Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fork Over That GEM? Never!!!

As you may or may not have gathered from the title, I will be addressing mounts today.There are a few mainstream mounts to consider. They are the Alt/azimuth Fork mount, The German Equatorial Mount (GEM) and the new upstart the Dobsonian Mount. Almost all scopes use these mounts. All three can be found with Go to /Push to.You might ask: So which is the best Steve? A stellar question indeed.(pun may or may not have been intended) Lets start this mini adventure with the Dobsonian mount. This simple and sturdy mount made its way here in the 1960's The purpose being to build an affordable telescope in big to OMG Big sizes, have it easy to transport and light in weight. The bailiwick of this alt azimuth mount are very large Newtonian Telescopes.They ride on Teflon so they are very smooth to operate. They are very limited in the type of scope it will handle. (Newts) I have seen a couple of SCT put on a Dob mount. It is such a beautiful design. I love them. Bottom line is if you have a case of aperture fever and you want to spend the money on mirror this is your ticket. Stop right here and order it or even better build one!

The next up on the hit parade is the Alt /Azimuth Fork. This Mount is extremely popular with SCT fans as well as short tube refractors Many, oh so many a Schmidt Cassegrain scope reside on a fork and with good reason they are a rock solid sturdy mount. They can easily be made a go to scope or set up with setting circles to get yourself around the sky. The one shown here is a Celestron CPC Series. It has all the bells and whistles GPS Go to. If you decide you want to use it for Astrophotography You will need a wedge. The reason is this. The mount has to move both motors to stay on track with an object which is no problem for visual work.The problem occurs when you put a Camera on it A problem called field rotation happens and you will get star trails. not good... Plan on spending about 800 dollars on a good wedge. The wedge makes it so the mount moves smoothly using one motor. As a result, Pictures can be exposed for longer times.This is a great mount if you plan visual work most of the time with some stints of astrophotography. It will grow with you but you must drag it kicking and screaming:)

The King of mounts is the very flexible(in uses)German Equatorial Mount This thing is a beauty to behold. You name the Scope, Catadioptric, Refractor,or Newt. All three will go on it and for the most part do well. The exception being big newts. They are so long they tend to mess with the mount in stability. To the oh so serious astrophotographer there is no other mount to consider. The reason for this is design. The mount is lined up with the pole it then has only one axis to turn on to keep any scope on target because it follows the sky The Celestron/ Synta CG5/EQ4 , CGE, CGEM EQ6/ Atlas, Takahashi, Vixen, Losmandy and some Meade are all great mounts with different weight loads and costs. (No I did not include Paramount or Astrophysics plus others.... They are research grade / Insanely expensive mounts and quite frankly will not be hitting your or my door step any time soon.) They will carry just so much weight so decide what scope you want, figure in astrophotography equipment, Possibly a bigger scope later. Think about all of this before plunking down the cash. The CG5 can handle an 11 inch SCT but not much camera stuff added. CGEM has no problem with that scope and camera gear. These mounts are very accurate after they are aligned. Think ahead to what you might like to do in the years ahead. save your money up and get a mount that will grow with you. Keep all of your scopes and then mix and match on your GEM. There you have it, a crash course on mounts. Just a few things to think about when looking for that scope of a lifetime !

Clear Skies and good seeing to all

Steve T

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What to look at ?

My oh my! That's a big question. I am always looking forward to my next turn at the ocular (eyepiece). I have grand plans for the night but seldom get it done. Now for some like me it's all good. My problems is I will be gazing at say... the Swan Nebula M17 and spend hours on that thing using every filter I own, every eyepiece I have with me, and even swap in a barlow. Do not ask me why I used the barlow on a DSO (Deep Space Object)... I will then sweep the area around said wonder looking for "stuff"and after what seems like a few minutes, I look up at my watch and it reads 5:30 AM! Well crap that was fun but unproductive. Hey sometimes I am totally OK with that. I might have had a list in my head that I wanted to see that night but went up in smoke the second I see something amazing in the eyepiece.On the other hand there are those who are agenda driven folks. They make out a list using the sky software or Celestron touring feature or any of a dozen different programs out there or grab there favorite star atlas and pick a region and write down a list of objects to gander at. They set up the scope and proceed to knock them off one by one till they throw up the touchdown sign Done!!! Sure, they look at all of those bits of heaven but did they drink it in, use averted vision ( looking to the right or left of an object to see finer detail of the target), sketch it? The bottom line is did they have fun and get fulfillment from the run? If that is a Yes then there ya go, another satisfied customer!!! Most folks stand their ground somewhere in the middle. Shoot that is where I want to be. To make that happen I have learned to make a list of objects in a certain area of the sky. I use an Atlas or a chart or sometimes a application on my Computer. I still love to pour over a Map (on paper) Old school Man! I make a list of ten or so items that will be observed on that night. Some will be challenging to find some will be just show stoppers I might try to add to my Hershel list or the Hickson compact group list of objects found. As maps go, I always take my Orion Deepmap 600. It is 33" X 21". The map is easy to read and gives enough objects to look at for just about anyone. The map is also reasonably priced. As atlases go, there are many to choose from. For the beginner just starting out in the world of Astronomy I would pick the Cambridge Star Atlas 2000 field addition. You might want a more better one down the road but this one will carry you far and well. Now as for applications for the computer, Cartes Du Ciel is my pick. Number one, the program is free. It can drive most goto scopes out there via ASCOM drivers. Yeah I know... If it is free, how good could it be? Very good is the answer. The controls are pretty straight forward. I have only good things to say about it. Now, If you just have to spend money on an app. pick Starry Night Pro or Pro Plus You will not regret it. It will do just about anything you need except grill a steak for you! There are thousands of reviews on this application so you do not need another in depth one from me. Check it out. Look at all the features it has to offer you. Then, throw down the cash. It will grow with you. You might want to start astrophotography one day. In the beginning phase of all this, I would stick to the first three. All of that for under a hundred. The Cambridge star atlas field addition is a tad expensive but worth it. I know lots of folks that get the loose leaf maps version and do very well with them for way more cheaper. Now all that said, there are many choices out there and we all have our faves to be sure. Those are mine. I think they are solid and not too expensive for you as I know you are eyeballing that Ethos !!!
Clear skies and good seeing too!!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Exoplanets How do we find these itty bittys?

Growing up in the sixties and seventies Space was a part of your life. There was always something going on. Satellites or manned space vehicles were coming and going at a frightful pace. Even on TV Lost in Space, Star Trek to name a couple. Now as a kid watching these shows I just knew there were other planets circling around some distant star. I just knew it had to be true. I had a discussion with my teacher over this at one point. I remember him telling me "Steve there is no proof that there are any other planets save the nine( Yes! I said nine ) we have around the sun." Oh sure throw out the old scientific proof block. Sure there was some work done in 1952 by Otto Struve about how to find exoplanets. Not many took stock in the method preposed (a thing called radial velocity) that is until our instruments got much more sensitive...and so it stayed. Proof proof proof. Humbug! Then in 1995 The little boy pulled his finger out of the Dyke. We had proof! and the numbers of new Planets started to roll in. 340 plus and climbing fast Folks!!! Doppler spectroscopy (also called the Radial velocity method) Hmm... That rings a bell! was the first method used to find an exoplanet. We heard someone say way back. Hey we might be able to detect the planet by looking at the spectrum of the star and looking for a red shift. If found we have a force pulling on the Star causing it to wobble back and forth. The spectral lines will move back and forth and Holy Guacamole we have found a planet! Congrats to Didier Queloz and Michael Mayor for being the first. Here is a twist to it. Radial velocity of the object (how fast it moves back and forth can tell us orbital period of the planet as well as how big the puppy is!!! And to think in School I chose Home ec over Calculus (more girls in the Home ec class). Should have rethought that one. Then there is Astrometry Pretty simple we check the position of the star in question in the sky if something is tugging on it (a Planet) it will wobble in its position tiny as it is we can detect it and we will see it! well not seeee it but we know it is there. Keep in mind no planet has been found yet by Astrometry Yet... These methods find big Jupiter sized planets within say three AU (1 AU is equal to 93 million miles or so or the average distance to the sun from Earth) Is your brain hurting yet? Cause we are not done. Photometry is another way to find these other worlds. If the star being observed has a periodic loss of brightness 2 to 5 percent we monitor the pattern and bingo! we just might have a winner. This one only works on the stars that have planets eclipsing them from earths point of view. These suspects are usually run through the other methods to confirm. Then there is Gravetational Microlensing I know wow! What the Hooey dooey is that? It a method using Two stars lined up but far off from one another as the far one passes behind the "Target " star the Fore ground star appears to get brighter (because it is bending the stars light behind it around the fore ground star and adds it to it's own when a planet is there also there will be a extra bump of light in the detection ah!!! Thats how it is done or so I'm told :) Now I know what you are thinking. You need to SHOW me a planet not some danged ole graph and a couple of ciphers. Folks have been searching for that elusive Kodak moment for some time. The wait is over! We now have the pictures to prove it. This is a very cool thing that has happened in that this is something that we can get our heads around. A picture but Whoa there partner not a picture, but two, one showing multiple planets!!! The multiple planet pix is in infrared and these beauties show up nice as they are still cooling after forming some 60 million years ago! The other is in visible light of a planet? circling Formalhaut. Now Brother and Sisters I am impressed. These are exciting times we live in Astronomically speaking. So I guess I just wanted to say to my Teacher so long ago... Told ya so!

Clear skies and good seeing too!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The International Year of Astronomy

Why do you like astronomy? What is it that brings one out on a subzero night to observe the heavens? Is it curiosity about this world and how we fit into the big picture? It could be that we love to step up to the eyepiece and experience and behold the beauty that is hidden in the sky above. Some may want to see Gods handy work. What ever the reason, we do it. We love it. It brings a quenching to our quest for knowledge. I know this is not every one's cup of tea. There have been many times in the past where I have found something so extraordinary in my eyepiece I just had to call out "Hey Honey come look at this!!!" She will always come out ( Cuz She loves me ) take a one second look and say that's nice and goes back inside. It always makes me chuckle . We seem to want to share important things with the people in our lives. My teenage and older kids on the other hand love to step up to the scope and be wowed. There are millions of folks out there that have never (heavy on the never) turned an eye skyward to gaze upon the treasures the universe has for us all. This is the time my friends, the moment to do it for them. This year will provide many opportunities for you the common lay astronomer to share your love of astronomy with the masses. I hear" But Steve I do'nt know diddlydo not about astronomy Not like them other galaxy gurus in our club." I get that I really do but you know gobs more about it than you think. Public outreach is about sharing I get asked all the time the simplest of questions about ole Jupiter or Saturn or the moon or even better: How did you get stated in astronomy? Tell them your story. So many times I have heard "you mean that thing right there ( pointing to a point of light in the sky) is what I am seeing in this scope? That's Saturn? Wow!!!"If they are at the event in the first place they have the spark. They need to know astronomy is doable for them be it with just the old peepers or binoculars or an affordable scope. They need to know they will not be alone in the hobby and be overwhelmed by it. We as amateur astronomers know that a huge support mechanism exists for us. They as pre-newbies to the hobby do not. Every bit of this you can do, convey or share. You will come away from the experience fulfilled. I have never had a bad experience at a public event. I have done hundreds of them. So go out and share. You will not be sorry for it. Just keep in mind the more folks interested in the night sky will get us one step closer to darker skies. We all could use more of that!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Your first love

For me it was a young lady by the name of Bridget. I was 10. We had just moved to Yankee land (Columbus Ohio) I was the new kid in school and I had an unhittable curve ball.Could it get any better??? I never hung around girls or rather they never hung around me. That was OK what with scouts, baseball and astronomy. Who had the time? She was smitten with me from day one of school.You got me folks. Bridget probably just could not resist my southern charm and accent. We moved back south after nine months and I never saw her again. At this point in my life I still owned ZERO telescopes. I was pining away the loss of Bridget. I am pretty sure we just kissed once. I was put on a baseball team that was so bad that in one game I threw a no hitter and we lost. I had the only two hits of the game. The other team could not hit it out of the infield. I lost count at twelve errors my teammates made behind me. It seemed as if my life was turned one hundred and eighty degrees. I was miserable. School started and I was the new kid in school (that happened a lot.) Things rolled along at a soured pace until Christmas that is. The thing about this is I never asked them for a Telescope because I knew we could not afford such a luxury and yet there it was under the tree, a 60mm gleaming white Focal refractor with slow motion control!!! Joy of joys I had never seen a more beautiful object in all my days. Sorry Bridget Darlin. I knew right then I had the coolest parents on the planet or at least on the top 25 list. It came with two eyepieces a barlow, a moon filter and an evil dreaded and dangerous eyepiece sun filter. I did use it once before a science teacher warned me against it. I threw it away. Yep I rolled the dice on that sun filter and got away with it. I was lucky. I am getting away from the point here. I could not wait for a clear sky. Every evening I would race to the door look out and rats! Clouds again. Even back then the Curse of the new scope was alive and well. I was going over the scope every day learning how to control it. Man I was ready. The weather man said it was going to clear up after midnight. I took a nap that evening. My parents watched me go to the window every hour only to see clouds and more clouds.This went on past twelve then one o'clock. At two o'clock I looked out and saw the wall of clouds. A straight line running north -south move east right over my head. The heavens opened up in glorious detail. It was crystal clear and it was cold, bitter cold. I never gave it a thought as I bundled up and took the scope outside. I could see Canis Major, Orion and Taurus to the south-southwest so I decided to take a peak over there. I sighted in on Sirius to get focused yep there it was bright with a few colors dancing around it.(chromatic aberration) That was to be expected with a Cheapo scope from K-Mart. I decided to look at the Orion nebula next. I had seen it before but not with MY scope. As usual I was bowled over by its beauty. I spent at least two hours that first light night looking at stuff in the night sky. My mom came out and gently told me I should probably come in and get warm. She had no idea how warm I was that bitter cold night sitting in front of my new first love.