Sunday, February 23, 2020

rotten luck

Three amazing nights, no Moon, and I have had to do homework.

sought SEI 774 (Halifax)

In early February, I programmed the BGO 'bot to image the region of the sky centred on Tycho 02678-0101 1 in Cygnus. This is the apparent location of the double star SEI 774. According to the Washington Double Star catalogue, this is a "dubious" double, with a single observation in 1895.

The early morning message from the SMU robotic observatory noted an error and the downloaded archive data set does not include a blue filtered channel. I suspect the sky was getting too bright. Still, I was not concerned as the full-spectrum image was good quality.

near star TYC 02678-0101 1 in luminance

Luminance only, 2 seconds subexposures, 12 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

From the WDS:

target: SEI 774
discoverer: Scheiner, J.
ID: 19596+3510
PA: 105; sep 25.4
mags 11.8 and 12.67
notes: X B
precise: 195937.60+350951.0

Near the centre of the image are two similar stars, nearly horizontally oriented. The left one is Tycho 02678-0101 1 at magnitude 11.64 (Tycho-2). I don't what the star to the right is, for certain. SkyTools 3 Pro shows a much dimmer star here, GSC 02678-1169. In my image, that stars looks to be effectively the same brightness. From Tycho, the position angle is 280 degrees with a separation of 89 seconds of arc. Not the missing pair.

South-west of Tycho is a pair of wide and rather faint stars. ST3P says they have magnitudes 15.0 and 15.1. Wow. Very faint. Curiously, they are aligned so to point to the Tycho star with the brighter star closest. From Tycho, 45° and 215". The "companion" from the brighter star: 226° and 23". Not the missing pair. But that separation is indicative: that's the spacing I'm looking for.

To the east of Tycho is a bright pair. Actually, they are slightly unequal, which is promising. They are at an intriguing angle, which is interesting. But the data from ST3P suggests this is not our quarry.  The brighter star at the top-right is GSC 02678-0557 at magnitude "10.87 (poor quality)" with second star TYC 02678-2123 1 at magnitude 12.49 (Tycho-2). Huh. The luminosity of the stars sounds right. The PA and sep is 139 and 38. Blergh. Close but not close enough?

Top-centre of the image from Halifax. There's a dim, unequal pair. 106° at 28". Oh ho. Good positional numbers. But the magnitudes of 13.94 and fainter don't match. Not the missing pair.

Near the top-right of the image is another pair of stars, similar in angle and spacing. The planning app says this is GSC 02678-1079 at mag 12.82 and GSC 02678-1149, mag 13.14. PA 151, sep 28. These aren't the stars we're looking for...

So, did SEI improperly identify GSC 02678-0557? It's the best possible candidate I think. ST3P says the location of the bright member is RA 19h59m55.2s and Dec +35°13'16" (J2000). The Right Ascension number is pretty good; the Declination is off by 3 minutes positive.

It's difficult to conclude anything...

I'll see if I can find some other images for the region, see if anything is moving...

Lots of other interesting "pairs" of stars in this image...

Thursday, February 20, 2020

where it go?

Noticed a missing button in the blogger toolbar: spelling checking. Googled my observation and I was not surprised to learn the feature's been removed. Now, people are encouraged to use the checking features of their browser. OK. Will need to pay attention to those red squiggles... I dove into the Chrome settings. Found the custom dictionary. Good. Add "occultation." Then I learned that other languages can be used for checking. Thank the Universe! I set John Max to use the Queen's English, for crying out loud.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

no change for Moon-Mars event

One more look. Weather tomorrow morning looks very poor. Cloud, snow or rain, poor visibility. The Clear Outside report looks pretty bad.

Clear Outside chart for Tuesday morning

The Clear Sky Chart is all white, pretty well for the whole day. In fact, Environment Canada has issued weather advisories for snow and mixed rain, maybe 10 cm.

No chance of seeing the occultation of Mars.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

still very faint (Bradford)

Interesting angle. Late enough that Orion had rotated putting Bellatrix lower in elevation than Betelgeuse. I looked several times, brief glances, and I kept thinking α Orionis was a touch fainter.

swapped roles

Watched an episode of Planets from BBC earth, with Brian Cox. The spotlight was on Mars. Don't know if I learned anything new but it was a good program, excellent graphics. Any interesting premise though was that Mars was a water world before the Earth and then we swapped roles.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

heard Ivan

Caught the Cosmic Vistas show on Smithsonian Channel. The episode (section?) about eclipses was on. Lunar and solar eclipses were discussed. I recognised Ivan Semeniuk's voice as he narrated the program. At one point, they showed the narrator. I was right! Ivan was at the David Dunlap Observatory, in the dome no less! How about that. Possibly he was on the upper deck as the telescope was level behind him.


I learned that the documentary series Cosmic Vistas ran for 5 seasons between 2009 and 2014, with what looked like 6 episodes annually. Produced by Blue Ant Media. This particular episode was from season 5, episode 4.

Friday, February 14, 2020

pretty clear (Toronto)

Chris called it. It was mostly clear. I immediately spotted low clouds, bright, parked over the core, awash in all the wasted up-light. Walking east, saw more cloud to the east. I hoped the crew at GMF wouldn't run into any of this. Glanced over my shoulder. Venus? No, that can't be right, dual lights, a moving double star. Ha. I don't miss the the air traffic. Sirius shimmering past the meridian. Damn cold.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

I don't think so (Bradford)

Bah. Clear out, as I gathered the newspapers tossed in the driveway. Stars overhead, Sirius out back, Venus punching through the hibernating trees. But the temperature is plummeting. The Sun's gone out. And the Moon, the horrible Moon, will rear its head soon. No.

dark blue caught my eye

Glanced at tonight's mini chart. Wow. Dark blue. Pulled the full Clear Sky Chart.

CSC for Thu 13 Feb 2020

Schlanger. Horrible seeing. I need awesome seeing if I'm gonna haul the gear to the frozen back yard while the Earth natural satellite interferes with the view...

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

fixed ST3P for field use

Sorted SkyTools 3 Pro. I damaged the data files when I tried to import a STX file from SkyTools 4 beta. Did a clean install, rolled back to an old backup, and checked for missing things. A little convoluted but it's all good. I was started to feel naked not having it on the portable computer John Repeat Dance.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Solar Orbiter away

Spotted the article at The Atlas 5 rocket successfully launched Cape Canaveral on Sunday, lofting the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter probe into space. This begins a multi-year voyage around the Sun. Uniquely, it will show us the Sun's poles.

things spotted in Ori-Tau photo

I kept seeing interesting things in the stacked Orion-Taurus photo. So, I thought I'd do a deep dive.

As much as possible, I'm going to do a clockwise, from centre.

We'll start with the obvious big things... This photograph centres on the constellations of Orion and Taurus but also shows portions of Aries, Cetus, Eridanus, Lepus, Monoceros, and Gemini. Constellations are official the boundaries but we see the ancient figures like Orion the Hunter. 

Orion is sometimes shown as holding a clubbed lion or a shield but in my photo I really do get a strong sense of the bow and not a simple curved arcing bow but one with an opposing arch in the middle, like a traditional Mongolian bow. I don't capture all of Taurus in my framing but I easily caught the big "flying-V" at the centre of the figure of the Bull, which in artwork is the head of the raging steer. I also include half of the unicorn, the head and unusual solitary horn.

At this scale, which is approximately 60 by 35 degrees, only large and bright deep sky objects are visible. Still, there are a lot. 

There's the Hyades cluster, the various bright and dim stars in the aforementioned V in Taurus. This big open cluster is also known as Collinder 50, Melotte 25, OCL 456, and Caldwell 41. Easily spotted naked eye. SkyTools 3 Professional shows it centred near 71 Tauri with a radius (over 2½ degrees of arc) that includes orange Aldebaran.

It goes without saying, at the top-right, the Pleiades. Well known as the Seven Sisters, this suggests people can see seven stars. I think you need perfect vision or better than 20-20. Rhonda says she can see more stars. In the photo, I easily count 15 to 20 stars. This is an object in the famous catalogue by Charles Messier, entry number 45 (M45). aka The Subaru. Did you know that Subaru in Japanese meaning "unite." I'm for that.

Messier also catalogued item 42, the Great Orion Nebula, is his list of non-moving, comet-like objects. I like how in my image the large diffuse reflection nebula shows within the sword region of Orion. A very large "fuzzy" star.

The open cluster from the New General Catalog, NGC 1981, is visible above M42. Six or seven stars are clearly visible. Compact.

Many know the Belt stars of Orion, Alnilam, Alnitak, and Mintaka, equidistant, equal in brightness and colour, and in a nearly straight line. SkyTools notes this as a cluster, formally. I did not know that was a thing. It's officially Collinder 70 or OCL 503. And I've never really noticed it before but there is a conglomeration of stars huddled around The Belt.

At the head or neck area of Orion, between Betelgeuse and Bellatrix, we have Meissa. Actually, that's a specific star. The backwards L-shape of stars is Collinder 69, a small open cluster, with Meissa as a single star within. I once thought I saw something unusual and uncharted here but it turned out to be nothing. Look close! There's a straight line of faint, tight stars inside. Wow.

The Rosette Nebula is far too faint and diffuse to see. But the open cluster in the heart of the big nebula is easily spotted. That's NGC 2244.

There's lots going on in Monoceros according to my favourite planning software but there's nothing obvious in the picture. Zooming in, look at the top-left corner of the photograph, I wanna say I can see the Cone Nebula. The bright star of 15 Mon is easily tagged.

The last open cluster to share is Collinder 65 aka OCL 474. I must admit, if it weren't for ST3P, I wouldn't know about this. It is a very large open loose collection, inline from M42, through The Belt, and Cr 69. There are two bright stars at the top with 119 Tau.

Finally, one more clockwise sweep, down to stars this time.

The photo is nearly centred on Tabit, aka pi 3 Orionis or 1 Ori. It's near the bottom of Orion's interesting bow.

Within the Hyades there are a number of wide double stars. σ (sigma) Tauri is south-west of Aldebaran. Two nearly equal stars oriented nearly north-south. The northern star is a touch brighter. aka STF A 11. Over 400 arc-seconds apart. South-west of the lucida, we have the similar pair of 81-80 Tau, about 480" apart. This pairing is not official, not found in the WDS, but is interesting nonetheless in photos, in binoculars. Each star however is a recognised double. Finally we have the obvious pairing of θ (theta) 1 and 2 in the middle of the V. Brighter than the aforementioned pairs, at nearly a 90 degree angle to 80-81, STF A 10 is tighter. 337" according to ST3P.

Curious how they all are approximately the same distance apart.

Lots going on. Fun for the eye, with binoculars, and with the telescope.

North of the Hyades is a pair of stars, similar in separation to the others. Struve 541 is actually a multi-star system but κ (kappa) 1 and 2 are the brightest elements.

Between Hyades and the Pleiades is a very wide apparent double with 37 and 39 Tau. Each of these stars are telescope double stars.

South-west of Hyades is 10 Tauri. At this scale, there seems to be an unequal companion to the north but that's V711 Tau.

Comet 114P/Wiseman-Skiff was south of Pleiades. Not visible in the image unfortunately.

North-west of pi 1 is a tiny cluster. Really it is telescopic. But it shows in the photo as a smudged collection of grey stars. NGC 1662, Collinder 55, OCL 470.

Orangle Menkar is tangled in the tree branches...

Below centre of the image is the intriguing little triangle of unequal stars with μ (mu) Eri.

Bottom-centre in the image is the equally intriguing triangle of 46 Eri. Nearly the exact same pattern!

To the right or west of Rigel is a tantalising dim star. It's not related, HR 1704.

There's a nearly equilateral triangle north of Rigel. Ah. It includes Cursa. Good. Good to know.

The bright stars at the bottom-left of ζ (zeta) and η (eta) Leporis. I think they are the back of the bunny.

South of the great nebula in Orion's sword at the bright stars of ι (iota) and HR 1887. In the telescope ocular, these reveal themselves as fantastic double and multi-star systems.

I think I can see the naked eye double 42-45 just above M42.

It'd be cool to see individual elements of σ Orionis but there's not enough resolution to pull that off.

Star of show... Well. OK, maybe, one of the most interesting things in this, is alpha Orionis, aka Betelgeuse. Talk of the town of late. So, what do you think? Compare the brightness of Betelgeuse to Bellatrix (magnitude 1.64) or any of The Belt stars (1.77, 1.69, and 2.14). Or Saiph (2.06)! The lucida of the constellation is heading toward an all-time low in magnitude...

The stars that are to make up the horn of the unicorn are not bright...

Don't forget we're looking through the plane of the galaxy. But outward, away from the central bulge. In an outer spur.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

a better result from Sequator

Re-ran Sequator. Changed the composition mode for aligning to best pixels and put the scale to strict, the maximum. As yesterday, used auto brightness, and again used the masking feature. Did not use the light pollution setting.

stacked with Sequator using best pixels

No doubles everywhere! At least I'm not seeing any in the main part of the image. So, much better.


I am impressed, actually. I didn't think stacking would do much but the noise is reduced. The stars seem more apparent. It's an improvement, for certain, over the single frame from 29 Jan '20.

into the stars

Lost a good friend last night. Will think of you when I look at the stars.

Saturday, February 08, 2020


Clear out. Alerts popping up everywhere. But a full Moon. And so cold I switched to Kelvin. No way am I going out!

nearly opposite (Bradford)

Beautiful sky. One small patch of cloud overhead. Sun just setting, just visible over tall snow banks. Couldn't spot Venus (it was probably higher than we were looking). Rhonda pointed out the Moon behind us. Colourful! With the Belt of Venus.

tried Sequator

Wanted to try stacking my Orion shots. And I wanted to try Sequator by Yi-Ruei Wu. So I downloaded the 64-bit app, the 1.5.5 version.

It's fairly easy to use and rather fast. Mind you, I had a simple project. Played with the light pollution settings a bit but found them too aggressive.

So this is the result of converting to TIFFs, setting the middle image in the sequence as the "base", stacking the 19 images with the Auto Brightness setting on, the Sky Region set to ignore the trees, and the LP to the weakest setting, intelligent option off. Oh, and levels, curves, saturation in the Gimp.

Orion and Taurus 19 images stacked

Huh. Interesting!


I think I'm seeing errors in the stack... Double stars in some places where there are no double stars?

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

uncharted territory

On the RASC national listserv, Rick Huziak reported Betelgeuse is still fading! The light curve shows the star at an all-time low.

Betelgeuse magnitudes to Feb 5

Very interesting...

Now we're going historic.

he asked for input

Mike asked me for some feedback on Night Sky Guide. Awesome. He's made a good list, with single and, as per my request, double stars. He refers to paper resources too. I suggested the RASC Observer's Handbook as well. I'm excited.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

doubles for Feb 2020

Sent out my double star "bulletin" for February 2020. It is a short list of suggested targets. I shared this on the RASC Toronto Centre forums. And I post here for all.


Missed January somehow. No matter. The weather has been beta Pegasi or… Scheat.

OK. Here are some double stars for your viewing enjoyment.

staralso known asalternate catalogue(s)
θ (theta) AurOΣ (STT) 545SAO 58636, HIP 28380
1 CamDL Cam or (STF) Σ550SAO 24672, HIP 21148
χ (chi) GemES 2628SAO 79896, HIP 39424
γ (gamma) LepH 6 40SAO 170759, HIP 27072
α (alpha) OriBetelgeuse or H 6 39SAO 113271, HIP 27989

Doubles are fun, easy, challenging, interesting, colourful, and dynamic! If at first glance, you don’t see anything obvious, keep warm and keep staring.

Be seeing you.
Blake Nancarrow
astronomy at computer-ease dot com

just work, please

A bunch of things... all circling around Backyard EOS. I had wondered how old the version of BYE was so visited OTelescope and saw that version 3.1.18 had been released fairly recently, in December. Not that old. Still I downloaded it to John Max, transferred it to John Repeat Dance, and then ran the installer. That seemed to go OK and when I launched the app the new version number showed in the title bar. Great.

But when I tried to switch out of red night mode, it flickered, and ignored me. When I try to go into Setting [SIC], it threw a scary error message, and ignored the request. When I tried to connect to the camera it prompted for the camera SDK drivers but the screen was blank! Crikey. Reinstalled the software. No joy. Got scared that the latest app was now incompatible with the old clunker OS on the netbook and I had just lost my excellent remote camera control facility. Would I have to roll back? Could I?! I seem to breaking a lot of software lately...

Jumped into the forums and saw remarks about bad cables and other issues. Not promising. But "admin" aka Guylain said it was an installation problem and all one had to do was install in a different folder. Except my installer was not prompting for a folder location. Schlanger! How was I supposed to change it?! If it doesn't fit, get a bigger hammer. So I sparked up the Control Panel installed apps list and removed Backyard EOS, Backyard Nikon (that I had used for testing), and Red. Removed everything! There! Happy? I crawled into the primary drive and killed all the lingering files and folders. Out with you.

Reinstalled again. Better. Was able to flip to day and night modes. Going into the settings panel did not create errors. No scary sounding messages in the log panel. Tried to connect to the camera. Yeh. The driver choices appeared. Chose an option and got errors! Oh no, now what. Oh, wait. User brain damage this time. Triggered the connection again and chose the Canon210 SDK to match the 40D body. Right. All was well. Back in business. Whew!

Noted the new BYE 3.1.18 features, like the zoom buttons. Ha! Ha ha. And the flip buttons. Good. Looked for the "Start At" absolute control but didn't see it. Later I clicked in a non-descript empty grey square. A clock icon appeared. Oooh. That's how you do it. Posted an interface suggestion on the "features request" forum.

Did a run-through of the whole app all while examining my BYE quick reference guide documentation in Evernote. Fine-tuned my notes. Tried to understand some mysterious things. Like the HD mode with its enhancements. Got a better handle on that. And also developed a better understanding of Frame and Focus and the exposure simulation and the interaction of the exposure controls, confirming they did actually change the camera. And understood, perhaps for the first time, how exposure simulation truly is just that, a simulation, that it is NOT stopping down a lens, like how I learned to do 40 years ago with Depth-of-Field preview on a Canon SLR! Wow. Eye-opener, that one.

Did another read of the BYE user manual. Gah. Written for 3.1.x. Not updated for the new features. Old screen snapshots. New features simply not mentioned. Still has placeholders in the document from a year or two ago. Come on! Keep the user guide fresh for crying out loud. Help us... Oh. Right. Don't ask programmers to write user documentation. Right, right, right. What was I thinking!

I also had another go at the Weather Center [SIC] importing in BYE. I had tried this before but found the file opening process incredibly slow and then ultimately that BYE would hang. Despite using the latest cleanly installed version, I had the same issues! The weather section of BYE remains useless to me, taking up space. I posted the suggestion for manual entry. The bizarre thing is that I saw this work fine in BYN so it sure likes like bad code in BYE.

During all this I worked toward making a QRC card for the portable computer, like what I did for TheSkyX. A red-on-black document, red text on a black page, to be astronomer friendly. Completed that and transferred to the ASUS machine. Opened up the stark new doc in Foxit Reader on the portable computer. It looked good. Tried to find a "full screen" mode button to get rid of the distracting bright chrome elements (which the Foxit people won't let you change and that does NOT follow the Windows colour schemes). I must have missed it. Couldn't see anything in their ribbon. Googled the issue. Many were complaining about the lack of dark mode in Foxit to support people who were not reading the question but at least I stumbled across the keyboard shortcut, curiously, F11, like some other apps I use... In full screen it looks fantastic.

Checked the ribbon in Foxit again. I am NOT seeing a full screen option. That's just silly. Crazy.

Sheesh. A lot of battles and struggles. I just wanted Backyard to work again. It does. I'd really like the weather data insertion but that's wishful thinking. And I suppose I should not complain too much about free software. At least I was able to figure out how to order Foxit to work the way I wanted. Right? Help the user.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

returned to NGC 4559 (Halifax)

Tried to improve on my first attempt with Finest NGC 4559, a lovely canted spiral island universe in Coma. I imaged this with BGO back in 17 Dec '17 but noted banding in the image and donut artefacts. This run with BGO, with the repaired Apogee camera, looks better.

luminance frame of galaxy NGC 4559

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Smoother background, no noticeable artefacts. But gosh-darn, this is a tough one. The foreground stars are easy to blow out when trying to reveal the tantalising details in the core and spiral arms.

Proper processing would require removing the stars...

clumpy and lumpy

Read NASA's article on the clumpy and lumpy death of a star. Poor star.

Scientists have been studying the latest images of the Tycho supernova remnant in Cassiopeia with the Chandra X-ray telescope. They emphasised the clumpy regions of the type 1A object with different colours. In particular the red parts are moving away from us.

clumpy and lumpy Tycho supernova remnant

The researchers are not sure why the SN 1572 remnant is so clumpy but one proposal is that there were multiple ignition events.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

imaged Orion (Bradford)

Quick processing of an image for each of the two sets of Orion.

All with Canon 40D, kit 18-55 lens at f/5.6, 30 second exposure, ISO 800, in-camera noise subtraction, shot RAW, daylight white balance, manually focused, controlled by Backyard EOS. Atop custom barn door tracker with alt-az base and Mamiya tripod. Lens heated. Filter removed. Heated lens.

Orion with Sirius

9:38 PM. Aimed south-south-east so to include Sirius. Camera upright. Light pollution from Newmarket. Not polar aligned in anyway.

You can see the Great Orion Nebula, 42 and 45 Orionis, ι (iota) Ori, Meissa, Collinder 69, et al. The open cluster NGC 1981 north of 42-45 is obvious when you zoom in. There's just a hint of Messier 41 below Sirius. Lepus is in the trees.

constellation Orion with Pleiades

9:57 PM. Aimed south-south-west so to embrace Pleiades. Camera inverted. Polaris in the finder scope.

Taurus is lovely. A few of the double stars are visible within, like θ (theta) 1 and 2, σ (sigma) 1 and 2. Orange Menkar is peeking through the branches on the right.

In these photos, Betelgeuse looks the same magnitude as Bellatrix, maybe even a touch brighter.

I didn't realise it at the time but the lens was at 24mm. I wanted 18. That's why I couldn't seem to fit everything...

Both images slightly enhanced in Digital Photo Professional 4.6: brightened, boosted contrast, dropped the shadows, boosted saturation, rotated as needed, scaled.

Good transparency, good seeing, humidity low at 42%, air temperature around -11°C.


Got a good result, finally, from stacking.

imaging run details

Headed out back with all the gear. Big metal tripod with hex plate. Barn door tracker with alt-az base in box with controller and polar finding sheet. Camera with kit 18-55 lens but no battery grip so to reduce bulk and weight. I had previously installed the DC coupler. TV table and astronomer chair. Big gauge extension cord and GFCI power bar. Bits and bops (flashlight, weather station, eyeglasses straps, red eyeglasses, red keyboard light) in a carry-all.

Fired up the catalytic hand warmer. Took two tries with a candle. Worked well despite the old fuel. Toasty! It is awesome. Lots of layers, of course. Winter coat. New thematically appropriate constellations hoodie (though not a human could see it)! Maybe for the first time, three layers on the legs: underwear, pyjamas, and baggy jeans. My delicious -100 boots!

Forgot the netbook and wireless mouse on the first run.

Moon, crescent, just above the western trees; Venus, falling, warming, tangled in the branches.

Considered a light shield, to block the annoying street light from Frederick. Nothing available...

Hooked everything up. Very quick tripod and BDT setup. Did not sight Polaris... I know!

Tonight, I decided to try the in-camera noise reduction dark removal. Alan Dyer does it.

Started imaging tests using the Canon EOS Utility. Just on auto-pilot. Gave up during focusing trials when I couldn't see anything in the live view.

Fetched dew heating equipment. Cup warmer heater with custom cord, Kendrick controller, NOCO lithium battery with custom CLA adapter. Later my custom nichrome wire wrap. The cup warmer heater is too long with the lens at 18mm, cutting into the frame, visible.

Took the sky filter off the lens.

9:20 PM. Started using Backyard EOS. Frame and focus. 30 second shot.

The focus controls didn't seem to be working... Manually focused! [ed: Dew strap stiction?]

Beep-boop. Histogram looked OK. At 100% zoom level the focus looked OK. Stars looked round! Huh.

Couldn't remember how to zoom in with the app! The quick buttons in the interface are "fit" or 100%. And when combined with full screen, it helped. Had to dig around in the documentation... I was over-analysing it. Don't use the Ctrl key. [ed: Oops. Total forgot about my discovery in May 2017!]

Really wanted Pleiades in the frame. Couldn't angle the camera at the pitch necessary given the ball head, and the hollow. Just the way it's designed. In a normal terrestrial application it would be fine, the camera could be pivot from horizontal to vertical, 90°, straight up. But my straight-up was 45° (more or less), whatever my latitude was.

Checked the settings, lens at f/5.6, body at ISO 800, RAW format, power level OK. Too bad BYE doesn't indicate AC power input rather than just a full battery. Was happy overall, so ordered a 12 of the images.

The battery looked weak for the deep red flashlight.

9:28. Checked the Oregon Scientific portable weather station: 42% relative humidity, air temperature -10.5°C. No wind... Moon was down, of course.

The estimated finished time looked wonky. Oh. Then it corrected itself. The app appears to initially calculate it at the beginning of the run. 2 minutes from the start? No. Now 9:38, 13 minutes from now. Right. 12 shots at 30 seconds would be 6 minutes times 2 for the darks would be 12 minutes total. Looked OK.

Zoomed in to a very high level. The focus was maybe off a little. Whatever.

Amazingly, the stars looked round. And I had not done a polar alignment, in any formal way. I just plunked down the tripod and mounted the BDT, aimed over the roof. That was it. I must have gotten very close... Lucky.

Noted the title bar in BYE: 3.1.16. Wondered if there was a new version.

9:34. Wondered how to get Pleiades... Couldn't tilt any more. Flip it?

I was feeling some time pressure. Chris had said the conditions were to change. My quick glance at the predictive sights show clouds rolling in after midnight. No clouds visible now. Skies looked really good!

(Bet that were having fun on Glen Major...)

Two more shots. At 11 of 12.

9:40. Inverted the camera! But, as I suspected, it created a balance problem. The altitude-azimuth base of the BDT wanted to flop open. The current rubber band (bands?) was weak and/or broken.

Adjusted the BDT alt-az. I put Polaris in the field of view of the finder (but not in the centre). It wasn't there at first but remarkably I was getting no visible trailing. Presumably it would be even better now. That said, I hadn't done co-axial tests...

Went inside for a big elastic. Amazingly, I found one! One centimetre wide band, strong, good condition.

camera upside-down on barn door tracker

Samsung, f/1.9, 1/25th, ISO 200, 4mm (27). The Up Side Down!

Tried a test shot in the new configuration.

Learned if you roll back the number of exposures in the BYE imaging sequence and it goes to zero (which by itself is odd), it clears the camera settings!

9:54. Image downloaded. Histogram looked good. Hit the 180 button in BYE. Got the Pleiades, but just barely. Turned the camera a bit more. Another test shot. Rotated some more.

Camera temperature was reporting at -6. Wow.

Nice framing! Checked focus—it was fair, not perfect. Programmed 12 shots.

10:00 PM. Saw the bug in the estimated finished time again. Not 2 minutes from now; should be 12. After first shot, waited for the noise reduction, downloaded, paused. As it started the second image capture, the estimate recalculated. Due around 10:13.

Went inside to ask Rhonda a favour. She let me use her Samsung smartphone camera (SM-a520w) with flash so I could take some set-up shots.

frost forming on tracker

Samsung, f/1.9, 1/33th, ISO 160, 4mm (27). Frozen dew. Elastics everywhere. Big rubber band holding the motor plate down.

10:09. Checked an image. Framing looked good. Histogram looked OK, although fewer light pixels [ed: Less Newmarket light pollution while aimed to the south-east.] Camera temp was now -2, from -6, showing it was warming in the shooting process.

10:11. Worked on image 9 of 12. Backyard conditions: 42%, -11.7, precipitation tomorrow, air pressure dropping. Low humidity but we must have been at the dew point.

Discovered I forgot to cap the BDT finder. Oops.

Two to go. Stars didn't seem as bright. I wondered if the lens was fogging.

Started packing up. Stoopid neighbour's dog started freakin' out. Lame.

Beep-boop. Lens was fine. Capped everything. Bagged the camera.

Shot set-up photos.

imaging workstation

Samsung, f/1.9, 1/17th, ISO 1250, 4mm (27). My workstation among the Baffin Island boot tracks and bunny hoof prints. That's not a star; it's the ridiculous street light from a block away.

10:25. On the move.

readied to image

A couple of days ago people started talking about the clear skies expected on Wednesday night. All my weather indicators echoed this, including the new Rainmeter weather widget.

I started working a plan. Not in the mood for double stars, I settled on photography. I'd try to capture the Orion constellation. I would be able to get more experience with the barn door tracker. I'd be able to measure (to a degree) the brightness of Betelgeuse.

Happily, I resurrected SkyTools 3 on the John Max computer. It looked like I'd be able to get Orion, plus other stuff, with the kit lens zoomed wide. If I was lucky, Sirius in one corner, and Pleaides kitty-corner.

Sunlight stretched across the snow in the backyard as I ground my coffee beans this morning. That was a good sign. But later Chris V said clouds would move in. And I saw the Clear Outside site reflected this, conditions turning around midnight. No worries. I readied to head out after dinner.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Binary Universe: charts of the sky

cover of the Feb 2020 Journal of the RASC
Received a notice from RASC national office that the February 2020 Journal was ready for download.

Enjoyed Jeff's fantastic image of the North Amercian Nebula. Enjoyed Rick Staniewicz amazing parhelia image. The articles by Beckett and Percy I look forward to reading.

In my Binary Universe column I discuss Cartes du Ciel. I tested version 4.2 on my Windows 10 environment. A rich planetarium application with some planning capabilities, mount control, and features for variable and double star observers. Cartes du Ciel for Windows, Mac, and Linux is completely free.

Monday, January 27, 2020

bringer of light

Fished out the slab phone, confirmed it was the correct human signing in, tapped the Google Calendar is my life, started a shiny new entry, and tapped the teenie mic icon on the virtual keyboard. I orated, "Don't forget to write about this month's double stars." The pocket-able somewhat-intelligent computing device thought I said "Don't forget to write about this month's devil stars." Indeed.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

spotted Levy and Abraham

While doing some Messier Marathon research, I came across Chris Vaughan's 2019 article on And then I watched the embedded video. Ha, spotted David Levy. And later Roberto Abraham, at the David Dunlap Observatory no less.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Winter Hexagon overhead (Bradford)

Stepped off the bus and immediately Sirius caught my left eye. Fairly elevated, not too much scintillating.

As I cut through a dark parking lot, the southern sky opened up. Orion, high up, Auriga higher still. I had to crane for the Pleiades. Took in the whole hexagon. Fantastic, majestic, huge. Lovely with no Moon.

The stars to the west seemed dim. Was there high cloud? Not enough stars to pick out constellations.

Betelgeuse looked very close to Bellatrix in terms of brightness. At one point, I thought brighter. Most of the time it seemed the same. Definitely better than Saiph. Definitely better than Mintaka. But then I thought the same magnitude as Alnitak and Alnilam. They are both 1.7.

Flip dark winter chill.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

read AN DS article

Spotted an article over at Astronomy Now on colourful double stars in Cassiopeia. w00t! It's a nice little piece with attractive graphics. Good suggestions. Checked if I've seen them—yep.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

gauged Betelgeuse

Eyeballed Betelgeuse, alpha Orionis, again. Again I thought it to be the same magnitude as Bellatrix. So around mag 1.6.

received 6th graders (Richmond Hill)

We received a school group to the David Dunlap Observatory. I headed to the site early to check on things and attempt repairs of two of our loaner telescopes. Paul arrived on time so we headed to the dome to prep. Ian W and Nancy arrived some time later. Amazingly the skies cleared so I put the 74 on Uranus and radioed Ian that we were ready. Despite the cold temperatures, the grade 6 kids were enthusiastic with good questions. Sounded like they enjoyed their visit. Tres bien.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

processed RY Mon in colour

Processed Caldwell 54 aka NGC 2506 in colour. This is the image data captured on 9 Jan '20.

red star RY Mon in colour

Used the processing features from BGO.
  • split (the special combined exposures)
  • for each, cropped (95, 95), rotated (180), removed gradient 
  • made a colour image (registered and combined)
Yep, very red.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

processed Caldwell 54 in colour

Processed Caldwell 54 aka NGC 2506 in colour. This is the image data captured on 9 Jan '20.

open cluster Caldwell 54 in colour

Used the processing features from BGO.
  1. split (the special combined exposures)
  2. for each, cropped (95, 95), rotated (180), removed gradient 
  3. made a colour image (registered and combined)
  4. adjusted colour balance (120,100,80)
  5. saturated (200)
  6. cropped again (95, 95)
It's a colourful cluster.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

imaged Caldwell 54 for fun (Halifax)

The Burke-Gaffney Observatory captured photons from Caldwell 54. An open cluster in the constellation Monoceros. Looks to have many colourful stars within.

open cluster Caldwell 54 in luminance

Green filter only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Big! Many fine members. Seems almost like there are two channels moving up and north.

I also collected red and blue data with the same parameters.

This is also known as NGC 2506 and OCL 593 and Melotte 80. Collinder 170 and Raab 67. It's also on the Herschel 400 list.


Assembled in colour on 11 Jan '20.


Wikipedia link: NGC 2506.

imaged red star RY Mon (Halifax)

Sent the BGO robotic telescope to the red star RY Mon after examining the RASC Calgary list.

red star RY Mon in luminance

Luminance only, 2 seconds subexposures, 12 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Look at that little gaggle of stars!

Also gathered RGB data, 6 seconds each, 12 frames each.

Aka HIP 34326 and TYC 05381-0403 1.

The B-V is 4.0 and the V magnitude 8. I look forward to processing this in colour...


Assembled in colour on 12 Jan '20.

imaged fast moving LDS 873 (Halifax)

Ordered BGO to image LDS 873. This is a faint but fast binary star in Pisces. 70 year period. I hoped the magnitude 11.4 and 12.9 stars would both be visible...

binary LDS 873 in luminance

Luminance only, 2 seconds subexposures, 12 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Also gathered RGB data, 6 seconds each, 12 frames each.

Also known as HIP 4927. SkyTools says the primary star is TYC 01195-0960 1 but I had to use 1195009602 with the 'bot.

This is a tight pair. SkyTools says 3.23". That's close to the limit for this system. The software shows the B star to the west, nearly due west. I can't see anything... Did a deep give into all the channels.

Is the seeing a factor? The CSC predicted the seeing at 1/5 or bad. Or am I working below the limits of the rig?

visited NGC 7814 for fun (Halifax)

The Burke-Gaffney Observatory robot imaged NGC 7814. An edge-on galaxy in Pegasus. First viewed this target on the evening of 8 Oct '16 from the backyard. Wanted to get a better look.

galaxy NGC 7814 in luminance

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Not a great image with that nasty gradient. But you can still see that thin black line, that lumpy dust lane cutting through the middle of the galaxy. Interesting.

This galaxy is also known as UGC 8 and Caldwell 43. It's also on the Herschel 400 list.

It is near Algenib. Not that bright star at the top-right; that's HD 225001.


Spotted faint LEDA 1504510 to the north, just above star Tycho 1178-0738-1. Tiny round little fuzzy.

To the east (left) there is the obvious oval, somewhat bright, of galaxy PGC 259.

LEDA 1500064 is to the south-west, near the bright stars SAO 91677 and 91676.


Wikipedia link: NGC 7814.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

checked brightness of Betelgeuse

Pulled up the brightness chart or light curve for Betelgeuse. I inverted it with GIMP.

light curve for alpha Orionis

My quick visual Mark I eyeball assessment was not too far off.

The dynamic up-to-date graph is available at the AAVSO. Check it for the latest observations and measures.


Still dropping, as of 5 Feb '20.

followed Sirius (Bradford)

It was partly cloud. From the bus stop to home, I followed bright Sirius. The nearly full Moon was headed toward Orion, up and left of an orange star (Aldebaran). In fact, the Moon had taken up one of the corners of the Winter Hexagon. Couldn't see the Pleaides in the bright and wispy sky.

Betelgeuse looked the same brightness as Bellatrix. [ed: Which is mag 1.6 according to Stellarium.]

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

attended CAO meeting

Attended the meeting for the Carr Astronomical Observatory organising team. First face-to-face committee meeting in a while. We plowed through a lot of stuff in 2 hours!

fixed the projector

Headed to the DDO earlier. Good thing I wasn't on the clock as the buses were all messed up. Tidied up the RASC office some more. Tested the wifi bridge. My notes were good but the service is spotty. Found the projector lamp assembly that Chris had located. Looked brand new to me so I installed it in the east projector in the dome and fired it up. Back in business! Was ready to have a go at the big Dob but then people started arriving.

plotted moon elongations

woo hoo! At first I didn't think there was a tool specifically for Mars. But a bit of creative searching, and I found it! Like what I've done with the outer gas giants, I used the Tracker Tool, version 2.6, PDS Ring-Moon Systems Node (tool link) from SETI. (It is not listed in the web interface menu...)

plot of Martian moons for 4 weeks

Wow. They are zippy! Deimos appears to be just over 1 day. Phobos looks to be 2 or 3 times a day!

Slowed it down a bit...

plot of Martian moons for 2 days

There. That'll be handy for a given evening...

Oh boy. Phobos is gonna be tough, never more than 1 planet diameter away!

Monday, January 06, 2020

considered Mars 2020 show

Got to thinking about the conversation with Rhonda. Did a big of digging into the next apparition of Mars.

A few quick key facts. Opposition will occur on or around 13 October. It will cross the meridian (or over the south cardinal point) at midnight on that date. Approximately, it will rise at 5:50 PM and set at 6:35 AM. Visible all night long. The red planet will be bright at magnitude -2.6. It will be 0.4 astronomical units (AU) away i.e. 60 000 000 kilometres. Or to put it another way, less than half the Earth-Sun distance. While still below the ecliptic (the path of the planets and the Sun) line, it will be pretty high in the sky. At midnight it will be above 51 degrees in altitude or elevation. That's very good news. In the summer of 2018 it was only about 20° up.

That's all data I culled from using Stellarium on the web (link).

(Actually, this whole time is gonna be awesome for planet viewing as Jupiter and Saturn will be putting on an incredible show as well.)

I also visited the ALPO site for information. In fact, I had a look at the heliocentric chart for Earth and Mars. This was the main discussion point. I was trying to explain to rho that Earth drew close to Mars about every 2 years but there was a longer cycle of interest where, due to Mars unique orbit, that there were periods where it was better for us. I couldn't remember that period but I thought it something like 20 years. ALPO says it's 15.8 years.

From Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers web site, I took in the Mars page. It had been updated by Jeffrey Beish in March 2016. I noted Figure 2-3, the chart showing the maximum apparent diameter of Mars. Yep, peaking in the fall of 2020. Not quite as high at 2003 but still pretty good! Between 23 and 25 seconds-of-arc.

Examined table 2-3 listing future apparitions of Mars. Found the 2020 data:
  • opposition date: 13 October
  • diameter in arc-seconds: 22.3
  • closest approach: 6 October
  • diameter in ": 22.6
  • distance in AU: 0.41
A general search thanks to Google helped me find a heliocentric chart with annotations for 2020. I was surprised that the one on the ALPO site wasn't marked. That said, the chart shows Ls, is the planetocentric longitude of the Sun along the ecliptic of Mars's sky. And the various tables refer to Ls. 

Oh. Hold the phone. I found a different page, one specifically for the 2020-2021 apparition of Mars. And it has an updated and annotated chart (see Figure 2). Noted the radial line marking 2020, from Earth's October orbit through Mars's January season.

Still, while I'm happy to find the updated chart, I thought I'd make my own, a bit cleaner, and astronomer-friendly...

chart of Mars and Earth orbits

This is a top-down view of the inner solar system. The planets orbit counter-clockwise.

The inner blue ring shows Earth's orbit, nearly circular, and nearly perfectly centred on the Sun. Earth's months are inscribed. The outer orange ring shows Mars's orbit. The Martian seasons, in the northern hemisphere, are noted. You'll note the orbit is elliptical so at times Mars can be half the distance from Earth. The Line of Apsides shows the points of closest approach (250°) or when Mars would be distal (70°).

Opposition times are marked with the red radial lines. The past 2018 event is noted—you can see it occurred in July, where the ecliptic is low for those in the northern hemisphere. Also noted is the "great" 2003 opposition where the event occurred right on the proximal Line of Apsides! Mars was 0.37 AU or 55.8 million klicks away and rose over 25" in size. That's why it was such a big deal.

Ah. That crazy night at York University...

Found the old 2003 perihelic apparition of Mars page on SEDS.

In all this searching, I also found the Opposition Cycle of Mars article. It talks about even longer cycles still as to how close/large Mars can be. 2003 was a really big deal.

The sad bit of news is that we're heading into the long 15-16 year cycle where Mars is moving away. Well, to be fair, for half that time. So that puts some emphasis on this year's apparition of Mars. Don't miss it. If you skip it, 2022 will be problematic: Mars will be further from Earth; and it will be December on our home world. And that will like scupper things for us in the northern hemisphere... So, again, view Mars this year!

Before I forget, planetary oppositions are not one-night-only events. So start enjoying the fourth planet in the summer, any clear nights you can. Go on high-alert in October. That will be the best time for visual observing and astrophotography. And if it's cloudy for much of October, it will still be OK to view and image in November.

I tried, without success, in 2018 to get the moons of Mars.

Stellarium says the tiny moons will be in the magnitude 10 and 11 range...

I'm pumped to tag Phobos and Deimos this year!

Sunday, January 05, 2020

received proof

Oh. Received my February JRASC column for proofing.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

listened for meteors

Wishfully hoped to see Quad meteors. From the interwebs: 4 Jan, the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower (40 to 120 or more per hour) is predicted to occur at 9:00 UT. So 4 local.

I even considered photographing with the BDT. I'd aim to Algieba, wake a 3:00 AM.

Clouded out. The weather from Clear Outside as of 2 Jan 2020, 15:13 had shown red across the board. Various sites as of 3 Jan 2020, 23:12, all looked bad. I decided to not set an alarm.

So, how about observing "online," using some online, real-time, frequency traces. Or listening to bounces of radio signals.

I found the LiveMeteors web page, turned the sound up, watched the scrolling graph for a bit, and listened for short ping and chirp sounds. On the left, in the screen snapshots below.

Then I found Meteorscan, the meteor detection and radio astronomy page. I liked the 3D graph. The notes at the bottom showed a typical meteor strike with a shark-fine shaped pattern. On the right, below.

meteor scanning, audio and visual, 1:00 AM

From 4 Jan, almost 1:00 AM.

more scanning, audio and visual, 3:00 AM

From 4 Jan, around 3:00 AM.

In my travels I stumbled across the Sky Scan web site with the Canadian meteor radio detection page. Lots of cool DIY stuff, how to get started, equipment needed, etc.

Friday, January 03, 2020

responded to BDT comment

Received another comment on my barn door tracker YouTube video. NightWaves gave some suggestions about leveling the base, bubble levels, tapping to get to polar alignment, etc. I noted that I do not worry about leveling the alt-az base precisely and I don't have bubble levels.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

what's up article Jan 2020

My January skies article with graphic was posted on the Bradford Today web site.

snapshot from Bradford Today - January skies

I talk about Venus, the Moon, the Quadrantid meteors, Mars, perihelion, Orion, M42, the Trapezium, sigma Orionis, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Messiers 36, 37, and 38.

This piece is replicated in other regional papers including Orillia Matters, Collingwood Today, and Barrie Today.


Nice comments on the Orillia site.

Kj said, "Keep these articles coming."

And Cathy M. said "I agree... it is great to read the paper and learn something new and uplifting than everyone complaining."

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

clouds (Bradford)

Clouded out. Fast moving clouds. Looked at the Moon with Celestron SkyMaster 9x63 binoculars. No stars visible. Yet another occultation not allowed...

saw Moon, Venus, stars (Bradford)

First observation for 2020. Clear!

During a brief walk, I noted the crescent Moon fairly high up and bright Venus in the south-west. Saw an orange star and tried to tag the rest of Orion. Oops. Found the belt stars much lower; so that was Aldebaran. After that reset I spotted Betelgeuse and Rigel and the three belt stars. Betelgeuse was indeed much dimmer than Rigel. To the north-west, I could see two stars of the Summer Triangle; but not Altair. Put my specs on and tried to tag some naked eye stars up and left of the Moon, particular 30 and 33 Piscium.

On the way back, I spotted fingers of clouds. They might scupper my attempts later...


As of 7:30 PM, Clear Outside is saying it will be clear around 8...