Saturday, March 31, 2007

Neptune plotted

Yesterday, as I was building my Uranus planet track plot diagram, I learned a few things...
  • don’t make the display mirror-reversed, at least for public use
  • note, inside the image, the orientation
  • add constellation name(s) (I remembered at the last minute)
  • crop overall size, early on (to dramatically reduce file size, speed image software speed, and speed of animation)
  • when the apparent motion slows, in the loop, start skipping dates, i.e. go every two weeks, maybe even three (so to unclutter the display); add leader lines?
  • add a viewfinder field or a Telrad reticule
Hard lessons learned while doing second job...
  • don’t select the background bitmap image when dragging from one frame to another
  • don’t forget to regularly back up the file!
  • do things in a “batch” order to avoid time loss flicking back and forth between editing modes, i.e. place each node “close” to position; then move each node precisely to position; adjust Bezier curve controls; etc.
You can sense that I got a little frustrated today. When the dust settled, I thought of some other things to include in these diagrams.
  • add a copyright inside the image
  • add a scale in degrees or minutes or whatever the appropriate scale or add grid markers
Here's the finished Neptune file:



Enjoy.

Now I should go back and redo the Uranus file.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Uranus path computed

For a while now I wanted to know the path of Uranus and Neptune so I could work on seeing them. And, ideally, with some frequent consecutive viewings, I could then confirm the sightings. With Pluto demoted, I only have 1 more "planet" to view, and 1 to confirm.

Anyway, I fiddled with my old RedShift software but I couldn't seem to spot this feature (thought I had done it before...). Occasionally, I've seen these images on Sky & Telescope's web site. But a recent search went cold.

I asked on the RASC forums but no one had any suggestions.

This afternoon, I started fiddling with Cartes du Ciel and found that I could track a planet. And I could save the animation in an AVI or a GIF file. Hmmm, promising. Then I specifically disabled the tracking on the planet but remained centred on the region of the sky that planet would move through. Created a sequence for the balance of the year, stepping one week, accumulating 41 frames. Perfect!

I opened the animated GIF file in Fireworks. Trimmed out some unneeded frames. Drew a path with the Bezier curve-based Pen tool. Then entered marker dates with some call-out lines. Titled it, added the constellation name, and added some notes. Done!

Here's the static (non-aminated) image of the file.



N.B. This image is laterally-inverted or mirror-reversed. It is directly usable in a telescope with a mirror diagonal.

Now, I gotta do the one for Neptune!

Saturn's moons corrected

Geoff sent this note out Friday morning to the RASC Yahoo!group:

Well, I just checked in Starry Night, and discovered that the "moon" to the right of Saturn, which I identified as Titan last night, was in fact the star HIP46232, magnitude 6.3. The real Titan was the object to the left of Saturn, magnitude 8.2. The three tiny moons close in, left, right, and below Saturn, were Dione, Tethys, and Rhea, respectively. At least one person mentioned seeing something below Titan: that was Iapetus. (All the above are Newtonian orientation; for refractors and Cassegrains, reverse up and down.)

Memo to self: print out the positions of Saturn's moons before each star party. I did it Tuesday night, but forgot Thursday night.

Here's the positioning from Cartes du Ciel:



N.B. View above is mirror-inverted, as shown in my SP-C8.

I did not see the moon between Rhea and Tethys, the one very close to the moon (Encelade, magnitude 11.6). I also did not notice the moon below Tethys, the one at the 4 o'clock (Hyperion, magnitude 14.1). But I did notice Iapetus (mag 11.0) above Titan, first in Scott's apo telescope, and later in mine (when the skies stabilised).

§

Lesson learned: field or background stars can easily outshine Saturn's moons...

I'll be careful next time.

Also, my Procyon X palmtop software is clearly wrong. I'll try contacting the authors to see if there's a zap or bugfix or maybe simply a more current planetary database.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

star party (Sharon)

[corrected on 10 Apr 07 for incorrect, reversed, use of RA and Decl]

Geoff had arranged a show and tell astronomy night for the kids and parents of a school in Sharon, near East Gwillimbury, originally for the evening of the 27th, inviting RASC/TC members to participate. I was very interested in going and helping out but Tuesday was not a good night for me with special preparatory work I had to do for the next day.

I wanted to go for several reasons, one of which was to start wrapping my head around the organisational and teaching aspects of such an event. Upon meeting Geoff in person, perhaps I would be able to ask him questions about how to do an event like this, get some tips and tricks, and so on.

That evening, from my desk, as I slaved away, I kept an eye on the western sky. When I saw clouds rolling in at sunset, my heart went out to the group. Hopefully, the skies up north were in better shape than ours in the city. And that was the last that I thought about it.

I had emailed Geoff earlier to say that wanted to come out but that it was unlikely that I would be able to make it. I asked him to keep me informed of future events and that I was very interested in helping. He assured me there would be other events...

It was with a certain degree of delight when I saw Geoff's email Wednesday morning relaying the bad news—they had been clouded out so rescheduled their star party to Thursday. This would work for me! While I would be working in Mississauga, I would already have my (crappy) car with me. I would already have my telescope with me. And, finally, I didn't have to work on Friday! The stars would be aligned... Sorry—bad pun. Woo hoo, let's go!

§

I got to the school early. Some kids looked at me strangely when I drove around the back paved play area. I split, bought a light dinner from some local stores (near Leslie St), then returned to the school parking lot, and waited for people to show.

lat: 44.10 N
long: 79.43 W

Scott and his daughter were the first to arrive (aside from me). We parked beside each other and in short order were unpacking and setting up.

It wasn’t long before the gaggles of kids, prides of parents, and bevy of visitors descended upon us. And when I exclaimed, “I’ve got Saturn!” a long of jostling humans formed at my eyepiece. What a fun night!

The only drawback was that I had to babysit the 'scope! I wasn’t worried about damage or anything like that in this case—the kids were well-behaved, patient, courteous. It was the constant right ascension (RA) adjustment. While running at 110 power with the Meade eyepiece, I needed to slew the 'scope every 15 or 30 seconds. It would have been so easy to fire up the motor and walk away. Hmmm, I need to step up a purchase to unchain myself…

The continuous manual RA adjustment also prevented me from spending time looking through anyone else’s. That would have been fun to compare them all, side by each. I think we had 7 or 8 'scopes out! When the crowd thinned, I was able to take some quick peeks in Gilles's small motor-driven Meade Maksutov-Cassegrain and Scott’s WO apo.

Received a lot of compliments on my views of Saturn (despite the central obstruction!). That was surprising and satisfying. The Meade OR 18mm eyepiece is very pleasing, has great eye relief.

Some of the exclamations at the eyepiece were classic; others hilarious. They included: Wow. Cool. Stunned silence. Oh my gosh. Oh my God. Is that a picture? Wicked. It’s moving fast! It’s off the screen! That's totally awesome. Incredible, just incredible. Sick.

I myself really enjoyed Saturn. The bright point to the right (mirror-reversed) we took (incorrectly) to be Titan. Geoff said it was Rhea to the left (mirror-reversed). As the air cleared through the evening, I saw possibly 6 moons around planet.



My quick notes during the evening.

§

I kept getting a lot of vibration. When I touched the 'scope it would oscillate like crazy. And it would take a long time to settle. I wonder where this is coming from.

Was the asphalt a factor? Scott had his dampening pads...

Should I be moving the counterweights around?

Is there lash in the mount?

§

Scott had forgotten his battery pack. And I was still without my dew controller. I offered my battery. Briefly, Scott ran off Gilles portable power supply. But then we substituted my big lead acid source. Happily, it turned out I did not need the dew equipment.

§

Before leaving Malcolm’s for Sharon, I grabbed his step stool again. I knew it would be very handy with the school kids. It did prove invaluable (even though a bulky thing to transport). The right way to go is a collapsible unit. And ideally, with some sort of handle or bar, to help people keep their balance…

§

I noticed Scott had lots of cases for storing and transporting gear. He even had some of those toolboxes with telescopic handle and wheels. Good idea! And he also had a three-step folding stool for the short humans. A perfect, simple solution. I’ve seen those at Canadian Tire. I’ll keep an eye out.

§

Scott was great with the kids, asking them lots of questions, full of praise and compliments, keeping it simple and to the point. Having a powerful green laser pointer sure helps, though! (If I do the gig later in the summer, I shall have to see about borrowing one.)

§

Met lots of RASC members this evening along with Sue, the principal of the school. Met Guy again (he referred to us as "big guns"). Saw again and chatted at length with Gilles and his wife (Nicole). And I finally met Geoff.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

sidewalk session (Mississauga)

Wednesday nights, a friend has his kids at his home. On this particular Wednesday, I was to work in Mississauga, just a few blocks away from his house. The weather was looking favourable. I asked Malcolm if Courtney and Liam might be interested in seeing Saturn. Dad responded with a resounding "Yes!" Ulterior motive, perhaps? ;-)

I arrived Malcolm's house while he was picking up the kids from school. I considered setting up the 'scope but then realised it would be good to get them to help me. After dinner, we headed outside, unloaded the car, and began the assembly. We made the shotgun decision to set up at the end of the driveway. Partly in case the neighbours wanted to join in. And Malcolm and I were worried that the crappy, bright street light which floods the backyard might cause some interference.

We viewed a gibbous Venus, the Moon, Saturn, some double stars, and M42. Everyone enjoyed the show.

The Moon and Saturn were very close in the sky. In fact, they both fit in my binocular 7° field. And I could see a bright object, in the binos, near Saturn. Titan, perhaps? (Checked my notes later: I was probably seeing a field star.)

The Moon was very interesting in the telescope. There was one particularly large crater that was on the sun's terminator. It made the one side of the crater visible but cast the other portion of the crater floor into shadow. Then, the far crater wall rose back into the sunlight. It created a striking effect of this glowing, floating, C-shape. That was very popular.

I pulled out Haas's double stars and Pocket Sky Atlas books and we chased after a few. I showed them α (alpha) Gemini or Castor. Malcolm and his neighbour Lou really liked that, how close they were. We took a look at Polaris and it's faint companion. Auriga 14 was nicely coloured: I estimated pale yellow and orange. We also looked at Leo 54, another tight, colourful double. I showed Malcolm the Trapezium as well, nestled in the M42 nebula. σ (sigma) Orion was particularly interesting, the 1 pointer, 3 middle (sigma proper), and 3 widely-separated end stars forming a narrow triangle. Malcolm and I both really enjoyed that grouping!

Malcolm's kids enjoyed the direct viewing. Lou and his little girl Kira, Charlie and his daughter, Linda, they enjoyed the observing too. Kira was particularly interested in looking through the telescope and wanted to stay up late. I promised her I'd bring it back. In fact, I said if we did observing in the summer... when school was out—"I can stay up late!" she exclaimed. Smart kid!

§

When setting up, I had spotted a plastic two-step stool in Malcolm's living room. I brought it out to the driveway. It proved very helpful for the kids to view through the 'scope without needing a boost from the parents.

I need to look into a portable version of something like this...

§

When Lou asked me if I could take photographs with the telescope, Malcolm disappeared into the house. He emerged, out of breath, with his Canon PowerShot S2 IS digital camera (with stock zoom lens) and starting shooting (in Auto mode) through the telescope. Incredible! I had no idea if it would work. But he pulled a few rabbits out of the hat.

Warning! Full-size images are 2592 x 1944 pixels.


Saturn. With some haze or glare.

shutter speed: 1/8 second
f-stop: 2.7
camera focal length: 6mm
Saturn. Photographic proof!

shutter speed: 1/8 second
f-stop: 2.7
camera focal length: 6mm
Saturn. Not a football nor UFO.

shutter speed: 1/8 second
f-stop: 2.7
camera focal length: 6mm

I couldn't help but wonder what we would achieve with a camera jig to hold it steady, to align the camera on axis, and to get it at the prime focus, and some light baffles.

Moon.

shutter speed: 1/13 second
f-stop: 2.7
camera focal length: 6mm

Regardless, we were impressed by the results. (Later, as Malcolm downloaded the pictures to his computer, he realised he had the camera operating at a low rez, 180 x 180 dpi, 24 bit depth.)

§

Noticed my Kendrick dew controller was not in the astronomy box! Where was it? I must have taken it out at home...

§

Malcolm's daughter left him a note. Remember, you gotta read this in your very best "tweener" accent:

"And the moon was—like—so cool!"

Monday, March 26, 2007

little LEDs

Was at Active Surplus today to get various electronic bits for a few projects that I am working on. I remembered to collect some info about surface mount small form factor LEDs I had seen during a recent visit. [Actually, these are not "surface mount;" they are simply small "dome style" LED packages.] I decide to buy some. They were available in yellow and red. 5 for $1. Wow. I snagged 50.



They are a good colour, a ruby red, have a wide dispersion pattern, again are very small. They might be perfect for a light table project I've been kicking around...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

sketch and photo compared

Yesterday evening, I had hunted around to find an appropriate photo of the Messier 35 (M35) (excluding the nearby NGC objects) so to visually verify I had in fact found the open cluster from my backyard. Doing some mental gymnastics and flipping my log sheet around, I was satisfied that I had hit my target. Today, I carried it a step further.

After scanning my log sheet, I brought it into Macromedia Fireworks, inverted the "colours", free-rotated the image until north was up, and flipped it horizontally (for my SP-C8's mirror diagonal). I continued rotating it until it matched a photograph.

I am impressed! I did a pretty good sketch. Some things are bang on! You be the judge...


Photograph of M35 from the University of Alabama Astronomy Program web site.

Slightly smaller scale than drawing below, representing a wider field. Also, shifted up slightly, compared to sketch.
This is my sketch, obviously modified.

Slightly higher scale, i.e. slightly closer, than the photo.

The university "UA" has an excellent visual table of all the Messier objects.

§

In my travels, I came across the Messier list page at wikipedia. I like the overall map image.

Friday, March 23, 2007

varied session from backyard (Toronto)

After beer and wings with Ken, I rushed home to view Saturn. I was very interested in getting cozy with the planet and its big moons, having recently had a taste. I really wanted to observe the movement of the moons over time: both on a long time scale, i.e. from Wednesday, during the RASC TC city observing session (COS); and over a short time, i.e. a couple of hours, from my backyard.

When I left Ken's home (he said he studied astronomy at school!), Venus was bright, the Moon's crescent was intense, Saturn was tan coloured in the south-east, Sirius was sparkling, Procyon had just appeared, and almost all the main stars of Orion were visible. I got home probably at around 8:15 and set up, in front of the garage, rather quickly.

Moons of Saturn: At 8:59, I sketched the configuration, also noting the direction of right ascension (is that west?).



I kept coming back to Saturn, through the evening, to note any changes in the pattern. But I didn't notice anything significant (not like Jupiter last summer). And I struggled with my Procyon X software presentation. It seemed off. I wondered if it was a DST issue. Or perhaps I'm misreading the orientation...

After checking with Cartes du Ciel, Sky & Telescope, and RedShift, I can confirm that I saw the moons Titan, Tethys, Rhea, and Iapetus. Possibly, I saw Hyperion, but it was very, very faint. I'm not 100% certain. Also, I could see Titan through the viewfinder—interesting!

I never saw Dione, Mimas, or Enceladus. They were not occulted but I gather the glare of the planet and rings (and our dirty air) prevented me from seeing them...

Trapezium: I decided to re-examine the stars within Messier 42 (M42), before Orion dipped much lower. I'm not sure why I did this exactly. Did I believe I'd be able to resolve the other double stars? Even with the Celestron barlow, I'd only be able to produce 220 power... OK, scratch that; move on.

I thought that I should discover one new object tonight. I argued with myself about pursuing more targets but I knew that I needed to keep the plan simple, the objective list short, to remain positive, keep my satisfaction high. I fetched my print out of the Celestial Objects page of the March Skymaps.com document.

M35: I consulted the Celestial Objects list. I decided to try tackling a target from the binoculars section. I noted the Auriga open clusters but had already dismissed these with that constellation low and setting. Gemini was still high up though. Ah, there's Messier 35, another open cluster, at the foot of the twins. As I read this, I remembered hearing about this at the COS. I hopped, via ν (nu) then μ (mu, aka Tejat) then η (eta, aka Propus) together with 1, to the cluster using my Tirion atlas.



And, at 10:30 or so, I sketched a number of the bright stars. I didn't try to count them but my gut feeling is that I could see 100 or so stars.

I did not notice the faint neighbour, NGC 2158, nearby.

At 10:24, the humidity was 55% and the temperature was 1.5°C. There was no wind tonight.

γ (gamma) Leonis: One more! I decided to try one more target from the Celestial Objects list, this time from the telescope section. γ Leo is described as a "superb pair of golden-yellow giant stars. Mags 2.2 and 3.5 with a separation of 4.4". I stared at the Tirion atlas again to get my bearings and swung the OTA around. Wow! What a beautiful pair. I can't remember the author now but he said that some doubles, while monochromatic, were still stunning. That was certainly the case here. A very close pairing and each was a sparkling warm golden colour, one slightly smaller than the other.

It was 10:50, 1.9°, and the humidity had risen to 59%. Orion was falling into the horizon; Arcturus was rising over the neighbour's house. I was feeling a little tired. And I wanted to finish on a positive note.

§

A lot of things worked out this evening. I remembered to use my eyeglasses straps. I remembered to use a lanyard for my pen. I sketched objects seen in the eyepiece and documented some facts. I remembered to use my "new" log sheets. Everything went pretty smoothly.

That said, I definitely could have used variable height seating tonight. While viewing Saturn, I had to bend over a bit. That was hard on the back. So I stood with my feet wide apart. Later, when viewing γ Leonis, I had to lean forward on my portable stool.

§

Noticed that my new log sheets are pre-dated for 2006. Gotta print some new ones. Done.

§

Low battery indicator appeared on the Oregon Scientific eb313hg portable weather station. Again! Was is July or August (ed: early August) I got my free replacement set? I'm gonna have to visit The Source once more...

This time, the batteries lasted 7½ months (the first time only 4½).


§

Found the DEET bottle on its side in the bottom of the "astronomy box." On removing it, I noted some viscous fluid. Looks like it has been leaking. I cleaned up the box. And I must remember to put the DEET in a ziploc.

§

I found a number of items in the astronomy box that, it seem to me now, should not be here. Or that I should not lug around during every stargazing session. This included the Pentax camera t-adapter, the old Pentax extension tubes, the DEET, and so on. These are specialty items that I should only transport when required. This will help reduce the weight of the box or let me carry more relevant things.

§

Given that I was doing astronomy in my backyard, I should pull out all the stops next time... Use the loaner light table/box from Mom. Use my new desk lamp (halogen converted to red LEDs). Use my new AC-to-12VDC CLA power supply (Mosquito 2 ampere adapter from Active Surplus). Use my new Noma GFCI power bar. And take a laptop outside to wirelessly hop on the 'net!

it was Titan!

Ah ha! It was Titan that I saw—we saw—at the RASC TC city observing session.

When I first trained my SCT telescope on Saturn, I immediately noticed a bright, small point, to the right of planet (in the mirror reversed field), about 5 ring widths away.

I asked others if it was Titan. There was disagreement and discussion and in the end, no one knew for certain.



But I just fired up Sky & Telescope's javascript utility and my RedShift software and I have confirmed it was Titan. Woo hoo! My first confirmed sighting of Titan!

And it turns out I was seeing some other moons too. I probably saw Tethys and Enceladus as well...

Now, I realise, that without any notes from the sighting, I don't know the particulars. That was stupid. Why did I not document this? Or sketch it? And note the times? Silly. I had even brought my cool red pen and little note book. Not to mention my new observing sheets.

I also never thought to fire up my Psion palmtop! That's really stupid. Procyon X has a Saturn moon viewer (in fact, it plots 8 moons)! I could have confirmed it right then and there...

Now I'm feeling inspired. Maybe I'll set up the 'scope tonight... Monitor these moons for an hour or so.

§

I also researched the sizes and visual magnitudes of the moons. Titan (5150 km in diameter) is bigger than our moon (3476). Titan had a magnitude around 8 (whereas Iapetus is 11).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

negative option

When I bought my Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas book, I was pleased to find a tear-out card in the back. "Return the attached card for a FREE ISSUE..." (their emphasis). I would enjoy a complimentary issue of their astronomy magazine. I could test-drive it. Who knows? It might be something I want to get.

I knew, sending this in, I was putting myself in a negative option scenario. I had a hunch that they'd try to strong-arm me into a subscription. When the invoice appeared in the mail (before the magazine itself), my suspicions were confirmed.

Finally, the April issue of Sky & Telescope appeared. While I enjoyed reading it, it was clear that I would get the same information from my new Sky News magazine subscription (even though bimonthly).

So, on March 8, I emailed the customer service department, using the noted address on the invoice, telling them "Thanks but no thanks."

Immediately, the email bounced!

Sneaky buggers. They had employed their first trick or hurdle in the negative option ploy: thwart attempts to contact them.

So, I immediately telephoned the 1-800 number (fully expecting it to not work across the border). I talked to a pleasant woman and explained I did not want to start up a new subscription. She acknowledged this, said OK, and did not lay a guilt trip on me. Wow. I was impressed. I also explained the email problem which she said she would forward to the appropriate people. It all sounded genuine to me.

Today, another invoice showed up (sans email address).

Here we go...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

eyepieces tried

I heard back from Guy regarding the eyepieces he let me try last night...

The "shot glass" eyepiece is a 32mm "Star Trak" Konig by University Optics. 62.5x in my SP-C8 telescope. Reasonable eye relief (exact amount unknown). Apparent Field of View ~ 50 degrees. An oldie but a goodie.

The others were 8mm and 12mm Tele Vue Radians. 250x and 167x respectively. Both have 20mm of eye relief and apparent fields of 60 degrees.

phoned Tully

I left Tim Tully of Awenda a voice mail. He's back in the office in early April. We'll see what happens...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

my first RASC city session (Toronto)

Wow! Tonight was a lot of fun!

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada - Toronto Centre city observing session was a GO tonight. The sky was looking very favourable this afternoon. I monitored Environment Canada, Danko's sky condition site (predicted seeing: average 3/5; transparency: average), and the GEOS satellite imagery through the day. I was hopeful!

I hurried home from downtown, reviewing my packing checklist, and loaded the car excitedly in anticipation. By about 4:30 or 5:00 PM, it was obvious that the evening would remain clear (air pressure at PIA was 103.9 and rising). I ate an early dinner and put on layers of warm clothes. I had emailed the Yahoo listserv to clarify where we would meet and when I should get there. Guy replied with some tips and suggestions where to park and setup and said he'd be there around 7:30 (for the sunset).

With some irony, I thought, searching for a warm hat, I'll put on my Subaru Rally Team toque!

I chose to take an inner city route to the Bayview Village Park (coincidentally passing the RASC national office on Dupont) so to avoid the highways and guessed correctly that I would need 45 minutes travel time from High Park. I arrived at 7:15. The western sky was still bright and I could not see the young moon's crescent or Venus.

lat: 43.77 N
long: 79.39 W

I debated waiting in the parking lot for some of the "regulars" to arrive so I would know where to set up. But then I decided to at least move my gear from the car into the field (in 2 trips) so I could do some preliminary setup. Even with the tripod up and the mount installed, I could easily relocate. I used the mini-compass in the mount to find magnetic north (later when I could see Polaris, I found I was within a degree of it). At this point, I spotted the thin crescent of the Moon. That's it then! Fire up the 'scope! As I was attaching the OTA, other members arrived. I then spotted Venus ablaze 20° above the moon. The moon was very pleasing through the 'scope. Venus was gibbous.

Shortly after, Phil and Guy wandered into the park, gear in hand (I liked Phil's portable table). It was a treat meeting them (even though they protested I had set up too far from the parking lot). I fired many questions at them and they clarified a number of items for me. For example, I was trying to get a sense of how old the moon was. Phil pointed out that the new moon was on Sunday; so tonight's moon was 2 days old. I asked Guy about my suspicion that I would benefit from converting to a 2" visual back and mirror-diagonal before getting new eyepieces.

Guy was very supportive at the 'scope and let me try a bunch of his eyepieces on my SP-C8. That was a very pleasant surprise and very illuminating. With the 32mm, viewing M42 and the Trapezium was very pleasing and I could see the green colouring of the nebulosity. We went up to 250x trying to spot E and F in the Trapezium. I really liked the 32mm for viewing the moon. Wow!

We acknowledged the vernal equinox at 8:07 PM. We joked that some arrived during the winter; others had arrived in the spring.

I spotted Saturn early on and our 'scopes swung to the new target. It was good to be back. The rings presented very nicely. When the air stabilised, I could see the Cassini division and cloud bands. I could easily see a number of moons around the ringed planet. However, none of us knew exactly which ones were where. I also noted the shadow of the planet on the rings. Beautiful.

Soon there was largish crowd. Later Guy and I were trying to remember the numbers. We agreed it was about a dozen people. A number were visitors with lots of questions. One gentleman (William) was there with a newish 'scope (a WO 80mm) on a new tripod. Another member was trying a new Pentax digital camera.

It was tremendous fun looking through the different telescopes. I had never looked through a dob before. Saturn was very nice with good contrast. Phil's APO view of the Perseus Double Cluster (NGC 884 and 869; aka Caldwell 14) presented a crisp, delicate view with incredibly fine, small stars. Anthony's refractor views of Saturn were quite nice at medium powers with good contrast. Later when he targeted the backlit moon, it just popped! It was very dimensional. I had an incredibly strong sense of an orb floating in space.

Later, I asked Phil for some good targets for my cat. He suggested the open clusters Messiers M36, M37, or M38 in Auriga. I tried a few times for them, even using my Tirion charts at one point, but could not see them.

A discussion ensued about the Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31 or M31). Someone suggested that it could not be seen but then we were reminded that March was the month of Messier Marathons. That said, it was quickly determined that at this time (it was probably around 9:30 or 10:00PM), it was very low. Someone spotted it by averted vision with their big binoculars off in the north-west. I tried for it with my crappy Bushnells and just caught a glimpse of it. Rising to the challenge, I worked the telescope viewfinder and my binos until I final nailed it. And there, very faintly, in the eyepiece, a ghostly apparition. Guy confirmed it. That was tough!

I was getting cold. I had brought my Oregon Scientific eb313hg portable weather station. I checked the ambient temperature at 10:20PM and it was -7.5°C (not counting windchill, which had lowered the temp 5° at 5:00pm). I didn't have any more energy to chase Auriga open clusters. And I realised it was starting to get late.

As I finishing packing up I checked the temperature again. It had grown colder. It was now -9°C. Oh, and the humidity was 41% (dewpoint had been predicted at -16).

A bunch of the remaining people helped me lug my gear back to the car. What a cool group of people.

And I was impressed at how dark the park was. It will get better when the trees along Bayview fill in and block the street lights.

§

Phil's telescope details:

Tele Vue NP101 f5.4 (101 mm aperture, 540 mm focal length)
Universal Astronomics MacroStar mount on Manfrotto 117 tripod
Tele Vue Panoptic eyepiece at 23x with a true field of view (TFOV) of 3 degrees

§

The gentleman (Dave) with the Dobsonian had a red-lit light table. I forgot to ask him about the design, how it was powered. It worked really well!

§

I overheard a conversation that someone occasionally attends the city observing sessions who lives in High Park, does not have a car, takes the subway, and carries around the portable telescope. It occurred to me that car-pooling might be offered. When I'm going to my next observing session, I'll have to put that offer out there, in case anyone could use a lift.

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I was feeling a wide range of emotions this evening! Before the event I was excited and anxious. I was looking forward to learning and using my 'scope and meeting some local society members. But I was intimidated as a rookie. During the session, I was sometimes encouraged and at other times put off. Leaving the event I was a little sad, that it had to end. And I was disappointed somehow. Maybe I wanted more coaching and assistance? And later I realised I was anxious or upset with my equipment. My SCT has very low contrast compared to a Dobsonian. And the clarity of the optics pales compared to Phil's APO. And I clearly need more eyepieces... That was a little depressing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

quick consult

After delivering a business software demonstration, I was approached by a participant with some questions. We discussed various issues. Then she said, "I noticed your astronomy files and samples notes. Can I ask you a question?"

I invited her to go ahead, flipping on my astronomy hat.

"About a month ago, I noticed a very bright light in the sky... Like an airplane. But it didn't move..."

"The western sky? At dusk?" I asked.

When she nodded, I said, "Venus!"

I gave her a slip of paper with the web site URLs for John Walker's Your Sky and Sky & Telescope's skytonight weekly listing.

She was very happy.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

clear skies, blurry memories (Toronto)

Hilary called. She and the clan are beginning their summer camping vacation plans. And they will be returning to Awenda (partly out of convenience, has good dog beaches). Alex, their youngest, hoped I would join them. Fine with me. Beautiful park although lacks some open vistas for astronomical use. Cutting down trees is not an option... Just kidding. Sheesh...

I checked my calendar (with an only passing interest in "driving" events—long story). The target week is August 13 through 18. Ha ha. That's immediately after the Mount Forest Starfest weekend. If Cindy and Terry are keen to do the Starfest camp weekend, this could turn into a very long vacation / geek out / astronomy fest for me!

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As I popped outside to close the garage (after airing it out—long story), I noticed Venus just above the tree line, very bright, blue white, fantastic. Then, as I rounded the east corner, I saw Saturn. I actually turned back into the backyard, in an effort to orient myself. Cassiopeia was to the north west and vertical—wow, not used to that. I couldn't remember what was "underneath" Cass. Thought I saw Triangulum. Was that Lyra straight up? Didn't look right. I was a little confused.

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Phoned Mary Jane in an effort to piece together some missing parts of this blog. She thinks we visited her family farm (with the cat 'scope) in the summer of 1992. She vaguely recalls we looked at a planet or two. But the memory of watching the rotating night sky for hours was very vivid.

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It occurred to me that when Hilary books their camping site, and I settle on my dates, I should maybe call the park event planner...

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I continue to miss opportunities to quickly observe things, like Saturn. I've gotta figure out a way to ease or speed observing. Maybe I should keep the telescope assembled in the garage... Or if I had a little shed, beside the garage... Hmmm.

And perhaps I should keep the binos out and ready, mounted on the tripod, ready to go.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

cold and cloudy (Ajax)

Headed to Cindy and Terry's to visit the boys and her parents and attempt a viewing of the lunar eclipse. From Ajax, unfortunately, we were clouded out.

So, instead, we drank lots, ate lots of tasty chili, watched Apollo 13 (brrr!), played Call of Duty deathmatch, discussed telescope types, heating, dark skies, longitude, garish neighbours, and the validity of information on the internet.

They gave me a dead bird!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

first SkyNews arrived

I received my first issue of SkyNews, a perk of my RASC membership. Looks like a good issue!

It will be good to get back up to speed on the current vendors, particularly local, modern equipment, current astrophotography techniques, and other things astronomical.

And I'm looking forward to having something lightweight and compact in my laptop bag for those long, slow TTC rides home...