Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review of Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas Desk Edition

Okay, it seems in the hobby of Amateur Astronomy there are trends and waves that come and go. As new things come out that seem to fill a void or a need in the hobby, they become the latest trend or item to get.  Well, when I saw information about the Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas I felt that this might be such a thing.  There are two editions, a desk edition and a field edition.  I recommend to go and review their website located at this link for useful information, some that I will go through here.

First the atlas is produced by Ronald Stoyan and Stephan Schurig and is published with Cambridge University Press.  The atlas seems to have a focus on the 4 inch, 8 inch and 12 inch telescopes. The emphasis on these sizes is plain when you open up the desk version and on the inside page to the front cover is a star magnitude size chart and explanation, followed by a Deep-Sky Object charts that shows how to know when looking at the Atlas if the DSO is viewable in a 4, 8 or 12 inch scope, what filter is recommended for the object and what objects are not viewable in a 12 inch scope.  This feature seems to be one of the ones that is used to really promote the atlas.  Indeed Rondal Stoyan in this YouTube Vide LINK, promotes that notion of the three sizes of telescopes right off the bat and ranking of deep sky objects for being observable.

Now I think this type of addition is fine for those new to the hobby or for the many casual observers out there.  For me though, as an experienced observer, I know the magnitude range and the impact of sky conditions and of surface brightness and other factors that go into whether I can see an object, or push my equipment to a point that I can be challenged beyond the norm. Also, Mr. Stoyan uses himself and his eyes as the basis for determining what can and cannot be seen. That is rather a bold claim since some eyes are younger and they pick up objects easier, especially with experience, and older eyes can detect because of the years of experience that make up for some loss of vision in the eye due to aging. My recommendation is to forgo this feature of the atlas and push objects and your equipment. Then again, as I said, if your new or a casual observer, use that feature and it probably is pretty close. One of my deepest thrills in DSO observing is to see how far I can push my eyes and equipment in bringing out detail. For me, this feature seems to limit that.

In the image above you can see that most of these objects are observable in a 4 and 8 inch scope (the brightest shades of yellow and red) with Sh 2-230 good to go in a 12 inch and IC 405 good in a 8 inch and 12 inche.  Items that have their description number next to them, but have no color are not observable in a 12 inch scope. Some I agree with, some I don't but as I do not want to have anyone saying they can see or not see an object based on my opinion and experience, I won't say. I would encourage as per above that others observe and find out for themselves.  In the YouTube video above they show this feature in depth letting you know that the atlas shows 15000 DSO's in this manner.

Another feature I do not like is that the Atlas automatically eliminates objects that the authors and editors feel are too hard or are not observable. Let me decide please and it is why I use SkyTools 3 and print off of maps from that tool to determine what I can observe by giving me the star hop and letting me and my equipment determine that. For me, that is a large part of the fun of visual observing. So this feature for me is not a huge positive or reason to buy this atlas. They point out in the video that this is extremely helpful for beginners and will eliminate futile attempts on objects they can't see. That may be true, and it may handicap them to relying too much on this atlas to determine what they can and cannot see.

The atlas runs in 10" x 11" in size per sheet, and the ring binding in the middle allows you to fold the desk edition over, and basically the same for the field edition. It is a good thing also that in the desk edition (I kept my desk edition and sold my field edition to a fellow observer; more on that soon) has the ring binding and allows you to fold it over. It is heavy for me for an atlas to be used at the scope. Combined with being somewhat bulky I find it difficult for me to use right at the eyepiece. I fold it over on a table near the scope and use it to go back and forth to and that is the best method for me in using this scope. I think in the YouTube video you can see as Mr. Stoyan holds and flips the atlas that if you use this at the eyepiece, you won't be holding unto anything else. The size is great for my table and using it there, especially folded over.  The paper on the Desk Edition is just a tad less stiff then the paper in the Pocket Sky Atlas but for me, even in a dewy situation, it has held up fine. For that reason, that in two sessions with heavy use of the atlas on a table with dew numbers high in the desert, I was totally content with the Desk Edition over the Field Edition. The pages on the Field Edition are made of a material that resists dew and dampness so if your living in a heavy dew area, and want to get that, for around $250.00 plus shipping. The desk edition is only around $100.00 so your choice on your poison. For me, I don't face hard dew year round in Utah or the West, so being cheap on somethings, I opted for the $100.00 Desk Edition.

One area that I think this atlas does really shine is with the constellation maps that help in locating a specific map to go to for finding the objects you need. It is quite easy if you have your constellations memorized or a planisphere nearby. I also like that the atlas contains Abell, Arp, and other catalog items in it. This is also an added benefit for the newer observer. I do not like the arrow system for the double stars as that to me is confusing,especially for someone new in the hobby and use to the line through the star. On the other hand the intensity of the star I do find nice. Stars go up to mag. 9.5 and it does have a lot of DSO's for a 12 inch scope.

Below you can see the atlas folded over and thus making it a decent size for a table near a scope in the field. I still prefer the Pocket Sky Atlas for its size, then moving to a printed star chart of the laptop if it is covered with red whatever to dim the light coming from it.  I haven't found a comfortable way to use this atlas except with a modified ready book light that clips on the atlas and is red.  Awkward to hold at the scope/eyepiece is how I best describe it if you need a red light to use to see it.

The Virgo galaxies are printed here with many being beyond a 12 inch, which I disagree with. I have seen them in a 10 inch and a 14 inch so location, conditions, experience and age have to play a roll here.

Note on this segment that some of the galaxies are shown, but are not visible in a 12 inch so no label. This if you haven't figure out is my biggest gripe of the atlas, the greatest selling point. A 10 inch in a 21.5 SQM sky should see most of these. I have seen some in a SQM 20.9 sky in a 10 inch so I just don't like a book based on one observer's experience telling a newbie or less experience observer what they can and cannot see. Let them figure out and present what is out there so they can try. Disclaim in the front of the atlas.  This is why I use printed off charts if not a laptop in the field. 

Now I sound sour on the atlas, I am not. I like it for what it is, but I don't think if I wasn't going to review for my blog that I would purchase one if I was an experience observer. The atlas is focused for those using a 4, 8 or 12 inch telescope to observe; don't have a lot of time to figure out if they can see something for themselves by star hopping or using a GoTo to get there and taking a look.  If your a newbie to the hobby, or a casual observer or a good experience observer who doesn't like faint stuff, then this is an excellent reference and tool to use. Whether you use it in the field or at home is up to you. Field or Desk? I opt and recommend the Desk edition as I feel dew won't tear it up too bad but then again, I am a west coast guy and a Utah/Desert observer. I feel the atlas is a decent buy at $100, but at $250 for the field edition, I just can't justify that for an atlas. I still like my Uranometria 2000.0 Deep Sky edition and use that in the field, like this, on a table if I find I didn't print off a chart or bring the laptop. For the cost and what you get, I feel that Uranometria 2000.0 is the much better deal as it goes deeper.

I purchased one copy from the Book Depository.  The atlas arrived in 11 days and cost was $88.00 for that copy. My other version arrived from an online supplier at Barnes & Noble. That took 8 days to arrive and the cost was $89.00.  Costs have gone up since I purchased my 3 and I sold the Field Edition for $175 which was my cost. 

Ease of Use:  4/5 Somewhat bulky and awkward. Ring binding for flipping the atlas is a huge plus. 

Organization: 5/5 Love the Constellation Charts for getting to the right Map. Love the size for 

Usefullness: 3/5   More a 4/5 or 5/5 for a novice/beginner, casual observer. 2/5 for experience  
Cost: Field 2/5; Desk  4/5  
                                          Sorry I just feel $250 for this level of atlas is too much. 

Set Up: 3/5             The look and feel are good, the double stars could be confusing for the targeted 
                                audience of the atlas. Don't like the 4,8,12 inch telescope deal. 3/5 is for 
                                experienced observers, more like 4/5 for novice/casual observers. 

Overall Rating: 4/5   

A very good atlas for beginners, novice and casual observers.  Not a great reference for experienced visual observers. If you have a 14" or larger scope, this leaves out far too many objects. Having said that, it isn't made for that market but that market needs to know that the atlas isn't for them.  Field Edition costs too much in my opinion, stick to the Desk Edition unless you want the page protection for dew. My Desk Edition is holding up great to 2 sessions where at the end the dew got up to 90% in the West Desert.  Pages never turned or were impacted at all and the atlas stayed on the table the entire time for a 4 hour session. 

Edit:  Over at in their book section LINK  there is a confirmed report that with the field edition that is suppose to be waterproof, that if you close the atlas wet, the pages will stick together and when pulled apart the surface pages will peel off.  As noted for $220 to $250 I would expect a much better performance from this atlas than that.  It is post #235 on that entry so you have a reference. Another reason I'll stay with printed charts that go into a page protector sheet if I fear dew, or at least into a binder. No biggie if that page gets ruined.  I have not had that issue with the desk edition in the field . . . . hope I don't. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Cot for Camping Over

Not a long post here but I have purchased and am using the Cablea's XL Cot for when I camp over and wish to be in a tent and not sleeping in the back of the Outback.  The cot is very tough, large enough to carry and hold me even after a 74lb weight loss so far, and I love that it is wide.  No sense of falling off when I am laying on it.  It comes with a pivot arm to get the last cross beam into place and it really does work like a charm. Having said that, I did need to use a 14" by 1/2" wooden dowel of oak to get the second to last cross beam to sit into place. As I have used it the material has stretched slightly and I no longer need to use that wooden dowel.  The cot is 85" x 40" x 20-1/2" when full assembled and is so very comfortable. With my memory foam pad, an air pad under that and my bag on top of all of that, I sleep as well as I do at home. Something very important if one is out at a dark site for several days and needs to keep their sleep up so they can observe at night without being fatigue. I had thought of owning one of these several years ago, but put it off and now I wish I never had. Your up off the ground so any cold from the ground does not get into your sleeping bag/pad,  When done, it folds up to 42" x 13.5" x 7" and fits into its accompanying bag EASY. Those who know me know how I hate bags and putting things in them, but this one is so easy even I can manage it with ease.  So here are some pictures of the cot in my garage and if your looking for something to increase comfort as your middle age like me and have grown tired of the ground, I HIGHLY recommend this cot.

Also here is the video from Cabela's on how to put this together. It really is as easy as they show.

Cabela's Video on Setup of XL Cot

Saturday, January 17, 2015

New Board

Well, I am still here and I am just heading out for a evening of winter observing. Cold here but man oh man am I ready!  Before I headed out I wanted to let you know that I made a free forum for those interested in posting at this link:

or here is a LINK.

Please head over and take a look. If there is a forum you would like to have added, drop me an email or PM at the site and I can add it.  I have some more ideas for it but will wait to see what the response it.  It is called Astronomy for All.  Main tenant is no political or religious discussions, I will ban for that at a drop of a hat as those discussions lead no where positive. Treat others as you would want to be treated and that means with respect and caring.  Keep the discussions non-threatening or what I call non-bullying and all should be good. Well, I have to run, more later.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Starry Night Pro version 6.3.3 vs Starry Night Pro 7.1.1

I believe I have touched on this before, but I wanted to do a review on the Starry Night Pro software. I have two versions, version 6 which I received about 8 years ago or so, and version 7 which was purchased just after it came out. I guess that is my first mistake, buying new software right after it comes out.  It ended up that in many ways, getting version 7.0 right after launch met you became a beta tester for the developers and for Stimulation Corporation, the company that owns Starry Night Pro. So before I begin I want to explain what I use this software for.  My main purpose in using this software is print out finder charts for objects that I am going after. I find that I usually am able to print off a larger finder chart showing the objects for the evening (in 6.3.3) and then closer finder charts that allow for even a more refined star hopping experience. Now there are other software out there that will do this, Astro Planner, Deep Sky Planner and Sky Tools 3 to name a few. I have used Astro Planner but found that it does me little good since it only allows me to look at limited objects that I can find and document in my sleep.  Perhaps one day I will expend the funds to  try a few of these out, but for now, Starry Night Pro has always delivered for me.

Here is an example, kinda of of how I use Starry Night Pro. The charts I print I tend to have a white background with black ink for the stars and objects to save on ink.  I have recently started uploading images like this to DropBox and then accessing them via a portable laptop/tablet combo in Windows 8 and that is heavily shielded in rhyolith to keep the light down. I transfer my observing file from DropBox since I usually do not have internet access or limited access in the field and then it allows me to view them like this image:

Clicking on the image will allow you to see it larger I believe. Anyway, I can then zoom in even closer to finish my star hops and be at the object. It is convenient and I have been doing this for 8 years now very successfully. I usually use Starry Night as a back up for logging my observations, keeping my main copy in an Excel spreadsheet for several reasons. I like the log feature and it works nice as a backup, and some would and do like it as a primary logging method.

So everything has been going great when I got an email about version 7 coming out. With a deep discounted price, I bit the bullet and got into the market by buying version 7.  Well, I learned quickly that I was a beta tester for version 7. I could not get to objects, I could not print star charts as the printing command crashed the program. I filed some reports and decided that version 7 just wasn't for me and went back to 6.3.3.  I stay away from the 6.4.3 upgrade as it freezes or crashes frequently on me and so to avoid that, I stay at version 6.3.3., my happy place.

So flash forward to this weekend. I have a new computer and I decided to try out 7.1.1 as I know the crash issue had been addressed.  Well, I loaded 7.1.1 up and I now got to my object, can print a FOV but the object, even when clicked on, doesn't appear on the finderchart.  Worthless still to me. I have shared that feedback with the developers and hope they have a fix for it soon. While see as I believe they respond, but usually not quick enough. I HOPE, more than anything that this is a user error on my part and I am simply doing something wrong. However, I cannot write click, to bring the object up and print that way. I have to go to File, Print and then set up my 3 pane panel for 3 FOV of view I use and print.  No print preview anymore either which disappoints me.

So though I highly recommend version 6.3.3 of Starry Night, I still cannot and strongly won't recommend version 7.1.1 until a visual observer like myself can use that program for what we want. The observing log feature is gone in 7.1.1 and I find it next to impossible to click on an object and have the information for that object come up unless it is a star. I MUST do a search for the objects I want, even if I know where they are in the sky.  So version 7.1.1 is in my book, still a work in progress and I highly recommend that a visual observer does NOT, I repeat DOES NOT purchase version 7.0 to 7.1.1 because there is still far too much missing and that needs to be added back in to make this a program worthy of the visual observer. I will continue to run and love version 6.3.3 and use it faithful until the day comes when the developers feel that we who are lonely visual observers, still have a need for the features in 6.3.3 and they are put into 7.1.1 and versions there after. It is a shame because as a science teacher I have used version 6.3.3 to teach some wonderful concepts to my students and love the capture of the moon phases and having my students identify the correct phase to the time of the month and then figure out when the cycle is going to repeat for the next six months. Lots of stuff to do, and I will use version 6.3.3 for that. It is my sincere hope that one day I can recommend version 7.1.1 and above for use in the field for visual amateurs and for the classroom. Right now, honestly, I just don't see the use of it and feel I wasted my money in upgrading. The team is responsive so I do have hope that in time things will be corrected.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Coming Comparisons; New Additions; TeleVue Delos 8mm & 10mm, DGM vs Thousand Oaks OIII, Narrowband Filters Coming.

Well, I've been busy but not so busy as to avoid some product reviews. I just need some time at my dark site with the products to finish my evaluation.  Here is what is new for me. You will have to excuse my favorite reindeer in the background, he is delivering Holiday Astro Cheer!  Now I have the complete Pentax XW line from the 3.5 to the 20mm so why the Delos? For a comparison and since I have two scopes and my son comes home from being in southern Italy for the last 2 years and wants to go observing, I need a set for him to use. I get the Pentax XW line and he gets to use the TeleVue Delos line (or vice versa depending on my mood).

Above: The 8mm & 10mm TeleVue Delos. Nice. 

Above: The 10mm Delos 

The 8mm Delos. 

The coming battle: the 10mm Delos vs. the 10mm Pentax XW. Yes, I admit my bias for the Pentax XW line upfront but this will be a fair contest with my opinion (and remember, it is MY opinion) being shared. 

The top down view of the TeleVue 10mm Delos on the left, and the 10mm Pentax XW on the right. I need to clean the Pentax XW it looks like. 

The Thousand Oaks Filters in 1 1/4. I have what I like in the 2 inch variety but find I do use my 1 1/4 a lot and don't mind switching them out.  Here you have from right to left, the green OIII filter, the blue Narrowband Filter and what is suppose to be the H-Beta filter but instead of saying 1000 Oaks H-Beta on the filter, it says Moon Filter. I have sent an email to Astronomics to see if they will take this filter back and exchange it. I will post more pictures of the lettering down below and it is weird. The lettering on the OIII and Narrowband are in white, the Moon Filter is not colored in. Weird. A mystery to be solved and I wonder if Astronoimics picked the wrong filter or if Thousand Oaks is using an old casing to put their H-Beta in (not a good move on their part as it will confuse many purchasers like me if they have).  

Above: Another shot of all 3 filters. 

Above: The 1000 Oaks Narrowband vs the equivalent DGM Narrowband. I am not one to take others opinions for stuff, and given the time and money, I will confirm their findings myself so I am going to compare the DGM filters to the Thousand Oaks Filters as soon as I can get time under the stars in a new moon period. 

Above: The DGM OIII 1 1/4 filter on the right; the green Thousand Oaks OIII 1 1/4 filter on the left. 

Again, this is suppose to be the Thousand Oaks H-Beta filter and initially it surely looked like this. When I opened the box, took them out, and then quickly put them into my Pelican 1500 Eyepiece case, I thought it was until I actually looked at them today. This one says Moon Filter as you can see below. The first one is the closest image and shows Moon, but blurry.  The second image is the best and you can see the end of the 1000 then Oaks quite clearly and Moon. Same with the last one I am holding. If you look at the image on the bottom, I took that off the Internet and it is what the H-Beta filter by 1000 Oaks should look like. Yep, I think they sent me the wrong filter and I am hopeful that they will clear it up over at Astronomics.  

So those are the two major comparisons I have coming. The Battle of the 10mm Kings and the Filter comparisons.  Now for clear skies to come about . . .

UPDATE TO THE LP-4 H Beta Filter Mystery . . . .

I graciously received a reply from Thousand Oaks (same day turn around, well, about a 6 hour turn around) to my question on the filter above. Here is a copy of the email I received:

"Sorry for the confusion. The moon filter cells were originally gold and re-anodized red for the H-Beta filters and not re-printed. Unfortunately we missed some with the faint image showing through. It’s definitely an H-Beta (red color coded cell) but you are welcome to exchange it for a new cell. We will have a new batch ready just after the first of the year."

So the filter is a H Beta LP-4 filter from Thousand Oaks but I got one they missed! Cool! Unique! No way I am exchanging it, I love novelty. Just good to know though. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Why Amateur Astronomy Has Failed in Outreach with Our Youth

There was a wonderful letter in the Reflector magazine from the Astronomical League by League President John Goss.  Mr. Goss makes a wonderful appeal to reminding all of us of the wonder and questions that outreach brings to many people of various ages and especially to our youth.  In reading the letter I enjoyed Mr. Goss' themes and it got me thinking.  I have really backed off over the last two or three years on doing outreach, except at my local library.  As a professional educator which is my second career, my first a successful business career, with 12 years of education and 14 years of experience in education teaching, I have a strong and proven belief on why the current model of outreach is failing to attract both the youth and young people to our hobby, and what does work.

The current model of outreach is an outdated and almost extinct model of where a group of amateurs meet up, set up their telescopes at a publicized location and then show objects to the public as they rotate through the field of telescopes.  This is akin to the lecture demo model in education where the teacher lectures to their students from the front of the room and students are expected to take notes and learn.  The teacher is the holder of the information and dispenses it to them and the type of object is in the eyepiece, and looking. Okay, so what? How the hell does that attract new people to our hobby?  It doesn't. It is fun for an evening, people enjoying viewing, especially those that don't want to find and own a scope.  For those people and amateurs they have figured out that the best "GOTO" telescope is the one where someone else does the work and they get to see the view.

In education today there are several models of pedagogy used in the classroom to ensure that student engagement is high, so that their interest is high and that learning is high.  A quick story shared with me this week has to do with the superintendents of the local school districts meeting in a small school district here for a working breakfast to review how to improve student attendance. While right in that restaurant were several high school kids from across the street who should have been in class and were sloughing. The students were invited over and they shared when they want to be in class. "When the teacher has a lesson where we get to do stuff, where we get to learn by doing then I go." one of them shared.  We call it using constructivism, Bloom's Taxonomy where creating from learning is the highest form of learning.  Some call or use inquiry learning to promote student engagement and learning. The point that this student made so wonderfully is that the youth and young people today have grown up doing. They have taught themselves how to use computers and software, how to master video games, how to do many things we in our late 40's and beyond never learned until we were adults. To think we can capture them and rouse their interest in our hobby by simple sharing is to put down their abilities and intelligence.

One argument I see on a regular basis is that amateur astronomy is a middle age and older hobby. I don't buy it as I got into it in my early 30's.  I was exposed as a kid by my Dad and as a teen by some adults who were teachers. That peaked my interest and in my early 30's I got into the hobby at that point. As I have seen the youth and young people will get involved in the hobby and do what they want to do with it which is what this generation seems to do like the ones previous to it. They may not be a club officer or be largely involved outside of doing their own observing, but that is okay, they will be involved as much as they want to IF they are allowed to participate and contribute fully. Then you may just get a younger club officer or other contribution that is meaningful to them.

So what are the alternatives?  It has to be where students are engaged in the learning process. Teach students how to collimate a reflector, to align the Telrad with the eyepiece, and to look at the constellations, identify them and to star hop. Teach them how to use a scope with goto on it. Share with them how to identify the type of object, how to create an observing list, and to have studies what those objects are (before or after depending on your goal) and then be there to watch and observe as they go after and nail their lists. I have done this both in schools and at my local library for some time. I have a former student who graduated last June and for Christmas she wanted a solar filter for her 6 inch dob so she could take up solar viewing. She is 18 and has been viewing/observing since she was 12 as a result of this type of program. Think she is hooked for life though astronomy is just a hobby for her? Yep, her and about 12 other kids and about 8 families.

The problem with this model is that an amateur has to trust that kids can learn to use their equipment and be safe with it. We have to trust that as we are there scaffolding these wonderful new people that we can catch before they make a mistake, and fix it is they do. Outside of dropping something on a primary mirror of a dob, or jamming up a goto mount, there are very little things that someone operating a telescope can do that cannot be undone and fixed. The biggest problem I see though are two. First, amateurs have to be willing to give up control of the scope and what someone else is going after and focus on not what they want, but in helping someone else get what that person wants out of that session. That is hard with limited time for events, and observing and wanting to be in control of "YOUR" own equipment. Two, it takes social skills to interact and to teach, and yes, it does take skills to be an actual teacher and to interact with the public.  Some may be needing our help there.

That leads me to my final point here. IF a club or the League is serious about getting more younger people involved, I challenge both to getting some educators to share some basic teaching techniques and to having a part of your outreach events set up where people who have signed up in advance can meet in groups of no more than 4 to receive instruction on how to use a scope.  No matter what though, and there are many other ways this can be done and there are many other people who are trained in education in the field that can share, but this notion of just showing objects has to be supplemented with other outreach activities where the public can be trained how and be given the chance to use an actual telescope.  We will grab some now, plant a seed in others for later but we need to diversify how we are getting people interested by letting them do.  Lets be giddy about what we observe and be giddy in helping others to observe.