Tag Archives: Dobsonian

CNYO Observing Log: Cherry Springs Star Party, 26 – 29 June 2014

This past June 26 – 29, the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg PA hosted their annual Cherry Springs Star Party (CSSP) at, appropriately, Cherry Springs State Park – the second location to be designated an International Dark Sky Park (wikipedia entry). The park’s about 3.5 hours from Syracuse and, by most metrics, in the middle of nowhere (if you find petrol as you approach the park, get it).

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Some light and relevant U-Haul reading on the way to CSSP.

There’s quite literally no basic cellular service anywhere after the 3 hour mark (certainly the case for AT&T customers), leaving the park wifi and, of course, AstroGizmos to provide all the connectivity one should otherwise be trying to get away from for a weekend of observing (but definitely couldn’t get away from, so both wifi’s were much appreciated!). And for those wondering “does anyone make those?” – AstroGizmos had available 12 V hair dryers (with varied powering options) for those looking to evaporate eyepiece condensate on dewy nights (I now have mine).

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Cherry Springs State Park – first sign in the park.

Besides the great dark skies, the CSSP also provides CNY clubs a chance to hang out and do nothing for a few days. I set up shop with fellow Kopernik members at the usual Kopernik location (the first left after the “Nova” signpost). My vehicle was extra full this year with a special delivery of New Moon Telescope Dob #17 to Pedro Gomes, known previously on the CNYO Facebook Page as the hardest working observer in Watertown (now at points south).

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A panorama from the Kopernik site. Click for a larger view.

For those roughing it on the site for the entire party, a not-untypical Saturday schedule might involve (1) staying up as late as the caffeine will allow, listening to angered attendees when someone accidentally turns on their car lights (which is less funny when you’ve waited a half-hour for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark, moonless sky), (2) sleeping in until the Sun cooks you in your tent or vehicle, (3) listen to someone (Pedro) tell you about the black bear that passed by his scope and tent the night before (the presence of a few black bears also explained the gunshot fired by camp rangers the night before), (4) going to the vendor tent, (5) making a trip to catering (well, trucks and tent) to wait in line to eat, (6) going back to the vendor tent, (7) attending one or more of the scheduled lectures and checking out the raffle donations (to pass the time until nightfall), (8) vendor tent, (9) raffle!, (10) caffeinate and apply bug spray (although it wasn’t too bad this year), and (11) See 1.

Observing Tip: If you want to make the most of a Star Party, consider taking a break from your usual caffeine intake a few weeks in advance. That first cup of coffee will feel like rocket fuel.

I’m pleased to report that the raffle was a complete success for your’s truly. Not only did I score free admission to the upcoming Kopernik AstroFest in October, but I also managed to walk away with the 8 mm Delos graciously donated to CSSP directly by TeleVue Optics. The company rep, John, and I even had a good exchange Sunday morning (he having done some imaging of the Veil Nebula that night, I having passed around my trusty OIII-filtered 26 mm Nagler to others wanting to observe the same in the Kopernik camp). Admittedly, my bias towards TeleVue eyepieces is strong (and in the official record at Astronomy Technology Today), so the Delos was a very welcome addition (one should not observe Saturn without it!). And it will be present at CNYO events for those wanting to compare and contrast. Many thanks to TeleVue, Kopernik, and all of the CSSP donors (amateur astronomers take their raffle prizes very seriously)!

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Patrick Manley (left) and Pedro Gomes listen as collimation guru Howie Glatter (right) talks shop. Click for a larger view.

I was told that Thursday night was great but very wet. Friday night (my first night there) was a patchwork of clouds and less-than-thrilling seeing conditions. Saturday night was out-and-out fantastic. Going from about 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., my list included Saturn and Mars, 35 Messiers, 20 NGCs (including my personal favorite, NGC 4565), and a lot of just staring into “nowhere particular” just to enjoy the visual peace and quiet.

Blazar-3c424.3-pic-SDSS-credit-580x485The one object I did want to take a stab at seeing was Blazar 3C 454.3 in Pegasus, having seen the announcement cross the CNYO Twitter Feed in the form of a link to universetoday.com (image at right from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey). Blazars are so bright that astronomers didn’t know until the 1970’s that they weren’t actual stars in our own Milky Way. Blazars are the cores of galaxies where matter is being sucked into a supermassive black hole, releasing in the process jets of energy perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy and right in our direction (so these host galaxies would appear to us like the Whirlpool Galaxy, where we’re seeing the whole galaxy face-on as we stare down its rotation axis).

The blazar in Pegasus recently peaked at around 13th magnitude and has been dimming since. That’s dim. That’s far dimmer than binoculars and small scopes will reveal, but is just fine for a 12” Dobsonian (where 15th magnitude is possible under ideal conditions – which Cherry Springs almost certainly is). While not particularly impressive in any kind of scope, this blazar is noteworthy for being 7 billion light years away. When the photons beaming through that new 8 mm Delos left their home galaxy, the Sun and Earth were still more than 2 billion YEARS away from being ANYTHING. That, to my mind, compensates for the dim.

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The view to the East at Sunset on Saturday night. Click for a larger view.

By 2:45 a.m., the Kopernik crowd had thinned to just Keith Werkman and I. I packed up the scope and pulled out the camera for a few long-exposure shots just in time to see a few randomly-oriented bright meteors (not affiliated with the Boötids Meteor Shower, which peaked the night before) and a Milky Way band bright enough to read by.

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Another view of the Kopernik site at the CSSP. Click for a larger view.

Groggy and sore from our respective sleeping arrangements, the gang began to split just after breakfast and a final clean-up of the grounds. Having now survived my second CSSP with quite a bit of excellent viewing (and viewing tools) to show for it, I and others await next year’s CSSP and next month’s Black Forest Star Party at the same location.

Drafting/Architect Circles – Know Your Field Of View!

From the “Why didn’t I think of that sooner?” Department…

Binoculars are, far and away, the best way to start in observational astronomy (after you have some of the constellations figured out first, of course). The Moon reveals great new detail even at low magnification, the four Galilean Moons of Jupiter are obvious (when they’re not transiting or being “occulted” by Jupiter), all of the Messier objects are find-able (with a little practice and either lots of time or one lucky clear evening in March), and the sky becomes a busy highway of satellites that are otherwise too small to reflect significant light for naked eye viewing. Perhaps less pragmatically but nonetheless significant, the ownership of one simple, easy to produce, easy to use, easy to master piece of paired glassware connects you to the magnification-enhanced world of astronomy begun with Galileo, who used a much poorer quality and lower magnification telescope than those found in Big-Box Stores to forever and disruptively change how Western Civilization (and beyond!) placed itself in the Universe.

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That all sounds profound I guess, but you’ve got a book open and are trying to keep track of a flashlight while keeping your arm still as you bounce your head back-and-forth in this really dense part of sky because you don’t know if you’re looking at M36, M37, or M38 in Auriga and you know you’ll NEVER find that part of the sky again. The, if you’ll pardon the expression, dark art of star-hoping is one that absolutely requires practice. More importantly, it requires having a proper frame of reference. I admit that I spent more than a few months with my trusty Nikon Action 12×50′s without ever actually having a handle on just how big the piece of celestial real estate I was staring at was.

It may seem obvious but is something you (well, I) didn’t think to use to your (well, my) immediate advantage. The magnification in the binos does NOT change! You are constantly looking at the same-sized region. This means that you can easily correlate magnification to real estate and know exactly what the limit of your in-eyepiece star-hopping is.

My solution, and one that is generally applicable to all your binoculars (and low-magnification eyepieces in your scope), was to buy an architect or drafting circle set. Yes, one of the green numbers with all the holes. If you have one book you’ve committed to (in my case, Sky And Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas, but I also have a copy of the Cambridge Star Atlas that hasn’t had its spine properly cracked yet), find some obvious star groupings, see how many of them you can get in your field of view, crack your book open to the right page, and overlay until your circle engulfs only what you see.

Simple! This simple tool dramatically improved my star-hopping aptitude. Using the Sky Atlas and a pair of 12×50′s, I can just barely get the stars Mizar/Alcor and Alioth from the handle of the Big Dipper into the field of view – this corresponds to a 1.1250″ circle…

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For the Cambridge Atlas, this same piece of sky encompasses a 0.8125″ circle.

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I can plot the path to dim or densely-packed objects at leisure by finding bright stars or small groupings and “walking” my view along the path of overlaid circles, always knowing what I should and should not be seeing at any time (minus the odd planet, satellite, Milky Way supernova, etc.).

Depending on how much celestial real estate your star atlas covers per page, you can even take it one step farther. I have recently begun carrying around Version B of the awesome TriAtlas, which is a free 107-page star chart with stars down to magnitude 11.6. This means lots of stars, but also a full 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper for each of 107 pieces of the entire sky. In working through Coma Berenices to find my favorite galaxy (NGC 4565), I found that the effective magnification of the B TriAtlas charts are such that my 40 mm Pentax XL 40 (which, in my 12.5″ f/4.87 Dob, corresponds to a magnification of just under 40x) shows a piece of sky that corresponds to a 17/32″ (or 0.5312″) circle. This now becomes my finder circle for knowing what I should see through this eyepiece (inverted in the Dobsonian, of course). With some object found by a 40x search, I can then step up the magnification with my 26 mm Nagler and 10 mm Ethos.

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As ever, the value of a very low-power eyepiece cannot be overstated! For those wanting to try this at home and don’t want to wait for shipping, drafting circles are available at Staples and Office Max in their “drafting” section. Those in Syracuse can also find them at Commercial Art Supply (where I get ALL of my red acetate).

CNYO Observing Log: TACNY Jr. Cafe And Solar Session @ The MOST, 17 May 2014

The May 17th TACNY Jr. Cafe Scientifique featured New Moon Telescope’s and CNYO’s own Ryan Goodson. His lecture, “Monster Telescopes And How They Are Built,” took attending students and adults on a 70-minute tour of the history of large-aperture telescopes. The lecture focused specifically on the Dobsonian philosophy that Ryan and NMT have developed upon to produce a novel design in scope assembly that many in the amateur astronomy community have taken notice of (when not commenting on the quality of the woodwork!).

The history and recent developments of the kind of telescope made famous by Isaac Newton – the Newtonian Reflector. We will begin the discussion from the perspective of the great Newton in the 1600s with his humble 1 1/2″ reflector, then journey through time to the present day, when amateur astronomers can often be seen in fields with telescopes large enough to rival or often surpass the size and quality of many professional observatories. We will focus on how the telescope is built, from the choice of wood to the installation of advanced electronics, finishing the discussion with what they are ultimately able to show us.

From Newton’s own telescope (perhaps he called it a “Me”ian scope), to the use of the PLOP program for optimizing mirror cells, to the new trend of GOTO-ing Dobsonian designs for tracking and imaging applications, Ryan gave the audience a broad sampling of topics important to scoped builders and users, all in a manner that didn’t bury non-scope owners in the jargon of the field.

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Ryan loading the rocker box of a 16″ Dob.

As is always the case at Jr. Cafe lectures, the kids were full of interest and great questions (as I’ve said before, nothing makes me feel more hopeful about the future of U.S. science than having a student ask a question I have to think hard about before answering).

But Wait! There’s More!

To take full advantage of the number of attendees and attending scopes, CNYO also hosted a solar session at the very beginning of the Creekwalk (next to the MOST) immediately after Ryan’s lecture. Over a two-hour period, approximately 45 lecture attendees and passers-by stopped to take in the sights of out nearest star. On a day that featured a few thick pockets of high-altitude clouds and otherwise perfect blue skies, the Coronado PST in attendance allowed us to follow a few significant prominences that changed shape considerably over the course of only 15 minutes (which was made more impressive to some of the new observers when we mentioned that these prominences were more easily measured in Earth diameters than in miles or kilometers).

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The Sun on May 17th, 2014. From NASA/SOHO

CNYO would like to specifically thank the NASA Night Sky Network for providing a (timely) Solar Kit that has already seen quite a bit of use these past few months at the capable hands of Larry Slosberg. I also want to thank Stephen Ramsden of the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project for handing me several pairs of solar shades (at NEAF 2014) that also saw considerable use to those not lined up behind the scopes.

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A New Aquisition For CNYO Solar Events – The “McMahon-o-Scope”

I am very happy to report that CNYO has obtained its first official telescope donation. Local amateur astronomer and my favorite Classicist John McMahon has given CNYO a 5″ portable Bushnell Dobsonian made for Optics Planet and awarded to him as a grand prize at the 2012 Summer Seminar held by the Syracuse Astronomical Society.

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The scope comes to CNYO in great shape and with all the original fixings. Plans for the new McMahon-o-Scope are immediate, as we plan an order of Baader film to make an easily-portable solar scope for upcoming daytime observing sessions. Those of us who’ve been in the community long enough can now marvel at how the Dobsonian design went from custom builders and intrepid amateurs to mass-produced tabletop scopes that collapse down for storage most anywhere.

As for the new scope, we await Baader and clear skies. Many thanks to John McMahon for making someone’s future solar setup quick and painless!

209P/LINEAR Meteor Shower, Bob Piekiel At Baltimore Woods, And CNYO’s Public Viewing Session At North Sportsman’s Club – All This Weekend (May 23rd and 24th)!

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

This coming weekend will be a busy one for CNYO, amateur astronomers, and meteor shower hopefuls alike.

Possible Meteor Super-Storm, Late Night 23rd To Early Morning 24th

Some have already seen the articles over the past several weeks. On the night of Friday the 23rd and into the early morning of Saturday the 24th, the Earth will be passing through the debris field of Comet 209P/LINEAR, a relatively newly discovered comet (2004). All of the predictions reported so far indicate that the meteor shower produced as we go through this debris field (the remnants from the comet’s tail as it goes around the Sun) may be very dense, with some people predicting hundreds or thousands of meteors per hour within in fairly narrow window (perhaps only a few hours). Better still, the meteor shower peaks during a very old Waning Crescent Moon that won’t rise until nearly 4:00 a.m., giving us a good clear night to observe.

Not only might this be a dense meteor shower, but we may be witnessing the arrival of a brand new annual meteor shower to our yearly calendar of showers. If all goes well, you can say you were outside and observing for the first May Camelopardalids!

From the ScienceAtNASA youtube Channel.

Southern Canada and the U.S. are perfectly placed for the densest part of the predicted meteor shower based on the calculation of the comet’s path and our timing as we go through it. Scientists are predicting activity like the 2002 Leonids, which spoiled any observer that year for any other meteor shower in recent history.

Additional info about the 209P/LINEAR Meteor Shower can be found below:
* earthsky.org/space/comet-209p-linear-meteor-shower-storm-may-2014
* www.universetoday.com/111474/may-meteor-storm-alert-all-eyes-on-the-sky/
* www.space.com/25768-new-meteor-shower-comet-linear.html

At present, you’ve two Public Viewing Sessions to catch some of this meteor shower and all of the other objects in the Night Sky this weekend.

Friday, May 23rd (weather-alternate is the 24th)

Bob Piekiel hosts his monthly session at Baltimore Woods. The description for this event is below. For additional information, including RSVP’ing with Baltimore Woods for the event, Click HERE.

Join Bob Piekiel for a possible Meteor Storm! In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 24, the Earth will pass through the debris field left behind by a small comet known as P/209 LINEAR. Astronomers are predicting that this interaction may result in a brief but intense burst of meteor activity that could range from dozens to hundreds of meteors per hour. Nothing is certain, but many mathematical models are predicting that this could be the most intense meteor shower in more than a decade. Saturn will also be at its biggest for its best viewing of the whole year, plus good views of Jupiter and Mars are to be had. Come and say “hello” to the Spring Skies!

Saturday, May 24th – CNYO Hosts A Session At North Sportsman’s Club

CNYO is pleased to announce our first official Public Viewing Session at NSC for 2014. Our practice session this past April 19th was excellent, featuring New Moon Telescope’s 27″ Dobsonian and several other attending scopes.

the NSC in google maps. Click to generate directions.

In addition to possible stragglers from the 209P/LINEAR shower, attendees will be treated to views of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, all of which are out during “reasonable hours.” Additionally, the massive group of galaxies in the vicinity of the constellation Virgo are at their highest right now (and my personal favorite edge-on galaxy, NGC 4565, is right next-door in Coma Berenices). If you had any interest to looking back several tens of millions of years, this session will be a golden opportunity.

A view of the NSC facility from the observing grounds. Click for a larger view.

We hope you can join us!