Friday, July 31, 2009

some planets (Blue Mountains)

OK. It looked like we might have good skies for the evening. John, David, Ian, Phil, and I were hoping to get some good observing in.

I had not napped though...

After dinner, I suddenly jumped up. Hey, we should be able to see Saturn. David thought I was nuts. But at 9:07 PM, in the day lit sky, with the C14 on the Paramount driven by TheSky6, we could see it. Just barely! The Ghost of Saturn?! It was tough with the rings edge-on. Actually, I thought I could see a thin dark line on the disc of the planet, which I surmised to be the shadow of the rings on Saturn. John concurred.

I turned to Mercury at 9:11. I could see a crescent or first-quarter phase through the murk.

At 9:27, we returned to Saturn. Titan visible now. Later Rhea came into view.

David let Jerry operate the C14 'scope. I kept an eye on him when David wasn't in the Warm Room...

At 10:53, we tried for Jupiter just as it rose above the horizon. The time was nigh if we wanted to see Great Black Spot. It was terribly distorted. Not surprisingly. No joy.

I got my first look-see through Phil's 15" Obsession. The view was very nice with great contrast and fantastic resolution. When he was aimed at the Moon, I took another gander. Fantastic detail (although the seeing was mucking it up). I said to Phil, "Hey, is that Copernicus in the centre?" After a moment, he confirmed that. Wow. I recognised a crater on Moon!

I spent some time near Phil and Ian on the observing pad. Took in the whole sky. Complained about the seeing. Commented on the curious sounds coming out of Ian's observing tent, how they reminded me of the sounds from the forest outside the French castle, in Monty Python and The Holy Grail. That's when the English were building their Trojan Rabbit. Ian was operating his new RC Astrograph.

At 11:04, I was yawning like crazy. I couldn't stop.

11:58. I helped Phil and Ian find Neptune. Easy to do with a netbook computer. I just wandered it over to the picnic table beside them and gave them details, directions, etc.

I was still tired and yawning. I drank a Red Bull.

WeatherLink down (again)

What the hell?

The WeatherLink software stopped communicating. I just tried to check the current site conditions from the GBO.

Why the hell would it stop working now?

I went to the server and reseated some of the USB cables and restarted the software. It seems OK now.

Maybe this is what Charles meant when he heard people say they use the serial comm. option instead...

USB sucks.

small proms (Blue Mountains)

David and I decided to look at the Sun in Hα. I mounted up the Coronado SolarMax 90 on the front of the Tele Vue 101 and then the Blocking Filter in the mirror diagonal.

Initially, we weren't seeing anything. And then I remembered... Duh. There's an inner lens cap on the SolarMax filter. Oops.

There were only a couple of small of small prominences. There was one small wispy flare. Then there was an interesting item, or two rather. Very small twin bumps. Little plasma roof tops.

I tried to spot the "tear" in the middle without success.

We struggled with focus again. We cannot quite reach inner focus with some eyepieces.


I almost made a serious mistake with my eyeball.

I started to look down the tube with only the SolarMax filter attached, i.e. without the back blocking filter. The light was incredible intense even before I got to the centre of the light path. I recoiled, blinking! Had I just burnt out my retina?! I knew I wouldn't feel any pain. No spots. No darkening. I think my left eye is OK.



In attempting to isolate the problem with the 'scope when we did not see anything in the Tele Vue, we mounted up the white light masking filter. Nothing in this view. No sunspots of course.

missed landing

I was grocery shopping at new Collingwood Sobeys when the space shuttle safely landed. Good to hear they're back home. I watched the tail end of the NASA broadcast in the CAO kitchen. Saw Julie rub the underbelly of the orbiter. That was a very successful mission.

Jupiter has a black spot? (Blue Mountains)

I drove up to the Carr Astronomical Observatory near Thornbury after work, after a final pack, after one more rub for Nancy the Cat.

I tried a hybrid route this time: from my High Park 'hood along Bloor West, to Islington, the little loopy thing to Burnhamthorpe (passing the RASC National office), over to the 427, up to 7, over to 50, briefly, then jumped onto Clarkway. Remarkably, all this went pretty smoothly. I continued along Clarkway until I came to a couple of stop signs. I jogged over to Gore Rd and took it to 9.

Outside Shelburne, I tried Champ Burger this time. I believe I agree with the fans: it is better. Blipped over to the Shelburne No Frills for a quick shop before they closed, just enough stuff to get me through Friday morning. Then I continued north. Oops. I had meant to do the Windwill Route along 10 but I forgot. Force of habit.

I arrived at the CAO at about 9:30. I quickly unpacked the car and then opened the Geoff Brown Observatory. Once the netbook was reconfigured for the site wifi, I checked my email. Phil had sent an email at 9:17. Said he had just called the CAO. He wanted to remind to view the black spot, from the object collision, on Jupiter. Right! I had intended to view Jupiter but I was still a bit dishevelled. Trying to get organised. I fired up Meebo and saw Phil was connected. Pinged him shortly before 10 PM but he wasn't at the keyboard. I returned to unpacking and reviewing.

I stumbled across a note in my palmtop, cryptic, something written in haste: "Jupiter moons." I looked at the Galilean moons by software simulation. Yeah... So? I didn't notice anything in particular. What did my note mean? Transiting across Jupiter? Shadows on Jupiter? Fall into the King's shadow?

Phil chimed in at 10:34. We established a video link. He encouraged me to chase the collision spot on Jupiter and pointed out it was following the Great Red Spot by about 2 hours. OK. Good data. We maybe chatted for 30 minutes.

I looked up the GRS transit times from Sky and Telescope. The next meridian crossing would be on 31 July 2009 at 3:46 UT. That meant 11:46 PM for me.

I checked Stellarium on the netbook, in particular, the view of Jupiter's GRS. It was not correct for the meridian information Phil gave me. I tuned the solar system information file (ssystem.ini) in Stellarium and set the rot_rotation_offset to 180. There! That was better. It was 23:21.

I also looked at Wesley's photos of the impact... Mostly to verify the pole it was on—same hemisphere as GRS. Hmmm. The spot seemed to be dispersing.

Finally I got the C14 going and aimed at Jupiter. Wow! Jupiter was on the left, there were 2 moons (Io and Europa it turns out) on top of one another! Like splitting a double star! The next moon (Callisto) was close to the two. And finally the last moon (Ganymede) flanked them all. Wow.

The GRS was a bit left of meridian, very pale, on the top (this was a mirror-reversed view with the eyepiece assembly rotated. North was down, east was to my left).

The Tele Vue Panoptic 27mm offered a lovely view at 145x. But it was fading in and out with the thin clouds passing through.

It was 11:46 PM. I was finally settled. The GRS was at the meridian. I was ready—in 2 hours—to try to catch the black spot!

DAMN. It suddenly occurred to me what was special about 10:39 PM. It was a note I had seen on the RASC calendar. One of the Jovian moons was going to cast a shadow on the other. Later, there was to be a partial occultation of the 2 moons. I had missed it! The shadow incident had happened while Phil and I were chatting. The occultation had occured when I was tuning Stellarium. Damn.

I continued viewing the bright planet. I tried using the Tele Vue Radian 13mm but it was way too much. Everything was very blurry and very dim at 301x. The TV 18mm was better (217x) but still dim with the surface details softened. I went back to 27.

I noted that Io had moved from Europa and was heading toward Callisto. The GRS was moving toward moons, in my view.

There were some power brown outs around midnight but I was unaffected in the GBO. The Dell laptop controlling the telescope was fine, of course, on its battery. The ASUS netbook merrily carried on. The Paramount ME, dew heater equipment, electronic focuser were fine, powered by the UPS. I headed into the house for a snack. Put my red goggles on before I opened the fridge door. Mmm, fresh cherries! Took off goggles. Suddenly, the power went off again. I was almost blinded by the emergency lights coming on! AAAAHHH!


It was 12:42 AM on 31 Jul 2009. I checked our local weather conditions by viewing the CAO weather station web page.
  • light wind at 3.2 km
  • outside hum 75%
  • barometer 1009.7 mbar
  • temp 16.4°C
  • dew point 12.0°C
  • house temp was warm at 25!
I also noted the little unit in the GBO warm room. It reported:
  • humidity 54%
  • temperature 20°C
It was comfortable.

12:49. I thought the seeing and transparency conditions were improving. The large tube currents were decreasing. The cloud cover was dissipating. The GRS was continuing to the right toward moons. Now Io was almost half-way between Europa and Callisto. No black spots or smudges.

While I wasn't looking at deep sky objects, I was struggling a bit with the bright computer screens. I had them both configured to use a red-based Windows theme. I was running the astronomy programs in night-vision mode. And I had brought a dark red theatre cel. But only one. I kept moving it back and forth between the LCDs. I was juggling which computer I'd use to view bright web pages. I should, next time, bring all red cel sheets I have; not necessarily the one for my computer...

It was 12:53. I was really feeling the day's early start now. I had stayed up late Wednesday night, until 1-ish. No good reason. I awoke, for work, at 5:45 AM Thursday morning after snoozing the Psion alarm a couple of times. This was tough. I was feeling really tired now. And I had 1.5 hours to go...

I pounded back a Coca-Cola. We'll see if that helps.

Where's a Jolt Cola when you need one?!

2:05 AM. The moon had set. I was feeling very tired and sore. Before packing up, I took a reading with the Sky Quality Meter: 21.78.

I had stared at Jupiter for a long time. The GRS, equatorial belts, various festoons, had been a pleasure to watch. But I had not see anything obvious at the pole. No black spots. On occasionally, in brief moments of clear seeing, free of thin ice-laden clouds on this Earth, I would see some different shades of grey at the pole.

involuntary UPS testing

Be careful what you wish for...

I had wondered out loud to the RASC Toronto Centre council earlier in the week about the condition of the uninterruptible power supplies at the observatory. I knew the one supporting our weather/security system server worked (it's only a year old). But I didn't know if the one in the basement supporting UWO's all-sky camera server (and our routers) worked. I didn't know if the one under the telescope worked.

I had plans to test them over the weekend...

But at 12:05 AM, there was a brief brownout. In the warm room, I saw the lights flicker around me. I heard clicking and beeping of various equipment. In particular, I heard the UPS on the telescope trigger its alarm. Crikey!

As I looked around, everything was fine! Woot! Saved. Of course, it was a non-issue for the modern laptops with their internal batteries. I was very pleased that the telescope mount continued to operate. A continuous connection.

With the old tower computers, that would have been a big deal. Boooooossssshhhhhzzz. Eerie silence. What did people do then? If the power went off for a long time?! I guess you'd walk over to the mount and shut it off...


Again! 12:09. Another brownout. Very slightly longer. UPS alarmed. Paramount and computers fine!

Each time, I've lost the wireless network connection. My music stopped playing for a moment. But it came back fairly quickly once the wireless router (configured as a hub) resurrected itself.

I'm assuming the entire network is still working... But that UPS I have yet to confirm works. The rapidity that I regain the internet connection though suggests to me that it is all still powered.


12:16. I was in the kitchen when the another brownout rippled through the house. The emergency lights came on! Damn. There goes my night vision!

Heard the UPS on the weather/security system server.

Good to know the emerg. lights work.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Moon dogs? (Blue Mountains)

I didn't know you could get Moon dogs!

The right one is very pronounced along the halo, right at 22 degrees. The left one is a little mottled. Perhaps because this is the lit side of the Moon... Makes sense. Paraselenae!

Wow. A first for me.


Kickin' myself that I didn't try a photo.

Recovery Media Kit

I ordered the Recovery Media Kit from the Sony parts supplier in Whitby. This so that I can affect repairs on the VAIO donated to the Toronto Centre. Should have it in 5 to 10 business days...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Holy cow. As an experiment, I decided to transport my telescope, the optical tube assembly, directly. I.e. not in the usual huge train trunk case. I put it in the back seat and put the seat belt around it. Perfect. And the rest of the back seat looked barren. Tons of space!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Was reading and reviewing the AL / AAAA Urban Club checklist. Funny note:

"Any observing is better than no observing or TV."

pool side viewing (Campbellville)

Collette and James invited Jenna and me over for dinner while they house-sat near Milton.

I noted they had bought a new book: The Stars - A New Way To See Them by H.A. Rey. I quickly skimmed it. Wonderful illustrations. I was impressed with the easy style, the non-technical approach. It looks like a good book for beginners.

After a late dinner we headed out to the deck. Had to be careful not to fall into the pool until we were dark-adapted.

I helped James with the Bushnell 'scope again. The process he was using did not seem to be aligning it properly. He didn't have the manual with him so he was going from memory. I tried a two-star alignment. Still not perfect but it got us into the neighbourhood.

Another factor for James was the multitude of stars he could see here in the country (despite the light pollution from the Mohawk race track) compared to when he views from his backyard in Oakville. He'd select an object, look through the eyepiece, see dozens of stars, and assume he was on target. I showed him that in fact when he was on a star listed in the catalog, he'd know... I.e. it was incredibly bright compared to the background field stars. I think that helped him.

I helped James with some bright stars and constellations.

We looked at Albireo. Everyone enjoyed the colours and different brightness levels. I explained the difference between optical pairings and co-related stars orbiting each other.

I could see Jupiter through the trees. We stole some looks, between the leaves, before the clouds moved in. I could see two of the moons (Ganymede and Callisto) flanking the king of the solar system. We also took a look at the Ring Nebula.

We got lucky with the weather...

Monday, July 27, 2009

webspotting 11 - Dave

From the Aug/Sep 2009 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Very minor edits applied. Republished here with permission.


Next time you're at a RASC Toronto Centre meeting at the Ontario Science Centre and you want to do a little experiment, call out the name "Dave" and see how many people look up.

David Parfett and David Zackon and Dave Orenstein may perk up. I haven't seen Dave Getgood (the observer chair guy) for a while. Dave Sage used to make an occasional appearance until the endless Hwy 401 congestion drove him insane.

While you're at the General Assembly in Alberta, do the same thing, and I think you'll attract the attention of a dozen or so people.

There are a lot of Dave's in the RASC. In fact, there are 162 Dave's in the entire RASC! Why it is just plain confusing at GAs, NEAF, and on the national RASCals listserv. You can imagine how difficult it would be to follow an email conversation thread initiated by Dave, sent to Dave, and including CC recipients Dave and Dave.

It is just like the Monty Python Australian Philosophy Department sketch: "Morning, Bruce. Morning, Bruce! Michael Baldwin, this is Bruce. Michael Baldwin, this is Bruce. Is your name not Bruce then? No, it's Michael... That's gonna cause a little bit of confusion... Do you mind if we call you Bruce, just to keep it clear?"

There are so many Dave's, that Dave I (that's Dave One) decided something had to be done.

Dave I came up with a brilliant solution. He started a web site, the RASD, and invited all RASC Daves to visit and register their moniker. In doing so, each Dave is assigned a number! This unique identifier of course solved all these problems in one fell swoop.

Now, you'll have no trouble reading the thread started by Dave XI, sent to Dave III, including courtesy copy recipients Dave XXII and Dave XXIII.

And during the next meeting or gathering or star party or conference or e-chat or listserv thread you're at or in, you can call out, with surety,  "Hey, Dave VIII, can you ask Dave IV if he'll be at the next council meeting? If not, I'll get Dave XIX to cover for him... Signing off, Dave XXIV."

If you're curious, when we examine the Toronto Centre membership, we see that there are 27 Johns. Not surprising, on one hand. The Daves come in second, with 24. Tied for third at the Dougs and Robs. If Roberto changed his name, they'd capture third place all for themselves!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if the internet domain name is still available…

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Farmer's Pantry 1 of 2

The Farmer's Pantry asked me back.

Last year I delivered an astronomy presentation for them. Unfortunately, we were clouded out, so we didn't get to do any stargazing. Still, we had a good crowd, and it generated a lot of interest.

Over the winter, the apple orchard contacted me and immediately asked about 2 dates. Sure! I said it was an especially good idea if we had poor skies again.

Good thing we decided that...

The weather was very poor. Completely unpredictable. When I arrived at the orchard and sat down with Mary-Lynn, she said that only 4 people had called. And they sounded iffy. So, we waited.

A young boy arrived with his Mom. He was carrying his new Vivitar telescope. Never set up. I walked him through the parts and answered his questions. Gave a few pointers. They then set up the 'scope and tripod. I explained to him how things might appear upside down. Happily, as dusk fell, we got a few more visitors. It was enough to run with my prepared presentation.

I gave out the RASC IYA Star Finders. They were well-received.


I could see Jupiter as I climbed in my car to drive away... Jupiter. And that's about it.


We're going to do this all again in August. It better be clear!

coached Phil

I suggested to Phil that he could be a CAO supervisor. He admitted that he's been thinking about it. I told him to tell Dietmar! We need more.

Can't start too early... I coached Phil on using the control computer and the Paramount ME telescope mount.

Obsession help

Phil showed me his new toy: new Obsession Ultra-Compact Dobsonian telescope. Incredible! Very clever how it all folds up and collapses. Good workmanship.

However, he explained he was having some concerns with the collimation of the telescope as he used it. In particular, the collimation appeared to change when he moved from objects near the horizon to objects overhead. Others were reporting the problem and attributing it to the Kevlar strap suspending the mirror.

But as we started to explore, we found that the problem was elsewhere. It appears to be due to flexing in the upper cage at the focuser or in the focuser mount itself. We think this is fairly good news, actually. It suggests the primary and secondary mirrors aren't moving in relation to one another.

Phil's going to explore it some more once he gets home.

DNS issue

Why the hell was the CAO weather and security camera server suddenly not accessing the internet?

OK, well, not suddenly. And, well, not be completely inaccessible...

Since July 12, the WeatherLink software had not sent updated images to our web site. But, as Dietmar observed, and as I now could clearly see, the WeatherLink software was running, showing local data, obviously intercommunicating with the console (happily without interference problems). But when it tried to upload the images, I saw it pause at the transfer stage, and then suddenly stop. Didn't crash the software. Just gave up uploading.

And, as I sat at the server, in Firefox, I could not access the net.

But the security camera was working!

And I could see the rest of the network from the server.

And everything would be hunkydory if I ran it in DHCP mode.

Took me a few moments to clue in: it was a DNS problem... I pointed our server to the DNS server in the on-site router, versus in our router, and it was fine.

Why the hell would this work for months and suddenly stop on July 12?

hacked CAO server

This was a little embarrassing. I totally forgot what I changed the new Windows XP account password to on the CAO server. After all the trouble I put Charles through, I forgot the damned password.

So, immediately upon arriving at the CAO, I sat down in front of the box and began hacking it.

I was briefly distracted by the fact that I could not gain access to the internet... That was a different issue. A new problem (with this damned server)! Stay focused, I chided myself. I transferred the needed software via one of my USB memory flash thingees. In a few minutes I determined my password. Dumbass. No, that was not the password...

I reset the password to a very strong one. And properly documented it in my notes! Sheesh. Wasn't expecting to have to hack my own account...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

remote eyes

More and more, it some times feels like my support of the information technology at the Carr Astronomical Observatory is like a mission to the International Space Station.

While I'm here in the city, I get people up there to do things. I send up commands and orders. When I go there, I have to carefully consider everything required to complete tasks. When it all works right, I can operate things by remote control.

I continue to work problems at the CAO. The security camera is fine now. So, clearly, the server is working. However I'm not getting weather reports. That's confusing, particularly given that Dietmar reported on a couple of occasions and situations that the weather station and WeatherLink software were working. Strange. For the moment, I cannot log into the server, so I'll work on that later...

With the recent failure of our wired router power supply, I wanted to begin the process of getting a (robust) replacement. I also wanted to check what kind of surge protection we have supporting the equipment in the basement.

Ian forgot to check his email before leaving the CAO today so he couldn't help me out. But he referred me to Phil. Lora and Phil and the pups were hanging out for a few days. I sent him an email asking if he'd like to assist me.

Then I noticed Phil online, in Meebo. I sent him an instant message. We chatted about the weather, current solar activity, etc. He then asked me if I wanted to do video chat! I was working off John Smallberries so that was not an option. My old B&W QuickCam is collecting dust somewhere. I was curious if the netbook would work... But I didn't have it set up, yet.

Phil suggested I not worry about it and as he used MSN on his netbook and as I used Meebo on the PC, we set up a (lop-sided) video chat. After a couple of invitations, I suddenly saw Phil's mug. And I could hear him talking! I typed some updates. When he said, "You can talk you know. I can hear you typing..." Ha ha. I totally forgot that I have a microphone attached to Smallberries.

More chit chat. The blue skies (which I could see in the background), the upcoming weekend.

Phil asked how he could help me with the CAO network. I explained that I wanted to confirm the power requirements of the D-Link di-704 router. Suddenly, he jumped up. "Let's go." He walked into the house and down to the basement. Amazing. I could see the gear, point him in the right direction, explain things; then he'd confirm things, read the fine print, tracing wiring. Just like I was talking to an astronaut on Station! Freaky.

So now I have the adapter power specs.

We also checked the AC supply. All the network equipment, the router and switch, our (rejuvenated) router and switch, the antenna beige boxes, they are all connected to multi-socket extension cords and plain power bars. But these in turn connect to the APC UPS below the UWO all-sky camera server.

I had forgotten about that UPS.

Then I wondered if it still works! I'll have to test it.

I thank Phil for his support.

Amazing being able to have a conversation and see what he was seeing. That was a first for me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

hope it's sunny in Wuhan

As it pours rain here in the GTA, I hope it is clear in the Wuhan region, where many of the RASC Toronto Centre members are. They chasing the longest solar eclipse of the century.

Bon chance!

Monday, July 20, 2009

happy anniversary NASA

40 years ago today, 2 humans set feet on another world, as 600 or more million people back on Earth watched. It concluded the space race. It inspired many people. It was an outstanding achievement for a new space agency, a country, and hundreds of companies.

I wonder, if in my life time, I'll see humans return to the Moon, and then touch down on another planet.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

2 Canucks

It's pretty cool having 2 Canadians on board the ISS right now. Julie Payette (big hair) and Bob Thirsk.

Canada is contributing, with humans and robotics, to every part of this mission.

And, of course, we must acknowledge the significant milestone. Their mission represents the first time that at least one person from the 5 countries who are major partners in ISS are on board.

13 people up there (Toronto)

I caught the ISS flyover at 23:17. I first picked it up at about 15° elevation to the NW. It was already fairly bright. I estimated it to be at least the brightness of Arcturus but it was difficult to say for certain as some clouds had moved in under Boötes. It was almost straight up when it moved into the shadow.

I thought about the 13 people up there all getting ready for bed. Big day tomorrow.

messy neighbours and visitors

I don't think tonight will be good weather-wise but, regardless, there's not much point going out: the houses flanking me have all their backyard lights on.

I've talked to the neighbours to the east many times but they're once again running their lights all night. I have to get tough with them... Maybe I should write a letter...

To the west, I have visitors. Diane and Mark and kids are on vacation; they have some house sitters living in. They have turned the back lights on. I need to explain to them the situation, with respect to astronomy. Those lights shine right in my bedroom.

It's a bit too late to call them now.

missed ISS (Toronto)

NASA TV periodically reports the country they are flying over. I caught the announcer talking about Winnipeg and Ontario and Nova Scotia. I glanced at the ISS Fan Club tracker: confirmed. As I quickly loaded up Heavens Above and logged in, I noted the time.

Heavens Above showed a flyover right now! I scooted outside. No joy. It was too low for my backyard, between 10 and 20 degrees, to the north.

I'll try the 11:17 one...

RASC High Park Chapter meeting

Immediately after repairing my car, I headed over to John's. I had booked an RASC Toronto Centre Loan Program telescope, specifically the 8" Dobsonian (to test and try with emphasis on the setup and breakdown time). I didn't recognise the little white car in the middle of the driveway as I backed in.

John greeted me on the front lawn. He said Terry was here. And Karsten was due any moment. He chuckled that it was like we were having our own RASC meeting! We joked about coups, mutinous campaigns while Ralph was in China, who would be the new president, how we might embrace splinter groups, etc. What a hoot. I think I made John cry.

First things first: we packed the Dobsonian into my car. I just assumed I'd have to put the long tube in the back seat but John suggested we try the trunk of my car. Holy cow! It fit! That's very interesting. I cannot get my shorty tube 8" SCT into the car boot while in its oversized train trunk case... Wow.

I hadn't really considered this but another feature I should consider as I evaluate different telescopes is how easy it can fit in my car.

John explained Terry was here for technical support. The focuser on his 8" Dob was acting up. In fact, it had been since the DDO Members Night. He apologised for being distracted then. He went on to say that the focuser was slipping. It would just turn and unfocus by itself. On the front veranda, we started to take a look.

John remarked that he couldn't see teeth on the focuser tube, when fully extended. I suggested they might still be hidden within the frame shell. I wondered if there was a tensioning adjustment. John took off for tools. Terry offered up his LED flashlight and I looked from inside the OTA. "Hey," I exclaimed, "There are no teeth." We realised that the focuser simply used friction. "Well, that's it then: it must have a tensioner adjustment." Just as Terry produced an Allan key set, I spotted the Allan adjustment at the bottom of the focuser. No need to take the plate off. I found the proper key on the second try and gently turned the grub screw. It was loose. With just an 1/8th of a turn, we had fixed the problem. Terry was relieved. That was easy!

As I completed the waiver, John revealed that we have other 'scopes not listed in the Loan Program. Perhaps I will be allowed to try these too.

Just as I was leaving, Karsten walked up the driveway.

good first night

Tony phoned me just after midnight but I had missed the call. Was I asleep? In the loo?

He just replied to my follow-up email question as to how the first public tours night at the DDO went.
It went very well!  No... hitches, full tours, cleared up;  your (Fun Facts) were a hit.  We'll have to chat on it.
Good to hear on all counts.

my presentation used

During the first public night of the DDO re-opening, they used my Fun Facts astronomy presentation!

That's kinda cool.

blogging for Ralph

To the RASC Toronto Centre web site a couple of days ago I started posting Ralph's solar eclipse reports. He is emailing from China to the Yahoo!Group listserv. But that only reaches half our members.

Today, I uploaded some photos he sent me privately.

ISS in Google

I'm trying out a new Space Station tracking resource, that provided by the ISS Fan Club. It appears to use Google Maps, which I think is clever.

I wonder if this is a "thin" solution. The Human Space Flight Orbital Tracking option requires Java...

Friday, July 17, 2009

watching NASA TV today

Working at home today. Enjoying the on-orbit eye candy...


Can you see it? A little spaceship over the cloud bank.

Closer now. You can make out equipment in the cargo bay. The large structure in the front half of the bay is the JAXA KIBO Exposed Facility.

Over an ocean. Beginning the RPM (Rendezvous Pitch Manoeuvre).

Belly flop! Start cameras...

RPM complete. Preparing to dock. Kubrick symmetry.

Grappled! Nice and smooth.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

fixed big tripod

I finally fixed my large Manfrotto tripod today. Ever since I've had this thing, the rubber grips on the rotating leg locks have slipped. I guess the rubber has hardened over the years and the glue to the metal clamp weakened. I used Loctite Stick 'n Seal. Looking forward to improved operation. It's such a great tripod!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

no scopes at CostCo

Dace was heading over to CostCo. She phoned me. I boogied over just as she was returning an item. She snuck me in.

Sadly we could not find any of the Celestron IYA telescopes...

Monday, July 13, 2009

library book

After renewing my library card, I put a hold on another astronomy book. Today, I picked it up: Visual Astronomy in the Suburbs by Antony Cooke.

On skimming the prologue, I grew discouraged. It sounds like the author is going to recommend buying an image intensifier...

I'll press on. I'm sure I'll learn other things.

Curiously, it has already inspired me to try light filters. I'll see if I can borrow some members filters for my gear. I'll do some comparative tests at home from the back garden and see what I see.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

all watching launch attempt

I didn't realise everyone else was so interested in the Space Shuttle launch.

I kept everyone (Dace and Sandra in particular) updated on the proceedings through the morning. Answered questions.

During dinner, Rob had his laptop going. I had the netbook running. We both had good (free) wireless signals in the dining room. We watched the Close Out Crew working in the White Room.

Everyone was very disappointed when NASA scrubbed... They were experiencing the same volatile weather we were.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

clear again but windy (Buckhorn)

Another clear night. Surprising after sketchy weather. But cool and windy.

Looked for Leo again. It looked so... not right. I could not see Regulus. Saturn, if that's what it was, seemed so far away from the bright stars.

I could see Virgo and Spica. Leo should be right there!

The sky was an amazing dark velvet blue.

It was too windy for a bonfire tonight. Everyone wanted to play cards...

whole sky (Buckhorn)

Dace and Scott invited me back to their cottage. Offered me a ride. Asked if I wanted to bring the telescope back up.

I accepted the invite and lift; but I declined bringing the 'scope. The weather reports, for Peterborough, did not bode well for clear skies. It looked like, at best, there was only going to be one clear night. I didn't feel like setting up for one night.

And wouldn't you know it... clear... Relatively clear.

It took me a while to get my bearings. I forgot how good their north-western view was.

I tried looking for Saturn but I wasn't sure that I had seen it. I could not see any of Leo. Maybe I was looking in the wrong spot. Arcturus was up high. Gradually I could see all of Boötes. Over time, Lyra and Cygnus rose over the trees.

Lukas knew where the Big Dipper was. He asked where the giraffe was, his favourite animal. Everyone was surprised when I said there really was a giraffe. But I didn't know where Camelopardalis was exactly. That's when I learned that they didn't have a star chart at the cottage. Or a planisphere.

I borrowed their 8x50 binoculars and looked at Mizar and Alcor. Tried to view M13 but the light from the fire was a distraction.

We saw a bright satellite off to the north at one point. It was fast moving and orangish, heading to the north east, fairly low. Looked like the International Space Station to me!

Clouds off to the north started to glow as the Moon rose.

Nice night.

It rained on and off over the evening...

Friday, July 10, 2009

changed widgets...

... or gadgets... or whatever they're called.

I've always liked the Google Gadget for the Moon phase. The previous one I used showed an entire week. It was fine. It worked. But, well, I like this one better.

The APOD gadget was always wonky. Dimensions acted strangely. And it didn't link to the APOD site. Today I grabbed a different one. It works well.

controller mounted

Inspired by Guy and Scott, after seeing their iOptron presentation to the RASC last Wednesday, I went to work at finally mounting my Vixen SD-1 hand controller to the tripod. It's only been 2 years...

I simply stapled white strips of Velcro hook tape to the top of the tripod legs. I put some self-adhesive black Velcro loop tape on the back of the controller. Now I can stick the controller any where that is convenient.

While working on this, I decided to attach a cable holding hook to the side of the controller. Hopefully this will hold the power cord securely and prevent disconnects. Once I had the connector jiggle loose. I also hope it will be faster. Previously, I was unwrapping and wrapping a twist tie around the data and power cables...

I rejigged the North/South switch. Previously, I had a piece of Magic Tape over it to prevent accidental activation. Today, I jammed some plastic into the well of the switch and then put black electrical tape over top the hole. That switch can't move.

Another overdue item: I replaced the black twist ties on the power and data cords with orange Velcro One-Wraps (couldn't find my red ones).

Finally, with some red electrical tape, I attached the power connector and male adapter. Hopefully this will prevent disconnects. Never had an issue with this. I just want to avoid polarity problems...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

delivered Stellarium demo

I delivered my software demo of Stellarium 0.10.2 tonight to the RASC Toronto Centre.

I provided a handout during a presentation. It notes the features of Stellarium, some gotchas, where to download it. But I ran out. I made the handout available as a Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) for download (255 KB).

Try Stellarium. It's a very good astronomy program for teaching, planning, review. Best part, it's free! 

scripting in 10

Learned the new scripting language today. I made a script in Stellarium 0.10.2 that shows the lunar eclipse of Feb 2008 from Toronto. Seems powerful.

However I could not find commands for changing the Absolute scale, Relative scale, or Dynamic eye adaptation settings...

Still very much a work in progress.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

new Stellarium UG

Was sniffing around the main Stellarium web site today. I found a new version of the user guide in the SourceForge files area. This is for the current version of the software, v0.10.2.

Read it in preparation for my presentation on Wednesday...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

a new beginning (Richmond Hill)

Members of the RASC Toronto Centre were invited to the DDO this evening. As usual, people were set up on the front lawn. But this time, under Archie's guidance, we could put the 74" on whatever target we wanted. And we didn't have to leave at midnight.

I did not take my gear up on this occasion. I looked through lots of other 'scopes.

I viewed the Moon, Saturn (with Titan, Rhea, and Enceladus on one side and Dione on the other), Albireo, Mizar & Alcor, M13, and Zubenelgenubi. The views in Gilles LX200 were awesome.

I helped Caroline sort out her 'scope. Once again, the NexStar interface tripped up people. Kooky!

Photo by Katrina.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


When Fred saw me arrive the front lawn of the DDO, he accosted me: "Where's your camera?!" Good point. A photographer shoots!

this lunar cycle

Dietmar was driving. We were heading up to the David Dunlap Observatory. As he exited Highway 400 northbound for Highway 7 eastbound, I spotted the Moon. It was about 5° above the horizon. Very pale against the blue sky. Fat. Gibbous. Not quite full, we all agreed.

Soon it will be full. And then it will begin the slow loop around in front of the Earth. Soon to block out the Sun. It is this Moon, this cycle, that will cause the longest solar eclipse (ur, occultation) in years.

And I know a bunch of people heading off to China soon to see it.

Must be exciting for them!

Just a short time to go...

The word inexorable came to mind. Although I didn't like the negative connotations. There's just this feeling that it is moving, moving along, unstoppable. Slowly gracefully silently moving. Whether humans watch or not. They must go to it. It will not wait. They must begin their journeys.

I saw the Moon differently, somehow, tonight.

soon, to the observatory

The Big Observatory...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

finally found specs

... for the Davis Vantage 2 Pro weather station at the CAO. Detailed specs. Like the size of the cup on the wind speed spinny thing.

I also learned that the batteries in the Integrated Sensor Suite (ISS) will wear out...

Next time I'm at the CAO, I'll be able to finally, properly, program the console to match the ISS!

created ride-share

A couple of days ago I started playing around with the Groups Labs Applications feature in Yahoo!Groups. Specifically, I took the Giving Away application and started to customise it. Today, I began again, but used the People Map tool. It worked a bit better.

I wanted to build a mechanism to allow our members to share rides. If someone wants to go to the CAO, and they don't have a car, or they don't want to drive, or they want to save some money, then they could more easily find a ride. If car owners want to cut their costs, it can help them out. It's a little silly that so many of us drive to the meetings at the Ontario Science Centre. In the middle of the worst traffic jam imaginable.

Finished my redevelopment today, after a wee bit of research. Had Malcolm take a look at my prototype. Made some changes. And then I rolled it out.

We'll see if we get any nibbles...