Sunday, March 31, 2013

unpleasant thoughts

I noted slight differences in the RA and Dec positions between the GoToStar hand controller and Stellarium. I had a sinking thought that the GoToStar is out of date. And will get worse. This product is dead-ended. No more firmware updates.

All this assumes that goto slew coordinates are based on "current" RA and Dec values versus J2000...

Are these differences a problem? Would it amount to a target being out of the eyepiece? Or just off-centre?

tasted my own medicine

The last couple of nights, when I've been playing with the alignment controls of the GoToStar IDEA system, I felt a little uncomfortable when it suggested stars. I know where Aldebaran is. I am pretty sure about Alphard. I know a bunch of stars. But the funny thing is... OK, you know, well... I know Dubhe, I do! I do know Dubhe. For certain I know its parent constellation. Really! But... well... I'd have to look it up, to be sure. The Markabs and Mirfaks always confuse me. OK. OK? Happy?!

I had started thinking about this when first learning the system. But last night, after checking the ideaxuwen Yahoo!Group, I began making a list. While waiting for it to get dark, I transcribed the named stars shown in the hand controller. I also noted the assigned number. Ended up with 189 "potential" entries. The HC was automatically skipping some, ones not visible to me, given my location, and the time. I actually saw it, on the fly, dynamically added and excluding stars. Then I started to walk through the alignment process to see what stars it encouraged me to select. I noted these. It was a very short list, a subset, with 13 entries.

Later I moved and merged the two lists to a spreadsheet. Added the Bayer name and the constellation and a "location" column, for the general impression (for me, in North America) where the star lay. The alignment star and hemisphere fields I'd use for filtering.

This morning, I fired up the hand controller. Already, I captured some different stars, with the 12 hour time difference. Like Zubenelgenubi! So, now, 191. From the version 090630 firmware. But then I changed the location to Melbourne, Australia; adjusted the time zone offset. Restarted the mount. And plucked out a few more entries. Finally I tried an alignment (or simulated it). Oh ho. It suggested Suhail, in Vela. Curiously, this was not in the named star list. There's no space for it either. Weird. I wondered if there might be stars beyond 191...

At first, I didn't think I'd get them all. There remains but one star, # 44, between Ancha and Antares, I don't have details of. Angetenar, perhaps? Or Ankaa?!

With the list compiled, I applied some cell and page formatting, kicked in the two filters, and printed the "short list." 22 entries. And, happily, I know most!

name Bayer    constellation general location
Aldebaran alpha Taurus obvious bright star in V, within Hyades
Alphard alpha Hydra bright star, below Cancer and Leo
Alphecca alpha Corona Borealis   between Hercules and Bootes
Alpheratz alpha Andromeda apex of narrow V, top-left of square
Antares alpha Scorpius obvious bright star, neck of scorpion
Arcturus alpha Bootes obvious bright star, above Virgo
Betelgeuse   alpha Orion top-left of Orion rectangle
Capella alpha Auriga obvious bright star, opposite Taurus
Deneb alpha Cygnus tail of swan, toward Cepheus
Denebola beta Leo tail of the lion, toward Virgo
Dubhe alpha Ursa Major outer edge of pot, toward Polaris
Hamal alpha Aries bright star, in middle of arc
Markab alpha Pegasus bottom-right of square, near Circlet
Mirfak alpha Perseus bright, centre of constellation
Mizar zeta Ursa Major second star in from end of handle
Pollux beta Gemini bright star, near Procyon
Procyon alpha Canis Minor obvious bright star, above Sirius
Regulus alpha Leo obvious bright star, bottom of Sickle
Rigel beta Orion bottom-right of Orion rectangle
Schedar alpha Cassiopeia brightest star, bottom-right of W
Sirius alpha Canis Major obvious bright star, neck of dog
Spica alpha Virgo obvious bright star, near Corvus

This handy small paper document, er... card, I'll keep with the mount. Now if I just had a laminator!

As usual, I'm probably over-analysing this. The alignment stars that will be suggested will be bright. The lucida of constellations. So if one knows which constellation the stars belong to, then that makes it easy. Still, I need to improve my comfort (and speed) when aligning. Focusing on this short list will help.

Now, this is a work in progress. I fully expect others to pop up, at different times in the year... For example, I'm surprised Castor or Albireo is not suggested. We'll see.


There were some "issues" in all this too. It is not clear, yet, what the Nanjing people meant by Marfik. There's Marfak, Al Mirfak, Mirfak, Marsik, Marfic, Marsic. Which could refer to theta or mu Cassiopeiae, kappa Herculis, or lambda Ophiuchi.

I already learned that the Mirfak entry meant alpha Persei, not the star in Hercules (by checking the RA and Dec values). Phecda and Pherkad threw me for a bit. I probably wrote it down wrong. The former refers to gamma Ursa Majoris (aka Phad) while the latter is gamma Ursa Minoris (near Kochab).

From my notes, Muscida is the nose of Ursa Major, no issue there, but I'm still unclear if the Bayer is omicron or pi. Stellarium shows omicron. I don't think this is a GoToStar issue. In the same vein, I think Propus, in Gemini, is correct in the hand controller but some refer to it as eta, others iota.

I noted that the 8 named stars in the Pleiades are not used, so far as I can tell, for alignment purposes. That's a good thing. Whereas other manufacturers do so! Without a detailed knowledge of the famous open cluster, it'd be easy to choose the wrong star. And that'd be silly.

reviewed users manual

Read thoroughly, this time, the "quick" GoToStar users manual [sic] so to demystify some things.

Looks like my assumption about the park position is correct. Counter weight shaft "inline" with north leg. Mount and OTA pointed to Polaris. They do say, though, that one can be in the vicinity. It does not need to be highly precise.

They make a point of saying that the Dec drive motor needs to be on the east side of the mount.

The authors strongly recommend using the three star alignment process. I'll have to try this. I realise I've made an assumption, that's it behaves like Celestron or Meade, where some people advise to not use the three star method.

From page 3, I noted the following. During the alignment "procedure [the hand controller is] establishing the mount’s cone error."

Also, after the alignment process, the computer "will compute the polar axis positioning error of your mount and display it. Press BACK and you will return to the [main] display." Huh. No notes on what to do about this...

A tip is offered if goto accuracy degrades. They suggest choosing an identifiable star, syncing on it, before slewing to the next object.

I noted earlier the "Dis R.A. axis error" command. I think this information is displayed automatically. But it sounds like this command will show it any time.

And the PEC. I might try this for long exposure work...

Nice menu tree on page 4. That's it.


Found a Word document in the Yahoo!Group. It pointed out something interesting... "Park Scope: This procedure only need to be done if you don’t move your telescope mount after you power off GoToStar. Celestial pole pointing error will be stored to flash memory and recalled while power on again."

I've been using the Park command. Often. I just assumed it was the graceful way to shut down the mount. But now I'm wondering if the process stores data that then mucks up the mount for the next time. It sounds like the Park Scope command is like "hibernate." If not doing an overnight, then do not use the Park command; just power off.

collected double star data (Toronto)

7:45 PM, March 30, 2013. Stepped out onto the porch. Hmm. High cloud... Everywhere. Wisps here and there. In the north. In the south. South-west. Might not be good tonight... Still, if it fair, or even improved, I'd be ready. Tonight I wanted to do some imaging.

Fixed the centre post under the black light blind. It had fallen over, again. Should figure out a way to Velcro it. Was happy to see I had not lost any clothes pegs. Moved the laptop outside.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: slewing and tracking with IDEA GoToStar
9:18 PM. The camera was ready. Battery grip attached. Seemed heavy. AC adapter installed along with a battery (although I don't know if the battery works, or rather, can be used). Laptop John Kim Chi already outside. Not worried about dark adaptation. Back in the kitchen but without the netbook John Littlejohn. Reinstalled the CF memory card in the camera. Need to put some socks and shoes on, and a sweater. Planning an imaging run. Of a double star. In particular, Castor. I intend to take a bunch of pictures.

It is unclear from the JDSO articles on using a DSLR to image double stars the exact workflow. Both Michaud's and Berko's articles have left a lot of questions for me. But I think Berko shoots lots of still photos of the same star and then adds or averages the photos perhaps in REDUC. Which is not unlike capturing video and using the individual frames.

9:21. Skies looked OK. I realised the Moon would rise later tonight. About 45 minutes? More wiggling room. Maybe that would give me time to capture a second subject, maybe another faster mover, like Alula Australis? That said, I didn't want to go too crazy. This was all somewhat experimental.

It occurred to me now, tonight, in planning prime focusing imaging, that I'd need a decent polar alignment. Considering the challenges last night, I considered going "back to the basics." Align the mount the way I know how, using the polar axis scope.

9:23. Logged into Kim Chi. The air felt damp. I put a sweater and toque on immediately. Removed the bungee from the tarp.

9:25. Telescope uncloaked. Towel under computer to prevent sliding on deck box. Took the camera and camera power supply out.

Considered the quick review last night of the GoToStar system start up and alignment. After I found and copied the 4-page guide, I noted it referred to the park position. And that while parked, the 'scope would be pointing to NCP. So it looked like my assumption was correct. Counter weight shaft down and vertical. Eyeballing it. And I was setting the Dec axis to 90°. I had been doing this crudely or quickly last night but maybe I was off a bit. Or completely wrong. What did not make sense though was when I did my first full trial, I was getting very good goto pointing. Why did it not work well last night?! Every target was off. Everything was off by about a degree... Tonight I wanted to confirm where the park position is.

9:28. Eyeglasses on. Headed out to do the polar alignment. Old school. The Vixen way. For March 30 at 9:30 PM.

9:30. The SCT corrector cap fell off when I rotated the OTA quite far. And as it started to fall, I tried to catch it but missed, and proceed to touch two fingers to the glass. Damn it! Clearly, the little mod I made to the cap was not enough: in the cold the cap is still shrinking and there's not enough friction. I need to apply more layers. Or come up with a completely different approach...

9:33. Moved the voice recorder outside to the telescope tray. This time of year made for a very interesting orientation of the mount. I had to disconnect the power cord and watch the clearances. Very tight.

9:36. Used my red portal flashlight to illuminate the reticule. Yesterday I had put Polaris in the left side of the field of view. But tonight, the reticule was showing that it needed to be to the right. And, at the moment, nearly horizontal. I put it just outside the big circle, accommodating for recent precession. Put the Dec at 90 and the RA vertical.

9:40. Realised that if I could see Polaris in the telescope, I'd be near NCP. It was in the finder. I moved the telescope in RA and Dec. The RA axis looked like it was about 15° off, standing at the north, looking south, it was tilted to the right. The Dec was at 88. I set the moveable RA scale ring to zero. Thing was stiff. This would serve as the temporary park position indicator.

[ed: That was probably a mistake. Polaris should not be centred.]

Polaris was swimming. I wanted to have a look-see of the double. No way. Heat off the roof? Clouds I couldn't see?

Done with the eyeglasses.

9:45. Checked settings in the hand controller. The date and time: 3/30/2013, 21:45, Daylight Saving Time On. Site: west 79 28 50 by north 43 39 15, 300 minutes behind UT. Northern hemisphere.

Decided to do a one-star align. Using Aldebaran. It was way off! It was closer to Betelgeuse or Meissa. Crazy.

9:47. Got an idea. Figured out which button activated the RA motor and used only it to slew back to Aldebaran. Uh huh. This loose theory was confirmed. Aldebaran showed in the finder scope, very near the centre. There was a problem with the RA axis; the Dec was fine. I kept wondering if it was a time issue. Then I wondered if there was something wrong with the Daylight Saving Time calculation. Couldn't remember if my first full test was before or after the DST change... What if I turned off the DST option? I returned to the park position to begin the experiment.

9:51. Interesting. Polaris was back in the eyepiece. Turned off the DST option. Did not power off.

9:53. Began a one-star alignment again. Curiously, it did not give Aldebaran this time; so it was Betelgeuse for the test. And it was off target. It didn't seem as severe. But still...

New idea. Not a DST problem; it is a problem with the park position. I just had to find it...

Went back to the park position. Took a peek at Polaris. It looked better. Yeh.

Reinstated the Daylight Saving Time option. Repeated the one-star align. Once again, it offered Aldebaran. Accepted it.

9:56. Released the RA clutch and put the telescope on the star. Uh huh. Very close. Then I refined the position with the keypad. When I hit Enter on the keypad, it returned me to the main screen. Behavior I had not seen last night. No "error" report. Which leads me to believe if the altitude and azimuth error is large, one sees the error report. Getting somewhere!

Chose the park position command. I wanted to know what it thought the location was. The Dec was back at 88. And the RA was nearly vertical. I moved the RA ring to set zero at the new position.

[ed: But forgot to note the delta!]

9:59. Now I wondered what would happen with a full-test. Powered off. Requested a two-star alignment. Aldebaran was first. Discovered the battery dead on the ring light. Aldebaran was in the centre! For the second star I selected Pollux. It was behind the tree branch, damn it—I had to guess at the location. Thought I had it. Received an RA error report: altitude 11.9 higher and azimuth 28.8 east.

Stumbled across it before but deliberately accessed the help system, for the page keys. Unfortunately, they didn't work in the Named Star number list.

10:04. On Castor and tracking. Right on time! OK. Now it was time to prepare to image. Realised I didn't have the Bahtinov mask for the 8". Tried the mask and focused.

10:05. Bumped the computer power cord and it went down! Flaky cord. Crap. Twisted the end, right near the 3 prong plug and it came back. I looped it under the power bar and it looked stable.

10:09. It occurred to me, with my SCT, that I could use either the old Meade SCT t-adapter, bolted directly to the visual back of course, or the new 2" nose piece, shoved in the Tele Vue SCT adapter. I elected to use the nose piece. It would be faster to install. And it would allow faster camera rotation, if necessary.

Removed the eyepiece. The nose piece was a little finicky to install.

Huh. I noticed the 2" eyepiece and 2" mirror were heavy. The camera didn't seem so much compared to them.

10:12. While Kim Chi booted, I installed the data cable at the camera. Had to Shut down unnecessary apps, Evernote, Dropbox, Magic Disc. Flash tried to update. Received a "camera not recognised error."

10:21. Rerouted the cable, at the camera, to change the strain. Disconnected and reconnected. EOS Utility finally came up on the correctly. Put the camera into Manual mode. Returned to the computer. Set the white balance to daylight, set the format to Raw. Opened Live View. Couldn't see anything. Started playing with the exposure settings.

10:26. Took a 2 second shot. I could faintly see the out of focus Bahtinov mask. Continued toward focus taking shots until I could see it in the Live View.

10:37. Settled on ISO 1600. Tried a 15 second exposure. Unfortunately the A and B stars were very bloated. Tried 4 seconds. Very good. But decided 2 was best, to balance the A and B but still see the C and D. And I'd minimise tracking and vibration issues.

from IMG-2487, scaled, unprocessed, 4 seconds, ISO 1600, w/b daylight, N at top-right, E at top-left, C star south of AB, D star west of C

10:40. Panned slightly at 2x to better frame. Set up a timed run with a 30 second start delay, 15 shots every 60 seconds, using the current 2 second setting. Left the porch.

10:51. Checked on the rig. Everything was moving along. Wondered about tracking and drift or PEC issues given that I wasn't doing guiding. But I was taking very short exposures. And hopefully the software would help me correct things, if necessary.

Returned to the office. Checked the star fields in SkyTools. Which was good. I was getting mixed about all the neighbouring stars. While I was on Castor in Gemini, I kept thinking of Tegmen in Cancer, with "the house," with the E and G stars. And the potentially fast moving B star: that was 38 Gem (down by the foot).

Looked up the data for the 4-star system, α (alpha) Gem. The period of the A and B stars was 445 years. A reliable orbit. The current separation, as of February, was 4.88". It also showed that a = 6.59" but I had to look up in the help for the definition of a: semi-major axis.

10:58. The image run was complete. Readied to shoot 15 darks. The image run dialog showed the previous settings.

11:02. Looked up the weather info, back in the office. I heard it was going to rain... The Clear Sky Chart, as of 8:27, had improved. It showed good conditions through to 2 AM. Weird. Transparency goes worse at midnight, seeing stays level, Moon becomes a factor at 1. The Weather Network applet showed partly cloudy, 6°C. The quick EC RSS for PIA clear, 6.9°, increasing cloudiness, low plus 2. Sunday rain, high of 8. From the EC main page. Current conditions, 101.7 and falling, 5.5°, dewpoint -4.5, humidity 48%, wind light S at 9 km/h, as of 11 PM. Forecast issued at 3:30 PM, clear, increasing cloudiness overnight, low plus 2. Rain tomorrow. All this meant I'd have to do a tear down tonight. Checked NOAA. Ah ha! Hear it comes. In fact, it showed I would lose the skies sooner... Very soon. Fast clouds from due west.

It occurred to me the clouds were going to knock me out. I should change the imaging sequence: stop the darks right now and collect light frames on 38 Gem. Started to record the RA and Dec in Evernote but it pissed me off. Wrote down the J2000 coords for the star on paper. Headed to the porch.

11:07. The dark run was about half-way. Stopped it. Checked the OneWorld weather station: 1008, 29%, 5.4°. Fired up Live View again.

11:09. Slewed to the star. Spotted it in the finder, about a degree away. Fine tuned. Returned the computer and started trying different exposures. Panned slightly.

from IMG-2516, scaled, unprocessed, 4 seconds, ISO 1600, w/b daylight, N at top-right, E at top-left, A and B split

11:14. Returned from the office after verifying the target. Settled on 4 second exposures. Set up the imaging run. 15 lights at 1 minute intervals.

11:15. Received a CSAC email alert. It noted 10% cloud. Good for double stars. Considered emailing Berko for details of his imaging runs. Wondered if I should read more JDSO articles.

11:20. Played with SkyTools. Switched to the 40D field. Had to decrease the exposure value to decrease the stars.

Wondered if I have set up the telescope view settings incorrectly in SkyTools. I think it was a posting on the Yahoo!Group that started me thinking down this line. And I think it is only becoming apparent now that I'm adding camera choices in the software. I've specified the SCT telescope produces a laterally inverted field, when in fact it doesn't. Two reflections. It's the mirror diagonal that does the additional flip. I'll have to explore this a bit...

11:24. Checked for Nancy. Counted whiskers and claws. Checked the computer. Heard the camera shutter. 10 lights were done.

I considered doing more. But realised I really didn't know what I was doing. This would probably be enough data for testing.

Looking forward, if I want better results, I'll need to do more accurate polar alignment. And probably do drift alignment. And get, once and for all, Backyard EOS. Back in the office, I skimmed again at the (brief) user manual. The GoToStar has a PEC option, can display the polar axis error, etc. And I should look in the Yahoo!Group for the "advanced" options. Need to learn more about two- and three-star alignments.

11:32. Check Stellarium. Oh oh. Looked like I'd be in the trees. Sent a message to David about the comet. He hadn't seen it. But didn't indicate what he used... I reminded all it was around magnitude 4.5 now. Headed to the porch to shoot darks.

11:33. Run was done. Looked up: ooh, clouds! Probably the final frames were pooched... Started the darks run, 4 second exposures. While the telescope and computer worked, I started the tear down.

11:39. Started to remove the big light blind. Considering that light entering the back of the camera, I installed the ocular cover. It's still amazing to me how well the shield works.

11:48. Considered throw the long fabric over the edge of the porch... Instead, dragged it part-way into the kitchen.

11:54. Started the shortened final darks run. Considered removing the OTA but discovered the data cable was snaking through the mount.

11:57. Four to go.

12:00 AM, March 30, 2013. The last photo was captured. A photo of black.

12:02 AM. Gracefully closed down the software. And hibernated John Kim Chi before I bonked the cable again. I need to fix that cord...

12:04. Brought the camera in. It was cool. Stood it on the eyepiece tube to try to keep the moisture out of the guts. Positioned a prop so it wouldn't fall over.

12:08. Shut off the recorder.


Noticed the red incandescent bulb in the living was throwing a lot of yellow light to the ceiling... Red colouring faded. I wonder if they can be "painted..." Dipped?


An "unknown quantity" for me is knowing what Berko did to determine the angle of the image. Was I supposed to do some drift images?

Huh. Just thought of something. Be easy to do a "full" drift pattern. Shoot a super long exposure (at a low ISO) and let the stars drift across the whole field... Hmmm. And don't turn the camera, of course.

Huh. Wonder what you'd get if you did a medium ISO...


Overall, that was kind fun. Two back-to-back nights. Visual observing one night. Imaging the next. Learned lots about the GoToStar system. Hopefully got some usable data so to measure the double stars.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

made more time

Oops. I should have cleared out the voice recorder earlier. That should have been a priority.

Drop the quality level. That still only gave about 2 hours.

I know there are music folders on it. Not sure why. At some point, it did some sort of sync action with the computer. Those music files are taking up a lot of space. I deleted an album I knew I had a copy of elsewhere—I had listened to it earlier in the day, curiously, from John Littlejohn. And I blew away the science e-book. That was on John Smallberries.

There appear to be over 130 entries in the astronomy folder... Should probably kill those.

Anyway, I now have 10 hours of time available—at the MP3 48k format.

checked for battery

Pulled the back cover off the GoToStar hand controller.

This revealed what the little hole on the back is for. Not a reset button; it's for the speaker.

It's a little hard to see in the photo but just to the left of the RJ jacks is the white LED. Should be easy to flip to a red one, if needed.

Yep. There's a battery on board. Nickel Metal Hydride. 2.4 volts. 40 milli-ampere-hours. That looks like 2 cells strapped together. Boo! It's hard-mounted...

But maybe it won't be too difficult to remove.

simulated finder scope field

Tricked out SkyTools 3 Pro with a "fake" eyepiece, for the Orion finder scope, which offers a 5° field of view, so that I can see the finder FOV circle in the Interactive Atlas chart.

It was a balancing act, playing with two variables, to get the desired effect. The formula I worked with was:

fle = flt * TFOV / AFOV

  • AFOV = apparent field of view - for the "eyepiece"
  • fle = focal length of the "eyepiece"
  • flt = focal length of the telescope
  • TFOV = true field of view
For my configuration, I used the following numbers:
  • AFOV = 180
  • flt = 2032
  • TFOV = 5
In playing with this, I learned that SkyTools does not like an eyepiece focal length of more than 100 mm; but would tolerate very high numbers for the apparent FOV. Crazy high!

The result was that if I used a 57 mm "eyepiece" with a 180° AFOV field, while "hooked up" to the C8 SCT, I'd be able to look through a 5° true field.

This should be handy...


Of course, another way to do all this is to add a "binoculars" for the finder scope... Ah. OK. The binocular option is better. It presents a more normal view of the sky, not too many stars.

no battery backup

The grip is confusing. When battery is in (on right side) and power adapter is in (on left side) the camera does not power up when the DC coupler is not plugged in. I thought the camera might work by drawing power from either the adapter or the battery. I assumed the battery would be a "back up" to the adapter, say, if moving the camera.

Looks like that's not true. So then there's no point putting a battery in the BG-E2 if one intends to use the coupler. Can't power the camera; is not charged.

glitch fixed

Sorry for the glitch... Network Solutions, which manages my internet domain names, screwed up.

The lumpydarkness domain went off-line around 11:00 AM Saturday. For no apparent reason.

let me manage the window sizes

Using SkyTools 3 Pro last night filled me with mixed feelings. It is incredible software, all things considered. But there are some significant frustrations with it too.

I greatly dislike how the chart views, the Interactive Atlas, Overhead Sky, Naked Eye, and the "Scope/Binocs" three-panel view, automatically go to full screen. It really bothers me.

This appears to happen regardless of how the view is selected, whether you choose a view from the list screen, by right-clicking, or switch the view from within the chart window.

Invariably, I do not want these views maximized. So I "Restore Down" the window. Of course, there's no "history" for the window size so it is still very large. Then I drag the window title bar to shift it slightly left. I used to move it a lot but have trained myself not to do that now. And it is probably an unnecessary extra step that I should reconsider anyway. I might be doing this so to get a better "angle" at the window's edge or frame. Then I resize the window, reducing it very slightly. Which often "goes wrong." In that, while trying to avoid clicking the Close Window button at the top right, I tend to shy away, and 50% of the time, click outside the border edge, into the Desktop or a background window! Argh! Finally, after successfully sizing, I drag the chart window back so to be fully visible on the screen. And often I need to resize it again, a smidgen, touching it up.

In the end, this is because I like to see the "main" list window, so to switch to it, with the mouse. Sure the Windows fast-switching technique with Alt-Tab works. Although the chart window icon shows as a generic one. And there's no specific icon to select for the Object Information "window" nor the Content Viewer "window;" somehow these are treated differently and don't show (in XP). Therefore, the only practical, direct way to choose a specific panel or window in ST3P, is visually, by mouse.

Also, if I display the Content Viewer at a decent size for the eyepiece view, and the Interactive Atlas is really large too, sometimes the centre portion of the IA view is covered. When the IA window is not maximised, it allows for the window to be sit off-centre from the screen display. Typically, I have the IA a bit left, and the Content Viewer on the right. Works very well this way. I can preview an area of the sky, stay zoomed out or wide field in the atlas display, while keeping tabs on the eyepiece presentation in the Viewer window. And, of course, I can move or pan eyepiece region in the atlas, dragging the field of view indicator. This is important when hopping, confirming the field of view, when searching and scanning, and when imaging to change the camera orientation.

I so dislike this behavior in SkyTools, realising I waste time at the computer—while trying to observe—fiddling with it, that I'm starting to avoid changing views! And that's not good. Most of the time, I'm working in the Interactive Atlas. But there are times when I want to peek at the all sky view or telescope view. Last night, several times, I wanted to use the telescope view, to verify what I was seeing in the finder scope. But I resisted.

(It occurred to me to build a new "eyepiece," but for the finder, that I can select within the IA. Ha. Workaround...)

Boiling away, in the back of my mind during all this, is that it is due ultimately to a decision by the developer. Greg decided, thou shall use the chart views full screen. When this should be, in the end, something each user decides. I'm a power user. So maybe I don't represent how most people use the software. Still, I believe these types of decisions belong with the end user. Most Windows applications I use support this: when I choose a window size, the app keeps track of it. The status and the size. This can be easily handled as an option in the preferences, with a simple checkbox: "Always maximise chart windows on open."

I guess I'll submit this as a feature request...

full run with GoToStar (Toronto)

12:36 PM, March 29, 2013. Moved the tripod and observing chair to the porch. Attached the pre-assembled mount to the tripod. Will need to be levelled—it's tipping to the north. Snaked the extension cord out the south-east windows. Connected the GFCI power bar. Fired up the checklist...
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: slewing and tracking with IDEA GoToStar
4:53 PM. Moved a spare, or unused, LCD panel (the hp) to the kitchen. It would offer a larger screen than the netbook's built-in. Created an observing list in SkyTools 3 Pro with about 25 targets. Some were not "real" like Polaris and the Moon. Deep sky, variable stars, double stars, pulling from various sources. About 10 items I had looked at already.

6:00. Put the optical tube assembly outside to cool.

7:04. Started logging in Evernote. Thinking that I'd be back and forth between computers in the kitchen and the office...

When the Sun was down, mounted the optical tube assembly to the Vixen mount.

7:25. Computer set up in kitchen. Needed the keyboard lights. Red cellophane was on the monitor. Checked the time on the recorder: it was fine (left in DST I guess). Set the time on the stove. Had candies ready to go. A glass of water. The red goggles.

7:27. Switched SkyTools into red light mode. And remembered why I didn't like Evernote: it does not follow the Windows colour scheme; the note background is always white. Set 1024x768 resolution. When higher it went into a panning mode. Started logging in Notepad—on the netbook directly. On John Littlejohn. Where I'd be working most of the time. And just in case there were any issues...

7:28. Tested the snip feature on the voice recorder. The SkyTools blank window thing wasn't completely covering background. But it was pretty good.

7:30. Connected the USB-serial cable to the computer. This cable ran out the right-hand window, across the deck box, to the hand controller, which was hung off the north leg.

There were some big fluffy clouds. Launched Firefox so to check the weather conditions. Cleared out old tabs. Loaded my weather portal page. Checked the GEOS NOAA infrared black and white loop. There was still the streamer coming straight from Meaford. Visited the Environment Canada Toronto page. Low: 2. Dewpoint: -3. Humidity really low at 43. The Clear Sky Chart looked very good.

Moon is 91% lit. To rise after sunset, around 10:45? 3 hours between sunset and moonrise. Complete darkness from twilight to moonrise offers about 1.25 hours.

7:39. Headed out to try a day-time alignment. The sky was still fairly bright but I wanted to align the GoToStar system. Powered the RA motor.

7:46. Hunted for Jupiter. Tried SkyTools's Overhead Sky chart view with the grid lines displayed.

7:53. Checked the telescope setup menus. The location looked OK. But the date end time was off. Huh. Weird. Is this the indication of a battery problem?

I chose the "easy" method and simply showed information about Jupiter. No instructions. I took that to mean that I was to manually position on Jupiter. OK. So where's Jupiter?

I tried to find the planet. Scanned the skies, as people below walked and cycled. Fetched my binoculars. Started up Stellarium on John Smallberries.

Heard some boys say something about "telescope." A woman walking by said "Hello!"

When I checked the Sony voice voice recorder, I found it reporting that the memory was full. Damn. I shut it down. It was a good thing I had Windows Notepad ready...

It was getting cool. I still was in a t-shirt, sweats, and sandals. I put socks and sneakers on.

7:59. Found Jupiter. It was obvious! It was higher than I had originally expected. More to the north. Stellarium had helped. Put the binos on it briefly. OK. Now...

Moved the telescope to the planet. A message appeared on the display: "Telescope now horizong below." Huh? What the hell does that mean? Telescope now below the horizon? Or rather, object below the horizon? That was confusing. I rechecked the controller settings. When reviewing the date and time settings, I wondered if the offset from UT was wrong. I changed it from 300 minutes behind UT to 240.

8:27. I installed the light blind while the mount tracked Jupiter. Slight drift was apparent in the baader planetarium 36mm 2" ocular. OK. Ready to go, full steam ahead!

8:32. Slewed with SkyTools 3 Pro with Real Time mode. So cool. A little off-target though... There's still something wobbly about the alignment.

Chose Betelgeuse from the prepared observing list. Enjoyed the lovely orange colour. This was on the list tonight as a double star candidate. But other things caught my eye...

I noted a double of faint but equally bright stars (between magnitude 8.5 and 9.0) down at the bottom-left of the field, er, to the south. That was HD 39758 and 39759. I also saw a right angle triangle of stars at the top-left. Later, it occurred to me, they looked like a backwards question mark.

8:43. I dove deep into α (alpha) Orionis. I could clearly see the E component of Betelgeuse. Cool. According to SkyTools, it is the brightest companion, at mag 11. It is also noted in Haas's book. I didn't think I'd be able to see the B star, at mag 14.5. But the C (14.2) and D (13.5) stars were worth going after. I popped in the Meade 18mm orthoscopic 1¼" eyepiece.

8:46. I tried again for C and D stars. Nope.

The goto performance of the IDEA GoToStar system was off a little. Plus I was seeing drifting. The later was not at all surprising given I had not done a proper polar alignment.

I remembered the polar alignment "feature" in the hand controller. I was curious about it. I wondered if it would help. I checked the computer for documentation but didn't see anything. Sheesh. Had I not downloaded anything? Was there not an official manual? I recalled some web pages... Why had I not captured any of this? Maybe on another computer? I didn't know where it was. Or was there nothing available?

[ed: I don't know why I didn't think of it at the time, looking on Smallberries. Could have looked through the network...]

In general, after slewing to the "target," I had to manually adjust the position, homing in on a bright object shown in the finder scope, hoping that was the preferred object.

8:59. With a bit of luck I arrived at 119 Tauri. It is a pleasing orange star. It found its way into my observing list, one of three selected entries from "Ahad's Red Stars" list. It is a variable. ST3P said it fluctuated over 165 days. From mag 4.23 to 4.54. Huh. Not much of a change. I didn't bother to compare it to nearby stars... Meh.

There was, however, a very neat double nearby, to the west. The grouping, at this low power, made me think of a toy top with TYC 01301-0527 1 and TYC 01301-0603 1 as the handle used to spin it. In fact these two stars might have been a very wide double. Roughly in the same alignment, it was the bright pair to the east that teased.

9:11. With the Tele Vue Nagler 9mm installed, I dove into HD 36073. The A and C stars were same colour and brightness (ST3P said 7.6 and 7.6), widely separated (at 56.3"). I couldn't see B but then it was super faint (13.6) and fairly close (10.7"). And I couldn't split C and D; I should have been able to (at 1.4 seconds of arc).

Haas labels the AC pair h3275 while ST3P does not show that designation. She also says the secondary is dimmer at mag 8.2 while her description says, through binoculars, a "close pair of white stars, nearly alike."

I decided to not log this as seen in SkyTools, so to have another go at split C and D. Or in darker skies, tagging B.

9:18. To the west of 36073 was HD 35985. ST3P showed that this was a double as well. I think I split them. Very tight. Different mags. SkyTools concurred: mag 6.7 and 10.4; 3.2" apart.

The tip of the spinning top, to the south, appeared a single faint star. SkyTools, again, showed this was a double. But I couldn't split HJ 3274A.

Tried again to split HD 36073 C and D without success. The weird thing was that I could see a number of mag 13 to 14 stars between HJ 3274A and HD 36073!

9:25. When I returned to the ocular, suddenly I was able split HJ 3274A! w00t! Easy. Two equally bright stars although pretty faint. About 90° to C and D. Averted vision helped. Had the air improved?

Still I could not see B. Or split C and D.

I stared for a long time at HD 35985. If I had to guess, I thought the companion was to the west. The software showed it in an north-west orientation...

I wanted to have another go at aligning the mount. I didn't like struggling with each target. It was not much better than star hopping. So, parked it. Put the time zone offset (in the location menu) back to 300 minutes behind UT versus 240. I realised the 240 was wrong, given the daylight saving time option in the date/time menu. And this explained way slews were off by 10 to 15°.

Without the manual, I was guessing that after a two-star alignment, the hand controller was telling me how much the mount alignment was off. And how I needed to adjust it. But I was puzzled. Why was it off so? Off by about 1 degree? The tripod was level. I had checked Polaris (albeit, still crudely).

I'm not convinced the sync command on the hand controller is doing anything...

10:14. I checked the OneWorld portable weather station. I had taken it outside in the early evening to acclimate. Now it was sitting atop the covered barbecue. It showed 972 mbars (to which I have to add 42; so 1014) pressure, 20% humidity, and 5.3°C.

10:26. At last. I was on a star.

10:47. I finally found Wasat aka δ (delta) Geminorum. The primary is white, maybe blue white. The companion is red or orange. They were very different brightness. Around 4 to 5 magnitudes. Haas thought the primary yellow or orange. My assessment of the companion's colour matched Smyth.

I could see this small asterism nearby, which reminded me of Delphinus, specifically the head of the dolphin, to the west. At its tip was a mag 13.9 star. Whoa. Faint.

11:04. Nailed it, Castor. The goto was working better. This was after I tried the sync on ST3! That said, it errored out and disconnected... But when I reconnected, it was correct! Weird. I'll take it!

Castor was so lovely. A and B incredible on their own. The C and D stars forming a right angle. Not perfect right angle; slightly opened. There was another star nearby, GSC 02457-0927, which together made me think of Cygnus. The rump of the swan.

α Gem is a fast-mover. I should measure it...

11:14. Went to the next object. The goto was off again. I tried the "sync to cursor". Again it failed. But when I reconnected it was synced and the next goto was good!

Viewed HD 46136 aka 20 Gem, a suggestion from the RASC Coloured Doubles list. Saw a wide pair, faint stars, but nearly equal brightness. I looked hard. Were they blue and green? The RASC list describes them as yellow and blue. Huh. They seemed more alike to me.

Here comes the Moon, I thought. I saw it over the neighbours roofs to the south-east. Yellow and big.

11:29. Ah, a good goto. Landed on 38 Gem. Yellow-white and orange. Fairly tight at low power. The distant, mag 10 C star was obvious.

I thought C was inline with A and B while ST3P shows B inline with GSC 00760-1284. Could it be that the B star is moving to the south or clockwise (in my FOV)? Is it a fast mover? Or is there old data in ST3P?

[ed:  I didn't notice it at the time but SkyTools shows that AB has a known orbit of 3190 years and the data was updated in February!]

11:45. The goto was off a bit again but I found Gliese 273. From my red dwarf stars list. Very faint. ST3P says it is 9.8. I found it hard to detect any colour. Maybe a hint of orange. Ooh, 12 light years away. That's cool.

11:56. Moon was getting bright. Hate the Moon.

Viewed Tegmen. The A and C elements were obvious in the low power ocular. I saw an upside-down house with TYC 01381-1436 1 as the peak. In the house, the bright star to the east was the D companion. The dimmer star to the north was E. I saw G to the north west, at a right angle to E, about the same distance that E was from A.

Tried to see the B star. No joy even at very high power. It's possible, theoretically, with a 1.1" separation and similar magnitudes (delta 1). I wondered if it was in "the noise."

The 'scope's collimation is definitely off. It is visible above 200x.

Still, that was very neat. I hadn't logged the E or G stars with ζ (zeta) Cancri before!

12:06 AM, March 30, 2013. w00t! Back at the eyepiece, even though I was losing my mojo. I split AB! In the Nagler. Nearly equal brightness. Super tight. Often touching. But occasionally I had two distinct dots. Easily lost in the diffraction rings. Same colour, both pale yellow. C has a hint of blue.

12:21 AM. OK, Moon. You win. I parked the mount. Tarped the telescope.

I checked the weather station. The temperature had dropped 1.5°.


At some point I viewed 26 Aurigae. But I didn't seem to record any notes!? But I remember looking at it! Sheesh... I added it from the RASC Coloured Doubles list.


Turned the hand controller LCD back light down to its lowest level. Much better as I grew adapted to the darkness. Keyboard back light was already at lowest.


Polar alignment feature showed a circle with a line. I think it is showing the position of the North Celestial Pole in relation to Polaris...

Friday, March 29, 2013

he's not interested in the comet now

Manuel phoned. He was a little surprised by my nudge about comet C/2011 L4 (Pan-STARRS). He didn't think the comet was still visible. Beg to differ. I told him it definitely was visible, although fainter. I told him I was seeing others posting good photos. He wondered where one would see it from. High Park must be the only option. On the contrary, I said that any spot with a good north-west horizon, around 340 to 350 degrees bearing, would work. Then he said "the reservoir" would be best. Then he said he wasn't interested anymore. Oh, OK. He said he was focusing on Saturn.

shared SNO list

Created a Google Drive spreadsheet for the SNO "applicants." Shared with the grand poobah.

a good beautiful Friday

What a beautiful day this is shaping up to be. A deep blue sky. Already rode my bicycle. CSAC weather email grabbing my attention.

uploaded work party notice

Updated the CAO spring work party article on the RASC web site. The one Tony had started. Incorporated Lora's comments. Added photos. Particularly ones that had not been used in the report. Shifted into a different category, for consistency. Asked for feedback.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

so you like time-lapse...

Spotted a video clip on Spaceflight Now featuring time-lapse photography by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Noticed a couple of passes over Ontario. Mesmerising. These videos (along with the source stills) are referred to as "The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth" and are available at the Image Science and Analysis Laboratory at the NASA-Johnson Space Center.

ISS express

Zoom zoom. The Soyuz TMA-08M is fast-tracking to the International Space Station. It will make the trip on 6 hours. That's like me driving to Tremblant. Wow.

The photo from the ISS of the launch? That's especially freaky.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

checked ML for the 40D

Researched Magic Lantern. I saw that work on the Canon 40D is progressing. While any third party software can be dangerous, I'll very interested to try. However, I didn't see anything about focus nudging. If I could digitally change focus without touching the lens, I might be able to get rid of the EOS Utility...

made camera red

Made a red screen cover for the Canon 40D LCD out of a little scrap I found.

It does not seem possible, through the built-in menus, to shut off the LCD display! I think that's very strange...

webspotting 30 - AstroBin

As published in the Apr/May 2013 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Slight reformatting applied. Republished here with permission.


So. You've got your camera. You've got your telescope. You have started to shoot images. You're gathering data. Calibrating your monitor. Learning stacking software. Learning about photographic post-processing. On your way to making some pleasing astrophotographs. And you want to share them. With friends and family. With peers and fellow astronomers. Email is too awkward or limiting. What if you want people to comment? You want the astrophotos on a black background! What to do? Where to turn?

There are certainly lots of resources available for the general photographer. Perhaps the best known internet-based photo-sharing site is Flickr. Now owned and managed by Yahoo, Flickr offers free and paid accounts. The free account allows 200 images to be accessible at any given moment. They support video as well. Easy to use. There are a variety of organisation tools. Tagging. Convenient options for uploading. A Pro account removes a variety of restrictions as well as advertisements. A two-year term costs $45. All that said, the Flickr system does not allow any control of the interface per se. One cannot change the background colour or style or skin, unlike a blogging tool like Blogger or Wordpress. Only recently did they alter the appearance of the slide show mode to have a black background.

For those who are technically inclined and like the idea of having total control, one might exploit or use the free space provided by one's internet service provider. The "big guys" like Sympatico and Rogers provide some space. However, this server space may be very limited. If you have a private ISP, you might have quite a lot of space at your disposal. Still, this may require the use of FTP software to update, and would require some web authoring software to create an elegant, custom interface. And that's getting into the category, quickly, of "reinventing the wheel."

I recently heard, through astrophotographer circles, of AstroBin. Visit for more information.

This photography website is for astronomers, by astronomers. It is designed from the ground up with astrophotography in mind. For example, it encourages you to provide the technical data for your images, such as the camera and exposure details, filters, etc. It supports image organisation by subject. I.e. you can view images of the Andromeda galaxy shot by many others, as well as your own. Contributors maintain copyright of their images and AstroBin offers theft-protection services. They observe the Finnish Copyright Act which requires proper attribution of the author's name and source. It is meant to be a social place where people may vote and comment on images. It supports all the common image formats, plus animated GIF, and raw camera formats. It is fascinating to note that there are no strict size limits. In fact, they encourage users to upload the full-size images. The coolest thing? Completely, totally, free.

Why not visit AstroBin as a viewer, enjoying the wonderful astrophotographs from imagers around the world. You might see some people you know... If you like what you see and want to contribute and share your own astroimages, register. It's quick and easy. Then, tell us about your online astro gallery!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

comet mag 4

The CalSky email alert about comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS says it has hit magnitude 4.0. So, probably, it is safe to say, it is not a naked eye object any more.

Next big event starts early April when the comet passes near the Andromeda galaxy. Hopefully this will allow the astroimagers to get some good astrosnaps!

Sunday, March 24, 2013


With all the lights off, power bars disabled, ceiling fans still, computers quiet, dark perspiring bottle not far away, while reading my book, Spook Country, I turned at one point, to gaze at the steady flame of the broad candle. Often I have lost myself in the rich glow of the candle. What is it about flame that mesmerises us so? And then, mind leaping, I thought of the stars above, in the dark sky. And realised I had never really thought about it this way.

Certainly I had seen it before, the phenomena, and thought of the wonderful and vibrant colours, the variance, from the curved deep blue bottom of the laminar flame, through the intense bright yellow body, to the flickering orange tip, made vivid, often, against a dark background.

The colour and temperature of a flame are a factor of the combustive fuel and the effectiveness of the combustion. The energy in the flame excites the electrons and visible light is produced. In the candle flame, which is around 1,100°C, the oxygen contributes to the blue colour and the incandescent fine soot particles produce the yellow. As the temperature drops, red remains.


But tonight, for the first time, I thought how much this looked like, mimicked, the colour of stars in our galaxy. Like the searing blue-white of the Dog Star, the warm yellow of our Sun, to the evocative orange and red jewels, such as the Garnet Star. And how, sometimes, we get to enjoy these contrasting colours together, like viewing a candle flame, the yellow and blue of Albireo, summer delight, the orange and blue of HR 2764, winter treat. The fantastic contrast of 11-12 Camelopardalis, blue white and deep orange.

The peculiar Harvard classification of stars, starting at O, for the hottest, originally ended at K and now goes to Y, for the coolest suns. O-class orbs have surface temperatures of over 33,000°K. G-class stars, like the Sun, are around 6,000. M-class stars, the top-most star shown above, runs at around 3,000°K. Some say the additional classes for red, brown, and dark brown stars are not really stars, as they are not fusing. Certainly, they emit very low levels of light.

Is this what I like so much about viewing double stars? Distant flames in the black night? Like staring into the camp fire? Losing one's self in the candle's pure, warming fire? I don't know. Let's listen...

  • candle flame photo by Matthew Bowden
  • stellar colours hacked from the Morgan-Keennan-Kellman image from wikipedia 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

comet still detectable

The CalSky "bright comet" message arrived a few moments ago. Should they relabel that? The "not very bright comet" perhaps? They are predicting C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS to be magnitude 3.7 tomorrow.

Mr Markov from Markham spotted it tonight. He said, on the RASC Yahoo!Group, at 8:49, it was "barely naked eye" from his locale. And that it looked similar in his 15x70 binoculars.

size matters

Inspired by the update of the field of view charts for Manuel, I made an info-graphic to show the relative sizes of objects in the sky, some from the solar system, some within the galaxy, and some from deep space.

It's still fascinating to me how large some objects are, like the Andromeda galaxy, and the Pleiades.

Friday, March 22, 2013

tested EOS Mov Rec

Tested version 0.3.1 beta of the open source EOS Camera Movie Record application! Incredible GPL software. It permits 720 HD video on Canon DSLRs with Live View but which did not have video originally built-in. Like the 40D, for example.

I shook down the software, acclimating to the unusual interface. Found it produced decent frame rates when the preview or "Show captured image" was shut off and when the image buffer, in the options windows, via O button, was increased beyond 1 MB!

I documented the interface along the way...

action click or choose key
set storage folder on computer ... button
start recording (red circle) Write! button r
stop recording (black square) Stop button s
set camera mode mode menu: e.g. M, Tv, Av
set ISO sensitivity ISO menu: 100 to 3200
toggle depth of field preview DOF button d
set aperture AV menu: 4.5 to 29
set speed TV menu: 30" to 1/8000
toggle previewed image Show captured image check i
software options, e.g. buffer size O button
view About window A button
re-establish connection to camera USB button o
move focus to near rapidly Focus adjust <<< button 1
move focus to near Focus adjust << button 2
move focus to near slowly Focus adjust < button 3
move focus to far slowly Focus adjust > button 4
move focus to far  Focus adjust >> button 5
move focus to far rapidly Focus adjust >>> button   6
use experimental autofocus AF button
use camera autofocus (>= 50D) CAF button
zoom to white 5x rectangle Zoom 5x button z
show histogram H button
set white balance WB menu: Auto, Tungsten, etc.
set K (WB in Color Temp. mode) temp. field: 3000 to 10000
specify time limit for recording Time timer check
set maximum time (in sec.) to record   interval field
specify frame limit for recording Frames count timer check
set maximum frames to record frames field

The aperture values appear to be specific to the lens attached. YMMV. The camera mode menu didn't seem to do anything. I did not use the CAF button. The AF button didn't seem to do anything. The histogram did not appear to work. I saw only blue in the window.

This opens a door. The Canon can be used like a webcam...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

fixed frame sizes

Found a mistake in my frame sizes diagram, done for Manuel, when I was adding the Canon 60D rectangles. While I had computed the scaled rectangles correctly, I had punched in the wrong numbers into Visio: the width for the height. Unfortunately, this super-sized everything.

Made a new version.

Never trust version 1.0, right?

planned for the comet

Manuel called. He complimented me on the comet image. Thank you.

He said was looking forward to Sunday. So to get some comet data himself. Offered to pick me (and the battery tank) up. Thank you (again). He asked if the 8" SCT would be good to use. He was thinking more magnification. Au contraire. I suggested wide-field. He'd want to get the tail. He wondered if a CCD camera would be good. Again, I suggested he consider the size of the object and the field of view.

Manuel asked if I was going to bring my camera? No... why? He suggested I could get some images. Told him I thought I was helping him.

I pitched keeping it simple. If he really wanted to use his CCD camera and big 'scope, he'd have to bring a lot more gear. Switching cameras would complicate things. Like focus. His nemesis. More cables. He liked the idea of not having to bring his computer. He suddenly remembered that his 60D supported video. He really wants video of the comet. OK.

There was some confusion about the location in the park. I thought he wanted to use the spot I had seen the comet from. He seemed to have somewhere else in mind. I asked where. He didn't know of a good spot. Oh. Well, we'll use mine then. He asked if it was good. I think it offers the best site lines to the west.

I reminded him to pack his CLA adapters and camera batteries. Not necessarily the AC adapters. 'Cause then we'd need inverters. And that would make for an inefficient energy path. Assured him that my lead acid batteries are charged and ready to go.

I asked if he needed any help from me. He thought all was good. OK.

His voice pitched. He was very excited.

comet moves into Andromeda

Comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS enters the constellation of Andromeda today. That puts it roughly equidistant from Alpheratz (α And) and Algenib (γ Peg).

The CalSky message from late last night says the comet will be magnitude 3.3.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

downloaded recorder

Downloaded EOS Camera Movie Record aka eos-movrec... This will be interesting!

perfectly clear

Of course it is perfectly clear tonight. When I'm dead tired, have a headache, and have lots to do tomorrow. Oh and it's a RASC meeting night too.

comet still visible

Over the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group, Mr Markov told us that he spotted comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS naked eye from Markham! He said "It's just at the threshold of visibility but it's definitely there." This is great news. It seems it is still in that sweet spot of variables: higher in the sky, in a darker sky, even though its magnitude is dropping...


Andy reported finding it, finally, in binos, from the Christie Pits area. w00t!


The CalSky message yesterday said the comet would be mag 2.9 today.

fell off the radar

Tonight the NOVA course started. Jesse had asked if I wanted to run the Stellarium level 2 at this time. In the other half of the Gemini room. It wasn't my preference but I accepted the time slot. It is a little curious that no one followed up.

hints of summer

As I walked to the subway in the early morning, of equal day and equal night, I noted Saturn up high, and constellations, Aquila and Cygnus, hinting at the next season.

Monday, March 18, 2013

CAO stuff for SCOPE

Tony and I sent info to Eric for the next SCOPE newsletter for CAO matters. The work party, at the end of May; and the Open House and Awards Picnic on the first weekend in June.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

made the Super Polaris smart (Toronto)

Wasn't interested in chasing comet C/2011 L4 again but the very clear skies meant I could do a full test of the GoToStar IDEA hand controller and motors on the Vixen Super Polaris mount. I was tired, and thinking about the week ahead, but considered that I could do a quick test. That the telescope gear was half-assembled in the living room suggested it wouldn't take too much effort. I decided to go ahead.

I moved the tripod from the living room to the porch. I gently moved the mount, with exposed motors, outside. Fortunately, I still had a long extension cord in the kitchen: fished it out the left window. Connected the NOMA GFCI. Reattached the one OTA ring to the tube, loosely. Mounted the 8" OTA and then tightened the ring. Grabbed the hand controller and power adapter. Aligned the tripod to the two visible marks on the porch; didn't bother to check the polar alignment.

Turned on the motors but realised I didn't have an eyepiece ready. And I had not aligned the finder scope to the SCT. Slow down cowboy. Also had to fetch the Dec axis release handle.

With the final bits in place, with everything aligned, I fired up the system. Did a quick one-star alignment with Aldebaran.

8:53 PM. Holy cow. The Vixen is now smart! The GoToStar system works! It frickin' works! I slewed successfully to Jupiter then Messier 42! I noted the 4 bright stars in the Trapezium and θ (theta) 2 nearby, in the string of 3 stars.

Returned to the office (slash warm room) to find a decent target (with SkyTools 3 Professional) on the other side of the meridian.

9:05. I slewed to the Beehive and centred on it, as best as possible, despite tree branches. Wow.

9:08. I quickly checked the weather conditions via my Toronto weather portal page. The current conditions were noted as clear at -5.4°C. The prediction for Sunday night was "A few clouds. Low minus 7." And they were calling for snow on Monday. Damn...

9:19. I tried the "sync to target" feature in the hand controller and then went to the Winter Albireo by SAO number. Boom! There it was. Amazing. That, ordinarily, is a very challenging target by star hopping.

It occurred to me now, while set up, and with everything working so well, I might try for some real targets, objects not viewed before. The Virgo cluster Messiers were out of the question, unfortunately. I decided to try for some items from the RASC "coloured doubles" list.

9:27. Viewed double star 30 Tauri. I thought the pair yellow and orange in the 36mm. They were very different magnitudes.

[ed: Didn't discover until later this is the first log entry for a double in Taurus!]

9:35. I switched to the 18mm ocular. The pair still looked yellow and orange to me.

9:40. It occurred to me that syncing on the current object before moving would be a good (sneaky?) way to keep the goto performance high.

I viewed χ (chi) Tau. It was double the separation of 30. The secondary was fainter still. Perhaps 1 or 2 mags? And they seemed to be yellow and red?

ST3P confirmed my impression of the separation. But the software said the secondary is brighter! Strange.

[ed: I may have mis-read that. Upon review... In the Interactive Atlas or Context Viewer, hovering over the A and B stars shows 5.4 and 8.5 respectively. The Object Information panel shows the AB pair as 5.38 and 7.6.]

Also, the author said the stars were yellow and green! Huh?! Green?

9:46. I dropped back down to 36mm. I enjoyed the view more, with the stars closer. It was a nice separation. But I still did not think the companion green. It was behind a branch though...

It occurred to me that I was not fully dark adapted so that might be affecting my impression of the star colours. I had not put the red screen film on the computer monitors. I had not put up porch light shield...

9:52. I went to the next pair (forgot to note). They were widely separated in 36mm and almost exactly same! I.e. almost the same brightness and almost the same colour. The primary I thought yellow with a hint of orange? The secondary was perhaps white or blue-white? They were almost the same sep almost as the previous stars.

[ed: Σ627 aka Struve 627 or HR 1610.]

9:55. This goto is a game-changer. This can generate a lot of time. Less time hopping; more time at the eyepiece. Immediately I thought that this time can be converted. Now I can sketch more, noodle more, consider colours, estimate distances and sizes more. Evaluate magnitudes. Wow... I still couldn't quite believe what I was seeing: the old trusty Super Polaris moving about like a modern goto mount.

I really was intrigued by the idea of the time savings. And I didn't even have the computer connected!

10:02. Tried to go to 38 Gem but I didn't see it in the eyepiece. But it looked like, in the finder scope, the quarry was behind a branch.

10:05. Checked the full Environment Canada web site.

The current conditions were clear and -6°C as observed at Toronto Pearson Int'l Airport as of 10:00 PM EDT. The details were clear, 102.7 kPa (and rising), with visibility of 24 km. The dewpoint was -13.5°C. Huh. Ah, that's because the humidity was 55%. The wind was from the NNE at 13 km/h which made for a slightly wind chill, down to -11.

10:06. I was feeling a little torn. It was a beautiful clear night, the humidity was low, the skies looked pretty good. And the 'scope was working incredibly well! But I was tired.

Tonight was, at the outset, an experiment.

One more look, I decided, and then I'd pack up.

10:18. I don't know if i missed 38 Gem... But I stumbled across nearby HD 51502. I spotted a little triangle of stars in the finder scope. Turned out it was a quad system! It had a yellow primary, yellow secondary. The tertiary star was orange. The dim D star I thought orange-red. Neat!

OK. Done.

10:27. Completed a rapid teardown.

finally he saw it

Manuel phoned. "We got it." Good.

Dave fixed his

Dave also collimated his 15x70 Celestrons. Good stuff.

He viewed the comet from his third floor window. Smart!

sent Manuel data

Sent Manuel an email with comet data based on information from SkyTools and Stellarium.
  • C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS is very near Algenib in Andromeda
  • it's less than 5 degrees up at the time of writing
  • if visible, the magnitude is extincted to about 9 
  • if visible, one will be looking through 20 airmasses
  • if there's any cloud in the west, it might hide the comet
  • it will set just after 9 PM
No phone calls...

no reply

Manuel pocket-phoned me.

Manuel wanted comet data

Just as I was getting ready to test the GoToStar system, Manuel phoned. He wanted to know where the comet was. When it was setting. How he'd find it. Where it was in relation to the Moon.

I told him that I didn't know the particulars this evening. But I suspected it would be setting later than 8:48, which was the set time from a couple of nights back. Because it was a little higher in the sky. Still, it would be fainter. So that could make it more difficult. I shared that others had reported it more difficult to see naked eye on Saturday than on Thursday.

Asked if he wanted me to dig deeper? He accepted my offer and said he'd called back in 10 minutes. Oh. That's leaving it a little late...

I fired up SkyTools in the meantime.

Richard fixed his bins

Richard saw the comet from the Bayview reservoir last night and enjoyed view in his Celestron 15x70s.

He shared that these binoculars had been out of alignment. He knew this "as per the DDO session on binos." He went on to saw that "while relaxing my eyes, I could see the two images slide into alignment with an ever so slight turn of an adjustment screw."

He thanked Stu for liking his suggestion of a night on binoculars. Ah, so he was instrumental in the theme.

And he also thanked me for a really good '"how to." Another happy customer.

wished him luck

Manuel called when he heard I was back in town. We chatted briefly about the weekend.

He was pumped to see Jupiter in the day time with his binoculars.

And he was also readying for the comet. In dark skies this time. Out near K-W.

From the other night, despite using a 200mm lens, and a decent ISO (1200), he was not happy with the photos. I wished him the best.

you'd think

Note to self: Don't sleep in the living room again.

not what I had in mind (Blue Mountains)

9:41 PM, March 16, 2013. After birthday break, after reviewing Phil and my digital photos, I added another layer, top and bottom, and went outside.
Instruments: Celestron 14-inch SCT, Tele Vue 101 refractor
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
9:43 PM. Tony had spotted frost on the corrector and had suggested we cover it. And close the roof a bit. I got the hair dryer out but the frost was gone.

9:55. Millie followed me out. She said she wanted to do The Marathon. Wha? Really? That'd be tough to do. Really? Like to dawn? She seemed keen. I was already tired for lack of sleep. Really? She was serious. I told her my goals for the evening. She started giving me targets. Uh huh.

Went to Messier 42 (M42). Put 18mm in the big 'scope (217 power). I immediately split the Trapezium. Easy. Could easily see the E and F stars. That was interesting... The easiest ever?

9:59. Millie chose Messier 76 (M76) aka The Little Dumbbell. It looked like a large peanut in the SCT; it was a faint smudge in TV101 with 10mm. There was an orange star nearby (HD 10498).

10:05. We discussed what I hadn't seen, a final few Messiers, most of which were in the Virgo, Coma, Leo area.

Chose open cluster M52 before we lost it in the roof line.

10:08. Messier 52 was very tight, er, close-up, with the 18mm in the SCT. Could see individual stars.

10:16. There was an orange star in centre (SAO 20606). And a yellow star. Various blue stars.


Dropped the walls. Installed the dew shield.

10:18. We went to Messier 34 (M34). A very loose cluster. A handful of stars. Obvious in TV101. The SCT view was very magnified. It seemed the stars were all the same colour and brightness.

10:22. Messier 79 (M79). The globular cluster in Lepus. Almost undetectable in the TV. A round fuzzy in the SCT. Progressively bright centre. [Had viewed before, 13 months before, but it was very unsatisfying.]

Used the SQM: 20.50, 20.49. The Moon was still up.

10:35. Viewed Messier 41 (M41). Lovely in the TV. A very large open cluster. It filled the whole field.

Set up the Oberwerk binos. For viewing big objects...

10:36. Just slewed to Messier 93 (M93). It was excellent in the SCT.

10:41. I noticed that Hind's Crimson Star was setting soon.

10:42. Viewed the faint star. Incredible colour. Like a last ember in the camp fire. Pleasing in the TV; a little soft in big 'scope. Forgot to gauge the brightness...

10:53. Kept turning up the ceramic heater.

The mount was working well, again, tonight, like last night. The goto performance was very good.

Messier 46 (M46) was nice. Very large. Faint stars in TV. The SCT showed the planetary nebula (NGC 2438) in the middle.

Panned manually to Messier 47 (M47). Noted the double star in the middle (HD 60997). Very nice in the TV.

[ed: Will need to revisit this... The double star is actually a 10 star system! In rushing, did not note the colour and brightness of the stars...]

10:56. Headed off to Messier 48 (M48). Equally bright stars. Fairly large in the TV; the SCT was, again, too tight/close.

The sky seemed to be better in the east. Not as much light. Had the ski hill closed for the night?

Looked at Leo, Denebola. My targets were rising higher in the sky...

Moon was getting low...

11:01. Went to Messier 50.

11:02. I saw that the humidity had dropped to 88. But the wind was picking up. It made the wind chill -13.6!

11:05. Viewed M50. A wide loose open cluster. In the TV it seemed bird-like. The centre portion was interesting, busy in the SCT.

11:11. Messier 78 (M78) in the TV was obvious but small. Averted vision did not pull much out. In the big SCT the diffuse nebula was great! Especially with averted. It is a huge structure. [Again, an object viewed previously but that I wanted to have another good look at.]

11:14. Decided to try for Messier 1 (M1) now, while still high. 37°.

I saw clouds in the north-east.

Fiddled with TS6's sky appearance settings.

11:21. The Crab Nebula was detectable in the TV. It was very nice in the SCT. It was not round. Could see a number of faint tiny stars.

Clouds persisted in the north-east.

11:22. Went to Messier 38.

Spotted a little smudge below M38 at the edge of the field of view in the wide-field telescope. Was this Herschel H39-7 aka NGC 1907?

TheSky 6 showed a very bright object below, IC 417. We slewed to the IC but couldn't seem to spot anything.

11:34. Still nothing visible or obvious in either telescope. [ed: It is unclear why TS6 shows this. It is a magnitude 30 object!]

11:36. Went to Messier 36. It was smaller and more compact than M38. The stars were uniform.

11:42. Viewed Messier 37 (M37). It seemed bigger than M36. But it was made up of fainter stars.

I proposed a hot chocolate break. I needed to warm up. And regroup. After the break I was going to ask that we depart from the plan to view my targets. Millie wanted to go to Messier 35 first.

11:45. Viewed M35. The stars were brighter. It was fairly wide dispersed.

We headed inside for a snack and to warm up. Tried to stay dark adapted. Chatted with Tony. Wondered where I should sleep if I pulled an all-nighter...

12:30 AM, March 17, 2013. When I stepped outside, I saw no stars! Damn it! The sky was completed clouded over. Suddenly, the evening was done. So much for seeing my last few Messiers... I was upset.

Shut everything down. Did some get-aheads, in fact.


I did not enjoy that. As I suspected. I don't like rushing through objects. I'd rather linger. Absorb photons. Look for details. Concentrate on colours. Did not view any of the Virgo galaxies. But, it couldn't be helped.


Imaged Messier 47 (and the multi-stars within) on 20 Dec '16.