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Going Sidesaddle

A note about changes to mount two scopes simultaneously was lost when the hard drive died in September. I’ll add that back in when I have an opportunity to get everything back in balance and take a couple of pictures of the setup. It was necessary to add more counterweights to the setup, and dual axis balancing is trickier than I anticipated. In the meantime, my imaging efforts have gone to he-, um, awry.

2013 – I decided to end the sidesaddle approach. I was never able to get set up to my satisfaction, and ultimately it interfered with my enjoyment of the scopes. Instead, I’ll mount one scope at a time, and plan my nights accordingly. The equipment has been sold.

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Weather icons

I was looking at the Canadian Weather Office’s site and liked their weather icons, some of which are shown here:

00 01 02 03 04
05 06 07 08 09
10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29
30 31 32 33 34
35 36 37 38 39
40 41 42 43 44

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Standard equipment

G11 mount with Gemini I controller 4.04;
AZ-EQ6 mount
William Optics FLT110, f/6.5;
Moonlight focuser with DC motor and James Lacey’s LazyFocus controller;
Celestron 9.25 f/10 [EDGE HD as of May 2013]
Mallincam Universe
DSI Pro;
Canon 7D;
MacBook running 10.6.8;
Maxim DL running under VMWare Fusion;
beta ImagePlus (but so far not even tried due to mismatches in weather and personal schedule)

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Added SCT scope, June 2008

As of June the observatory armament will include a Celestron C9.25 SCT OTA with Aluminum tube and Starbright coatings, Bob’s Knobs for collimation, another 80mm Finder with removable eyepiece (I don’t expect to use this unless I have a problem mounting the standard 80 mm Express), piggy back camera mount. It also comes with a JMI MOTOFOCUS, digital readout and rigid dew shield. Since it is all on a Losmandy dovetail, I should be able to swap it with the FLT-110 f/6.5 fairly easily.

Update May 2013 – replaced by siliar EDGE HD scope

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Simple Bookbinding

A progression in search of a terminus

From time to time I end up with very long documents which I decide are worth keeping for a while. Normally, that simply means I save the document in some electronic form – usually as the original file if I have it, or as a PDF file if not. There are times, though, when having paper in my hands is comforting, and for such situations I have taken to printing and binding the document in a book format. This section describes some of the techniques I have used to do this. If you already know how to bind books there probably isn’t much here to hold your attention – but constructive comments are always helpful. You should also be looking elsewhere if you intend to produce a large number of books – this is all about making personal copies rather than running off a self-published best-seller. As well, this is a work in progress, so visit from time to time to see if anything useful has been added since last time.

There are several caveats to be kept in mind when printing and binding at home. I’m going to ignore the elephant in the room — copyright issues — and look at some practical items first, but I will return to copyrights a little later.

Just a final quick note – I work in the metric system, but since I live in North America, most of the paper sizes available to me are in the old Imperial measures of inches and feet, so almost all sizes are quoted in those units. For those of you who live in the modern world, think of it as one more of those quaint Americanisms. Like tepees and log cabins.

Paper size

How big a book should we make? The answer is determined mostly by available paper sizes, but the ease-of-use of the final output should be considered. If we make a ‘book’ consisting of 2000 pages each of which is 5×4 inches it will probably break along the spine of the book, while a 200-page book of 20×10 inches will have the same paper area and will be easier to open, but will still be rather difficult to carry around (it might make a decent coffee-table book, though).

In North America, most home and office printing is done on so-called Legal or Letter sized paper — 8.5 inches wide and either 14 or 11 inches long, and for wide printers we may see a Tabloid size of 11×17. Obviously other sizes exist, and in other parts of the world there are other standard sizes used for legal documents or letters. If you are reading from one of those locations or happen to have a non-standard size handy, please make adjustments accordingly.

A book the size of a letter or legal document is awkward to read while hanging onto to a strap mid-commute, but we can produce other sizes from these starting points by folding in half. From a letter size page we can fold to get 5.5 x 8.5 while from a legal size page we can fold to get 7 x 8.5. These are convenient sizes, while alternate folds of 4.25 x 11 or 4.25 x 14 are possible, but not too useful unless you fold them a second time to give 4.25 x 5.5 and 4.25 x 7.

Paper grain

Paper is an oriented material. That is, direction matters. You can demonstrate this by taking a piece of paper and placing it at the edge of a table or desk, allowing a specific amount — say, 15 cm — to hang over the edge. The paper will not lie flat, but will droop slightly. Make a note of how much the paper droops, then turn the paper 90°r; and allow the same amount of paper to hang over the edge, and measure the droop again. The ‘grain’ of the paper lies in the direction of the edge when the paper has the greater droop. In essence, the paper is slightly stiffer in one direction than the other.

As a result of the stiffness variation, folding across the grain is also slightly more difficult and may result in a more ragged-looking fold. Aside from stiffness, grain also affects the behaviour of paper when damp so that the paper curls across the grain. This is a problem when gluing, since the paper may ‘ripple’ when the glue is applied cross-grain, as it would when a book is bound with grain short leaves. For both these reasons it is preferable to print the sheet so that resulting pages will be bound grain long.

Paper may be (and usually is) manufactured with the grain in the direction of the long edge of the paper — “grain long” — but may also be ordered with grain in the direction of the short edge of the paper — “grain short.” A single fold of a sheet of grain long paper across the grain produces two leaves (four pages) of grain short and a second fold can then be used to create four leaves (eight pages) of grain long.

Booklet and Segment sizes

One common way of binding a book is to assemble the loose leaves in order and form them into a block of paper, then apply a layer of glue along the spine and place a heavier sheet of paper or card around the whole thing to finally form the book. This is ‘perfect binding’ and is the most common form of paperback binding. It usually is neither very strong nor very long-lasting, being more influenced by the strength of the glue than the strength of the paper. Luckily strong and flexible glues are available today, so perfect bound books are more viable than they used to be.

A more lasting method has the folded paper assembled into sections which are then sewn together through the fold and further sewn together so as to tie the individual sections together. Strips of cloth are often used to reinforce the sewn “signatures” and help to tie all the signatures together. The signatures are then glued to cloth and heavier boards, and the whole thing is assembled to produce a finished book of “sewn-in” signatures. Books made from sewn-in signatures are frequently very strong and durable, deriving their overall strength from the individual strengths of sewing materials, glues, and paper.

Imposing solutions

When we read a book we expect the pages to be in order. For a perfect binding this can be fairly straightforward since we can print the sheets individually and ensure that each page follows the other in strict numerical sequence.

Image to come: Page 1 on one side, page 2 on the next side, page 3 on one side, page 4 on the next side, and so on….
However, we often print more than two pages to a sheet, and in that case we have to be sure that two pages in sequence are printed on each side of the same sheet after the cut.

Image to come: Page 1 and 4 on one side, page 2 and 3 on the next side, page 5 and 8 on one side, page 6 and 7 on the next side, and so on….
For folded sheets placed in signatures the situation becomes even more complicated, since the pages must be properly sequenced across the folds and within the signatures, and may require a page to be printed upside down to accommodate multiple folds. In the most complex cases we have a number of folded sheets combined into a multi-page signature.

Image to come: Page 1 and 8 on one side, page 2 and 7 on the next side, page 3 and 6 on one side, page 4 and 5 on the next side, completing a two sheet signature of 8 pages — and so on in ever more complicated fashions….
The process of ordering the pages is called imposition, and may be described mathematically and codified in a computer program.

Link to Java, Python, or PHP program to come.
To be continued

‘Soft’ or ‘hard’ covers

To be continued

Sewing and gluing

To be continued

Handmade and purchased tools

To be continued

Copyrights (a little later)

Obviously (or perhaps not) the problem of copyrights has to be considered. If I am working from my own entirely original work, copyrights are not an issue, but if all or parts of a document came from an outside source then I have to consider whether or not I am violating someone’s rights in a legal or moral sense when I print that document, and if so, whether I am prepared to continue doing that. Die Gedänken sind frei! — sort of. Authors and performers have a right to profit from their work, and also to transfer that profitable interest to others. However, I believe that right should not exist in perpetuity and should instead be considered to have a finite lifetime which is independent of that of the creator of the work. Legislators have surrendered to pressures from large corporations to extend the term of those rights virtually indefinitely, but I see no moral imperative supporting such an extension in a carte blanche form. If a publisher has purchased the works of an author, sooner or later the exclusive right to print and sell copies of those works must expire — the issue is one of when, rather than whether.

For images I am in something of a quandary. Walt Disney is long dead, and I believe sensible people would probably agree that rights to copy Steamboat Willie should have expired long ago. Should a company other than the Disney company wish to create a copy of very early Disney works they should be allowed to do so. However, should they be allowed to use very early Disney works to sell, say, steamboats? or fish? or any other product?

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Equipment – FotoSharp


Fotosharp adapter

Fotosharp with a generic T-ring for comparison

The Fotosharp “adapter” is actually a T-ring which attaches to any lens which is compatible with a T-adapter to allow the lens to work with focus confirmation on a Canon EOS body. Some lenses are directly compatible with T-rings and need no adapter, but for a telescope the typical T-adapter is a threaded two-inch diameter tube which mounts to the T-ring and allows the camera to be attached to a 2-inch focuser. Unfortunately since I received the FotoSharp I have been recovering from minor surgery and have only had one chance to test it — and the New Equipment Gods noticed, and sent clouds in.

In brief, it works, though there are certain techniques and limitations to bear in mind.

In order for the Fotosharp to work, you must place a star on one of the AF points of the camera, adjust your focus until the camera beeps or until the focus indicator in the viewfinder either turns on or at least flickers with some regularity. The camera beeps only if the focus indicator stays on steadily, but you will need steady skies for that. I used the center AF point and placed Vega on that point. The sky was fairly good for my location – but that is on the northern city limit of Toronto, in the middle of a large metropolitan area. My sky quality meter gave a reading of 18.07 magnitudes/arc.second — and that was before moonrise — and I could see down to about magnitude 3. My best guess is that Vega’s light was reduced by two or three magnitudes from what it would have been under a pristine sky.

After getting no more than an erratic ‘in focus’ reading off Vega (twinkle, twinkle, little star, is my focus off too far?), I adjusted to what I thought was the steadiest flicker and moved over to M57. I used Nebulosity to average 11 35-second exposures at ISO 1600 starting with the JPEG versions of the images, which were saved in both RAW and JPEG. When I have more time I will go back and see if I can do any better with the RAW images.

This is a 128×128 crop of the central portion of the image, and you can click on this thumbnail to see a 1024×768 crop at the same scale. I haven’t posted the full image because no darks or flats were used, and the larger the image the more defects in technique show up. However, I consider the focus to be good — particularly considering that I took no images to confirm focus but instead started banging away with the camera.

M57 image crop at 100%

Some processing details: The images were captured using an unmodified Canon 20D at the prime focus of a William Optics FLT-110 (f.l. is 715 mm, f/ratio 6.5). 20 frames were captured under the control of a Canon TC80N3, but based on a quality estimate made by the Nebulosity program only 11 were used to create this final image. The remainder show guiding problems rather than focus problems. No darks or flats were used, and there are several ‘dust bunnies’ in the full images. In addition, the image train would benefit from a field-flattener as the outer edges of the frame show distortions. The mount is a Losmany G-11 with a Gemini controller, and is align to no better than a degree of the pole (the scope was taken to Starfest in August and has not been realigned since then – “I bin sick!”). The Gemini sky model was based upon the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle, but was good enough to place M57 at the center of the camera frame. The image was processed in Nebulosity to reduce sky glow and neutralise a color cast (also due to sky glow), and was passed through Noise Ninja in Photoshop CS2 to reduce background noise.

Additional note: Finding the AF point The FotoSharp needs a star in an AF box in order to work, and placing the star in that position can be a little tricky if you can’t see the boxes. Luckily Canon has provided a way to turn on the AF display LEDs in the viewfinder which makes it easy. If you have your manual, read the section on Manual AF point selection.

For the 20D, the process is to press the metering mode selection button (which is the rightmost front button), then press the AF point/enlarge button (which is the right most button on the top rear of the camera). This toggles the AF point display LED. The main dial can be used to move through the available AF points or the rear multi-controller can be used to move directly to a specific AF point. The centre AF point is best for focusing on a star.

Once an AF point is selected, move the star in the viewfinder so that it lies within the AF point box. It may be necessary to toggle the display a couple of times for visibility – the star is sometimes overwhelmed by the bright red LED. The display may turn off while you are doing this, but you can repeat the process as necessary.

In correspondence with Dr. Brady Johnson of K-W Telescopes I found that scopes up to f/11 have been used successfully with the FotoSharp, and stars down to magnitude 4. I expect the critical factor is the brightness of the focus star on the chip.

Cameras modified for H-alpha sensitivity should work if you can still focus in daylight using a normal lens. Note that some camera modifications leave the camera unable to focus with a normal lens without further adjustments to the camera. This is because the modification consists of removing a blocking filter. If no replacement filter is inserted or if the replacement filter is the wrong thickness, focus problems can result.

[The Canon 20D has been replaced with a Canon 40D, which has “live focus.” This feature reduces or even eliminates the need for the FotoSharp.]

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Nearby lights

I live in a suburb. That means I have neighbours close by, and sometimes that in turn means I have….distractions.

On one side I have a neighbour a couple of houses over whose pool is in use late in the evening.

while on the other side – again a couple of houses over – I have a neighbour who feels rather insecure, and leaves a night light on most of the night.

To the east my neighbours tend to be quiet at night,

but the damage is done — my night vision suffers whenever I look north or south.

West? My house looms over me, blocking off much of the western sky.

July 2012: The lighting situation is not much worse, but my vision is. Apparently as a side effect of Fuchs’ Dystrophy my night vision in the most affected (right) eye has deteriorated to the point of blindness. Adaptation of the left eye is slow, but takes place over time, but the right eye is not particularly responsive and I am unable to see stars much beyond second magnitude, at least in the city. It remains to be seen whether I will get much further away from city lights.

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  1. Pingback: Starstruck » Blog Archive » Not a cloud in the sky…

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Equipment – Cables

Linking everything up to a computer is a bit of a chore – cables seem to breed in the dark and there are often more than I know what to do with. I’ve tried to organise them somewhat, but – in the darkness – things seem to go awry.

Controller with RS-232 and Autoguider cables

Initially the controller and handset are neatly arranged, and two wires descend from the controller along the pier, one carrying the main RS232 control and command signals, the other carrying the detailed ST-4 compatible auto-guider signals. Meanwhile the handset itself is connected to the controller via a cable mounted to the side of the controller, and when not in active use is stored in the space between the main pier and the mount assembly.

Scope imaging cables

At the scopes the imagers are supposed to be securely mounted with the cables snug and out of the way. The DSI Pro mounted on the Orion Express (black scope on top) needs no additional power and is basically capable of capturing images at any time. A single USB cord travels along the scope and then down the mount. Enough slack must be given so that the mount doesn’t pull it off the scope as the mount moves, and yet not so much that it is likely to jam up in the mount itself. The cables from the Canon 40D are similarly constrained, but only one of the cables is shown here. There are three cables:

  1. a USB cable for the camera command and control,
  2. a power cable for the camera,
  3. and finally a shutter control cable for long exposures on the camera (exposures under 30 second can be controlled via the USB cable).

The focuser shown here is entirely manual, and has now been replaced by a Moonlite Focuser with a focus motor (more cables, photo to come).

Controller with RS-232 and Autoguider cables

Once the cables snake down the pier, they pass through interface boxes and join up at a USB 2.0 hub,

Controller with RS-232 and Autoguider cables

from which a single cable will ultimately connect to the laptop computer.

Or so goes the theory. In practice, the hub did not do as good a job as was hoped in connecting the electronics together, and I had to pull one cable and connect it directly to the laptop, while the other cables seemed to be erratic in whether they did or did not connect. More investigation is required to determine if there is any interaction between the software and hardware which prevents some hardware from working while other software controllers are in use. It did seem that way, but at 3 am there’s not always a deal of analytic thought going on.

The hub shown is quite spectacular, with blinking coloured LED lights in the centre of the device and a different coloured LED at each connection point:

No doubt very pretty and entertaining, but very distracting in the depths of a nighttime session. It’s been replaced by a 7-port D-Link USB Hub (C$30 at TigerDirect with a $10 rebate) which has proven to be more effective — or at least, less distracting.

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Mac Astronomy Software

This is just a collection point – no detailed reviews! I do note if I have used or continue to use the software (though “continue to use” is problematic, since the city seems to be swallowing my observatory site). If you know of any other software useful to Mac-using amateur astronomers, please post a comment.

In addition, all items on the page have active links to the home page for the software. If any link should fail, I’d appreciate a heads-up comment so that the link can be updated, or the software listing moved to an inactive list.

Some of the Mac software is actually dual platform and works on Macs and Windoze (and sometimes Linux). I don’t comment on the Windoze features here but if I use them under Parallels (currently my method of choice for Windows XP when I absolutely have to run the OS) I will note that.

Nebulosity Image capture and processing software – in active use at the observatory

PHD Push Here Dummy! ==> autoguiding software for a limited number of cameras, available for both Mac and Windows. In active use (and doing a great job!) with a DSI mono camera. Among cameras supported are Fishcamp Starfish, Meade DSI series, SBIG, and The Imaging Source (DCAM Firewire).

Equinox 6 Planetarium type software with a number of scope-oriented features. Equinox 5 works only on earlier Macs. In active use at the observatory.

Astroplanner – You need this. You need this now! Observation planning, logging, scope control, etc. (Dual platform application)

ScopeDriver As the name implies…. Not in active use here, but I am looking at it

Lynkeos Image processing, oriented around webcams. Version 1.3 used intermittently, version 2.0 has been downloaded but is not yet tested.

ImageStacker Image processing, oriented around webcams. Used intermittently.

AstroImager Image processing, oriented around webcams. Not in active use here.

Starry Night – expensive software from Imaginova, available on both Mac and Windows, very good presentation, some ‘scope control. Did I mention expensive? Version 4.5.7 is used frequently here, but the current release version is about 6.2.

Voyager 4 is the latest in a long line of planetarium software on the Mac. The latest version is a Universal binary: older versions are still available for OS 9 and Windoze, and a Windoze version of Voyager 4 is in preparation.

iAstrophoto is Canon-oriented but still useful for general DSLR work through its folder-watching feature. In fact the newer Canons don’t work directly and must also use folder-watching. The developer says the latest Canon SDK demands a rewrite of the program, but says he will do that eventually.

TheSky has been released for Mac OS X but its various versions are a little pricey for me now that I am retired. That’s unfortunate, because the Serious Astronomer Edition and the Professional Edition both appear to be excellent and worth a look.

Something of a retro application at the moment FilmStar is an alignment program for scanned film images. Film? Film? What is that?

PixInsight is now on my “To Check Out” list. It’s software which is available for Mac, Windoze, and Linux, and has a 45-day trial license as well as a full commercial license (€171.00 plus any applicable taxes). As of mid-2012 my permanent observatory has been swallowed by the city environment (3.1 magnitude limit on a night rated as excellent under Clear Sky Clock. Ugh.) and I haven’t worked out an alternate (affordable) observing plan.

“Unconfirmed” Mac software

This is software which runs on the Mac but which I so far haven’t used or checked out much. Sometimes this is because I don’t have the hardware needed to check it out, and other times it is because I don’t have a need for the software or it would interfere with existing software.

An example is AstroIIDC which is by all accounts a very fine piece of work. However, it is oriented around Firewire webcams and I currently don’t have such an animal.

I also don’t have a Meade ‘scope based around Autostar, so Mac Autostar controllers don’t generally attract my attention.

iCCD requires Starlight Express cameras, so is untested on this site.

Cartes du Ciel (apparently to be known as “Skychart” in English, though so far most continue to refer to it as Cartes du Ciel or ‘CdC’ for short) is now available for OS X on Intel machines. Installed January 13 2008. Minimal testing at this point.

Video drivers

Auto-guiding generally involves checking the image from a camera and sending adjustments to the mount correct changes in position. Except for a few standalone devices, that generally requires that the computer be able to receive and manipulate the image from the camera, and usually that means in real time – i.e. video, not discrete images. Macs do pretty well with built-in video or external iSight cameras, but that’s not suitable for astronomical applications. External cameras usually require a driver.

USBVision is based around a hardware device to interface to standard video sources. I successfully used this with one of Meade’s electronic eyepieces.

IOXperts provide USB drivers for a number of cameras. This is what I use currently, I suppose because I paid for it, so the remaining drivers are untested.

macam is an open source project to provide drivers for USB cameras and supports a large number of cameras.

ASC delivers both PowerPC and MacIntel drivers for Firewire cameras (check this out with AstroIIDC which is also from

Windoze software — “The Dark Side”

A number of other items are for Windoze but run on Macs under Parallels (or, presumably, Boot Camp). I have tried these but in general do not use them on an active basis.

MaximDL – ouch! many features, mainly for CCD cameras (albeit with a DSLR plugin at US$60), associated with Imaginova, and priced high (US$509, with update subscriptions US$150/yr). Despite the price, I would love to see this running natively on a Mac, but it doesn’t seem likely. The same company also makes MaxDSLR for DSLR (US$299, subscriptions US$100) cameras (and somewhat fewer features), MaxPoint for mount analysis (US$150) and astrometry, and the pricey Boltwood Cloud Sensor (US$ 1200 with minimal cabling, detects clouds, precipitation, light, can close a dome) and the lesser featured Portable Cloud Sensor (US$350, only detects clouds, light, has audio alarms with no computer interface).

Iris – unbeatable price — free — many many features, tough interface. There are frequent updates and enhancements, and if you master the interface this is an amazing piece of software. It’s also a one-man show, which makes me worry about succession problems – What if Christian zigs instead of zagging on the road?

RegiStax – a freeware classic, currently at V4. Start of Version 5 development was announced in January 2008, but no word since.

ImagesPlus low cost at US$179.95 with various upgrade prices from previous versions, this is a powerful piece of work. Demos are available.

Other links

Video for Mac A general list

A no-longer-maintained list of professional level Mac OS X astronomy tools [Sigh. It’s no-longer-available, rather than no-longer-maintained.]

Another list of professional level tools, this one by Ed Edmondson

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  1. Pingback: Starstruck » Blog Archive » Mac Astro Software

  2. Pingback: Mac Astro Software | Starstruck

    • Yes and no. I was aware of Pixinsight, but haven’t been able to work with it. Not an oversight as such, but a reflection of constraints of time, location, and money. Pixinsight offers a 45-day trial license, but to use it properly requires that I have a block of observing time in a reasonably good location. At the moment my permanent site is unusable – too many trees (huh! The damn things grow!) in my neighbors’ yards and too much light from the ever-expanding city. I’m looking for other solutions, but my observing currently is strictly visual – not a good thing, since I have been diagnosed with Fuchs’ Dystrophy and am no longer able to achieve sharp focus with one eye and I’m starting to have difficulty with the other. Imaging is something I could still do, but not from home.

      Pixinsight looks interesting, and once I figure out a way to get back to astrophotography on a regular basis I expect to post more information on it. For the moment I will add it to the page as unevaluated software.

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Wallpaper images

Wallpaper (ie Screen background) images, free for personal use (but if you really like one, make a donation to a charity of your choice and let me know you did that).

Click on the images below to get to a larger view which should be more suitable for capture and use. The maximum size is 3504×2336.

Distillery District series:

Key 1 Key 2

Key 3 Key 4

Red brick Stone 1

Stone 2 Stone 3

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Imaging Jupiter




June 29 2007, 11.28 pm EDT. Europa has just emerged from transit, and Callisto is faintly visible above the planet. North is top.

FLT-110, 5x Powermate, ToUCam Pro II

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Planetary Imaging

This will be the header for a planetary imaging section of the site. At the moment this is essentially a link page with minimal content.

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Weather Station Changes

Weather observations—temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind direction and speed, and amount of rain (but not snow)—have been collected at the observatory location since 2005. This page contains notes on local Open2300 software changes. For actual weather at the Observatory, see the link under WEATHER in the side bar.

Code changes

Open2300 would not initially open a serial port. The original code uses O_NO_CTTY and this causes the open to fail. Replacing this with O_NONBLOCK and adding code to exit if the port was locked got the port open and communicating with the weather station. This is very similar to a patch on Lavrsen’s Open2300 wiki site except that the serial patch on that site adds O_NONBLOCK but does not remove the O_NO_CTTY. This modified patch has not been communicated to Lavrsen yet.

Additional changes (dated 2006 April 24) to retry the weather station poll up to 5 times if the results are out of whack (>50??C, >100%) and to not report to Weather Underground when the final results are still out of whack.

Removed from URL build to fix problem with updates on wunderground. Added new pass file to Open2300.conf to handle web page. This file is open for less than a second, so downtime while the file is updated is minimal.

Offset changes

The offset in barometric pressure from Absolute to Relative was changed to 2.66 kPa at 1.20 am EST on 24 January 2006. Previously it was 1.84 kPa. The change brought the Relative Pressure into line with that of YYZ (Toronto International Airport) for the same time.

Site changes

Upcoming: currently in late afternoon the outdoor temperature sensor is in full sunlight and is being heated above ambient. This behaviour starts sometime after March 21 when the northwest-facing wall becomes illuminated in late afternoon. Changes will be made but the details are not fixed at this point – some form of shielding will be emplaced, but the sensor may also be moved to a less visible location. Any readings taken after approximately 5 pm should be discounted – so far, it is obvious from the graphical display when the readings are elevated. Rainfall and wind measurements are not affected (but when it’s raining, the sensor is not being heated, so all readings are OK). This section will be updated when the site change is complete.

As an experiment in late fall 2007 I tried covering the sensor in aluminum foil. Temperatures stabilised and became more consistent, but I expect the foil to suffer damage during the winter. As of this writing [early spring 2008] things seem to have held up quite well, but the foil is no longer covering the sensor completely, and some problems are already apparent. The foil will be refurbished and the experiment will continue.

November 2006 – Added a webcamera view from an upstairs window so that the observatory is visible (though normally it’s too dark at night).

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Local Links and more

Local (Toronto) astronomy stores

Efstonscience – Dufferin near Yorkdale

Khan Scope Centre – Dufferin near Yorkdale

Kendrick Astro Instruments – Dundas, just west of Keele

Perceptor – Hwy 27 just south of Hwy 9, near Schomberg

Astronomy Organisations (with Ontario presence and working sites)

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada national organisation with many locations

RASC Toronto Centre

RASC Mississauga Centre

Durham Region Astronomical Association

Hamilton Amateur Astronomers

North Bay Astronomy Club

North York Astronomical Association

Peterborough Astronomical Association

York University Astronomy Club

…and more can be found at Astronomy Clubs in Canada

Links checked 12 July 2007

Other sites of interest

Cloudy Nights – reviews, observing techniques, etc

Imaginova – producer of Starry Night, Space news, Orion ‘scopes

Sky Publishing – publisher of Sky & Telescope, one of North America’s major astronomy magazines

Astronomy – S&T rival magazine

SkyNews – a Canadian astronomy magazine

Weather Monitoring

Ponte di Legno Observatory

Severe Weather Information discussion DEAD LINK as of 12 July 2007

Environment Canada’s Weatheradio discussion

WXSCAN Ontario discussion

Weather Underground

Did I miss a store? Should I add a link? Let me know….

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Ground Truth for September ’05

Irregular (what else?) measurements of sky brightness using a Unihedron Sky Quality Meter at my observing site.

Date and local time-weather-sky brightness (mag./sq.arcsec)

September 24 4.15 am – clear bright moonlight – 17.07

September 21 11.25 pm – clear bright moonlight – 17.12

September 21 2.00 am – clear bright moonlight – 16.20

September 18 1.30 am – clear, bright moonlight (96% full) – 15.00

…Raindrops keep falling on my head…

September 10 2.00 am – clear – 17.90

September 4 2.40 am – clear – 17.96

September 3 4.10 am – clear – 18.06

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Imaging Saturn

October 2, 2005

This was the first image of the 2005/6 season, and the first Saturn image with the Toucam.

Earlier in the night I had been imaging Mars, with only so-so results. By the time I was able to target Saturn (waiting for the planet to come out from behind trees), the seeing had improved a good deal. I still wasn’t skilful enough to land on the chip directly, but a good deal of that could have been due to focusing issues, which made it difficult to see when the planet was centred except when the scope was extremely close to focus. Adjusting the focus usually threw the planet off the chip – focus adjustment is still very harsh.

Saturn 2 October

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Imaging Mars

These are my 2005 Mars images:

Equipment is Televue 5x Powermate, William Optics FLT-110 (110 mm, f/6.5) and either a Toucam Pro II or Canon 20D.

In general images are rotated to bring south to (more or less) the top. Images are always manipulated by stacking, level adjustments, sharpening, and in some instances, noise reduction processing.

The depressing thing about this final part of the 2005 season is that the weather has been uncooperative on most weekends. On one weekend where the weather did cooperate, I was called in to work. Sigh….

2 October, 0135 EDT (0535 UT) Toucam Pro II

Mars October 2

24 September, 04.23 EDT (0823 UT) CML=307 Sky brightness 17.07 mag/sq.arcsec – Toucam Pro II best 300? out of 400

Mars double size for 24 Sept 2005

or in the original capture size

Mars original size for 24 Sept 2005

Compare with 19 September. I don’t know if the improvement is better technique, seeing (which I didn’t think was good either time) or luck (I’m having trouble getting fine control when focusing – I keep losing the image on the chip, and have to reposition each time. I need fine control knobs, or perhaps electric focusing).

21 September, 01.15-01.23 EDT (0515 UT) CML=290 Sky brightness 17.12 mag./sq.arcsec – Toucam Pro II best 20? out of 30

Mars original size for 21 Sept 2005

19 September, 0120 EDT (0520 UT) CML=309

Mars original size for 19 Sept 2005

Reworked later…

Small reworked version of 20050919 image

I’m not at all happy with the focus on this image, but I wasn’t certain if the problem was lack of resolution on the scope or an actual focus error. I now think it to be a focus error – see the 24 September image for almost the same CML value, but much better resolution.

No imaging in August – looking for hardware and software

July 28 – Imaging with Canon 20D

Mars, evening of July 28/29Single frame of Mars, evening of July 28/29

This was my first attempt at imaging Mars, and I wasn’t too unhappy with it – for a first attempt, using a DSLR rather than a webcam. It inspired me to look for a suitable (inexpensive) webcam and sofware for my laptop. I eventually purchased a Toucam Pro II with a 1.25″ tube replacing the lens, and I’m still evaluating software in September.

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Ground Truth for August ’05

Irregular (what else?) measurements of sky brightness using a Unihedron Sky Quality Meter at my observing site.

Date and local time-weather-sky brightness (mag./sq.arcsec)

August 30 1.30 am – clear – 17.66

August 29 4.00 am – mostly cloudy with moon occasionally visible – 15.88

August 27 11.00 pm – clear but hazy – 17.07

August 26 – 10 pm – clear -16.98

August 25 11.00 pm – partly cloudy – 17.07 but highly variable – pointing at clouds gave a reading of 16.74, while carefully aiming at a sucker hole gave a reading of 17.23

August 25 2.00 am – clear, bright moonlight, with Mars just a few degrees south of the Moon – 17.07 with Moonlight striking the sensor, 18.01 with the sensor aimed slightly north and angled to avoid direct moonlight

August 24 10.30 pm – clear, lots of local lighting – 17.83 – nothing half as good as earlier. Supposed to be some aurora, but can’t see it

August 24 2.00 am – clear, bright moonlight, with the moon high in the sky – 16.90 with the moonlight striking the sensor, but 18.04 with the sensor aimed slightly north and angled so as to avoid the direct light of the moon. This is probably as good as it gets here in the city with moonlight (too bad this isn’t a weekend, as I would have observed if I didn’t have work in the morning). Visual limit about 4.5 m

August 23 11.30 pm – mostly clear, bright moonlight – 17.90

August 22 12.30 am – clear, bright moonlight – 17.58

August 20 – mmm, teppanyaki. No reading – I’m too full!

August 19 – torrential rains! OMG! Flooding! I’m not taking a reading while standing in ankle deep COLD water! My equilibrium is punctuated!

August 18/19 about 1 am/Overcast/15.46

August 17 about 11.30 pm/Mostly cloudy, some stars visible at zenith/16.63

August 16 about 11.30 pm/Clear but with poor transparency/17.34

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Ground Truth

Irregular (what else?) measurements of sky brightness using a Unihedron Sky Quality Meter at my observing site, as well as notes on my observing environment and equipment.


Through most of October, November, and December the cloud nebula reigned over Toronto, and few sky brightness measurements were taken.

Date and local time-weather-sky brightness (mag./sq.arcsec)

October 5 1.30 am clear but lousy transparency with 60% humidity inside the SkyShed. Mars is visible, but naked eye limit is about +1 — 17.47

October 4 12.15 am clear but poor transparency — smog alert — 17.52

November 17 11.30 pm – clear, seeing fair, transparency fair, most objects blown away by moonlight — 15.39


April 15 10.00 pm – 10°C, 64% humidity, calm, pressure 101.59 kPa. Cloud and general haze, seeing good, transparency poor, moon just risen and nothing visible except Saturn and a couple of first magnitude stars — 16.81

April 17 10.00 pm – 1.30am 5.5°C, 66% humidity, calm, pressure 101.90 kPa. Clear, seeing fair, transparency fair, Saturn. Jupiter, and stars into second magnitude — 17.79

April 28 3.38 am -o.3°C, 60% humidity, calm, pressure 102.45 kPa. Clear, seeing fair, transparency poor to fair — 18.09

April 29 2.52 am o.4°C, 61% humidity, calm, pressure 103.22 kPa. Clear, seeing fair, transparency poor to fair — 17.99

May 9 2.38 am 6.9°C, 57% humidity, calm, pressure 101.84 kPa. Clear, no estimate of seeing/transparency — 17.63

From this point I will restrict the readings to the occasional visit to darker sites – it’s depressing knowing just how bad my home location really is!

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