Sunday, February 26, 2017

air and earth

Rhonda gave me a little treat after her retreat weekend. It's a stone coaster/plaque. It says "Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground." Nice. My new spot on my desk for my coffee mug.

finding the GRS

Phil asked me for the current longitude of the Great Red Spot. I didn't know off the top of my head.

He did some digging. "Found it on Cal Tech. 263°."

I shared that this was consistent with the setting in SkyTools 3 Pro on John Charles. 262.

Still, I finally logged into Sky and Telescopes site and ran the interactive GRS tool. It said the Jovian spot was at 259 in January. The page reminded us that the giant storm on Jupiter migrates just over 1° each month.

There I noted the link to JUPOS. Ah ha! That's what I had been thinking of.

location of Great Red Spot from JUPOS

Seems that 263 is a very good number.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dextre milestone

Didn't hear about this in advance. Stumbled across the article on the Canada Space Agency web site. I'm assuming all went well. The Dextre robot on the International Space Station was to perform its first handoff, quickly transferring a temperature-sensitive experiment pack from the Dragon, using the two arms.

Friday, February 24, 2017

to shoot or not to shoot

Found the web site and blog by Bill Kramer. I was researching how to photograph a total solar eclipse. He strongly advises, if taking in your first solar eclipse, that you just watch it.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

reviewed proof

Proofed my Journal article. It looked nearly the same as my draft. Readied a few comments.

checked Eyes

On seeing them use it in the news conference, I checked my copy of the NASA Eyes on Exoplanets software. Of course, as it launched, it updated. Happily, it included the new details of TRAPPIST-1.

doodle on discovery

Today's Google Doodle was fun. Recognising the discovery of 7 rocky worlds at TRAPPIST-1.

Google Doodle on TRAPPIST-1

I like how the Earth's Moon is very excited...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

found 7 exoplanets

NASA's big press release today was on the discovery of 7 Earth-sized rocky exo-solar planets around a nearby single star, TRAPPIST-1. Three of which are in the habitable zone. The confirmation, with Spitzer, of 7 planets breaks the record for exoplanets in the Goldilocks region.

The NASA press release has lots of information and graphics. There's more information at the Exoplanet Exploration page. One of the first articles I read was the one at Astronomy Now.

Back in early May, this system was in the news. At the time, the two inner most planets had been detected with a possible third.

visit TRAPPIST-1

They launched a new tourism poster. I'd go.

I watched the recorded news briefing (provided by TIME). It was good to see Dr Seager.

I just love how this is shaking everything up. Solar system models are being rewritten. This makes the development of more powerful telescopes increasingly compelling. People are intrigued by the rising possibilities of the discovery of life elsewhere in the cosmos. Exciting times.


TRAPPIST-1 is in the SkyTools 3 database as J230629.1-050222.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

the cost of light

Read the brief article entitled What Light Pollution Costs Us Every Night by Ethan Siegel, a blogger at Forbes. At one point, he says:
While this severe lighting negatively impacts wildlife -- flora and fauna -- the greatest loss to humanity has been our connection to the Universe.
We can measure the effects of the former; it's difficult to measure the latter. But I do believe it very important.

no BGO

Learned that BGO is closed for the week. The human is heading to the Winter Star Party...

Monday, February 20, 2017


Amazing lucky. I feel very lucky. Visited one of my favourite places. The conditions were good during the day; the skies were clear at night. That alone was very incredible given the weather of late. Looked through some telescopes. Some a few neat things. Got some vitamin D via dermal synthesis. Enjoyed good food and beverage. I was with kind friends. I was with my squeeze.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

looked for dust (Blue Mountains)

Another clear night!

Set an alarm. Looked for zodiacal light. I think it was there... Below brilliant Venus and above ruddy Mars.

It will be interesting to see if it turns up in Thomas photos. With a GoPro.

No one felt like a proper observing session.

reviewed SN Jan/Feb 2017

Phil loaned me his Jan/Feb copy of SkyNews. Mine is missing. Thank you! I caught up for the big astro events of 2017. In addition to the big BIG one, of course.

read up on the special launch

Missed the Sunday morning launch live. Checked the reports after seeing positive remarks on Facebook.

SpaceX lifted off from pad 39A at Cape Canaveral, the same location that the Saturn V and many of the shuttles leapt from, beginning it's CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station.


Later in the day I found the drone video of the stage 1 landing. Amazing.

a short session (Blue Mountains)

Headed outside with Rhonda. From the west lawn, helped her find Cassiopeia and Ursa Minor and Polaris.

Then more observing in the GBO.
Instrument: Celestron 14-inch SCT
Mount: Paramount ME
Method: Go To
9:48 PM. I was able to install the dew shield this time... Not as windy.

I asked Rhonda what she might be interested in as she consulted the Messier poster.

We tried for the Owl Nebula. It was obvious, overall, but we did not come away satisfied. The photo on the poster was misleading—the long exposure drew out the faint triangle of stars. They were not visible to us. The dark circles did not jump out for me. It was faint in the 55mm ocular.

The sky to the east seemed very bright. Snow and ski hill lights? The Clear Sky Chart had predicted mediocre transparency and seeing.

Outside the observatory, Tony manually shot wide-field.

10:37 PM. We found Brianna's star, a gift from her squeeze, in Taurus. Roughly between gamma and lambda. My first impression was that it was part of a double, an equal pair. The documentation supported that. Her star was SAO 93765. SkyTools 3 Pro revealed it was a triple, actually: HD 25849. That made Bri's star the C component proper.

As thin clouds slid overhead, we chatted about planetary nebulae, the end of stars, some cosmology.

We looked at HR 2764, the Winter Albireo. Rhonda liked that. Beautiful colours.

We looked at Sirius.

I figured out why the dew heater strap would not reach the Tele Vue ocular: the OTA was further aft. Tony was surprised. I posited that after being remounted, it had not be placed in the original location.

Finished with "two in the view," Messiers 95 (M95) and 96 (M96).

Had hoped for a longer session with the Moon rising later but it was still cool, the skies were not great, and we were tired.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

viewed quiet Sun (Blue Mountains)

We enjoyed some solar observing.

Tony set up the Solar Max system with Rhonda's assistance while I fetched John Repeat Dance.

Did not see any apparent sun spots in white light in the Oberwerk binoculars. said there was one, a tiny cluster, designated 2636, but I couldn't see anything.

yours truly viewing with the Coronado H-alpha

Nice proms, filaments, and plages with the hydrogen alpha.

walked the system

Rhonda and I snowshoed from the Sun to Pluto! Fun trip. Lovely day.

CAO Pluto post damage

Pluto fell down go boom.

amazing day

Amazing day. rho imaged the field south of the observatory. A panorama with her smartphone.

panoramic image during solar system walk - by Rhonda

First time in a while the Sun was out.

snapped shut

Tuned in to the SpaceX launch. They scrubbed. The instantaneous launch window closed. They started to reset for tomorrow...

first dark sky viewing (Blue Mountains)

Enjoyed some Friday night astronomy with Rhonda. We were at the Carr Astronomical Observatory over the Family Day weekend.

Clear Sky Chart from Friday morning

We weren't expecting clear skies! But the Clear Sky Chart looked optimistic. And the clouds pushed off after 10 PM.

Environment Canada, for Collingwood, showed decent conditions. As observed at 10:00 PM Fri 17. Pressure 100.6 kPa and falling; temperature 0.4°C; dew point -4.8; humidity 68%; wind, SE at 9 km/h.

The forecast, issued 3:30 PM Fri 17, for Friday night was: "clearing this evening" with "fog patches overnight." Wind SE 20 km/h becoming light before morning. Low minus 3. Saturday was looking good, still.

I pre-heated the Warm Room of the Geoff Brown Observatory.

We looked at the Pleiades in the refractor. And individual stars in the catadioptric.

We looked at the Orion Nebula, Messier 42 (M42) and the Trapezium.

I wondered about the performance of the dew heaters. Made a note to reprogram the system for winter mode.

12:35 AM, Saturday 18 February 2017. We viewed the Cigar and Bode's galaxies, Messiers 82 and 81.

As Rhonda headed to the house for a moment, I warmed up. My legs were cold.

Checked the local Davis weather station page. It had recently updated—as of 11:43 PM. I transcribed the data: 10 minute average wind speed 25.7 km/h; wind direction SW; instant wind speed 20.9; high 59.5; outside humidity 76%; barometer 1005.9 (and still falling); outside temp 1.7°C; wind chill -3.8; dew point -2.1.

Showed the open cluster Messier 67 (M67) and its many double stars. Delicate in the eyepiece. Not super bright.

We viewed the Black Eye Galaxy aka Messier 64 (M64). Non-symmetrical in the eyepiece. Dark region on the right, for me.

We viewed the Clown Face Nebula aka NGC 2392. One of the Finest. Not a bad view. Rings visible. Bright central star.

Took in Jupiter. All four moons were visible. It was still low so the view wasn't great.

Rho spotted the Messier poster in the Warm Room. Reflected on the view of Messier 82. And the Black Eye.

Windy. Quite windy. The views were often shaky. Frustrating for us.

Bad seeing. Ian W concurred.

We watched the colourful Moon rise up over the hill.

It was cool. It felt colder than the temperature gauge. Forgot my long johns!

Rhonda helped me close up.


The Paramount ME worked very well. No unusual sounds after Tony's tune-up. My pointing, with SkyTools, was very good.

Friday, February 17, 2017

forgot quick-release

I considered that viewing the Pleiades in the Oberwerk binoculars would be pleasing. But they were rigged up with my custom solar filter which—last summer—I had secured very effectively.

It occurred to me that removing the wire harness holding the filter in place would take a while. And that's when I recalled my idea for quick-release system for the harness. And why I had set aside my spare quick-release pull-apart key rings at home. Sadly, I had not packed them.

I did not feel like tearing down the filter. And soon was distracted.

spectra again

A few days ago, Nikki posted on Facebook that she saw a huge fireball in the sky. She was referring to the Sun.

It seems that it has been months since it made an appearance.

Light was beaming in the kitchen window for the first time in a long time. Hitting my polyhedra and prisms.

Nice to see spectra again.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

shared articles

Rhonda is curious about my astronomical writing for the Journal. I'm curious how they read to a non-astronomer. Shared my August 2015 piece on SkySafari and my most recent (my draft) on volunteer computing.

received SN Mar/Apr 2017

Yeh! I received the March/April 2017 issue of SkyNews.

Looks like there's an article on solar eclipses, how they happen. For the novice astronomer.

There's a review of the Celestron AVX mount. Look forward to reading that.

Imaging star trails is discussed. See if I can pick up some tips and tricks from author Tony Puerzer.

Terence Dickinson comments on cold-weather observing. Something I don't mind, if the clouds ever go away!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

nano-sat swarm released

Read about, from the SpaceFlight Now article, the successful lift-off of India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and subsequent deployment of 104 satellites!

satellite deployment from India's PSLV-C37


received BGO updates

Chatted with Dave regarding SMU and BGO matters. The crazy nor'easter storm. New software features coming soon. Learned that the truss tube shield could not be kept in place due to interference with the robotic mirror covers. Also was assured that the IR dome camera should not affect the 'scope camera.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

helped a new member

Liza joined the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. She was thrilled to receive the Observer's Handbook. Answered more questions for new member Liza. Helped her understand how to access the national web site. Assured her that she'll receive an invite for the Yahoo!Group. Encouraged her to keep an eye out for CAO work party volunteer requests. Finally, welcomed her.

Monday, February 13, 2017

you are here, precisely

Astronomers at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto, using recent data from the ESA Gaia probe, increased the precision of the Sun's speed and distance measurements. The Sun is orbiting the core of the Milky Way galaxy at 240 km/sec and is almost twenty-six thousand light-years from the centre. The article at the DI web site also says there was a dearth of stationary stars which seems to make sense: they would have been pulled into the Sagittarius A black hole.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

eclipse info from Goddard

Had a quick look around the Goddard Space Flight Center web site for solar eclipse information. Good maps. Links to other good resources.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

sat in

Attended the planning meeting for the CAO committee. As was honoured to be included even though I do not have an official role moving forward. It was good to see all who turned out.

Friday, February 10, 2017

encroaching light

Stumbled across (or otherwise learned of) the Light Pollution Map tool. It features base maps with roads and "radiance" overlays. The light pollution overlays appear to be rather granular, finer than what I've seen in the past. It also supports user input with participants entering their own SQM data.

light pollution map for S-W Ontario

The recent light pollution overlays were made from "VIIRS DNB Cloud Free Composites" with data from Earth Observation Group, NOAA National Geophysical Data Center.

You can access the interactive map centred on Toronto.

don't miss it!

Don't forget! Tonight! The Moon will be visible from the Earth! Incredible! You don't need a telescope! You'll be able to see it with your eyes! It's true. An astonishing alignment of the Sun, Earth, and Moon. It will be as big as a full Moon! Be sure to not miss this amazing event. The last time this happened was...

last night.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

a triple non-event

Rhonda showed me a note on her smartphone. A piece on the full Moon, lunar eclipse, and a comet! I shuddered.

I explained, that while it's good to talk about astronomy and science, that this particular situation might set up people for disappointment.

The upcoming lunar eclipse was a penumbral and would, for most, be barely detectable. It would not be coppery as depicted in the accompanying photo.

And the comet (I assume 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova)... While large, it would be extremely challenging to see. Would require some magnification. And very dark skies. Which... ah... you can't do... when it's a full Moon!

Grumble, grumble.

I relayed my crying-wolf concern: repeated alerts to the public from which they feel dissatisfied will turn people off of astronomy.

sent next column piece

Submitted my RASC Journal article.

new CAO directors

The chair of the RASC Toronto Centre council declared the motion to accept the new committees and chairs as carried. Officially, Phil will take the reins as the director of the Carr Astronomical Observatory with Dietmar as the associate director. I am relieved of duty. I am pleased the CAO will be in good hands.

Monday, February 06, 2017


Received notice from the Toronto Centre. Membership had expired! Oops.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

10 to go

Wow. With the capture of NGC 4088, from the RASC Finest NGC list I only have 10 more targets to go. 10 or less.

That is to say, 10 more targets from my life list of observed/photographed targets. The RASC Finest NGC list in the Observer's Handbook has 110 (more or less) entries. A year ago, when I started using the Burke-Gaffney telescope, I had taken in about three-quarters. BGO (so far) has helped me image about 30 never-seen-before celestial treats.

Not sure if I will be able to image all of these remaining items as some are very low, possibly too low to the horizon for the Halifax telescope. I have to put the Mark-I eyeball to these.

Some are out of season, like 1232. Will have to wait to next winter...

But many are coming up soon. w00t!

captured NGC 4088 (Halifax)

BGO imaged NGC 4088 for me. A galaxy in Ursa Major. One of the RASC Finest NGCs. Seems twisted.

RASC Finest galaxy NGC 4088 luminance

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

South of the main galaxy is another edge-on. Small NGC 4085.

LEDA 2372650 is to the south-east, near star J120605.0+502706.

Further, near the edge of the image, is LEDA 2371976. A small bright oval.

A soft round fuzzy appears south-east of the main galaxy: MCG 9-20-92.


Wikipedia link: NGC 4088.

photographed NGC 3941 (Halifax)

The Burke-Gaffney robot imaged NGC 3941 for me. A galaxy in Ursa Major. One of the RASC Finest NGCs.

RASC Finest galaxy NGC 3941 luminance

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

North of the main galaxy is LEDA 2094391. It is small, faint, and round. Near star TYC 02526-0109 1.

To the north-west, near GSC 02526-0160, is a small oval. LEDA 2093249.

To the north-east, near the top-left corner of the image, is PGC 37297. A soft oval with a bright centre.

imaged NGC 3079 (Halifax)

The BGO robot imaged NGC 3079 for me. An edge-on galaxy in Ursa Major. One of the RASC Finest NGCs. It looks somewhat disturbed.

RASC Finest galaxy NGC 3079 luminance

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

To the north, near the star GSC 03817-1087, I can see the small, round, but bright fuzzy of LEDA 2515671.

To the north-east of that is the very small, dim patch of LEDA 2516041.

North-west of the big galaxy. in the triad of stars with GSC 03817-0962, is the faint small oval of LEDA 2515812.

Just south of that is another oval, fainter: LEDA 2515510.

Due west of centre is MCG 9-17-9, a large bright oval shape.

West-south-west of the spiral is a bright elliptical: NGC 3073.

Finally, near the galaxy, just to the north-east, is the faint star-like point of quasar NGC 3073 UB4. According to SkyTools 3 Pro the redshift (z) is 1.15 and the light time is 7.2 Gyr.


Wikipedia link: NGC 3079.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

we sorted the sound

Responded to Paramount issue raised by Tony. Still making a lot of noise during slews.


As per Tim L's suggestion, Tony opened a panel and found the drive-train dry. He lubricated the gears. No sound now. Yeh.


I updated our repetitive season-opening work party job jar list for maintaining the mount.

Friday, February 03, 2017

added new tag

Deployed the Caldwell tag on the blog primarily to cross-reference many deep sky objects. Doubt I'll be able to see them all. Unless I get below the equator.

tried 2403 again (Halifax)

I asked the Burke-Gaffney robot to image NGC 2403 (Caldwell 7) again, hoping for better sky conditions. I wasn't happy with the results from the first attempt on from 18 Jan. Much better, I think...

RASC Finest galaxy NGC 2403 in luminance

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, Paint.NET. North is up; east is left.

imaged NGC 3003 (Halifax)

BGO imaged NGC 3003 for me. A small, very faint edge-on galaxy in Leo Minor. One of the RASC Finest NGCs.

RASC Finest galaxy NGC 3003 in luminance

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, Paint.NET. North is up; east is left.

I found it challenging coaxing out more detail. Perhaps I should reshoot...


There are lots of little fuzzies in this image. SkyTools 3 Pro only identifies a couple...

To the north, LEDA 2033338.

To the north-west, LEDA 2034047 and LEDA 2033968.

To the south-east, LEDA 2029405.

To the east, LEDA 2032276.


Tried again on 4 March but the results were worse.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

APOD gadget broken

The Astronomy Picture of the Day gadget on this page broke. I removed it. Looking for a replacement...

200 now

200 days to go!

what about the clouds?

The marmot predicts an early spring. I don't care one way or another. I just want clear skies.