Monday, January 31, 2011

generator research

Reviewed the on-site document, did some web searching, and phoned a local shop in Thornbury for some information on the electric generator. Updated my notes. I'm planning an oil and filter change in the spring. I learned we need to adjust the valves.

thick cardboard

For the custom C8 focus-mask, I was thinking I'd use some cardboard from the back of a notepad. But that stuff is usually about 1 mm thick. It would work but it wasn't quite what I was after. Not quite sturdy enough.

Today, I stumbled across a thick sheet of cardboard in a random pile of paperwork. Wondered where it came from. A calendar? A photograph?

Anyway, at a thickness of 2 mm, it would be perfect for the focus-mask plate.

sun ring (Blue Mountains)

While walking the grounds of the CAO, checking the exteriors of the house, garage, observatories, and shed for damage, pacing out new driveways and podlots, I kept glancing at the sky. Cold conditions like this might produce sun dogs.

In fact, I could faintly see an entire parahelic circle around the Sun. Very nice.

Occasionally, as the high frozen clouds would drift, one of the pale sun dogs would brighten.

It looked better behind my sunglasses. Which was part of the reason I didn't try to photograph it.

tested Rocket Hub

Brought the evaluation unit up to the observatory. The intent was to perform testing of signal quality and speed. We need to know our options when choosing a new internet service provider. The installation was a little perturbing, not for the meek, but in relatively short order, I got it running. I hung the living room computer off Rocket Hub via the very-hard-to-find ethernet port and the netbook via integrated wifi. The link was made by 3G+. HSPA network connection. So that was good news. However I was surprised by the frequency of drops in signal. I thought it would be much faster and very stable. I did side-by-side speed tests with our current wireless provider (microwave) and the Rogers box. Also, I experienced a bit of sticker shock. Is it really $400 a month?

sun dog (Blue Mountains)

Spotted a sun dog, to the right of Sol, while at the kitchen sink doing some dishes. It varied in brightness, getting fairly bright. Not however bright enough to show in a photo.

weather check

I checked the current conditions on the Davis console.
  • 10-minute average wind speed: 3 km/h
  • wind out of the: NE
  • air temperature: -18.2°C
  • wind chill: -21
  • barometer: flat
  • humidity: 88%

Saturn, ξ UMa, and ISS at last (Blue Mountains)

3:49 AM. Alarm went off. Ugh. Looked out the north bedroom window and saw stars. Was feeling really tired. Thought about whether I really wanted to do this or not. But then I remembered Saturn.

I've come all this way! I better try!

Good morning.

4:01. Started voice recording.

Wasn't sure if the weather server uploading was working or not so I read the weather station console directly. The temperature was -17.8°C with a wind chill of -23. The wind direction was east at 10 km; the 10 minute average was 6. The air pressure was still very high 1034.1 mbars and rising.

Filled the handwarmer and almost immediately it overflowed. Old fluid? Wiped it down. Lit it and it started warming up as per normal. Put it in the breast pocket of the winter coat. A couple of minutes later, it did not seem warm. I felt inside my pocket. Seemed damp? The handwarmer was horizontal. It was not generating heat. I wondered if it flooded itself again. Stupidly, I immediately tried to light it and whole thing went up, with flame around my hand, the warmer, the red bag it was still in. I dropped it in the sink and threw the wash cloth on it. It still was burning. Sheesh. Not good. Singed the bag! Almost lit myself on fire in the early morning as well. That's one way to get the juices going!

Grabbed one of my reusable chemical handwarmers instead. Tried not to trigger it.

4:18. In the GBO. Reasonably good skies. Some cloud on the horizon, all around.

Powered stuff up. Left a lot of things on standby in hopes of clear skies! It didn't take long to get going.

I thought I felt some crystals or flakes on my face on the walk over. Couldn't see anything. I needed to check the conditions, see if it was precipitating. Didn't want snow on the corrector...

Since the local weather page was still not updating, I checked the Collingwood report by Environment Canada. There was a note that said the conditions were not observed. Guess the weather human was still in bed. "Flurries ending early this evening. Cloudy periods with a 30% chance of flurries, becoming clear overnight. Wind north-west 20 km/h becoming light early."

The wind up here was a completely different direction. Weird.

Popped outside to read the sky. Looked good. Didn't feel or see snow. Thought that a flashlight or laser would be handy for testing that but didn't have anything handy.

Opened the roof. It started correctly and ran perfectly. No belt issues, no hopping. Drew the roof closed slightly again from the full open position.

4:32. Considered an email to the Yahoo!Group to tell them to "Get out of bed." That would have been a little harsh first thing Monday... Instead, I said, "Saturn or bust!"

Oh. Just remembered a neat setting I could use in SkyTools3 Pro. Adjusted the beginning and ending times so to further restrict the observing list suggestions given that much of the night was gone. While still in my custom Winter list of Turn Left at Orion, the suggestions offered by ST3 totalled 7, including the Clown Face. Ha! And 6 of them I had already seen. No matter, I headed out to the telescope to view Saturn.

4:40. Wow! Saturn was fantastic. That was despite some Celestron 14" telescope cooling effects. The view was shimmering a bit. But when steady, with the Tele Vue Panoptic 27mm ocular, I could see variations on the surface, hints of cloud bands, bright on the top edge. I don't think I saw the big white storm. When the view was good, the clouds on Saturn looked consistent and even. I think I saw the Cassini Division in the rings. The shadow of the rings was very easy to spot.

It was good to see the rings again at a steep angle. It's been a while. Very nice. Worth getting up early for. Worth the drive.

Very faint point to the right of Saturn, or the rings rather, about 1 ring-width away, a bit less than that. Two bright points to the left in-line. A "winger" further beyond the two, above the plane. I suspected that was Titan.

Checked the moons configuration in ST3. Ensured I had the proper orientation. The right moon was Dione; the left, inner most object, ah, it was Titan. About 3 or 4 ring widths away. To the left of Titan, it was not a moon; it was a double star (primary 8.2, secondary 9.7 magnitudes). The "winger" was a star as well (8.3 mag). Enceladus was in the foreground over the planet. Tethys, Mimas, and Rhea were near the disk of the planet. And probably lost in the glare.

4:52. I couldn't see them naked eye but I knew there were clouds up there. Saturn was fading in and out.

Considered trying to split the double star. The pair was separated by 1.7 seconds of arc. I did not observe this double; I was more interested in the sixth planet.

4:53. Hey! I was able to see Rhea with the 27mm ocular. Even though it was magnitude 9.2, I had to wait for good seeing to tag it. Averted vision helped. Staring right in the middle of Saturn made it easier to see the moon. It seemed a different distance than what ST3 was showing, it seemed tighter.

[ed: ST3 said that it was 6" from the disk of the planet.]

I did see Iapetus, mag 9.2, well beyond Dione. It was above the ring plane. It formed an equilateral triangle with a 12.2 and 12.6 star.

Put in the Tele Vue Radian 18mm eyepiece but the view degraded.

Couldn't see the Direction Indicator marker in the Context Viewer of ST3. I double-checked the settings in the View Controls and the Context Viewer Properties tab. It was already on! I changed it to the horizon mode and then back to equatorial mode. Put it into red light mode. Changed the colours. No joy. Weird... I zoomed out enough such that I could see the FOV circle and the associated West pivot handle.

I was able to verify that west was left, in the direction of Titan, which made sense as I was looking through the telescope top-down.

5:06. The mount went into the meridian dead zone just as I was trying to pan with the joystick. Heard the motor note change. I flipped, choosing a target in Leo.

5:21. The view seemed off... It was steady or steadier: that's seeing. But it was not as bright: transparency. It must have been high thin cloud.

Viewed ξ (xi) Ursae Majoris aka Alula Australis aka Struve 1529. It is supposed to be a fast moving binary star system. A tight double. Almost equal in brightness. Could see the split in the 27mm (at 145 power); but was easier in the 18mm (at 217x). They were a straw yellow colour, identical in colour. ST3 said they were separated by 1.61" (as of this month, it seemed), mag 4.39 and 4.9 with a period of 59.9 years (in a "definitive orbit"). ST3 reported another number, "a" and that it equally 2.54 arc-seconds. I wondered what "a" meant. In SSD, that means the semi-major axis. Or is that a reference to a planet. It was a triple system but the C star was mag 15.

[ed: Another showcase pair recommendation by Haas: "the fastest easy one." Yellow-white. 1.7" in 2004.]

I was surprised where ξ was in the sky, so far below the Big Dipper, on the way to Leo. That put it very near the constellation Leo Minor. It must be one of the back feet of The Great Bear, along with Alula Borealis.

So, the thing to do would be to make measurements of this. I didn't bring any of my measuring equipment. But part of the exercise was to get a sense of where it was in the sky. It will be available into the spring. Hopefully, I'll be able to document it from home as well as the CAO.

ST3 recommended using the Erfle 32 eyepiece with the 4x Barlow, which would turn it into an 8mm view, just under 500x. That would be a lot of glass.

The ST3 observing list suggested going for the White Eyed Pea nebula. Ha ha. What a name. But it was in Hercules and I did not want to reorient for the meridian again. Noticed all the Virgo galaxies in the area...

Hold the phone! Suddenly I remembered that there was a flyover of the International Space Station coming up, due at 6:12! I wanted to try to view it in the telescope. I wasn't planning to record it. A bother to setup. And, again, I did not have a dew heater for the Tele Vue refractor.

I double-checked the details in Heavens Above. The ISS would be coming out of the north-west.

5:44. I downloaded the orbital elements into TheSky6. It said 7 items were imported. I tried plotting the information but weird things happened in TS6. I think the plot feature was trying to show all 7 of the items and one or two of them caused strange lines to be drawn on and dots to fly across the screen.

I tried searching for the ISS by keywords, like Zarya. It didn't work! Weird. Thought I had done that before. I used the browsing feature of the search tool. Ah, there it is. It's kinda funny to find it listed in the solar system category. I guess technically it is part of the solar system. I saw various elements like the Soyuz and TMA craft. I chose the Zarya from the list.

5:49. Looked at Saturn again before slewing away. It was really dim. I wondered if the corrector was dewed up. Er, frosted up.

I checked the corrector plate and saw there was something on it. I think a little bit of frost. Just the beginning telltales. Took the 120 volt hair dryer out.

5:56. The corrector was nice and clear again. The hair dryer worked well. I used the red LED built into the paddle to shed light on the work site.

My first palmtop alarm triggered.

I shut down and restarted ST6. I did the plot feature again and saw the ISS below the horizon in the west. It seemed that it would rise over the horizon in the area of Cancer.

Tried another quick pick at Saturn but the view was very poor. Which I suppose was good. Otherwise it would have distracted me.

My second palmtop alarm triggered.

6:01. Put in the lowest power eyepiece, the Tele Vue 55mm Plössl (71x and 42" field). And targetted the middle of Cancer to reduce the catch-up action.

Off in the east, I noticed a bright region going up high in the sky. Was that cloud and reflected light from the ski slopes? Or can one see zodiacal light this time of year? Hmm. I think the band was sloping to the left. That can't be right for zodiacal light.

It looked rather cloudy everywhere. All around.

Found the moving bullet in TS6 just below the horizon. Started the tracking mode and headed to the observatory. As I looked in the eyepiece, I couldn't see anything. It was a dark circle. I waited for a moment. I should have seen stars drifting by. But then, initially, I was well below the 2 air mass threshold. I continue watching, occasionally shifting the step stool so to stay close to the eyepiece. Oh! There's one. I saw a star zip through the field. Good. That was a good sign. It meant the mount was working at a fast rate. Hopefully this faster rate would be OK despite the temperature conditions and corresponding torque loads. I scanned the field of view looking for something unusual. Nothing. Just the odd star going by. I had no idea if I was on target.

And then, something, something different caught my eye. There in the centre of the field was a dull point. Now many stars were visible, moving together. But this object dead centre wasn't moving. That's it, that's it! The station. The mount was working, everything was working! I was very happy.

The point brightened. Initially there was no detail. But slowly, as it reflected more light, I could see a centre section of some length and against that, perpedicular, another shape, the solar panels. The overall shape was a letter T, capital form, with a little bit extending beyond the top of the T. Not a lot of additional detail. It was growing in brightness still but taking on colour now. It was a dark intense red then orange then gold. Quickly, it turned an intense pure white. Sunrise on orbit! Fantastic!

I briefly lost sight of it, with the pass being low in the north, behind the gamble of the GBO roof.

The mount slowed down and stopped as it reached the meridian. I ran to the computer to flip the mount then returned to the observing floor. The ISS moved into the north-east sky and disappeared behind clouds.

6:13. Wow! WOW! Now that was cool. That was a first for me. I've watched many sunsets on the station; but never a sunrise. It was very exciting to see in the telescope.

I reviewed the visible details from Heavens Above. It started 6:12:42 at 23° elevation in the north-west, max at 6:12:49 still at 23°, ended at 6:15 at 10° in the north-east. The magnitude prediction was -2.

That worked nicely. It's been a while. It was fun though! It showed the orbital data import in TS6 continues to work properly. Selecting the Zarya put it in the centre of the field. It struck me that seeing it in the C14 was revealing. With such a narrow field, as per the SCT design, f/11... Encouraging. It means there should be no issues capturing this on video with our MallinCam.

Funny. That reminded me to grab the camera! I had asked to bring it back to the city for testing with a custom remote control project.

6:22. I returned to the observatory to gauge the skies. I had seen a lot of haze and cloud streams. I saw something that looked like the Milky Way. Going through Ursa Major! Ah, yeah, that's not in the right spot.

Used the Sky Quality Meter. Took three readings: 19.74, 19.80, then 19.82. I believe those are poor ratings. The scale goes from 17 to 23, with 20 in the middle.

Considered the next ISS pass. A 5 minute run. Similar path. It would start at 10°, rise to 22°, then go back down to 10°. Too low to view in the 'scope. The 9 o'clock one would rise to 64 though...

I adjusted ST3 restrictions for the current conditions and it gave me two double star targets, which I had already viewed, and a bunch of planetary nebulae. I didn't think these viable given the sky brightening combined with the clouds.

Spotted Venus in the south-east but it had a halo around it. Oh oh.

6:31. Made a double star list in ST3. But when I looked out the window of the warm room I saw the sky was getting quiet bright. It was about an hour before sunrise.

Targetted the Draco double star HD 172712 aka HIP 91436 aka Struve 2368. Two faint stars close together, very tight. Almost equal brightness. ST3 showed mags as 6.92 and 7.92, the separation was 1.8", in 1998. It was hard to detect colour in the bright sky but they seemed equal. ST3 said that the best time to observe this double would be August! OK. Maybe I'll revisit.

[ed: Haas says: "identical stars... that are amber yellow with flashes of blue."]

6:40. I could only see a handful of stars naked eye. It was kinda silly to keep going.

I started packing up. I closed the roof without incident.

I debated whether I should go back to bed or get an early start on the day. Nap? Or coffee?

Reviewed the ST3 Direction Indicator issue again. The telescope view did show it. Why? Actually it showed the Z-L and N-E indicators in the finder and telescope views respectively. Hey, ST3 turned off the constellation lines again, damn it. I was getting pissed so I shut down SkyTools.

Didn't end up using my chemical hard warmer. Didn't need it.

I had brought a screwdriver out to the GBO so to remove one screw from another magnetic switch, as a sample. ¼" long with the small Robertson drive in a dome head.

6:52. Checked the corrector. It was nice and clear. The brief stint with the hair dryer worked.

6:56. Exited the GBO.

Forgot to check the weather conditions when back in the house. But it felt very cool.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

that's it that's all (Blue Mountains)

6:49 PM. In the GBO for a second night in a row. In February! In Canada! Yes. It's incredible.

Had the ASUS netbook with me (but forgot the mouse). Took out the USB adapter to reactivate the integrated touchpad. Started the Dell laptop before the mount to avoid connection problems. Camera. Had the handwarmer with me. Working OK again.

Almost lit myself on fire earlier. Filled it more than the night before. When I was trying to light it, I held it sideways over the candle, like the previous evening. It burst into flames! I guess the extra fuel started pouring out of the thing. I threw it into the kitchen sink and threw a wet towel on it. After that, it took me a while to get it started again. Using the BBQ lighter (which I had in daylight filled with more butane) I lit the handwarmer in a vertical orientation.

Considered the frost/temperature issue for the eyepieces. Then I recalled an idea from a month or so back. Inspired by Phil, I had made a note to add a towel to my astronomy gear to keep eyepieces under during observing. This would allow one to keep them handy and not have to stuff them back into a case. I've seen Phil doing this during summer events and at "Dew Lake" in the fall but of course it would apply to winter sessions too. So this evening I had brought from the house a towel. This would let me keep the eyepieces near the telescope, for quick access, and at ambient nippy temperature.

Pulled the 120 volt hair dryer from the cupboard, as suggested by Dietmar. He said it would help disperse frost if there was excess moisture. That said, he did reinforce that the Kendrick heater, set to 1° above ambient, should be able to keep Jack Frost at bay.

Checked the local weather page. The images were still not updating despite me fully rebooting the weather server computer. The solution was alluding me.

I was almost ready to go.

Oh oh. The handwarmer had gone out! I had put it in my glove. Now the inside of the glove felt damp. Once again I think there was so much fuel on board that it poured out and flooded itself. Stinky. Yuk.

The roof control panel was still open from earlier re-con photography. I swung it closed. Headed to the observing floor. Brought in the small baseboard heater and turned off the dehumidifier.

6:56. Undid the roof four latches. Looked at the alignment of the right hand sensor: looked OK, close to the magnet. Energised the power bar at the pier. That meant the dew heater was only just beginning to heat the corrector... That was not good planning ahead. Opened the roof (it takes 92 seconds, by the way), with the battery light on, looking through the access port. No issues! One minor noise. Decided to close the roof about 1 foot to avoid any ruts or detentes.

7:00. Powered the mount. Looked to zenith. And I felt, on my face, snow. What, snow? Saw a bit of cloud. Not thick. I could see Jupiter. Looked similarly to last night. But if there are ice crystals in the air, developing into snow, it would end things pretty quickly. Still, I homed the mount then went to Jupiter.

7:05. Got a quick look at Jupiter. Four moons. The seeing seemed very good actually, better than the previous night, despite warm eyepieces and a warm OTA. But then the gas giant faded out. Clouds!

So much for that...

I closed the roof (took 84 seconds, from the slightly advanced position). No issues again!

Decided to go into a holding pattern. Parked the 'scope. Left the dew heating system on. Put the laptop into sleep mode. So to be ready to leap or restart observing quickly...

dehumidifier frozen

I checked the dehumidifier in the observatory. It was running OK but I grew concerned when I noticed the exhaust water line frozen. And I found an inch or so of frozen water at the bottom of the tank. I dethawed tank in house. I left interior door open to send some heat into the observatory.

I checked the SCT corrector plate. It was clear.


The anenometer on the Davis Integrated Sensor Suite was spinning. Yeah. Not frozen or stuck. I was glad to see that. Sorta.

With an air temperature of -11°C, that made for colder conditions: -18 with the wind chill.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

unexpected observing (Blue Mountains)

After viewing the Iridium and seeing fairly clear skies to the south and east, I got my hopes up. Maybe I could do some astronomical observing after all. I had not expected tonight to do anything, based on the Clear Sky Chart and the local weather predictions. So I was excited settling into the Geoff Brown Observatory.
Instruments: Celestron 14-inch SCT, Tele Vue 101 refractor
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
6:35 PM. I was with 2 laptops, the Dell with TheSky6 to control the mount, and the ASUS with SkyTools3 Pro planning software. The small floor heater was on. It had been on for a while, since about 4:30. I suddenly remembered there was a switch in the breaker panel for the baseboard heater under the counter. Oops. I energised it. Closed the window between the warm room and observatory proper. Tied up the curtains. I heard ticking: the warm room wall clock showed the correct time.

I had prepared SkyTools3 to list some targets. I had made a custom observing list first using the automatic generator with the "interesting deep sky" option. Then I added my unlogged entries from the (new) Turn Left at Orion - Winter list. 140 items total; the Obvious visibility setting reduced it to 24. I would use the Observed toggle to mark things through the evening.

Plugged in my two red LED keyboard lights. Put the red film on the netbook screen. Ha. Noticed the NASA I Need My Space mouse pad nearby. Handy! Pulled out the wifi mouse.

6:41. Configured a Notepad file on the netbook for additional notes. Hit the date/time stamp keyboard shortcut.

Connected and booted the GBO laptop. Tried to remember the proper sequence for turning on the mount and computer. It slowly came back to me that the mount would crash if the computer was connected to the serial port and then turned on. I would avoid the issue now with the computer already started.

Was also foggy about my GBO computer password. My master password list was in my palmtop and my palmtop was in the house. I remembered a portion of it. Tried a hunch. It worked! Been a while... Or a touch of oldmanitis.

Grabbed the rolled red film sheet from drawer for the Dell. Moose poo on it! Bleh.

6:46. Launched TS6, finally. I was ready to open the roof.

I read Tony's notes from November in the log book I had spotted earlier. Consider his remarks (warnings?) from evening before. Should I or shouldn't I? What was the worst that could happen? I'd have to fetch a come-a-long and some chain... I was ready to give it a try. Eeeeee. Unlatched the top 4 bolts. Back to the roof control panel.

Turned off the dehumidifier. Ooh. It was warmer in the warm room! Nice.

Moment of truth. Hit the Open button. Nothing. Silence. Um. Oh yeah. Checked the right hand sensor. Huh. So today it decides to work. Figures. The magnet was a ways from the switch. Wiggled it closer.

6:48. Moment of truth. Really. This time. Tried again. The motor started running! w00t. With a snap, the south doors unsticking from the frame, the roof retracted.

At 45 seconds in, something clunked! It was loud. Gave me a start. Felt the shock or vibration through the wall into my hand. Wow. What was that?

Tried again. Immediately something clunked again! Oh oh.

Inspected the roof and drive mechanism. Everything seemed OK. In particular, the Lovejoy connection at the top looked good.

Tried again. Now the loud sound started repeating! Much faster frequency. Scary. Did not sound healthy at all. What had I done?

The roof was about half-way open. Well. It would work if viewing things to the south. Especially if I dropped the walls. But I wasn't real happy with that condition.

More importantly, would I be able to close it?! Meh. We'll cross that bridge later.

6:50. Unlocked the eyepiece cabinet.

The sky was great.

6:53. Got a fault on booting the Paramount ME. Sheesh. Now what?! Tried again. A rapid beeping tone, blue LEDs flashing. Sticktion? I declutched the RA and DEC axis screws (they seemed awfully tight) and then gently tightened them. Started up the mount again. It immediately went to a good condition. Linked up the software. All was nominal.

Looked at the ST3 list and decided to view Jupiter. Been a while. The planning tool suggested an 18mm eyepiece. I grabbed it but then considered the 27mm.

I wasn't sure where to keep the eyepieces. Normally, in the warmer months, I would put them on a pop-up table near the 'scope. I was worried about frost. But then I could just keep them covered. As I normally do. What about the temperature. I wasn't sure whether they should be warmed or at ambient, for best performance...

6:59. The roof condition was bothering me. I wanted to talk to Tony about it. That's when I remembered that I had left the GBO phone in the house. Considered texting him but realised it would be too complicated. We would need to be interactive.

Headed to the house for the cordless phone, my eyeglasses case with cleaning cloth, and a cola. Oh. Had not brought my red laser glasses. So retrieving a beverage from the bright fridge would mean I'd have to close my eyes to keep my dark adaptation.

The damn lights from the ski hill combined with the snow made it feel like the Moon was out.

7:05. Returned to the GBO. Plugged in a charger. Phoned the Boss Man.

We diagnosed the problem. I described the clunking problem, said it felt like something was skipping. He said it was in fact. The "timing" belt, the wide belt, with the teeth, connecting the large gear on the main shaft and the small gear on the reducer could skip or hop if there was not enough tension. He directed me to adjust the T-handle behind the small access panel to change the tension on the belt. Turned clockwise until it was very taut.

I described how the drive motor gear was out of alignment with the main gear, that the motor was higher, by about ¼ inch. Tony thought that would be OK. We verified the top Lovejoy coupling was well engaged, with the curved jaws overlapping about 9mm. The Tony said that he and Charles felt that the new roof wheels should reduce the friction to 25% of the current! I closed and opened the roof and observed the action. Easy to do from a step stool viewing through the access panel portal.

Tony also asked me to photograph the interior of the control panel, later.

Once again, these repairs reminded me of certain low orbit missions... Houston, we've got a problem here.

7:20. I opened the roof fully. I was ready to look at Jupiter finally! Stepped into the observatory. No! The skies had clouded over! Crap! So, funny. It looked like my evening was over only have successfully moved the roof. Well, at least I learned more about how the roof motor assembly worked... Very little of the sky was clear.

Before it dimmed behind dark clouds, I saw that the north equatorial belt was still missing.

7:24. Switched the Sony voice recorder to VOR. Thought about using the Cut feature to reduce background noise but realised, testing playback, I didn't need it. (But I'll need to remember to do more dividing as I use VOR, otherwise I loose the time references.)

[ed: Turns out the Line Cut was on the whole time.]

The sky, with the clouds, was looking really sketchy. The CSC showed cloud cover increasing through the evening. At 7 PM the chart showed 60% cloud cover, raising at 9 PM to 70% covered. So sucker holes would be the only option... That would not be fun, even with a powerful go-to telescope. 90% cover through midnight. It looked like it would then drop at 6 AM, and was predicted to lower to 20% at 7 AM. ST3 said sunrise was at 7:38 AM. Saturn would rise around midnight... Be highest at 5 AM. Looked like the evening was pooched. I could sleep then get up early. Ugh. From the warm room window, I couldn't see anything to the west and I couldn't see anything but the brightest stars in Orion.

To better the assess, I popped outside. Not much of the sky was open but now it was fairly clear at The Hunter. Well, I thought, let's see how the go-to mount can do. If I restricted myself to targets in the same general area, kept the hops short, I knew I might be able to see some things. Consulted the observing list in ST3.

Viewed Mintaka. Wide double. Main star was quite bright. The companion was much fainter, maybe by 2 or 3 magnitudes.

Felt weird not having my copy of Sissy's double stars book at hand. I wondered if we had one in the library...

[ed: Nope.]

ST3 said it was a quad system with a variable star component. I adjusted the software for the C14 telescope and eyepieces I had selected, the Tele Vue Panoptic 27mm 2" (145x) and the Tele Vue Radian 18mm 1¼" (217x). Used the Interactive Atlas and Context Viewer to simulate the views.

I learned that A and C components had magnitudes 2.2 and 6.6 (and Position Angle of zero degrees) with an angular separation of 52 arc-seconds. The B star was closer but mag 14 (PA 227). Oh. Maybe too faint in a cooling telescope with less than ideal seeing. Tried to spot the B component without success.

Viewed Mintaka with the 18mm. Still could not draw out the B companion.

[ed: Sissy Haas says, in double stars for small telescopes, that Mintaka aka δ (delta) Orionis is a mag 2.4 and 6.8 system with a PA of 0 and a separation of 52.8 arc-seconds. Turns out that I have already viewed this double star. It had not been noted as logged in ST3.]

7:58. Uh huh. Noticed that the sky was much better. The stars were very bright! Caught a lucky break in the cloud deck.

8:01. Struggled a bit with the mirror diagonal settings with SkyTools. Oh, that's what MD means! Stellarium did not show enough detail.

Tried to understand what I was seeing with Mintaka. Remembered in ST3 to turn on the Mirror diagonal setting in the Context Viewer. But I still wondered if I was totally reading the view in ST3 wrong.

Continued to try to clarify what I was seeing. Used the field of view and mirror options in TS6. Couldn't remember how to do the mirror flip in TS6 at first. And there's no button in the tool bars for it. Compared to ST3. The views were different!

It was really cold. Felt it in my legs. Only had my jeans on. Torso was cool. Not cold. But I was starting to feel it.

8:10. Battery died in the camera, all the power pulled out to fire and then re-arm the flash and drive the screen. Fortunately, it had captured the ice stalactites.

The temperature and humidity in the warm room were 7° and 53%. I didn't think that would be enough to rejuvenate the camera. I put it in my pants pocket.

Next up was the Cleopatra's Eye planetary nebula. Took me a while to search for it TS6. It was then I realised it was on the other side of the meridian. I decided to leave it for later.

ST3 suggested Hind's Crimson Star in Lepus. R Leporis. Used the SAO 150085 designation in TS6 to find it. Wow! Fantastic. Really amazing colour. Initially had the 18mm in and didn't see anything. Switched to the 27mm, focused, wow! It worked better in a field with regular white and blue-white stars! Deep, deep orange. Dark orange. Like an ember deep inside in a campfire! Not a lot of other stuff in the field, faint stars. Great suggestion. Beautiful, stunning.

Set ST3 to show obvious targets giving me a short list of 24 items. Next up on the ST3 list: Nair al Saif.

I checked the time. It was only 8:30! Ha. Early evening. I was freaked out, started laughing. I was expecting 10 or 11. Or midnight! I guess it is because when I'm usually here it is summer and we don't start serious deep sky observing until 9 or 10! Wow. Hours to go.

Oh, then I remembered that I had not yet had dinner. When am I gonna do that, I wondered, briefly. Later!

Suddenly I figured out the source of my confusion with ST3. I realised that the Context Viewer was showing the field reversed two times! If that makes sense. I built a telescope profile with the Left/Right option set to Mirrored. So, then when I was activating the "Mirror diagonal" in the eyepiece hyperlink menu, it was applying the reversing again! So, not reversed! To put it another way, the Context Viewer takes the entire telescope / eyepiece / projection profile into consideration. If you say it presents Mirrored, you don't have to do it later.

It makes sense, I guess. I suppose if you have a 'scope (perhaps a refractor) that you rarely use a mirror diagonal in, then your ST3 'scope profile should not be set with the left/right on. When you want to view something overhead, you pop in the diagonal. Then you want ST3 to show the corresponding view but you don't want to go in and change your 'scope profile; just toggle the MD on temporarily. Man, what a waste of time that was!

8:44. Viewed Nair al Saif, aka ι (iota) Orionis, aka Struve Σ752, near the Great Nebula. A triple. The main star was pure white, the B was pale yellow, the C distant companion a pale blue. C was about 3 or 4 times further away than the B. Interesting object. Lots of field stars in the area. Very nice triple. Lovely. Kind of a little hockey stick. Easily split in the 27mm, lots of horsepower. ST3 said to use the 55mm. Makes sense: it would make the A-B a bit of a challenge.

[ed: Haas says: "Showcase pair. Brilliant yellow-white star with a tiny ghostly speck inside its glow." She's referring to the A-B pair. 11.3" sep, mag 2.9 and 7.0. Stellarium does not show the A-B pair; it has the C star.]

In the field nearby I noted two bright stars. Turned out that they were next on the observing list. They were HR 1887 (the A star, at mag 4.8) and 1886 (B, 5.7); together Σ747. Pale yellow. Very similar. Easily separated.

[ed: Haas reports: "wide white pair" at 36.0" sep, mag 4.7 and 5.5.]

Also nearby was HD 36918. A slightly reduced separation (29") than 1887 and 1886 (36"). They were much fainter (mag 8.0 and 9.4). Also known as Σ745.

Beyond those stars, off to the west, there was nothing. Black inky space.

That was kinda neat. Don't recall that ever happening before, seeing a triple star, and two doubles, in the same field of view. With the 27mm, it was a ½° field.

ST3 showed, with a large circle, NGC 1980, a diffuse nebula, in the area. Perhaps it was surrounding the current view. Would probably need very low power. And no lights from a nearby mountain. I also didn't think it wise to operate the Tele Vue 101 refractor without dew heating gear.

Damn. Frickin' cold!

Tried to view IC 2149. Not sure what I saw. There seemed to be a small, very small, compact fuzzy there, blue perhaps. Merits another look...

Headed to the house for ski pants, a snack, and to log out of my email and social networking page. Took the handwarmer to the house to light (behind sunglasses). Needed the fresh battery for the camera. Took in my leather gloves. Wasn't using them. And they were still damp from the hike in.

I got the handwarmer going and it was already toasty warm as I returned to the GBO. But it was a comedy of errors. My lighter died. It's almost empty of fuel. My cheapo sunglasses broke. One arm fell off. Didn't feel like taping it up at the time. Tried to use the lighter with long neck for the CAO BBQ. It worked briefly and then run out of fuel. Didn't know where a pressurised butane refill tin might be. I looked in the drawers for matches but didn't see any. Was trying to keep my night vision! Couldn't see the ones of the back of the drawer to the right of the stove. Totally forgot I had my own in the supervisor's closet. Grabbed the candle beside the sink and finally got it lit with the last dregs from the BBQ lighter. At last used the candle to light the handwarmer. Crazy. Happy to have it. Put stinky little oven in the breast pocket of the winter coat.

9:10. Lora asked if I was watching scary movies. I replied that I was too busy. I also thanked Phil for keeping his fingers crossed: it worked. I had good skies! Told him to look at Hind's Crimson Star.

9:50. Viewed the Clown Face Nebula, NGC 2392. TLAO refers to it. [ed: This is also designated Caldwell 39.] Grabbed the Radian 10mm eyepiece. Interesting. Could see a circular or spherical shape, not perfect, but close. Hints of a ring upon a ring. A bright centre. A bright star nearby. But that was all I could see. Then again it was in a dirty part of the sky. Glow from the ski hills. Night skier freaks. Cool object. But have I not seen it before?

Considered 63 Gem but I was getting tired of double star objects. Switched to my TLAO - Winter list, wanting closure. Noted that I had not viewed very many items. Noticed also that when I toggled the Observed status some of the items in the list jostled around and moved. The sequence changed. I had it sorted on Optimal. But the logic, for whatever reason, was changing. Distracting.

The telescope mount seemed to be running at a lower speed. I made a note to ask Dietmar if this was normal, given the temperature. (It was, he said.)

Clouds again! This time it looked terminal.

I viewed M1 (Messier 1). After panning I saw a faint fuzzy blob. The Crab Nebula looked large, filling a good chunk of the eyepiece. A third of the 27mm field? No, less than that... I saw many faint stars in the field. The brightest in the area is around mag 9.7. Averted vision helped draw out the nebula. Once again, not an easy object. I wondered if there would be a better time to view this. (ST3 says January is it!)

Stared some more but clouds mottled the view and dimmed the surrounding stars.

Put the handwarmer inside a glove while at the computer.

Viewed θ2 (theta) Orionis. Curiously, Orion was about the only constellation left visible in the sky. Of course, θ2 is near the Trapezium. Immediately noticed the E star in the Trap, between B and A! Nice.

Noted the bright companion, B, to the east of θ2 A, beyond the fainter star in the middle. Saw the C star as per how ST3 was showing it, to the SE of A, two or three times the distance of B. This is about 1'57" sep. and a PA of 135°; the text though describes it as having a 129" sep. and PA of 98. Parenthetically, 1995 is shown. So, 15 year old data perhaps...

It was socked in.

Tried to close the roof. Heard the hum of the contactor not operating. Oh no! It was loud (not quiet as Tony suggested). After a couple of attempts, I succeeded in manually moving the roof from it's starting position, a bit. Felt and heard a light clunk, a tick. Maybe it was stuck, frozen? Is enough friction occurring between the roof wheels under the weight that it creates heat? The manual driving was a slog. The bloody thing is heavy. Tried the panel again. Whew! It worked! That would have been a workout...

Closed up shop. It was a little challenging engaging the 4 roof latches.

I wasn't sure of the outside temp. I kept forgetting to view the Davis station when in the house. I missed not having the station data accessible in the warm room... But I had no one else to blame. It was only after putting on the ski pants and one more layer on torso that I felt OK outside.

It was certainly cold tonight!

The Kendrick dew heater was not able to stay on top of it.

10:34. Parked the telescope. Brought in the 2 eyepieces on the table. Left the remaining eyepiece in the mirror. Did not cover the corrector plate. Turned on the dehumidifier. Closed down the controller computer. Or rather, sleeped it. Disconnected USB keyboard lights.

Packed items for the house: netbook, wireless mouse, case, recorder, pop can, snack bar wrappers, handwarmer. Remembered to shutdown Stellarium before sleeping the netbook.

That was fun.


Had dinner at midnight. Yummy vindaloo!


Used the ST3 angular measure several times tonight. It was very helpful at finding double star companions!


Noticed a solitairy white light on at Cliff's all night...

Iridium near Jupiter (Blue Mountains)

Planned for and viewed the Iridium 34 satellite showing, thanks to Heavens Above. It arrived on time and in the expected spot, down and a bit left of Jupiter. It did brighten more than the the bright planet, but I did not think much brighter. It was supposed to get to -7 magnitude. Jupiter is -2 right now.

Afterwards, I fetched the battery charger from the garage and checked the status of the propane generator. Still green with yellow.

Only half the pergola red LED lights were working. The east string was out. Something wrong with the junction, perhaps.

Coyotes chattered off in the distance...

Admired Aldebaran, Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Bellatrix, Saiph, Procyon, Sirius, their colours seemingly more intense somehow.

broken shovel

That's not code for some military action. We really did have a broken shovel. When I finally extracted the plow-style snow shovel from under a metre of snow beside the house, I found the plastic blade was broken. It proved too awkward to use. Once the compact fluorescent lights warmed, I fetched a regular metal shovel from the garage. And that made it slow-going.

technically on duty

It occurred to me that if members wanted to come up to the observatory, now that technically a supervisor was on duty, they could. I sent a message to the Yahoo!Group. But I reminded people to bring their snow shoes or cross country skiis or snowmobile.

not to worry

I chimed in with Dietmar, Tony, Katrina, Lora, Phil, Donna, and Marie. "I'm alive and well and at the CAO." Dietmar said he saw my tracks on the camera.


It was an easy drive from Toronto. The only glitch during the trip was that the iPod didn't work or charge in the rental car! Bad fuse? I was not inclined the check it.

When I continued west from Stayner, I found no one on the road... Quiet. Peaceful. Parked at the Clarity Stables. Cliff had cleared the lot for me.

The snow was deeper in the field than last year. That made snow shoes definitely helpful. I photographed the long icicles on west edge of the roof as I hiked in. There was a lot of snow at the south ramp and door. I needed a shovel for the shovel!


I checked the Davis weather station in short order. And found it to be working. Perhaps the computer server had crashed. But when I checked the server, I found everything looked fine. The software was running and there were no communication errors. Huh. Maybe an uploading problem?

nice day for snow shoeing

And I'm not the only one. Just before I reached the corner of the CAO lot, I encountered a couple on snow shoes, baby on dad's back, snow shoeing west, while I walked east.

"Beautiful day," I said. They agreed.

A few meters later, I sighted the house through the trees. Paused to fit the shoes over my big boots. Headed into the pristine field.

Friday, January 28, 2011

received Rogers Hub

We have an evaluation unit from Rogers to try. It's actually made by Ericsson. Charles co-ordinated. Received the package a little while ago. Asked for an extension. He handed it off to Tony at the meeting last week. Tony dropped it off tonight.

I'm going to test it at the CAO. And see how good a signal we get from the 3G tower down by the fire station.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

to test the MallinCam

I asked the RASC Toronto Centre Council's permission to bring the MallinCam equipment down from the northern observatory, so to test the auxiliary port, which can be used purportedly to control the camera with software.

This should allow us to change settings without using the cumbersome menu, change settings quickly using pre-sets, and prevent the distracting display of the menu during changes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

webspotting 19 - CalSky

As published in the Feb/Mar 2011 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. With editorial remarks added later... Slight reformatting. Republished here with permission.


There was talk of astronomical planning tools last  fall. There are a handful of choices for the Windows and Macintosh platforms, including AstroPlanner, Deep-Sky Planner, Deepsky, and SkyTools. For a long time, I considered sophisticated software to speed my evening preparations. 

Research was hampered by lack of availability of these applications. Ideally, I like to try out software before I buy, as I do with shareware. Only AstroPlanner offered a downloadable demo. All the others forced you to pay full fare up front with a money-back guarantee. [That is no longer true of SkyTools; as of the fall 2011 there is a free trial version available.] Still, I had cold feet. I continued to collect data, as best as possible. 

Meanwhile, for an evening's viewing or star party or RASC observing session, I would prepare manually, gathering data from a dozen different web sites, cross-checking in Stellarium or Cartes du Ciel and on my blog and life lists. I'd fill out a custom template I made in a word processor (which, frankly, was pretty good, if I may say so myself) and then finally print that document for use in the field. The problem? It would take hours!

This reached a boiling point in the early summer. When I learned that Ian Wheelband had SkyTools and thought it his favourite program and that he ran it on a netbook, I grew very interested. Still, it was the most expensive of the batch, starting at US$100. When Phil Chow pointed out the club discounts of 25% to 50% off and wondered if others might be interested, he seeded the group purchase idea. The rest is history. Having used it for a while, having read around 389 pages of the 623 page user manual, I am finding it a great tool.

For those who are not convinced yet, not interested, would rather put their hard-earned cash into an eyepiece, there are some good, free options.

Sometimes, as I was manually preparing my observing session notes, I'd conduct a search for a general planning web site. You might recognise Mark Casazza's name. I still use his Clear Sky Alarm Clock tool to receive emails when it is going to be clear. Another astronomical project of his is called Tonight's Sky. While it supports filtering and time limits, I've never found it terribly useful. I enjoyed Sea and Sky's constellation listing by month but thought it somewhat light. Then I discovered CalSky. 

The CalSky site features a calendar tool which will generate a list of targets in a single evening, over the next week or month, whenever. Again, it can filter, according to your preferences. It also will consider your experience level. You can choose to view planets, comets, meteor showers, deep sky objects, double stars, etc. It can detect special events with Jupiter's and Saturn's moons. It will even pull in satellite flyovers. Before you know it, you've got a huge listing. That, somehow, is what I struggled with most, with many of these products: too much information versus too little.

If you're like me and need a plan, a checklist, targets ahead of you, give a try.

Monday, January 24, 2011

crisp and clear (Toronto, Mississauga)

And bloody cold. The temperature at the airport was purportedly -20°C ambient and -28°C with the wind chill. And I was headed out. Damn. This is Ontario; not Manitoba! It didn't feel that cold as I stepped outside and locked the door; I felt it in my ears and cheeks after the short walk to the subway.

At least I got to enjoy Venus, Antares, Graffias, Dschubba, Saturn, Spica, and the gibbous Moon.

Snow storm clouds had rolled in by the time I reached Hurontario and Eglinton. Only the Moon was apparent.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

completed TLAO lists

After an encouraging prompt from Greg, I built new and improved SkyTools observing lists for each seasonal list, as well as the southern hemisphere list, from the Turn Left At Orion book.

On my first attempt at the winter list, I provided the rating (1 to 5, or none) of the main objects. This time I included more information that I hadn't seen any of the other lists but that I thought would prove useful, given the source material.
  • a title with a version number, e.g. "(v2)"
  • a full description with references to the book and its edition, the book's authors, the notes/group with ratings, the revision date, my name, and my contact info
  • for each object, I included brief notes, encapsulating the best sky condition, recommended equipment, and page number in the book
Greg helped me with some missing items from the southern targets, a few NGCs of small objects in the Magellanic Clouds.

volunteer group

Helped Brenda build a Yahoo!Group for the RASC Toronto Centre volunteers. She's the new volunteer co-ordinator. I'm so happy we have this critical role filled!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

videos page built

There's been some noise that we should keep or stockpile videos related to the RASC Toronto Centre or astronomical events, etc.

Finally connected with Matthew. He had captured the video streams of some local news coverage during the Dec 2010 lunar eclipse. He saved the data into FLV files. Wanted to hand them off to me. Oh no. You keep 'em. You upload 'em. I set him up with FTP and he sent them directly to the server. Meanwhile, I built a videos page to link to them.

I also tagged some YouTube videos, including ones from Katrina: a shuttle night launch and the AGM message from Bob Thirsk.

It's a good start.

Ger likes the name

Gerry asked where my blog was. Wanted to see the Orion image I tagged.

After I sent him the URL, he fired back, "Awesome name dude."

I like it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

people page updated

I activated the new RASC Toronto Centre people page, including the 2011 executive committee, council, committee chairs, and other volunteers. It's only 2 months overdue. But it was like herdin' cats to get the information.


Guy chimed in. Had a little fun with me on a misplaced photo. Oops. I promptly fixed it.

no Perseid party this year

Double (triple) checked the Moon phase for this year's Perseid meteor shower peak. Considered that the RASC monthly calendar would be one of the best sources. Corroborated with StarDate and CalSky web sites. The Moon will be full on August 12! Boo!


This highlighted a number of errors that I had made. My notes for populating the RASC Toronto Centre calendar were incorrect. Glad I caught that before uploading.

I also discovered that I did not have the Jul 30 new Moon date in my (ancient) palmtop calendar! Holy cow!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Future Life

Still trying to track down old Omni magazines that I bought in the '70s.

Stumbled across Future and Future Life magazines! Issues 1 through 31, Apr 1978 to Dec 1981. The name switch happened with issue 9. Missing issue 11. Issue 22 talks about Carl Sagan's Cosmos series.

With roots in science fiction (the same people who made Starlog magazine), the rag covered a lot of ground, including space travel, space probes, computers, interactive television, black holes, alien contact, medicine, etc.

John Zipperer was a fan!

porch panorama

Made a landscape for Stellarium for the new porch. Used the 20 or so photos taken with the Fuji camera and stitched them with HugIn. Initially produced a rectilinear panorama but was not happy with the outcome. The trees overhead looked weird. Tried the fisheye view in HugIn. Much better!

Just need to check the rotation...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Todd has an Edmund

Todd contacted me after reading my blog, and the companion material. He was trying to confirm his recently acquired telescope was an Edmund Scientific Super Space Conqueror. We talked about mirror size vs. tube size, identifying components, and where to get more information.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

large field explained

I was wondering why the Field of View outline for the StellaCam3 in SkyTools seemed too small. The imagery that I obtained of M42 and M43 represented a larger field.

It was while all the occultation gear was out for audio and GPS testing, I noticed something on the front of the CCD camera: an Antares focal reducer! That explains it!

This is dropping the focal length anywhere from 0.5 to 0.23 times. The documentation says that "the reducer will provide a reduction of 0.5x when the center of its lens assembly is placed 47.5mm from the focal plane of the eyepiece or imaging device. Move the focal reducer closer to the eyepiece/camera and its reduction factor will increase. Move it away and the reduction provided will decrease."

There is a tube that the reducer is screwed into. It looks like it is doing the optimal spacing: I roughly estimate the centre of the lens to be 47mm away from the chip.

Thus, it is turning my f/10 'scope into an f/5.


Well, with respect to Denis's setup and SkyTools, the magic number is actually 0.6x. Used old Fireworks to confirm this.

That means the rectangular size covers about 18 by 13 arc-minutes of the sky. For comparison, the Meade 18mm eyepiece is 22, which just fits around this, and the Celestron 26mm is 41, totally encompassing the area.

strain relief

The power cable coming out of the bottom of the controller is, well, not happy.

It occurred to me, staring at it today, that a straight connector—versus a right-angle—would be much better.

But until I find one of those, I'm going to use a twist-tie around the data and power cables. The data cable is beefy. I pre-wrapped the tie around the data cable at a good spot. Sitting there, it will remind me to tie down the power line.

If this works, I'll remove the cable hook holder stickie thing.

shot the porch

OK. Not exactly. Photographed today's wonderful light grey sky from the porch of the new place so to stitch together in a panorama for astronomy software.

Got all the neighbours wondering what I was up to... In case they weren't already.


Huh. Never knew the Manfrotto head had spirit levels...

Just gets better and better.

only one

Checked the camcorder bag. There is only one battery. Oh boy.

This will require careful planning to ensure the battery is topped up before an occultation.

And judicial use, in the field. Or that I bring the invertor.

stars identified

I did some superimposition and blinking with Fireworks to identify stars in the M42 image. Labelled many of the stars. Noted the magnitudes (from SkyTools) for the fainter ones in parentheses.

Now I know that I definitely pushed down to mag 14 and change.

So, it's obviously true. Using a CCD camera (with integration) is like dramatically increasing the aperture of your telescope. My career magnitude limit in the city with the SCT 8" is 11.90—visual. With the StellaCam3, I'm able to get 2.5 magnitudes deeper.

mask template

I downloaded a free Bahtinov focus-mask template for a Celestron 8-inch telescope. Now I just need some heavy cardboard.


Found some thick solid cardboard... But not where I was expecting.


Update: Sadly looks is no more...

getting to know Kiwi

While everything was hooked up, I took the opportunity to get to know the Kiwi-OSD video time inserter (VTI) device a bit better. Learned that the yellow button pressed once does a time verification integrity process (which one should do at the end of an occultation) and pressed a second time resets the unit.

When I boot the Kiwi, the following messages show, one at a time:
90 60.0000 180 60.0000
1 03 3.6 143.2 M -35.4
UTC DATA dd mm yyyy
hh:mm:ss eee ooo fffff

The third line is the latitude and longitude, of course.

The fourth line is unclear to me. It looks like it contains elevation or altitude. An article from the Kiwi-OSD Yahoo!Groups and a random web page described it in some more detail...
  • first number is the Fix Status (anything but zero is good)
  • second number is satellites in the fix (higher the better)
  • third part is Horizontal Dilution of Precision (which tells relative size of "sigma" circle, smaller the better, anything above 2.0 is suspicious)
  • height of GPS sensor
  • geoidal separation (if GPS has inbuilt table of values—what ever!)
The final digit in the fifth line looks like the number of GPS satellites in the connection. I've seen mine climb to 9 (during this indoor testing).

The time stamp line shows the UTC time, of course. It also shows the even field Vsync offset, odd field Vsync offset, and continuous field count since GPS sync.

It also looks like if I simply remove the power from the Kiwi-OSD that no time information will be inserted into the video. That will be handy if I'm showing or recording something and I don't need time data.

can you hear me now

I knew my recording on Sunday night/Monday morning was without sound. In the daylight, I discovered that the audio connectors on the AV cable going into the camcorder were not attached to anything. Ah ha. So I connected them to the very weird junction cable, fired everything up, and gave it a whirl. It is OK now. So I'll be able to me audio notes with Denis's rig.

Updated my Visio diagram to accommodate for this discrepancy.

upon reflection

In one of the little metal cases Mom gave, there was a mirror in it. I think it began life as a cosmetics case; now it is housing dew fighting astronomical accessories. The mirror is in the lid liner. It is kinda useless in the current application but I hadn't given it much thought.

Some time ago, last summer or fall if I remember correctly, the lid liner broke away from the lid. Old glue. It was annoying and getting in the way but I just kept shoving it aside.

It occurred to me yesterday, while in fix-it mode, that the liner could be repaired, reaffixed, reglued. But then I thought, hey, could use that mirror somewhere else.

I removed the 23 x 7 cm piece of silvered glass. I'll clean it up and put it in astronomy box α. It will prove useful when viewing paper charts and I need to laterally invert them, to match the eyepiece presentation of a telescope with an odd number of reflections.


It would prove very useful months later...

Monday, January 17, 2011

made an Ursa Minor image

Added an image over on the companion site of the Ursa Minor constellation so to help with naked eye magnitude testing when not using paper log sheets. This is a natural presentation, light stars on a black background, to better simulate the appearence in the sky. Magnitude numbers embedded into the image.

tune ups

Using all the gear over the last couple nights, I've found some things missing, broken, out of place, etc.
  • added a missing washer to telescope tripod leg bolt, before finding the original in the tripod bag
  • put the extra washer in the parts-and-tools compartment of the mount case
  • flipped cam shafts so they are oriented the same way on each leg
  • noticed all the cams are rusty; I guess they're not stainless steel; oil bath perhaps?
  • tried to find a wing nut to replace the nut on the tripod tray, to no avail
  • tightened the tripod feet (with a small Philips screwdriver)
  • tightened the tripod legs (with Allan key in mount case)
  • checked the objective of the 9x50 finder scope (fairly clean)
  • checked pencil grades already in sketching kit (B, 2B, and 4B)
  • added harder pencils to sketching kit (HB and H)
  • tested the fitment of the heatech coffee cup warmers to the finder scope and binoculars (to see that they just might work!)
  • re-attached the retaining clip to the telescope-mount screw (which I happily found on the porch)

dual shadow night

I'd love to see double shadows on Jupiter. But I don't think we're going to get a third clear night...

Everything's in the kitchen ready to go.

helped Herb sorta

Herb reported that he suddenly could not access the Yahoo!Group for the RASC Toronto Centre even though his email was working OK. Ralph and I both dug into it but weren't getting anywhere. Turned out to be a "block" cookie. Bloody computers.

captured the nebula (Toronto)

Wow. I got everything to work. Thanks to Denis and Phil.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
By the time I finished fiddling and configuring, Orion had moved clear of the tree! Woo hoo. Turned off the integration, moved from Castor, and tagged Messier 42.

Focus. Steady...

Focused using only the small Oslon monitor and camcorder LCD and UW specs and Mark I Eye Ball. No focusing mask or software used. Just eyeballed it in the live view.

Now, the next steps are to see if I can get the video into a computer. We're not done yet... (These still images were made by using the "photo" feature in the camcorder, where you can snap a pic, or a frame from a movie, and then save it to the SD memory card.)

At least now I know that I can hook everything up correctly. Yeh. So, bring on the occultations!

Just have to learn how to find the target star, is all!


Only had to make minor modifications to my first practice notes. The AV->DV option threw me for a loop. Touched up my Visio hook-up diagram.

Will need to print these up and put in occultation gear case so to have in the field. Should transfer soft copies to the netbook too.


Some questions linger:
  • How do you get the kiwi to "restart" and show the current time and long/lat?
  • Can you make the kiwi text be suppressed?
  • Why was there no sound on the latter part of the recording?
  • How do I power the camcorder in the field? I.e. will the battery last?
  • Is there more than one camcorder battery?
  • Should I make or get a focusing mask?

The focused photo of the Great Orion Nebula? North is to the right; east is up. Obviously, the Trapezium is in the centre. θ2 (theta) Orionis is the bright star immediately up and left of the Trapezium. ν (nu) Ori is near the top-right. It's in a middle of M43, of course, which is just barely detectable in the image. The camera is showing stars down to mag 9 and 10. Maybe more? 13?


I've noticed that the SkyTools3 chip frame FOV rectangle does not match these photos. The rectangle is too small in ST3.


Wikipedia links: Orion Nebula and the Trapezium cluster.

camera works (Toronto)

The StellaCam3 camera is working. I'm seeing an image on the little monitor. Wow.

Wanted to use M42 as my test target but it went behind the tree. Then considered Pleiades; can't even see it. So I used Castor.

I can see that focusing will be a challenge. Currently, the Celestron 26mm eyepiece is in the long shaft and the focus amount is not the same. I tried moving the eyepiece out a little and it got worse. I'll have to try removing one of the extension tubes. But I have a feeling that will be too short.

Played with the gamma, gain, and integration. Neat!

I'll try recording it...


The image shows Castor in the centre, of course. North is right; east is up. The star to the left (south) of Castor is the C component while the star below (south-west) is the D. Seeing mag 11 and 12 stars.

This was captured with an integration setting... But I did not note which.


Heeeey. Could measure separation and position angles!


Wikipedia link: Castor star.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

mount installed and aligned

Just put the Celestron/Vixen mount on the tripod.

I hadn't moved the tripod from yesterday (er, earlier today, I mean) so the polar alignment was still good.

Put outside Uncle Jack's ancient slide projector table! Heh. Works good! Wonder if it might become a permanent feature out here.

Where are my ski pants...?


Celestron 8-inch with finder scope and baader 36mm eyepiece attached is outside cooling on the deck. Along with the eyepiece case.

Nice not having to worry about the gear...

changed finder FOV

Realised that the finder scope field of view (with virtual telescope server) in Stellarium 0.9 was still 7° in size. That was for the old Celestron 6x30 finder. I changed the field size to 5° for the new Orion 9x50.

Will need to review Stellarium 0.10 on the netbook. I don't think I'm really using the FOV circles...

finder configured

Oh. Just found that I already had the Orion finder scope in SkyTools. Damn.

Already size. Proper upright normal orientation. Damn damn!

again, tonight?

Hmm. Looks like it's gonna be clear tonight too...

While I can't tag an actually occurring occultation, I could complete the full-up test of using the occultation video recording equipment with my telescope.

Too bad the dual shadows on Jupiter is tomorrow!

Still, Jupiter, Saturn... Nice targets! Seems that it will be freakin' cold though.

not enough time (Toronto)

Arrived home around 1:30 AM after a separate memorial, visit to friends of friends, and yummy dinner. Saw lots of RASC people today.

Phil loaned me his friction-fit SCT adapter by Tele Vue. Hopefully it will allow the connection of the Denis's flip mirror to my 8" SCT. I had brought along the flip mirror for Phil and I to test fit during the day. That worked. So far so good.

Immediately after arriving home, I did some preliminary preparation steps for testing the occultation gear. I brought the shovel in from the front foyer and moved it to the kitchen, near the door to the porch. There was 10 cm of snow out there. Moved the MEC red winter coat upstairs along with my winter hiking boots. It was pretty cold so I knew I'd need the coat. These boots are such that I can quickly slip them on or off. That would help as I transferred things outside and checked things in the office.

Should not have opened my inbox. Had to push out some difficult emails... Ugh.

At roughly, 2:00 AM, I began to set up. Shovelled the porch. I grabbed the new telescope OTA bag and eyepieces case and moved them outside to begin cooling.

Dive. Dive. Dive. Red light mode! Red film to desktop computer monitors and netbook. Red LED lights on in bedroom and kitchen.

Took the tripod to the porch. Found one of the cam handles missing from the tripod legs. Happily it was safely captured in the new tripod bag! I was still missing the washer but I didn't let that stop me.

I was very pleased to spot Polaris over the roof of the house. I had not thought it possible to do a direct polar alignment. w00t!

Installed the main telescope tube and added the finder scope. Used Mizar and Alcor to align the finder. Hello, Sidus Ludoviciana. Then aimed at Castor. Lovely. Ooh. The view was good. I was seeing faint stars (mag 8 or 9) nearby.

Put caps and covers on to avoid frost. Was not planning on hooking up dew heaters.

Next problem was power. Without an AC outlet on the porch, I wasn't sure how I was going to get power to the telescope and accessories. I really didn't feel like lugging gel cell batteries outside... Looked that seam of the door. No space really. Hmm. The small windows flanking the door. Hey. They can open. Ah ha! The screens can be removed. I was able to feed a short extension cord from the socket beside the stove, through the east window, and outside. Finally, I was able to crank the window nearly closed. Happily I couldn't feel any draft per se. Nice.

Fetched my GFCI power bar, AC-12V custom adapter, and motor drive electronics. Soon I was tracking. And it held up between viewings so I knew my polar alignment was pretty good.

At this stage, I had done a "normal" setup, that is, using all my own gear. I needed to test if Phil's adapter would fit on the back of my SCT. In short order, I was able to thread it on. Yeh! I removed the SCT adapter from the Williams Optics 2" mirror and slipped the mirror into Phil's adapter. Like a glove. Looked through the eyepiece. Well, how about that. Still in focus!

Brilliant. Now I knew my telescope was able to receive Denis's video equipment. I thought it time to get on the target star for the Maja occultation. Oh boy. I realised at this stage, I had not done much prep for the occultation proper. I had not printed custom finder charts for my eyepiece set. I did not even have the information page from Preston's site loaded up. No time for that now, I'd just work directly with the computers.

Prepared the camcorder. Oops. Unit still had the RASC meeting tape 2 of 2 loaded. (Actually, it gave me a chance to quickly check that that worked. Woo hoo. I saw the end of Paul's talk. Could hear him too. Yeh.) In my darkened office, Moon beaming in, I located and loaded a new recordable tape. Checked it was rewound.

Fired up Stellarium 0.9 on the PC and SkyTools3 Pro on the netbook. I had previously configured (66) Maja in Stellarium.

Had a hard time typing in the dark. I knew I had another red LED light string (or two). Haven't put one into the desk yet. Forgot to get out the red LED USB keyboard lights... duh.

Made a new observing list in ST3 for the event. It took me a while to locate the target star in ST3. At last I had it. Preston's designation: TYC 1929-00358-1; SkyTools preference: HD 63991. Added to the observing list. Then added Castor. Moved to the kitchen, close to the 'scope. So I could star hop and keep my boots on! And keep warm...

Next I tried to use the interactive atlas and telescope views to plan the star hop. Did not think (at the time) I had the Orion finder scope field-of-view data in SkyTools. Tried using the binoculars option. Tried the Visual Sky Simulation three-panel view but was put off by the background colour and lack of stars. Went back to the interactive atlas, fiddled with the view preferences, and kind of used it by hand. Turned off the doubler option. (It would have helped significantly if I had turned on the mirror diagonal...)

I was thrown by orientation issues, I kept backtracking. Struggled with the context viewer and interactive atlas views, particularly on the small netbook screen. Pollux. Three faint stars in a little triangle. φ (phi) Geminorus. Finally, I arrived at what I thought was the star. Time check? 3:47! Damn it! There was no time left!

I had yet to hook up the flip mirror, an eyepiece, the camcorder, occultation-rig-in-a-box to power. Triple check my star. Get focus. 10 minutes to do all that? Some of which I had never done before? No... not possible.

So I grabbed the voice recorder and headed to the porch to do a visual (without time signal; just for fun)... And didn't see anything!

I strongly suspect I was on the wrong star. It should have been easy, with the star's brightness, and given the size of the asteroid. Probably my incorrect settings in SkyTools messed me up. Still getting used to SkyTools. Still getting used to the new finder scope and it's 5° field. Why I didn't go to a higher power eyepiece is a bit beyond me. Tired? Fuzzy? Cold?

All the wind was out of my sails. I packed up, save the tripod, crawled into the warm bed, Nancy watching over me, and promptly passed out.


It was a little disappointing but still somewhat rewarding. Learned a bunch. Next clear night I'll finish the test.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

rejuvenated heat packs

I boiled the reusable heat packs. I had taken two to the COS and found one already triggered. The third one, still at home, also triggered.

Not sure what caused them to ignite. Maybe happened during the move? Shocks and movement? Or the temperature changes from home, to storage, to home?

One was finicky so I boiled it again. And gently stored them.

Friday, January 14, 2011

updated prep list

Took a quick peek at my observing session pre-flight preparation checklist to verify that I had a reminder to download (or print) my life lists. It was already there.

Then I noticed that I didn't have anything about using SkyTools3. Ha!

Also remembered that there were no notes about aligning a finder scope... now that I have a detachable one.

inspected binos

I remembered that a screw had backed out on my cheapo binoculars. Cloudy nights are good for checking (and tuning up) equipment.

oh, that's tilt!

I just realised that I've been using my Manfrotto 029 head (early generation) the wrong way! No issue with panning. One of the up/down axis is very stiff; the other moves easily and very smoothly. I believe now that I've been using the lateral/roll for tilt/pitch.

Oops! Explains why I was having such a hard time recording Paul's talk.

That said, the orientation of the "LENS" direction indicator on the bottom of the hexagon doesn't seem right... I think I'll just ignore that. I'll put the indicator 90° and then I don't have to struggle with the tight clamp.


Also learned that the markings are every 20 degrees.


I'd make another discovery later...

tripod mountable

Confirmed the Questar has a tripod mount point and that it is standard size.

It looks clearance by the AC power plug will be OK.

So, either carry a small table outside or a tripod.

way back machine!

It has been said, one should move house every 10 or so years. I was told that a lot over the last 3 months. It is suggested as it forces one to re-examine the stuff we keep. And helps us shed the old junk we don't care about anymore.

In a box marked "Sci-Fi magazines," I found an old copy of Astronomy magazine. August 1981. Wow.

I probably bought it at the time because of the cover story: the launch of the Space Shuttle. STS-1. The first one! Pretty amazing. It's odd too, that I find it now, as the NASA shuttle program is winding down. The alpha and the omega.

It's funny looking at the old telescope ads.

good skies at Brick Works

Tom reported that the Evergreen event was fun. "I got there at 7, and the sky was completely overcast. 15 minutes later, it had completely cleared. Been a while since that's happened, usually it's the other way around!"

Damn. Should have gone.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

helped RASC today

Did a bunch of things for the Toronto Centre today.
  • gathered a bit more information (from Ralph) on the 2010-2011 council, committee chairs, and other volunteers (after stomping about, pulling teeth, and pushing rope)
  • and updated photos
  • updated Guy on my video recording the yesterday's meeting
  • and enquired as to next steps to convert the video
  • and made it clear that I don't want to do that...
  • added Steve to the CAO supervisors listserv (and welcomed him)
  • encouraged Dietmar to use the CAO list for email communications
  • checked all deep sky observing session dates (and found one fault)
  • updated the 2011 monthly calendar and uploaded it to the Council list (again)
  • chatted some more with Brenda about the Yahoo!Group calendar
  • asked Jason if he's willing to do more editing on the web site
  • posted an article about the astronomy film at TIFF
  • then messaged the group about the event
  • created a CMS account for Matt and told him to call me when he's ready to learn it
That's enough I think.

man down

First Mom, then sis, told me that Steve's done something to his foot. They actually don't know but the doc suspects it is something with a metatarsal. He's in a lot of pain. Looks like they won't be able to visit the observatory this winter...

cloudy start

A GO call was made for the first Evergreen Brick Works "astronomy in the valley" event. But I don't think the skies are going to cooperate.

That thing's moving fast...

Hopefully, they'll generate some interest at the booth for future events.

climate history still available

I could have sworn that the climate history links were missing from the Toronto and CAO Clear Sky Chart pages. Attilla assured me they were not.

Indeed, right where I remember them...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

red film for Don

Don needed a little bit of red film. I think he said it was for a head lamp. I gave him a little piece and told him to not worry about it. He insisted on giving me some cash. He also said he was very thankful for the support on Monday. Au contraire! I was so happy to try the ETX!

recorded talk

Paul Delaney, second veep for the RASC Toronto Centre, spoke on exoplanets. There was interest in recording his presentation. Jason offered but then couldn't make the meeting. No one else came forward after two appeals. So, in the end, it fell to me. Fortunately, Denis let me use his camcorder. I schleped my long extension cord and big metal tripod. And I recorded the event. Now? Gotta find out who can convert it...

Props to John B. for offering me a ride to, dropping me at the front door of the Ontario Science Centre, and offering me a ride all the way home.

Greg gave it a thumbs-up

Greg of SkyHound replied. Said it doesn't matter what I call the SkyTools3 list or the notes/rating group; but it is helpful to the user that they be similar and obvious.
Hi Blake,

Your list looks fine. Once the matching notes/ratings group is selected in the planner the rating appear fine. I'm going to put your list up on my main site for everyone to access directly, assuming you don't object.

Clear skies,

Monday, January 10, 2011

that was fun (Toronto)

Just got home from a City Observing Session at Bayview Village Park. Joined RASC members Maia, Stu, Don, and Tony. Maia had a few students show up. Margie and Bob popped by for a few minutes (with lightweight clothes and sans toques). They didn't stay long. Skies were not great, it was chilly (-8°C), but we still got a surprising amount of observing in.

I asked Grace if Tony could come out and play. It was a treat to have transport to and fro. Tony asked me to drive so he could relax.

I was very glad to see Don. He had brought out his Meade ETX 125 PE and tripod to let me experiment. I grilled him on features, pros and cons. It was good to try it. I enjoyed the views. I think the aperture is appropriate. The bad news though is it looks like it cannot be equatorially mounted on a table with little legs. At least, not with the PE version.

We viewed Jupiter and its four moons all on one side, like a little Double Double arrangement. We viewed the Moon. I tagged M42 (Messier 42) in the 125. Maia's 8" Dob offered up a crisp, clear view. Stu put a nebula filter in his refractor which really showed off the gas. M43 (Messier 43) popped. We all took in various double and multiple stars: Castor, Polaris, Rigel, σ (sigma) Orionis. We wrapped up on Uranus and Jupiter together in a 2° field by Stu.

Saw four (of the five) stars that make up σ Ori. Saw three (of the four) stars of Struve 761.

Tony picked up coffee and tea for the crew! Helped warm our hands. Very handy given that one of my chemical heat packs had already been triggered. (Should have checked 'em before departure.)


We couldn't remember some of the star names in Orion. I used SkyTools3 to dig for details...

left most of belt: Alnitak
middle: Alnilam
right: Mintaka
left knee: Saiph

Sent on to the crew.


The new Baffin -100°C boots were amazing!

solo John

John reported in from the High Park City Observing Session: "There was one member in attendance, including me." Oh oh.

gift on door step

The Sky is Your Laboratory showed up on my doorstep today. The downstairs neighbours must have received it while I was at work.

Really glad to have this book in my library.

This is an indirect gift from Donna and Steve.

via new route (Toronto)

Decided to take the bus home from downtown. Haven't done that for a while. First time for (er, to) my new home. I was about 50 metres down Durie, glancing at the Moon and Jupiter through the trees, when I caught a very bright object. And when I fixed on it, it quickly faded away. Ha! An Iridium. Very near Jupiter. So in the south-west. Maybe about 15° below. Pulled my mobile phone and checked the time: 5:42 PM.

It was Iridium satellite 57, to be exact.

Kim has 'scope

High school friend Kim messaged me on Facebook. She has a shiny new telescope but admitted she knows nothing about it. Looks like a job for Telescope Man!

morning walk planets (Toronto)

Spotted Venus bright and high from the kitchen window. Wondered if I would be able to see Mercury during my walk to the subway...

Southbound on Beresford, I still had houses and trees to contend with. At one point, where someone had lost their big old tree, I had a clear shot at the south-eastern sky. But I still could not tag the inner planet. (Turns out it was only 9° above the horizon.)

Enjoyed Saturn to the south-west. Very high, up and to the right of a star. Saturn was a pale tan colour, steady; Spica was bluish-white below.

Then as I cut through the parkette, I caught something faint out of the corner of my eye. Below Venus, almost directly below, was a twinkling object. About 10 degrees away. No... that can't be it. (Nope, not Mercury; it was Antares.)