Posts Tagged ‘Double Double’

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.


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The Explore Scientific  127mm f/7.5 Air-Spaced Triplet ED Apo arrived today.  I should quickly add that  at $1700 (NEAFF sale price) I don’t believe it’s a true APO – but in a word, it is good – very good. In fact I suspect this will become the scope I use the most.

I need more experience with it, of course, but I was impressed with the build and with a 10-day-old  moon and better than  average seeing -transparency was  below average – well, I’m going to wear out the word “wow” – I’m also well on my way to becoming a confirmed refractor addict.

The ES 127? Worth every penny! The only way I could go for a longer focal length than this would be with an entirely new pier and mount.  And at this point I certainly don’t see the  need for it. Other refractor fans will not be surprised, – you’ve been there.  But I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed this hobby more.  Some highlights of the first 90 minutes witht he ES 127  and that 10-day old moon over my shoulder –

1. Double- double – I have never seen it this way. Period. Oh I have split it very cleanly more times than I can count – but never like this. I cranked it up  to 381X with a 2.5 Nagler. Just incredible. With the same eyepiece the 80mm Lomo triplet was giving a good account of itself, of course, at 192X.  And the best framing in the five inch came with the 3.5 Nagler – 272X. And while I’m thinking about it – both scopes balanced beautifully on the UA DoubleStar.  I could even take the eyepieces out of both telescope – switch from 2.5 to 3.5 in the 127 – and still have the target in my fov – no slippage whatsoever. That’s good for a double mount.

2. Porrima – at last! I won’t kid you. it wasn’t like the double double – but there was plenty of clean black sky between them, though so much light they still fought with one another as they rolled across the fov. Here the full 381X was needed to get a really clean break – and I suspect I will find another night with better conditions – but this was delightful. In the 80mm i could not come close to separating them – they just waltzed across the field  – hinting at the existence of two bodies – but no space between them.

3. Saturn – four moons leaped out at me – I don’t know how many I should have seen – and this was over in the stronger moonlight.  But here the quality of the seeing really showed that it was not perfect – good, but room for improvement –  because Saturn could not take the magnification without  deteriorating. Even at that, i don’t recall a better view except one night of exceptinal seeing with the 15-inch when  Bob and Mark were here and Mark kept digging into his eyepiece case for shorter focal lengths. We had the 15 cranked up past 500. So there’s something to look forward to here.

4. Polaris – just charming, especially with the moonlight trying  – but unable – to wash out its companion.

5. M57 – now this awed me! Just a wonderful view under poor conditions. Here’s where I’m starting to think there’s no need for more light grasp to satisfy me.

6. M13 – again, very nice considering the intensity of the Moon, though it was lower in the west by this time.

If I can stay awake  – and transparency improves – I may go out after the moon sets.

Bottom line – I have lots of good things to say about this scope. I also have some quibbles, but minor. It will take a while to sort them out – but the 80/127 on the doublestar looks like my ideal observing set up – we’ll see how it stands the test of time.

Don’t think this means the Unitron will get ignored. When I have visitors I’ll let them use the 80/127 and the SCTs – I’ll use the Unitron  and other classic scopes.  AThere’s something to be said for honing your skills by using smaller scopes – sort of like as a kid when I learned to hunt with a single shot .22. My one issue with the 127 is they put  a straight through finder on it and though very nice, it just ain’t going to work for me when pointing much above 45 degrees -so I’ll swap it with a RA one off of one of the SCTs.  Of course on the DoubleStar mount my 80mm becomes the primary “finder.”

I got out again just before 4 am which gave me about half an hour of dark skies – so I did a very quick deep sky tour starting with M51 – could see it well – certanily enough to satisfy me and no challenge at all as it is in the 60mm.

M3 was disappointing and when I went to Izar I saw that part of the reason was the seeing – it came way down from what I had at 1 am. I would say at 1 am it was a 4, at 4 am a 2 on a scale where 5 is best – still, I could use close to 200X and could split Izar, but it was sloppy.

What was exquisite – just the  kind of view you would kill for – was Omicron1 Cygni. I thought the scope would overpower it, but oh my – the colors were what I imagine a fine wine is to a wine fancier – the primary was just screaming orange  – and the blue star was making a statement as well – but the killer was the green one – just the delicate of pastels.

But I get ahead of the tour – I went to M5 and found it much more satisfying than M3.

M11 was fabulous – which tells me that this scope is going to eat up open clusters.  (A large part of the charm of Omicron1 came from the black sky and loads of pinpoint stars in that neighborhood.)

M27 did well with just a hint of interior stars – if I had stayed longer I’m sure i would have seen more. Same with with M57.  The Double Double split, but not nearly so nicely in the poor seeing as it did earlier. Polaris did well, too – and Mizar – again, i thought this would overpower it, but with a 13mm Nagler it was fabulous – 73X.

So what next? Well, the 80mm F15 Towa 339 arrived today to round out the new/old scope binge. But my goal now is to start selling stuff – none of the refractors, of course. But I probably will part with a SCT. For personal viewing I could be very happy with the Unitron 114, the 80/127 rig, the C8 – and yes, the Obsession 15 for galaxy hunting. (OK, so who wouldn’t be. I’m damned lucky, but there are no computers, no electronic motors, no imaging gear and I’ve been waiting many years to get to this point  😆  I’ll keep the LX50 and I’ll see  where the Towa fits in with this mix. Folks coming over tonight, but I’ll give it a try. Meanwhile, off to Astronomy Day!

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Remember a summer evening when you were maybe 12 and you stayed out past sunset? And sunset faded into twilight which faded into night and you knew your Mom would be worried, but you just lay there on the grass, looking up, fascinated as the stars came out?

For me those evenings were filled with a mixture of wonder and confusion. They still are, but on a deeper basis. Last night was such an evening – only colder 😉

But I rediscovered for the umpteenth time the deep pleasure of simply looking up – and I enhanced this by adding a comfortable, swivel beach chair, a parallelogram mount, and a very nice pair of 10X50 binoculars – which in sum led me through a space walk in my new and much larger “backyard.”

It began close to home shortly after 8 pm with Saturn high in the southeast, Mars high in the south, and memories of Venus and Mercury, now well below the treeline, if not below the horizon to the northwest.  Together the four did a beautiful job of defining the ecliptic.  This is particularly true of Saturn and Mars, both just a tad north of it.  But Saturn also is a reminder these nights of where the southeast-to-northwest arc of the ecliptic crosses the more easily defined arc of  the celestial equator. Yes, I really do think about this stuff when I’m out there because I’m trying to develop an intuitive grasp of where we are in the universe  and this helps.

Suddenly it all fit together so nicely. The projection of earth’s equator is an easy one – but the ecliptic I usually find more elusive, but not last night. Then it  just seemed so obvious that these little dots of light – Saturn and Mars – were sitting on a disc – the same disc on which I was lounging in my beach chair in my little gem of a spaceship, Earth.  Here we were on the plane of our solar system where almost all the local action is. I wish I knew how to bottle that experience so I could take a sip of it whenever I wanted. Most of the time all this talk of planes and arcs and planets remains in an abstract world. I understand the words, but they have no meaning at the gut level – last night they did. Last night they they left the realm of mere words and  numbers and were real.

That’s the sort of thing I always seek – but too rarely find. But it didn’t end there. The night before I had enjoyed a brief tour with some 10X50 Pentax PCF WPII binoculars I had picked up recently on Astro-Mart. They give a crisp, five-degree field of view that stays sharp to near the edges. But I quickly tire of holding them up, so for tonight I had brought out the “Suntracker” swivel beach chair – my favorite for binocular use – and a rather battered parallelogram mount made to my specs by a guy in Tennessee  several years ago.  At the time I wanted something fairly short that didn’t crowd my observatory, but now I use it on an old Meade field tripod and in the open.

But what was important here was a new lesson in patience.  I not only was staying away from the DoubleStar mount which had scopes already to go, but I really took the time to get comfortable in my chair,  and get the binos well-balanced.  This is absolutely critical.  I want them to float in front of me and when looking straight up, they should not put any pressure on my face. Then I went out in space. It was a real trip!

My tiny backyard vanished – everything around me vanished – thanks to using both eyes – and I felt I owned the universe. It was my new backyard and I was just roaming around from one familiar spot to another –  M35, 37, 36 and 38 of course – then over to M44 and Mars spinning past, splitting the two donkeys – then down to ancient M67 and eventually over to the Leo Triplet where I settled down for a long look. Yes, I could see M65 and M66 in the 10X50s, but I had to pretty much imagine NGC 3628. Maybe others can pick it up with 50 mm? I feel good if I can see it with an 80mm scope.

And that’s where I eventually went – to the 80mm APO  which I gradually worked up from 16X to 37X. It was on the UA DoubleStar mount with a C8 and I switched to the bigger scope and I swear I saw these galaxies better than I ever had before and I think the reason was simple. No, it was not because transparency was excellent and seeing pretty darned good as well, though that certainly helped. It was because I had had the patience to get totally – and comfortably – immersed in the universe the way I know I should, but too seldom do.  I always seem to think I can cut corners.  What was important for me was to mentally and emotionally get the context down pat using naked eye and binocular, then slowly inch up on both power and light grasp, making each instrument deliver all it could before moving on. Delightful! When it works the way I think it should, this experience is way beyond my skill to express it.

In the final analysis I don’t think any of the equipment matters. What matters is simply learning how to relax.  I’m not talking meditation here – though that’s important to me – but learning to accept the fact that you’re going to take a beautiful night like this and really devote it to just a few objects. (Think of it as going to the Magic Kingdom and instead of hitting every ride in a marathon day, you just go through the Haunted Mansion – several times. [-)

And what was the best lesson of the night was learning – or maybe relearning – how to sit in a chair.  No kidding. I think lying back in the grass and looking up is the most natural approach to the night sky and I’m sure our species has been doing that for thousands of years.

But put binoculars in front of your eyes – binoculars held firmly in a very steady mount –  and it is still so easy to strain just a little and not even know you’re doing it. The position of the binoculars isn’t perfect, so you just raise your head a tiny bit and maybe twist it. The big mistake is you are, perhaps  subconsciously,  trying to bring your eyes to the binoculars  instead of bringing the binoculars to your eyes. Well – at least that’s been my problem in the past. I always thought that when I grew up I’d learn to be more patient. Maybe I’m growing up. 😉

In any event the evening session lasted a couple hours.  If I were younger I probably would have made a night of it. Conditions were terrific. But instead I came in and eventually got to sleep around midnight and didn’t get up again until 3 am. Still, this gave me a chance to repeat the process and extend my vision from the solar system to the galaxy. For once I was back on the observing deck and my eyes had reasonably dark adapted, the summer Milky Way was quite high overhead. The northern parts near Cassiopeia were lost in the light dome from New Bedford and North Dartmouth, but from Cygnus down through Scutum it was terrific. What really struck me was the varying intensity – the big rift you get between Cygnus and  Aquila, then the really bright clouds you find as you hit Scutum. My treeline blocked off the best parts that go down into Sagittarius towards the center of our galaxy, but what I could see was enough to give me a vision much akin to the one in the evening session where I could really see our planet sitting as a lonely speck on the great disc of our solar system with a few other lonely specs, Saturn and Mars.

Now the planets were mostly out of the picture, but that greater disc – this one much puffier, but better defined –  was obvious. And again I found it easy to envision our tiny star as one of millions in these clouds that spiral out from the galaxy core.  In a sense it was disc against disc – one in my memory from a few hours before and running across the sky from southeast to northwest – and a much puffier one now cutting across at a much different angle from northeast to south. Both these define our home – our place in the universe.

I spent more time in the chair not using the binoculars – just captivated by the naked eye vision.  But I at last did a little exploring of the familiar.   I looked for M57 but with 10X I could not decide which faint dot among several was a little blurry, so I swung on down to Albireo.  But  with 10X I could not split it. (Have others been able to with small binoculars?) It showed some gold, but no blue and nothing I could call two stars. So I kept moving eastward until I hit M27 which was certainly large enough to make an easy target.

Next I played with my own little piece of mythology – using the well-known Coat Hanger as a jumping off point. I think it was Bren who suggested that this belonged to the Fox, for the obscure constellation of Vulpecula is nearby – and we have always had fun thinking about this worn out little fox, returning to his den, a bit sweaty, but happy that he had once more eluded the hounds – and, of course, hanging up his red hunting coat on this starry coat hanger.  Having invented that – and I’m laughing at myself here because I am really not a big fan of constellation mythology – I can appreciate how ancient people, sitting on the ground at night, looked at the stars, connected the dots, and let their imaginations go wild.

From the Coat Hanger it was a short slide down past Altair to one of my favorite open clusters, M11. And with the first hints of dawn showing I moved quite quickly to the 80mm, got M11 in view, and then shifted to the C8. This fascinates me. At one moment it looks like a printed circuit board – at another, the streets of a well-planned city. There is something very regular, almost rigid, about the pattern of stars in this cluster that belies its nickname of “Wild Duck.”

The circuit board metaphor works for me, but this morning I liked the city one even better. The single bright star that dominates felt like the Empire State Building to me – and the dark lanes – a blotch really – that enter from the west could be a celestial version of Central Park – and at that point I have exhausted my very limited knowledge of the Big Apple.  But twilight was really taking over and I just had to check on the Double Double to see just how good the seeing really was.

Very good. So good that with the 24mm Panoptic in the C8 – 83X – I was getting a nice clean split of both stars. And they were perfect round dots at higher power in the 80 mm with as textbook clean a split as you can obtain.

Yep – and there’s more of this weather in the forecast for tonight! We’ve been building towards it gradually. Saturday gave clear skies for a while, but really horrendous seeing and not that good transparency. Each night since I’ve had  some hours that were better than Saturday, but none as good as last night. For me, it’s a few hours like these that define amateur astronomy. May we all have many of them!

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With a waning moon still pretty high in the southwest and the clouds just starting to vanish, I decided to take a quick look with the new (to me) Celestron 4SE. This is a 4″ Maksutov-Cassegrain with a focal length of 1325mm. It is the only Mak in the SE line and having heard of the “almost apo” like performance of some Maks, I was eager to give it a try. It’s not that I’ve never looked through a Mak – a friend loaned me a 90mm Questar a couple decades ago. But I was too lousy an observer then to appreciate what I was using. Now, if I want to drool and dream of what I would do if I won the lottery, I visit one of the Company 7 Questar pages, such as this one: http://www.company7.com/questar/telescopes/quest35.html

So is the 4SE a cheapy Questar? I guess so – I mean real cheap. It’s the same basic optics, but how can you compete with apackage that has been in production since 1954, been carried on space flights, etc.? I paid $295 for my 4SE used and that included a nice 9X50 finder that I don’t intend to use on it. It also includes the “go to” mount I have no plans for other than to test so I can sell it with confidence. What I wanted to see is the performance of a small Mak and compare it to an 80 mm APO. There was no time to set up for that more serious shoot out this morning, so I mounted it on the Voyager and took a quick look at three things – and I was very impressed. (Yes, I had stuck it outside earlier when it was still cloudy so it could cool down.)

The first thing I turned it on was Mizar and with a 24mm Panoptic I had 55X and a bit better than a one-degree fov. The first thing I saw was textbook perfect out-of-focus images of Mizar and Alcor, so without real careful checking I’d say the collimation survived the trip from Georgia. (Boy, did this Astromarter know how to box stuff!) Focusing gave me nice ,bullet holes for stars. Great! So I moved right to the Double Double. It took a 9mm Nagler – 147X – to get a clean split and a 7mm Nagler – 189X- to come up with a split on both pairs that really satisfied me. But the little scope handled the power – which should be close to its limit – well. I would put seeing at average to poor, but the only thing that would be really helpful here is to have the 80mm APO sitting beside this scope. That will have to wait.

My third quick test was Polaris and it showed best at at 102X with a 13mm Nagler. Not bad considering the moonlight and weather conditions. What impressed me was the contrast and sharpness of the star images. If I continue to be impressed, I’ll put this little scope up for sale along with my C8 and see what I can find in the way of a 150mm or 180mm Mak. Anyone have experiences with larger Maks they would like to share?

The only thing that bothered me with this scope was the delicacy of the focus. The knob turned very easily. It snapped into focus well – but it was also easy to go whipping right past focus, or to knock it out of focus. But there’s only so much you can expect from a scope at this price.

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Well I have, what is for me, a complete Ethos set now and a few hours ago I got a quick peek using the 120mm Skywatcher in twilight.

“Wow” is appropriate 😉 I could see quite quickly that of the 3 new eyepieces (17,10, 6) the 10 and 6 are going to get a lot of use on this scope and become practically all that I use. The 17 – well, I’ve just bever beent hat thrilled with low-power, wide-field views and I am stillnot – unless, of course, you have an object that calls for it, such as the Double Cluster.

Yes, conditions could have been better. If I had only gotten out a few minutes earlier! But it was 4 am and we were already quite obviously out of astronomical twilight so that a quick look at M31 was unsatisfying – too much twilight there. And by the time I swung around to M57 in the west it too was pretty much wiped out. So I settled for the Double Double – just great in the 6mm (150X) and even later, brilliant Venus (like a first quarter moon) and Jupiter – just magnificent.

The field of view is, of course, impressive, but I expected that. What I wasn’t sure would be there – but is – is the all aorund quality I’ve come to take for granted with the Naglers. But getting back tot he fov – to cleanly split the Double Double so that someone seeing it for the first time would know they were looking at four stars – and still have plenty of breathing room around it – is a real pleasure. The 17mm gives close to a 2-degree fov, enough to capture the Double-Double on one side and Vega on the other, but at 53X a split would be more a stunt than anything useful. The 10mm did split it. But the best view was witht he 6mm and even with the 6mm, the space it occupies is more than 10 times what you need for the Double-Double, so it gives the split plenty of context and you have plenty of time to get a good look as it drifts through.

I was impressed with the view of Venus, but Jupiter blew me away. Seeing was good, but by now we were in bright twilight with only Jupiter and Venus obvious to the naked eye. Still, I could see three moons and several marking on the planet and colors I’ve never seen before. This is testimony to both the eyepieces and the 120mm Skywatcher, of course, plus to the fact that Jupiter is apporaching its largest size for us. It certainly means that as this Jupiter season moves on I will not hesitate to take the 120mm to where I can see the huge planet, for it will remain frustratingly low in the southern sky.

As for the quality of the eyepieces – well, that’s what impressed me. The fact that I could take the Double Double, set it on the edge of the fov, and have perfect star images as it drifted from edge to edge. That’s what I expect out of my Naglers and that’s what I also get out of the Ethos – at least in these initial tests.

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No kidding. (Yeah, I think all those apostrophes make sense 😉

One of my favorite destinations in the summer skies – or early mornng skies these March days – is the well-known Double Double. This multiple star is not only beautiful and charming, but is frequently a bit of a challenge and seeing what power it takes to split it cleanly is a good indicator of how good the seeing is at that moment.

What I didn’t know after all these years was that the Double Double has  an easy alternative – sort of a Double Double with training wheels attached – for those who want a warm-up exercise – or just a fun side trip. It’s neither as charming nor demanding as the Double Double, and it is not a true binary system where all the stars are related and in one another’s gravity field. But – it’s got it’s own charm and it is easy. I learned about it from “Turn Left at Orion,” the great little observer’s guide from Guy Consolmagno and Dan Davis.  I was checking the distance to the Double Double stars before going out (200 light years) and saw under “also in the neighborhood” directions for finding the Double Double’s Double.

Finding Iota.

Finding Iota.

I won’t give all the details. Essentially you go to Iota Lyrae, a 5th magnitude star that’s easy to star hop to from Vega. (It’s barely visible to the naked eye here on the best nights, but bright in the finder.)  See chart above.

Moving Iota to the top right of this 2-degree field I was easily able to see the pair of 7th magnitude stars that make up the Double Double's Double.

Moving Iota to the top right of this 2-degree field I was easily able to see the pair of 7th magnitude stars that make up the Double Double's Double.

A degree and a half due south of Iota (see chart above)  are two seventh magnitude stars – a nice, wide pair like the  two primary  stars of the Double Double.  (Actually, these two are about three times as far apart as the two primary stars in the Double Double.) They are  Struve 2470 and 2474. The first one has  an 8.4 magnitude companion a generous 14 seconds west of it. The second has an 8.1 magnitude companion 16 seconds west of it. (To put those distances into perspective, the separation of the close pairs in the Double Double are 2.8 and 2.3 seconds – much more challenging.)

This was easy to split with the 80mm Eon and 13mm Nagler eyepiece yielding about 46X. (The same scope split the Double Double this morning, but needed 171X to do it and gave the cleanest split at 240X – a magnification I was surprised the little scope handled so well.)  I’m sure the wider Double Double’s Double will split with low  power and a smaller scope. It will be fun to check out in the “Little Rascal” – if it ever arrives. (Seems they sent it to the worng lace, so maybe I’ll get it next week.)

So – I find this all a little tongue twisting, but fun, and a good exercise in star hopping and splitting.

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