Thursday, January 31, 2013

received iTelescope presentation

After some nudging, and begging, and pleading, and groveling, Nicole sent me her presentation on Delivered on a member's some time ago. And recently at the DDO. Both of which I missed!

Thank you!


Lora sent me a link from Canadian Beer News. Always watching out for me. Seems Wellington is relaunching some older products. And they're starting off with Terrestrial India Brown Ale.

Hey... do they have our hops in their tractor beam?!

will present at Starfest

I was invited by Malcolm Park to speak at the 2013 Starfest. Happy to help. He wants me to talk about software. He suggested Stellarium or SkyTools or something like that. SkyTools please!

Thanks for asking!

I'm on deck. That's the weekend of August 10-11.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

more mask testing

More testing. Used a Christmas ornament for my false star and reflected a single white LED off it. This creates more of a pin-point source. And it dimmed the light.

I had a more difficult time seeing the diffraction patterns in this case. I didn't even try the Bahtinov Grabber (BG) application. I just assumed it would not have enough data to work with.

Do the "arms" or supports in the Y need to be thicker? These wires are probably about 0.5mm. Or less. Maybe I should go a bit thicker...

Now, admittedly, I did not have the camera mounted in a steady fashion. So the movement in the image, especially at 200%, on the Live View was a little distracting.

I also learned an important lesson in this test. Removing the mask, which was taped to the lens hood, caused the focus to change. That probably means I'll need to not affix the mask to the lens. Perhaps I'd have to employ an early idea, to suspended it in front. Tonight, I wondered what would happen if it was windy.

Or maybe build a loose fitting cylinder. Not so loose that the centre of the mask is out of alignment... I didn't necessarily need to use a full cylinder. Perhaps a half tube. Half pipe! Just so it sits on the lens, nicely centred, and can be gently lifted off. Yep. That's it. Half cylinder...

So, for the next test, I'll add a half-cylinder or an over-sized full cylinder support, stabilise the camera, and try the BG software regardless.

numbers creep

Phil messaged me. He was trying to help Laila. She wants to study the expired members and see how engaged they were in our Yahoo!Group. He asked if I could help. I said I'd try.

The first worry was if they were no longer in the Yahoo system, I probably would not be able to quickly see their last status. I'd have to look in archived materials.

He sent over a file with member (er, ex-member) names and the Yahoo mode they requested when they joined RASC. But I needed more data, for cross-referencing. When they joined RASC. Their email address.

Then I took a look at the size of the table. More precisely, the number of data rows. 244! What the hell? Laila has said about 100.

I replied to the original request communique and indicated that will take days of work...

done with mentors

I finished interviewing all the helpers from the telescope clinic. Lots of good feedback. OK. Now to coax responses from the participants...

updated packing list

More rainy-day astronomy stuff. Reorganised my packing list. I had everything there essentially but not in a logical order given the shuffling done over the last couple of years with new cases, new toolboxes, new carrying bags, etc. New eyepiece case. The strangest thing I ran into was not finding the battery power tank listed. I guess I never added it. The entry for the old Century Booster Pac was probably enough of a trigger...

laser shop in west end

Matthew found a laser shop in the GTA. Laserglow Technologies, located on St Clair west by Bathurst. Whoa. Pro-grade stuff too...

He purchased the Anser/Libra combo for $75. This includes one cat toy and one presentation tool!

Matthew said Lorne was good about replacing a unit that had some issues with it's beam. Overall he reported being very happy and would recommend them fully.

a hot day on Blue Mountains

Checked the CAO grounds remotely. The snow man was gone. In fact, almost all the snow was gone everywhere. Crazy 25 degree change...

reviewed Stellarium 0.11.4

While borrowing (and repairing) the Horvatin laptop, running Windows 7 Premium, I suddenly realised I could run the 64-bit version of Stellarium. I've never seen it in action on a Windows box. I downloaded
version 0.11.4.

Immediately turned on the constellation borders. As I suspected... The frame rate dropped but the application continued to respond well. Whereas on a 32-bit OS, it's a slog.

There didn't seem to be any font display problems. That's good.

Huh. I guess I overlooked this version. I like the "Information tab" in the Configuration dialog. This allows a reduction is the "chatter" when selecting an object. I turned off a bunch of fields.

Spotted the new "Show nebula background button" on the Navigation tab.

Ooh. An exoplanets plug-in. Cool! That'll be neat for star parties...

There's an Observability plug-in. Sounds interesting. I'll have to explore that one later.

Discovered a few new keyboard shortcuts
  • Ctrl Alt Shift ] and [ for advancing or retreating on sidereal year. 
  • Alt s for toggling the star labels. 
  • Ctrl n for toggling red light night vision mode. 
  • Ctrl Alt e to toggle the exoplanets markers and labels. 
  • Ctrl h to return to the "home" location, i.e. the default direction and field of view.
Looks like I'll need to update my shortcut guide...

And it looks like it visually compensates for air masses or atmospheric extinction. Impressive.

tested BG-WAF

Downloaded Bahtinov Grabber 17.0, a version specifically for those not using autofocus. This avoids ASCOM issues. Made a PowerPoint presentation with 3 diffraction pattern images of a star, out of focus, too far the other way, and then perfect. Made sure the images were in the exact same alignment. Fired up BG, set the area of the screen to scan. Turned on the sound option. Then paged through the slides. Amazingly, it worked. The software showed the diffraction line overlays, the direction to change focus, that I went too far, and finally that I had perfect focus. Brilliant. This should work dandy with the EOS Utility and the new Y-Mask.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Y-mask 1

Tonight I built a Y-mask. And it works!

Quite simply, I built it with wire.

I used some wire from an old computer-printer cable. One long one, bent at a 20° angle (of course) in the middle. Then I added a short wire, hooked on the long one at the mid-point. The wires are held down in the paper frame with Magic tape. It was quick and fast. I held the focusing mask to the lens shade with tape. Quick and fast.

And here's the proof:

Look at that lovely diffraction pattern. Just like a Bahtinov mask! But it is letting in more light. It's transmitting more light than the small Bahtinov that I tried.

Now it wasn't perfectly uniform or symmetrical. I wondered if it was because the wires were not perfectly straight. Or that the hook of the second wire in the middle was messing with the light waves. Or that my false star was too close. Or that my false star was an LED aimed to the camera as opposed to a false star by reflecting off a sphere. 

Any how. I'm thrilled! Version 1.0 worked!

This test was all inspired by the talk on Stargazers Lounge forum.


Version 2.0 will use a cardboard frame for rigidity. Perhaps I will mount the wires through holes in the frame so I can apply some tension. The short wire will be soldered straight to the long wire, without a hook. Oh yes, and a cone or tube to allow rapid insertion on the camera lens.


Now I need to revisit software tools that can analyse the diffraction pattern.

greyed out

Revised the CAO weather page for Tony. He didn't like the background colours. The red was too hard to read. I explained that was for night-time use only, when dark adapted. He didn't like the white either. Too white, I guess. He wanted grey. Neutral. Blah. Really? Yes. So I added "gloomy grey" and "February grey" just for him.

I also updated the cookie expiry date to the end of this year, to make it save the preferred colour, once again.

full data again

Noted that we were getting wind speed and precipitation numbers from the Davis weather station again... Weird. Could still be a bad wire or connection, I suppose...

found the exposure simultation

Found it! I found the exposure simulation for the Live View. As I read about it, it started to come back to me. I remembered seeing it, at some point, in the menus. Probably became aware of the feature, on my first read-through of the user guide, but didn't appreciate what it meant.

Turned it on in the camera, via one the special Function menus, and then tried the EOS Utility again. Woo hoo! It worked. And, suddenly, I had the histogram too! Sweet.

I need to get a shout-out to Rob for the tip on his Digital Photography Insights site.

It also means the "footnote" on the Canon help page is correct...


For the 40D, it is in the Custom Functions menu, Operation/Others menu (item 4), Live View exposure simulation (option 7). Or in Canon's nomenclature: C.Fn IV -7.

Monday, January 28, 2013

brightening Live View possible

Was reading a helpful Backyard EOS tips page by Steve in North Yorkshire when I noticed a remark about changing the ISO while checking the Live View to see better. I tried this in the EOS Utility but it didn't seem to work...

Time to reread all the Canon documentation.

small Bahtinov 2

Yesterday, I had made my little Bahtinov mask for the camera lens and was unsatisfied with the results. I wanted to try again. Still not able to find any specific recommendations for overall size, slot thickness, structural bar thickness, once again I picked my own values.

Let's try bigger. What the heck. It's prototyping! I made a mask with an 80mm opening, 4 mm slots and bars. All bars. The blocking bars and the structural bars I made 4mm wide. And took a cue from a finished model by Steve Richards: the centre "top" bar would be a large triangle.

Fired up the false star. Put the camera on the tripod. Zoomed in, mechanically, and on the view screen. Another strange bumpy blob. No nice long diffraction spikes. Damn it. Larger was not working. Back to Google...

Stumbled across a design in one of the forums, again, that I had seen before, one produced on a 3D printer. It had very fine slots. Dozens of them in the small cap that fit a camera lens. 1mm wide! Wow. The designer said it was pretty cheap for him. I immediately put out some queries for a 3D printing shop in the GTA.

I considered the Hartmann style mask, with the two circles, or variants, for example with the triangles. But I didn't like the idea of loosing so much light.

And then, in another forum thread, back at the Stargazers Lounge, at last I found one missing piece of information: the clear aperture for a camera lens. In fact, they gave the formula.

clear aperture = focal length / largest f-stop

I ran the numbers for the 18-55 lens. Crikey! 3 to 4mm. Now I understood why I was seeing a blobby lumpy things opposed to nice diffraction spikes. The thick structural bars I was using, 5mm, even the 4mm, were covering most of the aperture! I'd definitely need to go small, fine, delicate.

Sheesh, how would you do this at home? Somebody suggested using thread.

This person also talked about a "Y-mask" they used. Showed a photo. Huh. Different.

Spotted a design where the person had used a men's small hair comb. Ha! I had actually thought of that briefly yesterday... No. Really! 'Course, I haven't used a comb for years! But a trip to the Dollar Store might yield the parts needed for cheap. Clever.

Read some interesting remarks about the Lord mask. Noted the reference to Chris Lord's Primer on Fraunhofer Diffraction. Details of the "first order" and "third order" diffraction lines. From someone who sounded like they really knew what they were talking about.

The takeaway? A simple Y-mask, for small apertures, was as good or better than a Bahtinov mask. With the added benefit that it passed a lot more light, possible a full f-stop. Which would certainly be handy for those faint stars...

So, maybe, my whole approach to this point was wrong...

he got good detail

Manuel shared his Jupiter image from Saturday night. Sent to me privately. Then he posted the link to the RASC TC group. Described the seeing conditions as "very poor." Nicole thought it "beautiful." Guy, surprised, ask "the conditions were bad?"

"Here is my first image of Jupiter captured under poor seeing conditions. The Great Red Spot seems to be getting back its [reddish] colour. Equipment. CGEM DX 9.25 [OTA.]. DFK 21AU04 Planetary camera. [2.5x] Televue Powermate. Registax 6. 600 frames of 1227 Corel Paint Pro2x."

He didn't mention the capture software... Or that he manually focused. That the mount was unguided. And without formal polar alignment.

I particularly like the eddies below the Great Red Spot.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

focusing software apps

As I researched mask calculators and suggested values, I kept an eye out for software tools.

In fact, I returned to the BackyardEOS site to double-check it supported focusing. Indeed. 'Live Full Width Half Maximum feedback...' I noted the image on the Frame & Focus information tab. Hey! Look at that. A star with a diffraction pattern like that produced by a Bahtinov. Oh. Does that mean you have to use one? Or should? I briefly snooped the site to see if I could download the manual... Hmmm. 30-day trial.

While at Steve Richards's site, I noted he referred to an application by the late Niels Noordhoek called the Bahtinov Grabber that analysed the diffraction pattern and helped one focus. It would be interesting to try this little Windows application. Assuming I could produce the diffraction pattern clearly...

Over at Jerry Lodriguss's fantastic astrophotography site, on his Focusing Methods page, he touched upon all aspects of the subject. Techniques, tricks, and tools. And then he got into some software solutions. Images Plus and DSLR Focus were commercial products and fairly expensive.

I took a look at Hocus Focus by Gregory Pruden but, as promising as it looked, learned that it's really suited to video cameras or still cameras that can output video. And, of course, the video has to be captured with some more hardware before getting into the computer. A frame grabber. Probably not an option.

Somewhere in my travels I noted something that talked about the focusing feature of EOS Utility. What? Hello? I did a bit of digging and, viola, there it was. Did some more digging and then it dawned on me. I knew about this. But had forgotten it! I even found it documented in my burgeoning 40D quick reference guide. Ha!

Perhaps I forgot for being overwhelmed. Or not having used the software much. Or used recently. Doesn't matter. I was happy to rediscover the feature. I reviewed the operation in Live View and tested it. Good. Another compelling reason to use the EOS Utility as much as possible when shooting the sky. No touching the lens!


Noordhoek's site seems to be down. Oh dear.

small Bahtinov 1

I wanted to try to make a small Bahtinov focusing mask for the camera 18-55mm lens. Briefly reviewed my old notes, looking for, in particular, the link to the site with the different sizes of templates. But, sadly, I discovered that it was gone. No more.

I quickly found other sites. And it short order was staring at the input form of the mask calculator at the AstroJargon web site. I ran some trials and viewed the output SVG files in Visio. And then found myself in a quandary. What do I use for the aperture, in mm, for a camera lens? And what should I use for the structural bar thicknesses? Should I play with the 'Bahtinov factor' and what should I set it to? I ended up with some strange looking masks.

Steve Richards, on helpful his Bahtinov mask page, said that he changed the 'slot width override' to reduce cutting. And he showed another version with a short cylindrical tube to permit fitting the mask over the telescope or lens. A good idea.

It was in the Stargazers Lounge and Cloudy Nights sites that I found threads specifically on making masks for a camera lens. Still, I could not seem to find one clear rule or guideline. So I decided to wing it.

I designed a small mask in Visio with a 40mm opening. Each slot (or bar) was 2mm in width. I figured I could cut this size of slot with scissors without too much trouble. Really didn't know what do to with the structural bars so left them at 5mm.

Suddenly realised I could simplify the cutting if I grouped together components and built it in layers. And positioned everything inside an open circle. Ha. Super easy.

Printed the template. Cut out the pieces. Glued the elements into the circle. Set up the false star and took a look through the view finder.

Well, definitely, the light was being diffracted. But I did not see the familiar six-pointed pattern. It was this blobby thing. It worked mind you. I could tell the focus was improving or getting worse. But without the long spike moving into the cross, I was not sure when I was at perfect focus.

I suspected the problem was a combination of the thickness of the slots and the extreme thickness of the structural bars. I wondered if I could truly cut thinner slots...

Will have to do more research.

to focus better

I was reflecting back on the recent wide field photos shot from the porch on the evening of the 20th. I focused manually using the camera's built-in display. Thought I was OK. But on reviewing the photos on the computer later, after I had torn down, I saw that they were off. Despite zooming the display. Little star donuts. I was not happy.

I want to improve the ability to focus the Canon camera lens manually when using it for astrophotography. This single wish creates a few paths to follow.

I'm curious if I might be able to use a focusing mask. The Bahtinov mask I made two years ago for the C8 telescope is fantastic, easy to use, quick. It was somewhat challenging to make but super cheap. Not challenging, just time-consuming. But, I wondered, can a Bahtinov be made for a small camera lens? What obstacles will a small version present? Will it be easier or more awkward to make?

Using a computer with a DSLR is obviously a better route to go. The EOS Utility application I've enjoying using. From the city. From dark skies. The downside, of course, is more set up time. Cables, wires, power. When I was shooting Jupiter in Taurus, I did not want to (could not) mount a big production. I wanted to work quick and fast. But the big benefit is previewing on a large screen. The 40D display is 3 inches. The Dell laptop screen is 14. Compelling. While the built-in display offers a 10x magnification, it still cannot compare to 10x on the laptop. Or shooting a test shot and immediately zooming in even more.

I thought of full width half maximum (FWHM) waveform analyses available in astronomical focusing software. I've seen people using it before. I saw it in action in MaxIm DL at Manuel's. Under test conditions on the 22nd. But not in the field last night. Previously, he's used FocusMax. It has the same capability. I didn't think there was such a feature in the software included by Canon. But were there independent products that I could use? Something that could interface with the EOS Utility or simply work with an image on the screen. Some searching would be required.

I thought again of Backyard EOS. I recalled it had some focusing aids in it. The software is on my wish list. I definitely think it will be a good tool to have. In particular, I'm attracted to the imaging run component. If it has focusing aids too, all the more reason to get it. But, in the meantime, could I achieve good focus with a home-made mask and the included or some general free software?

All that said, the manual focusing was a struggle. I remembered how sensitive the lens was. I thought of the trick I had seen in Lifehacker, rigging up a magnifying glass arm, to dial in small changes. Ah. The lever! One of our fine inventions. I'd need to find a way to improve on this too. Or avoid touching the focus...

defeated (Etobicoke)

Tonight was an astonishingly, mind-numbingly, frustrating evening.

We could not get MaxIm DL to work as required. We did connect to the main imaging camera. We did connect to the guiding camera. We did connect, after a time, to the focuser. We were able to see the imagery from the main camera. There was something on the guide camera. We did capture images every few seconds. We saw the results of focusing, manually, or remotely, with MaxIm (we did not use FocusMax). There was significant drift, during much of the evening, which meant every few minutes we'd have to find the object again. Lost an incredible amount of time with this. In the end we could not get the guiding to work.

The evening started strangely. Manuel changed the meal arrangements late in the game. I thought we were going to sit down together, with his nephew coming in from Montréal. When he called me a few minutes before our pre-arranged pick up time and asked, "Have you eaten?" I knew something was up. It was not entirely his fault. His nephew had said he'd arrive around dinner time. But when he did not show, the wheels kind of fell off the wagon for Manuel and I. Then Manuel told me he had already eaten. What the hell? I didn't understand why he didn't tell me all this. I could have made myself dinner and we could have met up later. I guess he felt bad and insisted on picking up something for me. Mamma Martino's was packed. And the line-up, on the brisk evening, was almost across the face of the building. It was a little uncomfortable wading through the crowd. And back at his home, I still felt a little uncomfortable, eating by myself. Alas, it gave us some time to chat and catch up.

Afterwards, we started the assembly.

I had really wanted to take a hands-off approach on this evening. I wanted him to do everything. I wanted to consult only. It was partly that I really wanted to see his steps through the telescope setup. See if he'd catch things like the mount latitude problem, for example. I did not want to do the collimation this time. I wanted him to get some experience in MaxIm. But he was distracted with various family matters. And all his neighbours driving or walking by. So I started doing stuff. To stay on the timeline. Keep us on track. And then when his nephew finally arrived with cube van, I felt pretty strange working on the telescope; I helped unload the truck.

The mounts and OTAs had been cooling in the garage. We set up just beyond his garage door. We couldn't set up further east in the lane for all the plowed snow. So, we set up shop in the middle of the lane. It wasn't long before the neighbours to the east returned home. Fortunately, they were able to squeak by.

During setup, I was able to verify and add lots of equipment details. Specs. Versions. Unfortunately Evernote in iOS clobbered my notes. Something about the formatting. Shredded it. I was not happy. But I made no attempt to clean it up on the stupid frickin' small screen and ridiculously annoying touch screen keyboard.

I helped with mount setup and initialisation. Pointed out the mount latitude was totally off: I found it set to about 25 degrees. I asked him why it was so slow. He did not answer in a way that made any sense. I wondered if he didn't know when he changed it. Maybe it was when the alignment peg was repaired. No matter. I started to change it. Asked him what his current latitude was. "45?" he responded, tentatively. Nope. I was a little disappointed he didn't know. Or have it handy.

Powered the mount and hand controller. I found the mount set to Toronto. I reminded him him to use his exact location and suggested that any precision would improve his imagery. I asked him for the current coordinates. He didn't know them. He said he did not have them in his Blackberry. Nor his laptop. Then he asked me how to get it. Oh boy. I told him I had the numbers. I asked he record them. I provided them in a couple of formats. "I don't want to have to do this again." Early, I had considered programming the "custom site" in the hand controller. But forgot in the kerfuffle.

Went about checking the Telrad alignment. He asked why I was doing that. He said it would not need adjustment. We had done it before. I found the remark strange. I said one should always check it. He repeated, "I adjusted it the last time." And I reiterated it could be off. So it was always worthwhile to check. He said, "But it doesn't need adjustment." An impasse. I stopped talking and fine-tuned the glowing circles.

We also had a weird argument about the telescope corrector cover. He had removed them during the day. I asked why. He said he heard the telescope cools faster. I wondered about that. I didn't recommend he do it any more. But, again, didn't want to get into a protracted discussion. I'd be concerned about the corrector getting dirty, scratched, collecting bugs, etc. But he seems more concerned with cooling. Certainly it takes a while with the big tube. Still, I think his priorities are askew. He also leaves the covers off the eyepieces, the cameras, magnifiers. And then gets upset when there's dust in the optical train.

During the star alignment, I wanted to add 3 or 4 calibration stars, for high accuracy. Manuel insisted it was not necessary. I suppose, for planetary, it is not critical. But I thought it would be a good exercise. He discouraged it. And later was not at all irked by the drifting. I also wanted to do the special polar align routine in the CGEM DX particularly because we had guessed on the pole star position. Again, he didn't want to do it. I dropped the matter.

After mounting the camera, we found a bright star high in the sky and focused on it. It was time, finally, to check the collimation of the 9¼" SCT. Except he wasn't ready. Ready in the sense that he didn't have the tools, the secondary cap removed, nor a step ladder. After he retrieved everything, Manuel handed me the screwdriver. Nope. I refused. "You're doing it this time." That made him nervous. "No. You gotta learn this." I made him go through all the steps. With the camera. And a star just past the meridian. The camera showed a pretty good diffraction pattern on both in and out focus. There was only a vary slight pinching. I had him make a 1/4 turn adjustment. We liked the result. Double-checked it. Done. I was pleased that he'd gone through the whole process.

Manuel announced that he wanted to get some shots of Jupiter. Huh? Now? We have a lot to do. I thought the priority was MaxIm. But he was desperate. Clearly he was blinded by it. It took about an hour or so to capture the frames he wanted. I basically sat around while he did all this. Getting cold. I put on more layers.

He recorded his initial images with the 2.5x Powermate. On examining the live view screen on the computer, he remarked the seeing was poor. It certainly wasn't great. Probably a combination of the skies and the heat pouring off the buildings. So then he put in the 3.0x Barlow. What the hell? I was shaking my head. Then he said he thought the view very soft. Well, yeah. If the seeing's bad, one should not increase power. But he seemed oblivious to the issues. Maybe I could have asked a question: hey, what about lowering the power?

During imaging, with the DFK camera, we thought the collimation off a little. There was still some slight pinching. He cursed. He was very upset. I tried to calm him. I said it was probably still really good. Tonight, the seeing would be the determining factor. He started to wonder if we should have left it alone. Or that I should have done it and not him. I reminded him again that it was partly an exercise.

There's something funny about Manuel with mechanical or logistical types of things. When he tried to hook up the parabolic dish heater, he started dragging power cords across the floor of the garage. Of course, the mount and the laptop in the driveway protested. He frowned and backed up and then tried again, moving further into the garage. He was struggling with how to keep the laptop connected. He just didn't know what to do. It was almost comedic. I gave him re-routing directions. We're just wired differently, I guess. No pun intended.

It was bloody cold. This was worsened with the slight breeze. I think I saw a temperature prediction of -5 or -10. It felt a lot colder. While Manuel was imaging, I sat in the garage. Tried to get out of the wind. I used all my hand warmers tonight. Started off the new USB one. First official use. It worked good for about an hour. I also the sodium ones. All three. Ida, thankfully, prepared coffee for us. That was much needed. Later, I started on some hard candy.

I found his time estimates very kooky. Manuel said, around 11:00 PM, "Oh, it will take us 40 or 45 minutes to get MaxIm figured out. An hour later, we had all the equipment connected and were just booting up MaxIm. At that point he looked at the clock and said, "OK, we'll have this all working in one hour." Uh huh. Gives new meaning to scope creep.

He rebalanced the 'scope after adding the focuser. Good, on one hand. I was pleased to see that he remembered to do it. But I pointed out when he released the clutches we lost the alignment. He didn't think it an issue. Pardon? I said that it would change everything. He finally acknowledged it was a problem when the go-to accuracy was off. Off enough that the target was not in the camera field. And chasing down the object was wasting valuable time. I couldn't stand it any longer: I redid the alignment. And begrudgingly used 1 calibration star.

I took the helm to try to get somewhere in the new software. I thought I'd play with the Windows 7 colour scheme to reduce the brightness. I used the High Contrast purple option. But then discovered a problem in MaxIm. The 3D graph for focusing is black. And it stays black, regardless of the Windows colour settings. With a black background we were screwed. I had to change to something different.

It was irritatingly awkward using the hand controller on that ludicrously short coiled cable. Celestron should have their heads examined. Nevertheless, Manuel still does not drive the mount from the computer. When he's got the computer control cable. And we know the NexRemote software works! I just don't get it. It meant more time lost for us. It was frustrating slewing. Had to go into contortions near the mount. Was afraid of bumping or knocking something, tugging a cord causing a disconnect.

The first attempts at focusing in MaxIm did not seem to work. We tried a bunch of things. Finally Manuel said, "Oh, the control box is not turned on." Yep. There ya go. Another 30 minutes wasted. We got the focusing working.

At one point, while Manuel was looking for another missing item, I looked at the the Pleiades naked eye. And for the first time, thought consciously about the brightness of the stars. If I remember correctly, the ones in the "handle" are brightest. [ed: This is correct. Atlas and Alcyone are mag 3.6 and 2.9 respectively. Electra at the bottom-right of the little little dipper is not far off at 3.7 but perhaps Atlas is enhanced by proximal Pleione.]

We moved onto the guiding procedures. And at this point, I started to struggle. It was probably a combination of the time, my general frustration, the temperature, so many unknown variables, the complexity of the software, the newness, my allergies, eyes watering, trying to read the manual by red flashlight. I thought I had done everything right. But the field in the main camera was clearly not staying put. It looked no better than before. Tried the process again. No joy. When something doesn't work I wanna fix it. Manuel practically had to tear me away. So frustrating. Unfinished business. I was sullen as we packed up. And couldn't seem to warm up.

I caught Manuel putting his OTAs on tables on the dovetail. I reprimanded him. Said "you're gonna bounce one again."

I was looking forward to warming up for a bit in the house but Manuel shuffled me off to the vehicle. We headed out. The temperature gauge read -8. I was quiet. A little spent, overwhelmed. Tired and frustrated. Kept reflecting on the challenges in the evening.

I wonder if he he has a hearing problem. I noticed it on another night. And tonight it seemed rather obvious. There were a few times where he couldn't hear me. I didn't think I was mumbling... I think he does not hear really well. Maybe all that loud rock and roll. If true, it's another issue in trying to communicate clearly.

I was continually frustrated that he truly did not have all the gear ready to go. He wasn't fully prepared. He had the telescopes and mount ready. But that was about it. I don't think he really considered the full scope of what we had to do. He couldn't find his little roll-up-wheeled extension cord thingie for some time. He didn't consider we'd run out of USB ports. He had to have Ida track down the USB hub. He did not have all the cables handy. He did not have the reticule eyepiece ready. And on and on. More time lost.

It was discouraging when my allergies flared up. I was sniffing and snorting through the later part of the evening. Eyes watering. Getting in my way.

Never getting a chance to talk about RASC resources was disappointing. I'd really like Manuel to consult them more. Like our web pages that describe where events are. And when they are. It will be best to broach this in person. I don't think I should badger him about this remotely.

A ray of light tonight though was seeing some success in my teaching moment. Quizzing him on the size of objects, seeing that he was a little uncomfortable, and finally admitting he didn't know. When I showed him the special chart I made, for him, with the chip sizes, beside astronomical objects, all to scale. I think it hit the mark. Showing the sizes of objects on my old Tirion charts (which really impressed him by the way), got through. I think I got through to him. I think I saw "realisation" on his face. Wow.

Still, at the end of this long night, I was very disheartened. I really started to wonder what I had got out of it. And I didn't like thinking that. Or other mutinous thoughts. Like missing the DDO members night, missing Nicole's talk on iTelescope. I think I ran out of friendly juice tonight.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

added a new weather resource

Added Unisys Weather image and link to portal pages (to the NAM 300mb wind speed page) after some clarification from Jim. The page I had noticed in his presentation at the first members night event.

These still or looping images emphasise the jet stream, which gives some clues as to how the seeing conditions might play out.

drew frame sizes

[ed: See important note below...]

I think that part of the reason I struggle when communicating with Manuel is that he's a kinetic learner. Or aural. While I'm very visual. Still, I sense he does not have a good sense of the size of things in space. Neither did I, when I started! It wasn't until I made rings—and later overlays—for my star charts that it really hit home how small the field of view is for a telescope, especially one in the 2000 mm range! With Manuel, there's the factor of the camera chip and pixel sizes. I think he does not fully appreciate that an SCT is really not the right telescope for imaging the Andromeda galaxy. So, at the risk of not connecting fully, not communicating most effectively, I made a drawing.

So to be most illuminating, I knew it would be very important to have scaled objects. I included the Moon, Jupiter (at its maximum size during opposition), and The Great Galaxy. Then I calculated the frame sizes for the DFK (planetary) and QHY (deep sky) cameras. For his three telescopes. And that he has a focal reducer for an SCT, I added these two additional frame sizes for each camera!

This clearly shows that anything except the QHY on the 80mm will chop off the galaxy. This clearly shows why he needed so many panels for his Moon mosaic...

I hope it helps.


The drawing above is incorrect! Revised version posted online on March 21.

worked around the OVERFLOW error

I was using SkyTools 3 Pro to try to review the particulars of a possible imaging run. I selected the telescope and camera. I opened the exposure calculator. I changed the humidity value. Noted that the temperature scale set to Celsius, as I normally have it. As I changed the air temperature I received an "exp: OVERFLOW error" in a dialog. And then the digits 21474 appear in the field... Tried to close the dialog but it instantly reappeared. I could not clear the error. I had to kill the app with the Windows Task Manager. Then Paint.NET crashed due to a thread error. I lost 4 unsaved images. Damn...

Soft rebooted and tried to change the temp again. I noticed the error appeared as soon as I entered the unary minus, for the negative temperature! It was -7 C at the moment.

It might have unsettled some other apps running at the time. I received thread errors while trying to save a file.

I hard booted. Did a graceful close of ST3P. Tried again. Same error. Some error no matter whether I used the minus key in the numeric keypad (on the external keyboard) or the hyphen in the QWERTY area.

Got an idea. I'd switch to Fahrenheit degrees to bypass it. It seemed to be an issue with the negative value. It worked! And then switching back to Celsius showed the correct temp, with the negative. Cool. Er... cold!

Reported the error and details to Greg. He replied promptly.


As I was flipping through my bound copy of the Tirion skyAtlas 2000, deluxe edition, I remembered, fondly, when I regularly used this at the telescope.

Such beautiful work. Many of pages are a little crinkled from water or dew. The pages for the southern hemisphere are nearly pristine.

The custom acetate template I had made was no where to be found. I made a new one.

As I closed the back cover, I spotted the price tag was still on the back! Ha. $56. From the Nature Store.

And then I suddenly remembered that interesting store in the Eaton Centre. Dark wood. Many unique books. Gifts and hobby items. Long gone now...

fill 'er up?

Dextre, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator supplied by the Canadian Space Agency, successfully completed the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM). This on-orbit refueling exercise opens a number of doors. For example, spacecraft could be launched without fuel, dock to a fueling station in orbit, and receive the necessary supply. Or a spacecraft that's lost its fuel could be topped up. All part of new satellite servicing programs.

NASA posted details of the International Space Station research mission.

Spaceflight Now posted a report of the mission success.

And over at CSA, there's a happy report.

A big robotic thumbs up to the Dextre team!

solved his photo

Manuel sent me a wide field photograph taken of the sky. From the lake shore. Took me a while to recognise the constellations. An unfamiliar part of the sky... I finally got my bearings. He was centred on Hydra. He asked what the bright "rods" were in the images. He couldn't figure it out.

Dude. Planes.

Friday, January 25, 2013

some nerve

Khan emailed me out of the blue. Asked if I could give him a basic astronomy presentation. The gall.

planned next MaxIm session

Manuel invited me over to help with the next steps with MaxIm. I asked if we could do more "warm room" testing. I thought it best.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

will talk on collimating bins

On deck for the March members-only night at the DDO as organised by Stu. That's March 9.

I will be talking about collimating binoculars.

guess who needs to log in

Ha. The new president has never used the RASC Toronto Centre web site login before... And guess what he needed?

sorting Yahoo issues

Helped a few members with the Yahoo Groups.

Finally completed the detailed instructions, with screen shots, for our web site.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

interesting evening spent

Attended RASC TC meeting. And the aprés meeting. I was a little anxious.

Tony and I rode together. Gave us a chance to talk about the SCOPE newsletter faux pas.

We bumped into Ron on the way in. He and Tony launched into conversation and walked briskly ahead.

I noted Orion to the south. A bright Moon overhead.

Inside, I spotted the gaggle of people at the end of the bridge contacting the west and east buildings of the Science Centre. Saw Fernando and his son. The little boy was very earnestly providing handouts to people. Funny.

I dropped off the box of RASC stuff, BOGs, name tag holders, info sheets, used at the clinic, to Leslie, who happened to be at the welcome desk.

Sharmin accosted me. About the handouts. Where were they? Didn't you make them? I explained that Charles should have them, he ordinarily made them and provided them. She said he said he didn't have them. Huh?

Sat beside Dietmar and Millie. We chatted briefly about our next trip to the CAO. I had forgotten to follow-up with them but we straightened out the ride arrangements and departure time.

Joel sat beside me. We talked about MaxIm DL, its documentation, the weather, etc.

Brenda came in, shouting something from the stage floor. Hello? Pardon? I think she was saying there were handouts. And you could get them yourself from the welcome desk. Yeah.

Charles, for the first time as president, kicked off the meeting. He was a little nervous. He introduced the v.p.

Paul Delaney's such a great speaker. Good round-up of the search for exoplanets. Neat hearing about about some of the new techniques like TTV. Funny. He started off with a Star Trek (the original series) reference. Apropos.

A good turnout.

Gave Lourdes and Mike a copy of SkyTools Starter Edition.

I saw her also receive a RASC calendar from Tim. Perhaps there are more available...

Chatted with Bill about spare Dell batteries. He reported that all the 600 ones he found at work were pooched. I thanked him for looking.

Submitted two ECRs to Scott. Explained how the split payment worked. I asked if that was OK. I also asked if he knew why the payment amount to HostPapa was slightly different than quoted. He said he didn't notice. Struck me as a little odd, being so detail-oriented. It's not a lot of money.

Justin and I talked more radio astronomy. He briefly showed me an app on Android, with a large frequency scale. Sitting across from Tony and Ralph was lucrative. Tony thought it OK to use a dish at the Carr Observatory but pointed out that one might have been put in the garage. He also pointed out that one is specific to the NASA channel. And Ralph, to our surprise, had some experience!

Lora sent the sked

Lora sent out the 2013 supervisor observatory schedule - first draft. I checked when she wants me on duty. No conflicts. No... working me like a dog.

She also welcomed Katrina to the team. Woo hoo! Katrina is on board!

webspotting 29 - NEO program

As published in the Feb/Mar 2013 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission.


Everyone still here? Must mean the Earth didn’t suddenly end on December 21. Oh those crazy Mayan calendar makers—they had us going. And that asteroid 99942 Apophis, a rock three football fields long, didn’t smack us on January 11. But what about asteroid 2012 DA14 on February 15…

We had some friendly banter on the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group mailing list a short while back. Radcliffe asked about a notable proximal celestial event in early January. He mentioned an asteroid but Guy and I could not find mention of any. We surmised he meant the Quadrantid meteor shower peak.

In researching Near Earth Object (NEO) or Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) events, we spotted the particulars of 2012 DA14. A 58 metre spinning potato that will pass us at approximately 0.09 lunar distances. That’s around 30,000 kilometres from the surface of our home planet.

To allay concerns, I assessed 2012 DA14 as "not too nasty." Scott said NIMBY*. Guy said, "pretty darn close" and pointed out that the February asteroid was twice the diameter and therefore eight times the volume of the object that exploded over Tunguska in 1908. Again I stated, not too nasty. Not an Earth-killer.

There are a number of web sites that highlight near-Earth asteroids and comets. Some of these are regularly cited in our The Sky This Month presentations. I’ve alluded to one I frequently consult in past webspotting columns. The web site by NASA, however, you might consider the horse’s mouth. The inner circle. The trusted source.

The Near Earth Object Program web site has lots of information about comets and asteroids that will be in the Earth’s neighborhood over the next 100 years. 

The Sentry Risk Table, in particular, lists objects with the potential to impact the Earth. Unique to this list, it shows year ranges and the number of possible strikes in that time. The highly automated sentry system continuously scans for potential collisions and ranks them. Different scales are used. The Torino scale is easy to interpret: 0 or 1 is good, nothing to worry about; 9 or 10 (also shown in red to catch your eye) is bad, pack your bags. 

So, frankly, this column’s web site is a bit of good news/bad news. But at least you know, eh?!

* Not In My Back Yard

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

simulated with MaxIm

The plan tonight was to meet up at Manuel's, have a bite to eat, and then tackle a few varied tasks.

He had a few objectives to the evening: collimate the 9-1/4 inch telescope; "explore" the MaxIm DL software; make sure focusing worked with the Moonlite focuser (and he said, using the FocusMax software); test guiding; and then image Jupiter and M45. Not too much! For a Tuesday night.

I just wanted to do some "warm room" MaxIm DL work. Get it up and running. Make sure it talked to the hardware. Maybe run through some tutorials. And if we had time, try imaging.

He was hoping it was going to clear. During the afternoon, he said "The Sun is coming." I wasn't convinced we were going to receive good skies. The Clear Sky Chart was predicting 40% cloud cover to 10:00 PM, dropping to 30%. Transparency was "too cloudy" to predict. But the seeing was to be average, 3 out of 5. Environment Canada was more pessimistic: mainly cloudy with a 30% change of flurries. The wind would be strong: 20 klicks, gusting to 40, and then becoming light. That would make for -23 degrees with the wind chill. I packed my woolies.

It was clear around Taurus as I stepped off the 76 bus and walked the block to his place. But clouds threatened from the north and west. Where's the roll-off roof when you need it.

Spotted the minivan out front. Looked like he made it OK despite the bad traffic. I was worried I'd be early. Clearly he had been home for a while. And had already eaten. He microwaved a few slices of warm pizza for me. Afterwards, we headed down to the man cave.

I had him install the software while I started perusing the hefty coiled user guide. I mentioned the license agreement. One computer at a time. I discussed the update license arrangement, the annual subscription. He immediately responded, "Oh, I'm not gonna do that!" I urged him to keep an open mind and make a final decision in 11 months.

After he checked the skies and found that we were completely clouded out, I suggested we run through the tutorials. We simulated setting up and then activating cameras, turning on cooling, focusing, and guiding. Neat. Pretty good tutorials. I only found one mistake in the instructions. We talked about the imaging run steps. We played a bit with the integrated planetarium. A little strange but we figured it out.

Manuel pulled out the focuser at one point. And showed me the 6.3 focal reducer I didn't know he had.

We talked about field sizes. I often wondered if he has a good sense of the field of view he's working with. I suggested he set this up in MaxIm. 'Cause Stellarium's is kinda kooky. We added some of the particulars, after checking the focal lengths and apertures of all his OTAs and the pixel information of the cameras. I duplicated some entries and then changed the focal length to simulate the f/6.3 FR. Then I showed him that he'd be only getting the centre of the Andromeda galaxy if he used the 9-1/4 big gun. Even with the focal reducer, he was still seeing only 20% to 40% of the galaxy. I think he was surprised.

The only way to capture it would be to do a tiled mosaic. He perked up. That'd be cool, he inferred. Yeah. And hard! But at least MaxIm could do the plate solves...

I wanted to hook up some hardware, check cables, do more trials, but he wasn't interested. He thought it best to do it under the stars. Oh boy. That said, it was getting late. On a school night.

We concluded the evening discussing FocusMax. He wondered where it would fit in. I explained that if MaxIm DL's features were robust, good, easy to use, maybe he wouldn't need to use FocusMax. Alternatively, they might work well together. But if MaxIm could do the job well, I'd personally tend to a simpler solution. Less things to break. Still, it would require some research.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Moon very near Jupiter (Toronto)

Viewed Moon very near Jupiter from the porch. Very attractive. Colourful Aldebaran off to the side. I could just barely see the Pleiades. Cold and windy though... Could not motivate myself to haul out a telescope. Or the camera.

Jupiter in Taurus (Toronto)

Shot a few photos with the Canon 40D and 18-55 lens on the big tripod. 21 raws. 5 JPEGs. I didn't like how any of the raws turned out. Trailing! Two of the "test" JPEGs I quite like. That said, the focus was off a bit. Done manually using the back display, 10x zoom, and without a focusing mask. Both: 4 seconds, f/5.6, ISO 800.

The Hyades (aka Caldwell 41) and Pleiades (aka Messier 45 or M45). Jupiter peeking out behind the tree branch, just underneath the little faint triangle of 53, 51, 56 stars in Taurus. I quite like the dainty, tiny stars. Can easily see Pleione above Atlas; Celaeno between Taygeta and Electra. Is Merope a variable star? Seems much dimmer than Taygeta. Maybe it was behind a tree branch. I can even make out Asterope at mag 5.8. As well as HIP 17900 and 17832 below Atlas at mag 6.2 and 6.5 respectively. Love θ (theta) 1 and 2 in head of the Bull.

That glow at the bottom centre? Bloody Moon, that's what!

I re-framed. Wanted to capture the gas giant near the large open cluster.

View rotated 90°. The Hyades and Jupiter on the left; ζ (zeta) Tauri and El Nath on the right.

I think I forgot to zoom out mechanically with the lens. Forgot to do a lot of things... It says 55mm in the EXIF data, if that means anything. I found the focusing "touchy." It would shift as I let go.


Some further analyses of the photos... Turns out that θ 2 Tau (on the left) is considered the primary star in a double star system where θ 1 is the secondary. Which I will need to add to the double star life list (if it is not already there). 2 is slightly brighter than 1.

North-east (or above) of θ 2 and 1 is the double star HR 1427. It's companion is HD 28568 which is barely visible in the photo. Which is a bit strange. SkyTools 3 Pro says that A is magnitude 4.8 while B is approx. 6.6. The separation is slightly less than θ 2 and 1. Also the position angle is almost opposite; the primary is on the right.

Also, to the left of Aldebaran is the pair of σ (sigma) 1 and 2. Like θ duo, the number 2 star is the primary.  The 2 star is somewhat brighter than 1.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

the last cluster

Took a look at the Messiers I've yet to view. All between Leo and Virgo. Near Coma Berenices. Clustered together. Weird.

Optimum time? April. May. OK. This spring. Gonna get 'em...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

online meetup

Weather beat us. Snowing tonight. No city observing this month. Bummer. When the beginning of the week was looking pretty good. And I had some time...

I suggested that if members still wanted to congregate that we could have a group chat in Facebook. Proposed that we could talk about telescopes, mounts, observing programs, accessories, new eyepieces, software. And the weather, of course!

We had a good turnout. Tony, Nicole, Phil, Brenda, Manuel, David, Denis. And Sara too!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesday scratched

Stu called off the city observing for tonight. This one didn't bother me. I would not have been able to go.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

liked my ideas

Made a couple of suggestions to Stu to help the DDO members nights run even smoother. He really liked my idea for identifying the dimmer switches in the main lecture hall.

explained how they worked

Manuel invited me over to his place for some astronomy. He suggested we could play until 11:30. "It seems we are having clear skies."

I replied and said that today represented the second day of the city observing week's window. And if it was clear, I'd want to go to that. I invited him again to join us there for some fun and socialising.

He messaged back that he "did not know about your City Observation Plans. If I had known before I will join you guys." Further, he had left his 'scope outside to cool. And that he'd work on his own.

Gaaarrr. I was frustrated. It seemed he did not really understand how the observing sessions worked. And when he asked me yesterday where exactly in the park, it was pretty clear he had never reviewed any of the good information we have on our web site. And it also seemed that he did not know the dates. But then, I've seen that before of him.

I know he's a busy guy, and puts in long hours at his shop, but if he wants to participate more in RASC activities, he needs to monitor the calendar more closely.

In the end, it was moot. Stuart made another no go call. Tough calls. Nice in the day time yet a little too cloudy and hazy in the evenings...

Monday, January 14, 2013

dishes at the CAO

Told Justin, after quickly reviewing a couple of links on amateur radio astronomy,
that we had a couple of dishes at the CAO. Not currently being used. He was happy to hear that. Told him about the old 10' metal one I had. He was disappointed to hear that. He also shared that he had ordered a USB tuner. Cool. We might be able to listen to Jupiter this summer...

tried to find takers

Tried to rally the troops for a possible GO call for the city observing session this week. I wasn't too busy. Was available most of the nights. It would be fun to get out.

I asked Mark if he might be interested. Never heard from him the last time I tried but he responded quickly this month and thanked me for the heads-up.

Invited my buddy Ken. I still want to give him a gander through my telescope. He replied. Was interested.

Asked Manuel. Asked if he wanted to join me at High Park for the event. He replied, "Would like to go to High Park or come to my place?" Huh? High Park, man. We talked on the phone. Then he sent another note. "What about plugging the scope? I can go there, but have to depend on someone else to observe. Where exactly in High Park is?" Uh boy. Sent him the link.

I explained that I really liked observing from the park with members.

The skies were sketchy. Stuart made the call early. No go.

Phil reminded us of Europa's shadow transit near the Great Red Spot. If anyone had a break in the clouds...

reviewed CAO databases

Asked Lora to check the "databases" in the CAO supervisors Yahoo!Group. She made some excellent suggestions.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

sent SFM to Thomas

Thomas requested the CAO Site Facilities Manual. I sent over the latest and greatest.

much ado about comets

I read François's The Sky This Month materials, posted to the RASC Toronto Centre web site. Reviewed his PowerPoint slide and Excel sheet. Too bad he doesn't submit these as PDFs. More people would benefit.

He did not have much for us to do over the next month. And he seemed to be really flogging comets. Ones due in March or later.

I took from the presentation a very optimistic tone. I messaged him for more info on C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS in particular. I asked if it would be visible for us, people in Ontario.

He replied, "PANSTARRS should become visible late in February but the best time will be March 4th and into April. It is better placed for southern observers who will be able to start seeing the comet as of the end of January inbound. We will see it more on the outbound portion of its route after perihelion."

March 4? It will be east of the Sun! So level with it at sunset. And the tail would be parallel to the ground. How could we see that?! It just looked too close to the Sun. Around 15° at perihelion. On March 11. In very bright skies. I've seen star-like Mercury around greatest elongation, around 15° away. Soft fuzzy comet? Fickle comet?

"On the outbound part of the passage, just after evening twilight, the tail will stick straight up in the west, and should be visible in Toronto from a semi-dark site. Outside of the city, the tail and coma should be quite clear from March 4th onwards for the remainder of the month."

I dunno. I think we'll be extremely lucky if we see anything...

Creative Suite 2 available

Word starting flying about astronomical circles, particularly among the imagers. Adobe was making the CS2 products available for download. Free. Full versions. Licensed.

All my versions of Photoshop are very old. And for the Mac. True of my copy of Illustrator as well.

Timely, this news. If I want to have some reasonable powerful tools at my disposal for doing post processing of astrophotographs, it might be real good to have the popular product.

Time to update.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

local laser hunting

Matthew asked about local resources for a laser pointer. Lance said Active Surplus had some in the past. I had to laugh though. Immediately other people started replying about online outlets. Guess they missed that part of his message...

an excellent start

Went to the first Members Night at the DDO of the near year. Rode up with Grace and Tony. There was a huge turnout. No sign of Manuel though.

The theme was Jupiter. Enjoyed the talks by Stuart, Phil, Jim, and Chris. Everything went very smoothly. Even the transitions between brief presentations were quick and uneventful. I congratulated Stu.

Of course, we were clouded out. It was very damp out. But there was a tour of the dome. I didn't go. I heard the place was soaking, dripping, in the humidity.

While at the observatory, I took the opportunity to scout out the place. Place showed me some of the small rooms that I'd be able to use, if necessary, for the telescope clinic.

tried to find double shadows

Phil called. Asked when the next double shadow event was on Jupiter. Seemed he was horizontal and downstairs and didn't want to burn any calories. He refused to fetch his RASC 2013 Calendar or 2013 Observer's Handbook from upstairs and saw the phone handset was nearby. "Let's bug Bla."

My calendar happened to be on my desk. I spotted the March 9 event but then checked the location: NW of NA. Oops. And the event one week later: Alaska. It was hard scanning for events. I was concerned I'd miss something. Checked my Google calendar. Nothing. So I suggested using SkyTools.

Walked Phil through the process of using the Current Events tab. We scanned the Nightly Planner window but didn't find anything in the near future.

I suspected it is an alignment issue, like Saturn's ring crossing, where we need to be in the right place in our orbit in relation to the gas giant.

This was for his presentation tonight.

Reminded me of my recent career first, seeing a moon in front of the planet at the same time as a shadow. "Very rare," Phil said. He proposed it was another chance alignment: a bright moon back-dropped by a dark cloud band. Uh huh!


Finally hung up my RASC 2013 astro-calendar...

added omnirama to SN6

Tried, for the first time, to install a custom landscape or panorama into Starry Night Pro 6. Despite the confusing and out-of-date documentation I was able to figure it out. Pain in the butt manual editing of a other-OS-formatted text file. What the hell are DSS files? How are they produced? Why is my image rendered poorly? Bah.

Friday, January 11, 2013

hacked the brass torch

I converted one of the brass-style small flashlights to use an LED. Used one of my 660 nanometre deep red waterclear 5mm LEDs. Had to expand the hole in the reflector a bit, with a 7/32 drill bit. Jammed a 75 ohm 1/8 watt resistor into the space behind the reflector.

Not perfect. But promising.

Sent a note off to Phil.


For version 2, I'll see if I can procure some surface mount resistors. That will reduce the space requirement behind the reflector.

MaxIm DL expert needed

Manuel pinged me on Facebook. Back on the continent.

Asked if I wanted to learn MaxIm DL. Huh?

Seems he's ordered it: MaxIm DL Pro 5. And is already feeling overwhelmed.

starting to plan

Lora, in her new capacity, sent a note saying she was preparing the CAO supervisor schedule for the new season. Asked us to let her know our availability. An informative opening letter. Nice touch. I let her know my commitments.

messaged the mentors

Sent out a big communication to the new owners telescope clinic mentors, in lieu of a meeting. Many had asked questions at or after the Wednesday meeting. And then Ed fired out an email in the morning. Discussed when we were opening the gates, what I expected them to do, how to deal with inexpensive telescopes, what they should bring (and not bring), etc.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

enjoyed Allard's style

I really enjoyed Allard's presentation. He talked about amateur astronomy projects he's worked on. Excellent visuals. One of the best I've seen in a long time.

took a question

Took a Stellarium question from a member. She wondered if the text colour, when selecting a star, was coincidental or indeed showed the stellar attribute.

I said it was a good observation: the text colour did reflect the colour of the star. Whereas a particular colour was used for planets, DSOs, etc.

made handouts

In Charles's absence, after I received the PowerPoint file from Ralph, I made and delivered the handout for the RASC Toronto Centre meeting. When Tony and I arrived the Ontario Science Centre, at around 7:15 PM, Sharmin already had the Welcome Desk up and running and a number of people had already arrived. I left her with a bunch of copies and then headed into the auditorium to hand-deliver. And then returned to the desk to greet people.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

all over the place

The treasurer sent a strange email to the finance team and me.

He asked if we had the ability to view the CAO property remotely, who had access, if I was doing anything to avoid "hit by the bus" scenarios, if we could monitor indoor and outdoor temperatures, if we could receive an email alert of low temps, if I could implement it, what I thought, if it would be cost effective, about the web site billing. He said how he expected to be billed and would pay for the hosting. That we had never used our PayPal account to pay out before. And that he was anxious about locking 3 year plan given what happened with the last provider.

I was reeling. He seemed to be all over the map. Talking about insurance issues, payment methods, and concerns about providers going out of business, and lack of due diligence with account information. These matters had been initiated in separate email communications with other people. And now not all those people were included. Like the web team.

I sent a long, sternly worded response, meant to convey my displeasure but also to clarify as much as possible. I summarised at the end of the message: the CAO is not going to freeze, the WPP needs to be paid, and we probably should pay them by PayPal. I was not happy.

Monday, January 07, 2013

stay the course

With the web presence provider term coming to an end, I recommended that the RASC Toronto Centre stay with HostPapa. And that we renew for another three year term so to enjoy the deepest savings. I recalled that we had paid via our PayPal account in the past and that would probably be the best option this time 'round.

hazy waning crescent (Toronto)

Didn't observe last night. The Clear Sky Chart showed that it was to clear at 9-ish and then be good for balance of the evening. At 11:45 PM, it was partly clear in the south with clouds moving rapidly and still completely overcast to the north. It was windy, obviously. Chilly.

Awoke at some point in the night, 2 AM or 3 AM perhaps, so to visit the biffy. Peeked outside. Overcast.

Alarm went off at 6:00 AM. To a radio station that I dislike but have yet to tune away from. I started listening to the news report. And was wide awake. Did another walkabout at 7-ish. Installed eyeball corrective lenses.

Spotted a thin crescent Moon, left edge lit, through hazy clouds and black branches. South west south. No sign of Venus over the city.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

radio for sale

Offered my Grundig G6 shortwave radio for sale to the RASC Toronto Centre group. The whole kit, actually.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

handout volunteer needed

Asked Sharmin to keep an eye out for a volunteer who would like to assemble the handout for RASC meetings. Something that the new president Charles has been doing. But really shouldn't. Hopefully we can find someone to assist.

Friday, January 04, 2013

the 19th

Jason posted a note on the RASC Toronto Centre Facebook page about the telescope clinic. But he noted the wrong date. I nudged him again to correct it.

Thursday, January 03, 2013


As hurricane Sandy smashed over the Caribbean and into the east coast of North America, I worried for my friends. And I thought of superstructures. Swirling, spiral structures, above the surface of our blue planet.

The October spinning storm caused unprecedented damage including substantial flooding in New York City. Eleven states plus DC were declared disaster areas. 20 000 flights were cancelled. More than 100 people were killed. Not as intense as Typhoon Tip in 1979, thank goodness. Not the deadliest tropical storm.

Cyclonic storms can be very small, the size of a city. They can be very large, covering much of a continent. Considering the damage typically caused, the associated loss of animal and human life, it is difficult to think of them as microscopic.

I've experienced a number of hurricanes. All from afar. Astonishing waves on Lake Huron when I was in high school. The outflow cirrus shield visible in the south a couple of summers back. Trees down in High Park, a sudden snow storm in Georgian Bay, a gas shortage in the GTA from Sandy. Every time, I am awestruck by the raw power. I know I'm hundreds of kilometres from the centre. What must it be like near the eye.

And so too, in the "eye" of a spiral galaxy, where it is generally considered that black holes live. Sometimes one. Sometimes several. Large. Or very large. And it is also well understood that black holes absorb. In and of themselves they do not emit. They pull in material. And once in their grasp, nothing can escape. Once caught in the gravity, in that final spiral, one's fate is sealed. We're starting to record details of material and stars in the centre of galaxies being crushed, stretched, flung about, smashed, and torn apart. A maelstrom.

The mechanics of a tropical cyclone is very different than what is going on in a macroscopic spiral galaxy to be sure. That becomes very apparent when you consider the vertical structure of a cyclone. But when you view them both from the "top," above their centres, the similarities are eerie. A huge, rotating, flat disk. Arms, curving outwards, harboring isolated regions of activity, small storms, tornadoes, death, destruction, soon to be regions of rebirth and growth, produced through powerful waves.

  • Messier 74 from the Hubble Space Telescope
  • hurricane Sandy captured by the NOAA GOES-13 satellite

planned for new Moons

Went to add the new Moon dates to my Psion palmtop calendar but discovered they were already entered.

When did I do that? Mysterious.

getting more exposure

Allard sent more telescope clinic applications. He also said that Google Adwords are in effect. Should bump our exposure...

on handout duty

Offered to make meeting handout while Charles is across the pond. He accepted.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

updated booking materials

Helped Lora with the CAO booking... items. We discussed wording and expectations. I then revised the bookings information page, the reservation form, the form response page, the form email message, and the packing list page.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

staring at Stu's photo

Stu shared a photo from early tonight. I find it absolutely mesmerising.

It is a 5 second exposure, f/4.5, ISO 800, with a 36mm lens from his backyard in Richmond Hill. He used a Canon T2i. With the 10x optical zoom, he manually focused!

Vesta is actually visible in the full scale image.

hunted for comet (Toronto)

After updating SkyTools 3 Pro, I checked the location of comet C/2012 K5 (LINEAR). In Auriga.

7:57 PM. Shoveled the deck. Took the binoculars out. Without the tripod. Really need a tripod. Really need a chair. And the Black Cloak of Doom.

Looked between β (beta) and θ (theta) Aurigae. But I don't think I saw anything.

8:16. Mounted the Bushnells to the Manfrotto tripod, via the home-grown adapter plate. Sat in the lawn chair. Wore the black cloak. Scanned.

The target area was still behind branches, which were a little distracting. Noticed HR 2115, 38, and 39 making up a little triangle, and then an arc of stars below, reminiscent of Leo. Scanned this area in detail. But still no joy.

Wondered if I should use more aperture...

This is gonna get trickier, as the constellation climbs higher in the sky...

I took the baby newt and metal table out... Started to go to beckoning Jupiter. Instead focused on a random star. Tried scanning in the narrow field of view.

8:36. After reviewing ST3P, headed out to star hop from a bright star. Clouds!

getting desperate

Debated, for a long time, about setting up the 'scope. It started this morning when I looked at the Clear Sky Chart for Toronto. It predicted clear skies. Wouldn't you know it...

With a sense of desperation, as we drove (and inched) down the 400, I exclaimed, "I'm gonna set up tonight." Tony reminded me the Moon would be bright.

Once home, I started running simulations in Stellarium and SkyTools. Checked my weather resources. And started to get discouraged. Snow was called for tomorrow. And Thursday. Crap. Only one night.

I hate setting up for one night...

received electronic heater

Received a gift from friends. An electronic hand warmer. Cool! I mean... Well, you know what I mean... I never knew such a thing existed.

From Eddie Bauer. Aluminum body. About the size of an iPod Nano. Comes with a short USB cable, for charging. And a sock, to prevent burns. Mine is the silver one. Supposed to last about 2 hours at low power and 90 minutes at high power. What a great idea.

Now I can avoid lighting myself on fire!

used the new bypass

Returning from the CAO, we took the new bypass. Interesting. This avoids traveling along the frustratingly slow segment of the old Hwy 26 between Brock's Beach to the east and the 6th Line on the west. I'll have to tell RASC members about this in the spring...

warned Phil

Phil reported, a couple of days ago, a problem with the new import process for the RASC membership data. Despite selecting a subset, all the new candidates were imported. I was intrigued. Today, finally, we sat down, briefly, and tried the process—with the latest December data.

He had completed the first couple of steps. Then, as I watched, he checked off the (truly) new people. And then he switched to the form to initiate the next step of the procedure. I stopped him. "Close the open query." As I said it, I recalled thinking about this when I had developed the code. "Oh," Phil said, "I didn't do that before." I explained there'd be conflicts. It worked fine this time.

Good. But a slight error on my part for not documenting or warning of this requirement.