Tuesday, July 31, 2012

shopping list for mower

I've been helping a little bit with the ride-on mower purchase for the DDO. Today, at Charles's request, I sent a list of supplies, spares, tools, etc. needed to support and maintain the new machine.

updated Ontario stores list

Updated my retail stores list over on the companion web site while lamenting the closure of Efston. I had forgotten to remove Perceptor.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Willy found a dark park

Willy is road-tripping out west. When near the Alberta-Montana border, he picked up a park newsletter. He was impressed to hear about this stuff.

I explained that many parks are initiating dark sky light-management programmes like this. And that in fact Ontario might have been one of the first.

updated next meeting page

Ralph sent out a note. The OSC had moved us from the "backup" room. Now we'd be meeting in the Studio 2 room. He asked that someone adjust the web site. I jumped in. I put the note about the new-new room location, bolded, coloured to red. Added a parenthetic remark about the normal location. I noticed that the list of presenters had not been updated, with Brenda stepping in for Francois. And the article was stale dated; I changed the date to make it bubble to the top.

I also noticed that the past 2 meetings were still showing as "upcoming." I recategorised them.

Sent a follow-up note to the crew.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

ecommerce timing

Gilles asked if the web team was planning to include an ecommerce tool in the web site revamp and what the timing of the project was. The DDO is keen to sell t-shirts.

confirmed clear

Charles said the skies across the bay last night were "stunningly clear."

software testing night (Etobicoke)

Manuel invited me over on Saturday. The main plan was to review the EQ Align software, with a good view of the sky, and to do some imaging, with a good polar alignment. I also wanted to test computer control of his mount.
Instrument: Celestron SCT
Mount: Orion Atlas EQ-G
Method: Go To
7:00 PM, July 28, 2012. I arrived. We talked DSLRs for a bit. I showed him the special custom feature menus for controlling the mirror lock.

We set to work testing computer control.

Downloaded the latest Prolific drivers from the web and installed them. I hooked up my USB-to-serial adapter from The Source. I showed Manuel show to determine the COM port, if necessary, from the Windows Control Panel Device Manager list.

Fired up Stellarium and configured the telescope plug-in. No joy. I wondered if it might be a version issue so I upgraded his Stellarium from version 0.10.x to 0.11.x. While installing, after he assured me there were no custom settings or landscapes, I deleted all the old configuration data. We tried the application again. Still nothing. It would not connect. Jumped on the web and did some searches. It was optimistic. It sounding like some people were using it directly, that we didn't have to using the old control drivers or ASCOM. I finally found a note that talked about various Windows 7 settings and that gave me a clue. Probably a 32 vs 64 bit issue or something with Access Control. I forced the app to run in XP SP3 mode. Success!

We were driving the Orion Atlas EQ-G with Stellarium!

I cautioned Manuel about the lack of control. I emphasised that Stellarium only does slewing. No parking. No alignment options. One cannot cancel a slew... I urged him to be careful. I wondered if Orion had anything like Celestron's NexRemote. Manuel did not have any additional software. I didn't see anything on the Orion web site.

We headed outside for the parkette.

10:25 PM. I completed preliminary testing for Stellarium on the 'scope while Manuel fetched a few more items from the house. It worked. Quickly, I viewed M57, the Tim Horton, Albireo. I let Manuel slew to M13. He liked it.

I set up the ASUS netbook computer put on some music. Some good ole' rock and roll, for Manuel.

We started the polar alignment process. I manually aligned the mount with the little mount 'scope. And then we fired up EQ Align. Having good views of much of the sky, we were looking forward to a good run.

10:59. We were half way through the EQalign process.

11:47. While waiting for 10 minutes for the drift analysis, I did some whole sky viewing. Reviewed my star names. I spotted ζ (zeta) Ursa Minoris. I checked the brightness: mag 4.25. Not bad, despite the moon light.

12:00 AM, July 29, 2012. The aligning software was done. Interesting. We made only very small adjustments to the mount during the process. In some cases, just loosening a knob was all that was needed. I.e. we didn't need to make large changes. I realised that meant that my initial polar alignment with the mount 'scope was rather good. Probably within 3 minutes-of-arc. We did the altitude adjustment 2 times, releasing and retightening the top screw. We did the azimuth once.

We considered the alignment software. It certainly was powerful. And now familiar with the process, it seemed much faster. And fairly straight-forward, despite poor English documentation. A keeper! I encouraged Manuel to ponder a presentation. Of course, he wouldn't be able to show it live; he'd have to simulate it. Perhaps he could take screen snapshots.

I had wondered earlier if Manuel's use of computer control might be limited. I'm biased. I find it invaluable. For my visual work. For star parties. But as an imager, Manuel may not need to drive the 'scope about the celestial sphere. He's on one target for the night... Yet having the Stellarium drive the 'scope during the alignment process was actually very handy. It made it much easier. I hadn't expected that per se.

I wasn't sure his original intention but when he saw the sky and the constellations, Manuel suddenly said he wanted to image the Great Galaxy. I checked SkyTools and found the elevation of the Andromeda Galaxy. Behind the east row of houses. And even then, when it rose, it'd be directly over their roofs. And over the city. In the light dome. Through a lot of air. A bright gibbous Moon... I asked if he didn't want to work on M13 so more. Nope. OK. Well, we have to wait for about 30 minutes then, I said.

12:11 AM. I observed the Cat's Eye nebula, in Draco, for fun. It was very small and very colourful. A blue-green pinpoint.

12:22. M31 had cleared the roof line. In the eyepiece, we spotted M32 below! We couldn't see M110.

We installed the QHY-9 camera. Manuel started to focus. I reminded him that he need to focus first on a bright star.

1:15. Manuel started imaging with the QHY-9. The galaxy was still large, taking up much of the frame. I successfully determined the orientation by comparing with the simulation in SkyTools. I suggested turning the camera to get a better composition, given the aspect ratio. He agreed. I rotated the camera 90 degrees. But then, I wondered if we went too far.

He kept trying to push the subframe times to draw out more detail. But we kept getting non-round stars above 45 seconds. I wasn't surprised. We weren't guiding. I wondered if it was the periodic error showing. He had never done the training. The 20 and 30 second subs were good. Even SkyTools did not recommend longer subs until the Moon set. It showed our signal-to-noise to be 7 (after 2:30, it would double).

We also saw some coma in the corners.

At one point Manuel said, "I think we're gonna get lucky, I don't know why." I thought that very curious. Astroimaging does have a dash of luck. And that applies to weather, seeing, transparency, etc. But the things one can control? Alignment, gear errors, motor errors, cone error, glass distortion, dew, stray light, moonlight, elevation, heat sources... all that can be managed. Very interesting.

2:00. I was certain of it now. The field rotation was not correct. Or best.

Unprocessed 70 second sub. North is up; east is left. M32 is easily spotted below centre, slightly left. M110 is just barely visible near the top-right corner. The bright star below M32 and slightly right is HD 3914 at magnitude 7. Mag 13 and 14 stars visible in the field.

We captured a few more subs. I reminded him to take some darks. And called it a night.

We saw some weird streaks or lines in some of the subs.

I thought it ironic that we were packing up at precisely Moonset.

I was fairly pleased the evening. We tested the USB adapter with Prolific chipset from The Source and found that it worked. We tested Stellarium with the control cable and USB adapter and found that it work. And took advantage of the conveniences immediately. We tested the EQ Align software with a good view of the sky and found it worked very well.

2:35. Back home.


Wikipedia link: Andromeda Galaxy.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

now I'm ticked

Another note went out about not opening the CAO. The designated supervisor said he decided not to open because no one booked. He said, "remember if you intend to visit we need to let us know by making a booking." Give it a rest. It's not the member's fault!

It might be a catalyst thing: a member may not book unless they see that a supervisor is going to open. Regardless, I don't like his tone. He's shifting blame. If you dont' care, switch out!

let's recruit

I encouraged the CAO committee start ramping up in their recruitment of new supervisors... We need new people. People who care. I know of a couple of candidates.

super lazy

We have a next to useless supervisor. He bailed on opening the CAO. He made a good call on Friday night, with poor weather. But he intimated that if Saturday was good, he'd open up. Now he just sent a message, "I decided to not open the CAO."

Looks good to me!

A disservice to our members...

Friday, July 27, 2012

new old 'scope

Oops. Have had the little Celestron Newtonian for a while. Use it occasionally for Moon watching. And demonstration purposes at public outreach events. But forgot to add a page in the companion site, until now.

last trimmer busted

Down to none. Lora reported a part or two missing from the Black and Decker electric whipper snipper at the CAO last weekend. Someone had misplaced these parts and not let anyone else know. Jackass. Lora took on the repair, sourcing replacement parts, including the lever thingee to hold the extension cord in place. I asked Phil to let the supervisors know.

Jean on site

Jean was already at the CAO. She reported that there was mixed cumulus cloud with Sun.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

tarp or pool?

Ian W reported that the new pergola tarp sagged a bit and then collected a lot of rain water. He estimated 30 or 40 gallons! Which probably further stretched the centre cable and rope lines. Needs a tune-up...

digest working again

The Sage let us know that the formatting of the Yahoo!Group daily digest was repaired. He was pleased to report that this extended to the RASC Toronto Centre listserv. Good stuff.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

worked on listserv

Sorted a few RASC members and their Yahoo!Group accounts.

busted handle

The handle of astronomy box α broke a short time ago. I think it's time I retire this...

No more plastic!

new chapter

A new era begins. An unfolding. A reawakening. Having a full DSLR body and lens at my disposal changes everything.

No more restrictions, road blocks, barriers. It all started flooding into my mind today. Abandoned photography projects... Themes left unexplored... Experiments ended...

Sharmin shared photos

Sharmin shared her CAO work party photos on the Yahoo!Group. Oh boy.

checked too late

Kiron sent a note. "Sorry, Blake, would have liked to come [to the High Park observing session]. Checked my email too late." Snooze, ya lose.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

park observing (Toronto)

Attended the RASC Toronto Centre city observing session (or whatever Stu calls them now) at High Park! First time in a long time. I had really wanted to go, I had the time, I thought it chance to meet new member David, and ensure he had some company.

I thought it important to have a good showing, so I set about directly rounding up others to join me. Asked Ed T, John B, the Horvatins, Mark, Peter H, Jim, and Kiron. Told people via the listserv that I'd show. It was a reasonable turnout, in the end: Grace and Tony, David R, Mahesh, and myself. David A, unannounced, made an appearance. Mr A. lives in the 'hood, on Kennedy. Cool!

I even tried to get my buddy Ken to visit. But he pulled the plug at the last minute. Neither did Grace's friend visit.

We had a ton of walk-throughs. And a few hangers-on! We might have converted a couple of them. Perhaps we'll see on August 1.

The lights above the sports fields were shut off fairly early. Yeh!

We viewed the Moon, Saturn, Titan, Rhea, Dione, Alcor, Sidus Ludovicianum, Mizar A and B, M13, Albireo, 95 Herculis, Sargas, Tim Horton star, Ring Nebula, M7, Butterfly cluster, M5, plus a couple of others. Tried for the Turtle nebula and M101 without success. We finished on the Garnet Star.

Fun night.


David said he really enjoyed the event. He appreciated the great views and guidance.

fixed park map link

Found a dead link while reviewing the High Park info page on the RASC Toronto Centre web site. Revised it to point to the new location for City of Toronto park maps. Let Stu know.

added a checkbox

Forgot to make an update on the CAO log fees calculator spreadsheet. Stumbled across a remark in Evernote made during the ToV! Revised the spreadsheet.

Monday, July 23, 2012

let's not publish all

Lora privately shared photos from the work party. What happens at the CAO...

double bumps

Lora reported that a rogue, kamikaze mozzie somehow got past all the security barriers in the T@B and bit her. Left a mark that looked like a double star.

I asked for the separation and position angle.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

to share a time lapse

Manuel emailed me.

Asked if a Quicktime video could be opened with Windows Media Player. Nope. Well, not easily. Alternate codecs would have to be installed. Or a different player altogether could be used. So, one way or another, downloading and installing more software.

Also asked if video could be compressed. Nope. Well, not really. Explained that video was already very dense. Or, depending on the format, already had compression applied. So there was little gain to be had.

I think he has another huge video he's trying to share... This occasion, a time lapse.

a few other chores

Did a few other things during the work party. Collected the latest wireless usage stats. Looked at the old clock radio at the CAO. In fact, I found two! And they were both busted! Neither of the radios worked. Crikey. Put them in the pile for the precious metal recyclers.

I wanted to start cleaning the NexStar 11 and Sharmin was willing to help but Tony nixed it.

built tables

I actually wanted to grab a shovel or pick this weekend but Tony asked me to build (or supervise the building of) two new picnic tables for the CAO work party. That took up most of my time.

Bailey, Sharmin, and Katrina all wanted to help. It was great having an enthusiastic team, excited to learn some new skills and tools.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

parts run

Picked up supplies at the Home Hardware in Thornbury. Bailey helped. The bulk of the stuff was for the construction of the two new picnic tables. But I also requested additional carriage bolts. These will be used later to repair and reinforce the existing tables. We also grabbed bits to make a clothesline. And finally I picked up some medium grade thread locker. That's for the reassembly of the NexStar...

I noticed, as we left the parking lot that, in fact, Home Hardware had loose gravel. It looked like had fines. Which Tony wanted, for MODL 5, but that we had not been able to get from the regular outlet--closed.

In town, we grabbed a few other requested supplies.

web site slip

Jason packed up for his return to the city. He chatted briefly with Tony and me before departure. He talked briefly about the web site and that both he and Allard had been distracted by work matters. They were running behind schedule on their web site development. I wasn't surprised. I know that it's a very big undertaking. And life gets in the way sometimes.

stunning transparency (Blue Mountains)

11:00 PM, July 20, 2012. While I was sitting in the Geoff Brown Observatory talking to Ian, I kept looking at the dark sky overhead. And, frankly, kept getting distracted by light blobs around the Milky Way galaxy, above Scorpius and Libra. They are surprisingly bright. I asked what they were. Was feeling a little lost with a chart... Some of the bright Messiers, including M7.
naked eye;
Celestron 15x70 binoculars on tripod
11:30 PM. Out on the Observing Pad, I shared my impressions. Tom, working on his NGC targets, clarified what we were seeing. Messier 7 (M7), the Lagoon or Messier 8 (M8), and Messier 23, above teapot. All naked eye. I was very impressed. I did not remember seeing these so clearly, so easily before. Usually the sky, in that direction, was murky. Cool! The Clear Sky Chart alert I had received at 6:20 AM this morning was proving correct.

Tom pointed straight up. Messier 13 (M13) was unmistakable. Other times, I've had to convince myself it was there...

Noticed Jason's "light shield." A plastic bin, on its side, covered with a towel. Laptop tucked inside.

12:09 AM, July 21, 2012. I retrieved the new Celestron large binoculars. I found the custom metal adapter made by Tony. I mounted the binos to a tripod. The new adapter was very sturdy. Light years better than the crappy plastic OEM unit.

Viewed Messier 7 (M7). It was very nice, big in the binocular field.

Viewed the Lagoon. Spotted the Trifid (Messier 20 or M20) nearby in the same field.

It was surprisingly cool. I was getting chilled. Everyone was. I loaned Sharmin a sweater and baseball cap.

12:54 AM. Viewed NGC 6894, a planetary nebula in Cygnus, through Tom's 8" Dob. It was at 120x. He was using a Series 4000 Meade narrow band filter. Nice. Thanks!

1:47. I helped Sharmin with finding M23 in the Celestron binos.

Spotted a meteor in Pegasus. It was eastbound into the Great Square. Strange direction. I pointed out that the Capricornids and Aquarids were active, and the Perseids would be starting up. Must have been a sporadic.

2:05. Sharmin spotted something she couldn't identify. It was a globular. With SkyTools 3, after a bit of playing, I identified it: Messier 22 (M22) near 24 Sgr.

Helped Sharmin with Cepheus, finding constellation. I tried to do so without a laser pointer, given all the imagers working at the time.

Wow. I saw the Garnet Star naked eye! That was a first.

What an incredible sky.

Great camaraderie tonight. Jason imaging on the Pad, Thomas shooting with his DSLR, Katrina and Sharmin. Tom plugging away at an NGC list. Phil and Dietmar doing work in their SkyShed PODs. Ralph was trying some photography in the GBO. Of course, Ian W was collecting data. Bailey and Niels were milling about.

2:45. Done for the night, I was in my tent, winding down.

I really wanted to stay up. But I was tired; and we had a big day ahead. It was unbelievable transparency. The best I've ever seen it at the CAO. I had a lot of fun, even though I had not brought a 'scope. I haven't done a lot of naked eye deep observing. Really deep. So, aided by the very clear conditions, that was extremely satisfying. And I don't observe with binoculars much. Again, very rewarding this evening. Wow.

I had opened the opposite flap on the tent's fly. Could see Vega straight up. Fell asleep with the stars overhead...


I also viewed the nova (noted in ST3 as 2012 No. 4) in Sagittarius. Helped Katrina in identifying Draco galaxies NGC 5981 (needle like), 5982, and 5985 using ST3.

spotted faint aurora (Blue Mountains)

While walking from the Dietmar and Phil's pods, north, toward the Observing Pad, at around 11:00 PM, I spotted a large, light grey blob thing over the house! Could it be? Could I have finally spotted aurora borealis? It was very faint, dim enough that it could have been mistaken for a cloud. But I was pretty sure it was aurora.

Proof came in the form of digital photos. Both Katrina and Thomas shot long exposure photos from the Observing Pad and the green colour emerged. w00t! It was Thomas's very first sighting.

Photo by Thomas Bernard. ISO 1600, 30 seconds, f/4.5. Zoomed between 20 and 30mm.

I rushed to the house and told the peeps. Fortunately Lora was still awake. They headed to the deck. Tony liked it. Confirmed! Sharmin stepped outside, "Green!" She must have super vision. Or Terminator parts.

And then went to the GBO to let Ralph and others know. Ian wasn't happy! He was trying to image in the north... Party pooper.

It gradually faded...


Katrina had tweeted the sighting. And started getting tons of hits. But some of them were due to the use of the word aurora. We lamented the mass killing in the town of Aurora. Crazy human.


At 12:48, I spotted more aurora. Over the house again, from the Observing Pad. It was brighter at times. Others could see it but I did not detect motion.

Yes! Finally!

Friday, July 20, 2012

HTV away

The JAXA HTV launched for the ISS. Japan's Kounotori 3 spacecraft will deliver supplies and science to the International Space Station. I didn't see the launch live but followed it.

losing mail again

Dietmar's not getting some (or all) of the CAO booking request forms. Started happening as I was revising the form. Looks like Rogers is messing with his incoming mail, again. In the meantime, I'll have to forward all the messages to him.

I'm convinced it is a high-level block imposed by Rogers. Messages from or via the CAO@ address are being turfed. If I were Dietmar, I'd contact Rogers and have them investigate. But I don't think he's done this. Or is willing to do it.

more switches

Justin offered more 48 port switches for the CAO! Cool. He's going to bring them up to the work party. We'll be able to take over the world!

Actually, it means we can replace the 1 Mbit switch in the GBO with a 1 Gbit unit, continuing the network speed upgrade.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

everyone to use form

Nudged all members to use the RASC Toronto Centre web site form for booking visits to the CAO.

too late for dinner

I bailed from dinner plans. Boo! Lora had offered me a plate on Friday night. But, in choosing to ride with the Horvatins, my arrival was in their hands. And what I did not know about, initially, was the long list of errands and additional stops they had planned. We'd arrive at the CAO for the work party weekend much later...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Toronto Astronomy Meetup expiring

There was some conversation surrounding Meetup. Denis started it off sharing that he had created a group as an experiment, for social media, for outreach. In the year running it, he had attracted about 100 people, from the general public. Perhaps 3 or 4 attended some RASC events. It was coming up for renewal and he didn't want to fund it again. Then he said that he thought it might be very good if integrated into our existing services and made the primary communication channel. I thought that a little odd. We have a good communication solution for our members: Yahoo. And our current web site for notices. Jason, Allard, and Paul all made comments. We need some more data...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

light at night unhealthy

Sent a link to Peter, our Light Pollution Abatement chair.

It was to an article I spotted on Sky and Telescope's site. It, in turn, referred to a recent report from the American Medical Association. Researchers are raising several possible health concerns related to nighttime light exposure, among them a higher risk of cancer.

With the AMA, this will give more traction to light pollution.

Turn off your lights. All of them.

made a list

I also started a packing list for noobs visiting the CAO. Dietmar liked it. Phil made a few suggestions. Tony approved.

now she forgot!

Grace couldn't log into the Toronto Centre web site. Oh my. Now she's forgotten the creds. She was using an incorrect ID and improper case on the password. It's tempting to build a "forgot my logon" on the site; but, presumably, the new site by Jason and Allard will have this...

need an update

Asked Ian D for an update on the Tele Vue refractor on the Losmandy mount. It had recently reappeared at the CAO after Ian had presumably repaired it. But he hadn't announced anything to the CAO supervisor list.

Monday, July 16, 2012

revamped CAO form

Applied a number of updates to the RASC Toronto Centre web site Carr Astronomical Observatory booking request form.

The form now prompts for a couple of additional fields, namely, Mobile Phone, Names of Guests, and Need SFM. Some fields were mandatory. I made the Number of Guests so where I don't think it was before. The new Need SFM is required. Cleaned up the layout. Deep-sixed the nasty FONT HTML tag. After something blew up and I had to redo everything, I deployed a custom email form response with the plain text option.

This gave me an opportunity in the automatic response email to make little remarks, comments, etc. I remind members to provide a phone number. I remind people that said they have an annual pass to bring it... And I advise that if they need to cancel or change their reservation to send an email. Did a bit of branding in the email form! The form response used to go to a dynamically created web page which was weird looking, plain, bad fonts. Now I point to an "internal" page which uses the regular web site template. So a good look and feel. And since it is internal, it is readily changed.

Still a few loose ends to sort...

dome on its way out

Dietmar placed the ad for the BAO dome on AstroBuySell. The wheels are in motion...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

four hours

Dietmar sent a note to the CAO supervisors. He said that if one wanted to cancel a CAO opening or close early that he wanted notice done four hours in advance. Similarly, he would ask that members visiting give notice of cancelling.

Sounds like members are getting caught out. Arriving at the CAO and there's no one there. And supervisors are hanging around the CAO expecting someone to show up, and no one does. Unpleasant.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

expedition 32 away

Watched the launch of the Soyuz to the International Space Station, with the crew of expedition 32.

Sunita was in the left seat.

who wants Stellarium level 2?

Asked for a show of hands for a level 2 of Stellarium. If there's lots of interest I'll put the finishing touches on the course and find some dates.

attracted to variables

Experienced mutinous thoughts tonight. I read an AAVSO article about using a 10cm 'scope used inside city limits to measure, not variable stars per se, but exoplanets... Now that's interesting! Very interesting...

Won't get any sleep...

quit halfway

Denis closed the CAO early. Saturday afternoon. Said the weather prospects were looking poor. He sent a note to the RASC Toronto Centre listserv.

I guess that's why he didn't answer my request for assistance.

On the supervisors listserv, he said Wingko has joined him on Friday night. Apparently they experienced hazy, cloudy conditions for the entire evening. Later Denis got up early to try for an occultation. He also wanted to photograph the "big conjunction." No luck on either. Said there were no 'coon presents. Watered my ivy plants. Did not cut the grass as it didn't need it. And reported the house in good order.

detecting bats

I contacted Dr Fenton after the bat talk at High Park. He was very obliging and offered the loan of a detector to help determine the type of bat at the Carr Astronomical Observatory. And that will help provide some information on the number and types of bats in the area. I was happy to learn he lives in the GTA.

looked east

Looked for the Moon and Venus and Jupiter this morning... Too cloudy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

mag 2.3 skies

Saw a few stars on the walk home. Hey. A good opportunity to review star names in Ursa Major. I could see, from left to right, Alkaid, Mizar, Alioth, Phad (barely), Dubhe, and Merak. I could not see Alcor (as I walked). And I could not see Megrez at all. Hazy. Hot. And clouds to the north.

discussed USB with P

Phil asked about USB cables, hubs, maximum lengths. He thinks he needs cable runs of 16 feet or more. He had learned that amplified cables could go up to 150'. I suggested he try his powered hub first. I reviewed the specs: "USB 2.0 provides for a maximum cable length of 5 meters for devices running at Hi Speed (480 Mbit/s)."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

SkyTools idea

Greg recently asked people to send him wish list items and ideas for SkyTools. I suddenly remembered an idea as I was working in the planning software. I sent a note to the Yahoo!Group. I explained that I liked the observing status icons and use them for each session, while observing in an evening, seen, view again, not seen, etc. And I also use the logging feature (albeit, without detailed notes). It let me tag items historically or in an archival fashion, mark things on my life list. But I explained that there are times where I've viewed something and definitely saw it, so it deserves to be logged, or logged as "first viewed" but I want to return to. Perhaps this first view was poor to do weather or sky conditions. Or it was the wrong season. So, I asked Greg if it might possible to have a new category in the logged field. As opposed to binary. Logged "done" and logged "to view again." I told him, that in the meantime, I do simply do not log these items at all.

dark blue everywhere

I checked the Clear Sky Charts for up north. Dark blue everywhere. Collingwood, Own Sound, Duntroon. Incredible. Let the gang know via the RASC Toronto Centre listserv. I hoped people could take advantage.

will they really be interested?

Charles sent a message to the Council listserv saying that he wanted to put a note to the members about the new car and auto insurances perk for RASC members. And he wanted to include the PDF attachment. I jumped in and said that would be spamming. He asked me why. I asked him, as Devil's Advocate, where the astronomical content was. We agreed there wasn't any. But he still felt it was of interest to members. I argued that some might be interested but I suspected most wouldn't. So a softer approach was needed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

one more step

Eric made changes to the Council phone list. Sent an email to me to let me know he was doing it. He sent the revised Word document to me. OK. Thanks for letting me know...

But then he didn't upload it.


bat talk coming up

Grace sent me a quick note about a talk at High Park featuring bats! 13 July, 8:30-10:30 PM, Dr. Brock Fenton presenting. Cool! I saw it as a good opportunity to learn more about these amazing mammals. And maybe ask a few questions.

I'd still like to build some bat houses at the Carr observatory, in hopes that we could get rid of a few evil mozzies...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

helped Phil with cables

Helped Phil with cables for his astronomy gear. He's ramping up, slowly, to do astroimaging. We discussed software, telescopes, mounts, guide cameras, main cameras, serial communications, USB, adapters. Not trivial...

sent table redesign

Reviewed my CAO picnic tables plans with Tony. Wider legs, umbrella support, seats moved away from table top, knee-friendly seat corners.

Monday, July 09, 2012

helped David with CAO matters

When David asked how to pay for a family pass to the CAO, then shared that he couldn't log into to make a reservation, and then wondered if he needed to pay first to get the password, I had to reply. I also jumped into the web site and elevated the article that talked about how to buy a pass online anytime via PayPal.

updated treasurer

Updated the RASC Toronto Centre treasurer on MODLs at the CAO. Particularly #6. Thought he should know.

declined September

Markov asked if I'd do the September The Sky This Month. No. Sorry.

might have seen Encke Gap

I kept thinking about my observation with Ian's big Dobsonian at the CAO of Saturn, in particular, the rings, back on 20 May. Of course, his 20" mirror has tremendous light gathering power, and I was certain I had seen a dark edge on the ring or perhaps a dark gap—like the Cassini Division—out at the edge of the A ring.

After some research, I learned of the 300 kilometre wide gap at the outer edge of the A ring: the Encke Gap. Interesting! But was it visible from Earth? I put that question to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group.

Happily, I learned, seeing the Encke division was possible. Paul Mo. had seen it in a 6" refractor (at 7000 feet in elevation, mind you). Randy said he saw it in a members 6" refractor during excellent seeing. From downtown Mississauga! And Guy said he tagged it several times in his 6" reflector, while the ringed planet was at maximum tilt.

That means I get to put this under the "definitely possible" category.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Moon mosaic up

Manuel put his Moon mosaic online in his gallery. He sent a note to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group. I appreciated his tact. He admitted to not having enough data and having to "borrow" data from other parts of the image. He challenged his viewers to find the mistakes.

mosiac up

Manuel put his Moon mosaic online in his gallery. He sent a note to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group. I appreciated his tact. He admitted to not having enough data and having to "borrow" data from other parts of the image. He challenged his viewers to find the mistakes.

lots o' learning for Manuel

Spent the day teaching Manuel how to use astronomy-related software.

He invited me over for breakfast. In short order, we were talking about NASA, RASC, imagery, DSLRs, the new polar alignment software, etc. He was particularly interested in knowing how to make a mosaic out of the Moon images he had recently captured. The first thing to do was to figure out if he had software up to the task.

He showed me Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 on his Windows 7 laptop. My first impressions was this it was robust. It looked like it offered all the basic tools we'd need: professional photo processing, layers (with transparency), smart erasing, eyedropper, etc. So, I said, let's try it. And then I said, get your notepad. Left him with some good web site tutorials too...

Solar imagery was out of the question.

Manuel also wanted to know how to get the EQ Align software working. He had reported that the camera didn't work with it. But when we tried it, everything worked fine. In fact, we were able to run through the main steps in the alignment software. It looked very good. Smart features. As usual though with home-grown software, the documentation was weak. And, strangely, suddenly stopped, with the final steps missing. Happily, we were able to infer them. In the end, during testing, we didn't get a good alignment. Probably due to choosing alignment stars outside of the recommended "zone." But I left with a high degree of confidence that it would work fine with a full view of the sky.

He gave me a NASA t-shirt, from his recent Florida trip. Nice! Thanks, dude!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

dog: 1; solar light: 0

Skeena sent me an email (!) apologising for crashing into one of the solar lights at the CAO, breaking the black plastic anchor. Finally, someone has the guts to admit their mistake! I said, no worries. There were lots of spare anchors...

found NexStar book

In an effort to learn more about NexStar telescopes, in particular the 11" GPS that the RASC Toronto Centre has, I put out a question to the listserv, asking if anyone had the Springer book by Swanson. And if I could borrow it...

Not really surprised when Geoff said he had it. Neither when he offered it to peruse.

Road trip?

ME main plate updated

Dietmar and I continue to discuss rerouting wires, data and power, inside the Paramount ME. It is designed for it. And we're getting quite a rat's nest of cables. One of the things I was curious about was the "adaptability" of the Versa plate. My impression is that it is somewhat universal and will support some modern connectors.

I asked that he take a look at Ostap's newer MX. He reported that the new Paramount has a USB and lost its parallel. Makes sense.

[ed: I initially titled this article "Versa plate updated" but the Versa plate is the adapter plate between the mount and telescope, at the top of the mount.]

TPoint still off

Dietmar reported trying my new model last night. He said the targets were off consistently across the sky but that was in the field of view with the 27mm eyepiece. He wondered if refining the polar alignment might cure this but then warned we'd loose the TPoint model and have to do it again. That's fine...

the mug

Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.

This is not good...

flame suit on

A flurry of discussion started up about using a burner type of device for getting rid of weeds at the CAO. Katrina offered to loan hers. Charles had access to a unit. Someone suggested a portable unit that used the small green bottles. I jumped in asking that people slow down. Let's not buy anything until we see proven results. Let's definitely not choose a solution that uses disposable propane tanks. And let's carefully consider a flame-based solution near buildings.

Friday, July 06, 2012

learning more stars

Started drilling myself on star names. Tested myself different ways. Used a list, images, software with night sky. This will all inspired by telescope mount alignment software... I'll keep practicing this.

ready for aurora

Sent an aurora borealis alert to Phil and Dietmar. Maybe we'd get lucky again this year. But this time, someone would have a camera ready!

posted article for next work party

Posted the CAO summer work party article for Tony, a call to arms, on the RASC Toronto Centre web site.

more tables needed

Tony sent out the proposed CAO work party job jar list. On it was to build two new picnic tables. And he wanted me to supervise that. Roger. I'd need to revisit my Visio plans... Lots of MODL-related items too.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

can't access cameras

Tried testing the CAO security system. Something's not working. I had Phil check the on-site IP address. It looked OK...

Lora found some but

Lora found some red Loctite at the CAO. After Phil took a look and couldn't find any adhesives! Unfortunately the thread locker was all dried up...

packed parts

Packed cables, connectors, and bits for the weekend. I fancied making a control cable for the NexStar telescope at the CAO.

Efston store closing

Eric forwarded a note sent by Craig of the RASCals listserv: the EfstonScience store will be closing. They are going to close down the bricks and mortar store at the end of the summer. Shifting to an online model. And embracing the renewal energy field.

July TSTM content up

I put my July The Sky This Month presentation content online along with the copy, for download, of the monthly calendar (PDF) of events, over on the RASC Toronto Center web site.


Link killed. Look on the lumpy darkness companion site's presentations page.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

presented from cloud

I was the designated presenter for The Sky This Month. To the members of the RASC Toronto Centre at the Ontario Science Centre, in the Telus room, I delivered my talk and provided my usual handout.

Did a couple of things differently this time. The handout I printed at the home office on the hp laser. In colour. I think people enjoyed that. The shading I use in the calendar makes it easier to follow, I hope.

The big thing, the big deal, though, was that I ran the presentation itself from the cloud. And it worked great.

This was a long time coming...

Back in middle of 2010, I started seriously considering that the RASC Toronto Centre council could use the cloud for document management. In particular, the presentation file used for announcements at meeting nights.

I began to look closely at the free online drive space services, like SkyDrive. But I was also interested in applications that were online and permitted sharing. I tried the PowerPoint Web App: it sucked. I started playing with Google Docs. At first blush, it seemed quite mature. I built a sample announcement presentation. I sent a note to Ralph in November 2010 pitching it again: cooperative editing, by the stakeholders, a common shared file, accessible in the cloud, anywhere, anytime, no more massive attachments, last-minute revisions allowed, no worries if one forgot a USB key, etc. He did not show much interest. 

Charles did though. Often we talk about new and different technologies. Closet geek. And often he'd bring up Open Office. I had to keep reminding him that while that might save the Centre money in that we wouldn't have to buy software for our own computers, it didn't solve the problem of multiple authors needing to work on a common file.

In the meantime, the RASC meeting team continued to email ping pong the huge PowerPoint file around in front of every meeting. Finally, in the middle of 2011, I had had enough and asked to be removed from the loop, unless there was a technical issue.

Then in January/February of this year, I had some spare cycles and started to prepare a TSTM presentation in Google Docs. Immediately, a list of questions begin to form: was there a master slide or equivalent way of changing content on all slides, could one hide slides, were there not transitions between slides, and so on. There were many features missing or not yet available.

What was rather strange, in my research, was that some of these things seemed possible. But when I looked for commands in my menus, or for buttons, I couldn't do what was being recommended. And then slowly, progressively, I came across notes and instructions that stated one needed a Google Apps account, as opposed to Google Docs. That the online applications on the Apps side of things were more powerful. Google Apps was business-grade, Docs was consumer, it seemed. I initiated processes to get an Apps account and rebuilt my March presentation in stand-alone software.

Finally, in June, I steeled myself. I wanted to conduct a full test. So started hammering away at it. Again, it lacks some important features but I was able to prepare a presentation with graphics to my satisfaction. All the while it autosaved. I built the file mostly at home, however, a couple of days before, while at a client site, I did a few edits. I didn't need to "transport" the file. I just logged into Google.

For contingency planning, before leaving for the OSC, I took a "backup copy" of the presentation. I used the Export function to a PDF file. It was impressive. Very high fidelity. So if the internet pooched, I had a very good fall-back.

When I arrived at the OSC, out of habit, I took out my netbook. But then I realised I didn't need it! I packed it up. It was "the backup machine." I logged into Google Apps and ran the presentation from the cloud on the OSC computer. That was pretty cool. No USB sticks. It ran smoothly, looked pretty good, there were no technical issues, and it seemed to work fast. I was pretty happy.

It worked for me, a demanding consumer; it would definitely work for the RASC meeting crew.

Experiment successful.


A couple of people, including Charles, caught it. Watchful eyes noticed the "pale" icons inside the presentation screen space were different than what they had seen before.

MODL progress check

An inspection of MODL 6 took place.

No cats. Check.

found solar lights

Found some Emerald solar lights on eBay. Like the ones we're using at the CAO. A little pricey though...

Looks like these are the end of the line.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

delivered Kendrick cable

Brought the custom-built Kendrick remote control cable from home to the CAO this weekend.

In June, I had figured out the pin outs for the Kendrick Premier RJ-11 connector and "classic" computer serial DB-9 female plug.

2 - red
3 - orange
5 - green

2 - black
3 - red
5 - yellow

the inter-connections:
2 red - 3 red
3 orange - 2 black
5 green - 5 yellow

The hacked cable worked! Reprogrammed the controller from the laptop computer:
  • changed the duty cycle of output 1 to 85%
  • changed temp delta to 7 degrees
  • set output 2 to follow 1
At home, I soldered and shrink-wrapped everything. Verified operation. Now CAO operators can easily control the Kendrick system with the PC software.

Tony found low temp stuff

Tony recommended Dow Corning Moly Kote 33 Light. He sourced some of this low temp grease for members a while back... Bonus: he thinks he has some at work. I'll use this new I rebuild the NexStar 11 GPS mount.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Jim caught ISS

Sent a note out about the Sun-ISS crossing for the Toronto area. Curiously, over almost exactly the same spot as the Moon-ISS even. Jim perked up. He made a great image with his 80mm PST.

N11 tear-down

I took apart the NexStar 11 GPS. Or rather the mount. Kiron assisted. The prime objective was to determine if the azimuth or altitude clutches were broken. I found they were not. Yeh.

During reassembly, I will adjust the clutches so to reduce or eliminate slip. A secondary goal was to see if anything else was amiss. It looks to be in good shape. Now, the next task is to relubricate the beast with low temperature grease.

Found thread locker on many fasteners. Will need to get some of that too...

assembly grease found

Found more grease at the CAO. Dietmar handed me a huge tube of lubriplate no. 105. It is motor assembly grease. He said it was used with the Paramount. I asked Tony if it would work with the NexStar 11. My impression was that it was for very high temps. I don't think this is right for low.

doubles in Lyra (Blue Mountains)

9:53 PM, July 1, 2012. Did basic alignment. Slewed to Mercury. Planet in view of finder. Viewed Mercury with 36mm. It seemed to be in first quarter phase, half lit. Maybe a bit less. The seeing seemed a bit better than last night.
Instrument: Celestron 11-inch SCT
Mount: NexStar alt-az
Method: Go To
9:58 PM. The wolves or coyotes started up.

10:15. Viewed Sheliak. No probs with E, F, B stars in with the 36mm. All blue-white?

10:18. I switched to the 26mm. Could not see C or D.

10:25. C and D were not visible in 9mm.

In terms of logging, I decided to mark this one done. Sissy only refers to the AB pair. As does TLAO. TLAO also describes it as a variable and that it may be dimmer than Sulafat. Whatever.

10:26. Yellow orange and red! [ed: What is?! I don't remember why I wrote this.]

10:47. Back from Happy Canada Day sparklers and light writing! Thanks Lora and Phil!

Viewed SAO 67433 and Σ2407A (Struve). I saw the two no problem. I also saw a 3rd faint red star.

10:55. I only saw 2 stars in TAR 3A. Tried the 26mm and 18mm. No luck. A and B stars.

11:01. Someone pulled in driveway a few minutes ago. Kinda weird, late a night, on a Sunday.

11:02. I took my sandles off again, like last night. I was so much easier on my feet.

I was using chas's red LED shoe laces again... But they were fading. The 1154 (LR44) batteries will need replacing... Good amount of light when fresh.

11:09. Viewed γ (gamma) and β (beta) Lyrae in the binos. I could not see Ring. Too tiny. I would rate β slightly less than γ. β, aka Sheliak, is yellow; γ is blue-white. It did not seem considerably dimmer.

11:17. Viewed γ Lyr, aka Sulafat, with the telescope. I had no problem with the C star. It was weird though. I could not see the B companion. Even though I could see TYC 02643-3236 1, a mag 12.3 point.

11:30. Replace Vega for an alignment star.

I considered V401 Lyr briefly. Then decided to skip it. The transparency was no good, particularly with the frickin' Moon.

11:43. There was a knock at the door. Sharmin was giving local Pete a tour. She had bumped into him on the trail. Hello Pete.

11:45. I think I noticed a pattern with the NexStar 11 and the sketchy clutch problem. I had stumbled across a a trick tonight to prevent losing tracking. I noticed that when one was slewing manually and it was working, that is the 'scope was moving about fine, and then one stopped, the tracking would hold up. But when trying to slew and nothing happened and then if left alone, the telescope would drift. So I made a conscious effort to monitor this. First impression was that it was working well!

11:46. I finally understood why it is called the Butterfly Cluster. [ed: Messier 6, M6.]

Viewed V862 Scorpii. It was quite bright (now). A white colour. It was brighter than HD 160221. But then I learned that that star was a variable too. 862 was not as bright as BM Sco though. Um... It was the same brightness as V994 Sco. Crikey.

11:51. BM is orangey. Citrus colour.

11:53. I was hiding from the Moon.

11:58. My derrière was protesting. It was obvious that I really need padding for astronomy stool.

12:09 AM, July 2, 2012. Viewed Ascella. A multi-star system. However, I learned that AB were currently 0.42 seconds of arc apart. Ah... no.

12:12 AM. The seeing just tanked. Did the temp drop?

A car drove out.

12:57. I called it quits.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

stand down on cable

I wanted to build the PC control cable for the NexStar 11" SCT. Ultimately, so to drive the N11 from a computer. I had brought my tools, including crimper, and parts, including serial DB9 connector and Registered Jack. But then I discovered I had brought the wrong size RJ. The cable needed to plug into the hand controller and, like the handset of a telephone, it required the small 4P4C jack. I had grabbed a regular 6P4C RJ14 phone jack.

fixed the plug

After determining the problem and finding a spare part in my parts bin, we set a date for repairing the power connector on Katrina's go-to Dobsonian.

Fixed the SynScan on the Observing Pad. The original loose-fitting male-female barrel plug was replaced with a secure, grippy automotive connector.

See Katrina's complete gallery of the job.

Paid in Lug Tread! Sweet.

observed with (by) Sharmin (Blue Mountains)

9:50 PM, June 30, 2012. While Katrina and Sharmin watched the live feed from the Alberta general assembly in the CAO living room, I searched for Mercury.

I had N11 going but the alignment was kooky.

I started a mosquito coil and put on some Deep Woods muskol, for better or for worse. Still, there must have been furious 100 mozzies inside the THO. Fortunately, it seemed none were biting.

9:56 PM. I found Mercury. Faint Mercury, around magnitude 0.5. First with my binoculars. And then I could see it naked eye. It was just over the house, not as far north as I thought it would be. It was about level with the peak of the roof, a bit less than 10° up. No sign of Katrina. She had said before she wanted to see it. Enjoying the GA, I guess.

10:08. I heard a vehicle. Saw a light silver minivan. Tim? No, I realised it was Ostap. He headed to his dome.

Mercury did not improve as it got darker. Bad air over there, I guess.

10:25. I did the N11 re-alignment process, picking two new stars. And suddenly, I was hitting targets. Good. I was happy. And lamented that I hadn't tried this last night, for Sharmin. I made a note to update my quick reference. It's good to know.

I also wondered if the big SCT would be easier to use with a right-angle corrected finder. But then, I realised, if the alignment worked, it wouldn't be needed...

10:41. I just viewed Menkent aka θ (theta) Centaurus! Cool. A very low, summer-only target below Libra.

10:45. Dietmar popped by. He was having trouble with his Windows Remote Desktop. He had checked cables. Asked if he had the IP address. And as soon as I said that, I knew that was the problem. He had not reconfigured his settings since the WISP change and the complete reorg of the LAN. I reminded him that the third octet had changed. He trundled off.

10:51. I returned to the double star Menkent. Or SAO 205188. I wondered if it was the first object in Centaurus I had viewed.... It was a very wide double which I knew, ordinarily, would be easy to split. But I could not see the companion. SkyTools said the primary was mag 2 while the companion was mag 14. Ugh. The problem was that it was down in the murk. I was looking through 8 airmasses. ST3 said that was making everything 3 magnitudes fainter. Uh huh. Scratch. That object came from looking at a suggested ST3 star in the 'hood...

10:52. I checked the local weather conditions, via the Davis weather station. 10 min wind average 4.8 km/h, direction west, today's high: 43.5°C (wow), humidity 70%, barometer 1007, outside temperature now 19.7°, the humidex was 19.9, dew point 14.0, and the inside temp was 26.1. Shoulda brought my tent.

11:46. Sharmin joined me while I viewed PPM 226714. It was a very difficult split... even with my 9mm. Both the Virgo stars were mag 11, at a 3.5 arc-second separation.

11:59. Viewed NGC 6530. A nice cluster. It fit well in the 36mm. This is the open star cluster within the Lagoon Nebula aka M8. A good choice on a moonlit night.

Hints of the nearby nebula were visible.

I wanted to sketch it. Sharmin asked if she could hang out. It was a little weird. I don't think I've ever had someone watching me while I sketched before...

12:55 AM, July 1, 2012. Finished sketching the cluster and nebula.

I asked if Sharmin had some targets in mind. We viewed the open clusters NGC 6633 and IC 4756, both near the Ophiuchus / Serpens Cauda border.

Then we split τ (tau) Boötis. It was too soft with the Nagler 9mm, given the bad seeing. Curiously, while the same field size, the orthoscopic 18mm was better. A clean split of the 1" pair. Wait... It got worse while we looked. Was the seeing going away?

I was tired. Probably from last night. The intensely concentrating during the drawing. And being tour guide. I needed a break...

2:04 AM. I returned from my break.

It was much cooler outside. The 10 min wind average had risen to 6.4 km/h, direction now WSW, the humidity had also risen to 76%, barometer was up a bit at 1007.9, the air temperature had dropped almost 3 degrees to 17.0, lowering the humidex to 16.9, and the dew point to 12.7, and the inside house temp to 24.0.

I considered some more targets but was very sleepy. Closed up. I was happy to find the top-hatch bolts working OK. The pin was holding.

Passed Katrina on my way to the house.

2:30. I was in bed in the library.