2005 Observing Sessions

January 1
Time: 19:30 EST Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My backyard Activity: Comet Machholz - C/2004 Q2


The New Year is off to a good start as the clouds parted for about 1 hour and I was able to observe comet Machholz in 10x50 binoculars and in my 10-inch Dob. I made an accurate drawing of the comet and surrounding star field (see right) The comet appeared quite circular, all coma and no tail. The coma was uniform in brightness with slightly condensed and brighter nucleus.  I did not have a chance to estimate the magnitude before the clouds came back, but I would estimate about 4th magnitude. From my urban sky, the visible coma was about 10 arc-minutes in diameter.


January 30
Time: 21:30 - 00:00 Telescope: 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian
Location: My backyard Activity: Saturn, double stars, deep sky

Quite clear, minus 7 at the star of the session, minus 11 at the end. I set up the 10-inch dobsonian telescope on the deck. I tried my new purchase - the Meade 2-inch QX eyepiece, 26mm.

Saturn - The seeing is quite good tonight. Even at 360x the image is holding well and details are still crisp. I saw 4 moons and after making a drawing of the positions of each moon I was able to verify that I saw: Titan (mag 8), Rhea (mag 9.4), Tethys (mag 9.9) and Dione (mag 10). Even at 360x I could not see Enceladus (mage 11.4)

Castor - Clearly split at 360x with lots of dark space between the two stars. However, at this high magnification the star images were quite poor (this is strange given that Saturn was sharp at 360x!?)

Trapezium - This is the quadruple star in the centre of M42, the Orion Nebula, although there are actually more than 4 stars! For the first time I saw the 5th star in the Trapezium (called "E"). It was not terribly difficult to see at 360x, although the star was quite faint and easy to overlook. At 275x it was quite difficult to see.  Again, I made a drawing to make sure, and it matched a map. Here's a great page about the Trapezium: http://www.astropix.com/HTML/B_WINTER/TRAPEZ.HTM

I did not see star "F" for two reasons - while I was observing I did not even know about a 6th star so I did not even look for it and it's much more difficult to see because it's so close to star "C", which is rather bright, so "F" is easily lost in the glare of star "C".

Next I had some deep sky fun. I saw M41, M36, M37, M38 M93, M46, M47, M1.
A couple of comments about M1 (the Crab Nebula) - I've always had trouble seeing this object from the city, even with a 10-inch telescope. I've heard that other observers don't find it as difficult as I do.  Also, a narrow-band filter, like my Orion Ultra-block does not help any!

Also, I spent 20 minutes looking for M78 but had no luck - it drove me nuts because it should be visible. A narrow-band filter is not useful for M78 because it's a reflection nebula (ie it reflects starlight, and filters are not useful with starlight).

Quick review of the Meade 2-inch QX eyepiece, 26mm

 Near the centre of the field of view it's very nice, but towards the edges the stars are streaks and never come to focus. I suspect this eyepiece is not suitable for fast f5 optics. I hope this eyepiece will perform better in my 10-inch f10 LX200 !  The wide field of view (70* apparent FOV) is very nice. When compared to a 26mm plossl, the Meade QX gave an extra 40% field of view. Of course, when stars are streaks towards the edges, the extra field is kind of useless.
** Update: this eyepiece performs better with the f10 LX200 !!


February 4
Time: 22:00 - 00:00 EST Telescope: 10-inch LX 200
Location: My backyard Activity: Saturn webcam imaging

The weather is cool (about – 5C) with hazy skies and some high cloud.  Set up the 10-inch LX200 on the deck to do webcam imaging for the first time.

 I used a Logitech QuickCam Pro 4000, mounted afocally (meaning the webcam still had its own lens installed and was aimed at the eyepiece).  I then ran the USB cable inside the house to a laptop that controlled the webcam. I used the webcam’s own software to capture the AVI files (called Logitech Image Studio).

 I also wanted to control the LX200 via the laptop, and although I have the required cables, I noticed that my current laptop no longer has a serial port!!  (I now know this is a common problem which can be resolved with the purchase of a serial – USB adapter).

 I spent 2 hours imaging Saturn using various software settings and magnifications. I could never get a great image, even visually, therefore I think the seeing was not very good on this particular night.  The telescope was set up in alt-az mode and at 375x the tracking was quite impressive!  Mirror shift while focusing at 375x was a little annoying, but was a minor issue.

 The results were quite poor. After consulting with an expert webcam imager (Stef Cancelli), he said the AVI compression format used by the Logitech software was too high, causing severe loss of detail on the planet.  I will have to see if I can change the compression, otherwise I will have to change to K3CCDTools as my capturing software.  It was also recommended that I remove the camera’s own lens, in which case I will have to buy or make my own adapter so I can insert the webcam into the eyepiece holder.

February 13
Time: 00:30 - 02:30 Telescope: 10-inch LX 200
Location: My backyard Activity: Saturn and Jupiter webcam imaging

Set up in the backyard, quite clear but rather cold (about minus 10 C).  I got a USB extension cable so I can set up the laptop on the kitchen table, while the telescope was outside on the deck. This time I used K3CCD Tools as my capture software, which allowed me to use no compression (such as the i420 or YUV setting). Also I am capturing at 15 frames per second (rather than 30 frames per second) at 640 x 480.

Once again, I used a Logitech QuickCam Pro 4000, mounted afocally (meaning the webcam still had its own lens installed and was aimed at the eyepiece), with a 20mm eyepiece and a 2X barlow. I got some results that are at least worth showing. These are stacked images with just a little bit of sharpening. I still don't know all the processing tricks!

I am learning that perfect collimation is extremely important for planetary imaging. There's a great article on how to properly collimate a telescope here: http://legault.club.fr/index.html   I believe the collimation in my 10-inch LX200 is a little off.

March 25 - 26
Time: 23:00 - 02:00 Telescope: 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Jupiter webcam imaging

Set up in the backyard, clear, cool (about minus 5C).  Set up scope and webcam for complete remote control from indoors, including the focusing! This time I removed the lens from the QuickCam 4000 Pro and the image scale is way bigger shooting afocally with the webcam's own lens.  I used the webcam at prime focus + a 2X barlow. Centering Jupiter and focusing was a little tricky, but I got the hang of it in about 30 minutes. The scope's tracking was great!

The images I took are not really worth showing, especially because the ones below are much better.


March 26 - 27
Time: 23:00 - 02:00 Telescope: 10-inch Dob + 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Jupiter webcam imaging


Set up in the backyard, clear cool (about minus 5C). Set up both telescopes for comparison purposes. I observed with my 7-year-old son for about one hour earlier in the evening. He had a blast operating the LX200 as I called out various Messier objects. I was most impressed that all on his own he drew a picture of what he saw through the telescope and labeled each drawing!  I guess my logbook keeping has "rubbed off" on him!

Later in the evening I did a head-to-head comparison between the two scopes on Jupiter. The dobsonian produced better images, but that's because the LX200 was out of collimation! After adjusting the collimation the images were comparable. The seeing was pretty good, so even at 250x the images was crisp and steady.

Given the newly collimated scope and the good seeing, I could not resist trying to image Jupiter again.
Here are my results, at prime focus + a 2X barlow (effective focal length of 5000 mm). This
was my third attempt at imaging Jupiter:

This is a composite of 150 images + unsharp masking + levels adjustments This is the same image but re-processed by Stef Cancelli of the RASC Toronto Centre.


Mar. 26
Newspaper Article Published

An article about me appeared in Markham's newspaper - The Economist & Sun.
This was a pleasant surprise because when the newspaper journalist interviewed me I thought this was going to be a generic article on backyard stargazing, but it turned out to me more about my observing routine and giving advice to newcomers.
April 4
Time: 22:30 - 00:00 Telescope: SkyWatcher 10-inch Dobsonian
Location: My backyard Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Set up the 10-inch Dob on the deck, quite clear, 6'C, no wind. A skunk tried to sneak up on me but fortunately I saw it when it was still a safe distance away and scared it away.
The purpose of this deep sky observing session is to determine which galaxies can been seen from the city with a 10-inch f5 telescope.

M44 - can barely see it with the unaided eye.
M104 - Saw it right away with the 26mm eyepiece (46x). Easy to see with direct vision
M65, M66, NGC3628 - Easy to see M65 and M66, but NGC3628 is easy to miss a 86x
M105, NGC3384, NGC3389 - only saw two at 46x and 86x, missing NGC3389
M95, M96 - only saw M96, no sign of M95
M99 - spotted at 86x, very faint, very easy to overlook. Cannot see at 46x
M98 - cannot see at all
M3 - very bright compared to above galaxies!

From the above observation, I estimate that with a 10-inch f5 scope, one can see galaxies as faint as magnitude 10, with surface brightness as faint as magnitude 13. This conclusion will be tested on further observing session.


April 8 - 9
Time: 23:30 - 3:30 Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Deep Sky Observing

The purpose of this observing session is to continue trying to estimate the faintest galaxies visible from an urban area with a 10-inch telescope. This time I set up my 10-inch LX200 and connected it to Earth Centered Universe. I had a great time slewing from galaxy to galaxy and pushing the scope and my eyesight to the limit.  The sky is quite transparent, temp was 5'C decreasing to 2'C, no wind, no dew.

I slewed to 41 galaxies, 29 were seen, 12 were not.  The analysis of this observing session is further below.


April 12 - 13
Time: 23:00 - 1:00 Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Same setup as April 8-9 above.  The sky is quite transparent, temp was 4'C decreasing to 3'C, no wind, no dew.

I slewed to 30 galaxies, 26 were seen, 4 were not.  There was some overlap with the objects on April 8-9. The results were quite surprising and are discussed below.

In the above two observing sessions I targeted 71 galaxies and after analyzing the magnitude and surface brightness I concluded that I am able to observe galaxies as faint as magnitude 12.2 having a surface brightness as faint as mag. 12.8.  This was very unexpected and it's still hard to believe! Of course, these faint galaxies are just barely detectable so it's not exactly exciting observing!  I presented these results in a detailed presentation to the Toronto Centre on June 15, 2005.

Blue dot = galaxy seen
Red dot = galaxy not see


RASC Toronto Centre Award Received


Awarded the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre, Bertram J. Topham award for 2004 "Observer of the Year"


June 15
Equipment Purchase

Purchased a used 12-inch Sky Mentor Dobsonian telescope.
June 18
Equipment Purchase

Purchased a new Meade Deep Sky Imager (DSI) Pro CCD camera with colour filters. Finally took the plunge into CCD imaging!!
June 20
Time: 23:00 - 1:00 Telescope: 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Test DSI Pro CCD camera

Setup the scope on the deck in alt-az mode to try out the DSI Pro CCD camera.  Everything works fine and I got a few terrible images because I still don't know what I'm doing and because the scope is not tracking well (may be because it's an alt-az mode and I did a very quick alignment).


June 24 - 25
Time: 23:30 - 4:30 Telescope: 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Setup in the backyard to try out the new Meade DSI Pro CCD camera with the 10-inch LX200 in equatorial mode (with the wedge). Did a simple two-star alignment. The daytime weather was very hot ( + 32'C), the night was warm, hazy, humid, with a full moon. Not an ideal night!

From about midnight to 2 am I polar aligned, set up the laptop, connected all the cables, checked the scope tracking. Took images from 2 am to 4:30 am, then had to stop because the sky was getting light.

I imaged at f10 and got lot of bad images of M13, M27, and M57. The problem was poor tracking, and stacking because I was not using the align & stack software correctly. Despite the lack of experience, I managed to get a decent shot of M57 for my first night out, considering the full moon, haze, and light pollution!

71 exposures at 8 sec. each = 9.5 minutes
10-inch LX200, f10


July 2 - 3
Time: 22:00 - 3:30 Telescope: 12-inch Sky Mentor Dobsonian
Location: DRAACO Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Arrived on site at 21:45 during twilight (site is 79 km from home).  This is the first time using the 12-inch Sky Mentor Dobsonian. The site is quite full (about 15 people) and appears to be a mini star party! Quite clear, no wind, temp is steady around 12'C, no dew at all, but lots of mosquitoes. The scope is great, except for the focuser which is quite wobbly and all my 2-inch eyepieces don't come to focus (so I just pull them out of the focuser a little), otherwise fantastic views. Some people on site are Eric Briggs, Mike Cook, Dieter, Cliff Newman, Brent Arsenault.

I got "warmed up" by looking at M13, M57, M27, M51, M22, M4, M6, M7, M8, M20, M16, M17, M97, M108, M101, M11, M39, M31, M32, M110, M33, M45, the Double Cluster, the Veil Nebula, the North American Nebula with the Orion Ultra-block filter and 14mm Ultra-wide angle eyepiece. Nebulae like M8, M20, M16, M17 look like they do in photographs!  M31 was also awesome!

I also spent some time scanning the Milky Way with 10x50 binoculars and had a blast. Can see a hint of the North American Nebula, and I can see many Messier objects in Sagittarius. I also witnessed 3 passes of the International Space Station. Once I tracked it with the 12-inch telescope across the sky, but it was just a dot of light.

I observed 8 "new" objects - NGC3610, NGC3613, NGC3619, NGC4102, NGC5332, NGC5473, NGC5474, NGC5485.

Morning twilight started at around 3:30 am.  I was packed by 3:55 am and got home by 5 am.

July 23 - 24
Time: 23:00 - 3:00 Telescope: 10-inch LX200
Location: CAO - Toronto Centre Observatory Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Arrived at the CAO on Saturday July 23 around 1 pm. Sunny all day and perfect conditions, but some clouds moved in at sunset, therefore I did not bother setting up my scope. Then by 11 pm it started clearing a bit so I set up in a hurry inside the GBO observatory. Had to dodge clouds all night, but got some images anyway. The site supervisor was Joel Parks

Most images were poor as I was still learning the ropes. Several weeks later I found out that my troubles were caused by a poor polar alignment and incorrect use of the tracking and stacking feature in the software.

M13:  50 exposures @ 5 sec. each = 4.1 minutes
10-inch LX200 at f6.3


July 30 - 31
Time: 23:30 - 3:00 Telescope: 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Setup in the backyard with 10-inch LX200 and DSI Pro.  Tried mounting a small 5-inch reflector on top o the 10-inch for wide-field imaging, but it's next to impossible to balance the whole assembly.  Then I tried to mount a small 3-inch 800mm Schmidt-Cassegrain scope for guiding purposes, but by the time I added a 3X barlow lens the whole thing was too wobbly.  The sky is clear, no moon, reasonably transparent sky, temp is about 15'C. I did a quick and simple polar alignment.  Tonight I imaged through the diagonal, which means the expected f6.3 focal ratio was actually a little less, maybe f5.

I imaged many objects: M57, M13, M27, M15, M31, M76, NGC404 but none tracked & stacked properly, even the short 5 second exposures.  Later I found out that my troubles were caused by a poor polar alignment and incorrect use of the tracking and stacking feature in the software. None of the images are really worth showing.


Aug. 4 - 7
Time: Thursday - Sunday Telescope: 10-inch LX200
Location: Starfest 2005, Mount Forest, Ontario Activity: Deep Sky Observing and Imaging with DSI Pro

Aug. 4 (Thursday): Left home around 12:30 pm and arrived around 3:30 pm, with one short stop along the way. The campground is 174km from my home in Markham and it took about 2hrs 20min to get there (including the short stop). As usual I set up just south of the main tent along with friends Raymond Li, Peter Lukic, Dave MacDonald and Walter MacDonald. I slept in comfort on a real mattress in my mini-van.  This year I purchased one of those pop-up gazebo tents (see photo at left) for shade and it proved invaluable, but even more so against the downpour we experienced on Thursday night!!

This year I found there were too many theoretical presentations and not enough amateur-type presentations, so I only attended three: Meade overview, Meade DSI and MaxIM DL presentations.


Aug. 5 - 6
Fri - Sat
Time: 22:00 - 2:00 Telescope: 10-inch LX200
Location: Starfest 2005 Activity: Deep Sky Observing

Set up the scope after dinner, the sky is quite clear and transparent after last night's thunderstorm. During the night dew accumulated and fogged up the finder, but my main scope was just fine with the Kendrick heater and dew cap. During the day I purchased a Sky Quality Meter, which gave me a measurement of 21.35 at the zenith on the Friday night. I did visual observing for half the night as I'm working towards completing the Herschel 400 list:

Found 5 "new" objects: NGC 4151, NGC 4618, NGC 4625, NGC 4800, NGC 5273.


August 6
Time: 2:00 - 4:30 Telescope: 10-inch LX200
Location: Starfest 2005 Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Did a little imaging (2.5 hrs is not really long enough to get that much done!) with the scope a f6.3, but since I was imaging thru the diagonal, it was probably around f5. I did a simple polar alignment, which was a bad idea!  I only managed to image M27 and M31 and none of the results were good.

Went to sleep at 5 am and was up at 10:30 that same morning.

M27:  7 exposures @ 11.3 sec. each = 1.3 minutes
10-inch LX200 at f6.3 (thru diagonal)



Aug. 6 - 7
Sat - Sun
Time: 22:00 - 4:00 Telescope: 10-inch LX200
Location: Starfest 2005 Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Sunny and hot during the day on Saturday. Ready to image by sunset, some clouds and haze in the south, but otherwise quite clear, except the sky deteriorated somewhat during the night. This time I did an "iterative" polar alignment to ensure a better tracking. I also did a periodic error correction training (first time ever!) except I did it on Vega, which is a poor choice (should have chosen a star near the celestial equator). Despite the above, I still could not take exposures longer than 15 seconds without trailing!  The scope kept "falling behind" meaning I had to often press the West button so the scope would catch-up with the sky. All images taken below are with a 10-inch LX200 at f6.3 (no diagonal)
Got to bed at 4:30 am and was up a few hours later at 9:30 am on Sunday morning. Left Starfest around 11 am and got home at 1:20 pm.

M15: 100 exposures @ 5 sec. each = 8.3 min       M27: 38 exposures @ 11.3 sec. each = 7.1 min

M57: 100 exposures @ 15 sec. each = 25 min      M57: image at left + RGB from Neil Fleming


Aug. 19
Weather Note

Today the Greater Toronto Area was hit by the strongest thunderstorm I have ever experienced in my life - and I got to experience it to its fullest as I was out and about with my family when it hit! It was about 3 pm and we were driving north on Kennedy Rd. (Scarborough) when the thunderstorm arrived. The rain was so heavy that traffic came to a halt as it was impossible to see beyond the hood of your own vehicle, meanwhile walnut-sized hail pelted our mini-van so hard that I was worried of possible damage to the body. The weather report on the radio alerted us of potential tornados which got me quite concerned because what we were experiencing sure looked like could have sparked a tornado any moment.

After about 30 minutes the downpour slowed and it continued to rain heavily, so we made our way home, however, every 500 yards or so the road was flooded. Road sections flooded by one or two feet of water were common, while in some places even three feet of water accumulated, and that's where many cars got stranded.

We got home safely after 2 hours, even though we had traveled only 10 km. Later we found out that this storm completely washed away a section of Finch Avenue near Keele and that hundreds of homes had their basements flooded. And yes, a couple of tornados did touch down, but outside of Toronto and in less populated areas. It was definitely a storm to remember.

Sep. 3 - 4
Time: 23:00 - 6:00 Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

The sky is quite clear, comfortable temp at 18'C at first but later dropped to 13'C, little wind, no bugs. Had to chase away a skunk!
The Sky Quality Meter read 18.20.  Did a quick polar alignment and was ready to image by 23:30. As previous night, the scope was not tracking well enough for long exposures, probably due to my quick polar alignment. Tried colour imaging for the first time with poor but encouraging results. NGC 891 was processed by friend Stef Cancelli.

  M27: LRGB 6.8min, 5min, 5min, 2.5min             NGC 891: 100 exposures @ 15 sec. each = 25 min   


Sep. 4 - 5
Time: 23:00 - 2:00 Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

Left the scope set up from last night. Quite clear, no wind, a little dew, and the mosquitoes are out! The temp ranged from 15'C to 12'C.

Sky Quality Meter readings:
23:30 - 18.49
01:00 - 18.67
02:00 - 18.68

Took some more colour images of M27, and NGC 891
M27: RGB 5 min each, no luminance



Oct. 1 - 2
Time: 23:00 - 6:00 Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

The sky is clear, no wind, no dew, mild (14'C --> 11'C). Took about one hour to do an iterative polar alignment, getting a pretty good alignment after 5 iterations.

Sky Quality Meter readings:
2:00 - 18.35
2:30 - 18.37
4:30 - 18.45
5:45 - 18.45

Imaged several objects, but still plagued by poor tracking, thus my exposures has to be kept short. I imaged NGC 404, M76, NGC 891, M1, NGC 2024, NGC 2023, NGC 2392, NGC 2339. Here are the only images worth showing - processing done by Stef Cancelli.

M1: 72 exp.@ 11.3 sec. each = 13.5 min               NGC 2392 (Eskimo): 70 @ 11.3 sec = 13 min.


Oct. 29 - 30
Time: 22:00 - 7:00 Telescope: Meade 10-inch LX200
Location: My backyard Activity: Deep Sky Imaging with DSI Pro

For the first time I set up the scope for remote operation from inside the house. One phone cable to operate the scope via Earth Centered Universe and one USB cable to run the CCD camera.  Everything worked flawlessly!! Tonight I finally got smart and did a quick drift alignment, plus a proper periodic error correction (PEC), and they paid off - I could easily expose up to 1.5 minutes without any trailing!!!

I got some comfortable imaging from indoors that I almost could not be bothered going outside to swith the colour filters!  I suppose I will be looking into a motorized filter wheel!!

I imaged M77, NGC 1023, M1, the Horse Head nebula, NGC 2110, NGC 1924, NGC 2339.  The Horse Head was just barely detectable in one 4 minute exposure, however, even at f6.3 the field of view is too small. I still have to process these images, but these will be unimpressive because they are mostly small faint galaxies. Also, something that messed my images up was the lack of darks at these longer exposure times.

I was having so much fun that I kept imaging well into strong twilight (which started at 6:14 am).  So by 7 am I was forced to stop.  The next two months were very cloudy so this was my last session for 2005.

Year End Stats
No. of observing sessions 7
Approx. telescope time 20 hours
No. of imaging sessions 14
Approx. imaging time 59 hours
"New" deep sky objects found 13
No. of comets seen 1
No. of auroral displays seen 0
Total deep sky objects observed 986

Observing / Imaging Frequency
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2 2 2 3 0 2 3 3 2 2 0 0

Final Comments 2005 was an excellent year for me as the acquisition of the CCD camera allowed me to spend much more time than usual doing astronomy.  That's because I can now have fun with imaging from my backyard, whereas before I would not even set up since I cannot do any serious deep sky observing from the backyard due to the light pollution. Imaging has been a "distraction" and thus I did not reach 1000 deep sky objects as I was planning. (14 to go!)


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