

It lets you adjust the observing time in the Monthly Elevation chart which is cool. SkyTools does too—I've never used the feature before.

I still like the SkyTools YearBar better. A subtle thing is that it includes the moonlighting. From the graph above, we can glean that Pleiades is best in the winter, high in the sky in November, December, and January. For the example date shown, Nov 12, it crosses the meridian around midnight. For 2017, that's OK as there's little moonlight; but in 2018, the sky will be washed out with the stoopid Moon.

Another member referred to a "simple calculation" to locate objects but did not expand.

Antares away

Orbital ATK got away this morning. They, returning to flight on a new rocket, are on their way to the International Space Station with supplies and science. The space truck was christened S.S. Gene Cernan. Apropos. Details at SpaceFlightNow.

returned to M47 (Halifax)

About a year ago (20 Dec '16), I imaged Messier 47 and the double stars within. At the time, I was not able to split V378 Pup AB. Wanted to have another go.

open cluster M47 with doubles in luminance

Luminance only, 2 seconds subexposures, 20 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Unfortunately, I still cannot split A and B.

reshot NGC 1528 (Halifax)

Needed to revisit NGC 1528 with BGO. Something went terribly wrong on 11 Sep '17. A very good result this time. I also dropped the exposure time a bit.

open cluster NGC 1528 in luminance

Luminance only, 20 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

clustered around NGC 7619 (Halifax)

For fun, I charged the Burke-Gaffney Observatory with imaging the group of galaxies around NGC 7619 in Pegasus.

cluster of galaxies around NGC 7619 in luminance

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

This is an interesting group of galaxies and I can't help but wonder if it is part of a formal group. SkyTools 3 Pro shows that NGC 7619 is west of ACO or Abell 2594. Is it part of it?

To the north-west, well away, near the top-right of the photograph, is LEDA 1344694. It is just a little bit north-east of the bright pair of stars. It looks like a distant canted spiral galaxy.

Still north-west but closer is a very dim round patch. LEDA 142907 is just below the faint star J231948.8+081639.

Nearby, to the south-south-west, is a small almond shape. LEDA 1342934.

To the west of these two dim objects is the rather large but faint galaxy UGC 12510 aka PGC 71085. I don't see a spiral arm structure; perhaps it is an elliptical.

Close the NGC 7619, to the west-north-west, I see a faint fuzzy. Below star J231959.2+081401. It is not tagged in ST3P.

LEDA 197669 is nearly due west. It is medium-sized and bright. Nearly perfectly round.

Far away to the south-west is the long streak of LEDA 214939. It looks to be a edge-on spiral but does not show any brightness at the core.

Unlike NGC 7611 to the south. A smooth large oval with a very bright central region.

Near 7619 is NGC 7617. To the south-west. The outer edges of this galaxy are very dim; the core is very intense.

MCG 1-59-54 is due south of 7619. It is barely visible at the bottom edge of the photo. It appears as a large but dim face-on spiral.

NGC 7626, to the east of 7619, appears almost identical. Elliptical, bright, about the same size.

Tiny LEDA 3097931 is visible just a bit north of 7626.

At the far north, at the edge of the frame, is the round fuzzy of LEDA 1344674.


For the first time, with this image, I tried the OFFSET option. I specifically used
which shifted the mount (positive) 10% in R.A. and negative 10% in Dec. The end result appear with the centre of the image down and right or west and south of 7619. I did this primarily to include NGC 7611 at the bottom-right. Wait a sec'. Isn't R.A. decreasing?

aimed at NGC 6946 again (Halifax)

I sent the Halifax robot to the Fireworks galaxy once again. Slow burn that supernova, SN2017eaw. Still slightly brighter than magnitude 17.0. Last shot on 4 Nov '17.

fading supernova in NGC 6946 with luminance filter

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

added a new aurora link

Updated my aurora evergreen page (no pun intended) on my blog companion for Aurorasaurus.

nudge from Facebook

Now Facebook is reminding me about astronomical events... Appulses, no less. Huh.

The only problem is that we'll have to get up stoopid-early to take it in. That might be a deal-breaker.

plane in the box

Learned the Orbital ATK had to scrub when an unidentified plane flew into the hazard zone near Wallops. The SpaceFlightNow article includes details. They had a 5 minute launch window for the ISS resupply rocket but did not feel they could clear the airspace in time. They are going to try again tomorrow morning.

shot HD 46150 faster (Halifax)

First shot on 17 Jan '17 when I was trying to capture the bright open cluster NGC 2244 (within the Rosette). At 30 seconds, many of the bright stars were flat-topped. Learned of the multi-star system HD 46150 aka SAO 114010 but many of the components were merged. So I ordered BGO to expose for a 1/3rd of the time.

multi-star system HD 46150 in luminance

Luminance only, 10 seconds subexposures, 20 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, Paint.NET. North is up; east is left.

Got 'em!

Dim B is visible very close to the primary to the north-east, near the 11 o'clock position. C is slightly brighter than B. It is to the north-west (around the 1:30 position). Perhaps a titch closer than B. These two elements I had put on a "view again" status. Tagged!

D is brighter still, to the west-north-west or 2 o'clock. E is easy, brighter again, to the south-south-west or 5:30.

A, B, C, D, and E were lost in the glare or merged in the 30 second shot.

In addition, I had thought that the B had moved. In this image, it is clearly in a different position than indicated by SkyTools 3 Pro.

Also, quadruple system HD 46056 is more clearly resolved. As is triple HD 46180.

Friday, November 10, 2017

shot HR 8 longer

With the Burke-Gaffney Observatory, I tried imaging the multi-star system OΣ 549 (or HR 8) again. Gah. Nothing...

Visually observed this system from the Carr Astronomical Observatory with a NexStar 11 on 24 Sep '16. Split A and B. Could see the other stars, C and D, but in mediocre seeing they were merged.

Did some digging on 30 Sep '16. I learned of the E star on referring to the Washington Double Star index. But the LAF 21 entry looked odd: the E was noted having a magnitude of 17.2 while A was 4.6. What? Other WDS entries said 6; SkyTools 3 Pro said 6.

Decide to image this target with the Burke-Gaffney Observatory in Halifax. Received my first photograph on 14 Jul '17. Searched for more companions. Happily, I spotted the C star, very close to D, albeit, in a slightly different location compared to the chart display in ST3P.

But I could not see the E element even though the WDS said it was over 10 arc-seconds away. Yes, it was very dim but other mag 17 stars were visible in the 4 second exposure. Was it caught in the glare of the bright primary?

On 1 Sep '17 I decided to shoot the system faster, twice as fast, to better see the C and D partners and maybe reveal the E. Received a decent image but still E was hidden.

Tried faster again, down to 1 second, on 9 Sep '17. No E star. I was starting to seriously doubt the quality of the entry in the WDS.

Tonight, BGO aimed at the system again (using GSC 01735-0996). Following my directive, it exposed longer—8 seconds. And still no E star emerged.

Perhaps I should send a report to the JDSO stating that the E star data does not seem to be accurate.