Sunday, April 27, 2008

booked for Mew Lake

I have decided to go to this year's Algonquin Adventure, over the Sep 27-28 weekend, at Mew Lake organised by Lillian and Bob Chapman of the Toronto Centre RASC. I look forward to the fun activities, astronomy on the beach, dark skies, and getting to meet more RASC members.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

in the 'hood

Bumped into John B and his son Michael on Dundas West. I saw them walking along the sidewalk, tapped the horn, and pulled into the next available parking lot. We chit chatted about the beautiful weather, astronomy, the loaner telescopes now available to Toronto Centre members, the upcoming RASC General Assembly, as well as motorsport and advanced driving.

Friday, April 25, 2008

fantastic skies (Union)

The skies looked spectacular from Mom's backyard!

Saturn was still brighter than Regulus. Mars had shifted up a little more to the east, forming an equilateral triangle with Pollux and Castor. Cancer was easily spotted. Ursa Major completely upside-down.

Not as much glow from St. Thomas.

I briefly considered observing. But I had not brought down any of the usual gear. I had not collimated the Newtonian. Mom, very tired, had already turned in. And I was tired from the drive and late-night summer tire change on Mom's car. I then considered whole sky observing. Maybe I'd catch some Lyrids...

Instead, I retired to the house, a glass of scotch, and a bad horror flick.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

revised CAO handbook

There's a special document provided to visitors heading to the RASC Toronto Centre's Carr Astronomical Observatory. It includes various notes, instructions on opening and closing things, emergency contacts, etc.

Last fall, I created an improved map (with Adobe Illustrator) for inclusion into the handbook. It had not yet been updated with this new diagram. And some other details now required updating. Tony seemed a little backlogged so I offered to revise it.

I applied the following changes:
  • replaced old map with my new one
  • replaced old parking pass with new one
  • updated header with new version (3.20 from 3.12) and new date (Apr 2008 from Aug 2007)
  • updated footer with new copyright year
  • set language properly for spelling checking to English (Canada) [from US]
  • fixed various typos and minor layout problems
  • fixed inconsistent quote and apostrophe symbols
  • repaired many heading style assignments, and then...
  • regenerated Table of Contents
You can tell there have been a few cooks in the kitchen...

I also changed the name of the file. The old name had multiple periods which I explained is not good in Micro$oft Windows.


During a future visit to the area, I'm going to visit the nearby villages and collect some handy information, such as the nearest pharmacies, clinics, hardware stores, and LCBO. Important stuff, you know.

helped Clive

Clive just joined the RASC.

He had questions about his eyepieces, their power, which he should use and when.

He quickly received lots of good advice from fellow Toronto Centre members.

I made up an Excel spreadsheet for him. I calculated the power of each eyepiece by dividing the focal length of the tube by the eyepiece. I also calculated the true field of view, assuming the eyepieces were Kellners with the classic 40° apparent field. Told him I found this fact extremely useful when looking at charts...

Emailed it off to him today.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

finally returned

I audited tonight's NOVA course.

I was hoping that Marilyn or Len would be in attendance. I was going to hand off Geoff's hand controller and ask if they could drop it off to him, just a concession or two away. When, to my satisfaction, I saw Geoff at the front of the class: he was tonight's instructor! How convenient.

So, he finally has his Vixen DD-1 controller back, with new red/orange bi-colour LED.

trick for Pollux - Castor order

I learned a great trick tonight from Geoff for remembering the order or sequence of Pollux and Castor:

Pollux is closer to Procyon; Castor is closer to Capella.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

thanks from Runnymede

Note from Hilary on behalf of the Runnymede Public School Volunteer Committee:
It is us who should be thanking you! It was a wonderful evening - you have summarized it beautifully in your [message]. I heard a lot of compliments on both your A/V presentation (and your ability to keep the kids' attention) and the outside - I love that one of our teachers called to her husband to say that he HAD to come to see Saturn!

We so appreciate your time, and that of the RASC crew - please pass along our thanks to William, John, Tony, and Ken. We're hoping to do something again in future, now you've shown that there is indeed interest. The headcount was approximately 80 people - 70 attended the talk inside (equal amounts kids and adults) and another 10-15 joined us outside - amazing!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Runnymede event a success

I'd like to take a moment to thank the generous volunteers who supported me at the Runnymede Public School star party.

The Runnymede PS Volunteer Committee had asked me to conduct a brief talk on astronomy in the library and then give everyone a chance to look through a telescope. I knew I'd need lots of help to pull this off.

From the RASC Toronto Centre, William S (80mm refractor, info sheets), John B (8" Dobsonian), Tony H (5" Mak-Cass), and Ken B (binos and green laser), joined myself (8" SCT, super-green laser), and parents Jennifer and Alex C (10" Dob, orange safety cones) in the school yard at dusk. Everyone put on a good show for the kids and others!

We had many passers by, cyclists, baseball players dropped in too. I gather we made quite the commotion on Runnymede Rd North.

Saturn was the big attraction, of course. Everyone could easily see Titan. Alex and Jennifer's big Dob coaxed out Rhea, Dione, and the gaggle Tethys/Mimas/Enceladus, as well as clouds and shadows on the planet's surface.

The weather conditions were remarkably good. It was warm! No dew (as predicted). And the air became extremely stable around 9:30 to 10:00 PM as I started to view double stars! Rock solid! We were not troubled by the bright 15.9 day old Moon.

Everyone had left and during my last trip to the car I finally saw a flyover (around 10:19 PM)! Started very bright in the north, estimated mag. 1 or 0 even, about 25° up, travelled slowly to the east, passing through Gemini and under Mars, dimming rapidly now, and finally disappearing below Procyon. I have no idea what it was. Spy-Sat, I assume.

I was honoured with the assistance of the RASC crew. Could not have done it without them. A big thanks is due to Jennifer and Alex for the help in advance and during. Thank you to Hilary I for inviting me to share my life-long passion with the children and parents of Runnymede Public. And finally, a big thanks to the custodial staff of the school for shutting off the lights for us!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

TC web site

The ISP owner forgot to advise me of the IP address switch for the RASC Toronto Centre web site. Took me the better part of the day to track down problems and fix it. And then I discovered that the Sympatico servers were not updating... Ugh.

While we're not doing mission critical stuff, it's a shame the web site was down for such a long time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tony's star party report

I really meant to have a report out before now, but that's just life. :-)

We had a really great time on Tuesday night! Skies were not perfect but fine enough for our purposes. About 60 students and family came out to Park Lithuania and were received by 7 RASC TC members and their 'scopes. Wow! What a turnout! The range of 'scopes available to view Saturn, Mars, the Moon, double stars, the Orion Nebula and more were: tripod-mounted binos, several short refractors, a 5" Mak-Cass, a 8" Schmidt Cass, an 8" and 12.5" Dobsonians! We ran from about 8:15 PM to 10:15.

There were several interesting visitors too, probably most of all was a quite elderly grandmother who could only speak with us via the translation of her 11-year old son (in Russian?). She bounced from one 'scope to another, hungrily soaking up the photons processed by each, all the while posing incessant questions about the view/object, or about the sky overhead. She was obviously rekindling long ago fond memories of sky watching. As always, a green laser pointer was efficient in guiding newbies to the points of interest. What did we do before pointers?!

I was quite impressed - and proud - of the courteous and enthusiastic manner of or volunteers (as is usual) and this was not lost among our visitors. In fact, I understand there was quite a buzz in the school the next morning after the star party. Thanks from the RASC Toronto Centre go to the following members for their kind participation in stimulating the community of Keele Street School:

John Bohdanowicz
Bob Dorcas
Denis Grey
Tony Horvatin
Scott Masterton
Blake Nancarrow
William Stanley

Take a bow all!

Special thanks go to Scott and Bob as these two gents came down from Unionville and Alliston respectively!!

If you missed out on assisting at this event, don't worry because in about a week's time there will be another such event arranged at a west Toronto public school, organized by Blake Nancarrow. Stay tuned....

Tony :-)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

triple booked

Tonight, I so wanted to set the telescope up...

It was another "members' night" for the Toronto RASC. Not to mention, another session for the NOVA programme students. There are some matters that I could have tended to. And I could have attempted a hand-off of Geoff's repaired DD-1 controller.

It was the Saab Club's Annual General Meeting. I like to cast a vote. I like to know what's going on. I could have chatted with Ken, John, John, Fred, Scott, and others about the impending driving schools. I forgot to send in my proxy vote.

I could have, despite a bright Moon, gazed at stars, clusters, galaxies, and double stars...

Instead, I spent the evening behind computer monitor getting my company records caught up.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

helped Tony at Keele (Toronto)

Tony had planned an astronomy event for the kids at the Keele Street Junior Public School and he put out the call for volunteers during the evening star party. It was just a couple of blocks away...

We observed from the Lithuania Park. Not a bad spot. Good sight lines to the west, east, and north. South and south-west are tall apartment buildings, but hey. And once Tony and I blocked the park lamps (huh?!), the eastern views were even better!

I enjoyed the view of the Moon in the new 36mm baader planetarium eyepiece. Not too crowded, good detail. This will be a wonderful eyepiece for occultations and close conjunctions.

William caught the Great Orion Nebula and the Trapezium before it ducked behind trees. Good for him. I had put Orion targets out of mind assuming they'd be hidden by apartment towers.

Attention quickly went to Saturn. Immediately, I could see Titan, off to the far left, about 3 to 4 ring widths away, at 110x. Later, as it got darker, I could see Rhea, on the right, about 1 ring width away. I could not spot Tethys or Dione...

The kids were quite enthusiastic!

Late in the evening, I turned to some double stars: Mizar and Alcor, Algieba, and Polaris... γ (gamma) Leo (aka Algieba) was very nice, very pretty when the air settled. The very faint companion of Polaris was barely visible. In fact, William couldn't find it in his small refractor. I helped him out, getting him to look in my 'scope, and then suggesting he use a non-zoom eyepiece, to try to simplify the light path. We finally found it. Tough target.

As we began packing up at 10:00 PM, I noted the temperature (5.5°C) and humidity (60%) with the Oregon Scientific.


As anticipated, the 40mW green laser was a huge hit with the kids. They were freaking out when I used it, insisting I shine it on the ground. Many of these kids wanted to know how much it cost and where I got it. Weird.

I am still not sure if it is working correctly. It seemed, like the first two units, to be fluctuating. Tony commented on it too... Damn it. We'll see what happens at the Runnymede event.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

8" OK

Tested the 8" Kendrick dew heater wrap.
  • Continuity test: positive!
  • Resistance test: 7.5 ohms.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Skyways updated

The Skyways addendum and errata is online!

In the summer of 2007, I bought Mary Lou Whitehorne's publication for educators. And discovered, in short order, that a number of the web site links had moved or changed.

(Web site authors and editors still don't seem to understand this... When you put something online on the net, you're not supposed to move or rename it. Ever.)

Alas, I began to write an addendum and errata document (for the English version). I submitted this for preliminary review to the Toronto Centre president. I wanted to see this distributed as soon as possible since I saw it being used by the Toronto Centre instructors for the current NOVA program. But we need Mary Lou's blessing.

She took time out of her busy schedule to review and consolidate my submission. And she thanked me for helping her with this. It was my pleasure. Now we've got updated information out there for all to benefit from.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

8" broke too?!

Last night, when I resolved to pack it in, I quickly moved the small, light items to the garage. I sealed and covered the 'scope. And I turned on the security lights.


Today, as I packed everything away neatly, for my return to Toronto, I caught, out of the corner of my eye, a break in the cable cover of the 8" Kendrick dew heater, near the RCA plug. Oh, for crying out loud! That's broken now too?

I was feeling very dejected. The 2" heater is pooched. I haven't "hacked" it to figure out where it is faulty. If I'm lucky, it will be a break in a lead wire, and not the heater proper...

My first impression of the 8" situation was that the outer sheath had cracked or separated. On closer examination, it was only that the sheath had been pulled away from the plug.

The white lead wires within looked okay. I suspect that the cable got strained and stretched last night, with the controller dangling down, pulling on the cable. I must avoid this in the future.

I'll have to perform a continuity test to verify the heater is still functional.

overdue for alignment

I wonder if the view in Mom's 6" Newtonian has eroded a little as I've not done any collimation. Not since I did it the first time. Over four years ago!

I've heard that you need to do this regularly for reflectors.

Mom's 'scope has certainly been bounced around and jostled about.


And I shall add another item (collimate) to my observing session "pre-flight" check list.


Maybe that's what was bugging me last night. Maybe that's why I felt my vision was off. Sure, I am suffering another cold. But still, maybe the 'scope is way off and that made it seem less crisp, less contrasty.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

sick and damp (Union)

I probably should not have gone out.
Intrument: Edmund Scientific 6-inch Newtonian
Mount: equatorial
Method: star hopping
It seems that I am making up for lost time, experiencing my third bad cold in two months. I had a long run, about 15 months of good health. Presently, not feeling well, the usual cold symptoms. But the prediction of clear weather drew me in. And the New Moon!

Early this morning, I packed up the car with a change of clothes, toothbrush, cold medicine, astronomy gear including (new) baader eyepiece and (third time with charm) green laser, a few items for Mom and Donna's impending mega garage sale, and belated birthday presents for Mom and Steve... After arriving at Mom's and taking a brief break, I began the afternoon astronomy setup.

Remembered to shut off all the security lights. Remembered to align the telescope mount to magnetic north, minus the magnetic declination of 8° 53' west. Documented the dewpoint and predicted low. Removed the 2" barrel from the baader eyepiece and affixed the 1¼" adapter. Got out Mom's observing chair. And remembered to put the dark red cell over Mom's iMac monitor.


9:15 PM. I was outside, bundled up, and ready to go. Orion, low, behind the big tree. I noticed the Pleiades over the peak of the den roof. But when I tried to sight it with the 'scope, I saw that it was blocked. Already too low. Too bad. That should be very nice in Mom's 6" Newtonian with the baader planetarium 36mm eyepiece... Oh well. I pondered what else I might use for a wide-field target. The double cluster between Perseus and Cassiopeia was already too low as well. Hmmm.

In the meantime, I decided to target Saturn. Before popping in the Meade 18mm, I remembered to remove the middle adapter ring. Pretty. Titan off the right, I assume. [Yep.] A number of field stars above and left. Could make out the north equatorial belt in the planet's clouds. The air was fairly steady. But something bugged me a little with respect to the view. Can't put my finger on it. I could focus and get it crisp. But slightly, there was something a little unsatisfying. Something to do with my eyes? The scratch in the left eyeglass lens? I dunno...

I think I can tell that the ring angle is closing...

I thought about going to the Meade 4mm. But didn't I have a problem with it before? That I couldn't move the focuser rack-and-pinion far enough? I tried it and, yes, the focuser cannot extend (out) far enough. So, again, this eyepiece in the Edmund is useless! Unless I can figure out some way to change the focuser.

There is a lot of vibration on the deck. Oh, to have a permanent observatory...

Oh. Polaris was visible. Let's see how I did on my alignment. Pretty close. Maybe off by a degree? Or less? That's not bad. I could tell it was off a little because Saturn would drift, even with the motor running, out of view.

9:31 PM. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a quick meteor travel through Orion, heading east to west, essentially parallel to the line between Betelgeuse and Bellatrix, just a bit lower. Again, brief. Quite faint with a brief train. A Lyrid? A bit late for it, no?

It was very clear to the south and south-west! I could easily see Cancer and the head and body of Cetus. It really is dark out here at Mom's... Ah! Cancer. I could try for some double-star and DSO targets in The Crab. In fact, naked eye, I could see the Beehive (M44), near the central star, δ (delta). Ah, and that would be a good wide-field target...

Popped in the 36mm. Took a look. No stars. Adjusted the focuser. Blurs reduced in size, just a little bit more... Jam! What?! I hit the limit of the rack-and-pinion again! Inward, this time. So, close. It looks like I only need another turn or two. Crikey. This is not good. We have 5 eyepieces now. And only 3 work in the Newt. And 2 of those are basically the same!

I took the 2" to 1¼" adapter out and gently moved the eyepiece close to the focuser shaft: it worked! I could get it in focus! Sure, there was hand-shake. Not a practical solution. But an interesting test. Maybe if I could get a "compressed" or shorter adapter... I'll have to look into that. Or maybe fabricate something?

I reinserted the Edmund 1" eyepiece and centred to the middle of Praesepe and took a moment to focus well. I could see a couple dozen fine blue stars with the odd yellow one.

Maybe I should have brought the binos out for these wide objects.

I considered, for a long time, going for β (beta) Monoceros. While I could make out a number of the constellation's stars between Cetus, Cancer, Orion, and Canis Major, the target was tangled in the branches of the big tree. I decided I did not want fight that.

My papers were feeling a little damp. I looked at the telescope tube as I ran my finger along it. Dew! The Telrad glass plate was coated. Oh boy. 9:53 PM. The temperature was between 2.1 and 1.3°C. Relative humidity was between 58% and 70%. No denying it.

I hauled out the custom AC-CLA adapter and plugged it in. I pulled out the ole' Kendrick dew heater and plugged it in. Clicked it on to test for power: check! Knowing that the broken Kendrick 2" eyepiece dew heater wrap was back in Toronto on my desk, I pulled out the 8" heater and coiled it, several times, around the focuser and eyepiece. And finally I popped into the garage to retrieve the custom Telrad heater: this would be its first official assignment! Set the controller to max. and, while I waited, took in some constellations.

Steve came out 'round then. He had my beer, "Thanks, dude!" I was back on the Beehive trying to get the 'scope to settle and track. I offered the eyepiece to him but I'm not sure he saw anything... The 'scope was very sensitive to jarring and an accidental touch. Perhaps the clutch was slipping. Still, even on target, M44 was not very exciting.

As Mom and Donna came out, I re-aimed to Saturn. They enjoyed that.

We talked about a few stars and constellations.

"What's that pink one?" asked Mom pointing to the bright star in the east. I checked my planisphere. "That's Arcturus," I said. "It's a red star. It's pretty low. I see how you can get the pink colour."

I pointed out Saturn, Regulus, M44, and some naked-eye faint fuzzies (or "little clouds") in Auriga with the laser. They were very impressed with the bright green beam and the dust particles move through it.

"What's the really, really bright star to the south-west?" Sirius, of course.

When Mom asked, "What's the bright star over there?", I gave her the laser. She hit her target. "Ah, that's Betelgeuse, one of the shoulders of Orion." That worked out well! She could, without ambiguity, point to objects she was curious out. I'll have to remember that technique in the future—to give the inquirer the pointer.

The laser worked quite well despite the temperature. But then, I was keeping it in my hip pocket.

I offered to chase a couple of galaxies in Ursa Major over head but Donna was tired and anxious to leave. We chitchatted for a bit and then they headed home. Mom never returned outside. Probably a good thing. I've not had much luck before with these targets. As well, the Newt is not easy to use for circumpolar objects.

Frustrated, I felt I needed to find something new! OK. Having forgot or misplaced my Sky and Telescope winter constellation list, I jumped directly to Haas's double stars book. Scanned quickly, without trying to read the detailed description, for "showcase" doubles in Cancer. ι (iota) sounded good. Let's go.

11:00 PM. For some reason, I had a really hard time with the Telrad. The angle of the tube? My right eye? My vision? My cold? Sick? Tired? Sick and tired...? Finally, I was sure I had it bull's eyed. Through the 48x eyepiece was a very pleasing double star with a handful of nearby fine white field stars. The main star was a light yellow or straw colour; the slightly fainter companion was... blue. Aqua? Green? No, I'm pretty sure a medium blue. Somewhat close at the low power.

Viewed iota-1, not to be confused with iota-2.

I was done. It was 11:19 PM. 81%, -0.5°C. And my cough was getting worse.