Observing Report, Night of April 27th and 28th, 2011; New Sketching Method and Testing of some Apps

Well the clouds parted for me on April 27th and it was a beautiful day. I went out to my local site that is 45 minutes away . . . I got there in 40 minutes this night but luckily wasn't speed when I passed two police SUV's parked on the side of the road in a community called Eagle Mountain. I had a local friend show up, Mark and Mark had a newbie friend (both Mark and his friend are older than me). I set up the XX14i and got it collimated before dark and then just set up the rest of my stuff. In the field this night I tried out several new things, the 27mm Panoptic got its first light; I tested several Apps this night and I tried out the new sketching method based on Scott Mellish method as shared by Alex that I had in an earlier post.

First, the items I observed and the new sketches.

Here's a copy of some notes I have on the session:

It was a wonderful night out there. Mark and his friend showed up and we
looked at several galaxies over in Virgo including M87 and M84 and
Markarian's chain of galaxies. We also looked at Saturn and it was always
neat to hear someone knew just really begin to comprehend how far away these
objects are.

Mark and his friend left around 10:00p.m. and I went to work on my list for
that night. I observed and sketched the following items (using the Scott
Mellish Sketching Technique which is using white and gray pastel on black
paper, applying the pastel in layers with various paint brushes. This method
gives a much improved realistic look in my opinion). I found 165x to 235x
worked really well this night. The seeing wasn't quite good enough for 330x
except for moments of clarity. Antoniadi II this night at zenith.

1. Object:NGC 4361 Planetary Nebula in Corvus. 4/28/2011, 05:26 UT; Pit n Pole, Rush Valley, Utah; Antoniadi II, Clear, Cool to Cold; Size: 1.9'x1.9' Mag. 10.2; XX14i, 10mm & 14mm Pentax XW; Narrowband Filter:
Both with a narrowband filter and w/o the filter this PN was rather large, easily viable and looked almost like a galaxy in the EP. 13th mag central star was easily visible at 165x. Nice
object to view but I love PN's. Seems somewhat irregular in shape, roundish to irregular perhaps, or the edge is not defined well, yes, edge is not defined well. At first only a grayish color, then a tinge hint of green with it.

2. Object: NGC 4027 Barred Spiral Galaxy in Corvus. Date: 4/28/11; Time 06:00 UT; Location: Pit n Pole, Rush Valley, Utah; Antoniadi II, clear and cold; Size: 3.8'x2.3'; Mag. 11.2; Instrument: XX14i; EP: 10mm Pentax XW, 7mm Pentax XW;

Wonderful object! Large barred spiral galaxy with a bright inner core, almost stellar; the bar is evident here. A large spiral arm is off the northern edge going to the east, very easily seen with mixture of averted and direct vision. The sketch I made really captures what I was able to see with time, apply visual basics like averted vision and breathing techniques. Just had a blast with this one.

3. Object: NGC 3729 SG in Ursa Major; Date: 04/28/11; Time: 03:48 UT; Location: Pit n Pole, Rush Valley, Utah; Antoniadi II, clear and cool; Size: 3.1'x2.2'; Mag. 11.4; Instrument: XX14i, Eyepiece: 27mm Panoptic as finder; 10mm Pentax XW for details;

Faint stellar core with a brighter halo surrounding it. Elongated north to south. A 11th magnitude star is nearby as is NGC 3718.

4. Object: NGC 3619 SP in Ursa Major; Date: 4/28/11; Time: 04:29UT; Location: Pit n Pole, Rush Valley, Utah; Antoniadi II, clear and cold; Size: 3.7'x2.8'; Instrument: XX14i; EP: 27mm Panoptic and 10mm Pentax XW.

Bright stellar core with a bright halo surrounding it, and the halo is diffused. Appears face on. NGC 3625 is nearby and included in the sketch.

5. Object: NGC 4038/39 BSG/Irregular Galaxies in Corvus. Date: 4/28/11; Time: 06:27 UT; Location: Pit n Pole, Rush Valley, Utah; Size: 11.2'x5.9'; Mag. 10.5; Instrument: XX14i, EP: 10mm Pentax XW.

NGC 4038 is the H400 object, but the galaxies are merging here. They are Irregular Barred Spiral Galaxy for NGC 4038. Wonderful pair of interacting galaxies also known as The Antenna due to the tails they form in photographs. Very evident interacting with each other.
NGC 4039 looked like a kidney shaped galaxy, or better yet a shrimp like
shape with NGC 4038 being irregular (both are irregular). Brightening at the center, though no nucleus is discern. At the eastern end I can see where the galaxies connect with a faint hint of a tail at the eastern end, perhaps going south, though I am not positive of that. Very able to discern a lane of darkness between them where they are not joined. Wonderful pair and with NGC 4027 would be two excellent and close targets to image for someone wanting that.

6. NGC 3962 Elliptical Galaxy in Crater. I need to find my notes and sketch on this one, so I will update this posting.

7. NGC 4594 Spiral Galaxy edge on in Virgo; Date: 4/28/11; Time: 07:00 UT; Location: Pit n Pole, Rush Valley, Utah; Antoniadi II, clear & cold; Size: 7.1'x4.4'; Mag. 8; Instrument: XX14i; EP: 10mm Pentax XW.

Also known as Messier 104 or the Sombrero Galaxy. As always, wonderful object and the dust lane really snapped out in the 10mm and 7mm Pentax XW. Core is brightening near the center. Wonderful view in the XX14i and the Pentax XW 7mm & 10mm. I already have this for the H400 but I wanted to end on it again and resketch it. I need to process the sketch and then I'll add the new sketch here.

8. Object: NGC 4856 Barred Spiral Galaxy in Virgo. I will add the details and sketch, its tucked away and I won't be able to get to it for a few days.

This ended my Herschel 400 hunt for the night. Here are some other areas I observed:

Saturn: Wonderful as always. I would love to see Saturn in the Refractor at
SPOC using the 10mm Pentax XW. I'll hopefully do that soon.

M13 in Hercules. Hercules was well up by the time 2:20a.m. came around so
I went and took in a tremendous look at 165x and 330x. I saw more stars and
chains of stars than I remember this night. Wonderful detail and again the
detail just snapped out. I can't wait to sketch this one using the new sketching method!

M65, M66 and NGC 3628 in Leo. I showed these to Mark and his friend and now
came back to them. I was trying out the Panoptic 27mm I had received and all
I can say is WOW! I've seen all 3 in the same FOV but the 27mm Pan. just had
them all there with a gorgeous view. Glad I went with the 27mm over the 24mm
because of the improved eye relief and slightly larger field of view (not
much). I used it as my finder all night and then just popped in the 1 1/4
adapter with the Pentax XW I was using and it worked like a charm.

Antares: Double Star in Scorpius.

Messier 4 in Scorpius; Globular Cluster Fun as always, wonderful detail and
reminds me how close we are getting to summer. Here is a sketch of M4:

Messier 80 or NGC 6093 Globular Cluster in Scorpius

Messier 107 Globular Cluster in Ophiuchus

Now it was late, and it was just starting to show some signs of frost so I
packed up and got home around 3:30a.m. Just a tremendous night and a good
one to be out. Now if I can get a few more like that before the moon gets
in the way.


Panoptic 27mm. I have and used the 24mm Panoptic from my brother-in-law but I am so glad I ordered the 27mm Panoptic. Just a nudge more in FOV though the eye relief was perfect for me with my prescription with eye glasses. Beautiful contrast, and stars were pretty good except perhaps in the last 5 percent to 10 percent on the edge. A Paracorr will clear that up and its not the eyepieces fault. This is a keeper and my finder eyepiece.

Apps I tried with Mark and his friend on the iPad. We used StarmapPro and Star Walk. Both programs in their night vision mode (which was still bright) worked well in the twilight as the darkness deepened at the observing site. Using the compass feature allowed us to know where stars were going to pop out and provided good information. Mark's friend was able to use it to view where some objects would be, including Saturn. I tried to use the App iPushTo but because I did not have the iPad linked to the wireless network, it did not work in the field. If I had the azmuith and altitude readings, I could have found objects that way. After Mark and his friend left, I enjoyed the silence of the evening and then in the early morning, feeling a little lonely, I turn on C10 Astronomy out of UC Berkeley by Alex Filippenko and his TA's from a couple of years ago. I enjoyed the company of the podcast as I continued to work into the evening. When it was time to clean up, Alex went off and Rush came on, starting with Tom Sawyer and going on to their other hits.

Well, you can judge for yourself on the new sketching method. I personally, REALLY like it. I still have some things to work on, but overall I am very pleased. I need to get a stiffer brush for detail with a sharper point and I need to figure out how to make the lightening work. My red light was almost too dim for this method but that is an easy fix. Also, I noticed that gray did not brush on very well. because it is very hard to see under a red light. I am sure these are just more experience in doing the process, but I am very happy with the result. Thus I haven't made a digital sketch of these.

Well, I have some more posts over the next day or to, one being a reviewed of the Cambridge Atlas of the Herschel Objects and then another Atlas. I'll try to get to that. I should have a couple of sessions over the next week as well. I am very excited about that IF the weather will clear, warm up and hold. Congrats to Prince William and his bride Catherine. I hope they have a happier life than his parents did. That's up to them I guess.


New Eyepiece 27mm Panoptic

Well, I took advantage of the Televue sale and I went for the 27mm Panoptic. It arrived today at the house in wonderful condition. The first thing I can say about this eyepiece is that it is heavy. It seems to weigh a lot more than my Pentax XW eyepieces and is probably the heaviest eyepiece in the set. Next, the eyepiece itself arrived in pristine condition and now I just need the weather to stay clear for several days so I can try it out. My purpose in purchasing this eyepiece is that I like the eye relief it offers and I really feel it will serve its purpose as a wide field and finder eyepiece. I had the 24mm and though I really enjoyed it, when observing with my glasses I find that I needed just a tad more eye relief, and thus the 27mm. This was confirmed in a conversation on the phone with someone who answered my call at Astronomics.

Here are a couple of images of the 27 Panoptic compared to other eyepieces. Going from left to right you have:

32mm Sirius Plossl; Pentax XW 10mm; Panoptic 27mm; 21mm Orion Stratus; 25mm Sirius Plossl.

So now it comes to decision time. I have the eyepieces I feel for now, that I want in the 5mm, 7mm, 10mm and 14mm Pentax XW; the 27mm Panoptic. Do I keep the Status eyepieces, the 13mm, 17mm, 21mm, and the 5mm Hyperion or do I see them? I have the Stratus EP's for sale locally but I haven't tried to unload them. Part of me says sell them and then perhaps pick up the 19mm Panoptic or the 20mm Pentax XW (IF I can still find one around and yes, I know about the field curvature). Thoughts anyone? I know which way I am leaning right now.

I'll give a full review when I have the opportunity to use it. For now I am moving my premium EP's to their own eyepiece case and the keep the Plossls and the Stratus/Hyperion in their own case.


New Sketching Method with NGC 3628, NGC 3593 and M104

Over at CloudNights and at IceInSpace, Alexander Massey shared a sketching method began by Austrialian amateur astronomer and truly a master of sketching, Scott Mellish. Scott passed away recently and I encourage you to head over to Astronomy Sketch of the Day to see his works and a tribute to him. I wish I could have known him.

Anyway, I've been in contact with Alex and yesterday I reworked two new sketches from April 1st, and one of M104 from May14th, 2010. I present them here for your review. In addition, here is Alex's article that I really invite you to go to and review over at IceInSpace, a forum for amatuers that I believe is over in Australia. This link in the article but provided here, gives you the opportunity to practice. I am going to continue to practice with some of my sketches but only AFTER I try my hand at a globular cluster tomorrow. I was going to try it today but this thing about turning 46 got in the way since the family had something planned.

Here is NGC 3593 which is from my March 31st, 2011 entry (a few pages back so you can compare them). Not perfect and I need some practice, but I can tell you based on what I see in person, I simply love this method. I quality of the sketch is better than any other I've done and it really just sticks out. Now the images below are not scanned, but they are photographs taken. No scanning because then the imperfections show and the flaking of the pastel. Remember, you should be able to click on the image to get a larger view, and the use the back button to get back to this page. Again, this sketch lends itself to using averted vision to get out some of the details. Try it, I think it is rather cool

Here is my rendition of NGC 3628, the spiral galaxy in Leo that is part of the triplet. The star came out too large above it, but overall I like the brightening in the middle upper and lower portions, the dark lane (too wide though) and the overall outcome. Using a paint brush is far easier to me as another hobby I've had since childhood, and passed on from my father is building and painting both plastic and wood models. Also, I paint with oils and so the brush is more my friend at times than the pencil is.

This is M104 done from June of 2010. It is a widefield image, while the above where done with the Pentax XW 10mm, this one was with 21mm and 32mm lens. I enjoyed re-working this sketch, and I feel much better how the dust lane that I tried to capture i the original sketch. I can't wait for some clear skies to try out this method in the field.

So that's it. Hope you can get as excited as I am about this! I'll practice some more tomorrow (birthday is over with and back to the grind so to speak) since I'll have time. Here's hoping all our skies clear up for the next two weeks.


Astronomy Apps for the iPad/iPhone/iTouch Part 2

iPad/iPhone/iTouch Astronomy Apps Review 2

Well, the moon is too full and the weather stays horrible so even if I wanted to do some double star observing that is ruled out. So, I am going to post up on some more astronomy apps that I got for my iPad. The good news is you won't have to worry about reading another entry until sometime after Wednesday, the 20th, which is my 46th birthday. Is there a way to stop them from coming? I've had enough and my body has decided it has had enough birthdays. Anyway, here we go. Remember you can click on an image to see it larger.

1. Exoplanet is free, and comes with ads which of course you can purchase and get rid of the ads. This wonderful program is a "daily updated database of all discovered extrasolar planets. It has been developed and is maintained by a professional astronomer."
+Some of the features according to the add in the app store are:
+Database with physical parameters of every known explanet.Interactive visualizations and animations
+Interactive 3D plot show the position of all exoplanets in our Milky Way. You can zoom into any planetary system.
+Push notifications are sent out anytime a new planet is discovered.
+Extensive background information on exoplanets and detection methods
+Direct links to over 50,000 scientific publications.

Here is the main screen:

When you go into the Database you'll see this screen and it will have the current discovered exoplanets and then the new ones. Inside the tab for the planet is its size, location via a star chart, the method of detection and where it lays in orbit around its parent star (tells you the type of star also) while also showing the Goldilocks zone for that system and the orbits of the planets in our solar system as a comparison.

Here is a sample of a system showing the discovered planet compared to planets in our solar system and a visual of the detection method used.

This is the screen showing the Milky Way and the areas that exoplanets are being found and their distance from Sol/our Sun.

Now to make this more official I am going to use a template to help us know how good this app is. Here we go:

1. Usefulness for Star Gazing (1-5 with 5 being the highest): 1
2. Ability to provide new information to a amateur astronomer to help in planning an observing session: 2
3. Usefulness for the amateur to gain new understanding and knowledge of Astronomy: 5
4. Layout, design and professionalism of the app:
5. Available for iPad, iPhone, ITouch.

This app will not help you in planning a session or in help in terms of star gazing. While, unless you can visually go after the star where these exoplanets are in orbit. That could be a fun task but you would have to determine which, if any are visually observable. It does though provide an avenue for the amateur to really begin to understand the hows of finding expolanets, though at a basic level if you stay with just the initial program. IF the amateur opens up the the links in the tab called Exoplanet News you can be taken to articles that discuss the findings listed. Also there I just learned that there is a new app called Kepler that contains all the data that NASA released from Kepler for $2.99. Looks very similar to this program. All in all I rate this as a 5/5 stars and recommend it highly to both amateur astronomers and to people in general who have an interest in this sort of thing.

2. Planets. The next app is called Planets. This is a free app again that offers a view of the night sky in 2D, 3D and in a chart that shows Visibility for that day. It has Sky 3D which allows virtual reality using compass and gyroscope. It also has a Globe feature that allows for a rotating 3D globe of the planets and the moon.

Here is the 2D version:

Now the 3D version:

Finally, the Visibility Table:

1. Usefulness for Star Gazing (1-5 with 5 being the highest): 3
2. Ability to provide new information to a amateur astronomer to help in planning an observing session: 2
3. Usefulness for the amateur to gain new understanding and knowledge of Astronomy: 2
4. Layout, design and professionalism of the app: 4.5
5. Available for iPad, iPhone, iTouch.

Overall this is a good app for using to visually determine what planets you may want to go after that night. In the capture above you can see that you could get a two for one IF you had a lunar filter (too big for me though) and see Saturn and the Moon close by each other at that time. Easy to use in the field the compass feature helps you to align the app with the sky so you can determine basically where the planet is. I like the color on the visibility chart and find it attractive and helpful in terms of planning a planetary observing session. Again, Saturn is up for most of the night, while Jupiter and Mercury are just under the Sun at twlight, and up to close to the Sun in the morning. Actually, Venus rises around 5:40a.m. (gives you an hour to view it through thick atmosphere) and Mercury rises at 6:12a.m. (1/2 hour before the Sun rises) and Mars rises at 6:13a.m. Again, all but Venus I'd probably pass on and just focus on Saturn during this time of the year.

So in rating this I would give it a 3.5/4 in usefulness, maybe a 4 if your really into planetary observing. Though the information is available elsewhere, it is nice to have it in one place on your iPad or iPhone/iTouch. A very good item for a beginner or if a veteran wants this information in one place on their electronic device.

3. Messier List by Scott Spencer

This is an free app designed for someone who is going to pursue viewing/observing the Messier list of 110 objects put together by French astronomer and comet hunter, Charles Messier in the late 1700's (18th century). The app "contains of all of the objects (galaxies, planetary nebula, globular clusters, open star cluster, nebula and other items known as Deep Sky Objects), fun facts about them, their positions in the sky, photos when available and if you can currently see the object. It has a checklist also for amateur astronomers to check off when they have observed one."

So here is what it looks like beginning with the opening page.

The list of objects. A dark gray or light gray means the object is below the horizon and is currently not visible from your location. A light blue or dark blue will mean that object is visible. So it does help you to quickly see which objects you might want to observe. What would be nice here (if possible) is if you could sort the Messier Objects by constellation so someone observing them could stay in one part of the sky. That for me, is the easiest way to work the Messier (and many objects/lists).

I choose to use Messier 51 or M51 as the test object here. This page gives you the type of object, the constellation, the RA and DEC, the magnitude, how far away it is and if it is up right now. I can see this being beneficial especially at a Public Star Party where this type of information is very helpful to have in a quick and tidy location.

This is the description, and the app does a really good job of providing some very useful information in a concise manner. I actually really like this feature a lot and again, I can see myself using it at a Public Star Party, or after observing an old friend. Beats pulling out The Messier Objects by Stephen James O'Meara into the field (yes, I do highly recommend that and any of his books and yes, you should read them after observing the objects).

Here is the photo and this is where I think the program really doesn't do an amateur or the public justice. This is NOT (I know most of you know this already) the image someone new to the hobby or a member of the public will see through the eyepiece at a telescope. It would have been better to use at least a black and white photo or to get permission of a really good sketcher and put that image in there. That way the image is closer to what they'll see in the eyepiece. Just my opinion. Some will love having the NASA image here. This is the only real criticism of this app that I have, though I will have a suggestion below.

I really enjoy the fun facts that are included here, though they may repeat some of the information already provided, they are bullets and are quickly and easily accessible if you don't have time to read the entire information sections.

This is the checklist. It is designed to have you simply tap the screen on the object you observed and a blue circle with a white check mark appears allowing you to know you have observed that item. I don't know if it is worth it, or even if it is possible, but it would be nice to see an arrow where you could fill out the information necessary to qualify for the Astronomical League Award for viewing the Messier Objects. Gives me an idea that I need to make a free app and offer my observing form for download . . . THAT will become my next project!

Last is a nice biography of Charles Messier that is included in the app. You'll have to get the app to get the rest of it.

1. Usefulness for Star Gazing (1-5 with 5 being the highest): 4
2. Ability to provide new information to a amateur astronomer to help in planning an observing session: 4
3. Usefulness for the amateur to gain new understanding and knowledge of Astronomy: 5
4. Layout, design and professionalism of the app: 5
5. Available for iPad, iPhone, iTouch.

This is another app if someone is just going through the Messier Objects I would recommend they have on hand and use. It will increase the fun for a beginner, and perhaps remind veterans of the knowledge they have behind this wonderful objects. I also really see a use for it at Public Star Parties as a tool to help those who may feel their knowledge isn't perfect, to have two or three facts quickly available that they can get down while showing one of these objects. It should remove the fear some I know have had of why they don't feel they can attend a Public Outreach, which is lack of knowledge. Great app for observing and well done.

4. Sky & Telescopes Sky Week App

This is very similar to what Sky&Telescope has on their site and in their magazine. When I got it, it cost 0.99 cents, but it is now a FREE app. Wonderful app that allows you if your in a hurry or if your doing a good long session to have some items to look after. By clicking on the red VIEW button, it brings up a chart of what was discussed. Was it worth the 0.99 cents now that you can get it for free? Sure. I enjoy Sky&Telescope and if I can help them to remain profitable in a time when many print papers and magazines are disappearing, I will. This also has a nightvision button that turns the screen into a bright red if your brightness is set high. Nice feature though.

1. Usefulness for Star Gazing (1-5 with 5 being the highest): 4
2. Ability to provide new information to a amateur astronomer to help in planning an observing session: 4
3. Usefulness for the amateur to gain new understanding and knowledge of Astronomy: 4
4. Layout, design and professionalism of the app: 5
5. Available for iPad, iPhone, iTouch.

My overall rating for this app is a 5/5. I love the layout and the information as it is laid out in one location for me. Convenience seems to be king in our day and age. I love the connections offered to articles in the current month's issue of Sky&Telescope (in this case on Friday, April 22nd, they connect to Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders column, chart and images on page 58 of April's addition. I'd love to as a paid subscriber to have a link that takes me to an online version that I could have access to. Again, a fun and good app for the current week.

5. Cosmic Discoveries by the American Museum of Natural History

Okay, this will have no benefit for star gazing but this, in my opinion, is a great and fun app and at a great price; it's free! This was put together to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Museum's Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City, and "one of the world's most revered science and education institutions."

This takes over 1000 images of everything from the surface of Mercury, to the Horsehead Nebula, to just about all types of objects found in space. The images are then turned into one of the most recognized shapes of an object in our Solar System, Saturn.

You can zoom in on the images, read comments left or leave your own comment for that particular image. There is a tab underneath the images that make up Saturn that let you see the mosaic, or to go to one tab called Stories. These stories range from planetary nebula, to globular clusters, to massive stars, to novae to pulsars and the various types of galaxies. More stories come out as you work through the mosaic. This is an app for a rainy and cloudy night, when you can't go out or if your waiting in the doctor or dentists office or just have time to cool.

Up close

1. Usefulness for Star Gazing (1-5 with 5 being the highest): 3
2. Ability to provide new information to a amateur astronomer to help in planning an observing session: 3
3. Usefulness for the amateur to gain new understanding and knowledge of Astronomy: 5
4. Layout, design and professionalism of the app: 5
5. Available for iPad, iPhone, iTouch.

I rated the first two as a 3 after almost giving the app a N/A. I rated it a 3 because it could give someone some new objects to try to go after visually or photographically. Overall on this app, I give it a 4/5. The information may not blow your socks off (it was made for the public) but it is still cool and I love the layout.

5. AstroPlanner App

I actually have 6 more apps to review, but I am only going to do two more, and save the other four for another review down the road.

Here is the app. It is free and with that free you can load 5 objects into the system. Seems to be very similar to the AstroPlanner online but now on your device.

You can filter objects by their catalog, visibility or keyword. You can create a customized observing list in the program. As most programs do, it has a night mode. The program allows the user to set the date and time our want for your calculations (for planning) and the program will calculate the rise, transit, set and maximum altitude of the object on a selected date. That is powerful. The program also shows the best time of the year to see the object you want to go after. In terms of the moon it is has a moon age calculation and a moon altitude chart. Here is the layout. In the free version you can only enter 5 items though. In the pay version for $9.99 it is unlimited.

As I stated, the app costs $9.99. Is it worth it? I guess I have to decide do I want it on my laptop or do I want it on my iPad? Overall, I enjoy the program and what it can do.

1. Usefulness for Star Gazing (1-5 with 5 being the highest): 5
2. Ability to provide new information to a amateur astronomer to help in planning an observing session: 5
3. Usefulness for the amateur to gain new understanding and knowledge of Astronomy: 4
4. Layout, design and professionalism of the app: 4
5. Available for iPad, iPhone, iTouch.

This is a busy app and I am not sure how well it is going to compare to the computer program version. It is promising and I can see it being use in the field on an iPad but not on the iPhone or iTouch (he does offer it for the iPhone, but I don't think I would get it). Overall rating 4.5/5 and that may be updated for further use. Perhaps one of the best apps for amateurs that are serious in wanting to use an iPad in the field.

6. iPushTo

This is a simple app that allows you to pick a Messier object and using the iPad to use it as a setting circle to get to where the object is. I guess if you know the ALT: and AZ: of a NGC object you could use it that way also. It works by using the compass feature and you move the pad in the directions the arrow points until you get the target screen. When both ALT and AZ are in target, the object is in that general direction and scanning in a spiral pattern should pick it up. Or follow the directions below and see if it works!

Here is both ALT and AZ in target so the object should be in that line of sight.

I haven't tried this in the field since I have found it so I am not going to rate it at this time. These are the directions for using it though at the app in the App Store.

1. Level the telescope horizontally.
2. Be sure to calibrate your built in compass first. Otherwise the reading is not accurate.
3. Select a Messier Object from the list in the search tab.
4. Place your iPhone/iPad flat on the back of your telescope
5. Move the telescope until the telescope ALT/AZ coordinates match the Object ALT/AZ coordinates
6. The object will appear in the finder and/or low power eyepiece.

I'll try it out on my ten inch dob if I get a chance this week and see what happens. Should be interesting!

So that's all for this review period. Hope someone finds these useful.


Astrosystems Cover, Astrosystems Telrad Dew Protector, XX14i watches

Well, the weather somewhat cleared out today. There is a lot of high cirrus clouds so I am not counting on much observing. Perhaps in Ursa Major. My goal today was to fix my intelliscope not working. To do this I adjusted the altitude controller so the know and screw on the knob fit really well. I then did another encoder test and found the azimuth was coming in at between 130 to 135 so I did a slight adjustment and that is fine. So the intelliscope should work tonight if I can get two stars to align with . . . I hope.

I also picked up an Astrosystems Dob cover and an Astrosystems Dew Shield for my Telrad. The dew shield really makes the Telrad stick up on the 4 inch riser I use as seen in this photo:

The Telrad now reminds me of one of those droids that were on the Death Star that Chewie growled at and it sped away.

Anyway, here is the XX14i in the backyard if anyone is interested in seeing it from here. Yes, I need to mow the yard but it had snow on it this weekend and last night. It melted off today.

So it is from my fellow SLAS member Steve Fisher that I got the Telrad Dew Shield and I also got a Astrosystems Cover for the dob. It is rather large since it is meant to cover a rocker box but the drawstrings (can't see in the photo) I drew together after taking my pictures and it secured the cover around the base of the dob. Here are some photos:

I'm concerned about the bottom a little and will have to decide if this will work or if I should go down from the 14 to the 12. Lots of extra on the bottom but it does pull up so I'm not worried about dew or anything getting into the area. Its that particle board on the Orion based that I worry about. I'll have to think it over for a day or so. If you have a thought, please let me know. The one for our Obsession fits really snug in the observatory.

One item that I discovered today that could be an issue on the XX14i. On the truss poles where they attach to the lower OTA, the knobs on the poles are held in place by some split washers. I had a washer fall out at Pit n Pole but luckily I was using my rubber/carpet mat that is in these photos and it stuck out. I picked it up and today I was able to easily put it back into place. So not a huge deal, but I would watch for that in the field.

Edit/Report: Well, I tweaked the intelliscope and it worked like a charm tonight. Spot on. I think because I separate the top part of the base from the bottom part at times I will need to gently tweak the intelliscope in order to keep it running well. Is it necessary? Nope, I can and do star hop more but for those short sessions (like tonight, when the moon is out) it can increase my productivity.

I spent some time on the waxing gibbous moon tonight. Tyco in the the 7mm Pentax XW and the 10mm Pentax XW was thrilling. I enjoyed Copernicus, Clavius and I think, not sure, I need to look this up, Hainzel. It was early in the evening and I spent some time just gazing at these craters, moving the garbage to the street and coming back for another look. Here is my basic attempt to re-create it in GIMP. I'll post the actual sketch tomorrow in another edit.

One thing that amazed me is how washed out M-42 was. It has been a long and I mean LONG time since I have observed in a large waxing gibbous moon. I saw wonderful structure in M-42 in the Pentax XW 10mm, but there was only about one half of the nebula visible! Oh, well, I did see the Trapezium and stars E and F were there, though they would come and go if I looked away. It took direct vision to see E and averted to bring in F tonight.

So overall, I am very pleased. I fixed several things I need to on the XX14i. I tried out some new equipment and overall, I was out with a scope. Never a bad night when that happens. Well my son leaves on a trip with his choir organization in the morning (we have to leave the house at 4:00a.m to get him to the airport on time). Here's hoping all goes well with that.

I did find this article on observing Sirius B from the Winter Star Party 2011. Here is the link. The information and the movie on Sirius A and B is from Royce Optical. I think the movie is really rather cool!


Herschel 400 II List

I know I've had some visitors looking for the H-400 II list so I thought I would put it up. Lists are interesting to me in some ways. They provide a way to explore items/objects to some, a way to earn the Astronomical Award for others, while for others (me) it just gives me s systematic way to go about observing. However, I am finding instead that I like to come up with my own projects or to take a constellation and just work my way through all the objects there.

My own project that I want am hoping to get started is to take some of the more well known objects and to sketch them in a light pollution zone say orange, and then to re-sketch/observe the same item at a dark sky site. Why? Because I want those who may not have the chance to get to a true dark site to be able to compare via my crude sketches what the differences are between seeing an object at a light polluted zone and in a dark zone. I want to shoot for 4 to 6 items per season. Winter was a failure and spring isn't looking too much better.

So here are the links to the Herschel 400 list. I have been working my way through this as I am in a constellation and for now, that is good enough. The links are to my Google Documents page. Herschel 400 II by sort and Herschel 400 II. The first link was set up to be able to sort it, but Google Documents may not have transferred that feature. Hope that helps someone.


Astronomy Apps for iPad or iPhone/iTouch

Edit: I have updated the images and added more data. Thanks to Jared at Utah Astronomy for teaching me how to capture images off the iPad. I believe they are clearer and more easily seen. Click on them for larger images. Thanks again Jared.

I've had this idea to go through some of the iPad/iPhone/iTouch apps but wanted to post my last observation as that is the real purpose of my blog. With the moon starting to get in the way of DSO's and weather still an issue, I'll post up here my review of several astronomy apps.


The first one is a newer app called Star Walk. Star Walk opens with a listing of the the following planets with their rises time and setting time and their elevation. Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The Sun's rise, day length and sets at times are also given. Finally the app gives the stage of the moon, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous etc. and the percent of full the moon is. It does it for the previous day, the current day, and the next two days. In the upper right is a date panal that you can advance or go back in time to see what the rise and set times are for these objects, or for the stage of the moon. I only wish they had given the moon's rise and sets time as well. Below is an image that shows this opening screen.

The program allows you to zoom in and out by either pinching your fingers together or widening them apart. If you find an object you want to see, in the upper left hand corner is an information button as an i. Click on it after you have tapped on your object and you will get the information on that object. You get the RA, DEC, Azm, Alt. type of object, distance, visual magnitude and constellation, and a really good amount of information on that object.

In the bottom right corner is is a button with three levels on it and that displays a range of options. You can see that in this next picture.

It brings up a calendar button on top that will provide astronomical information to you like when new moon is (4/2/11 at 6:00p.m.) or conjunction of Sun and Jupiter or of Jupiter and Mercury. There's one for my birthday, the 20th of April for the Lyrid Meteor Shower to remind you to try and view these from April 16th to April 26th. A late one but a good one. A decent planning tool to have as it is all in one place.

Sky Live is that initial page that shows the rising and setting times of the planets and the Sun, and the current stage of the moon.

The Picture of the Day is basically like the Astronomy Picture of the Day with information. Nice to have it. This is a fun item, not necessary but fun. Here is April 12th, 2011 Picture of the Day celebrating Yuri's 50th anniversary of the first manned flight in space.

Bookmarks allows you to plan an observing session by finding items and bookmarking them and then later going back to them. You get to name and then save the bookmark and can later delete it. This is a necessary item for someone who wants to use this program for observing.

Home Location simply shows you where your at and provides the latitude and longitude for your position. You can pick other locations as well though I haven't figured out if you can add new locations.

Settings allows you to set it to Night Mode. Warning, Night Mode is still bright and I would recommend another layer of non-permanent material to lighten up the display. Here you can turn on or off the constellations. The constellations are displayed with their stick figure and with a picture. I would like to be able to get rid of the silly picture behind them. Satellites allows you to see and identify satellites that come into the FOV. Next is the Telrad display which is very helpful if you use one of these wonderful items. Sounds and music are just that, sounds made by the program and then music is some spacing music. I turn them off to save on battery life. Here's one more screen shot:

Here is an example of Night Mode.

Here is a shot showing that you can hunt down some of the NGC items.

When you find an object you want, the program does display a nice image of it and information all about it as this screen shot shows.

A few items. This is a nice program, very nice and I think a beginner would really enjoy it as would some long time observers. The red light is bright, be aware of that. An adjustment of the red brightness would be helpful but I could turn the brightness down on the iPad. It also has a feature of an auto-compass. If you gently shake the iPad the program gives you an horizon with everything dark underneath it and everything above it in real night time viewing. You can then move the iPad around and identify the various constellations. Once there you can tap on the area and it will freeze it allowing you to zoom in for objects you may want to view. The main NGC and of course the Messier are there but I am not too sure yet if I would use it in place of an atlas or a printed star chart. I need some more field experience to do that.

Overall, I like and enjoy this program and recommend it, with a caveat. There is another app I like even better and that is my next one. I also need more time in the field with this but I do see a major plus in using this at public star parties to help people learn the night sky.


This app I first got on my iTouch and it carried over to my iPad of course. StarMap Pro can actually be used with a telescope that has tracking to find objects for you. Like Star Walk it has a compass which allows you to use it in the field to adjust to the sky according to the direction you point it at. When you get where you want to be, tap the screen and the compass stops working so you can really get in close using the zoom feature. The features are your typical Apple App feature. To zoom in you bring two fingers together, to zoom out, move to fingers away from each other.


The red light is dimmer than in Star Walk, and you can dim it some more by dimming your iPad. By dimming the iPad to its lowest setting and then putting on the night vision under MORE, I get a level that is decent to me. StarMap Pro is controlled on the bottom of the screen when it is vertical (I should mention I like to use both programs horizontally faced, but in StarMap Pro you must go to the vertical face to get the features to pop up).

At the bottom in the image, from left to right are Planets, Constellations, Stars, Tonight, More. I'll cover each one, one at a time. Also, as you go to More (as I have in the image below, you will change what is on the bottom to whatever is in that row of the More that you've hit. Want to go back to Planets, Constellations, Stars, Tonight and More? Simply click on planets and then go back to the main screen. The default though is Planets, Constellations, Stars, Tonight, More.

Planets: In here is a tab for the Sun, Moon and each of the eight planets, and the following dwarf planets: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Eris, Makemake, 1996 TL66, Varuna, Ixion, Huya and several others I won't list. If the item is in bold, it is visible. If it is not in bold, it is not visible. If you click the arrow to the right of the object you get the transit time for the date, the set time, rise time, what constellation it is in, its magnitude, distance, Altitude, Azimuth, RA, Dec., etc. Lets just say A LOT of information! Helpful for having the rising and setting of the moon, its phase and location and of planets you may want to view.

Constellations brings up all of the constellations and which one are viewable from your location. Again an arrow at the right brings up a table of when the constellation is visible in military time. Very useful for planning a session. You can set an alarm so the iPad reminds you of when the constellation is visible (helps so you know when to go and look there since we never get caught up in what we do). On the Alarm you can set the rise time, the transit time or the set time to have the alarm go off. The Timer tab allows you if your using the program to control your scope to set how long of an image to take.

The Stars tab is nearly identical to the constellation tabs.

The Tonight Tab at the bottom is very, very useful. Here you can see when major objects are going to be visible and at what time.

The More tab could take the rest of this blog to post on. It has a tab for Planets, Constellations, Stars, Tonight, Galaxies, Clusters, Nebulae, ID's, Catalogue (lets you search for a specific object by its catalogue number), Web Search (yep, you can search the web for more information if your connected), Meterors, Comets, Compass (turns it on or off), Optics (if your controlling a scope), Telrad (puts the circles up on the screen), Brightness (you control the brightness of the twilight and the stars), Photos (shows you photos taken of the object your observing), Zoom In, Zoom Out (does what it says), Telescope (set up your scope to work with the software), Featured (shows you featured items), Alarms (covered, lets you know when things are happening so you don't forget them), Timer (for photos) and a Logbook to keep track of what you've done.

In finding DSO's you can do it by object, constellation or catalog number. I'll use open clusters to demonstrate. You can look clusters up by constellation or by their catalog number if you have it. Here are some samples:

This screen shot will show you how they ID the NGC catalog. They do the same for the Messier and IC.

As I mentioned, this will help track down comets as well. Select the magnitude you want and the program shows you what comets are available and by chart when you can see them.

Like Meteors this is what it does:

The one feature for me that just doesn't work, is the logbook. I have my own observing form which is on my blog here, developed from the RCAS handbook and I really like it. I would love it if I could create such a form in here and then log it and sync it over to the computer. Here is the logbook:

For the money in my book, this is the program a serious amateur would use in the field. Is it perfect, nope and this is just my opinion but it is a very well put together program. The star field goes relatively deep, and you can use it to help find a lot of items in the field.

LUAN (accent over the U)

This is the last one for this entry. I have about 10 more apps to go through and will space them out. This program is called Luan with an accent line over the u. It is a moon phase program with some information on it. When I press on the app, the current month comes up with the phases on the moon on the screen. There are two arrows in the upper right that let me go back or forward. This is useful in planning when I want to go out observing DSO's. Here is how that screen looks:

By clicking on a day I get the date, the exact phase of the moon for that day and the moon is shown illuminated so it matches. It is a nice way to teach the moon phases and that the waxing moon is illuminated on the right while the waning is illuminated on the left (this is a waning crescent).

These two options are available by clicking on the Lumation tab on the bottom. Clicking on the Gregorian tab brings up a table with when New Moon, First Quarter, Last Quarter and New Moon are. Here is an image of that.

If your into lunar observing, this program can really help you plan some observing sessions or if your into DSO's it can help you to know when to hope for good weather and head into the field.

A few more quick apps that I have to mention.


Every dreamed your up with a shuttle group and your doing a space walk? While this free app allows you to play that your an astronaut and you have to use your jet pack to get back to the shuttle and to perform other missions. The graphics are pretty good, not little kid type and though not overly difficult, it is still a fun game to do. You can look at yourself or be looking out your visor.


This is another free app that lets you see the sun basically in real time through NASA. Lots of information here and from what I've seen, I've liked it though I need to spend some more time here. The images here are taken within 1 to 3 minutes of viewing. Pretty cool app here if you like looking at our nearest neighboring star and don't have a solar telescope. Great teaching tool


A must have free app that shows Hubble's top 100 shots. Well worth it and great for those nights or weeks when you can't get out. You can view the image with the information showing or hide the information. Each picture has an information page that is usually several paragraphs long. I highly recommend this.

A sample and then with the information underneath it:

Okay, one more as a bonus that is just run. Your piloting the shuttle and it is called Shuttle Dock. Take a turn at this free app before its probably going the way of the shuttle. Won't win for excitement but its cool to pretend your flying the shuttle. It's free so it has ads.

Like I said, I have plenty of apps to go through but this will be a good start. I'll play around more with some and then post some more recommendations out there.