Saturday, April 17, 2021


Too tired. It was cold. I was feeling lazy. Earlier I had considered some imaging with the barn door tracker...

submitted photos

Shot some requested photos for my SkyNews editor.

learned about sundials

Attended BSS meeting... Frank King welcomed everyone from 15 time zones. The speakers were Roger Bailey, Woody Sullivan, and Fred Sawyer. Amazing talks. 

Roger gave us a sundial tour in the French Alps, featuring the historic sundials of Zarbula and the modern dials of Remi Potey. Woody talked about how he prepared (with 700 observations) and built his reflection sundial in his man cave. And Fred (of Canada) showed incredible hybrid Peaucellier sundial designs.

I learned a lot.

Heh. Sure were a lot of grey haired white dudes...

Friday, April 16, 2021

applied more updates to VHC

More updates to my IDEA GoToStar Virtual Hand Controller app...

Foreshortened some of the data boxes. Changed labelling around the pier data box. Added a user confirmation to the Sync button. Added system date/time display. Change Window form title. Similarly, changed the titles of all the message boxes. Relabelled the direction buttons. Up, Down, Left, etc. was redundant. Indicated Declination and Right Ascension. Renamed the position button. Fixed the left and right direction buttons. Now the left button moves to the east with increasing RA. Added code to compare the system and mount times and throw a warning if different by more than 5 minutes. Added a Tracking checkbox. Filling it turns tracking on. This will make it easy to do drifts, when needed. Or, after I issue a Stop command.

Did a bench test of the Sync button. w00t! Looks like it is working correctly. That's huge! 

Virtual Hand Controller evolved

Made a read position code a procedure, so it wasn't buried in the read Position button. Now I called it after any release of a slew button.

Killed Visual Studio at one point. Note to self. Don't rename variables while in break mode...

I was not surprised to discover port conflicts when trying to use Stellarium and my VHC at the same time.

Not done... Re-watched Kelvin Le's video series.

selectable COM port added

Yes! Got the port selector working!

Set up a button enabler, using a trick learned in my Access VBA class!

returned to 1327 (Halifax)

I wanted to get some more data on Σ1327 (HD 79552) in Cancer. Queued up a job on 29 Mar 2021.

Struve 1327 in luminance

Luminance only, 4 seconds subexposures, 12 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Looks like good data.

Previously imaged on 5 Mar '21.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

reviewed viddie

Reviewed a RASC Toronto YouTube video.

commanded mount

Holy Universe! It works. From my Visual Basic app, I commanded the GoToStar mount!

next version of the virtual hand controller

Tonight I added movement buttons and was thrilled to nudge the mount! This was a major objective. I want to have a virtual hand controller on the computer to move in any direction as per a set speed. It is so amazing to see it work.

Added a big Stop button.

Added a Sync button. Another major objective. This is to be tested but if it works, it will be huge.

Hydra weirdness

Chris found a strange bug (two actually) in Stellarium.

If you search for Hydra, it takes you to the constellation. No mention of the other Hydra...

You can easily add this found item to the Bookmarks. 

But if you go to the Hydra in the Bookmarks list, you're taken to the location of Pluto's moon Hydra!


I reported the error.

registered for BSS event

Signed up for the British Sundial Society Virtual Conference! Woo hoo!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

received out of focus stars

Tried to image 11 LMi again. Queued on 9 April. Shot 15 Apr at 00:49:33 ADT. Not good.

read data from the mount

At last, I successfully coded a simple interface to read data from the GoToStar mount!

working VB code in Visual Studio

Look at that! After opening the (hard coded) port, I read some data from the mount, namely its date, time, time zone offset from GMT, and the latitude and longitude. And, finally, the side of the pier I was on. I was pointed at Alphard, at the time.

Woo hoo!

This has been a bit of a journey to this point... Sadly, because of incomplete resources and people that are making assumptions.

A couple of months ago I downloaded Visual Studio 2019 Community. Had a quick look 

When I went back in a week ago, it wouldn't let me proceed. At first I thought it was a trial and it had ended and that was it. But I was certain a variant of VS was free. And after some digging I confirmed it was. But Microsoft wanted some credentials. Fine.

Then I started following one tutorial on serial communications but I could not seem to reference any computer or system IO features.

Was it not possible in the free Community studio product?

I looked again at the ASCOM Telescope class and form code LXP source. Didn't make sense.

And oddly I did not find clarity in the Microsoft online docs.

Finally, a fresh Google search lead me to a post on MSDN. Leo Liu explained it. He said a Class Library using the .NET Framework was needed. 

I tried that and only got so far. Some progress. But I didn't know how to get the form to work with the class object.

But another look revealed it! A Windows Form based on .NET Framework. Filtering helped! It had been there the whole time but there are so many options presented I had missed it. And all the videos I had watched had not stated that requirement!

Didn't need a Class. Not yet, anyway.

I was in business finally.

Then I watched MISperry's video on YouTube again, a joy in simplicity.

Opened the port. He showed how to write to the port. Then I read the port. And was thrilled to find the smart ReadTo method. Yes!


I knew it! I knew it didn't need to be so complicated! And I knew my VBA experience would be helpful. The IDE in VS sure it convoluted though, sheesh.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

wired up a heating sheet

While installing a new CPU cooling fan to John Max, I wired up another (the second) 12V heating pad sheet thingee with RCA plug and lead wires for dew heating/warming at the telescope.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

updated the DS page

Updated the Double Stars program page at RASC national after uploading updated main PDF and Excel checklists, an updated PDF supplemental file, updated log book, and new Stellarium JSON bookmark list. One major change was to the notes for HR 3963. My notes in the supplement were rather confusing as reported by Melody. Good call. So I rewrote the descriptive text.

lovely chat

Helped Melody. We had a lovely phone chat. Clarified some bad text on my part in the Supplement for the Double Stars program. I wonder if an astrometric eyepiece is in her future...

reviewed an ETU

Reviewed an Explore the Universe application. Fun notes and sketches.

some fixes applied

Cool. Found in the inbox some messages from the Stellarium development team, encouraging me to check a pre-release version. A number of updates were applied. 

pre-release Stellarium with corrections

A carbon star list was added to the WUT and Search list. Great. The Hercules reference was corrected. The search result shows "Hercules" and "Hercules [star]." Brilliant. And then, a fix to the double star designations for items in the Struve appendices. Yes!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

made another diffraction mask

Made a diffraction mask for the C8.

Wasn't keen to haul out the Celestron Optical Tube Assembly to do measurements. But then I remembered the Bahtinov mask project. So tracked down the PDF. I recalled the grating was at the exposed glass edges so I could use that as a reference... Hold the phone! I grabbed the actual focusing mask I made. I had modified it to fit inside the OTA! That would help me easily and quickly get all the measures, including the secondary mirror!

Measured the diameters.

  • OTA inner diameter (ID): 22.7 cm
  • opening: 20.5 cm (that seems good, an 8-inch mirror is 203 mm)
  • central obstruction (CO): 70 mm

OK. Fired up Visio and located the apodisation mask I had made for the little Meade ETX.

Considered scaling up the ETX but didn't feel completely comfortable. So I started from scratch.

vector diagram for C8 apodisation mask

Like with the focusing mask, it ran off the page, too big for a single "letter" size sheet. So I cut the mask at a logical place. Printed on the laser in greyscale and cut out the pieces. Couldn't find the white glue so I used wood. It went fine.

Ready to try.

But now I'll probably have to wait 10 months... Hrrm.

another good course

We ran another Stellarium level course today. Ian B taught it, again. Scheduled specifically for RASC members on the west coast. Dozen keen participants, Ian reported. All went well. And almost all want level 2!

helped a TSTMer

Coached a new online presenter, scheduled for a future The Sky This Month talk. Zoom, OBS, Chrome, Mac OS, audio, video, speed and quality checks. All good. Reported in to the A/V team.

found catalogue error

Just spotted a little catalogue error in Stellarium. ν (nu) 2 Draconis aka 25 Dra aka Kuma. It is in the Washington Double Star database as Struve Appendix item number 35 or STFA 35 or ΣA35. Stellarium shows it as Σ35. Nope.


Found another! δ (delta) Cephei. Should ΣA58 in Stellarium not Σ 58.

Looks like this is a general issue with the Appendix items.


Oop. Definite. Tried ψ (psi) 1 Aqr. Should show as Σ B 12 not Σ 12.

Friday, April 09, 2021


One of the people working through the new RASC Double Stars observing program sent me a note.

Double star hunting has become a very pleasant observing experience!  Like a good book that is so interesting one doesn't want to end but can't put it down! 

This lifts me up.

found a Stellarium bug

I found an error in Stellarium white searching for constellation names. Leo, Ursa Major, Andromeda worked fine. 

If you search for "Hercules," you get dropped at the star Pollux! Weird. 

I tried again looking at the "suggestion list" and the constellation option was not offered. I also tried browsing the constellation list in the Search box. Same issue!

Actually, that's two different issues to be precise. The first is a cross-referencing problem. There are many celestial objects with the same name so you just need to clarify that in search results. But the second one is a definite bug. If you browser FROM the constellation list, you better end up at a constellation.

This was happening in the latest version, 0.21.0. I also tested in 0.18.0. Same problem. Wow. So this has been around for a while.

I reported the error to the Stellarium development team on GitHub. 

Told Chris.

Told the Stellarium community.

In short order Alexander Wolf replied. 

The second name of beta Gemini is Hercules, so, this is not an error, but I'll add context for it.

Indeed, Pollux has an alternate name. And Castor is also known as "Apollo." OK.

I was not encouraged by his clause "I'll add context." I hope he understands that there is definitely an error in the constellation list in the search. I think we're on the right track... 

Went back tto the thread and asked about the sources for star names. Alexander shared this:

Sources of the names for HIP 37826:

  • Kunitzsch, P.; Smart T. (2006). "A Dictionary of Modern star Names: A Short Guide to 254 Star Names and Their Derivations" (2nd rev. ed.). Cambridge, MA: Sky Pub. ISBN 978-1-931559-44-7
  • Allen, R. H. (1963). "Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning" (rep. ed.). New York, NY: Dover Publications Inc. ISBN 0-486-21079-0
  • IAU Catalog of Star Names (IAU-CSN)
  • Jack W. Rhoads (1971). "Technical Memorandum 33-507-A Reduced Star Catalog Containing 537 Named Stars", Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology; November 15, 1971
  • IAU Naming Stars
  • Bright Star Catalogue, 5th Revised Ed. (Hoffleit+, 1991)
  • Josef Klepesta, Antonin Rukl (1977). "Constellations: A concise guide in colour". ISBN 0600008932


Then he closed the thread. Huh?

Shouldn't it be closed when the bug is stomped out?

Then Georg Zotti shared some observations.

Hercules/Apollo are listed in the BSC and Allen, the latter mentions them as being in use until Flamsteed's times.  Today these names are totally out of use.  We have plans to let users exclude unwanted sources from the star names, when data are complete and somebody finds time to tackle a few major tasks around skycultures.


So the Hercules and Apollo references are from when John Flamsteed was around, i.e. the late 1700s. We sure do need some context.

The ability for the user to control the catalogue sources could be very helpful.

This also reveals something. For years, no other bothered to test the search of all the constellations! Sheesh.

I'll watch for a fix in a future version.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

looking for B (Halifax)

From the backyard with the C8, on 17 Mar '18, I tried to view 11 Leonis Minoris (HU 1128). Could not see the companion and I chalked it up to the magnitude delta.

So on 5 May '18, I sent the Burke-Gaffney Observatory over to have a look-see, snap! It's not definitive but there was a hint of a star, close in, to the primary. To the north-east. Perhaps. Maybe.

While working this, I went to the horse's mouth. The WDS showed a star not has dim as SkyTools alluded to, close, and about the 10 o'clock position. Huh. Maybe I was onto something... And maybe a faster exposure help.

I queued up another job at the end of last year. Half the exposure duration.

But when I checked the BGO images from 28 Dec '20, it was clear something had gone terrible wrong, with either the tracking, the stacking, or both. Sadly, all the channels were mucked up.

On 31 Mar '21 I submitted another job into the BGO robot queue. It shot the target on 9 Apr 2021 00:00:42 ADT.

No weirdness. i.e. to tracking or or problems with the stack. Not perfect, mind you, but good. 

And then I noticed something weird. There is something bright at 90 degrees! And it was in all the channels...

What the heck is that?!

All images: 20 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

double star 11 LMi in luminance

Luminance only, ½ second subexposures.

double star 11 LMi in red

Red only, 1.5 second subexposures.

double star 11 LMi in green

Green only, 1.5 second subexposures.

double star 11 LMi in blue

Blue only, 1.5 second subexposures.

This is very interesting. Queued up a new job right away.

Need more data...

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

shared lists

Chris made some bookmark lists for Stellarium for the RASC Finest NGC targets, broken down by season. I created a web page on the RASC TC site to host them (and future files).

delivered my TSTM for April

Delivered my The Sky This Month presentation. Covers 7 April to 5 May. This was for the RASC Toronto Centre. As usual, we live-streamed and recorded the event. I provided detailed notes in an article on our web site. As I am want to do, I provided a month-at-a-glance calendar (in a PDF file) with daily events and icons indicating the gear required. I also provided the suggested targets in observing lists for SkyTools, SkySafari, and a plain Excel spreadsheet. For the first time ever, I provided a list for Stellarium, to be imported into the bookmarks.


The extracted, edited video is available on the RASC Toronto YouTube channel.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

shared some good news

Answered a YouTube question on the RASC TC channel. Someone asked, of Dave Lane's talk, what the fees were for using the MRO. Shared the good news!

shared some pix

Sent over a bunch of sample images to my SkyNews editor. For the next maker article. Hopefully some of them will work.

turned up the wick

Stressful day. Had to get a move on with my TSTM presentation...

Monday, April 05, 2021

downloaded a VSP app

Downloaded HW VSP3 - Virtual Serial Port from HW Group. Very interesting...

Stellarium registrations triggered

The RASC Weekly e-notice shipped out. The RASC TC Stellarium course was mentioned. Nice.

a RASC Weekly message

'Course, the triggered a little flood of messages. I'm not sure why but some landed in the EPO mailbox. Anyhoo, got a few more peeps signed up!

forwarding a serial port

I also received an answer from Fabien of Stellarium Labs on my Stellarium Mobile Plus app's ability to control a mount.

If you have your laptop connected to the mount, the easiest is to forward the serial port on a TCP/IP socket on which Stellarium Plus will be able to connect.

Oh ho. Good to know.

He said that on Linux (and maybe on the Mac), one can do this just by running this command in a terminal:

socat TCP-LISTEN:10000,fork,reuseaddr FILE:/dev/ttyUSB0,b9600,raw,echo=0

Then the user would tell SMP to connect to the laptop IP on port 10000.

no free version for you

I heard back from Fabien on Stellarium Mobile Plus.

There is no free version on iOS.  We are adjusting the price regularly.  The iOS price might well go slightly up in the future.

Good to know. So not my imagination. There's no free, stripped down, limited version of Stellarium, like Stellarium Mobile (without the Plus) on the Android platform.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

recreated the search problem

Chris V explained this to me a little while ago but I was unclear.

He even sent an example, which I tried, but I did not get errors or problems. 

But today, it happened!

In Stellarium (the latest version 0.21.0 no less), I was searching for something. A rather common double star. 54 Leonis.

I noticed that if I typed "54 leo" (without the quotes of course), if I typed it fully and quickly, I saw * 54 Leo (with an asterisk) in the search results list. And when I hit Enter or selected the item, I went to an unknown star! Scant details in the object information display. Weird.

So I tried again. But I typed very slowly, pausing between each character. I typed 54, space, then "l" (lower-case L) and paused. The search results listing showed two items!

54 Leo

* 54 Leo

When I chose the first suggestion, without the asterisk, I got normal stuff! I was clearly on correct star and lots of normal data showed in the information list. Very weird.

I shared my findings with Chris. "Yes. That's what I've been talking about."

Previously Chris said it didn't matter what the SIMBAD option was in the Search window...

Neither of us understand what's happening but there's some sort of glitch in the Search window. The items marked with an asterisk appear to be things not found in a catalogue. But somehow the location is right.

Or so it seems.

I noticed when I zoomed in tight, to a very high level, the * 54 Leo marker was not on the star. It was a bit off. It seems to be tied to a location but not an actual object in a catalogue.

This creates a caution for users. When searching, certainly for common stuff, avoiding selecting items with an asterisk.

checked another ETM

Reviewed another Explore The Moon application from a RASC Toronto Centre member.

highlighted doubles

Look at that!

RASC double stars highlighted

All my doubles!

These are all the double stars in the new RASC observing programme highlighted in Stellarium.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

learned we can't make categories

I posted a question on the discussion channel at the Stellarium GitHub. I asked if the WUT lists might be user-serviceable. One of the developers, Alexander, replied.

Right now only developers can create lists for WUT tool. Theoretically we can add tool for creating custom lists of objects for WUT tool, but I see problem with unnamed stars.


But imagining it not possible is what got me reconsidering the Bookmarks.

made a list, in Stellarium!

I just made a list in Stellarium, using the Bookmarks feature, for a double star list. Exported it. For sharing. In the same vein as making a list in SkyTools! Wow. Wow! Some paradigm shifting brain rewiring stuff going on here...

helped two presenters

Helped Charles and Alex prep for their announcement Wednesday night... All sorted. They shared their slide deck with me. We did on the fly updating.

clarification on driver bitness

While trying to offer some help to a Stellarium user on Cloudy Nights, and relaying my ASCOM driver "bitness" matter, we learned some fascinating information from Bob D (a software developer). He explained that if a driver is an EXE file then it does not matter if the driver is 32- or 64-bit. Whereas if driver is an "in process" DLL-type file then it is indeed usable only from 32-bit apps. Good stuff!

Friday, April 02, 2021

tried to connect SMP to mount

I was thinking I could not test Stellarium Mobile Plus (SMP) with driving a mount...

No modern wifi mount. No wifi dongle. No standard mount.

Then a little light bulb went off somewhere... I think it was when I was reading the online help for SMP and saw something about control through a network. Wait. What?


On the laptop.

With a Bluetooth connection between the phone and the laptop!


9:40. Wired up and started the Vixen Super Polaris supercharged with the IDEA GoToStar system (still sitting beside my workstation). One-star aligned with Aldebaran, as usual.

Uninstalled 64-bit Stellarium 0.21.0 while downloading 32-bit. Along the way, added a bookmark into the bookmark bar.

(Huh, the 21 uninstaller didn't ask about "keeping files" or not.)

Paired the phone and computer.

9:45. Installed Stell v21-32b.

The installer said it found a Stellarium folder. Uh huh.

9:49. Launched Stellarium.

Will it have previous settings, I wondered... Yep. All the active buttons and plug-ins. Star catalogue 5 loaded. But nothing in the mount profiles list.

Loaner USB at COM4.

Made a (an ASCOM) profile for the Vixen-IDEA rig. Connected.

9:56. Good slew to Betelgeuse.

OK. Stage 1 done...

10:00. StellariumScope running and configured with ASCOM.

First attempt in SMP.

Instruments menu. Turned on Telescope toggle... 


It's trying to go through the Network but the IP host is wrong. Fixed that.

10:02. Attempt 2.

No luck. I saw a "probing" message with references to NexStar and LX200 but I think that's like "direct" support on the full app.

10:04. Trying Bluetooth.

Nothing on the device scan. Sheesh.

Phone doesn't seem to want to connect to the computer...

10:10. Initiated the Pair new device on the phone again. It saw (again) the laptop. Saw the common key. And Windows show it as paired (again).

10:14. Sent a file from the laptop to the phone successfully...

10:17. But I can't seem to send a file from the phone...

Went to Receive Files on Windoze. Working now.

10:20. Laptop appeared now in phone.

But then message Connected to service failed (5/5) appeared and it disconnected.

Guess I should read the manual... 

10:37. Found a Starry Night BlueStar Telescope adapter (with the NexStar cable)...

10:46. Tested with Stellarium 0.18.0 on desktop via laptop via StellariumScope work (as before).

Reset the BlueStar and paired with phone.

11:00. Cycled thru 5 times but then disconnect. I think it's looking for connected hand controller...

11:02. Plugged the BT adapter into the GoToStar. Triggered the connect on the phone. The red LED went out on the BT device. Something happening. Phone went to through the device types...


Dang, I thought the GoToStar hand controller might answer to LX200 commands...

11:11. Tried the Intelliscope cable with the BlueStar. Nope.

Back to the network solution...

Maybe I can try one of those LX200 drivers that... kinda worked.

Activated AdvancedLX200 ASCOM driver in StellariumScope. Nope.

Oh. Tried again and watched the Staples USB-serial adapter. Lots of activity!

And the AdvancedLX driver causes all sorts of other issues...

11:35. Tried everything I can think of.

Hmm. I have an OTG cable...


Well. At least I got newest Stellarium correctly installed.

I keep thinking though, why is the network method looking for a type of mount? My impression from the support text is that it will just work through the network. I dunno.

tune in Wednesday

Tune into the RASC Toronto YouTube live stream on Wednesday where I'll be delivering a The Sky This Month presentation. All are welcome.

built first mobile course

Built a new course! I drafted the content for the Stellarium mobile app training. 

Stellarim Mobile Plus on phone

I was surprised with the result. I thought I'd be able to cover everything in Stellarium Mobile Plus in a 2 hour course. Nope. Will need two courses! Tells you how rich the product for slates is. So that's more work... Anyway the level 1 introduction is fleshed out. Very exciting.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

sent in next Journal piece

Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Submitted my article for the next RASC Journal. Let Nicole it was ready to go.

This one was  in the can for a while, I wrote it a month or so ago. My proof-reader Rhonda was impressed: only one typo.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

finally connected with Alan

Phoned Alan Ward. His emails were sounding a little... Intense? Impassioned?

We talked about my SkyNews article, the Modern Makers. More than once he said my piece is a first in the history of the magazine, the first time someone talked about amateur telescope making. I've only been paying attention since about 2007. He assured me he's been watching since 1995. So that is cool if true. He said it was "wonderful" that I did this. I told him a part 2 is coming soon...

Alan talked about the increasing interest in fast mirrors, big mirrors frequently down to f/3, due in part to more accessible corrective optics such as the Tele Vue ParaCorr Type 2. He's convinced the commercial companies won't do this so perhaps it's becoming new driver for enthusiasts prepared to make their own. He said there's no way the consumer telescope companies will spend 100 hours making a mirror for an amateur rig.

We talked about the new silvering processes and bare and enhanced aluminium coatings that he can produce coatings with 95% reflectivity in green. I learned that he obtained his first coating machine in 1992, just for himself initially. He shared briefly the history of his business and the trends in the industry. He claimed he was the first in the world to make an apochromatic lens. Sounds amazing everything that he can do and how willing he is to help ATMers.

His passion emerged in our rapid-fire discussion. He feels strongly that Canadians have a unique story to tell. He thinks it should be told. And it's something we should be proud of. I concur.

He invited me to his shop in Sudbury. It'd be cool to see how things work. We can't do anything now obviously but that'll give him time to recover some his winter fall. In the meantime, we agreed to keep in touch. I asked for Peter's contact info. And hoepfully between now and then, he'll do another presentation on coatings or optics and I can sit in.

Monday, March 29, 2021

announced more level 2 training

Picked some dates for more Stellarium level 2 training, free for RASC members. Updated the RASC web site. Emailed the waiting list peeps.

be nice

You don't matter. Well, you probably won't in 100 years. Your atoms will be going back into Universe. But while you're here, stop being mean.

spotted new version

Spotted that a new version of Stellarium is out! 0.21.0. Ho ho. Announced it on the Stellarium "classroom." Told Chris. He noted there's a higher resolution texture for the Moon (4K). We also checked the Great Red Spot position on Jupiter. I was hopeful it was improved having seen the "axial rotation" item in the release notes. Ian B said the Observability text is better positioned for him. I'm nervous though... I only saw a 64-bit version for Windows. Could this be the end of 32-bit releases? That'll cause a kerfuffle with ASCOM drivers...

submitted draft for post 2

Wrote my second web site article. Part 2 of 6.

submitted post 1 revised

Submitted revisions to my first web site article. Part 1 of 6.

fixed a spreadsheet

Uploaded a corrected edition of the supplemental spreadsheet for the Explore the Moon RASC observing programme. Encountered a number of minor issues while reviewing an ETM application but also found an error in the coordinates for Haemus Mountains. 

i fixed it good

Received Dave C's stamp of approval.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

reviewed an ETM application

Certified a RASC TC member a lunatic! He successful completed his Explore The Moon observing program-the Telescope edition. I enjoyed reviewing the log book with sketches and comparing the views in Stellarium (with an 8K Moon image no less)! Asked the National observing committee chair to corroborate my findings.

heard from Frank

I heard from Frank D regarding "the modern makers" article published in SkyNews magazine. He's a living, breathing example of the old arts, building the telescope itself, pushing glass, i.e. making his own mirror, and coddling together all the bits and pieces of the mount. In the true spirit of the Amateur Telescope Making community.

Excellent article!  I'm grateful that you provided a realistic picture of various aspects of telescope making, and that neither you nor the editors messed up any details, and that you researched it by asking sensible questions before writing the article.  You did a nice job with it and I see it as an example of very good journalism.

That's... wow. That's an incredible remark. Wow. That makes me very happy.

helped some new builders

Phoned Brian and son about making a telescope. Referred them to some online resources, like Stellafane. Talked about John Dobson. Tooted my own horn a bit suggesting they buy the current SkyNews magazine. The younger man was keen to build a f/5 instrument with a big mirror. And an equatorial mount! Yes, it can be done but great care will be required. Did a sales pitch for RASC, pushing access to the CAO and 'scope loan program.



And later shared a link to John Dobson's amazing video.

heard from Allan

Heard from Allan Rahill at Environment Canada. After sharing the weather presentation video with Attilla, I had wondered if Allan might enjoy it. He did, apparently.

I have just looked at the video and it is very well done.  I like the way you compared different tools.  I will keep the link.

Awesome! Glad to hear I hit the mark with the person who invented this 21 years ago.

He shared with me some other fascinating bits of information.

looked for a good box

Moved stuff around a bit. Took the NOCO lithium gear out of the little black and silver 8x12" case and transferred into the unused (cheap) hard plastic case (Nanuk knock off or Pelican clone) from Princess. That stuff fits nicely. I think the new empty case might be just the ticket for the new eyepiece warming station...

This avoids a cardboard box which I was worried will get damp.

Good to put to use the new hard case to use, finally.

Found the lithium battery reading very low! Oh dear.

Now I'll look to fit one of the heating pad sheets in there...

Saturday, March 27, 2021

thanked the makers

Thanked all the interviewees and people who helped with my "modern makers" article for SkyNews. I'm filled with gratitude.

hacked the Moon

Showed Chris V how to hack Stellarium with a high-rez texture for the Moon.

The following process might upset the apple cart. I assume you know what you're doin'!

The steps, if you're inclined:

  1. Go to SourceForge discussion by Endre V.
  2. Download the hi-rez image JPG from the Moon 8K texture map link. You can ignore the other stuff.
  3. Open the JPG into an image editor, save as PNG, and call it "moon.png".
  4. Ensure Stellarium is not running.
  5. Access your Stellarium program file folder. 
  6. Access the "textures" subfolder. You'll find planet textures here. And textures for many moons...
  7. Find the "moon.png" file (for our moon) and rename it, so to back it up. Your OS may require administrative permission to complete some of these actions.
  8. Copy the downloaded and converted 8K Moon file called "moon.png" into the "textures" folder. 
  9. Start Stellarium and zoom in! Zoom in, eh?!

Stellarium might load slowly and want more memory. That's the price of admission.

I shared a snap.

Stellarium running a hi-rez image of the Moon

"Freakin' awesome," was his reply.


I remember hacking Jupiter too, when it lost a cloud band...


Ho ho, found it. 21 Aug 2010. I was doing lots of Stellarium tuning!

weather tools video online

My weather presentation is up!

Watch the edited video on our YouTube channel.

I delivered a presentation in the RASC Toronto Centre Recreational Astronomy Night meeting on 3 February 2021. 

An article on the RASC web site complements the video.

I talked about various weather tools including Clear Sky Charts, Clear Outside, Astrospheric, Good To Stargaze, Aviation Weather Center (USA), Environment Canada, Canadian Smoke Forecast, Hazard Mapping System (USA), and the analogue barometer.

Amateur astronomers need to be come amateur meteorologists.

shared Stellarium searching tips

Had a very interesting conversation with John D today.

Reacting to my double stars bulletin in the RASC Toronto Centre forums, he said he was going to start trying double star observing, particularly given his bright urban skies. 

Woo hoo! Another double star disciple!

Then he asked me,

Can you give me a tip as to what search in Stellarium is best used to find the objects [you listed for us].  In other words, which catalog or catalogs and what level of objects need to be downloaded into Stellarium to find them.

I shared that I thought searching for doubles in Stellarium is straight-forward.

No download required. 

Step one is to get into the Search window in Stellarium. F3 or Ctrl-F or the magnifying glass button in the left toolbar. And let's simply use the "standard" way, the Object tab, in the Search window.

Then key in the "name."

I used the example HR 2174 Orionis also known as Σ855 (Struve, STF), SAO 113507, and HIP 29151.

If one searches for "HR 2174" (without the quotes), we will land at the correct double star system near Betelgeuse. And, in fact, Stellarium will show the alternate designations including the Struve number, the SAO code, and the HIP number.

I pointed out things are a little tricky with Greek letters. I show the double above with the common symbol, the upper case Greek letter Sigma: Σ855. That's the official double star designation according to the Washington Double Star (WDS) database. 

Sadly, I relayed, many software programs don't recognise Greek characters in search tools! That's why I show "Struve" (the discoverer name) and "STF" (the WDS discoverer code) as alternates. 

It is curious that Stellarium does not recognise "STF 855" or "Struve 855" while searching! That's disappointing to me, especially when it pings SIMBAD. I explained however that if one knows their Greek alphabet, they can click on the lower case sigma (σ) in the Stellarium search window and follow it with the numbers. It works!

Sidebar: Learn Greek.

All this showed we don't need to fiddle with anything. We don't need to load certain catalogues or search specific catalogues. The "normal" search process in Stellarium finds objects across different star and DSO and SSO catalogues.

searching for doubles in Stellarium

To John, I explained my reason for providing the alternate names for my double star suggestions. It allows for searching in case one method doesn't work. And it depends, in the end, on the specific software or hardware. Any of the designations I show above should work using SkySafari, SkyTools, TheSky, Cartes du Ciel, Starry Night, etc. But what about hand controllers at the telescope. The SAO and HIP numbers are there because hand controllers have (very) limited catalogues (compared to computers). My HC for example does not use HIP numbers.

John was happy. "This more than helps." Then he said, 

It's maybe just me, but if you don't regularly share out this nifty instruction, I would suggest you do that.  It would be a great resource to link to.

Good idea.

watched the W5 show on "the signal"

Rhonda told me about the W5 episode about a "signal from space." I finally had a chance to watch it on the CTV web site.

Dan Riskin, a Science and Technology Specialist on CTV News, published the piece on Friday, March 19, 2021 9:00AM EDT. The title is Signal detected: Are we alone in the endless abyss of space?

(I recognise him from the Discovery Channel.)

Riskin features the ARO operated by Thoth. Riskin talked about SETI research and interviewed Sara Seager of MIT. She talked about exoplanets and referred to the signal received in December via the Breakthru Listen project. Dan Werthimer of Berkeley talked about the past work at Arecibo and the new Pano-SETI which will scan the whole sky. Roger Hanlon talked about octopuses, an alien-like creature here on Earth (not unlike the Giger's Facehugger). Riskin also talked about Oumuamua, a very special object, still being intensely researched.

sorted camera issue

Helped Tony H with the generator camera issue. Seems to be a problem with the smartphone app.

provided an alternate file

Helped Nick out with the RASC Double Stars programme.

Friday, March 26, 2021

posted Mar '21 doubles suggestion list

Prepared my double star "bulletin." It is a short list of suggested targets. I shared this on the RASC Toronto Centre forum. I post here for all.


I hope you were able to get out last weekend. Great conditions, first time in a long time having a few nights in a row. The Moon brightened through the period but I knocked down a bunch of double stars, of course.

Here’s a short selection of double and multi-star systems from my life list for your observing campaign. I found them interesting. Is it too late for Orion? No!

staralso known asalternate catalogue(s)
HR 2174 OriΣ855 (Struve, STF)SAO 113507, HIP 29151
HR 4821 CrvΣ1669, HD 110317HIP 61910
DI LynΣ1369SAO 42931, HIP 47053
7 LMiHJ 1166SAO 61529, HIP 46652
HR 3395 CncΣ1245SAO 116929, HIP 42172

Please share your impressions. :eyes:

Onward and upwards.

Blake Nancarrow
astronomy at computer-ease dot com

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

received a query about the strange double star

I heard from RASC member Darren from Winnipeg.

He was commenting on my RASC Double Star observing program article in recent RASC Journal... "Great article, I really enjoyed it."

But he had questions about the double star in the example log sheet. He noticed a weird RA value and weird Dec value. He was curious the star catalogues I was referring to based on the noted designations. He couldn't seem to find the star!

I said he had a good eye. I was checking if people were paying attention. Then I let the cat out of the bag.

A complete fiction!


In deference to Van Halen and brown M&Ms...

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

added stickers

Figured out the direction or sign of the Declination on the Vixen Super Polaris mount. I found this would be good to know from last weekend. Added some + and - stickers.

Monday, March 22, 2021

downloaded exciting Journal

Accolades started up on the RASC Toronto Centre Forum. Adrian and Jeff had photos published in the latest Journal. Ah. That meant a new issue, April 2021, was ready for download. I grabbed a copy.

cover for the April 2021 Journal
Another article on light pollution.

A piece by David Levy on the recent big conjunction.

John Percy on the death of the Sun!

My Binary Universe column departed from the usual software review. Instead I wrote about the newest RASC observing certificate program: the Double Stars program.

It is the latest in a broad family of observing programs to inspire and challenge astronomers. RASC has a dozen programs, most for visual astronomy, and three astroimaging certificates.

The Journal is available to the public. Enjoy!

Action packed issue!

taught level 2 again

Taught the Stellarium level 2 intermediate again, for RASC members. This time people from Ontario and Manitoba. Sheesh, this course is chock-a-block... Hard on the gas pedal the whole way. Overall, it went well.

finished level 3 content

I am so excited to have finished the draft of the Stellarium level 3 course materials! We'll be rolling out a new course soon.

sweet sorrow

I'm a little sad putting the temporary observatory away. That was a good run, despite the Moon.

doubles in a washed out sky (Bradford)

7:18 PM, Sunday 21 March 2021. It felt cold already. The Oregon Scientific portable weather station, on the picnic table, in the "office section" reported 11.1°C air temperature, 22% relative humidity, air pressure dropping, rain tomorrow, and 6:17 EST.

Heard a weird sound when I started the computer... 

Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: slewing and tracking with IDEA GoToStar

I combined all the spare carabiners.

Put a foam pad under the recorder to cut down noise transmitted from the table into the kickstand.

Took a photo of the tripod tray, with the heater pad underneath. Very interesting this configuration. A first.

heating pad under triangle tray

Yapping mutts and barking birds and wandering neighbours.

Moved the second SLA marine battery under the tripod. The one shown in the photo above is for the objective and eyepiece dew heaters...

Powered up the mount. Connected the computer. Zipped up the doors.

Left for the house.

Back. Breathing hard...

Joined Phil's Zoom call. Grace, Tony, Millie, Dietmar, Joel, Guy, Phil. Birthday boy Ralph showed up. Charles jumped in later. Ontario, British Columbia, and Massachusetts. We talked about craft beers, the pandemic, the Moon, the past-presidents club, the Green Flash, old eyes, trips to the ARO, oral vaccines, and getting old. Good to see everyone but I didn't want to interrupt... Zoom events are way worse for large groups and casual conversations. Brutal for spectrum peeps.

Did my one-star alignment, after confirming the time.

7:48 PM. Slewed to the Moon. 

Had a look at the Moon... I have NEVER seen The Railroad aka Rupes Recta so pronounced. The shadow from the straight wall was thick, wide, black, stark! Wow.

Tried to share a view of the Moon... No one seemed to notice at first.

Later I held the phone below the telescope. Kind of neat. Should have taken a photo!

I moved to the picnic table and thought to shine the keyboard light on my face. Ralph thought I looked like the Chinese God of War Guan Yu, with the beard, big eyebrows, and the red face.

I considered an interesting double star to show the crew. Castor was no good. The sky was still too light.

8:33. I said goodbye, after Phil left, to the group. I think that triggered others to drop.

Went to Tabit in Orion, aka π (pi) 3 Orionis. This was from Friday? On the "try earlier" list.

8:41. Didn't spot AAA rechargeable batteries for the Sony audio recorder. I suspected they were in a pocket of the winter coat. In the house.

In SkyTools, I used the finder scope FOV. Had to switch on the Mirror Diagonal. It worked well in the bright sky. Went to the 36mm eyepiece view and turned off the MD mode. I noted a small X skymark for a photo I had done in the past, Jan 2020.

Bright star. Saw something faint nearby. Yep. A box. A super-elongated rectangle. Wide. Faint.. A was yellow. South. Another set of stars to the east, almost parallel. It was a double as well! The two parallel edges of the parallelogram were separate double stars. Funny. 

Went for another look. Panned.

I think you need a big 'scope to get the secondary of Tabit! Extremely faint. Red. I could directly look at B but at the edge of visibility. SkyTools said it was 8.8 magnitude. It seemed fainter. Curiously, Sissy Haas says the B stars is magnitude 11.3! STT 560. Neat. All right. Viewed! 

Decided to add checkmarks to the things viewed tonight... to catch me eye. Speed up logging.

The wide double to the east was HD 30714 aka Herschel VI 83. Yellow and orange-red. The A here was much dimmer than Tabit A.

A neat field. Pretty field.

Two in the view.

Had another look and synced the mount with the software.

Tonight I had brought out the flask to keep close to the breast and therefore warmed.

I had a couple more Orion targets... Nope. That constellation was exhausted. Well, the items in the software. Paged Haas's book.

Selected SHJ 49, aka HD 1600, SAO 94240, and HIP 23161. Lovely.

9:01. Wide stars, easily separated. Yellow main star. Blue above or toward 11:30. Very slightly further away. Grey? Orange. Dimmer. 4 o'clock position. No other bright stars in the field. C is east. Nice one! Fantastic! SkyTools 3 Professional, in the Object Information box, said the AB separation was 39.5 seconds of arc while AC was 53.3. A was magnitude 6.2, B 8.0, and C 9.8. Haas compared it to Albireo. And described the group as a "boomerang." Ha.

I noted ο (omicron) 2 off to the side... To the south-west. I panned to it.

Hmmm. Zoomed in with the Pentax 20. It didn't look right... Slewed (quickly) to corroborate the position. 

Big sigh. I did not see the faint companion. I did see a star to the west (left), quite dim, mag 13: GSC 00696-0370. I saw another star below [ed: south]. The bright star above [ed: HD 31374, north-west]. But to the right [ed: east] I did not see a mag 11.3 star. Kites and triangles to the right or east... Panned about.

[ed: There's a C star but magnitude 14.1... on hovering.]

Back to the 'scope. Well. That was a mystery. Peculiar. But to view again.

Made a note of "needs" for the next trip to the house... coat... toque. And off I went. Kitty Tucker heard me moving about...

9:29. Back with more layers and a topped up the flask. Checked the recorder. Battery level OK, space remaining OK. But the spare batteries aside.

I was aimed to the west side of the meridian. 

Looked for a new item in Sissy's double stars for small telescopes.

Selected Struve 734 in Orion aka HR 1863 and SAO 132247 and HIP 26020. Pretty neat.

9:33. Hockey stick shape perhaps. Yellow star. Orange star at 10 o'clock. Opposite, about 3 or 4 times the distance, a fainter orange star. Two magnitudes and then two magnitudes. Oh. According to SkyTools, the lower star was not part of the double star system. And A and B were a tight pair. A quad! Holy smokes!

Busy field. Lots of bright stars. I thought, "I must be in the Orion Belt Cluster." [aka Collinder 70 or OCL 503.] Checked the finder scope view. I was! Lots going on. Southern part of the Belt. Great field.

Gotta do some digging then to get the B star...

Glued my eyeball to the ocular again. Amped up the magnification.


That said, it will bear repeat viewing... Evocative. Showpiece item. SkyTools showed:

star magnitude separation
A 6.5
B 8.3 1.5
C 9.1 29.6
D 10.0 0.7 (to C)

But need better skies. Read Haas's notes. Strange colours, again.

9:41. Almost the same angles too.

Next. STF 750...

As I keyed in the coordinate, the ASUS netbook stopped responding... Schlanger! Static electricity. 

Weird. I had brought out the electronics anti-static wrist strap... Damn. I had not hooked it up to the standard computer cord. Cold iron. Reboot but there were no unusual sounds from the computer (unlike earlier).

9:45. A car pulled in the driveway...

Back in the planning software. Slewed to Σ750 (without a sync).

I saw a extremely faint pair, very close, in the middle of the field. Bottom-left (south-east) was a fan-shape of stars--a crow's foot. Top-right (north) I thought of a chalice, arcs and lines. Lots of bright stars, blue-white stars... 

[ed: This doesn't make sense—if west is to the 10 o'clock. May have misspoke, "chalice" in top-left? Was the "crow's foot" stars 42 and 45? Later when we viewed sigma, it was nearly horizontal with the tip to the left so that put's west at the 1 or 2 o'clock position. If that holds for 750, rolling it backwards, then... Ironically the "crow's foot" is the target, HR 1898 to the north, HR 1891, and V1046. And the "chalice" includes HD 36629.]

Near the Running Man.

9:51. Recreated my settings (again) in SkyTools. 

I didn't think I was in the right area. I was a bit lost... [ed: Indeed, 750 is one of the talons of the crow's foot. Reviewed in Aladin 10. A tight pair is the northern most set of stars.]

Re-examined to the previous target in the computer chart.

Went to the σ (sigma) Orionis cluster to get my bearings... (A nice treat, of course.) [ed: The tip of the arrow was left, that was south-east. STF 761, the tail of the arrow was right. Therefore, west was to the 1 or 2 o'clock position.] Synced.

Slewed again. HR 1898.

9:58. Noted a bright satellite, brighter than the field stars. Went from 2 o'clock to 7 o'clock. [ed: On checking Stellarium, I believe this is Starlink 1564. It passed through the Running Man at 9:54.]

Checked the Atlas. Noted the crow's foot. Oh, part of the open cluster, NGC 1981. And I spotted a faint pair. 

Had another look for 750. Panned around a bit.

It seemed like I was in a different area... 

I heard Rhonda. Offered a view of a double star. I shifted back to the little arrow of σ Ori. Mostly blue-white stars. She liked it. We caught up.

Near BD 04 11700, a variable, I saw two stars. Not in SkyTools. [ed: Actually, there is another star here: GSC 4774-0087 at magnitude 11.6.]

Need to view all this again... Won't be able to do these things for a while... [ed: Next time, I need to do a good sketch!]

Stoopid moon was really high up. Decided to work on the other part of the sky. Used Regulus to flip over the meridian. Centred and synced. Leo would start crossing over soon.

10:29. Ah. Leo Minor! Should do some targets there. Added 7 LMi and slewed. Almost straight up. 

Cool one! I was surprised that I had never looked at this one before. West was left, no, to 10 o'clock. B was blue and A was yellow. I saw another star, fainter, orange. To the south-west. Clearly a triple. The eyepiece view did not display it, even with the Moon setting off. I flipped and zoomed into the Interactive Atlas. Yep. There it was! A great system. The L pattern... Very good. C was toward the base of the L. Had another look. Made a note to sync. C goes through the middle of the L, between SAO 61512 and HD 81976. Triangle to the south. ABC is nearly an equilateral triangle. Fantastic.

Forgot to sync. Went and did it.

I read Haas's notes. "Sun-yellow" main star with a "silvery" speck. The third star was "livid." I thought that word meant angry. Strange.

Next: Struve 1374. Searched for STF 1374 aka HD 83698 in ST3P. Go! OK, now it was straight up!

Low power eyepiece. Seeing was a bit off. Empty field. Pretty sure I saw an orange star one or two magnitudes fainter than the yellow main star. Angled toward the 11 o'clock.

Frustrated with the zooming in SkyTools. Grrr.

There was a star above. Hovered over the stars, 6.9 and 7.1. That's equal!? I thought it was toward 11, not 12. I read the description in Haas's book and returned to the eyepiece. 

Tried higher power. It was apparent in the 20mm. Obvious! I spotted another star below at 6 o'clock. I had the correct orientation, B at the 11:30. It looked closer than 3 arc-seconds. The Object Info box said 6.9 and 8.7. ST3P said there was a distant C star. Very interesting pair. Challenging.

Felt a spark. Computer continued worked. Whew. 

Went looking for the third partner. Wow.

Did not see the C star. 

Went to STTA 104. ST3P called this UU LMi. Still on the east side of the sky. 

Back out to the 36mm. Noted bright field stars, 27, 28, and 30 Leo Minoris winding counter-clockwise from the south over to the east. The brighter star looked white. B looked yellow. Binocular double? "Vivid trapezoid." What? Haas said it was in a pattern like the Keystone of Hercules. I suppose?

Noted something to the right... Manually slewed.

Neat find, off-piste. Strange though. I thought the yellow star was part of a double. The software said it was a single. I thought HD 90681 was the primary and the blue-white to the south-east was B, HD 90698. But that one was the double A2152. It's a triple! The B is extremely tight to A but the C star was 42" and I thought it red. Then, west of the bright star was another red star. Very interesting system. A2152 was the only official double in there... I'll have to check the WDS for this one. 

[ed: WDS shows only ABC for A2152. But, the WDS/SD shows another double 2 arc-minutes away, at 10h28m51.39s +34°53'08.4". That's SHY 215. HD 90681 in SkyTools is at 10h28m51.2s and Dec. +34°53'07" (2000). Only problem is the WDS data is wonky! This needs to be measured!]

Short hop to the next object of interest.

A bit of a breeze went through tugging at the wind chimes.

I saw a super-faint pair.

11:01. STF 1432. Faint stars. Yellow and a red star. Two to three mags different. Angled at a 45 degree angle to my eye, 10 through 4. Bright star at 4 o'clock at the edge of the field, HD 90717. Simple. Very faint.

Selected 42 LMi. The last double in her book for this constellation. Not near the meridian.

Another binocular pair, I thought. Confirmed. White and below, pale orange. There was a grey-white star to the right.

I spotted another pair in the field, closer than the super-wide pair. Why not in Haas's book, in striking distance, doable in a small 'scope I'm sure.

Considered switching gears. Stir it up a bit. Started to load my "fast movers" binary star list and SkyTools imploded. Crikey. Tried again. OK. Geez, so annoying. OK, how about 44 Boo. I hadn't looked at it for 6 years. Aimed at Izar to sync. Oops. Cedars in the way... 

Algieba? Slewed, centred, synced.

B was pointing toward D. Saw C and D, faintly, above. C and D were angled somewhat left and right. Did I know that γ (gamma) Leonis was a quad? Surely I've viewed them before... [ed: Nope! Score!]

618 years? That's not a fast mover... I won't be around to see it change. Removed!

11:32. Added ι (iota) and slewed. 

Did not see anything... Dang. Next?

What about Alula? Oh! Not far away... added ξ (xi) Ursae Majoris.

Pretty well straight up and down for me Alula Australis. Very faint star to the 10 o'clock. Switched to the 9mm in the software. The one below was slightly fainter. Moved the high power ocular to get field stars so to get the angle. Good, west was to 10 o'clock. I thought the lower one was dimmer but the software said the opposite. Noted a cup shape of stars. OK, enough of that.

Now I wanted fun colours. I found the Coldfield 200 list that I had made some time ago. Lots in Cancer but it was going down. And I did not want to look at things near the Moon. Huh. I have viewed most... Draco?

Crazy idea. Galaxies in Leo.

That was silly. Nothing visible. Nothing at all.

Running out of steam... What interesting stuff could I look at? 

Hopped to Cor Caroli. Lovely, as usual. Hopped off to orange coloured star.

Checked "Blair's Open Clusters" list. No eligible targets... [ed: Is it only a partial list.]

Red stars! Reminded me of the recent interesting phone chat with Harold in London...

Big yawn.

I suddenly remembered that I forgot to make the square mask for the 8-inch. Distracted by the phone call.

Corona Borealis? Nope. Below Arcturus. What about Coma Berenices? Floundered... How about some hot chocolate.

11:54. Checked the battery level of the recorder: OK. Manually moved the mount to a horizontal position, aimed east. Turned off sidereal tracking and heading indoors for a warmup.

12:45 AM, Monday 22 March 2021. Back. I did not have a lot of great ideas. 

Moon still out. Boötes higher now. Checked the Oregon: 2.5°, 33%, dropping, rain. Time still wrong.

Slewed to Izar. Couldn't split it at 2.9" and different...

Inside I had looked up possible objects. I went to NGC 5466. Nothing. Again. Brutal.

Tried to split 44 Boo. Checked the software. Oh! 0.3". Scratch that! Frig.

Looked again at the Coldfield list... Found something but it would require a meridian flip. Went to gamma Leo again.

Slewed to my target, DI Lyn. A and B were nearly equal. Yellow and blue. Other star was orange. Yeah, the bright star below... Very nice. Nice double. SkyTools said it was a quad but the Aa was below resolution limits. aka HR 3811, HD 82780, SAO 42931, HIP 47053, and STF1369.

One more! Ha.

HD 81104 or STF 1346 from the Coldfield list. In Ursa Major. Aimed toward 10 o'clock, i.e. north-west. White and orange. Pretty. Nice field. 5.9". Gaggle of stars below. South. Made me think of a tulip.

Quits. That's all.

Packed all the eyepiece equipment but then did a fast, quick shutdown planning the full proper teardown tomorrow in the daylight.

Kept the recorder going in hopes of catching the owl call...


A good run these three nights, despite the Moon. Felt really good to use the gear and use my eyes and get out of the four walls.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

daytime prep

To the temporary observatory again. Rolled back the fly from the east section. This vented the warm air. Reattached the RA motor cover. That required depowered. I'll have to do a new alignment. C'est la vie. One SLA charged; flipped to the other. Another lovely warm day.

found 2 more sheets!

Ho ho. I found not one but two more heating pad sheets!

I bought these years ago at Sayal in electronic alley in Mississauga.

"Heating Pad 12V 55W 10X10IN WIRE"

All right. No ends, so I'll need to fire up the soldering station but this is good news.

don't upset the Moon...

Grace was watching out for me... On the Toronto Centre RASC forum, she submitted:

Blake, I'm worried that you are alright!  You looked at the moon!  You must be ill.

Ha! I attribute it to lunacy.

fixed mount, viewed X and many doubles (Bradford)

Almost 7 PM. Saturday 20 March 2021. Back in the temporary backyard observatory. I brought out the first round of stuff, including my electronics kit anti-static strap. Wires and tape for a quick diffraction grating. My personal USB-serial adapter. And a second SLA battery. But I forgot my phone again!

Looking forward to another clear night. Amazing all the CSAC weather alerts I've been receiving noting "Transparent" for the clarity and "Good" or better for the seeing.

Instrument: Celestron 8-inch SCT
Mount: Vixen Super Polaris
Method: slewing and tracking with IDEA GoToStar

Cathy went by with the dog. I gave an open invite. "Absolutely." Tom apparently was still going on about it.

The SLA battery was showing "FUL." Put away the intelligent charger.

I cut out a piece of the rubber grippy cloth stuff from the roll, so to fit the seat of the astronomy chair. Width is perfect! I'd staple it down later...

Rotated the Declination axis back to 90°. Fired up the mount, from it's sleep mode, just as the neighbour to the south started cutting some stone. Loud! A gaggle of motorcycles ripped along the strip. Loud! I sent the mount to the Moon. On target. Love that.

I could see the Lunar X was in progress... Looking more like an H, actually.

Went to the house to get stuff. Including the motorola e6.

Considered an afocal shot of the Moon...

The baader eyepiece was really dirty. Blew out a little hair filament from the inside. Need a blower-brush tool in the case epsilon...

7:10 PM. Tried imaging the Moon.

Moon in daylight - Lunar X forming

motorola e6, f/2, 1/60th of a second, 4mm, ISO 61, hand-held afocal to the eyepiece, 36mm aspheric baader ocular, 8-inch SCT telescope, tracking at lunar rate. Due to the 3 reflections, up is up, left is right.

Interesting how the shadow of the SCT secondary mirror is visible to the camera...

There ya go. I expected it but this clearly shows you can see Lunar X in the daytime.

Whoa! As I was playing with the settings for the camera in the smartphone, when in Manual mode, I discovered the save-image settings and in addition to JPEG it offered RAW! What the Universe? My phone does RAW?! Awesome, I set to DNG+JPEG. That'll be fun... Is this new?! Was it added recently?

7:14. Tried another shot.

Lunar X very obvious in this fast shot

motorola e6 again, 1/54th of a second, ISO 50.

That's better.

Tried high ISO to shoot faster to reduce hand-shake. But noisy.

Showed Rhonda my Lunar X shot.

7:20 PM. Rhonda visited and had a look. Thought the presentation of the Moon made it look "round." Yeah, sometimes I get a strong sense of a sphere floating in space. It's cool when that happens.

She warned me, "Don't sit on the scissors."

Decided to try for Sirius in the daylight... Slewed. It did a meridian flip. Nothing in the finder.

Hooked up the computer and mount using the found 9-pin serial cable, not sure it it would work, but all went well. Yes. I've extended the serial leg of the data connection (apropos). Couldn't remember where ultimately this came from but it's a keeper. The cable needs nuts on the one end though.

7:32. Temperature was dropping. Made a note to get the Oregon weather station. I'd get that on my next clothing run... Closed the shed. Closed the west window. Closed the east door.

I started a manual spiral search for Sirius.

Slew to cursor: F3. 

Got it! Found Sirius in the blue sky. "Look at that." Centred and synced.

The robins were really going!

Went inside for clothing, my jacket and hat. Grabbed some spare AAA batteries for the red blinkie LEDs. I put it in the random pattern... Fun.

7:52. I found the blinking X in SkyTools was in the right location! Good.

Put the heater pad sheet into the eyepiece case, connected to None More Black, my custom controller, and the second marine battery. In short order it started putting out heat. Yes!

7:59. Looked at Sirius again and I was seeing field stars emerge in the darkening sky. Helped me rotate the field in SkyTools.

I chimed in with the chattering robins. I think I upset one!

Made a simple diffraction grating with a single wire across the dew shield. My initial installation was too close to where I thought Sirius B would be so I shifted it by about 10 degrees. But then I was not getting crisp spikes. Torn it down.

Oops. Forgot to turn off the security light for the driveway...

Made a note to find my second heating pad sheet...

Watched clearances. Sirius was moving past the meridian and the mount continued tracking.

Shot a quick movie, with the phone, of the scintillation of Sirius.

Tried the Tony dos Santos occulting eyepiece. It was super-black! Awesome, thanks to the painting I had done with Rhonda's supplies a while back. No reflections. [ed: And shows just how bright the sky really is.]

8:34. Immediately saw faint stars in the field. I activated more stars in the software but found it disorienting.

The thing to do would be a detailed sketch, rotating the eyepiece 3 or 4 times...

Or put the computer right beside the telescope...

B was mag 8.5... Maybe I should make the Square Mask. There's lots of light to work with...

8:38. Made a note.

8:40. Also made a note to ask people about the faint ring around bright stars. I had first noticed it last summer around Vega. [ed: I think I have it in photos, so it's just a human physiology eye thing.] Here I could see it around the alpha star of Canis Major. About a third of the way from centre. I should ask the community what this is, or what's causing it. It's clearly some diffraction artefact. I'm curious the math of it... Something to do with the 203mm OTA aperture.

Went inside. Gloves. Keys. Turned off the driveway light robot.

8:48. Had another look at the brightest star in the sky. Darkening sky. Increased contrast with Sirius and the field.

I thought out loud, "I don't think I can get there from here."

Noticed there was no silica sachet inside the zippered plastic bag for the occulting ocular. Made a note.

Hey! Wondered if there was a space in case epsilon for the occulting eyepiece. Maybe I can cut a new slot...

8:50. Considered the evening targets and decided to try things in the east, as the telescope was on the west side of the pier... Synced the software. Verified the flashing X was in the right spot.

Cracked open the Black Seal... aaah.

In one of the whiskey glasses, the classic Glencairn, from Katrina no less.

I did a short slew to get close to the meridian. Selected a star on the other side of the meridian... A Leo star.

Did another slew—no! It went the wrong way! Mount collision! 

I could hear gear hop by the time I got to the mount and powered it off! Then SkyTools started to crash due to the interrupted data connection. Powered up the mount but SkyTools couldn't recover. It trapped a time-out and then closed. 

It had flickered through my mind to abort the slew in the software but I didn't recall the process hence running to the mount.

Set back. 

Wow. Took the wind out of my sails. Demoralising. I stood there for a moment. What to do. What to do.

Reconfigured the mount to its home position and tried a star alignment but the mount didn't move in RA. Repair time...

I checked the cover from the RA motor drive. It was held in place with two small Philips screws. Reached for the mount carrying case. Checked the bunch of tools there. Did I have everything that I needed? All right, a small Philips screwdriver! I had forgotten about that.

Then I needed to loosen and retighten the Allen grub screws holding the Right Ascension motor drive in the mount. The collision had pushed the motor out of position. I looked in the mount tool kit and there was no small Allen key! I had all the other ones for the tripod but not the teenie one for the set screws.

Off to the house. I grabbed my extensive Tekton Imperial-Metric Allen key set. I knew a Metric wrench would be needed... Learned that the 2.5mm key fit the grub screws. In short order, the mount was up and running again.

A perk of backyard observing is having a full tool set at one's disposal! When the mount goes rogue, one can affect a repair in-situ. Whew. 

I made a note to find or buy a spare 2.5mm Allen key for the mount repair kit.

Left the cover off to do a quick shakedown. Restarted and did a one-star align on Aldebaran. Quite far off this time but got on it and then slewed to Bellatrix without issue. No problem with the Dec axis, of course.

9:15. Up and running again. Time for a drink! Frack!

[ed: Not bad overall, fixed the problem in less than 25 minutes.]

Where was I? Before so rudely interrupted.

Oh. Must take a photo for Katrina!

computer, book, lubrication

Busy at work in the office. motorola e6, f/2, 1/30th of a second, 4mm, ISO 259, auto-flash. Up is up, left is right.

I took the hint to view targets in Orion. Relaunched SkyTools. Gah, all my settings were gone (I should really reconfigure it to my current preferences).

Looked up a double in Sissy Haas's book. Added π (pi) 1 Orionis to the SkyTools observing plan list. Readied to slew. Located the Abort Slew button, just in case... Off we went.

Didn't see anything obvious in the eyepiece. Seeing was bad. Was it really tight? No, ST3P said it was super-wide. Huh.

Back was cold. Needed another layer for the torso and the winter coat. This time I remembered to put pants on.

9:40. Checked double stars for small telescopes again. The numbers didn't seem to match. Oooh. π3! Wrong star. Duh.

Looked again, while I was there. West was up. The two stars with... HD 287234, down, below, was east. The B star was above. No problem seeing that, B was well away and to the west. Therefore the P partner should be to my right. Looked again. Nope... 

Noted the string or line of stars below. They all fit with the low power eyepiece.

Running out of time with Orion.

OK. Now to Haas's actual suggestion: pi number 3 (these are all stars in the shield or bow of The Hunter). Short hop. Dang. In the trees. Bad diffraction. The right side of Orion was out of range. 

Betelgeuse. That side or area. Chose 59 Ori. [ed: aka H V 100.]

Three stars, with a very dim one. There was a wide pairing with the brighter stars, the medium bright star to the west, my 1 o'clock position. The extremely faint tighter star was at the 10 o'clock position. 90 degree angle. Main was yellow; other was red. The third star was about 4 or 5 times the distance. Haas showed only one pair. I checked the software. Ah, it was a triple. C seemed blue-white to me. Visible for me at low power but with a big gun. Might be too tough for someone with a small OTA. I was happy: I got the A, B, and C. Cool!

Lots of neat field stars with apparent doubles. For example, to the south, I noted a wide faint pair with HD 288342.

Went for another look. C was maybe 5 or 6 times the AB split. Maybe C was yellow.

Spotted another pair with Tycho 117-840-1. At a 45 degree. Wider than the HD stars but less than H V 100 C!

And then Tycho 130-746-1! Same sep as A and B of 59.

I wondered where the second heating pad sheet was. It was not in the dew delta case. Maybe it was in the paperwork case?

Started checking off targets immediately in the book!

Selected Otto Struve 124 aka HR 2099. Slewed with the computer. I was enjoying not typing SAO numbers or coordinates into the hand controller...

Nothing obvious. A fantastic field though... A big triangle. Nope...

Checked Haas's notes. Wait, what?! Half an arc second?! In a small telescope? Are you nuts?! She also noted it was a binary! Checked SkyTools. ­¡Ay carumba! 

The software showed it to be currently 0.3". A fast-mover with a 140 year period. We were at the apistron... But not for me. No way. Lame.

Next? Struve 840 aka HD 41580. A triple.

Very short hop!

Oh, nice. But faint... Very nice, easy, wide. Orange and white or blue-white, orange is dimmer by about one magnitude. Orange was above for me (west).

Faint triangle to the NNE. Neat star field, lots going on.

SkyTools showed C was 0.4" separation so off limits. It also noted the magnitudes 2.5 different. A big difference.

The sticky stuff was working. I thought it might be flopping all over or falling off. I think it's a little tacky so it seems to be staying put.

Nothing had blown my socks off...

10:14. 840 was near a cluster, NGC 2141, about a degree away. I panned around but nothing caught my eye.

Another nip of lovely island dark rum (a discovery from way back).

Why do those goofballs push into the rev limiter. They are lucky to have them...

Next target from Sissy: Struve 855 also known as HR 2174.

Oh! Nice! Finally, a good one! Fantastic. A great double. Yellow and blue and grey. Yellow at the top. Blue, B, was at the 6:30 position. Three to four times the AB distance was C. Nearly empty field. 29" to 118" according to ST3P. 5.7 and 6.9. ST3P said 8.9 for C. Seemed much dimmer. The hover over said 9.6. That's better. East through west, almost in a straight line. West was still up for me. Cool. A showpiece one. 

Haas reported "white and greenish." Uh huh. She showed the class for A and B stars as spectral A. That'd be white.

Panned to another part of the field, to the south-west.

I smelled wood smoke. Nice.

10:31. Found HD 41809 [or STF 846]. Nuts. Really faint pair. White/grey. Mags 8 through 10. About a third of the separation. ST3P said 12.9". Nice. Nice!

Checked the whole sky. Orion was done. I was ready to go to Leo. Ready to cancel... Used Regulus. No issues, flipping over. Off target a bit but I corrected and synced. Moved the BIGdoc chair.

10:38. On viewing alpha Leonis, I noted the elongated dipper shape, upside-down, so that put west to the 10 o'clock position.

Upper back and neck was a little tense. Pushed the shoulders back. Sat up straight. I kept catching myself hunching.

Chose 3 Leo [aka H IV 47]: a "delicate double." Didn't see anything at first. Oh! Crazy. Bright star with a tiny companion. Barely perceptible star to the 4 o'clock position. Yellow and no colour. Dim dot. Mags 5.7 and 10.6. Wow. Fun. But tough.

Made a note to transfer all the smartphone photos.

The air was cool. I remembered thinking about this last night, bringing the heater out to the tent. Setting it on a board in the "warm room."

The next suggestion from the doubles book showed OΣΣ102. I couldn't remember what that designation meant. I looked it up by coordinates in ST3P. HD 82906 was at that mark. Added. Checked the info. Right, STTA102.

Doubles everywhere! 

Nice. Faint. White and orange... in an L-shape with a very faint star. Oriented SW to NE, nearly perfectly. Had to switch to the Interactive Atlas to spot the faint star. The GSC 827-317 was mag 13.2 (poor quality). "Pearly white?" Just white and orange.

7 Leo nearly (already observed, 2 years ago).

Pair beyond that. With SAO 98665 (huh, already logged).

Question: how do you keep your drink warm in cold conditions...? First world problems.

Yawned. It felt late. It was only 11 o'clock!

Added and slewed HD 86133 aka STF 1399 aka SAO 81101. Nice! Yellow and blue. Very wide. Easy. Nothing earth-shattering. Stingray shape below with the tail curving up. Haas noted "peach white" and "silver." Huh?!

Thought about hard candy. Did I have any?

Shot the rig, painted in red light.

telescope and mount working

motorola e6, f/2, 1/4 of a second, 4mm, ISO 3200.

Idea 1: An empty box that I use for active eyepieces with a heater in it, right beside the telescope.

Idea 2: A new layer, or level, below the triangle tray. Unused space. Suspend something there.

The heater pad in the eyepiece case wasn't helping me per se as I don't normally go to it, once my regulars are out.

For a long time I've thought about affixing heating pad to the bottom of the triangle tray. Let it heat the try. Made a note to try that.

Idea 3: Infrared heating!?

Southern neighbour's backyard light kept triggering. It was super-bright and very annoying. Lots of light trespass.

Dropped the screen brightness to half.

What now?

Searched for the next Haas target. No A listed in the software; had to choose the Primary Star option. HD 89619 for STF 1426. Nothing... Wait... Very tight. Cool. Three mags different? Light orange stars. Outliers above and below, random GSC stars. I spotted the C star, attractively close. The B was in tight. I did not see it. 

11:20. I wondered what the temperature was. Made a note to bring out the portable weather station.

Increased magnification to get the tight pair. 36mm, 20mm, 9mm.

11:30. I thought I saw two equal stars at the 1 o'clock orientation. Hover showed 7.3 and 8.3, straight up and down. C was at the 2:30 o'clock. Wow. A and B touching, barely a black line. Not a great view in the Nagler.

Had another look. Yep. Two stars. The upper one was fainter by a touch. Yep.

Checked the book. One. One?! Haas said the separation was 0.90". Crazy! SkyTools said 1.0". Kookie.

ST3P said it was a quad but D was mag 15.

Did a big jump to move further along on Leo.

Struve 1500. Dropped back to low power. Wide. Orange and... The book said 1.4". What? Wrong double...

I had stumbled onto LDS 330 aka HD 95741! White and orange. In a neat pattern. A group of stars that reminded me a bit of Auriga. ST3P said the second star was mag 13. No. That's a catalogue error. Nice pair.

I was east of the original target...

A crazy neighbour decided to do some construction, pounding nails. OK, it's the weekend, but still. It's crazy late. Dumbass.

Panned around. Zoomed in. I wondered if they were at a 2 o'clock orientation. Another extremely tight pair and I couldn't split 'em. Inconclusive.

Break time. Warm up time. Plus the handyman was driving me nuts. I headed inside for some hot chocolate. I turned off tracking and headed inside.

Sunday 21 March 2021, 1:00 AM. Looked at the sky. Boötes, Virgo. Oh, Corvus!

Viewed double S 634. aka HD 105913. Somewhat tight. White and blue. Quite different. Two magnitudes different, I thought. West was to the 1 o'clock. I noted a little arc of stars on the left (south-east). A couple of faint field stars. Left star, a Tycho star, 6095-288-1 was 12.5. Good. And this target was low so extincted! Nice. Haas reported "an exactly equal mix of yellow and orange." Not for me. She said wide at 83x. Tighter for me at 55x.

Tried for Burnham 920 or HR 4661. Oh my. Lower! OTA was nearly horizontal. Two airmasses. I was looking through all the Newmarket muck. Lost. Went back to the last, synced. Tried again. Nope. Oh, Haas said 1.8". But ST3P said 0.6"! With a 175 year period. So it was doomed for failure. I wondered if they were oriented left-right but the magnitudes was reversed. Empty field. Quit that one. [ed: According to ST3P, getting tighter.]

full orbit diagram from SkyTools for BU 920

1:21. Next. Higher and a bit left. Oh, wicked! Really cool. Car headlights, equal white stars, with a star well above, C, very dim, blue. C was more above the right-hand star. B was also noted as VV Crv, a variable. A and B oriented NW to SE. Fun! Another showpiece target. HR 4821, STF 1669, HIP 61910, and HD 110317.

SkyTools showed a star below and left but that's an error. [ed: Reported.]

Done with Corvus.

On a whim, tried for galaxy NGC 4565. Slewed. Nothing visible. Dang. Sky was too bright for galaxies... to be fair, for Finest NGC objects.

Panned around a bit in Collinder 256 but it's too big.

1:41. Added Struve 2029 in CrB. Thought the motion weird. Cancelled it from the software. Oops. Wrong constellation. Not Corona. I wanted Coma! Crown, head, whatever...

Slewed to a target in Coma Berenices. Cancelled it! Wrong side of the meridian.

Let's try STT 266 or HD 117190. Slewed. Lost. Lost in space.

Went to Arcturus to sync.

1:49. The star didn't look round. Marked it to re-observe.

Looking for a good one to finish on. STF 1737. Short slew to the next. HD 116206. SAO 100534, HIP 65205.

Saw a triangle. Wow. Interesting. Very dim. Yellow and orange star. B was up and left. Big diamond shape was attractive. Top of the diamond was west. B was south-west of A. B was tight and much dimmer. Haas reported white and blue.

Checked the local weather conditions by Oregon. The portable unit was on the triangular tray. 32% relative humidity. 0.0° Celsius air temperature. 12:54. Time was wrong, still on standard time. Date OK. Rain tomorrow and pressure dropping. That part wasn't right.

Σ1838 in Boötes. SAO 101009, HIP 70386, HD 126246. Simple pair. Toward the string of stars on the far right hand side, with HD 126187, to the north. 6.8 and 7.6. I thought they were the same. Attractively close. Equal in colour. Blue-white.

One more.

Struve 1850. aka HR 5415, HD 127067, SAO 83374, HIP 70786. Wide attractive pair. First impression was that they were the exact same colour. Aimed toward Tycho 2014-160-1. Upper star was a bit dimmer. SkyTools said 7.1 and 7.6. Fun. 25" apart. Haas said "mildly unequal."

Started the shutdown. Noted on parking that the Dec scale showed 92°. Er, not 92, 88. The bottom or downward one. Was that negative or positive? I should mark that on mount... Anyhoo, not 90 on the button. Was that due to the collision? Was that why the pointing was off? [ed: Thought I should check the polar alignment. Could the mount drive itself out of alignment?!]

Noticed the red LED blinkies were off. Weird. Those new batteries died? I pressed the mode button and they came on! All's well. Oooh... The unit times out! Interesting.

Closed the tent differently this time, the observing section roof, by a parallel action. I zipped up the screen a bit, then the inner flap a bit, standing in the same position. Faster.

I carried gear up the driveway and to the front door. Quiet, peaceful, relaxed...

I heard a Barred Owl! To the north, about a block away. Again! 


A very good night after a fright. Lots of doubles with some really good ones. I also proved to myself that Lunar X is visible in daylight. I was thrilled to learn that the smartphone can provide images in RAW DNG format. No aurora after many checks. No computer crashes, due to static anyway. Learned how I need to augment my mount toolkit. Used a heating pad sheet effectively for the first time. Good conditions, very good transparency.