Friday, April 30, 2010

perk from OSC

In today's mail, there was an envelope from the Ontario Science Centre. It included a little thank-you perk. This was for volunteering at a recent astronomy event. That was nice of them!

I should go see the Hubble flick before it ends...

It runs into May, thankfully.

CSC wins award!

Heard through the grapevine that the Astronomical Society of the Pacific issued the Amateur Achievement Award to the Clear Sky Chart team! Woo hoo. Congratulations Allan and Attilla.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

a shelf

A significant event happened today. In my garage. My small garage. The very small garage I sorta co-share with the top floor housemates. The garage where I need space left to park a car. Where I store parts for said car (and 2 others, nay, 3 others). Car parts strewn about. Well, not strewn. But not tidy either. The lots of car parts, spares, supplies, fluids, etc.

Today, as I tidied up, shuttled empties into the recycling stream, aggregated some camping gear, hung more items from the rafters—do not think I was performing The Spring Cleaning, no, no—I had a curious thought. A thought that, as I thought it, I thought (weird, eh, a thought atop a thought?) that this is a first. This is the first time I formally thought this. It occurred to me that I've not got a designated, allocated spot for astronomy stuff! And I need one. Badly.

I have a lot of stuff in the garage, fighting for space, that is regularly required for astronomy. There's a lot of astrogear here. Tripods, mount, Astronomy Box β, dew shield, garden cart (fortunately folded in half), dew heaters. Some of these doodads are bulky and/or large (e.g. in the both category: the adjustable height astronomy chair). Every time I unload from an astroevent, I just put stuff wherever there was a spot or space or slot... Which sometimes proves challenging leading up to the next event when I can't remember where I put it!

And serendipitously, there, before me, was half a shelf, empty. Empty space. Enough space for a few things. Ah, to get things off the floor. A shelf for something other than car parts. Enough space for a mount, a box, a Telrad, a box of LED lights. Not a bearing, spark plugs, wiring harness, stove-pipped tyres, brake pads. Winds of change.

Today, in my garage, I made space on a shelf for astronomy gear.

collimated Centre Dob

For the RASC Toronto Centre's loan program 8" Dobsonian, I made a "collimation cap" with a film canister (weird, I have lots of these "antiques"). Popped it in the eyepiece tube. And saw it was off a little (explains my less than good views). The secondary was OK but the primary was out.

I looked at the far end. Was not sure how to adjust the Philips and hex head screws at the main mirror (who's the goof who designed it such that you need 2 completely different drivers?!). Downloaded and printed the Sky-Watcher docs. The hex heads are called the "locks." In fact, they push the mirror "in" (toward the secondary); while the Philips screws pull the mirror out. Tried to collimate but it didn't seem to be working.

I noted that there were two rubber grommets on 2 of the Philips and none on the last one. I also noted that the hex head grubs were nearly at their maximum extension (they're only a 1/4 inch long). Could they fall out?! It seemed that if there weren't 2 grommets then the mirror cell would be closer to the back plate and the grubs wouldn't extend so far. I removed one of the double grommets and transfered one to the empty spot. Then completed the collimation. Nearly perfect.

Wondered if the horizon-to-horizon blue sky would last...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

big 20

Happy Birthday Hubble Space Telescope!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

pulled rip cord

Sent Tony a message with the result of my laboured decision: I am not going to go to the CAO this weekend, to help at the spring season-opener work party.

I felt a little bad. It sounds like a big one, with lots to do. Some of which are "in my department." For example, plans are afoot to install 3 more security cameras and drop the respective data/power cables.

But, with the Ottawa TANDBERG gig starting on Monday, my commitment to this new client, and the need to set up the classroom the day before, I just can't see how to make it work.

This decision also means I won't be at the CAO to capture/help with the Terpsichore occultation. But it looks like Tom and Denis have it covered...

Monday, April 19, 2010

gift of space

I bought Mom a birthday gift magazine subscription to SkyNews. She reported receiving her first copy today (the May/Jun issue).

She was intrigued by the cover story on binoculars. I think she had never really considered using her binos for observing.

Friday, April 16, 2010

to the DDO (Richmond Hill)

Kiron and I went to the DDO. He really wanted to go to this members-only event, having just officially joined the RASC Toronto Centre. He also wanted to learn where the place was.

I was not convinced we were going to be able to see anything even with our ex-meteorologist Stu making the GO call. Sure enough, we got socked in shortly after arrival!

Still, it was good to visit with the small gathering of members. It was instructive for Kiron who had never been to the observatory. It also reminded him to bring a sweater! And we had a gastronomical gathering with the whole crew. So we salvaged the evening.

I saw the 2.5 day old Moon only briefly through my tripod-mounted binoculars...


I had assumed we would not have good conditions. Therefore, I chose not to take my SCT. Too many bits and too laborious to set up. Fortunately, I had the Centre's 8" Dob. That's what we took. Easy to transport. Quick to set up and tear down. For what it was worth...


Loaned Kiron my SkyNews mag, the May/Jun 2010 issue. He's binocular shopping so it might prove very helpful...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

at long last

A small envelope showed up in the mailbox this week. It contained a fairly complete set of small "tea cards." The Red Rose tea card series. Purchased at a decent price from a nice person from Winnipeg on eBay. So, at long last, I can complete The Space Age book!

Only took me 42 years!


I began collecting cards in 1969 and 1970.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

old data

Guy and I debriefed after the NOVA course. When the subject turned to the Chicago asteroid occultation, he explained that the star chart data is increasingly old. We need a new survey so to get updated proper motions for stars. Still, it's better than pre-Hipparcos. At any rate, this might account for some of the increasing number of misses.

Hopefully, Gaia will launch next summer...

He has yet to analyse the light curves in his video recording.

25 feet

Thanks to Jason, I finally have a roll of deep red stage light gel! Specifically, Lee Filters type 026. The roll is 25 feet long and 4 feet wide.

I wanted to obtain a large quantity at a good price as a group buy for RASC members. We'll be able to use this for monitors, laptops, camera displays, phone displays, flashlights, etc.

Monday, April 12, 2010

mag limit life list

Added a new page to my companion site: magnitude limits life-list. Listed about a dozen historical records. Shows my career magnitude limits, noting location, equipment used, etc. I will continue to update to keep track of the sky darkness conditions I observe.

meteor (Union)

Travelling east-north-east. Started at almost zenith. Down, left of Corona Borealis, into Hercules. Whitish, bit of yellow. Bright. Long, quite long.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

briefly, a miss (Union)

I recorded an "indefinite miss" of the occultation by (334) Chicago.

mag limit test (Union)

Did a naked eye mag limit test in Gemini. Sketched the view.

Pollux is the bright star on the top-left; Castor is top-right. The star at the arrowhead is either b or 63 Gem, both of which are around mag 5.0. The star between κ (kappa) Gem at the bottom-left and Pollux is c Gem, mag 5.3!

I also noted the conditions: 51%; 5.3°C.

skin added

Added more siding to Mom's observatory (outhouse) shed structure thing.

Worked on the door some more.

This completes the siding. Well. 99% of it. There are some little bits I'll need to do.

The ice/water barrier stuff started to detach. I removed it.

Friday, April 09, 2010

scattered cloud

The Toronto Clear Sky Chart hinted that it might clear before midnight. As I returned home from Mackenzie's, certainly I saw scattered cloud cover. I even saw Castor, Pollux, Mars, Procyon, and a handful of other stars. But, at this stage, I'm not about to observe... [ed: Corrected typo on 9 Nov '18.]


Learned of the recent partnership between Florida Power & Light and NASA. FPL set up a 10 megawatt array farm which will power 1100 homes. I gather they installed it on NASA land. This makes Florida #2 for using solar energy. So, three cheers. I hope NASA will install similar arrays atop all their buildings, warehouses, etc.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

tried to help

As I arrived at the Ontario Science Centre last night and parked, I heard firetrucks. I assumed there had been yet another car crash. Stupid car drivers unable to drive in wet weather... Then as I approached the front doors, my spider sense started going. Why are there a bunch of people standing outside? Why are the firetrucks getting louder? Why are Xenon lights blinking all about the OSC building. Ah. There's a fire alarm in the OSC! Oh oh.

I walked into the foyer and saw NOVA people, as well as Isaac, the evening's instructor, milling about. Security was not letting us go further into the building. Or the fire doors throughout the building, including the bridge, were locked. So, we waited around. After a few moments, the alarm was cleared.

First thing I looked for in the Studio 2 was the Elmo. Not there. Not again! That's when I noticed Leslie talking to Isaac about it. She had already discovered that there was no internet access and no 3D projector. It was around then the fire alarm went off again! Oh boy. This is gonna get interesting...

I suggested to Leslie that she think about contigency plans. She had already been on the site for a while and it had already occurred to her as the first alarm was going that we might need to scratch the NOVA lesson. It was then we discovered that this alarm was local. Only in the studios; not in the entire facility, not in the auditorium (where people were beginning to assemble for the RASC TC meeting).

I called Security. She met us outside the studios a few moments later. She was as surprised as we were. But then dropped the bomb. This system was not part of the "main" system she has access to and just reset with the fire staff. She said that only the Facilities staff could adjust this system and they were not due until 9 PM. We asked if another room could be used. There was no available space. That sealed it.

Leslie, Diane, and I agreed to cancel the evening's lesson. Or rather, postpone it. Shifting all the remaining lessons down. We invited the NOVA people to the main meeting. At least they could make use of their evening, still enjoy some astronomical discussion. And the silver lining is that we can try again for the Elmo.

April 11 occultation

The occultation of mag 12.3 star 2UCAC 39101067 (in Taurus) by asteroid (334) Chicago is coming up—Sunday evening. Rank is fairly high (85). And it's going to happen over south-western Ontario. Mom's house is 40 km from the centre line!

So, I'm going to visit family for the weekend. Do some more work on her observatory. And make a point of using her 'scope, the old Edmund Newtonian. Hopefully, I'll not have any trouble with the eyepieces. Need to remember to take dew heaters...

Starting to watch the weather, both the Environment Canada London page and the Clear Sky Chart for Fingal. It's been grim the last few days. Looks like it is improving for the weekend. But will it be good enough?

Guy will be trying for this one too. Although he's going to set up to the east, between me and Toronto.

Started my preparations using Steve Preston's event page. Made custom finder charts for Newtonian and Telrad setup using Stellarium. Some time ago I had added the asteroid data using JPL's SSD.

STS and ISS in free drift

The space shuttle docked with the space station early this morning, after the belly photo op. Cake-walk for the CDR and PLT despite non-functional Ku-band system.

Briefly I considered staying up to watch but I knew it was going to be late... Docking occurred around 3 AM. Hatch opening was around 4 AM.

This is a historic event. With hatch opening, for the first time, four female astronauts are in space at the same time.

Monday, April 05, 2010

web & mail

Another round of instant messaging with tech support at HostPapa. Sebastian convinced me that it was really nothing at their end. Yes, they did change the IP. They do that once in a while. It should not happen regularly. But he insisted that the nameserver information was not set. He could not explain why things worked for 1 month then stopped, coincidentally, when they changed the IP.

I was so exasperated. I asked Gilles from some guidance. He didn't know why it would work then not work. Tony suggested I reach out to Denis. Didn't hear back.

I went back to Dave at St Marys. Reiterated that it was a web problem we were having and that I didn't want to mess with the email piece. He too was exasperated. He switched the nameservers such that everything, web and email, were now up to us to manage. Damn it.

We had considered this. It might offer more spam control. It would let us create (and tear down) addresses as we see fit. I'm just less comfortable with everything on one box. Too late now. Dave had flicked the switch. I spent an hour setting up all the forwards.

And stumbled across more off-the-beaten track pages that needed updating.

Still, in the end, I do not have a satisfactory explanation of why it worked for one month. It doesn't make sense.

Any way. The site's back up. That's the important part.

clean launch

Watched the STS 131 launch via Slightly ahead of the NASA TV feed. The last night launch.

Saw that Katrina was online.

Smooth countdown. Bravo. It was a little scary with the SRO drop-out though.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


True story: A friend was reading a book. Someone walked up to them and said, "What are you doing?" Friend said, simply, they were reading a book. The stranger asked, "What do you want to do that for?!"


I'm definitely in that grey area between knowing and not knowing. I don't know what I don't know. I'm confused, anxious, bewildered, overwhelmed. Particularly about double stars. So I'm trying to read as much about double and multiple stars as possible. I have 2 books on the go.

Also, I reading the little tiny book I found in the RASC Toronto Centre library on the Moon (and Venus and Mar) by Rükl. I know, I know. I should have my head examined.

And I have books recently added to my library I have to get through.

Lots of readin' to do. Lots o' learnin'.


I added a new section to the off-site companion site. It itemises books I want to read and I've read (that are not in my personal collection).

database improvements

Helped Ralph today with improvements to the RASC Toronto Centre membership database. Access 2007, keyboard shortcuts, input masks, importing CSV data, and append queries.

site down

Charles sent an email early this morning. The RASC Toronto Centre web site was down. Great. That's just great. We chose HostPapa to avoid this crap.

If I'm doing my math right, 99.9% up time means that we should be down for about 8 hours out of a year...

Got a human on the online support chat but he started giving incorrect advice and recommendations. However, I learned from him that our server space is allocated to a new IP address. Why? I don't know why. But it's caused the DNS system to go all screwy. Pointing to the wrong server.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

ISS to 2020

ISS has been extended to 2020. "The doors are open." NASA and its international partners are offering a platform to government, commercial, and not-for-profit experiments.

It's pretty cool that a non-profit or high school could conduct a lab in space for 30 days for $25 000.