Wednesday, August 31, 2011

installed driver

Manuel was having some trouble with his new focusing software. Something about a driver for nFOCUS hand control for his moonlite focuser. He received the USB adapter, but had not been able to connect it with FocusMax. All the ASCOM drivers are installed, and FocusMax recognized the nFOCUS, but was not able to find the port. I wondered if it was simply the COM port assignment to the USB device. We set aside a night to get together.

The event grew a little. He also invited Kiron, which was cool, of course. And after getting the focusing tool working, Manuel wanted me to check the collimation of his 8" telescope. Finally, when that was done, he wanted to try some imaging. Unannounced to both Kiron and myself, Manuel also intended to coach Kiron on how to use his 'scope. Very nice. But it was going to make a full evening!

Kiron and I were not able to sync up beforehand. Difficult to plan things with him when he doesn't have a cell phone and doesn't call in. I didn't want to be late. We drove separately.

After chitchatting in the man-cave, an aperitif, and some pleasantries with Ida, I took the con. I looked through the installation procedures on Manuel's laptop. He had told me he had skipped a step, which I think he had been told was not necessary. He had the impression that he didn't need the zip file required. Nope. Necessary. I followed the instructions to the letter and everything worked. We tested the focuser action by computer control. Manuel was very happy.

Sadly, the 8" SCT had not been sitting outside, cooling, so I was a little worried about the effect it might have on the collimation process...

custom cap

Manuel gave me a customised astronomy-themed baseball cap. Thank you! He is proposing it for a new promotional clothing item for the Centre. I like it.

88 or 89

Huh. Mr Matloff, author of The Urban Astronomer, says there are 89 constellations. News to me.

Monday, August 29, 2011

coached Kevin in Stellarium

Kevin raised some questions about his Stellarium

Q: Cannot find any place to enable labelling of comets or anything like "motion trails."

A: Stellarium classifies the comets as planets. So, turn on the planet labels and you'll see the comets. Bear in mind you'll need to zoom in...

Q: I was able to do a search for Garradd and it shows the highlighting, red, pulsing lines, but otherwise it is not labelled and there are no trails.

A: Right, so zoom in. Stellarium also shows it as a point source. So you won't see a fuzzy shape or a comet tail. Depending on the comet, the magnitude could be 10 or 12 or 14. So you'll need to zoom in a lot! Planet, asteroid, and comet trails are enabled in Stellarium by pressing Shift-T. Then speed up time or advanced to the next day or week.

frustrating meeting

I'm not enjoying these strategy meetings. Perhaps the low attendance numbers are telling. Maybe others are thinking the same.

I'm sure as hell not getting anything out of them. I didn't learn anything. Didn't find out anything I didn't already know.

And when the chair let's people repeatedly go off topic, you know there's gonna be problems. And when the meeting runs past it's deadline, I'm gonna get upset.

I am tiring of the continuous "We should do this!" with no regard for who will do the work. The recruit of new volunteers everyone agrees is important but I see no progress. The volunteer coordinator has not been present at these two meetings. That tells you something!

And the fiasco with the logo... My goodness. So backwards.

Stuart had called a GO for the City Observing Session. I should have gone to that and enjoyed the evening. I want to DO astronomy; not talk about it.

why we made it

I found it very strange that a member visiting the CAO for the first time last weekend was not sent the Site Facilities Manual. Then it made me wonder how many others have not received it. And then it made me wonder if that's why we're having some trouble with guests of late.

guided Stu in Stellarium

Stu asked the RASC Toronto Centre list for some assistance with Stellarium and adding comet Garradd. Gilles supplied the content for the INI file but I suggested using the GUI. It would be way easier. Ralph reminded us that that would work only in the new versions. Right, 0.10.6 or higher. Stu didn't realise his Stellarium was out of date so he upgraded. Followed my procedure and got it working.

I warned everyone that the process was a little wobbly...
  1. access the Configuration window
  2. click the Plugins tab
  3. click Solar System Editor item
  4. click the "configure" button
  5. click the Solar System tab
  6. click the big button "Import orbital elements in MPC format..."
  7. click the Lists tab
  8. choose Comets
  9. choose "Download a list of objects from the Internet"
  10. from the bookmark list drop-down, choose "MPC's list of observable comets"
  11. click the Get orbital elements button
  12. check the preferred comets
  13. click the Add objects button
  14. close the Import data window
Et voilà!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

sent Vixen links

Sent Gord a bunch of my Vixen equatorial mount links. Hopefully that will get him going with the mount he recently bought from Geoff.

[ed: as of mid-Oct, not a peep...]

found password

Found, in a pile of paperwork in the home office, the hand-written note with new strong password for the Kali computer located at the CAO. Whew.

MODL miswired

Reported to Tony the miswiring Dietmar and I had discovered with the MODL lots. We found breaker #5 was powering the MODL junction box (with the gigabit switch); when it was supposed to be breaker #6 controlling the electrical power. I offered to rewire it on the Labour Day weekend.

red pen sale

Kiron paid me for the red LED pen he kept. I wonder how many I have left...

He told a funny story about how he'd recently popped into Active Surplus and asked about red LED pens but they told him it was a long time ago and "some guy" had bought a bunch of them and cleaned them out!

leases signed

I took customised MODL lease documents to the CAO. Had Phil and Dietmar sign each of their respective two copies. I'll send these leases to the RASC executive for two signing officers to complete. I also collected money. But then I forgot to give the cheques to Phil to give to Scott! DOH!

One more to go...

turned off homing

I reprogrammed how TheSky6 uses the joystick hand controller on the Paramount ME.

I've always been a little anxious about the button on the joystick and how it, if pressed twice, would send the mount to the Home position. A couple of our members have accidentally pressed the button. And I've done it myself. Surprising and possibly dangerous.

So, I turned off the "go to Home" on both the RA and Dec axis inside TheSky6's telescope options. Now the joystick button is dormant. Did some quick testing. I should do some some more next weekend...

It appears that I saved this setting "inside" the mount. To make the change permanent, that the joystick button would be dormant the next time one starts up the mount and software, I used an option in TheSky6 that was labelled "Save to Flash." Interesting. This lead me to believe that it adjusted the Paramount hardware as opposed to a setting in the software and only under my account. I think I've changed this for all operators!

I made a note to let the CAO supervisors know.

changed profiles

Considered using a "sudo" style program on the Dell laptop so to temporarily enable administrative actions. This, so I could affect changes to Windows user accounts. But found it too complicated for my foggy brain. So, I briefly switched the user accounts from Limited to Administrator.

Fixed Tony's account. Changed his power settings so to not time out. Disabled the screen saver. This will avoid the issue had experienced after the Thornbury library talk where the computer went into sleep and he accidentally rebooted it and then had to wait an eternity for Windoze to fully restart.

Did similar things to Phil's account.

pulled line

Both Kiron and Phil were struggling getting the new fuel line through the base of the Weed Eater fuel tank. Kiron kept saying he thought it the wrong size. I was not convinced. All the repair notes I had found on the web had clearly said the fitment was tight, by design. Kiron could not get it started; Phil got it through the small hole. I used my small 45° pliers to pull it all the way through. Done.

Kiron had rebuilt much of the motor. It looked like we were well on our way...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

found TheSky6

Looked more closely at the dining room computer—Kali—for astronomy software. Terry had given me the impression that a very old version of Bisque's TheSky was loaded. But I found version 6! Huh. I wondered what he meant. I also checked for Virtual Moon Atlas. Yep. Installed. OK.

Prepared to make some other changes but it slowly dawned on me that I did not have the new administrative password! I vaguely remembered writing it on a piece of paper. I know! Paper! And that send, I strongly felt, was in my office, 200 kilometres away. Damn it.

patchy star party (Beaver Valley)

It wasn't completely overcast... Kiron and I headed over to the Farmer's Pantry around 8:00 PM with the 8" SCT and 3" refractor. Tony left separately and brough the big binos. I saw Mary-Lynn in the office when we arrived. We chatted briefly then moved into the orchard to set up our 'scopes. Kiron also set up his Nikon binoculars on a tripod.

Then I took the car to the presentation centre and set up the computer and projector. Not having a screen or sheet, we decided to project onto the roof. It worked! And it short order, we were underway.

After handing out RASC star finders, I delivered a shortened presentation, Kiron and Tony looking on. Then we wrapped up, quickly tore down the presentation equipment and headed to the telescopes. It was patchy and we had to move quickly into sucker holes to display objects. But it turned out OK. The crowd seemed to enjoy the views and our answers to their various questions.

We showed them a number of constellations, the double stars Albireo plus Mizar and Alcor, the Great Hercules globular cluster, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Dumbbell Nebula, the Ring Nebula, plus a few other treats. We all enjoyed a bright flyover of the International Space Station. Short and sweet under cloudy skies. Sadly, we couldn't not see Jupiter.

About 15 people, from the Clarksburg area, showed up including some very clever kids.

not great timing

Neal announced he was coming to the CAO. Tonight. Saturday night.

Busy night to pick. I would be heading to the apple orchard, dragging Kiron and Tony with me. Dietmar would be busy entertaining Bren's group. I wasn't sure now who might help him with his collimation issue. Phil, big Dob user, might be the best qualified.

I greeted Neal (and his wife) in person. Helped steady the rocker box before I split...

tuned up presentation

I couldn't seem to find the presentation file that I had used last year at the Farmer's Pantry event on the ASUS netbook (John Littlejohn). Remembered tuning it, shortening it. I wondered if it had been stored on the Dell laptop (John Kim-Chi)... 200 km away...

In Oracle Open Office version 3.3, I reworked the presentation file from two years back. Trimmed some content, to make the talk zippy. Compressed the file, with the "Minimize" plug-in. Put the netbook into Super Performance mode...

The software was incredibly slow during the running of the slide show. Painfully slow! Rebooted, shut down all other applications. S-L-O-W. Impractical. It would disturb the rhythm of the delivery. So I hacked the file, removing all the animations, and switching to duplicated slides. Brute force method. Sheesh. Waste of time!

stumbled across book

Ha! How about that. I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, walking by the shelves, a book I have wanted to read for some time. Greg Matloff's work called The Urban Astronomer (in soft cover). This title I had learned of some time ago and had added it to my wish list. Perhaps I had done so around around the time I read Antony Cooke's stupid book. I immediately signed it out!

One of the perks of sleeping in the library while at the CAO...

Looking forward to reading this.

the last bit

Asked Ranger Horvatin if he'd mind helping finish the lawn cutting. That put me in a good spot to do diagnostics. If I would be able to find the time...

built a cable

Built a new custom cable for Phil's Losmandy mount. We used the right-angle DIN connectors we had bought some time ago from Digi-Key. He had found a multi-wire cable with thick sheath. It was a smidgen too fat but we were able to fit it. A surprisingly fiddly job. Took a long time.

Garradd and M71 (Blue Mountains)

8:20 PM, 26 August 2011. I activated the Paramount ME with TheSky6 and readied the Celestron 14-inch Schmidt Cassegrain. Dietmar had said it was OK for me to use the C14. I only helped Kiron a little bit with the setup of my Celestron 8" SCT.

8:39 PM. I knew we didn't have a lot of time so I turned to Saturn. Showed Ro, Sneyha, and Thomas. Standing under the telescope, I spotted it naked eye. Cheating, I guess. The sky was still bright. No moons were visible through the eyepiece. Sneyha tried some afocal shots with her iPhone but they didn't work.
Instrument: Celestron 14-inch SCT
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
8:54. Just spotted Titan despite it being very murky.

I put C14 'scope on Messier 13 (M13). It was very nice.

Then I put the big 'scope on the comet! C/2009 P1 (Garradd) was very near the star cluster Messier 71! That was very cool! A fuzzy elongated patch beside the tight cluster of stars.

9:26. The Horvatins arrived. Trevor—excuse me, Ranger Trevor—was driving. He turned off the headlights in the Mazda, somehow. I guided them in with a red LED flash light, thanks to Lora.

I know! From Lora!

9:27. We quickly hustled them out of the mini van. Together we watched ISS flyover. It was a good long one. It was bright.

We returned to viewing the comet. It was fantastic beside Messier 71 (M71). I wondered if we were seeing fragments of the comet. It was hard to tell with all the stars in the field. It was likely that they were background stars from the arm of the galaxy.

9:28. While I was busy at the eyepiece or monitor, people on the observatory floor spotted a nice shooting star!

I wanted to revisit the supernova SN2011dh in Messier 51. Slewed and took a peek. Then I cross-checked star locations against various images.

10:01. Confirmed the supernova in M51. It is much fainter now! Fainter than GSC 03463-0591 at magnitude 13.8. About the same as GSC 03460-0588 at 15.5.

10:21. Went to Messier 57 (M57), for the crowd. It is so good in the C14. Big!

Tried for ζ (zeta) Boötis, again, without success.

10:35. Viewed the Little Ghost aka NGC 6369. A very faint planetary nebula. Ring-shaped. It was surprisingly low so I was a little impressed at what we were seeing. Easy to miss. Tiny. Kiron didn't see it at first.

11:01. I took a reading with the Unihedron Sky Quality Meter: 20.97 to 21.03. Not bad. Temp: 19. I reviewed the Davis weather station readings: 98% humidity; 1012.6 millibars; temp 15.0.

Millie and Kiron spotted a super bright meteor. From Delphinus into Aquarius. Broke into fragments! Sounded very exciting from the Warm Room.

11:10. Viewed NGC 5866, what some call Messier 102 (M102). I made a point of searching for the object by NGC number in TheSky6, to avoid landing at M101 again. The appearance in the eyepiece reminded me of M82. Long thin oval. Seemed a bit mottled in the middle.

Kiron just spotted Jupiter in the east.

11:26. Gord was back. I asked if he had any requests. He said: M8. All right. Despite the low elevation, Messier 8 was pretty cool, the nebula aglow, and the huddled cluster (officially NGC 6530, of course) of in the same field. I could see a dark patch in the middle of the nebula but Gord said he could not. I put in the 2" Lumicon O-III filter. What a difference the narrow band-pass filter made! The Lagoon!

We viewed Messier 13 (M13), the Great Hercules Cluster. Fantastic, as always, in the C14.

I tried for Zwicky's Triplet, a suggestion from Astronomy magazine. Gord had heard of it. But we couldn't see anything. Nothing in 18mm, 27mm, or 55mm.

Tony popped into the GBO. Any requests? He wanted Messier 27 (M27), the Dumbbell. Looks more like an apple core to me...

1:05 AM, 27 August 2011. Returned to Garradd. The comet had moved a bit to the left, compared to the last viewing.

Asked Gord if he wanted to look at Jupiter. We hopped to the gas giant. Then I got to wondering... I checked SkyTools3 and sure enough a Jovian moon shadow crossing was coming up. All right!

I also checked ST3 about the Great Red Spot. Cool, it was coming around to our side.

1:09 AM. We viewed the shadow of Io. Wow! Very easy, for me, to see in the C14. The shadow was black! The planet was still pretty low in the sky. But it popped when the seeing got good.

Tony asked if he could attend Farmer's Pantry event on Saturday. Sure! He said he could bring the big binos.

1:38. The GRS was starting to appear. Very pale.

1:45. Io was almost on the planet.

1:53. Io was almost touching. The seeing was very bad now. Dancing all over. That didn't make sense... The Great Red Spot was a pale red.

2:08. Went to the comet again. Moving quick. It was a bit further from a little equilateral triangle of mag 13 and 14 stars.

2:17. Viewed the Little Queen, a tiny asterism, on another tip from Astronomy magazine. Centred on HD 172922, the bright central yellow star of a little W shape, like a mini version of Cass.

2:19. Humidity down to 83%.

2:27. Took another peek at the comet. Wanted to watch it move but I was too tired... I think I fell asleep for a couple of seconds at the eyepiece. Time to quit. Kiron said he was done too. But he and Millie started into some Messiers so I packed up my gear and left them.

Spotted Dietmar, with white flash light, walking in from his MODL. Looked like he was done too.

Friday, August 26, 2011

answered Nicole's questions

Phil and I convinced Nicole to visit the CAO. She started peppering us with questions on Friday afternoon. Through Facebook messaging, I explained things. Reminded her to bring a sleeping bag or sheet set. And towels. That she could pay her fee here. Cautioned her about GPS directions as we each reviewed the local map (that I had designed and Dietmar had sent her). Told her that her room was ready! She was happy.

I learned, in our online chat, that Dietmar had not sent her the directions document, the companion to the map. More importantly, he had not sent the CAO Site Facilities Manual. I thought that very strange. I sent the manual PDF by email. I also sent her my "getting out of Dodge map" and we discussed different routes out of the GTA.

Once she had the book, it answered other questions she had, like if there was power at the Observing Pad. She was excited to learn that we have solar 'scopes.

Finally, she asked were there was a Tim's. Ha ha! I advised her to stock up in Orangeville!

tripod hand off

Shortly after Thomas (and family) arrived at the CAO, he presented me with a black, aluminum Velbon tripod. It features a panhead, geared centre-column with crank and lock, three-section legs with quick-release clamps, spiked feet with adjustable rubber pads, additional mount at the bottom of the shaft, and special camera clamp on the head. Thanks!

cut earlier

Asked Kiron if he'd cut the lawn on Friday. He was keen (of course). I wanted to get the lawn work done (or nearly done) so that on Saturday (not Sunday) I could look at the mower. The plan was to disassemble the muffler bits and do some diagnostic analyses... Then, if necessary, I could reassemble, and perhaps call the small engine guy in Meaford. Getting the lawn cut early would give me some wiggle room.

met Gord

Geoff had said that Gord was going to drop by the CAO on his way to Starfest. Indeed he had. Dietmar told me he had popped by in the morning, looking for me. Missed him, darn. But Dietmar relayed that Gord had said he would return on his way home. OK.

He did return, in the late afternoon. We chatted in the kitchen over a glass of water. I told him what I had done to Geoff's old DD-1 hand controller. We went to outside to inspect the Vixen GP-DX mount he had bought from Geoff. I proceeded to show him drive motors were in fact working fine. We also discussed where to get spare parts, polar alignment, regreasing the gears, old documentation, dampening the metal tripod, etc.

We compared it to my Super Polaris.

Gord departed for Orillia. But said he'd be back later, to do some observing. OK again!

Gave me his business card. Asked for all my Vixen materials. I gave him my email address and blog URL...

no hot chocolate!

I had looked at the beginning of the month. Not seen any. Checked my supplies, again, at the CAO. Could not see any hot chocolate! Noooo! Call Duck Dodgers!

Well, fortunately, it's not critical now. But I'll have to stock up at the end of the season. Made a note in the Psion.

Could have sworn I had some...

cartridge correct

I verified the new toner cartridge for the laser printer at the CAO was correct. Whew. A return to Sam's Toner was not a prospect I wanted to consider. Shook up the old cartridge to get some more mileage...

And started printing my handouts for the Farmer's Pantry event on Saturday. I also printed out, on legal, an application for joining the Toronto Centre, for Neal's friend.

Made a note to tell the CAO supervisors about the new cartridge on standby.

debugged MODL LAN

Shortly after arriving at the Carr Astronomical Observatory, Dietmar informed me that his internet connection was not working at his My Own Dome Lot.

He had arrived the CAO Thursday but with the poor conditions had not done any work in his POD. Now, with Friday evening looking promising, he was getting things ready. It was at this point he discovered something wrong. Lightning strike? Loose connector? Flooded conduit (already)?

Dietmar told me he was using a newly purchased cable. He asked if CAT 6 was OK. Sure. I asked him if it was a straight-thru or cross-over. He wasn't sure. Even I didn't know if it would matter: probably his computer and/or the new switch would auto-sense and flip. He also reported that he was seeing a network status indicator of 100 Mbs speed. Oh really? That suggested a partial connection, likely his computer to the MODL communication junction box. A good sign. So, the problem was probably upstream from this point.

I bought the ASUS netbook to his dome, turned off the wireless, and tested with his new cable. Nothing. He fetched another ethernet cable, a known good, but it didn't work either. Again, I suspected the new MODL switch, inside the junction box, was OK, so suggested we head to the next key point, upstream, the equipment in the Geoff Brown Observatory. Besides, I didn't feel like opening the cover...

Dietmar grabbed his key set while I looked up my supervisor GBO security code. As we walked into the Warm Room, I instinctively hit the battery light switch. Didn't need it, so I powered it off. Dietmar started nudging the wood jam under the door, before activating the main power to the building. Struck me as a little odd... And then it dawned on me... Light bulb! (Sorry!) And I looked at the 3Com switch under the counter to confirm my brain wave. Yep. No LEDs.

"Dietmar," I said, "I know why your internet connection is not working...," pointing to the 3Com switch. "No power."

We threw the main lever and watched the switch power up. The nodes lit up: the input from the house, the Dynex switch for the MODLs. And a third! Right. The (new) Linksys wireless router.

I pointed out to Dietmar that the problem was further exacerbated by the wireless access point being unpowered as well. That in his POD was furthest from the house, he was struggling with a single, distant wireless signal.

I thought it very interesting, now that Dietmar has his own POD, that he doesn't need the GBO now, and had not even unlocked it.

Funny how none of us, Tony, Charles, Phil, Dietmar, myself, realised any of this. Charles had nailed it for the power at the MODL junction box. But we all forgot about the GBO being shut down...

We need to rethink all this. Especially for Ostap (and future users) who are not supervisors. One solution is to provide independent power. We could tap the continuous Observing Pad circuit and put one outlet in the Warm Room (for the switch) and one in the Observing Room (for the dehumidifier and WAP)... Would solve the problem. In the meantime, more extension cords will do that trick. Another idea is we just leave the GBO powered.

Dietmar said Ostap won't need it for a while...

parts recon

Tony had said that the venerable Canadian Tire store in Collingwood had a small engines section with parts for Stargrazer. Wow. I was surprised and pleased to hear this. But I wanted to see it for myself. It was good I checked.

They do have some items, like tires, air filters, spark plugs, etc. But I did not see a lot more stuff. And not a lot specific to their riding mowers. Like the Front Axle Assembly we recently snapped.

There were also Weed Eater bits, like the spool. But I still don't know which one we have and if we have extras or line.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

updated the ECR

I updated the expense cheque requisition form. I incorporated a change request from Mr. Mortfield, an additional address line, to accommodate people at companies or institutions. It suddenly occurred to me as I began editing to drop in the new wordmark. Ha. Two for one.

Before emailing the respective parties, I uploaded the new version 1108a into the Council and CAO Super groups.


Damn it. Found mistakes. Released version 1108c.

problem solved

Mr. Gaherty emailed me yesterday to see if I was going to Starfest. I told him, no, I wasn't. Not going to Rainfest. Or Thundernlightningfest. Or Highwindfest. No thank you.

He explained that the Vixen GP-DX mount he had recently sold to a RASC member in Orillia wasn't working. The same mount that I had hacked the hand controller for. Only 3 years ago! Neither the RA nor Dec motor seemed to be working... He said, "I'm pretty sure it was working then, but I can't rember how thoroughly I tested it." Oh oh.

I offered that the new owner, Gord, visit the CAO. We could take a look. Maybe plug the controller into another mount; or a different controller into his mount. They hatched a plan to do this.

But Geoff reported by today saying, "Problem solved: the slew rates were slower than Gord expected." Whew! I didn't break anything. And it stands the test of time!

He want on to say that Gord might still stop by the Carr on his way to Mount Forest. Roger dodger.

I took the opportunity to ask if he charged Gord extra for the fancy red LED.

The reply: "Of course! It was an essential part of my sales pitch. I explained how every other GP-DX owner has to struggle with an ugly bright flashing green light, but this one has the Nancarrow™ 'EZ on the I' flashing red light!"

He cracks me up.

retrograde discussion

Helped Kiron get a better handle on planetary motion. Used Stellarium for demonstration purposes. In general, most of the time, the planets, asteroids, dwarf planets, Sun, Moon, move west to east. Briefly, the solar system bodies, except for the Moon, will reverse direction.

I had to keep reminding him to ignore the Earth's daily spin and the apparent motion...

toner for CAO

Noted that the laser printer output was a little faded during my last visit. Picked up a new cartridge (toner only) for the Lexmark at the CAO. Hopefully it is the correct model. Paid cash. Hopefully, I'll get reimbursed.

MallinCam away

I shipped the MallinCam to the mothership for repair.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

database ready

I finished reviewing the database of RASC Toronto Centre membership information. This in preparation of the sending of the IT survey. Looks like there are about 300 people on the Yahoo!Group. That's a bit less than the number not on Yahoo. The good news there is that the group size is within the new server bulk email limit. So we'll have no trouble reaching them. And then there's just over 50 members who do not have email (or haven't given us there address). We'll send the survey by snail mail.

those poor people

I feel sorry for all those people who headed to Starfest early...

Looks like they're getting pounded! Hopefully, no tornadoes!

more HTML trickery

I found some JavaScript code to let me open multiple web sites simultaneously. Very happy about this.

I was using the feature inside Firefox to open all the bookmarks in a folder concurrently to help quickly load up weather pages, so to analyse sky conditions, by region. But, I wanted something that would work anywhere, not just on my browser at home...

The "supercharged" multi-site links, which open over a dozen sites, are now on my weather page. Click if you dare.

pre-packed eyepieces

So I don't forgot them! Dietmar said Millie has made a point of packing hers too! Without the MallinCam this weekend, I'm looking forward to straight visual observing.

big box for MallinCam

When Tony was handling the small plastic toolbox for the MallinCam, he found it bursting at the seams. Indeed. With the recent accessorising, we had run out of room. The original box held the camera proper, the AC adapter, and the composite power/data cable. I was able to squeeze in the AVerMedia PCMCIA card and it's adapter and the RS422 convertor. But the MallinCam Control Cable and the new S-video cable where out of luck. Picked up a medium-sized Jobmate toolbox from CTC. It should do nicely.


The moderator group relayed a message that the problem, affecting some 10 to 15% of users, was fixed. And they did something to prevent it from happening again. Does that mean someone got canned?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

testing of BinStar

Downloaded Ed's BinStar software. Loaded the drift video of Cor Caroli. Read the online documentation. Tried a few things. But it was getting late. Between some program bugs and poor seeing in the video, I did not get anywhere. The calculated Position Angle and Separation numbers were way off. I'll have to try again later. And try the κ (kappa) Herculis video—those stars are a little further apart.

first rollover

For a number of my astroimages—the supernova in M51, for example—I have wanted to point to things with a marker. But I wanted it to pop up as needed. Of course, that's easy to do in web pages with JavaScript and mouse rollover event handling. I just didn't know if it was doable inside blogger articles...

Tried it on the image of Pallas I shot back on 2 Aug. Works great!

And it turned out to be even easier than I thought!

video and snaps

From Kiron, I picked up the video AVI files and JPEG images he copied from my account at the Carr observatory. I transferred the files from his portable hard disk: 5 movies; 4 snapshots. Nice!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I noticed this morning that the Yahoo!Group was slow at relaying a message of mine. Chalked it up to server issues.

When Stu posted about his being away for the Dark Sky Observing session, he noted that his earlier post had not appeared. And apologised for the possible duplication.

When Tom started sending test messages, for us to ignore, I realised it was going to get messy. I logged into our group and immediately deleted his message. Then I posted an updated, from within the system, so to let people know what was going on. And to conduct a wee test...

Sure enough the message showed up in my e-inbox in short order. Showing that Yahoo had no trouble transmitting; it was having a problem on the receiving end, on the input side. Sent a follow-up, encouraging people to compose messages directly on the Yahoo server, if it was urgent.

I'll see if there's anything noted in the Moderator Central group...

MallinCam has landed

I asked Tony to bring the MallinCam down from the Carr Astronomical Observatory (CAO). It is in the city.

I need to send it off to Rock for repair...


Presumably my video files are also in da 'hood. You'd think Kiron would give me a high sign. He knows I'm anxious to get them...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

found another error

Was reviewing the Sky and Telescope winter double stars list, again. This time, comparing it to a list I had made earlier in the planning software SkyTools3. The entry Alan Adler notes as ν (nu) Pup is wrong. The double star at the RA / Dec location noted is not ν; it is NV, aka HR 2787!


The summer list remains uncorrected, in terms of the Greek characters.

keyboard upgraded

The keyboard on John Smallberries needed to be cleaned. In fact, it was so gunked up with keyboard plaque the left and right Shift keys were jamming. So, I gave it a complete bath. Hmmm. While apart, I could upgrade it...

I put 6 small red LEDs under the keys. Used some of the spare small dome LEDs. Put two in series with a 39 ohm resistor. Repeated two more times. Punched two new holes in the circuit board with the existing status LEDs so to tap into the 5 volt supply from the computer. Fished the wires along the various channels. It took a lot of fiddling to get it reassembled.

It works. It's not terribly bright. It's more atmospheric then anything else...

Friday, August 19, 2011

simulation shots

Received the simulated CAO security camera shots from Ian D. Forwarded them to Tony.

remote file copy

I phoned up to the CAO.

Caught up with Tony. The talk at the L.E. Shore library went well. He finished on time so was able to show them a flyover of the International Space Station from the parking lot. He was a hero! Then he guided them up to the observatory, where Ian, Terry, Kiron, Grace, John, and others were waiting. They had a good time under clear skies. By the sounds of it, there were tons of 'scopes on the pad. Nice!

Tony relayed a little gotcha with the telescope control computer. Or something with his account anyway. The screen saver kicked in. And then the Dell laptop went to sleep. Which was irksome at best. But then when he tried to restart the computer to slew to the next object, he accidently caused the computer to restart! Nooooo! 23.4 minutes later, after Windoze resumed, he was able to continue. We checked the Power Options in the Control Panel but, of course, his limited user account couldn't make the changes.

I made a note to adjust his profile when I'm next there. And I researched options, as opposed to temporarily making his account an admin... I've got some things to try. WinSuDo sounds promising.

Terry bent my ear for a bit. He was trying to figure out how to make TheSky2 (two?!) show NGC objects. I was a little surprised that there was such an old version of this planetarium software on the common computer. I told him I didn't know how different it might be to the version I knew. Still I suggested he look in the View menu for an "explorer" command...

I'll have to look a little closely at the CAO public computer, now that I've locked it down, to see what sort of useful apps are available to the "user" account.

Finally, got on the blower with Kiron. We talked about the gerry can for the weed eater and adding comets into Stellarium.

He had the Paramount ME controlling Dell in front of him (now that Tony was done with it). I walked him through my login and to where my video and image files were located. He tried to copy them to a USB memory stick. I heard him mumbling about some sort of cryptic error. It occurred to me that there might be an issue with the largest video file and a format compatibility issue. But that remark blew his buffer. He was already hooking up his external hard disk. And it went smoothly after that. w00t.

Turns out that the largest file was the recording I started to capture the ISS in front of the Sun. Alas, I did not see that.

My phone battery died before I could ask him when he was returning... Hurry!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

we own the radio

I was very happy to read Scott's message, relaying information from the current wireless internet service provider. My plan had worked. The "new guy," Scott as the new treasurer, was able to extract good quality information from them, including rates and consumption. What I was not expecting to hear though was that the CAO microwave radio equipment was ours. I'm so happy. This will dramatically ease the transition....

usage spike

Oh oh. We went over the cap. Big time.

I'll have to remind users at the CAO to curtail usage.

dew equipment moved

All the astronomy and telescope dew fighting equipment is in a new home: the large blue metal toolbox. This box I had moved tools from perhaps one or two summers ago. Maybe further back. And then the toolbox sat empty for a while. Before the Compact vacuum died, I was using it to hold accessories. Yesterday, I spotted it under the kitchen table, dormant. And wondered...

It fits! It fits the computer power supply! What a great solution.

So now, the power supply with CLA triple outlet, plastic sleeves, 12 volt hair dryer, large dew heater, small dew heater, Kendrick controller, cup warmer and cord, 12 volt heating pad, and spare fuses are all in one spot!

Oh. And towel. Never, never, forget your towel.

The new Astronomy Box δ!

who will flinch?

The ultimate game of chicken (or hawk-dove)!

Who will swerve?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

little things

Did a few little things at and after the RASC meeting.

Asked Shawn his thoughts on editing the web site, so to be able to update his solar observing articles. Which sent him running. Gave John B. stuff to take to the CAO. He's going up to help Tony and crew after the Library talk. Returned the meeting DVD Tony had signed out. Asked both John and Denis if Friday was an option for them (it wasn't) and relayed the answer to Tony. Assisted Leslie with the posting of the NOVA autumn article on the web site. She wanted the URL of the new article but I pointed out that until she made the article visible it was moot. Also suggested slight rewording of the section of young children attending (and that they had to be accompanied by an adult through each session). Discussed the wording and contact info for the upcoming imaging seminar with Dietmar. Showed him that Ralph presentation and handout did in fact include "CCD" in the title. Changed the contact info from Paul Mo. to Dietmar after he admitted mistakenly using it. Tried to test the Windows Pocket PC at the Granite but learned that they use WPA2.

And bought Mom some pie!

rendezvous with Mom

Mom wanted to crash at my place as opposed to a return trip from Oshawa. I asked if she might want to join me at the RASC meeting. She was a little luke warm until I explained where it was. She knew the Ontario Science Centre was easy to get to.

I waited for her in the lobby but she was running a little late.

She caught up with us about mid-way through the evening's presentations.

I think she actually got a bit out of it.

Les was great

Les's presentation on sketching at the eyepiece was fantastic. Great tips (all of which I wrote down), good humour, and inspiring. He does beautiful work.

I liked how he reinforced that it is cheap and easy to get started.

He was pretty intense about keeping a log...

surprised himself

It was curious to see François himself confused by the blank slides at the end of his presentation. No content on the DSO slide. No content on the photography slide. Uh huh.

So, it wasn't my imagination.

uploaded François's files

François emailed his PowerPoint presentation and Excel worksheet to me to post on the RASC Toronto Centre web site, to accompany his talk. I reviewed the files, compressed them, and pointed out that there were some errors. I had to upload the files.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

parts for machines

Not really astronomy-related. Just the on-going story of trying to repair and maintain machines at the CAO. Picked up an oil filter for Stargrazer from Kooy (at their new huge store). Picked up carb gaskets, fuel lines, and a plug for the weed eater. I'll change the filter when I'm next at the CAO (and switch to single grade oil). I'll hand off the weed eater bits to Kiron. Picked up some opaque black fabric. While running around town, I picked up Tony's RASC meeting DVD. He asked me to return it. Also while I was out and about, John returned my Beginner's Observing Guide.

embedded new logo

I helped Ralph with his presentation file for the RASC Toronto Centre meeting tomorrow. The main thing was to add the new logo.

Monday, August 15, 2011

stick figures

Kiron told me that he's been practicing drawing the constellations from memory. Not just individual constellations (which by itself is a good idea) but in relation to one another. What an awesome exercise! What a great way to get to know the sky.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

clean up

I've been staring at the RASC Toronto Centre membership database (in preparation for a survey) trying to determine from it, who is already in the Yahoo!Groups. There's no field, at present, that tracks this. So, it's been a manual process, so far. S-L-O-W manual process. Probably over 10 hours of work so far. Chatted with the database owner Ralph about adding a new field: he's OK with it. That will help in the future. He sent over the master list with history. Over 3000 names.

The surprise discovery in all of this was finding a great number of people in the Yahoo!Group who shouldn't be. Expired members, in some cases, 6 or 7 or 8 years after quitting, are still getting individual messages or the daily digest! I'm sending them little notes, nudging them to renew. In 3 months, I'll boot them.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Steve tested

I asked Steve, God of All Things iPodish, if he'd like to test the QR codes and ICS file I had put on the RASC Toronto Centre web site. He was game.

We found that the (free and) highly-recommended Qrafter app was indeed very good. Visit your local Apple app store.

No matter what we tried though, we could not get anything to go into the calendar... Immature.

While testing, I found that Kerem Erkan's 2D code generator was awesome. Lots of additional features, like being able to select the amount of error correction.

updated NOVA info

Leslie asked for some help with the web site regarding the upcoming NOVA classes. I created a new page for the fall session, updated the registration page (and form handler), did some quick testing, and let Leslie know of the next steps. She just needs to put in all the new dates...

ICS attachments

Trying to get ICS calendar entries on the RASC Toronto Centre web site. Got it working by using Outlook 2003 (the horror, the horror) and the hp iPAQ. I've asked Phil to help me with some testing on BlackBerries and iPhones...

QuickMark is good

Tried a few QR code readers. i-nigma was the first. It seemed OK until I realised I couldn't do anything with "information"-only text codes. Couldn't copy or save the text. What if I wan't to transfer something to the calendar or a notes file...?

Tried NeoReader—just lame.

Now I'm working with QuickMark 3.8 and it's looking really good! It handed off a web URL to the browser. Allowed me to view and copy (shorter) text data type codes! Not as quick with denser codes but it interpreted the vCal info. The "advanced" edition (for cashish) is required though to transfer info without retyping. Still, that it grabs text... that's huge.

So, this shows it is possible.

learnin' QR

After seeing a few on the subway today, I decided to revisit QR codes and how we might use them for the RASC Toronto Centre, on printed materials, on our web site. I was really hoping I could get events into people's calendars quickly!

Found the QR Stuff web site for creating codes. Very easy. Very slick. Made some test codes.

After installing i-nigma to an hp iPAQ hw6955, I did some testing. I was able to read in URLs! w00t! But long text entries, events (in vCalendar format), email messages did not work. The codes were too dense. Bummer.

Still, if this works, I will ask everyone producing docs to put this in their file...

Friday, August 12, 2011

astrophotography talk

Thomas, a fellow RASC Toronto Centre member (who lives in Mississauga), asked me to give a lunch-and-learn talk to his eHealth Photographic Society on astrophotography.

I delivered a packed presentation with handouts. Took in a bunch of props, including SkyNews and Astronomy magazines, simple camera mount, Vixen Super Polaris, etc.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sun'n'Moon is smart

Installed Sun'n'Moon v1.2 by David Andrš for the Windows Mobile hp handheld. Now this is what an app is supposed to be like. Smart, thin, adaptable, adjustable font size.

Added location profiles for Toronto and Ravenna. Checked it against Stellarium. Wiggled it near the top of the Today screen.

I transferred it to the 6955 via Bluetooth FTP from the netbook... Kinda wild.

updated Space Track

In trying to confirm I had the correct TLE data for the ISS, I thought I'd jump into my "old" Space Track account. First had to look up the catalog number for the space station, specifically Zarya (it's 25544). Then I noticed a "Favorites" area. Sweet! I configured it so to speed up this process in the future. Heh... not sure what else I might put in it.

SatCE is cool

Tested SatCE v1.47, from, for Windows Mobile. Loaded in current ISS TLE data, for the web! It showed the track. Pretty cool.

This image shows the "sky view" tracking screen.

It can be configured to show the planets. Nice touch. The Earth map seems a little off. Probably a time-zone issue with the WM OS...

This appears to be another app not fully implemented to work on a 256x256 square screen. But, overall, it works. The documentation is lame.

Sep-Oct SkyNews

The latest issue of SkyNews arrived. Discussions about the future of the space station now that the shuttles are retired. Ooh: an exoplanet inventory!

Holy cow! They published my noctilucent clouds photo!

RASC Toronto Centre astrophotographers Lynn and Jim are also featured!

found welder's glass (Toronto)

Between the book shelves and the north wall of the bedroom, last night, I spotted the solar eclipse shield with welder's glass. Pulled it out. Right: number 5 and 8 glass, stacked.

Took a quick peak at the Sun. Grey green. And blurry. Oops. Don't forgot the eyeglasses. Tried again...

No sunspots now.

Geoff is blogging

Every month Geoff prepares a file on Sky Events for publication in the Starry Night Times newsletter and on He recently set up a blog so that these files will be directly accessible, and thought I might find this link useful. Absolutely!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

dark skies

Walking home, from the bus drop off, gibbous Moon to my left, I noticed the sky rather dark! Huh. Impressive. No backscatter of sodium lighting. Arcturus guided me home. Vega was almost straight up.

It was tempting to do some observing... But I wasn't really keen with the bright Moon. Which is only going to get brighter over the next couple of days.

Once in the door, I was feeling pretty tired.

watch pi disappear

I sent out a note to the RASC Toronto Centre listserv to remind people of the lunar occultation of π (pi) Sagittarii. The magnitude 2.9 star will be occulted by the Moon tonight at approximately 10:12 PM. If you have a good southern view, enjoy the star disappearing along the dark edge of the Moon. If you hang in for the whole show, the star will reappear around 11:09 PM.

no spots naked eye (Toronto)

Jumped into Sky and Telescope for some light reading while sipping coffee and eating my cereal.

First off was the reminder of the occultation by the Moon of π (pi) Sgr. I sent a note to the RASC Toronto Centre listserv but accidently noted π Sco. I then apologised: right star; wrong constellation. Need more coffee.

Then I read about the Sun and how, of late, the sunspots, being so large, were visible naked eye! I leaped up and went on a brief hunt for the welders glass. When I couldn't find it, I grabbed the baader film solar filter! Gently held it up... and viewed the Sun with Mark I eyeballs—nothing. Tried the binoculars (still behind the solar film)—na da.

Oh well.

At least I'll be getting more mileage out of this solar filter over the next couple of years! Yeh.

I've no idea where the welder's glass got to though...

Virgin hired

Heard that Virgin Galactic was selected by NASA to provide flight opportunities to fly technology payloads into space. Sweet!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

avoiding shuffle?

It suddenly occurred to me that while the nice large sketch book does not fit in the nice sketching carrying case, it easily fits in astronomy box α. Ha! That means I don't need to jostle things, for that item. Particularly since box α is always with me.

Hmmm. Still have a bunch of dew heating gear that won't fit in the current small case.

Maybe I'm not outta the woods yet.

a good review

I had sent my presentation to Dietmar to comment on. He replied, "This is a nice intro to astro photography. You covered all the bits. I like it."

Wow! Thanks!

Monday, August 08, 2011

SpaceX to ISS in Nov

Cool! Just spotted a little article on the Sky and Telescope web site about SpaceX and the International Space Station. They'll be launching a Dragon atop a Falcon at the end of November to dock with the ISS.

no scroll

Heard from the developer of Pocket Stars.
Depending on the OS version, some features weren't available at 240x240 resolution, since the OS failed to provide a scrollbar.

Sorry, - Jay
So, this is a little unfortunate. It means that I cannot display factoids about objects.

Curiously, the info is there... I can sort of see it. By dragging through the one line of text, I can see the data. But it rips by. It is impossible to use.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Pocket Stars is rich

Downloaded (directly, using the CAB file) Pocket Stars 6.1.0 to the hp iPAQ. It looks very robust! Lots of features.

Eye-catching features:
  • red light mode
  • deep sky objects
  • comets
  • 3D orrery mode
  • Moon phase
  • rise/set times
  • object info (and images)
  • search/browse
This is in trial mode. 15 days to explore...

now it's working

Rejigged a few things. Looks like I have (finally) fixed my online astronomy calendar feed (from Google) so to work in my blog companion. Told Kiron.

500 per hour

HostPapa accepted my formal request to raise the limit for the number of messages we can send out. The RASC Toronto Centre can now issue up to 500 emails per hour with MailMan. This should suit Ralph when he needs to alert the entire membership (although if we get much better, we'll have to do 2 lists). And this should easily work for Eric, when he blasts the eSCOPE crowd (somewhere around 360).

you're welcome again

Terry sent me an email about another matter but said, in passing,

I've been meaning to write to you for some time now. To thank you again for organizing the SkyTools discount purchase program. I find it quite useful.
I agreed. I told him:

It is amazing software. I use it all the time now. The primary purpose, planning, having checklists of things to go after, I personally find very useful and productive. But I also like to accuracy and detail. It helped me visually locate a 15.90 magnitude quasar last weekend!
He also sent a photo of his Dobsonian setup with a custom stand for holding his computer right near the eyepiece.

Sky Tools connects to the small Sky Commander on the right-hand pole mount. I right-click on an object in an observing list, select "push to" and Sky Tools send the coordinates to the Sky Commander. I push the scope till the Sky Commander is showing all zeros, just like "pre-PC". Then I later right click on it again and enter my logging info. This saves a ton of time.
It's good to see that people using it in real-time.

Orionic in pocket

I downloaded and installed Orionic 1.2 onto a hp iPAQ HW6955 running Windows Mobile 5 (via ActiveSync 4.5). I was curious about what kind of features it might offer, whether the freeware app might be worth having in one's pocket.

It's pretty limited. It can show equatorial or alt-az gridlines, constellation lines and borders, the horizon. It supports drag-and-drop panning on the touch screen (although it's a little slow) and zooming. When you tap an object, the name appears. But it seems that this little program only does stars! There are no Messier objects, NGCs, other DSOs. And no planets!

Saturday, August 06, 2011


Terry, after reading my SCOPE article, sent a note about the International Astronomy Union.
You mentioned that the IAU is the only body authorized to name astronomical objects. You also said you didn't know why. Believe it or not, that power was designated to the IAU when the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the end of WWI. The treaty that ended WWI also standardized the astronomical practices of the planet!
Now that's a fascinating fact.

Friday, August 05, 2011

companion updated

Last night and a little bit tonight I did a bunch of updates to the companion pages. I found some spelling mistakes, NGCs out of order, the double star list a little messed up, added new items to the library, and changed the to-do list. I also added new Messier objects viewed. And last but not least: I added a quasar to my life lists! Yes!

mail not going out

Eric and I did some testing of the Mailman software on our web server. Messages were not going out to all the recipients. I submitted a trouble ticket to HostPapa

Juno to Jupiter

ULA launched the Juno probe from Earth to Jupiter today after some minor gremlins.

This will begin a new phase of science and research into the planets and the formation of the solar system.


They're calling this the "first solar powered probe." I guess that means there's no traditional rocket motor on board the probe.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

recommended Kendrick

I think Manuel is wrapping his head around the need for dew heating equipment. Although I'm not sure he fully appreciates what owning a big SCT means yet...

I sent him a fairly detailed message of what I use and what, at a minimum, I think he should get.

He said that he intends to run both 'scopes at the same time. OK. So double what I said.

myCSC launched

Brian Gibson reported that Apple finally approved his myCSC app for the Apple iDevices. Now iPad and iPhone users can access the Clear Sky Charts. He's made it available for free on the iTunes app store.

It will work on any device that has been updated to iOS 4.0 or greater which includes all iPhones, iPads, and the iPod Touch (except 1st gen).

Way to go!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

rattled cages

I sent an email to the RASC Toronto Centre list about the internet usage and computer issues at our Carr Astronomical Observatory. I didn't want to have to give everyone a detention but there seem to be so many transgressions lately that I needed to throw out a big net...

I said that I knew people at the CAO were downloading large files and large amounts of data and were streaming video and radio and all of that was not allowed. I also said that I found people were screwing with the shared computer settings and not putting them back. I explained that controls were subsequently implemented with more coming soon.

Sharing. We learned it in kindergarten!

Suggested, at the very least, abusers could make a donation.

not enough

I asked Manuel if he liked his custom red LED keyboard light. He said in his email response, "it is working but it does not produce enough light."

Crazy imagers. They don't care about dark adaptation.

I wonder if the one like Phil and Charles have, with several red LEDs, might be better. They're available at Canada Computers.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

webspotting 22 - IMO

As published in the Aug/Sep 2011 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission.


For the last 2 years, I have visited the Carr Astronomical Observatory to enjoy the Perseid Meteors display. On both occasions, on top of Blue Mountain, we had excellent conditions and a good number of members present which made for a fun and social evening. It proved particularly amusing being near Tony Horvatin when he spots a meteor. He could be an announcer for World Cup soccer! He really gets into it.

I've been interested in meteor observing for many years. It was around 1980 that I first learned formally of showers and their clockwork frequency. That is when I first stumbled across the 1979 edition of Astronomy Data Book by Robinson and Muirden in my high school library (a book I eventually bought). The tome listed about a dozen showers by their radiant point, noted the start and end dates, as well as the date the shower would peak, and the number per hour. Occasionally there would be an additional remark such as "Yellow coloured fireballs."

In the days of paper day timers and paper calendars, at the beginning of the year, I would note all the showers with high rates. Now, in digital calendars, I use repeat features.

It was with a degree of disappointment that I learned that this year's Perseids meteor shower will be spoiled, around the peak, by a full Moon. Boo!

Still, our reliable solar system rolls on. We, on our little blue planet, continue to fall headlong into old comet dust. There are many other showers to enjoy, all year 'round. One might say that July and August is the high-water mark...

Alpha-Capricornids, 10/hr, Jul 15-Aug 25, peaks Aug 1
Delta Aquarids, 36/hr, Jul 12-Aug 12, peaks Jul 29
Iota-Aquarids, 13/hr, Jul 15-Aug 25, peaks Aug 5
Perseids, 90/hr, Jul 25- Aug 18, peaks Aug 13
delta Aquarids, 20/hr, Jul 12-Aug 12, peaks Jul 28
Capricornids, 15/hr, Jul 10-Aug 5, peaks Jul 25

And if you're down under:
Pisces-Australids, 14/hr, Jul 15-Aug 20, peaks Jul 30

These showers are the old "classic" ones. They are well-defined and very consistent. Still, everything is in flux, always changing. We live in a variable Universe. Of the 20 million small objects that collide with the Earth's atmosphere every day, we are learning of new showers.

The International Meteor Organization is a great web site to monitor for updates, tips and articles on all things meteoric. Surf into for more information. To update your agenda, note the 2011 Shower Calendar. Happy meteor spotting!

Messiers, double stars, asteroids, and a comet (Blue Mountains)

We were all feeling a little cheated. Getting clouded out last night left a bad taste in our mouth. Tonight was looking good... One more kick at the can.
naked eye; 
Celestron 14-inch SCT and Tele Vue 101 refractor
on Paramount ME by Go To
8:48 PM, 1 Aug 2011. Spotted the Moon with Kiron's help. It was 2.3 days old. About 7 or 8 degrees up. Pretty.

9:40PM. I played with the MallinCam Hyper Color a little. Tried the 4x power mate (once again) in the Tele Vue 100mm 'scope. Could not see any image. Tried it with and without the extension tube. Tried the extension tube in front and behind the 4x. Every permutation I could think of. Tried the MallinCam in the Celestron 14-inc. I used the extension tube and hung the camera out about 1/4 of an inch, like in the TV, and it worked! Viewed Saturn. It was big! But a little soft. Probably would come out well with some stacking. I put the MCHC back on TV.

For all images: north is top-right; east is bottom-right.

I thought the seeing bad...

9:51. Hey... Just did a video recording of Cor Caroli in Canes Venatici! ALC 1/120; AGC on, max 3; WB ATW; zoom 8; gamma 0.45; h-rev off, v-rev on. Maybe I can put this double star through Ed's program, BinStar!

9:55. Just went to ξ (xi) Ursae Majoris. Darn. The MallinCam cannot split it.

Could have used my 2x Ultima... Damn it. Don't forget your eyepieces!

10:13. Recorded κ (kappa) Herculis. ALC 1/100; AGC on, max 7; WB ATW; zoom 8; gamma 0.45; h-rev off, v-rev on.

10:38. Eyeballed M63, aka the Sunflower galaxy, aka NGC 5055 in CVn. I had been viewing it on the MallinCam, in Hyper mode, 14x, and trying to figure out the orientation and flipping... But I realised after a while, it's probably sitting there in the eyepiece! Duh. Messier 63 looks like a canted spiral.

A wave of fatigue hit. Hopefully I'll last. I really should have taken a nap today after the very early start...

There are two bright field stars nearby. HD 115270 is shown by ST3 to be in front of the galaxy; and TYC 03024-1166. I can see the double star below.

I wonder where it got its name, the Sunflower. It's not black in the middle...

10:47. I heard the call of the coyotes!

Kiron took a look at the faint fuzzy.

10:51. Tried to see the little galaxy beside TYC 03024-1166 1 without success. But then PGC 46093 is quite faint.

11:02. Slewed to Messier 108 (M108). Wow. Faint. A nearly edge on galaxy. Bright centre. I noticed the little peppering of faint (mag 13-ish) stars to the north. I invited Kiron to have a look. He had already viewed the object but wanted to look again.

He was on M109. Funny. That's where I was going next.

11:10. Just viewed Messier 109 in my C8 and the RASC's C14. Very similar views with the 14" being slightly better. It is an oblong shape. I asked Kiron if it was an edge-on galaxy. He showed me the view in Stellarium. Yes, it is canted. But not as much as 108.

11:18. Back from kitchen. Had a chocolate and grabbed some water. The skies look good but I noticed Arcturus shimmering wildly.

Lots of light pollution from Collingwood.

11:29. Helped Millie again.

Dietmar popped in. He was imaging.

11:41. Still trying to get the MCHC to make DSOs pop!

Recorded M102 (excuse me, Messier 101 or M101). And took some darks. Sense Up 128x; ALC off; AGC manual, 8; WB manual, off, red 6, blue 6; zoom off; gamma 1; h-rev off, v-rev on.

11:46. Viewed Messier 102 visually. Hints of arms and structure.


Decided to visit Phil in his pod. I startled him.

Saw a bright Aquarid.

12:15 AM, 2 Aug 2011. Viewed asteroid Pallas.

12:19 AM. Got a floor fan from house.

12:25. Did a plot in ST3. Noted that Pallas was moving to the south near Sagitta. Confirmed location. Pallas formed a triangle with mag 9 and 10 stars, HD 354081 and HD 354082, both to the north.

You may roll or hover over the image below to see markers indicating Pallas...

A busy part of the sky! Busy galaxy...

12:56. Couldn't find my hot chocolate!

Back from a break. Grabbed a Coke.

Took SQM readings, three of 'em. Centred around 21.0. It reported a temp of 20. Checked the Davis weather station:

wind 3.2
hum 71
baro 10103
temp 19.2
dew point 13.8

1:01. Viewed 61 Cygni. Nice! Two bright equal stars. Both share a yellow colour with a hint of orange. Perhaps the companion is white? Both are the about the same brightness. Only 11 ly away! aka Bessel's Star or Piazzi's Flying Star. It is a binary star system.

[Had previously viewed this. More than once, I think. Not sure why it was not noted in ST3. Was I hunting for a double to image/measure?]

1:10. Worked on MallinCam settings to improve the double star image.

1:18. Looked at Cap some more, naked eye, hunting, scanning, searching... No Vesta...

Returned to the TV101. Snapped image of 61.

[ed: I find it a little... eerie... how similar the view in SkyTools3 is to this photo. The A star is above (to the north); the B star is below. The direction east is to the right in this image. The field above it approx. 35' by 25'. Ooh. Learned that this star shows a lot of proper motion...]

1:20. Slewed to Garradd. C/2009 P1 was in the eyepiece! That means I was successfully in updating TS6.

Went to the pad. Phil was there. He had packed up.

Saw a bright long Perseid. It was a beauty!

Millie got the comet at 76x in her 8" RC.

I saw Vesta naked eye with averted vision. At last.

1:44. Tried to get comet and Messier 15 (M15) in same field but it was not possible with MCHC without a focal reducer.

I have tiled the two images below...

1:55. I'm done, I thought. Couldn't type. Couldn't concentrate. Couldn't see properly.

Returned the fan to the house. Shut down the Paramount and the Dell. Capped the telescopes. Quickly tidied the warm room.

2:06. Saw a short fast Perseid.

Saw Vesta naked eye again, from the porch—yes, definitely there. Well, at least I got something done.

2:09. In bed.


I need to check my old notes on M61 as to why I was calling it the Sunflower.


Forgot to bring the videos and snapshots home. I made two recordings of double stars drifting in the field. Wanted to see if I could do measurements with them. Darn! I'll need to analyse them later. If they work, it might breathe some fresh air into double star efforts for me.


Wikipedia links: Pallas, 61 Cygni, Messier 13, and comet.

Monday, August 01, 2011

comets in Stellarium

Tested adding a comet to Stellarium. Successfully added Elenin.

I don't know now why Kiron and I were having trouble with his computer. Again, the Stellarium interface leaves a bit to be desired, but I was able to do it. Probably we were rushing...

I did however learn that one must search by the "official" designation, e.g. C/2010 X1, so that's a little gotcha!

got the cover!

Eric used my photo of the noctilucent clouds for the cover shot of the RASC Toronto Centre SCOPE newsletter, for the Aug/Sep edition! He included the brief description I sent too. That's kinda fun.

I sent the entire issue to Mom... For her enjoyment. And to ensure she can handle new and large PDFs. And because, now, with high speed, I can send her big files! And with that new huge monitor, documents will be a little easier to read.


I was pleased with the timing of the issue. I really wanted to touch on meteor showers before this year's Perseids.


I concluded, after a fair amount of Googling, prompted by Phil, that we have SolarMax BF30 at the CAO. This is the 2" straight-thru blocking filter from Coronado. It is 30mm and yields an image size of 27.2mm. It came with a 1¼" zero-length reducer. It is for telescopes with a 3000mm or shorter focal length.

The information on the net is crap!

early morning planets (Blue Mountains)

I got up early. My back was hurting. Oldmanitis. Sciatica? Already! I was feeling very tired but the sky was lookin' good.
Instruments: Celestron 14-inch SCT, Tele Vue 101 refractor
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
The plan was to get a video recording of the International Space Station flying in front of the Sun. 6:34 AM was the predicted time.

4:22 AM. I started audio recording with the Sony. Opened roof. Homed telescope. Found eyeglasses. And shut off the audio recording. Didn't want to wake any of the campers up with my mumbling and/or exclamations.

4:31. I saw lightning flashes from Toronto flick through our sky. It was interesting to see intense flashes when looking north but less so looking east or west. Some reflective or propagation effect?

While waiting, I decided to chase down some other objects.

4:38. Viewed Uranus. Started with 27mm. Then went to 18mm and finally 10mm. I saw two points of light, one above, one below. Yes! Finally. Moons of Uranus.

Oberon (mag 14.2) was to the north. To the south, about half the distance of Oberon, was Titania (mag 14.0). I thought I should be able to see Ariel, between the pale blue planet and Titania. Kept trying.

4:50. Couldn't see Ariel. Had to continue to use averted vision to spot Titania. So I wasn't too surprised. Still, it was a little disappointing, with Ariel at maximum elongation and all. It was only magnitude 14.4!

4:56. Tried viewing M77 aka NGC 1068. Messier 77 seemed a small object. But the sky was brightening so there was not a lot of contrast. I will need to return to this target in Cetus.

Tried to set up MallinCam with new S-video cable. I realised that this new cable, going straight to the computer, would make it a challenge to focus. Perhaps the existing buried cable to the monitor could be used for setup. Then one would switch to the new cable for video recording or data transfer...

The video feed went out! Damn the new cable's not making the connection problem go away. This strongly suggests we have a board problem on the MCHC. Gonna have to open her up...

In the meantime, I strapped the cables to the camera body with some of my Velcro wraps. Headed over to the Jovian system.

5:51. Gave up trying to image Jupiter and moons with MallinCam through C14. Couldn't seem to find settings that would reveal the faint moons.

Visually? Jupiter was fantastic! Tremendous detail on the clouds. All four bright moons were on the west side.

6:00. I viewed Mars. And was a little surprised... I had to double check, step away, and look again. I could see an ice cap on the orange round disk! Cool. Started with the 27mm then went to the 18mm. What a treat!

Suddenly, I remembered that if I was going to point the TV101 toward the Sun that I'd better protect the other instruments... Ooh. Be careful. I put the dust cap on the C14.

6:39. Jean left a couple of minutes ago. Right on schedule.

The Sun still has not risen over the hill top. So, that meant that my ISS-solar pass movie op was a scratch...

Time for breakfast.

I briefly entertained the thought of going back to bed...

6:49. The Sun reached observatory.

6:52. The Sun reached the deck.

Sunrise had been calculated at 6:03. And it had taken another 50 minutes for it to be visible at the GBO. Will need to remember this in the future... We lose about 50 minutes to the hill.