Saturday, December 27, 2008

FREE - Toronto Astronomy Festival @ OSC - January 10, 2009

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Here's news of a great event
The Ontario Science Centre is sponsoring a FREE kick-off event for the 2009 International Year of Astronomy in Canada on Saturday January 10, 2009, where18 organizations will come together to present astronomy displays, lectures, workshops and much more.

The program for the Toronto Astronomy Festival is now available on-line at:
FREE - Toronto Astronomy Festival @ OSC

This is shaping up to be an OUTSTANDING event which may deliver more "Galileo moments" in one day than any other single event planned for the 2009 International Year of Astronomy in Canada. There will certainly be lots to see and do.Availability is limited; For advanced free ticket information call (416) 429-4100.

Save the date and mark it on your 2009 calendar right away then check back for more details in the New Year. Please forward this information as you best see fit to allow others to attend this excellent event!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Tony Horvatin
1st Vice President
RASC Toronto Centre
Here's the official RASC announcement Toronto Astronomy Festival Set for January 10th!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ciao Padua - Welcome the Light of the Peace!

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Back in October during our first JOTI we found out about a remarkable project being put together by the AVSC Scouts of Padua Italy.  Their simple request for audio and video greetings of peace from Scouts around the world met with great success.   They've put together a 30 minute video world tour to celebrate the Light of the Peace. 

The 433rd Beavers, Cubs, and Scouts each sent a greeting.

Congratulations to the AVSC Scouts, Scouter Ugo, and all those who sent messages!

Enjoy ...

Light of the Peace around the world from Light of the Peace on Vimeo.

The AVSC Scouts announcment can be found here.
Scouts Trieste Light of the Peace page can be found here.
Our original post about the project can be found at the Padua JOTI "Light of the Peace" Video Project

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Carnival of Space #84 @ Next Big Future

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This week's Carnival (#84) is up over at Next Big Future, so check out some of the articles:
  • A cool false colour image of Venus showing "oceans" and highlands
  • A nice article reflecting on the gamble of Apollo 8
  • A new twist on an old lunar origin theory
And lots more.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What's Up @ Camp Samac - Sky Forecast

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Bookmark this article if you want to know what's up at Camp Samac.

Camp Samac is the host site for CCJam09.

The Clear Sky Chart for Camp Samac is located near the main buildings and lake.  People familiar with the site have provided me several alternate observing locations within the camp.  Both the Chart and Heaven's Above data will not change for these but if you want to see where they are check out the maps in the list below:

Check out the following:

  • Clear Sky Chart for your astronomy and observing weather forecast and a link to the Camp website - for more see Weather forecasts for Stargazers
  • Heavens Above for observing forecasts and charts covering the International Space Station, Satellites, Planets, Comets, and Iridium flares as seen from the camp
  • Google Maps for a look at the camp

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Carnival of Space #83 - the antipodean edition @ astroblogger

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Ian Musgrave has put togther an edition of the carnival that you'll just flip over !

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thanks from Romero House

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The folks at Romero House sent us a nice thank you for the coats we sent!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Upcoming Camps and other Event Dates 2008-2009

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See Upcoming Camps and other Event Dates 2008-2009

Carnival of Space #82 The Video Edition @ Space Disco

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Another Carnival is up over at Space Disco!  Enjoy the very first video edition.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Skyforecasts all up for now

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All of the Sky Forecast pages are up that were on my list to do.

There's a list of Scout Canada Camps here.
And the list of Clear Sky Charts here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Avoiding the Christmas trash-Telescope Blues

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As Christmas approaches a lot of people consider giving telescopes to their favorite budding astronomer. Right now all kinds of stores are full of scopes for the run up to Christmas. Then they'll be gone for another year.

Please before you go out and buy one of these, read on. I'll point you to some tips and alternatives. Also, I take a look at some of the scopes I've seen around town.

Typical Trashscopes

The photos above are reprinted with permission. Credit from left to right Dr. Jerry Galloway and Ray Khan

While I know lots of astronomers who grew up with these low end scopes and stuck it out, I know a lot more people that gave up out of frustration.

I highly recommend reading Alan Dyer's Ten Tips for Buying a Telescope and Giving a Telescope as a Gift over at Visual Astronomy. Or get Terence Dickinson's Night Watch and read the chapter "Stargazing Equipment" and especially the part called "Trash-Scope Blues".

Another key to enjoying a telescope is to set the right expectation.  Lots of of telescope packages are adorned with large colourful photos of galaxies and nebula.  Don't expect to see quite the same thing yourself.  These photos were all taken over a long period of time with really large aperture telescopes meaning they collect far more light than your eye can in real time.   A telescope like the Hubble brings in about as much light as 100,000 beginner scopes!   But there are still lots of things that show up beautifully.

Here are my tips: 

If you've read the articles above, some of these tips will be familiar. Others will not.
  • High power is a trick so don't be fooled. The promise of high power is deceptive for many reasons. Anything that gives more than about 150x is likely to be unusable. Magnification is a function of how the eyepiece works with the scope.
  • Aperture trumps magnification. The diameter of the main lens or mirror is more important than its length. Simply put wide eyes means more light. Think of owls not mice. Also higher magnification powers needs larger apertures or they just dim out.
  • Premium Eyepieces usually aren't. Quality eyepieces are expensive. Counterintuitively, low power eyepieces are more expensive than high power eyepieces of equal quality. Packages with more than two or three eyepieces should be suspect. Barlow lenses which double or triple magnification are almost always not useful on a beginner scope. Finally, just because the box says "Premium Eye Pieces" doesn't mean it's true.
  • Solid mounts and controls are paramount. If the scope shakes, won't hold position, or can't focus, it will be frustrating, disappointing and unusable. Yoke mounts are usually headaches.
  • Poor finder scopes are often problems on beginner scopes. Again, magnifying finders are just small scopes so more aperture is better. Think sausages, not pencils. Red dot finders are increasingly common and often better than entry level magnifying finders.
  • Portability versus size. Where will you use it? How portable do you need it? If you have a bit more money, don't go aperture crazy. You still have to get the scope and tripod to your observing site. An over sized scope will not get used.
  • Check out specialty telescope shops. Telescopes are not a one size fits all product. If you buy from a store that only stocks scopes around Christmas you aren't going to get much help and support. Frankly the people who work in telescope specialty shops use the equipment and can help you find what you need. They may even have one setup that you can try. Staff in the malls or box stores won't be able to answer any questions. I've seen the scopes setup in these other stores for display, you can't try them. Also, telescope stores sell used which can be a good way to get more for less.
  • Return and trade-in policy. Check out the stores return policy before you buy. eBay, Kijiji, and Craig's list are full of scopes for sale after Christmas many of which are nonreturnable junk. Also, many telescope shops will take trade ins when you're ready to move up.
  • Alternatives. You should also consider alternatives such as binoculars, see Your first telescope ...
  • Saturn! One of the main reasons for getting a beginner telescope over binoculars is Saturn. Or rather it's rings. Unfortunately, for the next few months Saturn is not cooperating as the rings are nearly edge on as happens about every fifteen years. This will fix itself but you'll need to wait.
Remember that every telescope is going to be a compromise between budget, aperture, portability, and features. Trade-offs are inevitable. Better to have a good starter scope that works well than one that tries to do everything and fails.

Now to your budget.
  • $100 look for binoculars - don't even think about a scope
  • $200 you should be able to get a good basic scope
  • $400+ you should be able to get a computerized or "Go To" scope
  • More ... considering adding aperture, features, or accessories
What's about town (Toronto)

There are only a few stores in Toronto where I would even consider buying astronomy equipment. Last year there were three. Khan Scope and Efston both still serve this market and have good equipment. Unfortunately Kendricks has left the retail telescope market but still makes fine equipment. My personal preference is Khan Scope.

However, I did spot some scopes in other stores and thought I would comment on them.

The Educational Store

There is a well known chain that sells educational toys and books. It's a great store, but not for telescopes. They had two scopes at around the $100 price point with the less expensive named brand model being the better of the two. Personally I wouldn't touch either.
A Canadian made refractor scope.  This is perhaps the single worst telescope I have personally ever seen. It's specs include:60 mm aperture, 700 mm focal length, 3 eyepieces (K 20, H 12.5, K 9), 3x Barlow, rotating "turret" eyepiece holder, yoke mount tripod, 5 x 20 finder.
The aperture is too small, eyepieces very basic giving 35x, 56x, 77x, Barlow lens is almost useless giving 105x, 168x and 233x, the plastic turret looks like it came from a microscope and is gimmicky, the finder is under apetured for its power, the mount very flimsy looking. Inside the dew hood there was an inner hood around the main lens that looked like it may have reduced the aperture further.  I've seen plenty of these scopes advertised on on e-Bay and Craig's list and sometimes at far above ths price.
    A named brand's entry refractor. It's specs include: 70 mm aperture, 700mm focal length, two eyepieces (MA 25 and 9 with standard barrels), yoke mount tripod , red dot finder, PC planetarium software.
    The aperture is the bare minimum, the eyepieces are basic and give 28x and 77x, but it has a yoke mount.
    The Box Store

    The big box store had a scope that on the surface looked more promising at just below the $200 price point.
    A named brand's GOTO refractor. It's specs include: 90 mm aperture, 800 mm focal length, 5 eyepieces (MA 25, 20, 17, 12, 6), computer guided GOTO mount, red dot finder.
      The aperture is better, but the claim of "Premium eyepieces" was probably inspired by Bertrand Russell. Five eyepieces in a low price package practically screams poor quality. Also, there is no way to test the automatic mount mechanics before you buy.

      I did notice this same entry GOTO at a couple of the local telescope specialty stores last year but not this year. I've also seen a couple in for repair - not a good sign. Overall it seems like a lot for the money and I'd be wary that it's too good to be true.

      The Specialty Store

      Ray Khan took the time to show me three interesting beginner offerings all within the budget price points I mentioned.
      • Meade 7x50mm Travelview binoculars. These are a good size, with a nice field of view, are small enough for children, and can be mounted on a camera tripod. They have excellent light gathering being nearly right on the rule of thumb of 7mm for every 1x magnification.
      • A 70mm refractor from Celestron with a 900mm focal length. It has a solid mount and smooth mechanics and uses a red dot finder. It also shows correct images which is a plus for beginners. Two eyepieces at 20 and 10 mm. I believe the eyepieces are called "Super"an improved version of the MA lenses. Coated optics to improve your view. And PC planetarium software.
      • An 80mm computerized GOTO refractor from Meade with a 400mm focal length. It comes with 26 and 9.7 mm Plössl eyepieces and built in switchable 2x Barlow. It includes PC planetarium software. A "backpack edition" is available.
      My Scopes

      If you're curious, I have two telescopes: a 200mm aperture with 800mm focal length Newtonian reflector; an 80mm aperture with 400mm Refractor; and several binoculars.  Neither scope is GOTO.  Both have EQ mounts and I swap the eyepieces and finder scopes between them.   Here they are:

      First image courtesy of Ian Kelso

      And I had one of those trashscopes when I was a boy.  Both it and its finder scope were frustrating, over powered, under apertured.  The  wobbly yoke mount finally broke. It put me off for years.

      I do have one other very special telescope which you can read about in Mang interviewed in Etobicoke Guardian and Mang gets a space telescope!

      A few words on telescope types.

      Telescopes come in several types. Basically there are refractors which use lenses to focus the light, and reflectors which use a large mirror to focus the light. For practical reasons, smaller aperture scopes are typically refractors while large ones are reflectors. There are also a number of other types which use compound optics and mirrors. Most of these have hyphenated names. A more detailed description can be found at Visual Astronomy, here.

      Another thing is that most astronomical telescopes don't show correct images. The image is reversed and this can take a bit of getting used to for a beginner trying to move the scope. This is also a true of most magnifying finder scopes (Red dot finders don't suffer from this).

      A few words about eyepieces.

      A lot like camera lenses make the camera, eyepieces are the business end of your telescope.

      If you are looking to decode the alphabet soup shorthand above (e.g. K20) it describes the design and size of these basic eyepieces. The letters refer to the design: H for Huygens (a 17th century design), K is for Kellner (a 19th century design and the first modern achromatic eyepiece with a common focus for all colours). MA are an improved Kellner design as are "Supers". The number is size in mm with the larger number being lower power. Other higher quality types are named after their designers like Plössl and Nagler or by their companies like Ethos.

      Most telescope use standardized interchangeable eyepieces with 1.25" barrels (some use 2"). This means you can easily get different and better eyepieces and keep them for your next scope. Avoid anything else.

      To calculate your magnification divide the focal length of the scope by the eyepiece size (e.g. 700mm / 12 mm = 58x power).

      For comparison purposes, see the photos of 4 eyepieces. I've contrasted two sizes of basic eyepieces with a higher quality version. I included weight because it indirectly gives an idea of quality.

      Below are side views showing (left to right) Plössl, Super, Ultra Wide, and Huygens. 
      Below are top views of the same 4 eyepieces.
      Some more details on the same four eyepieces:
      EyepieceSize (mm)Weight (g)barrel (in.)
      H5 (junk)5200.965

      High quality Barlow lenses also exist. They are often more useful on short focal length scopes as they effectively double (or triple) the focal length.

      For more information on eyepieces see Wikipedia, here.

      A few words on mounts.

      Again their are a few basic types that fall into two categories. Those that can track the stars without rotating the field which are necessary for astro-photography. And those that can't which are typically called Altitude-Azimuth or AZ mounts.

      Equatorial or EQ mounts are the traditional design for tracking. AZ mounts can still track with computers but will need a wedge adapter for astro-photography.

      There may be a desire for a beginner to eventually get into astro-photography. This is one of those trade offs I mentioned and probably should be your next scope.

      I've already dismissed yoke mounts which are cheap AZ mounts.

      See Wikipedia on telescope mounts, here.

      Wednesday, December 3, 2008

      2009 Hobby Show Date and Details

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      The 2009 Hobby Show Date and Details are posted here at the main 433rd blog.

      Saturday, November 29, 2008

      What's Up @ the Torrence Barrens Dark Sky Preserve - Sky Forecast

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      Bookmark this article if you want to know what's up at Torrence Barrens Dark Sky Preserve.

      Check out the following:

    • Clear Sky Chart for your astronomy and observing weather forecast and a link to the Camp website - for more see Weather forecasts for Stargazers
    • Heavens Above for observing forecasts and charts covering the International Space Station, Satellites, Planets, Comets, and Iridium flares as seen from the camp
    • Google Maps for a look at the camp
    • What's Up @ Haliburton Scout Reserve - Sky Forecast

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      Bookmark this article if you want to know what's up at the Haliburton Scout Reserve.

      Check out the following:

    • Clear Sky Chart for your astronomy and observing weather forecast and a link to the Camp website - for more see Weather forecasts for Stargazers
    • Heavens Above for observing forecasts and charts covering the International Space Station, Satellites, Planets, Comets, and Iridium flares as seen from the camp
    • Google Maps for a look at the camp
    • Thursday, November 27, 2008

      Carnival of Space #81 @ Tiny Mantras

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      Check out this weeks Carnival and another 1st time host.

      Wednesday, November 26, 2008

      Tipsy Orion

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      The other day I walked into a local wine store and noticed the "Orion" brand of Port and Sherry. I immediately noticed that a few things were not right with our mythic hero of old.  Above is a photo of the label contrasted with a real photo of Orion.

      Firstly, his left foot (Rigel) is out of place. His belt is too loose (from too much Turkey dinner perhaps). In fact, it's right out to his bow! And he seems to be having an outbreak of some sort around his right shoulder (Beteleguese).  I expect the poor fellow will fall flat on his face.

      BTW. It's that time of year again as Orion returns to the evening sky.

      Saturday, November 22, 2008

      What's Up @ Camp Goodyear - Sky Forecast

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      Bookmark this article if you want to know what's up at Camp Goodyear

      Check out the following:

    • Clear Sky Chart for your astronomy and observing weather forecast and a link to the Camp website - for more see Weather forecasts for Stargazers
    • Heavens Above for observing forecasts and charts covering the International Space Station, Satellites, Planets, Comets, and Iridium flares as seen from the camp
    • Google Maps for a look at the camp
    • Note: this chart uses an existing CSC for the nearby Wildflower Observatory ( ~ 3km East of Goodyear). Check out their very cool robot observatory facility here.
    • Friday, November 21, 2008

      Carnival of Space #80 - (US) Thanksgiving Edition @ Starts with a Bang

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      Well the title just about says it all. Hop on over to CoS#80 where Ethan has prepared a fine menu of space and astronomy delicacies.

      Monday, November 17, 2008

      What's Up @ Otter Lake Camp - SkyForecast

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      Bookmark this article if you want to know what's up at Otter Lake.

      Check out the following:

    • Clear Sky Chart for your astronomy and observing weather forecast and a link to the Camp website - for more see Weather forecasts for Stargazers
    • Heavens Above for observing forecasts and charts covering the International Space Station, Satellites, Planets, Comets, and Iridium flares as seen from the camp
    • Google Maps for a look at the camp
    • Sunday, November 16, 2008

      Carnival of Space #79 @ One Astronomers Noise

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      This weeks Carnival of Space is being hosted at another first time host One Astronomer's Noise.

      Saturday, November 15, 2008

      What's Up @ Woodland Trails - Sky Forecast

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      Bookmark this article if you want to know what's up at Woodland Trails.

      Check out the following:

    • Clear Sky Chart for your astronomy and observing weather forecast and a link to the Camp website - for more see Weather forecasts for Stargazers
    • Heavens Above for observing forecasts and charts covering the International Space Station, Satellites, Planets, Comets, and Iridium flares as seen from the camp
    • Google Maps for a look at the camp
    • Friday, November 14, 2008

      What's up Sky Forecasts

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      What's up SkyForecasts provide useful information in one place for planning stargazing events.

      Using an existing chart:
      These extended Clear Sky Charts the following information in one page. Each image/link will open a new window or tab with the details you want.
      1. The small Clear Sky Chart graphic for the location. Click on it to see the full deatils including cloud cover, temperature, darkness, transparency, "seeing", and more. For more see Weather forecasts for Stargazers or visit Clear Sky Charts.
      2. The Heaven's Above link will provide predictions and charts and details showing visibility of the International Space Station, Satellites, Planets, Comets, and Iridium flares as seen from the location.
      3. The Google Maps link will take you to a Satellite photo of your observing location. This can help you plan where to setup for observing.
      4. A link to the locations web site.
      To select from a list of existing charts, click here.

      Coming Soon:

      Here's a list of the sites with charts and some sites that will be appearing soon:
      • The Torrance Deep Sky Preserve
      • The Haliburton Scout Reserve
      • Camp Goodyear
      • Woodland Trails
      • Blue Springs Scout Reserve
      • The 433rd Home
      They're very easy to add once you have a Clear Sky Chart.

      Adding SkyForecasts to your own site:

      In order to set up your own SkyForecasts you'll need
      • 8-9 pieces of information
      • possibly some skills with your blogging software and javascripts in case things don't work right the first time
      The Information:
      • The style of chart you want. Right now there are 'full' and 'tiny' charts. The example above is a full chart. A tiny chart is suitable for a blog sidebar.
      • A handle for the Clear Sky Chart for your location. More on this anon.
      • The latitude of your observing location (decimal format with south being negative). Example: 43.6722 runs through Toronto Ontario.
      • The longitude of your observing location (decimal with west being negative). Example -79.5542 runs through the western side of Toronto.
      • The altitude (in meters) of your observing location. This is needed for Heavens Above. One place you can find this information is through Earth Tools which builds on Google Maps. Slide and zoom the map until the "+" is on your spot, then use height under "My Tools" to get the elevation.
      • The zoom factor for Google Maps. This will depend on how detailed the satellite photos are for the area. You can get this from the "link" URL to the map. It'll likley be between z=15 and z=20.
      • The timezone. For example "EST".
      • The locations description to be used in the link to the web site for the location.
      • The locations' URL to go for more information. (This is only used on full charts).
      The Script You Need:

      To access the ECSC function and graphics use:
      <script src="" type="text/javascript"></script>
      To call the function with the arguments use:
      <script type='text/javascript'>
      ECSC('full','LLdMrToON','43.6722','-79.55420','158','16','EST','433rd Home (Lloyd Manor Park, Etobicoke)','');

      The Clear Sky Chart Handle:

      You need to find an existing chart or setup a Clear Sky Chart through the procedures at Clear Sky Charts. The key information you need are the two URLs in the code you use to imbed the Chart. Using the Lloyd Manor Park example, these are:
      Notice the "LLdMrToON" that's the handle.

      If you get a new chart set up, please send a thank you to Allan Rahill at Environment Canada and Attilla Danko at ClearDarkSky for making these charts possible.

      Outside of North America:

      I've seen charts to the Clear Sky Charts for locations outside of North America.  These are produced by other organizations.  Rather than repeat this information, Clear Dark Sky keeps some information on this here.


      I can't speak for other blogging software, but this was a major frustration in Blogger and here are the solutions.
      • Blogger has widget types for javascript for use in the sidebar and such. Javascript will work just fine in these.  You'll probably want to use the 'tiny' chart type for a sidebar.
      • Blogger's standard Post Editor will mangle scripts, tables and other HTML objects. Don't even try to fix it, just use one of these solutions.
      • You can change the global setting that controls the conversion of new lines to
        tags. Not recommended because it will reformat all your articles.
      • Use the new draft post editor for to edit the post. Under Post Options you should select "ignore newlines" for that post. And under no circumstances mix editing a post with the new and old post editors. For more information on the new post editor see Blogger in Draft or just try it out here.
      If you want to experiment, W3Schools has a series of hands on demos called "Try It". Click here for a simple example. Simply replace the text between the <body> and </body> tags and click the button labeled "Edit the Text and Click Me".

      Terms of Use

      If you display Clear Sky Charts you should check out the terms of use here.

      As for my scripts, I should probably add a GNU or CC license to them.  My intent simply put is that you can copy them or use them.  If you enhance them, make them freely available.  And keep the credit to Mang's Bat Page. A link back would be appreciated.

      And BTW,  if you find them useful let people know.  Drop me a line, add a comment or link back here.  Also let the folks at Clear Dark Skies, Heavens Above, and Environment Canada know you like their stuff.

      Update: Firefox Plugin for Clear Sky Charts

      Sean at Visual Astronomy sent tipped me a firefox plugin for Clear Sky Charts. For more information see Sean's article and and the plugin page.

      Related Articles:

      Thursday, November 13, 2008

      2008 Weston Santa Claus Parade

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      Mark Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 in your Calendars. Once again we are marching with St. Nick in Weston. For more information see 2008 Weston Santa Claus Parade.

      If you are looking for the OTHER Santa Claus Parade, they're over here.

      Tuesday, November 11, 2008

      2008 Christmas Tree Sales begin soon

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      Click here for more information on Christmas Tree Sales.

      Think of the fallen

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      Another year passed,
      More defenders gone,
      Passing into memory,
      Newer generations
      never knew,
      Past forgetting,
      Think instead,
      The price they paid,
      For us all,
      Honour them,

      Sunday, November 9, 2008

      One year of Bat Blogging!

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      The Bat Page is now one!

      I don't have an astounding article to share, or a web site face lift, or anything else 'major'. I thought I'd just reflect on what has been an interesting year. Along the way I learned a lot about blogging, made connections, found new some great resources, made new friends, and wrote a few good articles.

      I started this blog along with a blog for the 443rd Scouts so I could write about Scouting related and side interests that might not be of interest to all of the families in our group. It began with a few ideas that would support badgework, scoutcraft, and getting in touch with other Scout groups (see Scoutblogs and Scoutreach). And I thought I had some topics might have some interest and be of use to Scouting like groups and perhaps some others.

      Just a few days ago the Bat Page recorded its 20,000th visitor ( in just 9 months of tracking). That's far more than I expected when I started this. Wow! Not bad for a Scouters blog.

      The chart above shows those visits. The spikes from left to right are:

      Back in May I wrote Mang's Most Popular. This was before the spikes generated by The Carnival of Space and Stumblers. There is still steady interest in articles like:
      One things I tried to do with the last two articles, was to make sure they provided answers for those in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

      The Web and tools like blogs have the potential to transform and expand Scouting. Events like JOTI are a fantastic complement to traditional jamborees. The promise of Scoutblogs is to keep this kind of grass-roots communication going all the time. There are great examples of Scout Bloggers, but I think there is room for a lot more. I know Scouters that have a wealth of relevant and useful information covering all of the domains of Scouting knowledge. More of them need to share this. Scouters could take a lesson from the Space/Astronomy blogging community that has shown one way it can be done.

      There are a lot of people who've shown how to do it and I'd like to thank some of them: Scouters Joy, Ken, and Clarke; and Space bloggers Fraser, Ian, and Phil.

      Annual Humber West Hobby Show Crest Design Competition

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      It's time for the annual Humber West Hobby Show Crest Design Competition.

      Saturday, November 8, 2008

      Carnival of Space #78 @ Simostronomy

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      This week's carnival of space (#78) returns to Simostronomy where Mike Simosen takes an interest in variable stars which include a lot of things that go bang on a scale that makes the Mythbusters envious.


      Wednesday, November 5, 2008

      Light pollution - even more in the spotlight

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      The issue of light pollution is underexposed. But it is getting more and more serious attention.

      In Light Pollution — Someone Noticed!, Alan Dyer pointed to recent National Geographic coverage that may be the first exposure of many people to the issue.

      Events like The Great World Wide Star Count - Oct 20 to Nov 3, 2008 and Light Pollution Awareness - The Globe at Night - Feb 25 to Mar 8 have been drawing attention. Even backouts like we had in 2003 provide for Reflections on light pollution.

      Saturday, November 1, 2008

      Carnivals of Space 76 and 77

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      There are new Carnivals 76 and 77.

      Note: some posts did not make it into these Carnivals and Fraser is investigating.

      Tuesday, October 28, 2008

      Padua JOTI "Light of the Peace" Video Project

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      A Scout Group in Padua contacted me during JOTI (see my First JOTI). They want to make a video greeting of peace for the Light of the Peace event and are asking for some help.

      They are hoping to get short video or audio greetings from Scout groups around the world by November 16th so they can put together and post the final video before the event on December 13th.

      The example text for the greeting is:
      "Ciao Italia, Ciao Padova, we are [your name or group/association name] from [your country]. We also join your message: Together Scout to Live the Peace"
      Padua is located in the Italian province of Padova.

      If your group is interested and can put together and post a video you can contact them at

      I'm told they can handle a variety of formats including avi, mp4, mpg, mov, wmv, and ecc.

      The 433rd will send be sending a message!

      On another note, wouldn't it be nice if some of the spacecraft outreach programs would consider something similar. It would be much more interesting than just sending lists of names.

      Saturday, October 25, 2008

      TD Coin Counting Machines Pass Scout Apple Day Workout!

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      Apple Day is one of the biggest fundraisers for many Scout groups. Every youth has a donation tin. People donate their spare change, loonies, toonies, and some even donate bills. Many do not even take an apple or the little button hole donation card. (When we used to go door to door, one elderly gentlemen actually donated an apple to us!)

      Every year it has been a large effort by people in the group to count and roll all the coins in all those tins and get them to the bank and make a deposit. This year after a couple of personal test runs, I can report back that the TD's coin counters are robust and reliable. We counted over 40 tins worth of change in just over an hour. It would have been faster if we were not concerned with a per tin tally. We were duly impressed by the performance and reliability of equipment.

      In addition to the things I learned before (see Free Coin Counting Service!), here are a few more things, I found out about the machines:
      • They don't take 50 cent pieces (neither does the bank because they can't give them out).
      • The blue lights mean the bin is full.
      • When you have a lot of coins, very occasionally good coins will get rejected. Put them through again.
      • It seems to know when you've checked for rejected coins. And don't rush it at the end of a cycle.
      In addition to the 2002 Canadian 50 cent piece that I bought back from the group. I also have a 2004 British Penny, and a 2000 Albanian 5 Leke piece.

      I also wish to thank the staff at the 1440 Royal York branch and the patient customers behind us (who all said they'd wait for us to finish).

      First JOTI

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      I had been hoping to arrange to do a full and proper event around JOTI, but this was not to be. Instead I'll report on my JOTI baby steps.
      • JOTI coincided with Apple Day which is a major fund raiser for our group. As a result this put a bit of a crimp in scheduling an event around JOTI. I had hoped to see if there was an Internet connection at our meeting hall and Apple Day coordination centre but wasn't able to do so.
      • The second challenge was setting up a computer and test the requisite chat software to ensure it operated correctly. Again, time and other commitments were the enemy.
      • I fell back to e-mail and web chat. I found the web chat software to be finicky. At one point I seemed to be connected but out of channel where no one could hear me.
      • e-mail using the station lookup proved reliable but far less interactive than the full JOTI experience promised.
      I sent hello messages from our group to a number of groups in such places as: Alaska, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Barbados, Iceland, Brazil, Croatia, Sweden, Ireland, Mexico, Egypt, Norway, Israel, Finland, and others. I also received some hellos from several different groups around the world. Below I've listed their web sites (if they have them).
      • Dalyellup Scouts in Western Australia, here. Hi Joanne.
      • Palmerston North Scouts in New Zealand, here. Hi Penny, Harry, William and Edward
      • 243rd Tuscany Scouts in Alberta Canada, here. Hi Aklea Scott.
      • Oulu Finland, here. Hi Andrew.
      • AVSC in Padua Italy, here. Hi Ugo.
      • 9th Benoni in South Africa, here. Hi Joy and Peter.

      Also, some of the groups may not have yet had a chance to reply to the messages but should be able to find me through this web site's E-mail Me widget.

      Unfortunately, the JOTI search stations / send message doesn't cc you back. If you don't keep track of who you said hi to - you could be out of luck.

      Tuesday, October 21, 2008

      Skies Badge - South Africa

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      Here are the requirements:

      This week the I received my first exchange in the The Great Astronomers Badge Swap.

      The Skies Badge from the 9th Benoni Cubs in South Africa.

      1. Identify TWO constellations and the Southern Cross
      2. Make a pinhole planetarium and show THREE constellations
      3. Identify FOUR cloud types
      4. Visit a planetarium or spot a satelite and record the time of sighting and its path across the sky.
      My thanks to Akela Joy!

      Please click on the BadgeSwap label below to see other related badges and entries.

      Monday, October 20, 2008

      Spaghetti Western Orchestra?!

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      This past weekend I had the chance to see the Spaghetti Western Orchestra at Harbourfront.

      The Spaghetti Western What-estra? I hear you thinking. Orchestra is a bit of an overstatement if you judge by their number of performers (5), but perhaps not by the instrumentation (100+) or talent they bring.

      In addition to the copious array of traditional instruments, you will find a Theremin, beer bottles, corn flakes, baby boots, rubber gloves, scripts, clocks, plants, coat hangers, and many many more.

      The show combines a story line based on the old spaghetti westerns; the music of the composer of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; sound effects; comedy; audience participation; and sing-a-long. Even the mistakes are choreographed. It's well put together and enjoyable.

      For more on the SWO including more video clips and their US tour schedule, check out their web site.

      The Great World Wide Star Count - Oct 20 to Nov 3, 2008

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      The Great World Wide Star Count is a great event which will let you get out observing and help determine how clear our skies are. It's timed for any evening between 7pm-9pm which makes it a perfect event for Cub/Scout meetings. Or even better a camp!

      The count is a simple event, you observe Cygnus (the Northern Cross) in the north or Sagittarius (the Archer) (also known as the "Teapot" asterism) in the south and match the number and patterns you see to a set of magnitude charts provided on the site.
      • Get your activity guide (available in several languages) and magnitude charts (and take the online quiz).
      • Pick your site.
      • Make sure you let the your eyes adapt to the dark for 20 to 30 minutes before observing. A flashlight free hike is a great start.
      • Record the latitude and longitude using a GPS device, Google Maps, or a topographic map.
      • Record your results along with the date and time.
      • Report your results online as before November 7th.
      Other things you might need:
      • A planisphere or star finder. For a free download, read Build your own Planisphere (Star Finder)!
      • A red flashlight to preserve your night vision.
      • Weather appropriate clothing.
      • Hot chocolate for afterwards.
      This event is very similar to a light pollution awareness program called The Globe at Night which ran from Feb 25 to Mar 8 and was based on the constellation Orion.

      Good counting!

      Saturday, October 18, 2008

      Carnival of Space #75 @ Lab Lemming

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      Join the Carnival here.

      Update: Ooops. Carnival 74 was at Kentucky Space.

      Friday, October 17, 2008

      Welcome JOTI 2008 Particpants!

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      Welcome from the 433rd Toronto Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, and Venturers to all Jamboree on the Internet participants.
      Please stay and check out this web site.

      Thanks, Mang
      ( Mang433HWCA on JOTI )

      Link back to JOTI Community Search

      Wednesday, October 15, 2008

      Coat Drive for Romero House

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      Click here to read about our coat drive.

      Apple Day Reminder 2008 !

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      Please click on this link for infomation on Apple Day schedules and what Apple Day is about.

      Sunday, October 5, 2008

      Custom Jigsaw Puzzles

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      While I was on vacation this summer I visited one of my favorite stores and found they had a very cool new product - custom jigsaw puzzles from digital photographs!

      The possibilities for this are just about endless. There are the usual applications like Christmas Cards, Vacation Photos, and Art Photos.

      The store has some recommendations on their web site for what makes a good puzzle and an order form. If you want more information check out Board Silly in Old Orchard Beach Maine.

      Hopefully it will be used only for good and no one will bring back the "Purple Dread" - a 5000 piece puzzle of pure hideous unvarying purple. :)

      Tuesday, September 30, 2008 web site upgrade

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      Click here for information on the 433rd main website upgrade.

      Welcome Chil!

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      For the last few years, one of our youth members has been helping our Cub Pack leaders. Graham is continuing as an assistant leader and has taken a Jungle Book name. Welcome Chil (pronounced Cheel).

      Chil is a kite -- a family of old world raptors.

      In some US editions of the Jungle Book, you'll find Rann the kite instead of Chil.

      Both Mang and Chil appear in the opening "Mowgli's Brothers":
      Now Chil the Kite brings home the night
      That Mang the Bat sets free--
      The herds are shut in byre and hut
      For loosed till dawn are we.
      This is the hour of pride and power,
      Talon and tush and claw.
      Oh, hear the call!--Good hunting all
      That keep the Jungle Law!
      Night-Song in the Jungle
      Both Mang and Chil assisted in the rescue of Mowgli from the Bandar-log by alerting Bagheera, Baloo, and Kaa to his kidnapping.

      The Jungle Book is also available online for free from Project Gutenberg (It's a US edition).

      One of my pet peeves with the Disney movie was the way they changed Kaa's character.

      Monday, September 29, 2008

      Carnival of Space #72 @ Twisted Physics

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      Another Carnival of Space is up over at Jennifer Ouellette's Twisted Physics.

      Scout Scarves, 100th post

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      For my 100th post I wanted to talk about something at the core of Scouting. The humble but ever so useful neckerchief seemed a perfect choice.

      (The 433rd's colours are featured in the headline image of this blog. Our web site has more details on Uniforms & Badges under each section. For Cubs see here. )

      Scouts are widely recognized by their uniform and the colorful neck wear. Neckerchiefs and Woggles (or slides) identify Scouting groups and roles. Go to any large Scouting event and you'll see a sea of coloured neckerchiefs.

      While many people don't give Scout scarves much of a thought, they are very practical and have a large number of uses. How many uses can you think of?

      The most obvious use is identification. Each groups colours are more or less unique. I've heard that some Scouting organizations register their colors centrally. I know the 9th Benoni in South Africa (see Linking with the 9th Benoni Cubs) made a minor adjustment to their colours to avoid a conflict with a group in Germany. While I know there are local groups with colours that are similar, I'm not certain if Scouts Canada maintains the same degree of uniqueness. Also, the Boy Scouts of America have some different neckerchief traditions (see here).

      Woggles (aside from providing quick release) identify the section or role of the wearer. Each section has a colour: red for Rovers, light blue for Venturers, green for Scouts, yellow for Cubs, and brown on blue for Beavers. Leaders who have completed the Wood Badge Part 1 have a brown woven turks head woggle. And those completing the Wood Badge Part 2 get the special Gilwell neckerchief and wooden beads (See Wikipedia on the Wood Badge).

      Another important use is first aid. Scout Neckerchiefs are intended to be used as triangular bandages and slings. This point was reinforced at our last swim up camp when one of our Cubs broke his arm. When we brought him to the hospital in Midland one of the staff there commented that they had never seen such interesting and colourful bandages!

      Other obvious uses include blindfolds and armbands (for games), masks, and signals.

      Below is a list of over 40 uses taken form the Pinetreeweb Scouting web site. Some of the uses may overlap a bit but the list is still impressive. For the full list and more background information please read Pinetree web's Neckerchief article.

      1. As an International Morse signal flag.
      2. For sending messages by Semaphore code.
      3. In knot-tying practice.
      4. For Troop and Patrol identification.
      5. As a reminder of the Scout Good Turn, (single knot).
      6. As indication that wearer is not a Cadet, but a Scout.
      7. As a substitute for a belt.
      8. As a shoulder mat.
      9. As a smoke mask.
      10. As a blindfold for Scout games.
      11. As a dressing for a burned face and neck.
      12. As a sweat band for confining the hair.
      13. For identifying contesting teams.
      14. As a swatter in playing games.
      15. In the three-legged race, to tie legs together.
      16. In games requiring contestants to be hobbled.
      17. In game called "Badger Pulling," to make binder for heads.
      18. As a night cap or ear protector.
      19. As a muffler for storm or blizzard.
      20. As a cover for a pail of water.
      21. As a loin cloth or bathing trunks.
      22. As a triangular cap bandage.
      23. As a napkin.
      24. As an apron.
      25. As a table cloth.
      26. As a dust cloth or cover.
      27. As a "Hobo" bag.
      28. For a tump line to carry a load.
      29. To lash poles or staves together.
      30. As a smoke signal.
      31. As a red flag on projecting end of load.
      32. As a patch for a canoe, when properly treated.
      33. As caulking for a leaky boat, when properly treated.
      34. For distress signal, lighted for a "flare."
      35. As a pad for the head in carrying heavy loads and wherever needed to prevent chafing.
      36. As a padded glove for the hand, to prevent blisters.
      37. As a blindfold for rescuing a horse from fire.
      38. To pad portions of harness to prevent chafing.
      39. To tie up square packages.
      40. For fastening ends of the blanket roll.
      41. For making life line or guard rope.
      42. For making rope ladder.
      43. For making boat sail.
      44. For making emergency clothing

      Originally the 433rd had a tartan scarf. When I was a Cub, I was part of the (now defunct) 16th Humber West which also had a tartan scarf. Then it was common for Canadian groups to use unique tartans for their scarves. Tartans provide an almost infinite variety for group colours. Tartans are also interesting both to weavers and mathematically[1]. Unfortunately, difficulty in getting certain tartans has caused many groups to move away from them.

      I'd like to dedicate this article to Colin (one of our cubs) who knows first hand the value of a neckerchief.
      [1] . Professor Ralph Griswold of the University of Arizona investigated "Digital Weaving" in an IEEE paper and a series of articles in the Icon Analyst beginning at issues 53 through 66.

      Sunday, September 28, 2008

      Free Coin Counting Service!

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      Lots of people throw their spare change into jars and boxes for a rainy day. The problem has always been that at some point you have to sort it and roll it, before you can take it to the bank.

      While there are personal sorting and stacking machines available to do this, the inexpensive ones aren't very good and the good ones aren't very inexpensive.

      Another alternative are commercial coin counting machines such as the Coin Star at the local Dominion Metro food store on Lloyd Manor. The problem with these is that they charge a high percentage (over 9%) for the service. I have enough distant Scottish ancestry to make this quite unpalatable.

      Recently a new alternative came to light. A free coin counting service! TD Canada Trust has introduced this as a pilot project. Better still, you don't even have to have an account with the bank! I've heard that it's in about 10 Toronto area branches but I'm not sure if there are more outside the GTA. I couldn't find anything on the TD website and the only information I have is a single glossy information sheet of unknown origin. If you're looking for other locations, you'll need to make some phone calls see below.

      The counting machine is located inside the branch and it looks like a standalone ATM. It has a touch screen and a small conveyor belt. Simply pour your coins onto the belt and it counts them. It rejects foreign currency as well as coins that are rusted or in bad condition. When you're done you get a receipt from the machine. Make sure you must present the receipt to a branch teller on the same day to get your money.

      Fortunately, one of these pilot machines is located nearby at the branch on Royal York Rd at Summitcrest Dr (north of Eglington and La Rose).

      I tried it out a couple of weeks ago and found it to be easy to use, fast and accurate. Even if you're only throwing in pennies, nickles, and dimes, a 750 ml sized jar can easily yield $30 or $40.

      BTW. If you find other branches piloting these machines, please post the location in a comment on this article!

      Update: Thanks to Dan Matan for getting a list of pilot branches. His original article can be found here.
      • 1440 Royal York Road (at La Rose north of Eglington) Etobicoke, ON M9P 3B1
      • 10908 Hurontario Street (at Wanless) Brampton, ON. L7A 3R9
      • 808 York Mills Road (at Leslie) Toronto, ON. M3B 1X8
      • 5000 New Street (at Appleby Line) Burlington, ON. L7L 1V1
      • 5887 Main Street (at West Lawn Cr) Stoufville, ON. L4A 1N2
      • 1684 Danforth Ave (at Woodington) Toronto, ON. M4C 1H6
      • 1119 Fennell Ave E. (at Upper Ottawa) Hamilton, ON. L8T 1S2
      • 1260 Commissioners Rd W (at Boler) London, ON. N6K 1C7
      • 1005 Ottawa Street N (at River Road) Kitchener, ON. N2A 1H2
      • 1365 Fanshawe Pk Rd W (at Hyde Park) London, ON. N6G 0E3

      Tuesday, September 23, 2008

      Planets and Stars - video - Just how big are they?

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      Click here to see a very interesting video over at Astropixie showing the relative sizes of the planets and stars. The video starts with Pluto and works through our solar system to the Sun. Next it progresses through a series of well known stars until it reaches the colossal VV Cephi (a candidate for the largest known star) making even the mighty Betelgeuse look tiny.

      I found this video reminiscent of the famous IBM Powers of 10 video that used to play at the Ontario Science Centre.

      DDO Astronomers renew outreach program - Your Real Sky

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      While the David Dunlop Observatory is now closed, two of the astronomers that ran the public outreach program for schools, Scouting, and Guide groups will continue to offer youth focused astronomy programs near the site of the old observatory.

      Dr's Tuba Koktay and Ian Shelton have started a new night time Scout and Guide program for the fall of 2008 at Observatory Park and the 16th Avenue Public School in Richmond Hill. Additionally, they have a daytime program for schools.

      The program called "Your Real Sky" covers finding your way about the nighttime sky, learning about constellations and the wonders of the nighttime sky, lots of time for questions, and badge requirements.

      On clear nights, there will be outdoor observing by eye, binocular, and small telescope. On cloudy nights, they can simulate the nighttime sky in their classroom.

      For more information on their program there is a downloadable information sheet with details and contact information available here.

      The 433rd was twice able to attend their program at the DDO. We found their presentations both informative and fun. Our recent visit can be found here.

      Sunday, September 21, 2008

      More Scouting insight at Scoutmaster

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      If you don't know Clarke Green's Scoutmaster blog, I recommend you check it out. Clarke often has insightful posts that are well worth reading. I'd like to bring some articles on leadership from this past summer to your attention:
      I've written about Clarke's blog before in Gone Home too soon ....

      BTW. Scoutmaster is one of the blogs feartured in my blogroll. (Over on the side bar ... scroll down).

      Pyro Scouts and Boy Scout Trail

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      Over at BoyScout Trail in I saw a Scoutmaster Musing blog article titled Pyro Scouts that caught my attention. This insightful piece about Scouts who get fascinated by camp fires provides a good suggestion for channelling their curiosity.

      I've wanted to talk about Boy Scout Trail for some time. It's one of the sites I follow via Web Feeds. It's a great resource for Scouters - so check it out.

      Wednesday, September 17, 2008

      Mang interviewed in Etobicoke Guardian

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      Image courtesy of Ian Kelso
      This week the Etobicoke Guardian has an article on page 3 titled "Twinkle, Twinkle, Dying Star ...". It can be found online as Amateur astronomer gets access to space telescope about my winning one of the My Own Space Telescope proposals to use MOST: Canada's First Space Telescope.

      See also: Mang gets a space telescope!

      Thanks to Tamara Shephard and Ian Kelso of the Guardian.

      Double Iridium Flare spotted at the 433rd!

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      Last night we had our first meeting of the year with 17 Cubs coming out and a couple that couldn't make it. The majority are returning Cubs from last year, with one transfer and 3 new chums.

      One of the orders of business was a badge survey to see where we all were. Several of our Cubs need to get some previously earned badges sewn on. (Hint to Mom's and Dad's - if your Cub does the sewing it counts towards a badge requirement).

      Most of the Cubs are within one or two requirements of their Space Exploration badges! If they can design/draw their own space suit or vehicle and bring it in will get many of them there.


      The night was clear but with a lot of light around the Church we wouldn't have much of an opportunity to see constellations, but that wasn't what we came to see. At 8:15pm we stepped outside the Church to see an Iridium Flare.

      I'd previously looked up the schedule through the Heavens Above link from the extended clear sky chart on What's Up @ Lloyd Manor Park - Sky Forecast. And at 8:19pm we saw a satellite passing below and to the west of the north star flare. (I love the fact that you can set the alarm on your cell phone on the forecast and it's right on). Surprisingly, about 40 seconds later, we saw a second following satellite flare! (Normally, double flares are due to replacements).

      For last nights schedule of Iridium #18, see this. I'm not sure how long these double flares run, but if you're an Iridium watcher you may be able to catch it again.


      Additionally, our sharp eyed Cubs spotted a "satellite" moving through Cygnus and Lyra toward the north east at 8:24. It turns out to be a Russian Cosmos #1093 rocket booster launched in 1979.

      For a track of this rocket booster, see this.

      Saturday, September 13, 2008

      What's Up @ Lloyd Manor Park - Sky Forecast

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      Bookmark this article if you want to know what's up at Lloyd Manor Park.

      Check out the following:

      • Clear Sky Chart for your astronomy and observing weather forecast and a link to the Camp website - for more see Weather forecasts for Stargazers
      • Heavens Above for observing forecasts and charts covering the International Space Station, Satellites, Planets, Comets, and Iridium flares as seen from the park
      • Google Maps for a look at the park

      Thursday, September 11, 2008

      What's up @ Blue Springs Scout Reserve - Sky Forecast

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      Bookmark this article if you're planning a trip to the Blue Springs Scout Reserve!

      Check out the following:

      • Clear Sky Chart for your astronomy and observing weather forecast and a link to the Camp website - for more see Weather forecasts for Stargazers
      • Heavens Above for observing forecasts and charts covering the International Space Station, Satellites, Planets, Comets, and Iridium flares as seen from the site
      • Google Maps for a look at the camp. The pin in the map is near the "Station House" and the clearing is tight. Better clearings are available on the entry road to station and the very large fields south and west across the 6th line about 1/2km away.
      I'll add other camps and locations in the near future.

      Carnival of Space #70 is up at Orbital Hub

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      A new Carnival is up with a new guest host. Check out Carnival of Space #70 at Orbital Hub and congratulate DJ on a good article.

      Tuesday, September 9, 2008

      Background Checks and Scouting

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      Like many organizations Scouting requires leaders and volunteers to go through regular background checks. This is part of Scouting's due diligence to protect our members.

      From time to time I hear questions from parents and prospective volunteers about Scouting background checks, such as how well they work or what to expect from the process.

      For the most part these processes operate behind the scenes and are invisible. However, when the processes don't work as expected they can create a lot of disruption or worse. Another problem is that they don't always work as people expect. This leads to perceived to failures.

      Background checking is a tool with limitations. How well we understand these limitations will give us a realistic perspective and can help head off problems.

      In general, there are a number of types of background checks and many of them are performed regularly:
      • Governments use background checks for security clearances. These range from simple to very complex and the checks at higher levels can be very intense and intrusive.
      • Businesses use a variety of background checks: employment history, credit, criminal, some even use checks for money laundering and financing terrorists. Criminal checks catch things like convictions. One disadvantage is that they are unlikely to turn up anything on someone who has never been caught.
      • Organizations that work with youth or the elderly need something more. It's called a Vulnerable Sector Background Check. All Scouting personnel get one every few years. These checks go beyond the criminal background checks. Exactly how far, I don't know, but I am told that it includes things other than convictions. They specifically look for pardoned sex offenders, charges without convictions, and they may include information on mental health that may be in police records. With these you have a better chance of catching someone earlier even if they don't have a prior conviction.
      While there are a number of companies that provide these background checking services, both Criminal and Vulnerable Sector checks can also be arranged easily through most police departments.

      One thing to understand with any kind of test of this kind is that there are three possible outcomes:
      • Accurate results.
      • False negatives.
      • False positives.
      A false negative is when some gets a pass but shouldn't. Periodically checking raises the chances of correcting these. False negatives are both worrisome and hard to detect. In fact they get detected when someone gets caught and then it's discovered they were not picked up and should be. These aren't common or the media would be full of such stories. And it is important to remember this only has a chance of working if the person has had some previous problems.

      A false positive is when someone gets flagged and shouldn't. These are more common. In fact you are reasonably likely to see one if you wait long enough. If it's you or even someone you know, it will be stressful. Careful handling, discretion, and sensitivity by everyone involved is required. The person flagged will have to step aside for a time until a followup check is made. That usually involves more information, a trip to a police station and possibly fingerprints. Once everything is checked out these are usually cleared up. And always, the information should be handled as extremely sensitive and rigorously protected.

      I have seen a number people caught by false positives. In general, they have been caused by lack of accurate information, coincidence, or identity theft. And all worked out correctly.

      There is a darker side to background checks which raises some privacy and human rights concerns. It's not always clear what other information can turn up and how that could affect both individuals and groups. When minor or unrelated history is turned up, taking a zero-tolerance policy may do more harm than good. Not only will an individual be affected, but an organization may loose a valuable person.

      To sum up, Scouting background checks are going to make our youth members safer. Understanding the process and its limitations will help everyone involved to get these working as smoothly as possible and deal with the inevitable hiccups.

      Thursday, August 28, 2008

      Hot Jupiter Trojans! MOST finds exoasteroids?

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      When putting together Mang gets a space telescope! I found an abstract of a paper at The Science of Most. I haven't read the full paper yet, but if I read this correctly the MOST team may have found a Trojan asteroid swarm accompanying HD 209458b an exoplanet orbiting a sun like star about 150 light years away.

      This is especially impressive given that the actual telescope in MOST is smaller than many amateur scopes!

      The paper can be found here Searching for asteroids around another star.

      I may be missing something but, I've never heard of an exoasteroid discovery before. It never even occurred to me that it they could be detected with current telescopes.

      Now why is this not very big news?

      Given the conservative title of the article and a quick peek at it, I gather that the results are preliminary but promising. It sounds like they are still sorting out some details like trying to eliminate possible noise.

      Still if it isn't conclusive yet, the game is definitely afoot.

      Update: A quick check indicates that exosolar asteroids are new. Just not as new as I'd originally thought. Still, they've never made big mainstream news the way exoplanets have.

      Wednesday, August 27, 2008

      Mang gets a space telescope!

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      Last year the team responsible for Canada's very successful space telescope, MOST (Microvariability & Oscillations of STars), opened the door to the public to propose stars to be studied (see My Own Space Telescope).

      MOST packs a lot of power in a very small package. It has the ability to detect the tiniest variations in the light of other stars and track them over long periods of time. It has been used for astroseismology and to detect planets and maybe even asteroids[1] orbiting other stars (see The Science of Most)! There is even a "singing star" called Eta Bootis.
      Today the Science team announced two successful proposals (see Amateur Astronomers Win Time on Canada’s MOST Space Telescope ). These were Gordon Sarty a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) and myself! Congratulations Gordon!

      I picked Betelgeuse (see this NASA Images page on Betelgeuse for more information). It's a celebrity. As one of the largest, brightest and best known stars in our sky, it holds a lot of fascination. All of our Cubs and Scouts know it!

      Here are some Betelgeuse facts:
      • Betelgeuse is a monster, a Red Supergiant. If Betelgeuse were here, we'd be inside it!
      • It pulsates semi-regularly, swelling up and down vast distances (think of the orbits of Mars and Jupiter) over a 5-6 year period.
      • It was the first star outside our solar system to have its disk photographed.
      • It has had truly massive spots on its face.
      • Despite the vast size of Betelgeuse, it weighs less than 30 times our own Sun and has been described as a red hot vacuum (1/10,000th of an atmosphere on average).
      • Unlike our own Sun, it's chromosphere extends many times the diamater of its photosphere. Think of the orbit of Neptune!
      • It will likely die in a supernova explosion. Possibly in the relatively near future. It's too far away (> 400 LY) and pointed the wrong way to hurt us. But when it does explode, it will likely be brighter than the Moon and possibly visible in the day.
      • The now closed McLaughlin Planetarium had a scale model of a number of stars at the base of the stairs going to the theatre dome. The Sun was pea sized about 1/3". Betelgeuse (or a segment of it) was on the floor and over 15' in diameter!
      • Our little Sun would not be visible from Betelgeuse!
      • It would be easy to believe Betelgeuse is the largest star in our galaxy. It isn't. It's just the best known big star!
      I'm sure Betelgeuse holds many secrets, what can we find out about them?
      • Could it have exoplanets and could we detect them?
      • What is the nature of its variability and massive spots?
      • Might we get a better idea of its mass, age and when it might explode?
      • What might we learn anything of about our own Sun and it's possible fate?
      There are lots of reasons to study Betelgeuse and perhaps MOST can answer some of these questions. I'm excited to see if we can find out the answers. I'm sure the Cubs and Scouts will be too.

      Update: If I read this correctly they may have found a Trojan asteroid swarm around HD 209458b see Searching for asteroids around another star. Why is this not very big news?

      Other Related: Astronomical distances are .... (well) astronomical