Tuesday, May 19, 2015

First Light Catalpa POD Observatory (CPO) 5.18.2015

Last night was first light at CPO! It was more of a challenge than I anticipated. When I installed and leveled the scope, I aligned the mount using both the compass in the mount and a digital compass. The magnetic declination offset for Indiana is zero, so I thought I would at least be close to the pole star when I attempted polar alignment. Fat chance!  I was so far off, I had to rotate the mount about 15 degrees, throwing off my leveling. However, I finally got the mount level and polar aligned using a reticle eyepiece. My first slew to Arcturus for one-star alignment was not even in the FOV of the finder, but I manually centered the star and synched. My first GOTO object was M13--an easy choice. It was close to the center of the finder, but just outside the FOV of the scope with a 25mm eyepiece--I may have to realign the scope again (there are times when I am truly tempted to go back to ALT/AZ--lol).

I fired up the Xtreme + MFR-5, set the gain to 4 and took 3 images of M13 with exposures of 3,6,and 9 seconds. The results are interesting. The 3-second exposure shows a significant amount of color. The 9-second exposure shows little color. The core of the cluster is starting to "blow out," but more halo stars are visible.

As it does not get dark enough to align a scope until around 9:30 pm here, it was around 11:00 pm by the time I captured these images and I decided to pack up at that point as I had to work today. It's been about 6 months since the POD was delivered and it's good to have the observatory up and running at last!

3-Second Exposure
6-Second Exposure

9-Second Exposure

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Imaging Capabilities Installed and Running at New Observatory

Imaging  capabilities have finally been installed at the new observatory! The pic shows the Mallincam Xtreme talking to a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 via a USB hub. The Surface handles both image capture and camera control. Cables are routed via a sleeve and are attached to the fork arms. A "slip loop" of cable allows adjustments of length as the scope slews. The ASI 120MM will also use the same hub when I do RGB imaging. Note the unconventional counterweight clamp--it balances the scope perfectly :) Everything is powered from a large-capacity UPS system.

The scope tripod is resting on wooden blocks. It is perfectly level and the blocks are isolated from the observatory floor. I can't wait for first light (after I give the observatory a good clean!_!

Venus Over Roanoke, VA.

Roanoke, VA is one of my favorite places to visit; I love the mountains, the wineries and the clear skies.  I snapped this pic of Venus leaving a restaurant on a low hill. It's funny to think that, when I was a kid, many scientists thought Venus might be a jungle or ocean planet with abundant life. It looks so serene and cool in the evening sky; very unlike the place where, as Sir Patrick Moore pointed out, if you went out without a space suit, you would be simultaneously, "squashed, poisoned, and fried!" The bright spot above the central gap in the hills (click image for a bigger image) is not, I believe, Mercury, but a plane. I did not notice it when I took the pic and it is not on the other pix I took a minute or so earlier.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Move-in Day!

Yesterday was a big day at the observatory: the 14 inch scope finally moved in! An easy way to move the scope in would have been to have removed a wall panel (a great idea from the contributors at the POD newsgroup), but because the POD is on uneven ground, wall assembly was more difficult than on a flat surface. Rather than take the walls apart, we lifted the OTA and forks over the walls of the observatory and installed it on the wedge. It was a pretty tough job to lift the heavy and awkward scope over the wall and to get it on the wedge in a fairly narrow space, but we succeeded.

The scope is about 10 inches south of center, which will hopefully allow a little more zenith access when needed. I still have to level it on the uneven ground; due to some site restrictions and other considerations, the scope is tripod mounted rather than on a pier.

The amazing thing is that, even with this big scope installed, there is still plenty of room in the pod. The following pix show the scope in-situ, and give a good idea of just how much room there is in the POD. As you can see, my workstation, which is to the west of the scope, has plenty of space and allows easy access directly to the scope. Although my run-off shed in the county (10'x12') had  lot of room, I certainly don't feel at all constricted by the POD. This little observatory has lots of usable space, is watertight, and is the perfect home for even a large scope like the 14 inch.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Quiet Sun--May Day 2015

Happy Obby Oss Day!

Even though the sun is very quiet at the moment, and virtually featureless in visual light, H-Alpha shows some really interesting features, like the looping prominence and long filaments captured in these images.