Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More Space Men

I got to volunteer at the Bob Bullock State History Museum for the opening of Made to Walk the Skies: Texas & Space Travel. The exhibit I worked was a replica of a current Space Shuttle/International Space Station Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU). In two hours, I shot 220 Polaroid pictures of big kids, little kids, babies, young adults and senior citizens posing with their heads in the suit. If there's any doubt about the public's support for space, I didn't see it today.

I admit it, I added the background in. The original was the granite wall in the museum--I like mine better.

I don't know who this kid is, but he looks like he's having a good time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Journey Into Space

From Time Magazine, December 8, 1952:
The probable effect of zero gravity on the human nervous system is far more serious. The nervous system, says Dr. H. Strughold, head of the School of Space Medicine, was designed to work on the surface of the earth in a gravity field of one G. How would the rocket crew feel while the rocket was accelerating? They would lie barely conscious on their contoured G-couches. At this stage the rocket would be under automatic control; the men, weighing nine times normal, would not be capable of any action at all. With the power cut off and the rocket coasting upward, gravity would drop to zero. The men would be expected to rise from their beds of pain (not knowing which end is up) and perform navigation feats that would tax a professor of celestial mechanics. Dr. Strughold does not think they could work at peak form; they would be lucky to accomplish anything.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Texas Star Party, Friday & Saturday

We had a fun trip to the McDonald Observatory, where--guess what?--it rained, hailed, thundered and lightninged. Here's a look at the dome of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope:

And here is the 107" Harlan J. Smith Telescope:

Looking "down the barrel," you can see where a disgruntled employee took out his frustrations on the big mirror by shooting it several times with a pistol, then giving it a couple of whacks with a sledgehammer. Turns out the big hunk of glass is pretty tough: the spots are simply blacked out, and the telescope lost just a couple percent of its light-gathering ability.

Friday night was the Great Texas Giveaway, and I didn't come away empty handed. I won a small red- and white-light LED flashlight, and a super medium-sized equipment case. Apparently it's considered bad form to win twice, but I'm not proud.

We also managed to squeeze in a few hours of observing Friday night. The clouds parted at sunset, and we had fair conditions until about 1:00 a.m. I sprinted through the regular observing program so I could earn my pin, pausing just long enough to view the Beehive Cluster through the amazing Tele-Vue Ethos. The dew was horrendous; you could hear hair driers going on every few minutes as folks across the field tried to keep things dry.

Saturday morning was bright and only partly cloudy. We got everything packed up, ate lunch, and hit the road for home.

So here's the summary. My TSP 2007 memories:

A great Sunday night. Venus so bright it cast shadows. Watching the Milky Way rise. Pointing the scope at Leo-Virgo and the eyepiece filled with galaxies.

A good Monday morning. Viewing all those things in the Teapot that I can't get at home.

High clouds. Low clouds. Fog. Light rain. Heavy rain. Mist. Hail. Lightning. Yet virtually no mud.

Chasing Ian over every rock he came across.

Meeting Steph, Alvin, Glen and the rest of the CN krew. Such a nice group.

Interrupting my sprint Friday night through the telescope observing list to view the Beehive through the Ethos and my 13mm T6 in Al's 5" refractor. Referring to the Nagler 6-3mm zoom as "butt ugly" within Al's earshot. (Not my greatest moment.)

Touring Carlsbad Caverns and the McDonald Observatory.

Meeting a fellow from Houston who sat in Mission Control at the console next to FIDO on every Apollo flight. Front row seat to history.

Looking at a telescope-mount combination that cost not only more than my car, but my and Trudy's cars together. (12" RCOS on a Paramount ME.)

Lots of old, fat, white guys. A few women. Fewer kids.

Lemonade with every meal.

A lot of Canons, a sprinkling of Nikons, and a few others.

Wanting to return.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Texas Star Party, Thursday

Compare this picture with the one from Monday morning. Bleah. Just bleah.

But Carlsbad Caverns was very cool. Ian was a good boy--I'm so proud of him for not running crazy. He stayed on the path, and even held either my or Trudy's hand most of the time. We joined the legions of visitors over the years and ate lunch in the underground lunchroom.

So, no astronomy, and probably none tonight, but I'm hopeful for early in the a.m. or tomorrow. Tomorrow night is our last chance, so we're keeping our fingers crossed. We're scheduled to take the McDonald Observatory tour tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Texas Star Party, Wednesday

What a grey day. It rained all last night, and today has been foggy and overcast. The forecast is for more of the same, so tomorrow we're going to drive up to Carlsbad Caverns.

The day wasn't a total waste. I did get to meet Al Nagler, probably the most influential eyepiece and telescope designer of the last 50 years. His Nagler eyepieces, with their 82° apparent field of view, revolutionized eyepiece design. The 13mm Nagler Type 6 I have in my case is the best equipment purchase I've made.

I also got to look through the prototype of the latest in his eyepiece line, the 13mm Ethos. It has an even wider field of view--100°--and is fully corrected all the way out to the edge of the view. It's a jaw-dropper.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Texas Star Party, Tuesday

I woke up around three this morning and poked my head out the door. "Rats. It's still cloudy." No, it was the Milky Way. I drug myself down the scope, and I'm glad I did. I spent the morning in Sagittarius--the Teapot--which is tough to see well from home where it's usually in the light pollution from Austin. I think the thing I saw that impressed me the most was NGC 6520. It's an ordinary open cluster, pretty enough, but right alongside it is Barnard 66, a dark nebula. It looked like an ink stain against the glow of the Milky Way. Very cool.

It's raining again this afternoon, so I don't know what to expect. I'm looking at the field right now, and it's a collection of covered scopes, tarps and tents. Haven't run into any mud--it's pretty rocky--so at least there's that.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Texas Star Party, Sunday-Monday

Click for full-size.

Here we are at the Prude Ranch for the Texas Star Party. It took us about 7 and a half hours to drive 450 miles, but that included some extra stops for the boy. The upper field is pretty full, but there's still room. The middle and lower fields have plenty of space.

We got set up in plenty of time before dark--and dark is the operative word here. It's a little clich├ęd, but it really is hard to make out the constellations with all the "extra" stars around. Before it set, Venus was bright enough that I could cast a shadow passing one hand in front of the other. I was out until about 1:00 this morning, cruising around Leo, Virgo & Canopus. Omega Centauri is just a few degrees above the horizon, but still way more impressive than M13. I could see the "bridge" in M51. M104 looked like a single unprocessed image--the dust lane was easy, and there was a nice bulge around the center with averted vision.

Today was Malt Day. We met up with several people from Cloudy Nights and went into town to the Old Texas Inn for chocolate malts. It's fun to put faces to names.

There's some serious astronomy gear set up here. I has looking at a telescope and mount combination this afternoon that not only costs more than my car, it costs more than my and Trudy's cars together. Further up the field is a telescope with a 36" mirror. You can't really appreciate how big that is until you see that big hunk of glass. It requires a pretty tall ladder to reach the eyepiece when it's pointed straight up.

Anyway, I don't know if we'll get to observe anything tonight: We're just sitting here watching the rain fall. There was a pretty good thunderstorm this afternoon, and it's still kinda dreary.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

An Old Joke That Made Me Smile

A man and his wife go kayaking in Alaska. The wife's kayak flips and she disappears beneath the waves. The next day two grim-faced Alaska State Troopers appear at the man's house in Anchorage.

"We're sorry, Mr. Wilkens, but we have some information about your wife," one trooper said.

"Tell me! Did you find her?" Wilkens shouted.

The Troopers looked at each other. One said, "We have some bad news, some good news, and some really GREAT news. Which do you want to hear first?"

Fearing the worst, an ashen-faced Wilkens said, "Give me the bad news first."

The Trooper said, "I'm sorry to tell you, Sir, but this morning we found your wife's body in Kachemak Bay."

"Oh my God!" exclaimed Wilkens. Swallowing hard, he asked, "What's the good news?"

The Trooper continued, "When we pulled her up, she had 12 twenty-five pound king crabs, 10 snow crabs, and 6 good-size Dungeness crabs clinging to her body."

Stunned, Wilkens demanded, "If that's the good news, what's the great news?"

The Trooper said, "We're going to pull her up again tomorrow."

Friday, May 04, 2007

M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy

A very noisy M51, with one problem solved. This is a stack of 15, 4-minute exposures. I did a freelance job that paid for a new dovetail bar & rings for the ST80 guide scope, and I am very happy with them. Goodbye guide scope flex, hello long autoguided exposures!

Now, about all that noise. I did shoot 4 darks that improved things some, but probably could have used more. I need to read more about bias frames and such, too. Summer's nearly here, and the camera gets noisier as it gets warmer.