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Volume 59 – No. 10 –October 2020
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I will refrain for commenting on the weather as I have done in other Editorials since nobody ever seems to take any actions to do anything about it. I know, I know, it’s an old joke but with climate change burning out of control in California and double the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic this year, maybe it is time we all started to do something about it.
Our AGM is rapidly approaching and with it, elections. There will be several positions becoming available this year since we are at the end of our two-year cycle. We will have a new President and Vice-President come January. We are still in need of someone to look after Light Abatement. We have one opening still on National Council (we need two) and our current representative, Karen Finstad will be at the end of her term. We need an Auditor and I have it on good authority that Paul Sadler is stepping down as Public Star Party Coordinator. Lots of positions to choose from, lots to fill.
With that in mind, Mike Moghadam has asked me to publish the volunteer guide that he and I wrote and published last November. As well this month we have an interesting article from Paul Sadler on using your smart phone to help with your observing. My trusty Assistant Editor, Douglas Fleming has a wonderful little piece on the trials of polar aligning. He has also submitted a series of photos of a Vancouver sunset from his recent time in British Colombia.
And of course, we have all our regular features.
Volunteering at the Ottawa Centre
Consider the following member activities: Monthly meetings; the Fred Lossing observatory and star parties; the public stargazing program; the outreach program; the telescope lending library; the astronomy book library; telescope clinics; AstroNotes; our web site; and, the annual member dinner. None of this would happen without the volunteers who have stepped forward, unleashing their creative talents and sharing their time. This may sound like a very strong statement, but it is true; all the programs you see in the Ottawa Centre are a result of the dedicated work of volunteers.
So why do members volunteer at the Ottawa Centre? We have asked this question of volunteers many times. We encounter the following answers over and over:
“I want to contribute. I have benefited from the RASC and I like giving back”.
“It is personally rewarding to me”.
“I have certain skills and like to offer them to the RASC”.
“I volunteered because I wanted to take my involvement with the RASC to another level.”
“I like being around people who care about astronomy and care about sharing it with others. It is very motivational”.
And why do people NOT volunteer?
“it will take up too much time”
“I’m too busy”
“Someone else will do it”
“I don’t know enough about it”
“I’m not a leader”
New members often approach us and ask how they can contribute as a volunteer. In this article, we will answer this question.
How do I find out about Ottawa Centre programs and areas where I can volunteer?
All the programs noted above are described on the Ottawa.rasc.ca website. We strive to keep it current so that members can have a broad awareness of the programs that are offered.
A second way to stay plugged in is by attending the Ottawa Centre monthly meetings. There is a lot of thought put in to the content of the meetings and the announcements that are made every month. Look at the people who contribute - the meeting chair, the people who deliver talks and so on. These are volunteers. We also make announcements about vacancies in our volunteer programs at the meetings.
A third way to learn about Ottawa Centre programs and volunteer opportunities is by reading AstroNotes, our Centre newsletter – what you are reading now! Each issue is jam-packed with topics that typically arise from member activities. Each contributor is a volunteer who had an idea and desire to share something.
There is something especially noteworthy in each issue of AstroNotes. Scroll to the end of AstroNotes, where you will see a description of the current Ottawa Centre Council. The Council is another area where you can contribute as a volunteer. The remainder of this article will review Council positions and opportunities for members.
The RASC Ottawa Centre Council – what does it do?
The Council is responsible for the oversight and the administration of the operations of the Ottawa Centre. Our Centre is officially designated as a charitable organization. To maintain our charitable status and function as a Centre within the RASC, we must have several elected officers to provide governance and oversight of finances. The Council must operate according to the Ottawa Centre Bylaws, which is essentially the constitution of the Ottawa Centre.
Council also has a strategic orientation. There are regular discussions about our Centre’s vision and where we are headed with member programs and benefits.
There are two categories of Council members: Elected members and appointed members. The roles of each member will be described next. As you read the descriptions of these roles, please keep in mind that they are filled by volunteers.
Elected members of Council
The elected members of the Ottawa Centre include the:
President, who represents the Ottawa Centre and presides over Council meetings.
Vice-President, who supports the President of the Centre, especially when the President is unavailable to fulfill her/his duties. She/he also organizes the Annual Dinner Meeting.
Secretary, who is essentially the chief administrator of the Centre. The duties are outlined in the Centre Bylaws.
Treasurer, who manages and reports on Centres finances.
Centre Meeting chair, who organizes the content of the monthly meetings and runs the meetings.
Councillors, who act as advisors and provide valuable input to the operations of the Ottawa Centre.
National Council representatives, who are the Centre liaisons to the national office of the RASC.
The term of elected members is one year. In particular, no one may hold the office of President, Vice-President or Meeting Chair for more than two consecutive years. An election is held at the annual general meeting.
Appointed members of Council
The appointed members of Council appointed members include the:
Observatory director, who is responsible for the operation, maintenance and safekeeping of the Centre’s observatory(ies) and observatory programs
AstroNotes Editor, who is responsible for the publication of the Centre newsletter.
Webmaster, who is responsible for the development and maintenance of the Centre’s web site
Librarian, who is responsible for operating the library and the safekeeping of the library assets. Currently, the Ottawa Centre has two libraries: the Stan Mott Astronomy Book library and the Ted Bean Astronomy telescope library.
In summary, there are many areas where members can contribute as volunteers on Council. If you have ideas on growing our Centre or adding new programs, please consider volunteering on Council.
Additional Volunteer Opportunities
As our Centre grows and evolves, new volunteer opportunities will arise. In fact, as we write this a discussion is evolving about a completely new opportunity that we may be able to offer our members by next spring if everything comes together. Fortunately for us, the Ottawa Centre has a lot of talented members who have much to contribute.
Why Not You?
Most people shy away from volunteering because they feel it will take up too much of their time and/or they do not feel they have the necessary knowledge to help. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a councillor you only have four meetings a year, each scheduled for about two hours (although with the meeting after the meeting you might want to block off three hours). Aside from that there is the occasional email discussion. If you take on a project, which is entirely up to you, you possibly need to dedicate more time. Some positions might require a few hours a month, but others are only a few hours a year.
Of all the people we have ever spoken to who have volunteered, not one has ever regretted it. All have said that they have gotten more out of doing it than they ever put in. They also say that they are more aware and get more out of their involvement. Remember, it is your unique perspective that keeps our Centre, fresh, current and moving forward. We need your vision.
Want to talk about this more about volunteer opportunities? Please feel free to contact anyone on Council (remember – go to the end of AstroNotes to see the names of current Council members).
Gordon Webster and Mike Moghadam
By Dave Chisholm
October 1st – Full Moon. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Hunters Moon because at this time of year the leaves are falling and the game is fat and ready to hunt. It has also been known as the Travel Moon and the Blood Moon. This full moon is also known as the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the September equinox each year.
October 31st – Blue Moon/Full Moon.
The Draconids is a minor meteor shower producing only about 10 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, which was first discovered in 1900. The Draconids is an unusual shower in that the best viewing is in the early evening instead of early morning like most other showers. The shower runs annually from October 6-10 and peaks this year on the the night of the 7th. The second quarter moon will ensure dark skies in the early evening for what should be a good show. Best viewing will be in the early evening from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Draco, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
The Orionids is an average shower producing up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Halley, which has been known and observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from October 2 to November 7. It peaks this year on the night of the 21st and the morning of of the 22nd. The waxing crescent moon will set before midnight leaving dark skies for what should be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Orion, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
The Southern Taurids is a long-running minor meteor shower producing only about 5-10 meteors per hour. This shower is, however, famous for producing a higher than normal percentage of bright fireballs. The Southern Taurids is produced by debris left behind by Comet 2P Encke. The shower runs annually from September 10 to November 20. It peaks this year on the the night of the 29th and morning of the 30th. The nearly full moon will block out all but the brightest meteors this year. If you are patient, you may still be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Taurus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
Rise/Set 09:30/19:17 -> 06:41/17:22
At greatest eastern elongation on October 1st
Look for the planet low in the western sky just after sunset.
Visible before sunrise.
Rise/Set 03:30/17:13 -> 04:39/16:38
Visible in the evening and through the night.
Rise/Set 19:30/08:22 -> 17:03/05:44
Visible evening and through night.
Rise/Set 15:16/23:54 -> 13:29/22:11
Visible in the evening and through the night.
Rise/Set 15:41/00:36 -> 13:46/22:38
Visible all night.
Rise/Set 19:48/09:49 -> 17:47/07:45
At opposition (closest to Earth) on October 31st
Visible all night.
Rise/Set 18:01/05:18 -> 16:02/03:17
Smartphone Astronomy – Reducing white light from the screen
By Paul Sadler
There is a lot of info on the web about how to do two big things with electronic devices for astronomy. The first is usually about “electronically assisted astronomy”. Local astronomer Jim Thompson was interviewed for the website AstronomyConnect.com and he defined EAA the following way:
…the application of any sort of technological aid for the enhancement of astronomical viewing falls under the EAA umbrella. Devices such as light intensifiers and video cameras both fit into this category. The purpose of the technological aid is either to increase the observable detail over what’s possible with a conventional eyepiece, or in some cases to make it possible for those with vision problems to see anything at all.
In short, it helps you or your equipment see better. Tightly tied to it is the idea of using the electronic devices to actually capture the images for astrophotography.
Stepping back — Smartphone astronomy
Some people like to use their smartphones with their astronomy setup, but not always in those first two big ways. More often than not, they are using smartphones or tablets as simple electronic star maps or reference libraries rather than carrying paper guidebooks. My interests start off with these much simpler needs and go up to and include simple astrophotography. Let’s call the broader range simply Smartphone Astronomy.
The immediate challenge from old school astronomers is that of course using a smartphone will destroy your night vision. But will it? Does it have to?
The short answer is yes, if you are talking about simple possibilities. Just the same as anyone using a laptop could theoretically destroy their night vision, or even a flashlight. Except we all know that both those devices have a similar and simple solution to stop them from bathing you in white light — wrap them in a red plastic filter, and your problem is solved.
But what are the options for smartphones?
Options 1-3 — The most common solutions
If you are going to use your phone or tablet, you generally have five options to reduce the white light that the screen gives off. The three most common solutions are listed below but they all have trade-offs or limited functionality.
First and foremost, one of the easiest solutions of all is simply to turn down the brightness on your phone or tablet. Some have simple brightness sliders that go from glaringly bright to let you use it in the daytime under a bright sun all the way down to barely visible. Note this doesn’t BLOCK the white light, it just lowers it considerably. On an iPhone, you can find it in the pull-down settings (the slider with the picture of the sun on it).
Other phones and tablets have similar settings. While an unaltered smart device is usually still too bright for astro purposes, even on the barest settings in the dark, a reduction in output can be used in conjunction with the other options below.
The second solution will be very familiar, as I already mentioned it above. You can do the same thing as you do with laptops or flashlights and use a red plastic filter over the screen. Hobby stores often sell red transparent plastic in varying thicknesses, and you can cut it to fit the size of your screen. Some people go a step further and wrap a small elastic around the device to ensure it doesn’t slip during use. While it can be effective in blocking white light, I am not a big fan of this solution. The same plastic not only blocks the white light, it also reduces the sensitivity of the screen. If the red filter is too thick, you’ll be pressing on the screen, and your finger won’t register. If the red filter is too thin, you’re not getting enough of a filter.
The third most obvious solution is a “night mode” setting in the various astronomy apps themselves. For non-astronomy apps, the term “night mode” often is simply about creating greater contrast on the screen, not truly an astronomy-related night mode and often does little to reduce ambient light. However, not even being an astronomy app guarantees it has a night mode either. But many do and it will usually change your screen from blue and white on a black background to red lines on a black background.
For example, if you use the astronomy app Star Walk 2 on an iOS device, the main viewing screen when you open it might look like this:
But if you choose Settings and Night Mode:
Then your screen can look like this:
While that seems to solve your problem, as I said, not every app has that setting, even if it is an astronomy app. Equally, when you first turn your phone or tablet on, it will most likely be on the home screen, not even running that app. So your main screen can blind you. Or, if you’re in the middle of a viewing session, and one of your notifications pops up on the screen, say a text from your spouse wondering when you’ll be home or an alert from an astronomy app that the International Space Station will be transiting shortly, those notifications come from the phone or tablet’s operating system. They are not part of the app, so its night mode doesn’t apply. Instead, the popups will be bright, and they will be glaring.
So we know turning down the light isn’t enough, the plastic filter isn’t perfect, and night modes don’t apply universally. What solutions are left?
Option 4 — There’s an app for that!
In addition to my iPhone, I also have an older Samsung Galaxy S2 9.7″ Android tablet. It’s a nice big screen if I want to see what’s in the sky tonight, or even look at a detailed map of the moon to identify what craters I’m looking at in the EP. But if I’m using it, I don’t want it to light up with notifications (some of which are “persistent” or hard to turn off completely on some devices) nor do I want to be blinded with my bright homescreen every time I turn it on.
Instead, I run an app called simply “Color Screen Filter”. It has some basic “filter” colours to choose from, I selected red, and it let me put a shortcut on my screen. You can see it in the image on the left below (top right corner of the image). This is what my screen looks like without the app running. If I tap the shortcut, Color Screen Filter activates with a red filter and looks like the screen on the right. For EVERY app. For the homescreen. For notifications. EVERYTHING is filtered. (Note: Don’t worry, the bright white spot is reflection off my ceiling light, not on the tablet itself).
If I want to turn off the filter, I just tap the shortcut again. Unfortunately, I do need to remember to run the app before it gets dark so that I don’t have to turn the tablet on and go hunting for it. I usually turn down the brightness too (as noted above).
iOS devices have similar apps, and there are other Android ones. Search for “astronomy filter” and you’ll likely find it, as the makers often list it under astronomy too, or more generically under “screen filter”. There are other uses for screen filters, particularly for the other colours, but I found it easily enough. There were others available, but I like this one because it puts a shortcut right on the screen AND it’s free. Gordon Gecko may have told us that “greed is good”, but free is even better. And for those with older devices, most of the various apps are backward compatible since they’re not that sophisticated.
Option 5 – No app required!
Newer devices can do it without an app. They just don’t flag it as a tool for astronomy. Instead, they list it under “Accessibility” as colour filters can help those with vision issues better read text even on websites or apps that weren’t originally designed to be vision-accessible.
Every device is a little bit different for the menus, but on an iOS device like my iPhone XS Max, the settings are shown below. Tap on Settings, Accessibility, Audio/Visual, Display and Text Size. You can then set a Color Filter (a color tint of red in this case) and Reduce White Point (which also limits the intensity of the light, similar to dimming the overall screen).
With the colour filter set and the reduced white point turned on, it takes my screen from the image on the left to the image on the right. Even the notification of a Facebook message from a friend is filtered.
At first, this may not seem like a great solution. After all, instead of tapping a single icon or shortcut, I had to go through 4 menus to set the filter, right?
Not exactly. I have to do that ONCE, but as with the app, I can create an Accessibility Shortcut in the Accessibility settings. As you can see from the picture on the left below, it is letting me choose WHICH accessibility options I want on my shortcut, in ten different areas (for my iPhone). I’ve selected the two ones I already set above, color filters and reducing white point. It seems similar to the app so far.
But here’s the REALLY cool part. Because it is part of the operating system, and because people who need the accessibility settings often BEFORE they start using the screen, the shortcut is activated without first having to open the phone’s menus. You simply do a triple click of the power button (not that fast or slow, just normal), and up pops the accessibility choices I already selected earlier to be my defaults. Namely colour filters and reducing white point. With a single tap, my red filter is activated; another tap gives me my white point dimmed.
No app required, and the shortcut isn’t even on the homescreen, I can get to it with a click of an external button before I even unlock the phone.
Smartphones and tablets can be great tools to use while doing astronomy, but you need to be able to block their white light through one or more of the five common methods:
Dimming the brightness
Adding a red plastic filter
Using night mode in the astronomy apps
Using an app to apply a red filter over all other apps
Using the accessibility functions to apply a red filter over everything
One last point for those wondering if the red filters affect your camera imaging or screen captures. For your camera, no, none of them alter your input. You can have a red screen that you see, but your camera just “sees” normally. Equally, for screen captures, most of them will have NO effect on screen captures (it doesn’t really “see” it, just you) except night mode. As you saw above, the night mode in Star Walk 2 *did* alter what you could capture.
However, since the filters don’t affect screen captures, I couldn’t do simple screen captures to show the filters. Instead, for the images of the filters shown above, I had to use my tablet to take the picture of the phone, and the phone to take a picture of the tablet, as the screen captures couldn’t “show” the red filter. As far as the phone or tablet is concerned, it just thought everything looked normal.
So, if you were thinking of using your phone and were worried about your night vision, worry no more. You have a solution (or 5!) for that.
Adventures in Alignment
(Part 1: Polar)
I must confess to being rather obsessed with achieving alignment since buying my first scope a few years ago. More than one of our colleagues (as well as several family members) have pointed that out to me. Luckily for me, though, my efforts have drawn fruit. This little piece describes some of the challenges I have faced and (somewhat) overcome. Veteran amateur astronomers will undoubtably have similar stories. However, my fellow novices might benefit from the moral of my tale: it’s important to be patient and come to terms with imperfection.
My first (and most trustworthy scope) is a 5-inch Skywatcher Maksukov (f/11.81), which I have mounted on a Celestron CG4 (no Go To). I upgraded the in-built polar scope and quickly learn how to use it while contorting under the mount while pointing a red flashlight down its aperture.
Lessons learnt: choose a dark site like FLO; bring a soft blanket or pillow upon which to sit on the wet ground; dim the flashlight so that it isn’t blinding; use an app on the smartphone that accurately provides the current position of the pole and shows the correct configuration for one’s particular polar scope; make sure you are looking at Polaris and not at an adjacent star (i.e. learn the night sky in at least a rudimentary fashion) and BE PATIENT AND ACCEPT IMPERFECTION!
After many a trial and error, I am proud to say I have learned to polar align without too much difficulty. Mind you, the required contortions have taxed my back and knees (I’m no longer in my 20’s).
Doing this at a site like FLO was fine. The next challenge was to polar align at my suburban Ottawa home. The front driveway gives me a view of Polaris and the ability to align without a problem. However, streetlights right in front of the driveway make any observation other than the moon impossible. As one of our colleagues predicted, even though I was able to squint and fix the altitude and azimuth on the mount for the front yard, this configuration didn’t work when I picked up the mount and carried it to the back deck, where darker skies awaited.
Unfortunately, my neighbor’s giant maple succeeds in completely blocking a view of the pole from the back deck. Once the leaves drop in the fall, however, Polaris becomes visible in between the branches of the tree. It was an often-frustrating task, but I eventually succeeded in using the polar scope to mark where I should put the tripod legs, giving me a rough and ready azimuth orientation. Using a smartphone app, I was able to determine the slight difference in altitude between the front driveway and the back deck. This gave me a very rough indication of how the altitude orientation should be set for the mount when transferred to the back deck.
Lessons learnt: polar align the mount before adding the scope (makes moving it much easier!); mark the spot on the deck between the times the leaves fall and the snow flies; mark the deck with something more permanent than a dry marker (I eventually used white headed wood screws); don’t change (if possible) the altitude or azimuth settings on the mount when (if) you put it away for the night; don’t change the length of you tripod legs when (if) you put it away for the night; don’t be tempted to take an axe to trees or slingshots to streetlights and BE PATIENT AND ACCEPT IMPERFECTION!
Fine-tuning has meant learning to drift align, a subject on which there are many YouTube videos. It’s a process that (although somewhat time consuming) is not as difficult as it first seems.
I can now play around visually, confident through my use of star charts and those (notoriously inaccurate) altitude and azimuth markings on my scope that everything is roughly pointing at what I want to see and that part of the night sky I want to learn. I haven’t achieved perfection (my original goal) but have a good enough handle on things to move past the equipment to the stellar objects themselves.
As I noted in an earlier piece in the newsletter, I have found technology intimidating. I’m sure I am not alone in experiencing stress (and fear) in learning how to manipulate all this expensive equipment. However, although steep, it’s a rewarding learning curve. As I have also learned, patience is a virtue that must be carefully nurtured.
This ends Part 1 (Polar Alignment). In Part 2, I will describe my Star Alignment adventures with a Go To mount and an 8-inch Newtonian.
Figure 1: Set up at Mount Forest StarFest 2019 with Sophie (the Golden Retriever snoozing in the camp chair)
Monthly Challenge Objects
By Oscar Echeverri
All sunset photos above by Doug Fleming
Estelle’s Pick of the Month
The Library is closed until our physical meetings resume.
Carp Star Parties
PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL PUBLIC STAR PARTIES ARE ON HOLD UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE DUE TO THE VIRUS THAT CAN’T BE NAMED!!!
Special thanks to Paul Sadler for all the splendid work he has done over the last few years to make our Public Star Parties such a resounding success.
FLO Star Party Dates for 2020
Our Ottawa Centre’s Members’ Star Parties at the FLO will continue this summer. If you haven’t attended before, be sure to mark at least one of these dates on your calendar. You are welcome to bring family members or a guest. The GO/NO GO call will be made on the Centre mailing list, about noon the day of the star party.
SUMMER & FALL DATES
July 18 – Waning Crescent, 27 days old– NO GO
August 22 – Waxing Crescent, 3 days, 19.7% illumination– NO GO
September 19 - Waxing Crescent, 2 days old, 9.1% illumination- NO GO (but Sunday night was fun)
October 17 – Waxing Crescent, 1 day old, 2% illumination
November 14 – Waning Crescent, 29 days old, .01% illumination
December 12 – Waning Crescent, 27 days old, 4.2% illumination
7:30 PM Friday November 6, 2020 This will be A VIRTUAL MEETING ON ZOOM. Watch for email updates. Note there will be no $4.00 parking fee. The meeting runs until 9:30 pm
PLUS: all our regular meeting features: Ottawa Skies, 10-minute Astronomy News Update, Observation Reports and, sadly, no Door Prizes!
All RASC monthly meetings are free and open to members and non-members alike. Refreshments will be available, and this will be a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends who share a common interest and chat in a relaxed, stimulating, and fun environment. Please join us!
The Ottawa Centre 2020 Council
President: Mike Moghadam (email@example.com)
Vice President: Stephen Nourse
Secretary: Chris Teron (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Treasurer: David Parfett (email@example.com)
Centre Meeting Chair: Dave Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Councillors: Carmen Rush, Gerry Shewan, Jim Sofia
National Council Representatives: Karen Finstad, OPEN
Past President: Tim Cole
2020 Appointed Positions
Membership: Art Fraser
Star Parties: Paul Sadler
Fred Lossing Observatory: Rick Scholes (email@example.com)
Light Pollution Abatement: OPEN
Public Outreach Coordinator: Jean-Sebastien (JS) Gaudet
Hospitality: Art & Anne Fraser
Stan Mott Astronomy Library: Estelle Rother
Ted Bean Telescope Library: Darren Weatherall
Webmaster: Mick Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
AstroNotes Editors: Gordon Webster & Douglas Fleming (email@example.com)