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Back To Basics

A few nights ago I set up my lxd75 with the 8″ SCT in the backyard to show my wife and a friend of ours a tour of the heavens.  Neither one of them had ever really had any experience looking through a telescope.  I was so excited to show them some of my favorite objects when disaster happened.   Having not set up the telescope in almost 2 years, I assembled the mount in my living room to test if everything was still working.   All was well, the mount slewed and even connected to my laptop so I could run it with my version of The Sky.  After setting up last night, I was having trouble finding my way around to polar align my mount.  I used to living in a darker location where Polaris was easily found.  I moved to a more urban area where the skies are really not great.  I thought I had found Polaris but it was way off from where my compass said north was.  Now I know that North and Polaris are not exactly the same, but they are pretty close.  Once I located what I thought was Polaris in the polar scope of my mount, I realized that the illuminated polar scope battery was dead making it impossible to figure out where to get the exact alignment.  I figured it would not really matter since it was a non imaging night.  As long as I was relatively north all would be well right?  I powered up the telescope, entered time and dated, and began the 2 star alignment process that meade has for finding objects.  This is where my “hell” of a night began.  Not only was the alignment way off from star it was trying to find, I did not have my finding scope on the telescope.   Using an 8″ f/10 SCT with no finding scope to center a star is near IMPOSSIBLE, especially on an GEM.  I powered down and tried the whole process over again to no avail.  As it got later, powering down a third time, I was was beginning to think that there would be nothing to look at tonight.  My wife and our friend didn’t have a problem, but I was frustrated and felt it was a waste of time.  I could not get it aligned so before breaking down I manually slewed to Mars and Jupiter.  I eventually found them in the eyepiece.  Mars was pretty low in the sky, in the muck of light pollution and very thin hazy clouds that were now moving in.  We were able to just see some dark shadowy details on the planet, but nothing was sharp.  Jupiter was a much more enjoyable view than Mars.  We were able to see some banding on the planet and 4 moons in an interesting pattern.  My wife and our friend were amazed at the view of Jupiter.  To me it sort of made the night worth it at this point.  I had forgotten what the experience of seeing an object for the first time is.  So I figured it was a good time to get back to basics.


Some things to do before the next time I set up:

  1. Binoculars – located the exact Polaris location in the backyard
  2. Set up the scope in the day time and train the drives on the LXD75
  3. Attach my Telerad finder and align it with the scope
  4. Create a list of objects that would be enjoyable in my heavily light polluted location

RAC Dinner

Tonight I attended the Rockland Astronomy Club’s annual dinner up in new york.  The night started off with some great appetizers and a disaronno on the rocks from Frank the bartender.  It was great meeting some new friends at the table I sat in.  The conversations moved from astronomy, to what everyone did for a living, and especially debates about the ridiculous national budget cuts for science research in America and the destruction of the manned space program in NASA (something that I was quite upset about when it happened late last year.)  The night transitioned to a warm welcome from the staff of RAC and announcements for the upcoming NEAF 2011 (20th year!)  For dinner we had clams, chicken marsala, Swedish meatballs, potatoes, and calimari…not the healthiest, but it was a special event.   After dinner was time for the door prizes.  I didn’t win anything this year, but winning a 12mm Naglar last year was enough for a while.   🙂

The highlight of the evening was a lecture by Charles Liu from the Hayden Planetarium in NYC.  His lecture was entitled “Galaxies and Our Cosmic Future.”  The talk was filled with humor and even singing!  “Black holes don’t suck!  If you fall into one you have a new home..”  or something like that…  He spoke in depth on galaxy luminosity functions and about the Cosmos project that he is involved in.  I enjoyed his lecture because of how simple he made these theories sound, especially to a non physicist.  Some coffee, more laughs, and chocolate cake ended the night.  I am very much looking forward to NEAF and the imaging conference coming up.  The Rockland Astronomy Club always outdoes itself with their events!

The night was an inspiration to me especially considering how little I have been able to sit under the stars the last few months.  Cold weather combined with lots of music rehearsals/productions has not allowed me to get out.  I also want to keep this blog updated a little more often than I have been.  Going to try to post a blog at least once per week on something related to astronomy.

Lunar Eclipse 2010

On December 21, 2010 at 5:27 UTC  a lunar eclipse occurred coinciding with the Winter Solstice for the northern hemisphere.  The last time this event occurred was in 1638 and is the second to happen in the entire common era.  The next time this event happens is 2092, I hope to be around for it!   The night was cold, 12:30am my time.  I gathered with about 70 people at the meadowlands environmental center’s observatory to view the eclipse.  There was hot chocolate and moonpies for everyone!  The 24″ telescope was open to the public and there were many other smaller telescopes set up in the parking lot.   I brought my 80mm refractor, dlsr, and a tripod to image this rare event.  I am so thankful to Dr. Sloan at the observatory for supplying me with a freshly charged battery for my Canon XS as mine decided to die halfway through the eclipse.  The following photo was taken between the hours of 1:17am and 3:17 am EST.

First Night Autoguiding

Well my guidescope project is done! I recently installed windows xp sp2 on my new macbook pro. Only reason for doing this is the desire to run certain astronomy applications that do not run under Mac OS (I hope these companies realize the superiority of mac’s and develop mac os versions). I am running PHD with the meade DSI pro as a camera on the lxd75 mount. Setting everything up was simple. First I polar aligned, then did a 2 star alignment for the autostar computer, slewed to Vega to focus the canon xs, and the DSI.

I had no idea what to expect using the PHD program.  I didn’t look at any instructions, I just hit buttons with what made logical sense.  The title of the program “Push Here Dummy” is pretty self explanatory.  On the provided graph, I noticed that the DEC was going way south.  I changed the exposure time from 1sec to 0.5sec on the camera, thinking that would solve the problem; it did not.  I pressed the little brain button and changed the Max Dec Duration from 150ms to 210ms.  This fixed my problem and the DEC/RA was running pretty stable.  Before packing it in I did a 6min exposure of NGC 6997, a mag 10 open cluster in the middle of the North American Nebula (NGC 7000).

I was looking at The Sky software and found that there are mag 14 stars in this image of NGC6997.  I am very happy considering I took these from my home, 25 miles outside NYC.

Saturn Spectacular

This past Saturday evening was the Saturn Spectacular observing event with the Rockland Astronomy Club at Anthony Wayne State Park, NY.  Lots of high clouds in the sky made for poor seeing but it was good to see all the people that turned out.  A personal highlight was two of my good friends who came up with me to view Saturn loved it.  It was the first time they had ever really experienced amateur astronomy, I know at least one is hooked a bit.  We observed Saturn with my 5″ refractor.  I broke out my binoviewer that night to get some 3d views.  I have to play with it to fine tune it, its been about a year since I last used it.  One other thing that I need to do is upgrade the focuser on the meade AR5.  The stock focuser simply sucks, its not smooth, plastic, and just aweful.  I am thinking about a moonlite or the scopestuff.com focuser.  One is $100 more than the other, so its something I have to think about.

Besides Saturn, we looked at M13, M51, M81, M82, and M57.  Its amazing how 4 hours of being out there and we only looked at a half dozen objects.  I originally set up the AT80 with the AR5, but the balance was off.

My only complaint for the night was parents who allow their kids to run all over the place.  I know they are only kids, but there are multiple thousands of dollars worth of equipment around, not a good place for kids to be “kids.”   It was a fun night, despite the seeing conditions.  I am looking forward to doing more with the Rockland Astronomy Club.

Earlier in the day I purchased this battery pack from walmart.  It was only $42.00 and works great.  Its 12v, 7AH.

NEAF 2010

Just returned from the two day astronomy extravaganza called NEAF (North East Astronomy Forum).  Alan Traino and the Rockland Astronomy Club really out did themselves yet again.  Over 120 vendors selling everything from BIG scopes to nuts-n-bolts and don’t forget the great guest speakers  like Dr. Pamela Gay (voice of Astronomy Cast) and the hosts of The Science Channel’s “The Meteorite Men.”

I snapped a couple hundred photos and decided to post a couple that I liked.  Enjoy!

William D. McDowell Observatory

A long afternoon of opera rehearsals followed by traffic on the commute home equals a night of relaxation. The skies are fairly clear, so I decide to go to the McDowell Observatory in Lyndhurst for the public viewing night. To my surprise, there were a ton of kids with their parents lining up to the 20″ telescope to get a glimpse of the star Castor. It isn’t quite dark yet, but I could tell that the astronomer in charge is anxious to get things rolling. I took the introduction to astronomy classes which he taught, so I was a familiar face in the sea of little people. He asked me if I wouldn’t mind helping, “Of course I can,” I replied.

I ended up talking with kids and their parents about stars, nebula, the planets, etc. There was one bright young astronomer who was quite knowledgeable of things stellar. I asked him how he knew all this stuff. “From TV,” the boy responded. I chuckled when I found out how much of the discovery channel he watches. Who knew that a third grader could talk about how Pluto was no longer a planet but a dwarf planet. Or how the rings of Saturn are made up of ice and dust.

The highlight of the night was seeing all these kids “oo-ing” and “ah-ing” over the rings of Saturn and the Triangulum of Orion’s great nebula. I barely got a chance to look into the eyepiece myself, but the kids made the day worth it. I was tired, a little hungry, but very satisfied. It is so important that we educate children in things like astronomy, other sciences, the arts, etc. They are the future.

Below is a picture (taken with my blackberry) of the William D. McDowell observatories telescope. It’s a 20″ Ritchey-Chretien telescope made by optical guidance systems. Mounted on the scope is a Takahashi FS102 Fluorite Apochromatic refractor.

Observing Session 4.1.10

Finally a relatively clear night.  The skies weren’t cloudy, although there was a high amount of humidity in the atmosphere causing the sky transparency to be low.

My main objective tonight was to collimate my C-8 with the new Bob’s knobs installation.  Also, I wanted to test my new 13mm Nagler type 6 which I won last month at a dinner engagement with my astronomy club.

After setting up, I took some pics of the knob installation and my scope with my canon 1000d.

Once it was dark I turned the scope on, did only 2 star alignment, and focused on Regulus (Leo) to start collimating.  I found that using the 9mm TMB out of focus got me the best results.  Using the Bob’s Knobs was a lot easier than I thought, no wonder so many people rave about them.  Now it was time to observe!

Observed Objects:

Currently in Cancer
Apparent Mag +.01

  • First time viewing Mars in quite a long time.  It was quite bright, due to the atmosphere tonight the views weren’t the greatest.  However, I was able to bring some dark surface detail out by using a red filter on a 9mm TMB Planetary eyepiece.  The magnification using the C8 was 225.7x.

M67, Open Cluster in Cancer
NGC 2682
RA: 08h 51.4m
DEC: +11° 49′
Mag: 6.1

  • I used two eyepieces to observe this relatively small open cluster.  The meade 18mm UWA and my new Nagler 13mm type 6.  Both eyepieces provide 82 degree views, M44 fit in the field of view with both EP.  I really fell in love with the Nagler views.  I thought the empty space in the background was darker and allowed for more contrast and star seeing.  I cannot wait to view an object like this in a real dark sky, unlike my mag 4 skies at home.

γ Leo, Algieba
Double Star
RA: 10h 19m 58.3s
DEC: +19° 50′ 30″
Mag: 2.4/3.6

  • This is a magnificent pair of golden colored stars.  Doesn’t require much magnification to observe the split.  I compared views using an Ortho and Nagler, again I preferred the views with the nagler.  I thought the contrast was much better than the UO ortho.

α Leo, Regulus
Multiple Star System
RA: 10h 08 min 22.3s
DEC: +11° 58′ 02″
Mag: 1.3/8.1/13.5

  • I tried and tried to split regulus but due to transparency and an 88% moon, I think it was impossible to see the mag 8.1 K2 star.  Under my skies in the best conditions I do not think it would ever be possible to see the Mag 13.5 C star

Currently in Leo
Apparent Mag: +.03

  • It wasn’t until I looked at my handy star chart out of Sky and Telescope magazine that I realized Saturn was up in the sky.  The rings were pretty flat, blocking the chance of seeing the cassini division, but there was a great looking shadow on the surface of the planet  itself.  4 moons were visible, 2 on each side of the planet.  I used my new Nagler yet again and as expected the views were remarkable.

There were a couple other object I attempted to find tonight.  I tried to find galaxies M65 and M66 but after learning they were mag 9 plus, I quickly gave up.  I also wanted to find 54 Leo, a double star in Leo.  I was using my Telrad finder, but just got tired of bending over searching the skies.

All in all, I spent about 3 hours outside.  It was great to get out since I haven’t had much of a chance all winter.  Before next time, I am thinking about hypertuning or at least doing a little maintenance on the LXD75.  I think it needs it.