Sunday, September 30, 2007

2 books to read

The Toronto Public Library robot phoned me a couple of days ago about books I had requested. I picked up 2 books:

City Astronomy by Robin Scagell from Sky Pub Corp. I chose this to get some more ideas and inspiration when I don't feel like venturing further than the back yard. Or should I say, "back garden."

Astronomy Hacks by By Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson from O'Reilly. I'm looking to learning some tricks and tips... A quick glance through the book reveals I'm in for some treats.

Lots of reading to do. Gotta assimilate fast so I don't get in trouble with The Library Police...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

380x in the 1.9m (Richmond Hill)

We looked at Albireo through the 74" telescope. At 380x, they were separated by approx. 1/4 of the field. Colourful, pleasing, pretty spectacular, all things considered. And possibly our last look through such an instrument!

Malcolm brought the kids up to the David Dunlap Observatory. I went up early to assist. Left Phil in charge of my gear while I joined Courtney, Liam, and Malcolm for the 8 o'clock tour. Mel Blake talked about binary stars. About the only thing we could see in the clouded sky!

This was a good, focused topic idea. Malcolm and I looked at each other. I myself could easily do such a presentation in the future...

Late into Mel's presentation, the conversation eroded into saving the DDO. As much as I'd like to see the building and telescope preserved, and even though Mel made a good case for current, on-going research at the DDO, we're only getting half the story here... That left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

When we got inside the dome, while there was lots of room, and no where to go but wait in the long queue, the people behind us were jackasses. A very tall young man kept inching up and bumping me. I turned around a couple of times. I didn't say anything. He just didn't get the message. Somebody touched my ass at one point. Well! Never on a first date! Pedestrian tail-gating. That just makes me angry. And it makes me slow down. I left more space between me and the kids. I also started rocking and tilting my head back, ha ha. Similarly, the young couple behind Malcolm were bumping him too. When the guy starting fiddling with his mobile phone, goofing around with his gf, turning the phone on and off several times (he said he was checking messages), when Malcolm "lost it." A heated argument ensued. For a moment, I thought we were going to get into a burly brawl.

That kind of things makes me wonder why they even go to such an event. Why are you here? Oh well. That left a bad taste in my mouth too.

When we returned outside, it was completed clouded over. We could barely see stars overhead. The Moon was murky beside north-east cloud-cover. Phil was packing up and ready to leave. Dang. I felt bad for delaying him! I'll have to make it up to him...

My little 'scope was colliding with the mount! Oops. Early, I had set it to track Albireo. That famous meridian crossing problem with equatorial mounts... Got watch out for that in the future! It was ironic that the topic of telescope collisions came up earlier, in Mel's talk, Malcolm asking about it, in the dome. I was a little worried I had damaged my new Vixen motor!

I put my 'scope on the Moon briefly. You had to look at it for a while to make out any detail...

My planned meeting with 2 RASC members to hand over their ordered weather stations did not pan out. One person arrived earlier than they said they would, I was later than expected, and the other was a no-show. I felt awkward about missing the first person.

Flurry of emotions and feelings tonight. I was not happy when I got home...

group buy

I had 10 RASC members interested in the Oregon Scientific weather stations when I called Radio World. Impusively, I decided to order one for myself, or rather, for a gift (for Track Dog!). They dropped the price to the lowest discount level the sales manager had previously offered: $35 each! Awesome deal.

I purchased the units personally on behalf of the group. There were some in stock; we submitted an order to OS for the rest. I drove up to Radio World (twice!) to get the in-stock items.

After I placed the order, one RASCer asked if he could get another. Curious timing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ferris on TV

Messed up my freakin' sleep patterns, in the middle of a very busy week, to watch Tim Ferris's Seeing in the Dark show on PBS.

I loved reading (some 25 years ago) his Galaxies book.

Interesting approach, to the TV show. Colourful and poetic at times; heavy-handed and melodramatic at others. And a whimper of an ending. Oh well. Not the way I would have done it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

tour booked

I told Malcolm about the potential DDO closing and the remaining public tours this year. He was very keen to go. OK then. Let's go!

We're booked for the public tour on Sat 29 Sep. Got our confirmation from Tuba.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

done the planets! (Richmond Hill)

This evening (technically yesterday) I assisted once again at the David Dunlap Observatory.

Arrived at DDO in reasonably good time, particularly with the DVP and 404 being closed. On the fly, I made up the simple route: Black Creek, 400, Major Mac. Lots of stops. But also some fast sections along Major Mac.

I was the first RASC member to arrive. Later, John, Phil, Alexandra and Paul, Scott, Tim, Brenda and Eric showed up. Ray dropped by with timbits!

As I was uncoiling my extension cord, Ian said, "Let me know if you've got power or not. I can turn it on..." I reported it was "good!"

It was appropriate so many RASCals showed up for a fairly large crowd descended on the observatory public tours. Perhaps they are hearing that the DDO might close or be sold... I also heard that an astronomy club from Hamilton had booked a visit. I guess they were in the school bus.

I showed the moon in the early evening. Always pleasing in a bright sky. Good detail. Pretty good seeing. We fought off the mozzies who ventured into the cool air.

I spotted Jupiter a bit later. All four Galilean moons were visible, Io and Europa tangling over the early evening. Cloud bands very visible.

I took some requests. We went to Messier 57 and Messier 31 (M31). Pretty faint stuff.

Phil lent me his filter for M57. It was an Orion 1.25" UltraBlock (generically known as an UHC – Ultra High Contrast) filter. It did help, I realised, as I looked at the Ring Nebula longer. Everything was darker. But there was more detail in the ring.

Phil also let me try his 24mm Tele Vue Panoptic wide field eyepiece. We used that on the Andromeda galaxy. And it was very good. It made me realise that I should not necessarily try for a super lower power eyepiece; rather, I should try for wider fields!

We forgot to watch for the Iridium flare... The ISS was not due until the next evening. No shooting stars. I didn't even see one satellite!

I positioned on Albireo for some time. People seemed to enjoy that.

When the crowds died down, I readied for my planetary search. The only remaining planet that I have not seen through my telescope was Uranus. Now that Pluto has been kicked out, the check-list is a little shorter.

Earlier, John had gone to Uranus in his GOTO. I had a sense of what it should look like. But it was going to be a challenge for me, good ole EyeBallTo, waxing Moon out and up high, and the general murkiness of the sky over Toronto. Also, it was a long star hop from my planned starting point...

But, I did it! I found Uranus. 10:45 PM. A pale blue, almost aquamarine disk, a very small disk, a bit to the left (rotated view) of φ (phi) Aquarius. Initially, I used Procyon on my palmtop to begin the search—it reminded me of the constellation. Then I used the Tirion SkyAtlas 2000 black-on-white chart to hop from α (alpha) to λ (lambda) and φ. Finally, I pulled my detailed, personalised Neptune plot (black-on-white version). It made relatively easy work of finding it, once I was in the region. I tried observing the 7th planet at 220x but it was not very good. 154x was pleasing though, improved the disk's dimensions, colour, and clarity.


It was 11:30 PM. 11°C. Without a specific plan, I reviewed the September Skymaps sheet. It said γ (gamma) Andromeda was a nice double star. It sure is! Like a compact version of Albireo, perhaps more interesting, with the gold and blue stars so close to one another.

α (alpha) Andromeda is a double? I'll have to read up on that. I did not see anything close to single bright star. Is it the super faint companion...? (Ah, Haas says one is mag 2.2 and the other is 11.1. It is 89" away...)


I was getting tired. The skies were good but I knew I should wind it down. That said, Mars would be coming up... I tore down very slowly, keeping the 'scope up and running. Paul positioned their GOTO 'scope on Mars. He said it was 3° above the horizon. Not too far to go. A short time later, Alexandra spotted it through the trees. I had the better sight line. It was good to see again!

Orange. Not even in colour. Slightly gibbous.


Phil and I chatted about his SCT setup. It has a different visual back with large opening, high-end focuser, and Williams Optics 2" diagonal. I told him I was thinking about going to 2" tubing on my 'scope. He made it sound like it will not make much of a difference. And of course it puts me into a whole different snack bracket with eyepieces...


Tested the new (OneWorld) portable weather unit for an altitude reading. I had set the elevation to 150 meters at home; here at the DDO it was reading 245. Phil fired up his portable GPS: it said we were at 250m. So I bumped up my unit a couple of meters. Promising...

That said, the back light is kinda lame. Goes off too fast.

Also, there's a contrast issue in the cool air...


The power cord kept slipping from the controller. I tried a one-wrap Velcro strip but that didn't work. Gotta figure out something to avoid this in the future...


Scott had trouble finding Neptune. I'm going to send him my Neptune chart.

Friday, September 21, 2007

finished Big DOC

I bought the Big Dave's Observing Chair unfinished with the intention of finishing it myself. I applied the final coat of spar varnish today.

Before the first coat, I sanded the chair to remove finger prints, smudges, dirt, etc. It looked good.

Then, as I started to paint it, I thought the varnish awfully dark. I suddenly realised the paint brush was filthy! It had looked clean... But all this black particulate was coming out of it. I must have used the brush to clean some greasy, oiled part on a car! Damn damn damn! What an idiot. Must mark brushes that are not to be used with paint...

The varnish soaked into the wood—doing its job—preventing me from sanding it out. Tainted, it left a darkened, dirty appearance. What a drag.

This was on the back rest, near the top. I should have started at an area "out of sight," I realised too late. Oh well.

Still. With the varnish, overall, the chair looks amazing.

9 people so far

Two RASC members emailed me this morning to order the Oregon portable weather station. We've almost got enough people for the 2nd price discount tier!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

presented on weather station

At the RASC Toronto Centre's members' night meeting, I delivered a presentation on the Oregon Scientific eb313hg Portable Weather Station. I relayed the details of the "group buy" offer made by Radio World. Got 2 people signed up on the spot...

Theresa and Brian came out. They brought their Kestrel 4000 weather station—the Ferrari of portable weather analysers! We showed it beside my "low end" unit.

batteries2x AAA2x CR 2032
battery life12 months+5 months
air pressureyesno
pressure trendyesyes
relative humidityyesyes
wind speedyesno
date timeyesyes
moon phasenoyes
backlit displayyesyes

Good questions during the presentation. For example, one person asked if my Oregon portable unit used the atomic time clock signals. I said I didn't think so and promised to remove the batteries to try it.

* Not that that means anything...


Uploaded the presentation to the companion site (390 KB). Originally, a PowerPoint 2003 file; converted to Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Enjoy.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

DDO debate

It was announced in the last week or so that the David Dunlap Observatory is going to be closed or shut down by the University of Toronto. But, they say, they will continue to support astronomy and cosmology by creating the David Dunlap Institute.

This has incited many individuals to mount campaigns. Many want to save the DDO and suggest it still has value as a research facility. U of T says it is old, does not contribute to the scientific community, and is very expensive ($800 000 per annum) to operate. Other people have suggested that while it may not be current scientifically, it is historically significant and should be preserved as part of our Canadian heritage to astronomy. Still others offer that as a green space, the property must be kept and not given up for condos.

A complex issue... I hope cooler heads will prevail. A lot of data must be gathered before anyone can make an informed decision.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Khan to get marbles

Ray was at the DDO open house. I had my Shasta marbles with me. Showed them to him. He was pleased to see them live.

He said he's going to bring them in now...

how high

Took the new (OneWorld) portable weather station to the DDO. I wanted to verify the elevation accuracy. I did think about it, once or twice, during the evening. But I had forgotten where I put it. It wasn't in the astronomy box so therefore not handy. Not like the Oregon. It was in the box. Oh well. Next time.


The good ole Oregon. I used it several times to monitor the temp. and humidity. At one point, I had a crowd, all curious about the unit. Hopefully they will show up at my formal presentation on Wednesday (19 Sep 07).

helped at the DDO open house (Richmond Hill)

In two ways I helped at the David Dunlap Observatory open house...

At Leslie's request, I bought and brought beverages (coffee, tea, and fixin's). Brought my big camping cooler too. And I helped on the front lawn during the public tour (scheduled for 7:30 PM).


Tested my new finder scope dew heater. It worked good. It looks so fragile though. And the rings are too tight for the tubing... Gilles had a good suggestion: glue around the nichrome wire to protect and strengthen.

Jupiter and its moons were in fine form—when clouds didn't block it.

Viewed Messier 31 (M31) for a while. Could not pick out naked-eye. Helped Walter find it in his 60mm refractor.

Viewed Messier 13 (M13) for a while. Very nice at 110x. Individual stars popped out. Spectacular view in the 12" Dob—wow.


Enjoyed the special treatment by the DDO staff, Tom, Tuba, Ian, et al.

finder scope heater done

Built a heater for my Celestron 6x30 finder scope!

I used nichrome wire from an old toaster. The particular wire has a resistance of 25.8 ohms per metre.

I cut a piece 48 centimetres long for the objective; 37 cm for the eyepiece.

I placed a strip of black electrical tape around the barrel of the finder scope, inside out, i.e. with the sticky side out. I carefully coiled the nichrome wire around the barrel so each loop was near to the previous but not touching it. I was able to go around 4 times (both for the objective and eyepiece) while leaving about 1 cm at each end for the leads.

I layed another piece of tape, this time right-side up, sticky side down, atop the nichrome wire. I pressed the two pieces of tape together to seal the nichrome wire in place. Hopefully this approach will ensure the nichrome wires do not touch each other and short out.

On top of the heater coil, I pressed some closed-cell neoprene self-adhesive foam tape (purchased some time ago from Canadian Tire). This is to keep as much heat in as possible, instead of giving it away to the surrounding air. I placed another strip of electrical tape on the heater, around the perimeter of the foam, to hold the foam in place.

I had heard that soldering to nichrome was difficult so, to the leads of the coils, I attached tube terminals, crimping them in place. I considered attempting to solder these in place but realised this would prove futile later on.

I connected a short length of some red-jacketed 20-gauge wire between the front and rear heaters, crimping this into the terminals as well. I made sure this wire was long enough to allow for one of the heaters to be removed from the finder scope while the other one was attached. This manoeuvre will be required as the finder scope is mounted in the telescope brackets and I need to slip on or off the heater.

I remembered to pre-install on some heat shrink tubing. Fired up my heat gun (on the low setting this time) to tighten up the tubing.

Then I attached a one metre length of the professional grade 4-wire (24-gauge?) microphone cable, again using 2 wires for each side of the circuit. This I terminated with a red RCA plug.

Did a quick bench test, connected to the Kendrick dew controller, in turn, driven from the portable car battery. Works. Good heat at high power.

I look forward to trying the new custom heater during the next damp session! Bring on the dew!

Monday, September 10, 2007

real cross hairs

Gilles emailed me:
"I have fixed my view finder and it is better that it's ever been, the cross hairs are smaller and lighter in colour.

"As expected it was an easy fix.

"[I used my wife's hair.]  I am impressed by the results, there is a bit of transparency which is useful, it does not mask the small object like the previous setup."

Damaged by me on 8 Sep '07.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

what is that?

Saw Charles, from a distance, taking a wind speed reading. It looked like he had a Kestrel portable weather station. Figures: he's a techno geek. A few minutes later I asked him about the instrument. It was a simple wind speed gauge. Basic; but good. The reference for him was model airplane people... Makes sense. He couldn't remember what he paid for it.

universal camera jig

Learned from Chas and Eric of "universal adapter" for holding any style of digital camera to the eyepiece of a telescope! This is very cool. Simple, ingenious device. Khan sells 'em.

I think Charles had a Zhumell unit.

Eric says there's a newer model than the one Chas has that offers another direction of movement, in and out, suitable for digital one-touch cameras with non-removable zoom lenses. Gilles and Nicole were very interested to here that...

I'll have to tell Malcolm about it. We could try shooting with his camera again.

I also discovered a unit from Orion.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

testing testing (Blue Mountain)

Tested a bunch of equipment this evening will the digital imagers fiddled, in the Geoff Brown Observatory at the CAO, with their electronic focusers.

I used my old "universal" AC-DC adapter to operate the mount motor and controller. Initially it did not seem to be working correctly but I realised that was because I had it set to 6 volts output and not 9.

I tried Mom's crazy 4mm eyepiece again. On my C8, it yields 500 power! But I thought I'd try it on some tight double stars, such as the Double-Double in Lyra. And you know what? It worked! I could easily split each tight pair. That said, 500x was a hair too much to include both in the Meade orthoscopic field. I borrowed Ian's 5mm which perfectly showed the famous multiple star group, each pair split yet still in the same field. So, the upshot of this is that maybe I'll keep the old 4mm for special applications.

(Curiously, the image quality of the 5mm did not seem, to me, much different than the 4.)

We hit the dew point later in the evening. Everything was soaked. This reminded me that I had not yet tackled the finder scope heater project despite having piles of nichrome wire at home...

oh no, we'll have coffee

How you make coffee at the CAO...

  • bw = beans whole
  • h = hammer or rs = rock small
  • fb = freezer bags (Ziplocs will do x 3)
  • d = determination (or thirst or caffeine withdrawal)
  • ps = patio stone or rl = rock large

fire alarm!

As we set up our telescopes on the viewing pad, I suggested to Gilles and Nicole that, with their automated 'scope, we try to find some day-time planets.

Their 'scope, while a GOTO, does not have a GPS. So I explained that you can, with the finder scope, take a bearing on The Sun, and then that gives you your alignment.

They were keen.

We tried that. But, in the end, couldn't see anything... Drag. Was looking forward to viewing Jupiter in the day time.

Then Gilles noticed something wrong on the eyepiece of his finder scope. The cross hairs were broken and curled every which way. We suddenly realised that I had set the cross hairs on fire! Crikey! Oops.

I felt terrible! Gilles urged me not to worry about it. He said he's restring the reticule perhaps using hairs from his wife!

Friday, September 07, 2007

they work!

It was very satisfying to see the (customised) red solar lights that I gave to the RASC Toronto Centre installed (2 of them anyway) and working at the CAO. They are placed on each side of the walk to Geoff Brown Observatory, lighting the way. They look great. If I may be so bold...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

new calendars on sale

The 2008 RASC calendar is out.

Let the gift shopping begin!

Buy 'em from the RASC online web store...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

reading Star Ware

I stumbled across Philip S. Harrington's newest edition (the fourth) of Star Ware at a Chapters Indigo book store the other day. As I quickly thumbed through it, I was intrigued.

So I requested it from the Toronto Public Library. Today, I picked up the third edition from my local branch. I'm looking forward to reading it. I'm hoping some of the tips and tricks advice I will find handy...

Phil's binoculars book looks interesting too.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


The 300.