Finally, A Clear Sky

After what seems like weeks on end without any clear skies, last night the clouds finally scattered and I was able to bring the telescope out onto the balcony for a bit of limited observing. The moon is nearly full, and from within a class 6 Bortle zone, things are going to be that much more difficult. However, I feel at this point I have nearly perfected my technique for collimating my 10-inch dob, with the help of the laser collimator. I plugged in the primary-mirror fan, and waited for it to get darker.

I started the night of observing with NGC 2281, the Broken Heart Cluster. Here I tested out my 2-inch X2 barlow to double the magnification of my 26mm wide-view eyepiece. That closer look made it easier to get in closer to the central little knot of stars.

Next I wanted to see if I could spot my old favorites M81 and M82. After some quick searching (and again being reminded by how much I dislike the laser red-dot finder) I found them.

This screenshot only approximates the view through the telescope. But even with a near full-moon, from city skies, I could still make out some details in M81. In M82 also I could just make out some of the central structure of this starburst galaxy. Of course the view above is flipped upside down through the scope, so that through the 26mm eyepiece, the Cigar galaxy (M82) is on the left and M81 is on the right. A little ways west of these and I could just make out NGC 3077 (pictured here at the top of this screenshot from Stellarium).

And on to new discoveries. The next galaxy I wanted to spot is a bit further west and much farther out into space than the M81 group. From the Alhaud V and 26 Ursa-Majoris pair of stars, I headed north to HIP 46168 and HIP45836. Just a bit west of these is also HIP 45965, and there was the faint-fuzzy I was after, NGC 2841, The Tiger’s Eye Galaxy.

Stellarium truly is an excellent guide to the amateur astronomer who may be observing some of these objects for the first time. I can’t wait to get a chance in the next couple weeks, hopefully, when the moon will be waning and rising very late at night, so that I can head out to my dark sky site and make better observations of these.

My goodness. I almost forgot to mention, I also saw ISS through the scope this night! The ISS app on my phone alerted me that there would be a flyover in the next 5 minutes, So I was ready. When it appeared, I had an easy time spotting the bright slow moving space-station in the scope and following it for a bit. Of course, with it’s rapid motion, it was difficult to make out any structural detail. Would I have been able to even if it had been stationary?

Nebula

So tonight I got the opportunity to take out my new scope again, to the same spot up in Masham where we went last time. Another night spent freezing my ass off, but well worth it. Once I got out there, I was amazed once again by the ease of carrying and setting up in the right spot. I was only out about a 100 yards or so in the field from the road, and 3 trips was all it took to get all my gear out there. The only two parts that are a bit more on the heavy side are the dobsonian mount and the bucket with the mirror. The secondary mirror assembly is light as a feather, as are the truss-tubes. As daylight faded, I installed the laser red-dot viewfinder (which I’m not really fond of) and had it aligned with the scope.

You can see I have the red dot centred on the top of a tree. I had already centred the top of the tree in the main eyepiece view. This made finding objects somewhat easier than on last Saturday, when I guess I hadn’t set up the red-dot finder properly. This time around I found my targets much more easily and quickly.

I started the evening off with Sirius. I wanted to test if the alignment of the red-dot finder was still good and I pointed it to the bright, white star. Before even approaching the eyepiece I could see brilliant light shining from it. Looking in, yes, there was Sirius. Now I wanted to put Stellarium to the test. With night mode on, I was able to look at the star charts on my phone without losing my light-adapted vision. From Canis Major I moved up into Orion and looked at M42- the Orion Nebula. Even though it wasn’t even quite dark out yet, the nebulosity was distinct and so was the Trapezium, the four stars that aren’t even a light-year apart. What did I look at next?

The Pleiades – what a sight! Followed by,

Mars! -dissapointing. Mars is now too distant to be really seen well, and sadly, I don’t have an eyepiece with the magnification to do it justice.

Then,

The Double-Cluster between Cassiopeia and Perseus. M103, NGC 436 and 457. Moving back West past Capella, M36 and M35. M67, the Golden Eye cluster in Cancer, and then the Beehive Cluster (Praesepe – Manger). The night was going great. The sky kept getting darker and more and more star-clusters began to appear. Looking east and I could see Arcturus rising. I kept looking at Leo and the Big Dipper, thinking about how I was going to star-hop to hunt for some galaxies. I started looking for Bodes Galaxy. I wanted to see it, as well as M82, the neighbouring Cigar Galaxy. Once again I ran into trouble with the finder-scope. No matter how much tried to line the red dot with where I thought Althiba V is, I couldn’t find the little triangle of stars that would guide me to VII and then M81. Couldn’t spot ’em.

Then I got a visit from the fox. He kept his distance from me but still sniffed at my backpack and telescope gear. Poor boy, I had no food with me to offer him, and he quickly left. A quick pause and I was back to it. I decided to leave my frustration with Bodes behind, and continued my stellar journey into Leo. Here I had better luck with the finder and lining up Chertan. Below Chertan is Theta Leo, Eta Leo, and HIP 55254, HIP 54688 and a line of fainter stars below that form a sort of kite shape. Just east of the kite’s tail is the Leo Triplet. And there it was. I was looking at three galaxies, M65, M66 and NGC 3628, the Hamburger Galaxy all between 35 to 45 million light-years away! Back to the Big Dipper, and this time it’s M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. Absolutely beautiful.

I was starting to feel cold, but I kept going. Stellarium showed me that an asteroid, Pallas, a boulder 440 kilometres across was in the neighbourhood. I was able to star-hop from Arcturus, in Bootes, to the asteroid, quite a contrast – an object 238 million km away compared to the others – 35 million light-years that I had seen earlier. Higher up in the sky another quick search and M3, the great globular star cluster a mere 34 thousand light-years away appeared. Just on the very edge of vision I could make out the faint 500,000 or so stars it’s comprised of. This object really made an impression on me. I’m stoked to see what M13 will look like later in the year.

I was really starting to feel cold. I decided on one last look at Orion and then I’d pack it up. By now, the Orion Nebula was so bright against the dark sky that I decided to try it – to take a picture through the eyepiece with my phone. To my amazement, with multiple tries (I deleted a good number of shots that were no good) I got the pic at the top of this article. It’s not a great photo of the Orion Nebula, but it’s mine. And I took it with a cellphone camera (mind you I have a Galaxy S9+ 😉 ) through the eyepiece of my 10″ dobsonian reflector!

It was a good night. I got home by 10:45 and still had time to put things away, and write this article. I can’t wait to go out again, when I will have received my Nikon t-ring adapter for my DSLR camera as well as the remote shutter release device I’m getting from ebay. But that will be another post.

These were some more pics of tonights dark-sky site.

The New Telescope

I finally got a new telescope. I had been itching to buy one for a while now. About a year ago I got the idea that it would be great to reboot my old astronomy hobby. As a kid, I was the proud owner of a decent 70mm refractor on an equatorial mount and tripod. I had spent hundreds of hours probably, scanning the skies, even in minus 25 degree weather, looking at the moon, planets, star-clusters … I had always felt a bit of disappointment at not being able to see nebulae or galaxies. Nevertheless, seeing Jupiter and his moons, or Saturn and its rings provided views I will never forget. The scope even had lunar and solar eyepieces (I had no idea the risk I was taking by looking at the sun with that sketchy filter) – I can’t for the life of me remember the brand of the scope, but it was pretty good. I had gotten it at Christmas, a gift from my mother who was keenly aware of my interest in science and nature.

I don’t even know what it was that has recently re-awakened my interest in the night sky. I think it was always there, but recently, I began thinking about it more and more. I think I also became aware, about a year ago, about a shop in town where they sell all kinds of telescopes (Focus Scientific – https://focusscientific.com/) once I paid them a visit and saw all those telescopes, I knew what I had to do. Initially I had hoped to buy a big Newtonian on a Go-To equatorial mount such as the Celestron 8″ reflector on the Advanced VX mount, perhaps hook up my DSLR and do some astrophotography. However, I later decided to go with something a bit more affordable – for now, and settled for the Meade 10″ Lightbridge Plus Dobsonian. Astrophotography will have to wait a couple more years.

Setting up the scope took me about a half an hour. As luck would have it, the sky cleared, and I went out into the crisp March air for some views. Even though the moon was nearly full tonight, I still managed to see the Orion Nebula and The Pleiades. Of course, the moon stole the show.

I can’t wait for some clear dark skies, so that I can hunt for the Leo Triplet and the Whirlpool galaxy.

By the way, the moon photo was taken by carefully positioning the camera of my Samsung Galaxy S9+ against the eyepiece -the photo simply doesn’t do the live view justice, but it gives you an idea of the view.

Aquarium Snails

For her 6th birthday I got Sophia a 10 gallon tank and added 1 blue siamese fighting fish, 3 corydora and 4 neon tetras. Plus a couple of shrimp. And live plants.

And with the live plants, we later learned, came the progenitors of a vast, pesky population of snails – black bladder snails.

We’re not sure how the other fish feel about them either. Here are some pictures.

With some garlic, butter, and white wine perhaps?

Spike’s not impressed.

alsa-lib, alsa-plugins, Audacity and Youtube

I love to listen to great music loud in my car. But I don’t have Youtube (nor do I want it) in my car. So, my solution is to record great music off of youtube with a fantastic application called Audacity. I do this sometimes in the evenings, with nothing else to do around my house like laundry or dishes. I can sit down and find an 80’s smash hit that I haven’t heard in 20 years, record it via Audacity to MP3 and then put it on USB which I can play in my car. Here is the problem. This wonderful funtionality recently broke. Let me explain.

My home Desktop Operating-System is an Arch-based distro called Manjaro. I recently upgraded it the to most recent version, Manjaro 18.0 -codename Illyria- but to my dismay found I could no longer record from my browser to Audacity. A quick google-search revealed others who had the same problem. Two new packages in the most recent build of my OS were the culprits, namely, alsa-lib and alsa-plugins. (ALSA is ‘Advanced Linux Sound Architecture’) and along with Pulsaudio delivers audio functionality to the linux desktop. The new versions of these (alsa-lib-1.1.7-1 and alsa-plugins-1.1.7-3) broke Audacity’s ability to record audio!

I hummed and haaa’d. I fretted. I realized that I’d have to download the old versions of these from the Archlinux Package Archive, found here. (under /packages/a, of course).

Once downloaded, I installed them:

sudo pacman -U alsa-lib-1.1.6-1-x86_64.pkg.tar.xz

and

sudo pacman -U alsa-plugins-1.1.6-1-x86_64.pkg.tar.xz

Now, the only other thing that worried me was patching. The next time I went to install updates on my OS, I was going to run into the problem of pacman upgrading both of these again and breaking everything (possibly, if a new version hasn’t fixed the problem?)

Not to worry!

I added the following to /etc/pacman.conf

IgnorePkg = alsa-lib
IgnorePkg = alsa-plugins

And that’s it. Now pacman will ignore updates for those two packages. If only it was this easy for all operating-systems 😉

BTW, I thought I’d end this with a link to some truly great music that can be found on youtube.

click here

You’re welcome.

Pizza Sunday

It’s pretty easy to make the dough for the crust. The pizza stone I use to bake pizza on allows for a 16-inch pizza. To make the crust for a pizza this size, I use:

3 cups of white flour
a tablespoon of dry-active yeast
enough water
tiny pinch of sugar

I dilute the yeast in a coffee-mug of warm water. I add the little pinch of sugar. I blend this into the flour until it is well mixed, then turn it out onto my work surface. I work the dough until it’s smooth and consistent, then once this is done I flour my surface and work the dough into a nice ball. It then goes back into the mixing bowl where it rises for an hour and a half at least.
One of the hardest parts is rolling the dough out again into a nice even crust shape onto my pizza-stone, which I first sprinkle with flour and corn flour.
Once I’m happy with the shape of my pizza-crust I let it rise for another half-hour to an hour, depends how much time I have.
Finally, it’s pretty easy to add the toppings and bake it for 15 – 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. While it’s baking I shred the mozza, and then add that to the now baked pizza before throwing it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so, until the cheese has melted just right.[foogallery id=”262″]

Oyster Mushrooms from Forest to Table

Saturday September 8th, I decided to head back to Gatineau Park with Sophia to see if we could find some of those amazing mushrooms we had spotted the previous weekend. This time, I brought my backpack and a couple of containers to stash mushrooms in if we found them. After doing some research after last weekends adventure, I had learned that some of the mushrooms we found were oyster mushrooms, while others were chanterelles and boletes. I was particularly excited to find chanterelles again, as I had never tried these. We searched and searched, but didn’t find any. We did find oyster mushrooms however. I’d say I ended up gathering close to a kilogram of these.
See the picture gallery in this post for these and the dinner I made with them after.

Oyster mushrooms are actually considered a superfood! see this article:

Oyster mushrooms with garlic and chives in a white-wine butter sauce.

Cleaned the mushrooms under water, then cut off the bottoms of their stalks which still had dirt attached. Dried them off with paper towel.

In a wok, melted about 4 tablespoons of butter, added the garlic and chives, salt and pepper.

Added the mushrooms and sautéed them with a splash (more like an ounce) of white wine. (some Portuguese vinho verde I had in the fridge).

Served these with a ribeye steak I grilled on the BBQ and fetuccini alfredo. (see pics)[foogallery id=”247″]

Some Mushrooms up in the Parc

Have a look at these mushrooms I took pictures of when Sophia and I hiked around Mount King in Gatineau Parc last weekend.

Can you identify some? Are they edible?[foogallery id=”233″]

I think I’ll go back again this coming weekend. If I find more of those chanterelles and oyster mushrooms, I might have to bring them home and cook them up.

Balcony Tomatoes

Here are some shots of the stuff growing on my balcony this summer.
Yes that’s a fig tree.

[foogallery id=”207″]