Tuesday, March 20, 2018


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.

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.

night 2 in the tent (Bradford)

7:52 PM, Saturday. Back out to the observing tent. Readied for night 2.

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 carbiners 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. I put them left of the ASUS Eee PC. I wondered if 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 finderscope. 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. Connecting 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 better 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. Not 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. 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. Almost moved off but decided to probe deeper for my personal records. 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.

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 Eskimo 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. 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—frustat.

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. But I also considered hunting down

Saturday, March 17, 2018

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. Consider 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; 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 one, fixed the fly. The wind kept yanking some pegs out...

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 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 flap and secured it. Offered rho a comfy chair but she headed in.

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 finderscope 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 throught 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 Eskimo 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 Eskimo Nebula. 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 dialog 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.

Slewed to HD 79552 aka Struve 1327. With a "view again" tag. Sounded familiar. Changed the eyepiece to the Pentax. Neat. There was a cup to the south-east. 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. 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. Frustrating. "Have you turned it off and on again?!"

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

Slewed away and then back to Σ1327. Changed oculars.

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 2am. Next!

The note of the power supply had changed...

12:42. Mount was not tracking. Tapped it. 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. 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...]

Rhonda came out... 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.

Offered the view. She described a faint double. 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.

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.]

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.

Chose the next item, in Leo Minor. Another big meridian flip. Wasting time.

ST3P said there was a huge difference in mag. Marked to re-observe. Might need a bigger 'scope.

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!

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.

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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

took the flock off

Removed the black flocking material from the Celestron 8-inch dew shield. Four sheets. Investigated adhesives which will smoothly hold the dark paper flat against the shield inner surface instead of curling at the edges and being lumpy in the middle.

reviewed anti-dew gear

Updated my trip master packing list and made a mini packing list for astronomy box δ's contents.
  • custom 12 volt direct current (VDC) power supply with 3 cigarette lighter adapter (CLA) plugs
  • Kendrick dew heaters or "wraps" (x2)
  • Kendrick Dew Remover System VI controller
  • heating pad sheet hacked with RCA plug 
  • cheapo LED dimmer adapted as a heater controller
  • coffee cup warmers (x2) with cords LA
  • DC-DC power adapters (x2)
  • 12 VDC hair dryer
  • AC-DC wall-wart transformer
  • plastic sleeves 
  • fuses, spares, various amps, sizes, and types
All in one of my old metal toolboxes.

Of course, in the field, this must be powered. I still have my four heavy working gel lead-acid batteries...

It is a little amazing to me all the accessories needed to combat dew at the telescope...

transcending space-time

Saw the sad news this morning. One of the great minds is gone. Stephen Hawking died at age 76 in Cambridge. I'll remember him as brilliant, controversial, entrapped, and funny.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

go dark

A new study by Japanese scientists says that even a small amount of light in the bedroom at night is unhealthy. Their 4-year longitudinal study shows depressive symptoms arise in people with minimal exposure to light.

The March 2018 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology includes the full report. They note that "exposure to light at night... is the strongest disruptor of circadian physiology and behavior."

A few years ago I started using very dark fabric curtains with opaque lining in my bedroom and was astonished at how dark the room became at night. And I was acutely aware of light at night! I enjoyed somehow the darker quality of my bedroom and I like to think it is better for me.

Less light...

Binary Universe: the sky for some time

RASC members were notified of the most recent Journal issue. I downloaded the April edition.

cover of the April 2018 RASC Journal
The cover is graced by an astounding photograph by Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn during her first sojourn south of the equator. Stu McNair's image of aurora from the ARO within is lovely. Sheila Wiwchar's stunning photo of comet C/2016 R2 (PAN-STARRS) near the Pleaides adorns the back cover.

The featured essay is on the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory. I look forward to reading that.

My software column Binary Universe is entitled The Sky for the Next 580 Months. I reviewed the Android app Sky Events from Axl Softs which lists upcoming astronomical events including meteor showers and solar eclipses. I tested free advertisement-supported version 1.5.

made a functional diagram

I messaged Wayne with further information about the MotoMaster Nautilus 800A issue. I said that I felt the killed battery problem was ultimately due to the charger. "The wall wart charger is 'dumb' and causes the battery to overcharge and overheat."

I said that a simple solution was to charge very carefully, at the right time, and for a limited amount of time. I shared a key tip: recharge immediately after use. I reminded him that lead acid batteries must not discharged and then left idle. Wayne appreciated the suggestions.

He asked about an alternate charger.

I asked if he had heard of the "Battery Tender" products. Possibly one of those chargers could be used. He didn't have one; he had heard the name.

Or if he had a smart charger already perhaps it would work. As I suspected, he did have one, for his car(s). I explained that that's what I did, mind you, I had a simple wiring configuration for my marine batteries.

We wondered about the wiring inside the booster pack... Could an automotive external charger be used on the booster pack terminals? I was concerned that a reverse flow may not be appropriate. Could we tap in somewhere else?

Removed the inverter to get a better look inside.

I made up a functional wiring diagram incorporating the battery source, the inverter with dual AC outlets, the USB output power port, the cigarette light adapter (CLA) power jack, the tire compressor, the big kill switch, the internal fuse, the external posts for jump-starting, the green and red marine lights, and the main module with status button, indicator, and input power charging port. Sent a diagram to Wayne but shared my caution. He agreed. It looked like recharging by the external posts would send power into the main module circuit board.

Wayne updated me that he had sourced a candidate battery in Barrie with a planned pick-up on Friday.

I decided to dive deeper into the main module printed circuit board.

main module inside Nautilus battery pack

Whoa! What happened to the rectifier diode?!

Monday, March 12, 2018

replaceable SLA

Wayne pinged me on Facebook. He wanted to know if I knew a source for batteries so that he could replace the dead lead-acid battery inside his MotoMaster Nautilus 800A power tank.

Canadian Tire had told him the battery was not replaceable. They told him he'd have to dispose the entire unit. "Unbelieveable!" Indeed. That was not right.

Before I had a chance to respond, he found my blog post on the teardown. He could clearly see that the sealed battery inside can be removed and replaced. I confirmed this.

I suggested Sayal might have an equivalent marine battery. I also suggested the "battery place" in Barrie—the name escaped me but Wayne found it: Total Battery. Unfortunately, they did not stock it. He was going to visit Sayal on Thursday. I also suggested Amazon.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

found a better simulator

Went looking for another black-body simulation resource. Found a simple tool written by Michael Topping.

snapshot of another black-body simulator

Very nice! Done simply with Javascript.

Hmmm. Now could a new version be made to show two stars...?

tried a black-body simulator

Returned to the Star Observer blog and admired the open cluster sketches. They really are fascinating. Headed into the Articles section and read his report on 40 Eridani. Then I checked one of his resources, the black-body radiation graphical tool from the University of Colorado, one of the PhET Interactive Simulations.

PhET black-body spectrum simulator snapshot

Cool! This got me thinking again about an interactive tool while at the eyepiece that could show double star colours...

Oh. The PhET tool is implemented with Flash. I wondered if there were other solutions that did not rely on Flash software.

Friday, March 09, 2018

watched Woodford's talk

Catherine Woodford presented Gravitational Waves: The Sirens of the Universe to the RASC Toronto Centre on Wednesday. Sirens. Nice. I totally missed this event. I would have liked to hear her speak and have an opportunity to ask questions. Happily I watched the raw video feed. I particularly enjoyed her remarks on the binary neutron star observations which, at the time, I didn't pay much attention to. But that observation was as ground-breaking as the black hole merger detections. An accessible and entertaining talk.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

notched ETX

Finished the ETX repair.

Tore down the base again so to remove the fork arms from the OTA. Cut notches in the back edge of the plastic so to allow the new larger, protruding bolt heads to pass without interference.

ETX 90 with new bolts and notches in forks

As I was doing this, I realised there might be interference from the interior metal plates. I had planned to reinstall the right hand one but I elected to leave both out. This would completely avoid collisions. As far as I can tell the plates only offer protection. So no harm if they are not present. And the weight of the whole assembly drops a bit.

The little MCT is up and running again.

Monday, March 05, 2018

edited DS video online

Betty and Andrew provided the edited video for my double star presentation delivered on 21 Feb.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

improved caps

Improved the fit of binoculars objective caps using some narrow electrical tape. Choose yellow to improve visibility. Now they don't fall off.

made filters for the bins

Made solar filters for my binoculars using an extra set of Wyoming solar glasses. For my old Bushnell Ensign 7x50 clunkers...

custom solar filters for binoculars

Made the faces and tubes from a black file folder. Used white glue. Sandwiched the solar film frame between two face pieces. Installed elastic bands to hold the tubes onto the objectives. Finished by affixing the solar glasses instructions and warnings to the tubes.

They work great.


Only problem is we're at solar minimum...

three in a row

I am not enjoying this. It looked like late last week that it was going to be relatively clear for a couple of nights in a row, possibly three. That was the first long run in a while--a sign we're retreating from the February blahs. Now the Moon was nearly full but I could have tackled some double stars. But the big problem was the wind. I saw predictions in the 40 and 50 km/h range. Ugh.

It'd be real nice to get another shot like this is the coming weeks...

Saturday, March 03, 2018

next council meeting

The next RASC Toronto Centre council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday 14 March. It is to be held at the Petrie Science and Engineering (PSE) building at York University but with the strike and pickets, it may be relocated.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

avoiding strikes

Just finishing reading A.C. Clarke's Hammer of God. Easy read by one of my favourite speculative fiction authors. It describes human efforts to prevent a large asteroid hitting the Earth. Set in the future, they have some exotic technology to aide their efforts. It is a stark reminder that we do not have a good plan in place.

the first order

Heard from the developer that the first order for SkyTools by a RASC member was received. Very happy. The ball is rolling!