Saturday, March 31, 2012

astronomy pajama party

Sharmin and I returned to the Chows for a sleep over! Mostly so to be in the same spot in preparation for the SNO LAB road trip! We chitchatted for a while. Lora's eyes glazed over a couple of times...

helped at EH star party (Don Mills)

Phil and I went to the Earth Hour 2012 star party at the Ontario Science Centre. As usual, the RASC Toronto Centre was providing the technical expertise and offering telescopic views. We had a good turnout of volunteers. Even Doug helped! Sharmin shot photos and covered for operators when they needed a break. We showed Venus, Jupiter and its moons, Mars, Messier 42 and the Trapezium, Castor. Mostly I flew Phil's Meade 8" SCT while he worked the crowd. Phil used his iPad to show people stuff while they waited in line. I used my little whiteboard from time to time to sketch things. Handy.

We "tricked" one guy. He was standing by us as I offered views through the eyepiece and Phil said an image on the tablet. The guy said, "That's amazing! How you get the live images from the telescope to the iPad." We had to let him down gently. We're not there. Yet. Confused him, briefly.

lights off please

Please turn your lights off tonight in deference to Earth Hour.

While you're at it, do an energy audit. See what else you can turn off, unplug, disconnect. If you look closely, you'll see you're throwing a lot of money away, you're wasting electricity, and you're hurting the environment immediately, and for future generations.

Visit the Earth Hour site for more info.

Photo by Paul Bica.

Friday, March 30, 2012

join us Saturday

The Ontario Science Centre is throwing a star party, once again, celebrating Earth Hour. And they asked the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to help out. We'll have lots of telescopes. Come on out. See the RASC Toronto and OSC sites for more info.

downloaded REDUC

Downloaded the REDUC software. Version 4.6. Florent had sent me a link. Alluded that I should retrieve it promptly. I downloaded the Windows zip file. Then pinged him...

REDUC link received

Florent sent me a link to the REDUC software. Awesome.

pure clouds blocked some

A few saw Lunar X. The clouds were over portions of the GTA.

Phil, Paul, Caroline, Nicole, Allard, Jason, and Steve met with success.

Andy reported "pure clouds."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

spotted the X (Toronto)

I was getting pretty excited about seeing Lunar X. Phil was doin' his darnedest to get us fired up. And as I still had the StellarVue refractor and SKYnyx camera on loan, I considered imaging it. When chatting with Phil, we discussed it further. And hatched the idea of doing a time lapse. Phil suggested I capture an image every 5 minutes. We also discussed imaging it in a wide field with the refractor or at a long focal length with the SCT...
Instrument: Celestron FirstScope 76mm Newtonian
Mount: alt-az one-arm
Method: star hopping
Then I had a horrible thought. Phil had said the night before that the "predicted optimal time [was] 11:50 PM EDT." That was pretty late. I considered that I had been watching Venus and Jupiter from my office window around that time. Low. In the trees. To the north-west. In other words, I wasn't sure I'd be able to see the "event." I checked in SkyTools. The path of Moon in the Nightly Planner went dark around 11:30. I watched the Moon go into the trees across the street and then into the roof of the house around that time. Confirmed. By 11:45 or 12:00, I'd be snookered. The prospect of finding a good spot, moving, going out, setting up, tearing down... not attractive at all. Still, I thought it worth it to try imaging from the porch. From an educational perspective, if nothing else...

As I started to prepare, I realised that the Orion SVD mount wasn't going to work. While I had installed motors on the RA and Dec axes back in December, they were not really functioning correctly. I didn't want to use an unreliable platform. Then I got an idea: I could put the StellarVue AT-1010 on the Vixen Super Polaris! I immediately put the Vixen tripod on the porch.

The first step was to remove the tube rings from the Orion baseplate. Which required releasing the c-clips. The stock bolts proved too long for the Vixen plate; I hadn't noticed that the Orion was thicker. A ¼" spacer took care of that. In short order I had the small rings on the Vixen. Then I installed the StellarVue optical tube. Oh oh. The Vixen plate was longer, forcing the rings into spots on the tube impossible to clamp down around. But when I loosened the bolts and let the rings tilt, I was able to get it to work. Lucky. The OTA was on the Vixen atop the tripod. I installed the counterweights.

I desperately wanted to install the camera, check alignment, and focus but thick clouds covered the sky. Phil promised that the skies would clear. I'd have to wait. I left the deck.

Periodically, I returned. But the skies remained covered. The radar and satellite imagery showed patchy, fast-moving clouds over the Greater Toronto Area. But, in the end, I was clouded out. I torn down the refractor 'scope. And after an intense week and day, I crawled into bed early. Just around the time, 10:30 PM, Phil sent an email to the Yahoo!Group. "Go out now!" The X had appeared an hour early! OK, OK.

Grabbed my 7x binoculars.

The clouds were still very patchy over the High Park area. But everyone once in a while, the Moon would appear in a small open space. I tried to spot the X feature in the bins but couldn't see anything. A combination of the small image size and the drifting clouds.

There was no way I was going to haul out the Vixen and refractor. But the little Celestron 76mm First Scope, sitting on the kitchen table, caught my eye. I put it on the barbecue. Loaded it with the SR 4mm eyepiece. Slewed about until I hit the target. And stared. And waited. And stared.

And, in a brief break between dark clouds, at 75 power... I finally spotted the tiny little Lunar X.

I hate the Moon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

revised work party date

I jumped into the mini-calendar on the RASC Toronto Centre web site and changed the date for the work party from May 12 to May 5.

Then I changed the date in my personal astronomy calendar...

And my palmtop...

why not everyone?

Yesterday evening, Eric issued the usual eSCOPE bulletin regarding the latest issue of the RASC Toronto Centre's newsletter. I immediately downloaded a copy. I imagine others did too.

Just now, Eric sent out a note that the SCOPE had been changed. The CAO work party date was modified. He revised the newsletter and made the new copy available for download. But he issued the note to the RASC strategy Yahoo!Group. I thought that a little odd. I don't understand why he didn't use the same method for his initial notice, the MailMan listserv tool. Then it would reach all the same people.

Scratchin' my head on that one...

theory 0; conjecture 1

James said, via Facebook, he almost cringed reading my webspotting SCOPE article on cosmology. He said, "I prefer to use 'conjecture,' since a theory is based on fact and proveable, repeatable experiments. Most of what we have in current cosmology is conjecture, or so it seems. Don't you agree?"


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

webspotting 26 - the crisis

As published in the Apr/May 2012 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission.


I stumbled across the Dark Matter Crisis discussion bloggy site articles while searching for a simple and clear definition of dark matter. Ha! I had never before seen it worded that way per se, that we're experiencing a "crisis," but it struck me as appropriate. It really is a big problem for scientists and cosmologists. The overarching theme? None of the current theories are working well.

I don't pretend to have a valid theory. I wouldn't even know where to begin. But I cannot shake this inkling, this feeling, deep down, that our current beliefs, the whole approach, might be wrong. I have this inescapable feeling that we can't get there from here. I keep wondering if we need a rethink. To back up. Start again. Re-examine our data. Develop some new premises. 

It also seems to me that a unified or common rule will apply. For a long time I've thought there's an eerie similarity to things microscopic and macroscopic. The eddies in a babbling stream remind me of huge spinning galaxies. The clumps and clusters of galaxy groups, connected by ethereal threads, remind me of the lattice trabecular structure inside our bones. Surely there's a simple way to describe all this, without dozens or hundreds of exceptions.

Actually, I myself might need to rethink the eddie-galaxy metaphor... It may not be a good fit. And therein lies one of the Great Mysteries. It has been observed for some time now that the material near the hub of a spiral galaxy is spinning at an angular (not linear) rate that matches the systems and stars and gas in the outer arms. This is the opposite of what generally happens in solar systems: inner planets orbit faster than outer. It was Kepler who revealed why and posited an elegant, simple mathematical theory for planetary motion. In a galaxy it's almost like the inner and outer sections are connected, like spokes on a bicycle wheel. The Band-Aid applied to our current theories is that there must be a big chunk of mass "locking" all this material together... But where is it? Why can’t we see it? Why can't we measure it?

I have to be careful here. It's tempting to explore this tantalising subject further but, obviously, it is a huge topic which would take hundreds of SCOPE articles to tackle!

Back to my main point. The theories, discussions, points, counter-points, arguments, observations (very limited observations), are fascinating to me. And when I find clear, lively, interesting discussions on these complex subjects, I'm all in. I've enjoyed reading criticisms of the Lambda-Cold Dark Matter during our long, dark winter evenings.


Updated address:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

old mags

Lora convinced Phil to purge. I don't know how she did it but he decided to turf some old Sky and Telescope magazines going back to 2004. She asked if I wanted them.

No... Unless they have articles on double stars!

I immediately downloaded the S&T index e-file.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Messier Marathon remote

Guy decided to do a Messier Marathon while in New Mexico, spured on by good weather predictions and the rest of us back home. He gave us blow-by-blow reports as he used his binoculars and telescope. It was amazing. He also squeezed in a bonus object: Omega Centauri.

He said, at the end, "I remember hearing a talk at the Winter Star Party back in the early 1990's, in which the speaker said that Messier Marathons are supposed to be a fun social event and that anyone who does one alone should have his/her head examined."

I, for one, am very glad he did it.

watched ATV-3 launch

The European Space Agency's third Automated Transfer Vehicle lifted off just after midnight tonight (12:34 AM Friday) from French Guiana. It is carrying supplies, air, water, and fuel to the International Space Station. It is due to arrive 3 days from now.

Once docked, it will also boosted the station.

Then it becomes the garage truck...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

improved battery fasteners

Found wing nuts and spring lock washers for the battery terminal bolts. At Canadian Tire, no less. I recall, on a previous visit, I had not spotted wing nuts the right size. It's all good now. The connections should not be wiggling loose now. This will also facilitate faster swapping of a battery, without tools.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

finished a winter list (Toronto)

I decided to do some observing. Checked the weather at Environment Canada...

Current Conditions: sunny, 22 °C
Observed at: Toronto Pearson Int'l Airport
Date: 6:00 PM EDT Wednesday 21 March 2012

Condition: Sunny
Pressure: 102.2 kPa
Tendency: falling
Visibility: 19 km
Air Quality Health Index: 4
Temperature: 21.6°C
Dewpoint: 13.6°C
Humidity: 60 %
Wind: SSE 9 km/h

Tonight clear, 12°C
Thu sunny, 26°C

Issued : 3:30 PM EDT Wednesday 21 March 2012

Clear. Fog patches overnight. Low 12.

Sunny. High 26 except 17 near Lake Ontario. UV index 4 or moderate.

6:39 PM, 21 Mar 2012. The Clear Sky Chart was looking good!

7:47 PM. 'Scope set up. Dew heaters installed. Cords tended to, neatly (something I've not really done before). Dew heater controller on marine battery; motor on computer Power Supply Unit. A different configuration then on Monday. Black blind up (this time). Chair out. Started dressing for the cool conditions.
Intrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
Dug out the voice recorder. Installed new batteries. I decided to do some audio notes. Who cares what the neighbours and passers-by think.

8:01. Put the brown hoodie on. Eyeballed Venus and Jupiter. Jupiter was down in the tree branches. Venus was huge with the 9mm! Looked just slightly over 50% filled. Stared for a while. Could not convince myself of any surface details...

Debated taking the netbook to the kitchen. To be very near the telescope. But I really like the big screen and full keyboard... SkyTools really needs a lot of real estate.

8:21 PM. Started using Sony voice recorder. Wondered if the time was correct on it...

Viewed Jupiter. Two moons each side. Picked up some cloud bands. The south belt was prominent looked normal or typical. The north belt was different, not as thick, seemed to be broken up into multiple bands. The seeing was coming and going but in the 9mm it was surprisingly good. Occasionally went really steady. Kinda cool. Jupiter's northern polar region was quite dark. Did not notice any moon shadows.

8:23. Verified the voice recorder time was off by an hour, comparing to the stove. Still on Standard Time.

8:26. Seeing was really good again. Then went mushy, bad. Then came back. The band near the equator was white. It was tempting to say that the north edge of the white band and the south edge of the north belt was right on the equator but... that doesn't seem quite right. The wide white belt is slightly to the north.

South of the southern belt is another white band. And then it goes a darker shade. Fairly uniform.

The north belt is about half the width of the southern belt. Unusual. Then it goes light, dark, light, and then into the grey polar region.

8:27. The moon "above" (in the ocular field) appeared to moving into the planet. It is about one planet diameter away. Io?

The polar alignment was holding up well. I only did a rough alignment putting Polaris near the 45' ring near the 5 o'clock position. But objects were being tracked well for long periods.

There appeared to be no issue with the drive motor tonight. In the new configuration. It was functioning nominally.

Looked at the sky, Sirius in particular, across the street. Lots of stars were coming out. The sky looked good. Sirius was flickering slightly. Yawned.

Made a mental note to finally mark the tripod feet positions so to speed future setups...

8:30. Wanted to check the moon positions. As I suspected. Io was above the planet. Callisto and Io were to the west; Europa and Ganymede to the east; Io was diving into the planet; but the planet would set before we'd get to see it merge...

8:41. Went to ε (epsilon) Arietis, a tight double. Bumped to the 9mm eyepiece, thinking it was really tight. But I had to hurry: I was getting close to the edge of the roof. And in tree branches, as usual.

[ed: Did know at the time I had already tried for this. But it was on my list "unchecked" so to view again.]

8:44. I got it! Had to be patient. Kept staring at it and waiting for the seeing conditions to cooperate. Very tight double. Crazy tight. Equally bright stars. Orientation was roughly north-south. The brighter star, definitely brighter, was to the north. But only a slight difference in magnitude.

8:45. Occasionally I got a black line; but most of the time they looked like a figure-8. Touching. Super tight even at 222x. Wrong time of year!

SkyTools 3 Professional said the stars were magnitudes 4.6 and 5.6 and approximately 1.4 arc-seconds apart.

8:47. Equal colour. White? That was my first impression. Then I thought them yellowy white. But that might have been atmospheric extinction. Low in the sky. A touch of yellow. ST3P says the primary star is class A2...

8:53. Good timing... The 'scope was half in the roof line now. Venus and Jupiter were beyond the roof. This seemed to match the recently enhanced visibility parameter, as per the obstructed horizon, for ST3P. Cool.

Transparency looked good, suddenly. I could see a lot of stars. A lot of detail. It was striking. It seemed like more stars than I had ever seen before, for the city...

8:54. Viewed the Oregon Scientific portable weather station. 68% humidity. 12.3°C temperature. It had been outside for some time. Still showing the low battery. Tomorrow's weather will be partly sunny. The air pressure was showing as even or steady. The date and time of course was screwy.

9:15. I had a hell of a time hopping through CMa. I had to turn the OTA in the clamps so to get the finder scope up high, above the main 'scope.

9:20. I continued my star hop to HR 2949, aka Markab, using the 36mm. I was close...

This was another target from Turn Left at Orion. But it is also in the Sky & Telescope double star winter list: there it is listed as "k2."

Had to drop the blind in the south a bit, to let more light in the big tube... These Puppis targets were very low.

9:21. Got it. HR 2949. I was sure that I had made it. Very nice double. Equal colours. Yellowy-gold. Equal brightness. Low. Flickering quite a bit. [ed: Haas calls this κ (kappa). Huh. The software doesn't use this name. She also notes them as vivid bright white stars, attractively close.]

Nearby, I saw a wide pair of stars, equally bright, blue-white, at a 45 degrees angle. HD 61687 and HR 2956, classes B3 and B5.

I saw a number of field stars.

9:23. That was something of a challenging star hop. Easily split at 55x. They seemed wider than what ST3P presented. The data said 9.9".

9:30. In SkyTools, I learned something about the wide pair at the 45 degree angle: the star inline with the Markab double, was a double. 6+ seconds of arc separate them. But I could not get see the split... Faint?

Looked again at Markab. Still seemed to be the same brightness. The star closest to the wide double seemed a bit yellow or gold; the furthest star looked blue. Very low. Got some bad seeing. At times the colours swapped! The star closer to the wide pair was perhaps a touch brighter. ST3P said: mag. 3.8 (A) and 4.6 (B). The classes of the A and B stars respectively: B5 and B6.

9:34. Went with a touch more power. Put in the 26mm. The view was still good.

9:35. Spotted a super-faint star. It was near the closer of the two wide stars. It was going toward Markab. Not inline; more like at a 90 degree angle with the other partner in the wide pair. ST3P said it was TYC 06547-2481 1 was mag. 9.9.

I could see more faint stars in the area. Beyond the wide pair, and almost inline, there is a faint star. A very faint one to the right of it.

Centred on the purported double in the wide pair. Still could not see a partner.

9:36. Spotted TYC 06547-1749 1, away, mag 10.66.

Oh! Learned that the partner of HD 61687 was mag 13. So, stop looking...

9:41. My dark adaptation seemed better tonight. I could see things in the hallway better. It seemed bright! Not tripping over stuff. I wondered if it was because of my use of the black canopy on the deck...

9:47. Scanned in the area to the right of that weird orange-blue pair, ξ (xi) Pup. Through the branches... And I found the faint small cluster. Messier 93. First impression was that it is tiny! It appeared small. Has bright stars but not a lot. Just a few easily spotted. No doubt in a dark sky location more stuff would be visible.

9:55. Put in the 18mm. M93 seemed fainter now. Branches in the way? Certainly it is low in the sky. Clouds?

I saw a bright star to the right (HD 62679). Noted a flattened isosceles triangle near the middle. In the centre, two pairs of stars, almost equally spaced, going in the same (east-west) direction (TYC 06540-4459 1 and TYC 06540-4458 1; and then TYC 06540-4460 1 and I 780A). Almost a perfect triangle below (TYC 06540-4466 1, SAO 174426, and SAO 174427). A little winger, three stars, going up. There seemed to be a central thread or band of running left to right, 10 to 4 o'clock (north-east to south-west).

9:59. ST3P said the bright star to the right or west was a double! And it clearly showed two stars in the chart. But I was only seeing one star... Tried to spot the two stars of HD 62679... nope.

10:01. View seemed better. Tried for the double star again. But did not have any luck.

10:03. I had no problem spotting CD -23 06076 at mag 8.35. I thought I was in fact seeing HD 62679 no prob at mag 8.18. ST3P said the companion was mag 11.28. It's probably effectively at least 1 mag fainter through extinction and tree bark. So, I considered that it was there, in the right spot, just rather faint, and for my location and conditions, not visible. I decided to move on.

10:08. Seeing Messier 93 meant I have finished the winter TLAO list! Woo hoo!

10:12. Put the canopy back up. Funny how I was blocking much of the SCT 8" entrance but I could easily see stars of the cluster...

The OS reported 77% and 11.2°.

10:16. Viewed η (eta) Orionis. I was pretty sure I was looking at the right star... but I was not seeing an obvious double star. η Ori was in a triangle, a right-angle triangle, with HD 35456 (at the 90° corner) and HD 35524 at the far end. There were some faint stars in the field. The one at the 90° was slightly brighter than the other one (ST3P said they magnitude 6.9 and 8.0). I looked for a long time at the main star. It was not round. Could not split it... Increased the power but the 9mm was too much.

10:19. It was a figure-8 at 77x.

I thought they looked blue-white colour, like many of the stars in Orion... [Haas describes them as straw-yellow and silvery-yellow. Webb says white and purplish.]

10:20. Viewed η again. Spotted GSC 04757-0674 along the hypotenuse, at mag 10.96.

Yep. I finally saw the double. It needed a lot more power to split cleanly. Maybe the 18mm would work...

10:24. Unsatisfying in the 18.

10:25. That was one tight double. ST3P stated 1.7" separation. At 34° altitude and falling into the pine tree... not easy. I wondered if this was a bad idea going after winter targets so late, in March... would be better to do in January or February. I decided that I would not check it off in SkyTools, so to make me look at it again. Next winter.

10:37. Tried to split 32 Ori. Could not split it. Nope. Tried the 36mm. Seemed that I had touching stars in the 18mm. In the 9mm I was losing it in the diffraction rings and getting annoyed with the slight miscollimation. Off a little bit.

10:39. Yep. I think I saw the double briefly in the 18mm. Orientation matched the view in ST3P. But another one I need to view again.

10:57. Is there a problem with ST3P? When I click the "now" button it is off by 1 hour...

11:01. I found 12 Lyncis. A nice double, in the 36mm, among many faint field stars. Interesting, medium tight. Primary was white, bluish white perhaps; the companion was orange. Very different in mags. Perhaps 1.0 to 1.5. ST3P said they were 4.9 and 6.1. The main star was class A3.

Initially the seeing was OK, then it tailed off. Again. That is, gradually worse, the further I go, later into the evening. Like the other night. Every once in a while, it would get really good, super good. Rare. Day-time heating crap.

There was a bright star, somewhat orange, much further away. ST3P said that was the F-class star HD 47977.

11:05. Ah. Here I was viewing 12 Lyn thinking it was just a double. It is the AC pair that is obvious. This target had ultimately come to me from the Sky & Telescope winter list... I thought, at the time, they were talking about the obvious pair... the AC. But S&T's list has 12 Lyn twice, with the tight AB pair, and the wider AC pair. [ed: Like how Haas shows it...] But it is a quad, according to the SkyTools application.

I think I saw the D star! It is widely separated to the west.

11:11. Waited for good seeing, in the 9mm, to confirm the companions of 12 Lyn. West was straight down in the field of view. The AB pair was inline with D. C was at a 45° angle to AD. A and B are about the same brightness. Same colour. The C star is a little orangey. It was hard to pick a colour for D, it was so dull.

11:14. Back sore. Feet sore.

Confirmed. I saw the A and B stars! They are 1.7" apart. D is mag. 10.5.

11:22. Star to the east is GSC 03778-1013. ST3P says it is mag. 15.11. Ha. No it's not. Star GSC 03778-0871 is in line with AB, mag. 12.54.

GSC 03778-0865 at 90 deg is mag. 12.07.

A neat system. Rewarding at low and high magnifications!

11:34. Viewed 19 Lyn. Another neat quad system. Primary white; secondary blue? Pale blue. Seeing was coming and going...

11:26. Been at this for about 4 hours. I started to think about winding down.

11:36. Humidity was 81; temp 11.3.

11:37. Oh. So the one to the south is D. A and B are in the 45 angle. Now to find C to the west... at mag 10.

11:42. Put in the 26mm. Tried to find the C star. Not convinced. It should have been easy. I could only see A, B, and D. No sign of C. Seeing conditions were poor now.

[ed: I didn't know it at the time but Haas only refers to the A, B, and D stars. That makes it sound like the C star is difficult...]

11:45. I forgot to note earlier that there had been a click or a pop or a snap with the observer's chair. I suspect one (or both) of the dowels in the seat have become unglued. And I remembered I have not yet followed Phil's advice to cut or trim the rear leg of the chair so to change the angle.

11:46. Viewed Mars. Could just make out the ice cap. Was looking straight down over the telescope. So that meant north was up.

11:49. Put in the doubler with the 9mm! 444x!

11:51. I was happy with the telescope configuration. Tracking well (even at this very high power). Heaters working.

Probably not a good scenario for observing where the temperature was high in the day and then everything cooled off. Isn't that a golden rule in summer? Don't expect good viewing when it's been super hot in the day and then it cools off at night...

11:53. There was a dark pattern near the equator of the red world. Almost dead centre. Very dark. Maybe slightly to the right or the east. But SkyTools doesn't show anything...

12:25 AM, 22 March 2012. Viewed Saturn. Very three dimensional. Could see the equatorial belt, light. Could see the planet's shadow on the rings, on the right. Could see the Cassini division, particularly on the right. Pretty easy. Faint moon to the left [Dione; mag. 10.5]. Bright [mag. 8.4] moon (probably Titan), about 4 to 5 ring-widths on the right (west).

12:26 AM. Was at 222x. The seeing was good. Good in this direction (south-east vs. over the roofs).

12:28. I saw it before but I wasn't really sure. There was a faint moon on the same side as Titan, about half a ring-width away [Tethys; mag. 10.3]. I spotted a moon underneath (er, north), very near the pole [Rhea; mag. 9.8]. About half a planet-width away.

12:30. Conditions: 82; 11.6. No luck with M95.

12:33. OK. 5 hours is enough...

12:38. Checked the corrector plate. Looked OK. No dew. There was a spider web. Minor markings... Not pristine any more.

12:43. Shutdown. Ready for bed.


Often, the voice recording was broken. I was speaking too quietly and the recorder went into standby...

found loose terminal

Oh. I wonder if that was the reason for the tracking problem. I found the battery terminal loose. Tightened it up. Damn it! Spring washers are needed!

Checked the volts. 13.5.

SCT again

Phil and I discussed the telescope and mount to use at the OSC star party. We settled on the Meade 8" Schmidt Cassegrain on the fork mount again. Like what we used last year.

in the ISS Tracking group

My application to the ISS Tracking Yahoo!Group was approved.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

in the Lucam group

My application to the Lumenera Camera Yahoo!Group was approved.

will work for food

This showed in my inbox...
Title: Telescope Operator - Contract
Location: Ontario Science Centre
Contract Period: One Night, Saturday March 31, 2012
Pay Grade: Dinner on March 31, 2012

The Telescope Operator will provide public outreach services (weather permitting) using his/her choice of available (provided) telescopes while the telescope owner goofs off and socializes.

Interested parties may respond by return email.

Sent from my iPad - Expect mistakes
Hmmm. I'll have to negotiate for breaks and free hot chocolate...

first cut in BinStar

RA 07 34 36 dec +31 53 16 (J2000 from ST3P)
date (from video) 19 Mar 2012 - 22:50
Epoch J 2012.215 B 2012.216

start frame 746
end frame 1585
box size 12
peak search
upright reverted

sep 4.51
PA 49.66
31 frames used

Wow. That's not bad. The software says the separation is 4.81 (as of February) and the PA is 56.

Monday, March 19, 2012

measured Castor (Toronto)

Thought of Manuel. He talked about imaging from his deck. And the RASC Toronto Centre peeps heading to Long Sault, following piper Stu. Hoped everyone would find good skies. The Clear Sky Alarm Clock email had said good seeing but bad transparency. So a potential excellent night for planets and double stars...

Via the Yahoo!Group I reminded people to contribute to the Globe At Night project.

Even though I did not have an early morning commitment, I was kind of on the fence about doing anything. Trying to image was on my mind, given that I didn't fire up the SKYnyx last week... In particular, I was thinking about imaging some double stars. Refining procedures for measuring them, once again, with BinStar.

I looked in SkyTools 3 Pro at my "rapid movers" list. Checked what was visible given the date and my location... Wow. There were about a dozen double stars suggested! Lots of options. Ah. But how would they appear in the camera's field of view. When I had checked last week, if I remember correctly for Alula Australis, the stars were merged. No point.

So I reviewed some of the wide ones... Ah. Stuff in Boötes, over 100" about. Oh ho. And Gemini! Castor. How about that... I knew Castor was a double (er, multiple) star system but I didn't know it was a fast mover. ST3P said the orbital period for AB was about 500 years. OK. Not in my life time. But then slow enough that I should be able to verify methods. About 4" apart.

Launched the Interactive Atlas, selected the current date and time, set the location. Clicked the Context Viewer button and set the Celestron telescope and chose the Lumenera camera. Looked in the camera menu again and noticed that the doubler was not available. So I jumped back to the list window and added 2x magnification in the telescope-camera profile. OK. And would you look at that! Nicely split stars. This would work!

Considered a reference double in the area, an optical pair, so that I could calibrate or compare. I found HD 59848 with a 6" sep. No apparent orbit. Not too far away... Good.

All of a sudden, my heart was in it. I was ready to do some astronomical imaging. OK. Let's do this! I setup rapidly.

8:36 PM. Aligned on Polaris. Viewed Jupiter quickly in the baader 36mm. The planet was flanked by two moons each side. Hints of cloud bands.

9:05. The 'scope seemed to be drifting. Even though I thought I had a pretty good polar alignment. I tried again. I went to a different part of the sky and chose ζ (zeta) UMa.

I considered that if I wanted to image double star drifts, and I wanted better results than the last time, well... I should do a very good polar align. Prepared my drift alignment tips in Evernote.

Put the red film on the iPod.

9:20. I confirmed that the polar alignment was OK. I think it was just a controller gremlin and not tracking before. Was the battery low? I checked the level meter (by street light). It seemed fine.

Put the Meade calibrated eyepiece in with the Celestron 2x Barlow. The seeing went rock steady. At times... But then went away... Ooh. Yuk.

Got out the SKYnyx monochrome camera and cable. Grabbed the last piece of red film for the laptop LCD. Fetched the laptop and supply.

10:02. Took the Meade out (and forgot to turn off the red LED right away).

Did some tests and checks.

Put the camera on Mizar, with the doubler still installed. Couldn't focus. Removed the doubler. Found Mizar. Focused and centred. Put the doubler back in. Focused. Set the Orion finder scope accurately. Went to Castor. Started LuCam Capture and turned on the Preview. Centred and focused (with the focus mask). Shut down LuCam; started AmCap. Did a quick little recording to test. Was a little confused for a moment on naming files.

Thought it better to focus on a single star. So hunted for a bright one. Focused with the Bahtinov mask. Refined the finder scope aligned. Let the laptop restart--after it protested many times. I was ready now to go to my test subject star.

Just as Castor went behind a thick tree branch...

10:57. Completed the Castor capture.

frame rate 60 fps
exposure 10ms
gain 8.840
2x doubler

I had a fairly good polar alignment. The star would stay in the same general area of the FOV (at this high power) for quite some time. But the seeing was not so great. The prediction had been wrong...

Earlier, I had put the Oregon Scientific portable weather station out to get a reading. The air had felt damp to me. And I thought I was seeing haze or moisture about the street lamps. Fog? When I went to check the OS unit, I found the screen blank. When I tapped it, it rebooted! Damn. The values that immediately appeared were 77% for humidity and 11.5°C for temperature. I wondered if those values were accurate. Certainly I had been holding the unit for a moment...

11:00. Finished recording 3 or 4 movies.

Checked the OS again: 74% and 11.4°C.

11:19. Packed up. Put the laptop in the office. Ready to reduce some data.

Put the silver weather station on the desk. Noticed it showing the low battery icon. Looks like a trip to The Source is due...

11:25. Reviewed the movies on the laptop. Movies 3, 4, and 5 are drifts of Castor. Incredible vibration in them. 3 and 5 are quite bad. Despite during 4 and 5 standing well back from the tripod... I wonder where this was coming from... At the time, I thought it was me. Was it the power supply fan perhaps?! I had it sitting under the tripod. Maybe the motor was sending vibration into one of the planks on the deck.

I was not real happy with the session. I had been unsuccessful at finding the token sample star to measure against. The mount seemed to have a tracking problem. Was the motor struggling against the weight. Did I have poor balance? The OS station died. The whole reason for putting it out side was to get current local conditions. Who knows if the readings were right. I was also a little disappointed that I was not better prepared. I had not researched suggestions for exposure, fps, gamma, gain, etc. So I wasted telescope time fiddling. And the final video quality I thought poor, particularly the vibration.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

sent samples to Alister

After studying his notes and the planet conjunction images, I made some of my own notes. I also reviewed past RASC calendars. After two sudden BSOD crashes, I was finally able to send him an email with a couple of calendar conjunction samples for his review. And I fired off a bunch of questions.

Tony called about the bins

Tony and I chatted about the Celestron binoculars. Told him I'm leaving the "better" pair for him to adjust. Referred to my blog (and the embedded link).

Tony said he's going to fabricate his own adapter, out of metal. I sent him photos of the crappy plastic adapter beside a ruler. We discussed dimensions and clearances.

collimated Tony's binos (Toronto)

When I reported to Tony that I knew how to fix the Celestron 15x70 SkyMaster binoculars, he asked me to try. Collimated the worst of them. Exact same way the Oberwerk are collimated [ed: old link]. The exact way... I affected the maintenance with a orange peeler and turntable screwdriver!

Adjusted first the right screw. Then left screw to draw the images together. Then eased off the right a bit. Got a merged image. Yeh! Didn't have to struggle or strain to make the image. Could relax. Looking good (although I think the right ocular has a finger print). Hint of red and blue colour off the disk of the planet in these binos.

I could easily see Callisto, Io, Jupiter, and Ganymede. Estimated, correctly, Ganymede to be slightly brighter than Io. Tried to get fainter Europe between Ganymede and the planet. No luck.

Clouds are moving in.

Told Grace the good news...


Updated link to Oberwerk.

staring at 1300 maps

Learned how to read the map (plane chart) images provided by Alister.

The dark shading is obvious: that's night time area.

The thick black line and hatched area... And the black star. Still working on that...

Oh. Found the notes! The star is the point on Earth where the event is at zenith. The white space then, up to the thick black line, is the "zone of visibility," i.e. 90° from the zenith.

roads clear

Ostap reported that the roads on the Blue Mountains were clear of snow. Woo hoo!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

lumpy dark matter shouldn't exist

But it does. According to an article over at

Friday, March 16, 2012

tried Tony's binos x2

Tony gave me his two pair of Celestron Skymaster 15x70 binoculars to test. He said that both he and Trevor were having a hard time with them.

Put outside my monster Manfrotto tripod.

I tried the "unboxed" glasses first. Easy to use, good colour, easy to focus. But at no time could I merge bright stars. Proof was that I'd stand back from the binos, look at the sky, relax. Then I'd move to the oculars and look in. I'd see my quarry, the bright star, as two images, widely separated. Immediately, my eyes (and/or brain) would start to adjust. The dual images would draw close together. But, again, never merge to one. Also, if I scanned the field and relaxed, dual bright stars would draw a little closer; but whenever I'd centre on the bright object, they'd stay apart. I could make my eyes move (going a little cross-eyed) to make them go further apart, then relax, and they'd draw closer together. And never merge.

I then got out the "boxed" glasses. Far worse. The right tube was badly out of collimation. The image was worse. Dual stars, further apart than the other set, and not even level. Also, there was something wrong with the transmission in the right tube. The image was much darker.

The binoculars-tripod adapter was terrible, by the way. Given the mass, size, and polar moment of these binos, any movement or shock would cause the glasses to yaw violently. And then they would oscillate for several seconds. Ridiculous.

I told Tony he'd have to return them to Canadian Tire. This smokin' good deal is consuming more time and fuel...

Grace found Mars (Toronto)

Grace was the first to spot Mars from her front porch. I used Astrolabe Clock to get us in the neighbourhood. It said it was about 24° up but we found it much higher.

Murky in the south-east.

[ed: I didn't realise at the time that the iPod had not sync'ed up to their home network so the time was off by an hour or so...]

liaised with Greg on shortcuts

Greg and I chatted about keyboard shortcuts in SkyTools 3 Pro. He shared another one that was undocumented! Heh. I sent him my updated list for his review. He gave some pointers. And clarified the magnitude limit vs. light pollution controls.

can't go

Jason sent a note to Phil and I. Said he and Stu were thinking about going to Kirkfield tonight. Both Phil and I had to decline.

I asked Jason to take photos of the site and Stu to get an SQM reading.


Seems they've already been, some time in the past. Jason said it's "fairly close [sic], easy to get to, very dark... with a SQM of 21.5... with snow cover... and you don't see the light dome from TO."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

made obstructed horizon

For SkyTools 3 Pro, for the porch, I made an obstructed horizon profile. So to have a bit more information regarding the visibility of objects and observing from home. I used custom landscape image I had made in Stellarium! Is that allowed?

researched two stars

I wanted to know the identity of the two stars (or the double star system) I had spotted, Wednesday night, in the middle of Messier 41 but that did not show up in SkyTools 3. Jumped into SIMBAD and entered the coordinates.

Not a double star; two separate stars:

BD-20 1553 6.84
*iC 06 45 53.24 -20 41 21.1 A0:V: 7 0

CPD-20 1596 24.20
*iC 06 45 52.57 -20 41 35.9 ~ 1 0

So, no great mystery. Just an aberration in the ST3 database.


To be clear. SkyTools shows a pair of stars at this location, about 1.5 arc-minutes east of HD 49024. The Interactive Atlas represents them as very faint stars, J064547.5-204147 and J064547.6-204142.

ST3P says these stars at magnitude 15... In the SIMBAD Aladin image, they seem about the same brightness as PPM 726779 (or Tycho 5961-2646-1) which ST3P says is mag 10.

new date selected

Gord sent out a note saying they had selected a new date for the SNO LAB tour. And hoped it worked for most everyone.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

to the Moon

Malcolm sent me a quick email with the current mileage of his car. I'll add it to my records so to update his car maintenance log. He thought the 389092 a curious number. I think he was thinking it was high and getting close to 400000.

The number caught my eye. I told him to look up how far away the Moon is and sent him a wikipedia link...

a little Meade

Charles showed me his little Meade ETX. Holy cow! I didn't know he had this. Sounds like he didn't either. Or more correctly, he had forgotten about it. He's agreed to let me try it.

It is clearly a knock-off clone of the Questar 3.5. Down to the little legs and knobs.

evaluated 11" donation (Eringate)

Met up with Charles at his shop. We shook down, in two phases, the recently donated Celestron 11" telescope.

Just after my arrival, we pulled it out of the warehouse. We considered setting it up on the "front" sidewalk. But the sky was still terribly bright. Despite using the Celestron SkyScout, we still couldn't spot Venus. Even with the large binocs propped against the wall.

So we kept it inside and did a dress rehearsal. It gave us a chance to review the inventory, document features (e.g. CF tubing, Starbright XLT coatings) and other particulars (Fastar ready). Looked for scuffs, dents, dings; it was dusty. We powered it up and walked through the 2-star alignment process. Both the alt and az motors were working fine. The hand controller seemed fine. But the on-board GPS was clearly struggling under the metal roof. So, we turned it off and headed to the new Shebeen pub to ruminate.

When we egressed from truck, after dinner, given the angle of Venus and Jupiter, I suggested for round two that we try from the backlot. Charles agreed. He opened the big door. We hefted the 29 kilo beast outside. And in short order, we had the 'mount roughly aligned.

Immediately, through the eyepiece, I could see the collimation was quite good. First target: Venus. I showed Charles the "first quarter" phase of Venus. The view was pretty good in the e-Lux 40mm Plössl, without any significant colouring. We slewed to Jupiter. The moons were in a neat pattern, one close on the left, the other three equally spaced on the right. The surface banding was well-portrayed. Initially, the seeing was shaky; a moment later it went rock solid. A very nice view.

For a deep sky target we chose Messier 42. The view at 50x [er, 70x] was fair, with the nebula clearly visible. I found it difficult to focus well on the θ 1 and 2 (theta) stars. Probably a combination of telescope cooling, sketchy seeing, and heat from the roof tops. Charles said he could see green colour; looked grey to me. How many pints did he have?! We bumped the power to 400x [ah no, 560x] with the 5mm Tele Vue Radian. Whoa. Too much. But it clearly portrayed the clumpy nature of the diffuse nebula. Some lumpy darkness. Yes! I centred on θ2 Orionis and defocused slightly. The seeing was definitely badly. But I confirmed the diffraction rings were not circular.

Charles wanted to try some of his gear. While he fetched a 2" visual back, 2" mirror, and 2" wide-field 26mm, I went to Castor. It was easily split in the 40mm. Charles 2" accessories improved the view.

While we never nailed an object in the eyepiece, we agreed that the alignment was fair and the tracking was working well (once we turned it on). This might be a great 'scope for public outreach events. With a proper alignment, it would easy-peasy to use.

Satisfied the telescope was performing well, we packed up. We both agreed the rubber covers on the feet of the tripod were probably not stock. Certainly they were not a good idea.

I wonder where council will send it...


It was later that I confirmed the telescope particulars... We checked a NexStar 11 GPS Computerized Telescope. Given that it's focal length is 2800mm, not 2000, my magnification numbers were off.

received Skyhound package

The special package from Greg arrived in my mailbox. Woo hoo.

A tad too late for First Light (this time). But in time for NOVA!

was on list

Asked Denis is there was any way to figure out if I had been on the RASC-generated SkyNews mailing list for the Jan/Feb issue. After a false start, he did say there was a way. And he did in fact confirm it. Thanks.

a couple of Messiers (Toronto)

I had a good visual observing session on the porch. And photographed two planets.
Intrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: star hopping
13 Mar 2012, 7:24 PM. Did not set up light shield. Couldn't be bothered. Did not turn on dew heaters (at first). Found Venus and Jupiter in the bins. Higher than I expected. Just put the 'scope on Venus. In the 36mm eyepiece, the "first quarter phase" was obvious. Nice.

7:30 PM. Red mode started up. I put the red film on Dell monitors. Started SkyTools 3 Pro up and turned night vision mode on. Dropped the brightness on external monitor. I still don't have a properly-size piece of film for this flatscreen.

7:33. Put the 9mm on Venus. Wow, huge! The seeing is coming and going. Or was it clouds? The higher power showed it was just over ¼ phase.

7:59. Shot the planets with the FujiFilm FinePix J20. Did piggyback, make shift, to the Celestron OTA. Shot 1 to 4 sec exposures with fireworks mode. Used the 10 second timer. It was a little windy.

I had been in short sleeves up to this point. And I hadn't had dinner yet...

8:05. Turned to Mars. Seeing is very bad. Heat waves. Noticed a bright star nearby: HD 93993 at magnitude 6.8.

8:16. Spotted Auriga up high. Surveyed the sky wide field, Mark II eyeballs. Gemini, Sirius, Procyon, Orion, the Pleaides, Aldebaran.

Check the Environment Canada web site for Toronto conditions (as reported from Pearson International Airport).

temperature 11.9°C
dew point 0.7°
wind 21 km/h from west, becoming light
101.5 kPa and rising
low 2°C

The humidity? I must have missed it! Forgot to jot it down.

8:32. Viewed Messier 41 (M41). Ha! I had never seen it before. One for the life list! With the 36mm. There was an orange star in centre. And a double to the west: HD 49024.

8:38. I normally don't get too excited with open clusters. this one is colourful! 12 CMa was in the 2 o'clock orientation, HD 49024 around 6 o'clock, and there was a tight double to the north-east: SAO 172308.

9:00. I saw a faint double at a 45° angle to HD 49024, to the east. But it was not in SkyTools. Weird.

[ed: I looked it up. Checked deep sky imagery - the double is there. So ST3 is wrong. The J2000 location was approx.: 06 45 53.6 -20 41 16.49. Used Aladin and Simbad...]

I also observed that the bright star of the equally spaced line of 3 was not visible, while ST3P was showing it. Star GSC 05961-3174 is simply NOT there! I wondered if I should report this. ST3P said it was a mag 11.5 star with no known variability.

[ed: I checked for this too in a deep sky image - also not there. So ST3P was wrong here too.]

9:10. Viewed the double, BD -20 01558, at about half the separation of SAO 172308. I tried the ole Celestron 26mm ocular for a little more power. The 9mm views were not good.

9:19. I had to change observing site location in ST3P to the Texas Star Party to get a better representation of the sky I was seeing. I was seeing faint stars, e.g. J064603.9-204503 is mag 12.9, near the L shape, the fainter of 2 stars, before HD 49126.

There was still no sign of double east of 49024. I tried to split HD 49317; no joy.

9:53. Viewed Messier 48 (M48) for some time. Bit of a difficult hop, from Procyon, with tree limbs in the way, and few bright stars in the 'hood. Once there, spotted the double star HJ 2435A, in the centre, in the string of central stars. Cool. Another life list item done!

I copied the unfinished Turn Left At Orion winter items to the main ST3P list.

10:13. Spotted the faint 11.5 star, TYC 04859-0622 1, forming a triangle. Spotted a faint double: HDO 116A.

10:38. Took a quick peek at Castor, hopped from Pollux. Had to wait for it to clear the tree. Enjoyed the whole of Orion for a moment... Thinking about the multi-star systems σ (sigma) and ι (iota). While waiting, a plane went right by Mintaka.

Arrived at 63 Gem. Oooh, just tried ST3P companions feature, the "c" key, in the atlas. Nice, it highlights the other stars in multi-systems. But is that cheating?!

(The wrong symbols started appearing in my quick notes on John Smallberries. What's wrong with the keyboard?! I wondered. It was almost like I had a language option flip. But I knew this could not be the case; I did not have this setting enabled.)

10:48. Spotted B star to the north, the C star to south-west. Now D... that will be a challenge... I could see GSC 01359-0150 between.

[ed: Had attempted 63 Gem almost exactly 1 year ago. No luck then with AD stars then, like tonight. Decided to mark it as observed in ST3P so to show completion in the TLAO winter list, having seen the "two faint companions." And double stars for small telescopes for that matter, which only comments on two stars.]

10:55. Spotted mag 13.0 star GSC 01372-0667, north-east of 63!

But I still couldn't see the D component!

Viewed HD 294271. I had viewed this, of course, when looking at σ Ori in the past. ST3P shows the faint D star. I couldn't see it tonight. A, B, C were easy. But it was getting low. I decided to cross this off the TLAO winter list.

11:17. Felt a little chilled. Added a layer, a long sleeve shirt. Reviewed ST3 list. And felt pretty good. Only two to go in winter TLAO list!

Considered them but they are in Puppis. And that was not viable here, now.

I thought, let's go see what's up with Mars...

11:32. View seemed mushy, no detail. Noticed some faint stars in the field.

11:38. I was feeling a little tired. I realised that I had been at it pretty hard core for 4 hours now. Without dinner.

The view of Mars was disappointing. I was a little surprised with Mars so high up.

Checked Env Can - PIA again:

pressure 101.8 and rising
temp 5.5°C
dewpoint 2.1
low 2
humidity 79%
wind 11

Ah ha. It looked like the humidity was up. And it seemed possible that we'd hit the dew point...

14 Mar 2012, 12:07 AM. I cleanly split Alula Australis in Ursa Major. The stars looked the same colour to me. Same brightness.

The prospect of hooking up the SKYnyx right now, to do a video drift recording, is a little daunting... Then I checked the view in ST3. That is, the simulated view with the Lumenera camera. It showed that they would not be split far apart! Oh. Huh. Maybe this is the wrong 'scope... Need more magnification. The C14?

12:21 AM. Found the comet Garradd. Vear near star HR4659. Three stars actually. The software showed the galaxy NGC 4236. Simply could not see it.

12:35. I was yawning a lot. I considered that I should probably call it quits.

12:42. Finished a super fast shut down. That was a good night. I had not expected to cross off any new Messiers!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

signboard photo'ed

Charles sent over a photo he shot of the new OSC signboard.

I uploaded it to the Council area. And explained why it was on the floor.


It was only at this point that I noticed the word "meeting" was missing (suggested by me). And that I recalled that there was not "default" arrow printed (suggested by Tony). And that the QR is frickin' tiny (dunno why). Little errors. But, it works.

Monday, March 12, 2012

where's Mar/Apr?

I popped into the SkyNews web site for a moment, just sort of breezing through. And I caught out of the corner of my eye the little banner about the latest issue... When it occurred to me that I didn't remember that one. Did I receive it? I'll have to check. It must have been sent out early- or mid-February...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

frustrating session (Etobicoke)

Manuel and I had high hopes for observing and imaging. I was hoping to image Mars again. I also thought, by playing with exposure, we might be able to coax out the Martian moons. I considered trying to split some of the tight stars, naked eye, in Pleiades. And with his binoculars and my tripod adapter, I wanted to see if I could spot Garrard to the north. He wanted to trying the 9¼" on the DX, image Mars and maybe a DSO, and make sure the big SCT was collimated well. But, in the end, we were clouded out.


In the afternoon, I packed the netbook, my hand-made focusing mask, and some warm clothes. Headed to his place in the early evening.

First order of business: get some food. While we waited for the delivery, we chatted and watched a bit of NASA TV. One segment talked about the recent successful trials with Dextre on the satellite repair test platform, on orbit of course, at the International Space Station.

Showed him my Bahtinov focusing mask. I asked Manuel if he had all the required software for focusing. I recalled some discussion before about something missing. He said he did have everything now. He had all the software and hardware in place. I'm not sure if he's used it much. This will be helpful in the future during his imaging runs and should allow for results better than focusing by hand (like we did for Mars).

I asked if the DFK camera had cooling. He said it did. [ed: I'm still unclear. One report I read says it does not have active cooling.] Regardless, I had an eye to getting everything outside to begin cooling down. Manuel already had the Celestron optical tube assembly outside (stowed safely) to get to ambient temp. All the camera gear was still inside though.

I also wanted to know if he was using the DX's All-Star Polar Alignment process given that he could not see Polaris. He said he was. Good stuff. Austin Grant's DX review in (the Jan/Feb 2012) Astronomy Technology Today suggested this built-in procedure could allow one to forego a drift alignment. Still, I wanted to see Manuel go through the process. I wanted to observe the degree of accuracy he used. For example, I wanted to see if he'd use 2 alignment stars and 4 calibration stars.

After dinner, we continued the setup of the mount and telescope.

I also wanted to verify he was using accurate date, time, location information in the DX mount. The date and time was fine but the location had been set to Toronto. Not good enough. I programmed in his exact latitude and longitude. Advocating high accuracy at every stage.

We did not install the dew heating equipment. Didn't think it necessary.

When Manuel started to balance the telescope, I asked why he was doing this without the camera mounted. He said that it didn't weight that much. I said I thought it odd that he took such great care to balance the 'scope so early. I recommended he do it quickly at this stage but do it again after mounting all the accessories.

I also asked if he balanced the mount so to preload the drive. I'm not sure he knew what I was talking about. I'll have to explain this another time, that many imagers take care to predict where the mount will be pointing and then bias the balance slightly so that the gears are always loaded.

We discussed his cameras. For some reason, I thought he only had one now. Nope. He still has the QHY5: it is for guiding; still has the QHY9; for deep sky. And of course he has the Imaging Source DFK: for planetary.

We ran through the normal startup process for the mount. When it prompted for alignment stars, named of course, we didn't see obvious ones listed. Manuel forced the hand controller to offer more stars. After the two-star alignment, we slewed about. It was way off. We even checked the mount with his compass. It was fairly close. We rebooted and tried again. And then went through the All Star alignment. It only seemed to prompt for one calibration star. I wanted to do more but couldn't see a way to do that. Still, going through the process quickly was insightful. It really is a lot like drift aligning... Nevertheless, the mount was still off.

We did the process again. Manuel asked if I wanted the calibrated eyepiece. Yep. It will improve our accuracy.

I wanted to try again from scratch but I was having a hard time seeing stars. It was then we realised there was some thin cloud up high dimming things out...

Manuel copied the DX user manual to my netbook. I'll give it a thorough read at some point.

By 10:30 PM, we resigned. It was obvious that we were clouded out.

Never had a chance to check the collimation of the 9¼"... Never did split Pleiades. Never try for Garradd. Pity.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Venus near Jupiter (Toronto)

Spotted Venus near Jupiter, less than 4° apart. Setting, about 25° up.

Meade tries

I found this remark in the Meade telescope FAQ:

Q: How much maintenance do telescopes require?

A: With the reasonable care due any fine instrument, a Meade telescope will offer a lifetime of service with almost no maintenance whatever. If the telescope is dropped or damaged in some way, the Meade Customer Service Department can offer repair advice, usually sending the required repair part or component by mail, avoiding return of the telescope to the factory.


0.11.2 out

A new version of Stellarium is available. Version 0.11.2 fixed a number of bugs. There have been a number of behind-the-scenes changes. Other little things are in the ocular and satellite plug-ins. Ooh. There's a quasars plug-in!

Friday, March 09, 2012

closer again (Toronto)

Noted that Venus and Jupiter were closer together again, when the clouds cleared, out my office window.

Considered setting up the telescope. But when I checked the weather, while the Clear Sky Charts looked OK for tonight and tomorrow night, Environment Canada said it was going to snow during the day. Ah. No.

Bloody weather.

discussed budget

Discussed the IT budget with Allard. Sent him a copy of my request for the RASC council meeting. It shows some funds available for CMS work. Relayed that it was approved. He caught that it does not show hosting. We'll have to see where that's been allocated. I thought it was under another department.

Dietmar is holding

Dietmar asked the web team when he could update the CAO bookings calendar. He's become confused by the content freeze message from Allard and Jason.

halve the jump

There were some questions being raised on the SkyTools Yahoo!Group about moving or panning the field of view in the charts. Peter wanted something less course than the arrow keys. Paul suggested using the Home key to re-centre around the mouse pointer: a great idea. Then Greg jumped in and pointed out that one may use the Ctrl with the pan and zoom keys. Ah! An undocumented shortcut!

Funny timing. I have been considering writing a keyboard shortcut guide...

Manuel is burning DVDs

Manuel sent a message to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group...
Considering that there is not enough space to upload the moon file in the yahoo groups, I have decided to burn the large moon avi file I intended to use as sample for my Rgistax6 presentation last Saturday, March 03 at the DDO, I will bring to the next meeting at OSC several DVD's containing the large moon avi file.

Those interested, please attend next Wednesday rasc OSC meeting.

DVD quantities are limited.
Finally, the matter is closed. And I'm off the hook.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

froze site

Allard and Jason issued a "content freeze" for the RASC Toronto Centre web site for content before January. This will hopefully avoid versioning issues.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

bullet problem

I suddenly noticed that the main level bullet symbol in Ralph's presentation was now a mailbox. Huh? I thought it was a star... The second level bullets were fine, still, as crescent moons. Looks like I'm gonna have to dive into the presentation file again to clean it... Or, perhaps it is something screwy with the OSC's computer or the recently Office upgrade.

wrangled Phil's netbook

Phil was delivering his first ever presentation at a RASC Toronto Centre meeting. He was to talk about finding Lunar X. He had brought his ASUS netbook. Which we had tested before I started my TSTM presentation. But when he connected to the projector after me, things went south. Very south. His computer froze! So while we started his talk, I helped resurrect his machine and got the presentation going. Damn. Makes no sense sometimes...

delivered TSTM

I delivered the first presentation for the night: The Sky This Month. For the rest of March and the first few days of April. To a fairly packed house of RASC Toronto Centre members at the Ontario Science Centre.

OK. That's a bit of a cheat. We had been bumped to Studio 2. So the 50 or so people packed it. Easily to fill that small room.

Weird being back in this room. It's been a while...

As usual I provided my handout, with the calendar / info sheet. Had printed 70 (if memory serves); did not run out.


I put the presentation and info sheet content online at the RASC web site, along with a downloadable copy of the calendar. Link killed. Look on the lumpy darkness companion site's presentations page.

too thick

I remembered that Jesse had said the new signboards, prepared by Ontario Science Centre staff, were ready. As I was expecting to be one of the first to arrive, I offered to fetch them. After I had my computer set up for my presentation, I asked Phil and Charles to help me.

We tried to put out the new signboards. Unfortunately, the new ¼" thick foam core boards did not fit in the steel holders. Bill and Eric appeared. We made a snap decision: we'd just prop them up from the floor against walls and other stands. It would have to do.

I stuck on the new Velcro arrows to the Recreational Astronomy Night meeting side of the boards. And made a note to contact Jesse. In the brouhaha I forgot to take photos...

SNO back on

Gord sent a quick note saying the SNO LAB tour is back on. Anticipating conflicts, he asked that we let him know our availability after Mar 19.

web site down?

Chris said the RASC Toronto Centre web site was down or hijacked. Oh my.

Jason responded first. Said there was a "slight problem" with the hosting company. A settings issue. Pointers to the home page not working.

Then Allard jumped in. Said the problem was fixed. Reported we had been down for an hour. And that they had submitted a ticket.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

higher than that

Joe wondered about adding a Sky Quality Meter to the new weather station equipment at the David Dunlap Observatory so to monitor trends.

Paul replied and pointed out the Unihedron units are pretty expensive. He also noted that periodic measurements had been taken. "We already know that a clear dark moonless night around Richmond Hill is 18.3 mag/arcsec2." He suggested downtown Toronto would be 17.0 or worse. Kitt Peak is 21.8. He wondered out loud what the CAO number might be, guessing 20.0 or better.

I checked my notes. The best I had ever seen was 21.20 in late Sep, last year. And in July 2010, had hit 21.16.


Stu reported that they reached as dark as 20.9 at Long Sault. But the last time was 20.5.

DVD is it

Manuel had given his USB keys to Nicole at the DDO so that she could take copies of his Moon AVI sample files. He told me that the imagery of Plato was made up of fewer frames and was a smaller file and could go online in the Yahoo!Group. I asked Nicole to check the file sizes.

She reported back that the Plato file was 730 MB and the smallest file was still over 400. I told both of them that Yahoo!Groups would not work. And the Plato file still wouldn't work with Vimeo. Allard pointed out the FTP was really not viable for us.

USB key sneaker-network looked like it was the only way then...

But it was Dietmar who reminded me of optical tech. Right. I passed on the suggestion to Manuel.

Monday, March 05, 2012

halo in motion

Bill sent a link to a movie made with his roof cam. Before the thick low cloud bloats out the image, you can see the ice halo about the Moon.

yo yo weather (Toronto)

This highly variable weather is throwing me off. I'd like to set the telescope out on the porch and leave it up. But, while the Clear Sky Charts say good tonight, Environment Canada says it's going to snow between now and morning. Hrrrm.

I'll just watch Venus and Jupiter, closer together again, set from my office window.

I nudged Chris that it looked good for observing tonight...

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Moon halo spotted (Toronto)

I went for a little walk. Enjoyed the bright planets to the west. Dropped an item in the mail box to the north. As I began the return trip, heading south now, I noted a large halo around the Moon. Gloved hand as meter stick, the halo ring was about 20° from Luna. Quite bright to the north-west and south-east. With a hint of colour. Very pretty. I sent a message, once back home, to the RASC Yahoo!Group.

It's barely detectable in this photo. Shot with a FujiFilm FinePix J20 in fireworks mode (2 seconds) at ISO 100 with the timer on a teeny tiny tripod.

Bill posted photos (in the RASC Y! Photos area) from his roof cam.

Katrina posted a photo on twitter.

May TSTM request

Paul asked if I'd do the May The Sky This Month. I'm not sure why exactly but it always throws me a little as he asks when I'm in the middle of preparing for the immediate next.

asked the expert

Rang up Phil, Lunar X Guru Man, to confirm that there was a Lunar X op in March. He said no. Huh. I went back to the drawing board. Prepared to remove the entry from my The Sky This Month presentation and handouts.

Moments later, Lora sent an email. Seems there is one...

DDO weather live

Bill sent a note to me. The David Dunlap Observatory has a new weather station on site and they've configured it with Weather Underground. That means people can monitor the local conditions which is cool. A widget is available. It uses Flash. Unfortunately, that snookers all the iOS peeps...

I also noticed the air pressure indicator does not show the trend. What good is it then?

Yahoo won't work

When I read the report of the Members Night at the DDO, I privately emailed Stu. I said that it was not likely that Manuel would be able to provide his Moon video files to people via the Yahoo!Group given the file type restrictions in the Photos area and the size limits in the Files area. Stu revised the article slightly.

Saturday, March 03, 2012


The light bulb finally flicked on a few minutes after 6:00 PM. Manuel was not phoning me to arrange to pick me up on his way to the DDO from his house... because he wasn't at this house.

It hit me, at last, that he wasn't departing from his home like what had occurred for the last RASC Toronto Centre Members Night at the DDO. He, as usual, was working. Like he normally does on Saturday. Working at his office. His office in North York. DOH! I had assumed we were going to repeat our February plans for this event. And now, I realised, I was in trouble. There was no easy way I could get to the DDO in team. Public transit would take over an hour. If anyone else was going from the 'hood, they would have already left. And I was loath to drive the car with old summer tires while the meteorologists calling for snow. It didn't make sense to rent a car.

I phoned Manuel, tail between my legs, and apologised. "I goofed up." Damn it! I wanted to be there for his first astro presentation.

an old message?

Sue said after clicking on the Join button (using IE), she was advised to send a message and not sign up immediately. Huh? That sounds like an old message... I don't get it.

2011 vs 2012 skies

Chris said that since getting his new good telescope recently he noticed that clear nights were few and far between. He asked if this winter was typical.

That's why they call it the February blahs, I noted. But then I dove back through the blog, reviewing the first few months of 2011. I recalled getting a lot of decent observing in.
  • Jan: The City Observing Session was a go. The Evergreen Brick Work sessions met with clear skies about half the time. Mid-month we had a clear patch. I did visual observing and photography 3 nights in a row. At the end of the month, up at the CAO, I had 3 fairly clear nights in a row! At the time, it seemed to me "unusual."
  • Feb: One clear night mid-month. A couple of partly clear nights on the Family Day weekend while at the CAO. That seemed typical.
  • Mar: The City Observing Session ran again. On Mar 10, Bill pointed out the Clear Sky Chart where every block was solid white. Ugh. We had the big storm which cancelled our meeting. But then we had 5 clear nights in a row, centred on the Earth Hour star party! I observed, imaged, recorded, volunteered, answered questions, and observed some more! It was awesome. I remarked at the time, which each subsequent clear night, that it was remarkable.
I still reflect fondly on that time. Something exceptional happened with the weather. This winter unfortunately was back to mostly cloudy...

Sue replied

Sue sent an email about joining the Yahoo!Group. It seems she received the invite. But she sent a reply email; she didn't click on the Join button, I guess.

I asked if she received the invite. And followed the instructions.

She replied and said she was having trouble. Then she forwarded the invite message. Huh. It was the correct message.

I asked for more details. And what browser she was using.