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.