Tuesday, November 27, 2007

escalated to the manager

I'm getting angry. I haven't heard from Radio World about the Oregon weather station back-order. Each time I inquire, the sales rep du jour says, "Oh, next week, for sure."

So I contacted, again, the retail sales manager. At least he acknowledged me:
"Sorry I didn't respond yesterday, it was my day off. I see the back-order is still open, and it absolutely has been a long time. I will look into it today."
What bugs me the most: their payment policy. I had to pre-pay for the "special" order in full. This is not fair now (it might even be illegal). I should have only paid or been charged as I received items. Alas, I won't rock the boat at this stage.

Monday, November 26, 2007

webspotting 1 - let us embark

Published in the Dec 2007/Jan 2008 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission. Very slight revisions applied.


As Phil [Chow] and I have discussed creating a regular SCOPE column about interesting and useful web sites, it seemed fitting that I make this contribution, being the wrangler of our web site!

I regularly and routinely use the web. I guess I’m a computer jockey. I'm in the business. One might say, "I am the business." I use it every day, all day. It reminds me of life before instant tellers... I can't clearly remember what I did before them! How did I get money? The web, to me, is indispensable. How did I find things, do research, get my directions and maps, email messages, recipes, news feeds before? I had to go to the library! The horror…

With this first entry, I debated what to discuss. It crossed my mind to showcase our own Toronto Centre site. But that could be construed as self-aggrandising! I considered segueing to the national RASC site. But, I would hope, it is not unknown, to you! Hey, I could talk about my personal astronomy blog! No. No, that would definitely be over the top. So, what to talk about then? Gotta start off with a bang, right?

This is not proving easy…

There are many astronomy-related sites I frequently access. Many I use daily or weekly. From weather analysis, to equipment reviews, classifieds, photographs, and so on. Perhaps the most habitually visited sites for me are those listing upcoming astronomical events.

I must remember the sites that I reference reflect my particular interests, which while broad, do not cover every aspect of amateur astronomy. So, in addition to general news, planetary, solar, double star, space agency, space exploration, light pollution abatement, hardware, software, do-it-yourself resources, I'll need to mention some good CCD and digital photography, lunar, and variable star sites.

And anything that others suggest I share, of course, I'll need to relay…

Where to start? I can't decide…

And you'll just have to wait and see!

watching the web,
Blake (astronomy AT computer-ease DOT com)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

they fixed the array

NASA astronauts fixed the torn port solar array. Wow.

An impressive procedure requiring a great deal of improvisation.

Now, they gotta fix the starboard SARJ...

Friday, November 02, 2007

morning Mars! (Toronto)

I had set an alarm for 5:00 AM. Ugh. That was a bit early. Snoozed for 15 minutes. Then I think I snoozed again for another 5 minutes.

As I started to wake, I realised I had to go to the loo. OK. Let's check the sky condition on the way to the wash room... Grabbed my eyeglasses. Not that it would have made much of a difference: my eyes balls were still booting up. Nevertheless, I could see stars directly overhead.

Returning from my bio-break, I had a very difficult time not crawling back into bed. It was the reasoning, "I might not get another shot for a while...", that pushed me over the edge.

Within the hour, I was set up and viewing, in the back yard with the SCT. Positioned in the driveway such that the street light in front of the house did not reach me. Initially, the last-quarter Moon was blocked...

Neighbours to the east had their back light on. It is a bright CFL. Runs continuously...


6:15, 1.6°C, 41% humidity. Environmental readings using CTC OneWorld portable weather station. It was sitting indoors. It was still acclimating to the outdoor conditions...

Viewed Comet Holmes using the 26mm. A circular pale shape with a bright centre filled much of the field! 50% or more?

The left of the outer circle was brighter. From the centre, a V-shaped pattern opened down and to the right of the field.

There was a small but bright star behind the comet (possibly HD 23104 / SAO 24187). I could also see fine, small stars in the bottom left of my field. I don't think they're components of the Alpha Persei cluster... It's over 2° away.

Viewing naked eye, the comet is very close to δ (delta) in magnitude (3.01). It is naked eye diffuse, with averted vision. The comet has moved a little bit north, now with δ and α (alpha), almost in an equilateral triangle...

6:30 AM.

Mars is in Gemini, above the feet of the twins, near ε (epsilon)...

Viewed Mars at 77x. Then popped in the 18mm for 110x. Next inserted the Barlow (after the diagonal for 2x) using the 26mm again, yielding 154x. Then tried the 4mm for a whopping 500x.

At low power, Mars was bright orange. Almost perfectly round.

At 154x, Mars was clearly gibbous. In my field, the limb at the 11 o'clock position seemed lighter, almost white.

6:59, -1.0°C, 49%.

Looked at Orion briefly. The Great Nebula—Messier 42 (M42)—and the Trapezium stars clearly visible.

Examined Betelgeuse or α (alpha) Orion. Warm orange. I could not see bright stars nearby.

Bellatrix (γ or gamma) was bright blue. No obvious nearby stars.

Fairly close to cool blue white Rigel (β or beta), I could see a faint, darker star. Sneaky. At higher power, I could confirm the companion's presence, even though the view seemed blurry overall. I'll check Sissy's entry later.

Getting chilled... Switched to my red coat with hood.

7:25, -1.5°C, 61%.

Moved the 'scope to view Saturn...

Wonderful to see again.

The ring angle is less.

Is that Titan up and to the right? (Yep.)

The motor drive is working well. I was a little worried after the collision at the DDO... Whew! This means it will be very easy to follow a planet into daylight.

The heaters (on the objective and eyepiece) are working well. Again, I was a little worried after using them at the DDO. The finder scope heaters are shifting and getting strained. There might be a short circuit. Upon closer inspection, it looks like one lead wire has pulled free. Got some clean up work to do. Anyway, I'm relieved I didn't burn anything up.


My stomach is awake! I'm hungry. Popped inside for some toast and juice.

The sky was brightening.

When back outside, I could not find Saturn naked eye. But I could still spot Mars.

I'm surprised by the amount of detail I can see. Or is it my imagination. When the seeing is good, I swear I could see the Cassini division. And I could still see cloud bands on the orb.

7:45, -0.5°C, 65%.

Mars was still naked eye. But it was getting tougher...

Need coffee... The Psion said that sunrise was at 7:54.

8:00, 0.1°C, 65%.

Saturn was very pale.

The seagulls were heading inland...

8:16, 0.0°C, 66%, 102.5 kPa.

Coffee's brewing.

Saturn was extremely pale. Easily missed, in the eyepiece!

I have lost Venus naked eye!


The sun was definitely up, peaking above the High Park high rise apartments...

I had on long johns, canvas zip pants, t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, fleece collared sweater, red winter (synthetic down) coat with hood, toque, and leather gloves. And I was still cold!

A collision would occur in the current configuration, I could tell. If I tried to track Saturn much longer, it would cross the meridian. I'm starting to realise / experience the weakness of equatorial mounts... If I were to "reset" I would surely not be able to find Saturn again.


Shutdown. I moved the gear back into the garage.

That was fun!

Saw a comet, Mars, Saturn, Venus, the Moon, a big nebula, and some multiple stars. And I verified that my tracking and heating gear are not damaged.


Measured the offset of Polaris from magnetic north with my cheapo compass. α (alpha) Ursa Minor appears to approx. 19° to the left of compass bearing. I'll check that against the web service I found recently. Seems too much...


The eyepieces are dirty, greasy. Particularly the 26mm! I should maybe make a point of cleaning them at the beginning of each session. Or at least inspecting them...

I should also clean my eyeglasses thoroughly...