Saturday, February 28, 2009

Moon and Venus high (Toronto)

Yesterday and this morning there was some chatter about the Moon-Venus conjunction. This afternoon, Tai said something very interesting in his email:
"With Venus close to the moon as it is now, you can find it in full daylight without too much trouble.  Just stand in the shade, find the Moon and look about 4 finger-widths along the ecliptic...  maybe 6-8 degrees over?  Very neat.  I've seen it near dusk and sunrise before, never managed to find it in full daylight until now."
I was all done my set up for this evening. I was warming up inside. But I high-tailed it back outside, with binoculars, to try to spot it. Right on target (although 4 fingers is more like 15 degrees). Surprisingly bright in the binos! I tried to see it naked eye but without my proper eyeglasses, I couldn't pick it out.

I did some fiddling in Stellarium to figure my directions and then easily found Venus in the telescope. Cool! A fantastic thin crescent. It is so large!

With my eyeglasses, I was able to easily see it naked, er, unmagnified eye! Incredibly easy. Just gotta know where to look. And where to focus.

spotted faint Lulin (Toronto)

Crazy. This is not a satisfying comet—for city dwellers...

Just got home after a poker game at Cam's. Skies were very clear. Stars were sparkling in every direction. A bright orange star led me home... It couldn't be Capella... That wasn't right. I just knew that wasn't right. (It was Arcturus.)

When I arrived home, I fired up Stellarium. Lulin was very near Regulus. OK, let's go!

I grabbed my red goggles and binos and headed to the back yard. And scanned. And scanned. Looked at Saturn (very near σ (sigma) Leo). And scanned. And scanned. And was ready to give up, when I spotted it. A faint smudge between the triangle of ν (nu), 31, and α (alpha) Leo, 1/3 of the way from ν to 31, and just inside the line from ν to 31. Once again, very faint in binos. Easily missed.

In fact, I missed it early. I had been scanned this area for a while. Oh... dark adaptation... Right! It had taken some time for my eyes to adjust from the street lights. Wow.


Neighbours to the east had the back yard lights on again. Full blast. OK. No more Mr. Nice Guy. I'm going to explain to them that it is always or generally interfering with me and my activities. I will suggest that they need to come up with an alternative...

Neighbours to the west were OK. All lights off.

Neighbours in the house? As I walked by the front of the house, I saw reflections on the garage. It wasn't looking so good... But when I got out back, all the lights were off. Someone on the top floor had their TV on. It was not too bad actually for my observing...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Runnymede - 2nd annual

Runnymede Public School wants me back. They want to do another astronomy talk and observing session as part of their Earth Week celebrations. Last year's event was a hit. Purportedly people are still talking about it.

We've picked Monday 20 April as our main date, with the Monday one week later, as the rain date.

Hilary talked to me briefly tonight about the event. We're a go! It's official.

Moon and Venus low (Toronto)

After dinner, after a pit stop to the Little Bee variety store, I headed south-west to Cam's. Southbound, between buildings I would steal glances, hoping for a break in the clouds. When I turned west, I had a good sight line. As I reach my next junction to turn south, Venus appeared, and then slowly, the Moon. My last chance?

As I continued south, along my last leg, I saw that the planet and moon were too low now. It would be difficult to see from street level.

When I arrived at Cam's, I apologised for changing the topic, but urged the boys and Hilary to try catching the conjunction from one of the bedrooms, upstairs.

I think they tried briefly but couldn't see anything for the roofs and clouds.

Moon-Venus conjunction (Toronto)

I didn't think I'd get a chance to see this spectacular conjunction...

I was cooped up inside, after waiting for a delivery, scrambling to get some work done, staying atop the email tide, filtering through voice mails, showering, freshening up, all before heading out to Cam's, for a night of cards.

At a little after 7, I departed home. A few flakes floated down. The skies were filled with cold, grey white clouds bouncing back orange light. To the north-west, the clouds were breaking up, buffeted by strong cold wind. Supposed to be clear later.

Periodically, I glanced to the west, in hopes of catching the planet and moon. Thick clouds. But as I walked west on Lincoln, drifting from the south to the north sidewalk, I saw something. I hit the brakes! Holy cow! There they were.

The Moon's crescent, almost horizontal, sharp points directed upwards, like a cup or bowl, was bright but hazed in the distant clouds. Venus, to the right, about a degree or so, was bright, in a break between the clouds. Glorious. The ecliptic. It looked like it was shooting straight up! I wondered how many were catching this now.

It was fading in and out. The low clouds, combined with the low elevation, was blotting out the view. Perhaps later, the view would be better.

I was at Runnymede and Annette. I paused my sky viewing for dinner.

case for Tirion charts

To keep this long and sad story short, I shall not delve into my thoughts with respect to designs, materials, prototyping. Simply put, I wanted an attaché case or thin box large enough to store the Tirion Sky Atlas 2000 star charts. More importantly, the base of the case needed to be thick or deep enough, i.e. about 3 cm, to allow me to integrate my red LED light box array. All this so I could use my red array in the field and transport the Tirion charts to and fro.

I couldn't find a case the right size. I couldn't find a lightweight but strong box the right size. I considered for a long time building my own. Charles and I talked at length about it. But the road case raw materials I was considering were really too "heavy" and bulky. Just too large. But previous searches for attachés had failed.

Recent brainwave #1 was to look at art supplies. Perhaps there were rigid carrying cases, which would ordinarily cargo artwork, large enough. And, in the end, I found many options. But I was a little surprised at the costs. And the materials. At any rate, I was planning a trip to Curry's and other spots, to check them out in the flesh.

But then I had brainwave #2. And I don't remember what triggered it exactly. Anyway, I started doing searches in eBay for large attachés. Bingo. Lots of options. Most interestingly, I found very large cases. Perhaps too big. But the best news? I found a dealer in Canada! Mezzi. Searched their site for a better size. The one I found on eBay was huge!

I chose the MEZZI LUXslim Aluminum Laptop Case - XXT. It has interior dimensions that are more than generous at 20.5 x 15.0 x 3.5 inches. Comes with a strap no less!

With a more appropriate size sourced, I returned to eBay, searched for the model, monitored, and won the auction. Paid for the case and shipping on Monday. The case arrived via UPS on Friday.

It's gonna be great!


The next step, now that I've fast-tracked the case design, is to add my light array to the base... I should be able to have this project finished very soon!


I'm pretty good with my Greek alphabet now. I remember the sequence of the 24 letters. I know some of the unusual forms, like for theta and sigma. I can write the symbols or characters. And mostly importantly, I can interpret them correctly—usually—as I read a star chart.

Over time, I've become better at my constellation and star names. But I've concentrated so far on the main forms of the constellations. As I work on the genitive forms, I'll need a good guide for pronunciations.

There are lots out there. But I'd prefer something of an official nature. Sky & Telescope has a good online reference for both Greek and constellations.

Over at Earth & Sky, they have a listing with a spoken component. You can hear the star name or constellation read aloud.

Of course, if you own the RASC Observer's Handbook, that's another excellent source.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

batteries plus

Hmmm, good idea for a company name...

Today, I bought more button cell batteries from The Store Formerly Known As Radio Shack aka The Source By Circuit City.

I needed some LR44 and LR1130 for the Astro Gizmo Kick-Me-Not lights. One of the recent arrivals was DOA.

The clerk at the shop went to his terminal and clicked away for a long time. I realised that he didn't know what a LR44 was and he was searching for a Source part number... Then, he repeated the process when I asked for the 1130.
  • LR44: aka Nexxtech 2300009a, 76, 357, 357s, nts76e, type J, 228, 10L14, rw22, g13, g13f, WL14, sr44w, 7, 541, a76, 8008, d76, epx76, f76, s76, gp76, gp57, s76e, rs76, ms76h, ks76, type A, sb-a9, sr44sw, sr44
  • LR1130: aka Nexxtech 2300101, 389, 10L122, rw49, sb-bu, WL10, sr1130, sr1130gw, g10, 17, 554, 189, 289, gp89, 1138so, sr54, tr54, d389, d390, sp389, v389, sg10, 603, type M
Once again, The Source offered the "replacement plan" with these batteries... So, for $1.49 per battery, I get 2 free replacements within the next 3 years. These cells cost $5.99 ea. Smokin' good deal.

Discovery to go Mar 12

Popped into Spaceflight Now to get the poop on Discovery...

NASA says they're confident about space shuttle Discovery's valve problem. Still, they will replace the values with less-used ones. Discovery could launch on March 12. They could push a couple of days but that would impact on other International Space Station activities.

If they successfully launch in March, then NASA can proceed with the May 12 launch of the Hubble Servicing Mission (SM4). If Discovery is delayed, that will push the SM4 to June 2.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

PA and sep

While viewing λ (lambda) Orion last week, and checking Haas's notes, I realised it was high time that I learn Position Angle and begin to incorporate it into my notes of double stars.

Tonight, I did a little sketch to help me get more clear about it.

The primary star is in the centre (yellow); the secondary is below and to the right (blue). Position Angle (PA) is measured from north (so you need to know where the North Celestial Pole is) and goes counter-clockwise around the primary.

So, roughly, accordingly to this diagram, the PA for the blue companion is 225 degrees.

our ignorance

I noted an interesting statement over on Sky & Tel's web site today. An article discussed some new insights on dark matter based on recent observations. The interesting line:

"Most of that mass is in some kind of dark form, called 'dark matter' as an expression of our ignorance."

I wonder, if my lifetime, this great mystery will be solved...

Monday, February 23, 2009

nippy in the park (Toronto)

Crazy fool, Guy called a GO for this month's RASC Toronto Centre City Observing Session (COS)! I had mixed feelings...

The sky was spectacular during the day. Bright blue overhead, few clouds. Milky white on the horizons, but hey, pretty incredible for February. Even though the Environment Canada weather report I had read in the morning suggested snow in the evening, it sure wasn't looking like that during my bus ride home at 4:30 PM.

This month's COS was centred on Comet Lulin's closest approach. On the 24th, also the night of the New Moon, it would be closest to Earth. [edited]

The COS location "west" would be proximal! At long last, we'd have a chance to use High Park, the recently selected new location for the western COS. Ideal for me, for many of us. Still, being winter and all, having snow on the ground, and in the driveway, being cold, I would not have the "summer car" at my disposal. Asking a local RASC member for cargo help was not appropriate. Using my garden wagon just didn't see reasonable (it's even long to haul in the summer). So, if I was gonna do this, I would need to rent a car. Hopefully I could use an AutoShare car at the hourly rate vs. daily.

It was a "work night." I had a pile of things to do. Some things had slipped. I have to work out in the Etobicoke/Mississauga business area Renforth-loop south-of-the-airport dead zone tomorrow. Travel by transit takes a while so I have to get up extra early. Still, the COS gatherings don't tend to carry on too late. And this one might finish especially early...

But the temperature! It was chilly in the full sunlight. There was a nasty wind (curiously, from the south). I think I saw -16°C or thereabouts with the wind chill.

All the way home after work I seriously wondered if there was a temperature constraint used in calling the COS events. To be honest, I kinda wished it wasn't gonna happen.

As I warmed up and checked my email, I saw that Guy had decided to torture us!

(I don't envy him. It must be a challenge making these weather calls...)

Interestingly, he was going to join us at High Park (when normally he would go to Bayview Village Park). Being coordinator and all. He felt it appropriate to be on hand for the official, inaugural run of the new site. Well, at least I'd have someone to shiver in sympathy with. And grumble to.

Then, suddenly, I got a bad feeling... The popular target, the "big" target for the evening was going to be Comet Lulin. And, as I looked the Stellarium simulation around 8:00 PM, it confirmed my fears. We were screwed! Saturn and Lulin would be rising out of the murk due east. From our new digs at High Park, that would be right over the city downtown core and points beyond. All the smog and dirt and crap ordinarily makes for bad light pollution. Stupid search lights are that way. Worse, it would right above the ice rink, tennis courts, pool area—the area of the park lit with tall bright white unshielded lights. Crap! Oh well. At least we'd have Orion to look at. Venus briefly. And I could revisit λ (lambda) Orion. Do a proper sketch.


Booked the AutoShare car. Started packing up gear by the front door. Remembered the green laser pointers. Made a mental list of things to get from the garage. Grabbed a quick bite. Checked the power level of the portable battery pack. OK. Started putting on layers...

I remember being cold, on my back, in similar conditions. So I put on my wonderful beige wool sweater (version 2.0) underneath the RASC hoodie. We will pump you up! Packed the ski pants. Wondered where my black balaclava has gone...

I was ready to go with about 30 minutes to spare. Caught up on some emails. Went to the biffy. Prepared a note for a courier from Vancouver.

Phoned some people to invite them out. Ken called back and said this just confirmed his belief that I was crazy. "Hey," I rationalised, "it wasn't my decision! I'm not the organiser..."


I was at the park at about 7:40.

I almost missed the reflective RASC signs that Guy had brought. Very nice! They will be most helpful in the future for visitors, first timers, etc.

Guy was almost done his setup. How many telescopes does he have?!

We already had a visitor, a local, a member no less. I hadn't seen him before.

I set up quickly. Another good polar alignment. Found my missing glove (under the known one, in the same pocket, duh). Swung over to Venus briefly just before it disappeared behind the trees. Fantastic crescent shape! Large!


Lost another wing nut from the tripod tray... I don't know where that might have happened. My garage? My driveway? Trunk of the Toyota? High Park snow bank? I'll have to write that one off.

You know, this whole tripod triangle tray piece is weird. Almost 20 years now and I still don't have a good spot for transporting this thing...


Suddenly, I remembered my new gadgets. I affixed the Astro Gizmo Kick-Me-Nots to the inside of the tripod legs. Guy protested the LEDs were too bright. I positioned them as low as possible. The snow reflected a lot of the red light back up. Still, I think they work great. They will be very good at star parties with people unfamiliar with the spread of the tripod.

Tony was impressed with them, it seemed. Perhaps I'll do a brief presentation on them at a future RASC meeting...


I turned to Orion. First, at low power, I viewed Cr 69. I offered views of the loose cluster of stars. People seemed to like that. Guy updated his log book. I pointed out φ (phi) 1 and 2 at the bottom and λ (lambda) in the centre. It was possible to split lambda, when the telescope wasn't shaking, when the air was steady, and when one's eyes weren't watering.

8:32 PM, -9°C, 43% humidity. I zoomed into to 111x power. Once again, I was struck by the pattern of the stars, like a little arrow. This time, I took the time to sketch (much to everyone's amazement). With pencil and pink eraser. I noted some of the other field stars nearby. The collection of 6 stars, including the lambda double, from end to end, was about 1/5th of the field of view. So that would be about 4 to 5 arc-minutes...

Meanwhile, Guy put his 5" Orion Mak onto Castor [edit]. It was almost overhead. I read out the R.A. and Dec. numbers to him, guessing them from my Pocket Sky Atlas. It put him within 2 degrees. Then he fine-tuned, in a back-breaking orientation, to finally tag it.

I considered finding some interesting new doubles in the Orion, Lepus, Monoceros regions. But I couldn't find my listing of good winter doubles. I thought I had printed up the list from Sky and Telescope. I checked Astronomy Box alpha and The Magic Bag... Damn. I'll have to go through this paperwork later...


Tried to light my hand warmer. It would not go! Damn it. Must remember to start this process earlier, at home, with everything warm.

Tried to use the new 200 mW green laser. It did not like the cold. Despite being in my jeans pocket, it was slow to brighten... Fluctuated!

Guy's looked like it had Vaseline on the lens!


Guy was on Saturn shortly after it cleared the trees. I apologised for not bringing a chart of the moons. Still, I offered to look 'em up on my palmtop. When Guy said he thought he could see Titan, I pulled out the EPOC machine and launched Procyon. As Ken held my red flashlight, I zoomed in on the Saturn image. I asked Guy to describe what he was seeing. I checked that he had a mirror-reversed orientation. Confirmed: Titan was a little above the ring plane, about 1.5 ring radii away from the planet, on the telescope field's right side of the planet.

Later, when I looked through my 'scope, at low power, Titan looked like it had moved in closer to the planet.

9:32 PM, -10.4°C, 54%, 1028 mbar. Saturn and the thin rings were creamy white. I could see a few moons nearby. I didn't make detailed notes nor a sketch but I think I recall 2 to the left and a couple of far off points to the right.

I thought I saw some banding on the planet, brighter near the rings?

Tony had scooped up some visitors as he entered the park. They had heard about Comet Lulin and thought they'd try to spot it. He dragged them over to where we were set up. We showed the 3 visitors Saturn and Orion's M42. I gave them each a new RASC planisphere.


It was getting on, the civilians were all gone, we were starting to get cold.

As we saw that Saturn was higher, it's brightness improved, we all began in earnest to look for Lulin. I showed the printout from Stellarium to Guy. I reminded everyone that the comet should have been within 2 to 3 degrees of Saturn. Tony spotted it in his 10x50 binoculars. But after many attempts, both Tony and I could not tag it in my telescope. Guy found it in his and offered the eyepiece. Very, very faint.

I reminded people that we were really looking too soon. We need to wait 2 or 3 more hours...


Tony helped me pack up before heading home. I left the park at 10:30.

Guy and I briefly met at the Timothy's after I dropped off the rental.

We thought it a good night. Amazingly good turnout given the conditions.

And High Park will be a good spot, once the lights are dealt with.

No one kicked my tripod.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

lasers back to boxes

Both the green laser pointers I have came in cardboard boxes with padding and spaces for the batteries. I'm going to move the lasers back into their boxes.

This is so they cannot be accidentally triggered. The momentary-on buttons could be squeezed and held on for a period of time if the laser was in, say, tight quarters. In my laptop bag, for example, it could get turned on. If the 200 mW (purported rating) was run continuously, aimed at a black plastic surface, perhaps it could cause a fire.

Back in their boxes, I can remove and easily store the batteries. Eliminating any chance of turning on the laser. And while it doesn't prevent tampering by another human, it slows the process...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

still going

Now, 48+ hours. Dimmer. But still blinking...

next NOVA

Once again, I'm coordinating the New Observers to Visual Astronomy course, for the RASC Toronto Centre, in conjunction with the Ontario Science Centre. This 8-week introductory course begins on Wednesday 1 April.

Registrations are starting to pour in. One can register online. We're going to cap attendance at approximately 50 people. It is free!

I was able to secure an additional instructor, Budget Astronomer Ed Hitchcock! I'm very proud to have him on-board. What a great team we have.

spotted Lulin (Toronto)

Just spotted Lulin! From the back yard, with hand-held 7x50 binoculars, leaning against the garage, about 2 degrees west of η (eta) Virgo, I spotted the comet. Easily missed. Very faint against the city sky glow... But no mistaking it. It looks like a DSO where there isn't a DSO.

Friday, February 20, 2009

still blinking

I turned on one of the Kick-Me-Not's last evening (at the fast blink rate). I wanna see how long it lasts... 24+ continuous hours so far. It looks dimmer though.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

occultation results

I asked Guy to send me a link to the asteroid occultation results. He sent the following web site URL:


Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Pleasant surprise when I arrived home... a package from Astro Gizmos! Woo hoo. My new Kick-Me-Not lights.

These are small, red LED lights. You attach one to each leg of your tripod so to improve visibility and avoid foot collisions. Each tiny unit comes with a hook-and-loop strap to secure the light to the leg.

An interesting feature is that you can adjust the way the unit illuminates. When you first turn it on, you get a fast blink. Click the power button again and the blink rate slows. Another press and now the LED burns steady.

Great product!

Mmm. Blinky lights...


Curious. Each light uses 2 button batteries. But they're different! The thin one is a LR1130—I've not seen that type before; the thick one: LR44.

FYI: 1130 means approx. 11 mm in diameter and 3.0 mm deep or tall. "R" means round. "L" means Manganese dioxide. Or alkali-zinc producing 1.5 volts.

The LR44 is the same formula, same voltage. It's 5.4 mm tall.

hands slapped

I was reprimanded for playing with a new, powerful green laser pointer.

Point taken.

It would be bad to hurt a member of the public...

Amateur astronomers should emphasise laser safety.


Diane and Scott ganged up on me (in the row behind me) at the Science Centre. They said they had not seen the RASC Toronto Centre logos from me. I had promised them to the participants of my PowerPoint Tips and Tricks session. I suddenly remembered I had not sent them the Moon font file TTF either. Oops.

Monday, February 16, 2009

strike out (Toronto)

While a "school night" I decided to try for the asteroid occultation this evening. 6249 Jennifer was to block a 9th magnitude star. The rank was very low and the predicted north-south path was west of Toronto. Last week, during the RASC meeting, Guy had recommended, "you might as well stay at home." So, backyard astronomy then!

The occultation was due around 10 PM. I set up very early, was basically ready to go, around 8:00 PM. Well, the telescope was ready anyway. Headed inside to grab the last few items, warm up.

Phoned the neighbours to the east. As usual, they had their back yard lights on. The raccoons didn't seem to mind at all... I phoned the neighbours on the main floor of my house asking them to avoid turning on lights at the back. They didn't get that message... The house mates on the top floor had lights on. I discovered I did not have phone numbers for them. The neighbours to the west, on the main floor, were still away, it looked like, dark windows, still on vacation. Ironically, part way through the evening, I heard them unloading their car on the street. Curious timing. The people on the floor above them had lights on upstairs. I realised I did not have their phone number either... But then, they hate me. OK. Gonna need my red goggles and hooded coat.


Back outside. Let's see what we can see. I remembered that comet Kushida was in Taurus. I started at Aldebaran and starhopped, via some Orion stars, to ζ (zeta). Nothing obvious. Popped back inside to check Stellarium. It showed Kushida almost perfectly between alpha and zeta, a little outside the horns, toward Orion. Ha. That's almost exactly how I travelled! I backtracked, then moved north-east more slowly and settled near 11 Ori and 15 Ori. I couldn't see anything.

Move on, I thought! This is double star country!

I considered 80 Taurus for some time but I was not terribly impressed. I think I was seeing it, the faint star, some distance away, at low power. Did I have the correct star?! Haas says separated by 9" but I'm not seeing anything. [Probably I was on 81...]

Move on! There are lots of multiple stars in Orion. And I needed to get in this region for Jennifer's arrival.

My Pocket Sky Atlas showed lots of stuff going in on the neck region of Orion. In fact, the broad collection of stars, at low power, an elongated S-pattern, was very pleasing. I gather this is what is meant by Cr (Collinder) 69.

It was 8:42 PM, according to my Oregon Scientific weather station. It was not liking the cold, showing a low battery icon again. Temperature was -5.3°C and humidity was 40%.

I zoomed in on λ (lambda) Orion a.k.a. Meissa. I could see at 52x [ed: that should be 56x] it was two points touching. Briefly in a moment of steady air it would develop a black line. At 77x the separation persisted, held steady. Reminded me of Castor in Gemini.

It lay in a beautiful field of bright and faint stars. The main star looked blue-white and the companion seemed peach or pale orange. I spotted a very faint star nearby! Extremely faint. Improved with averted vision. The very faint sun was in-line and equidistant to the slightly brighter field stars nearby.

At 111x, while easily separated, I felt differently about lambda's colours! Now I thought the main was pale yellow and the companion blue-white. Haas describes them as "lemon white and ashy blue-violet." She goes on the document this as a quad system! Wow! The main stars are separated by 4.3 arc-seconds (Castor is 4.2).

The double star along with the fainter 4 nearby stars reminded me of Sagitta.

On reviewing Haas's double stars book and learning lambda Orion was a quad system, it made me appreciate (once again) that I should better document (and sketch) these observations... I should show orientations to confirm the Position Angle and distances to compare Separations.


Break time. I headed inside to rest up, warm up, and prepare for the Main Event. I had not yet printed detailed finder charts for the target star. As I did that, the thought flickered through my brain that while the scales of the charts are known, they did not correlate to my eyepieces. They could use my custom Field of View circles... Too late to tackle that now.

And as I reviewed Stellarium, I started to get nervous that the target star would be too close to the roof line of the neighbours house. I better verify if I can in fact see objects at the predicted elevation.

Back at the eyepiece, I was amazed to see lambda still dead centre. Wow. I had nailed my polar alignment tonight! Shame to spoil it... I was not confident I had a good sightline, so I moved the whole 'scope northward. Then, tilting and turning the tripod, I reacquired lambda.

OK, now, to the target star. A bit less than an hour to go... And immediately I was confused by the finder charts! The 15° chart was OK, I could generally relate to the scale and I could correlate it to PSA. My finder scope FOV would be about half of it. But as I tried to find stars in Lepus, it became challenging. Visually, at 1x magnification, I could just barely see α (alpha) and β (beta). Starhopping though I realised was confused in fact by the differences in scale. I was moving small distances in the finder scope but applying the scale from PSA.

When I tried to switch to the 2° scale chart, I was totally lost. Attempts to find stars through the baader eyepiece, despite it's generous 1° field, was disorienting. The chart was normal orientation. I really needed a mirror-reversed chart at this point. I had printed on opposite side of used sheets of paper--shining light through the paper didn't work! I didn't even bother with the 30 arc-minute chart!

Even though the sightline was better, I found the general angle poor. As I looked through the finder scope, the light from the houses was going right in my eyes. My efforts to shield with my hands was futile. I kept losing sight of the stars? Was the seeing changing? Heat from the roof tops? My eyes seemed unable to focus? Tired? The starfield was unrecognisable!

The more I tried, the more angry I grew. I was boiling. Damn neighbours and their lights. Damn light pollution. Damn air pollution. Maybe I should have driven out of the city... Alas, I had not done enough to prepare properly.

I threw in the towel at 10:29 PM. It was -7.2° and 53%.


Some would chalk this up to Murphy. I refuse to support that. Murphy's Law was not a factor. There was nothing that suddenly went wrong. Nothing broke. Nothing coincidently occurred to prevent me from doing this. It was primarily lack of preparation on my part. And a lack of anticipation. I should have predicted some of these issues and then I would have had a plan to deal with them.

Lessons learned:
  • have finder charts with my eyepiece FOV circles shown
  • rotate and mirror-reverse star charts, as needed
  • ask neighbours about lights, well in advance
  • locate target star further in advance; play later
  • erect light shields on 'scope, on fence (if neighbours won't play nice)

I was too upset after packing up to blog. And I was done with astronomy for the day! Burnt out.

It was a challenge to find something positive out of the evening. λ Ori was spectacular though.

miss from LSCA

Eric reported a "miss" of asteroid Jennifer from the Long Sault Conservation Area.

Poor Guy: more telescope trouble. He reported a "Murphy's Law..."

G6 manual found!

I had misplaced the small Owner's Manual for the G6 shortwave radio... I wanted to put it in the new bag / sack / satchel with the radio. Last I remembered seeing it was on or near my desk. I just assumed it was at the bottom of a pile somewhere.

Vertical stacking! Grrr. How much time do we lose in our lives looking through stacks of paper for something tucked in at the bottom. Or that's drifted down in decreasing priority. Vertical stacking is easy though. Too easy. Stacks should be horizontally arranged, allowed to grow in width, but easy to access anything along, in the middle, near the ends. Bah. Paper!

But while taking a break from the computer this afternoon, a muse visited me. "Look in," she whispered, "Astronomy Box alpha..."

OK. It needed a tidy-up anyway. Ah ha! Found it!

white sky

Shortly after reporting that I was going to try for the asteroid occultation of mag 9 star by Jennifer, I see the sky's gone white. What the hell?!

simple trick

While reading Choosing and Using a SCT by Mollise, I got an idea. When he was talking about how to determine direction in the eyepiece, he said, no matter the telescope type, objects move into the field of view from the east, and leave the field in the west.

I.e. rise in the east; set in the west!


too bright for Lulin (Toronto)

I tried for Comet Lulin this morning. But I woke too late.

I often wake in the middle of the night, for a trip to the loo. I felt the urge this morning. Trundled down, after slipping on my red goggles. When I glanced out a window to the south-east, the sky was bright red. I have been received into Hell. (A little earlier than I expected though.)

I checked the computer. Stellarium showed Lulin near Spica just over the trees across the neighbour's back yard. Low!

Once in the back yard, I pulled the dark red lenses off: oh my! It was bright out! No chance to see a dim comet...

The only star I could see was Arcturus.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Venus in my eye (Toronto)

Sitting at my desk this evening, I caught Venus out the window! Not exactly a "big piece a pie..."

Popped my newer/broken eyeglasses on. I swear I could make out that it is not a point source. Is that "averted imagination?"

According to my double star notes, the closest separation the eye can distinguish is about 4 arc-minutes.

Stellarium shows Venus with a diameter of 0.0106° or 0.636".

So, it's my imagination...

dead mobo

David dropped a good known power supply into the weather station server: nothing. So, we have a very sick computer. Our theory is the fan on the original motherboard failed, created an overheating problem, and then the motherboard fried.

This means no quick fixes. There are no spare computers up there at this point.

I'll take up one of our new spare computers when the roads clear... Or during the Messier Marathon. Whichever comes first.

remote repair

David is up at the CAO. He reported that the power supply in the weather station server computer is not working. Fans are not spinning, the POST does not beep, nothing on video. I've asked him, if he feels inclined, to try to diagnose further, and see if he can find an equivalent power supply to pop in to test. We could have fried the motherboard...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rod replied

I asked the author what he thought of the quality of the printing and reproduction of his book Choosing and Using a Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope.

He replied, "A little ugly, but functional. LOL."

So there you have it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

free forms

I deployed the RASC Toronto Centre NOVA spring 2009 course registration through a free form management tool, thanks to FormLog. It's easy to set up and control, easy to use, provides the data in a friendly format via email, just the way it should be.

It's good to have total control over the form design and deployment...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

winter list updated

After a follow-up email from me to Tony, he felt compelled to update the winter double star list. And he went all out! He fixed the Cancer phi2 listing. He also added the necessary HTML coding to show the Greek symbols. Well done.

But I had to relay the bad news: he forgot about the summer doubles listing...

too much

I found an error in the winter double stars list over at Sky & Telescope. So I sent them an email.

I found a small typo in the winter double star list...  It is in the third page of the article, in the list of targets.

What shows is:

q2 Cnc 8h 26.8m +26° 56' ...
or theta2 Cnc 8h 26.8m +26° 56' ...

But it should be:

f2 Cnc 8h 26.8m +26° 56' ...
or phi2 Cnc 8h 26.8m +26° 56' ...

The coordinates and other details are correct.  Somehow the theta was substituted for phi.  Which is perhaps not surprising as they are very similar.

I received this reply back today...

I was all set to go into the article and fix it right now.  But I see that the *correct* fix is to replace all those Roman letters by the HTML codes that give the actual Greek letters, which is more work than I want to undertake right at the moment.  So I'll postpone fixing it for another day.

Tony Flanders
Associate Editor, Sky & Telescope
So, your trusted astronomy source is going to let this error persist for a while longer... I found this response a little odd. I guess he's pretty busy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

officially supervising

Dietmar sent out the proposed schedule for supervising duties at the RASC Toronto Centre Carr Astronomical Observatory. And my name was on that list.

I've been asked to watch over the CAO on the June 6 and October 10 weekends.

found Urban book

I found my copy of The Urban Astronomer's Guide by Rod Mollise! Woo hoo! I had been thinking about it for a while, wanting to compare it to Choosing and Using a Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope, see the difference in quality, but I couldn't find it. I checked all the usual places, Astronomy Box alpha (the main file box with my flashlights, current notes, dew heating equipment, compass, etc.), Astronomy Box beta (mostly books, GFCI power bar, hockey pucks, etc.), even Astronomy Box gamma (cleaning supplies), my computer desk, the recently reorganised bedroom bookshelves. Couldn't put my hands on it. I was getting worried it was lost or stolen.

Alas, it was on my coffee table. Under other books, and computer parts, and a box of Meccano, and my red LED light table prototype...

Sunday, February 08, 2009

folded path, plus

Oooh. Now I get it.

I just learned a mystery of catadioptrics.

I've always wondered about this. And I recall chatting briefly with someone about this last summer: how can an 8-inch Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain have a 2000 mm focal length?! When it is only about 40 cm long?!

Rod Mollise explains this in the early pages of his SCT book...

It is not just that the light path is folded 3 times inside the tube. When you do the rough calculations of that, you get 3 x 400 mm. That's still not enough to accommodate for the quoted amount.

It is because the secondary mirror is a spherical lens. As such, it has a magnifying property. So the focal length is extended by the secondary. That gives the extra amount.

Puzzle solved!

Now if I can only remember who I was taking to about this...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

new SCT book

I bought Choosing and Using a Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope: A Guide to Commercial SCTs and Maksutovs by Rod Mollise. I actually bought it before Christmas. From Chapters Indigo, I arranged that it be shipped to Mom's. While I received another part of the order on time, this book, it seems, went out of stock.

A couple of weeks ago it finally showed up.

And I finally made a trip down to my Mom's.

Glad to have this book. I'm looking forward to reading it. But... there's something odd about it. The reproduction quality seems very strange... And I think an image is missing. I'll need to investigate this.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

taking over for Tony

Tony is swamped. He asked me to take over for him at the Keele Public School. I'll deliver an astronomy presentation in early March. We're going to try to do a star party too...

full report online

I posted my full notes, with links, some images, a PDF download for my The Sky This Month - Feb 2009 (TSTM) presentation over at the RASC Toronto Centre web site.


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

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

TSTM and me

During RASC Toronto Centre "member nights" (i.e. amateur astronomer nights) Eric normally delivers The Sky This Month presentation. He describes some of the noteworthy events to happen in the night sky for the next 30 days or so. Typically, a handout is provided.

To emphasise certain events, Eric would fire up the Starry Night astronomy software, set the date and time, and aim at a part of the sky, or target a celestial object. Recently, he started including an omnirama of the space in front of the Ontario Science Centre.

I enjoy these little talks and demos as they remind me / us of the good things to try to catch. Eric's low-key style is intriguing, his knowledge of NASA events fascinating. And if you listen closely, you'll detect the subtle humour.

On occasion, he's not been around. Brenda, on these nights, has taken up the reins. A couple of months ago I suggested to Paul, if he was in a pinch, if both Eric and Brenda were not available, I could deliver The Sky This Month presentation. He responded quickly. OK. "You're on for February" Yikes!

Earlier tonight, I did my first run. I was a little nervous. I ran long (correction: slow). Paul gave me the hook at about 25 minutes. I had to dump 1/3 of my material! I did not get to the spaceflight slides in my PowerPoint presentation. I was not pleased with my progress. Still, people seemed to enjoy it. And my handout was very well-received.

Stef, in particular, was very impressed that I had tagged some items as "photo ops!"

The most fascinating thing though? How people reacted to me using Stellarium! Someone commented on the clean display. True, there is little to clutter the Stellarium interface. And I used scripts and keyboard shortcuts to get things done quickly. One person was very intrigued by what I was doing with the scripts, wanted to know what the language was like, how I learned it, etc. Grilled me. Someone commented on the realism. That's certainly a strength to Stellarium. A couple of people were astonished that it was free. General Public Licence baby.

Paul wants me to do TSTM again!

And there seems to be great interest in doing astronomy software demos...

tripod hacked

Charles returned my tripod this evening with Manfrotto eye bolt attached. He ran into snags though. When he drilled the metal of the base, all seemed fine. But when he started tapping it, he found the metal crumbled and disintegrating. It was not going to work, a traditional tap. So he acquired some "liquid metal" glue bonding guck and used it to secure the eyelet. He heated it to improve the curing effect. It is rock solid!

I owe him.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Hubble facts

While monitoring the live feed today at the NASA web site, I learned a few things about the Hubble Space Telescope:
  • launched in 1990
  • 500 000 images of planetary bodies
  • 800 000 images of other objects
  • 24 500 pounds (2 elephants)
  • size of a large bus
  • publicly accessible
  • serviced over 4 missions (counted the impending)
  • final SM4 will be performed by STS-125
  • should operate to 2014
  • 7000 scientific papers published
Lots more info can be found over at the NASA site, of course.

Monday, February 02, 2009

brief review of Roving Mars

Once again I was impressed to find such a current book at my public library.

Roving Mars by Steve Squyres.

There are times where the book reads like a diary or a blog; at other times Steve waxes poetic. Still, it is a detailed and fascinating account. We glimpse into the hardships and triumphs in the planning, designing, proposing, building, launching, flying, landing, and roving of the two Mars craft. I hadn't considered the weird work shifts you need to coordinate for planets with days not 24 hours long. The story of Spirit and Opportunity is truly an incredible one. Particularly when you consider that they still function today, 5 years later.

Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity and the Exploration of the Red Planet (Hyperion, 2005). 400+ pages.

Touching how he credits the people involved in the project, some 4000 names he lists.

Only criticism is that the illustration of the final rover design was placed at the back of the book. Wish I had known at the beginning.

planet gazing with Sparks (Toronto)

Tony asked me to assist during his presentation to a Sparks group this evening. It was amazing. The girls had so many questions! What a hoot.

I gave Tony the high sign, five minutes to go. Then I headed outside and assembled the Dobsonian. We had the Toronto Centre's 8" reflector for the evening. I attached the Telrad. I dropped in the 2" eyepiece.

Good! Venus was still visible. Took me a while to find a good spot. Venus looked good at high power. The phase was less than half. It resolved nicely into a wide crescent. Some of the Sparks could see it, thought it looked like a little Moon.

Did I see a star near Venus in the low-power eyepiece?

The Moon was a big hit. It was awesome in the wide-field! A real crowd pleaser.

Good timing! I heard my palmtop alarm for the ISS flyover. As I glanced over the roof of the church, I just caught it. I was able to get everyone ready. When the amber point cleared the building, climbing into the sky, heading toward Orion, everyone was very intrigued. I reminded the Sparks that a few people were living up there...

We made sure everyone had a look through the telescope. Parents were showing up to gather their girls. We gave them a look-see too.

Tony turned the Dob to M42. We could easily see the nebula at low power. It was easy to split the four main stars of the Trapezium.

Fun evening. And Tony was crazy lucky with the weather!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

roll back

For several reasons, I've decided to roll back to Stellarium 0.9.x for my upcoming RASC The Sky This Month presentation. The primary reason is scripts. In order to be able to rapidly simulate and show certain events at particular dates and times, I need to be able to use scripts. And since these are not yet implemented in a stable release of version 0.10.x, my hand is forced. A lesser reason is that I'm simply more comfortable with 9. I've more seat time with it, I know the keyboard shortcuts, I can work quickly in it. And the more I think about it, I should not use a beta product in a demonstration. I don't want anything crashing suddenly... So, I uninstalled 10 from the laptop and reloaded 9. All the scripts I built on John Smallberries worked fine. Sweet.