#50by50 #05 – Re-start my astronomy hobby
When I set my goals for the year (Goals for 2017 – Nudging the needle), I had some astronomy goals in mind. Specifically, under my blue goals, I wanted:
Astronomy: Fixed battery supplies + 1 viewing…I want to attend the RASC annual meeting, do at least 1 viewing at Star Party+Luskville+cottage, but I’ll start with 1 viewing. And work on reading the new RASC guidebook for the year.
and under my yellow goals I had:
Astrophotography: One decent shot…Sure, I would like to do more. Level 2 would likely be a complete set of moon phases (1/4, 1/2, 3/4, full). Level 3 and beyond could be constellations, planets, figuring out the laptop thingy, filters, etc. But I’ll start with the moon. And somewhere in there I have to sort my existing astro photos.
Since my new 50by50 goals kind of overtake the regular 2017 ones, I wanted to keep something in my new goals related to astronomy and I wanted to be realistic. So, in the end, I chose:
#4. Re-start my astronomy hobby
- Attend RASC annual meeting and/or monthly meetings;
- Attend a viewing Star Party at Carp;
- Solve my battery supply for the telescope;
- One decent moon shot; and,
- Upload my previous astronomy photos to my photo gallery;
I didn’t expect to meet all five of those in one week!
Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this last weekend was the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Annual General Meeting, and because it was Canada Day, the Ottawa Chapter (of which I am a member) had offered to host the meeting. About 150-200 attendees across the three days, I think. Including…dun dun dun…me!
Yes, I registered, and yes, I went. I confess readily that I suck at attending RASC meetings. The local chapter meets the first Friday of the month, and there is a mix of technical and non-technical presentations. But the meeting is way across town, you have to pay for parking, the items I usually care about are only part of the meeting, and the reason I joined RASC is not really what they do. I originally hoped for more “informal training”, as I generally don’t know what I’m doing. I had hoped, I guess, that there would be more offerings on set themes, kind of like groups going out one night at the start of the year where everyone gets to figure out how to work the scope better; then perhaps a night aimed at studying the moon; another aimed at planets, or constellations, or clusters. Not really how it works. And I thought the star parties would lead to more obvious bonding, but honestly, you’re in the dark and you can’t even really see the other person you’re talking to most of the time! Don’t get me wrong, some people find it great; I’m an analytical introvert, and mingling is not one of my big skills. All things being equal, I feel I might as well stay home and watch the YouTube feed. 🙂
But I join every year, I pay my dues, and this year, I decided I would go to the annual meeting. I know! Surprised me too!
I won’t cover everything, but I picked up my registration on day 1, including my extra swag, a nice t-shirt for the conference. I was already wearing my “You have a place in space” shirt from the US Planetary Society; if nothing else, I have the group swag. I checked ou the displays, spoke to a couple of people, and said hi to Tristan working the Focus Scientific desk (more on that later). And then I decided to attend a sesson on “50 years of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) at the Algonquin Radio Observatory”. I know, right, how could I pass up such a stimulating topic? Dr. Brendan Quine was presenting, and I had heard good things about him, but seriously, why would I care about the topic? Cuz it was a title that did not do the presentation justice. He was fun, engaging, and talked about not only the basics of VLBI and it’s foundational work to create GPS, but also the transfer of the ARO from the government to the private sector and what his company (Thoth) was doing these days. Including workable ideas for space elevators. Not a dry technical presentation at all, although some in the room could have likely handled that detail too, and highly entertaining. Plus I found out that the ARO rents rooms out to guests who want to come and hang out i.e. a place where I could do a weekend’s worth of observing in Algonquin Park where the observing + sleeping is the same location, not a hotel somewhere nearby. With reasonable rates. Colour me intrigued, and I might book something for this fall (when the bugs are gone!).
I even attended the BBQ the first night. I normally eschew the social aspects by nature, but if I want to meet people, I kind of have to do it, right? So I did. And ended up sitting at the same table as our local rock star, Gary Boyle. Okay, so there is nothing remotely “rock star” like about Gary, but he is regularly interviewed by CBC, his name is recognizable to anyone in the Canadian astronomy community plus lots of people internationally, and not for nothing, he just had an asteroid named after him. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/astroid-named-after-gary-boyle-1.4075015 Plus I actually managed to talk to someone I had never met before, Heather from Calgary, who helps out with the Executive and is on several sub-committee/task teams. Practically being a social butterfly by my normal standards. And checking off part (a) above…meeting attended!
I left the BBQ and headed to pick up my son Jacob and wife Andrea, then a friend Mike, and we headed out to the star party in Carp. The weather wasn’t looking awesome but it was still a “go”. We arrived just around 8:30 as the sun was still setting, and Ingrid (wife of Attila, owners of the giant scopes) showed us sun spots on her small 4″ scope. We had a lovely sunset, and then we got to see the Moon, and then Jupiter along with four moons eventually as the night got a bit darker. This was the only the second star party I have been at without my own scope, and the first Ottawa one for Mike, Andrea and Jacob. We all walked up and down the row looking through all the different types, seeing the different setups and viewing options. Later, someone had Saturn in their scopes, so we had to look at them all again for that. Easy to see the rings, all good. Then the fireflies arrived. The field next to the viewing area was dancing. And all of that was in about 1 hour, 15 minutes. By which time the clouds were threatening and the bug stuff we were using was NOT working well enough to stay. Great evening, and tick off part (b) of my goal…star party attended!
On Canada Day, I quite enjoyed the presentation on the solar system and current geological controversies from a retired NRCan scientist, highly enjoyable, and again, a topic I normally wouldn’t have chosen to attend if it was part of the monthly series. I even chatted with some more people at lunch — Eriq La Salle, and his friend Taras, plus Mike M of course — and got some really good advice from Taras on viewing areas and my battery problem. I avoided the opportunity to go visit the Hill that night for Canada Day, and hung out at home with my family. Sunday was okay too, nothing big sticks out, although I skipped the actual AGM in the morning and the banquet at night (which apparently was quite good).
I mentioned above that I talked to Tristan, as well as Taras, and most of that conversation was about two things. First, I have a battery problem. I have two PowerTanks to power my telescope, but they are both standard batteries, which means if you over charge them or leave them on charge or let them go too low on charge, they die. Never to work again.
I killed a large PowerTank, I killed a small PowerTank. And the pain of figuring out what to do with them has been a bit paralysing. I sought other people’s opinions and options online, and found out I could try putting the PowerTanks on trickle or DC charge to see if it would help revive them, but reliability would always be an issue even if I get them to work. Or take them apart and replace the core batteries in them. Which has a bunch of labour involved, not very clear instructions, potentially a need for soldering (!), and no guarantees of success, plus the cost of the batteries, maybe $175+ to attempt to fix both? Or I could say screw it and buy one of the almost idiot-proof lithium ion phosphate ones that don’t die if you mess up the charging schedule. But they cost almost $200 and well, I already have these other ones, they just need fixing. Grrr…
I compared options, talked to some people, bit the bullet, and bought a new one at Focus Scientific. https://focusscientific.com/product_info.php/products_id/1104
Problem solved. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the old ones, maybe offer them to anyone who wants to try to repair them or for parts. In the meantime, I had power for my scope. You know, that scope I haven’t really used in over a year. Tick box (c) above…power issue solved!
The fourth item on my list was to have one decent shot of the moon. I have a range of options to do this, none of which I’ve figured out how to do reliably or consistently:
- Smartphone by itself, not very exciting;
- Point and shoot by itself, ditto;
- DSLR by itself, with a tripod, at least now I’m in the ballpark;
- Scope + smartphone over eyepiece — hard to get the phone centred above the eyepiece;
- Scope + point and shoot over eyepiece — similar to smartphone problem, but I have this little adapter thing, just never got it to work very well;
- Scope + NEXIMAGE 5 + laptop + software — I’ve done this before, even got some shots, but stability was definitely an issue, plus replicating the outcome from shot to shot.
- Scope + DSLR with adapter — sure, this is supposed to be easy, but I’ve struggled on anything other than the moon;
- Scope + DSLR with adapter + laptop + software — supposed to take a lot of the guesswork out of the previous option but I haven’t figured that one out yet;
Now, I have been treating these like a series of more and more complicated options and / or more reliable and sophisticated photos. Bear in mind that I am using a SCT-style scope on a basic alt-az base…this is NOT designed for sophisticated astrophotography, and honestly I don’t want it to do that…I just want some quick snaps of what I’m seeing, preferably all less than a second or two of elapsed time. I won’t get the beautiful colour shots of other people, but I’m okay with that. More souvenirs of what I saw, records of my viewing, than art.
And I can pretty much eliminate (a) and (b) above. I haven’t tried (c) yet for the DSLR just on a tripod, not consistently, although I do have a photo or two of the Milky Way and constellations. D-H are all increasingly complicated, as I said, and I wasn’t really into it.
Until I went to the conference and saw what Tristan was selling. A Meade smartphone adapter, one with a very simple setup, with good reviews online. For $30. Hell yeah.
It is a simple adapter that attaches itself to your smartphone and puts a little ring adapter over your camera so that you can “mount” it over an eyepiece i.e. the ring holds the top of the 1.25″ eyepiece (without the rubber cup around the EP) and thus allows you to almost centre it perfectly before you even put the EP into the scope. You can see the layout of it here at the FS store: https://focusscientific.com/product_info.php/products_id/1354
And I managed to get a few decent shots…they are not DSLR quality, nor will I be publishing them in an astro magazine, but as a fun addition to my hobby, I was pretty happy. Then I tried to get a “little” fancy, and do some zooms.
I have moon maps, so I can go through some time and label some of the features. But for now, I’m happy with just getting the shots. Part (d) complete…a good shot of the moon.
Which has left me with one simple piece outstanding — to organize my astronomy photos over the last 4 years and upload them to my site. I had them semi-organized at one point when I had a Piwigo sub-site, but never got around to fixing the mess of how they are stored now that I’m with SmugMug. I hadn’t even uploaded them. So that’s fixed too. I have shots of the sun (1), moon (54), Venus (2), Mars (6), Jupiter (5), Saturn (19), Milky Way (8), Constellations (6) and my gear setup (1). Not all photos in those batches are created equal, but it’s the best I have so far. And with that, I’ve completed part (e)…upload astronomy photos to the gallery.
Which means one of the items that I didn’t think I would come close to completing before the fall is done. I’ve re-started my astronomy hobby. Feels good.