Tuesday, December 31, 2019

year in review

It's been a while. So I thought I have a look-back at the year. What did I do in astronomy?


I observed (and imaged) from a variety of locations. There was one from—or rather, over—Lachute, Québec. From Ontario, there was St Thomas, Richmond Hill, the York region in general, the Blue Mountains, of course, Mississauga, Toronto, close to home including Holland Landing and Aurora, and Bradford West Gwillimbury. I briefly observed from Pinckney, Michigan. All the BGO imaging was from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

optics used

I was privileged to use a lot of different equipment, for visual astronomy and astrophotography, over the year. I used my Mark I eyeballs, my Bushnell 10x50 binoculars, in equatorial mode, the Meade ETX 90mm Maksutov-Cassegrain (MCT) fork-mounted (RA version) telescope from Charles, and my trusty Super Polaris Celestron 8-inch (SPC8).

At the Carr Astronomical Observatory (CAO), in the Geoff Brown Observatory (GBO), I used the GSO 16" (GSO16) Ritchey-Chrétien telescope (for both visual and photographic) and the Tele Vue 101mm (TV101) refractor. I also tried the GSO 8" RC imaging system (with my camera) in the Sue-Lora Observatory (SLO). It's always a treat to look through Ian W's custom 20" Newtonian Dobsonian.

My brother-in-law Steve brought over his Celestron 60mm 25x spotting scope so we could check out the Moon in front of a star cluster. I looked through a bunch of 'scopes at Bayview Village Park while helping Tess with her ETX 90 GoTo. I continued to use the robotic 24" RC with dual CCD cameras in the Burke-Gaffney Observatory (BGO) at St Mary's University (SMU).

I briefly used a Coronado Personal Solar Telescope (PST) at the Richmond Hill (RH) David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) during a kid's summer camp day. And I continued my training on the DDO 74" telescope (in Cassegrain mode).


Did a bunch of imaging over the year, with robotic camera systems and my own gear.

As mentioned, I continued to use the BGO. As I (soft) completed the Finest NGC project a while ago, I haven't been aiming at New General Catalogue targets per se. Wanted to get the only one that BGO could not see with Lane's ARO rig but a technical issue prevented it. I'll try again in 2020. If it works, then I can claim to have imaged all the Finest with robotic telescopes (in Nova Scotia).

Now I still used BGO but for random miscellaneous stuff. Like comet Africano aka C/2018 W2 and quasar CTA 102.

Doubled-down on a few Messiers, catalogue objects that I have only viewed once before. M100 was amazing.

Lots of double stars. More on that later...

Arp 330 was fun. Lots of galaxies in a single frame. Some call this the "Golden Chain." Intriguing. My data is not great but I'll try to process it in colour.

Imaged a couple of stars with high proper motion, e.g. Wolf 359. Made calendar notes to return once a year. Once I have three or four frames, I'll trying making movies.

Imaged IK Pegasi, a potential outburst star. Again, I'll image this at least once a year. In case it pops.

Started using the app developed by Lane, the Android version a bit, mostly the Windows product. I have programmed it both for BGO and ARO. It's great getting immediate feedback.

Used the Canon 40D DSLR a bunch. Simple stuff atop a fixed tripod. I used the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer at the RASC observatory. I used my custom barn door tracker with integrated altitude-azimuth base (BDT+AAB). Fun using that rig. To make polar alignment easier with the BDT, I made a large chart. From the backyard, at long last I successfully imaged a International Space Station (ISS) flyover with Canuck David Saint-Jacques aboard.

And I finally got to use the SLO with my DSLR. Unfortunately, I was coerced into training, the following time slot was booked, and I got dewed out. I was trying for a unique subject, Arp 272, a galaxy cluster in Hercules also known as Abell 2151. It includes NGC 6050. The whole thing is small and faint and I will need a lot more data.

Enjoyed making more star light paintings, this time on the GSO 16 with the the 40D. Fun on full Moon nights.

Oh! And I shot afocal through the DDO 74". Ha!

double stars

Um. Yeah. Did a wee bit of stuff on doubles...

Imaged a bunch of fast moving doubles. Imaged a number of "neglected" doubles. Broke 1500 split doubles. As noted with the 40D under the 74" beast, I took an afocal shot of Algieba (STF 1424). Sketched γ Herculis (SHJ 227).

Was pleased to learn that a YouTube watcher found my video helpful as someone getting started with measuring doubles.

I improved my double star plotter in Excel.

I was really happy to split β Monocerotis BC (STF 919) at 2.9" in little ETX from the backyard. I really enjoyed the intense blue of 31 Cygni (STF I 50 and HJ 1495), also with the ETX from "cupcakes."

Got a lot of work done on the RASC double star observing certificate programme. Won some arguments. But, sadly, we were not ready to button it up by the end of the year. Looks like it will launch in 2020.

Snagged Mullaney's book on double stars and read it over the holidays. Hrrm. I'll post my review shortly. Do you want the bad news first or last?

Concluded the year having a paper published in Journal of Double Star Observations (JDSO). That was a thrill! Maybe that's The Number One highlight. Hopefully, the first of many...

general RASC stuff

I continued writing for RASC Journal, once again, six software reviews in the Binary Universe column.

Saw the published addendum article on quasars, co-authored with Ian Wheelband, noted in 2020 Observer's Handbook.

Through discussion, occasional shared eyepiece views, mostly by my monthly short list of suggested targets, I continue to encourage RASC members to view doubles. First time in a long time, I went to "star party" at Bayview (again mainly to assist Tess). Delivered the September The Sky This Month (TSTM) presentation at the Ontario Science Centre.

I helped Betty, Andrew, Ward, and Ennio at RASC national General Assembly (GA) at York University. It was rather irksome how the audio-visual team was treated by the national office. Irksome? That's putting it nicely. But the RASC TC team sure hit the ball out of the park! We raised the bar with our multi-camera video recordings. Bittersweet, the whole experience. I really need to get to a GA just as a spectator.

And it was at this GA that I received the RASC Service Award medal for 10 years of volunteer support. They say it is a high honour. Still kinda freakin' out about that.

In something of a segue from the DDO administration, particularly when our hired employee was ramped up, I transitioned to things at the centre wide level. I took on vacant volunteer coordinator role. And the first order of business was to get a helper. Happily Alex D agreed to join my new team. I have high hopes. There will be some challenges but we all think it a core function for the centre.

In January, with Ian, I refereed Chris's RASC Messier certification application. It was fun and interesting diving deep into someone's log book. In November, I co-presented with Adrian, certificates for the Explore the Universe, Messier, and Finest NGC to Nick. Well done!

Carr Astronomical Observatory

While I didn't get to the CAO as much this year, I still helped at both of the work parties. Did a bunch of Information Technology (IT) tasks. In particular, procured a new high-speed gateway, applied major upgrades to the wireless local area network (WLAN), deployed a new server for the house, and set up a camera to monitor the generator.

I also helped Mr McKinney in the deployment of the SLO, mostly web site material. We also sorted remote operations.

Did my two CAO tours of duty as supervisor. I had deliberately chosen "quiet" weekends, not new Moons, to give myself a breather. They were both pleasant.

I remained on the committee.

David Dunlap Observatory

I was very active at the DDO in 2019. In many ways. With the chair stepping down and the co-chair stepping way back, the horses were looking for some direction. So I grabbed the reins.

With my administrative hat on, I coached and supervised our paid assistant. I coordinated many of the public nights. I developed the "missing manuals," procedure guides for planners and facilitators. With Richmond Hill (RH) staff, I planned 2020 events. I continued as a committee member.

From the technical support side of things, I got the MallinCam working on the finder scope. I figured out the true field of view (TFOV) and magnification of the antique eyepiece. I tuned up a few of our loaner telescopes.

Helped with a bunch of education and public outreach (on top of the program nights). I helped at one of the Western Space Camp days. I hosted a special interest group from British Columbia. Did a Stellarium show, answered lots of questions, etc.

Enjoyed looking at stuff through the 74-inch behemoth. Took in an amazing view of Jupiter with Io in foreground in July, a stunning view of Saturn in August, and a fantastic view of Izar. It was awesome having big-kid Tony dS rotate the dome for me. Big grin moment.

And, of course, I continued my 74" training. Feeling pretty good. It helped me immensely getting my hands on Chris's instruction manual and continuing it's development with Chris and Ron. Learned a lot, stuff we take for granted with modern mounts, like sidereal time and hour angles. There's a lot at stake operating a 25 ton piece of equipment with little or no safeguards.

With the other members of the DDO committee, received the Andrew Elvins award. The citation recognised the "significant efforts at organizing and restarting the Toronto Centre’s outreach efforts at the David Dunlap Observatory in 2018." I was happy to help the DDO team. I was happy to support these activities on behalf of RASC. And was satisfied to put on good shows for Richmond Hill's customers.


Tackled and hacked a few DIY projects in 2019.

I made a custom dew heater controller from scratch. Very pleased with the end result, a controller with 4 outputs with 2 ganged controls, performance indicators, and a brilliant nickname. I think it was the most complex circuit design and layout I've undertaken. A neat little outcome of this was learning how to shared online an interactive 3D image.

In conjunction, I made a custom dew strap. After all these years and after collecting metres and metres of nichrome wire, I developed a good solution! And it works well. Gotta do more now!

A driver for making a new controller was that I thought I had damaged one of my other units. In the end, I found the cheapo one-output LED dimmer to be OK. I have good coverage now and different sized units for different applications.

Finally made a simple little external battery pack for ETX. Makes it so much easier to use while maintaining portability/transportability. It will prevent nasty leaks inside as well. It will avoid charging non-chargeable batteries!

I hacked the finder on ETX by attaching a camera angle finder. It is amazing, a game-changer, taking the use of the 'scope from mind-numbing frustration to comfortable, fast pointing. What a treat. And the icing on the cake was making a custom adapter from 3D printed parts.

These two things proved incredibly important actually. They let me quickly use the ETX. I can be outside and eye-to-eyepiece in 30 minutes. And tear down is equally fast. And this is affording short, quick sessions in the backyard which I'm committed (desperate?) to doing more often.

In a moment of illumination, I figured out a simple, fast, easy solution for drawing circles for sketches. It had been on my wish list for a few years to get a plastic template or stencil. The scathingly wonderful idea: food can lids. Simple, safe, fast, easy, free. I now have 3 or 4 sizes in the sketching case.

Fixed a SynScan hand controller for friends. Water, dew probably, on the circuit board.

And I started collecting bits for Dobsonian conversion. I have a nice design to follow to do a non-invasive change (thank you Stellafane) to the Edmund Scientific 6" reflector to turn it into a fast grab-and-go 'scope. I have the plywood (er, with lots of extra, to make carrying cases!)—thank you Home Depot. I have the counter-top material—thank you Clay. I have sourced virgin Teflon...

other interesting

Under the miscellaneous category, a few other highlights and interesting moments from 2019.

Started beta testing SkyTools 4 Visual for Greg. Lots of good changes.

Received an interesting little book from my sister made by the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO). Somehow poignant with all my DDO dealings.

Speaking of DDO, met Dr Morton who worked there. And met the Hubes, also with experiences at the DDO. Met all of them on the GA.

Started writing for the local newspaper. I hope to stretch here a bit in terms of writing. This audience knows nothing or little, so it will be fun to educate, entertain, demystify, and inspire. It's already satisfying reading some of the comments, along the lines, "Keep it coming." Or, people seeing the article as uplifting given all the other gloom and doom.

Helped a cousin's husband get started in the hobby. I hope he'll get to some local club events and absorb some distant photons. I wonder if Santa will bring him a shiny Dobsonian...

Didn't do quite as much backyard observing as I could have but still, I had some good moments.

In fact, early on was the colourful lunar eclipse January. Remember that evening, the teeth rattling cold air (in Ontario)? Fun event but c-o-l-d.

As noted, the ETX, newly configured, is proving to a worthy grab-and-go solution. Had a great run of two back-to-back backyard nights in June. But it's small.

Enjoyed setting up tent (with new metal pegs) in August. Miss using the SPC8. Not a great run in terms of weather but I still had a lot of fun.

We all enjoyed the amazing transparency at CAO in July. Saw some good δ Aquarid meteors this year.

And, somehow, someway, it was a great way to finish off the year seeing, the Moon and Venus low in the west on my journey from Mom's back home.

Hope in the darkness.

found double star paper published

My paper Measurement of Rasalgethi with a DSLR Camera was published in the Journal of Double Star Observations - Volume 16 Number 1 January 1, 2020, starting on page 68. See the current issue at the JDSO site. The complete January issue may be downloaded in PDF form (approx. 6.5 MB). My specific piece may be downloaded separately (approx. 700 KB).

found December Journal

Has it been officially announced? I must of missed it. But then, I also did not receive my special copy from Edgar. Huh.

Certainly members can download it from the RASC site.

cover for the Dec 2019 Journal

I found the December 2019 issue of the Journal. Lots of great photographs. And an interesting sketch by Ian W.

In my column, Binary Universe, I shared my observations of Scope Nights for iOS. I tested version 2.5.1.


Did I even get a chance to proof it?! I don't think so!

There's a gross error in my article. The incorrect snapshot is shown for figure 5! It should be this:

Scope Nights map showing observatories and dark sky preserves

Figure 5 — The map can also show observatories and dark sky preserves.


I learned that the printed edition was corrected before publication. And a new version of the PDF was put on the server. Purportedly a notice will go out to members...

Monday, December 30, 2019

astronomy for campers

Co-delivered astronomy presentations with Ian W. I made a custom slide deck: astronomy for the recreational camper. Fun. Unfortunately, we were clouded out.

noted the Dorner donation

I told Louise about the Dorner donation, that I had provided Geoff's old Edmund Scientific 4" Newtonian reflector (that had come from the RASC Montréal Centre) to Randall, as we both saw it a fitting exhibit for the future Canadian telescope museum. She was pleased.

[ed: Edited on 11 Apr 2020, adding the hyperlink to the museum.]

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Moon under Venus (St Thomas)

Spotted an amazing sight, a thin red Moon directly below bright Venus. The Moon was quite young and very low. It turned a deeper red as it slowly sank. Oh, to have a real camera... Reminded me of the flag and emblem of Libya.

trail blazer

Christina Koch, astronaut from the United States, Michigan state, is blazing a new trail today... Check out the post at NASA.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

received cool hoodie

Received a cool item for Christmas 2019, with an astronomy theme. It's a fleece hoodie by ethical clothing company tentree.

tentree Constellation Juniper hoodie

It's made of organic cotton and recycled polyester. The graphic at the shoulders is neat, with stars and constellations over a forest of trees. The graphic is made with glow-in-the-dark ink!

received shirt of matter

Received a funny t-shirt from Mom. Aah. She thinks I matter. Isn't that sweet?

You Matter t-shirt

This will be fun to sport at gatherings with my peeps, the astro geeks.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

updated Stellarium shortcuts for Mac

Performed testing with Stellarium 0.18.3 on an iMac (21.5-inch) running OS X 10.11.6 using a Apple Wireless Keyboard (A1314 third generation). I sorted some issues; and I encountered some new challenges.

This is an update of my keyboard and mouse shortcuts listing. This reference is for Windows and Macintosh computers.

New with this update is the "notes" column to the far right with numbers keyed to the footnotes. For example, 1 is used to indicate newly added or recently changed items.

controlling the surroundings

show Location window
Fn F64
toggle cardinal compass points qq
toggle ground and buildings
toggle ground fog
toggle atmosphere or air
toggle sky glow/building lights
Shift g
Shift g
ground (mountain) labels
Ctrl Shift g
⌘ Shift g
return to "home" (start-up) view
Ctrl h

controlling the sky - deep sky

toggle stars
toggle star labels
Alt s
Option s
toggle constellation lines
toggle constellation boundaries
toggle constellation labels
toggle constellation artwork
toggle asterism lines
Alt a
Option a
toggle asterism labels
Alt v
Option v
toggle ray helpers
Alt r
Option r
toggle DSO/nebula labelsn or d
n or d
nebula background images
toggle quasars
Ctrl Alt q
⌘ Option q3, 5
toggle zodiacal light
Ctrl Shift z
⌘ Shift z
toggle Milky Way
toggle digital sky survey
Ctrl Alt d
⌘ Option d6
exoplanet labels, indicators
Ctrl Alt e
⌘ Option e5
show Sky and Viewing Options
Fn F4

single constellation mode

remove previous constellations
show all constellations
Option w1

the sky - solar system

toggle planets and Moon
toggle planet and Moon labels
Alt p
Option p
toggle planet markers
Ctrl p
⌘ p
toggle planet orbits
toggle star-lore planet names
Ctrl Shift n
⌘ Shift n
toggle planet trails
Shift t
Shift t
toggle planet surface labels
Alt n
Option n9
toggle meteor radiants
Ctrl Shift m
⌘ Shift m
toggle meteor radiant labels
Shift m
Shift m

controlling lines

toggle altitude/azimuth grid
toggle equatorial grid
toggle ecliptic line
, (comma)
toggle celestial equator
. (period)
toggle meridian line
toggle horizon line

changing image presentation

flip horizontally
Ctrl Shift h
⌘ Shift h
flip vertically
Ctrl Shift v
⌘ Shift v
equatorial or azimuthal mode
Ctrl m
⌘ m
look to east (or n, w, s)
Shift e
Shift e
look up to zenith
Shift z
Shift z
look to NCP
Alt Shift n
Option Shift n
look to SCP
Alt Shift s
Option Shift s


zoom in
PgUp or
Ctrl Up Arrow

Fn Up Arrow
zoom out
PgDn or
Ctrl Dn Arrow

Fn Down Arrow
zoom in or out slowly
Shift with keys
Shift with keys1
quickly zoom in/out
mouse wheel
mouse wheel
zoom close to selected object
/ (slash)
zoom out fully
\ (backslash)
zoom very close to planet
/ twice
/ twice
set field of view (FOV) to 180°
Ctrl Alt 1
set FOV to 90°
Ctrl Alt 2
... through ...
set FOV to 2°
Ctrl Alt 8
set to 1°
Ctrl Alt 9
to ½°
Ctrl Alt 0


quickly pan celestial sphere
pan right
Right Arrow
Right Arrow
pan left
Left Arrow
Left Arrow
pan up
Up Arrow
Up Arrow
pan down
Down Arrow
Down Arrow
pan a small amount
Shift Arrow-key 
Shift Arrow-key

controlling time flow

set date/time to now
set time rate to zero
increase time flow
l (lower case L)
decrease time flow
run time at normal rate
increase time flow a little
Shift l (that's L)
Shift l
decrease time flow a little
Shift j
Shift j
drag for time
Ctrl drag
Control drag10
flip time direction
0 (zero)1

time with mouse wheel

increase/decrease by minutes
increase/decrease by hours
Ctrl Shift
⌘ Shift1
increase/decrease by days
Ctrl Alt
⌘ Option1
increase/decrease by years
Ctrl Alt Shift

controlling "regular" time

show date/time window
Fn F5
forward 1 hour solar
Ctrl = (equal)
⌘ =
backward 1 hour
Ctrl - (hyphen)
⌘ -
forward 1 day solar
= (equal)
backward 1 day
- (hyphen)
forward 1 week solar
backward 1 week

controlling sidereal time

forward 1 day sidereal
Alt = (equal)
Option =
backward 1 day
Alt - (hyphen)
Option -
forward 1 year sidereal
Ctrl Alt Shift ]
⌘ Option Shift ]
backward 1 year
Ctrl Alt Shift [
⌘ Option Shift [

working with objects

select an object
centre on selected object
toggle tracking of object
deselect object
display search dialogue box
Ctrl f or F3
⌘ f or Fn F3
go, i.e. travel, to a planet
Ctrl g
⌘ g
toggle angular measurement
Ctrl a
⌘ a5
copy object info to clipboard
Ctrl c
⌘ c
add custom marker
Shift click
Shift click
remove custom marker
Shift right-click
Control Shift click
remove all custom markers
Alt Shift right-click
Opt. Ctrl. Sh. click

working with satellites

configure artificial satellites
Alt z
Option z
toggle satellite display or "hints"
Ctrl z
⌘ z
toggle satellite labels
Alt Shift z
Alt Shift z

controlling the screen

toggle night (red light) mode
Ctrl n
⌘ n
toggle full-screen mode
toggle toolbars/menus, i.e. GUI
Ctrl t
⌘ t
save screenshot to disk
Ctrl s
⌘ s
toggle planet selection marker
Ctrl Shift p
⌘ Shift p1
close a window/dialogue box

controlling the application

show configuration window
Fn F2
show help/about window
Fn F1
show script console window
keyboard shortcuts window
Fn F7
show Astro. Calc. window
Fn F10
show Bookmarks window
Alt b
Option b
show Exoplanets config window
Alt e
Option e5
show meteor settings window
Ctrl Alt Shift m
⌘ Option Shift m5
show meteor search window
Ctrl Alt m
⌘ Option m5
quit from Stellarium
Ctrl q
⌘ q

  1. Recently added or changed shortcuts.
  2. On the Mac, the shortcut ⌘ h hides the app. This is an operating system shortcut.
  3. On the Mac, the shortcut ⌘ Shift q causes Stellarium to quit. 
  4. The operation of function keys on both Windows and Mac computers may require the use of a function or Fn key.
  5. Keyboard shortcuts associated with a plug-in. They may not function if the plug-in is not active.
  6. The digital sky survey layering feature refers to the display as a "hierarchical progressive" sky survey.
  7. The "remove" constellation shortcut applies when "single constellation mode" is active, as triggered in Configuration, Tools.
  8. The F11 does not work on iMac 21.5 and 2011 wireless keyboard.
  9. Referred to as surface "nomenclature" labels. This marks detailed surface features on planets, for example, Olympus Mons on Mars.
  10. On the Mac, only works when mouse is dragged horizontally. Only changes seconds.
Some shortcuts were omitted. Notably those for the oculars plug-in. And those to do with scripting.

Finally, of course, Mac documentation and keyboard labelling is inconsistent. We note the symbols below:

⌘ (cloverleaf) is the Command key,
      with the apple symbol on very old systems
⌃ (carat) is the Control key
⌥ is the Option (alt) or alternate key
⇧ (up arrow) is the Shift key
⇪ (up arrow with segments) indicates that the Caps Lock is used
fn or Fn is the Function key

Please report errors in the comments below...

Monday, December 23, 2019

saw stars and constellations (Elgin County)

It was clear as Mom drove from London to St Thomas. I was able to take in the night sky as we wove our way along Wellington Road and Highway 3 bypass. I could see bright stars and a couple of constellations. Cygnus was setting in the west. The Summer Triangle was still above the horizon. Climbing Orion was to the south-east. Too bad I didn't have a telescope... Looked like a good night.

saw a deep red sunset (Guelph)

From my aisle front-facing seat on the train to London, through the window, I could see an extraordinary red sunset. "For the heaven is red." A delight for sailors, shepherds, and astronomers. That would have been spectacular to photograph.

picked up DAMS AHTOT book

Visited the Toronto Public Library Reference Branch and picked up my held book: James Mullaney's Double and Multiple Stars and How to Observe Them. I can't remember if I have read this before; regardless it is timely as I research viewing doubles.

Double and Multiple Stars by MullaneyThis is an old book, published by Springer, copyrighted in 2005. Lots has happened in the last dozen years.

It is a small book, about 120 pages, with 45 figures. There are two main sections. The first deals, briefly, with the history of doubles and attempts to classify them. The second part gets into how to observe doubles including some discussion on telescope types.

Curiously, it is said to be part of a series, the Astronomer's Observing Guides. I might need to dig up more of these, for further research.

Already I'm on guard. From page 9, the author says that most doubles are physical with a small percentage being due to change alignment. I wonder at his source.

I'm keeping notes...

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Calypso landed

The Boeing capsule Spacecraft 3, dubbed Calypso, successfully landed in New Mexico. The land/ground touch-down went as expected despite the earlier mishap thwarting the planned stop to the International Space Station. This reusable craft will fly again.


It remains to be seen if Boeing will do another test, properly.

received Santa socks

Received some fun printed socks. Santa pulled by reindeer, lead by Rudolph, of course.

Space Santa socks by Legale

In s-p-a-c-e!

Friday, December 20, 2019

off target

Oh dear. Learned that the Boeing CST-100 Starliner has gone off course. It won't reach the space station... Wow. I'm not clear yet if it was a problem with the launcher or with the spacecraft proper.

I did some quick analysis of the live stream reporting from Spaceflight Now. Sounds like the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket with RD-180 engine performed nominally as did the two strap-on solid rocket motors by Aerojet Rocketdyne. This is a proven, very successful launcher with 80 flights. They took off without a payload shroud. To improve on aerodynamics, a skirt was added to the bottom of the Starliner.

It also seems like the two RL10A-4-2 engines on the Centaur upper stage worked as expected. This was an updated design with dual motors. Not entirely unique, just not mated with the Atlas 5 previously.

The CST-100 was placed into a suborbital trajectory. The shallow path reduces g-forces for cabin occupants and supports abort options. Not dissimilar to the profile used in shuttle missions. But it also means the Starliner has some work to do still, to raise and refine its orbit.

The Starliner spaceship service module has four Aerojet Rocketdyne engines on-board for orbital maneuvers and attitude control. And it appears that something went wrong at this stage.

Reports suggest it used a lot of fuel to reach a stable orbit which leaves an insufficient supply to reach the ISS. They'll have to scratch docking and associated tests and go straight to landing in New Mexico.


Boeing has a lot to prove.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

found Sky and Tel at Bay and Bloor

Heh. How many astronomy magazines have a microscopic image on the cover?!

Picked up the January issue of Sky & Telescope magazine. As usual, I was after the Stargazer's Almanac. I always enjoy this amazing rich infographic for monitoring the positions of the planets. And 2020 is going to be an interesting year...

Sky and Tel magazine cover Jan 2020

I was surprised and happy to see an article on focus masks. Maybe this new experiments are in my future.

and then they're gone (Bradford)

At first I didn't see anything but about half-way to the train station, I spotted a star. About 45 degrees up, in the east-north-east. Blue-white. Not Vega, could it be?

Briefly I wondered about Mercury but it was probably near the Sun...

It seemed to be clearing. I could see more stars.

Then I noticed something in my peripheral, to the south. Ah, the Moon. Really high up.

By the time I made the GO parking lot, everything was gone... Clouds.

Monday, December 16, 2019

received the first SkyNews for 2020

cover of SkyNews Jan 2020
Received the new SkyNews magazine. Not only does it look different, it feels different. The cover is in a matt-style, not the usual reflective, glossy paper.

Very different layout and style. Interesting. They got rid of the silly border on the front cover, thank the Universe! I hope the trend continues with less text or smaller text on the cover; I think this detracts from the photography.

This issue notes some of the highlights for 2020—I look forward to reading about that.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

made 3D plots for analyses

Did some learning.

Trying to analyse my images, particularly those of double stars, to ensure they are not overexposed. Thanks to Steve, I have a good handle on the Expanded Histogram in Photoshop. I can easily know the number of pixels saturated.

I found similar information in Digital Photo Professional.

But I still wonder if I can't use Iris 5.59 for this. So I played around a bit... Figured out the Palette options in the Threshold dialog. Cool! Found the 3D function.

Both images are of the calibration star HD 148979 from my imaging run on 15 Jul '15. Exposures ranged from 15 seconds to 1.

3D visualisation of a double star overexposed

From IMG_5138.CR2 at 15 seconds. The right star, the bright one, is flat-topped, like a mesa. Overexposed. Over-saturated.

3D plot of double properly exposed

From IMG_5148.CR2 at 10 seconds. That's better. Rounded top. Properly exposed with little or no over-saturation.

So, clearly this is useful from an analysis point of view, while still requiring visual interpretation of the results. I can demonstrate that the second image is not overexposed. Happily, this is the one I chose at the time as the best. I guess I have a good eye.

I will continue searching for some sort of report function. I still want some hard numbers.... Maybe the aperture photometry feature in Iris will help.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

pulled the Struve numbers

So I think I finally figured it out. I have wondered how many entries are in the Struve catalogue (Friedrich specifically).

In lieu of a published list or spreadsheet somewhere, I made my own list. I extracted all the data from the Washington Double Star database, parsed it, and ran some filters in Excel.

And then I pulled the numbers for each one of the Struve family contributors.

STF (Σ), Friedrich - 3136
STFA (ΣI), Friedrich Appendix I - 60
STFB (ΣII), Friedrich Appendix II - 12
STG, Georg - 11
STH, Herman - 7
STT (OΣ), Otto - 601
STTA (OΣΣ), Otto Appendix I - 256

Looks like about 4000 total for the remarkable family.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

watched Johnson's talk on light pollution

I watched Kelsey Johnson's very good TED talk on increasing light pollution. She gave an impassioned discussion of the issues and concluded with some "ridiculously easy ways to fix it."

We need to correct this as soon as possible. Abate light pollution now. For lots of reasons. The obvious one is to stop wasting money.

We need to do it for the snails.

Monday, December 09, 2019

doubles for Dec 2019

Sent out my double star "bulletin" for December 2019. It is a short list of suggested targets. I shared this on the RASC Toronto Centre forums. And I post here for all.


I did a double header last night with the clear skies in Ontario and in Nova Scotia. Featuring double stars, of course! I popped out to the backyard with the little ETX for an hour or so while monitoring four imaging jobs being processed by the Burke-Gaffney Observatory. You too can check out double stars regardless of light pollution or the cold. Get out there.

Here's a short selection of easy double stars and multiples from my life list.

staralso known asalternate catalogue(s)
15 TriAG 304HIP 12086
HD 23107 PerSTF 434SAO 56667, HIP 17424
HD 36073 Tauh 3275, β891SAO 94589, HIP 25745
ζ (zeta) Psc
SAO 109739, HIP 5737
Groombridge 34GRB 34, GX AndSAO 36248, HIP 1475

I look forward to hearing how you make out.

Blake Nancarrow
astronomy at computer-ease dot com

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Clarke and Kubrick

While watching a Cinema Tyler YouTube on the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I noted an interesting still shot that he included.

A.C. Clarke and S. Kubrick at the telescope

There's A.C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick looking through a Questar 89. Cool!

captured Struve 1664 (Halifax)

One more, before dawn!

Double star HD 109875, SAO 157411, Σ1664 in Virgo. On my "view again" list, had seen the C star.

double star Struve 1664 in luminance

Luminance only, 1 second subexposures, 12 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, Paint.NET. North is up; east is left.

C, no problem, even though dim. It's to the north-west of the primary. About 2x the AB split.

B is south-west, fairly bright, the closest.

D is west of C, south a touch, dimmer still. Less than the AB split.

E is east-south-east, brighter than B. About 4x the AB split.

Why is that other star not included? [ed: It is. According to the WDS, this is 12383-1131STF1664EF, first discovered in 1890. In fact, it is noted in SkyTools, in the Object Information box. It's just not labelled in the chart, some sort of catalogue error.]

First viewed from the backyard with an ETX 90 on 3 Jun '19.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

two doubles in one hour (Bradford)

Planned the backyard observing session. Wanted to do some quick observing. Capella was high in mind. And I wanted to verify a couple of the double star certificate programme candidates.
Instrument: Meade ETX-90 Maksutov
Mount: tripod (fork mount with tracking motor)
Method: star hopping (with angle finder)
Reviewed the weather prediction sites. Looking good...

6:29 PM. Rhonda found Elf starting at 7. Silly, I know. I told her my plans. She programmed the DVR. She looked outside to report the skies completely clouded. Yep. But it was supposed to be gone by 8...

6:56. I reviewed the observing session preparation checklist in Evernote. Having finished dinner, I started working the "bare minimum observing" list.

Prepared the ETX with external battery pack, the dew shield with new elastic band, and big metal tripod. Found the hex plate in the camera bag. Grabbed two eyepieces, the 26 and 20. Astronomy chair, deep red glasses, deep red flashlight. The old bike light flashlight was weak so I installed some fresh AAAs. Packed the audio recorder, some rechargeable batteries, my regular eyeglasses (in case), eyeglass straps, and the house keys. All in a bin. Considered not taking out the TV table, opting to use furniture already outside. Prepared the ASUS Eee PC with SkyTools. Affixed the red film with new elastic bands. Activated the list I made a week back. Grabbed the Black Cloak of Doom. Considered hand warmers but decided I wouldn't be out long enough. Backed a sketch book and pencils.

Couldn't find the keyboard USB red light thingee... Last time I remember seeing it was at the CAO, during the Scouts event. Had I left it there? Had I misfiled it? Ugh. Hope I didn't lose it. [ed: Found it in the ethernet repair toolbox!]

I put the OTA outside. Deactivated the driveway light.

Switched to red light mode to begin my dark adaptation. Switched to Evernote in the browser 'cause the Windows desktop version still does not have dark mode!

7:42. I noticed the Moon reflecting off Rhonda's car. Right on schedule.

The clouds were gone!

7:19. Checked the Sony ICD-SX 750 recorder for space and power. About 10 hours left for space; mid-level for the batteries.

Suited up and headed outside.

Set up the Mamiya tripod (with Manfrotto head). Mounted the Meade ETX RA Maksutov 90mm telescope. Polar-aligned the mount. Set up my adjustable height Big DOC astronomy chair. Grabbed Rhonda's lawn chair for a platform for the computer.

8:16. Ready to go. But I wondered if I needed more space in my "workstation."

8:17. Plugged in the battery pack and powered on the mount. Motor was running. Amazing, actually. Super-fast start up this evening. I was happy about that.

8:24. The finder alignment (with my 3D part) was good. Landed on Capella, fairly quickly and easily. Started field identification with the Celestron 26mm Plössl eyepiece (48 magnification).

Verified the time of the computer and the recorder.

8:27. I had α (alpha) Aurigae aka BAR 25 prime pretty well centred. To the 10 or 11 o'clock position, a dim star, G. Two stars including a fairly bright one, 1 o'clock or north-east. I saw a star opposite G, i.e. SAO 40191. With averted I could see other things which I thought included the H star.

8:30. Remembered to set out the Oregon Scientific eb313hg portable weather station. It was still warm from inside. Steady air pressure, precip tomorrow, humidity 36%, 2.7°C.

8:32. I could not see the F star. I could not split the tight companion to A.

Switched to the Pentax XW 20mm ocular (62x).

Wait. Briefly saw a star, more than one, with averted, about an 1/8th of the AH distance. That's F! Was the distance right? Then I couldn't see it. Bad seeing? My target was rising...

8:40. To the south-east I could see the nearly straight line of 3 or 4 stars with H in the middle. It did look like H was not a single. Yep, two stars. I? No, the L star. Very faint. In-line with the other stars. PPM 47943 on the north-west end. [ed: NW? Not NE?]

Kept looking.

8:44. Definitely was seeing the F star. F was very dim. H and L were tough but there. Equally bright.

Went looking for E, toward G. But the software showed it dimmer still so I was not hopeful.

Changed eyepieces.

Scanned around the primary but did not expect to see others. Did not try for B, C, D, b, I, Q, R, O, or P.

Wanted to see Altair but I couldn't see the Summer Triangle. Too low. Cygnus was diving down. [ed: The Eagle was even lower.]

Rhonda popped out to say hello. She noted the skies were good. Indeed. Cold though, she headed back in.

Orion rising.

Changed eyepieces.

Tried to get to my next target, beta Cam aka S 459. It was about 1/3rd of the way between Capella and Polaris. "Oh boy." Could not figure out where I was.

The finder view was mottled. Weird. Checked the objective lens—it was fine.

9:20. Noted a low battery warning on the recorder. Oh oh. Hopefully it would last. Checked the weather station. Now it showed the air pressure dropping, humidity 77, air temp -5.7.

Ah! The finder had fogged, the eye lens. I warmed it and waited for it to clear.

I continued in my quest for β (beta) Camelopardalis... Switching to star hopping with the finder, starting from Capella.

Spotted 11-12 Cam along the way.

Finally! Finally made it to β Cam.

Cops were busy tonight...

9:26. That had been a long star hop. Whew! But worth it! Viewed the target with the 26mm. Wide pair. Yellow and blue stars. Intense deep blue. For me, oriented 12 to 6, nearly perfectly, nearly vertical. There was a bright field star to the 4 to 5 position, 4:30. [ed: Tycho 4079-2279 1. ed: Correction to the addition. Not a Tycho star; it was HD 32186, at magnitude 7.9.]

SkyTools made it seem like the companion was much dimmer but it seemed only 1 or 2 magnitudes fainter. The software said 4.9 magnitudes different! [ed: That delta from the numbers in the Object Information box: 4.0 and 8.9. Confusing. Hovering over the stars in the Interactive Atlas shows 4.0 and 7.4. That's more like it.]

A triple according to ST3P. Was curious if I could nab the C element so I loaded the Pentax.

Oh. A firetruck. That didn't sound good. [ed: A bizarre accident near downtown injuring a 67 year old man! Sheesh.]

9:34. I wasn't sure. Maybe I saw it for a fraction of a second. A hockey stick. C toward the 5 o'clock position? Dunno for sure. [ed: ST3P says C is mag 11.4.]

78%, -5.9°. Good timing. My hands were starting to get cold.

So, that was good. Tagged a couple more double stars, setting up and tearing down quickly. Taking advantage of the rare clear skies.

There was also the "proving" aspect that I was pleased with. Capella was easy but beta Cam was challenging. Still, under bright skies without a computer driving the mount, I was able to get to the target. And I was able to see some companions.

curious about STF 681 (Halifax)

Ordered BGO to capture Σ681. Also known as HD 34533, SAO 40251, and HIP 24951, this Auriga double star is noted in Sissy Haas's book with interesting colours: banana yellow and ocean blue! OK, I gotta see this.

double-star STF 681 in luminance

Luminance only, 1 second subexposures, 12 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, Paint.NET. North is up; east is left.

I look forward to processing in colour.



STF 681 in colour

Photoshop CS2.

Well, yes, yellow and blue. Banana yellow? Dunno about that... Ocean blue? Um, yeah, it'd be great if you could resubmit that colour report. And don't forget the new cover sheet.


There is a point of light above or north of the main star. It's visible in the black and white but I didn't think much about it. It's there in the colour, somehow more obvious. In the colour image, it's a dim red star! Hmmm. Checked the WDS.

STF 681AB    1831 2017   42 181 183  23.4  23.3  6.61  9.21
FYM 198AC    1999 2015    4 346 346  16.5  16.6  4.6   9.5

Oh ho. There's a star to the north, at 346 degrees. Discovered in 1999.

Curiously, it says magnitude 9.5. I'd argue that.

Anyhoo, I tagged the C companion.

returned to 16 Eri (Halifax)

Centred on star GSC 05878 00248, I tried to image 16 Eri, aka tau 4 Eri and JC 1, again. Previously imaged this object on 7 Jan '1820 Jan '18, and on 25 Sep '18. Wanted to have another go.

multiple star 16 Eri in luminance

Luminance only, 0.1 seconds subexposures, 12 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, Paint.NET. North is up; east is left.

I continue to try to coax out the B star in this system. According to SkyTools, it should be to the west. On a line between D and E. Um...

The primary sure doesn't look round but there are registration issues.

I think it's time to let this one go, at least in terms of imaging. A is too bright and B is too close.

imaged CTA 102 (Halifax)

I asked the Burke-Gaffney Observatory to image the quasar CTA 102.

This object is in the constellation Pegasus. This quasar, also known as Q2230+0114, is not particularly far... But in 2016 it apparently had an outburst, changed in brightness in 2016. I learned about this is an article at Sky & Telescope magazine.

Thought I'd have a look. I aimed at the star GSC 01154-0584.

quasar CTA 102 in luminance

Luminance only, 20 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, Paint.NET. North is up; east is left.

SkyTools 3 Pro says the quasi-stellar object has a redshift (z) value of 1.04 with a light time of 6.8 Gyr. The magnitude is 17.3. It is just west of the star J223239.8+114348. It is slightly brighter than this star which ST3P says is mag 17.9. Up and right of the tiny Delphinus-like pattern.

There are some fuzzies in this image.

West of the quasar, the brightest galaxy in the frame, is NGC 7305. The software shows a very small object here but it seems quite large to me, a large oval oriented north-south. It shows a bright core. Looks like an elliptical.

To the north-east is a very small wisp, extended slightly north-south. This is galaxy LEDA 1398097.

There are some intriguing star groupings in the field...


Wikipedia link: CTA-102.

double header night

Double header tonight! As it was predicted to clear in town (for a change), I planned to head to the backyard for an hour. Some doubles in the ETX 90. High priority, actually. And it was to be clear in Halifax, so I queued up some targets. Imaging with the CDK 24. Mostly doubles!


From Environment Canada for New Tecumseth: A few clouds. Wind becoming south 20 km/h after midnight. Low minus 7 with temperature rising to minus 2 by morning. Wind chill minus 4 this evening and minus 14 overnight.

Clear Outside prediction

Green blocks from Clear Outside. First time seeing contiguous green blocks for a while...

removed logged status from Altair

Late November I noticed something strange. Today I reviewed my life list entry for Altair aka α Aql aka STFB 10. It was on my life list with a 0.9 separation.

The life list entry said: "I'm a little confused. Not sure if I've actually split these. Looks like I tried at the DDO on 20 Jul '07 but couldn't figure out which of the surrounding "small faint stars" was the "violet" one. Inspired by the CDSA I attempted on 2 Jul '10 at the CAO and at the time misread Haas's notes thinking it was a wide pair. ST3 says it's a triple. And curiously the ST3 software shows a log entry, suggesting I tagged it before the summer of 2010. Now that said, the View Again reference shows... Anyhoo, there are no clear notes so we need to have another go. AB magnitudes: 0.8, 9.6."

I checked a few sources for the separation values:
  • Haas says AB 192 but the mag of 1st is 0.9, oops
  • CDSA says AB 192 and AC 247 (with A at mag 0.9)
  • ST3 says a triple with AB 187.0 and AC 247.2
Reviewed the first blog entry: July 20, 2007 entitled the "DDO show (Richmond Hill)". I viewed some double stars using my C9 and with Haas's book in hand. "Looked briefly at Altair, a very bright star, surrounded by many small faint stars. I could not tell which star was the 'violet' companion."

Read the second entry: July 02, 2010 entitled "Canada Night observing (Blue Mountains)". At 1:11 AM, I helped a RASC member. Then I returned to my C8. "As the sky brightened, I shifted to double stars. I pulled my new Cambridge Double Star Atlas and flipped to constellations crossing the meridian. The CDSA said that Altair is a double! I targeted it. Didn't see anything per se. Started zooming in but couldn't split the white star. I wondered if it was a another wide double. Consulted double stars by Haas. Yep, she says it is separated by 192". Didn't think to put the binos on it..." And at 1:27 AM, I helped the RASC member again.

So, inconclusive. No clear indications of sighting the B or C stars.

Pulled the WDS data for WDS ID 19508+0852. Noted the A star magnitude: 0.95.

disc       pair   PA   sep    mag
STFB 10 AB    286 195.8  9.82
STFB 10 AC    110 186.4  10.3
DAL  27 AD    105  26.8  11.9
SMR   5 AE    354 151.3  11.0
SMR   5 AF    48 292.4  10.3
GMC   5 AG    121 185.1  13.0

I plotted the stars in Excel.

plot of Altair elements

Again, Haas only refers to B. There is correspondence in PA and Sep between the WDS and ST3P for B and C. SkyTools shows a double called J 3019 at the location that WDS says is the F star. The primary of J 3019, aka HD 187716, is magnitude 10.3. That matches the WDS mag for F.

I looked in Aladin. Switched to the 2MASS view, in infrared. Annotated the image.

image of Altair from Aladin

I spotted the B, C, E, F, and G stars. D is lost in the glare. I see the bright star north-north-west of F, like in SKyTools. ST3P says this is GSC 1058-1773.

My conclusions after this review...
  1. I incorrectly recorded the separation in my life list as 0.9 misreading, at some point, the magnitude number from Haas's book. I need to change this.
  2. I don't know why I set the "logged" status in SkyTools. I should remove it as I have never clearly noted the companion(s).
  3. I need to add the AB designation to my life list entry.
  4. Too bright to photograph.
  5. I should be sketching this the next time!
  6. With the 8-inch 'scope, I should be able to get all 7 stars!