Way too much fun

January 5th, 2009 by webmaster

So, after a month of brutal clouds, I get a few clear nights in a row to run th enew scope throught it’s paces. I am really enjoying the sharp, contrasty image this little scope throws. I was able to easily resolve the four main trapezium stars - at 23x! when boosted to 140x I was impressed by the colour variation in the four stars, something I had never noted before in my newtonian or SCT scopes.

At 140x the scope still had plenty of headroom, though the effects of seeing were impacting the views. I think under good conditions this scope could exceed 200x. At least, I am looking forward to giving it a try!

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December 16th, 2008 by webmaster

In my last post I mentioned, ever so subtly, that I had a want-on for the WO Anniversary scope. Well, as luck would have it, one came up for sale in time for an early christmas present!


Since I name all my scopes, I think I will call this one Ruby, for obvious reasons (though my family wanted me to call it Rudolph). This little baby has a fluorite doublet objective, providing views as lovely as the scope itself. On a Porta Mount, this will be an ultimate grab and go scope!

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The end of an era

November 5th, 2008 by webmaster

It has been a while since I have posted on this blog, and much has changed - apart from yesterday’s US election. I have installed an HEQ5 mount in the POD, and have the C8 mounted on that, allowing for computer control, go-to and autoguiding. In the city, the trees are growing up around my house, limiting the view. As a result, almost all of my observing and imaging is from the POD at the SMO. Meanwhile, my Dob, aka “Beast” has been collecting dust, which is no way to treat a telescope. So I sold my dob to someone looking for a good quality starter scope, as I was when I got it almost six years ago, so that it can be used and loved again.

Of course, since selling the scope I have bought a new house, with fewer trees, and southern exposure. It’s closer in to the city. but still, a grab and go scope would be nice. I’m thinking compact refractor on alt-az mount, with good quality optics. In fact, I am thinking of a specific scope:


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Some nights are better than others…

November 4th, 2007 by webmaster

… and Friday was one of those nights! I got up to my dark sky site near Meaford for the first time since labour day, and the sky was clear and dark, and the waning crescent moon stayed out of sight. On the “how dark was it” scale, it was dark enough that M33 was visible naked eye, and could be M31 easily seen to span more than a degree. It wasn’t quite one of those nights where you can’t find the constellations amid the stars, but it was good enough.

I spend an enjoyable night in my POD banging off the last of my Finest NGC targets, as well as some old favourites, and of course Comet Holmes. Following my previous attempts, I made yet another digital sketch (one of these days I will get my imaging computer up and running again!).

 Holmes nov 2 

Note the outer faint coma, and the blurred SW margin of the brighter coma. Or whatevery you want to call it. Which brings up an interesting point - most comets have recognizable parts - nucleus, coma and tail(s). This comet has four concentric areas of differing brightness - what do you call them? I have been using terms like nucleus, core, coma, outer coma, for lack of a better vocabulary.

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Comet Holmes keeps up the show

October 29th, 2007 by webmaster

To those unacustomed to the wonders of astronomy, it is a little speck of light. But this comet is really remarkable, and has the amateur astronopmy community abuzz. The puff of gas and dust is spreading out rapidly, so the appearance is changing nightly, if not hourly. Some have reported rapid fluctuations in the light from the nucleus, and imagers have captured a green halo of CO gas along with internal structure in the bright central core. It is significantly larger now, and though still bright, it is losing surface brightness, and the central bright region is considerably less yellow to the eye.

Last night Holmes passed in front of a background star, so it temporarily looked as though it had a double nucleus. To me it looked like a negative image of a cell - normally you would have a dark nucleus with even darker nucleoli - here it is a bright
nucleus with brighter points!

 Digital sketch of holmes, Oct 28

(click for full size image)

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17p/Holmes - the Holy Crap! comet

October 26th, 2007 by webmaster


Comet 17p/Holmes was an unassuming, minor short period comet until a few days ago. At magnitude 17 it was invisible even in large amateur scopes. This comet has an orbit that brings it no closer to the sun than Mars, and no farther than Jupiter. Although discovered in 1891, it was lost in 1906, and not re-aquired until 1964. When first observed, the discoverer (Holmes, of course) noted a significant brightening over a brief time span, which was largely discounted until observed independently.

Well, 17p/Holmes has repeated this little trick. And how.

Over the span of a few hours, this little invisible dot brightened to naked eye visibility! Now, when a comet is described as “naked eye visibility”, the term often refers to ”visible to a dark adapted eye in a dark sky location” - but this comet soard to magnitude 2, and is easily visible to the naked eye in a light-polluted city during a full moon! The comet, currently in Perseus, is conveniently placed in the eastern evening sky. It’s distance means that it is point-like to the unaided eye, but shows its true form - and colours - with binoculars or a small scope. 

This thing is really unique. Perhaps because of it’s position nearly opposite the sun as seen from Earth, we may be watching a tail form, from the head end of the comet. Even in binoculars, Holmes displays a bright core, slightly offset from the centre of a fuzzy disk or coma. While most comets I have seen display some colour, often green or blue-hued, Holmes is distinctly yellow. The result is an eary resemblance to an eyeball.

At this distance, and several months after perihelion,  there is still a mystery surrounding the sudden outburst. In all, a very exciting object. I look froward to watching its progress over the coming months, or as long as it remains visible!


digital “sketch” of 17p/Holmes

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Google Sky hits the streets

August 22nd, 2007 by webmaster

Adding to its popular Google Earth, the search engine and software giant has turned its gaze skyward with Google Sky. Accessed from within the Google Earth desktop application, Sky allows users to peruse the night sky, identify stars, constellations, and a variety of deep sky objects. An information bubble pops up when you mouse over any object, and for many of the identified objects a telescopic image is available.

Although this feature is in its infancy and is not (yet?) a threat to applications such as Starry Night and The Sky, it is nevertheless more than just a fun distraction. A variety of features (particularly the Layers) make it a useful resource for amateur astronomers, and its ease of use and free availability make it attractive for students and educators - many of whom already make use of Google Earth.

From the perspective of both an astronomer and an educator, any free tool that helps people learn astronomy and spread an appreciation of the night sky is a worthy one. Go check it out.

Of course, I should also mention, that for those who don’t want to download and install Google Earth, there is still the earlier, but less well known, Sky-Map.org.


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DSI - Get ‘em while they’re hot

August 17th, 2007 by webmaster

The Meade DSI was introduced a few years back, and brought affordable, long exposure prime focus CCD imaging to the masses. Available in colour or monochrome, they had an immediate impact on the amateur astrophotography community.

Well, the DSI is being replaced with the DSI-II, and the old stock is being dumped at prices well below cost. In fact, the Monochrome with filters model, formerly about $600, is going for less than I happily paid for a used one, without filters, just a year ago.

So they are not the latest and greatest, if you want to get into CCD imaging on the cheap, or if you need a guide camera, don’t miss this opportunity to pick one up. Many major astro-retailers in Canada and the US are carrying them at this price, so you should be able to find one near you, or order one online.

And yes, I couldn’t resist, I bought another one. 

Happy imaging!


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July 11th, 2007 by webmaster

Yesterday the weather was sketchy, but I dragged my wooden tripod (the “tristipes”) into the POD, levelled it, and mounted the 10″ Ray Thompson Telescope. It was nice to know that I could just leave it there, set up, protected by my POD.
Tonight was the first clear night in the POD. As soon as it was dark enough (the scope was already set up yesterday!), I collimated it and polar aligned it using the Telrad. A quick star test indicated the optics on “Ray” are not as bad as I had feared. The f/6.3 LX3 has a reputation of fuzzy images, in part due to a large central obstruction (40%), but also the fast primary and seriously convex secondary. (these scopes also have a reputation for losing the reflective coating from the secondary, but this one is fine so far). But once collimated, it was not at all bad - and as a wide field 10″ DSO scope, not bad at all.
My kids and my niece came down and were excited to see a variety of targets, including Jupiter, M22, Albireo, and M57. After the kids left my mother in law (”Nana”) came down for a look at the same targets, plus M31 and Gamma Delphinus. After everyone left I spent some time hunting down the Saturn Nebula in Aquarius to add to my Finest NGC list.
When I was done, all I had to do was drape a tarp over the scope, collect my EP’s, and close up. How cool is that!
The other thing I came away with from the evening’s observing is that the height of the scope could be dropped by 10″ or so, to make it more comfortable to observe sitting down.   

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POD Day!

July 9th, 2007 by webmaster

At last, after over a year since first hearing about it, I took possession of my own Skyshed POD. My friend Pete was here with his pickup, so we drove 35 minutes to Shallow Lake to pick up the grey and white XL3 from SPI. We made a second trip to pick up a second POD, this one to be delivered to my friend Geoff Gaherty.
With Pete’s help we got the walls and dome halves assembled, and then the weather stripping and plates were attached. The dome halves were mounted with the help of my father (aka “Bambo”), and the POD was ready for business by the time the inevitable storm rolled in.

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