Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mars is BACK!

Let's be real clear here what this means...

NO! Mars will not be the size of the full Moon! For that stupid email hoax that I get every August since 2003, check this out first.

What is really happening is Mars is approaching opposition again. Every two years and a bit, Mars will be making it's closest approach to Earth. However, this will not be a close approach like other years, so Mars will be smaller in the telescope.

Check this out for lots of information regarding this opposition, visit here.

Last night, among other things, I caught Mars slowly rising in the constellation Cancer after spending a few hours checking out two new double stars and some general observing of M42. Mars was low in the sky when I first spotted it. It's easy to spot because Cancer is a relatively faint constellation. You can't miss it. It will be the brightest "star" in the East after 11pm EST.

Visually it was hampered by atmospheric instability so my observations were highly limited but I did make out the polar ice cap quite nicely and some darker features on the surface of the planet. But again, it was very poor seeing. When it gets higher, it will be nicer.

One other thing. I don't ever recall looking at Mars through the old Refractor. This is odd because I do remember looking at Mars through other scopes. First time I ever saw it was through my first "real" telescope, a Meade ETX, but after that I cannot recall which scope I was using. I completely missed the 2007 opposition because either the weather stunk, or I was too busy (and the old Refractor was in storage). Oh well, it's all good to go now, so we will just wait for clear skies again.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cloudy Night Link: Scope Comparison: Celestron C102-HD, FS-102 Takahashi & MK-67 MCT

Clouded out till further notice. Welcome back to reality! It is afterall, November in Mississauga...and that means clouds, rain, yo-yo like temperatures and lots of humidity.

So enjoy this link. A comparison and a great tale of "Vicki" a Vixen made Celestron 102mm refractor, just like mine.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Refractor Renaissance a la Moonlite (Focusers)

I am (or was) testing out a new idea for the old Refractor which is not getting any older it seems now that the mount and tripod have been upgraded, the optics collimated and so forth.

Two things remain weak though. The original finder is bordering on useless and the stock focuser, while not bad, is badly out of date and very much inflexible.

Enter this company: Moonlite Telescope Accessories

I was fortunate to get a sample to try out. You have to remember it's a risk to take with older scopes because you are never quite sure if it will work, or in this case focus. It is also a two inch upgrade from 1.25". Previous attempts at adapters up sizing the stock focuser to two inch always fail as the eyepiece would be out too far beyond the focal plane. I am pleased to report that after tonight, the Moonlite upgrade, the CF2 with dual rate and a 4.5" travel draw tube with compression rings to handle heavy loads. I will review the Moonlite focuser later. Also because the new focuser accepts standard finder scope mountings, I replaced the stock focuser with an Orion 9X50 RA finder, a BIG improvement.

The old Refractor has come along way since it's reactivation. The original SP-C102 is slowly being phased out as new parts go into play. A new tripod, mount, focuser, and finder scope have turned this vintage 80's scope into a 21st century gem of a telescope. Originally slated to be retired when the Pronto showed up, it's recent collimation and parts replacement have secured it's place as the proverbial flagship of the telescope fleet. It's better days are not behind it, they are ahead of it.

Now, only the OTA needs to be refurbished. When that happens, it will be essentially a new scope. All that would remain from it's former self, are the optics, and that will never change.


More Observing notes for November

What a November! I cannot remember in recent memory such a November with an over abundance of clear nights. Very nice indeed.

November 18 2009 Observing:

A few more notes from two different observing sessions. I finally went to a darker sky site which was impressive. Located about an hour and a bit north of Mississauga in Dufferin County. I thought I needed to get out and get some dark skies for once after spending most nights in the city. It was cold though and we were hampered by poor seeing. It was good to see Gary again, always nice to have more people up at a dark sky with you. The old Refractor and the Pronto took centre stage. Both the CG5and Super Polaris mounts were out. The Pronto served as a nice wide field scanning scope and "super finder". The Refractor did the grunt work.

Doubles of Perseus:

Theta Persei: A wide pair that only requires lower power around 50X. The big thing with this double is the huge difference in magnitude. Very difficult to detect and I don't see this working in the city with the companion at Mag. 10. Separation is 20.5 seconds so it is an easy split, but dark skies help huge. Right ascension 02h 44m 11.99s Declination +49° 13' 42.4"

Struve 314: Easy to find because it's a mear 19 seconds northwest of Tau Persei. But it is fainter and a challenge. 1.5" separation, this is a classic "kissing pair" of relatively equal magnitudes of 7.0 and 7.3. Poor seeing hindered it, but the old Refractor did manage to split it. Still, very worth hunting for, so go find it! Right Ascension 02h 52.9s Declination +53 00'

Epsilon Persei (Struve 471): Very nice contrasting white-blue colour and wide enough to enjoy at around 111X. Easy to find in the sky too. Big contrast in magnitude of 2.9 and 8.9 so dark skies work better here. Right ascension 3h 57m 51.2s Declination 40° 0' 37"

Zeta Persei (Atik or Struve 464): No such luck. The glare of Atik was overpowering. The 9.2 companion did not show probably because of poor seeing.

The rest of the night was made up of low power scans with the Pronto. Nice to see M31 with a starry background. At 8X it was fun to see in full field. Also returned to M81 and 82 in Ursa Major, again at super low power just to prove the deep sky merits of the diminutive Pronto.

It got really cold. But it was very satisfactory.

November 21 2009 @ Mississauga. The old Refractor.

The clouds encroached but I did manage to nab one more double

Pi Arietis: A close split at 3.5". I am back in Mississauga again so finding it in this piece of sky was not easy. Lack of guide stars. But anyway, a nice contrast of colour and magnitude. 5.3 and 8.0 magnitude respectively with a nice yellow-blue contrast. Worth the look.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Full Cut-Off Fixtures on upgraded Highway 10

It's a small step in the right direction...and yes it is VERY small but one I hope catches on.

The MTO has upgraded sections of Highway 10 north of Caledon. In perceived high collision areas, the MTO installed full cut-off fixtures, thereby reducing glare and unnecessary lateral light pollution, which is a welcomed change after years of seeing upgraded highway sections using 1950's style cobra-head fixtures which is quite sad and very annoying as the light shines horizontally into your eyes as you drive.

Bad habits are hard to change and the average joe driver wouldn't really take notice but the full-cut off fixture is much better to work with. Again, it is a very small step in the right direction and as I was driving south you could see the long uphill climb it's going to be to right the wrong of light pollution as most lighting is still stuck in the stone age either by choice or shear ignorance.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New title photo

Just adding some new flavour to the blog as the new title photo is the SP-C102 (The Old Refractor) at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. The photos from that area can be found here

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More Aries Doubles and other thoughts

This time I had a plan. Yet another clear night in November in Mississauga, only this one was much more stable than previous. Decided to stick around in the Constellation Aries as it was getting nice and high. Also we did this online somewhat. It was colder though, below zero C.

This time I emphasized quality time behind the eyepiece, not the number of objects on a night. It was time to take it a tad slower, and a tad more challenging (it ended up being much more challenging). The Old Refractor and the Pronto were used tonight. The Pronto acting as the backup finderscope. That might look like a diminished role for this great little scope, but the finder on the Refractor is just awful and not very useful. But I needed the four inch aperture do this, and with it collimated properly, time to see what it can really do. Armed with the Cambridge Double Star Atlas and the reference, Double Stars for Small Telescopes, it was time for the hunt.

Did I mention it was cold? Took a while for the Refractor to cool down!

Struve 174 (1 Arietis): Nice start to the evening. A contrasting coloured pair as stated in the DSST. Saw the yellowish tint of the brighter and the blue of the companion. It was getting steadier as the Refractor cooled down. Rock solid at times. RA 1h 50.1" and DEC 22 17", it was fairly easy to find and there are bright guide stars to go on. The Pronto saw this in the low power making it even easier. Takes about 100X to really see them well split. 2.9" arc separation so you will enjoy these.

Struve 194: Not seen. It appears that darker skies are required for this much like the companions of 41 Arietis and with a 1.2" separation, that was going to be difficult.

Struve 208 (10 Arietis): With the failed attempt at splitting Struve 194, Struve 208 was going to be a challenge and I approached this with some cynicism thinking I would not get this one done. At 1.2" separation, I wasn't very positive. Was I wrong! First let me say this is another "Grand Prize" double star. But not because it's bright or very pretty like some would have it. No, it's because it looks like a mini version of Epsilon Bootis, a classic close split with a large magnitude differential. This one is 5.8 and 7.9 respectively. What a wonderful double star this is. Pale yellow primary and the companion just passed through the first concentric ring and was "kissing" the primary. I decided that I needed more power (the scope was at 222X). I moved the 2X barlow ahead of the diagonal making it 333X and yes, the image held together. It had become a very steady night. At this power the companion was seen as an individual star. Awesome site! Contrasting grey-blue colour. RA 2h 03.7" DEC 25 56', you can't miss it. Located in a trio of stars just a tad north of the star Hamal.

Struve 333 (Epsilon Arietis): Wow after Struve 208, I was over the Moon, although there was no moon. Funny thing happened on the way to Struve 333. I had a terrible time finding it. The Refractor was nearly overhead and I thought I had found the small group of stars in the Pronto. But for a while there, I was having a devil of a time trying to centre this star. After much fidgiting with the scope, I found it. Another awesome pair. At just over 100X, this is another kissing double. There is little magnitude difference here at 5.2 and 5.6 so they look almost identical. They also showed no colour contrast. Almost perfect twins (the DSST says there is a colour difference). At over 200X, a clean split. 1.4" separation so they are very close. But really, really nice!

Did I say it was cold? By then I was frozen.

Pronto at low power:

Lambda Arietis at 8X (yes 8X! You read that right!): Shows as a distinct double star at incredibly low power making this one awesome binocular double! Low power sweep of Aries was very nice.

The Trio of 14,11 and 10 Arietis: Another wonderful wide field view of this region. Each individual star shows a companion of sorts. 14 Arietis is listed as a triple star with a separation of 34" and 278". But I don't remember seeing a third. I will have to return there.


Collimation of the old Refractor has given it a new life. It was almost banished to retirement after the Pronto arrived and it was inactive for over a year as other priorities took hold in life. But the main thing is that I always found that the old Refractor was hit and miss. I didn't realize then why, but it was almost always "just okay" but never great. When I found an easy way to collimate it, it turned into a different scope. It can handle very high power when seeing permits. It's a great Struve hunter and wonderful planetary scope. Thoughts of retirement or banishment have been replaced by thoughts of "life extension" and not just some token refit, but a big overhaul to give it many years of usage well past it's shelf life. Remember, it's 20 years old now and it just looks fine!


Monday, November 9, 2009

Random Observations on a (rare) November Night

The old Refractor back in it's starring role was out last night recently upstaged by a binoviewer powered Tele Vue Pronto, it was time for a little more aperture to work the double stars and some planetary detail. This was a random night with no "real plan" to speak of. I just went for it.

To be honest, I am not as proficient with the Fall sky as I am the other three seasons. The reason being is that for the past 20 years, the least amount of observing I do is in the Fall which is really unfortunate given what is available to look at. But then also the weather in Eastern Canada in November doesn't help. Luckily we are enjoying some very nice weather for a change. Traditionally though, that is rarely the case even well into December. Combined with busy schedules, it's not often I get out to observe in the Fall.

The object hit list was the usual and some very nice new double stars were spotted.

Gamma Arietis: A nice treat at moderate power for smaller telescopes and high quality refractors. A sort of "Goats Eye" as it has been called. Easy to find in light polluted skies in the constellation Aries. Located at RA 01h 53m 31.8s
Dec +19° 17′ 45.0″. Almost perfectly balanced in brightness at around 4.5 and 4.8. That one is a keeper.

Lambda Arietis: Low power required for this beauty. Although I think the Pronto might be better suited for it because it can attain real low power as opposed to the 1000mm Refractor. Nice contrasting brightness with a magnitude differential of 4.9 and 7.4 in the companion and some colour contrast. Worth a look. Located in Aries at Right ascension 01h 57m 55.7172s Declination +23° 35′ 45.82″

Struve 289 (33 Arietis): With a whopping separation of 28.6", use low power again but this one has a huge contrast in magnitude. Listed at 5.3 and 9.6 in magnitude difference, the companion won't be easy to spot. Try some more power to diminish the sky glow, but keep it low. Easy to find as it is grouped with 41 Arietis in binoculars. Located at Right ascension 02h 40m 41.0755s Declination +27° 03′ 39.394″

Uranus: Okay, this is not "new" per se. But I found it myself. Last time I looked at Uranus was with a go-to scope (and for good reason). Mississauga is badly light polluted and Uranus is located near Pisces, a constellation that is NOT visible to the naked eye. It took me forever, but I managed to located familiar star patterns in my binoculars. The shortfall of this old Refractor is it's barely usable finderscope. The original 6x30 finder is hopeless in located dim star patterns. Would have worked in a darker sky, but not last night. After finally located it, Uranus looked like a small bluish disk. No detail as expected. It was lower in the sky and high power up to 200X was out of the question. But still, it was nice to find on my own!

Theta Aurigae. 3.8 arc seconds with a magnitude of 2.7 and 7.2, this was the grand prize of the evening. But it's not easy to see. It requires stable skies but high power. I hinted at seeing it at around 111X but had to barlow the 9mm Nagler to 222X to really see it. And see it I did. The seeing held together, and with the Refractor collimated properly, the image was spectacular. With a nice colour contrast the companion just sat outside the brightest concentric ring so it showed clearly. Very easy to locate in the constellation Auriga as it makes up part of the constellation's pattern. Right ascension 05h 59m 43.269s Declination +37° 12′ 45.307″. In a strange twist though, we as in a group of us went looking for this in the spring and did not see it. Back then the old Refractor was not collimated...hmmmmm

Failed to see any companions of 41 Arietis. I will need darker skies for that.

Also last night:
Double Cluster
Almach (double star)
Gamma Delphini
Struve 2725

Sunday, November 8, 2009

No, I am not going back to astrophotography...much

I took a few images last night just to fool around and give people the perception of what it was to actually look through what used to be known as a "rich field refractor". I hooked up the 30D to the Pronto just to goof around a bit. The moon image is alright, but deep sky imaging in Mississauga is a chore with all the light pollution.

I am not really that interested right now in astro-imaging. Too many other things going on to take it seriously, so for now, I am just meddling with the Pronto a bit but my focus is visual observing.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November Moon and Pleiades

What a view tonight! Just went out tonight to see if a binoviewer would work with the Pronto and couldn't spot the Pleiades at all visually without the telescope. The Moon was overwhelming. Spotted both in the Pronto at very low power and it was quite pleasing but still overwhelmingly bright.

Orion is rising slowly in the southeast, but it's cold tonight.

Oh and the binoviewer? Well it worked, but I had to try several combinations before it focused. Found out it works well with the Tele Vue 2X barlow combination. Otherwise I couldn't wrack in the focuser far enough.

Rare treat to have a clear night in Mississauga in November. It's hard to get them and being on standard time again, no more easy daylight set ups. Still, it's kind of surreal to be out in the cold when everyone else is hiding inside.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SP Mount to make a comeback?

Well that was a short retirement...

I said earlier that the Super Polaris mount was to retire gracefully which really meant to be used only as a back up. Well maybe retire was not the right word. Given the convoluted mess that the two mounts, the CG-5 and the SP mount create because they use two different saddle plates, it became necessary to standardized the saddles just in case both the C102 and Pronto go out without having to take two different plates out. The SP saddle was upgraded with an ADM Super Polaris Saddle. I outfitted the Pronto with a simple Vixen style universal dovetail which nicely fits into the ADM SP Saddle. The C102 has been given a standard Synta eight inch dovetail which is also the Vixen standard. My original dovetail for the Pronto did not work right. Two screws got in the way of the ADM adapter and it had to be simplified. Just two screws and two washers now. It looks much better.

The combination works and is now seamless without accidentally forgeting a plate or forgeting the tools to switch things around.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Im back!

Yes I'm back. Can't say we did a lot of observing while away, only one night actually it was kind of bad, but the weather wasn't all that rotten as we managed to hike and take some nice pics of the North Shore of Lake Superior...

Might want to check out some pics here if you wish:

Tonight might be a bit clear, who knows!



Monday, September 28, 2009

Pronto Road?

Snotty little scope got a road named after it!

Well, not really. Pronto, Ontario, Hwy 17 west of Sudbury

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pronto, Refractor and The Sleeping Giant

I'm off to The Sleeping Giant, a provincial park on Lake Superior outside of Thunder Bay. The Pronto and the old Refractor will be there, but the Moon will be bright so really, it'll just be for planetary and that sort of thing. The Pronto of course will be used for daytime wildlife observing so we'll see what we get with pictures.

Later everyone. Back in two weeks!


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pronto gets a new ride

After merging two plates and searching for washers and screws and borrowing from other mounts, the Pronto now has a ride on the CG-5 Mount. Combining a dovetail with TeleVue's SP mount plate, it can now ride on the saddle just like the two other refractors. I can also now dismount the 2080 from the fork if I really want too and make it a true EQ mounted scope. But not right now.

Clouds have rolled in, but we will see what happens over the next few days.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Right of Passage: The "Nope Scope" or why we love to hate the Department Store Telescope!

Two things I have to give Andrew Wareing credit for. One is the concept of the "Nope Scope", the department store wonder (telescope) that we have either luckily avoided or unfortunately (or our parents) bought into. The Nope Scope is also a "Right of Passage", I guess a sort of "hazing" for the uninformed beginner observer. Okay, maybe hazing is too strong a word, but you get the picture. Again, Andrew gave it this label.

I can't part with it. My mom who is no longer with us gave it to me. So it has sentimental value. I just wish the performance had that same value.

20 years later, a whole bunch of scopes later, I still can't use one right. I unearthed my Blacks Camera Magnicon 234 (234 for the power it could reach...hahahahahaha! Yeah right!) for the first time in eons. I gave it new legs because the old legs were falling apart, but they weren't the original goofy legs. I don't know where they are. Garbage I suppose. It's a little more stable now, if you call it that. The finder is horrible. The focuser is just as bad and the view is dim. It was upgraded from a 0.965" to a 1.25" hybrid diagonal, but the entire field of view can't be viewed in 20mm or more eyepieces. Oh well. So I put an 18mm Plossl in and the view, while dim, was not all that bad. I wouldn't say it knocked my socks off. I also turned it to Almach, a favourite double of mine. I was lucky I found it in the finder, but the view is so bad, I can hardly aim it. But I managed and the view, while again dim and narrow, was not all lost.

So I sized it up against the old Refractor (I can just hear the giggle in the background. Yeah you guys! SUG, Drive-By, Andrew, NSG). You can see where this is going. Well first, no contest and second, I still can't really aim this thing. And it's marketed to beginners???? Wha???? If I can't use it, do you really think the beginner with zero experience could use it? That, and the shaky yolk mount doesn't help things at all, will just add to the frustration.

Thinking of buying a scope like this for a budding enthusiast? Want to destroy that enthusiasm? Go ahead and buy it then. But remember this well: If I am unable to aim it, someone with more than enough experience, just how will a beginner?

Here are some pics to laugh at.

Super Polaris Mount to retire...

The inevitable has happened. The Super Polaris Mount is to be retired immediately. Age and a decrepit motor drive hindered it's ability but it managed through the heavy spring and summer observing season. An error has been occurring in one of the cable's and the RA motor is not receiving any input. The other cable worked fine, but knowing that is starting to happen, it's time to retire. The mount will be used in reserve on the old wood legs if another EQ mount is required should it need to be used.

Replacing it was an orphaned Celestron CG-5 Mount head, non-computerized. A dual axis motor drive was added and the mount was quite capable tonight supporting the old Refractor. Observing was limited in and out of clouds but the drive tracked very smoothly with no oscillation. There is a little bit of slack in the motor after going in reverse, but it is not of any concern. Overall I am quite pleased. Dampening time is now a very acceptable three seconds on the old Refractor (down from 5.5 seconds on the SP Mount).

This completes the modernization of the mount which quite literally was from the bottom up.


Monday, September 14, 2009

A Great Lakes Mystery: The Lake Light, Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

Just going a little off topic here...just to change it up a bit.

Another update on my photo blog site, Tin Foil Hat:

A Great Lakes Mystery: The Lake Light, Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

Built in 1808, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is the second oldest structure in Toronto and has been a place of fascination, mystery and murder. What began literally as a "side show" to another project I was working on in 2006, evolved into a mature work of photography and was recently revisited in 2009. However, the project remains incomplete as I await to gain access inside the Lighthouse...keep your fingers cross.

You may enjoy the complete work here if you wish.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Observing on a nice September Evening

Back to Saddington Park last night with The G.O.R. and The Starship (Pronto) on tap as the primary scopes. Only this time they had more friends to play with. A six inch Tak, another Vixen 102 Achromat, a Skywatcher 8" Dob, a 12" Lightbridge, and a Galileo scope. So good to have more people out. It was also a night of the Southside Shuffle in Mississauga, a blues festival so we were treated to music all that evening (and unfortunately, spotlights). We expected a crowd, but it never materialized.
Oh, and this time, I didn't forget anything! There's a first.

More fun with people:

We had a great couple swing by the park last night that took so much interest into what we were doing. With Jupiter finally settled down, it was their time to enjoy the solar system's largest world and they were impressed. We also treated them to their first double star but for the life of me, I can't remember which one it was. They had the chance to look through some very decent scopes that night, the added benefit of having so many more people out there rather than just two or three scopes.

With the crowd-that-never-showed up it was off to do some observing. Obviously Jupiter was the star of the show and it finally steadied after a turbulent start but after it gained altitude we were in business. Four moons out this time which was nice to see finally and the cloud belts in the GOR were impressive. Later tried a blue filter which brought out further detail. Detected a bulge in the south EQ belt. What was that?

The Gamma Delphini--Struve 2725 Show!:

Gamma has always been impressive and I turned the old Refractor on to it and again I was impressed by the view. A sort of "mini-Albireo" as I called it last night. I turned my attention to my trusty Cambridge Double Star Atlas and I said "hey wait a minute", there's a Struve there too!" Struve 2725 showed on the atlas very near to Gamma. With the Refractor on Gamma, I quickly got the Pronto to do the a low power sweep and sure enough, there it was in the same field. I loaded some more power on to it to split the star...and WOW! Not only was Struve 2725 impressive, it was still in the same field of view as Gamma. Like a mirror image. Two very impressive double stars together. With the 9mm Nagler and the Refractor on Gamma, I simply readjusted the position of the scope, and BANG, still in the same field of view. Contrasting orange-white coloured Gamma with what looks like a reflection of itself in Struve 2725. This one is a keeper and I won't hesitate to return here. A few people were equally impressed.

Struve 2690:

At the other end of Delphinus (which isn't large anyway) is Stuve 2690. Easy to find and easy to split. A wider pair that is very pleasing at 40X in the Refractor. Something to share to newcomers to double stars.

Struve 75 (36 Andromedae):

Don't show newbies this one. References show this double star to be either 2" or 1" split. I didn't split it, but what I can say is that it showed slight elongated or "swollen" or just a hint of a figure eight but not prominent. Not to hard to find, but off trail a bit. It was in a favourable viewing location, but was subjected to some poorer seeing being lower in the SE sky. Larger aperture needed to really see it take form, but it was worth it.

Back to Jupiter and then we had the regularly scheduled "tea break" where we sat and stared at the scopes staring at Jupiter. Something about a cup of tea and observing, but others like coffee...

Whatever you do with this report, GO SEE STRUVE 2725 and GAMMA DELPHINI! Here are some photos from last night...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stress Relief: Just me and the Pronto

I haven't been myself lately, and I don't mean that I ceased making fun of the Mars believers or poking fun at other strange and wonderful things, just not myself.

Just I thought, even though I am out later than normal for observing, the Pronto's ultra-fast set up on the AZ3 mount will soothe things over a bit. And it did.

Jupiter was really steady tonight and I managed to see Io "wink back in" which was really neat. 9mm Nagler with a 2X Barlow gives 106X in the Pronto, plenty of power tonight to see the GRS hollow but I noticed a few other "brown barges" in the cloud belts. Again, very steady and impressive for such a diminitive aperture. But again, up in less than five minutes...who can beat that?

Had an unusual moment of not being able to find the Double Cluster, but blamed it on positioning and boosted up the tripod leg height a bit.

Also another note, seems I have blown a leg on the AZ3. Thinking I have snapped the plasticky part at the top of the aluminum leg. Oh well, easy to replace.

M:) Keep smiling!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Observing and some musings Part II

It seems I have made up for all that lost observing at StarFest. Typical Full Moon I suppose. Nice and clear but no deep sky observing of any type. But hey, we have Jupiter and those ever present Struve double stars awaiting my three Refractors. I was going for a triple, but the clouds have moved in and it is a tad windy.

The only thing I forgot this time last night was the DC car adapter splitter, so I had to split the power between my car battery and the portable battery. We were having some heavy dew last night, so the heaters were on but since the Antares 105 has a capable dew shield, the heat was kept low (and it did not drain the car battery!).

We took a chapter right of SUG's play book last night. The latest photos are up here as we enjoyed the company of many onlookers taking their first peek through a telescope and their first look at another world, mainly Jupiter although we tried not to blind them too much with that 99% illuminated waning gibbous Moon. People were excited.

After the crowds had left, the skies clouded out a bit and were win a holding pattern. But I was wanting to make sure that I could indeed split the three arc second double, 23 Aquilae. Lucky this time around, as the 105 was in play, and not just the Pronto. But the clouds refused to leave Aquila! I just can't believe this year.

23 Aquilae Update:

With the Antares 105, it was evident, a tiny, faint blue companion that complimented the primary. The basic info on this double star is RA 19h 18m 32.4954s DEC +01° 05′ 06.464″ Apparent magnitude 5.1. Not too difficult to find either since it conveniently located and easily plotted on the Cambridge Double Star Atlas. Four inch aperture and up helps as the Pronto was having problems but I attribute that more to the glow of the Full Moon if anything else.

Struve 2404:

This one is more of a challenge. Easily plotted in the CDSA but fainter than 23 Aquilae and more off the path so it is a challenge in finder scopes. Might be harder to do in a GO-TO scope if you're alignment is off but I can say that the star patterns in the finder will get you there. You might have to be a bit patient with it. Separation is about 3.6 arc seconds. Located at RA 18 50.8 DEC +10 59. Some people see this as a contrasting orange and blue but were sure it lacked contrast as was more orange-orange. Not sure about that yet. Found it to be similar in some respects as a mini version of Alpha Herculis, but a neat find. One for the Struve Hunters!

Here are some of the photos from last night:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Observing and some musings.

So now we are back to good old "boring" Jupiter with just a transit of the Great Red Spot. Oh the horror of not seeing missing moons! But seriously, always looking forward to seeing the GRS! I'm taking full advantage of the clear skies even though the Moon is in howling mode so despite the extra sky glow, I am not sitting still. After the summer we have endured in the Greater Toronto Area, we'll take what we can get.

So Poppa and I headed out to Saddington Park again, me with the Antares 105 and the Pronto and Poppa with the William Optics Zenithstar 80.

The Comedy of Errors:

It seems that I need to forget at least something. Otherwise it wouldn't be me. Now normally I forget something small like a red flashlight or a power cord. Other times I forget something a little larger and more essential like the battery or perhaps a chair or whatever. On occasion I will forget something critical, like that time I was a third of the way up to a dark sky site two hours out of Toronto, and I realized I forgot half the telescope (forgot the Dob base). Tonight it finally caught up with me again. I was suppose to have the big Antares 105 out on the SP mount, but forgot the counterweight and shaft. Oops. Nice going champ...Is this a piece of your brain?

Pronto to the rescue:

Lessons learned from the previous disaster of forgetting the Dob base, the Pronto was ready to go on the AZ3 mount. I don't like this mount a lot because of the limited movement and no tracking, but what good is the SP mount with no counterweights? Live and learn, or rather, live because I will forget something regardless. I also employed the iPod software "Starmap Pro" which was very, very pleasant to work with. What I loved is the detail of the charts, but also, it has a nifty "log" feature so I can type in what I have seen. It has a night mode where everything turns red, but the silly keyboard function blinds you when you want to log something in. That's something that needs to be fixed.


Not the steadiest night but I have seen worse. Jupiter showed the GRS very nicely in the W/O, but the Pronto also got it, with some degree of difficulty, but it was there. I also brought the Cambridge Double Star Atlas and the Sissy Haas book with me knowing that it was not a great night with the Full Moon out. I did look at Albireo and Alpha Herculis just to warm up. With the help of the Atlas I decided to go after two double stars in Aquila because of it's location in the sky and that I was using a mount I don't really like.

15 Aquilae. Now here is one for the SUG! Contrasting yellow and blue. Super easy to find and only requires about 20X. Using the Pronto with a 24mm Panoptic produces some nice wide, low power views, so this double star was fabulous even in moon soaked skies. So yes, keep the power down on this one folks!

23 Aquilae. This one is tough. I have to list this as probably, although I am convinced I saw it. The magnitude differential and close separation at 3.0" makes this difficult. Larger aperture would have helped (and I had it but you know what happened!) so I will have to return to this double star again to make sure. There has been an update on this double star.

The Starship:

We did some outreach tonight. A few people came by and Poppa and I quickly put our scopes on Jupiter for people to look at (no sense showing them a maybe double star at this point). Curious lookers are not intimidated by the Pronto. I like to refer to it as my little Starship. People seem to back off when the larger scopes are out, but they find the Pronto is easy to approach. I am not surprised. Those who look for the first and don't know me love the Pronto. Those who know me well tend to love to make fun of it (Tasco Tonto, Cursed Cloud Attractor and so on). But Jupiter gives them that chance to look beyond this world. However, one individual was a bit odd after pulling up in his RV (this is a public day use park remember) and asked us what we were looking at. I said Jupiter but he had convinced his wife that was a satellite. We invited him over to look at it and at first he declined which was very odd. He finally looked and was amazed. Not sure what he will tell his wife, and I hope Corporate Security doesn't boot him out. Very odd fellow.

Then we packed it in and that was our evening. Thinking I will go out on Saturday night too just to double check that star.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mount Wilson and Stony Ridge

We are breathing easier in the astronomy community as Mount Wilson and Stony Ridge Observatories have survived thus far from the raging "Station Fire" decimating Southern California. Mount Wilson was particularly touch and go but due to the heroic efforts of ground crews and firefighthing aircraft, the observatory is still standing. Stony Ridge was in the middle of the advancing eastern flank and was essentially not known if it had survived until earlier today. Unlike Mount Wilson, Stony Ridge was built by amateurs like you and me. Thus far, both observatories remain intact. Lets hope they stay that way.

There have been close calls at Palomar and Steward but neither of them was affected. Australia's Mount Stromlo was destroyed in a wildfire in 2003 leaving astronomers there reeling...

A rare treat: The "No Moons of Jupiter Night"

That was cool. Those of you who followed me on Twitter (or Facebook) know what we were watching last night. Ganymede and Europa slid in front of Jupiter, Io behind and Callisto was hanging out in Jupiter's shadow, hence, no moons of Jupiter. It is very rare. I have heard this only happens four times a century so I was glad I wasn't glued to a mindless round of garbage TV and was outside with the scope.

First time I used the laptop and Twitter. Had some network connection issues but while I was trying to fix that, the SCT started to fog over so I had to frantically get the heaters on to get that solved.

So it was a good night and lots of fun to watch that. Fatigue and other factors forced me out of it early though, too bad :(

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Live On Twitter NOW! From Jupiter!

You can follow me on Twitter. Tonight all of Jupiter's moons are going to dissappear!


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Introducing a new blog: Night Sights

I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce my friend, Andrew Wareing's new blog, Night Sights. Andrew has over thirty years of experience in amateur astronomy. When we both get together to observe there is over fifty years of experience between the two of us. Andrew is a grass-roots observer who can starhop and use the Uranometria to it's fullest (he can also interpret a mirror reverse finder, something I can't do). He is also to blame for my recent hunt for Struve double stars! So head on over there and enjoy the read.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Our Spotless Sun

Well I was glad to get some observing done today, albeit day time. Actually I was cleaning out my car but set up the old Refractor for some solar observing.

WOW, it is SPOTLESS...not Mr. Clean spotless, but it is a rather dull looking orange ball in my Refractor with the Thousand Oaks T-2 visual filter.

Are we headed for a mini-ice age?


Shake free tripod: Review of the TPI Leg Spreader (and tray)

Before photos:

Once again I have to add the disclaimer (if anyone actually reads it) that this blog is not a review site, it is a blog for the observer and about observing, but from time to time, something will find it's way to me that I just have to mention, and this product from TPI or Telescope Performance Improvements caught my eye the day Dave Yates dropped it off for me to look at.

So here goes.

The spreader is easily attached by a removable ring that is connected by two screws (six in total) and is attached just above where the two inch leg terminates. The connection is firm with no give but it is important to attach it slightly above the end fitting where you loosen the leg. That gives the spreader it's *snap* into position. The particular spreader was designed around the Synta made CG-5 or EQ6 tripod with 2" steel legs. I am sure other tripods will work like the Mead standard field tripod, LXD75 and others with 2" diameter. The spreader itself is well made and very strong. Once attached it's easy to fold away. I have not taken a picture of that folded up but it works extremely well. You don't have to remove it for storage, it folds up very neatly. Effectively this spreader replaces the dinky spreader that came with the tripod. The old spreader was the one you continuously tightened up until the cows came home and even then, you were never quite sure if it was stable. In reality, it just kept the legs from collapsing in on themselves, it was not really a leg spreader in principle. You can still use it, but do you really need it? I prefer to keep my eyepieces in their case, not on the dinky spreader

The "snap" and the tray:

I mentioned that the new spreader needs to be installed above the end fitting or bracket where you would loosen off the locking nut to extend the tripod. Here's why although I should make a video of it. Essentially what happens is that you have a little bit of "snap" in the spreader which spreads the legs out a little further and locks them into place without fear of collapse. That little bit extra spread gives the tripod more stability. The CG-5 tripod, although already stable, under heavier loads is now even more stable with this addition, like a rock. Attaching the tray is fairly simple too. That is the beauty of this product, it's easy to work with. The tray is attached through a single screw and bracket that attaches to one of the tripod braces. Easy. Just make sure you have it centred properly. There is a circular hole that the spreader fits very nicely into in the centre of the tray. You might have to work it a few times just to get it centred, but it is straight forward.


After photos:

My two *prime* scopes, the SP-C102 and Tele Vue Pronto both mounted on the Super Polaris equatorial head were tested out at Saddington Park last week to see how the new combo of the spreader/tray and tripod worked. The old Refractor had it's dampening time reduced with the new tripod and now even more so with the tripod locked down better. But it's still a long dampening time of about five seconds. But it is sway that is the problem, not vibration. Obviously the problem is not in the tripod, but somewhere else. Add to the fact at f/9.8, the tripod is fully extended, adds to the dampening time. Still, it seemed a bit easier to focus the f/9.8 OTA which was a relief (not to mention it's recent collimation too). The Pronto however was a different story. Dampening time is now about 1.5 seconds which is incredible. Easy to focus and since the tripod does not need a full extension due to it's short focal length, the scope is a rock.

I love the tray. It's BIG and it has plenty of storage. Not only that, but it will support a full sized battery to further anchor down the tripod. That's right, a big 12v lead acid battery can be loaded onto it. I chose not too. I am so confident in the tray, that I would rather put my eyepieces or charts on it. Nice little chart tray with a modest sized chart like the Pocket Sky Atlas or Cambridge Double Star Atlas.

Weakness in the link:

It's not all good. Instead of like most dreams and aspirations, this one is not a top-down pipe dream. The rebuilding of my observing platform has been bottom-up, exposing flaws as we go along. With the TPI spreader and tray, it has revealed that the last major flaw is the mount head itself. Lets face it, a 20 year old EQ head is going to have it's jiggles and the C102, that is a problem. I could get it all tightened or re-machined, but why? At this age I could just swap it out completely. The motor is failing and it would cost nearly a third of an EQ6 mount to get it replaced by Vixen. Plans to upgrade the mount head are not on the table just yet, but with the spreader/tray, the weakest link has been exposed.


Excellent product by Dave and Gary of TPI. I would highly recommend anyone getting it. Retails around $299.95 for the complete spreader/tray combination. Worth it for your rig.

Here are some additional images of the improvements:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Transit Treats Last Night

With the return of clear skies, finally anyway, we set up in our usual urban spot at Saddington Park in Mississauga, the south parking lot. Knowing that the transit of Europa and Ganymede was going to happen, we got off the dragon boat a tad earlier and got everything going before 9:15. The Pronto and the 2080A were on tap. Bill brought the Vixen 102mm (the white version of my old C102) and also his small Astro-Tech 66 Refractor. Loads of fun with Dave and Dennis from the NYAA as we watched the two shadows plus Ganymede itself nicely parked between the two major cloud belts.

A really neat sight. Good times again with good old fashioned observing which was welcomed after enduring what happened at StarFest...which also had it's positives.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

StarFest? Or was that StormFest (TornadoFest)

We were fortunate...

As of this writing, Environment Canada has confirmed or listed as probable, 11 tornadoes on Thursday August 20th 2009. August 20th was also the first official day of StarFest where a tornado tore a destructive path approximately 5-10 kms from the site. One person, a child struck by debris had died and our thoughts are with the family. The town of Durham, Ontario was seriously damaged by this tornado, not to mention other tornadoes that struck just north of Toronto, destroying over 40 homes, although thankfully no one was injured or killed.

StarFest endured a powerful gust front from a second storm that roared through just after the tornadic storm struck the town of Durham. The gust front with heavy rains toppled a few scopes and also blew out some tents. Other were mildly flooded out. Our canopy was destroyed but our good quality sleeping tent stayed together without any damage. Still, the experience was a tad mind numbing and slightly traumatic when one thought how bad it could have been. The awful sound of the gust front made one very aware of how vulnerable we really were. Pushed into a corner with nowhere to go except to just ride this thing out was disconcerting at best. With wonky internet and a failure in the Weatheradio Canada Mount Forest Repeater, we were essentially blind.

StarFest was mainly rained or clouded out with brief periods of observing. I do have pics from the star party, also pics under investigation from the storm that preceded the storm that hit us. You can check out my pics of StarFest here and pics of the storm here


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gone to StarFest

I'm off to StarFest, Canada's largest Starparty just outside of Mount Forest in Ontario. Weather looks good for tonight (Wed Aug 19) but not so good for Thurs and Fri, but we will see what pans out. Four scopes are going plus one scope I won't mention yet because it's a bit of a gag.

Hopefully the wireless connection will be working up there and I hope to post on the blog when I am there.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More info on the Meade 2080 from "The Telescope Bluebook"

From Robert R. Pollock's "Telescope Bluebook"...

"Meade's well known 8" model was part of the "2000" line introduced in 1980, and model 2080 became the designation for the basic fork mounted f/10 optical tube. The original 2080 drive consisted of a worm gear system with 180 tooth main gear driven by a synchronous AC motor. This was offered without wedge and tripod but included coated optics, a 6x30 finder, 1 ¼" star diagonal and 25mm eyepiece. This basic telescope was also available as the 2080B having multi-coated optics for better light transmission. In 1984 the company improved the machining on the worm gear drive and introduced the "LX" drive. Later the same year they marketed this telescope with a 8x50 finder and erfle eyepiece, along with the addition of improved coatings on the optical surfaces as the LX2. The appearance both models visually is identical to the standard 2080 except for the "LX" mark."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Video Introduction to StarFest

Pronto gets a buddy...

I have recently aquired an old Meade 2080A SCT with a basic RA drive. I am going to test this out before StarFest 2009 to see what I can do with it. Nice to have some larger aperture around and this scope is very portable. The scope is pretty mint despite it's age and I won't devulge what I paid for it because my readers might want to slap me.

Anyhoo, I will be busy this week and as of Wednesday, I will be attending Canada's largest Starparty, StarFest...


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Back to Jupiter and a few DSO's

A day after the race, my back began to show signs of trouble and sort of seized up on me on Sunday while eating in a restaurant. It wasn't too bad. Nothing Advil couldn't take care of. Of course that same evening, the monster severe thunderstorm attacked Mississauga. While my back is getting better, I decided to practice in the Dragon Boat just to stretch it out a bit. Now I am tired. Of course, even with a touch-and-go back, I was able to get the Pronto (in AZ mode again) out for a bit tonight mainly to look at Jupiter and see what is going on.

As usual, the seeing stinks. It figures. Add to the fact Jupiter is quite low. Over the next few years this is going to change as Jupiter will climb ever so slowly higher as each year passes. That will be welcomed. The moons we shuttling again. Two looked liked a neat double star again. That looks really cool. This time it was Europa and Callisto.

There are still a few unknowns about this Pronto. I have not given much thought to it's deep sky potential and I cannot really remember how my old Pronto was either. It was too long ago. Tonight, despite the light pollution, I did spot M31, the Andromeda Galaxy and NGC 457, the Owl (or E.T.) cluster. What is known is that the wide field potential of the Pronto is awesome, but boy, was I craving a darker sky for M31. I think it will look great. Thankfully, I have StarFest next and that is a dark sky.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some musings but not much astronomy

I didn't fall off the face of the earth, although after completing another round of dragon boat races, I kind of felt like that. Not a whole lot going on in the observing front but we had our share of U.S. style severe weather with one really severe thunderstorm with plenty of lightning and heavy rain. I lucked out with a couple of lightning shots, but they pale in comparison to some I have seen. You can see my attempt here.

In the middle of all of this, again, sans observing, I have started renovating one of my favourite photo albums, Algonquin Park (Algonquin in the Fall) mainly because it started to sag as this album was pre-iMac. I started to see errors in it that had been corrected in other, more recent albums. As the *flagship* album, it needed to get some updating in the post iMac era. You can check that album on my Tin Foil Hat site on Zenfolio

Maybe we will get some clear skies soon...the weeks forecast does look more favourable for that.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Jupiter, The Pronto and Me

Tonight it was clear, much like last night. But of course it's clear, the Moon is just past full.

I was rather tired and not very motivated to do a whole lot astronomy wise, so with the Pronto in AZ mode it made it easier just to grab it and take it outside in one shot, with the eyepiece case. No EQ mount tonight, no battery, no drives. Just a simple set up.

Jupiter was on tap, with the Moon higher and bright, the sky was awash with moonlight so seeing anything apart from Jupiter would have been difficult, but I wasn't up to it anyway.

Jupiter is the first planet I ever saw in a telescope. It is also the first planet and only planet I saw in a junky telescope. So I have a special attachment to it because just over 20 years ago, I was looking at this same planet, albeit, in a trashy 60mm refractor on a rinky-dinky tripod. Back then it wasn't easy, but with the quality of the Pronto, Jupiter was very pleasant.

Without getting to sentimental, I suppose that my love for astronomy starts with Jupiter, but not just through a telescope. I remember being glued to the TV when I was a child and watched in awe as the spacecraft Discovery-One in 2001: A Space Odyssey approached Jupiter after spotting the larger, second Monolith. I remember then that Jupiter was a cool place to be (well, Kubrick went to Jupiter, but Clarke actually went to Saturn in the novelized version). Seeing it in a telescope for the first time was a thrill then, and it still is. "Starship Pronto" was able to get a hint of the GRS which was nice and all four moons were making their way around the planet. Io and Europa were making a nice "double star" tonight that was impressive. Sorry folks, no large rectangle was spotted. Lucky me, the Pronto does not contain a murderous freak named HAL 9000.

You can say that I feel like a kid again, but I am quickly reminded that the view then pales in comparison to today. But the feeling is the same, and that is something that will never change...


Monday, August 3, 2009

The Best Of Algonquin Park: Tin Foil Hat

On my other blog: Tin Foil Hat, Storis through Images

The Best of Algonquin Park

I hope you enjoy it.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Cygnus Sweep

So let it begin.

Starting from the top down in Sissy Haas' Double Stars for Small Telescope and newly acquired Cambridge Double Star Atlas I started to make the sweep through Cygnus with the hit list being from Haas' book. I gave them a rating on how I felt about how they looked in either scope. The Pronto, despite it's size kept pace with the old SP-C102 which after receiving it's collimation, is running just fine as the new/old Struve hunter.

TeleVue Pronto

Struve 2486 (****)
What a pleasant surprise! With so little differential in magnitude (6.5 and 6.7), this neat double is indeed the "kissing double" as described in the DSST. With only a separation of 7.3" it is easy to split in either telescope. Looks great in medium to higher power, but not too high so you don't dim the view.

Albireo (Beta Cyg) (*****)
Although in the list, I didn't observe it tonight because I know this star like the back of my hand

16 Cyg (Struve II 46) (*****)
Can't let Mr. SUG have all the fun. What a dynamite pair. Of course this is located right next door to the Blinking Planetary Nebula but forget that because I am in the city. Wide and bright, it is easily observed in both scopes. Most people really need to take a look at 16 Cyg with a separation of 39.1" and very little in the magnitude differential. Certainly a showpiece pair right up there with Albireo.

Delta Cyg (Struve 2579) (***)
Was already observed previously this year. This is a tight double star with a dramatic magnitude difference of 2.9 - 6.3. and only 2.5" separation. It is easily observable in a four inch refractor but I don't recall trying this in the Pronto. I will have to see. Still a very nice site.

Struve 2578 (****)
Another nice site. The DSST calls for a colour difference but I wasn't seeing it. I will have to try harder. With a separation of 14.7" it is fairly easy to find and especially because the mag difference is not all that much (6.4 - 7.0). Very easy in either telescope but it is located in a busy stretch of Cygnus so you will have to do some hunting here. But it is worth it.

Next up...17 Cyg.

Who is this and why are you in Cygnus?...well okay, you're not. But what a way to end an observing session. While tearing down the 102, I put the Pronto on Jupiter but alas, seeing had degraded and not much to report here except a few cloud bands and the moons. Too bad too.

A productive night to say the least. I am pleased the 102 can be a true Struve hunter. I am also please the Pronto keeps up quite nicely despite that it is only 70mm. But all in all, a great experience. Both the DSST and The CDSA are excellent to work from and highly recommended.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Atlas for the Struve Double Hunters...The CDSA

This was Drive-By's idea, he got it first I think but I will have to ask SUG if he got it first. But anyway...There are two "killer" DSO (Deep Sky Objects) star atlas's. They are the Uranometria 2000.0 and the Sky Atlas 2000.0 and their respecitve resource guides. For shear volume of stars, there is the out-of-print (WHY??) Millennium Star Atlas. One of the best compact atlas's is the Pocket Sky Atlas, again another wonderful atlas. Norton's is a classic, and the original Cambridge Star Atlas too is another wonderful atlas to work from.

What about double stars? Well, James Mullaney and uranographer extrodinaire, Wil Tirion have teamed up to make a very impressive and exhausitive atlas for the double star hunters....The Cambridge Double Star Atlas with an exhausitive "hit list" and a great amount of detail down to 7.5 mag or fainter. An excellent companion to the traditional DSO favourites like the Uranometria and Sky Atlas 2000.0. However, the CDSA does have DSO's listed but it is minimized to keep the clutter down on the atlas. Some may view this as a bit of a negative since the smaller Pocket Sky Atlas has more DSO's. Not so though, as the beauty of this atlas are the various labels pointing the observer to a double star. It's built for telescopes of all aperture and some of these doubles will require pristine, steady skies and excellent, collimated optics.

Structurally it is typical Tirion much like the layout of the Sky Atlas 2000.0 and Uranometria, a sort of "standard feel" to it. DSO's are labeled in colour as is the Milky Way in traditional "Blue" much like the desk and deluxe editions of the larger Sky Atlas 2000.0. Double stars are labeled in green with their appropriate discoverer/catalogue

Coupled with Sissy Haas' Double Stars For Small Telescopes the CDSA will prove to be invaluable as it takes a lot of the guess work out. Are you a double star hunter? Get this atlas!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Post of the Day

"Look skyward now...
And see above... INFINITY
Vast and dark and deep
And endless... your heritage:
Silent clouds of stars,
Other worlds uncountable and other suns
beyond numbering
And realms of fire-mist and star-cities
as grains of sand...
Across the void...
Across the gulf of night...
Across the endless rain of years...
Across the ages."


Monday, July 27, 2009

Back in business...sort of.

I wouldn't call it clear by any stretch. Poor transparency and poor seeing. Lots of twinkling up there, but hey, it's clear enough for me to do what I need to do.

You would think there was a lot on the line here, but really, there is not. No matter how you slice there was no way I would have gotten rid of the old Refractor if it completely failed the test. But what was on the line was the matter of it being surplus and confined to the odd night here and there. Essentially to retire with dignity and stay in storage while the other two get all the fun. Not a nice scenario.

...Jim, the Enterprise is twenty years old, we feel her day is over...

Not so fast Admiral Morrow. First, it's not called Enterprise, and secondly, it isn't over and here's why.

Got the SP-C102 set up late as usual and mostly in the dark. However, it was hoisted onto the SP mount with the steel legs for the first time. It has not yet been on the steel legs as of yet. First thing was to look at any star. Sadr was my choice, not too bright, but not to faint. Result? Apart from crummy seeing...COLLIMATED!. The star test revealed the out of focus image on both sides is spot on. Seeing interfered a bit, but the end result was EXACTLY what I wanted.

But, if you're going to play with the other kids, you're gonna have to do better than that. Swung over to Alpha Hercules just to see what a double star was going to do that was slightly more challenging than say, Albireo. Again spot on with perfect concentric rings, albeit seeing again being a challenge. Then it struck not the OTA although that would have been enlightening. It's performing better than ever before. Better than when I first got it. What does that say?

Struve time. Again, you want to play with the other kids, you better be a Struve hunter because that's the in thing right now on this blog. Struve 2668 proved to be easier to find, go figure as it took me forever last time. Not a problem. The old Refractor showed it as a nice tight double with contrasting colours and very nicely control of the glare of the primary. Struve hunter? Well one down, many more to go. But it looks like we are capable here.

Double Double: Probably the best I have seen it ever in the SP-C102, sharper than the Pronto which says a lot about how good the collimation is now. No trouble here.

Albireo: With K out now with me, she wanted to look at a pretty double and Albireo, dedicated to both of us, was very nice indeed, but wasn't used as a test.

End result: I would say that this is a tremendous improvement over what was happening and has given a reprieve so to speak for the old Refractor which is great because it's always been there. The OTA is looking beat up but this test green lights any major overhaul to the tube in the future.

So does that make the other two surplus? Well not the Pronto....


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tin Foil Hat Updated

My "other" blog...a photoblog that I have neglected a bit but I hope to get out and shoot more soon.

Tin Foil Hat: Stories Through Images



Saturday, July 25, 2009

Way Out! The "Old 102" gets collimated

My sneaking suspicions about the "Old 102" were confirmed today as I set up the collimating tool and the OTA and it was out. No, it was WAY OUT! I started to notice that I could not get a very sharp image from it when lined up against the Pronto or the Antares 105. Since the other two were sharing the load, the SP-C102 was shelved into the background. Yet something was always nagging at me because, despite the greater false colour (although far from annoying), it's an easier refractor to work with than the longer Antares.

Following the instructions in my last posting, Refractor Collimation, I was able to get the two donuts together using the push-pull cell. It wasn't difficult, just a bit time consuming although at one point I thought I was going in circles. The other problem I had was that one screw is looking at bit stripped but I managed. Now the only thing I am waiting for are clear skies which if you have been following (check the right hand side of the blog), aren't going to be anytime soon.

Just to check and compare, I decided to look at the Pronto's collimation and to my surprise, its now worse than the SP-C102. This does not come as a shock as the Pronto being second hand, needs to visit Uncle Al at Tele Vue to get a tune up. The Pronto has been delivering some excellent views despite this small handicap, but I expect it will head down towards the end of this year for some servicing. You cannot adjust a Pronto's lens cell, it has to go down to the shop.

Maybe I will have a report on the SP-C102 soon, but I expect clouds and more rain until at least mid to late next week...which stinks!


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Refractor Collimation

I stumbled across this because I am going to take a look at the collimation of the now semi-retired SP-C102 as I was having issues with the images at high power. The old refractor might be out of collimation or simply suffer from rough surface. I will find out soon enough. With the weather not conducive for observing for a few days (or is that weeks?) it might be time to take a look at some maintenance issues with the old scope.

Of course, I forgot "how to collimate" a refractor but I found this resource, Refractor Collimation and I just picked up a simple collimator to do it. So I will see just how far off the collimation is.


Socked in and soggy

If you had looked at the right side of the blog and followed the EC forecast and Clear Sky Chart, you'll notice we're right in the middle of some soggy and humid weather. Toronto's summer has been a little on the unusual side with lots of cloud cover and a little wetter than normal. Yet the air is generally clean which is a good thing. Bad if you are observing. The scopes have been idle for a while now so the itch is there to return to action ASAP but that window of opportunity may not happen till next week. There is a narrow, and I mean narrow window of *maybe* Friday night, but it is not looking good until at least another week from now or more. But it's the weather, it does what it wishes.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Update on Struve 2668

I am posting this as a new entry rather than editing the previous entry which was Uranometria, Struve 2668 and The Living Star Atlas. Do 5 is part of the Dolidze catalogue of clusters which frequent the area of Cygnus. This cluster in particular is an eye catcher, also it is the home of Struve 2668. Again, it's position is 20h 20.3m RA, +39 24" DEC

Sources: Uranometria 2000.0 Vol 1 2nd Edition, Tirion et al and Double Stars for Small Telescopes by Sissy Haas.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Our man in Shanghai (Eclipse in Shanghai)

We are wishing for clear weather over there for the Wednesday eclipse of the Sun in Shanghai. Our man, Malcolm Park, President of the North York Astronomical Association continues to update us on his adventure. Lets hope it clears up...but the forecast is not looking promising.

Check out his blog, Cygnusx1 here

Drive-In Astronomy

I have been frequenting (why was does that word sound so wrong?) the 5 Drive-In in Oakville on a few occasions where it has actually been clear. I have been tempted to set up the Pronto on a whim just to see what would happen. There are literally hundreds of people there hunkered down in their cages watching the big outdoor screen. Karen and I sit outside of the car taking in the film but both of us have drifted off staring at the night sky if the movie is iffy, watching planes make their finals (or takeoffs) from Pearson Airport and looking at, or literally staring at some old familiar sites. Screen One roughly faces north so The Great Bear makes a dive this time a year towards it. Usually we have spotted Jupiter rising over the diner during the film and as we go home late, it's soaring above the parking lot. Saturday night I was trying to split Mizar and Alcor naked eye. I used to be able to do that. Let's face it, my eye's aren't what they used to be. I also left my wallet there and I have to go retrieve it. Silly me!

It could be an interesting outreach for people to learn. Not sure how the management would feel, but it's not a bad thing I suppose. Perhaps I will be more subtle and just use my 8x42s instead. But the Pronto, being small enough, just might do the trick and just keep it at a minimum towards the back. Of course, there is the possibility of using the facility as an outreach during non-movie times, something to consider.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Uranometria, Struve 2668 and The Living Star Atlas

I was fortunate last night to do a trial run of the Antares 105 and the TV Pronto all at once. Two scopes that are very, very different in how they approach the night sky, granted they are both refractors, they are very different. 8X50 finder scopes are generally adequate for most if not all types of night sky star hopping, but they start to show their limitation with really super-detailed atlas's like Uranometria. Last night I cracked open the Uranometria for the first time in 2009 and immediately felt out of touch and out of whack with the image scale. But after a few false starts, I turned to the Pronto for some interpretation and sure enough, it showed an incredible amount of detail as a finder telescope. It was clearly much better than any standard 8X50 finder scopes obviously with it's shear quality of optics. The Pronto was not physically attached to the Antares, it was sitting on an AZ-3 Mount beside it. There are no plans to adapt the Pronto physically to any telescope at this time.

Struve 2668--With the Pronto as the finder and the Antares as the primary observing scope I was able to do two things at once. Searching for Struve 2668 in Cygnus I could not really make out what I really needed to star hop in the 8X50, but the Pronto began to show details I really hoped to see. Struve 2668 was not all by itself. It's located in a small open cluster known as Do 5 which the 8X50 failed to see, but the Pronto readily saw beside a "wall" of four dimly lit stars. I wasn't just finding, I was observing at the same time. That's a nice feeling. Struve 2668 is a very nice double but not a very bright one and the companion is not easy to spot at first. No problem though in the Antares 105mm. The magnitudes are 6.3 and 8.5 respectively with a separation of 3.4".

Next time someone calls your small, high quality refractor a glorified finder scope, thank them! The Pronto and the Antares 105 make a great team.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tele Vue Pronto and the "Living Star Atlas"

One of the better reviews of the Tele Vue Pronto courtesy Cloudy Nights, titled Tele Vue Pronto and the Living Star Atlas

While this blog is not really about equipment reviews, from time to time they will be posted. The Backyard Astronomer Blog will remain predominantly an "observing" blog rather than an equipment shootout.



Monday, July 13, 2009

A night of splits and a gas giant (and some Moon)

I finally dedicated a night to observing, and I mean actually doing some hunting and observing as opposed to just prowling around the night sky looking at whatever. At first it looked like we'd be clouded out, but that did change back to clear so we were full steam ahead. Spent most of my time in Cygnus again while I was waiting for the grand prize to clear the horizon. Seeing was a tad iffy.

We were lucky to catch Saturn on it's downward spin towards the horizon. Saturn is increasingly difficult and I felt a tad sorry that we are in the "wave goodbye" stage of it's observing time. But still, it was nice catch in the evening twilight. Something to build on as the evening progresses.

Why do dill flavoured chips taste better while observing???? I don't know.

Then I split things. The telescope was the Antares 105mm Refractor. The location was Saddington Park in Mississauga.

Antares: Low and behold it actually did show a companion but I have to say that it's one big disco ball at that altitude. Granted with iffy seeing, this will happen. I called Karen over because her eyes are better than mine and she has grown accustomed to by annoying habit of finding double stars. She saw it too. So it confirms that at 105mm, this should work. I hope some of you split it in South America instead. Up in Mississauga, it's just a tad too low. But I love the "fiery pale colour" of Antares with a tad of green from the companion. Lovely double, but not in Mississauga.

Struve 2741--Cygnus: Where am I? Oh right, Cygnus. But here's the catch. Silly me should have brought the Sky Atlas 2000.0 but I opted just for the Pocket Sky Atlas thinking that city observing only requires that. Well, that wasn't the case, but anyway (I have issues with scale because my mind gets numb). Moving right along, 2741 is located at 20h 58.5m RA, +50 28' DEC and is easily accessible by star chart. I rate this pair as a "cute pair" because it is. It was very pleasing at about 238X with the seeing permitting. I show this as a blue-white pair and easily split at 2.0".

Then the clouds rolled in: It went from Rated G to R pretty quickly. Enough is enough with this whacky weather where all the promises of "clear skies" went out the window just as I started to observe 2741...TEA and COOKIE TIME!

Then it cleared, back to Rated G.

Struve 2732--Cygnus: 20h 48.7m RA, +51 55' DEC. With the sky now clear, mostly anyway, I moved on to this neat little pair but be careful here. Magnitude Differential Warning!But it's not that bad. I could easily make out the companion and with a split of only 4.3" which is not terribly difficult. But as stated, the primary does outshine the companion with a mag. differential of 6.4 and 8.6 respectively so it is a challenge, but nowhere near impossible for a modest aperture.

49 Cyg--Cygnus: 20h 41.0m RA, +32 18' DEC. 49 Cyg tops off the evening of splits as the Grand Prize is just about to clear the trees at Saddington Park, but anyway. 49 is striking and not too difficult. I have to issue another Magnitude Differential Warning, but be careful of reading too much into the hype although it is 5.8 and 8.1 respectively. Found it fairly easy to identify the companion. It is suggested to be of grey colour, I found it blue again. The primary did not wash out the companion as in 2732 but it was a challenge. Nice thing is, 49 Cyg is easy to locate with an 8X50 finder so you will have no difficulty.

Jupiter: After all the splits, tea, cookies and a few naughty words aimed at the clouds, it was off to Jupiter. Seeing was a problem because Jupiter as most of you reading this are aware, is low for us Northerners. But it's good to see old Jupiter again in the sky. I had the power way to high at one point so I backed down to about 125X and we were making out the festoons in the belts as best we could. Four moons were up at this time so that added to our observing pleasure.

Jupiter at 20: As with everything astronomy related, this will be my 20th year observing the great Jupiter. I first saw it through my trashy but humble Magnicon 234 way back in 1989 before I really knew anything about astronomy so we go back a bit, Jupiter and I. It's always nice to see in the night sky and the sky never feels right without it, IMHO. Good to have you back Jupiter!

Moon: Luna was fun time. Ron and I decided to try and take hand-held shots of the moon and it worked somewhat but we could do better.

Then I tired. Time to go home to bed. I was pleased with tonight because we saw four new objects (Antares companion counted as one) so all in all, a good night (sans clouds)


Pics from last night:

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Team Photos

Just in case you missed is the team.

Celestron/Vixen SP-C102 (also known as "The Grand Old Refractor)
Tele Vue Pronto (also known as "Tasco Tonto")
Antares 105
William Optics Zenithstar 80 Fluorite (poppa's, not mine)