Monday, July 30, 2018

Binary Universe: a new weather forecasting tool

I spotted a post on Facebook noting the release of August edition of the RASC Journal.

cover of the August 2018 RASC Journal
There is another article on masking in Photoshop, with a goal of reducing noise, which I look forward to reading.

The article on early research at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory sounds intriguing.

My Binary Universe column this month features the Astrospheric weather resource. I refer to the web site as well as the apps for iOS and Android.

Lovely sketches and photos as usual.


Finally updated my photo for my column. Rhonda approved.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

TESS starts up

Spotted the article over at Spaceflight Now on TESS. The commissioning is complete and the space telescope is beginning science operations. w00t! The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite began its two-year science mission Wednesday. The first dataset will be downlinked in August. It will be exciting to see the new discoveries made. Sara is quoted in the article.

Friday, July 27, 2018

greetings from Earth

Hello Mars!

she spotted Mars

Rhonda peeked out the window and noted the big, bright Moon. Whatever. Then she asked about the bright orange star nearby. We wondered if it was Mars. She fired up SkySafari on her phone but didn't understand the view. I suggested she verify the date and time was correct. Then rho got a good simulated view to match the sky. It was Mars. Near opposition!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Sun and Moon

Noticed rho's necklace this morning as she headed out the door: Sun and crescent Moon. Pretty.

Monday, July 23, 2018

wrote next article

Drafted the next Journal article. Trying to get ahead...

Saturday, July 21, 2018

did some IT work

Helped at the DDO with IT matters.

First Chris and I visited the dome and gathered together miscellaneous computer peripherals. There are a few keyboards and mice now so to help run some of the boxes we pulled from storage. I helped Chris with the PA system which he was very pleased with. We found a mobile computer cart that would prove useful for the Skylab setup. We returned to the Admin building.

We labelled and tested the various system units. Some were running Windows; some Linux. We reviewed all the video boards available. The newest, unfortunately, needs a special power input from the PSU and now of the machines would support this. But a dual-out video board with PCI-E interface looked promising. I installed it in one of the extra Dell OptiPlex machines and got it working well with the official drivers installed. We elected to make this computer the prime unit for the Skylab. I installed Stellarium 0.18.1. I gathered together the needed cables so it would be self-standing, complete. We configured and tested it in the presentation room. Good stuff.

Then I set up the Canon multi-function printer. I configured it to offer a wireless access point and did test printing from my old netbook computer. Shared the good news with Bhairavi.

Friday, July 20, 2018

your monthly double stars

Issued my double star "bulletin" for July. It is a short list of suggested double and multi-star targets. I shared this on the RASC Toronto Centre forums. And I post here for all.


Happy Moon Landing Day. Speaking of our nearest celestial neighbour… even though Luna is getting brighter and brighter in the evening, you can still do astronomy. Double stars punch through moon-lit skies!

After delivering my double stars presentation in February, I thought a periodic post with fun multi-star systems would be interesting. Here’s a short selection of doubles from my life list, ones I find very impressive. Good for July. I did not include terribly tight targets.

staralso known asalternate catalogue 
HR 6043 in CrBSTT 305HIP 79350
T DraES 20HIP 87820
γ (gamma) DraEtamin, Eltanin, or Burnham 633SAO 30653
α (alpha) HerRasalgethi or STF 2140HIP 84345
HD 159481 in OphΣ (Struve) 2185SAO 122529

I encourage you to add these to your observing list. Doubles are easy, challenging, interesting, colourful, dynamic–always fun!

Let me know how you did! Happy to take questions.

Blake Nancarrow
astronomy at computer-ease dot com

Monday, July 16, 2018

brain bending stuff

Had a very interesting conversation with rho which started at the end of our after-dinner walk. As we slowly neared home, savouring the quiet warm air, enjoying the Moon and Venus in a pretty sky, the Moon down and right, just a couple of degrees apart, checking the separation with our hands, wondering where Mercury was, I think I said that the Moon was "drawing closer" to Venus. And that it was going to "zip past" Venus and be beyond it by a few degrees tomorrow. She immediately disagreed. She looked at me like I was from Mars.

"The Moon isn't going toward Venus; Venus is going toward the Moon." And they were going down, west. Like the Sun! Part of it was terminology. Was it an orientation issue? I wasn't explaining some of the concepts clearly. I felt that part of it was the complexity of the multiple vectors or sets of motion.

We talked briefly about occultations before heading indoors.

Later, winding down for the night, we enjoyed Ian's photo (on Facebook) of Venus "in the cradle" of the Moon, Earthshine showing, we reopened the topic of celestial motion. I launched SkyTools to get some data.

In the Interactive Atlas, zoomed in on the scene, I showed how moment by moment, the Moon could be seen moving eastward, toward Venus, very quickly. I had mentioned this outside that through a telescope, tight on the Moon, one would see stars disappearing on the east edge of the Moon. All the while, Venus was moving too, surprisingly fast actually, against the background stars.

This really threw Rhonda.

I included the horizon line in the chart to show how the planets, including Mercury, and the Moon, were setting, falling into the western horizon. That was the major or significant observed motion over the course of minutes and hours of time. Then I showed the scene the following night where the Moon was now a thicker crescent and left of Venus. I showed that the Moon had "hopped" over the planet. Day by day records would show the Moon travelling east.

I think I hurt her brain. She thought everything moved east to west. I explained that was true for all deep sky objects and the stars. Yes.

And, again, I tried to distinguish between the Earth's rotation. The diurnal motion. The 24-hour rotation of our planet. Under the sky.

Opened Stellarium for smoother time control. Tried to use the Solar System Observer feature but couldn't get it to work. Assumed the old version on John Repeat Dance didn't have the capability. [ed: Not true. Feature is present in version 0.12.4. Use the whole words, not the acronym SSO, while searching to select it.]

She asked why the ecliptic line was moving. Let's leave that for later, I suggested...

Tried to simulate the solar system motions in Solar System Scope web site but it didn't load properly in my old Chrome browser. [ed: And it no longer works on the John Charles computer—Javascript errors.]

Found another simulator, The Sky Live. I positioned us over the north pole of the Sun and speed up the time factor. We watched the planets orbit around our star. Unfortunately, this resource did not show the Moon around the Earth. But then, I assumed, the scale would be a challenge...

inner solar system view from above

I emphasised that everything was rotating counter clockwise. All the planets were moving counter clockwise. And that, in general, all the prime solar system objects, including all the moons around the planets, did the same thing. What?!

Something clicked. I could see her brain rewiring. "I never thought of it that way."

We talked a bit about spin and conservation of momentum in early solar system formation. We talked a bit about exoplanet systems and their motions. We talked about why up is up and north is north.

"The counter clockwise motion of the planets in the solar system and the Moon accounts for the eastward motion of the objects in the sky." I wanted to keep it simple, not getting into retrograde apparent motion, the inferior planet motions, etc. Another day...

We talked a bit about orbits and that in general they were all elliptical. Nothing was a perfect circle. She wanted circles. Nope. Ellipses are common. We talked a bit about solar system orbit migration.

We talked a bit about orbital speeds. I misinterpreted a question initially but clarified that the orbital speeds were in fact different: faster for the inner; slower for the outer.

I played with the date/time settings is TSL. We talked a bit about now being an awesome time to look at Mars from the Earth, given their proximity and given Mars's offset orbital path.

While in the tool, moving freely in space, I zoomed out. It was clear the Pluto is very different than all the other official planets, looping inside Neptune for a time, very elliptical, and highly inclined.

I still wanted to show a simulation of the Moon spinning around the rapidly spinning Earth all while the planets drifted slowly around the Sun. I mentally noted to look for a tool.

Mind blown...

Monday, July 09, 2018

today's Mars facts

Here is some updated Mars info.

The Earth-Mars distance is 0.4 AU right now. That's approximately 60 000 000 kilometres. This continues to decrease toward opposition.

The phase is 0.98 or 98%. Nearly full.

The magnitude is -2.44. Quite bright. And will increase.

Current apparent visible size is 22". This will increase too.

It crosses the meridian, above the south cardinal point, at around 3:00 AM.

Mars will reach opposition in about 17 days.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

colourful crest

Rhonda won a draw prize at the Open House and Awards Picnic. She picked out an embroidered patch, the new one for the RASC 150th anniversary.

RASC 150th anniversary crest

Then she handed it to me. Ah! Thank you!

We identified the Moon, colourful stars, comet, open cluster, galaxy with globular clusters, and the aurora. Very nice.


We missed the Manicouagan astrobleme alluding to impact cratering in the Canadian Shield.

recognised for double star work

After recognising the recipients of the Ontario Volunteer Service Awards, the president Ralph Chou announced the winners of the RASC Toronto Centre awards. I was astonished when I heard my name called for the Bert Topham Award for Observing, notably for my double star work, both at the local centre level and nationally. Wow. What a surprise!

Bertram J Topham became fascinated with astronomy after the First World War and built a large observatory behind his home. He observed rather faint variable stars with great precision. He also searched for novae and comets. He was a careful observer of aurora and made significant contributions to meteor research. In 1984, the Toronto Centre created the award for outstanding observers.

I am honoured to have my name with the likes of Guy Nason, Bob Chapman, Andy Beaton, Tom Luton, to name a few.

Friday, July 06, 2018

scanned solargraph 2 (Bradford)

Scanned the solargraph from our backyard pinhole camera, installed December 2017. A rather different result than June 2017.

backyard solargraph 2017-2018

There was some strange shadows but I like the look better. Processed with an hp scanner and GIMP.

Monday, July 02, 2018

no Mercury but a fantastic fireball (Bradford)

During the drive home, Rhonda repeatedly looked for Mercury, staring out the car window and comparing the scene to the view in SkySafari.

As we arrived home, we decided to try for some elevation, atop the water tower hill west of the St Teresa Of Calcutta Catholic School.

Too late. We noted Venus was low while Leo was still fully visible. When I checked her smartphone, I found the time was not current. When set dynamically, we found Mercury was well below the horizon. Oh well.

We turned west for the car and followed the foot path to Mills Court. As I scanned the sky, I spotted something strange. For a good second of time, I was transfixed. But then I called out and pointed. Rhonda saw it too.

It was a relatively slow-moving fireball! Low in the eastern sky, exiting Sagittarius, travelling below Aquila and Cygnus. Parts were breaking off, it was fragmenting, leaving a long glowing train. The meteor was yellow, not terribly bright. It was amazing.

We noted the time. Headed home. And I submitted a report to the International Meteor Organization. We were assigned number 144047 (link).


Several observations were added to ours. The IMO issued a formal report, number 2018-2286 (link).

northbound fireball

The plotted trajectory closely matches our observation. Exciting!