Increasing mobility

When I first moved to my present house skies were typical for an outer suburb – not very dark, but acceptable. After a while I built an observatory because I was having difficulty seeing Polaris and setting up and aligning was taking longer and longer. My thinking was that with a permanently aligned scope I would be able to do more on shorter notice.

As a notion it wasn’t totally wrong, but I forgot the astronomer’s curse, and no sooner had I committed to a permanent observatory than construction of a major shopping mall began a couple of miles away – to match the searchlights that sprang up from a flying-saucer-shaped cineplex a couple of miles to the south. Skies have gone downhill even more since then, and I’m looking at other options – specifically, at ways to get to distant observing sites, spend the night (or a couple), and return home in daylight.

So far, I’ve decided that a modified Sprinter van will fit the requirements. The van has been purchased – see the picture below – and I am fumbling for a design which will work. I’m building a preliminary version which will become the end design if things work out, or be further modified if they don’t.

My new-to-me 2007 Dodge Sprinter 144-inch wheelbase passenger van

The design will have to have storage sufficient for loading up at least one scope, mount, and associated cameras and accessories, sleeping space for two people (Daniella will be with me occasionally, and the van won’t be exclusively for astronomy), and enough ancilliary support to allow independent living for a day or two. Some of the sites I am considering have food, power, and washrooms available, some do not – so I will try to prepare for those which do not. Few (none, really) of the sites are happy with noisy generators, so any power I bring with me will have to be very quiet (ruling out the relatively inexpensive diesel and gasoline generators I have seen). Space is limited in the van, so the full washrooms (shower and toilet facility combined into one enclosure) seen in commercial conversions will be tough to squeeze in. And finally, Daniella wants to accommodate two or even three additional passengers for times when we are using the van to visit other family members around the continent. Oh, and I want to minimize the number of times I have to punch a hole in the outside of the van. I think these are tough specs, and I not at all sure I can meet them all. More later….

Earthquakes and floods

It wasn’t all that close – Toronto and Ottawa are separated by a couple of hundred miles – but yesterday’s earthquake was noticeable down here in not-so-sunny Woodbridge. It’s not quite true to say we’ve had no sun, but we have also had a couple of deluges in the last day or so.

I’m not sure if the combination of these two events is a contributing factor, but when I went out to the observatory today I found that the bubble level on the mount was no longer showing a cleanly centered bubble. Instead, the bubble is off to one side, so it looks like the mount has shifted quite a bit. It looks like the next time I go out I should set aside a half hour or so to confirm and reset the alignment.

Oh well. At least the wrath of a vengeful god didn’t make the earth gape open and swallow the observatory whole. That won’t happen until 2012….

Giving Thanks

The Canadian version of Thanksgiving comes a little earlier than the American version, so this is the middle of a long weekend for me. It’s been quite a while since I went out to my observatory to do anything useful, though there have been a number of weekends where it would have good to get out. Other matters have usually interfered — and tonight, though clear in the early evening, is also the night for a family get-together. I’ll console myself with the fact that the moon is near to full, and would have interfered with any serious observing in any case.