April 04, 2013 #138 - First Look at the Southern Cross

On the 18th of March I had one of the most memorable observing sessions in my many years of  sky watching. We were set up just three miles north of the Mexican border on a hill top at Seminole St. Pk., TX.

Before sunset I set up my 20X80 D3 binoculars on a tripod an waited for the sun to drop below the horizon. I was able to see a mountain 46 miles into Mexico.

 The sunsets here in the Chihuahuan Desert have been spectacular. After sunset I picked up Comet Pann-Starrs and stayed with it till it faded just above the western horizon.

I then spent some time watching Jupiter and it's moons, Luna, and the Orion Nebula. The sky was fairly bright with moon glow so I went to bed to catch a few hours of sleep.

At about 2 am I returned to the binoculars just as the moon dropped below the horizon. The first target was Omega Centauri. It's hard to believe it's been over a month since I saw it for the first time. Then I hopped around comparing it to several other globular clusters (Marked on the chart). M13 was about 1/3 the size and all the others observed were less than it. Nothing compares to the "Big Dog" NGC 5139. It takes your breath away in  large binoculars and I spent at least 45 minutes admiring.

As the night became darker I went after my primary target the Southern Cross. I was able to pick out at least the top three stars above the mountains on the Mexican Horizon! It has been a life long dream of this Indiana boy to one day see this constellation! That dream finally came true. For the future the Magellanic Clouds and the entire Southern Cross.

For another hour or so I continued looking at these two showcase objects with a little eyeball scanning of the whole sky. Picked up several meteors and satellites and took a gander  at Saturn.

What a night, it was hard to go back to bed!

Clear Sky - Rich


April 03, 2013 #137 - McDonald Observatory, Ft. Davis, TX

For this post I'm including a few pictures from a tour of the facilities at McDonald Observatory. The view on the mountains is very impressive and well worth the time, about three hours. The tour starts out at the main visitors center. They present a history, an overview of the current research, a tutorial of spectroscopy, and real time observation of the sun with over all and close ups of current visible features.

Following this you are taken by van to the summit of Mt. Locke to examine the 107 inch telescope. You are able to closely examine the instrument where all phase of the observatory operation are explained and the scope and dome are operated to give you a first hand experience of instrument and dome procedures during a nights observation. I thought it interesting that the 30" core bored from the center of the mirror was retained to construct other telescopes. The foot and a half thick slab of glass was sliced into two pieces half as thick and optically worked to finished mirrors. One of these is on Mt. Locke and the other is at Kitt Peak Observatory.

The van then transports you to the 9.2 meter  H.E.T. scope on Mt Fowlkes to the north west. This scope is the fifth largest multi-segmented mirror in the world and the largest in the northern hemisphere. Each segment is monitored for proper orientation and computer aligned on a continuous basis. The entire scope is moved floating on a multiple cushions of air. The light is gathered and a corrector lens, again computer controlled on a track, insures precise focus to where the light is piped through optical cables to a spectrograph. This data is digitally transmitted to the researcher without that researcher having to be on the mountain. The scope is controlled and data collected by operating staff.

At the visitors center they also conduct Star Parties, weather permitting, on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturdays. Visitors can observe objects of opportunity through telescopes provided by the staff at a site near the visitors Center. The McDonald Observatory claims the darkest sky in the lower 48 states and plentiful nights of clear skies.

Mt. Locke

Mt. Fowlkes
View East from summit of Mt Locke
Close up of the 107" telescope dome
107" Rear View
Side view and Spectrograph
Movable Platform for 107" access
Dome just below 107" housing 30" built from center bore of mirror
Peak to peak view of H.E.T. Scope
Close up of H.E.T. Dome (B&W for better contrast view)
Edge of H.E.T. mirror showing sub-structure
Close up of individual mirror segment and support/control structure
Two floating air pads for rotation of telescope structure

 Clear Sky - Rich


March 31, 2013 #136 - McDonald Observatory, Ft. Davis, TX

This evening we sat on a mountain top at Ft. Davis to watch the sunset. McDonald Observatory was visible on Mnt. Fowlkes and Mnt. Locke, about 20 miles west of us. I set up my 20X80 binoculars on a tripod and watched the domes. Shortly after sunset the staff  began opening the domes to prepare for a night of research. I watched as the process progressed with great interest as this was the first time I have seen them in action.

I took several digital shots through my Canon T1i with a 300mm lens of the HET Dome and the 107 inch Dome. Considering the distance I was pleased with the results. I am attaching four for you, to show what I observed. Hope you enjoy them.

55mm shot of the Observatory distance 20 mi.

 300mm shot of Dome closed on Mnt. Fowlkes distance 20 mi. at 6659 ft.

  300mm shot of Dome open on Mnt. Fowlkes

300mm shot of Dome open on Mnt.Locke at 6792 ft.

Clear Sky - Rich


March 14, 2013 #135 - C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs in 20X80 Binoculars

Went back to my lonely hill top observation area for some more comet watching last night. Set up my tripod and binoculars and just set back and watched till comet set. No camera to fuss over this time. Just a relaxing time at the eyepieces. Sky conditions here in the hill country of Texas have been excellent if you are following the western sky, but looking east to about 20% above the horizon you have the glow of the Austin - San Antonio light pollution.

I have been surprised that I have been unable to see it with eyes only, except for brief flashes with averted vision. The moon was above the comet tonight and the view crisp in the 20X80's. Many pinpoint stars in the field of view.

I worked up an impression of the view with a paint program on my laptop for tonight's BLOG.

Clear Sky - Rich


March 13, 2013 #134 - Comet Pan-Starrs

Tonight was my 4th night of observation of Comet Pan-Starr from the Hill Country of Texas near Lost Maples State Park. Tonight I was able to take some color digital shots. These were shot with a Canon T1i with a 75 mm lens. The comet is still hard to pick up with the naked eye and I'm sure the moon will make observation harder over the next couple of weeks.

Clear Sky - Rich


March 12, 2013 #133 - Comet Pan-Starrs

I have been watching Comet Pan-Starr for the last three nights from the Hill Country of Texas near Lost Maples State Park. Tonight I was able to snag a decent digital shot in B/W. This was shot with a Canon T1i with a 75-300 mm lens at ASA400/8 sec/F5. Have been observing with my Oberwerks 20x80 D3 Binoculars and Apex 127 Maksutov. The comet is hard to pick up with the naked eye but the thin crescent moon was a good guide tonight.

Over the last two nights the Gegenschein has been very prominent. It stretches from horizon to the  Seven Sisters and is brighter than the Milky Way. Stars are faded within it's cone very noticeably.

Clear Sky - Rich


February 01, 2013 #132 - OBERWERK 20 x 80 D3 BINOCULARS

I have been using Nikon 10x50 Mariner binoculars for many years. They have provided excellent casual stargazing and provided pinpoint star images. I decided to research Astronomical Class Binoculars on the Internet with the plan to upgrade to more light gathering power. My number one criteria was optical excellence. After looking at what was offered and reading as many forums as I could find, I discovered that triplet objectives were available. The advantage of the triplet is correction of optical aberrations and a shorter focal length  meaning faster optics. All optical surfaces must be coated for reduction of reflections and improved light transmission. That means dark field of view with bright pinpoint stars and other objects..

This class of Binocular needs to be mounted for a stable viewing platform. It is next to impossible to hand hold this size unit. Mounting means a rail and adjustable attachment point. You also need either a center focus with one eyepiece adjustable, or each eyepiece separately adjustable.

I decided to purchase from the Oberwerk Company based in Ohio. I found after a couple of phone calls that customer service was excellent. I ordered 20x80 D3 Binoculars.  They arrived in excellent condition housed in an aluminum case. I mount them on a tripod with a Vanguard GH-200 pistol grip head. The views are spectacular. The field of view is 3.25 degrees, the exit pupil is 4mm, and the exit pupil distance is a comfortable 18mm. The triplet reduces the binocular length by about 2 inches over standard 20x80 binoculars and the weight to 7 pounds. If you have collimation problems the units have floating pads which hold the BK7 prisms and are adjustable by accessible screws.  Go to the website for a full tutorial on adjustment. I would recommend this company without reservations.

Clear Sky - Rich


January 31, 2013 #131 - Cartes du Ciel

Cartes du Ciel has improved over the last year and I have just  upgraded to beta version 3.7-svn2418. Patrick Chevalley continues to produce, amazing free sky charting software. By downloading the UCAC4 data base and installing the files in the CAT folder you can produce charts  to magnitude 16. There are 4 files in this set: North, Equator, South, and Index. With other available files you can even have charts reaching magnitude 20. These file are enormous though, but you can tailor them to your needs. His site gives clear instructions on what you need to download and how to use this data. Below is an example of the mag. 16 chart.

A control program can be linked to this charting software that also functions well and can be set up to control many GOTO scopes. It goes by the name of RTGUI v9.2. (Real Time GUI + SKY CHART) by Robert Sheaffer.

Both application are well behaved, provide tons of features, and can be downloaded for free.

Clear Sky - Rich


January 30, 2013 #130 - Catching the Venus Transit

I was able to see both the Venus transits from northern Indiana (2004.06.08 & 2012.06.05). The first was ending just at dawn and the weather conditions were atrocious. I was able to catch it through a break in the clouds just after dawn. The second was under much better circumstances. The sky was clear all day and I set up my 60's vintage Unitron 2.4 in projection mode. Ingress through most of the transit could be seen until sunset brought observation to a colorful halt. It was clear enough to watch the event as the sun slid below the horizon.

I was surprised by the size of Venus compared to the transits of Mercury I had observed in the past. I have observed Venus many times during it's appearances over the years in the dawn and evening sky, and even occultations by the moon, but nothing really enables you to judge it's size like a transit.

The Unitron optics still present classic diffraction rings after many years of use. In the 60's I was able to ferret out many NGC, Messier, planetary, eclipses, occultation, and comet observations in the dark skies of the time. It still presents double stars in admirable style.

Clear Sky - Rich


January 29, 2013 #129 - On the Road Again

This is my first post in a long time. The last year and a half have gone to take care of family needs. Recently my wife and I have returned to traveling in our RV for a third year. I have a new Celestron 9.25 HD on a CGEM DX mount to use on the road. I must say that this setup is way beyond anything I ever dreamed of using as a boy. The optics are superb and having a GOTO mount is a real treat after 60 years of star hopping while contorting the body in directions it was not designed to bend!

We are now in the hill country west of Austin, TX. The skies are clear and dark and the weather has been mild making for enjoyable observing sessions. Recently I have been observing Jupiter and a few days ago, it's lunar conjunction. The far southern sky has also been a treat but thus far I'm still hoping to add the Centauri  Globular Cluster to my log. February brings it to it highest point in the southern sky and lets hope the weather cooperates.

I'm attaching some recent photos for your enjoyment. Will try to update the blog as the internet becomes available in our western travels.

Clear Sky - Rich