Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Mars' closest approach to Earth was this week.
I was feeling bummed about this picture, thinking I should be getting more detail until I looked at this simulated view from Calsky of Mars through a 10" telescope:
I guess mine's not so bad after all.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Shot this at 1:20 a.m. when Mars was directly overhead. The forecast was for poor seeing, but I think it was probably between 3/5 and 4/5--not perfect, but much better than I had hoped it would be. 1500 frames with the SPC900NC in the LX200.
Not the definitive image of this object, but definitely one of the more difficult things I've ever attempted. The red cloud that provides the background for the horsehead is composed of ionized hydrogen, and glows in a specific color that the stock Canon Digital Rebel XT is almost blind to. That means I had to stretch this image like salt water taffy to get it to show up. On the other hand, the Flame Nebula to the left looks pretty good.
Shot 30 x 3 minutes through the AT80EDT piggybacked and guided with the LX200. Had some trouble with the declination guiding (should have just turned it off) so I tossed out about a third of the images. Now that I see what I can get from my back yard, I really want to shoot this again from darker skies.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Not the best ever, but you can tell what it is. Seeing between 2/5 & 3/5. I was hoping it would get better as it got later, but it didn't. I still like the SPC900NC, and the new version of EquinoX worked better than I thought it would.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
A couple of months ago I had disassembled the entire RA assembly and re-lubricated it. I had been getting a high-speed vibration while tracking that I was attributing to "old grease." (Now, I'm not so sure that was the problem, but it's nice to have the worm and RA gear re-lubed anyway.) When I heard the noise, my first thought was that I had somehow made a mistake when I reassembled everything. Didn't seem likely though, as the scope had been running just fine. Then it occurred to me--this latest problem only showed up after the weather had gotten cold. Just the same, I removed and reinstalled the RA motor/gearbox assembly. No change. But blowing the hair dryer on it for a few minutes would cure it! Auugh.
So it's off to the internet and the Meade Advanced Products User Groups (MAPUG) archives, where I find a description of exactly what I was experiencing. Hooray! The fix? Adjusting two potentiometers on the motor control board. "No problem!" I thought. Then I read where the job requires a dual-channel oscilloscope. Drats.
But I kept reading. A little further down the page I found a link to Bruce Johnston's Astronomy Pages, and his instructions on repairing the LX200 drives using just a multimeter. Hey, I have one of those!
A short trip to Radio Shack for a few bucks of supplies, and I was off. I was getting pretty good at removing the motor assembly by now, and soon I had it sitting on the kitchen table. I followed Bruce's instructions and connected two batteries and the multimeter, and sure enough, the numbers were out of whack. Adjusting the two pots was simple, and after disconnecting all the wires, I reassembled everything back in the base of the scope. Guess what?
It works! Just as soon as I finish this, I'm off to the observatory to attempt making this year's first Mars image. Wish me luck.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The goal of the app is a small, streamlined capture application for USB-webcams using either macam or IOXperts drivers. The camera settings (gain, white balance, etc.) must be accessible. Specify the file destination in a standard save dialog or have a preference to date-stamp filenames and save to a designated location. Must be able to specify the number of frames to capture in a dialog and display a running count during the capture. Full-size (640 x 480) live preview. Zoom-able preview nice, but not necessary.
Let me know if you're interested.
First the time changed. Falling back is supposed to be easy, but for whatever reason this year it totally screwed me up. It's hard to do astronomy in your sleep, and when you're going to bed at 9:00, well, you know.
Then it was time to travel. First we visit my sister's new place on this side a Brenham. A real house, with a real bedroom--yay! The sad part is it's much closer to town than the previous place, so there's no real reason to set up a telescope there.
Then it's off to Dallas to see the mother-in-law. Since she's in an apartment in the middle of town, the same thing applies. Never mind she lives in a scary complex.
Now we're home, and I've upgraded the trusty MacBook to Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard. I like the new version, and it does a lot of neat things, except it broke both EquinoX, the application I use to image with the webcam, and Nebulosity, the Canon imaging app. Sigh. Nebulosity gets updated pretty quickly, just in time for the clouds. I worked with the developer to beta test a new version of EquinoX, and was going to try it out on the moon tonight. I got about 60 seconds in when the clouds start rolling back in, just long enough to see that the fix isn't going to be a good one. Fortunately, I cloned the hard drive before I installed Leopard, so I can still boot from the previous version from the small external drive.
And so here we sit, back under solid clouds. Imagine if you will in the space below a decent shot of Gassendi and maybe a blurry Mars.
Still, the evening wasn't a total loss. While I had an eyepiece in the scope Ian came out in sat in my lap. He looked at the moon in the eyepiece and exclaimed, "Cheese! Let's go there. Gromit will help us make a rocket. Where's the alien?" I love that boy.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
A small and very faint comet has surprised observers around the world by overnight becoming bright enough to see with the unaided eye.
Comet Holmes, which was discovered in November 1892 by Edwin Holmes, in London England, was no brighter than magnitude 17 in mid-October—that's about 25,000 times fainter than the faintest star that can normally be seen without any optical aid. In order to view an object this faint, one would need a moderately large telescope.
But the comet's brightness has suddenly rocketed all the way up to 3rd-magnitude, brightening nearly 400,000 times in less than 24 hours! On this astronomers scale, smaller numbers mean brighter objects. From urban locations, a 3rd-magnitude object might be hidden by light pollution, but under rural skies it would be clearly vsiible.
I shot it with all three cameras last night and got the best results with the SPC900C webcam. This is 1000 frames shot through the 10" LX200 @ f/10. It's very close to what I saw in the eyepiece: a bright nucleus, a small fan-shaped "tail" inside a glowing disc. It almost looked like a star seen through dew-covered optics (I checked!). I thought it was sort of greenish in the telescope, but it was yellow to my naked eye, and came out sort of golden here.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
The Veil Nebula, also known as the Cygnus Loop or the Witch's Broom Nebula, is a large, relatively faint supernova remnant in the constellation Cygnus. The source supernova exploded some 5,000 to 8,000 years ago, and the remnants have since expanded to cover an area of 3 degrees. The distance to the nebula is not precisely known, with estimates ranging from 1,400 to 2,600 light years. It was discovered on 1784 September 5 by William Herschel. He described the western end of the nebula as "Extended; passes thro' 52 Cygni... near 2 degree in length." and described the eastern end as "Branching nebulosity... The following part divides into several streams uniting again towards the south."
24 x 300 seconds through the AT80EDT piggybacked on the 10" LX200, Canon Rebel XT @ 1600 ISO
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Here's the first go:
Click for the full size and look in the four corners. You can see that the stars are streaks pointing away from the center of the image. That's the field curvature. The good news is the lack of CA--if it's there, I can't see it.
So I added a TeleVue field flattener in front of the camera. It's not designed specifically for this scope, but since it was the cheapest option by two-thirds, I figured I'd give it a try. It increases the focal length by 10%, so I get a slightly smaller field of view.
The corners still aren't perfect, but I'm pretty happy with the results.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Monday, October 08, 2007
Yeah, that's as much as a nice 80mm APO refractor, which is why I'm not likely to own one anytime soon.
I have found what may be a suitable replacement though, and it's much more reasonably priced. I need to check it out under some dark skies, though:
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Sunday, September 23, 2007
So that's what I did. I started researching apochromatic refractors. I've been getting nice shots with the big SCT, but it's limited to smaller targets due to the long focal length, so I'm looking for something with less focal length. I'm also trying to not spend a whole lot of money. So the Tele-Vue NP-101 that I really like is out: $3,700 is way out of my league. The Orion ED80 is a popular choice, and at $600 it's right in my sweet spot. But Barry has one, and while it's a very nice telescope, I want something different. The Meade Series 5000 ED APO triplet looks promising, but I never found an entirely positive review. Finally after a lot of research, I decide on the Astronomy Technologies AT80EDT. It's a triplet design, which means it uses three lenses instead of the usual two. It has a two-speed focuser like the one I added to the LX200, and comes in a nice case.
One Astromart "wanted" ad and a week later I'm the new owner of a nearly new AT80EDT. She's a beauty--white finish with grey, gold and green accents. The views through her are sweet, too. She rides just fine on the big LXD650 mount too. Here she is lit by the first quarter moon:
Friday night was the big night. Barry talked me into going up to the Eagle Eye Observatory for an overnighter, and what a night it was. Fridays are public night at the EEO, and there were about 40 guests there. The observatory operator had his hands full, so Barry & I took up the slack. He had his 10" LX200GPS going, while I put the binoviewers in the AT80EDT and aimed it at the Moon. I love it when someone looks into the scope and exclaims, "Oh my God!"
After the guests left and the Moon set, I hooked up the camera and went to work. I don't have the mount set up for autoguiding yet, so these are kinda rough. Each one is 40 x 30 seconds for just a 20-minute total exposure time. They're enough to get me really excited about imaging with this telescope though. Up first is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy:
Then there's M45, the Pleiades. I somehow managed to pull out some of the blue nebulosity even with the short exposure:
And last is M42, the Orion Nebula. Always a crowd-pleaser:
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
I won this spiffy case at Texas Star Party this spring, and have decided to sell it to help fund a new telescope. I figured I'd start with Craigslist, since a local sale wouldn't involve packing and shipping. The day after I put up the ad, I got a nibble:
Subject: ATA Equipment Case - $300
Date: September 10, 2007 6:38:39 AM CDT
Just view your advert on craigs web,I am willing to purchase the item asap.I hope its still avaliable for sales?I will like to know your last asking price for it?Please get back to me today so that we can proceed further...
OK, that sounds promising, even if the wording is a little off.
From: Jeff Phillips
To: Barry Johnson
Subject: Re: ATA Equipment Case - $300
Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2007 09:17:26 -0500
Still available for $300. Let me know.
Then I get this little gem:
Subject: ok: ATA Equipment Case - $300
Date: September 11, 2007 8:19:20 AM CDT
I will like to proceed with payment asap and will like to handle shipment myself when you must have gotten your cash at hand.I am in no rush to pick up the item till funds are clear at the bank.As there are too many scams on internet as regards buying and selling with large bogus account.My mode of payment will be via Electronic Cashier Check drawn on US bank.(Bank Of America).You will probarbly need a business check paper to print and cash or deposit the check today.The business check paper is sold for $20 at any stationery store,staples or at your local office supply outlet.I will add the cost of supplies to your asking price with an extra offer for accepting my mode of payment.I work with an auditing firm and will not have time to mail a check.Electronic Cashier checks is fast and secure.I will need your name and address with valid email address to send the Echeck to your email which you can print immediately when you must have purchase the supplies at staples or any stationery store.Kindly delete the advert of this item if my mode of payment is accepted.I will await your email asap.
Is this guy on crack?
Subject: Re: ok: ATA Equipment Case - $300
Date: September 11, 2007 9:28:30 AM CDT
Don't waste my time, you smarmy lagerlout git. You bloody woofter sod. Cash American, or else bugger off, pillock.
I don't think we'll be hearing back from Barry.
Friday, September 07, 2007
You may have seen this on CNN. An Arizona group is claiming they have harnessed the power of moonlight to heal sickness and disease.
Ho-lee crap. I've been beaming concentrated moonlight into my eyes for a while now, and it still hasn't cured my presbyopia.
Interstellar Light Applications is making science fiction into science fact with the first project of its kind in world history. Using one-of-a-kind specifically designed and engineered light tracking and capturing technology, ILA explores the benefits and uses of moonlight’s unique qualities. ILA also facilitates research into the applications of the brightest stars’ and celestial bodies’ spectral properties. Only true visionaries see possibility when others see road blocks and with their state-of-the-art invention, ILA’s creators and researchers are surpassing all technologies of today and are capitalizing on alternative spectrum light research for the future. Their work presents unlimited benefits for the medical, agricultural and industrial fields. With ILA you are illuminating endless possibilities.
Ooh, sciency!I can't wait to see what their "alternative spectrum light research" reveals! That you can get suckers to pay money to sit in moonlight reflected off a mirror?
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Coming to PBS September 19, 2007
America's Writer Laureate of astronomy invites millions of viewers to enjoy the wonders of the night sky in a spectacular HDTV special
Stargazing is the subject of Seeing in the Dark, a 60-minute, state-of-the-art, high-definition (HDTV) documentary by Timothy Ferris that premieres on PBS September 19, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. The film, Ferris' third, is based on his book, Seeing in the Dark (2002), named by The New York Times as one of the ten best books of the year.
"Seeing in the Dark is meant to alter, inspire and illuminate the lives of millions," said Ferris. "It introduces viewers to the rewards of first-person, hands-on astronomy — from kids learning the constellations to amateur astronomers doing professional-grade research in discovering planets and exploding stars. I hope it will encourage many viewers to make stargazing part of their lives, and a few to get into serious amateur astronomy."
Friday, August 17, 2007
The young guy says, "That's OK. It's a coincidence. I'm looking for my wife, too. I can't find her and I'm getting a little worried."
The old guy says, "Well, maybe we can help each other. What does your wife look like?
The young guy says, "Well, she is 27 yrs old, tall, with red hair, green eyes, long legs, big boobs, and she's wearing tight white shorts. What does your wife look like?"
The old guy says, "Doesn't matter -- let's look for yours."
Thursday, August 09, 2007
So I made sure everything was tight this time, and man, what a difference! I could have used some flats, but otherwise I'm pleased as punch. Every sub was a keeper! This was the first time I've been able to go all the way to 180 seconds, and it looks like I can still go longer. 30 x 180 sec., 350D @ 1600 ISO, 10" LX200 @ f/6.3.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Monday, August 06, 2007
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Finally! A break in the weather and a trip to the dam. Barry and another fellow set up scopes as well, and we had a long visit by a fellow who just bought a 10" dob, but didn't bring it out. I was trying out a "lazy susan" bearing upgrade to the 6-inch dob, and set up the little ETX-90 just for fun. The bearings work well, but it's a little too loose. I think I can tighten up the center bolt and slow it down. It's definitely easier to use than when it was sticking on the nylon pads though.
So anyway, I was going old school with my red flashlight and sky chart, finding my way around Sagittarius. You're looking right into the heart of the Milky Way, so it's chock full of goodies. M8, the Lagoon Nebula, is still one of my favorite summertime sights. With the nebula and open cluster together, it's two treats in one. It's a short hop from there up to the Trifid, M20, and the open cluster M21. Head northeast and pick up M24, the Sagittarius Star Cloud. I can't tell where its boundaries are, so I just pick the densest portion of star field and say that's it. Keep swinging over the top of the lid and get another open cluster, M25. Not terribly exciting, so drop toward the ground, and just off the top of the lid is M28, a nice little globular cluster. East from there is another glob, M22, the Sagittarius Cluster. Spend a little time there, that's the nicest cluster you're looking at tonight.
Now for three dim ones. Working right to left across the base of the teapot, get M69 first. You'll appreciate why Chuck thought these might have been comets. Then, almost centered on the line across the base is M70. It might as well be identical to M69. As long as you're there, NGC 6652 makes a triangle with the 2 Messiers. Then head east and up a smidge and catch M54. It's not much to look at until you remember that it's an exogalactic cluster outside the Milky Way.
Finish up with two nice open clusters, M7, Ptolemy's Cluster, and the appropriately-named Butterfly Cluster, M6. Not a bad night; beats watching it rain!
Monday, July 30, 2007
When I was 13, I flew from Houston to Austin to visit my sister. We were late in getting me back to the airport, so I was rushing through the airport as fast as I could (and being 13, trying very hard to keep my shit together over the real possibility of missing my flight).
Anyway, I remember passing a familiar-looking white-haired man trying to get through security. It wasn't until later I realized why he looked familiar--that was Marvin!
All I can say now is that I hope God keeps a clean kitchen, or he's gonna hear about the sliiiime in heaven's ice machine!
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007
Spanning 165 light-years across, M5 is one of the larger globular clusters known. The gravitational sphere of influence of M5, (ie. the volume of space where stars would be gravitationally bound to the cluster and not ripped away from it by the Milky Way's gravitational pull), has a radius of some 200 light-years.
At 13 billion years old it is also one of the older globulars associated with the Milky Way Galaxy. The distance of M5 is about 24,500 light-years away from Earth and the cluster contains more than 100,000 stars up to perhaps 500,000 according to some estimates.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Well shoot, where was this last week when I had a birthday coming up? Now I have to wait until Christmas, which is like a million years away.
The Supreme Edition Darth Vader Costume is the full package: you get a jumpsuit complete with fake leather pants and sleeves (though the codpiece is real leather), Darth's signature cape, and all of his armor cast from the original Lucasfilm molds. Our favorite part: the suit has a custom apparatus to mimic Darth's breathing. It can be toggled off if you want (but why would you?) And on top of that, it will only cost you $850 and comes with a cool freebie.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
The black dot is Io's shadow on the planet. If you look to the right of it, close to the limb, you can see the moon about to pull away from the planet. I've never actually been able to see the moon in front of the planet like this, so that's pretty cool.
And here we are about half an hour later. Io has cleared the limb while its shadow is still on the planet. That's Ganymede at the bottom, about to pass behind the planet.
Seeing was pretty awful for these, so I'm surprised they processed up as nicely as they did. I do like the SPC900NC vs. the NexImage for sure.