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...


Imaged again on 8 May '20.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

where'd 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. Added "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.

[ed: Updated on 5 Mar 2020 for a silly typo.]

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.

Orange 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.


Imaged on 29 Jan.
Satisfactorily stacked on 9 Feb.

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.


Identified objects in the photo.

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.