Is it the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown or our nearest Star erupting?

The boiling, erupting Sun

I really liked the images here and thought that they were really well done as were the close up shots. Putting that together was rather cool. I further like how Phil takes an image of the Earth to show you how big those plumes really are. Imagine a million Earth's fitting inside the Sun! This entry makes you realize how small we really are, especially if you compare our Sun to other stars out there as this video does at YouTube. This video by the American Museum of Natural History further shows how small we are. Look at how much we haven't even looked at yet and you realize how many more wonderful discoveries await for those who move forward with a career in astronomy.

Some useful information via links

It is cloudy with a storm coming in for Halloween so I won't be setting up the 10 inch today to show Jupiter off. Bummer as it was such a hit last year.

I've ran my errands and cleaned the house and the two teens are going to a friends house for a small get together and where they can eat pizza, the gluten kind since I can' t have it in the house for health reasons so I will be alone tonight. Actually, I'm alone right now. Being bored, I decided to do some digging over at Cloudy Nights and see what I could come up with. Looking in the archive I feel I have found some things that some visitors here might find useful.

1. 1369 Amateur Astronomy Links:

This one is huge and I have not verified all 1369 links that are focused on Amateur Astronomy. It has a TON of information on it and I invite you to click out on the link and visit the site, and bookmark it. Yep, I've now caused more of you to spend more time on those cloudy days and nights on the internet. Sometimes I think we spend too much time on this thing.

1369 Amateur Astronomy Links

2. Saguaro Astronomy Club Guide to Eyepieces by Steve Coe

Goes through the basics of eyepieces, the terms, field of view and true field of view and how to figure them out. Excellent site for someone new to the hobby or need a quick refresher.

3. Limiting Magnitude by Telescope Aperture:

Just a table showing two methods of calculating Limiting Magnitude by aperture and what that aperture is.

4. Glossary for Telescope Buyers and Users by Jay Freeman

Last updated in 2004 it is older but has excellent information on it.

5. Estimating Limiting Magnitude Visually

Has you estimate your limiting magnitude by looking at a specific constellation that is situated nicely in the current seasonal sky and lets you determine how far visually you can see down to. The problem is that your eyes and my eyes are different and I may see a site much lower in LVM while you see it as rating higher. For example, since it is fall and if we used Pegasus at one of my local dark sites I may count 33 stars to give me a LVM of 7.0 and you may only count 26 giving you a 6.7 LVM. So this is not an exact way to measure but it does provide some reference, mainly for the observer. I recorded my LVM and still do so I can compare what I am seeing given certain conditions at the sites I visit and I record the SQM. I want to do a long term study to see what happens as I get older tot he LVM and to the SQM which should be more constant.

6. From Ray Cash's Deep Sky Page with 537 Best Deep Sky Objects Sorted by Constellation.

This list is derived from one of amateur astronomy's least known and perhaps least used tool, the DeepMap 600. It's available for around $20 to $25 (I believe) from Orion or other sources (again, no benefit to me, I am not associated with Orion in any form). Anyway, you can pick a constellation that is prominant in the sky right now and then go and observe these. Should be decent items even from a sub-urban sky, but better the darker your skies are. Enjoy this one.

7. The Atmosphere and Seeing; A Guide to Astronomical Seeing by Damian Peach.

An older article that is still outstanding in the quick and informative way it shares the information that an amateur needs to understand the impact of the atmosphere on seeing. The basics are covered, but a key point here for me is to know your observing location and what occurs by season there. For example, I know that where I live if I can get a high pressure like I will next week for 5 days, that the first 3 days will be very good seeing until the inversion (dust, haze and pollution begin to gather into a layer at the lower atmosphere). I know the day after a storm passes is usually not very good either as the jet stream is still lingering. By the second or third day I know I am in for a fantastic observing session unless it is winter and we are getting storm after storm. So I plan accordingly. Seeing determines to some extent what objects I pursue. So read the article and get to know the trends in your area. Why not just observe every clear night? I do as often as my schedule and body will allow me to but IF I have to take only one night on a work week to observe, I want the best possible night I can get.

8. Last item is a company called Atomic Equatorial. The owner makes hand crafted equatorial platforms for dobs. I have been debating just making my own, and I may still do that, but I have put this on Christmas list as one item I would like. Building a dob and building a equatorial platform for the XX14i are something I am not sure is going to happen. Do I need it? Nope. I need a couple of eyepieces instead and those are the priority but this would be luxury to have for star parties and for sketching. Again, I am not affiliated with Atomic Equatorial and have no connection to them outside of contacting them via email for information on cost for platform for the XX14i. Here is their site if you want to check it out. Atomic Equatorial.

I have some other sites, but I think I'll introduce them from time to time over the next month or so. Save these for those unfortunate but cloudy skies that are coming your way. If you live in the mid-west or east coast, our storms are leaving us and are heading your way. 60's next week for us and back to nice mild and clear fall weather so I can get some observing in!

How many habitable planets are there in the galaxy?

Okay, I like Phil Plait, not a biggie though I know he is out to make a buck and a name for himself. That's okay as I do find his information to be interesting. The blog entry he did here on exoplanets and earth-like planets in habitable zones was an interesting read. So here it is, save it for a cloudy night. Enjoy.

How many habitable planets are there in the galaxy?

Arecibo gives comet some radar love

Arecibo gives comet some radar love

Found this interesting! Seems Comet Hartley looks like a cucumber or a bowling pin!


A Summer Favorite Open Cluster from the H-400 NGC 6940

As I am compiling my database and organizing my sketches and the weather is horrible (rain, snow clouds) until Monday when I can get out and observe (Monday through Friday, maybe even next Saturday too! I need my observing fix though I return to work for 3.5 hours next Friday to get ready to return to work a week from Monday).

As I was doing this I came upon my rough sketch that I put together in the field and then tried to enhance it digitally. You'll see background noise as a way to try to get that pepper and salt feeling of stars wanting to peep out. I had forgotten what a wonderful open cluster this is in Vulpecula. I'll have to ensure I spend some time with it under a dark sky next summer!


Old Observation of NGC 6992 and 6995 Easter View, NGC 6781 and NGC 1535

This is an old sketch that I processed today (I'm updating records and scanning sketches since it was snowing but is clear now . . . ) and I just want to put this one on my blog. Not because it is a terrific rendering, it is my first of any part of the Veil but for future reference. Next summer I intend to sketch the complete Veil and to post it and I just want to have a reference. I would view certain parts and sketch and then attempted to put them together. So so, but here it is.

And inverted:

Here is one of my first digital sketches of NGC 1535:

Ok, another one, NGC 6781 a PN that was a fun object to view.


Two Recommendations: The Hidden Universe and The Constellations: A Guide to the Orchestra

I woke up today to an inch of snow outside and more coming tonight (the inch melted off). Looks like storms until Thursday and Friday and then this weekend. Hopefully my last week off is clear for new moon. I found two items that I am going to share. They won't help your scope, won't help you observe, have nothing to do with the Herschel 400 or a sketch, but they are fun, and I do recommend them.

First is a book called Hidden Universe. Here is its cover:

Here is a link to the Webpage and off to the right you can actually view a sample from each chapter: Link to Hidden Universe:

This book shows how until the mid 20th century our understanding and our views of the universe were based on the limiting images that our eyes and that photographic plates could reveal. To quote from the web page and not paraphrase:

"this book shows the fundamental change in our perception of the universe by covering the full spectrum of light, emphasising what humans cannot see. Using spectacular colour images constructed from observations with telescopes operating from radio to gamma-ray wavelengths, the book lifts the veil on the hidden universe."
And again to summarize the book I quote the web page:

"This book is divided into nine chapters dealing with various aspects of the unseen Universe. The first three discuss the way we perceive the Universe, using our eyes and with telescopes on the ground and in space. The next five chapters each discuss a wavelength band, starting with the most familiar, visible light, and then moving outwards on each side of the spectrum into the less familiar: infrared, ultraviolet, radio/microwaves and X-rays/gamma rays. In the final chapter we attempt to gather the individual threads of the story into one, somewhat coherent, view of the totality of the multi-wavelength Universe."

I am thoroughly enjoying this book and recommend you check it out from your local library. That is where I found my copy. Sometimes books like this, called coffee table books in the past are good enough that I consider purchasing a copy for myself. A tidbit that I didn't know is that the Sun's (our star, Sol) color would look actually slightly peachy-pink. Our eyes would see this color if they were not blinded by the Sun's bright light (as stated, common sense, but NEVER look directly at the sun). That is found on page 49 of the book.

Another image I really liked was that of the Crab Nebula in Radio. Here is an image, but it doesn't do justice to the one in the book.

I'll share one more image that is just stunning in the book, and is good here; Remnant Cassiopeia A .

This is one of my favorite images and is composed of images using infrared data in red by Spitzer Space Telescope; visible data from the Hubble Space Telescope are yellow; and X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory are green and blue. This perhaps shows how the different sources of light are combined to show us what is really going on from the supernova remnant.

I often go through the music section at the library, and since my home city just opened a new country library branch this Saturday, I knew they would have a lot of new items there including CD's. So I went through the rock section, taking some selections to check out, then the jazz section and finally the classical section. Yup, wide variety of musical taste. In the classical secion I found this wonderful little addition called The Constellation A Guide to the Orchestra by Jonathan Peters. Now don't expect this to be Holst's The Planets. What it does do is introduce the story behind a constellation, and then use specific instruments that are part of the orchestra to portray that story or individual. You can preview it over iTunes preview here . Go to Andromeda to hear a portion of the myth. The first half of the CD has the myth and the orchestra/instrument portion. The second half of the CD is only the instrument portion. Imagine Peter and the Wolf with the Constellations and you are probably along the right way. However, I think it is a great way to introduce kids to both the Orchestra and to the Night Sky in terms of Constellations. As an educator I could see using it to help younger kids to hear a song and then identify the correct constellation by sharing the song with images of the constellation from different positions. Linking music to a constellation shape is a wonderful way to help kids connect and learn constellations (if that is their learning style). It's not for everyone, but I'm buying a copy tomorrow because I see uses for it. Here's the front and back cover so you can see the art and see the constellations they cover (or if you go to the link they are there). I will mention I am not associated with any of the authors or publishers and I don't receive a dime or a penny for reviewing these items. Enjoy.


Jupiter Duo Moon Shadow Transit October 23, 2010

Well, we had a significant storm move through today, dumping snow in the mountains and a good amount of rain down here. I spent this afternoon learning to grind a mirror and discussing mirror and scope building. I'm starting to build my own 12.5 inch Truss Scope for the experience of making one on my own.

Anyway, one my friend Mat and I were discussing observing also and how the weather called for an opening tonight and how we both wanted to see the duo moon shadow transit tonight. Ganymede was first, and was located in my viewing south of southern temperate belt. Europa came next and was more in the equatorial zone, perhaps more where the southern equatorial belt would be. Forgive me, as I am just getting into planetary objects and locations on them. Evident in the scope was the northern equatorial belt, the southern temperate belt with the areas under them really just a maze of brownish orange color.

I was able to observe this from about 8:05p.m. local time (02:05 UT on 10/24/2010 to 03:05 UT) to 9:05p.m. local time MDT on October 23, 2010. By 9:05p.m. the next round of clouds arrived and it was time for my son to help me break down the scope and get it in. It also was becoming very dewy. I will scan the original when I get some time.


New Project Will Fit with whatever your doing now!

Well, for lots of reasons I've had a lot of sleepless to only getting 3 hours of sleep a night. Good thing I love astronomy, bad news is the moon is at full and the weather will suck for the next week so I can't use that.

So, to occupy my time lately I am going through The Night Observers Guide Volume I and focusing on the first couple of chapters. There I came across again the galaxy classification and I decided in my boredom and as a way to occupy my mind and get it off things, to sketch the sketches they have in the book. Here is the result.

Not too bad for a quick job, but that is another item. I realized lately that in doing a sketch I need to only pick one or two items and just focus that evening on doing those sketches. The only digital enhancement I did in GIMP was to clean up the yellowish background and around the galaxies themselves by going to Colors, Auto and then Normalize and White Balance, which resolved that issue.

After doing this it led me to a fun activity that I think I want to do with galaxies, planetary nebula and globular clusters. I want to do an outstanding sketch that captures the classification of each galaxy type listed above, and for each Planetary Nebula using the Vorontsov-Velyaminov system of classification (which can be found here hit the arrow on the bottom of the page to go to page 2) ; and Shapley and Sawyer's Globular Classification as found here. I think it would be cool to have my own sketches of these classifications and it would help to reinforce them to me and thus I could use them more in my own observing and noting of my observations. Someone into AstroPhotography could do the same which would be a nice compliment. If anything else, it gets both the visual observer and the astro-photographer looking at objects in a way that they can be classified. So I'll just keep using my current lists and begin this project. When I'm done I'll put them together and see what we get.


Last of my Star Hops for my next Session

Well, here they are. The last of the Star Hops for my next session. Not sure if anyone wants to see them but I'll put them up anyway. There are what look to be some decent galaxies depending on their size, and NGC 1535 I have seen before and it is one of my favorite planetary nebula. Again clicking on the map should enlarge it for you.

1. NGC 1407 Galaxy in Eridanus. Telrad to Tau5 Eridani and then star hop over to HIP 17010. Next star hop to star HIP17170 and then up to HIP 17071. Now go northwest and you should run into it.

Also, you may want to try and sneak a peek at IC 1953, a galaxy that is pretty close to Tau5Eridani. Also, NGC 1400 is right next to NGC 1407.

2. NGC 1232:

Next is the galaxy NGC 1232 in Eridanus. Go to Tau3 Eridani and then if you want go up to the northwest and you should see IC 1187; continue and go to star HIP14186 and then continue up to the star HIP14249. Now hop to star HIP 14498 and then to the southwest to star HIP14732 and the galaxy should be to the east of that star.

3. NGC 1535 Planetary Nebula in Eridanus

Begin by getting the Telrad on Zaurak and then star hop west to star HIP19011. Next go to the southwest to star HIP 19438 and then west to southwest to star HIP19711. Now go south to southeast is NGC 1535.

4. NGC 908 Galaxy in Eridanus

Telrad to Tau1 Eridani and then go southeast to star HIP 12698. Now hop almost east with a slight southeast tinge to star HIP12170. Go northeast to star HIP11907 and then southeast to star HIP 11586. Now go east to star HIP 11323. Finally go northeast to NGC 908.

5. NGC 1022 Galaxy in Cetus

Telrad to Delta Ceti and then star hop west to HIP 12555 then go south to NGC 1055.

6. NGC 936 Galaxy in Cetus

Telrad to 70Ceti and then star hop south to the star TYC 4691-400-1. Next go southwest to star TYC-4691-642-1. Now head west again to star TYC-4691-631-1 and then southwest to star TYC 4691-475-1. Now go west to northwest to star HIP11334 and then southwest to HIP11425 and finally to star TYC-4691-679-1. NGC 936 should be just south of the last star.

7. NGC 1022 Galaxy in Cetus

Telrad to Azha in Eridanus and then go northeast to RR Eridani. Now hop to star HIP12947 and then continuing on that same path (northeast basically) hop to star HIP12754 which is to the north northwest. Go north to HIP12746 and then north again to star HIP12699. NGC 1022 is a star hop to the west northwest.

7. and 8. These two are close to each other so I include them on paper. Begin by using the Telrad to go to Azha. Now star hop northeast to star RR Eridani (similar to the last hop). Go in the same direction to star HIP 12947 and the same direction to star HIP12754. If you went to NGC 1022 then go back HIP12754. To go to NGC 1084 Simply star hop to the northwest to west to it. For NGC 1052 go to star TYC-5285-592-1. From there go northeast to NGC 1052. Also check out NGC 1042 that is next to NGC 1052.

Well, that is the last of them. Some may wonder why I am doing my own hops when O'Meara has hops in his book and I've been using his book as a guide. Well, I'm still evaluating the book to be quite honest and I find that his large hops to the specific area are lacking. So I think I am going to publish very general hops with a better map (perhaps, probably not, but we'll see) and see if the maps I publish here and the specific hops O'Meara has get people there better. One of my personal goals with the H-400 (and it is not required by the Astronomical League for the award) is to have star hopped to all of the items in the H400. So far I have done that. So anyway, here are my general maps. Hopefully they help someone. I'll follow up when after my next outing I can use them.


Next Herschel 400 Star Hops/Maps Part II

Well, I'll make a new post for these Open Cluster star hops and then tomorrow I'll add the next ones. Again, these and the ones on two posts back are open clusters that can be seen earlier in the evening. My next star hops that I post tomorrow will be of galaxies and planetary nebula in Eridanus and Cetus. Most are H-400 objects but some are just NGC objects that I want to take a look at.

Star hop to NGC 1444 an Open Cluster in Perseus by Telrad to Delta Persei and then star hop over the HIP 17541. Next hop over to star HIP 17792 and then over to star HIP 17675 and then over to the Open Cluster.

NGC 1545 Open Cluster in Perseus. Two ways depending on your sky. 1. Telrad to Delta Persei and then hop over to star b Persi and then kown to NGC 1545. 2. Telrad to b Persei and then down to NGC 1545.

NGC 1528 Open Cluster in Perseus:

Again two ways to go. If your not at NGC 1545 then 1. Telrad to Delta Persei and then go to 43 Persei and then down to Lambda Persei and then down to NGC 1528. 2. If your at NGC 1545 then hop up to star HIP 20234 and then up to NGC 1528.

NGC 1513 Open Cluster in Perseus. Telrad to Lambda Persei and then hop down to star HIP 19318 and then down to NGC 1513.

Get Away Weekend

Not related directly to astronomy but I did find a new observing area that is only about an hour and a half from my home. It is around 8000 feet and has a wide open view all around it and is in a blue zone. The Salt Lake and Provo Light domes are to the northwest here so not as much of an impact as looking west at Wolf Creek Pass. Too late in the year for me to try it out but next summer, I look forward to doing so. I found it as we drove south for the weekend to spend some time in the family cabin. Also, at the end of this is something related to the science of geology.

This image is near the new observing site. I haven't transferred that image over yet so when I do I'll add it. This is just below the site I picked so the hill doesn't obstruct. It does provide an image of what you can see in the area:

I'll add a few more images to show you the country. These were taken above where the maples and oaks are in their red and gold/yellows so the only thing we see here are the white firs and the golden aspen. Still wonderful in my opinion.

From the southern Wasatch Range on a drive called the Nebo loop that we took and did a nice hike that day.

The beginning of the hike started down, but we had to come back up! I love hiking in the fall.

This image shows the view from near the top of the trail and shows what the observing spot is like which is similar to that far ridge (but that isn't it, it would be about 2 miles to the left in this image). Nice and open with great views.

Finally, here is an aspen in its fall color splendor. Love the contrast with the sky and the white firs around it.

Besides the hike, one destination that we did was to go to the Devil's Kitchen. Not sure how it got that name, I'll need to research it but probably because it is such a contrast as you'll see in a minute. The Devil's Kitchen is made up of Hoodoos, geological rock formations that are formed from sedimentary rock and hard rock that are eroded over time. This erosion is a combination of frost wedging (the freezing and thawing of the rock) and water erosion. See, I'm getting the science into this. The result is what we see here. The Devil's Kitchen here is sometimes called a miniature Bryce Canyon. So here are the images. Makes me wonder sometimes what type of formations we may find on Mars if we ever get there.


Star Hops To My Next Herschel 400

I am going to try something new. I am going to post how I will star hop to my next set of Herschel Objects/Objects on my next outing. This post will be edited as I move forward and will not be inclusive. I am to the point that outside of working a list, I take a constellation that is in a good position for viewing and then open one of my Atlases to that page and I go to work on the DSO's in that constellation.

Anyway, I am going to post my first image here of my Star Maps that I printed from Starry Night Pro. The are in 3 panes or panals; one on the right side that is rather large, and two split in the middle on the left that are drawn in closer to provide more detail. Also, I printed the constellation lines so you'll see those also.

I've made dotted lines for those who are new can see the hop. You'll also find a second hop in these images. The first is one of my favorite galaxies from a dark sky location, NGC 7479. Wonderful spiral S pattern to it, good bar also. The first hop takes a newbie from Markab in the bottom right corner of Pegasus to HIP 114031 to HIP 114033 to HIP 114028 to TCY 1166-750-1 to TYC 1166-1381-1 to TYC 1166-148-1 then down to NGC 7479.
The second hop goes from 52 Pegasus to TYC 1163-243-1 to HIP 113880 to TYC 1163-376-1 to TYC 1163-451-1 and NGC 7479 is right above that last star. This is my actual star hop that I use as I find that 52 Peg at around 5.75 mag is naked eye every I observe I except at home where the finder picks it up right away. Here is the image and I'll post a link to my google docs where I'll upload the file.

If you click the map it will go larger and you can see more detail. Here is the link
for the Google Documents.

Well, I have a few more done. I made a run to the store with my daughter and after I loaded the groceries in the back she slammed the back hatch onto my left shoulder. OUCH! That hurt. Anyway, I've iced it touch and though tender and bruised pretty good, I've scanned some more charts. My plan is to go after these open clusters early in the evening as Perseus rises and then I have some objects in Eridanus and Cetus (galaxies and a revisit to NGC 1535) to go after.

NGC 1027 Open Star Cluster in Cassiopeia

I will Telrad to Eta Persei and then star hop over to HIP 13178. Next I hop over to star HIP 13347 and then to star HIP 13004. Finally I make the hop up to NGC 1027.

The next is Open Cluster NGC 1342 in Perseus. I begin by putting Atik in the Telrad and then star hoping over to Omicron Persei. Next I'll star hop over to the star 40 Persei and then up to star HIP 17129. Next hop is over to HIP 16843 and then over to HIP 16518. From here I'll make the final jump over to NGC 1342.

Next is the Open Cluster NGC 1245 located in Perseus. I'll Telrad over to Kappa Persei and from there star hop over to HIP 14871 and then to the next star, HIP 14892. Next I go to TCY 3311-921-1 and then over to the OC.

Not sure if this helps anyone but I think it shows how to plan a star hop. Realize these aren't the only way to go, they are the way my mind works so they work for me when looking at the chart. Remember if your new to this to adjust the atlas or map to what you see in the sky. I have all my maps printed, just have to label the hops and then I'll post more to this post so stay tune. Hopefully weather cooperates when the moon begins to fade!


October 14th, 2010 Observations Uranus

Well tonight I set up, and with my 17 year old daughter we collimated the 14inch and the 20 inch tonight at home. My daughter is like me in that she likes to tinker and has an analytical mind. Unlike me, she is usually high successful with her tinkering. It was nice to have the kids along tonight.

After setup we did some lunar observing and I did four sketches. I'm not going to post them at this time. One is horrible, the other three are okay but need some touch up. Then I'll post all 3. I need more practice at lunar sketching.

After looking at the moon for a good hour and a half I moved to Jupiter and noticed that seeing tonight was poor. I had intended to do a sketch of Jupiter but the seeing was just too poor. So I went up to Uranus which is just up and to the left of Jupiter and I did a simple sketch of Uranus, an Ice Giant. Here is the simple masterpiece. I sketched it so I could have it on file and because I wanted to remember a positive this night. I shouldn't say that but lunar sketching for me is a difficult process though I did realize a couple of things tonight.

Got the intelliscope working tonight so that was a good thing. I should have done some clusters in Perseus that I need for the H-400 but I didn't even think of it until I had torn down. Next time I will get them. Did look at M52 since it had been awhile and that was a pleasant object. I probably should have sketched it. We had a race tonight without any setting circles to see who could star hop quicker, me on the 14 or the teens on the 20. I beat them 7 to 3; they beat me to some open clusters like NGC 457 which they know well and a couple of others up in Cassiopeia. My daughter loves open clusters so that is what she goes for. The kids used the 20" tonight as I wanted them to get use to using it (they are afraid they are going to break a scope until they start using it, then they are fine).

Well, full moon is next week and I am heading off for a much needed vacation.


Updated Review on the XX14i after 4 months or so (and at 10 months)

After purchasing my Orion XX14i I posted on my blog a review. Now that I have had it for four months, I want to update my review and tell you my overall impressions and thoughts about the scope.

First, this is a large telescope. One person can build it and take it down, but it does take some time and effort. It is easier when two people do it. It does not set up like my Orion XT10 which is really quick by simply putting the tube on the stand and locking it on with my knobs. At first I did not take the base apart and tried to carry the base through my standard office door (it is a room of normal size) and after scraping white paint on the base, I changed my mind on this. I now leave the upper part of the base assembled, and carry that out, and then the circular base. I then reassemble it together in the field. So, if you keep this telescope indoors you will have to keep the base in two pieces I feel to prolong its life. I am very happy with the take apart base and its design is simple and firm. Despite that a part of me wonders how long it will last with taking it apart after I view at home each time.

The BTA (bottom tube assembly) is heavy, 59lbs. I am glad I have the blue bags that hold the parts of the scope because I use the handles where the truss poles connect to the BTA to get it down the stars and outside. This again is a far easier task if done with two. On a side note, I have to admit that I catch myself now asking if I really want to take the 14” out to the backyard if I can’t get in the field and have used the XT10 because it is more convenient at home. Fitting the BTA into the assembled base isn’t too bad, but because of the intelliscope feature you have to be careful so you don’t damage the altitude encoder when you put it on the base. I also have a portable Magna Cart that I use with an extended bungee cord to transport (except down stairs). That has helped a lot and makes moving it around home fine, or out to the car. Taking it to a dark site isn't too bad as I simply move it from the SUV to the base at that time.

The BTA has some other items that I dislike. I have to begin with the large round knobs that adjust the mirror for collimation and the locking springs. I have a locking spring that just doesn’t like to lock and the corresponding large collimation knob that comes loose as a result. I have never had them come loose during a session, just during transport. It is very frustrating that everytime I have to adjust the screws and knobs in order to secure the mirror. I will probably be calling Orion to get a new set of them and replace them on the telescope. The fan on the bottom of the TA is the normal Orion fan and though it helps, and has help to lower the temperature of the mirror, it takes longer than an hour for this 2 inch mirror to reach equilibrium. I find I do not have any vibration from the fan, so I run it all night and that seems to help the mirror stay near or at equilibrium. Watch for the plug in that the fan has for the battery pack. Mine was loose when I installed it and I didn’t notice it until first light. I then had to reattach it to the two sided tape that holds it down.

Another item or items on the BTA that I do not like (and it was the same for the XT10 I have) are the screws that secure the bottom ring of the BTA and the mirror. I find the ones that Orion's manufacturer uses are cheap, and strip very easily. BE VERY CAREFUL if you loosen these to get out your Orion mirror (it has been true for my XX14i and the XT10). I have replaced both screws with better screws from Home Depot and Lowes (same screw, stainless steel if I remember right). Though the new screws are not black, I find having silver on the head of the screw helps me to see my scope better in the dark.

Next item is the mirror. I have had two friends test my mirror and one rated it a 95 strehl with a 1/8 PV wave and another rated it at 93 strehl with a PV wave of around 1/6 to 1/7. They both have been making mirrors and building their own scopes for 12 and 20 years. I trust them but am not sure that a Chinese mirror is that capable. No doubt on my Obsession mirror though. They both said that they have seen Chinese mirrors as good as mine and Chinese mirrors that are far worse with most in the 88 to 92 range. The Jupiter test done at a dark site (Lakeside, Utah and Wolf Creek, Utah with LVM of around 7.0 to 7.2) shows the mirror performing at what those who have viewed it would say is around a1/7 or 1/8 PV wave. What is it actually is what I would like to know? Well, with the recent fire and the need to clean the XT10’s mirror and being afraid that some residue would be more than dust or dirt, I posted locally and one of our clubs leading members suggested that I contact Steve Dodds for the cleaning. So I contacted Steve Dodds, owner of Nova Optical who lives near me and is a member of SLAS like I am. He answered my question on how clean the mirror in this case and graciously agreed to test my mirror. I haven’t had the time to have it tested, but am going to call him up and arrange a time since I am off next week and it is the week of full moon. If the views are great in my XX14i then why test it? Out of curiosity and to see where it really is at. I will post the results here after the actual test. Safe to say though, I am content with the mirror in my XX14i and it provides outstanding views and details of the DSO objects I love to hunt, and the planets I am getting into observing. If I compare the mirror to the Obsession 20” that I co-own, the mirror in the 20” is superior but not quite enough that I can see it except on those nights of just outstanding seeing. Then again, it could just be my eyes and they are middle age.

The tension knobs for the azimuth and altitude motion are not my favorites either as the altitude motion at times becomes too lose and I have to adjust that tension. I probably need some more weight on the back end because of the eyepieces I am using (Pentax XW).

Now for the one feature I HATE and yet also kinda of like when it works which is the Intelliscope. I am sure I hate this piece of equipment because of user error. I can get it working and get warp factors of .2 to .6 and then one night, I get a warp .24. The green light on the Intelliscope should be all red in my opinion, though some would argue that the green light is more suited for chart and pad observations. Bottom line though, its just too bright at a dark site. I like using it but I don’t trust it and end up confirming my object via a star hop so often I find I am using the good old Telrad, the 9x50 RACI Finder or my finder eyepiece and chasing down my objects. Perhaps one day I’ll get it figured out. Orion would do well to adjust the color on the Intelliscope and to offer the XX14 without the I with some cost savings. I will also say that I thought it was a help at Star Parties, it isn’t. I know the show objects and their locations by heart so I can get there quickly while talking; multi-tasking is easy for me. IF you don’t know the night sky, then the Intelliscope is an invaluable aid. My personal favorite use of the Intelliscope is to use it to confirm faint objects I go after.

The truss design is fine. It is screw in knobs that fit snug and secure into the BTA and then the UTA (upper tube assembly) . My warning though is to watch for the allen wrench knob to come lose and to have to tighte them. Check them when your home on a cloudy night. The UTA fits onto the truss design knobs easily, if you line them up first so they are all in position. The UTA is light, doesn’t weigh much and is easy to install. The duo speed focuser is not a Moonlight Focuser but is adequate for the job. Much better than the single speed crayford on the older Classic Telescopes. As you have probably seen, I have a Telrad base and a Telrad riser attached to mine and I have the RACI 9x50 scope. Love the RACI scopes. The UTA has a navigation knob and sometimes I use it, and other times I don’t. I’m sure with winter coming I’ll use it more so I don’t’ have to touch the steel.

In the UTA I replaced the allen wrench collimation screws with a set of Bob’s Knobs with the Milk Jug Washer modification on them. That modification has made a huge difference in get the scope collimated and quickly. The shroud is a must, and are the blue carrying bags you can purchase with it. They are a life saver for getting everything out to a site and picked up quickly. Label your tress poles either 1, 2, 3, 4 or A, B, C and D. That way they get back to their position quickly. Also on the upper UTA I dislike the 9x50 finderscope that comes with this dob. I have always used a RACI Finderscope and am use to that image while star hopping. IF I don't use the finderscope I use a wide eye angle, low power eyepiece that acts as my finder eyeypiece. So since I really only use the finderscope to help me either verify location or help me restart a hop when I have a hard time finding a faint object, I replaced the stock finder with the 9x50 RACI Finderscope. A friend has a Stellarvue F50M2 and I may consider putting that on if I can figure out how to mount it. The weight would be a concern though.

Take down is much longer than the XT10 Classic or the Obsession. Not sure why that is, but there are more parts to disassemble and to put into their blue bags. The Obsession stays in an observatory unless we take it out but setting it up and down is not any longer than the XX14i. The azimuth motions on the XX14i are not as smooth as a higher quality dob, but I have no problem with my azimuth motion or really with my altitude motion.

You will end up standing when your observing at Dobson's hole with this scope. I have a Starbound and a Stardust chair and I am at the maximum height for when using the chair at zenith. I usually get off the chair and stand or I sit at the highest rung or setting and use a step footstool I use during public outreach for kids to step up on and see in the eyepiece to put my feet on. I'm six-foot in height so that will give you some feeling of how it works for me. So I can sit and observe with our without the step stool, the step stool just makes it easier to sit if I am looking at Dobson's hole/zenith.

So to conclude, this telescope is a beast! It is a large telescope with OVER 100lbs on it assembled. This is not a scope for a wimp! It can be set up and taken down by one, but two makes it go faster. It is larger than its smaller cousin the XX12i which is portable and much lighter. If mobility is a factor, go for the XX12i. The BTA has some issues, the screws to hold the bottom ring, the overall weight of having a 2 inch mirror in there, and fitting it on the base. The base is one of the best features I feel and simply separating the top and bottom of the base helps in setup and transport. The primary mirror is fine in my telescope and I will post the findings when I have them. The secondary seems fine, but I am watching that one over time. I like the truss design, quick and easy to assemble as is the UTA. The dual focuser is an added plus, not a Moonlite but still nice. Be warned, this scope will make you think if you want to go in the backyard and set it up in the winter, knowing you have to take it down afterwards. It does me, but it doesn’t stop me, most (90% of the time) of the time.

Would I buy this scope again? Yes I would. It has terrific views, and is a very solid product. My dream scope is still a 15” Teeter and I think I’ll be placing an order for that come next spring or summer as some funds become available. For now, the Orion XX14i , the beast as I call it, and despite having some flaws, is a solid performer for what it is; an in between scope that is much better than the 8-12 inch starter dobs that Orion and Zhumell sell, and introduces a star gazer to what a larger telescope can do. It is my main telescope for now, and it serves me well. Heavy, yep. a tank, yep. Perfect, nope. Problems, yep. A work in progress, as all dobs are, yep. Worth the cost unless you need or want something lighter.

One More Update on the XX14i (April 12th, 2011).

It has almost been a year and I still really enjoy this telescope. It is not a premium scope and if you want premium motions, mirror and quality, buy a premium. However for the money, this is has been an excellent scope. My mirror is just fine and extremely good. I don't have too many issues outside of the weight on the bottom tube. I still have issues with the intelliscope and that needs to get fixed and remain fixed. Other than that, if I use the scope manually, which I do anyway most of the time, it is wonderful!

Now, I have had some emails and contact from other people about the XX14i vs a premium dob. I own a 20" Obsession and lets clear the air, the XX14i is not a 20" Obsession or even a 15" or 12.5" Obsession. But lets compare:

The standard 12.5" Obsession costs $2995.oo without any extras. Lets put on it a Argo Navis that adds $875.00 to the cost which brings the total cost up to $3870.00. Add $40.00 for a Telrad (assuming you mount it since Obsession charges $45.00), $169.00 for a shroud, that brings your total cost (not including shipping or a finder scope) to $4079.00. Now add their 9x50 RA StellarVue Finderscope for $195 and your up to $4274.00.

The Obsession 15 inch Classic costs $4695.00 and now add the Argo Navis for $875.00 and the Telrad at $40.00 (you install), a shroud at $179.00 and your at $5789.00 with no shipping and no finder scope. Add the finderscope and your at $5984.00.

Now lets look at a couple of other premium brands.

Teeter (I am in love with what Rob does and in time, I'll probably replace the 20" with a scope by Rob. I just have to get through the next couple of years with college etc. for my kids).

Teeter 15" Classic Telescope with Zambuto mirror: $5300.00. This comes with a Telrad, but no finder. Sky Commander costs $500.00, $50.00 for a mounting block for the box for the Sky Commander, 9x50 StellarVue Finder is $184.00, a shroud by Heather for $85.00 and a case to hold the truss tubes at $45.00. Total cost, $6164.00 (and that is an outstanding scope!) before shipping costs.

Now you could save $400.00 by going with a Waite Research mirror and your total cost is then $5764.00 without shipping.

Webster Telescopes offers a 14.5 inch dob right off for $6899.00 or $109.00 a month (I don't recommend buying on credit, save up and pay cash, cash makes no enemies). Want an Argo Navis digital setting circles, that adds $1000.00. Scope comes with a Telrad, a Shroud and a dual speed focuser. Total cost: $7899.00, or lets just say $7900.00.

Now all three or four of those scopes are marvelous, just wonderful pieces of equipment. You will not go wrong with any of them and you'll have a scope to last a lifetime.

Now for the Orion XX14i

Total Cost: $1799.95 (say $1800.00).

Extras: Shroud: $75.00; Padded Blue Cases: $269.95; Telrad: $40.00; Finder 9x50 RACI (I already had two so I just use one of those and the scope comes with a straight on inverted finder which I did not like) $84.95.

Total Cost: $2269.85 before shipping. I had mine ordered into the Clark Planetarium which saved me the shipping charge.

Now lets say your unhappy with the primary mirror and decide that you need to get it reconfigured. Optical Wave Laboratories lists prices for their re-figuring. For a 14" mirror it is $665.00 and the re-coating would cost $112.00 for a standard coating or $155.00 for a semi-enhance coat (what I would opt for). If you want an enhanced coating that would cost $297.00.

So now the cost of the XX14i would be as follows:

XX14i re-configured and standard coating: $3046.85

XX14i re-configured and semi-enhanced coating: $3089.85

XX14i re-configured and an enhanced coating: $3231.85.

So what is the cost savings? I'll use the re-configured XX14i with enhanced coatings at $3231.85.

Obsession 15" vs XX14i: Savings would be $2752.15.

Teeter 15" vs XX14i: Savings would be $2932.15

Webster 14.5" vs XX14i: Savings would be $4667.15.

So for me this is what it comes down to. My XX14i is doing well. I am learning the intelliscope system and for me, 90% of the time it puts it in the finder using a 21mm Stratus or 24mm Panoptic. From there I can observe it, study it and then work down in lower power. The XX14i isn't smooth buttery on its altitude or azimuth motions, but it is better than the XT10 I own and as well as the Z12 my friend owns. I don't like my motions too loose or its too easy to bump or lost the object, or have a slight breeze disrupt it. The truss system is not perfect, but outside of my first week, I have never had a problem getting the upper tube on.

I like the break apart base, and so far so good. I keep the upper part in one piece and the lower part in one piece. I can easily move it out of the house that way without banging it up (learned the hard way on that one). The bottom OTA weighs a lot at around 60lbs, but you have to know that going into this. It's a beast! I named mine Monster Mash because its heavy and mashes out the DSO's. I move the bottom OTA by a dolly, and lift it into my SUV. I have a bad L5/S1 and never have I had back problems moving this scope. Just think through what your doing.
I've said it before, I am very happy with my mirror. It is a very good mirror as tested and provides outstanding views (see my post from September 21st on what David Rankin had to say on the views of Jupiter). I won't be re-figuring or re-coating my mirror until it actually needs to be re-coated. So for me, I got a very good mirror (and from the sounds of it, many who have purchased it seem to feel that they also have a good mirror that provides good views) and the scope, though not perfect, saved me a ton of money and provides that step up I was looking for.

Now, having talked savings, two other items I must mention to be fair. First is the used market. My brother-in-law and I purchased our 20" Obsession used and it was the best thing in the world we did. We saved a lot of money. When he buys me out of my half at some point, (with the condition I can use the scope whenever I am at the observatory) I know that the price I am getting is the fair market price of the scope and that is because the Obsession held its value, for the most part. So if you want a premium scope, look used and be patience.

Option 2. If you KNOW you CANNOT afford premium, and don't want a 3 year wait from Discovery Telescopes, then I would highly recommend Dennis Steele over at DobStuff . Denis will make you a kit that you can assemble if your handy and you varnish and then assemble it. For a 14 inch scope that cost is $695, with no mirror. You can buy a mirror from him from Hubble Optics. Go to the link and search his site. I know when the XX14i is ready, I will get the mirror redone locally here in Herriman, and then send him the parts and the mirror to remake it for $895.00. Want a brand new 14 inch with a mirror in it? Dobstuff and Dennis will sell you a complete finished scope for$1995.00. That with $500.00 for Sky Commander brings you right into the realm of the XX14i at a lesser weight. If you already have the Telrad and the Finder your good to go at that point! If I had known of that option when I purchased the XX14i, I may have gone that route instead because I like what Dennis does. I had the opportunity to use one of his scopes when I was visiting a few months ago in the Bay Area. Wonderful! In the end, he'll end up re-doing the XX14i when the time comes.

Again, don't take me wrong. I love the Monster Mash/XX14i and enjoy it everytime I have it out. It is for me, my go to scope and I use it far more than any other. In the end whether you go with the XX14i or a scope from Dennis Steele at DobStuff or go on the used premium market or go premium, it is up to you. Only you can decide what you can afford and how to spend your money. All I've tried to do is to show that the XX14i is a great value even IF you have to have your primary redone. Dobstuff offers a great deal also at a really quality price that many can afford. Call him to find out what his schedule is like before building. I have never heard of any complaints on him. You could always do what I am going to do, buy the XX14i, enjoy it, and then in 4 years or so rebuild it with Dennis. No matter what, I hope this helps someone and keep enjoying the views from above.

Edit Again, June 2nd, 2011: There is now another option over at Starstucture Telescopes for a 12.5 inch Dob with a 12.5 Carl Zambuto mirror in it for #3295.00. This includes a shroud. You'll need to add a Telrad or Rigel Quickfinder to it, probably a RACI finderscope, a counterweight and then your ready to go. Here is the link. It is their 12.5 F5 TL series scope. If this had been available when I bought my XX14i, I would have gone with this scope, though it is 1.5 inches smaller in aperture, the gains would have been worth it.



Sunday October 10, 2010 Observations; Comet Hartley

October 10, 2010

I decided to set up close to home this night but I needed to get out. October has been rough on Astronomy between a funeral that took a weekend of great seeing and then a week of clouds of rain at new moon. Now the wonderful crescent moon is up. As of tomorrow, Wednesday, October 13th, I am off from teaching for the next 3 weeks so I plan on getting some time in, probably tomorrow night. The waxing crescent will drop behind the mountains around 11:00p.m. so that will give me an opportunity to do some good winter Herschel hunting which is what I need. I am heading to a location I scouted out in the West Desert Mountains that is up out of the humidity that happens in the valleys out there this time of the year. So I should have another report this week. I also plan to do some lunar observing from the backyard and to enjoy that view and to so some live lunar sketches. So until Saturday the weather should hold just fine and that should make for some fun.

Anyway, on Sunday I actually observe quite a few objects but only sketched a couple. I did a sketch of M-31 from a LP zone but I haven't finished processing it yet. I'll try to do that also over the next several days. One thing that drove me nuts was that on this night my Intelliscope worked fine at first, but then went to a Warp 24. I shut it off and star hopped but I'll need to readjust that so it is working. Did an encoder test and that was fine so I have an idea but we'll see.

The other thing was on this night my son who is 16 joined me. To be quite honest that is why I only got 3 sketches done [I did a 10mm Pentax XW sketch and a 24 Panoptic Sketch (wrote 32, thinking 35, but it was the 24) that I'll post soon]. Despite the lack of sketches it was a wonderful night. We started with M22 and then moved over to the Lagoon Nebula, M8; Trifed Nebula, M20; the Sagittarius Star Cloud, the Swan Nebula, M17; the Eagle Nebula, M16; the Wild Duck Open Cluster, M11; M27 The Dumbbell Nebula; M57 the Ring Nebula; and then over to M31, M31 and M110, and then over to the Double Cluster, NGC 457 and then to Comet Hartley. It was fun to let my son run the 14 inch telescope for the first time and to watch as he visited old friends. We talked as he hunted and I enjoyed the views. My daughter even joined us for about 20 minutes.

Here are the two sketches that I did with Comet Hartley. On the one with the 10mm Pentax XW a stellar core was visible with averted vision, at times with direct and it appeared brighter on the eastern edge though I am not sure why. I would have expected that on the western edge. In the Panoptic 24mm (labeled as the 32 which it wasn't, we had been using that EP to try it out but I did not sketch it to see if I liked it better than the 24) no core was visible, just a nice fuzzy ball.