Friday, December 31, 2010

shoe horn

Somehow I have to fit all those bits inside the project box.

And it was crowded before the gauge and switch...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Paul moving the 74

Interesting wide photo on Facebook of Paul moving the 74 inch telescope at the DDO.

I'm intrigued by Katrina's remark about training and replacements though! Is Paul leaving? Who's gonna run the DDO? Who will be the "face" of the observatory? And Karen? Who will do PR?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

CAO team

Looks like I'll be helping out with site management more in the new year...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

laser heater

Ah ha! So, it's not my imagination.

I've been keeping my laser pointer in my pants pocket to make it work better on cool or cold evenings.

Seems there's something to this. Since Kendrick now makes a laser pointer heater!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

quick peek (Union)

I popped outside for a moment, to lock or move a car, I don't remember exactly what for, and noticed the night sky rather clear.

Jupiter was bright.

Moving slowly, trying not to trip Mom's motion-sensing lights, I looked to the east and enjoyed Auriga. A meteor went thru, travelling due east. An Ursid?

Mom's e-frame

Loaded some pix onto Mom's new digital picture frame.

No editing (or file management) capabilities on-board it seems so I did rotating, cropping, etc. on a nearby computer then copied to a SD card.

I put my recent lunar eclipse photo on, after cropping. It looks pretty good, actually.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

gifts 2010

Received a couple of astronomy-related gifts.

Donna and Steve gave me a neat book called Orbit from National Geographic Society. By Jay Apt, it features photography by astronauts. Beautiful, breathtaking work.

Also, from National Geographic, received a set of stickers, featuring solar system bodies plus a couple of stars.

Not exactly related, Mom brought back a little metal (pewter to be precise) flask from Scotland. It will surely be helpful on those cold, long observing sessions!

Mom also picked up a new-tech, water-repellant hoodie from Mark's. This will no-doubt prove comfortable in the spring and fall.

Very generous of everyone.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dexter is certified

The Canadian Space Agency's dexterous robot on the ISS is now, at last, certified for duty.

The MDA-built handyman's first official task will be to unload the External Pallet from the Japanese HTV-2 spacecraft to the ISS in early February 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

budget lost

Heard from the past treasurer. The IT budget report was lost. They asked that I resubmit it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

fact: lunar eclipses are common

Once again the media has gotten their wires crossed, creating hype, confusion, mythology, and falsehoods, which are already finding their way back to me.

Randy sent an email (with an excellent lunar eclipse camera phone photo) but said to his recipient list that "this [was a] rare occurance" (sic) and that the last one happened "400 years ago." Out of context, this makes it seem that lunar eclipses are rare.

Malcolm phoned during some volunteering seasonal stuff. Wasn't sure, at first, if he pocket phoned me... We caught up on things. He asked if I had gotten up in the middle of the night to view the eclipse. Then he said he heard that these only happen every 250 years. Eclipses? No.

Lunar eclipses during the solstice? Yes, that's rare. Lunar eclipses are common and there are usually a couple per year. The next one is due December 2011.

Malcolm's greeting

Malcolm beat me to the punch: received a happy solstice email.


Something strange has happened with this very-late-night lunar eclipse: it has kept people at home.

If this was at sunset or mid-evening, the local RASC members all would have congregated at a star party somewhere, perhaps the Ontario Science Centre, or the David Dunlap Observatory. With no big social event planned, everyone worked from home.

I'm astonished at the way in which people used the RASC Toronto Yahoo!Groups. Posts came fast and furious with Ralph's "it's clear" war-cry. About 40 messages followed with over 16 members reporting in from their back yards, the lakeshore, the DDO grounds. Many people were shooting photos and posting them ASAP. Some in their PJs taking a quick look. Some had binos. One in their new dome.

Cloud reports from members Ottawa and Vancouver...

It was impressive, despite the time of night, and our geographic separation, how unite we were.

the porch

I believe I enjoyed the new porch for astronomical viewing.

Sure, at my old place, I could go into the small back yard to observe. But the yard was further away, more steps away, with a set of stairs in between. Less than 10 paces from my bed? Hard to beat.

The back yard on Evelyn Crescent could be darker than the balcony, but that was only when all the neighbours cooperated, and that was usually only after me hounding and begging and pestering, and even then, there would still be an inopportune light on somewhere, and I'd have to put up shields and barriers and wear my red laser goggles. I still need to do some of those things. But at least I won't have to bug other humans.

The porch is private. And that will be very new. That said, when I want to do outreach, I can still perch on the sidewalk. But beginning able to work quietly and undisturbed when I want to will be a blessing. And being able to take a break and not worry of security, that will be huge.

copper and wood (Toronto)

Had a hard time waking and pulling on clothes. But it was worth it. Popped out to the porch and saw the lunar eclipse well underway. Grabbed my parka, gloves, tripod, and camera.

FujiFilm finepix J20, f/5.6, 4 seconds, 19mm, max. optical zoom, ISO-100 (auto), fireworks mode, tripod-mounted, 10-second timer, levels adjusted in Fireworks

The skies turned out pretty good.


Wikipedia link: lunar eclipse.

look up... (Toronto)

... look waaay up.

I see the Moon!

I was a little surprised how high up it was. Had to open the porch door and stick my head outside to see it. Stellarium says about 70° up.

Maybe we'll get lucky with the weather in Toronto...

Monday, December 20, 2010

clouds be gone

It looks like the clouds will move out shortly after midnight...

panel meter

At long last, I found modern analog DC voltage panel meters or gauges to put in my "portable" power tank.

Visited, for the first time, A-1 Electronics on North Queen. Big place. Probably bigger than Active Surplus; but not as much as Sayal. A bit of a jumble with some narrow aisles. Still, they found everything that I wanted. Good prices too. The same kind of meter at Efston is $40! I walked out of A-1 with 24 green LEDs, some wild red-green flasher LEDs, a gaggle of resistors, and the 2 Hopesun meters for the same amount of money...

I will put a momentary switch on the gauge circuit so that I can quickly check power in the 12 volt gel batteries.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

asked to do 26th

Paul asked if I would deliver The Sky This Month presentation at the 26 January RASC Toronto Centre meeting. The first Recreational Astronomy Night of 2011...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spore game demo

While at friend's for the evening, Alex gave me a quick demo of the game Spore. Looks cool. You try to survive from a single-cell organism after your host comet crashes onto a planet in the Goldilocks zone!

Can you make it to a thriving space-faring race?

Friday, December 17, 2010

index error

While looking up meteor showers for 2011, I discovered a small error in the RASC Observer's Handbook.

The meteor items, in the index at the back, are off by one page. They should be:

meteors, 258
radio detection of, 261
showers table, 260

I reported it to the editor.

Heard back today. Patrick thanked me for the correction. He said he'll add it to the errata page on the web site.

He said I'll get a credit in the 2012 book. Wow.


Updates moved...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mom saw 20!

Wow. I'm so impressed. My Mom checked her email before going to bed, received my suggestion to go outside briefly for the Geminid meteor peak, actually went outside for a brief time, enjoyed clear skies and some familiar sights, and spotted a bunch of meteors!
Bundled up on the 13th about midnight and went out before bed to look at the Geminid meteors.

It was a perfect crisp clear night with the sky ablaze with stars and constellations.  The Orion nebula never looked so clear (now that I know what I was looking at).

Was amazed at how large the meteors were.  Saw about 20 before freezing took over.  The meteors seemed to be coming out of the north but couldn't see them when I looked at the northern sky.  They must have entered the atmosphere there but were visible in the east, west and southern sky.  Again - so big and very bright... only lasting a split second.  Sort of like that vision field test they give you at the eye doctor.

So thanks for the headsup - I hadn't heard anything in the news or on the weather channel about the show.   Will document the sighting in my little astronomy notebook.
Amazing. I'm very happy for her.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

added February

Did some more updating of the RASC Toronto Centre mini-calendar, after receiving some more data from the DDO team.

old address on SN

Asked RASC national office why SkyNews was sent to my old address.

new SkyNews!

Yeh. The Jan/Feb issue of SkyNews magazine showed up today. Good timing, as I'm working on the RASC calendar for 2011 and marking my personal calendar for notable astronomical events. Good day for it to arrive, all cloudy and snowy.


Wow. Image and current issue content on web site immediately updated!

Monday, December 13, 2010

revised Centre calendar file

Guy is on the road. He dropped it on my plate to revise the calendar file. Since I opened my big mouth. So I applied a bunch of updates and changes in the Word document and uploaded it to the Yahoo!Group files area.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reaves replied

I emailed Mr Reaves about my difficulties using the ocular plug-in within Stellarium. He replied:
If you've erased the mappings, then no, it won't work.

I have not had a chance to update the documentation; I hope to get to that this week.

You can either enter mappings, or move the Oculars ini file out of the way, and a new one will be created.
Not very helpful. I don't know how to enter the mappings.

I don't think I'm gonna use this feature, going forward. There are all kinds of things I don't like about it. The "old way" I used, with the dummy telescope server, while it was fiddly, was optically far superior, showing simply a coloured circle simulating the eyepiece size. How everyone else does it. That the Telrad feature is implemented in a similar way really makes it wonder if it can't be done a lot simpler.

Must be careful. It would be easy to dive in, write my own plug-in... No. Nope. No way.

colourful satellites

Satellites appear differently depending on their type, clearly.

Learned what the colours mean in the Stellarium 0.10.6 satellites plug-in, over at Matthew Gates's web page...
  • purple - Iridium
  • grey - naked-eye-visible objects
  • white - the ISS
  • green - scientific Earth observation
  • blue - NOAA weather
  • brown - amateur radio

new shortcuts

With the release of Stellarium 0.10.6, there are a couple of new keyboard shortcuts (in Windows) to note. I updated my list. Also, I've added some shortcuts that never made it into my previous lists (not sure why) for some of the popular plug-ins...

Recently new or changed shortcuts are marked with an asterisk.

controlling the surroundings
show location dialog
toggle cardinal or compass points—— q
toggle compass marks (plug-in)
Ctrl c*
toggle ground and buildings
toggle ground fog
toggle atmosphere or air

controlling sky appearance

toggle stars
toggle constellation lines
toggle constellation boundaries
toggle constellation labels
toggle constellation artwork
toggle planet labels and circles
toggle planet orbits
toggle planet trails
Shift t
toggle nebula labels and circles
show Sky and Viewing Options dialog

controlling gridlines

toggle alt/az grid lines
toggle equatorial grid
toggle ecliptic line
, (comma)
toggle celestial equator
. (period)
toggle meridian line

changing image presentation

toggle horizontal flipping
Ctrl Shift h
toggle vertical flipping
Ctrl Shift v

controlling "regular" time

show date/time dialog
set date/time to match computer
set time rate to zero
increment forward time speed
l (lower case L)
increment reverse time speed
run time at normal speed
decrease time speed a little
Shift j
increase time speed a little
Shift k
jump forward 1 hour
Ctrl = (equal)
jump backward 1 hour
Ctrl - (hyphen)
jump forward 1 day
= (equal)
jump backward 1 day
- (hyphen)
jump forward 1 week
jump backward 1 week

controlling sidereal time

jump forward 1 sidereal day
Alt = (equal)
jump backward 1 sidereal day
Alt - (hyphen)
jump forward 1 sidereal week
Alt ]
jump backward 1 sidereal week
Alt [


quickly zoom in or out
mouse roller up or down
zoom in
PgUp or Ctrl Up Arrow
zoom out
PgDn or Ctrl Dn Arrow
zoom close to selected object
/ (slash)
zoom out fully
\ (backslash)


quickly pan celestial sphere
pan right
Right Arrow
pan left
Left Arrow
pan up
Up Arrow
pan down
Dn Arrow
toggle equatorial or alt/az mount
Ctrl m

working with objects

select an object visually
centre on selected object
toggle tracking of selected object
deselect object
display search dialog box
Ctrl f or F3
travel to object, i.e. go to a planet
Ctrl g
toggle angular measurement (plug-in)
Ctrl a*

working with artificial satellites (plug-in)

configure satellites
Alt z*
toggle satellite display
Ctrl z*
toggle satellite labels
Shift z

working with oculars (plug-in)

configure oculars or eyepieces
Alt o*
toggle ocular view
Ctrl o*
toggle Telrad circles
Ctrl b*
switch to different eyepiece
Ctrl ] or Ctrl [*
switch to different telescope
Shift ] or Shift [*
switch to different CCD sensor
Ctrl Shift ] or Ctrl Shift [*
toggle reticule
Alt c*

controlling the application

show configuration dialog
show help/about dialog
show script console window
toggle application fullscreen/window
toggle GUI toolbars/menus
Ctrl t
save screenshot to desktop file
Ctrl s
close a dialog box
quit from Stellarium
Ctrl q

Most quick reference listings (including the one inside Stellarium's help) are improperly designed. They show the key first then the action, forcing you to think about a key combination, even if you're not interested in it. You'll see I've done the opposite!

Stellarium 0.10.6

Downloaded the new version of Stellarium last night. Sounded like there were a number of cool new features and plug-ins.

Installed it today. It seems to load up faster (still).

It's not a new feature (I learned) but I just never used it before: I'm very excited about the Satellites plug-in! It shows artificial satellites, their orbits, and names. It supports the common TLE data, updating via the internet, and manual entry. Updating can occur automatically shortly after you start the software. You can even search for a satellite. Very smart.

The ISS (Zarya) is already in the system, one can search for it, I tracked it, and it noted that it corresponded to a time predicted by Heavens Above. I don't however see it in the list... (Oops, there it is, after the Iridiums, alphabetical, duh...)

The brief satellite plug-in instruction page is helpful. However, the recommended keyboard shortcut to configure satellite add-on (Ctrl Shift z) does not work; the on-board help correctly notes it. Also, it is not explained anywhere what the colours mean: I've seen white, grey, green, brown, and blue satellites!

Satellites in Stellarium is very cool, I must say. I like how, if you turn all the satellites on, it reminds us how much gear is up there. How busy the sky is. I've often said to budding amateur astronomers, "Get used to seeing satellites..." I like how the orbit is pre-drawn so you can see it coming. This is going to be a great tool in the future when predicting fly-overs.

A plug-in that is new, this time, is the Solar System Editor. I love it! Finally, you can let the software add the appropriate data in the appropriate file to extend the list of asteroids and comets. So easy. I added the "new" comet P/2010 V1 Ikeya-Murakami. Compared to Seiichi Yoshida's web site. Bingo. I like how you can easily remove items too. You just need to remember to precede comet names, when searching, with "c/" or "p/" so to avoid getting asteroids.

I see the newest version of Stellarium includes a time-zone plug-in, for those who need to override the built-in settings. Sounds like a number of people will find this useful.

The ocular plug-in, which has been around for a couple of versions, is still as confusing as ever. Lost all my old configuration (other people have reported that too). Didn't seem to work for me at all at first, had to restart. Apparently, the big change, now, is that you can configure your own keys for the oculars. Sounds like a good idea, instead of cycling through them all—which I always thought was really strange. Except it is not at all clear how you do the binding! Author Timothy Reaves needs to seriously rethink this. He should hurry up and update the damned help and wiki web page too! Sheesh.

Getting decent frame rates, still. Although you can really bog it down with all the satellites on...

So, overall, some fantastic improvements.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

created January meeting notices

I added articles to the RASC Toronto Centre web site for the "meetings" coming up in January (with the new wording). Not a lot of details are known to me so they are a tad terse.

updated site calendar...

... for January.

Guy sent out a tentative RASC Toronto Centre calendar of events for 2011 and asked for feedback (back on 15 Nov). Apparently, no one commented. He sent out a subsequent note about one change. Ralph sent a message today about the strategy conference moved to February.

I used Guy's file (with 137 events) and the updates as the current information to prepare my update of the Centre's web site.

I reorganised it by type of event. This was to make sure dates weren't missing. To remove items that aren't of interest to regular members. But most importantly, to do pattern recognition. The entry into the online calendar system is so slow, so labour intensive, so tedious, that I want to find faster ways. And it seems that I don't know enough about UNIX to be able to edit the data file directly without screwing up permissions. Spotting recurrence patterns can reduce the number of entries I need to make. Still, this requires over 100 entries on my part.

Through this process, I noticed there were no items for members-only observing nights or "star parties" at the DDO. Guy said he hadn't heard. Paul chimed in and said they were still working on them.

Caught a couple of mistakes. Guy, being on the road, asked me to update the file.

Added the "big" meteor showers for 2011. Added the new Moon dates.

Asked about the RCI lecture. No response.

Even before pushing this back to Council, I started to get a feeling that things might still flex and change. So I only updated the January 2011 events. I'll do the rest later.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

an act of purest optimism

SpaceX revealed the top-secret payload inside the Dragon spacecraft on completing its first orbital flight. In an ode to the Monty Python, it was a wheel of cheese. Yes, a wheel of cheese! Orbited the Earth two times. Story and photo by Tarig Malik at

uploaded Dec 2010 TSTM

To the RASC Toronto Centre web site I posted my Dec '10 / Jan '11 TSTM (The Sky This Month) presentation notes and monthly calendar (in PDF format). Enjoy.

The highlights, in case you're interested:
  • see the Straight Wall
  • watch Sun eject 700,000 km streamers!
  • add Mercury to your life-list
  • enjoy Jupiter
  • enjoy Jupiter near Uranus
  • spot the Cassini division (again) in Saturn's rings
  • learn some new winter constellations
  • bundle up & watch meteors
  • try for an asteroid occultation
  • bask in a total lunar eclipse

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

delivered TSTM

I did my The Sky This Month at the RASC Toronto Centre meeting (last night).

Made 75 copies of my double-sided handout, including calendar. Had 4 left. Guy said there were about 80 to 85 people.

Received very positive feedback. More than one said "excellent." Glad people liked it. Felt I was not well prepared for this one... With the move and all. Living out of boxes. And the car. Not getting high speed until this morning. During the presentation, I did not demo things in Stellarium. Partly for time reasons. Partly because the netbook was sluggish. With VPC running.

All the while (wouldn't you know it) it was clear outside. I enjoyed the Moon, Earthshine, Jupiter, Vega, and Aldebaran on the way in. Sadly, we missed viewing planets and moons and double stars and an occultation!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

national's plans?

Ralph showed a PowerPoint presentation provided by RASC national which reveals more details of their strategic plan. It raises a lot of questions though. Like, how do they intend to increase revenue by 30%? We have to the end of the year to respond. Could they have picked a busier time of year?

need to grab frames

Learned, from Rock Mallin, during Katrina's demo of the Night Skies Network (NSN), that if we want to do astro-broadcasts from the CAO, we'll need a framegrabber. Will need to do some research...

Dragon away

The SpaceX Dragon successfully launched! w00t!

This is huge. The first successful commercial venture to space by a private company.

Apparently Mr Musk was speechless.


There are some great photos by Chris Thompson over at

Monday, December 06, 2010

found OHs and calendars

While unpacking the bedroom stuff, I found the RASC Observer's Handbook 2010 and the new 2011. I also found the 2010 and 2011 calendars.

Handy for my TSTM preparations...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

tune in on Thursday

There's a buzz going around... NASA is going to make a "big" announcement on Thursday. The topic? Astrobiology!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

new OH at new place

The RASC Observer's Handbook 2011 showed up. At the new place. Yellow sticker and all.

Maybe would have arrived a day or two earlier without the redirection.

Tony's appeared yesterday. He let me open it. Now I'll get to open another one...

Which, now that I think of it, may in fact represent the first piece of mail to my new home.

Friday, November 26, 2010

webspotting 18 - JDSO

As published in the Dec 2010/Jan 2011 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission.


If you know me, you know that I love observing double stars. While I have log entries on double or multiple stars as far back as 2000, it wasn’t until 2006 that I started to regularly observe them and include them in my star party itinerary.

Doubles feature in the wonderful The Evening Sky Map by Kym Thalassoudis, which of course categorises objects visible by eye, binoculars, and telescope. Many multi-star targets are noted in Turn Left at Orion. The web site of the Belmont Society of North Carolina had some interesting information, little colour sketches, useful lists but, some time late 2006, it… vanished. I stumbled across the "attractive" summer and winter double lists at the Sky and Telescope web site (typos and all). I repurposed the lists and began checking off items viewed. In January 2007, I procured  Sissy Haas's famous "spreadsheet" entitled Double Stars for Small Telescopes with over 2000 items. I've since viewed 123 targets with an additional 6 attempts requiring a revisit.

I love the colours, the vibrant and the subtle. I enjoy the widely separated doubles that challenge my naked eye (er, eyes with corrective lenses) one-power resolution; I revel at trying to split extremely tight doubles in powerful light buckets under good seeing. It was in May 2009 that I started using a calibrated eyepiece, excited at the prospect of measuring binaries. In addition to seeing fast-movers change over a season or two, I could collect data points for next couple of decades, for long-period partners, making scientific contributions from the backyard. 

I stepped up my research, reading both Observing and Measuring Visual Double Stars and Double and Multiple Stars and How to Observe Them. I rigorously studied the articles by Alan Alder, Ron Tanguay, and Tom Teague, scouring back issues of Sky and Telescope (tucked away at the CAO library). I practiced, relearned basic trigonometry, built custom spreadsheets. I actually connected with Teague to double-check my calculations. I built upon his improved techniques to further streamline the process of visually measuring separation and position angle. The most recent addition to my personal collection is the beautiful Cambridge Double Star Atlas (with its own list of 2000 systems).

While scanning the old Sky and Telescope magazines, I found Luis Argüelles's February 2000 contribution, "The Spirit of 33." The concept was intriguing: offer a forum, online of course using the internet and web, to allow observers to work through target lists and submit their findings. But, it seemed, that in the 9 or 10 years before my discovery of this article, things had tapered off. The "s33" YahooGroup ( was pretty quiet. I was a little disappointed, as I was just getting my legs in double star observing and measurement, and now there did not seem to be an active community of observers.

Happily, I have since learned of the Journal of Double Star Observations at hosted at the University of South Alabama. This is actually a regularly published electronic newsletter with contributions by amateur astronomers. Periodic posts on the binary-stars-uncensored YahooGroup ( I was happy to see some familiar names like "Uncle Rod" Mollise and Mr. Teague and our own Ed Hitchcock. There's a plethora of current articles as well as archives going back a few years. I'm particularly interested in tackling some of the "neglected" items suggested.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

got calendars

Procured a bundle of RASC 2011 calendars from Tim, last night.

They make an excellent holiday gift...


Heard from Tim that they are almost sold out!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

fast acting

While I was enjoying a pint and quesadilla, Katrina gave me a pack (3) of fast acting fuses (5A).

From when we were trying to debug her dew heating gear. We blew up a bunch...

I'm set for a while.

Nice of her to remember. Thank you!

upgrading form

Scott, Tony, and I are upgrading the RASC Toronto Centre expenses form. The current version is pretty restrictive. I'm looking forward to enhancing it to make both audiences happy: the (new) treasurer; and the users.

Friday, November 19, 2010

nearby blackness

I've started to do some digging now, I'm curious, as to what the nearest black hole is.

After some quick research in, and then expanding outward with some Yahoo! searches, it looks like variable star V404 Cygni, aka GS 2023+338, or Nova Cygni 1989, is the closest candidate.

It's a mere 10 light years away.

Stone's throw!

Neat web site: Stardate's Black Hole Encyclopedia.

fetching case

Tomorrow, I'm going to drop by Perceptor. I'm looking forward to picking up, after the order processing time, and then another month wait on my part, the Orion padded case for the SCT 8" telescope (model #15191). And finally having a modern, easy-to-transport, compact case for the old Celestron.

The case is fully padded on all sides. It is made of heavy, water-resistant polyester/nylon. I like the little pocket on the side. This is gonna take up so much less space in the car than the old train truck case. And it's gonna offer so much more protection than nothing at all.

I talked Phil into going with me to Schomberg!

Is he going to bring his wallet?!

Terry's happy

Terry reported the receipt (and immediate installation) of this SkyTools3 software. He sounded, as much as one can, very happy in his morning email.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

black hole query

Donna asked me, before dinner on Tuesday, if I had heard about some recent news item about a black hole. Very close, the closest, or something to that effect.

She sounded a tad nervous.

I told her I hadn't heard anything special recently. Pointed out that black holes are common. Super-massive ones exist at the centre of galaxies, are the "engines" of the galaxy... Don't know if I allayed her concerns. Certainly did not answer her question directly.

Today I stumbled across an article at NASA. The gist of it was that the youngest black hole ever discovered was recently found. But it's over in galaxy Messier 100. Not exactly close.

While I was thinking of it, I checked for information on Cygnus X-1, essential the first black hole discovered. It's 6000 light years away. Practically in our backyard.

misguided lighting

I stumbled across an article in the Toronto Star, in the Greater Toronto section, front page. It was about the Light the Night program currently advocated by police and the hydro company (oh, big surprise there).

They are preaching the typical, shallow, misinformed doctrine that more light at night around one's house or apartment building or condo will make it safer. But they've clearly not done any research or looked at previous studies which are either inconclusive or show, in fact, no decrease in crime. Light will not magically reduce criminal activity.

They've clearly not received the message emerging from many new studies that expose the human health issues of light at night. Sleep in complete darkness. No mention of light at night on other animals, like birds.

But there was an additional little nugget revealed in the Star article that I had not considered. Cost issues for the less fortunate. It was shown that some chose not to replace or upgrade a burnt out bulb because they could not afford the additional utilities expense. Did the police representative or hydro employee offer support, not to mention acknowledgement, of this stumbling block? No. They ignored the financially challenged person. Light is not free.

Absolutely no mention of smart lighting alternatives including motion sensors. Yes, more expensive perhaps, until you consider they are not running 24/7/365.

Keep the night dark.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Moon halo (Unionville)

Fetched some things from my car. Surprisingly warm for November. Noticed Aldebaran to the south-east, punching through the cloudy haze. Another star, brighter, yellow, fairly high, stood due east (realised later it was Capella).

Took another look to the south. The Moon up high, Jupiter nearby.

Hey, there was a large halo around the gibbous Moon.

Monday, November 15, 2010

budget and report

I submitted both the RASC Toronto Centre information technology budget and (brief) year-in-review reports.

I thank Gilles, David, and Tony for their support.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

b-day mags

Received a couple of old National Geographics for my birthday.

  • Jul 2004, with an article called sun bursts on our "stormy star."
  • Dec 2009, with an article entitled Are We Alone on searching for other Earths.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Made some progress with the shed.

The shingles that Mom picked up from Habitat for Humanity Restore I installed.

After adjusting the door, cutting the long bolts, I added the door lock.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ST3P to Jason

Jason approached me at a recent RASC Toronto Centre meeting. He really wanted SkyTools3. As a budding astrophotographer, it seemed that the Pro version would be best.

We had one left in inventory.

I dropped the software package off to Charles at his work. I knew I could not make the RASC meeting.

Charles completed the transaction for us, delivering the planning software to Jason, collecting his money, and immediately giving the money to the new treasurer.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

trains and automobiles (Mississauga)

No planes. Well, I saw many. But I did not observe from.

During the ride from Union station via the GO train along the Milton line, I watched the crystal clear sky darken. As I stepped off the train at the Dixie station and turned west, I immediately saw crescent Moon, high but descending. Pale Earthshine.

A few moments later, now at the MiWay bus stop, I looked south, and spotted Jupiter, very blue-white compared to the airplane headlights, tangled in the hydro wires. We waited for 10 minutes for the bus. Meanwhile, I scanned the western horizon trying to pick up small points of light. But then I had no idea if any planets were over there. Wasn't Mars near Antares?

It was a short ride up Dixie and a very long wait on Eglinton for my next connection. I watched Jupiter climb higher into the sky as stars began the emerge. The stacked up planes beelined from the south then turned west. It was difficult to pick off constellations looking over the Canada Post gateway.

Later, Jupiter accompanied me as I drove from Mississauga. On blank, black stretches of highway, I'd steal glances out the front window, high, out the side window. It looked like a beautiful sky. Enjoy the occasional cutoff light fixtures along the way. The CAMI plant in Ingersol has the most horrible lighting.

Soon, I was southbound on Hwy 4. And could clearly seeing Orion kicking up over the horizon. Rigel was shimmering. Good transparency; bad seeing. That was unfortunate. But then, I wasn't planning to observe. I knew I'd be tired. And I really just wanted to visit Mom—and Nancy—and wind down.

Unpacking the car in Mom's driveway, between moments where the garage light sensor did not detect me, I took in the bright stars and asterisms, the Milky Way, against deep sky. "So dark out here." The Pleiades jumped, Auriga was high. Even the sky, north to London, looked good.

Let's see if I get lucky with more clear weather... Didn't think to bring my eyepieces.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

national strategy?

Seems that the RASC executive has been busy hammering out a new mission, new values, etc. and hatching a strategic plan for the society.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Stu approves

Stu sent this:
For what it' worth, I saw Council's handling of the ST3 purchase as a good example of how Council works effectively for the benefit of members (not always the experience in recreational groups like this). I thought it was an excellent decision, well handled, and appreciated being able to participate in the purchase.
Kinda makes it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

ST3 winding down

Received a replacement cheque from Stu for his SkyTools3 Standard Edition. He was one of the Original Purchasers. I was pleased with this on a karmic level, having accidently destroyed his first cheque to the RASC.

I connected with Jim at the meeting. He had cornered me after the first NOVA course but, unfortunately, I had not brought any of the SkyTools software with me. I was pleased with this, to successfully conclude the sale of a Standard Edition with him. I thanked him for his patience.

Another member also expressed an interest in the software, SE version. Cash sale. Excellent. This offset some of the unpleasantness of the evening.

I was able to hand off the money immediately to the Finance team (our new Treasurer, to be precise).

There should only be 2 or 3 copies of the software left in inventory. I hope this will make the Council happy.

dropped TSTM handout

As I reached the Ontario Science Centre auditorium for the RASC Toronto Centre meeting, I was hot. All the running around, helping Isaac.

Chatted with John B. Reminded him that through his creative accounting while handling the SkyTools3 sales in my absence, he ended up owing me $5! Suggested he buy me a beer sometime.

I rummaged in The Magic Bag to locate my eyeglasses case and cleaning cloth. When I suddenly stumbled across the photocopies of The Sky This Month November handout that I had made for the NOVA people. Shoot! I had totally forgotten about that! I felt betwixt and between. The meeting was about to start... I sat there for a moment, unable to formulate a plan.

When Charles took to the lectern, I resigned myself to dropping them off later. But then, a ray of sunshine. Charles said that the presentation wouldn't start for another 5 minutes. I jumped up and boogied down the upper bridge. Again!

The NOVA session was in full swing. I apologised and explained that I had the TSTM. People were pleased, despite my interruption. Turned on my heel and made the auditorium before the start of the talk. Now I was really hot.

helped Isaac

Popped into the NOVA session to quickly say hello? Ulterior motive was to ensure the Elmo projector had been delivered to the Gemini Room - East. It had. Good.

Isaac asked me if we had booked internet access. I said, we had. And that Doug had told me it was set up. He could not get his netbook to work...

I ran down the upper bridge to ask Doug for an update. He assured me it was working. In fact, he had tested it with a computer. I said I would revisit Gemini and test it, if necessary, with my netbook.

Isaac still was not connected when I returned. I asked if he had his network profile configured correctly. He didn't know so he let me take the helm. The config looked OK. But I saw the wireless was on. So to reduce issues, I turned it off. The hard line immediately started working. Whew!

Ciao! I zoomed back to the auditorium for the main meeting.

read FL evals

I finally had a chance to read the "course" evaluations for the First Light session. Diane brought them to the OSC again. This time, I was not bookended.

Some wanted the programme to run longer. A few did not like where it was located. Many liked the Stellarium portion. One remarked that more discipline was needed to curtailed overly long discussions. Overall, people seemed positive and thankful.

There were about 12 forms completed.

I'm still a little surprised that the organisers have not asked the mentors for feedback...

dark velvet (Toronto)

As I left for work, stepping outside, I noted the dark intense blue sky. Nearing the back corner of the house, I could see pale moonlight illuminating the way. From the back garden, I looked up to see a gibbous Moon, Aldebaran glowing orange, Orion canted to the right, Sirius burning bright. Beautiful sky. No time to play.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The witch didn't get elected. Whew!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

booked for Dec 8

A presenter was needed for the December 8 The Sky This Month mini-presentation to the RASC Toronto Centre at the Ontario Science Centre.

I volunteered.

Hopefully life will be back to normal by then...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

returned one

Popped into my local Canadian Tire on the way home from work. Returned the bad Celestron FirstScope. "What's wrong?" the clerk at the Customer Service counter asked. All the technical responses went through my head: primary mirror cannot be aligned; secondary mirror not squarely glued; chromatic colour at low power; coma at high power; cannot focus; cannot collimate with centering eyepiece or laser collimator... Nope. None of those will do.

"It doesn't work," I replied.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

asked again

I was asked by Paul Ma again. If I would like to deliver The Sky This Month presentation (at the RASC Toronto Centre meeting) in November. I replied immediately, "I can't." I want to; but I cannot.

Monday, October 18, 2010

how to collaborate

I'm actively looking for a tool to allow a number of the RASC Toronto Centre "staff" to better collaborate on a common document. Initially, I was drawn to Microsoft's Web Apps in SkyDrive. But the PowerPoint Web App is incredible limited.

I didn't think PPT-WA would be fully-featured! That it doesn't seem to let me add images or clipart, set slide footer content, and right-click on thumbnails in the navigator... well, that just doesn't seem right. I'm not surprised that animation and build actions are not available. I don't care about those. I don't need those gimicky features. I want basic functionality. I want symbolic fonts. I want to be able to paste text and either strip weird format as I'm pasting or after with a Clear option...

GoogleDocs looks to be the most promising. Fast. But users will still need an account.

I'm not prepared to / interested / compelled to build an internet-accessible SharePoint WSS server. Too bad.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

star test failed (Toronto)

I tried the FirstScope for the first time after the alignment with Guy's laser collimation tool. It was no better.

The 20mm eyepiece showed Jupiter as a small, bright, featureless disk. I could see 3 moons, 2 left and 1 right. There was slight colouring when off-axis in the eyepiece.

Tried the 4mm. Once again, difficult to focus. With the planet's disc sharp, there was ghosting off to one side, flaring. Diffraction rings inside the pale white flare. Very distracting. I could see a cloud band or two. It was then I noticed a faint moon close to the planet on the left side. So, considering the rotation of the field by a Newtonian, I was seeing Ganymede, Europa, Io, Jupiter, and Calliso...

I did not like the view. At all. I cannot give this telescope as a gift! It is a dud. I shall return it.

huge bright meteor (Toronto)

Just saw a huge, bright white meteor rapidly moving, from around the height of Jupiter, a bit left (or right, between Jupiter and the Moon), heading south, almost vertical. I lost it in the trees. It was very brilliant, much brighter than Jupiter!

quick CAO visit

Charles, Tony, and I headed to the Carr Astronomical Observatory primarily to examine and repair (if possible) the roll-off roof wheels and bearings. It had been reported that some stopped turning recently.

Tony picked me up just before 8:30 AM. We loaded his MVP with my 2 toolboxes, 3 ton jack, 2 ton jack, cordless drill, impact wrench, impact socket set, the Mother of All Breaker Bars, and other bits. Headed to Charles. He gave me a quick coffee from the Braun. I noted that he is a true amateur astronomer: he has telescope gear in his kitchen. After we transferred tools and parts (mine and Tony's) to the pickup truck, we were on our way.

We arrived the CAO at 11:30 or so. Unpacked everything in front of the Geoff Brown Observatory. Fired up the house. Quickly, we checked the wheels as we opened the GBO roof. All steel wheels were turning. Whew! Easy. Be home for dinner!

It was somewhat satisfying to learn we did not have a catastrophe on our hands. So we headed to the kitchen to enjoy our lunch. Made plans.

After removing all the J-hooks, marking each wheel's position, breaking the torque on all the axle pins, notching an old wooden post, we jacked up the west side of the roof. Pulled out one of the wheels from a centre truck. Two washers on the outside; three inside. We found the wheel had a pressed brass bushing with some mild scoring but no major damage. The centre pin axle looked fair with some scoring on the weight-bearing side.

Again, we were relieved. Nothing major. Nothing urgent. We proceeded with our plan to clean and lubricate the axles and washers with grease, shuffle the pins one position south, and take one or two wheels back to the city for replication or upgrading.

As we completed the work on the west side, I noted the time to Tony. He suggested that he and Charles could proceed with the roof repair while I could tackle other items on our short job-jar list.

I headed to the house with the new BenQ projector and installed it in the overhead shelf of the Great Room. Unfortunately, I found that the angle of the throw was even steeper than our old Panasonic. When I invited the guys to take a break, I got them to help me with an inverted test. I held the projector upside while Charles, using the remote, put the projector into ceiling mode. It would work well in this configuration.

Ralph phoned earlier looking for some paperwork. I located the requested membership forms in the library.

In the meantime, I swapped in the Panasonic for Ralph's upcoming event.

I reset the empty GBO mouse traps.

We found the recently repaired south doors had been closed in the wrong order. I reset them with Charles's help.

When I reported that it was 4:00 PM, Tony was surprised. We put the finishing touches on the roof, lubed and tightened the chain, quickly packed the truck, tidied the GBO, and locked everything up. Tony said, "the GBO is rolling again." Puny guy.

My car jacks came in handy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

test delayed

I was hoping to test the FirstScope tonight, after collimating it with Guy's laser tool, last Wednesday. But when I got outside, I discovered it was no longer clear. A bit earlier than the Clear Sky Chart predicted... Boo!

SkyNews arrived while away

I was at the Shannonville race track, teaching, when the Nov/Dec SkyNews issue arrived. Last issue of 2010. And a brief article about Arthur C. Clarke's 2010.


Looks like the magazine's 15th anniversary is coming up...

you say astrology, I say...

Caught a brief news item on 680 News radio. The reporter suggested going to the Ontario Science Centre to learn about science, physics, astrology, chemistry, etc. Um...

Friday, October 15, 2010

case is in

Perceptor called. The case is in!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

wheel problem

Dietmar and crew noticed an issue with the steel wheels of the GBO roof: some are not turning. Apparently it is stressing the motor. Reported the problem to Tony.

Someone somewhere found some photos of the wheel-rail configuration (before painting, centre-truck).

Tony is assembling a team to affect repair. He's invited me (and my 3 ton jack!). We'll need to jack the roof up to take the load off the wheels...

put handouts online

All is not lost. Already had it on my to-do to upload The Sky This Month calendar (PDF, 170 KB) to the RASC Toronto Centre web site. I also sent up the meeting handout (PDF, 1.9 MB). Which now means it can be viewed in glorious colour...


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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

presentation screw-up

I worked on the RASC Toronto Centre meeting presentation for naught.

Guy took Ralph's copy from the evening before and tweeked it, not knowing that I had changed it already, and not knowing that Ralph had brought mine on USB.

I worked on the RASC Toronto Centre handout for naught.

Ralph and Guy didn't think to distribute the handouts that I had worked on and Charles had photocopied.

I made extra copies of The Sky This Month calendar for the members for naught.

Paul didn't distribute them despite prompting me to make them.

No one saw the stacks sitting on the table in the middle of the stage...

Why do I bother?!

delivered NOVA 1

The first session of the New Observers to Visual Astronomy course went pretty well. Good crowd. Couple of very enthusiastic kids in the front row!

Used the new BenQ projector. Nice and bright. Quiet. Not crazy hot. A little surprised it didn't have auto-keystone. But it was easy to find in the menu. Nice remote.

It was awesome having Jason there to assist Diane and Leslie.

Only minor glitches: not enough of the Preparing for an Observing Session handouts. It seems there were not enough of the EU handouts. Ran a little slow in the first half.

Very thankful for the help carrying on my gear in and out of the Ontario Science Centre.

ST3 finally to François

I was able to, once and for all, deliver the SkyTools3 software to François. Whew. He visited the Ontario Science Centre early and I spotted him after completing my preparations for the NOVA course.

This chapter is concluded. All the original purchasers have the software now.

Mark commented

Mark responded to my City Observing Session report:
It was a very rewarding night for me at High Park. Not only did I get to see Uranus for the first time (I can check it off my to do list), but with help from Blake and his information gadgets, I was able to clearly see the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. At first it was subtle, but as jupiter rose in the sky and as the seeing improved, there were moments of very nice views of the GRS.

Peter commented

Peter replied to my High Park City Observing Report:
Nice report, Blake. I'll pass it on to the Parks and Rec people. The baseball season has ended and the lights on the baseball diamond should be out until the end of April.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

popped over to park (Toronto)

I was feeling pretty stressed at the prospect of sleeping in an alley... But I felt a strong pull to attend the RASC Toronto Centre City Observing Session at High Park. Mostly to support John. OK. And try out his Celestron 8x56 binos...


John asked me to submit a report to the Yahoo!Group listserv. Edited slightly for public consumption...


I arrived around 8 PM or 8:30. Found the baseball diamond/soccer pitch lights were out! Hurrah! John was already there with the society's loaner Edmund Scientific 6" reflector on equatorial mount and Celestron 8x56 binoculars. Joining him was Mark with his fork-mounted 8" Celestron go-to Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT). They were showing a visiting couple Jupiter and its four moons. I scared them off when the guy thought I was going to crash into his car.

I learned from John there were a few other walk-throughs before me.

We took a quick peek at the pale blue disk of Uranus and hoped to see its moons but that was crazy talk, with them all hovering around mag 13.

Jas and Steve arrived out of the blue. NOVA alumni, they said they regularly lurked on our web site and decided drive down from Yonge and Lawrence. Steve had his new and improved LightSwitch 6" SCT (LS-6). John, Mark, and I were mesmerised as it homed, levelled, took wide field photos, and aligned itself. Meanwhile, Steve grabbed some modern 2" eyepieces. He too then tagged the King of the Planets.

In the cool air, we chatted about Uranus's tilt and alignment of moons compared to the solar system plane, who had seen comet 103/P Hartley2 (unfortunately inaccessible to us behind trees), it's distance from Earth (0.1 astronomical units), how close it would get to the Sun (1.1 AU), current meteor showers, dew heating equipment, infinitely adjustable-height chairs, getting to know the sky, and the benefits of RASC membership.

Before it set, I viewed the half-lit Moon in John's binoculars. Very crisp, very three dimensional with the Earthshine easily visible. We viewed the Andromeda galaxy with binoculars and in the LS-6. We took in the double stars of Albireo, ε (epsilon) Lyrae 1 and 2 (a.k.a. Tim Horton), and β (beta) Lyrae in binos and the LS-6. We also put the LS-6 on Messier 11, the Wild Duck, and M45, the Pleiades. Sadly, could not find the comet in the Celestron binos.

We kept returning to Jupiter. Waiting the for Great Red Spot to emerge. It did not disappoint. Stunning when the seeing was good.

Everyone was cold. We packed up around 10:30 PM.


I didn't take anything. That was on purpose. I certainly couldn't afford the time to set up my regular SCT telescope. With nothing big erected, I could peel out quickly. Only wanted to do some binocular viewing. I did pull out the netbook (with red film) to look up the GRS crossing, using SkyTools3. That was helpful...


In the end, I was glad I went. It was a break, a distraction, for me. Change of pace.


No one had a green laser pointer... Made instructing/helping a challenge. Totally forgot that my telescopic pointer was in the Magic Bag.

Monday, October 11, 2010

NOVA starts this week

Preparing, I am, for the next NOVA course. Once again, I start off the astronomical visual observing course developed by the RASC and hosted by the OSC.

Doing all the typical updates to the presentation and handout. Made up a The Sky This Month calendar... Maybe I'll provide that to the main group too, since no one is doing a TSTM presentation...

Hartley spotted (Toronto)

After trying the binos and 76mm without success, I was ready to throw in the towel. But then Paul Ma. said he had spotted comet 103/P Hartley2 (from Unionville) in a big Dob at low power. Kicked myself for not setting up the 8" telescope in the garage a couple of nights back. But I've been distracted and stressed. Suddenly I remembered the other (rapid setup) 'scope nearby. And with 3.5" MCT at 40x, finally, I was able to pull out the extremely faint comet between star TYC 03706-0622 1 and TYC 03705-0098 1 in Perseus.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

no comet in binos (Toronto)

Tried to spot comet 103P/Hartley2 from the back yard with my crummy binoculars.

It's a little early in the evening for this... Early, because Perseus is still low in the sky. Behind trees and rooftops and hydro wires. And because everyone else in the house has their lights on!

I was looking in the right area. Hopped, with the 7x50s, from α (alpha) Persei (aka Mirphak) amidst the loose cluster, up to γ (gamma), and on to η (eta). Back down to γ. I knew the comet was almost in-line from γ through HIP 14392 and k Per.

Can see all the field stars. Switched to averted vision... Nothing. Pretty sure I didn't see anything.


Tried to split Albireo with the binos. No joy.

Couldn't remember the name of the bright star beside Altair (oh, right, Tarazed). I knew it wasn't Sadr—that's the middle star in Cygnus.

Split ο (omicron) in Cygnus with the binoculars. Bit of colour...

Split ε (epsilon) in Lyra.

Leaned between the fence and wall to steady the view of Jupiter. Could see a moon to the left (Callisto) and two to the right (Ganymede way out, Io and Europa at 1 arc-minute apart were merged to me).

All hand-held. Huh. The $50 binos are working OK tonight.

sexy rocket

The Virgin Galactic VSS Enterprise was let loose yesterday!

We're a little bit closer to commercial space flight...

That is one beautiful space ship.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Soyuz docks

I watched some of the launch and docking of the new digital Soyuz TMA-01M.

Looks like everything went really well!

new foam for Questar

When I first borrowed the Questar, I found little green bits and dust inside the case. The old foam padding was disintegrating.

Today I swapped the old stuff out for some spare grey 3/8" thick closed cell foam. I cut one large piece that nicely fits inside the case and wraps around the 'scope proper.

daytime crescents (Toronto)

From the sidewalk of Evelyn Crescent (for the last time), I viewed Venus and the Moon, as they displayed their thin crescents.

First scanned with my rickety hand-held Bushnell binoculars. Then, knowing the general area, I found them in the blue sky.


Found the focusing wobbly. A screw had backed out. Huh.

Geoff likes the FunScope

Geoff has one of these mini-Dobsonian 76mm reflectors. He likes it!
I'm finding the 76-mm is living up to its name "FunScope"! For 50 bucks it's an amazing little telescope. With a 15x minimum power I'm finding I hardly even use the red-dot finder...I just sweep until I find what I'm looking for. Mostly last night I was observing sitting slumped down in a garden chair with the mini-Dob mount resting on my chest!
He was using it to view comet Hartley 2! He also reported M33 obvious in it. Wow.


Geoff confirmed he has the Orion FunScope. Comes with red-dot finder, 20mm, and 10mm eyepieces, which he suspects are Kellners.

Friday, October 08, 2010

telephone binocular support

Oh oh. Kiron's first impression of the "exchange" binoculars recently received from Nikon is not positive. He wondered if I could take a look.

I explained that I was up to the eyeballs in a home search so couldn't really come out and play. I so want to partake of these dark skies but know I wouldn't be able to enjoy them.

Over the phone, I suggested he visit John, so to conduct a side-by-side comparison of his binos to John's Celestrons.

I also suggested he carefully inspect the objectives for marks, the oculars for eyelash oil, double-check the documentation, review the focusing and ocular controls, set them outside to cool to ambient temperature, avoid dew, and turn them upside-down!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

little better

Tried to collimate the 76mm Firstscope reflector.

Removed the primary mirror. Made a 76mm diameter circle. Punched a hole in the centre. Marked the mirror. Reassembled. Someone suggested that if the back screw holes were slotted, you could tilt the primary.

The mirror is fairly thick glass. About 7 or 8 mm.

The secondary mirror appears to have been glued to the holder slightly rotated. Does this affect performance? There are 3 long screws that go through the vane into the mirror mount. Between the vane and mount is a small rubber grommet. It appears that the 3 screws can be loosened and tigthened to change the tilt.

The secondary vane screws (with a locking nut) into a tall nut (both 7mm) which holds one side of the focuser. Remounting is a challenge. It's easier to lock the secondary vane to the big nut, then tighten down the big nut with the (Phillips) screw atop the focuser.

Never could see the entire primary through the pinhole collimator. Is this critical?

With the dot on the mirror, I believe I was able to finally get the optical path collimated. And I believe the star and planet images have improved. Particularly when objects are kept in the centre of the field. My left eye had something in it that wouldn't clear; I just can't see (perceive) as well with my right eye.

tried good eyepieces

I tried some of my regular eyepieces in the Firstscope. The Celestron 26mm Plössl, the Meade 18mm orthoscopic, and the Tele Vue 9mm Type 6. I didn't think the view looked any better at all.

Oops. I had not attempted collimation...

terms of endearment

So? What do you call your binoculars, for short?

I don't recall now, when I first heard the term, but it is regularly used by the RASC Toronto Centre peeps I hang around: binos.

While at the conference for provincial park staff, I heard "bins" for the first time.

Today, I stumbled across a new one: bincies.

H and SR

Trying to figure out what the letters mean on the Firstscope H20mm and SR4mm eyepieces. Found some "opinions" over at Astronomy magazine's forums...

H might mean Huygens or Huyghenian.

SR? Symmetrical Ramsden? Confirmed the 35° AFOV. Also learned that it has 2mm eye relief!


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

first light for Firstscope (Toronto)

Noticed a break in the clouds. During new Moon! Incredible. The swirling grey vortex over Toronto has abated. For now.

Took the Celestron Firstscope, and 2 eyepieces, out to the picnic table to cool. I wondered how thick the mirror was in this thing...

Scouted an observing location. The best was really in the middle of Diane and Mark's driveway but then I'd need a table and chair. Both of which were buried at the back of my garage. Whose access was impeded by battery power tanks, bicycles, empties, oil, and other bits. I stood, key in lock for moment, debating internally whether to fetch them. But conceded that this was, in part, to test the rapid speed of impulsive observing, with a grab-and-go telescope. So, no tables, chairs, power cords, batteries, computers, polar alignment, etc. Firstscope on picnic table. C'est tout.

About 30 minutes later, I propped it up on the BBQ (don't worry, cold, just to use as the stand), out of the glare of the streetlight, and took a look at Jupiter. Popped in the lower power, 20mm, eyepiece.

Immediately, I noticed colour on the planet. Fringing blue and red on the bright disk. Like a damned cheapo, department store refractor with plastic oculars! Then I tried to focus and I couldn't get good, precise focus. The damn thing needs collimation! Sheesh. That said, I could see clearly the 4 Galilean moons, 2 abreast. Well, at least in that respect, it works.

Put in the high power, 4mm, eyepiece. There was non-uniform fogging on the planet, again, illustrating the collimation problem. But then, I could see cloud bands on the surface of the gas giant. That surprised me a little.

After I loosened the big knob, I found both the altitude and azimuth motions smooth. The focuser was a tiny bit stiff. I did not detect any significant image shift when transitioning from in to out focus.

I checked the secondary mirror. There are 3 screws. Perhaps they can be adjusted. The secondary itself is held in place by a single bar. It looks like too can be adjusted, for elevation and tilt (just like an old Edmund Scientific!). The primary mirror might be adjustable—there are 3 screws, outside, near the back of the main tube. The centre of the mirror is not marked, however...

Considered Mizar and Alcor but quickly realised they were low, behind the neighbours to the north.

Considered Albireo. It was well-placed. I moved the feather-weight 'scope to the table top. It was too high, if I was going to sit on the bench. Could not spin it, like the Questar does within its fork mount. I moved the tiny reflector to the bench itself. This would work.

Without a finder scope, it proved challenging to find targets. Jupiter was easy. I just eyeballed it and did a bit of scanning. That I was now over top the OTA, not behind it, I had a harder time. In the end, I could not find the colourful double star. I turned to Vega with the intention of checking the Double Double. Again, it took a bit of effort but I finally found the bright blue white lucida star. At low power, I just needed to shift the field (100.0 minutes of arc) only slightly to spot the wide (faint) pair. They were nicely separated at the low magnification (15x).

Tried the highest power (75x, 26.4'), to see if I could resolve all four stars. No joy. Probably the collimation was interfering again. And the stooped angle I was viewing at. The terrible short eye relief of the 4mm is a problem too. Out of habit, I had taken off my eyeglasses; I put them on again to test the view. I could not see the field stop with my goggles on.

Considered trying "real" eyepieces in the little 'scope but I couldn't remember exactly where they were. I didn't want to fiddle. Again, this was partly of test of speed. Certainly the Firstscope is tough to beat in terms of setup (and tear down) time—you just need to consider cooling. I was surprised by the poor optical performance. But then, it is a golden rule, n'est pas, of reflectors, that before every session you collimate?!

I'll try tuning this thing, before round 2. Maybe pop on my old 6x30 finder scope. Or make a simple pinhole alignment jig. And I must try my regular oculars...

Maybe this one is a lemon...

why legs?

Phil made a good point. If the alt-az tracking capabilities of an ETX can keep an object in the field, why bother with legs?

True, if you're not doing photographer, you don't need highly accurate tracking.

One less thing (er, 3 fewer things—4 things! including the huge, massive counterweight) to carry...

found missing cheque

Oops. I laundered one of the SkyTools3 cheques...

like a Questar

I was surfing around Weasner's incredible Meade ETX site.

In the tripod section, I stumbled across a brief article by John H. The included image made my day.

This proves that the 125 mm 'scope can be mounted on a table top, in an equatorial orientation, just like the old Questar 3.5". How about that.