Monday, October 31, 2011

MODL update online

I finally got 'round to posting an article and PDF file for the My Own Dome Lot presentation I delivered back at the 12 Oct 2011 Recreational Astronomy Night meeting.

tested the GLP

Repaired the green laser pointer. Well. Repaired is not the right word. Verified... When I opened it, I found the batteries inserted the wrong way (positive toward the emitter). I checked the voltage of the alkalines: both very good at over 1.5 volts. Verified the button was actuating the switch inside. Inserted the batteries. Fired it up. Bright green beam.

Made a new sticker, to show the polarity.


I stumbled across an article in Cloudy Nights. Someone mentioned that they ordered a new NXW431 motor board from Celestron for $73. Not bad.

If Geoff wants to go ahead, I'll phone in and see if they'll let me buy it...

heard from Gary

I received a reply from Gary, author of the outstanding CPC1100 DIY bearing repair article. He said he successfully bought parts from Celestron. Although, at the time, they were not set up to take credit cards, from people in Canada, so he had to finagle it through Efston. Still, I'm encouraged. Very helpful. Thank you.

asked Celestron for part

Submitted a tech support ticket to Celestron. Explained that I found a damaged U5 chip on the NXW431 motor board. Asked if I could buy a replacement. We'll see what happens...

The web site robot replied immediately. I want a human.


I know why Geoff's CPC1100 mount isn't working...

A little IC problem...

The challenge will be finding a replacement board. The only spare parts Celestron seems to offer on their web site is the silver plastic cover or the GPS wire harness. Meh.

projector out; laser in

When Tony swung 'round, taking Trevor to a friend's, we met at the garage. I gave Tony the BenQ projector, so he, in turn, could get it to Denis. While near by tools, I grabbed the Allen hex key set, so to continue the disassembly of Geoff's mount. We chatted briefly about Cliff. Then Tony handed me the Centre's green laser, from the CAO. They had tried to use it on the weekend but it didn't work... Strange. Something else to fix.

honouring Cliff

Tony stayed up at the CAO and was joined by Grace (with a set of clothes) and Dietmar. They attended the funeral in Thornbury. Also present were Sharon and Geoff, Nicole and Gilles. Yesterday, during the brief visitation, Brenda, Sharmin, Katrina, Eric, Lora, Phil, and Scott paid their respects. Charles was able to attend as well.

[ed: I thank Lora for reminding me who attended from the RASC.]

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Soyuz back on track

I was pleased to learn that there were no issues with the latest Progress cargo ship launch. The unmanned Progress M-13M supply ship blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early this morning (EDT). NASA is pretty happy too.

The Soyuz TMA-22 is now green-lit to launch on Nov 13.


I had started some diagnostics on the Stargrazer riding mower on Saturday morning. I returned to it Saturday late afternoon and then again on Sunday morning. It helped me focus a bit and stay away from activities inside the house. I needed the distraction. Needed to dwell.

Still, it was disappointing, working on the lawn tractor. I could not get it running.

I did find a lot of faults. The rubber seal at the bottom of the oil dipstick tube was not screwed in all the way. Unfortunately, I tore it while trying to remove it; will order a replacement. Found that the dipstick tube doesn't want to go as deep as it should go; we'll have to bore a slot in the bracket to facilitate this. The plastic pinion gear on the starter motor was missing half its teeth; will order a replacement. After finally locating and removing the solenoid, I learned that it, on the bench, while still clicking, was not passing current; will order a replacement. I jumped the solenoid and saw the motor turn. That meant the safety switches were all working correctly. And that the motor wasn't seized.

And I was able to fix some issues. After dismounting the start motor, Tony and I put power to it and it spun; we know it works properly (despite the missing teeth). The pivot bar assembly, essentially the front axle, was completely loose; I tightened the four top bolts and the two front. The steering gear segment bolts were also completely loose; tightened the two bolt-nuts. This dramatically improved the steering response.

Trevor and Tony helped at various stages. I was grateful for that. It was particularly good viewing the mechanicals from under the unit was Trevor operated the controls. Inspected the shift rod in the transaxle to ensure it was extending and retracting correctly. Found the disc brake actuator was not releasing; disassembled it, straightened the arm a little, lubed it, reinstalled it, avoiding tightening the arm too much. I will order a spare arm.

Certainly learned a lot about the machine. I have a much better understanding of the electronics. I learned it does have a fuse. The motor is a lot cleaner than it used to be. This will obviously require more work... after the parts come in...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

installed NiteView at CAO

As Tony came in from the observatory and sat at the living room computer, he exclaimed, "Ah. My eyes!" He was, of course, getting blasted by the bright monitor and losing his dark adaptation. It reminded me that it is difficult to quickly and easily change the settings of the monitor itself, either via goofy digital buttons on the underside of the monitor, or by strange software. When I suddenly remember NiteView, the nifty little red-mode app! I immediately installed it to the machine and implemented it under the Limited User account. Put it in the Startup folder, so to automatically launch. Hopefully that will help members in the future...

clear but blue

It turned out to be a clear evening. Tony operated the telescope in the GBO for the members while Richard tried to get some more images. I was not in the mood. Couldn't get in the mood. Every time I thought of the stars, in our dark skies, I thought of Cliff. I was very sad. I stayed inside. All the wind out of my sails.

checked UWO UPS

Checked the APC uninterruptible power supply for the University of Western Ontario's meteor network computer. Could not find the "test" switch we had been asked to try. Relayed the make and model info.

watched flyovers from deck (Blue Mountains)

I had alarms programmed for the flyovers of the International Space Station. I dragged everyone (awake) out to the north deck of the CAO to watch with me.

They liked the 7:00 PM pass, bright and long, wavering at times through clouds; the 8:36 PM one was kinda lame. I warned them...

I was thinking about the Progress 42 being thrown overboard and upcoming launch of Progress 45. Hoping that everything was going to work out smoothly. It'd be weird, somehow, to look up at the ISS knowing it was empty...

beautiful Moon (Blue Mountains)

Maybe it will be a nice night after all...

But I don't think I will observe. I was tired. I was hungry. I just wanted some quiet time. At Cliff's observatory.

somber at the CAO

It was only this afternoon that we learned of Cliff's death. Claire came up from the stables to tell us. It dampened our spirits.

Friday, October 28, 2011

opposition night (Blue Mountains)

6:15 PM. Trevor and Tony picked me up from my home. Fortunately, Tony had reminded me to bring a projector. In short order we were on the 400 highway making good progress. We exited onto Hwy 9 for Orangeville. Grabbed some dinner at the Champ! From the back seat, I spotted Jupiter in the east.

9:30 PM. We arrived the Carr Astronomical Observatory around 9:30 PM. Richard was waiting in the lot, windows fogged up. He had been in the parking lot since 8:00. Apparently the wifi signal was wobbly so he caught up on some reading.

The skies looked rather clear. Jupiter had been tantalising us. As Trevor and Tony unpacked the minivan, I headed directly to the Geoff Brown Observatory. Powered the building. Then the red lights in the Warm Room. Fetched the Dell computer from the house but then remembered, as I put the laptop bag on the counter, I could use the netbook now! Yes! Connected the USB and fired up TheSky6. Connected (from the netbook) and let it locate the Home position. Opened the roof.

Finished the rapid setup. First up? Big, bright Jupiter, of course. It was opposition night!

Dropped in the Plössl 55mm in the C14. Looked at fifth planet while it was exactly 4.0 astronomical units away. Lovely! Bright in the eyepiece. Colourful. Only 3 moons were showing. The seeing was rather good even though the telescope was only just starting to cool down. Went to the Panoptic 27mm. Oh. There's a barge. A large dark brown oval barge on the north edge of the north equatorial belt.

I had not yet started SkyTools3 Pro. I launched it and quickly built a new observing list. Added Jupiter and then checked the planet in the Interactive Atlas. No moon shadows were showing. Barge confirmed.

Richard was setting up too. His little Orion Eon 80mm refractor with newish Canon XS. He was going to collect more photons from the Flame Nebula. Hopefully. A project he had started a year ago.

9:44. Paged Tony on the cordless phone intercom to come and look at Jupiter. Trevor came out a short time later. And we were clouded out! Snooze, you lose.

Headed to the house, to dress properly. Was still wearing the clothes from the city. Was toqueless. Bumped into Tony as he orbited counterclockwise 'round the east side. We noticed the grass was wet already.

I put several layers on, including the winter coat. Grabbed a re-energised gel hand warmer. Just in case.

Tony came out, finally. Saw a glimpse of the Jovian world in the C14 with the 27mm. Tony said he didn't like the view in the SCT. We put the Radian 10 then Radian 5mm in the TV 101. And, again, we were clouded out.

I complained about eyepieces fogging as I extended the Tele Vue telescopes integrated dew shield. I asked Tony if I could get us some dew heaters. He said I should write it up!

10:16. Emailed Dietmar—for Tony—for list of CAO guests.

Checked the conditions on the weather station:
  • 10 min average wind speed: 12.6 km/h
  • wind speed peak was: 25.7
  • humidity: 87%
  • ambient outside temperature: 2.9°C
  • with the wind chill: -0.4
  • the dew point was: 0.9
Ah ha. So we were below the dew point when you considered the cold wind.

10:28. The dark barge moving toward the meridian. It seemed stretched now. A bit longer and thinner than before. Made sense: it would seem compressed near the limb.

10:48. I spotted the Great Red Spot! The GRS was coming around. The seeing was still holding up and I was able to see the large tan oval near the limb of the planet. Told Tony and Trevor who were both sitting in the kitchen. Trevor leaped up to take a look. Tony came out later. There was lots of detail was visible on the surface!

10:54. Io emerged from behind the planet! I discovered this to be happening in the ST3 software but Trevor spotted it first. What a show. GRS, barge, Io, during this surprisingly clear night, with the gas giant so close...

11:03. Helped Richard with Caph, beta Cassiopeiae. He wanted to know if it was a double star. I couldn't remember. Checked in ST3, but couldn't immediately find it. Had to look up Bayer name in Google first... Confirmed. 31 arc-second separation. We agreed it would probably not be the best target for focusing.

Trevor took the reading, after some coaching, with the Sky Quality Meter... 20.9 and 7 degrees.

I showed Tony how I was using my netbook and SkyTools3 to operate the telescope. I added the Andromeda Galaxy. Dropped the TV 'scope to approx. 30x with the Radian 18mm. Spotted M110 off to the right. Tony saw it too. By the time I had figured out where M32 might be, the sky had softened.

Both Tony and I were tired. Trevor had retired some time ago. Bailey and Niels were long gone. We left Richard in the GBO. "You have the con." Tony coached him on the roof.

I made for the house. Looking forward to getting in my PJs.

Excel for treasury

Scott made a request of me to get Excel 2010. He explained that it was a requirement of Quick Books, when exporting. He also said that the accountant (or was it the bookkeeper) sent him files in this format. Ugh. After a bit of digging and discussion with Charles, we determined that any modern version of Excel would work. And I relayed to Scott we owned a copy of Office 2007. But it was off-site. Promised to get it to him in a few days.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

received Geoff's fork mount

During Geoff's brief trip into the city, I was able to coordinate a drop-off of his Celestron CPC 1100 mount to Tony's shop. This because, unfortunately, Geoff could no longer attend the RASC meeting. We had already missed a chance at the CAO on October 1.

Since Tony and I had planned to travel to and from the meeting, it seemed like a good arrangement. Tony was fine with it. After the meeting, after dropping off Denning, we headed to my place and hauled the beast (sans OTA) out of the mini-van. Hopefully, I can resurrect it.

the day Cliff died

E. Cliff Carr died in his sleep.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

intriguing talk

The lecture by Dr Kathryn Denning at the RASC Toronto Centre meeting tonight was very... thought provoking. While I had considered the issues of microbe disinfection when visiting other worlds, the possibility of contacting an alien (in the true sense of the word) life form, the vast distances we need to cross, our historical examples of "exploration," I had not thought deeply on other matters. Recently, I had even jokingly referred to Martian deeds. But the somber reality here is that it is very unclear what may happen now that commercial organisations are venturing into low Earth orbit and beyond. If we look at our trends, it won't be long (in the grand scheme of things) before Moon property is valued like cottage island real estate and there are damned advertisements everywhere... The entire Moon should be designated a preserve. Now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nicole's photos

Nicole shared, on the Facebook, some photos from her recent CAO trip. Nicely done.

broke 200

I broke 200. Thanks to Millie, observing together at the CAO last Saturday, I have now have 203 entries on my double stars life list!

That said, about 35 to 40 I need to revisit: I did not keep good notes on them, could not split cleanly, or could not split at all.

It certainly helped going after a 9-star system, to push me over the 200 threshold.

Millie is the Double Star Queen!

Monday, October 24, 2011

a descent of designations

In an attempt to understand the double star designation I had stumbled across in SkyTools3 on the weekend, STI, for the pair STI1454 (near HD 5005), I did some googling. And quickly found a PDF document on Lookum Observatory web site. The file has over 300 designations! Crikey. It is also provided in HTML and Excel formats, as noted on the Double Star Tables and Catalogs page.


Link is dead as of 30 Apr 2014. Found it, a 2011 reference, in the Way Back Machine.

helped Phil with Starry Night

Phil emailed the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group. He asked if someone could help him stop the tilting horizon when he panned left and right, something that did not happen with his previous version, Starry Night Enthusiast. I immediately phoned and said, "It sounds like you're in equatorial mode." He fired up the software and found the Orientation setting. Voila.

Cool! I haven't even used Starry Night Pro and I fixed his problem. Ha!

thanks from Peter

Received a brief note from Peter:
On behalf of the group from the North Simcoe Sirius Stargazers I would like to thank you for a wonderful visit to the CAO site. Having the clouds part for us was a great accomplishment.
We've raised the bar, me thinks.

soldering help

Denis asked if I could build a cable for him. I told him I will work for beer. He said he liked my rates.

exchange numbers

Encouraged Council people, so to improve emergency logistics, so to get things working smoother, make us look better, to collect telephone numbers of the presenter, and to provide numbers of people intending to be at the meeting. As part of the RASC Toronto Centre inclement weather plan...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oct 2011 report online

Tony finally posted his work party and public open house report on the RASC Toronto Centre web site. Lots of fun pictures. Links to more (in the Yahoo!Group) and even to some videos (in our new Vimeo account).

doubles with Millie (Blue Mountains)

With most of the North Simcoe people gone, Millie and I wanted to do some regular observing. Millie had not set up her telescope on the Observing Pad, based on an early weather assessment. She was kicking herself now. I think she also wanted to kick Dietmar! He was heading out to his POD to fire everything up. Easy for him.
Instruments: Celestron 14-inch SCT, Tele Vue 101 refractor
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
I had not brought my telescope (for several reasons). But I had a plan for the evening. I wanted to see if I could get the netbook computer, from SkyTools3 Pro, to successfully drive the Paramount ME. Now that it was quiet, I could concentrate on that.

So, Millie and I set up camp in the GBO Warm Room. And started doing our usual thing, chasing double stars. And I fired up the ASUS beside the Dell.

10:39 PM, 22 Oct 2011. I showed Millie Σ2819 (Struve) and Σ2816, the triple and nearby double in Cepheus I had viewed recently from the city. We had the C14 loaded with the 27mm eyepiece and the TV101 with the 10mm. At first she didn't see what I meant. We agreed on the colours.

I thought I'd do the netbook reconfiguration in stages: connect it to the Paramount and ensure that TheSky6 worked. That would verify I had TS6 functioning. Connected my personal USB-serial converter to the netbook and looked up the associated COM port number.

The Dell computer, under Dietmar's log-in, had gone into Sleep mode. I wandered out to his MODL to ask him for the password. It kept timing out. I considered changing it; but maybe he's OK with this...

Millie starting checking her double star target documents. She had some photocopies from her Night Sky Observer's Guide book. She asked what ones I had seen. I loaded up my double star life list to verify what I had already seen.

Initially, I tried to quickly switch over the serial cable from the Dell to the ASUS. But something went funny. Slewing from the netbook sent the 'scope to the wrong part of the sky. And, as I was doing these preliminary steps, I realised I didn't have the Tpoint on the netbook. Copied it over, via the LAN. Restarted the software and Paramount. Everything was fine! Yeah. Stage 1 complete.

Millie suggested α (alpha) Cassiopeiae, aka Schedar or Shedir. Ha. I didn't know it was a double! Mags 2.2 and 8.9. Sep. 64". [ed: That was the D star.] It was very nice. ST3 showed that the B and C stars were mags 14 and 13. We didn't try for them.

Checked on the crew on the Observing Pad. The North Simcoe people seemed satisfied. Nicole reported her hands very cold.

We discussed portable power solutions. One of the Simcoe people showed her the portable battery he has. His was a standard lead acid. I recommended a marine type, if possible.

11:23 PM. Continued to view the double star in the two telescopes. Configured the TV101 with the 10mm; the C14 with the 55mm.

Millie brought me some hot chocolate.

w00t! I got SkyTools3 working! After quickly making a planning list for the evening, I chose a target from the Real Time tab, and clicked the Slew button. The Paramount obeyed. And went to the correct object. Wow!

It was so cool being able to pick something from my planning list and then go immediately to it! No translation. No retyping. Fast and accurate. Awesome. I could get used to this...

As she reviewed her charts and the double stars within, Millie didn't recognise some of the designations. She asked me what the capital H and lower h meant. I couldn't remember. I know that I myself have stumbled with these designators, which I've begun to document, in fact, at the bottom of my double stars life list page.

I retreated to the house for warmth and cookies.

I loaned my sodium acetate hand warmer to Nicole. I let her crack the disk. She enjoyed that.

Millie requested double star "beta 1." That threw me. "Beta 1 what?" She said "beta 1, that's it." Then it occurred to me. She was looking at a Burnham double star target! And it is a source of confusion, that the "short form" for Burnham objects in the lower-case beta. OK. That I can find. I wasn't sure how to search for a Burnham object in ST3 though. A quick attempt failed.

I asked for Millie's list. She showed me a NSOG chart various double stars noted. β1 was shown at the apex of an equilateral triangle with α and η (eta) Cas. I pulled up the Interactive Atlas in the software. Oh. There was a big blob there, the PacMan nebula. But right in the middle of it, a bright star. When I double clicked on it, the Object Information panel showed I was on one of the components of "BU 1." Ah. That's how ST3 lists Burnham objects.

At any rate, I selected the primary star, aka HD 5005, and added it to the new observing list. Then slewed to it. Lovin' it.

Holy cow! It is a 9-star system! ST3 showed companions up to AI! I had never seen that before. In the middle of a little open cluster NGC 281, no less. We began viewing the stars in earnest to split all the companions. I turned off the Diffuse Nebula display to get a better view of the region.

12:34, 23 Oct 2011. I tried to split the AB pair of Millie's star, β1. A was not round for me but I could not get a clean split. I think Millie was seeing the same thing. She described the primary star had a bump. I had no problems with C, D (both bright), and E (faint) stars. And there was a nearby double (STI 1454). All the stars were white.

Didn't look for the F, G, H, and I stars!

[ed: ST3 says that the AB separation of β1 was 1.40" in 1992. Maybe they're tighter now. AC was 3.80" and AD was 8.90" as of 2003. The E star, mag 12.10, was 16.10" in 1987. Wow. A neglected star perhaps... STI refers to the J. Stein catalogue.]

Oh! Look at that. Orion was rising...

The last two North Simcoe people popped into the Warm Room to say goodbye.

Millie requested β870 (Burnham) with a separation of around 1 arc-second. I searched ST3 (using the newly found technique, "BU 870") and added it to the observing list. I checked the details. Ah... no. ST3 said the system (aka V773) in Cas was a double, with a 304 year period, with the maximum separation of 1.01! But the two stars were currently (as of August this year) only 0.48" apart. No way. Next?

Approx. 1:00 AM. We viewed Σ3037, aka HD 223070. Lovely field. We found the AB pair tight. Formed a triangle. D was twice as far as C. The main star was yellow while B was orange. C also looked orange to me. D was very faint... We had a hard time with the colour. Blue? Or yellow?

Curiously, I thought the brightnesses of A and B the other way round to what the software was showing... ST3 says A is mag 10.95 whereas B is 8.87. Nothing noted about either being a variable star.

Millie and I talked about floaters. She experienced her first eye floater only recently. I shared that I've seen them for years...

At one point I made a mistake clicking mouse in SkyTools, when trying to slew. I accidentally double clicked. Slip of the finger. The software actually accepted the action as two single clicks, I believe: the first to begin the slew; the second to stop it. Ordinarily, after a second or so, the software changes the Slew button to Abort. That seemed to explain why, when I looked through the eyepiece, I was clearly off target.

Then ST3 showed an error dialog with a numeric code. Unfortunately, I rushed through it though and did not record the number. Then an additional message showed saying that SkyTools was going to close. Nooo! I was a little worried I'd lose my observing list so far. The list that I had dynamically building as Millie gave me suggestions. Happily, it was fine... Whew!

Nicole asked about dew heater problem... We tried rebooting... No joy. Weird. The 8" wrap was cool to my touch. They had been working before; now they weren't. She just bought this equipment! I grabbed the hair dryer from the GBO cupboard for her.

Ironically, we were dewed out in the GBO. At least, the Tele Vue 101 'scope was out of commission. The dew shield had never been extended. Not that I thought it would have made much difference. The moisture level was very high.

Helped Dietmar with monitor on the living room computer. He was trying to monitor his imaging room from the living room computer and when he saw the stars weren't round, he realised the monitor resolution was wrong. But when he tried to change it, he blew up something. I went inside, sat at the computer, sacrificed my night vision, and fixed it. Fortunately, I did not have trouble getting back into the Limited User account (despite his early attempts). Which was a good thing since I could not remember the very strong password I had set (and I had left by accident the Psion at home). We used a circle and a square in Open Office presentation tool to ensure we had the correct aspect ratio. And we found that 1280 x 768 resolution worked best.)

1:20. I scanned the Messier list in ST3 and found that I had not observed M74. I sent the C14 to the galaxy. The object in the ocular was super faint. Only using averted vision could I see the bright centre and tenuous other edges. Messier 74 was clearly large. ST3 confirmed that it was taking up a good portion of the field. I could see the dim galaxy was angled face-on to us. There were some hints of spiral structure. But it was largely unsatisfying.

I considered M77 but then didn't bother... I was feeling rather tired and cold.

I checked the local conditions according to the Davis Instruments weather station. The wind 10 min average was 6.4 km/h, direction south-east. The humidity was 87%! The barometer was 1017.9. And it was chilly! The ambient air temperature was 3.4°C. With the wind chill: 1.7! I went to the Observing Pad where Nicole and Millie were chatting. I relayed the bad news.

Orion was up high now, clear of the horizon.

I headed indoors. I didn't know where Dietmar was, although there was a glow from the POD... I told Millie I was done. She said Nicole was wrapping up. I said there was no problem putting stuff in the GBO.


I only saw one meteor tonight, in the middle of the evening. It was north-bound though Perseus... Nicole reported seeing several, including one that left a train. All north-bound. We suspected they were Orionids.


It was interesting observing with an experienced astronomer (again) with similar interests (double stars). We could challenge each other, verify views, discuss star colours. It was illuminating too beginning to see Millie's approach to viewing. Interesting.


Need to some follow-up or investigating. Is HD 5005 aka β1 a neglected double? Could I measure this and update the catalogues? Also, does HD 223070 have variable components? The A and B star brightnesses seemed opposite.


I need to look into the slewing options for SkyTools. I don't like that it doesn't ask for a confirmation. I believe it is required for what we do. The confirmation that TheSky shows reminds us to make sure there are no ladders or humans to crash into.

Also, the Park command, from ST3, did not seem to work. I don't know for sure if that was an issue with my configuration or a miscommunication between the applications...

two left

Two of the North Simcoe club people sprung a question on me once we got outside, for the star party portion of the evening. They asked if they could set up their own equipment. Oh. I hadn't expected that (although I can't say I was entirely surprised). Peter hadn't said that anyone would want to do that. In fact, he led me to believe they were all novice level or thereabouts. That most only had binoculars.

These two weren't novice... They had full rigs. One person wanted to do imaging! One had a big gun: it looked like an 11" SCT. Not fooling around.

I accepted their request with some concern. It would have been nice to know in advance, mostly to avoid the shock, a brief gaping mug. But I also wondered how long they were planning to carry on. It would get a bit weird if they wanted to go into the wee hours...

I got it! I realised why these guys didn't car pool. Ah ha.

Periodically I would check on their progress from the Observing Pad. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. Getting a taste of our somewhat dark skies (with generous light pollution from Collingwood) and the social aspect of the Pad. Nicole was observing and imaging beside them, having fun, sharing views, learnin'.

Nicole reported that they "did plug in. It was nice because they really enjoyed it."

A little before 12:34, they had packed up. They popped into the GBO Warm Room to thank me. I said I hoped they enjoyed themselves. I said I didn't know they wanted to do that but I hoped that I accommodated them satisfactorily. And I hoped that the images worked out.

And they were on there way, the last of the North Simcoe Sirius Stargazers. And astroimagers. We resumed Normal Operations.


It would have been nice if these guys had put something in the donation jar.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

hosted the North Simcoe club

Guests started arriving around 6:45 PM or so. Man, why so early? (Gotta find a way to tell people to not arrive early.) I had to wolf down dinner and tidy up quickly. I greeted our first batch of people, about a half-dozen, outside. Dietmar was keeping them busy in the GBO.
Oberwerk binoculars on tripod;
Celestron 14-inch SCT and Tele Vue 101 refractor
on Paramount ME by Go To
The rest of the North Simcoe Sirius Stargazers arrived in dribs and drabs. I thought Peter told me they were going to car-pool! We ended up with five or six cars, some with single drivers. Odd. As a cluster of people arrived, I gave quick tours of the grounds, including a peek inside the THO.

Scattered cloud as darkness fell.

When we had about a dozen people, I herded them into the house for cookies and coffee. Pointed out the washroom locations first! The club members spent some time catching up with each other. At about 7:15 PM, I started a tour of the house, ending up downstairs, and finally the Great Room. I started my presentation.

I think they enjoyed learning about the Carr Astronomical Observatory, how we came by it, its history, what we've done to it, and our future plans. It made them realise that a benefactor really made this space possible. Some successful Trillium Foundation grants helped significantly. And that we've put in a lot of sweat labour.

As I was wrapping up, Millie scouted the skies. We were very happy to hear that stars were visible. And Jupiter was rising. So we traipsed outside and made our way to the Geoff Brown Observatory.

Initially, the skies were hazy. There must have been some lingering high cloud and it affected the transparency. Still, as Dietmar flew the Paramount and I managed the floor, we slewed to M13 and took it in, with both the Celestron 14" SCT and the Tele Vue 101 refractor. The views were a bit soft. We discussed going to the comet but Dietmar thought it would be lacklustre.

We took in the Ring Nebula. It was nice in the C14, quite good actually. It was very tiny in the TV 101, easily missed, in fact.

We tried for M101 but it was invisible. I could barely see a peppering of faint stars...

We viewed the Andromeda galaxy in the telescopes. I prepared the C14 and TV101 with eyepieces to show high and low power. Later exchanged the eyepieces. The views we good. But frankly, I thought it looked better in the big battleship (Oberwerk) binoculars. Later, we turned the big binoculars to the Pleiades. They were lovely!

There was some education going on, discussion of objects, how they formed, pointing out constellation and stars by hand and green laser. Millie and Dietmar were very helpful.

The "star" of the show though was Jupiter. It was very good, even early on. I noticed right away that the seeing was very good. It took 145x power nicely. Later, as it rose higher in the sky, I could see white ovals in north belt, two large dark barges in south belt. I noticed the 2:1 ratio in the size of the belts. It was very colourful, the view, with subtle belts and shades in the north and south poles. The Jovian moons were rather interesting too. Initially, two moons in a north-south orientation; later forming a neat little triangle. That created quite a discussion point. Some said they had never seen that. Some thought it could never happen.

Slowly, as the night wore on, and the temperature dropped, the North Simcoe people filtered out. Everyone was very positive and thankful. It seemed a successful event at the CAO.


The Paramount control laptop died on Dietmar at one point. He called me for help. Immediately, I wondered if it had gone into Sleep mode. Some of the other supervisors have reported that issue. But as I walked into the Warm Room, another thought occurred. I asked if he had checked for power. He said everything was plugged in. Yes. True. Above the desk. I found the power bar was unplugged. Oops! Told him that I've done that too...


Something is up with the big binos. The altitude lock works; but the azimuth lock does not seem to be functional. A slight bump sent the binoculars turning easily and we'd lose the view. I'll have to inspect them in the daylight...


I wanted to look at Uranus and try for moons. But that I canned the idea. Not a good target for a star party...

Stargrazer won't start

Again. Niels started cutting the lawn. But after lunch, the mower would not start. Didn't make any sense. We checked the obvious things. But then we pushed it into the garage. There was no time to look into it...

built CAO presentation

The plan was to deliver a presentation about the CAO to the North Simcoe crowd. Tell them about the facility, some of the history, and where we were going.

At the recent public open house meeting Tony had given me his presentation. He had delivered it at the Open House and Awards Picnic two years back. We agreed it could use some freshening, with up-to-date MODL information.

It was high on my mind to spend the afternoon working on this. Far too late to my way of thinking but I had simply not had a chance earlier. I considered using Tony's presentation as a starting point but really wanted to build a new file, with a fresh look, and a good style. I was concerned however that that might require too much time. If worst came to worst, I'd just use his unmodified.

So, I began slogging away at it. I opened Tony's file and reviewed it. I remembered it. Lots of good content. Great photos. But 83 slides. !Ay carumba! A little long. And, very strange layout. So, in PowerPoint 2010, I selected a brand new design style and spent a few hours morphing content. I ditched about 2/3rds of the slides and photos. Added the early site drawings. And updated the MODL stuff. All while keeping one eye on the clock.

When someone called for me. We had a guest looking for Blake, at around 4:30 PM! What the hell? Someone had come really early! Turned out it was Peter. He was in the area and just wanted to drive up in the daylight. So I gave him a quick tour and then suggestions for restaurants in Thornbury. Sheesh. He scared me...

I returned to the presentation, put the finishing touches on it, and then set up the laptop in the Great Room. Earlier, Niels had set up the chairs for me, and assisted me in getting the BenQ projector mounted.

It was time for a quick dinner!

showed Millie atlas

I finally remembered to show Millie the Cambridge Double Star Atlas. I thought she'd really like it, particularly the charts by Tirion. I didn't quite get reaction I was expecting, based on her earlier comments about Haas's book. Oh well. I like it. I told her I find it particularly useful when focusing on objects in one part of the sky, in one constellation.

Dietmar's panorama

Dietmar is playing with his camera. Panoramas. I think he wants to do a time lapse of clouds next. He used Photoshop to stitch the separate images. Built in feature, I think he said: Merge. He told me he did something special while shooting: he took each frame in portrait orientation. Good idea!

I'll work on this image for an updated Stellarium landscape.


You can see that the evening sky prospects were not looking good at this stage...

preliminary proposal

I found it! I finally found the drawing of the Carr Astronomical Observatory property with the proposed structures. This is a very early drawing, circa 1999. The property is peppered with roll-off sheds and domes. Awesome!

I had wanted this for the MODL update presentation I delivered recently. At least I'd be able to use it for the CAO presentation tonight.

This drawing is very interesting. It shows, from the beginning, the vision for the CAO. Multiple observatories, of different types and purposes, for member use as well as observing pads. Oh, and a beach too, it seems.

cookie run

Couldn't do some of the work I needed to. Suddenly realised that I could leave early for the CAO. Dropped by Cam's to wish him a happy birthday. He wished me clear skies. Did an errand in the 'hood, and then near Dixie and Eg. At that point, I was close to the 410. Jumped on and it was smooth sailing.

Arrived the Carr after lunch. I could see the clouds breaking up over the bay.

The first task: check for cookies! And there were none. The horror! So, in short order, I was heading out again. Popped into the Farmer's Pantry for some local goodies. Then headed north, through Clarksburg, past Hindle's (no time to explore), and the Thornbury. Grabbed three boxes of cookies from the Foodland, plus a few other supplies, and started back.

I was anxious to get crackin' on the presentation preparation...

Friday, October 21, 2011

have projectors...

Tony dropped off two projectors. In case one breaks... We chatted briefly about wireless security cameras. He gave me some treats too! Yum. It has been so crazy lately I just hadn't found the time to swing by his place. I was grateful.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

got 'em this time

Last night Gord said he never received my email about Vixen gear. But then he said his wife occasionally deletes some of his messages. Uh huh. I re-sent the August message. I used the exact same address as before. Got 'em. He thanked me.

about dew heaters

Nicole asked me about dew heaters. Whether they would be needed at the CAO. I didn't wanna spend her money. But buying dew busting gear was probably the single most important purchase for increasing my enjoyment in astronomy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

batteries out

With all the leaking batteries I've been running into lately, like in the C14 Telrad, my PowerFist loupe, I thought I'd proactively pulled batteries out of dormant devices.

Found batteries in the shortwave radio, FRS radios...

Oh oh. And an exploded AA cell in the UV flashlight. Damn.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Ooh. The hundredth issue of SkyNews arrived in my mailbox today. It's thick. Cool. I'm looking forward to all the additional content. Also anxious to read the article on backyard astronomy.

I didn't notice it, at first, distracted by the beefy magazine, but something else was enclosed, something very new. And very curious. A wall calendar! Featuring astrophotographs. By Canadian astronomers no less.

Well well. Now isn't that interesting. Giving RASC a run for their money...

Hey, hey, Lynn has a photo included. All right. Toronto Centre represents!

on Vimeo

Upon a suggestion, I set up a Vimeo account for the RASC Toronto Centre. Uploaded a test video. Easy peasy. Forwarded the creds to Tony, so to share with Jon and Steve. Hopefully we'll get some motion pix online for our members to enjoy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

POH post meeting

Sharmin, Grace, Kiron, Steve, Tony, and I met at a local restaurant to debrief. We wanted to brainstorm on the public open house planning and implementation.

It was a fairly productive meeting. There were many good recommendations and suggestions. Grace and I took notes.

And a couple of the people on the team sounded very keen to continue. Yeah! Tony and I were really happy about that.

received CAO presentation

Before the meeting started, Tony gave me a memory stick. I copied the CAO presentation he did a year or two ago. I'm looking forward to reviewing it. If I run out of time, I'll just run with it. But hopefully I can build a new file, using this as a basis. I wanna make a good impression on the North Simcoe crowd.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

CAO movies

Reviewed some of the motion footage sot including some MODL work and the tree felling from the work party... Shot with the Horvatin video camera. Kinda cool. All the stuff I couldn't see, standing on the deck. We agreed it was kinda long so should be pared down.

Trevor's essay

After dinner, I helped Trevor with his homework. For his Earth and Space Science course. He had written an essay on the formation of the solar system. Mostly fact-checking. Noted some typos too.

Man. It's been a looong time since I've worked on an essay.

look now or

You might want to take a look for comet Elenin, if you haven't already. It's closest to the Earth today. Moving away. And C/2010 X1 won't be back for a bit. 11,700 years... If ever.

no sheet for us

No spreadsheet for you.

That was the response I got from François. He said he was too busy to make one up, like he's done in the past, for his presentation to the RASC Toronto Centre membership. After making me wait for a week. OK then.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

3 wires found

Tore apart the curbed hair dryer I had found a while back. Interesting. There were three separate heating elements. Tested their respective resistances. The small coil was 50 ohms. The medium 35. And the heavy, oxidised wire 21.

ST3 slews!

It worked! I chose a target in a SkyTools3 observing list and clicked the Slew To button (from the Real Time tab). And, in the background, TheSky6 moved (driving the simulated telescope)! Cool!

Hey, you got peanut butter in my chocolate...

This is going to be so much fun to use at the CAO!

installed TS6 to netbook

I was interested in testing the Real Time mode of SkyTools3... I installed TheSky6 to the ASUS netbook. The thought of selecting a target from a planning list while at the CAO and having the Paramount ME slew to it is... exciting.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Michelle's NexStar

Michelle emailed me looking for some guidance with her NexStar 'scope. She has the 114 GT. Hopefully, I can make sense of the documentation from Celestron and get her on the right path.

tried NiteView

Stumbled across a little Windows app for changing the screen colours to an astronomy-friendly hue.

NiteView was written many moons ago, by J.P. Oliver, back in the Windows 95/98 days, but it still works for XP. You can find it at your favourite online freeware software resource. I could have sworn I looked for something like this before; I'm glad I found it now. In addition to using deep red colours, it can hide all the desktop icons and the taskbar. Thin, fast, smart. Seems that the latest version is 1.5.0, last updated in 2009.

made presentation PDF

Converted the MODL presentation to PDF format. Next step is to upload it to the RASC Toronto Centre web site...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

ECR handles coupons

I walked Tony through completing the expenses form electronic spreadsheet when using an in-store coupon. Explained that since I've not locked the HST column, that it would easily accommodate a discount. Copied Scott. Tony seemed pleased. I wonder if Scott will proactively relay this to others...

North Simcoe booked

Told Peter of the North Simcoe astronomy club that we'd host them on Saturday 22 October at the E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory. Offered a tour of the CAO grounds and a presentation in the Great Room. And if the weather permitted, a sky tour in the Geoff Brown Observatory. He accepted.

I asked about the "rain date" but he turned it down. They still show up, if overcast. The only thing that would cancel the event, he proposed, was if we saw snow. Indeed! It would get complicated for all...

sent apology

I sent out an apologetic message to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group listserv for missing volunteers who had assisted on the MODL project. And said that I had probably missed more still.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

webspotting 23 - scary!

First published in the Oct/Nov 2011 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Photo of Count Floyd was shown in the paper edition. Tip of the beanie to SCTV and Dr Phil Plait. Republished here with permission.


Ooooo. Hoooo. Hello boys and girls. It's me, Count  Bla, again. Reminding you to send away for your special 3-D glasses to watch the site this month on RASC's Monster Chiller Horror World Wide Spider Web. Ooooo.

Yes! It's that time of year again, kids, when we bring you a really scary feature on Monster Chiller Horror World Wide Spider Web. Ooooo. Hoooo. Ooooo. Isn't that terrifying, kids, huh? I bet you're good and scared, huh? You should be because this month we have a real terrifying site for you. A scary one with... with real creepy, scary pictures!

It's going to be a good one. It's a 3-D classic! It’s Dr. Tongue's Red Planet of Evil. In the miracle of 3-D. Featuring... Dr Spirit and Mr Opportunity. Ooooo. Hoooo. 

Remember to put your special anaglyph 3-D glasses on now, kids. Put the scary red lens over your left eye socket and the chilling blue over your right. Ooooo. Hoooo. 3-D! OK. Let’s watch!

That's scary stuff, isn't it?! It just jumps right off the screen, right at you, right in your face! Ooooo. Hoooo. Ooooo. Those deep dark canyons. What terrifying creatures lurk behind those rocks?! Huh? Scary. The monsters and everything!

Buts you gots to have your special 3-D glasses. So, send away, right now, to me, Count Bla, care of RASC, just send 38 bucks, yeah, yeah, that's it, to cover postage and handling, ooo hoo, And you'll be sure to enjoy this site. 

Next time, we'll bring you Dr. Tongue's 3-D Evil Dawn of Vesta! Yes! Death from above. Next time, on Monster Chiller Horror World Wide Spider Web! Ooooooo! HOOOOOOoooooooo.

returned receipts

Gave Steve his receipts, found at the CAO, for work party expenses, while at the Granite.

delivered MODL update presentation

Delivered a presentation on the My Own Dome Lots project at the CAO.

This was to update our members on all the work done and to generate interest in the remaining lots. Showed photos of the happy renters in their SkyShed PODs. Featured a deep sky photo and a time lapse video by Dietmar.

In my haste preparing the file, I did not carefully consider all the volunteers who contributed to the project. Grace made it very clear I had forgotten her. I had forgotten many other helpers too. I felt terrible.

Sharmin enjoyed it too

Sharmin sent me a quick email about the webspotting article. She said, "Coooool webspotting Blake! Funny! He he he!" Thank you, thank—hey, wait a second. She's way too young for SCTV! Now that's funny.

Lora asked if I was Count Bla

Which proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she reads the SCOPE newsletter! Busted!

Oct-Nov SCOPE out

Eric notified members that the October/November issue of the RASC Toronto Centre newsletter was available for download.

My regular column article, webspotting, was included. I had tried to refer to a web site that might be thematically, or should I say, seasonally appropriate... Inspired by unquenchable Count Floyd. In the miracle of 3-D.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

asked for old drawing

For my MODL update presentation, I really wanted to show the "proposal" drawing done of the CAO property shortly we received it. I thought it would be appropriate to show the sketch of how we envisioned using the space, with domes and observatories all about the house. I remembered seeing it. And I remembered, at the time, thinking, "That's cool." I asked Charles, Dietmar, and Tony if they had it. No one did. I checked all my files. Nothing. Damn. There's probably one copy and it's at the Carr...

2012 calendars out!

Tim floated a message on the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group...

The RASC 2012 calendars would be available for sale! w00t! Just in time to stuff stockings!

Tomorrow's meeting...

Monday, October 10, 2011

photoed last night's sketch

Used the new Gehry 2B pencil. Used the camera's text mode. Used Fireworks Find Edges plug-in.

η (eta) Persei from the city through the 8" SCT. West is top-right; north is bottom-right. [ed: Again, the W—west—marker in the drawing is incorrect; that's east.]

aligned Manuel's polar scope

Between episodes of Top Gear and popping back home to get my hex key set, we adjusted Manuel's new polar scope.

clouds end the run

Wow. Six nights of observing!

Tony uploaded photos

Tony put a bunch of photos from the Carr Observatory in the CAO Yahoo!Group. Included shots of the grounds, the MODLs, etc., some of which I would need for my presentation... Thanks, Fred!

a few more doubles (Toronto)

10:06 PM, 9 Oct 2011. I forgot to charge up the battery! Damn. Hopefully it had rebounded. All that said, I wasn't going to do imaging tonight so I didn't need excellent tracking.

Checked the conditions. Humidity: 71%; temperature: 17.6°C.

Viewed Jupiter before it ducked behind the leaves. Three moons equidistant on the one side; the fourth moon is quite far away. Ganymede, Io, Europa, inside to outside. To the east. The Great Red Spot was not visible. But it was coming around...

10:24 PM. The moisture was slowly rising. 72%.

Again, this evening, I wanted to select targets by constellation. Avoid big hops. And avoid disappointment. That is, to avoid trying for celestial objects occulted by leaves. I got the books out and powered up the red LED loupe.

Chose a target from the Cambridge Double Star Atlas. A showpiece item in Cassiopeia. Starhopped from γ (gamma) then κ (kappa), 12, and 10. I stopped the target with the 2 other in-line stars. Viewed HR 9094, aka Σ3053 (Struve), aka HIP 207. It's a little Albireo! A lovely light gold primary star and a widely separated blue companion. Almost equal brightness. SkyTools3 said they're mag 5.9 and 7.3. 15 seconds of arc apart.

10:33. I discovered that all the other recommended showpieces in Cas, as suggested by CDSA, I have viewed.

10:45. Tony, back in the city now, phoned. Asked about sending over a few photos from Fred. I suggested he put some on the Yahoo!Group. But he said there were dozens and he'd have to sort through and pick the best. I didn't quite follow the logic. Wouldn't he have to do that for me? I said that if they were of value, they should go there anyway. He agreed but said he didn't have time to do it now. We started going around in circles. OK. Just send them. He said he wouldn't be able to do it now 'cause he was watching a movie with Trevor.

10:58. Viewed Σ2840, another suggestion from CDSA. The SkyTools3 planning software refers to it as HR 8357. Nearly equal brightness stars, whitish in colour. They have very subtle tints. I'd say the primary is yellow and secondary blue.

There was another pair nearby, slightly wider separation. ST3 said they were individual stars. HD 208186 and TYC 03972-0459 1. They look yellow-orange and blue to me.

11:58. Went out hoping to spot a double star in Perseus but there was a tree branch in the way.

Humidity was getting close to 80. Temp was nearly 16 flat. It was dead still, no wind.

Noticed Jupiter in an opening. The gas giant was looking really good! The seeing was much better tonight. The best of this whole week! I noticed the star PPM 118166 in the background, to the south-west, at mag 10.14, according to ST3. The GRS was nearing the meridian. The south equatorial belt near the GRS is double the thickness of the north belt. Colourful tonight: the SEB was a dark brown colour; the NEB had hints of rust, dark red. I could see lots of detail, swirls, mottling in the SEB.

12:32 AM, 10 Oct 2011. Conditions: 79, 15.9, flat air pressure.

Finally could see into Perseus. Viewed η (eta) Persei aka Miram. Beautiful! Light orange primary with a blue-green companion. Incredible colours. A number of bright stars in the 1° field. I had hopped from gamma Per. Used a couple of wide doubles in the finder scope to know I was in the area.

12:47 AM. I tried all the magnifications, with all the oculars, 36, 26, 18, 9. The view with the 9 was good, i.e. stable, but not great. It was curious that I could not go as deep as I wanted to. I tried the bino viewer with the 20mm WA eyepieces. It was not bad either. Was the transparency off tonight? Was it the bright Moon?

I was having a hard time with the C and D stars. I could definitely tell there was something "special" there. I was not getting a point source like with the other stars.

There was a faint star between HD 237009—the B star, and HD 17465. I was very surprised that it was not in ST3! I had no problem with GSC 03704-0346 to the east and GSC 03704-0119 to the north, both mag 10 to 11 stars. Something odd was going on. I needed to look some more...

1:11. I did a detailed sketch. Used my new 2B pencil! I was definitely seeing more stars than ST3 was showing!

[ed: It looks like the indicator arrow is wrong. The direction pointed should be east; not west.]

It had proved a fairly good evening. Tracking was not too finicky. I enjoyed the improved seeing. Did a quick shutdown again tonight. But I knew I'd have to tear down gear tomorrow. The rain is coming...


The star I was seeing does show in the Interactive Atlas view of SkyTools but not the Context Viewer. Now here's the weird bit. It reports that GSC 03704-0488 is a mag 15.06 star (albeit based on poor data).


Pulled the star data from SIMBAD and pulled an image from Aladin. Inverted the colours, obviously rotated it a bit. And it is laterally inverted, to match the eyepiece view...

The B star is lost in the glare of the primary. The C and D stars are obvious (and marked) to the west. The HD 17465 star is to the north-west. Between is a star brighter than C and D... That's what I saw.

Data's a little screwy in SkyTools is all.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Nicole's coming back

Supported Nicole again, answering questions about the CAO, driving conditions, for October, and the winter months, gaining access to the house, etc. I think I convinced her and Rob to come up for the October 22 weekend.

one more night

Looks like we're going to get one more clear night! I can't believe this unprecedented, six clear nights in a row, in Ontario. Certainly, for me, it's a first. I'm getting tired for all these late nights! But it sure has been fun leaving the tripod outside... aligned.

Nicole's has new toys

Nicole sent me a message via Facebook. She's anxious to try out some new gear at the CAO. I assured her that the observatory would be accessible for some time still.

report from CAO

Talked to Tony. They were still at the CAO. Enjoy the long weekend.

They have put some more grass seed down. Tony said the top soil was settling in nicely.

Trev tested the wifi signal at the hydro pole. 3 bars. Presumably out of 4 or 5. With or without the GBO WAP on. Good. A good sign

Saturday, October 08, 2011

flew 12" at DDO (Richmond Hill)

Rajesh said I could operate the 12" Dob at the DDO. Awesome. I didn't want to take a 'scope. Certainly not a big one. Used the low power eyepiece for much of the evening. Was that the 2" 56mm from the CAO? It looked familiar...

We looked at the Moon, Jupiter, Albireo, and the Tim Horton star.

I took the baby Newtonian up, for giggles, the Celestron FirstScope 76mm. Ha! 12 inches vs. 3. It showed a good view of the Moon, all things considered. It was perfect for the Pleiades. Looks like this one is not a lemon. Shawn had fun with it too.


I received about a half dozen mosquito bites early in the evening. It was unbelievable. I thought they had all flown south for the winter!

plan to meet

Asked John if we could meet up some time to talk about the loaner program telescopes. He said sure.

Tim caught Merope

I was pleased to hear that Tim successfully imaged with his Canon 350D on the C14 at the CAO. He used a QHY5 on the TV101 as the autoguider. Cool! He sent over a single 20-second exposure of Merope aka IC349. Impressive.

added loaner 8" to ST3

I had first thought about it while at Mew Lake, that I didn't have the Toronto Centre loaner Dobsonian 8" telescope in my SkyTools3 software and I should add it, so to quickly have a profile to work with. In particular, to quickly simulate a rotated field of view. At the time, I used my Mom's 6" reflector to have something to play with. I only remembered today.

take pictures

I phoned the CAO.

Grace answered. We chatted a bit. Grace said that Katrina and Fred were up. Katrina had observed all night, watching Mars rise. Fred noted there was a password on the main computer. He didn't get the password hint. Ha! Astro-spouse didn't understand the reference to the Father of the Telescope. Grace also talked about her Mom counting stars in the Pleiades. She got something like 30 stars! Well done.

Trevor, in the background, said he was downloading games, playing Call of Duty, and streaming video. Funny guy. Now you die.

Having finished breakfast 2.5, Tony took the phone. He said they were going to tootle around the area, go to Hindle's, etc. Ooh. Still haven't been there. I reminded Tony that I have the MODL update talk coming up. Asked he might take some photos. We also chatted about a new security camera. We charged Trevor with some tests.

Sounded like they were have a fun time.

lots of doubles (Toronto)

I wanted to visually observe tonight. I wanted to find objects by constellation.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hop, tracking motor
Had been thinking about the book some of the RASC members recently purchased together. At first I could not remember the title and sent a message to Phil. But then I started to remember details. After some googling, I found it, Objects in the Heavens. I had looked at the book briefly at the CAO and kept thinking back on it. It would be a good book for the kind of observing I was trying to do, by constellation...

In lieu of this book, I thought I'd use double stars for small telescopes with Pocket Sky Atlas and simply choose some of the interesting suggestions. I put some fresh AA batteries in the loupe.

Tonight, I activated the Stellarium server apps, to simulate the finder scope field (5°) as well as the 36mm (1°).

7:54 PM, 7 Oct 2011. It was warmer tonight.

I went to a bright orange star in the south west: Antares? Nope. Yed Prior aka δ (delta). Ah. So it was Ophiuchus that I was seeing through the tree branches. Yed Prior and Posterius aka ε (epsilon). There was a little triangle of bright stars nearby. Prior is an M star. Wow. Cool colour.

OK, let's look for stuff in Cepheus, I thought. The King was high in the sky (although over the houses). Chose a target from dsfst book: ES 137. SkyTools3 referred to it as HD 203374.

8:09 PM. The tracking looking pretty good tonight. I added the eyepiece heater.

It was an easy star hop from α (alpha) Cep, aka Alderamin. I saw a medium bright yellow star in the centre of the field. There's a faint star nearby. Perhaps it was a companion. A modest split, at low power, at 55x, with the baader eyepiece. I tried to determine if the companion to the brighter yellow star was blue? It was hard to tell.

There was another pair, about half-way (half-way?!) to the field stop, at a 90 degree angle. I wondered if they were related.

Went to the 26mm, the Celestron ocular, producing 77x. I could easily see a third star, near to the fainter pair. This very faint star made a pair parallel to the bright ones. Haas says ES137 is a pair. ST3 shows it is a quad. Haas also says the primary is white and the secondary is "misty." Misty? The AB pair are 45" apart. The primary is mag 6.7; the companion is 10.0. The C star seemed doable but I did not spot it. The D star is impossible. Too close. Less than ½ a degree.

8:35. I checked the conditions. 71%, 15.4°, flat pressure, rain clouds. Indeed. It was 5 degrees warmer tonight.

Went to the 9mm Nagler. The seeing was bad again. I simply could not see a companion to B. But then, I could not crisply see B. Move on. The target was done, for the dsfst book; I'd need dark steady skies to pluck out the C star anyways.

8:38. I looked for another suggestion, from Haas's book: β (beta)! Hold on. I already did Alfirk. Earlier this week. Hadn't got 'round to checking off these recent accomplishments in the book.

8:59. I viewed Σ2816 (Struve) then. ST3 calls this HR 8281. Curiously, this main star does not have the Σ designation in the SkyTools software. 

[ed: aka BU 1143.]

Wow! A very cool triple, with a medium tight double nearby! A lovely view in the 1 degree field. The main star was white. Maybe with a touch of yellow. The companion to the north, the bright one, slightly further, was dull yellow. That was the D star, according to ST3. Haas noted it as a triple. It is curious she calls it a triple but notes the AC and AD pairings. That is to say, it's a quadruple system, at a minimum. 

[ed: Edited 8 Sep '20 for error in direction with C star.]

The fainter star to the south-west south-east was a darker yellow, hints of orange. That was C. Haas says that 2816 is a white star flanked by green and violet stars. She was high again during this one...

[ed: Becomes obvious why HR 8281 doesn't have a Struve designation in the WDS catalog—different people reported this system. Burnham reported the AB pair. Struve catalogued C and D. Still others reported the D and E stars. Recently another pair was added, MIA 2 Aa-Ab.]

The B star is in the mag 13 range and very tight. No chance for that one. Not here, not now.

I could also see a very faint star (mag 12.2) to the south, about 4 times the distance of AC.

The nearby double is Σ2819 aka HD 206482. Yellow and orange stars.

No way... I could see the faint pair to the right. The bright star was mag 11.4; the other one was mag 12.8 although ST3 says this is "poor quality" data.

Anyway, that was pretty cool. A triple and a double in the middle of a large cluster, IC 1396. Not far from the Garnet star.

9:30. I wanted to try for Σ2843. Holy cow. Fantastically tight pair. Had to go to the 18mm Meade to get a clean split. The seeing was making this difficult. It was hard to focus. Two equally bright stars? Was the southern one slightly fainter? ST3 says they're both 6.4 mag. Or are the colours slightly different? Hold on. When I choose the A star, aka HR 8361, ST3 says the companion is 1.50" away and is mag 7.4. Yeah. That made sense. They both look the same colour to me, white, or white-yellow.

ST3 says this is a triple. The C star is far away. It's faint at mag 9.9. Let's see if I can spot it...

9:49. Yep. I could see the mag 10 companion, star C. It was the closest of the faint stars...

The humidity was rising. It was 77%. The temp was dropping slowly. 14.5°.

10:05. Jupiter went into the little gap. I tried the 36, 26, then 18 eyepieces. It was a nice view. Tried my right eye. I can never seem to use it was well. Suddenly, I remembered the bino viewer!

Wow! What a view. Lot's of detail. The GRS was right (west) of the meridian, toward the more separated moons. There seemed to be a bright region to the left, triangle shaped. I think I saw a dark shape in the left (ease) side of the north belt. The view wasn't too bad, actually, as it slipped behind the leaves. the contrast improved...

OK. Back to doubles...

Tried to get to ξ (xi) Cep but took a wrong turn.

10:33. Kurhah or Alkurhah aka ξ is a pretty double near a loose gaggle of stars. Started with the 36mm but then jumped immediately to the bino viewer with the 20mm wide angles. Very nice. At low power, I wondered if the partner was blue. The main star was light yellow. After staring for a long time, at the higher power, I decided the companion was the same colour. But it's a mag or two fainter. ST3 says 4.3 and 6.6. Cool. It's a known binary. The period of the B star might be around 3800 years! ST3 says there's a third star that should be visible: it's pretty far away. I didn't bother.

That was a nice target. Easy to find in the middle of Cepheus.

10:51. Oh. Almost 80% moisture. Temp had dropped to 13.7.

OK. I think I'm on σ (sigma) Cas... Part of a large triangle. Lots of field stars around... And the lazy trapezoid of orange and blue stars.. So?

11:05. No joy with bino viewer. Went down to 18mm. Still no luck. I could not split the main star. This target was from TLAO. The book says it is a "challenging double." No kidding. I'll need air steadier than this.

11:10. I took another peek with the 18mm. And I saw it! The faint orange companion to the white main star. Then it was gone! Then back! I quickly put in the bino with the 20mm oculars. A gooey mess. Back to the 18. And every once in a while I'd see it. So, again, a victim of bad seeing. I don't think I'll log this as seen.

11:18. Next! I headed off to ψ (psi) Cas.

And kept going the wrong way!

11:40. Finally. Tagged ψ. Nice. It was easily separated at 55x. ST3 says they're 22" apart. A bright primary and faint secondary. It reminded me a little of Polaris, with respect to differences in brightness. ST3 says 5 mags difference.

[ed: Polaris is about the same sep but the stars are different by 7 magnitudes.]

The main star was light gold. The companion waffles between deep blue and green! Amazing colour differences. It would not tolerate magnification higher than 77. ST3 says there's a mag 14 companion, at about 2.5". The AB pair. No way.

Was this all for me tonight? I felt a little tired from four nights straight... And I was noodling on going to the David Dunlap Observatory tomorrow to help out...

OK. One more task, I thought. Let's touch up the collimation. I used Deneb. I loosened one screw about 1/8th of a turn. There. Much better now. Looked at Altair. Stared at the in-focus and out-focus patterns. They looked good. It was difficult seeing the diffraction rings clearly at focus in the unstable air.

12:13 AM, 8 Oct 2011. The rapid shutdown was complete. Kitty wanted company. I was definitely tired. My back was a little sore.

Friday, October 07, 2011

alignment stories

Told Manuel about my polar alignment problem last night...

I had set up my mount, motor, 'scope, dew heaters, power supply up and completed an accurate polar alignment using the built-in polar scope (like how I had taught him with his Atlas mount). I even did it with the telescope not mounted (which I normally don't do). But when I viewed Vega, I saw it was drifting.

I double-checked the alignment against the very accurate SkyTools3 software. Still, after a minute or two, I was off target. I did the alignment again and restarted all the electronic equipment. It was better but still drifting. I wondered if I had done something backwards, i.e. had a view off by 180 degrees. It wasn't a low battery; I was on an AC source. I was perplexed but wanted to press on.

Hooked up the SKYnyx video camera and computer and tried to image the Moon. It was drifting fast! Of course, with the long focal length of a SCT, it was pronounced.

I took the camera off and started doing formal drift alignment corrections. I had some minor drifting along the Dec axis; major drifting in RA (hint!). The Dec drifting decreased but didn't go away. Weird.

I actually did another form of drift alignment, a completely different technique, using the setting circles, and it helped some more. Despite using this alternate method I got to a point where any change I made, I could not correct the drift any further.

Something was really strange... Start over. I re-did the polar alignment with the polar scope. Put the camera back on. And tried to image Jupiter. Still drifting.

Then I had a thought... I centred Jupiter in the camera and turned off the dew heaters. The drifting instantly stopped! No drift at all. I had perfect alignment!

It turned out that my dew heaters were drawing too much power from the power source and causing the RA motor to run at an improper speed.

I grabbed one of my lead acid batteries and put the motor on it and the dew heaters back on their own separate supply. Everything worked great for the rest of the night.

Manuel got a kick out of it.


This also explained something else that I had experienced, but had not crystallised. I kept checking the dew heaters and they did not seem that hot. Even when I had the controller near max. At the time I just chalked it up to it been still fairly warm out... Later, when the dew heaters were on their own... toasty!

learning the SKYnyx (Toronto)

9:19 PM, 6 Oct 2011. Finished a more thorough polar alignment after checking my meridian offset (4.5°W).

9:25 PM. Prepared the Dell laptop, John Kim-Chi, for the Lumenera software... Installed version 4.0. Connected camera to upper right USB port. There's a freaking green LED on the SKYnyx! What the hell?

Oooh. I learned that the GRS was to cross the meridian at 1:30...

10:15. Huh. That was kinda strange. Trouble finding the appropriate software. Downloaded LuCam 6.0. Looks like it will do that job. Maybe.

The drift was bugging me. So I started working on the polar alignment. Redid the setup with the built-in polar scope. Then did drift alignment corrections. Then did a setting circles technique. And then repeated the polar scope process. Nothing was working!

12:17 AM, 7 Oct 2011. I discovered the mount drift error was due to a power draw problem! When I turned off the dew heaters... in a moment of inspiration, I had good tracking! (And really good polar alignment.) Damn it...

I wondered if should rework the connections so to use a separate output from the computer power supply.

I grabbed a single gel battery from the cart to power the mount. Put the dew heaters back on the computer supply.

Crater Bullialdue and Mare Nubium. North is down; east is right.

12:43 AM. After some fiddling and fumbling, I realised that the LuCam app was just for controlling the SKYnyx camera. No recording features on board...

Used LuCam Capture 6.0 (again, for camera control), 640x480, 30fps, exp 5.2 ms, gain 3.1 x, gamma 1.5. Used AmCap 9.01 to grab the video. Saved to AVI.

Shot two Moon videos, in fact. I put some detailed notes on the Dell. Kinda wild!

Rupes Recta just barely visible. North is down; east is right.

12:46. Checked the conditions: 72%, 10.4°C, flat pressure, rain tomorrow.

1:19. Shot Jupiter video 1. LuCam Capture 6.0 (camera control), 640x480, 60fps, exp 9.0 ms, gain 19.7 x, gamma 1.5. AmCap 9.01, AVI.

The second Jupiter attempt was not great. Became increasingly overexposed. But I could see moons!

Io, Jupiter, Europa, and Ganymede. North is down; east is right.

Recorded Jupiter 3 video. 60fps, exp 5.6 ms, gain 10.8 x.

Third time with charm: I found a way to preview inside AmCap. Much more convenient. I could just make out the GRS. I wondered how much I could coax out in stacking...

1:33. Now it was 73 and 10.0.

Not bad for a first go... And that was still with poor collimation!


I wondered if I should make an inventory list for the SKYnyx box. At first I wondered if I was missing something as the notes referred to an external power supply...


Didn't know it at the time but the SKYnyx uses a CCD chip; not CMOS...

The RASC Toronto Centre has a Lumenera SKYnyx 2-0M camera. It is an easy-to-use, fast monochrome camera well suited for planetary astrophotography. The Sony sensor has 640 x 480 pixels. It supports 60 fps (without compression) with a maximum frame rate of over 100 fps (with binning and ROI). It also supports 2x2 binning. The interface is USB 2.0. We have it in a nice Pelican hard case with cable and software.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

double checked offset

I thought I'd double check my polar alignment tonight using the built-in polar scope. But I wanted greater accuracy. So, first, I needed to verify my offset from the meridian of the time zone. Fired up my old Excel spreadsheet for calculating the Local Hour Angle. I hadn't touched it for some time. Added a line for my nice place (a smidgen further west now from High Park). I also noticed I did not have an entry for Mom. Jumped into Google Maps to quickly grab the longitudes.

telescope cooling

I put the OTA outside, on the deck. Let the cooling begin.

Once again, the fabric light shield was fine.

Now I needed to learn about the SKYnyx...

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

more solo observing (Toronto)

6:00 PM. Enjoyed dinner and some anime. While I was looking forward to more telescopic observing, I was also feeling cautious. I couldn't go too hard core tonight. I had to work tomorrow... training. So couldn't be too sleepy.

I fetched the rubber strap oil filter wrenches, both large and small, from the garage. This allowed me to finally detach the SCT t-ring from the William Optics 2" mirror. Crazy tight! Which, in turn, would let me use Phil's pressure-fit adapter instead. I will looking forward to being able to turn the mirror quickly and easily.

I put the weather station out on the deck. Earlier than last night.

7:41. It felt cooler tonight. I had already put on socks. Then I added another layer.

8:15. I considered collimating, but the seeing was terrible. Again. Deneb is swimming! I could barely see the on-focus diffraction rings with the Tele Vue Type 6 Nagler 9mm eyepiece.

Weird. In the high-power ocular I noticed that the stars were drifting rapidly.

8:36. I re-did my polar alignment.

I was on my way to NGC 559. I star hopped from ε (epsilon) Cassiopeiae. I found the little triangle in the finder scope. I switched to the telescope with the 36mm baader ocular. I was at the little isosceles triangle of HD 9105 (at the apex), and V636 Cas, and HD 9200. The cluster was nearby.

8:49. The skies tonight would not tolerate 200 power. I dropped down to 77x. I could only see a few stars of NGC 559 (aka Caldwell 8). It was not very exciting. This object came from the TLAO list. It is suggested to view it in "very dark skies." So, perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree here.


9:02. I tried going for Sailboat Cluster (NGC 225?) but found the tree was covering γ (gamma) Cas.

9:37. Viewed NGC 7160. This was a suggestion from the Urban Astro Club list. A tiny little cluster of stars. About 10 bright ones and a bunch of faint ones.

Started the hop from α (alpha) Cephei (aka Alderamin) but overshot a little. Headed back to the little gentle arc of 18, 20, and 19 Cep, and then back toward α. Couldn't see anything in the finder. But it was pretty obvious at 55x.

9:53. I hunted for NGC 7243 near the Lacerta (aka Caldwell 16). Flipped over the meridian and panned around. Found 3 stars in a row, equally space, and a nearby crown. It looked like I landed on 2 Lac. 5 Lac was the bottom star.

Found it. Loose, large open cluster. Filled much of the field in the 36mm. A tight double was in the centre, two faint stars.

Jupiter was peeking through the branches...

Checked Stellarium 0.9 and SkyTools3 to see if anything interesting was going on with The King. Io was behind Jupiter. The GRS was rotating away, into the limb. No shadows. No, sadly, nothing dramatic. It took me a few minutes at the computer to figure that out, to simulate Jupiter.

10:17. By the time I returned to the telescope, Jupiter was already past "the window," the small gap to the east, between tree limbs.

10:26. I checked the atmospheric conditions with the Oregon Scientific weather station. It said the humidity was 74% and temperature was 10.3 degrees. The pressure was flat.

I began the star hop to NGC 7209. aka Cr 444 or Mel 238 or OCL 215. Made it. A D7 Klingon battle cruiser! Flying to the south! OK. A leap. But I saw a bunch of doubles, 3 pairs, parallel, forming the wing and engines, then two sets, perpendicular, forming the neck and head. There was a bright very orange star nearby. I thought, it must be a variable. It's HIP 109033 according to S09; HT Lac as per ST3.

That was kind of neat, finding things in The Lizard. And getting to know this faint constellation, near Cepheus.

10:41. I took another look at the Urban Astronomer Club list. Nothing was blowing my socks off, in terms of a target, within the limited piece of sky. So, I thought I'd wrap it up. Work day tomorrow. And I needed to be frosty...

One more. Just one more.

10:52. I viewed NGC 6910. Nice. It was a good object to finish on. And the sky is a little cleaner that way. I went to Deneb, by accident. Then to γ (Sadr). 6910, aka Cr 420 or OCL 181, was a small Y-shape of medium bright stars. There are 2 bright yellow stars within. And some very faint (mag 12) stars around. Pretty. Quite distinctive. Somewhat symmetrical. And so close to Sadr! About half a degree away.

The humidity was now 74%, temp 10.0, pressure same.

OK. It was time to pack up. Once again, I prepared to do a simple, rapid tear-down. It looked like it was to be clear again tomorrow. I brought the OTA, eyepieces, weather station, and power box inside. Everything else stayed out.

Perhaps I'll learn the SKYnyx tomorrow...

PSA back

Kiron returned my copy Pocket Sky Atlas. The custom field-of-view mask acetate sheet I had made was within. This might prove very handy as I try to restrict myself to viewing celestial objects to a specific constellation.

nope, on my own

Kiron asked if I was observing with Manuel or at home. Perhaps he was angling for some company. I told him I was using my porch in a semi-permanent set-up. And looking forward to some quiet time. Solo observing. Not too subtle, eh?

light screens enhanced

4:30 PM. Arrived home from work. I noticed, through the afternoon, it had been pretty windy. But I was very happy to see that my light blind had stayed put. Would have been a bit difficult to explain a 25 foot piece of black fabric draped over the neighbour's house, driveway, or car...

5:44. I put up some additional light screens. The "test" material, the black duvet cover I had used before, I threw over the south railing, to block the street light flooding the deck. Then I grabbed a large dark towel and put it over the west railing so to block the TV!