Observing Log Entry - Binoviewing the moon

May 23rd, 2007 by webmaster

Observing from my backyard in Pickering.
I decided to have a relaxing session this evening, so for the first time in a long while I took out the binoviewers and superwide 20mm EP’s, and had a good go at the 1st quarter moon in Davros, my C8. The seeing was not great, so using a Barlow (~f/23) just made it fuzzy.
I began by just cruising around the Valis Alpes region, which is one of my favourite regions. I then moved on to the crater Aristoteles, and spent some time examining the teraced walls, sigmoid central rise, and the scree surrounding the crater.
Passing over the filled crater Egende, I noticed a mountain range in between Egende, Aristoteles and Eodoxus that makes about 2/3 of a circle. I presume this is another ancient, filled crater about the size of Aristoteles, but is not named in my atlas. I would guess it had very high walls once.
Crater cassini was nice and complex, with craters in craters, and worth spending some time observing.
At about 10:19 EDT I watched the occultation of 45 leonis, but shortly after this the seeing became so poor that I decided to pack it in for the night.

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Rainy nights are for image processing

May 21st, 2007 by webmaster

May 20
Rainy. Sucks for observing, but then I realized I left my USB 2.0 adapter in the city, so just as well really. Also, bonus in the sleep department.

Finally, with this crappy weather, I had a chance to process the images from May 7.

Although most of the following will be gobbledy-gook to most readers, it is in fact a record of the processing I played with:
M3 - stack of 30 subs of 8s, saved as FITS stacked in Registax with histo stretch, no wavelets. Levels in Photoshop - no curves, then used unsharp mask - 80%, radius 1.5, thresghold 1 level.
Repeated the same procedure for M53.

m3-edit3 - stacked in Envisage, saved as FITS, levels in photoshop
m53-edit4 - same
m3edit4 - same as edit 3, but enlarged image, then reshrunk it after unsharp. Better background level in curves.
combined is single frame merged with edit 4:


M53 - edit 4

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The Parable of Rose and Daisy

May 14th, 2007 by webmaster

A cautionary tale…

Once upon a time there were two neighbours, named Rose and Daisy. Both neighbours had beautiful gardens, that they tended regularly. On any clear day in the warmer months they could be seen doting around their gardens with a watering can, checking that the plants were not wilting, and the soil was good, the weeds were not encroaching, and the lawn edges remained crisp.
One day, Daisy came home with a set of boxes, and began to busily install equipment throughout the yard.
She explained to Rose: “I am tired of all that lugging the watering can around. This new irigation system will water the garden for me at regular intervals. With less time spent watering, I can spend more time working with the plants.”  Agreeing that this sounded like an excellent plan, Rose went out and purchased one herself.
A few weeks later, Daisy’s garden was healthier and more vibrant than ever - a genuine showpiece garden.
Rose’s garden, however, did not improve in appearance. The plants were certainly healthy, but a few weeds were poking through, and some of the plants heeded dead-heading, and some of the edges were creeping in.
So why is there a difference between the two?
Both neighbours loved their gardens, but Daisy loved to garden. She loved poking in the diret and caring for the plants and pulling the weeds and trimming the edging and all the other little gardening chores needed to keep a garden in top form. Rose loved her garden, but only did the chores when necessary. When watering by hand, Rose would see all the little things that needed to be done, because she was stopping and watering each plant. With the central system, she sat back and watched her garden grow, without getting in and giving it the individual attention each plant deserved. 
You can probably see where this is heading…
With the introduction of any new technology in education, particularly one that promises improvement “automatically”, there is a risk of the teacher withdrawing behind the technology, and not giving each student the individual attention they deserve.
But this is not a criticism of teachers, nor technology. It is a cautionary tale, it comes with no moral judgement. If you are reading this, you need to take a long, hard look at your own practices, and ask yourself if you are a Rose or a Daisy - and if you realize that you are a Rose (and if you consider human nature, that would likely be the majority!), you must decide for yourself how you will ensure that each student is looked after individually.
Good luck, and watch your gardens grow!

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CAO Open House - Spring NGC’s

May 13th, 2007 by webmaster

May 12
CAO Open house
temp: 1C
Using: 8″ Dob “Beast”
Goal: bag the 17 Virgo and Coma galaxies from the spring NGC list.

This is a good night, because not only is it clear, I have the comeraderie of dozens of fellow astronomers. This has the advantage of sharing views in other scopes.

Coma Ber is near Zenith, making this set of starhops tricky with a Dob:
Starhopping, starting at  gamma Coma Ber, NW to
4274 and 4414
then back to Gamm and to 4559, large and brightish, some structure visible
back to gamma, starhop down to 4494, small and bright,
over to 4565.
Wow. This is one very nice galaxy with clear dustlane. Gorgeous!
then over to 4725, bright spiral
over to
5466 in Bootes - faint globular, real smudge, but with averted vision some pinpoint stars are visible. Actually a very pretty target.
Using 9 and 12 virgo as a starting point, starhop to
4216 - edge on
using sterism N or 4216 (with 6 Coma B) as a pointer, starhop to 4388 and 4438 - and generally appreciating the number of galaxies in this region.
Starhop to
4567/8 - siamese twins galaxies. Cool.
Then over to epsilon Virg and starhop to edge-on 4762
Starhop down to 4526 and 4535 - nice.
Down to Porima and starhop to 4517 - actually took a couple of attempts - faint edge-on is elusive.
4699 is positioned between 26 and 40 Vir, making it easy.
5746 is in the same FOV as 109 Vir - makes it easy. Very nice galaxy.

Done! Mission accomplished.
All that remains is 6 fall NGC’s

Spent the remainder of the evening until 1:30 wandering and lookingthrough other scopes and socializing.

Some highlights:
NGC 4565 in the C14
M51 in an 18″ dob - Wow!
comet Lovejoy in a 14″ portaball
M13 in 12.5″ dob and C14. Go deep!


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Joys and frustrations of astrophotography

May 7th, 2007 by webmaster

May 7, observing from my backyard in Pickering - a suburb of Toronto.
Temperature: 4C dropping to 1C
Using: My C8 “Davros” @ f/6.3 and DSI Pro with broadband LP filter.
experimenting with DSI Pro, imaging GC’s M3 and M53

I began experimenting with 8s exposures, then 15 and 21s exposures. On screen, the different exposure times looked the same, so I stuck with the shorter exposures to minimize the periodic error issue with the RA drive on Davros. However, looking at the raw frames later, there was a significan difference. Live and learn. And note to self - adjust the histogram setpoints manually next time! Straight automatic image is disappointing, but I will process the subs myself later.


M53 - refocussed and realized that the temperature drop had caused a focus shift. That means the last few frames I shot of M3 will be out of focus. Live and learn. Again, somewhat disapointing automatic image, but i will see what I can do with processing.


I went back to M3 and recaptured another 35 subs at 8s with better focus, and most of these came out okay. But I won’t be able to see what I really have until I have the time to do some processing.


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I’ve got an astronomy blog, and I’m not afraid to use it…

May 3rd, 2007 by webmaster

Following the recommendations of my friend Paul Markov, I am making use of my blog  to record my observing log online. I may, one day, go back and type up the previous four years of journal entries - but I won’t hold my breath. And so, no time like the present. I will actually begin with my first good observing session this year for which I have records, on March 16.
March 16 2007
Location: Scotch Mountain Observatory (SMO), west side of house, sheltered from wind
temperature: -5C
Using: 8″ Dob, aka “Beast”
goals: DSO hunting for the FNGC list

NGC 1514 in Taurus - dim planetary
1788 in Orion - diffuse reflection nebula. Visible, but I wouldn’t have known it was there had I not been looking for it.
2022 Orion - distinct planetary, despite mag 12.4
2194 Orion - OC nice little cluster
2237 Rosette nebula. I have been looking for this for two years, without success. The open cluster  within it (2244) I have seen dozens of times, but the nebulosity was elusive. The hunt for FNGC’s has given me lots of practice at resolving faint nebulosity. This time, not only was the Rosette visible, but without a filter, and with some mottling and dark lanes clearly visible. Cool.
2359 -Canis Major - brightish emission nebula
2440 puppis - small planetary
2539 puppis - very nice OC, rich.
1931 Auriga - nebulosity, close to M36 & M38
2371/2 Gemini - double lobed “peanut” planetary, quite distinct despite mag 13 due to its shape, and proximity to guide stars.
2655 elipitcal in Cam
2903 Leo - big & bright spiral /w dust lane visible
2841 UMa - nice galaxy, bright.

by midnight the wind had changed, and the cold was getting the better of me.

This night I was surprised at how easy the mag 12 & 13 targets were - with practice, observing skills become better & better, increasing the effective apperture of the scope.


March 17
Location: SMO, SE side of house on deck
temperature: -5C
Using: 8″ Dob, aka “Beast”
goals: DSO hunting for the FNGC list - hammer away at the spring list, trying to hit everything but the Virgo & Coma galaxies. If I don’t bag these now, it could be another year…

2683 in Lynx - very nice egde on spiral, bright, I gave it three checkmarks.
3003 Leo Minor - this was a tricky one, faint streak
3344 LMi - face-on, fairly bright due to compact size.
3432 LMi - very tricky little bugger - even more so than 3003
3184 in UMa - nice galaxy (2 checks)
3877 UMa - nice edge on Galaxy
3941 UMa - eliptical with bright core
3079, 4026, 4088, 4157 UMa - edge on galaxies in UMa,
4605 UMa - dust lane visible in this edge-on spiral
3155 Sextans - spindle galaxy
3242 - Hydra - Ghost of Jupiter Planetary - always a treat
3384, 3521, 3607, 3628 - brightish galaxies in Leo, nice when there are multiple galaxies in the same FOV.
4490 CVn - nice pairing with Cocoon galaxy 4485
4449 CVn - brightish galaxy
4111 CVn - edge on galaxy
4214 CVn - irregular galaxy
4244 CVn - bright sliver, edge on spiral.
4631 CVn - very nice (3 checks) edge on.
4656/7 CVn - in same field as above, not nearly as nice
5005 CVn - nice bright elongated spiral (2 checks) - easy, near Cor Croli
5033 CVn - spiral, near 5005 above.
$038/9 in Corvus - rat tail galaxies. Not the same as in pictures, but very cool none the less.
4361 Corvus - planetary, mag 13 central star visible.
5907 in Draco - edge on, should be nice target, but I was getting cold and tired by this time.

Holy crap - I hit 30 DSO’s in one session! In two nights I nearly doubled my NGC count!


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Information Ecology and 21st Century Learning

May 1st, 2007 by webmaster

I like organic metaphors for information transfer and learning. I trained as a biologist, so it is not surprising, but beyond that - there is something right about a complex, non-linear  process, as opposed to an orderly one. Orderly things are only that way because constraints have been put on them.

One of the ideas I really like is that of the Information Ecology - a term I am sorry to say I did not coin. It is a concept that relates the flow of information to an ecological system. So, let’s go back to a little refresher on ecology….

Remember what you leaned in school long ago about food chains and food webs? Producers, consumers, more consumers, top predator, detritovores and decomposers? Well, here’s the tough news. You never learned it right in the first place, and here’s why. Your teacher didn’t understand it. Your teacher learned it from a textbook that was as dry as the one you learned from, and was even more outdated. More’s the pity, as the real beauty of ecology is in the complexity and interractions - things that are very difficult to convey effectively in a textbook.

In any ecology, There is a foundation, and that is the producers. Electromagnetic energy in the form of light is used to convert CO2 to chemical energy, in the form of biomass. This can then be used to sustain each successive level. At each level, however, there is less useful energy, as much of it is used up by the previous level. As a result, in most food webs producers have the largest numbers, and each successive level of consumer has fewer and fewer numbers. This does not mean, however, that the producers are the most important, per se, since each and every trophic level is entirely necessary for the web to function. Remove one, and the entire thing collapses. There really is no “Most Important”.

The Information Ecology can be outlined with many parallels to a food web. However, it needs to be drawn upside down. In the living world, producers are common and produce a large but finite amount of usable energy for the next level. Each level is smaller and smaller in number, with final consumers being the most scarce. In the Information Ecology, primary producers are scarce, and produce a limited amount of primary information. This information, however, can be consumed an infinite number of times by information consumers. These consumers, in turn, can settle for mere consumption (terminal consumers), or they can take the information and in turn produce something of their own using what they have gleaned. When information is consumed and something new is produced, there is a significant chance that the quality of that information will decline. In other words, the information gets ground up in a rumour mill. Broken telephone. Take your pick of metaphors.

So in an information ecology, we should be able to qualify information by its proximity to its origin (of course, whether the origin itself is reliable is another matter altogether!). Is this to say that all information should be tracked down to its source? For graduate studies, definitely. For the purposes of K-12 education, the source information might be too rich, and completely indigestible. A secondary source may provide similar information presented in a much clearer fashion.

One thing that is clear, however, is that in an information ecology, pure consumers do nothing of benefit. It is only producers who cause the information ecology to grow.

So what is the take-away lesson? It is that quality learning is tied to the quality information, and that information is really only processed when it is used to produce more information. Today’s learners should be encouraged as much as possible to both produce and consume as close to the primary production level as possible.

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Why the Nebulog?

May 1st, 2007 by webmaster

I have a website - in fact I have two - but there is something missing. The sites are not diaries, not sopboxes, not forums (fora?) for shouting out “Hey, guess what I just did!” to the world. The Blog, however, serves just that purpose.

But there is more to it. By throwing my ideas out to the public wolves, I can establish a habit of transparency. By keeping my private little ideas to my private little self, I do not get the benefit of criticism. And, really, if ideas are not worthy of sharing publicly, then are they really worthy at all? As an educator, I am constantly telling students and their parents (and indeed their teachers!) that participation in class, venturing answers, is the best way to find out if a concept is really understood. And yet, exposing your own ignorance is not an easy thing to do. The way I look at it is that if I am going to ask my students to do it, the very least I can do is practice what I preach (teach?).

In my intitial plans, I envision three kinds of posts. The first, like this one, are general, overarching posts about the Blog as a whole. These are chatagorized as Big Ideas. Not that the ideas will necessarily be big, but it sounded better than simply “uncatagorized”. Secondly, I would like to post observing logs from my astronomy sessions, and other astronomy related thoughts - which I will slot into the Astronomy category. Thirdly, my ideas on education, pedagogy and EdTech I will file under Education. There will most likely be obvious (but currently unforeseen) categories that I will add, but for now, that is how it will be organized.

The title Nebulog sort of fell into place because of the disparate, nebulous nature of my interests on which I intend to post, but also because of my astronomical (NOM not LOG) interests.

So, with these somewhat rushed words, I hereby launch the Nebulog for the world at large to read, or ignore, as it chooses.

Clear Skies!


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