Thursday, June 15, 2023

blah days

Been cloudy or rainy or smoky for the week. Boo.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

spoke for Kingston

Spoke at the RASC Kingston meeting, invited by Kim H.

It was the centre's monthly meeting, actually the last regular one for the year, as they put them in hiatus during the summer.

Hybrid event, with people in a classroom, and people online.

Well run, with this complex setup. They had a neat little portable microphone to help capture words from people in-person, for their recording, and for us virtual.

I talked about the RASC visual observing certificates. It went well, I think. It was encouraging to see how many members were actively pursuing certificates.

It was a treat to see two recipients acknowledged after my bit, Andrew and Susan. I don't often get to see certificates awarded to people!

And a bit of myth-busting! A member, who did not own eyepieces, said he had hoped to get a certificate from RASC. I was very happy to inform him of the RASC astroimaging certificates. While "not my department," it was good to show we offered 3 different paths.

They invited me to hang out.

Later, as they did the roundtable of people's latest observations, they pinged me. Nice! Not much, of course, of late but some imaging with BGO and some visual but going back a couple of months...


Dovid Levy was present. And he shared a little, but important, tidbit. They he was awarded an observing certificate, back in 1985, by the late Leo Enright. But this data, for some reason, was not present in my data set. 

I happily updated the file! Love finding missing data...


Used my new Logitech webcam, with Zoom. Very happy. The first webcam, in the last couple of decades, to offer full camera control! I specifically wanted to control the field of view and zoom. Brilliant.


The event was recorded. See the YouTube video shared by RASC Kingston.

Friday, June 09, 2023

helped improve pointing

Yesterday, Alister L messaged me.

He asked me if I might help him out. He was trying to sort an older telescope owned by the Edmonton Centre.

It worked but he wondered if it could be made to perform better... He tried searching for some solutions on the interwebs but didn't find anything appropriate.

It is a 2003-era two-arm computerized C8 we hand out in our loaner program.  It works "fine," but the hand controller firmware is at 2.2 which only has 2-star align and objects are frequently at the edge of the field [after a] go-to action.  I've installed Cartes du Ciel and "synced" it, but it doesn't seem to affect precision for the next go-to, even when 6 degrees away.  It's in Alt-Az mode...  Am I limited by what the handset can deliver?  I haven't tried the NexRemote yet...

As I read his message, I flashed back to the Carr Astronomical Observatory and using Toronto Centre's N11, the NexStar 11 GPS with carbon-fibre tube, alt-az fork mount, optical finder, data cable, with SkyTools. Oh yes, and NexRemote! Time warp.

Enjoyed using that instrument. Viewed a lot of things... My preferred 'scope which saved me haulin' my gear to the CAO.

Immediately, my brain lit up, I had a lot of questions, and I had other thoughts and ideas, maybe they'd help? I replied to Alister and asked if a phone call might be good, to make sure I was on the same page, transfer data at high speed. He rang me up a short time later.

He recounted their issue and I asked a few questions. I waxed nostalgic on using the N11 rig. Told Alister that in fact I had completely rebuilt the 'scope and mount. And that the Toronto 'scope had 2 hand controllers. I surmised I had used a newer one...

I recalled the start-up process involved getting the OTA level. Yep. He did that. Did I go so far as to use a spirit bubble level? I couldn't remember.

I recalled letting the mount try to find magnetic north and that I was worried, at time, how well that might work given the metal roof of the observatory I used it in. But that it seemed to work for me. Alister said he did the north alignment.

Then I said I went through the star-alignment process and immediately after that added calibration stars, sometimes one, sometimes a couple. Nope! He didn't do that. Or couldn't do that. The hand controller he had, with the version 2.2 firmware, did not offer this ability. No calibration star option. Oh. I understand.

Asked about the eyepiece he was using during the go-to slewing actions. Gut feeling it was small. 25mm, he said. There was something else but I missed it? Orthoscopic? If so, that's a 40 degree AFOV. Like lookin' down a tube... I suggested a lower power, below the 25, at least for the finding process. Maybe a 40? Might show the shadow of the secondary but if it captured the target, that'd be good. 'Course, the targets, say a planetary nebula, would now be smaller... Pros and cons. 

We talked about "The Celestron Way," how it was good to move toward alignment stars the right way to pre-load the gears.

We discussed firmware upgrade cautions. I had done it many times successfully but certainly we'd need to tread carefully to not brick anything... I thought it low risk, however.

I asked if he was using a cross-hair eyepiece during the alignment process. Alister hadn't but he said he'd try.

I asked if the 'scope had a Global Position System sensor. It did but he wasn't sure it was working. Odds were it wasn't, I remarked, with a 20 year old battery (or old super-capacitor). I shared a link for replacing the battery. He thanked me for the web site link. 

A working onboard GPS would make startup convenient and quick. Curious how accurately the location was specified on setup... I encouraged him to use very high precision on the latitude, longitude, and elevation. Right?!

I asked if the tube was steel or carbon-fibre. CF.

Reiterated I was happy to help but I needed more data. Make, model, serial, any other details.

He sent over some photos (huge, gah!) which helped me determine what we were dealing with. Curiously, it seemed to be the smaller version of the N11! 

CF 8-inch Celestron NexStar GPS telescope with dual-arm fork mount. Model 11052, I believe.

Known territory.

Read the manual. I kid you not. Nothing about calibration stars. Huh.

firmware numbers from Alister

Verified the HC firmware: 2.2.

Included a minor upgrade to support the NexStar 5i/8i. Also provided slightly more accurate Wedge Align routine.

Determined the motors firmware: 40.40.

Interesting! A beta (test) version but was released to the public. Fixed autoguider problems including runaway slew when autoguiding. Also fixed the hop in Alt-Az mode. 

But then, on reading another article at the amazing NexStar site, I learned about the hand controllers and the firmware. Michael Swanson's web page made it very clear that there were three scenarios.

  1. old original hand controller, could not be updated beyond firmware version 2.2, this is what they had
  2. newer hand controller, could be upgraded to firmware 4.x
  3. latest HC, in fact, the NexStar+ hand controller

I presented my findings to Alister. And I asked if he had access to a NexStar+ HC. Could he test it, try it with the mount? I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he could try one. He was going to borrow a friend's unit. All right!

Then on 9 Jun '23, 5:45 PM, I received the good news!

So the Evo Nexstar hand controller works and lets me have Precision Go-To.  I've placed an order to get one. 

That made me very happy. So, while I didn't lay a hand on anything, I think I was able to get Alister to a good place. And this makes this 'scope a really good instrument for their loaner programme.


A NexStar+ hand controller costs about $200.

added new wx tool

Updated my weather portable page, the St Thomas one anyway, for a new tool.

I recently learned of the GEOS Image Viewer.

I think I like it better than the GEOS NOAA Aviation Weather Center imagery, which I've used for years to see cloud cover in visible and infrared spectra. And being able to put the clouds in motion, very helpful...

The new tool link shows the Great Lakes, shows full spectrum or visible light for humans, and is animated. It appears to be very high resolution. It also clearly shows smoke from forest fires.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

taught L2C

Taught Stellarium level 2 intermediate tonight. 

Er, yesterday?!

In the after-the-class hangout, a few of us continued chatting and problem-solving till after midnight.

I had run the session for the Mountain time zone, so the scheduled class time for my Eastern time zone was 9:30 PM to 11:30...

Good session overall, good turnout. I ran long, as usual, but many stayed around.

Mount control worked, no issues. My DIY home-made data cable.



Also served about half the people from the course I cancelled on 9 May due to health reasons. That was good to help those humans.

Monday, June 05, 2023

reviewed almanac for June




Pulled the data from COELIX APEX for June 2023.

almanac chart for June 2023

We are in the pinched portion (on the northern side of this rocky ball) of the almanac chart. The hour glass shape...


  • Mercury - dark grey
  • Venus - white
  • Mars - orange
  • Jupiter - yellow
  • Saturn - green
  • Uranus - aquamarine
  • Neptune - dark blue
  • middle of night - medium blue


  • solid - meridian
  • short dash - setting in evening
  • long dash - rising in morning

Mars, Saturn, and Neptune are setting through the month. Saturn (16) and Neptune (28) are well-placed around midnight in the middle of the month, with no Moon around.

Jupiter is changing from a morning planet to late-night target. Uranus is also crawling out of the morning sky.

Very short nights for the astronomer. Visual observers need efficient plans; astrophotographers need to be ready to roll at astro-twilight. 

list of events for almanac chart

Pulled the table.

Highlights include:

  • Venus at greatest elongation. Way up. Waaaay up. Said Captain Kangaroo. 
  • "Summer solstice," for me, at The Elevator location. Over in Australia, it's the other solstice.
  • New Moon phase on June 17. Hopefully we'll get some clear skies then. Without too much smoke...

And I generated the phenomena report.

Times are given in daylight time for Elevator (Ontario) (81° 9' 56" W, 42° 47' 49" N, zone R).

02  12:01   Close encounter between Mars and M 44 (0.1° apart!)
03  23:42   FULL MOON
04  12:00   GREATEST EASTERN ELONGATION of Venus (45.3°)
04  17:59   Close encounter between Mercury and Uranus (2.7°)
06  06:08   Opposition of asteroid 11 Parthenope (mag 9.3)
08  00:37   Opposition of asteroid 39 Laetitia (mag 10.1)
11  03:58   Simultaneous transits on Jupiter: one satellite and shadows of two satellites
13  15:24   Close encounter between Venus and M 44 (0.5°)
16  07:13   Opposition of asteroid 20 Massalia (mag 10.0)
16  23:46   Close encounter between Mercury and Aldebaran (4.3°)
18  00:37   NEW MOON
21  23:59   Close encounter between the Moon and Venus (2.7°)
27  06:05   Meteor shower: June Bootids (duration = 11.0 days) *
01  00:48   Beginning of occultation of 20-sigma Sco (mag 2.90)

* See the wikipedia article for the June Bootids. I dunno if I'd get to riled up by this meteor shower, with an average rate of 1 to 2 per hour.

heard from the eastcoasters

Checked in with friends out east. Hoped they were OK despite the fires.

Tiffany said, "The last week [was] stressful, but we are ok! The rain over the weekend was much-needed." Whew!

Dave L replied, "We're ok. We were evacuated on Sunday evening with little notice. We're staying with friends just outside the evac area. The fires destroyed at least 150 homes about 3km from us." Scary.

I hadn't heard from Melody for a few days... But when an ObsComm message came through, I knew she was fine. Later, she reported the "lovely sound" of raindrops on the roof.

Dave C said, "We are quite safe. The fire is on the other side of the municipality... although the wind carried the smoke to us on Sunday evening. Some 18,000 [were evacuated]. About 200 homes are gone or seriously damaged. It is out of control. We need rain."

Saturday, June 03, 2023

informed my editor

Sent a quick note to my RASC Journal editor.

Apologised for the delay.

Copy and images for the column piece were ready to go.

Friday, June 02, 2023

registered for the AGM

Registered for the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

I was asked to do so.

Necessary for all the people speaking at the event.

As the chair of the Observing Committee, I'm on the docket.

Interesting, this year, no shared slides or materials.

Words only.

Shaving off time, I gather...

They've other fish to fry at this AGM!

asked for one more minute

Michael, the first veep, responded to my query.

I had asked if I could have another slice of time at the RASC AGM.

To speak to the software training.

He said, "We have a very tight schedule for this year's AGM, but I think that we can give you one additional minute!"


Thursday, June 01, 2023

received the Bulletin for June

The monthly Bulletin of the RASC arrived my inbox.

I was pleased to see it, for a few reasons.

Jenna, the Exec Dir, provided an update on staffing. She had realised in our discussions that it was something important to relay to members and other committee volunteers.

It was good to see some information on solar eclipse glasses ahead of the 2024 occultation. Centres and organisations can pre-order now.

We learned that over 200 members and guests participated in the General Assembly.

Dark sky preserves are to be highlighted on the RASC social media channels.

Of course, I was keen to see the latest report from the Observing Committee, primarily to recognise the efforts of members completing their visual observing certificates. 9 people in the first quarter of 2023. From British Columbia to Newfoundland Labrador. Good stuff!