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1/30/2011

Loading the XX14i into a Nissan Pathfinder

On January 28th, 2010, a friend and fellow observer Shahid sent me a text message and asked if I wanted to observe. Clear Sky Clock said it would be good . . . but I knew from the night before that though it may start off great, we have an inversion (see my earlier post on what this is) and as a result, a thick ground fog forms unless your 2000 feet above the valley floor. Desperate to observe though, I decided to give it a try.

So as I loaded up the Pathfinder I took some pictures. The images you'll see is just my stuff. When Shahid got here, we had talked about car pooling, and not trusting his van, we loaded his Z12, tube and base, and his other stuff into my Pathfinder. So what you'll see is again, just my stuff, but know by consolidating this really well, and breaking down my base completely, we actually had more than enough room and with some more care, a tent, sleeping bags, and other camping stuff could have fitted into my Pathfinder. It would have been filled up, but it is possible. Here are the pictures.

Image 1:
























The first thing I put in is a base board without the legs attached and that has some carpet on top. I'll use this if the ground is wet or muddy, or if I am going to a place that can dew easily. Pit n Pole meets these requirements so in it goes. The two pillows I got at my school from a teacher who was going to throw them away and I use them to buffer stuff to prevent scratching and dents, and then if needed, I have a couple of comfortable pillows to put my head or or as I usually do, I use one as a pillow and since these are soft and body length, I use one to give me some cushion if I am laying in the back trying to sleep after a LONG night of observing.

Image 2:






















Next I put the round base in. I take the base out of my office where I store the XX14i in two pieces. The round base, and then the top part of the base. This prevents any beating up, dents or scratches from the base (learned the hard way on that).

Image 4:























Next you can see the top portion of the base after I set it down, and hooked up the intelliscope cores. All I have to do now is connect the 3 side knobs on the left and right side, and the two front knobs to the round base and the base is together. I do this at home in the driveway so that when I get to my observing site, I can simply unload the base and it is ready to go. Since I did not take pictures of the load at the site, I'll say that I do the opposite after loading the base (sometimes I do it on the ground unless its really dirty or muddy before I load it in the Pathfinder or car). This allows the two base parts to be ready to be taken inside without beating them up in the doors.

Image 5:























Here is the base completely assembled, loaded, and ready to go.


Image 6:























This is the bottom tube in its case. I have brought it out using a handcart, a Magna Cart from Sam's Club and a bungee cord that secures the entire thing to the cart. On the base I use a piece of 1/2 inch plywood on the bottom to give the scope a base to sit on while transporting it on the Magna Cart. The plywood was cut and given to me by a good friend named Craig. In the image below you can see a 1/2 inch and a 1/4 inch piece of board; the large one is what I use if I am moving it outside, the smaller one is for moving it from the office to the back door. From the back door I simply carry it. I never carry the bottom tube down the two stairs I have in the front or in the back of the house.























Also, about 1/2 the time, I simply carry the bottom tube from my office, and out to the Pathfinder or the Altima to load it. I usually stop about halfway to give the old back a break. Either way works, just depends how much time I have or want to give to moving the scope. Do I want to be smart and have some help or do I want to show that at 45, almost 46, I still can move this on my own. Once outside it goes down gently next to the driver's side passenger door.

Image 7:





























Once on the ground, I simply lift it up using the truss pole mounts on the lower tube assembly and load the bottom tube into the Pathfinder. I have never had a problem doing this, and I am middle age, overweight man. I will say though that since August I have been lifting weights for tone and strength four times a week and that has helped a lot. In the front pocket of the lower tube is my Telrad extension, this is where I keep the Intelliscope cables, the altitude tension knobs are in a zip lock bag so they don't fall out and I lose the washers. In the field or backyard, when I have put the altitude knobs on, I use the zip lock bag to store the caps for my finderscope and the cap for the eyepiece tube. Helps so I don't lose them. I also keep the shroud in the front pocket.

Image 8:


















After loading the lower tube, the hard part of loading the XX14i is over. The base isn't hard for me, by taking it out in two pieces that mitigates its weight for me. The lower tube is the beast, and is probably what will stop some people from purchasing this scope. Here I have loaded the truss poles in their bag between the lower tube and the front seat. In my case in my older Pathfinder, its a natural fit here, nice and snug and not going anywhere. The upper assembly is loaded next to the lower tube in what would be the middle seat position if I had the seats up. Just so you know, I have loaded all of this with the backseats up. The bottom tube sits where it is, the truss poles go on the floor and the upper cage sits on top of them, though is is done on the passenger side for more room. Here's what the XX14i looks loaded up so far from the rear. Hard to see the truss poles but they are there. The big light brown thing over the passenger seat is my winter parka that I use for observing.



















Image 9:






















Here I have loaded the two most important things to observe with (one more critical thing after this image). The silver case is my eyepiece case, and next to that in the black case are my collimation tools, my finderscope, my Telrad, and my Intelliscope. They fit nicely there.


Image 10:




























The last things to go in here is the case that holds my star charts and my printed off star charts and my red flashlights, my digital recorder and copies of my observation sheet. The black bag is that bag, and is pretty important to have. The red tote below it is one from my days about 20 years ago when I sold pharmaceuticals. It now holds the battery pack for the fan, extra batteries, my screw drivers, my sketching lamp, and things of that nature. This is one I could leave at home and just take the essentials. It also has spare parts just in case.


Image 11:



















Well, not the last item to go. This is my sketching bag. It has my sketch books and paper, my pencils, my refills, and just about anything that I could need or want to use for sketching (my blending stumps, chamois cloth, erasers (different kinds for different jobs) etc. Note, it is an old Texas Instrument bag that was going to be thrown away and I asked if I could have it and it was given to me. Works like a charm.

Image 12:




























Now you can see how these pillows work for me! That is my Starbound Observing chair (a chair is truly needed to observe) and it is the one I use more than the Stardust. I find the seat is more comfortable for me and confirms to my dairy aire than the Stardust. I have never slipped or fallen on my Starbound and I am a big guy. Before the pillows I used a towels or a blanket to cover up but with the pillows, I don't worry so much when the road gets rough as I know there is some cushion there.

Image 13:





























Here you can see one of my two tables that I take into the field with me, and I use the other pillow to buffer them from the base. Again, I never have had a problem doing this and it really helps to buffer the items.

Other items I have loaded and not in this image. Well, what you see is what I take for a trip within an hour or so of home when I know I'll be back that night or at the latest, home early the next morning after taking a nap. I have also taken a nice card table that I use, and that usually sits under the base on the board I have there. I take that for those times when I know I am going to be observing and staying at the site for a couple to several days. I will also take a tent, anywhere from a 8 person tent we own to a two person tent we own (usually the two person tent). I have to sleep diagonally in the two person tent but it isn't bad. Often I'll just load up the scope and put the cases in the front seats, leaning the tables and the observing chair against the car and then sleep in the back. If I am staying I have a small gas stove I take and a cooler since I have the gluten free diet I have to maintain. I usually always take a sandwich, a piece of fruit and plenty to drink (water) when observing. That goes in a small lunch sack/cooler and a thermos that I own (or water bottles if I am going to be done for a couple of days).

Doing it this way allows me to bring a passenger along, or as I did last night, I can tear the base apart and fit a Z12 or a 10 inch along with all my stuff into my Pathfinder. If I left this to my daughter, it would fit snug as a bug with LOTS more room. I tend to space things out and not be concern with space. Like I said, I have put far more into my Pathfinder.

So I hope this may help a few who wonder who much space the actual scope takes up. I'm a pack rat and take a lot of stuff with me because that is how I am. Some of you would take far less and have far more room than I.

I am hoping to get a session or two in next week as the inversion should lift. Before the sky went to pop last night, I did manage to see Sirius and the Pup last night and will post a sketch on it. Also, my friend Shahid took pictures with his DLR camera and he will be sending me copies and you can see how the fog monsters came out and got us on Friday night. It was rather weird, almost like a Stephen King moment. We kept teasing each other about the fog creatures coming out of the mist and getting us or taking our equipment.

Edit:

Here you can see the XX14i and the Z12 set up and what went from totally clear to the fog monsters coming in within about 20 minutes. Image from my friend and fellow observer, Shahid. Notice how well you can see this fog/smog in the top portion of the screen. I could see it forming in the distance and then it creep-ed in quickly, and silently.


1/24/2011

Astrobites

I learned about Astrobites from Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog some posts ago. I have enjoyed following these postings by graduate students written for undergraduate students. Their purpose and goal " is to synthesize one interesting paper per day into a very brief format that is accessible to undergraduate students in the physical sciences who are interested in active research."

Furthermore the site states:

"Reading a technical paper from an unfamiliar subfield is intimidating. It may not be obvious how the techniques used by the researchers really work or what role the new research plays in answering the bigger questions motivating that field, not to mention the obscure jargon! For most people, it takes years for scientific papers to become meaningful.

Our goal is to solve this problem, one paper at a time. In 5 minutes a day reading astrobites, you should not only learn about one interesting piece of current work, but also get a peek at the broader picture of research in new area of astronomy."

Best of all, the site is free! An example is a link to Supernova Article in SITN or Science in the News. The article is basic in many ways, but what I enjoyed was looking at the image at the bottom of the article that shows an image of SN2008bk and how the Red Supersize Giant disappeared, allowing for the star to be identified. You can read the short and published article on the disappearance of this star by Mattila et al.

Here is the image of the source for SN2008bk. I recommend the one from the article though as it is much clearer and sharper to look at.










Mattila et al

Another fantastic article is by Ian Czekala, a graduate student at Harvard University in astronomy. He spent two days observing from the Clay 6.5 meter telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Ian spent those nights with Ryan Chornock observing, imaging supernovae candidates found by the Pans-STARR survey and gamma ray burst (GRB) host galaxies. To find out what they were doing with that information go to the link above and read the article. If your an amateur visual or imaging astronomer it will be fascinating. While there Ian discusses how he met Oscar Duhalde, one of the discoverers of SN1987A and their efforts there. If you like reading about fellow amateurs observing sessions, here's a chance to see what and how the pro's do (and they use a mini-mac to control the LDSS-3 on the Clay Telescope . . . I love mini-mac's and what can be done with them). So take a moment and click out here and go read this terrific article.


On a side note, I did get out last night with binoculars and looked at the following objects in my 10x50's:

M45, M42, the Hyades, and I did the star hop to SN2011b starting from Ursa Major and going to M81&82 and then up from there. IF the weather cooperates, I am ready to get out any night this week, but it looks like it is starting to cloud up on me. Guess that is what I get for starting to grind an eight inch and twelve inch mirror and ordering some eyepieces.


1/21/2011

Visual SN2011B in NGC 2655 at mag. 12.9





































Most recent image taken of SN2011B taken from this link (you can see other images and see that the SN is brightening right now).

For those who may not be aware, there is a supernova that came in at mag. 12.9 and is around mag. 13.0 in NGC 2655. Discovered by Koichi Itagaki and Masaki Tsuboi, it is a Type Ia Supernova, which means it is an explosion of a white dwarf star that reached the Chandrasekhar limit of about 1.38 by accretion of mass from its companion star, and then exceeding the electron degeneracy causing the collapse of the white dwarf into carbon fusion. Just a few seconds after the ignition of carbon fusion a runaway reaction occurs, burning into heavier elements and causing the Type Ia Supernova. Here is a link from Bright Supernova on this object, SN2011B.

Here is the image from bright Supernova:

















I will post a finder chart for SN2011B in a couple of hours. NGC 2655 is a 11.0 mag. galaxy above Messier 81 & 82. If you have some time, and want to take a look or try, go for it. Below is an artist rendition of a Type Ia Supernova.



Galaxy Zoo Milky Way Top Ten Favorite Pictures

Galaxy Zoo, the site where you can sign up and help identify different objects based on the project that is occurring has posted a blog on the top ten favorite images of those who are working on their Milky Way project. In the Milky Way project you classify Hubble images to determine if there are star clusters, bubbles or galaxies in the image. You can learn more if your not aware of this project by going to their site.

Anyway, here is a link to the top ten images and I post them because I think they are really wonderful to look at. So if you have a moment, head over and take a look and see what you think of them!

1/20/2011

The Wedge Overlook An Observing Site and Wonderful Views

This piece is intended to share one of the best kept secrets of Utah with you. It is a wonderful place to observe from, a outstanding place to visit and hopefully one day becomes protected as a state or national park. One of the best kept secrets of living in Utah is the many wonderful scenic places one can go and get a first class view of nature. Hopefully this is maintained moving forward well into the future for the upcoming generations. Also, since the weather has continued not to be so good (last night it cleared but the full moon made observing not so good) I've decided to place some links to another area that one can go and observe in Utah. This one is called the Wedge Overlook.

Now I have to admit up front that I have not been to this site yet, but as soon as the threat of snow, rain and/or frost is gone from this site, I am going to head there for a two day new moon event (observe for 2 nights in a row and stay over for one day). An outstanding member of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society and retired Deseret News reporter Joe Bauman (who has a wonderful blog located at the Deseret News that I recommend you read) observes there and if you search his blog, you'll find images taken of him imaging there in the dark. Anyway, Joe is the one who has made me aware of this site and thanks to him I intend to check it out come spring. Hopefully, before spring, I can get some time observing again.

The Wedge Overlook is one of the most scenic vistas in the state of Utah. "The Wedge overlooks the San Rafael river as it flows through the “Little Grand Canyon”. The San Rafael river is a combination of Ferron Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and Huntington Creek which meet at a single point, and then continue to the Colorado River. The Wedge is a massive upheaval geological dome of which the top layers have been eroded away. Further erosion by the San Rafael River has created the spectacular views that are available today. The Wedge Overlook provides restrooms, handicap access, camping (limited to designated sites) hiking and mountain biking."

Here are some images of the "Little Grand Canyon."




























































If you want a wonderful panoramic view of the site, go to this link.

Skies are dark, really dark from what I am told with the only light coming from campfires from nearby campers, but it is easy enough to get away from them and their smoke. The following sites provide directions:

Link 1

Link 2

This site provides images of their visit to the Wedge.

And a map of the site.

There are designated campsites if what I have read is correct that are available on a first come first serve basis.

Here is a YouTube video of someone driving out to the site. I recommend turning the sound off, then watch as they get to the Wedge Overlook area around 4:20 to 4:32 in the video. They then continue on driving through the region. For some, reading the directions and then having a visual aid can be helpful.

Hopeful come March or April (most likely April) I'll be heading down there and giving a first hand account of the site. A few cautions. One, gas. I know my Pathfinder gets about 300 miles on a tank, maybe more. I would stop and top off the gas tank in Price or somewhere before heading out to the Wedge. Also, make sure you spare tire is pumped up and that you know how to get it out. Flats do occur in the desert. Finally, have plenty of water, and food. There are toilet facilities there as you can see in the images or in the YouTube video, but no other services. I recommend your own toilet paper as well. Water and food are a must here if your staying the night.

So for those local to Utah, I hope you've learned of a possible new area to observe from and for those outside of Utah perhaps you have a new place to visit if you ever come out this way.


1/07/2011

The Milky Way’s (almost) identical twin


The Milky Way’s (almost) identical twin

Wonderful article about this almost twin of the Milky Way, but is really 140,000 light years across or 40% times bigger than the Milky Way. Head over and take a look at the comparison of potw1035 and the Milky Way.

In the image above image you can see a wonderful bar from all the stars near the central region and the reason the image was taken, a supernova, SN2004ef, just below and to the left of the core, the bright blue star there. That is one incredible sized galaxy and very, very beautiful. Ever wonder if some other civilization has imaged the Milky Way and what they have had to say about it?

1/05/2011

Nothing New

Sorry, I really don't have a lot going on. The skies were clear last night and tonight IF I could get up in the mountains to one of a couple observing sites. Unfortunately since I am working, I cannot get up there and be home at a decent hour since I have to work. My personality is such that because I have a commitment, I take it seriously, especially being a teacher, and my students are my priority.

In northern Utah we get this wonderful thing called an inversion. This is caused by a layer of cold air getting stuck in the valley below, and warmer air being above it. Snow on the ground adds to the problem. The layer of clouds is not actually clouds, it is pollution and causes a very gray and cold situation underneath it. The only way to get away from it is to get above it where the warm air and where the particulates from the atmosphere are huddled together. Here are some images of it:


















(Those mountains in the distance, you won't see when your in the inversion, but I live south of the middle mountains in the distance) This image from one of our local canyons (Big Cottonwood I think) shows the level of pollution in the inversion. Because of the pollutants, and because the air is so cold under it causing frozen dew to form, and because I have seen those pollutants get on a mirror I often chose not to go out into that mess if I can't get up into the mountains above the pollution/inversion. I find it funny in a sick way, having grown up in the greater San Francisco Bay Area that in the Salt Lake City region we call this inversion. We really need to call it by its real name, smaug. It is unhealthy and will only get worse because of the growth in population, lack of mass transit that is under utilized in the valley.

For the West Desert, I will go because if you go out far enough, you can get away from the inversion (for awhile, it will migrate over time) but those sites are a good 2 hours out and I need time, something I don't have. Luckily I have mainly Open Clusters to track down so if I can get some good nights now that my health is back, I'll have that to report on. I'm itching very bad to get out and get observing. I've updated my printed charts, my equipment is ready to go as are my sketching materials. Now I need time to go out of this muck and observe! I'm off for three weeks starting a week from Monday so I will be getting some good observing in. Hopefully I can see Saturn's storm.

Finally, here is one of my winter observing sites. Tibble Fork Reservoir, just in the Parking Lot. In the late afternoon you'll have snowmobilers packing up after spending a day up there, but the parking lot clears out, and it is clear (usually) and one can observe at around 6392 feet. I've posted before on it but if you want. pack up the scope and stuff, haul an intertube and get up early and go tubing on a nearby hill before setting up for the night. Be warned though, the hill can cause injury as a 38 year old man found out on December 26, 2010 when he went over several bumps and on the last one, going to fast, broke his left leg and possibly some ribs. I'll stick to the easy snow shoe trails nearby where I can also bird watch while enjoying snow shoeing.