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.