Sunday, July 21, 2013

completed partial collimation (Etobicoke)

8:30 PM, July 20, 2013. Manuel and I met up. It had been a while!

As he drove south on Jane and activated the right turn signal for Bloor, he mumbled something about the fast clicking. "I'll have to ask them to fix that." I was intrigued. A light-bulb change... Telling.

In the man cave, I took a look at the new 11-inch 'scope. A beast. Monster atop the CGEM DX. The beige tube Edge HD (like Iverson's). Hey, wait a minute, that's an aluminum tube, is it not? As opposed to carbon fiber. I had been under the impression that his new OTA was a CF design. I looked at the back: it appeared to have mirror locks. Necessary for the big glass... Oh, and vents, with a dense filter...

Refractor lying on the sofa... [ed: Didn't I attach it to the C8?]

I turned around and Manuel was lugging the portable plastic table and a chair from the garage. I offered to help as he delicately headed upstairs. We started moving stuff out to the parkette. Atlas mount was in the kitchen, OTA cooling on the back deck, computer and other bits and bobs on the dining room table. As he man-handled the Atlas mount and tripod together, Manuel dropped a counterweight at his front step! Ouch. Fortunately, he did not damage the screw. Nor did he crack a brick. Or break a toe.

Outside, we chatted with John and his daughter, while Manuel walked around with the uncovered OTA at his shoulder! He had not been successful in convincing John to join RASC, Manuel admitted. Nor had he convinced John to visit the Carr Astronomical Observatory while at his cottage in the Blue Mountains. To be fair, John said he didn't know there was a big observatory up there. I clarified. Yeah, not a "big" observatory building, domed—John pointed to my DDO t-shirt, "Not like that." Right! More like a garage. Owned by the Centre, like a private "club house." He was curious where we were but looked blank when I mention road numbers. The Scenic Caves? He said they were 5 minutes away. There ya go.

I set up the mount. Added the two counterweights. Took the OTA from Manuel and started to mount it in the dovetail. Before anything bad happened. Set up the table. Arranged items into logical groups. Found a focal reducer inside the focuser-SCT adapter. We removed it. Manuel set it on the table. I think he really needs a proper carrying case. Installed the finder scope with red guide camera. Asked for the SCT bayonet cap...

Manuel said the EdgeHD was not compatible with the Fastar system. Huh? I wondered where he had heard that.

9:07 PM. I unwrapped the new camera from the plastic bag. An Imaging Source DFK 21AU618.AS. USB port. Another small blue cube. Like his 21AU04. I wondered about the differences...

[ed: Different Sony chip, an ICX618AQA vs. the ICX098BQ. The chips are the same size (¼"), resolution (640x480), pixel size (5.6 microns, square), with IR cut filters. Seems the only difference is sensitivity: 0.05 lx vs 0.10. Oh. And new software...]

9:11. Oh oh. Spotted clouds are rolling in... Clouds not predicted on the Clear Sky Chart (last updated around noon); but that I had seen on the NOAA radar. Manuel's not going to be happy about this...

9:15. He brought out more gear. But still not the 1¼" SCT visual back. Manuel returned a couple of minutes later. He took the guide scope off. OK. Not sure why we brought it out then. He removed one counter weight; not needed with the 8" and DFK camera. Got it. Then proceeded to balance. He's must have the most perfectly balanced 'scopes!

9:24. Off again, this time to get the foam mats, new USB light, repellent Off, etc. I put on my zip pant lower legs, hoodie, and got out the Lee Valley bug suit gloves. Manuel returned sans mats. But I was able to try the Astro Gizmos USB light. It was awesome—as expected. Bright, with the four LEDs. Excellent coverage, with the 2 separate heads. Entire keyboard lit. Space beside the computer. They'd be handy for notes, a book, etc. I didn't realise it but there are lenses over the LEDs which appear to disperse the light pattern. That it works with AAA batteries (or external USB power cord) is fantastic. The only disadvantage is bulk to the battery compartment and clip, it encroaches on the LCD.

9:38. Manuel headed north once more. His phone rang while away. He returned a couple of minutes later with the mats and second chair.

9:41. Manuel moved the telescope slightly west.

We grumbled about the clouds. I was pining to check the radar but was off the grid. Manuel pulled up a weather radar page on his Blackberry. "Looks good." I pointed out it was showing rainfall, not cloud. Excuse me, I meant satellite. Directed him to the NOAA Aviation page. Meanwhile, I sniffed at a number of curiously named unlocked WAPs but could not connect. Manuel said he had his wifi disconnected during the day, for home maintenance, so went to the house to plug in.

Suddenly I smelled a skunk! Had I seen it out of the corner of my eye a moment earlier? Oh oh. That would not be good...

9:56. We waited for the skies to improve. Manuel was able to connect to his router so we pulled up the NOAA page, on the big screen. S-L-O-W. I tried to gain network access but his router wanted some certificate validation. Told him I had never seen that requirement before. He said the router had been completely reconfigured. So, no internet for John Littlejohn.

10:15. Clouds everywhere.

Manuel shared his brief experience visiting the new Richmond Hill store. Sounded a little disappointed. Not a lot of product to look at. I said that I had heard they were trying to do more online orders...

I shared how I'm trying to learn the named stars. He quizzed me on about 10. The easy ones... Got another 400 to go.

10:46. Finally, we could see some clear sky to the north. Woo hoo! Let's get started!

Manuel began his polar alignment. But paused to assemble the foam squares, so to ease the strain on his knees. I was a little surprised when he put the entire assembly under the tripod on foam. I also noted that he did not level the tripod with the bubble.

He pointed out the poor connection with Atlas 12-volt CLA adapter. We tried bow-tying the cords but it didn't help. The male spring was very strong. I suggested that twist-ties would be a quick and easy solution. In the meantime, we gingerly set the connectors down and avoided touching them. That would be bad, losing the connection, in the middle of an imaging run!

Sounded frustrated, he raised the mount, extended each tripod leg about 6 inches. The mount tipped precariously, so I spotted.

10:58. While Manuel worked with the Atlas polar scope, I tried to improve my dark adaptation and read the sky brightness, using Ursa Minor, consulting with the SkyTools Interactive Atlas. Initially, I could only see Pherkad, at magnitude 3.1. After a moment, I dug out Thuban, to the left: mag 3.6. Ha ha. Then mag 4.3 ζ (zeta) UMi, with averted gaze.

I started building a new observing plan list in SkyTools. Added the constellations and bright stars I was seeing. And the damned Moon.

11:04. I looked at Mizar. After a second or two I spotted Alcor. I wondered the value of the fainter star. Checked ST3: 4.0.

Manuel said, "almost there." Four minutes later, he started the 3-star alignment process with the hand controller.

Meanwhile, I started considering the targets needed collimation: added Vega to the observing list. It will do very nicely as a mag 0 star, up high, for the "stage 1" optical checks.

Spotted a bright satellite heading north above Arcturus. It faded suddenly but I was still able to track it for a few seconds. An Iridium, I wondered. Or perhaps a tumbler.

11:14. Manuel finished aligning on his third star. And was perplexed when the hand controller responded "Align Failed." He guessed his polar alignment was off. I too wondered if that was the case.

11:16. I took a peek at the mount alignment. Looked off. When I looked through the polar scope, I did not see Polaris. He was on some random faint star. I was a little surprised at a rookie mistake. I thought he would be good and fast at this. Certainly he's done it before. Many times. On his own. Was he nervous around me? Surely not. Less experience with the Orion hardware?

There was some discussion about the port hole in the Dec axis. Another tell-tale, I think, that he was in "Celestron mode" which would not work for this mount. I said that for my Super duper Polaris, I had to turn the Dec so the OTA was horizontal; that was clearly not the case with the Atlas. Visible proof was had looking down the top of the mount and seeing the red LED illuminator.

11:19. I said, "You better hurry." There was another cloud bank coming in. Manuel, struggling, said "This is unreal." I was fascinated by the trouble he was having.

I took in stars at the zenith. It was a bit darker. Or clearer. With less extinction. I could see ζ Lyrae. That star is mag 4.4. Initially I could not see δ (delta) but with a bit of work, and averted vision, I was able to coax it out. Made sense: 4.3. The Double Double was easily spotted although as a single point source.

11:23. Manuel said, "I still don't see Polaris." We were running out of time...

SkyTools showed that ε (epsilon) Lyr was mag 4.7. I wondered what the effect was of a pair of stars and the magnitude. Would the pair increased the effective brightness, their light combining and adding? The brightest star in ε1 is mag 4.7 and ε2, 5.1. Or would the pair only be as bright as the brightest element? Given that I was seeing, what I estimated to be a mag 4.5 sky, it would seem there was an additive effect happening...

11:31. He was exasperated. Asked if I could help. Sure. I settled in behind the mount. Turned the Dec axis clockwise to better match UMa and Cas positions—he was off about 15° here. Eyeballed the polar axis. It was way off, too high. As I unwound the elevation bolt at the back and pulled down on the counter weight shaft, Manuel said, "But it's at 43 degrees." I explained that we could not rely on that. I dropped the altitude of the mount and drew Polaris toward the centre. "See it?" I asked. I reminded him that it was substantially brighter than any other star. I left him finish it off. Double-checked when he was done. OK. Now we had decent alignment to the NCP. And we're clouded out again! Gar!

We waited some more. Then as stars emerged, Manuel started the three star alignment process again. Arcturus was not an option so he looked for other targets. I pointed out Altair, Alkaid, Dubhe, Megrez, Phad, Mizar, Caph, Shedar, Deneb, Sadr, Albireo, etc. Algol, he asked? Nope, too low. Mirfak? Behind the townies. He found a star in the east. After that first star, he got dishevelled: the stars were not the ones he was used to seeing listed. Again, I reminded him that the Atlas choices would be different than NexStar. And that the choices would be non-trivial with the improved sky models in the hand controller.

11:45. He asked about Ruckbah. Ah. He had me on that one. I knew it was in Cassiopeia... Checked the software. Second from the left. But without a laser pointer, it took a minute to ensure we were talking about the same star.

11:50. Manuel reported "align success." 65 minutes. All right. We could start collimating now. I requested Vega. He slewed the 'scope and said it was centred. OK, good. Next, I requested he hookup the CCD camera. Reminded him: no mirror; 1¼" visual back, initially no magnification.

11:57. He started to remove the visual back. He then attached the camera. To the scope; to the computer. Sat down at the computer. Fired up his capture software. Adjusted the settings. And was perplexed...

11:59. "I don't see the star," he puzzled. "Look up..." I said. "What?" "Look. Up." He started laughing. Satire. The Universe having a chuckle at us. The clouds looked bad this time.

We had a little chit chat. Manuel shared an incredible story from work, about a 37 year old man, with a most ridiculous name change... The clouds broke, again.

Manuel noticed he did not have an internet connection. He didn't understand why it would work before and not now. You and me both. Wifi black magic.

He offered, again, that I could borrow any of his gear. Very generous.

12:29 AM, July 21, 2013. We finished the stage 1 collimation. I found one mirror screw too tight; loosened it and the collimation improved dramatically. I thought of his email, where he said he had tried a screw and it is seemed to resist. Seemed like he had reached the maximum depth for that particular fastener. Now we needed to boost the mag.

12:34 AM. A neighbour visited briefly. Fascinated by the hardware. Asked "how far can you see?" Reminded me of people that ask, "How fast can your car go?" Who cares. I explained it was not so much distance as how faint. I apologised that there was nothing to look at. Between clouds and being configured for imaging. He wandered off. I continued hunting for a second magnitude star, in the software, that was not a double, for the stage 2 collimation... Manuel brought out some sodas. Canada Dry. Thanks! Then went back inside. To get the magnifiers.

12:45. After inserting the 2x and recentering, we started to slowly draw to focus. The image jumped around at the high power. It was so severe in some cases, it would move out of the field. We had to pan while focusing. Quite tricky. Manuel lost the star so we started over.

The image shape changed. The nice pattern of concentric rings deformed, turning into a peanut. Manuel wondered what was going on. I continued to wind the focusing knob. The image, growing smaller and brighter, started to look like The Bat Signal. I explained that we must have been at the end of the focus travel. We were pinching the mirror. Fascinating.

I tried to move the camera and Barlow out, lengthening the light path. I gained a ½" but did not want to go further. Complained that there were not tether points on the camera. But he could mount a ¼-20 bolt... I sent Manuel inside for his extension tube, 2-to-1¼" adapter, and 2" visual back.

I chose Alphecca. Single star. Yes, a variable. But in the 2 to 3 range.

Manny returned with more hardware. He showed me his 2" visual back with a rotating clamping collar. Neat. Never seen that before.

The longer path helped. Without the Barlow, we were about the get to focus with the mirror undisturbed. I could see, briefly, in the bad seeing, a faint diffraction ring around the star's disc. But our efforts to work at higher power, with 2nd mag star, were thwarted.

1:14. The clouds were back. Worse than ever. I suggested we were scuppered.

Manuel surmised that M51 was now to low to be imaged. Indeed.

We talked about the light path. I explained out that the path now, with the 2" visual back, extension tube, the adapter, which added about a ¼", and camera, was about the same length as when a mirror and eyepiece was used, also considering that the human eye was a stage in the light path. I suggested that his difficulty the other night was not collimation but that the light path was too short (or long). This is something he needs to adjust for, in the future. I think he found that intriguing.

We talked briefly about the focuser. I think he's not comfortable with it. So not using it. Certainly it will be challenging but I hope he'll master it.

I thought the highway lighting from the Gardiner was still terrible. Did they actually install shields? If I lived here, I'd still be complaining. There's absolutely no reason why light from the tall standards should fall on buildings beside the road. Wasteful, harmful, annoying.

1:33. We started to tear down. I tried to not notice clearing in the north.

I also took the opportunity, while reviewing the collimation process, to emphasise that balance was important. Pluses and minuses. One must not continuously tighten screws. Rather, when something was tightened, something else had to be loosened.

Once again, he man-handled the mount and tripod over the steps and through the door. No incident this time. In short order, we had everything indoors.

Inside I asked for some twist-ties. After I explained what I was after, he returned with one short black tie. Not long enough. I explained that if he found another, he could secure the CLA connectors...

2:08. I was back home. A little frustrated that we hadn't finished a full collimation. I really wanted him to see the entire, full process. That it was more than rough, crude intra- and extra-focus checks. And that the 2nd and 3rd stage checks would require finer or more delicate precision. But, hopefully, he learned a few things, regardless of what we physically accomplished. If lucky, the changes we made will get him up and running again.

In bed, with a pleasant breeze entering the open north window, I amalgamated my notes. Considered, in the cool air, looking at the dark sky through the glass, through the branches, the burnt out bulb.

No comments: