Saturday, April 30, 2011

java with Manuel

I had offered, some time back, to help Manuel with his telescope gear. He wanted someone to double-check his polar alignment as well as the collimation of his OTAs. Finally, when I posted I had a bit of red film left, he said he wanted to buy some.

We met up at his place. He's not too far away, near Park Lawn. Unfortunately clouds moved in. So, we could not play with telescopes. But that didn't stop us from getting a lot done. We talked about astronomy, RASC, the CAO, astrophotography, cool down times, light pollution, dew prevention, coffee, collimation, and Cartagena.

There was definitely something amiss with his M13 image. But that was before repairs to his mount.

He also took a couple of square feet of red film, for his laptop and smart phone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

on closing up

Emailed Steve my closing checklist. It helps me remember things to verify before pulling out the driveway of the CAO.

Monday, April 25, 2011

ECR for supers

It didn't occur to me until Steve and I were chatting but the CAO supervisors need the newly designed expense cheque requisition form as much as any RASC Toronto Centre councillor. I uploaded the Excel file to the supers Yahoo!Group.

voltage divider idea

Denis suggested not simply replacing the damaged battery holder in the Telrad but accessing a continuous external power source. Good idea. There is 12 VDC at the 'scope. I wonder if I made a simple voltage divider, using 3 volts for the Telrad illuminator; then I could use the remaining 9 volts to generate heat inside the Telrad... Alternatively, I could use a LM317 voltage regulator.

I should bounce it off The Sage.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

account for Steve

I forgot to do it on Saturday night while we were observing... I created an account for Steve on the GBO laptop computer as well as verifying he had our Tpoint model in his TheSky6 profile.

roof sensor OK

At long last, I repaired the sensor problem in the GBO. The right-most roof latch was acting up. Had been since the south wall repair... I started to think it was a bad wire. But after a round of continuity tests, I convinced myself that was not the case. Turned out to simply be a proximity and alignment issue. Easier to fix then replacing wires or the sensor!

Easter observing (Blue Mountains)

12:30 AM. We had finished watching our second movie. Grace had already gone to bed. I was thinking about it. Tony returned from the back deck of the Carr Astronomical Observatory and urged us to step outside: it was very clear to the west and north. How about that! Steve pointed out the big and fuzzy Coma Berenices Star Cluster directly overhead.
Instruments: Celestron 14-inch SCT, Tele Vue 101 refractor
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
I was very tired, yawning, didn't feel like going out. Really sitting on the fence. But Steve was interested, Tony was interested. We had all come a long way... I talked myself into it. And suited up!

It would also prove a chance to let Steve practice his new CAO supervisor training.

1:00. We opened the Geoff Brown Observatory together. Our agreed that our first target would be Saturn.

1:05. We just viewed Saturn through both the Celestron 14" Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope with a Tele Vue Panoptic 27mm eyepiece (yielding 145x) and the Tele Vue 101mm refractor telescope with a TV Radian 5mm (108x). The northern temperate zone belt seemed darker than I recalled. Titan and Rhea flanked the ring planet. Dione was close to the rings, same side as Titan. Iapetus was visible too, way off to the right.

1:32. We tried, with the Nagler 20mm in the C14 (at 196x), to draw out Tethys, Mimas, or Encedalus. The view was not bad but we didn't have any luck. I wondered if we had a masking eyepiece...

Tony headed off to bed. Way past his bed time. Now I was wide awake! Funny that he was the one to nudge us outside...

1:46. Steve and I viewed Porrima, not far away, 2.5 degrees from Saturn. With with the 20mm in C14, it was a nice split, like car headlights. Since we had both 'scopes going, I was curious. I put the 3mm in TV101 but, even at 180 power, I could not see split it.

2:02. Steve wanted to try manually steering the big 'scope. It took us a while to sort out the Telrad though.

The 1x finder initially aboard the C14 had been left on, so—of course—the batteries were dead. When we opened the battery cover, sadly, we found that the batteries had leaked. To make matters worse, a small metal part, a spacer of some kind, fell out. My fears were confirmed when we tried fresh batteries: the battery holder was irreparable damaged. I put it aside to take home to repair.

We borrowed the working Telrad from the orange tube C8. Steve got familiar with the equipment.

2:11. We viewed Messier 3 (M3) in the big 'scope at 145x. The globular cluster was amazing, beautiful. We could see individual stars, gradually soft brightening to the centre.

The 3rd quarter phase Moon rose over the mountain, flooding the observatory, and sky, with light... Urg.

2:34. We viewed the big needle-like galaxy Herschel H47-5 aka NGC 3079. Thin, edge-on.

Nearby was the small elliptical, NGC 3073, just beyond 3 stars. Faint. It was magnitude 14.1 according to SkyTools3; TheSky6 said it was 11.6.

2:43. The Moon was bright. I probably should have tried for this earlier. But I wanted to see if we could detect a quasar. I had added two candidates to my SkyTools list. We slewed to the "twin quasar" neighbourhood. I couldn't see anything... I was too tired and chilled to sketch anything.

We called it quits and quickly packed up.

There was dew everywhere!

3:03. I checked the conditions in the Davis Vantage Pro weather station console: humidity was 94% and the temperature was -1°C with the wind chill.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

generator tune-up

I changed the oil and filter in the CAO generator. A little overdue... This will become a yearly event.

I also adjusted the time. It was screwy.

Tried to replace the hose clamps but I had bought the wrong size.

what Lora wants

Lora wanted to know the gravel road conditions leading to the CAO. If good enough for a tear drop shaped trailer. After a cup o' joe, I reported in: roads are A-OK!

impromptu training

Steve emailed me to see if he could visit the CAO and get some supervisor training. He has his first scheduled supervisor weekend on June 4 but didn't think he could squeeze in any training before then. It was no problem for me. I think with the Horvatin crew. A-OK. Tony, in fact, said he'd lurk to see what was covered.

Friday, April 22, 2011

eyes of Lora Chow

Lora emailed to ask me to check their supplies in the CAO supervisors closet. Got bonus marks for speedy response.

repaired laptop remote access

I fixed the remote access to the GBO laptop. While the Dell had VNC on it, I don't know what David did exactly in configuring the machine. I made a number of adjustments to it. Got it working. That means, if we want to, we could do remote operation of the telescope, perhaps from the house.

Actually, I can use it when I need to do double star drift timings, by myself. Instead of running back and forth between the Warm Room and the C14, I can pilot the Paramount from the netbook...

to the CAO

Trevor, a licenced driver now, guided us to the E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory. Via 400-series highways. w00t! I rode shotgun.

We all needed some R&R. Grace, Tony, and myself. Some time away from the rat race. Fresh air and all that.

Looking forward to some good eats. Grace has a ham dinner planned for Saturday; I'm in charge of breakfasts.

I'm sure Tony and I will get busy...

I also had a bunch of items to drop off: new bike-style foot tire pump with multi-head adapter, various new CFL bulbs, 2L of 5W-30 fully synthetic oil for the generator, updated house circuit print-outs, new CR-123 battery for the Davis weather station sensor suite, course steel wool, super glue, duct tape, and a replacement 1/4" socket 1/4" drive.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

observatory in the bay

Ooooh. No wonder! I had noticed it. Guy had noticed it. I just chalked it up to a software gremlin. Nope. Human error (as always)...

The location of the Carr Astronomical Observatory in Occult Watcher appeared in the middle of Nottawasaga Bay!

I discovered that'll happen if you add 20 minutes to the latitude...


But (and here's the awesome news), it puts the CAO down the pipe of the Mabella occultation!

oil of snake

Learned that "Stellarium product" in the Apple app store is free for the iPhone and iTouch but scammers are charging 99¢ for the iPad version.

This is not an officially sanctioned product of the Stellarium team.

It's also a crappy port of the open source...

More importantly, Stellarium, the official version, for Windows, Macintosh, and UNIX, is free. Free, GPL, no charge.

If you paid for it, you were had. Demand a refund.

Apple is investigating.

happy anniversary Canadian astronauts

It was 10 years ago that the first Canadian astronaut conducted a space walk. It also marks a 10 year anniversary for Canadian robotic operations in space. Chris Hadfield helped install Canadarm2, built by MDA, on the International Space Station.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

fixed laser again

The piece of... crap... laser from Khan failed, again. The cheap hunk of junk (that I paid through the nose for) green laser pointer is screwed up again. The interior switch assembly is, somehow, twisting inside the case. Fortunately, I was able to reorient it, again. Then I noticed the rubberised black paint is flaking off the case. Why? Wasn't put on properly, that's why. Amazing.

Amazing that the other green laser pointer I have, the China special, is working great! At 1/10th the price.

I wonder what the frickin' mark up is on these things. Damn it!

I don't know how long I'll be able to continue this rotating of the interior elements before something breaks. I think when it breaks (and I can't fix it) I'm going to visit Ray, hand it to him, and suggest he safely dispose of it...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stellarium card to BVG

Ed is a member of the RASC Toronto Centre. He's the owner of the Budget Astronomer web site (which I stumbled into a long time ago). He's a techno geek and into binary stars (I'm hoping I can find a way to use his software to measure double stars). And he is also a teacher at the co-educational Bayview Glen School.

Ed contacted me last week about Stellarium. As he is about to embark on a hands-on astronomy unit for his 80 grade 9 students, he was looking for tutorial information. A quick reference sheet, basic features, soft-copy preferred. Didn't make sense to reinvent the wheel.

I tidied up the document I had recently produced and licenced a PDF edition to the school. I hope it will help everyone out.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

confirmed miss

I crawled through the occultation video from March 27. The mag 9.2 star was supposed to disappear, for some, at 10:16:16 EST. Nope. It remained visible.

I carefully reviewed the video record. I had good data from 10:14 through 10:19. While there was slightly flickering from the seeing conditions, at no point did the star disappear.

I submitted my formal report. A confirmed miss.

(Video available upon request.)

pulled down video

I finally got 'round to pulling the video from Denis's camcorder for the March 27 evening, for the occultation attempt, and the live imagery of Messier 82. Now, to closely inspect the occultation miss and stack some DSO frames...

who flicked the switch?

Looks like Yahoo! switched on the "new" calendar.

The good news is that it is based on the iCalendar standard; the bad news is that all kinds of things broke.

My desktop Yahoo!Widget which displayed my astronomy Yahoo!Calendar broke. Couldn't move forwards or backwards. Then I closed it and reopened it, in hopes it was just hung. Now it won't even open.

Tried access the calendar from my browser to edit it... Got a scary message: "The Yahoo! user nouser does not exist or does not have a public Yahoo! Calendar." That sent a chill down my spine thinking all the data had been deleted. After logging in directly (in a different browser), I saw all the data intact (whew!) but in the new (not beta anymore) format. Mmmm. Oh oh!

Jumped into the companion site and pulled up the what's up page... Yep. The iFrame panel showed the same nouser message. Damn it. I reviewed the sharing options and found how to share publicly. Longer, more convulted link. But, in short order, I had the iFrame calendar working again.

The old calendar supported categories. There were about 20. The Day Planner Yahoo!Widget supported 4 of them and showed them with different colours. That's all gone now. There's a new feature called stickers, whatever that means. The birthday category has been converted to the birthday sticker. But probably the best thing to do now is use iCalendar layer feature.

The Yahoo!Widget though... I bet that one's a dead-end. Sadly, no one's doing widget development.

And that's the crux of the matter. I really liked the little Day Planner! It was extremely helpful for keeping me on top of upcoming events. It was, on the desktop of my main computer, in my face. Without it, I don't know what I'm gonna do.

Sent an email to Yahoo! customer service...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

SkyNews May/June arrived

The May/June issue of SkyNews magazine arrived in my mailbox today. I found it after work.

The feature article is entitled Planets of Other Suns. Oooh. Lookin' forward to that.

This whole burgeoning field in astronomy is utterly fascinating to me. The Milky Way, it is estimated, to have 200 to 400 billion stars. Let's split the difference. That should also account for that some stars would not harbour worlds. And let's say that, on average, there are 10 planets in each of those solar systems. So that's around 3 trillion planets. And that's very cool.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

happy anniversary humanity

It was 50 years ago today that Yuri Gagarin changed the world. Humanity was no longer confined to one planet.

We haven't accomplished all that we've dreamed. But it is still amazing to me, that in half a century, we've walked on the Moon, probed many planets and moons, discovered thousands of planets in hundreds of solar systems, and reached into the very deepest depths of the Universe.

And, of course, it was 30 years ago that the NASA Space Shuttle programme began. Despite some hardships, it has been an incredible journey. Without the shuttles, we would not have built the International Space Station.

I find it difficult to imagine where we'll be another short 50 years from now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

the old t-adapter

Forgot I had it. Found it near all my (old, ancient) camera gear.

One of the first accessories I bought for the telescope. I did some prime-focus photography of the Moon with this bad boy.

I wonder if this will work with Lexa's Canon t-ring...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

packing up

The storms had passed. The lightning had stopped. The Sun came out.

In the light of day, down at the garage, before I tore down the telescope, Lex and I tried to fit her Canon t-ring to the visual back of the Celestron. No joy. Wouldn't fit. Wrong size and/or thread.

(Hours later, I suddenly remembered I had a t-adapter with a removeable t-ring or t-mount. I wondered where it was. I hadn't seen it for a long time...)

Alexa and I considered the logistics of getting the telescope to her island on the east coast. It would actually be easier in the winter. But, if we could find a regular canoe or cargo canoe, then we'd be good to go in the summer. It would be so dark...

As we left, Marion handed me the green laser of death. I don't recall where I had put it but clearly not in my luggage.

Bill said, "You can bring the telescope any time you want."

Saturday, April 09, 2011

not as clear (King)

Unfortunately, the rain clouds predicted for Sunday moved in and cut our Saturday evening session short. But still, we had some fun.

The whole gang was on-hand. Nyssa, Duncan, Lex, Ger, Marion, Bill.

We viewed Moon at 55x with the baader 36mm ocular and 77x with the Celestron 26mm. Alexa tried some afocal shots with her Canon DSLR. I suggested the camera bracket to steady the camera.

Saturn did not look as good on this evening. The skies were not as good as Friday even though we were later at it and it was higher. I tried going to 220x with the Tele Vue 9mm eyepiece but it was not a good view. I went back down to 110x. Lex also tried some images of the ringed planet.

Lex and I kicked ourselves for not trying her t-ring adapter in the day, with lots of light...

Spent a bit of time on Mizar and Alcor. Everyone enjoyed seeing Mizar break into separate elements, the A and B stars. I wanted to tag the Winter Albireo but distant clouds twarted us.

It seemed colder. Maybe it was the humidity and wind. We packed it in pretty early.

Friday, April 08, 2011

wow factor (King)

When Bill said that Marion and Duncan were already at the farm and that I could go up any time, I entertained the idea of getting out ahead of the rush hour crowd. I was able to get on the road at about 2 PM. It proved a pretty easy drive.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping, Vixen tracking
I tried the hand-me-down Panasonic GPS after loading in the latitude and longitude of the Bobo's farm. It worked! It beeped to signal that I had arrived my destination as I drove up their driveway. That was comforting. I was otherwise going completely on visual memory.

It was interesting to me that, as the crow flies, they are less than 50 km from me. For some reason, I thought the Holland Marsh was much further away...

Shortly after arriving I asked Duncan if he would like to help me set up the telescope. Duncan, Marion, and I first considered the deck above the sunroom but with all the trees close to the house, we knew it would not work. Damn trees! We decided on the lower driveway for good sightlines, especially for tagging Saturn.

I explained how the 'scope and mount worked as we assembled it. Duncan helped track down a long extension cord to get power to the 'scope. I used my compass to get close to the north celestial pole. I aligned the finder scope on a distant southern tower with a round top. I thought it a water tower at first but, in the 55 power eyepiece it turned out to be a communication station of some king. Marion thought it a radar device.

Marion loaned me a pony blanket to cover the 'scope as we enjoyed the afternoon Sun. The blanket proved very handy with integrated clips. We left the rig to cool down. The skies were looking promising.


After a delicious dinner, we headed outside. We extinguished all the outside lights, on the garage and house. It was turning into a pleasant evening, somewhat clear, not too cold.

We watched the stars and constellations come out, including Canis Major and Sirius, Canis Minor and Procyon, Taurus and Aldebaran. I helped them spot, naked eye, with the green laser, the Pleiades, just below the Moon.

First I trained the Celestron 8" on the young Moon. That was exciting for everyone. Bill had never looked at the Moon through a telescope before. We talked about how the bright satellite, while only partly lit, was knocking out our night vision. It gave them a good sense of importance of dark adaptation.

Then, as I spotted Gemini with Castor and Pollux, I moved the 8" SCT to the double star. Everyone was able to split Castor.

Before it dipped too low, we enjoyed Orion. Marion wanted to know where Rigel was, having named one of their cats after the star. I also pointed out Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Saiph, Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. We viewed Great Nebula and Trapezium.

I tried for Mizar and Alcor but couldn't align as that part of the sky grew cloudy. Meanwhile, Bill spotted a bright point over the garage. Good eye: it was Saturn!

With 55x we spotted Titan; at 110x, we could see Iapetus. I thought it a little strange that we couldn't see other moons but I surmised they we close to the planet or rings.

Marion, Duncan, and Bill enjoyed all the views. There were lots of wow factor moments! Bill was so amazed, he sent a email to Lex and Ger.
I SEE STARS!!!!!!!!

Ok so cool. We just looked at Saturn. WOW.
As the ringed planet rose, as the view improved, I was able see and point out the lighter equatorial belt and darker northern cloud bands. Bill thought he could see the Cassini division on one side of the planet.

It was too bad they could not attend on this evening but they had a visitor.

A friend of Bobos came by later. She enjoyed the views as well.

The skies gradually degraded. We headed inside and reviewed what we had seen. I showed Bill the Newmarket Clear Sky Chart.

Later we schlepped the assembled 'scope into the garage. That was very handy, having positioned so close to the garage. Duncan spotted for me.

Overall, a short and sweet session. But lots of fun had by all!


I was pretty happy. The weather sites were showing improved predictions than what I had seen early in the week. The afternoon sky was looking so good I was regretting not bringing the solar filter. The evening conditions were rather good. The seeing was not bad. It was pretty dark at their place above the March. It's gonna be great on a good night...

There are a gaggle of lights to the north! Must be Bradford. So if we continue to use the driveway or south lawn in the future, it will be awesome. When they move the old barn, the southern sightline will be amazing.

calendar for the farm

I gave the Bobos a RASC calendar for the farm. They seemed to enjoy the images.

good eye

Phil spotted my little jab at when to change tires...
Great presentation you made on Wednesday night (as was every presentation that evening).   One "nit" on your TSTM calendar.   It says April 18th is finally the date we can change over our winter tires.  Clearly the proper date was April 2 when I changed over my tires.
I dunno, man. One cannot deny that it snowed, rained, and was very cold!

delivered TSTM for Apr-May

I delivered The Sky This Month presentation for the RASC Toronto Centre at the Ontario Science Centre on the evening of April 6. I designed it to go to the next Recreational Astronomy Night meeting, which turned out to be more than 1 month away. I just uploaded the notes to the Centre web site, along with a downloadable PDF file for the calendar.

The highlights:
  • opportunities to see the Lunar Straight Wall
  • Saturn is well-placed for evening observing or imaging at a reasonable hour
  • main event is when a gaggle of planets group close together at the end of April and into May
  • celebrate human space exploration in April, Yuri Gagarin's launch into low Earth orbit, the final flight of the Endeavour space shuttle
  • celebrate the anniversary of the "telescope," as well as amazing new discoveries by Hubble and Kepler


Tony said that he had a hard time reading the text in the slides from the extreme right of the auditorium, up fairly high, given the lighting.

I was a little worried about that. I'll have to increase the contrast of the body text font...


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

Thursday, April 07, 2011

loaned BOG

John is teaching in the NOVA program. He's taken over for Guy. I offered to assist him in ramping up. Offered materials.

He picked up my copy of the RASC Beginner's Observing Guide to read.


Stu liked the PowerPoint tip I recommended: Shift+F5 to launch a presentation from the current slide. He could have used it last night during his Granite Gap presentation.

bringing the gear

I sent a note to the gang (the Bobos, Alexa, and Ger) that I would bring the all telescope gear with me to the farm, regardless of the weather. But at the same time I shared that I was not confident in the predictions... We'll see. Having it there of course gives us options. If I didn't have stuff there and it cleared—that would be bad.

wow, thanks!

Found a very nice accolade, from one of the RASC Toronto Centre members, in my inbox this morning...
I just wanted to say that you did an excellent job on The Sky this Month. It was a very original format and brought a diverse set of data and information about what is going on in the sky, the solar system, and space in general. Your commentary was really interesting. I really liked it. I would vote for you to be a regular!
It's a pity I cannot do them more often.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

red film for Wolf

Sold a little piece of deep red film to Wolf after the meeting. He only asked me a couple months ago!

couldn't believe it!

I couldn't believe my eyes...

If it wasn't for the paparazzi photo, I would have thought it a dream...

let's go!

I'm not sure why he was looking at it in the middle of the day, months from when we'll return, but Phil noticed that the Clear Sky Chart for Mew Lake was spectacular.

All righty. Let's go then!

Saturday, April 02, 2011


Paul hadn't even waited until I delivered the April 6 presentation when he enquired if I wanted to do The Sky This Month for the May 18 meeting. Not a good time to ask...

Friday, April 01, 2011

wires crossed

Marion, somewhere along the way, thought that I had wanted to visit the farm on the April 2-3 weekend. No... We straightened it out during Bill's new job celebration evening. Lex was keen too.

That said, the long range weather predictions did not look great.