Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Frontyard Observing

Last night, I had the pleasure of observing in my front yard. Now my front yard is not even close to being an ideal observing spot. A street light blazes its light across my front lawn. I would not let that stop me. I pulled out the 12.5" ballscope and set it up to see what I could do.

My expectations were not very high. I know that objects such as Venus are not hampered by light pollution so I collimated my scope until it was dead on and placed the 24mm Panoptic into the focuser. I guided my telescope to the brilliant orb of Venus.

A nice crescent image formed in the eyepiece. What a pleasure to see! Venus is well on its way to be inside of Earth's orbit which allows it to present itself in such a phase. I placed the 12.5mm Orthoscopic eyepiece in the focuser to get a closer view, wonderful. Venus as a cresent is breathtaking when you see it. Many first time observers note this.

I called my observing companion, and good friend, Jim, on the cell phone to share the excitement of how well Venus looked. I rudely interrupted Jim studying the Virgo galaxy cluster (actually, he did not mind). He suggested finding some clusters that I was unable to see (NGC7789, my favorite, was one of them). I knew I was able to find M37 in Auriga (my second favorite cluster), so I pointed the telescope towards the zenith. In spite of the light pollution, the hundreds of suns illuminated my retina. I then decided to move the telescope towards the double cluster.

After hanging up with Jim, I decided to look at some planetary nebulas. The Eskimo nebula is a good one. Using the 12.5mm Orthoscopic eyepiece with the OIII filter, I placed the nebula into the heart of Gemini. I quickly located my destination. It looked great! It was time to see the little Dumbell, M76. My mentor, the late Ron Ravneberg, introduced me to the art of star hopping by guiding me to this object. Using the lessons learned from Ron, I zeroed in on this planetary. I saw the bright areas on the wings of this nebula. Whatever planets orbited that star, they must be gone now by the ancient stellar atmosphere shed from its former host.

I ended the night with a favorite target: M42, the great Orion Nebula. The detail! I easily saw the right wing off of the core of the nebula. The Trapezium blazed. I saw 6 stars in my handmade mirror. I ended the night with Orion's sword in my memory as it was a good stopping point.

After packing up, I made some mental notes about the 12.5" ballscope. I need to find a way to make the stiction better. Not totally going overboard (which could be bad) but just enough to make the scope's movement easier. It is not that bad, but it could be a little more. I felt good about my scope knowing that it provides adequate views being only my second mirror. I look forward to getting myself under some darker skies, but this evening provided the best views I had in a while from my own front yard.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Updating the 8" Ballscope

I will be reworking some of my 8" ballscope over the next few weeks. I plan to replace the original polycarbonate sphere with a new one. The current one was a clear one that I painted on the inside. That paint is flaking off in some spots. The new one will be a white opaque sphere that I will paint with some different paint that seems to be holding up really well on the 12" scope. I will also be replacing the upper ring making it more like the 12" scope. The 8" scope will look almost like a mini version of the 12" because I like the black and white look of the bigger scope.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Simple Astronomy

The sky was just too clear last night to pass up and opportunity to observe. However, I just got done helping my mother-in-law move and was tired. So I decided to do some "simple astronomy" observing last night. With 11x70 binoculars, Binocular Highlights book, and little red flashlight hanging around my neck, I proceeded out into the night. The sky was pretty darn transparent and seeing was not too bad. Since I was going wide field, seeing would not have mattered much.

Going through the book, I started with Kemble's Cascade and NGC1502. My good friend Jim Schoultz taught me a nice way to find it in the star lacking region of Camelopardalis by using Cassiopeia as a measuring stick and placing that stick up into the void to direct me to where I was going. And there it was: a nice stream of stars that reminds me of a bright meteor breaking up as it enters our atmosphere, frozen in space like someone took a celestial photograph of such an event. Next I was off to the double cluster and the strong man. What a nice pair in the binoculars! I continued on for about 20 minutes seeing such objects like M34, M35, M36, M37, M38, M41, M46 and M47. I always enjoy looking at the belt of Orion as there are just so many stars in that region. I stopped when I got to M42 and just sat and enjoyed the view for a little while. By that time, the dogs wanted in and my neighbor turned on their floodlights in the backyard (why do they need that much light? why?!?!?).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Buffing the ballscope

I picked up some Novus plastic polish today from American Plastics here in Columbus. I got the ball buffed up some to remove some of the stiction that is going on. It seems to help. It really is not that bad, but not Obsession buttery smooth (which is what I am going for). I almost decided to give up on the ball scope design, but I want to stick with it as it makes my telescope unique.

I am looking forward to our club's winter star party down in the hocking hills on the 21st. It should be fun. One of our log time members tends to have an affect on the weather for this event as it has been clear for the past 6 years! It will be good to get the ballscope out under the stars.

Monday, February 9, 2009

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer
by: Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts, the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the learned astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Godspeed Ron

I met Ron Ravneberg about 8 years ago when I started getting back into astronomy after a long hiatus. We were at a little club star party doing a Messier Marathon. He had his scope, "Alice" with him and I had my Meade 2080 set up trying without much success to find M76, the Little Dumbbell. Ron patiently showed me how to find the "little Auriga" and from there, finding M76. It was my first experience observing with Ron.

Ever since, Ron has been a major influence to me. I recall many conversations with Ron talking about design ideas on my next scope or about life in general. He encouraged me throughout my telescope making journey. He always had a great perspective on things. Observing with Ron was a real treat as he would direct you to objects you may have never seen or heard of before. He introduced me to the concept of "simple astronomy" where you don't need the biggest scope or the latest gadget. A simple star chart, a red flashlight, and a small telescope can be very rewarding. He also warned me that a telescope you make is never really done.

Ron was an inspiration to many not only because of his many accomplishments as a telescope maker and amateur astronomer, but also because of the person he was. Thank you for helping this big dumbbell, find the little dumbbell, Ron.

Godspeed as you journey amongst the stars.