Monday, February 22, 2016

Back in the Observatory with The Great Orion Nebula (close up)

Today was a preparation day at the observatory for CLEAR SKIES !
I jimmy-rigged an electric motor focuser so that I don't have to touch the telescope. I made it out of an old windup radio generator motor, two AA batteries, and two touch switches... works well !

As evening approached I replaced the standard Celestron NexStar 8i SE collimation screws with a home-made "Bob's Knobs" screws that I got at Ace Hardware. Ok, they are not as nice or convienent as Bob's Knob's (which I will buy someday) but at 75 cent for three, it was hard to pass up. The collimation went well and the views through the eyepieces tonight were very good.

As evening settled in I did some live broadcasting on Night Skies Network (NSN) of the Great Orion Nebula (M 42).  Nothing spectacular, as the full Moon was rising in the east but it was enjoyable... until the temps dropped below 27 degrees F. So I threw the Big Switch and shuttered the observatory.

Here is a poor video snapshot sample of what I broadcast tonight. Tracking wasn't all that good.
Telescope: Celestron NexStar 8i
Camera: Video camera - Mallincam Micro-Ex
Settings: Brightness: 8  Exposure: X512  Gamma: .3  DNR: 1

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Part 2: Prepare to Meet Thy Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is going to be a total solar eclipse of the Sun that will be visible here in the Northwest, and in Oregon in particular, on August 21, 2017 at about 10:21 am (PDT) in the morning.

I was reading my January 2016 Sky and Telescope magazine...
...when I noticed an article referred to on the front page about "Be Part of Coast-to-Coast Eclipse Science," the possibility of joining with amateur astronomers across the USA in recording the eclipse for scientific research in video. Sounded interesting...

It is called "The Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment" or C.A.T.E. (link).

"The Citizen CATE Experiment will use a fleet of telescopes to observe the total solar eclipse of 21 Aug 2017.  As the shadow of the moon travels across the continental USA, citizen astronomers from more than 60 sites will take images of the brightness of the inner solar corona.  While the totality phase of the eclipse will last only 2 minutes at each site, the combined Citizen CATE Experiment data set will reveal for the first time how this part of the solar atmosphere changes during 90 minutes. New scientific results about the dynamics of the magnetic fields and plasmas in this part of the solar corona will be derived from the data, and the image sequence will provide a beautiful perspective of the solar eclipse as never seen before." (text copied from the home page of C.A.T.E.)

Here is what the scope that will be used looks like:

I have already signed up and spoken with the coordinator, Matt Penn (who is an associate astronomer with the National Solar Observatory in Arizona) and a fellow amateur astronomer in Salem, Oregon about helping with the training and implementing of the observations here in Oregon.

I am looking forward to participating with this project !

Here is a map that shows the path of the total solar eclipse here in Oregon:

Here is a map that shows the path across the entire USA:

If you want to find out where the closest places are to you check out this page.
You can zoom in and locate potential sites near you!

Part 1: Prepare to Meet Thy Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017

Yes, the northwest is going to be blessed with another total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 !
The last one was Feb. 26, 1979, the path of which crossed over the Goldendale Observatory (info) just outside of Goldendale, Washington (map).

At that time, my wife and I were living in Sunnyside, Washington (map)   and we made the one hour trip to get in the path of the eclipse. Our aim was to get up to the observatory for the big event. But we were turned away at the lower gate: all the major news networks had taken up position at the observatory (map) and there was "no room in the inn" for us normal folk.

So we drove around Goldendale looking for an "less than ideal" spot, which turned out to be the parking lot of the high school. We set up our little Astroscan scope that I had jimmy-rigged onto an old equatorial mount and attached my Pentax K1000 camera to it with some good old Ekatchrome slide film.
That's my still beautiful wife at the scope
with her VW bug we both miss!

Anybody remember this?

Or these?

Well, just before the beginning of totality I noticed some clouds building up on the north side of the Sun. I looked up at the observatory and... it was in the shade of those clouds! All the networks were unable to see the Sun at totality! We were in the best position after all !

I shot away and we enjoyed the moment!

The images were great! There were Baily's Beads and a prominence, too ! (the photo here is not my shot but exactly like mine)

But I forgot to "bracket" my exposures (that means vary the amount of light via shutter speed selections) and I missed capturing the corona. Here is what it would have looked like...

Anyway, just as totality ended those very same clouds covered our view of the Sun.

We stowed the gear, jumped into the car and headed to Yakima where there was a one hour film processing store to get our film developed. (Who remembers that too?)

Ah, for digital photography back then! I would have noticed my need to bracket and been assured of proper exposure "on the fly"!

So.... I am going to be better prepared for next year's total solar eclipse so that I vary my exposures and capture it in ALL of its incredible beauty!

In fact, I will have at least 3 DSLR cameras capturing the event: one recording it as a movie, another capturing the wide field view including the landscape, another on an equatorial mount closeup!

So, get prepared!   Be sure to check out Part 2: Prepare to Meet Thy Total Solar Eclipse on August, 21, 2017

Joined the Bend Astronomy Meetup group

It was a fairly cloudy night when about 10 amateurs gathered in downtown Bend, Oregon to chat about our common interest in astronomy. It was my first opportunity to attend one of these "meetup's" and it was great just hanging with others of like-mind. It is called the "Bend Astronomy Meetup."
I brought my NexStar 4SE mount with my Bushnell scope mounted on it and though the moon was covered with a high, thin layer of clouds we were still able to see it.
But I also brought along my Mallincam Micro Ex astrovideo camera with a small 5" color monitor so that all could see what astrovideo was all about.
And, yes, it got a lot of "WOW"s !
The goto mount did a fair job of keeping the Moon in view (I just did a "solar system" auto alignment using the Moon) and I was impressed by that! It was one of the reasons I purchased the NexStar 4SE in the first place.
Sadly, we all seemed to have forgotten to take some pics to remember the gathering by...
Anyway, I also presented to the group gathered some information on an effort by The Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment (aka CATE) which is an effort to document the next solar eclipse here in the United States on August 21, 2017. I hope to be able to get some volunteers for this unique event to help me with my part in it.

Review of my new Celestron NexStar 4 SE

I sold a number of my older telescopes just before Christmas in order to purchase a Celestron NexStar 4SE telescope. I wanted a "grab-n-go" telescope with a sturdy tripod mount that also could be used in both equatorial and alt/az mode... but also with an acurate "go-to" computerized capability.
The Celestron NexStar 4SE seemed to fit the bill nicely.

I used to own one that I got used from off of craigslist but it did not have the tripod or the equatorial ability so I sold it off and used the funds to help purchase an older Celestron C8 (orange tube).

Ah, the good ole' days

Still, I missed the ability to "grab-n-go." So, just before this last Christmas, Astronomics notified me of a special that Celestron was doing. If one ordered the NexStar 4SE before New Years Day then one could get the "whole meal deal" for $50 off including FREE SHIPPING for just $450 !

I was MOTIVATED now!

So, older scopes sold, I ordered mine!

The shipping was FAST from Astronomics and the box BIG! Upon unpacking the scope and putting it all together I knew it was what I wanted.

Then came the clouds... days and days of clouds. Weeks and weeks of clouds.

Then a brief break ! Yea!

But I immediately noticed that something wasn't quite right. The stars never focused to a definite point... instead they would get close and then the star point would flare off... hmmm. I first thought it was because the scope didn't cool down sufficiently... but after it did the flaring continued.

So I took a visual look down the scope from the rear and saw the problem: the optics were not aligned... not even close to centered.

You can see the center "donut" is more like an eye than a true circular donut in appearance.
This defect is amplified when focusing on a star... or anything for that matter. Hence the flare...

I first thought it was just a primary mirror alignment issue but when looking at the front end of the scope it seemed that the secondary mirror tube seemed out of alignment, too.

So I contacted Celestron support and after a couple of anxious days I got an email stating that I could send it back to them under warranty via UPS. So I boxed the OTA (that is, the optical tube assembly, which is the actual scope itself, not the mount or tripod, etc) and have shipped it off to Celestron in California.

I will update my experience when the scope is returned... soon I hope!