Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bang! Zoom! You're Going to the Moon Alice!!!

The next few weeks will be dedicated to the Apollo missions leading up to the history making Moon walk. Many who lived in that time remember it like it was yesterday I can still remember all the Gemini missions and the manned Apollo missions like I was sitting there at Cape Canaveral at the launch center drinking Tang. Look above and you will see I still drink it. It was a great time to be alive and to be an American. You will find at the bottom of this blog a report on this weekend at a public star gaze. I have the honor of attending this every year. Hopefully those that lived through these magical years will set their grand kids down and tell them about those magical times when space was king.

Way back in 1961 we had a far thinking President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. At that time the Russians were kicking our butt in manned spaceflight. They had the first satellite, the first man in space etc... JFK said on March 25th 1961 that the USA would get to the Moon by the end of the Decade. Wow No.... Double Wow!!! Sitting here in the land of laptops and ipods with touchscreens and the works, it might be hard to imagine what kind of a row JFK just started to hoe. We had some technology but not the kind needed to hit outer space and hang out on the Moon! Everything would have to be invented or modified to get Man to the Moon. Just for starters so you might get a handle on what they were working with, the Apollo on board computer was no match for the $10.00 calculator when it came to processing power.The Calculator is what we buy for our 8th graders to go to school with The walls that kept men safe from the freezing and majorly inhospitable place known as space were sometime as thin as a sheet of tinfoil! They picked the best of the best for the space program. They needed problem solvers to be able to fix what ever goes wrong "up there". What about food? you couldn't just bring a corned beef sandwich with you. Gus Grissom found this out on a Gemini mission. Bread went everywhere. As a kid, I drank Tang. Why? Because the Astronauts drank it!Tang and freeze dried foods were invented or modified for the space program. Yup just about anything you could think of from breathing to how do you go to the bathroom in space had to be looked at. Are you starting to get a picture of what the American people had to do to make Man on the Moon a reality?

We start the countdown to July 20th 2009 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon walk by touching on the manned missions that changed the way we look at the moon forever. The very first mission of Apollo was a tragic event. I mention this mission because three very brave men lost their lives in pursuit of a dream. The mission, AS-204( Later named Apollo 1) was almost doomed from the start. Gus Grissom pulled a lemon from the tree in his yard and told his wife he was going to hang it on the capsule. There were so many flaws in the capsule design, some from the vendor, some from NASA that it made the Apollo one mission an accident waiting to happen. The 100% oxygen environment at High pressure contributed greatly to the deaths. Aluminum will burn like wood at those pressures. Highly flammable materials found their way in to the capsule as well. Velcro for one was considered explosive in a high pressure oxygen situation. An inward opening door was a huge problem for the crew as they could not get the door open because of the high pressure. Gus Grissom Roger Chaffey and Ed White were burned to death in the capsule while testing the system. Out of this tragedy came a rework of the capsule and new protocols that are used today to keep our Astronauts safe. This mission never got off the ground but I include it here as a testament to the men that flew after. An Apollo 1 mission patch was left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 crew. Next week Apollo 7 and 8 start the crescendo.

To Start with, I just wanted to thank the hundred or more that turned out for the Caesar's Creek State park campers star gaze. The folks with their kids were a smart group. They asked great questions. I was out till midnight last night showing off the night to all that would have a look There was a total of 5 astronomers there to answer questions and give explanations for what they were looking at The scopes ranged from an 8" Celestron dobsonian to a Meade 12" LX200. I had a young man about 15 saddle up to my scope and ask what are you looking at I said well right now I am looking at Saturn but it is a bit too light yet to see it very well. He asked can I look ? I said' "Why sure you can". Well he looked in my scope and I asked him to tell me what he saw. What I got surprised me a bit. He asked, "Can I put my chair here I want to look in your scope". I said, "Well yes but weren't you going to the movie showing behind us? He said, "Yeah I have seen it before but I have never seen stuff like that" (pointing to my eyepiece). Now that made my night. He stayed at my scope asking me questions about everything. How old? How far? How big? The other person that left a mark on me was a young mom. She had three kids in tow and wanted them to take a look in my scope. I have a step stool for them to climb upon and have a looksee. They were looking at a the great Hercules cluster M13 a Globular cluster that has an age of about 10 Billion years. It sits in the halo of our own galaxy. She helped each one of her kids to the eyepiece to which they each said Oh Wow!!! That was cute. At this point, she took a look, a short one and pulled back just long enough for her mind to grasp what she saw and she went right back to the eyepiece she said, "Oh my God that is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen". Here was the thing that slammed me... She added, " I studied about astronomy in high school but I never knew it was this beautiful. I just had no idea. I said, "This is just the tip of the iceberg". Get thee out to a star party and see some stuff!!!

Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tales of a Roving Astronomer Part 2

Thursday evening brought mostly clear skies and wondrous opportunities for man and scope. My plan was to carve up Leo with every NGC item residing there with in reach. 15 mag item in a 8" scope? We know that ain't happening. I saw every galaxy punched in to my hand control. The scope performed flawlessly as usual. I am ever so happy with that scope. It has never failed me! I brought my Celestron CPC this trip for good reason. It's small, compact and you can only get so much stuff in a Ranger. There was one thing I left at home that I paid for dearly and oh so dearly for two nights. It was a warm sleeping bag or at least a warm blanket . I knew better but for some reason I left it at home because of the lack of room in the truck. Friday, after my presentation, I went to Westcliffe Colorado and bought pizza for my boy and me and a warm blanket. A good move that was. Temps ranged between 30s in the predawn and 80s for the afternoons.

As the sun went down on Thursday and the wind died, the sky began to give up its treasures one by one. It takes me all of five minutes from powering the scope up to CPC Ready status and if you do it right gotos are very accurate. They were dead on, spot on, even double dead on using a 13mm 68 AFOV eyepiece. There is nothing better than dialing up a NGC and take a look in the scope and actually see companions to the dial up galaxy This requires you getting out the star atlas to check on the sisters identity and Holy Tater Tot there they are crowded in together. Now granted I could not see a lot of structure when it came to some of these faint fuzzy marvels but I could see them and well enough to log my observations and impressions This went on for several hours as there are lots to take a gander at I even plugged in a number incorrectly and it took me to an obscure little number also in Leo another score!!! I was putting my 17mm Baader Hyperion and its brother the 13mm through their paces I do not think I got out another EP that night. The 17mm is in the wheel house of a C8. 17 mm to 21 mm do so well That I rarely go beyond except to try and pick up a bit more detail. As the gloom faded into blackness I chose the brighter galaxies to start out with basically because I knew they could defeat the wash out of dusk and give me more time to pour over the more difficult NGCs of Leo. So 95,96,66,65 all quickly dropped by the way side. Every time I look at the triplet, it just takes my breath away. That is probably why I am so enamored by the HCG catalog. Alas I did not have quite the horsepower needed to do the Hickson parade of wonders. Next time... It was a work horse night and I was very satisfied with all the not seen before NGCs I jotted down into my observation book

A shivering nights sleep is great motivation to get moving so I rolled, out of bed and got the blood pumping. I was fine in a few minutes. next is the hardest job on the Planet.... Waking my son up to go over his part in the children's presentation. I plan about an hour early waking the kid up that way he actually gets up on time. I was not aware of the children's presentation until I arrived. I carry about 13 years of Theatre with me with at least 2 of those years dedicated to children's theatre. I love a challenge. The children presentation was to start at 1:00 and no equipment has found it's way to the event tent till almost 12:30. I just went ahead and used my computer to hook up to the projector to do the PowerPoint. All went well as I kept it lively and made it interesting I got more questions about black holes than anything else. They were a good bunch of kids. I ended the program by telling them to take the math they will never regret it. I had a crowd gathering as the children and parents left They filed in and away we went. I spoke on Exoplanets how we find them the possibility of life on them and what's coming in the pipeline equipment wise to get bigger better badder results it was a very intelligent crowd. They asked some very good questions ,some I could answer and some I could not answer like: How many potential planets could be in our galaxy. I said how many stars are there in our Galaxy? 100 billion 200 billion came back. OK just twenty years ago that number was 100 million so that is a problem so is sampling accurately. Say we miss a planet circling around a star because of its plane. It will be counted as a planet less star. This might happen 90 percent of the time. Too many variables still exist to give a guess unless you will go for" a bunch" as an answer. But the questions that I got such a hoot out of was about the Cincinnati Observatory Center and it's wonderful scopes. I gave a quick history lesson about the 1843 scope and how it came to be I told them that not only did we have one Alvin Clark refractor, we actually had two in town. There was an 8" at our Club's headquarters. I shared with them about the drives on the scopes. That was a great experience. All were invited to Cincinnati to take a look through the first national observatories scope. I hope the presentation was well received. I got a kick out of doing it as always.

After a late lunch, I looked up at the darkening skies. Well Rats!!! The search in Virgo would have to wait another time. I set all my cases in the tent and put the cover over my scope I was tired from the sleep deprivation of the last two night so I drifted off to sleep as the pit pat of rain tapped a steady beat against my tent fly. What the heck! it is morning and the pitter patter of rain drops have not lessened. On the contrary, they have increased. A quick look at the clouds and I knew this was a long haul event. So this is every campers favorite thing to do... Break camp in the rain! I would be issuing a canard if I said "Fun was had by all!!!" It was not fun but a job to do was done and done well by Cole and myself. Twenty two hours later and I Sank into my bed and was fast asleep before my head hit the pillow. Now that was a Father's Day present... 8 hours of sleep. Well deserved sleep indeed!

Clear skies and good seeing too

Steve T

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Tales of a Roving Astronomer

Greetings from the Great Rocky Mountain Star Stare I am sitting here at an elevation of 7650 ft above sea level reveling in the beautiful vistas of daylight and rich dark skies of night. The getting here was not without incident. I had brake failure as a wheel cylinder blew out reducing brake power to zero. This was definitely on the not good list. I never have been one to panic when ugliness occurs and so was able to get the truck stopped and then to a garage. All that happened as I was coming into town to upload this blog post. Nice … this is what I go through just to make sure you have something to read in the morning while you have your coffee. That’s enough of that stuff. Lets look at the Star Stare!

Well they were right about out in the sticks. We set between the Wet Mountains and the Sangres De Cristos Mountains. Dark is the word for it. The Staff was extremely helpful and knew what they were doing. That is always a plus when you are expecting 300 paying folks to show up. Pictured is Art DeBrito and Bob Littin.There seem to be enough Port a Johns scattered around the site. The only short fall was the event tent. The tent was not properly staked and as a result started to fail in the windy conditions. It was correctly staked and all is well. Site conditions are dusty and windy. The wind does die down to a light breeze after sundown and then right back up to blustery from 9:00 AM till dark. Keep your optics covered unless you happen to need a Corrector plate sand blasted. I do see a small light dome to the south it is really not a big deal as it does not rise above 15 degrees. Now to the northeast, Pueblo Colorado sports a sizable light dome. Due to the lack of humidity in the air, the dome did not plume to unacceptable conditions. I always come prepared when I go to a Star party so far out. I carry two chargers, two batteries and in this case a generator. Just for good measure I have two inverters. You just never know… On the first night I lent out my spare battery and had a request for a spot on my generator in the morning. As you might remember I really hate forgetting my equipment. I t was a great opportunity to meet and make friends Nothing like lending a battery out to break the ice.

Star parties are a great place to meet people and just chat about the sky and our adventures in this hobby. I happened to stroll by a dad and his daughter. They had a discovery Dob and there it was… a mount that brought back a flood of memories. The look was unmistakably Cave Astrola but the Scope was a Meade observatory grade 12 inch Newtonian. Now there is a mouth-watering combination. I was invited to search out the Veil Nebula on this beauty. I t did quite well with no filters to improve contrast. East and west spoke right up on this night. I was impressed. The Daughter impressed me as well. She has been in the Astronomy game for about 9 years. You could tell she loved it; every inch of it from her scope, to logging her observations. Wow at 16 years old she reminds me of me. I see great things for her in this hobby. There is nothing more satisfying than to watch the torch passed on to the next generation.

Tomorrow is my presentation on Exoplanets, which is cool, and I look forward to doing it. What I was not so ready for is a children’s presentation. When I received my schedule I looked for my name on it and low and behold there it was twice. TWICE??? I had sent an extra PowerPoint program for them to use if they were so inclined. It is a cute thing designed for kids to give them an introduction to things found in space. It was set to Star wars characters. Well I guess they liked it and wanted me to do it. I did not know this until I read it on the schedule. Hey I can roll with it. I have enlisted my son Cole to help with it. He will be playing Luke Skywalker. I am good about volunteering him for all kinds of duty. I am still waiting for my brakes to be fixed. One good thing we broke down right in front of a garage and it sits right next to a PizzaHut and the buffet was going on so I am not completely without luck…

Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T

Monday, June 15, 2009

Go West Young Man (With Your Scope)

Greetings from Colorado! Well so far on my trip I have dodged tornados, endured thunder storms, experienced a clutch failure on my truck and saw one very awsome night sky all in the first 24 hours! I have been kind of busy and where I staying right now waiting for the Rocky Mountain Star Stare to open has only dial up so I will be lucky to post the text to this story. When my clutch is fixed I will get my self to a wifi spot and send it all. I was able to take a look at the Sun yesterday through cloud cover so not much to report.The backyard has a grand Backdrop. It is Pikes peak towering a fraction over 14,000 ft. The mountain is still covered with a pretty good amount of snow in mid June.The wonderful thing about Colorado is the diverse views it affords one I look west and I see a majestic set of mountains. I look east and I see the High rolling plains of eastern Colorado. The song, "America the Beautiful" was conceived on a trip up Pikes peak. I can see the purple Mountains. I can see the fruited plains. It is a wonderful spot on this planet. Hey all that stuff is just Icing. Now if you know me, I do love the icing but I am here to talk about cake! That cake is the Dark Skies of Colorado. I was out in a 4X4, dropping my son off to spend the night at my nieces. They have about thirty acres of darkness sitting about 35 miles east of Colorado Springs. Bless their souls and their neighbors,They did not have any mercury vapor lights going. The sky was a sheet of black velvet with tiny diamonds scattered upon it. I could see Scorpius well as well as Corvus. Corvus really showed up as a mainline Constellation. Leo and Virgo were up and ready to deliver a bevy of galaxies to ponder over. Rats!I was so tired I had to get some sleep. I am looking froward to see what these dark skies will deliver to this humble astronomer and his humble scope.(OK 8 inches is not a super humble scope) I will be posting when I can throughout the week. I know not the norm, but this is not a normal trip either. So stay tuned

Clear skies and great seeing too,

Steve T

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I will be traveling on Saturday and part of Sunday

Hey Just a short note to say I will be posting late on Sunday or midmorning on Monday. I am traveling to the great state of Colorado. I will be doing a presentation on Exoplanets and how we find them. If any of my followers make it there to the Rocky Mountain Star Stare, Look me up!

Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T

Sunday, June 7, 2009

It was a Perfect Night for Tinkering

Clear skies were upon the village of Cincinnati on Friday. The fact that a full moon was washing out all but the brightest stars and Deep space objects did not detour me on this fine night. This was a blue collar night. OK what do I mean by that? In Astronomy there are maintenance duties that need to be performed on a regular basis to the equipment. Along that same path, if you got new "toys", they need to be worked with and adjusted if needed to give you one hundred percent for when you are attending that star party 1500 miles away. You want to be focused on observing or astro-photography not fiddling around with something. One of those, "Now how did that thing go together" moments are best left to a blue collar night. You should try to schedule one of those nights at least once every three or four months. I like to do a blue collar night with friends with good reason. They might be able to help you out with a question or a deed and quite frankly the friends I have in this game are a hoot. We laugh and have a good time. Pictured is Todd, lord and master of link can be found in right hand column.

The very first thing I checked out was my new Celestron solar filter well sort of. This filter employs the use of Baader astro-solar medium. It looks like Mylar as in balloons you find at the store but oh so much more.The sheet is coated both side which is very important. It limits the light entering the scope. Its rating is ND-5 which means that the film transmits 1/100,000 of visible light (.001%) while reflecting (blocking) 99.999% of unwanted light. The film absorbs all ultraviolet rays and reflects infrared light rendering both absolutely harmless. By the time I got setup and looking for the Sun it was headed into the western treeline. Rats! I was able to get a look at the sun brief as it was and sure enough ZERO nada sunspots again, Grumble Grumble. My next toy to get setup with was my new 2"star diagonal by Astro-Tech. It connected to the back of my scope very easily. the fit and finish on this Diagonal was very good. But hey it's not what the cookie looks like. It's all about how it tastes and this cookie was sweet!!! For the modest price of 139 @ Astronomics, this thing performs very well. Is it a Televue everbright? Nope, But for someone who has a sweet wife with a combination lock on the checkbook like me, I am very pleased with the performance/price equation. Side note: The Combination lock is because if I had the choice of this new doohickey for my telescope or groceries for the family for all week well you know which one I am going to choose ....The doohickey of course! The wife keeps me well grounded.

Any time you change something in the optical path on a Schmidt-Cassegrain like the diagonal or focuser you should always perform a collimation on the scope.The alignment of the primary and secondary is so crucial in this particular type of telescope. In preparation for Collimation of the scope I bought some Bob's knobs for the secondary mirror. They are knurled knobs as opposed to the adjustment screws found on a stock secondary.They make collimation so much easier. The plus here is you are not wielding a screwdriver near the corrector plate (glass front of scope). I ordered these puppies almost two weeks ago they had not arrived by Thursday and I was kind of getting nervous. Will they get here in time to make it on the Friday Blue collar night list? Murphy was taking care of this scenario personally it seemed I had Emailed the company and asked them when it shipped. They said Monday. It should be there this week. They were right ...It arrived on Saturday. If I ever find out where Murphy lives I am going straight over and kick his butt. No install but I did collimate the scope with the help of Pat Freeman he looked and I used the screwdriver. The collimation was out. I knew it was off from the last time I used it. Within five minutes the scope was back in collimation. The seeing was horrible so I did not do the airydisk fine tune collimating ritual thingy. Besides that, I would soon be changing to Bob's knobs and I would have to recollimate when that happened anyway.

I had a point and shoot camera. Some one needed it more than I did I guess because they stole it out of my house. I had use of my wife's Nikon Coolpix for the evening to take pictures of Blue collar night for the blog. Pat and Todd were busy tinkering with their astro-photography setups and I thought "Hey lets try out the Coolpix on the scope". I had a camera mount for afocal work so I got it out and started setting it up. I had no idea what to expect. I did not know this camera well at all. I got the camera setup and aligned to the eyepiece. What to shoot? How about that big bright piece of rock in the sky behind me? That would definitely show up on the camera's chip. Here are the results. I could not figure the focus thing out so things are a bit blurry. The Moon was identifiable which I guess is a plus eh? This is one of many picture shot at the Moon. I do not think I will be submitting this to Sky and Telescope for use in their magazine. Now what ... Hey Saturn is up. The camera is set up. Why not see what this little pink camera can do in the hands of a hack?
Saturn was a challenge. It seemed to overexpose the disk no matter what ISO I used. Remember the seeing was terrible. Everything seemed to boil in the eyepiece. I did get a bonus on the photo. Saturn's moon Titan showed up well in the photo. Look at the picture then look at the 4 O'clock position. Now that was a coolpix albeit out of focus. I was happy to get my work done on my equipment and visit with my fellow astronomers. I had such a good time. When I left, Pat was taking shots of the Ring Nebula and Todd was cursing because he did not have live view on his camera. Just another perfect night...