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8/30/2015

Sky & Telescope Articles Keepers for Deep Sky Observing


     I decided as I am getting ready for my September observing, I wanted to do something fun, but different for this blog entry. So I decided to pull the last several years of my Sky & Telescope issues and share just a few articles that I feel are keepers  Feel free to agree, disagree, or share of your own favorites by adding a comment. So with no further ado, here is my list.

    I am gong to try to stay with fall articles since we are heading into fall, but not all the articles will be from fall. My first article comes from the October 2013 issue and it is tied to my personal interest, Supernova and Supernova hunting.  The article is The Great Supernova Racy by Robert Zimmerman and discusses how the hunt for supernova has evolved from visual to imagery now and how the pros "beef up" their own techniques.

     Also from that October 2013 is Sue French's The Age of Aquarius article that shares some of the wonderful targets and objects to be found in Aquarius.  My favorite of course is the Atoms for Peace Galaxy, one I encourage those reading to go to that article and go after that wonderful fun object. There are other objects that are equally interesting as well.

     The next article is from the September 2014 issue from Sky & Telescope. The article from there is a wonderful article on Seeking Interacting Galaxies by Steve Gottlieb.  Steve covers where his galaxy choices come from, the Vorontsov-Velyaminov catalog of Interacting Galaxies.  This article offers some very good visual galaxy pairs and some challenging pairs as well. It focuses in Pegasus, Andromeda, Delphinus, offering a good night of challenging and fun galaxy pairs to chase down. Great article.

     Spider Webs in Space from the November 2014 issue of Sky & Telescope is a wonderful article on Planetary Nebula and how they form their shells. It also gives some wonderful planetary nebula targets, some of the "eye candy" planetary nebula to go after. Fun article and it compelled me to learn more of this through searching the Cornell site.

     The Starry Heavens Clusters and Nebula abound in compact Cassiopeia by Sue French in the December 2014 issue is typical Sue French, a great article. It is a great and fun article on open clusters and nebula that are to be found in the fall constellation of Cassiopeia.  These are some more oft unknown objects for the vast majority of observers and I recommend this article if your looking for a good evening in Cassiopeia as we transition into fall.

     The gem from the December 2014 article is Howard Banich's A Visual Guide to the Cassiopeia A Supernova Remnant. If you have the aperture, say 10" or greater in a dob, and the right skies this is a challenging but doable object to go after this fall.  In studying the object, as the gas continues to expand, the ability of visual observers to see this object has become easier and easier, well, at least highly likely.  Howard Banich goes through a history of the observations of this object, what it is and how to observe both the northern and southern arcs. IF you want to have a fun challenge, Cassiopeia A this fall is THE object to go after from a dark site and to observe. It's one you'll remember capturing for a LONG time. Great article here.

     Mark Bratton's The Complete Guide to the Herschel Objects is a reference book that I own two copies of. Why? I take one in the field with me every time I go and another is my desk copy in my office. The field copy is the same hard back and is still in outstanding condition. I LOVE, ENJOY, and USE that book a LOT in planning and confirming observations of objects.  In the April 2015 issue of Sky & Telescope, Mark Bratton supplies us with an alternative to the Messier Marathon, and that is to recreate William Herschel's "Extraordinary night of discovery."  It is an article I have printed off and put into sheet protectors and will use next spring to try to duplicate William Herschel's night.  I am HIGHLY excited to try that (I'll probably try both March and April in case I don't do it in one night).  Outstanding Article!

     There are a couple of other articles that I'll probably put on the list, but for tonight this is a good start. So what is your favorite article related to observing from Sky & Telescope over the last couple of years? I have to state up front, I use to be hesitant about continuing my subscription with Sky & Telescope, but I am so glad I renewed through 2018.  I have really found some articles that I have really enjoyed and look forward to more in the future.  So I hope you find my suggestions worth your time, and you have a way to get them. More importantly I know they will help you enjoy the wonders of the night sky!

8/29/2015

Updated Review of the Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas (Desk Edition): Wire Binding Failure



     I had initially thought of just updating my February 26th, 2015 post on the Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas, but then I decided no, I need to actually include this as a separate entry.  When this atlas hit, much like anything new in this hobby, it was met with glee and hysteria that I believe blinded a constructive and balance review of the atlas.  You can read my initial review here from my blog back in February.  Since then I have taken the atlas with me on each observing trip and used it and am actually impressed with it. I was impressed enough to loan one of my two copies to my friend Jeff for him to check it out and that left me using the copy of the Desk Edition I had purchased for use in my office in the field. I used this copy twice in the field with no problem, and then noticed when I went to get it to use it in this review, that the wire binding had come undone and as you can see in the pictures, the cover of the atlas and about ten pages of the atlas had come out or partially out.

      For me, for a $110.00 dollar atlas plus shipping, from a leading publisher, Cambridge University Press, this is UN-ACCEPTABLE.  This simply should not happen on an atlas that I have used 3 times and shows why one has to be careful with it at the scope. It is suppose to flip over easily so you can read and use at the eyepiece, but I will NEVER trust it to do that. At least not this copy. I will have to get my other edition back from my friend Jeff and give that a go again.  I got it back together but am unsure how long it will stay together. If this had happen in the field, in darkness, it could and probably would have been a mess, ruining an evening or night of observing. I sent an email to Cambridge to see what they say, but I will probably be stuck with this flawed copy.  So be aware of this issue. I cannot be the only one that it has or will happen to and take that into consideration before your purchase. I had considered ordering a couple for my local club to put into the observatories at the club site, as I think they would go well there, or to use as a check out item with our loaner scopes but nope, not now. I was raised to be extremely careful with books by a father who loved books and demanded that we treat our books with respect, even our paperbacks. I will not purchase another copy with this type of outcome and that is a shame. I will continue to review the rest of the Atlas and update my review with further insights, but overall at this time, because of this glaring problem, I do not recommend you purchase the book until the wiring issue I experienced is resolved or improved upon. Who needs a $110.00 new atlas falling apart in the field.

     







     First in doing an updated review, I thought I would post my original scale here and then re-review them. Here was my original thoughts on this Atlas: 

Ease of Use:  4/5
Somewhat bulky and awkward. Ring binding for flipping the atlas is a huge plus (or should be if it doesn't fail). 

Organization: 5/5
 Love the Constellation Charts for getting to the right Map. Love the size for these. 

Usefulness: 5/5   
More a 4/5 for a novice/beginner, casual observer. 4.5/5 for experience observers. The atlas is easy to use, easy to find objects in a constellation and has sufficient stars that will get you to the object.  At a dark sky site I would say you will find more stars than those plotted but that is true of most atlases. You could open to a constellation and easily spend the night going after the objects listed and have an enjoyable night. 

Cost: Field 2/5; Desk  4/5  
 Sorry I just feel $250 for this level of atlas is too much for the water proof version. $100 is probably too much also. I would imagine $85 would move this atlas but not sure on the profitability at that price point.  

Set Up: 3-4/5             
The look and feel are good, the double stars could be confusing for the targeted 
 audience of the atlas. Don't like the 4,8,12 inch telescope deal. 3/5 is for 
 experienced observers, more like 4/5 for novice/casual observers. 

Overall Rating: 4.5/5   

There are my ratings from back in February. Here are my ratings after using it in March, April, May, June, July and August of 2015 in the field. 

Ease of Use: 1/5
This would have remained at 4/5 because the atlas is simply too much to use and handle at my 10" dob (XT10), my 14" dob or my 17.5" or 24" dobs.  It is simply way too much and it folds over easily at the scope. This is a positive in a way because in the desk edition the pages are made of thick paper that will make it (for me in Utah) dew resistance, but the weight makes the pages fold over easily. I believe this causes a strain on the wire binding used to secure the atlas and thus causing the failure of the binding on the atlas I am currently using. I had this fear for a while that the wire binding could come undone because of the weight but didn't expect or hope for it to happen. The binding failure to me makes the atlas, as great as it is, both unacceptable and potentially unusable in the field. I don't want to be gathering up atlas pages from the ground, especially come fall and winter when moisture and some wet dirt and sand comes into play (as mud).  The ring binding is NOT a huge plus as I initially stated and this flaw will need to be address or a fix offered for the atlas to be considered. I recommend stronger wiring. I will reflect and look today for a fix when I am at a Hobby and Office Supply store and see if I can figure out a way to resolve this issue. My point is this: Cambridge Press, I shouldn't HAVE TO come up with a solution. Fix it. I expect more from you as I consider your organization first rate. 

Organization: 5/5
I still love how this atlas is organized and presented overall. There are a few issues but that is me being nick picky (and I can be) and I have to admit that I love the detail charts in the back that offer a close up to MANY objects, making it easier to find them from the atlas. They are marked in the atlas in a box and are easily referenced to the back in the detail charts.  Great feature and please use it! 

Usefulness (Conditional): Beginner to Intermediate User: 4/5. Advance to Expert User: 5/5. 

There are few observers that I will say are in the expert range, and only a few more will I put into the advance range of observers. These groups are people that are going after the Herschel 2500, the NGC/IC catalog, Hickson and ARP objects and other fainter and harder catalogs and objects.  This atlas is a decoration for them, perhaps a tool to use on a night when they pick a constellation, open up the atlas and just go after the objects listed on that page of the atlas. That can offer a nice break for this class of observers. This is not the tool of choice that will be used to star hop (a dying art in the hobby) to the faint objects they love to pursue.  

If you are a novice to intermediate amateur who enjoys star hopping and going after objects that are both eye candy (think Messier level of objects) to items perhaps a little fainter and challenging, this is a wonderful atlas for you. That is, unless you use a scope at 12" or larger (mainly a dob) as the atlas will leave out objects that your 12" scope or greater can easily pull in. Just know you will be leaving some objects out of your observing if you use the atlas to guide you.  IF you know that and accept that, this atlas is an excellent atlas to use and have and own in your equipment library.  

Cost: Field Edition: 2/5  Desk Edition: 4/5 

I really wanted to give the desk edition a 5/5 or a 4/5 again but I cannot because of the failure I had of the ring binding.  Fix the ring binding on the desk edition and I think you have a winner here for both the home office and for the field unless your humidity is running in the high ninety's most of the time. Then you may want a field edition. The field edition though for its cost is not worth it in my book. If you live in the western United States or similar location, where a high humidity day is in the sixty to low seventy percents and those only happen during monsoon in the summer for a few days when your not in the field, the desk edition is the way to go. I had a field edition, I sold the field edition and broke even, well, not really, not with shipping but close enough. I would not purchase the field edition based on where I live and my observing conditions. 

Set Up: 4/5 (5/5 for advance to expert amateurs) 

Again, the set up and layout is excellent for a novice to intermediate amateur and since this atlas is targeted at that level of user, it performs outstandingly for that. If your use to the Sky&Pocket Atlas by Sky&Telescope, you may have an adjustment in looking up the constellations. This atlas will teach you a lot about using an atlas and how one is laid out. That knowledge is rather valuable. Most people who see and buy this atlas are going to be happy to extremely happy with it. The atlas will fulfill everything they want in an atlas that is used in the field for casual to intermediate observing. To the dedicated, advance to expert amateur there is far too much missing for larger apertures to even consider this atlas to be useful for finding objects in it that are not listed. I can see myself and I did use it one night for several hours, picking a constellation and going after the objects on that page and had a wonderful few hours of observing. I got eye candy items as I call objects in the Messier catalog or items that fit that general parameter. Herschel 400 objects were there as were a couple of ARP items that I enjoyed going after. A good few hours and the atlas did its job for that. 

If I want to see a general overview of the sky though before drilling down on a very specific chart I have printed off from Sky Tools 3 for getting a faint object, I still use and will use the Pocket Sky Atlas. I would like a tad more detail but the size of the Pocket Sky Atlas cannot be beat. I have NO problem using the Pocket Sky Atlas at the eyepiece and out of 4 versions I have used (I keep an extra and give them away to newbies from time to time) I have NEVER had a problem with the wire back coming undone. My one copy of the Pocket Sky Atlas is over 8 years old now and seen a LOT of observing, like every trip I have ever done and it is thus well loved, well cared for and shows no sign of breaking up.  I wish the Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas I had purchased could be said to have done the same. Three uses is a joke for the wiring to have failed. Okay, point made and I do want to say I really do overall like the atlas, just extremely disappointed in my experience. 

Overall Rating: 3/5 (maybe 2/5 if your considering using the desk edition in the field) 

I would have increased my rating to 4.5/5 here IF the wire binding had not failed on my second copy. All I can tell you is based on my experience, buyer beware on the binding. The product is excellent and for the targeted audience of novice to intermediate observer, it is an excellent atlas, one that will make you happy. Thinking of saving money on the desk edition? Not so much if you want it to fall apart and do so quickly and rather easily by simply folding the pages of the atlas all around you at the scope during an observing session. I want to REALLY like this atlas, heck I DO REALLY like this atlas and want to rate it higher but I cannot because of this flaw. Consider the following: 

Yes, I am beating a dead horse here but if it happened to me who is extremely careful with my books and atlas (of any kind) then I know it will and probably has happen to others. Ask yourself if you want to be in the field, say in December with a wonderful, cold, clear night of near perfect seeing and transparency and then as you open your atlas to go to Orion to take a look at the objects there, first the cover and then 2, or 5, or 8, or 10 or more pages come undone, some falling to the moist ground, getting a smudge of mud on them? You pick them up, wipe them up and now have to decide, do I simply put it in the car and fix it at home (20 to 30 minutes) or do I use another atlas or if this is MY atlas, I have to fix it in the dark, in the cold with no gloves and then my frozen fingers and hands are NOT going to want to observe and I pack up and wasted one of those wonderful winter nights when conditions are near perfect. You go home frustrated, and upset because like most of us, you simply wanted a peaceful, pleasant and fun observing experience under the stars using your new atlas. IF you don't have the wire backing fail, up these ratings and your good to go. Mine failed and failed at home luckily. Not sure this copy is ever leaving my office. Jeff, my friend, please keep using the backup but be careful with the wire backing!  Bummer. 

So should you buy the atlas? My recommendation is yes, but with the caveat that you understand the binding may come off while in the field. One copy of my desk edition has not had this issue, one has had it.  The layout, the use of the atlas, the objects listed and the depth of the field stars all appeals to using this atlas from the beginning to the intermediate level. An advance to expert observer will find enjoyment of the atlas when they want a night off to visit old friends in a specific constellation.  However, this is not an atlas I will use at the focuser. It is one I would put on a table near me and reference a field, memorizing quickly the star hop I am using and doing it. In that manner that atlas works great.  Cost is high for me, too high for the field, and just slightly higher than I think it should be for the Desk Edition. Then again, I do not know the margins and I would guess at around $100 the atlas is making money, but not a lot.  

8/27/2015

September is ALMOST Upon Us: Suggestions for Cold Weather Gear


      Many thing summer is observing season and it comes to a close come November 1st each year. I am NOT of that opinion. I love both fall and winter observing, and some of the best viewing times come in September, October, November, December, January and February here in Utah. Unfortunately, like with many other parts, this is also cold season. NO, not the cold you get from a virus, but COLD, like below freezing temperatures. My friend Mat and I were out together in around -9 degrees Fahrenheit several years ago, and I have been out at -14 degrees F (my personal lowest taken when I was about to break down at 12:15a.m. one January night).  So, yes, I am a fanatic about cold weather observing and some of the best objects and most challenging objects for deep sky observing happen in the fall and winter months.

     My clothing requirements have evolved as has my observing. Back in September 30th, 2010 I made this post (LINK) on my blog about what I wore cold weather observing. Back then I got a lot of my clothing from Walmart and other clothing stores and a couple of items from Cabelas. My base layer came from Cabelas and did the basic job of wisking moisture away from my body, but there were better options as I later found out. I have given up on the Cabelas base layer and have gone to with HUGE success, Merino Wool Base layers. Now, let me be upfront, back in the day I stayed warm wearing what I wore as I shared in September of 2010, today, my stuff costs more, but I can get by in less layers and be warmer. My Merino Wool Base Layers come from the company Minus 33 (state up front, I get NO compensation from any of the companies I will be mentioning here) and I get the expedition layer for my cold months (basically September through April or May).  I get a mid-weight for the summer. Yes, I wear my base layer even in the summer as it may be hot during the day in the desert, but nights are cold and when I go up to the Unitas Mountains, it can get cold even in July and August at night up there.  Here is what I get from Minus 33:

Summer Mid-weight

The mid-weights I share are in the Big and Tall size. I have now lost 86lbs since June of 2014 and though that is a lot, I have like 70lbs more to go and so I am still a 2XXL(t).  I have an extra long upper body and shorter legs. So this Chocurua Men's Midweight Crew Big and Tall base layer top is $75.99 LINK.  You can find them at Cabelas sometimes, and at Men's Sportswarehouse and on Amazon. I usually buy mine through Amazon. I also have found my size on Amazon in the green below, and since green is my favorite color, I have gotten them in that color as well. Usually I stick with black though. 



The Yukon Expedition crew neck top in Merino Wool comes in at $95.99 LINK and yes, both are expensive but I can tell you that I use them, and when used with the proper layers, your core body is kept nice and warm. 

On my base layer for my legs, for winter I get the Katmai Men's Expedition Bottom and they come in at $95.99 also.  Again, expensive but man, toasty warm and worth it in my book. I'll state here with your base layers, you don't have to go this route, other base layers are cheaper and probably work sufficient, but the Merino Wool is soft, absorbing, warm and wisks better than any synthetic material I have used.  Here is an image of the Katmai Men's Expedition Bottom.  


In summer I use the Minus 33 Kancamagus Men's Midweight Bottom and I can use the regular sizes now (I do have to roll up the bottoms or tuck them into my wool socks as I am only a 29 inch length in my legs) and they come in at $65.99 LINK. There are a variety of colors and options if you go to the link/site of Minus 33 and per above, these are green. 



Last thing on my base layers. I have often just used my mid-weights in the cold months and in the summer and they have been more than sufficient for me. Now that I have a few extra dollars, I have two sets of each and if needed, I would not hesitate to wear the mid-weight base layers here in the winter. 

     One of the most important part of your body to keep warm in cold weather, and especially in observing because your not generating heat in this hobby, is our feet. I begin by putting on a base layer sock that will wisk moisture away from my feet. I specifically use Terramar Adult Thermasilk Mid Calf Sock Liner. I found mine at Amazon and usually order them for $7.99 plus shipping. Two pair will last me a full year or sometimes two years depending on how rough the winter is and how rough I am on them. Here is the LINK to the base layer socks at Amazon. No matter what base layer sock you use, and I do recommend one of silk here, you will need them if you want to be out for three to five hours in the cold of winter. Here is a link to Terramar's web site where the socks sell for $17.99 LINK






     Next over the base layer socks I wear wool socks. I have purchased and used wool socks from Cabelas and Sportsmen Warehouse and they are cheaper and do the trick. However, again, I am in love with Merino Wool and use the Minus 33 Merino Wool socks.  Minus 33 sells their socks for $13.99 and they claim they are thin, they are not. Like any wool sock they are thicker. I have doubled them up though when going tubing and used in my snow boots and yes, they do keep my overly warm doing that. Really no need for that as a base sock and this wool sock over your feet will keep you plenty warm and toasty. LINK



     Before I leave socks I do want to mention that for your feet and for about $60.00 or so, you can buy heated socks that yes, they do keep your feet wonderfully toasty, as long as the batteries last. Cabelas sells a pair at this LINK for $59.99 right now.  You can read about these over there. Cool. 




     Over the socks now must go shoes, well, in our case boots. I have two boots that I will use, depending. My first boot is a general winter boot I use to snow blow, walk, and to observe IF it isn't too cold. They are the Columbia Me's Bugaboot Plus II Omni-Heat boot. It is a serviceable boot, with good flexibility once it is broken in and does the job. This boot will run you $130.00 over at Columbia LINK. My normal shoe size is a 12 EEE, so for the boots I wear observing and for in teh snow, I go up to a 13 EEE or a 13 1/2 EEE. This extra room allows room for my socks and allows the blood to circulate through my foot, while still providing comfort and control by my feet. Cutting circulation off to your foot by having a boot that with the socks is too tight, will result in cold feet and usually ends the observing session. Big is your friend in winter (but not too big). 





      My main winter boot though is the Sorel Caribou Boot.  Sorel is known for their cold weather boot and this is what I wear into the desert in the winter when I need warmth on my feet. Sturdy, well made and made to last my last set went 10 plus years before 2 years ago I replaced them. I also do own a Kamlik Alborg boot that looks the same as the Sorel in the picture and I like that boot just as much. I don't think anyone can go wrong with a Sorel or Kamlik boot on their feet while observing if they have the right socks on to match. Make sure your boot fits and isn't too tight. Comfort is important. 





     The layers I now put on my legs on top of my base layer haven't changed a whole lot. Over the base layer goes a flannel lounge pants that help to absorb moisture and still keep me warm.  Cabela's Flannel bottoms are great for these LINK. I want to mention that I tend to wear clothing that runs a little big on me while observing. This allows air to get captured between the layers and aids in maintaining warmth. 


     On top of the flannel lounge pants goes a nice and comfortable fitting pair of wool pants. I just had to purchase a new pair from my weight loss but the price is extremely worth it. Expensive, VERY expensive as you'll see but man, I sweat sometimes on my legs when observing! These were $172.49 on sale at Cabelas and they had my size so I ordered them. LINK


     Now I also own some snowmobiling/ski pants that I will also wear over the base layer and if I think it is really cold, I might wear fleece sweat pants over the flannel just to add a layer of warmth before I put on the pants. Usually though, the base layer, the flannel lounge pants, the wool pants or another warm pant that go into my hunting bibs that I wear are enough to ensure my legs stay nice and warm. 

     On my torso I wear my base layer and then I always put on a long sleeve cotton tee shirt that is extra long, and this allows any sweat that comes off my torso, to be  absorbed by the cotton in the tee shirt. Do NOT put cotton next to your skin though. You will get very cold as cotton will absorb your sweat and not release it, making your body core COLD.  Over that I place a nice warm Henley type shirt, LINK  about $40 or several hunting shirts I have that are long sleeve and made from flannel from Cabelas and are larger in size(no link, not sold anymore).  Over that goes a nice  Wool Sweater again a little larger in size, LINK  $80.00; and finally a really good North Face or Columbia Fleece ($80.00 plus).  Over that goes a winter parka which fits good with the layers on under it, and that cost me about $150 on a winter close out from Cabelas (I got two different ones, one made for fishing in extreme cold and one a hunters parka) and then my hunting bibs LINK that will cost between $150 to $200. Both parkas have draw strings on the bottom and an excellent hood that can be drawn taut.  Lined pockets are a must also on both parkas. That is a LOT of money to outfit for observing, but I continue to go to a dark site and there is no house to run inside to to warm up. I need to be warm and dressed warm in case something happens and I have to survive the night. In addition with this layer approach, I do not get cold. 




Bibs



Henley 



Sweater 





Hunting Parka (warm down below -50 degrees F; not sure but it is VERY warm) Cost $200.00. What I like about my hunting parka is the hood and the high neck that protects the neck from exposure. Pockets are lined and warm and it has a draw string on the bottom to cinch up the coat so no cold comes in form the bottom.  Wrists clamp down also to keep cold air out of the arms. Both Parkas are somewhat loose when no layers are worn and are perfect with layers with some room in them still. 




Cabela's Men's Tourney Trail® Parka with 4MOST DRY-PLUS (REALLY WARM, normal cost was $250, closeout $120). I LOVE this parka!!!!! It is made for fishermen on the cold, frozen ice covered lakes or for those at sea. It is insulated and warm down to well below zero.  Pockets are HUGE and the wrists clamp down.  Hood when put on will form a bill to protect the face or glasses from rain or snow while keeping you warm and forms a natural black hood to steer away any ambient light. I LOVE this jacket and it is so warm.

     One thing I want to mention is that in no case do I recommend wearing a base layer with jeans over them, even in the summer. Jeans are made of cotton and they do NOT hold in heat. They will absorb but they will not hold in heat. They would need another layer over them but I don't believe that jeans are thick enough or made of the right material (cotton) to wear as an outside covering. You risk not staying out to observe, or if you do, hypothermia (see this LINK for the risks of pushing it too far in the cold and what to do if you do go to far). If your going observing, even in the summer, having too many layers is a better problem to have than too few or the wrong ones. In summer I wear my base layers, a tee shirt that is long, a long sleeve fleece shirt and Columbia Fleece Jacket. I have a nice down coat to go over that if needed. On the legs are a base layer, a pair of flannel pants, then a pair of nylon pants (and if it is cold, a pair of fleece sweat pants).  Base socks and wool socks and boots or half boots are on my feet. Usually I do not need gloves, though I have them and a hat if needed. 

    My head is one of the most important things I have to cover up on, and I usually put on a hat the minute I get to my observing site to keep myself warm.  After setting up and putting on the parka and the bibs, I put on a baklava. I use a Minus 33 Expedition Balaclava as shown in this LINK. Cost is $30.00 but I have one and I can raise it up to cover my mouth and nose when not observing, or lower the part over the nose and mouth so I can breath normally and not fog up my eyepiece while observing. 






     I have a pair of gloves, actually several pair that I use. I always start off with my hands in silk like base layer and a pair of hunting gloves where the fingers and thumb can be exposed. IF and it usually does, get to the point my hands or fingers are getting cold, I have a second pair of hunting gloves that allow me to still feel and move metal and plastic objects quite easily that I got from Cabelas for $55.00 on sale. Last if the cold penetrates there I have a pair of hard core gloves from REI that I wear when snow shoeing that really keep my hands warm, though I may lose some slight mobility with them. IF I KNOW it is going to be down right cold, I just start the night setting up with the first pair of gloves, set up and then switch to the REI gloves.  Cost for the REI gloves was retail of $130.00 but I got them at the end of the season for $60.00.  

     A few other items to mention. One when observing in the cold, take water, drink water, lots of it. You can still dehydrate out at a dark site and your body needs fluids and lack of hydration will help lead to hypothermia. Bring a warm thermos and yes, invest in a thermos that keeps things hot and cold ($40.00 or so) and have hot chocolate, coffee, tea, soup (I recommend soup big time) or whatever warm drink you prefer. I recommend staying away from too much caffeine though as I find it interferes with my observing. I highly recommend no alcohol if your at a dark site. It really doesn't warm you up, drains the body of fluids and you don't need or want to drive home tipsy or drunk. Have some high energy food to eat every hour as your body needs that to keep the body generating heat. Cold weather observing is NOT the time to be faithful to a diet by skipping food (in truth, a healthy diet has you eating more small meals). 

     Another item that will take up space, but that we have taken to our winter dark site observing is the Dyna-Glo Single Top Infrared Propane Tank Heater. Here is a picture of it. 


     You will need to bring both the heater top (it is in a box and I recommend you keep the box and store it in there for transport, but transport it after you have cooled it down), and the propane tank. We set it up on the opposite site of a car where it won't impact observing and if someone really gets cold, we light it up and in 3 minutes it is toasting and your warming up. You'll kill your night vision but that can come back. It is nice to have the option of warming up.  You can find the heater (top part) at Home Depot at this LINK

     Other items I take in the fall, winter and spring are my dew heaters and their battery power source. Yes I live in Utah, yes I observe in a desert but come fall, dew can hit and hit with a vengeance even out here. Doesn't happen a lot where I observe but it can and if I run my dew equipment, I never have a problem. Make sure your car battery is up to snuff before heading to a dark site and take a good vehicle so you know you can go out and come back. It is essential, and one should do this whenever one observes, I do, but tell a loved one, spouse, friend where your going exactly and when you should be back. Keep towing stuff in your vehicle if you can tow just in case someone in your party gets stuck. It is nice and makes for a great memory of helping a friend get back home on a cold night.  

     So there you go. An update and yes, a costly one, for what I now wear when I winter observe.  I don't camp over as it gets cold and I can be out observing in the eyepiece after November 1st by 6pm and be home and unloaded by no later than 12a.m. when winter comes. I don't stay out late. I arrive by 5pm and set up, cool down and start observing at 6pm and end about 10pm or 11pm. I then take down and load up and drive home, never too tired. That is why I LOVE late fall, winter and early spring observing. I can get in more sessions and still not wear myself out and get to work and give one hundred percent the next day if not more because I am so relaxed and refreshed from observing. Keep enjoying the wonders of the night sky! 

     I do want to share a link about winter observing from the Saguaro Astronomy Club's website that they recommend for clothing. LINK. Great information there as well.  Good reading and keep enjoying the wonders of the night sky! 

EDIT: A few more items: Hand warmers. 




They work when used inside my glove and if I use a piece of velcro (the kind you use to bundle electrical wires together; they look like this: 



I use one of these, or two linked together to secure my hand warmer to my palm and that really helps keep the warmth where I need it.  I also picked up for fun at the cost of $1.99 at the end of last winter these Tote Battery Powered hand warmers and I have to say and admit, what started out as a joke, ended in the fact that they really work, generating more heat than a hand warmer packet and because they run off a AA battery a a 10 olm circut they generate a lot of heat. They are bulky but they do work. Again, using Velcro to strap these on between my base layer glove and my outer glove helps. I find I use them the most though in my pockets where I can warm my hands with them, or keep an eyepiece free from dew. That is perhaps there best use, or keeping them in the eye piece case while observing with the lid down.  You can also put a hand warmer packet in your pocket for the same purpose or in the case and that works. A Hot Hands warmer works with a rubber band on the side of a Telrad or Rigel Quickfinder to keep them from dewing up also.  



   
     On my telescope I use Kendrick Dew heaters. I have a heater for the stem of my secondary mirror to keep that from dewing up. I also use Kendrick Telrad and Finder Scope heaters to stop my Telrad, Finder Scope and 1 1/4 and 2" eyepieces from dewing up. You can see Kendrick's options at this LINK. My friend Mat has made his own and they work wonderfully.  For my controller I use a Thousand Oaks Dew Heater Controller that I have owned for about 5 years now and it works like a charm. It turns on automatically after I set when to turn on on the dial, and then turns off if the unit detects that the temperature is getting too high. Love that item!





     For power I have two options. First is a Instaboost from Lowes that retails for $69.00.  The jump start clamps leave something to be desired, and need an upgrade, read the reviews but overall for powering my dew heater and controller, this is a champ and works well (has for me on two occasions and didn't need a recharge after both times).

I also have now this 5 in 11 Power Pack from Harbor Freight for about $99.00.  I like that it also has a USB port on it, DC and AC charge outlets and can jump a car if needed.  I take this with me in the car when I go cold weather observing also as a back up and for the car in case I need to jump it (never have needed it).  




NOVACC has a wonderful site that offers similar advice to mine at this LINK. I recommend that you also review that site. Observing in the cold can be challenging, but if prepared and done right, it is truly amazing what the fall and winter skies harbor for those looking up to capture the wonders of our night sky. 

8/26/2015

Observing Report August 15th to August 16th, 2015; FR006 Site Jay's Favorite



     Boy, how time can fly by! I had hoped to get back out the week of new moon as the crescent moon rose, but northern Utah got inundate with smoke from the fires from Washington, Oregon and California.  You can see from the image below taken from the side of a highway near my home how thick the smoke was (those mountains should be clear and easily seen).  Thus this prohibited me from loading up and going out another time that week.



     However, on the evening of August 15th, 2015 though, I was able to get out and go observing prior to the arrival of all that nasty smoke. I was late getting out and to be honest, expected on a Saturday to not really find a good spot out at my favorite local location. I got out around 4:30pm and had a wonderful ride out to the forest land south of Vernon, Utah.  I played no music this day and simply enjoyed the drive, looking at the scenery and anticipating observing that night. I firmly believed that this night I would only have my friend Allan observing with me and as I enjoy his company a lot, I looked forward to that also.

     I drove out to the T intersection at the end of the dirt road leading out to either the Vernon Reservoir or to the other land and forest roads. I turned right and drove down to FR006. I hadn't seen anyone camping when I drove out so I had a hope that I might find site 1 clear, but it was the opening of the bow hunt for deer and elk and I thought I would face a lot of traffic out there. Sure enough, on the corner of FR006 and the dirt road I was on, there were some hunters set up with a tent and campsite. I drove up FR006 (or down since I was heading south) and as I approached Site 1, sure enough, it was occupied. Just past site 1 I saw a new set of campers, disperse camping in an area that had never had campers before and so I continued my south bound trek. I crossed the cattle guard and then BAM!  The site right after the cattle guard was unoccupied and more importantly, the site behind it, a good ways off the road and with a lot of open space was wide open. This is my favorite location as the Juniper Trees block the very few stray lights from Vernon.  I scrambled into my favorite site, picked out my location and unloaded.



     The image above and below shows my favorite observing site/location out on the Forest Land off of FR006, that I call Jay's or Jay's Favorite.  You can see from the images the skies were just perfect with just a couple of clouds that disappeared over the mountains as night time fell.



     I parked the Outback, where a tree in front of it would offer shade when the morning sun rose ove the eastern mountains and hills.  I found a good level spot and unloaded my equipment. Out came the ground cover, a mat used for tile floors that is carpeted on top and rubber underneath. Then came the 17.5" dob, or what I am now calling my 17.5" "Zwicky" Dob in honor of Fritz Zwicky.  (I have named my 14" Dob the 14" "Piazzi" Dob after the Italian Astronomer of that name, and in honor of my son who lived in Italy for a couple of years: see this LINK for a history of Piazzi). After setting up the Zwicky, I set up my observing chair and other items, realizing that I had not loaded my table. Luckily, Alan shared his with me so that worked out well.





Above you can see the Outback (after I had unloaded, I rolled out the memory foam mattress, air mattress, pillow and connected up my cpap so I was ready to go when I turned in LATE that night). 


Here is the few of the Zwicky and the back of the Outback. I have my eyepiece cases open up on top of my memory foam and my observing shair ready to go. 



A few of the Zwicky looking back toward's Alan's car and my observing chair in the foreground. Clouds to the north didn't affect us. 


The 17.5" "Zwicky" set up and cooling. Small step ladder ready to go. I have to say, that even though I like the light weight of the step ladder, I prefer my three step ladder better and will be adding a half step to it also.  



     This is Alan's 5 inch Vixen R130Sf refelctor and Porta II Mount package. Sky & Telescope has an excellent review of this scope in their October 2015 issue on pages 60 to 64 by Gary Seronik.  He sums up what I believe my friend Alan would say, the plastic focuser needs an upgrade; the mount can and probably should be upgraded but the mirror and views this little scope puts up are wonderful! When I looked, the views were clear, crisp, clean and sharp, and it holds collimation well and a quick star test should a very good mirror. I would upgrade the mount perhaps to an Explore Scientific Twilight II mount or I and put a moonlight focuser on it and this would be a keeper scope! 



      Sunset, twilight approaching, one of my favorite times in the field. This was taken by my friend Jorge Guiterrez who joined us this night (so glad he did!). 


     I had a really good night this night, observing 18 objects and sketching the following objects. Most objects were galaxies in Hercules that I saw and felt they were small enough or lacking detail to not sketch. These are the ones I did sketch. The sketch is on top, the STSci Image is on the bottom for comparison. 




STSCi Image of NGC 6106




 1. This is NGC 6106, a galaxy in Hercules.  11:09 MDT/5:09 UT; August 15th 2015; FR006 Site Jay's Fav.; SQM 21.80; Clear, Mild, Antoniadi II; 17.5 Swicky Dob; 27mm Panoptic; 10mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr.

The galaxy appears oriented SW to NE. A faint fuzzy with the outer portions of the galaxy faint, almost just a smear. Averted vision shows a bright inner core region and a possible stellar nucleus.








2. NGC 7217; 4:00a.m. MDT; 10:00 UT; August 16th 2015; FR006 Site Jay's; SQM 21.77; 17.5" Swicky Dob; Antoniadi II; Clear, Mild, Slight Haze starting to build (beginning of that summer smoke); 10mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr;

NGC 7217 is a somewhat large and diffused round galaxy.  It has an evident outer halo and a brightening inner core region.  The size of the galaxy diffuses the light/surface brightness. Fun object to observe.









3. NGC 7680; August 16th 2015; 3:08 am MDT/9:08 UT; SQM 21.77; Antoniadi II; 17.5 Swicky Dob; 20mm, 14mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr;

Easy star hop and this is a very faint galaxy.  No structure is evident though it is somewhat roundish in shape, with some elongation. No brightness at the core.








5.  NGC 7805 & NGC 7806; August 16th 2015; 03:40am MDT/09:40 UT; Antoniadi II; SQM 21.77; 17.5" Swicky Dob; 10mm Pentax XW, 20mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr; 

NGC 7805 is in the sketch, the upper or top galaxy and is the brighter of the two galaxies.  It has a stellar core that is evident and a bright core inner region. Round in shape. 
NGC 7806 shows a bright stellar core also and a bright core region, no other structure is seen in this galaxy.  Nice pairing and an enjoyable one. 









     6. NGC 7331 and the Deer Lick Galaxies in Pegasus (NGC 7336 top of the deer licks; NGC 7337 farthest right in the sketch and below NGC 7337; NGC 7335 just to the left of NGC 7337 and bove the left part of NGC 7331; NGC 7336 next to the second star and diagonally up to the right from NGC 7335).  August 16th, 2015; 01:30a.m.MDT/ 0730 UT; SQM 21.78; FR006 Site Jay's; Antoniadi II; 17.5" Swicky Dob; 7mm Pentax XW, 10mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr; 

Wonderful views of NGC 7331 in Pegasus with the Deerlicks easily visible at direct and averted vision. Averted vision let me hold them in focus in my eye.  NGC 7336 was the exception and that only came out with averted vision.  NGC 7331 has a very bright inner core region, with various degrees of brightness that fades as you observe out from the core.  The western edge I believe, the one near the Deerlicks is brighter and more defined. Possibly showing some structure in this area but I wouldn't bet on it.  The Deerlicks show no structure or details, just faint fuzzies.  NGC 7331 appears tilted to me as I observe and sketch it. 






7. NGC 6992 and NGC 6995 the Eastern Veil Nebula in Cygnus;  August 16th 2015; 11:52pm/05:52 UT on August 17th, 2015; Antoniadi II; SQM 21.73; 17.5" Swicky Dob; 27mm Panoptic, 30mm ES 82 degree; 35mm Panoptic; 17.3mm Delos;  Type II Paracorr;

We had such stunning views of the eastern veil nebula as Alan can attest to, that I had to sketch it. The filaments really did pop out like this and it was just a gorgeous view. The top sketch is the actual sketch, no adjustments made. The bottom sketch reflects a increase in contrast and a reduction in brightness (I just can't seem to make my camera take the image I want and that reflects in accuracy the sketch; the sketch looks a ton better).  Anyway, wonderful object to sketch as it climbed to zenith and through zenith.  You can decide which you prefer and let me know if you want.




     Another shot by Jorge as twlight begins to end and the Milky Way is revealing her majesty to the camera.


     That was it for this observing run. I hope in September the weather calms and I can get out two times to observe. There is nothing like it and I can't wait! September and October can be some of our best months though it does get cold at night and I"ll need to wear by bow hunting bibs and coat to keep warm. I LOVE fall and have some wonderful objects to go after to both observe and sketch! Keep enjoying the wonders of our night sky!