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 Arg├╝elles'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 (http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/s33/) 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 http://jdso.org/ 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 (http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/binary-stars-uncensored/). 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 wikipedia.org, 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 wikipedia.org 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.