Feb. 25, 2011

Members: Leigh, Mark

Mark arrive: 7:30 pm, Leigh arrive: 8:30

Temp: -8 C

Weather clear with some moisture at hight elevation.

Mark & Leigh set up Mark’s Tak on EQ6 and Leigh set up Vixen 95mm on HEQ5 on outdoor pad. Mark took images of M101 and M42 with DSLR. Leigh tried out new laptop to test battery durability and whether programs set up properly. Leigh was able to control telescope mount with laptop, however the cameras would not be found. Probably do not have correct drivers yet for Windows7 64bit system. Will need to do more work in warmth of own home. Laptop battery performed as advertised. Ran 4.5 hours and still showed 4 hours remaining. Happy!

Liquid mirror telescope working tonight. Laser visible and showed incoming clouds by 12:15am. Bands of cloud moved throug between 1:00 and 1:30am.

Departed: 1:30 am

Temp: -7C

Darkness meter: n/a

Spring is Galaxy Season!

Spring is when the galaxies in Leo and Virgo are at their best.

I bought a 15″ scope in 2008, partly so I could see more objects through the city skyglow, but also to give me better views of things like the galaxies in the Virgo cluster.  Yet somehow, weather and events had conspired to keep me from seeing them in 2009 and 2010.  This spring, I was bound and determined to finally hunt down Markarian’s Chain, the Leo triplet, etc with my no longer quite so new scope.  Until last night, I thought I might be stymied for another season.

I had my scope out on the front lawn on the one clearish night we got in mid-March, but between the haze, the city lights and the rising just past full moon, I could just barely make out M66.  After poring over charts to make sure I was in the right area, I eventually managed to convince myself that I could see the smudge of M65 where it was supposed to be.  It felt like an accomplishment to have found them, but wasn’t very satisfying viewing.

So I was quite excited when the clear sky clock promised decent viewing for yesterday evening.  I decided to drag my scope out to Boundary Bay to take advantage of the darker skies.  The drive there was a bit daunting.  I could see two rainstorms over Vancouver Island, a giant cumulus cloud over toward Maple Ridge and a wall of high haze well up the southern sky.  I feared a repeat of my mid-March near washout, but decided I would set up anyway.  I’m glad that I did.

I set up at the south end of 72nd Street.  The last strollers on the dike startled a heron, a small raptor and a few ducks as they returned to their car and drove away.  I nervously watched the rainstorms over Vancouver Island as I set up and collimated my scope, but they didn’t seem to be coming nearer.  The haze to the south started to clear.

While waiting for full dark, I turned my scope on the crescent moon.  The edges of the sunlit craters were highlighted in sharp relief by the slanting light of the lunar dawn.  The earthshine was bright enough that I could make out Tycho, Copernicus, Aristarchus, their rays and all of the lunar maria.  It was worth setting up the scope just for that.

Next up was Orion.  I used the middle star of his belt to align my telrad, then shifted my view to the nebula.  Even though it was not yet full dark, I could see lots of detail in the dark filaments that give the nebula such a rich texture.  I took a quick peek at Sirius, but the seeing down low wasn’t good enough to let me glimpse its companion.

Finally, it was time to start my galaxy hunt.  I began by returning to M65 and M66, since my March hunt had taught me where to find them near Chertan in Leo’s hind leg.  This time it took me less than a minute to get them in the scope.  Both M65 and M66 were clearly visible, with NGC3628 also easy to spot nearby.  A quick hunt also brought me to NGC3593, a nice edge-on spiral.

I was so excited by how quickly I found these little treasures that I didn’t take time to enjoy them.  I wanted more!  The hunt slowed down as I started looking for things I hadn’t found before.  With the glow and haze of Vancouver skies, there aren’t too many naked-eye landmarks near M95, M96 and M105.  After some poking around and three or four consultations of my Collins Atlas of the Night Sky, I decided that although I love my 13mm Ethos eyepiece, it might not be the right tool for the job.  I switched to the wider field 24mm Panoptic and almost immediately stumbled on M105.  One of the nearby NGCs, 3384 or 3389, I’m not sure which, was quite obvious while the other was invisible.  That had me wondering whether I was in the right place, but once I spotted M95 and M96 there wasn’t much doubt.  From there it was a short hop up to the star 52 Leonis which makes a nice triangle with galaxies NGC3367 and 3377.  Still, I was on a hunt, so once I found them, I didn’t linger.  It was now full dark and Virgo had risen a bit higher above the murk, so I set off for the wonders of the Virgo galaxy cluster.

I seem to be a bit slow at learning the sky and I often get confused about how the charts map to what I’m looking at.  I spent about half an hour trying to find M84 and M86, which are supposed to be bright and easy to locate halfway between bright Denebola in Leo’s tail and fainter Vindemiatrix in Virgo.  There are so many galaxies nearby, it should have been almost impossible not to stumble across at least one of them as I pushed the scope back and forth.  Eventually I realized that the star which I had thought was Vindemiatrix was actually Omicron Virginis.  Oops.  I had been searching one of the few patches of sky in the area that didn’t contain any bright galaxies.

Looking at the right patch of sky brought immediate rewards.  M84 and M86 were visible as fuzzy patches almost immediately.  I could just make out the “Eyes”, NGCs 4435 and 4438 which are the next link in Markarian’s Chain of galaxies.  I spent the next hour or so making my way through the neighbourhood, spotting lots of galaxies and trying to identify them.  Truth be told, there were often big differences between what I could see through my scope and what I expected based on the charts.  Many of the dozen or so galaxies I found were probably different objects than what I was trying to find.  Still, the stars around M87 are distinctive enough that I can be confident I saw it.

I hope to go out again tonight if it’s clear.  Maybe I’ll be able to tear myself away from the galaxies long enough to look at Saturn this time.

Clear skies!


Feb. 13, 2011 Log

Members: Leigh

Arrive: 2:40 pm

Temp: 4 C

Weather was drizzle. Inspected dome and found no sign of leakage. I did notice that a roller on the east side of the dome is not taking any of the domes weight. There is actually a gap of between 1/16″ to 1/8″.

Spent rest of time counting inventory in file drawers. Removed all the old disks from the drawer marked “Disks”. There is no drive at the AOMO for the 5″ floppy discs nor for the digital tapes. The floppy discs and the CD’s need to be analyzed to see if they are worth keeping.

Departed 4:40pm

Temp: 3 C

Darkness meter: n/a

Feb. 12, 2011 Log

Members: Leigh

Arrive: 2:40 pm

Temp: 4 C

Weather was gusty, rainy and foggy. I entered dome to inspect for leakage and found none.

Spent rest of time counting inventory in file drawers. Removed all the old hard drives, a zip drive and adapter, two floppy drives and two optical drives from drawer marked “Drives”. My reason is to have one of our tech savy members analyze the drives and see if any data on them can or should be recovered. As these drives will probably never be used again I will recommend disposal in a responsible manner.

Departed 4:40pm

Temp: 3 C

Darkness meter: n/a

Feb. 1, 2011 Log

Members: Mark, Leigh, Wayne, Brett

Arrive: 8:10 pm

Temp: -2 C

Wayne took photos outdoors with his DSLR.

Brett & Mark removed finder scope in order to take measurements for a new finder scope bracket assy. Also removed bracket on top of scope for camera mount in order to make final measurements for accessory mounting plate mounts. Brett machined mounts out of aluminum and they look very good. Plate will allow the mounting of a guide scope and other equipment that members may wish to use in the future.

Re-mounted finder scope and moved telescope to Alnilam to synchonize scope with hand paddle and The Sky6. Mark mounted his DSLR onto the telescope and we attempted to obtain focus. We found we could not bring the camera close enough so we removed the extension tube and mounted the camera directly onto the focuser. Still unable to move camera close enough, we removed the T4 mount ring tube and Mark and Brett performed delicate surgery upon it. (note: need to buy new hacksaw blades, and a vise would be a useful tool for toolroom.) We still had to unlock the main mirror and move it slightly to obtain focus with the focuser near the middle of its travel. We then moved the telescope to M42. Mark took a series of 30 second images.

Brett and Wayne had to leave at 11:10pm.

Mark and Leigh continued taking 30 second images for awhile longer. Determined that the next step would be to remount Sbig camera and see if focus could be obtained without moving main mirror. It was too late to attempt so we started to shut down for the night.

Departed 12:15am

Temp: -1 C

Darkness meter:

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:

Jan. 9, 2011 Log

Arrived: 1900

Present: Leigh, Mark, Rohit Grover, Sam David

Mark set up his Tak and ED80 on his EQ6 to continue imaging of M42.

Rohit and Sam set up their 12″ Dobs to hunt Messier objects. Mark assisted and confirmed finds.

-6 C in Dome

Sky Meter reading 20.26

Departed: 0030

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