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Showing posts from 2011

Wedge Installation

Today I got the Meade ultrawedge installed on the 14 inch scope's tripod.  The problem is that me and my son are too puny to lift the scope high enough to engage it with the wedge at the correct polar angle.  Lifting the OTA and forks a little above shoulder height is just too hard.  It's a pity because tonight would be perfect to do alignment and imaging but it looks like I'll need another able-bodied individual to help.

Uranus 12/11//11

Image
This fuzzy blob is the planet Uranus.  This is a stack of nine one second exposures.  The blue-green color of the planet is clearly visible.

Double Cluster with Field Rotation

Image
This is a stack of four images. Field rotation towards the edges of the image is clearly visible (click on the image for a larger version); stars appear as streaks.  The degree of rotation and the size of the affected area varies depending on the location of the object(s) in the sky.  The only practical solution for amateur astronomers is an equatorial wedge mount that aligns the telescope with the celestial pole.  Field derotators are also an option, but they tend to be expensive and have results of variable quality.

Open Cluster 12/11/11

Image
The Double Cluster, NGC 869 and NGC 844.  Because the 14 is currently ALT-AZ mounted, exposures  have to be short due to field rotation.  This is a single, 30 second exposure--about the maximum before field rotation becomes a problem.  I'll also post an image of a stack, showing the field rotation of the star field.  The only real solution is to mount the scope on a wedge.  I will be mounting the 14 on an ultrawedge in the next week or so.

Jupiter on 12/10/11--image 2

Image
Like the previous image, this one was captured with the 14 inch.  It was converted from WMV to AVI, which seems to eliminate the macroblocking visible even in high bitrate MPEG-2 conversions.  3500 of the original 10,000 frames were used in this image.  Stacked and processed by Astrostack.  The Great Red Spot is visible a little below center as a bulge in the S Equatorial Belt.  Whenever I see Jupiter in any scope, I'm always reminded of the passage in H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds.'  Wells writes of seeing Mars in a telescope, but it is clearly Jupiter he is looking at: "Looking through the telescope, one saw a circle of deep blue and the little round planet swimming in the field. It seemed such a little thing, so bright and small and still, faintly marked with transverse stripes, and slightly flattened from the perfect round."  Today, our imaging capabilities make is possible to see much more than Wells did.  Times may change, but the magic of astronomy n…

Jupiter on 12/10/11

Image
Transparency was excellent, but seeing was average-poor, with some steady moments.  Captured with a Microsoft LifeCam.  9000 frame WMV, converted to MPEG-2 and processed with Astrostack.

Saturn--Taken in May

Image
This is an image of Saturn taken in May with the 14 inch and a Microsoft webcam.  Conditions were very unsteady and seeing was poor.  I'm putting this up because, honestly, this is most likely the quality you will get with most of your images when you start astroimaging.  AVI file of 174 frames processed with Registax.

Jupiter

Image
This is an image of Jupiter taken on the 14 inch on 12/02/11.  Seeing was rather poor.  The image is a stack of 39 processed in Registax.  Next time, I will try with the webcam.  A good capture of 2000 images of so is needed for a really good result.

Alpine Valley

Image
This is an image of the Alpine Valley region of the Moon taken with the 14 inch, It's a stack of 10 images processed in Registax.  The valley itself can be seen as a long, straight groove running from left to right just below center.  The feature was formed with a meteorite crashed into the moon at a shallow angle to the surface.

Status Update

The 14 is back and kudos to Meade.  The problem was a loose worm gear, but Meade cleaned and collimated the scope.  The collimation is text book perfect, and the cleaning removed some pollen spots from the corrector.  I took the scope out this evening and retrained it.  GOTOs are bang on and put deep sky objects on the imaging chip every time.  I'll put the pix up in the next day or two as I get chance to process them.

The big news is that I am taking delivery of a 20 inch ACF MAX in the next few weeks.  This scope is truly massive and needs a permanent home.  I have access to some land SW of town with a gorgeous horizon.  I'm in the observatory planning stage--I've ruled out domes and the only sensible option is a roll-off roof observatory.  I'll post more as I narrow the designs down.

Deep Sky Imaging with the ETX 125

Last night was an excellent night for astronomy.  The moon rose late and skies were dark and the seeing good.  I mounted the ETX 125 in polar mode to see how it would perform on deep sky imaging.  The answer is as I expected.  GOTOs and tracking are excellent, from a visual point of view.  However, the gears are just not built for long-exposure imaging and even 30 second exposures showed stars as streaks. I'll just have to wait until the 14 inch comes back before I can do more imaging work.

Aurora, Scopes, etc.

The aurora here in North Central Indiana was pretty short lived.  It dropped from peak intensity about 5 minutes after I first saw it and faded slowly over the next hour.

In other news, the 14 inch is now on its way back to Meade.  I hope I have it back by the first week of December, but I'm not holding my breath.  There are some "horror reports" of scopes coming back from Meade in worse shape than they shipped out.  I hope this is not the case with mine.

Aurora!

We have aurora!  Diffuse, reddish glow to the north; extensive.  Elevation about 70 degrees at max, stretching down below tree line.  Wow!

Updates

I now have an RMA and shipping details from Meade for the 14 inch; I should be able to get it out of here next week for repair.  The best guess is that it is a controller board issue for the RA drive.  The good news is that it may only be away for three weeks, as opposed to six.

I have done a little more work on the 10 inch LXD-55.  It seems to be behaving itself now and I may try some imaging tonight if it continues to work well.  The LXD-55 mount is a German Equatorial mount ('GEM").  I'm not fond of GEMs, especially with a Schmidt-Newtonian (SNT) design, as the eyepiece of the scope can end up in some very inconvenient positions.  Rotating the tube can help, but it is very inconvenient.  I am also concerned about the drive itself.  I disassembled it, refinished the gears and re-lubed it.  The result was smoother slewing, better pointing and tracking, and less vibration.  Whether the mount can support deep sky imaging remains to be seen.

The Moon, ETX 125

Image
The moon tonight imaged with the ETX 125.  The 125 is a great planetary and lunar scope, but I found deep sky imaging is nigh on impossible.  This is a single image, 1/100th second captured at prime focus.  The large, single crater at the top left is Tycho.  Note the central peak and the white "rays" stretching for hundreds of miles.

The Sun in White Light

Image
The sun today in white light.  Single exposure, ETX 90 with solar filter. The leftmost spot is 1312; the spot to the right and below it is 1313.  Further to the right and above is the small spot 1311. Faint, small spot on the right limb is 1305.  The group of real interest is almost directly above 1312.  It is group 1313 and it is crackling with C class flares.

It never rains but...

Latest update--Meade want me to return the 14 inch for repairs.  Given the high cost of shipping, I bought Sky Assurance, which will give me 3 years of coverage for just a little more than the shipping cost.  As Meade pays shipping under the insurance program, it's not a bad deal.  The bad news--it takes 15 days to generate the paperwork for a return.  Not sure how long they will have the scope, but it looks as if the Fall observing season with the new scope is completely shot.

 One contact on an LX200 list suggested I remove the baseplate and take a look to see if a cable is wrapped around the gears.  Apparently, it can happen.  I'll take a look when I take it off the mount.

The backup 10 inch scope needs work.  The cheapie plastic cowl on the Chinese GEM cracked in the cold last winter and fell off, damaging an encoder wheel.  I've straightened it out, but the mount is still a mess.  I rebuilt it completely and refinished the gears, but there is still an unacceptable amo…

M13

Image
The lovely globular M13 has been described as looking like sugar spilled on a black table cloth.  This is a single 30 second exposure on the 14 inch with CanonXTi.  The bad news--this was the last pic i took before the 14 inch scope started to have RA drive problems.  I have a feeling I might have an expensive shipping bill coming up, as well as some weeks of waiting for the scope to be fixed.  I should know more tomorrow.

Ring Nebula

Image
M57, the Ring Nebula imaged on the 14 inch with a Canon XTi.  It is a stack of 6 30-second exposures. The central star is just visible in the ring. The nebula is not really a ring, but we are seeing it 'front on."  It is probably more like a cylinder.  The central star is reaching the end of its life, and this image may well be how our sun will look some billions of years from now as it enters the final stages of its life and puffs off its outer atmosphere.

Albireo

Image
Albireo (Beta Cygni).  The color difference between the bright yellow star and its fainter, blue companion makes this one of the "must-see" sights for any star party.  4 stacked 30 second exposures, LX200 14 inch ACF.

M92

Image
Single exposure image of M92, globular cluster in Hercules.  Nikon D40, 14 inch LX200 ACF.  Globular clusters are made of old stars.  Their is no associated nebulosity as it has nearly all been used to form the stars in the cluster. Ols stars like this are called, "metal rich."  Although their are atoms of metal elements in these stars (and metals accumulate as stars age), the term is misleading. In astrophysics, anything that is not hydrogen or helium is classed as a metal.

C/2009 P1 ( Garradd )

Image
This image is a single, one minute exposure showing C/2009 P1 in the center of the field. Pic taken with LX200 ACF 14 inch and Nikon D40.  Note the blue/green color of the comet, and the nebulosity surrounding it.

Observations of Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011

A very good evening for observing with the 14 inch.  Found C/2009 P1 (Garradd).  Its position is a little different from that in the IAU Minor Planet Center ephemeris, but only by a minute or two in declination.  The comet seems a little fainter--about +8.5.  Sky contrast was quite good and I thought I could make out a faint tail.  Looked at some of the old standy objects:  Albireo, M13, M92, the Ring Nebula (which was wonderfully visible, floating almost in 3D against the background of space.  The Dumbell Nebula was also beautiful, with the dumbell shape clearly visible.

C/2009 P1 ( Garradd )

Observed this comet on August 29 and September 12 with the 14 inch.  Noticed appreciable brightening (from around Mag 10 to Mag 8).  Lots of skyglow and scatter here in Indiana (our typical summer haze), so I could not see the tail.  Over 2-3 hours, motion of the comet against background stars was easily noticed.

Equipment

Oak Hollow Observatory has the following equipment:

Scopes
Meade 14 inch LX-200 ACF
Meade 10 inch LXD-55 Schmidt-Newtonian
Meade ETX-125
Meade ETX-90
Coronado PST

Imaging
SBIG ST402ME
Lifecam HD
Nikon D40

New Images

We were lucky to have some clear (though cold) weather over the holidays here in Indiana.  The modified webcam seems to work very well with the PST and I hope to be able to post some of the solar images I took over the next day or two as I get them processed.