Monday, April 30, 2007

motor and clutch purchased

Lawrence accepted my counter-offer! Overall, a smoking good deal. He's shipping the goodies ASAP.

On examining the photos of the MT-1 motor and it's old DIN 8-pin connector, it got me wondering if I can build my own power supply. I shall investigate this...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

motor and clutch available

Lawrence confirmed he has the MT-1 motor. He also confirmed he has the clutch! Woo hoo! He sent photos. The stuff looks mint...

He made me a pretty good offer for both items and even offered to include shipping. I shall submit a counter-offer...

Vixen Motor MT-1, part number 3726.
Vixen Clutch GP/GP-DX, #3828. Or #3363 from Company 7.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Jupiter peeking over the lake (Toronto)

Upon returning home after the Astronomy Day Ontario Science Centre evening star party and the brief gathering at the Granite pub, I pulled the car into the driveway, shut down, grabbed my wallet and palmtop, walked around the back of the house, turned right, and walked south toward the side door. And there, through the trees, over the highschool's tennis court structure, was a beacon in the sky, low, bright, not moving. Jupiter?!

Wow. A freebee. An extra planet. So I saw Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter this evening!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

helped at Astronomy Day (Don Mills)

In conjunction with the Ontario Science Centre, the Toronto Centre of RASC executive and members celebrated International Astronomy Day with some day-time activities and a big public star party right in front of the OSC, in the Teluscape "park."

I arrived a little before 6:45pm, parked in the south (staff) lot and headed into the lobby. Had a brief chat with Leslie and Shawn. She gave me my name tag. Geoffrey arrived a few moments later and when he announced he brought his telescope, I followed him outside to discuss where I should set up.

As I walked back to my car, I found the west gate padlock was not closed. I undid it and moved the chain out of the way. Seconds later, a RASC member drove through. I followed them in and unloaded all my gear. So much for packing light...

Shortly after I finished my setting up, people started wandering through. And our only target was the first quarter moon through hazy cirrus clouds. This was not looking good. And it did not improve for the next hour.

Fortunately the clouds on the horizon were breaking up so later we got a pretty good view of Venus.

And later still, though still through haze and cloud, we started watching Saturn. I could not make out the Cassini division. There was one bright point nearby...

I had remembered, this time, to print a chart of the moon positions at 9:30pm and Titan was right where it was supposed to be.

I was pleasantly surprised with a small discovery with my light box. I turned the sheets over, i.e. face down, to mimic my telescope's mirror-reversed view. That was cool.

Later I started going for some double stars. I looked at ε (epsilon) Boötes (Izar) [see below], Mizar and Alcor, γ (gamma) Leo, and Castor. Tried to go for some others but it was challenging with the general cloud cover and difficult to spot constellations.

The highlight of the evening was when I coincidentally was looking in the right direction, to the north-west, when the International Space Station came into view. Funny. I had set an alarm in my palmtop but with a 15 minute lead. Which I then completely forgot. So this was a freak chance event that, as I was chatting with the visitors about something, I happened to be looking in the north-west sky. I ran around the Teluscape telling people, including Guy, Denis, Geoffrey, and others. And, right on schedule, 3 minutes from the start, it fell into Earth's shadow, and winked out of sight. That was a lot of fun.

Next time, I'll set the alarm for 1 minute before, and drop everything...

Overall, it was an enjoyable evening. Sara made her rounds. It was great meeting more society members, like Geoffrey and Katrina. Chatted with Scott and Mickey again. And headed out to the pub afterwards with Guy, Denis, Scott, Shawn, and others.

Hey. Look. Phil took a picture of my butt!

The crowds were a lot of fun. The kids were very enthusiastic. And it seemed to me more girls than boys. That was satisfying to see. All age ranges again. Sara's sisters were pretty amusing too. Like last night, lots of questions from the visitors: some easy and some challenging. I need props. And an easel... (Or my portable whiteboard!)

FAQs for the evening:
  • how far away is (that planet / that star / the Moon)?
  • how do you know where to look?
  • how do you know that's a planet (as opposed to a star)?
  • can we look at Jupiter?
  • when can we see Venus?
  • when can we see Mercury?
  • can we look at constellations (through the telescope)?
  • are these double stars related, i.e. orbiting one another?
  • how much did your telescope cost?
Used my palmtop effectively to answer a few of these.

I shall have to anticipate these in the future and perhaps have a sheet or poster prepared (like Denis)...


This was the second night viewing Izar in Boötes. This is a very interesting double. The secondary star is very close to the (gold) primary. As well, it is much fainter. You cannot see the separation if the air is at all unstable. For a second or two, when it settles, you can see it. And it is thrilling!


When I look up a planet in Procyon X on my EPOC palmtop, it states the distance. But I think this is now the planet's distance from the sun, not from us...

(Follow up: The distance is the distance... I.e. the distance shown is the calculated distance from Earth!)

motor likely available

I heard from Lawrence. He's certain he has the MT-1 motor. But he's not sure about the clutch. He's heading out of town so I'll have to sit tight for a while...

I was disappointed that I could not make this happen for the DDO or OSC events. But, the consolation is I might be able to get these items cheaper and more easily from the USA (even though Vixen America has some incredible prices).

Friday, April 20, 2007

under the big 'scope (Richmond Hill)

We, Toronto Centre RASCals, congregated on the lawn under the dome of the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO). Visitors, taking advantage of Astronomy Week activities, took their tour of the facilities, looked through the big telescope, then descended upon us. Ironically, our small 'scopes were more pleasing in some respects, offering wider fields of view.

It was a good crowd. Lots of short and tall humans, all ages. Even staff from the observatory, kids in tow, dropped by.

Many members turned out. I met Paul, Andrew, Mickey, and others. Saw Kirsten. Unfortunately, David did not show (which meant I didn't get to try his adjustable height chair). Had a long chat with Scott at the end of the evening. We had a good range of instruments, including a number of cat 'scopes, dobs, and a couple of refractors, home-built and commercial products, driven and not.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
We took turns looking at Venus, the Moon, and Saturn. I started chasing some double stars later in the evening. Many people enjoyed Castor at 110 power.

Later, I tried to find Epsilon Boötes. But I'm still not sure if I got it...

I got my first look at the Whirlpool Galaxy (Messier 51 or M51) in Mickey's Meade cat. It was very faint with a bright centre (under our thin cloud layers). Did I see something else beside it, another smudge? That will be a great target to try in dark skies!

When there were only a few of us left, we wondered about the moons of Saturn. I sketched the configuration so to look it up later. Funny: we all forgot—again—to bring info about moons. And none of us thought look in the Observer's Handbook.

Overall, it was a good time, despite murky skies.


Things tried out this evening:
  • Test drove my light box prototype. It works awesome with the black background charts. Surprisingly, it drew a lot of attention from the crowd. I was even asked when I would be going "into production." Ha! (I still think frosted glass might work better.)

  • I also brought a small square of carpeting. It worked quite well on the grass. I had been thinking about this since the Sharon school star party and had added to my agenda to get some outdoor carpeting. Whereupon I found an old roll in the overhead storage of my garage!

  • Tried out the wood TV table that I had bought on sale last week at Canadian Tire. It worked well under the light box.

  • Tried the new "big step" 3-step stool that I had bought this week on sale at Canadian Tire. I knew it would be a good choice. It worked really well, for young and old (I didn't consider that it could be simply used beside the eyepiece, for the "big" kids, as a way of steading themselves). Even Scott was impressed with the design, the curve of the top handle, the big steps, the white colour, not to mention the great price (this week only!).

  • Tested the "astronomy box" with its new lid lights. They worked fantastic! Perfect amount of light.
Wow. Lots of firsts.


Scott said that he thinks the 5mW and 10mW green lasers he had are in the $100 range now. Hell, I'll buy one now if they're in fact that cheap. I guess the 75mW units are driving prices down.

(It's true: Kendrick is selling a 3-5mW Orion unit for $135.)


Scott and I also talked about educational matters and delivery and presentations. RASC has done things for Girl Guides and Cubs and Scouts, to name a few. This might be perfect if my summer astronomy seminar project flies. He suggested I talk to Leslie about getting access to some of this material.


I had bought a beverage before arriving. On an impulse, I also bought a bag of Starburst. Apropos, I thought.


It was good to be back at the DDO. I did not have clear recollections of my previous visits here...

It is an impressive site, late at night, eerie yet majestic, above us, the dome, massive doors open, the darkness within, and 74" telescope quietly panning its bulk through the sky.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Saw the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon tonight, an outstanding, insightful independent film featuring a number of the people that actually set foot on the Moon. Think about it: only 9 humans have stood on another world.

Keep an eye out for David Sington's film.

While standing in line with my friend Carol, we remarked on the closure of the McLaughlin Planetarium, as Saturn hovered overhead, and while Venus danced in the "arms of the old moon."

Thanks to Alan for providing the tickets. He missed a great show.


Bought some fresh "Nexxtech" 2032 lithium cells for my portable weather station from neighbourhood The Source. $4.99 ea.

This time they offered me a "two replacements" extended warranty (for $1.49 ea.)! Yep. Now I will be able to replace, for free, each battery two more times, within the next 3 years.

That effectively drives the price per battery down to $2.16.

Again, this is a great deal, with the Oregon Scientific eb313hg weather station that goes through these batteries like lunch.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

motor might be available

Charles heard back from the seller of the MT-1 motor. Lawrence is purportedly checking to see if he still has the drive.


It is so frustrating that during Astronomy Week, we find ourselves under a thick blanket of grey clouds.

This is thwarting solar observing sessions at the Ontario Science Centre, city observing sessions at the Bayview park, and discouraging me from inundating my friends with Astronomy Week emails!

Hopefully, it will clear for Friday...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

lid LEDs

I have some extra dome LEDs...

I think I ended up buying 150 or so!

So I decided to rig 4 of them up inside the lid of my "astronomy box," a plastic file folder holder style box. I keep my notes, some books, planisphere, eyepieces, flashlights, etc. in this thing.

I was in Mississauga so I decided to visit "surplus electronics alley," on Matheson, just west of Dixie. Holy cow! Mecca! I felt like a kid in candy shops.
  • AA Electronics: 1350 Matheson Bl E, units 7-8, on the east end 905 206-0931. Bought a microswitch with a normally open mode, some 62 ohm resistors, and some 389 batteries (for the red LED pen). They had speaker equipment, big racks of big gauge speaker wire. Hmmm, inexpensive no-name satellite receivers...
  • Sayal Electronics: 1350 Matheson Bl E, units 3-6, on the west end 905 238-8640. Bought a AA battery holder (only). This place is gigantic! Walk in the door and you'll see lots of electronic labs and kits (saw my 300-in-1 model). Go around the corner... Wow! A huge space, very neatly organised, with a stunning array of display cases. Incredible selection! I could have spent hours there... Still grinning.
Headed home to build the lid lights.

It works! It is sweet. When I open the lid of the box, 4 discreet red LEDs fire up, casting their pale red light down on the contents of the box. Close the lid, like a fridge, and the lights go out.

Monday, April 16, 2007

motor on AstroMart

I learned of a seller in Peterborough off-loading his Vixen MT-1 motor on the AstroMart site.

But you have to join and pay US$15 to view the classified ads...

The ad was a little stale so I didn't know if it might still be available.

I put out feelers on the Toronto Centre RASC listserv. Charles graciously offered to look up the ad and contact the seller.

Let's hope he still has it. Let's also hope he has the clutch.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

get ready for next week!

Next week is Astronomy Week. It concludes on International Astronomy Day.

There will be lots of events organised by the Toronto Centre of the Royal Astro Society of Canada (RASC). Many will be at the Ontario Science Centre (OSC). Also, there will be gathering at the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO). See their web site for details.

I'll be at an event or two with my telescope to let people look, answer questions, demystify stuff, etc.

Be seeing you!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

light box mock up

Having purchased a gaggle of resistors, to go with the little dome red LEDs, I was ready to do a full mock up of my light box.

The whole matrix is 19" wide by 12" long. It contains 108 LEDs, in 18 parallel strings of 6 LEDs plus a 91 ohm resistor.

Not visible in the photo is a power switch and a 1K ohm rheostat. It runs off my portable 12V battery pack or my 120VAC-12VDC adapter.

It's working well. My cheapo digital camera does not render the colour realistically. It is not so orange.

Next step: find something to put above lights to smooth out and soften the light... Frosted glass, perhaps? Or a acrylic diffuser from a fluorescent light?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

oops oops

Was researching the Vixen MT-1 drive motor. Downloaded the special instructions for my Celestron (nah, Vixen) German Equatorial Mount, the "Super Polaris" (SP) mount. The showed how to dismantle the mount and add the motor for both the right ascension (RA) and declination (Decl.) axes.

When suddenly I noticed that their axis terms and mine are reversed!

Holy crap. Have I been using the opposite terms this whole time?!

lunch with Alan

Alan contacted me recently. He wanted to know if I would like 2 free tickets to the hotdocs movie In the Shadow of the Moon. Sounds like an interesting flick. Sure!

We had lunch today to catch up and to exchange "da goods." It was great to see Alan again.

During our pub fare at The Pilot, we reminisced on our astronomy-related adventures.

For example, Alan recalled that we had gone to the David Dunlap Observatory at some point. We each recalled particulars of the evening, although neither of us remembered looking through the main instrument.

We laughed about our York University visit to view Mars and how irate some people became when we started to pack up... They assumed we worked for the university!

Alan also recalled a visit to his parents apartment near St. Clair and Avenue. From the building rooftop we viewed Mars. I vaguely recall the rooftop but not much else.

We agreed that we're getting old!

Monday, April 02, 2007

hands off

With the recent stargazing events, and plans to attend upcoming star parties and educational events, combined with the discovery that I am bound to the telescope (particularly at high powers), it occurred to me that I should—finally—get a clock drive motor from my SP-C8 telescope mount...

Sunday, April 01, 2007


OK. This is a little embarrassing. I just now remembered that I have the Observer's Handbook 2007. In fact, I had it at the Sharon star party, in my "book" box. Should have pulled that out (for many reasons). Could have looked up Saturn's moons, promoted the society, among other things...

Come to think of it... Why didn't anyone else?!