Tuesday, December 5, 2017

More thoughts and results

It's galaxy time!  Which means it's going to be cloudy.  Figures.  Since the vast expanse of galaxies and clusters of galaxies become visible in the shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn, the weather in these parts can turn mighty cloudy and cloudy for some time...If you suffer from SAD, you have my sympathies...the only thing I don't like about my scope or the Mallincam is that they still can't see through clouds. 

True Story!

But I have had some modest success this Autumn as I began my journey into video astronomy with the Mallincam DS2.3+, although before that I was having some success with the AGc as well earlier on.  In my previous two posts I alluded to the far reaching implications of the Mallincam to explore into some truly remote objects, something I refer to as the abyss, which is really my arbitrary "beyond the 12th magnitude wall".

Lets have a look at some early results.  Remember, when it comes to processing these images, I am a total noob.  My primary objective at this time is to search, find and explore.  Processing will come later as I sharpen my skills.

NGC 40 The Bow-Tie Nebula

NGC 40 was acquired using the old 102mm achromat/DS2.3+ and was a pleasant surprise as this was taken during Full Moon (you read that right).


M17 was acquired at Starfest 2017 using the TV76 and the AGc.  This image only drove home the point that the Mallincam was making the TV76 a truly awesome deep sky performer.


M33 remains a difficult acquisition but the structure is there which is A WHOLE LOT MORE than what I saw in the eyepiece which in the city was basically nothing.  You get the point, right?  This has more to do with practice then anything else but you get the idea.  Taken with the 102mm achro and the DS2.3+.  

Abell 262

Acquired under Bortle Scale 7 skies, a waxing gibbous moon, questionable transparency and a novice understanding of such and object...and well...there it is anyway!  The Abell Challenge is on and this just the beginning.  This is the abyss I have been talking about.  The ability to explore, and I mean really explore the universe.  Acquired with the 102mm achro and the DS2.3+, gain at 20 and 45 sec. exposure. 

The best is yet to come

I'll be honest, I haven't felt this excited about astronomy since I was a teen.  Really.  So I cannot thank Van and Rock enough for providing an experience that has matched what it was like when it all began.  There have been highs and lows in this hobby, and this is one incredible ride.  Lets see where it goes. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Poke The Bear

The following is a speculative piece that is the result of the so-called personal revolution that the Mallincam AG-c and DS2.3+ has triggered in the last couple of months.  I could be wrong or right, or I will touch a nerve.  Either way, I hope it generates discussion. The prime argument for the revolution was the ability to actually do observing in heavily light polluted skies.  A recent article suggests that, despite our technology, best intentions and awareness, light pollution has actually gotten worse.  This is bad news.  Bad news indeed.  But this isn’t primarily what I’m on about here.

The Issue

Pick up any beginners guide to or a book about astronomy.  You’ll notice a particular pattern.  The reader is enticed by beautiful pictures of the night sky and lavish ads (if a periodical) and images of equipment.  The text goes on extolling the virtues of backyard astronomy in lavish terms like “this is the greatest hobby out there”.  THIS is who you want to be in astronomy.  Then as predicted, comes the big let-down, the anti-climax, the scary phrase “you won’t see things like in the photographs”.  Then comes the deflection of “this is a cerebral journey” and “you have to imagine these objects like in the pictures”.  The journey is indeed cerebral, but putting it like this makes it look like a bait and switch.  Why did we entice them with pictures in the first place and then dodge the issue with such statements?  I’m not sure this is an honest thing to do.  There is a possible solution to this big let down…

Let them actually see stuff!

The whole idea is to see something.  If you are content with seeing faint smudges, and limited to observing very rarely because the drive is too much or you don’t have time, then so be it.  But this is where the Mallincam came through for me.  The ability to see things, in light polluted skies and in colour and with detail.  The very thing that most beginner’s guides say CANNOT happen.  Sure, it’s not the same as intense DSLR or CCD imaging, but it’s getting closer to it and I feel it’s a whole lot easier to do.  And there are those who argue that staring at a monitor is not aesthetically pleasing.  There could be some truth in that especially for the planets or those Milky Way vistas in binoculars.  But for the deep sky, and I mean “deep”, I have moved on.

A Mallincam with every beginner scope?

That’s a bold statement.  Certainly the computer savvy beginner shouldn’t have much of a problem using the most basic Mallincam.  Some might argue that the cost is prohibitive for the more advanced Mallincam cameras, but think about how much a couple of decent wide field eyepieces are.  Currently gas prices are almost a 1.23 per litre so some might hesitate to travel 60-90 minutes to a dark sky.  Even worse, what could happen is user frustration and a golden opportunity to explore is lost because the view simply wasn’t there.  The scope then ends up on Kijiji and it’s over.  So yes, I could advocate that a Mallincam is most certainly worth with a beginner telescope.  Why not?  If it tracks (computerized or not), go for it!

The Curmudgeon Astronomer

The old Refractor.  The only difference is the addition of the DS2.3+ and the laptop.  Some people think this is overly complicated for some reason...or is not considered "real" observing...or something...   
It’s easy to think the good old days are long gone.  That this generation is a lazy and entitled lot that’s only interested in self-gratification and lot really learning.  But I think that’s too much of a stretch.  And if we continue to think that this hobby must be done a certain way and only that way (whatever that may be), don’t be surprised if your club membership starts to decline.  That your observing sites remain unused and empty because it’s just not practical to travel the distance.  Why does the gratification and technology scare people?  Why are we afraid of progress and change?

What Rock said

Knocking on Abell’s door

“And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."  Nietzchse said it best although it had nothing to do with astronomy.  It’s all about accessibility.  The DS2.3+ has opened the door to faint objects well beyond 12th magnitude with current equipment.  That means faint galaxies and more so, galaxy clusters!  This is most impressive.  This is not currently accessible for those on modest equipment budgets or restricted by storage space or time and worse, stuck in crummy skies.  A modest Nexstar 6SE becomes a powerful tool of observing when linked with a Mallincam.  Suddenly galaxy morphology becomes a big thing if so inclined.  The abyss is calling.  The Uranometria is no longer an atlas of disappointment.   

Do we need to rethink our approach?

I think so.  Beginner guides need to be upfront and honest.  They also need to provide solutions that don’t use scare tactics or curmudgeon attitudes toward progressive technology by simply saying that “this is what we did 40 years ago and you better follow”.  Sure, one might think I have thought the unthinkable, spoke the unspeakable, but hell, if Lord Voldemort used a Mallincam, I’d do astronomy with him.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Mallincam Astronomy...A Personal Reflection

A personal revolution in the making

I haven’t blogged for some time about astronomy, more like almost four years now, mainly because the blog interface is nowhere near as good as interacting on Facebook which is where I primarily interact about astronomy in general. But what I am talking about is a major shift in how I “do astronomy” and that is something that needs to be expanded upon. What this isn’t is a technical discussion about the Mallincam video astronomy camera (I am simply not qualified to do that). This is a personal reflection on how video astronomy has changed how I approach conventional visual astronomy.

When it started

At an astronomy convention a light bulb went on. The Celestron Evolution was just released to the public and it got me thinking about how we observe and do astronomy. You see, that scope interacts with your smart phone or tablet. If you think about it that sounds a tad silly given one requires night vision to observe. But what if you were doing something different such as video astronomy or imaging where night vision is largely a moot point. I already knew I had neither the time nor patience for astrophotography, so I decided to run this idea by the guys at Mallincam, thinking maybe, just maybe this is the type of scope that would be a great fit for video astronomy. It is at this time I began a friendship with someone named Van…who ultimately would alter my entire trajectory in this hobby.

The First Revolution…Mallincam AG-c

Van was kind enough to loan me the starter Mallincam, the AG-c. Basically a guider that can act as a stand-alone video camera for astronomy. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was given but to put it to the test, I chose the TV76 and the EQ6 mount (just a tad over mounted) to start. I figured the 480mm focal length was more forgiving than the 102mm’s 1000mm focal length and to be honest, wasn’t sure the 102 would actually work (it did, but it wasn’t the best choice for this camera). So that’s how I got started. It was also the beginning of the end of one thing, and the beginning of something else.

You’re supposed to see stuff, right?

Conventional wisdom states that in order to actually “do visual astronomy” one must face a drive of one hour or more to actually see something. Living in the GTA due to urban sprawl, that drive is probably more like ninety minutes, assuming rush hour isn’t in full swing. If I don’t make that drive I am stuck in my driveway, with an obstructed view and limited skies due to light pollution. My work schedule makes it even harder to travel to a dark sky. So I am limited to Friday or Saturday evenings and everyone knows those evenings are almost always clear, right? Yeah okay. So the idea of astronomy is to see stuff…but I wasn’t…well not deep sky objects…which is/was depressing…because we ARE supposed to see stuff…

What the Mallincam/TV 76 did

I saw stuff! Okay so I saw it on a laptop. But who cares! I SAW STUFF! But put that in perspective. Not only did I see stuff, I saw stuff that by conventional means (through the eyepiece) is basically impossible especially in the city with limited aperture. But suddenly, faint NGC’s became possible…in my driveway…in the city…and that is where things change dramatically. I felt like I was observing, really observing objects without the treacherous (or is that torturous) drive to a dark sky. Now to be fair, it would be much better under a dark sky. So I went to StarFest with this combination and I looked at stuff that no 76mm aperture ever dares to go after. You know, like Stephan’s Quintet and the Perseus galaxy cluster. And yet, I was able to see these things.

The Second Revolution…Mallincam DS2.3+

Van, being the kind human being he is, loaned me something I’ll never forget. The Mallincam DS2.3+ only this time with reducers which could lead to possibly using the Mallincam with the old refractor. Now, the old refractor, even though it was modernized and rebuilt, was taking a backseat to the TV76. I first tested the DS2.3+ with the TV76 and the results were very promising and I was able to penetrate further into the abyss. But I was curious about linking this to the 102. Remember, this is an old dreadnought of a scope. Built in the era of big hair and shoulder pads. It was never intended for this use. After a false start not getting it to focus, I decided to go straight through the scope so the reducers could be used and of course that actually worked after some daytime fiddling with the focus.

Get on with it! What did you see?

Stephan’s Quintet…set up on my driveway…in skies I cannot see the little dipper in…need I say more? Well yes, I did see A LOT of other stuff too.

Remember that atlas you own?

I always felt that I faced a wall around 12th mag. You know, that point where everything ends but you know damn well it’s just the beginning. Even a large dob wouldn’t go past the wall in urban skies. If it did it would be too huge to work with. So I would stare at my Uranometria looking at all those inaccessible fuzzies of 13-15th mag. Except maybe they aren’t. Given what I have already tried, it seems almost ridiculous to say that I have been out to 14th mag from my driveway, but with the combination of the 102 and the DS2.3+, this is what has happened. Incidentally, I became recently aware that the TV76 and AG-c combo went over the 12th mag wall too. That was an eye opener. So yes, remember that atlas? Now I am putting it to use. Which leads me to the next thought.

Access to the abyss

That is what I am talking about. The ability to explore without the inherent problems of commuting to a site or not having sufficient time due to scheduling and hauling out huge pieces of equipment that require a set up time. It is true my combination of the DS2.3+ and my two refractors would work A WHOLE LOT BETTER in dark skies but the point is, the abyss is accessible from my driveway in far less perfect conditions. And that is what excites me the most. Exploring is what I do. That is what drives me to observe. The Mallincam has opened the abyss.

Did I kill visual astronomy?

No. Better yet, I supplemented it. There will be those of the traditional thought that the eyepiece is more aesthetically appealing. I too love looking through the eyepiece and I still love to observe double stars through them not to mention the planets. But for faint stuff, I’ve gone another route and I am not sure I will return…

Some selected images:  Remember, I've just started to do this...

I’d like to thank Rock Mallin for making great stuff. He has opened the universe up in a way I never really thought possible and to be able to use such legacy equipment like the 102 achromat, makes it even more special. And of course a big thank you to Van, because without his kindness, this would never have happened…and I’d be stuck in a rut looking at the Moon…but there’s nothing wrong with the Moon…it just doesn’t end there… M

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Return of *The Refractor*

It's back...and better than ever... I have only spent a limited amount of time with the old (newish looking) SP-C102 which was returned to me from Astroshrink who did a wonderful job restoring the scope to bring it back to the forefront of the observing experience. Last night I managed to set it up to catch Jupiter rising in the east. It is important to note that the internals of the Refractor have been slightly altered to include flocking (in sections) and spray painted to a deep black. This has resulted in a higher contrast instrument with a better stray light management than in the past. The remounted cell was still in collimation after performing a "Rigel Test" (right, I was really going after the companion! Saw it! :) and the scopes collimation was spot on despite being removed and cleaned during the tube restoration process. M42 was breathtaking, as breathtaking as it can be in a 102mm refractor. However the contrast has been improved as a result of the aforementioned flocking and painting. I hope to do a more in-depth report but the forecast has turned sour for the week...I guess it's my fault. Enjoy some pics from the past, during the restoration (courtesy of Astroshrink) and after the restoration

Original configuration

Restoration (note the sad shape it was in)
Fully restored
Back in action

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Vixen/Celestron SP-C102 OTA gets overhauled

After many, many years of wishing, the long wait is over and the old Refractor is getting it's much needed overhaul courtesy of David Dev at Astroshrink. The process will take a couple of weeks to complete but so far so good. You can follow the refurbishment at the Astroshrink website.