Sunday, August 31, 2008

naked eye mag test (Blue Mountains)

I wanted to see what I could see, naked eye, at the CAO. So I sat on the observing pad for a good long time, beside Ian W, while he worked his Dobsonian. I stared at Ursa Minor and tried to pick off faint stars. I made notes and checked the magnitudes.
  • θ (theta): 5.3
  • star between η (eta) and ζ (zeta): 5.6
  • 19: 5.5
  • beyond stars 4 and 5: 5.9
So, a quick test suggests I can see down to magnitude 5.9.


I've updated the tracking spreadsheet in my palmtop...


Fun science time: I demonstrated triboluminescence at the CAO! Yes, we witnessed the production of light by mechanical stress. If you're interested, I'll let you in on the little secret...

quick and easy

Once again using Ian's wonderful 12½" f/4.83 1530mm Dobsonian. Tonight with the Tele Vue Nagler 13mm eyepiece.

I had added a couple of items to the to-do list for the evening. The Great Red Spot was going to be visible on Jupiter around 10:30 PM. And I wanted to see M64 but that should be done early. OK. Hop to it!

Used the Orion right-angle (with mirror) 9x50 finder. That made it quick and easy to find...

mouse pad gifts

On behalf of my company Computer Ease, I presented the RASC Toronto Centre with new mouse pads.

I chose 3 types of the NASA gift store.

I delivered these mouse pads to the Carr Astronomical Observatory on the Labour Day weekend and presented them before dinner to the president of the Centre, Denis Grey.

He particularly liked the "I Need My Space" one and suggested it be best in the Geoff Brown Observatory warm room.

The mouse pad for the "Hercules" computer in the living room / kitchen area was hurtin'. We tossed it.


The covers that came with the mouse pads are as interesting (while slightly different) as the mouse pads. I'll try to frame them. We could put them elsewhere in the CAO, GBO, and THO.

learned TheSky6

This is the software we use (you have to use, I understand) to drive the C14 telescope atop a Paramount ME.

I started to read the PDF manual (I downloaded) today. I was absorbing general information. But I was also looking for the option that was causing the view of the sky to snap back to where the telescope was pointed. It would have taken a while to find that setting actually...

Meanwhile, Dietmar answered my email question about this. It is the "lock in" switch buried in the Telescope Setup. As soon as he mentioned it, I vaguely recalled that he actually previously cautioned me about this option. Oops. Thank you, Dietmar!


As I was reading the user guide, I wondered if there was a keyboard shortcut reference anywhere. Probably not! I'll look around the net. If I can't find out, I'll make one...

new anti-virus software installed

Denis Grey, Toronto Centre president, decided to tackle the "clean up" of the CAO living room / kitchen computer. I noticed him fussing around after breakfast, doing things in the Control Panel Add/Remove Programs, cursing under his breath, sitting there, staring at the screen. I heard lots of hard disk activity. Finally, after a couple of hours at the machine, he announced to me that he had installed new anti-virus software.

Good to chat about this with your information technology chair...

"Pardon?" I asked.

He echoed what he had done. He pointed out the Norton Anti-Virus software had expired; he removed it and replaced it with AVG. "It's free, you know."

Yes, I know.

I asked him if he had considered "pre-checking" the computer with online virus scanning tools.

He had never heard of that. Uh huh.

I suggested he do a cross-check using Trend Micro. Don't think he ever did that...


Later when I checked the machine, I see he installed the Yahoo! toolbar into the browser! Why? He's probably added a lot of unnecessary junk, now that I think about it... That will need to be removed. It might do more harm than good.

I looked at the Windows desktop. Litter! He had download the executable to the desktop and left it there. And there were new icons for the AVG and other items installed. What a mess. I removed them.

Why didn't he talk to me about any of this? Why didn't he ask for some commentary or support? Why didn't he ask me to double-check things?

sun interesting (Blue Mountains)

... for a change!

William posted a quick email about interesting prominences along the solar disk. I continued reading my email and enjoying some coffee when all of a sudden it hit me. Hey! Let's verify it. Popped into the NASA SOHO site and BAM! Off to the GBO. I knew we had to track the Sun with the C14.

I boogied out to the observatory, opened the roof, attached the Coronado hydrogen-alpha filtering equipment to the Tele Vue refractor, and popped in the 26mm eyepiece.

Fired up the mount and computer and headed to the Sun.

(I could not get it to focus at first. But we tricked it out.)


Three distinct prominences, different parts of the Sun. The most interesting was a complex with fan-shaped ejection beside several low coils. Fascinating.

Terry was very interested as well and made several sketches.

hunting Triton (Blue Mountains)

Made a sketch of Neptune and the surrounding area. I was hunting for moons.

I was easily seeing stars down to mag 14 in Ian's 12½-inch f/4.83 'scope with a 5mm eyepiece but, unfortunately, Triton was very close to the planet.

fantastic views (Blue Mountains)

When Grey commandeered the C14, I exited the GBO. Fortunately, Ian W still had the huge Dobsonian up and running.

It was awesome.

The Andromeda galaxy was fantastic! (Messier 31 or M31.)

The Double Cluster (aka Caldwell 14, with NGC 869 and 884) was fantastic! I saw colours. Many stars.

Viewed NGC 752 (aka Caldwell 28). Open cluster between Tri and And.

Then returned to Neptune, near 21h39m34s, -14°22'18".

hit new web page

We were curious the temperature and dew conditions. At first, I considered grabbing the physical weather station console and bringing it into the GBO. Possible with its wireless interface to the sensors and being able to run on battery power.

But then it occurred to me during the evening that my earlier efforts would make it more convenient to monitor the weather around the CAO. Don't need to move the console any more... I hit my new weather station web page! Ha ha. There it was.

Spin-off benefit.

The last time I checked the weather station data was at 12:43 or shortly after.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

first time using PUSH TO

I didn't see how he did it but Ian W programmed into his Dobsonian digital setting circles that I wanted to go to Neptune. Then he pointed out that all I had to do was move the OTA, in the directions of the arrows, until I got the numbers to zero.

I've never used this system or approach before. But it was pretty simple. And fast.

Did I cheat? Somehow it felt like I was cheating!

ripping through NGCs (Blue Mountains)

In short order after dinner we were heading outside to prepare for observing. I immediately opened the roof of the GBO observatory and fired up the Celestron 14-inch telescope. First target: Jupiter!

With the Tele Vue Panoptic 27mm ocular in the C14.

8:56 PM. Viewed Jupiter. Hey, there are only 3 moons. Europa on one side; Ganymede and Callisto on the other.

With our guests, we viewed M57, Tim Horton star, and Jupiter.

Later, Ian D presented a list of interesting planetary nebula and other DSOs from somewhere so we started ripping through it. Easy peasy with TheSky6 and the Paramount ME...

NGC 6818 aka Little Gem. A planetary nebula. Lovely small triangle of faint field stars nearby.

6826 aka Blinking Planetary. A planetary nebula a star (mag 10.6) in the middle. [ed: aka Caldwell 15.]

6822 aka Barnard's Galaxy. Irregular. Hard to make out. Will need to look again. [ed: aka Caldwell 57.]

6905. Very nice planetary nebula. Very spherical. Lovely field stars.

Saturn Nebula aka 7009. Nice. [ed: aka Caldwell 55.]

7027. aka Magic Carpet! Very blue planetary nebula. Nearby star. Cone shape. Very small.

7184. Edge on galaxy. Very faint. Slightly canted bright core. Edge of field... [ed: huh?]

7331. Lovely spiral, canted. Beautiful bright centre. [ed: aka Caldwell 30.]

11:15 PM. Io emerged from shadow. Pop!

[ed: Confirmed in SkyTools3.]

7619. Two objects. A galaxy cluster! Should look again on a good night...

Blue Snowball, 7662. Very nice in the C14. [ed: aka Caldwell 22.]

11:50 PM. Titania. 14.44. 1 o'clock position. Uranus is less blue in the C14.

[ed: The 14.44 appears to be the magnitude number. That probably came from TheSky6. SkyTools3 shows mag 13.9, making it the brightest of all the moons.]


All these objects were immediately noted in the life list. Blog entry came (much) later.

moonless Neptune

While Stellarium shows moons for Uranus, it does not display any for the next planet.

Stellarium does shadows

Never noticed it before... As we know, Stellarium makes planets and moon "glow" to simulate the glare we see, when comparing the solar system objects to stellar objects.

But I never noticed that when a moon of Jupiter is behind the Jovian gas giant, it does not glow. So that means Stellarium shows and predicts when the moons will emerge from their parent's eclipsing shadows! Handy...


When Denis Grey, RASC Toronto Centre president, showed up at the CAO and announced he was going to be using the C14 telescope to monitor the asteroid occultation (small asteroid 1991RO23 to occult hide 9.4 magnitude star TYC 4668-00597-1 in Pisces for up to 1.6 seconds), I realised that my evening's activities were not going to go as planned.

I had hoped to use the C14, with the assistance of Ian W, Ian D, and others, so to learn it better, become more comfortable with it, as part of my training to be a CAO supervisor. I had not brought any of my own telescope gear so if I was going to do any deep sky observing, it would have to be using Centre equipment. (Or someone's extra 'scope that they weren't using.)

It seemed a little unfair that I got bumped from the C14 for this occultation. An occultation with a very low probability of success (Guy rated it "very low" or 5%). And it seemed, well, frankly, rude, that someone (no matter their rank) should show up in the middle of the weekend, announcing their intentions, without even asking if anyone else already had plans. Or that it wasn't turned into a group activity, something for all members to enjoy, "Hey, let's do this together gang!" I would not have minded at all sharing the work, the discovery. But after this sudden announcement, I had absolutely no interest in working together on it.

[ed: SkyTools3 showed (8090) 1991 R23 blocking HD 2047 at August 31 at 4:21 AM.]

virus at CAO?

Denis Grey—RASC Toronto Centre president—claimed, during the conclusion of Saturday dinner, that there was something wrong with the computer in the living room / kitchen area. There was something strange happening with Internet Explorer: it was not going to our site on start-up. A different page was popping up. He wondered if it was a virus...

Oh. Like I'm supposed to fix it now?! I'm going to finish my dessert, thank you.

I ordered him: "If you think there's a virus, then stop running Internet Explorer now! Right now!"

He got the message. And diverted his young son away from the computer.

We'll fix it later.

set up a Dob

Yesterday Ian W told me he had brought up his home-made 12½" Dobsonian telescope. He planned to set it up for visual astronomy (while he had his refractor taking CCD images).

I asked if I could do the set up. Get some experience with a large truss-tube Dob. He said, "Sure!"

So, after reviewing the weather data from his trailer, Ian suggested we do it now. OK! We said hi to recent-arrivals Lora, Phil, Skeena, and Callebaut and got to work.

We unpacked the gear from his pick up truck. The base and upper assembly were stacked together which required the two of us to hoist. The tubes were in a separate canvas bag with a handy (and clever) shoulder strap.

I removed the bungee cords from the assembly and lifted the top piece (with focuser, secondary mirror, spider) clear. It was surprisingly light.

We inserted the hinged tubes into the base but did not tighten them down. I lowered the upper assembled onto the hinge points of the truss. Cam locks secured the upper assembly. Then we tightened down the tubes in the base.

Ian W is a distributor for Dobsonian truss covers. So we fit the Spandex cover over the tubes. And with that we were basically done. At least the main things.

We affixed the Telrad and its heater. We attached the 9x50 finder scope and its heater. We ran the power conduit from the upper to the lower assembly. We attached the digital setting circles hardware and associated cabling. Ian had done some clever things. By integrating junctions for the dew heating equipment in the upper and lower assemblies, it kept the neat and tidy. Finally, we inserted a flocking paper-clad semi-circle plate behind the focuser.

Overall, the whole process was not long. You could probably do it all in 5 minutes or less, once familiar with the steps.

It is a beautiful telescope. Stunning workmanship.

uploading weather data

I appear to have successfully uploaded weather data "snapshot images" from our new Davis Instruments Vantage Pro 2 weather station console, via the living room personal computer, here at the CAO!

I created a test page at (This is only a temporary solution. The page will not be updated after the weekend.)

It's working well (although the update time intervals seem a little wonky)...

Friday, August 29, 2008


Learned about SLOOH from Ian W. It is very interesting the idea of having access to a robotic 'scope in a dark site. And pretty cheap too, at about $100 a year!

keys to the kingdom

Well. Sorta.

I was a little worried that Tom and I would arrive at the Carr Astronomical Observatory before Ian W (the weekend supervisor) would. Tom, who I was getting a ride with, he needed to briefly access the library, drop stuff off and pick up some items for return. I wanted to start reconfiguring the network...

So, Thursday evening, returning from Mississauga, I dropped by Dietmar's to get the keys to the house. He gave me a physical key (for the dead bolt) and a proximity card (for the scanner).

I re-read the CAO facilities manual to refamiliarise myself with the opening procedure (and along the way found more (but unrelated) mistakes in the manual—sheesh, need to do more editing!).

We arrived (after passing all the majestic windmills north of Shelburne) shortly after 10:00 AM. I opened the house. No drama. Pretty easy. Well described.

Then I turned on the water and water heater. And started to settle in.

Looking forward to (after midnight) some very clear skies...

Monday, August 25, 2008

broken trace

I heard back from Jim Kendrick. He suspects I have a broken wire trace inside the rubber casing of the dew heater element. Unfortunately, this is not repairable.

Looks like I'll need to buy a new heater for the eyepiece...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

hidden Perceptor

I was early for an appointment. It occurred to me that I was close to where Perceptor should be. So I decided to explore! From Highway 400, I continued along Highway 9 westbound until I reached a familiar-looking intersection, Highway 27. I turned south.

Immediately I noticed a plaza on the right, with grocery store, LCBO, The Beer Store, and various little shops. While trying not to hold up the traffic behind me, I quickly scanned the signage near the street, and the signage on the buildings. Nope. Nothing.

When I reached the Lloydtown/Aurora Road (ah, memories), I knew I had gone too far. I doubled back. It must be in the plaza. I turned into the parking lot and carefully reviewed every sign. Nope. Nothing.


I learned later, from an RASC member, that I was in the right spot. But one needs to go to the offices behind the plaza. There you will find Perceptor.

OK. So now I know. And if I take the 400-9 route to the CAO, given the proximity to Hwy 9, I will definitely drop in!

Now that I think of it, it could turn into a multi-purpose pit stop: booze, beer, groceries, telescope equipment. Done.

art supplies

Finally picked up, from Michaels, some art supplies for sketching.
  • Pink Pearl eraser
  • blending stumps, soft paper felt, 9.5mm diameter
  • Derwent graphic pencils, a B and a 2B
I forgot to get a 4B.

Now, I just need to dig my sketch book out of storage.

Friday, August 22, 2008

under the cap

The Robert Simpson brewery puts a "deep thought" under each bottle cap. I noted the following:

"Living on Earth is expensive, but includes a free trip around the sun."

root cause

I determined, through a series of continuity tests, as I dismantled my 2-inch dew heater wrap that the problem lies in the rubber-encased heater element. The Kendrick Dew Remover System has worked really well for me. But unfortunately, the small wrap for my eyepieces has gone south.

Sent a message to Jim to inquire if one may buy parts!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

you are here

I just downloaded Where Is M13? from

Very interesting program. Answers question I had 30 years ago: where are we, in space, in the galaxy? But I wanted to know this in three dimensions!

I remember, at the time, trying to map this. On paper. On 2-D media. I even tried to carry it further, out to the galactic level. I'll have to track down my maps and maybe scan. Tim Ferris's book, Galaxies, was insightful.

Anyway, this is a fun little program. Nice to see it's available for all platforms.


Hey, look at that. A barred spiral!

light, shadow, clouds (Toronto)

Tried to spot a moon shadow on Jupiter this evening. No joy.


I was up and running, in front of the house, at 9:00 PM. Had a few visitors early on. Katie was a little bashful but her Mom encouraged her to seize the scientific opportunity. We elicited a "Wow!" Joy. Jupiter looked good. The cloud bands were easily sighted. The four moons, and a couple of field stars, put on a good show. Unfortunately, all the outside school lights were on. Huh. It's still summer vacation!

I sketched the view while using the 18mm eyepiece although I got the scale wrong. Io was about 1 planet-width (pw) away at the time.

Image edited in Fireworks. Colours reversed. View not corrected; shown as sketched, mirror-reversed. Bottom-right arrow indicates direction of drift.

The seeing was not great. Was it the atmosphere? Or my telescope tube still settling? At 111x power, the view was not satisfying. It was colourful, would go in and out of focus. Nothing like the last sidewalk viewing, about a month ago.

9:38 PM. Over the next minute or so, Io lined up below Callisto, forming a line perpendicular to their orbital plane. Io is moving fast. It is harder to detect movement in Callisto.

There is almost a perfect equilateral triangle with the outer moons and a field star (HR7128) south of Jupiter.

The shadow position will be interesting. I don't know where to expect it. I assume it will be coming from across the opposite side. It always reminds me of the scale of the solar system, how far we are far the Sun... But isn't Jupiter near its opposition? So then the shadow should be close, no? But Callisto is almost 1 pw away. Hmmm. I'm a little confused.

All the free astronomy software that I use does not show or simulate Jovian shadows...

Here comes the Great Red Spot! There have only been a couple of moments of excellent seeing. I can see the GRS on the opposite side of Io and Callisto.

10:01 PM, 66%, 20.1°C. The seeing is poor. More shimmering, the airy disk around the moons is jostling and wavering. I cannot see any shadow on Jupiter's disk. Io is a ½ pw away now.

The view is getting worse! The contrast is dropping! What the hell?

I packed up.

10:23, 67%, 20.2°. From the backyard, I can see clouds! High, thin clouds. Everywhere! Drag.


Eyepieces, the 36 and 26, need cleaning again.


The base was oriented better this time. I used my compass to find true north. Surprised by the angle, compared to the sidewalk. It looks like the house itself is almost exactly north-south. I could use it as a guide in the future.


Stupid search lights south of here... On the lakeshore?


Am I being edited? I noticed the image from the Antigravity beer article was not showing. I had scanned the label from the beer bottle.

Did someone edit me?


Makes me wonder what else has been removed...

where is Navi?

No. I'm not talking about the character in the Legend of Zelda game.

I'm talking about the star.

Everyone agrees that it is in Cassiopeia. But does it refer to η (eta) or γ (gamma)?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

visited Rod Ends

I was working at General Mills. They're just "around the corner" from Rod Ends.

Finished my Excel 2007 level 3 course early. Charles emailed me and suggested I call him. He was still at the office when I rang. I said I could be there in 10 or 15 minutes.

I got the tour of the shop. For some reason, I was thinking about piston rods. No no. Tie rods! I could use some, on the M3! It's sloppy.

Chas showed me the "astronomy" section in the warehouse. Wow! I didn't know he imported eyepieces... Sheesh. Had I known...

Monday, August 18, 2008


I informed Lora and Phil that, due to a conflict, I would not be able to join them at the Algonquin Adventure this year.

There are not enough days in the summer...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

heaters good: Andy

Andy sent me a quick note. He had successfully tested his heaters and controller using a 120-12 adapter. Yeh! He was in the process of charging his portable 12V battery. Hopefully it is OK.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

booked for next year!

The Farmer's Pantry apple orchard just booked me for 2 dates next summer!

Friday, August 15, 2008

fixed the Sony

The Sony VAIO laptop provided on loan to RASC Toronto Centre members I repaired today. I finally resolved a long outstanding issue with the DVD/CD drive. While it would play DVDs fine, it would not open or read CDs. After removing a couple of spam programs and cookies, thanks to Tread Micro, it seems to be working again!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

charge your battery!

I sent the following note to the RASC Toronto Centre listserv. Or at least I thought I did...

Regardless, it is something we all should be aware of.
Some general advice for everyone with a portable battery or power pack or power "tank."

The advice pertains to portable lead-acid 12 volt batteries.

Charge it regularly!

Lead-acid battery technology is the same as in your vehicle. These types of batteries work best if they are regularly charged up. Your car's alternator is charging the battery as you drive to and fro. You need to do the equivalent with your portable. If not, the lead plates within the battery develop sulfur build-up. Then the battery will perform poorly and eventually not hold a charge.

If your portable battery comes with an AC wall-plug style adapter, use it once a month. Mine has overcharge protection. So that means I could leave the battery plugged in all the time! It would be topped up every time I needed it.

If your portable battery can be charged from your vehicle, be careful. Mine does NOT have overcharge protection with this feature. It could be overloaded, heat up, etc. That's bad for lead-acid batteries.

Lead-acid batteries do not have "memory effects" like Ni-Cd batteries. In fact, do *not* let them run down. Again, keep it topped up.

Do not let a lead-acid battery freeze.

One more time: charge it up. Keep it topped up.

Finally, as per usual, consult your documentation...

(sent via Computer Ease webmail while at Skyservice)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

another unhappy laser customer

I learned that Mickey also owns one of these "no name" 40mW lasers. And he's having trouble...

"The light output was fluctuating and then it just stopped working."

Exactly the problem I had with my third one!

tested Andy's dew equipment

Andy sent out a plea to the RASC Toronto Centre listserv. His dew heater wraps or controller were not working as he expected (during or after Starfest).

We gave him a bunch of suggestions but he didn't have some of the necessary tools to verify functions and parameters. To the meeting, I offered to bring my equipment (for comparisons) and my multimeter (for testing).

Tested his Kendrick 8" dew heater wrap. It showed 7 or 8 ohms. Same as mine. I had him wiggle it around and flex it. It did not cut out.

Tested his eyepiece dew heater wrap. It showed higher ohms, as expected. Nominal response to flexing and movement.

Tested the voltage output from his Kendrick IV controller. Seemed fine, in unloaded testing. Mine worked in a similar way, although it showed a lower voltage.

So, all the gear looked OK. But we were not getting any noticeable heat from any of the wraps.

We were driving this off his (small) portable 12V battery. When we checked the status gauge, it reported low. Oh! I was immediately suspicious of the battery. I asked when he last charged it. "Before Starfest," Andy replied. I suggested he charge it up and try again. And explained that lead-acid batteries need to be regularly charged. I offered to continue the testing in the parking lot with my (larger) power tank. Or to run it off a car. But he seemed satisfied at this stage that nothing was wrong with the dew equipment.

Hopefully the battery is not pooched...


What does Konstantin Lysenko really want? As he introduced to the RASC Toronto Centre, he bad-mouthed teachers, school boards, Microsoft, Google, the Ontario Science Centre, others. Because they did not want to work for free on his web site? Really. What do you want?! What are you not telling us?

Monday, August 11, 2008

presentation booked

Paul M booked me to deliver a presentation during the Members' Night RASC Toronto Centre meeting coming up on Wednesday 15 October.

The topic of my presentation will be "make your own field-of-view templates for your star charts."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

missed Starfest, again

It struck me that this year, if I had gone to Starfest, I would have known a dozen or so people there!

I've known about Starfest, Ontario's (Canada's?) big star party meet-up, organised by the North York Astronomy Association, for years. I knew about it long before I joined the RASC. But for many reasons I was always anxious about going. I did not know my experience level and felt self-conscious about that. I did not want to go alone but I could never round up someone equally interested. Most recently, I was trying to encourage Cindy and Terry to bring the boys.

Many friends (Phil, Katrina, Mickey, Angela) at RASC Toronto Centre asked me if I was going this year. Ironically, I had made other plans (primarily, Beerfest was on), so I couldn't attend.

Despite the damp weather, it sounds like it was a fun time. Michael M reported "Friday night was a treat with seeing above average." Andy B, while plagued with hardware problems, enjoyed the views at "Dob Hollow... with Adam C and his big-scope friends." Angela reported in and said that she and Jennifer had a blast.

Maybe next year, finally, I'll go...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

wow, cards for me

Leslie made up RASC Toronto Centre business cards for me! Nice. These will be handy.

They were made however on an ink jet printer. Must avoid rain. And dew.

OK. The really weird thing is that it doesn't have the URL on it!

Friday, August 08, 2008

helped at oh 8 oh 8 oh 8 (Toronto)

I assisted at the Ontario Science Centre star party. We had a good turnout of RASC Toronto Centre members, despite conflicts with Starfest, a gaggle having gone up to the CAO, and iffy weather.

Hitched a ride to and fro with John B. Gave him some gas money.

I did not take my telescope offering instead to float about or fly one of the Science Centre 'scopes. Guy suggested we needed a floater so that's what I did. I took care, early on, of distributing name tags and making a list of the volunteers.

It was kind of liberating. Normally, you want to stay close to your gear. Footloose and fancy free. Whatever that means.

It also gave me a chance to try a lot of different 'scopes. I liked Isaac's Williams Optics refractor setup and Guy's Maksutov OTA.

The conditions were not bad with some scattered cloud. Jupiter was the "star" of the show. We also got good views of the Moon (although I missed the views of Lunar X!). Through breaks, members pointed to Albireo and ν (nu) Casseopeia. I encouraged Isaac to try for the Andromeda Galaxy. You could see it!

As usual, people (young and old) freaked out when I used the green laser... At one point, a young man asked me where I got mine and what I paid. He was pleased to inform me he got his on eBay for a tenth of what I paid. I asked him, "How many milliwatts?" Then I showed him, The Big Gun! It was very interesting running his 5mW and my 40mW side-by-each.

By the way, the replacement laser worked flawlessly.

I wore my new Soylent Green is People t-shirt!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

beer for astronauts

Will invited me over to dinner, to his (or rather, his parents) cottage, while I was working nearby in Orillia.

I wanted to get the gang a nice bottle of wine. Fortunately, I found my favourite, Conde de Valdemar, a crianza from Spain.

While wandering the store, an ale with a colourful label caught my eye. Antigravity by the Robert Simpson small craft brewery. Decided to try it, even though a light beer.

Not surprisingly, Will was familiar with the Barrie brewery, while I had never heard of them.

It was delicious!

Look closely between the kettles...

And they write their address the way I often have. Just, you know, so people don't get confused and go to the wrong galaxy...


The Barrie, Ontario brewery reorg'ed, revamped, repositioned... I don't know what they did. They're called Flying Monkeys now. But they still make the awesome Antigravity beer!


Image is property of Flying Monkeys.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

half way!

I tallied up my viewed Messier objects: 55. I'm half way! And its only taken me 17 years!

Ha ha. At this rate, I'll be done when I'm 61!

Ironically, I feel I'm moving too fast through this... I want to slow down, do more sketching, more detailed notes.

Who knows when I'll finish!

4th time with charm

As I walked out of KhanScope, Ray said, "Third time with charm." He was referring to the 40mW green laser replacement in my hand.

I corrected him: "Fourth time."

Ray himself admitted this was a serious problem.

I told him that if there's another issue with this no-name laser, I don't want an exchange...

Monday, August 04, 2008

successful weekend

On many levels...

During the day, I got a lot of work done and things accomplished in the CAO.
  • donated a 5-legger office chair for the kitchen / living room computer
  • brought up 4 new incandescent red light bulbs
  • installed 1 new incandescent red light bulb in the THO
  • installed and tested a new Linksys wireless N Ultra router
  • documented the new SSID for the other supervisors
  • installed an extra ethernet cable to the wireless router
  • changed the D-Link di-704 administrative password from its default to a strong password
  • tested all 7 of the available ethernet ports in the GBO
  • created a new administrative account for myself on the GBO tower computer
  • configured laser printer access onto the GBO tower computer
  • configured laser printer access onto Ian's XP and Vista laptops
  • documented the printer profile setup for addition to the facilities manual
  • printed new pages and reassembled an updated version of the on-site facilities manual
  • dropped off a new ream of laser / photocopy paper
  • removed and shook the laser toner cartridge to extend its life span
  • documented the toner information for a future purchase
  • temporarily connected the Davis Instruments Vantage Pro 2 weather station house computer so to test the USB DataLogger cable and the WeatherLink software
  • submitted a request for the WeatherLinkIP package with ethernet DataLogger
  • dropped off the Sony laptop materials for storage at the CAO
  • read all the weather station and software documentation
  • corrected the time setting in the weather station
  • cleaned the air filter in the Panasonic digital projector
I found and viewed a lot of objects, mostly during the evenings:
  • 14 Messiers
  • 2 NGCs
  • 4 planets (Venus and Saturn during the day)
  • 3 double stars
  • a young Moon
  • dozens of satellites (most during the day, actually)
  • ISS, twice
  • many meteors, no doubt many Perseids
  • learned a couple of new constellations
  • faint stars down to 13th or 14th magnitude
Other miscellaneous things accomplished:
  • helped Randy get going with his Celestron GOTO telescope
  • helped Angela align her finder
  • helped Jean add her full name to her Yahoo! profile
  • viewed an "icebow" in wispy clouds with Angela (unfortunately, the digital photos didn't turn out) [these are popularly known as fire rainbows]
  • added TFOV figures to my viewing circles template
  • charged up my new portable UPS for future use in my home office
  • test drove Mom's unbirthday gift!
  • got to know some RASC members much better

poor interface

The Celestron software interface in the hand controller of Randy's telescope... well... sucks.

Celestron should hire a human-computer interface professional.

Why, for example, when you turn on the mount and controller, does it not prompt you to enter the correct date and time?! It prompts for you location. Of course, if you're doing an overnight, that will not change. But the date and time in the controller is, upon the restart, what the user entered during the last session. It might be what you entered one month ago! And the only way to get to that, is to respond to the location question, that you are not in the same location!



I made Randy get out some paper and grab a pen. We wrote a quick reference. Much better than the crazy manual Celestron provided.

size of knob

Well! Never on the first date...

I've come to appreciate the subtle but smart feature of the Williams Optics 2" / 1¼" adapter for the mirror diagonal:

The mirror proper has a thumbscrew to clamp down a 2" eyepiece or the adapter. The thumbscrew itself is large.

The adapter has a thumbscrew to lock in a 1¼" eyepiece. This thumbscrew is smaller.

In the dark, without looking, you know which part you're releasing...


and then there were three (Blue Mountains)

My third night in a row in the THO. Incredible, just being able to walk in, turn on the power, and start observing!


I tried for many minutes up to 9:45 PM to view Saturn. I really wanted to see it. I called out, from the THO, to Randy. "Hey, what are you doing? Your 'scope is set up. Go for Saturn!" He synched on the very young Moon and then spotted the faint ringed planet right away. He was very happy. Still, I continued to scan the sky with my binoculars (while Millie and Phil chatted up the conspiracy-theorising, UFO-believing, astrology-following human-like visitors to the CAO). I wandered out to the pad for some help with Saturn. Phil said he could occasionally see sixth planet naked eye. No joy for me.

I was getting distracted by Jupiter. I thought that at 9:30 or so we were going to see a Great Red Spot transit. I looked closely through the turbulent air. Nothing.

As our argument at dinner determined, the GRS cycles around the giant planet about every 10 hours or so (not 11 like I thought or 9 like Jean believed). This meant my calculations (based on the Saturday night observations) were off by 2 hours. It GRS had crossed the meridian probably around 7:30 PM...

Still, the Jovian moons were in an interesting configuration with Callisto and Ganymede very close together and on the same side as Europa.

The Moon was very intriguing as it sunk into the murk.

Angela arrived. Yeh!

She set up her small Williams Optics triplet refractor on a big aluminum tripod. She noticed that the red dot finder was not aligned. I dug out the hex keys sets from the CAO basement but unfortunately none fit. Probably a Metric vs. Imperial issue. As I returned from the basement, suddenly I remembered (laughing and cursing) I had my own hex keys with me! I had brought them to do pupil dilation measurement (which I had yet to perform). I grabbed an appropriate-sized wrench, we tried it, and it fit! Ang then tuned her finder. Another telescope problem resolved! I'm on a roll.

Phil turned his small refractor to the Lagoon and the Trifid. They looked great. He revealed his secret: he was using an Ultra High Contrast (UHC) filter!

10:57 PM. Everyone on the observing pad was noting the high dew levels. I reported the figures from the display of my OneWorld unit, which I had sitting outside the THO: 99% humidity with a temperature of 13.3°C. Oh oh...

I decided to start out deep sky observing in Scorpius: the sky was very clear there. I went for Graffias or β (beta). I needed to confirm this sighting. It is a very nice double star at low power (with the 36mm). The stars are close. The main is ivory white and the companion is pale yellow. [There colours disagree with Haas's book and my earlier notes. I'm going to have to check it again. And make better notes.]

I star hopped to Messier 6 (NGC 6405). Initially, I misread the label in Pocket Sky Atlas as Butterfly Nebula. I did not see any nebulosity... When I returned to PSA, I saw it was the Butterfly Cluster. Ah. Everything looks as it should. There is definitely an evocative shape; I would say it looks more like a dragonfly. It is made up of fine blue-white stars, I would say about 40 or 50. There is a bright red star in the field.

Messier 7 (NGC 6475) was a short distance away. It seemed to me like a miniature version of the Hercules constellation, the bright stars forming a shape like a man. It is a large open cluster. It filled the entire field in my baader eyepiece at 56x.

11:43 PM. I wasn't sure if I had seen Messier 80 (NGC 6093) already. So I hopped to it. It is very small, very compact globular cluster. It has a bright centre.

Coffee break! I joined everyone in the red-lit kitchen. Ian kept threatening to turn on white lights... As it is, I think the red light over the sink is too bright. There was a brief discussion of a red bulb installed in the fridge later being removed by someone else. I wondered out loud if we could install a switch.

Mmm, two cups.

12:50 AM. I was back at it. I viewed M54 (NGC 6715). It is a small, compact globular cluster. [Later research shows is in not in the Milky Way Galaxy. That's kinda cool.]

12:59 AM. I found M55 (NGC 6809) to be a very large but very faint globular cluster.

2:00 AM. I viewed the globular cluster M75 (NGC 6864). It is very small. It was better at 110x.

2:44 AM. I noticed there were a bunch of double stars nearby in Capricornus. First stop: omicron. Two equal pale blue white stars. Medium separation (21"). Haas described them as whitish-gold in colour; but Webb says "white, bluish." Agreed. Oh, an optical double, I see.

2:54 AM. I could not seem to split π (pi) Cap. I tried all powers, including the 4mm i.e. 500x. The light shimmered badly at high magnification. Haas says they're 3.2" apart, which a 75mm 'scope should show. Huh. I'll have to try that again.

Having successfully loaded the "level 6" catalog into Stellarium, I assessed some of the field stars. I believe I'm seeing stars down to 13th and 14th magnitude.

I viewed ρ (rho) Cap. The main star is a bright yet pale yellow. A fainter companion is a yellow. At 90° there is a pale aquamarine star. [This blue star is not part of the system.] I'll need to view this jumble again...

3:07 AM. I pulled the OneWorld weather station in from outside. It was dripping with moisture. I tried to unlock it. Nothing. The backlight did not come on. Oh... so the battery's finally died. I looked the screen: blank. Oh oh. Did something short or burn out with the heavy dew?

Now I'm starting to wonder if the Stellarium catalogs are correct, or rather, accurate. Some of the faint stars are correct but others are completely wrong, i.e. wrong brightness, wrong positions. I should try Cartes du Ciel for these deep magnitude tests. Maybe I'll have to bite the bullet and get some high end software...

Is β (beta) Cap aka Dabih a triple? Bright yellow, bright blue, and dark blue. I think I was using low power... Haas describes this as a showcase pair. But if I'm going to continue to describe multi-star systems, I better keep more detailed notes. Eyepieces, estimated separation, orientations.

Hey, the station is back! Sorta... The display is showing values again. In fact, it shows 99% and 12.3°. But the backlight is still not working.

3:33 AM. I viewed Neptune beside two faint stars. Pale cyan. Am I seeing it in the finder scope? Or are those stars and Neptune merging...? I'll have to read up if that can be done... It must be! If you can see Uranus naked eye!

3:45 AM. I viewed M15 (NGC 7078). It is lovely at 110x. There seem to be long arms of stars extending away from the centre. I can almost see a pentagram shape within.

3:50 AM. Tried for γ (gamma) Equuleus. I saw a very wide pair of pale yellow and pale blue stars. [These are not the double star. Haas says 1.3" apart. Well!]

4:03 AM. The weather station is fully-functional again. Wow. That's good. It clearly does not like constant exposure to high humidity.

Wanted to finish with a bang. I don't think I had viewed the Andromeda Galaxy with the new eyepiece. So I headed to M31 with the 36mm installed. Wow. I sketched it. Now what is that smudge down at the bottom left? [It's M32, ya goof!] (So, that's NGC 224 and 221 respectively.)

Image adjusted in Fireworks. Inverted colours. Flipped horizontally and rotated.

4:14 AM. Inside readings, from the Oregon Scientific: 77%, 13.4°. It was chilly.

What a weekend!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

day time with GOTO (Blue Mountains)

It occurred to me that with Randy's GOTO 'scope still set up (and untouched) on the pad, we could take advantage of the evening's alignment. "Let's go for day time planets." Be careful what you wish for...

I spent an hour with the Celestron Advanced GT controller trying to find Venus and the Moon. Meanwhile, Phil was hitting these targets with his refractor on the alt/az mount!

Then Phil pointed out that the latitude and longitude settings are much more important for solar system objects. Oops! Randy's setup was configured for Toronto. I changed that and slewed to Venus. Nothing in the finder scope. But I panned a little and spotted the planet. I centred in the eyepiece and synched the controller. A bright round disk. Nice.

I slewed to the Moon. Bingo!

I slewed to Saturn. It was very difficult to see.


Margaret wanted to use her 'scope too. I started to help her but I caught her moving tripod. Oops. I tried for another hour but couldn't find Venus.

Rigel flashlights

A couple of members had Rigel (or knock-off) flashlights, with the rectangular case. One person was trying to change the battery but couldn't figure out if it was possible. So after some fiddling, we got the case open. I was impressed with the design.
  • compact case
  • adjustable brightness (via rheostat)
  • deep red colour (one in particular)
  • neck strap
I'll have to see how much these cost in Canada...

See Rigel Systems for more info. (Warning, framed web site.)


The new Rigel Systems web site is over here...

helped then viewed (Blue Mountains)

Another busy day at the CAO. I repaired many things, including the barbeque, intercom, and outdoor thermometer. I tested the ethernet ports in the GBO.

After sunset, I had a nap. It was good! Gave me the boost to stay up longer.

I helped a member, Randy, get going with his (relatively new) Celestron 6" catadioptric telescope on a GOTO mount. In the end, it had the wrong date and time in the controller keypad (the date and time when he last used it in November 2007!). In the meantime, Dietmar helped Margaret with her small Meade Maksutov GOTO. We looked at a bunch of Messiers and some double stars. Oh, and Jupiter. It is fascinating to me that to calibrate the 'scope, you need to know your stars, by name. This challenged even the "old timers." How are rank beginners supposed to figure this out?!

I spent lots of time in the THO. Caught the 11:30 PM Great Red Spot crossing. During good seeing, the view was pretty amazing. Phil said my view looked better than the 14". Wow! Tracked down some more Messiers, between breaks in the clouds. Caught the second ISS flyover. And bonked my head pretty hard.

As I crawled into the tent, the Pleiades and Hyades were rising.


12:07 AM, outside 87% humidity, 13.8°C temperature. I viewed Messier 107 (M107) (NGC 6171). I found it very, very faint! Some of the surrounding field stars are very faint. Stellarium says they are magnitude 11.90.

12:30 AM. I wanted to check objects near Capricornus. I spotted Messier 72 (NGC 6981) and M73 (NGC 6994) in Pocket Sky Atlas nearby (although they are officially in Aquarius). M72 is a very small and very faint globular cluster. It has a bright centre. There are faint field stars nearby.

There were scattered clouds this evening. Outside it was 93% and 13.3°.

1:45 AM. I took another look at M72, since the clouds had moved out. Pretty.

Off to Messier 73 (M73). The different symbols on the Sky & Telescope Messier Card and in the Pocket Sky Atlas kept throwing me. Ah. This is the famous star cluster that is not really a star cluster. It is a V-shaped pattern of faint, magnitude 11 stars.

2:20 AM, 99%, 12.4°. Hey, there's another deep sky object nearby... I viewed the NGC 7009, the Saturn Nebula, also known as Caldwell 55. It was very small but a rich cyan colour, oblong in shape. There are no nearby stars...

2:35 AM. Messier 2 (M2) (NGC 7089) is a lovely globular cluster. Bright but small. A very round shape, with a intense centre. There's a bright star near it. There are little stars nearby.

3:22 AM. I decided to finish up with some double stars. I viewed 99 Aquarius. The main star is yellow while the companion is blue green. Then I went to 101 Aquarius. The main star is blue white; the companion is very pale grey.

I took in the constellation Cetus. I tried to view λ (lambda) Cetus. But clouds interfered.

None of these stars were referred to in Sissy Haas's book... Weird.

3:40. I shutdown.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

a planet and some Messiers (Blue Mountains)

I viewed Jupiter briefly this evening. Then I hunted down some Messiers that I had not seen. All this in the Tony Horvatin Observatory (THO) at the Carr Astronomical Observatory site.


I remembered to put some DEET on this evening. Although later on when the temperature dropped, I didn't need it.


Suddenly, as it was getting dark, I realised that it would be nice to have internet access in the THO this evening. But that would require, once and for all, that I get the new Linksys N Ultra wireless router up and running (as a switch). So, I took another stab at it, and I got it going. I tested it from the Observing Pad: it worked very well. Phil tried it on his laptop just beside the THO: he was getting 5 bars and very fast response. Curiously, my access inside the THO was spotty. Huh. It's supposed to have 4 times the range... Regardless, it was better than before.


9:26 PM. I spotted a bright satellite, low, about 20° up, heading east. Looked like the ISS. Made me realise I had not checked the flyovers report from Heavens Above.

10:52 PM. Beautiful skies, particularly overhead and to the north. There was lightning to the south, in the distance, perhaps over Orangeville, as well as to the west, sympathetic flashings.

It was warm in the THO, 71%, 18°C. Outside it was 92%, 15.0°C.

11:17 PM. Star hopping from ε (epsilon) Sagittarius (aka Kaus Australis), I found M69 (NGC 6637). It is very small at low power. I dropped in the Meade 18mm and could see some detail and structure, small fine filaments of stars would pop out from time to time. Noted the nearby field star HP 90772.

I started fiddling with Stellarium to see if I could get it to match the view in the eyepiece. Of course, I had not programmed it, like at my home computer. So I applied the Script text box change, turned on the buttons for the horizontal and vertical flips. It is still frustrating that I cannot rotate the field. Although it occurred to me that if I can change the sideral time then I might be able to simulate field rotation. But I chose not to play with that. Needed to get back to observing.

I also did some testing with respect to limiting magnitude. I had noticed in the city during my Jupiter observing some faint field stars. The limit seemed to be about 10.58. This evening I could see stars to 11.85 magnitude.

11:45 PM. I noticed, according to Pocket Sky Atlas, that NGC 6652 was nearby in Sagittarius. I briefly took in this very small globular cluster.

The alarm I had programmed for the next ISS flyover at 11:57 went off. I headed over to the GBO and called for Phil and the others. Millie was outside, observing from the pad. I waited for 10 minutes but didn't see anything. Millie said she had seen one "about an hour ago." It slowly dawned on me that I had set the alarm one hour late! Crap.

I noticed Dietmar and Ian D have trouble with the roll-off roof again... Fortunately, they got the GBO closed. Continuing problem with the sensors?

12:29 AM. Those storm clouds from the south moved in. They started washing out the bottom of the constellation. I decided to start moving upwards into Scutum. I found M26 (NGC 6694), a very small and compact open cluster. Along the way I bumped into the Wild Duck Cluster (M11 or NGC 6707), enjoyable to see again.

I checked my portable weather station set up outdoors. It was soaked. 99% humidity and 13.6°C on the grounds of the CAO. It was 20% drier and 3 degrees warmer inside the THO.

I suddenly felt very tired. The intensity of the week, or last couple of weeks, I think, was finally catching up with me. Today had been a long, energetic day. Joints creaking, I headed off to my nearby tent. It was not long at all that I was sound asleep.


At various stages during the evening, I would forego the telescope to instead take the whole sky. The Milky Way seemed very bright this evening.

I caught a couple of Perseid meteors. One, travelling to the west, left behind a green trail.

Friday, August 01, 2008

strange stars

It was terribly apparent that the proper set up of the Celestron OTA and German Equatorial Mount managed by the NexStar Advanced GT hand controller required a base, fundamental knowledge of the sky, primarily where the bright stars were, knowledge that Randy didn't have...


laser not working

I tried my green laser pointer tonight. It briefly flashed. Then it stopped working. For crying out loud...

I will return this third bad laser and demand my money back.

Phil was not surprised.