Friday, August 26, 2005

a return to the Muskokas

Malcolm and I returned to Val and Bruce's cottage, after 2 years, for some relaxation and good times. As promised, I brought the telescope. From the (new) dock, there's very good east and south exposure. I had my new Sky & Telescope's Messier Card on hand but I didn't really use it.
  • seeing: 8 / 10 (good stabililty)
  • transparency: above average
  • time: 10:00pm - 1:00am EDT
  • humidity: low
I trained the 'scope on the Andromeda Galaxy, Messier 31 (M31). I always enjoy it. Bruce's reaction is mild, which, at the time, was off-putting. But it reminds me that people are used to fantastic, rich, colour-enhanced images on TV or off web sites; not a dim, grey, fuzzy object that you need to stare at for several minutes...

There was more I wanted to do this evening but I had trouble thinking clearly and staying focused (sic)... Maybe it was the beer. Yeah, that's it—the beer. I couldn't even find the Ring Nebula. I tried several times, star hopping, to no avail. Admittedly, the 'scope is difficult to use for objects directly overhead.

Still, we looked at Mars (before the Moon rose). I could make out the disk and colouring. Luna rose around midnight and that was a big hit! People (some 8 or 9) enjoyed the power of the 'scope (77x eyepiece) and seeing the craggy details.


Some weather moved in on Saturday thwarting us from another session. Wishfully thinking I left the 'scope out on the dock all day. The wind, at one point, blew the large cap of the main tube. After we moved the boat, I could see it on the lake bottom, just off the dock. Recovered! I tied a leash to the handle with some rope to prevent it from going further... Consider a formal tether device for the future.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Messier Card

No, not the hockey player... I bought (from Kendrick) the Sky & Telescope's laminated quick reference card for finding all the deep sky objects in the Messier catalog.

I think I need this map as I prepare for my "Messier Marathon."

For some reason, I thought this thing would be a pocket-sized card; it's a 8½ x 11" in size. It's double-sided, with 2 small detailed maps, and a complete listing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

observing from Huntsville

Elinor invited me up to the cottage for a couple of days. I leapt at the chance. And packed the telescope. First time using Steve's old backpack frame and the battery in an old laptop bag.

The backpack works! I can now carry the 'scope case, counterweights, shaft, books, and other materials on my back, battery on a shoulder, tripod and dew shield in one hand, and mount in the other. Can you say "mule?"
  • seeing: 2 to 5 / 10 (very poor on the horizon)
  • time: 8:00pm - 11:00pm EDT
  • location: Lake Fairy, 45.3°N
We checked out Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon. We could see the 4 big moons of Jupiter. They were slow close to the horizon, it was like looking through a fish tank...

Jovian moons at 9:30pm EDT:
Ganymede and Io left of Jupiter, Europa and Callisto on the right

I stayed on later to try to catch some deep sky objects but the gibbous Moon was very bright and there was a thin, high cloud layer messing with transparency. Still, after much fiddling, I found Messier 57 (M57), the Ring Nebula.

I created a "viewing ring" (blue) for my finder scope (7x) , which will also work for the old Bushnell binoculars. I tried to make a ring for the 26mm eyepiece but I could not find helpful markers.


Elinor produced a telescope of her own (or her son's rather). It was a table-top! I've never used one of these. It was the Bushnell Voyager with a cradle base.

I found it a little awkward to use. It's partly that the image presentation is different than my cat so I kept moving it the wrong way. It's also partly the base. The thing is "nose heavy" so if you're trying to view things close to the horizon, it keeps slipping in the cradle. And, of course, it wasn't on a tripod. So, you really need to be sitting at a table or have it placed on a tall platform.

Still, I got it aimed at the Moon as it rose over the lake. It produced a nice image. The kids enjoyed it!

Monday, August 08, 2005

conjunctions (Bon Echo)

Colourful sunset again. Some wispy clouds.
  • location: Bon Echo provincial park
  • Joeperry Lake backcountry canoe-in site #524

I photographed the Moon at approximately 8:20pm.

I noticed Venus at 8:24pm. It's about 7° right of the Moon tonight.

Spotted Jupiter at 8:40pm. Looks like it is a little further left from Venus... Maybe 21°.

Photographed the conjunction with the Pentax body, Kodak 200 ASA print film, with the 28mm and 55mm lenses, from 1/30th of a second to down to a full second.

I also photographed the planets with my cheap digital camera. At first glance the pictures look pure black. But I let Fireworks perform an AutoLevels and voila! Hopefully, the silver-oxide versions will come out better. Still, I'm amazed that Jupiter and Venus even show up...


Continued exercises to memorise Greek alphabet.


Tomorrow, I'll go into town, jack into the net, and learn how the Shuttle astronauts faired.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

aligned binos

I was getting a headache looking through my binoculars.

Despite adjustments to the eyepieces and focus, changing the distance between the barrels, trying to contort my eyes, I generally could not bring the two images into one, synchronised. The double-image was annoying.

I wondered if it was possible to adjust my binos. It must be possible, I thought. But then, they were cheapies. Maybe it couldn't be done. I looked closely at the barrels of the Bushnells. Hmm. Strategically placed near the prisms were these round areas. Three were bumpy; but in the other I could see a flat-head screw, painted over! I realised the others were covered in a thick layer of glue or silicone.

I peeled the material from the top of the screws. Shiny brass screw heads were my reward!


Later, in the dark, focused on a star, I adjusted—small moves—the screws. It worked! I was able to bring the images into alignment. Close enough that my eyes could comfortably do the rest. It is so much better!

The old clunkers are working again.

Maybe, they are like a Newtonian telescope: you simply must align them from time to time.

viewing alone (Bon Echo)

Everyone's gone home. I'm staying at Bon Echo another few days.
Instrument: naked eye and Bushnell 7x50 binoculars
Mount: hand-held
Method: star hopping
Bon Echo doesn't really have any good astronomy sites. The Joeperry boat launch has excellent west visibility but it's a 500m hike down the portage trail. There's the The Rock itself! Incredible site lines in essentially every direction. But how would you get to it after hours? Hmm, I wonder if the camp itself would be amenable...


Getting itchy to do a Messier marathon. OK, maybe not the one-night thing. But I'm interested in starting to see all of the "classic" Messier objects. I've started making notes about where they are, by season and by month. I need a map though, something that shows where every one is...


Having decided a couple of days ago to not bring my telescope down from the car, I'm limited to naked eye and binocular viewing. It's a beautiful sunset (despite some clouds) highlighting the conjunction.

Spotted the Moon at 8:25pm, 15° above the horizon. It is still a very thin crescent.

Spotted a planet 3° (south or left) from the Moon. It's Venus. Binoculars confirm it.

I found Jupiter at 8:50pm, 20° (south or left) from Venus.

Saw a Perseid meteor at approx. 10:50pm. It started in Draco and ended in Bo├Âtes.

Observed Messier 13 (M13)—the Great Hercules Cluster. It is very faint.

Not great seeing. I think there's a thin cloud layer.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

kids got it! (Bon Echo)

After dinner at Laurie and Stu's site, we all watched the planets come out. I was keeping my eyes peeled for Venus and Jupiter when all of a sudden the kids spotted the Moon! It was a very young, new Moon, a very thin crescent. I congratulated them on the find and explained that searching for a new moon is a casual competitive thing with amateur astronomers. They beat me!

The Moon was not unlike this photo I shot in 1991.

shot with Pentax SP-II onto Kodak Gold 400 ASA at 1/8 sec (through glass window)

A spectacular sight. Further enhancing the conjuction...

Friday, August 05, 2005

observing from camp (Bon Echo)

Observed Venus and Jupiter with the naked eye with Ben and Cam. Possibly saw a half-filled Venus. There's a nice conjunction starting to happen...
  • location: Bon Echo provincial park
  • Joeperry Lake backcountry canoe-in site #524
The sky was very clear. Lots of stars!

This camp site has excellent north-west viewing sightlines. Laurie and Stu's site (523) is pretty good too although the treeline opposite the lagoon is closer / higher.

The only problem is, the portage down to the canoe-launch is long! If we're going to use my telescope and all the gear, I'm gonna need some helpers... Ugh.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

astrophotography tips

Found a great web page by Jeffrey R Charles with lots of tips and tricks on astrophotography. Including exposure settings. Sweet. It's pretty old, he last revised it in 1997, but a lot holds true.

Monday, August 01, 2005

made rings

I was reading the "getting started" pages at Sky & Telescope and came across the little note suggesting to build wire rings to approximate the size of the field of view for your finder scope as well as the eyepieces for your telescope.

wire ring to show eyepiece scale on paper chart

Cool. I dug out some coloured wire and started bending it around pencils and nails and such. It's hard to get perfect circles with the small ones!

I'm going to build rings (calibrated for my Tirion Sky Atlas, First Edition) for my binoculars and finder scope. And now that Mom and I have 4 eyepieces combined, I'll build 8 rings for our 2 telescopes.