Saturn and Mars’s Turn to Shine

Earlier this month Venus, Jupiter and the waning crescent Moon came together for a beautiful alignment. We are lucky again this month as on July 24 the waxing crescent Moon will pass close to Saturn and Mars shortly after sunset over on the western horizon. You should be able to see this lovely trio from around 21h30 CDT to just before 23h00 CDT.

Looking towards the southern horizon from Winnipeg at 22h30 CDT. (Image taken from Starry Night Orion Special Edition)

Why Jog When You Can Joggle

When I started at The Manitoba Museum we had the Circus! exhibit on. It was a great interactive display that looked at the science under the big top. Off to one side of the exhibit floor was a purple cart containing various juggling items, such as juggling balls and rings, the Diablo and Devil Sticks.

As an animator it was part of my job encourage visitors to explore all aspects of the exhibit, but at the time I didn’t know how to juggle and was feeling sheepish when visitors asked to either see how juggling worked or wanted to learn how to do it themselves.

This is when Len, one of my co-workers, stepped in. One of Len’s many hidden talents is being able to juggle; the other is finding situations where he can cause a little harmless trouble to lighten the day.

Len quickly took me under his wing and walked me through the basic steps of juggling in about ten minutes. In so doing he killed two birds for me with one juggling ball. I now had the basics to juggle and a great technique to teach visitors.

Over the weeks Len and I would pick up the juggling balls whenever the exhibit was quiet between school groups and practice. Len would keep me motivated by appealing to my competitive side and show me some new trick that he’d learnt and challenge me to get it. I didn’t always manage, but I did learn a couple cool moves this way to add to my repertoire.

As the one up man ship continued, Len jogged around the exhibit one day while juggling and at that moment a devious plan was born. Len and I would train to joggle (that’s juggling while jogging) the Manitoba Marathon Relay. We would of course need other team members, but the idea was now in the back of our minds.

As time went on we did manage to coerce a couple other people into the idea, but the run was sometime after the exhibit had closed and I fell negligent in keeping up my juggling outside of work.

The Manitoba Marathon came and went and Len began to wonder if our joggling debut would ever come to pass. Then he stumbled on the perfect event for us: The Grand Beach Sun Run! A short 5 km fun run that we could to without fear of killing too many people if we dropped our balls.

In a moment of what many might call insanity I agreed under the proviso that I test out my running skills before the run. So one week before the run I laced on my running shoes for the first time in probably a decade and went for a jog. By some miracle I managed to get my way through about 3 km, at that point I figured I could walk the rest of the 5 km at the run.

Len and I register for the Grand Beach Sun Run. We tried to tell them we were with JAM (Joggler’s Association of Manitoba) for the discount, but they wouldn’t buy it.

Then came the big day, July 15th. That morning I had already gotten up early to catch the conjunction with another co-worker. With no luck seeing the conjunction, I head off to got my groupies, my parent’s who could just not pass up an opportunity to see what crazy shenanigans I had gotten myself into, and met up with Len at a Tim Horton’s before driving out to Grand Beach.

Len and I registered, stretched and warmed up turning a couple heads and creating a great many smiles.

Warming up before the run

Len and I placed ourselves very strategically at the back of the pack so as not to kill anyone if we dropped a ball. When the horn went off, we took off at our slow pace just a few meters ahead of the walkers that were also doing the 5 km.

We encouraged each other on, we joked with race marshals as we joggled passed and, most importantly, we gave a great many cottagers something to talk about as they looked out their widows having breakfast.

When we hit the mid point, I was still going strong. I credit the rhythmic movement of my balls that probably half hypnotized my body into keep going.

The last stretch going down the beach

By the end Len and I joggled the whole 5 km and we did it in about 45 min., a full 15 min. bellow what we thought it would take us! Regrettably, the walkers lapped us on the home stretch, but next year they may not be so lucky.

Catching our breath at the end

One last juggle

My parents took a few videos, but without a video editor I can’t shrink them enough to up load them. I’ll try and figure something out and get them up as soon as possible. Sorry.

They Came From Outer Space

When a co-worker and I went out to catch the conjunction between the Moon, Venus and Jupiter on Saturday the 15th, we were unfortunately greeted with a lot of smoke blowing in from the west. We did get a couple pictures of the moon, but the two planets never showed at the same time through the smoke and clouds. We were however visited by Winnipeg’s very own police helicopter … or was it perhaps something a little more out of this world? I’ll let you decide.

Thank fully I did catch the two planets and the Moon on the 14th when I was testing out my camera and trying to figure out its settings.

Enjoy the photos.

An unexpected visitor while star waiting for the smoke to part to reveal the July 15 Venus, Moon, Jupiter conjunction.

Jupiter and the Moon is mostly what we saw. The clouds Never parted to reveal Venus.

The three bodies getting close to their alignment on July 14.

As I was leaving the shoot on the 14th, I happened to look back and catch the three celestial objects peaking out from the tree.

I re-positioned myself and got this last shot before going back home and to bed.

A Solution for Mounting A Point and Shoot Camera to your Telescope

When I saw the transit of Venus, part of the fun I had was snapping a few pictures and then later putting them together to make a stacked image of the transit. To get my pictures I used the afocal method by simply holding up my simple point and shoot camera to the eyepiece and snapping a few pictures. As I don’t have the steadiest hands in the world, this would sometimes give me shaking images.

Recently, I wanted to add a little more stability to my astrophotography without having to upgrade my little point and shoot camera (as my little Canon Powershot A570 and I have had some great adventures). I decided to started looking at various universal mounts that would hang my camera right onto the eyepiece.

I tried a couple universal camera mounts from friends, but they just weren’t for me. They worked well, but I found that setting them up was awkward and a little frustrating at times.  I also found that I would often leave one of my two eyepieces in the mount to avoid the hassle of setting it up every time I went out, leaving me with just the other one to stargaze with.

Here I’ll add a little disclaimer. If you are just getting into astrophotography and are not sure about the hobby, I would suggest using the handheld method or at most investing in a universal mount. If you find yourself still hooked a little while down the road you can look into some other options, like the one that follows.

Looking for another solution I turned to my camera. One of the neat things about the A570 when it came out was that you could buy an adapter to mount a telephoto or wide-angle lens on it. I never bought the adapter, thinking I could always pick it up later if I wanted. Of course, my camera quickly fell out of date and the adapters disappeared just as quickly from local suppliers.

I searched the internet to see if these adapters still existed somewhere and to see if someone had found a way to jury-rig them for astrophotography. After various permutations of Canon A570, lens, adapter and astrophotography, I stumbled on

They had all kinds of adapters for SLRs, DSLRs and for a number of point and shoot models as well. I browsed through their catalogue and sure enough found one for my camera that would allow me to attach a T-ring to my camera.

I e-mailed back and forth with one of their sales reps to make sure it would work with my camera and to find out what other pieces I would need to get the hole thing up and running. They offered great help with good advice and in the end they pointed me to a kit with the adapter, T-ring and a digital T-ring adapter for an eyepiece. I also let myself splurge and I picked up the MaxView 40 eyepiece that I saw on one of their pages.

I had been considering getting a low power eyepiece for some time and the fact that the MaxView’s eyeguard screws off to reveal a T-thread made it a great two-in -one for me that I didn’t want to pass up.

In the end everything ran me more than a universal camera mount (about a $160 for everything compared to $30 to $50 for a universal mount), but I am having a great time just using the eyepiece and am also enjoying the slow, and at times frustrating, learning curve of this great new hobby. Now that you’ve read through this lengthy post, here are some photos I’ve managed to take with my new equipment.

The Waning Crescent Moon

The waning crescent Moon take with my Orion GoScope, the ViewMax 40 eyepiece and my new camera adapter.

Jupiter and tow of its moons

Jupiter and a couple of its moons (a little over exposed) using my camera mounted to my 10mm eyepiece.

An Alignment to Catch

If you feel like getting up early this coming Sunday you will not be disappointed by the sights in the predawn sky. Towards four in the morning of July 15, you can catch a conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the waning crescent Moon if you look to the north-east. Adding to the beauty will be the proximity of the Pleiades.

If you are more adventurous, you can go out on the evenings of the 14th, 15th and 16th an hour before sunrise and watch the position of the crescent Moon change over the course of the three nights. The Moon will start West of Jupiter on the 14th, settle in between the two planets on the 15th and end to the east of Venus on the 16th.

This event promises to be a wonderful sight for naked eye and telescope observers alike. Even photographers can take advantage of the view with the right equipment.

For a look of what you can see over the course of the three nights, take a look at this diagram from Sky and Telescope.

Building the Big Dipper

[NOTE: Since writing this post I realized that I had the orientation of the dipper all wrong. I realized this when double checking the location I used for Dubhe, the alpha star and the upper of the pointer stars. In the photo where I traced out the Big Dipper constellation I realized that Dubhe was actually the bottom star in the orientation I was looking at the model. I’ve added some photos to correct this and am now going over things to see where I went wrong with some of the calculations because some stars are clearly in the wrong place. Back to the drawing board.]

When we look at the stars we often feel that we can just reach up and pluck them out of the sky, like grapes hanging on a vine. Or, if we are drawing out the constellations, we see the stars as points on a giant one-dimensional game of connect the dots. The truth is that the stars in constellations dot all points of our three-dimensional space. Some are closer to us while others lie at incredible distances away from us.

To help illustrate this concept, and just to have a little fun in my down time, I decided to build a scale 3D model of the Big Dipper. First I had to completely relearn my basic trigonometry and thankfully a couple of my co-workers were more than happy to sit down and walk me through everything I had forgotten since my one physics course in university.

After that I had to find the distances to the stars and their positions in the sky with Declination and Right Ascension. Having access to a copy of Starry Night definitely helped on this front. The last thing to do was to figure out how to convert spherical coordinates into 3D Cartesian coordinates.

Here again one of my co-workers came to the rescue and supplied with three basic formulas for the conversion. Using x = r Sin q Cos f ; y = r Sin q Sin f and z = Cos q (where q was Declination in degrees, f was Right Ascension in degrees and r was distance from the Earth in Light Years) I sat down with pencil, paper and calculator and set to work.

There is something satisfying about doing match sometimes.

Once I had all my Cartesian coordinates I plotted out all my x and y values on a 2D grid using 1 cm as 10 Light Years (LY). Using the grid as I guide, I then poked holes into a cardboard box. For my z co-ordinates I simply used pipe cleaners to hold small balls of plasticine at the right heights above the box.

Two dimensions down, one to go.


A wonderful 3D model of the Big Dipper.

With everything in place I took a look at my 3D model. It turns out I had to turn the box upside down to see the Dipper when I was hopping to keep it upright on the table. I also think the stars are mirrored from how they appear in the sky at this time of year, but I am still very happy with the end result as it was great fun getting to use math outside of the class room and seeing all the stars in 3D space.


The Big Dipper Upside Down. (NOTE: Since posting I've realized this is actually right side up.)

Right side up, but mirrored. Flipping it would put the furthest star too closest to Earth. (NOTE: Since posting I've realized this is actually upside down.)

The Big Dipper drawn out. It's not perfect, but not far off either. (This is a mirrored upside down view, see bellow for why.)

After checking Dubhe's position I saw that it was in the wrong place when looking from this orientation.


The Big Dipper oriented the right way with Dubhe in the right place. Clearly some of my calculations out put a couple of the other stars in the wrong locations.

The Bigger Dipper probably isn’t the best example of stars at different distances forming a constellation, as they are all within 40 LY of each other, but it still fun to see and look at it from different angles that we don’t see from Earth. Next I think I’ll try and correct the errors in my calculations and make a larger model. After that, Orion here I come.

From the side we see that most of the stars are pretty close together, except for Dubhe which is the farthest away from the Earth at 124 LY.