Jan. 30, 2011 supplement

Mark & Leigh

Arrive: 8:20pm

Temp: -2 C

I started the evening by moving the line conditioner upstairs into the dome and attached the electronics via the already excisting powerbars to the line conditioner.

Mark opened the dome and we uncovered the telescope and computer cupboard. We started the computer in order to bring up the Sky6.

We attached the focal reducer, focuser and an eypiece to begin. We then took time to re-balance the telescope.

We had difficulty locating our star at first, however after centering the finder scope onto target, we were able to find targets with greater eaze.

We had the telescope and the computer misbehave for some unknown reason. A reboot of both cured both issues.

We were able to direct the telescope with Sky6 to all targets that we picked with no difficulty after the reboot.

We attached the Sbig camera directly to the focuser and then obtained focus by unlocking the main mirror and adjusting the focus knob. We did this with the focuser at the half way point. We were then able to do fine focus with the focuser. We took up to 3 minute photos without guiding and at first blush they do not look too bad. We tightened the lock down of the mirror again.

We found we needed to use an extender to bring the eyepiece to focus without moving the mirror.Departed: 2:45am

Temp: -3 C

Jan. 30, 2011 Log

Members: Mark & Leigh

Arived: 1:35pm

Temp: 0 C

I checked one by one each circuit breaker to see which circuits were effected when turned off. This was to check the accuracy of the chart. I found the chart to be mostly accurate. Noted however that the line conditioner on the “computer” circuit no longer served it’s purpose as the only outlet it serviced was no longer used for the computers. The socket that it it plugged into is supposed to be independantly grounded. I will have to pull off the plate and check if that is so.

I repaired the outdoor spot light fixture and made adjustments to the lamps aim. I extracted the remains of a broken bulb and removed one good 100 watt spotlight. I then installed in both sockets a 50 watt red spotlight. Tested and found working.

Mark removed the optic train from the back of the telescope. He brought everything down to the office to dismantle. Once apart he laid out the pieces and took photos. Our plan is to try using a focal reducer to bring the telescope to f6.8.

Depart: 3:15pm

Darkness meter:

President’s Message for March 2011

March brings news about the many astronomy outreach activities taking shape for Vancouver Centre this year (details below). March of course also brings the vernal equinox, when the Sun will stand directly over the equator at Noon, continuing its northwards climb along the ecliptic and, for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, auguring warmer and longer days ahead. And so we gear up to engage the public!
Mind you, for recreational astronomers, who prize long nights for hunting celestial treasures, summer can occasionally be seen as a bit of a mixed bag! In fact, at our latitude, we stay in perpetual “astronomical” twilight for just over a month, from the beginning of June to early July, when the centre of the Sun never quite descends further than 18 degrees below the horizon, the angle that is taken to define the point at which scattered sunlight is no longer visible.
It was just last year that I had the good fortune to enjoy a sequence of nights of dusk-to-dawn observing at this latitude, from spring through fall, under truly dark skies. I grew up in Montreal, and since I was a teenager, I had done almost no “personal” astronomy, until about three years ago, when I acquired a taste for astronomical imaging. Last summer, I was finally able to go “really deep” into deep-sky imaging, from an exceptionally dark location. I intensely followed the evolving sky conditions each night, recording which frames might need to be discarded when I would later combine the individual exposures, and process the results. I was also keen to assess just how dark the skies were from this location in the South Okanagan, so I would routinely scan the skies all around the horizon and to the zenith. I managed about two nights each month, from May through the end of August (with a really fabulous stretch at the end).
The weather in May and June was mixed, most nights having intermittent cloud cover. But finally, one night in June, I noticed a very dim glow, barely perceptible to the northwest, well after sunset. I was a little puzzled at first, because I was sure that there wasn’t any source of light in that direction, for some considerable distance. I studied the glow intently, as my scope and camera continued to track their target behind me. At first I didn’t trust my senses (being a little slow on the uptake on this one!), but after a time it became clear that the glow really was moving to the north. I confess that I had to check some tables to trust myself, never having realized that Vancouver is just above the latitude at which one experiences “Midnight Twilight”! It was quite exciting to track the glow throughout the (too few) hours of darkness that night, for quite an extent to the northeast!
By the way, an excellent source on “Midnight Twilight” (and the “Midnight Sun”) is the article by Roy Bishop in the RASC Observer’s Handbook (fittingly on pg. 211 of the 2011 edition).
A final note about astronomy and the seasons, before I close with an update on Vancouver Centre’s programming. We’ve just gone through an awful winter for observational astronomy, and at the March council meeting last week, when the Chair of our Observing Committee, Doug Montgomery, was asked for his report, he said it all with a very long, and very deep sigh! This triggered quite an outburst of pained laughter all around the council meeting table.
Finally, it’s time for that news update on your Vancouver Centre.
We have had two outstanding speakers at the first two meetings of the year. In January, we had standing room only at the presentation by Dr. John Mather, co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize. Dr. Mather gave an inspiring talk on progress in the construction of the James Webb space telescope, and on the stunning observations that we can expect from this successor to the Hubble, scheduled for launch around 2015. Dr. Mather was also kind enough stay for our coffee, held in the ground floor reception area next to the auditorium, which was kindly made available to us by the Space Centre. In fact, Dr. Mather was with the last of us to quit the Space Centre that night.
Another notable die-hard that night was Bob Naeye, Editor of Sky & Telescope! Naeye happened to be in town as a guest of long-time member (and Observer’s Handbook contributor) Lee Johnson. Lee did all of us an enormous service by bringing Bob to this event, for I can tell you without a doubt that Naeye was very impressed, having talked ourselves hoarse on the sidewalk outside the Space Centre until very late.
I also had the good fortune to host Dr. Mather at SFU for the physics department colloquium the following day, as well as to take him out for dinner, along with Barry Shanko (your speaker coordinator, who engineered quite the coup to bring us a speaker of this caliber!), and some colleagues from SFU and UBC. Ask me at one of our meetings about the very moving story that Dr. Mather told us over dinner about James Webb, who was the second administrator of NASA, during the lead-up to the Apollo landings, and who is the first administrator to have a major astronomical mission named after him (and for good reason).
In February we had the good fortune to host Richard Berry, who has made enormous contributions to “amateur” astronomy (and there is nothing amateur about him), including serving as the first editor of Astronomy magazine, and publishing classic books on telescope making and astronomical imaging. He gave us a spirited history of three of the greats from a golden age of “amateur” astronomy, in the 18th and 19th centuries, when many of the greatest discoveries were made by those who pursued astronomy for the love of it: William Herschel and his son John (not to forgot William’s sister Caroline), and Lord Rosse.
At our February meeting we also kicked off our new public outreach segment “What’s Up?”. This new series of presentations and activities, which is held before the start of the regular RASC Vancouver monthly guest lecture, is tailored to newcomers to astronomy, especially young ones! More experienced astronomy fans might even find something of interest ;)-. Yours truly delivered the kick off, which sought to answer three questions inspired by Dr. Mather’s presentation the month before: “Where’s the centre of the universe? What’s it expanding into? And where is the limit of our vision into space?”. This was actually an audience participation question and answer session, which included a do it yourself expanding universe! We had a great turnout, thanks to the many dozens of families who came, and it was very rewarding to have the enthusiastic participation of so many kids, of all ages ;).
We look ahead to a packed schedule of exciting activities already in place through the month of May. Two notable events are the result of partnerships with Metro Vancouver Parks. We have been invited to participate in Metro Parks annual “Night Quest”, at Pacific Spirit Regional Park, Saturday March 19, starting at 7PM. This is a truly magical family-oriented experience of the magic of the nocturnal forest and of the night sky. We’ve also partnered with Metro Parks to host International Astronomy Day on Saturday May 7, together with their annual Urban Star Quest. This will be an all-day and all-night astronomy extravaganza for the public, to be held at Aldergrove Lake Regional Park!
Another notable event is “Galaxy Forum 2011”, to be hosted by the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) at the Space Centre, on Sunday April 10, from 3-5PM. Vancouver Centre has agreed to partner with the ILOA for this event, and I am also proud to say that two of the featured speakers are from SFU.
These are just a few of the many activities that are already in place over the next few months. Please be sure to checkout our Meetup.com web site, your destination for the complete schedule and details of Vancouver Centre events: http://www.meetup.com/astronomy-131/.
Here’s to clear skies and more time under the stars!

Howard Trottier
President, RASC-VC
Professor of Physics, SFU

Vote For “Dark Sky Campus” proposal.

Title: Vote For “Dark Sky Campus” proposal.
Location: TD Go Green Challenge!
Link out: Click here
Description: I am passing this on as an easy to do worthwhile project. I hope that change makers at SFU and UBC create a similar proposal.

Hi everyone,
Me and Heather Matheson have entered the TD “Go Green”
Challenge, which is looking for ideas to make university campuses more sustainable.
We are proposing to create a “Dark Sky Campus” designation for University Campus’
analogous to dark sky preserves in parks. We could win $20,000
and $100,000
for the university to spend implementing the idea. Please vote for our video
TD Green Challenge http://www.tdgogreenchallenge.com/video/id/149/playid/149
And please pass it on!
Start Date: 2011-03-02
End Date: 2011-03-11

Vote For “Dark Sky Campus” proposal.

Title: Vote For “Dark Sky Campus” proposal.
Location: TD Go Green Challenge!
Link out: Click here
Description: I am passing this on as an easy to do worthwhile project. I hope that change makers at SFU and UBC create a similar proposal.

Hi everyone,
Me and Heather Matheson have entered the TD “Go Green”
Challenge, which is looking for ideas to make university campuses more sustainable.
We are proposing to create a “Dark Sky Campus” designation for University Campus’
analogous to dark sky preserves in parks. We could win $20,000
and $100,000
for the university to spend implementing the idea. Please vote for our video
TD Green Challenge http://www.tdgogreenchallenge.com/video/id/149/playid/149
And please pass it on!
Start Date: 2011-03-02
End Date: 2011-03-11

Globe At Night: Fight Light Pollution

Less of Our Light for More Star Light
Join the 6th worldwide GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign: Feb. 21 – March 6
What: The Globe at Night Campaign
When: 8pm to 10pm local time, February 21 – March 6, 2011
Where: Everywhere
Who: Everyone
How: See http://www.globeatnight.org

GLOBE at Night encourages citizen-scientists worldwide to record the brightness
of the night sky. During 2 winter/spring weeks of moonless evenings, children
and adults match the appearance of a constellation (Orion in February/March and
Leo and Crux in March/April) with 7 star charts of progressively fainter stars

The GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign dates are February 21 – March 6 (worldwide)
and March 22 – April 4 (for the Northern Hemisphere) and March 24 – April 6
(for the Southern Hemisphere). 52,000 measurements have been contributed from
more than 100 countries over the last 5 years of two-week campaigns, thanks to
everyone who participated!

This year children and adults can submit their measurements in real time if they
have a smart phone or tablet. To do this, you can use the web application at
www.globeatnight.org/webapp/. With smart phones and tablets, the location, date
and time are put in automatically. And if you do not have a smart phone or
tablet, there are user-friendly tools on the GLOBE at Night report page to find
latitude and longitude.

Through GLOBE at Night, students, teachers, parents and community members are
amassing a data set from which they can explore the nature of light pollution
locally and across the globe. Please make a difference and join our efforts in
2011. For activity packets, one-page flyers and postcards advertising the
campaign, visit www.globeatnight.org/pdf/ .

The sorry state of Amateur Telescope Making

As a person who grew up in considerable envy of people who cultivated skills, I do my best as time allows to gain some. From my uncle, I got patience. From Robin Allen R.I.P., Crossbow-Maker, more patience and the appreciation of fine workmanship. Robin also taught me that NO DETAIL however small is too small to make perfect.

ATM came to me in a typical fashion as most I imagine: I wanted but could not afford a scope, so I built one.

I couldn’t finish the polishing stage, so I got help from an old hat who’s name has escaped my memory into the dark confines of history.

It had a few sleeks, the sure sign of an awkward touch during polishing but no matter. The wonders I saw through it. Of no small matter was the respect it earned me in a small town: a small teenager who built something that people couldn’t quite fathom.  When that telescope made its way onto my sundeck (or a dark field) and people looked through the eyepiece, it was apparent why I built it.

Skip ahead decades, I have time, money and inclination for astronomy, and especially telescope making. I have bought a few instruments, from two small 3″ telescopes which show details of Jupiter to my 6″  and 8″ Maksutovs. Fine instruments to be sure, but the small size of the former two limits what you can see with them and the latter require me the haul out a heavy and expensive mount, putting limits on my spontenaity. I do like the new GOTO scopes but I thought it short-circuits some of the learning involved.  A chance reading of a newspaper [Star-Trails] with an article on making a tile tool for grinding and  bypassing the step of using an expensive and heavy glass tool caught my imagination. A second-hand 12 1/2″ Pyrex blank someone abortively started got me going. Along the way, an article about John Dobson and his mount furnished me with the other end of the problem.

A trip into someones dumpster (thank you G. Swann) for some discarded tiles (where he gave me two BOXES of 100 lbs of new ones), some grits by mail-order and some plaster was all I needed. I began on a 6″ glass tool left over and got that to a state of polish. If this is a workable mirror, only testing can answer that.

Two years of work, interrupted by sore backs, freezing cold work spaces and plain laziness has resulted in this: As of September 2010, I have a well-polished but poorly figured 12 1/2″ f/4.9 mirror, not coated. I hang around in a telescope store, looking for fuel to this folly of mine. I haven’t bought much recently, coasting on previous expenditures to allow me to stay. I came across the other mirror I need for this telescope: the diagonal. As important as the main mirror, it reflects light (and the image it carries) to where you can access it. It still had its package from its purchase back in 1987. I paid the same price as it had been bought for: $90. The name on the package caught my eye also: Lance Olkovick. I joined RASC in 2005,  and paid dues starting in 2007. Lance is well-known and regarded in the ATM and astronomy community here but sadly he passed before I started going to meetings. There are some others who did this but they don’t attend any more. I want to learn this somewhat arcane skill but sadly few are available to learn from. By a strange co-incidence, the spider I bought online was made by a second local ATM of note: Gary Wolansky.

I have been indesicive with the design of the mount. I do like the Dobsonian but I also like the usability of the Porter equatorial and how it can easily be made to a tracking mount. This mirror/telescope is an experiment to some extent. Trying out ideas, seeing how and why things work the way they do.

Now, in early 2011, the mirror is much further along. It has a smooth figure that isn’t quite deep enough. Another two hours should do it. The 8″ polishing tool doesn’t have a lot of weight so it changes the figure only slowly, making it less likely to overshoot the mark. The upper cage is built now and while it is a bit rough, I think I made a good design choice by keeping the weight of it down.

This won’t be my final large telescope. I have a 18 5/8″ X 2.1″ thick Pyrex blank from EBay for “just” $425 plus shipping. A bargain. A fellow ATM did the diamond generation for me, as I want a f/4.5 or deeper mirror for this. By using a diamond tool to remove most of the glass of the curve, you get a deep, smooth depression that you can go straight to 220 grit, saving an enormous amount of effort and time.

With the advent of the Paracorr 2 for fast ratios on Newtonians, less coma will be seen and these faster mirrors are more useable. With a 9″ diameter to the outside of the light path plus 6 inches of back focus, the distance from mirror to diagonal is around 67 inches.

I still go into Van Tel to look around, slowing adding parts. I sold my `smaller`but totally excellentMN-61 (VanCam) Intes Mak-Newt 6`f6 for a 7`deluxe version with a motorized JMI focuser. It is a great optical package but I need to make the focuser work better. Needs more extension than any other of my scopes to achieve focus and somewhat slooooooow. Damn thing is bolted on to the tube, so removal is difficult. This should make getting focus with a camera possible.

I do have other ideas in the mix though.I found a SECOND identical cellular blank, ground and polished, but otherwise never mounted etc. He kept it at the pre-generated ratio of around f5, which makes it a 82` focal length, fairly high for a no-step Dobsonian. This gives me leave to be experimental with my un-ground blank, like turning it into a 16.5 inch R-C.

I don’t really wonder what happened to AMTing. Cheap scopes from China etc did most of the damage.  Asking someone about the quality of these optical packages gave me a rather sour look. He pointed out that they have great coating, but are polished so hard and with little hand work they do end up being rough but since most people use low powers, they never realize it. The mirrors are also mostly BK7 optical glass or even plate glass most times for cost reasons. Since these mirrors are never fully exploited at high powers, people never bump into these shortcomings.




Introducing "What's Up?", a new prelude to our monthly meetings

Starting at 7pm , half an hour before each monthly meeting, “What’s Up?” features a brief presentation of things to see in the sky that month.  Usually the presenter will also speak a few words on a topic of interest to new astronomers, especially young ones.

Our first “What’s Up?” presentation will take place at 7pm on February 10, 2011.  The topic will be ““Where’s the centre of the universe? What’s it expanding into? And where is the limit of our vision into space?” RASC President and SFU Professor Howard Trottier will demonstrate a do-it-yourself expanding universe and take questions from the audience.  He’ll also tell you how to find the Orion nebula and the moons of Jupiter!

Whats Up? February2011-PDF