Skippy Sky for Astronomy Forecasting FAILS; Clear Outside Good Alternative

     Okay, I have to admit, sometimes I am a huge pain in the rear and I express it on my blog here. I am really a BIG pain in the rear when something I count on doesn't work because an owner does something that ruins it. Skippy Sky or is or was a wonderful tool for getting astronomy forecasts for your region. In truth, it WAS my number one choice until today.  Today I noticed a stat counter on the site and that stat counter refreshes itself every 30 seconds or so and when it does, I go from being in the NorthWest part of the North America map to being defaulted BACK to the starting point of the SouthEast part of North America.  So that means I have to start my entire search over and be quick about it.  Well, I don't need that so time for some alternatives.  In the following video, you can see one alternative to this annoying situation, Clear Outside.  I will also share another. Now if SkippySky wants to go with a different Stat Counter (I have nothing against Stat Counters, I use one but mine doesn't send you back to post one on my site), they can easily remain the top site in my book for astronomical weather. If not, then they will be irrelevant and not used by me and that would be a shame.

     See, I guess I am like many others. I rant when I really like and care and use something and something is done that makes it nonfunctional.  What is worse, as I show in the video, you can't even hit the contact SkippySky and have a window open up on how to do that! No way to share the information.  I hope this reaches the owner(s) somehow so they can choose a stat counter that doesn't impact their clients. That is called good customer service and in the land of tech, it is ALWAYS a good idea to see how something you add or change alters the user ends experience. I don't think the change was made and the owner(s) examined how the stat counter altered their customers experience.

     Here is the National Weather Service Website for Salt Lake City. They show an increase in clouds during the day but with strong winds Saturday night.  I will probably try to observe tonight and then again on Sunday using this tool This is a GREAT replacement for Skippy Sky IF SkippySky doesn't update their Stat Counter.  Okay, my rant is over.  No more rant. I have to go pack up and get out to a site and claim it for the weekend so I hope it is clear wherever you are, and that you enjoy seeing the wonders of the sky above! 


Amateur Astronomer or Amateur Weather Person?

      Sometimes inspiration for this blog comes from reading different sites about astronomy. Sometimes it comes from me reflecting on the hobby and sharing something that I feel is important to me in the hobby, and then sharing it here on my blog.  Well, one thing I found tonight that is prompting this late evening post, is the role of becoming an effective amateur forecaster plays in terms of the weather in being a solid to outstanding amateur astronomer.  You will forgive me as I have touched on how I interpret the weather (I don't predict it, I interpret the weather and conditions for when I observe. I am not sure if anyone can predict the weather more than three to five days out), as this post is going to go deeper. Also, if you don't live in Utah, you can read and see the tools I use, some will work for you, some you may need to find a local replacement for.  So here I go!

     First off why is interpreting the weather so critical for being an amateur astronomer? This pertains to any facet of the hobby.  Why? It is relatively self-evident I believe. First, one has to know if the weather is going to be clear, partly cloudy (and the percent of clouds in the sky) or cloudy to even begin to decide if your going to observe. This is an even more important factor if deciding to pack up and drive and set up at a dark site some distance away from home. Second, the amount of humidity will determine for me if I bring my anti-dew equipment, and if I charge the power source for that equipment so dew doesn't ruin my secondary mirror, my eyepiece, my Telrad and finder etc.  If any of these dew up, then the observing session is over. Next, road conditions. Is it wet and muddy where I am going? Do I need to bring a tarp or is my usual ground cover okay to use? Temperature is another factor I have to look at as it controls dew point often, and it tells me what type of clothing I am going to wear while observing. Nothing will end a session more readily than when one gets cold.  These are the main factors I am going to share.

National Weather Service Site: Salt Lake City: Forecast Discussion and Local Area

   The first site I go to in order to obtain a high level view of what is going on is my local National Weather Service.  If you are in Utah, you can find that at this LINK.  I mainly use two tabs that I will cover here (I do use on other feature but I won't share that at this time) and those are the Forecast Discussion and the Local Area which are located over on the left panel. The screenshot below shows them:

     You can see above that the red arrows point to the location on the website where Forecast Discussion and Local Area are located. You access them by left clicking on them. Forecast Discussion as you can see in the screen shot below, is a general and high level look at the forecast over the next several days and upcoming week.  It is written by a member of the National Weather Service, in this case in Salt Lake City and I find it to be quite accurate. I highlighted here the parts I use in making my forecasts.  For example, tomorrow night my local astronomy club, the Salt Lake Astronomical Society has an outreach planned. If I am considering going I will look at the Forecast discussion and read to see what conditions are to be like for Saturday evening. It isn't looking very good in that forecast discussion. So right now I am hesitant but will confirm with the next website I will share.

     However, the Forecast Discussion here does provide me with a lot of hope that next weekend the forecast is looking really good for me to go observing as we move into the next new moon period. So as of tonight, I am planning on heading out!

     The screen shot below is one of the Local Area. This is a quick summation as I say, of the Forecast Discussion from above.  Again, it confirms with the Forecast Discussion about tomorrow night, see my comments in red, and then of observing come next weekend. This provides me with my confirmation of what I am seeing from the Forecast Discussion.  So if you like to read the weather to see what is going on, read the Forecast Discussion. Want the short version, read the Local Area.  From reading these reports I know (and from being outside tonight) it is not a night for me to take a telescope out and observe.  Sad, but true. Nor will I risk exposure of my equipment and telescopes tomorrow in the conditions that are out there. 

SkippySky Astronomy

     My next site that I use extensively to see conditions is Skippy Sky Astronomy found at this LINK.  It is all about the weather but instead of just writing about it, I have made a video to show you Skippy Sky Astronomy and give you a basic running tutorial of how to use it.  Screencastify and another similar tool (that I took the screenshots above with) are two tools you will see me using more on the blog.  Anyway, Skippy Sky Astronomy I have found is the closest site tied into the NWS forecast and is extremely accurate for predicting cloud cover, dew, temperature and wind. Some like Clear Sky Clock, and I'll cover that site, but Skippy Sky Astronomy is much more accurate as my observing friends and companions can testify too.  

     So above is my quick introduction on SkippySky Astronomy. It is found at this LINK.  Again, for me I have found SkippySky to be one of the best tools for forecasting the weather and conditions for amateur astronomy and to determine whether it is good to go, and what equipment to take. Again, as I say in the video, Total Cloud Cover; Transparency; Seeing; Temperature; Wind Speed and Dew Risk are the main categories I look at in SkippySky.  

Clear Outside 

     The next page that I go to, and I find it equally as valuable as SkippySky is called Clear Outside. It is located at or at this LINK.  Again, I have made a video that briefly highlights how this site works and how you can use it to help you observe. Critical here again is the Total Cloud Cover (goal is 20% or less), ISS Passover if you want to view that; Precipitation Probability (you want 0) Precipitation Amount (again want 0, I won't take my telescopes out to risk the mirrors to rain or precipitation of any kind); wind speed and direction (critical here, less than 6 mph if possible as I don't like my dobs become wind vanes or shaking); temperature, so you know what type of clothing to wear); dew point (I compare that reading to the temperature to see if I will have dew) and relative humidity. If I go above 70% I will actually hook up my dew equipment but that usually doesn't happen where I observe now).  Those are the main parts of their charts that I use, and I have to mention that I absolutely LOVE that as I hover over the sun/darkness bar near the top, I get the times for sun rise, sunset, astronomical twilight, darkness etc.  This really allows me to plan if all conditions are good on when I want to arrive, set up and be ready to go.  

    Here is the video on Clear Outside: 

     The other thing these sites provide to me is to learn the conditions of the locations that I observe from.  I have purposely hand picked by locations from years of observing and experience at the sites. I want a site free of dew, is accessible and safe for my Outback (I don't want to get stuck in the mud in the winter by myself) and I want to ensure I am dressed warmly enough to ensure a great evening of observing. The sites I have shared do that perfectly.  

National Weather Serivce: Salt Lake City; Activity Planner

     The video below will show you the National Weather Service's Activity Planner for Salt Lake City. You have to know your Latitude and Longitude for the location you want, and you can find that on Google Maps.  I won't share how to do that, it is relatively easy unless I get someone asking for that in a comment. Then I can add it.  The site allows you to pick the categories that are of interest to you, I usually pick Sky Cover, Temperature, Wind Chill (in the winter); Relative Humidity; Dew Point; Surface Wind Speed and Precipitation Potential.  Then I hit submit and the bars show up and I simply pick the day and time of day I am interested in looking at, slide the mouse along that bar for that day and time and I get the results listed in a pop up box.  Take a look. Another great fit with the tools above.

MesoWest Weather Current Weather Station Reports 

     The next website that I use for looking at the weather is called MesoWest.  You find can MesoWest at this LINK.  MesoWest is best describe from quoting for their Help Webpage. There it states: 
"MesoWest was created to provide access to current and archived weather observations across the United States. It is used by the National Weather Service to aid in forecasting, by researchers to understand severe weather events, and by the public for personal and other uses. MesoWest relies upon weather observing networks that are managed by government agencies, private firms, and educational institutions. Additional stations have been installed at key locations such as near the Great Salt Lake. Observations of temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, precipitation, and other weather parameters are provided and available through the MesoWest interface."
If you are going to use this site, I highly recommend that you review their Help Page at this LINK.  Tons of useful information there.  I use MesoWest for current conditions.  It use to be called MesoNet but that was changed to MesoWest as some networks left and some came on board.  Anyway, for current conditions and to build up a history it is a really useful site to gather weather data.  You can view current humidity and dew levels, temperature and current wind speed. You can create a profile and save that data to build up a history of sites to track how the weather is over time.  I am doing this publicly now so I can show how local weather conditions impact observing.  One feature I did not capture in the video below is the map overlays. This is a really tiny tab in the upper right part of the map next to current fires (which has a flame on it).  Here you can put in current precipitation if you want.  However, if there is rain, your not observing or probably shouldn't be.  So take a look at the video and I hope you can see its use.  


Clear Sky Chart 

     My next area is one well known in the amateur astronomical community, and that is Clear Sky Chart.  You will see by the length I spend on the video that I am not a huge fan of Clear Sky Chart. Too often it is not accurate and I have learned to use the sites I have shared prior to this one to be much more accurate and reflective of current and foretasted weather conditions.  Clear Sky Chart provides a quick view but I usually want to know more in depth in terms of weather conditions so I know whether to go, what to wear, what equipment I will need and how transparency or seeing will impact my observing. Clear Sky Clock is usually based on weather maps that change, and the site doesn't seem to update on a regular basis, perhaps once a day.  So I rely on the sites I shared previous to this one, but I still will look at it. I do find the weather maps that come up by clicking on the individual time box to be helpful.

COD Meteorology 

This site is one that I just enjoy as someone who enjoys weather. I  don't use it a lot to forecast conditions, but I do like the radar and visible images and the infrared maps and water vapor maps.  These maps can be one nationally, covering most of North America or at least the United States, and you can go regional and then down to just a couple of states level.  Lots of options to see how weather is developing and what current conditions are. Very visual and very accurate for immediate. Overtime you can develop your forecasting skills and determine your weather for 3 to 5 days out using this site. I have done that with probably over 90% accuracy.  

     There you have it. Those are the sites I use to determine the cloud cover, temperature, dew and relative humidity, wind speeds and gusts and transparency and seeing that impact observing. There are some skills to developing in terms of weather. One is knowing how water vapor in the air impacts transparency and/or seeing and how that impacts what Deep Sky Object types you may want to go after that evening or night.  Dew impacts equipment and it is important to understand how that interacts to reduce details in objects and how to combat it if you want to observe in the late fall, winter and early spring in Utah.  Clothing requirements are dictated by temperature and humidity, remember humidity can cut through your clothes if your not dressed correctly.  Wind and upper level winds impact observing as well, and knowing when the jet stream meanders away from Utah and when it is zipping over head will tell you when transparency and seeing are not going to be good or when they will be outstanding.  This LINK will help you to see that. 

     So in truth, yes, I have become quite good at forecasting the weather and weather conditions here in Utah. It is partially science and partially an art I believe. Having said that, I still often find myself heading out even with a questionable forecast. Why? Easy answer is that if you wait for perfect conditions, you will only observe two to five times a year IF it aligns with work and family and everything else you have in life.  No, what looking at all this does for me is determine IF I am going, and IF I decide to risk it, what scope to take. I won't take the 17.5" dob if conditions are questionable, I may take the 14" strut dob, or the 10" solid tube or 4" refractor.  The last two are because they are so easy to set up and so easy to break down and fit in the back of my Outback. If conditions don't clear up I don't have to worry about a 10 to 15 minute breakdown.  If it is looking good to great, then either the 14" or 17.5" dob is coming along for the ride and to observe with. 

     So my advice is yes, you probably should know the weather conditions in the area you observe. It tells you how to be prepared in terms of clothing and equipment, and where you want to go.  I hope in some way this helps and I hope if you don't live in Utah, if you have read the post, that you find local resources as I have done to aid you in reviewing weather conditions to make your observing decisions. Keep enjoy the wonders of our night sky! 


Full Lunar Eclipse: September 27th, 2015: Outreach My Way!

            Growing up my Dad would listen to Frank Sinatra and one song that I really enjoyed was "My Way.  Not sure why, probably because it reminded me of my father. In many ways, he lived his short life that way, "His Way."  The more I reflect on that, yes, he did things his way, but often, more often than not, he was much like I am, a man, striving to do his best for his family, while struggling with all the things that go with being a man, the doubt, the self-confidence, the desires and burdens and the simple joys that each of us find in life.  Those simple joys for him was listening to music, a lot of classical but other genres also. He love to play the guitar and to sing full out.  Everyone in my family has that joy but me. I LOVE music but man, I have no knowledge or lick of understanding of it. Glad my children and wife do! Another simple joy he had was short wave radio, ham radio and listening to and decoding Morse code like messages he could pick up (he did that in the Air Force and Navy).

     So this Sunday, like so many of you, I engaged in one of my simple joys, amateur astronomy.  I pulled out the Explore Scientific AR102 Refractor (a 4 inch refractor) and took out my 9mm and 20mm 100 degree eyepieces to observe the moon.  I was able to get in a fair about of observing when I sent out via Facebook an invite to the neighborhood to come over and look.  Well, that old adage from Field of Dreams is true, I brought it (the telescope) and they came.  I was able to share the event with well about fifteen plus of my neighbors.  That was delightful.  Thoroughly enjoyed it! Then one family, was still there when I was getting a lot of questions from their teen kids so I broke out the 17.5" in the backyard and collimated it, put on the Telrad and finder, aligned everything and put in an eyepiece.

     From here I did my kind of outreach.  I showed for awhile, M57, Alberio, Alkaid, NGC 457, M31, M13 and a few other objects.  I had showed their middle son how to run the AR102 and he did wonderful using that and keep it on targets.  By the time I had brought out the 17.5" dob, the eclipse was out of full and it turned into a wonderful evening.  At the end , they helped me with my son to take everything in and that made the break down go so quick.

     In reviewing this in my mind since Sunday, I cam to the realization that this is the outreach I want. I have said it before but I have to now really figure out a way to get a family out with a scope, teach them to use it say in the backyard and to read an atlas and then go to a dark site.  Will that distract from my traditional observing? Probably but it adds to it. I'm an educator, and more importantly, by nature, I love to share and teach.  Helping others to "do" the hobby is what I think is critical. Now I need to put the camp together and get moving on this. Here are some pics we got of the eclipse.


Mike Clements and his 70 inch Telescope

     Mike Clements was with me in the September new moon period and we were able to plan out some things we are going to do to keep his 70 inch project in the limelight so people know what is going on.  First, we are going to create a blog or website, not sure which, I am making both where Mike via video will share what he has done and is doing to the 70 inch telescope.  It won't be on this blog, this will be for Mike and his project. However, I will reference it and link to it on a regular basis.  Second, Mike has the silvering process down really well now for the mirror and has motors for the telescope so it tracks now. I am hoping to get with Mike tomorrow and touch base on getting some of the filming done so we can get some posts and info up.  Next, I suggested and he agreed that using the 70" we are going to go after Cassiopeia A. I have seen this SNR in my scopes, but I cannot wait to see it in the 70" and have Mike report on it. I hope to get a sketch in on it as well.

     So give it a week or two and hopefully, Mike will be able to reach out and share with everyone what is going on with his 70"  It is still up, still working and he Mike is making wonderful modifications and improvements on it. As with any reflector, it is truly a work in progress and Mike thinks there is enough interest to share more about that wonderful project. Anyone interested? Want a peak? That's possible probably on a Sunday evening . . . . watch for Mike's site coming.

Observing Report September 11th and 12th, 2015

     On the nights of Friday, September 11th and Saturday, September 12th, 2015 I was able to go to Vernon to my preferred site and observe for two days.  What a welcome relief and comfort to have one last official summer session as fall rose so quietly and quickly from the eastern sky into the southern sky and at zenith as the night progressed each night.  This was not a typical observing time for me but more on that later.  I arrived early on Friday, and the Owl Site was taken by an RV and so as I drove up the road, I found no one around so I took my preferred site. I set up the 17.5" dob and went to work creating a workable place to observe and a place to sleep.

     Since I always get asked where I am observing I thought I would post pictures here with directions. You get on State Route 36 or SR 36 by either coming down the Pony Express Road (now gravel) past Pit n Pole to Faust, and turning left on SR 36. Or you go to Tooele and drive down SR 36 to Vernon. Either way, you drive on SR 36 with Vernon to your right and go past the Silver Sage gas station, restaurant, store and follow SR 36 as it curves to the east. On the left is a sign that says Benmore/Vernon Reservoir and you turn right across from that sign onto a 5 mile long dirt and gravel road. Follow that ALL the way out until you come to this photo:

     The road ends here and you MUST go left (to the Vernon Reservoir) or right. You will go right. When you do you will go over a cattle guard and then see this:

      The road you are on, will continue west (or to the right here).  If you look carefully this is a road sign, one of the narrow ones that will say FR 006.  You turn right here as I am about to do in the photo. This is FR 006.  You will drive up this road and on the left, about 9/10 of a mile or .9 or so, you will see a disperse camping area on the left. This is what I call Owl's Roost, there are owls that nest here in January or so.  If it is open, I will go here.  My preferred spot though, the one I call Jay's Spot or Jay's Favorite is further down FR006.  Again, you will cross a cattle guard:

And IMMEDIATELY turn right! It will look like this: 

There is a disperse camping area to the right, but by-pass that.  Keep following this slight dirt road farther west. This is what you will see: 

     Be careful as you approach the road by the Juniper on the right. There is a good dip there. My Outback handles fine as will a truck or SUV. A car will need to be slow but it should be okay. 

As you pull in and get past the dip and the tree on the right, this is the view: 

You will pull over to the right and turn around (in the picture below I am facing south). I then turn my car to the east which if I am leaving that night, allows my lights which will go on automatically to be facing out and away from those who may still be observing. Good manners here. 

I usually park my car facing east, behind that Juniper which is angled so I can exit when or if I am ready. If I stay the night, then in the morning the Juniper provides great shade so I don't wake up too early (I usually still wake up early though). 

After arriving in the heat of the day, I set up the 17.5" dob, but having left my Telegizmo Scope cover at home, I left the mirror covers on the scope and used some towels to protect the secondary and primary for fun. It worked nicely so that was good.  

     After setting up I took some pictures of the area in full daylight, and yes, it was hot, and yes, it is dry out there now, as the pictures share. Still, wonderfully beautiful and serenely quiet, minus the sounds of nature which for me, inspire me.


     Finally, that last picture shows where I usually sleep if I am spending one night at an observing site and am by myself and don't want to set up a tent. On the left, I have a battery for a scooter (that people ride in) that is charged, the connections to my CPAP machine (I'll post on this soon) and my CPAP and mask so I am ready to sleep. I have my memory foam and a inflatable by blowing into it air mattress to sit on top of the memory foam (I like a firm place to sleep on and the memory foam acts to cushion out all the bumps).  During my observing I pull up the air mattress and lay my cases on the back of car with the hatchback open like it shows. When I go to bed, the eyepiece cases go in the front seat and I can either sleep with the tail open, as it is in the image, or I can close it and lock it up if I want. Luckily where I observe mosquitoes are not an issue nor any other biting insects so in the summer, I often sleep just as I show up there. There is protection if I need it but I never have.

     If I am going to be at the site for more than one night, or if I have people coming along or family that I will share space with, I will bring my large 8 person tent and set up my Cabelas XL cot with the memory foam and air mattress on it. THAT is extremely comfortable and I put my CPAP next to the cot. The Outback isn't bad to sleep in and I am pretty comfortable in it. Just don't sit up in there. In the morning I will unlock using the keys, and open a side door, slip on a pair of slipper shoes I have and go out the door and open up the Outback to get breakfast and to load up to go home.

     These pictures bring out a good point in my mind as I review them. The importance of bringing more than enough water when you go observing at a dark site.  Yes, it gets hot here, it was around 90 degrees F this day, and it cooled off that night to around 46 degrees F, yep, its a desert and that is what it does out here. Well, that and combined that the elevation for this site is at 6800 feet above sea level so there is a natural cooling that the elevation brings also.  Dehydration will ruin an observing opportunity/experience and makes for crummy after affects. Also, in the winter, I have seen people who come out here in shorts cause of the daily high temperature really freeze when the nightly temps dip into the high 30's or low 40's degrees F.  Hypothermia can set in even in summer if one is not prepared.

     In the same sense, I observe here in the winter when conditions allow, which is often to be truthful, and for the same reasons it can have a wide and varied temperature range in summer, the same is true in winter. During the day, the high in winter can reach 40 degrees, usually melting snow and drying out the dirt locations here. However, by night, because of the elevation and the desert/foothill locations it is quite common by 12:00 a.m. for the temperature to be between 0 degrees F and say 12 degrees F.  That is cold so as I have shared, you have to be prepared for this and know how to observe in it. I don't camp overnight in the winter here as I can get in and out with five hours of great observing if conditions allow, and still be home in bed by say 12:30a.m. and if on a work day, ready to go to work by 6:30a.m. In winter, hydration plays a key part in not developing hypothermia also, so have your warm drink and thermos, and I recommend not coffee or tea (look it up yourself) but hot chocolate or better yet, a nice broth of your favorite soup.

     As twilight arrived, I was completely set up and I enjoyed twilight with my friend Daniel who had come out.  We actually spent time bird watching, and I enjoyed that very much. A new hobby I am getting into since I have the camera equipment, the binoculars and a telescope if needed for terrestrial viewing if I want to use it.  As twilight, that magical time of when the daytime world passes into a slumber and the creatures of the night arrive with their sounds and calls, my friends Charlie Green and Mike Clement arrived, Charlie hauling his trailer (you can see it in the pictures). Mike you may recognize as the owner and creator of the largest amateur telescope in the world.  No, the 70 inch was not at the site, Mike still is working on the transportation but the scope does have motors.  More of that is coming in my next post as I announce what is going to be happening with the 70" and Mike so people can stay current on that tremendous projects! Also, my other good friend Jeff P. arrived.  What an awesome night this was turning out to be.

   I had one more person I wasn't sure if he would arrive. I have a neighbor, Jerod who was going to come out and bring my 10" XT10 with him.  This was to be his first time observing and using a dob so I had given him directions.  Dark came and no call (yes, as I state, we have cell service here, roaming for me but I don't pay for roaming charges) and no headlights coming down the road. Well about 9:30pm as I was getting ready to break out my observing plan for the night, lights came down the road and sure enough, as I walked down to the road it was my friend Jerod.  I drove in with him and helped him to park facing east and then set up the XT10 with him.  We collimated it, as I taught him about collimation and then we got out my Explore Scientific 11mm 82 degree eyepiece and my 24mm ES 68 degree eyepiece to use as a finder.  I spent the next three hours teaching Jerod how to use the XT10, how to read an atlas, in this case the Sky Pocket Atlas, and then how to relate what he was seeing in the Atlas to what he saw in the sky. This was hard because there are so many stars out there and I probably should have done a session or two in his backyard. Yes, I think it is sometimes easier to learn constellations and to star hop in moderate light pollution than at a dark site. Less stars to compete with.

     I began by showing him Sagittarius and for the first time, in a VERY long time, I pulled out my green laser pointer, and ensuring that when I used it there were NO aircraft in the area, I showed him how to Star Hop from Klaus to M22. From here Jarod was able to get to M8, the Lagoon and then to M20, the Trifed. Jerod had a hard time working and finding M20 and it took me back to when I also for the first time, so long ago, had a hard time with this object.  From M20 Jarod went to the Star Cloud and then to M17, Omega or the Swan Nebula. For Jerod it was easier though to go to M16 The Eagle Nebula and then work back down to M17.  From here he easily went to the Wild Duck or what my friend Mat calls (and I agree with him) the Borg Cube open cluster.

     By now Jerod was getting more comfortable so I showed him where to find the list of Messier objects by season and I had him find Hercules in the Sky Pocket Atlas, and then I pointed it out with the laser and he went and got M13. He REALLY enjoyed looking at M13, it was gorgeous. I also have to mention that from time to time, we would take breaks as Jeff using his 17.5 or Daniel, using my 17.5" dobs found objects for us to take a look at.  Jerod next went to M51 and saw that, and then he went to what he was really wanting to see, M31 and its companions. He found it, observed it, and then compared the view in my 17.5"  Bottom line, from there we went to the Double Cluster, which he found easily enough, and then to NGC 457, the Owl Open Cluster and then Jerod ended the night on M103, another open cluster in Cassiopeia.

     As the night ended, I went to load the XT10  tube in the Orion bag that I have for it, and the knob system I have, the knob came off. I played around with it and finally got the knob back on, the tube out of the holders and back in the bag. The base assembly with the Lazy Susan modification I did worked wonderfully. A little loose but I have adjusted that by adding a touch of carpet to the opposite side of the carpet break I installed and it is perfect for use now. Jerod kept the XT10 on a loan from me, with three eyepieces to practice back at home.  I need to touch base with him on how it is working.

     With Jerod leaving, Jeff P. also left to go home as did Daniel and Mike since Mike's truck had gotten a flat and he didn't have a spare.  So left were me and Charlie.  After everyone had departed, I noticed it was almost 1:00a.m. and so I got out my adjusted observing list and planned out what I was going to do. The night was truly one of those wonderful nights, one of the best of the year. It had been a little weird to sacrifice it to help Jerod at first, but in truth, that is what I enjoy doing the most, helping others to learn the hobby.  What I did with Jerod is what and how I believe we grow the hobby so it was well worth 3 to 4 hours of my time.  Not being tired, I got to work and Charlie stayed up talking with me and keeping me company.

     Eventually, the call of a VERY comfortable trailer called to Charlie and he answered by retiring to his extremely comfortable bed inside of the trailer. With Charlie retiring I was alone, and I went to work.  Here is what I got done that night minus a few observations of galaxies I did not sketch. I went into Aquarius and got several unremarkable galaxies that I won't bother with here. Perhaps later I'll not be so lazy and pull out my notes and update my entries for those objects. Probably when I update Sky Tools 3 with that information I'll add it here.

     So here are my sketches and objects I took the time to sketch, in the early morning of September 12th, 2015. I FINALLY figured out my DSLR camera and how to use it to take accurate pictures of my sketches so I do not have to make any adjustment or corrections post picture to make them be close to how I sketched them. These are unaltered now, finally, and are as I sketched them. I have to say, I am EXTREMELY happy with these sketches.  They reflect what I saw in the eyepiece and are pretty accurate to me.  I also changed something in my sketching that I found has make a major improvement in my sketching. In the past I have used 6" x 8" black paper to make my sketches. This time I was able to use 9" x 12" paper and that provided enough room to work, to capture what I was seeing, to use the chalk in the layers I needed in the Mellish method to really make an effective sketch. The hardest part was adjusting my sketching because I was enlarging it to match the paper. That adjustment happen quickly and here are the results.

You will find two sketches, one where I zoomed in with the camera, showing more of the object(s),  one that was a little wider field of view showing more of the sketch.

1. NGC 6964, NGC 6962, NGC 6967 (NGC 6962 is the large galaxy in the center; NGC 6964 is to the upper left of that galaxy above it; NGC 6967 is to the upper right of 6962 and 6961 is to the lower right of 6962).  September 12th, 2015; FR006 Jay's Site; 1:20a.m. MDT or -7:20 UT; Clear, Mild, Antoniadi II: SQM 21.84; 17.5" Dob; 7mm, 10mm, 14mm Pentax XW; Paracorr Type II.

NGC 6962 is a rather small but the largest of the galaxies seen in this field of view.  It has a stellar nucleus and a bright inner core region.  There are some subtle variances in brightness in the galaxy but no hints of structure that I could really determine.
NGC 6964 is smaller, bright and easily seen and is an elliptical galaxy.
NGC 6967 is also concentrated, bright, and easily seen in the field. No structure in it.
NGC 6961 is the hardest of the galaxies to observe. I saw it with averted vision mixed with patience. Once I obtained it with averted vision I could hold it while observing.

2. NGC 7606 Spiral Galaxy in Aquarius; September 12th, 2015; FR006; Site Jay's Site; Clear, cool, 50 degrees F; SQM-L: 21.88; 2:20a.m. MDT or 8:20 UT; Antoniadi II; 17.5" Dob; 27mm Panoptic as finder; 7mm, 10mm, 14mm & 20mm Pentax XW to observe; Paracorr Type II. 

This is my favorite sketch of the night.  I captured this as I observed it.  The galaxy is tilted to the plane of the observer, and is relatively bright.  It is elongated NNW to sSE and the outer edges are diffused and mottled, possibly showing some structure(?).  The core is relatively bright and averted vision shows a slightly faint stellar nucleus.  Just a joy to observe, sketch and tease out details with. 

3. NGC 7723 Spiral Galaxy in Aquarius; September 12th 2015; 03:10 MDT or 09:10 UT; Site: FR006 Jay's Site; Antoniadi II; SQM-L: 21.88; 17.5" Dob; 27mm Panoptic as Finder; 5mm, 7mm, 10mm, 20mm Pentax XW as Observing Eyepieces; Paracorr Type II; Conditions: Clear, Cool, 48 degrees F.  

NGC 7723 I really enjoyed sketching. However just to the lower left I found that my white ink gel hand't dried when I turned my next sketch's writing on to it so I had some cross over. NGC 7723 is a large bright spiral galaxy, being oval in shape.  The outer edge is diffused, not sharp as in other galaxies. There is some mottling in the outer edge as well in terms of brightness, thus hinting at structure there to me.  Averted vision shows a bright inner core region with a small stellar nucleus with averted vision.  This is a nice galaxy to observe. Not like a Messier, but it was fun to observe, tease out the detail and to sketch it. 

 4. NGC 7184 Galaxy in Aquarius; September 12th 2015; 1:58am MDT or 07:55 UT; Site: FR006 Jay's Site; Antoniadi II; Conditions: Clear, mild/cool 50 degrees F; 17.5" dob; 27mm Pantoptic finder; 7mm, 10mm, 20mm Pentax XW observing; Paracorr Type II.

NGC 7184 is a tilted spiral galaxy laying ENE to WSE and is elongated.  The edge is not defined and has varying brightness levels, with some areas being sharper than others.  The inner core is bright and small.  A nice fine, fun to sketch.

5. NGC 7443 & NGC 7444 SA Galaxies in Aquarius;  September 12th, 2015 at 3:45a.m. MDT or 09:40 UT;  Site: FR006 Jay's Site; Conditions: Antoniadi II; clear, cool 46 degrees F; SQM-L 21.88; 17.5" dob; 27mm Panoptic as finder; 7mm, 10mm, 20mm Pentax XW observing with; Paracorr Type II. 

NGC 7443 is the upper galaxy and NGC 7443 is the lower one.  NGC 7443 is bright, and the smaller of the two galaxies.  It has a bright core region though small it can be seen.  Lays SSW to NNE.  The edge is sharp and well defined. 
NGC 7444 is bright, small in size, elongated. Lays NNW to SSE and has a bright inner core region which is small also.  Sharp edge and no other structure is evident. Nice set of two small galaxies. 

In the morning I woke early and left to be at a family commitment I had. Charlie stayed on site until Mike was ready, then he drove his SUV leaving his trailer on site, and went on got Mike and his spare tire. They came back and fixed Mike's flat and then remained on site visiting.  I arrived later that afternoon as did my friend Jorge who came to use his camera to take wide field shots.  That evening started very promising as this photo shows. That is Mike Clement on the left with his refractor and Charlie on the right with his Meade SCT.  

Below is my 17.5 and you can see the clouds threatening to the west. However as the picture above shows, they stayed away and we really had the promise of a good evening. 

 If nothing else, we had great conversation, a great sunset and location. 


     Later, after getting some observing in, the clouds arrived with a vengeance. Mike packed up and left, and Charlie then packed up and went into his trailer to go to bed as the driving around that day wore him out.  I stuck it out for awhile, and then began to break down some stuff. After about an hour the sky began to really clear out again and I was hopeful to get some serious observing in when Charlie came out. Mike had gotten another flat and needed help.  I was the one who could help so I had no choice, broke down, loaded up and began the journey back to get Mike. 

     When I found mike out by Five Mile Pass, a group of people in pick ups had assisted him and given him a spare with a rim and put it on his truck. So Mike was good to go. The skies were clear and Mike took off and I followed for awhile, thought of turning back to Pit n Pole but decided to call it good for two days. 

     So this was in some ways not a typical observing session but I had a wonderful time, with some of the most wonderful people and enjoyed myself immensely.  The weather here in northern Utah has been just gorgeous of late and I fear that may mean a change by the time new moon gets here. I am more hoping for an Indian Summer and if we change the pattern, it happens before new moon and for new moon in October it is clear and wonderful.  I hope you enjoy the wonders that occur above us! 


Make Me Dream

     I hope that Phil Plait will forgive me, but he posted this over on his blog and it was so touching I had to share it here on mine. This August, 23 high school students participated in an Astronomy Camp that ended at the Oregon Star Party. This video shows what I believe is the key for outreach in the amateur astronomy community: It is getting young people out with telescopes, cameras, binoculars, their eyes and with each other to experience the thrill of the wonders of our night sky.  Key is that there were 23 of them working together to achieve a common experience. That is what we need to be doing, getting them to use the equipment, getting them to experience the thrill and getting them to bond with each other to continue this hobby. It isn't enough to show an object and let others peer. We must if we are to grow the hobby beyond ourselves or have it slowly die with us, grow it by letting young people experience astronomy, using the equipment, studying, knowing, learning about the science of astronomy and bonding in it. I don't care who you are. In the end it is the experience of sharing this hobby with other humans that makes it truly magical. I love observing alone at times, I have grown to love it more and more but I deeply value those who observe with me. Mat, Jeff, Alan, Jorge, Dan, and countless others that have shared an observing area with me have touched me, and made me a better person, for sharing the experiences of observing with me.  I love pushing the limits and though it is great even when alone, it is A LOT more fun to share it with others who are there.

     So this has inspired me to the point that I am committed that next summer I want to bring this about. I will start looking for educational grants to assist and I am now looking for volunteers who want me to help bring the night sky for say 3 to 5 nights next summer during a new moon period alive for 20 teens. There will be required background checks required and a lot of planning and organizing. Students will camp out in tents and cook meals and clean up and learn astronomy by day. Then at night they will observe items they have learned about.  So, whose up for helping me bring this to life?

     So lets commit to doing something like this, to getting young people out for a few days of observing so they can run the equipment, learn how to do it and be thrilled when the capture an wonder of our night sky.  This IS a TREMENDOUS video in my book.