Thursday, June 29, 2006

multi-star checklist

Today I made checklist of interesting double, binary, and multiple stars and finally loaded it onto the palmtop computer.

I coddled together data from the books All About Telescopes, Astronomy Data Book, and Skyguide and the NightSky Sep/Oct 2005 magazine.

As I was winding down, I came across an excellent "doubles" web page at the Belmont Society [ed: gonzo!]. It not only lists many interesting multiple stars, by constellation, but it does it in colour. So you get a sense immediately of what you may expect to see.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

where do you start?!

First thing I do when I enter a mall? Look for the map. Then I look for the red dot!

Over the course of the evening while looking at planets and moons and finally seeing the Milky Way emerge, I gained a sense of what it is like for someone not at all familiar with astronomy. Ronnie did not know, really, where we were, how the planets worked, and what the Milky Way really was.

He's a very smart guy.

But it's a big subject... Difficult to convey briefly in the late evening, after a long day, after a grueling lawn chair race, all without diagrams or props, and after a few Stella Artois and/or J├Ągermeister.

Maybe I should get Ronnie a "You Are Here" shirt from ThinkGeek.

I shall definitely have to develop some better analogs...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

horde at Mosport

At Diane's request, I brought my telescope up to Mosport again. Lots of people showed up, in addition to the racers and crew, as predicted. Cindy and Terry (and their two boys) arrived in the afternoon. We had talked about telescopes the year previous. It was great seeing them again. I learned (or relearned) they have a refractor with a altazimuth mount. We talked about cool-down times. I showed them my Tirion charts and my viewing circles. They liked my idea of using transparency film. We also discussed dew heaters.

I decided to set up the Celestron early, partly to get the prep out of the way, but mostly to involve the boys. I asked and prompted each through the entire process. I think they felt very involved.

After dinner, on gazing into the deepening sky, I suddenly thought, "It's getting dark!" I leapt up and high-tailed it to the 'scope. This was a bad idea. The three cretins of a different set of parents (and I use that term loosely) followed me (not unlike lemmings) to the 8" perched atop its old wooden tripod (on pavement paddock). Visions of the 'scope struck or pulled, tipping over, and smashing down occupied my thoughts briefly. Some supreme patience had to be mustered quickly. It must have only been about 8:00 or 8:30pm, so it was still quite bright—in fact, the sun was only about 5° from setting—so there was nothing immediately visible.

I knew that Jupiter and Saturn were to kick off the evening sky. However, after consulting my palmtop, I learned that Mars was also up. And here I was just hoping Mercury or Venus would be nice and high.

Guarding the telescope and throwing despairing looks the legal gaurdians, I scanned the south-western sky and frequently rebuilt the display in Procyon. Mercury had a really good elevation! I kept scanning, soft-focusing, scanning, bobbin' and weavin'...

The crowd (nay, the raging horde) was... well, restless.

I turned to the south-south-east and scanned for a faint point of light. There!

In all the excitement, I lost it, as soon as I had found it! Scanning again... There, OK, steady. Quickly aiming the 'scope, I got in the ballpark. Distracted, I lost it again. Damn it. After another attempt or two, I got it in the viewfinder. Using my telescopic pointer was helpful for those who couldn't tell where I was pointing.

It struck a number of people. "How do you know where to look?!" Funny. To them it seemed magical.

Any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke,
"Profiles of The Future", 1961

Jupiter was quite wonderful against the pale slate blue backdrop. We could easily see the cloud bands. White in the middle surrounded by 2 dark bands and a very dark band on the top. We could see two moons to the right. Skeptical Steve was quickly converted. We continued watching as darkness fell and soon we all could see all the big moons. People kept commenting on five objects in a row but I tried to explain it was a coincidental star (SAO 158577). Left-to-right in the field of view there was one 3 to 4 lengths out (Ganymede), then on the right two moons close, Io at 1 length, Europa at 2 lengths, then finally Callisto at 4 lengths again.

While the long queue of kids, adults, wranglers, young couples, and people wandering by took turns at the eyepiece, I returned to the western horizon. Someone called out. They saw something. I quickly trained the view finder to the faint point in the orange sky. And was very pleased to find a nicely canted Saturn. I could see the Cassini divison. It was awesome! A real crowd-pleaser.

Mars was glowing patiently beside it. So I slanted up and to the left to fix on a bright orange disk. Too far away to satisfy my viewers though so back to Saturn for more wows, amazings, cools, and woops. We got a good amount of viewing in before it ducked behind the trees.

On revisiting Jupiter, we noticed the moons moving! Gradually, Io and Europa crossed each other. I explained to Steve that I only recently gained a sense of this fast speed or pace from a simulation in RedShift. This was a personal first to notice it!

I also noticed it was harder, it seemed, to see the cloud bands... Is this a contrast issue?

Later went for Messier 57 (M57), the Ring Nebula. Found it quickly this time. David was nearby and looked at it too. I found a black and white photo (from the Mitton Star Atlas) which I showed him. I did not illuminate it so it was very pale in the ambient light. This was very good! It helped him visualise it. I must remember to do that in the future...

I decided to try my first double stars. I knew about the good one in Ursa Major, in the handle of The Big Dipper. I found Alcor and Mizar (itself a double). They all looked blue-white to me. I stumbled across a list in my Golden Field Guide Skyguide and tried going to The Head of the Dragon but I couldn't get my bearings. So I swung around to ╬Á (epsilon) Lyrae. Saw some blue and orange stars. This reminded me that I did not have an easy, quick list prepared with colourful multiple and binary stars... Some more homework is needed.

I also made a mental note to pack some lens cleaning cloths (from the camera gear). For those instances when the big humans are unable to control their little "monsters." They like to touch with their sticky fingers or squish their eyeball to the glass...


Barbara, Malcolm's wife, commented the next day on how patient I was and how much I shared with everyone. I vocalised it again: I don't get nearly as much out of astronomy on my own as I do with others. I don't know why exactly.

I keep thinking I should teach the subject!


All photos provided by Diane.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

ATM books received

Derek gave me the promised books he had discussed early.

How to Make a Telescope by Jean Texereau is a paperback from 1963. It has a price tag of $2.15 on it. "The first edition of this book was universally acclaimed as the best book ever written for making a Newtonian telescope" according to the Willmann-Bell web site.

The Amateur Telescope Making - Books One through Three circa 1974 are hard covers from Scientific American.

Derek and I discover more common interests...

Well. I don't know if I'll ever build a telescope! But I hope to learn about cleaning, repolishing mirrors, etc.