Friday, February 29, 2008


I bought a plastic toboggan today. I plan to use it to haul my telescope gear up to the RASC Toronto Centre observatory for the Messier Marathon. Apparently, the road to the observatory is not plowed so not passable by car. That means you have to lug or pull your own food, sleeping gear, and observing equipment...

Picked up a Pelican Mega Snow Glider at Zellers.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

modern eyepiece

I went eyepiece shopping today!

I wanted a wider field and/or lower power than what I have now. The old 26mm Plössl by Celestron, which I believe has a 52° field of view, offers me 77 power and a final field of 0.68°. That shows the Moon with a bit of a border. But it truncates the Double Cluster in Perseus and M45...

I first visited Efstonscience. This is where I bought my SCT telescope, so there's a certain amount of loyalty (guilt?) I feel. That said, as I was walking in the back door to the place, I had a flashback to some previous visit where I did not get the warm fuzzies. I put that out of my mind: let's collect data!

Bruce was busy on the phone as I wandered into the showroom. The other rep was helping a woman with a Swarovski purchase. I surveyed the central display cabinet. First impression: there are a lot of empty slots... Still, I spotted a few candidates. Later, Bruce supplied some stats. All are 2" shaft eyepieces except the first Tele Vue.

make model fl
Tele Vue Plössl 40 43?! 120
Meade 5000 super-wide (green) 40 68 400
Tele Vue Panoptic 35 68 380
Celestron Axion LX
31 82 420
Meade 5000 ultra-wide (blue) 30 82 400
Celestron Axiom LX
23 82 320

The Celestrons and Meades are huge! They look massively heavy. Ungainly. Bruce reminded me that shifting the OTA in the rings helps deal with any weight or balance issues...

As much as I tried, I could not make myself feel comfortable. I don't think Bruce did anything wrong per se. But I just didn't want to leap... So, off to Khan. Maybe I'll bump into Ray or Eric...


As I walked into Khan Scope Centre, I saw Eric hunkered over the computer register. I said hello. Eric replied, "It's so nice to see a familiar face here." We chitchatted about space shuttles, lunar eclipses, old cars, and what not.

Onto the main event, Eric showed me a number of longish focal length eyepieces. For each, he calculated the true field of view. Nice touch. That let me get a very good impression of what I would see. But, as I surveyed what he had brought out, I wasn't bowled over. "Any other options?" I asked. "Oh, and let's pass on the 30mm Meade ultra-wide." Eric spotted some boxes on the lower shelf. "There are the Hyperions..."

He brought out the 31 and 36 mm models and opened the box for the 36. It is an attractive looking eyepiece. We crunched the numbers: 36mm with a 72° AFOV yields a 1.3-ish degree TFOV. Nice! That's what I'm after. And the best news? Attractively priced! $269 for the 36 (and $249, I think, for the 31).

Sold! The baader planetarium Hyperion-Aspheric modular eyepiece comes with:
  • removable 2" eyepiece shaft
  • 1¼" eyepiece shaft adapter
  • soft case
  • 3 caps or covers
    • for the 2" shaft
    • for the eyepiece with rubber hood down
    • for the eyepiece with rubber hood up
  • "Phantom Group" coatings
The excellent price left me enough money to buy something else! So I picked up a 40mW green laser too!

I'm a very happy camper.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Runnymede date set

We are a GO for Monday 21 April. Hilary confirmed my requested date. I will deliver a brief astronomy presentation in the early evening at the Runnymede Public School and then we'll head outdoors for some observing.

I settled on and suggested this date to minimize the interference from the Moon. Hopefully, we'll be able to spot a few deep sky objects. And I'll have some 'scopes trained on the planets. Saturn should be spectacular!

Rain date not yet selected...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

on the radio

Scott called about free Leafs tickets. I was still feeling crummy from my cold and I really needed some R&R. Sadly, I had to decline.

We chatted briefly about the eclipse. Scott said they missed it. Couldn't see it from within the house (with no southern views) and were too tired/lazy to bundle up.

Dace piped up in the background saying she had heard me on the radio! She had been listening to the CBC Thursday morning I guess and caught the bit about the eclipse and my comment about future astronauts.

weather presentation rescheduled

With the good skies we had on Wednesday, my OneWorld weather station presentation to RASC members was not delivered. Paul asked if I would be OK pitching it on April 16. No problem for me...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

lunar eclipse night (Don Mills)

I helped at the lunar eclipse event co-hosted by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) this evening. Great fun!

This meant also that I did not deliver my weather station presentation...

Photo by Malcolm MacLeod with Canon PowerShot S2 IS. Through glass.

I kept tabs on the weather through the day. It really seemed touch-and-go but Guy and crew called it fairly early on, after examining the Clear Sky Clocks.

Still, I operated under the premise that the weather would foul. And that required that I move ahead with preparations for my weather station presentation. The big thing I had to do was photocopy the handouts.

I had arranged a ride with Tony up the OSC. I had also asked to borrow his old analog barometer, for a prop. We both suspected, as the afternoon wore on, that it wouldn't be needed. Still, we packed it.

Tony agreed to pick me up at my house! Saved me even more walking (I was tired for the earlier errands jaunt). While waiting outside, I enjoyed the clear dark skies. Orion was climbing high. Gemini was overhead.


The turn out was incredible. We had a lot of members and people from the general public at our meeting presentation (relocated to the Gemini room--a touch crowded).

Brenda did the "Sky This Month" presentation but seemed frazzled. Dennis did some preamble, touched about the Toronto Centre, RASC in general, the Observatory Park Working Group, and other matters. Guy stepped up to do his lunar eclipse piece but experienced technical difficulties in setting up the laptop and projector.

(I wonder if I could somehow help the team with general presentation tips...)

Later, outside, we were visited by hundreds of people, all ages. Sara reported that we had 450 visitors! Incredible.


In addition to the reddening Moon, we looked at Saturn and Mars.

Tony had his 10x Bushnell binoculars going albeit on a tiny tripod. Still, it worked. Nice view, at 10 times, of the Moon. I noticed his have the same quick focus rocker bar that mine have...

Through my 7x Bushnell binos, you could tell Saturn was not round; it looked like a tiny pale white football!

David had his 8" dob 'scope going. I helped stand guard and re-aim it later in the evening. So I got to take a few looks through the 12mm eyepiece at 100x. Nice view.

Titan was clearly visible to the right. A visitor spotted a faint moon very close to the rings. Tom guessed it was Rhea.

Pat had his huge 25x binoculars on a surveyor's tripod. Excellent view.

Tony, David, Pat, and myself forgot to look for the comet! Oops.


It was mighty cold tonight!

I had prepared. I had my Nomex long underwear on. Red winter coat with several layers underneath. New thermal socks and my winter boots. My feet did start to get cold at the end... Wore my Subaru toque. I had packed my ski pants and suspenders but did not put them on. I had also packed my new balaclava.

Tony loaned me an air-activated heat pack by HeatMax. Incredible stuff. It took a few minutes to get going but once it fired up, it was hot! I only used one and kept flipping it back and forth between gloves.

I had considered my butane hand warmer but thought twice about using it. Probably not appropriate with lots of people around, including little humans.


The media was out again. CTV interviewed David at length. A reporter from CBC Radio was interviewing a young boy in my area. And then he turned to me for some more questions. I commented on how some of these kids here tonight, enthused about astronomy and science, could very well be future astronauts going to live and work on Mars!


I invited a bunch of people to the event:

Malcolm and the kids. Admittedly, I was not surprised they did not trek out to the OSC. It is a long way for them to go. Still, they enjoyed the view from their backyard. I imagine they could easily view it from the back porch.

I invited Hilary and Cam and the kids. No word from them. Cam sent me an unrelated message earlier in the day.

I invited Alex (and Jennifer and kids). It would have been nice to finally meet up with Alex before we do our Runnymede astronomy event. Alas, they did not show. Later, I heard back from Alex: work and kid schedules made it impossible for them. Still, they took it in from their neighbourhood.


I heard from Diane after the event. Long time no chat. She sent along a photo from a friend or co-worker.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

OneWorld not accurate?

A fellow RASC Toronto Centre member bought the OneWorld tws1000 portable weather station. We talked about it and he briefly showed it to me at a society meeting. But, in the end, he thought it inaccurate and unsatisfactory.

A pity.

I do think it is a satisfactory unit. Particularly if you wait... if you time your purchase when Canadian Tire has it on sale.

More to the point: I do think it is very accurate with temperature, relative humidity, and air pressure.

(But not altitude or elevation!)

At $20, you can't really go wrong.

OK. That's not really fair. But you'll need to watch my upcoming presentation or review my product comparison worksheet for a detailed response....

Monday, February 18, 2008

NASA eye candy

The shuttle undocked from the International Space Station today. Later it flew around the station so the crew could snap some photos of the new configuration. This view is top-down, so the bow is up, starboard to the right, and you can clearly see the Columbus module, forming a sideways L-shape with the Node 2.

In turn, ISS crew snapped photos of the Shuttle while it swung around. Heh, one could almost mistake it flying over Mars...

Bye bye...

It looks so small!

Sunday, February 17, 2008


It is quite amazing what's happening in space right now. The moniker now really does apply: it is the International Space Station.

The photo here shows Dan Tani talking during the "farewell" ceremony. He was saying that it wasn't that long ago that these nations were not on friendly terms. Now, with the addition of the Columbus module to the ISS, a new era begins.

I was just a kid in the '60s and '70s. But I felt the anxiety, the trepidation, at the height of the Cold War. It was not difficult to imagine a military exchange. It was almost tangible the nervousness on the world stage between countries.

Today, what an incredible feeling. And this will all be further heightened next month with the Japanese module attached. The partnership and cooperation is inspiring.

We have some new countries to be wary of. But increasingly I feel that we are leaving our violent past behind us. As a unified planet, we are beginning our first serious steps toward expanding and helping the human race.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Unc' Rod likes it

Rod Mollise likes SkyTools for planning. Must be darn tootin' good, if Unc' Rod likes dem softwares!

Unfortunately, it appears to be the most expensive of all the tools out there...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

urban guide

Received Rod Mollise's The Urban Astronomer's Guide book today from Chapters Indigo.

I think a title like this might get me observing more. I need some motivation to get out there.

As it warms up, when I have a couple of days off, I'll move the car out of the garage, set the 'scope up, chat with the neighbours, and stay up late.

And then, the next evening, I'll do it all again!

beautiful launch

STS-122 rocketed away without a hitch! Repaired tank sensor system worked flawlessly (to latter burn up on return to Earth). The weather cooperated both at the launch and emergency landing sites.

My thoughts were with Toronto Centre RASC members Eric, Phil, Katrina, Scott, and Shawn. They were rewarded for their efforts! Can't wait to hear their reports...

Eric emailed us later:
It was great!  We managed to get out to the NASA Causeway so we were able to see the pad and the shuttle and everything.  We all got great pictures and video and look forward to showing them at an upcoming Members Night.
I'm jealous...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

modified controller

I modified Geoff's Vixen DD-1 dual-axis controller.

For some reason, Vixen decided to use the green colour of the two-colour LED for normal operation. The stock 3mm diffused bi-colour LED will change to red only when power is low. My SD-1 unit does not use green. Geoff found the colour very annoying. He had considered painting the dome. In the meantime, he had covered it with black tape. I offered to swap the LED for him.

Thus began efforts to source a bi-colour version without green, 3mm diameter, with three leads. I tried a number of local electronics vendors but could not find a suitable option. RASC member Ken offered a spare. Unfortunately, it wouldn't have worked.

So, I surfed around and finally settled on They had amber/red 3mm three-pole LEDs. Cheap. I ordered some blue flashing LEDs and large dome wide-angle deep red LEDs as well. My first online electronics purchase!

Fortunately, the new LED had the same polarity as the old... If they had been different, I would have installed alternately a simple two-pin red...

When I installed the new LED, I made a point of reversing the configuration, so the red burns under normal conditions. The amber will show when the batteries are low.

While it works well, the package is water-clear, not diffused. It might be too bright now!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

a fan

I received a nice accolade from member Bud regarding my new "webspotting" column in RASC Toronto Centre newsletter.
Very nice new eScope!  Lots of hard work by RASCals on various great projects!  Good to remember Andy Schuh. 

I see a nice article by Blake who points out that it used to be really hard to get any decent Astro Photos!
I had referred to the Astronomy Picture of the Day site.

Monday, February 04, 2008

visual gear to toolbox

Last fall, I purchased a second large 3 drawer toolbox from Canadian Tire (on sale of course). This precipitated a big shuffle of tools. When the dust settled, a medium-sized, plastic toolbox remained empty. And so it sat until today.

I moved all my "visual" telescope gear into this box. That is, all my eyepieces, the new (large) Williams Optics mirror diagonal, Barlow, cleaning supplies and cloths, and so on.

I have yet to add the old mirror diagonal and old yellow filter. There will be room to spare.

I'll get some foam padding installed to prevent things from flopping around. I'll get some desiccant in there to deal with dew. And I'll need to install some red lighting of course!

This move has made more room and reduced the weight (for now) in the two other astronomy boxes.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

old dog

I just now learned why the Tropics are named of Cancer and Capricorn!

This occurred while reading National Geographic Encyclopedia of Space...

Funny: I don't remember this being explained in my geography class.

Friday, February 01, 2008

webspotting 2 - APOD

First published in the Feb/Mar 2008 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. The URL was updated. Republished here with permission.


It used to be that for one to enjoy spectacular photographs of astronomical phenomena, you had to get a thick tome with a good selection of colour "plates." Remember those books? With a gaggle of high-quality colour pages in the centre?

For more frequent updates on current events, one needed to subscribe to an excellent astronomy magazine but hope that their printer's CMYK registration was 100%. Those images, while beautiful, always seemed somehow remote and incredible. They were especially fantastic in that they were produced at distant observatories—off limits to the general public—with very large telescopes, accurately tracked in their massive mounts, carefully and continuously exposed for many long hours and corrected by accomplished astronomers and skilled technicians.

Best efforts by amateurs in the '60s and '70s with small instruments amounted to slightly fuzzy, lacklustre, pale photographs. While they were short on detail, suffered from grain, and perhaps showed some trailing or coma, there was immediacy to them. They were tangible, close to home. Today, the world is very different!  Every day you can enjoy a stunningly beautiful image of an astronomical object, be it a rich planet, a mysterious moon, a glowing cloud of hydrogen, perhaps a remote galaxy of twinkling suns. (Perhaps those solar systems are home to more budding photographers capturing the Milky Way... framing it or displaying on a networked digital page.)

Some of those images are captured by orbiting 'scopes. But, remarkably, a good portion of the wonderful images today are shot by amateur astronomers using modest telescopes and consumer grade digital cameras or chilled CCD black boxes. Whether made by professionals or amateurs, these works appear daily in the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) web site ( Periodic visits here will make for one-stop shopping, consistently take one's breath away, and inspire.

If you don't already have the APOD site in your bookmarks or favourites, I encourage you to tag it. Visit often, perhaps daily. Many members already do. You might place it on your computer's active desktop. I’ve added it to my web portal page. It was so impressive when launched many years ago, my predecessor, Andy Schuh, added a link to our site. You’ll spot it at the bottom-left of the RASC Toronto Centre home page.

Need another reason to visit APOD daily? You might spot the work of a fellow RASCal!

Runnymede Public green light

Hilary left me a voice mail today: we are a go for an astronomy presentation and star party at the Runnymede Public School in April!

She thinks a scaled-down version of the Awenda presentation will work well. And she mentioned that someone else, one of the parents I believe, can bring out their telescope and help out...

Target date she mentioned is Monday 14 April. I don't know if that's cast in stone. The Moon will be big and bright and high, not an ideal situation. Mars and Saturn will hopefully be visible.

This is cool!