Saturday, January 13, 2018

Surprised by mostly clear skies... A Comet and a Nebula

The Flame Nebula (aka NGC 2024 & Sh2-277)
located just to the left of the left hand star (Alnitak)
in Orion's Belt.
Meade LX200GPS 8" f/10 - prime focus- Canon T3i
ISO 12800 - 7 45 sec exposures stacked with DSS
for a total time of just over 5 minutes

Last night was a surprise... the skies cleared up a bit.
So it was out to the obs to do some tests with my Christmas present: a guiding camera.
I still have to find out why PHD2, while recognizing the camera, will not connect to it.
All the same I managed to eck out a few images, though not as many as I needed to get good clean images. Yeah, I was really pressing it to attempt to use the big scope at prime focus instead of using a focal reducer. Live and learn!

A comet is visible in the night sky near the head of Taurus, the Bull, on its way to the Pleiades.
It is Comet PanSTARRS C/2016 R2.

This image is cropped down and tilted so as to compare it with the next image that was taken with a better setup than mine. You will notice that the comet's tail is not in a typical straight line behind the comet's head. This comet is making some unusual tails in the past few days and I was glad to capture it even if it isn't all that well defined.

The next image Amateur astronomer Gerald Rhemann took from his private observatory in Farm Tivoli, Namibia taken the same night as mine. It is a 56 minute guided exposure through a 12-inch telescope that shows the same "dog-leg" break in the comet's tail.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 Year in Review Photo poster

2017: 47 blog posts

First Full Moon of January 2018

This month is unique in the sense that January will have not one but two full Moons!
Fortunately the skies held clear long enough (January 1, 2018 at 7 pm PST) to take this shot.
Almost immediately after freezing fog began to flow quickly across the sky!
Happy New Year, one and all, and may the Lord bring His blessings into your life!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Tonight's New Years Eve (nearly) Full Moon!

Though there was thin cloud cover creating a bit of a bright haze around the Moon I decided to give it a try. Not much else to image tonight as clouds are increasing...

Tonight's New Years Eve (nearly) Full Moon
Canon T3i - ISO 400 - 50 sec
Bushnell North Star Schmidt-Cassegrain 90mm 1,200mm f/13 scope
Tripod mounted

Post processed to enhance contrast and sharpness

Friday, December 29, 2017

Updated Report by the CATE Solar Experiment I was part of

During the 2017 fall meeting press conference of the American Astrogeophysical Union, Matt Penn, the lead scientist for the CATE project (of which I was a part of) for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, gave a short updated report on where the data is and a little on the history leading up to this project.
The image above is one of the latest images (enhanced) which will be complied into a video that might last up to 82 minutes, of the inner corona of the Sun during totality.

Follow this link to hear his brief report on Youtube:

I am very happy to have been part of this amazing scientific research project!

Celestron Sky Scout: The Bad News and the Good News

I went to a thrift shop today and found a Celestron Sky Scout Personal Planetarium device. It was BRAND NEW in the box, never had been used! I had seen these expensive devices in astronomy mags for year (well, prior to 2015, that is) but the price... OUTRAGEOUS for something that had no magnification, like a telescope or binocular might give. But...

...finding on a 50% off sale (whoohoo!) I got it for $17.50 and hurried home to give it a go!

I popped in two AA batteries, powered it up outside and waited for the GPS in it to "fix" on a sufficient amount of GPS satellites... and waited and waited... "Can't fix"!!!!!

Ok, maybe it needs an update?

I install the CD-ROM software, hit "Update Software" and it downloaded the software update (that is, for the computer, NOT the device). I connected the device via the supplied USB cable and... "Cannot find" the device... AAARGH. It turns out that in Windows 10 a lot of legacy stuff does not work because "This program will not work on a 64 bit Windows"...

Ok, I could put out an old XP laptop and try it but... I "googled" Celestron Sky Scout and found many other frustrated owners (old and new) whose device was almost a brick... no way to update the firmware for the device to manually set the date past 2015 !!!! And Celestron just stopped production and support for it! And most people could not get the device to get a GPS fix before the device gave up.

That is the BAD news.

BUT, I have GOOD NEWS (sort of)!

One post on CloudyNights seemed to have found a solution (sort of) to the GPS fix problem.
And it goes like this:

"When you startup and try to acquire a GPS signal, don't wait for it to time out.  Once it acquires two satellites, hit "Back" and then select "retry acquiring a GPS fix..." again.
When you see the progress bar, hit the "GPS" button to expand the screen to include a list of satellites, relative strength of signal and acquisition status (i.e. black is "locked on satellite") >
Do this each time it acquires a new satellite and after three attempts it'll lock on fairly quickly (about 30 seconds for me).  You should end up with 3-5 satellites in a short time."

So I popped outside and gave it another go, using this suggestion and... YAY! GOOD NEWS!
It worked!

Sort of... in that for all celestial objects that do not move it did fine.
But for object that move like the Sun, Moon, planets, etc  it will not be able to properly identify them or their positions past the year 2015 (This post is December, 2017).

But, hey, at least it isn't a total loss!

December 30, 2017 UPDATE:
What can you still do with a Sky Scout?

* You can listen / read the info on all the objects in its data base

* You can listen / read the entire "Field Guide" section of the data base and learn about basic
     astronomy (lots of lessons there!)

* You can hook an amplified speaker to the headphone jack so that everyone can hear the info

* If you can get the GPS to get a fix you can still use it
       * to identify / locate all interstellar objects in its data base
       * and attach it to a dobsonian telescope and use its 'locate' feature as a finder scope
       * to determine your GPS location so you can input the info into a non-GPS "goto" scope
       * to discover the UTC time

Hope this helps someone either NOT to purchase one or at least give it a second life for identifying all other celestial objects!