Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stellarium on Eee

I just installed Stellarium 0.10.2 onto an ASUS Eee PC 1000HE netbook computer. Despite the small screen, 10", and the funny resolution, 1024 x 600, it works fine! Nice to known the onboard video circuit is compatible. It's not too sluggy in 1GB of RAM on the N280 processor. This will be a good option at demos or using it in the field.

Except all the main LEDs are super bright blue! And shine right in you eyeballs! Hello! Not very astronomer friendly...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

flew an 8" Newt (Toronto)

Despite the thick afternoon clouds, Guy called a GO for the RASC Toronto City Observing Session and announced that he would come down to the High Park location. It had rained heavily in the morning and into the lunch hour. I was a little surprised. But, he saw the front moving across Ontario. It looked like it was going to clear. My Clear Sky Alarm Clocks were going off for Fingal and Toronto. Maybe we'd get lucky (again).

I wanted to help at the COS but I didn't relish the idea of transferring my gear down, by my car, with the high-voltage problem still unresolved. Or hauling by garden wagon such a long distance.

When Guy answered my phone call, I asked, "How many telescopes do you have?" He figured out pretty quick where I was going with this. But took me up on my outrageous proposal! He assured me it wouldn't be too much extra effort...

I walked to the park from home. Brought my big tripod, binos, a couple of eyepieces, a few star finders, two green lasers, etc.

We met at the park a little after 8 PM. I helped him unload all his gear, x2. And then I started to set up the second telescope. First the stainless tripod. Then the large heavy solid EQ-6 mount. Finally, we loaded up the OTA, a short-tube 8" f/4 Newtonian, via the dovetail. Balanced, with extension installed, we popped in my 2" baader eyepiece. In short order, I swung over to the Moon. It proved a very nice view and our early visitors, including Lana from the NOVA course, enjoyed that.

Later we turned to Saturn and tried to figure out the moon positions. My trusty old Psion palmtop software Procyon proved handy. That said, I mistook some field stars for wanderers. Guy corrected us. I did a sketch at 9:55 PM and in the end correctly identified Dione, Rhea, (Saturn) Titan, Tethys, and Iapetus.

The other two objects in-line with the ring plane were field stars.

The view through Mark's brand new Celestron 8" SCT was fantastic. Reminded me I should clean my corrector plate...

I helped Mark find Cor Caroli.

As we began to pack up, the baseball diamond floodlights finally switched off. We all groaned.

Guy offered me a ride home. What a trooper!

That was a lot of fun flying a different telescope. I learned a lot.

Monday, April 27, 2009

lucky day (Toronto)

Got very lucky today...

I did not get a parking ticket for having my car on the street overnight.

Worked very close to home. It would be awesome to have a permanent job where you could walk to work! Anyway, it meant I was close to the 'hood. Close to Runnymede. Ironically, I walked past the school twice during the day...

It was a beautiful day. Sunny. Blue skies... Maybe walking to work everyday in the middle of winter or in terrible thunderstorms wouldn't be fun. Then again, it's better than being caught in traffic. Anyway, a great day to be walking outside, enjoying the fresh air, the warm breeze, the trees turning green.

Today was a good day to teach a one-on-one computer course.

Worked finished rather early. Started early, no delays, finished early. I was home by 4.

Made good coin today. It's been a long time...

It didn't rain on my car, while it was "trapped" out on the street. So that provided a chance to dry it out. The car is not working in the rain for some reason.

No one stole the emblems from the car.

The car started at 4 PM! Bizarre. I was able to limp to the garage! Whew. Big load off my mind.

I remembered to photocopy the handouts for my astronomy presentation.

Rode my bicycle, briefly. I love riding my bike.

I remembered to update my astronomy PowerPoint presentation for the current year. Just in time.

I remembered to bring the laptop for the presentation.

Forgot to bring an extension cord. But they drummed up some at the school.

The air added to the wagon tires a couple of weeks ago made it significantly easier to pull to the Runnymede Public School.

We had a fantastic turnout to the second annual Astronomy Night at the Runnymede PS. 100 kids, parents, and teachers. 100 Galileo Moments. I gave everyone a RASC Star Finder.

The skies cleared at the end of my presentation! Unbelievable. We had a good view of a young Moon. And we got a fairly good view of Saturn and Titan.

William showed up with his WO APO despite me calling a NO-GO for the evening.

One of the teachers brought out his personal telescope (a Celestron refractor). It proved vital. Having a third telescope helped satisfy all the observers!

In the dark, in the grass and wood chips of the school yard, by a chance reflection, I found my dropped end screw for the counterweight shaft.

But I don't believe in luck.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

helped at spring 09 CAO work party

A bunch of us headed up to the Carr Astronomical Observatory for the season-opener work party. We did the usual things, taking off the storm windows, preparing the yard equipment, etc.

Ian shot some photos. Dietmar and Charles submitted a report.

Just don't ask me to cut the bottom off a door...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mercury below Pleiades (Blue Mountains)

Tom tried to find Mercury after dinner. Curiously, we dismissed his observation. He persisted. Stuart tried to corroborate this in his astronomy software but something was wobbly with it, or his computer. Dietmar checked in TheSky and still there was some confusion. Tom called us out again. Darker now, we could see Auriga, Taurus, Gemini, etc. And it became abudently clear that Tom was right.

I pulled out my Bushnell binos. They caught half the star cluster as we viewed the inner most planet. Pretty.

Sorry, Tom!

Friday, April 24, 2009

bit of clear skies (Blue Mountains)

What a drag. Earlier in the week it was looking like it was going to be a spectacular weekend. Certainly, it was unusually warm. But Environment Canada and the Clear Sky Charts were not looking promising now. So we seized the opportunity, rolled off the roof of the CAO GBO observatory, and looked at what we could look it. In the end, Dietmar operating the C14 'scope and me assisting, we observed Saturn, Messier (M81), Messier (M82), and a bunch of other objects. We could not split Porrima.


I took the large base of Eric's 12-inch Dobsonian up to the CAO in my car. Yes, my car was working again...

He is going to bring the tube.

It looked pretty funny in his car, this huge Sonotube stretched from the front passenger foot well into the back seat.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


The RASC Toronto Centre has accomplished the incredible. They have a working agreement with the new land owners to operate the David Dunlap Observatory for astronomical outreach!

The RASC TC announced this today, appropriately, and provided a press release.

happy Earth Day

It's Earth Day, 2009. So, try to save some energy, produce a bit less carbon. Clean up some litter.

I was hoping to see the Moon-Venus occultation. But unfortunately we're clouded out here in Ontario...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

time, distance, place

There is a lot of death around me.

Friends, family members, and friends of friends are dying. It has been a lot lately. Intense, lately. Until you read wikipedia. On average, 150 000 people die every day. That's 150 000 families that are affected, plus or minus. Families, loved ones, children, co-workers, friends.

Still, it is difficult for us, individually, when someone we know is suddenly gone. A hospital, or the police, or a funeral home takes them away. We begin to flash-back to when we last saw them, or talked with them. I always regret my lack of communication and my distance, emotional and physical. Then again, as my sister said, we've a diverse family, members in different provinces, separated by great distances, distances that 100 years ago were, or today can be, difficult to surmount.

And then, I look at a crystal-clear digital photograph of the galaxy classified as NGC 4565. So far away. So detailed and rich that I feel I can reach out and touch it. Curiously, the light from the galaxy is from the distant past. And (while this is not a new concept, it is still bewildering) the light leaving the galaxy now (if it is still there) won't reach the surface of this planet for another 31 million years. I suspect then we'll all be long gone.

Not to be pessimistic. That's just a long time. Humans will have morphed into something completely different by then. A form we can't even begin to imagine...

But it is in moments like these that I wonder what it all means. Why did the death of my cat Tigger tear at my heart strings? Why did the death of Poppa, my grandfather, while estranged by my family, hurt so much? Why did I cry for days over the lose of Soccer, brother cat to Nancy. I'll miss Stan. Such a sad end for Marg. What is Robert feeling about the lose of his father Arthur? How do I express my feelings about the death of Stuart's and Cameron's fathers, after mine? Why does the lose of Angela's sister, whom I never met, give me such pause. And now, Aunt Rosamond is gone. She and Jack so inspired me.

Death is a mystery.

But when I look into the deep cosmos, at distant galaxies, I see, I feel, I sense, somehow I know, deep down, quivering, that it is totally, completely, fully, entirely natural. And as I read that back to myself, I think, Well, duh, that's total obvious! Stupid.

We are connected to this Universe, still.

I've no answers. If you're looking here for answers, I've nothing to give. I'm feeling, frankly, empty. I'm tired right now. I'm exhausted. I don't know what is next. I've consciously put blinders on. I'm myopic. I just need to get through the next day. I am so tired.

I'm sure in a few days, I'll feel better. All this will fold into my consciousness. I'll begin to tolerate and understand and accept their absence. And I'll, with greater gravity, remember it is all part of the wheel of time, the beacon of progress, the evolution of the cosmos. We are grist in the mill.

I can only hope that I can make a few fellow lives, human lives, on our tiny planet, in our quiet galaxy, in our little universal domain, a little bit easier. I hope I can help a few people.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Herschel Planck delayed again; Kepler ramping up

Surfed into ESA to find, once again, they've delayed their launch. An anomaly in "a subsystem." They didn't say which one.

Meanwhile, Kepler is open and snapping some test photos.

RPS astronomy night postponed

Raining today. Looks like it's gonna rain for the next 3 days. So, we've scrubbed the talk and star party.

We already have a rain date booked: Monday 27 April. Let's hope it's clear then.

Dark Sky Week

While organised by a US group, we should all turn off unnecessary lighting during National Dark Sky Week.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mew Lake reservations opened

The Annual Algonquin (astronomical) Adventure by the RASC Toronto Centre is, once again, taking place in September at the Mew Lake campground. Lora and Phil invited me to join them last year. I wanted to go and had accepted their invite but, at the 11th hour, had to back out. This year, I'm determined to make it.

Phil said he made the reservations over the weekend...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Monoceros multiples, a stark Saturn (Toronto)

For a long time I have wanted to view the "recommended" double or multiple star systems in Monoceros. I remember trying about a year ago while at my Mom's but it was too late in the season for her place, with a large tree in the south-west blocking the view. I was feeling a certain amount of pressure now to tag these targets. Mid-April, the Unicorn is getting pretty low in the west... Not much time left. If I missed, I'd have to wait 9 more months.

So, Thursday, in the morning, it was looking like it was gonna be a clear day and night. In fact, the next few day's weather looked pretty good. But the best part was that I didn't have to work on Friday. Well, at least I didn't have to teach a course, at the typical 8:30 start time. I was expected at a client's to help repair their SOHO network. But it was no fixed time... So I could stay up late, sleep in, and still service them.

All that said, when I got home Thursday afternoon, I was tired. It had been a mildly stressful week. I started working for a new client this week, delivering computer training courses. While it was familiar products and courseware, it was still intense, lots of things to get right, all the while wanting to do a great job. On top of that was the NOVA course. This week I was to support Isaac. I was stressed about the technology, if the computer, projector, his presentation (prepared on a different computer), and the speakers would all work. I was concerned about the 3D Elmo projector from the Science Centre Education Department, whether it would actually be there. The week started off with a bit of anxiety: the Tuesday training gig for Nexient at a client of theirs near the airport... Well, there were a lot of challenges. Nexient made a number of mistakes which I spent a lot of energy trying to correct. In the end, overall, everything in the week went well. It just took a lot of concentration and attention. All I wanted to do when I got home Thursday was drink cheap red wine from Argentina and relax. But Monoceros was calling...

Stellarium showed that just after sunset I'd get a clear shot at the constellation, very low in the west, but in the sweet spot over the west neighbour's fence. This is my best sightline!

I had a quick dinner on the barbecue.

I phoned the neighbours to the east. Milo answered. He knew right away what I was calling about. He immediately offered to turn off the lights. Thanks.

As the sun set, I set up the tripod and mount. When the sun lowered, I installed the telescope. First time using the new light setup in the garage, I powered on the white light socket, which energises the extension cord. I screwed out the white bulb enough so that it went out; I turned on the new red light bulb socket. Nice. Hooked up all the electronic components, including the 8" dew heater.

I briefly panicked when I didn't see the dew shield. Oh yeah... I had left it at Mom's. I quickly assembled a make-shift shield using some 1/4" high-density foam.

I opened the umbrella on the picnic table and put all my astronomy boxes, paperwork, binoculars, etc. underneath. I put the weather station out early to acclimate.


9:00 PM, temperature 8.5°C, 28% humidity. Time to chase some doubles.

I decided to visit an old friend, Castor. At low power, in the baader planetarium Hyperion-Aspherical 36mm, I found two white stars with a hint of blue just touching.

I noticed 2 nearby field stars as well (between magnitude 9 and 10). I made a tiny sketch so to record the position angles (although I don't think they're related). I made no attempt to gauge distances...

At medium power, with the Celestron Plössl 26mm, I could see a black line between Castor A and B.

9:28 PM. After chasing a raccoon away, I returned to λ (lambda) Orionis. Meissa is a nice double star. I can still see a faint star, with averted vision, nearby. Eric had suggested this, that I keep checking it, to make sure it is not a wanderer, some asteroid. I did another small sketch so to compare again against my earlier drawings and Paul's photos.

9:37 PM. Without further ado, I headed to β (beta) Monocerotis. With the 36mm, I could see two stars, of the same colour. But there was something interesting about the companion. I could tell it was not a single star, it was not round. Using high power, the Meade Orthoscopic 18mm, I split the companion! Wow. A very cool triple star! All three stars are the exact same colour.

Again, I made a tiny sketch so to nab the position angles.

Haas, in double stars for small telescopes, says they're exactly the small colour. But white. OK. The separations are noted as 7.1 and 2.9 arc-seconds. She quotes Mr. Herschel: "One of the most beautiful sights in the heavens." I agree.

That was worth it!

10:07 PM. I headed off to ε (epsilon) Mon. It was a tricky star hop. I tried a couple of times from β but I kept getting lost. I had to take a different approach. Using Pocket Sky Atlas, I hopped from Procyon, over to δ (delta) Mon, then 18 Mon, and finally to ε. I found a wide double at low power. The main was yellow; the companion was a dim yellow or a pale orange.

Haas does not list this star as ε; she shows it as 8 Mon. She goes it to describe this low-power binary as "striking." Smyth coloured them "golden yellow and lilac." Separation of 12.1".

Between the tenacious raccoon, the wine, and the psychic energy drain from the week, I was ready to pack it in. Somehow I convinced myself to take a break, recharge inside, and then see how I felt.

Stellarium showed that Saturn had just cleared the roof of the house. OK. Let's check it out. It's been a while.

10:42 PM, 8.1°, 29%. Saturn was stunning. That's what I wrote in my little notebook. But those words don't do it justice. The air was clear. The view was rock solid. I could see cloud bands on the planet surface, especially white bands near the equator. I could pick out the sharp yet incredible thin ink blank shadow of the rings on the sphere.

Titan, Dione, Rhea were all easy to see. Iapetus was way off to the side, easy to mistake as a star. I tried for Mimas and Hyperion but could not resolve them.

Wonderful view. I wanted to sit and stare. But I was yawning. I quickly put everything away and headed to bed.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

happy trails

Cosmonaut Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin was the first human in space. Today is the anniversary of his incredible journey. His words:

"I see the Earth. It is beautiful."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

guess they forgot

I wanted to do some backyard observing this weekend, with back-to-back clear nights predicted, but my neighbours to the east had all their outside house lights on. Again. And they were gone for the holidays... I could tell by the vehicles in their driveway. The lack of human activity. No answer to my phone calls. So it seems that they forgot to consider my interests before leaving town.

peculiar velocities

A large survey of galaxies visible in the southern sky was recently completed. According to the Sky & Telescope article, in addition to cataloguing some 100 000 galaxies, they measured the "peculiar velocities" of each galaxy with respect to its surroundings, the push and pull of its light-emitting neighbours.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

small planet

My neighbour Diane called and left a message. She was laughing. She was very surprised to see a name she knew at an upcoming event. Her little boy goes to Runnymede Public. So she was looking at the flyer for upcoming events and saw the Astronomy Night event on April 20. And then she noticed who it was to be delivered by.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

pre-spring cleaning

I guess it was the pleasant weather. Once I was home, I felt like tidying up in the back yard and garage.

The first thing I did was install a second light socket in the garage. I patched this into the old knob-and-tube wiring, using a new junction box, new pull switch socket, and some armour coat from Tony.

The second light is for astronomy use.

I finished the job screwing in a red incandescent light bulb.


While tidying and moving things about, I stumbled across some laptop bags. Ah ha! There they are... At the back of garage. Malcolm had given me a couple of surplus bags from his work. Going back a ways. When I was decommissioning my work carry-all (Magic Bag 1.0).

I needed to replace the torn leather bag I was actively using for lugging about the portable (but heavy) power tank battery booster pak lead-acid thing.

The new bag is some sort of strong cloth material. The inner, main chamber, where you'd slide in your laptop, is a tad too thin for the old Century battery pack. So, I've put it in the outboard chamber. This is not ideal from a balance point of view. But it will work fine. The point is to have something with a shoulder strap. And pockets for the AC adapter, the in-car CLA-to-CLA charging cable, the 3-way splitter, etc.


I pulled down from the overheard storage the picnic table umbrella. Will prove handy for upcoming backyard astronomy sessions, to keep dew (or frost) off my paperwork, etc.


I pumped up the tires on the green garden wagon. One was really low.

I tried to use my new bicycle tire pump. It is a foot pump, i.e. tall and thin, that you hold it steady with and draw in air pulling against the foot supports. Great design. However, the nozzle is bulky, due to its 3- or 4-in-1 design. And there wasn't quite enough clearance. I had to do 2 tires with my old 12-volt car tire pump, which is sounding a little laboured.

Anyway, I got all the tires pumped up. This will make it easier to pull.

helped at SOS 2 of 2 (Toronto)

The Ontario Science Centre and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Toronto Centre decided to have a "special" Solar Observing Session this weekend. Normally, on one day, Saturday, it was decided, due in part to the 100 Hours of Astronomy IYA celebration, to have two days back to back of solar observing.

Good thing. Saturday was clouded out.

But Sunday was a go. So I headed over to the OSC. Piloted Eric's Personal Solar Telescope, atop my repaired large tripod, for a while.

The Sun was not very exciting but people enjoyed the views.

Rajesh snapped some photos with his Sony Alpha 100 and new Tamron 18-250 lens.

another editor on board

As part of an on-going effort to reduce my workload and perform advanced activities for the RASC Toronto Centre, I am trying to off-load some of the web editing chores. Fortunately, RASC TC web site uses a Content Management System and I've found some victims, er, volunteers!

Of course, a key feature of a CMS is that it allows multiple authors to contribute. It only makes sense that the people who have a portfolio then "own" site content and therefore they should do their own posting. Then the content will better reflect what they want to say and the whole updating process will be faster.

I'm prepared to train-up people. I've 3 in mind...

John is the Telescope Loan chair. To date, when he's received a new piece of equipment, changed a configuration, or something to that effect, he's asked me to apply the updates. Moving forward, I want him to add and edit the content of the Telescope Loan pages.

We had talked about this for some time but then it fell off our collective radar. A couple of weeks back I got fired up again about this--I can't remember what triggered it. Regardless, John and I targetted this Sunday (long before Guy and Sara decided to extend the Solar Observing...).

The day started with me heading over to John's house. After he served up a cup o' Joe, I briefly explained the core features of the CMS. Using his home computer, I created and configured an account for John. We created a test article. And then I had him build a real article, for the Centre's new 114mm reflector telescope. We even uploaded an image.

Speaking of images, we talked briefly about scaling. I suggested the Picnik web site. But then, after performing a test scan on his Brother MFC unit, we stumbled across the Microsoft Photo Editor, the discontinued app thrown in with Office XP. Great little program. I helped John toss a shortcut on the desktop for it. He told his son Michael. They were both pretty happy about that.

John did great. It's fantastic having another person on the team.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

NOVA starts

The spring 2009 New Observers to Visual Astronomy course, hosted by the Ontario Science Centre, and delivered by the RASC Toronto Centre volunteers, started tonight. I asked the instructors to pop in for introductions. We had a technical glitch with the projector. Will these never end?! Good thing we had the backup projector. Denis did a fantastic job of setting the tone, getting people enthused. And we sold lots of books! I'm looking forward to this run.

calendar commendation

Eric commended me for my The Sky This Month calendar. Turns out he produced his April report using a month-at-a-glance style calendar.