Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sketching: A Self Journey and Introspection

     I can be a very selfish person, I openly admit that. Ask my family. I can also be a very giving person. Just depends on circumstances and how I am viewing the world that day. I will say that no matter what, I am a very complicated man, full of contradictions, irony, humor, and surprises, both to myself first, and to others. I guess in turning fifty this year I have realized who I am, both the good and great qualities I have, and the ones that are sham, baseless and ones I work to overcome. I will state upfront I am a better person, man, human being today, than I was five years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago.  I guess I should be. However, at times it is nice to see that reflected back to me to where I can see that growth and development. This post does that I believe, as it tracks my history of sketching, I'll share insight into me, the sketches, and how they reflect me and my personal and inner growth.  Again, for me, that is the fascination with this hobby. Not only do I learn of the many wondrous and spectacular objects of the universe, I get to learn about me. I guess my sketching reflects that.

     I had been observing for several years when I started sketching, well seriously observing for about 2 years prior to picking up a sketch pad. Let me state up front I am not an artist. I have taken a few oil and watercolor painting classes because I want to develop that skill, and yes, it exists within my family, but time has been a limiting factor in regards to this. So one day when I picked up and purchased Stephen O'Meara's Messier book that included his sketches, I was fascinated. The book made for great bedside reading and I was intrigued by his sketches. Shortly after this I found the forum on CloudyNights for sketching and decided to give it a go.

     Now when I say give it a go, for me that means full borne in, one hundred and ten percent. I went to the local Hobby Lobby store (not sure if it was Hobby Lobby or Michael's back then) and purchased a full set of pencils and sketching pads and other material I would need.  I then came back to the scope and went to work. I wanted to create my own log of each Messier item that I found, observed and make the sketch a critical part of the observation. Here is my first ever sketch:

It is of M21, an Open Cluster in Sagittarius.  I have to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing, I had very little idea of how to describe what I was seeing and guess what, it shows in the comments and in the sketch.  Having said that, here is what I have taken away from this. I documented an observation, I realized I messed it up and I had no clue and I began the process of learning. Not a pretty sketch for my first attempt.

My next attempt wasn't much better. It was Messier 11, the Wild Duck Cluster or the Borg Cube:

Ouch! What can I say. I described it far better than I drew it.  This sketch in a 8inch dob is superior by far LINK  This sketch done in a 12" dob, is also FAR FAR superior LINK.  The second posted link shows a cluster that is really beautiful, box like, and showing why some of us called it the Borg Cube from Star Trek the Next Generation.  I had a LONG way to go back in the fall of 2008.

From this same period of October of 2008, came this first drawing of Messier 31, The Andromeda Galaxy.  Positives were I captured parts of it decently, left out a ton of detail and found I was struggling to capture what I had observed in the eyepiece on paper. Good news, I was logging my observations and learning how to do that.

     Here is M31 from 2013 I believe, with the dark lanes quite evident, M32 in the upper left and the core rather visible.  By now I still had issues, the galaxy is far too round in this sketch, the core is lacking the zip and brightness it should have but the Mellish method I had learned was starting to pay off.  Here I can see better reflected what I see in the eyepiece, but with perhaps too much influence from other sources.  It took a LOT longer to sketch, over 2 hours versus 10 minutes on my first sketch of M31 in the fall of 2008.  I need to do a new sketch of Messier 31 since I believe I have improved even form this one, a lot more.

     Bottom line, is that I have grown and improved my skill.  What I don't like is that I just don't feel like I have captured M31 like I see it in a 14", 17.5" or 24" dob.  I have the components, just need to put it together. It also leads to another point I am wrestling with in my sketching. Do I really want to spend two hours of an observing session sketching one item, or would I rather complete the observing challenges I have set for myself regarding the Herschel 2500, the Abell Catalog, the Hickson Catalgog and the NGC list itself. That is something I will have to answer for myself, but as of today, I believe I would rather observe in a four to six hour session as many objects as I can observe and sketch (knowing I will now never on my own complete the challenge of sketching all 2500 Herschel 2500 objects; perhaps in time) those objects than nail just any one sketch.

     I do have M42 The Orion Nebula down for a re-sketch this winter if time allows.  Here is my first poor attempt at that object.

 Well, I have said it before, the first three look more like an Ent from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings than The Great Orion Nebula or Messier 42 to me.  Even the next sketch is just okay for me, lacking the pop in areas that the Orion Nebula has from those O & B stars that are lighting up the nebula!  I do like the bottom one a LOT more though then the top ones! I can see the improvement over time and to be honest, this is getting to how I see Messier 42.  In the above images you can also see that I had discovered the free program called GIMP. I had attempted to stretch out the nebula and brighten at parts and darken in others. Not done in the sketch below using the Mellish Method.

Another object that I like to compare my growth to is the Dumbbell Nebula, or Messier 27.  Here are my first sketches.  The first one right below, wasn't bad. I captured the basic shape, the brightness of the various parts of the object and the star field. I would say a decent attempt at this object.

These next two were done at around 9990 feet in the mountains to the east of Utah. They are the same sketch of course, the second is inverted. I have captured the brighter parts here, as well as part of the fainter parts.  The star field is nicely captured here too in the 14" dob.

     This is a sketch I did of M 27 about 2 months ago and yes, I am content with this one. It captured both the Dumbbell shape and the football shape of this nebula. Star field is good and highlights in terms of brightness and contrast are equally as good. A major improvement from the above sketches and it really reflects what I saw that night in my 17.5" dob and that I and others with me that night said was the best view of M27 we have ever seen.

     For most of 2008 and 2009, I was sketching on the astronomy league forms, until I eventually made my own form. I recorded observations and sketches there. With my discovery of GIMP, I used my new observing form to do a rough sketch of the object in the field, capturing the star field and outline the object and taking notes of the object on the form.  From here, I came home and when the skies were cloudy, I sketched the object using GIMP.  Here are some of examples from that period in late 2009 through 2011.  

In NGC 285 I really liked the simplicity of the star field and the capture of the galaxy. 

I really like the capture above of NGC 1980 with the star Iota capturing the detail and the glare of the nebula around it.  

GIMP allowed me to capture planetary nebula in the color that I observed them in, and the contrast and brightness that some have. 

Decent capture of NGC 7331 above but I have a sketch using the Mellish method that is far superior. 

NGC 6369 the Little Ghost PN and I love this capture. 

Capture of Sirius B, the Pup and though I like the rendition here, I have another that is a major improvement and I capture the object correctly.  That is one thing I have learned here, I have to make sure I label my sketches to reflect what I am actually seeing in the dob, or what a correct image would look like. 

     Planetary Nebula are one of my favorite objects to both observe and to sketch. Some of them are the best objects where color, usually in the form of a green shade is evident. NGC 1535 Cleopatra's Eye is one such PN.  The first sketch is based on a rough sketch at the eyepiece and done in GIMP. The second is expanded on that at high power showing more of the object about a year later when I moved up to a 5mm Pentax XW and 3.5mm Pentax XW on one of those rare, like you have two or three nights a year nights. Captured in GIMP, (and I am capable in technology) I was able to reflect what I saw. 

     By the end of 2011/12 I had moved from using GIMP to using the Mellish Method as taught by Alexander Massey. I felt I had finally arrived as you can see of this sketch of the Helix Nebula. I nailed the central star, the brighter parts of the Helix that I observed and the darker inner regions with varying contrast.  I realized with this sketch that though others may do it better, I am content with what I am doing and yes, when I do it right, I do it very well, or so my ego says to me. Bias, see, it goes back to bias and opinion (though I am not sure they differ).  

     I could go on and show sketches I have done using the Mellish method, but I won't. They are all over this blog and I am uploading many to my repository site, Jay's Astronomical Sketches located at this LINK.  I use to upload quite a bit my Photobucket Library and probably will start up again (I have) as a back up at this LINK

     Now here is where my feet hit the road so to speak.  I use to wonder if there is one right way to sketch. Was white paper with graphite the best? Is it okay to recreate a sketch digitally? What are my thoughts about the Mellish method? In truth, I have come to a point of I don't care what medium a sketcher uses, as long as the sketch reflects what they really saw in the eyepiece. I can spend an hour putting in field stars on a sketch from where I observe, but I need to back down and put in the major stars in the sketch. Why? Cause I have better things to do with my time than place over a hundred field stars of various magnitudes into a sketch when ninety percent of the people who view the sketch will never see stars like that when they observe the object. Basic, is best when it comes to star fields. Next, I have to ensure I am capturing what I am seeing so that someone reading this blog, or viewing a sketch I've done can say yeah, that is a reasonable view of that object. Most of my objects I sketch are of the Herschel 2500 and are small in size and detail, not the objects most go after.  I like to tease out detail, to see more than what ninety percent of observers see because they don't take the time to really observe an object.  

     So my first goal in sketching is to capture a realistic view of what an object looks like in the telescope I am using and to my eye. My next goal is to enjoy the hobby and to enjoy sketching. I love pulling out sketches at full moon or when it is clouded at new moon, and recalling the details of that observing trip. I hope I may always remember each observing trip as clearly as I do today.  I love working a sketch, and getting the detail down that I see. I like pushing my observing eye and my brain to tease out every ounce of detail I can.  Sometimes finding a Hickson object and as many of the galaxies related to it, is more meaningful personally, then finding a bright Messier object! Third, and last, I hope my sketching helps in some way to preserve the night sky, to use them to show to the public perhaps why we need to protect our wild lands where most of our dark skies now lay.  I want my grand children and great grand children to be able to go if they will, and see what I have seen,  My deepest hope is to perhaps line up with other sketchers and create a panal of sketches to share with the public and politicians on why we need to preserve dark skies. I would love to put some of our sketches together and show all these wonderful people our version of catch (get the object in the eyepiece and sketch it) and release. If your interested in a project like that, please contact me.  

    So there you go. I was a horrible sketcher, and yep, when I want to rush it, and rush observing, I am still a horrible sketcher. Are there others better? Sure are. Are we all passionate about sketching? Yep, we are. Here is one thing though I will say. If I am willing to get up and begin sketching to make me a better observer and a better amateur astronomer, then anyone in this hobby can take up what I do and many will do it better.  I challenge you to do so and I challenge you to use your sketches to inspire others, to lift the heads and eyes of others so they look up in wonder. That is a good motto, a sketch must make those who look at it, look up and wonder.  Come try this part of the hobby I beg of you. Post your efforts. Laugh at mine, its okay because I am okay with it. I laugh at them too, but I have learned from them. To all those who have taught me, I say thank you beyond measure. You have enriched my life, made it joyful and helped me to maintain a balance between the demands of everyday life, and the joys of the wild where a telescope at night, is  magical. You have made me look up wonder, wonder about what is up there, wonder about what I can find, wonder about how I can grow.  You have made me a better human being for the experience and so I say thank you.  Keep looking up in wonder! 

Two Albums Related to Observing

          In my October 25th, 2010 post (LINK), I reviewed a CD I found at the Salt Lake County Library called the Constellations. In another post I reviewed Bruce Lazarus' fine work on the Messier objects called Messier Catalogue of Star Clusters and Nebula. which you can get for $9.99 from the iTunes store. Well worth the cost and very enjoyable. I often listen to the Messier Catalogue by Bruce while observing when I am alone. It enhances my views of the night and relaxes me while I am observing. Yes, I love the quiet of the night, but sometimes I want some music to play when out alone. Here is a LINK to it's web page and you can listen to parts of  the songs while see a Hubble image of the item here LINK.  I don't earn a penny from Bruce for promoting his work here, but if you like amateur astronomy and classical/new age type music this is well worth the $10.00 to have a copy of it! Here is what the album looks like:

     I also found another gem from a group that I really enjoy, Mannheim Steamroller by Chip Davis. The album is The Music of the Spheres which is about $10.00 at Amazon (add shipping for a CD) or from iTunes (Amazon LINK). Over on YouTube you can listen to the album prior to purchasing at this LINK. It is very typical for Mannheim Steamroller, and I love both the new renditions/versions of some of the songs, and the new original songs.  Again, an album I purchased now and will be listening to when I want something upbeat and space related out in the desert. I love the opening song, Escape from the Atmosphere and the Shuttle Discovery recorded launch in the background here. I'd love to see the music put to video of the launch!  Here is what that album cover looks like:

     So if your wanting to look for some space related music, that is upbeat, relaxing, and enjoying here are two wonderful option! Now, my next post will be on sketching; a journey of discovery. I am gathering up the sketches I want to use and organizing them so that should come up shortly!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Perfect Time of the Year to Observe "Methuselah star" or HD 140283 / HIP 76976

     Last September, Phil Pliat over at the Bad Astronomer had a good article on the newest oldest star to be given the oldest title or "The Methuselah Star."  Here is a LINK to his incredible explanation of the star, far better then the wack job I am going to put together here.  I will provide several links so you can learn more about this star.

      This truly isn't anything new, James Kaler in his book, Extreme Stars at the Edge of Creation covers this star on page 208 of his book. The book originally came out in the year 2001, reprinted in 2002 and the first paperback edition was released in 2010.  So this star has been known about for around the last 14 to 15 years if not longer. A paper LINK was released about it though I believe in 2014. For a really in depth explanation of the star and why it is so old, please read Phil Pliat's article above. To summarize Dr. Kaler he simply explains that this is a binocular object, so binoculars and telescopes can easily capture it.  Dr. Kaler also explains that the iron content of this star is less than most globular clusters which are naturally metal poor (metal poor being elements higher than helium). Most globular clusters are very old, so old that most if not all O B stars are no longer seen there. In addition, the metal content of those stars in globular clusters are not as enriched in heavy metals as are stars that formed later in the disk of the galaxy. We know the globular clusters are also old because the exist in the halo of the galaxy, and that the halo was formed before the disks were formed.  We know that based on the spectra of the stars in those locations and the degrees of metals heavier than helium found there, which is metal and iron poor since those metal poor stars in the globular clusters. Stars in the disk of the galaxy have far more metals in them above helium than those in the halo of the galaxy.

      HD 140283 thus is poor in metals and iron, making it via spectra one of the oldest stars known. How old? The universe is 13.82 billion years and the age of HD140283 is estimated to be 14.3 by (older than the universe so not right) but with a +/-.8 by.  So best guess is that HD 140283 is about 13.5 billion years old. Dr. James Kaler to quote him states "When you look at the darkened sky, you are looking at one of the oldest single stars in the Galaxy and are looking back to a time shortly after the Galaxy began!" It is also cool as Phil Pliat points out that we are capable of understanding the galaxy and universe around us via science.  So if sometime in the next month you are out in the backyard, or at a dark site, point your scope for a minute to Libra and go to HD 140283 and look at the star and contemplate how old it is. 13.5 billion years, the beginning of our galaxy! That is indeed worthy of a few minutes of your time to look at this object in my opinion! I'll be doing it.

Here are some additional links for this object and a finder chart for it that I created. The hop starts with Beta Libra or Zubeneschamali and you can follow the arrows to HD 140283. The linkes and chart should make this an interesting object to take a look at if you haven't already. Good hunting! Info and Star Chart

NASA March 7th, 2013 Article March 7th Article 

January 10th, 2013 Nature Article (Great Piece!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bias, Sky Safari 4 and A Visual Observer's Review

     Bias. Everyone has bias' and the key to having them is to admitting them upfront to others and being as honest as we can about it. In this hobby I see a LOT of bias, bias toward eyepiece or telescope brands, bias toward equipment used, bias to the purpose of an astronomy club, bias to programs used in the hobby.  Even I have bias' and I openly admit them. I am bias in what I think of outreach. I do outreach from time to time, and I show objects and let people view them and tell them about them. To me though, true outreach is teaching people how to use an atlas, to manipulate a telescope to find an object and then to see it in the eyepiece. THAT is how you grow this hobby, doing things like that. So yes, I have a bias, a huge bias on that and I will never lose that bias. I have a bias towards telescopes. I love my Dobstuff telescopes and will put them up to any premium telescope out there. Yes, I do some extra work on my scopes each season to get them where I want to be for the conditions of that season (I have four seasons here in Utah, each with their own requirement on my equipment) but I am content.  I own a 24" so called premium scope that I also enjoy and is also fantastic. Sure cost me a LOT more.  So yeah, my bias has been and is that you can get into this hobby and use decent to premium equipment and find enjoyment, fulfillment and excitement IF your USING what you have and own on a regular basis.  I would take someone's opinion and recommendation on objects who are observing with a 12" Zhumell dob observing 2 to 5 times a month, and really observing over someone with a Teeter, or StarStructure, Obsession, Dobstuff etc. dob who only really observe deep once every few months and the rest of the time look at the eye candy objects of that season. Nothing is wrong with either, but if I am wanting someone to confirm what I am seeing, I want that observer who is practicing on a regular basis to confirm.

     I have software bias' also.  I use to love using Starry Night Pro 6 to print and track my observations.  I tried Starry Night Pro 7 and as I have stated here, it was such a major disappointment that I began looking for alternatives. If found it in Sky Tools 3 and LOVE that program! In this case one bias, and a building of disappointments led me to a new bias and a new piece of software that I use weekly and enjoy to the max.!

     There are other bias' that I have, because like you, I am a complex and dynamic individual whose past life and current life experience have forged me to be who I am right now. Perhaps the last bias I will mention is on the use of technology versus paper. I will state up front I LOVE technology. As a professional educator I have used and use technology to teach and to get students to inquiry and discover how to use technology to learn and show how they have learned. That is my career right now. to help other educators to do that. Having said that, I LOVE books, I love paper that you read. My father, rest his soul, gave to each of his children a vast love of books and reading. That has stuck with me all my life and is a bias. I read electronically (books, magazines, articles) but if I really want to get my teeth into something, I get a printed copy.  So in the hobby of astronomy, I have used and own a variety of atlases to help me star hop on my telescopes. It is why I have Sky Tools 3 (one reason) to print off star charts or use a laptop to show me how to hop to an object in the field. I have taken that experience now, and translated it to my observing in another way.

     Sky Safari 4 is a program I own both for my Apple devices, and for my Android Nexus and HTC phone I have. Sky Safari is owned by Simulation Curriculum, the same company now that owns Starry Night.  That worries me because of the mess of Starry Night Pro that I went through.  However, I have to say that for now I am quite happy with Sky Safari 4 and using it in the backyard when I observe there. I have yet to muster the courage to use it when observing deep sky in the field. I still have either my charts or Sky Tools 3 on my protected laptop though I admit, you'll find me with a printed chart in a binder probably ninety-percent of the time. I may take the leap this next trip out in August if weather permits for trip.

     So in this review of Sky Safari 4 and the screen shots I took of the program on my iPod Mini, I am stating up front I am not going to cover ALL the features of this program. I am at current, a visual observer only and thus I am going to cover the parts of the program that I feel touch on visual observing. If your an imager or looking to use the program to control your telescope, I apologize, I won't be covering those aspects and several other.


   I'll begin above with a view of the Help Screen. The help screen is accessed on the menu bar which is located at the bottom of the screen. I have turned my iPad mini so that I have more of a horizontal view to the screen, rather then the vertical view.  Once in the help menu you can cover a wide amount of material from Sky Chart Help, to Search Help, to Observing Lists Help etc. You can see in the image what is available. Why start with help? As someone who teaches adults how to use technology, one of the most often looked over parts of any software is the help menu. I would estimate that 70% or more of most issues that arise in a software, are answered in the help. So don't be afraid to use the help! This is also where you can see the version which on my iPad Mini is Version

The next area I want to touch from the menu, is the search function, all the way on the left part of my screen on the bottom. Here you can look for objects and it narrows it down to Tonight's Best, a great function for an unplanned observing night in the backyard or in the field! I love this feature because it allows someone like me, who plans out each observing night, the chance to be spontaneous and to just go for a fun evening! You can search by category or by subject, like Messier, Deep Sky, Double Stars or Variable Stars etc.  A fun way to both plan a night or be spontaneous as I said and just go have a fun night!

This is a sample of tonight's best which I took on July 27th, 2015 from my home location. Here you can see the object, and you can click on it and gather information about it.  In the left hand bottom you can click Center which will then center Sky Safari 4 on the object. Objects in white bold are available to view currently, and the objects that are grey and not in bold are not observable at this time.

Above is the settings menu where you can go in and adjust your formats for date and time, chagne the appearance, put in a horizon or remove it, and go through the objects listed to have the program put out on the screen the objects you've selected for display.  In the Constellation you can pick a modern view or a traditional Ray's view or put the classic art on them.  It is here you add your equipment as well.  There is much in the menu part of the program to play with, to adjust and ensure that the program works as you want it to.  In Display you are able to control the brightness of the screen, both in normal and in red light. Even at its dimmest settings you may want to consider putting some red barrier over it to dim it a little more as I feel it is still light enough to impact night vision.

To give an example here you can see the Blinking Planetary Nebula in Cygnus in normal mode. You can also see the menu at the bottom of the screen and the subjects covered there. If you are connected, the Sky & Telescope Feature is most helpful, but in the field I would lose that.  Help is to the far right and then comes the moon or Night which turns on the red screen, then compass which allows you when on and connected to the internet to point the iPad or your device to the sky and have it reflected in the screen. Turn off compass for manual manipulation of the screen.   Orbit puts in orbit around the earth with no horizon.  Scope connects your device to your scope for control purposes. Time lets you select now, a month or week or day from now etc. Settings I covered above and Center allows you to center an object you have selected by tapping your finger on it. Here is a negative for me. I have short, fat fingers and it is hard for me to use my finger to "tap" on a target. I have a stylus that works just fine though but it means taking it in the field and not losing it there.  A small negative! Info I will cover shortly and then the search.  On the far left and right are a - on the left and a + on the right. This allows you to zoon in or out.

Here you can see the same screen as the image right above, but with it now in the red light.  This is around 50% brightness.  I will be going back on objects to normal and red view so you can see the differences.

Above is the finder chart I would use for this night for going after the Blinking Planetary Nebula. Then as I approached I would zoom in with my fingers on my device until I had the previous two images and then hop to the object.  This feature is fantastic for star hopping and using visually.

Above you can see a rather large field of view of the Milky Way and of Scorpius and Sagittarius. I have it set up to show the planets and you can see the location of Pluto here as well as the major stars. This is a major benefit as a planisphere is no longer needed, and you can now use your device to learn the constellations and the stars in the constellations if your so inclined. If not, you can now figure out right in the backyard or field how to star hop to an object and zoom in on it. Cool!

Here I have zoomed into Scorpius and you can see Antares and M4 off to the left, and other stars and objects here. I love the convenience of zooming in and out and then really getting into the objects you want to see. There is more than just the eye candy here, and you really can get down to some faint objects. However, there are limits and still, there are objects like Sharpless 2-091 (see below) that just are not going to show up in this program. Ablerio and it's companion show up nicely, but go up to 9 Cygni and no SNR will be visible.

This is a closer zoom in view of Hercules and specifically I am going after M13 here. This also shows something I need to go in and figure out how to work with or eliminate and that is I had tapped on the screen and captured a star, TYC etc. instead of M13.  No biggie as I will take my two fingers and just zoom in.

Bam! As I zoomed in I can see M13 coming into view at about 33% of brightness.

A few more zooms and I am there, M13 starring right back at me! I can see this as a great way to show someone what it is your going after, and as I will show, share some information about the object and then have them actually look at the object in the eyepiece. It is a great way if possible to share information at a star party while people are waiting at the eyepiece. Again, the more we can get them to discover and learn, the better off they are and the more excited they become!

The two images above show what happens when on a object and hitting the info button on the menu for that object. You get more data than you probably want about that object. However, if your smart, you'll take a note or two on the most important elements and share them with others and yourself. There are a couple of apps that would allow you to capture the key information and put it down if your want to do that. Again, a TON of information is located here. This is an excellent feature of the software.

 Having said that, the Veiil Nebula shows up nicely in the progam and can be useful when trying to observe some of the fainter portions of this wonderful SNR.

One last hop. We zoom in on Cygnus and from Deneb hop down to Sadr.  From here we can zoon in and see the star hop to a wonderful object, the Crescent Nebula, NGC 6888, an emission nebula coming from stellar winds from Wolf Rayet Star 136.

So there. I said I wouldn't be covering all the features and I haven't. I have shared enough of the program though to get my mind thinking and I know that this is a wonderful tool to supplement (okay, I can say it, maybe, re p  NO, yes I can repl, no! replace, there I said it) an atlas IF your going for the eye candy to the medium faint objects.  There is enough here to keep you busy if you have a 10" or larger scope for a very LONG time. I love its potential to be used at Outreach because even though some of us love to remember details on so many of these objects, in the world we live in, and in the world that is evolving often it is not important to have the fact, rather to be able to access the facts. Sky Safari 4 does that quite well. 

My verdict? It is a wonderful tool that does go on sale from time to time, so if you can nab it on sale, go for it. I have the Pro version and it works quite well for me. I need to start bringing my observing up into the 21st century and this is a wonderful tool to do so. I could see that if I combined this with say Sky Commander, I just might not need an atlas again and I would spend more time on my objects and less time finding them. I like the hunt, and doubt I will ever give it up, and even when I had a goto system, I didn't use it a lot, but there are times when you only have a short time that it can prove useful. Sky Safari 4 is similar and can help reduce clutter in your car when you go to observe, won't fly away or fly open in a slight breeze, and really is an excellent tool to use. I just hope that it stays this way by Simulation Curriculum in the future. If not, there will be a hole to fill by someone who wants to design an excellent app and put it out there. I hope that doesn't happen. 

Next Blog Entry: A Look Back, A Look Forward: Jay's Sketching. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Orthos, Orthos, Orthos vs Wide Field Eyepieces of the Explore Scientific

     This post upfront has no visuals. Sorry for that.  It has no math, no actual science. It is a review of something that I have seen twice in the last week conducting outreach.  Last Thursday I had the opportunity to do some outreach with my local club and then again on Saturday. On Thursday I took my XT10 out for a spin and on Saturday, I took the 17.5 out to the club's outreach site in Stansbury Park.  The first outreach event was in a bright library parking lot that really drowned out the night sky.  Around 10:00pm the lights went out and that transformed the site to a outward suburban site. The club's outreach site in Stansbury Park is a decent site, not a dark site but good for outreach, and definitely better than the Salt Lake Valley that is heavily urbanized and light polluted. Conditions are both nights were transparency very good, seeing below average increasing as the night went on to average. There, you have the conditions

Okay, I lied, I am going to put in two images of SPOC, the home of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society and a copy of the light pollution map from 2014 that shows LP conditions at the site. I have to say that conditions at SPOC in terms of Light Pollution have decreased slightly over the last 3 years and more so over the last 10. Then again, when I look at my home it is going from a yellow zone, to orange zone and red is creeping in as my city expands its development without care to the night sky LINK to LP Maps and SQM data. The good news is my dark sites are staying dark and LP is NOT creeping into them yet. I am sure that will change over the next 25 years.

Above is a Google Map of SPOC. I've labeled where the telescopes are set up by club members for outreach and where the 3 telescopes in the complex are located. 

Here is the light pollution map (above) for Stansbury Park and SPOC is the orange dot.  Light pollution impacts the site though you can get some decent views for the public at an outreach event there. 

Light pollution though is not the subject of this post. It is only in the sense that light domed outreach is going to impact the views I had. Combine these light polluted skies with conditions will determine the overall quality of the image one observes in the eyepiece, when combined with the quality of the optics, but I personally put the impact of light pollution and sky conditions over the quality of the optics until one gets into a dark enough location to where light pollution has no impact and sky conditions and the quality of one's optics can come into play to determine the quality of the image in the eyepiece.

My XT10 then is just a XT10 and I didn't expect anything speculator that Thursday night at outreach. I took it for convenience. Base in the back, tube in the back, eyepiece case, collimation tools and I'm off with a small cooler filled with water.  At the library I set up the XT10 quickly and did my collimation check.  Love the XT10 as it only needed a very slight correction to be collimated. The mirror was pretty acclimated and I had brought not my Pentax XW's or TeleVue Delos, but my Explore Scientific eyepieces and my Orthos, a Baader Planetarium Classic Ortho 10 mm Eyepiece 1.25" and 6mm, and the University Orthos HD Abbe II 12mm, 6mm & 4mm.  In the Explore Scientific I had the 11mm, 24mm & 30mm 82 degrees, and the 9mm and 20mm 100 degree eyepieces. I also had my Paracorr Type I and Type 2.  I didn't use the Paracorr on Thursday night in the XT10 (and I had the same eyepieces with the 17.5" dob on Saturday but I did use the Paracorr Type II that night).  I began by using the 11mm 82 degree ES to show the moon and received good images, though with a decent amount of coma on the outer edge.  Saturn also showed well with the 11mm 82degree ES.  I then popped in a 12mm University Ortho and it was like BANG! No coma of course, and the image of Saturn was clear, crisp, and sharp with a clear view of Cassani.  The public didn't know the difference but I did.

My friend Jeff Porter was there with his modified XX12i with a Zambuto mirror in the primary and using the Ortho's was very eye opening for him. His scope showed a wonderful view with the Orthos.  Clear, sharp and crisp.  I would speak for myself, and I think Jeff would agree, that indeed less glass was more this night.

I have to plug this again. My thrill this night was letting kids from about age 8 and up learn to find the moon and Saturn using the XT10.  They walked away feeling proud and really that enhanced their experience. If nothing else, they will remember not only seeing the moon and Saturn that night, but using the telescope to find those objects for themselves. Powerful outreach when done that way!

On Saturday as I stated, I took and set up the 17.5, collimating it full tilt with the Catseye tools and confirming with Howie Glatter's 2" laser collimator and TuBlug. I love when the match! I ran a fan for about an hour to cool and then shut it down to  observe. I had a wonderful evening showing the moon, Saturn, the Lagoon Nebula, The Swan Nebula, M51 and NGC 5395, and then the night was over. I used the 100 degree eyepieces and the 11mm 82 degree eyepiece a lot this night but I also used the Ortho's, mainly the 12mm University and the 10mm Baader because that is what conditions allowed.  Again, in my opinion, the views were crisper, cleaner, and sharper than in the Explore Scientific eyepieces. The Light Pollution had a part in that of course, but still, the Orthos were just fantastic.

My take away again, is that I need to remember that as much as I love that 70 to 72 degree experience, and as much as using the 100 degree eyepieces by Explore Scientific are a treat (with a Paracorr which is needed for me) I have to remember to put in the Ortho's to eek out every ounce of detail I can from the objects I am observing and sketching. I do myself a dis-service if I don't do that in my observing experience. Your mileage may vary from mine, your opinion may be different, but for me, I am putting the Ortho's into the viewing plan from now on.  Keep being amazed by all that is above and lets all remember to be just a little more kind, a little more caring, and a little more generous to those around us.

New Feature I am kinda of going to try which is to announce what my next post will be about. I have a review of SkySafari3 and will be reviewing SkySafarri4 in my next post in a new days.