Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Clear Dark Night and the Perfect Storm was Raging

A Friday afternoon e-mail got me scrambling for plans to be at our club's dark-site on Saturday. The chairperson of the dark-site committee asked that all interested parties show up on Saturday for a Dark-site yard work party. There was mowing and trimming and digging to do to get the site ready for the observing season. I frequent this place on clear weekends for two reasons: No.1 it is dark. I can see the Milky Way. No. 2 it is quiet as not many folks come out there from the club, save a handful of people.The bonus was it was a New Moon and clear skies. I called my wife and secured leave from the house for Saturday ( I asked if"WE" had plans for this weekend) Well "We" did not so I was free to do what I wanted to do.

I stayed up late Friday night so I would be able to observe for a long time Saturday night. That really works great if you stay asleep into the late morning on Saturday. Damn Circadian rhythm, I got up at 5:00 AM and could not go back to sleep! I had to repair my Tripod so I went to Lowe's and bought a couple of Metric bolts. I went back to the house and fixed it.I had some company business to do first and off to the Dark-site with a truck full of tools. I did not want to put my scope and extras in the same bed as sledgehammers spikes and shovels so I decided to drive the 2 hour drive (one way) twice this day.That is the price you pay to try and keep your equipment looking good. I got to Dark-site by 12:30 and began to dig a drainage ditch then trim the place. There were exactly two members there including me. and one neighbor that kind of keeps an eye on the place. We did get the place looking good. The day was shaping up to be a special time.

I ran back to the House(2 hours) grabbed my scope, my son and all the bells and whistles to get the most out of a new moon Saturday night! Cole took the night off from chasing girls to be with dad and to look at some very cool stuff in the scope. I could hardly wait for night. I rushed loading gear I even brought a Radio! and off we went into adventure mode. We drove out to the dark-site and began to unpack and setup. The standing rule is I will handle the scope/ tripod. Cole handles the other gear. Cole has been with me on every star party outing so he know what is what. I get the scope together and Cole asks me" hey Dad where is the silver case?" Those were the words I dreaded. I was sunk before boarding the ship.... The aforementioned case contained my hand control, my computer cable so I could run Nexremote Oh yeah it gets better, my Telrad, my scope cover and my Charts and maps. So essentially I was crippled and blinded in one fell swoop and I was 4 hours away from having it on site. as you can see I am so happy about this. Look at the picture to the left. Oh thank you may I have another one sir!!! So Time to regroup and start finding the path forward. I will use my scope tonight as a very short Dobsonian mounted scope with no Finder. Well now that was easy... What could I look for with no finder that might impress the boy and me. Please keep in mind I think a pencil with an eraser on the back of it is impressive. Cole likes to be wowed... I noticed my good pal and fellow astro guy, Pat Freeman was having his own problems. He had set his scope up too close to the lift gate of his minivan. So... He had to jump through many hoops during the night to get images from his NEW Cannon D50. I said to my son, " Hey it could be worse. It could be raining." Now if I had forgot my eyepiece case....Game over. The solution as to what to look at without having a finder? The Virgo/ Leo galaxy groups. OK this will be fun. While waiting for Dark thirty, we looked at Saturn for a while. Well hey diddle diddle we got company. The family that had helped earlier in the day came out dragging their 5" Meade Newt. Cool I thought the more the merrier...

These folks were Huge fans of the Creationist museum located in Northern Kentucky. So much so, they wanted to evangelize the world about it starting with Pat and myself. Enough said about that. We have an ailing 27" dob on site that the club has tried to get collimated several times. (mirrors aligned with each other and the eyepiece) I suspect it might be in the grind but regardless it is a sick little puppy right now.The kids were hoping to get a look through it. They were told the scope is sick number one and number two no one is here to operate it, but that did not stop them from asking 4 more times. Kids... It was an interesting twist to the evening. So after seeing that Pat and I were not ready to be card carrying creationists, they packed it in for the evening. The family were good folks to be sure. They did leave me with a couple of pamphlets that killed all known laws of physics/astrophysics to date...That was a fun read.

OK it is real dark and time to go hunting them thar galaxy. There were some I could identify because of where they were, say in Leo, the "Triplet" and another trio but when you start getting into the Virgo cluster it is another cup of tea. You got me without a map, or Telrad. I was kind of lost in that melee of galaxy bliss. That night I located about thirty galaxy which was way cool considering my plight. Pat worked through his woes and got some great comparison shots of the D20 and the D50. I hope to see the finished product soon. So what is the Moral to this story? Make a list of stuff to take... and use it:) Set your scope up so it does not eat your vehicle. lastly there is a time and a place for everything. But hey! what does not kill us will make us stronger or smarter hopefully ... until the next time. My son Cole said he had a great time. Well there you go!

Clear skies and great seeing too
(and all your equipment with you)

Steve T

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Digital Vs. Film

Is film dead? That’s the easy part, the question. The answer is a complex one. The short answer is no but it is on life support. With that said there will always be folk that will hang on to a dieing art, preserving it in my opinion. I will always appreciate that (I still cannot give up my eight track player). The last foothold that film had over digital was the long exposure, you know like a polar star trails pix. Digital has begun conquer that last barrier my friends.

The Spotmatic was my first SLR camera I loved that thing. It took great pictures I realize this Camera is an old one but it a solid piece of equipment. This is the Camera I did my early Astrophotography with. I would use Kodak Tri X pan film. I never used anything else ever… As I am older and thinking of Getting back into the Game, I see Film is drying up discontinued families of film every where. That worries me a bit. With film, you need the film to be sensitive on the red side of things. Most are not or have been chopped off by the film maker. You also need it to be a finer grain like a 100- 200 or even a 25 is super fine grain and kicks booty for some astro eye candy. This is not to say that a 400 will not work it is just a bit grainy for me You do not need a computer and this and that for a film camera so there is a good point. Kodak has made it clear they will be getting out of the film biz eventually. Fuji film has some very nice offerings for right now but who knows how long. Processing film is a chore too. Astro pix need to be tweaked differently so you cannot just go down to Wallyworld and expect Sky and Telescope worthy photos. Developing your own work is satisfying but expensive to get going and to top it off the wife will not let me turn the half bath into a dark room! So lets say that is finally over for film ( perish the thought). My Spotmatic has become a paperweight. If film is to go away, then what do I need to get to take astro shots?

Digital is the future for photos. So OK I need Digital, so now what do I get? Budget is a big concern to us all. Personally I dedicate my cameras so this is not a concern for me but flexibility is for some as you might want to shoot the family get together with your camera Saturday afternoon then shoot globular clusters that night. And last but not least you want to see easy to use printed in big letters right on the box. Not to put too fine a point on this, but as I see it you have two choices, A DSLR camera like a Cannon EOS Rebel or D 40/50. Cannon followed by Nikon are the leaders in astrophotography and they take a great terrestrial shot. Now those cameras are going to set you back some bucks. They cost $800 for a rebel to say $1,300 for the D50 body give or take. Then you are going to need some accessories. There are lenses, cable release processing software to name a few. Pile on some more jack and there goes the family vacation but hey you will have a very nice camera to use on the next one. Funny thing was my wife would not buy into that! Go figure… A D50 is my Dream Camera but that is not going to happen any time soon

Dedicated Astro cameras. These cameras are for astrophotography and nothing else. They are very good at what they do. SBIG Cameras, Apogee, Luminera. They are at the high end of the game at $8000 or even higher. Most of these brands have a more affordable line as well but I wanted to show you how high it can go. Then there are the entry level CCD /CMOS cams, Namely Meade and Orion. At a price line of $300 to $1300 they deliver on ease and price but they are not as flexible. The cameras do a great job versus the cost. You will need a laptop for the camera to connect to but in this day and age most folks that are doing this kind of hobby have them. The cameras come with very serviceable software. As you grow in this hobby you will want to get the application Photoshop to finalize the shot. Here is the plus side of this thing. When and if you outgrow your Orion or Meade you can easily turn it into a guide camera. It is not a dead end investment. I like that very much. Then there are webcams. Many people have had decent luck with these cams for Planetary work. Like the Phillips Toucam. cheap workable but you must make mods to it. If you are a tinker type person you know what to do. They just don't cut the mustard DSO wise.

There are folks here in your local club that do it all from film to digital. They can point out the finer points to a great slice of our hobby. Pick their brain. They may have a different take on things. I love that because you can take everything in and make your mind up. I know that is what I did!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

OMG!!! Did you see that?

Growing up just south of middle class, my family was seldom treated to a vacation.This however was a very different year. 1975 was the year that Jaws the movie came out. One June evening the family piled in the car and off we went to the Drive in to see this cinematic marvel. After the movie and being scared out of my wits by a 25 foot shark hell bent on eating all humans in its path, my father informs the family that we are going to Florida for vacation in three weeks. My dad could have been a marketing Guru. How cool was that? We get to go on vacation and be eaten by a shark. I could hardly wait! I took my binoculars with me just in case we had clear skies... and to look for sharks. One of the things I do remember about that vacation was I went drift fishing on a party boat. (Even to this day I still drift fish every time I go down to Florida.) That was a blast catching the weirdest looking fish. There were Triggers, Red snapper, Grouper and even an Octopus. It was one of the high points of the trip. Fishing is great but lets talk about those beautiful Florida

I would drag a lawn chair out onto the beach every evening and watch the sun set waiting for my old friends to show up glistening in the night sky. I had an incredible view of Scorpius that night. Being that I was situated on Fort Walton Beach, the Milky way was just hinting at visibility. Those days are long gone for the Miracle strip as it was called way back then. I am sure you can expect Mag 4 skies or worse now. I had settled in on Antares trying to pick out that globular cluster M4 right beside it. When all of the sudden the night sky lit up like noon as a bolide (A big chunk of Meteor that burns super bright, explodes, etc. in the sky) came down from the heavens right in front of me. It was so close I could hear the sizzle and reports as it exploded several times on its way down to the Gulf of Mexico. The trail it left behind seemed to linger in the air like the smell after a hard rain. I remember saying OH My God did you see that? I swiveled my head left then right. There was no one near to hear my exclamation. So I ran down the beach asking folks if they saw it. Now If I heard from them: Saw what? it was time to move on to the next group of people because there was NO doubt about what I meant if you did happen to see it. For what seemed like a quarter of a mile or so, I had met exactly one person that saw it ( other than me) and he had no idea what it was. So this 15 year old boy explained to a 60 year old plus man what it was he had witnessed. I remember he asked me: How in the world do you know all of this stuff. I just grinned.

Looking back on it, I must of looked like an idiot running down the beach in Chicken Little fashion. Ah the passion for things we love...That was my first bolide to witness. After my excitement had died down a bit I went back in the hotel room/ extended stay affair and told my mom and dad and grand parents what I had just seen. They could tell it was a big deal to me. They just could not quite get a grip on why. They did not see it so it was kind of lost on them. I guess what makes it so cool in my mind is unless you saw it and heard it right at that moment in time it was lost forever. That is a sobering thought not just for astronomy but for life. We must seize the moment to enjoy what is put before us. That is one of the reasons I will take my kids to see once in a life time astronomical events like the transit of Venus, a Solar eclipse or the IYA Celebration this year with hopes they will one day have a great story to share.

Clear skies and good seeing too!

Steve T

Saturday, April 4, 2009

100 Hours of Astronomy

I was thinking (at times, this can be dangerous) this year is such a great time to be an astronomer. There are literally hundreds opportunities to get out and share the love of Astronomy. This weekend I was slated for two events to celebrate the 100 Hours of Astronomy. On the fourth of April I had a Public Star-gaze to attend as it was hosted by my club, the Cincinnati Astronomical society and a" Sun"day event hosted by the Cincinnati observatory center on the Fifth a Sunday. Yep someone way more clever than me thought that up. They even had Sundaes served up. (Caution! tangent ahead) I went to Bob Evans Restaurant and got the Sunshine skillet breakfast to celebrate the end of a successful 100 Hours of Astronomy. Sorry I digress.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of meeting several folks and their kids for a very grand evening of star gazing. We were blessed with clear skies for the entire event. At Keehner park we had 9 scopes to look through. A nice 6" Celestron refractor and several 8 inch SCTs and one Meade 12 inch flown By Pat Freeman. Pat showed up early and He set up his Coronado PST for solar viewing. Those are such cool little scopes. The Sun showed it's gratitude by delivering us a Prominence.(alas, still no sunspots) This served as a great way to start the event. About thirty folks showed up for the shindig. This included a cub scout den of Tiger cubs. The time spent together was wonderfully had by all. I was able to align my CPC scope with the moon and moved it to Saturn. Dead on! It was about 7:00 in the evening and still very light out but there it was looking like someone had put a line through the planet crossing it off the list. ( the edge on ring) Later in the evening we were able to pick up 4 of Saturn's moons. That was fun. Every scope driver chose something different to look at. I showed the Double cluster in Perseus to many ooh and ahhs. We pulled out M37, M42... all the eye candy we could muster for these fine folks They were sent away with a new appreciation for the Heavens . I hope they will always look at the night sky with a new set of eyes. I get such a kick out of sharing the night sky with people.

Sunday brought on a new day and a new adventure. I ventured to the Observatory situated in the beautiful Hyde Park located in Cincinnati. The observatory grounds were very well kept. The main scope, (a 16" Clark refractor) is kept in this building pictured to the right. This is such a great place to visit. Not only does this place have a Clark,the COC also has possibly the Oldest Telescope in the world working every night! The Scope is a 1843 12 inch Merz and Mahler refractor. This scope was the first to split Antares in to double star system. Enough of the history lesson. The Sunday/Sun-day was a great success. I saw about 75 to 100 people there at any given time. There were 400 here on Saturday night for Saturn/Moon viewing. A fine PowerPoint presentation was given by Dean Regas outreach Astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory (pictured left) about the Sun. I was thoroughly entertained by Dean as he fielded questions from the kids. Folks lined up to look at the Sun through the 1843 12 inch Lens. There was a volunteer out front with various solar powered gadgets. The Ice cream sundaes were a hit with everyone as well. It was a first class event run by a first class outfit. All in all this was a great Hundred Hours of Astronomy here in Cincinnati. This is the oldest professional observatory in the USA. I could not expect any less!!!

Clear Skies and good seeing too!

Steve T