Saturday, March 31, 2018

more rings (Bradford)

Rhonda called me over. The big bright full Moon, high in the sky, had a colourful halo. There was a second large ring, fainter. Huh.

Friday, March 30, 2018

spotted rings and arcs (Bradford)

During our walk about the 'hood, between 5:30 and 6:20, Rhonda and I saw a number of parhelia phenomena. We saw the entire 22 degree halo along with very faint sundogs. I pointed near the zenith where there was a fairly bright prismatic circumzenithal arc. Later, the upper tangent arc brightened. I wasn't sure if we were seeing the 46 degree halo or an infralateral arc on the left. It was quite faint. Oh, and Redwing Blackbirds.


Nicole shared a good sundog shot on Facebook.

[ed: Corrected typos on 8 May.]

Thursday, March 29, 2018

reformatted the EtU

I assisted the RASC national observing committee with a freshening update for the Explore the Universe checklist document. Mr Chapman reached out to the team for some help. As a Word jockey, I tidied the formatting. Did away with the peculiar text boxes, applied paragraph styles, consistently formatted the tables (with a style again), generally uncluttered the document, and got rid of curly apostrophes!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

he needs to upgrade

I heard from Arnold. He was happy to report that he got the Starfinder telescope and Idea GoToStar mount working. He successfully aligned the telescope using the two-star process and slewed to a number of objects. However, he wants to update the old firmware and, without the cabling, wasn't sure how to proceed. Sounds like we'll have to get together. I've got the data cable, loader, and firmware file.

fluffy darkness

Saw headlines in the interwebs about a recent discovery: a galaxy without dark matter. Read the article at Sky & Telescope.

The galaxy NGC 1052-DF2, described as "fluffy," makes no sense to astronomers. It seems to be without dark matter or with very little dark matter. The surprisingly large galaxy appears internally sparse or diffuse and the globular clusters within are moving at rates slower than expected. It is unclear if the ultra-diffuse galaxy (UDG) had gas or dark matter that was stripped from it. The team is looking at other UDGs to see if they exhibit the same characteristics.

Dragonfly lenses

The primary instrument used in this analyses was the Dragonfly Telephoto Array from the Dunlap Institute headed up by Roberto Abraham. Cool!

Monday, March 26, 2018

bright things (Bradford)

While jostling cars, I saw brilliant Jupiter in the south-west. And a very intense orange point, west, high in the still-dark sky. Amazing colour. Couldn't be Mars for it was too far off the ecliptic. What was it?! [ed: Arcturus.] A very nice sky.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

a view of a fuzzy

While reading up on stellar magnitude, I noted the "image" of Messier 104 in the Night Sky Session 5 article at The Millstone. I thought the image provided by Pat Browne very appropriate—a very low contrast view with a few "bright" points (stars) and then this amorphous soft elongated dim tenuous thing in the centre. That is often very similar to what we see in the eyepiece when chasing down faint fuzzies... Exciting, hair-rising stuff for astronomers!

considered magnitudes

I've been thinking about magnitude. For a while but more so lately. The visual magnitude scale used with stars. How I interpret or use it. How perceptually different stars will appear at specific magnitudes. That the whole system is logarithmic. And I wondered if there were some tools to help with this...

More frequently, I have been estimating the magnitude differences of pairs of stars. But in the back of my mind I've been thinking that this is not scalar.

The observing sessions last week elevated things a bit more. Partly because I was trying to monitor VZ Cancri, a suggestion from the Turn Left at Orion book, wherein the author notes that the variable star "doubles in brightness" at maxima. When I looked up the details of the RR-type star in SkyTools, it showed the magnitude ranging from 7.18 to 7.91. On the face, that doesn't seem like much.

A quick search of the interwebs lead me to a long and interesting page. where I spotted a familiar diagram. The Star Magnitude infographic in the section Starlight Luminousity – How bright is your star looks like it is from All About Telescopes book. I link directly to the Millstone News site, their Night Sky News section, for the image:

stellar magnitude infographic

The little box is filled chockablock with useful information such as the brightest star, the limits for the eye and typical instruments, naked eye limits for city and country locales, and the math tip for determining the difference between stars. All good stuff. But the diagram proper, with the circles, does not immediately convey the incredible differences in brightness; the circles are progressively larger or smaller. It feels like an arithmetic series, not a geometric.

One of the big takeaways is the difference for each magnitude value: 2.5. Technically, it is the fifth root of 100. Hence the TLAO reference. Going from magnitude 7 (rounded) to 8 would be a 2½ change in brightness.

And now that I think on it, perhaps what I have been doing with double stars is not incorrect. That is, if I was comparing a mag 7 and 9 pair as opposed to a mag 2 and 4 pair, the differences are the same, approximately 2.52 or 6.3.

Some easy to remember numbers are that if there's a five magnitude difference between stars, they are different by 100 times in brightness. And if ten mags different, then the brightness varies by 10 000 times.

he hacked the Nautilus

Chatted with Wayne briefly via the Book of Face.

I wasn't able to find an exact replacement for the FM12330 battery used in the MotoMaster Nautilus 800 booster pack. He bought a similar sealed lead-acid batt from Total Battery in Barrie. Part number PK 12350, 35AH. The price around $100. He reported this battery is a ½" taller.

As the battery terminals were reversed, he bought some "jumpers" from Canadian Tire. The 15-inch Switch-to-Starter Battery Cable, 4 gauge, 100% copper conductor. P/n 011-0961-6. Around $7.

He said it's a tight fit but it works.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

she's up and running

Pictures or it didn't happen! Oh. OK. There's the CGEM mount under her Edge SCT.

Nicole's OTA and repaired mount

Hey, wait a second. I don't see Nicole anywhere...

hopefully helpful

Sent Andrew a little cheat sheet with shortcuts for OSC presenters. He liked it. He tried them out. He thinks it will be very helpful.

what, it's cold out?!

Returned Nicole's CGEM mount. Reviewed the changes made and the results of the most recent tests. Talked about next steps, if it exhibits the old problem. She's off to try it. In the cold!

Friday, March 23, 2018

not an option

I heard back from Battery Canada. They do not carry the Sealake FM12330 nor do they have a source for it. They offered an equivalent but I'm not sure it would work... Different terminal connectors, reversed positions. The form factor didn't look right. The shown CSB battery was 33Ah. The search continues...

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

imaged HD 82394 (Halifax)

It's been about 3 weeks. BGO imaged double star HD 82394 aka Burnham 909. Near the head of Leo. First stumbled across this double on 9 May '16 while at the CAO at which time I could not split it (with the N11). Tried again a couple of nights ago in the backyard (with the C8).

double-star HD 82394 in luminance

Luminance only, 1 second subexposures, 20 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, Paint. North is up; east is left.

I actually shot this differently than other images with 1 second luminance frames but 3 seconds for each colour channel. A 3:1 ratio...

Whoa. Tight. Challenging with the different magnitudes.

The WDS shows that BU 909 has (as of 2014) a position angle of 89 and a separation of 5.6. The stars are magnitudes 7.6 and 12.3. The fast exposure shows the faint companion to the left or east touching the bright primary.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

completed tests

Shutdown the CGEM mount down. All the tests performed were satisfactory. Will continue testing on targets near azimuth 300 and altitude 30...

noticed a pattern!

After watching the repair video from Dakota Starry Nights, I analysed the faults with Nicole's Celestron CGEM mount and I found a most curious pattern! In many instances where I personally saw the mount freeze up or lock up in RA, the OTA was on the east side of the meridian and the counterweights were on the west.

date time link object azimuth altitude
7 Oct '16 16:30 post Sun 236 22
8 Oct '16 23:59 post Dumbbell 279 24
9 Oct '16 02:59 post NGC 7814244 46
17 Mar '18 00:40 post ψ5 Aur 302 32
18 Mar '18 21:54 post 42 Ori 247 16

The 7 Oct time is estimated. There are some other incidents but I am not sure where the mount was pointing at the time...

Now I'm aiming into this area to see if the problem re-emerges.


Well! That was pretty amazing. Four nights in a row of astronomy. All from the comfort of the backyard—although it was below seasonal temperatures. The sky conditions were surprising, good at best, often fair or poor. The transparency was completely off sadly and that nixed deep sky objects. But I got a boat-load of double stars. Yeh! The observing list grew to 192 targets; I observed 97 things.

night 4 in the tent (Bradford)

Around 7:20 PM, Monday. There was sunlight still hitting the tops of the trees. I was ready for an early start. Wanted to knock down some of the targets in my observing list that were deeper in the west after sunset.

I had brought out hard candies.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Celestron CGEM
Method: Go To
7:27 PM. Inspected the saddle and my hacked plates. The Celestron 8-inch was secure in the CGEM saddle. No movement whatever. Good stuff.

Fired up the ASUS Eec PC portable computer. Mouse trouble. Didn't work when I plugged in the USB receiver; the touchpad responded when disconnected. Repowered the mouse and then it started working fine. Launched SkyTools 3 Pro. Noticed that when I landed in Real Time mode it showed Imaging mode. I thought it ordinarily switched to the last-used mode. Oh well.

Booted the mount. Set the time. All's well. Used Sirius to start. Found the bright star in the blue sky. Synced the software and the mount. Slewed to Rigel.

7:47. Synced on β (beta) Orionis. Saw Rigel B. Checked ST3P: 0.1 vs magnitude 10.4. Just over 9 seconds of arc away. Moved to next target.

7:51. Viewed 33 Ori. aka STF 729. Two extremely close stars. White. Maybe yellow. Not equal. A magnitude or two different. Saw another bright star, much further away. Same brightness as B. It was at roughly a 90° angle to A and B. Not related. Wow. I just picked off A and B at a 1.9" separation. A was magnitude 5.5 and B 6.8. ST3P said C was very far. The US Naval Office has C listed at magnitude 14.7. Oh. That's why it was not showing in the software Context Viewer display. On Haas's research project, in the RASC handbook (regular list), the Cambridge showpieces. On my View Again. Subsequent viewing would require a big gun...

Computer crashed. Schlanger. Not the mouse; it had totally frozen. I suspected it was static electricity again. Made a note to touch the table as I sat down. Pondered ways to avoid ESD in the future: A wire to a ground plug? A wire to a water pipe? A wire stuck in the ground nearby?! Where was I...

I had notice a wide double to the south-south-east (HD 36429). And another pair, tighter, to the west (HD 36133). Headed back to the ocular.

Checked HD 36133. A triple actually. Yellow and orange stars. A and B were wide. ST3P said the separation was 25. Oh my. The B and C were extremely close—not doable.

Examined HD 36429. Very wide. Easy. About a magnitude different. The software concurred. Yellow and orange. Bright one on the bottom or south.

Chose κ (kappa) Lep from the candidate list, to evaluate. ST3P said they were pretty close and unequal. I could not see B. On lots of other lists but maybe too tough for mine. Part of an interesting hook-shape of stars. "No way." I marked it to re-observe. Might be better in January. Removed the high priority.

Decided to find something in the area... Slewed briefly. ι (iota) Leporis aka STF 655. Heh. Interesting field! White star with a very faint reddish companion. A tiny little dot! To the north. A good distance apart; no problem separating. A very cool double. To the west was a neat warm, deep orange star. That turned out to be RX Lep! There was a somewhat bright star to the north, forming an L-shape with RX and iota. The double was not in any observing lists! A great discovery. I will add it to my candidate list. It would be a challenge in a very small 'scope but rewarding. The RX was not in any red list... Wow. No new data on that pair...

Slewed to 55 Eridani nearby. On my View Again and candidate lists. Nice! Easily split. Initially looked identical but slightly different brightnesses. Yellow. A F-class star. Easy. Great.

Went to Keid or ο (omicron) 2 Eri or Struve 518. From my candidate list.


8:26. Very wide. The A star was orange or intense yellow. I couldn't get a colour for B. Blue or red? ST3P said B was wide, 80". The app said C was an easy separation and mag. It also showed the B and fourth star were well apart. The fourth element shows as lowercase a. Mag 12. Should be easy.

It was falling into the trees. Noted the Scorpius-like grouping to the right or north. I'd need to look again, earlier in the year. B was to the east; for me, below the bright primary. Checked the Interactive Atlas to try to identify all the consorts. Really interesting. The 1-2-3 Scorpius stars were at my 3 o'clock. I saw the B star at 7—very different than the software. SkyTools showed B at 5 o'clock!

Reviewed targets on the same side of the meridian...

Went to W Ori, another red star, that I had selected for Rhonda. C class! Good colour but all by itself. Moving on...

The wind picked up.

Bulls-eyed HR 1669 aka STF 644. Yellow stars. Extremely tight, just touching. Needed to wait for brief, good seeing. Nearby red star below (C) or south. Dim. Wide, well away. A triple! A and B were right on top of one another. ST3P said 1.6" apart. Wow. Great! A was magnitude 6.0 and B was 6.9. C was mag 9.4. A great triple in Auriga. Would be an awesome choice for my candidate programme...

Flattened or squished rectangle to my right or the east. The rectangle, or parallelogram, with HD 33364 had a double in it. The west-most stars, closest to HR 1669, were an extremely wide double. aka HR 33308 or BLL 13.

Lots of doubles in the area. Busy field. Milky Way in the background.

Panned left or west over to NGC 1778 aka Collinder 58. A small open cluster. Very dim stars. Relatively compact. Below a loose grouping of stars to the north. I thought it might have 50 to 100 stars. Looked like it harboured a number of doubles. ST3P showed a few... For another day though... The whole area will be fun to return to!

8:52. Shouted at my erratic optical mouse.

HD 17359 in Perseus... (?) Extraordinarily faint. Looked like a triple... The computer view looked different. I was in the trees, decided it too low. Moved to 14 Ori.

It looked like a single while located in an interesting pattern. Near a cup-shape. The software showed another double nearby, to the south. But 14 Orionis proper, a binary with a 200 year period, was very tight at 1 arc-second. Uh huh. I didn't want to change eyepieces... Probably high power would be useful. No split. For another day.

From my View Again list, I selected HD 49317 in Canis Major. A double in the open cluster Messier 41. Which was at my 4 o'clock (west). Orange (8.2) and really faint (10.5) white stars. Tight at 4.4". B is toward the really bright star in the field, 12 CMa. A bit clockwise of that. Roughly a PA of 185°. The software said the PA was 190. Removed the priority flag; marked as observed.

After 9 PM. My left hand was cold. Something to do with mousing? Switched to my right hand.

Slewed to a Monoceros target, HD 262066. Near the cluster NGC 2264 with the bright star. My target was the triangle to the east of the cluster core, a quad-star system. The PA of AB was running between C and D.

Whiskey tango foxtrot! Bad computer crash!

9:16. Hard booted John Repeat Dance.

OK. The separation of Struve 3118 was 3.3". The stars were essentially the same mag, around 10. The A star was canted slightly toward the D star of the triangle; B was the outside star.

Headed to my next objective: HR 2879 or Σ1108. Pair in Gemini. Orange and blue, possibly. Easy split. From the Coldfield beautiful doubles list. Nice.

Cold. I needed to warm up.

10:50. Slewed to Propus in Gem. Noted a funny little shape. Tight? Another pair in the field. Close pair toward the... returned to the ocular. The software showed they were equally bright. The Object Information showed they were very different magnitudes. I could not split them. Not a good one for my candidate list. Not a terribly interesting field.

Off to HD 58246 or STF 1083. Once again, from the Coldfield list. Faint pair in The Twins. Nearly equal. White and orange. Nearly empty field. ST3P said the primary was an A5 class furnace.

Forgot to sync, again.

Traveled to TU Geminorum. Saw a faint red star. No marker in the software for the companion. Ugh. The companion was 0.4" away. Yikes. Colourful. And the field was unique. In a triangle pattern or a big flying-V. To the south, a pair with Tycho 1881-199 1. And some stars to the east, HD 252966. Could not split it.

Synced before going to HR 3395... Nice pair. Yellow and white star. In the middle of a triangle. Cool. Flanked by stars to the west and east. And a star to the south. How about that. Hold it, it's a 5-star system! C was to the east, was dimmer than E. C looked red. E was mag 9.5. To the south. It looked blue. B was roughly north. ST3P did not show, with the Moon lighting, the star to the west. I tagged the D star! The dimmest of all. The OI said 12; the chart said 13.3. Opposite C. A great system! On the Hydra-Cancer border. Also known as Struve 1245. There was a band or stream of stars on the east side running due north-south. Very attractive view.

Went to Tegmen. Easily split. Checked my notes. Hadn't seen anything new.

Noted a quad nearby that I had not logged: HR 3228 or BU 1243. A little bent stick. The bright one was below or to the south-east. No colour per se on the upper star. I could not split the A and B stars... ST3P showed B was close and faint. The dim visible star, at the apex, was the C. Blue. The further star was D.

It felt rather cold. Grabbed the electric hand warmers and stuffed them in my gloves.

Slewed to VZ Cnc again. Tried to shift to get 36 (at mag 5.9) or 37 (6.5), for comparison, in the field. I was a bit disoriented so I synced to a known object. Figured out the view. The star in question looked dim. More so that earlier. Who knows... Quite a lot dimmer than 36 and 37. Compared to HD 73488 (north-west)—a little bit brighter than that star (8.2).

Considered a Hydra target: HD 81029. A suggestion from the Coldfield doubles list. White and blue. Nice, wide pair, STF 1347. 21", 7.3, 8.3. A very faint string or stream of stars to the south-west (below). Relatively empty field.

Ignored U Hyr, close to Crater, as it was in the other hemisphere.

Went to Alphard! Never viewed. Really easy. The B star was well away and dim. A and B together began a flattened W shape heading to the east.

Noticed a Number 7 shape to the north-east.

Orange A; very dim B.

11:35. Considered 27 Hya, not far away. I saw a really wide pair up and down. The software showed it was a triple with tight B and C stars. Had another look. I could not split the B and C. ST3P said they were over 9 arc-seconds apart. That should be easy. But C showed as mag 11. Might be a good one for the candidates... Works at very low power.

Considered Pyxis! Low! Added HR 3430 to the list.

Not quite sure what I was seeing. Checked SkyTools. I saw the A and C stars, for sure. The A and B are ½ a second of arc apart. Fast mover. Already on my list. C looked really faint to me. When I hovered in the Context Viewer, it said C was mag 11.2, but I thought it dimmer. It was in a triangle with other stars.

Spotted another pair. Very faint. Orange and blue. To the north-west. [ed: Should check this. There's a single star HD 73543 near a double SAO 176206 or ARA 1746. Did I actually see the pair? Or the HD star (mag 8.9) with one of the double elements.] ST3P said ARA was mag 10.0 and 12.3. I thought the pair was in-line with the HR 3430 system...

Saw something south of ARA 1746 that looked like a double but ST3P did not say it was so.

Fun. Had another look.

Lights went out in the house. Heard an incoming train. Geese on the move.

Slewed to my next time but it was in the trees...Next?

The USB powered hand warmers were still working thankfully.

I continued to look for triples.

It was midnight. Tried γ (gamma) Sextantis, from my fast-mover list. I could not see the A and B stars. ST3P said the AB split was 0.5". C was further away but much dimmer. I didn't see anything. Nothing obvious.

Noticed Lynx was visible. Slewed to 12 so to enjoy the view. Very near the NCP. Got all them. D to the west. Tight B and C. Unrelated star to the east. Good to see again.

Spotted HD 47977 to the west of 12 Lyncis. Tight. Unequal. STF 946. Mag 7.1 and 9.2. Yellow and orange. The PA was 130. Roughly the same direction as 12 Lyn A and C.

Done. Started the shutdown. Disconnected SkyTools and parked the mount. Closed the observing section of the tent. Disconnected the cables from the computer.

12:18 AM, Tuesday. Exited from the tent. Closed the fly. Headed inside.

12:30 AM. Ready for bed.

Interesting evening. Lots of computer woes. The CGEM mount worked great though. Lots more double stars.

Wow. A great run... Over 100 objects viewed. But the vacation was over.

Monday, March 19, 2018

good to go

Loaded up the Good To Stargaze web page. Whoa!

the GTS weather prediction page

I haven't seen this display with so much green.

Monday still good

Wow. The CSC showed good conditions for Monday night.

local Clear Sky Chart for Monday

Four nights in a row...

swapped the motors

Opened Nicole's Celestron CGEM mount with the intention of swapping the motors proper.

inside of Celestron CGEM mount

Removed the motor assemblies. Looks weird with nothing inside...

motors for Celestron CGEM mount

The RA assembly is on the left with sensor unit; the Dec assembly to the right.

Measured the exposed shaft on each drive. Removed the drive gears. Needed a 2mm hex for gears. There were 2 grubs on each brass gear.

Removed the support plate from each motor. Exchanged the entire motor, that is the motor, wiring harness, gearbox, etc. Really, I moved the mounting plates.

Completed the swap. Reinstalled the assemblies and buttoned up the mount. Fired it up. All's well. Did a simulated alignment. The RA and Dec drives sounded OK.

Readied for testing.

downloaded March SCOPE

The SCOPE newsletter was released today. The March edition of the RASC Toronto Centre's newsletter has a number of interesting items (e.g. Ian W's pro-am collab) I look forward to reading. I noted my announcement of the SkyTools offer to RASC members.


There was an interesting remark on my double star presentation:
Blake Nancarrow laid out a very convincing case that double stars have been unloved for far too long and need to be on your next observing list. 
Links were also provided to the YouTube video and my “show notes” on our website.

enjoyed planet photos

Many people shot and shared excellent photos of the sunset scene with the Moon, Venus, and Mercury.

Stu McNair on Facebook: link. His was most evocative, much like what we experienced.

Moon, Venus, and Mercury after sunset

Photo copyright Stu McNair © 2018. Used with permission.

Bill Longo on Facebook: link.

Dave Chapman: link.

Dan Falk: link.

I was gonna take the camera and tripod to the hill; alas, we stayed warm and watched the show indoors.

night 3 in the tent (Bradford)

Good eats.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Celestron CGEM
Method: Go To
The seeing looked poor to the south as I stepped out the airlock...

Opened the observing section of the tent.

Checked the time on the Sony recorder. 17 hours left. That showed the deletion was successfully.

9:41 PM, Sunday. Headed to the mount. Woke it from hibernation. Ended up at Capella. The pointing was quite good.

Felt windier tonight. Closed the tent door. The east side of the tent was wobbly as the pegs had pulled out. Reset the lightweight pegs.

Set up the computer. SkyTools to red mode. Real time. Flipped to my notes. Turned off the natural sky, which I had used to help us spot the sunset planets. Turned on the horizon and meridian. Gracefully closed ST3P to save all the configuration. Connected to the mount without changing settings. Opened the Interactive Atlas and saw the X. Synced.

Ready to go.

Sorted by transit time [ed: blurgh.] Considered Auriga and Orion targets. Ah. 42 Orionis, super wide field, finally. I would only use the finder scope to officially complete this. Slewed.

9:53. Mount zipped! Weird that it happened at the beginning of the session. Would I continue to see the problem through the night?

Viewed through the Orion 9x50 finder scope. Stars 42 and 45 in Orion appeared as two equal blue-white stars with a medium separation. Clearly near the great nebula and iota. Between M42 and the NGC 1981 open cluster. I knew the Running Man was there. As I suspected, a very obvious binocular double star.

Decided, while I was in the 'hood, to dive deep in the telescopic view of the Running Man. Couldn't see anything... Faint.

Checked the OneWorld weather station. -1.0°C, 29% humidity, 884 air pressure, altitude 286m. I hadn't seen the humidity change before but it was working. The air pressure sensor is clearly wobbly. Suddenly the unit rebooted! Lost the settings. Date and time were reset. Frick. Temp appeared as -0.7.  Warmth from my hand? Considered an external battery pack for this stoopid thing...

In the eyepiece, the stars 42, 45, V359, and HR 37059 reminded me of Corvus.

NGC 1981 was to my right. Just to the north.

Panned to ι aka Nair al Saif.

The diffuse nebulae of NGC 1973, 1975, and 1977 were barely detectable.

Looked for targets higher in Orion. Used the "checked items" mode in the Interactive Atlas in SkyTools.

Heard Rhonda come down the back steps. I asked her what she thought of the skies. "A little blurry in the east. Fuzzy. A little blurry in the west." Way windier. She thought it damp. She surmised there was more moisture in the air due to the warm day-time temps. She thought it rather cold in the tent. Said it was too bad that we couldn't direct the dryer vent into the tent.

Showed her Messier 42 again. "Why?" she asked. Well, you can't go wrong.

I put the Pentax eyepiece in so we could zoom in. But it was soft. We were gettin' in the trees.

10:11. I wanted to show her σ (sigma) Orionis. The little cluster and the triple star. I liked the view a lot. "Oh, nice," rho remarked. Lovely.

I wondered if we might see some Messier galaxies tonight. Looked for some Leo targets, ideally two or more in the view. Decided on M65, M66, and NGC 3628. Big meridian flip.

Asked Rhonda to help me with alignment on a star to improve the pointing. I synced the software. Slewed to the space between the three galaxies. She could just see them. I was disappointed. I apologised. Maybe they'd get better as they rose higher.

Considered NGC 3077. No... While high in the sky, it was small.

Noticed I was in photographic mode.

Switched to a showpieces list. Applied aggressive filters. We received a short list of double stars only. No galaxies for my sugar.

Slewed to 54 Leonis. Rhonda said, "Tiny. Nice." A tight, colourful double.

Commanded the mount to the next objected. Another meridian flip—oops. Mekbuda. She called. "That's kinda nice. Pretty."

I asked if she recalled seeing Castor. "The Beaver?" Ha. No, the multi-star system. I thought it fantastic. "Oh, wow. Awesome!" She could see the faint nearby stars. She asked if she could see the main star naked. I showed her the trick for identified Castor versus Pollux, using Capella (over the house) and Procyon. She memorised the star names.

We noticed some clouds.

Looked for high priority items in Gemini. Ah, λ (lambda). Asked if she wanted to try it. It was a double star I had added to my candidate list, that I had never looked at before, so I had no idea what we'd get. Could be super-tight. Rhonda asked if it was a double. Yes... I had a look. Nothing obvious—holy cow! Quite close, easily split, but astonishingly dim. Thousands of times dimmer! [ed: Er, no, just over 7 mags different therefore 759x unequal in brightness.] Hawkeye saw it now, at the 1 o'clock position (north-east). 3.5 vs 10.7. She wanted to know if they were a system. I couldn't tell. Possibly an optical. 94 light-years. That's part of what double star research is about...

There was a neat snaking pattern of stars to the left or west and wriggling down or south.

I told rho that I often chose targets that had something else interesting nearby, like a galaxy or a cluster. I checked the field and noted another double nearby. I panned west a little. We noted a faint little triangle well away from λ. And then we spotted the faint pair of HD 55998, equal. 450 light-years away!

Stoopid clouds everywhere.

10:53. Went to HD 41996. Sounded familiar. From the Coldfield list. Hmmm. In an open cluster. Oh! It was in M35. An identified double within it. It was near middle. Rhonda thought the A star bright yellow but nothing special about the companion. She asked "There's so many close together, how do you define a double?" Exactly. She felt like there were many doubles within. SkyTools showed there were about 6 double stars within the boundary of the cluster. I didn't know if there was formal criteria.

I thought about eye candy. Colourful, i.e. "red" stars, in the area. Found one in Auriga. Not bad. High enough, still.

UU Aurigae. Whoa. Pretty good, actually. Very orange. Like an ember. She thought it nice but then reported it fading and blinking with the clouds.

Whoa! Spotted a tight, faint double at the 4 o'clock position! ST3P showed a bunch of known doubles in the area.

Tried added an item to the SkyTools list but it didn't work. Added the companion.

Rhonda requested one more before heading in. Busy week ahead. I wanted to carry on.

The skies were improving. Really clear near Capella.

Chose another red star. Very short slew. Rhonda thought it a nice orange colour. TU Geminorum. She saw doubles all around the edge of the field.

A car, almost as loud as mine, drove around the neighbourhood.

The extremely loud dog was let out into the north neighbour's backyard. Wow.

Realised what was going on with the list. Transit time is a tell that photography mode is active; switched to visual mode.

Returned to Struve 1327 aka HD 79552. An on-going exercise. Blue, orange. White and orange. Red? White, orange red, maybe. Yellow and red? Yellow and orange? Yellow, orange, red?

11:17. Read my old notes: "I thought them yellow and orange and red." RASC says yellow and blue. I decided to put this to bed. I was done looking at this system. I will mark it logged.

Checked the power level on the Sony recorder. It was fine. A GO train rolled through the area.

Moved to next. HD 75646 or STT A 96 in Cancer. Very close. Triple. Yellow, blue, super dim. Orange. Green? Triangle, right angle. Awesome! Faint. Nearly empty field. Great one. Very good for my programme. Oops, I had already looked at... Still, a really good target. Removed the high priority setting.

Considered Talitha, while monitoring the meridian.

Logitech computer mouse was acting up again. The list kept regenerating. Annoying. Then the slewing kept aborting. I broke and resumed the connection to fix it.

Slewed. Took a look. Didn't see anything. Probably extremely tight so I grabbed a more powerful eyepiece. The cold 9mm ocular fogged a bit, damn it. Airy disk. Pretty good diffraction rings. But could not see a companion. Noted a somewhat bright star at the 8 o'clock position, HD 76552. Talitha or ι UMa A and B should have been vertical.

Swapped the 36mm eyepiece back.

Wondered why Talitha was in lists like View Again and the Cambridge Double Star Atlas showpieces...

Slewed to Algieba then Dubhe, syncing. Headed to Alula Australis. Noted a hook of stars nearby. I could split the stars. For me, up and down. That was north and south. The software chart showed A as mag 4.4 and B at 3.8, the bright one above and the dim one below. That was opposite what I was seeing. The Object Information said A is 4.4 and B 4.9... I spotted a dim star (9.8) to the north, Tycho 02520-0324 1, which was roughly inline with AB. I drew an angle in the app at 162°. As of Feb 2018, ST3P showed the PA of AB at 160. Ha. Close. Impressive. The C star is mag 15, outside the C8 capability. OK: A and B observed! At a sep. of 2.03".

Now I was on the same side has 35 Sex now. Considered 15-17 CVn. Thought about HD 85458 but it was just the other side of the meridian. Could not trick the mount... Slewed to into Boötes.

11:58. Nearly Monday...

STF 1785 or HD 120476, a fast-mover. Nearly equal stars. Neat. Yep. Saw a big line of stars... The B was to the south. Estimated PA at 189, toward Tycho 02002-0405 1 (mag 10.3). Checked for a bright star (HD 120802) at the 1 or 2 o'clock position. Faint L, right-angle triangle, to the south. Also inline with Tycho 02002-0207 1 (mag 10.2). Separation 2.81".

Again I enjoyed the "pre-notes," helpful for fast moving binaries.

24 Com? Virgo items?

The sky was clearing. Felt colder. -0.1°, 20%, 885 mbar.

HD 108424 or FOX 175. Wide pair in Virgo. Yellow, blue. Dull. On my candidate list. B was to my left or 9 o'clock position (north-west). Mags 8 and 10, roughly.

Tight pair at the 11 o'clock position. Yellow and orange? This is HD 108423 or ADS 8556.

Super-faint pair between (no designation). No colour. Wider than the previous pair but not as much as FOX 175. Includes GSC 00288-0077 at mag 12.4; the other star is mag 13.3!

Neat grouping! All relatively faint. Great choice.

The horns of the train...

Next: Zavijah, also in Virgo. aka Otto Struve 576. On my candidate list. A triple with very wide companions. I saw all. Faint! Big bent V shape. B off to my left (west); C to the right. C slightly further out. The primary was extremely bright. There was a medium bright star at my 11 o'clock, HD 102747. I enjoyed it. Had another look. B (mag 10) was dimmer than C (8). Good at low and high power.

Went to Denebola aka β604. A bright blue-white star, the primary. Part of a string of stars, up and down, north and south. One of which was a companion. The first one south was the D star (magnitude 8.5). No problem. SkyTools showed C (mag 13.2) above or north. I went for another look... I couldn't get it! I turned on the Moon light feature in the chart and the C star was removed. Uh huh. ST3P said the B star was mag 15! It's probably a good option... Low and high. And very high. I'll see what team thinks.

The bright pair to the south-south-west, SAO 99800 (or HR 4531), I could not split (tonight).

Noted a very faint pair (not designated) to the east (right) with PPM 128588, mags 10.9 and 12.7.

The wind gusted. I was getting cold.

Noticed photographic mode was on again... The list kept updating.

Chose a low target.

12:28 AM, Monday. Could not split HR 4758 or Burnham 28. Fast mover, 2.2", 6.4 and 9.6. Too low, I thought. It was already logged but I marked to re-observe.

Security light came on...

Noticed M98 was near max. altitude. No joy. The current sky's transparency was simply not permitting galaxies to show through.

Aimed to HR 4698 in Coma. Σ1633. Candidate item. "Hmm. Look at that." Equal. Nearly perfectly equal. Yellow and yellow. Not exactly oriented east to west. They were slightly canted toward 2 and 8 o'clock. Left star which I thought was slightly fainter was mag 7.1 and right was 6.3. They were tight. They software made them look really close. Noted a bright star below (south): HR 4693. A good one!

A car came in.

The checkmark column was really wide. Whiskey tango foxtrot.

Almost 1 o'clock in the morning...

Selected HR 5346 or Struve 1825 from the Coldfield list. A great double. Tight, 3 or 4 seconds, I guessed (ST3P said 4.4"). Different magnitudes, 2 or 3, I guessed (6.3 vs 8.7). Almost a completely empty field.

Virgo? Coma Berenices? Hercules?

I figured out that if you change a column width in the display the list regenerates! Weird. Avoid.

Slewed. HD 130466 in Boo. STF 1910. From the Coldfield list. Two equal stars (m 6.7 and 7.7). Possibly yellow and blue... Very tight (4.0").

Jumped to HR 5659 in Ser Cap. STF 1919. Nice. Pretty wide. Yellow. Yellow? Different magnitudes. ST3P data: sep 23.1", mag 6.7 and 7.7, again.

Decided to wrap. The battery charger was really loud when I started it up—attributed it to the cold.

1:03. Looked at the OW unit again: -1.7°, 20%, 885.

1:09. Inside.

1:13. Ice cream?!

Interesting evening. After the early hiccup, the CGEM mount worked fine. Overall, the equipment worked well. Saw a bunch more doubles. No galaxies again. Why? Are the Bradford skies tanking with new (bad) lighting and urban dev? Essentially used one eyepiece for the eve which was fine, worked well, particularly for my project candidate targets. Very happy getting a third good night. And the planet show at sunset was an awesome bonus.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

comfortably viewed (Bradford)

My alarm went off in the middle of dinner prep. Oops. Had not planned far enough ahead for this... But we happily spotted Venus, the thin Moon, and Mercury from the dining room window! We used my Bushnell binos and as the sky darkened were able to see all naked eye. Good thing: we was rather cold. Very nice view, all in a line, equidistant, with a very young Moon. First time tagging Mercury for Rhonda.

good traces

Rhonda remarked that all the clear weather--rare blue skies for a change--would make for good imaging for our solargraph. Indeed. We're looking forward to the result with the new pinhole location.

I asked if she talked to the camp people about our camera up north. She made a note to follow up...

clear Sun and Mon

Examined the CSC chart again.

local Clear Sky Chart for Sunday

Sunday was looking OK; Monday was looking awesome.

night 2 in the tent (Bradford)

7:52 PM, Saturday. Back out to the observing tent. Readied for night 2.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Celestron CGEM
Method: Go To
Opened the fly and observing portal. Tied the fly using the integrated straps. They worked very well. I can't remember using them before (perhaps as I put it on in the dark?). The top-centre I needed some help with being height challenged. The screen flap on the observing portal has its own short straps. The small carabiners were very helpful. One more would be perfect, i.e. a total of five, for the parts of the fly that roll back. Put an extra clamp on the side screen door.

7:55 PM. Tuned William Optics focuser. I've been using the lock knob incorrectly the whole time! Tried a 2.5mm Allen key which was a perfect fit. Tested tightening and loosening. Turned it tighter and felt the torque increase. Awesome. Ended up about 1/8th of a turn tighter. Hopefully this would work.

8:01. The automobile battery charger was still on the marine battery but it was trickling. Showing 1.0 amps. Left it in place for a bit.

Trip hazards. Considered rerouting the computer cables but left them as is primarily as the data cable from the mount had to run down the centre of the floor.

Turned on Rhonda's lights.

Checked the OneWorld weather station, inside the "warm room." -2.5°C, 20% humidity, 883 mbar. Never read the Environment Canada weather so I loaded up the Newmarket page. Mainly clear, -3°C, observed at the Buttonville Municipal Airport as of 8:00 PM EDT Saturday 17 March 2018. Condition: Mainly Clear; Pressure: 101.4 kPa; Tendency: Rising; Temperature: -3.3°C; Dew point: -17.7°C; Humidity: 32%. Huh, low. Crikey. Wind: NNW 29 gust 39 km/h; Wind Chill: -11. Tonight. A few clouds -8°C. Sunday. Chance of flurries, 4°C, 30%. OK. Normal low for the year: -5. Sheesh.

8:08. Prepared the computer. Connected the USB serial on the same port as last night. Put SkyTools 3 Professional into red light mode. Activated on the Real Time tab. Loaded my improved observing list and sorted it by transit time. Things in Andromeda, Triangulum, and Pisces looked out of reach. Considered targets in Perseus.

Disconnected the battery charger.

Moved the eyepieces from the tripod spreader to the desk. I wondered if this might avoid dew. I put them left of the ASUS Eee PC. Perhaps the heat venting from the little computer would gently warm them.

Powered up the CGEM mount. Brought it out of hibernation. Entered the correct time. Good to go. Slewed to Pollux. It was not too far off in the image-erect finder scope. Good stuff! Centred on the Gemini star.

Tried to connect SkyTools to the mount. It protested. I checked the Windows USB port assignment and found it had changed to COM4. Connection worked fine after applying the change. Closed and reopened the Interactive Atlas and saw the flashing X. Turned the horizon and meridian lines back on and restored the window size (as usual). Synced on the star.

Noticed the Pollux was a multi-star system and that I did not have a log entry for it! Wow. While here...

With the baader planetarium 36mm ocular, I spotted a faint triangle of stars at my 4 o'clock position. Those are members of the Pollux system. To the east of Pollux proper. The software showed another triangle, bigger, further away to the south. Unrelated. The little nearby triangle was made up of the C, E, and F stars. Cool! Saw something around the 12:30 or 1 o'clock position, not quite as far as the triangle. That was the G star! I could barely see it. Needed averted vision and some patience. Had to look between A and G to get G to show. Burnham 580 G. Crikey. The northern stars of the triangle, C and F, looked brighter than the lower one, E. G was at a 90° angle to the line formed by the C and F stars into A. Could not see B.

Rhonda returned. Asked if she was seeing the Pleiades. Yep. Her favourite. She thought the sky looked better than last night.

8:38. I would argue that F was brighter than C. Hovering over the stars in the atlas ST3P says C is 8.9, F is 10.5, E is 10.5, and G 13.2. Oh and B is 13.7. A lot dimmer. In the Object Information box, the star brightnesses were a bit different: C 8.9, F 10.4, E 9.7, G 13.3, B 13.7. Huh. Again, I thought F brighter than C and both F and C brighter than E. Neat system with some easier elements and challenging companions. OK. The B star I would leave for another day. Done with Pollux. That was fun.

Selected the Notes group and my custom session notes. I have never done this before. I liked it. On hovering over 7 Persei, my note "candidate" popped up. Nice. Gave me some clarity as to why it was here.

Went to α (alpha) Persei aka Mirfak as a waypoint for 7. Synced.

The Williams Optics focuser, after the adjustment, was working really well. Firm. No slippage.

Again I noticed it was a double star system without a log entry. So I dove into for a closer look. Saw a little "cup" of stars at the 1 or 2 o'clock position (north-east). I was off a bit so I used "Sync telescope to cursor" again. The planning app showed B below or south of the primary. Noted the rough rectangle to the east-south-east. And a wide pair of stars at 9 or 10 o'clock. I saw a triangle of stars to the south. The software did not show this exactly; rather, there was a smattering of faint stars. But I thought I was seeing the B consort. It was about 3 or 4 times the distance from the west pair separation and roughly in a line with the top stars of the rectangle. Wow. Faint. ST3P said mag 11.9 for BUP 44 B.

Barkie McBark was released to the neighbour's back yard. Barking at nothing as usual.

8:53. Slewed to 7, a multi-star system, at last. A quick hop. [ed: Don't think I knew at the time that I had viewed this before.]

The focuser was working well.

Busy. My first impression was that it is not a good candidate for my double star project. Not a showpiece double even though right beside h Persei of the Double Cluster. Also there were a lot of field stars so it made it difficult to pick off the companions proper. Noted an orange star. And a big triangle of stars.

The software showed that the companions were dim. And the BC separation was impossible.

Almost moved off but decided to probe deeper, for my personal records.

There was triangle near the orange star. And it was the top apex. Saw a flattened rectangle. A brighter star toward the 8 o'clock position. Not one of the members. Well separated, heading down, to my 6 o'clock, 3 times the distance, heading toward the 7 o'clock.

A and D formed a triangle with a faint star (unrelated) to the south.

I tagged the B (south) and D (south-east) no problem. Noted another unrelated star HD 13910 further past B.

[ed: The "B" (south) star I was referring to at the time is a completely different double: STI 1830. A pair of faint stars, mag 10-ish, with a 10" sep. This is NOT a member of 7 Persei. To recap: I saw 7 Per A and D only. Did not see B, C, or E.]

Headed to θ (theta) Per. From the Coldfield list. Nice. Interesting. Yellow star. At 11 o'clock (north-west), very close, an orange star. That was B. At 10 o'clock (west), about four or five times the distance, a blue star. The C star. Fuzzy? Itself a double? Oh. I was in the tree branches. Was that making for artefacts, diffraction patterns on the stars. Something opposite the blue, a bit further away, quite faint. Not related. A line of four stars below or south-east, running left to right. Nearly empty field. Neat triple with colourful stars. Aka Struve 296. The OI box said A was 4.1, B 10.0, and C 9.5. C brighter than B. Oh and that B was a very long period binary.

Security light went off.

These Perseus targets were getting low...

Next high priority target in Taurus was selected. Not far from the Pleiades. Struve 435 aka HD 23075. Nice pair. Orange? Yellow-orange? Very faint. Nearly the same magnitudes. Easily split while close at 13.5". Pretty faint for a candidate but I'll check the aperture limits. In a group of stars evocative of the Andromeda constellation, a widening V. Interesting.

Spotted a bright star to the 9 or 10 o'clock position. It was 11 Tauri or STU 16. Within a degree. 11 is nice pair. I could see a faint orange star to the north of A. About 4 or 5 times the separation of Σ435 AB (73.7"). Mag 6 and 11. Quite nice.

V711 was too low. M45 with tight and naked eye doubles unfortunately was too low.

9:20. Chose HR 1188. One of my entries in the fast-moving binary list. Nope. Couldn't see anything. Too tight at 0.54". Too low, in the trees. Next?

HD 24992 in Cam. Super faint. All stars were faint including the primary...

Rhonda returned with dry clothes, many layers, poofy, and mitts (which make tent zippers tricky). Again she thought the skies better. Not as windy. Nicer conditions. She liked the blinkie lights. Showed her all the trip hazards. And the dew heater cords.

I told her that the external focuser was back in business. I was very happy about that.

Slewed to the open cluster NGC 1502 in Camelopardalis with a bright pair in the middle. Tiny slew. "Oh wow," she said. A whole bunch of doubles. I shared that it is one of these small open clusters that is also a multi-star system. HR 1260 aka ES 2603. With members up to N and O so 14 or so elements. And there was an unrelated double nearby. And a quad off to the west just out of the field. There was an orange star in the field and a blue one. Pretty neat.

Showed her the photo I had looked up of the Clown Face Nebula.

Special requests? "Something pretty." I asked if she liked open clusters. Suggested the Messiers in Auriga. They sounded familiar. Yep, we had looked at some of them in the fall up north. From the showpieces list, I chose Messier 36, a bit open cluster. "Oh yeah, nice," rho remarked.

She asked if they were related. I suggested that the stars might be very close to one another, maybe 1 light-year apart or less. And if there were stable planetary systems, the night sky would probably be very interesting, filled with many extremely bright stars. That said, solar systems might not form at all given the gravitational forces. If they did, they might destabilise ejecting planets. I commented on the book Nightfall with a six-star system and the epochal alignment of all the stars.

Suggested M37 now to see what was different. Rhonda thought it "nice." Bright star in the middle. Yellowy-orange. "Pretty."

Barkie McBark got riled up again.

I wondered about M38 but I had not added it to my list. Went to NGC 2169 in Orion. I took a peek. Nice. I shared the other name: the 37 Cluster. She saw the pattern although backwards.

Rhonda asked if the street light to the south was new. Nope.

Returned to Auriga for M38. "Looks good." She thought them a lot alike. I thought most of the stars were faint blue.

Rhonda asked if it was Guinness time. Ooh. Great idea. I encouraged her and she headed to the kitchen. But I had to resist. No drinking for my eyes!

I was pleased how everything was working tonight.

9:51. Returned to NGC 1502 aka Collinder 45. Slewed. Had a quick look. I was able to easily spot the stars D, K, and L to the east. I considered that the brightest ones where A and B. N was to the south.

The computer froze. Damn it! Oh boy. Completely locked up. Time not progressing. Mouse not responding. I wondered what happened. Took it down to cold iron... I was hoping I didn't lose anything from the Notepad file. Got things going as Rhonda, bearing gifts, returned. Guinness goodness. She gave me a sip. So tasty! Rhonda thought the sky not as good.

We took in Messier 35. She noted the strands or lines of stars.

She sang...

Is it written in the stars
Are we paying for some crime
Is that all that we are good for
Just a stretch of mortal time

Slewed to the next. β (beta) Mon. An obvious triple with an extremely tight pair. Bright. All very white. In the Unicorn!

We heard an animal chattering. Perhaps a 'coon?

I wanted to do a little experiment. Could we see any of the faint objects around ζ (zeta) Orionis aka Alnitak. We could see the faint C companion. Then I moved to the centre of the Flame Nebula. Nothing was visible. Then I centred to the Horsehead Nebula location. Nothing. Without a hydrogen filter, nothing was visible. Was I seeing faint wisps? No obvious shapes. Boring! Finally, tried nearby Messier 78. Rhonda saw two faint stars. Not satisfying. Boring! Just thought we'd try since we were in the neighbour.

Rhonda spotted Hydra in the software atlas. Not to be confused with Draco.

Briefly considered Leo and Virgo galaxies but then rethought it. Wanted The Cigar but landed on Bode's (M81). Centred with the software controls, synced, then shifted to M82. Shared that a supernova went off in it.

Rhonda asked about the explosion in the NGC 6946 galaxy. I hadn't shot it for a while. It was low this time of year.

It felt cold to me. My left hand was quite cold; I needed to stop taking that glove off. Rhonda's brewski was chilling despite the insulated cup. The OneWorld said it was -4.5°C inside the tent. I could not show the web page after the computer reboot.

There's no time for us.
There's no place for us.
What is this thing that builds our dreams, yet slips away from us?
Who wants to live forever?

I saw that Leo was leaping so turned to that part of the sky. M95. Not a great view. Yuck. The sky looked grey in the 'scope. Perhaps the sky was going away. Rhonda suggested a break. Warm up. Have a snack. She tempted me with another sip of Guinness. OK.

I saw a tiny blue spark as I touched the 'scope. Oh, that's why the computer crashed. I shocked it with static.

10:32. Headed in.

11:08. Back out. Happy with my progress so far. Considered the next. I was pointing to the east side of the meridian. Returned to NGC 1502. Oh oh.

Lots of clouds to the north-west. Loaded the satellite image. Switched to black and white. Huh. It reminded me of what I had seen earlier in the day. Something rolling in from the north-west. The Clear Sky Chart and Clear Outside sites still showed the sky get worse at 2 or 3 AM. Maybe this system was moving faster with high speed winds.

11:17. Put the lens caps on and headed back in.

1:03 AM, Sunday. Popped out. Clouds! Clouds everywhere. The station said: -5.8°, 20%, 885mbar, 279m. Shut down and sealed the tent. Remembered the recorder this time.

Good pointing tonight. Hibernation worked well. Mount worked very well. No issues. No freezing. Jeez. This error is a totally random one—frustating.

At some point in the evening I decided to not mess with eyepieces. There was the issue of fogging that I wanted to completely avoid.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

added pre-notes

Did something new in SkyTools. I added notes before the observing session. I have never done this before—not for a regular observing session list. It is in response to some moments of confusion or lack of clarity from the night before. Something I've felt during many observing sessions actually.

Celestial targets are added to an observing list for various reasons. I might copy things from certificate program lists. They might be suggested by the automatic routines in SkyTools. A new comet? Sometimes ideas come from magazines. I might manually copy from another list, from another night or from the View Again, as it was not successfully viewed or logged with good details. And if it comes from the View Again, there's usually a reason behind it, which often requires a review (possibly a deep dive) into past logs. Something I should not do when conditions are good and I can be collecting photons.

Often when I build an observing list, it is well before the event. Then when in the viewing period, I don't always remember why I added something to the list.

Today, as I added more things to the observing list for Rhonda, some fun things, some eye candy, I started thinking more on this problem. Then I added some additional candidates for the poor transparency conditions. And some late-night targets. The idea gelled that I could use session-specific notes.

So, for the first time, I added some "pre-notes." Notes to clarify why a particular target was on the list. I didn't have the time to do this for every entry—the list was getting pretty long with over 100 entries—so I concentrated on high priority items. To maintain some level of mystery, I kept the Headline short; in the notes proper I added details. I like to not have everything spelled out targets, so to reduce bias or preconceived images. For double stars in particular I prefer to not know the separation or colours in advance.

Here are some examples of the notes I created:
16 Aurigae: Need to split.
Had not split previously. Imaged with the BGO.
35 Sex: View again.
Had not split C and D. Challenge! No colour noted for C... but got that Friday night.
42 Ori: View again.
To check off a life-list entry. From the Sky & Telescope winter double star list. It's really a binocular candidate so use bins or the finder scope only.
VZ Cnc: Fast variable.
Doubles in brightness in course of 2 hours. From TLAO book. View at beginning and end of observing session. Compare to 36 and 37 in finder scope or at very low power.
44 Boo: Tough fast mover.
Fast moving binary with a 206 year period. Very tight! Probably not possible.
HD 120476: Easy fast mover.
This should be doable.
7 Per: Candidate.
Evaluate at lower power.
HD 75646: Candidate.
Looks like a good one.
24 Com: For Rhonda.
Colourful double.
NGC 1502: For Rhonda.
For both of us!
Hopefully this will help me feel a little more settled at the eyepiece. Also, I foresee this reducing situations where I exactly repeat something I did not need to do.

Looking forward to trying this new system...

sorted some issues

Worked issues to have a better experience...

While I could not find official instructions or an online manual, I reviewed some web pages on Kendrick astronomy tent. I also read a product review. Considered slight revisions to my assembly sequence particularly when adding the fly. Noted that better, more aggressive tent pegs would be a good idea. But could not find specific notes on the pole lengths. I had forgotten my carabiner idea from the first run; somewhat surprisingly I found my small collection and attached them to the observing end loops.

Backed up the audio files including the 8 hour segment! Once confirmed, I cleared out the Sony recorder. The batteries recharged along the way.

Added to the observing list with emphasis on neat targets to show Rhonda. I drew from multiple sources and ran the ST3P Nightly Observing List Generator a couple of times.

Re-energised the sodium hand warmers.

Recharged the marine battery with the car charger. Performed continuity checks on the dew heaters. All good. Got out the 12 volt heating pad.

Found some new 9 volt batteries. Readied one for the deep red flashlight.

Readied to fix the focuser. Found a small hex bolt on the bottom under the focus knob shaft. Ah ha!

tent ready for second night

More than once, fixed the fly. The wind kept yanking some pegs out...

booked SkyTools demo for 23 May

When Paul Markov said there were slots available in upcoming RASC recreational astronomy night meetings, I suggested that I could deliver a redux of my SkyTools presentation. We locked into May 23. I will demonstrate the benefits and features of this excellent astronomy session planning application. Plan to drop in! :-D

Saturday OK

Pulled the local CSC chart.

local Clear Sky Chart for Saturday

The early part of Saturday evening was looking good. And Sunday showed some promise.


I remembered an unpleasant thought from last night... While using the netbook computer in the tent with SkyTools, I had felt, at times, like I was struggling, with reading the screen. And that made me wonder if I was having a harder time seeing things up close last night. Is my close-up vision deteriorating? I was not wearing glasses. My bifocals were stolen a long time ago. It was a little disturbing considering my presbyopia is changing. Ugh...

stopped the recording

Headed to the tent to get some gear. Rescued the recorder. It was still on! And still recording! Wow. It captured sounds for over 8 hours! Wonder if I'll hear the owl.

night 1 in the tent (Bradford)

7:49 PM EST (or 8:49 EDT), Friday. Checked space remaining on Sony recorder. 17 hours. Not sure if the time was correct though...

Brought out one of Rhonda's TV tables. For the eyepieces.

I was suited up including my leather gloves. Had the muffler and wristers if necessary. Big -100°C boots on. Three layers on my legs; five layers on my body.

Had the John Repeat Dance computer. Fired it up. Got out the ASUS power cord. Red LED keyboard light. Had a short blue cold-weather extension cord.

Brought out the bungee for tarping.

Wondered about putting the red LED Christmas lights up high, along the centre arc, on the "warm room" side, for general illumination. The previous time I had put them on the floor. Held in place on the centre divider flaps with work bench clamps. Made sure they were not directly visible on the telescope side. It worked. Weird, noticed one of the LED "bulbs" had snapped off. [Rhonda thought it good too, subtle.]

Opened inner tent observing portal screen and secured it. Switched boots. Removed, rather, rolled back, the fly. Rhonda called but I didn't hear her at first. Opened the inner portal (opaque) flap and secured it. Offered rho a comfy chair but she headed in.
Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Celestron CGEM
Method: Go To
9:09 PM EDT. Corrected time on Sony recorder.

It was windy, gusty.

Completed the polar alignment on the Celestron CGEM mount. Polaris was easily spotted from the tent location further south.

Rhonda returned. She had more layers now. She was much warmer now. Told her to not worry about her boots. She saw a streak in the northern sky. I didn't think it was a laser; it looked like a jet contrail.

She really liked the little red LED string. I had arranged the leads around the feet of the steel tripod forming a big triangle. It clearly marked the footprint. Set to the pulsing pattern.

Aligned the Orion 9x50 right-angle, image-corrected finder scope using Sirius. Initially way off. Offered a view of the bright star to Rhonda. She saw some colour in the image and correctly assessed it was coming from the "lens." I centred it to clean up the view.

Manually panned to the Great Orion Nebula aka Messier 42 to show some eye candy. It looked quite good in the 2" baader planetarium Hyperion-Aspherical 36mm 72° eyepiece yielding around 55 power. A big bird with outstretched wings. She enjoyed the Trapezium multi-star system in the centre. I let her pan around with the illuminated keypad.

9:32. Started the mount alignment sky modelling. Needed about 10 minutes. Rhonda said she'd be back. The first star suggested was quite far away. I realised part-way into it I had not specified the location so I restarted and entered the latitude and longitude for the backyard. Added one calibration star. Done. Selected M42 again. Saw a good point.

Connected the computer and mount with pre-fabbed Celestron data cable.

9:43 PM. Snip! Used the divide feature on the Sony ICD-SX 750 audio recorder.

Rhonda returned. Who goes there? "Hark!" No jujubes hidden in her pockets unfortunately.

We wondered if people were heading to the Carr Astronomical Observatory this weekend. The weather outlook looked good but the road was probably not officially open. I hadn't heard of anyone going up.

Katrina had sent out a message about the Messier marathon. I told Rhonda that I had proposed a marathon weekend at the CAO. One had been done years ago at the RASC Blue Mountains observatory but nothing recently. Best done on a new Moon of course in late March. At the time of my proposal, the timing was not great. And there's always the issue of getting in.

Was still on M42 and the star group. I suggested we could dive deeper into the sextuple to try to coax out the fifth and sixth stars. I thought the seeing was fair. We could try it. Got one! [ed: E, between B and A.] Rhonda could occasionally see the bottom one. [ed: F, near C.] The top one was easy. I dug out a photo on the innernets to help us get a sense of what was going on. It helped. I had another look and had a hard time with the easy star, the top one. Noticed we were "in the trees," the target drifting behind the tree branches on the western edge of the property.

My squeeze asked for the next challenge.

I panned to ι (iota) Orionis aka Nair al Saif. A lovely multi-star system.

I had not yet activated the software control in SkyTools 3 Professional. Activated the Real Time mode and clicked on Telescope Control. Chose Select/Configure Telescope and ASCOM Supported Telescope. Changed to the Celestron Scope Driver and clicked the Properties button. Went through he Windows settings to determine the port number assigned to the Prolific USB adapter: COM 5. Set this in ST3P and backed out. Chose Connect to Telescope and heard the configuration.

Rhonda wanted to know if I had brought a garbage can out. Nope, it was the dew cap or shield. I had not attached it as it was still quite windy.

I tried for the comet C/2016 R2 (Pan-STARRS) in Perseus. Already a bit too late, too low, near the trees again. Nothing visible. Boo.

Asked if rho was warm enough. She was good. I felt OK. A heater in the tent would be nice.

Eye candy for rho... Applied some more aggressive filters in SkyTools. Above the two airmass level and "Obvious." Found the Clown Face Nebula or NGC 2392. Rhonda thought she had viewed it before at the CAO. Reminded her to use the stars to focus the telescope. It still wasn't working for her. Oh.

The Williams Optics Crayford-style focuser wasn't working right. When vertical it slipped out of position. So I locked the WO and we switched to the Celestron 8-inch focus knob. It worked.

Noticed Leo was up high. Leo leaping.

Rhonda reached focus but thought the planetary nebula rather small. I recommended high power. Had her change the eyepieces. Pentax 20mm XW wide angle 1¼" with 2" adapter returning about 100x. Continued to store oculars in the tripod tray. Now Caldwell 39 was much bigger. The background sky was darker. I shared that some observers would often see concentric rings in this celestial target, shells. She tried averted vision. She noted the centre was bright. Compared to the Ring Nebula, this seemed perfectly round. She didn't see a clown face.

Considered the oxygen filter...

Thanked rho for dinner.

We listened for the owl. She tried calling.

I thought the transparency fair.

Bumped the power again with the Tele Vue Type 6 Nagler 9mm 1¼". Wow. Now we're getting somewhere with over 200x.

10:21. I asked Rhonda what she thought of the Clown Face. She thought it better. But she couldn't see the eye sockets. "Ya get what you pay for." Grey fuzzy blobs. She could maybe sorta kinda see rings.

Grabbed the O-III filter and tried to put it in the baader barrel. Didn't want to go. Was it not round? Snugged it up. I told rho that this filter blocked a lot of light. She thought it smaller and fuzzier. On a whim, I considered the narrow-band filter in the 1¼-2" adapter. Threads! I had never noticed that before! w00t! For the first time, with the 9mm, tried the O-III filter. Awesome. I liked it. Big!

I stepped on a cord and heard the Windows USB port disconnect-reconnect tones. Oh oh.

I needed a hand warmer. Grabbed one of the sodium acetate and showed rho the reaction. Left that for her. Triggered another for myself and stuffed it in my left glove.

Went back to full spectrum. I preferred this view. The filter blocked the central star; it was good seeing it.

Rhonda went indoors.

10:34. Back to my regular list. I had spotted Tegmen before. Relaxed the filter from about 2 airmasses to above horizon. Tried slewing from the computer. Audrey said it was slewing but the mount did not move. Broke and resumed the connection and it was fine. Blinkie X.

The deep red flashlight looked very dim. The battery was pooched. I wondered if I had some fresh ones in the astronomy case alpha... Turned off the torch.

Viewed HD 75646 in Cancer. Colourful. Red. Dimmer. The red star was very dim. No bright field stars. Adjusted the software. The loose wide cluster of stars was to the south. The brighter star was to the south-east. The B, presumably B, star was to the north-west. C, the dimmest, was south-west. They formed a 90° angle. C was the apex or the right-angle bend. Therefore B was due north of C and A was due east. Aka STT A 96. On my list with the high priority, one of my double star candidate entries. Adjusted the weather conditions for the location in the software to make the Context Viewer better match the field. Dropped the temperature, increased the humidity, and dropped the sky brightness from 20 to 19. The CV responded and many of the stars dimmed. Lovely. A great one. Works great at low power. It's a keeper.

Considered the "fast" variable star VZ Cancri from the Turn Left at Orion book. I thought there a big bird with some of the nearby stars. I saw the little triangle above (north). Checked my notes.

Just received an ASCOM error! Then SkyTools went berserk generated a dialogue box error repetitively. Pulled the data cord. I could not get into interface. Then SkyTools imploded. I reconnected the data cable. Relaunched the app. Lost all the settings of course. Red mode, horizon line, wrong list, back to Real Time, wrong list, Context Viewer size lost. The location details were saved but changed the seeing to average. Kept the COM5—good.

Where was I. The variable changes over 4 hours so in 2 hours it will go from brightest to dimmest. I wondered about field stars for comparing. Magnitude 7.2 to 7.9.

10:59. Checked the battery level of the recorder: half-way. Checked the space: 15 hours.

Victor-Zulu was the brightest star in the field despite the wide true field offered with the baader. Panned about. Ran into 49 Cancri at mag 5.6 which was clearly brighter than the variable. SkyTools said VZ was supposed to be mag 7.6 at the moment. Which would be similar to HD 74330 (7.2) to the south-east or my 4 to 5 o'clock position. Found it. It seemed quite bright. Planned to return later. Applied the Re-observe status flag.

Still windy. Felt a little cold in my torso.

Stoopid security light...

Slewed to HD 79552 aka Struve 1327. Neat. Increased the power. Could not clearly hear my remarks. Faint. Thought I saw... Orange. Yellowy. Faint one between...

Both red. The close one and the distant one, both red. [ed: Matches my earlier observations, the A is yellow and proximal B is red. My assessment of C's colour this time differed...]

With a "view again" tag. Sounded familiar. Changed the eyepiece in the software to the Pentax. Loaded up my double star life list. Filtered on Cnc. Ah, yes, the system where we differ on colours. From the RASC Coloured Doubles supplemental list. Neat. There was a cup to the south-east. Could not see D.

The stars were very dim. Why? Transparency was gone. Oh. Dew! Dew and frost.

Connected the objective dew heater. Put a hand warmer on the secondary and covered it with the cap.

Decided to take the opportunity to go in and warm up.

11:25. Checked the conditions with the OneWorld portable weather station. The temperature was -5°C (in the tent), 20% humidity, 885 mbar barometric pressure, the time was correct, altitude 272 metres.

Break time.


12:17 AM, Saturday. Back. Brought a 120 volt hair dryer out. The corrector looked really dirty. Weird. The 8" dew wrap did not seem to be putting out much heat...

The computer had fallen asleep during my break. When I logged in, the screen was completely wonky. Could not get anything to respond. Crikey. Frustrating. "Have you turned it off and on again?!"

More computer issues... Fire truck! Reconfigured again! Reconnected to the mount at 12:25.

Slewed away and then back to Σ1327. Changed oculars. Field didn't look right. It seemed like the mount pointing model was off. Synced on a bright star to improve the pointing. Returned to the multi-star system. The conditions did not seem good. Filtered for objects above 2 airmass. Next!

The note of the power supply had changed...

12:42. Mount was not tracking. Tapped it. It zipped and caught up to the target. The old signature. Still an issue. Considered next steps...

Tried the William Optics focuser again. Seemed to be holding.

Psi 5 Aur. aka Dolones V and 56 Aur and SHJ 75. Yellow and red, wide, at low power. When I put the Pentax eyepiece in I thought I saw some fuzzy things, dim pairs of stars perhaps, nearby...

Rhonda came out... Offered the view. She described double with a faint partner.

She asked if there were any major meteor showers. Not really. I didn't think the seeing was good and the transparency was way off. She was tired, yawning.

I looked for galaxies up high. Aimed at the Cocoon. A very faint fuzzy. "Oh my gosh. Seriously?" Yuck.

Sent the mount on a big slew. She asked what it was. "Bode's?! It sure looked better in my photo." Indeed.

It gave her an idea for a Hallowe'en costume.

Next target. "Oh. Oh! That's better," rho said. She thought Algieba aka γ (gamma) Leonis a nice little double. "Both look pretty white. The bottom one is blueish. Top one yellowy. Whitish blue. Whiter than the 11 o'clock star. Maybe it's the Captain talking." They both looked gold to me. Very slightly different. Super-duper. It was worth standing in the cold, rho remarked. "Show me another pretty one." Off to Virgo.

Porrima was pretty. Bright white. γ Virginis. Two identical stars.

"Happy St Pattie's Day!" she chimed. She was thinking of retiring. Rhonda exited.

1:04. I had another look.

Next? Cepheus was not an option. The sky looked really bad so DSOs were probably not good for targeting.

Went to HD 82394. Increased the magnification. Low power, aspheric, I did not see anything. Medium power with the XW, I was not sure. A dim star. Not a lot in the field. A zig-zag nearby. Learned from ST3P that it had a faint companion. Should have been possibly with the Nagler. Panned a bit. I continued to struggle. Changed eyepieces again. And again. I thought not doable. [ed: Au contraire.]

[ed: Imaged with BGO and split B on 21 Mar '18.]

1:25. Power level had dropped. 13 hours left.

Slewed to Denebola in Leo.

The eyepieces were fogging. The dew heaters did not seem to be producing any heat.

Went to the house for a battery so to power the dew heaters independently. Returned with the heavy marine sealed acid block, the 10-amp unit. Swapped the sources. The wraps started to feel warm. I wonder if it that the old computer power supply does not put out enough amps. Never really considered this before. I just assumed.

Spotted the tight equal pair of stars, SAO 99800 aka HR 4531 aka BU 603. South of Denebola. Pale yellow.

One the stars in the zig-zag to the south of Denebola proper was the D star. Easy. Extremely wide. Mag 8. ST3P said the B star, while very far away, was below the aperture limit of the C8. C was doable though... Returned to the 'scope. I did not see C. Meh.

The Celestron Plössl 26mm 1¼" was fogging up. Just not getting anywhere... The super-cold eyepieces in the tray seemed to be out of commission. The baader was OK.

Asteroids? No...

Chose the next item, in Leo Minor. Another big meridian flip. Wasting time. 11 LMi. ST3P said there was a huge difference in mag. Marked to re-observe. Might need a bigger 'scope given B is mag 14...

Chose 35 Sextantis.

1:57. Quite close, the A and B. STF 1466. Sometimes B looked blue, sometimes white. Why was it on my list? In many "showpiece" lists. Probably because I had not split the C and D at ½ an arc-second. Launched the browser to check my notes. Oh, I had never logged the colour for the third element. C looked orange. North was up for me. These stars were in a grouping that reminded me of the pot of the Big Dipper. AB north/up and C south-south-west. The angle of AB was toward the kitty-corner star, SAO 118444. Tried different magnifications. Panned. Simply could not split C and D.

2:08 Shoot. I moved the mount while pressing on the dew strap. Synced.

Started thinking about stopping...

Slewed to the next target but it was in the trees.

Slewed to the other side of the meridian and synced.

Slewed to Jupiter in Libra. Saw three moons only. Europa was in front of the planet according to SkyTools.

Looked for other suggestions. Nothing. And we're done.

Used the hibernate function on the mount. Parked the OTA and killed the power. De-energised the dew heaters.

2:33. Packed up.

Checked conditions. OneWorld said: -5.6°, 25%, 884. The battery indicator was showing.

Replaced the tent fly. Closed the observing roof portal. Whoa. Frost crystals on tent.

Powered down the supply.

Grabbed stuff and headed to the house.

2:46. The observer has left the building...

Oops. Realised as I was crawling into bed that I forgot to bring the recorder in... In fact, I forgot to turn it off! I hoped when the power ran out it would not corrupt any data.


It was good to be back "working" in the backyard but I was not satisfied with the evening.

No problem on Polaris. I had just barely seen it the last time. The tent  position was very good this time. A bit further south. It was a bit further west too, well away from the driveway. Still, the security light was distracting.

The slipping focuser was irksome. I could not seem to dial out the problem.

Software issues. I did not enjoy the multiple computer failures. Some extreme. Lost settings a couple of times. And that wasted time.

Challenging conditions. Bad transparency. Caught out by the dew. Way colder than I expected. Not as good, overall, as I expected. Galaxies were not doable.

Many of the targets I did not have notes on. Didn't know specifically why they were on the list. I had used the high priority red arrow to mark some items.

Did not seem to have good targets for later in the evening.

I did not have good targets for Rhonda.

While I looked at about 20 things, overall, I didn't feel like I got much done.

Friday, March 16, 2018

set up in backyard

Started reviewing my set-up list from Evernote while listening to ambient Aes Dana.

Already had a list of celestial targets ready in SkyTools on the netbook computer. Actually, it was a list I prepared for the evening 22 Feb. Refreshed the open local weather pages. Updated the "Current" lists in the planning app.

Put some AAAs in the charging station.

Plugged in the first of two electric hand warmers.

Dug out the old "desk" lamp that I hacked years ago. It was in an astronomy box of infrequently used items. I don't recall when I last used this light, converted to 12 VDC. Jury-rigged it to a multi-voltage wall-wart. I still think it is too dim.

Inspected the eyepieces. All looked very clean (don't remember when I did that). Moved the old Celestron 26 from the ETX back to the case.

Activated red lights in the man cave. Activated red mode in SkyTools. Prepared red film for office tower computer.

Started staging things to go outside.

Grabbed the GFCI power bar.

Reprogrammed the OneWorld weather station as it seemed to have reset. Verified the units. Set the altitude, time, date, and local weather.

Located a Celestron data cable. Grabbed my old Prolific-based USB-serial adapter.

Previewed the sky in Stellarium.

Sent Rhonda a simulated image of the backyard just after sunset. The Winter Football will be prominent. She noted it is going to be cold...

Put the red film strips back on the router.

Tent pitched. Once again I wondered where the poles go... Three different lengths. 212.5" and 213.5" and the other. Forgot, at first, that the silver on the fly goes outside. Should officially sort this out.

Goofed on the shed lock although I think it was truly frozen. Should track down my deicer.

Power supplied. Moved the power cord already in the back yard after using it to run the heat gun. Connected the GFCI. Connected the red Xmas lights.

Mount installed on tripod. Two counterweights installed. Tested power to the mount and motor operation.

Cold out. And windy...

Tried to work a dovetail plate for the C8 to the CGEM... Installed an old Vixen plate to the OTA. It wasn't working. I inverted it after finding some short hex head bolts. Finally sorted it in the CGEM saddle with, ironically, with a thin metal plate for a Edmund Scientific telescope.

Checked the RA balance. Needed three counterweights. Used two from the Vixen SP and one from the Edmund. Sandwiched. Still tail heavy...

Installed rho's red mini LED light string. It works well on the ground in a triangle marking the tripod footprint.

Rhonda arrived home and peeked in.

6:56 PM. Done. Done the set-up... Whew. I'm pooped!

looking good Fri and Sat

First time in a long time I've seen this much dark blue.

local Clear Sky Chart for Friday

Checked other weather resources. It was looking good for two or more evenings...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

quickly tried Aladin 10

Briefly tried out the Aladin standalone Windows app, the latest version, 10. Downloaded it a couple of weeks ago but hadn't had a chance to take it for a spin. First thing I noticed was the dark grey background. All right! That's much better on the eyes... Noticed the navigation panel on the left but didn't play with it.

snapshot of the Aladin version 10 app

Centred on NGC 4725, turned on the SIMBAD labels, then turned on the Gaia labels. Selected the markers in the galaxy core. Looks good.

processed The 37 in colour

Processed the 37 Cluster in colour using the data files from 13 Nov '16.

37 Cluster in colour

Luminance 4x10, RGB 4x5 each. FITS Liberator, Photoshop.

And now? The colours...

A and B are merged but the left (east) side or edge looks white while the west edge of the blob shows hints of blue. So that would make A pure white and B blue-white. C is the same as B, white with a tinge of blue. Similarly D, E, G, H, I, J, L, M, N, O, and P are white with touches of blue. F is pale orange. K is tan or a dull orange. Q is vivid orange while R is deeper, leaning toward red.

I like the deep orange and red stars in the field.

examined the charging circuit

I examined and traced the circuit paths on the main PCB in the MotoMaster Nautilus 800A booster pack. Learned that charging via the built-in jack would directly send inlet power to the SLA battery. That is, there was no "smart" circuitry for managing the incoming power to the battery. That was bad news and good news. It suggests a smart external charger will avoid cooking the battery. All that needs to be done I believe is to hack a custom cord (with the correct polarity).


Tested the super-heated diode. 0.485 one way; infinity the other way. Looks OK.