Friday, May 29, 2009

A users opinion (review): Tele Vue Pronto, Part One

“User review”. Sort of an oxymoron. A user may or may not be an authority on the subject they are reviewing, but nevertheless, user reviews seem to be the thing to do on the internet. Thankfully, I am no authority but I am a user (salt anyone?). So whatever you do with this so-called review, should it be called that, just remember, it’s just an opinion. You can disagree, agree or simply not care.

Tele Vue Pronto History:
This is not my first Pronto. This is my second. Most people associate me with my old Celestron 102mm, not a Tele Vue Pronto, but it’s actually true, I used to own a Pronto. My first Pronto was excellent, bought brand new from EfstonScience sometime in the late 90’s. It was my great little “do everything” scope. I sold it. Why? A moment of being a total moron I suppose. Oh well, I was young and stupid with telescopes then. But I am not going to review that Pronto, I am going to review my current one.

Pronto’s burst on the scene in 1992. Pronto’s are built like little tanks, slightly hefty in it’s diminutive 70mm aperture. The bad thing about the Pronto is that it costs more than a thousand dollars in 1992. It was retired with the release of Tele Vue’s newer doublet APO’s, the TV76 and TV85. I came across Pronto #2 while looking for a high quality, portable rig that would not set me back too much dollar wise and lucky me, I remembered what fond memories I had of Pronto #1 (and then proceeded to kick myself for selling it). I was recently dissatisfied with the erratic quality control of the Chinese imported refractors although I do know there are superb samples out there, but anyway. So looking through Astro Buy and Sell I stumbled upon a used one from a gentleman in Montreal who’s identity I will not say because I didn’t ask if I should publish his name. But the experience was top notch and Pronto #2 showed up in excellent condition with a balance plate, soft bag and red dot finder as promised and for an excellent price.

It came with a Stellarvue red dot finder, but I dropped it and broke it slightly so I was fortunate that my friend Robin gave me a virtually unused Quikpoint. They are okay, but my first Pronto had a Starbeam, that's a red dot finder! Too bad they are expensive. First problem was trying to mount it. Tele Vue with it’s clamshell adapter is not something that is easy to work with if you don’t know how to drill things and you don’t want me to do any drilling. At first I mounted it to a Manfrotto 050 tripod and 128 head. This combo is okay for day usage but is terrible for astronomy as working at the zenith is almost impossible. It was a yucky experience to say the least. So I gathered an adapter to mount it to the AZ3 from SkyWatcher, a simple camera mount adapter. This improved things for the most part but the best set up, to put it on the Super Polaris Mount, well, that’s a different story. Again, luck would have it, I came across the SP mounting plate and was able to mount the Pronto to the saddle (or lack of a saddle). Here you will see the three different configurations.

Observing with the Pronto:
That's another story, wait for part II.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cloudy Night Link: The Interactive NGC Catalog

Another online resource for a quick and easy reference of deep sky objects,
The Interactive NGC Catalog

Friday, May 22, 2009

Porrima pulls apart

Last I checked this was tough. See the last blog on the star Porrima (or Gamma Virginis)

An article in Sky and Telescope is reporting that our friend Porrima is finally pulling apart in it's 169 year orbit and should be visible as a split double at 1.24 arc seconds in May and 1.30 arc seconds in July. This suggests that my original posting on Porrima contains factual errors which I got from that Wickythingypedia (not known for its accuracy I suppose). Well S&T has politely corrected that.

What is required is really steady skies. Unfortunately Porrima is quite a bit south so those required steady skies are going to be tough. But it's worth a shot. It always is....


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Urban Observing, Rural Setting: Lynde Shores

A classic case of being able to actually "see something" in an urban area. Lynde Shores is that sort of place. Easy access, less than an hour of travel for most of us, and it is reasonably dark and out of harms way of intruding, local light pollution. It is far from perfect. There is no perfection within two hours drive of Toronto. Three hours will get you black skies, but two hours you will contend with some moronic dome of light from our wonderful world of progress. But to put it mildly, I have to say the experience last night was not only pleasant, but also fun with the gang from the NYAA -- shameless plug-in warning. Visit the NYAA here.

Visible on this night were M81 and M82, two galaxies in Ursa Major, M13 (as if), M5 and others, easily viewable from this location. We had the odd car drive past which is not unusual but far better than the public parks in the urban jungle where "push carts" and their "n'er do well" drivers gather to do whatever it is they do. On Durham Police cruiser came by. I've always said that is better to have than not, a routine patrol in the area. The OPP do that at Forks and it is better that way. But the best thing is there were no direct issues with light, the sight was *dark* for what it's worth. The putrid dome of the light from Toronto and area was an obvious eye soar but much more manageable as we seemed to be more removed from that goo of so-called progress.

All in all a great time with friends and a great time observing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hotech Laser Collimator

Excellent resource for collimation of a telescope. The Hotech SCA Laser Collimator featured on YouTube


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rasalgethi -- Head of the Kneeler

Rasalgethi or Alpha Herculis (64 Herculis) located near the border of the constellation Hercules and Ophiucus could be one of the most beautiful double star systems to view in the spring and early summer sky. Alpha 1 is a gorgeous red giant that appears that way in your quality telescope. This star is 400 times the size of our Sun, 300 million km radius or 14 solar masses. At about 70X, you begin to see the star as a pair. Alpha 2 is a yellow giant star. Alpha 2 is also a double star itself, not visible in a backyard telescope.

When seeing permits, you can easily split them at about 140X and see the colour differential. With and easy 4.7 arc second separation, most quality backyard telescopes will find this easy. With a little sky knowledge it's easy to find in the city skyglow.

Quite a sight!


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mars Hoax 2003

It's that old? I still cannot believe this is being emailed out to people since it's inception. It's all bollocks, but hey, sometimes you do need a good laugh...well it was laughable in 2003. It's 2009! Now it's annoying. Andrew W has set up a Facebook group to End the Hoax

Here is what the original email looked like:

"The Red Planet is about to be spectacular! This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles (55,763,108 km) of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.

By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month. Share this with your children and grandchildren. NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN"

Please remember this statement:
At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye

No, Mars will not be the size of the full moon. It will look AT 75 Power in a quality telescope as if it were the size of the full moon. This would be called "apparent size". But that was in 2003. At oppostion in late 2009, it won't be anywhere near that big.

For an explanation of this from Sky and Telescope, go here.

Please try to understand that if Mars appeared like the full moon in the sky, we would probably be dead.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tele Vue Pronto on the SP Mount

Adding further to the post below, "Pronto Finds New Legs", I finally had the chance on a really nice clear night (and the ISS passing overhead too!) to test out the Pronto with the SP combination at JC Saddington Park, Mississauga. This might seem a bit overkill, but really, it is a great combination. Reduction in overall vibrations (there are no "good" vibrations in telescope land) and a much easier time focusing the Pronto added to the experience. The mount is still currently un-powered but I might be able to score a hand control or new motor in the future. I will have to resolve collision issues with the RA control stock, but that is no biggy. Nice to also have the tripod lower since the f/6.8 OTA is far shorter than the f/9.8 Refractor of old.

Nice view of Alpha Herculis last night, one of the finer double stars (see the posting on May 17th Rasalgethi -- Head of the Kneeler for more info).
Saturn was rock solid as always with a little more dark limbing on the edge. Also good to see a few more NYAA'ers out their plus a member of the RASC Mississauga.

A very pleasant night to observe.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cloudy Night Link: NOAO Best Images of the Advanced Observing Program

All I can say is wow. Especially the 272 galaxy images. What a collection for those cloudy nights.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tele Vue Pronto finds new legs

I was lucky to scrounge a plate that adapts TeleVue's clamshell ring mount to the old Super Polaris Mount. This plate is not made anymore in favour of a Vixen style quick release plate the SP mount never used, it lacks a quick release saddle. Only two screws hold the plate in place much like it holds the tube rings for the 102mm. Two screws underneath the plate hold the clamshell in position thus supporting the Pronto. There is little to no flex.

The quick release system is preferred, but since my mount pre-dates that era, I would have to get a saddle machined (not cheap) and an extra universal dovetail plate.

The SP mount still needs new wood legs and maybe a fresh coat of paint to bring it into the 21st century not to mention a set of new motor drives (very expensive!)

Photos are up on my Facebook profile, but I will have new photos of this rig on here later.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cloudy Night Link: The Interactive NGC Catalogue

Another great link for those cloudy nights. This is an excellent resource for those exploring the full Messier/NGC Catalogue.



Monday, May 4, 2009

Grassroots Weekend

I'm so thankful for Saturn. The showpiece object, the grand prize of the planets was plainly visible giving ordinary folk a brief yet exciting peek into our solar system planting in them what might lie beyond our little corner of the universe. What fun it is to see people's eye's light up when they first view the ringed orb. Kids love it the most. Parent almost looked relieved as they watch the joy of their children viewing the known universe in a world of high-tech FX, Playstations and Xbox's.

Then there is the Moon. That always gets a lot of ooohs and aaaawws.

Backyard Astronomy is rather ill-defined in what it is because it has so much depth to it. From simple moon gazing and binocular viewing to CCD imaging and fascinating trips around the world to see "that special moment". Accessible to anyone, Backyard Astronomy is entirely what you make of it. This weekend was all about the grassroots, enjoying the simpler approach and letting those totally unfamiliar with astronomy get a chance to take that rare peek through a telescope and not trying to confuse them with all the technobabble and the hinderance of an advanced telescope. This was put simply, "just observing".

Getting a telescope and using it in a public area will always draw attention. It very rarely, if ever, draws a "n'er-do-well" who might want to harm you. Be prepared to attract a curious group of people who want to know more beyond their view of the universe. It is a lot of fun to share that moment.

How many people became "new astronomers"? I can't say, but I do know for sure that their view of the universe was slightly altered and now they have an idea of what a few things really look like.