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!