Thursday, April 30, 2020

on the docket

I noted that I am on the docket for the May 5 "course" from RASC national, speaking with Chris on celestial targets visible in moonlight and from within town or city limit.

info card for the May 5 RASC session

I'll be talking about double stars. The 90-minute program starts at 3:30 PM.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

helped with RAN online

Helped at the first full Recreational Astronomy Night meeting online. It went very well, overall. Chris is an old hand at this now. Too bad some of Phil's photos didn't show. Jerry did great. Good team.


Raw video as streamed live, unedited, entire event, just over 2 hours.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

stellar diorama

Playing around with 123D... Bunch of ideas floating around in my head.

constellation from the top

From the top.

constellation from the Earth

From the side.

You really get a sense of the "moving group" when you look at this a different way. Collinder 285.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

assembled HJ 1510 in colour

Quickly processed HJ 1510 in colour using FITS Liberator and GIMP 2.10 with the Compose command.

double star HJ 1510 in colour

Originally imaged on 2 Oct '17 with BGO.

A and B are white or pale yellow.

C, to the north-west, is dimmer. It's taking on a whitish or grey colour.

D further away looks blue-white.

E and F are to the south-east. E looks blue-white.

F however is pale orange.

Some of the colours of the neighbouring stars are fantastic.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

enjoyed Mune

Watch the French movie, Mune: Guardian of the Moon, directed by Philippon and Heboyan, from Onyx Films. It's on Netflix (Canada) right now.

Moon and Sun in the skies

Beautiful graphics, neat characters (although Glim was a little weak), an interesting story/fable. Hints of Mœbius. I love that the Sun was hauled across the sky with heavy chains while the Moon was tugged with gossamer threads from little spider protectors.

Wikipedia entry: Mune: Guardian of the Moon.

gathered RGB for Triplet

The MRO Robotic Telescope was outside again and I requested more data on the Leo Triplet. The lil' 'scope dutifully captured LRGB images for me. Unfortunately, a satellite went through during the luminance, and I goofed on the exposure times for the colours. Missed an opportunity as the polar alignment was spot on!


I noticed another user shot part of the Veil Nebula. Good choice. Someone else captured M5. It looked great, as did M13.

Friday, April 24, 2020

the speaking circuit

OK. I'm on deck for a few events.

Paul Markov, for the RASC Toronto Centre, booked me to talk about "How to share observations and photos" at the May 27 online meeting and then my "Custom dew heater" for the June 17 meeting. The "sharing" topic is a redux of something I did 5 years ago at the DDO. The June dew topic will be new. But it'll be fun showing the work on this project.

Then today Jenna Hinds invited me to speak for the May 5 RASC national Insider's Guide webinar, on double stars! This was upon Chris Vaughan's reco. Chris was keen on including a session about double stars and said that I could talk about them for hours on end. "Just shut up already."

Feels like I should get tour t-shirts done up!

imaged with MRO (Stillwater Lake)

Popped into Facebook for a moment to check for vindaloo messages and saw "Mini-Ralph should be operating tonight!" All right! The wide-field, big Finest NGCs are all a little out-of-season. And then it hit me. Bright galaxy groups. I aimed at GSC 00861-1046 to collect photons for the Leo Triplet.

the Leo Triplet galaxy group in luminance

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. Slight curve in GIMP. North is up; east is left. There are slight registration problems in this image. Looks like the polar alignment is off a bit.

Messier 65 (M65) is south-west of centre, a compact edge-on spiral galaxy with an intense bright core. Finally Messier 66 (M66) is south of centre, a large barred spiral galaxy. I first viewed the Charles Messier objects on 8 May 2011.

NGC 3628 is to the north. Large but faint. Dark dust lane in the foreground. It was on 11 June 2011 that I first visually spotted the fainter edge-on galaxy. I imaged this galaxy, the Hamburger, on its own recently. Also a target on the RASC Finest list.

Together this group is known as Arp 317. It's fantastic seeing them all together in one field. That view is approximately 1¼ degrees square.

This is my first run with the Mini-Ralph Observatory (MRO) in Nova Scotia, currently located at the Abbey Ridge Observatory near Stillwater Lake.

The optical tube assembly is a Tele Vue Genesis 100mm. It's on a Celeston AVX German equatorial mount—atop a custom made wooden platform. The (CMOS) camera is the ZWO ASI 1600 MM monochrome mated with a EFW filter wheel with 8 positions. The whole rig is manually set up and polar aligned on clear nights.


Now for some deep stuff...

Tiny galaxy IC 2708 is visible to the south-west, near the bottom-right corner of the image.

The little sliver of IC 2763 shows to the south-east.

Left of centre, very close to a star, is the edge on distant galaxy IC 2745.

Quasar WEE 48 is north-west of NGC 3628 while WEE 55 is to the north-east. 48, aka Q1117+0139, is magnitude 19.9, has a redshift (z) of 2.06, and a light time of 8.9 Gyr. 55 or Q1118+0139 is mag 20.5, z 1.94, and light time 8.7 Gyr. WEE 55 is a maybe... star J112104.1+133822 at mag 16.8 is nearby... And WEE 48 is near J111944.6+133818 at mag 15.5. On second thought, I don't think I nabbed quasars. Looks like the mag limit in this image is around 16½.


Millie liked the image.


MRO's minion reported "I still have some work to do on image calibrations for CMOS cameras - a bit different than CCD but not a big issue so far."


In an effort to learn the limits of this new rig, I did a deep dive. Looks like I can tag stars around magnitude 17. And there's a very faint pair (mag 16) of equal stars with J111920.2+132330 between 3628 and 65, east of the bright star, with a black line between. SkyTools says the separation is 9.0 seconds of arc. So it looks like MRO will give splits of equal stars around 8".


Wikipedia link: Leo Triplet.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

tested red LEDs

Tested case ε with the red 4-LED harness, removed from an old case. Casts a decent red glow on the eyepieces (even with just 3 emitters). It'll work!

spotted new SkyNews

Spotted the May-June issue of SkyNews at my local druggist. Feels a little strange since I just received the March-April...

astro mags at local drug store

I'll ping the RASC national listserv to see what's up?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

if you had it from dusk to dawn...

Also spotted Dusk to Dawn. Another white IPA. Excuse me: a white stout. Made by Upper Thames Brewing.

Dusk to Dawn beer

Will have to try on a future visit...

electric monoceros

I was on a mission for some Russian Gun. None at the Newmarket north store, sadly. Spotted some Electric Unicorn white IPA! OK, let's try it. For its magical properties.


Made by Phillips Brewing & Malting Co. in Victoria, on the west coast.

Unicorn. Moon. Stars. 6.5%. Lasers! Can't go wrong, right?

Monday, April 20, 2020

it looks very decent

The "print shop" sent over a photo to show how the Dec GoToStar declination motor cover printed. This was based on my new design from 12 Apr '20.

custom GoToStar cover printed in 3D

We had a lot of slicing trouble presumably sorted with good print options. We both feel "it looks decent!"

Sunday, April 19, 2020

tried for K 2-4 (Halifax)

As I considered an interesting target for Burke-Gaffney Observatory, I noticed K 2-4 in Virgo from SkyTools. It is a large planetary nebula, PK 275+72.1 or ARO 35, in the planning software. I couldn't reference the object by the BGO designations so I targeted the nearby star Tycho 00876-0992 1.

I believe the K is for Kohoutek.

The luminance data was screwed up.

area centred on Tycho 00876-0992 1 in the blue filter

Blue only, 60 seconds subexposures, 5 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

I don't see anything. A large 11.5' circular object is shown in the software slightly left or east of the star in the centre of the image. Nope. Nothing in the red or green filters. Is this real? A catalogue error?

Not to be confused with Abell 35 in Hydra, a object many consider is not a planetary...

The brightest star in the image is HD 107056. Again above and right of this star, I do not see a big planetary.

I do see the little oval galaxy IC 3107!


When I was looking for alternate designations for the object, I stumbled across a post in Cloudy Nights by redbetter from 2 Mar '17.
In my original copy of Uranometria there is a similarly large planetary listed near Markarian's chain.  However, this one, PK 275+72.1, is either mis-plotted or is not real.  I scouted it and could not find it at the coordinates (or search) in Wikisky.  I didn't waste time on it in the field.
So, looks like an error.

I tried and got a blank screen.

No listing in Telescopius.

Nothing shows in Stellarium. Neither does the IC object appear.

Nothing shows in Aladin, in a DSS2 colour plane.

TheSky 6 shows a small conglomeration of stars. When I click in the middle the Object Information box pops up and says: PLN 275+72.1. Uh huh.

Found a discussion in but their analyses suggests an error.

tested before clouds (Bradford)

Experiment night. Wasn't expecting excellent conditions but wanted to get out anyway to do some tests. My primary goal was to get familiar with the SkyTools drift alignment aids. I would be able to test the clothespin on the focuser. Also considered the double star mask but couldn't find the template I had made previously... Readied to take a Globe At Night reading.
Instrument: Meade ETX-90 Maksutov
Mount: fork mount with tracking motor, tripod
Method: star hopping, with angle finder
9:02 PM. Continued setting up... Rhonda's wood bench. 'Scope was on the tripod. Rhonda's blinkie lights.

Remembered the netbook was in "super" performance mode; I set it to automatic.

Unscrewed the 90mm objective cover from the Meade.

9:05. Connected the external battery pack. I heard the tracking motor start up.

Spotted a bright satellite! Space station? Really bright. Almost as bright as Venus. When I looked back, it was much dimmer. Wait a minute. I spotted another point ahead of it. A craft near the ISS? Wait! I tagged another point after the initially seen one. Ooh... A Starlink group. Aye. First sighting. The track nearly west to east, coming up through the feet of Gemini, near Auriga. No, more west to north-east. Going past pail of the Little Dipper [ed: Kochab]. Equidistant. They all flared at about 70° in altitude. Near θ (theta) Aurigae. Different brightnesses. A train of satellites as a GO train headed north. Boy, if you were imaging in this area, it'd be bad. The 10th was really bright. The 15th was closer to the previous. I stopped counting at 18...

[Looked up the details in Heavens Above. Starlink-1303, for example, flew over from 9:06 to 9:15, starting to be visible between Gemini, Taurus, and Auriga, passed theta around 9:10, continued toward Ursa Minor, very near Kochab and Pherkad, and disappearing in the east-north-east.]

Allergies were bad.

Green mouse was acting a little strange.

Decided to go for Venus.

Glanced to the north-east: still more Starlink satellites...

Ugh. Honda-boy is driving around in circles.

9:16. Venus was big with the 26mm (48x). Crescent phase, about 25% illuminated. Very nice. In the tree branches but I got a good view.

Checked the Starlink again. Two really close together, train still continuing.

Noted some cloud. Hrrm. Checked the Oregon Scientific portable weather station even though I knew it would not be acclimated. Humidity 46%, air temperature 3.1°C, barometric pressure dropping, cloudy in 24 hours. Felt damp. I saw random clouds overhead.

John Repeat Dance was 5 minutes ahead of the weather device. Rolled back the computer a bit.

OK. Ready for drift testing!

Activated the SkyTools Real Time mode. From the Telescope Control menu, activated the Mount Alignment Tool. I then selected to align the east/west direction of the mount. The software suggested a star in Sextans. Headed to the target...

Watched the star. Oh, right, the reticule eyepiece!

9:32. The Starlink seemed to have stopped. There was a slow-mover along a similar path.

Carefully put the batteries in the Celestron Micro Guide ocular illuminator. Couldn't remember which way they went. Tried both ways. No response. Tried again. No response! Had they died? Gah. There ya go. Check all your batteries.

Back to the regular eyepiece. Clearly, the star was drifting up. That meant to move the mount east. I released a clamp on the tripod—aah, wrong one, the tilt! Shoot. Put it back.

9:37. Switched to up/down mode. It told me to go to a faint star in the middle of nowhere in Virgo.

Went for a little walkabout, west side of the yard, to tag the constellation, Spica, et al. I wouldn't be able to get to the suggested star so I went to Spica instead and checked the telescope chart in ST3P.

The star drifted up so that meant to move the mount down.

I was missing the illuminated eyepiece. I checked the required battery type: LR44. Headed inside for fresh batteries.

Inside, I spotted some 2016 coin cells. Oh. How about that.

9:48. Returned with new lithium batteries in a blister pack. Got it working at last.

[ed: Positive (flat) side toward the switch.]

Loaded the CMG for the first time into the ETX. It worked. Rotated it to align with the RA axis.

Reviewed the help documentation in the software. Moved the mount down. Repeated. Down more. Repeated. Down more. Started to wonder if I was going in the right direction...

10:09. Considered what I'd show Rhonda when she ventured outside. Something interesting... Wanted to have an good option or two. Checked my "showpieces" observing list. Leo was high up. Aimed at Algieba to get started. Accidentally landed at Adhafara or ζ (zeta) Leonis. Neat field in finder with 35, 39, and SAO 81273. Slewed down. Got it. And she popped out. Good timing. Installed the 20mm Pentax.

She looked up and thought she saw a few satellites. Tricked out by the moving clouds. The moving train frame-of-reference issue.

Offered a seat so to view the double star. B was on the right, at a 45° angle. Yellow and orange.

Showed rho my new focus control, the clothespin.

Wondered about another target but clouds filled the lion constellation...

Eyeballed the polar alignment. Ah. The mount did look to high. So I was going in the correct direction.

We sat in the fire pit circle looking for meteors. I looked north-east while Rhonda looked to the south-east. Sadly, no meteors.

The driver of the Honda continued to drive around in circles, up into the rev-limiter, melting the clutch in second gear.

The clouds continued, worse than predicted. It seemed that the wind had picked up. OK. That's it. Time for a night cap.

Rhonda helped me pack up.

Checked the conditions one more time. 64%, -0.6°, calling for rain tomorrow.


The drift option in SkyTools looks to be good, helpful. I'll try it again.

Got the Celestron Micro Guide going with fresh batteries. [ed: One of the two was flat.]

First time using the CMG in the little Mak. Worked fine. It occurred to me I could measure things...

The 10 ¢ microfocuser worked great! It's a keeper.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

returned to ACO 1656 (Halifax)

Asked BGO to try ACO 1656 again (centred on star GSC 01995 02059). Last attempt, 7 Apr '20.

cluster of galaxies ACO 1656 in luminance

Luminance only, 13 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Log method used for stretch. No moonlight. Also, I used the SOM option, side of meridian, to force the capture when to the west. Hopefully a bit less light pollution then. A far better result.

OK. Let's ID things... This is gonna take a while.

Thanks to SkyTools 3 Pro, I was able to identify most of the fuzzies in the image. You'll want to embiggen to read the annotations.

ACO 1656 region with annotations (corrected)


Wow. 125 objects!

First, the galaxies...
  • IC 3960A aka MCG 5-31-56, PGC 44552. Small, dim, round fuzzy.
  • IC 3963 aka MCG 5-31-61, PGC 44567. Round, small, smooth.
  • IC 3973 aka PGC 44612. Fairly bright while small. Irregular.
  • IC 3976 aka PGC 44603. Elliptical, small, somewhat bright.
  • IC 3998 aka PGC 44664. Elliptical or canted spiral. Medium bright core.
  • IC 4011 aka PGC 44705. Round elliptical, medium bright, small.
  • IC 4012 aka PGC 44714. Somewhat bright core, oval ball.
  • IC 4021 aka MCG 5-31-80, PGC 44726. Round, small, somewhat bright core.
  • IC 4026 aka PGC 44749. Small, medium bright oval patch. Or a spiral?
  • IC 4040 aka MCG 5-31-85, PGC 44789. Diffuse patch. Maybe an irregular galaxy.
  • IC 4041 aka MCG 5-31-86, PGC 44802. Small, soft elliptical. Not round.
  • IC 4042 aka PGC 44808. Small but bright elliptical.
  • IC 4045 aka MCG 5-31-88, PGC 44818. Possibly an elliptical. Bright, oval.
  • IC 4051 aka MCG 5-31-90, UGC 8129, PGC 44832. Round, medium size, bright core. Elliptical.
  • LEDA 83734. Very small, dim, round.
  • LEDA 83740. Small, dim. Odd shape.
  • LEDA 83745. Almond shape, small, dim.
  • LEDA 83750. Oblong small dim fuzzy.
  • LEDA 83751. Small round elliptical, south-west of NGC 4911.
  • LEDA 93697. Horizontal smudge, very faint, small.
  • LEDA 126752. Very small dim round lint ball.
  • LEDA 126754. Tiny blotch. Irregular.
  • LEDA 126756. Barely detectable. Very smudge, small.
  • LEDA 126758. Barely visible, nearly rounded smudge.
  • LEDA 126759. Very small, round.
  • LEDA 126760. Very dim small extended patch.
  • LEDA 126761. Barely visible. Small smudge.
  • LEDA 126762. Extremely faint, small. Barely detectable.
  • LEDA 126763. Wouldn't know it was there. Extremely faint.
  • LEDA 126764. Barely visible, small smudge.
  • LEDA 126765. Very dim, very small, round fuzzy.
  • LEDA 126767. Medium sized but very dim blob.
  • LEDA 126768. Barely detectable. Very small, very faint. Round.
  • LEDA 126771. Barely visible, extremely faint smudge.
  • LEDA 126775. Irregular. Barely visible. Small.
  • LEDA 126777. Barely visible. Small smudge.
  • LEDA 126778. Irregular. Barely visible. Small.
  • LEDA 126779. Stretched smudge. Barely visible.
  • LEDA 126780. Barely visible. Very faint smudge.
  • LEDA 126781. Very small. Barely visible.
  • LEDA 126784. Barely detectable. Small.
  • LEDA 126787. Barely detectable. Strange shape.
  • LEDA 126789. Very faint, diffuse, small.
  • LEDA 126790. Wow. Medium small, very dim.
  • LEDA 126791. Stretched. Very dim. Rather small.
  • LEDA 126792. Barely visible. Very faint small smudge.
  • LEDA 126794. Very faint, very small, nearly round.
  • LEDA 126799. Very small, very faint.
  • LEDA 126800. Small, very faint, diffuse.
  • LEDA 1819490. Barely visible. Small elongated smudge.
  • LEDA 1820864. Barely visible. Medium size elongated patch.
  • LEDA 1820946. Barely visible. Medium size patch.
  • LEDA 1821341. Barely visible, extremely small faint smudge.
  • LEDA 1821892. Very diffuse, small, very faint.
  • LEDA 1822111. Quite diffuse, small, very faint.
  • LEDA 1822502. Faint small blotch. One of two?
  • LEDA 1822726. Very faint. Slightly larger. Irregular.
  • LEDA 1822852. Very faint. Slightly small. Diffuse.
  • LEDA 1826064. Very small, very dim.
  • MCG 5-31-63 aka PGC 44560. Oval. Somewhat dim.
  • Markarian 60 aka PGC 44716. Small nearly-round elliptical, medium bright core.
  • NGC 4864 aka MCG 5-31-58, PGC 44566. Small, round, medium bright. A twin?
  • NGC 4865 aka MCG 5-31-64, UGC 8100, PGC 44578. Canted spiral or elliptical? I can't tell. Small, bright core. Thin oval. 
  • NGC 4867 aka MCG 5-31-62, PGC 44568. Round, small, medium bright.
  • NGC 4869 aka MCG 5-31-65, PGC 44587. Nearly round with a bright large core.
  • NGC 4871 aka MCG 5-31-66, PGC 44606. Elliptical? Spiral? Very hard to tell. Small core.
  • NGC 4872 aka MCG 5-31-68, PGC 44624. Nearly round. Compact. Bright.
  • NGC 4873 aka MCG 5-31-69, PGC 44621. Small, smooth, round.
  • NGC 4874 aka MCG 5-31-70, UGC 8103, PGC 44628. Large elliptical. Large bright core. Round.
  • NGC 4875 aka PGC 44640. Slightly smaller than 6. Slightly different angle.
  • NGC 4876 aka MCG 5-31-73, PGC 44658. Elliptical. Medium size. Smooth core.
  • NGC 4882 aka MCG 5-31-76, PGC 44698. Round elliptical, medium bright core.
  • NGC 4883 aka PGC 44682. Large smooth core, diffuse outer edges, medium size.
  • NGC 4884 aka MCG 5-31-77, UGC 8110, PGC 44715. Large elliptical, bright core.
  • NGC 4894 aka PGC 44732. Small dim edge on with a medium bright core.
  • NGC 4898 aka MCG 5-31-82, PGC 44736. Assuming it is the brighter of the two round fuzzy balls.
  • NGC 4906 aka PGC 44799. Small round but bright elliptical.
  • NGC 4908 aka MCG 5-31-92, PGC 44828. An elliptical. Bright core.
  • NGC 4911 aka MCG 5-31-93, UGC 8128, PGC 44840. Medium large face on spiral, medium bright core.
  • PGC 44574. Small, nearly round, fuzz ball.
  • PGC 44576. Very faint, very small.
  • PGC 44581. Faint oval.
  • PGC 44585. Small, round, medium bright.
  • PGC 44594. Small almond shape.
  • PGC 44595. Very small, dim. Not round.
  • PGC 44597. Slightly dimmer than 8. Nearly round, small. South.
  • PGC 44598. Slightly brighter than 7. Nearly round, small. North.
  • PGC 44602. Round, dim. Possible extended north and south?
  • PGC 44608. Small, round, dim.
  • PGC 44609. Irregular, small, dim.
  • PGC 44616. Elongated patch, something bright core.
  • PGC 44635. Barely visible, small, diffuse, dim.
  • PGC 44636. Small, dim. Somewhat irregular.
  • PGC 44637. Barely detectable. Small.
  • PGC 44644. Small, round.
  • PGC 44649. Small, round, somewhat bright.
  • PGC 44651. Small, round, faint.
  • PGC 44652. Small, elongated, faint.
  • PGC 44653. Tiny. Barely detectable.
  • PGC 44654. Not quite round, small, dim.
  • PGC 44656. Small, round.
  • PGC 44662. Oval shape, medium bright.
  • PGC 44666. Stretched, dim, small.
  • PGC 44675. Medium size. Maybe a canted spiral? Double core?!
  • PGC 44676. Very faint, diffuse.
  • PGC 44679. Diffuse, round, medium size, somewhat bright core.
  • PGC 44692. Barely visible, extremely small faint smudge. Dimmer than 3.
  • PGC 44693. Barely visible, extremely small faint smudge. Slightly brighter than 2.
  • PGC 44699. Edge on. Oriented north-south. Bright core.
  • PGC 44704. Canted galaxy. Possibly a spiral. Bright compact core.
  • PGC 44707. Medium large, edge on spiral?
  • PGC 44708. Small canted spiral, soft core, immediately west of NGC 4884.
  • PGC 44709. Small, dim, round. Very close to Markarian 60.
  • PGC 44723. Small, oval, diffuse cotton ball.
  • PGC 44740. Small nearly round glowing ball.
  • PGC 44741. Small medium bright smudge. Not round.
  • PGC 44763. Small round elliptical.
  • PGC 44771. Medium size. Dim. Cannot discern the type.
  • PGC 44773. Small dim round elliptical with a medium bright core.
  • PGC 44784. Canted spiral, medium size, medium bright core.
  • PGC 44792. Small kidney bean.
  • PGC 44809. Small batch, irregular.
  • PGC 44815. Canted spiral, small, smooth.
  • PGC 44821. Very small, dim elliptical. Not round.
  • PGC 44835. Very non-uniform batch.
Found a quasar too.
  • PB 3185 aka Q1256+0281. Magnitude 18.20 V. Redshift (z): 0.38. Light Time: 3.8 Gyr. Barely visible. West of PGC 44585.
  • Small round elliptical north-east of, very near to, NGC 4898. A "GinCl" or galaxy in cluster. ACO 1656 120.
  • Elongated oval south-east of PCG 44740. Aladin shows two objects here: GMP 2787 and [CTM2010] 32265.
  • West of LEDA 126777. GMP 3154.
  • East of bright star, medium size elongated smudge, right along diffraction spike. Possibly GMP 3202.
  • Two objects north-west of bright star? Just stars it seems.
  • Smudge north-west of PCG 44576. Equal to the LEDAs to the south. Might be [EDG2007] 167.
  • Twin to NGC 4864. May be [EDG2007] 34.
  • Small irregular smudge south-east of IC 3973. No designation proper; 2MASX J12593524+2751488.
Used Aladin 10 Desktop to identify the last few.


Hmmm. There are another 20 objects visible in April 7 shot, including the amazing needle galaxy IC 3949, as the mount aimed further to the west for some reason.
  • IC 3947 aka PGC 44515
  • IC 3949 aka MCG 5-31-52, UGC 8096, PGC 44524
  • IC 3955 aka PGC 44544
  • IC 3957 aka MCG 5-31-60, PGC 44554
  • IC 3959 aka MCG 5-31-59, PGC 44553
  • IC 3960 aka MCG 5-31-55, PGC 44551
  • LEDA 83727
  • LEDA 93696
  • LEDA 126801
  • LEDA 126809
  • LEDA 126811
  • LEDA 1817584
  • NGC 4858 aka MCG 5-31-51, PGC 44535
  • NGC 4860 aka MCG 5-31-54, PGC 44539
  • PGC 44518
  • PGC 44519
  • PGC 44522
  • PGC 44533
  • PGC 44546
  • PGC 44547

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

helped in speaker event

Helped with the RASC online meeting last night. I was wearing a few hats, given Ward was at work. Professor Michael de Robertis talked about searching for intelligence in space. Overall, I think we ran a good event.


Edited video available from the RASC YouTube channel.

almost missed the planets and Moon (Bradford)

Bolted awake. It was 5:56! I had forgotten to programme an alarm. Leaped out of bed, grabbed a sweater, and headed to the front door. Winter -100 boots, jacket, toque, binoculars.

From the backyard, I could see the Moon was much lower. As expected further east. From the deck I took in Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. In the Bushnell 7x50s binos, I could see two moons flanking Jupiter. [ed: Europa (left/east) and Io.] Saturn seemed duller, tan coloured. I could easily see the rings. Saturn and la Luna fit in one binocular field. Orange Mars.

Looked straight up. Vega was visible. I tried scanning for Antares but couldn't see it. Arcturus punched through the western tree branches.

Brisk morning at minus 4 degrees. Birds were busy. Cardinals calling.

Whew. Almost missed it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

a good chat

Caught up with my good buddy Tony dS. Man, he makes me laugh. He shared he was irked with all the good images coming out of Venus when he only had 4 shots. But he got a good shot of comet C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS). I hope he'll share that. He complained to me about my early morning planet report after Elaine elbowed him out of bed. Ha! He reported having all the gear now for spectroscopy and that he's keen to start some projects. We talked about telescope and camera resolution. I shared my image of Venus and the Pleiades and how it was all due to Rhonda and thankfully my barn door tracker (which I reminded him he helped me build) worked with my heavy old zoom lens.

the software faeries

Sorted a bug with Backyard EOS.

I should NOT say a bug. A problem, an issue. Possibly a user problem...

For the longest time I wasn't able to get the weather feed working in BYE on the netbook with a text file, even an unaltered text file from a Davis weather station. I tried many options and many settings and different files to no available. I got weird results with the software slowing and then freezing requiring a Task Manager intervention. I started thinking about it again with my recent imaging runs. So I re-raised the topic on the O'Telescope forums and Guylain responded promptly.

I performed yet another test on Backyard Nikon on John Max. It worked fine, as before. Got the same results as the developer. When I was asked to pull the log file, I fired up John Repeat Dance, tracked down the sample data file, and tried loading it. And wouldn't ya know... it worked! I could tell right away something was different as the text file select process went fine and as I entered the parsing parameters, I saw data values extracted from the file immediately showing in the dialogue! Yes!

Then I made custom text file with trusty ole Notepad and dropped a shortcut on the desktop so that I can easily update this in the future.
Temp Humidity City
+000.0 064 Bradford West Gwillimbury
The file is simple. The first line headings. This appears to be ignored by BYE. The second line is the current weather data delimited with spaces, temperature, humidity, and the location.

In Backyard, I reconfigured the settings for my custom text file:

parameter starts at length
city 12 25
temperature 1 6
humidity 8 3

It worked!

snip from BYE with weather feed

With good data, BYE could calculate the dew point, of course.


No idea why it works now when it didn't before.

I apologised to Guylain.

P.S. I think I found the city parameter cannot be longer than 25 characters.


Update 23 Apr '21.

I have found that additional text is tolerated inside the file. The last line must have the weather data. Tested in 3.2.2. So now I have documentation and notes.

viewed arc of planets and Moon (Bradford)

Ahead of the alarm, I woke up. Visited the library. But before that, peeked out the kitchen window. Ah ha. A third quarter Moon. It was clear. OK. I'll do some early morning astronomy... Ugh. But low, in the trees. I was a bit early. I could let the sky rotate a bit.

So I crawled back into bed. And when the alarm did go off at 5, I snoozed it.

I headed outside. It was brisk. Snow on the ground. Birds starting up.

Enjoyed red Mars, beige Saturn, and Jupiter, and the bright but yellowed Moon, just skipping over the tree line in the south. Mars was about two times the distance of Jupiter from Saturn.

I could see one Jovian moon in Bushnells. Ganymede I bet. I could see the canted rings of Saturn. The intense colour of Mars popped in the old bins.

Spotted the Summer Triangle and Boötes up high.

Worth the view.

You awake?

Monday, April 13, 2020


Whoa. Two ISS-Sun intersections in five days in this area! Received an alert from CalSky. Sadly, both miss my backyard.

two ISS-Sun flyovers plotted

The upper path is April 15; the lower path is April 20.

Good for people in Newton, Coulson's Hill, Keswick, Schomberg, Newmarket, East Gwill, Zephyr, Sunderland...

enjoyed Frank's delta Gem report

Frank thanked me for my recent double star post. Then he shared the following on the RASC TC forum.
I thought that it might be interesting to mention my observation notes for delta GEM from your March list of doubles, in case anyone else had notes to compare.  This was a very interesting double star to try to observe because I was unable to see the companion during numerous attempts until Saturday evening a couple of days ago, when skies became mostly clear for several hours after sunset and seeing was quite good and steady.

I looked with my 6" f/10 Newtonian scope (one of my favourite scopes for double star observing) and couldn't see the companion with a magnification of 218x (using a 7mm orthoscopic eyepiece).  Then I looked through my 8" f/10.4 Newtonian scope (302x with the 7mm eyepiece) and I could clearly see the companion.  Nice double star!  The 8-magnitude companion beside the bright orange primary star was very nice.  Then I changed to an 18mm Brandon eyepiece which I like to use for double stars (117x) and the companion was just barely visible. 

It will be interesting to try to observe it again during good seeing conditions during the next month as the constellation gets lower (as well as future years).  It was definitely an interesting challenge!
I replied and shared some of my observations of delta Geminorum or Wasat or STF 1066 as well. And transcribed some stats from SkyTools.

(Paragraph breaks added.)

check virtual sight lines

Snapped awake thinking of the morning planets. Checked Good To Stargaze. Looks like the 15th might work... Moon'll be parked under Saturn. Wide awake now, I suited up and headed to the office. Pretty good commute. 8.3 seconds later, I fired up Stellarium. Activated the backyard landscape in the software to get a sense of the sight lines. It looks like I might be able to see things from My Spot, my usual spot in the backyard. Alternatively, if I work from the deck, I'll gain a metre or so of elevation.

received 3D print job video

Cool! Received a time-lapse video shot during the 3D print run for the Vixen polar scope cover.

3D print job almost done

We printed orly_andico's STL file from Thingiverse. All went swimmingly. Good to see Ward's Ender printer is up and running. Yes!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

designed new Dec cover

Reworked the IDEA GoToStar declination motor cover, in advance of 3D printing. Actually, I started from scratch...

I need a proper cover to protect the motor, particularly the encoder wheel and sensor. Also, an opaque cover or shield is needed to block stray light from hitting the sensor (otherwise it goes bonkers). The stock black plastic surround no longer fits on the Vixen Super Polaris, given the custom motor mount. Well, not without a lot of hacking and cutting.

Four years ago (wow) I had a go at designing a custom cover in 123D. But I shelved the project when I learned the print time was a few years (on an Ultimaker).

new Dec cover design

This design is shallower, on the "bottom" surface maybe by 2 or 3mm. This should reduce collisions with the Dec lock lever. That said, I'm not anticipating any issues here.

However, in reducing the depth of the cover, I had to add a blister to accommodate for wires to the motor, as they hump over the circuit board. Lengthened the cutout for the gears.

I think this means that the existing spacers or standoffs will not fit. I'll have to get some different ones or otherwise hack the means of fastening to the motor assembly.

The cover is wider, particular on the gear side. Once printing, I will drill a small port hole to allow manual inspection of the gear mesh and motor action.

Added various channels to fit extrusions on the motor assembly and to fit under the edge of the motor mount.

I added some text, first time trying this. Had to do some more learnin' in 123D to figure this out. It'll be fun if it works.

Ward has offered to output the part on his Creality Ender-3 printer now that it is working again. Thanks!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

polar alignment emphasised with motion

As I watched AlphaPhoenix's cool YouTube video on his simple barn door tracker (hinge style), I was struck by something he did in the middle. He took a time-lapse of his tracker (and his equatorial-mounted telescope) as they tracked, as they moved in right ascension. And in particular, he pointed north. And then he emphasised Polaris with an annotation.

still image from AlphaPhoenix's video

I thought, this is absolutely brilliant! For the newbie not clear about polar alignment, why to do it, how to do it, where Polaris is, etc. I thought this is amazing. Such a strong visual! And the still image I grabbed from the video doesn't do it justice. You have to see it move!

He does this the first time at the 1:39 mark. And again at the 2:02 mark. More at 5:03. Amazing.

A fantastic video in many ways. He based his barn door on Gary Seronik's, showed the cheapest possible solution for those who want to try it, he explained it all clearly, and he is enthusiastic. But its his annotations that knock it out of the park for me.

added a clothes pin

Ha! That was easy! I was looking for ideas on Weasner's Might ETX Site for improving focusing with the ETX 90. Silly tiny knob, a little hard to reach, difficult to finely tune. Found a note on building a flexible cable. I have aircraft cable so I rummaged around the bins to see if I could find the other pieces. Hrrm. Not much luck. Then I found a nicely designed extension rod with a Terry clip acting as a friction clutch. But in that article I saw a reference to a clothes peg. Hold the phone. Poured out the jar of clothespins and found a couple with big bores close to the end. Tried one and it works fantastically! Nearly 180° of motion! This makes it effectively a 4 to 5-inch diameter turning. Can't wait to try it.

changed wx dashboard

Reworked my weather dashboard portal pages (again), fixing some problems and adding new stuff. The one for home, from my blog companion site, is shown.

weather portal page dashboard for Bradford

Headed into this edit today hoping to correct the RSS feed problem with the Sky & Telescope magazine web site. After their complete redesign wherein they BROKE EVERY LINK, my RSS feeds stopped functioning. Found a new reference, happily.

But I also resolved a long-standing issue with the RSS feed when the S&T staff decided to use a long title. I was getting super-imposition with the bloople handler. So I moved the widget to the right, under John Walker's Your Sky image. This is a wider column in the hidden table.

So to keep that column short, to ensure the Clear Outside gauges stay above the fold, I moved the Env Can jet-stream graphic into the middle column.

In the new free space in the first column, I added the OVATION aurora graphic, for the north pole.

A few days ago, I had added the JavaScript for the current date and time.

Finally, the Env Can snips (managed with XHTML IFRAMEs) needed some minor adjustments to fit and flow better.

I like it.

maybe not isotropic

I've been hearing rumblings. Some new research is suggesting that the expansion rate of the Universe is not the same in every direction. And if that proves true then it will show the cosmos is not isotropic. The all-sky map by K. Migkas et al. shows differences in the expansion rate.

uneven expansion rate graphic

Red and yellow is fast; purple through black is slow.

Of course, Bad Astronomy Dr Phil Plait explains it all very clearly in a balanced article. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

comet drop-off

Oh oh. It's true. Comet C/2019 Y4 has taken a nose-dive. Reports are popping up that it is fragmenting. The graph is from

comet C/2019 Y4 magnitude graph

Too bad. It was the most promising comet for the next couple of months...

Friday, April 10, 2020

made a supernova list

Made a SkyTools list based on the NASA Night Sky Network ASP outreach material, naked eye stars that are likely to go supernova. It contains 34 stars. I learned of the materials from Bryon Czarnik and shortly after I downloaded the PDF guide. But it kept falling off my radar. I forgot to consider these kinds of targets for my latest The Sky This Month presentation. Even with the recent Betelgeuse kerfuffle. In fact, there are a bunch in Orion. So I added a reminder trigger to my TSTM workflow notes and I thought an observing list for SkyTools will help when I'm doing outreach stuff at the telescope (whenever that might resume).

Thursday, April 09, 2020

approved by MRO

My request to use the Mini Ralph Observatory (MRO) was approved. I'm looking forward to shooting wide field. Maybe I can revisit some of the huge Finest NGCs, like the Rosette...

2300 pairs of eyes

Holy Universe. 2,297 views for my barn door tracker YouTube video! [link]

I updated a reply for Jamey letting him know that I finally got 'round to trying the heavy 70-210 zoom lens...

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Apr 2020 doubles

Sent out my double star "bulletin" for April 2020. It is a short list of suggested targets. I shared this on the RASC Toronto Centre forums. And I post here for everyone. They withstand light pollution.


Despite the full (pink?) Moon, you can still do lots of astronomy. Double stars punch through bright skies so you can observe them any time, anywhere!

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

staralso known asalternate catalogue(s)
HR 4428 Crt(Jacob, W.S.) JC 16SAO 179936, HIP 56078
HD 73668 HyaSTF (Struve) 1255SAO 117000, HIP 42488
HD 82372 Leo(Struve) Σ1364SAO 80890, HIP 46781
SAO 81492 LMi(John Herschel) HJ 489PPM 100599, TYC 1977-02634-1
iota-1 (ι) CncΣ1268SAO 80416, HIP 43103

If you're having a hard time referencing SAO 81492, look for NGC 3344. :-D

Please consider adding double stars to your observing list. They are fun, easy, sometimes challenging, interesting, colourful, and dynamic!

I look forward to hearing how you did! Share your observations. Happy to take questions.

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

added Rosetta

Checked BOINC today. I did not see any SETI jobs being processed. Looks like that's a wrap. I added Rosetta@Home. They are working on the COVID virus. I'll contribute some computer cycles...

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

helped RASC national

Served as a technical assistant with RASC national for the Homebound Astronomy while Jenna hosted and Chris presented. Fielded a number of questions on Stellarium. Answered a few science questions as well.

helped at RASC Toronto

Offered Zoom technical and logistical advice during the speaker test meeting. This for the upcoming speakers night online meeting scheduled for April 15. Professor Michael De Robertis of York University will be talking about if there is intelligent life beyond Earth.

imaged HD 119702 (Halifax)

Full Moon give or take. So time to ask BGO to image a double star.

I chose HD 119702 aka HJ 2682 from the Coldfield list. An interesting triple, actually, near the UMi / Cam border. Aimed at GSC 04558-2218.

double-star HD 119702 in luminance

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

A is the brightest star in the field. SkyTools 3 Professional says this is mag 6.7.

B is the closer but dimmer star, nearly due west. ST3P says this is mag 9.7. That does not seem right. Hovering in the chart, the magnitude is shown as 10.1. It is at a position angle of 282 degrees and a separation of 25.6 seconds of arc.

C is to the north-west, double the AB separation, brighter than B. The software reports mag 9.0, 318°, 43.8".

I like the serpentine line of equally bright stars to the south-east.

found ACO 1656 (Halifax)

Weird. I didn't know BGO shot this...

I still had the galaxy group ACO 1656 in my queue and processed the job last night. I don't know when. I found it in my completed list while working on HD 119702. I didn't mean for this job to run and should have put a maxmoon filter on it... Oops.

galaxy group ACO 1656 in luminance

Luminance only at 13 seconds, 10 subs.

The image is centred on GSC 01995 02059. The prominent members are NGC 4484 [ed: correction! 4884] on the left or east and NGC 4874 to the west.

I think there are another two dozen galaxies in this image...

The bright star is HD 112887.


I misread the Twitter feed 'round midnight. I thought it was shooting the double star. That run didn't happen until 3 hours later.


I forgot that I had viewed this grouping back in June 2018 at the CAO with the C14.


Imaged again with a better result on 18 Apr '20.

queue oddity

Oddity. Or oddities...

I wasn't sure my double star image capture job was going to complete as the early part of the robotic telescope run was fraught with changing skies conditions.

For example, on the Twitter feed at 22:45:42, Burke-Gaffney Obs @smubgobs reported an error: "It became cloudy before starting an observation of VCAM (ID 10812)! It will be tried again another night.

But later things seemed to improve. I saw John Read and Dave Chapman's comet images.

Then, later, around 12:41, as I lurked, I saw the message: "A special observation of GSC0199502059 (ID 10723) for Blake Nancarrow is starting..." w00t! I immediately saved the image from Clear Sky Chart and captured the sky conditions (not great).

What I didn't realise, at the time, as that is was the job for ACO 1656!

I still didn't clue in when I saw the lack of response after the job. I was expecting it to finish in a few minutes. I chalked it up to a glitch.

So, in the end, what happened was that the galaxy group data was collected between 12:41 and 1:23 and the double star was shot around 4:00.

Still, I never received an email alert for the ACO run... Weird.

Monday, April 06, 2020

not DDO

Spotted a response in the BGO robot Twitter feed.

Burke-Gaffney Obs @smubgobs
Replying to @Dunlap_Obs
 Object C/2019Y4 is in my request queue as ID 10829 (exposure is 300 seconds with filter LUM)

That's not DDO. That's Eric Briggs.

For those that don't know, that could be confusing, that affiliation.

beat the drum

I sent a note to RASC Toronto members on the centre forum with the subject line: "Turn off the TV." I told people I was planning on heading to the backyard and I encouraged them to do the same. That was at 6:56 PM. I was very pleasantly surprised at the uptake!

At 7:07 PM, Claudio said, "Challenge accepted! Thank you, Blake." Awesome!

Reza shared photos and info on his Sky-Watcher AZ GTi mount setup with 3-D printed accessories.

Tim L chimed in from Ferndale having spotted a lovely meteor 9:00 PM.

Richard Blackman said he "took the advice and photographed Venus, the Pleiades, and a UFO." He shared his result at 9:50. He also noted it was his "first effort at such a task." Well done. And then he said, it was "Better than CNN for sure!" Indeed.

At 10:31, Tom H checked in.
I spent an hour tonight with Sissy Hass’s double star guide and my trusty vintage Celestron SC—and I didn’t think ONCE about the mess down here—how truly calming amateur Astronomy is right now!
Wow. That was fantastic on so many levels.

After midnight, Claudio posted his planetary and lunar images. Nice.

What a joyous thing, that a few people enjoyed the night.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

not much (Bradford)

While inside, dropped off the imaging gear, I switched to my winter coat.

Outside moved the equipment to the yard, with Rhonda's help. I set aside the big tripod but then remembered that I needed it.

It was so bright. I asked if the Moon was full. Rhonda said it was in a couple of days. She headed in. There was very few naked eye stars in the bright sky...

I continued the switch to astronomical viewing. Dang. I had taken the hex plate inside...
Instrument: Meade ETX-90 Maksutov
Mount: fork mount with tracking motor, tripod
Method: star hopping, with angle finder
The noisy street racers were bored.

Shortened the legs on the big tripod for seated viewing.

9:51. Old Meade ETX 90 Maksutov-Cassegrain with slightly skewed secondary on the Mamiya. Roughly polar aligned.

Loaded in an eyepiece, the Celestron 26mm Plössl.

Streets racers up into the rev limiter.

Installed the red film to John Repeat Dance. At the beginning of the evening I had put it underneath the netbook.

Considered a target near Procyon. Rejected some targets being too low. Off limits.

Finder alignment was fair. Tracking was pretty good.

I kept choosing the wrong view in SkyTools 3 Professional. With the ETX, in the backyard, I prefer the "telescope" view, the Visual Sky Simulation.

Cold! Headed inside. Put on sous-vêtements longs, another sweater, and -100 boots.

10:22. Back outside.

Checked recorder. Battery and time was OK.

The Puppis target, HR 2910, was too low. Left of Sirius. Landed on ξ (xi) Pup aka Azmidiske, an interesting system, a double. But impossible in this 'scope. There was another, HR 3315... Went to ρ (rho) Puppis.

Eyes were watering like crazy...

Yep. Triad in the field. Verified. Didn't see anything at first. Oh!

10:35. Got it! HR 3315 aka S 568 in Puppis. Challenging yes but detectable in bright moonlight. Nice. Wide in 26mm. B is much dimmer. Yellow and orange. Thought yellow and blue at first. Visible by direct vision. A high priority item. Previously logged. In the RASC coloured list. Done. It's a keeper. So there. Good stuff.  B was due east.

It was like there was a big shield. An arc of stars, a big arc, to the north-east. Bright star to the north (HD 71142). Two equally bright stars to the north east. Faint one to the east.

Noted a pair of stars to the north, not designated as a double in ST3P. Very faint, barely detectable. Averted, tough in the bright sky [ed: mag 9.8 and 9.9 stars with HD 71175]. Almost inline with 71142. A little bit off the line, a touch east. Quite wide, a different angle.

Oh! I checked the Oregon Scientific portable weather station. Relative humidity was 61%, air temperature was 1.2°C, the air pressure was dropping, with rain predicted tomorrow. Felt a lot colder! The humidity seemed to be much lower than estimated.

Another train came through town.

An elastic broke on the finder 3D-printed adapter. The other was still in place, thankfully. I checked the gap between the pieces of the adapter. Seemed OK.

Tried for HD 63241. Changed the eyepieces. Moved the table. Changed the eyepieces again. And again.

10:54. This is in my list as a neglected double. ST3P says there's a mag 11 star 9.3" away. But I couldn't see anything. The little triangle diamond thing to the north is interesting... But no find companion... Moving on. Something in Gemini.

Next? Tried for NGC 2304. Too low.

Used Mekbuda in Gemini.

Frustrated. I kept choose the wrong display.

OK. Another suggestion from Blair. Headed to the west edge of Gemini.

11:10. Viewed Mebsuta, ε (epsilon) Geminorum, or S 533. Yellow (primary) and blue stars. Wide, in the 26mm. Secondary to the south-east, much, much fainter. Good! Something new!

Hopped further west.

11:16. Verified I was in the area of NGC 2266. But if nobody told me... I saw a big box, a big square shape, almost like a dipper, with a handle. The bright star at the end of the handle was HD 47836. The open cluster, according to the software, was at the bottom-left corner of the pot, i.e. the south-west. I saw faint stars in the middle. That was Tycho 01901-1425 1 at mag 10.2. I also spotted faintly Tycho 01901-0627 1 at mag 10.6. Bumped the power...

And I lost it! Frack! So annoying. Back to low power. Nope. Completely lost.

Decided to try for a comet...

Spent a long time trying to get to Muscida. The 'scope was in a weird orientation, hard to work with. My eyeglasses fogged. Finally made it (nothing special). Then started the star hop to comet C/2019 Y4...

At one point, I released the Dec clamp and the whole OTA rotated. That's it! To hell with it. Alpha queue.

Packed up.

11:50. 69 percent, 0.0 degrees.

Midnight train.

Put the chairs back. I piled things at the airlock but carried the 'scope and tripod inside.

Rhonda and Tucker said hello.


Lessons learned:

An elastic broke for the right-angle-straight-thru-finder adapter. I knew that would happen, eventually. Will need a new one. I should figure out a better way... Metal clip? Wire tie? Oh, I could drill holes through for wires... [ed: Holes for bolts?]

Kept losing the Interactive Atlas settings, like the constellation lines. I need to store them.

Didn't run into it this time but I need to remember to centre the Declination control...

The cap for the front of the finder scope is too small such that it cannot be affixed squarely, properly. Need to try (or make) a different cap.


Imaged NGC 2266 on 27 Dec '20.

imaging run details

Set up about half way down the yard, at the extreme east edge. Venus was above the budding trees. The Moon behind me. Tree branches casting shadows ahead of me, long fingers reaching toward the house.

Had the Vivitar Series 1 zoom 70-210 lens on the Canon 40D body, thanks to the Fotodiox M42 adapter with Dandelion chip. Set the zoom to approximately 120 or 130 (thinking this would give me effectively 200mm). Previously I had set to f/8. I used

Backyard EOS. Filter removed. Atop custom barn door tracker with alt-az base and Mamiya tripod. Pre-processed in DPP: corrected white balance, shifted white balance, brightness, contrast, highlights, levels, slight curve.

Did some test shots, focusing, while waiting for Polaris to appear.

8:46 PM. Oh. I forgot. The recorder. Right!

Moved to the back corner of the yard to get a better angle of the Pleiades. Hauled one of the chairs back.

Stars were pretty round. The barn door tracker was working. It was going into the trees. Neat shot. Tried another test shot. Oops. Still in Frame & Focus mode. Tried to abort. I was ready to switch to official high-quality shots.

Memorised the settings, 30 by 200. Switched to Imaging. Applied them into a plan. 30 seconds, f/8, ISO 200, 2 shots. OK... What. Why could I not proceed? Noticed it was taking RAW+L JPG. Whatever. Why was the start button not available?

8:49. Saved the plan file.

The start button wasn't working. It was dimmed. Why? Peas and rice, why was it not working?! I could not start the imaging run! Whiskey tango foxtrot. I flipped modes in Backyard EOS. Schlanger, still not working! Not now! Time was precious. I did not want to shut off the camera. Closed the app. Restarted BYE. Shut down all unneeded apps. Misread the screen! Lost another minute. Version 3.1.18. Waiting... Clicked Connect. S-L-O-W. Hogged out the machine, full hourglass, long time for the screen to update. OK. The button was back...

Reloaded my saved plan.

I wondered if dark subtraction was on... Didn't look like it (normally a message shows in BYE).

8:55. Checked the shots. What?! Now the tracking was off! Oh boy. What now? It was fine a few minutes ago...

Tried again. Diffraction from the branches. OK. I was done.

I wound back the tracker. Whoa. The camera flopped! Scared me.

Rhonda came out. She asked of the Pleiades was down and right of Venus. Yep. She noted the upper balcony lights. Yeah... that.

Nice sky. Told her I was "a little late" for M45 was down in the trees now. And that I was now experiencing tracker problems. Rhonda shared that a friend was talking about astronomy and wondered if she was quoting me. She started scanning the sky and found a dip part way up the lawn, close to where I had started out.

Set up the other tripod, the medium-sized Manfrotto, and Bushnell binoculars for Rhonda.

I was starting to feel cold.

Rhonda relayed some news, asinine and dangerous remarks south of the border. I'm more worried about things there than in this province... Sheesh.

Reminded rho that everything sets in the west; she reminded me that Earth is turning away. True.

I wanted to touch up the focus. Tracked down my deep red flashlight. Looked for tick marks on the old lens. None.

Rhonda liked the "pretty red lights." I had put out the LED string, under the tripod.

I wondered who was on the GO train, who was coming home on a Sunday night.

The images were still drifting. Checked the motor was working, gear was turning. There was no binding. Didn't make sense. Tightened the three controls. I started to wonder if this ball head was not very good.

Freakin' street racers.

Rhonda said the view from the front was good. What? Venus and M45 were in a clear space, no trees. I walked north. How about that. It was impressive. Wow. OK, let's do it, I decided. Asked Rhonda to help me move. She carried the table—minding the tether—while I hoisted the tripod rig. Had never considered the front... It was a good spot.

Spotted Polaris through the branches along the drive.

I finally figured out what was happening, the ball head was loosening from the top plate! Tightened it up.

Transparency was looking really good.

Did a quick polar alignment.

The wind had died down.

The ball head slipped again! Gah.

9:16. Starting taking a proper shot, at last. 30 seconds, ISO 200. Stars were round—good. Tracker proper was working fine.

We looked at the first image. "Oh. It's nice. It's beautiful. Love it." Rhonda thought.

To ISO 400.

I turned on the in-camera subtraction.

Next test looked good. Lots of stars. I liked the "stringer" starting with HD 23631 and heading south. Bumped the ISO to 800.

Next looked better still. We both thought it really nice. A good histogram. OK. Let's get more. Then I can stack. Programmed 10 shots.

9:24. Go!

What a great spot, particularly with the driveway robotic light disabled. Glad Rhonda encouraged me. She was just walking around. I thanked her.

I was happy with the big glass, the Vivitar Series 1. Glad I have kept it, the gift from Uncle Jack, from the 1990s. It's been everywhere with me, the heavy zoom lens [ed: over 33 ounces or 943 grams, according to Ken Rockwell.]. This was the first test on my barn door tracker! Ball head unscrewing issue aside, it was working great! Wish he could see these shots.

I was really surprised at how everything was working...

Rhonda said, "This would have been a good CAO night." Oh yeah...

The wind had picked up a bit...

I checked the balance on the BDT. A little bit further and the lens would take over...

9:36. Final shot. Wow. Thanked Rhonda.

I took the camera and tracker in while Rhonda spotted for me.


Lessons learned:

The ball head loosened on the upper plate. Need to get a spanner out to torque it up. [ed: 15mm.]

When tearing down, the camera fell or shifted balance again. Almost hit my face. Will need to check the unfiltered lens for a face print.

The new mic muff worked really well acoustically but was starting to fall off at the end of the evening. Will need to secure it.

The driveway spot was great. In part to having the security light disabled. Will need to turn it back on...

Camera "start up time" was really long as I connected to the computer. It seems to itemise all the photos for the Canon EOS Utility: the more photos you have, the longer it takes. So it would be a good idea to have a clear, empty card.

Venus just east of the Pleiades (Bradford)

Finished the run from the driveway. That worked out pretty great, thanks to Rhonda. Quick looks during the run looked promising. The last frame (of 30).

Venus east of the Pleiades

Canon 40D (unmodified), Vivitar Series 1 zoom lens 70-210 at approximately 135, f/8, no filter, manually focused, Fotodiox M42 adapter with Dandelion chip, 30 second exposure, ISO 800, in-camera noise subtraction, shot RAW, shade white balance, controlled by Backyard EOS. Filter removed. Atop custom barn door tracker with alt-az base and Mamiya tripod. Pre-processed in DPP: corrected white balance, shifted white balance, brightness, contrast, highlights, levels, slight curve.


Again, a single frame. Took about a dozen shots which I want to stack.


Magnitude limit appears to be around 9.4. About 65 stars within the Pleiades open cluster are visible.

April astronomy article up

I missed the exact publication date and time. My article for the local papers rolled out in Orillia and a few of the affiliates.
Noted the comments on the Orillia feed.

Jennifer Ross, about 20 hours ago: I hope this will be a monthly article! Especially right now as something for an individual, or entire family, to do.

Jillie Bean, about 18 hours ago: Plus, tonight, the International Space Station will be tracking overhead. Time: Sat Apr 04 8:30 PM, Visible: 4 min, Max Height: 79°, Appears: 43° above WNW, Disappears: 12° above SE.

Wondering Why, about 18 hours ago: Not a good time to be lying down looking at stars with your arms crossed...someone may just place a lily on you😳.

Holly Levinter, about 17 hours ago: I'd like to learn more about astronomy and weather.

I thanked Jillie for sharing the ISS info.

an alert from me!

Checked my email this morning. Pretty quiet.

I noted an alert from Google. I have a few keyword alerts programmed, some science-based. For example, I receive notifications on "dark matter."

Spotted a message for "light pollution." Opened it up.

light pollution email from Google

Ha ha. From Orillia Matters. "That's mine!"

Funny roundabout way to learn of my article being published.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Venus between clouds (Bradford)

Spotted Venus, from time to time, during a long walk, dodging clouds. The Moon was bright. My sky was mostly cloudy. I'd say more than 50%. I decided to not attempt a photo, despite having brought the Canon and zoom Vivitar with me.

attended NEAF virtually

Tuned in from the beginning 10:00 AM...

Interesting, the ads. Someone said astronomy ads are ones we actually enjoy watching. I learned stuff. I knew about the Celestron NexYZ but it was a neat video. The new QHY cameras sound very good. NEAF The Virtual ExperienceThe Celestron StarSense Explorer with a smartphone looks clever although one will want to use red-light mode. The Explore Scientific Dobsonian with collimation tool is a fantastic idea.

The talks were cool. I enjoyed Jani Radebaugh's presentation on the Dragonfly mission to Titan, one of the first flying drones to venture into the solar system. Samuel Hale's talk on the Mount Wilson Observatory and his grandfather was fascinating. I found Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA inspiring and uplifting.

Despite technical glitches, RAC did an amazing job.

for the soul

During interludes in the day-long virtual NEAF event, they played a video feature showing past luminaries at the exposition.

One of the speakers was Joe Rao, a multi-Emmy nominated broadcast meteorologist and author. They quoted him and I thought his remark amazing. It seems particularly poignant given our current situation.
Everybody may not be a chemist, everybody may not be a geologist or a mathematician, but everybody may be, and aught to be, in a modest personal way, an astronomer, for stargazing is a great medicine for the soul.
We need all the help we can get.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

saw Venus and the Seven Sisters (Bradford)

I planned our evening walk a bit later and via the water reservoir beside the old water tower. An 8:00 PM departure would put us the top of the hill as the sky was getting dark. And it was fantastic.

Rhonda and I took in Venus just below the Pleiades star cluster (aka Messier 45 or M45). My old clunker Bushnell binoculars atop Mamiya tripod. It was a fantastic view, a lovely composition. As they sky darkened, we saw more and more stars. Upwards of 25. Wow.

Excellent transparency tonight; poor seeing.

I also aimed to Great Orion Nebula (aka Messier 42 or M42). The glowing clouds were not visible but θ (theta) 1 and 2 where easily spotted, between ι (iota) and 42/45 Orionis.

I also think I spotted the ISS, just ending it's flyover. A bright spot in the east slowing fading, turning orange, then gone. [ed: Confirmed with Stellarium. 8:31 PM according to the app.]

My shadow followed me home.

Beautiful sky.

the sky this month online

The rough cut of the streamed video from last night's The Sky This Month presentation for RASC Toronto Centre online series is available. Enjoy.

The accompanying article on the RASC TC web site includes all the text as well as a downloadable calendar and observing lists in a couple of different formats.


Edited video now online, with corrections applied. I referred to Venus and M45 as a conjunction when it is actually an appulse. And I accidentally said Messier 97 was in Leo, beside M95 and M96, when I meant M105.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

spittin' image

Ha ha. That's not the Kuiper belt asteroid 2014 MU69 aka Ultima Thule aka Arrokoth visited by the New Horizons spacecraft.

I had a good laugh (need 'em these days) when I saw the Astronomy Picture of the Day, the APOD for 1 April 2020. Jack Sutton photographed a funny lookin' tater.

Jack's odd pomme de terre

See the APOD photo from 29 Jan 2019 from the NASA team.

our odd Kuiper belt object

When I reached out to Jack for his permission, we had an amusing conversation. I told him this hit the mark for me. Two of my favourite things.

He said that he sent it to APOD back in May 2019 but didn't hear back. He assumed they didn't find it all that amusing. He was as surprised as anyone when they featured it.

Then he told me he still had the potato and that it looked even more like an asteroid now that it has dried out.

Jack shared he was in lock-down in the UK. He might have to eat the peculiar spud! Yum.

couldn't see Messier 45 (Bradford)

Checked again. Venus was visible now. But dim. Pleiades were not visible. Boo!

couldn't see Venus (Bradford)

After my webcast, I tried to spot Venus. Clouded out. Thick enough to completely block Venus. The Moon was enshrouded in an iridescent cloak.

fluffy viewer

I have a fan.

snapshot of Sandor Squeako

He's furry and he's squeaky.

top Stellarium shortcuts

UPDATE: June 2020. Freshened up for latest version of the software. Converted list to a table.

I made a "top" list for shortcuts in Stellarium.

Like any rich and mature software application, there are many. There are so many in fact that it can feel quite overwhelming. I thought I'd make a short list of the ones I use all the time. I use them so often that they now stick in my memory. I tried to whittle this down as much as possible.

Note: When the Macintosh method is different than Windows, I show the technique after a semi-colon.

zoom in to object / (slash)
zoom out fully \ (backslash)
zoom in OR out PgUp/PgDn; OR Fn Up/Down Arrow
quickly pan drag
select object click
centre on object spacebar
deselect right-click; ⌘-click; Ctrl/⌘ Spacebar
set date/time to now 8
increase time flow l (lower case L)
decrease (reverse) time j
run time at normal rate k
forward OR back 1 day = OR -
compass points q
constellation lines c
constellation boundaries b
constellation labels:  v
deep sky/nebula objects n OR d
alt-az OR equatorial grid z OR e
ecliptic path 
meridian line 

You can see that some are mnemonic so will hopefully help you recall.

All tolled, there are over 120 mouse-keyboard shortcuts in Stellarium, particularly when you have a number of plug-ins active.

See my complete list of all shortcuts for Stellarium version 0.20.2.