Monday, February 23, 2009

Comet Lulin at the Luz Obsrvatory

I started off the weekend with a bang! I have been talking about comet Lulin for months and haven't been able to view it because every time I had the chance the weather would not cooperate. Good ol sunny California, ya right LOL. Friday the 20th started out cloudy but in the evening as 3 of us showed up at the Luz Observatory the skies cleared. Well we started out by viewing Venus which was one of the best views I have ever seen of this planet. Then Pandora's Box was opened, oops no that was the front door of the observatory down stairs. Well we had an entire elementary class show up with their parents. Wow but the 3 of us can handle that no problem. So next we fixed the scope on Saturn because that ALWAYS wows the crowd. People just kept coming and coming LOL. Well to find out the night before the local news did a story on comet Lulin, plus we had advertised the public viewing in the local paper. Well needless to say we ended up with 97 people in the observatory that night. The line went around the scope platform down the stairs to a crowd filling up our large meeting room and lobby. WOW! We also had a direct link setup to the GAVRT radio telescope which is part of the Goldstone Radio Telescope complex on Ft. Irwin which was donated to the Lewis Center by JPL/ NASA. The kids love to actually move that big ol dish and watch it live via live video stream. Well anyhow the final count of bodies was right at 97. That is one of the biggest crowds we have had there. Well at 8:40 PST the Comet started to rise and we gave everyone a nice view of the comet along with many other objects that night. It really feels good to see public interest peak on events like this.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sidewalk astronomy

If you are an amateur astronomer, I do recommend that you try sidewalk astronomy. I have found it to be a truly rewarding experience. People are very appreciative of the effort and always have a great time. It is nice to take along a friend or another amateur astronomer for moral support. In fact, several telescopes really make it an event that will attract a crowd. The best time to go out is between First Quarter and Full Moon when deep sky observing is not possible. People love to see the moon through a telescope and are usually awestruck! When I started sidewalk astronomy, I never observed the Moon or planets for more than a minute or two during a session as I felt is was a waste of my time since I was only interested in deep sky objects. Now I enjoy lunar and planetary observing and have learned a great deal about these objects through my research which I conducted in order to better answer questions I was asked by the public. Anyways the best places to set up are areas of high foot traffic such as Barnes and Noble, and Starbucks. Attracting a crowd is easy when you have a telescope set up.Here is a picture of a small group around my scope in a Albertson's Supermarket parking lot. I had over 30 people come over to my scope and everyone enjoyed viewing the moon that night.

March, and the Messier Marathon grows near! AGAIN!

In the latter part of the eighteenth century, astronomers gained fame and wealth by discovering comets, still thought to foretell the future. One of these skywatchers was Charles Messier, who observed from Paris. Occasionally, M. Messier would chance upon a whitish blob, such as comets look when they are first seen. On August 28, 1758, he spotted such an object. Unfortunately, after watching it for a few evenings, he found that the blob maintained the same position among the stars, unlike a comet. Determined not to be fooled if he encountered the same object in the future, Messier determined and saved its coordinates. Over the next several decades, with the help of his colleague Pierre Méchain, many other entries were made in a list of deceivers. The list now contains 110 objects (though historians quarrel about the exact number), and are referred to as M1 through M110. A few objects had incorrect coordinates or may have been duplicates. It is generally agreed now that M101 and M102 are the same.This list has become the beginning observer's guide book, for it contains most of the interesting celestial objects to be found with a small (4" diameter) telescope. These objects include reflection nebulae, emission nebulae, planetary nebulae, open clusters, globular clusters, spiral galaxies and elliptical galaxies. Objects of all these types can look like a blob. (Modern telescope usually see open clusters as individual stars, but with the crude telescope Messier used many clusters looked like small clouds.) Interestingly enough, the first false comet Messier discovered was different from the rest. M1 is the Crab Nebula, the detritus from a supernova explosion.I mention all this because around the spring equinox it is possible to see all the Messier objects in a single night (sunset to sunrise). Only at this time are all of them far enough from the Sun to be seen sometime during the night (although M30 is quite difficult from latitude 40° north). Amateur astronomers call such an attempt a Messier Marathon. You'll need a dark sky, a medium-sized scope (4 to 8 inches in aperture, depending on experience), coffee, snacks and warm clothing. Of course you can see all of Messier's menagerie in bite-size chunks -- twelve monthly expeditions, four seasonal trips and so forth. But where's the fun in that? ?

Renting the 60" Mt. Wilson reflector telescope!

My club the High Desert Astronomical Society is confirmed for a night of observing at the 60" reflector up on top of Mt. Wilson. The outing is scheduled for April. This is going to be an awesome experience and I can hardly wait to go. Here is a little bit of the history of the telescope.The 60-inch reflector at Mount Wilson was constructed in 1908. Hale used the 60-inch glass blank that his father purchased for him in 1896. George Ritchey finished the glass blank into a mirror of the proper size in the Mount Wilson optical shops in Pasadena, California. Ritchey also designed the tube and mounting for the telescope, which were built by the Union Iron Works in San Francisco. The design drew heavily on experience gained with the use of the 36-inch Crossley reflector at the Lick Observatory.The telescope is supported by a 15-foot tube, which contains eight separate steel tubes and cross-braces designed to provide a stiffer truss and support system than was originally found in the Crossley reflector. The mirror is supported by a system of levers in a steel housing attached to the bottom of the tube and is fork-mounted on the polar axis. Just below the fork is a 10-foot diameter mercury float-bearing system designed to carry the weight of the telescope. The telescope is moved with electric motors. The 58-foot dome of the telescope is built from steel, on a concrete foundation, with double walls for the free circulation of air. This design is necessary to minimize temperature variations which could alter the shape of the mirror.Hale designed the optical system of the 60-inch reflector so that the instrument could be used for a variety of purposes. As a Newtonian telescope it was an f/5 instrument for photography and low-dispersion spectroscopy. In a modified Cassegrain configuration, using a convex hyperboloidal mirror before the prime focus and a plane mirror at the lower end of the tube to reflect light to the side of the tube, it could be used at f/16 for spectrography and an f/20 for photography. Finally, as an f/30 Coude, light was reflected by an appropriately geared mirror through the hollow polar axis into a constant-temperature room housing a large spectrograph. This flexible optical system, which allowed the telescope to be used for photographic and spectrographic purposes, was a model for future large reflectors. After the trip I will write a blog and post photos of the trip. Now maybe we will do the same thing at the Mt. Palomar Observatory next year!

Small Astrograph setup

Here is a pic of my new setup I've been working on the past month. Orion 4.25" (114mm) F3.5 newtonian with rings and dovetal mounted on the Celestron CG-5 equitorial mount. I added the Celestron dual axis drive system, some old knobs from , my LXD55 polar scope and also did more mods to the DeWalt construction tripod to make it very rigid. I used Birch to make the eyepiece tray- leg speader and I am in the process of making a wheely bar system to roll it out and level the scope. I disassembled the mount completely then soaked and cleaned the original grease from all the interior parts, deburred the wormgear, and relubed all of the bearing components with white lithium grease which the manufacturer should use. After that I made critical adjustments to the wormgears and now the mount motions are smooth as butter with no backlash at all and the tracking is dead on. This is turning out to be a really fun project!
Now my next project on this system is to solder in an ST-4 usb autoguider port which I will obtain from . My 102mm Maksutov will be mounted piggyback as a guide scope as soon as I get a set of mounting rings. The Maksutov alone is quite a nice scope giving nice images of planets, the moon, and brighter nebula. It is also excellent for splitting double stars. This whole project came about by a myspace friend ( Dave )sending me the EQ head at no charge or this project would have never started. Since I had open heart surgery I have ALOT of idle time and lack of funds, so this project was just what the doctor ordered! I can't thank you enough Dave.The info for the CG-5 mount at is priceless. There is step by step instructions there for doing the mount tune up for the CG5 and LXD55/75 mounts. If you have one of these mounts I would recommend this project.

Is it worth getting an OIII filter?

Yes it is! I ordered the Baader Planetarium Oxygen III filter from I have now spent several nights observing planetary and emission nebulae and the view through this filter is hands down amazing. Looking at the Veil Nebula is very difficult because it is so faint, but the OIII enhances and brings out every detail as well as seeming to brighten it. I was able to view both parts of the Veil and actually follow the entire ribbon from one end to the other making out every little wisp. The next Nebula I went to was M57 the Ring Nebula which normally looks good but with the filter I could make out more detail on the outer edges which I could not make out with the filter. The Swan Nebula showed so much more detail and textures in the cloud structure. Looking at the Lagoon Nebula was the same showing greatly increased detail but the filter icreased the size of the nebula by 40% by bringing out clouding that you cannot see without the OIII. Now the best view of the nigh was the Orion Nebula. There is so much there to see and the OIII adds so much contrast making the background velvety black that it seems to increase the brightness of the nebula. From what I have read and discussed and seen the OIII will work well in any scope with 8" of aperature or more. This one is hard to beat. This filter is among the narrowest transmission O-III filters on the market as such it effectively blocks the entire visual spectrum with the exception of the O-III transmission lines. Since the transmission of the light in the OIII is so efficient, fainter nebula seem to appear brighter and the extent of nebulosity that can be seen is greater so in fact you will see more of the fainter components.

Dual Speed Crayford Focuser w/ 10:1 Ratio

I have just installed a new GSO (Guan Sheng Optical) dual speed low profile crayford focuser with a 10:1 ratio on my 12.5" Dicovery PDHQ Dob. The focuser really has a nice feel and finish, better than I had expected. The focuser and the 1.25" adapter both utilize compression rings which will save my eyepieces from set screw marks on the barrels. I ordered it through Agena Astro and it arrived in 2 days. They always treat their customers right. Installation was a snap, I only had to drill 2 mounting holes in the telescope tube and that's it. I bolted it on and re-collimated my scope. My heaviest eyepiece setup is 4 lbs. and this focuser lifts it with no problems at all which seems to be the concern of some folks but that sure seems unfounded by me. With the micro focus I have been able to squeeze out the finest details from Jupiter and other objects.

Cleaning your telescope's primary mirror.

Okay here is the technique I use for cleaning my primary mirror. In the 4 years I have owned my scope, I have cleaned the primary and secondary mirror twice. Since I live in the desert my scope picks up alot of dust and I do hold off as long as possible before I do this. My mirror costs $850.00 to replace or $250.00 to recoat so I don't take cleaning it lightly. I have cleaned over 20 primary mirrors and have not had any problems with this technique. Here is the formula for the cleaning solution.....
2 cups distilled water
1/8th cup of 90% Isopropyl Alcohol
3 small drops of clear dishwashing liquid
I gallon of distilled water for rinsing.
1 bag of sterile cotton balls
You can get distilled water at the grocery store for around a buck a gallon.
Add the 2 cups of distilled water into a bowl, then add the alcohol, then the dishwashing soap (in that order) then mix with a spoon. you don't want the soap to foam up your mixture.
Remove the primary mirror from the mirror cell and blow off the dust with your breath. I don't use canned air because the propellant can damage your mirror coatings instantly. Fill your kitchen sink half full with lukewarm tap water and place the mirror in water face up and let it soak for around 10 to 20 minutes. Pour your cleaning solution in a bowl and add about 20 cotton balls into the solution. Take the mirror out and place it on a towell and keep it wet with the distilled water. Now take a soaked cotton ball from the solution and place it in the center of the mirror. Now drag the cotton ball using only its own weight (don't push down on it) to the edge of the mirror and throw the cotton ball away. Take another soaked cotton ball and do the same thing. Work your way in a circle around the mirror only pulling the cotton balls from the center to the edge. NEVER use a cotton ball twice. Always throw them away after 1 pass. After going around the entire mirror tilt the mirror up (in the sink) and rinse with the distilled water. The distilled water will mostly run off in a solid sheet . For any remaining spots of water use a paper towell folded to a small point and just barely touch it to the water droplet and it will soak it off of the mirror. That is pretty much it. Don't resort to cleaning the mirror unless it is REALLY dirty. If you end up 1 or 2 water spots don't worry about them for they will not affect your viewing at all.

Newtonian Telescopes

Newtonian telescopes are those which gather light on a mirror surface then reflect it to the eyepiece via a secondary mirror. They offer excellent deep sky views particularly from a good dark sky location.
Their simple construction makes them economic so large apertures are quite affordable and they are very easy to use. The main maintenance consideration is keeping dust off the primary mirror. Collimation may be required from time to time, this is the process by which you ensure the mirror is correctly aligned. That maybe sounds a bit complicated but in reality it is a simple adjustment which reflecting telescope owners soon get the hang of without much thinking about it. There are lasers available to make this job much easier.
If you want a real big aperture, go for a Dobsonian telescope. This is simply a big reflector tube mounted on a turntable which swivels on the ground. They are called a Dobsonian after their developer John Dobson, a legendary figure in amateur astronomy who has helped bring astronomy to the masses through concepts like Sidewalk Astronomy. Dobsonian telescopes are extremely easy to use and offer more bang for the buck so they are popular amateur astronomers.
You will sometimes here this type of telescope referred to as a 'Newtonian Reflector' after its developer Sir Isaac Newton back in the 17th century. He was not actually the inventor by the way but he is generally thought to have made the first practical one.
PROs and CONs of Reflectors
Simpler construction means this type of telescope is a lot cheaper to make for any given aperture. Being cheaper to make means they are cheaper to buy!
Short focal length types provide greater field of view
No chromatic aberration such as with refractors because there are no lenses in the design so no color effects.
The eyepiece is in a more user friendly position at the top of the tube an important point when trying to view something high in the sky.
More portable than refractors of the same aperture at least at the larger apertures
Some loss of contrast inherent in the design, the support for the secondary mirror being an obstruction in the light path
Require collimation from time to time especially if transported a lot
Shorter focal length models suffer from coma which makes off center object look a little distorted. This effect is negligible above focal ratios of f/6.


Geocaching is a GPS based treasure hunting sport. A person hides a cache at a given location and then publishes the exact coordinates on the Internet. Other users may then load these positions into their GPS units and go out and find the cache. Thousands of small containers (geocaches) are hidden all over the world, and their satellite-based GPS coordinates are posted in a database operated by Geocachers hunt for the caches and post their finds on the website. Geocaches contain trade items like toys and trinkets and also a log-book for geocachers to record their visit. Geocaches are often hidden in parks, at viewpoints, and in other cool places. If you own a GPS and like discovering new places and the added twist of treasure hunting, then you should try Geocaching.
Basically , geocaching goes like this: a weatherproof container (known as a geocache or simply a 'cache') is hidden outside, the location is published on the internet and people go and find it. The location might be close to the sidewalk, at the end of a long hike through rugged terrain, or on a secluded island. You decide where you want to look and how difficult a site you want visit. The caches are typically small waterproof containers such as food storage containers and contain a logbook and small, inexpensive trinkets.Geocachers record their find in the logbook and may take one of the trinkets, providing they also leave something behind. I am fairly new to this but I have found 6 out of 6 here in the Mojave desert..

M13 in Hercules

My first image taken of M13

The Hercules Globular Cluster, also known as M13, is a densely packed ball of stars over 20,000 light-years away. Look overhead on a summer evening at the constellation Hercules. If you have very sharp eyes and a very dark sky you will see what appears to be a fuzzy "star". What you are actually looking at is more than 100,000 stars packed into a space about 100 to 150 light years across. One of the best theories is that Globular Clusters are the central cores of galaxies which were eaten up by our own Milky Way Galaxy. To find M13, look overhead after dark and seek out the "keystone" shape made by the four brightest stars of Hercules. You will find the globular cluster just off of the line connecting two of the stars . M13 is visible to sharp eyes in dark skies but will be resolved into a fuzzy round object in binoculars. Those of us with telescopes will see some of the individual stars that make up the cluster. Once you've found the Hercules Cluster, you can look for another similar object, the M92 Globular Cluster near by. These are just a couple of the many fine objects visible each summer.

The Veil Nebula NGC6960

Friday, August 01, 2008

I located the object that had been my main reason for setting up tonight - the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. This is both a very easy and a very hard object to see. Easy because it's large and one part of it intersects a fairly bright star (52 Cygni - I don't know the exact visual magnitude but it's probably between 4.0 and 5.0), hard because it's quite faint and really requires either a UHC of an OIII filter to see. The last time I'd been out I found the Western Veil (the part that intersects 52 Cygni) and, even with the filter, found it to be quite hard to see. I had my 19mm Panoptic along with the UHC filter and centered my 12.5" scope on 52 Cygni and there it was, a faint, misty streamer of light pouring away from the star. There's a smaller portion of the nebula on the other side of the star but I've so far been unable to resolve this. I spent a good 45 minutes observing this ribbon of light. Now I decided to have a go at the Eastern Veil. This turned out to be almost trivially easy to locate by simply slewing the 'scope to the left slightly. The Eastern Veil resembles nothing more than a cobweb, floating against the stars, with many more filaments and strands becoming visible as I let my eyes relax. This is a truly lovely object to view and one I'm not going to get tired of in a hurry. If nothing else it's made me want to invest in an OIII filter as well as my UHC, as I've heard that an OIII is a better filter for viewing the Veil Nebula.

The Constellations Lyra and Cygnus

Lyra and Cygnus
This month the constellations Lyra and Cygnus are seen almost overhead as darkness falls with their bright stars Vega, in Lyra, and Deneb, in Cygnus, making up the "summer triangle" of bright stars with Altair in the constellation Aquila.
Lyra is dominated by its brightest star Vega, the fifth brightest star in the sky. It is a blue-white star having a magnitude of 0.03, and lies 26 light years away. It weighs three times more than the Sun and is about 50 times brighter. It is thus burning up its nuclear fuel at a greater rate than the Sun and so will shine for a correspondingly shorter time. Vega is much younger than the Sun, perhaps only a few hundred million years old, and is surrounded by a cold,dark disc of dust in which an embryonic solar system is being formed!
There is a lovely double star called Epsilon Lyrae up and to the left of Vega. A pair of binoculars will show them up easily - you might even see them both with your unaided eye. In fact a telescope, provided the atmosphere is calm, shows that each of the two stars that you can see is a double star as well so it is called the double double!

Epsilon Lyra - The Double Double
Between Beta and Gamma Lyra lies a beautiful object called the Ring Nebula. It is the 57th object in the Messier Catalogue and so is also called M57. Such objects are called planetary nebulae as in a telescope they show a disc, rather like a planet. But in fact they are the remnants of stars, similar to our Sun, that have come to the end of their life and have blown off a shell of dust and gas around them.The Ring Nebula looks like a greenish smoke ring in a small telescope, but is not as impressive as it is shown in photographs in which you can also see the faint central "white dwarf" star which is the core of the original star which has collapsed down to about the size of the Earth.Still very hot this shines with a blue-white colour, but is cooling down and will eventually become dark and invisible - a "black dwarf"!
M57 - the Ring Nebula Image: Hubble Space telescope
M56 is an 8th magnitude Globular Cluster visible in binoculars roughly half way between Alberio (the head of the Swan) and Gamma Lyrae. It is 33,000 light years away and has a diameter of about 60 light years. It was first seen by Charles Messier in 1779 and became the 56th entry into his catalogue.
Cygnus, the Swan, is sometimes called the "Northern Cross" as it has a distinctive cross shape, but we normally think of it as a flying Swan. Deneb,the arabic word for "tail", is a 1.3 magnitude star which marks the tail of the swan. It is nearly 2000 light years away and appears so bright only because it gives out around 80,000 times as much light as our Sun. In fact if Deneb where as close as the brightest star in the northern sky, Sirius, it would appear as brilliant as the half moon and the sky would never be really dark when it was above the horizon!
The star, Albireo, which marks the head of the Swan is much fainter, but a beautiful sight in a small telescope. This shows that Albireo is made of two stars, amber and blue-green, which provide a wonderful colour contrast.With magnitudes 3.1 and 5.1 they are regarded as the most beautiful double star that can be seen in the sky.
Cygnus lies along the line of the Milky Way, the disk of our own Galaxy, and provides a wealth of stars and clusters to observe. Just to the left of the line joining Deneb and Sadr, the star at the centre of the outstretched wings, you may, under very clear dark skys, see a region which is darker than the surroundings. This is called the Cygnus Rift and is caused by the obscuration of light from distant stars by a lane of dust in our local spiral arm. The dust comes from elements such as carbon which have been built up in stars and ejected into space in explosions that give rise to objects such as the planetary nebula M57 described above.
There is a beautiful region of nebulosity up and to the left of Deneb which is visible with binoculars in a very dark and clear sky. Photographs show an outline that looks like North America - hence its name the North America Nebula. Just to its right is a less bright region that looks like a Pelican, with a long beak and dark eye, so not surprisingly this is called the Pelican Nebula .
Brocchi's Cluster An easy object to spot with binoculars in Gygnus is "Brocchi's Cluster", often called "The Coathanger",although it appears upside down in the sky! Follow down the neck of the swan to the star Alberio, then sweep down and to its lower left. You should easily spot it against the dark dust lane behind.

Exploring the summer sky

The richness of the summer sky is exemplified by the splendor of the Milky Way. Stretching from the northern horizon in Perseus, through the cross-shaped constellation Cygnus overhead, and down to Sagittarius in the south, the Milky Way is packed with riches. These riches include star clusters, nebulae, double stars, and variable stars.
Let's start with the Big Dipper, our perennial signpost, which now lies in the northwest with its handle still pointing toward Arcturus. High overhead, and the first star to appear after sunset, is Vega in Lyra the Harp. Vega forms one corner of the summer triangle, a conspicuous asterism of three stars. Near Vega lies the famous double-double, Epsilon Lyrae. Two 5th-magnitude stars lie a little more than 3 arcminutes apart and can be split when viewed through binoculars. Each of these two stars is also double, but you need a telescope to split them.
To the east of Vega lies the triangle's second star: Deneb in Cygnus the Swan (some see a cross in this pattern). Deneb marks the tail of this graceful bird, the cross represents its outstretched wings, and the base of the cross denotes its head, which is marked by the incomparable double star Albireo. Albireo matches a 3rd-magnitude yellow star and a 5th-magnitude blue star and offers the finest color contrast anywhere in the sky. Deneb is a supergiant star that pumps out enough light to equal 60,000 Suns. Also notice that the Milky Way splits into two parts in Cygnus, a giant rift caused by interstellar dust blocking starlight from beyond.
Altair, the third star of the summer triangle and the one farthest south, is the second brightest of the three. Lying 17 light-years away, it's the brightest star in the constellation Aquila the Eagle.
Frequently overlooked to the north of Deneb lies the constellation Cepheus the King. Shaped rather like a bishop's hat, the southern corner of Cepheus is marked by a compact triangle of stars that includes Delta Cephei. This famous star is the prototype of the Cepheid variable stars used to determine the distances to some of the nearer galaxies. It varies regularly from magnitude 3.6 to 4.3 and back again with a 5.37-day period.
Hugging the southern horizon, the constellations Sagittarius the Archer and Scorpius the Scorpion lie in the thickest part of the Milky Way. Scorpius's brightest star, Antares, is a red supergiant star whose name means "rival of Mars" and derives from its similarity to the planet in both color and brightness.

RTMC Astronomy Expo

Originally called the Telescope Makers Conference, the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference (RTMC) was founded in 1969 by Clifford W. Holmes as a way for amateur telescope makers to share their craft. In 1975, the RTMC moved to its current home at Camp Oakes, a YMCA camp near Big Bear City. Located 50 miles northeast of Riverside in the San Bernardino mountains, the site offers space for camping, several dormitories and 18 three-sided shelters, a meeting/dining hall, and the Charles Walker Observatory. The camp is located at an elevation of 7,600 feet. Since its inception, the RTMC has expanded to encompass all aspects of amateur astronomy from beginning to advanced topics and from telescope making to "armchair" astronomy. Recently, the RTMC has included events for the whole family with horseback riding, hikes, activities for spouses and activities for the young kids. In 2000, the official name of the conference was changed to the "RTMC Astronomy Expo."
During the RTMC the camp has more people than a typical recreational campground of its size, but the primary reason for attending is precisely because it offers a chance to rub shoulders with a large number of people who know telescopes and like to talk about them. What they offer is a chance to see and look through a large variety of telescopes (with relatively dark skies and high altitude), attend talks by professional and amateur astronomers on different aspects of telescope construction and use, see some astronomical equipment and software in use, and buy astronomical equipment and software (often at reduced prices). The vendors contribute door prizes for Saturday and Sunday evenings. We don't know exactly what prizes they will have in advance, but in the past there have been telescopes of 8 to 12 inches in aperture. The weather was a little off this year and it was much colder than normal but it was still a good time and I met many really cool people! Now the 1 year wait begins until RTMC 2009!

Astronomical League Messier Club

Well I have finally completed the Messier Club requirements from the Astronomical League.
The Astronomical League offers special recognition in the form of a Messier Club Certificate for those that have observed most or all of the Messier objects. To qualify you must either be a Member-at-Large or be a member of an astronomical society which is affiliated with the League. To obtain an award you must observe the following rules:
Rule 1:
Observe 70 Messier objects and keep a record of your observations. Your notes must show:a. Date of observation;b. Time of observation;c. Seeing conditions;d. Aperture size of telescope;e. Power used;f. A short note describing your observation of the object.
Rule 2:
Have your notebook or record examined by an officer of your Society or a suitably qualified second party if you are not a member of a society and have this party forward a letter to the effect that you have made the necessary number of observations. So I will have the award pin and certificate within the next 6 weeks!

19mm Televue Panoptic eyepiece

19mm Televue Panoptic

If you have never bought any "premium" eyepieces, this is a great one to start with. Sporting a wider true FOV than your average 25 mm Kellner, the 19 mm Panoptic is one of the sharpest eyepieces I have ever used. It has also quickly become one of my favorite eyepieces in my F5 dob. Eye relief is a little tight for eyeglass wearers in my opinion but I am able to use it without my glasses with no problem. The 19 mm is also small although a bit rugged, and fairly light, which encourages more use and less of a balance problem. This eyepiece turns out to be just right in both the 12.5" dob and the 4" Mak for nebula, galaxy, and globular hunting. M13 is amazing thru this eyepiece, resolving stars to the core. Barlow it and your jaw will drop.With a FOV of 68 degrees it perfectally frames the full moon in my F5 scope. It will serve you well if you have an F5 scope, and it has excellent edge sharpness. It is more expensive then a Meade 18mm SWA or a Celestron 19mm Axiom but try those in an f/5 scope and you will never go back.If you have been contemplating the purchase of this eyepiece, I highly recommend it. The 19mm Panoptic gets an A+ for contrast, edge of feild sharpness, and its ability to be barlowed

Messier Marathon '08

James, Crystal, Mike and I along with one of James and Crystals friends from down the hill set up last night to do the marathon, It went from dusk till 5:30 am. Crystal, Mike, their friend and all the kids went to sleep at around 2am while James and I finished the marathon. Out of 110 James and I both got 99 and best of all WE ACED THE VIRGO CLUSTER!! The Messiers that we MISSED are:
M77, M74, & M33 right at dusk so they were too low to locate.
M83 We just couldn't locate.
M55, M75, M15, M2, M72, M73, & M30 were missed because they were low behind the house right at the break of dawn and after an all nighter we just didnt want to move all of the equiptment around to the back yard. The wind died out at about 7pm and the seeing and transparency was good enough to make Galaxies, Nebula, and double stars easy to locate!
So I BEAT my last score of 86 by quite a bit and I think we both have earned a HiDAS Messier Marathon certificate.

How I won two free Agena eyepieces

Well there is a website were you can register, then log on, then write reviews on all of your equiptment. When you add your reviews you are given points towards a weekly and monthly prize givaway. I kind of thought ya right, I never win anything but I'll give it a try. Well so far for the month of February I won an Agena 8mm Wide Angle eyepiece and today I was notified that I won an Agena Ultra Wide Angle eyepiece of which I do not know the focal legnth yet. I have recieved my Agena WA 8mm eyepiece on Feb. 18th and was kind of sceptical of how a wide angle eyepiece of its price range would perform. Well, upon inspection the eyepiece was well made and the glass was much larger than any of my comparable plossls. I tried it out in 2 of my scopes, a 12.5" f/5 Newtonian dob and a 4" f/12 Maksutov. I will say this little eyepiece is a performer! Mars through the Mak was very nice with surface features very visible. I also viewed Saturn with the Agena WA 8mm in my Mak and it was tack sharp and I was able to make out banding on the planet. I used it to split Polaris and checked out the Trapezium in M42 and it did a wonderful job with no visible false color. I also did this all in my 12.5" dob and it performed well with very little coma at about 90% out. I made out all 6 stars in the Trapezium and was able to see the entire Double Cluster within the field of view. I also tried it with my glasses on ( I really don't observe with my glasses on, but it's important to some folks) and I did have to push down to see the entire field of view but not bad. I will say this eyepiece at its price level is a steady performer and I will keep it in my collection!

Proof of avalanches on Mars!

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft captured a Martian avalanche in process on February 19, 2008.
This particular avalanche is on a scarp in the northern polar region and is a 2,300 ft (700 meters) high and has slopes of over 60 degrees. The snow white material is carbon dioxide frost which you can see mixing with dusty ice at the bottom of the scarp. The larger cloud of material is about 590 feet (180 meters) across and extends about 625 feet (190 meters) from the base of the scarp.
The press release talks about possible causes, one cause I thought was interesting, was the possibility of a nearby meteor impact. My money is on thermal changes, but hey the meteor idea has some pizzazz!
Check out the press release here.
Oh and you probably think catching an avalanche from an orbiting spacecraft is rare, and you would of course be correct; amazingly MRO has done it four times now.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Averted vision technique

When viewing through binoculars or telescopes, most deep sky objects look like faint fuzzy blotches of light - at first. The ability of the human eye to see intricate detail even in faint objects is truly impressive if one takes the time to develop the needed observing skills. First and most important is to make sure the observer is DARK ADAPTED. This means setting up in a dark-sky site with no white lights (streetlights, car headlights, porch lights, flashlights) in view. The pupils in the eye take a minimum of 15 minutes to fully dilate and thus adjust to see faint details in the dark. Now you are ready to use AVERTED VISION to discern fine details on astronomical objects. When viewing through the eyepiece, look not only directly at the subject but around the edges or even slightly off to the side. Slowly look back and forth and around it in this manner, and finer details will seem to flicker in out of the "corner of your eye"! This is happening because your peripheral vision is more sensitive to faint light than your direct vision, which is more constantly used. To preserve your night vision, use a red-filtered flashlight to read star maps or find your way around. A similar technique that employs the same principle is called scope rocking, and is done by simply moving the telescope back and forth slightly to move the object around in the field of view. It is also important to note that it also matters whether you avert right or left. The most effective direction is that which places the object on the nasal side of the vision. So, for right-eyed observers it is best to shift to the right, and for left-eye observers it is best to shift to the left. Some people also claim that it is better to avert up instead of down. The best thing to do is practice and find the best location for one’s own eyes.

Choosing eyepieces

When beginning astronomers start looking at telescopes, one of the least understood aspects of these optical instruments are simple telescope eyepieces. While lenses and mirrors and designs are easy to grasp, the actual eyepiece itself can be somewhat confusing. However, they are vital parts of the telescope, as they provide the final creation and magnification of the telescope image and they are the one part of the telescope that spends its time in almost constant contact with the person using it. All of which means that telescope eyepieces are important considerations when putting together a telescope.
When looking at telescope eyepieces, remember that you are essentially paying for the lenses in the eyepiece. The more an eyepiece costs, the better the lenses inside and the better the image it creates. And, because the rest of the telescope is only as good as the image that reaches the user’s eye, it is well worth the while to invest a little extra in the eyepieces to be used on a good telescope.
It is also good to remember that image quality of telescope eyepieces can be affected by the design of the eyepiece. For instance, Huygens eyepieces can create chromatic aberrations, Erfle eyepieces can produce some ghost images, and Plossl eyepieces tend to have some astigmatism around the edges of the image. So, when choosing eyepieces, it is also a good idea to understand the limits of each design and what sort of work each design is suited to.
Another aspect to consider when choosing telescope eyepieces is the apparent field of view. This is the apparent width of the image, in degrees, which indicates how far a person needs to move their eye in order to look from one end of the image to the other. Essentially, it is a measure of the peripheral vision available to the person looking through the eyepiece. Depending on the design of the telescope eyepiece, the apparent field of view can range from 40 to 82 degrees. Obviously, the narrower fields of view give the feeling of looking down a tunnel, making it more difficult to scan the sky and find objects.
However, the field of view and image clarity are not the only concerns with telescope eyepieces. A major, but often overlooked, trait is that of eye relief. This is the distance between the eye and the actual lens surface and it is vital that people understand its importance. After all, this can affect the person using the telescope by simply making it uncomfortable or difficult to use the telescope. If someone doesn’t have room to wear their glasses when they look through the eyepiece, or their eyelashes rub against the lens, it is simply not worth the effort to use the telescope. And if someone’s eyelashes are rubbing against the lens, it is transferring dust and oils to the lens, degrading the image and, in fact, making the telescope less effective. Of course, the only way to really find the right eye relief is to try out several telescope eyepieces and see which ones feel right.
Overall, telescope eyepieces are best judged through experience, which means that trying out several designs and models is the best way to figure out what works best. But, with a little trial and error, the right telescope eyepieces can make their way into your telescope kit.

Binoculars for astronomy?

Why would I want to buy a pair of binoculars when I can put that money toward a nice telescope?

Good question! Let's see. A telescope can offer more powerful views than binoculars, you can get a decent telescope for about the same price as some binoculars, and telescopes look more impressive. But binoculars have a couple of advantages that make them worthy of consideration. First of all, they're extremely portable and can be ready to go at a moment's notice. Also, they are binocular, which means you can look through them with both eyes and don't have to squint one eye closed, like you do with a telescope. Many amateur astronomers have both a telescope and a pair of binoculars. Beleive it or not, there are some astronomical objects that can actually look better through a pair of binoculars than they do through the most expensive telescope in the world! Binoculars are usually labelled with two numbers, separated by an "X". The first number represents the magnification and the second number represents the aperture (usually in millimeters). For example, if you come across a pair of binoculars labelled 7X50, that means that objects appear 7 times closer to you than they really are, and the outer objective lenses each measure 50mm in diameter. Since a bigger objective lens means that more light can enter the binoculars, the larger these lenses are, the brighter the objects will appear. Particularly in the case of stargazing, this means that more details can be brought out in the object being viewed. So the best binoculars are those giant 20X80's I saw in the camera shop, right? Not necessarily. The greater the magnification, the more noticeable an unsteady image is. Most people can only hold binoculars steady enough in their hands to support about 10X. There are mounts available to hold binoculars, like the one I built in the photo above

Review of my 12.5" Newtonian and 4" Mak

Here is a quick rundown of my scope. When I first put the telescope together, I found that both the primary and secondary mirrors needed to be collimated. There are four thumbscrews on the secondary mirror, and I found them easy to grip and manage. I was able to adjust the secondary mirror with ease. Apart from not requiring a wrench to make the adjustments, having four screws on the PDHQ makes maneuvering the mirror easier in that they move in simple up/down and left/right directions. The primary mirror is center marked to aid in collimation. There are three thumbscrews on the back of the primary mirror cell, and though they are somewhat stiff, they do turn with little difficulty to achieve proper collimation. The focuser is a Crayford focuser made by JMI, and it is designed to allow smoother motion and more precise control than more traditional rack-and-pinion focusers. There are no jerky gears to be found, and instead there are four small metal wheels which allow the mechanism to glide in and out to help achieve better precision. The 2-inch focuser includes an adaptor for using eyepieces of 1.25-inch barrel diameter. The exciting time came when I took my new telescope out under the night sky for the first time. I knew I was going to get a significant improvement in the views over what I had seen in the SN8. The 12.5-inch primary mirror collects 2.44 times as much light as the SN8's, which computes to an increase of 0.97 limiting magnitude. I set up well before sunset to allow for any unexpected last-minute adjustments. After I collimated the mirrors and aligned the finderscope and Telrad, I sat back and waited for darkness to fall. Then I took the PDHQ on its first sky tour, during which I observed a whole variety of targets in order to get a feel for how they all appear. One thing that struck me early on is that Discovery's optics are absolute top-notch! I got a very crisp, sharp image with almost no aberrations other than the diffraction spikes that result from the spider holding the secondary mirror. Because the 1587mm focal length is longer than the 812mm of the SN8, each eyepiece I used produced a noticeably larger image in the PDHQ. But at the same time, I was able to use higher magnifications more regularly without degrading the image, which is the result of the extra aperture at work. I rarely used my highest magnification 6.4mm Plössl eyepiece with my SN8, but I found plenty of good opportunities to use it on the PDHQ, particularly when viewing globular clusters. The mechanics are for the most part very good. Of the deep-sky objects I have seen so far, globular clusters have impressed me the most in the increased aperture. Brighter ones in particular such as M13,M5, and M22 deliver really stunning views in magnifications between 150X and 250X, as hundreds of stars become easily resolvable within and surrounding their cores. Planetary nebulae also look much better in the larger optics. Classic examples like the Ring (M57) and Dumbbell (M27) are very bright, and they show their distinctive shapes superbly. The larger aperture also brings out more color in such objects, as NGC 6572 provides a vivid blue-green appearance. Emission nebulae are another winner, especially when used in conjunction with a narrowband filter. I was able to see more detail in the Lagoon (M8) and Swan (M17) nebulae than before. Open clusters like M6, M7, and IC 4756 also benefit in the PDHQ, where in addition to the aperture making the stars brighter and more colorful they also take advantage of the precise control of the Crayford focuser. Once I hit the right spot when adjusting the focuser, the stars appear tack-sharp! When I pointed the scope at the Wild Duck Cluster (M11), the view through the eyepiece knocked my socks off! Galaxies appear brighter too, as they reveal more of the outer sections surrounding the cores while also better emphasizing their oval shapes. I was able to put the PDHQ's improved resolution to the test by observing a few tight double-stars that didn't always easily split in the SN8. Epsilon Lyrae and Nu Scorpii are two good examples, and those pairs did split with greater ease in the larger aperture.

My 4" Mak Piggybacked to my 12.5"dob (pictured above)

One of the scopes I am asked about the most is my Orion 4" maksutov. I use this scope primarily for splitting double stars which it does superbly plus planetary, and luner viewing which this scope just does an awesome job. The OTA is well made, largely constructed from metal and nicely finished in burgundy. The Apex comes with a 45° diagonal that provides a correctly-oriented field of view . I keep a good quality Stellarvue Dielectric 99% star diagonal in the case along with the one supplied with the Apex. In my opinion this is an essential accessory if this scope is to be used at higher magnifications, particularly for planetary use. Optically the scope is superb and I can't really fault it in that respect. There is however a problem with internal baffling or rather lack of it. This is only noticeable when observing close to bright objects such as the moon, but it must inevitably reduce contrast. The source of the problem is off axis light reflecting off the side of the baffle tube - a common problem with all types of Cassegrain and by no means unique to this scope. This scope is not perfect but then how many telescopes are? For a scope that measures just under 300mm (12") in length this a real performer. I have had some really nice views of the planets, especially Saturn which I caught on a particularly good night. It also makes a great Lunar scope. In terms of image quality it easily handles 200x magnification on a good night. The limiting factor with this scope seems to be light grasp rather than resolution. I have pushed this scope to 325x and it has still produced reasonably sharp images - it simply runs out of light long before that point. One thing I really like on this scope is the focus control, it is very smooth, my scope shows no noticeable image shift and allows fine adjustments to be made with ease. This is a 102mm telescope and performs exactly as it should for the aperture. Overall I'm very pleased with this scope.

Converting my standard finder to RACI finder

After Picture (above)

Before Picture (above)

Well I decided to change the finderscope configuration on my scope . I replaced the reticle in my Telrad since the last one was damaged by the sun and then I moved it very close above the focuser and decided to use my Celestron 9x50 standard finderscope between the Telrad and the 4 inch Mak. Hmm not enough room to stick your head there. What I need is a RACI right angle correct image finder. Well I start looking and all the ones I like are $90.00 and up so I think hmm why don't I just make one, it can't be that hard. Well I went to Lowes and found a piece of PVC pipe just the right diameter for $3.00. I had an extra correct image 1.25 inch diagonal and the objective of my 9x50 finder. I cut me a piece of pvc 40% shorter than the existing finder and placed the objective lens assembly on the end of the tube and shimmed it with a cork ring which makes it nice and snug. Now I take my diagonal and put my laser collimator in it and now mix some 5 minute epoxy and glue the diagonal on the other end of the tube using the collimator to ensure the diagonals placement. Well now its done!! I place any of my plossl eyepieces in the finder and adjust the eyepiece to achieve focus. The finder has an excellent image and is very nice and very easy to use. Total cost $3.00 and spare parts!

Astro Binoculars

Well I finally gave my X-Trail bins a good workout. Last night I set them out to cool about 30 minutes to cool along with my scopes. That night the seeing was excellent and it was very dark, around 21 on the dark sky meter. My first targets were M13,and M92. They were both very bright and sharp. That was enough to get me excited. Next I swing over to M31 and M32. The Andromeda Galaxy was just amazing through the binos and I could just make out the companion galaxy. Ok, now time for the Double Cluster. WOW!! That was one of the best views I have ever seen of the Double Cluster, I was just esquisite. I also saw the nearby M103 which was crisp and bright and NGC457 which I saw as some haze around a fairly bright star. Now for the Lagoon!! I pointed the bins and the view was awesome, very bright and nice structure to the nebulosity. M21 was very sharp and M23 was very nice seeing stars throughout. I next went to Triffid but could only just make it out, and M28 was faint but visible. M22 was next and it was crisp with the core appearing very bright and M18 & M24 were very nice with all stars visible. So far these Bins are performing better than I had ever imagined. I have just started using star charts and using binoculars definately a must for this. Ok now for the last item before jumping to my scopes. M27 the dumbell. Well I found it and was just amazed! I just said WOW, this just totally exceeded my expectations of these binoculars.The nebula was very bright and had that perfect dumbell shape. These binoculars were a gift to me and I thought I would just let them sit but now they will be outside looking up every night. I no longer have to roll the ol dob out everytime I want to do a few hours of observing. I am hooked. I have heard alot of mixed comments on Barska Binoculars but I must say I love em. They surrpassed all of my expectations and left me with a smile and new enthusiasm.