Wednesday, December 31, 2008

happy IYA

While others celebrate HNY, I wish you a very exciting IYA.

one of two (Toronto)

Shawn sent out a reminder to check the "double conjunction." That was at around 4:30.

I immediately checked Stellarium with my back yard omnirama. It showed Mercury and Jupiter below the tree line! Bah!

I headed outside in my pajama bottoms, shirt with fleece sweater, winter boots, toque. From the back yard, near to the garage, I could easily spot the stunning Venus and Moon. I scanned the horizon with my binoculars for bright points but... nothing. I decided to try from the front of the house.

The wind vectored between the houses. Holy cow it felt cold! I scanned again from the street between the house and the school. Nothing low.

Quickly, I headed back inside.


Courtney emailed me later from her Dad's BlackBerry asking what the bright point was near the Moon.

2009 calendar updated

I completed the major updates to my online calendar of astronomical events for 2009.

It includes notes about planetary and lunar conjunctions, major meteor showers, local RASC Toronto Centre events, special Jovian moon events, comets, and other special events to do with the IYA.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

measuring doubles

After a brief chat with guru Geoff Gaherty, I am now under the impression that there are only 2 suitable eyepieces available for measuring double star separations and position angles: the Celestron or the Meade.

Celestron has a eyepiece that is laser-etched reticule and is illuminated. It is multi-coated. It is a 12.5mm Orthoscopic. It is popular it seems for photography but it can be used to measure position angles and separation of double stars. This is the item Tanguay referred to in his article. Khan Scope Centre it would be "very very difficult" to get.

Meade has something called the "astrometric." It is 12mm "MA" eyepiece, with illuminated reticule. That's a Modified Achromatic. Geoff made his feelings abundantly clear to me... Comes in a wired or wireless (i.e. battery-powered) format. In stock at Khan Scope Centre.

I found a brief review of the different types of reticule eyepieces...

let it be known

I posted the following to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Groups listserv. And now I post it here, for all to consider.
Hi there,

This year, I'd like to kick it up a notch.

I've been enjoying viewing double stars but I think I'd like to move up now to accurately measuring separations and position angles.

Any advice on tools, illuminated eyepieces, other supplies needed.

I've started looking at the Celestron Micro Guide 1.25" 12.5mm Eyepiece. Is this a good choice?


Monday, December 29, 2008

fun and science

I have decided that I want to measure double stars.

I don't remember the trigger, for certain. It might have been the "Spirit of 33" that started it all... It might go further back than that.

So to add some depth to a RASC Toronto Centre SCOPE newsletter article in development, I wanted to research double stars. Or rather, the people who studied double stars. How they did it. What they measured. The tools they used.

Somewhere in my web travels I stumbled through the Spirit of 33. And I didn't quite understand it. I couldn't tell if it was a club. Or a web site. Did the 33 mean something? 33 double stars? 3.3 magnitude? What was the significance of 33? Surely that wasn't the number of doubles in all constellations? Was that what was required for a certificate?

Web searches some how proved futile. I wasn't seeing logical or appropriate information.

One clue was a repeated reference to an article in Sky and Telescope magazine. In the February 2000 issue...

That Tom had recently completed the cataloguing of everything in the RASC TC library (up at the CAO) was good timing. I checked if we had the S&T 0002 issue. We did. During my visit to the CAO over the first November weekend, I "signed out" the magazine.

I believe it was on reading this article that I learned of the Feb 99 article (in S&T again) by Ronald Charles Tanguay. It was entitled Observing Double Stars for Fun and Science. Intriguing title.

Today I found that article online!

And something clicked...


I found a proper fluid for the Restoration Hardware hand warmer: Nibo!

I bought it at a local variety store, the 7-11, at Dundas and Runnymede. For less than $4.

On the back of the container, it is described as for "petrol" lighters. I gather this is opposed to wick lighters.

The Ronsonol I bought previously would not ignite in the hand warmer. It is for wick lighters...

Nibo works good! Toasty!

And it is a lot less messy than the pressurised aerosol butane dispensers!

geek glasses

While at Canadian Tire today, I bought some Hawkeye Laser Enhancing Glasses. They are a deep red colour and have side shields, i.e. the arms are thick and also red. I will wear these goggles when trying to improve or keep my night vision. Very inexpensive at <$5! And they come with a 2 year warranty!

I'm going to have to find some sort of case or cover to prevent scratches...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

greyed out

Not one clear night...

reassembled and collimated

With the mirror cleaned, its centre marked, and reloaded into the cell, I reinstalled the cell in Mom's Super Space Conqueror. I then collimated the 'scope.

I first used Guy's Tectron kit. I followed some collimation notes at the Amateur Astronomers Magazine web site for using the sighting tube and lining up the secondary. I found John Reed's ray-trace diagrams and notes very helpful for when using the chesire. The second mirror angle was off so I removed it and changed the angle on the bench, in the vice. Now the primary was way off so I brought it back in line. I then used the autocollimator and I could see I was very close to where I should be.

When I first tried the laser collimator, the secondary was off. I re-aimed the beam to the centre of the primary. Now the laser beam is a mere 4 mm away from the start. Not bad.

In my travels I had found another article on collimating, over at Astro-Tom. I'll have to try these similar steps to see if I can improve, simplify, and speed the process with Mom's 'scope.

O marks the spot

I marked the centre of 6" primary mirror of Mom's telescope. I needed this to do a proper collimation.

While the mirror was out of the cell (for cleaning), I traced around it onto a piece of paper. I then carefully cut this circle out of the paper. I folded it in half. And folded it in half again. I cut out the centre of the circle, eyeballing in about 4 or 5 mm from the centre tip.

I asked Mom for a white, self-adhesive eyelet paper reinforcement. She first offered me some clear ones. Tempted, I suspected it would be too hard to see, declined. She directed me to her computer desk but I couldn't find said items. She groaned out of her chair, looked in another spot, and located them. I peeled up the edge of one.

I carefully placed the clean side of the paper atop the mirror and lowered in, using tweezers, the white ring. I gently tacked it down and double-checked the position. Pretty good.


Ironically, I believe it was my request for the paper reinforcement that drove Mom ultimately into the kitchen, causing the "Mirror Cleaning Incident."

cleaned mirror, twice

I wanted to collimate Mom's Newtonian telescope. The images didn't look as crisp to me the last time I used it (back in the summer? my birthday?). I suspected it needed a tune up...

With Tectron tools (long sight tube, cheshire, and autocollimator) and Kendrick laser collimator—on loan from Guy—I was ready to do a good job on the old Edmund Scientific.

But it became clear to me that to use all these tools properly, I needed to know where the centre of the primary mirror was. And that would require removing it. From the OTA. And from the cell. And if I was going to do all that, I might as well clean it.


Once removed and examined closely, we were all (Donna, Steve, Mom, and me) left with the impression that it was filthy! Cleaning was overdue!


I reviewed my Newtonian cleaning notes. And made a shopping list. Mom headed into town in the morning and picked up 8 litres of distilled water and 2 boxes of large sterile gauze pads (presumably cotton). I steeled myself.

I removed the mirror from the cell. The 3 edge clamps came off easily. But the mirror was stuck in the cell. With some force, I was able to separate the two pieces. A rubber donut on the back of the mirror I was able to separate from another donut affixed to the cell frame. The cell donut was torn in the process but not damaged severely.

Mom has a suspended-style dishrack in one of the kitchen sinks. I rested the 6" Pyrex mirror in the dishrack such that it was inclined at a 45° angle. Then I used Mom's kitchen sink retractable spray nozzle to give the mirror a good soaking. Sadly, it seemed, none of the debris was washed away in this process. Oh boy. How badly stuck is this stuff?

Next I placed the mirror on the counter and filled the parabola with distilled water. I placed a new sterile pad in the centre of the mirror and let it soak up the water. Then, by gently tugged on one of the pad's corners, I pulled the pad off the mirror. I was thrilled to see a cleaner surface in the pad's wake. I filled the mirror again. This time, I tugged the corner of a new pad in a swirling pattern, letting the large pad sweep from the mirror's centre to edge. I did a couple of loops and tossed out the pad. Wow. Already it looked better. I repeated this about 10 times. And I reviewed my notes. Oops!

The notes said to use soap-water for this process as opposed to distilled. OK. Let's get a cleaning agent on it. So I filled the other basin with tap water and, as directed, put in one single drop of dishwashing liquid. I used this water with a couple of more gauze pads. The mirror looked much better than when I started!

Rinse cycle! Back into the elevated dish rack and I poured about 6 litres of distilled over the mirror to ensure it was totally clear.

Back to the counter, I gently blotted up the water with a clean pad. Wow. I should have taken before and after pictures...

I showed the mirror to Mom.

Curiously, looking straight down on the mirror, you can see a mottled pattern. I wonder if it is something deeper in the aluminum coating. Oxidation? Looking obliquely, the mirror looked significantly better than before. Oh well, regardless of the coating, the overall state was much improved.

I set the mirror down in the kitchen and began the steps of making a template so to find the centre of the mirror. I heard Mom in the kitchen puttering about.

When I returned to the kitchen a few moments later, I saw 3 large smudges on the mirror. It looked horrible. "What happened?!" I gasped.

Mom said something splattered and fell on the mirror. She had tried to wipe it clean, perhaps with a dishtowel. I was horrified. "Why didn't you tell me?!"

I didn't see any scratches but I blurted out, "You might have destroyed it." A bit severe perhaps but I was just stunned. My heart was sinking but I was trying to shore up. I was truly hoping there was no damage.

"I'll have to clean it again." And I set about repeating the process while Mom retrieved more cotton pads. I washed with tap water, went immediately to the soap water, and was relieved to see the mirror coming clean, and did the final rinse (from the remaining distilled water jug). After blotting, I looked very closely at the mirror. I don't think there were any scratches made. If there are, they are microscopic; nothing I could see naked eye.

I was relieved but still upset. Perhaps it was good that I needed to retire to the garage to reinstall the mirror. After which I collimated...

Mom was pretty quiet when I returned. She must be upset too.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Stan's calendar

I stumbled across Stan Shadick's Skywatchers calendar (for 2009) in a discount bin today. I like how it shows the actual sky in a particular direction at a certain time, how it will generally appear for the month.

Mr. Shadick is based in Saskatchewan. He teaches astronomy.

He says he was inspired by his teachers and members of the RASC.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

book and mag

Donna and Steve gave me an astronomy-themed book for a Christmas gift. It is called Entering Space: An Astronaut's Odyssey. It is written by Joe Allen, a NASA astronaut. I don't recognise him but he's been to the International Space Station recently.

I look forward to reading a current astronaut's treatment (although I think I saw the book is circa 1985). The photography is very nice. Apparently, a number of these photos were taken by Joe.

Mom gave me an astronomy-themed "magazine." I hesitate to use that term. It is from National Geographic. But this is a special edition. The Once and Future Frontier Space. Wonderful photography of course. It includes a forward by Ray Bradbury.

NG is celebrating our 50 years in space.

There is a very cool chart showing the various missions orbiting the Earth and travelling to the Moon, essentially a bar chart where the height of the bar indicates the distance from Earth, over the last 50 years, differentiated by country.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


It was Guy's idea. Really!

Guy and I were talking, either at a RASC meeting, or perhaps it was when he dropped of the collimation tools. I was explaining that I needed to fabricate some sort of tube for Mom's telescope in order to use the 4mm eyepiece, to get the eyepiece further away from the focuser. He said that he used a plumbing extension tube, the kind used under a sink. Huh.

So today I visited the plumbing section of Canadian Tire. I found a drainage 6" slip-joint extension tube. It has an outer diameter of 1¼" at the bottom end. This will fit in the focuser. The upper end is slightly flared to accept a 1¼" at tube, presumbly from a sink. This is where I will insert an eyepiece. It also has a large nut and a rubber washer. This makes a good friction fit for an eyepiece.

While not very elegant, this should prove useful.

Monday, December 22, 2008

couple of stars and a planet

As I unpacked the car, I glanced into Mom's backyard. The clouds were broken in a few places and I could a few stars. When I took a good look to the south-west, I spotted Venus.

I wonder if this is the only time I'll see anything...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

quiet celebration

I'm not out celebrating the winter solstice tonight.

I've been down at Toronto's Kensington Market Festival of Lights the last couple of years. But an abrupt, intense sore throat, waking me late Wednesday night, signalled an attack on my body. While I did not have to work on Thursday, I had a busy day planned. I tried... I tried to get things done. But I couldn't even sit at my desk. I couldn't sit upright. Back to bed I went and slept most of the day. Crazy fevered psycho never-ending spiralling daymares tortured me. I waited until the evening before taking sedative drugs and finally rested. 24 hours completely lost. Friday, as the storms moved in, I slinked off to work fighting intense headaches, sweating, and trying to conserve energy. I made one critical shopping stop on the way home and deferred everything that I could.

This unbridled bug messed up my whole weekend. I cancelled all my appointments and buckled down to complete all my work related commitments. I finished a few hours ago. I can finally relax.

I'm still not well. It feels like I've have half-swallowed a strand of yarn, part of it down my throat, part of it caught in my mouth. A most disquieting feeling. I miss seeing everyone but I really need to be careful. If I partied hard tonight I could mess up the rest of the week off!

So, I sit at home, glancing out the window, across snow laden fences to dark amber clouds reflecting city lights thinking about the stars beyond and our Sun as it begins it's long journey out of the depth of night.

I'm going to light lots of candles now to chase away the darkness.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

ready to collimate!

Guy dropped by briefly this afternoon, while shopping about the city... He left with me:
  • a cheshire eyepiece
  • laser collimator
  • auto-collimator eyepiece
  • and another doodad for collimating
Watch out! I'm gonna tune up Newtonian telescopes everywhere!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

IT team

I'm pleased to announce a large group of volunteers now make up the RASC Toronto Centre's Information Technology team.

I asked the following people if they would join, or remain on, the team:
  • Charles D
  • David P
  • Geoff G
  • Gilles G
  • Rajesh S
  • Steven D
I feel optimistic that with this large and varied group we'll be able to effectively improve our web site, our LAN at the CAO, and the utilisation of all our computing resources.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

don't like painting

I was thinking about repainting Mom's telescope this holiday. If it looked like we had gloomy grey skies, I was considering dismantling, stripping, and repainting her old Edmund reflector tube from the gloss white to a flat black.

But after reading Jeff Beish's article I decided it wasn't worth it. He intimated that for reflectors, there were many other factors, and that tube paint colour was really a matter of personal preference.

That's good. I don't like painting.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

wine, cheese, and stars

Went to Scott's wine and cheese party. He intimated that there'd be a few of the astronomy crowd there, the people who he travelled to Florida with, in the spring, to watch the shuttle launch. But when I got there, I was greeted by a large contingent! Which was fine by me.

Good fun, wine, and discussion!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

helped tune a Newt

Ralph received a query from a woman in my neighbourhood. She and her son were having difficult using their small telescope. He, the boy, had assembled it by himself (and done a fine job) but they still could not see anything. When Ralph learned they lived in the High Park area he dispatched me.

I took a look at the Swift 114mm Newtonian. Overall, everything looked OK. I aligned the finder scope as it was off. Finicky thing. Found 3 Kellner oculars. I explained how the different eyepieces worked and how the affected the power and the amount of sky your could see. It was impressive to see this thing sitting on an German equatorial mount! Still, I had to set the it to the proper latitude.

Unfortunately, the skies were grey so there was nothing celestial we could view. And her son wasn't in attendance. So I offered to return again, during a clear night, and we could do a full demo.

I'll also drum up a laser collimator to check the mirrors.

Friday, December 12, 2008

what's with small orgs?

What is it with small organisations?

Why are they so unusually political?

I've worked at federal government branches (e.g. Health and Welfare) and provincial branches (e.g. Food and Agriculture). I've worked at public (e.g. IBM) and private companies (e.g. Mother's Restaurants). I've helped volunteer organisations at various levels, from within (e.g. the Saab Owners' Club of Canada as a director; Computer Trainers Network as president) and outside the executive (e.g. RASC Toronto Centre as webmaster). I think I can fairly say, I've seen lots of levels of company strata, levels,

No matter where I've travelled, I've seen or experienced or been subjected to politicking. But there seems to be an inverse relationship: smaller the organisation, the more the political mess.

bright objects (Toronto)

As I made the brief walk from the bus stop to my home, I noted the jewel of Venus up high in the dark sky. I wondered if Jupiter might be nearby. I caught it, low, between some houses, when at the right angle. As I reached the intersection of Evelyn and Evelyn, I knew I'd have a good sight line to the west, so was anticipating the view. Still, I glanced east—whoa! Look at that Moon! Just past full. Quite the contrast (in terms of clarity) from last night (where it was diffused by mottled lumpy clouds). As I rounded the corner, I took in Vega, the body of Cygnus, the centre of Aquila. Tempting. Very tempting! But I could see clouds low in the west...


Denis Grey quit from the RASC Toronto Centre executive today.

He issued a resignation by email.

What's he up to?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

according to my sensors, Captain...

Even as a kid, I found it a bit of a stretch. While watching Star Trek (the original series), the Enterprise would wander into some uncharted solar system, and with their ship sensors, monitored by a Vulcan half-breed peering into a shielded display (what was that about?), would pick off the habitable planet and describe its atmospheric composition. Presumably, from 50 or 100 AU away. Crazy.

Now, today, not-science-fiction, we're picking up atmospheres of planets dozens of light years away! Crazy.

Previous observations of HD 189733b by Hubble and the Spitzer Space Telescope found water vapour. Earlier this year, Hubble found methane in the planet's atmosphere.

Mark Swain, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used Hubble's near infrared camera and multi-object spectrometer to study infrared light emitted from the planet, which lies 63 light-years away. Now they are identifying carbon dioxide.

And that really got my brain going...

Maybe, in the not too distant future, stuck on Earth, still unable to travel near, at, or above light speed, we'll be able to spot planets with a thin layers of nitrogen, oxygen, some argon, and a bit of CO2.

beginning of cloud season

Grey skies everywhere. It seems to me that last winter, there were very few days with clear skies. I don't remember but one clear evening (maybe 2) when down at my Mom's for the Christmas holidays last year. I don't remember the RASC Toronto Centre conducting a City Observing Session for a number of months. I truly hope that we have some breaks this winter.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Uranus and Neptune plots for 09

Here are plots of Uranus and Neptune for 2009.



I had considered reproducing these as I have done for the last 2 years, i.e. getting Cartes du Ciel to plot each planet's position on a week-by-week basis into an animated GIF which I would then use to create a Bezier path overlay using Fireworks and then finish the illustration with certain embellishments. The problem with this is it takes hours of work, assuming I don't do anything wrong...

I wondered if there was some software to do all this. I searched briefly on the weeb to see if there were any utilities or tools. Nothing obvious came up.

One site though discussed capturing the ephemeris of a planet and then plotting that. I suddenly remembered the US Naval Office site. I downloaded the RA and dec values for Uranus and did a plot using Excel! Ha ha. Very easy, and quick, to do. But, now I had a path without a star field background. To add in stars required new additional steps. So, it was beginning to turn into a laborious process again (although a fun application in a spreadsheet).

More web searching. Of course, I kept stumbling across notes astronomy applications like Starry Night and TheSky being able to do this. So, I thought I'd try it in TheSky (the loaner copy I have), as an exercise. I continue to work with this software to better learn it to, in turn, better support users at the CAO, next summer, when I'll be on duty...

So, after some fiddling and reading and experimenting, I got it to work. And, overall, easy and fast! That's what I was after.


What does "scheduled" mean? Two recent blogger posts did not show up immediately. They are listed as scheduled. I don't know what that means.


Particularly interesting when this one showed immediately. Is it because of certain words that I used?


Turns out I had somehow future or post dated the articles. Interesting feature, actually...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I'm in

After one and half years, I successfully hacked into the RASC Toronto Centre listserv and community groups owner account! This sole owner had died 2 years ago. He took his password to the grave. The remaining active moderator could not control the group at a higher level. in particular, he could not add another moderator. The group services system administrators were not willing to help us. I tried various methods to regain access to the owner's account. Today, I got in. With some help... I can't take all the credit. Sneaky devil, Andy, using a fabricated city and postal code. I still can't believe it. Incredible. I was able to regain control of the group and designate Ralph and Rajesh as co-owners of the group. This is a great day for the Toronto Centre! We can finally breathe easy.

back from the CAO

Tony and I went to the CAO today to do some "extra" things with the generator...

Tony was afraid that heavy snow around and on the generator would prevent it from running. We agreed that snow around the intake side of the generator cover would choke it for air. If massive snow drifts covered the aft end, where the hot exhaust exited, would that affect anything? I proposed that the hot exhaust would quickly form a port. Still, what if there was significant snow, say, 1 metre? What then? Well... we hacked a solution. We've helped the unit breath in and breath out. We also accommodated for the generator cooling inlet.

It was, once again, non-trivial getting to the CAO. There was now about half a metre or more of snow on the ground. With the intense south winds, there were a lot of drifts.

I checked over the computers while there. Everything was working well although the new hard disk started squealing again... Sheesh. Sounds like a disk crash! Ugh.

I reviewed the uninterruptible power supply log. Huh! No failures in the last week... I had expected to see something here. Particularly given the problems with our ISP/WPP and the Hydro One reports for the area.

Regardless, we simultated a utility failure. Wow. That generator is cool!

I remembered to nab the Windows XP Pro CDs before departing... Will come in handy as I refresh the computers from Adam...

On the way out, we were passed by a local utility crew. They had a snow cat! They were heading east, up the "unpassable" route, clearing out bowed branches and felled trees. We caught up with them and asked if we could hitch a ride. Sure made it easier slogging up the hill.



All photos by Tony.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Stellarium 10 keyboard shortcuts

Here is an updated listing of the extensive keyboard and mouse shortcuts you may use in the Windows version of Stellarium (0.10.0). Some of these are changed from version "9." I've tagged shortcuts that are new or different...

Most quick reference listings (including the one inside Stellarium's help) are improperly designed. They show the key first then the action. You'll see I've done the opposite!

controlling the surroundings
show location dialog
toggle cardinal or compass points—— q
toggle ground and buildings

toggle ground fog
toggle atmosphere or air


controlling sky appearance

toggle stars
toggle constellation lines
toggle constellation boundaries
toggle constellation labels
toggle constellation artwork
toggle planet circles
toggle nebula labels and circles
show Sky and Viewing Options dialog

controlling gridlines

toggle alt/az grid lines
z *
toggle equatorial grid
toggle ecliptic line
, (comma) *
toggle celestial equator
. (period) *

changing image presentation

toggle horizontal flipping
Ctrl Shift h
toggle vertical flipping
Ctrl Shift v

controlling "regular" time

show date/time dialog
set date/time to match computer

increment forward time speed

l (lower case L)
increment reverse time speed

run time at normal speed
jump forward 1 hour
Ctrl = (equal)
jump backward 1 hour
Ctrl - (hyphen)
jump forward 1 day
= (equal)
jump backward 1 day
- (hyphen)
jump forward 7 days
jump backward 7 days

controlling sidereal time

jump forward 1 sidereal day
Alt = (equal)
jump backward 1 sidereal day
Alt - (hyphen)
jump forward 7 sidereal days
Alt ]
jump backward 7 sidereal days
Alt [


quickly zoom in or out

mouse roller up or down

zoom in
PgUp or Ctrl Up Arrow
zoom out
PgDn or Ctrl Dn Arrow
zoom close to selected object
/ (slash)
zoom out fully

\ (backslash)


quickly pan celestial sphere


pan right
Right Arrow
pan left
Left Arrow
pan up
Up Arrow
pan down
Dn Arrow
toggle equatorial or alt/az mount
Ctrl m*

working with objects

select an object visually
centre on selected object
toggle tracking of selected object
deselect the object
display search dialog box
Ctrl f or F3
travel to object, i.e. go to a planet
Ctrl g

controlling the application

show configuration dialog
show help/about dialog
toggle application fullscreen/window
F11 *
save screenshot to desktop file
Ctrl s
quit from Stellarium
Ctrl q

There may be more shortcuts. And of course more may added during the beta testing...

new Stellarium version

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across the new Stellarium version, 0.10.1 (beta). At the time I didn't give it a really good look. I tried installing it on a Celeron-based computer and it was painfully slow so I yanked it pretty quickly. But I did notice the cleaner interface.

Over the last 2 days I've started looking more closely at it. And, overall, I like it. I like the new features.

The "title bar" has been relocated to the bottom edge of the screen. This is a better spot for it. It seems less cluttered. By default it does not show buttons. When you hover the mouse pointer near it, it reveals buttons. The buttons do not have borders around them. Perhaps this bar will need to be renamed the "status bar" or "menu bar?"

There's an additional bar now, popping up, when needed, on the left edge of the screen. It contains borderless iconic buttons for some of the configuration and setting panels in the program. I believe this is officially the "button bar."

Both the title and button bars can be "locked" on the screen such that they do not auto-hide or minimise.

As I installed and ran the program on a Pentium M-based laptop, I noted it launched much faster than 0.9.x version! That was pleasing. And if I understand correctly, this is despite loading more stars. Impressive.

While in the program, things seem to work well, quick response, with the new graphical interface elements, the additional stars, etc. But, when you unfocus the application, to say, check your email, visit a web site, read the Stellarium forums or FAQ, your computer will c-r-a-w-l! It's like Stellarium is sucking all the cycles. Nasty. Almost unusable. I need to look into this issue. Perhaps there's a property setting that I can adjust. I'll check the forums for complaints. Or perhaps this is just the territory with a beta version...

The other notable change in the program is keyboard shortcuts. Yep. Some of the keyboard shortcuts changed. Like the 1 (one) key. Pretty important, frequently-used, key in the old interface. Or h, for the help. Hello! All that said, it sounds like the development team won't be making more interface changes, any time soon.

So, stay tuned, I'm working a revised list of keyboard shortcuts...

Monday, December 01, 2008


This is what the president, Denis Grey, said of the RASC Toronto Centre web site: "I feel our website is a major drag." Nice. Real nice.

presentation at Humberside

Tony asked me if I would help and co-deliver a presentation for one of the science teachers at Humberside Collegiate Institute in the new year. This will be a first for both of us, delivering to grade 9 high school students. Should be an interesting challenge...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

6 months

What will it be like on the Moon outpost?

Six months is a long time to be a away from 1.0 G. Away from food, water, near-instantaneous communication, friends, family, "real" air, "real" water, resupply ships, etc.

What if something breaks or fails? It's not like you can pop down to the nearest Home Depot to get some parts... The crew will need to be very creative. They will need a lot of supplies when they land.

Will astronauts get sick of each other?

Jupiter, Venus, Moon, and NASA (Toronto)

I wanted good sight lines this evening. I wanted to try to catch the crescent Moon but knew it would be very low. I wanted to spot the International Space Station and the Shuttle. I knew the ISS was to start low, at 10° elevation, and only rise to 20°.

I checked out Google Maps in the late afternoon and decided to try the area near me, the flats north of St. Clair and Runnymede. I jumped in the car at 5:00 PM and drove to the turnaround at the end of Rockcliffe Court. It proved a pretty good location. Nothing was higher than 5° to the south-west, west, and north. Due south was a bit of an issue with the houses and trees along Terry Drive. Aside of a bunch of scattered sodium lights, it would work well.

(Crappy photo by me using Samsung Digimax 800. I set it on the roof of the car but, clearly, it is still shaky. That said, if you look closely, you can see Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon, to the right of the centre street light.)

Jupiter and Venus were very bright in the darkening, prismatic sky. About 2 degrees apart. Venus was a bit to the right of Jupiter, at about a 5° angle from the vertical. Through binoculars, Venus was intense, very white in colour. I tried to see Jovian moons but it was too jiggly hand-held. Forgot to bring my tripod.

5:14 PM. As I scanned the trees a bit to the right, and the thin clouds above, not expecting to see anything, I spotted Luna! It was about 5° above the horizon. Wow! I could see, naked eye, a very thin crescent, hovering in the dark clouds. Amazing. The Moon was about 19° away from Venus. It was fantastic through the binoculars. The Moon's age is 2.3 days! I think that's a record for me.

At 5:23 PM, the Moon was dipping into the distant trees. The thick air was colouring it. Turning north, I readied to observe the flyovers. My mobile phone rang. The display showed Tony's mobile; Grace spoke. They wanted to know the flyover details. Huh. The RASC Toronto Centre past-president is calling me for tips... I told him I'd call him back when I spotted it.

At 5:39 PM, I lost sight of the object. I picked it up at about NW compass bearing, 18 or 19° elevation, moving horizontally, fairly bright, tan or beige in colour. As it passed compass N, it looked like it was heading straight for Capella (mag 0.05). It was about the same brightness at that time. As it moved into from Ursa Major to Lynx it brightened a bit. I also noticed it flickering. But that could have been the clouds. It fell off quickly.

I phoned Tony during the pass and described the location and direction. It took him a few seconds but he spotted it.

I don't know if that was Station or the Shuttle. said the ISS would go over from 5:32 to 5:36. Randy, from the RASC Mississauga Centre, said the Shuttle would be ahead of it by about 100 seconds plus... I suspect I was looking at the Station.

I waited another 20 minutes... Nothing. I must have missed the other object.

After garaging the car, I noted that Venus was now left of Jupiter, about 5° from the vertical. I wondered if Venus was moving really fast but I realised later it was just the rotation of the sky.


Checked my notes. No records broken this evening. The Moon we all saw while camping at Bon Echo on 6 Aug 2005 was 0.9 days old! Wow.


Greg Chamitoff, NASA astronaut returning from a stint at the International Space Station, during a TV interview while on orbit, said it will take about a month or so to reacclimatise to 1.0 G. He was talking about the spiders, and humans, and how quickly they adapt to microgravity.


Greg's been on orbit for about 6 months...

phoned Derek

I telephoned Grandpa Derek this evening (after a scolding last night) to remind him of the Jupiter-Venus conjunction this evening.

fan mail

I received the following note from Phil:
I keep meaning to tell you that I very much enjoy reading you blog about CAO and other astro-events.
Phil was the editor of the RASC Toronto Centre's SCOPE newsletter. He recently handed the reins to Adam.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Jupiter and Venus (Toronto)

Jupiter and Venus were very close this evening. As I departed the house to pick up a friend at the subway, I noted the bright planets in the azure sky. Stunning. About two to three fingers apart or 3°. When I returned home, I sent a note to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group listserv encouraging people to get outside.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

sun pillar (Mississauga)

I don't drive my "summer" car in the winter. But today's weather report was looking good so I decided to drive to work. Today's work was in Mississauga, at Eglinton and Hurontario. Another epicentre for radicals to hail the centre of the Universe. Or near to it, Square One.

Having switched my travel plans at the last minute, I had some extra time on my hands. When I arrived at the client location 30 minutes ahead of schedule, I popped into the Second Cup for some joe and a treat.

As I sipped the hot, black fluid, from a comfy chair, and read the dismal news from the Toronto Star, I glanced outside. When I looked to the south, I saw a pillar of sunlight. I could not see the Sun: it was too low below the strip mall buildings. But a narrow bright fiery pillar rose vertical from the Sun's position to the cloud bank above. While not direct sunlight, it still was very bright. As I stared at it, mesmerised, it burned out my vision. I had to look away after a time.

I scanned for sundogs and a halo. Couldn't see any other features.

Over time it lessened.

A nice treat for my Tuesday morning.

Monday, November 24, 2008

webspotting 7 - CSAC

First published in the Dec 2008/Jan 2009 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. The URL is updated. Republished here with permission. Very minor edits applied.


Unless you've recently emerged from under a rock, black hole, or the Oort Cloud, I probably do not need to tell you about the Clear Sky Charts (nee Clear Sky Clock) web site by Attila Danko. Except to remind you how grateful we should be.

It is however—as I have mentioned in a previous article—pull technology. You need to jump on an internet terminal, fire up a browser, proactively go to Attila's web site, select your preferred location (if you don't have a direct link to a specific location), view the results, and interpret the results.

Want a push? Want Clear Sky Charts to notify you have upcoming good conditions? Would you like to receive good sky condition notices in your electronic inbox? In your smartphone? To your Crackberry?

Mark Casazza delivers!

Mark built a web site, called the Clear Sky Alarm Clock, which serves as a companion to the Attila's.

It analyses the data from Attila's site, according  to your criteria. When conditions at any one of your preferred locations is favourable, Mark's site generates an email directed to your preferred address.

The CSAC site is completely configurable. You can create multiple location profiles and specify the rules for each site's "alarm." I have profiles set up for Toronto (for me), Fingal (near my Mom), and the CAO. I've been thinking I should build ones for The Forks and The Long Sault.

For each profile, you can specify a variety of constraints. 
  • percentage of cloud cover
  • seeing conditions
  • transparency predictions
  • when you observe, on week days or week ends
  • Moon elevation and phase
  • duration of good conditions
For Toronto, I have told the site that marginal conditions are sufficient to send me a notice. I'll make my own judgement call upon receipt. But for Collingwood, the conditions must be spectacular. It's a long drive and I want to be sure before I go.  

Let those computers work for you.


Tony linked to me. As he prepared his article about the work at the CAO, he linked to my blog. Scratch my back...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jupiter and Venus and ISS (Toronto)

Fired up the BBQ this evening so to grill a steak. Noticed it was clear to the west. Peeked around the neighbours houses to see Venus 20° above the horizon and Jupiter now about 7° away. That was around 5:30. Very pretty. Looking forward to seeing the Moon join the pair in a week.

As I started to savour the steak, I noticed an email on the RASC Toronto Centre listserv from Randy. OK, OK, I was eating at the computer. I admit it.

Randy said there'd be a flyover at 6:01 with the International Space Station (and attached Space Shuttle) with the path near Vega. Cool. 15 minutes to go. I checked Heavens Above to check the starting point and the maximum brightness (-2.2). I headed out at about 5:55 to get my bearings.

There were more clouds now. Fortunately thin and wispy. I didn't think they'd interfere.

Picked up Vega but none of the stars of Lyra. I could see some of Cygnus: Deneb, Sadr in the middle, Gienah to the left, δ (delta) to the right with averted vision. It took me a moment to rotate my mental field. The bright star 45° up in the south-west I realised was Altair. I could see Tarazed to the right easily and Alshain to the left with averted. There was a lesser star about 45° to the left of Altair (later learned it was Enif). As I was looking at this area, I saw a brightening and fading. No movement. An Iridium? It was about 2/3 of the way from Altair to Enif. No idea what that was...

I positioned so that I could Jupiter above and Venus below the neighbour's arbour, the street light at the end of the driveway wasn't in my vision, and I had a good open vista of the south-western sky. And I waited.

The ISS appeared low in the west. I caught it out of the corner of my eye. It was about 15° up. Further to the north than I was expecting. I was expecting SWS but this was WSW. It rose up between Cygnus and Lyra. Between about 50 and 60 degrees it started to brighten. And it went way up, way way up! I still don't know my magnitudes well but that was way more than -2. It was brighter than Venus. Near zenith, it faded back to a magnitude equivalent to before the peak. As it moved into Casseiopeia, an aircraft overtook it. Interesting, the differences in perceived speed. As it moved into Auriga it faded rapidly.

That was a great pass!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

generator works

A small group headed up to the Carr Astronomical Observatory for the day. We wanted to finish the installation and testing of the propane-power generator.

Tony, Charles, and I parked near the observatory at about 10:45 AM. We decided to take the "high road" after assessing the local conditions. A lot of snow had come down recently. It turned out to be a good call. There was about 30 to 45 cm of snow on the ground. Possibly Charles's truck would not have been able to make it along the unplowed portions of the access road and then the driveway to the CAO. So we snowshoed in hauling our gear on toboggans.

It was tough going even after some snowmobiles blazed a trail for us. I finally got to use my long black Pelican sled. It worked well. And I finally brought up to the CAO a large cache of supplies. I wanted enough food stuffs so to last a week. For that I received endless ribbing from Chas and Mark Anthony.

I completed the configuration of the external junction box first removing the box from the exterior wall. This required moving the thick blue leads which first required the removal of the nut and spring washer from the post. Then I was able to pilot where the new outbound 120 VAC line feed needed to go. This was for the battery warming blanket. I removed the small knock-out from the box. I verified we'd have no collisions inside while Tony drilled the hole with the spade bit with my lithium-powered drill. I fed the 14-2 outside which Tony stripped. I inserted a squeeze clamp into the junction box. I taped up all the holes at back of the box with aluminium tape to reduce the amount of incoming water or snow. I retrieved some orange Marrettes and made the final connections. And then I replaced the cover plate.

I helped Charles and Tony finish some generator work. I drove in the last tapcon for the generator base. It seemed impossible to reach with a cordless drill but I temporarily removed the generator cooling rubber boot to improve access. Quickly finished that. The outdoor chores were done. Woo hoo.

Inside, I attached clamps to the conduit from the outside junction to the furnace room. I tidied up some other wires in the library ceiling.

The boys were getting ready to verify and move circuits in the house so with radios we sorted out the current and new configurations. I helped them review the installation video and we were ready to conduct the final testing. It was very cool.

We test-started the generator, disconnected from all circuits. It took a few revolutions (probably due to the cold) but it started up. We then started the generator with the generator breaker closed: we saw good voltage and cycles inside the house. Then we connected the generator to the main box of the house but without loads and killed the power. The generator came on after a few seconds. That was very exciting. Then we activated critical circuits in the house. The generator did it's job and supplied these circuits. When we measured the amps with a clamp gauge, Tony said the system was generating 80 amps. We knew that was not possible. I studied the analog gauge of the meter and pointed out to Tony the 3 scales. He used the middle scale, which was 6 amps, so we multipled by 10 to get a proper reading. Amps: 32! All good. Well within specfications. We performed a few more tests. Everything worked perfectly.

It was impressive given all the people involved in this project, all the changes we had made, over a long period of time, with equipment new to us. Anyway, to make a long story short, we were successful. The house can power itself now.

Throughout the day, I determined the source of a problem with the surveillance camera. But hopefully this will be a non-issue in the future, particularly now that we have permanent power.

As we hiked out, we enjoyed Venus and Jupiter. Charles saw a meteor and trail in the south-east; I missed it. When we turned our lights out, we could immediately see the Milky Way. Pity. Too bad we couldn't stay overnight. It looked beautiful.

And later, as Tony drove into Toronto, I could see Orion, fully, above the horizon. Lovely.

Photos 1, 2, 5, 6 provided by and copyright Charles Darrow.

Friday, November 21, 2008


It suddenly occurred to how profound it is that humans are in living and working in space. It means out brains, our heart, our nervous system, our stomachs, our bowels, blood vessels, blood, haemoglobin, everything essentially (well, except maybe our bones), is able to tolerate microgravity.

I started thinking about this as I considered the orb-weaving spiders on the space station. They too, with some time and practice, acclimate to zero-G.

This means that evolution (or God) did not design us to die when off a planet, when away from a gravity well.

Jupiter and Venus closer (Toronto)

It was clear in the south-west this evening. Jupiter and Venus were very bright against the dark midnight blue sky. They were about 8 to 9° apart, a little bit closer than a few nights ago. When I emerged from the grocery store at 6:00 PM, Venus was 8° above the horizon. Jupiter was left-up at about a 40° angle. I thought of the NOVA class participants. By the time I got home, Venus was hidden, and the clouds were moving in...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

happy birthday ISS

Happy 10th birthday International Space Station!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

no ISS tonight (Toronto)

I tried to spot the ISS this evening from my backyard. But it was predicted to be fast, short, only 10 seconds in duration, according to Heavens Above. And low, 10° rising to 11°. I stood atop the picnic table to try to get a better sight-line. It would have been cool to spot it, knowing that 2 astronauts were outside working on it!

Jupiter and Venus (Toronto)

Caught the bright planets in the beautiful south-west sky tonight during my TTC bus ride home along Dupont and Annette. Simply spectacular. 10° apart. Venus sinking fast behind some clouds by the time I walked home. Reminding me that the last week of this month will see them draw very close together. Let's wish upon these planets, for clear skies!

Monday, November 17, 2008

what a weekend!

I was already highly stressed on Friday afternoon when I had to drive up to the Carr Astronomical Observatory near Collingwood.

It wasn't just that I had offered or committed to help at the mini-work party to complete the installation of the propane-powered generator... This weekend was the rain-or-shine (ha) tour of the CAO for the NOVA course participants. And since I was the host (by being the NOVA course co-ordinator), I had to make an appearance.

My computer training gig finished early. I was home by 5:00 PM. Did the final loading of the car. Skipped dinner. And hit the road. It was raining, the sky was darkening, when I tried to get through the airport zone. Traffic was very heavy going up Highway 410, making for stop-and-go on the 401 ramp. My car still does not have a working auxiliary fan so I had to manually monitor the engine temperature and run the cockpit blower at maximum to bleed off some of the extra heat. The congestion steadily decreased the further north I travelled and was light by the time I reached the top of the 410.

I remembered this time to take Heart Lake Road. Great alternate! There were 4 of us on that whole stretch. I almost missed my left/west turn though onto King Road.

Ironically, there was a car crash at the intersection of King and Highway 10. By the time we arrived at the junction, they were just dragging the wrecks out of the way. I wonder what effect that had on the north-bound traffic; for us it was a minor delay. The somewhat heavy rain combined with cool temperatures had caught off guard these drivers who were probably tailgating one another.

That was a heads-up to all of us. I kept an eye on the air temperature given my tires. They are good in dry conditions, it can even be quite cold; but they suck in the wet below 11°C or so.

Around 8:00 PM, I arrived at the CAO. Tony was already there but had only arrived 1 hour before me. While he had left earlier, he had made some pit stops for supplies.

Tony reviewed the work to be done on Saturday while I checked over our computers and network. Everything seemed A-OK. Tony reported the supervisor closet was not unusually warm when he opened it. So that meant my new server was not getting too hot. I dropped off the new red LED rope lights to replace the faded incandescent ones on the porch and stairs. I also tested my shortwave radio. I still could only barely receive (inside the house mind you) the 3330 CHU time signal. Tony had brought with him the Toronto Centre's old Dell laptop (with purportedly dead battery): I was planning to work with that later in the weekend.

When Tony explained that some of the house circuits were not well documented, I offered to help. With a pair of hand-held radios, we killed all the breakers one by one and tracked down the affected lights and sockets. It took us a while but we developed a much better understanding of the house wiring.

Tony shacked up in the Lyra bedroom. I thought I'd try the Cygnus room a.k.a. the Honeymoon Suite. I had never stayed in it before. Nice having a large bed.

I stayed up a bit longer. In our house electrical tests, we had unsettled the network and internet service. I had to reboot equipment in a particular pattern to get it all working again. I checked NASA's web site to see how the STS-126 launch had gone off. Found a beautiful shot of the vehicle climbing "uphill" with the Moon in the background.


I set an early alarm, for Tony's wake up call, at 7:00 AM. I also set one on my mobile phone for redundancy. I knocked on Tony's bedroom door. There was no answer. I trundled into the kitchen, noticed the computer was off, didn't notice (at first) that the living room was very dark (since the blinds were pulled), and heard Tony behind me. He had slept in the living room so to angle his torso. Sinus trouble during the night.

We had a small breakfast and discussed the morning plan. Tony was going to hit the Home Hardware building centre in The-Town-Formerly-Known-As-Thornbury for supplies. I would hold the fort. And remove the pea gravel from the generator crib. 7 cubic feet doesn't sound like a lot; 12 000 cubic inches does!

Tony returned to the CAO with various bits. We transferred these items to the work site. On cue, the expected delivery showed up. We unloaded the 17 kW generator and put it place. It was heavy. And I was feeling a little tired. I said to Tony, "Let's have lunch!" He agreed.

We headed indoors, assembled some grub, and recharged our batteries. Mmm, soup. Just then, Leslie and Costas arrived. When they asked what we were doing, and when I explained, they pointed out the time was 10:30, a strange time for lunch. Oh! So it was.

Speaking of recharging, Leslie and Costas had brought some laptop batteries up. I popped one into the RASC laptop, fired up the machine, examined the Power Options control panel, and I got a reading. That was a good sign. I powered down to let the battery charge rapidly. I vacated the Cygnus room for our expected visitors.

Well, there was no avoiding it. I was assigned to dig the trench. Ugh. Fortunately, Tony had brought some pick axes, in particular, a pick mattock (with a hoe). I had already piloted the trench, removing the sod, across a 10 foot span. But now I needed to go to a depth of 16 inches (to code). I spent a couple of hours working on it. It was tough. Nay, exhausting. And it was raining. The trench was filling up with water...

Real lunch was called and I was grateful. I needed to recharge again. After chow I did some more testing of the laptop batteries. The charged battery worked, i.e. it provided power to the laptop while disconnected from AC. As it should. I switched to the second spare battery that had been provided and let it fast-charge.

A family, from the NOVA course, showed up. I gave them the tour of the house. Which was precisely the time that the gang doing the electrical work decided to cut the power, forcing me to delay my tour of the observatory building. Still, I unlocked the GBO in preparation. We killed some time in the kitchen discussing general topics. I answered a bunch of questions. In the background I could hear the weather station and security camera server running off the UPS battery supply.

When the AC came back on, I turned the dryer back on, and we headed out to the GBO. There were big water puddles everywhere due to the continuous rain, even inside the observatory.

Our guests announced they were not going to stay. Too bad on one hand. But they were concerned about the incoming weather. And, I must confess, it simplified my breakfast planning. I had not yet shopped for supplies!

It was good having them. My first official CAO tour guide duties!

With the guests departed, my clothes dried out, I returned to the trench. It was slow going. And increasingly strenuous the deeper I dug.

Geoff B and Tony joined me outside for hookup tasks. Tony wanted to build a canopy to help get us out of the rain. Unfortunately, a gale force wind moved in. And it seemed to generate speed at the corner of the house, exactly where we were working. Tony drilled a port into the house. I drilled holes in the concrete pad. Tony and Geoff fed the generator cabling into the trench. And Costas connected the internal line to the junction box and mounted it to the wall. We were cold, very wet, very muddy, and tired with fighting the wind. And when we emerged from our whipping blue tarp canopy, the ground was covered in snow. We were in the middle of a blizzard! We packed everything up and concluded the outdoor chores.

And it started to hit me. How would I get home?

If many centimetres of snow fell, I would not be able to drive my car out. If a lot of snow fell, all of us might be "trapped" at the CAO. The municipality normally did not plow the road up to the property. That was a 1000 to 1500 metre distance. Many options flickered through my mind, some of which included me leaving the car at the CAO. But that could mean it might stay there until April!

Two new NOVA guests had arrived in the meantime. Brave souls. Just in time for dinner. Leslie had prepared a fantastic meal for the work party people including two chickens, lots of salad, potatoes, and Chudleigh pies! Our guests had brought dishes as well so there was no lack of food. Tony and Costas discussed the remaining work to be done. It seemed like a lot. So Leslie and Costas agreed to stay overnight. Well, now I had a bed for them!

Many of us went back to work after dinner. I dropped some additional electrical wire for baseboard heaters and connected it into the new generator breaker satellite box.

I gave our new guests a tour of the GBO before locking it up. One split for his nearby cottage. Perhaps he too was nervous about being marooned on our property. Matthew stayed on.

I checked the server computer. Cool! I found the UPS had performed a Managed Shutdown. Nice. Everything was working as it should.

But when I checked the weather data, I noticed the wind speed read zero. Oh oh. I hope the mast hadn't fallen over in the high winds. Costas braved the outdoors and reported the anemometer was not spinning. It was frozen into position with the cold rain and sudden temperature drop.

I checked the second laptop battery and found it also worked. I could definitively say there was not a problem with our laptop proper but that we had a dead battery. Costas later suggested that we keep the batteries, that we could make use of them since they had retired their old laptop. I thanked him. It would make the laptop portable again, even if they couldn't hold a full charge.

Tony decided to not leave. The storm was looking severe but it sounded like it was going to be clear in the morning. I helped him pack the van for an early getaway. I shovelled the back steps and porch. My first shovelling of the season... Blah. I set another early wake up call for Tony. And an alarm in front of that for me so to get in the shower early. Hatching a new plan, I packed up almost all my gear...


I slept like a baby despite having a lot on my mind. I woke up in the morning dreaming about my car! I asked Tony if he could take a bunch of my things back to the city. If I had to take a train or bus, I needed to reduce my carry-on. When Tony drove out with his loaded minivan on new snow tires, he punched 5 to 10 centimetre deep channels into the snow. It didn't look good for me. I cleaned my car of icy snow. I fired it up to get some heat in the motor and cabin. It ran fine. Then I tried to reposition in the driveway. I travelled about 10 metres and got stuck! Crazy. I would definitely need a tow out to the plowed road. No doubt about it.

Tony telephoned periodically to give progress reports. He strongly suggested I not take the Highway 24/124 route. I decided to do what I normally avoid: take the well-travelled roads. Assuming I could get out the driveway.

I tended to some final chores outside and on the property. I closed and alarmed the GBO.

While Costas loaded his truck, I tried to reposition my car. I was trying to line up in Tony's tire tracks. I couldn't do anything! But with some pushing from Costas and Matthew, we were able to reposition me behind Costas's truck.

We considered how to tow my vehicle. I had not brought my proper car tow rope (perhaps I should always carry it). Tony said there were tie-downs in the garage but I couldn't see any. Costas said he was 3—at home. Suddenly I remembered my bungee cord box... I had new 1" tie-downs in it! I pulled them out: 3 complete sets. Costas said they'd take 1000 pounds each but when we checked the label we found they were rated for significantly less: 300 pounds. Cautiously, we put the 3 sets together in parallel.

Leslie and I did the final close-out of the property, we climbed into our vehicles, and I tried to start my car. No go! WTF?! I could smell fuel, so it wasn't a fuel supply problem. There was no fire! I wiggled the spark plug wires at the plugs and distributor and the wires at the high-voltage coil. I removed and reinserted all the fuses and relays. Still no go. Damn it. Well, I suggested that the new plan be to tow me at least to the plowed section of the road. Then I'd call CAA.

When we got to the top of the big hill, Costas suggested we try bump-starting. I was not confident it would work if in fact I had an electrical problem. So I tried again to start the motor. It burbled. Costas eyes lit up. I tried again. Vroom! She started. That was very strange.

Matthew, needing a ride to Collingwood, jumped in with me. We all travelled out to the highway together to make sure everything was OK. Leslie and Costas turned south while I turned north. We rendezvoused with Matthew's friend in town. My car continued to run fine. The roads, while wet and cold, were OK for me to drive on. I pressed on heading for the Highway 400.

Just west of Barrie though, near (ironically) Snow Valley, I encountered a squall. Snow started to cover the road. Ruts started to form. The trees looked like those on the road to the Overlook! I was starting to get very anxious. I started to look for hotels or motels. Then I saw the steep hill ahead, leading into Barrie. I really wondered if I was going to be able to make it up particularly since my ABS was coming on as I slowed for stop lights. Somehow... I made it. Fueled up and jumped on the 400. And it was a pretty straight-forward drive home.

It was really good to pull in the driveway free from snow.


We accomplished a lot this weekend. We conducted tours of the CAO for some of the NOVA people, 6 in total. We got a lot of work done on the generator for the CAO. I had lots of yummy apple pie. I got a bit more practice as a supervisor. And I was able to bring my car home.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

new batteries for green laser

I popped in some new AAA batteries into the green laser. Wow! Removed Duracells; installed Energizer e2 Titaniums. These were on sale at Canadian Tire. They are alkalines. Very impressive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

rescued laser

I rescued Shawn's green laser pointer from the Ontario Science Centre!

On Wed 12 Nov, the RASC was busy at the OSC. I was running another NOVA course over in Studio 2. And there was a meeting planned over in the auditorium. It was a member night meeting, with various Centre members present various topics. In fact, Tony was planning to talk about the CAO, showing a presentation I had helped him with.

I had asked Shawn if he would help out at the NOVA course. He did, brining props, info sheets, lots of knowledge, and so on.

At some point, Shawn went over to the auditorium. And as he is want to do, he offered up his green laser pointer for the presenters to use.

Our NOVA session ran long. When the meeting wound down at the auditorium, no one grabbed Shawn's laser!

Fortunately, I got in touch with some OSC staffers, and at my request they headed over to the auditorium and found Shawn's pointer. Whew!

Monday, November 10, 2008

solar system objects by RA positions

I did up a new chart for the position of solar system objects by Right Ascension (RA). This is for 2009.

Once again I used Excel to produce the graph. But I did a few things a bit different this time, compared to last year.
  • Downloaded more granular data from USNO, every 7 days instead of 14. Hell, now that I think of it, I could go daily. Excel can handle it. More granularity gives smoother curves.
  • I created "dummy" or duplicate columns in the data set to handle the "loops" for Mercury and Mars. That was the inspired moment, the muses looking down on my brain. I don't know why I didn't figure that out last year. While it requires some manual intervention, it is an elegant trick to get another curve in the graph.
  • I let Excel interpolate values for the midnight line calculations. That said, I forgot to note the midnight line style in the legend...
  • Used a funky background fill pattern within the Plot Area, so to be a little more realistic. That said, it's too bad multiple dark and light regions could not be specified.
  • Having used the fill, now I'm forced to use JPEG as the image file format. I had to crank up the quality to reduce the lossy data dumping. And that in turn increased the file size.
  • Remembered to save the chart design in Excel under the User Defined. Should be able to build this much faster next year.

And if you want the Excel file, let me know...

Phoenix and the Big Sleep

The Mars Phoenix lander didn't wake up this weekend...

The mission ends.

OH09 arrived

I was greeted by a nice surprise in my mailbox today: the new Observer's Handbook.

This is the 2009 annual from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. The Sun emblazons the front cover; the Moon adorns the back. Very nice. Hopefully the Sun will prove more visually interesting in the new year.

Also noted on the front cover is the logo for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). There will be lots of cool stuff going on in 2009. Lots to look forward to.

Friday, November 07, 2008

make your mark

Consider that in 1 million years there's a good chance that the human race will be long gone.

gadgets added

I just added some "gadgets" to my blog.
  • lunar calendar showing the Moon's phase
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD)
  • current sky display by Starry Night
  • and some World Clocks
The Moon one I think will be really handy!

In adding these multimedia dynamic elements, I had to re-jig the overall page layout, widening each content area, the left main panel, and the right links panel, by 50 pixels each.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

foggy dew (Stoney Creek)

As I left Toronto for Linda and Dave's new house is Stoney Creek, I caught the weather segment on 680 News radio: Environment Canada had issued a weather warning for the Hamilton and Niagara areas. Heavy fog was reported in these areas. Damn! It was clear and sunny in Toronto. On seeing the good conditions outside my window, I had decided to pack all my gear so to do some observing from Linda and Dave's location. A site they described as surprisingly dark.

I hit the soup right on schedule, along the QEW Niagara, leaving Burlington, as I began to cross the Skyway Bridge. Ugh. It wasn't looking good.

As we waited for Linda to make the commute from Toronto, I stole glances outside. The Moon was visible! And each time I looked, it improved. Hmmm. Maybe the fog was part of a passing front and it would pass through.

After dinner, I peaked outside again. Stars!

We headed outside. Dave helped me set up the telescope. I targetted the Moon. It looked great. Dave was impressed. He returned to the house to shut off the lights and call Linda. We talked about the Moon at length. Dave wanted to know the age of craters, why some looked newer than others, what the dark regions were.

Next stop: the Pleiades (M45). I had them view it through the finder scope. It clearly showed the gaggle of stars floating on a black canvas. I encouraged them, in the future, to bring their binoculars outside when they had a clear night. It would offer the same view.

I tried to find some Messier objects in Auriga but I was not successful.

M42, the great nebula in Orion, was visible. The Trapezium stars, the large 4, were easy to spot. The molecular cloud was faint but there...

I turned to Albireo. So beautiful. They enjoyed the colours.

I asked if they wanted a challenge. We went for the Double-Double in Lyra. I gradually increased the magnification from 50x to 110x. I could see the double pairs. I think they spotted them too. Linda head indoors to warm up.

Dave asked about some star patterns. We discussed Casseopeia and Perseus.

We were getting chilled so we packed everything in the garage. I checked my Oregon Scientific weather station which I had set on the patio: 95% humidity at 7°. Good for race car engines but not for lightly clothed astronomers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

impromptu observing (Don Mills)

After the NOVA lesson about the Moon, we congregated in the Science Centre's north parking lot, east edge. Denis had his giant binos on an Orion mount. I mounted my cheapo binos on my cheapo DIY bino clamp on my monster tripod.

Moon was at first quarter. The craters in the south hemisphere were pronounced in long shadows.

I caught a star just above, to the left, about 11 o'clock position, about 2 to 3 moon diameters away, and asked NOVA class participants if they could see it. I encouraged them to note it in their logs...

Jupiter was too low now. Too bad.

We could see some stars. But it was a little foggy. Seeing below an altitude of 15° was very poor. Vega was visible. In binos, we could see ε (epsilon) Lyra, or at least the main pair of the Double Double. I could see Deneb easily and a couple of other stars of Cygnus. Tried for Albireo. But I'm not sure if I got it. Pat spotted the Great Square directly overhead. With that we could see parts of the Andromeda constellation, Cassiopeia, Perseus. I tried to spot The Big Dipper so to view Mizar and Alcor. But it was completely fogged out.

tricks for apo and peri

I learned some tricks this evening, during the NOVA course, that others use to remember the distance associated with the prefixes "apo" and "peri," such as in aphelion (of the Sun) and perigee (of the Moon).

Alliteration: "apo" starts with the same later as "away."

Size: "apo" is the same length as "far;" whereas, "peri" is the same size as "near."

Monday, November 03, 2008

consulting again

Malcolm emailed me after his drive home tonight. He asked, "What planet is above the moon right now?" I replied to his CrackBerry: Jupiter.

Kind of impressive that he knew it wasn't a star...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

server set up

I went to the Carr Astronomical Observatory this week end for a mini-work party. We need to prepare the house for the new electrical generator. So, red wiring (to code) was installed to which the new baseboard heaters will be attached. Meanwhile, Nicole and Gilles worked on the hung ceiling tiles; Savio and Pat worked on the improving seals in the GBO.

My job(s) were... varied.
  • bring new (donated) computer to facility
  • swap Internet Keyboard from new computer to Hercules
  • set up new computer as server in designated location
  • install new large hard disk in machine for additional storage
  • re-format new hard disk with 2 large partitions
  • install new UPS to new server, configure
  • test a power failure
  • connect server to weather station
  • begin regular uploading of weather data to web site
  • configure additional security system with new server
  • configure auto-start of weather and security apps
  • implement remote access to server
  • forward ports in our router for server apps
  • configure server with a fixed IP address
  • remove weather software from living room computer
  • install new 3 station intercom system
Along the way, other issues (surprise) cropped up.
  • Dietmar reported the phone in the GBO wasn't working.
  • I found IE the default browser on the new laptop.
  • I found the placement of the living room computer very poor.
So, I was a little busy on Friday and Saturday evenings at the CAO.

By around 9:30 PM, I felt like I was finally done. All the critical things were complete for the new systems. So I can lend a hand on Sunday to the generator prep...

helped Savio & Pat (Blue Mountains)

Savio came into the house, eyeglasses immediately fogging up. I asked how he and Pat were doing at their visual observing. Savio said that he had been trying for a galaxy but had not found it. Which one, I asked? He said he wanted to find the Andromeda galaxy. No problem! I grabbed my winter coat and Subaru toque! Oh, and I borrowed Nicole's green laser.

I showed both Savio and Pat how I locate the Great Square with constellations Pegasus on the right and Andromeda on the left. Then I pointed out the 2 large arcs of Andromeda, flowing toward Perseus. And finally I showed how I started at alpha, went to the first pair, continued to the second pair, with beta on the bottom and mu on the top, and how I turned right or to zenith continuing to nu and concluding at a faint third star. But that just to the right of the third star, there it was, visible naked eye, the width of your pinkie extended.

I hope that helped...

Jupiter, Moon, Venus (Blue Mountains)

I popped out during dinner to catch the show. The skies looked very clear.

The Moon had drawn up and to the left of Venus. They formed an almost perfect horizontal line. Like last night, they seemed to be about 6 to 7 degrees apart.

And up high, to the left, Jupiter, lording over them all.

I saw Richard take a photograph later. I'll have to ask him how it turned out...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Moon & Venus (Etobicoke)

I caught the very thin Moon just above the horizon. And above it, Venus, glowing brightly! They were lovely. I didn't think I was going to see them.


My day started out... not badly. Just late. I was very tired in the morning. I kept hitting the snooze button. By the time I got up, the morning was shot. My plans to unload the car of telescope gear and repack with tools and computers for the CAO work party would be delayed. With an east-end client meeting scheduled to finish at 4:00 PM, I resigned myself to leaving later. I would pack up after the meeting. Take my time. Wait for the rush hour traffic insanity to thin. I also needed to pick up a UPS for the new CAO server computer. And as the day played out, it was obvious that I'd have to do that on the way north. And that's how everything gelled.

I was very near the Lakeshore and Gardiner when I suddenly remembered I still had to buy the UPS. Geez! What is it? This was not the first time that when I get in the car and start driving that I totally forget things I need to do! I made a snap decision to travel west along the Queensway and hit the computer shops out near The West Mall. I recalled the Best Buy big box store.

What a pleasant surprise to spot the Moon during the drive! It was very thin. Three days old, it turns out. Close to the horizon, perhaps 7 or 8 degrees up, in a dark orange sky.

(With the mobile phone/iPod ban coming down the pipe, I wondered what may come of astronomers who stare at the sky while driving their vehicles...)

I had completely forgotten about this conjunction. Early in the week, I had documented the event on the November astronomical calendar I made up for the NOVA class participants. At the time, I had wondered if I would be at the CAO. Ironically, given my late departure tonight, I would not have seen it there. So it was a real treat to witness this in the city. I remembered that Venus should be near by. There she was! Up (about 6 or 7 degrees) and to the left (at about a 30 degree angle).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

occultation mockultation (Pontypool)

Guy offered to conduct a "mockultation" for RASC Toronto Centre members, a simulated occultation of a star by an asteroid.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
He assigned a target star for us to find. He arranged that the occultation would occur at approximately 9:21 PM. He would beep his car horn when it disappeared and again when it reappeared. We were to capture the times by whichever method we preferred and then be prepared to do the necessary "personal" calculations.

We met in the parking lot of the Long Sault Conservation Area at 7:30 PM. Matti, David, Eric, Mark, Theresa, Frank, and Guy. We had lots of time to set up. I was the first one ready to go. I asked Guy to verify my eyepiece view of the target star. I was at the right spot! I set up my new shortwave radio to one of the CHU frequencies. I tested recording with my yepp digital media device. Everything was ready to go.

8:56 PM. I check both of my portable weather stations. Air pressure was 100.1 kPa. Humidity is between 53% and 63%. Temperature was between 1.1°C and 2.5°C. Eric took a reading with his new Sky Quality Meter: 22.42.

At 9:00 I fired up the drive on the telescope and started the audio recording. The target star in the centre of the eyepiece. The others were chit-chatting and milling about. Guy reminded everyone to be ready! I was already in my seat. I was a little nervous... Even though nothing was going to happen to the star. It was close to 9:20. There was a lot of chatter, excitement in the air, a bustle. And I made a rookie mistake...

For some reason, I decided to change something on my radio or audio recorder. As soon as I walked away from the eyepiece, I thought, "You shouldn't do that. It could happen at any mo--"


Guy had beeped his horn.

I just started laughing...

I made it back to the eyepiece just as Guy honked again.

I was laughing so hard that I forgot to yell "gone" and "back."

What a riot.

We asked Guy if we could try again. "Nope." Tough love.

Well, at least I learned a lot.


Guy wanted us there at 7:30 for an occultation time of 9:21. For me, this was the perfect amount of time. Without rushing, I was ready to go with about 20 minutes to spare. Lots of time to take a biobreak, verify things, fix snags, a relax a little.

The hard part, I can see, would be finding the target star. If it's a mag 11 or 12 in a bright sky, off the beaten track in a constellation, I could see that being a challenge. And if you're on your own, you don't have some one to check and confirm it. You have to be 100% certain. And you need to have good charts! With lots of stars.

The booster battery pack was very low! I had not charged it after the last use. And it's been sitting in the garage during this cold snap. I need to move it back inside for the winter and, obviously, top it up.

My shortwave radio was surprisingly sensitive to elevation. When I set it on the table, the reception degraded; when I held it high over my head, it improved. But it's not line of sight! Where the trees or hillocks interfering? I'll have to talk to Guy about that.

While waiting for the occultation time, I decided to learn a couple more constellations. Using my old planisphere, I located Pisces, below Andromeda and Pegasus. It's big. I reviewed Aries and Triangulum. And then I tried to pick off Camelopardaris (sp?). Very faint stars.

And finally I learned that one mustn't leave the eyepiece... Sheesh. I could have told you that!

And, if you miss it, you miss it. Wow, that would be a downer. If, for whatever reason, you weren't at the eyepiece, and you realise, oh, I'm a little late. Well, you're screwed. Pack up and go home.


Met fellow member Matti this evening. Actually, we had chatted on the Yahoo!Groups when I had made my request for a computer. While he did not offer a full machine, he did offer a large number of computer parts and peripherals.

Matti had called Guy to see if he could get a lift to the Long Sault. Guy had just accepted to give a ride to David. I offered my passenger seat to Matti. Picked him up at 6:15 PM. He's been a RASC member for a long time.

He brought his 15 x 70 binoculars. They offered very nice views. He mounted these on a very interesting cantilevered swing arm contraption with counter-weight by Orion. I believe it is called the Paragon mount.

The view of The Andromeda Galaxy was pleasing. However, the Double Cluster and the Pleiades (Messier 45 or M45) were breath-taking. Very three dimensional!

Matti asked for my help locating the target star. I helped him get to centred on the area.


9:41 PM. Humidity was holding steady. The Sky Quality Meter showed 20.58.

After the mockultation, I decided to target some items in the east. I looked at γ (gamma) and λ (lambda) Aries. Nice double stars.

λ Aries appears to have a separation of about 15 to 20 arcseconds. Haas says 36.7" (in 2003). The main star is yellow. I can't tell the companion colour for certain. It seems blue with averted vision and dark orange under direct viewing.

γ Aries looks like 2 eyeballs. White. Same brightness. Haas says the separation is 7.5" as of 2004.

10:09 PM. Tried for NGC 772 in Aries. It is just a smudge in the wide field eyepiece. No time to sketch it...

Guy was also casually viewing the sky. He offered a spectacular 26x view of the Andromeda galaxy (Messier 31 or M31). Wow! Very nice seeing it with Messier 32 (M32) and Messier 101 (M101). [ed: Er, I think I meant Messier 110 or M110.]