Saturday, November 30, 2019

answered YouTube questions

Jamey Griesser asked questions about my barn door tracker in YouTube.
Very informative presentation Blake.  2 questions - have you used this with any longer focal length lense(s), for example 100mm, 200mm?  If so what were the results?   ... Also, do you have any problems with the ball head, either locating your 'target', or slippage?
I replied:
Hi Jamey. 

A1:  I have not shot with any of my longer lens, such as a 100 portrait, or 70-210 zoom, partly because they are slow.  The longest used is the 18-55 kit lens.  I use a 40D body with APS-C chip so multiple 55 by 1.6.  That means I'm effectively around 80 or 90mm.

A2:  No problems with the ball head.  The original grease went bad so I cleaned it out.  Very smooth.  Has dual friction controls so works well, is smooth, and once clamped out, does not move.
Hope that helps him out.


In April 2020, shot with 70-210 Vivitar Series 1 which weighs 900 grams!

Friday, November 29, 2019

the perfect occultation

And it's gone.

I had had high hopes. But the weather scuttled it. The perfect asteroid occultation... On 29 Nov 2019, at 23:14 UT, asteroid (3548) Eurybates was to block the star HIP 113020 for about 5 seconds.

Rank 100.

Star magnitude 10.4.

The best part? The path went through my back yard!

I didn't recall ever seeing this before, the perfect circumstances. High rank, a bright star, and without moving I'd be in the shadow path.

the perfect occultation in OccultWatcher

There was only one possible problem...

When I learned of this event, I was very intrigued. I recognised right away that it would be an easy occultation with a fairly bright star, easy for the 8-inch 'scope for certain, a star with a good elevation in the sky, in Aquarius, just below the Water Jar, but above the tree line, in a dark sky, after sunset, no Moon, no stoopid moonlight to contend with. And I didn't have to go anywhere! Like it was made for me. Truly perfect. And I was keen to try.

First time I felt this is a long time.

Days ago I tested my shortwave radio. I reviewed my backyard planning lists. I checked various software apps. Double-checked things in OccultWatcher. Reviewed the web pages and maps. Readied to go out the evening before to set up the mount, for a good polar alignment, and to double check the sight lines. And I loaded all my weather resources. That was the catch, right? This is possibly the worst time of year with winter coming, continuous gear skies, and, well, location. So I checked every day, sometimes a few times a day, watching the predictions shift and change.

My heart sank during my walkabout this afternoon. Mostly cloudy. And it only got worse.

This could have been my first ever successful asteroid occultation.

Will I have to wait another 10 years?

Another miss.


Lots of clouds.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

processed 7 Leo

Created a full colour image for 7 Leo from the LRGB data collected back on 21 Mar '19.

double star 7 Leo in colour

FITS Liberator, Photoshop.

Sissy Haas noted the stars are "deeply bluish white [and] blue-green." Perhaps...

Both stars in ARN 72 look yellow to me.


Noticed I didn't have a check mark beside this entry in Haas's book.


Where they'd come from? Scratch polar alignment.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

deleted aurora app

The little aurora app, actually the widget Solaris, on my phone stopped working a little while ago. Not in the Google store any more. I deleted it. Sad.

meteors happened

I found this chart. Certainly there was some activity associated with the alpha Monocerotid meteor shower. But no huge outburst that all the media outlets seemed to think was going to happen...

plot of meteors

Did you see any?


Don't blame the scientists...

Friday, November 22, 2019

lumpy pasta

Watched another Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell video, this time Neutron Stars – The Most Extreme Things that are not Black Holes.

screen snap from the Neutron Stars movie

Take in the brief but informative video on YouTube.

At the 4:35 mark, while discussing the solid crust of the neutron star, diving down to the base of the iron crust, we are told that the neutrons in the atoms begin to merge. They form long chains or sheets like spaghetti and lasagna. Nuclear pasta! It can form lumps, form into very dense but small mountains.

Lumpy nuclear pasta in outer space. Ha!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

today's AAT morsel

There's a little remark at the bottom of the 60x column in the Telescope Performance table on page 6 in the amazing All About Telescopes book. It says one can go 60x/in magnification for a close double.

Elsewhere, the book says the top useful power is 60x and that no additional detail can be had, with extended objects, going beyond.

So, 60 times 8, with my SCT: 480x. Huh.

With the ETX? 210x.

setting meteor expectations

File under the Selling-More-Newspapers category.

CNN ran the headline, "Mysterious comet will cause a rare 'Unicorn' meteor storm this week." Really?! Sheesh. said that "hundreds of meteors will grace the skies tonight (Nov. 21) in a rare event known as the 'unicorn' meteor shower." Please.

This is one of those cringe worthy situations where I like that the media outlets are talking about astronomy but on the other hand, it is sensationalised and amplifies expectations. I also worry about the crying wolf effect and that will be detrimental to the curious public.

Some quick facts:

The alpha Monocerotid meteor shower is a mild or minor meteor shower in the grand scheme of things. A couple per hour is the normal rate. By comparison, the Perseids in August have around 70/hr, the Geminids in December, 120/hr, and the Quadrantids, 100, in January. See my table for considering the major meteor showers for 2019.

In fact, the alpha Mon meteor rate is so low a casual observer is more likely to see a random sporadic meteor.

Most meteor showers are active over several hours. The predicted outburst activity from the alpha Monocertids will be over within an hour. So easily missed. Therefore to properly view, a serious observer would sit outside for hours, centred on the predicted peak, and see what they can see. Does that sound fun? To astrogeeks maybe.

Meteor showers are produced by old comets, sometimes old asteroids. The word "mysterious" is misleading here. In the case of the alpha Monocerotids, scientists currently do not know the source. So there's interest in the scientific community to conduct more research. You can help if you're interested by doing proper meteor counts.

I think the word "rare" is improperly used here. Outbursts with meteor showers are rare, yes. Meteor showers are not rare—there are about a dozen major showers each year. Meteors are not at all rare. Amateurs see meteors every night they are out observing. See my graph showing the big meteor showers for the year.

The unicorn moniker cracks me up. That's just everyone jumping on the bandwagon. Pinkie Furiosa approves!

Alpha Monoceros!

The general public, especially anyone located inside a large town or city, is not going to see anything, given rampant light pollution. Go to a dark sky site if you want to dramatically improve your chances of seeing anything.

Sitting around waiting for a fireball to happen in a minor meteor shower is like watching paint dry. Only hardcore keener amateur astronomers are gonna do this.

If you want correct, proper scientific information, visit the American Meteor Society or the International Meteor Organisation.

And, as usual, take your other unofficial sources with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

today's AAT fun fact

I've been staring at the Telescope Performance table on page 6 in the amazing All About Telescopes book. I'm very intrigued by the "light" column comparing telescopes to the human eye.

A 1" telescope can gather 9 times the light of a single eye. Or the "light power" of a 1" telescope is 9x that of the eye.

A 2" 'scope is 36 times.

A 3" is 81x and the 4" is 144x. The Meade ETX 90 is between those numbers.

An 8": 576x. That's the size of the Celestron 8-inch SCT.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

today's AAT fun tidbit

From the amazing book, All About Telescopes!

Today's interesting fun fact tidbit:

The Cassegrain Reflector was made by Guillaume Cassegrain in 1672.

This is on page 2 of the AAT book, with nice hand-drawn graphic of course, along with some different types of telescopes, including the one that started it all, the Galilean refractor in 1608.

I have the honour of using a Cassegrain Reflector, the somewhat large one at the David Dunlap Observatory.

Monday, November 18, 2019

started into AAT

I started re-reading All About Telescopes by Sam Brown. Maybe I should say, thoroughly read. I first encountered this book in 2005 and received my own copy in 2015. In '05, I was trying to learn about Mom's Edmund Scientific reflector and focused on those sections. So, for fun, I thought I'd do a front-to-back read...


What an amazing and interesting book, All About Telescopes!

I think I'll note a-discovery-a-day as I'm having a lot of fun re-reading this classic book.

I'm only a couple of pages in and I'm tickled.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

answered lots of questions

Helped my cousin's husband with some astronomy questions. He's looking to buy. The Lowbrow club is nearby. Left him with some notes, homework to do, and my copy of SkyNews magazine.

Friday, November 15, 2019

saw stars (Pinckney)

Saw stars on climbing out of the car... Which ones? I couldn't tell for the trees. Disoriented, didn't know the direction. Pity I had not been able to bring a telescope. It was very clear.


Mcgregor Road runs north-south. For some reason from the driveway I thought I was facing north when I was probably aimed west...

Thursday, November 14, 2019

spaceflight things from sis

My sis gave me a couple of spaceflight-related items. Thanks!

The Air & Space Smithsonian magazine featuring the 50 Greatest Moments of the Space Age.

Air and Space magazine Space Age edition

There's also an article on Jeff Bezos.

Looking forward to reading that.

She also had snagged the July 2019 Details booklet from Canada Post with stuff about stamp and coin collections. The cover features the Apollo 11 stamps.

the tall Canada stamp for Apollo 11

Neat stamp! I kinda missed all these...


I also received some neat gift cards with aurora! Artist unknown.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

fixed SynScan key pad

Had a go at Elaine and Tony's SynScan hand controller. They reported significant problems with the 3 button on the keypad.

After fixing my digital multi-meter, I started by testing the main control cable. All good. Good continuity and no apparent shorts.

DB 9 male
RJ 45 male
1 = 7
4 = 4
5 = 1
6 = 6
8 = 8
9 = 5

The pin-out agreed with diagrams I found on the interwebs.

I did not stress-test the cable. Considered that would take a bit of doing... So I decided to open up the hand paddle. I was not expecting to find anything.

Surprise number 1 was the broken bit of glue flopping around. Jammed down by the connectors. Removed.

Surprise #2 big label on the board.

inside of SynScan hand controller


Surprise #3 was the daughter board for the jacks separate from the main board. This would allow for flexure and forces that would not find their ways to the main board. Smart. Not going cheap.

Surprise #4. No detachable plug for the power leads to the back-light. What the hey? Now that was cheap. Lack of foresight.

Detached the header connectors from the daughter board and removed the small PCB. This allowed the main board to flip up. Removed the rubber button monolithic sheet.

inside of rubber button sheet

It seemed A-OK. Clean. No debris. Completely fine. Noted two conductive pads per button. Redundancy. Right-handers and south-paws?

Then I turned my attention to the contact pads on the "top" side of the main board. Oh ho! Surprise #5.

main board with contact pads under buttons

Corrosion. Well, that's a strong word. Discoloration, debris, stuff on some of the contact pads. The worst? The number 3 key! How about that. Water intrusion.

Rigorously cleaned all the contact points with isopropyl alcohol. Buttoned everything up. Connected the control to a HEQ 5 Pro mount. Booted up: version 4.37.03. Got myself to the Longitude and Latitude screens and entered 3 digits everywhere. Tested every other key. Positive and immediate responses. All good!

Phoned Tony and relayed the good news. He was very happy. He said they are expensive.


We came up with a great idea. An astronomy tip for those encountered dew. At the end of an observing session or imaging run, disconnect the hand controller, and (like a wet phone) throw it in a sealed container with rice (or a few silicone desiccant packs). You might assume water got it so don't let it sit for a long time without getting the moisture out as fast as possible.

Monday, November 11, 2019

vicariously watched 1st/2nd contact

Woke around 7:15. Programmed behaviour. The Android clock app alarm would go off at 7:30 PM. I started surfing.

The NASA site had a page that was automatically updating the images. There were two sets: one fixed on the Sun; the other tracking Mercury. The latter was most interesting a few minutes before first contact.

Then I found a live feed on YouTube. White light filter on a shaky mount. But it worked. I could see a moment or so after first contact with a little indent out of the Sun. The view seemed to worsen, poor contrast, at second contact but it was still obvious.

Think I feel back asleep for a while...

Sunday, November 10, 2019

helped at CAO

Helped at the CAO with Phil. We hosted a Streetsville scout group. Flash snow storm on Thursday greatly impacted the Blue Mountains area. Happily we were able to drive in. Partly cloudy on Friday night so I wasn't able to run a full star party campaign. Good group.

transit article published

I was published in the regional newspaper, Orillia Today. They featured my article on the Mercury transit.


Updates: York University is planning some activities.


Weather Update: prospect for clear skies is looking very poor.

Friday, November 08, 2019

received alert

Spotted an alert on my sorta smart phone. From SkySafari.

notification for Monday

Thanks. But. Too bad it's gonna be cloudy.

doubles for Nov 2019

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


The Moon is bright again. That means it is doubles time!

Here's a short selection of double and multi-star systems from my life list for your observing campaign. They are all pretty easy. Below are some targets best viewed in November.

staralso known asalternate catalogue(s)
γ (gamma) AndAlamak, Almach, or Σ205SAO 37734, HIP 9640
WZ Cas STT A 254SAO 21002, HIP 99
ο (omicron) CepSTF (Struve) 3001SAO 20554, HIP 115088
Σ2958 (Struve) PegHR 8724SAO 108275, HIP 113311
35 PscSTF 12SAO 109087, HIP 1196

Remember doubles are fun, easy, sometimes challenging, always interesting, often colourful, and dynamic! If at first glance, you don't see anything obvious, keep staring. Sometimes a dim companion will emerge when the seeing conditions allow. That's always exciting!

Share your observations. Keep warm. Be seeing you.

Blake Nancarrow
astronomy at computer-ease dot com

Thursday, November 07, 2019

card from Mom

Received a nice greeting card from Mom. She caught me up on some of her fun creative activities.

The card showcases some beautiful work by the U.S. artist Gwyn Wahlmann.

Moon card from Mom

Can't tell in the photo but the stars are done with a silver, shiny material. Catches the light.