Friday, October 31, 2008

Moon & Venus (Etobicoke)

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 30, 2008

occultation mockultation (Pontypool)

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

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

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

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

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


Guy had beeped his horn.

I just started laughing...

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

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

What a riot.

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

Well, at least I learned a lot.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

TFOV presentation

Delivered my Do-It-Yourself presentation this evening at the RASC Toronto Centre's member night meeting. I explained how to make one's own True Field Of View ring template for a star chart. So to better use your eyepieces in your telescope(s).

If you missed it... too bad, so sad.

OK. OK. Relax. The presentation is available for download (450 KB) over in the companion site... Originally, a PowerPoint 2003 file; converted to Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF).


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

no Mercury; interesting clouds

Dropped Malcolm to the GO station. Drove his car back to his house. Stunning clouds. Flat. Perfectly flat across the sky. The photo doesn't do it justice.

It became more colourful as the Sun rose.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

nice night

Leslie and the gang had a good night, fortunately, for their Sharon star party.

For me, I could not help. I was due in Shannonville on Friday to teach at an advanced driving school. A gaggle of us were descending on the Best Western in Belleville.

At least I got to enjoy some dark skies and bright stars while driving along the 401...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

calendars out!

The 2009 RASC calendar is available!

Buy now. And be happy.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

not looking good

This year's star party in Sharon for the kids of Our Lady of Good Counsel was signalled that it would go ahead. But as I left downtown, the skies had some scattered clouds. By the time I got home, there was increasing cloud cover. I called Leslie on her mobile and she said it was not looking good. And she intimated it would be OK if I didn't show. I called Phil in Richmond Hill and asked if he could check his skies. He said it was socked in to the north.

The weather rock was dry; but it had no shadow...

He reminded me to check the NOAA page. Right! Oh oh. As he viewed, he said, "Oh, that blue region is getting close. That's good." I reminded him that that was the opposite: blue is bad. I teased him that he should read my past SCOPE article.

Later Phil sent me a link to Intellicast's infrared satellite imagery for North America. Nice reports. Although I can tell they like pop-ups!

Leslie later reported they scrubbed the star party for this evening; they're going to try again for Thursday, their pre-selected rain date. But I am unfortunately not available...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

tiring weekend

I assisted at the CAO work party this weekend. There was much work to be done, such as a swale dug, in addition to the normal season-ending closing activities. I also intended to complete the setup of the weather server. Time permitting, we could play with my old Lionel 027 train set.

I arrived Friday afternoon. Only Dietmar and Erich were up. I started to work on another set of solar garden lights. Tony had bought 8 more units from Canadian Tire. I converted these from white to super-bright red LEDs.

It proved cloudy Friday evening so there was no observing to be done.

As others arrived, we were able to sort out the sleeping arrangements. Dietmar let me have the library. Better for all concerned (given my snoring ability).

Saturday arrived pretty quickly. Tony reviewed the task list with all of us over breakfast. I took an interest in laying the patio stones at the downstairs door. A group of us sloughed away. It was tough going at the beginning but finished very rapidly. The finished result, with Magic Sand in place, looks really good.

I was feeling very tired in the evening. Still, I wanted to make some headway with the weather server computer. I removed the old Pentium tower from the GBO warm room and installed the new 320 GB hard disk. It appeared completely blank.

Very fortunately, I found a CD for Windows XP Pro. But it was unusable! Someone had let it touch a glued or taped surface... Sheesh. I cleaned the disk with rubbing alcohol but it did not lift the old glue. More power! We then tried a solvent... It worked! I installed XP onto the hard disk. However, when I rebooted, it was not recognised by the system. Weird.

After much consideration and various discussions with Gilles, Tom, Nick, Dave, and chas, I realised what I needed to do. I put the drive into the Hercules computer and formatted a couple of small 8 GB partitions. I then left the rest of the drive unformatted. Reinstalled in the old Andromeda computer and it recognised it. Reinstalled XP. It worked! I loaded the weather station software and started pulling data off the Davis Instruments console. Sweet! I let it run overnight.

Tom wandered in from outside and informed us the skies were clear. No one moved. Too exhausted from the day. He dug out his charts and chipped away at his Herschel list. Good on 'im!

Sunday morning I began configure the WeatherLink software to upload the data to our web site. It worked! I created a test page showing current conditions and historical data (for 1 week). Woo hoo. Now we will be ready to monitor conditions over the winter. We just need to figure out what we want to view...

I put the solar lights outside to charge up.

In the late morning, I began to wire a new electrical outlet—inside the supervisor's closet. Dave helped me finish off the wiring. Then we dropped the new 50' ethernet (CAT 6) cable from the closet into the basement and over to the tool room, to connect to the switch behind our router. Just long enough. Whew!

The moment of truth. I moved the Andromeda computer into the closet, plugged it into the AC, connected it to the network, connected it to the weather console (on the other side of the wall), and fired it up. Everything launched. I suddenly remembered I had not installed the WeatherLink icon into the Windows Startup folder. As I did that, people in the living room started protesting. The internet was suddenly not available. Oh oh. Looks like my new computer had unsettled the LAN. I shut it down.

When I restarted it, something bad happened: "Disk read error." WTF?! It was just working! I spent another hour fiddling with it to no avail. What a drag. All that work...

My theory is that the old computer's power supply or the mobo is failing.

Upset, I proposed to the various council members present that I'd like a new computer. They supported my request in principle. I seriously considered ordering one of the on-special TigerDirect barebone kit AMD multi-core diskless machines for $200! But then Tony said that Trev said that he'd donate his old computer. When I discussed this with Denis, he said his office would be getting rid of some old computers for cheap. Huh.

I told them I want said "new" computer within 2 weeks. I'll come back to the CAO then and finish the weather system setup.

The weekend concluded quietly with Trev, Tony, and me closing up. Tony reviewed various procedures with me in anticipation to me receiving my own keys and supervising over a future weekend. He did not surrender the keys—he still needs to properly identify them.