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.