Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stellarium shortcuts

Here is an extensive listing of keyboard (and mouse) shortcuts you may use in the Windows version of Stellarium (0.9.1).

Most quick reference or "accelerator" listings (including the one inside Stellarium) are incorrectly designed in that they show the key first, then the action. You'll see I've done the opposite. I've also logically grouped related commands.

Note: I intentionally omitted the scripting commands...


controlling the surroundings
toggle on/off cardinal or compass pointsWW q
toggle on/off ground and buildings

toggle on/off ground fog
toggle on/off atmosphere or air


controlling sky appearance
toggle on/off stars
toggle on/off stars names*
toggle on/off constellation lines
toggle on/off constellation boundaries
toggle on/off constellation labels
toggle on/off constellation artwork
toggle on/off planet labels (and circles)
toggle on/off nebula labels (and circles)
increase/decrease Moon scale (1x, 4x)

o (oh)
toggle meteor shower rate**

controlling gridlines
toggle on/off horizon line
toggle on/off alt/az grid lines
toggle on/off equatorial grid
toggle on/off ecliptic line
4 or , (comma)
toggle on/off celestial equator
5 or . (period)

changing image presentation
toggle horizontal flipping
Ctrl Shift h
toggle vertical flipping
Ctrl Shift v

controlling time
set date/time to match computer

fast forward / increase time
l (lower case L)
fast reverse / decrease time
run time at normal speed
pause/continue time
stop time
move forward 1 hour
Ctrl = (equal)
move backward 1 hour
Ctrl - (hyphen)
move forward 1 normal day
= (equal)
move backward 1 normal day
- (hyphen)
move forward 1 sidereal day
Alt = (equal)
move backward 1 sidereal day
Alt - (hyphen)
move forward 7 normal days
move backward 7 normal days
move forward 7 sidereal days
Alt ]
move backward 7 sidereal days
Alt [

zooming and panning
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, to original position
\ (backslash)
pan the celestial sphere

pan right
Right Arrow
pan left
Left Arrow
pan up
Up Arrow
pan down
Dn Arrow

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

controlling the telescope
slew telescope 1 to selected object
Ctrl 1 (one)
slew telescope 2 to selected object
Ctrl 2

controlling the application
toggle eq or alt/az mount

toggle on/off the configuration dialog
toggle on/off the help dialog
toggle application fullscreen/window
toggle on/off text menu
toggle on/off the "about" dialog
save screenshot to desktop image file
Ctrl s
quit from Stellarium
Ctrl q

* The stars named is based on magnitude limit setting in the configuration dialog.

** The meteor rate (ZHR) is either 10, 80, 10000, or 144000.

There may be more shortcuts for the keyboard and mouse that I missed... Send me a note.

Monday, July 28, 2008

tuning the GRS

I set out to see if, like in the expensive Starry Night application, one could adjust the position of the Great Red Spot in Stellarium. Along the way, I learned a bunch of new options, commands, tweaks, etc.

Some Preamble

These notes all pertain to the Windows version 0.9.1 of Stellarium. Many of these options should still work for the other platforms... But I have not tested them on Linux or the Mac.

A number of these techniques require configuration changes to some of the Stellarium initialisation (*.ini) files. These are text or ASCII files. Use your Operating System's built-in text editor. For Windows, that's Notepad.

The config.ini file contains general settings for the start up and operation of Stellarium. This file is located in your Windows user preferences folder. That is along a path similar to the following:

C:\Documents and Settings\YourLogonName\Application Data\Stellarium

where YourLogonName is some permutation of the Windows user profile name you logged into your Windows XP or Vista with.

Complicating matters is that the Application Data folder is normally hidden. It may be exposed by adjusting the Tools, Folder Options, View settings in your My Documents or Windows Explorer application. See your Windows help for more info on that.

Adjustments to solar system objects requires that you edit the ssystem.ini text file. It is found along the following path:

C:\Program Files\Stellarium\data

(I'm assuming everything is on your first hard disk C: obviously.)

I would advise that you backup any ini file you intend to touch so you have a roll-back point... You have been warned.

You might also consider documenting the changes you make in the ini files so you may later review. Comments or remarks can be included in the text file by starting a new line with the number or pound (#) sign. Example:

# following changed by John Doe on 080727 to show Script Bar

Normally, on changing ini files, you need to restart the application, to see the new settings applied.

With me so far?

Finally, many of the following settings affect the Field of View. I will use the acronym FOV from here on in.

Zooming to an Exact FOV

You can zoom in and out, of course, with the Pg Up and Pg Dn keys. But it is difficult to reach an exact FOV value using this technique. If, on the other hand, you enter the FOV in degrees, then you can adjust the screen to the preferred figure. This is handy if you're trying to simulate on the computer what you can see in the eyepiece. Ah, but you're asking: "Where exactly do I enter the zoom amount?" That's a good question.

You can enter the zoom or FOV value in the Script Bar. The only problem is that the Script Bar is not normally shown. You can change this by editing the following setting in the [gui] section of the config.ini file. It normally shows as false, meaning off. Change it to:

flag_show_script_bar = true

After you restart Stellarium, you should see a largish text box at the bottom of the screen, nestled between the Goto and Search iconic buttons.

To zoom in to a specific level now, do the following:
  1. click in the Script Bar or Script Commander text box
  2. type the following text, zoom fov, followed by a space
  3. enter the value in degrees (including decimals)
  4. press the Enter key
If you know your eyepiece true FOV (TFOV) then you may enter this. For example, the 18mm Meade OR ocular in my 8" 2000mm SCT has a TFOV of 0.36°. So, I enter zoom fov .36 before pressing Enter to emulate this view.

Note: Stellarium shows the current FOV value at the top-right of the screen. This measurement is from the top and bottom edges of the application window, i.e. the vertical scale.

Simulating a Round FOV

There is a bit of a disconnect when viewing something through the eyepiece, which shows a circular field, and then trying to compare that to a computer screen's rectangular representation. In Stellarium, you can mask out the rectangular display, leaving only a round port through which you can see you stellar, deep sky, and solar system objects.

While it is possible to create FOV rings in Stellarium for each of your oculars, it is significantly more complicated. This is due in part because it requires that we run telescope server programs and further alter the config.ini file. Let's leave that for a separate article.

(If you're desperate to tackle that on your own, read the telescope control article in the Stellarium wiki.)

In the meantime, you can quickly turn on or off the circular viewing port. This port, if you use the aforementioned zoom technique, will exactly simulate your eyepiece view.
  1. press 1 to access the configuration dialog
  2. click the Video tab
  3. click the Disk Viewport checkbox to toggle on or off the circular view
  4. close the close box on the dialog (top-right)
Somehow, for me, this is very helpful.

Adjusting the GRS Position

Stellarium appears to be quite accurate with respect to planetary motion and star positions. But highly dynamic bodies (comets and asteroids) always have to be updated. And I gather the Great Red Spot needs to be tweaked (in all astronomy software) from time to time.

You need to edit the solar system configuration file and change the rotation value for the Jupiter image data. This will shift the GRS left or right. Knowing the meridian crossing to within a couple of minutes on a particular day will allow you to eyeball it and get it pretty close. Change the following setting in the [jupiter] section of the ssystem.ini file.

rot_rotation_offset = n

where n is a value in degrees (1 to 360). Keep restarting Stellarium until you see the GRS at the point you expect. Further test it by rolling time forwards and backwards.

Toggling the Glare of Planets and Moons

Stellarium emphasises the planets and moons in the solar system by adding a graphical effect around the object. This creates a glaring, over-exposure effect. It changes accordingly to the zoom level you use. If you don't like this visual appearance, you can make the solar system objects appear more realistically as fine points of like. The downside: they'll blended into the background stars.

One way to adjust this (the fast way) is to edit the config.ini file, adjust the following option in the [stars] section:

flag_point_star = true

It normally is set to false but here I show it set on. Now stars, planets, and moons will show as pin-points of light.

Changing Font Size

As I began to look closely at the system.ini file, I noticed other things one might change. I made the following adjustment (from 14) in the [gui] section:

base_font_size = 12

Pretty straight forward, that one...


For me, that was a good learning exercise. I looked under the hood of Stellarium some more. And I can see it is more powerful than the GUI portrays. There is much that can be tuned or adjusted in the application. It is simply that the team of developers working on the application are not providing access to all these features via the interface. Probably because they're working on the important stuff first! Yet. Admirable, actually.

I answered for myself a lot of questions I had about the software but there is still more that I'm interested in knowing. And knowing how to change. This includes, for example, colours. I want to be able to change the colours in the interface. Many others have complained that the red light mode is not "red enough." So I'll figure out the colour settings and improve the night vision theme... And I still want to rotate the field, like in Cartes du Ciel.

The online documentation is not as clear as it could be. As usual. So I'm going to write an online quick reference of my own (procedurally oriented of course). Watch for that!

And all this makes me mildly irked. Many pan or look down on Stellarium. There's this stigma that it is "eye candy" but not that rich. I want to make it more clear in general that Stellarium's not just a pretty face. And, who knows, a year from now? It might be killer!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

GRS realistic in CdC and Stella

Everyone was going on and on about how accurate the Great Red Spot representation was in Starry Night (SN); Cartes du Ciel works well too...

Stellarium is good too.

Not bad for completely free software!

The times for the GRS meridian crossing seem to be off a tad. But so was SN!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

red spot from side walk (Toronto)

I viewed Jupiter's Great Red Spot or GRS this evening (a first for me). Showed some of the neighbours and passers by. All, myself included, were very impressed.

webcam image by Wingko Yung of the RASC Toronto Centre
4" f/5.4 refractor,
Philips Toucam Pro (IR cut filter), 5x Powermate
taken from backyard in Richmond Hill

9:42 PM. I finished my set up on the side walk in front of my home. Conveniently, this had me and the Schmidt-Cassegrain under the big maple tree (as a dew and light shield). I targeted the largest planet between the rotting tennis court and litter-strewn east end of the tech high school. Hey! The lights are off. Huh. The sodium lights on the east end of the building were on before...

The mosquitoes did not waste time nipping at my ankles. I was hot and sweaty from earlier in the day (car repair over at Malcolm's) and now the lugging about of telescope and astronomical gear. I quickly put on my long pants and heavy socks. Then I had to immediately slow down, cool off!

I took in the view. Multiple dark cloud belt were visible despite the air turbulence. All four big moons were visible.

10:04 PM, 57% humidity, 22.2°C. The Jovian system looked really good at 110x. I can see it! I can see the large festoon. It's about 1/4 of the way along the disk, on its way to the meridian crossing. Wow! I've finally seen it. I've tried many times before. I didn't set up for break records tonight but that's a nice spin off...

My sketch from around 10:00 PM through the 8" SCT with star-diagonal mirror, so mirror-inverted. West is down, north is left.

Ganymede is at top, about 4 to 5 planet-widths from the next 2. Then Io and Europa, with Europa a little over 1 p-w away. Callisto is below the plane

There's a faint field star to the right of Io and Europa. Cartes du Ciel identifies it as HD177536 SAO187669 CD-23 15031. Its visual magnitude is 8.77.

10:12 PM. Freaky. A jet plane just flew through the eyepiece field of view, exactly over top of or in front of Jupiter. What are the chances? 22 arc minutes! It was surprising but interesting at the same time. It makes for a very good example of seeing. The hot exhaust from the jet turbines in the cold upper atmosphere, the air was shredded in front of Jupiter.

10:22 PM, 56%, 22.3°. The Great Red Spot was slowly drawing closer to the meridian. When the seeing was poor, it looked like a bite mark, a semi-circle of white showing in the south side of the south belt; when the air steadied, I could see a thin dark ring around the giant storm.

When the air steadied, the view was very good. Yeh! That means I did not screw up my SCT collimation! Woo hoo!

Amazing detail showed at times, the southern hemisphere was a mottled white, the GRS was actually darker (but only slightly), a very pale tan, and the southern cloud belt was a light chocolate brown.

10:40 PM, 55%, 22.4°. Bob arrived home, parked his car, wandered across the street and asked what I was looking at. I offered him a peek. He was very impressed with Jupiter. He could see some of the details as I pointed them out.

He was also very impressed by the size of the telescope. I kept saying it was "medium." I was trying to be humble while he was reeling. I guess I should agree. Size matters.

The view was very symmetrical now. The GRS was almost in the middle.

10:44 PM. I think it was dead-centre. I couldn't tell if it was still approaching or just past centre. It must have been pretty close to the middle.

The southern cloud belt is not solid! There is a lighter white stream or band (zone) within it, about 1/3 of the way from the equator. I'm amazed that I can see this. As the gas giant rose higher, as this planet's air settled, as my 'scope reached equilibrium, the view dramatically improved.

There was an occasional breeze of wind, the air felt like it was cooling. It was refreshing. As soon as I started walking around though, I'd sweat.

10:55 PM. A gentleman from the neighbourhood was walking by. Richard introduced himself and I offered views. He was really taken aback. While he had seen pictures, this was a first for him, seeing it directly through a telescope. I love how the English describe something tremendous or fantastic, a very apropos term for astronomy: "Brilliant!" Indeed.

My sketch from around 11:00 PM through the 8" SCT with star-diagonal mirror. West is down, north is left.

Io and Europa closing in on one-another
. Europa is about 2 planet-widths away from Jupiter.

The Great Red Spot is past the meridian.

The two proximal moons (presumably one is Io) are drawing close to one another. Or rather, the inner one (probably Io) was moving away from Jupiter. When I started watching, it was just over a disk-width away; now it was almost 2. [Correction: inner one is Europa.]

11: 08 PM. I noticed a small dark dot in the south hemisphere. It was above (in my orientation) the GRS, about 1 GRS-width away. It was further south than the GRS. Another storm?

11:13 PM, 54%, 22.3°. The atmospheric seeing is rock-solid. Steady, clear views of the planet persisted for moments on end. Wonderful. The northern belt is darker, more brown, then the south belt. Thinner but more turbulent. I can see it is not smooth. Occasionally, I can see other bands in the northern hemisphere.

11:26 PM. Myron, another neighbourhood wanderer from "just down the street," gesturing to the west, dropped by. He too was very impressed with the view, the detail, the immediacy. He said he had looked through many telescopes before but never seen a view like this!

Could that dark spot be a shadow? I didn't think any were predicted tonight...

My sketch from around 11:30 PM through the 8" SCT with star-diagonal mirror. West is down, north is left.

I picked up an even fainter field star, to the right but between the far and 2 middle moons. Cartes du Ciel identifies it as TYC6873-00268-1 with a visual magnitude of 10.58.

11:38 PM, 56%, 21.8°. I spotted another field star, closer to the distant moon, fainter than the field star off Io.


This evening represented my first run with the new tripod leg cam clamps. They worked really well. Fast and easy! For both set-up and tear-down.


I had to review eyepiece view orientation, i.e. west-east... I turned off the drive at one point and watched how the view drifted. I wasn't sure at the time but I later verified that the view drifts to the west.


From the side walk, I had not oriented the telescope mount to true north. So I had to keep trimming the Declination axis through the evening... Mildly annoying. I had my compass in my pocket... Silly rabbit!

Friday, July 25, 2008

locked in to Jan 10

That's January 2010...

Before the RASC rates went up, they let us renew at the current rates. I jumped.

My new membership card showed up today.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

webspotting 5 - Fourmilab

As published in the Aug/Sep 2008 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission.


I continuously explore ways I may use "push" technology to monitor, while sitting at my desk, what's going on  in the sky. I can fire up my old Red Shift, or Stellarium, perhaps kStars, depending on the computer nearby. Ensure the date, time, and location are correct. Then pan around the virtual sky, but it's too involved, too many steps and takes too many seconds. There are only 86,400 seconds per day!  And, lastly, it's "pull" technology.

I have considered writing a custom application for my palmtop to list current overhead objects, meteor showers, etc. But that's a serious undertaking.

There are many web sites that can provide this information in some form or another. Recently I told you about skymaps, which offers us a PDF or paper solution.

A couple of months ago I repurposed the Java component at Astronomy magazine's site ( on my web portal page. It notes the planets visible, whether they're in the morning or evening sky. It also sports a marquee.

Searching for something else, I stumbled into John Walker's web ( You may recognise his name, particularly if you use AutoCAD, the rather popular computer-automated design software.

Among other very interesting items, I was happy to discover his free astronomy-themed screen saver for Windows. I quickly downloaded it. So, while this is not strictly about a web site, it is a great little utility. When the Sky Screen Saver kicks in, after the designated time delay and the screen blanks, of course, a large circle is displayed. This represents the celestial sphere overhead. North is up; east is west!

The border of the circle changes colour: it is bright blue during the day, dark grey at night, and red during sunset or sunrise.

Constellations are shown. Then, according to your preferences, the planets are shown. Yes, including poor little Pluto. This program is remarkably handy if you're trying to spot elusive Mercury. You may show deep sky objects.

To show more or less stars and DSOs, you adjust the magnitude settings.

When the Moon is displayed, it is shown with a phase. Very handy, whether you like or dislike the Moon.

To prevent burn-in, the electronic planisphere periodically shifts the image.

I enjoy this easy-to-use program. I can glance at my computer, while it stands by, and know instantly what's overhead. I wish I could find a similarly simple yet informative application for my Mac and Linux computers.

Spin off benefit: it is helping me learn the constellations!


Last weekend, I went to Calabogie Motorsport Park to teach the classroom sessions for the advanced-level drivers at the BMW Club of Canada - Ottawa Chapter high-performance driving school. It was 2 years since I had been there. While a little anxious, it was actually really good to see everyone.

Phil A. begged me to come to Tremblant in early August. I just cannot get excited about that.

Others asked if I would be going to Oktoberfest at Watkins Glen. Someone said that this is the closest it was be in a while for Torontonians.

When I got home, I called Will. He's going. He has a room. He's going for 5 days. It would be fun. We have fun on road trips...

But it's the same damn time at the Algonquin Astronomical Adventure! Argh.

I totally don't know what to do...

Monday, July 21, 2008

NOVA coordination

I was given the OK to coordinate and run the next RASC Toronto Centre NOVA course.

The NOVA course is also known as New Observers to Visual Astronomy.

It was arranged by Leslie in the past but she has made noises about not being interested in doing it. In fact, she wondered out loud if it was worth doing.

I think so. I'm happy to carry the torch.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

apple orchard presentation

At the request of the RASC Toronto Centre, I delivered an astronomy presentation to The Farmer's Pantry. Tony asked me to do it. Perhaps it was because he saw my Runnymede talk...

The talk went very well. I worked long and hard on the presentation. Not to boast but I think it is some of my best work yet. There are some cool (effective) animations in the slide show. And I used Presenters View for the first time. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. I owe a big thanks to Leslie and Tony for their assistance and guidance.

Sadly, it started to rain at the end. It was obvious: we were clouded out.

Look at that... I got us top billing!

This represents that first "gig" that the RASC asked me to do. It was a honour to carry the flag. It felt good to represent. I look forward to future opportunities.

I love doing this.

cam clamps

I lost a wing nut for one of the six bolts on the wooden telescope tripod. I knew the bolts were metric. I had already looked once at Canadian Tire for metric wing nuts, not no avail...

Time to upgrade.

I picked up six cam clamp locks from Lee Valley Tools. They, unfortunately, do not come in metric sizes. So, I chose the 5/16"-18 size.

While at Canadian Tire, searching endlessly for wing nuts, I bought two 4-packs of 5/16" carriage bolts, 3½" long.

I've now adapted the tripod to the Imperial bolts with the cam locks. Awesome! They work really well. They are fast to use. There's another benefit (which I did not expect): I no longer need an additional tool (a spanner) to tighten the tripod legs.

helped Dietmar

Dietmar came into the house from the observatory asking for some help. He was trying correlate numbers he was getting from various programs regarding polar alignment. It reminded me of my exploits last year.

While he was entering data into his EQ mount's controller, I noticed he keyed 5 seconds as opposed to 5 hours. That helped a lot.

In the end, I think he was—like me—running into inconsistencies and ambiguities in this topic. I myself was getting a little confused. But I think we figured out the issues. He was satisfied.

Friday, July 11, 2008

SCT work

I tried to collimate the SCT telescope tonight.

High magnification images have been looking terrible lately.

Never collimated this 'scope before. Sounds straight forward. Still, I was anxious.

I started to work on it. But it clouded over...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

freshened template

I noticed a bug when viewing this blog in Internet Exploder, a layout problem. I tried some different templates and saw the problem persisted. OK. Good. It's not me... I used the "upgrade" template command, still using the Minima Black template, for the site, and the layout problem is gone now...

Blogger added some cool elements to the layout controls. The archive section now is dynamic, expandable and collapsible, and remains visible at all times. Counts the entries within each month!

The page elements, such as the profile or links sections, for a template can be dynamically generated, rearranged, edited.

The fonts and colours can also be dynamically edited. Although, the interface does not give access to every setting...

Regardless, it was very easy to able the update.

Monday, July 07, 2008

lake side observing (Toronto)

Guy made a "GO" decision for the RASC Toronto Centre City Observing Sessions (COS), both points east and west. I headed down to Humber Bay West park early.

I was surprised by my compass and where north is.

I shot 30 photos for a panorama. I'll try it in Stellarium...

Set up the telescope around 8:30 PM, right beside the walking/bike path. That caught many eyes.

I was ready pretty early, I know. But the Moon was up high, the clouds were moving out, so, that was our first target. Passers by, cyclists, joggers, couples, singles, families, kids alike dropped by. I served up Luna at 56x and 77x. Everyone enjoyed that. The view steadily improved as it darkened.

Ken showed up around 9 PM. No 'scope. I can't remember for sure if he brought binos. No tripod.

I found Saturn in the muck around 9:40, with the help of my Psion palmtop, the Procyon astronomy software, and my binoculars. Tagged it in the finder scope—lucky. It was pretty soupy. Could not clearly see the Cassini gap. Still, it was good to see. That was a big hit.

Jupiter appeared from behind clouds. Quite high actually. Three moons to the right (mirror reversed).

Ken suddenly said he was not feeling well and left at 9:48.

I was alone. And it was not fun any more. I started to consider packing up. I wondered how everyone was fairing up at Bayview Village Park. At that thought I felt lonely. Perhaps I should have gone up there. When suddenly I heard a familiar voice say, "I didn't do it." It was Tony, with Trevor! Yeh! I felt relief!

We did a bit more observing. Oddly, Saturn improved and Jupiter got worse. I could see a little moon very near Saturn, about a 1/2 ring-width away, at the 11 o'clock position (mirror reversed). Tony confirmed my sighting.

There were not many people wandering by. And more and more kids were arriving to the parking lot... Yo yo!

I was feeling lukewarm about the whole affair. And imagined that Guy and his troupe were having lots of fun at Bayview Village park.

That said, the people that did drop by and look through my tripod-mounted binoculars and my telescope seemed to enjoy themselves. I received a "bravo." One couple said, "You made our evening." A woman was so impressed she went home and brought back her husband. He was quite happy to have made the trek.

Ken noted the following:
One young fellow, around nine or ten, just kept coming back and could not get enough of looking at the Moon—maybe a fledgling astronomer. His parents wandered by, and they too were taken back by the view of the Moon and I believe Saturn, at that point.

One fellow, a 74 year old gent, was truly enthralled by his, first ever, view of the Moon through a scope. He went on to lets us know, that he was excited to relay his experience to his kids and grandchildren.
This evening represented the first time in his life he had looked through a telescope... That's kinda cool, the more I think about it.

Also interesting was that he wanted to know the numbers. He gave me a little piece of paper. So I wrote down:
3500 km in diameter
380000 km away from Earth
We probably had about 20 visitors total.

The guys helped me pack up at 10:27 (humidity 77%, temp 19.8°C). We went for ice cream at Tom's Dairy Freeze. I treated.


I learned later that Guy might have had fewer visitors than me!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

tapped to supervise

Funny timing. Ian D said, more than once over the weekend, that I should become a CAO supervisor.

The supervisor is the person "in charge" during a weekend. They have keys and passcodes so to access the house, garage, and observatory. Generally, they are first in and last out. They are responsible for cleaning and locking up after everyone has left the house. They also need to know how to operate the observatory computer, telescope, and roof.

Ian intimated I would be more than able, certainly from the house side of things. I'll just need to get trained up on the observatory building and the 14" telescope.

I received an email today from Dietmar asking me if I would like to train to be a supervisor!

better skies, more mosquitoes (Blue Mountains)

Oh oh. I did not nap today like I had planned. Troubleshooting networks...

I put the second portable weather station completely outside the THO observatory this evening. I remembered to close the floor vents as well.
Intrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping

10:51 PM. Inside weather station readings were 60% humidity, 16°C temperature; outside were 68% and 10.4°. With less air flow through the floor vents, I hoped it would keep the inside a bit warmer. And keep some of the mosquitoes away. No wind tonight and the damn mozzies were movin’ in!

Thought I’d start close to where I left off. But then I reviewed the current month’s The Evening Sky Map. And that made me want to check out Messier 64 (M64) again. It was quite faint but I could make out the oval shape and, occasionally, I could see structure, dark bits near the bright centre.

I returned to double star Σ1687 again, so to confirm it as well. The main star is bright and yellow; the companion is very faint and light blue.

11:34 PM, 64%, 15.3°C in; 84%, 11.9°C out. I viewed Messier 23 (M23). It is a loose, wide open cluster of blue-white stars. It filled the entire baader eyepiece field. It was almost like there are threads or strings all through it, with the stars towed along. I estimated about 100 stars were visible.

12:00 PM. I saw that (according to Pocket Sky Atlas) Kaus Australis or ε (epsilon) Sagittarius was a double. I couldn’t see anything (even at 110x) past the madly simmering colours. Disco. Well, it is Saturday night, I guess...

1:02 AM, 67%, 14.4 in; 89%, 11.8 out. Spotted Messier 29 (M29). It is a very loose, small cluster of stars in a dense general field. The galaxy is in the background, that’s why! The brightest stars make almost an H-shape.

1:24 AM. Following the Sky Map, I headed over to Herschel’s Garnet Star in Cepheus. These guys were on drugs! It’s certainly colourful and stands out from the background stars. But red? No. Orange, yes. If it weren't so far north, one might mistake it for Mars. There’s a neat semi-circle of pale white stars nearby, like the mantle for this special star.

2:00 AM. I tried to view σ2 (sigma 2) Ursa Major but I could not see the double star companion. Even the Haas book sounds sketchy about it, although it is quoted at 4" away.

2:10 AM. OK, off to κ (kappa) Boötes, just to the left of UMa. I didn’t realise that these constellations got so close to one another... κ is nice double, a bright white star with a pale purple (I hesitate to say lilac) companion. Sounds like I’m on drugs now. 13.5" apart, according to Haas. They are close together, to me, at 77x.

Nearby was ι (iota) Boötes. It is a wider pair. Haas says 38". The main star throws off pale yellow light whereas the companion sheds a medium pale orange hue.

2:26 AM, 72%, 13.6° in; 83%, 12.3° out. I finally found Messier 101 (M101). Wow. It was tough! It is very, very faint. But large. You have to keep staring at it, or around it, to coax out any detail or dimension. Averted vision is key. Ironically, a bright satellite went through the field and exactly through the middle of the galaxy. Five minutes later, another satellite went through. It’s rush hour, I guess.


This weekend helped me bring my Messier count up a significant amount, totalling now 42! Woo hoo!

And I added 8 double stars to my life list, bringing that total to 46.


[ed: Reviewed for typos on 24 Apr '23.]

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Stellarium tuned for CAO

As we sat on the back lawn and watched the stars and planets come out, I tuned Stellarium. Bob and Phil, standing at the centre of the viewing pad, feed me elevations and orientations of objects. After some fiddling, I got it working. It was eerie in a way. The software representation of the site and the horizon views is very close to reality...

A key step, I think, with the loaner laptop, was to tell the landscape selection to not set the location settings. I did that by hand. Weird.

In turn, I was able to tell them where to look for Saturn, Mars, and Regulus, in relation to the Moon. And I was able to predict that Jupiter would be visible soon. And where to spot Spica, Altair, Vega, and Deneb.


To that end, I include this image...

Our wonderful, 2001: A Space Odyssey-like conjunction, is provided by—no, not a hippy dippy digital camera (and there were lots around) but—put your hands together for—Stellarium!

finder scope on C14 aligned

They are still having problems getting the 14" SCT to bull's eye targets. The software and the 'scope are out of synch. It is perhaps 2 to 4 degrees off!

So, it could get you in the ballpark and then you manually align.

I noticed the finder scope was not in synch with the main tube! So I re-aligned the "little" finder scope, to at least make that part easier for the other users.

wireless working

It took me 3 or 4 hours total to figure everything out, document findings, reconfigure hardware, install firmware, and test everything but, in the end, I finally got the wireless router at the CAO working properly.

14 Messiers (Blue Mountains)

From the Tony Horvatin Observatory (THO) building at the Carr Astronomical Observatory (CAO), I easily and comfortably viewed many deep sky objects, double stars, satellites and meteors, and a couple of planets. I could get used to this!
naked eye;
Celestron 8-inch SCT on Vixen Super Polaris by star hopping
I meant to leave Toronto early, for several reasons. One was to enjoy a leisurely drive north, avoiding the cottage-hungry hordes. This would also afford time to try alternate routes, perhaps pass through Creemore (for suds from the source) or Schomberg (to visit Perceptor). And finally, an early arrival at the CAO would allow me to call "shotgun" on the THO.

The THO is a small structure with a rotatable roof. In a way, the little brown building is like the large domed observatories used by professionals. But the base of this building is square and the roof is a half pyramid. Two panels open in the roof to reveal the sky. The roof is light enough that you can rotate it with a good push. I've seen Terry use this space for his all-night observing sessions and I wanted to try it. I assumed it was available on a first-come, first-served basis...

I woke at 11:00 AM.

Damn! Already late!

I quickly packed clothing, toiletries, and some food stuffs. Fortunately, most of my observing gear was already in the car, from earlier in the week. Fed and rubbed the cat. And I was on my way.

Made a quick pit stop in Mississauga to grab Malcolm's spare laptop computer. I was going to use it primarily to test my Stellarium landscape photos.

Traffic was good. Huh. What a sec'. No traffic, zero cars, would be incredible. The moment there are other vehicles, it's not good, I suppose. But that's another blog...


I was the first to arrive at the CAO site. It was around 3:15 PM. The chain was still up at the gate. All right! That means I automatically get the THO! I drove directly to the squat building and unloaded all my observing equipment and supplies in front of it. Staked my claim. Then I moved the car near the house. As I was unpacking food stuffs and the sleeping bag, Bev and Ian pulled up.

In a few moments, I had the keys to the THO: I moved in!

Oh, oh. Some hornets had beaten me to it. There were 5 or 6 little nests under construction, guards nearby. I gingerly opened the roof's top panel from the inside. Fortunately, I did not upset the little critters. If a few of the parents had come after me, I might have resembled a pinball... From the outside, I opened the lower panel. Gradually, I was able to knock down all the nests from the roof and lower panel. I would leave the top panel for night time, when the small denizens were sleepy.

I took advantage of having 2 portable weather stations. I put one deep inside the THO so to monitor the indoor conditions; the second I rested on the sill of the roof port to gauge the outdoor temperature and humidity.

I also set up Eric's PST 'scope. But absolutely nothing was going on with the Sun.


After enjoying a slim lunar crescent (almost exactly 2 days old) and the nearly straight line of Saturn, Mars, and Regulus, from the new deck, I retired to the THO to begin observing. As I walked to the personal observatory, at 10:30 PM, a meteor lit up the sky. Wow! That was a long one. Travelling north-east to south-west, it left an incredibly long ion trail.

While it was still up, I targeted Saturn. It was murky. I assume it was Titan to the right (mirror-reversed).

I started fiddling with the laptop to get Stellarium up and running. But something seemed terribly wrong. As I adjusted the landscape position and orientation, it occurred to me that it was acting very differently than how it had on my home computer. Something with the control panel, the regional settings, maybe? Or a time zone setting? OK. Let's not get caught up in this now, I thought. Fix in in the day time...

11:52 PM; inside temperature 11.4°C, humidity 63%. As I looked up in the sky, I noted the gaggle of small stars between, Leo and Boötes. I pulled out my Pocket Sky Atlas to zoom in on the stars of Coma Berenices and centred on the equilateral triangle built on 12 and 13.

It took a moment to get my bearings but I found Σ1639 (just as a satellite went through the field). The main star was yellow; companion was quite pale. Hard to tell the colour. Haas says they are 1.7" apart.

12 Com itself was pleasing, a wide pair of stars, yellow and orange. Haas says they are 65" apart.

OK. Let's get some Messiers! What's nearby? M5...

Messier 5 is a beautiful globular cluster, with an almost spiral structure to it. It has a rather bright centre. It is made more interesting with the bright star 5 Serpens Caput nearby.

I observed the small and very faint NGC 5838 galaxy near star 110 Virgo.

1:05 AM, 11.2°C, 66%. Viewed δ (delta) Serpens Caput. Tight double. The main is white; the companion is straw-coloured.

Headed over to Ophiuchus. Marfik or λ (lambda) Oph is another tight double. Haas says 1.6" apart. I used this star as a jump point...

1:18 AM. Star-hopped to Messier 12 (M12). This is attractive at low power with various field stars. It is smaller than M5 but has a bright centre.

It was a short hop to Messier 10 (M10). Wow. A wonderful globular cluster, very spherical. These things are so pleasing in a dark sky...

Headed over to the other side of the constellation and viewed IC 4665. It is a big open cluster, pleasing in the 7x finder scope. It would make a good dark-sky binos target.

1:44 AM. I hopped down to Messier 14 (M14). It is very compact, densely packed. I found it hard to see individual stars...

Stuff near toward the centre of galaxy was calling... I centred on Kaus Borealis or λ (lambda) of Sagittarius as my launch pad. Popped into Messier 22 (M22). Beautiful. Huge, compared to the previous GCs. Good to see again.

2:14 AM, 11.8°C, 66%. Headed over to Messier 28 (M28). It is very small, fainter globular cluster. I can see how some people might think these subjects are comets.

I noticed a cluster of 2 double stars and a single near λ. It was fascinating to view these 5 stars close together. HP 90478 A appears as a single; HP 90576 and 90575 are on top of one another; and HP 90510 A makes up another pair. I wonder if these are opticals. Or a little open cluster.

As I started moving back to the celestial equator, I passed through Messier 8 (M8). It too was good to see again. The lagoon was quite dark in the middle, very clearly visible.

A short distance away was The Trifid. Messier 20 (M20) was interesting but it was hard to see the dark rifts. There were a gaggle of stars surrounding the pale cloud. In the centre, I could see twin, small stars, slightly unequal in size.

Very proximal was Messier 21 (M21). It showed as a sparse open cluster. It looks like it is made up of about 200 stars.

The "star cloud" Messier 24 (M24) leaped out of the dark sky in the finder scope. Another good binocular subject.

2:43 AM, 12°C, 66%. Observed Messier 25 (M25). This is a very large open cluster. It filled the entire baader low power eyepiece. Mostly fine blue stars. There was a notable orange star in the centre.

I was going to for M18 but I got a bit disoriented... I stumbled into the Omega Nebula, Messier 17 (M17). It is a very unusual shape. It made me think of a scorpion at first with a bright long body and crescent shape at the end surrounding a dark pool. Or perhaps a bird on the water. The cloud portion was surprisingly bright.

Messier 18 (M18) on the other hand was a very small OC.

I continued to Messier 16 (M16). I found it very difficult to see any clouds, the brightness of the stars overpowered the scene.

I viewed Jupiter. It was incredible. All four moons were visible. I could see many cloud bands. Wonderful but almost too bright... I was so dark-adapted though that it blew out my vision in my left eye!

3:21 AM. I moved quite a distance this time. Centred on Sagitta, δ (delta) in the middle. I noticed ζ (zeta) Sagitta was a double. The main star is pale yellow; the companion is faint, perhaps orange or blue. It changes colour as you stare at it...

It was a short hop to Messier 71 (M71). It is a very small, faint GC. It occurred to me that it must be really far away, as we look through the plane of the galaxy.

3:49 AM. Hey... I'm close to Capricornus. And that means there are planets nearby... Fired up my Neptune tracking map. I think I found it. Very small though...

OK. Let's finish with something interesting. θ (theta) Serpens Cauda, aka Alya, was a nice double, 2 identical white stars. Funny, the notes in Haas's book say, "They seem like a pair of eyes..." The same thought occurred to me.

I'm done. The "outdoor" temperature reading is 9 and I'm feeling a little cool.

4:10 AM. I was back in the house. I was tired, sore, but really satisfied.


Observing from the THO is absolutely fabulous! You're out of the wind. Extraneous light is blocked. It is a couple of degrees warmer than outside. It will probably be warmer if I close the floor vents. It is a bit less humid. And, of course, you're protected from the coyotes.

Friday, July 04, 2008

no reaction

I did not have any allergic reactions today...

Nothing. Nada. Weird.

helped configure 'scope computer

Ian D couldn't get The Sky software to operate the big telescope's Paramount. The noise it was making when he turned it on was not comforting. While the RA and Dec LEDs looked OK (blue), the power or status LED was glowing orange. Is that nominal?

'Round that time, David called to relay some information about the new fridge, ask me about the wireless router, and confirm his arrival on Saturday. We asked about the software problem. He told me to try "COM 7." OK.

I headed out to the observatory, went into the Telescope Settings..., I think I then went into an Advanced options area, and set the COM value from 6 to 7. It worked!

I walked Ian through the process.


I bought anti-histamines today. Hopefully, this coming weekend, my body won't have the little freak-out that it did last weekend (at the CAO)...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

paper models

First trigger: Eric had a paper model of some space craft at the recent RASC Toronto Centre swap table.

Second trigger... Eric brought some paper models up to the CAO yesterday.

He explained that these were (colour) image files (actually PDFs) that you could print off and then assemble and glue together.

As if I don't have enough to do...

It would be cool to build a 1:100 model of the International Space Station!

Check 'em out!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

DDO sold to developer

We received this email from Ray Khan via the RASC Toronto Centre listserv:
With great regret [I announce, that as of] today Wednesday July 2nd that the David Dunlap Observatory Lands have been sold to Menkes development.  (Purportedly)

Effective immediately, all operations will cease and Telescope Operators have been advised of such as of today Wednesday July 2nd.

Further details will follow.

The deal will likely close this afternoon.

Yours Sincerely,
Ray Khan
My heart is sinking...

Canada Day this year has a dark cloud over it.

do they know we drive this route?

Noticed an Ontario Science Centre Facing Mars billboard along the drive southbound on Highway 10. Kind of in the middle of nowhere...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

couple of Scorpio finds (Blue Mountains)

From the observing pad of the CAO, amidst the fireflies, I found a couple of new objects.
Intrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
Katrina spoke highly of Messier 4 (M4) so I tracked it down. A lovely little globular cluster. Tiny blue stars, a few bright white ones. Somewhat of an irregular shape.

Katrina also spoke of a triple star "in the neighbourhood." I tried a few subjects but it was not what she was thinking of. I checked the Sissy Haas's book. At one point we viewed β (beta) Scorpius which was a pretty gold-blue double. And at some point we viewed a very attractive double, light gold and pale blue-white. But now I don't know which star this was; I did not make notes for some reason. Oh well... I'll have to find it again!


Earlier in the evening, as I walked toward the telescope, I spotted Jupiter rising over the horizon. By the time I reached the pad, it was behind distant clouds. So I took a look at Saturn. It was murky, yellowed, through the low elevation. The rings are getting thinner. Bright field star far to the right (mirror-reversed), and above; a bright moon or two here and there.

It was good to see Jupiter again. All four moons greeted us. Richard, from the London Centre, knew the order of the moons from innermost orbit to outer: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and then Callisto. I tried reading the Observer's Handbook for the moon positions, accommodating for Universal Time, but I flubbed it. Three moons to the left (Callisto furthest out, then Io, and finally Europa) and one to the right (Ganymede, mirror-reversed). I could see the north and south dark bands.

Looked briefly at Albireo. Wow. Good to see it again! Bull's eyed ε (epsilon) Lyra. The 'scope would settle between gusts of wind but it was often out of synch with the seeing. DOH!

All this between 10 and 11 PM...

As Katrina and I faced Scorpius, an incredibly bright flash caught our eyes. It was a satellite. At first I thought it was an Iridium given the tremendous brightness, but it was not an isolated flash; it kept moving. The flash started about 5° north of Scorpius and Sagittarius and continued through The Keystone. I'm no good at magnitude estimates but, briefly, it was brighter than anything in the sky. And then some. So, -5? I still don't know what this object was.

At the same time, we spotted another satellite, going the other way. No, actually, it was coming slightly from the west and travelling to SSE. It went through Ophiuchus. It did not flash. It was a bit fainter. Possibly this second one was the Cosmos 1076 Rocket.

Then, at 11:02 (humidity 48%, temperature 16.9°C), a bright, long meteor, emanating from Lyra, went through. It left a brief but long orange train. "It's gonna be a busy night," I said.

After starhopping from Dubhe, I used the baader eyepiece to view M81 and M82. They fit beautifully in the field. Very, very nice.

Richard wanted a closer look. So I went up to 110 power. The cool thing was that I used the 56x eyepiece as the "finder" for each galaxy. I could see mottling in M82.

The skies late in the evening were quite good. It was really good to see the Milky Way again.

My (new) allergies were really acting up and it was upsetting me. Around 12:30, I finally called it quits, crudely packed up, and took a last look from the observatory.

wanted to test landscape

I wanted to test the CAO panorama landscape image in Stellarium, but I forgot to bring the landscape files. Sent an email to Gilles, having sent them to him recently, but did not hear back.

While waiting, I downloaded the Stellarium software to the Carr Astronomical Observatory house computer.

But then the computer, and router, started acting very wobbly. I think the router has been damaged actually.

I'll have to complete this test next weekend...

quiet in white and red (Blue Mountains)

Viewed the sun in white light and hydrogen-alpha. Very quiet.

Santiago, from the Montreal Centre, tried all manner of photographic equipment with Eric's PST telescope, including a web cam. He was actually starting to make some progress, when the clouds covered the Sun.

another light down

Noticed one of the 5 solar lights was missing. Later found the parts for it. Looks like someone has crashed into it.


Later attacked The Trev but he pleaded innocence.

colour Thornbury map posted

I noticed my new colour "services" map of Thornbury posted on the CAO house bulletin board. Tony stuck it here. Looks good methinks.