Friday, October 30, 2009

huh, clear

I bailed from the star party at the Ontario Science Centre with RASC volunteers. The weather was looking bad, earlier in the day. But a brief sojourn outside showed there were stars, a few moonlit clouds, and dark, sharp shadows on the ground.

I entertained the thought, briefly, of firing up the loaner Dobsonian, to chase Jovian shadows and occultations. But I'm just not in the mood.

Besides, I'm trying to get homework and paperwork done.

missed message

Dave sent an email to my Yahoo address back on Oct 11. I do not regularly monitor this mailbox. It was only as I was purging spam that I stumbled across this message. And it brought some bad news. The email address I set up for the light pollution abatement chair for the RASC Toronto Centre has to be changed due to conflicts with a similar address at the National level. Might makes right. I relayed the unfortunate news to Peter.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

collected 'scope data

It never really occurred to me before (and that means its probably never fully occurred to other RASC Toronto Centre members) that there are a bunch of telescopes up at the CAO that anyone can use. After chatting with Dietmar, I documented this into the newest version of the CAO Site Facilities Manual. There are 8 usable telescopes! Another perk of membership.

broke dome

Bob donated his observatory dome (with remote control doors and remotely rotatable roof) to the RASC Toronto Centre.

A small crew headed to his home in Mississauga to disassemble the fiberglass, custom-made structure.

Gilles wore his safety toque. Stuart lent hands and tools. Photo by Dietmar. Not shown: Joel and Bob.

It's ready for packing and transport to the CAO. That's planned for Sunday 8 November.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

light review

Peter told us that the city is testing a bunch of new light technology, from production sources, to fixture design. Tony and I, returning from the RASC meeting at the OSC, toured through 2 sites:

area 7: Beresford Avenue (Bloor to Colbeck)

data: induction lighting tested on a local roadway with low pedestrian traffic

Bad. Bad bad. They look like "classic" cobra lights with oval diffusers that hang down from the fixture. The bulb is brighter and has a blue-white hue. The light cast is wide. We remarked on how the street lights were illuminating the fronts of the houses, in many cases, up to the bedroom windows on the second floor.

area 10: Lakeshore Boulevard (Colborne Lodge to Parkside)

data: electronic digital ballast operating metal halide lighting tested on a major roadway with low pedestrian traffic

Intense point-source lights. Many closely spaced. Hard to look at. Made you squint. We were stopped at the traffic light and the intense bulb light was coming directly in our eyes for all the light standards for the next 500 metres. Extremely bright blue-white illumination onto the road surface. Clearly not full cut-off. No diffusers; just a carbonate curved shell.

black hole spotting

Dr Avery Broderick of CITA spoke at the RASC Toronto Centre meeting about imaging black holes. Fascinating stuff. Lots of math.

He entertained questions at the end. I asked two:

Do you get asked often what happens if you get sucked into a black hole? (Note: I did not ask what happens?) He said he did. And went on to explain the horrible outcome, of being stretched apart. He clearly supports spaghettification! Ugh. He made it almost sound pleasant.

Later I asked: Are black holes "normal?" Are they required? What is their purpose? He immediately pointed out that I had moved us into the metaphysical. And that he was rooted in the physical. He reminded us that we should be sceptical...

It will be very interesting seeing what they see.

city testing lights

Peter sent a note saying the city of Toronto is testing a variety of new lights.

See the Toronto Hydro article on street lighting, specification the item on their Adaptive Lighting Asset Management Program.

And get out there! Review your new lighting. Critic the lighting in terms of brightness, glare, ground illumination, colour, trepass.


Ares 1-X launched. Woo hoo!

It's pretty amazing when you think about it, how NASA retooled in 3 short years.

It's unclear what the future holds. The Augustine commission says that NASA's eyes are bigger than their wallets. They can't make the Moon in the projected timeframe; Mars landings look to be out of the picture. Despite cheaper, safer, simpler technology.

Still, I'm optimistic. It shows what a large, bureaucratic, government agency can do. Imagine what a lean and mean commercial enterprise might accomplish. This is another milestone, one more rung, another small step, as we work our way up into the stars.

weather's looking better

... in Florida today.

Hopefully Ares 1-X will get aloft...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ares scrubbed

NASA scrubbed the Ares 1-X launch today. Reason: weather.

Despite a simpler design, for example, no issue with ice build-up, it is still tough launching rockets.

New word learned today: triboelectrification.

Monday, October 26, 2009

not going to bother

There's a low-rank occultation tonight: 1989 CW1. Flying right over Toronto. I could set up in the backyard. But, as I walked home, seeing the First Quarter Moon and Jupiter, 5° apart, each emerge and then hide behind clouds, not far from a police helicopter, I thought, "This doesn't look good." And on checking the Clear Sky Chart, seeing the skies get progressively worse through 11 PM and midnight, I decided to not even bother...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

shed work

Charles, Tony, and I headed to the Carr Astronomical Observatory this weekend to do a bit of work. Ralph was to join us but he turned back near Caledon, overcome with sudden flu symptoms.

While the cook was suddenly gone, we prevailed. And we got a lot of work done. In addition to a special project (a shed to protect the generator), we performed a few remaining winterising tasks (e.g. shutting off the water to the garden hose connection). Tony's duct work was brilliant.

We entertained visitors briefly on Saturday afternoon. Two people who missed our Open House asked if they could drop by for a quick tour.

As light fell, and the rain picked up, we concluded the main assembly. There were a handful of things to be completed. We debated doing them after dinner or in the morning...

I played briefly with the orange tube C8 in the GBO in an effort to better understand how adjust the R.A. slow motion control. Chas pointed out that I was tightening up the R.A. clutch too much. Ah! Much better.

I brought all the red LED solar lights indoors for the season. Boxed everything up. But not before removing the AA rechargeable batteries. I'll bring them back with me. I'll charge them up for the winter, charge them again in the spring, and then return them to the CAO when the snow's gone.

We were so glad it didn't snow...

(All photos with Tony's Sony point-n-shoot. Copied to Blake's netbook from Sony Memory Stick card via Charles's USB multi-card reader.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

the search for red gel

William asked where to get red film or gel for a computer screen. I explained that I had a few sources and materials: thin medium red cellophane from Michaels; deep red layered slightly-translucent film from Guy; deep red clear gelatin film from a small theatre company. I also explained that I was hoping to find a vendor or manufacturer who would sell us a large amount. Which I would then offer to members in small lots at reasonable prices. A group buy, effectively.

He took it upon himself to find some sources. And he reported back to me. I don't know if he bought some for himself or if he expects me to get some... At any rate, I have a few leads to follow up on.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

10 more years

While surfing the NASA web site, I read the article titled "Astronomers Do It Again: Find Organic Molecules Around Gas Planet."

It discussed scientists, using Hubble and Spitzer, finding a second gas giant planet like Jupiter with water, methane, and CO2. The planet is HD 209458b and it orbits a sun-like star about 150 light years away in the constellation Pegasus.

The article went on to say that terrestial planets, like Earth, Venus, and Mars, are expected to be found by the Kepler telescope. That said, it is believed we are a decade or so away from being able to detect any chemical signs of life on a rocky planet.

My heart sank a little as I read that. 10 years! That's a long time.

Then again, probably in my life time!

Then I wondered if scientists on those planets are developing telescopes and spectrographs powerful and sensitive enough to detect the water vapour, methane, and CO2 on the third rock from our nearest star.

It will be freaky when we start finding these planets possibly capable of supporting life not unlike what we know.

netbook framed

Inspired by Phil, I made my own red gel frame for the netbook. I coloured the frame black with a permanent marker.

I tested affixing it to the LCD screen with elastics, like Phil. He had them vertically. I didn't like how this made the frame bow and then allow light to leak out the sides. So I found some longer elastic bands and applied them horizontally. Much better. It lies flatter.

This will be quick and easy to use in the future. I will stop wasting tape. I won't struggle with the tape sticking to itself. It will be impervious to humidity. While rolling the red sheet made it compact for travelling, invariably it would get squished in the journey, creasing the film. This frame will slip into the laptop case.

I'm happy that it remains thin enough that I can still nominally close the netbook.

Fun little cloudy night project.

printed new CAO manual

Tony and I made some more revisions to the CAO Site Facilities Manual. Version 4.81. I uploaded the new PDF (and new map) to the supervisors Yahoo!Group last week. I just printed a new hard copy to take up to the CAO this weekend.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

more compliments

I guess I was successful at setting the tone for the NOVA course. The first guy who walked in to tonight's class said, "I really enjoyed last week. Thanks for that." Later, another man said that he appreciated my enthusiam. A good feeling. I'm particularly pleased in that it was my first attempt. Wow.

went anyway

I stepped down from the coordinating of NOVA. I handed the reins back to Leslie. While I enjoyed helping, it was just too much. I have to moderate my volunteer tasks. Particularly as the Information Technology portfolio seems to be growing.

Leslie however cannot attend all of the NOVA courses. It certainly is a long way for her to travel. So we recruited Diane. And she is keen to help. But when I talked to Diane about the role early in the week, she intimated that she'd like some support for me. So I ended up going to lesson 2 anyway.

Truth be told, I enjoyed it. It was really good to catch up with Diane. And I think it made for a nice bit of continuity. The new plan is to ask all of the instructors to drop in for one other class. So to lend a hand. Provide a familiar face.

But I must put my foot down. I'm not going to other ones. Well, unless I'm nearby.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

crunching numbers

I was curious what the true field of view (TFOV) was through the DDO big 'scope. So I bugged Paul and crunched a bunch of the numbers.

telescope data:
  • focal length ratio = 17.4
  • mirror diameter = 74 inches (1.88 metres)
"low" eyepiece data:
  • stated magnification = 300x
  • stated focal length = 100 mm
  • design = Kellner
  • AFOV = 40°
"high" eyepiece data:
  • stated magnification = 600x
  • known focal length = 56 mm
  • make = Meade
  • design = Super Plössl
  • AFOV = 50°
  • this is the one on loan from the CAO
So, I get the following numbers...
  • focal length of telescope = 32.5 metres!
  • max. theoretical magnification = 3700x!
  • lowest = 269x (assuming a 7mm pupil)
  • magnification of low eyepiece = 325x
  • mag of Meade Super Plössl = 580x
  • TFOV of low eyepiece = 7.4 arcminutes (0.123°)
  • TFOV of Meade Super Plössl = 5.2 arcminutes (0.086°)

This explains why it is difficult to view through the eyepiece at low power. The cone of light emitted from the eyepiece is bigger than the average pupil.

Paul said he thought the Kellner had an AFOV of 46°. That doesn't seem right to me. In fact, when I use 40°, I still get a very wide (er, wider) field of view. Paul said with the 100mm eyepiece he can just barely fit the ε (epsilon) Lyrae pairs in the field. They're 210" or 3.5' apart... So, we need to do a bit more checking with that one.



Edited 24 Jul '22. The 17.4 number is not length! It refers to the focal ratio! The focal length is noted correctly below.

netbook frame

I gave Phil some of my theatre red gel for his ASUS Eee PC HE 1000 netbook. He said he was going to make a frame for it so to make it easy to install and remove. A great idea.

I asked him earlier today how it was working. He hadn't started. Said he'd get to it in a day or two. Guess that got the juices going.

He just sent over this photo.

It looks awesome! I'm gonna make one too!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ares 1-X ready to roll

Looks like the NASA Ares 1-X is ready to roll out to the pad!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Iridium, Triton, and a Snowball (Richmond Hill)

Paul arranged for a RASC members star party at the DDO. A "wrap party" as it were, after the last public event (planned so far anyway) for the year.

A small group assembled under stunningly clear skies. Some brave souls set up on the lawn. The temperature was going to drop to zero! Brenda tried some CCD imaging. Guy and Scott compared iOptron notes. I stole views of Jupiter, Neptune, Albireo. Van had his refractor. Steve, new guy, was there with his C8. Chris, another new guy, was present. We talked dew and batteries.

Scott spotted a dark shape on Jupiter, near the equator. He wondered if it was a shadow transit. We asked Paul to put the big gun on it...

There was definitely a dark mark. But it was large and oval shaped. Not a shadow. Close the GRS. And it was following the GRS. Very strange. A random feature? Or another collision site?

After these stunning, colourful views of Jupiter at 300x, Paul asked for a target. I suggested Neptune, in hopes of spotting Triton. He liked the idea. He coaxed the old girl over. The disk of the planet was large; the colour pale blue. Pshaw! Easy spotting the large moon! Although Sue needed some convincing. There was no doubt at 600x.

Discussed eyepiece cleaning with Gilles. I recommended first getting isopropanol...

Later, we viewed the Blue Snowball planetary nebula (NGC 7662 or Caldwell 22). Absolutely incredible. You could see structure! And the central star! Wow. Like a photo. Ah, the advantages of a largish light bucket.

Earlier, at 8:25, we watched an Iridium flare. My first sighting! It was a good one.

Phil picked me up from the Sheppard subway at Fairview Mall; Ralph dropped me off. That helped me out a lot.

It was a fun evening.

I felt mildly guilty for not being able to help out more this season. Well, at least on the lawn. Paul is very pleased with the laptop I prepared for the DDO. That it has Office 2007 installed. In fact, it was a lifesaver last night as the presenter's laptop didn't work with our projector...

happy belated anniversary CSA

I missed the exact date, October 5, sadly. That was the date, 25 years ago, when the first Canadian travelled into space! Marc Garneau was aboard the shuttle for mission 41-C.

Happy anniversary, Canadian Space Agency!

It is apropos that Robert Thirsk is aboard the International Space Station at the moment.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

lark (Blue Mountains)

Last weekend I photographed the constellation of Orion. Just for kicks. I had put the FujiFilm J20 into Fireworks mode, turned off the flash, let the camera automatically shoot the image with the self-timer, all the while on a tripod.

Yesterday, I pulled the photo into Fireworks, to see what I could see. I'll I did was set the levels. And I was astonished to see hundreds of stars, down to magnitudes 6 and 7! There is clearly stuff going on at Messier 42 (M42) the Great Nebula with much of the light coming from the Trapezium stars. But there are hints of the Rosette Nebula (Caldwell 49), Messier 78 (M78), and the open cluster Messier 41 (M41)!

8 seconds, f3.1, 6:25, ISO 100

It's not a great image, by any means. I see some trailing with elongated stars at high magnification. But it is very interesting to me what this little camera can detect. I look forward to further experiments...

Friday, October 16, 2009

sticker at bottom

Ironcially, the latest SkyNews (Nov/Dec 09) showed up in the mailbox today. Normal size sticker at the bottom of the front cover, not obilerating the main part of the image. Still, some of the Butterfly Nebula was covered. And I continue to wonder why it can't be on the back.


Received a response from SkyNews!

Hello Blake;

Thanks for your message.  Yes, we have had numerous calls & [emails] about the placement of the label on particularly the Sept-Oct issue.  That extra-large label was supposed to be on the plastic not on the magazine at all.  To make matters worse the easily-removable glue was not used.

Our publisher and editor are well aware and have been in touch with the printer, so hopefully the placement of the label will be corrected.  I know many subscribers like to keep every issue, so if you would like an "undamaged" replacement copy, just let me know, which issues specifically.  Thanks for supporting SkyNews.

Clear skies!

Denise H.
SkyNews Customer Service
toll free 1-866-759-0005
That's pretty impressive. I'm going to reply and ask about bags, label positioning, etc.

And, we'll wait and see.

first message to SkyNews

I sent my first complaint letter to SkyNews magazine regarding the mailing label placement on the front cover.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

helped Dietmar with form

Dietmar emailed me reporting difficulty working with the GBO supervisor checklist form. But I didn't know where he was... I phoned his home. No answer. Perhaps he was already at the CAO.

A few moments later he replied. He was at the CAO. He was using the computer in the dining room.

That explained the problem. This computer does not have Microsoft Office on it; rather, it has OpenOffice 2.x. Somehow, OO was morphing the document, probably mucking with the tab stops or fonts or margins.

I phoned Dietmar and explained the situation. And gave him some options: use his laptop with MS Word (although he'd have to add the network printer driver); use someone else's laptop with Word; use a computer with OO 3.x; modify the margins and/or tabs of the document in OO 2.x.

He thanked me for the tips and said he'll try it in the morning.

It's tricky, our situation. We've a big, messy mixture of computers, operating systems, users, laptops, office software... But the CAO dining room computer does not really need business software on it. People should not / will not use this computer for work purposes. It is an internet terminal. That's it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

webspotting 12 - ASOD

As published in the Oct/Nov 2009 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission.


You know about APOD right?

You better! It should be in your bookmarks or favourites... You should be regularly visiting. Or else!

Of course, the Astronomy Picture of the Day web site features breathtaking photographs produced by professional and amateur astronomers. The majority of these, while stunning, are captured by extremely large 'scopes, instruments outside the atmosphere, or via probes in the outer solar system.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy these images. But they are not—how shall I say it—typical.

If you've ever been at a star party when there's been a crescent Moon or Jupiter (and his moons) or Saturn (with rings) to show off, you've witnessed the Galileo Moment. The reactions at the eyepiece are priceless. We've all heard the "wow" exclamations, the "ohs" and "ahs," the intake of breath. Kids mumbling "Sick." Or the stunned silence.

But every once in a while, I hear a grunt, a "Hmmm," often accompanied by a frown. Sometimes, the viewer is silent but you can tell, you can just tell, they are not in awe. Invariably, this is when we're after a nearby galaxy, perhaps The Ring Nebula, a loose open star cluster, Uranus or Neptune, even Mars, perhaps a very tight double star. Usually, it happens when we’re preoccupied with something diffuse, ethereal, faint, and fuzzy.

It happened with a friend of mine. After years of bad timing and bad weather, busy summer weekends, lack of convenient transportation, I finally made it to his island cottage in the Muskokas. He was so excited that I had brought my telescope. He was exhilarated as I assembled it. But when he looked through the eyepiece, at long last, his response was clearly disappointment. I could tell his expectations far outstripped what he saw. What a let-down.

Some people, the first time at the ocular, are expecting Hubble-grade images. Fortunately, we're at the star party or observing session as tour guide, to help them, explaining what they are seeing, framing it, sharing the fascinating facts, teaching them how to see these distant wonders.

APOD is awesome. But we're kind of working against it.

I also suspect a good number of the "lightly used" telescopes on sale or consignment are there because the enthusiastic recipient had no reasonable idea what to expect from their backyard. Certainly they did not see anything like the photos on the box.

We might be promoting the wrong web site; perhaps we should make more frequent references to ASOD: Astronomy Sketch of the Day. It is here that one finds representations of a pale and festooned Jupiter from the sidewalk through an 8". Or the tenuous and diaphanous Lagoon Nebula from the country at 100x delivered by a small refractor. Or perhaps the stunning depth of M13 grasped by a big Dob from a star party. How do you draw a half a million stars? In ASOD, you can see tangled prominences swirl above our home star, just like you’d observe through a small H-α 'scope.

A trip through is a treat. It shows the new telescope owner what they can expect to see. It shows us what we may enjoy with our modest gear. What we can coax out on a good night. Dare I say it presents a realistic view. ASOD shows the serious amateur, in their long journey, what they can learn to see by sketching.

NOVA tonight

The RASC NOVA course, hosted by the Ontario Science Centre, starts tonight. Guess who's delivering the first, kick-off, lesson?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

calendars available

The 2010 RASC calendars are available.


last or third

Huh. It just occurred to me that the phrase Last Quarter Moon may be especially incorrect.

It's confusing enough to amateur astronomer rookies these terms: a First Quarter Moon looks half-filled.

But if we're going to continue the Quarter concept, shouldn't we make a point of stating Third Quarter?

First Quarter is at approximately 7 days in, when the Moon is one-quarter of the way in its orbit around the Earth. A Full Moon is half-way (you never hear anyone saying Second Quarter...). Then at 21 days where the Moon is three fourths of the way 'round, many call this Last Quarter. But it's in 7 more days, give or take, when we experience the New Moon, that we're at position 4 of 4, or the last position...

Third Quarter Moon it is.

Change your notes!


Addendum: the amazing wikipedia uses Third and Last Quarter interchangeably.

Monday, October 12, 2009

that's me with all the red lights

Ed sent a photo from the Sep DDO star party.

I'm the one with the gaggle of red lights in the centre...

CAO work

I did a variety of small jobs at the CAO:
  • dropped off spare parts for the solar lights (2 ground anchors, 2 shafts, 2 lenses)
  • retrieved the shed assembly manual(s); photographed parts; photographed pages for Tony and Charles
  • moved the electric kettle to a different kitchen circuit (again) to avoid overloading circuits
  • retrieved from the garage the winter storm barrier (frame and heavy plastic sheeting) for the double doors off the living room to the deck and secured in the frame; repaired tear in plastic sheeting
  • sent a note to the supervisor listserv for the next one up to bring a three-hole punch for the GBO forms
  • changed the low temperature alarm on the Davis weather station
  • arranged for the purchase of fuel stabiliser; stabilised fuel in 3 tanks
  • killed and vacuumed about 200 cluster flies
  • removed bees nests (2) from top of large propane tank
  • reported propane tank level
  • changed dial on water heater closet baseboard heater from F to C
  • set all baseboard heaters to 10°C; placed new stickers beside each thermostats
  • photographed the wiring from the GBO into the main panel for Tony
  • retrieved Dietmar's supervisor notes for return to city
  • inspected the comm. line entering the garage; seems to be 4 pairs...
Pretty light load.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

globs with Phil (Blue Mountains)

After doing dishes and tiding up the kitchen, we looked outside. Wow! Clear. Everywhere. What a surprise.
Instrument: Celestron 14-inch SCT
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
We headed outside. Lora and Phil prepared the T@B for the evening while I retrieved the Dell laptop to operate the Paramount ME. In short order, Phil joined me in the GBO and we readied things together.

Lora brought Skeena and Callebaut 'round for a little fashion show. First, the dogs were sporting their very bright aquamarine collars. I believe the technology is the same used on kids pimping out their cars: high-frequency electroluminescent ribbon or tape. Incredibly bright for a 9 volt battery. Later, they quickly switched to astronomer-friendly red blinkie LED collars. Fetching canine haute couture. One last scratch and the pups were off to bed.

I unlocked the eyepiece cabinet and pulled the 27mm Tele Vue Panoptic while Phil opened the roof. We aimed at Jupiter. From the laptop, I called out the moon positions. At first, I mistook a star (no, wait, two stars) for a moon. Closer examination of TheSky6 showed Io and then Ganymede on one side and Europa on the other with Callisto way out.

Odd. Through the eyepiece we did not see this star or double star. We checked in my Stellarium. No star between the moons. Perhaps TheSky6 has an error in its catalog...

Phil and I talked about viewing the GRS but we couldn't seem to do the math in our heads. I surfed into Sky and Telescope for more info and noticed the link to the GRS calculator. I hit the button to use today's date and stared at the numbers. Phil looked at it too. It was confusing. When we suddenly realised it was in error. There was some sort of modulus mistake in the calculations. Sheesh. This was not helping matters.

Still, we felt it was definitely the case that it had already happened. We had missed the meridian crossing by couple of hours. That said, I could see the GRS! Just barely. Festoons nearby. When I had first looked at Jupiter, 15 to 30 minutes before, I had noticed it clearly. Same side as Io. But Phil didn't think he saw it.

We looked at my Stellarium again. I had set the GRS value a couple of months back. It was still pretty close actually.

Io was moving in.

Oh oh. Clouds were spotted in the north-west...

Phil was tour guide. He felt like exploring globulars. OK with me. I certainly didn't have an observing plan. He suggested Messier 15 (M15) so off we went.

The globular cluster in Pegasus seemed to be a slightly oval shape to me with tendrils of stars emanating from the centre. There was a bright star nearby (probably HIP 106157).

Phil then considered Messier 33 (M33). All right! Not far away from where we were. The Triangulum Galaxy was extremely faint. Certainly being relatively low in elevation, well below 45° was not helping. Still, I could see the spiral arms. I sat down and let photons soak in. It was impressive. And large! I could tell it was filling whole field (0.5° with the 27mm). I asked Phil if he wanted to try a different eyepiece but he declined. While I was absorbing 3 million year old light, a bright satellite went through the field. It startled me.

This was maybe the second or third time I've looked at this galaxy. I'm always amazed that this was discovered. It is so hard to see. It merits more views, in a month or two, when higher. And it should be with less power. So it stands out in the black of space. Do I remember correctly? Have I seen this naked eye? Or in binos?

At 8:47 PM I remembered to pull the Sky Quality Meter. I took several readings. Most were in the mid 18s. Phil didn't think that was very good.

Next stop: Messier 72 (M72) in Aquarius. In comparison to M15, this globular was very small and compact. Again, I didn't think it perfectly round. More of an oval shape. I noted faint field stars nearby.

We had been dodging clouds much of our time at the telescope. Now, we were completely clouded out. The wind had gone out of our sails. We packed up.

The drama for the evening turned out to be losing a lens to my eyeglasses! As we completed shutting down and stepped outside to lock up the GBO, I noticed that one eye was wobbly. I clued in suddenly that one lens had fallen out. I checked the frame of my glasses back inside the GBO and sure enough the screw had worked loose.

The search began to find the lens. I knew it had happened only recently, in the last few minutes. But I had not heard the lens fall. So that made me wonder if it had happened in the carpeted area of the observatory. Phil and I looked and scanned and moved furniture and gear. No luck.

When Phil went to check on the kids and Lora, I asked if he had a powerful flashlight. He returned with a large MagLite. I did some more fruitless scanning. When I suddenly got an idea. I looked immediately below the door of the GBO, between the patio stones and the sill, shining the torch light between the 1-inch gap, and there, amongst the snails, was my solitary lens. Whew!

We were able to finally lock up. By 9:25, we were back inside the house, settled.


We saw 4 sporadic meteors this evening. All directions. Both of us. Well, Phil saw 3. I saw one as I viewed M15, in the eyepiece. I've never seen this before but I saw a meteor in the field of view: straight line path, high speed, faint glow, and gone. The kind of thing that if you had blinked at that precise moment, you would not have seen it. That was a first.

wifi 2 brought down

Phil reported he was having trouble with his wifi connection. I had been experiencing drops and long reconnection issues for a couple of hours. I unplugged the Linksys wireless router. I'll fiddle with this later... Perhaps there is a channel issue.

donor wifi router

Last weekend, during the CAO work party, Charles handed me a Linksys WRT300N router. Asked me if we could use it. I said I'd think about it. I needed to look up its specs.

My first thought was to improve the wireless coverage, particular for those on the Observing Pad and in the THO building. It looks impressive, bristling with antennae.

Yesterday, I read a review at CNET. Not overly favourable. In partcular, they didn't like the range in a mixed environment. Oh oh.

Today I reconfigured the thing to act passively. I put it in the GBO observing room. In the THO, I saw it with 2 bars. Whereas the dlink wireless showed as 5 but then would disappear! So, I think it might be worth keeping.

I'd much rather put it in the garage...

three planets (Blue Mountains)

Got up early this morning to view some planets...

The alarm went off at 5:30 AM. I did not want to get out of my warm bed! Peaked out the north window of the Cygnus bedroom (without my glasses) and could see stars. Fetched my eyeglasses from the living room, returned to the bedroom, and looked out the east windows. Clear skies. OK, let's do this.

Put on some layers and headed outside. And was greeted by Orion and Canis Major, very high, in the south. Old friends. Procyon was burning bright. Lupus was really high up! I wondered if it was a combination of the date and time and location. Whenever I've tried to view The Rabbit, invariably at my Mom's in the winter, it is low.

I'm looking forward to re-examining Meissa.

Turning to the east, I could see Leo leaping; but no sign of planets. It wasn't until 5:56 AM that I saw the Morning Star clear the trees of the hill. My Stellarium custom landscape for the CAO was off a little bit. It should be raised or heightened (I later changed it by 4 units).

Bloody cold! 0.3°C and a little damp. I didn't think to bring my winter coat. I found a heavy coat in the closet. I put it on over my t-shirt/long-sleeve-shirt/RASC hoodie/SAAB windbreaker combination. Later I moved the coat under the windbreaker. Later still I fetched the sweatshirt I had left on-site. Finally, with t-shirt/long-sleeve-shirt/sweat shirt/RASC hoodie/heavy coat/SAAB windbreaker, I was able to keep my torso warm. But my legs were cold. Didn't think to bring my long underwear!

There were clouds lingering, hovering, stalled over Collingwood, precisely in the direction I wanted to look. Would I be able to see anything, I wondered?

I wanted to give the FujiFilm J20 camera a good shake. The tripod I had eyeballed in the living room yesterday was gone! From the GBO I retrieved the aluminum 'pod and setup on the deck. Hiding just under the lattice work, I could see a bit better, the Last Quarter Moon blocked. I set the camera to Fireworks mode so that I could control the exposure time, up to 8 seconds. I deliberately bracketed hoping to get some good exposures. I remembered to use the timer so to shoot hands-free.

Finally Saturn cleared the clouds.

5.98 seconds, f3.1, 6:42 AM

I was surprised (at the time) by how dim Saturn was.

I was surprised (afterwards) to see stars in the image. I can see Denebola, Zosma, and Chertan—aka β (beta), δ (delta), and θ (theta) Leonis above and to the left of Venus.

I began shooting photos very frequently. Viewed together they play like a movie. It was not obvious to me at the time, the clouds seemed parked beyond the mountain. But when viewing the frames, the clouds were drifting slowly to the east...

At 6:36 AM, I could see Mercury between upper and lower cloud bands. I finally got a good shot when Mercury rose above the persistent clouds.

2 seconds, f3.1, 6:50 AM

Phil emerged from the T@B. He too was thrown by the brightness of Mercury and Saturn. He verified positions in Stellarium on my computer. He sat beside me on the picnic table and we enjoyed the unusual conjunction together. For Phil, it was his third career naked-eye observation of Mercury.

At 6:58 AM, it was getting very difficult to see Saturn. As Phil noted, it was only knowing where it was in relation to Venus made it easy. The wind was getting to him despite standing in the lee of the house. He headed inside. I wasn't long after him. The birds were waking up.


All of the photos were shot at ISO 100.

Phil suggested I try 400.


I used the new, small red cell for the netbook. It fit the screen nicely.

On the fly, I made a small red cell for the back of the digital camera, so to keep my night vision, such that it was. It worked really well!


I learned later that the camera clock was way off. After a test later, I found it to be 27 minutes early. I wondered why there was such a discrepancy between the date/time stamp on (or in) the photo meta data and my immediate notes on the computer.


Large rez (3648 x 2736) images available upon request.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Phil's Moon atlas

Phil brought his copy of Antonin Rukl's Atlas of the Moon to show me. It's a beautiful book. The illustrations are stunning. Tremendous detail, it draws you in. I like the scale near each drawing and the noted diameter in the text.

He bought it used on Amazon for $50. Now they're going to $200...

I wonder why Sky & Tel doesn't reprint it. Maybe they're stockpiling changes. Huh. In fact, there's a new landing site or two to be marked!

round and round

I enjoyed using the new roundabout today. Another tell-tale of the Intrawest influence in the region. It is west of Collingwood. Fairly new. People are still getting used to it, I guess. And in general drivers don't know how to use them. But I've been through it a couple of times now. Navigated it briskly. Fun.

I totally forgot to note this for our visitors to the CAO. I'll need to update our local map for our members and guests...

I love roundabouts!

pale rainbow (Stayner)

I spotted a faint arc high in the sky as I drove west. I realised it was a rainbow. It seemed unusual. I didn't realise it at first but it was because there was essentially no clouds in the area. Must have been cold ice up there...

Friday, October 09, 2009

supervisor duty

My second official stint as a CAO supervisor is upon me. Weather is not looking good.

Dietmar told me that no one had signed up to visit. Not strictly true. Lora and Phil are planning to return, with the puppies. They intend to fetch their trailer.

Betwixted and between. Officially, I made a no-go call for opening the RASC Toronto Centre CAO. But I decided to go up anyway. We all planned to arrive Saturday morning.

In fact, we're going to have a Thanksgiving dinner. Lora's bringing a bird. And dessert of course. I'm in charge of vegetables (roasted carrots) and salad (layered Greek salad with black beans).

Looking forward to it.

It better not snow though...

ready for crash

Watching NASA TV and monitoring the Spaceflight Now web site during the LCROSS mission to the Moon... Enjoying the live coverage.

Good luck, everyone.

I hope we find lots of water!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

busy weekend

Lots going on this weekend. My two expensive hobbies. Different distant locations in the province. I'm still decompressing...

Friday was the Saab Club of Canada advanced high-performance driving school at Shannonville. I had been asked to teach the classroom sessions for the novice and intermediate level drivers. Mom, travelling from the west, picked me up Thursday afternoon. I drove the rest of the way and, in the hotel, reviewed my notes. And bemoaned all the things (mostly props) that I had forgotten. Overall, the school went well. Usually suspects there plus a few old friends, like Fabio and Andrew.

Saturday morning Mom and I were up early and heading back to Toronto. I was very tired and considered having a nap to recharge but at the same time I did not want to put myself into late afternoon traffic. I also wanted to arrive at the Carr Astronomical Observatory at a decent time to help out with the RASC Toronto Centre Open House preparations. Mom continued west and I headed north. I made good time despite the increasingly poor weather and low air temperature. It was interesting watching the lightning strikes in the Shelburne windfarm...

Much had been accomplished at the work party. I noted the patio stones by the back step had been levelled and that the storm windows were in place. Lora showed me the new red spotlight over the parking lot. In the basement, I found Pat and Charles busy relocating the bathroom door. I put on my work boots and hard hat and started in. As Charles finished the framing, I cut drywall.

In short order it was time to clean up. We were expecting a small crowd for the Saturday evening Open House tours. We finished our early dinner around 6 PM as guests began to arrive.

I programmed alarms into the Davis weather station console, one for rapid change in air pressure, and one for low inside house temperature. To test the alarm feature, I programmed a low outside temperature. As I set the console, I noted the outside temp was 9.5°C; I set the alarm for 8.0°. And we waited...

I watched the two astronomy presentations. Tony went first with his pitch of what you can see, with minimal equipment. Then, Ian W, fired up his presentation and talked and demonstrated what amateur astronomers do. I had never seen him in action before. He did a great job! His presentation itself was well done. After I showed him the setup, he enjoyed using PowerPoint's Presenter View.

After the second tour, I popped outside for a bit. The skies were surprising good. People were looking at some of the bright objects under the Full Moon, including Jupiter and M13. I was asked, with my high-power green laser, to point out where in the sky the Ring Nebula could be found. And then M13. I had a hard time, in the moonlight, with unadapted eyes, to find Hercules. I gave Tony my laser pointer as he was without.

Once the visitors had left, we enjoyed some late-night dessert and conversation. With Charles's Brother labelling machine, I made small stickers for the kitchen receptacles. Hopefully people will avoid overloading circuits in the future. I also labelled the confusing Great Room light switches.

We monitored the outdoor temperature, in preparation for the alarm test, but the temperature had flattened out, hovering around 8.4°.

Later, I tried out Charles's LED light with remote control (not unlike the one from ThinkGeek): the white light was faint and clearly blended. The red was quite nice, deep and dark. The remote was awkward to use however: you had to aim the remote into the lamp lens. Not easy to do in a floor lamp.

Then I opened my new USB keyboard LED light kit from Lora and Phil. A generous little gift for my birthday. The Okion Plug-N-Light Delux package includes an adjustable clip with swivel arm so to aim the white LED where need. The power cord is coiled and has an in-line on/off switch. A clever design. Includes a nice little case too!

We discussed hacking it. Given the design, it might be possible to easily change the LED, from white to astronomer-friendly red. But an easier, quicker, non-invasive solution will be to simply insert a coloured lens inside the metal cylindrical shell surrounding the LED. It'd be a shame, in a way, to cut it up...

Huh. Okion has digital pens!

Before I knew it, I was setting up a portable bed in the living room. And passed out. Apparently, I made the most inhuman noises over the evening.

At some point in the evening (I was so tired I forgot to check the time), the low temp alarm went off. The outdoor temperature had finally fallen and was showing as 7.8°. The console alarm sounded like a regular digital clock, with a steady beeping medium-pitched tone. I cleared the outdoor alarm. Test concluded. Back to the cot.

Erich woke us up in the early morning with brewing coffee, loud keyboard typing, and the occasion loud video clip. Hmmm. Guess he didn't see me and Charles a couple of metres to his right...

We got back to work. I popped into Collingwood for some building supplies. From the Home Depot, I picked up one replacement left-hand window casement opening gear mechanism to replace the broken one in the kitchen window. I bought another left-hand as a spare as well as a spare right-hand. Some drywall compound (90). And more duct tape, of course.

Back at the CAO, I repaired the kitchen window opener, with Dietmar's assistance. Then I returned to the basement to cut more drywall, just as Pat and Charles finished the plumbing. Lunch time!

I helped Trevor pump up some of the tires on the ATV and with a quick car driving lesson. Don't tell anyone. And, no, there will not be a video on YouTube!

I tried to help Nick with his old Palm computer, connecting it to our wireless network. We discovered it only support WEP. He'll need to upgrade it, if possible.

Things were winding down, helpers gradually leaving, cleaning and tiding beginning. It wasn't long when we were all leaving, en masse.

Lora and Phil elected to leave the trailer up. They are planning to return next weekend. Which will be my second stint as CAO supervisor. Long-range weather's not looking great though...