Monday, May 18, 2015

A New Camper for Observing on Overnights?

I saw this on Facebook today and instantly saw that with the rear hatch that lifts up, this camper could easily serve as a trailer to haul the telescope and other equipment to a dark site where one is going to camp overnight. I love the creative aspect of the camper and how you can re-arrange things to fit your needs for the day or for night. Needs curtains but that is an easy fix.  I am seriously considering ordering one of these come the end of June.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Observing April 18th, 2015 West Desert, Utah

On Saturday, April 18th, 2015 I had the opportunity with a decent sky to get the 17.5 out in the West Desert of Utah. I broadcasted where I was going but as I set up and got collimated and then comfortable, I enjoyed as twilight came on. The scope was collimated, alligned and ready to go.  Here are a few pictures:

The 17.5 ready to go; Collimated and Aligned 

ATM Observing Chair (just want that wide bottom step for height and the two step step ladder)

17.5 up close. 

Close Up of upper assembly (need to rework the finder set up or not use it)

Sheeprock Mountains 

Late afternoon 

Magical time 

So as the sun set, I sat, organized, set up and ready for a wonderful night of observing.  I played with plenty of time to get the Stellarvue aligned with the focuser and the Telrad and it worked this time as I figured out how the system works.  I am at a point that at times I like the finderscope still, but more often then not, I just use a wide field eyepiece like the 27mm Panoptic, the 35mm Panoptic or the 24mm ES 82 degree EP as a finder.  As I find the field I go to mid-power, the 20mm Pentax XW and then work my way to the object and put in the higher power that the sky will allow me to use that night. Usually that is a 10mm Pentax XW or 10mm Delos, or sometimes when I am lucky, the 7mm XW or 6mm Delos.  

As night fell I noticed a car coming down the dirt road that led to where I was set up.  I didn't recognize the van coming and didn't know of anyone coming to meet me but figured it was someone coming to observe. Sure enough, it was a family and he was using a 6 inch dob on a equatorial platform.  As he set up I gave his wife, daughter and his mother-in-law a tour of the late winter and spring objects, including M42, M35, M36, M37, M38, M65, M66, NGC 3628, M44, M51, M101 to name a view. After this I took a potty break walking a good distance away of course, and then came back and got going on my own observing. 

I feel rusty somewhat but as I got set up and began to hunt down objects, sketch them and record my observations it was like I just had to adjust to being in the saddle again. I noticed later on my sketches that I am indeed rusty as my stars are bloated and definitely not the nice circles that I usually put in. So I only did a few sketches and observed only 4 objects that night because of the tour I gave, but that was just fine. 

NGC 4265 Spiral Galaxy in Corvus sb; April 18th, 2015; V.Mag 12.6; Size 1.2 x 0.5; Antoniadi III; West Desert, UT; 08:55pm MDT; 17.5" Dob; 10mm Pentax XW w/Paracorr Type II;

Faint and rather small, easy to pass over, surface brightness is not uniformed with some apparent mottling, nothing to write home about. 

NGC 4782 & NGC 4783 Galaxies in Corvus; April 18th, 2015; West Desert, UT; 09:45p.m. MDT; Antoniadi III; Paracorr Type II w/ Pentax XW 10mm; clear & cool, some haze/dust in air. 

Rather a bright pairing, and it seems that the galaxies are interacting by a joint haze that seems to join the two.  NGC 4782 is slightly brighter to me and they make for a fun observation. 

NGC 4038 &4039 The Ringtail Galaxies; April 18th, 2015, West Desert, UT, 10:30pm MDT; 17.5" Dob, 7mm Pentax XW w/Paracorr Type II; Antoniadi II-III.  With higher aperture the cores are bright and mottling is evident.  Arms are evident also, to specific tidal arms.  Wonderful object to observe at a higher aperture. 

NGC 4177 Spiral Galaxy in Corvus; April 18th, 2015; 11:20pm MDT: West Desert, UT; 17.5" Dob; 7mm Pentax XW w/Paracorr Type II; Antoniadi II to III; Clear, slight haze low.  

Faint galaxy with hints of arms and varying brightness levels.  Large and with averted vision shows extended and  fainter halo.  Some structure is hinted at.  Last object to sketch this night. 

From here I ended the night as the haze built up too much and the dust from traffic heading by.  May new moon is a washout as it rained all week and this weekend.  I did try in April to start a Moon Observing program again and I was successful for the first 3 nights.  After that the clouds rushed in and stayed in and have stayed around mixed with rain since then.  More on that later I hope.  Some items I have coming up; a review with images of the Explore Scientific 20mm 100 degree, the Explore Scientific 11mm 82 degree (for outreach or loan to someone using a scope); and a review on University Optics HD Abbe Orthoscoptic Eyepieces in the 4mm, 6mm and 12mm.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Catsperch Pro Observing Chair Review

I received today my Catsperch Pro Observing Chair.  The UPS man delivered it around 12:30pm today. I was off today so I broke open the box in my messy garage, as we wait for our spring cleaning dumpsters to arrive any day.  The completed chair arrived neatly box, quite well protected and easy to take apart and remove from the box. Inside the box was the main part of the chair, the foot rest, the seat, the front stabilizing bar that connects to the bottom front of the main part of the chair. Also there were four clips to lock the dowels for the chair and seat components to rest on the curved cutouts on the back of the main part of the chair. I assembled the chair, it took all of 5 minutes to put together if that and that is my first compliment to the design. The ease with which to put this chair together is a compliment to Jim Fly, the designer, creator and to Ron Wood at Wood Wonders for making it all go together so easily.

The chair did have of new coats of polyurethane, that brought back memories of making my own chair 3 years ago.  After the chair was assembled, and I tried it out, I got out my memory foam and my hard foam and tracked the seat on both, then cut a rough draft out of the foams. I need to trim them up nicely and then put a cover on them,which isn't not too hard to do, and then use the Velcro on the seat to attach it to the wood slots when I am observing so I am comfortable all night.  After doing that I sat down on the chair at different levels and it worked quite well. To be honest, it was almost exactly like using the chair I had built out of Red Oak three years ago this March and April (see this LINK to those posts on my blog here).  I found that the moving of the chair and step stool were easily done and easily to pop out their metal clip that held the wooden dowel on chair.  I actually at first thought I liked the metal pegs I used, but after about 15 minutes of playing around with them, I found the Catsperch metal clips easier and quicker to use and in the dark, that will be a good thing.  I might easily replace my metal pegs with the metal clips on the chair I built!  So now to the things I like and things I would improve on both chairs.

The Catsperch Pro fully assembled is ready for use right out of the box if ordered that way. You pay for it, about $360.00 with shipping for the base model, but man, it is nice not to have to spend four to six Saturday's and a few weekdays working on building your own. Then again, there is sanctification that comes from building something on your own and using it. So it really comes down to having time, materials, tools, and know how to build your own vs. the convenience and ease of ordering and getting a finished product ready to go. In the end there isn't one correct decision here, it is up to the individual to decide.

The next feature you'll see that I love on the Catsperch is the build of the seat. The slants work wonderfully as do the side arms that are enclosed on the front end. You can see that in the video. The slants allow for a Velcro strap to wrap around to attach a cushion to the slant boards that make up the seat. Wonderful design and implementation here.  On the Shaun's plans that I used, my seat was attached to two side arms that are open on the front, and I used plywood not Red Oak to make the seat top. I wish I had made the slants. On my chair I used hard sleeping bag pad, blue in color and then a piece of memory foam on top of that.  I enclosed it in a patch work of old jeans that were sewn together and make an outstanding and comfortable, and long lasting cover. On the Catsperch you can see I am following that same model of hard foam on the bottom, memory foam on top and I will be using not jeans but a vinyl faux leather covering, much like the Smart Seat cover material and attaching it with Velcro.  I think this will be a better set up then the other seat long term, and on dewy nights, it is easier to wipe off vinyl then to have it absorb into the cotton material.  Then again, the vinyl can be slippery so I will consult with my wife and see what she thinks. Either way, I'll end up with a nice, cushion seat to go over the three wooden slants. This lets me personalize the Catsperch as well, like I did with my chair three years ago. Bottom line though, the Catsperch design is far superior to mine, though the basic concepts are the same. The dowels that hold the chair in the front and back are the same tension system, locking into half crescent ridges. On my chair I used one inch dowels and on the Catsperch, they used what looks like 1/2 inch dowels.  Both work and one is not more sturdy then the other. Please realize like I said in the video, at the time of using my chair, I weighed in at around 340 to 345 pounds. Since June of last year I have lost 75 to 80lbs due to medical need and my desire to be healthier, so at 261lbs to 265lbs there is a big difference on using the chairs. Neither chair though can I see having a problem for me despite my weight. As I go down to the 200 to 210 level of weight, it will be interesting to see how I respond on the chair. You can see in the video I am a little careful about getting up high on the chairs. More on that in a minute.

The plans and model of the chairs are basically the same, with a few differences.  One of the biggest to me are the two feet rests and the foot step on the chairs. The Catsperch comes with anti slip material on them, my chair has nothing. Now I have to state in the three years of using my chair, and I use it four to six times a month usually, I have never slipped or come close to it. However, it is a nice feature to have. The Catsperch and my chair have two feet rests off to the side of the middle step. I guess you can use those when sitting but I have always used my foot step to rest my feet one, or a step ladder as you can see in the video when up high, or the ground itself if my feet can rest on the ground. Feet on the ground is determined by the scope I use. With my 14" I can often observe for part of the night, with my feet on the ground. With the 17.5 truss dob, that is not going to happen very often.

Now the Catsperch foot step is about two inches in width and that makes a problem. My son, at age 21 and who weights 190 and is 5"11' tall, has to mount the chair from the side because he cannot fit both feet on the step.  On my chair that same step is 6 inches long, and I can, as I do in the video, put both feet on the step and then mount the chair above if I don't have a stool. So that is one design on my chair that I HIGHLY recommend Ron at Wood Wonders consider adapting, or if someone buys the plans to build the Catsperch models. Make that step about four inches wider! It makes a HUGE difference for big men like me, and normal size men like my son to get up and down on the ladder.'

Now a point. On my 17.5" truss dob, I always have my step ladder for observing up high and for when I am not sketching. I use my chairs for sketching and for continuous long term observing of an object. Since I have the step stool, I use it to get up and down on my chair, and to get up and down on the Catsperch. In the video you'll see on the Catsperch I may use the step ladder a little more, that is because my current "cushion" isn't fastened down that well on the seat.  However, I do find that using a step ladder helps in my comfort level in getting up to the last four or five rungs on the chair. Once on either chair, I am stable, do not feel like I am going to fall, and feel secure up there. The only thing I need to invent is a table that high to store my sketching material so I can easily get to it when I am ready to sketch.  Hmmm . . . I have an idea on that one, and I can't wait for summer to come to try it out!  I have no problem on the chair I made, and I actually like the stability of the Catsperch Pro just a little bit more, not much, just a hair in that I think for a big man, it is very stable. In the end, the stability is a tie and I see no need for a back brace/support to make it more stable.

On the Catsperch Pro I LOVE the connecting arm from the main chair's back, to the back leg. That is a clever and well use part to put there to connect both the leg and the chair.  On my chair, I used a steel bar that has a hook and a screw, much like what many can find and many have used on a Denver Chair to connect the main chair to a back leg.  It is functional and works, but I truly and deeply DISLIKE how that metal bar will fall out and ding and dent things if I don't put my Velcro around it to secure. Then the Velcro will fall off in the dark at my dark site so then I have to find it, brush it off and secure it back on. Guess I need a better system. Advantage here is HUGE and goes to the Catsperch Pro.

The bottom arm or support brace, that connects to the bottom front of both chairs is a challenging piece to mount. On my chair, the bolts are permanently mounted. I can attach the support brace or arm by taking off the black knobs, putting on the brace/arm, while ensuring I have a washer behind the brace/arm, and another washer on the front where the knob screws down on. This protects the wood. The Catsperch Pro Chair has two bolts that come off, and then go in and two gold knobs that turn on the back of the screw.  Both are relatively quick to get on and off, but the workmanship here on the Catsperch Pro is slightly better, a square hole n the back matches the bolt so the bolt doesn't impact the wood. I had to learn that lesson and repair by brace/arm and then put that into mine. Catsperch Pro here has a slight edge but either work if set up correctly the first time.

The next item is a MAJOR one on the comparison of the two chairs. I cover this in the video and you can see that I cut out on my chair a rounded and oval shape handle to carry the chair. The handle also helps when climbing up the chair when the seat is high up. I also use it to move the chair at night around the scope. The Catsperch Pro doesn't have this, though I suspect if I had ordered a special constellation or planet engraving on the chair, I could have gotten three holes drilled out as a handle. I probably should have inquired of this, though I did not think about it until comparing the chairs which is my fault. So if your ordering a Catsperch Pro, ask about that feature as I think it is an important one.  You can see the handle in this image from the Wood Wonders site and that image is also on their site located at this LINK.

So since the Catsperch Pro observing chair that I got, did not have the handle, and my chair does, this is a MAJOR advantage to my old chair.  It is a feature that if I was building and make chairs and selling, that I would make an additional item on checkout when purchasing the chair and charge $25.00 for doing it. I would have paid it and I think others would too if it was an easy option. I love my handle and it was the first think my son Nathan pointed out when comparing them. Much easier to move the chair around the scope when a handle in the dark, then to lift it with no handle. I will be installing a handle of some sort on the back of the chair at some point.

Another feature that I have on my chair and I think is essential for these chairs. They are made of a good old hard wood, Red Oak. However, at a dark site, and yes, I go to some remote dark sites both in the mountains of Utah and mainly in the West Desert of Utah, the bottom support arm/brace and the back leg can get chewed up pretty good with small rocks and other obstacles found in those environments. On my chair I installed rubber bottoms to those positions that stops the wood from being abused and protects the wood there and my investment. The Catsperch Pro chair has no such protection, for now, and that will be the very first modification I will be doing. I am going to try to find some rubber bottoms that will fit the bottom of the brace feet and the back leg foot that slip over them. If not, I will use what I have but I would highly recommend to Ron and Jim to see if they can manufacturer those type of rubber boots to go over the back foot and brace feet and then offer them for sale. I would purchase several of them to ensure I always had protection for the bottom supports of my feet. A ten or twenty dollar investment for two or three of these would be well worth it in the long run and I think provide enhance care for their product. Either way though, I will be adding rubberized feet or bottoms to my chair to protect it.

Finally is workmanship.  My chair was built under the help and eye of my friend Mat, who ensured I sanded, drilled, sanded, and took my sweet time in both building and finishing my chair.  The quality of my chair is such that it has lasted for 3 years with a very large set man and that is a testimony to its build quality.  I love the features of my chair and knowing that I built it with some help when it was needed. Is it perfect? Nope, for example, in February I re-coated it again to protect it from the weather and conditions at my dark sites. I have learned from my first chair though, and if I were to build another chair, I would incorporate what I have learned into it. However, for a second chair since I have several scopes now, I opted to get a Catsperch Pro chair.  The Catsperch is beautifully crafted and made. Ron does a fantastic job with that, his work is outstanding. There are no rough edges anywhere, everything is smooth, and fits together wonderfully.  It is evident that Ron has the building of these chairs down to a science. So over all I would give the edge to the Catsperch Pro, but only because my chair was a learning experience and it has unique personality traits that I adore.

So here is my overall of both chairs:

Item                                               Catsperch Pro                                   My Chair
Handle                                         None                                                      Functional Handle
Makes it easier to move the chair in the dark at a dark site

Step Size                                     2" wide                                                   6" wide
The larger step makes it easier without aid to get up and own on the chair, especially to the higher levels of the seat.

Seat Build                             Slants, Covered Front, Strong                    Strong, No covered front
The covered front adds additional strength to the build, making the seat stronger in my opinion. The slants of Red Oak are an advantage to the plywood I used. I should have done the Red Oak Slants.

Cushion:                              Purchase for $76                                           Build my own for both
I much prefer to build my own to save the money and to get a seat that I know supports me.  Remember a strong foam on the bottom then I use memory foam on the top with a covering. Vinyl sheds water or wipes off moisture. Jean or other cloth material absorbs moisture well personalizing the seat. Choice here.

Connecting Arm                 Connected seat back to back arm               Metal brace with hook
The Catsperch system of hooking the back is far superior and the arm won't fall and nick items or you won't be chasing around for Velcro to secure it.

Anti Slip Material Step Feet Rest    Stops slippage of feet in moisture           None, can add it.
Advantage if any to Catsperch. I don't have it and I have never slipped.

Rubber Feet Bottoms                    None                                                       Built on mine
Critical to protect the chair and the investment in the chair. I will be putting them on my chair within the week before I head to dark sites this month.

Dowel Supports/Locking Mech.      1/2"                                                      1"
Not a real issue for me as both are very supportive and I felt totally comfortable observing from both chairs and sitting up high.

Bottom Brace/Support              Bolt and screw down back side             Knobs, bolt permanent, washer
Both systems work fine, but I believe the Catsperch will work better in protecting the wood long term. I have had to modify mine based on experience so that it matches the Catsperch while repairing a few nicks that came with the first way I connected my bottom brace.

Workmanship                           Many years and chairs                                1 chair 2 months experience
Well, my workmanship is good, Ron's is excellent and it is evident he has the experience from making over 400 chairs and it shows. There is a lot I would improve on for a second chair, but what the heck, I didn't make another one and I ordered one from Ron. I am a VERY happy customer and glad I ordered a Catsperch Pro, though I would make three key changes: One, the rubber on the bottom of the two ends of the bottom brace.  Two, the handle on top. Three, a step that is about six inches wide. not two inches. That makes a HUGE difference if your getting to the top rungs of the seat with no support.

Overall, as I said I am extremely please with the Catsperch Pro chair, and for that matter with the chair I built. I'll be using both chairs in the field and at my observatory.  That should one of my next new posts, my observatory with my new scope.  Anyway, I give the Catsperch Pro 9/10 stars, maybe 8.5/10 because of the three things listed. I give my own chair a 8 to 8.5/10 stars also.  In the end, if you want the best observing chair you can have and are going to purchase it, the creme de creme is the Catsperch models and you will not go wrong in ordering, paying and owning one.

Here is the video we made comparing the Catsperch Pro Chair to the observing chair I made 3 years ago based on Shaun's Plans found at the earlier link.  I hope this helps!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Observing March 20th, 2015; School Star Party March 27th 2015

On the afternoon of March 20th, 2015, I had the opportunity to get out on a decent night to observe in Utah's West Desert.  I got out early, choosing the 17.5" as my scope of choice.  I still haven't had the 17.5 out enough to have it be natural when working with it, so that was the scope for the evening.  I set up easily enough, and took pictures of the setup before having to tear it all down. As I was assembling the scope, I noticed that one of the knobs to hold a truss tube in the Moonlite holder was missing. I searched the car, every where. I searched the ground, every where. Alas, I had no luck so I knew that the scope was not going to hold collimation so I had to tear it down in order to go and purchase a 20 1/4' by 1/2" knob to replace the one that was missing. Thus began my evening of adventure. I was suppose to meet my friend Jeff there at the site, but I decided to take off to get the knob. Cell phone reception I did have but I lost Jeff as I began to travel back to the nearest city. The last I heard was that when Jeff got back to the location, it was now occupied by some party goers who had the beginnings of a roaring campfire and Jeff was moving down the road. In truth, after surveying the site myself when I was there, the amount of garbage left by shooters and others had told me that it may be time to move on from the Pit n Pole location, to a new location I have found out that way for a short incursion out.  I haven't listed it on my Google Maps yet, not sure I will. I do know that the area around 5 Mile Pass and to the west of that location is seeing more and more use and traffic out that way on weekends. So it will mean a further drive to the west to get to locations that are both darker and having less people.

Anyway, I got back to Lehi and got to a Home Depot that had some wing nuts that would work, but there was a Lowe's nearby so I went there was well. At Lowe's they had a knob, the right size but the knob itself is slightly bigger so I picked up in total, 4 wing nuts and 4 knobs to have in case this ever happens again. I should have honestly thought of this myself, and had, I just failed to listen to that inner voice that kept telling me to purchase an extra set of knobs incase this happen. So now I drove back out to the West Desert and with no hope of finding Jeff, I went to my new spot, setting up in the dark, collimating easily with the Howie Glatter laser collimator and Tu-Plug.  The only issue I have had is aligning the Stellarvue F50 finderscope using the R50D rings. I honestly did not work that out, aligning the finderscope to the main scope until after the outreach event coming up. I FINALLY have that down and will be doing a video on that as I have found very little information on that process both in the little flyer that came with the F50, and online. On site only helped me.

So that night I worked in Hyrda and I haven't taken pictures of my sketches for that evening of the galaxies I observed, but I had a rather good night with average seeing and very good transparency. I will post those sketches later. The scope worked fine minus the F50 alignment issue (I removed it and used the Telrad with a wide field eyepiece to act as my finder, a 35mm Panoptic or 24mm ES 82 degree eyepiece, and that system worked wonderful! I may keep that as I have found I don't use the finderscope that much anymore in my observing, though I do like having it sometimes for when I am going after faint items and want a wider view without changing the eyepiece. Here are the images from my initial set up (the missing knob is on the upper ring on the right side if looking at the scope from behind).  The third image is my favorite.

On Friday, March 27th, I had the wonderful opportunity to go back to my school where I work, and host a star party. My son Nathan who has been living in Italy for the last two years and is now returned back home came with me and he ran my 4 inch refractor and my XT10 dob. I took the 17.5 and learned an important lesson. The 17.5 is a great outreach tool for adults, and the kids and adults loved the views from it, but it is hard even with a good step ladder for the kids to get up to the eyepiece and view. The 14" I have is better suited for that. So from now on, I will take the 14" when I do outreach.  In addition to this, Mr. Curtis, a father of several children at the school (his son is in my class and he also helped with the 4" ES AR102 refractor) had his 16" scope there and is familiar as it use to belong to Mat.  We had over 80 people come by to look at the moon, Venus, Jupiter, M42 Orion's Nebula, M45 the Pleiades, Messier 41 and the Winter Alberio.  I actually had father's and their sixth grade daughters staying to look at these objects in different eyepieces and filters in the case of M42 to compare the views, and to actually run the scope as I showed them how to use the Telrad and the eyepiece to accomplish the goal of seeing different objects.  It was a wonderful night of not only showing and telling about objects, but showing and letting people use the scope to discover things on their own. It's that doing and showing that gets people actively involved in the hobby, excited about the hobby and wanting to learn and do more. Showing is fine, and is one level of doing a star party, especially for large groups. However as the group wans showing how to use and letting a small group use a scope turns them on to getting more involved in the hobby. More astronomical groups that do outreach need to consider that as a way to grow in interest at all levels in the hobby in my opinion. Bottom line, after helping a former student and his Dad begin to learn how to use their scope, Nathan and I pulled away at 10:30pm tired, but rather excited about an excellent evening showing and doing with a group of wonderful people.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Observing on February 18th, 2015 with Sketches

I had the opportunity to observe on February 18th, 2015. The night for northern Utah was warm, in the 50's during the day, and 30's in the evening. I still needed layers, and wore my Minus 33 Merino Wool base layer, with two more layers of a long sleeve shirt from Cabelas, with a wool sweater on it followed by a fleece by Columbia on top of that. Then on my legs were a Minus 33 Merino Wool leggings, in heavy weight for both upper and lower body, with a pair of wool pant bottoms, then a pair of sweat pants on top of that. Finally, my hunting bibs went on and a parka on top and I was TOASTY!  The site was dry, no signs of any moisture on the ground and this aided in the air temperature being so mild for February.  The site is off of Forest Road 006 on the Forest Land sound of Vernon and it is now my premium and first choice spot. I love how the Juniper trees block out the couple of stray lights from Vernon to the north. No light is visible except what we bring to this site. Sorry, not going public on this one.

I was by myself as I have been for my last several trips. I am finding that I enjoy being alone when I observe. I also enjoy having a friend or two but I am just fine observing on my own. I pulled the 17.5 out of the Outback, and set up the base and the mirror box, then the trusses and the upper ring. Everything came together and using my Howie Glatter Laser Collimation tools, collimation came together right away.  I ensured that I was on level ground and had my ground cover pad that the 17.5 was on.  I then set up my two tables, a camping table that folds up and is aluminum and then my regular canvas fold up table. I then pulled out the charts I had printed off to use that night in Orion and Eridanus out of SkyTools 3.  I love SkyTools 3 and how I can easily print off charts to use in the field. I can also take my laptop with its deep red rubylith and use it in the field if I want. I am usually content to use printed off charts. If dew could be an issue I put them in sheet protectors.

This night after getting everything set up, I let the mirror cool for about 45 minutes and simply sat on my observing chair enjoying the change from day to night. Twilight is one of my favorite times as it signifies to me, after I have set up my equipment, the transition from my day to day cycle of the pressures of life, to the sole focus on going after certain targets, observing them, reflecting on them, sketching them and the pure enjoyment that comes from that. I also enjoy see the show boat items I usually take the time to view.  Coyotes howled, welcoming me to their realm for the evening, to the east of my location, with another group answering to the south of the first group. They would go off and on for the next hour or so before they faded away into the night, much like the constellations of fall, then later of winter.

The time came to observe and I started with M42. I love viewing the Orion Nebula as it reminds me of viewing it with my then 10 year old son and letting him view it for the first time. My mind has often been to my son Nathan, who has been living for the last two years in central and southern Italy.  He is returning home this Tuesday and I am more anxious to see him again, then to even observe later this month in March.

M42 was gorgeous and the Trapezium was easily seen as were the stars E and F in the Trapezium.  The nebula without a filter was incredible, one of the best views I have seen of it in a long time. Other wonderful views were NGC 1981 and Iota Orionis.  Next are the sketches I made that night and then some quick shots of the Mars, Venus and Crescent Moon conjunction.

 1.  NGC 1350 a Spiral Galaxy in Eridanus.  February 15th, 2015; 07:50pm MST; Antoniadi II; FROO6 My Site;; SQM-L 21.82; 17.5 dob with Pentax XW 10mm, Type II Paracorr and 27mm Panoptic as finder;
Notes:  Large bright galaxy about 3" x 2" The outer edge seems to bleed into the background, with a brightening near the core, with a higher concentration of light there. Core is thus bright with a stellar nucleus.  Some structure is hinted at in the eyepiece. This is a member of the Fornax I group.

2. NGC 1365 A spiral galaxy in Eridanus.  February 18th, 2015.  07:05pm MST; Antoniadi II; SQM-L 21.82; Antoniadi II; 17.5 dob with 10mm Pentax XW, 8mm TeleVue Delos; Type II Paracorr, FR 006 My Site; Clear, cool 35 degrees F.
Notes: Large spiral galaxy, very bright core region with a bar present and observable. Attached to each bar is a long winding spiral warm that wrap around the inner core region.  Wonderful view in the 17.5!

3. NGC 1385 spiral galaxy in Eridanus.  February 18th 2015, FR006 My Site; 8:05pm MST; Antoniadi II; SQM-L 21.85; Clear, cool 28 degrees F. 17.5 dob, 10mm Pentax XW, 7mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr.
Notes: Rather bright and large galaxy, elongated somewhat North to South.  Bright bar is visible surrounded by an irregular fainter outer region, with some spiral structure evident North to NorthEast and South to Southwest.

4. NGC 1367 Spiral Galaxy in Eridanus; February 18th, 2015; FR006 My Site; 8:35pm MST; Antoniadi II; SQM-L 21.86; Clear, Cool, 28 degrees F. 17.5" Dob.  10mm & 7mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr;
Notes: A large bright galaxy with a very bright inner core region. Bright stellar nucleus with an outer halo that fades into the background with hints of structure.

5. NGC 1398 Spiral Galaxy in Eridanus; February 18th, 2015; FR006 My Site; 08:45pm MST; SQM-L 21.86; Antoniadi II; 17.5 Dob; 10mm & 7mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr;
Notes: This is a large bright galaxy that's shape is between a round and an oval.  Large bright inner core region with a bright stellar nucleus.

6. These are two images I took of the Mars, Venus, Crescent Moon conjunction that occurred on Friday, February 20th, 2015.  Not great, since I didn't use a tripod. A tripod would have given better results.

I did observe the Pup and Sirius that night, using a mask I made for the 17.5.  The curved spider I believe with the aperture made this the easiest split I have had so far. The distance between the PN and Sirius continues to widen so that is helpful also. 

I also got time in in Puppis and I got Thor's Helment. I need to clean up my Sketch of Thor's Helment then I will post it.  It was wonderful to be out and I ended the night around 10:15pm, broke down my equipment, loaded and got home at 11:30pm. I unloaded and was in bed by 12:30pm to get up and have a great day at work the next day.  Hopefully in March I can get out at least twice. 

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.