Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Atlas for the Struve Double Hunters...The CDSA

This was Drive-By's idea, he got it first I think but I will have to ask SUG if he got it first. But anyway...There are two "killer" DSO (Deep Sky Objects) star atlas's. They are the Uranometria 2000.0 and the Sky Atlas 2000.0 and their respecitve resource guides. For shear volume of stars, there is the out-of-print (WHY??) Millennium Star Atlas. One of the best compact atlas's is the Pocket Sky Atlas, again another wonderful atlas. Norton's is a classic, and the original Cambridge Star Atlas too is another wonderful atlas to work from.

What about double stars? Well, James Mullaney and uranographer extrodinaire, Wil Tirion have teamed up to make a very impressive and exhausitive atlas for the double star hunters....The Cambridge Double Star Atlas with an exhausitive "hit list" and a great amount of detail down to 7.5 mag or fainter. An excellent companion to the traditional DSO favourites like the Uranometria and Sky Atlas 2000.0. However, the CDSA does have DSO's listed but it is minimized to keep the clutter down on the atlas. Some may view this as a bit of a negative since the smaller Pocket Sky Atlas has more DSO's. Not so though, as the beauty of this atlas are the various labels pointing the observer to a double star. It's built for telescopes of all aperture and some of these doubles will require pristine, steady skies and excellent, collimated optics.

Structurally it is typical Tirion much like the layout of the Sky Atlas 2000.0 and Uranometria, a sort of "standard feel" to it. DSO's are labeled in colour as is the Milky Way in traditional "Blue" much like the desk and deluxe editions of the larger Sky Atlas 2000.0. Double stars are labeled in green with their appropriate discoverer/catalogue

Coupled with Sissy Haas' Double Stars For Small Telescopes the CDSA will prove to be invaluable as it takes a lot of the guess work out. Are you a double star hunter? Get this atlas!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Post of the Day

"Look skyward now...
And see above... INFINITY
Vast and dark and deep
And endless... your heritage:
Silent clouds of stars,
Other worlds uncountable and other suns
beyond numbering
And realms of fire-mist and star-cities
as grains of sand...
Across the void...
Across the gulf of night...
Across the endless rain of years...
Across the ages."


Monday, July 27, 2009

Back in business...sort of.

I wouldn't call it clear by any stretch. Poor transparency and poor seeing. Lots of twinkling up there, but hey, it's clear enough for me to do what I need to do.

You would think there was a lot on the line here, but really, there is not. No matter how you slice there was no way I would have gotten rid of the old Refractor if it completely failed the test. But what was on the line was the matter of it being surplus and confined to the odd night here and there. Essentially to retire with dignity and stay in storage while the other two get all the fun. Not a nice scenario.

...Jim, the Enterprise is twenty years old, we feel her day is over...

Not so fast Admiral Morrow. First, it's not called Enterprise, and secondly, it isn't over and here's why.

Got the SP-C102 set up late as usual and mostly in the dark. However, it was hoisted onto the SP mount with the steel legs for the first time. It has not yet been on the steel legs as of yet. First thing was to look at any star. Sadr was my choice, not too bright, but not to faint. Result? Apart from crummy seeing...COLLIMATED!. The star test revealed the out of focus image on both sides is spot on. Seeing interfered a bit, but the end result was EXACTLY what I wanted.

But, if you're going to play with the other kids, you're gonna have to do better than that. Swung over to Alpha Hercules just to see what a double star was going to do that was slightly more challenging than say, Albireo. Again spot on with perfect concentric rings, albeit seeing again being a challenge. Then it struck not the OTA although that would have been enlightening. It's performing better than ever before. Better than when I first got it. What does that say?

Struve time. Again, you want to play with the other kids, you better be a Struve hunter because that's the in thing right now on this blog. Struve 2668 proved to be easier to find, go figure as it took me forever last time. Not a problem. The old Refractor showed it as a nice tight double with contrasting colours and very nicely control of the glare of the primary. Struve hunter? Well one down, many more to go. But it looks like we are capable here.

Double Double: Probably the best I have seen it ever in the SP-C102, sharper than the Pronto which says a lot about how good the collimation is now. No trouble here.

Albireo: With K out now with me, she wanted to look at a pretty double and Albireo, dedicated to both of us, was very nice indeed, but wasn't used as a test.

End result: I would say that this is a tremendous improvement over what was happening and has given a reprieve so to speak for the old Refractor which is great because it's always been there. The OTA is looking beat up but this test green lights any major overhaul to the tube in the future.

So does that make the other two surplus? Well not the Pronto....


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tin Foil Hat Updated

My "other" blog...a photoblog that I have neglected a bit but I hope to get out and shoot more soon.

Tin Foil Hat: Stories Through Images



Saturday, July 25, 2009

Way Out! The "Old 102" gets collimated

My sneaking suspicions about the "Old 102" were confirmed today as I set up the collimating tool and the OTA and it was out. No, it was WAY OUT! I started to notice that I could not get a very sharp image from it when lined up against the Pronto or the Antares 105. Since the other two were sharing the load, the SP-C102 was shelved into the background. Yet something was always nagging at me because, despite the greater false colour (although far from annoying), it's an easier refractor to work with than the longer Antares.

Following the instructions in my last posting, Refractor Collimation, I was able to get the two donuts together using the push-pull cell. It wasn't difficult, just a bit time consuming although at one point I thought I was going in circles. The other problem I had was that one screw is looking at bit stripped but I managed. Now the only thing I am waiting for are clear skies which if you have been following (check the right hand side of the blog), aren't going to be anytime soon.

Just to check and compare, I decided to look at the Pronto's collimation and to my surprise, its now worse than the SP-C102. This does not come as a shock as the Pronto being second hand, needs to visit Uncle Al at Tele Vue to get a tune up. The Pronto has been delivering some excellent views despite this small handicap, but I expect it will head down towards the end of this year for some servicing. You cannot adjust a Pronto's lens cell, it has to go down to the shop.

Maybe I will have a report on the SP-C102 soon, but I expect clouds and more rain until at least mid to late next week...which stinks!


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Refractor Collimation

I stumbled across this because I am going to take a look at the collimation of the now semi-retired SP-C102 as I was having issues with the images at high power. The old refractor might be out of collimation or simply suffer from rough surface. I will find out soon enough. With the weather not conducive for observing for a few days (or is that weeks?) it might be time to take a look at some maintenance issues with the old scope.

Of course, I forgot "how to collimate" a refractor but I found this resource, Refractor Collimation and I just picked up a simple collimator to do it. So I will see just how far off the collimation is.


Socked in and soggy

If you had looked at the right side of the blog and followed the EC forecast and Clear Sky Chart, you'll notice we're right in the middle of some soggy and humid weather. Toronto's summer has been a little on the unusual side with lots of cloud cover and a little wetter than normal. Yet the air is generally clean which is a good thing. Bad if you are observing. The scopes have been idle for a while now so the itch is there to return to action ASAP but that window of opportunity may not happen till next week. There is a narrow, and I mean narrow window of *maybe* Friday night, but it is not looking good until at least another week from now or more. But it's the weather, it does what it wishes.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Update on Struve 2668

I am posting this as a new entry rather than editing the previous entry which was Uranometria, Struve 2668 and The Living Star Atlas. Do 5 is part of the Dolidze catalogue of clusters which frequent the area of Cygnus. This cluster in particular is an eye catcher, also it is the home of Struve 2668. Again, it's position is 20h 20.3m RA, +39 24" DEC

Sources: Uranometria 2000.0 Vol 1 2nd Edition, Tirion et al and Double Stars for Small Telescopes by Sissy Haas.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Our man in Shanghai (Eclipse in Shanghai)

We are wishing for clear weather over there for the Wednesday eclipse of the Sun in Shanghai. Our man, Malcolm Park, President of the North York Astronomical Association continues to update us on his adventure. Lets hope it clears up...but the forecast is not looking promising.

Check out his blog, Cygnusx1 here

Drive-In Astronomy

I have been frequenting (why was does that word sound so wrong?) the 5 Drive-In in Oakville on a few occasions where it has actually been clear. I have been tempted to set up the Pronto on a whim just to see what would happen. There are literally hundreds of people there hunkered down in their cages watching the big outdoor screen. Karen and I sit outside of the car taking in the film but both of us have drifted off staring at the night sky if the movie is iffy, watching planes make their finals (or takeoffs) from Pearson Airport and looking at, or literally staring at some old familiar sites. Screen One roughly faces north so The Great Bear makes a dive this time a year towards it. Usually we have spotted Jupiter rising over the diner during the film and as we go home late, it's soaring above the parking lot. Saturday night I was trying to split Mizar and Alcor naked eye. I used to be able to do that. Let's face it, my eye's aren't what they used to be. I also left my wallet there and I have to go retrieve it. Silly me!

It could be an interesting outreach for people to learn. Not sure how the management would feel, but it's not a bad thing I suppose. Perhaps I will be more subtle and just use my 8x42s instead. But the Pronto, being small enough, just might do the trick and just keep it at a minimum towards the back. Of course, there is the possibility of using the facility as an outreach during non-movie times, something to consider.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Uranometria, Struve 2668 and The Living Star Atlas

I was fortunate last night to do a trial run of the Antares 105 and the TV Pronto all at once. Two scopes that are very, very different in how they approach the night sky, granted they are both refractors, they are very different. 8X50 finder scopes are generally adequate for most if not all types of night sky star hopping, but they start to show their limitation with really super-detailed atlas's like Uranometria. Last night I cracked open the Uranometria for the first time in 2009 and immediately felt out of touch and out of whack with the image scale. But after a few false starts, I turned to the Pronto for some interpretation and sure enough, it showed an incredible amount of detail as a finder telescope. It was clearly much better than any standard 8X50 finder scopes obviously with it's shear quality of optics. The Pronto was not physically attached to the Antares, it was sitting on an AZ-3 Mount beside it. There are no plans to adapt the Pronto physically to any telescope at this time.

Struve 2668--With the Pronto as the finder and the Antares as the primary observing scope I was able to do two things at once. Searching for Struve 2668 in Cygnus I could not really make out what I really needed to star hop in the 8X50, but the Pronto began to show details I really hoped to see. Struve 2668 was not all by itself. It's located in a small open cluster known as Do 5 which the 8X50 failed to see, but the Pronto readily saw beside a "wall" of four dimly lit stars. I wasn't just finding, I was observing at the same time. That's a nice feeling. Struve 2668 is a very nice double but not a very bright one and the companion is not easy to spot at first. No problem though in the Antares 105mm. The magnitudes are 6.3 and 8.5 respectively with a separation of 3.4".

Next time someone calls your small, high quality refractor a glorified finder scope, thank them! The Pronto and the Antares 105 make a great team.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tele Vue Pronto and the "Living Star Atlas"

One of the better reviews of the Tele Vue Pronto courtesy Cloudy Nights, titled Tele Vue Pronto and the Living Star Atlas

While this blog is not really about equipment reviews, from time to time they will be posted. The Backyard Astronomer Blog will remain predominantly an "observing" blog rather than an equipment shootout.



Monday, July 13, 2009

A night of splits and a gas giant (and some Moon)

I finally dedicated a night to observing, and I mean actually doing some hunting and observing as opposed to just prowling around the night sky looking at whatever. At first it looked like we'd be clouded out, but that did change back to clear so we were full steam ahead. Spent most of my time in Cygnus again while I was waiting for the grand prize to clear the horizon. Seeing was a tad iffy.

We were lucky to catch Saturn on it's downward spin towards the horizon. Saturn is increasingly difficult and I felt a tad sorry that we are in the "wave goodbye" stage of it's observing time. But still, it was nice catch in the evening twilight. Something to build on as the evening progresses.

Why do dill flavoured chips taste better while observing???? I don't know.

Then I split things. The telescope was the Antares 105mm Refractor. The location was Saddington Park in Mississauga.

Antares: Low and behold it actually did show a companion but I have to say that it's one big disco ball at that altitude. Granted with iffy seeing, this will happen. I called Karen over because her eyes are better than mine and she has grown accustomed to by annoying habit of finding double stars. She saw it too. So it confirms that at 105mm, this should work. I hope some of you split it in South America instead. Up in Mississauga, it's just a tad too low. But I love the "fiery pale colour" of Antares with a tad of green from the companion. Lovely double, but not in Mississauga.

Struve 2741--Cygnus: Where am I? Oh right, Cygnus. But here's the catch. Silly me should have brought the Sky Atlas 2000.0 but I opted just for the Pocket Sky Atlas thinking that city observing only requires that. Well, that wasn't the case, but anyway (I have issues with scale because my mind gets numb). Moving right along, 2741 is located at 20h 58.5m RA, +50 28' DEC and is easily accessible by star chart. I rate this pair as a "cute pair" because it is. It was very pleasing at about 238X with the seeing permitting. I show this as a blue-white pair and easily split at 2.0".

Then the clouds rolled in: It went from Rated G to R pretty quickly. Enough is enough with this whacky weather where all the promises of "clear skies" went out the window just as I started to observe 2741...TEA and COOKIE TIME!

Then it cleared, back to Rated G.

Struve 2732--Cygnus: 20h 48.7m RA, +51 55' DEC. With the sky now clear, mostly anyway, I moved on to this neat little pair but be careful here. Magnitude Differential Warning!But it's not that bad. I could easily make out the companion and with a split of only 4.3" which is not terribly difficult. But as stated, the primary does outshine the companion with a mag. differential of 6.4 and 8.6 respectively so it is a challenge, but nowhere near impossible for a modest aperture.

49 Cyg--Cygnus: 20h 41.0m RA, +32 18' DEC. 49 Cyg tops off the evening of splits as the Grand Prize is just about to clear the trees at Saddington Park, but anyway. 49 is striking and not too difficult. I have to issue another Magnitude Differential Warning, but be careful of reading too much into the hype although it is 5.8 and 8.1 respectively. Found it fairly easy to identify the companion. It is suggested to be of grey colour, I found it blue again. The primary did not wash out the companion as in 2732 but it was a challenge. Nice thing is, 49 Cyg is easy to locate with an 8X50 finder so you will have no difficulty.

Jupiter: After all the splits, tea, cookies and a few naughty words aimed at the clouds, it was off to Jupiter. Seeing was a problem because Jupiter as most of you reading this are aware, is low for us Northerners. But it's good to see old Jupiter again in the sky. I had the power way to high at one point so I backed down to about 125X and we were making out the festoons in the belts as best we could. Four moons were up at this time so that added to our observing pleasure.

Jupiter at 20: As with everything astronomy related, this will be my 20th year observing the great Jupiter. I first saw it through my trashy but humble Magnicon 234 way back in 1989 before I really knew anything about astronomy so we go back a bit, Jupiter and I. It's always nice to see in the night sky and the sky never feels right without it, IMHO. Good to have you back Jupiter!

Moon: Luna was fun time. Ron and I decided to try and take hand-held shots of the moon and it worked somewhat but we could do better.

Then I tired. Time to go home to bed. I was pleased with tonight because we saw four new objects (Antares companion counted as one) so all in all, a good night (sans clouds)


Pics from last night:

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Team Photos

Just in case you missed is the team.

Celestron/Vixen SP-C102 (also known as "The Grand Old Refractor)
Tele Vue Pronto (also known as "Tasco Tonto")
Antares 105
William Optics Zenithstar 80 Fluorite (poppa's, not mine)

Triple Treat: Iota Cassiopeia

In the astro-community this triple star is well known. But to newcomers and those who have not yet dabbled into the world of double and multiple stars, Iota Cas is one of those rare treats in the night sky. Worth the look and not at all hard to find even with a simple red-dot finder.

Rule Breaker Moment: It is suggested that you use a 90-100mm aperture to split the A-B component of this multiple system. Since the Pronto falls below that criteria, some would think that the Pronto was somehow incapable of splitting it. However, the-little-scope-that-could keeps on going and it split it nicely. While it would be true that with a little more aperture, it would be more pleasing, the little "rule breaker" was at it again.

A-B are not so tough. Epsilon Bootis is tougher and so is Delta Cygni. Iota Cas is not subject to the same glare and magnitude differential like some other double stars, so if you're scope falls below 100mm, it's not out of reach, it just might not be the brightest. I suppose it depends on what you were expecting. The B component is 2.3" apart from the yellow A component while B is decidedly blue. The C component of the triple is 7.3" away at a fainter magnitude of 8.2. Again, not a problem in light polluted skies at 70mm.
The only detriment to this was the altitude. It was quite low in the sky but in moments of steady seeing, it pulled together nicely. Since Iota Cas is in the general area of the Double Cluster, some may overlook it's potential which is unfortunate because Iota Cas is a real eye catcher. So take a look at it!

Iota Cas is one of two "personal memorialized" stars in the sky. We dedicated it to our dear friend and observing buddy Les Swaby who passed away some time ago. This was his favourite object to look at so we think of him when we turn our scopes to Iota Cas.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Observing Challenge: Psi Cygni

Yet another challenging double star in the constellation Cygnus. I've been hanging out around here because it is currently in a favourable position in the sky given my limited view of where I was. Psi is listed as a challenge for small scopes and upon it's discovery I could say that a small scope with good quality optics won't have any problems seeing this. Just remember what to expect. Psi has a magnitude differential of 5.0 and 7.5 with a separation of 2.9 arc second. It took me a while to locate it mostly because of the seriously light polluted skies of Mississauga and adding to it, I was just using a red dot finder. The Pronto had no problem splitting this star into it's components with a nice black space in between at about 152X. Seeing helped. It was a steady night. This fine double star is a great example of colour differential, one orange and one blue. It was a nice site.

How I found it was basically scanning very slowly the region just northwest of Deneb somewhat perpendicular to Delta Cygni using low power. Nice thing is the Pronto almost acts as a finderscope in itself. However, I will still maintain that it would have been a lot easier to find in darker skies where you can see more reference stars to get there a tad quicker.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Confessions of a depressed astronomer

Lingering Cold Core Lows, conflicting schedules, dragon boat races and what have you have put observing onto the back burner of life. The saddest thing to see as an astronomer is looking at two refractors staring at a blank ceiling as opposed to a night sky. No matter how you slice it, the evenings of end of June and beginning of July have been total duds in Toronto/Mississauga. There was one grand night, but I was too busy getting ready for Hamilton Waterfest...oh well, it happens.

Cold Core Lows are nothing new in Southern Ontario and around the Great Lakes. They visit, spin, sit, spin, sit and spin, spin and sit all the while inundating the area with clouds, rain, sun, clouds, rain, sun but not necessarily in that order. This past one was particularly stubborn and refused to leave for sometime. The only odd part about this was the timing. Typically they don't visit in late June, but this one decided to arrive late. On the positives were clear air and moderate temperatures. The down side was no observing...they have to be the ultimate insult to the astronomer. Your scopes just sit. You hope to despair. It's not a good feeling.

Alas the thing finally blew away, but schedules got busier and well, you know the rest. One night soon the Pronto or Antares will get the call. When that will be is whenever it can happen, at least I hope soon. Until then, two refractors just sit idle, looking at a ceiling. It's sad.


In praise of the lowly Pronto by Chris Greene (from Cloudy Nights Refractor Forum)

In praise of the lowly Pronto
by Chris Greene

Once upon a time, the Pronto was quite the hit in the astronomy world. Then, as other small, high-end refractors came onto the scene, the Pronto lost its audience and favor with most but not me. Here's my Pronto story...

Some years ago, when I was getting back into astronomy for the umpteenth time, I learned about the little TV Pronto. Tele Vue referred to it as a "semi-apo" refractor, whatever that means.

I was scopeless at the time but living under fairly dark rural skies in Idaho. As I've always preferred refractors for their ease of use, I started searching around for a used one. After a time I located a green one with an included Telepod mount. It came with the 20mm TV Plossl and that was to be my only eyepiece for a few weeks. I was really impressed with the build quality and when it saw first light I was just amazed at the wide field views of the heavens even with the 20mm plossl. I was able to locate a number of Messier objects and was impressed with just how much I could see under dark skies. Over the next few months, I found some additional eyepieces that TV recommended (35mm Pan, 12mm Nag, 8mm Radian) and have since added to the collection. I also added a used Starbeam and the eyepiece caddy.

Of course, in time I added some other scopes (a non-SDF Gensis and C8 mounted on a GP) but the little Pronto was the scope that got used the most and I finally sold off the other two. Then I added a Questar for inner solar system use because of the drive and because I'm a fan of small portable optics (and that I always wanted one). I've kept the Questar and since added another 4" refractor (NP-101) but still, the little Pronto on its Telepod is still the scope I use the most.

Why? Well, it's ready to go in a moment, never has to cool down, shows tremendous views of the stars, doubles, brighter Messier objects (I can actually resolve outer stars in M13 under my skies), and very nice views of the moon. I have taken it to a few star parties and it has always impressed. One time, at Bryce Canyon, it was more popular than the big SCT's that were being run by the Park Service and the University of Utah. Why? Because I showed folks the Andromeda Galaxy and they could see the whole thing in the eyepiece. When they learned just what it was they saw I had them. The big scopes were likely not well-collimated and their operators were having some other troubles. Under dark skies, a small wide-field refractor is a wonderful thing and the Pronto is all that. It was pretty cool that at this particular star party, the Pronto won the night and the lines were longest at my scope vs. the big boys.

Once, I asked Al Nagler whether I should replace it with the TV-76 and he said the only reason to would be if I were dissatisfied with its lunar and planetary views. As I find the color correction reasonably good and use other scopes for those objects anyway, I've kept it all these years.

If I had to sell everything, I think the Pronto and Telepod would be the last to go. I absolutely love the whole package and find it very satisfying to own such a small, high quality, portable rig.

I know there are many other options today but Prontos often come up for under $500 now and to me, that's an absolute steal of a deal. If you've never looked through or used one you're in for a treat if you get the chance!