Sunday, July 31, 2011

short session (Blue Mountains)

9:15 PM. We viewed Saturn from the Geoff Brown Observatory. With the 18mm eyepiece in the C14. It was lovely.

9:38. Earlier in the day I had returned Phil's 2" mirror. And then shifted back to 1¼" tubes for the Tele Vue 101 'scope.

Gave Millie the 50mm to try in her telescope. She said it wouldn't come to focus. Loaned her a 1¼" ocular but she didn't like switching back and forth. Didn't like anything we had.

Chaos ensues when we forget our eyepieces!

9:42. Viewed Saturn with Kiron at the C14. We found it easy to see Titan and Rhea.

9:50. I viewed H N 40 aka HD 164492. Faint, medium separation double star in Sagittarius. Main star is white, maybe blue-white. Companion is orange. Nearly equal brightness. 55mm. Haas says there are 4 stars to view. SkyTools3 says it's a septuple system! Wow. Spotted a super faint star left of the brighter one. Much closer, say 1/3rd the distance. Almost the same line... Will need to revisit this to get more stars. And also to view at low power, so to see the surrounding nebula, Messier 20 or M20...

11:37. We were clouded out. Of course. Steve had arrived!

tour continued

As I downloaded and printed the newest The Evening Sky Map, I realised I could recruit Manuel in posting the notices. It would allow us to explore more of the grounds.

And so I continued the tour of the Carr Astronomical Observatory for Manuel.

I showed him the Tony Horvatin Observatory. We elected not to open the roof flaps or turn the roof for fear of agitating the paper wasps. He liked the space.

I think it all worked. Manuel seemed very excited about the CAO. I'm sure we'll see him more often.

Sadly, he couldn't stay longer. He paid his overnight fee and, in short order, was on his way back to the city, with his passenger Alex.

lock down begins

Came upstairs to the kitchen at 9:00 AM, ready for my yummy coffee, and spotted Mickey's son watching YouTube videos of Alex's various projects. Crikey. No streaming! I asked Mickey to ask Peter to stop. Mickey told me to tell him. Ah, no. Your job, dad.

Dietmar and I had also noticed that someone had changed the monitor resolution to a very low setting with huge font sizes. And not put it back. Hello! In kindergarten. You were taught the rules. Put the toys back when you're done. Come on...

Well, that's it then. I shall have to begin locking stuff down. People are clearly refusing to observe our guidelines for shared computer and internet use.

I inspected the DI-704 web interface and manual for access control settings. Sadly, it looked very limited. I could only control port numbers... Not enough control. Maybe a newer router will let us do this. We'll need a new router sooner or later, for gigabit support.

1:30 PM. I reconfigured the Kali machine. I created a limited account in Windows for guests. I converted the current unlimited profile to a formal administrative account with strong password. I changed the Hosts file to block YouTube. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Don't touch my coffee. Don't screw with the shared computer. Don't download huge stuff.

I made more signs...

solar fun (Blue Mountains)

Clear skies. Clear day time skies. We fired up the GBO telescopes to view the Sun in Hα and white light.

11:06 AM. We saw a lot of activity on the Sun. Spaceweather identified 4 sun spot groups. To the NW there was a little one, a baby; to the SE a big, double set. I looked more closely at Spaceweather's image so to apply the numbers: 1263 was the double big; 1261 was the archipelago; 1260 was another big one; and 1265 was the baby.

Something struck me as strange. Spaceweather showed them level... in-line with equator. But we were not seeing that! Did I have something wrong in my head? I thought when you looked through a telescope, standing over it, with the mirror diagonal output into the ocular at 90° to the ground that you were seeing a reasonable correct orientation, up being up, down at the bottom... Why was everything at an angle. In both the C14 and TV101?

11:43. Manuel bolted up his camera, the Imaging Source DFK21AU04.

Nice work, Manuel! Very good for the first use of a Coronado system.

He put all his photos, including a shot of M13, in the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group photo gallery.

I was asked about solar features. I said I knew of flares, prominences, filaments, granules, etc. I did a quick search for definitions, hoping to find something visual, but only came up with a list...


There's some decent information, with images, on solar features over at the Solar Physics page at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Also found some good stuff at the National Maritime Museum site.

Moon age

While solar observing in the GBO, I had noticed in TheSky6 software that the Moon was just a little left of the Sun.

I checked to learn exactly when the New Moon had occurred. It reported that lunation 1096 had started on Jul 30 at 6:40 PM UTC. Or 2:40 PM local. Ah. So that meant it was currently less than 24 hours old.

It would be an interesting target tonight...

deep observing (Blue Mountains)

Had dinner at a reasonable time tonight. I was ready to go as the Sun set!

8:30, 30 July 2011. With 27mm eyepiece in the Celestron 14" Schmidt Cassegrain telescope, we viewed Saturn, at 145 power. The image was very good. The contrast against the blue sky was very good.

8:58. Just went to 391x with the 10mm ocular. It was a bit soft but the presentation was quite nice. D-ring visible. Equatorial region light yellow. Northern hemisphere dusty yellow. No visible perturbations. The Snake Storm must have dissipated now. Difficult to make out the Cassini Division.

Alex thought we said we could see the Cassini spacecraft. Ah, no.

9:07. Showed Manuel Mercury with the C14. It was a bit murky, low, and the 10mm was too much power. The view was better at lower power. Briefly, I demo'ed the Paramount and TheSky software. How easy it made things. How easy it was to slew. We returned to Saturn.

9:22. Viewed Saturn in Ian's 20" Newtonian. Lovely. More detail. We spotted Dione and Tethys as well.

9:31. With the C14, I observed Alula Australis, aka ξ (xi) Ursae Majoris. Touching blue white double stars. Seems closer than 1.62 seconds of arc.

When I heard Ian W, outside, trying to point out constellations and objects in the sky, I loaned him my green laser.

9:49. Confirmed! I split Jabbah, that is, all the stars in Jabbah I split. The pairs of pairs. The double double of Scorpius. The AB pair is not 90 deg to CD. They were clearly seen despite border-line seeing. Still, I but went to 391 power.

9:54. Once again, I could not split τ (tau) Boötis. The merged stars were shimmering. I had no luck at 391x.

I remembered to check weather conditions. Last night, I had not taken good notes.

0 km/h wind!
72% humidity
101.55 barometric pressure
20.2°C temperature
15°C was the predicted dew point

The Wiarton Environment Canada weather page said the low would be 19. It looked like there's a storm coming...

10:12. I tried to split ζ (zeta) Boo. I went to 391x with the 10mm. I was not sure if i was seeing the split or seeing the diffraction rings. I wanted good, neh, excellent oculars for this. I borrowed Phil's 9mm and 7mm Tele Vue Naglers. Still, I could not tell. Ian W looked too and he couldn't tell either. Damn. So close...

10:23. Just went to Messier object 13, the great globular cluster in Hercules, for Justyna and Kasia. They enjoyed the view immensely. Kiron explained what they were seeing.

Kiron then used a great analog for a spiral galaxy: a fried egg. What a great image! Flat at the edges and bulge in the middle, of course. I'll have to remember that.

10:32. Bugged Phil again. I borrowed his 2" mirror from his Tele Vue NP 101 and transferred it to our TV101. I wanted to have both 'scope functional tonight, so to do low and high power stuff simultaneously. I put the 20mm in the TV. The view was very nice at low power.

10:44. Showed Kasia M57. She liked that. It was lovely in the C14 at high power. Big! And kinda fun in TV101 with 20mm, a tiny little donut.

10:50. I went to HD 144087 and found a faint double, aka Σ1999. These were the D and E stars of ξ (xi) Sco. Off to the side, I could see A and C proper. They were easily split. I noted that they were closer together then DE. I spotted a star near DE but about 7 times further away, almost in line. It was fainter still (SkyTools3 said mag 11). It also helped me learn that that was F! The F star in a sextuple system. Well, then. With the carrot so close, I went to higher power, from the 20mm to the 27mm. Yes! I was able to split A and B ξ! All 6 spotted! Sweet! That was so satisfying.

And in all the excitement, I forgot to note the colours of the stars...

11:11. I had programmed an alarm for when it was quite dark and cooler. Not for astronomy purposes, directly. I got rid of wasp nests on the back porch and under the picnic table. One sleepy wasp tried desperately to sting the forceps.

Visited the crew on the Observing Pad. Manuel was blinding everyone with his laptop. I loaned him the large sheet of red film from the GBO LCD.

He asked for my dew heaters as I headed back to the GBO. Sorry, buddy, I need 'em too!

[Apparently Hero Phil fetched the hair dryer from the GBO to rescue Manny and clear his objectives. I shouldn't rub salt in...]

11:29. I fetched some drinking water.

12:54 AM, 31 July 2011. I successfully viewed a quasar! Wow.

A month or so ago I had done a little bit of research into if it was possible to see quasars visually. And it turned out that there were a couple down in the magnitude 15 range. So, beyond the capacity of my equipment. But, perhaps, with some bigger aperture, it might be possible. I added some quasar targets into SkyTools3.

While initially contemplating viewing the supernova SN2011dh in M51 through Ian W's 20-inch f/5.03 custom Newtonian, it suddenly occurred to me that the big Dob would be the tool of choice for quasar hunting. I asked if he was game. He gave me the thumbs-up!

Ian popped in an Ethos 21mm. I gave him the RA and Dec numbers: 16 4 55.4; Dec: +38 12 1 (J2000). Ian moved the big truss so the digital setting circles showed: 16 4; 38.3. I climbed up the ladder, perched the netbook precariously on the top step, proceeded to starhop around Corona Borealis. And, at long last, I found the nearby stars.

TYC 03061-0695 1 was the brightest star in the field, at mag 10.9. Down and to the left I saw a faint star, J160426.9+381607, at mag 13.1. About half the distance of these two stars and at a right angle I saw another faint star, GSC 03061-0353, at mag 12.7. The two faint stars and the bright star formed a perfect triangle with the faint stars on the short side on the left. The long base was pointing in the direction of the quasar.

To confirm the location, I also observed another right angle triangle, this one was smaller, near the top-centre of the visual field. It was made up of still fainter stars. The top one, GSC 03061-0551 was brightest, mag 13.5. Left and down was J160452.2+380925, mag 14.6. And, finally, below, about the same distance as the first two, was J160455.6+381011, mag 15.9.

The quasar was between these two triangles. I let out a "woo hoo" which perked up the crowd on the Observing Pad. Mickey asked, "Do you have it?" I relayed the news. "No, not yet, but I can confirm I'm in the right location!"

I asked Ian for more horsepower. He installed the Pentax 10.5mm eyepiece. I quickly climbed back up, knowing now, the target would drift away quickly. I confirmed I was still in the correct spot and started scanning. The bright right-angled triangle base was pointing the way; and the faint right-angled triangle was directly above the target. Imagining lines coming from each triangle and intersecting the other was right where it should be... and there it was! A very faint, barely detectable point of light. I noted another faint point, in-line with the quasar and the bright star on the left, almost half-way, J160451.7+381253, mag 15.0, further emphasising I had it.

Confirmed! I was seeing the quasi-stellar radio source HS 1603+3820 at mag 15.90. Yes! [ed: Corrected the designated. It was previously noted as +3829].

The coolest part about this object? It was the quoted light time: 9.4 Gyr! 9.4 billion light years. That's way back in time! Wow.

What a milestone event. It represents the lowest I've ever gone with my eyeballs... It is the most exotic celestial object I've seen.

Finding this one should mean that tracking down 3C 273 should be easy peasy!

Kiron, Mickey, and Ian took looks while I described how to see it.

1:15 AM. Showed Millie and Manuel the quasar.

That was exhilarating! How do you top that?

I took a break.

1:33. I viewed comet Garradd in the TV101 with 27 and 20mm. Then in the C14 with the 27mm. Kiron offered his bins. The field of view included Enif and M15 of course. But it was a back-breaker.

1:51. Kiron was having trouble with Stellarium. He could not seem to search by RA and Dec... I walked him through the process. Pointed out that it instantly changed. Still, with the atypical interface, it is throwing people.

I tried to spot moons around Uranus without any luck.

Getting a little foggy, I was. It was time for a cupcake break.

2:11. I tried to view M102. I saw something. It was super faint, barely detectable. I realised that it was probably about a month late to view this target. And one should start earlier in the evening. I tried the 20mm in the TV. Again, barely detectable.

[I learned later that while SkyTools3 says M102 is NGC 5866, I ended up at a different target! TheSky6 chooses M101! So I don't think I will note this as observed until I view 5866.]

Manuel went to bed. We'll have to train him to stay up late!

Quietly, I told him about our white light rules at the CAO. Rookie!

Did a naked eye drawing of Ursa Minor. In the sketch, I noted a star between and outside gamma and η (eta): HR 6088 at mag 6.0. I drew a star between η and ζ: HR 6034 at 5.7. I was pretty happy about that. In several respects.

That I can see magnitude 6.0 stars now, where 3 years ago I could not see this deep, means that our local light pollution is not dramatically increasing... That said, this is a class 5 sky on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, i.e. "suburban." Hrrm.

Seeing mag 6 also meant that Vesta was very likely possible! All right!

2:51. I stared at double star target HD 174005, aka Σ2391 or Struve or STF in Scutum for a long time with the 27mm. The stars looked yellow and blue. Doesn't that mean the star classes would be, approximately, G and O? ST3 says A and G. Am I really screwed up on the colour classification? Haas says "very lemony white star and a tiny bluish turquoise very wide apart." Well, we agree on colours at least.

I also noticed that SkyTools said the system was a triple? I didn't seem an obvious third.

The computer showed Basel 1 an open cluster nearby so I dropped the power to include it.

2:58. I tried again to break it down. But I could not find the C star, even with 20mm.

3:01. Viewed θ (theta) Sge. I enjoyed a nice double. No, wait... triple. Hold it, no... a quad! Wow. The primary is yellow white, B is orange, C has a touch of orange, and D is hard to get colour on. Very nice. Haas describes this target as a triple and "the best sight in Sagitta." Then she goes on to say that A and B are white and C is grey.

3:09. I wanted to tighten up the stars. I put the 55mm in the C14. A and B got very close. The colours seemed to have shifted a little: yellow, dusty yellow, yellow, grey.

3:20. I headed back to Uranus as the coyotes yipped. Still no luck with any moons. I tried the 10mm in the C14 but it was very soft. I dropped to the 18mm. No little moon dots.

Oh oh. We saw clouds coming in.

wind speed 8
hum 77
bar 10145
temp 19.4
dew point 15.3

3:33. The clouds had reached Jupiter. So, we were done.

3:52. I was in bed, pretty tired, but very happy. 9.4 billion years, man! Life probably formed on Earth 3.8 billion years ago. The Earth itself formed 4.6 billion years in the past!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

software issues

6:53 PM. Helped Kiron with Stellarium, a number of issues, and finding a comet. The Stellarium plug-in is not real clear.

7:05 PM. I looked into using Stellarium to control the Paramount. I forgot that I had done some research before. It is supported, but for Linux only...

Then I reviewed what would be required to do so with SkyTools. Learned ST3 supports ASCOM so I downloaded the main ASCOM core components. But it seems that I still would need to use TheSky6 as a "driver." And that suggests I'd be running the software on the same computer... I shelved it.

you need this

I introduced Manuel to the best kept secret in amateur astronomy: dew fighting equipment.

I showed him the dew heaters on my 8" SCT and 2" eyepiece, attached to the old, classic controller. And that it must get power from somewhere.

I also showed up the big wrap on the C14.

Hopefully, seeing it rigged up, will illustrate to him their importance.

personal tour guide

Manuel arrived the Carr Astronomical Observatory. I was ready for him. Like a good porter, I gave him the full tour. He was pretty impressed.

I was really glad that he made it to the CAO. I wanted him to see the place and have a chance to enjoy it. I knew he'd "get it" when he saw all of us here, geeking out. Encouraging him to set up on the Observing Pad I knew it would put him in the very centre of things.

I also wanted him to be near Dietmar, Ian W, and Ian D, so to be able to rapidly sort out issues and advance in his efforts at astrophotography.

Glad you made it, buddy.

busy at the CAO

Many people arrived today. Manuel brought Alex. Ian D showed up to try some star trails. Mickey with son Peter, travelling from Owen Sound to home, were going to stay overnight. Parking lot was jammed! We were running out of beds.

I've never see the CAO so busy on a non-work party weekend...

And we were still expecting Steve!

greased the battery

Having my electronic toolbox on hand meant I had dielectric grease. Gooped up the battery terminals on the Stargrazer mower.

It gave me an opportunity to use some of the recently donated tools. Very handy. Thank you.

And Tim and I had a good chat about the mower's motor losing oil. It seems to be a combination of multi-grade synthetic oil, being overfilled, and that the filler tube is separated slightly from the motor base.

Tim also critiqued my plan to add a drain hose to the motor. I didn't realise the steering rod was that side of the motor and so close. His suggestion of a curved, cupped-shaped channel is a very good solution. Once we've cleaned up this area of the motor, and perhaps re-routed some wiring, we'll know where we stand.

Gotta keep Stargrazer going!

briefed Ian

Ian W had missed the inaugural CAO supervisors meeting as he was travelling abroad. And held up by a volcano, if I remember correctly. I brought him up to speed and showed him the new things at the observatory. Focused on the new fire and safety procedures which he appreciated.

When we were down in the furnace / work room, he pointed to my LAN configuration sheet as said that he had found it very useful. You're welcome!

still busted

Told Kiron I had fixed the calendar on my blog companion page. "Really?" he said. He fired up his Firefox browser and showed me. A rectangle of blackness. Damn! Still not working...

finishing networking

I finished the ethernet cabling to the MODLs and let Kiron do the BAO wiring. We've done as much as we can do until MODL 4 and 5 go up, along with the Bob Anderson Observatory.

The only outstanding bit was to install the keystone and wall plate to Ostap's unit. But we needed him to unlock his pod.

Phil was very happy to have internet.

busy Sun (Blue Mountains)

We observed the Sun in Hydrogen-alpha and full spectrum white light using the Tele Vue 101mm with the Coronado Solar Max filters and the Celestron 14" with baader film on a choked down cap.

The Sun was busy!

There were lots of flares and prominences along perimeter and lots of sunspots, some big ones, on the surface! The big spot near the centre 1244; 1242 is the big one on the far left.

Lots to look at. Busiest I've seen Sol in a long time...

piers in service

The new piers were installed and already hard at work!

Attractive models sell telescopes, I guess.


magic carpet ride (Blue Mountains)

9:30 PM, 29 July 2011. Started dinner very late... Where had the time gone? It was getting dark as I was finishing up. Others were starting to set up their telescopes.

10:00 PM. Kiron had asked to borrow my Celestron 8" SCT telescope over the weekend at the Carr Astronomical Observatory. I said that was OK with me. I asked Ian W if I could fly the Celestron 14 atop the Paramount ME. Plan B was that would learn the Bob Abraham 6" Mak. Ian said he was OK with me operating the big 'scope. He was going to be preoccupied aligning and testing tonight. As we had some new members, I knew that I might be called upon to show particular objects with the big Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope.

Kiron and I set up inside the Geoff Brown Observatory. Kiron wanted to position the C8 'scope in the same spot as the previous visit, at the south-east corner of the observatory floor. Meanwhile, Ian set up his large RC imaging 'scope kitty-corner.

I had brought my recently coddled together jugaad computer power supply. We connected my three dew heaters and the tracking motor to the 3-way cigarette lighter adapter. Ready for testing... Kiron eyed it cautiously but said he really wanted dew heating.

Outside, Millie was on the Observing Pad. Dietmar and Phil, of course, were in their new SkyShedPODs. Geeking out. Millie told me she had forgotten her eyepiece case. No. Way.

For the weekend, I had pre-built a custom CAO observing list in SkyTools3 with some preferred targets, such as Vesta, and then unobserved objects from the Turn Left at Orion summer list. It would hopeful reduce jumping around in the software. I had kept the list short this time so to not feel overwhelming.

10:54 PM. I played sky tour guide for new members Kasia and Justyna with the big Celestron on the Paramount driven by TheSky6. Justyna had a lot of questions about photography. And she specifically wanted to know what she needed to attach her camera to our telescopes... Keen!

We viewed Saturn at fairly low power. We saw three moons: Rhea, Tethys, and Titan.

We viewed some double stars: Albireo, the Double Double, and γ (gamma) Delphini.

Discussed the double star Izar with Kiron. He had trouble splitting it. While not super tight, I explained it was challenging given the differences in magnitude.

11:10 PM. Viewed Messier 51 and the supernova. Ian had taken a quick image with the RC. I pointed out the exploding star for Ian.

I was a little anxious to see it in a big 'scope but Ian was not planning to set up his 20" Dobsonian until tomorrow night. S'OK. Later.

11:23. I confirmed supernova position in C14 and with my images.

Settled into my observing plan.

11:53. I wanted to split all the elements of Jabbah aka ν (nu) Scorpii. A and C were easy. I thought the main star yellow-white.

Ah. Finally! I was able to split A and C stars, each, into pairs. It was not easy though. A and B tight; C and D wider.

12:00 AM, 30 July 2011. Viewed ξ (xi) Scorpii. I saw the AC pair at 7.6 arc-seconds. I used the loaner ocular from Phil, the Pentax XW 20mm, the sole eyepiece with me, having been packed in a different case, to split the stars!

The AB stars are 1.01" apart, according to ST3. And this separation value appeared to be current, as of June. This was a challenging split but I don't think I broke my record. Perhaps I should consider this a career tie. If nothing else, it confirms that I can see down to 1.0 seconds of arc.

12:15 AM. Helped Kiron get δ (delta) Cephei.

12:45. I viewed the Magic Carpet nebula, aka NGC 7027! What a weird name. I stumbled across the planetary nebula in TheSky6. It was very small. It was hard to make out detail. Was I seeing a bluish ring around a star?

I was curious about the naming so I googled it. Found a very nice site, the Graphite Galaxy, with wonderful sketches. And saw why one might think of it as a flying carpet... Still, I did not see this detail myself.

[Turns out that I had already viewed this, although I don't know when... Noted it as "cone shaped."]

Kiron showed me M106 in the C8.

I tried to spot asteroid Vesta naked eye from the GBO observatory floor. No joy.

1:27. We viewed comet Garradd, C/2009 P1 (Garradd). It was faint in the C14 but large. Hints of two tails. It was a small smudge in the TV101.

I was tired. Kiron said he was too.

We packed it in.

I was so tired I left Kiron to close the GBO.

1:55. My back was rather sore. In bed, I ruminated on the night. I was a little frustrated at missing some Jupiter moon events. But I felt so fatigued. It had felt like my vision was going. Couldn't seem to see clearly.

Friday, July 29, 2011

piers OK

I've never seen Dietmar so happy. The three new powder coated piers fit on the MODL bases perfectly.

It's pretty amazing, all things considered, all the people involved, the time delays, all the different things we were trying to do.

We let Tony know. And shot some photos for him.

"I love it when a plan comes together."
- Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith

radios to Chows

Lora and Phil asked if I could give some advice on portable radios. I guess now that Phil has a dome at the most southern edge of the CAO property and that he'll be geeking out there from dinner to dawn, their looking for a way to chat between T@B and POD.

I know a bit about FRS and GRMS radios so I shared some quick thoughts. But hatched a plan.

Before heading up to the work party last weekend, I gave Tony my radio "fleet:" the carrying case with 3 FRS and 2 GRMS units, all from Motorola. I made sure all the other bits and bobs were included, the ear bud, the head sets, the belt holders, etc. But they were so busy at the work party they forgot to take 'em out and try 'em. Sheesh. Then they forgot and left them there for the week. Not easy to get familiar and test radios when they're all 200 km away...

When Lora and Phil arrived at the CAO this weekend, I gave them a pair of FRS handhelds, coached 'em, and encouraged them to use 'em over the weekend. I'm assuming they'll have no trouble. And at that stage, I'll suggest them keep them. I don't use the whole fleet much anymore.

gigabit good

After arriving at the Carr Astronomical Observatory, in short order, I began to work on the network expansion. Cable had been pulled through conduit to the Bob Anderson Dome area as well as the My Own Dome Lots (via a junction box). Kiron offer to help.

Verified I had all the tools and parts needed. Found the category 6 wire spool, male RJ-45 plugs (both types), the strain reliefs, the keystone female jacks, the faceplates, the punch down tools (both Charles's and Tony's), and Charles's Pro'sKit tester. I had my (as yet unused) RJ crimper with integrated sheath stripper.

Built some short test cables. A good one. It showed as properly configured with 3PK-NT005 sender and receiver. Then I created faults, to see how the tester would illustrate the errors. Didn't get a lot of formal errors but clearly the tester showed good continuity and proper pairing.

Tried to use an ASUS netbook with the new Dynex Gigabit 8-Port Switch (DX-GB8PRT) to verify a gigabit connection. Learned, sadly, that the Eee PC 1000 HE supports 100 max. Fortunately, the Dell laptop from the GBO was gigabit ready, and we saw a green LED light up with my test cable. w00t!

Then we wired up the line between the Geoff Brown Observatory and the My Own Dome Lot observatory pads junction box. Tested it for proper connections and continuity and then tested it, once again with the Dell, for a gigabit connection. A-OK. My first full high-speed ethernet cable drop!

That was all that I had intended for Friday. But, with a head of steam up, I decided to continue and we installed Dietmar's line. This meant wiring up a keystone receptacle. Everything went A-OK. I was happy. He was happy. It also was an important milestone, as Dietmar's terminus (terminal, terminus terminal? terminal terminus?!) represents the one furthest downstream.

Once Phil arrived, we did additional testing with Gilles's no-name tester, the S1007. It was slightly better than Charles's at noting faults in the wiring. It also sports a power switch that would not likely get turned on by accident. It was very good to have different was of testing the new lines.

Installed the gigabit switch in its new home. Forgot to add the surge protector. But then there was some work to do tomorrow...

MODL 1 at the CAO has power and data!

dew controller suspended

Don't know why it took me so long to do this. I added a strip of Velcro to the back of the Kendrick controller. Now it is up and out of the way.

if you're gonna do visual astronomy

Kiron unpacked all my telescope equipment, set up the tripod, added the mount, added the counterweights, installed the OTA, and then asked, "Blake, where are the eyepieces?"

Oh. Crap.

shaft OK

I screwed the counterweight shaft into the Vixen Super Polaris mount, expecting, after two additional drops, that the threads would be severely damaged thus preventing the shaft to go in. And, to my surprise, it went in OK.

Whew! Got lucky.

Kiron was pretty happy. I had offered my telescope, again, to play with over the weekend.

domes rising

It was pretty cool driving up the driveway the first time since the PODs have been installed!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

scrubbies and fuses

Picked up some stainless steel scrubbies and fuses for the CAO. Scrubbies are to discourage mice from hanging out in the GBO network junction box. I don't want them partaking of my new wiring. The 15A and 20A fuses will replenish our supply. Cutting patio stones, we blew a few of the old glass screw-in fuses that support the Observing Pad.

curbed dryer

Spotted a hair dryer in the box o' junk at the curb. The neighbours, while packing for their move, continued to toss small items. It's been a little while since I've noodled on dew heating projects but free nichrome wire is always good! The binoculars still need heaters. Mom's telescope...


The very inexpensive coffee cup warmer on the finder scope is working great. The only issue is that it plugs directly into a CLA and therefore draws a lot of power. I should reconfigure it to plug into the Kendrick controller by RCA...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

fixed ack

I fixed CAO bookings acknowledgement page on the RASC web site. Finally.

Took me a while to track it down, being outside the CMS.

It was Grace's prompting that got me on it. Rightly so, she reminded me that it was an opportunity, another chance, to inform visitors of our expectations... For what its worth.

Monday, July 25, 2011

PSU power

It was Gilles who suggested that a power supply unit from a computer could provide 12 volts direct current for my telescope equipment. It would provide a stable source with little interference. And I knew I had a few (heh) kicking around.

The challenge proved to be finding a non-ATX style. I needed a unit with a physical power on-off switch. I found a no-name 250 watt supply.

Threw it all in a cardboard box. Good to go!

converted USB light

I converted a white LED USB keyboard for Manuel to red. I'll give it to him up at the Carr... This was the same type of keyboard light that Phil had, broke, and that I fixed.

Kikkerland had gone super cheap, using only a white LED, and not including a resistor. I squeezed in a 220 ohm 1/8 watt resistor to prevent the red LED from burning up.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Stellarium on Mom's iMac

As I finished the installation of Mom's new iMac, I put Stellarium on. (Of course, it was quick and easy to download, now!)

It looks beautiful on the big LCD! Gives new meaning to eye candy.

She was thrilled! I coached her a little on using it. She said she wants to use it to learn the constellations better.

I found some actions are a little tricky on the smaller, wireless keyboard... I'll have to send her my keyboard shortcuts listing.

cable pulled

The lads up at the Carr Astronomical Observatory reported that the Category 6 cable was pulled. New lines had been pulled through the conduit from the GBO to the BAO, GBO to the MODL junction, and then from the 4 completed MODL pads to the junction. So, that meant they were ready for me. On one hand I wanted to be there at the CAO to help finish the wiring; but it was really good to be home, with Mom, sis, and bro-in-law. I was very overdue.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


I needed the inner dimensions (precise values) for the inside of the MODL junction box so to ensure I did not acquire a gigabit switch with too large a footprint. I sent a remote request up to the CAO. Phil measured for me and shot a photo.

Friday, July 22, 2011

mag from Al

While visiting with family (at long last), my sister brought me a copy of a recent Astronomy magazine. Another donation from our generous astronomy-minded friend, Al. The July issue.

Looks like there are few interesting articles. The one on adaptive optics, to reduce atmospheric distortion, will be informative I'm sure.

There's even a piece on observing binary stars "in action." Well, well... So people do still observing double stars!

Thursday, July 21, 2011


I packed the counterweight shaft for my Vixen Super Polaris mount to show Tony at our planned meet up. I had recently discovered the threads were damaged from a drop. I was hoping he might know how to repair the damage, particularly if he didn't have a large enough die to re-cut the threads.

During the course of the evening I proceeded to drop it. Twice! Crikey!

welcome home shuttle

I watched the landing of the final shuttle in the dawn in east Florida.

"It's going to be hard to walk off..."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

parts procured

Charles picked up networking stuff from a local shop, as per my order.
  • 1000' spool of cat 6 Unshielded Twisted Pair... grey
  • wall plates, 6
  • cat 6 keystone plugs, white, 7 pcs... 1 extra for goof proofing
  • lots of male plugs (classic ones and new easier ones)
  • boots, for strain relief, grey
Excellent. They can pull wire this coming weekend and then I'll hook everything up the weekend after. The timing of everything is looking pretty good...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stellarium 11 tests

A week or so ago, I surfed into the Stellarium web site and noted that the new version was available. Ah. Not for Mac or Linux peeps, yet... Then, a few days later, I downloaded the latest version for Windows. Today I installed version 0.11.0. So to begin testing...

Discovered the Refraction / Extinction settings in the Sky and viewing options window on the Sky tab. Cool. You can specify the air barometric pressure and temperature.

Found two Equatorial grids, the current and J2000, in the Sky and viewing options window on the Markings tab. Was this added earlier? I have not noticed it before. Anyway, very handy. [ed: Was in the product during version 0.10.5...]

The frame rate still tanks when the constellation boundaries are enabled (on a Windows XP ASUS netbook).

Ooh. Big change in the Search window! It sports 2 tabs, now, Object and Position. The Object tab includes Greek letter buttons! Nice. The Position tab is obvious, being able to specify a location by RA and Dec. Well done.

Looks like there's a little new option affecting startup. You can tell Stellarium you want to start using today's date and time, a specific date and time, and—the new bit—that you can use the system date and use a specific time. [This appears on or before 10.5 to have been added.]

My favorite change? Nebula objects now appear with different icons! Dots: open cluster; cross: globular; open circle: nebula or galaxy; circle with bumps: planetary nebula.

Looks like there's a bit more info displayed now when you select an object. But, sadly, some other details are curiously absent.

Keeps on getting better.

No apparent changes to keyboard shortcuts... So my previous list, highlighting Windows and Macintosh shortcuts, stands.

bought S-video cable

I didn't realise it as I picked it, the 25-foot S-video cable with gold-plated connectors, but it was deeply discounted! It only costs us $10! I guess there was a big audio-visual equipment and accessories sale going on at The Store Formerly Know As Radio Shack.

This new cable will allow us to connect the MallinCam to the AVerMedia card using a higher quality signal.

I'll ask Tony to deliver it to the Carr Astronomical Observatory when he goes up for the work party. And I'll test it when I go up to the CAO later...

fixed calendar page

When Yahoo upgraded their calendar service, without changing their purpose-built Windows desktop widget, I moved all my astronomy event data to Google. Which, now, I feel is a much better implementation of iCal features, particularly concerning layers. The Google Calendar is working well at helping me stay on top of upcoming astronomical phenomena as well as RASC events.

At long last, I repaired the calendar page on my companion site.

It's inside an HTML IFRAME. Hopefully it will work for you. I have received reports from some using Internet Exploder that it doesn't work right. Lemme know.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

hot enough?

He hadn't even moved in any of his telescope gear and one of the MODL lessees was already pushing buttons. He was leaning on people to see if he could get live temperature readings from inside his POD. Ah, no.

I pointed out that while our Davis Vantage system may support additional inputs that these were reserved for RASC use. No streaming data. Please.

How about a thermometer from a dollar store?!

learning the Atlas (Etobicoke)

Manuel invited me over for some astronomical observing. He was planning to try out his new CCD camera. Then he offered that I use his new Atlas EQ-G computerised mount under one of his Celestron optical tube assemblies. Cool!

After the football match, we set up the two telescopes in the parkette.


Upon looking up the latitude and longitude in MS Streets and Trips, I made a short observing list in SkyTools3. Ended up with a selection of about 15 items.

I set up the mount and did a rough polar alignment. It has a small polar telescope. I'd swear it is the same as mine... Did a three-star alignment with the hand controller. It was targeting well.

Tagged Albireo to kick things off. Beautiful.

23:13 PM, 16 July 2011. I just viewed the Blue Racquetball aka NGC 6572, a planetary nebula in Ophiuchus, with a Meade SWA 34mm in the Celestron 8" OTA (so at 60 power). It is very colourful! An aquamarine colour, perhaps. It is small. Almost star-like. No, there is some dimension to it. It is a very small disk.

The colour is striking. Intense blue green. However, like other PN, it changes appearance when you look away. With averted vision, it goes white! Then you look at it and it dims and goes dark blue green. Wild.

There's was a neat little pattern of mag 10 stars nearby forming a crystal shape.

I dug deeper with the 25mm eyepiece, a Celestron E-lux plössl (yielding 81x). I could see mag 11+ stars to the east of the planetary nebula. TYC 00443-2027 1 is magnitude: 11.36 (Tycho-2). TYC 00443-1596 1 is magnitude: 11.80 (Tycho-2). Woo hoo!

A noisy kitty cat joined us. A tabby the size of Nancy. He was chatty. He talks like Soccer. My old buddy Soccer... Astrocat.

11:40 PM. I decided to try the Meade super plössl 15mm (jumping to 135x). Ah. Now the PN had gone fuzzy. It was not star-like. The colour was a bit less intense now.

11:45. Showed Manuel both the hacked USB keyboard lights. He likes them. I loaned him my bright one while I plugged in Deep Red.

Ooh. I found an on-board temperature sensor on the mount. 27.6°. Yikes. Toasty.

12:06 AM, 17 July 2011. Just viewed the Moon. With the low power eyepiece. Lovely. The seeing was bad. But it was pretty low. And we're looking over buildings...

12:09 AM. Met Manuel's charming wife and her sister. They took a few peeks and then headed back indoors.

12:17. Tried to view M51 at low power. No joy.

Tried M81. No joy.

Deep sky objects are not on the menu tonight.

Added some double stars to the working list in ST3.

12:25. Tried to locate the double star HD 197312 in Delphinus. The first snag was that the hand controller did not seem to allow searching by Draper's catalog. But it had SAO numbers. SkyTools said it was 106409. Back to the telescope.

The hand controller wouldn't accept it! It forced me to enter the first 4 digits of the SAO item. Then it took me into a paged mode with limited preset stars. WTF? I can't choose any SAO? Huh. That threw me. Perhaps I could find an object nearby and then just manual star hop... I looked for some nearby stars with SAO numbers in the catalog. When it finally occurred to me that this was dumb.

12:33. The mosquitoes were hungry tonight. Loaned Manuel my Off spray.

12:43. RTFM. I suspected there was a way to make the mount go to a specific location. Looked like I might have to use the User Location feature. That begged the question, which coordinate system epoch should be used. Stupid manual...

12:50. By going to Arcturus, I was able to determine that the hand controller uses J2000 coords. Made sense. That's how I'd need to direct it...

1:03. It worked! I found HD 197312 aka Σ2718 by entering the J2000 RA and Dec numbers. Found a nice little double star. Close together in the low power. Identical brightness. Hard to determine the colour. My eyes were playing tricks on me. At first I thought they were blue and yellow. But then they seemed to flip. Huh. They're dim. They're probably both white.

Not noted in Sissy Haas's book double stars for small telescopes.

1:20. Viewed HD 203380 in Cygnus by direct coordinate entry. Cool! Another close pair (at the low power) aka Σ2789. Equal colour and brightness again (eerily similar to HD 197312). But there's a bright colourful wide pair nearby (Haas calls this S 786, S for James South). A very pretty scene. Perhaps the brighter pair is yellow and orange.

Haas quoted Heckman on S 786: "a wide pair of contrasting magnitudes... yellow and blue." She described Σ2789 as "a pair of twins, like headlights in a sea of stars."

1:39. Tried to view SEI1513A. Cricky. Two mag 11 stars. No thanks.

Went to Vesta using the immediate J2000 coords. Cool. Easily spotted. Easy peasy. There was a very bright, equally bright star, in the field of the low power ocular. Turns out that that was 33 Capricorni. There was a little triangle of mag 9 and 10 stars that helped me verify the alignment. That said, the sky is washed out from the Moon light. Not a lot of other stars to use...

I wondered how fast the nearby asteroid was moving. It occurred to me tonight to use the Motion Trails feature in SkyTools3! I don't know why I didn't think to do that at the CAO...

2:00. Went back down to low power for Vesta.

2:09. Manuel showed me his latest Moon image. Lots of detail. He's enjoying the new CCD camera, the Imaging Source DFK21AU04AS. Very nice.

2:24. I tried viewing Neptune. With the Tele Vue 3x 1¼" barlow, tried to spot moons. But it was mushy. ST3 said that Triton was mag 13.something. So I didn't think it doable.

Viewed the Ring. Lovely. As always.


What a great evening! I enjoyed trying out and learning new equipment. Stretching the brain. It was fun watching (and hearing) Manuel meet with success. And I enjoyed Astrokitty's company too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

ampersand trouble

I just noticed that SkyTools3 doesn't like the ampersand symbol in the title of an observing list. It gets swallowed in other places as the accelerator key...

downloaded Stellarium 11

I popped into the Stellarium web site. Saw that version 0.11.0 was available. At least for the Windows folk. Grabbed a copy.

issued network diagram

I sent out a GIF diagram from my Visio drawing for the new cabling and connections for the CAO network expansion, to support the BAO and MODLs. This illustrated that we'd make a continuous run from the GBO switch to the BAO and new MODL switch. This also helped me understand the parts needed. I requested:

615 feet category 6 UTP (solid copper)
6 jacks (female) with 6 faceplates
8 plugs (male)

Waited for some feedback.

I also learned that we'd need a "punch down tool," for assembly the female jacks. Huh.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

compared MallinCam images

When attempting to verify stars in the field with Messier 51, the Whirlpool, against software, I was getting thrown off a little by points to the right of the two galaxies. It was only later, when I moved the telescope slightly, that I noticed the two points did not move. Hot pixels on the MallinCam chip! So a comparison from in order. I reviewed the images from June and July.

From June 11:

And then from July 2:

Ah ha! Same green pixels in the same locations in my two M51 images...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tim fixed Stargrazer

Turned out to be bad contacts. A poor connnection with the battery terminals. Yeh! Simple fix.

He suggested coating them with vaseline. I offered to bring up some dielectric grease.

I'm out

Nabbed Tony's seat when he stepped away for a moment. I wanted to tell Guy my "big" news. That Tom was at the same table was apropos.

Told Guy I'm out.

Out of the occultation game.

It's just not fun.

returned Denis's bit of kit

After the RASC meeting, I returned Denis's occultation gear.

Zero for five. Minimum. At a minimum I had opportunities to witness five occultation attempts. There were other events that I had not noted or recorded. That I hadn't bothered to follow up on. So it is probably more like that I'm zero for ten.

The May 7 occultation with Mabella was the closest I came. And I made a small technical error that prevented me for saying, with absolute certainty, that I observed a clean miss. Ha!

What an incredibly frustrating experience. It would have been way more fun to capture DSOs the whole time! That's what I should have done...

Monday, July 11, 2011

booking reminder

Issued a reminder to the RASC Toronto Centre listserv that members planning to visit the Carr Astronomical Observatory (CAO) should book via the web site. As per usual...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

tested wiring

I tested the wiring on the Stargrazer. Checked the starter motor. Verified we had a good ground. Charged the battery. Checked voltage. I did not see any obvious faults. Would have really liked a detailed wiring diagram. We a little surprised to see 5 or 6 wires coming off the ignition switch! Time was running out. Kiron and I needed to head back to Toronto. I felt bad but I left the problem to Dietmar and Phil.

I was not real happy about the oil leaking out the filler tube...

drum photos

We continue to consider the mechanising the garage door at the CAO. I shot some photos of the wire drum for Tony.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

no go for orchard

The skies were not looking good for the Farmer's Pantry astronomy event...

Earlier, I had asked Kiron if he wanted to help. He was game. I suggested we could fly two telescopes so we added the CAO Celestron refractor to my SCT gear. After dinner we headed over to the orchard.

The place was closed up! No signs of activity. No lights. I didn't even see a screen ready in the presentation centre. Gillian arrived some time later. We chatted for a while.

I suggested that we'd cancel the whole event if no one showed up. I didn't think people would make the trip given the sky conditions. By 8:30, still no one had dropped in. We waited a bit longer.

A family showed up! That is a father with his two young children plus an exchange student from the UK. Argh. They had come with high hopes of looking through the telescopes. We let them down gently. Gave everyone a RASC Starfinder and some astronomy "baseball" cards. The little ones tore off, more interested in the farm animals.

The father, a local farmer, knew the area. I gave him some directions and our telephone number and told him to feel free to call the observatory on a clear weekend evening.

We bid everyone a pleasant evening, confirmed August 27, the next attempt at the apple orchard, and departed.

new problem

Stargrazer wouldn't start after Kiron finished a round of cutting. Now what?!


In 16 weeks, this problem would reappear...

lost it

From the living room, while I was having lunch, perhaps our oldest regular visitor to the CAO said, "Blake, I'm having a problem..." She was talking about, once again, her computer, or some digital device, which was baffling her.

She plunked her netbook down in front of me. Sheesh. I was eating! "I just downloaded Stellarium and I'm trying to install it but I'm getting this error message and I don't know if I should install it."

I snapped. "Why did you download Stellarium?!"

"You told me to."

We had chatted about downloading last weekend and I had explained to her that we were getting hit with severe overage charges from our wireless internet service provider. She told me that she cancelled her internet service at home because she intended to use our service here. I was somewhat shocked by this. I discouraged her from doing this. I suggested she take advantage of her local coffee shop and library. I had asked her to cease and desist downloading at the Carr observatory. It seemed as though she had completely forgotten this conversation. After she downloaded iTunes in the morning, I had—again—asked her to stop doing this.

"No I didn't!" I exclaimed. "I told you to not do large downloads here at the CAO. Stop downloading stuff. You're killing me!"

I must have scared her off. She retreated to the living room.

After I finished my lunch and after washing the dishes, I headed to the living room. I sat beside her. Having cooled off a little, I wanted to talk to her. I modulated my tone. I spoke quietly. I explained again that we had paid hundreds of dollars in additional fees for overusage fees at the CAO. That we needed all members to avoid large downloads. Now and going forward. I asked her to plan large downloads are her home. No streaming video or audio. Assured her that reading the newspaper and sending and receiving email was fine—expected.

I think she understood this time...

Maybe I will have to enforce logins.

mobile transporter repaired

If the CAO is like the space station, and our cars and trucks and mini-vans are the rockets and space craft to get humans on orbit and back to Earth, then the Stargrazer lawn tractor is like a shuttle craft.

I guess I switched metaphors there. NASA and RosCosmos et al to fiction, Star Trek...

OK. If I must keep the reality angle, the International Space Station analog, going then perhaps the lawn mower is like the Mobile Transporter on the ISS. Yeah. That's it! Short hauls. Small. Limited capacity, limited range. For maintenance purposes.

That Dietmar retrieved, purchased, and delivered parts for Stargrazer, I was able to affect repairs. The left-front axle is functional. We can steer again. We can cut the lawn again!

occultation hell

Tonight I planned to set up the occultation gear in a "dress rehearsal." With Denis's equipment configured and connected, I could show Phil how to record the Iolanda occultation which was to occur Saturday night while I was at the Farmer's Pantry. Once hooked up, I could locate the target star and, hopefully, program it into TheSky6, simplifying the process for Phil.

I put the StellaCam in Tele Vue 101 telescope. I could not find the target star in TS6 by the name, TYC 5091-00259-1, from IOTA. So I used SkyTools3 to find another star, a brighter star, in the area. Then, essentially, I star hopped to the target. I verified I was in the correct location.

1:41 AM. I looked at the monitor display of the region. I could barely see target star with integration 4 setting and high gamma. WTF? That was not a good sign. But it didn't make sense. Why would an 11.7 magnitude star be so dim? I really didn't want to use an integration setting beyond 2 or 3. Was it an aperture problem? Hmmm.

I moved the video camera into the Celestron 14" SCT focuser. Double checked I was still on the target star. Checked the video screen. It was better. I could go to integration 3 and set the gamma to low (i.e. in the middle).

OK. I knew that I was late. I had intended to do a sample recording at the exact time of the event, 11:07 PM. Here it was, hours later, and the star in Ophiuchus had dropped a bit lower in the sky. But, hey, it was still 30° up. At or above the 2 air mass threshold.

I was not happy with the brightness (or lack thereof).

1:52. While visiting Phil on the Observing Pad, I asked that he drop by the C14, when ready. I said I was ready to give a little tutorial on the occultation process. He said sure. Phil came looking for me a short time later. He found burning string in the GBO but no Blake. I was at the MODLs with Dietmar. We trundled back to the big 'scope.

I gave him a quick run down on how to record an occultation. He suggested I simply leave everything hooked up. Well, I was OK with it, if everyone else was. That would make it pretty simple: power up the occultation rig with one of my 12V batteries; power the mini LCD; verify the Kiwi and GPS were working; power up the camera; set the A/V mode on the camera; start recording; slew the 'scope to the target area; recording for 10 or 15 minutes. I promised to make notes, a quick reference guide.

So, the remaining task was to see if I could return to the target area using a pre-programmed position. In SkyTools3, there's the nice skymark feature. Maybe there's something like this in TheSky6 but I thought that simply using RA and Dec would work. But it became unclear to me to know where the telescope was now. I wanted to record the coordinates of where the telescope pointer seemed to be. That itself took a bit of time to determine. I captured the RA and Dec values. Then I left the target area.

Having recently the menu command in TS6 to move to a position by these values, I entered the ones I had noted. The 'scope slewed. I looked at the Oslon 7" screen. And saw different stars. Huh? OK, maybe it was off a little. I panned slightly left and right, top and down. To see nothing familiar. I was lost.

I spent the next hour trying to get to the target star. And simply couldn't find it. No joy! And it made absolutely no sense to me. Maybe I was seeing things wrong, not getting the right perspective. But the excellent field rotation options in ST3 let me adjust for what the camera should have been capturing. I kept coming back to that I was simply in the wrong area, so continuing panning, moving further outward. I knew it was partly that the TPoint model is not accurate enough, that there were not enough points. Perhaps the original RA and Dec I had noted were wrong, that I had misinterpreted the numbers.

Millie joined us in the observatory. It was impetus to give up the search. Serve our members; stop dicking around with completely consuming solitairy pursuits. I needed to step back. After viewing Jupiter and Uranus, I returned to the area, again. I was not seeing the target stars. I wondered if I should switch the camera back to the Tele Vue, get a wide field again, and reacquire.

When, a thought emerged... No. Stop. To hell with it.

4:30. I started to pack up Denis's kit. I decided to cancel my attempt to record Iolanda. I would let Phil know, in the morning, that he was "off duty." I wouldn't ask him to undertake this.

It's too crazy. It's not fun. The thought crystallised. I'm going to quit occultations.

outer planets (Blue Mountains)

Looked for Mercury. Couldn't find it with Kiron's bins. He took over and found the elusive planet. Then he and Phil spotted it naked eye. Finally, I just caught it. Not easy. And, sadly, there was no chance of seeing it near the Beehive.

9:54 PM, 8 July 2011. We viewed Saturn. Titan was far to the east. A faint moon was on the east side, near the ring (Tethys, said ST3). And I saw two moons to the west (Rhea and Dione).

10:14 PM. There were lots of mozzies tonight. Since Dietmar was taking power from inside the warm room to supply his DSLR while he shot the sunset, we had to leave the outer GBO door open.

I tried burning string to discourage the mosquitoes.

10:40. We viewed the Straight Wall. I wondered if it was a little late in the lunar cycle. Regardless, it was interesting. Rupes Recta showed as a deep and long shadow.

10:46. I put in the 2" neutral density filter. It was much better.

Kiron headed off to find the Apollo 11 site. That is a neat target.

11:07. I visited Phil at the pad. He was flying his Obsession on this evening. He was fine tuning the collimation.

That reminded me that Neal was looking for some help with his Lightbridge. It occurred to me to send him an invite.

11:21. We looked at the Apollo 11 site. Couldn't see footprints... I dunno...

11:29. Tried to view η (eta) Sco. This can't be possible in Canada! I even jumped the gun, before crossing the star was to cross the meridian. The view was crappy. I tried the 10mm, 18mm, 27mm. Bah. There's something there. Perhaps there are orange and blue stars?

[I didn't realise at the time that SkyTools3 does not show this as a double star. It says it is a variable. Also, it is not listed in Haas's book. Went back to my "original" spreadsheet. Oh. There's no η on the list; but there's ν (nu)! Oops. Looks like I made a mistake when assembling the observing list in ST3! So sorry. Was looking at the wrong star the whole time! The bad news is that, in going to the incorrect area, I missed a chance to see a double. The good news is that ν is much higher in the sky for viewing in the Great White North.]

12:02 AM, 9 July 2011. Viewed NGC 6791. It is a very faint and small open cluster. I found even found it difficult to see in the C14.

1:52 AM. I looked at Veil Nebula in Phil's Obsession (with nebula filter). Incredibly bright. Like a woman's scarf, diaphanous, thieved by the wind. Initially he was on the East fragment (NGC 6992, Caldwell 33). He left me find the West (NGC 6960, Caldwell 34)! That was fun.

3:07. Millie packed up from the observing pad then came into the GBO to visit. She asked to see Jupiter. We enjoyed the view but found one moon is missing.

3:35. I viewed Uranus. I tried to see some moons without success. Started with the 27mm. Tried the 18mm but it was not good. Offered the view to Kiron.

Checked conditions.

slight wind 6.4
humidity 93
baro 1011.0
temp 15.4
dew point 14.3

3:59. I took a SQM reading: 20.7-ish; 16°.

My back was very sore again.

wifi testing at MODLs

Dietmar and I measured the wifi signal at the MODLs with the second wifi router (a Linksys with dual high-gain antennae) in the GBO (warm room, north wall) using an ASUS 1000HE netbook (with AzureWave wifi adapter) and inSSIDer

3 - OK, quick
2 - OK
1 - not so good

Friday, July 08, 2011

more UO data

At one point in the evening I remembered to look through the University Optics finder scope on the C14.

I tried to assess the field of view, with the Moon, which is half a degree of course.

It seemed to me that the Moon was taking up about 1/7th or 1/8th of the field. That suggests the TFOV is around 3° or 4°.

updated site

The RASC Toronto Centre observing team asked me to update the web site for the solar observing session. I also touched up the mini-calendar in an attempt to clarify activities going on at the DDO.

busy bees

Kiron and I began a big clean up of the CAO.

It wasn't that the place was dirty, per se. But we had stacked and piled our junk on every conceivable flat surface. And, with guests coming, I wanted the place to be ship-shape. Better than bad; good. White-glove testable. Cleaner than Millie would clean! We did good.

I had to ask Kiron to move to accommodate a couple. He graciously shifted to Cygnus. He took the small bed though. Dude!

I picked some wildflowers and put them in Lyra. It's the little things...

Jean just arrived a little after noon and promptly started downloading software, including iTunes and Stellarium.

caught the last launch

Kiron and I watched the space shuttle launch! It was weird knowing that this was the last National Aeronautics and Space Administration shuttle we'd ever see. Heading to the International Space Station for the last time.

STS-135 looked very clean.

pushed mower

Kiron helped me move Stargrazer back to garage. We agreed it would be best to do early, before it got hot. Not that it mattered! What a chore.

Did you know the driveway is uphill? All the way?!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

a break

Maybe some wouldn't wish for it, but I'm a little pleased that it's cloudy tonight. I need to catch up on my sleep. I'm tired. Physical tired. I think I'm tired, or overloaded?, from observing. And I need some time to update my blog and notes.

The one thing I missed, though, was the chance to image Lunar X.


I thought I'd get a jump on the lawn cutting needed for the weekend. While the CAO parking lot was empty, I could cut around the perimeter. Then we would avoid asking people to move their cars later. I knew Jean would be arriving early on Friday and I had some time on my hands.

I cut around the parking lot without incident. But while cutting along the driveway, something broke. At first, I wasn't sure what was up. As I made tight turns around Earth and Venus, the lawn tractor kind of lurched. Then it started understeering! WTF? I looked down and saw the front wheels going in different directions! Oh oh.

After shutting down, I examined the damage. The axle assembly on the left wheel had snapped where the tie rod connected.

The Stargrazer was at the bottom of the driveway and I could barely move it.

From the house, after consulting the manual, I called down to Houston. Tony answered. He called the Kooy Brothers with the part number. They had one in stock! Whew. The supply mission was assigned to Dietmar who would be passing nearby.

I was on standby.

started charging

From the garage, I grabbed the smart battery charger. In the GBO, I started recharging the gel cell 12 volt batteries. I put the unit into 2 amp mode and made sure I was using the appropriate battery type setting. The initial reading on the battery was quite low. I expected that, being the one that had driven the dew heaters (via the controller) and the cup warmer (directly).

Kiron deorbiting

Kiron had an appointment in the city. I loaded some tools in the car for him to drop off to Tony. Had a new A/V cable now so didn't need him to fetch one...

you're soaking in it (Blue Mountains)

8:23 PM, 6 July 2011. I made two attempts to view and record an ISS flyover. Upon Kiron's suggestion, I had put the MallinCam in the C14 telescope.

No joy. Both times the tracking seemed to be off. Way off. I could not even see the target in the Tele Vue, which we had configured for visual use. Should have been able to see something in the wide field!

8:49 PM. I put the big 'scope on the inner planet. Mercury was showing gibbous with the 18mm in the C14. I tried to spot naked eye without success.

9:36. I imaged Saturn through the C14 with the MallinCam. It took me a moment to find it, given that it was off-centre.

I struggled a bit with view in the video. It didn't seem right. But when I started playing with the vertical and horizontal flipping controls in the camera, it became obvious. The MallinCam Control software can be mis-leading... The software does not necessarily reflect the settings of the camera when it boots up. One should probably use the Read function, so to be sure.

It was damp already. Dew heaters would be needed tonight. I realised it was because of the rain last night. All that water was reappearing.

I checked the Davis weather station:

no wind
humidity: 88%
barometric pressure: 1011.6 mbar
temperature: 18.3°C
dew point: 16.3°C

I reminded Kiron to not leave eyepieces out in the open on a humid night.

10:07. We both spotted a moon in the direction of Titan but very close to the rings: was it Tethys or Dione?

I dug out the 20mm monster eyepiece. And was able to split Tethys AND Dione! Sweet!

10:27. I turned to ξ (xi) UMa. Yeah, finally split! Could see it was not round in the 55mm. Put in the 27mm and found it was cleanly split. Two equally bright stars. White-yellow colour. Equal colours, I thought. Tried the 18mm but it was wet! Moved it to the warm room to dry out. Went to the 10mm and say some some chromatic distortion but I still felt the stars were equal.

11:01. Viewed ξ Lup. A nice double. When i first put my eye to the ocular, I thought they were yellow and blue. But when I looked again, it did not seem so stark... And then, in the higher power 20mm (vs 55mm), I thought them the same! Kiron had a hard time with the colours too. They are very similar in brightness too...

11:06. Observed α (alpha) Lib. Oh, super wide! Even in the 55mm in the C14. Perhaps it is a bino target. I put the 10mm in the TV. The stars are yellow-white and white. The primary is super bright in the C14; the companion is much fainter. [For some reason, I did not have this as previously viewed in ST3.]

Sheesh. Everything's wet!

11:25. After a quick peek at The Black Eye and a popcorn run, I viewed 24 Com. Huh, thought I had viewed it before... Another nice wide double. There was colour definitely this time. And Kiron concurred. A yellow primary and a white-blue secondary.

11:34. Examined ρ (rho) Oph. Tight double! Equal stars. One was slightly brighter and also slightly whiter. Ah, 2 bright stars nearby. They must be related. And ST3 says so. I couldn't see any colour per se in the other stars. Of the tight pair, the primary is at the apex of the triangle.

I just had a thought... I wonder if we can we reprogram the button on the C14 control pad. So that it doesn't park... You know what would be cool? To turn off and on tracking, a toggle.

Damn. I breathed on the eyepiece. Totally fogged.

I fetched the 120 volt hair dryer from the west wall cabinet in the Warm Room.

11:43. Tried η (eta) Sco. Nope... Way too low. Just say a fuzzy glow.

11:48. The Moon was gone. Finally. The sky seemed good. But the humidity was... off the chart!

Viewed ψ (psi) Dra. Nice. A bright colourful wide double. Light gold stars. Slight differences in brightness. There were a couple of faint stars nearby. Dsiban. [Again, I had previously viewed this target but not noted it in ST3.]

The seeing was still off.

11:54. Checked the conditions.

wind very light 1.6 km
hum 98
baro 1013.2
temp 16.2
dew point 15.9

Look at that. There was dew on the windows! Never seen that before...

12:11 AM, 7 July 2011. I viewed STT525 or Σ525 aka HR 7140. The primary is yellow-white; the secondary is light blue. Hold the phone! There's a very faint companion very close to the primary. It looks to be orange or yellow. But again is very faint.

The dew was incredible...

12:35 AM. The Tele Vue objective was completed dewed over. Had a feeling. Used the dryer and put the cover on. This is the 'scope I wanted to use for the occultation... I decided to protect it now until needed.

Handed the dryer to Kiron. He worked on his binos.

Humidity was still 98%.

I've never seen so much dew here. It's like Mew Lake!

12:49. The eyepieces fogged in the time I was away checking my notes!

12:56. I viewed Vesta. Again, TS6 did not have the correct position. I used ST3 to find a nearby star. Then that star I used to move the Paramount. Once again I chose HR8222. Tonight, Vesta was close to GSC 06369-0922, a faint 11.7 mag star.

I was getting sleepy... And I had to stay up for 4 more hours!

I went and laid on the picnic table for a while. See? I should have brought my non bifocal glasses. That's it. They're going into the astronomy box α!

I saw a southbound meteor go through Cygnus.

I returned to the eyepiece to view Vesta again. I wondered if I could see motion. If so, it must be glacial.

1:21. Kiron just shook my hand. He had found, after 3 days of searching, M81 and M82, using my C8! Yeh! He was pretty happy.

I've moved the occultation kit and camcorder to the warm room to dry out!

I caught myself napjerking...

2:07. Back from break. Everything was soaked in the observatory. The side tables had a millimetre of water on them!

I had loaded up on hot chocolate. But I was still sleepy. I could feel myself falling asleep. OK. I get it... Go have a quick nap. I headed to my bedroom.

3:40. Back from my nap. It was so hard getting up... I readied for the occultation. I couldn't remember, at first, if the extension tube was required on the TV101. It was not. I should have that noted somewhere on a pre-flight, quick checklist, when trying for occultations with the GBO refractor.

4:48. No joy for the Burnhamia occultation. The target stars were invisible. It was due to a combination of low elevation, a brightening sky, and the heavy dew.

This, once again, reinforces that we need a dew heater for the TV101.

Kiron showed me a view of Jupiter through the C8. It was lovely. There was good detail on the clouds. There was no sign of the GRS. Well, it was not obvious. I checked ST3: it said the GRS was coming around. There were 4 moons visible tonight, 2 each side. Huh. Good seeing.

Kiron wondered why his Stellarium disagreed. I hit the 8 key: zap. As I suspected, the date/time was off in his software. Until too late, I didn't think to check what it was. Perhaps he hit ] or [ at some point in the dark.

Well, that was an interesting evening. Crushing dew, a scratch on the occultation, but a few more double stars for my collection. I was very happy that Kiron was figuring out the equatorial mount.

We closed up, emptied the dehumidifier, and powered it up! Good luck!

As we walked up to the house, we noticed water around the perimeter, like it had rained. It was the water collecting and running off the roof. That was a lot of dew!

5:04. The conditions were a little grim. I've never seen so much dew before.

no wind
humidity 97
baro 1014.1
temp 15.3
dew point 14.9
rain sensor reports 0.3mm!

Indeed. The rain sensor thought it was raining!

I crawled into bed. And wouldn't you know it. I couldn't fall asleep. I was wide awake! I felt totally out of sync.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

helped with water issue

Cliff's horse water trough was damaged, somehow. I helped sort out the water issue at the CAO. Reported it to the rest of the committee. Made some notes for the supervisor's manual...

bought (extra) cable

From the Stuff to Read / The Source store in Meaford, I bought a A/V cable. An extra. A cable that I might never use again. That would like go into my Box of Cables to never be seen again. So I could maybe record a low probability occultation.

met Blair

Blair of Bruce Street Technologies offered to drop by. He did not pitch me but he did bring a new dish in the van! Clever.

We had a good long chat. Learned more about them, their clients, their goals. Shared with him, again, our intentions, immediate and future. He sounds very amenable. I peppered him with questions.

I think I have all the data I need now. Now I need to write the report to council...

found a Silva Ranger

Kiron had been using my old basic compass to try to find planets in the day time. Coincidentally, we found a nice Silva Ranger 515 in one of the GBO drawers. I reviewed with Kiron how magnetic declination worked. I downloaded the manual for the 515. We permanently set the declination. Good to go!

[Turns out that my compass is a Silva too! I didn't know that.]

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

grey clouds (Blue Mountains)

8:44. I finally reached focus in the RASC Tele Vue 101 'scope on Saturn with the 55mm eyepiece. Saturn was tiny, so small that it is hard to make out the shape. But I thought, that's what it would look like in binos. I showed Kiron. He could tell it was not round.

We installed the new frame on the GBO laptop LCD. Perfect fit. Kiron's custom frame with Velcro pads worked good! No light leakage! Lovely deep red, the Lee Filters #42.

[ed: Nope. The red film product number is 026, not 42. Lee Filters 026!]

Kiron was looking at the waning gibbous Moon with my Celestron 8" SCT.

9:20. Using Virtual Moon Atlas on our computers, I was able to identify the bright crater near Mare Crisium: Proclus. It is 29 kilometres in diameter and 2400 metres in height. I also noticed the small crater in the mare, just above Pierce. That's Swift. 12 km by 1860 m.

We turned to Saturn.

10:11. We had been trying to see some of the faint moons around Saturn. No issues with Titan, Rhea, Dione. I thought, when the sky was still bright, that I saw Mimas. Wishful thinking maybe?

We found that the C8 tracking was holding up. So, without doing a precise polar alignment, it was working OK.

10:18. I decided to conduct an experiment. I moved the floor fan into the observatory proper. I put it near the LCD monitor and aimed it toward the west window of the warm room. So to force the outside air in... It sorta worked.

The view of Saturn was getting worse.

10:31. From my huge auto-generated list of stuff to try and see in SkyTools 3 Pro, I chose HD 125796 in Boötes. While tight, it was an easy split. ST3 said that they are 1.56" apart. They were equal brightness and colour to me. Both faint stars. It was not noted in double stars for small telescopes.

I looked through huge CAO binos at Moon, the 100mm Oberwerk, with the low power oculars. Wow! Very 3D. I love that. I always get a chill when I sense a large orb floating in the inky blackness of space.

10:39. I went to PPM 103051 in Boo. What? I saw some crazy faint stars. Mag 10 and 12 was the report from SkyTools. Why would this be included in the list? I generated this using the option to add "appealing" double stars. Come on. One would need much darker skies for a target like that. Nothing appealing about it.

Kiron quickly found Mizar A and B, Alcor, and Sidus Ludovicianum.

I switched to Sky and Telescope summer double-star list.

10:50. Targeted 38 Lyncis. At first, I wasn't sure what was going on, I didn't see a double. But at higher powers, I think I saw a kidney shape with two colours: one side was blue-white; the other side was orange. I wondered if this was a bad time to view it as Lynx was setting. It was pretty low. I kept looking, kept trying to split them. Clearly, they were very tight. The Sky and Telescope table said 2.7" separation. But I felt that it must be tighter than that.

Sissy Haas has this to say: 2.6 arc-seconds apart (as of 2004). A binary system. A showcase pair. A brilliant lemon-white star touching a smaller green-white star. Webb differs slightly with the colour assessment: greenish white and blue.

It deserves to be re-examined in better skies... High elevation.

Clouds were moving in. I started chasing sucker holes.

11:01. Viewed the Garnet Star. Lovely, as usual. Showed Kiron. He enjoyed the sharp colour.

I checked my blog companion page, to check the calendar. WTF? I saw the old Yahoo!Calendar, now sparse, with little current data. What was that doing there? I had stopped using the Yahoo system for my astronomy events calendar when they upgraded it, when they caused all my other dependent tools to break...

Guess I forgot to update this page. Kinda stupid. I made a note to add my up-to-date Google Calendar.

11:20. Grey clouds covered the sky. We were stymied. We closed up.

11:51. I checked the conditions.

wind: 9km
hum: 73
temp: 22.9
clouds: lots

The first clouds in days... We've had a pretty good run.

a little forlorn

Katrina was sounding a little sad...
Hi Blake,

How long will you be up there for? Into this weekend as I recall.

There are no nighttime ISS flyovers for a little while, but if you can catch it in the day, then you may be able to see the shuttle "chasing" the ISS if she launches on time this Friday.

I will regret not being able to see that one more time - hope that flyovers will be visible again by the end of the mission perhaps.

Unfortunately, I do not believe we'll be able to see the Shuttle and ISS together, this time, in Ontario.

he hacked my 'scope

We returned to my Celestron 8" SCT atop Vixen Super Polaris mount, still in the south-east corner of the Geoff Brown Observatory. I rigged up my power tank batteries so to warm the dew heaters and run the tracking motor.

Kiron was still in inventing-mode from this afternoon. He was looking for a way to quickly aim my telescope, to get in the general area of a celestial object. But a little challenging without a Telrad or similar 1x device.

He was thinking along the lines of the unique finder he had successful made for his binoculars. He was considering a way of making a sighting tube for the C8.

He disappeared into the house for a time.

He just hacked my 'scope! He put a long copper tube parallel to the OTA. Brilliant. My very own jugaad! It worked great. Scathingly brilliant. So simple.

You have to look closely at the top of his binoculars in the photo above. You can just make out the "shortie" tube he has on it. Which he's cleverly clamped between the binos and the tripod mount. Can't see the copper crosshairs he fashioned, but it works good.

Why do all mad inventors have that same look?

NASA expert approves

Randy sent a near follow-up to my ISS message.
Very cool Blake.

During the 1994 Shoemaker Levy 9 impacts on Jupiter, I found the best views of the planet were during twilight, when the planets was not as glaring as during the night views - similar for the ISS I would imagine. Congrats on a great observation.

I do remember looking at Skylab through a C8 - not during twilight but I was able to see the solar panels. This is a much larger object.


C14 finder scope

While we don't use it much, I wanted to learn a bit more about the finder scope attached to the RASC Toronto Centre's Celestron 14" SCT.

4:55 PM. I tried to get some data on the finder. I had to look at the tube and around it to find some markings. In fact, I had to loosen the bracket a bit. It's a University Optics tube. It's marked 11x and 80mm.

Googled for more info. Purportedly, they came with a Amici prism to optically correct the view. Our diagonal is not marked in any way but I can tell there's a prism in it as opposed to a mirror.

Also the eyepiece is interchangeable. Ours is not marked so who knows what it is... So, why would the OTA itself be marked 11x?! If you can change the ocular? Doesn't make sense. Perhaps it is the stock 25mm UO ortho eyepiece...

One of my intentions is to know the true field of view but without any other details I cannot calculate it. I'll have to measure the field directly...

9:13 PM. Using the Moon, I confirmed that the UO finder presents a corrected view. Good to know.

day time ISS recording (Blue Mountains)

Viewed and recorded the International Space Station day time pass! In a bright, blue sky. Woo hoo!

Flyover details:

- started at 7:36:18, 10°, WNW
- reached max alt. at 7:39:31, 72°, SW
- ended at 7:42:43, 10°, SE

The incredible Paramount ME computer-controlled mount was able to track it. I programmed it to pick up the trail just after the meridian.

We had the 27mm Tele Vue Panoptic eyepiece in the Celestron 14" yielding 145 power. Fantastic. We could see the four solar panel arrays, the "backbone" truss of the ISS, with elements and structural pieces, and the central living compartments, the main modules.

I successfully recorded a video with the MallinCam. But it's small and slightly out of focus.

It's possible! As proof-of-concept, I was very happy. Sent a note to the Yahoo!Group.

I was excited to try again tomorrow. With the intention of video recording through the big 'scope!

downloaded focuser manual

I did some googling and found the manual for the Optec TCF-S temperature compensating focuser. Learned what the ER-2 message meant. Did some troubleshooting. Seemed to have fixed it.

submitted photos

I submitted four photos of the noctilucent clouds to SkyNews.


Todd Carlson, assistant editor, replied. Cool.

lazy day

Slept in. Very tired from all these late nights!

While the farmer returned to the field to roll up the hay and as Kiron worked on a red film screen frame for the Dell laptop, I tackled miscellaneous activities.

Sent the CAO back door vestibule carpet measurements to Grace.

I did more testing on the 120-12 adapter. Plugged it in. Like the night before, I saw that the red LED did not illuminate. Put the multimeter in the CLA sockets. Nothing. I cut the cord near the transformer and took another reading with the voltmeter. Nothing. Dead. We must have overloaded it. I noted the 2 ampere rating on the case. Checked again but did not see any screws on the casing. Funny. I forgot the model name this adapter: Mosquito.

Put out the word on the RASC listserv. Asked people for recommendations on a 12 volt power supply. I said I wanted something when near mains. That I didn't feel like rewinding the transformer. That I was considering moving up to a proper, regulated supply. Didn't need gauges. Wondered if I should get something in the 5 or 10 amps range, perhaps.

I wanted to sort out the S-video / MallinCam issue. I brought the MCHC in from the observatory. I needed a known good S-video cable. I grabbed the one from the living room DVD player. Checked the upstairs television. Could have swore that it had a S-video input. Connected the MallinCam to the AVerMedia card in the laptop. It worked right away! Good. This seemed to confirm that we had a bad cable in the GBO. But then, when I wiggled the connector, it cut out. Oh. Oh, so maybe there's a combo of problems... Certainly the S-video connector port on the camera is in rough shape. In the meantime, it looks like a new-ish cable seats better.

I phoned Bruce Street Technologies to set up a meeting. I was hoping to review their fees and our special requirements.

I looked for GFCI kits. Also checked and measured our supply of 12 gauge wire. And I measured the distance between the MODL junction posts to the GBO. All for Tony. Sent him the numbers.

I sourced The Source in Meaford. Called to determine if they had the A/V cable I needed... They did! Amazing! That meant I could possibly record the remaining two asteroid occultations...

Kiron finished the frame for the red film for the Dell laptop. He made it very convenient with Velcro pads. I would have to let the CAO supervisors know.

Watered Tony's trees. Noticed the water was a little murky...

The farmer stopped rather close to the BAO deck. I took some photos of the tractor.

I counted the available ports on the switch in the GBO (6) and reported to Tony.

Cal saw them too!

Sharmin sent a note to the RASC group listserv:
My colleague Cal told me he saw the noctilucent cloud Sunday night from Toronto around 4:45am! He was driving and noticed it and thought it was a "strangely early sunrise" but he did not investigate it. I was showing my colleagues the photos by Blake and Steve and he exclaimed "Hey, I saw that!"
Kinda cool.

uncommon cable

I searched in the CAO house. Around the living room DVD player. Around the stereo and television. I looked behind the big-screen TV. I looked in the storage closet under the stairs. And to the left of the living room computer. My luggage. Again. The drawers and cupboards of the GBO. Found lots of patch cords. I emailed Dietmar. Never expecting to find the kind of cable needed to go from the camcorder to RCA plugs. The camcorder uses mini-type with 4 connectors. Damn it. Kicked myself for leaving it behind. Looked up The Source in Meaford.