Thursday, May 31, 2007

a GO for Awenda!

Just got off the phone with Rebecca at Awenda Provincial Park. We booked Wednesday 15 August as for the park's Astronomy program!

The tentative plan is that I'll do a presentation during the day or early evening at the new 500-seat ampitheater and then we'll congregate at Kettle's Lake or The Beaches dock for an evening under the stars.

I'm excited!

Monday, May 28, 2007

got the elusive planet! (Toronto)

It was looking very clear this afternoon. And I received a very favourable Clear Sky Alarm Clock reminder for the Toronto area (for after midnight).

Glanced at Walker's Sky screen saver—there's Mercury... Then checked Procyon X on my (fossil) Psion. It said Mercury was 16° up and Venus was 32. Split the difference.

I headed outside. It was around 9:00pm. Venus was bright (magnitude -3.8) and high. But I could not see Mercury.

The moon is gibbous, bright. Seemed low, through the full maple tree.

Grabbed the 7x50 binos and started scanning. After 3 or 4 minutes I found Mercury! Wow. Very faint. About 2° above the treeline.

I watched it through the binos until it would brighten. Then I'd try to spot it with my eyes, unaided. It wasn't until about 15 minutes later, bobbing and weaving, sky darkening, haze clearing, that I could get a fix on it. Particularly where I could look away and then come back to it. At magnitude 0.4, and a very smaller angular size, it was just starting to poke through the dusk.

I wanted to stay out longer and watch Mercury brighten but work called...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Venus after the rain (Toronto)

Venus caught my eye just now. So I popped out into the back yard to see if I could spot Mercury. Nope... Still too low, I guess.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

inner planet hunting (Mississauga)

Venus hunting with Liam. I checked Procyon to learn that Venus was 43° up. That's way up there. Tried to spot it with the naked eye. Finally found it at 8:10pm. It's very faint. Pointed it out (with my old telescopic pointer) to Liam and he saw it. Later showed Malcolm and Lou.

Next target is Mercury at 21° elevation.

Spotted Saturn around 9pm.

No joy. Searching from 8 to 930.


Denis, president of the Toronto Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, asked me if I would take on the role of webmaster. Actually, he asked me about this some time ago. But today I finally decided that I would do it.


Does this mean I'm part of the Inner Star Chamber now?!

OK. Bad pun...

Friday, May 18, 2007

where's Mercury? (Toronto)

I can't see Mercury.

It must be there...


Oops. I'm a day late. Last night the Moon was near Mercury. And Mercury is still very low.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

laser on special

EfstonScience has a green laser pointer on sale (web purchase only) for $100.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

chatted with Maia

A co-worker of Elinor's is interested in ramping up with astronomy, particularly for her kids. She says they would "love" to view planets and other objects with their very own telescope.

I encouraged her to join me and other Toronto Centre RASC members next week at the COS. Then she and the kids can see and try different 'scopes, ask lots of questions, and actually look at some planets (like Venus and Saturn).

I left her with a PDF of Alan Dyer's article on 10 tips for getting started stargazing (found in the SkyNews site reviews section).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Atlantis repaired

NASA announced the Atlantis and the external fuel tank were repaired and rolled back out to the launch pad after being damaged by hail back in March.

Target launch date is early June.

While researching the new take-off date, I came across RSS feeds from NASA. Now I'm getting regular updates.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

smashed the planet

I took my Shasta planet marbles to the RASC Toronto Centre meeting to show members. Might be useful for their educational activities.

When I showed the president Denis Grey at the pub afterwards, he picked up the Earth and threw it down on the table!

What the hell?!

I was shocked. It seemed to me he thought it a bouncing-type ball.

If he had smashed it...

Note to self: don't give anything fragile to Denis...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

new diffuser

I bumped into a maintenance guy at one of the buildings I work at. He was fiddling with air conditioning or lights or something like that.

I asked if he had any broken acrylic clear diffusers for the overhead fluorescent lights. He returned, a couple of minutes later, with a large sheet, broken in the corner.

From the good end of the plastic I will make a new single cover for the red LED light box.

Having ridden my bicycle to work, I could not carry it home. So I left it at work to pick up the next day.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

motor and clutch mounted

I attached the MT-1 motor (and clutch) to the Super Polaris mount this afternoon.

I had to fiddle with the final position a bit to get the gears to mess and be aligned. I had to trim the cover a little to get it to better fit.

At some point, I'll paint these black...

It's frustrating not being to fire it up!

The mount still fits in the old camera bag. So that's good news. And whenever I get the controller, that should fit nicely inside the camera bag's outer pocket!

I am one step closer to driving the telescope. It's going to be so good to just relax at the eyepiece.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

impromptu show (Blue Mountain)

Saturday night was windy and rather cool.

We had surprise visitors after dinner, some people that had been clouded out during their previous visit to the E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory (CAO).

So a few of us went quickly in education mode.

I showed Saturn briefly, then some double stars, and later, when I saw Lyra rising, the Ring Nebula.

They, while shivering, seemed very pleased with our little shotgun star party.

I was cold. And tired. Packed it in early.

helped at work party (Blue Mountain)

work weekend
This weekend I assisted at "work party" at the Carr Astronomical Observatory (CAO). Tony was the leader. He brought a long list of things to be done, renovated, repaired, installed, and so on. The Open House is the following weekend...

I went for several reasons, some selfish, some altrustic. Primarily, I wanted to meet more members. I also wanted to see the place, see the observatory and equipment, evaluate it for sky conditions and camping.

the plan
The plan started early in the week.
  • Review the CAO "user guide" that Tony had sent.
  • Talk to Tony live to find out what to expect, what to bring, etc.
  • Book a room at the CAO with Dietmar.
  • Get the light box revised with the additional SPST switch (so to control each half of the light box).
  • See if I could operate the new MT-1 drive without a formal controller (and if possible get the needed parts).
  • Get the M3 car into a driveable state (with the new rims, given the unusual offset).
  • Pack astronomy gear (obviously).
  • Pack tools needed for CAO projects.
  • Pack clothes, toothbrush, etc. for a 2-night stay.
  • Do my route planning.
What I did not expect was that owner of the defunct training company would be so litigious and threatening about a loaner computer that he wanted back. Technical issues (i.e. bugs in Windows, surprise, surprise) slowed my efforts at transferring data off the system. All of Thursday evening was consumed with final preparations of the Celeron. This meant that I had to defer packing to Friday afternoon.

The plan also had me wrapping up the delivery of a 2-day Excel VBA course early on Friday. I wanted to be done by 4:00pm. And out the door at 4:01. Wishful thinking. I was rushing home at 5:00pm after a pretty intense day...

I quickly changed clothes, finished packing, and prepared the car. I decided to skip dinner.

I think, if I remember correctly, I wasn't out the door of my house, heading north, until 6:45pm or so. I knew the predicted drive time was over 2 hours. And I knew the sun would be setting around 8:45pm. If lucky, I would get there while it was still light out. If very lucky the traffic on the 400 would not be terrible. It was for some reason important to me that I make it before dark. With the help of Tony's directions and Ken's GPS, while anxious, I got there during twilight.

deep end
We worked hard on Saturday. First, we unloaded the truck of supplies, tools, furniture, and an ATV. Then we formed a chain gang to unload the interlocking brick. For the rest of the morning David P. and I worked at the large pond cordoning it off. Ian came down later to assist. We ran out of cord so had to halt work.

the pad
When the truck returned with a cubic yard of sand, a group of us began work on the "observing pad." We distributed the sand evenly, "screed" it to the east and to the west, laid fabric, and then started the heavy lifting. We placed 100 patio stones in a 4x25 grid.

The end result of our work is subject to review: unfortunately, some of the stones are wobbling, which won't be good for trying to create a steady view in the eyepiece. I hope that this can be easily rectified. Perhaps watering, the filler sand, and a round or two of vibrating or pounding will help. It would be a shame if we have to lift and replace the patio stones...

solar observing
Ralph set up the Coronado solar telescopes. A "regular" H-alpha Personal Solar Telescope (PST) and a Calcium K line filtered unit. A few of us helped him align it.

The view in the PST was fascinating. You could see granules on the surface of the Sun. The Calcium view, so dim and dark, was much harder for me to make out.

There was a large active sunspot churning away on the northern hemisphere. And there was a small prominence on the top pole!

tire repair
When Tony returned with the truck, he noted that he had a flat tire. The outboard left tire on the dualie seemed to have a puncture. He tried a local shop when heading back into town but found them to be closed. I offered to help.

We searched for a screw or nail at the puncture. Nothing. Maybe it had dislodged. We got some soapy water. Still no sign of the leak. I borrowed Charles's compressor to pump the tire up to full pressure to help spot the leak.

As I fiddled with the air chuck and valve (a bit difficult to reach on the inside of the outer tire), suddenly air rushed out around the valve stem area. At first I thought it was the valve inside the stem. Charles and I looked at each other, rolling our eyes: neither of us had our valve-tightening tool. But as I fiddled with the stem, I realised it wasn't the valve; it was the stem itself! That was a big problem. Tony knew immediately that it could only be repaired from the inside. He was anxious. I thought I would check the inside tire. If low, I could raise the pressure to take some of the burden off the flat tire. It was around 70 pounds (when it was supposed to be 95).

I went about checking all the other tires: they were all around 70 pounds. The outside tire on the other side of the dualie was 60!

It took me a while, with Charles's little compressor (and it's finicky pressure cut-off circuit), to get the tires up to over 90 pounds. I had to keep tricking the compressor.

When Charles grabbed the compressor to use the air tools in the basement, I looked for an incomplete item in the "job jar." I finished the tire pumping the next morning.

red rope
Saturday morning after breakfast, Tony had read from his list of chores, emphasising priority jobs. One job mentioned sounded particularly interesting to me: installing the light rope into the eyepiece cabinet. I was surprised to find this job had not been tackled by late Saturday afternoon. I gathered up the supplies and headed to the observatory building.

The task required installing a 2-metre length of red light rope into the eyepiece cabinet—which is actually a gun cabinet. Costas had done the 120VAC electrical work in preparation for providing the power. He wired up a regular dual socket near the floor beside the gun—err, eyepiece—cabinet with a regular light switch above. I arrived just as he was finished up that job.

The version 1.0 of my design incorporated hanging the light rope in a inverted-U pattern just inside the front "wall" of the cabinet, behind the door's surround. This would keep the rope out of sight while standing in front of the cabinet or while sitting across the room at the computer stations. I affixed the light rope plastic clips to the front of the highest wood shelf and the lowest one, skipping the one in the middle. Meanwhile, Costas created a hole (using a "Greenlee" tool) at the base on the cabinet in the left wall, as a port for the rope or its power cord.

Version 1.1: When I clipped the rope in place, there was some extra length on the floor. We quickly coiled an extra foot or two of rope at the top of the case, forming a ring under the very top of the cabinet box. This provided excellent light to the top shelf; at the same time it emphasised that only a small amount of light was reaching the second and third shelves.

We quickly redesigned to version 2.0 wherein the light rope would be snaked back and forth under each shelf, starting from the ceiling. I relocated the 3 pairs of clips to the bottom edge of each shelf. To hold the rope onto the ceiling of the cabinet, both Costas and I considered a trick with tie wraps. I started feeding the tie wrap from outside the cabinet, around the rope inside, and then back outside through the head. Worked great. A funny effect in the dark with the rope on was that the translucent tie wrap glows red. Now there's good light to each shelf and some extra rope that can snake under a future shelf, if required.

There were some concerns about the light rope being visible while at the computers; this light could be blocked with a valance (2.1?). David P. said he didn't think was an issue: he said he would turn the light on, open the cabinet, grab an eyepiece, close the cabinet, lock it, and turn the light off.

chatted with Leslie
While installing the light rope, Leslie and I had a good chat about education. I told her about my possible astronomy seminars for later in the summer. She offered materials and support. Cool.

As I was leaving, I fired up Ken's GPS and read the elevation of the CAO: 451 metres.

Friday, May 04, 2007

observing and sketching (Blue Mountain)

Happily, Friday night, shortly after arriving at the E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory off Georgian Bay, I got a bit of observing in. Even though I had to scramble a little to get set up...

I wandered into the roll-off roof observatory. Dietmar and Charles were aligning the 14" Celestron catadioptric 'scope. Just in time to view Saturn through the big 2" eyepieces. It was beautiful. I could see many moons. Possibly 6 or 7.

Later, I looked at Saturn through Ian's massive, beautiful, home-made dob (the mirror alone weighs 60 pounds) at 250x. I could see more moons, more details in the rings, colours like pink, white, and tan, on the planet surface. An incredible view.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
With my 8 inch on the CAO Observing Pad, I took in the Beehive (Messier 44 or M44) in Cancer. It was easily visible with the naked eye. With my 26mm eyepiece, at 77x, it was way too tight. I asked, of the crowd there, if there was a wide-field eyepiece (with 1-1/4" shaft) that I could borrow. Ian offered up his Tele Vue 40mm Plössl (with 43° AFOV) which helped me back up a bit. But even 50x was too much. I think I can go down to 29 power with the SP-C8. I'll have to try the Beehive again at that level...

It is such a cool thing trying other eyepieces. Helps get a sense of the power, field, eye relief, etc. I found the eye relief (or the exit pupil) on the TV 40... well, awkward. I was a little surprised about that. The Tele Vue web site says the eye relief is 28mm.

Dave G.—charging through the Messier list with his Dob—remarked that he was having a tough time with Messier 67. He knew approximately where it was but had not seen it. I used this as cue to pull my Tirion charts and fire up light box 2.0. And before I knew it, after starhopping, I had found it! I sketched M67 quickly (through the TV 40mm Plössl) to verify if I was on target.

My sketch on 4 May 2007 at 10:50pm. Cleaned, rotated, laterally-inverted, and colour-inverted in Fireworks.
Photo by Jan Wisniewski from the SEDS web site.

I wanted to view more galaxies from this dark site so I asked if M81 and M82 in (or near) Ursa Major might be good targets. I was encouraged to go for them. Once again I starhopped through the area and found both galaxies. It was fantastic! In Ian's 40mm eyepiece I was able to see both Messier objects in the same field. That was very cool.

At 11:26pm I sketched Messier 82 (M82). I thought I could see some texture, some granularity, particularly around the centre regions. Others said it was possible. On examining photographs of The Cigar Galaxy, there are a number of dark patches through the middle of the galaxy. Wild.

When the moon came out, while pleasingly close to the horizon and distant clouds, it washed out the sky. It was dramatic. Most of us packed it in.


I had rewired my red LED light box earlier in the week. Now I have 2 push-button on/off switches, one controlling each half of the light box. This will allow me to use it for 8½ x 11 sheets without blinding myself. My first outdoor run with 2.0 was this weekend. It worked well.

There is a notable change in brightness when one half is shut off. I was surprised by that...


It occurred to me this evening that I have "arrived," in terms of starhopping. When I first heard about this technique, I thought it sounded very difficult. My first attempts were not optimistic. But I can tell I'm getting better at it. It is a combination of things, of course: my "ring" or scale transparency sheet, the wonderful Tirion charts, my new light box, getting used to the viewfinder's rotated view and the telescope's reversed view, and various circuits in my brain getting activated. It's increasingly satisfying. It's all starting to pay off.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

motor and clutch arrived

I received the Vixen MT-1 motor today! Also received the clutch. They are in fantastic shape. They both look new even though very old.

I packed them to take to the CAO work party...

motor needs specific controller

Recently visited Jeroen's web site (had seen this before when researching my Super Polaris mount).

Heard back from Jeroen today.
To run the MT-1 motor unfortunately requires a controller of some form. The MT-1 is a so-called unipolar stepping motor that consists of a number of phases that need electric pulses of exactly the right length in exactly the right sequence. This requires non-trivial electronics. If you have knowledge of electronics you might be able to build such a controller. The simplest (but most expensive) option would be to use the Vixen SD-1 controller.
Looks like I need to go shopping again...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

motor and clutch shipped

Lawrence informed me he shipped the MT-1 motor and clutch by ExpressPost. Should have it by the weekend.