Sunday, December 30, 2007


While recovering from my belated birthday beer and wings evening with Cam, I realised what I need to do in the future when visiting Mom to better enjoy her dark skies. Until she builds the studio/observatory that is... Prepare. Simply prepare.

By this I mean that the moment I arrive, get her telescope ready. Get all my gear out. Do all my formal preparation. Even if the weather is grim. Simply, be ready. Then when the clouds open up, I can throw on a coat, press the button, open the garage door, and wheel everything out! Good to go.


So, next time, I will be in a standby position.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

quick observing (Union)

  • date Thu 27 Dec
  • time 10:04 PM
  • Union back deck
  • 0.1°C
  • 85% humidity
Wouldn't you know it. I popped outside to lock the garage and found a clear dark patch overhead... Last night, we had invited Al over for dinner and possible telescoping. Alas, it was overcast and foggy. We should have done it tonight.

But I had been watching the weather all day! It was not looking like it was going to clear. Now I felt lazy. And it would take a while to get Mom's telescope out...


Well, I got the binos at least. My Bushnell 7x binoculars only. No tripod.

Eastern horizon is brightening. The Moon would rise soon. Mars was brilliant. Looked at Messier 42 (M42). Could see the luminosity and 2 stars. Tried looking left of the belt to see what I could see... Nothing caught my eye. Looked at Messier 45 (M45) briefly. Very nicely framed at 7x. Recognised Gemini.

Located Comet Holmes by scanning near Perseus. Confirmed it's position on a chart at Sky & Telescope. Reviewed the position, confirming it was outside the "Eiffel Tower" near Algol. Actually, it was closer to κ (kappa). Later I could see it naked eye.

Scanned for Comet Tuttle "below" Cassiopeia. I don't think I saw it... The S&T (online) charts didn't go beyond the 25th of Dec... There was a faint blob, smaller than Holmes, quite far away, only visible in the binos, almost in-line with M45...


I put a sheet of dark red cel onto Mom's iMac computer. Perfect!

(sent via webmail while from Mom's iMac)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

received book from Mom

I received from Mom for Xmas a "modern" hard cover book. It is the National Geographic Encyclopedia of Space.

It appears up-to-date. For example, it refers to the solar system having now only 8 official planets...

(sent via webmail from Mom's iMac)


Mom gave Jodie Foster's movie Contact.

She found the special edition which includes a couple of audio commentaries, documentaries explaining the special effects, and so on.

I really enjoy this movie...

new warm clothes

I know, I know, one does not normally get excited about clothes received at Xmas. But my Mom gave me a fleece balaclava and thermal socks. These will be happily worn during future wintry astronomy sessions!

(sent via webmail using Mom's iMac)

Friday, December 21, 2007

solstice lanterns

I've been going to the winter solstice festival in Kensington market for a couple of years. Since the beginning, I envisioned a lantern design which, frankly, I was surprised that no one else had thought of and made. This year? I did it!

Photo by Alexa Clark. Above, a good shot showing the overall mobile. Saturn is just barely visible, cut off, on the right.

Photo by Alexa Clark. Above, detail of Saturn.

Photo by Jeff Plotnikoff. Above, the Sun looks really good.

Photo by Jeff Plotnikoff. Above, the mobile behind my chair during dinner. To my right is my good buddy Gerry. I made quite an entrance at House of Gourmet... Aah, the Moon's caught in a shrubbery!

Big thanks to Hilary and Cam for giving me a ride down to the event (in the Volvo wagon). And to Margot for the ride home afterwards (in her SUV). I don't know how I would have transported this in a regular vehicle. And I would have bonked a lot of people on the streetcar!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

hand warmer

I finally bought my own pocket hand warmer from Restoration Hardware.

It is a chrome-plated device, 5 x 7.5 x 1 cm. Apparently they were popular in the 1950s. Safe and simple to operate. It promises to deliver 8 to 12 hours of heat on a single fill. It uses butane or lighter fluid. Includes a red fabric sack.

This will come in handy on those chilly observing sessions...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Track Dog has an Oregon

As a pseudo-Xmas gift, I gave Diane a Oregon Scientific portable weather station.

This, piggybacked on the RASC order, was one of the extra units I impulsively purchased...

I used to bring mine to the race track when I crewed for her race team. It was helpful knowing what the upcoming weather would be.

She loves it!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

weather stations delivered...

Some, anyway. Dropped off a bunch of the Oregon weather stations during the RASC Toronto Centre meeting at the Ontario Science Centre tonight. But I think one person missed me. And another didn't show. When am I every gonna close this deal?!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

weather stations in...

Finally! The Oregon back-order is filled. I'll pick them up shortly. And I'll believe it when I see it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

escalated to the manager

I'm getting angry. I haven't heard from Radio World about the Oregon weather station back-order. Each time I inquire, the sales rep du jour says, "Oh, next week, for sure."

So I contacted, again, the retail sales manager. At least he acknowledged me:
"Sorry I didn't respond yesterday, it was my day off. I see the back-order is still open, and it absolutely has been a long time. I will look into it today."
What bugs me the most: their payment policy. I had to pre-pay for the "special" order in full. This is not fair now (it might even be illegal). I should have only paid or been charged as I received items. Alas, I won't rock the boat at this stage.

Monday, November 26, 2007

webspotting 1 - let us embark

Published in the Dec 2007/Jan 2008 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission. Very slight revisions applied.


As Phil [Chow] and I have discussed creating a regular SCOPE column about interesting and useful web sites, it seemed fitting that I make this contribution, being the wrangler of our web site!

I regularly and routinely use the web. I guess I’m a computer jockey. I'm in the business. One might say, "I am the business." I use it every day, all day. It reminds me of life before instant tellers... I can't clearly remember what I did before them! How did I get money? The web, to me, is indispensable. How did I find things, do research, get my directions and maps, email messages, recipes, news feeds before? I had to go to the library! The horror…

With this first entry, I debated what to discuss. It crossed my mind to showcase our own Toronto Centre site. But that could be construed as self-aggrandising! I considered segueing to the national RASC site. But, I would hope, it is not unknown, to you! Hey, I could talk about my personal astronomy blog! No. No, that would definitely be over the top. So, what to talk about then? Gotta start off with a bang, right?

This is not proving easy…

There are many astronomy-related sites I frequently access. Many I use daily or weekly. From weather analysis, to equipment reviews, classifieds, photographs, and so on. Perhaps the most habitually visited sites for me are those listing upcoming astronomical events.

I must remember the sites that I reference reflect my particular interests, which while broad, do not cover every aspect of amateur astronomy. So, in addition to general news, planetary, solar, double star, space agency, space exploration, light pollution abatement, hardware, software, do-it-yourself resources, I'll need to mention some good CCD and digital photography, lunar, and variable star sites.

And anything that others suggest I share, of course, I'll need to relay…

Where to start? I can't decide…

And you'll just have to wait and see!

watching the web,
Blake (astronomy AT computer-ease DOT com)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

they fixed the array

NASA astronauts fixed the torn port solar array. Wow.

An impressive procedure requiring a great deal of improvisation.

Now, they gotta fix the starboard SARJ...

Friday, November 02, 2007

morning Mars! (Toronto)

I had set an alarm for 5:00 AM. Ugh. That was a bit early. Snoozed for 15 minutes. Then I think I snoozed again for another 5 minutes.

As I started to wake, I realised I had to go to the loo. OK. Let's check the sky condition on the way to the wash room... Grabbed my eyeglasses. Not that it would have made much of a difference: my eyes balls were still booting up. Nevertheless, I could see stars directly overhead.

Returning from my bio-break, I had a very difficult time not crawling back into bed. It was the reasoning, "I might not get another shot for a while...", that pushed me over the edge.

Within the hour, I was set up and viewing, in the back yard with the SCT. Positioned in the driveway such that the street light in front of the house did not reach me. Initially, the last-quarter Moon was blocked...

Neighbours to the east had their back light on. It is a bright CFL. Runs continuously...


6:15, 1.6°C, 41% humidity. Environmental readings using CTC OneWorld portable weather station. It was sitting indoors. It was still acclimating to the outdoor conditions...

Viewed Comet Holmes using the 26mm. A circular pale shape with a bright centre filled much of the field! 50% or more?

The left of the outer circle was brighter. From the centre, a V-shaped pattern opened down and to the right of the field.

There was a small but bright star behind the comet (possibly HD 23104 / SAO 24187). I could also see fine, small stars in the bottom left of my field. I don't think they're components of the Alpha Persei cluster... It's over 2° away.

Viewing naked eye, the comet is very close to δ (delta) in magnitude (3.01). It is naked eye diffuse, with averted vision. The comet has moved a little bit north, now with δ and α (alpha), almost in an equilateral triangle...

6:30 AM.

Mars is in Gemini, above the feet of the twins, near ε (epsilon)...

Viewed Mars at 77x. Then popped in the 18mm for 110x. Next inserted the Barlow (after the diagonal for 2x) using the 26mm again, yielding 154x. Then tried the 4mm for a whopping 500x.

At low power, Mars was bright orange. Almost perfectly round.

At 154x, Mars was clearly gibbous. In my field, the limb at the 11 o'clock position seemed lighter, almost white.

6:59, -1.0°C, 49%.

Looked at Orion briefly. The Great Nebula—Messier 42 (M42)—and the Trapezium stars clearly visible.

Examined Betelgeuse or α (alpha) Orion. Warm orange. I could not see bright stars nearby.

Bellatrix (γ or gamma) was bright blue. No obvious nearby stars.

Fairly close to cool blue white Rigel (β or beta), I could see a faint, darker star. Sneaky. At higher power, I could confirm the companion's presence, even though the view seemed blurry overall. I'll check Sissy's entry later.

Getting chilled... Switched to my red coat with hood.

7:25, -1.5°C, 61%.

Moved the 'scope to view Saturn...

Wonderful to see again.

The ring angle is less.

Is that Titan up and to the right? (Yep.)

The motor drive is working well. I was a little worried after the collision at the DDO... Whew! This means it will be very easy to follow a planet into daylight.

The heaters (on the objective and eyepiece) are working well. Again, I was a little worried after using them at the DDO. The finder scope heaters are shifting and getting strained. There might be a short circuit. Upon closer inspection, it looks like one lead wire has pulled free. Got some clean up work to do. Anyway, I'm relieved I didn't burn anything up.


My stomach is awake! I'm hungry. Popped inside for some toast and juice.

The sky was brightening.

When back outside, I could not find Saturn naked eye. But I could still spot Mars.

I'm surprised by the amount of detail I can see. Or is it my imagination. When the seeing is good, I swear I could see the Cassini division. And I could still see cloud bands on the orb.

7:45, -0.5°C, 65%.

Mars was still naked eye. But it was getting tougher...

Need coffee... The Psion said that sunrise was at 7:54.

8:00, 0.1°C, 65%.

Saturn was very pale.

The seagulls were heading inland...

8:16, 0.0°C, 66%, 102.5 kPa.

Coffee's brewing.

Saturn was extremely pale. Easily missed, in the eyepiece!

I have lost Venus naked eye!


The sun was definitely up, peaking above the High Park high rise apartments...

I had on long johns, canvas zip pants, t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, fleece collared sweater, red winter (synthetic down) coat with hood, toque, and leather gloves. And I was still cold!

A collision would occur in the current configuration, I could tell. If I tried to track Saturn much longer, it would cross the meridian. I'm starting to realise / experience the weakness of equatorial mounts... If I were to "reset" I would surely not be able to find Saturn again.


Shutdown. I moved the gear back into the garage.

That was fun!

Saw a comet, Mars, Saturn, Venus, the Moon, a big nebula, and some multiple stars. And I verified that my tracking and heating gear are not damaged.


Measured the offset of Polaris from magnetic north with my cheapo compass. α (alpha) Ursa Minor appears to approx. 19° to the left of compass bearing. I'll check that against the web service I found recently. Seems too much...


The eyepieces are dirty, greasy. Particularly the 26mm! I should maybe make a point of cleaning them at the beginning of each session. Or at least inspecting them...

I should also clean my eyeglasses thoroughly...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

tough day for NASA

Those damned solar arrays continue to haunt folks on the ISS and Space Shuttle.

Monday, October 29, 2007

surprise in mail

The new Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Observer's Handbook arrived today! Woo hoo. Encased in a protective plastic bag, a nice touch.

This is the 100th year for the renowned publication!

It's a little thicker than usual...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

helped at a wet work party

Assisted at the fall work party at the Carr Astronomical Observatory. I helped spreading 19 cubic yards of topsoil around the Observing Pad. I also helped with the installation of the 17 tempered glass panels on the new deck. I helped removed some of the water damaged interior panels on the inside of the south wall of the Geoff Brown Observatory.

solar lights endangered...

On Saturday, Trevor smashed one of the repurposed red LED solar lights while driving the lawn tractor about.

Today, I learned that Denis Grey, Toronto Centre president, damaged the other two solar lights during installation! Back in August... He didn't tell me.


Only one light remains of the four that I gave to the RASC-TC for use at the CAO.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

comet slightly fainter (Blue Mountain)

Tom came in from outside reporting the sky was clear. Amazing after raining all day...

We all blitzed outside to check the surprisingly bright Comet Holmes.

I set up my binos on my big Manfrotto tripod so we could all take a look.

It seemed slightly fainter than a couple of nights ago. Someone pointed out this is because it is closer and more dispersed.


Could see more stars in the Alpha Persei cluster. In fact, I could see about 5 or 6 stars naked eye...


When the clouds near the horizon broke, we could steal looks at Mars.

solar event (Blue Mountain)

The clouds parted over Thornbury briefly on Saturday...

Photo by David P.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

blurry (Toronto)

This might make you laugh...

I pulled out my cheapo binoculars. Headed over to the tennis courts of the Western Tech high school. Aimed up, essentially straight up, and picked a target to focus on. Used the Bushnell Quick Focus rocker bar to get the left eyepiece focused. Then dialed in the right eyepiece barrel. Still fuzzy. Tried again, rocking in the main focus, then adjusted the right barrel. Still off a bit. Crappy old binos! OK. Let's try something not straight up in the sky, give my neck a break (no pun intended). Found a nice bright star, focused, aligned, ah, that looks better. Reacquired initial target. Damn, still fuzzy...

When it dawned on me...

That large pale yellow fuzzy blob with the bright centre which I can't seem to focus on... IS THE COMET!

So, um, yeah, I guess I saw Comet 17P/Holmes tonight...

location: High Park, Toronto
time: 9:35 PM EDT
binos: Bushnell Ensign 7x50
magnitude estimate: between 1 and 3


Noted a few stars of the Alpha Persei open cluster (Melotte 20) just above...


Mars was above the trees...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

cap from Alaska

Mom gave me an excellent astro-themed gift, something she brought back from her Alaska trip.


I knew this... I had seen it before. But I forgot that their flag showed the Big Dipper.

astro cake

Mom ordered an astronomy-themed ice cream cake.

Out of this world and yummy.


Bought a 3x magnifier or loupe from Princess Auto. It is foldable magnifier with 4" diameter lens, scale on the base, and built-in light! Uses 4 AA batteries. It is hands-free or, to put it another way, self-standing. This will prove handy when I am reading notes and charts.

I put some dark red theatrical cel over the light bulb to quickly make it astronomer-friendly.

Now I can bring my "helping hands" tool back in the house, for my various soldering projects...

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Don't, shortly after meeting me, tell me that everything we believe true in the physical universe around us is wrong and that one man has it all figured out...

Don't tell me we didn't go to the Moon.

Don't tell me that Einstein had it all wrong.

Don't tell me the Earth is hollow.

Don't tell me astronauts do not see stars while in space.

Don't tell me that Mars is 3 times larger than the scientists say it is.

Don't tell me to put a bright light over my head to reduce the effect of gravity on my body.

That's not a good way to convince me to consider your idol.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

cloud day research

Wanted to learn a bit more about the difference between magnetic north and celestial pole. Scott and I had discussed it at a couple of recent (Toronto area) star parties, that it was about 10° off. But I couldn't remember if it was east or west.

Looked at wikipedia briefly. The article referred me to the US and UK geological surveys but I didn't really see what I was looking for. Went to the telescopes Yahoo!Group and searched the message archive. Sure enough, found a note. The author described using a compass and then compensating. He referred to Canadian and US geomagnetic web sites.

In the Natural Resources Canada web site, I found the Magnetic Declination Calculator. Very handy. I've added a note to my observing checklists to review this. While it doesn't need to be checked often for a particular location, it should be used if observing from different sites, distant from one another.

This will prove useful for day time observing...

Friday, October 12, 2007

so clear (Toronto)

Popped outside to take out some garbage and composting, looked up, dark blue, beautiful! A break from the thick grey clouds.

Arrrgh! Have to work today...

The skies were beautifully clear. There was Venus, up high, burning bright. Mars was a little west of zenith.


Got to my training gig. The client cancelled.

Arrrgh! Don't have to work now...

I could have star (or rather, planet) gazed this morning. Oh well. I'll try Saturday morning.

Monday, October 08, 2007

he likes it!

Karen reported that her son likes the Oregon Scientific weather station. "He loves it, thanks again, money well spent!"

Friday, October 05, 2007


During the Saab Club advanced driving school at Shannonville, I received a great number of gifts. The surprise one was from Phil!

He included a third book with the two I had lent him. It is Full Moon by Michael Light (hard cover, small format version, with a number of gatefolds). Wonderful, rich photography.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sputnik 50 years old

Helped at the Sputnik Star Party at the Ontario Science Centre in conjunction with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Toronto Centre.

Interviewed by CTV and two local newspapers.

The skies were crappy. We saw Jupiter for about 15 or 20 minutes. Tried to target Vega to then hop to the Double-Double. No luck... Fog and low clouds blocked the ISS and Iridium flyovers. Still, we had fun.

I turned the telescope to the corner office of a nearby building... Not much else to do.

Said hi to Sara as she blitzed through...

Finally met Randy Attwood of the Mississauga Centre.

pillar of light (Scarborough)

Saw a sun pillar, early in the morning, driving to Whitby.

In the clouds, the shaft of light moved upwards from the sun.

some morning planets (Toronto)

While unpacking and packing gear, I enjoyed the early morning planets...

Venus was incredibly bright. Mars was almost straight overhead. I enjoyed the waning Moon.

Earlier in the week, during an early morning sojourn, I mistook a star near Mars for Saturn. Reviewing my charts or software, I learned it was closer to Venus. I tried to spot it this morning but was unsuccessful.

Monday, October 01, 2007

OS faster than Nexxtech

Ken confirmed that the Oregon Scientific eb313hg weather station is faster than the Nexxtech unit he has. That is to say, it responds more rapidly to being moved from inside or indoors to outdoors. Both in terms of temperature and humidity.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

2 books to read

The Toronto Public Library robot phoned me a couple of days ago about books I had requested. I picked up 2 books:

City Astronomy by Robin Scagell from Sky Pub Corp. I chose this to get some more ideas and inspiration when I don't feel like venturing further than the back yard. Or should I say, "back garden."

Astronomy Hacks by By Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson from O'Reilly. I'm looking to learning some tricks and tips... A quick glance through the book reveals I'm in for some treats.

Lots of reading to do. Gotta assimilate fast so I don't get in trouble with The Library Police...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

380x in the 1.9m (Richmond Hill)

We looked at Albireo through the 74" telescope. At 380x, they were separated by approx. 1/4 of the field. Colourful, pleasing, pretty spectacular, all things considered. And possibly our last look through such an instrument!

Malcolm brought the kids up to the David Dunlap Observatory. I went up early to assist. Left Phil in charge of my gear while I joined Courtney, Liam, and Malcolm for the 8 o'clock tour. Mel Blake talked about binary stars. About the only thing we could see in the clouded sky!

This was a good, focused topic idea. Malcolm and I looked at each other. I myself could easily do such a presentation in the future...

Late into Mel's presentation, the conversation eroded into saving the DDO. As much as I'd like to see the building and telescope preserved, and even though Mel made a good case for current, on-going research at the DDO, we're only getting half the story here... That left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

When we got inside the dome, while there was lots of room, and no where to go but wait in the long queue, the people behind us were jackasses. A very tall young man kept inching up and bumping me. I turned around a couple of times. I didn't say anything. He just didn't get the message. Somebody touched my ass at one point. Well! Never on a first date! Pedestrian tail-gating. That just makes me angry. And it makes me slow down. I left more space between me and the kids. I also started rocking and tilting my head back, ha ha. Similarly, the young couple behind Malcolm were bumping him too. When the guy starting fiddling with his mobile phone, goofing around with his gf, turning the phone on and off several times (he said he was checking messages), when Malcolm "lost it." A heated argument ensued. For a moment, I thought we were going to get into a burly brawl.

That kind of things makes me wonder why they even go to such an event. Why are you here? Oh well. That left a bad taste in my mouth too.

When we returned outside, it was completed clouded over. We could barely see stars overhead. The Moon was murky beside north-east cloud-cover. Phil was packing up and ready to leave. Dang. I felt bad for delaying him! I'll have to make it up to him...

My little 'scope was colliding with the mount! Oops. Early, I had set it to track Albireo. That famous meridian crossing problem with equatorial mounts... Got watch out for that in the future! It was ironic that the topic of telescope collisions came up earlier, in Mel's talk, Malcolm asking about it, in the dome. I was a little worried I had damaged my new Vixen motor!

I put my 'scope on the Moon briefly. You had to look at it for a while to make out any detail...

My planned meeting with 2 RASC members to hand over their ordered weather stations did not pan out. One person arrived earlier than they said they would, I was later than expected, and the other was a no-show. I felt awkward about missing the first person.

Flurry of emotions and feelings tonight. I was not happy when I got home...

group buy

I had 10 RASC members interested in the Oregon Scientific weather stations when I called Radio World. Impusively, I decided to order one for myself, or rather, for a gift (for Track Dog!). They dropped the price to the lowest discount level the sales manager had previously offered: $35 each! Awesome deal.

I purchased the units personally on behalf of the group. There were some in stock; we submitted an order to OS for the rest. I drove up to Radio World (twice!) to get the in-stock items.

After I placed the order, one RASCer asked if he could get another. Curious timing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ferris on TV

Messed up my freakin' sleep patterns, in the middle of a very busy week, to watch Tim Ferris's Seeing in the Dark show on PBS.

I loved reading (some 25 years ago) his Galaxies book.

Interesting approach, to the TV show. Colourful and poetic at times; heavy-handed and melodramatic at others. And a whimper of an ending. Oh well. Not the way I would have done it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

tour booked

I told Malcolm about the potential DDO closing and the remaining public tours this year. He was very keen to go. OK then. Let's go!

We're booked for the public tour on Sat 29 Sep. Got our confirmation from Tuba.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

done the planets! (Richmond Hill)

This evening (technically yesterday) I assisted once again at the David Dunlap Observatory.

Arrived at DDO in reasonably good time, particularly with the DVP and 404 being closed. On the fly, I made up the simple route: Black Creek, 400, Major Mac. Lots of stops. But also some fast sections along Major Mac.

I was the first RASC member to arrive. Later, John, Phil, Alexandra and Paul, Scott, Tim, Brenda and Eric showed up. Ray dropped by with timbits!

As I was uncoiling my extension cord, Ian said, "Let me know if you've got power or not. I can turn it on..." I reported it was "good!"

It was appropriate so many RASCals showed up for a fairly large crowd descended on the observatory public tours. Perhaps they are hearing that the DDO might close or be sold... I also heard that an astronomy club from Hamilton had booked a visit. I guess they were in the school bus.

I showed the moon in the early evening. Always pleasing in a bright sky. Good detail. Pretty good seeing. We fought off the mozzies who ventured into the cool air.

I spotted Jupiter a bit later. All four Galilean moons were visible, Io and Europa tangling over the early evening. Cloud bands very visible.

I took some requests. We went to Messier 57 and Messier 31 (M31). Pretty faint stuff.

Phil lent me his filter for M57. It was an Orion 1.25" UltraBlock (generically known as an UHC – Ultra High Contrast) filter. It did help, I realised, as I looked at the Ring Nebula longer. Everything was darker. But there was more detail in the ring.

Phil also let me try his 24mm Tele Vue Panoptic wide field eyepiece. We used that on the Andromeda galaxy. And it was very good. It made me realise that I should not necessarily try for a super lower power eyepiece; rather, I should try for wider fields!

We forgot to watch for the Iridium flare... The ISS was not due until the next evening. No shooting stars. I didn't even see one satellite!

I positioned on Albireo for some time. People seemed to enjoy that.

When the crowds died down, I readied for my planetary search. The only remaining planet that I have not seen through my telescope was Uranus. Now that Pluto has been kicked out, the check-list is a little shorter.

Earlier, John had gone to Uranus in his GOTO. I had a sense of what it should look like. But it was going to be a challenge for me, good ole EyeBallTo, waxing Moon out and up high, and the general murkiness of the sky over Toronto. Also, it was a long star hop from my planned starting point...

But, I did it! I found Uranus. 10:45 PM. A pale blue, almost aquamarine disk, a very small disk, a bit to the left (rotated view) of φ (phi) Aquarius. Initially, I used Procyon on my palmtop to begin the search—it reminded me of the constellation. Then I used the Tirion SkyAtlas 2000 black-on-white chart to hop from α (alpha) to λ (lambda) and φ. Finally, I pulled my detailed, personalised Neptune plot (black-on-white version). It made relatively easy work of finding it, once I was in the region. I tried observing the 7th planet at 220x but it was not very good. 154x was pleasing though, improved the disk's dimensions, colour, and clarity.


It was 11:30 PM. 11°C. Without a specific plan, I reviewed the September Skymaps sheet. It said γ (gamma) Andromeda was a nice double star. It sure is! Like a compact version of Albireo, perhaps more interesting, with the gold and blue stars so close to one another.

α (alpha) Andromeda is a double? I'll have to read up on that. I did not see anything close to single bright star. Is it the super faint companion...? (Ah, Haas says one is mag 2.2 and the other is 11.1. It is 89" away...)


I was getting tired. The skies were good but I knew I should wind it down. That said, Mars would be coming up... I tore down very slowly, keeping the 'scope up and running. Paul positioned their GOTO 'scope on Mars. He said it was 3° above the horizon. Not too far to go. A short time later, Alexandra spotted it through the trees. I had the better sight line. It was good to see again!

Orange. Not even in colour. Slightly gibbous.


Phil and I chatted about his SCT setup. It has a different visual back with large opening, high-end focuser, and Williams Optics 2" diagonal. I told him I was thinking about going to 2" tubing on my 'scope. He made it sound like it will not make much of a difference. And of course it puts me into a whole different snack bracket with eyepieces...


Tested the new (OneWorld) portable weather unit for an altitude reading. I had set the elevation to 150 meters at home; here at the DDO it was reading 245. Phil fired up his portable GPS: it said we were at 250m. So I bumped up my unit a couple of meters. Promising...

That said, the back light is kinda lame. Goes off too fast.

Also, there's a contrast issue in the cool air...


The power cord kept slipping from the controller. I tried a one-wrap Velcro strip but that didn't work. Gotta figure out something to avoid this in the future...


Scott had trouble finding Neptune. I'm going to send him my Neptune chart.

Friday, September 21, 2007

finished Big DOC

I bought the Big Dave's Observing Chair unfinished with the intention of finishing it myself. I applied the final coat of spar varnish today.

Before the first coat, I sanded the chair to remove finger prints, smudges, dirt, etc. It looked good.

Then, as I started to paint it, I thought the varnish awfully dark. I suddenly realised the paint brush was filthy! It had looked clean... But all this black particulate was coming out of it. I must have used the brush to clean some greasy, oiled part on a car! Damn damn damn! What an idiot. Must mark brushes that are not to be used with paint...

The varnish soaked into the wood—doing its job—preventing me from sanding it out. Tainted, it left a darkened, dirty appearance. What a drag.

This was on the back rest, near the top. I should have started at an area "out of sight," I realised too late. Oh well.

Still. With the varnish, overall, the chair looks amazing.

9 people so far

Two RASC members emailed me this morning to order the Oregon portable weather station. We've almost got enough people for the 2nd price discount tier!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

presented on weather station

At the RASC Toronto Centre's members' night meeting, I delivered a presentation on the Oregon Scientific eb313hg Portable Weather Station. I relayed the details of the "group buy" offer made by Radio World. Got 2 people signed up on the spot...

Theresa and Brian came out. They brought their Kestrel 4000 weather station—the Ferrari of portable weather analysers! We showed it beside my "low end" unit.

batteries2x AAA2x CR 2032
battery life12 months+5 months
air pressureyesno
pressure trendyesyes
relative humidityyesyes
wind speedyesno
date timeyesyes
moon phasenoyes
backlit displayyesyes

Good questions during the presentation. For example, one person asked if my Oregon portable unit used the atomic time clock signals. I said I didn't think so and promised to remove the batteries to try it.

* Not that that means anything...


Uploaded the presentation to the companion site (390 KB). Originally, a PowerPoint 2003 file; converted to Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Enjoy.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

DDO debate

It was announced in the last week or so that the David Dunlap Observatory is going to be closed or shut down by the University of Toronto. But, they say, they will continue to support astronomy and cosmology by creating the David Dunlap Institute.

This has incited many individuals to mount campaigns. Many want to save the DDO and suggest it still has value as a research facility. U of T says it is old, does not contribute to the scientific community, and is very expensive ($800 000 per annum) to operate. Other people have suggested that while it may not be current scientifically, it is historically significant and should be preserved as part of our Canadian heritage to astronomy. Still others offer that as a green space, the property must be kept and not given up for condos.

A complex issue... I hope cooler heads will prevail. A lot of data must be gathered before anyone can make an informed decision.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Khan to get marbles

Ray was at the DDO open house. I had my Shasta marbles with me. Showed them to him. He was pleased to see them live.

He said he's going to bring them in now...

how high

Took the new (OneWorld) portable weather station to the DDO. I wanted to verify the elevation accuracy. I did think about it, once or twice, during the evening. But I had forgotten where I put it. It wasn't in the astronomy box so therefore not handy. Not like the Oregon. It was in the box. Oh well. Next time.


The good ole Oregon. I used it several times to monitor the temp. and humidity. At one point, I had a crowd, all curious about the unit. Hopefully they will show up at my formal presentation on Wednesday (19 Sep 07).

helped at the DDO open house (Richmond Hill)

In two ways I helped at the David Dunlap Observatory open house...

At Leslie's request, I bought and brought beverages (coffee, tea, and fixin's). Brought my big camping cooler too. And I helped on the front lawn during the public tour (scheduled for 7:30 PM).


Tested my new finder scope dew heater. It worked good. It looks so fragile though. And the rings are too tight for the tubing... Gilles had a good suggestion: glue around the nichrome wire to protect and strengthen.

Jupiter and its moons were in fine form—when clouds didn't block it.

Viewed Messier 31 (M31) for a while. Could not pick out naked-eye. Helped Walter find it in his 60mm refractor.

Viewed Messier 13 (M13) for a while. Very nice at 110x. Individual stars popped out. Spectacular view in the 12" Dob—wow.


Enjoyed the special treatment by the DDO staff, Tom, Tuba, Ian, et al.

finder scope heater done

Built a heater for my Celestron 6x30 finder scope!

I used nichrome wire from an old toaster. The particular wire has a resistance of 25.8 ohms per metre.

I cut a piece 48 centimetres long for the objective; 37 cm for the eyepiece.

I placed a strip of black electrical tape around the barrel of the finder scope, inside out, i.e. with the sticky side out. I carefully coiled the nichrome wire around the barrel so each loop was near to the previous but not touching it. I was able to go around 4 times (both for the objective and eyepiece) while leaving about 1 cm at each end for the leads.

I layed another piece of tape, this time right-side up, sticky side down, atop the nichrome wire. I pressed the two pieces of tape together to seal the nichrome wire in place. Hopefully this approach will ensure the nichrome wires do not touch each other and short out.

On top of the heater coil, I pressed some closed-cell neoprene self-adhesive foam tape (purchased some time ago from Canadian Tire). This is to keep as much heat in as possible, instead of giving it away to the surrounding air. I placed another strip of electrical tape on the heater, around the perimeter of the foam, to hold the foam in place.

I had heard that soldering to nichrome was difficult so, to the leads of the coils, I attached tube terminals, crimping them in place. I considered attempting to solder these in place but realised this would prove futile later on.

I connected a short length of some red-jacketed 20-gauge wire between the front and rear heaters, crimping this into the terminals as well. I made sure this wire was long enough to allow for one of the heaters to be removed from the finder scope while the other one was attached. This manoeuvre will be required as the finder scope is mounted in the telescope brackets and I need to slip on or off the heater.

I remembered to pre-install on some heat shrink tubing. Fired up my heat gun (on the low setting this time) to tighten up the tubing.

Then I attached a one metre length of the professional grade 4-wire (24-gauge?) microphone cable, again using 2 wires for each side of the circuit. This I terminated with a red RCA plug.

Did a quick bench test, connected to the Kendrick dew controller, in turn, driven from the portable car battery. Works. Good heat at high power.

I look forward to trying the new custom heater during the next damp session! Bring on the dew!

Monday, September 10, 2007

real cross hairs

Gilles emailed me:
"I have fixed my view finder and it is better that it's ever been, the cross hairs are smaller and lighter in colour.

"As expected it was an easy fix.

"[I used my wife's hair.]  I am impressed by the results, there is a bit of transparency which is useful, it does not mask the small object like the previous setup."

Damaged by me on 8 Sep '07.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

what is that?

Saw Charles, from a distance, taking a wind speed reading. It looked like he had a Kestrel portable weather station. Figures: he's a techno geek. A few minutes later I asked him about the instrument. It was a simple wind speed gauge. Basic; but good. The reference for him was model airplane people... Makes sense. He couldn't remember what he paid for it.

universal camera jig

Learned from Chas and Eric of "universal adapter" for holding any style of digital camera to the eyepiece of a telescope! This is very cool. Simple, ingenious device. Khan sells 'em.

I think Charles had a Zhumell unit.

Eric says there's a newer model than the one Chas has that offers another direction of movement, in and out, suitable for digital one-touch cameras with non-removable zoom lenses. Gilles and Nicole were very interested to here that...

I'll have to tell Malcolm about it. We could try shooting with his camera again.

I also discovered a unit from Orion.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

testing testing (Blue Mountain)

Tested a bunch of equipment this evening will the digital imagers fiddled, in the Geoff Brown Observatory at the CAO, with their electronic focusers.

I used my old "universal" AC-DC adapter to operate the mount motor and controller. Initially it did not seem to be working correctly but I realised that was because I had it set to 6 volts output and not 9.

I tried Mom's crazy 4mm eyepiece again. On my C8, it yields 500 power! But I thought I'd try it on some tight double stars, such as the Double-Double in Lyra. And you know what? It worked! I could easily split each tight pair. That said, 500x was a hair too much to include both in the Meade orthoscopic field. I borrowed Ian's 5mm which perfectly showed the famous multiple star group, each pair split yet still in the same field. So, the upshot of this is that maybe I'll keep the old 4mm for special applications.

(Curiously, the image quality of the 5mm did not seem, to me, much different than the 4.)

We hit the dew point later in the evening. Everything was soaked. This reminded me that I had not yet tackled the finder scope heater project despite having piles of nichrome wire at home...

oh no, we'll have coffee

How you make coffee at the CAO...

  • bw = beans whole
  • h = hammer or rs = rock small
  • fb = freezer bags (Ziplocs will do x 3)
  • d = determination (or thirst or caffeine withdrawal)
  • ps = patio stone or rl = rock large

fire alarm!

As we set up our telescopes on the viewing pad, I suggested to Gilles and Nicole that, with their automated 'scope, we try to find some day-time planets.

Their 'scope, while a GOTO, does not have a GPS. So I explained that you can, with the finder scope, take a bearing on The Sun, and then that gives you your alignment.

They were keen.

We tried that. But, in the end, couldn't see anything... Drag. Was looking forward to viewing Jupiter in the day time.

Then Gilles noticed something wrong on the eyepiece of his finder scope. The cross hairs were broken and curled every which way. We suddenly realised that I had set the cross hairs on fire! Crikey! Oops.

I felt terrible! Gilles urged me not to worry about it. He said he's restring the reticule perhaps using hairs from his wife!

Friday, September 07, 2007

they work!

It was very satisfying to see the (customised) red solar lights that I gave to the RASC Toronto Centre installed (2 of them anyway) and working at the CAO. They are placed on each side of the walk to Geoff Brown Observatory, lighting the way. They look great. If I may be so bold...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

new calendars on sale

The 2008 RASC calendar is out.

Let the gift shopping begin!

Buy 'em from the RASC online web store...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

reading Star Ware

I stumbled across Philip S. Harrington's newest edition (the fourth) of Star Ware at a Chapters Indigo book store the other day. As I quickly thumbed through it, I was intrigued.

So I requested it from the Toronto Public Library. Today, I picked up the third edition from my local branch. I'm looking forward to reading it. I'm hoping some of the tips and tricks advice I will find handy...

Phil's binoculars book looks interesting too.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


The 300.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Jupiter and Vesta (Toronto)

Suddenly felt compelled to get outside and try to catch Jupiter and Vesta together. It was about 7:30PM and I had just finished dinner. It would also be a chance to try the motor and controller "in the field."

Loaded up the wagon and trundled across the street. Set the telescope up in the tennis court of the high school. From there I knew I would have a good sight line to the south.

The Galilean moons were in a nice configuration at 8:20PM. I sketched their positions. I fired up Procyon to confirm names but misread the screen, flipping Io and Ganymede. (Got it straightened out after reviewing Cartes du Ciel and Stellarium.)

The air was not super steady but I could still see numerous cloud bands on the Jovian world. I did a zoomed-in sketch...

Some young basketball players dropped by after their game, curious. They had tons of questions. I gather "Sick!" means they enjoyed the views. My token edutainment for the evening. Not strictly "sidewalk astronomy" but rather "tennis court astronomy!"

At 8:50PM (57% humidity, 19.5°C), I noticed Callisto through the finder scope. I could see a bright point for Io and Ganymede but could not split them. I could not discern Europa over the glare of the planet.

Also in the finder scope, I saw a very bright star in-line with Jupiter and the moons. It looked like a blue-white star through the main 'scope. Is this ω (omega) Ophiuchus again?

The weird thing is that I did not notice any other bright points very near Jupiter... I wondered what Vesta's magnitude was now... (From Sky and Telescope: "At magnitude 7.2, Vesta is significantly dimmer than Jupiter's moons.")

At 8:55PM (58%, 20.1°), I did a large-scale sketch of a Jupiter, the moons, and a nearby bright point. It is approximately the same magnitude as, maybe slightly less than, G or E.

Also did the transparency magnitude test: I could see δ (delta) and ε (epsilon) Ursa Minor with averted vision.

(Later reviewed Vesta's position compared to Jupiter and its moons with Cartes du Ciel. The Cartes image is mirror-reversed to match the 'scope. It is also rotated slightly.)

I was getting a little chilled with the occasional light gusts. So I zipped back to the house for a sweater. Grabbed a cola, wishing I had some beer in the fridge.

Tried for some Messiers but everything was washed out.


At 9:55PM (66%, 17.6°), I switched to double-stars.

57 Aquila is a nice pair, off the beaten track. They are almost equal in magnitude. The brighter one is pale lilac (I may have been biased but that was a strong impression when I defocused); the other is pale yellow.

16 Cygnus is a wide pair. The equally bright stars are about 1/3rd of the field apart (at 77x).

It was 10:25PM (70%, 16.3°). I went for ο (omicron) Cygnus. Wow! The central star is bright. It is yellow fringed with orange. There is a pale blue star nearby. Another more distant star (30?) is white, brighter than the blue, but lower in magnitude than the yellow. There are many other faint stars in the field. Neat. A very interesting combination of stars. (This is the first combination star pattern I've not found listed in Haas's book...)

61 Cygnus is a close pair. I think the colours are yellow and pale green? They are almost equal brightness. Again, there are lots of faint stars. Any advantage of double stars within a dense part of the Milky Way, I gather.

What the hell? There's the Moon. At 10:37 (71%, 16.6°) it has cleared the trees.

Ha ha. I had confused myself earlier thinking it was near a new Moon. Even when I saw a bright object through the trees, I had discounted it (as a street light).

That was a surprisingly good night.


I think I have discovered a scratch in the left lens of my eyeglasses. Smack dab in the centre!


The motor drive, via the new DC adapter, off the portable car battery, worked great! And the wagon / garden cart worked great—it made this whole event easy, doable. Hmmm. Maybe next time, I'll hit the sports field at the other end of the school...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

dark moon (Mississauga)

I had set the alarms to get me up early to drive to Erin Mills, to meet up with some of the RASC - Mississauga people. My alarms started going off at 4:30 AM! Kept hitting the snooze...

Didn't feel like I had the wherewithal to chit chat with people. Didn't feel like rushing about to get out of the house. Didn't feel like driving anywhere. I am not a morning person.

Still, I popped outside. From Malcolm's front yard, I picked off the Moon immediately! It was around 5 AM, it had started, the partial eclipse, just under half covered, at an angle, from the bottom right. It was a crescent shape facing down. Such an unusual orientation... Like horns. There was very little colour, dark grey on top, white on the bottom.

I put some pants on. And settled into a lounge chair with my 7x50 binoculars (which I now keep in my car).

The giant square of Andromeda and Pegasus high up, galaxy almost straight overhead, faint in binos.

At approx 5:30, it was getting colourful, dark orange on the top.

At approx 5:45, did I see the ISS? (Checked but couldn't see anything noted.)

By 5:50, the Moon looked like Mars with a polar ice cap, a thin light yellow limb on the bottom. The angle of the pattern had slowly shifted to bottom left. By 6:00, the umbral was complete.

Saw a star at 11 o'clock position about 4 diameters away (σ Aquarius); another at 2 about 6 away (θ or possibly ρ Aquarius).

It was getting too low to see above the houses. I went inside and popped out a screen from a second-storey window.

At 6:05 it was almost impossible to see naked eye the moon blending into sky.

By 6:12 I couldn't see it in binos anymore.

This was the best lunar eclipse I've ever seen.

Monday, August 27, 2007

universal power

Today, from Sayal Electronics, I bought two RCA universal DC car adapters (model CAH55). Super cheap! CDN$7.99. Yep. I couldn't build it that inexpensively! One adapter will be used to power my palmtop computer in the field. The other will power the controller and motor for my telescope.

It had occurred to me while camping to get some adapters like these... This happened one evening as I wanted to do some writing on my palmtop. I knew if I turned on the screen backlight on the Psion, it would gobble up battery power. While I had a gaggle of rechargeable AA batteries with me as well as my solar battery chargers, I did not want to use them up. I could use my 12V lead-acid portable car battery as an external source! But that required connecting the inverter and then the Psion transformer. It seemed a little ridiculous and wasteful to step up to 120 volts and then bring it right back down again.

I had started to design my own units, using 5V and 9V voltage regulators. But then I remembered seeing an inexpensive unit (that output at 6 or 9 volts) at Active Surplus. In fact, I had bought one earlier in the year (for my in-car digital audio player project). But, ironically, I gutted it for the jack and coiled cord. The circuit board is sitting in my spare parts bin...

I quite like the design of the RCA units.
  • Outputting at 3, 6 , 9, and 12 volts, the adapter is quite versatile.
  • The amperage output varies too...
    • 3V: 300mA
    • 6V: 600mA
    • 9V: 600mA
    • 12V: 1.2A
  • Six adapter plugs are provided.
  • The adapter plugs connect to a universal plug so you can easily change the polarity.
  • The separate "block" or "brick" is substantial. The Active unit was self-contained within a larger-than-average CLA jack. But the circuit, as I hacked it, was rudimentary, and without capacitors to smooth the fluctuations. The RCA unit looks sophisticated. Admittedly, I have not opened the unit but I would not be surprised to find filtering capacitors and possibly a diode for reverse-voltage protection.
  • The block is well-ventilated. This, I know, will be important, as heat is produced by the voltage regulator and resistors in the circuit.
  • There is a red LED in the CLA jack. So you get instant feedback as you connect the jack.
  • There is another red LED on the block itself. So now I know power is being received to the main unit.
  • Oh, yes. And the CLA jack is fused!
I have tested the RCA units and they work good. Can't wait to try them in the field!


These adapters are helping me move toward being more environmentally friendly. As much as I like and want the motor drive, I did not like the idea of burning through piles (sorry!) of C batteries. First impression is that I get one evening out of a set of 6 batteries. Very wasteful.

Driving off rechargeables is better. Driving off the big chargeable, the lead-acid, is even better.


There's one small, new problem with all this...

I'm putting a tremendous load on the portable car battery! Dew heaters, motor drive, light box, palmtop, and desk light. They all can be driven now by the car battery.

If I'm near an AC outlet, I'm OK, with my special custom CLA adapter. But in a dark remote field in the middle of nowhere during a heavy dew-laden night, I'm in trouble!

Friday, August 24, 2007

modified circle

I modified my acetate film "rings" document to print the background in black and leave the viewing ring circles white or clear. This will work better for use on my backlit red light table when using my Tirion white-on-black star charts.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

red clip lights

Just learned of a supplier of hat clip lights who specifically has red and green ones, in addition to white, ready to go.


And this is the maker of them...

Curiously, this product, the hat clip lights, are called "Orion" lights.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

light sky

It is only when you're in a forest, at night, during a clear night, that you realise how bright the sky is.

Now I'm talking about when you're away from city lights, perhaps camping...

That's when you realise a "dark" sky is not really dark.

The trees and leaves in the foreground are dark—black! But the dark night sky behind is relatively bright, a dark, almost-colourless deep azure purple.

Ha. The trees and leaves are backlit!

Monday, August 20, 2007

last-night observing session (Awenda)

Now that's weird. It was my last night here at Awenda (like last year's camping trip) and the skies were suddenly clear!

I had an early dinner tonight, again. I could see some whispy clouds through the trees but I pressed on. Washed the dishes, hung my food, kicked out the fire. Packed everything needed. Remembered my palmtop this time (duh). And headed for the dock...

It was quite cloudy in the west but was getting really clear overhead.

I decided to roll the gear down in the wagon and then make my final decision. Before I knew it, I was setting up. But, hey, the skies were improving. Perhaps I could catch a glimpse of Jupiter through the trees...
Intrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
A family dropped by with lots of questions. The guy started off by asking if I was the professional astronomy guy he had heard about. Funny how distorted my legend became in such a short time... Celebrity. Where's my entourage?!

Viewed some double stars. I quoted the number I had just read from the Observer's Handbook: that 85% of stars are doubles or multiples.

When Jupiter poked between some trees, I moved the telescope. I entertained the few people standing around. We could see one moon above, three below. One was really close.

A young man, who lived in Burlington, was photographing the sunset. He took a bunch of pictures of us at the 'scope.

The ISS and shuttle flew by on time, at 9:26 PM. The STS was 10° behind, quite a bit fainter, at first. It was a longer run than predicted, travelling into the south-east.

Showed M57. Again, it seemed there was something in the centre, whether at 77 or 110...

Spotted a bright, short Cygnid as it travelled down through the pot of the Big Dipper.

OK. Primary objective this evening: get some deep sky objects while in dark sky country. And that I did. Using the Sky & Telescope's Messier Card and the Pocket Sky Atlas, I visited M3, M51, M13, M92, M27, and Messier 76 (M76). Wow.

Started at 9:45 PM. Sketched Messier 3 and the surrounding field.

Found Messier 51 very faint. No trouble seeing the main galaxy and its companion. But I could occasionally see swirling arms. It was worse at 110x power.

Viewed Messier 13 in Her at 10:30 PM. It was very bright. Pin-prick stars. So far away... It did not seem perfectly round.

Messier 92 on the other hand was round. It was very bright. The centre was intense. I liked it more than 13.

At 10:55 PM, I saw the Messier 27, the Dumbbell Nebula, in Cygnus. Wow. That was a highlight. It's big! I was surprised how large it was! Very cool. Hints of the overall circular shape. Stars within or coincident with it. I sketched it.

While star hopping to 27, I stumbled across the Coathanger, in Vulpecula, near Albireo and CR399. Leslie's favourite. Ha ha. Funny. That's a great summer asterism to show people in the future...

Then I headed to Perseus, below Cassiopeia, on the hunt for The Little Dumbbell. A rather small faint target. In fact, it almost seemed two separate faint blossoms with a dark rift between.

I briefly considered going for Neptune but realised that Cap would never rise above the trees. Save that for the CAO...

OK. Winding down... Let's snag a few of the Sky & Telescope's favourite summer double stars...

At 11:43 PM, spotted π (pi) Boo. A very close pairing, between 5 and 6" apart. Tough to make the colours. The bright one is perhaps light blue; the dimmer one is pale orange. That said, they are almost equal brightness.

Then went for ζ (zeta) CrB. Another tight pair at 110x, about 6" apart. Pale green and pale green?

As I started packing up, at 11:54 PM, I saw a bright, brief fireball! It travelled from Cam to Lyn, for about 5 to 10°, from 15 or 10° elevation, almost straight down. The changed colours, was briefly white, but as it burned out, it was a bright light green!

Few mozzies this evening, low wind, a pleasant temp (although I put my socks on), it was 60% humidity and 14.2°C as I wrapped up at 11:57 PM.

What a fun evening. Glad I tried for it. A little bit of ed. Some entertaining. A few more notches in the Messier post. More star hopping practice (I'm getting fast). Some surprises: M27, the Coathanger, a fireball. And remarkably clear skies.

chat with participants

Bumped into a man and his son at the washroom.

"Blake?" the father asked tentatively as I finished washing my face.


He wanted to know where we went on Thursday night. "We tried to find you."

I explained we went to the observation deck between First and Second Beach. I confirmed for him that it was by the Beaver Pond entrance. I asked when they came down.

"Around 10 o'clock."

I told him I didn't leave until midnight.

"We didn't see any cars."

That's too bad. I would have had a few more visitors! Yikes!

Nevertheless, they were thrilled to report an ISS sighting last night. They had looked on the web, at NASA's site, etc., and found space station fly-over information. Good for them! Funny how I was not interested in wide-sky last night...

They asked what the bright point about "2 inches" behind it, following the same path, might have been. We discussed that it was probably the undocked shuttle, slowly drifting away, staying close until the de-orbit burn.


Another lesson learned... We should give very clear directions to the new or less-familiar or directionally-challenged park visitors. And maybe I should have a map showing at the end.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

noisy in the 'hood (Awenda)

We had a pleasant day today at the park.

At 2 or 3 PM there were few clouds in a very blue sky. I even considered heading down to the beach...

Again, got dinner done early. Dishes cleaned. And settled in near the very hot fire.

When I felt drops?!

At 8 PM, I saw skies like the night before: high thin wisps. White patches here and there... I dunno.

I might just drive to Kettle's to see what's up...

Am I getting desperate?


Went to Kettle's Lake.

It would really be the best venue for a large crowd. The lower-lower dock would easily hold 50 people. Watch the edge...

The accessibility ramps would serve as queues.

The only problem is, it faces south-east. I could just barely see Jupiter over the trees... At around 8:30 PM.

Once again, this sojourn reminds me that Kettle's is good for sunrise activities and First-Second Beach is good for sunset.

The purpose of this little evening trip of course was to star gaze. But Jupiter was fading in and out, high clouds covered the sky, and they seemed stationary.

I popped down to the Beach on the off-chance... Pretty sunset. But lots of clouds. No sign of the moon, in fact. Dubhe, Arcturus, Vega, Altair, Deneb begged me to stay...


Crap! Returned to my camp site and heard my palmtop beeping! Holy cow. I left it in a chair. An alarm started at 9:00 PM and it was 20 minutes after. Good thing it was dark. People would not be able to tell where the sound was coming from... Still, I felt bad for disturbing my fellow campers.

Well. Heh. Except for the goofs across from me, those who burn dead wood, wash their dishes at the water station, and do nothing to make the young daughter stop crying (or continually cause her to cry).

And I wasn't too worried about bothering the people beside the rest station. Who play the radio in their truck, who have tarp, canvas, nylon, and screen covering every square foot of their site, and light up their site at night like a shopping mall parking lot.

OK. That's a little mean on my part.

I would have bothered (if they were around) the couple at site 140, immediately beside me. They had visitors today, looked like parents, and they all disappeared in the early afternoon. Perhaps for a dinner out? Late dinner out. With dessert? And cocktails? And dancing?!

Thoughts of theft flickered through my mind. If I had gone for 4 or 5 hours, someone would surely have lifted my palmtop.

I also projected, at what stage would I have realised it missing? Then I would have been betwixted and between, if I had set up the telescope...

Funny how it goes.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


star light weaves through space
black forest canopy leaves
to reach darkened eyes

passé passing satellites (Awenda)

Woke at 3-ish. Went to the loo.

Afterwards, I went to the clearing in the centre of the Bear campground, put down my toiletries bag as a prop, and lay on my back.

The stars were beautiful, the Milky Way glowing, Perseus up high.

Immediately I saw satellites. It occurred to me that this is reaching a mundane level. Sadly. There are so many orbitting devices now, with more going up, that we need to take it for granted that we'll see many satellites on a given evening.

I waited for some Perseids.

Surprisingly, the brightest meteor ran parallel to Perseus, bottom to top, through Andromeda, very bright, intense long glowing wake. I'll have to look that one up. (Possibly, an Aquarid or Capricornid but likely a Cygnid.)

It was tempting to stay in the field. I was certainly comfortable. There did not seem to be any bugs. Ha. It occurred to me if I stayed longer, some early risers would find me sleeping... Or trip over me!

Returned to my tent and considered, for a long time, staying up. I knew Mars would be visible... Could watch the sunrise from Kettle's. But, too tired...


During the day, as I repacked my astronomy gear, I found my Oregon Scientific eb313hg portable weather station. Hadn't seen it for a while so I wasn't sure if I had remembered to bring it.

Low battery warning. Again. I'll have to calculate how long it has been this time! (Since mid-April!) Wow. Gotta go back to The Source (for the first of my two free replacement sets of 2032s).

The station is great for camping! Kinda forgot to use it. Should not be hidden away in the astronomy box...


Oh to own shares of 2032 batteries.

Let's consider all the things now that I have that uses this type:
  • palmtop (as a backup power source): one
  • portable weather station: two
  • first clip n' lite (white): two
  • second clip lite (red): two
  • a few of my personal computers use them for CMOS preservation...
I'll buy another batch of them from The Source with this replacement guarantee and I'll be set for a while...


Was hoping for clear skies tonight. Big fluffy clouds through the day, otherwise blue skies.

Had dinner early and then sat in front of the fire. Kept checking the sky. High thin clouds.

As it darkened I kept looking for stars to punch through the clouds and then through the leaves of the canopy. I saw some! Oh!

A little bit later, I spotted Vega. I tried to get my orientation and pick out all of Lyra. When Vega suddenly winked out. That's it then: scattered cloud. We are a no-go.

Friday, August 17, 2007

thumbs up

I (finally) met Tim when I checked in at the Awenda administration office the day after my presentation.

He said the reports from Dave and Andrea were great. A very respectable turn-out.

He's hoping I'll do it again next year...

He's going to send me the park visitors written comments as they receive them. I ask he ask Dave and Andrea to document their observations.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

shedding light on astronomy (Awenda)

the show - part 1

Delivered my astronomy presentation at Awenda!

This is the title and description park staff wrote up for my event:
Shedding light on Astronomy

A show of lights!  From pulsars to planets, join Blake Nancarrow for a fascinating Evening Program regarding astronomy.  Blake Nancarrow, no stranger to the Park, is a member of Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and has been involved in astronomy for 30 years.  He will be taking us star gazing at the Beach after having given us some key information in his presentation.  Binoculars are a great tool to have tonight, make sure you pack them for this program.
Reviewed and tuned my presentation during the afternoon. Had an early dinner. Got to the amphitheatre early, at about 6:30 PM, to set up. Dave (who I had met before) and Andrea were there. (Rebecca was off-duty for the evening.)

The amphitheatre is designed for rear-projection with the digital projector inside the structure. When the park staff pointed out that the cabling was not complete, I started to get nervous. I had built my presentation to be very dynamic with clickable hotspots, interactive hyperlinks to special slides and a pre-presentation. Also, I had sound bytes within it, for fun, for the kids.

It was not looking like I was going to be able to run the presentation the way I wanted. But we did some fiddling, and Dave kind of handed the reins to me, sensing I was experienced at this, and I figured out a working solution.* I was able to get the laptop on the stage. Dave then said, "Let's try this cable!" We got the sounds from PowerPoint working over the PA system. Yes!

Happily, I was able to run the mini "fun facts" presentation as people were milling in. It cycled two or three times...

I remembered to put out props: The Backyard Astronomers Guide, Observers Handbook 2007, a simple planisphere, and my binoculars. Next time include a flashlight with red cellophane. Perhaps a small notebook too. (Forgot a copy of SkyNews! Sorry!)

All tolled there were about 80 to 90 people at the presentation! Hilary counted 80; Dave said they were some additional people coming and going...

Overall, I felt the presentation went fairly well. Lots of questions during and after. The kids were enthusiastic. The Bramwell-Inwood clan arrived a little bit into it. Geoff Gaherty arrived about half-way through (although I did not see him enter and sit). I was surprised the kids were not restless.

It took about 1 hour. We started a little after 7 and I finished somewhere around 8. We had a delay when we worked on the sound system. So I was pretty close to my 45 minute target!

After answering a few questions from the stragglers, following the park staff, Geoff and I headed to the dock. 


It would have been very frustrating—no, worse—if I had not been able to operate PowerPoint the way I wanted! I don't know what I would have done... One thought was to get a helper to operate the computer upon my prompts... Ugh. This means there should be more gear you bring when delivering a prez at an "unknown" location: BYO long video cable and BYO long audio cable...

A microphone not set up at beginning. It was too hard to hear me, at the back, with the wind in the trees. I tried projecting but it was not working. No problem once it was configured. A good thing too. I probably would have blown out my voice if I had kept at it.

The more I thought about it, I should have carried the mic with me. It's a bit more flexible...

Also must remember that you can stand in front of a rear-projected image!

Hilary pointed out I responded badly to one child, upsetting him. This occurred when I asked, "Which constellation is that?" showing the Scorpius photo. The boy answer, "The Rocket." I stumbled and remarked, "You have a very active imagination." The crowd got a giggle but she said he was reduced to tears. Fortunately, he came down to the dock later, we chatted, he got some looks through the telescope, and I think all was forgotten. Still, I felt terrible. Next time, I'll talk about how different people see different patterns in the sky... And to add further relevance, I'll tie into Native American legends.

Partly because of the stage set up, positioning of the laptop, and microphone added late, I was not able to face away from the screen. So I could not act aloof during the mosquito-alien bits...

Also, I think there needs to be a fourth mosquito-alien piece. I think a fourth instance would be appropriate in terms of repetition. Ah, the mosquito could fire back! Apropos.

Finally, with these mosquito interludes, there needs to be a longer sound lead in. If the sound starts up for a few seconds, then people will get to recognise it... know what's coming.

I forgot to thank Malcolm and Liam for commentary. And equipment, nudge nudge wink wink say no more.

Forgot to mention astro books at camp store! Duh. I had gone to the trouble of visiting and written down all the titles...

Hilary reminded me the next day that I should repeat audience questions (through the mic) so everyone can hear it. I completely forgot to do this (even though I've remembered at some of the recent software demos to large groups). Perhaps I was thrown off a bit by the intimate size of the amphitheatre yet being outdoors and the mic added half-way.

Hilary also mentioned out that the red laser pointer was most difficult to see, during the presentation, given the ambient early evening light. I had the green one! 

the show - part 2

Arrived at the dock around 8:30 PM and there were already a few people raring to go.

Geoff was able to set up quickly with his 6" SCT GOTO on metal tripod.

As I tried to set up, the dock became packed. I never finished mounting my binoculars! I never properly aligned my mount! It was like a crowded city bus or subway car. Astronomical rush hour!
Intrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
We looked at the Moon. It was a beautiful crescent at 3 or 4 days old.

Jupiter, unfortunately, was blocked by the trees. Damn trees!

Milky Way was glorious, as the sky darkened. I got the impression that some people had not seen it before, didn't know what it was, or didn't know where to look.

I pointed out many constellations: Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Andromeda, Lyra, Cygnus (The Cross), Aquila, Corona Borealis, Delphinus, etc. Pointed out notable stars: Polaris, Deneb, Albireo, Altair, Vega, Arcturus, etc.

ISS and Shuttle. I had my palmtop programmed for the 2 events. We saw both passes. The 9:31 fly-over was fantastic—everyone enjoyed that. The latter one seemed much longer than the predicted 24 seconds! It was a challenge, so low in the sky.

We viewed the Double Cluster in Perseus through Geoff's 'scope at 25x. It was beautiful. Later, I hit it at 3 times the power and it was too much.

We viewed a few double stars. Mizar, Albireo. I pointed out the Roman army eye test using Mizar and Alcor. Many people enjoyed the wonderful colours of Albireo.

Messier 31 (M31). Pointed it out by eye. Then looked through the 'scope. Gave everyone a taste of the "faint fuzzies."

Looked briefly at Messier 57 (M57). Straight overhead. It seemed quite bright. Is it possible with my 'scope at a dark sky site to see the central star?

Wild Duck cluster (Messier 11 or M11). Geoff targetted it in his 'scope. Dark lanes or clumps of stars. Later saw it in my telescope! Woo hoo!

Once again, someone asked if aurora could be predicted. Geoff intimated that he found the predictions very unreliable. I recounted my sightings last year.

Also, a couple of times the question of the number of stars in the galaxy was asked. Neither Geoff or I could remember. Need to look that up... (Wikipedia says: "The galaxy is estimated to contain 200 billion stars but this number may be as high as 400 billion if small-mass stars predominate.)

It was incredibly windy. I think I had seen a report that said 30 klicks gusting to 50. That meant no mozzies and no dew. But it shook the 'scopes terribly. I didn't bother to put on my dew shield (Geoff had his on). But it was still intense. Double stars swirled. In fact, I was getting cold near the end. I didn't even have time to put on my zip pant legs or socks!

The dock is a good spot on one hand, with it's north-west sightlines; but it is far too small for the number of people. The rough count on or around the dock was about 50. Wow. Kettle's would probably be much better, in the future. And we would have seen Jupiter!

I had made the decision in Toronto to not bring the step ladder. For lack of space. But we really needed it. I had considered using one of my crates, inverted, with which I cargo camp gear. It was the one thing I forgot. I did position my equipment beside the centre bench on the dock so the height-challenged people had something to stand on. It proved useful.

The loaner green laser from RASC National was invaluable. Absolutely indispensable. Even Hilary remarked on the educational value. The kids went a little freaky with it... heh. Almost more interested in it than the glory above.

The skies? Perfect! 

my own observing

Messier 81 (M81). Face-on spiral. Very nice.

Messier 15 (M15). Beautiful, rich, intense globular in Pegasus.

I left the dock around midnight.

The garden cart was amazing. One trip! Just have to be careful opening it, to not bend the sides. 

random thoughts

There was no signage in-place at the dock unfortunately. Maybe Rebecca forgot; or it never got relayed to my helpers. Occasionally a gaggle of people with bright lights would wander down so we'd have to bug them. Maybe I should just make my own signs...

The park had a cache of loaner binos! That was very cool.

A woman asked me a number of questions at the dock involving the zodiac constellations. I got the impression that she might believe in astrology. I suddenly realised that I have inherited the bias of RASC people regarding astronomy vs. astrology. Already, I have downplayed this in my presentation. But I should reconsider my wording. I want to minimise the chances that I may offend or upset people attending my presentations.

Geoff had high praise for the Super Polaris mount. Said it was rock-solid.

Hilary shot some photos and video. I'll have to get these.

I'll include the PowerPoint presentations (the main one and the fun facts pre-presentation) on my companion site... Originally, PowerPoint 2003 files; converted to Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF).

It finally came true. For a long time, I imagined doing an astronomy program at Awenda. And I did it.


* Instead of connecting the laptop directly to the projector with its cable, I connected the projector cable to the conduit along the back wall. I hoped that this would be connected to the outside junction box near the front of the structure via the internal junction panel and the big component dolly box thing. I used the long beige VGA male-to-male cable Dave found to connect the laptop to the external junction box. I also plugged in the stereo mini cable audio cable between the laptop's earphone jack and the junction panel.