Sunday, December 9, 2012

PAS Christmas Dinner

Friday night (Dec. 7, 2012)  The Pontchartrain Astronomy Society  held its annual Christmas party at the Rivertown Science Center in Kenner.  I didn't count but my guesstimate is ~50 people in attendance.  There was lots of good food and fellowship.

It was an especially good night for me.  First my parental pride was on display as I witnessed my daughter, Heather LeBlanc,  inducted as the next president of the PAS.

Then I had the very good fortune to win the grand prize in the raffle: a Coronado PST !  This new scope will offer a new aspect to my observing and I look forward to learning more about our closest star.

The evening concluded with a laser light show set to the music of Pink Floyd at the Kenner Planetarium's 50-foot domed screen.  Thanks to all PAS members and the staff at the Rivertown Science Center for a memorable evening.

Monday, September 24, 2012

MCX2 First Light

Sept. 23, 2012
Picked up my camera at Jack's house around 5 pm after a disappointing Saint's loss. He showed me how to hook it up to my computer and he patiently verified everything was working. He showed me the different tabs of the MC control software and explained most options. I kept up with him for awhile and then my eyes glazed over, being utterly lost. I'm sure I will pick it up in time, but it is a lot to take in at once. Jack showed me his very nice observatory that is under construction and his shop where he stores and tests the cameras. I left around 6:30, eager to get home and set up.

I got home and proudly showed off my new purchase to my wife. After a few minutes I went outside to set up the scope. At 9:09 pm I had it all ready to go and fired up Autostar. I aligned on Denab and Fomalhaut and then went to M57, the Ring Nebula. It came in at 1700 position about 1/3 deg off center. In my 18 EP it is a hard to see gray smudge visible only with AV. I shifted the smudge into the center of the FOV. Still danged hard to see, but it was falling into the heavily light polluted west, about. 50 deg or so in altitude.

Having a good first target in mid-field, I anxiously installed the camera. The unit is small and there are many parts, focal reducer, spacer, 1-1/4" adapters, heat sinks and fans, and the cables. I had some difficulty in getting the S video and control cables to plug into the camera. Would be easier in daylight. I hooked things up to the computer and applied power to the camera. I had no problem with the computer talking to the camera, but I couldn't see an image in the preview window - it was blue. I eventually determined that the problem was a loose S-video cable at the camera. The S video cable is big and heavy. I will need to secure the cables as to provide strain relief on the camera plug. A bit more fidgeting and the ring poped onto the screen! A tweak of the focus and I could easily see red and blue colors in the ring and the hole was nicely contrasted. All in a 2 second image. I bumped the integration up to 7 and the 14 sec and was rewarded with a few more stars and a bit more definition to the ring. Not sure why there are so many stars in green and purple (Mardi Gras colors). At 28 sec integration the screen went white - over loaded by sky glow?? I tried 28 sec a couple of times with no success, but 7 & 14 sec images worked great.

7 sec image, AGC 3, MFR-6 with 5 mm spacer 

While I was playing with the software I lost the video signal to black, unlike the blue screen when I had a bad video connection. I never did get it back. Perhaps the CCD sensor dewed over? Calling it a night as I have to work tomorrow and it takes an hour to tear down the rig. Everything is wet. A quick check of the weather shows 74deg F & 88% humidity, half moon, and high clouds and that is at midnight.

Still for first light I got a couple of 7 sec images of the ring and learned to navigate the software a bit. Also have expanded my to do list to include strain relief for the camera, how best to organize while observing and store the mess of wires, and how best to store the camera. I am thinking I might cut the foam in one of the Orion EP cases to hold it. Also need to remember to store the camera with desiccant. Lots to do and learn but a nice first outing.

Finally a great night of viewing

Friday Sept. 14, 2012
Pretty clear night, setup at 2030. Temp is 82 F with 58% humidity, although after setting up I'm sweating like crazy, so it fields more humid than it is. Very few clouds and a very light breeze. Mosquitoes are thick but I've got my Thermocells out and I have Deep Woods OFF all over my exposed skin. Hope the sweat doesn't wash it off!! I set up the mount in the house the other night and it checked out pretty tight. (Parish mosquitoe spraying truck just passed. Glad I'm in the tent.)

I haven't had the scope out since Aug. 1 due to persistent clouds and rain. Glad to finally have a clear night and tomorrow night is to be nice as well before it rains late Sunday. This could be my last observing session before my Mallincam arrives !!!

At 2137 I finally got everything setup and the scope aligned on Vega and Algenib. It was just out on Algenib, so hopefully it will yield good go tos tonight. Using Astroplanner on the iPad to choose objects.

M29 in Cygnus is a nice open cluster with a group of 3 stars and a group of 5 stars in a distorted square. The stars in the group are not appreciably brighter than those in the surrounding area.

Went to M27, the Dumbell Nebula. Couldn't see anything so set the scope up in high precision mode and aligned on Alberio and with the B18 (Barlowed 18 mm EP) the Dumbell came right into view, just to the 1400 positon of center. Couldn't see it directly even after staring for a few minutes but with averted vision (AV) I could see a dense squarish grey cloud. The Mallincam will make these much more enjoyable!

It is 2306 and it is still 81 deg with 62% humidity. Very few clouds except high thin ones. A nice night except for the heat and mosquitoes, but the Thermacell, spray, and Deet are keeping them away.

At mag 8.4, M 71 is a very faint globular in Sagita that is difficult to see even with AV. I'm using the laptop to control the scope and I don't see how to use high precision mode via the computer. Need to study a bit.

NGC 6830 is an open cluster in Vulpecula. At mag 7.9 it is faint but has 2 bright stars at 4 fainter ones to the NE in the B18. With AV I can get a peek at a deeper star field.

M56 is a GC in Lyra at mag 8.4. In the B18 I can just make out a faint grey fuzzy. Could be a nebula as even with AV I can not make out anything except an area that is slighlty brighter than the background.

NGC 6819, Fox Head cluster, in Cygnus is mag 7.3. I see 3 semi-bright stars and with AV a hint that there is more.

The Ring Nebula, M 57, is a nice sight in the B18, with AV I can detect the donught shape.

M39 is a very nice and bright OC in Cygnus with over a dozen bright stars. The shape is roughly that of a robot with 4 stars in a line across the bottom, 2 at the waist and a head. Shoulders and arms can be made out. A nice OC, easy to see in the B18

M30 is a nice faint GC in Capricornus at Mag 6.9. It is rather low but a nice sight with AV although I had to really contort my body to see in the EP.

The Andromeda galaxy, M31, is a nice sight in the B18. I can make out a wispy near circular shape of almost uniform brightness. Cannot really discern the core or the arms, but a nice sight. Easy to see and appreciate as a galaxy. Perhaps my best view of it. With the B6.7 I can get a hint of the eleptical shape but no details. I'm impressed I can B the 6.7, good skies tonight. It is 0106 and 78 F with 79% humidity.

With the high precision mode the gotos are very good. Uranus is a nice blue-green disc in the B18. In the B6.7 it is a bit more white and slightly deformed. The 6.7 alone provided a nice view similar to the B18, perhaps a bit less color.

Neptune is a bit smaller than Uranus and the color was just a bluish off white. The color was not as distinctive as Uranus. Hard to discern but its lacking of twinkling and a comparison of the star field against SkyWalk, convinced me I had seen it in the B18. In the B6.7 it is a distorted little disk with no color .

Very nice view of Jupiter and 3 moons in the B6.7. I can easily see 2 equatorial bands. The image wasn't quite steady enough to discern a third band. It is 0215 and Jupiter is around 40 deg up in the E sky.

The Pleadies (M45) is a beautiful sight in the 18 EP. In the B18 you have to scroll around to see the entire group, but many interesting asterisms are noted.

Orion is rising and the great nebula (M42) is a very nice site in the B18. The 4 stars of the Trapezium are easily seen as are tendrils of nebulosity. In the B6.7 the Trapezium is in excellent view and the nebulosity extent can be well seen.

Very nice star field in Persus near Mirfak. Up by Algol, M34 is a really nice OC with over a dozen bright stars. Too tired to describe the shape, but it is nice (It is 0331 !!!).

Last object of the night was NGC 0475, the ET OC. He is standing on his head at this hour but is a nice object in the 18 mm EP. OK @ 0346 I'm shutting down. A good night.

The scope performed well but I did notice that the scope still has a shudder in its movement at times. Need to investigate and fix that. Also the focuser motor slips occasionally.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Isaac, quite a storm

Wow for a category 1 hurricane, Isaac packed quite a wallop.  Our caravan headed out on Monday (Aug. 27); 3 vehicles, 11 people (including 5 children), and 5 dogs.  The trip was thankfully uneventful.  We stayed at the La Quinta Inn in Meridian, Mississippi.  A nice, pet friendly hotel with exceptionally friendly staff.  Naturally the next 2 days was consumed with watching the news and weather channels, unable to believe the damage they were reporting.   Walking the dogs and playing with the kids was a welcome respite from the tragedy unfolding back at home.

As nice as the inn was, after 3 days we were more than ready to get back home.  We came back Thursday afternoon and found our home was spared any damage, just a mess of tree limbs and leaves in the yard.  Many were not so fortunate.   Our thoughts and prayers go out to our neighbors to the west in LaPlace where unprecedented flooding occurred and especially to those down in Plaquemines parish where the town of Braithwaite was devastated.

Now, a week later, over 1,500 homes are still without power in St. Charles Parish and thousands more across the region.  None the less, things are returning to normal.  The stores are getting their shelves restocked and schools reopened today.   The night skies have been partially cloudy since the hurricane blew through.  Perhaps this weekend will offer an opportunity to bring out my scope and get back to viewing.

On a more positive note, I sent in our registration to the Deep South Regional Star Gaze (DSRSG) today.  It will be held November 7-11 at the Feliciana Retreat Center near Norwood, Louisiana.  This will be the 30th anniversary for this star party and my third time attending.  Lean more about it at their website  or their Yahoo group site.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Missed viewing again

I rsigned up to receive clear sky alerts from   A nice service that emails me the Clear Sky Chart for my area when observing conditions are predicted to be average or above.   These charts pack alot of information into a single graphic and they are reasonably accurate.

I received such a message for tonight,  Sunday night (Aug 27), so I planned to setup my scope and view for a few hours.   Would have to quit by 2300 as I must work tomorrow, but a few hours is better than nothing.  Unfortunately hurricane Isaac has apparently decided to pay the New Orleans area a visit and my area was placed under a mandatory evacuation.  So instead of viewing the heavens, I spent the evening boarding up windows and packing to leave tomorrow morning.  I hate to wish bad weather on anyone, but it would suit me just fine if this storm would pester another area.  Ideally it would just die in the gulf, but that doesn't appear likely.  

Hopefully this storm will blow the clouds and mosquitos away for nice viewing this weekend.

Clear skies,


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Observing Report, Aug 1, 2012

August 1, 2012, I set up at 9 pm. First time I've had the scope out since the Venus Transit on June 5.
A very humid and warm night at 9:58 is 84 F and I'm sweating like crazy just standing here. Mosquitoes are thick. Humidity is 78%. Some high wispy clouds overhead, thicker to the North east. A full moon is about 40deg high in the east. Not a good night to view but the best I have had in 2 months.

Calibrated on Denub and Spica. The scope was close on both. Impressive as I still haven't collimated the PAS since I rebuilt the mount, so it must not be too far off.

M5 a faint globular in the 18 mm, per Skywalk a mag 7 but in astro planner a 5.7 ?? Pretty easily visible direct. With the B18 the shape is nearly circular with one bright star discernible on the southern periphery, just visible with averted vision

M39, nice open cluster in Cygnus. See 7 main stars a a few fainter ones in a pattern somewhat resembling a riding saddle, per AP is mag 4.59

M13 is hi in the West , maybe 75 deg. In the B18 in a large bright fuzzy object, roughly spherical
Brightness fairly uniform so not like a galaxy and too bright for a nebula

Hi Clouds moving in from the NE, that + the moon & humidity makes for a poor night. High Precision mode working well, alignment stars always in FOV & objects in FOV also.

M29 in Cygnus is a very nice cluster with 6 bright stars. 4 stars form a square and the other 2 stars are at the 4 & 8 o'clock positions off the bottom 2 stars in the square. Fairly symmetrical
See many fainter stars

M3 in Canes Venatici is a faint circular fuzzy of uniform brightness best seen with AV in B18, is about 25deg up in W. M94 too low in west, lost in sky glow.

11:06 clouds have hidden all but Cygnus and Lyra. Couldn't see M57. Called it quits at 11:30. Everything is wet, however my dew heaters kept the optics clear. Although the sweat on my eyebrow did fog up the eyepiece a few times.

Using Astroplanner on my iPad for the first time to pick viewing objects. It was good to select objects and show me what the object looks like, but it doesn't sort or arrange by constellation.  Of course even on its dimmest setting, the iPad screen is too bright and negatively impacts my night vision.  The night mode helps considerably.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

More binocular viewing

After getting conflicting weather forecasts for the night I didn't anticipate the night sky to offer much.  Between rounds of the fight I was watching on TV, I decided to step out and take a peek.  Naturally it was dark, transparent, with only a few clouds to the North- east.  I went back in and watched the last round of the fight and then grabbed my binoculars, red flash light, a magnifying glass, and Pocket Sky Atlas. (I've found a magnifying glass easier to use to read star charts than constantly putting on and removing my bifocal glasses.)

Scorpius was beautiful in the southern sky.   After my eyes dark adapted ( takes ~ 15 minutes, but my vision is pretty good after 5 minutes) all but the tail star Eta was visible naked eye   M7 ( mag 3.3, 80') was a faint fuzzy patch naked eye and a nice glittering cluster in my binoculars with direct vision.  

M6, the butterfly cluster(mag. 4.2, ) was not visible naked eye, and hard to see in my binos direct.  In my peripheral vision I could detect M6 as a faint fuzzy patch.

Moving over to Sagittarius, M22 ( mag. 5.1, 38') stood out in my binos with averted vision, but was hard to see directly.    I moved up to M25 (mag. 4.6,   32') and found a relatively bright fuzzy area to the South-east of a small triangle of stars.  The brightest 2 stars in the triangle were away from the cluster.

Moving over toward M24 ( mag 4.6, 90'), the star cloud,  there was a rich field full of countless faint stars .  This is one of the nicer astronomical objects I've seen in binoculars.

The clouds rolled in and obscured pretty much everything and by 1220 the cloud cover was 90+% and showed no signs of blowing over any time soon.  Rather than needlessly risk Wesst Nile virus, I called it a night.  Perhaps I'll catch a clear night soon and shake the cobwebs off the scope.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Binocular viewing Scorpius

After the storms today, the skies finally cleared up a bit tonight.  It was too muddy and damp to setup the scope but I went out around 2330 with my binoculars and was treated to the best skies I've had in weeks.  Not great but decent.  The only problem was trying to hold the binoculars steady while being feasted upon by mosquitos.

Scorpius was in a pretty clear portion of the sky and I had a good time studying this area of the sky.   I couldn't quite make out M7 naked eye, but with my binoculars it was easily noted.  M6 is smaller and an order of magnitude dimer and was very difficult to make out.  I'm not sure if I saw it or if I just think I did because I knew where it was.  

Around midnight the moon rose over the house and washed out much of the sky so I gave up and came in.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Clouds, clouds, clouds

Tired of clouds! Between the clouds and bright moon all I could see @ 2315 was Vega, Arcturus, Spica, and Saturn. I haven't used my scope since the Venus transit. Hoping the weather clears soon, especially on a weekend night.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Venus Transit

On June 5, 2012 the Pontchartrain Astronomy Society (PAS) gathered at the lake front in Kenner to view the Venus Transit.    There were about 12 telescopes set up.

That is my daughter's and my telescopes under the blue canopy.
We had a great time and the weather largely cooperated.

And then we lost the sun to the clouds, but it made a brief appearance before dipping below the horizon.