Sunday, May 31, 2009

submitted intercom proposal

The new intercom system at the CAO does not work. Several of us have tested the 3-station system in all its different configurations, using the 3-channels, on the different phased AC circuits in the house. No joy.

I submitted a proposal to the CAO committee to ditch the current system; I asked the committee to move on purchasing a new cordless telephone system (with intercom features) instead.

Hopefully this will be approved.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

then there were 6

After a successful launch from Kazakhstan, 3 additional crew (including Canadian Thirsk) are headed to the ISS. They'll bring the total expedition crew to 6.

Monday, May 25, 2009

May High Park COS (Toronto)

William beat me to High Park.

I had left my house early at approx. 7:55. As I backed into the second last parking spot and got out of the car, I saw William Stanley checking his compass. It was 8:05. He was curious where to set up. I was wondering where the thin Moon would appear. The place was packed!

Both baseball diamonds where going full tilt. There seemed to be 6 or 7 different games (or practice sessions) going on in the 2 soccer (er, football) pitches. It looked like we'd have to use the sidelines only if we wanted to set up early. But as I finished my 3rd (or 4th) unloading trip, the nearest field coincidentally vacated. This allowed us flatter ground and helped us get from behind the net of a men's casual game.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping; Vixen tracking
William set up his blue 80mm W.O. refractor atop his new iOptron Cube Pro mount. I began the assembly of my old trusty Celeston 8" SCT and Vixen Super Polaris. I borrowed William's compass and dialled in the magnetic declination. I overheard William chatting up people departing the fields. One man he spoke with (who we thought quite fit for his age) revealed that he made the top 400 cut in the recent CSA astronaut selection process!

Peter Hiscocks showed up shortly afterwards and immediately expressed his dismay at the lights over the 2 baseball diamonds. We wondered about the sight lines in the playground to the north. After I convinced him that my worn tripod was not used by surveyors, he went to work setting up his 90mm Mak-Cas.

John Bohdanowicz appeared with a white 8" Dobsonian. He was ready to go in 30 seconds.

Mark Steele arrived and had his shiny new Celestron 8" SCT GOTO up and running in minutes. I envy his spotless corrector plate.

I think I finally finished my setup around then.

Dave Oakden, a member, sans 'scope, dropped by. He said his telescope was up at the cottage. I think he might bring it back next time...

As the men's skins game concluded, about 8 players headed our way. They were very curious what we were doing.

It was around then that John spotted the thin crescent in his binoculars. I stood behind him to get the sight line. It was just over a notch in the trees. It was tricky to see in the bright sky, through the thin clouds. If you looked away and then back, you'd lose the 1.5 day old Moon. It was around 8:30. John put the Dobsonian on it and everyone enjoyed the view at about 75x.

Mark let his computer find Saturn. Again, I stood behind his 'scope to get the general direction. Ah ha, there it is! I ran over to my gear and bull's eyed the ringed planet. I showed views at 56x, 77x, and 111x. We were able to coax out Titan on one side and Tethys and Rhea on the opposite. Purportedly Dione was very close to the rings. I think I was just able to catch it, during moments of steady seeing and averted vision. I was going to install the Celestron barlow to see if that would help but got distracted.

My palmtop alarm went off 5 minutes before the Iridium flare. Sadly, we did not see it. Perhaps it was below the tree line. (The group up at Bayview Village Park saw it.)

A visitor, Ron, asked if he could bolt up his digital SLR to my 'scope. Sure! I dismounted the 2" visual back, dug out my original 1-1/4, and he started bracketing.

At some point, one of the diamond's lights were extinguished. This sent up a round of applause from the group. We did not record the exact time.

We observed the ISS flyover at 10:04. It started in the same notch that John had found the Moon in. I was the first to spot it and helped others by shining the super green laser on the trees below. We saw it gradually brighten through Leo. And still it intensified. While it Virgo, it flew over some clouds, and we could see the light scatter. But incredibly it brightened even more, far brighter than Arcturus! What a great show!

When the second diamond shut down, at 10:10, a big cheer was heard.

Someone asked about Messier objects. I suggested M13, even though it was pretty low still, and we'd be looking over the downtown core. Still, we tried. I asked John to confirm the bright star in the north east was Vega. I then reminded him that Hercules bordered Lyra. At first, I couldn't see the Keystone but I was just looking too far south. When I spotted it, and threw the green laser at the general area of M13, John took up the pursuit, and in short order tagged it in the Dob. It took me another 5 minutes to star hop to it. It was pretty pale; but still satisfying. It was 10:30.

I caught a very long meteor trail, moving parallel to the horizon, starting right of Lyra, and heading below Polaris.

A friend of High Park, Jane, was really enjoying the astronomical sights. I asked if she had viewed any double stars. Nope. So we headed to Mizar and Alcor, almost straight up. She could see Alcor naked eye. Then I targeted Algieba in Leo. Fantastic contrast to the triple in Ursa Major. Hot blue-white stars vs. slow burning amber furnaces.

I wanted to try to split Porrima but it was getting late.

The clouds were moving in, people were getting chilled, the guests had departed. William and Peter hung around as I disassembled. Peter helped me lug gear back to the parking lot.

Unfortunately, we did not see the High Park Community Advisory Council nor the High Park Naturalists at our event.

By our reckoning, we had 17 to 20 walkthroughs and visitors. We handed out several Star Finders and hockey cards.

Overall, a good night in High Park: a cool planet, an old globular cluster, a big, bright space station, some colourful double stars, and a bunch of impressed people, both members and park visitors.

remote access working

That's weird. I can log into the CAO server again. It wasn't working for a couple of weeks. And I'm not sure exactly what was wrong.

Perhaps it just requires an occasional hard boot.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

solar lights damaged

Once again, I am finding damaged solar lights at the CAO.

It looks like they're being kicked, perhaps in the dark.

I could try glueing them.

This is getting depressing.

received double stars book

As Denis Grey, former president of the RASC Toronto Centre, was packing up his camping gear, after the 2009 CAO Open House, I wandered over.

Denis had offered to bring his copy of Observing and Measuring Visual Double Stars. He indeed had it in the car. As I finished my coffee, he retrieved it from the front of the cabin.

He pointed out the book is a collection of essays, most of which are quite good and unique, all edited together by Bob Argyle.

I look forward to reading it. Which I must do so quickly. Denis wants it back in a few weeks.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

received calibrated eyepiece

During dinner, just as he was leaving, Geoff Gaherty gave me to borrow his Celestron micro guide 12.5mm eyepiece (a.k.a. the CMG). This was in response to my enquiry about how to best measure position angles and separate of double stars.


What an incredible person.

built new picnic table

After the RASC Toronto Centre built an accessibility ramp at the E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory, it occurred to me that they did not have an accessible picnic table. So I set about to make one.

Back in April, during the spring work party, Joel had bought the wood for me, as per my specifications. Tony had recommended untreated spruce.

Despite forgetting my notes at home, I built the table Saturday late-morning and afternoon. I neared completion as they launched rockets at the CAO Open House. After the Award Ceremony, I put the finishing touches on it. Carriage bolts in the legs primarily.

I'd like to thank the following people for assisting: Charles Darrow, Pat Gallo, Savio Gallo, Tony Horvatin, Shawn Lee, Scott Masterton, and Joel Parkes.

It was ready for dinner (during the CAO Open House)! Scott and I sat at it, specifically at the overhang end, so to test it. It works!


A couple of loose ends:
  • put the end pieces on the table top
  • finish with Thompsons Water Seal
  • tighten up the carriage bolts later in the summer
  • post warning notices at the overhang: "Do Not Sit."
  • consider a temporary, swing-leg to prevent tipping, when someone does not read the warning...
I'll complete these things in a couple of weekends.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

NOVA ended

Tonight was the last NOVA course, presented by the RASC Toronto Centre, hosted at the Ontario Science Centre.

I'm tired.

I don't know if I want to do this again...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

emailed Luis

I sent an email to Luis of the Spirit of 33. I asked him what was going on. Told him I was researching for an article on double stars... It'd be neat to chat with him.

a new Hubble

I thought the stuff we were getting from Hubble was pretty good. Pretty damn good. OK, maybe just pretty.

Maybe the telescope didn't have current or enough functioning instruments for satisfy the scientific community. To learn they already have a huge backlog for the repaired telescope is impressive.

Anyway, to the common man, me, I'm very much looking forward to an order of magnitude improvement.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


For a potential occultation, and my upcoming The Sky This Month presentation, I added the asteroid (5) Astraea to Stellarium 0.10.2 based on the values I found over at JPL's Solar System Dynamics site. But it showed Astraea in a very different part of the sky.

So, I'm going to try the values from the Harvard's Minor Planet Center. See if they're any better...

eyepiece security

I find an unused mini padlock on an old laptop bag. I transferred it to the eyepiece case.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

double pay

As we do more and more stuff in space (telescopes, missions to the Moon, missions to Mars) should overtime still apply?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this from the point of view of depriving highly skilled people of their appropriate pay.

What I'm getting at is as we do more things in space, the Earthly 24 hour clock, and the associated business working time calendar, may apply less and less...

good eye

The astronauts / telescope repairmen (and woman) caught sight of Hawaii during the installation of new gear on the Hubble Space Telescope (so from 400 or so kilometres up).

One of the astronauts (John Grunsfeld, I think) spotted the Gemini (North) and two Keck telescopes on the ground!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Jenna prayed

I was to work in St Catherines for the day. I asked Jenna if she wanted me to drop by on my way home. Maybe we could do some observing with my telescope. She was keen! In fact, she was looking to unwind after her final school assignment. So, we planned for a dinner, a beverage, and some astronomy.

But I had to relay the bad (possible) news beforehand. She said she'd pray for clear skies. Alas, we were clouded out.

Still, I delivered some more Star Finders. She says they're a big hit. We had yummy charcoal-cooked steak, buttery scallops, a nice wine, and tasty ice cream. A relaxing evening.

We'll try again...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

webspotting 10 - twilight

First published in the Jun/Jul 2009 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Very minor edits applied. Republished here with permission.


When I'm preparing for an astronomical observing session, I like to know when sunset will be and, of course, when it will get really dark. I'm not usually worried about sunrise, being a nyctophiliac.
Like many budding amateur astronomers, as I got started in this curious hobby, I did not know there were 3 flavours of twilight! If you're still a little fuzzy on details, check your Observer's Handbook or The Amazing Wikipedia, of course.

Now, to the matter at hand. You may need to know sunset and sunrise times, if you're chasing some inner system planets. Perhaps you want to know when astronomical twilight will begin and end, in preparation for an all-night deep sky photography session. Or you're searching for elusive daytime planets, working your spherical trig, and need to know when the Sun will transit.

Jump into the atmospheric science web site by GATS, Inc. and click on the Solar Calculator.

Set your location. At the bottom of the drop-down menu, below Washington DC, you’ll find World Cities. If you're doing rough estimates, you can select Ottawa. Or Saskatoon. No Toronto listed. I thought we were The Centre Of The Known Universe; I guess it's Nauru Island.

If you're entering your exact coordinates, be mindful of our western longitude. Enter this as a negative number.

Similarly, you must enter the timezone offset as a negative value. They have the Ottawa one incorrectly stored as a positive number; Saskatoon is correct. Then remember to add one (positive) to adjust for DST.

So, for the High Park City Observing Session in April, I used latitude 43.650222 and longitude -79.467013 and timezone offset -4.

Choose your preferred date.

Then hit the Calculate button. The JavaScript will quickly churn your data.

A table will be shown at the bottom of the web page. The "Begin" numbers refer to dawn; the "End" numbers refer to dusk.

If you want to compare locations, do not click the Clear Results button. Simply change the form data and Calculate again. Another table will be added to the page.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

found mistakes in summer list

A couple of months ago, I had a little chat with an editor at Sky & Telescope, Tony Flanders. I had found a mistake in their winter double stars listing. A correction was applied. And while at it, he fixed the encoding to show the Greek characters properly.

I was reviewing the summer list in preparation for some warm breeze, dark sky, multi-star observing when I noticed they show κ (kappa) Herculis is also known as Marfik. No... Marfik is λ (lambda) Ophiuchi.

So, I'll have to send in another note to Mr Flanders... And maybe this will prompt him to fix the bad code again. And, notably, if I'm correct, he'll also have to rewrite the article itself. It's a big deal.

And while he's at it, there might be an issue with β (beta) Scorpii. I thought the star name was Graffias; they show Acrab. This I don't think is an error; it's just an alternate name.


I've tried to determine if κ Her does have a name or not.

According to Jim Kaler, this star is aka Marsic. He goes on to say that it may be called Marfak. Huh.

But the Star Names page over at MSU (Michigan State) says that Marsic refers to χ (chi) Her. OK.

So, I don't know what's correct, at the mo. Except that Marfik is not kappa.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

ooh, purple!

I put a little piece of red cel over the super bright (albiet small) blue LEDs on the front edge of the ASUS netbook. Power, battery, disk, and wifi. Actually, the battery LED is normally off. When the battery is low, it's red; when fully charged, bright green.

That was an easy fix.

Eerie dim purple colour now!

There's still the super bright blue LED within the power button. I'm not quite sure what to do here... Maybe I'll do a flap kinda thing.

correction, 700

Just saw this note from Guy regarding the star party at the Science Centre...

"After discussing the matter at length with OSC organizer (and RASC Councillor) Sara Poirier, and several other RASCals afterwards, I came to the conclusion that we probably had somewhere in the vicinity of 700 visitors Saturday evening..."

That's a lot of Galileo Moments.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

IAD 2009 at OSC

Saturday was the planned special day-time solar observing and regular star party evening events at the Ontario Science Centre with the support of the RASC. Weather permitting. I was interested in helping out, particularly during the evening portion, but I wasn't quite sure how I could make it happen.

My car was still acting up, or, more correctly, not acting at all—I could not start it. So that created a possible option wherein I would travel to the OSC by TTC, obviously with very little gear. I briefly considered that I could ask Guy again about using one of his extra telescopes... but I did not want to impose. I did not want to rent a car.

It didn't help matters that I was a little late at getting going Saturday morning. By the time I had finished my much needed tomato juice, cracking toast, and yummy coffee, I was a little concerned about the weather. The morning had gone off spectacular (which would have been excellent for the solar observers). But as I watched the regional radar and satellite images, I grew less optimistic. If it rained in the afternoon, I'd have to defer my car repair work.

But then, if it rained a lot, that might make this whole conundrum go away... Betwixt and between.

It was right about then that my email box, once again, overflowed! And that meant that Guy's GO call for the evening did not immediately reach me. In fact, it was around 5 PM that I finally clued in that there was a problem. As I downloaded mail from the server onto one computer, I checked the Yahoo!Group on another. That's when I learned the "we were on!" I glanced at the time: 2 hours to go! Crap. Barely time to clean myself, eat, pack up some gear and stuff, and jump on the tube. I'd be ill prepared...

And I still didn't have a solid plan for getting there. Hmmm. Let's phone the people in the 'hood, John and Tony...

I phoned Tony. I asked if he was going. Nope. We chitchatted about some RASC and CAO matters. When the conversation turned to my lack of transportation, Tony offered one of his vehicles. I just about fell out of my chair. What a generous offer! We hammered out logistics and suddenly our rendezvous was to be prefaced by dinner at Mackenzies. Yum.


I arrived at the Science Centre at around 7:45. Ralph watched over my gear as I parked. I set up quickly.

I had assumed I would be able to jack into AC power; I had not brought the portable battery. But I had not chose a spot close to the only outlet I could see. When I asked Sara about other outlets, she wasn't sure. And then she said that they weren't switched on. Oh. Still, I tried. With some finessing, I was able to get my extension cord across the distance. Ron let me keep my bulky AC-DC adapter below his tripod. It would be a minor trip hazard but it looked a good solution. And as I connected everything, red LEDs firing, it was clear, the plug was live! Yeh.

Immediately, I started offering up of the Moon. The First Quarter view was very satisfying in my baader planetarium hyperion eyepiece at 55x. People seemed to enjoy that view.

In short order, we were starting to turn to Saturn. If I remember correctly, Titan was an easy target, to the left (in my mirror-reversed view). I spotted something very faint between, equidistant, but I never got 'round to looking it up (it was Rhea).

I was feeling a little tired of the solar system bodies so I decided to chase down some double stars. Off to Castor then. This seemed well-received by the visitors, despite being a tough target. People were intrigued. So many asked if they were related that I had to look it up. I pulled out Sissy Haas's book and relayed the news: Castor A and B are a binary system with a period of approx. 450 years.

When a couple of visitors pointed out it was, in fact, a 6 star system, I referred again to double stars for small telescopes and learned that A and C were visible. In fact, we could see 2 nearby yet faint (magnitude 10) stars. I told people that I believed one of them was a sixth member.

Guy visited me at one point and asked the name of a star γ (gamma) Leonis. Algieba. I guess I'm becoming double-star man... That's curious. Why aren't more people interested in this?

Later I turned to Mizar and Alcor. Again, I checked with Haas. Mizar A and B are a binary system. No period was noted though... (Wikipedia says 1000 years.)

As we began to wrap up, I turned to ε (epsilon) Lyrae. Even at 110x with the Meade 18mm I could not split the one of the pair. I thought they were both the same separation... The pair perpendicular I could split; but not the in-line pair.

Sharmin helped me pack up.


I was very pleased to see a bunch of the NOVA course participants out. I saw Judith, Mitchell and Jennifer, Sharmin, Myriam, and Lana. There may have been more! It was a tremendous opportunity for them to try out telescopes, look at stuff, ask lots of previously unanswered questions, and see what we do!


I heard we served 400 people.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Stellarium plugins

It's been a devil of a time finding the compiled plugins for the latest version of Stellarium. It was ultimately via Matthew Gates's blog that I found a link to the plugin download page back at Stellarium's wiki.

I downloaded the bundle with the Compass Marks, Ocular, and Angle Measure. Nice!

I tested the Angle Measure on Mercury and the Pleiades as we had seen them last weekend. It works good.

I had heard of the Compass Marks but I didn't know what it did. Now it's clear that it is something of a compass rose. It shows an azimuth scale in degrees along the horizon.

The Ocular is intriguing. Sounds like you can program you eyepieces... I'll have to test it...