Thursday, December 31, 2009

don't mess with Luna

There's no such thing as a Blue Moon.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

deep red head lamp

For Christmas, I gave Mom a headlamp.

I wrote on her gift card, "Happy Splunking." Steve and I had to explain to her what that meant. What I really bought it for was when she might observe with her telescope. She needed a good red portable light. She liked my baseball cap clip light but I was having a hard time sourcing red ones. But then, the more I thought about it, a strap-style headlamp would be more versatile. I also wanted to avoid something with non-standard batteries.

The Petzl Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp I picked up from Mountain Equipment Co-op. Mom finally got 'round to testing it tonight. It works great.

I was very impressed with the red colour. It is quite dark or deep. I wasn't expecting that.


Mostly she uses it when the power goes out.

ready for skin

Got a few more steps done today, with supplies purchased yesterday. Had to use 2 pieces of 1/4" plywood for the roof base. Used PL Premium to glue the roof deck to the insulation; added a few long screws. Then added the self-adhesive ice shield to the roof deck. Added the lower hinge support. This allowed me to finally add the insulation on the back wall.

Measured the height of the new large casters and found them to be over 3.5 inches tall. I mounted 1 fixed and 1 rotating caster each to a 21" long 4x4. Did this twice.

Attached these wheel rails to the 3/4" base with adhesive and 6 long wood screws. Cut insulation to fit around the wheel supports.

Easier to work on it now. Added the insulation to the door 1/4" plywood with PL 2000. Thought I had cut it wrong but the insulation had shifted a little. Then I added ranch board with more PL Premium.

Didn't have enough to do it in one piece. It doesn't look like I'll have enough of the ranch board for the entire structure... And I've run out of time. I'll return in a few weeks to finish it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

more supplies

Mom and I made another trip to Home Hardware this afternoon. In particular, we bought some DOW blue R5 styrofoam insulation and some plywood, so I could begin the next stage of construction. The guy at the service counter said the R5 only came in 2x8 sheets. Weird. I thought, when I was helping Willy with his bathroom reno, that we were working with 4x8 sheets...

I've since added the 3/4" plywood to the bottom and the ½" plywood to the top. The side insulation pieces were installed, glued to the frame with PL 2000 construction adhesive. Stinky stuff. Not comfortable when you get it on your skin.

Then I started to build the door frame. The 2x4 for uprights will offer better anchor points for the hinges, on the left, and the utility lock, on the right.

It is slightly smaller than the opening (which is 50 x 23).

I spent a long time try to build a cross member that would help hold the frame true. But it seemed, immediately, to make things worse. When I considered that the facia would do that job, I removed the diagonal cross member.

Used a bunch of 1" and 1½" drywall screws to attach the ¼" plywood to the door frame.

Did a few other minor steps. But I couldn't attach any more insulation--I had used up almost one full tube of the PL 2000.

Tomorrow, I will return to the building centre. For a few reasons: we forgot to pick up the roof felt and ice/water barrier; I'll get more adhesive; and I'll take a look at their caster selection.

test fit

I wanted to see if the box would truly fit around the telescope. Everything up to this point has been "on paper." Also, I need to learn how high the box will need to sit above the deck, given the new pier is effectively taller than the stock mount. Not the best weather but what the hey...

It fits!

I elevated the whole frame on blocks.

Top clearance is good!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

box begins

After a trip into St Thomas's Home Hardware Building Centre, I began to build the frame of the telescope box (outhouse? shed?) for Mom's observatory.

This was an effort to verify the proper inner dimensions of the box. The telescope "footprint" is 27 by 14 inches, including focuser, counterweight shaft, and other bits that stick out. The wood pieces on the floor were cut to 23 (width) and 21 (depth) inches. I measured the inner diagonal and there appeared to be enough room. These pieces will not actually be used on the bottom; again, they just helped me know that my initial measurements were correct.

Next I began work on one of the side elements. I cut the front and back supports a bit longer than originally planned (57" and 49" tall respectively). Can't hurt, a bit more height inside the box... Initially, I cut the supports square.

On the floor, I squared the bottom piece to the upright supports. Then with a long piece of wood, I was able to score a line from the peak of the front support to the lowest point of the back support. It looked like about a 30° angle. I cut the upright tops at the appropriate angle and then scored and cut the top support. Mom's table saw was very helpful.

Left wall done. Everything was screwed together with 3" wood deck screws.

Again, I did some test measurements. Upright clearance for the telescope optical tube looked good.

I realised I made a mistake in my wood cutting. I had not pre-planned the most efficient or optimal use of the wood so I wasted a bit of the new 2x2. Forgot to use my spreadsheet's "solver" feature! Fortunately, Mom had lots of new 2x4s so I was able to incorporate some of it into the structure. This also allows for some "cross bracing" at places. That said, I do not want the box to be too heavy. And it does not need to be incredibly strong.

I decided to take an organic approach: rather than make the other side, I started adding the back and top elements.

More 2x4s to the rescue.

The other side went together quickly. Before I knew it, I had the basic structure done.

The bottom front brace was not attached at this stage; it was just wedged in place.

I took a break for a hot turkey sandwich. Yum! After dins, I headed back out to the garage. And spent most of my time just staring at the thing. I did add the 2x2 to the front face, near the top. This will support the small front facia above the door, to which I'll attach the drip edge. And I finally screwed in the bottom 2x4 piece.

All but finished.

The whole thing is pretty square.

I considered where the hinges will attach, on the left. I will put additional framing here for support. I measured the front door opening (50" x 23"). I considered, for a long time, how I would proceed.

Finally, I realised there was nothing else I could accomplish tonight. Headed inside to do some more paperwork planning, supplies planning, to learn about shingling, and to think more about how the door would work.

Friday, December 25, 2009

gifts received

I received a few astronomy-related items this Christmas... Directly and indirectly related.

Donna gave me the January 2010 editions of both Sky and Telescope and Astronomy. The S&T includes the neat annual graph (the Almanac), shaped like an hourglass, which shows the location of the planets over the whole year. I'll hang that beside my RASC 2010 calendar (which I bought for myself).

Donna gave me Dava Sobel's book The Planets. I really enjoyed her Longitude.

Mom gave me a drawer pull from Lee Valley (I think). It's the Space Shuttle! It can also be used as a fridge magnet (which is how I shall use it). Isn't it cute?!

Mom also gave me some soft pencils, 4B. Seven of them... They are Turquoise brand, without erasers. This rounds out my current selection with various grades or degrees of softness (B, 2B, 4B). I'll use these for astronomical sketching.

Then she gave me 40-gram insulated-heated gloves! Sweet. They have little battery holders on the wrist gauntlets which hold 4 AA batteries. Two settings: low (8 hours) and high (6 hours). I wondered if the Gaherty Curse is upon us now, if that explains the super cold temperatures...

I should remember these gloves if I decide to go for a bike ride...


I almost forgot. I received another set of the IYA postage stamps! The 10-pack with bonus envelope seals.

The set that Malcolm gave me back in August... I'll keep those. But this set from Donna & Steve, I'll use 'em.

Monday, December 21, 2009

NEAF invite

Phil invited me to join him at NEAF in New York state in April. It'd be kinda cool. I've asked him for details, travel and accommodation costs, etc.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Digi-Key Canada rocks!

I'm working on making my own astronomical flashlight. Prototyping is progressing. The only thing I need to track down are some old school Germanium diodes.

Placed an order with Digi-Key Canada for some interesting bits... Right-angle 8-pin DIP socket (ed58408-nd)—I'll use this to be the LED holder. A tiny 100 kilo-ohm thumbwheel potentiometer (3352t-104LF-nd)—for brightness control (or, more correctly, pulse width modulation). And best of all? Some "super red" waterclear 5mm LEDs (67-1612-nd).

These babies, made by Lumex Opto/Components Inc, are bright, at 2800 mcd. But most importantly: they emit light at 660 nm! That's the dominant and peak rating. They are deep red!

Phil piggybacked on the order. He requested some CLA sockets with locking mechanism and rubber cover (as212-nd) and a special cable. He wants the 12 volt sockets for his new gel battery project...

I placed the order without fanfare online on the 12th. Sunday. It showed up today! Incredible.


Right angle DIP: $4.98.
Pot 100k ohm: $1.40.
CLA socket: $3.40.
Deep red LEDs: priceless.

Monday, December 14, 2009

WISE away!

I was travelling to a work location when the WISE telescope was launched.

Glad to learn it went well!

Commissioning and testing should conclude in one month... Keep an eye on the JPL site for updates.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

helped Kiron

Kiron is a new astronomy enthusiast. I don't remember when I first met him... I think it was during the summer, maybe at a star party. He signed up for the fall NOVA class and we started chatting more and more, particularly at RASC Toronto Centre meetings. That's when we discovered we were neighbours. Despite being just a couple of streets away, we never successfully met up for any back yard astronomy.

He approached me after my TSTM presentation last Wednesday and asked if I could help him out with his impending trip to India. He wanted assistance in predicting what he would see in the night skies. Cool!

So we met up at Timothy's on Bloor West. I brought a netbook with Stellarium. We set the computer's location, time zone, and fired up the planetarium software. We tried locations in northern and southern India. We took screen snapshots. If he's lucky, he'll be able to see the Magellanic clouds and η (eta) Carina and the Tarantula and Proxima Centuri.

I also emailed him my notes (synced from Evernote via the shop's wifi). These included links to commercial planispheres for 20 and 30° latitudes, a site where you can make your own planisphere (but with a large amount of distortion), and a bunch of local club web sites.

I look forward to his reports from near the equator!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

calendar experiment

I'm looking for efficiencies and less duplication...

I presently do the following:
  • make an astronomy calendar, in list style, on my blog companion site for entire year; manually created and edited continuously...
  • for each TSTM presentation I'm asked to deliver, make a month-at-a-glance style calendar
  • for the odd NOVA lesson, make the same monthly calendar, usually twice!
  • print The Evening Sky Map once a month and put in beside my desk, so to stay abreast of upcoming events
  • look at the RASC annual month-at-a-glance calendar, hung near the coffee maker, whenever I get the chance
  • regularly monitor the Sky and Telescope's week-at-a-glance article
I'm a bit frustrated at entering data I've already input somewhere else. And I'm frustrated when I miss events that are interesting to me.
  • I don't want to repeat data entry; I should enter once and it should show up every where
  • I'd like a calendar that I can quickly look at and it shows me what's up (in the sky) today; while the list and monthly style are good, I need something that focuses on today
  • I'd like better handling of multi-day events, repeating things
And somehow, in all of this, I don't want to use my Psion Agenda. I can't put my finger on this exactly but it just doesn't seem the right place. It'd be good to have alarms or reminders in my pocket... Perhaps it is because I don't regular synch it with a PC. It is too autonomous. Maybe if I was using a smartphone and synching my calendar everyday, or online, every minute...

I've thought about coding an application on the Psion palmtop, maybe that automatically appeared each time I turned it on. But that's not a trivial undertaking. And it still doesn't solve the issue of sharing this information...

So, for some time, I've been kicking around if there is a way I could implement a public or shared calendar (read-only mind you) that would support all these features...

I used to run a public internet calendar on a Windows 2000 server from under my desk...

There's Google's calendar with iCal support.

But then it suddenly hit me.

I'm using Yahoo! Widgets now on my main PC computer. A computer I use essentially everyday. And, in particular, I've starting using widgets so I can keep an eye on a bunch of astronomical related things. At the moment, I'm using widgets for the local weather, local radar, APOD, the Moon's phase, and the Sun (from SOHO). It's actually fantastic, all these live feeders.

And wouldn't you know it, they have an included widget called Day Planner. It can connect with your Yahoo!Calendar.

So today I started an experiment. I loaded a Yahoo!Calendar with all the events I noted in my The Sky This Month presentation and handout, to the end of the month. And then I fired up the widget... Voila! All the events happening today are showing up! And tomorrow... Nice. I can add and edit entries through the widget. Cool!

Perfect. This is perfect!

Now, if I share this calendar...

Friday, December 11, 2009

final updates?

I applied some more updates from the RASC web site to my copy of the 2009 Observer's Handbook.

Remember that errors found (and their corrections) are noted on the web. Occasionally, page reprints are available. It's something every Handbook owner should monitor over the year for the particular edition.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

delivered TSTM

I delivered my presentation of The Sky This Month to the RASC Toronto Centre membership at the Ontario Science Centre last night. It was well-received. I'm happy that people enjoy it. I received a number of compliments immediately after and at the pub. They like the graphical style of my presentation, the use of Stellarium, and the calendar handout.

In fact, facilitator Paul said to me afterwards, if I wanted to do them every month, I could! Wow.

Sadly, I didn't have quite enough paper handouts. That showed that more than 50 people were at the meeting! I uploaded a PDF version (310KB) of the 2-page handout to the Centre web site...


Tom Luton pointed out a little mistake made. The low rank I noted on the (3578) Carestia asteroid occultation on Dec 26 is not a factor of the sky lighting or Moon's position but is due to the amount information (or lack thereof) about the asteroid's orbit. High-number asteroids we generally know less about. Thanks for the clarification!


Link killed. Look on the lumpy darkness companion site's presentations page.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

delivered batteries

I provided 12 volt gel batteries to Paul 1, Paul 2, and Ciprian.

They are happy campers.

returned loaner Dob

A RASC Toronto Centre member expressed interest in borrowing one of the telescope loan program's Dobsonian reflectors. John contacted me to ask me to return the one I had signed out.

I've had that telescope for a long time... And I barely used it!

That surprised me.

I don't know why I didn't use it more. The beauty of a 'scope like this is, it takes seconds (OK, a minute or two) to set up. I had signed it out to "test" this feature: easy, fast set-up. And there were many clear nights where I could have popped outside, for a few minutes, an hour. Nights where it was going to be clear only briefly. Or on occasions where I had to work the next day, had to get to bed early. Or when I didn't have a "big" plan, a detailed viewing plan for hours of observing. Where I could have quickly observed from the backyard or driveway or sidewalk, taken a quick peak at Jupiter, tried for shadows on Jupiter, tried for Jovian moon occultations, or something else bright. I could have invited the neighbours over. I could have invited nearby members over.

So, what does this tell me?

Does it in fact mean, regardless of telescope, timing, conditions, I need a formal plan of observing targets? I hope not. I'm still struggling with efficient planning. Still planning "by hand." Still considering whether I should use planning software like SkyHound...

Is it that I'm very interested in double stars now, in an increasingly detailed way, in a scientific way, wherein I would do measurements? And that while I can perform Position Angle and Separation measurements in a light-polluted environment, a Dobsonian mount is not suitable?

Is it that observing is more of a social activity for me? That I'm more compelled to do some observing with others around? I'm really uncertain about that. Sometimes, I know it is true that I'd rather stargaze with others; but there are just as many times where I know I want to be alone...

Is it that I'm getting discouraged observing inside the city limits with washed out skies?

Is it that I'm getting tired of fighting with light polluting neighbours?

Is it that I don't want to have to deal with different types of telescopes? Am I an SCT fan? SCT addict? SCT snob?

Should I not be complicating matters with different gear? When I'm still working out a few kinks with my equipment? On top of learning the CAO equipment? Maybe I should focus.

Maybe it's nothing to do with the hardware.

Maybe there's something else I need to be doing to get me to observe more...

But now I don't know what it might be...

Regardless of this internal searching, I hope to continue to partake of the loan program with the centre. It's a fantastic perk of membership. I'll try all the types we have. And the camera too! Although, I should consider carefully if I should be doing this right now...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

SkyNews website stale

I find it very interesting that the SkyNews web site does not show the Jan/Feb 2010 issue. Despite the paper edition travelling through the postal system. They mention that the Nov/Dec issues is on newsstands now! They need someone to update their web site more frequently...

SkyNews Jan/Feb 2010

In addition to the RASC Observer's Handbook, the new issue of SkyNews arrived in my mailbox.

Brightened my afternoon. A very grey afternoon, snow storms threatening, my throat scratching.

There's an article called Easy Astrophotography. I look forward to reading that.

handbook 2010

I received the RASC Observer's Handbook for 2010 today. It might have arrived yesterday actually but I was on the road...

Stef shot the cover photo of NGC 4565. Beautiful. Captured from his driveway in Etobicoke, no less!

It is thick again. And features a number of changes. I'm pleased to see the double star list is triple the size of last year.

It's good timing. Now I can refer to the proper page numbers in my The Sky This Month presentation tomorrow...

5 more batteries

I had offered to RASC Toronto Centre members to get more of the gel 12V batteries. Brothers David and Charles helped me out. I dropped by Charles's shop after work to get 4 more. I'll take some of them to the RASC meeting tomorrow night: one for Paul Mo. and one for Ciprian.

Charles said he could release another one. Cool. I told Paul Ma. that I now had one available for him.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Virgin SS2 uncovered

I don't have a category for this.

It's not strictly astronomy related.

But Virgin rolled out SpaceShipTwo today.

It's very interesting. Space tourism took a step forward with the first commercial company.

And it's a thing of beauty, to boot.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

on polls and files

I was asked about how to implement a poll in the new RASC strategy group. I explained briefly how to do it in an email message. At the same time, I expressed concerns that we shouldn't do anything immediately, since more than 10 participants had yet to bind their Yahoo accounts to the new group.

Also, I urged that we not upload presentation information and pyramid diagrams in PowerPoint; rather, I suggested we use common web image formats or PDF. I was asked how to do these steps. I noted the broad strokes.

Increasingly the responses and replies seemed frantic and urgent. And incomplete! And opposite what had been said earlier. It was curious to me that on more than one occasion, my email message was not read in its entirety.

Frustrated, I suggested that we speak live. Much was sorted out over the telephone.

We'll need to be careful, in the future, in the interest of clear communication.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


I am in possession of a Dane-Elec zPen. Pardon?

This is a digital pen. Attach the doodad to a piece of paper* or a clipboard and turn it on. Write on the paper with the special pen. Your handwritten notes, sketches, doodles, diagrams, happy faces, and otherwise random jottings are captured into the receiver's 1GB flash memory.

Later, jack into a computer and examine the electronic files. In their native state, the ELI files are graphical representations of your notepad pages. Throw them at the character recognition program and they are converted into editable text or word processing files with embedded images.

I am evaluating this technology to see if it might streamline the process of capturing my astronomy observing notes, written in the field, often at the telescope, and immediately capturing my sketches or drawings of what I'm seeing in the eyepiece.

I'm a little disappointed that it cannot be used "live," i.e. as a pointing device. It could then convert a laptop into a tablet PC... But that's a nice-to-have.

* (Any paper works with the zPen. No special paper is required. Just use A4 or letter-size paper, lined, blank, whatever. Landscape or portrait.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

eyepiece review

I stumbled across a Cloudy Nights review of the baader planetarium 36mm hyperion-aspheric modular eyepiece. I like this eyepiece. It's light-years better (sorry about that) than my 1¼" in terms of clarity and field of view. Still, I still wonder if it was a good investment. Always nice to find a positive review.

It was interesting to note that the author measured the Apparent Field of View to be 72.3 degrees.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

database work

Met with Ralph today at his home. We reviewed the Access database he uses for the RASC Toronto Centre membership recording keeping. I made a few suggestions and learned more about how he uses it. We added some new fields, built a good query for adding and editing records, and compressed the file (32 MB to 16).

Then, with the database working better, and using a new custom query, we added some missing data, in particular, the member's occupation, and if they are retired. This will help us with some future demographic analysis.

I was most interested in who is involved in the IT industry. Maybe I can recruit some of these people...

Watch out!

don't buy these!

Was looking at the Princess Auto flyer. Near or on the back page is an ad for binoculars! 7x50, coated optics, case. The "best" part? They are on sale $8.88! Yep. Not a typo. A bargain at 10x the price...

found fuse!

Back in September at Mew Lake, the CLA plug of my Kendrick dew heater did its own impression of a supernova as I was packing up in the middle of the night: it exploded, popping open, releasing its innards to the ether.

At the time, fumbling around in the darkness, I found the metal pin.

The fuse I never found.

I looked the next day in daylight to no avail.

Today, I found it! The original 5A fuse.

It was inside the old laptop bag that I now use to carry around the Century booster pak, down at the bottom, underneath the heavy battery.


I also found the new pack of hard warmers in here. Hadn't seen those for a while... Makes sense. I will use these, upon Guy's suggestion, to keep portable batteries warm in the field.

built strategy group

Ralph said he was going to make a Yahoo!Group so to facilitate on-going communication for the strategic planning by the RASC Toronto Centre. I think he first said this at our first conference. And then again at the council meeting.

I offered to help. He accepted.

I completed the set up this evening. We have 32 people on board so far. Waiting for another 4 or 5.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

new used batteries

Recycling and recycling... I picked up a couple of deep cycle batteries from Randy in Ajax (referred by Troy). Made a donation to the South Pickering Amateur Radio club. He wouldn't take $50.

There's a large colour sticker on the side:
Advanced American Technology
Sealed Gel Technology
E.P.M. Products, Baltimore, MD 21226

For "Deep Cycle" continuous discharge/recharge and all "Marine Type" applications and "Float Type" Service.
Large sticker on top says:
Sealed, non-spillable lead acid gel battery F.A.A., C.A.B., I.A.T.A., and D.O.T. air transport approved.

Charge voltage limited to 14.1 volts @ 68°F.
Ventilate well. Do not store in an airtight container.
No. 8G22NF.
I tested them with my 12 volt car light. All good. I measured one for size.

height (including posts): 9-1/4 inches
width: 5-1/2"
depth: 9"

They look like this (without the bolts or Marathon sticker):

I found this photo over at Battery Mart. Looks like it is the same battery... Here's what they say about their battery:
  • Gelled electrolyte won't spill, even if the battery is tipped upside down ... or cracked open.
  • Length: 9 3/8 in.
  • Width: 5 1/2 in.
  • Height: 9 1/4 in. to top of terminals.
  • Shipping Weight: 39.75 Pounds.
  • Reserve Capacity: 77 minutes.
  • 51 Amp Hour @20 hour rate.
  • Group size: 8G22NF, NF-22.
  • Requires special gel charger to charge.
Looking forward to more power in the field. I wonder if I can link 'em in parallel...

Friday, November 27, 2009

from USA via NFLD

Phil says he has a good 12 volt battery charger. Microprocessor controlled, 4-stage, that he bought from a Newfoundland shop, made in the USA. Told me to look up "battery tender plus."

Does he mean this?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

webspotting 13 - PlanetQuest

As published in the Dec 2009/Jan 2010 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission.


403. The number of exoworlds discovered so far. I don't know about you but I am truly fascinated with the search for planets beyond our solar system. It is exciting to me to know that (if I can avoid being run over by a truck, crashing my car, or being sucked into a black hole) I will experience, in my lifetime, the discovery of Earth-sized exoplanets in the Goldilocks zone with oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres!

 I noted in my lumpy darkness blog back in Dec 08 that I was finding it rather incredible that we were detecting the particulars of a planet (mass, size, atmosphere), not from our Federation starship parked in orbit, as reported by a pointy-eared science officer, but from our home planet via telescopes across light-years of space-time.
Hubble and  Spitzer continue to analyse the atmospheres of exoplanets... Two analyses are complete. The recent discovery showed water, methane, and carbon dioxide on a planet 150 light-years away.
It was only in Sep 08 that the University of Toronto team of David Lafrenière, Ray Jayawardhana, and Martin van Kerkwijk made history with the first photograph of a planet orbiting a star. It was very exciting to see Dr Lafrenière present this cutting-edge research to us in Jan 09!
Of course, the Kepler telescope was launched in March 2009. In the direction of Cygnus, it is scanning for terrestrial planets the size of Earth. Early test results in August showed better than expected results. They've lost a couple of sensors. That means they have slightly less than 95 megapixels! I’m sure they'll do just fine.
This must surely be one of the most exhilarating branches of astronomy. You can keep tabs on what everyone is doing in one spot. Visit for an informative historical timeline, and a compilation of all the various missions, past and present. With a Mac widget or Windows gadget you can download a list of related websites. My favourite area is the interactive 3D star system atlas (requires Shockwave).
You might want to note a few of the nearby systems visible to the naked eye or small telescope. Like Fomalhaut. Handy to show visitors during star parties or sidewalk astronomy. It will be fun to watch their faces when you tell them we know there are planets around that star... that we've seen them. Oh, and they harbour water!

fossils from Mars

The evidence is now considered very strong that life existed on Mars.

5 billion years ago.

Pretty incredible stuff.

Makes one wonder what would have happened if the fourth rock from the Sun had kept its atmosphere and water...

deep red design

I want to build my own astronomy flashlight. There are some great designs out there but I want to be able to choose the LEDs and the colour.

I found a good circuit design at the Renewable Energy UK website. It features pulse width modulation (PWM) based on a IC 555 timer.

The notes are quite good. For example, they suggested using germanium diodes in place of signal diodes so that the dimming range can be extended to go from 1% to 99%.

I tried the circuit on the electronic kit at 9 volts with water clear red LEDs and it worked good!


Bought most of the bits at Sayal: 555 timer, 1k resistor, etched board, NPN transistor, diodes, electrolytic capacitor, regular caps, and project box. All for around $20. Couldn't find really small potentiometers...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

astronomy is messy

So says Elizabeth "Libby" Harper-Clark.

The young doctoral student of the department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto presented at the RASC Toronto Centre meeting tonight. She talked about her fascination with star formation out of gas clouds, losing herself in HST images of the Carina Nebula (see the 2007 panorama on APOD), and her on-going efforts to simulate this on a bladed supercomputer.

Fantastic presentation. Clearly dealing with complex things, advanced computer programming (using adaptive meshes), cutting-edge physics, she explained it all in a way that was palatable for everyone in the audience. Like Roberto Abraham, she makes science fun.

And her British roots showed, with references to bits, bobs, naughts, long e sound with ligatures in nebulae and supernovae, etc.

She was animated, passionate, funny. In a word: ebullient.

I wish I had known people like her when I was at university.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

crescent Moon low (Toronto)

As I walked west to Scott's for a friendly card game, I took in the western sky. The Moon was very low. Just above the trees. Hued amber through additional air masses.

I estimated it to be about 5 days old.

Jupiter was higher up. I wondered what its moons were doing...

The summer triangle was setting in the north-west.

CMS manual online

I wrote a user guide for the RASC Toronto Centre's web site Content Management System in the summer of 2007. I circulated it to a couple of people and applied some revisions in the fall of the same year. At the same time, I wrote a quick reference guide, for power users, or people already familiar with the system. And then, quietly, these materials sunk into the depths of my computer...

Today, after a clean-up, freshening, and conversion to HTML, I put the full manual and quick reference online.

Tony, one of my target users, said, "Wow. This is great. Thanks! Did you write the whole manual?"

Hopefully, this will help the current RASC site authors and editors, in particular those who struggle with some of the CMS features. And, going forward, this should help future users.

helped Chris

New member Chris emailed me with some astronomy questions. We had met recently at the DDO and chatted about batteries and dew combating.

Today he asked about Albireo, Jupiter, its moons, shadows and transits, and a "fifth" moon of Jupiter.

I relayed information about double stars, referring to Haas's excellent book and wikipedia. In particular, he wanted to know if Albireo was a binary system. I pointed out that we didn't know for sure but it probably wasn't, since we're not seeing changes in Position Angle and Separation. I also pointed out that star colour is an indicator of size and temperature.

I relayed information about the Galilean moons, referring to the RASC Observer's Handbook. In particular, I said that in good conditions, given the high albedo of Io and Europa, that it should be possible to see them above the surface of the gas giant.

Finally, we discussed what he saw on the evening of the 18th from Huntsville. I suggested that it was a field star he saw and not a fifth moon around Jupiter. The RASC OH says that some can see Himalia—with a real big light bucket. Still, as we both checked Stellarium, we did not see terribly bright stars nearby.

I wondered if it was possibly ι (iota) Capricornus.

Friday, November 20, 2009

bought Tony dinner

I wanted some feedback on the "outhouse" observatory cover for Mom's telescope. I offered to buy Tony dinner. We turned it into a pleasant little outing at Mackenzie's with Grace joining us.

Atop the frame, I'm going to glue pink or blue insulation. Then I'll glue the siding atop the insulation. Then secure it with fasteners. There will be some moulding needed at the corners, well caulked to resist water.

We laboured over the door. Tony thought it best if it opened full, swung back against the wall, 270°. It looks like this will require hinges on the outside then... That would make the box taller too. This reminded me to check clearances between the railings... He also suggested that the door could be steel! Since a wood door will warp. Intriguing. I wonder how narrow you can get them.

We also discussed the wheels. Tony argued against rotating casters. He believes it will be more, not less, difficult to slide the box over the pier. He suggests fixed casters and you just line up perfectly.

This last item, combined with the door opening clearance issue, suggests that I'll have to put the door on the south side, skip the S-turn manoeuvre, and just push the box straight north. Hmm. I will have to consider this carefully.

It was a very successful meeting. It's got me thinking about lots of issues. Which promises fewer surprises.

Stellarium on Mac

Some time ago I had installed Stellarium on the iMac computer over at Will's. He was impressed.

Today, I stumbled across a note in my agenda, to check what happens when you do a screen snapshot. I think it was because I wanted to check the file format.

I discovered the following file on the desktop: stellarium-000.png.

There you have it. So huge "bumps" or BMPs on Windoze; and modern "pings" on Apples.

search for Spock


Not Spock.

My Star Trek Spock baseball cap!

Have you seen this hat? Hopefully on my noggin.

I had lost it. I had no idea where it had gone. I thought, I was very certain, I had had it when I helped at the DDO back in Sep. I was getting discouraged, disheartened, that I had lost it at a restaurant or a client location. Brief searches on the internet for a replacement were coming up negative. It seems the Paramount store is not online. Nothing in eBay. I had retraced my footsteps back further and further. But then I wasn't sure when I had seen it last...

Today?! I have it back in my possession! I had left the cap at a friend's / client's site back on 1 Sep 09...

Spock is safe!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

spoke to council

I attended the RASC Toronto Centre council meeting. I don't usually go to these. But I was encouraged to attend, so to voice my concerns and frustrations surrounding the web site maintenance.

The chair spent a lot of time discussing national matters, so much so, that all the meeting time was consumed. As attendees grew restless, the chair said they wanted to conclude foregoing the committee chair announcements. I started to pack up, wondering why I had even bothered.

One of the councillors however said that I needed to be heard. I was grateful.

I get the impression that it was a bit of an eye opener for a few people!

Hopefully, I will receive better support, going forward.

Monday, November 16, 2009

hunting me down

Paul wanted to suddenly post a "go" notice on the RASC Toronto Centre web site regarding the Leonids meteor shower members-only event at the DDO...

He tried to contact me but found that none of my contact information was in his CrackBerry. So he proceeded to call and email everyone he could find to track me down. Meanwhile, I was teaching a full-day course at a client site. A site with very limited internet access. When I finally hacked an email solution, it was the end of the day. And several messages were piled up asking me to change the web site immediately.

I was not a happy camper. Particularly given that I had tried on many occasions to avoid this very situation.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

first light on pier (Union)

It is fantastic!

After dinner, after tidying up the kitchen, and to take a break before dessert and birthday stuff, we headed out to the loft observatory. I wanted to show off what I had done. I was excited to see how everything worked.

I led Donna and Steve through the darkened back yard. The sky was good, cloud-free, moonless. We tried to not trigger the security lights but were unsuccessful. We could see the red glow from within the studio! Funny. Inside, we turned on the fireplace, and took in the space (as best as possible in red light). There was lots of light actually. We headed up to the loft. I grabbed the extension cord and plugged in the mount motor. We took to the deck. Steve only hit his head once. Mom joined us shortly afterwards.

I tagged Jupiter. It was low in the trees to the south. We could see three of its moons (Callisto and Io on one side, Ganymede on the other, Europa hidden). Too low and distorted to see cloud bands. Everything tinted yellow. I tried to use the Meade orthoscopic 18mm but once again couldn't get to inner focus. Grrr. I put my Plössl 26mm in.

We reviewed constellations (Delphinus, Cygnus, Cassiopeia) and some Messier objects. Mom relayed with enthusiasm the story I had told her earlier about people in March trying to view all the 110 objects, the Messier marathon. We viewed the Summer Triangle, Mom operating the green laser.

We looked at the Pleaides, naked eye, and through the eyepiece. Of course, it filled the entire field. Donna liked the bright stars.

Mom spotted the Milky Way. It was bright through Cygnus. Steve spotted a meteor travelling from east to west, a Leonid I suspected.

I showed Albireo and later the Double Double.

I tried to find the Ring Nebula but didn't have any luck. With or without the Telrad.

Finally, I showed the Andromeda galaxy, straight up. It was stunning, edge to edge, overall bright, and very bright in the centre. Donna was intrigued. I explained that the view from Andromeda would show our galaxy in a similar way.

We spotted Orion rising in the east, belt vertical, Saiph or κ (kappa) Orionis still too low to see.

It was cool and damp. We heard the pie in the kitchen calling our name.

The eyepiece view kept drifting. I assumed it was my (bad) alignment to celestial north. So I turned the mount about one degree to the west. Later I realised the clutch wasn't fully engaged. Still, I marked the mount and pier. I'll do a full, slow, proper alignment over the holidays...

It was amazing. The loft works. The workspace in red light is very nice. The deck works. The pier works. There is no discernible vibration from the deck into the 'scope! Mom wants to fill the steel post with cement. I believe this will dramatically improve the damping.


Steve entertained the idea of sleeping in the studio. Stay close to the 'scope; wake just in time to see something! Cool idea.


Donna wants some seating for the deck. It's definitely required (although I think it should be temporary). Regular lawn chairs would be good. Also, a chaise lounge, for whole-sky and meteor watching.

Mom still likes the idea of some external shelves to hold things like eyepieces and beverages.


My eyeglasses broke again. And, again, I got lucky: I did not lose the lens or little, tiny bolt!

enough light

One string is enough.

It allows for more than enough light from the lower level to make your way up or down.

It's plenty of light while working at the table, reading and writing notes.

A moveable light, for looking closely at a star chart, will probably still be needed.


I forgot to test a red LED light string on the deck...

loft workspace

After measuring the railings of Mom's deck (7½' x 11½') for lighting ideas, I returned to the loft to noddle on a table surface.

First I considered seating position, or rather, location, with respect to headroom. From a lawn chair, I tried different spots. Initially, I had considered facing to the side, into the slope. This idea went back to June, when I first considered a table in the loft. But the more I thought about it, this seemed prone to smacks and bumps and cuts. I turned toward the gable. In the south-west side (larger, which I didn't realise at first), as I looked to the gable, I could fit nicely in a nook, while avoiding hitting my head.

An L-shape desk emerged in my mind. This would offer an immense amount of space. Space for a computer, notes, books (although, I'd like to see shelves for storage), a beverage, and the large Tirion charts, of course.

In short order I was measuring and cutting and trimming and test fitting. It all came together rather nicely, I think.

The half-inch plywood Mom had offered that I could use was the perfect amount. The extra vertical 2x2s for the railing, while pressure-treated, served well for supports. Just the wall-roof edging, the way it was exposed, the railing, just the height of it, all worked perfectly for mounting the table. It's a bit hard to see but at the right edge I made an angle cut in the table top. This will hopefully prevent spearing.

Mom said that she has some material that we could use to cover the table top. That will be a nice touch.

Mom offered up the "shop" stool. She bought it some time ago and it had been collecting dust in her garage. It looked like it would work well, with caster wheels, and padded seat. I was very pleased to discover that it offers infinite adjustable height. Nice!

I collected Mom's astronomy books and Tirion charts. Scattered about various places, in the house, the garage; now all in one spot!

It's a nice view!

I really like how it is steps to the telescope. In the summer, it will be a real treat to keep all the paperwork, gear, computer, etc. out of the dew. In the winter, with the door closed, and the fireplace flickering in the background, it's going to be a warm retreat out of the wind.

I hung one 12-foot string of red LED lights in the rafters. I wondered if it would be enough light.

The light string plug is at the back of the desk on the left. This will be a good spot to place a power bar. Actually, I'll try to affix that in the ceiling so it will be easy to access.

Mom had bought a small area rug. I unrolled it. And I moved in my gear. Wow!

Just needs a few charts and some artwork now...

Could I say that the stars aligned? A bit gauche.

I can't wait to use it.

the right charger

Another good tip, from Peter this time: Also be aware that gel-cell batteries require a special charger to recharge and keep them charged. You can't use a cheap-o Canadian Tire charger. I paid about $120 for a gel-cell charger from Digi-key, and it works fine.

new home

I was anxious to try the telescope on the new pier.

After finding the proper hex key (9/64" I believe), I removed the equatorial mount from the battleship-grey tripod pier.

And then grew more anxious. What if the new pier is the wrong diameter?! If it was larger, we'd be screwed. If smaller, still not trivial...

I loosened the three little grubs in the mount and then slipped the heavy mount atop the new green post. It felt good. The cap nestled around the pier without a lot of slop. I tighten the two north grubs, eyeballed north over Mom's house, and then tightened the southern grub. It snugged up in short order. I breathed a sigh of relief: the new steel pier was the perfect size!

In the dark, I'd be able to get a better alignment, of course. Good enough for now.

I installed the OTA in the cradle. Wow! She's in her new home! This is going to be fantastic.

I moved the telescope into various orientations again, to review logistics, where the planned protective box could fit around the 'scope, taking into account prevailing wind direction, how I wanted to angle the roof, etc.

I also noted that the OTA was now 7" about the ground (er, deck). So the new pier is effectively 4" taller. This is good, I think. Does not require any change. This is really good! I wouldn't want to cut that steel.

(I peaked at the mirror at one point. Very clean. That was good news. I had experienced a panic attack that after my cleaning exercise it had tarnished... The thing looks new!)

Now I just have to wait until dark. Then I can do a better alignment of the mount. And we can test the views with people moving about...

loft and deck inspection

I was primarily interested loft of the studio and testing the telescope on the new pier.

Mom's whole studio is fantastic! It's bright! The floor finish is beautiful. The stairs are nicely designed and do not seem to intrude. The inside painting looks very good. Ah, this is probably contributing to the bright feeling. It totally resembles an old cottage. She must be very happy.

Still in its box, I noticed the little electric heater was in the centre of the room. No doubt, we'd be setting that up soon.

I bounded upstairs to the loft and was struck with how different it looked with the door. I found the two latches and released them. Without a knob or handle, I tried to tug on the door by the frame and the latches. It was frozen with the paint. I pulled progressively harder and it finally swung open. I opened it as far as it would go. And it stopped, hitting the roof structure, at about 90 degrees. Ah, the deck...

Oh! The door. It's hung on the right! I wasn't expecting that. I had envisioned, back in June, that the table or "workstation" would be in the north-west corner. But with the hinge there, it would not permit leaving the door open, say during summer observing sessions... OK. Change of plans then. I considered relocating the table to the south-west corner. No reason why it wouldn't work there. I don't think.

Out on the deck, I was very pleasantly surprised. The pier (short concrete base and then hollow steel post) I had noted under the deck protruded through the floor. Between two planks there was a large perfectly circular hole. There was a generous 1" gap all around the pier. Nicely done, Rick.

Everything looked great. The whole studio is complete with stove, interior lighting, stairs, and painting. The loft is generous and easily accessible. The custom door works good!

The workstation area I will need to reconsider.

It was time to relocate the 'scope...


I moved Mom's Edmund Scientific Super Space Conqueror telescope from the back of the garage. I temporarily mounted the optical tube assembly to the equatorial mount so I could play with the orientations and get some good measurements. I snapped a bunch of photos too (with the FujiFilm J20).

Here the OTA is in a vertical orientation. This is how I intend to "store" the 'scope.

The total height is approx. 51 inches. This includes the OTA's length of 47.5". The old iron mount suspends the tube about 3" from the ground. I'll have to measure this distance when the OTA is on the new pier. I had suggested to Rick he could make it a little taller...

I measured position of the tube in the cradle. I had noted that the Edmund product catalog said it was deliberately not centred. This so that with some accessories attached, the OTA would become balanced. I had never noticed this before. Measurements bore it out. The centre of the cradle is 21" from the mirror-end of the tube.

There were some large sheets of corrugated cardboard nearby. I leaned them against the telescope at various places to simulate a box.

The total width is approx. 26". This is the measure parallel to the Declination shaft. Co-linear! And you don't get to use that word everyday. This value includes the eyepiece. Or rather, the focuser. You can just see the focuser sticking out at the bottom of the tube. It protrudes in the direction opposite the Declination shaft.

The total depth is approx. 14". This is the measure along the Right Ascension axis. From the edge of the OTA to the tip of the RA shaft and motor assembly. This includes the old finder scope brackets. Funny. We don't have the original finder scope... I wonder if I should take the brackets off.

All done! Done levelling and measuring and fiddling. I removed the OTA from the cradle. Ready to leave the garage, once and for all.

cooler for warming

Guy had a great suggestion: get a small cooler with a comfortable handle for your 12 volt battery. This will keep the battery warm on cool nights. Especially if you toss in a heat pack! And make it easier to lug.

Friday, November 13, 2009

deep cycle battery leads

Sorry for the pun. After I sent out a note to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group about a deep cycle battery on sale at Canadian Tire, Troy sent out the following note...
This just reminded me...  The South Pickering Amateur Radio club has a large number of deep cycle batteries for sale very cheap. They are 50 amp-hour 12v gel-cell batteries.  These batteries are slightly used (4-5 years old) and come from Toronto Police radio towers where they served as backup in case of a power failure.  This means that they are practically new condition and in many cases may not have ever even been discharged at all.  They're asking for $10, or an appropriate club donation per battery...  These things cost over $200 new and one of them would probably operate a scope for weeks on end.  I don't have the exact dimensions, but I understand they are very small for their power, but also very heavy.
Funny timing. My car "booster" battery is old, appears to be on its last legs. I was starting to shop around, research "the next battery." And in doing so, seriously consider building my own. Actually, more than one. So I could keep the dew heating separate from motor drive. Separate from the computer and whatever other doodads I have...

Maybe I'll get a couple of these.

heading west

At long last, I was heading west. A multi-purpose weekend was planned.

I was to attend my first session in a University of Waterloo Optometry eyeglasses study. I needed to take some product boxes down to Mom's for storage and return some long overdue DVDs of Mom's. I wanted to retrieve my multi-format media card reader (perhaps to keep with the netbook computer). I was very overdue to celebrate my birthday. I also needed to change Mom's car over to a winter tire configuration (overdue as well but we've been lucky with weather). I expected that Mom would need my help with other house and yard tasks (as per usual). I had a couple of exciting astronomy items planned. Otherwise I was looking forward to a relaxing visit. It had been a while.

I wanted to take accurate measurements of Mom's telescope. This is so that I can begin plans to build a protective case. In particular, I needed the overall height dimensions, the "width" along the Declination axis, and the "depth" along the Right Ascension. I needed to check the eyepiece orientation and any other attachments and if they protruded outward.

I was also looking forward to seeing the progress in Mom's studio observatory. When I had last visited in June, the stairs were not installed, there was no door between the loft and deck, and the telescope mount pier was still in the planning stages...

It was very clear as I sat in Kitchener-Waterloo rush hour traffic. I entertained the thought, briefly, of pulling off, so to watch the bright ISS flyover at 5:00 PM. But I pressed on. No sighting from the car... Now that non-hands-free devices are banned while driving, does that mean identifying planets and bright stars and looking for satellites can get you a fine?

The sky was quite dark and clear when I arrived at Mom's. She had a tasty dinner waiting. And before I knew it, I was snug as a bug. I did not want to go out. I particularly did not want to set up a telescope and then have to tear it down later. Just couldn't get motivated. After a couple of whiskeys.

That said, I was looking forward to tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

handbooks in the mail

So Denis reported today.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Uranus and Neptune in '10

Sounds like an election slogan...

Uranus plot:

Neptune plot:

Made (in seconds) with TheSky6.

Forgot to include the Telrad FOV circles on the first go.

Made up black-on-white versions for the field...