Friday, January 23, 2009

1/23/09 Observing Log

New eyepieces arrived today! Orion 8mm Stratus (gives 150x with my scope) and Orion 5mm Stratus (gives 240x with my scope).

The Sky & Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas is great for star-hopping for me at this location, since the limiting magnitude in the atlas is close to the limiting magnitude I see through my finderscope. I also really like that the book is sipral-bound, so it opens flat on a table and can be easily opened to a particular page and held within my left hand while I'm looking through the telescope, comparing star fields, and adjusting the focuser with my right hand.

Observed these objects tonight:

  • M42, M43 (Orion Nebula) - Observed with new eyepieces and also with UltraBlock filter.
  • Rigel - Observed with new eyepieces.
  • M44 - First sighting. Easy star-hop from Aldebaran
  • M67 - First sighting. Had to carefully star-hop from stars in the head of Hydra. Pretty happy I was able to find it.
  • Saturn - Nice view using new eyepieces. but the eyepieces are so big and heavy in the focuser, they drag the telescope down. I'll have to rig up a counterweight for the other side. Saw three moons: Tethys, Titan, Rhea.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

1/21/09 Observing Log

New variable polarizing moon filter arrived today. I also installed the free Cartes du Ciel software program a few days ago and used it to print out a chart of where the planet Uranus is located, in an attempt to see it tonight.

Observed these objects tonight:

  • Venus - Saw half-crescent Venus. Very bright - bright enough to ruin night vision! Used the new polarizing filter to cut down the brightness a bit.

  • Uranus - First sighting ever of Uranus. Using the Cartes du Ciel star chart, was able to star-hop to it from Venus. Needed 100x magnification to resolve into a tiny disc.

  • M42, M43 (Orion Nebula) - Quick view of this nebula again.

  • M45 - Observed Pleiades again using various eyepieces.

  • Castor - Split Castor again.

  • M31 - First sighting. Not as impressive when viewing visually as the amazing Hubble pictures always show it. Uniformly grey "splotch" without much hint of center brightness.

  • M32 - First sighting. Small hazy patch near M31. Could see easily through low power eyepieces.


Monday, January 19, 2009

1/19/09 Observing Log

Observed these objects tonight:

  • M42, M43 (Orion Nebula) - Spent some time looking closely at wispy detail.
  • Rigel - Just a quick look to align laser, finder, and main scope.
  • M79 - First sighting. Star hopped to it. I'd describe it as a "smudge" when viewing under moderate power using 27mm Orion Edge-On (44x). Very faint and no detail really visible from my location. I was pleased that I could find it at all.
  • M41 - Quickly caught another look.
  • Saturn - First time seeing this planet again in my own scope since the mid-1980's. Rings close to edge-on, so less impressive than 20 years ago. Could see a few faint small moons along the ring plane.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

1/8/09 Observing Log

Observed these objects tonight:

  • Moon - Near full moon. Good view of Copernicus crater at 200x.
  • M42, M43 (Orion Nebula) - Less wispy detail this time due to full moon.
  • Rigel - Split this double for the first time using 13mm Orion Stratus (92x) and 6mm Celestron Plossl (200x).

I also attempted to find M93 but clouds intervened.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

1/3/09 Observing Log

Observed these objects tonight:

  • Moon - Half-moon in low power, good views of terminator in high power
  • Venus - Half-moon crescent
  • Rigel - Used this to align laser pointer with main scope
  • M42, M43 (Orion Nebula) - First sighting. Can easily see Trapezium in high power.
  • M41 - Open cluster. Stars are nice points of light.
  • M35 - Open cluster.
  • Castor - Split double star under high power. Got to 300x using 4mm eyepiece


New Telescope Arrived

Back in grade school, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied "an astronomer". That usually got some interesting looks from the questioner, since not many 8-year-olds want to go into that line of work. And of course there were always the people that thought that meant that I wanted to read people's Zodiac signs and forecast their future, and I had to clarify the difference between astronomy and astrology.

When Carl Sagan came out with the "Cosmos" series, I watched it avidly, of course. My family did not have a VCR at the time, so I would tape the audio of all the episodes on a cassette recorder, so that I could play them back later. I especially recall all the great music in that series, much of it early electronic music by Vangelis, Larry Fast/Synergy, and Isao Tomita.

Eventually, when I was about 9 or so, I got a Montgomery Ward 60mm (2.3 inch) alt-azimuth refracting telescope. It was one of those infamous poorly constructed telescopes with a weak tripod, very cheap eyepieces, and low quality main optics. It was good for moon viewing and that's about it. It was mostly useless. As I got older, I dreamed of getting a Real Telescope.

When I was in my teens, my brother-in-law worked at a high school in a district with wealthy families. The high school had a 8-inch Celestron equatorial Schmidt-Cassegrain with a couple of eyepieces and good tripod, and he was able to borrow it for a few months during the summers and lend it to me. That was a Real Telescope, and through it I was able to see the planets well for the first time. Seeing Saturn for the first time through a Real Telescope is a memorable sight. When Halley's Comet came around in 1986, I spent many nights trying to find it from my northern Indiana location using the borrowed Celestron, but was never successful - though I did learn a lot about the constellations in the process. The Comet was a bit too far south and there was too much light pollution along the horizon from my location. I continued to dream about getting a Real Telescope of my own.

Job and family and other priorities intervened for many years. I eventually got interested in computers and went into software engineering instead of astronomy, but astronomy still remained an important hobby of mine. I joined various astronomy clubs over the years, and for many years this page was how long lost friends found me on the Internet.

This past Christmas, I decided to get a close family friend a "beginner" Orion StarBlast Astro 4.5-inch telescope as a gift, and finally decided to get a Real Telescope for myself at the same time.

On January 3, 2009, my Real Telescope arrived. It is an Orion Skyquest XT8 8-inch Dobsonian. Great scope! Quite portable, and excellent optics for the price.

The scope was around $350. In January, I took advantage of Orion's 20%-off-all-accessories sale to pick up some additional quality eyepieces, eyepiece filters, Barlows and an eyepiece case, for about an additional $1000 or so. So, for a total of around $1500, I now have my first Real Telescope.

Things are looking up!


Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Eve Traditions

One of my New Year's Eve traditions is watching the Marx Brothers classic movie Duck Soup.

I'm grew up in Portage, Indiana, which I consider to be a suburb of Chicago. Portage is in northern Indiana along the Lake Michigan lakefront. On clear days, in fact, you can stand on the beach in Ogden Dunes or the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and look across Lake Michigan to see the Chicago skyline rising above the waves like Atlantis.

And because Portage was close to Chicago, all of the over-the-air TV stations back in the 1970's were broadcast out of Chicago. One of those stations was WGN, Channel 9. And every year in the late 1970's and early 1980's, shortly after midnight on New Year's Day, WGN would broadcast Duck Soup. Over the years, watching Duck Soup became a yearly tradition for me.

It did not make a lot of revenue when it was first released in 1933, but now it is considered to be the Marx Brothers greatest movie and a superb satire. It gained a resurgence in the 1960's and 1970's as it began to be rebroadcast on TV. Robert Ebert now lists it as one of his Great Movies.

I have watched it many times now, but I still find myself picking up new little things even now, when I see it again


Creating JoePeartree's Blog

As a New Year's resolution, I decided to finally create a blog. No better time than the first day of the year! That led to deciding which blogging system to use:

After reading up a bit, I think installing the WordPress software onto your own domain seems to be the best system, but I didn't feel like going through those extra steps right now. I just wanted something quick.

After Googling a bit on the pros and cons of all the above choices, I tried out the hosted Blogger, LiveJournal and WordPress versions a bit over the past few days, and I decided to settle on Blogger for now.

There were many more built-in templates to choose from on LiveJournal as compared to Blogger or WordPress, especially if you pay a bit extra ($20/year) for a LiveJournal "Paid" account. But for most of the templates there, you can't easily override individual portions of the template. On Blogger, everything is editable if you choose to hack the template itself.

I finally settled on a Blogger template that I felt matched my aesthetics for readability and minimalism. I'm still messing around with getting the custom header image to show up exactly right, though.

I also liked the "LJ-cut" facility on LiveJournal that easily allows you to hide sections of a long post with a "Read more..." style link that expands the article when you click on it. I've been influenced by I guess. Luckily, I found a webpage that describes how to set up the same functionality in Blogger.

Blogger has a lot of widgets you can easily add to your site, though. And of course since it is ran by Google, it is easy to get stats and add context-sensitive ads later, if I ever decide to go that far.

I'm going to mess around with Blogger and LiveJournal a bit more, and perhaps someday I'll move over to an installed WordPress configuration. But at least I'm up and running for now.

So there you have it.

My first blog post.