AOMO LOG, JANUARY 10, 2012

Mark, Wayne and Leigh

Arrived: 8:00 pm

Temp: -1 C, Clear

Mark Wayne and I tried to take advantage of an unexpected clear night to try to finish what we had started doing on Jan 7.  We wanted to get the guide camera working and try out the new guide scope system.

I had brought along the cables and USB hub that I had purchased on the weekend to enable us to hook the camera and guide hardware to the PC in the office.  Mark and I ran the cables between the dome and the office and hooked everything up.

Wayne had brought his binoculars and camera.  He kept busy outside for part of the evening and then worked on his laptop in the office the rest of the night.

We then fired up the PC.  We got a “new hardware found” window as expected, however what we didn’t expect was a “drivers not found” message.  We both thought we had used a Meade DSI on this PC in the past.  At this point we were not worried as Mark had his wireless Internet device with him so he went to the office and downloaded drivers from Meade’s website.  We thought it would then work.  Unfortunately Meade had updated their drivers to Windows7 and deleted their Windows XP drivers.  Mark and I now regretted not bringing a disc from home that contained the drivers.  So much for testing the guider that night.

While Mark was downloading drivers in the office, I started the telescope up and moved it to Betelgeuse for alignment.  I used the Telrad that Mark had mounted on the telescope last visit to centre the scope.  Without adjustments to the Telrad I was able to find the star in the eyepiece of the telescope.  I was impressed.  Once I had focus and centred the star, I adjusted the Telrad to centre it as well.  At Mark’s suggestion I also put an eyepiece in the guide telescope and centred it to the main scope for now.  I had to use an old barlow barrel to lengthen the optical train long enough to achieve focus on the guide scope.

Once we established that we were not going to solve our driver issues we decided to take advantage of our clear sky and do some visual observing.  The eyepieces on hand left something to be desired, however we were still able to view M42, M45, Jupiter and the moon before calling it quits for the night.  I will put some better eyepieces on my shopping list for the upcoming year.  The different view through the two telescopes gives a nice flexibility as to the objects we can enjoy observing.

Next time up we will get the guider up and running.  Then we will try some imaging.

Depart: 11:30pm.

Temp: -1 C

AOMO LOG, JANUARY 7, 2012

Mark and Leigh

Arived: 4:30 pm

Temp: -2 C, Light rain.

On the way to the AOMO Mark and I encountered a tree across the road.  It had fallen down just past the road branches off to the UBC Liquid Mirror Telescope.  It was not a big loss to the forest as it was so rotten that it broke into 5 or 6 pieces upon impact even though it was about 8″ in diameter.  We had no problem clearing the road.

Our main purpose of going to the AOMO was to mount the new accessory mount bracket and guide scope with camera to the Meade telescope.  While I passed tools and parts, Mark accomplished the task.  We then strung some of the cables to see where we come up short.  I have some shopping to do.

We then mounted a Telrad onto the Meade on the oppisite side of the counter weights from the finder scope.  Next clear night we will give it a test drive as well.

I then made some notes and a short shopping list.  We re-tarped the scope locked up and travelled back down through a wet dark forest.

Depart: 5:30pm.

Temp: -2 C

AOMO LOG, Nov. 19, 2011

Mark, Leigh and Wayne

Arrived: 8:15pm

Temp: -4 C, 3″ snow, Clear mag 5 sky.

Depart: 10:40pm.

A quick decision to take advantage of a rare clear night this month.  I did not put out a general group email as we were not even sure the road conditions would allow us to reach the scope.  As it was we needed to put the Tracker into 4wheel drive to make the climb past the second gate.  We found about 1-1/2 inches of snow covered everything.  Most had slid off the roof but there was still a skiff.

Wayne wanted to take some wide field images with his camera while Mark and I wanted to take those images of Jupiter that eluded us the last time we were up.

Mark and I got the scope aligned first.  It pointed surprisingly accurate to Deneb on the first try.  Different than the experience that Oleg and I had back in August.  This leads me to think it has something to do with daylight saving time.  I’ll have to put some more thought to this.

We mounted the SBig camera and found the PC couldn’t find the drivers.  It took Mark and I a couple of attempts to get them loaded again.   Persistance paid off and we were up and running.  We worked on focus for awhile and then swung the scope to Jupiter.  After we took a few test images, Mark went downstairs to work on some processing on his laptop while I set up an imaging run on Jupiter.    I then joined Mark and Wayne in the office for coffee while the program did its thing.

Later I moved the images onto my flashdrive and hopefully I will do a better job of processing than I have of keeping up with this log.

Departed: 12:00M

Temp: -3 C

Darkness meter: n/a

AOMO LOG, Nov. 14, 2011

Mark and Leigh

Arrived: 9:00pm

Temp: -1 C

Mark and I made a quick trip to the observatory in order to test fit an accessory plate that Brett had manufactured for the telescope.  Brett had taken the measurements at previous visits and we were anxious to give it a try.

Even though we did not have screws quite long enough to safely mount the plate on a permanent bassis, we were able to tell that it would fit perfectly.  Way to go Brett!

We removed the plate as we were not intending to leave it mounted.  Mark intends to drill holes in it to enable the mounting of a guide scope as well as a camera mount and possible other accessories in the future.  The guide scope has already been purchased and is a Sky-WatcherBK80 short tube refractor.  We intend to use Mark’s Meade DSII camera in combination with PHD guiding software.

We also took up a longer R232 cable to enable us to hook up the telescope with the PC in its new location in the office.  We then started up the PC and the telescope to test the connectivity.  On the first try the telescope connected with the PC and we were able to control it with the PC.

We got all excited at this point and decided to try to image Jupiter.  We went outside and could see it was nice and clear so we went up and uncovered the scope and opened the dome.  Once we had the dome opened we could see that it had clouded over in that little bit of time.  Oh well, we got some more practice at untarping and tarping up the equipment.

Depart: 10:40pm.

Temp: 0 C

Darkness meter: n/a

AOMO LOG, Sept. 17, 2011

Work Party: Leigh, Mark Eburne, Wayne Lyons, Allen Jones, Terry McComas, Ciara Morgan-Feir, Bob Perry and Pomponia Martinez

Arrived: 9:00am

Temp: warm

First of all I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all our volunteers that helped Mark and I with all the hard work that needed doing around the AOMO.

Allan and Mark set about falling trees in the northeast and southeast quadrants where the Malcolm Knapp Forest administration had given us permission to do so.  Our object was to open up the horizon for better views from both the outside pad and the main telescope.  This was very punishing work for guys who no longer do this sort of physical work every day.  I had the easy task of using my son’s Tracker to drag the trees up the hill where Terry, Bob, Wayne, Ciara and myself could limb them and buck them.

Bob also went to town with a gas weed wacker to knock down all the undergrowth that had sprung up around the building and pad.

Terry, Ciara, Wayne, Bob and I all loaded a trailer Mark had brought, with the limbs and other slash for disposal at the designated sight.  Terry, Bob, Mark and Wayne took turns driving it to unload.

Pomponia moved the PC from the dome to the office and ran the wires as well.  She also cleaned up the office and re-arranged the computer stand in the dome.

Thanks again to all of you.  You never complained even though your bodies were.  Amongst some well earned grunts and groans, we loaded up and called it a day.  Score for the day: Astronomers 22 trees, Forest 0 astronomer casualties.  Good day!

Depart: 4:00 aprox.

Temp: Still warm.

Darkness meter: n/a

AOMO LOG Aug. 27, 2011

Oleg Mazurenko, Leigh, Terry McComas, Mark Speller and April

Arived: 9:20pm

Temp: 14 C

Clear Magnitude 5 sky.

My appologies ahead of time as my notes for this night are minimal to say the least.  I didn’t think I would be this delinqent in keeping up the AOMO log this past summer.  I will do the best I can from memory (which is getting more unreliable as the years go by).

Mark and April spent the night doing a binocular walk of the night sky.  They were very good at finding objects and helped me find a couple of items I have always had trouble finding.  It is always rewarding to be with a group of astronomers on a clear night.  I always seem to find something new to learn.  Also Mark entertained us all by identifying aircraft flying overhead by the sound of their engines and the few markings visible on their tails.

Terry brought his recently purchased telescope to get some help with his learning curve.  His Questar 3.5″ Maksutov-Cassegrain is a beautiful instrument and I am sure he will have many a viewing pleasures with it as he becomes more comfortable with its use.  I was glad I was able to be of some small help and I look forward to getting more opportunities to view through it in the future.

Oleg spent his time in the dome on the big scope taking images again.  I helped him a little at first and then left him to it.  Oleg has since sent me an email with an assessment of the scopes performance and possible maintenance projects going into the future.  Thank you Oleg for your very helpful report.

Feel free to fill in the gaps as I was visiting everyone and not spending very much time on any one thing.

Depart: 2:15am

Temp: 12 C

Darkness meter: n/a

AOMO LOG Aug. 7, 2011

Oleg Mazurenko & Leigh

Arived: 12:35am

Temp: 13 C

Clear Magnitude 5 sky.

Oleg and I took a late (or early morning) trip up to the AOMO to enable Oleg to try using his camera and laptop to image through the observatory’s telescope.

Upon start up of the telescope we tried to synch to Altair.  We found the telescope to consistantly slew to 1 hour east of Altair.  We were able to centre the star using the RA control of the telescope alone.  We checked the telescope’s clock setting, which was accurate, and the computer’s time setting and found it also to be accurate.  Once the telescope was synched we had no futher problems with finding objects.  We will have to sort that out another night.

We mounted Oleg’s camera with the same nose piece Mark used on his DSLR, screwed into Oleg’s lens T3 adapter.  Oleg used his laptop to control his camera.  Oleg carried on doing focus and test images while I went down to the office to catch up on some work on my laptop.

Oleg was able to come up with some suggestions for adjustments and maintenance on the telescope based on the results of some of his images.  He has since sent me an email and I hope to work with him through next year getting some of his ideas acted upon.

Depart: 4:am

Temp: 12 C

Darkness meter: n/a

AOMO LOG July 31, 2011

Mark & Leigh

Arived: 8:45pm

Temp: 14 C

Mark & I set up Mark’s EQ6 with his Takahashi 106ED mounted upon it.  I tried to cheat the darkness a little by trying to align Marks mount while the sky was still quite blue.  I fell for the old mistake of aligning to the wrong “polaris”.  Needless to say we then wasted time trying to obtain three star alignment and eventually came to the realization that something basic was wrong.  By this time of course we could actually see polaris and realize my intitial setup was completely haywire.  I hung my head in shame and fixed the problem.  After that, things went remarkably well.

Mark then imaged NGC7000 (North American Nebula) and IC5067 (Pelican Nebula).  He took the images with his Canon modified DSLR.  I think he was pleased with the results and in fact his image of NGC7000 apeared on the inside back cover of our July/August issue of NOVA.  Mark also imaged M31 before the morning dew and clouds of mosquitoes convinced us to call it a night.

I got home just as the sun was poking its first rays over the mountains to the northeast.  I had to wait for a family of racoons to waddle out of my driveway before I could park.  Overall a very nice summer night at the AOMO.

Depart: 4:am

Temp: 10 C

Darkness meter: Twilight

President's message for November, 2011

This edition of NOVA rounds out our series for 2011, and so it presents a natural forum in which to take a look back on a year of astronomy at Vancouver Centre.

The first thing that I did in preparing to write this message was to go back to the first edition of NOVA for this year, and there, in my first President’s message, I found a list that I recorded of the goals that your council had set for itself, and our society, for the coming year (finding that list came as a bit of a surprise – which does not speak well for my memory!). Happily, I think I can say that we did very well, accomplishing almost all of what we set out to do, with one very important exception – a goal that will be first on our plate for next year (more on that at the end).

Top of the list in that article was to ensure a successful year of monthly lectures. Our Speaker Coordinator Barry Shanko set the bar very high with our first lecture of the year, when we hosted Dr. John Mather of the Goddard Space Flight Centre, co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics, for a talk on the James Webb Space Telescope. That January lecture was standing room only in the auditorium at the Space Centre! Although we did not fill the auditorium to bursting again this year, we had a series of top-notch speakers on a diverse range of topics, which helped to generate a consistently high attendance record, topping 150 people on two other occasions, and getting in the neighborhood of 100 on a few others. These other high water marks included our annual Paul Sykes lecture, held in October at SFU, when we hosted Jon Lomberg, astronomy artist and long-time collaborator with Carl Sagan; and Kaspar von Braun of Caltech, a world-leader in the exo-planet business, who we hosted at UBC.

Another major goal for 2011 was to strengthen our partnerships with other regional groups committed to astronomy outreach, and we vigorously worked this objective throughout the year! Our major partners were Metro-Vancouver Parks, Simon Fraser University, the International Lunar Observatory Association, the NRC/Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, the Vancouver Telescope Centre, and Canadian Telescopes. In particular, we held multiple events with Metro-Parks all across the greater Vancouver area, from Pacific Spirit Park on the west side, through Deas Island Park in Delta, and out east to Aldergrove Lake Regional Park (where we held our very rainy Astronomy Day in May). All of our collaborative efforts were in addition to our own very active program of community-based outreach, which included multiple presentations at the Roundhouse in Yaletown, at the Maple Ridge Public Library, and at malls, schools and community centres across town.

These events represent the collective work of council members and volunteers from the membership at large, are were managed under the direction of your outstanding Events Coordinator Suzanna Nagy, who deserves special mention for her creative and tireless work, including her successful efforts to enlist new volunteers. Another particular mention goes to your Education Chair, Bill Burnyeat, who this summer once again travelled to numerous provincial parks and campgrounds throughout BC, to bring observational astronomy to the public under dark skies. In addition to support from council for this effort, Bill received a prestigious grant from NSERC PromoScience, a federal government agency that promotes science outreach initiates (and I can tell you from personal experience that they don’t fool around when it comes to allocating support!).

Council also set the goal of reaching novice astronomers, especially young ones! To this end, we instituted a new “What’s Up?” segment, 20-minute presentations that were held before many of our monthly lectures. These were very successful, turning out many newcomers to Vancouver Centre, thanks in part to Simon Fraser University’s extensive contacts with parents and teachers who have attended its grade school oriented astronomy workshop program. (As an aside, for 2012 council intends to pick a few monthly meetings to devote entirely to a “What’s Up?”, rather than staggering short segments ahead of our lectures, as we did this year, since our presentations are generally too tough for a young audience.) Our “What’s Up?” segments included practical tips on observing the night sky, and educational morsels (light but filling!) on a variety of topics, from what amateur astronomers actually do, to unsolved mysteries at the cutting-edge of astronomy and space science, and a light-hearted hands-on, do it yourself expanding universe ;)!

In connection with our efforts to reach young people, a very notable development this year came in the form of a new sponsor: Canadian Telescopes. Babak Sedehi, the owner of this very successful startup in the business of on-line telescope shopping, was an enthusiastic and very generous supporter of just about every one of our activities that were directed to young people. This included a telescope door prize at every one of our “What’s Up?” segments, and a top-quality 8” Dobsonian telescope at our Paul Sykes lecture (only kids were eligible!). But Babak didn’t stop there. He generously subsidized publication of NOVA for much of the year, insisting that this include four pages in colour! And he offered new members of Vancouver Centre a $20 gift certificate from CanadianTelescopes.com.

Rounding out the goals that we set and met this year, we continued to develop our web site, which has a professional look, a well-organized structure, and new content, thanks in particular to our Webmaster and IT Chair Harvey Dueck; our LPA Chair Mark Eburne made substantive progress on this important issue, working his contacts in the media and municipal government; and good progress was reported at the AOMO, including work on a guide scope, and increased use by members and the public, thanks to co-Chairs Leigh Cummings and Mark Eburne.

We fell down on our goals in only two areas: establishing a Twitter presence, and a Biggie: membership. Our numbers are down this year, despite the many new faces that we’ve seen at our many events. Tackling the dual challenges of retaining our existing membership, and attracting new ones, will be job #1 for 2012. Bearing this in mind, at our annual planning meeting in October Council established a short but carefully chosen list of priorities in which to focus our efforts and resources for next year (this process owes especially to the leadership of your Webmaster and IT Chair Harvey Dueck, and your Secretary Alan Jones) – details on our 2012 priorities will be found in my President’s message in the January 2012 edition of NOVA ;).

I think there is much cause for optimism for a successful 2012 at Vancouver Centre, including for a strong return on our planned all-out assault on the membership challenge. My optimism is further stoked by the fact that there will be eight newcomers to council for 2012. Some familiar faces will be stepping down from Council, some after very many years of service, and I want to record here the deep indebtedness of Vancouver Centre towards these dedicated members – in alphabetical order: Doug Montgomery, Gavin McLeod, Pomponia Martinez, and Wayne Lyons. In their place, the eight incoming council members have chosen to follow the example set by the outgoing councilors, in the service of the membership at large, and our public – and I can tell you, the newbies are full of beans! Introductions will have to wait for ratification at the December AGM ;). I can’t wait!

Howard Trottier

President, RASC-VC

Professor of Physics, SFU

President's Message for September, 2011

As I start to write this message, it’s nearing 2AM on the Saturday of Labour Day weekend. This will be the last day of my family’s first summer in rural south Okanagan, much of it to be spent in the usual ritual of tidying and packing that comes with the end of summer vacation (though with time for a hike into the woods with my son Alexandre). Tomorrow we will drive back to Vancouver and into the real world.

Many an amateur astronomer has been born under the deep dark skies of a rural summer, not to mention the countless childhood memories that are forged when the Milky Way is seen to trace its glorious summer arc through the zenith. No wonder that for so many members of our Vancouver Centre, as with thousands of RASCals across the country, the urge to get under a rural sky has its greatest power in the summer.

Annual summer star parties in isolated rural locales are held throughout North America. The Mount Kobau Star Party (this year’s 28th edition having run from July 30 until August 7), and the Merritt Star Quest (which started on August 27 and wraps up today), both draw many of our members. Mind you, not even summer skies can compromise the commitment of your Council and other member volunteers to bring astronomy to the public at convenient locations in and near to the urban light swamp that is Vancouver! (Full confession: my own public outreach efforts this summer have been confined to a keyboard .)

RASC Vancouver participated at the New Westminster Grimston Park “Summerfest” on July 16; at the Metro Parks Deas Island Regional Park “Starry Night” on August 13; and at Metro Parks “All Night Stargazing” at Aldergrove Lake Regional Park on August 19. (BTW, this makes four events so far this year at which Metro Parks and Vancouver Centre have partnered to bring astronomy to thousands of people. We started with Metro Parks annual “Night Quest” at Pacific Spirit Regional Park back on March 19, and held our very rainy Astronomy Day at Aldergrove Lake Regional Park on May 7, with Metro Parks awesome logistical support.)

As I reported in the July/August edition of NOVA, your Council decided to devote our July and August public meetings at the Space Centre entirely to our “What’s Up?” program, which is tailored to newcomers to astronomy (especially young ones!). The back story is that attendance by members at summer meetings has historically been on the low side (owing in part to the need that so many of us have to scratch that rural summer sky itch), and there always exists the temptation for Council to cancel the summer meetings, so that its members can parktake to the fullest in the rural summer sky odyssey. (Another confession: while others on Council have done good much work this summer, I’ve been fixed under south Okanagan skies >:).) On July 14 Bob Parry, well known to our members as a past President and Director of Telescopes, took our audience on a tour with “Robots of the Solar System”, and on August 11, your Education Chair, “Mr. Stargazer” Bill Burnyeat, gave our audience an introduction to the celestial treasures of summer skies, and a look ahead to astronomical treats of autumn. Both meetings were very well attended, with many young families present, and Canadian Telescopes once again donated a telescope door prize at each meeting, in support of our ongoing efforts to bring young people into astronomy.

With summer nearly over, RASC Vancouver is gearing up for a very exciting fall season, chock full of A-list guest lecturers, star parties, and special events. Here are just two examples of what’s in the offing.

Our September 8 public meeting brings a distinguished guest lecturer to the Space Centre: David Halliday, President of Dynamic Structures. Mr. Halliday was appointed to the Order of Canada in December 2010 for “advancing the field of astronomy, notably through his leadership in the design and construction of some of the world’s largest telescope observatories.” Your Council recently and unanimously approved a motion to elect Mr. Halliday as an honorary member, as provided under our bylaws. We are honoured that Mr. Halliday has accepted. A formal presentation of his honorary membership will take place just prior to his lecture, which is entitled “In Focus”.

Our annual Paul Skyes Memorial Lecture will take place this year on Saturday October 1, at Simon Fraser University, and will be given by Jon Lomberg, a world-renowned astronomy artist and speaker. Lomberg has done many high-profile astronomy art installations, and works of scientific artistry, including for the Voyager “Golden Record”, and a beautiful rendering of the Milky Way galaxy for NASA, illustrating the search region for the Kepler spacecraft exo-planet survey. In addition to delivering the Skyes lecture, Lomberg will be at SFU for consultation on a very exciting project … but I can’t reveal what that is about just yet ;). But come to the Paul Skyes lecture to hear Lomberg talk about his 25 years of collaboration with Carl Sagan, a stellar example of how the arts and sciences can inform each other, and the public. You might also find out what’s going on under the stars at SFU, with the essential support of Vancouver Centre!

Finally, to close out this column, why am I writing this column at 2AM (oops, make that 5AM now), besides trying to surprise NOVA editor Gordon Farrell by submitting a President’s message ahead of time (for once!)? I’m trying to capture every last deep-sky photon that I can get into my camera before the end of this summer of celestial bliss .

Howard Trottier

President, RASC-VC

Professor of Physics, SFU