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Ottawa Skyline

Astronomy can be enjoyed in many ways: There are probably more, but these come to mind. Some of these are like textbook astronomy. But some of us like to get out under the sky and see them for ourselves. When it comes to passing it on to others, we try to record what we see.

We take a lot of pictures so we can bring the sky into the classroom. As time permits, we will post a images here to show that an urban observing site is not so bad - at least for digital photography. I am not a keen astrophotographer, so the images I will be posting here will not be herculean efforts of stamina. But I think they are neat.

If you would like to use any of these, contact us at starlight theatre.


The Telescope

TelescopeFor the telescopic shots from the City, I use this 32 cm f/4 reflecting telescope. It is mounted on a home made English Mount that I finished in the spring of 2007. The Telescope's name is "FRED". This sounds better than "IT" or "THE THING".

I had made the mirror back in the early 1970's and refurbished the Optical Tube Assembly (OTA) in 2006. I choose this mount design to off-load the torque from the south polar drive bearings. The drive unit is one that was handed down to me. Although very accurate, it could not to the load of the 25 kg OTA. I still have some work to do on the mount to reduce vibration. It is minor but I know the source and I can fix it. I have added a fan to draw in ambient air, speed the cooling of the optics and thin down the thermal boundary layer on the mirror. There are a few more conveniences I would like to add when I can scrounge the gears and motors to make them happen.

Comet Holms

Comet Holms

This comet flared up in October 2007 from obsurity to one of the brighest in the last few decades. It came as a welcome addition to our northern skies after we were able to see so little of Comet McNaughton in 2006.

This image of Comet Holms was taken on November 8, 2007 as it very slowly drifted through the Constellation Perseus. It was reported to be about magnitude 2.7 (, or about as bright as delta Persei. This is pretty bright, but remember the comet's light is spread over the apparent area of about the full Moon.

The picture was taken with a Canon Rebel XT set at ISO 800 with FRED (see above) using a Celestron coma corrector. The exposure was 90 seconds.

At this time the comet was 1.621 A.U. (243 million km away). Based on this distance and angular size, the diameter of the comets head is about 1.6 million km - or about 4X the Earth-Moon distance. It is slowly drifting towards the northwest (upper right corner).

Mont Megantic Observatory


We attended a Dark Sky Preserve meeting at th MMO in September of 2007 representing the Royal Astonomical Society of Canada (RASC) Light Pollution Abatement Committee (LPAC). There were about 100 in attendance. During a tour of the 1.6 meter telescope, I took this picture of the dome with the Moon illuminating the left side and a "convenient" television camera light on the right side. The town of La Petrie is visible near the base of the mountain.

The meeting was in the recognition of the site as the first Internation Darksky Association (IDA) "International Dark Sky" Site.

Staff at the Observatory worked with surrounding municipalities to reduce their sky glow. It was reported the program was so successful that it was "like turning back the clock by 30 years".


Alberio Albireo is a faint beautiful double star in the centre of the the Summer Triangle that is formed by the three bright stars: Deneb of Cygnus the swan, Vega of Lyra the harp and Altair of Aquila the eagle. The two stars of Albireo can be "spilt" with steadily held binoculars but a telescope makes it easy.

The two components appear different colours - which is the primary attraction. These colours are more prominent when the stars are viewed slightly out of focus. This lets your eye-brain system work better to descern the colours. Their close proximetry (34 arc seconds) makes it easy for us to distinguish the colour difference.

These pictures were taken at an effective focal length of 10 meters - so they are seen at pretty high magnification. The dark centre in the lower (out of focus images) is the shadow of the telescope's secondary mirror.

The stars of Alberio may be a physical pair. At a distance of about 385 light-years, their separation is about 3-light-weeks apart (asuuming we are seeing the two stars at their greatest distance) for an orbital period of about 100,000 years! This is much too long a time for use to confirm orbtal motion. It is not likely we are seeing their true separation so, the gravitational attraction may be very weak precluding a physical binary.

The yellow star is a K3 II (II = giant). This type of star would have a mass of about 5 times that of our sun. Having used up its hydrogen fuel in its core, it has expanded to about 50 times the diameter of our Sun and the surface cooled to 4400 K. The low temperature results in its ruddy colour.

The blue star is a B8V spectral class witha a mass of 3.3X that of the Sun. It is still fusing hydrogen into helium in its core which defines it as a Main Sequence star (V = Main Sequence star). The temperture of its photosphere is about 12,100 K (based on the energy levels of elements identified it its spectrum). The higher mass K3 star has used up its core hydrogen at a faster rate than its companion causing it to "age" faster than the lower mass Main Sequence star. This suggests the stars could have formed at about the same time, but estimating the precise ages of stars is a tricky business.

There is a much fainter star orbiting the brighter component, but it is too close to the bright star for us to see it visually.

The mottling in the "donuts" is caused by poor "seeing". Warm and cool cells of air rise and fall along the line of sight through the atmosphere. This causes the focus and position of the images to vary. The out-of-focus images let us see this turbulence and even determine distance to the principal source by refocusing on the structure of the turbulence. Calculations in the shift of the focus indicate that it is about 3.8 km.

All this being said - it is still a beautiful sight through the telescope.

Northern Sky

Northern Sky Even though I have a telescope, there are many clear evenings when I prefer to sit back an look at the stars without any optical aid. I can look out our screened veranda towards the north to see the Big and Little Dippers wheel around the North Star. The North Star is the at the end of the handle in the Little Dipper in the top right corner.

There is a good and sad side to this picture. I can now see the northern sky, but two beautiful tall white pines once stood hiding the northern sky. One died following the Great Ice Storm in Eastern Ontario and the other was "blown up" by a lightning strike. Although once a bitter-sweet view, I am growing accustom to it.

You may detect a bit of orange in the lower right corner. This is light from a nearby town reflecting off clouds. The Moon was illuminating the trees and giving a bluish tint to the sky. I have reduced the colour saturation to make the scene appear as it did to my eyes.

Lights from cottages across the lake have increased over the last two decades as a some "urbanites" invade the solitude of the country with their city-ways. I am actively working on changing this urban perspective with articles in local papers and talks to civic groups.

Ground Fog

Northern Sky The thermodynamics of the early morning air are wonderful. As the air cools through the dew point, the air becomes saturated with moisture soaks grass and causes water to condense and roll down the surface of my observatory dome.

If the air is really calm, ground fog will develop. My observing deck is high enough to keep me above this ground hugging cloud. On this night the fog formed late in the evening and the light of the first quarter Moon backlit the fine water droplets making the phenomena particularly vivid.

Usually this steady air is great for observing fine details on planetary objects, but not this night. The source of bad "seeing" may have helped to produce those clouds.

Moon - Midnight to Dawn

Last Quarter Moon

Toronto Skyline

Toronto Skyline This image was taken in the late 1990's looking north from the "island" over the City of Toronto, Ontario.

Urban development has continued so this view is no longer there. Pricey condominiums have been built to hide the "buildings of character" - the Skydome Stadium and the CN Tower on the left.

But the condominium dwellers did not entirely get the upper hand. A couple of marinas have turned on floodlights that shin across channel into all the waterside windows.

The view of a near pristine sky over Lake Ontario is no more. Looking out they are faced with searchlights illuminating their private rooms.

Ottawa Skyline

Ottawa Skyline This image was taken in 2008 from Bate Island in the Ottawa River looking over the City of Ottawa, Ontario. The Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings is near the centre of the image.

Most of the white lights are from office space. In the "old days" (urban myth or not) it was cheeper to wire buildings with out wall switches and relied on a few strategic switches. Old plans seem to perpetuate, so perhaps the old ways are continuing - even though we know it s iver y wasteful. Sound familiar?

The amber lighting we see in the image at the top of this page are from the overall high-pressure sodium streetlights.

Vancouver Skyline

Ottawa Skyline This is the Vancouver skyline looking east from one of the hotels that overlook North Vancouver - located out of frame to the left. The colour of the sky was particularly odd that evening. The picture was taken in March of 2010.

Observatory Skyline

Sky May 12 2007 This image was taken at my observatory (see the edge of the dome on the left) in 2007. I took it as an example of the impact of urban sky glow (80 km away) on our rural skies. The amber lights from the City of Ottawa are on the right, the white lights on the right are from car dealerships about 20 km away. The sky glow on the left is from a town also 20 km away.

For those interested in the stars, the constellation of Cassiopeia is just to the upper-right of the dome and the northwest corner of Pegasus is above the sky glow on the right. As it rises, the "square" asterism is titled into a diamond shape. The stars Matar and Scheat are at the top of the diamond and the left had star of the diamond is Alpheratz, the brightest star of the constellation of Andromeda.

The small constellation Lacerta (the lizard) is near the top centre of the picture. It resembles a "backward" Cassiopeia that is about half its size.

The Andromeda galaxy (cateloged as Messier 31) is down and to the right of Cassiopea and looks like a small faint fussy line.

Aquatic Life

Aquatic Animal A visit to the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park is a nice way to pass the time during a (typical) rainy day. The illumination in their displays is good for visual observation, but without a good camera it doesn't allow short enough exposures to feeeze the motion of most creatures on display. I think this is a Catostylus mosaicus species jellyfish about 2 cm long, but I am not an expert. These are shown in motion on YouTube (

I was particularly interested in this "jellyfish" because I woundered if the light from the top and side would affect its swimming pattern. It continued in circles parallel to the plane of the display window's glass. They prey on zooplancton, of which at least some are nocturnal emerge at nighttime and descend in the morning as part of their Diel (daily) Verticial Migration. It is a believed by some researchers that this is a predator avoidance behaviour that is triggered by ambient light levels.

Big Fish

Large Fish This image was also taken at the Vancouver Aquarium. It was an imposing view as the fish came towards me.


Large Fish My son has a "Crested Gecko" he calls "Stealthy". It can stay still for a long time, which makes it easy to take a close-up picture him.

Feeding Heron

Feeding Heron During a visit to Vancouver, I caught a crane in the process of eating. Well, it caught the fish but it stood there for over 15 minutes with the fish in his mouth without eating it. Perhaps the people standing on the embankment made the bird nervous.


Otter This picture was taken at the Toronto Zoo. The otter was swimming around and around for a very long time.

Shoreline Vegetation

Shoreline Vegetation On some property that was stripped of its topsoil before I acquired it. The low lying areas are now large ponds that retain water throughout the summer. I have ben watching the development of plant life in these ponds. They are too shallow for fish but it is well suited to frogs and insects.

In the future, I hope to set up a light box to investigate the the impact of nocturnal lighting on the development of the aquatic plants.


Tropical Waterfall This was taken at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. So, yes it was "engineered".


Snowflakes The shape of snowfakes depend on the humidity and temperature of the air. It is also affected by the presence of a surface. This accummulation fell during the early morning and settled onto the glass of my car.

Tree Canopy

Tree Canopy The contrast between two of the primary colours can be very "soothing" to the eye. Looking straight up at the canopy of a tree silhouetted against a deep blue sky can be a bit strenuous.

This tree is at least 60-years old since I clearly remember it when I was very young. Three of its neighbours have come down because of an ice storm, a lightning strike and a bug infestation.

Observatory Panorama
The artificial sky glow from urban areas are expanding out from the city boundaries. They can be seen from ever greater distances. My observatory was once under dark skies, but not any more. The sky (21.5 magnitudes / sq. arcsecond) is still reasonable given that it is only an hour's drive from my house. However, I no longer look towards my northern sky.

The pictures for this panorama were taken in the summer of 2008. Our efforts to reduce the growth rate of light pollution have had a noticeable effect, but they haven't halted the ballooning light domes - especially those over the smaller towns.

Perplexing Meal

Gull Eating This image was taken along the sea wall in Vancouver, British Columbia. What probably began as a lucky meal turned out to be lesson in problem solving for the bird. Surprizingly, the bird was able to swallow the starfish but I don't know how well it would fair afterwards. I watch it for over 30-minutes until it was able to orient his meal (by putting it down and pickingit up again) so that it could be swallowed. It looked like a painful process.

Roadway Glare

Roadway Glare I have heard a few arguments about roadway lighting. One has to do with the use of full cut-off, or fully shielded, light fixtures. I don't like lights that shine directly into my eyes. To me, they distract my attention and even mask hazards beside the road. In my home town they were relamping a main street after reconstruction of the road. This picture shows the project in process.

The nearby lights are fully shielded and those in the distance are the old non-shielded fixtures. There are three things you can carry away from this image. Not only is there less glare with the new lights and better visibility, but the new lights were selected to emit 1/2 the light used in other cities. I don't see a problem with this. Do you?

Second we are usually told that the use of fully shielded fixtures require more light poles. Well, the new fixtures used the same old poles without any problem.

The third observation is the extent of the visual clutter from retail lighting along the side of the road. This picture was taken at 2 am and ALL the businesses were closed (except for the McDonalds down the street) with minimal traffic. I wonder if the business owners knew how much money they would be saving if they turned off their advertising lights at midnight?

City of Toronto

City of Toronto Core High dining in Toronto may be to ride the carrosel restaurant near the top of the CN Tower. Every hour you get to see a panorama of the City. Here we are looking down at the downtown core spiked by the tall buildings of the business district.

From this vantage point, the concentration of skyscrapers is most evident. I took two images that provide an interesting sterio pair.

Reflection from a Glass Wall

Glass Wall Reflection Looking out of my hotel room I faced another high-rise building. Considering the positional and dimensional tolerances associated with a large building, I was impressed with the alignment of the windows on the opposite wall. The distortions are due to the warping of the glass and the alignment of each pane. As the wind blew about the buildings I could see the reflected image of my building changing as the varying aerodynamic pressure distorted the glass.

Downtown Streets

Downtown Streets Here is a nighttime view out my hotel room. In the lower left there is a wide boulevard. The streetlights are visible even though I am on the 32rd floor!

A significnat amount of light from these fixtures is not hitting the ground. Good shielded fixtures would not be visible from this height because the light would be directed downward. Better fixtures would have directed this up-light onto the ground making the illumination of the road more uniform. There is some reflection from my window.

Peeling Paint

Peeling Paint Umm. How to avoid work - take pictures. Instead of scraping, sanding, priming and painting this old shed, I chose to photograph it. I have been procrastinating for about 15-years!

Leaf Bed

Leaf Bed This was the beginning of a day's work. It was a 3-inch deep bed of leaves over half an acre of lawn. The sound of rustling leaves and the rhythm of raking is quite soothing - for about an hour. After 6-hours of gathering them up and hauling them off the growing compost heap, I look forward to a shower and a sit-down looking out once again to an expansive green lawn. And so it shall remain until, all-to-soon, it turns white with snow.

Stone Wall

Stone Wall I attended a presentation at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Canada. Just outside the grounds is a restored Martello Tower. This one was built to defend against the Americans in response to the threat of invation after a boundary dispute that resulted in the Oregon Crisis of 1844. The compromise was to set the border at the 49th parallel. Most of the disputed area is now southern British Columbia.

I thought the low Sun brought out some of the texture of the stones. Also the yellow sunlight contrasted with the blue light in the shadow from the clear sky.

Rusty Wheel

Rusty Wheel I had a casting made of one of my little creations. The sculptor who did the work had a number of pieces of art and old stuff lying about. This old wheel was one of them.

Rain Storm

Rain Storm A storm on a lake is not very pleasent if you are on a boad, but from the comfort of a cottage they can be exciting. At my home, the storms seem to avoid my property by passing from south to north (left to right) across the lake providing us with a grand view.

Milk Weed

Rain Storm This is just one of many milk weed plants in the field by my home. It was taken in late fall during one of my many walk-abouts.

Shore Lighting

Shoreline lighting When artificial light shines out over the water, it seems to be absorbed by the night with no harm done. When viewed in the glare of the light, it is a different story. A quiet rural lake is transformed into an industrial security zone. The rural ambiance is shattered. The silent inactivity haunts the area.

Light is required for the safe operation of some machinery when excellent visibility is necessary. This site on the right however, is a storage yard for boats. It is 11 pm and all workers have long since left for home. There is total silence. There are no security guards to see, or act on any vandalism in progress. Indeed, vandals can do what they wish unimpeded by the need for flashlights.

The glare of the flood lights prevent visibility for people on, an off site. Therefore this light is worst than wasteful. It can encourage vandalism and . This is typical of the "knee-jerk" reaction to security. It reduces visibility and encourages vandalism. It is an expensive strategy that misses the point of safety and security. Safety comes with visibility, not glare. And, security comes with on-site personnel not illumination instead of employees.

On the left side of the image we have outdoor lighting on private property. Some lighting is used to help the home owners see their land after dark. However, the light we see in this image was on throughout the winter after the owners closed up their building at the end of the summer. Although the lights were on all winter, there was no one home.

It is not the waste of electricity that is a shame, but the impact their artificial lighting has had on the neighbourhood. None of their neighbours could take advantage of the rural life style. The all-night illumination turned a quiet side road into an inner-city street.

Lawn Lights?

Lawn Light? All night, all year, even when no one is home. Two bright metal vapour fixtures in the front and back of the property disturb neighbours on each side of them, and even on the other shore across a lake. Since ther eis no one living on the site, there is no one to speck to to have them turned off, or shielded.

Island with Sky Glow

Urban Light Sprawl This is a small island in the Rideau Lakes of Ontario silhouted against the sky glow of a small town 10 km to the northeast. The white light to the right is the up-light from car dealerships on the edge of the town.

Residential Street Lighting

Low intensity Res-Lighting Here is a product that has been toted as an alternative to the high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps that are ubiquitous in urban areas. They are similar to florescent tubes, but have a longer life because they don't have electrical connections "through" the glass ampoule. The tubes and the light source is quite large compared to that of HPS bulbs. However they have been able to squeeze them into the fixture housing to produce a "Full Cut-off" luminaire with very little glare. The result is a relatively pleasing light.

The image has been adjusted to represent what I actually saw. You can see from the lack of illumination in the trees that the FCO shielding is minimizing light trespass onto neighbouring properties. This is a black and white image, but there was not much colour anyway without outdoor Christmas lights.

P.O. Box 79, Rideau Ferry, Ontario, CANADA, K0G 1W0, Tel: 1-800-278-2032, Fax: 613-283-0362