Tuesday, March 31, 2015

picked up SN Mar/Apr

Retrieved my mail from my old place. It included the March/April issue of SkyNews. w00t!

Spring viewing... That'd be good. Tired of this winter.

Ooh. Ivan Semeniuk has an article on dark matter. Includes photos from SNOlab. Looking forward to that.

installed SkySafari

Procured SkySafari Plus 1.8.5 for the Android tablet (first official tablet app purchase). No joke.

offered to find a space

Last night I volunteered to find a meeting space for the RASC Toronto Centre, for the summer meetings, a temporary home. Started collecting data. Built a comparison table in Excel. Reviewed the recently shared map of member locations by postal code.

Monday, March 30, 2015

attended council meeting

Went to the Council meeting. Held at the St Joan of Arc church. May you live in interesting times.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

found Y-mask

Found my Y-mask kit. Packed away. Found a small box I can transport it in. Will need to update the packing list again...

OSC shared rates

Learned the new rental rates for the Ontario Science Centre auditorium (with a capacity of approximately 475 people): over $3 000. In the winter, we (generally) use this room 12 times; in the summer, 6 times. If I'm doing my math right, that's approx. $54 000 per year. Plus tax. The studio rooms are $800 per evening. That's $40 000 less. Well, now we have a parameter.

do not centre

Confirmed. I will need to be mindful of NCP in the Celestron finder scope with the barn door tracker.

The specs of the finder are 6 x 30 with a 7° field as inscribed on the device.

So I'll need a chart, or software, or an app, to accurately show it. And I will need to eye-ball the relative distance from centre. Bearing in mind that the cross-hairs are off a little.

As well, I need to figure out a way to ensure the scope itself is parallel to the hinge.

I'm pretty sure I'm seeing trailing arcs in last night's 3 minute images...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

more barn door tests (Richmond Hill)

"Second light" for the barn door tracker. So to get more data and experience. I also wanted people to see it in action. Another objective was to gauge portability. I hauled it about the subway.

Made all kinds of mistakes. Again!

Set up beside Nicole inside The Ellipse of the David Dunlap Observatory. Near Chris V. Chatted with various members, including Peter, Shawn, Iosif, Allard, Chris J.

Like Tuesday, Mamiya tripod with the Manfrotto hex adapter. Custom barn door tracker and control unit (and 9v battery)! Sirui ball head with Arca-style plate. Polar alignment with Celestron finder scope. Mounted the 40D and 18-55 kit lens. Zoomed out. Already on Custom Settings 1. Attached the intervalometer. Bulb mode.

9:34. Took first test shot. Manually focused on Sirius.

9:39. Oh yeah, the bottom knob. Pivoted the base of the ball head. Ha. I was able to get a good angle this time. First good shot.

30 seconds, f/7.1, ISO 1600. Lens at 55mm. OK. Changed the camera settings. Ready for long exposures.

9:40. Oops. Forgot to turn on the drive!

180 seconds, f/8.0, ISO 100. Duh. Turned on the motor. There's was a bit of slop in the mount. Tightened the tracker on the tripod hex plate.

180 seconds, f/8.0, ISO 100. Jitter. Huh? Turned off the drive to investigate. Oops. Discovered the bent rod was touching one of the tripod knobs. Stiff rods? Stiff knobs? Oh my. 

Did a few more test shots. Forgot to turn the drive on. Again! Tried once more. Sped up the drive slightly. Camera shutdown. Battery issue again! Gah. I suddenly realised I had forgotten to install the battery grip! Put in another battery. No response. Damn. Already too cold. -6°C Nicole had predicted. Put the remaining batteries in my pants pockets.

10:15. Reframed.

180 seconds, f/8.0, ISO 100. Still slightly streaked. We all thought the focus off a bit? Steve loaned me his little Kendrick Bahtinov. Suddenly realised I had not brought my Y-mask. Huh. If I'm not bringing a computer (to pack light) I better bring at least the mask...

180 seconds, f/8.0, ISO 100. Better! Better focus. Still trailing. Maybe I need to re-evaluate the polar alignment. Oh. Quite far off. Adjusted, i.e. centred.

180 seconds, f/8.0, ISO 100. Damn plane. Hey! Longer trails. OK. Polar alignment is becoming a factor. Will need to research this...

Lessons learned:
  • Don't forget to turn it on. That's why I put the red LED in it! 
  • Use a focusing mask. Or focusing software.
  • Examine first test shots for focus.
  • Pivot the ball head. Turn it to get the notch in the right spot.
  • Don't forget to warm batteries.
  • Don't forget to attach the battery grip. 
  • At long focal lengths and long exposures, will need better polar alignment. 
  • And don't forget to turn it on.
Fun. Quick pack-up.

recognised member photo

Learned that one of Manuel's recent Jupiter images was accepted in the SkyNews Photo of the Week. We congratulated him at the DDO Members Night. He's come a long way. I noticed however that he and Ida arrived after that acknowledgement. Too bad they missed the group acknowledgement.

fun members meeting

The Members Night meeting at the DDO was really fun.

On arriving in the parking lot, Peter met with the member returning the orange C8. I helped lug the tripod (the cheap part) to the truck.

On arriving the lobby of the admin building, we met a crowd. They were looking at Mélanie and Emma's science fair poster on exoplanets and congratulating them on their gold medal win! Fantastic.

To a packed house, Stu started off the evening programme outlining the tips-and-tricks theme.

He shared Manuel's Jupiter image.

Paul M. acknowledged the girls again. Well done.

He showed off the new telescope loan programme collapsible 5-inch Dobsonian. New ready for use! Excellent.

Then he handed over the reins to Richard Blackman. I enjoyed his DIY themed presentation. I liked how he emphasised that is it not just about saving money. I also like how he framed projects, at levels. "Can you build a robot?"

Stu then asked me to show-and-tell my recently completed barn door tracker. I also showed the new lithium car booster battery.

Steve showed his adjustable telescope chair. He and another member are going to coordinate a group-buy-and-build project.

Chris talked about the Sky-Fi product and offered to demonstrate it. He also showed the clever smartphone adjustable camera bracket with eyepiece. Great for public events.

A member shared that they had found a red light app for their smartphone, in lieu of having a red flashlight.

Another member shared they have found very inexpensive LED dimmer controls on eBay that would operate as dew heater controllers.

Allard briefly showed his custom smartphone app that would show position information, i.e. what it was aiming at.

George's proudly showed us his heated sweater, an alternative to a battery-powered coat.

Took notes on the new tablet directly in Evernote. Joy.

developed a roof rail plan

Tony and Dave hatched a plan for fixed the GBO roof rails... Briefly, cutting the post, installing square flanges top and bottom, each with four holes, then install long threaded rods with nuts between the two new flanges. In the future, we could adjust the height as needed.

Friday, March 27, 2015

JPL fixed Opportunity

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab restored the Mars Opportunity rover after a flash memory glitch, according to the Astronomy Now article. Pretty impressive for an explorer that is still working after its April 2004 best-before date.

without a home

The RASC Toronto Centre president issued an announcement on the Yahoo!Groups. The Ontario Science Centre, "due to financial issues... is cancelling all of their evening programs." This echoes the remarks made during the Wednesday meeting night. He also stated, "all Star Parties and our NOVA programs... are immediately cancelled." The solar observing sessions are being evaluated. He went on to say that "our last (no-fee) meeting at OSC will be on Wednesday, April 8, 2015." Then, he stated that "OSC meeting space rental fees are substantial and would seriously impact our club finances." That means... 12 days to the "last" meeting.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

long exposure check

Quick upload of one of the best shots from last night. Orion and Lepus region. From Bayview Village Park.

Canon 40D, 18-55mm lens at 55, intervalometer, bulb, 121 seconds, ISO 100, f/5.6, daylight white balance, RAW, manually focused. Tripod mount, custom barn door tracker, Sinui ball head.

Minor processing in DPP. Tungsten, contrast bump, shadow -1, sharpness +1.

heard from Midland

Heard from the Midland company in Kansas City. They received our faulty weather radio. They are beginning their evaluation to determine if it can be repaired or replaced. I was intrigued planned rapid response. Looking forward to their report. Perhaps we'll have a working radio for the spring!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

tested barn door (Toronto)

After helping his wife with her car, Peter and I arrived at the Bayview Village Park. It was around 7:45. Maybe later. It was dark. I helped him carry gear into the baseball field.

Said hello to Stu, Guy, Charline N, Charline X, Maia, George, et al. Chatted with a gentleman about tracking platforms. Interesting. A lot of cameras. At least two iOptron trackers.

Set up my "new" barn door tracker. First light for the thing! Finally. Finished it back in early February but the very cold weather kept discouraging me. It was also a bit more interesting to try it with fellow keeners around...

Mamiya tripod with hex adapter. Barn door tracker and control unit (with on-board 9v battery)! Sirui ball head. Polar aligned! Mounted the camera and kit lens. Switched to Custom Settings 1. Attached the intervalometer. Bulb mode.

Stu loaned me a red flashlight; Charline loaned me her iPhone. Calibrated the tracker with the iOS stopwatch. 1 minute on the big gear. It occurred to me it was turning the wrong way, drawing the top board in. Oops. Flicked the N/S switch!

Zoomed out with the lens—to 55mm. Tried to focus on the Moon.

8:30 PM. Switched to Sirius for focusing.

2 seconds at f/5.6. ISO 1600.

8:32. Aimed toward Orion. Ugh. Couldn't get the camera at the angle I wanted. The camera body was very close to the top board, colliding with it at certain angles.

5 seconds at f/5.6. ISO 1600.

8:36. Peter spotted them. Dual satellites overhead moving south.

From 8:55 to 9:13 I took gradually longer and longer exposures. I also dropped the ISO as I went along.

Got to 120 seconds at f/5.6 using ISO 100! Ha. The images together turned into a mini-time-lapse.

I looked closely at the trailing. I sped up the tracking (clockwise) slightly to dial-out the streaking. And the camera battery died! Gah.

9:17. Installed the new battery but it immediately reported low. Dang. And I lost my camera settings, of course.

From 9:24 to 9:36 I shot 180 second exposures! Sped up the tracker some more. But I had lost focus! While changing the battery I had bumped the lens. So I tried to get back to good focus...

Looked closely at the iOptron units. There's a spacer under the ball head. It's about 1 cm thick. Of course, the whole device is small. Less chance for camera body collisions...

181 seconds, f/6.3, ISO 100. Wow.

Peter was getting cold. I tried to squeeze in some more shots but all my batteries were cold and not performing. It was taking too long to regain focus. So I started wrapping up.

Helped Charline X with the Little Dipper. Looked at Jupiter at high power through a little refractor. Purple fringing. All four moons visible. Looked at Joe's SCT imaging set-up as he photographed the Moon. I was intrigued by the tablet control of the Canon! Did he say free? Looked at the comet through Maia's Dob. Well done, tagging it in the city. A faint smudge with a bright centre. Had a couple of looks in the new loan programme's mini-collapsible Dob. Nice views (with a good eyepiece).

No humidity. I was warm enough in my winter coat. Hiking boots were OK. Hands were cold, primarily from constantly removing my gloves.

Fun night! Learned a lot. It was good seeing some friends again. Stu asked if I might bring on the custom tracker to the DDO show-n-tell night. OK.

I was very happy with the tracker. Overall, it worked well. Set the direction correctly. The polar alignment looks good. Not too surprised with that. Thanks to Peter I was able to transport gear easily but it looks like the tracker and camera will fit in a duffel bag and with the tripod on my back I can get anywhere.

Lessons learned...
  • Don't raise the tripod to its full height. It was too high to operate in a convenient way. It was impossible to look through the view finder.
  • Keep batteries warm. For cold conditions.
  • Use the grip! Then two batteries can drive the camera.
  • Consider a larger, external screen for focusing!
  • Raise and/or move the ball head. To avoid collisions.

Was told Iosif was there! Dang!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

heard from SkyHound on article

Heard from the developer of SkyTools article in the RASC Journal.
Sorry it took me so long to respond.  I've been having an amazing week working on ST4 that has involved a lot of observing, so I barely have time to sleep, much less anything else.

Anyhow, I really enjoyed your article!  Any ideas for renaming the Context Viewer?  I've been struggling with that one.

Clear skies,
Interesting. He too finds the name—Eyepiece/Imager Context Viewer—a little bit of a mouthful.

updated packing list

Applied a bunch of updates to my palmtop packing list... New things. And a gaggle of things that were... just, well, missing!
  • CLA extension cord
  • CLA adapter power cord for netbook
  • mini booster battery
  • barn door tracker and control unit!
  • ball head
  • finder scope!
  • focusing mask!
  • UV LED flash light
  • the brand new expanded scale voltmeter!
Been a while... Also accommodated for the new cases, box alpha prime and box alpha secondus.

new motor installed

Tony sent his GBO roof drive motor refurbishment report.

He replaced the motor. Which we had wanted to do anyway. Wired the new, based on the old. Swapped the pulley. Remounting was complicated by bolt hole misalignment issues. Rerouted wiring. Tested it and it worked fine. Rotation OK, roof moved easily.

Then he monitored the draw during a full open process. 6 amps under load and about 9 amps inrush on start up. But at the outrigger "hump" the motor strained and the current rose. Starting current to reverse near mounting the hump was 14 amps! The frost heaving was definitely causing a problem.

He advised that we not open more than 1/3 of its travel length until the outriggers can be repaired.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

calibrated the ESV

Heard back from Peter. He thanked me for pointing out the typo. He also assured me that TIP wouldn't get hot to touch (warm, perhaps) so agreed my configuration looked OK.

I retested with the charged NOCO battery. Now it was putting out 12.3v. I recalibrated the maximum, reading pin 6. Then I tested with my marine gel battery "B". The new upper limit: 12.73v. Marine "A" was 12.66v, marine "C", 12.68v, and marine "D", 12.69v. Good stuff. A good range. Then I connected the trusty old Century booster. Wow! 12.7v. Finally, I tested with Nicole's small SLA from her old booster: 12.1v. Realised, suddenly, I did not need to make a variable power supply.

Cranked the brightness.

Cut the leads. And then considered what I'd need to mount it in my red project box.

Friday, March 20, 2015

built the ESV

Finally got 'round to building Peter Hiscocks's Expanded Scale Voltmeter for accurately measuring lead acid batteries. Followed the instructions in the October RASC Journal.

Verified I had all the parts (which I had received back in July). Laid out everything on the pre-printed circuit board. At first I was a little confused by some of the resistors. The photograph on page 198 was a little blurry (admittedly, I downloaded the low-rez version of the Oct '14 JRASC) and the colour bands looked different than what I was expecting. But then I pressed further into the article and found the parts table. Ah. Maybe his photo was old, an early version perhaps?

Tested the LEDs. Worked from the centre outward. Soldering went fine. Very well, in fact. Mounted the integrated circuits. Ha! I haven't used that tool for a long time (a chip inserter with pin straightener)!

Careful of the polarity, I connected the new teenie weenie lithium-ion booster battery and tested the circuit. Everything looked OK! Did some calibration but decided to complete it tomorrow by varying the input voltage. The NOCO GB30 was only putting out 11.75 volts! Plugged it in...

Messaged Peter to share the good news. Promised to return all the extra bits and bobs.

Also noted that I thought I found a typographical error...
Adjust the Minimum potentiometer R7 so that pin 4 of the LM3914 is at half the minimum indicated voltage. For example, if the minimum displayed voltage is 11 V, pin 6 should be at 5.5 V.
I believed the reference to pin 6 was incorrect; it should be pin 4. I made that assumption anyway.


Edited on 20 Jan '19 to indicate specific Journal edition.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

not heading north

Thomas saw that the weather was looking poor over the weekend. He really wanted to image Orion from the CAO. No chance of that this weekend. Unfortunately, that meant I lost my ride. Really wanted to assist Tony with repairs and upgrades. Said I could rent some wheels. Grace and Tony said not to worry. Iosef might help.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Queen St parts run

Headed to Active Surplus (on Queen) via streetcar to pick up some bits and bobs. Primarily for the portable dew heater power source. Fairly successful run this time. Found large "eyelet" or ring connectors (for stereo applications), multi-pin locking connectors (although given the small gauge, I'm not sure they'll work), and some nice 10 gauge wire, red and black! Also tagged a stereo 1/8" extension for John Charles external speakers. Nice.

sent radio

Via Canada Post, sent in the weather radio to the Midland shop...

saw the old Moon (Etobicoke)

Old Moon this morning over the public school roof. Very thin (less than 2 days to new). Was surprised how high it actually was. Very clear sky. Chilly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

in 3D course!

Was that supposed to happen?! I just thought I'd venture into the registration screens to get more information. I was expected to get turfed with a note as to when registration would open... But it let me proceed. Suddenly I had a confirmed booking for the TPL Intro to 3D Design at the Fort York Digital Innovation Hub on 2 Apr 2015. OK. Thanks!

These courses appear to be very popular. I missed out the last time. This time I was hoping to get in.

I'm looking forward to learning about 3D printing. The key thing I'm interested in is making custom project boxes for my various electronic projects. In particular, I'd like to build a really compact deep red flashlight.

Friday, March 13, 2015

how far?

Interesting question... Risa said one of her students asked "how far can you see" with your telescope. I examined my life lists and log notes in SkyTools and it looks like Messier 77 at 70 million light years is the furthest object I've seen in an 8-inch telescope.

Quasar 3C 273 in Virgo is magnitude 12.8. Easy in C8... Best viewed in May.

I've gone much further with bigger instruments... of course. The C14 at the CAO and Ian's 20" Dob. 140 million light years to 9 billion light years!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Moon near Saturn (Etobicoke)

Spotted the gibbous Moon about one degree from beige Saturn. Nice.

They were relatively close to orange Antares. The planet was quite close to β (beta) Scorpii aka Graffias. I could easily see δ (delta) aka Dschubba.

Finally found the third below, π (pi) Sco while waiting for my bus. A bit tough.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

something dark

Ha. Sean ordered the Darkside Black IPA. Apropos.

I was pleased when Dr Tulin sat at our table at the Granite Brewery. I got to ask him some questions.

What to you think of TBBT? I don't watch it.

Are you encouraged or excited by some of the underground experiments searching for dark matter? Yes.

And, finally, I shared a thought. That I wanted to shout out, when he mentioned that the ambient temperature of the Universe is 2.8 Kelvin, that that was not far off (until recently) the temp in Toronto. Brrr.

Binary Universe: SkyTools

cover of the RASC Journal 2015 April
The April issue of the RASC Journal was made available today.

My second installment in the Binary Universe column was included, this time on my favourite software application: SkyTools.

Specifically, I show SkyTools Professional version 3.2.

TSTM for Savi

Savi dropped by desk with some treats. I took a teenie torus of goodness! I said, "I have something for you!" He continued his rounds then returned. I gave him a copy of my calendar for The Sky This Month as well as the Stellarium quick reference guide.

Moon nearing Scorpius (Etobicoke)

The Moon is heading toward Scorpius. Toward Saturn. Should be interesting tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

where's Ralph?

Hey. I was just rereading the March RASC Toronto Centre SCOPE newsletter when I noticed the Ralph Chou is not listed as an associate director at the David Dunlap Observatory? Only Paul Mortfield is listed. The Dec 2014/Jan 2015 issue showed both Paul and Ralph. What's up with that?! Did Ralph step down?

Monday, March 09, 2015

snow on the way

Nicole pinged me on Facebook. Said she was about 60% on going to the CAO. But she wondered about hauling her Celestron mount. I asked her why. Said she could use the Paramount. Oh. She liked that idea. Her interest rose to 65%.

I checked the long-range weather on Weather Network. Friday and Saturday. Partly sunny. -1 or +1°C temperature in the day, -6 to -5 in the evenings. POP: 30%. But book-ended by snow... Hrrm.

in early

Jumped into the York Universe show. Looks like it started at 8:00 PM. It was a repeat. Oops. Got in there early. Live show started at 9.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

diving in

Nicole pinged me.

Very proud.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

fixed Moon

Fixed Moon skin in Rainmeter. It had disappeared. Visited Benjam Welker's blog, found the Moon skin page, downloaded the code. Then I recopied the code. OK now... Ugh. Nearly full.

Friday, March 06, 2015

system art

Stumbled across (via Mental Floss) some beautiful, stunning artwork by Fabled Creative. I wish I could order one of each. I like the subtle details, such as the Galilean moons.

I was especially pleased to learn that the duo that makes up this design company is based in Toronto.

Copyright © 2015 Fabled Creative. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

See the complete body of work in the Space Destinations Series.

run what you brung

Nicole pinged me. Said she enjoyed my SkyTools article. Wondered if she should buy it. Heh. I guess I did a good sales pitch!

I reminded her it was an expensive option particularly if she already had some capable software. And that it was... different. With a possibly long learning curve. She shared she had a current, modern planetarium application. But, at the same time, admitted she didn't have a lot of experience with it.

"Save your money," I suggested. I encouraged Nicole to read the... fabulous... manual! First. Dive deeper into her current tools first. Then we'll talk.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

picked up some SF

Visited my new local branch of the Toronto Public Library (TPL), the Brentwood, a block or two due west of the Royal York subway. Returned an overdue movie. Flipped through their small collection of DVDs. Ha! Akira. It's been a while... Then headed upstairs for the science fiction section. Spotted Red Planet Blues by Sawyer. OK!

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Stellarium for NOVA

Delivered the Stellarium software demonstration for the last RASC Toronto Centre's New Observers to Visual Astronomy class, the last class, in fact.

Surprising number of people, given the very poor weather. But that meant for a late start. I killed time by providing extra copies of my The Sky This Month handout and reviewing.

Photo by Sharmin.

The Stellarium piece went fine. Got through all the content I wanted. Used Leslie's projector with the ASUS netbook. Older computer and an older projector. So, not as impressive as I would have liked. Still, people seemed to enjoy it. Good questions. I provided my Quick Reference Card for all. I had plenty of handouts left out.

I didn't realise it at the time but Jesse dropped in. He complimented me later, said he picked up a few tips. I felt honoured. High praise from Sharmin too. Thanks. Many accolades from the participants. You're welcome.

It was late when we wrapped up. And I had a long journey home. Declined on dinner.

Monday, March 02, 2015

found new shortcuts

Did more testing in Stellarium 0.13.2. Found some new keyboard shortcuts:

action     press
toggle horizon line
toggle nebula/deep sky objects
d (in addition to n)
illumination (er, light pollution) from city lights
Shift g
toggle planet labels
Alt p
toggle meteor shower radiants
Ctrl Alt m
toggle meteor radiant labels
Shift m

I'll need to update my master list...

updated supers on roof

I advised the supervisors that, effective immediately and until further notice, the roll-off roof motor drive of the Geoff Brown Observatory was out of service and should not be operated. Standby...

media files lost

The RASC Toronto Centre might be in trouble. It was learned that the person who developed our new logo media files had them on "a malfunctioning computer..." And it sounds like there was no data back, despite my prompting early in the year. I was anxious. If this is all true, then all the time he spent designing the new logos and all the time we spent reviewing them, might be in jeopardy. I was troubled by the potential waste. And if we want to do new high-quality reproductions, we might not be able to. For new productions, if we want professional quality, we might need to redo the work. The Toronto Centre might be in a difficult position and have to go back to the drawing board.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

better colour

Went back to Registax and tried the recipe at Garden Astronomy. Assembled with the data gathered on 24 Jan.

Well. That's the best yet. North is up; east is left.

conducted drive tests

Tony had Ralph do some roof drive tests. Sounds like the gear box is OK. The motor still works. A bit odd. We don't have any major events until May. Still, I'd like to see this fixed soon.