Thursday, April 28, 2016

acquired three targets

Clear skies in Halifax. Starting a little after 10:00 PM local time, the BGO robotic 'scope starting collecting image data for me. Shot three targets: planetary nebulae NGC 6543 and NGC 2371 plus the Arrakis double star.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

the CAO - Yours to Discover

Tony dos Santos delivered a presentation on the Carr Astronomical Observatory to members: The CAO - Yours to Discover! He did a great job.

delivered TSTM for May

Delivered my The Sky This Month presentation to the RASC Toronto Centre. This was held in the Burgundy Room of the North York Memorial Centre. We had some technical glitch at the beginning but the A/V guy on site rescued things with a backup projector. It was a decent crowd. I did not provide a paper handout this time (trying to go green) but did make my usual month-at-a-glance calendar.

The highlights for the next few weeks are:

  • 30 – astrophoto workshop at the DDO
  • 2 – dark sky observing window opens
  • 6 – new Moon
  • 9 – transit of Mercury, morning through mid-afternoon; events all around the GTA and on the Blue Mountains
  • 9-14 – Astronomy Week
  • 13 – Lunar X event
  • 16 – city observing window opens
  • 19 – fun in London, the RASC General Assembly +
  • 22 – opposition of Mars!
The notes are available on the RASC TC web site. They include some images, the calendar (as a PDF file), and two observing lists (in SkySafari and SkyTools formats)

acquired images

Not surprisingly, BGO bot shot some images for me. NGC 6543 and the mu Draconis region. Faster exposures this time.

The Cat's Eye, with the green filter, at 30 seconds. Still blown out, I think.

luminance filter on the mu Draconis region

Weird. Arrakis looks trailed this 10 second image. Not as clean as I'd like. S'OK. I am planning another one, even faster... North is up; east is left.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

6543 again

And the Cat's Eye again. Half the exposure time...

Arrakis again

Submitted a new job for Arrakis. Faster!

reviewed Cat's Eye

BGO robot made the images shot of NGC 6543 available. The Cat's Eye Nebula. Very curious the results, now including a new filter. And also to compare and my all-colour DSLR shot...

Quickly converted the H-alpha, red, green, and blue FITS images. All subs were 60 seconds. North is down and east is right for all.

H-alpha frame of Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543)

There's something strange going on in the hydrogen α. The fuzzy bits left and right are interesting but the whole image looks grainy. The planetary nebula itself appears blown out. But there are streaks or trails?! It almost looks like rain! What's going on? 10 subexposures.

red frame of Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543)

The red... Almond shape. 5 subexposures.

Hey, there's an object off to the right! A little streak. Bright core. A bit of structure? A barred spiral perhaps to two prominent arms? Perhaps an edge-on galaxy? [ed: That's NGC 6552.]

And there's a very small oval fuzzy due left (west) of the PN. [ed: LEDA 2689421.]

And the tiny round object, near the bottom-left, between stars J175657.6+664410 and GSC 04212-1313 is not star like. A distant galaxy? [ed: LEDA 2690715.]

green frame of Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543)

The green... There's something immediately left of the nebula. Also, I can see a faint diaphanous large ring around the central nebula. With a radius of about 2 to 3 arcminutes. I think! 5 subexposures.

blue frame of Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543)

The blue... There's still something left of the nebula. The ring is fainter. 5 subexposures.

They all look blown out. Considered a redo. To "fix" the Hα. I will try setting the exposures half the current.

reviewed mu Dra

The robot at SMU made the image of region around μ (mu) Draconis available.

Had a bit of a scare. Upon Mr Chapman's suggestion, I had not aimed directly at Arrakis, for fear that the automated routines would override the exposure settings, on detecting a bright target. So I had used the nearby star SAO 30242 (aka HD 234387) . The queue notice had returned a good response. But the subject line and body in the image "ready" notice  showed SAO3024! Yikes. Might it have gone to a different star? Downloaded the JPEG.

luminance photo of region near double star mu Dra

North is down; east is right. No problem. μ Dra is at the bottom-left.

w00t! I can see the C star! And the primary looks elongated to the north-south. All right!

Holy mackerel. On deep diving, I can easily see GSC 03890-0238, down and left of mu, at magnitude 16.85 (poor quality data according to SkyTools), along with its companion J170510.7+542949 at mag 18.13. To the right of that pair, I can see J170516.8+543008 at mag 19.01 and its partner J170516.5+543019 at 18.76)! Wow. Mag 19 stars in a 15 second shot!

Curiously, I see 3 stars near mu, up and left, which are not shown in the software. Regardless...

I'm very happy to tag the C star. And if I drop the exposure, it should improve the view of A and B.

This is very neat. Using BGO to verify or check impressions from visual observing sessions... Gathering more data, to add to the pile, on Arrakis. I like it!

Monday, April 25, 2016

two targets acquired

Back to back emails. The BGO robotic observatory shot planetary nebula NGC 6543 and double star Arrakis for me.

added the alt plate

Did some more work on the alt-az base for the barn door tracker. Received some excellent advice from Dr Plywood. He said he liked the simplicity of it. Me too!

3D diagram of azimuth and altitude plates

The angled upper plate will be the bottom plate of the existing tracker.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

captured NGC 4361

And another! The bot imaged NGC 4361. Ooo. Big.

made a slide

The president pushed it back to me. So I made a slide for the CAO, added an image, dumped all the other slides, and punted it back.

captured NGC 3242

w00t! I was hoping for images from BGO bot. The Clear Sky Chart was looking good for tonight in Halifax (tomorrow too!). Just received a note that NGC 3242 was captured. Ghost of Jupiter. My first H-alpha run.

tested custom mirror cable again

Decided to try more trials. But with some different camera settings.

I had wondered if yesterday's tests with the automatic focusing and exposure options were introducing delays or simply preventing the camera from shooting.

electronic kit with breadboard wired with MOSFETS plus N3 and serial cables

Connected everything up again. That is, USB camera-PC interface cable plus the custom mirror control cable (via the breadboard). Ran through Frame and Focus in Backyard EOS so ensure I could take a longish exposure. Used the focus buttons at the computer then set the lens to manual. Started to ready an imaging run and wanted to use BULB mode... Noted a low battery condition so headed to the camera bag.

8:14 PM. Exhausted 3 batteries, in the end! Crikey. My hand was forced. I connected the DC coupler.

Seemed like I had mucked up the software, that F&F wasn't working, so I completely closed BYE and restarted it. At first I didn't think it working but finally noted the F&F responding... Took a Snap. Examined the test shot. It was OK. I had arrived at 30 seconds at f/32 with an ISO of 100. There was deep focus and good lighting. All right.

8:23. Ran a short trial of 3 exposures, in BULB mode, but no mirror control. 35s, f/32, 100. A 5 second pause between each shot. All went well! A very good sign. Programmed a new run, with the mirror lock enabled...

8:27. Juliet Charlie! It worked. I saw the delay timer count for 2 seconds. Then heard the camera flop. All right! The mirror was up. The Anti-Vibration heading showed on the computer screen and that timer counted down, -5, -4, etc. (This is where it failed yesterday...) I heard a faint tick from the camera body as the shutter opened. w00t! Then the exposure counter appeared. At 35 seconds, there was the normal note from the 40D as both the shutter and the mirror moved. All while the camera's Live View not on... It all worked!

Very happy. I reviewed settings...

connections, between camera and PC:
  • standard USB cable 
  • custom serial cable (plus USB-serial adapter)
camera settings:
  • manual mode
  • mirror lock off
BYE settings:
  • virtual mirror off
imaging run session configuration:
  • cable support COM4 (as per Device Manager)
  • delay 2 seconds
  • mirror lock 5
imaging run exposure settings:
  • BULB 
  • f/32
  • 35 seconds
  • ISO 100 
  • pause 5

Essentially, I didn't change anything but the camera settings. I think, in the end, it was the auto-focus mucking things up...


Next test: to try to opto-isolator!

sent CAO items

Submitted Carr Astronomical Observatory items for the RASC announcements slide deck.

reviewed CAO presi

Helped Uncle Tony with his CAO presentation. Sent the latest editable PowerPoint file, via DropBox. Discussed additions, edits, deletes. Created a QR Code and sent that over.

checked FTP logs

Checked for SQM-LE log files on the server. Messaged Peter. Let him know the UDM software transfer-by-FTP feature is not working (among other things).

shared GA info

Helped Grace find the General Assembly information on our web site. Deep in the Events list. But easily found by searching "general."

researched Arrakis

Did a deeper dive into μ (mu) Draconis (or Alrakis or Arrakis) in an attempt to figure out what's going on. A key issue for me is that I have not been able to, after a few attempts, to spot the C star.

Checked the info in the Washington Double Star database. The AB and AC data is very similar to the numbers I'm seeing in SkyTools 3 Professional. Both show the magnitude is around 13 to 14. Quite doable in many of the instruments that I have access to. The position angle and separation values, again, are very consistent. The dim C star should be south of the AB pair, opposite B, but well away, 4 or 5 times the distance of AB.

Viewed on 3 Aug 2009. That appears to be the first ever. But then, I was only going after the AB pair, from the Sky & Tel list. Probably did not even know there was a C then... (didn't have SkyTools that summer). Viewed on 31 May 2014, 6 Jul 2014, and on 17 Apr 2016. Never spotted the C.

The WDS has a very strange entry by Burnham for the BC pairing.

date:    1889    1958
theta (PA) °:    191    186
rho (sep.) ":    12.3    13.6

That makes no sense at all. I visually checked the numbers using Visio.

diagram showing angles between A, B, C stars

The dashed lines are the first observations (some of which are over 200 years old). The solid lines should be the current (or recent) positions and distances. The lower 2 lines are for the BC entry, that is, the PA and sep between B and C. Clearly the angle and separation are wrong. Finally, I loaded in the screen snapshot from SkyTools and pushed it to the background. The dots above the A and B labels along with the C near the top-left indicate how the ST3P software is plotting the star positions. Again, not too far off. I made no attempt to scale the snap to the diagram. Regardless, the PA for A and B looks spot-on.

I also the checked Aladin image and SIMBAD data. The AC pair angle looks very good. B looks like it is OK in terms of separation but the angle is different—B is more counter-clockwise than in the graphic above. Still, quite good correspondence. Sadly, the Aladin image is not useful visually as the A and B stars overwhelmed the sensor.

Wonder if I should image this area...



verified two cables needed

Did some research...

Read the Serial Control section of the Canon Camera Control product page at Astronomiser. Noted the statement that their special serial "cable should be used in conjunction with a USB cable (supplied with the [camera]) to use with software..." OK. So, two wires.

Stumbled across a thread in the O'Telescope forums. Noted a user describing how they could hook this up:
  • use a serial cable to control the mirror lock function
  • set the lock parameter on the camera
  • and use the usb for camera communication and data transport
Although, in the end, the user's camera did not support mirror lock-up at all.

Verified the 40D was supported in the camera table matrix.

Perhaps I had wired up the simple circuit wrong. Perhaps I had the camera configured wrong. Hmph.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

tried to control mirror

A long journey, this. And I'm still not clear about what I can or cannot do.

Decided to have a go at prototyping the camera control mirror lock-up cable. I wanted, at a minimum, to build a cable to go from the recently acquired Canon N3 adapter cable, with it's male sub-mini stereo plug, to ultimately connect to a box with the switching (and isolating) electronics. First, I'd solder up a female jack to a cable and with the loose ends do some testing.

Assembled parts and tools: MOSFETs, 10K resistor, N3 adapter cable, stereo sub-mini female jack, four conductor wire, digital multi-meter, jumper cables, sewing pin, side cutters, soldering iron, solder, small vice, helping hands, close-up glasses.

Did a battery of continuity tests to verify pin-outs. Created visual notes. Checked the adapter cable pins from the N3 to the sub-mini plug. Compared this to Michael Covington's notes. Confirmed. Looked at the Canon 40D DSLR N3 connector: the triangle is upside-down, that is, it points down; the bump in the connector is toward the lens. This appears to be opposite some other models. Used Peter Jensen's notes where he truly hacked the pins. Corroborated notes. Attached the female in-line plug and checked the wiring connection points. OK, ready to go!

Fired up the Weller, wet the sponge, stripped the wires, clamped the jack and wires in place, and soldered everything up. Screwed on the jack cover. Tight fit... Tested the connections. What?! A short! Removed the cover. Very tight fit... And found all the wires had twisted around one another, with one wire tearing free, and the extreme tension tearing out one of the posts! Crikey. Good for nothing.

Found another female jack from the parts bin: the last in-line connector. Whew! Stripped the wires. Soldered. Carefully installed the cover. Tested the connections. What?! No signal on the Focus circuit. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?! I was not happy. Didn't even bother to open it up.

So upsetting.

Considered dropping the whole matter...

Grabbed a case-mount sub-mini female jack—to discover bad fitment. The plug did not seem to insert far enough (or it wasn't long enough) and would easily release. That would not be good in the field. Grabbed a panel-mount jack. Good positive fitment. Connected it with jumper cables. This would have to do for the balance of my prototyping.

Needed a female serial cable connector. Looked in the old computer cables box. Found a male. Looking in another old computer parts box. Ah. Old Psion stuff. And a gaggle of PC interface cables... with female ends. Grabbed one, cut it near the proprietary palmtop connector. Wow. Ten coloured, thin wires, not counting the ground strap. Checked the pin-outs noting the colours for pin 5 and 7.

Grabbed the Prolific USB-serial adapter and attached it to the netbook. Checked the assigned COM port: 4.

Grabbed the electronic experiment kit with breadboard and wired up the circuit, based on Covington's schematic.

Connected the DSLR to John Repeat Dance via the USB cable. EOS Utility woke. Did some quick tests. OK. Closed the EU app. Launched Backyard EOS. Dove into the settings, then Advanced Settings, and turned on the Virtual Mirror Lock. Tested Frame & Focus. Starting working on an image plan. Set the Mirror setting to 5 seconds. Set the Control Cable to COM4. Tried the Test Cable button... No error; but no positive message either. Started the imaging run... The Delay wound down... and nothing happened. Looked like the software froze. Tried again. No action. Huh. Wondered what was wrong.

Rebooted the 40D. Checked the camera settings. Found the Mirror Lock on... Is this causing a conflict? Now I was growing increasingly confused. Or unclear. And the awkward documentation with BYE wasn't helping. I felt the need to step back, review, gather my thoughts.

Reviewed my notes and thoughts from Aug 2015, as I tried to wrangle the camera. Where I was very confused for part of the evening. On that occasion I was shooting long exposures; earlier I had been shooting very fast.

Looks like I'm going to have to jump into the O'Telescope forums...

loaded Hα targets

Submitted three jobs to the BGO robotic telescope at St Mary's. With the Moon all bright and big and full, I decided to load the queue with planetary nebulae and to gather hydrogen alpha instead of luminance.

designed an az plate

Noodled on a design, in 123D, for the azimuth plate for the barn door tracker.

3D diagram of azimuth plate and adjuster

Sent to Ian "Dr Plywood" for some feedback.

looked for fuzzies

Examined the luminance frames from Wednesday night closely.

In the Silver Needle galaxy luminance shot, there's a very small fuzzy down and left from the main galaxy. In the quickly-put-together LRGB image, it is much more obvious (except it is now in the top left).

This is galaxy LEDA 139774, according to SkyTools 3 Pro. Actually, as I dive deep into the LRGB photograph, it looks like there's another object! Perhaps it is a face-on spiral with a small interacting companion...

Aladin refers to this as 2XMM J121651.9+375437, Seyfert 2 Galaxy. High-zoom images clearly show two spiral galaxies.

In the NGC 3877 luminance shot, I spotted two very small faint oval fuzzies at the left edge of the frame. These are LEDA galaxies 2300369 and 2300172. East of the big galaxy.

passed 700

Hit 700. Seven hundred double stars on my list with over 600 confirmed viewings. As part of my the visual observing last weekend. Wow.

in the grand scheme

It doesn't matter what you do, really, in the end. You'll be long gone in 100 to 200 years. Only the stars will remain.


Be nice.

Friday, April 22, 2016

quickly assembled the Needle

Had a real quick go at the Silver Needle.

LRGB image of Silver Needle galaxy

Luminance 600 seconds; red 300; green 300; blue 300. Photoshop. North is up; east is right.

The bright orangey star at the bottom left is SAO 62931, a K2 class star.

installed latest UDM

Worked on the SQM-LE setup at the CAO. Remotely. Copied the new version of the UDM software to the server at the Carr Astronomcial Obserevatory. Captured all the current settings. Installed the new app. Ran it. Applied the new FTP settings. Started logging. We'll see how it works over the next couple of days. Let Peter know.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

next meeting set

The next planned RASC Toronto Centre council meeting is Thursday 14 July. Location: to be announced.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

shot NGC 3877

BGO bot shot NGC 3877 for me.

luminance frame of the NGC 3877 galaxy

Luminance. 600 seconds. FITS Liberator. North is up; east is left.

shot the Silver Needle

BGO bot shot the Silver Needle aka NGC 4244 for me.

luminance of Silver Needle galaxy

Luminance. 600 seconds. FITS Liberator. North is down; east is right.


LRGB, quickly prepared.

attended meeting

Attended a very productive RASC Toronto Centre council meeting at the DDO administrative building. I was able to table a few questions and remarks. We were done at a reasonable time too! And we looked at Jupiter after! Sweet!

more on 3521

BGO bot gathered more data on NGC 3521 for me. I wanted a redo because of a bad gradient. We'll see how these turn out. Damn Moon was 32 degrees away...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Canada rocks!

We helped build the station. I read the article celebrating 15 years of Canadarm2. Pretty amazing.