Tuesday, October 20, 2020

started the doubles program

Today we rolled out the RASC Double Star Observing Program.


I uploaded the updated files, built the program web page, and added the relevant paragraph to the main observing page.

It's live. It's official.


It's kinda weird to see it there, for real, on the national site.

I have worked on this project for over 6 years. The project team web site I built back in October 2015. I hatched the idea some time before that. And joined the Observing Committee in 2014 as it was the right thing to do. That we were ready last year but the team had some concerns was tough. But it's a better product a year later.

Of course, I enjoyed visiting all of the candidate doubles. I'm not sure exactly the number but I probably personally evaluated 200 to 300 doubles (and multi-star systems) so to produce the final list of 110.

I am grateful for the support and contributions of many people across the country including Michael B, Frank D, Lucian G, Katrina IL, Millie R, Paul Ma, Stu M, and Ian W. 

If I remember correctly, it was with Stu that I first shared my idea and he ran it up the flagpole.

Lucian deserves special recognition for vetting many of the candidate doubles.

The current and past members of the national Observing Committee were tremendous, challenging me, pushing me, and cheering. I thank Blair S, Dale A, Chris B, Randy B, Dave C, Charles E, Melody H, Roger H, Bruce M, Murray P, Karol S, Jo V, Bill W, Alan W, and Vikki Z. 

Chris was an early supporter. I thank him for accepting my proposal back in October 2013.

Dave has bolstered my spirits along the way.

I particularly want to thank Melody for enthusiastically embracing the program, asking great questions, the big questions like "Why are you doing this this way?" and "What does this mean?" Keeping me honest. I particularly enjoy when she shares her observations and sketches.

It's exciting. I hope a number of our members will pursue this.

It's immensely satisfying knowing that the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada will official recognise double star observers.

Monday, October 19, 2020

fixed strap

Fixed the custom dew heater. After finding two broken/failed leads during some bench testing...

Powered by a SLA battery, I tested the first configuration I had tried on Friday night. Kendrick 8-inch dew strap for the C8 corrector plate, my home-made eyepiece dew strap, and the Kendrick controller. I felt the 8" wrap getting warm, then hot, and the home medical thermometer read to 41.8°C, and then it conked out. I think over 42° means the patient is dead. 

The DIY eyepiece strap was cool. Oh oh.

Continuity checks revealed the circuit was open. Sheesh.

Rolled back the cover to find the copper backbone power lead had separated. I don't know why but for some reason I never soldered this. Duh. 

"It's always the wire."

But more continuity checks showed that wasn't the only issue! Now what?!

Rolled back the fabric more and spotted broken nichrome. Dag nab it.

I wasn't surprised. This was a weak point. It needed a stable mounting point...

Lost about 1 cm of heater wire. I wondered what impact that might have.

Drilled a hole in the plastic core for an anchor point for the nichrome-to-copper wire interface. This will eliminate flexure of the brittle nichrome. Buttoned that up.

Soldered the other power lead.

Used lots of electrical tape to shore things up.

Tested again. All is well.

Tried with None More Black, my custom controller. Fine.

Thermometer climbed to over 39°. Yes! 

This speaks to version 2 of the strap: it will feature mounting points in the plastic core.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

you can attend

The next RASC Toronto Centre council meeting is on Thursday 22 October. All members are welcome to attend.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

took in Mars and Cetus doubles (Bradford)

It was clear!

But it felt felt humid, damp... 

7:33 PM, Fri 16 October 2020. Completed a very fast setup. Quick polar alignment putting Polaris (just at the roof line) at the centre. Did not do a multi-star alignment; simply picked up a planet, and turned on the sidereal (Cel.) tracking. Started with the baader planetarium aspheric 36mm 2-inch. 

Did not have a table. Grabbed a bunch of lawn chairs.

Saturn was down in the trees. Jupiter hidden. Ecliptic low. 

Saturn was heading to a clear patch...

Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: slewing and tracking with IDEA GoToStar

Rhonda came out. Invited her to have a seat. "Very nice."

Offered to bump the power. Went with the Pentax 20mm XW 1¼-inch. Centred.

7:38 PM. Nice. The shadow on the rings was more pronounced (than earlier this year). Could see the equatorial belt. The Cassini division easily seen on the west; less so on the east. Lots of moons. Seeing was fair.

Rhonda returned. "Oh wow. Can see the stripes." She asked if she was seeing the shadow. You bet.

I wondered how long Jupiter would take to clear the tree.

I took in the whole sky.

7:44. Bright satellite heading due north. Quite bright, actually. Perhaps a minus magnitude?

[ed: Flyover info...
name: CZ-4 R/B
Spacetrack catalog number 29507
COSPAR ID 2006-046-C
Orbit 530 x 600 km, 97.7°
Category unknown
Country/organisation of origin China
Launch date 23 October 2006 
Launch site Taiyuan Space Launch Center, China
From Heavens Above.]

We talked about work, the weather, tonight's conditions, the next few days, winter tires, working from home, office access, eyeglasses, turkey dinner.

7:55. Headed to Jupiter. No GRS. Barges. Decent seeing. Missing one moon.

[ed: Io was behind. Would emerge from eclipse around 10:30...]

We talked about satellite distances or elevation. ISS was 400 kilometeres. Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Thickness of the atmosphere. Average height of passenger aircraft. The Right Stuff. Geostationary satellites are at 1000s of km. The next Dragon crew launch. SpaceX's plans for ferrying 100 humans. 

8:11. Three moons. Where was the other one? I had the netbook nearby but didn't feel like firing it up.

We talked about colonising Mars. The age we grew up in, including the first humans touching around world; what kids today will experience as we go interplanetary. We went to school without the internet. Paper books. The crazy racket at university. Baby blankets. Another racket. DIY. The missing roll of red film.

Observed Cygnus straight up, Lyra past the meridian, Aquila low, Hercules over the house, little Sagitta.

Another bright satellite went south. Rhonda spotted some others...

Rhonda asked if I was getting cold. Yes. Went for a coat.

8:33. Rhonda thought the view "really nice." She asked what was next... She walked west in the yard. Mars was visible over the hedge... But it would be a while before it was attainable. Unless I moved the 'scope. Didn't wanna do that.

Back to Saturn.

We talking about paintings, nurseries, stars, constellations, planetarium software. Découpage. How to deliver effective Zoom presentations. Messy office backgrounds. Rachel Willis not pulling punches.

Wondered if there was dew on the corrector!?

8:53. We agreed to reconvene in an hour...

Turned off the mount. Headed indoors. Goofed around.

Peaked outside. Mars was good! Mars was clear of the hedge. w00t! Told Rhonda.

10:09. Returned to the backyard. The Red Planet was very good in the telescope. Northern region flat orange, southern hemisphere dark and mottled. A notch. The South Polar Cap (SPC) did not jump out at me.

Neighbour's light was on. Boo.

Eyepiece fogging. Boo.

Rhonda had a look. "Not bad. Crisp edges" Uh huh. 

She wondered if Jupiter had set. Nope, but low behind the west trees.

Installed the 8-inch and eyepiece dew heaters, driven by the Kendrick controller, powered by the hacked computer PSU.

Mars was so bright. It looked white on top... Clouds? Haze? Weird. "So amazing," I thought. I felt the view was incredible. North was up.

The seeing looked fair. "Let's give it a shot." I installed the Tele Vue Type 6 Nagler 9mm. 

10:27. Got it! Saw the SPC. Tiny!

Rhonda saw the lightness at the top, at the 12:30 or 1:00 position. Yep. North polar hood, likely clouds.

I asked what she thought. She seemed nonplussed. Mind you, she had watched our live video from the 74-inch so the bar had been raised pretty high. And the processed pictures that had been shared were pretty impressive.

We talked about how big Mars could appear. Oppositions versus superior conjunctions, equipment, aperture, resolution. I wondered if I had every seen Mars in my 'scope so big. The 2003 event at York... I reflected back on that. But I had been a little preoccupied. And back then? What eyepieces did I have?! Now I had the 9mm. 

10:41. I did not think I was feeling any heat off my new custom DIY dew heater. Was there a problem? Had it failed?!

10:42. Checked the Sony voice recorder. Only 2½ hours left. Battery level: middle. I considered VOX. Then I shut off continuous recording.

Mars: North Polar Hood (NPH) was quite large. SPC visibile. Dark band through the equator. Looked like Mare Cimmerium... [ed: Yes! To the east. Mare Sirenum to the west.] There was a split. Another dark region to the south. Tremendous size at 222 times magnification. Tried to detect features in the north...

Rhonda retired.

Installed the occulting ocular, the Meade (4000) 32mm Super Wide Angle (SWA) (from Tony dos Santos). Recently painted. That is, the field stop occulting sheet (aluminium duct tape) I had recently paint flat black (with Rhonda's help). [ed: I believe this is a Plössl-type eyepiece with a 67 degree AFOV. Long eye relief.]

11:04. Started field identification of stars...

11:09. A batch of clouds came through. Scuppered for the moment. Checked the Oregon Scientific Instruments portable weather station: 76% relative humidity, pressure dropping, rain tomorrow, 1.0°C air temperature, new Moon phase, October 16, battery level OK. 

Clouds got worse.

Headed inside again!

Toes were cold.

11:14. Back inside. Clouded out. Checked the AWC site. Just at the edge of skirting clouds.

Put on my Baffin Island -100°C boots!

12:01 AM, Saturday 17 October 2020. Popped outside. 100% low cloud! Boo! It was eerily bright, the local light pollution reflection off the low layer.

Killed time.

Peeked out the window. Dark. Stars! OK. Back on the horse.

12:29 AM. Pleiades was up. Mars was really high. No clouds. Good for a while. Also keen to get Cetus targets... Meade was still installed. I wanted to get some moons.

Noted a ring or halo again! Seen before... I had seen this with Vega (back in June). Around Mars. Bright objects. It went out just beyond the nearest star [ed: TYC 00026-0648 1]. I wondered what the diameter was... [ed: It is around 12 arc-minutes.]

Needed more grunt. Installed the Tele Vue PowerMate doubler. The Beast!

12:46. Got the star TYC 00026-0162 1, north of Mars. Magnitude 11.5. Deimos was mag 11.8. The star would not take direct vision. Oh boy...

12:52. Spotted to the north and east Pisces stars that were magnitude 11.5 and 11.7. With the Tele Vue PowerMate 2 and Meade 32.

Should have been possible!

Ugh. Not seeing anything. 

Put the 9mm in.

12:58. Never done before. 2x with the 9mm. So, that's 444 power, right?

Gave up. Could not see moons near to Mars. I was disappointed...

OK. Switched to double star mode. I had a couple of targets in Cetus I wanted to check off. Chose my first.

The body of the sea monster, quadrangle of faint stars, was to the south.

While star hopping from ε (epsilon), I spotted the target in the finder scope (Orion 9x50). A relief as I thought for a while I was going the wrong way. From a semi-urban location. In other words, should be visible in binoculars.

Arrived HD 9336 in Cetus.

1:14. Yellow and blue stars. Very wide in the 36mm. To the east was a big isosceles triangle. Bright star at the edge of the field, to the north-east [ed: HD 9421, a triple!]. Mostly empty field. Faint stars. Up was north-west for me. The pair was oriented (somewhat) east-west. Same brightness? I think? That was the first impression. Yellow to the west; blue to the east. Not Earth shattering. Doable.

I had a really hard time focusing. Poor seeing. The trees breathing? In and out.

Below the triangle, on the west side of the double, there was a line of stars, in a slight arc.

It occurred to me that I did not have the "compensating" magnifier/reducer factor in the SkyTools on the John Repeat Dance computer.... for visual. To re-scale the view, given the focuser. 1.1? Need to add.

Maybe the A (west) star was a touch brighter? Just a hair. [ed: SkyTools says 6.8 and 7.4.]

Seeing went bad. In and out.

Next: HD 2394 aka HJ 1968.

Starhopped from β (beta). Used the field stars using a faint little triangle.

1:27. Didn't see it at first. Primary is obvious; the companion is much fainter. Unequal pair. White and orange, maybe?. Oriented north-east to south-west. Widely separated with the 36mm. But the B star was just borderline visible. SkyTools said B was 9.8. Different by over 2½ magnitudes. 

Noted an inline star, SAO 147293, to the north-east.

A line of stars to the south going east-west.

1:32. Could not spot the C star. 

AB: Yellow and orange. 

I was angled low. I was aimed into light polluted skies from Toronto and Mississauga.

Not a great pair...

The RA motor cover was starting to press on the mount. Did a meridian flip.

One more in Cetus. HD 3125. [ed: The Washington Double Star database designation is D 2.]

Started at ι (iota). Frustrating star hop but worth it. There were a couple of bright stars, a decent star hop, but I got all turned around...

2:00. Oh. I like it! White and orange. Very close. Attractively close! The main pair was oriented south-west to north-east. About a magnitude or two different. 

[A and B are too tight.]

Outlier. The D star was to the south-south-east. 10 times the distance. 

Spotted another star, kind of opposite. North-west. Not related. [ed: ST3P says TYC 04675-0149 1.] 1.5x times the AD distance.

Another star to the north. 2x the AD separation. So a big triad.

Nice. OK. Good. Mission accomplished. Nice to close that chapter...

Returned to Mars.

2:12. 9mm. Now south was up. SPC was easy. The notch was pretty well at the Central Meridian (CM). [ed: The gab between Mare Cimmerium and Mare Tyrrhenum.] Seeing was really good. So big. Lovely colours, pale orange, very uniform in the north. Tried to spot features, like Cerebus. Between the highlands at the equator and to the south, it was somewhat mottled black and grey. 

Was Syrtis Major rounding the bend?

Three days after opposition. Wow. Really nice.

Similar view as the DDO night...

Didn't seem like the dew heaters were not working. I had switched to my custom controller with an active duty cycle on both. And I tried the cup warmer on the eyepiece. So now I was sure it wasn't a problem with my new hand-made unit. I wondered if the computer power supply was not putting out enough amps. I thought I had used it before... Maybe I should always use a SLA battery.

Should I keep observing, I wondered? Will there be other opportunities? Is this as good as it gets? Should I sketch?


That's it. 

2:18. Humidity 82%, 1.1°, pressure steady, rain tomorrow.

Did a very rapid tear down, intending to sort in the morning...

Grass was wet.

2:37. Back inside. Finished hauling gear from airlock.

I enjoyed that. Great views of Mars! I enjoyed soaking in the view. The Martian moons still elude my eyes though. That the dew heaters weren't working is odd but it must be the source. Tracking was pretty amazing for the night. That was especially amazing given I did not to a star alignment and I had put Polaris in the centre.


Learned the reason the custom eyepiece heater wasn't putting out power. Two faults actually. The "rail" copper power lead had not been soldered and unwound itself, through flexure. I don't know why I didn't solder it. Easy fix. More seriously, the leg of the nichrome wire broke, near the mechanical fastener. Damn. Knew that was going to happen, with too much flexing. It needs to be stabilised...

After bench testing, found the 8-inch outputting heat. Yeh. It's a trooper!

Friday, October 16, 2020

found red film

Scared myself (again). Thought I had lost the roll of red film.

I had had the Rosco 42 red film at the DDO so to replace the bit for the television connected to the 74-inch finder scope. I remembered packaging it up and putting it in one of my tote bags after the Mars Madness event. Of course, we hauled all our gear from the dome to the circle. That was where I got fuzzy. I don't recall touching it after that. Vague recollection of grabbing the roll and tossing it in the car. Was that going or leaving? Did it fall out of the bag onto the lawn to be discovered by a perplexing dog walker? I was saddened at the thought of having misplaced it...

Found it!

Behind my hallway door.

On a whim.

I had unpacked it from the car!

I was so sleepy that night, it didn't find it's way into short term memory.

considered Mars

Wanted to see Mars, from the backyard, with my gear.

Simple, quiet, not 'cast on the web.

Clouded out on opposition night, sadly.

Clear Sky Chart near me 16 Oct 2020

Tonight's looking good...


Set the OTA outside to cool.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

tested polling

Tested Zoom with polls to see if it will work for the RASC Toronto Centre Annual Meeting and voting by members. Looks like it will do what council wants.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

helped at RAN

Helped backstage at the RASC Recreational Astronomy Night meeting. The presenters were great, adapting to the OBS Ninja environment. Ennio moderated the YouTube and forwarded questions. I just kind of monitored and assisted Andrew. The server hiccupped and crashed but things, in general, went pretty smooth.


Learned later Rhonda watched it on her TV via YouTube tethering. We talked about the speakers and the Q&A period.


Raw video available on our YouTube channel.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020


Re-wrote the presenters guide for delivering virtual presentations with the proper emphasis on using OBS Ninja. I had to step away for a few days to reset my brain.

helped at rehearsal

Helped at the RAN rehearsal. Oh oh. A couple of people had not been prepped... Hopefully one won't go too off-piste...

happy opposition

Mars is opposite the Sun.

Mars, Earth, Sun in a line

Clouds over Ontario.

Monday, October 12, 2020

relieved of duty

Denise sent a note. The subject line read: Re: Telescope operators NO GO for Mars Madness tonight. They are going to use the clips from last night and she'll just introduce them as recorded. So we get to relax and enjoy the long weekend. She thanked me and Rhonda for all the hard work!

Unpacked the car.

ran the 74 during Mars Madness (Richmond Hill)

Rhonda and I travelled to the David Dunlap Observatory so to arrive around 7:00 PM. I wanted lots of time to set up. Denise was heading to the dome when we arrived.

I had her help me with dome prep, telescope setup, and camera steps.

We had a scare when I couldn't get the MallinCam Universe camera going. Had I damaged it? Had it been damaged during the previous test run? When Ward and started playing with it on the bench, it started working. He operated the TEC cooling switch. That was weird.

And then we were concerned when my computer would not run the OBS Ninja links. Wasn't just my computer, actually. The RASC laptop didn't respond either. Somehow, more black magic, the links started working. A few minutes before the 9:00 PM go-live. Crikey.

After that, it was pretty smooth sailing.

RASC DDO Mars Madness title card

Focus was off at the beginning but it was hard to improve upon with the low elevation and bad seeing.

Rhonda and I got Mars looking better later in the program.

I did live talking for the Mars Madness program. Four segments in total. Used three of my prepared scripts. Discussed orientation (got it wrong first time). Turned out that south was up. Discussed visible features. Did some flag waving and a plug for MallinCam.

11:30 PM. Wow. It worked with Denise shooting from the hip, Andrew in Calgary, Celia monitoring in the Warm Room, Ward up top with Denise, and Rhonda helping in so many ways (including centring and focusing). Intense evening.

The 'scope worked great.

After the show, I went to Uranus. It was pretty soft. But colourful.

We did a hybrid shutdown assuming a return in less than 24 hours...

Long night. I was exhausted.


Another first for me: having the OTA so low in the east, almost to the point of touching the dome walkway. Had to use the tallest ladder to work at the spectrograph.

I understand we had a decent turn out and good interactions in the YouTube chat.

I installed a ring into the MCU cooling grill for tethering.

During a break, I put a new larger piece of red film on the finder scope TV.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

get the facts

Prepared a bunch of Mars facts, in case I might be called upon tonight...

Many of the temporal items are based on 11 Oct 2020 at 2300h EDT.


  • Earth-Mars Distance or Separation: 0.4 AU (62 million km)
  • in light-time, that's 3.5 minutes
  • when Mars is on the other side of Sun, light-time can be over 20 minutes
  • the Sun is 8 light-minutes away from Earth
  • Moon 1 to 2 light-seconds
  • Mars Distance (average) from Sun: 1.4 AU (212 million km)
  • it's taking the spacecraft from mid- to late-July 2020 to Feb 2021 to reach Mars, i.e. 6 to 7 months
  • currently the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance probe is travelling at 104 000 km/h
  • that's 1000 times faster than you driving on the highway
When we communicate with landers and rovers, there can be significant delays.


Diameter, true, physical: 6800 km.

Apparent diameter: +0° 00' 22.4"
That's just 1.8" smaller than in 2018.

For comparison, the Moon is 0.5°, 30', or 1800". No, Mars is not as big as the Moon.

Mars Earth Moon
mass x 10^24 kg 64.2 (1/10th) 598 7.4 (1/100th)
diameter km 6800 (half) 12800 3500 (1/4)
rotation period 24.6h i.e. 24h 40m 23.9h 27.3d

Some fun facts emerge here.

The Martian day is longer. This makes for interesting shifts for humans, back on Earth, when monitor probes, landers, and rovers. And when humans work on the surface of Mars, again, it will make for interesting times.

Also note the Moon rotation period or Moon "day" is 27.3 Terran days. Some believe the Moon does not rotate. Yes, it does.


  • Mars gravity is stronger than Moon 
  • but it's just 0.376 of the Earth standard
  • person who weighs 80 kg on Earth would weigh only 32 kg on Mars


  • Azimuth: +132° i.e. south-east
  • Elevation or Altitude: +41°
  • 30° higher in the sky than it was two years ago
  • rise time 7:00 PM
  • set time 7:30 AM
  • in Pisces
  • moving eastward (or to the right) which is called retrograde


  • our air affects the view
  • Airmass: 1.5
  • 50% more atmosphere than looking straight up
  • 150 km of air
  • Mean extincted magnitude: -2.1
  • we're losing a 1/2 mag to the air
  • the low elevation dims Mars and reddens it and it's already red!


  • Magnitude: -2.6
  • Jupiter right now -2.1
  • Apparent RA: 01h 24m 48.1s
  • Apparent Dec: +05° 33' 11"
  • again, 22" in size


It's a bit hostile.

avg temp °C-5513-30
nitrogen %3780

dust storms are fairly common

It's windy:

  • highest wind speed recorded 144 km/h
  • same as a category 1 hurricane on Earth
  • "Very dangerous winds will produce some damage"
  • that's above the Beaufort wind scale maximum rating

higher levels of radiation at the surface

water is present in vapour, ice, and snow

sunsets are blue


  • near opposition (Oct 13)
  • near closest approach (Oct 6)
  • next opposition 2+ years from now, 26-27 months... early Dec 2022
  • next closest opposition 2035


  • 1 year from now
  • 11 Oct 2021
  • Mars will be on the other side of the Sun
  • about as far away as it can get...

one Martian year is 687 days


  • Orbital Velocity: 26 km/s
  • apparent hourly motion: 52"


moons, two, small

  • Phobos
  • Deimos

Illuminated: 99.9%

Albedo: 0.150

found raw Mars data

Found the Mars Viking Colorized Global Mosaic 232m v2 web page.

It is a global image map of Mars with a resolution of 256 pixels per degree (with a scale of approximately 232 meters per pixel at the equator).

This is from the Astrogeology Science Center of the United States Geological Survey. Part of the AstroPedia, a lunar and planetary cartographic catalogue.

I think the USGS offers data products in a raw form. Then others can manipulate this data as they see fit.

This is the horse's mouth.

Discussions with Chris suggest that Starry Night allows the user to control the data source for Mars rendering. He specifically chose the Viking data.

Wish I could do this in my software apps...

I'll put a pin in this one...

found Gardner's Mars page

Old but good.

I found Bob Gardner's Mars page, from 2001, in my internet web travels. He shared graphics from Sky & Telescope magazine.

I really like the magnitude-diameter chart.

And, even though cylindrical, I like the details in the albedo features map with the 8 globe positions.

Continued my search for an interactive globe-style presentation.