Saturday, June 30, 2007

brighter LEDs

Rebuilt my custom red LED desk lamp. I had originally thought that low-output standard translucent 5mm red LEDs would be plenty bright enough for small desk lamp. But, unfortunately, the output is way too low.

Took a reading with my old camera gear Capital hand-held light meter at 1" in a darkened room with the white dome in place: the EV rating is approx. 3.

Used some of the mini dome LEDs I found before, for the light box project. These seem brighter. And they have a wider dispersion pattern.

Light reading after: approx. 3.


it is Vesta! (Toronto)

Set up in the back yard early, or rather, in the late afternoon. It was looking and feeling like it was going to be a good evening (despite the nearly full Moon). This caught the attention of Joachim and some of my other house mates as they made dinner on the barbie. And when Diane chatted with us "over the fence" I asked if Evan (her energetic 4-year-old) might be interested.

This prompted me to start a bit early. I had been fiddling with AstroPlanner to get some ideas but I abandoned it.

It was a bit before sunset. With my binoculars, I began to scan the sky for Venus. Couldn't see it. Inside, I checked RedShift and grabbed my astrolabe to align the binos. When I looked back at the sky, there she was! Moved the telescope and targeted the brilliant planet. Showed the boys at 110x and 220x. They enjoyed that. Went over to the neighbours and knocked on the back door. The whole family came out, Evan, Maia, Diane, Mark. Even Hilda (Evan's grandmother) came out.

Poor Evan. I think he was intimidated by the whole thing. And he did not know what to do at the eyepiece. I wonder if he saw anything...

Hilda is interested in astronomy! She said she had taken a course at U of T. And they used the big telescope on the campus. "It was disappointing." She was enjoying my 'scope much more. Interesting.

I invited them back in an hour to see Saturn. I spotted it, with averted vision, around 9:30. A very pretty view with the planets about ½° apart. Hilda came back out at 9:45 and was amazed by the view. I urged her to locate the Cassini division—not sure if she picked that up. And I pointed out the bright point to the right, a possible moon. She could see that. She was thrilled.

Joachim returned outside at 9:50, hearing the commotion, I guess. He was blown away by Saturn. "Unbelieveable," he said.

They saw a whole other side to me this evening.

At 10:09, I checked the air conditions, with the Oregon Scientific eb313hg weather station, for the first time: 44% humidity with a temperature of 20.4°C. It was a very pleasant temperature. The clouds were gone. Seeing was fairly good (not as good as last week though). Little wind. And therefore, the mosquitoes were out! Yikes.

At 10:30, Saturn was getting murky. The air was boiling. It was hard to make out details on the planet's surface.

(That's Hyperion, Dione, Saturn, Rhea, and a field star, way off to the right. Titan, at the 3 o'clock position is the first object I spotted near Saturn...)

By 10:49, I had moved on to move new targets. And I had decided to try to find, once and for all, double star Σ1798 in Ursa Minor. Wow! Got 'em! Both of faint (Haas says 7.7 and 9.7). I think the brighter one (pah) is a pale yellow whereas the fainter one is pale orange brown (Haas only describes the main star as amber-yellow). They are quite close together at 110x. I understand what Haas means now by "difficult but striking." All the doubles I've looked at so far are really bright.

Funny timing. At 11:14 as I returned to the finder scope to move to a new target, a satellite went through the field, heading south!

11:24. I located π1 (pi 1) in Ursa Minor. They were yellow and orange with a medium separation at 110x. I estimated they were separated by about 1/40th of the field (Haas says 32" apart; wow, I nailed it!). Nice!

For the first time I think, I pulled Turn Left at Orion to get some ideas for summer targets. M13 in Hercules would be a very good subject, being almost straight overhead. Almost all the other targets were blocked by houses and trees.

It was challenging to locate Messier 13 (M13) with the street light and the Moon shining straight down the driveway and the target being directly overhead. Still, at 11:45, I picked up the cluster. I could see individual stars, some bright, some far from the centre. At 110x it was a large object. Probably in a dark sky it would fill the field. I could tell it was very dense in the centre.

My vision was coming and going. Getting tired I think.

OK. The main event. Vesta should be up...

I trained the 7x50 binoculars on Scorpius. Whoa, another satellite, heading north this time.

I started at β (beta) Sco and moved north to 49 then 48 Libra. I moved slightly east then north again to 11 Sco. I used to large rhombus of ψ (psi), ξ (xi), 11, and χ (chi) Sco to verify my location. Then I shifted back south. And there was a point, not on the maps, the same brightness as 231226 and 11 Sco, approximately magnitude 6, almost in-line with ξ, 11, and the other field star. Once again I sketched it, the view at 12:15am.

Checked RedShift and EasySky to verify this was Vesta. It had moved approximately 1° in the week. The image below is from EasySky 3.0 using the "trail" option set for 1 day iterations over 7 days.

That was very cool. Another solar system object viewed...


Neighbours to the east had even more lights on. And they left them on all night. Even though no one was back there. I'll have to talk to them in the future...


Used my new red light bulbs in the house. It made easy work of running in for additional gear, bug repellent, to check the computer. In fact, in the living room light, I turned out the bulbs so I was only using one. That 60 watt bulb was plenty of light.

Used my light box with new diffuser and the LED array elevated closer to the diffuser. Used with my Tirion charts for some detailed star hops. Worked very well.


Lately I've been using Microsoft Digital Imaging Starter Edition 2006 Editor on Windows to do a lot of my image clean-up. It has a feature I've never seen before. While cropping, you can rotate the crop zone. That's cool. I used that on my Vesta sketch to get it to synch with the EasySky snapshot.

Friday, June 29, 2007

red light district

My place is gonna look like a brothel...

Today, while killing some time, I popped into a local Canadian Tire to purchase some red light bulbs.

Last week, it occurred to me to do the same thing at my home, as is done at the RASC Carr Astronomical Observatory: when having an astronomy night, operate only red light bulbs in the house.

I was very happy to find decorative light bulbs in red. NOMA brand, these are transparent red incandescent bulbs, 60 watts, with the standard screw-type base. I bought three for my antique living room floor lamp. They are bright with a very slight pink cast to them.

I find it intriguing, after all these years, that I can make a very direct use of the multiple switches of this old lamp, inherited from my grandparents. It has 3 switches: one for the large tri-light centre bulb, one for the three satellite bulbs, and one for the small light in the base. Ironically, the small bulb in the pedestal is already red.

I tried to locate more of these very small sphere bulbs at CTC. I have found them in the past but now I cannot remember where exactly... I have one spare red left in the "bulb bin."

As I scoured the CTC shelves, I discovered that there are now coloured "ultra mini" compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs available (also NOMA brand). I grabbed a red one. It looks a bit like a neon bulb when lit. More orangey. Quite bright despite 13W. Powers up instantly without flickering.

So. The kitchen, living room, and bathroom are prepared for astronomy night-time use!

All I need now is a desk lamp for the computer workstation. Oh. And another lamp stand in my bedroom. Oh, yeah. And a red bulb in the garage...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

new diffuser tested

Another cloudy night...

I tested the new diffuser for the light box tonight. Success!

The new deck for the light box is a regular sheet of glass. But to the glass, I have applied a sheet of Con-Tact Brand decorative covering or self-adhesive plastic film. Sourced at Canadian Tire, it is the "Frosty" type with a frosted grid pattern (18" x 9' roll). Typically, this is used as a privacy screen on, say, a bathroom window. Actually, I applied two sheets: one to the top side of the glass; and one to the bottom.

It works perfectly!

It diffuses the red light from the LEDs below very effectively. Better than the fluorescent light hard plastic diffuser!

This good bit of news now means I can move the diffused glass closer to the LED array. Happily, to the distance I had hoped for: 2 inches! In turn, this means I can make the final version of the light box quite thin, perhaps less than 3 inches.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

hazy (Toronto)

Tried looking for Vesta. But the Moon was close by. And it was a hot and humid day. So it is still hazy now...

I could star hop from Graffias but then I'd quickly get lost...

Popped over to Jupiter. Could see Callisto and Europa through the 7x binos with averted vision.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

glad I went out! (Toronto)

I was really sitting on the fence. I wanted to observe, I really wanted to catch the asteroid Vesta, I wanted to go after from the city some "point sources" (as suggested by Geoff G) but the thought of setting up in the high school's tennis court (with good sight lines) was not attractive, somehow. The back yard was comforting but I would be really boxed in with the houses and tall trees. Finally, at around 8:30pm, I thought, "Stay inside or go out! Make up your mind." OK: the back yard it is.

I quickly set up as Venus was getting bright. I started viewing the second planet at 77x with the Celestron 26mm eyepiece in the catadioptric telescope. Then I flipped in the Meade 18mm climbing to 110x. It was a pleasing crescent. Hmmm, what will happen with the Celestron 2x barlow, I wonder. I inserted it before the mirror diagonal. Wow! Like I was there! OK. Not exactly. But the image was good and when the air settled (it wasn't that bad actually) it looked really good.

9:38pm. 44% humidity. 15°C. When I eye-balled Saturn I swung the tube toward it. I was still at 220 (or so) power. Wow! It popped. Even though it was only 23° up. I observed an incredible amount of detail in the rings and on the planet surface. I was surprised. The air was quite steady and occasionally the image would get rock-solid. The Cassini division was easy to see without using averted vision; it was 2/3 of the way through the rings from the planet. The shadow behind the ring was thin but very crisp. At the equator, the clouds were white. Above, there was a dark tan band. At the pole, lighter, again. The only problem with viewing Saturn at that high a magnification (without an active drive) was that it would drift out of view in seconds. I removed the barlow. Somehow it was less impressive. Still, there was a bright point 3 to 4 ring widths away, to the left.

9:59pm. Spotted a second point near Saturn. Another moon perhaps. Fainter. One ring width away, to the left.

As the planet fell below 20° altitude, the thickening air started to interfere. I decided to move onto some new targets.

10:15pm. I pulled the Pocket Sky Atlas (PSA). I didn't feel like fighting with my big Tirion sky charts, even though I had access to unlimited AC power and could set up my light box. I started looking at the PSA charts for the constellations that I could see overhead. Specifically, I looked for stars marked with a line. (Also had Haas's double stars nearby to verify details...)

Hey, look at that! Regulus, α (alpha) Leo is a double. I viewed it at 110x. The main element was very white blue while the companion is a very faint pale red orangey colour. Widely separated. Tried the 26mm eyepiece for a moment. I estimated they were 1/8th of the field apart in the 18mm. (Haas says they are 176" apart. Main is mag 1.4; secondary is 8.2. Smyth says flushed white, pale purple.)

10:25pm. I popped to Algieba, γ (gamma) Leo. It is a pretty gold-gold tight double. Looks familiar... Ah. I have viewed it previously (noted with a checkmark in double stars). I spent some time with it. The main star is gold with hints of light lime green; the companion is slightly white. (Smyth says bright orange; greenish yellow.)

10:32pm. The Moon is washing out the rest of Leo. So I decided to turn away from this region. Ursa Major is lookin' fine.

10:38pm. Dubhe, α (alpha) Ursa Major. Interesting. I never looked at it before. The main star is bright yellow gold. The companion is pale orange. It is a very wide pair. They are 1/3rd of the field at 110x. (Haas says brilliant orange with a tiny dot of almond brown. 381" apart.)

10:42pm. Ah, what's this, just below Ursa Major. Canes Venatici. The Dogs. Oh! Cor Caroli, the α (alpha) star. I've heard about this... Lovely at 110x. The main star is very white blue and the nearby star is a pale yellow green. They are fairly close. (Haas notes bright white and bluish sea green. 19.3")

I tried for Σ1798 in Ursa Minor. I think I had it but I could not split them at 110x.

I moved back to 5 UMi. The main is gold yellow. The distant companion is very pale. Hard to make out a colour. Mauve? They are about 1/3rd of the field apart at 110x. (Did I get the correct star system? Haas says they're just under 1' apart.)

11:25pm. δ (delta) Boötes. The pair are about a 1/10th of the field from one another. Yellow and pale blue green. (Webb describes as bright yellow and fine blue. Hass says 104" apart.)

11:48pm. The humidity and temperature have been flat. Virtually the same as the beginning of the evening. The Moon's almost down.

11:50pm. With my new, larger astrolabe, I measured the altitude of the Moon. It was 18° up. But starting to get behind the trees in the 'hood.

I was winding down. It was getting late. I started slowly packing up.

The house mates on the top floor of the house in the meantime had turned on every light in every room. It was a little distracting (not to mention irksome—they are so energy inefficient).

While trying to avoid white light directly in my eyes, I shuffled further and further back into the driveway, looking to the south, and over the neighbour's house. And there, just over the peak, where the three stars (β, δ, and π or beta, delta, and pi) in the head of the scorpion. And seeing them, I knew, meant that I should be able to see the Vesta!

I blitzed inside to re-examine the location of the asteroid. Oddly, it was my old astronomy software, RedShift, that made easy work of this. It should have been between ξ (xi) and ν (nu) Sco and to the left of 49 and 48 Lib.

12:15am. I quickly set up the tripod and 7x binoculars. And star hopped to the area. Double-checked. Triple-checked. And saw, in comparing to the chart in PSA, that there was a bright object to the right of SAO 159846 and 159821. The two faint stars below these, SAO 159831 and 159784, both around magnitude 8, were in line with the object, and about the same distance away as they were from each other. The mystery object was same magnitude, around 6, as the top two stars. I sketched the region.

This was very exciting.

My first asteroid sighting.

A great way to finish the evening!


My double star "life list" is updated for these latest (certain) sightings.


Using the Barlow different ways reminded me that I think you get different magnification depending on where you put it in the light path. I will have to investigate this more...

Friday, June 22, 2007

chair test

I finally had a chance to give RASC-member Dave Getgood's astronomy observing chair a good shakedown. I think this "small" version is an excellent design. Compact, light-weight, easy to set up and take down. Easy to carry with its integrated handle. The Velcro strap and nylon rope keep it closed during transport. It is quite stable during use.

I particularly like how low it goes. When I aim my catadioptric at zenith, without a star diagonal on the finder, I need to get right under the tube with my butt inches off the ground.

On a number of occasions, I have forgotten to take this inexpensive chair to my Mom's to test with the Edmund Newtonian reflector. I suspect it would work perfectly with the 6" telescope, given the short pier it is mounted on.
  • model: small
  • version: 2.0
  • construction material: wood (solid pine), unfinished
  • padded seat: no
  • foot rest: optional (not included in test model)
  • seat height (cm)
    • minimum: 30
    • maximum: 61
  • dimensions, when closed (cm): 38W x 92L x 13H
  • weight (kg): 3
  • price ($CDN): <100
Sadly, this sturdy chair is too small or short for me when viewing objects at the horizon, again with the cat, on its tall wooden tripod. For example, while I was examining Saturn earlier, I could not set the chair high enough.

I would like to test drive the large version Dave's made. I briefly tried it at the CAO work party in May. But I need a longer session with it...


Dave works like me with his do-it-yourself designs: he takes an organic approach. We change, improve, adjust, fix, optimise, re-evaluate, and evolve our inventions. Dave has already made improvements to the chair design which I have evaluated.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

short run (Toronto)

Picked up the Space Station and Shuttle (as per Heavens-Above) just to the right of the Moon, about 10° up, much fainter tonight. They both seemed the same brightness. About twice as far apart too. The first one winked out quickly, then the other, just under and to the left of Spica.


Malcolm had his kids tonight. He let them stay up late and watch the fly-by. Courtney first spotted the pair. They all enjoyed that.

Malcolm said afterward, as we talked on the phone about it, "Well, that's the last time we'll see that kind of thing!"

"Not true." I explained that with more Shuttle missions to the International Space Station and much work planned for the outpost, there will be many opportunities. I reminded him to look on the flight up as well as during the return!

I also explained that the Space Station will get brighter and brighter in the future, as they increase the number of solar arrays deployed.


The Moon, Regulus, Saturn, and Venus were nicely lined up, almost equidistant.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

dual (Toronto)

Just watched the dual-flyover of the Space Station and Shuttle Atlantis. Wild!

I phoned Malcolm and ordered him to the end of his driveway. He said a chill went down his spine.

Thanks, Eric and Heavens-Above, for the tip!


I bought Skyways this afternoon. It is written by Mary Lou Whitehorne. The RASC publication is for teachers (primarily elementary and high school). To assist in the delivery of astronomical education. I shall immediately read this, in preparation for my Awenda gig.


There are a number of references to web sites in the text. And, not surprisingly, some of these have changed... I'm testing them all.

Also, astronomy science facts change fast! The Pluto demotion has occurred since the publication. There are a couple of other items now outdated.

I'm going to see if there is an addendum...

I discovered one hand-written change already!

Monday, June 18, 2007

second COS (Toronto)

Attended my second City Observing Session (COS) as organised by the RASC Toronto Centre.

location: Bayview Village Park
humidity: 69% at 10:36pm; 71% at 11:02pm
temperature: 18.7°C at 10:36pm; 18.3°C at 11:02pm

I considered not bringing my gear, just helping. Felt tired I guess. But I did in the end pack my catadioptric telescope.

Arrived around 9:00pm. David Z was already there. In fact, he was helping Heather and Russell, rookies, with their first telescope. Heather explained it was an item won at a silent auction. They got the small refractor, altazimuth tripod, and accessories for a smokin' good deal. I looked through it later on the Moon with the 25mm eyepiece and it was wonderful, very crisp and clear, a strong visual sense of an orb floating in space.

Later I re-aligned the small finder scope to help them bull's-eye targets. And then, into the den of the lions I threw them—I made them try it! I noticed them observing Jupiter and three of its moons a short time afterwards. They were pleased with the view. Crisp and clear again.

I was setting it up slowly when a young inquisitive couple wandered through the park. I explained who we were and why we were here. I asked, "Would you like to look at the Moon?" They were very interested.

We also viewed Venus. It was pleasing in the low contrast and at 110 power was very clear. It looked just under half illumination.

We were all waiting for Jupiter to come out. At one point, I noticed a few people facing south. There it was! The largest planet was quite high, 15° or so up. When I viewed it, I was pleased to see Io was still visible. I had remembered on this occasion to print charts for Saturn and Jupiter from Cartes du Ciel before leaving home. I had noticed initially in the software that Io was just moving behind the planet but I backed up the configuration about 1 hour before printing. We watched it through the evening, Io creeping closer and closer, until we lost the dark division, and it became a small bright bump on the disc of Jupiter. I lost sight of Io in the glare of the planet at approx. 10:30pm. One person with a 4" or 6" reflector running at 140x was able to see it the longest. But finally it disappeared.

After another group of young people arrived, and after viewing the Moon and Venus, I trained on Saturn. It was rather murky, I could not see any moons, but still it was fun. They were impressed.

It was rather soupy as the evening wore on. I could not see Regulus. Tried later, in vain, to locate Albireo. I could not split the Lyra double-double. Star hopping was impossible. I gave up trying to find any Messier objects. That was a little disappointing.

Still, we enjoyed a spectacular, long, overhead fly-by of the International Space Station. The 10:14pm pass was particularly bright, in part, because of the docked space shuttle Atlantis.

Gave David Z a ride home.


Here's Anthony's summary:
  • We had about 5 'scopes setup and they were setup quite early.
  • The usual suspects:
    Guy, Tim, Anthony, Blake, David, and Ken.
  • A few newbie's:
    Heather, Russell, Adolpho, Carina, and I know I'm missing a few others.
  • Early in the night, we had a group of 5 walk by and they were quite interested in seeing the 3 planets that were being showcased and of course the moon.
  • Guy and myself attempted to setup/align a Celestron Nexstar using a 1 star and 2 star align method to no avail. A no brainer would have been the 3 star alignment. Maybe next time.
  • Jupiter to my eye seemed hazy at best, however others had varying opinions.
  • We watched the ISS pass by at 10:14, however we did miss the iridium flare just before that.
  • A combination of bad transparency and light pollution made things a little difficult for us.
  • Overall another successful night at Bayview Village Park...
Guy's remarks:

Twelve people, six 'scopes, a few binocs, three planets, one crescent Moon and one fantastic ISS passage! That all adds up to one very good City Observing Session. A good time was had by all, despite the hazy sky. Seeing was very good, though. Dave Z had no trouble splitting the Double-Double at 160x with his 76mm (?) Tele Vue thingee. Still, the "star" of the show was the ISS/Shuttle combo. Those new solar panels are really bright! As for the Iridium flare, we were all so wrapped up in our pursuits that the time came and went and no one noticed. A big thanks to Anthony P who kept a clock on the ISS passage. Without him, we would have missed that, too.

Carpe noctem!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

five in a row (Toronto)

Popped outside to put some things in the garage and put the car to bed.

A pretty sight! The Moon and Venus 5 or so degrees apart.

Just before I headed back into the house, I took a moment. Mercury is too low now (confirmed with various software). But I could see an orangish star in Gemini (κ or kappa?), the Moon, Venus, Saturn, and Regulus. They almost formed a perfectly straight line. I thought of Kubrick's 2001. Looked straight up: Arcturus.

It seemed very clear tonight. I hope we'll get a clear night this week for the RASC City Observing Session...

Friday, June 15, 2007

telephone support (Toronto)

William phoned me tonight. Malcolm and I were just finishing work on the car and packing up tools. Will, said, "Hey, Astronomy Man! Got a question for you."

Will sounded a little tipsy, celebrating belatedly his birthday it seemed. "What's that bright thing in the sky?" I could hear his wife in the background. Others were nearby. They were obviously enjoying themselves on a patio.

"Where? To the north-west?" I asked as I surveyed the indigo sky from Malcolm's front patio.

"Yeah." There was a pause. "I guess."

"Well, it you're talking about the very bright white point about 20° up, that's Venus."

"I knew you would know that!" Will said. I explained how to measure the 20°, with fingers splayed, hand outstretched. Now Will sounded sceptical. Then I pointed him 10° up and to the left. "That's Saturn."

"And," I continued, "if you can see to the south-east, you'll see a very bright, pale white or tan point, and that will be Jupiter."

"There are trees in the way."

"Oh well. It will improve during the evening. Look for it in an hour or so." I said encouragingly. "And with your excellent eye sight, you might even see a moon or two..."

He thanked me for the information and we closed the conversation.

I said to Malcolm, "Perhaps, I should just start answering the phone now, 'Astronomy Man, how can I be of service?!'"

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Denis Grey, president of the RASC Toronto Centre, deleted my article about watching a NASA Shuttle launch without consulting me! Sheesh. He said it thought it was "old." Hello! The mission is still going on! He promised not to do delete my stuff again...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

new array installed

I've been monitoring the space shuttle STS-117 mission and the installation of the new solar array for the International Space Station (ISS).

Caught this photo today. Woo hoo! Smile, Canada!


During this mission, I've also been assembling a document of the current acronyms and terms. I'll post it at the completion of the mission...

Monday, June 11, 2007

weekend small enhancements

I made small enhancements over the last few days...

glass cut

I cut the sheet of glass with chipped corners forming an irregular octagon.

Mom suggested I tape the edges. Good plan.

This will be used for the "cover" plate for the star charts on the light box. It will hold down the chart sheet or pieces of paper when it is a bit windy. It should offer a bit of dew protection as well.

reflective tape

While driving on Saturday morning from my place to Mom's I cut through Aylmer, Ontario. The Canadian Tire store in town caught my eye so I popped in. Among other things, I picked up some red reflective tape. This was the second store where I unsuccessfully began my search in the bicycle department. No red... Strange. This time, in a moment of inspiration, I went to the trailer section (you know, a trailer towed behind a car). And finally found red reflective tape (by Avery no less).

Today I put small bits of tape on my tripods, step ladder, astronomy box, and portable table.

Hopefully this will improve visibility on dark nights. People shining a flash light around will see the legs and edges of my gear.

I didn't intend this safety feature but it occurred to me if I'm somewhere where vehicles are driven about, they will see me from a distance.


I also found some (dark grey) closed cell foam padding at Canadian Tire. This was in the form of a roll used for camping or hiking, or rather, what you might put under your sleeping bag.

I cut 3 small circles for each leg of the heavy Edmund tripod and glued them together.

Later I put these under the tripod feet. All this to lessen the vibration and shock going into the telescope when we roll it around on the dolly.

table secured

While moving the new wooden TV table to and fro, I found it kept wanting to flop open. Conversely, when opened and unladen and if jarred, it would close up and collapse.

Inspired by the Velcro fabric tab on Dave Getgood's astronomy chair, I decided to mount a couple of Velcro bits onto the table's underside.

I asked Mom for some help. She directed me into her crafts room and the "Velcro" drawer where I found self-adhesive and fabric pieces. In fact, I discovered that she had red pieces! Perfect.

Now the table stays closed when closed and open when open.

override switch

When I had rigged up the astronomy box with its own internal LED lights, I had incorporated a microswitch in the lid. When you open the lid, the close circuit activates, and you can see the materials and gear within. What I did not initially account for was that at other times, say at home, after a session, I'd want to open the box for a while, to move things around, tidy, etc. All the while, the lights would be running.

Last week, I desoldered the original AA battery box. The replacement AA battery box, from The Source (nee Radio Shack), has a small integrated toggle switch. This now allows me to override the lights when the case remains open for an extended time.

I got to test drive this at Mom's. And of course it worked fine.

Mom was impressed by the lights.

front porch AC source

Since I had planned Mom's and my Saturday night observing session from the end of the driveway (for good planetary sight lines), we needed to power her clock drive with a long (grounded) extension cord.

I plugged into the porch socket that I had used before, the east one, which was closest to the driveway—all seemed well. But later, when the light sensor in her street lamp triggered on, we realised that if we tripped the breaker on the ground-fault, it would knock out the clock drive.

Mom directed me to another socket, on the west end of the porch, hidden behind a table. I didn't even know this one was there! And, happily, we discovered it worked independently of the other socket. So we were able to shut off the street lamp but keep the clock drive running.

drive drifting

Speaking of the clock drive... Even though we had it running and properly engaged, the 'scope was not properly tracking the planets we were viewing.

At first I thought it because we did not know where north was. I guessed at the location and aligned to a spot from memory. Mom said she thought north was further to the east. So, we re-aimed the mount. Later when the Ursas appeared, I saw we were far from Polaris; I moved back to the west.

Still, after aiming to the North Star, we experienced drift.

It looked like the geometric mount of Mom's telescope was not right. It seemed too low, like around 30°, versus the 45° (plus or minus), that it should be. I made a mental note to check it.

(Maybe this is why I lost Venus before while trying to track it into daylight...)

Sunday afternoon, I built an inverted protractor (in AppleWorks), mounted it to the 'scope, and plumbed it. Yep: way off. With help, I got it between 42 and 43°.

In adjusting the mount, at one point, the telescope "fell," and crushed the Bakelite setting circle. It snapped into 3 pieces. A new item for the to-do list...

desiccant for binos

While stowing my binoculars on Sunday, I noticed there was something missing.

When I got home, I put a large sachet of desiccant into the binos case.

updated Newtonian notes

With one session under her belt, I adjusted the quick reference notes for Mom. I had first written these simplified notes in January so to let Mom set up the Edmund 'scope on her own. After our Saturday night session, I added a section about using the clock drive.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

observing with Mom (Union)

I asked Mom in the late afternoon if she wanted to do a trial run setting up her telescope. I pointed out that we could see 4 planets tonight. She was keen (curiously, she didn't need much convincing).

We wrapped up our outdoor chores and got dinner done by 8:45pm. Right on target. I wanted us to be outside at sunset for 9:00pm.

We wheeled the 'scope on the dolly out to the end of the driveway. I explained this would location would offer good sight lines for Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter. It proved a perfect spot (although we wanted to shoot out the street light later). We left the 'scope on the dolly.

Spotted Mercury (I think) with the binoculars around 9:35 to 9:40. Mom said she could see it unaided. Good eyes! It was about 10° north of Venus and about 2° down.

Venus was very bright white at 9:45pm. It was about 30° up and a little north of the Golf Club road. The humidity was 60% and it was 14°C. Mom could see the crescent shape. We agreed it was a little less than half.

The air was boiling... Everything was shimmering.

Jupiter was up already, over the neighbour's house.

Spotted Saturn around 9:50pm. From Venus, it was up (8°), of course, and to the left (15°).

Regulus was visible. Mom was particularly interested in the constellation Leo. I showed her the Sickle and the rump of the lion.

At 9:58pm, through the binos, I could see one bright Jovian moon at the 2 o'clock position, a couple of planet widths away. A little bit later I could spot another moon at the 7 or 8 o'clock angle about 5 or 6 widths away.

Looked at Saturn at 10:10pm and saw a bright point 3 ring lengths away (later confirmed this to be Titan). Could easily see the shadow of the rings on the planet. When the air settled, we could just see the Cassini division. And some shading on the planet. The air was generally boiling.

Mom spotted a high flying object around 10:15pm. I followed her directions. Hey, it looked like the ISS. She thought it was an airplane but I assured her it was a satellite. "But it's moving so fast," she said. I pointed out that the space station moves at about 19000 miles per hour! And I clarified that not all satellites are stationary.

(Later checked Heavens-Above and the times and location didn't seem quite right for the ISS. Maybe it was an Iridium flare.)

At 10:30pm through the 'scope could see four moons, 3 to the left and 1 to the right. Despite very dirty air! Could barely make out cloud bands.

(Verified later the moons configuration: Ganymede, Europa, Io, Jupiter, Callisto.)

Alicia, boyfriend Mike, Leslie, and Chuck meandered over for some impromptu sidewalk astronomy! We gave them all a shot through the 'scope. Chuck was pretty quiet but everyone else was rather impressed.

I was trying to get my bearings in the south-east sky. I don't really know Ophiuchus well. But I could make out the top of Scorpius. I pointed out Antares to Mom. It took me a while to figure out that I was seeing Boötes straight up to the south!

When we wrapped up, around 11:00pm, the humidity was 84% and the temp was 8.7°C. (Once again, I forgot to check for the dew point). My car was coated in dew... I was very tired. Completely forgot about all the good targets, like Vesta...

Shannon arrived home from work just as we had put the telescope away. Still, Mom gave her an enthusiastic 1x power tour of the planets.


We ran the clock drive the whole viewing session. But it was not tracking properly. At first we were off north. But later when we bulls-eyed Polaris, it still did not follow. As I looked at the geometric mount of the 'scope, it occurred to me that it was too low. It looked around 30°. I never checked this before...


Hit the lower limit of the focuser with the Meade eyepiece. Had to take out the middle ring to get it to work. This just doesn't seem right.


Mom was a trooper! She was taking her own notes, gauging distances in degrees. Wild!

She likes my red pen.

She needs a red flashlight though...


Now, I'm quite sure that was not Mercury but some bright star in Gemini...

Still, we had an awesome session:
  • Mom better learned how to use her 'scope.
  • I shook down the first version of the Edmund telescope instructions.
  • We tested the clock drive (and discovered the mount was out of alignment).
  • We saw 3 planets.
  • We saw 5 moons.
  • We saw a bright satellite.
  • We shared our observations with 4 of the neighbours.
Mom and I were both pretty happy.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

paper astrolabe

Learned about an educational web site today. And discovered they had a little project whereby you could build your own astrolabe! Funny. I've been thinking about wanting a device like this for a while, to more accurately gauge or measure elevation or altitude of objects in the sky.

I've already made some mods:
  • I printed another copy of the scale but reversed, flipped horizontally. I affixed this on the opposite side of the cardboard plate. Now it's double-sided, the scale.
  • I will use a loop of string through the hole at the apex as opposed to tying a single strand. This will then show the vertical line on either side of the plate.
I shall try it out this weekend, at Mom's...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

ashes and stars

I don't think there's a God that created the Earth in seven days. I don't believe there's a carpenter who was born of a virgin, died, and then was born again.

But, during the funeral for John Bramwell, while I felt empty inside, without words to share, looking to the west from the parking lot, I could not help but feel somehow spiritual.

Friday, June 01, 2007

no, August 16

OK. This is still all very tentative...

Awenda has already shifted to the 16th for the main astronomy event and the 17th as the rain date... Rebecca said that Tim Tully had already scheduled something else on the 15th. That said, she said he was excited about our astronomy plans.

Anyway, I'll be there between the 14th and 22nd.