Insomnia – I am making some progress on it, but not much, but when I woke up at 1:30 am this morning I at least could see stars. We have had a pretty steady dose of mostly cloudy, hazy, foggy, partly cloud and heavy rains lately – 7 inches one day, five inches more a few days later and about an  inch yesterday  – so clear skies have been unusual and don’t last long.

These clear skies lasted long enough for me to get the 66mm  WO scope out and after a false start – batteries are weak on the Celestron mount I suspect – I got it on the Desert Sky dual mount/Bogen tripod and had a good time with some old friends.

I actually have a little plan in mind – to establish a list of best objects for popular consumption on any given night – or more accurately, any given sidereal/star time – of the year.  My goal would be for these objects to be nice in any scope, so if they’re nice in the 66mm you can be pretty sure they’ll be nice in anything larger.  The 66mm thus establishes a base line. So my observations were made with this in mind.

Yes, I’m pretty sure I could make such a list from memory – but I would trust it more if I check each object with this in mind.

So – up for starters was, of course, Albireo. It did fine at 16X – was really pristine – but I think the newcomer would appreciate it more at 30X. Once they were certain what they were seeing, they could try backing off some.

I have a soft spot for Albireo, but I closed this session wilth Almach and I have to say that although it was pretty low in the east at this time, I still find its colors richer than Albireo. It does take significantly more power. I found it best at 78x, though it could certainly be split with less.

There’s no contest with the Dragon’s Eyes – they are a perfectly matched pair that’s pretty easy to split in binoculars and certainly split easily at 16X, but seem better framed at 30X.

Meanwhile the Dolphin presents more of a challenge. Gamma Delphini is a sort of pale version of Albireo – in fact I would have a sliding scale of intensity for blue and gold stars where I would rank Almach the most intense, then Albireo, and then Gamma Delphini. Needed about 50X to get a decent split and it was better at 79X.

I liked M13 at all powers from 16X to 79X – but it was best at 79X because at that point I could really see individual stars flashing across the main body of this star ball.

M31 was another object that did fine at all powers, though it was easier to pick out M32 at 79X.

As I think – and write – about this experience I basic process for visitors pops into my mind. I want to start them witht he naked eye view. From there, I’ll move them to low power binoculars on amount – just to let them know what they can expect to see with their own binoculars.  Next up would be the 66mm at 16X and on a tracking mount, tobe followed by the 5-inch SCT on tracking mount a with a 24-8 zoom. Finally they could go in the observatory and use the 8-inch SCT,

Last step? Show them a good image  – probably in the observatory and under red light –  of what they’ve been looking at and encourage them to go back and look again.

And in this process define a “glance” as one minute at the scope – a “look” as three minutes or more.

My last post here was almost a year ago – what the heck have I been doing?

Well, not much of what I would really call observing, though I had an hour and half this morning that felt right. For one thing for reasons I can’t explain I have been ignoring my best and easiest observing venue – the Observatory. So in thepast week I’ve made up my mind to get back to it.

Hey, the LX-200R is in “park” so all I have to do is open the shutter and turn on the scope. And I did about 2:20 am today and swung it to M11, the Wild Ducks – and found them hiding behind a tree! No problem – I swung over to M27 which I had taken a long look at a couple mornings ago. It was well placed and while the transparency was below par – I coud see a faint Milky Way, but nothing like I would like to – I did get a chance to really use the new (used) set of Meade Ultra-wide eyepieces I have acquired.

First, however, I looked with my inexpensive 30mmOwl “finder” eyepiece. This is an 82 degree AFOV and really quite good – especially considering it costs me $40 on the used market and that included a lens I can screw into it to bring it to 20X. Haven’t tried that yet, but I like it as a constant “finder” eyepiece for this scope and honestly, I don’t see much difference between it and the Meade UW 30mm except that the adjustable eye shield ont he Meade makes it easier for me to use.

I made a sketch – very rough – and a few notes of M27 and M57 observation, plus some notes on the Double Double. I closed up shop at 4 am as it was getting quite light.

Couple things I need to do –

Get oriented. I need to make it second nature what the directions and PA are when using this scope.

Get a better chair – my current stool doesn’t go low enough and it is difficult to observe object as high as M57 was when I was looking at it – 74 degrees – not all that high!

On M27 I noted some key field stars, so I should be able to figure the orientation from that.  I could see one star on the edge of – or just in the Nebulae and I believe from my reading this is a star to the southwest.

Best framing for this object came with the 18mm UWA. In fact, that also provided th ebest framing for M57.

I could just dig out the nearby 12th or 13th mag star on the edge of M57 that I have seen many times. That had to be an indicator of the poor transparency.

With the Double-Double I could split it starting with the 18mm and the 14mm probably gave th ebest split, though it was  hard to choose between that and the view in the 8.8mm.   However, I couldn’t get any of the views to reallys ettle downa nd give me the pristine, round stars I like with the  refractor. Masking the scope – bringing it down to 60mm – did give me nice round stars and again the best split came with the 14mm.  (The mask turns this into an F33 scope! The 14mm means I’m using 143X with a 60mm scope. Fifty times aperture should be the maximum power – about 112X – so I was luck to be getting a decent image with that 14mm.

Transit a success!

Well, I really thought we were doomed to watching the historic transit of Venus – last one for 105 years – on the web.

I had been ready to drive any where in the Northeast to see it, but the whole Northeast was socked in tight. I saw some hope in the few hours before it when this cloud pattern appeared.

This was the local cloud pattern about an hour before the transit was slated to start.

That gave me a slight ray of hope, but half an hour before it was to start I went outside and we were 100% overcast, so I settled down to watching the web cast from NASA, though the car was loaded with scopes for a quick trip to Gooseberry should things improve. The web cast  was slated to start at 5:45pm EDT.  I picked it up and we slowly moved towards the start of the transit a few minutes after 6. Right about  6 I decided to check on the weather satellite once more and darned if it didn’t show a hole over us – something I would have seen if I had looked out! Bren and I rushed out and I set up the TV85 and little Ha solar scope on a dual mount at the end of the driveway, unpacking it from the car. ( I had been planning to go to Gooseberry.) I hastily sent out an email telling folks I would be observing here.

And we did! Bren and I got a wonderful view right at the start of the transit and off and on for the next 45 minutes. I also had put one of the cheap solar filters I had bought for binoculars over the Rebel’s 300mm lens and I took several shots with it. What I got wasn’t anything to write home about, but hell, it was a picture and pretty much captured what we had seen. What struck us both was the size of Venus – larger than expected – the crispness of the little dot, and the blackness of it – much blacker than the array of sunspots easily visible below it.

This one was taken at 6:22:38 pm EDT using the 300mm – ISO 200, shutter speed 100 F5.6.

This second shot was taken at 6:27:13 pm EDT at ISO 200, 1/300th second and F5.6. I took many shots between these two trying different shutter speed and tweeking the focus because I could not be sure when I had a sharp image.

Karen Davis came over with Mason from next door and they both got a good look at the event.  Then some guy came by in a car, saw us, and stopped. He was using apiece of smoked glass that he seemed to have confidence in and said he could see it with the naked eye. Judy Beavan showed up as well, the only one on my email list besides Karen. And a little later another newcomer – Susan Czernicka. Susan wrote me immediately upon getting home:

I’m your excited neighbor from 1414 down the road who is feeling fortunate beyond words to have happened upon you out on the road.  I can’t thank you enough for enabling me to see the the transit.  Please add me to your email list.

So all in all, it was a nice event.  John Nanson saw it through breaks in the clouds from Oregon, and Dom and Daphne got great views – again through holes – with telescopes at the Sydney Observatory. Checked in on some of the Web coverage from time to time as well. Here’s a typical screen shot.

Meanwhile, real science was done during this transit by observing light reflected from the Moon and getting a reading on that which will help with studying extra-solar planets. Plans are being made for similar observations of the transit as seen from Jupiter and from Saturn later this year when the alignment for those planets is correct.  For details, see this article. 

Nothing like a nice June day in May to give the little observatory dome it’s annual washing.

The dome is fiberglass, about twenty years old, and, of course, sits exposed to the weather day and night. But still it amazes me what the rain and air does to it. How does it get this grungy? Are we breathing this stuff? I feel like we’re out in the country, but I guess not far enough out!

These pictures were taken after I had cleaned the shutter – the central part, but not the two sides.

Not sure you can really appreciate the grunge unless you scrub with brush and sponge and see the putrid green water that you then wash off.

I set out the new 16X70 Fujinon’s for testing yesterday. These are the binoculars that get rave reviews from those using them for astronomy, the most demanding task they face.  I must say the build is impressive, though the only optical test I’ve run so far tells me their effective diameter is 66mm, not the stated 70mm.  That’s pretty typical as binoculars go, though I expected better.

I’ll try them tonight. It should be an exceptional conditions for looking at deep sky objects, such as galaxies – but absolutely terrible for what really interests me right now – splitting doubles with binoculars – particularly Polaris.  That said, here  is the Red  Admiral and th ebinoculars on my old p-gram mount.  Note that in his first picture the most colorful thing about him are the white dots at the end of each antennae – but his next picture shows where he gets his name.


I’m starting a new  a “Star Hopper”  education program for anyone who wants to learn about telescopes and how to find their way around the night sky with or without a computer. It will be run out of “Driftway Observatory”  – my backyard in Westport, MA, so obviously you need to be in driving distance and participation on any given night will be limited.  The way this works is invitations are sent out to the email list of participants on the morning of a night when the forecast is favorable.  Participants can then respond and space is reserved on a first come, first served basis.

You can use your own telescope, or use one of the telescopes here.

I see this also as an excellent parent/child shared learning opportunity, however, each child must be accompanied by an adult – one child/one adult, two children/two adults.

Other requirements for participants are:

1. That you purchase a copy of the excellent guidebook,  “Turn Left at Orion, ” which we will use for every observing session.

2. That before you attend any night observing session you complete a day-time workshop on telescope use in general, but particularly on the new line-up of telescopes at Driftway Observatory. 

3. That you have – or purchase – a pair of handheld binoculars suitable for exploring the night sky. 

The learning goals of this program are simple:

1. Learn your way around the night sky using the unaided eye and binoculars. (My “Prime Time” web site will be a major resource for this.)

2. Learn your way around the universe by finding examples of the major classes of astronomical objects (double stars, open clusters, globular clusters, nebulae, galaxies, etc.) with one of the telescopes at Driftway, or your own telescope if you have one and wish to use it instead. 

3.  Apply the classic advice of Sherlock Holmes – learn to “observe,” not simply to “see.”

My role will be to suggest appropriate targets (from “Turn Left at Orion”), have telescopes and large binoculars available for you to use, and coach you in their use.  Your role will be to read about your targets and how to find them before coming out to observe. You will find yourself involved in setting up instruments, using them, and putting them away when done. Most importantly, though, you will find objects on your own with some direction from me.

I hope you will find this approach very satisfying, but I’m not sure this style of learning is appropriate for everyone. You’ll have to decide if this is what and how you want to learn. If this interests you, please respond by sending me  email ASAP and ask to be added to the Star Hoppers list. If you know someone else who might be interested, please have him/her contact me.

I will schedule appropriate times for one or more persons to come here to learn about the telescopes in daylight. We will be using the three most popular types of astronomical telescopes – all relatively inexpensive models, by the way: A 12-inch Dobsonian (simple manual control), a 4-inch refractor on an Equatorial mount (mostly manual), and a 6-inch computerized, “go-to” catadioptric.   If you master those, I’ll be happy to show you how to do astronomical video as well.

You can find a copy of “Turn Left at Orion” at a local bookstore – Barnes and Noble has had it in stock – or at an online store, such as Amazon.com.  One caution. There are still several editions of this book available.  If you have an older one, that’s fine, otherwise get the most recent one (fourth edition 2011), and I suggest the spiral bound one because it folds flat and is easier to use in the field. Here’s the complete title of the book and a link to Amazon.

Turn Left at Orion: Hundreds of Night Sky Objects to See in a Home Telescope – and How to Find Them [Spiral-Bound]

Guy Consolmagno (Author), Dan M. Davis (Author)


Great Dob, great price, great service

By Greg Stone  on 4/21/2012
4out of 5

Pros: Easy assembly, good optics, 2-speed focuser, Easy to Use,  Fast free shipping, RACI finder

Cons: Directions not included, Tube could be longer to protect secondary from dew, Web directions dated

Best Uses: Astronomy, Galaxies, Globular Clusters, Deep sky faint fuzzies, Nebulae, Open clusters

Describe Yourself: amateur astronomer

First, this is as much telescope as I want to handle – and even then I hesitated quite a bit before buying  until I was sure I had a way to move and store it without it becoming a pain in the back.

Second – I like DOBs and I have owned the best – a 15-inch Obsession – but I was really skeptical about buying from Zhumell. Frankly, I assumed their stuff was junk and I think at first it wasn’t so good. They seem to have really improved, however, while keeping prices incredibly low – I mean, $700 including fast, free shipping? That is an incredible price for a scope this size with these features.  I’m not saying it will out perform and Obsession – but I don’t no anyone who can beat the combination of price and performance.

What’s more, I was impressed with their service.  Their was a large tear in the shipping carton for the tube and, sadly, a large dent in the tube. I took pictures and called them immediately. They didn’t need to see the pictures. They offered to pay for return shipping and send me another one. Or to compensate me for the dent.  I decided to assemble it and make sure I could collimate it – if that all worked, I  didn’t feel like packing it up and sending it back – and it did work and they immediately refunded $50. Not bad for a dent most people won’t see, since you use the scope in the dark 😉

So that said – what follows is the rest of my “review” for the folks who sell this – writing the review gets you $10 off the next purchase, no matter what you say – but I see this as a good deal. As noted,  this DOB delivers the most bang for the buck by far as long as you have the strength to lift it and a place to store it. (It separates into two pieces that are each less than 50 pounds, but still quite heavy.)

I was surprised by the quality of the optics and general construction and pleased with the comparatively sophisticated tensioning system which also allows moving the tube fore and aft within the bearings for balance of heavy eyepieces,or whatever. While I think the RA finder is nice and needed, if I were to put just one finder on this it would be a Telrad, or something similar. (I added a Telrad to mine.)

Do keep in mind there is no “right” telescope – just the right telescope for you. I would not recommend this to an apartment dweller, for example, and you are not going to use this for imaging, a part of the hobby many enjoy. But it is great for someone who enjoys star hopping – finding their own way around the night sky – and who doesn’t want to be either burdened – or coddled – by today’s sophisticated electronic marvels.

Given the price, I would say this telescope is a complement to the spirit of John Dobson who invented the simple mounting that bears his name and whose main goal in life appears to be to share the wonders of the night sky with as many people as possible.