Thursday, August 30, 2007

Jupiter and Vesta (Toronto)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tried for some Messiers but everything was washed out.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was a surprisingly good night.


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


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

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

dark moon (Mississauga)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 27, 2007

universal power

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Friday, August 24, 2007

modified circle

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

red clip lights

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


And this is the maker of them...

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

light sky

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

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

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

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

Ha. The trees and leaves are backlit!

Monday, August 20, 2007

last-night observing session (Awenda)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chat with participants

Bumped into a man and his son at the washroom.

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


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

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

"Around 10 o'clock."

I told him I didn't leave until midnight.

"We didn't see any cars."

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

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

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


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

Sunday, August 19, 2007

noisy in the 'hood (Awenda)

We had a pleasant day today at the park.

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

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

When I felt drops?!

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

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

Am I getting desperate?


Went to Kettle's Lake.

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

The accessibility ramps would serve as queues.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funny how it goes.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


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

passé passing satellites (Awenda)

Woke at 3-ish. Went to the loo.

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

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

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

I waited for some Perseids.

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

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

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


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

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

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


Oh to own shares of 2032 batteries.

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, August 17, 2007

thumbs up

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 16, 2007

shedding light on astronomy (Awenda)

the show - part 1

Delivered my astronomy presentation at Awenda!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the show - part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The skies? Perfect! 

my own observing

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

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

I left the dock around midnight.

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

random thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, August 10, 2007

meteor hunting (Richmond Hill)

Went to the David Dunlap Observatory this evening to provide RASC assistance at the DDO public tours.

I was visited by a man (forgot his name) and his 2 sons. He joined the RASC TC last summer. He brought his small refractor on alt-azimuth mount and metal tripod. I encouraged them to set it up.

John arrived with a Skywatcher 8" f/6 Dobsonian.

Gilles and his wife (have also forgotten her name; Nicole!) arrived with their computer-controlled Meade ETX-90 Maksutov-Cassegrain.


I wanted to arrive really early. I wanted a relaxed time frame to set up. I did not want to be rushed and still assembling as people arrived. The first DDO tour was scheduled to start at 8:30 PM.

I left my house at 7:00 PM. The traffic on the Lakeshore was heavy which immediately slowed me down. I made a last-minute decision to transfer from the Lakeshore to the Gardiner at Dufferin which proved wise. It gradually sped up the rest of the way. The DVP was surprisingly smooth running.

When I arrived the DDO at a little before 8 I found the gate locked! I panicked: did I get the dates wrong? There were a couple of students working on the lawn. As I pulled my mobile phone out to call... someone... Ian S drove up. He asked if I had a reservation. I explained I was here to help. "Oh good!" he said, "Not everyone went to Starfest."

It was a good timing. I set up at a leisurely pace as some of the first visitors milled in.


I took a lot of my new gear up to the DDO...

My new folding picnic table was very handy. I used it for the red LED light box. I sat at it several times to make notes, look up things. Some of the DDO visitors also sat at it. Gilles and his wife particularly liked it. They also have a folding wood TV table which they often find too small.

Speaking of the light box, I had re-engineered it again (is this version 3.0 or 4.0?!). One of the (cheap) push-button switches had failed due to some collisions or pressure on the connectors. I had replaced it earlier in the day. I had wanted to test the white GE plastic sheet as a diffuser and the clear sheet as a cover. In order to place these sheets over the LED array, I had to remove the array from the box surround. To elevate the diffuser above the array an appropriate distance, I cut some short pieces from a clear juice bottle. They held the diffuser about 15mm above the LEDs. Overall, this is a good working solution! Mel liked it too. "I've never seen anything like that before." It looks like I have this all nailed down...

The "big DOC" was useful again. Not only for myself but my visitors! When we were looking at Messier 57 (M57) at zenith, it was good for the viewers to be able to sit in an adjustable height chair.

Of course, I had the equatorial mount motor and (new) controller. This proved, as expected, invaluable for a public viewing event. I could aim at something like Jupiter or Andromeda and then walk away. It was surprisingly useful when I would be away from the telescope for a few moments, maybe chatting with someone or looking up something, and a person would walk up to the 'scope. "Take a look," I would say, knowing it was still on target. That was cool.


I don't know if this is allowed but I jacked into the AC power on the DDO lawn. I had brought my long orange 3-prong extension cord and plugged into the east concrete pier. I used this power to run my light table. I wanted to keep the light array separate from the dew heaters, if possible.

Later, Gilles asked if he could gang in.

While Mel was perturbed about us using the round-about for unloading, he made no comment about my extension cord...


In a moment of inspiration, I realised what I could do with my (recently found) box of glow-in-the-dark stars. I tossed them on the ground below the telescope. Periodically, I would recharge them with my custom UV flashlight. The kids liked that. I also pulled out my little space alien guy. I would recharge his eyes too!


Jupiter was quite good. The moons were well positioned. Io was on one side, shifting its position slowly; Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede, innermost to outer, hovered on the other side. We could make out the light equatorial belt and the dark northern belt. It was difficult to see any other detail with the air turbulence over the Golden Horseshoe.

There were two field stars near Jupiter in my 41' field. (Turns out the bright one, one the same side as Io was ω (omega) Ophiuchus; the faint one between Europa and Ganymede was SAO 184459.)

Someone asked me how far away the moons were from Jupiter. Fortunately, I had that info easily accessible in my palmtop.

At 9:03 PM, the temperature was 21.3° and the humidity was 56%.


There were lots of great questions tonight!

For example, at one point, someone asked me if aurora could be predicted. I said that I thought I had seen some web sites for that. I reminded them that it was tied to solar activity. Another asked if aurora was visible in the city. Someone else said they had seen aurora from Yonge St and Hwy 7 (or thereabouts). I suggested that if the intensity was very high, it should be possible.

There was also some discussion about asteroids. I had noted that Vesta was 40' from ν (nu) Scorpius. John might have gone for it but I never heard the end result.

I remembered to refer to my Observer's Handbook on a number of occasions!


The ISS (and Shuttle) fly-over at 22:26 was a big hit. I think we had about 40 people on the lawn when it went by! It was so low in the north that it passed behind the big dome! Is that an eclipse? Occultation?


A friend of Gilles asked if we could see other planets... We went for Neptune!

I had noted on my plan sheet that Neptune was in Capricornus. But I had not noted where... Oops. Fired up Procyon on the Psion. It showed the planet near δ (delta) and γ (gamma). It took a while, in the murky light dome over the city, to find the brighter (ha!) stars of Cap. Finally, I was able to get my bearings and I put the finder scope on δ and γ. Stars 42, 44, 45 formed a useful asterism above δ. I scanned in the area but without my detailed planet plot I was grasping. When I had paused at one point, Alan looked through the main eyepiece. "What's that?" he asked, indicating a bluish point of light... Now that was a very interesting colour.

I asked John to take a look. He agreed the colour looked right. He suggested that it wasn't until at 200x that you would be able to see the disk. I popped in the 18mm and then added the Barlow. While much fainter, it looked like there was some angular size to the object...

I noted the position of the object with respect to my Tirion chart. It was at the end of the line of 3 faint stars opposite 18 Cap. There was no similarly bright object noted on the chart. I suddenly noticed the dashed line through the Tirion chart: the ecliptic! "That's promising," Alan added.

And I'm pretty sure we found it. With a bit of star hopping, good charts, perseverance, and luck!


Cartes du Ciel says Neptune was at magnitude 7.8.

SAO 164444's visual magnitude is 6.64, 164430 is 6.86, and 164400 is 7.11...

The "more stars" and "less stars" buttons in Cartes are very useful! I can better simulate the view in the telescope due to light pollution.

[ed: Confirmed in SkyTools3. The star below Neptune is HD 204692, magnitude 6.6. The next star is HD 204548, mag 6.9. The more distant third star is HD 204220, mag 7.1. Meanwhile, Neptune was mag 7.8 with an angular size of 2.3 seconds of arc.]


Alan joined me for the latter part of the evening. I had not seen him for a while. We caught up on life and work.

He had contacted me about the Perseids, wondering what my plans were to view them. I told him that Tayoob and I were kicking about the idea to going to the Torrance dark sky site on Sunday but the weather was not looking good. While interested, Alan did not want to go that far. I pointed out that Saturday night would probably not be an option for me as I was to "babysit."

I invited him to the DDO.

I was a little worried he was bored but he said later he had a good time, was happy with what he saw.

In the end, we only saw about 4 or 5 bright meteors. I was looking at Andromeda when a bright one zipped to the south, parallel to the horizon, leaving a brief glowing wake. Still, it was disappointing.

There's just too much light pollution...


Alan cautioned me about the laser usage. I did respond that it was generally understood that we were not to point to aircraft. Alan said he thought it may be illegal! If they could somehow track you down...


It was interesting to note that the 74" could not see Jupiter! The elevation was too low. So for those of us on the lawn, we were the only way to see the gas planet.

Visitors also said they enjoyed my view of M57 better than through the 74". While dim, they liked the wider field, could see the overall structure.


Why does the DDO use white lights everywhere?! The security light on motion sensor at the front of the dome is incredibly annoying...

Shouldn't they activate red lights during observing nights?!

If nothing else, they should close the blinds at the front of the admin building.

Very ironic.


I saw Mars on the drive home...

made a plan sheet

observing plan 070810-11
targets for Fri 10 Aug 2007

Jupiter's up! (sets at 1:10 AM)
Neptune in Cap rises at 8:30 PM
Uranus in Aquarius rises at 9:38 PM
Mars rises at 12:30 AM
Saturn is 4° up at sunset
Vesta, very near nu Sco (within 40')

Perseus above horizon at 11:30 AM
radiant is at top of Perseus

  10 Aug
    22:26:58    10°      NW
    22:30:34    13°      NE
no Iridiums

Messiers up:
  3, 5, 53, 64
near zenith
  39, 13, 92
up high
  81, 82, 101, 26, 11, 10, 12, 63, 94, 106, 52
low in south
  25, 24, 22, 28, 8, 21, 20
very low
  4, 62, 7, 6, 55
  31, 33

Earth as a marble

Received my Earth, Moon, and Mars marbles from Shasta today.

I tried to find these in Canada. Ray Khan was the only local vendor who seemed interested in importing these products. But Shasta wanted high minimum quantities so unfortunately Ray had to back down. I ordered direct.

These scaled glass marbles will be handy for public star parties for showing eclipses and debunking "Mars as big as the Moon" arguments...

Monday, August 06, 2007

studio and observatory?

Mom is fantasizing about a friend's studio she visited recently. A small structure, formerly a car garage, the woman is using it in the warmer months as a cottagey studio space. Mom wants to make one of her own. She suggested that we could use it to store the telescope too.

At first it sounded a little crazy. But it makes sense. It would allow Mom to move projects out of the garage. Not a bad idea. And I won't complain about a permanent setup for a 'scope.

I sketched a rough plan for her with the telescope elevated to the loft of the studio. This frees up floor space and offers a better view of the surroundings.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


See. It's true! If you get new astronomy equipment, you're punished with bad (or unpredictable) weather... Saturday was partly cloudy. Sunday night was completely clouded out. Of course, it cleared Monday afternoon.

telescope types

It's raining. So, time to do some research...

While trying to find out about more complex counter-weighting of the Edmund reflector 'scope, I stumbled across the Frosty Drew Observatory site explaining the types of telescopes. And I learned some terminology!
  • dioptric (usually called refractors): gather and focus light with a large lens at the entry to the telescope
  • cataoptric (usually called reflectors): employ a large mirror at the rear of the telescope to gather and focus light
  • catadioptric: use a meniscus lens at entry of telescope to collect and defocus light and a mirror in the rear to focus the light
There ya go.

good morning Mars (Union)

Woke up at 3:00 AM. The neighbours to the west were still partying! Wow.

I had to pee. I could tell the Moon was up from the glow on the tent.

Emerged from the vestibule to incredibly clear skies! Damn it. I should have got the gear out. Could have pulled my seasonal all-nighter.

As I back-tracked to the tent, I looked to the east. There, glowing bright and orange, a few degrees below the Pleiades, was Mars. I could tell this without my eyeglasses.

I lay there on my sleeping bag for a good 15 minutes seriously thinking about getting up. I had my 2 or 3 hours of sleep. That was enough!

I passed out.


Everyone had gone to bed.

I was fiddling on the computer as Mom trundled off, mumbling "Good night." I decided to pack it in. I was looking forward to getting some reading in tonight, being less tired than last night (I'm re-reading Titan of the John Varley's Gaea series.)

Stepped outside...

Perfectly clear!

Crap! Where did all the clouds go?!

What do I do now?!

I was extremely tempted to pull the gear back out. But I did not.

Don't that beat all...

Saturday, August 04, 2007

cloud interference (Union)

Clouds rolled in.

We only got fleeting glances at Jupiter. Still, Aunt PJ, Donna, Steve, and Rachel enjoyed the views (Miranda was pouting or sleeping or something. Mom was flitting around like a butterfly, as usual.). Everyone present, when the Earth clouds thinned, could see the Jovian cloud bands and Galilean moons.

At first there were only 3 moons visible. Ganymede, above, was the same distance as Europa below. Further out was Callisto. Io was in front of the planet! Shadow op? It was too cloudy.

About 30 minutes later, Io emerged.

Loaner green laser pointer was very handy for pointing out objects to family.

We readied for an ISS fly-over at 9:43 PM.

Someone spotted something bright in the south. It moved to the south-south-east.

A moment later, we spotted another bright object. It started in the south-west and went almost over head to the north-east.

I suddenly realised that the first object was something else! Perhaps an Iridium satellite? The second sighting, following the path I expected, was the ISS! Oops.

I tried to see the Giant Red Spot passing the meridian at 9:53. But it was really difficult... I dunno...

I overhead Donna say, "I love stars." I showed her a new constellation, The Hunting Dogs. She wanted to know more about Ursa Major, the Great Bear. I pointed out the legs and snout. I'll send Donna an artwork shot from Stellarium...

By 10:45 PM, the clouds were very frequently interfering with our views. Humidity had climbed to 98%. We called it quits.

Before Donna and Steve left, I asked they spot me as I moved the telescopes indoors.


I was not able to determine what flew over before the ISS did...

Friday, August 03, 2007

observing notes (Union)

Spent the afternoon, despite the incredible heat, and bright Sun, setting up and getting ready (I even remembered to look up the dew point temperature from Environment Canada). It occurred to me, late in the precedings, that if I wanted to spot Saturn or Venus, I would not be able to do that from Mom's back yard...

At 8:30 PM, binoculars in hand, I was at the foot of the driveway, watching the Sun descend into the distant trees. I had a Grolsch to keep me company. And I had a FRS radio so to let Mom know if I spotted anything.
Instrument: binoculars
Mount: hand-held
Method: star hopping
It's a good thing I did not haul the massive Edmund out to the street...

I think that at the moment of sunset, Saturn was a mere 7° about the horizon; Venus was lower. The tall trees off to the north-west were shielding the horizon. Oh well.

Turning south, looking over the house and garage, there was Jupiter. OK. Forget those other planets. Time to test the SD-1 on the MT-1!
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping; Vixen tracking
Mom radioed back that she'd join me for a look at the fifth planet.

The North Equatorial Belt stood out in the low contrast. The moons looked great. There was a very bright field star. She asked me which ones were which. Despite my preparations, I did not have the palmtop or laptop outside yet. Mildly concerned with the dew being heavy, I think. I considered pulling the Observer's Handbook but deferred the question.

I sketched the orientation to look up later. (Later, I learned that Ganymede and Europa were to one side, Io was close to the other side of the planet, and Callisto was further out still. And the field star was SAO 184450).

In a way it was anti-climatic. But I could tell the controller and drive were working. It's funny because, in the eyepiece, nothing should happen. So, my telescope, for the first time, was tracking a planet. Very cool.

Mom reported that my palmtop was beeping madly. It was the International Space Station fly-over reminder alarm that I had programmed earlier (after checking Heavens Above). We readied ourselves in the back yard. The ISS showed up on schedule at 21:21, in the south-south west, flew just under Antares, and arced to the north-east. It was a long run! Mom really enjoyed that and was impressed at how bright it was.

I presented Mom with her new observing chair (from Getgood). I showed her how it worked and we used it at my catadioptric. She was thrilled. Then she immediately considered how she could use it at some of her events where she needed a portable seat. It's a hit!

We had a brief discussion as to the orientation of Jupiter's moons and our solar system plane. Mom wondered why all the planets (the ones that haven't been kicked out anyway) travelled in the same plane. Why do they not follow more 3-dimensional paths, going any which way? It is a good question...

At 9:42 PM, the humidity was 68% and the temperature was a pleasant 19°.

I settled in for a long observation of Jupiter with driven 'scope and observing chair. And all I can say is: wow!

I've never seen so much detail before. I worked at 110x for most of the observing. The air was remarkably stable for most of the time. I could see a dozen belts on the planet. A dozen! I could see details in the clouds. And, for the first time, so clearly, I could see the Giant Red Spot. It was easy. Easy!

It is like auto racing. Worries chew up "tenths." Not having to manually turn the 'scope, freed up some of my brain power. Not having the visual distraction of the field shifting in the eyepiece, freed up some brain power. I could concentrate on the planet. I could relax. It was incredible.

I decided to watch the passage of Io. I checked RedShift to see if it was going in front or behind. Sadly, behind. Still, I settled in to observe the occultation. Ironically, at the moment of contact, the air exploded into turbulences. Alas, when it cleared at 10:01 PM, Io was attached to the disk of the planet.

Now, I wanted to do some deep sky. I used RedShift to eyeball some targets and tried to find them. But, somehow this was not working satisfactorily. Probably, again, it is that old RedShift does not show stars down to 13 or 14. The brightness of the laptop screen is a factor too even though I was running with my "dark adaptation" colour scheme. Also, I think that this is a different direction or approach than what I have been developing this year.

There was some cluster that I located. But I could not identify the location.

After I put the laptop aside and pulled out Mom's Tirion white charts, it was smooth sailing, star hopping, targeting, zooming in.

I studied Messier 8 (M8), the star cluster and the Lagoon Nebula, in Sagittarius for some time. Immediately, it revealed a couple of luminosities near an open cluster of a couple dozen stars. Later I sketched it.

The sketch here is inverted (black-white), flipped laterally (for mirror presentation), rotated slightly.

My alarm went off again. I was ready for the next ISS pass. However, I had not noted the starting point. Oops. That data was on Mom's iMac and I did not want to go into the house and blow my night vision. So, I scanned...

Fortunately, I was facing due west when it appeared. Fainter this time. Another really long run, passing through the Big Dipper's pot, and fading out in the north-east. I lost sight of it in the distance at 11:00 PM.

Humidity 69%; temp. 16.7°.

I was starting to feel tired. It was partly that I had awoken today especially early (brain running wild). It was partly the intense heat during the day. And a dash of sore muscles from lots of lugging. Still, I pressed on.

I observed Messier 22 (M22) (the "Sagittarius Cluster"), a globular cluster. It was pleasing, good detail. Hundreds of tiny stars. They were loosely packed, I thought. The centre was not as bright as I expected. Not the classic GC with spherical structure and increasingly bright intense centre. That said, it was sitting pretty low in the sky.

I thought about the centre of the galaxy...

OK. Now I was really tired. But I saw Delphinus up high and I had heard there were some good double stars in it. In fact, when I pulled the Tirion chart, I was surprised to see that almost every star it the little constellation was marked as a multiple. Wow.

Haas sounded impressed with a faint double in the same field as γ (gamma) so I headed there. At 77x I was able to see both, γ and Σ2725. γ was a bright tight yellow pair, very pleasing, and there, a little ways away, was a faint tight pair, at a different orientation but about the same separation. I thought the faint pair looked dark orange and pale sky blue. Reminded me a bit of ε (epsilon) Lyra.

It was 11:38 PM and the humidity was climbing from 78% while the temp. at 15.3° was close to the dew point.

Tried for the Andromeda galaxy, Messier 31 (M31). While I could periodically see it unaided and easily spot it in the 'scope, it was washed out. Sky glow from St. Thomas!

One more target, before I call it quits... Something in Ursa Major. How about Messier 102 (M102)? I looked and looked and looked. No good. Couldn't find it.

At 11:50 I was done. That was good timing. The humidity was now at 88 and the temp. of 14.8 was below the dew point. I could feel everything getting damp. And the Moon was rising above the trees.

I packed up the expensive gear. Wrapped the 'scopes. And crawled into my tent.

I am so happy. The motor drive is fantastic. Shortly after getting my 'scope, I felt I wanted this. But, at the time, it was too expensive. It's been a long wait but worth it. I did not expect the significant jump in visual clarity! I'm looking forward to improved sketching. And it's gonna be a joy with other people too. They'll see more. And I won't have to baby sit the 'scope.

new gadgets

I was hoping I had not jinxed the weather with all the new gear I had acquired and wanted to test...

In fact, en route to Mom's for the long weekend, I popped into Guelph to briefly meet Donovan. He had posted a folding picnic table for sale in online classifieds. He gave me a quick demo of how it unfolded and folded; I gave him a meager $25.

Upon arriving at Mom's, I was anxious to try my new SD-1 controller. She had brought it back from the US after visiting her sister and after I had serendipitously arranged that my aunt in Michigan order it from Vixen direct. All for less than $110 (Canadian).

I had built a small LED array within the base of the SP-C8's wooden tripod. A small, thin ring with the wiring is jammed up into the underside of the metal mount with red LEDs aiming down toward the triangular tray. I had not tested this in darkness.

I had recently purchased the cheapo clip-light. Immediately I converted it to a red LED. While I had used this with my palmtop and books in bed, again I had not tested it in the field. Or in a field, for that matter...

And, I had never re-tested my small desk lamp in the field, after installing brighter red LEDs. I guess I had been feeling a little discouraged about the whole thing. But now I had a good chance to shake it down.

Everything—everything—worked fantastic!

The picnic table from Donovan is brilliant. I first saw one of these at Mosport. Christine and Rick had one at their paddock. It could seat 4 people but would fold up to the size of a large suitcase. Increasingly I felt I needed something like this so to be able to spread out my stuff—my charts, notepad, pen, lights, beverage, other gear—and have a place to sit down.

I don't remember exactly the path to Donovan's table but I found the Canadian web site kijiji with classified ads. This unit by Hillary (which he said he bought at Sears) is dark green with aluminum bits. Folded it is 13" x 34" x 4-1/2" plus the integrated handle. It is not that heavy (spec. sheet says it weighs 24 lbs) but rather stable.

The portable table works beautifully. I had room for my large Tirion charts, portable weather station, red desk light, flashlights, keys, notepad, pen, file box, and beer. It was a joy to use. My new "outdoor workstation!"

Hole in the centre of the table calls out for an umbrella...

I had this set up within moments of my arrival at Mom's. I had to wait a while to test the new controller.

When I arrived at Mom's country home around noon (a bit ahead of schedule) I found the place empty. She was out doing last-minute errands.

I knew the Vixen package from Michigan would be around somewhere. But where? I looked about the house. I looked in the garage. I looked in all the hot spots I could think of including places where I normally stack my stuff. I checked the dolly of her telescope. Twice. Nothing was catching my eye. Patience is a virtue... Well, at least it gave me a chance to unpack my car at a leisurely pace.

When Mom pulled up the driveway, I was biting my tongue. I helped transfer melting groceries into the cool house. I could resist no longer.

"Oh, it's right here," she said, pulling a brown small cardboard box from a pile. She said that she and Aunt PJ had looked at the contents but had no idea if it was correct. "It's all good," I observed. She had no troubles at the border.

I was excited. A brand new gleaming control pad! It plugged into the MT-1 motor's large DIN connector perfectly. The battery pack was a let-down: I was surprised with the cheesy, thin vinyl case for the simple plastic C-cell holder. If the integrated thin vinyl belt loop lasts the rest of the season, I'll be impressed.

Regardless, the bevy of new alkaline C batteries was broken open. Installed, I picked up the controller. It was already on, red LED glowing brightly. I put my ear to the motor: it's working! I tried the 16x controls: woo hoo, look at her go.

So I configured everything for it to operate normally and headed inside to help Mom. When I returned just a few minutes later, I could see the mount had turned. Wow. Wow, period. I finally have an automated 'scope. Only took me 16 years to get to this point... Only 7 more hours until darkness!

It wasn't until much later that I got to put everything together to fully use.

The tripod light is fantastic. It projects a pleasing amount of red light onto the tray. Not too bright. Incredibly simple to make.

I built it to illuminate the items in the tray. But I didn't expect another effect. It helps you better see the 'scope... That is to say, you can see where the 'scope is positioned in a dark space. This will add a degree of safety if there are small humans runnin' around or when working at a very dark site.

I did not intend the desktop lamp for only very dark sites. When I first converted it from halogen to LED, I used diffused, low-brightness red 5mm LEDs. I thought clear types or super-brights would be too intense. But it was just not enough light. I switched to the small, bright, mini-dome LEDs—I had lots of extras—but I expected no improvement. I'm happy to report, it works very well. It is a pleasing amount of light particularly with white paper or white charts. Now I just need to add some mass to the base (having removed the bulky transformer).

The small clip-light on the other hand is way too bright. It disturbs my night vision. It should not be used with white paper. Still, it is very good for lighting up dark palmtop and computer keyboards. I'll just need to be careful about reflections.

So, it was a very fun day and evening. Like Christmas! New toys. Many of them with bright, twinkly lights and motors!