Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sue needs help

Sue indicated she wanted to get on the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group listserv with her Yahoo ID. I offered to help her out. I sent an invite from the system.

verified with Eric

Checked in with Eric, just before the SCOPE newsletter deadline, that he had my previously submitted webspotting article. I had written it for the previous edition but then submitted a new article to hop over it. He acknowledged it. Good. I'm off the hook for this issue then.

Vimeo won't work either

Relayed the news to Manuel that with our current Vimeo account we're limited to uploaded 0.5 GB per day. I thought he said his Moon AVI was much larger than that. I suggested he look into Dropbox or Skydrive. He started to consider sneaker networking it on a USB key...

happy leap day

Wishing everyone a happy leap day. As we adjust the calendar slightly to fit our orbital rhythm.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

to inspect 'scope

Charles received a donated telescope. He asked if I would help inspect it. I asked him if he had any time this week... But with the yo-yo weather and time restrictions, I had to bail out of the Wednesday meet-up.

webs max's out at 60 MB

Manuel reported that his account only allows files up to 60 MB. Crikey. Tiny.

Monday, February 27, 2012

where is MSL?

I found a neat image when looking into where the Mars Science Lab probe is right now...

Heh. It's travelling just under the speed limit, I see.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

globules in ST3

Ooh. That's what that means. Globules. I never understood that setting in SkyTools in the View Controls dialog box before...

I turned on the Globules option and my "mystery object," viewed at the CAO, showed up near Alnitak. How about that.

features imaged and sketched

Patrick said, on the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group listserv, that he said been sketching Mars at the same time that Manuel and I were imaging it. He wanted to if we could identify the features. He went on to say, "I have trouble with the S&T projection versus a standard hemisphere one, and I am always getting the features mixed up."

I fired up SkyTools 3...
  • In the photo, east is to the left and north is up.
  • Mare Acidalium and Niliacus Lacus are the dark regions under the polar cap, on the left. The light orange area, on the left, at the equator is Chryse. The darker region bottom left is Margaritifer Sinus and Aurorae Sinus.
  • The thin dark band at the equator going to the right edge is Sinus Meridiani and Sinus Sabaeus.
  • On the right limb it is very light. Dust storm perhaps?

client facing address

Manuel wanted to share his Mars photo from last night with RASC Toronto Centre. He had uploaded the photo to his personal photo album site at He right-click on the image. He copied the URL. He pasted that in an email. And he posted to the group. But he didn't realise he had done it while logged into his administrative profile. So he was sending a URL that would only work for registered members. Someone must have reported back to him that it didn't work. So he tried 2 or 3 more time but just kept sending the same link. Finally, I emailed him privately and told him he needed to log out and hit his photo album from the outside, from the client facing side. He replied (to the group no less) and told me it wasn't working. And that he wondered if he would have to get rid of his account. Oh boy. I immediately phoned him and explained the situation. And ordered him to get out pen and pencil. I gave him the outside URL and told him that's what he must use in the future. Particularly if he wanted to share with everyone and anyone. I explained that using the Yahoo!Groups or Facebook meant he was automatically limiting his audience. I think it finally dawned on him.

imaged Mars (Etobicoke)

After collimating Manuel's Celestron 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, we saw that Mars was up high. Through the eyepiece, I remarked that the seeing was surprisingly good. The ice cap was clearly visible. I could see maria and other features. Manuel bolted up the Imaging Source colour one-shot. I focused. He captured a bunch of frames.

The result after some quick processing in Registax was impressive.

I think his 'scope is working fine.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

astronomy facts

One of the originally planned tasks for the evening was to verify the alignment of the Orion Atlas mount's polar scope. Manuel dropping his C8 put the kibosh on that. I also really wanted to do it in daylight... While I checked the SCT for damage and collimated it, Manuel and I discussed a few science and astronomy topics.

Still, I was thinking about getting decent polar alignment while on this south-facing deck. A concept I wanted to share with him was magnetic declination. Knowing it, and having a compass, without being able to see Polaris, he'd still be able to get pretty close to the North Celestial Pole. I showed him the online calculator provided by Natural Resources Canada and how to use the information with his basic compass.

We briefly discussed the colour of stars... Manuel said that blue stars were young and orange were old. I wondered if that was strictly correct. I said it was my understanding that colour indicated temperature. He disagreed. I didn't think stars changed colour over their lifespans. I made a note to review stellar classification.

At one point, Manuel wondered if Mars was closer than Venus. I said I didn't think so. My gut feeling was that, while Mars was getting closer to us, for the upcoming March opposition, and at "perfect" oppositions (like the one in August 2003), it would get very close to the Earth, it would still always be a bit further than how proximal Venus would get.

We checked the amazing Wikipedia for the numbers. Mars at aphelion would be (approximately) 1.7 AU from the Sun; and at perihelion 1.4. Right. A very elliptical orbit. The semi-major axis was 1.5 AU. Venus on the other hand, in a more circular orbit, had a semi-major axis from the Sun of 0.7 AU. So, doing the quick math in my noggin showed that the closest we'd ever get to Mars would be 0.5 whereas to Venus could go as low as 0.3.

Now that he had an up-to-date Moon AVI file, we also discussed how to share it with members, for his upcoming DDO presentation. I suggested that he provide a very small version, with hundreds of frames vs. thousands. It would give people a taste, let them try stacking, but without bogging down their computer, particularly if older, and without requiring huge upload, download, and storage requirements. But Manuel insisted that they would need a full 4000 frame file.


The star colour topic kept bugging me... I found an interesting article in the astrophystics section of the Australian Telescope National Facility web site. I noted the remark near the beginning: "The colour of a star is primarily a function of its effective temperature." I thought so.

it bounced

Manuel phoned. I was just finishing packing for the jaunt to his place. "What are you doing tonight?" he asked. These types of questions throw me. Huh? Is this a trick question? Rhetorical? Did he forget our plans? Was he just verifying our plans? Am I unreliable? Was he excited? Did he want to change his plans? Did he need me to bring anything special? I wondered what was up.

There was something in his tone... He sounded different. I couldn't tell what it was. Was he speaking faster? Was there a tremor in his voice? Then he "dropped the bomb."

He explained that he had already been out on the porch, imaging. With his new apochromatic. On the Atlas mount. In an effort to collect some data on the Moon. For reasons that I'll let him explain. That had gone well, he reported. Then he began to reconfigure. He had the 8" SCT outside, on his little work table, to cool. But then, whilst navigating the narrow spaces on his porch, in the dark, wires everywhere, removing the camera from the apo, he stumbled and started to fall. To catch himself, he grabbed his little work table. The resultant shaking caused the SCT to roll off the end of the table. It hit the deck! He said it bounced!

Image: What can happen if you let your SCT roll off the table.

Oh dear. Immediately, I imagined the worst. The corrector cracked. The main mirror chipped. I asked if anything broke. He said it looked OK. The corrector was intact. No scratches. The primary mirror looked OK. Lucky.

But he was concerned about damage he couldn't see. He wanted me to look it over. Inspect and test it. And check the collimation. This would change the focus of our evening...


It could have been worse...

setting planets (Toronto)

The Moon was near Venus. Very nice. I was hoping for a better conjunction, that is, the Moon just below Jupiter.

helped Allard with calendar

I coached Allard on editing the mini-calendar on the RASC Toronto Centre web site.

already have a date

Jason said that he was thinking about trying out a dark sky observing spot and wanted to know if I might be interested. Phil too. About an hour north of Markham. Yikes. That means two hours for me! Sorry no. Besides, I already have a play date with Manuel.


Phil later told me Jason's target was near Kirkfield, past Beaverton. Wow.

Friday, February 24, 2012

helped Ron with Yahoo

Ron emailed me a couple of times saying he was having trouble accessing the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group. I had already explained that I thought the ball was in his court; there was nothing that we, on the RASC admin side, had to do.

I verified this, after building a new sympatico ID, getting on the listserv only, building a new Yahoo ID, and associating the Yahoo account with the listserv ID. Done. I let Ron know.

CAO assignments

Dietmar published the Carr Astronomical Observatory supervisor schedule. I'll need to review and enter my two commitments into my calendar.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

on page 84

RTFGM. I reviewed the Losmandy Gemini level 4 user manual. And noted the following remark, pertaining to making your own GPS cable, at the bottom of page 84... Alternatively, a cable can be made with an RJ22 plug as described in section 6.1, but with a male DB9 connector and the RxD and TxD wires swapped. Uh huh.

hacked cup warmer

Finally hacked the Heatech 12 volt cup warmer that I use as the Orion finder scope dew heater. I cut the CLA end off. Soldered up an RCA plug. Ran a quick test with the controller. Works good.

Hopefully this will now mean for more balanced loads when I'm using a battery.

thin Moon (Toronto)

Spotted a very thin Moon out my office window... Around 2 days old. 4% illuminated. Pretty.

too small

Charles reported that the baader film piece he has is less than 10" by 10". Probably too small for the battleship binoculars...

comp ST3SE

Greg accepted my request. He's sending the RASC Toronto Centre some complimentary copies of SkyTools 3 Starter Edition. These we'll be able to put to good use, as door prizes, or in draws. Very generous. Thank you. I shared the good news with Leslie.

do we have one?

I wondered, out loud, if the centre had a filar micrometer. I put it to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group.


Update: Rob B was the only one who replied. He said he recalled seeing ads in S&T magazine in the past. But hadn't seen any in a while. Suggested eBay.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

updated lot info again

Given the recent discovery at the CAO, I modified the land diagram again. And sent the new results to Tony. He was pretty pleased.

This will help us out a lot in the future. No pun intended.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

presentation plan B

I was intending, as a demonstration or proof-of-concept, to deliver my The Sky This Month presentation from the cloud. I was going to use Google's presentation app.

Driving this was the announcements presentation usually delivered by Ralph. For every meeting, he tries to collect input and content from the various stakeholders. He needs updates from the observing committee chair (for city, deep sky, and solar sessions), the David Dunlap crew (for talks, tours, member nights), the Carr observatory team (for open house, work party, other events). He also aggregates events by U of T and York U. There's always some expedition going on. And so on.

Ralph, the first to admit he's not very tech savvy, handles this in a traditional, simplistic way: he circulates a somewhat large PowerPoint file (based on the template I made). Some people, familiar with the product, make direct edits; others send their notes or requests by email. This junks up everyone's email in-tray. Annoys people not directly involved. Chews up bandwidth. It is slow and roundabout.

When the edits wind down (often at the eleventh hour), the PPT goes to Charles. He extracts content to make the meeting handout. Another large attachment. Once received he can hammer away and then print out the multiple copies. Assuming he's planning to attend the meeting. If he can't make it, the handout usually stalls and dies.

And finally, the slide deck must be physically transported to the meeting location. I remember on one occasion, there was a problem. Ralph was expecting to be late. So someone else was charged with bringing and running presentation. Files were exchanged but wires got crossed. And an older edition of the file was used. Too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen or miscommunication or both.

Charles and I have chatted about this on and off for months now. He likes my philosophy. There are a number of benefits to a cloud-based document.
  • supports multiple contributors and editors
  • doesn't fill up people's inbox
  • doesn't concern people not interested
  • available 24/7
  • available to Charles whenever he's ready to generate the handout
  • available if Ralph cannot attend or is late
  • we might be able to take advantage of file versioning
In fact, I investigated the PowerPoint Web App in SkyDrive and reported on this back in October 2010. And found it very limited.

The biggest requirement is that we have internet access during the meeting.

The challenges I perceived in using this, change-management issues aside, were that web-based tools might be too different for the users and insufficiently powered.

This then created my interest in conducting some experiments.

When I recently revisited the presentation tool in Google Docs, even when I upgraded it, I still found it weak and missing what I thought were helpful and useful features. But I also kept seeing notes about certain things being possible. The menu commands however for some of these features were not showing or available to me. It was some time before I discovered that this was because I was using, effectively, the individual or personal versions. I needed to set up a corporate style Google account. The apps were different. Good. Things were looking up.

But then the announcement came down from the Ontario Science Centre. Our meeting location had changed from the usual auditorium spot with all the amenities to the small Studio 2. And for me, after some consideration, it was a deal-breaker. I did not want to have to deal with unknowns for this first cloud-delivered presentation trial. So, it was back to a traditional method then for me: in fact, I planned to bring my own equipment. I'd have total control then. I had a laptop with PowerPoint 2007 I could use. I'd load the PowerPoint 2007/2010 slide deck.

I'm not sure now when I'll test and use Google's presentation app. Sometime in the late spring or early summer, I guess.

Jason wants to borrow a 'scope

Jason emailed me asking how to get a telescope from the RASC Toronto Centre loan programme... Um.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Manuel imaged the Rosette

Funny timing. Manuel was imaging the Rosette nebula this weekend. He used a remote telescope in New Mexico. Then he processed the raw images in Nebulosity 2 and did some touch-up in Elements 9. Then posted the final image to his photo gallery site. Great job!


I don't know if he realised it but he used an incorrect link for his site... He sent a URL that is for members. I doubt it will work for the general public.

bumped to Studio 2

Ralph sent a note to council saying that the March RAN meeting was going to be relocated to Studio 2. I remember it being crowded for the first NOVA sessions with about 50 people! Crikey.

I'm a little anxious now. I don't think I'll continue my Google Apps experiment...

But. We mustn't be choosy.

DSOs in Pup (Blue Mountains)

All right! Another clear night. We were excited. The cooks even tried to time dinner a little early for us. Thank you!

Tonight I configured the netbook with SkyTools 3 (via ASCOM and TheSky6) to drive the Paramount ME. Slewed to M1. Took a look through the Celestron 14 inch but the supernova remnant was not good. But then I was definitely not dark adapted.

Phil and Millie came out. Millie's not missing a beat tonight.

8:54 PM, 19 February 2012. Slewed to Trapezium. I wanted to see how much magnification we could put on it. But it was not great seeing. A little soft at 145x with the Panoptic 27mm. Tried higher power, 217x, with the Radian 18mm.

9:01 PM. Tony came out. I had dropped to 71x with the Plössl 55mm but went back at 27mm. I could see the E star. Told Millie. She wasn't sure if she was seeing it. I drew a quick sketch for her... Later Tony and I spotted the F star. Enough with the seeing so poor.

9:29. Viewed the Sigma Cluster in Orion... Lovely. At least I thought so. Others didn't seem too thrilled.

Lora and Phil made a special request. Some friends had "bought" them a star, TYC 00065-0779 1. So we went on the hunt for the Callebaut star. It was lovely. A pale orange mag 11 star at the end of a little string of faint stars. Woof!

I showed Tony my ST3 setup on the netbook. We also reviewed the Kendrick remote control software.

9:57. Lora headed inside. Chilly.

Millie wanted to see Messier 79 (M79) in Lepus. Ooh. It was low. We had to drop the walls... I almost did them in the wrong sequence. I remembered at the last second to drop the left (east) panel first. They made an awful sound when going down! I thought the view of the globular cluster unsatisfying. I checked the Year Bar in ST3. This was pretty much the best time to view it... Meh.

10:10. Got the Monkey's Head in TV101! The thing is huge. Very cool. And with the Lumicon Oxygen filter in TV 101: it was very easy.

10:20. Very nice in TV. Funny little arrange of 3 or 4 equidistant stars.

10:29. We viewed the Rosette. O3 filter. TV101. 27mm. Fantastic. Large. Could see folds and filaments. [ed: NGC 2237 and Caldwell 49.]

I needed to take a break.

10:40. I returned to the observatory with water, lip balm, and my red glasses. I thanked chas for letting me use the C14.

Checked the local conditions from the Davis weather station:

wind 1.6 from NW
humidity 91%
pressure 1022.5 hPa; just starting to fall
temp -8.9°C
dew point -10.1

The Kendrick reported:

humidity 86%
temp -9°C
dew point -12
optic sensor (1) was -7°C

11:16. Dietmar wanted to look at Hyades through 'scope. OK. TV 101 with 55mm.

chas was trying his new range-finder camera. A little distracting.

11:21. Millie and Dietmar wanted to look at Messier 45 (M45). Tony thought we should be able to see nebulosity. Millie wondered about using the O-III filter. Phil said no way.

chas put the big binos on M45.

That reminded me to make a note to fix the tripod of big binos. Something was wrong with the azimuth lock...

We chatted about using these binoculars for the Venus transit in June. I made a note to follow up with chas. He said he might have some baader film...

Viewed Mars. Everyone thought the view was soft.

Dietmar found the C14 corrector was iced up! Crikey. How did that happen?! I put the hair dryer to it and then Tony and I added the shield. Oops. I hadn't installed the shield early. Forgot. Doh! Friday had been too windy. I altered the programming of the Kendrick via the Dell laptop. That was easy.

The seeing was very poor on Mars. Unfortunately.

11:49. Viewed NGC 1662 in Orion. C14. 27mm. Lovely cluster at high power.

Everyone had gone in except Millie and me.

12:02 AM, 20 February 2012. Millie requested Messier 47 (M47). We viewed the open cluster in Puppis. We used the 55mm in C14 and the 27mm in TV101. It was comprised of white and yellow-white stars, many bright stars, in a general Y-shape.

12:18 AM. We could fit M47, Messier 46 (M46), HR 2959—a very orange K star, 4 Pup, and 2 Pup, off to the side, opposite 46 from 47, in the low power field of the Tele Vue 'scope. Neat!

We zoomed in, with the C14, to M46. And easily spotted NGC 2438, a very round, very large planetary nebula. The PN is actually much closer to us than the OC.

I noticed that 2 Pup was a double. I thought the stars nearly equal colour and brightness in the C14. My first double star sighting in Puppis. ST3 said they were 16.6" apart.

12:47. We took in Mars again. Saw the ice cap. The seeing was only slightly better, despite the improved elevation.

12:50. Oh boy. We turned to Saturn. Wow! Fantastic! Rhea and Tethys were on left; Dione, Titan, and Iapetus were on right. Millie really enjoyed that. Me too. Welcome back!

Clouds were coming in...

Millie headed off to bed.

I wanted to push on but suddenly the wind was out of my sails. I was tired.

1:15. Closed the roof.

1:17. Parked the 'scope via TheSky6 on the netbook.

A few minutes later I exited the GBO. Huh. It was clear again. To the west. And at zenith. Oh well. I was done. The vicious headache was not abating.

1:26. Was in bed.


Regularly, through the evening, from the observatory floor, I looked to the north. Hoping to spot aurora. None, sadly.


That was an awesome session. Over 20 objects viewed, a wide variety, in 5 hours. I was very happy to see the Monkey Head. And, with Millie's help, tick off a couple more Messiers.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

installed magnetic sensor

Tony and I did some follow-up tasks related to the alarm system upgrade. We were glad we tackled it today and didn't leave it to tomorrow. As usual, it turned into a bigger job...

Phil helped in the house. The GMRS radios were handy.

I shared I always thought being at the CAO was like a space station expedition. In the winter, particularly so, with the suiting up. It was like we were going through an air lock.

eastern stakes

On Friday, I had spotted stakes in the woods, on the way down the hill. About 20 or 30 metres east of the BTA marker Tony and I had found during New Year's. I walked into the woods and pointed it out to Dietmar and Tony. I'd have to adjust my farm land calculations in Visio again...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

updated MallinCam notes

I updated the MallinCam notes to include steps for starting up and shutting down. Printed 'em. But these new notes in the case.

protected MallinCam

While the gang went tobogganing, I kept the fires burning. And continued to cut the foam for "new" MallinCam case.

I had brought up two foam slabs at New Years. I used one of the 2" thick slabs in the bottom of the toolbox. Made voids or slots for the camera, transformer, AVerMedia PCMCIA card, RS-485 adapter, and the BNC cable. Dietmar reminded me to make the voids deep enough so the tray would fit on top. Thank you.

Works good. Forgot to take a pix.

Friday, February 17, 2012

the Flame and Mars (Blue Mountains)

9:52 PM. While others started into a movie, I peaked outside. It was clear again. "I'm going out," I hollered. This time I fully opened the roof of the GBO. Then targeted the Horsehead. And then panned around again.

Found it. Again. The cometary globule object I found before. Strange nebulous small object. Rather bright. L-shaped.

Used the 27mm Panoptic again. The object was about 1.5 fields from Alntiak. More or less left-right from Alnitak, i.e. in-line with the belt stars.

Copied some details from TheSky6.

Equatorial (current): RA: 05h 39m 31.21s; Dec: -01°51'33.99"
Equatorial 2000: RA: 05h 38m 52.73s; Dec: -01°51'46.30"
Horizon: Azim: 214°31'22.07"; Alt: +37°57'03.68"
Air mass: 1.63

I went to the Flame nebula. I could see it! Wow. Dark lanes, like branches in a tree. The nebula was very faint. It was big! Filled the field.

Phil came out. He too had never seen it before.

We tried the 2" Lumicon O-III filter. I couldn't see anything... Phil said he could. We removed it. NGC 2024 was good in the 27mm. Very cool, in fact.

10:14. We viewed Messier 1, the Crab Nebula. Wow! M1. The best view ever, for me. With averted vision, you could see it was not smooth.

I spotted clouds moving in.

10:25. We took a look at Mars at 145x. Lora "I'm not an astronomer" Chow had come out. We gave her a peak. Faint fuzzies don't cut it.

Ice cap was visible.

So-so seeing.


Another short viewing session. But pretty awesome. Relocating the mystery object, the globule was great. Actually detecting the Flame Nebula was fantastic. Seeing structure in M1... just, wow. And it was great to see the 4th planet, of course.


Millie was upset that we had been observing. She had been waiting for me to call. Oops. I guess saying I was going up and then not returning for an hour was not a good enough sign. Sorry! Next time I'll shout it...

what was that? (Blue Mountains)

Dinner and dishes were done. I peeked outside. It was somewhat clear.

I wanted to try for some dark-sky Orion targets. Things like reflection nebulae. And maybe, just maybe, some dark nebulae! Was very interested in visiting some of the other objects we had talked about at the DDO. The "and beyond" objects. But I didn't really have a formal plan or a list. Nothing prepared in SkyTools 3 Pro.

Connected the Dell laptop to the Paramount. I only half-opened the roof, so to offer some protection from the wind. Aimed the Celestron 14" Schmidt Cassegrain telescope toward the Hunter.

I tried to view the Horsehead Nebula. Didn't see anything. But I was not really expecting to see Barnard 33 against Index Catalog object 434. Not easily. Based on everything I was starting to read and hear. I was using the biggest aperture I had ready access to and some said it was 2 or 3 inches too small. And I knew I was not really dark adapted. I'd need to wait another 20 minutes or so...

I wondered about the Flame Nebula. People said that if you can see it, then there's a chance you'll be able to see the Horsehead. Well, that should be near where I am, I thought. Considering the SCT field orientation while I was looking straight down into the eyepiece, I knew it should be up and to the right. To the north-west.

With the hand controller I started moving up. Right. A little. Then a lot. And ended up somewhere to the west of Alnitak. When I spotted this little blob. Curved. Or L-shaped. Small but bright. What's that?!

I looked at the position indicated in TheSky6. I zoomed in the screen. Nothing was shown. What the heck is this object? Immediately I was concerned about the precise positioning. That is, there's not an exact correspondence to what the software shows and what the Paramount ME is doing. Where was I exactly? Would I be able to get back to it?

Another pair of eyes looked. Which was good. They confirmed it wasn't my imagination!

Clouds appeared. A short session. But it might afford some time to research...


While I was trying some searches in SIMBAD and Aladin, and trying some different settings in ST3P, Tony found mystery object! He searched the web using the dining room computer and showed me a photo of the Orion Belt region. I didn't recognise the exact tool he was using but it was showing good detailed images.

We were able to determine that the mystery object was at 05:38:12.13 by -01:46:39.0. Near HD 37389. 41 arc minutes from Alnitak.

It was a cometary globule. None of us had heard of that before! Looked 'em up. Seems these are common in Orion. Maybe prototypical. Perhaps indicators of new solar systems.

Seems the object designation is ORI I-2.

I looked it up in SIMBAD. Yep! That was it.

It was not displayed in my SkyTools 3 interactive atlas or context viewer windows...

I remembered an APOD image of the Belt region of Orion. I tracked it down (from 21 January 2011) and zoomed in. There are lots of these blobby things!



Didn't think to take a picture! Sheesh. Gotta be on it, in the future. Could have bolted up the MallinCam... If I think I've "found" something or if something looks really different, I need to make better records.


Added a new tag, for this deep sky object type, for the blog!

let the eating begin!

Originally Lora and Phil were going to travel up with us but Phil's work conspired against that. They left late.

We waited for their call as they neared the CAO. Trevor headed to the top of the hill to help them cargo stuff to the house.

Soon, we were enjoying delicious home-made pizza.

a good flyover (Blue Mountains)

We enjoyed a very good flyover of the International Space Station through mostly clear skies. Everyone came outside. Almost everyone. Tony, Phil, Millie, and Dietmar. I spotted it first, low in the west. Helped Dietmar spot it. Grace watched from the back steps.

It was gold, at the start... It went up to magnitude -3. We all thought it went higher than 55°. While still in the west, Grace asked about the stars it was going by. None of us knew. I checked later: β (beta) Andromedae.

The skies were looking very good. There was a little bit of cloud, particularly in the north-east. But overall rather promising.

Grace made an entry in Facebook.

warmed up the CAO

The long weekend was finally here... We were all looking forward to a bit of R & R.

The Horvatins arrived my place around the planned time. They were all impressed that I had everything packed in two carry-ons. It was thanks to them actually. For loaning a very large internal framed trail pack. I told Tony to leave the battery charger in the foyer; we'd fetch that on Monday.

Trevor took the wheel with me in the shotgun seat. In short order, we arrived at the Tim's on Mayfield for our rendezvous with Millie and Dietmar. They had been waiting a bit. The Horvatins and I squeezed in some breakfast and lunch. I gave Dietmar a GMRS radio. And we were on our way.

North of Shelburne, with more frequent white-outs and blowing snow, Tony suggested the alternate route, through south-west Collingwood. Dietmar thought it unnecessary. Certainly, the rest of the trip was uneventful. And then we were past Banks and found our parking spots.

There was more snow here than in the city. Still, it was an easy hike in even without snowshoes.

Tony, Dietmar, and I reviewed the upgraded alarm panel for the CAO. Happily, the operation was the same. I was very pleased that it was not covered in crazy bright blue LEDs. We cranked the furnace and turned on the water. And settled in.

I delivered the official NAD receiver remote control from Charles, loaded it AAA batteries, and made sure it responded. I also delivered a pair of plastic wheel casters for the Shopvac in the GBO.

The sky was looking rather good. I kept an eye on the conditions. Maybe we'd get lucky tonight... In anticipation, I unlocked the observatory.

While there I installed the new Kendrick dew heaters I had brought up during New Year's. We had just enough room in the Premium controller! I had forgotten that the Telrad had its own small heater. I rearranged things a little:
  1. C14 heater
  2. TV 101 heater (new)
  3. eyepiece heater A (new)
  4. eyepiece heater B (new)
  5. Telrad heater
  6. Telrad power
Good to go. No more fogged eyepieces!

It was good to be back...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

group shopped

Grace, Bree, and I shopped until they booted us out of No Frills. We won't go hungry this weekend...

weekend planning

I coordinated a Skype call with Dietmar, Phil, and Tony, to refine our travel and CAO weekend plans.

aurora in Iceland

My good friend Connie is in Iceland. She talked about the stunning aurora in the night skies. I asked her to send me some snaps.


And beautiful.

She put more in her Facebook photo gallery.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I apologised to Manuel about not being able to join him. Somehow, I had spent hours on the phone dealing with RASC Toronto Centre matters. And I desperately needed to prepare for a computer course tomorrow...

map accolade

Katrina also needed the "upper level" parking directions for the CAO. I sent over the map and notes. She replied, "BTW, that map is all sorts of awesome..."

on meal duty

When Lora offered to take care of the dinner meals during the Family Day weekend, and when the Horvatins got t-boned with a crisis, I offered to take care of the other meals. Lora and I coordinated. She suggested tuna melts one day. Yum. I thought chili would be good if it was going to be grey and blah. Lora reminded me to make my Blake Muffin breakfast. Right on!

The Horvatins were relieved.

introduced Allard

I formally introduced Allard to the RASC Toronto Centre council.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

lively logo discussion

It was getting pretty lively the discussion surrounding the new logo Jason is developing for the Carr Astronomical Observatory. Guy made his impressions known. Kiron opined. Phil bent my ear. Tony wanted to chat about it. And I tried to stay out of it.

did portal experiment

Trying to make some portal-like pages for analysing weather conditions, over in the lumpy companion site. I.e. a page with "everything" in one spot.

updated Psion agenda

Somewhere along the way I forgot to put RASC Toronto Centre events in my palmtop.

parking approved

I heard from our neighbour. He was OK with us parking beside his driveway. Relayed the news to the crew. That was a relief.

He also shared that he had received our greeting card. Good.

made a detailed map

Jason wanted to know about getting to the CAO. But he wasn't familiar with the "upper level" parking. Or how to get to it. I made a map in Visio and sent it over to him. Along with very clear instructions.

portal experiment

Trying to make some portal-like or dashboard pages for analysing weather conditions. I.e. a page with "everything" in one spot.

Monday, February 13, 2012

the Sword and some planets (Toronto)

Wanted to see some new stuff tonight... Was hungry for photons.

7:18 PM. Had dinner early. I was pretty well done my setup. The black blind was up, black duvet cover over the railing, dark green one too. And one towel to fill a gap. Good and dark on the porch. I had the observing chair up. The Celestron 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain 'scope was on its Super Polaris mount on the tripod. Dew heaters were installed and running. I had brought a single marine battery outside. Tonight I would keep it in the cooler bag. In fact, to keep the battery from getting too cold, I opened a Grabber disposable iron hand warmer and threw it inside the cooler. The battery was running the motor for clear power.

Oops. I occurred to me that I had not yet hacked the cup warmer heater. I elected to not use it. I'd have to be careful then to keep the lens caps on.

7:31. Tried out the push pins on the focusing mask. It worked well. Hands-free now.

Venus was very bright. I could see a gibbous phase.

7:43. Found Uranus. A little below Venus. About one finder scope diameter away. Aqua blue in the baader planetarium 36mm ocular. Fuzzy blob in the Tele Vue 9mm. It was very low. On the verge of being cut off in the 'scope at the blind...

7:53. Viewed Jupiter. Two moons missing. Two on the east. Oh... hold on. Just spotted one near the edge of the disc! [ed: It was Europa and it was inbound. Io was already behind.]

The seeing looked decent.

8:25. I decided to go for the Trapezium now, while Orion was well-placed between the two big trees.

Started at Mintaka. Saw the companion. Actually, when I saw the companion I knew I was at Mintaka. Kinda near.

Moved east along the belt and down. Viewed the Sigma Cluster and four stars of σ Orionis proper. Fantastic!

Headed to the sword region.

One of the stars in NGC 1975 looked hazy...?

Ha. I saw the E and F stars at 77x but not 222. The star on the left (west), between the tighter stars, easy. The star on the right (east) was fainter, closer to bright star; but in-line to theta 2.

8:38. Used the binos to scanned the area to the left of Jupiter.

Checked the conditions, accordingly to Environment Canada, for Toronto Pearson.

Mainly Clear
101.5 kPa and rising
Temperature: -1.3°C
Dewpoint: -8.5°C
Humidity: 58 %
Wind: SSW 11 km/h
Wind Chill: -5

Viewed Messier 42 (M42) again. And Messier 43 (M43). It was like a large bird, wings outstretched. Viewed the area above again. No nebula visible. Couldn't see the Running Man. But noted the 2 clusters. NGC 1981 reminded me of a palm tree, leaves bending over, or a water fountain. Viewed ι (iota) below. The hockey stick. The primary was so bright! Noted the 2 bright stars below; all part of the NGC 1980 cluster...

Off to Cetus... I wanted to view Messier 77.

9:07. Clouds! From the west...

Spotted Mars a couple of minutes ago. Tangled in the tree.

I had finally made it to the area... Seemed difficult star hop. But could not see M77. This is not an easy target in the city.

I double checked my route: started at Jupiter; used ξ 1 (xi) Cet and ξ Ari; followed the little curved gaggle of stars to ξ 2 Cet; continued east to a mini Scorpius-like asterism, pausing at ν (nu) Cet; finally made it to γ (gamma); δ (delta) was easy from there.

Huh. Clouds dimmed the field of view.

9:13. Just checked the ADDS radar. The clouds overhead were the first wave of several...

9:49. Looked like the gap was almost here.... I could see Jupiter again (though hazy).

Probably M77 was hopelessly low now. Ugh. The computer said it was 17° up... The SCT looked like it was aim directly at the hydro pole.

I resolved to look again, in darker skies.

9:55. I considered redoing the star hop. Just to make sure I was at the target area. But the skies were not looking good. Looked like another cloud bank was on the way...

I scanned the rest of the sky. The shield region of Orion is behind the big tree. No chance for NGC 1662 then. Headed indoors again.

10:21. Checked the skies. Still cloudy. Very reflective clouds to the west. "That's it," I thought.

10:56. Just finished packing up. Did a fairly rapid shutdown.

Folded the black tarp along its entire width versus folding it in half first. I think its easier this way. I did it all on the deck. And then, in a moment of inspiration, I put it in the deck box.

Marilyn needs a lot of help

Answered Marilyn's latest email. She sends baffling messages, without paragraphs, jumping from one idea to another. She wants to do high-mag astrophotography. But I don't think she appreciates the complexity involved and that she's going to have to do a lot of reading, research, buy some equipment, particularly so that she can accurately track or guide. And that this is not easily "discussed" through disjoint email communiqués.

I wonder if she's considered the typical astroimaging rig... Like what Tom Richards has.

invited over Wednesday

Manuel phoned. He said he liked the look of the Wednesday forecast. Invited me over. I made a note.

I asked him to wish me luck. I was very close to M77!

booked parking

I phoned our easterly neighbour from the Carr Astronomical Observatory. Sounded like his daughter on the voice mail. I asked if it was OK for us to park in his driveway and at the road beside his driveway. Warned that there might be 4 vehicles. Or so.

OKed copying

Marilyn said she found my info sheet from my astro photo talk. She asked if she could copy it. I gave my permission as long as it wasn't modified.

small Mars (Toronto)

It was very clear as I readied for bed. I realised Mars would be fairly high in the sky. SkyTools said 50° up.

Took a quick peak with the little reflector from the porch... Frickin' tree in the way.

I tried the Meade 18mm and Tele Vue 9mm eyepieces. Unsatisfying views were returned, Mars a bright orange dot. 17 power and 33, respectively. Not much better than binoculars.

Briefly, for a moment, the idea flickered through my mind: get out the big 'scope.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

shared MallinCam info

Stuart N was at the Member's Night at the DDO. He said he was thinking about getting a MallinCam. Started asking me about it. I was able to answer a few questions. I wanted to show him some images but the internet service, at the time, was wobbly.

I sent his some notes and links.

file size

Manuel asked for some help. He wondered about providing his AVI video file of the Moon to members for the next DDO night. I said there were a few options but it depended on the size of the file.

I expected that his 1600 frame AVI would be pretty big... Like a few hundred megabytes. Or a gig.

opening eyes

Chris had some complimentary words on the Members Night DDO event.
Thanks, Stu - and to everyone else who made last evening possible!

Thanks to Blake for really opening my eyes to the possibilities in Orion. I'll definitely take a fresh look next time out observing.
You're welcome.

same ole' Moon

Time for some myth-busting. Manuel sent me a note.
A friend of mine just asked me a question about the moon brightness last week. Do you know why the moon was brighter last week?
I explained there was nothing special about the Moon. It had been in full phase on the 7th. It had been at perigee (or closest to the Earth) on the 11th. Not super.

thanks from (and to) Stu

Stuart made me a little nervous Friday evening and Saturday afternoon when he started sending slide decks with targets and presentation suggestions. And that he was asking me about handouts. My presentation was done. In the can. Had been for days. I was hoping it would be on the mark... It seemed it was.

"Special thanks to Blake and Steve for another excellent seminar."


Stu deserves a lot of thanks too, for pulling this all together, particularly given the groups, the personalities, the location.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

another way

Asked Dietmar if he might have an extra seat when heading to the Carr Astronomical Observatory for the Family Day weekend. Just in case the Horvatins had to step back, if family matters required that they not leave the city.

no SLOOH for you

Wanted some photons. Desperately. Thought of Nicole and her recent fun had with remote telescopes. Right! I have credits. Jumped into SLOOH. All the 'scopes were offline! Damn it.

frustrating skies (Richmond Hill)

As we walked out of the DDO admin building, our evening activities done, wouldn't you know it, we were greeted by clear skies!

Took in Orion, Pleiades up high, 5 to 6 stars visible, the Winter Football.

From the parking lot, took a quick look at Jupiter thought Malcolm's long 5" Astrophystics refactor atop a Losmandy G11. It was low in the sky at that point.

So, essentially only one Orion target for me then, over the evening. I got a good look at Rigel A and B in the 74" telescope. An easy split.

Headed home. I thanked Manuel for the transport.

delivered Orion presentation

I delivered the keynote presentation at the second "new format" Members Night at David Dunlap Observatory. The theme was "Orion - M42 and Beyond." I felt it went well. I stayed on time.

Unfortunately, the skies were mushy by the time we got outside. It had been clear early on but then threatened to snow. A pity. I didn't get to help Manuel with his gear.

We had a good crowd again. 40 big and 2 small humans.

Zoe and Ben brought cake!


Would you like to view some of the content from this presentation? Visit the lumpy companion presentations page!

preloaded presentations

I had suggested to Stu and Steve that they send me their evening presentations. I could then preload them to the laptop computer. Steve's had been born on a Mac in Keynote. But the PDF and converted PowerPoint files looked OK. I fixed the minor font problems in the converted slide deck.

Friday, February 10, 2012

new DS checklist

I made a new checklist. It is for when I record double star drifts. It will hopefully remind me of all the things I need to do and gather for a successful recording (so to enable a successful reduction).

played with Tracker

Downloaded Tracker 4.62, the Video Analysis and Modeling Tool software by Douglas Brown. Fired up the Java app. Started reading the Getting Started topic in the help. And immediately felt overwhelmed. What was I getting myself into... But slowly, I figured some things out.

I loaded my video. Set the start and end frames. I was very pleased to see a step option; I adjusted this to output 50 or so data points from my trial. I calibrated the scale, although I wasn't sure what to use at the unit of measurement—I used the real time. I set the reference frame origin and angle. And then I tracked the stars. I was glad I only chose 50 points. It already felt tedious marking the 50 frames. I saw the matrix build up with rows showing t, x, and y values. I suddenly I realised that I was actually getting somewhere. I exported the results to a spreadsheet and stared at the numbers.

I saw that y was the delta from the origin. In other words, it was showing the separation in arc-seconds. If I took an average, it would compensate for the seeing, the wavering. But then I realised that y was constant in this model. And that was not really correct. And I'd have to take into account the declination along with the drift speed and/or time to get a real separation value. And that was a little off-putting. The angle though... That should be easy!

The t value was how far we are along the calibration stick. I had set it to the time from 0 to 83.47 seconds.

The x value was where the companion was in relation to the primary. As it was a touch to the left, it showed as a negative number in the first row. I saw that it was always slightly less than the corresponding t value. Which was correct for my video. If I subtracted the x value from t, I'd have the relative position.

I realised it was a simple matter then, using the net-x and y values, to determine the angle between the two stars. Uh. Yeah. But that would mean trig. Nooooo! Damn it. I just can't get away from trigonometric math. It keeps following me...

I had to dive into the web for some pointers on how to do this, it had been so long. Crikey. Would need the arc tangent function. Meh. In Excel, I tried

= ATAN( x / y ) * ( 180 * PI( ) )

and received a good result. I then tried

= DEGREES( ATAN( x / y ) )

which was a bit cleaner. Copied it into the matrix. Not bad.

The average angle was 10.1 degrees. But there was a lot of variance! I saw a minimum value of 4.9 and a max of 16.6. Wow. I really needed to take into consideration that both the stars were moving, both shifting with the seeing conditions. I needed to plot both stars.

I was pleased with the new outcome. The average returned was 12.1 with a min of 6.7 and a max of 17.6. The average was pretty close to my target. Still. It was a little frustrating to miss by about a degree.

Hold on... I got an idea. What if... I wondered what the frequency distribution might look like. So, back to the web for some tips. Found the Data Analysis plug-ins. Launched the Histogram. And then I made the graph.

Holy cow! Would you look at that. The peak was right on target! Now this was interesting... Eerie.

invited to call

James invited me to participate in a conference call to discuss the Observer's Calendar grid editor roll. Then he started about a whole bunch of other things they needed help with. Slow down there. I just wanna know what's involved with the calendar task.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Mickey needs a battery

Mickey and I chatted briefly at the RASC meeting last night about power in the field. He said that car booster battery packs weren't cutting it.

Tonight I sent him over some thoughts along with several links to my blog. He replied. He liked the idea of a marine battery or two in a cooler but was a little concerned about their weight.

Venus and Uranus (Toronto)

5:09 PM. It was Thursday night. A week after the City Observing Session window. Maia sent a note to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group...
I will be going to Bayview tonight, for a 7-8:30pm observing with a few students. We will try to get a glimpse of Uranus, today is our chance! Anyone interested in joining us?
"Our chance?" Huh? That was a curious remark...

About an hour later it hit me. I checked my online astronomy events calendar. Right! Venus was very near Uranus! Okie dokey. Let's have a look once the skies darken.

7:03 PM. I viewed the pairing in my cheapo binoculars, the Bushnell Ensigns, on the tall tripod. Uranus was tiny! At 7x, it was easy to overlook. But, clearly, there. Nice.

I wanted some more power. But I was not feeling very energetic. No time to set up a large telescope. So I viewed in them in the cheapo reflector, the Celestron First Scope. Not bad. Not great either...

7:15. Tried the Tele Vue Nagler 9mm eyepiece in the tiny reflector. Funny. The eyepiece costs two or three times what the 'scope did.

The view was wobbly. Some colour. Some flaring. It was hard to focus. It was like the collimation was crazy. I think it is that this little 'scope has a very small sweet spot... Is that a characteristic of a spherical mirror? I'm assuming this has that kind of mirror.

Still, the large size, once centred, was pleasing. Uranus was aquamarine.

It was great seeing these Venus and Uranus together. Official planets... inner and outer ones. The second planet was 1 astronomical unit away versus 21 AU for the last! Fun.

It was a little chilly.

Funny. Now that I was outside, with sweater and toque, nothing the clear skies, I wanted to do more.

7:25. I swung over to Messier 42. The small mirror showed hints of the nebula.

Orientation was different. Threw me off a little. Different than the 8" SCT.

θ-2 (theta) caught my eye. Some bright stars above. [I didn't realise until later, that was the Trapezium.] I also spotted ι (iota), and the small cluster to the right (NGC 1980).

7:28. Viewed Jupiter. Three moons, to the west; one to the east. Seemed the west-most moon was the brightest. [Turned out that was Ganymede at magnitude 5.0.]


Noticed something strange in SkyTools, or rather my configuration, for the Celestron FirstScope. The 20mm eyepiece seems to be presenting the field wrong, at the wrong power. I would need to look into that...


Discovered in my life list for solar system objects, I did not have Uranus checked for binoculars. Curious. Until last fall at Mew Lake, I guess I had only viewed the distant planet in a telescope.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

chatted with Manuel

As he gave me a lift home, we discussed RASC promo items. I asked if he'd like to help. He said yes.

chatted with Sharmin

Chatted with Sharmin about volunteer recruitment, her recent activities, our Yahoo!Groups.

spotted Mars (Toronto)

As we exited the OSC, after the RASC meeting, we noted the skies were clear. Damn it. The gaggle of us were looking up, to the north. A few glanced to the east and south-east. Someone asked, "Is that Mars?!" sounding a little surprised. I answered, "Yep."

chatted with Mahesh

Oh. I thought Mahesh had already been to the CAO. Phil and I said that it was a little tricky, at the best of times; in the winter, more so.

there's no place like dome

I am the proud owner of a David Dunlap Observatory t-shirt! Paul had brought a bunch to the OSC to sell after the meeting.

Can't wait to sport it.

Whenever this crazy winter ends...

signed up a new member

Received an application and payment from a new member.

He said he wanted to come out to the DDO on Saturday. I made a note to let the DDO crew know along with the membership team...

received projector

Mickey asked me if I'd take the projector. Return it to Tony. Since he was a no-show. OK. Man, I was getting laden down. I was grateful to Manuel for offering to drive me 'round.

no new signs yet

Phil and I looked new RASC signs at the OSC. Nothing... Not done yet? Or locked up in the closet?

Too bad. I was looking forward to seeing Jason's new design. And testing the QR code.

It twigged something else, though. Now that no one is doing hospitality at the Science Centre in advance of our meetings, will anyone be putting out signs? I'd need to nudge Council about this...

shared the good news

As Phil and I enjoyed the HOV lane down to the Ontario Science Centre, we reflected on our Losmandy cable adventure. He was pretty happy to hear I had finally met with success. And was looking forward to getting his computer to work with it (even though he didn't foresee using it a lot).

Still we puzzled over what we had done wrong. Despite four eyes and two brains on it. When something floated to the surface. Something I had not thought about from a long time... One other variable in the equation of COM port serial communications: DTE.

Maybe the GPS receiver was a DTE device! Phil frowned.

I explained to Phil that when connecting a computer serial port to an old modem, one would use a "standard" straight-through cable. For it was designed to interconnect the PC (considered Data Terminal Equipment, if I remember my terms correctly) to a traditional peripheral device, say a modem or a printer (considered Data Communication Equipment). You'd select a DTE-DCE cable. But if you were trying to connect two computers directly, say when using the old LapLink app (Phil nodded in simpatico), you'd had a DTE-DTE cable, aka a null-modem. And that essentially the only thing different in these two cables was the transmit and receive pin outs.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

We had used his GPS cable for our pin out analysis when we should have treated it suspect. We should have gone straight to the Gemini manual. I should have remembered while considering the other serial port settings, like speed and handshaking, that DTE or DCE interfacing might be a factor. And maybe, if I had been thinking ahead, I would have considered all these issues in advance and raided my old computer cables parts bin for serial cables, adapters, gender benders, and handy-dandy null-modem adapters!

Too much on my brain this week...

Frustrating on one hand. But pretty satisfying.

Thank you John Bramwell for introducing me to modems 30 years ago!

astro rice maker

Lora was preparing dinner. The rice maker notified her that it was done. She called from the kitchen, "Do you recognise it?" I had to think about it for a moment. Ha ha.

The happy lucky rice robot was singing, Twinkle, twinkle... That's kooky.

rebuilt cable

Why hadn't Phil and I been able to command (nay, order) the Losmandy mount from our computers?

I don't like being stymied by electronics, hardware, or software. It had been in the back of my brain all day. Distracting me. Tugging. Whispering, just out of range. Or maybe that's just early tell-tales of the encroaching madness. Reading and research 'round midnight, before I passed out, had fueled thoughts. Left me with ideas. Things I wanted to try. Things to be explored. More to-dos. That my brain wouldn't let go of. I couldn't take it any more. I quit work early. And resumed my investigations via the web. I was buoyed by many reporting that it worked!

One notion was to see what the Losmandy Gemini System was receiving from my computer. Upon a more thorough reading of the documentation, I noted that one could monitor the Gemini console to see what data was being received.

Another thought was to verify the communication settings were correct. Certainly in the days, many moons ago now, where I was regularly tuning modulator-demodulators and battling PC-to-PC null-modem exchanges, I worried about these things. Did I have the rate set correctly? Did I have the data bits, stop bits, parity right? The handshaking?

And, somewhere in my user guide perusals, I now had the impression that there was a possible application I might use, a Losmandy-specific software product that would talk to the mount. If this was true, if I could find this software, if I could legally acquire this tool, perhaps it could be used to test things, using a known-good utility.

And then I stumbled across a very interesting note. The manual suggested using Hyper Terminal to issue commands and monitor responses from the mount. Cool! Here was an elegant solution employing a tool I already had. Good ole' HT! Wow.

I tested a bunch of things. Including altering the FIFO buffer settings. And was not seeing anything. Nothing was working...

It was around this time that I can upon, once again, the wiring information and photo for the Gemini-to-PC cable. Simple. Three wires. We had been careful making our little test cable. Let's check it one more time, I thought. So, off to the work bench I went. After an SMS tip from Phil as to the location of the DMM, and after fabricating a small test lead, I probed the pins... and found something strange.

Pins 2 and 3 on the DB9 female plug were reversed. I checked it again. I checked for shorts. And re-read our notes in the little notebook. Yep, backwards. We had wired the cable correctly, according to our notes. But it was not matching what was in the Gemini Level 4 manual. Didn't make sense. It just didn't make sense. We had been slow and methodical. And I saw that it wasn't a complete reversal, that is, pin 5 was right. We had not transposed pin 5 from 1. How the hell did we get the Tx and Rx lines wrong then?! Baffled, I cut the wires. Redo!

I returned to the mount. Attached the patchwork cable. Powered the mount. Verified the virtual COM address allocated to the USB converter. Fired up Hyper Terminal. Set the COM port parameters as required. And typed some of the strange Gemini commands like :P# (Toggle High Precision Pointing) and :GR# (Get Telescope RA). Crikey! Something came back! It was working!

The damned cable. We built the damned cable wrong!

Booted Stellarium. And slewed the mount to Albireo. It was a thing of beauty. At long last I could complete my notes on how to drive a 'scope from Stellarium.

I thought of James from TANDBERG. Invariably the fault is with the wiring...

stepped down

Enough. I've been doing this long enough. And I'm stale. Tired. Set in my ways. The idea hatched last night. I slept on it. Awoke thinking about it. I stepped down as the RASC Toronto Centre webmaster.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Losmandy didn't respond

I wanted to test using Stellarium with a telescope mount. Personal interest. But also to prepare for my level 2 Stellarium course. Asked Phil if he was willing to let me play. He was game. But he corrected me. I had assumed his Meade LX 10 was a GO TO 'scope. Nope. PUSH TO. Only has a tracking motor. But his Losmandy has the Gemini system. And it supports the Meade command set. Phil suggested we try it. OK. Cool.

I asked if we might do it Tuesday night. That's when I had intended to try anyway, on the eve of our SNO LAB trip. Working in the basement, fiddling with electronics, talkin' astronomy? Come on! We got clearances and pressed.

He set up the tripod and the mount as I prepared my netbook and Stellarium. He started to remove the refractor from the case. "We don't need that," I pointed out. Back in the case. I dug out my serial-USB adapter. We hooked up the motor cables to the Gemini control panel. Skeena monitored.

Then Phil fished out his modular jack / serial cable. "Oh oh." He showed me the serial DB connector. "Oh oh." It was male. So was my adapter. I thought he had hooked up to the computer before; he explained that this was a cable for his GPS. I had forgotten that he had told me that back on 3 Feb, when we sent over the Gemini Level 4 user manual PDF.

"Do you have a female-to-female 9-pin serial adapter?" I asked Phil, thinking of my huge cables bin back at home... I probably have a half-dozen of these... but they were 40 km away. Phil retrieved his misc parts bin. USBs, old Linksys router, phone cords, a DVI, DB-25s, some 9-25 adapters, etc. No F-F DB-9 gender benders. Damn. Looked like we were stymied.

Phil said, "We can build a cable." He pointed out that we had all the bits. Modular male plugs (the smaller headset size, erroneously referred to as RJ-9 or RJ-22), 4-wire phone cord, female DB-9 connectors. All right! We gathered tools and supplies: DMM, soldering station with sponge, helping hands with magnifier, side-cutters, heat shrink, crimper, knife, beer. At the workbench, we severed the old serial cable, cut back the casing, and stripped the 9 coloured wires. Using the GPS cable with its 4P4C modular jack connected to the stripped DB-9 female plug, we traced the three wires, and carefully made our notes.

We only called for a medic once.

We tested the new cable.

And it didn't work.

We checked our notes, tried didn't software, verified the assigned COM port, different computers. It just didn't work.

It was way past Phil's bed time. Even I was yawning. We threw in the towel.

impasse at meeting

We conducted an IT web site planning meeting by hard line conference call. There was a long agenda. And for 30 minutes we belaboured the first point. It looked like we were at odds. I was opposing the direction and priorities. When I just wanted to focus on CMS selection. Something about this is deeply troubling. This, combined with the infuriating email thread from this afternoon, is making me question things.

calendar team needs help

Phil forwarded to me a message from the RASC Centres listserv, from James. The Observer's Calendar production team is looking for a warm body to take over the role of identifying astronomical and star party events. Alister is stepping down.

laminated card

With Phil's hot lamination machine, I protected my RASC membership card. I asked Phil why he has a hot lamination machine at home. "To protect stuff!" Uh huh.

uploaded presentation files

François sent over both his PowerPoint slide deck and Excel spreadsheet to support his TSTM The Sky This Month presentation. I made a note to put them on the RASC Toronto Centre web site.

triple system

Wow! The discovery of a planet in the triple system GJ 667 is just wild! We were only just absorbing the implications of a double star solar system and now this. A triple star solar system. The stuff of science fiction!


The home star system of the planet Vulcan in Star Trek, presumably 40 Eridani, a triple star system.

Monday, February 06, 2012

suspended animation

I peppered Ed with more questions after the much-improved run with BinStar.

He was pleased to hear I was making progress...

I asked if there was a way to manually re-centre the secondary marker bullet. I told him that I had some clearly excellent frames but the markers were all crazy. Alternatively, could I change the location of the primary? I could detect the centre in a number of cases better than the computer. But I couldn't adjust these frames; I could only drop them. Ed said that the peak search might get confused with equal brightness, particularly if the seeing was sketchy. If the secondary peak was brighter in one frame it would be selected instead.

I asked he if had any idea why there was a slight tendency for the software to choose the centre of the secondary one to two pixels too far away. He wondered if I had tried playing with the box size. He also wondered if the frame rate was slow and if the stars were trailed. Then the calculated centroid might not match the visual peak. I didn't think it was an fps issue; I thought my movie was at 30. And I had tried playing with the box size. A little anyway...

I asked if he was planning any updates from version 1.0. He shared that he had always hoped to make an update, including some of the features I had mentioned (like being able to change colours or filter for the good frames). But Delphi has changed hands a few times. The version he has doesn't work in Win7, and they no longer offer and educational discount. The latest version is a grand. This meant he'd either have to develop in XP or switch to another programming language.

He also commented on my total number of frames. He said that 2500 frames was a lot for drifting across the FOV. He had built it around 5-30 fps at a 2000-4000 mm focal length. I needed to check my notes to figure out what 'scope I had used. If it had been the Tele Vue 101 without a Barlow then the fl would have been 540. Even with the 2x, it would have been low.

Then Ed said something rather interesting... He knew of a Java program called tracker by Douglas Brown. It is piece of video analysis freeware for physics that might be useful to get the raw tracking data. But then one would need to build a spreadsheet to analyze the traces and produce the P.A. and sep. values.


refined kappa Her scan

Took several more cuts at the frames of double star κ Herculis in the BinStar software. Was increasingly choosy about the data I allowed.

Got the separation down to 28.78 with a position angle of 12.07 using 210 data points. But that's over 1 arc-second off. Just under 1 degree for the PA.

I think this is pretty well the best I can do...

SNO postponed

Gord relayed the disappointing news. Understandably, we'll have to postponed our trip to the SNO LAB.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

got BinStar working!

I finally got Hitchcock's BinStar software working.

I wanted to have another go at BinStar with my double star drift movie files that I had shot last August. My first attempt at processing was unsatisfactory, with Position Angle and Separation values different than what I was expecting. So, I settled in for some learnin'.


The first step was finding where I had put everything. It had been a while. I couldn't remember where I had installed the BinStar application. Couldn't remember where I had saved the AVI movies of the double stars. If I had made notes, I didn't know where they were. Couldn't remember where Ed and I had left things, via an email conversation. So, I started searching for files and apps on John Smallberries, the Dell, John Littlejohn. Looked in Thunderbird and Evernote for notes and tips and reminders.

Oh! Found the software installed on Littlejohn, the netbook. The drift movies were there as well. OK.

Found some emails from Ed, answers to my questions at the time, in Thunderbird on Smallberries, in the astronomy folder.

But did not find any notes per se on what I had done during the first analyses run. In Evernote, I had a somewhat related entry. The focus here was on using a QuickCam for astroimaging. But I had made some notes on BinStar and some of its features and requirements. Like the maximum resolution of 640 x 480. And that the files to be analysed must be in AVI format.

The only notes per se were in the brief blog post from 23 Aug. It intimated that I tried to analyse the Cor Caroli video but didn't do well... I remembered experiencing some bugs, errors, or crashes. Too bad I did not note any details. So, it looked like I would have to start at ground zero. But I would follow the advice in the first attempt, to use the κ (kappa) Herculis video instead, with those stars being more widely separated than those in α (alpha) Canes Venaticorum.

Did not spot it at first but found a "results" text file for kappa, which I had made on Aug 24. It showed a separation value of 30.52" and position angle of 166.78° based on 106 frames. Forgot about this.


Gathered data about the star itself, κ Her, aka Marfik.

From SkyTools 3 Pro:

declination ° ' " split data magnitude orbital
1 Aug 2011 epoch 2000 sep " PA ° A B
+17 01 35 +17 02 49 27.40 13 5.0 6.4 n/a

From the double stars for small telescopes book:

declination ° ' split data magnitude orbital
1 Aug 2011 epoch 2000 sep " PA ° A B
n/a +17 03 27.4 13 5.1 6.2 n/a

It looks kappa is not a binary system. Which was, if I remember correctly, the reason I selected it. The numbers shouldn't change. This pair can be used to verify my recording process and data analyse with Ed's software is correct.

On considering now the results.txt for κ, from August, the Sep. was not far off (a delta of 3") but the PA was totally wrong (Δ153°). Something about it though... The Dec. number I used looks to be apparent or current: 17 1 36. Not sure where that came from though. Probably SkyTools.

Loaded the AVI file into BinStar and reviewed the frames. Drifting started at about frame 300. The pair then drifted from the top-left corner all the way off the frame or screen, right edge, at the end of the video. The last good images seemed to be around 2900. Wow. 2600 usable frames.


Re-read Ed's documentation on his web site. Read the help information.

Did a quick run in the BinStar software. After setting the starting and ending frames, after setting the primary and secondary boxes (to 4 pixels, I think), top and bottom stars, respectively, I let the software do it's thing. The automatic option chose the "best" frames. After a moment, it showed a Sep of 31.11 and PA of 164.21.

Hrm. Sep is close. But again, this goofy PA. Way off.


Did another run with the same file. But I had a go at manually removing bad frames. And I also added some good ones. Just to make it a little better... But it takes a long time to go through 2500 frames! Wow. Now I got a Sep of 29.32 and PA of 167.99. Cool. In the right direction. The separation delta is only 2" now. But the PA. What's up with that... Something in my brain was going. Churning. It struck me as curious that the PA is about 13° from 180°. Coincidence?

I must have considered that before... I had asked Ed, via email, late August, if one got the primary and secondaries mixed up, if you could change add or subtract 180°. But even then, it didn't work out right. It was just weird that 13° was the target and the difference of the calculated value from 180...

I started build a "checklist" form to use, during future recordings, to ensure I'm doing all the necessary steps, not forgetting anything, keeping excellent records...


Previously, I had thought the primary to be the top star. On my third attempt, I re-selected the primary and secondary stars, inverting them. Used a 6 pixel box. Auto mode. But the numbers were worse. Clearly wrong.

Reset things. Ran some quick trials. Did a short test with 800 frames. Got myself good and confused. Whoa whoa. Let's get back to reasonable numbers.

primary star: top; red line
secondary: bottom; yellow line
box size: 4 pixels
frames used: 800
frames selected: 54
orientation: correct or inverted (rotated 180)
separation: 32
position angle: 170

OK. Back to where we— Then... like the light at dawn, after a long night, things changing slowly, brightening... something occurred to me.


180 minus 13...

I suddenly remembered that the MallinCam could do flipping. Both horizontal and vertical flipping of the image. Handy when you're doing public outreach and trying to mimic the view naked eye. Or eyepiece view.

And I suddenly wondered if the video had been recorded with flipping on... (Clearly I had not re-read my notes carefully. Neither on 24 Aug or now.) Every BinStar run had been performed using the "rotated" view. Which is how the Tele Vue would have presented the image, without the mirror diagonal installed, which is the way we normally set up the gear.

I fired up ST3, set to an SCT (with mirror diagonal), and found that the view in the eyepiece matched the camera display!

I knew west was the direction of drift.

And I saw 8 Herculis drift into view around frame 2000.

Damn it. Mystery solved.

I added an item to the new checklist form!

And again, ironically, I had noted it. I should have gone back and carefully re-read my observing notes...


With a new piece of information in hand now, that I hadn't used before, I re-ran analysis of the κ Her movie.

primary star: top; red line
secondary: bottom; yellow line
box size: 4 pixels
start frame: 423
end frame: 2951
frames selected: 188
method: peak search
orientation: upright reverted
separation: 32.44
position angle: 10.21

Ah ha! Finally! I had a PA value very close to the known number of 13. And now it was all clear why the 167 was 13 from 180. Inversion. Damn...

Still not highly precise values but this was a major milestone. I had the BinStar yielding good numbers based on my video file. I could now take it to a higher level.


If I had only reviewed my notes... Would have avoided a lot of confusion!

Certainly, I had not made any notes anywhere about the optical path and camera set-up with the video file. But I had brief notes blogged. Brief but good notes! But I did not carefully review these notes until later.

On reviewing the observing session notes from the evening of Aug 1 to 2, I found that I had had the MallinCam in the Celestron 14" SCT briefly, to view Saturn. So the configuration used for the κ Her video was:

telescope: Tele Vue 101
focal length: 540 mm
mirror/prism diagonal: no
focal reducer/extender: no

camera: MallinCam Hyper Color
ALC: 1/100
AGC: on, max 7
zoom: 8
gamma: 0.45
h-rev: off
v-rev: on

Look at that. V-flipping... Right there! In my notes. Doh!

The video was recorded at 10:13 PM on 1 Aug 2011.

prevented sparks

Manuel phoned. We were chatting about various things. I asked if he wanted to go the next DDO event. He did! Awesome.

Then he started talking about powering his new CGEM DX. Said he was trying power bricks from various other equipment but not having much luck. WTF? Stop! You could blow something up!

Got him to send me photos of spec cards on all the power supplies. Tried to explain to him how to read polarity diagrams. Explained how interpret amperage values. Looked up the specs for the DX and relayed them.
  • DX requirements: 12 volts, 5 amps, centre pin positive
  • CGEM non-DX power supply: 12 volts, 2.5 amps, centre pin positive
  • Coming Data power supply: 12 volts, 5 amps, centre pin positive
Lucky. I said he was lucky that the polarities were the same (even though it seems that the DX has polarity protection). And that he was lucky he didn't operate the DX at fast slew rates under load, 'cause he would have popped the old Celestron power supply.

Curiously, the supply for the camera should have worked. I had him carefully try it again. Nothing.

So, on a whim, I had him look carefully at the plugs and sockets. Along with the car Cigarette Lighter Adapter cord for the DX. And in the end, we found that the camera supply centre pin is larger. It wasn't making contact.

I strongly recommended that he stop fiddling with this. Not something to screw around or do haphazardly. I told him he really needed to buy the official Celestron 5 A supply. He agreed and promised to call the store the next day.


Heh. Prevented another big Celestron mount from crossing the border...

rebuilt CPC 1100

Finally. Even though Geoff is still in Australia, I wanted to button this up. Cleaned the arm and centre fascia, inside and out. Cleaned the clutch ring on the azimuth axis. Followed my disassembly notes. Shot photos along the way.

Did another test.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

sympathy for Perry

My condolences to the Perry family.

Steve Perry was killed 10 days ago at the Vale mine near Sudbury. The fourth fatality in 7 months.

Vale shut down all 5 of its operating mines in the Sudbury area. They reopened yesterday so to initiate safety inspections.

The SNO LAB is a couple of kilometres away and 300 metres above the mine.

constellations uploaded

Stumbled across, on one of my computers, the alternate constellation lines file I had found last summer (er, fall) for TheSky6. Uploaded it to the CAO supers Yahoo !Group.

Friday, February 03, 2012

density waves

Oh I see!

I thought the galaxy was spinning. Well, it may still be. But spiral arms are formed by density waves passing through the galactic disk...

I stumbled across a good article by Nick Strobel. Very clear explanation.

Been bugging me for years...

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Willie's my friend!

Wiarton Willie friended me on Facebook.

I feel so honoured!

SNO might be off

Received a note from Gord. Tragically there was another fatality at a Sudbury or area mine, the fourth in a year, so everything's up in the air... The mines are shut down. Safety assessments must be done. There will be delays for SNO LAB staff. Gord said he'll have more info on Monday, as to whether our tour is postponed or cancelled.

Gord's message was received moments after I shared with Katrina some travel tips.

5458 in wrong spot

Was checking the interesting objects in the constellation Orion using SkyTools 3 Pro. Noticed a nebula up in the club region. NGC 5458 appeared in the Interactive Atlas chart beside the grey blob. Googled the object to learn more about it, was interested in how bright it was, if it might be attainable through Richmond Hill skies. And immediately saw references to an object in Ursa Major! Huh? Completely different part of the sky.

Looked like a mistake in the SkyTools database.

Greg agreed...

What is interesting there is NGC 2174, a diffuse nebula, referred to as: Monkey's Head!

Moon near Jupiter now (Toronto)

Spotted a half-lit Moon near Jupiter tonight.

Another pretty sight.

asked to talk at DDO

Stu asked me to deliver a presentation at the David Dunlap Observatory at the February 11 Members Night gathering.

He would like me to do the first presentation, which will establish the theme, and emphasise what's good to go after in Orion, and specifically what we should go for from Richmond Hill.

Thanks! Happy to.

The theme is: M42 - And Beyond. OK!

mild winter

Wiarton Willie says its gonna be a early spring. Yeh. Can we start now?

released OSC presenter info

I released the presenter information page on the RASC Toronto Centre web site. I prepared this document to help people better prepare when giving a talk or lecture at the Ontario Science Centre. In detail, I outlined the A/V setup, the computer hardware and software, and other particulars. The gotchas, like that the MS Office software is old. Doug, at OSC, help me a great deal in gathering this info.

"Great idea, well written." Mr Markov thanked me for posting it.

happy rodent day

Wishing everyone a Happy Groundhog Day 2012.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Al's on track

I had asked Al if he got his collimation straightened out. He had (with the help of a York Simcoe member, I gather). He sent over a decent image of M42 and the Trapezium with fairly round stars. Good stuff. Now he needs to figure out how to work with images in raw format...

supervising request

Dietmar sent a note to the CAO supervisors. He's getting ready to put together the new schedule. He also mentioned some changes for 2012: that we'll have to more accurately track fees and learn the alarm system upgrade. He reminded us to observe the new emergency procedures.

I didn't think I had any major conflicts. Advised Dietmar I was planning to go to Mew Lake in the fall, as usual.

As I reviewed the calendar, sadly, I learned that the "big weekends," that is Canada Day, Simcoe Day, and Labour Day, are all near full Moons. Booo!

invited to promo meeting

Heard about it from Grace. That there was going to be a conference call in Skype on promotional items for the RASC. Called Ralph about the OSC signage issues that I was embroiled in. He mentioned the promo meeting as well. Asked if I wanted to participate. Officially invited me.