Wednesday, May 23, 2018

on deck

I am speaking tonight at the Ontario Science Centre at the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada - Toronto Centre meeting. During this Recreational Astronomy Night gathering, I will be one of a handful of presenters. I will be talking about observing (or imaging) session preparation using the SkyTools software. This will also give me an opportunity to relay to members the (relatively) new benefit or perk, the very good discount pricing for RASC members. If you can't attend in person, be sure to jump into the live stream on our YouTube channel.

Monday, May 21, 2018

dark over greens (Sharon)

Wow. Clear out. Stars were bright over the dark golf course.

Took in the constellations and asterisms. Big Dipper and Boötes up high.  Hercules rising. Lyra climbing out of the dark trees.

Pointed out bright Jupiter to Tyler and Rhonda, before we departed.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

made a plan file

Fired up Microsoft Project to help me figure out my team's tasks for impending CAO work party. We have a lot on our docket.

noted Stellarium 0.18.0 shortcuts

Performed some quick testing in Stellarium 0.18.x. A general heads-up: a handful of existing keyboard shortcuts were changed.

[ed: Revised 20 May for a couple of omissions.]

This is an update of my keyboard and mouse shortcuts listing. This reference is for Windows and Macintosh computers (although not all shortcuts have been tested on a Mac).

controlling the surroundings

show Location window
Fn F6
toggle cardinal compass points qq
toggle ground and buildings
toggle ground fog
toggle atmosphere or air
toggle sky glow/building lights
Shift g
Shift g
toggle ground (e.g. mountain) labels
Ctrl Shift g
⌘ Shift g
return to "home" (start-up) view
Ctrl h

controlling the sky - deep sky

toggle stars
toggle star labels
Alt s
Option s
toggle constellation lines
toggle constellation boundaries
toggle constellation labels
toggle constellation artwork
remove previous constellations ¡ *
toggle asterism lines *
Alt a
Option a
toggle asterism labels *
Alt v
Option v
toggle ray helpers *
Alt r
Option r
toggle DSO/nebula labels/indicatorsn or d
n or d
toggle nebula background images
toggle quasars
Ctrl Alt q
⌘ Option q
toggle zodiacal light *
Ctrl Shift z
⌘ Shift z
toggle Milky Way
toggle digital sky survey ‡
Ctrl Alt d
⌘ Option d
toggle exoplanet labels, indicators
Ctrl Alt e
⌘ Option e
show Sky and Viewing Options
Fn F4

controlling the sky - solar system

toggle planets and Moon
toggle planet and Moon labels
Alt p
Option p
toggle planet markers
Ctrl p
⌘ p
toggle planet orbits
toggle starlore planet names
Ctrl Shift n
⌘ Shift n
toggle planet trails
Shift t
Shift t
toggle surface nomenclature labels *
Alt n
Option n
toggle meteor radiants *
Ctrl Shift m
⌘ Shift m
toggle meteor radiant labels
Shift m
Shift m

controlling lines

toggle altitude/azimuth grid
toggle equatorial grid
toggle ecliptic line
, (comma)
toggle celestial equator
. (period)
toggle meridian line
toggle horizon line

changing image presentation

flip horizontally
Ctrl Shift h
⌘ Shift h
flip vertically
Ctrl Shift v
⌘ Shift v
toggle equatorial/azimuthal mode
Ctrl m
⌘ m
look in direction, east (or n, w, s)
Shift e
Shift e
look up to zenith
Shift z
Shift z
look to NCP
Alt Shift n
Option Shift n
look to SCP
Alt Shift s
Option Shift s


zoom in
PgUp or
Ctrl Up Arrow

Fn Up Arrow
zoom out
PgDn or
Ctrl Dn Arrow

Fn Down Arrow
zoom in or out slowly
Shift with keys
quickly zoom in/out
mouse wheel
mouse wheel
zoom close to selected object
/ (slash)
zoom out fully
\ (backslash)
zoom very close to planet
/ twice
/ twice
set field of view (FOV) to 180°
Ctrl Alt 1
⌘ Option 1
set FOV to 90°
Ctrl Alt 2
⌘ Option 2
... through ...
set FOV to 2°
Ctrl Alt 8
⌘ Option 8
set to 1°
Ctrl Alt 9
⌘ Option 9
to ½°
Ctrl Alt 0
⌘ Option 0


quickly pan celestial sphere
pan right
Right Arrow
Right Arrow
pan left
Left Arrow
Left Arrow
pan up
Up Arrow
Up Arrow
pan down
Down Arrow
Down Arrow
pan a small amount
Shift Arrow-key 
Shift Arrow-key

controlling time flow

set date/time to now
set time rate to zero
increase time flow
l (lower case L)
decrease time flow
run time at normal rate
increase time flow a little
Shift l (that's L)
Shift l
decrease time flow a little
Shift j
Shift j
drag for time
Ctrl drag

controlling time with mouse wheel

increase/decrease by minutes
increase/decrease by hours
Ctrl Shift
increase/decrease by days
Ctrl Alt
increase/decrease by years
Ctrl Alt Shift

controlling "regular" time

show date/time window
Fn F5
forward 1 hour solar
Ctrl = (equal)
⌘ =
backward 1 hour
Ctrl - (hyphen)
⌘ -
forward 1 day solar
= (equal)
backward 1 day
- (hyphen)
forward 1 week solar
backward 1 week

controlling sidereal time

forward 1 day sidereal
Alt = (equal)
Option =
backward 1 day
Alt - (hyphen)
Option -
forward 1 year sidereal
Ctrl Alt Shift ]
⌘ Option Shift ]
backward 1 year
Ctrl Alt Shift [
⌘ Option Shift [

working with objects

select an object
centre on selected object
toggle tracking of object
deselect object
display search dialog box
Ctrl f or F3
⌘ f or Fn F3
go, i.e. travel, to a planet
Ctrl g
⌘ g
toggle angular measurement †
Ctrl a
⌘ a
copy object info to clipboard
Ctrl c
⌘ c
add custom marker
Shift click
remove custom marker
Shift right-click
remove all custom markers *
Alt Shift right-click

working with satellites †

configure artificial satellites
Alt z
Option z
toggle satellite display or "hints"
Ctrl z
⌘ z
toggle satellite labels *
Alt Shift z
Alt Shift z

controlling the screen

toggle night (red light) mode
Ctrl n
⌘ n
toggle full-screen mode
toggle toolbars/menus, i.e. GUI
Ctrl t
⌘ t
save screenshot to disk
Ctrl s
⌘ s
toggle planet selection marker
Ctrl Shift p
close a window/dialog box

controlling the application

show configuration window
Fn F2
show help/about window
Fn F1
show script console window
show keyboard shortcuts window
Fn F7
show Astronomical Calc. window
Fn F10
show Bookmarks window
Alt b
Option b
show Exoplanets config window †
Alt e
Option e
show meteor settings window † *
Ctrl Alt Shift m
⌘ Option Shift m
show meteor search window † *
Ctrl Alt m
⌘ Option m
quit from Stellarium
Ctrl q
⌘ q

* Recently added or changed shortcuts are marked with an asterisk.

† Keyboard shortcuts noted with a dagger are associated with a plug-in. They may not function if the plug-in is not active.

‡ The digital sky survey layering feature refers to the display as a "hierarchical progressive" sky survey.

¡ The "remove" constellation keyboard shortcut applies when "single constellation mode" is active.

Some shortcuts were omitted. Notably those for the oculars plug-in. And those to do with scripting.

Please report errors in the comments below...

more Fireworks (Halifax)

It's been weeks since I photographed the Fireworks galaxy aka NGC 6946 which was the site of the SN 2017 eaw supernova. Last image is from 1 Apr. Asked BGO to have another look...

Firework spiral galaxy sans supernova

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

There's a dim point there burning around magnitude 19.

Friday, May 18, 2018

suffered from RBI

With help from Dave, we determined that my NGC 4388 imagery suffers from RBI. Or Residual Bulk Image. A visual "memory" issue. He shared a link to an article.

This is still fascinating to me as it is not unlike biological processes. It is not unlike the flashbulb effect. You know, when you have a portrait or picture taken and the flash goes off and you see weird coloured dots for a while. Your retina needs some time to recover from the intense bright point source of light. So to a CCD chip will be affected by a previous image with bright objects.

Dave looked at the image shot immediately prior to mine. The user was aimed at BGO-294-MKN421 (aka quasar MKN 421) for 150 seconds. In the field were two bright stars (actually triple star 51 UMa with A at mag 6.0 and C to the east at mag 7.4). Together, over the long exposure, they "blew out" the sensor.

Uh huh.

So, I can stand down. No new fragmented comet discovery...

stumbled with Astrometrica

Downloaded shareware Astrometrica upon Eric's recommendation. Help pages didn't load so I had to wing it. Encountered a number of bugs and poorly designed dialog boxes and old instruction guides. And then I found the amazing video by David Rankin. The BGO setup instructions from Mr Lane were also very helpful. Finally got it plate solving.

ordered shirts

Finished the prep for the volunteer t-shirt order for RASC Toronto Centre. We need identifying clothing for our helpers at the May 31 media event and the big June 9 grand opening of the David Dunlap Observatory. Worked with Tony and Jon sorting the logo issues. Worked with the RASC DDO committee, with lots of support from Bhairavi, Chris, Eric, and Arnold to pick the promo wear, colours, sizes, etc. Liaised with the promotion company. It's in the hopper.

found fast movers

I was diving deeper into the recent image of NGC 4388 as the frame size was bigger and I had thus entrapped a few more faint fuzzies.

I noted the pair of fuzzy blobs a bit north-east of the big spiral and after some primarily checks started to wonder what was going on. Then I "blinked" the four sets of images I had received from BGO, comparing the luminance, red, green, and blue data. This is when I found the pair of blobs to be moving!

animated presentation of region around NGC 4388

Animated GIF produced Photoshop CS2.

I estimate the lint balls are moving approximate 0.74 arc-seconds per minute of time. Moving roughly north at a position angle of 11°.

Doing more digging...


An artefact: the CCD is experiencing RBI.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Binary Universe: apps for Mars watchin'

RASC members were notified of the publication of the June edition of the Journal.

cover of the June 2018 RASC Journal
The message from the editor, Nicole, is intriguing. She reminds us just how much has changed in a relatively short time. We're both children of the space race. Amazing. What will we see in the next 50 years?! The mind boggles.

I look forward to reading about the planned sesquicentennial celebrations. There's an article called Introduction to Photometry. Cool. Many items touch on Mars for 2018. As does my column.

My Binary Universe topic this month is Mars tools. I refer to the web based Mars Profiler from Sky & Telescope. The Apple app I recommend is Mars Atlas. I tested 2.6.0 on an iPad. I couldn't find an excellent app for Android but Physical Mars version 1.12 is not bad.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

assembled 32 Cyg

Using the LRGB data gathered on 3 Oct '17 from BGO, I produced a full colour image of the double star 32 Cygni or S 743.

32 Cygni in colour

FITS Liberator 3, Photoshop CS2.

32 Cyg A is gold-orange. B is robin's egg blue.

ES 799 AB is grey or beige. CD is pale light blue.

about half-way

Learned that TESS is in the middle of its 60 day commissioning plan. It should be able to start its science mission around June 18.

fixed landscape

Tried to fix Stellarium. My custom landscape texture for the backyard was not showing the right time. Or rather, the sky was too dark for the current time. I realised it was the longitude. I had entered +79 in the LANDSCAPE.INI file; I changed it to negative.

Took me a little bit to find the file. Canned and custom landscapes are stored, for Windows, along the path C:\Program Files\Stellarium\landscapes\ and then I had to figure out how to save the file, given administrative restrictions.

Looks like it is OK now...

Then I set this to the default. But the elevation doesn't load in. Weird.

Monday, May 14, 2018

imaged M60 (Halifax)

Of the Burke-Gaffney Observatory I requested the target Messier 60. This is a Virgo galaxy that I viewed once and somewhat quickly, on 4 Jul '10. I wanted to have another look. Whoa.

galaxy Messier 60 in luminance

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

Very nice. I forgot that M60 aka NGC 4649 proper had a companion, NGC 4647. The primary galaxy is a nearly round large elliptical with a smooth progressive halo. The nearby large galaxy to the north-west is a spiral, nearly face-on, with mottled arms. The centre looks slightly askew. The far arm is dragging behind. Is it being tugged on my M60?

Due north of Messier 60 proper is a tiny oval, oriented east-west. That is LEDA 1397198.

Barely visible to the north-west, far away, there is a very faint smudge. Just north of star J124301.1+114028. Galaxy PGC 42758.

South-west of Arp 116, far away again, cut off in the image, is half of the oval NGC 4637.

LEDA 1394064 is south-south-east of M60, also oriented east-west.


Wikipedia: Messier 60.

back to NGC 4517 (Halifax)

I sent BGO back to NGC 4517. First imaged on 12 Apr '18 but the run then was incomplete.

galaxy NGC 4517 in luminance

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

A slightly better result. And I received all the colour data.

added Melotte numbers

Added more cross-referencing and identifiers primarily drawing from Stellarium. Of late I have noticed Stellarium using interesting, sometimes flamboyant, descriptions for deep sky objects, such as the Golden-Eye Cluster for Messier 67. I also spotted Melotte designations for globular clusters in the free app. These Mel tags do not show in SkyTools.

returned to NGC 4388 (Halifax)

I asked BGO to shot NGC 4388 again. I reframed the image by centring on GSC 00880-0689. First viewed on 3 Jan '18.

galaxy NGC 4388 in luminance

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

This is much better.

Also, some additional neighbouring galaxies are included given the different framing.


This image covers a larger field than the previous. I "found" more faint fuzzies in the new margins.

To the extreme north-west is the huge glow from Messier 84.

South of M84 is the tiny blotch of LEDA 169241.

To the extreme south of 4388 is soft nearly round galaxy LEDA 169263.

Far away to the south-east is the small, round, and very faint PGC 40672.

The lovely barred spiral galaxy NGC 4413 graces the photo east-south-east of 4438.

PGC 40707 is a bright round ball due north of 4413.

PGC 40641 is a medium-sized but diffuse oval with a tiny but bright core.

One other obvious galaxy is north-north-east of the centre piece but it is not noted in SkyTools. I identified it with Aladin and the NED catalogue: SDSS J122554.50+124349.2. Beside the star J122553.2+124320.


I have found some fast moving fuzzy blobs in these images...

can tag it!

Dang. I hadn't considered this before but NGC 6520, the open cluster in Sagittarius and the final Finest NGC I've yet to see, is visible from the backyard! Verified with Stellarium using the custom landscape.

screen snap from Stellarium with NGC 6520

Dang! I just assumed it would be too low... Now I need clear skies again!

All of this assumes my software simulated backyard is correct...

retrieved H-alpha and O-III (Halifax)

I first imaged the Little Ghost planetary nebula with BGO on 10 Apr '18 but at the time I forgot to get narrowband filter data. Reshot with the SBIG camera so to use the hydrogen and oxygen filters.

planetary nebula NGC 6369 in luminance

Luminance. 30 seconds subexposures, 5 stacked shots.

planetary nebula NGC 6369 in hydrogen alpha

Hα. 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots.

planetary nebula NGC 6369 in ionised oxygen

O-III. 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots.

All processed with FITS Liberator and GIMP. North is up; east is left.

That thing is bright! And you can clearly see the outer wisps...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

imaged M88 (Halifax)

Messier 88 is another deep sky object that I viewed only once and somewhat briefly. So I wanted to have another look. Asked the Burke-Gaffney Observatory to image the galaxy in Coma Berenices.

galaxy Messier 88 in luminance

Luminance only, 8 seconds subexposures, 20 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left. I was a little worried I underexposed this subject.

First viewed just over 5 years ago on 3 May '13. A lovely canted tightly-wound spiral with a bright core and grand arms. The middle portion of the disc seems markedly brighter than the outer limits.

That void to the east is weird. Zero stars.


Wikipedia link: Messier 88.

re-examined The Eyes (Halifax)

I asked BGO to return to The Eyes, galaxies NGC 4438 and 4435. I first imaged this pair on 3 Jan '18. The luminance data had a pretty significant gradient.

galaxies NGC 4388 and 4435 in luminance

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


imaged M80 (Halifax)

The Burke-Gaffney Observatory imaged Messier 80. I logged viewing this globular cluster in Scorpius back in August 2008. A Messier that I have only viewed once...

globular cluster Messier 80 in luminance

Luminance only, 8 seconds subexposures, 20 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left. Shot three times the duration for the RGB.

The intense centre is round giving a strong feeling of a sphere. But there are bright outlier stars going off in particular directions. A couple of arcs and swoops with some strands or strings of stars. Pretty.


Wikipedia link: Messier 80.

personal BGO

Whoa. A fourth image run. It felt like my own personal telescope... The students must be done.

imaged Palomar 15 (Halifax)

The BGO robot captured Palomar 15 by centring on nearby galaxy PGC 59400. A faint globular cluster in the constellation Ophiuchus.

area around Palomar 15 in luminance

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

I don't see anything...

Also, there's a big gradient.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

SETI may get an injection

Saw a note by chas on Facebook about NASA funding SETI, with an image of the large Arecibo array. After some quick digging I found an article at The Atlantic. The House of Representatives is recommending the USA space agency spend $10 million a year on the "search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions," for the next two fiscal years. That should make Ms Tarter very happy.

replayed the Hockey Stick (Halifax)

I first shot the peculiar galaxy NGC 4656, the Hockey Stick, on 9 May '16. I returned to it in hopes of getting frames with less gradient. While watching the Western Conference final game 1...

galaxy NGC 4656 in luminance

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

Slightly better result, I think.

revisited NGC 4274 (Halifax)

I wanted to image galaxy NGC 4274 again to receive better quality data. There was noticeable banding in my first attempt. First imaged on 17 Dec '17.

galaxy NGC 4274 in luminance

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

Looks better, flatter.

sorted Jupiter issues

Chris shared a link to some Jupiter opposition imagery by Nikita Misiura. It included a short video showing the gas giant turning with a moon transiting. Nicely done.

Reminiscing of our backyard observing at very low power, I showed Rhonda. She enjoyed it. Then she said she liked the shadow as well. Huh? I argued she was mistaken, that it was the outline of the moon. But she was right. On closer examination, I could see a very faint shadow falling on the cloud tops offset from the moon, right where rho said it was, at the 5 o'clock position. I don't call her Hawkeye for nothing.

I offered to simulate it in software. First, I checked the AstroBin link in search of details. I immediately encountered my first issue. The AstorBin page did not render correctly at all, no graphics. I gave up reloading after several attempts and just noted the key fields.
  • Date: May 8, 2018
  • Time: 05:22
  • Locations: Houston, TX
I suspected the time was local and not UT. I recreated the instance in SkyTools 3 Professional and didn't see anything. After some fiddling, I got a moon transiting, along with it's shadow, around 5:22 AM CST, May 9. But it wasn't Io.

simulated view of Jupiter and Europa

Pinged Chris and reported my findings. He concurred.

Friday, May 11, 2018

reshot the Cocoon (Halifax)

BGO shot NGC 4490, the Cocoon, again. Was hoping to improve on the first attempt on 17 Dec '17.

the Cocoon galaxy and partner in luminance

FITS Liberator 3, GIMP 2. Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. North is up; east is left.

A good result.

Huh. The field of view is different...

remotely helped

Helped the arriving supervisor at the Carr Astronomical Observatory with the readying of the Stargrazer ride-on mower. Remotely, provided some tips on charging the battery. We need to operate it in advance of the work party. Hopefully, the old beast will start up OK.

19 Lyn in colour

Assembled the LRGB files for 19 Lyncis. The data was collected by BGO back on 14 Nov '16.

19 Lyn in colour

FITS Liberator 3, Photoshop CS2.

A, B, and D look blue-white to me. C is maybe dull orange?