Sunday, January 31, 2016

sorted photos

Holy cow I have a lot of photos.

About 95 gigabytes. Around 25 000 files.

It started out that I decided to merge two distinct, separate folders on the John Charles computer. I had a photography subfolder inside the astronomy folder which—obviously—was mainly astro pix. And while I had a photography folder off the root which was general purpose it still had a bunch of astro content. More and more I have been struggling tracking down items.

infographic for computer search patterns

Complicating matters was that I had a lot of photos, mostly astro, on the John Repeat Dance netbook. Ugh. OK. Merge them in too. Or to put that another way, back up the photographs from the portable!

A couple of days ago, the capacity bar in Windows had shown the E data drive was at 90%. Where the F drive had a lot of space. So, I set that as the target.

Moved the main photo folder (with over 10 years of images) to F. Then brought over the astro photo folder. Had to manually reconcile a few items. Then transferred all the photo folders from the netbook D partition. A lot more reconciliation by hand had to be done with this lot... That was a little aggravating.

And then I stumbled across the sub-sub folders inside My Pictures on the ASUS Eee PC: all the imaging runs and video from BackyardEOS! Yowzers! Sitting on the C partition, of course. OK. Brought all that over to the Charles F platter drive.

Incredible. That was not trivial.

Happy though. Everything's in one spot. The E drive has more breathing room. The netbook has a lot more room.

And tomorrow I'll back up to the external terabyte drive...


Found still more photos and video, misfiled.

About 125 gigabytes. Around 30 500 files.

updated calendar again

Updated my astro-calendar with some notes from Allard's The Sky This Month presentation. In particular, adjusted my SpaceX SES-9 launch date.

only three phases

Updated my astro calendar with notes from Geoff. Helpful, as always. An interesting tidbit is that this February, even though a leap year, longer than normal, does not have a third-quarter Moon. Just how the cookie crumbles.

sent SFM files

Lora offered to update the CAO Site Facilities Manual. I sent her the original Word document and a bunch of the graphics. Of course, I can't find the original (round) RASC TC logo.

removed harness

While I had the soldering iron toasty, I extracted the old red LED lighting harness from the "networking" toolbox, originally from the eyepiece case, ε case version 1.1. I was able to recover every piece, even the glued down tilt switch and the AA battery holder. Pretty happy about that. Somehow was expecting worse. All these bits could be repurposed...

ETX has a pigtail

The Meade ETX 90 (RA) now has external power input.

photograph of Meade ETX90 with external power cord

Pretty easy hack. Especially when I found tiny holes on each battery clip!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

using tablet cycles

Two computers again! w00t. I have two computers chugging SETI@home data. Finally fired up BOINC on the Android and attached to the SETI project.

way better

Tried the fiber optic point source assembly again. With some mods.

photograph of inside white LED fiber optic box

Additional baffle, on the right, to stabilise the strand. It was easier to align with the white LED. Wrapped a tube of aluminum foil around the emitter and strand. And, finally, enshrouded the fiber, as it emerged from the box, at the bottom right, in a short length of black shrink wrap.

out-of-focus photograph showing shadow of mask

Moved the camera a bit to better centre the Y-mask. Look at this neat diffraction rings. Light like water... Ugh. Dirty filter.

photograph showing diffraction pattern

Focused with the computer. Again, doable at 200% zoom, in the dark. But it didn't seem much better. Remembered this time, to expose at a low ISO to cut some of the noise. Meh.

Resistor was warm...

OK. Experiment 2. Simple: emitter; foil shield. Pin hole made with a small-diameter sewing fabric pin. Then aligned the shield at the centre bright spot of the emitter. A movable shield.

photograph of simple white LED emitter box

And I could tell, right away, it was way brighter. And bit bluish now too. Changed the white balance, from flash to daylight.

photograph of bright white LED diffraction pattern

Some much easier! On the computer, at 100% zoom, it was still easier. The diffraction pattern was visible without Zoom View panel. This is much better.

Shut down the software on the computer and slid over to the camera itself. Hit the Set button. Zoomed in. Easy peasy.

More than enough light, I realised. In fact, I dropped the voltage from 7.5 to 6.0. Less strain on the LED. Also changed the angle slightly and tilting the box down a titch.

photograph of white LED diffraction pattern after reducing voltage

Shot at the camera, this last image, manually focused, eyeballed the Live View on the camera body. I.e. shot by hand, essentially without aid. Meaning, I didn't use a big computer monitor. And it was no problem. No ambiguity or doubt. I knew I had the focus before I pulled the trigger.

Clearly, the simple configuration is the best. And it will be easier to build!

The upshot of all this fiddling is that I have a working solution for a false star for focusing and collimation. Simple electronics: 9-11K white LED, resistor, power source. Thin metal shield with small pinhole.


So the next steps are to make some sort of opaque enclosure with the LED permanently mounted or fixed. It must not move. The front of the enclosure will have a movable shield.

Wondering about power. I've got it working at 6 volts so that means a small battery pack could work. And if I provide a common port for an external power source, it can be run off an adapter when near AC.

Don't think I have a black project box...

I'm also wondering about placement and angles. It might be quick useful that this could be mounted on a tripod.

cleaned leaks

Cleaned a LED lid light double-AA battery pack of leaked battery goo. Couldn't remember how to do it, at first. Looked it up on the interwebs (potassium hydroxide which is an alkaline). Right, use an acid. Checked with Mr T, the chemist, but he was thinking of lead acid batteries. Started looking around for vinegar but couldn't find any! I asked what household stuff I could use to make an acid (we forgot about citrus fruits). Tony suggested red vinegar. Ah ha! Found some in the spice cupboard. Toil and trouble. Bubbling! He said, "It's working." Then rinsed well. Good as new. Tested with some spare AA batteries on the desk. Back in service.

remote opening

Risa's latest exhibit opened recently, Imaging Saturn (Modeling Views), in Winnipeg. Or Winterpeg.

Risa Horowitz at Saturn gallery installation

It looks like an amazing installation, still work, and kinetic pieces. Love the shot of the hand-made 3D Saturn model hovering in front of the big graphic "Ecliptic, Stars, and Saturns."

Risa Horowitz was tagged as a must-see in Canadian Art.

Wish you were here.

Photo copyright © 2016 Ray Peterson. Shot with iPhone. From Risa's Facebook wall. Used with permission.

analysing on Android

Installed BOINC on ASUS Android. Now processing SETI data on the tablet.

more than we can see

Skimmed the article at on the abundance of water on Pluto, more than previously thought.

false colour image showing water ice on Pluto

The closing remark by Alan Stern, the principal investigator, in the article really caught my eye.
It really makes you wonder, when we're doing studies of other small Kuiper Belt planets, or other objects in the deep outer solar system, what we really know about them.  Water ice is very widespread on Pluto, and there’s no hint of it in any ground-based data set, from any telescope, by any author, anywhere in the literature, but it's there.
This suggests there's way more water in the solar system but we can't see it...

did it with white

Tried with white. Built a crib to hold the fiber strand. Mounted the LED so it would aim directly at the strand. Pulled a 130 ohm resistor. At 4.5 volts, the LED would be at just over 20 mA. Boxed everything up. Did some test shots of the false star. Still couldn't see the diffraction pattern on Live View. Bumped the volts to 6.0, then 7.5.

photograph showing diffraction pattern from white LED

I was able to focus in Live View, into HI ISO, on the computer, at 200%, on the 22" monitor such that I was in perfect focus.

Probably pumping close to 50 mA through the LED...

Still not happy. I want the target to be easy! I had considered wrapping a tube of foil around the emitter. And recutting the fiber.

Glare and reflection of the box showing. Pulled some black heat shrink...

Or maybe I should rethink. Try the pinhole in foil...

Or maybe I get one of those super high output LEDs... [ed: Found 35 000 mcd units at Digi-Key.]

Friday, January 29, 2016

tested point source

Tested the point-source light. I.e. the fiber-optic-lamp-in-a-box.

out-of-focus photograph of fiber optic strand

First image looked good: the camera could see it.

out-of-focus photograph showing shadow of mask

Focus mask installed.

photograph showing diffraction pattern from fiber optic

The diffraction pattern was there!

I could not see the diffraction pattern on the camera back or on the computer screen in Live View. Had to shoot a long exposure to draw it out. So I think that's because it is too dim. Is there are issue with the spectra?

ETX 90 on external power

Tested driving the Meade ETX 90 (RA) from an external power source. Used a spare multi-voltage adapter at 4.5 volts. It worked!

photo of Meade ETX90 battery holder

The battery clips are inter-connected in a Z-pattern. Almost wired it up wrong... Double-checked. Tripled-checked. "Don't blow it up," I worried.

drawing showing wiring of ETX90 battery holder

So now I must consider a permanent solution. Except that I must be non-invasive. Perhaps I can solder some wire leads to the outside of the two key battery clips. And then I can run the wires through an existing 1/4-20 hole in the base to a simple jack.

updated the SP-C8 page

Applied a number of updates to the SP-C8 page. Added a found photo by an unknown photographer from an OSC star party circa 2013. The big change was the addition of links from the evergreen page into blog articles which contain photographs of the Celestron OTA, the Vixen mount, the Vixen controller and motor, and the IDEA (iOptron) GoToStar controller and motors.

built GoToStar list

Completed GoToStar Named Stars list for SkyTools. Used the Notes feature to accommodate for when SkyTools didn't use a name or had a different spelling. Used the Rating feature (in an unusual way) to mark things that were noteworthy, different, or to be avoided! Used the Priority (high) to indicate alignment stars. I hope to not use this, I hope to continuing learning the "big stars," but this might prove very handy when the hand controller suggests an alignment star and I have no idea where it is. Or when I want to go to a particular part of the sky and I can't remember a named star in that space.

applied new stickers

Freshed up the stickers on the Vixen Super Polaris mount. First up was the precession infographic. In fact, I first had to update the Adobe Illustrator diagram to extend the path from 2005. Added two more decades.

graphic showing path of Polaris from 1985 to 2025

Then I printed up the new Declination axis vernier scale—with Japanese this time! And finally I printed up the polar scope axis scale; the first one was lookin' rough. Ten years old, I guess.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

that was easy

Considered how to build my "pico light" or collimation test light with a fiber optic strand and bright LED. Gathered the pieces needed.

A small box to hold—and contain—the emitter. I was imaging a jig to hold the fiber up to the emitter. Both carefully aligned to maximise the light sent into the flexible fiber. And that all boxed up to remove stray light.

The cheapo fiber optic lamp I had bought some time ago, both the top with the fan of strands, to harvest a strand or two, and the base with its emitter and battery compartment. How to cut the fibers so to ensure maximum transmission? Peaked inside the opening of the base. Wow. Big lens over the blue LED...

Power. Right, three AAs. I knew I had some in the radio bag. Loops. Leaks! Found three that looked OK and were still putting out over 1.3 volts each. Rummaged through the "adapters" box and finally came across one of the old multi-voltage units with a small plug that fit. Happily, already configured centre positive.

Grabbed some white LEDs from the parts bin and a coin battery to test. I thought I had picked up some super brights... There was one in a bag marked 9-11K 20mA. The right one? [ed: Yes. Tested the LED last April.] Hmmm. When it hit me. I'm going to a lot of trouble! Why not just use what's in front of me!

fiber optic light base inside box

With a pushpin, I made a small hole in the side of the box and passed one of the bright strands through. Done!

single fiber optic strand protruding outside box

It works! Wow. Now the outside of the box is shiny. And there's some light coming off the filament itself. So maybe I'll put some flat black material on the side of the box. And maybe I can sheath the optical fiber...

found weird entries

When I was aggregating the names of stars, I accessed the GoToStar spreadsheet I had built back in May 2013. And found the named star list was incomplete. Some of the missing entries were obvious, like the Bayer name for Altair. But other things were not so obvious.

This required setting up the mount and powering up the hand controller. I ran through a simulated evening for home. Then I configured for Australia. Then I moved 6 months into the future, still in Australia.

I was able to access every star in the hand controller, including the mysterious item # 44, which I had not been able to extract before.

Then for every entry, I checked the RA and Dec coordinates displayed on the hand controller against the apparent RA and Dec in SkyTools.

GoToStar hand controller display showing star name and location

Glad I finally completed this! For it revealed two extreme errors in the little database.
  • Item 7: Named star: Al Na'ir. The name suggests alpha Gruis. But the coordinates weren't anywhere near there. The closest star was HD 167599 in Sagittarius!
  • Item 166: Named star: Sheratan. Suggests beta Arietis. Nope! The coordinates are near V761 in Cassiopeia.
Minor issues:
  • Found Aspidiske referred to iota Carina, aka Turais.
  • Found a difference in Atik's coordinates. Wondered if they meant zeta and not omicron Persei.
  • Found that Deneb Kaitos referred to beta Cetus, aka Diphda.
  • Found it very odd the database entry for Groombridge 1830, aka HD 103095 in Ursa Major, which ST3P shows as CF UMa. It should be ignored.
  • Found Menkar referred to alpha Cetus, not lambda.
  • Ancha is listed twice, as entry 43 and 47.
Previous testing showed that these weird stars did not appear in the short list of alignment stars. Using 7 and 166 would be dangerous. Maybe that's too strong a word. They would be bad choices to select as the 'scope would go somewhere unusual and if one were to relocate and use the true named star as correct it would surely cause the alignment computations to fail.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

looking for ripples

LISA Pathfinder reached the Lagrange point 1. The European Space Agency will soon begin testing the instrument. It is to evaluate technology to detect gravity waves. If successful, the concepts will be used in a larger instrument to be launched in 2034. Don't move!

illustration of LISA probe in space

Article from Image from ESA.

recharge time

It's that time again. Time to charge the big batteries.

early battery array with 10 cylinders in wooden frame

Still have three good deep cycle sealed lead acid batteries. There's a fourth one but the case is looking slightly deformed. I'll have to check it carefully. Explosions in the kitchen should be avoided.

Still have the old original booster battery. It's hanging in...

After charging, I'll put these SLA units through some load tests with the big resistor.

I also need to top-up and test the lithium-ion 12v battery. It did not register on the Expanded Scale Voltmeter when I tested it a couple of weeks ago.

shared USB-serial adapter info

Helped new SkyTools user Jim with some USB-serial port adapter questions. He will be using ASCOM Tangent-compatible Digital Setting Circle software. Shared my successes with the Nexxtech model based on the Prolific chipset. And also explained how to configure COM ports in Windows.

Monday, January 25, 2016

listened in

Tuned into Astronomy.FM for the York Universe radio programme. First time in a long time. Saw Tom online.

Cloudy. Again. Hey. I think every time I've tuned in, it's been cloudy. Sheesh. When am I gonna catch a show when we actually do some observing.

customised the Caldwell list

Made my own Caldwell catalogue in SkyTools partly because the one made for the AL certificate programme did not include the numbering. In the custom notes I included the C designation.

tiled mosaic of all the Caldwell deep sky objects

Also gave me a chance to shakedown the netbook after the keyboard rejuvenation. After a weird boot issue, all seems well.

Along the way, I discovered an issue with NGC 4884. SkyTools uses this designation for what others refer to as NGC 4889. Admittedly, there are a gaggle of little galaxies jammed in the area...

changed the Moon

Replaced the Moon phase widget with a simple graphic image generated by I didn't like the Flash object on the blog. So it doesn't have a built-in clock now. And I have fewer options for changing the appearance. And, of course, it is not dynamic. But if you do the ole' browser refresh or reload, it will be up-to-date. Enjoy.

updated gallery

Discovered the some photos from mid-May 2014 were never added to my photo gallery. In particular, the one from the amazingly clear night where I could see all of Scorpius. Fixed.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Blue Origin made history again

Very interesting. Quickly read the article at Blue Origin launched their recovered rocket. And landed it. Again. Wow. The new space race!

OneWorld going south

Loaded a fresh battery into the OneWorld weather station. It beeped awake. Programmed the date and time and current weather.

Noticed the barometer reading was low. Way low. A couple of years ago, I had determined it did not register correctly so I did a few days testing and found it to be on average 42 millibars too low. Looks like I'll have to do that again...

The barometric "refinement" allows one to add or subtract 15 units...

Oh. The altitude. Looked up the average elevation for the new digs and set the portable weather station to 264 metres. Of course, it changes this automatically, with no apparent rhyme or reason.

Humidity reads 10 units off, as well. On the low side.

Seems the OneWorld becomes increasing unreliable over time. It's turning into a glorified clock. That's a pity, as it has a nice astronomer-friendly display.

The Oregon Scientific keeps on trucking.


After a couple weeks testing, I've determined the barometric reading is low by 110 units on average.

string to desk

Installed the red LED string from the kitchen under the desk monitor/keyboard shelf.


I think I'll keep the one last string boxed for now. I'll know, once I conduct a backyard session, where I can put it to best use.


Had a nice phone chat with Nicole. Fixing stuff. Testing gear. Blinking lights. Damned Moon. Washing keyboards. Setting up at home and sight lines. Buzzing controllers. Summer plans. Astrophotography. CCD imaging. Metal in microwaves. Starfest weirdness. Double stars. Articles for the Journal. Going to the CAO. Fun.

tuned up netbook

Gave the ASUS netbook keyboard a bath. Reaffixed the red film.

heard it was fake

Sounds like the Saturn-ISS image published on APOD a couple of days ago was faked. That's not good.


The Astronomy Picture of the Day team took it down.

learned even more

Came across these before the holidays, the SkyTools videos, and made a mental note to check them out. Part of my continuing quest to master the software. There's a basic Intro video. Twelve on the various features, emphasis on using the visual observing functions. And finally five videos on imaging. Just finished viewing the last of the tutorial videos. Amazing. I learned a bunch of tips and tricks!

The recommended eyepiece is relevant only in "challenging" visibility situations.

Emphasised the Current Minor Planets shows those near opposition.

The Optimum Sort checkbox places the best objects to the top of the list. It's not clear exactly how but I assume it looks at a couple or few variables.

The Lock Context Viewer to Telescope button allows visual selection from chart. I.e. it will move the 'scope!

There are some additional fields in column sets for Real Time mode.

One can type a primary star name followed by a letter! e.g. Rigel B. Wow!

One can right-click the rotate handle to set value.

When imaging planets, SkyTools calculates the Smear Time!

Just. Incredible. Software.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

learned ST3 keywords

Caught a subtle thing in one of the SkyTools 3 videos. A keyword "zenith" was entered into the Designation Search Tool box. I didn't know you could do that! I tried it and a few others. Read the help page to confirm the feature. Wow. Neat. I documented them over on the companion site, in the SkyTools resources section.

SkyTools Search dialog using a keyword

Reminds me of when I was trying to help Iosif with finding the centre of the galaxy... Would have been handy, knowing the keyword then.

installed counter lighting

Found some old, used LED programmable lighting. The long strip did not work right; the short piece did. Ah ha, perfect length! I mounted it over the kitchen counter where it will be able to serve multiple purposes. Like in white mode when I'm cleaning or preparing a meal. And red mode, of course, when astronomy is on order. Disco, should the need arise.

LED lighting controller and remote

Took the Christmas red LED light string down. As well as the hacked old work light.

Friday, January 22, 2016

screwed dowels

Drilled pilots and then affixed the dowels with wood screws from the outside. Tried the seat of the Big DOC adjustable height chair. Feels very solid. Put a small level on it. It actually tilts back a little now. All right!

completed custom coupler

Visited The Source after work fully expecting to not find any relevant parts for my cable extension build project. Hope blossomed when I spotted the section with phone cords, ethernet jacks, couplers, etc. But then my heart sank. When I examined the wall jacks, they were 4-conductor. Hold on. Was about to leave when I noticed different packaging at the back of one of the files. I pulled the four off the front of the rack. w00t! A 6-conductor modular jack, like the one at home. Very happy. And not crazy expensive.

Just finished the assembly.

Unscrewed the posts from the new jack. Unclipped the wire terminals from the posts. Pushed the wires through the hole in the base. Then fed the wires from the bottom or outside into and inside the other wall jack. Loosened the screws on the original jack. Kept the original terminals in place. Then connected the terminals from the other side, swapping colours, of course. Blue to white, white to blue. Black to yellow, yellow to black. And lastly, red to green and green to red. Drilled a hole in the base of the opposite jack to line up with the other and bolted the two jacks together. Snapped the two covers in place.

hand controller connected via extension to new coupler

Tested the pin outs with the grey flat extension cord and the original IDEA GoToStar coiled cables.

OK to go!

thin clouds (Bradford)

Spotted high cloud. That'd be terrible with a bright Moon. Bright Moon behind me. I don't think I'll set up in the back yard tonight.

already found a design!

I've been thinking about a grab-and-go telescope again. And the Edmund 6-inch Newtonian sitting here collecting dust... I wondered what would be involved in converting it to a Dob...

As I settled into my seat on the train ride into the city, I jumped into Evernote. Did a search on Edmund to review if I had any notes. Wait! What? I found a note entitled "Newtonian conversion project." Huh. I started this note last year...

And then in the body, under the ideas heading, I found two intriguing links (which, frustratingly, I could not immediately open).

The first item said: adjustable cradle!, very nice design, simple, simple rocker box, non-invasive. Dang! Sounded perfect!

The second item read: collapsible rocker box!, they offered kits, or will build it. I don't know if this is critical for a 6". Still. Sounded interesting.

Clearly, I had already been thinking about this...

Perhaps with a bit of wood and some hardware, I can start frequently using the old Edmund Scientific as a Dobsonian.

no planets (Bradford)

Tried to spot some planets on the way to work. Nope. High clouds. Thick to the south. At one point, I spotted something bright and orange up high. Couldn't be Mars. [ed: It was Arcturus.]

Thursday, January 21, 2016

installed 2 more strings

Installed two more strings. I found two boxes of red LEDs lights in the larger box from Mom's, from when I received the Newtonian. One set was stuff crudely in the box. That must have been the string I had installed in her studio roof rafters. Another set was unboxed.

I put one of the strings under the handrailing on the stairs.

I put the other string over the big mirror in the bathroom.

Somewhere along the way I found another new box. Perhaps that will go under the keyboard shelf on the office desk...

mounted resistor

Finally mounted the big low-ohm resistor. Small but heavy piece of wood.

10-ohm resistor mounted above heat shield

Found the heat shielding in one of my parts bins. I believe from an old hair dryer.

Ready for load testing.

two cart repairs

Affected two repairs to the mobile marine battery power tank in the cooler bag buggy system.

At last, I installed the 9" length of old garden hose on the outrigger rope. I installed the rope three years ago. That acrylic plastic tube was a silly notion.

Then I had a look at the retractable handle. Ah. So it wasn't my imagination.

The retractable handle on the was designed to go down more, deeper, flush with the top of the cooler bag. And I then discovered why it was not descending the final stage: the rectangular tubes had been bent and crimped! The degree of compression in the channel was enough to stop the inner tube from sliding down. The weird thing was that the handle had been bent forward! I would have thought a outward flexing would be more likely. When did that happen?!

Nevertheless, I had a go at fixing. I removed the cooler bag proper. I gently bent the tubes so straight. And then, with special vice grips, I compressed the tubes on their sides. Not bad. Not bad at all. And, while stiff, the handle retracts fully again.

early start tomorrow

The Observational Activities Committee chair called a GO for the city observing session. I wasn't surprised. Earlier today I had noted a lot of blue in the Clear Sky Chart. Sadly, I have to catch a very early train tomorrow. So, no chance to play tonight.

I still don't have a grab-and-go 'scope at my disposal...

I wonder if the clear streak will extend into the weekend...

But then, it's a pretty full Moon. That's a little weird, now that I think about it... Why was the COS scheduled now? It's usually near First Quarter no?

tuned up seat

Did some repair/tune-up work on the "Big DOC" adjustable-height observing chair. The seat proper tilts down, very slightly. Somehow this feels disconcerting. Like I'm going to slide off. Constantly. It's especially bad in slippery pants!

Put another self-adhesive felt pad foot on each of the two existing pads, doubling the thickness. Added a third pillar to spread out the load. On test driving, the angle seemed better. And it was then I noticed that the dowels were loose again.

I had glued them before but they were no longer affixed. Briefly considered a very long bar running between the seat plates; that would limit rapid re-positioning. Then I had a thought: wood screws into the dowels from the outside. So found a pair of 1½" screws. I measured twice and drilled screw holes. Glued the dowel pieces again, this time with LePage epoxy Speed Set #5.

When the dowels are set (usable strength in 8 hours), I'll pilot and drive in the support screws.


I still want to make the seat surface... not smooth. I have sawdust ready to go. But I'm not sure if I still have the finishing material...

trended attendance

Reviewed and submitted a line-trend graph and words on the RASC Toronto Centre meeting attendance to the council for analysis.

graph of meeting attendance for 3 years

Clearly the numbers are down. Sadly, we hit the lowest turnout ever on the Speakers Night in October.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

attended long meeting

Attended the RASC Toronto Centre council meeting. First of the new year. Everything went pretty well. But it was a slog. We stopped finally at 11:00 PM after dumping the last few agenda items.

the mantle

It's official. I took the reins from Tony H. For the current fiscal year, I will be the director of the Carr Astronomical Observatory.

installed 2 strings

Consider submarine mode for the new digs. That is, red lights for maintaining dark adaptation for future astronomy events at home, from the back yard.

I knew I had a couple of sets of red LED Christmas lights around. 

Found one string in an astronomy stuff box. How about the bedroom overhead light? Turned out one of the two CF light bulbs. Dug out a socket/plug adapter and put it in place of the bulb. Draped the string over the light shade.

Found another loose string in an office desk stuff box. Installed it in the kitchen under the cupboards, over the sink.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

new mount arrived

The Explore Scientific Twilight II mount with pier extension was delivered to one of the Carr Astronomical Observatory team members. He assembled it and reported it to be in good working order.
  • Good build quality.
  • Bearings are smooth
  • Tension controls easy to use.
  • Includes a captive spreader spider to stabilise the legs during use, and has 3 holes for eyepieces.
  • The dual Vixen saddles obviously have synchronised movements in altitude.
  • No built-in bubble level.
  • The two-section legs are tightened by two large wing bolts per leg and are easy to use.
  • The wing bolts (plastic wing, steel bolt, no plastic protector on the end of the threaded bolt) for leg extension adjustments dig into the physical leg section
  • Mount is probably not usable without the included 8” pier extension.
  • No user-maintenance beyond wiping down dirt.
He will deliver it to the CAO when the road opens. Just one of the new offerings for the CAO this coming summer.

designed wiring harness

Planned LED lighting system for the astronomy case α primus. A little challenging with the clamshell lid, slider rails, and dual trays each side.

Going to put two LEDs inside each upper tray, facing backward. These trays lift up and slide/tilt back. I need to accommodate for this. In terms of wiring. Traces coming up from the middle of the both tray should work OK.

Going to put two LEDs on the front edges of the bottom of the upper trays. These to illuminate the lower tray.

Both of these sets, I need to accommodate for the pairs of trays sliding outward when opened and inward when closed. I tested this by temporarily fixing a wire to the bottom of the bottom tray and to the inside the lower bay. I tried the wire taped to the outer edge of the sliding drawers which worked fine. I just needed to tuck the wire inside the lower bay before closing the lid.

Now that I think about it, if the wire attaches to the bottom tray on the inner edge, then the wire will automatically pull inward when closing up. This would reduce the chance of catching on the lid...

And then, finally, I want to put two LEDs in each of the two lower bays. Once again, facing backwards.

Tried sketching the wiring harness, electronically. That was somewhat helpful. It highlighted that if the wiring emerges from the side of the main body two-thirds of the way back, it will be perfectly aligned underneath the front corner of the upper tray.

Made up an electrical diagram or schematic. Simple enough. It gave me an opportunity to optimise the wiring harness. If I keep the resistors near the LEDs and make key junctions or terminals at the edge of the case, I can have but two wires passing to the trays. My previous two LED lid designs had a resistor bank near the battery and switch. This would not work well in this case with the sliders and trays.

It also highlighted the parts needed.
  • 12 red LEDs, low-profile 
  • 12 resistors, low-ohm, ¼ or 1/8 watt
  • battery pack, AAx2 (with master switch, ideally)
  • tilt switch (optional)
I still have a few of the tiny, dome, low-profile LEDs left, never used. Just over a dozen. However I don't have a dozen low-ohm resistors—the 39 ohm bin is empty. I'll have to look around for a battery pack. And a little switch, if the battery pack does not had one on-board. I'm sure I have one tilt switch left.


I was in the back of my brain earlier. I wonder if I should bundle two LEDs to one resistor...


Right. Not possibly if I'm using a two-cell battery pack... Needs 4.5 volts or more.

spotted Moon and Aldebaran (Bradford)

As I started to peek out the rear window, I saw light on the sill. The Moon! Looked up. Yep, there it was, gibbous, in a clear patch of sky. For the moment.

Fetched my glasses. Looked on the dark side of the Moon. Yep, there was Aldebaran. About 3 Moon-widths away to the left.

tested cable extension

Grey January times. Grey and cold. Blah, grey, and cold. Which means...

Times to fix and repair stuff. And hack!

Today's project: Vixen/GoToStar upgrade.

I (still) want to build an extension cable for the IDEA (iOptron) GoToStar system. The coiled cable between the hand controller and mount is too short, even when working at the telescope. Today, I thought, let's test that in fact it will work at all. Possibly the longer run of wire would still not function...

But first we have to go back in time. For this project started (like many of mine) a while ago.

Previously, I had picked up some 6-conductor Registered Jack extension or patch male-to-male cables. A pair, I believe; one of which now lives at the RASC Toronto Centre Carr Astronomical Observatory, for the Optec TCF-S focuser.

I also procured some 6-wire couplers, female-to-female. Again, one of these was re-purposed for the CAO custom Optec cable.

Don't remember when exactly, last summer I think, excited, I hooked up the extension cable and coupler between the mount and hand controller. And it didn't work.

Damn lucky now, looking back, that I didn't blow up anything! I know that's happened to other people using the wrong cable or the wrong port.

I knew the mount motors and controller were still fine; I had immediately run the system in a normal configuration after the failed extension cable test. Whew.

It was then that I noted the wiring configuration of the RJ cable. It was flipped. In ethernet scenarios, these are called "rollover" cables.

registered jack plugs showing wires reversed

My extension cable would need to be a straight-through. So, that was the plan, on this grey day: coddle together all the various pieces to conduct a straight-thru wire test.

Pulled the Vixen mount bag off the shelf. Verified I had all the needed parts: mount proper, GoToStar motors installed, GoToStar hand controller, two coiled motor/controller cables, AC power supply (two pieces). Check.

Looked through various electronic repair boxes and bins to collect all the bits and bobs, in particular, the rollover cable and a coupler. Check.

I also considered other parts for testing. I found a second 6-wire coupler (still in the box)—just in case. Huh. I found a Steren 6-wire surface-mount (telephone) jack (still in the bag)—would be very handy for jumpering. And, curiously, I found a component for a 6-wire coupler: the female jack pin assembly. This was probably from the Optec cable project. Again this would be helpful for jumpering. Check.

Stripped the leads on the female pin assembly. Clamped the assembly to one end of the extension cable. Only way I was able to get a stable configuration was with the assembly in the direction opposite normal. Heh. I realised that immediately flipped the wiring profile. Attached different coloured alligator clip jumpers. Plugged a GoToStar coiled cable into the surface-mount jack. Then, in a brainwave, coupled the two open ends together! They'd be one-to-one! Finally, with the Micronta digital multi-meter set in audible continuity mode, I mapped the wires. I was not completely surprised to see the same colour alligator to the surface-mount tabs.

One last configuration check with the multi-meter, coupler removed, checking each pin, left to right. Perfect correspondence, just like the stock coiled cable. Good to go.

Configured the Vixen mount on the desk. Interconnected the motors with one coiled cable. Plugged the coiled cable from the new tested extension into the mount. Plugged the other end of the extension into the hand controller. Plugged the power supply into the power bar.

Hey! Never noticed that before! Through the seam in the adapter casing, I could see a green LED. A visual verification it was working OK. Plugged the power cord into the mount. As usual, the red LED on the mount illuminated. OK. Here we go...

Powered up the mount. LED switched from red to green. Hand controller? Nominal display!

Tested slewing. It worked.

After setting the date and (an evening) time, I put the mount through a quick one-star alignment. When it completely successfully, the mount started tracking.


Test complete. The new, long, grey, RJ extension cable will work. As long as it is configured straight-through.

So, now I need to noodle on doing that...

Do I hack the cable? Or do I hack a coupler? Or something else?

I have a crimper tool but no "empty" 6-conductor jacks; lots of ethernet 8C ones of course. So if I want to use a standard coupler and a "special" cable, I'll need to get a new jack, cut an end off, remap the wires (which will be a bit fiddly), and crimp. Those jacks are a little unusual. Probably will have to go to Sayal or Digi-key...

6-wire coupler case opened

I could rewire a coupler. That I could do immediately. Earlier I popped open the beige one. It'd be pretty easy to do although it's cramped quarters inside the coupler. Then the cable can be used as is. Mark the coupler as special and good to go. Very compact solution.

wall-mount 6-wire jack opened

Now. The surface-mount plug. That's interesting. Very interesting. If I had another one, I could very easily make a mapped coupler, with lots of breathing room. It would be a bit bulky but it shouldn't really matter. This custom coupler would attach to the mount base or tripod, out of the way.

Not sure why but I'm attracted to this last idea the most... Somehow seems the easiest and fairly fast. Non-invasive? But I will need to buy another jack. Friday? Will the store formerly known as Radio Shack still carry these items?


I'm considering drilling a small hole in the AC adapter casing so to better see the power LED. A little risky. Then again it is not really needed. Once connected to the mount, one knows... Lastly, the green, if exposed, might create a new problem. Better leave it alone.

While testing the hand controller operation, I tried the on-board light option. Right. Bright white LED out the front of the hand controller! Which will undoubtedly cause a riot of crazed, frothing astronomers. I will need to change that to red. A quick fix is to cover it with a small bit of red film... Done!

And I just remembered the on-board battery inside the hand controller is dead. Maybe I get a new battery and while opened change the white LED out.

Also found the red film over the mount indicator askew. Finally removed the painter's tape. Fixed it by recutting the piece and fastening down with clear tape.

Identified the AC power pieces. Labeled the AC adapter and its affixed cord; labeled the detachable mains cord as well.


Duh. If I had turned over the AC adapter, I would have seen the LED! OK then. Promptly covered the green emitter with a little piece of red film.

Monday, January 18, 2016

joy doubled

Read an interesting quote today: "A joy that's shared is a joy made double." Is that why I like double stars so much?

helped Rod with TS6

Saw Unk Rod's Facebook post about switching software. He has used TheSky 6 for many years but was unable to load current comet data; he tried Stellarium and was able to proceed. The error with the comet load caught my eye. I messaged him privately and asked if he wanted my solution, the one I had deployed last year, for myself and the other supervisors. He was curious. Shared the link.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

so close!

And then I found this!

Space X rocket just before attempted landing

It looks almost perfect. They almost did it... Wow!

don't need this

More hate mail in the Stellarium discussion forum on Source Forge. Very nasty remarks by a developer. That's it, I'm out. I like the software but there are some unpleasant people on the team.

broke a leg

Spotted this post from SpaceX.

Space X rocket just before attempted touch-down

Sounds like they almost did it.

SFN site back web site is back. But all the data looks old. Seems to me they had a catastrophic failure and reinstated a backup from yesterday or early morning. Too bad.

watch launch of Jason-3

While Charles and I chatted over Skype, we watched the SpaceX launch, from a foggy California. Viewed via the SpaceX YouTube feed. The web site disappeared...

Once again, the thin timeline bar at the bottom of the display was interesting and helpful. And rather telling, as we crept past the rocket landing and they were not showing the landing. Not a good sign. But then, the seas looked very rough at the barge...

Space X landing barge - Just Read The Instructions

The primary mission looked like it was very successful. The deployed Jason-3 satellite will closely monitor sea level changes.


Heard they are building another permanent ground-based landing zone, on the west coast this time, near (or on) the Vandenberg base.

Friday, January 15, 2016

heard from WIM developer

I forwarded the RASC Journal article on Where Is M13? to the developer.
I read your review of WIM13.  You did a great job.  Thanks.
Learned that work on that app specifically is discontinued but the features now exist in SkySafari. Ah ha!

Visually updated with a new side or edge-on image. Neat.


By the way, there's a new release of SkySafari, that received much press recently, version 5. The equivalent Android version is due in the summer.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


New street lights were installed in Bradford over the last couple of months. White LEDs replacing the high-pressure sodium. The fixtures are not a good design with poor cut-off control. The glare, even when well away, is substantial. Too bad.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

booked for April TSTM

Mr Markov asked me about the March 30 meeting, delivering The Sky This Month. By the time I got 'round to responding, he had hard-booked someone. I offered April but he hesitated. That's when I had arranged for the CAO pitch. But I said I was going to get someone else to do that. He then happily scheduled me for the TSTM. So there you have it: I'm on duty April 27.

found July 4 notes

Stumbled across some draft blog entries for an actual observing session, on the evening of July 4, never officially posted. We looked for planets at sunset and then I observed a few more double stars to midnight.

Binary Universe: Where Is M13?

cover of the RASC Journal 2016 February
The February issue of the RASC Journal was made available today.

My first installment in the second year of the Binary Universe column.

I demonstrated the little software application called Where is M13? which helps one understand, in three dimensions, where very celestial objects are in our galaxy and beyond. Version reviewed: 2.3.

exoplanets in reach of amateurs

The February Journal was released. It features an amazing paper by Mélanie and Emma Seabrook where they successfully studied transiting exoplanets with a small, ground-based telescope.

Monday, January 11, 2016

calculated Lunar X for 2016

Sent my Lunar X spreadsheet for 2016 to Phil for verification.

By my reckoning...

Sat 16 Jan
Tue 15 Mar
Fri 13 May
Mon 11 Jul
Thu 8 Sep
Sun 6 Nov

With the Mar, May, and Nov events being quite good, in dark skies.

reaching opposition

Read about a key point with SkyTools. The Current Minor Planets list is generated every month by Greg. Some think it a list of all bright asteroids visible and are often surprised how short the list is. It lists the brighter minor planets (nearly always asteroids) that come to opposition during the month.

ground control

With a heavy heart, helped Nicole at Global News produce an infographic.

screen snapshot from Stellarium showing asteroid location

Showed the location of asteroid 342843 or 2008 YN3 otherwise known as Davidbowie.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

more NOCO models

Learned that Canadian Tire has many more models now of the NOCO genius BOOST lithium-ion batteries.

I have the GB30. It is rated at 400 (peak) amps.

There's a GB40. It is rated at 1000 amps or 7000 joules. Looks to be the same form factor as the model above.

There's a GB70. 2000 amps! This large unit includes a female cigarette lighter adapter attachment! Although it looks like the big battery boosting clamps are permanently attached.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

delivered anti-dew presentation

Delivered my presentation on avoiding dew (or frost) on the telescope or camera at the RASC Toronto Centre members night at the David Dunlap Observatory. In an effort to go paperless, I showed my presentation without providing a handout. But I put all the notes online for reference purposes. I also made a PDF document version available. And, for the first time, at the end of the presentation, I showed an embedded QR code...

discussed the near year

Attended a meeting of executive and council to do some planning for the new year. The president wanted to set some goals and objectives.

booked for Mar TSTM

While I was chatting with Mr Markov on another matter, he asked if I could deliver an upcoming TSTM. OK.

I am booked for the March 30 The Sky This Month presentation.


Update: Switched to April!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

postcards from the Antarctic

Stumbled across an interesting article, with cool photos, at Discover while doing research on dew, frost, winter observing. Very interesting structures they use at the British Halley Research Station in Antarctica. The structures are modular. The legs are hydraulic to overcome snow accumulation. The legs are also fitted to skis. Looks like a very neat spot...

OK. I admit it. In my head, the soundtrack started to play. I couldn't help it. Outpost 31... John Carpenter's The Thing. Sorry. Sorry.

db guru

Asked by the Membership Secretary and Past President if I would you be willing to be listed as a member of Membership Committee, as the database modifications guru. OK.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

checked Ottawa meetings

Looked up the next (and future) Ottawa RASC meeting dates. I have not "attended" for a while... Ooh. Next one is soon! The 8th.

fueling first stage


ethical bean coffee bag - rocket fuel

"The love child of dark alchemy and complete combustion." Yeah.