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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.

Jay 

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.

Jay

Explore Scientific 20mm 100 degrees or 22mm TeleVue Nager 82 degrees

I have to admit, I have become an eyepiece junkie. With 3 major dobs now I wanted a couple of sets of eyepieces.  My favorite eyepieces are the Pentax XW line. They are not perfect as in the 14mm and 20mm with curvature, but the Type I or Type II Paracorr clears up that curvature. I love the contrast the XW's give and the eye relief since I wear my eye glasses while observing, while most of the time I do. So my main eyepieces are the 20mm, 14mm, 10mm (my favorite), 7mm, 5mm and 3.5mm (the last two for when conditions allow which are only a couple of times a year for the 3.5 and a few more for the 5mm).  Anyway, observe with me and you'll find the Pentax XW's in my focuser the most.

I also own the following eyepieces.  From Explore Scientific I own the 20mm and 24mm 68 degrees; I had the 24mm 82 degree EP that I gave to my friend Alan so he could have a wide field eyepiece.  I also have the 10mm and 6mm Baader Classic Orthos which I enjoy for detail loo the 27mm and 35mm Panoptic, both favorites and now I have the 17.3mm, 12mm, 10mm and 8mm Delos to back up my Pentax XW line and to do some hard comparisons as viewing allows over the next couple of months so expect those.

I have never really gotten into the 100 degree eyepieces though I have tried and sold a few in the past. Recently I have purchased the 9mm Explore Scientific 100 degrees and in my AR102, M42 was wonderful and the 4 stars of the Trap showed great.  More on that another time.  I also borrowed a 20mm ES 100 degree and ordered one. Then I had a chance to compare it to the 22mm Nagler by TeleVue.  In reviewing that I found that the 20mm ES was pretty sharp across the field though the sharpest was near the 75 degrees from center. Contrast was also excellent. Then I put in the 22mm Nagler and WOW!  Contrast was superior for me (key here this is MY observation and others will and should differ on their opinions from me as my eyes and preferences are not yours so take my review as my review, not yours. You have to do your own review to find out how they work for you), and stars were crisp and sharp across the whole field, just a tad better than the ES 20mm.  The crispness and contrast was enough that for me, I cancelled by ES 20mm 100 degree order for $225 and got the 22mm Nagler for an additional $200.  Regrets on the additional cost? Not at all.  If you don't have the money to buy then one would be happier with the 20mm ES 100.  I did keep the 9mm ES 100 as I want to use it in one of my dobs at a dark site.

I made a point here and I think it is critical.  What is right for me, my eyes and my brain is not necessarily right for you and your pocketbook.  If you can afford the ES 20mm 100 degrees eyepiece you are going to be very happy with it.  For what I am trying to accomplish the 22mm Nagler is a better overall eyepiece based on what I saw, the price, and how I will be using it with my scopes. That is my second point, don't be afraid to go against the crowd and find out for yourself at a star party how different eyepieces your interested in will work. What about the Televue 21mm Ethos for me? Far too much money for an eyepiece I will not use enough so I don't own one. It has tremendous views but I observe 98% of the time deep sky objects and I use wide field on objects that need a wide field or as a finder eyepiece.  There are not a lot of those objects and I find that the ES 30mm 82 degree eyepiece is sufficient for that or the 35mm Panoptic.  I don't need to spend the money on the Ethos as I got two eyepieces that serve my purposes better for me.  For that matter that is why I did not get the 31mm Nagler as I just don't use it enough and the cost is far more than I want to pay for an eyepiece I don't use and its competitor is equal to it or about 90% of it depending on who you talk to.
Third, take your time. If you have to wait one or two years to make a decision do that. If that is too long then six months is no biggie. Wait until you can use the eyepiece and make a decision based on your scope and where you observe and what you have and your observing goals and then make a decision.  We rush far too often here in the U.S. as our society pushes that a lot. Sometimes waiting is the best decision to make when purchasing equipment.  The objects in the night sky are not going away in my life or yours. Our lifespan is not even a twinkle in the eye of the universe.  Take your time. I waited 3 years for a Panoptic 35mm and I got one that has meaning to me as I got it from a friend who left the hobby.  Every time I use it I think of Tom.

So there you go. For me the 22mm Nagler is my 2 inch eyepiece in the low 20mm range that is right for me. If your looking for one, try them out and see what is right for you. That is the best advice I can give you and be patient in your purchase and in making your decision.  Also remember for many, eyepiece collections outlast a lot of scopes as scopes are upgraded to larger sizes or down graded to smaller sizes depending on our life factors. Last, the very last thing is get out with whatever you have, as often as you can, and just be giddy as you explore the night sky however you do so.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Be Warned, I'm Back . . . .

This week has been a tremendous one for me personally.  I completed an advance degree I've been working on for some time, while finishing up my administrative license for education as well.  Well, since last July this has been an extremely time consuming set of projects and finally, I am done. No more classes, no more papers, no more putting off observing because I know I have to get stuff done for whatever was required at the time, usually multiple things.  Astronomy, as much as I love it, had to take a second place over this as did a couple of things I had volunteered to do.  Regrets? None at all as I believe personally that one of the most important things we can do throughout our lives is to keep learning, to keep our minds active and engaged.  It is one of the things I LOVE about astronomy.

Now having said  that, I tried out another site for blogging, and I do very much prefer in many ways how that site is set up, but I have decided to simply keep my blogging stuff on Astronomy right here. It is easier for those who follow and have asked when I am coming back (well, yep, be warned, I'm BACK) since most people know about it.

I will be updating the blog each week now, and have about five entries including some sketching I've done in the last month to share.  I hope for the new moon period in December to get out to the West Desert of Utah for an evening of observing (I LOVE these nights when you can get to the field, set up at dusk, observe after cool down from 6:00pm til 11:00pm, break down, go home, unload, be in bed by 12:30a.m. and have a normal day the next day!).

I also have been using the AR102mm ES refractor in the backyard for convience and am going through the Messier catalog with that scope and doing some sketching with that scope. I much prefer a dark site, period, but that little scope does a really decent job and it allows for a quick set up, cool down, use and take down on a work night. To be honest, it has been my only use of astronomy for the last couple of months due to weather and scheduling conflicts and due dates for school.

So what am I going to do with my time? I have a new venture that I am putting together and is coming together quite well that I will be announcing soon I hope so look for that. It is 100% astronomy related.  I have my dark site observing I will be returning to on a frequent basis.  I've lost 68 pounds and will be losing the next sixth pounds over the next year (now through 2015).  I feel stronger as I work out and exercise, my diet is following the Omni Diet as found at this link over at WebMd.  Basically it was a major lifestyle change.  Some would find it hard but having had to make a major lifestyle change 9 years ago when I was diagnosed as having Celiac disease and could not eat gluten, this lifestyle change fits right in with it. I do not have any health issues on the diet, and I feel so much better on it eating healthy and avoiding those radical chemicals that really mess with one's health.  Food is no longer a crutch for me, it is a tool to help me do what I love, be active in life. That includes astronomy.  The biggest thing, no more sugar drinks, just water and sparkling mineral water which includes Le Croix which I really like.

So I have work, time with Lynda, time for projects like cleaning up my office and telescope room and other projects that I need to do (I cleaned the garage out again over Thanksgiving though and that helped!).  The bottom line is that I am anxious to be back and will be sharing things like a review of the 9mm and 20mm Explore Scientific 100 degree eyepieces (I kept one, sold the other); a comparison of the Delos vs PentaxXW lines as I have the 17.3, 12, 10 and 8 Delos to the 20mm, 14mm, 10mm, 7mm, 5mm and 3.5mm Pentax XW.  Part of that is a head to head on the 10mm Delos vs 10mm Pentax XW.  I have a comparison of the DGM OIII, NB and H Beta filters compared to their Thousand Oak's filters of the same type comparison coming up.  I also have a new power source for powering items in the field to review, some programs and books that I have gotten and will have time to read now, a review of my eyepiece cases (new ones for me) that I am using and my experiences with my Lunt Solar Telescope and some other equipment I haven't mentioned.

So I believe I have a lot to contribute so stay tuned and of all things, it will be my observations and reflections of everything that is me that perhaps has the most meaning for me. I am too a point with the arrival of a new telescope that I am content with my own personal inventory of equipment to use in the hobby.  I will share what works FOR ME, what my opinion is of things, but I would remind everyone that my experience is and will not be everyone's experience. What I see and observe in an eyepiece, or what I do and observe with a telescope is what I choose to do and there are reasons for my choices.  You can read and then the best thing about this hobby is that it is in so many ways a reflection of what life is like.  The hobby like work, family, other activities or organizations we commit our time to, will suck up as much of our time as we give it.  Maintaining a proper balance in my opinion is critical.  Equipment can be an endless quest but some of the best experiences I have had, have come not from what some may consider top end equipment be that telescopes, eyepieces, filters, etc. Sometimes just getting out wherever one is and enjoying the sky with whatever one has, is the best thing for enjoying the hobby.

Bluntly, I have learned that I can get so caught up in the hobby and what I have and how good it is, that I forget that most important thing is getting out, enjoying what I do have and can use at that moment and making the most of that time.  That to me is what life is all about.  It is about being content with where you are, what you have and using it and enjoying as you plan for the future.  I love astronomy, there should be no doubt about that. I love being in the field in ALL seasons when there is a clear sky.  However I know from going through these last six months that astronomy is only one aspect of who I am, and that I had to put it aside for that time as I finished with more pressing and yes, for that time, more important things.  Lynda lost her mother during this time and above all things, it was important for me to be with her, and I have to admit, after 26 1/2 years of marriage (yep, I appreciate there are many of you out there who have done it longer but 26.5 isn't too shabby in today's world) I really do enjoy, even above this hobby, just spending time with my sweetheart.  She is the moving force behind the project I mentioned that I will be announcing soon.  She is incredible and this last summer, Lynda went observing with me twice! That in and of itself was just terrific and I LOVED having my wife with me. We are making plans for travel as our 21 almost 22 year old daughter has moved out into her own place, and our 20 soon to be 21 year old son will be returning from living in Italy for the last two years and will become busy with work and his own college education.  Part of that travel is a trailer and a way to haul one of the scopes so as we visit and stay in the national parks we visit, and sleep in our trailer, I can set up and observe.

So whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, no holiday or another holiday, in the spirit of the season I wish you Happy Holidays. I hope that instead of seeking something, we look to our better natures and give something to someone in need, who is less fortunate than ourselves.  May we look at the heavens above and be amazed and dazzled by what we view, what we learn and the great expanse of space with all of its marvelous creations.  It is good to be back.

Jay

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Partial Solar Eclipse October 23rd, 2014 near Salt Lake City, Utah

I had a wonderful time after school today showing some students, their parents and a few others the view through my solar telescope. I posted about it on my other blog with images I took on my iPhone 5S through my 10mm Pentax XW.  Here is the LINK and here is the url:

http://jaysastronomicalobservingblog2.weebly.com/jays-astronomical-observing-and-other-stuff/partial-solar-eclipse-october-23-2014