Friday, January 31, 2014

warmed lead acid

Moved all the lead acid batteries from the garage to the house. Bloody cold.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

what I do

I'm reading the final book in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Specifically The End. And Lemony Snicket had this to say: "To this day things done in the dark tend to have a somewhat sinister reputation." It made me wonder. Do some think that what I do, hanging out in the backyard, whispering, to the wee hours, with lenses and cameras, is ominous? Good.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Moon and Venus close (Toronto)

Noted earthshine on the Moon, the thin Moon near Venus, the planet bright. Venus and the Moon were about 5 degrees apart. Weird dark grey clouds again...

Monday, January 27, 2014

heading to -32

Supposed to be clear, again, tonight. A "clear sky alarm" came in for Fingal at 3:17 AM this morning...

Opportunities to observe at: (Clouds/Trans/Seeing)
01-27 @ Hour 21 for 3 hours (10%/Above Ave./Average)

But it was very cold on the walk home. Felt like the wind was out of the north-west. Gusting. That would shake the telescope. Always annoying when visually observing. And it would not be good if I was trying to photograph the M82 supernova with long subs.

The Clear Sky Chart looked fair. No clouds. Fairly good transparency. But poor seeing. Somewhat favourable for galaxies?

Checked Stellarium. For clearances. Oh! I forgot. The house is not due north...

Bode's fuzzies would be almost 60° up at 11 PM.

Opened my GTA weather portal. Yikes. Alerts everywhere. Mississauga, Toronto, Richmond Hill, Oshawa. Wind chill warnings. For Mississauga specifically, Environment Canada showed winds at 42 gusting to 52 km/h. Ambient temperature low prediction of -22°C. The current wind chill was -27 with a forecast low of -32! That was not encouraging! Even Stu called a no-go for the RASC observing session.

I'd really like to photograph this supernova...

spotted Moon (Mississauga)

On the way to work, spotted an old crescent Moon, rising ahead of Venus, then the Sun. Heading toward a new Moon. Finally. Weird clouds, over the lake, like a wall. Or suddenly mountains.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

movie night

Headed back to the house.

Cloudy overhead.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

spotted the supernova (Blue Mountains)

10:09 PM. Tony tried to manually hop to Messier 82.

10:26. We viewed the supernova, Tony and I.

I had hopped with the Telrad and finder scope. Spotted the two galaxies in the Tele Vue refractor with a 10mm eyepiece. Oops, initially had M81 in the big 'scope, the Celestron 14-inch. Centred on other.

Thar she blows! M82 had a bright point! Viewed with the 55mm ocular initially then bumped to 27mm. The exploded star very obvious. I wondered if it might be exactly the same brightness as the star, so magnitude 10.0 or 10.1.

Tony headed to the house for a different hat.

10:30. I realised I didn't have the TPoint file on the netbook computer. Copied it to LAN from laptop, which Tony had brought out.

We compared our visual view to Mortfield's image from the 23rd.

gathered data on electrics

Inspected the Carr Astronomical Observatory grounds. Big drifts!

Checked the My Own Dome Lots. Some had lots of snow inside!

Found tripped breakers in the Geoff Brown Observatory. And a tripped GFCI outlet in a MODL. Just about every energised circuit was effected during the December violent outage. Sadly, in the GBO, found the Linksys router dead. Checked the generator history and was very relieved to find it working correctly.

Photo-documented the garage and GBO electrical panels.

Friday, January 24, 2014

tested generator, sorta

Well, I had wanted to test the generator operation at the Carr Astronomical Observatory. I was going to shut off the mains... But when the lights started flicking off and on, I suspected we'd get a chance to see it work. Sure enough (and, fortunately, after dinner was baked), the power went out and stayed out. 7:47 PM, snow flying, wind howling. Then, vroom vroom, the generator was up and running. w00t!

much improved

Plan A is back on.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

not so much

Gotta wait 10 hours...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Jupiter ahead of meeting (Toronto)

Spotted Jupiter. Of course, heading into the meeting.

morning treat (Mississauga)

Saw Venus low, and the Moon, near two points. Nice! Spica and Mars!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Making a list...

cold again tonight

Another clear night. And it's as cold. Supposed to fall to -24. The current brisk wind is dropped the temp another 10 degrees...

made a slider

Woo hoo. My first slide show entry on the RASC Toronto Centre web site. Promoting the telescope clinic.

Went OK. Replicated the style in the Photoshop file. Add content, mimicking a past slider entry.

more clinic promotions

Last night, I found the event entry at the On Richmond Hill web site.

This morning, Randy told the RASC Mississauga members.

set up ASCOM drivers

Finally got 'round to setting up all the ASCOM bits for SkyTools on John Phil. I definitely wanted this dealt with before sitting beside a telescope out in the cold... Previously had loading the ASCOM engine onto the ASUS. The equipment specific drivers were already downloaded. Installed the Vixen Sky Sensor 2000 (version 6.1.7) driver. Configured the simulator.

SkyTools exploded on first use! OK. Tried again. ST3P froze. I killed the process. Found ASCOM still running so I ejected it too. Installed the TheSky (5.2.12) then the Celestron (5.0.30) drivers. Fired up TheSky 6. Activated the simulator. Connected to the virtual 'scope. Ugh, disabled the goofy red light mode switch. Fired up SkyTools, loaded a small observing list inside the Real Time tab, gracefully closed, restarted, connected via TheSky driver, configured it. Connected. No problem. Slewed. Watched TS6 in the background as it moved the pointer. No problem. Yeh. Disconnected SkyTools and shut down TS6. Connected to Celestron and configured basic settings. Final config will need to wait for another day. Activated the ASCOM simulator again. Held my breath. Connected via the Vixen again. No problem. Watched the "controller display" update as ST3P slewed. Yeh. And there was much rejoicing. Remembered to change the real-time update frequencies for the two chart types and the observing list. Two minutes.

So, back on the horse. Ready to drive the NexStar 11 at the CAO, the Paramount at the CAO, and of course my supercharged Vixen Super Polaris!

Monday, January 20, 2014

tested new AJT

Briefly test Astrojan Tools version on the John Phil netbook. Looks OK.

they closed up

They were clouded out at the York observatory. Briefly, they showed Jupiter.

tested MD option

Conducted some more trials with SkyTools. I wanted to, once and for all, resolve some unanswered questions about telescope set-up and, in particular, the use of the mirror diagonal option.

I built a new example SCT telescope. I set the view to Mirrored and Flipped, assuming a mirror diagonal was not part of the system. Then, for the associated eyepiece, in the Context Viewer, I activated the Mirror diagonal (MD) option. The views were correct, what they should be.

So, then, I was able to answer the first big question. When I choose the MD option, does it stick? I.e. when I switch away to a different 'scope or different eyepiece within the current 'scope, would the MD option remain active. And it looked like it did stay on. I thought I had noted it switching off before...

The other big question was, would the view be correct now for the camera, with the 'scope configured without a mirror diagonal. Switched to the DSLR view and saw it was normal. So, correct. Simply required rotation of the rectangular field.

It looks like, in the end, it doesn't matter... None of it matters...

set horizon

Built an obstructed horizon in SkyTools for the backyard in Mississauga. More sky than the old place...

checked sat

On the other hand...

There's no point. OK. Time to crack a St. Pete's...

great, just great

Damn it! Looks like it will be clear two nights in a row. Moon rising later. Could stay out late tonight... But it's -20 (or lower)!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

tested orientations

Conducted, with a gaggle of example telescopes, field of view tests from SkyTools. Each type of telescope was configured with four possible settings of the Left/Right and Up/Down settings. I also added a DSLR camera to each configuration.

Activated binoculars first. Greatly magnified the view. I saw a "natural" view, if I were to view the celestial object directly. This is also how the Interactive Atlas view is presented, of course, in its default state. That is, the Flip (vertical) and Mirror (horizontal) buttons are not active.

Now a token refractor with Normal and Normal settings.

Next the same refractor is configured as Normal and Flipped. As expected, the image has been flipped vertically. Notice ζ (zeta) Orionis is now at the bottom. Yet σ (sigma) Ori is still on the right.

Next up is a Mirrored and Normal configuration. ζ returns to the top; σ is left. Typical of a refractor, SCT, or MCT with a mirror diagonal installed.

Finally, the refractor is shown with Mirrored and Flipped. It is as if the original natural view has been rotated 180° with ζ at the bottom and σ at the left. Typical of a reflector.

Subsequent tests showed the exact same results. That is, a reflector or SCT telescope choice in SkyTools did not fundamentally change the view. Somehow, I was expecting it would!

Selected the camera. At prime focus, the view is natural. ζ top and σ right. Tried all the different configurations of the refractor and it made no difference. The Left/Right and Up/Down options seem to be used for visual observing only. Not what I was initially expecting of a refractor. But technically correct. The refractor, without a mirror diagonal, would present a (180) rotated view. Which is exactly the same was Mirrored and Flipped in the software.

Now that I think about it, it all makes sense. Camera bolted to a refractor's focuser has zero reflections. Camera bolted to an SCT focuser or visual back has two reflections. And that would be the same as when one attached a camera to a Newtonian's focuser. Two reflections. And my old simple rule applies... Odd number of reflections: mirrored; even number of reflections (and zero): rotated.

The only scenario I can think of, for amateurs, where there's an odd number of reflections, is with the Fastar or Hyperstar systems. A camera in place of the secondary... How is that configured in SkyTools?!

The result of this testing, to me, shows that it doesn't really matter (other than for record keeping) what the telescope type setting is in SkyTools. It is very important though to have the Left/Right and Up/Down set perfectly.

that explains it

Just finishing analysing the telescope configurations built into SkyTools 3 Pro. There are 79 telescope presets onboard, covering Astro-Physics, Celestron, Meade, Obsession, Orion, Takahashi, Tele Vue, and others, plus some generic entries for home made rigs. Of course, SkyTools uses the three classic categories: refractor, reflector, and SCT. So to accommodate for eyepiece orientation, the telescope configuration includes two controls. The Left/Right option can be set to Normal or Mirrored and the Up/Down option can be set to Normal or Flipped.

When I first added my C8 telescope, I saw the default settings showed as Left/Right Mirrored and Up/Down Normal. Which seemed fine. Assuming one has a mirror (or star) diagonal attached to a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope into which the eyepieces are inserted, the view is mirror-reversed. Up is up but left is right. Another assumption, of course, for that view is that the user is standing above or over the telescope looking straight down into the eyepiece. When the mirror diagonal is rotated, things changed. But that's a different issue.

Over time I added many telescopes to SkyTools. Occasionally, usually later, I would find some settings odd or inappropriate. Or I'd noticed the eyepiece view was incorrect. I made adjustments along the way and didn't think much about it. But over the last couple of months, something was bugging me.

Perhaps it was going through the software installation process again, back in August for the John Charles computer, and then after Thanksgiving for the John Phil portable computer, that it really caught my eye: some of the telescope presets appear to be wrong.

Ironically, the Televue 101 entry which is active by default, does not seem right. In particular, the Televue 101 preset has the Up/Down set to Flipped. When it should be Normal.

And when I recently went to add a telescope entry for Ian's 20" home made Dobsonian and Thierry's 10" LX 200, that's when I really paused. I don't remember now, exactly, the steps to add the Dobsonian. I might have chosen the Home Made Dob 12.5 f/5 as a starting point. Or maybe the Obession 18 f/4.5. Both of these reflectors have the view options set as Left/Right Normal and Up/Down Flipped. That's not right. The view in a reflector is rotated. Turned 180°. Up is down, left is right. That requires the settings to be Left/Right Mirrored and Up/Down Flipped.

If one consults the Help page for the Add/Modify Telescopes Dialog for assistance, the following is noted:
Click on the Left/Right: Mirror/Normal and Up/Down: Flipped/Normal hypertext to set the scope's natural orientation as seen in the eyepiece.  For instance, a Newtonian reflector will typically show a view that is a mirror image (left and right reversed) and inverted (up and down reversed).  For such a scope you would select Left/Right to be mirrored and Up/Down to be inverted.
I find it a little curious, as an aside, that the descriptive help text changes terminology when referring to the Up/Down setting, using "inverted" instead of what is in the system, "flipped."

Regardless, my logic seems to hold up. The Left/Right and Up/Down settings should be configured, as follows, for the respective telescope design. This assumes that refractors and SCTs (and MCTs) are normally used optically with a mirror diagonal.
  • refractor: Mirrored and Normal
  • reflector: Mirrored and Flipped
  • SCT: Mirrored and Normal
So it was rather alarming to find today 25 of the preconfigured telescopes, out of the 79, to have incorrect settings.

I could imagine there a couple of exceptions, based on an unusual telescope design. For example, I don't know what TMB telescopes are. And I don't know what all the 'scopes come with. Perhaps some ship with a image erecting diagonal as standard equipment.

Still, there just seem to be errors. For example, there are four Home Made presets. All have Mirrored and Flipped except for one. That looks like an oversight. All the Meade LX-200 'scopes have Mirrored and Flipped. One must use a mirror diagonal with a fork mounted telescope... That looks like an error copied from one profile to seven others.

This was an eye-opener. I had simply assumed that the presets were correct. That everything would be fine if I used one of the built-in telescope entries.

Now, I won't make assumptions.

reviewed coloured doubles list

Reviewed the TABLE OF COLOURED DOUBLE STARS starting on page 296 of the 2014 RASC Observer's Handbook. No errors in the main content nor the supplement. Also compared to the old SkyTools observing list I had made a couple of years ago.

I noticed that a colour for Σ 1360 Leo was different. It now shows as blue and green; I had noted it as orange and green. Did I record it wrong? [ed: It was blue and green in the 2012 edition.]

I also noted that my original SkyTools notes were based on the first edition of these materials and I had not updated them when corrections were made. And there was no entry for h1647 aka NV Peg. Don't know how I missed that. I could roll-out a new 2014 SkyTools list...

checked eta Oph

Compared data.

The raw string from the Washington Double Star (WDS) database:

17104-1544BU 1118AB    1889 2009  256 274 237   0.4   0.6  3.05  3.27 A1IV A1IV +045+064          -15 4467 NO   171022.66-154330.5


full WDS identifier 17104-1544BU 1118
components AB
number of observations 256

observations first last
date 1889 2009
PA 274 237
Sep. 0.4 0.6

SkyTools 3 Pro (ST3P) says:

Object Information--
Sabik; BU 1118; Good Orbit: P=87.6 yr, a=1.52"; (2014.0)

PA 232°
Sep 0.59"

Interactive Atlas--
PA 242
Sep 0.8

The RASC 2014 Observer's Handbook (OH) says:

η Oph AB 2014 2015
PA 232 232
Sep. 2.57 0.57

With an orbital period of 88 years.


The ST3P Object Information values are close to the WDS. The OH separation value for 2014 looks to be in error. It should be around 0.6. It looks like the B component will start speeding up around 2018, with the separation dropping fast, while the PA will change little.

checked alpha Com

Compared data.

The raw string from the Washington Double Star (WDS) database:

13100+1732STF1728AB    1827 2011  656 190  12   0.6   0.6  4.85  5.53 F5V  F6V  -430+138 -430+138 +18 2697 NOD  130959.55+173144.8


full WDS identifier 13100+1732STF1728
components AB
number of observations 656

observations first last
date 1827 2011
PA 190 12
Sep. 0.6 0.6

SkyTools 3 Pro (ST3P) says:

Object Information--
Diadem; STF1728; Definitive Orbit: P=25.8 yr, a=0.67"; (2014.1)
PA 192°
Sep 0.21"

Interactive Atlas--
PA 192.3
Sep 0.2

The RASC 2014 Observer's Handbook (OH) says:

α Com AB 2014 2015
PA 12 12
Sep. 0.29 0.04

With an orbital period of 26 years.


The OH numbers closely match the WDS. A note in the OH says that B star will reach periastron in the spring of 2015. SkyTools shows the orbit to be edge-on. If this is correct then it means that every 13 years, the PA flips. So then it is just a question of when. When exactly will the B component pass the A star. The thing that is peculiar is that SkyTools shows the B star is currently south of the A.


See the follow-up post.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

checked iota UMa

Compared data.

The raw string from the Washington Double Star (WDS) database:

08592+4803HJ 2477A,BC  1831 2010   78 349  88  13.5   1.9  3.1   9.2  A7IV      -444-226          +48 1707 NOD  085912.84+480232.5


full WDS identifier 08592+4803HJ 2477
components A,BC
number of observations 78

observations first last
date 1831 2010
PA 349 88
Sep. 13.5 1.9

SkyTools 3 Pro (ST3P) says:

Object Information--
Talitha; HJ 2477; Indeterminate Orbit: P=817.9 yr, a=9.09"; (2014.0)

PA 205°
Sep 2.79"

Interactive Atlas--
PA 204.7
Sep 3"

The RASC 2014 Observer's Handbook (OH) says:

ι UMa A, BC 2014 2015
PA 93 96
Sep. 2.01 1.99

With an orbital period of 2084 years.


The OH numbers closely match the WDS whereas ST3P is very different. Looks like the OH is correct.

found errors and anomalies in 2014 OH

As I made an observing list in SkyTools, I found errors in the 2014 RASC Observer's Handbook. In the TABLE OF DOUBLE AND MULTIPLE STARS starting on page 292. One is quite serious.
  • iota UMa A, BC (the first occurrence): This is the location, PA, and Sep. for iota Cnc.
  • zeta UMa AB: SkyTools shows this PA and Sep. associated with the A and C stars.
There are some minor issues:
  • number of entries: I count 136 entries, one more than quoted.
  • kappa Tuc 2014 vs 2015 values: Shown as the same. If truly different, then show the values; otherwise blank the 2015 column.
  • epsilon Sco AB 2014 vs 2015 values: Shown as the same, again.
  • HR 6749-50 PA in 2015: Shown as 0. Is this correct or should 360 be shown?
I'll send these into the editor...

Then there are these. Who is right?
  • iota UMa A, BC (the second occurrence) PA, Sep., and period: 93 and 2.01 is shown for 2014, 96 and 1.99 for 2015, with a period of 2084. SkyTools reports 205 and 2.79 now, 206 and 2.83 next year, with an indeterminate orbit of 818 years.
  • alpha Com PA for 2014: Shown as 12 (same as 2015). SkyTools says 192° now but will be 13° next year.
  • eta Oph AB PA and Sep.: 232 and 2.57 is shown for 2014, 232 and 0.57 for 2015. SkyTools reports 232 and 0.59 now and the same numbers for next year.
I need to investigate further.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

helped Chris

Helped Chris V fix an important typo on his Facebook stream.

quick CAO meet

After dinner, after helping with his UPS and Thunderbird and Gmail, Tony and I had a mini-meeting on CAO matters. I had sent a big email a few days before outlining some items on my mind. Suggested we could start some preliminary discussion. It was good to get the ball rolling.

rest among the stars

Learned of John Dobson's death tonight. First, from Katrina. Sad news, the loss of this influential man. A household name among astronomers. I've used many a product inspired by his philosophy. If I had the time, I'd make my own Dobsonian telescope. At the next public star party, I'll remember Mr Dobson. He was 98 years young.

masks in Malta

Received an email from near the Mediterranean Sea.
Good afternoon,

I read some of your blog posts on using focusing masks for DSLR focusing and would like to ask you what is your final experiment result on the best type and size of mask to use please?

Best wishes,
Shared that it was still a work in progress! I was still experimenting with bar thickness. But in general I thought the Y-mask type best for camera lenses and small telescopes in terms of light transmission.

second renewal reminder

Received, from the RASC national office, my second membership renewal email notice.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


I shot the tree of light photo in December 2011. It popped up recently on my desktop thanks to the Rainmeter Enigma gallery, randomly selected. Good timing. Then one particular photo got me thinking about big structures. Really big structures.

I first noticed the shimmering white tree in the morning from the lounge area of the office I was working at. There was no snow on the ground but it made me think of pale blanketed fields among hibernating frosted forests. Winter. Stillness.

While the coffee robot prepared my first cup of joe, I took a couple of pictures from the twelfth floor. Top down. Tiny people scurrying past. Did they notice? It was bright even in the daylight.

Exiting the building after my gig, I spotted it across the street. Right! The FinePix camera couldn't quite handle the wild contrast so I headed to the north-east corner. Ah. It was not a real tree; but a tall steel structure with a wire frame simulation for bark, atop a tall white octagon. Covered, completely covered, in white light emitting diodes. Hundreds? Thousands? This tree released light instead of collecting it.

I looked up from the base. Pretty, the tree reaching into the darkening sky, up into space. Nestled amongst the scrapers of Bloor and Yonge. Centre of the Universe for some. Captured a few frames, camera aimed straight up.

An installation? Probably. I think some friends photographed it down in the Finance district, in the Valley of the Towers, just this December. The facsimile was quite good. Classic deciduous tree, solid trunk, secondary branches angling upwards, dividing, subdividing, down to thin shoots. Roots hidden from view. Converting energy. Giving back. Like how real plants remove carbon dioxide, provide fuel and fruit, make the planet better.

We simulate, on increasingly powerful computers, the birth of the Universe, from its initial smooth state at 1 billion years, to one now, governed by hidden dark matter, by most effectively but resistive invisible energy. The Bolshoi Simulation, with it's pure white and intense blue rendering, is mesmerising and haunting. There's a stillness, at a grand time scale.

Connective structures dominate our Universe now, some 13.7 billion years after the bang. Crossing and weaving. Thick trunks where massive clusters of massive galaxies co-habit. Branches thinned after stretching great distances to neighbouring clusters. Still smaller branches and shoots. Delicate wisps to individual galaxies. Reaching out in the spaces.

Light radiates into the void. Gravity moves material. Energy, dust, gas, flows and exchanges along this strong tissue.

It's clear. Everything is connected.

  • Photo by Blake Nancarrow. Fujifilm FinePix J20, 1/60, f/3.1, ISO 400, lens at 6mm.
  • Screen grab from the The Bolshoi Cosmological Simulations web site at the University of California.

tips and tricks page added

After the focus mask presentation, I was surprised at the number of people interested in the false star I had used to produce a point source light.

It is the first trick I've added to the new tips and tricks page in the lumpy companion site. Not yet integrated into the main menu here. Going forward, I will stockpile general astronomy tidbits here.


Saw Dave Cotterell was making updates on Facebook. Pinged him. Asked if he had received my email on double stars in SkyTools. He did not respond.


No reply as of 15 May 2014.

received article on diffraction

Kevin sent me a link to online paper entitled Fraunhofer Diffraction & its effects on aperture masks - a primer (2K, PDF). Thanks! Got some readin' to do...

updated mask presentation

Found spelling and small grammatical mistakes in the focusing mask presentation. Corrected them. Also beefed up the references or links page in the PDF. Updated file is available from the presentations page over in the lumpy companion.

helped Kevin

Kevin sent a note out to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group regarding my focusing mask presentation materials.
Thanks for posting Blake.  I’m sorry to have missed the original presentation, but enjoyed and really learned a lot from the online one.
Good to know others can take advantage.

checked net zoom levels

Crunched some numbers... Been wondering about this for a while. Does the Live View on the computer as provided by the Canon EOS Utility software, given it only goes to 200%, offer anything more than the camera's built-in zoom feature, which can go up to 10 times.

I noted the screen size of various devices. That is, the diagonal measure, in inches.
  • camera: 3
  • laptop: 14
  • netbook: 10
Again, we must consider the maximum zoom level of the device, the 40D camera, or the tethered computer running the control software with the Live View active.
  • camera: 10x
  • computer: 2x
So, if my math makes sense, one simply multiples the diagonal by the max zoom to get the the effective size, in inches.
  • camera: 30
  • laptop: 28
  • netbook: 20
Damn. I knew it! That means the laptop I have (John Kim Chi) gets close to the zoom level of the camera itself but is still less. The netbook (John Phil) with the small form factor, of course, can only zoom to 2/3rds the level of the camera. Damn.

It's actually worse than that. The EOS Utility software does not let the Live View fill the entire computer monitor space. So there's some further loss. Maybe the laptop is more like 25" and the netbook 15".

I was fooled initially by the different conventions! 200% just seems bigger.

The upshot of all this is that showing the zoomed Live View on the computer screen, unless you have a monitor larger than 15", does not offer any benefit.

Thus the whole premise of relying on the computer screen to help achieve good focus is weakened.


Now, all that said, the 40D display is not very... deep, in terms of pixels.
  • camera: 230 000
  • laptop: 1 470 000
  • netbook: 786 432
So, the computer screens should have better resolution.


This makes for a compelling argument for running the netbook in 1024x768 mode, with panning. That effectively bumps up the screen size. Every little bit will help.


Backwards computed the dimensions of the camera LCD, given it's 4:3 ratio. It is approx. 554x416 pixels.

Monday, January 13, 2014

sent in an article

Submitted a SCOPE newsletter webspotting article to Eric. I still have no idea when the deadline is. I'm just gonna write a few to put in the hopper.

collected aurora resources

I made a new page aggregating a number of resources for predicting aurora borealis over on the lumpy companion site. Not yet integrated into the main menu there.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

added solar system events

Enhanced the what's up for the year page to include notable solar system events, like the oppositions of the outer planets. Below the constantly updated calendar feed...

Learned something along the way... Mars (and some of the asteroids) will not always have an opposition or solar conjunction in a (terran) year. I had to think about the orbital mechanics of that for a moment.

watched docking

Katrina sent me a video link. The summary of the Orbital Cygnus being berthed to the International Space Station. Which I slept through. Thanks!

I also noted some photos taken of the docking. One in particular caught my eye: is that lens flare, dirt, or something else? It is the Moon!

tested focusing with diopters

Did an experiment with the focusing mask and the camera (and the 70-210 lens).

This exercise forced me to clean the back element of the view finder. Crikey! It was filthy. Put better batteries in the single white LED light for the false star.

I focused on an object without my glasses while looking through the optical view finder. Then I set the diopter so I had a good corrected view for my eye. With a Y-mask installed, aimed at the false star, I then focused using the diffraction pattern. I centred the moving line in the other two, as per usual, making a symmetrical pattern.

Out of curiousity, I checked what the camera chip was receiving by using the on-board Live View. Zoomed 2 times then 10 times. It showed a centred, symmetrical pattern.

Then I put my eyeglasses on. The view in the camera view finder was fuzzy, of course. I adjusted the camera view finder diopter for a crisp image. The diffraction pattern was centred, symmetrical pattern. I did not need to touch it. The camera was focused.

I don't know why or how exactly but it seems, after this brief test, that focus with the mask is an absolute. What I see in the view finder is unaffected by my vision correction requirement. And it seems that the data sent to the sensor is also in good focus. Or to put it another was, I did not change the focus for my vision. I set the focus for the camera, not me.

I could see with a flip mirror this might be an issue. And you'd want, which is often the case, a parfocal solution.


I don't recall the exact number but, having mild myopia, I believe my prescription is around -1.5.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

viewed small histograms

Read an item over on stack exchange where a user said one could improve DSLR focus by using the histogram. Huh? I read that again: "...may be able..." And then, "in theory." Finally: "I haven't tried this, so I am not completely sure if it would work." I see.

Anyway, it got me thinking. What effect does focus have on the histogram? His argument was not too crazy: an unfocused bright image would be spread out. So, time to do some research and experimenting.

After hooking up the 40D to the computer, I activated the Live View in EOS Utility. There it is, the little distribution graph, off to the right. It did shift a bit as I changed focus—I think. Interesting. But the display is tiny. Wondered if I could make it larger... Opened the Zoom View panel. Hey! No histogram. Boo. Could the histogram be made much larger? Could it be shown in the zoomed views? Could the histogram use only the data in the zoomed view, like a spot meter?

I opened the EOS Utility instruction manual. And was disappointed to find absolutely nothing on the histogram. The camera instruction manual had one page on the graph feature, split between the brightness, combined view and the RGB view. Right side, the highlights; left side, the shadow. Yada yada. Uh huh.

Finally, after some quick experiments, I've come to a few conclusions. The histogram chart, either on the back LCD, or on the computer, is simply too small to use as an accurate gauge of focus. And, not surprisingly, the histogram is the display of all the data reaching the entire chip, not a selected area.

updated companion menu

Added to new items in the menu of the lumpy companion site, so to reference to the presentations page and the main weather portal dashboards page. Did other misc. clean-up.

presentations resurrected

When the webteam deployed the new RASC Toronto Centre site in the summer of 2013, they deep-sixed all the old content.

Well, that's not fair, exactly. The content from the old site was still available. But it went to an archive subdomain. Which they didn't initially tell anyone about. The really bad news was that links into the old site suddenly stopped working. Links around the world, from other centres, from my blog—dead. And for the content they did not migrate (which was a lot), people suddenly couldn't find it, especially without knowing the super-secret archive address.

I was disappointed with this strategy on a number of levels. From an information technology perspective, I would have preferred to see a graceful ramp-down process. Better communication, certainly to members, of where to find old content. Better recognition of evergreen content. More of the relevant content actively migrated over. And some sort of handler for old links, with a possible back-end smart search. "Please adjust your bookmarks." Classic migration hyperlink mistakes. On a personal level, I was irked that some of my content—that I went to pains to assemble for our members—was now, at best, very difficult to find.

So, I've started to rescue some of this material. My presentations on field-of-view rings, powering equipment, portable weather stations, is still relevant. Should have been migrated. Should have gone into a "knowledge" or education section. Regardless. I've copied materials and put them on my own web server. My presentations and handouts and possibly the referring articles are now available from the lumpy companion presentations page. Enjoy. Again.

reflector build

The Dunlap Observatory tweeted a photo they found in the archives of the telescope being built at the Grubb-Parsons works in the UK, Newcastle.

Still kickin'!

Photo from Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums on flickr. From the flickr page: "No known copyright restrictions." That's a little unclear. I obtained permission (DS.GP.1919/1027) from the museum to copy this image.

See the Tyne & Wear archives & musuems web site for more information.


Chris Vaughan and I discussed via Facebook this image. He pointed out the iris did not function correctly in the Canadian environmental conditions and was removed. The 74" mirror is not attached in this photo. It is normally enclosed in a cell and this is attached to the "back" or the bottom of the telescope. You can make out the bolt holes along the ring around the iris.

Friday, January 10, 2014

presentations to be reorganised

I've started making a new page in this companion site, to aggregate all my astronomy-related presentation in one spot. This will help unclutter this main "index" page. The presentation list page is not yet integrated into the menu here...

Mackay pilots a rocket

Virgin Galactic had another run today, I understand. New finish on the tail elements... Shiny!

More neat pix on their Facebook page.

focusing mask presentation done

Put, at last, my focusing masks presentation online. What a bear.

It was a lot of fiddling and experimenting and back-tracking to get the handout file the way I wanted. Of course, I couldn't do a straight export from PowerPoint initially as there was very little text (given "the new way" I generally do my presentations now).

The first step was to write detailed content, essentially my words, the script. That was captured into the presenter's notes. To show these notes, I knew I'd have to use the Notes Pages view in PowerPoint. So I formatted it to match the style and tone of the presentation slide itself, namely, white text on a black background.

But then when I tried to print this to PDF (via the BullZip virtual printer), I noticed a white border around the edge of each notes page. This is, of course, a "feature" of PowerPoint; there's no direct control of the page margins or the format of the page background. I experimented with PowerPoint's paper size, BullZip's page scale—nothing worked.

Switched gears. Exported the content to Word. Now I had total control. And now, sadly, Word mucked up all the images showing a thin white strip down the left edge of each. I had to blot that out... Ugh. But, there was good fidelity between Word and BullZip. So I was happy at last with the appearance of the PDF file.

Unfortunately, earlier on, the spelling check in PowerPoint went insane changing a bunch of content despite me wanted to ignore all the instances. I had to manually reconcile the file against older versions. Did so twice. But I bet there's still something that I missed...

The tale of woe. Anyhoo...

The December 2013 focusing mask presentation, delivered to RASC at the OSC, is available over on the lumpy companion site. Along with the hyperlinked references. And the handout.


Yep, found more spelling "mistakes."

Thursday, January 09, 2014

saw Orb 1 launch

Watched the Antares launch from Wallops on Spaceflightnow.

Connected with Katrina via Facebook as she watched it.

We both thought the Orbital staff looked like a Canadian hockey team!


Docking to the International Space Station is scheduled for early Sunday morning...

no aurora spotted

Stu sent an email to me and Bill.
Skies cleared around 3:20.  I shot constellations for 30 mins or so.  [Temperature] -15 with a fairly steady breeze, tired, underdressed – it was frickin cold.
No aurora.  I have some shots that are OK for pres’ns BUT my focus was not right on!  Silly.  I could have used the lights of Port Perry to autofocus, then set to manual – or, hmmm something about a Y mask...

Anyway, got home at 5.

Learning lesson.
Brave man.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Gaia reaches L2

The ESA Gaia probe reached Lagrange point 2. That's opposite the Sun from the Earth.

Everything looks OK so far.

aurora hunters

7:30 PM. During the meeting, there was some talk about heading north to catch aurora. The buzz after the big x-ray burst.

Stu and Bill tried to twist my arm. Bill said his batteries were charged and he could go right after the meeting. Stu was game and had his sights set on a spot in Port Perry. ¡Ay, caramba! I pointed out I was not dressed. I'd have to go home to get the long johns, winter coat, and minus 100 boots, at a minimum. And when I shared my new location, Stu wondered if The Forks might be a better destination. Torn.

11:09. Stu texted me: "Cloudy at PP."

11:19. Stu asked, "You going?"

11:21. Stu said, "Clearing here."

But I was not convinced aurora was going to be visible. So I dove into web, once home, and tried to get a bead on what was going on. Checked various resources. In particular, I saw the planetary k index was pretty low for our region.

11:47. Texted Stu. Meh.

bright, brilliant, and beautiful

Paul Delaney presented this evening. Talked about elusive comets. Always entertaining, an educational, his talks. I particularly liked his remark that the media expects every comet discovered to be "bright, brilliant, and beautiful." If only it were so. If it's not shiny and splashy and going to crash into the Earth, they don't care. OK, be that way. Don't listen to us. We'll keep doing our science.

didn't make it

The International Astronomy Union faced a lot of tough decisions.

Not easy.

the way-back machine

Stumbled across a wire item at Sky and Telescope.

"The Hubble Space Telescope has captured snapshots of never-before seen galaxies far, far away. Try 13.2 billion years ago." That's about 500 million years after the start of the Universe. At "z" or red-shift ratings of 9 to 10. They went on to say, "Astronomer Garth Illingworth of the University of California Santa Cruz said while most of the galaxies are dwarfs, some grew faster and are far brighter than predicted."

Found Illingworth's publications.

S&T said something strange, that the HST was "never supposed to see these clusters of baby stars." Huh? These aren't star "clusters" in the typical use of the word. I'm sure the HST did not resolve individual stars. More to the point, I'm not sure what they meant by not supposed to see. Are they referring to the magnitude? Distance? But some of these early galaxies are comparatively bright. No matter.

That's going way back!

Monday, January 06, 2014

conjectured on focusing

Gilles sent me a note.
You did a super presentation on DSLR and focusing.

In your research have you investigated using the DSLR on-board computer to auto-focus?  Since the DSLR can drive the motor in the lens to adjust the focus could it drive a micro-focuser on a telescope attached to the DSLR?

I do not have a DSLR but if there is some hope I may get one.  Focusing is really challenging.
Indeed. Thanked him for the accolade. And shared I had not considered that per se. But I wondered if it might be possible, perhaps with an adapter, given how the Fotodiox M42 adapters work with my old lenses...

checked weather FTP access

Here we go again. The weather station images are not updating.

The time stamp for the snapshot "Current Data" images is from 6:58 AM. Outside Temp image shows -8.7.

Logged into the server. So, the internet connection is working. Checked the WeatherLink application. Weather bulletin displayed. No obvious errors. Seemed to be the current data (wind speed issue aside), for example, the outside temperature was showing at -15. Shutdown the app, waited a moment, launched it, opened the bulletin. No errors. Seems the software (and USB) connection is OK.

Terminated the remote session. And waited... Moments later. Nothing. No updates. What the hell is going on?! Something wrong with the FTP?

Went back in. Tried a PING. OK. A little slow.

Connected to the Control Panel for the host. Jumped into the weather directory. Found the time stamps are noted as 6:53 AM. So, the files have not uploaded...

On the remote machine, via the CLI, tried to FTP into the host. Connected OK but then on issuing a dir command, I was kicked. Noticed after the log-in, the message "Current restricted directory is /." Huh?

Reconnected, checked the pwd. OK. Tried an ls; kicked again.

Ha! Just saw the weather app upload the images! Funny timing... Working again. Images time stamped 6:28. Outside Temp image shows -15.5.

Weird. Why was the FTP not working all day? Why did it not respond correctly when I tried a direct log-in?

had pres check prez

Saw Charles was active on Facebook. Uploaded the announcements presentation to my Google Drive. Asked him to take a look.

He likes it!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

found the original low-rez

Asked Jason for the new graphic file(s) for the background of the presentation template. I was looking to improve the resolution. In addition to white and black flavours of a JPEG, he sent over the original PSD. I just fired up Photoshop. Unfortunately, he built it for 800x600 pixels! Tiny. Completely inappropriate. So that proved a dead end.

finished Dave's double star quiz

Sent an email to Dave Cotterell, at last, with answers to his "quiz" questions on double stars. He had put four challenging questions to me and I answered them. Fairly decently I thought.

pointed out typo to York U

Spotted a typographical error on the York University Observatory web site. Pointed it out to Paul.

He said he had to read it several times before he saw the spelling mistake... Do people not see typos?

I remember an experiment, back in grade 8, where we were asked to count the spelling mistakes in a paragraph on a business card-sized piece of paper. It took us a few read-throughs to see all the errors. Is our brain tricking us? Is my brain weird?

Saturday, January 04, 2014

updated wx pages

Updated my weather portal pages. For the list city and surrounding area...
I removed the RSS feeds that weren't working instead deploying Environment Canada's little snapshots as produced by their Data Services page. Changed the layout of the pages to accommodate the new weather panels. Made sure the links at the bottom were consistent.

I also updated the general what's up page adding the twitter feed from

received clinic flyer

Ralph liaised with youth member Maggie who has shown some talent in the graphic arts and asked her to make the flyer for the 2014 telescope clinic.

I asked her to PDF it. And then we can send it off to the local vendors!

it could be colder...

Happy perihelion!

Found this image on the Calgary RASC web site...

Friday, January 03, 2014

checked telescope configurations

Thought I saw something wrong last night in my SkyTools 3 Pro telescope-view configurations...

Reviewed my notes on telescope view orientation. Briefly:
  • a reflector (or Newtonian) presents a rotated view
  • a compound (e.g. SCT) with, or a refractor with, a standard mirror-diagonal or star-diagonal installed (which is common) presents a mirror-reversed or laterally-inverted view
And thought again  on my simple rule: even number of reflections (and zero), a normal view (although it may be rotated); odd reflections, a mirrored view.

Initially using the Pleiades, then M33, I double checked Mom's telescope view orientation. Mom's Edmund Scientific was OK with a rotated view.

But I found the RASC Tele Vue 101 was wrong! Changed (on John Phil) the Up/Down property from Flipped to Normal. Same problem on a friend's 80mm refractor.

It looks like the stock Tele Vue 101 is configured as such. Huh.

This leads me to once again consider that I've configured my telescopes wrong. I wonder if I should set the Left/Right and Up/Down options of the telescope to match its inherit properties without a mirror diagonal... I tested this before, but didn't keep good notes. And there's the aspect of imaging as well...


Took me a while to find them but my old notes from August 2006 stand.


Added (to John Phil) Thierry's LX-200 which I used visually and photographically as I repaired it. Added Ian's custom 20" Newt which I used to track down the quasar.


Also checked for duplicate locations. All OK.

clinic notice on Facebook

The free new owners telescope clinic posting appeared on the RASC Toronto Centre Facebook page! Woo hoo! Thank you social media team!

watched Ottawa meeting

Watched the RASC Ottawa Centre meeting online.

Caught end of a talk about Gaia.

Normand Fullum talked about his new shop and new services. With his new large kiln, he can make his large mirrors in-house faster and cheaper. Shared the new company name, Optiques Fullum.

Various members showed their astrophotos. Graeme, Eric, Janet, young Julia, then Hugo.

Paul shared his findings of his unidentified object. The Russian Meridian 1 satellite.

Mike talked about Two Line Element set data and how one can determine satellite orbital values based on zenithal observations. Learned inclination is the angle from the equator, that mean anomaly is simply where it is at a given time. Neat. Shared his web site, Castor, at the end.

The final presentation was by Janet on the Griffith Observatory. I liked the meridian arc in the Gottlieb Transit Corridor.

The MC mentioned an upcoming workshop meeting on Jan 24. The topic is DIY micro and mini observatories. It will be broadcast on NSN...

pleased with clinic vendor support

I'm very pleased with this year's vendor support. For the first telescope clinic, in January 2013, we had about 5 vendors on board. We've essentially doubled this.
Still have not heard back from Radioworld despite a voice mail and email.


Update: Radioworld, Toronto is on board too! Very pleased.

Earth vs. Mars

It was a little nippy outside. So I switched to Kelvin. 240°. Makes it sound so much warmer.

Carol said that it was colder than Mars. True. In a sense. Mars, in the summer, can climb to 308. But the average temperature is 210. So, I would argue that we're still warmer.

Amazing, regardless, what a little tilt will do...

AJT 1.6.4 out

There's a new release of AstroJan Tools. Version 1.6.4. I'll have to give them a spin...

synchronised SkyTools

I want now the same SkyTools 3 Pro data on the desktop computer (John Charles) as the netbook (John Phil). I want to embrace synchronisation. Which should help reduce data loss.

1:33 AM. Backed up the SkyTools data on John Charles.

2:00 AM. Approximately. I stopped. I stopped trying to perform the sync procedure. I was falling asleep. And I knew I needed to be fully alert.

Read the manual again. The main Sync process merges data from the slave into the master. Got it. Make the Sync database on the computer you're transferring from. Oh ho. What's this? It can be done directly through the LAN with the main data folder? Interesting... But upon consideration, I decided to stick with plan A: moving the Sync database about. That would let me keep the netbook a little more secure.

6:07 PM. Asked Greg for some help on syncing. He advised me to not follow the path I had guessed at. He assured me the sync was pretty smart and would honour the edited dates. If the merge process found a stale item going over a newer one, it would prompt me.

10:30 PM. Something clicked. For the sync and merge to work well, both ways, I'd need to "clean" the data on John Charles. I planned to removed all the log entries. The log entries was a surprise from the get-go. All the entries were dated Sep 30 or Oct 1, at the CAO, with the C8. Strange. Middle of the week. When I was in the city... 75% of the logged entries were for objects I had viewed years ago. So, I interpreted it as test data. Maybe I had done it to do quick filtering? I reduced the custom telescopes and custom locations leaving only those that I wanted to keep.

The exercise was helpful in a surprising way. I stumbled across a couple of mucked up entries. For example, I had not added Nova Del 2013 to the master list on John Phil. Added a missing NGC. Updated an item on the double star life list web page...

11:40 PM. Performed the SkyTools data backup on both computers.

11:41 PM. Sync database created on John Charles. Stored it in a shared folder. The output.

Examined the contents under logs. Found 64 files in the lists folder. Good, all my observing lists that I wanted to merge into John Phil's data. Saw 2 entries in the cons folder. What's that for? Noticed that the CAO loc was dated today. So I "touched" the corresponding entry on Phil to make it more current. Saw 2 entries in the night folder but I wasn't too worried about them. Found notes associated with the Most beautiful double stars imported list—good.

(Don't know why now there were no notes for the RASC double star list. That's a different issue...)

Transferred the SkyTools Sync folder to John Phil.

Started the sync process. The input. Chose only the Observing Lists and Notes. Feeling a little nervous. And pulled the trigger!

11:57 PM. Sync stage 1 complete. Looks like it went OK.

During the sync I was asked about updated SN 2013eu. I thought that odd. At first glance. I did not recall viewing that supernova. And when I checked the log history in John Charles, of course, there was nothing. Then it occurred to me that perhaps the "Current" lists on Charles were more current than those on Phil. I hit Skip All and the merge proceed. Quickly!

I immediately checked the Group menu. Woo hoo. There were the custom groups from Charles. And their respective contents, custom observing lists. That's what I was after... Found the notes for the imported double star list. All right.

12:21 AM. Tried the sync again with the User Preferences turned on this time. I wanted the custom locations and observers. That worked. OK!

Again, during the sync, I was prompted about supernovae. Weird. I was also prompted about the column configurations, it seems. And if I wanted to replace the Current lists from the remote. No thanks.

Checked the locations merged in. The location and elevation data is all good. The Time Zone went a little funny, switching from EST to GMT. The offset is still minus 5 so I think it's moot.

So, I'm pretty happy. Looks like everything from John Charles I wanted to keep is now in SkyTools on John Phil. Sweet!

12:50 AM. For an experiment, I moved an observing list out of one of the imported groups to a master group. And I renamed it.

12:57 AM. Recreated some of the nice column configurations still on John Charles.

OK. Time for stage 2.

1:05 AM. Created the Sync database on John Phil.

1:09 AM. Transferred the database to John Charles. Bigger this time...

1:17 AM. Didn't understand all the prompts about supernovae. A lot more this time... Maybe due to a large supplemental database from John Phil? I finally hit Replace All.

1:25 AM. Done. Hey. Nothing transferred! Looked at the merge options. None checked. Oooh. OK. That explains why nothing was brought in. Kinda weird though—you'd think a warning would pop up. Checked everything this time: lists, notes, logs, preferences, links, and images. Let's go!

1:45 AM. Something weird happened. It appeared to freeze about half way. And when I used Alt-Tab aka the Cool Switch, SkyTools was not shown. It beeped when I clicked on the dialog. And then I wondered if a Replace/Skip dialog had appeared but was hidden. I hit Enter. Nothing. I hit Escape. The Sync dialog cleared! The program was accessible. Now all the locations, telescopes, and observers are listed. But the observing lists are missing... Try again.

1:50. Error! It said "See the status area for details." Huh? Oh, the Status Bar in the Data Manager dialog. It showed "Error synchronizing logs!" Crikey.

Hmmm. When I hit Escape, the app did not restart on its own, like it normally does at the end of the Sync. Manually shut the app down. Restarted. Tried Sync merge again. Tried not to touch the machine or change the focus. No error. Went further... but seemed to stall again. I left it alone.

2:03 AM. Activity. Woo hoo. It was on notes. I guess the logs (with 600+ entries) takes a while.

Prompted for the location of some DSS image files. Weird. I thought that wasn't any issue.

Told it to replace all the other DSS images.

2:05 AM. Done! Stage 2 complete.

Wow. It's all here. Lists. Including the one I just moved. Logged entries. Beautiful.

Not for the meek...

Thursday, January 02, 2014

more clinic planning

Did a bunch of clinic stuff today.

Sent an update to the mentors. Fixed some tiny typos on the web page. Reviewed the web form. Chatted with Gifts From the Earth. Discuss flyer edits with Ralph. Delegated the RASC "booth" planning to Chris. Asked Chris if he might tackle the vendor follow-up. Delegated the welcome package preparation to Katrina. Asked Karen to promote it with the Richmond Hill paper(s). Asked the webteam to tackle Facebook and Twitter promotion. Asked about Google Adwords. Arranged with Dave at National to get in the next Bulletin. Asked Allard to deploy a simple URL redirect. Helped Lora with a new email profile. Recruited Niels again. Updated the to-do list.

Already the applications are coming in! Excellent.

reset cookie expiry

Reset the expiry date for the cookie handler on the CAO weather page.

spoke with Peter

Chatted with Peter at Gifts From the Earth. They are on-board again with our telescope clinic. In fact, he said he had already referred someone to the event! Thanks!

web calendar done

The web team informed us they had finished updating the RASC site calendar—150 events added. I suggested a few additions. Clarified that the Awards Picnic would be at the DDO.

did she forget?

Risa asked me what the status of the dew controller was. What?! I thought that was dealt with! All this time I thought she was back up and running. Oh boy. I think she forgot where we left it...

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Rod on power

Read Unk Rod's blog post on powering gear while doing astronomy stuff. Lots of good tips.

mostly clear

Scattered cloud! Arrgh. Not clear enough to compel me to set up in the freezing cold...