Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mars is BACK!

Let's be real clear here what this means...

NO! Mars will not be the size of the full Moon! For that stupid email hoax that I get every August since 2003, check this out first.

What is really happening is Mars is approaching opposition again. Every two years and a bit, Mars will be making it's closest approach to Earth. However, this will not be a close approach like other years, so Mars will be smaller in the telescope.

Check this out for lots of information regarding this opposition, visit here.

Last night, among other things, I caught Mars slowly rising in the constellation Cancer after spending a few hours checking out two new double stars and some general observing of M42. Mars was low in the sky when I first spotted it. It's easy to spot because Cancer is a relatively faint constellation. You can't miss it. It will be the brightest "star" in the East after 11pm EST.

Visually it was hampered by atmospheric instability so my observations were highly limited but I did make out the polar ice cap quite nicely and some darker features on the surface of the planet. But again, it was very poor seeing. When it gets higher, it will be nicer.

One other thing. I don't ever recall looking at Mars through the old Refractor. This is odd because I do remember looking at Mars through other scopes. First time I ever saw it was through my first "real" telescope, a Meade ETX, but after that I cannot recall which scope I was using. I completely missed the 2007 opposition because either the weather stunk, or I was too busy (and the old Refractor was in storage). Oh well, it's all good to go now, so we will just wait for clear skies again.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cloudy Night Link: Scope Comparison: Celestron C102-HD, FS-102 Takahashi & MK-67 MCT

Clouded out till further notice. Welcome back to reality! It is afterall, November in Mississauga...and that means clouds, rain, yo-yo like temperatures and lots of humidity.

So enjoy this link. A comparison and a great tale of "Vicki" a Vixen made Celestron 102mm refractor, just like mine.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Refractor Renaissance a la Moonlite (Focusers)

I am (or was) testing out a new idea for the old Refractor which is not getting any older it seems now that the mount and tripod have been upgraded, the optics collimated and so forth.

Two things remain weak though. The original finder is bordering on useless and the stock focuser, while not bad, is badly out of date and very much inflexible.

Enter this company: Moonlite Telescope Accessories

I was fortunate to get a sample to try out. You have to remember it's a risk to take with older scopes because you are never quite sure if it will work, or in this case focus. It is also a two inch upgrade from 1.25". Previous attempts at adapters up sizing the stock focuser to two inch always fail as the eyepiece would be out too far beyond the focal plane. I am pleased to report that after tonight, the Moonlite upgrade, the CF2 with dual rate and a 4.5" travel draw tube with compression rings to handle heavy loads. I will review the Moonlite focuser later. Also because the new focuser accepts standard finder scope mountings, I replaced the stock focuser with an Orion 9X50 RA finder, a BIG improvement.

The old Refractor has come along way since it's reactivation. The original SP-C102 is slowly being phased out as new parts go into play. A new tripod, mount, focuser, and finder scope have turned this vintage 80's scope into a 21st century gem of a telescope. Originally slated to be retired when the Pronto showed up, it's recent collimation and parts replacement have secured it's place as the proverbial flagship of the telescope fleet. It's better days are not behind it, they are ahead of it.

Now, only the OTA needs to be refurbished. When that happens, it will be essentially a new scope. All that would remain from it's former self, are the optics, and that will never change.


More Observing notes for November

What a November! I cannot remember in recent memory such a November with an over abundance of clear nights. Very nice indeed.

November 18 2009 Observing:

A few more notes from two different observing sessions. I finally went to a darker sky site which was impressive. Located about an hour and a bit north of Mississauga in Dufferin County. I thought I needed to get out and get some dark skies for once after spending most nights in the city. It was cold though and we were hampered by poor seeing. It was good to see Gary again, always nice to have more people up at a dark sky with you. The old Refractor and the Pronto took centre stage. Both the CG5and Super Polaris mounts were out. The Pronto served as a nice wide field scanning scope and "super finder". The Refractor did the grunt work.

Doubles of Perseus:

Theta Persei: A wide pair that only requires lower power around 50X. The big thing with this double is the huge difference in magnitude. Very difficult to detect and I don't see this working in the city with the companion at Mag. 10. Separation is 20.5 seconds so it is an easy split, but dark skies help huge. Right ascension 02h 44m 11.99s Declination +49° 13' 42.4"

Struve 314: Easy to find because it's a mear 19 seconds northwest of Tau Persei. But it is fainter and a challenge. 1.5" separation, this is a classic "kissing pair" of relatively equal magnitudes of 7.0 and 7.3. Poor seeing hindered it, but the old Refractor did manage to split it. Still, very worth hunting for, so go find it! Right Ascension 02h 52.9s Declination +53 00'

Epsilon Persei (Struve 471): Very nice contrasting white-blue colour and wide enough to enjoy at around 111X. Easy to find in the sky too. Big contrast in magnitude of 2.9 and 8.9 so dark skies work better here. Right ascension 3h 57m 51.2s Declination 40° 0' 37"

Zeta Persei (Atik or Struve 464): No such luck. The glare of Atik was overpowering. The 9.2 companion did not show probably because of poor seeing.

The rest of the night was made up of low power scans with the Pronto. Nice to see M31 with a starry background. At 8X it was fun to see in full field. Also returned to M81 and 82 in Ursa Major, again at super low power just to prove the deep sky merits of the diminutive Pronto.

It got really cold. But it was very satisfactory.

November 21 2009 @ Mississauga. The old Refractor.

The clouds encroached but I did manage to nab one more double

Pi Arietis: A close split at 3.5". I am back in Mississauga again so finding it in this piece of sky was not easy. Lack of guide stars. But anyway, a nice contrast of colour and magnitude. 5.3 and 8.0 magnitude respectively with a nice yellow-blue contrast. Worth the look.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Full Cut-Off Fixtures on upgraded Highway 10

It's a small step in the right direction...and yes it is VERY small but one I hope catches on.

The MTO has upgraded sections of Highway 10 north of Caledon. In perceived high collision areas, the MTO installed full cut-off fixtures, thereby reducing glare and unnecessary lateral light pollution, which is a welcomed change after years of seeing upgraded highway sections using 1950's style cobra-head fixtures which is quite sad and very annoying as the light shines horizontally into your eyes as you drive.

Bad habits are hard to change and the average joe driver wouldn't really take notice but the full-cut off fixture is much better to work with. Again, it is a very small step in the right direction and as I was driving south you could see the long uphill climb it's going to be to right the wrong of light pollution as most lighting is still stuck in the stone age either by choice or shear ignorance.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New title photo

Just adding some new flavour to the blog as the new title photo is the SP-C102 (The Old Refractor) at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. The photos from that area can be found here

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More Aries Doubles and other thoughts

This time I had a plan. Yet another clear night in November in Mississauga, only this one was much more stable than previous. Decided to stick around in the Constellation Aries as it was getting nice and high. Also we did this online somewhat. It was colder though, below zero C.

This time I emphasized quality time behind the eyepiece, not the number of objects on a night. It was time to take it a tad slower, and a tad more challenging (it ended up being much more challenging). The Old Refractor and the Pronto were used tonight. The Pronto acting as the backup finderscope. That might look like a diminished role for this great little scope, but the finder on the Refractor is just awful and not very useful. But I needed the four inch aperture do this, and with it collimated properly, time to see what it can really do. Armed with the Cambridge Double Star Atlas and the reference, Double Stars for Small Telescopes, it was time for the hunt.

Did I mention it was cold? Took a while for the Refractor to cool down!

Struve 174 (1 Arietis): Nice start to the evening. A contrasting coloured pair as stated in the DSST. Saw the yellowish tint of the brighter and the blue of the companion. It was getting steadier as the Refractor cooled down. Rock solid at times. RA 1h 50.1" and DEC 22 17", it was fairly easy to find and there are bright guide stars to go on. The Pronto saw this in the low power making it even easier. Takes about 100X to really see them well split. 2.9" arc separation so you will enjoy these.

Struve 194: Not seen. It appears that darker skies are required for this much like the companions of 41 Arietis and with a 1.2" separation, that was going to be difficult.

Struve 208 (10 Arietis): With the failed attempt at splitting Struve 194, Struve 208 was going to be a challenge and I approached this with some cynicism thinking I would not get this one done. At 1.2" separation, I wasn't very positive. Was I wrong! First let me say this is another "Grand Prize" double star. But not because it's bright or very pretty like some would have it. No, it's because it looks like a mini version of Epsilon Bootis, a classic close split with a large magnitude differential. This one is 5.8 and 7.9 respectively. What a wonderful double star this is. Pale yellow primary and the companion just passed through the first concentric ring and was "kissing" the primary. I decided that I needed more power (the scope was at 222X). I moved the 2X barlow ahead of the diagonal making it 333X and yes, the image held together. It had become a very steady night. At this power the companion was seen as an individual star. Awesome site! Contrasting grey-blue colour. RA 2h 03.7" DEC 25 56', you can't miss it. Located in a trio of stars just a tad north of the star Hamal.

Struve 333 (Epsilon Arietis): Wow after Struve 208, I was over the Moon, although there was no moon. Funny thing happened on the way to Struve 333. I had a terrible time finding it. The Refractor was nearly overhead and I thought I had found the small group of stars in the Pronto. But for a while there, I was having a devil of a time trying to centre this star. After much fidgiting with the scope, I found it. Another awesome pair. At just over 100X, this is another kissing double. There is little magnitude difference here at 5.2 and 5.6 so they look almost identical. They also showed no colour contrast. Almost perfect twins (the DSST says there is a colour difference). At over 200X, a clean split. 1.4" separation so they are very close. But really, really nice!

Did I say it was cold? By then I was frozen.

Pronto at low power:

Lambda Arietis at 8X (yes 8X! You read that right!): Shows as a distinct double star at incredibly low power making this one awesome binocular double! Low power sweep of Aries was very nice.

The Trio of 14,11 and 10 Arietis: Another wonderful wide field view of this region. Each individual star shows a companion of sorts. 14 Arietis is listed as a triple star with a separation of 34" and 278". But I don't remember seeing a third. I will have to return there.


Collimation of the old Refractor has given it a new life. It was almost banished to retirement after the Pronto arrived and it was inactive for over a year as other priorities took hold in life. But the main thing is that I always found that the old Refractor was hit and miss. I didn't realize then why, but it was almost always "just okay" but never great. When I found an easy way to collimate it, it turned into a different scope. It can handle very high power when seeing permits. It's a great Struve hunter and wonderful planetary scope. Thoughts of retirement or banishment have been replaced by thoughts of "life extension" and not just some token refit, but a big overhaul to give it many years of usage well past it's shelf life. Remember, it's 20 years old now and it just looks fine!


Monday, November 9, 2009

Random Observations on a (rare) November Night

The old Refractor back in it's starring role was out last night recently upstaged by a binoviewer powered Tele Vue Pronto, it was time for a little more aperture to work the double stars and some planetary detail. This was a random night with no "real plan" to speak of. I just went for it.

To be honest, I am not as proficient with the Fall sky as I am the other three seasons. The reason being is that for the past 20 years, the least amount of observing I do is in the Fall which is really unfortunate given what is available to look at. But then also the weather in Eastern Canada in November doesn't help. Luckily we are enjoying some very nice weather for a change. Traditionally though, that is rarely the case even well into December. Combined with busy schedules, it's not often I get out to observe in the Fall.

The object hit list was the usual and some very nice new double stars were spotted.

Gamma Arietis: A nice treat at moderate power for smaller telescopes and high quality refractors. A sort of "Goats Eye" as it has been called. Easy to find in light polluted skies in the constellation Aries. Located at RA 01h 53m 31.8s
Dec +19° 17′ 45.0″. Almost perfectly balanced in brightness at around 4.5 and 4.8. That one is a keeper.

Lambda Arietis: Low power required for this beauty. Although I think the Pronto might be better suited for it because it can attain real low power as opposed to the 1000mm Refractor. Nice contrasting brightness with a magnitude differential of 4.9 and 7.4 in the companion and some colour contrast. Worth a look. Located in Aries at Right ascension 01h 57m 55.7172s Declination +23° 35′ 45.82″

Struve 289 (33 Arietis): With a whopping separation of 28.6", use low power again but this one has a huge contrast in magnitude. Listed at 5.3 and 9.6 in magnitude difference, the companion won't be easy to spot. Try some more power to diminish the sky glow, but keep it low. Easy to find as it is grouped with 41 Arietis in binoculars. Located at Right ascension 02h 40m 41.0755s Declination +27° 03′ 39.394″

Uranus: Okay, this is not "new" per se. But I found it myself. Last time I looked at Uranus was with a go-to scope (and for good reason). Mississauga is badly light polluted and Uranus is located near Pisces, a constellation that is NOT visible to the naked eye. It took me forever, but I managed to located familiar star patterns in my binoculars. The shortfall of this old Refractor is it's barely usable finderscope. The original 6x30 finder is hopeless in located dim star patterns. Would have worked in a darker sky, but not last night. After finally located it, Uranus looked like a small bluish disk. No detail as expected. It was lower in the sky and high power up to 200X was out of the question. But still, it was nice to find on my own!

Theta Aurigae. 3.8 arc seconds with a magnitude of 2.7 and 7.2, this was the grand prize of the evening. But it's not easy to see. It requires stable skies but high power. I hinted at seeing it at around 111X but had to barlow the 9mm Nagler to 222X to really see it. And see it I did. The seeing held together, and with the Refractor collimated properly, the image was spectacular. With a nice colour contrast the companion just sat outside the brightest concentric ring so it showed clearly. Very easy to locate in the constellation Auriga as it makes up part of the constellation's pattern. Right ascension 05h 59m 43.269s Declination +37° 12′ 45.307″. In a strange twist though, we as in a group of us went looking for this in the spring and did not see it. Back then the old Refractor was not collimated...hmmmmm

Failed to see any companions of 41 Arietis. I will need darker skies for that.

Also last night:
Double Cluster
Almach (double star)
Gamma Delphini
Struve 2725

Sunday, November 8, 2009

No, I am not going back to astrophotography...much

I took a few images last night just to fool around and give people the perception of what it was to actually look through what used to be known as a "rich field refractor". I hooked up the 30D to the Pronto just to goof around a bit. The moon image is alright, but deep sky imaging in Mississauga is a chore with all the light pollution.

I am not really that interested right now in astro-imaging. Too many other things going on to take it seriously, so for now, I am just meddling with the Pronto a bit but my focus is visual observing.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November Moon and Pleiades

What a view tonight! Just went out tonight to see if a binoviewer would work with the Pronto and couldn't spot the Pleiades at all visually without the telescope. The Moon was overwhelming. Spotted both in the Pronto at very low power and it was quite pleasing but still overwhelmingly bright.

Orion is rising slowly in the southeast, but it's cold tonight.

Oh and the binoviewer? Well it worked, but I had to try several combinations before it focused. Found out it works well with the Tele Vue 2X barlow combination. Otherwise I couldn't wrack in the focuser far enough.

Rare treat to have a clear night in Mississauga in November. It's hard to get them and being on standard time again, no more easy daylight set ups. Still, it's kind of surreal to be out in the cold when everyone else is hiding inside.