Thursday, June 30, 2011

sent note that CAO was open

While I wasn't there yet, if my official supervisory capacity, I told members of the RASC Toronto Centre, via the Yahoo!Group mailing list that the Carr Astronomical Observatory was open now and would be open for the weekend.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

more conduit

Helped, once again, on the MODL project.

Hitched a ride with Grace and Tony to the Carr Astronomical Observatory on Friday. We were joined by Dietmar, Alex, Tim, Lora, Phil, and Skeena.

On Saturday, we worked on the new power and data conduit paths inside the Geoff Brown Observatory, punching through the south wall. Once connected, we buried the conduit near the GBO and toward the Bob Anderson Observatory dome. On Sunday, we cut some of the patio stones to fit around the pier. We put bumpers near the junction boxes.

The grass was crazy tall! 18 inches in some places. It took 2 days to cut the lawn. Dietmar, Tony, and Tim took turns.

Dietmar, Tony, and I coached and trained Cliff and Tim on CAO and GBO procedures. Cliff, so he can feel more comfortable flying the 'scope when in da 'hood; Tim, to prepare him for supervising next year. Tim offered to help us with documentation for supervisors. Awesome!

Excellent meals by Grace. Yum!

finally the Sun (Blue Mountains)

Of course, it was a mini work party at the CAO, so it was crappy and windy and rainy Friday night and all day Saturday. And Sunday, when we all have to leave, it cleared up.

Still, I wasn't going to leave without using the telescope. I was bound and determined. It also gave us a chance to test Tim. And, lastly, it would gave Alex a chance to do some actual astronomical observing!

We bolted up the SolarMax Hydrogen-alpha filters to the Tele Vue 101, cracked open the roof, and target our star. And it did not disappoint!

There were many flares, and little arcs, along the perimeter, scores of long filaments in the foreground, along with other mottling. We walked up through the entire Coronado eyepiece kit and then used the 10mm and 5mm to zoom in closer and closer. Fantastic stuff. Nothing in white light. No sunspots.

It was awesome!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

3 in a row

Wow. Look at that. Three occultations within a 5 day period of time all flying over the CAO in the first full week of July... Tampere, Burnhamia, and Iolanda.

solstice notice

My buddy Malcolm, right on schedule, sent a Happy Solstice email to me.

Yes, indeed. I'm happy that summer is officially here. Now only if the weather would sync up.

Burnhamia scuttled

When I looked at the Clear Sky Chart this morning, I actually considered staying up for the Burnhamia occultation. But when the CSC updated around noon and everything went from dark blue squares to grey and white, I eased off. Just peeked outside. Orange skies. Too bad. It was flying right over Toronto with an 83% rank...

Monday, June 20, 2011

MODL article help

Helped Tony with the BAO and MODL update article for the RASC Toronto Centre web site. When he called me in the afternoon, he said he had written the text. He needed me to put the photos in. Whoa, there cowboy. I told him he'd have to pick the photos. We ended up doing it together as we reviewed the pix by Lora, Sharmin, and myself.

why Skype?

Laila sent a message about a week ago to a small group saying she and Ralph wanted to have periodic meetings. The people involved are affect by some of the strategic planning, marketing, and promotion efforts. And, of course, this involves logo redesign and web site redesign.

Super. More meetings.

She went on to say that they wanted everyone to use Skype. I thought that a little odd when, if we weren't going to meet up face-to-face, we could pick up the telephone. Remember the phone?! They also alluded to more intimate meetings, using video. I pushed back a little. And was a little amused when Laila herself said her video equipment doesn't work with Skype.

I asked Ralph if we had Skype Premium (or Manager), so to support group video conferences. And then was a little amused again when he said, "No, should we get it?"

It gelled for me, finally. Council uses Skype only when members are out of town and want free long distance during a telephone call. They're not using video. They're not going to share desktops. These new meetings will likely be with all parties in the GTA. OK, maybe Ralph might connect from K-W.

I don't see a compelling reason to use it (at this time). Good. I don't need to load up more software. And I don't wanna have to tolerate all the technical issues they haven't considered yet.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

first stacking

Played with DeepSkyStacker briefly. Went back to my old Orion constellation photo(s) from October 2009, made with the little FujiFilm J20 point-n-shoot, on a tripod!

Tonight, I shot a dark frame (in the bathroom). In the same mode, Fireworks, at the same exposure time, 8 seconds.

I tried shooting a flat frame with a piece of paper under the Tizo lamp. But when I included it, I got some very weird results. So I skipped it, for now.

I changed the RGB levels slightly, bringing the bright levels down about 10 or 15%, with all 3 linked, and the centre up (right) about 5%. I set the saturation to 20%. With the luminance settings, I used darkness 0° and 90, midtone 10° and 24, and finally highlight 0° and 55.

It's pretty cool! With only 2 light frames! JPEGs!

Saturn behind trees (Toronto)

It was looking like it was going to be clear. I was wavering, debating whether to assemble the 'scope on the porch.

When I phoned Tony to say that I missed him (after all the mini work parties at the CAO), he said they were planning on firing up the Q, wanted to know if I wanted to join them. Sure. But only if he'd get out the 'scope. I wanted to look at Saturn.

After dinner, we watched one of the Planet Earth blueray discs. Great photography.

I popped to the backyard to check sightlines. Damn! Saturn was visible only when I stood at the gate in the driveway. It was quite far in the south-west. And low. Shoot. When I reported this to Tony, he slumped back into his comfy chair and suggested we watch another movie. I was tired enough to agree.

Damn trees.


Later, I spotted the Summer Triangle. Tony spotted the hazy yellow Moon low, rising.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

empirical weather

I really enjoyed Stuart's presentation on clear sky trends. Fantastic information, presented well. He was worried it might be boring! Ha!

I rejigged his data a little to make the chart run from noon to noon. And I tuned the 3D surface graph colours to follow the Clear Sky Chart styles...

Watch that time scale, as it runs from right-to-left.


Adjusted the graph again...

Time flows left-to-right now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

last bit gone

I sold the last bit of Lee #42 red film tonight. Rob bought the remaining four square feet.


There is no 42... Meant 26.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

fixed ECR again

Tony, while trying to submit thousands of dollars of receipts, found some faults in the most recent Expense Cheque Requisition spreadsheet. He needed to do an HST override for a handful of his purchases but I had locked the column. Also, he reported he could not active the checkbox, to indicate he wanted to receive reimbursement by Interac email. I was a little embarrassed by that one. Oops. Totally forgot about implementing that for online use.

To facilitate his immediate need, I gave him the password.

I later revised the Excel file and uploaded the newest version to the Council and Supers Yahoo!Groups.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

MODLs done

Well. Four of five. The fifth we're calling The Swamp.

A small crew worked hard on Saturday and Sunday. We buried the power and data conduits from the pier in each MODL to the central junctions. Then we put gravel in the MODL excavated lots. Atop this screening and fine sand. Then patio plates.

I ran Cliff's tractor most of Saturday and Sunday. A "cushy sit down job" and I was still exhausted.

Trevor, Tim, Tony, Dietmar, and Phil worked really hard.

Millie and Grace kept us fed and watered.


I shot a bunch of photos... Coming soon! [ed: There are a handful now on flickr.]

Saturday, June 11, 2011

survey online

Jason took the RASC Toronto Centre web site survey questions and put them online with the survey monkey tool. He let Laila, Ralph, and me know. Ready for quick testing.

and some visual (Blue Mountains)

12:30 AM. Decided to do a bit of "regular" observing. After setting my location and telescope, I reviewed my Turn Left at Orion observing lists in SkyTools3. First looked at the spring list. Objects in Cancer were not possible now. Maybe Leo targets?
Instruments: Celestron 14-inch SCT, Tele Vue 101 refractor
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
Ah. There was the third galaxy near M65 and M66: NGC 3628. M65 and M66 were barely visible in the eyepiece, so close to the Moon. Found a bright star nearby, HD 98388. 3628 was barely visible in the MallinCam. Could not get all 3 galaxies in the camera field.

Oh! I could just faintly see the dark lane in the foreground of the galaxy! Just like how it appears in TheSky6!

This galaxy is large. 12.3 arc-minutes long vs. 65 or 66 at approx 8.9'. Mag 10. But spread out over a larger area.

Put the integration to 14. Turned on ATW but didn't see any change. Tried AWC (auto white control) and hit Set but it didn't do anything either. Went back to manual.

12:52. It occurred to me that the time on the voice recorder might be wrong. I checked the date/time stamps on files and confirmed it was on Standard Time.

Dropped the gain from 4 to 3 and it improved. Gamma still 1. Tried changing the priority between Sense and AGC without seeing any improvement. Went back to AGC.

Everything was too low... the bright Moon was in the way. I realised it would be better to use the TLAO summer list so to get targets in the east, as far from as possible from gibbous Luna.

Through the 55mm ocular, I just visually observed V Aquilae. Lovely! Beautiful orange colour. Busy area, lots of fine blue-white stars of the Milky Way in the background. The intense star is also known as HD 177336, which is how I located it in TS6. ST3 shows it as a variable star and double but the double is not splittable at 0.2 seconds of arc!

In switching to visual observing, I put the red filter film on the Dell screen (with painters tape) and the frame on the netbook. Installed the red LED keyboard lights. Dimmed the lighting in the observatory and warm room.

Looked the image in the MallinCam field. Spent some time trying to correlate it to what I was seeing visually. Better aligned the TV101 to the C14 so to get the eyepiece view to match the MCHC.

Noticed clouds moving in. Ugh. Saw them everywhere. Only Ursa Major was visible. Reviewed my observing lists for targets to the north. No options really.

1:30. Caught myself yawning. Decided to throw in the towel. With the Big Day tomorrow, it didn't seem wise to pull an all-nighter. Overall, I thought I fared well, particularly given that the conditions were not looking very favourable, accomplished more than I expected. Lucky.

Closed the roof and did a quick shutdown. Could not engage 2 of the latches. Turned the dehumidifier on. Headed to bed.

hot and bothered

Sharmin and Eric noted my Facebook status and tried to view my NSN broadcast. I had to break the bad news...

recorded supernova (Blue Mountains)

Travelled to the CAO with the Horvatins. They picked me up on time at my place. Trevor drove all the way. Tony rode shotgun for the first part of the trip. We stopped for a nice dinner in Orangeville. Noted that it rained while we were inside. I took the shotgun seat for the rest of the trip.

I was hoping the clouds would ease off later in the evening. I wanted to view and record the supernova in Messier 51 (M51). I also wanted to try recording an International Space Station flyover (although I didn't have the times noted anywhere)... I also wanted to try broadcasting on the Night Skies Network (NSN). The radar images were looking promising. A tight, thin band was heading off to the east.

Prepared the telescopes in the Geoff Brown Observatory. Connected everything this time to the regular observatory Dell laptop: the mount to the serial port (controlled by TheSky6, of course); the MallinCam Hyper Color composite video feed to the AVerMedia PCMCIA card; and the MallinCam auxiliary control cable to the computer (via my personal USB-to-serial adapter).
Instrument: Tele Vue 101 refractor
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
Fri 10 Jun 2011, 11:18 PM. Fired up the Sony digital voice recorder. The skies were starting to clear.

This evening was experimental and mostly an attempt at video astronomy. I had the MallinCam was installed on the Tele Vue 101 refractor. I was basically ready to go. I considered using the Moon to focus.

Shut off the dehumidifier. Released the top roof bolts. Retracted the roof (motor worked fine). Slightly different sounds with the new wheels... Already had power to the mount and accessories and MallinCam.

Saw clouds off in the distance. As the roof drew back I could see the Moon was behind some scattered clouds. But it was looking good.

Did a link-up of TheSky6 software to the Paramount ME. It went to the Home position. Noticed the Sony was in VOX (er, VOR) mode. After homing, I sent the 'scope to the Moon. Oops. Forgot to removed the dust cap off the TV... Realised that without the LCD monitor in the observatory connected to the MallinCam, I would have to focus by running back and forth to the computer and 'scope focuser. Used the Motion Controls dialog to nudge the mount to the Moon. There was a slight alignment issue... it was close but still... A flip-mirror would have been handy.

The sky was opening up, particularly to the north.

Used the MallinCam Control software. Already configured to COM7. It was working OK.

Continued aligning. It was not quite as far away as I initially thought. Still a bit out of focus.

Saw clouds going by in the camera view. It completely dimmed out the Moon at times. Ah. Perhaps that was why I was having at hard time finding and centring on it.

11:30 PM. Used the voice recorder Divide feature to get a time stamp. The focus was getting better. Did a bit more.

Decided to rotate the camera about 180° to simulate the view in TS6.

MallinCam Hyper Color. Moon settings. North is down; east is left.

Reached decent focus on the Moon. Did a little video recording (on flickr, 1:20 minutes) on the Moon. Nudged the 'scope a little bit. Noticed a big crater, in the centre of the Moon, not far from the terminator (Copernicus).

Decided to pop over to Saturn for a moment. A short slew...

MallinCam Hyper Color. Planet settings. North is down; east is left.

Changed the MallinCam settings to planetary. Noticed that selecting a preset clears the text settings. Which is OK, I guess... Changed the Zoom level to 8. I could see the rings. Still, it was faint. Changed exposure time from 1/6000 to 1/1000 exposure. Did a little recording. The planet image was very small, without a Barlow.

Went to Messier 51 (M51), the Whirlpool, 23 million light-years away.

Turned on the MallinCam integration settings to 7x. Bumped up the Zoom level to 5. Coaxed out some more detail. Increased the manual AGC setting from 4 to 5. The focus looked pretty good. I kept increasing the gain. The pop-up note said that many set it to the maximum, 8, for DSO objects. Settled on 6. Played with the White Balance settings.

Saw a satellite go through the field.

Set White Balance to off.

It occurred to me to check if the Dell had a built-in microphone. If it did, I could do voice-overs in an Night Skies Network broadcast. Initially, it didn't seem to work. I found an "internal mic" option switched off. Turned it on. All good.

I reviewed my MCC Advanced tab settings.
  • AGC, manual: 6
  • White Balance, manual: off
  • Zoom: 5
Saved my settings to a file and closed everything down, i.e. AVerMedia software, TS6, all other web pages except NSN, etc. Logged into NSN.

Set my Facebook status. Composed an email to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group.

It looks like it was working! I saw one visitor pop in... Then two more!

Then. Suddenly. Nothing. Oh great. Kablewy! Our internet access went down. WTF?!

I did some quick PING tests. Tested with the Dell and ASUS computers. Done. Frickin' crap service. Useless. What a useless company. I rebooted everything. No joy.

Considered changing the camera's focus but then decided I shouldn't mess with it. Did another brief recording of M51. Fired up MCC. Loaded my M51 configuration preset file. Played with a couple of settings but something went wrong. I rebooted the camera.

Continued to experiment. Set the Gamma to 1 which darkened the sky. AGC manual at 5. I set the Red to 6 and the Blue to 5. Zoom was fairly high. Decent looking image.

Went to the CAO house to reboot the LAN. Tested it on the kitchen hard-wired computer. No joy. Internet did not come back up. I was steamed. Realised I could not check ISS flyover times!

Stopped video recording.

Set the MCHC integration to 14. Wow!

Sat 12 Jun, 12:27 AM. Started to record again at the higher integration. Gamma at 1 still. Dropped the gain from 5 to 4. White balance, manual, red 4, blue 4. Looked quite good.

MallinCam Hyper Color. Deep Sky Object settings (custom). North is down; east is left.

Hover over or point to the image below. Markers will show the position of the supernova.

Tried recording M51 again (flickr, 1:30 minutes).

Reviewed the MallinCam notes Tony and I worked on for DSO targets. Sense up, 128x. AGC vs. ELC. Gain set to manual but my notes don't say anything explicitly about the red or blue. White balance in ATW (for bright) or manual (for dim).

Just noticed something on one of the videos, a streak, a satellite.

Well, that was fun. But frustrating. Grrr. No internet. It struck me as very odd that the service went down just as I started the broadcast. 30 seconds of NSN?! Damn it! So irritating.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

debriefed with Steve

Asked how Steve felt, after his first official CAO supervisor gig. He felt pretty good despite some of the curve balls we threw him. He said he thought the training I offered was good. Said he "didn't feel at a loss for what I should do at any time." I thought he did a great job.

booked for CAO again

Tony has scheduled another mini work party at the CAO. This time we'll be making the foundations for the MODL lots after laying and burying the power and data conduit.

Asked Tony if I could hitch a ride with them. He asked me to bring some special tools.

Grace asked Dietmar if we get "frequent flyer" points. Good question!

sent Council acknowledgement

I sent the RASC Toronto Council the following:
members of Council,

I'm not often tongue-tied.  Hearing my name called at the 2011 Open House and Awards Picnic at the E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory, for the Ostrander-Ramsay Award for Astronomical Writing, was a surprise.

It is an honour to share this award with past recipients, members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, many of which have become friends.  To have my SCOPE newsletter column recognised so formally is humbling.  I write the bi-monthly piece to relay useful, informative, and fun web sites that I myself frequent and enjoy or discovered in my travels through the internet.

I thank the RASC Toronto Centre Council for considering me.  But the Webspotting column is not solely my own.  The idea (and title) of a regular column about the ever-changing web grew out of discussions with the SCOPE editor at the time, Phil Chow.  His successor, Adam Clayson, supported and the current editor, Eric Briggs, continues to support the column.  All three gentlemen have also helped with seed ideas and themes.  Of course, I have to thank Mom!

From a young age I began to write.  Through excellent training and encouragement in high school and university, I developed some skill and dramatically increased my interest in writing, both in fiction and non-fiction.  Today, expression via the written word is something I cannot help but do.  I enjoy it on a personal level;  but I write mostly to share.

It is all still sinking in.

It is with honour that I accept the Ostrander-Ramsay Award.

I thank you.


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

caught the Soyuz launch

To the International Space Station. Walked in the door after unloading the car... 4:11. Checked the NASA feed. Still running. Unmuted the sound... "30 seconds to launch."

This is be a common sight...

Monday, June 06, 2011

beautiful night missed

Steve reported that the observing conditions at the CAO were "absolutely incredible" last night. He shot a stunning photograph of Kiron observing from the GBO with the C14 to his left and Sagittarius in the background.

If you look closely you can see M6, M7, M8, M16, M17, M20, M22, M23, M25, Neptune, maybe Pluto, the double star γ (gamma) Equ, and much more. If you're having trouble spotting objects, see the photo with tags.

As Tony said... "lucky ducks."

Sunday, June 05, 2011

antenna roll-back

Steve reported that the "connectivity was terrible all weekend via wireless devices at the CAO." When he noted that the desktop seemed to be fine with internet access, sought out the tall external D-link antenna in the basement closet and hooked it up. Everything seemed to be working fine afterwards.

main 'scope profile gone

I don't know what happened exactly in SkyTools3 but when I was trying to generate a new observing session list, I noticed the profile for my Celestron 8" SCT was gone!

Fortunately, the custom eyepiece profiles were still there, so it didn't take too long to recreate the profile. Decided not to roll back to an old backup.

Strange. Asked Greg for advice. He's not sure what happened. He reminded me I'd still see it in the logs.

The only thing I can think of is that instead of creating a new profile, I changed mine, when trying to add some new 'scopes. I'll have to be careful in the future.

Sharmin Facebooked

Sharmin came up with Greymi and Greymi's Mom.

Sharmin posted Saturday and Sunday pix on Facebook.

The tireless work crew got some of the conduit in. Nice!

They even got in a bit of observing on Saturday night.

Steve YouTubed

Steve set up his camera on the Observing Pad and shot periodic photos... His first time lapse.

Eight hours of work in one minute.

He used freeware called "mpeg Streamclip." He use it to convert videos to an iPod/iPad compatible format (he's gone total Apple). It has a feature that strings together jpegs however only at 15 fps. He then imported into iMovie and bumped up the rate x2.

It nicely encapsulates the work done at the CAO for the MODL lots.

You'll notice the trencher was out of commission for a while until they got more fuel.

Lora flickr'ed

Lora's on flickr! She sent a link to the photoset from the CAO mini work party, from the weekend.

Huh. Lots of pictures of a dog too...

Saturday, June 04, 2011

helped a little

The MODL preparations were behind schedule. The incredible wet weather, lack of warming Sun, Open House activities, prevented us from getting a jump on the foundation work for the My Own Dome Lots at the Carr Astronomical Observatory.

Tony had intended to begin excavation last weekend, before and around the OHAP, but cancelled the equipment rentals to this weekend. We would finally break ground. This was not an ideal weekend for Phil and I—we had the Becel Ride for Heart scheduled on Sunday. And we both wanted to be back in the city at a reasonable time on Saturday evening to get a good night's sleep.

We prepared the 1¼" and 1" PVC conduit in the morning while it rained lightly.

As it started to dry out at the CAO, I repaired the riding mower, installing the new wheel and tire, and then proceeded to cut the (still wet) lawn in the work areas. I cut around the staked out lots for the MODLs, a path from the GBO to the MODL services posts, around the GBO, and around the BAO deck. Left the rest for someone else to cut.

Meanwhile, Charles, Tony, Cliff, Tim, Kiron, and Phil worked on trenching and excavating. Even new super Steve lent a helping hand.

Dietmar (just back from Germany) popped up for a bit. Sharmin, Grace, Elaine, Lora, and Jean kept an eye on us. Oh, and Skeena too, of course.

Then it was time for Phil and me to go...

It felt weird leaving in the middle of a Saturday. Couldn't shake the feeling.

I remembered, on this trip, to bring up a wooden sprung clothespin. I used it to balance the ceiling fan in the dining room. Once I found the sweet spot, I marked it. Silky smooth now.

Friday, June 03, 2011

young Moon in clouds (Blue Mountains)

Spotted on way to CAO. I noticed the Moon off to the west. Kiron, a passenger in his car while I drove, had to bob and weave to see it out the left side of the car.


Manuel invited me over for astronomy and beer. My favourite subjects! Alas, I was on my way to the CAO...

He reported some success with auto-guiding. I was glad to hear that.

SolarMax trouble

Steve reported some trouble with the Coronoda SolarMax set up on the Tele Vue 101. He said he tried his 1¼" diagonal and adapter, as he couldn't find a prism diagonal, and it still didn't focus. He had followed my quick reference document. I couldn't explain why it wasn't working.

I offered to bring my old Celestron unit up to the CAO...

internet wobbly

Steve reported the internet service at the CAO was wobbly. He rebooted everything to fix it. He found that easy to do with the "master" power bar.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

supernova notice

Eric forwarded a bulletin from the RASC national listserv. A supernova was reported in the galaxy Messier 51 on May 31.

The Whirlpool is well placed for us right now, near the Big Dipper, in North America.

award citations posted

Eric et al. posted the RASC Toronto Centre 2010 award citations.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Ostap out

Ostap was planning to visit the CAO this coming weekend to lend a hand with the excavation of the MODL lots and the trenching for the power and data conduits. He just bailed. Looks like Phil and I will have to go...