Friday, December 29, 2006

catching up with Al

Viking Al dropped by my sister and brother's tonight. He's a multi-faceted guy.

Picked his brain about the Newtonian telescope he gave to Mom. He bought it at a local auction (in St. Thomas) on a whim about 10 years ago (so, 1996?). He got it with the original Edmund eyepiece. It was later that he mail-ordered the Meade OR eyepieces.

He intimated that he never really used it; his brother commandeered it for a number of years.

I discussed the fixes I've applied to his old 'scope: the successful collimation, the motor drive refurbish, making the dolly to ease transport, adding the shower cap covers, adding the Telrad finder, and the (recently) completed Telrad heater.

Told him about all my future projects: the finder scope heater, the binos heater, the dew heater controller box, the heaters for the newt secondary, newt eyepiece, and camera lenses, the fan over the newt's primary mirror, the lubrication of the mounts and clock drive.

Al also suggested that he had a dob (with a dirty mirror). That'd be wild if he did and he brought it over to Mom's during my next star party...

Gotta send him some of the links I found on cleaning mirrors.

suddenly clear (Union)

Flicked off the TV, heading for bed. I remembered that I had not yet locked the garage. Without turning the light on in the laundry room, I felt around for the keys. I also manually turned off the side security light. And then I stepped out.

Into a star-sprinkled sky. Damn. Wouldn't you know it. The clouds had broken and it was quite clear. Not perfect, mind you. There was a lot of twinkle from stars high up. And the moon was fogging the western sky. Luna was not due to set until another 2 hours and I was not prepared to stay up that late. In part because I needed to get up early the next day—lots planned.

Still, I spent a moment. Orion was past the south meridian, high up. Lambda though was washed out from the moon. Very strong impression of the hunter with his bow.

The Pleiades could be made out in the glow but Taurus was almost invisible.

Canis Major was completely visible, high above the trees to the south, although Sirius, blue-white, was winking like it was just off the horizon.

I can pick out the constellation Gemini now. Castor and Pollux almost straight overhead. I don't know my constellations further east of Gemini though.

Saturn was not very bright and was still behind the neighbour's big tree.

Thought I saw a meteor out of the corner of my eye, almost straight up, short and quick, maybe heading east to west, from Leo? Or it could have been a reflection in my eyeglasses...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Telrad heater done

Tonight I finished a custom Telrad heater.

I had brought down to Mom's the two large 2 watt 220 ohm resistors from Toronto. I used their heavy, thick lead wires to form a box frame that fit inside the Telrad uprights above the lens which support the glass plate. It was a perfect fit. There is a little bit of friction so the heater will stay in place but is easily removed, for use elsewhere, and for stowage.

I connected the two resistors in parallel so to yield 110 ohms. This is in turn connected by professional grade 4-wire microphone cable. I used 2 wires for each side of the circuit, for redundancy, and to reduce resistance from the cable itself. I borrowed my sister's heat gun to work the shrink tubing but I over did it on the high setting! Oops.

Finally, I connected an RCA male plug at the end. I had bought a pack of RCA plugs from The Source. Cheapo ones, not gold-plated, since—it occurred to me—this was not a high-end audiophile application. And also because I could not find nickel-plated ones (like Kendrick uses) or ones with openings large enough to fit the thick microphone cable. The plugs have coloured covers: white, yellow, blue, and red; two of each. Maybe I can use the colouring deliberately. I decided on white for the Telrad plug.

The assembly proper I completed a couple of days ago after some mock-up testing. It worked well.

Early today I bought some self-adhesive cable hooks from Canadian Tire (not shown). They work perfectly, fitting around the cable casing well. I only wish they were black. The hooks are designed well so to prevent the cable from slipping out. I used two of them to offer good strain relief as the cord loops from the side of the Telrad up into the lens/plate area.

Tonight, I did a field test. I put the Telrad outside at 8:00pm for about 45 minutes. Temperature was around 1 or 2°C, right around the dew point. The light breeze dropped the temp another degree or so. When I returned, it was dewed up. The glass and the lens were coated with a thin layer of water. I plugged my heater into the Kendrick controller which I turned up to its maximum setting. Within 30 seconds, I could see the dew clearing from the bottom edge of the glass. I dropped the controller setting to Medium and left it for a couple of minutes. On examination, the glass plate and lens were completely clear. Wahoo!

So, I completed my first custom dew-fighting heater. I'm quite pleased with the result.

Mom is happy too, oddly. Funny, she's never hauled out the telescope on her own.


Checked the fuse in my first generation Kendrick dew heater controller: 5 amp.

I understand I can bump this to 7 amp.


Replaced the casters on Mom's telescope dolley. The old casters were too small. There "new" ones are almost twice the size and work a lot better, a lot smoother.

Monday, December 25, 2006

gift books

My sister gave me 2 astronomy-related hard cover books for Christmas.

The first looks very interesting. Moonshadow by Terry Manners from Chameleon publishing is about eclipses and one total solar eclipse in particular. Lots of photos and it sounds like a lively story. This is rather intriguing as I have casually kicked around the idea of chasing a future eclipse... Maybe, in a few years, if there's one nearby.

Hmmm. I should check if any are coming to Australia! Never thought of that before. I could try timing such a special event with my future trip plans to Oz.

The second tome is The Nature Companions Practical Skywatching by consultant editors David H. Levy and Dr. John O'Byrne. Much of the book is basic material which I wonder if is review for me. A latter section of the book is rather interesting, a star-hopping guide of some 20 notable parts of the sky. Very nicely organized. I heard the charts are by Tirion.

All that said, I had my heart set on something a bit more "meaty." I asked my sister about an exchange when all of a sudden my Mom piped up: "I'll buy the book from you!" She explained that she doesn't have a book on the basics. This might prove the best of both worlds...


Moonshadow is a poor book, I'm sad to say. I started to get very irked about 1/3 of the way in. The author rambles on and on. It seemed like he was just trying to pad and fill the book with content. There are whole sections that have nothing to do with eclipses. The historical treatments trivialise some important issues and discoveries. I almost stopped reading it. And then, suddenly, it was over. I expected something along the lines of a diary or journal by the author, with colourful anecdotes of a long trip to see an eclipse.

Some of the photographs are wonderful. Others are inappropriate.

In summary, I would not recommend this book.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

chilly viewing (Union)

Session ending 9:03pm using my cat and my new Pocket Sky Atlas (PSA).
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
Started off with the Plössl (77x) viewing Messier 31 (M31). It was bright, easy to see with the naked eye, almost directly overhead, could see some structure, viewed with Steve.

I tried for Messier 33 (M33) but had difficulty finding it in the finder scope. I could see it in binos, hopping from Andromeda to ν (nu), to μ (mu), to β (beta) then sweeping to α (alpha) Triangulum, could see a faint smudge between, but it was straight overhead, which is always a challenge with the cat finder scope (which is straight-thru).

The telescope was dewing up so I got the heaters and battery.

Through the finder scope, Steve and I looked at Hyades cluster in Taurus, confirmed Aldebaran (alpha), 80 and 81 and θ (theta) 1 and 2 and two other small stars forming an irregular hexagon, rho 1 and 2 above alpha, a loose triangle below of δ (delta) 1/2/3, and γ (gamma) off to the left. All were pleasing pale yellow in colour, Aldebaran glowing brightly.

[ed: Hyades: aka Cr 50 or Mel 25 or OCL 456. aka Caldwell 41.]

I wanted to try some double or multiple stars. We viewed the cluster of stars above Orion, φ (phi) 1 and 2 and λ (lambda) a.k.a. Meissa but it was not very exciting.

When Donna came out, I was hunting for more interesting doubles. I happened to be looking below Auriga, at a large, bright asterism, which, when I checked the charts, proved to be Gemini (Donna's sign) although she seemed non-plused. PSA showed that Castor (alpha) was a double so I went for it. At first I thought it was not a double but I then saw (at 77x), it was a very close pure white pairing! Donna was able to split them as I dashed into the house for the OR18mm eyepiece (111x). Very nice!

Damp out! And as the temperature dropped, it started getting slippery. Frost was coating the wood of the deck and it was surprisingly slick.

Everyone was getting chilled so we headed inside. Saturn was to rise at 10:30 so we had a way to go yet.

Steve started to fall asleep so they packed up and headed home. Mom started to wind down. And I suddenly didn't feel like battling the cold weather. I lugged the intact 'scope inside (after trying a quick peek at Orion's Sword).

Funny how social astronomy is for me. With Steve leaving, I really didn't feel like doing anything. I was simply not up mentally for doing solo viewing tonight.

This better not turn out to be the only clear night!

aligned polar scope

Spent an hour fine-tuning the polar axis finder scope in the Vixen/Celestron Super Polaris mount. I focused the "outer" tube to suit my vision, ensured the eyepiece focus ring was working smoothly, and spent a long time centring the polar scope reticule. It is now centred within 2 to 3 arc-seconds.


Clouds broke up over the afternoon. Maybe we'll get a chance to stargaze tonight...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

replaced clutch bolts

I was running out of luck.

The three screws with thumb grips to tighten the clutch on the clock drive of Mom's Edmund telescope were bent. Looks like the heavy tripod fell over at some point and the screws took the brunt of it.

I had substituted some hex-head bolts from my bicycle repair kit. Proper thread and a similar length. But, obviously, to get any torque into them, we needed to have a socket wrench or spanner nearby...

In the summer, I had tracked down the Brafasco in London. Turned out they had recently moved near the Wellington exit. Now, even closer to Mom. Still, when I showed up, and after they hummed and hahhed, they announced they had no equivalent. At least, nothing in stock. They could special order it but that was expensive / silly for three pieces. Dejected, I departed, vowing to visit the outlet in Toronto, or rather, in Etobicoke, north of the Queensway, believing that the GTA shops would have greater selection.

So, before heading to Mom's for the holidays, I tracked down the Etobicoke location. They too had recently moved, now below the Queensway, on one of my favourite little roads in the city, twisting, turning, blind apex... But that's another story...

The tall guy at the counter hummed and hahhed, shaking his head, filling me with dread.

But then, he said, "Wait a second...", as he dived into some boxes at the back.

He returned with three black bolts of a good length. But they had hex Allan key heads. Well, that was a little better than what I had now. I could just get an extra Allan wrench and keep it near (or hang it from) the pier. But then the good man produced black plastic round knobs, each about 12mm in diameter. These, he explained, could be press-fit onto the heads of the bolts. Now this was sounding very good!

I pulled out my wallet. And he said, "Don't worry about it." Sweet.

Thank you, Etobicoke Brafasco!

At my Mom's, I opened up the bench-mounted vice and slowly pressed the bolt into plastic knob. It was perfect.

They work very well in the clock drive clutch. There's good clearance. And you can get sufficient torque (but not too much) on the serrated edge of the knob so that the clutch is fully engaged.

Funny, the little things. 30 or 60¢ worth of parts, $10 in gas, lots of brain power, worrying. Anyway, it's all fixed now.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Joined Lex and Ger again for the Toronto Festival of Lights down in Kensington Market. It was a little weird celebrating the Winter Solstice with no snow but we still had fun. I love the drumming! Malcolm attended too—he was the "staff" photographer! Lex and Ger headed home early unfortunately; but Malcolm and I continued to the planned Chinese House of Gourmet restaurant for a tasty meal.

I was not successful in completing my planning for building lanterns for the Festival. I got off to a good start but got a bit quagmired in design complications and then got surprisingly busy in November and December, both on week days and the week ends, so my planned trip(s) to the Japanese Paper Store never happened.

I vowed that for the 2007 Festival of Lights, I will be prepared. In fact, I've circled my June calendar: on or around the Summer Solstice I will plan a lantern-making party! BYOL!

Monday, December 18, 2006


Received Pocket Sky Atlas today in the mail. It is by Roger Sinnott, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.

It comes highly recommended. Some users swear by it, say it is their most frequently-used atlas, citing dog-eared corners, and voluminous margin notes. Shows stars down to visual magnitude 7.6.

It is much more compact, obviously, than my Tirion SkyAtlas, about a 1/4 of the area. I think that is why some say they use it so much: it is very portable.

This purchase was made online at Chapters Indigo and I used my "member" card. I got it for a smoking good deal, CDN$16.24, before taxes.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

big resistors

Got out of work early today and headed to Active Surplus (on Queen St West in Toronto).

Bought two 220 ohm 2 watt resistors. I will run these in parallel for heating the Telrad.

Also grabbed some terminal connectors, small blade style, male and female, which I will crimp to the nichrome wire segments, as I assemble the dew heater for my binoculars.

Picked up a pre-cut length of professional two-wire microphone cable. It has a nice rubber outer jacket. I will use these as the cabling from the dew heater proper to RCA jack.

I didn't pick up any RCA jacks while there—a bit pressed for time. Was thinking I should get gold-plated ones. I could get those from The Source (while I'm exchanging the depleted batteries from the portable weather station).

Bought two rectangular mouse pads with dense padding. I am making the assumption that this is sorbothane. I will use these to make circular plates, combined with some old hockey pucks, for anti-vibration pads for my cat 'scope.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


NASA successfully launched the Discovery shuttle last night. Malcolm and I watched the launch together online. A beautiful sight.

This mission is to further improve Space Station, reconfiguring the power lines, so to effectively use the new arrays, which were installed in the last shuttle mission.

It's good to see the Swedish flag flying with this launch. Christer Fuglesang represents the European Space Agency.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Was looking forward to NASA's first night launch (first in a long time, that is). But weather violated their launch requirements and they scrubbed. Saturday is the next target...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

reorganised lists and links

When I decided to add a bright stars list and separate pages with photo galleries of Mom's and my telescopes to the off-site list area, I realised it was time to break up that single page into many. This will make it easier and quicker to use.

I finished the restructuring a few hours ago. Then I added a bunch of uncatalogued images to the telescope pages.

Friday, December 01, 2006

no moon over holidays

I just double-checked. There will be no (or little) moon light during holidays at the end of the month. Let's hope we have some break in the clouds...

gonna make solar filters

I learned from Jim Kendrick that he sells full sheets of Baader solar film. So that means I can make custom filters for our telescopes and my binoculars.

Prices in Canadian funny money.

250mm X 250mm $33
250mm X 500mm $54
330mm X 500mm $65
1000mm X 500mm $116

And I learned from Geoff Gaherty on the Talking Telescopes Yahoo! group that it is best if I make a full aperture filter as opposed to a small off-axis filter. One will see much more detail.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

email from ACC

It's not everyday you get an email from Sir Arthur C. Clarke!

I enjoyed many of his books since public school including 2001, Childhood's End, Rendezvous with Rama, A Fall of Moondust, Expedition to Earth, and The Nine Billion Names of God.

He gave an update on goings on at SETI, the good news, the increased support, the increasing capacity. He asked if we might contribute to the project financially.

And, finally, he urged us to tell all our friends, to run SETI at home. That will be important when we start analysing 7 times the amount of data!

Monday, November 27, 2006

nichrome everywhere!

Maybe I'm over-analysing this but I want to make sure that the nichrome wire I have, now from two old toasters, is not wasted. So I double- and triple-checked my calculations. Then I redid the calculations from a different "direction" to arrive at more satisfying and consistent results. And finally moved to building an early prototype for my binoculars. This test meant running it off the portable 12V battery through the Kendrick (first-generation) controller to 4 heating elements configured in series. And, happily, it works (I'll report on the design in detail later). The next step is to build the wrapping material which I'll be able to Velcro around the bino lenses and eyepieces. I'll try to do that at Mom's over the holidays...

While prototyping, I remembered seeing my digital thermometer in my bathroom. So I grabbed it and clamped it to the nichrome wire during testing. Somewhat inconclusive, being a digital device, and apparently very sensitive to movement. In fact, for a moment, I was wondering if the thermometer wasn't working properly. So I dug out the user manual (or should I say "user sheet") from my files.

Now, as I was doing that, I also stumbled across the small user manual for my old hair dryer. I ran back down to the bathroom thinking, I haven't seen that hair dryer for years! I wasn't even sure I still had it. But I dug into a bin and there it was, the "New Generation" BV-12 1250W hair dryer, at the back, coiled in its cord, filled with more than a few dust bunnies.

Ah ha! The next nichrome contributor. It will serve up its innards for The Cause. Particularly since there is no long hair on my head to dry anymore. ;-)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

lights out!

Very interesting...

Winds of change, perhaps?

At the RASC Toronto Centre meeting most recent, there was a brief announcement regarding a flyer that got distributed to residents in Markham regarding, essentially, light pollution. Prepared by a local politician (or candidate), it talked about issues, solutions, light design, security light systems, etc. Wow. We were all impressed. The site was referred to on the glossy brochure. This is great news for people on the north side of the GTA...

And today, I noticed an ad from the city itself in the subway car. It's aimed at business owners, particularly those in the downtown core, to remind them to turn their lights off. The main headline declares, Lights Kill Birds! See FLAP for more info.

I actually noticed this ad a little while ago. But now, given the Markham blitz, it makes me wonder if there's not a shift happening.

I've seen or known of these efforts in other cities. But I've been impressed to see inroads made in Toronto.

Maybe, maybe, we can reclaim our night skies...


I later learned the Richmond Hill is the only municipal Canadian government to have light pollution laws. Of course, that they surround the David Dunlap Observatory makes them more aware and sensitive to the issue.

a definitive answer

Joined the NewtonianReflector group on Yahoo and asked questions about the "mystery" eyepiece from Mom's Edmund Sci. telescope. In short order, I received a couple of informative replies.

From Chuck:
It's a Kellner. I've owned a couple of them. Doesn't have a field stop, so it's really kind of hard to tell what the AFOV is. Lot's of pincushion, so Edmund may have been calling it a Kellner, when it was really something else?
From Bobby:
It is an Edmund 1.25 -1"FL Kellner, it has uncoated cemented lens and anodized alloy body with no markings and no field stop. It has an ultrawide field of view (maybe 75 deg) but the FOV at the edges are unclear because of the lack of a field stop. It's one of the better vintage eyepieces of the mid-60's to mid-70's. Was the original EP with my 6"/f8 Edmund and 4.25"/f10 reflector.
I can finally put this item to bed.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

member night

Tonight I attended another Toronto Centre RASC meeting. This was much better for me, much more interesting. It was a "member night."

There were three presenters, all members presumably. The first person was actually the owner of Khan Scope Centre and he discussed and demonstrated the new Celestron Sky Scout. It was cool to see the actual unit and see—from a distance—how it worked (I also grabbed a brochure). I was able to ask if it calculated altitude (it did) and learned the price (retail CDN$460 or US$399). The second presenter talked about an important member of the RASC from 100 to 50 years back: Clarence Chant. And the final presentation was on a barn door mount that the member made and used for astrophotography. Wow! Impressive what he did with little money, an old Pentax film camera, 400 ASA slide film, and a 50mm lens. Beautiful photos. Inspiring!

There was also a brief mention of an upcoming CBC Venture show which will feature the SkyShed company. That show is coming in a couple of weeks. Venture airs on Wednesdays at 7:30pm EST.

There are still some things about these meetings that I think are odd or perplexing to me. There are some things that are... I dunno... missing? Lacking? I'm starting to realise that I expected more socialisation. Some happens, to be sure, before and after the meeting(s), assuming you know someone. But there appears to be nothing here, at these meetings, for the newcomer.

Regardless, I think I'll join. I'll try it for a year. With a membership, I can at least explore the member-only activities, which I think I'll enjoy even more.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

another toaster

My neighbours threw an old Proctor-Silex T2 automatic pop-up toaster in the recycling bin this morning. It was there when I returned home this evening so I snagged it. More nichrome wire for my DIY dew heater projects!


The long wire has a resistance of 43.8 ohms. It is 170 centimetres long (that's about 26 ohms / metre). One of the short wires comes in at 14.2 ohms; the other at 13.1. They are both 100 cm long (so around 13 to 14 ohms / metre). I noticed that the short wires are thicker or wider than the long ribbon, about 50% wider.

The higher resistance explains why these wires are shorter than the ones from the older toaster. That's 10 or so years of nichrome technology, I guess.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

sunspot through sunroof (Vaughan)

I was sitting in a friend's car, a Smart Fortwo no less, today (around 2:00pm EST) when I happened to look up through the glass sunroof (or is that a moon roof?). Perhaps it was the sun trying to break through the cloud layer that caught my eye.

Between the still thick clouds and the two layers (one more than the stock) of ceramic tinting on the sunroof, I was able to look directly at the sun. And I saw a huge sunspot!

I pointed it out to my friend Dave. He couldn't see it through the roof because of his angle but he caught it looking through the dark tint of the side windows.

That was a nice little surprise!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

did backup

Backed up the blog. Used WinHTTrack.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

practice your Greek

Need to practice your Greek alphabet? I've been quizzing myself for a year or so. I know the alphabet in sequence. I can correctly write all the lower case characters and variants. But I still want to get faster on my character recognition, particularly when I'm looking at star charts.

I recently found Theiling Online which can be used for various drills.

Ready? Go!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

model planning

While at Mom's I researched papier-mâché. Coloured tissue paper, wheat paste, jars, paint brush, clothespins, clothesline, floral wire...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

old toaster acquired

An old man in the neighbourhood had a yard sale today. Looks like he's moving out of his home after many years. I picked up a few items for cheap. And I got a special discount for moving the old washing machine out too!

In particular, I bought an old toaster, a vintage Proctor "colorminder." I'll take the heating element wires from it to build some of my own custom dew heaters. For my binos, SP-C8 finder scope, and Mom's telescope!


Extracted three strips of nichrome wire. Two pieces are approx. 51" in length with a total resistance of 9.4 ohms (that's 7 ohms / metre). The centre piece was longer at 95" with 29 ohms resistance (so 12 ohms / metre).

My first project will be to build a custom heater for my Celestron finder scope, to heat the objective and the eyepiece...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

joined 2 groups

Maybe the frustration of last night instigated this. But on digging around in the Yahoo!Groups, I found starrynights and talking telescopes. Well, well, finally a place where I can share, ask questions, learn...

There are lots of other groups too. Many are for specific 'scopes or mounts.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

right for me?

Went to the Toronto Centre RASC meeting at the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) this evening. Said hello to Tom on walking in. He talked briefly about what was to happen and gave me a nice glossy brochure. The flyer echoes things from the web site. But I’ll read it again to consider the benefits of membership.

I visited this event partly to hear SF author Robert Sawyer speak. Very interesting dude, quite funny. I even got to ask him a question. I enjoyed this part of the evening.

But the rest of the meeting I was lukewarm about. I don’t think I had any expectations per se. But I had this feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Was I expecting a formal new member welcome committee? Somebody in my face trying to get me to sign up? Was I expecting more astronomy info? More teaching? More coaching?

Maybe this was the wrong type of meeting to go to, at least in the sense of looking for hands-on info, tips, tricks. The “member nights” meetings are probably more educational. Maybe it is because tonight was not a social night per se. It was a lecture or a talk. We sat there. I sat there. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t talk about my situation, successes, or frustrations.

The “beginners” event, announced by Leslie Harvey, at the end of the month up at Carr sounded interesting… After meeting administration, I chatted with Harvey. She is “in charge” of helping the rookies and noobs getting started in the centre.

Harvey mentioned that I might pursue the general astronomy certificate called Explore the Universe (EU). You need to bag some constellations, some planets, bright stars, etc. Reminds me of my Cub Scout merit badges. You gotta earn your strips...

This was intimidating at first thought. But it also reminds me of my touch-typing dilemma. I never took typing in high school. So as I continued to use computers, while I was becoming a quick hunt-and-peck keyboard user, I still was being bottlenecked. I bought typing training software but I did not diligently use it. I realised I needed to take a real course with real tests to force myself to learn it… Perhaps to accelerate and focus my learning (of the basics) in astronomy, I need to throw myself into a similar situation, with tests and tangible targets.

It is curious that of late, I have formerly started doing a lot of these things: reading more books on the subject; trying to learn more constellations by sight; making checklists or life logs; trying to see all the planets in the solar system; getting better at navigating (by star hopping, for example); viewing double stars. So, perhaps this certificate would be relatively easy for me to obtain… There's a lot of lunar observing which I'm not terribly interested in but, hey, maybe that would be fun.

Where was I? The RASC meeting was interesting, mostly because of Sawyer, but I left feeling… empty? I don’t know how to describe it. I was sad. Feeling a little alone.

I think I’m looking, searching, for a new social group. I need something new in my life. I need to meet some new people. While there was a good turnout, most were older than me. It was 90% male. I’m sure these people are interesting and smart. But will I hang out and party with them? OK, that's a bit strange, but I think you get the idea.

I had also not considered the geek factor. I sensed something in Harvey that I can’t put my finger on. And as I was chatting with her, there was a couple of audience members hanging around. Definite nerds. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! ;-) But, it just surprised me, I guess, or reminded me, that this field is one that attracts a different kind of person…

Am I a nerd?

Anyway, I was not bowled over. I did not yank out my chequebook.

Is the RASC right for me, right now?

I’m lost at sea.

All that said, I think I need to experience the group again. I need to go to one of the member nights, members helping members, members delivering topics to members. This is probably more what I'm after. Or maybe, simply, the meetings are not right. Maybe I'm tired of meetings. Meetings, bloody meetings...

Maybe I should just sign up! It's a great deal really when you consider you get the Observer's Handbook and a bunch of other goodies. Then I can get out to the actual astronomical events, the observation nights, get up to the observatory. That's what I want to do (and do better): observe.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

ends sale

Canadian Tire was having their annual, end-of-summer blow-out, clearance sale.

I found a small duffle bag with a compass on it for cheap. The compass looked just the right size to fit in the base of my Super Polaris mount. I cut it off the duffle, trimmed the plastic casing, and got it to fit perfectly! Ironically, it seems sensitive to the metal, rather metallic, pieces in the mount, like the nearby latitude adjustment bolt! I struggled mentally with this for a while, seriously considering putting the compass somewhere else. I even briefly glued in to the north wooden tripod leg. But then I thought, heck, just friction fit it into the mount, and take it out, when necessary, to get a bearing on magnetic north. It's not like I'll be using this a whole lot...

In the car bits section, I found some interesting lighting gear. American Products Company Litestripes in red! This is really tacky pinstriping that you can put on your car, truck, low-rider, or pimpmobile, which lights up. This stuff was deeply discounted so the technogeek in me was partly interested. But I also thought that this stuff might work for the lighting in a compact, ultrathin light table. The stuff's already red (actually, more orange). Some text gave me the impression it could be cut to any length to suit one's purpose (or fender). I severed the strip and then made electrical connections between them, powered it up, and found the "detached" strip lit up along with the main one. So, this means I can build a light panel with separate short strips running parallel to one another. All runs off 12 volts. Next time I'm at Mom's, I'll build a box to fit the Tirion field edition pages!

Pimp my 'scope.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

repairing polar scope

After dropping the Super Polaris German Equatorial Mount, I discovered that the eyepiece focuser would not turn. It was at an angle, one side having jumped one thread. It took a lot of force to finally get it out. Happily, there was no damage, other than some bruising to the plastic knurled grip of the focuser.

While affecting this repair, I decided to completely disassemble the entire eyepiece. I removed the old grease and added small amounts of white lithium grease.

In the process, I learned that the long tube is to be turned by design. Turning it in or out will focus the star field image. The focuser ring near the viewer's eye is for focusing on the internal reticule.

I also released the three grub screws holding the reticule. I'll have to recentre that now...

I'm quite pleased. I've learned even more about the polar scope and the new grease has improved the smoothness of the sliding rotating parts.

Monday, September 18, 2006

space traffic jam

There are 4 "vehicles" in orbit today: the Atlantis shuttle, the Progress cargo vessel (unmanned), the Soyuz with guest tourist, and Space Station. I think that makes for 12 humans.

They're going to have to install traffic lights soon...


It is interesting to think that I will never get into space. This is as close as I'll get, watching NASA TV.

star disks

I learned that we cannot see the disks of stars from wikipedia:

"The disks of stars are much too small in angular size to be observed with current ground-based optical telescopes, and so Interferometer telescopes are required in order to produce images of these objects."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

online sky charting software

John Walker has built various tools at Your Sky, an interactive planetarium of the web.

(If he sounds familiar, he's a co-author of AutoCAD.)

I've used the sky map and virtual telescope software to create white on black and colour charts. Handy for producing maps that I can then use to plan star hops.

Also, I've downloaded the dynamic screen saver for the Lord John Whorfin (Windows 98) computer. This screen saver is awesome. I think it will help me keep even better tabs on what planets are visible on a night to night basis...

And I'm also practicing my constellation recognition!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

foggy (Pontypool)

location: Mosport, new lower paddock
naked eye magnitude: γ (gamma) Ursa Minor at 3.1
conditions: sporadic clouds, humid, mist, fog, oval track lights

Assembled the SP-C8 'scope as fast as I could to see Jupiter. Slowing things down a bit was that I had not yet realigned the finder scope. I skipped the alignment process for the time being. I also forget to attach the counterweights again so, like before, the telescope started to fall rapidly when I released the clamps. Gotta be careful about that. Don't rush!

Jupiter was very low above the horizon by the time we could get to it. But I could see, despite the glare from the oval race track lights, 2 moons (Io to the east and Callisto to the west) and the 2 dark middle bands. I invited Christine's Dad (Gary) to view it with me while his wife (Linda) unpacked their small telescope. He could not see the moons.

Diane was going to come down but she passed out.

Jonathon had dropped by at that point. So he took some looks too.

As it grew darker, I aligned the Celestron finder scope. I made sure the end piece with the cross-hairs was tight. And I focused the front objective of the finder scope, locking it in place with the silver ring. It is so nice having the finder scope perfectly aligned and focused.

Then I went for Ring Nebula (Messier 57 or M57). Nailed it quickly. That was the fastest ever!

It was rather faint. Again, not good conditions for deep sky.

Linda finally appeared with her telescope, an old red Tasco No. 13, I think, on a tiny equatorial mount and metal tripod. A cute little thing. She was calling it a catadioptric but it looks like a reflector to me. The strange little finder scope was out of alignment so I helped fix that. Eyepieces were 0.965"; she had two of them.

We chased some double stars. I started with Mizar and Alcor. Very pretty. Then I pulled out the listing for September and reviewed the Telescopic Objects list.

η (eta) Cassiopeiae was wonderful. The description said, yellow star mag 3.4 and orange star mag 7.5, sep=12". Both Jane and I felt that the yellow star had a slight green tint to it. The Belmont Society double star list says that Achird is a gold and purple double 12.2" apart. Purple?! I'm starting to trust this list less and less...

Is it my imagination? The yellow-green star seemed much bigger than the orange, i.e. that it had a disc, not a point. Is that possible, could I see that?!

Albireo, β (beta) Cygni, was also wonderful. Skymap says, beautiful double star, contrasting colours of orange and blue-green, sep=34". Right on. The blue-green was very interesting. Belmont reports it as gold and blue. Delightful.

Tried to find 61 Cygni. But my finder scope view did not correspond to my SkyAtlas chart. After a lot of back and forth, I suddenly discovered I was centred on the wrong star to begin my star hopping. But at that point I was tired, frustrated with a target directly overhead, and the sky was not cooperating. Similary, Linda was discouraged as her objective was coated with dew.

As we wrapped up, I talked about dew fighting strategies.

Funny. Even though we didn't do a lot I was satisfied. I had helped out some people again. I had properly aligned my finder scope. And focused it correctly—for the first time. And I had found a couple of new and colourful double stars!

Christine never came out of the camper to observe...


On reviewing my notes, I realised I really messed up with 61 Cygni! Initially I was centred on epsilon but I thought I was looking at sigma (which I was also misreading as δ (delta) and getting confused by the brightness scale). I did correctly ascertain that I was in too close to the centreline of Cygnus. But at the time, I thought I had been looking at ν (nu) instead of σ (sigma). Now it turns out I was too low as well! I had actually moved from ε (epsilon) out to ζ (zeta). I should have realised this when things still weren't looking right. I had completely misread my chart. I was also tripped up by SkyAtlas's use of sigma. Oh well. I'll know better next time.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

renos on the station

The question was flying about yesterday: how many astronauts does it take to break a bolt. But today, with a burnt out bulb on a suit, we finally get to learn how many astronauts it takes to change a light bulb in space...


I would normally feel very patriotic when a Canadian is on the shuttle or Space Station. And certainly, on this occasion on shuttle flight STS-115, there was cause for celebration, with Mission Specialist Steve MacLean being the first Canuck to operate a Canadarm. But I'm increasingly awed by the international flavour of this endeavor. Hearing the Russians (once viewed as foes in the great Space Race) chatter in their native tongue, knowing that the ESA is involved, watching NASA delicately juggle timetables with the other agencies, it is clear that this is a world project.


The new rotating solar arrays look beautiful.

And this will make for an even bigger and brighter target in the night sky.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

reference circle demystified

After all this time, I finally realised, the Meade Polaris Reference Circle I bought shortly after I got my telescope (almost 15 years ago), is wrong...

It's wrong in the sense that it is backwards. It is designed to present a view as seen through a telescope with a mirror diagonal. It presents a view where up is up but left is right, a laterally-inverted or mirror-reversed view. It's taken me all this time to figure that out.

And, with irony, I realised that this view does not suit or match the view produced by the simple refractor finder scope built into my Super Polaris German Equatorial Mount. This small scope simply rotates the view, up is down, left is right.

I refired Adobe Illustrator and applied a few changes.


I have a reference circle or plate now that shows a "natural" or naked-eye presentation of the North Celestial Pole in relation to Polaris.

And by simply turning the whole plate upside-down, I will be able to mimic the apparent positions of NCP and Polaris as seen in the Polaris finder scope.

What an ordeal...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

new plates

I printed a new version of the polar axis telescope time graduation ring (on the laser printer) and taped it to the Super Polaris (SP) German Equatorial Mount with clear tape, with 0/24 straight up (again, thanks to JB).

As I prepared to make a new declination pointer, I noticed that the Vixen Great Polaris (GP) mount had a vernier scale on its decl. plate; the SP mount doesn't have this feature. So after a bit of fiddling in Adobe Illustrator, I have an upgraded declination vernier plate!

The only thing I couldn't figure out were the Japanese symbols... ;-)

Now my SP mount is ready for polar alignment and more precise use with the setting circles.

some insurance

So my Super Polaris mount RA (right ascension) pointer vernier plate doesn't decide to grow legs and walk away (like my decl. did), I put a large piece of clear tape atop it. Ha!

Monday, September 04, 2006

made a reticule image

Made a custom image file (in Windows BMP format) for the PolarFinder software, authored by Dr Jason Dale, to match the Vixen polar scope reticule. Oh. The app doesn't appear to let me rotate the image... So much for that idea. Still, it seems to work just fine. In the File, New... command, there are controls for telescope orientation (i.e. rotated view) and date, time, and daylight saving.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

mount issues (long)

Warning: this is a long, meandering rant! There are a number of topics I'm tackling here and they're heavily intertwined. I'll try to make it as cohesive as possible.


I thought I'd tune up my Celestron Super Polaris (SP) equatorial mount. I've been thinking about it for a few days.

Something felt very odd when over at Cam's. I was worried I had broken a gear tooth. I don't know if it was just that I didn't have the counterweights on. I actually think a lock handle got really loose and jumped around. Anyway, I tweaked it today and it feels like it used to. Whew!

I've also been thinking about the missing plate or plaque on the declination setting circle and that I should replace it. If nothing else, etch the metal.

MIA: declination pointer plate

As I closely examined the mount, I discovered another “depression” in the casing, this time surrounding the polar axis telescope eyepiece. It looked like another plate or ring has fallen off the telescope! Actually, I don't ever remember seeing this one. There's a chance (back in 1990) I bought it that way. The hazards of “as is” purchases, I suppose. Anyway, this observation sat in the back of my brain...

MIA: hour graduation scale

Coincidentally, while thinking increasingly about the freshening up of the mount, I started to tackle some other items in my astronomy to-do list, like: learn what the reticule in the polar axis scope means and how to use it, once and for all; and, update the old Meade Polaris Reference Circle.


If I remember correctly, my used telescope from Efston did not include a Celestron Polaris Guiding Plate. Page 5-50 of the Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescopes Super Polaris C8 Instructions booklet refers to and shows this item. I called up Efston to see if I could buy this. They said they did not have that but the Meade Polaris Reference Circle would work. I must have bought it around 1991 or 1992.

the old Meade circles

Now, the Meade Polaris Reference Circle is obsolete. In fact, it's over 10 years old! It only has tick marks (for precession) from 1975 to 1995. I decided to make a new one…

Using Adobe Illustrator 10 for Windows, I first made circles to exactly copy the current Meade. Wasn’t sure what to do with February so I based my calculations on 28 days. Everything on the time scale was off a little when I finished so I think it should be based on 29 now. Leave that for later, I thought. I applied some other cosmetic changes. But the big plan was to continue the precession scale for another ten years and then make the appropriate adjustments to the month scale to aid in alignment. Near the end of the mimicking phase, I printed out a draft, cut out the time circle, and put it over top the month circle, so to take it for a little “test spin.” It worked consistently with the old Meade which was good.

But when I compared this against the “actual” alignment in RedShift it seemed way off... Even when I remembered that the polar scope (a simple refractor) would invert or rotate the view from what I was seeing in RedShift, it was still not right.

I felt suddenly deflated! What a silly make-work project. Why did I waste hours doing this? Particularly because the polar axis scope has a built-in reticule for doing this alignment!

I decided to halt further work on the reference circle redesign. I would redirect my energy to learning how to use the mount's internal reticule.


The documentation that came with my 'scope is lacking.

It is very odd, I think, that the use of the integrated polar axis telescope is not addressed in the Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescopes Super Polaris C8 Instructions booklet... OK. They talk about it; but over one or two paragraphs! There’s no image of the polar axis reticule. Sure, they talk about drift method, which would yield very precise alignment. But still it is curious that Celestron does not really talk about using the built-in hardware!

So I’ve never really understood the meaning of the reticule.

polar axis telescope reticule (drawing; not to scale)

On a hunch, I fired up RedShift and zoomed into Ursa Minor. I oriented the display so that Polaris and NCP were vertically arranged. Then I continued zooming in such that NCP and Polaris were at the top and right edges of the screen. RedShift tells the user what the size of the display is in degrees, minutes, or seconds. I could tell by the field of view that they were about 45’ apart.

So I think I’ve figured part of this out. The scale with the markings 40’ to 60’ is the distance from centre of the crosshairs. The tiny circle is placed at the intersection of the middle circle and the minute scale which is approximately 48’ from centre. I now know that Polaris and NCP are about this distance apart (although it’s changing with precession).

Now I need to learn how to orient the reticule. And whether I put NCP or Polaris in the tiny circle.


I stared at the mount.

I noticed that the conical ring was numbered from 1 to 12. At first I thought this might be a time indicator but I quickly dismissed this idea since it should go to 24 hours. As I looked more closely at it, I noticed subtle differences in spacing. For example, 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 12 had a little bit of extra space; 2 had less space. Sections 4, 6, 9, and 11 were precisely divided into 30 subunits. It was clear: this was a year ring, divided into 12 months, with each month divided into days.

Near the December and January sections of the scale, I noticed markings on the inner part of the ring. It was a plus/minus scale running from 0 to 20 units each way. At the end of the scale was an E, on the left, and a W, on the right. This, I thought, corresponded to east and west longitude.

Finally, I noticed a white line grooved into the black ring hold the conical month gauge to the eyepiece.

What do these all mean, I wondered.


I started looking in earnest for information on the mount, the polar alignment telescope, and so on. Wow. Lots of discoveries...

Initially, I simply tried to find instructions about how to polar align the mount using the built-in polar axis scope with integrated reticule. But in short order I realised that this would require the use of the missing ring! Maybe that's why I've always struggled with this...

One of the first things I found is that someone in the Netherlands was cognizant of people trying to better use their SP mounts but who had bought them used or for whatever reason didn't have the manuals. The web author subsequently scanned (to JPEG images) the cover and 18 pages of the Super Polaris Equatorial Mount Telescope Instruction Booklet. I immediately downloaded this! The material exactly matches my mount which is very satisfying. It shows a reticule that is just like mine. Polaris goes inside the tiny circle. I have missing documentation, yahoo! The section on doing polar alignment (despite a significant typo) is very welcome.

The page scans for using the polar axis scope however, while large, are sufficiently poor resolution (and lossy) that I cannot make out some of the details in the photographs.

There's even information about aligning the polar axis scope itself, if need be. It is in this section that there exists a photo of the eyepiece area of the polar axis scope at the back of the mount. I can tell the orientation of the movable month ring based on the longitude graduation. But I cannot tell, for certain, the layout of the time ring. If I squint, it kind of looks like zero is at the top, 23 to the right, and 1 to the left.

I need to substantiate this. I decided to keep looking...

Preliminary searches reminded me that Vixen from Japan was the actual manufacturer of the mount. So I flopped around in the Vixen Japanese web site briefly. Later I found the Vixen North America site. Neither seemed to have really old or archival info. But I saw the Great Polaris (GP) mount was presently available and some of the features are the same as my old one. The GP Polar Axis Scope that you can buy today is unchanged—it would “bolt up” to my SP mount. (And they still sell the MT-1 RA or dec. clock drive. This is good to know!) There are a number of technical documents available as PDF files.

The “part 2” PDF was particularly interesting as it talked about aligning the GP mount in detail. It’s a keeper. This scanned presentation was much better than the JPEGs although black & white. That said, there were subtle differences with the setting circles and graduation rings. The RA setting circle is moved toward the polar scope eyepiece, it replaces the time graduation scale, it floats or spins like the RA circle should, it has a zero marker, and it has a lock. And, not surprisingly, the instructions performing an alignment are slightly different. I don’t know if I can decipher it and apply it to mine. I put it aside for later consideration.

I came across Carsten Arnholm's astronomy site. Lots of great info and photos. He has numerous photos of his Vixen SP! While a different colour, this is like my unit. He also has a Vixen GP and the scanned GP manual (as JPEG files, high quality, in colour). I grabbed a few relevant pages.

the Super Polaris equatorial mount system

He's also got a fantastic image of the SP mount exploded! I wonder where he snagged that...

Carsten also comments briefly on astronomy software he's written and third-party tools he uses. In his notes on performing polar alignment, he refers to Jason Dale who's written a small shareware program called PolarFinder. I downloaded and tried it out. Not bad. It looks like you can even substitute your own reticule image. That would be kinda cool if it actually does that...

Additional web searches lead me to Company Seven. It appears to be a multi-faceted company with an astronomy store. They carry a number of Vixen products. They have some tantalizing accessories! And they have an online library with various instruction manuals including one covering the Vixen equatorial mount.

So after some concerted searches, I have found documentation, notes, and images for SP (and GP) mounts. Along the way I found a shareware app to help with polar alignment. A frustration however was that, while I now had the mount instructions, I had confirmed that a gauge (the time graduation ring) was missing from my SP mount. The instructions I have found refer to it but I cannot make out from the photos how the ring should be oriented.


The orientation of my old Meade (and new custom) Polaris reference circles did not seem right... I revisited this thinking that I need to corroborate all the different systems I have.

I chose a date and time (in RedShift) when the NCP and Polaris (left and right respectively) were almost horizontally aligned. On 1 Sep 2006 this worked out to around 11:00pm EST. I was using the location of Toronto.

I first verified this using my National Geographic and glow-in-the-dark planispheres. And they proved consistent even though they’re generalised for a latitude around 40 degrees.

Then I fired up the recently downloaded Polar Finder program (version 2.04). I set the time to 11:00pm with the daylight savings option turned on and I set the longitude to 79 degrees and 25 minutes west. A neat feature of the program is the ability to turn on or off an inverted telescope view. Once again, NCP and Polaris were horizontally arranged. And the (non-inverted) view corresponded.

Finally, I set the Meade reference circle to the matching date and time. Polaris and the NCP were at a slight angle. Odd. But then I tried something: I changed the time to 10:00pm, the time it would be if we were not using daylight savings.

I double checked this. We're -5 hours from Greenwich but in Toronto with daylight savings it changes that to -4.

So this makes me wonder if one should always use reference circles (and maybe even planispheres) by UT and local standard time and not local daylight savings time...

I also noticed that (if I understand how to use the reference circles correctly), if Polaris is to be placed on the time wheel precession scale, and the centre of the reference circle indicates the position of the NCP, then the reference circle presents an inverted view. That had only occurred to me recently to question the view presented by the reference circles.


I have noticed, based on the depression in the metal of the mount, that time graduation scale is not a full circle. It goes just over 50% of the way around, centred from the top. Given that a full circle represents 24 hours, the recessed area looks like it might cover about 14 hours of time. Time in darkness, perhaps?

I decided to make a new time ring out of paper.

With trusty Ikea measuring tape, I determined the circumference of the mount. I knew that the raised portion would increase the measurement slightly but only a negligible amount. It worked out to 7.185 inches.

In Adobe Illustrator I made a scale at the pre-measured amount with major ticks on each hour (on a 24 clock), medium ticks on the 30 minutes, and sub-ticks every 10 minutes. After cutting out the thin strip from the full sheet of paper, I wrapped it around the mount. It was a perfect fit!

the new hour graduation scale

But then it occured to me that I did not know the proper orientation. Was zero up? Or was it biased or tuned some way?

This initiated another round of search engine inquiries to try to find a better photograph of the Super Polaris mount. But I did not encounter anything I had not already seen.

I kept returning to the first discovery, the scanned JPEG images of the SP mount instruction booklet.

Later, after rereading the GP mount instructions, I got the strong impression that the time graduation scale was oriented with zero to the top. So I decided to do an experiment. I took the mount outside and plopped it on the tripod. I levelled the tripod. I released the plate covering the latitude screw and let the mount lie horizontally. I sighted through the polar axis at a building across the street. I then released the RA clamp and turned the mount so the tiny Polaris circle was at the bottom of the viewed field. I tightened the RA clamp and fine-tuned the angle so to align with the brickwork of the building. I was not concerned that the building was so close; I was after a crude adjustment. With some Magic tape, I stuck my new time scale on the mount, with zero at the zenith. Then I turned the month ring and viola. The Oct 10 line was close to 1:00am (as noted in the instructions for aligning the polar axis scope)!

It became clear that the small amount of play I found on the index ring outside the month graduation ring will affect one’s longitude reading. It has about 4 degrees of play. I’ll try disassembling it to see if I can fix it.

Before tearing down, I reoriented the mount, using the date of 1 Sep 2006, the time of 11:00pm, and a 4 degree offset to the west from the standard meridian of 75 degrees. I looked through the polar axis scope and the NCP and Polaris orientation was nearly horizontal. Yes!

So without visual proof I was pretty sure I’ve got it figured out.


In my travels, I encountered John B’s astronomy site [offline as of April 2007]. Among the astrophotographs and notes, he had some shots of his equipment. He has a black SP mount just like mine. Unfortunately, none of the photos showed the end of the mount. I couldn’t see the time graduation ring. So I checked when the site was last updated: July 2006! Cool, it’s current.

I emailed John to see if he might have additional photos of his Super Polaris mount. He responded from Florida within a day and generously offered to pull the mount from his storage and shoot photos. Wow!

month and time scales on Super Polaris mount

His excellent photos verified my suspicions: zero is at the top. Finally, the missing clue!


When I bought my telescope, I now see, there were a number of items missing. And since then a few bits have fallen off.
  • Super Polaris mount instruction manual [now have an e-copy]
  • cap for the opening to the polar axis scope (part # I-40)
  • end cap to protect polar axis eyepiece (part # I-39)
  • time graduation C-shaped plate (part # I-37) [made it myself]
  • declination setting circle pointer plate (part # I-36) [made an upgrade]
  • snap rings or e-clips (2) for the telescope tube ring mounting screws (part # not shown)
  • and, of course, I don't have the motor drive...
(Part numbers from the exploded diagram.)

I've got some work to do to get this thing back to its original condition... I'm very interested in having the end caps to, in the future, to keep the polar scope optics clean. And to offer some protection from damage (I can tell my mount's been dropped).


I came across a couple of other interesting sites:

Someone noted a little Windows application called NiteView (for Windows 95/98) that changes the screen colours to red-tinged. It seems to shut off Task Bar and hide the desktop icons. I haven’t downloaded it. Partly because I already created my own dark red colour desktop scheme for the laptop.

I also came across another DIY observatory. I'm going to start a gallery for these, I think...

I also saw a few cases for mounts. I like!


Started playing around more with the Meade Polaris reference circle, testing it against RedShift. Is it messed up? It does not work for where I am. I think Polaris reference circles are longitudinally specific!

On a hunch, I set RedShift to 1 Oct 1990 at 9:00pm. In Los Angeles, California (where Meade and Celestron are based)... I set the reference circle to the same date and time. I turned it upside. It matches. I tried another location. It doesn’t match. After a lot more fiddling, I can’t figure it out. It doesn’t make any sense.

Either this is a poor way to determine NCP/Polaris orientation or I'm doing something really wrong...

Anyway, I don’t care. I’m not going to use it anymore.


I noticed an adjustment in the GP mount instructions manual. Page 14 has the original 1:00am covered; it now shows 1:20am.

I’m not sure what motivated this adjustment. Typo? Precision? Precession?


I’m very happy. I've accomplished what I wanted. After days of research I have found out how to use the integrated polar axis scope to align the Super Polaris German equatorial mount to the North Celestial Pole. I’m increasingly satisfied with this method. I'm also very pleased to have seen many positive reviews of the mount. I noted a number people saying that it was easy and quick to polar align and would yield accurate results. Happily I can avoid the use of the reference circles, which are confounding me. I’ve found a few interesting web sites. And I’m on my way to fixing and improving my SP mount.

Lots of reading to do.

Thus endth the long tirade.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Absolutely brilliant!

I've been thinking that I need to take the web pages I encounter (like the one at SEDS) documenting double and multiple stars with a grain of salt.

Not having a formal catalogue of double stars, possibly in trouble with the public library, I am left with searching online.

At the same time, I've had this feeling that this kind of information must be available online from "official" and trustworthy sources.

And after a couple of hours working in the Bright Star Catalog (bsc5p), examining the complete table of 9000+ stars, getting to know the system, the query language, sorting features, means of output, I can say that I am astounded with The High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC) archives at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre!

I used the following criteria:

alt_name != "" AND
dec > -50 AND
vmag <> 10 AND
m_sep > 10 AND
m_sep = 0

so to exclude unnamed and unnumbered stars in a constellation; avoid candidates only visible in the southern hemisphere; include stars viewed, relatively easily, in either a 8" or 6" telescope in fairly dark skies; that are not too close together.

The final m_sep = 0 is to extract a handful of other proximal stars like Mizar.

I selected the following fields for output:

name, alt_name, ra, dec, vmag, ads, fk5, hd, m_cnt, m_mdiff, m_sep, sao, spect_type

  • name = an HR / Yale number
  • alt_name = Alternate Name (usually Bayer and/or Flamsteed), e.g. "79Zet UMa"
  • ra = Right Ascension, J2000
  • dec = Declination, J2000
  • vmag = Photographic Magnitude
  • ads = Aitken Double Star Catalog Designation
  • fk5 = FK5 Star Number
  • hd = Henry Draper Catalog Number
  • m_cnt = Number of Components in Multiple System
  • m_mdiff = Magnitude Difference of Double or the Brightest in Multiple System
  • m_sep = Separation of Components of Double or the Brightest in Multiple System
  • sao = Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Catalog Number
  • spect_type = Spectral Type of Source
I requested an ascending sort by m_sep.

And finally, I told the system to produce Excel compatible results. Which, after a moment, appeared in my OpenOffice Calc spreadsheet program as a 3D worksheet file! Wow!

Oh, dear. Over 700 multiple stars to check out! ;-)

At least now I know that I have an official list. No doubt.

Where I can see this being very useful is the day before a planned observing session. I can conjure some criteria to make a nice short list of a few targets, perhaps just the doubles within one constellation.

Monday, August 28, 2006

on a budget

Found Ed Hitchcock's Budget Astronomer web site! Great stuff. Good advice for people getting into this expensive hobby (I need cheaper hobbies).

I'm gonna build my own solar filter. I learned how inexpensively this can be done from his DIY section.


Ed is a member of the Toronto RASC... He's a local!


His web site moved...


Sunday, August 27, 2006

cleaned eyepieces

Carefully following instructions that I found at Cloudy Nights, working gently and slowly, using a bunch of supplies from my camera equipment, I cleaned the 26mm and 18mm eyepieces. I also cleaned the mirror diagonal and one very dusty end of the 2x Barlow.

The 26mm was a mess (from those crazy kids at Mosport)! Now it looks spectacular.

Unfortunately, I resorted to using isopropyl rubbing alcohol with only 70% alcohol. That's all that was in the house. Perhaps I should have waited... An hour or so later, while stocking up at Shoppers Drug Mart, I found a bottle of Life Brand isopropanol with 99%!

Can't wait to use them!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

roll of red

Went to Michael's (The Arts and Crafts Store) on Mavis in Mississauga (sorry about that) to search for red cellophane.

I had already visited several card and gift stores downtown to no avail. I was asking for acetate and film, which are maybe not the best choice of words. I even telephoned a Michael's store in advance (can't remember which one) to see if they had it. I don't think the person on the other end of the phone knew what I was talking about. But they did say they had sheets of clear plastic in rolls used for flower arranging and gift basket wrapping.

After trudging up and down the aisles in the Flower section, I finally asked a staff person for some help. She directed me to the opposite end of the store. And there it was...

Rolls and rolls of transparent, coloured cellophane. Oh. Excuse me. "Clearphane" from Highlander (sic) Supply Corp. in Illinois.

I grabbed a roll of red. The roll is 76cm wide and 7.6m long (or 30 inches x 25 feet). Cost less than $5 (CDN).

Now I can make light tables, treat every flashlight lens, cover the white lights of my car, and still have some left over.

Friday, August 25, 2006

we tried (Toronto)

I was invited over for dinner tonight (Thursday night) with "da boys." I drove over, just in case... Suddenly at 9:30 or so, I realised--hey, it's dark. Let's go!

Ventured into the backyards behind Cam's house and his neighbour's but the yards "face" east. Obviously we couldn't see Jupiter from there.

As I walked between the houses, I spotted it! I ran to the car and grabbed by binos. It was not a star: I was seeing a disk.

I ran into the house and asked Alex if he was interested. He was enthralled with a book. I asked again. He assured me (as best an 8 year old can) he was. I asked if he'd help me: he said, "Sure."

We quickly set up the 'scope (even though I had forgotten the counterweights). But I think I got the best views (I saw two of the moons)...

As Cam, Alex, and Cam's mom filtered outside, clouds were creeping up from the horizon. Jupiter was getting fainter and fainter.

Still, Alex said he could see three moons...

Oh well. We tried.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Voyager 1 blazes trail

I learned that the Voyager 1 probe (launched in 1977) reached a distance of 100 AU from the Sun. Heavens Above has a dynamic map.

View 10° above ecliptic.

Interestingly, Pioneer 10 (launched 5 years earlier) is not far behind.

Our furthest outreach into the Universe.

Only 266700 AUs to go to Proxima Centauri, the closest star!

externalised links and life lists

After a fair amount of noodling, I decided to create my life lists external to this blog.

And while doing that I decided to consolidate and expand on the collection of links I have. This was also driven from the situation where I personally need to have my frequently-used sites accessible in one place.

The final step, of course, will be to hook it into the blogger links area. In the meantime, you can reference my life lists and links directly.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

test of posting via email

Another test.
Sent from email.
It works!

Monday, August 21, 2006

to attend or not to attend

You know, I've been feeling anxious about going to a meet of the Toronto Centre. I've felt like I would be overrun by experienced, sophisticated users.

But the older man last night, with his new 'scope, gives me hope. I'm probably in the middle of the spectrum. I have a lot of experience. The knowledge I've accumulated since youth and high school is considerable.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

last night at Awenda

Down at the dock. Not a cloud in the sky.

It's windy! It produced a bit of 'scope shake (or was that from the kids on the dock). But it also meant no mozzies! Thank the gods! About half-way through the session I removed the dew cap tube to reduce shake. It worked. Fortunately, I did not need it for most of the evening.

(The little digital did good!)

70% humidity.
21°C (although it was in my pocket beforehand).

The dock faces 324° exactly.
naked eye
Bushnell 7x50 binoculars on tripod
Celestron 8-inch SCT on Vixen Super Polaris by star hopping
8:51 - super bright white object slightly east of Lyra heading n-e. Was that ISS?

(Confirmed! says for Barrie location the ISS would have be visible on Sun, Aug 20 at 08:46 PM local time for 6 minutes reaching a max. elevation angle of 77°, starting from 10° above the SW direction and departing at 10° above the ENE.)

9:05 - another bright satellite heading s-e, passing 10° below Altair. 9:27 - another satellite passing north within ½° of Polaris, coming from Ophiucius.

I need chain or strap for eyeglasses. I had them constantly on and off. I thought this first at Mom's but I guess I did not write it down.

Watched Jupiter through the evening. Soon after sunset, I picked it up through the trees to the left of the dock. Periodically, between the leaves, I'd get a moment of good seeing.

By 10:00pm Jupiter was less than 10° up: the atmospheric distortion is getting quite bad...


Looked at Polaris double star combination: beautiful! I could get used to this. The yellow star looked a lot bigger than the blue one. As I upped the power the yellow and blue became the similar sizes. You know, the bright one is more gold...

Ha ha, was going for κ (kappa) Her but accidentally looked up κ (kappa) Boötes in SkyGuide. Fortunately, it (κ, or iota, Boötes) was a double star! Pale yellow and pink or orange! Very pretty. SEDS describes κ as white-yellowish pair.

δ (delta) Herc: pale green? OK, violet? no, blue white...

Some of the target notes I had made for doubles didn't seem right. Typos or transcription errors on my part? Or bad sources? I need to look into that.

more Messier

Messier 101 (M101), a spiral? easy? ha! very faint...

Messier 97 (M97), the Owl Nebula, very faint, can see light and dark patterns.

Messier 52 (M52) is a pretty but loose OC of blue stars, there's one brighter orangey star, middle top.

There is something between Cas and Per, an open cluster perhaps? Lots of blue stars. [ed. The Double Cluster.]

wrapping up

At 1:00am we hit the dew point... I put the heaters on after some debate. OK. I was done, tired at 1:25.

Ironically, at 1:45, we started getting some light blue and green aurora in the north-west running increasingly through the north. Came and went, ebbing. Sometimes when it faded it went a beautiful deep violet! The north and n-e sky is glowing green.

I acted very selfishly tonight, perhaps. Just after I set up some teens came down to the dock. They knew about satellites and meteors and periodically lay on a bench to stare straight up. I couldn't tell if they were lingering or enjoying the view. But I just did not want to offer them a look, as Jupiter finally cleared the trees. Later a family came down draped in glow sticks. Am I gun shy of kids (with sticky fingers) now?

The security guard that I met the other night returned. He and I chatted again. He had a partner with him this time. He asked if I could show him some stuff. So, off to Jupiter. Then, after a slight delay on my part, Messier 57 (M57). That was awesome actually. It was very clear! I could see variations in the ring. And a brightening in the centre. It improved with the 18mm. And finally we visited the Andromeda galaxy. We couldn't remember if it was 2.3 or 23 million light years away.

While security was there another family came down. The husband started asking me questions! He told me that for a recent anniversary gift he received a telescope, which he described as tiny, compared to mine. Still, I felt compelled to help him. Gave him some tips, answered his question of how to find the Little Dipper, encouraged him to research online, told him about

Friday, August 18, 2006

sunspot on the beach (Awenda)

Took binos and big tripod down to the beach.

Found a big spot, in the early afternoon, near right limb. Small one beside it, toward centre. Slowly moving to the right, as we monitored it, over a couple of hours.

Image from SOHO.


It's interesting. This has been in the back of my brain for a while. The projected image on a piece of paper that I hold a half metre from the binocular eyepieces appears to match the orientation of this photograph which I'm assuming is a "correct" view, i.e. up is up and right is right. That would then mean the bino projected image is being reversed outside the binos and gets reversed. But then, with the binos behind us, it looks correct.

I must confirm this...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

not trying hard enough

I read today in The Backyard Astronomer's Guide (TBAG) that in telescopes with apertures around 8 inches, I could see over 100 globular star clusters, over 700 open star clusters, over 100 emission nebulas, more than 50 reflection nebulas, 100+ dark nebulas, over 500 planetary nebulas, 5 or 6 supernova remnants, and over 4000 galaxies!

Several thousand galaxies are brighter than 13th magnitude.

Obviously, I'm not trying hard enough...

I'm still feeling some frustration remnants from Mom's. I stayed up all night and all I recall is maybe seeing Neptune... Of course, I did more than that! Still, I am feeling frustrated that I cannot seem to find things in the Messier catalog. When I have superior equipment and reasonably dark skies.

Things to do then:
  • keep trying, chin up
  • reduce list of Messier objectives down to one per night, don't do another until you've found the one
  • find more very dark sky sites
  • practice star hopping and right-angle movements to bullseye targets
It is consoling to see others write on their web pages and blogs that they too are experiencing frustration looking for deep sky targets.


I am about to finish reading TBAG. Funny, I received this book a long time ago but I only skimmed it then. It was good to read it thoroughly. It is unabashed in the hazards with visual and photographic astronomy.

It is encouraging to know that the authors Dickinson and Dyer have made mistakes. It makes me want to keep trying but at the same time be more patient.

Monday, August 14, 2006

they don't look up

So I finally arrived at Awenda provincial park, car loaded to the gills, not too far off schedule, happy to be out of the city, although still anxious about all I was leaving behind... As I waited in the registration office for the young staff to print my permits, I spotted a little activities sheet, and immediately remembered my lofty thoughts of running an "astronomy" night up here. My feelings are confirmed, still, after all these years: they do not have any astronomical activities planned. It's a shame really. There is so much that they could do.

With my waning interest in motorsport and waxing urges with astronomy perhaps I should finally and seriously consider this. I'll think about it. Maybe in 2007 I can come up for a week or two and run seminars and nightly viewings and nightly activities. They have a new amphitheatre...

Mike Armstrong is the park super...

Mr. Tulley (?) is the activities coordinator...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

out of touch with customers

I received an email from Oregon Scientific. Huh! They wanted me to take part in a survey. Wow. This must have been prompted by me completing my product registration.

I was pleased on one hand, intrigued. Perhaps this would be an opportunity to be heard, to discuss my frustrations with contacting them, obtaining technical product information, to relay how poor I think their telephone menu system is...

Turns out the survey was to help them name a product! It's a product name contest! It's not a customer feedback survey. Feh!

Cygnus looks different...

Wow. That was weird. While I was looking up with Will at Mosport, back on 25 July, I noted Cygnus, as it was straight overhead. And I recalled thinking that the spacing of the bright stars in the neck of the swan seemed different than what I thought. Normally, the 6 bright stars are approximately equidistant. But that was the extent to which I thought about it...

Until I read today (at Sky and Telescope's site) about the unusual variances in Chi Cygni!

Wow. I saw it!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

summaries after marathon (Union)

During the marathon astronomy weekend at Mom's with the visiting relatives, I saw, in addition to Neptune in the wee hours and Venus in day light, many meteors and accumulated many to-do items.

Sat 12:58am - from Cygnus to north-west
Sat 3:15am - east to west through Cygnus
Sat 3:43am - a Perseid heading south-west
Sat 3:54am - short one, east to west
Sat 4:02am - bright Perseid falling into the south-east
Sat 4:29am - Taurus to Auriga, exploded! Sat 4:30am - short one falling due south

to dos
It would be good to have star hops planned out more. In particular, when searching for elusive planets. Literally, I think it might be good to make a road map. Maybe even a circular eyepiece series...

I did not prepare a light table. I had Mom's card table and I had Donna's light box. But I never used them. That said, it might have been frustrating with Donna's setup given the tall, small stature of the box. And I did not have red cel or red paper at the ready. But I really think I need to have something like this, which I can leave on continuously, under key charts.

Get a local copy of the SEDS Messier catalog onto the laptop.

Put mole skin and bandaids on packing list for astronomy. For some weird reason, I developed a blister on one toe from my sandals (even though I've been wearing them since May!).

Put sweaters (already there), pants (added zip and ski), toques (already there), long underwear, blankets (already there), on packing list for astronomy. I got chilled in the damp early morning hours.

Make an updated prep checklist for an observing session.

Have some Jolt cola or caffeinated beverage on hand for the all-nighter. Added to packing list.

Once again, I feel I need to confirm eyepiece orientations. What I was seeing in the eyepiece of the binos, finder scope, and cat was not exactly what I was expecting.

How do you heat binos? There are 4 elements! Need to research this...

Make an arch for bino clamp. Current design makes eyepieces too far apart.

I could have really used a height-adjustable stool (it's already on my wish list). In the future at Mom's, simply have a lot of different chairs and stools (and boxes) handy.

I should keep an easily-accessed pen on my person at all times. I can use one of my extra lanyards. It's already on packing list. Since put one in gear.

I thought of a great gift idea for David...

If intending to track Venus or Mercury into daylight, remember to, in darkness, perfectly polar align the 'scope. Consider marking Mom's deck for a quick realignment of her 'scope.

Pay attention to dew point more in future.

Consider a small sticker near eyepieces of telescopes which shows the view, either inverted or mirrored... A reminder to me; an FYI to other users.

Monday, August 07, 2006

light table (or box) ideas

Got inspired (again) while reading The Backyard Astronomer's Guide when they mentioned a light table for backlighting star charts. An accompanying photograph showed a custom job that fit the Tirion Sky Atlas "Field Edition" sheets. I thought: I can build one of those! Quickly sketched a design, with little compartments for eyepieces, pens, etc., and noted some "requirements."

But then I considered how practically I might do this over the holiday weekend. Let's K.I.S.S. (keep it simple...)

I had already considered asking Mom if she still had a collapsible card table. Yep. Check.

And when I remembered my sister, an accomplished photographer, had a light box for examining slides, I asked her to bring it over.

I did not look at it until Monday morning. And immediately realised it would not have worked. Donna's slide viewer light box is quite... boxy. At approx. 30cm x 20cm x 20cm, it is bulky. The glass plate is too small for the Tirion sheets; they'd hang over the edge.

As I examined my sister's slide light box, Mom piped up and said that she had her own! Huh? It too was custom-designed but this time around a 40cm long fluorescent light bulb. This made for a wider and thinner box. It was much more like what I was expecting... Mom loaned it to test drive. So perhaps I'll use in around home during another backyard session. Or up at Awenda? I need to find some large sheets of red cellophane first though.

I'm still interested in building my own unit but that perhaps will run off a 12 volt supply and use red LEDs. Initially I had grand plans to build an entire table! While a custom table would be fun to have, with little pockets and drawers, it might be too grandiose, too complex, too heavy. If I can plop down a simple card table, then I just need a “standard” light box. Still, already, I see room for improvements: a handle on the side for easy transporting; a “firm” cover to protect the glass top; a double-pane glass top to hold the sheet down and reduce dew penetration.