Electronics vs. Good Old Paper/Plastic Products for observing

I was reading Uncle Rod's blog (highly recommend it) and the current entry discusses how to use a planisphere. I learned the constellations on a planisphere, and to be quite honest, I still use a planisphere from time to time when needed. I recommend if you are unsure how to use one, go over to Uncle Rod's blog and check out that entry.

However, his blog raised a very important question in my mind. In there he talks about how he had some of his novice astronomy students out and they were using the Edmund's Scientific Planisphere. However, some students on their smart cell phones had such programs such as Distant Suns, StarMapPro, Sky Safari and they go to the constellation or the visual object/star in the constellation faster then their peers using the planisphere. Uncle Rod brings out in his blog post that "I therefore conclude cell phones are at least on the verge of becoming the 21st century’s planispheres."

So my question is, what type of observer are you? Do you use paper/plastic planisphere's, star atlases, and books to help in your search in the universe or are you a modern electronic observer, using your smart cell phone, an iTouch or iPad or other such device to bring the universe to you? I know I am more of a planisphere and atlas type of guy, but I have used my laptop when I was doing the Messier to run Starry Night Pro 6 to give me more in depth maps in the field of the objects I was hunting (until I got some atlas that went deep). I didn't like the drain it took on the battery on the lap top (I ran the laptop without a generator or inverter so I wore that battery out and had to replace it). I have a battery that I can use to charge my inverter and an inverter and a Black & Decker Electromate 400 so I could use a laptop but find I don't want to use any of my two laptops in the field due to dust, dirt and grime issues. I may need to rethink this though as I use on in the observatory for the 20". Or does a push to or goto system relegate this to being meaningless and visual astronomy is simply on the way out, to be replaced by imaging because of excessive light pollution and because that technology is needed for amateurs to participate in the bulk of scientific discoveries and studies?

I have a poll over on the left and would welcome your participation on this and any comments you may have. It will be very interesting to see how this hobby is going to change over the next 30 to 100 years.

Contest and Viewing of NASA's Solar NanoSail

My weather continues to be snow and clouds, clouds and snow. So in cruising around the NASA site I noticed that NASA's Solar NanoSail is viewable for the next month or so until it falls and burns up in the atmosphere in either April or May. NASA has teamed up with for a contest where the best image taken of the NanoSail wins $500 for the grand prise (and it's CASH!), $300 for first prize and $100 for second prize. This could be a fun way to earn some extra astro-equipment spending money! Here's the link to the contest rules and how to submit photos. Here's the gallery of what's been submitted so far. The contest link has several links for tracking so here are two direct links: Live Real Time Map of Sail on GoogleMap. List of visible passes.

So if you participate in the quest of the best image, or simply do as I'll do and look for the NanoSail's solar flares, hopefully we have the weather conditions to allow for this. Should be fun to watch with the weather's permission.


Messier Marahon, Messier Observing List, Best of the NGC Websites/Links

Charles Messier

Well, soon many will depart into the zone of a Messier Marathon. For those who may not know what this event is, it is where you spend a whole night chasing down the 110 objects found in Charles Messier's list. Charles was a comet hunter and he listed this objects because it was easy to confuse them as being possible comets when they were not. I have seen online that some clubs are doing this come the first of April, and weather and conditions might make it a challenge to do it before, but the dreaded Daylight Savings Time returns to most of the United States on March 13th of this year, thus reducing the amount of time an observing can go outside after work during the week. So if you have a good night before the 13th, you may want to consider giving it a go as you'll have more hours of darkness to do it.

In lieu of the Messier Marathon, and because I haven't post this for awhile, I am going to list some links to some good Messier sites and charts, and provide a link to the R.A.S.C. Finest Observing List which is published each year in their Observer's Handbook.

Messier List by Season

Messier Telrad Charts 1

Star Hopping List of Messier Objects by Time of Night (Scroll Down when you get to the page)

Messier Telrad Charts by Constellation

Messier Online Telrad Charts Utah Skies

If your going to do the Messier Marathon, you MUST know when the constellations are going to rise that night and plan out your night according. Trying to view M1 where I live at 5:00a.m. isn't going to work for example. So plan out the night before you try it! The one site above can be a reference of what you may want to do. A few links that may help you and continue your reading and this year because of time I am not going to post a full review since others online have done that already. Also, it is still very cold in most parts of the U.S. and the northern hemisphere, so dress warmly. Not dressing right can kill this all night event. Hope these sites help:

Stargazer Online Guide to the Messier Marathon

The Messier Marathon (good info here)

Larry McNish's Free Messier Marathon Planner Online

If you live in the Salt Lake County area and want to try this, the Salt Lake County Library has this book available from the Sandy Library for checkout. If you don't live here, then check your local library. It's an ok book to go for this time of the year. Good luck in getting these. I'm personally passing this year (did one two years ago) and if I have a good night, I am just going to go work my observing list and try to make up some ground on the objects I needed in Jan. and Feb.

If you are looking for some other observing lists of brighter objects here are a couple also:

R.A.S.C. Finest NGC Objects
. This comes complete with finder charts for download but be careful, a few objects may be to far north if you live to far south! Great list though.

Best of the NGC with image, description and an online finderchart.

Saguaro Astronomy Club Best of the NGC (you can view their book online and/or download it per their instructions).

Best Objects in the NGC by SAG members A.J. Crayon & Steve Coe. Lists the items but no findercharts.

So all that hopefully will help to keep some of you busy. Let's hope for some clear skies soon!


ESO Chile Telescopes and Milky Way

Well, I've seen these on other sites and since I can't embed on blogger, I will link them so you can go over to YouTube and see this wonderful images of the Milky Way from the ESO telescopes in Chile. What a wonderful dark sky! I downloaded them but it was taking forever to get them uploaded so I'll simply put in the links. If you haven't seen these go take a look, well worth the couple of minutes of your time.

Not much is going on, snow, and more clouds, and the moon when there are no clouds. Hopefully this next weekend things clear up for a week or so. Had a re-treatment of a root canal that went bad and boy, did that knock me down for 3 days after the treatment. Hurt like a bugger and I ended up taking the pain prescriptions which is something I don't like doing. Still is smarting but not hurting today.

ESO ALMA Antenna Time Lapse #1

ESO ALMA Antenna Time Lapse #2

Another thing I have been asked about is seeing the zodiacal light. I have been fortunate to see this several times, mostly in the spring or fall here in Utah but my last observing session with Mat a couple of weeks ago showed this affect wonderful in the Utah West Desert. It was easily seen as it came up out of the west and into the ecliptic. It is caused by sunlight being scatted by space dust in the zodiacal cloud. This NASA image reflects best what I see when I see it. I need to get my own image of it.

One last item. If your ever in Salt Lake City, and there isn't a lot to do and you don't want to contact me to go star gazing or its at full moon, check out the Clark Planetarium. The exhibits are free, the movies aren't but they are really cool. They have a IMAX theaters and a planetarium with shows. So if your burning to get a fix of astronomy in Salt Lake City and you don't have much to do, head on over. You just may find something to do or some money to spend in their gift store (I am in no way connected with the Clark Planetarium).


Working on a new site/depository for my Sketches

I have a new link to share with any who are interested. Before doing that I want to let you know that this new site doesn't mean that I am doing away with this blog. This blog will still function for now as my main blog. This new site is designed to allow me to put the sketches I've done over time. It is currently a work in progress and when I have some free time, I am trying to get my sketches uploaded. I can already see that I created pages instead of a gallery in the page so I'll have to see if I can correct that. If not I'll keep the Herschel Objects separate from the rest.

My ultimate goal is to include both my digitize sketch and my original sketch as I know some have said they prefer one over the other. The new link is called Interstellar Sketching and is located over at WordPress. It's in my favorite links. I have to thank Faith who over at CloudyNights recommended it, and who uses a site. If you have never looked at her sites they are in my blog following and I recommend you check out her work.

I am also doing a comparison with and that site is InterstallarSketching also. The issue for me is WordPress offers 3 GB of space to upload while only offers 100mg. So WordPress alone should be able to host my sketches and then some. But I'll try both and see what people think. Have an opinion? Please share it here or there. Snow is coming on Wedensday and just as well, sometimes life sure just sucks. Anyway, back to my normal go happy self now.


Observing Session February 12th, 2010 NGC 2185, NGC 2215, NGC 2286, NGC 2301, NGC 2311, NGC 2324

Well, despite the waxing gibbous moon, conditions were so good and the weather warm (45 degrees F when I started observing) that I had to go out and give it a try. Tonight I went back to the XT10, since I haven't used it much over the last six months and to be honest, I just wanted to put the tube in the base, a quick setup and take down. I went after a reflection nebula which was visible only with a filter and then open clusters. Conditions stayed good, Antoniadi II until around 23:00 MST when I noticed that the stars at zenith were sparkling and I then went to an Antoniadi III in terms of conditions. At 23:30 MST the wind had picked up and was blowing around 10 mph with gusts up to 20 to 25 mph (estimated). At midnight, I packed it in due to the wind but it was nice to do a short session in the backyard, and get to bed by 00:30 MST. It was nice to use the XT10 again, and the scope performed very good. I need to clean the mirror (its been 3 years and I can tell I used it a lot in the desert and in the mountains) and then give it a good collimation tune up.

I will say one thing last night reminded me. As an amateur astronomer you take what mother nature gives you. I would prefer to have this weather around new moon, but it didn't come. So I got out, did some lunar observing/sketching, did some double stars observing and then these items. Sometimes we need to take what we have, and make the most of it. Nothing wrong with observing doubles and the moon. I'll post those up in the next few days separately. So without any further ado, here are my observations for Saturday, the 12 of February, 2011.


Update on Site . . .

I wrote last summer about my plans for this blog. I plan on keeping this blog open and going and putting a record of my observations and hints and tips on here. I have made a new site that I am testing out called InstellarSketching which I plan to use to deposit copies of my sketches there, and post on my sketching projects of which I have 3 going on. On is the H-400 and H-400 II (as weather allows); another will be a section on my 20" sketches and finally my last is a project I started last summer where I am using either the 10" or the 14" Orion dobs (same dob for each object) and I am sketching the target object in my backyard which is an orange zone and/or at two other sites which are gray. The purpose will be to note the detail difference I see in the objects between the two zones while also providing a SQM reading at the site while observing and sketching. As soon as I have the other site up and running I will post it here. Well, its up but so far I don't have too many sketches there. Going out tonight in the backyard to chase down some open clusters.


The Sagan Series 1 & 2

Came across Series 2 over at The Bad Astronomer so I went over to YouTube via the link and found Series 1 & 2. I'm so glad for Carl Sagan and his optimism for the human race and where our capabilities and future opportunities lie. He had such faith that given time, we would solve our problems and turn to the stars. Here's hoping that he is right and perhaps, as we do public outreach, in some small way, we may turn the public to the stars and thinking about where our future lies, out there. Enjoy!

Sagan Series 1

Sagan Series 2


Digital Recording Tools for Observing

Well, it snowed last night and this morning giving us about 3 inches of snow on the ground after most had melted away. I needed to put oil in my Pathfinder yesterday and I've had a problem with the oil cap getting stuck because it sits in a plastic PCV black pipe. So it wasn't turning so I cranked on it really hard with my arms and I tore the pipe off the engine block where the oil goes in! So its in the shop and the part will arrive tomorrow and get installed. On top of that I had a root canal done a year ago with a cap and because it wasn't cleaned properly, the tooth is reinfected, hurts pretty good and I have to go in a week from this Thursday for a root canal. There goes the extra money I was hoping to buy some more eyepieces with! Oh, add a cold to it!

So in this entry I wanted to share with you something that I will use when I want to focus on my sketch and in observing more than writing down on my log sheet. At these times I use my RCA Digital Recorder, model V5220-A that I got from Walmart for around $30.00 to $35.00.

This model comes with two jacks, one for a ear phone, one for a microphone, is not voice activated and has a red voice recorder on the side. It has a bright light on the upper right in this picture that I simply covered with a piece of black electrical tape. If you look closely you can see the edge sticking up.

Here is the red record button, the two volume buttons and the erase button under the record volume.

Here is the lock button so your recordings can't get erased when you done, and the microphone and the headphone jack. I do have a microphone for it and I often put the digital recorder in my left shirt pocket and then attach the microphone just below my neckline. It works nicely and if you search on my blog, have posted some earlier recordings here. It runs on 2 AAA batteries and they last for about 3 to 5 months depending on use. The only thing I dislike about this unit is the lack of voice activation.

Here are my three tools. My observing record, which I fill out after I get home, my observing card or cheat sheet and the digital recorder.

On my cheat sheet or observing 3x5 card, I simply filled out the 3x5 card with the items from my observing sheet, so that I would ensure I captured all the information I wanted on the recording. I then describe the object and then usually sketch the object. Moving forward I want to record my impressions as I sketch and why I choose the pencils I do, the paper, the details etc. I think that information could be helpful to others and would be helpful to me if someone wants to provide some input/feedback to me on my sketching process. I had the 3x5 card laminated so it will hold up in dew or moisture.

So nothing huge, but I thought some might find this method useful as they think about how they record their own observations. Oh yeah, there are still times I still just write it all down depending on my goals, how many objects I'm after etc.


Can you Find some of the Winter Constellations?

Well, its back to being cloudy here in northern Utah. Well I was out one night, my observing friend Shahid took this image out at the Rush Valley site of the night sky. Can you find the constellations in the image? Orion should be easy but what other one(s) do you see? Some may only be parts of the constellation. Just a fun way to show off Shahid's work and to have some fun on a cloudy night. These were taken with his Canon DSLR camera (I believe that is what you call it) on a tripod pointing up at that portion of the sky about a half hour to forty five minutes if I recall correctly.


Finderchart for NGC 2655

Just got in and I noticed that I had several searches for a finderchart for NGC 2655. So I thought I would do a quick post and put up a chart on how to get there. I haven't labeled it with my dashes so you can figure out your own way. I came up from M81& M82, which are easy for me, and started at 27UMa. However you can find your own and I hope that it works out for you. Good luck and good hunting until the SN fades there. Again, click on the image for a larger version.


Observing Feb. 2, 2011 and Truss Mods for XX14i

Well, I finally got out! It was clear, and cold, got down to -6 degrees F when my observing partner Mat and I left Rush Valley last night. It was about 10 when we got there around 5:00p.m. and the temperature kept dropping. I didn't feel it except for my left pinky which grabbed the metal of the upper tube last night with only a mitten on, and then my toes. With the toes I forgot to put a hand warmer on my toes to keep them toasty, but 10 minutes in the Pathfinder and I was good to go and never got cold again (hand warmers in the gloves). We observed from around 6:30p.m. until 11:30p.m. when the cold didn't get us, but got the equipment. Frost began to form on the secondary and neither of us have dew heaters so that combined with the fact the EP's kept frosting told us our session was over.

It was a wonderful night. The zodiacal light was out in the west in all of its brilliance. It was so bright it looked like the sky before dawn or as the full moon rises. Very evident. The winter Milky Way showed itself with its rifts and swirls. Just tremendous. Winds were about 5 to 10mph when we got there, but typical of the site in Rush Valley, they died at sunset and stayed away.

I didn't bother to hook up my intelliscope because I wanted to star hop last night and because the temp was below 20 degrees. The display just never works well in really cold weather and I know I am not the only one who has that issue after I Googled it. I started out with M42 and then looked at NGC 2271 a PN in Gemini, and J900, another Planetary Nebula in Gemini. J900 took some time for me to hunt down, but it was satisfying. Both took the Ultrablock Filter the best for observing. I did not sketching either.

I then went and tried for Simeis 147, a SN remnant in Taurus just south and east of Elnath. I tied using a OIII and the Ultrablock to no avail. Then again, this was when my feet where getting really cold, well, my toes, and I needed to get them warmed up so I decided to save that for March when I should be out at Great Basin National Park.

After failing with Simeis I took the H-Beta out and I went after B33. The Flame was visible so I took off and went down to where B33 should be. At first it did not stand out, and then slowly, it popped! When it popped it was easily seen. Mat took a look and also saw B33 quite easily. Second time I've seen it and both times at this location.

Next, I went out to Ursa Major to see SN2011B in NGC 2655. It was pretty easy to do a star hop there and the SN still showed itself quite well. Here is the sketch and my notes:

I also captured several other galaxies in Ursa Major, and one in Draco that is a H400 object I needed. Here they are:

NGC 3027 and NGC 2985 in Ursa Major. North is up I believe.

NGC 3147 in Draco.

I now went to work over in Monoceros to get in some more Herschel 400 objects, mainly Open Clusters.

NGC 2232

NGC 2244

NGC 2251

After this, things were starting to wrap up so the last object I went for was the Pup by Sirius since B33 was seen, I figured, why not try. Sure enough Mat and I both saw the Pup. Here is my sketch. Can you identify the Sirius B?

After handling the truss poles last night in the cold, I was determined to minimize this. So today I went to Lowes and purchased some pipe tubing and cut it around so they would fit the poles. I used 3/4 size and Lowes only had 3 and you really need 4 six feet to get this to work. So on the last one I took the left overs and put two of the leftover pieces together to make it work on the last pole set. Here is what it looks like. Oh, they fit into the blue truss bag just fine!

Watch the length of these! I trimmed these down after I did the initial cut and placement.

This shows it going into the blue bag.

Here you can see them in the blue bag that holds the truss poles for the XX14i:

This shows that if you use the 3/4 inch what the gap is like if you choose not to seal them on the metal. I may buy a 1 inch and see if it makes a difference but when I put them together, I like the 3/4 and I think if I were to seal them, I would use the 3/4. Haven't decided to seal them yet.

Here you can see that they make a snug fit into the bag. I had to let all the extra strap out to get it to close, but it did close and wasn't that hard to get it to come together. Next is to see if they impact the scope at all in terms of weight. I'm not worried about how they will fit on the upper or lower tube and I have left plenty of room on mine to turn the nobs. Next time I assemble the XX14i I will take pictures of what this looks like assembled.