Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Luling Skies Observatory Construction, Day 1

After months of planning, on December 15, 2015 Tuff Shed finally began construction of my roll off roof observatory.  Here is the corner of the yard with the pier and my buried blue conduit for DC power and grey conduit for computer cables.   Our Maltipoo Colby is surveying his area.

First came the aluminum floor supports on concrete blocks and wood leveling shims.

Here is a edge on view showing the supports.  Note they later added another beam on the left side so the floor is supported at least every 24".

Down goes the rest of the flooring.  The frame is secured to the ground with metal straps and an auger on each corner.

They did a nice job cutting the floor with a small gap around the pier.  I plan to fill the holes with steel wool to keep pests out.   And now for some walls !  

Here at the end of day 1 is the finished shell.  In this pic we are looking at the eastern side of the building.

An inside view from the eastern doorway.  The 8' x 12 ' observatory bay looks large at this point.  The interior wall with a rough door and window opening separates the control room from the observatory bay.

Here is a side view of the completed shell from the North.

Here is one of the 10" diameter concrete footers to support the 4x4" legs that will support the roll off roof rails.

On day 2 the roof, roll off rails, and doors will be installed.   However heavy rains are forecast for tomorrow so I'll have to wait until Dec 17 for completion.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Blackout EZ Window Covers

When my wife and I attend a star party we prefer to stay in our travel trailer on or near the observing field.  

While I'm out viewing my wife stays in the trailer and watches movies or  listens to music.  It is important to have the trailer windows and skylights covered so that my wife can do her thing with the lights on but avoid having the lights interfere with the viewing.  In our old trailer I covered the windows from the inside with aluminum foil.  It was effective in preventing light leaking out, but was difficult to remove and reapply.  With our new trailer as we prepared to attend the Deep South Regional Star Gaze I was looking for a better solution.

While perusing Amazon.com I came across an interesting product: Blackout EZ window covers.  These covers are an opaque fabric that attaches with hook and loop fasteners.  They sell these covers in small (36" width x 48" length), large (45" width x 66" length), and custom sizes. I ordered a large kit to try.  It arrived in a heavy cardboard mailing tube.  Inside was a piece of vinyl fabric that is white on one side and black on the other.  The fabric is stiff but flexible.  Also in the mailing tube was the hook and loop fasteners with adhesive backing.  

The trailer windows came with curtains and a shade.  They look nice but I had to remove them to install the Blackout EZ kit.

 So with the curtains and shade off I had access to the window frame.  Now to install the hook fastener.

The challenge with the rounded windows is to kerf the hook tape to fit around the frame.

It takes some time to fit the tape around the window frame.

With the hook tape attached to the window frame it is an easy matter to measure and cut the fabric.  It is easy to cut with scissors and on the black side of the fabric there is a grid that makes cutting in a straight line easy.   Then the loop tape is applied to the back side of the fabric.

Attaching the fabric with the hook and loop tape is easy and the result is a nice looking window covering.

Here with the curtains and shade reinstalled, the covering is attractive and doesn't interfere with the operation of the shade. 

When darkness fell I had my wife shine a flashlight all around the window on the inside and I stood outside looking for any light leakage.  There was none.    I was sold and the next day I ordered enough material to do all the windows, skylights, and door in the trailer.  It took 3 of the large kits to cover the 6 windows, 2 skylights, and door. For the two large picture windows,  I bought 2  custom pieces.  The kits come with the hook and loop fastener but I found for the large kits I needed additional fastener tape.

It took me several hours to get the openings in the trailer all covered, but I am quite satisfied with the results.  It looks good and is effective.  You can easily pull the fabric back when you want to look out the window and then firmly reattach the fabric.  When not at star parties we can peel the fabric partially back or even pull it totally off, roll it, and store it away.  The reverse process to reattach is quick 

So how did it do at the Deep South Regional Star Gaze?  Fantastic !  My wife enjoyed being able to have the lights and TV on without bothering the astronomers who were just 30 feet away.  We are happy with the purchase and highly recommend it.  Check it out.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

2015 Deep South Regional Star Gaze

My wife and I have come to look forward each fall to our trip to the Deep South Regional Star Gaze at the Feliciana Retreat Center in Norwood, Louisiana.  This year the weather did not bode well.  We missed Tuesday night but, on Wednesday Nov 4 we packed up the RV and made the 1-1/2 hour drive up to the Feliciana Retreat Center.

Here is a shot of the Eastern side of the field.  My setup is at the right edge of the picture.

Here is my setup on the Southeastern corner of the field.  The tent works well to reduce the glow from my computer screen, which even at it's dimmest setting can be bright.  When I don't use the red screen filter, I drape black plastic around the tent.  {No, it wasn't foggy, just my camera lens fogging up from the high humidity.}

Here is our trailer.  Having it on the field just a short distance from my scope setup, is very convenient.  The site has electrical hookups for up to 4 camping trailers, but has no water or waste hookups.

 Here is a shot of the Western side of the field.

There were scopes of all descriptions from small refractors to large Dobsonians.  Here is one of the new Celestron Evolution 9-1/4" Schmidt-Cassegrain scopes.  I didn't get a chance to view through it but the owner seemed happy with it.

 A innovative binocular viewing chair ready for a night of observing.

As the sun set Wednesday night the skies were clear although it was very humid and warm.   My first challenge was identifying Polaris and other stars to align my mount.  Of course why we go to dark sites in the first place is that the darkness reveals many more stars than is visible in a more urban environment.  In my semi-urban backyard, my best Sky Quality Meter (SQM) reading is 18.65 which equates to visible star magnitude of 4.5.   After darkness set in, Barry Simon, DSRSG director, obtained a measurement of around 21.5 on his SQM or a visual star magnitude of 6.4.   This results in a HUGE increase in the number of visible stars  and can make identify constellations difficult.    I eventually got my bearings and built a model.

Some of my favorite targets are globular clusters and Mesiere 13 in Hercules is my favorite.   In my 11 mm eyepiece there were many discrete, bright stars resolved and a bright core.  In my 18 mm eyepiece the roundish shape of the cluster was better appreciated. 

The ring nebula, Mesiere 57, in Lyra is a bright planetary nebula.  In the 10" scope with my 11 mm eyepiece the image scale is very nice.  In my 6" Schmidt-Newtonian I frequently had to use averted vision to detect the shape, but in the 10" scope the nebula is easily seen directly.  I wasn't able to detect the faint (14.8 magnitude) central star. 

In going to Mesiere 31, the Andromeda galaxy, I found the gotos were off so I erased the model and rebuilt it.  I shifted targets to Mesiere 1, the Crab nebula.  It was easliy visible in the 30 mm eyepiece and the view in the 11 mm eyepiece was even better although there was no hint of the filament structure that I've seen with my Mallincam.

The 30 mm eyepiece provided a really nice view of NGC 884, the Double Cluster.  As 11 pm approached, Taurus and then Orion rose in the east.  As Mesiere 42, the great Orion nebula, cleared the trees I was rewarded with a wonderful view in my 30 mm eyepiece.  The extensiveness of the nebula was readily apparent and is an awesome sight.  In my 11 mm eyepiece some structural detail in nebula near the trapezium was gleaned.  This was easily the best visual observation I've had of M42 since I was able to view through a 24" Starmaster Dobsonian and Televue eyepiece at the 2013 DSRSG.

I shut down at 11:45 and headed to the trailer.  It had been a long day and I was tired.  Besides, clouds were gathering in the South West.

 Thursday was cloudy to partly cloudy early but cleared later in the day.  The hopeful congregating for the daily prize drawing on Thursday afternoon.  Some blue sky was visible by the 3 pm drawing.

The young lad, who's name I don't know, drew my wife's name on Thursday.  We won a Telvue 1-1/4" 2X barlow - a very nice prize.

On Thursday night we were hopeful to get in a few hours before the clouds rolled in.  I wanted to try out my Mallincam Extreme 2 which Rock Mallin had recently upgraded to a XT-418.  It took me a bit to get everything setup properly. I found that with the Mallincam 0.75X, 2" focal reducer, it pushed the focal plane back too far to achieve focus with the reworked camera.  I had to install a Baaader 2" spacer adapter that is around an inch thick.  In addition to the upgraded camera I had a new version of the Miloslick Mallincam control program to learn.   With the camera focused I found the mount's goto accuracy was poor so I deleted the model and built a new one.   I went to M57, the Ring nebula, as my first Deep Sky Object (DSO).  With AGC set to 4, I was able to get a nice image in 15 seconds.  Going up to 30 seconds revealed the 14.8 magnitude central star.   It was more readily seen on the monitor than in the image from the computer, but you can see it in the enlarged image.

I viewed a couple of other objects and then around 2030 as I was trying to capture NGC 147, a galaxy in Cassiopeia, , the clouds rolled in and the observing was over.  With rains and thunderstorms forecast for Friday and Saturday, my wife and I packed up and headed home Friday morning.   I enjoyed around 9 hours of observing time under clear, dark skies.  I also got to visit with several old friends that I hadn't seen since the last DSRSG.

On Friday afternoon I received the engineering drawings from Tuff Shed for my home observatory.  I noted a few issues with the plans that we need to resolve but I'm hopeful the observatory will be completed before Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Luling Skies Observatory Construction, Pier

I have only been in this hobby since 2011 but I've come to greatly enjoy my time out under the stars, with or without a telescope.  As with most hobbies, the time available is limited by work and family commitments and of course by poor weather conditions.   It takes about an hour to setup my equipment and start viewing and then another hour to tear down at the end of the night.  That doesn't leave much time for viewing unless I stay out four or more hours.  I started to consider the convenience of having an observatory where I could leave my equipment setup.  That would allow more productive use of my available observing time.

Living in a semi-urban area, my skies aren't great.  My best Sky Quality Meter readings are around 18.65 (magnitude ~ 4.5).   Despite this, with my Mallincam video camera and a light-pollution filter, I've been able to see many deep sky objects.  Nothing can replace having really dark skies, but with my astro-gear, the skies in my area can provide rewarding observations.  I've seen many astronomers on the Night Skies Network broadcasting from highly light-polluted areas.

After scouring the internet for months, looking at hundreds of pictures, and reading scores of web pages, blog posts, and forum conversations, I decided on a roll off roof design.  I wanted an office space for my computer out of the dew and away from the mosquitoes.  Also as my daughter Heather is responsible for getting me into this hobby, I wanted enough space for her scope so we could view together.  I decided on the below design.

At 8 x 16' it isn't spacious, but should be adequate.  I decided to have Tuff Shed build it as I've been happy with the shop they built for me a few years ago.  Browsing their web site I found that the company has built a roll off roof observatory in California.   More on the building design and construction will be posted later as construction progresses.

The G-11 tripod is huge so I decided a pier was needed.  After much reading I decided on  a 10" concrete pier.  I wanted it to be the same height as the G-11 tripod above the floor of the observatory.   I drew up some plans and sent them to a local contractor who recently poured a driveway for our camping trailer.  I was impressed with their work and figured they would do a good job.  I planned on a 3' x 3' x 20" footer for the pier with rebar through the footer and pier.  The contractor convinced me that a wider and thinner footer would be more stable so we went with a 4' x 4' x 12" footer.  His plans are shown below.

On Oct 10, the guys built my pier.

To support the G-11 mount on the pier I used an adapter plate
Dan's Pier Plates.     After 3 days we back-filled the hole and stripped the cardboard form to reveal the pier.

On October 16, 2015 I setup the pier plates and mounted the G-11.   Everything went together well and solidly.

As darkness fell, I sighted Polaris and the polar alignment seemed close.  I installed the polar scope andnervously took a look to see if the scope was aligned with the celestial pole.  I was delighted to discover Polaris near the center of the field.  A few tweaks of the mount's declination and azimuth controls brought the star in line with the markings on the polar scope's reticle.  Successfully polar aligned, I was ready for some viewing.

>My daughter Heather came over and we had a great night viewing several star clusters, the Ring and Dumbell nebulas, and Uranus. They sky conditions were good with much lower humidity than normal for our area.  It took me awhile to reacquaint myself with the GEMINI system as it has been over 6 months since I last used my gear.  Once we overcame operator errors, the equipment performed flawlessly.  It was a good night and Heather and I both enjoyed our time under the stars.

I didn't take the opportunity to try out my Mallincam Extreme 2 which was recently upgraded by Rock Mallin to a XT-418 model.  The Argon purged sensor cell will come in handy in our humid climate.  I hope to squeeze in another couple of nights in the next few days as we have only a couple of weeks left to prepare our equipment and observing plans for the Deep South Regional Star Gaze, November 3-8, 2015.  Soon after the Deep South, Tuff Shed should build the observatory and my focus will be on getting it up and running.  First light should be in November.  Lots to look forward to in the next few weeks..