Saturday, December 7, 2013

Done! : 490 days, One Scope, Few Posts, and First Light

490 Days, One Scope

For those of you who may have joined us recently, this blog is called One Year One Scope because that was my plan.  You can read all the details here, but the short of it is I wanted to buy/build/find a new telescope in one year.  Well, here it is 490 days (1.34246 years) later and I have something like the better scope I set out to build.

So I missed my one year goal, but considering I moved to Australia in the interim, I'm actually pretty pleased.   It took a while to ship the parts to Australia once I realized I was here long term, building the scope in my apartment was challenging, and works has been a bit crazy.  Progress was definitely slow....But the telescope is done, and after using it for one night, I think it's pretty darn good, with the potential to be a lot better.

Few Posts

Looking back I've not posted anything for eight months.  Terrible, terrible.  Some of that time I had little to report, the scope parts were sitting on a boat, or sitting in a corner and I was otherwise occupied with life.  However, I've been actively building the scope for just about four months.  I could have posted a bunch of work in progress stuff, but my propensity for order held me back...

I had this orderly, and seemingly wonderful, plan for this blog when I started.  Every post would be an organized signpost along the journey, and it started off well.  I figured out what I wanted, listed requirements, figured out a budget, decided to build, worked out some details of the design. You can check it all out on the right hand side there.  It was nice and tidy.

Then things sort of got messy.  I did research, made decisions and  found opportunities to get specific parts before I could write posts detailing the process.  Each time I wanted to post about some new milestone, I thought about all the other stuff I should post about first, so that everything would be a nice, tidy narritive; 'Well, I can't really post about buying the secondary mirror before I post about secondary mirror sizing...'.  So I ended up writing very little.

Now that It's done there are definitely things I am going to share, but if I could have gotten over my desire for orderliness, I could have probably documented a lot more of the process, as it happened, for myself and anyone else who was interested.  Hopefully, I've learned my lesson; A somewhat temporally disorganized post that actually gets posted, is better than the perfectly ordered post that never does

First Light

It's with this lesson in mind, that I'm posting about my first impressions of the telescope even before I've covered what I bought for all the parts, and how I built it.  I will follow up with all that for anyone who's going to start a similar journey (and I really think you should!) but if I keep waiting to get it perfect, it will never come.

That's me and the Telescope

Last night I went out to the yearly ASV Star-Be-Cue party at their dark sky site about 150km north of Melbourne.  I was racing all week to finish the scope up, and I did not complete the assembly until Saturday morning.  The final details took longer than I hoped and I was on the road a bit late, but I arrived by 5:30 and had plenty of time to setup the telescope and wait for darkness.  It was a great night of observing, and I'll definitely post more about it, but here are my first impressions.

The View is AWESOME: There is a lot of fine tuning to do, but the views really blew me away.  The Orion and Tarantula nebulas were incredible, with lots of fine detail visible.  I came back to them several times and I spent a good part of the night just taking them in.  47 Tucanae with the 13mm Nagler was resolved to the core with pinpoint stars.  It was really breathtaking.

The motion is good, but could use work: It moves well, but it takes more force than I would like and it's not balanced in the altitude axis.  Like most scopes, this one will take some tuning.  The design is solid, and I think with some balancing, a couple of minor position changes of the teflon pads and a bit of wax, it will be smoooooth and easy.

The scope is large, but manageable: I opted for the 'Easy Transport' option when I ordered the kit from DobStuff and I'm glad I did.  Since I don't own a car, I use a car share service and this time there were no larger cars available.  Breaking the scope down I was able to pretty easily fit it into the Hyundai i30 hatchback I had reserved.  This is along with my camping gear, food, and my C6 with a surveyor tripod.  The optical tube, even when shortened, can be a bit unwieldy due to the weight of the mirror, but it's actually easier than I had imagined.

Assembly and setup and collimation is pretty easy: It takes maybe 15 minutes to unload and setup the scope.  There are no tools required and almost everything is captive.  There are three bolts that are loose which I'll need to figure out a good way to keep track of, but everything else is large assemblies.  I sprung for a laser collimator since I knew I'd have to do it every time I setup, and it made the job relatively painless.

I'm going to be busy: On the way home I thought of a half dozen changes I want to make right away.  Most are minor and not a reflection on the kit, but rather my build of it or my personal preferences.  I think I can make it through a large portion of them before the next new moon when I hope to take the scope out again.  Visually, It already performs like a champ, but I think these few things will really improve my comfort using the scope.

I'm really looking forward to the first weekend in January when I can take the scope out again.  Until then, Clear Skies to everyone!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

One Year One Scope - Now in Australia

A Lot Can Happen in a Year

I posted my first entry here on August 5th, 2012, just about seven months ago.  This blog was started as a way to record and share my efforts to build My New Telescope and my plan was to do it in one year.  A few weeks before that first post I was at the Golden State Star Party (GSSP) and I decided that the next time I attended, presumably in 2013, I would have a new telescope.  In fact, I had grand dreams of attending several summer star parties; GSSP, the Oregon Star Party, Calstar, maybe even the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference in May if the telescope was done early enough.

For a while, I was completely on track.  I ordered a mirror that should have been done around February, bought a kit that was finished in November and started on research for all the remaining parts.  There is a good chance the scope might have been completed right around this time, actually.  However, all of that changed when my work asked me to go to Australia for a few months.

Australia is Great

Well, I've been in Melbourne, Australia for over four months now, and it's wonderful.  The city is great, I've joined a local club and I even got out for some observing recently.  Originally, I was going to be back in Los Angeles around the end of May.  It would have been tight, but I probably would have made the GSSP.  Then the movie I'm working on got pushed a bit, and more work came in, which is fantastic, so I agreed to stay through September.  Obviously, this doomed any hope of actually completing my telescope in one year.

Fortunately, in more ways than one, my work offered me the chance to move to Australia long term.  How long term is sort of up to me, but it's going to be at least several years, so it's pretty long term.  This is exciting for two main reasons; First, I really like Melbourne and it's exciting to think about settling into a new city half way around the world... Second, in a strange turn of events it means I might actually make my One Year deadline.... Just in Australia.

Wrap it up and Ship it Out

After deciding that I'm moving here for the duration I started putting together plans to ship some things out here.  Along with two of my co-workers, who are moving out here, I arranged a shipping container from LA to Melbourne.  It's going to be nice to be able to keep a lot of my furniture and there should be room for all my clothes and other miscellaneous things.

Of course, among those things will be all my astronomy accessories, including my telescope kit!  Dennis from finished my kit late last year and has been holding on to it for me awaiting my return.  This week he was kind enough to ship it out to my apartment in LA so it can be included in the container.  I've also been accumulating other parts that I need to complete the scope.  I should be in good shape when everything arrives in six to eight weeks.

The one big piece missing is my primary mirror.  Shortly after I came here to work, Terry Osahowski contacted me with a status update on my mirror.  At that time I figured I would not be back for several months, so I told him to take his time and he shuffled some other work in front of mine.  I've contacted him recently about my relocation and the possibility of shipping the mirror to Australia.  If all goes well, it should arrive around the same time as my shipping container.

So Will I Make It?

Right now it seems like I might have everything in my hands at the start of June.  That gives me just about one month to put everything together and get that new scope under the stars.  This is probably just doable, as I think a few solid weekends of work will get me there.... but... One of the reasons I set the one year deadline was to make it to the GSSP with my new scope, which is almost certainly not going to happen.

What I will aim to do is make it to the Astronomical Society of Victoria dark sky sight on the same weekend as the GSSP, which is July 7th this year.  This is the date of the new moon in July and should be a great time to try out the new scope under new skies.  I just hope it's as portable as I think it will be as I'll be stuffing it into a rental car and driving 150km!

I'm really going to miss going to the GSSP, it's been the highlight of my astronomical year since my first visit.  There must be some big star party near Melbourne I can schedule in to fill the void.  Let me know if you are a local astronomer who can recommend a local event.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ASV Messier 100 Party Observing Report

Welcome Back

After a very long hiatus, I finally had a chance to get back under the stars this past weekend.  I've been in Melbourne Australia for just about four months now, and I had not been observing for at least a month before I left California. All together it has been almost half a year.  Being under the stars, a new set of stars for sure, felt wonderfully familiar and exciting.

I'd been hoping to get out and do some observing for some time, but a variety of circumstances from work to brush fire warnings had kept me locked under the light dome of Melbourne.  Over the long labor day weekend my opportunity finally came in the form of the Astronomical Society of Victoria (ASV) Messier 100 Party. 

Welcome to the ASV Messier 100 Star Party

The Messier 100 party (I'm assuming only 100 are visible from in one night from this far south, but I'd like to check on this) is a yearly public event hosted by the ASV at their Leon Mow Dark Sky Site (LMDSS).  It's located roughly 150km (93m) north of Melbourne in some kind of natural preserve area, and is easily darker than my usual observing site in Joshua Tree 240km (150m) east of Los Angeles.  For me and my partner it was a short and scenic two hour drive in a rented car.  This was our first time driving in Australia, but after riding a bike here for several months it was not too unnerving to take to the (opposite side of the) road in a car.

Memorial / Dedication marker for the LMDSS

We arrived a bit before dusk and the camping area was already fairly full as the site was open to the public on this night.  It took a while to find a spot and setup camp, but it's a beautiful area that is pretty well laid out.  There is a clubhouse with some bunks and a kitchen along with toilets and showers.  I was itching to get out to the observing field and setup my kit before dark.  Sadly, I was in such a hurry to setup camp and get my gear unpacked that I forgot to get any pictures that evening.  Every picture in this post is from the following morning and things had already thinned out a bit.

180 Degree panorama of our campsite

When I went home for Christmas I brought back my C6 Travel Kit and this is what I packed with me for this outing.  It's a nice scope; In it's travel configuration it's a bit under mounted, but still rather functional.  I grabbed the bag and headed for the observing field. 

Road to the Visual Observing Field

There were already roughly 20 scopes on the field, with a large section in the center reserved for the club's 25" Obsession which had yet to be setup.  The horizon was not perfect, there are several large trees surrounding the site that are being preserved as part of a nature reserve, so I tried to pick my spot carefully.  If you are not at one side or another of the field visibility is good above 15 degrees, so all in all it's a nice spot.

360 Degree panorama of the Visual Observing Field

I picked what seemed like a good spot and setup my kit.  It went pretty quickly and the telescope was in reasonable shape for having travelled almost 13,000km in the belly of a plane.  The travel kit fits in a carry-on suitcase, and I've flown with it before, but there are weight restrictions for carry on bags that have never caught me before.  On my last flight they weighed all the carry-ons and I ended up needing to check my bag.  I was pretty happy when I retrieved it from the baggage carousel and it was all in one piece.

As you can see from the picture below it's mounted on a robust photo tripod, but it's still not the normal surveyors sticks I use at home.  I don't extend the legs to help with the shaking, but it makes for a very low setup.  The foldable stool works well for most angles, but observing near the zenith can be a real pain.  Once I was all setup I went back to camp to have some dinner and await the darkness.

My observing setup

Brand spanking new australia made camp chairs

The Sky at Night

Right as we were finishing dinner we could hear someone at the clubhouse announcing that the Sky At Night talk would being in a few minutes.  We walked over and gathered around a group of perhaps 50 people for a tour of the night sky.  The weather had been cloudy all day, and there were still patchy clouds around as the night darkened, but the presenter (Perry Vlahos, I believe)  managed to work around them and point out some of the key constellations of the southern sky.

After a few minutes my eyes adapted a bit and the dusk faded enough for me to get my first look at the large and small Magellanic clouds.  There were both obvious and easily visible with direct vision.  The large cloud is almost as bright as parts of the Northern Milky Way, and in binoculars it's easy to see some brighter and darker regions.  The small cloud seemed to me like an elongated spiral galaxy viewed through a telescope, but it was right there in the sky.  The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest object I can compare it with, but Andromeda is much smaller and dimmer in the sky.  I was really pleased to be out observing again.

Once Perry had oriented us, he pointed out a few nice binocular objects, mainly open clusters, but also one or two globulars thrown in.  They went fast, and I was more interested in looking than logging so I'm not entirely sure what I observed in that first hour or so.  One think I could see is that the Southern Milky Way is rich with wonder indeed!  I'm not sure if it's just that there is so many NEW things to see, or if there are just more of them, but scanning the plane of our galaxy with binoculars seemed to reveal a train of open clusters, rich star fields, and faint nebula.

As the tour was wrapping up the clouds cleared from the western horizon and Perry took the opportunity to point out Comet Lemmon low in the sky.  I could not find it with the naked eye, but it was easily visible in Binoculars.  It had a distinct and visible tail along with a tight nucleus and I tried to note it's location in the sky so I could return to it later with the telescope.

After the tour I returned to my scope and decided to run down a list I had hastily cribbed from the Astro League Southern Sky Binocular Program.  While cooking dinner I had scrawled down most of the globulars, galaxies and nebula on the list.  I was really not as prepared as I would have liked to be, particularly considering how little I knew of the sky, so this list seemed like a fair place to start.

My First Southern Observing Run

First on the list was 47 Tucanae (NGC 104), a big and bright globular cluster.  This one is nestled close to the SMC and is actually pretty easy with the naked eye.  It appears definitively non-stellar and I was surprised at how bright and obvious it was.  It gave a great view through the scope, with a nicely condensed core and good resolution of the edges with my 13.5mm.

I moved on next to Omega Centauri (NGC 5139), one of my favorite, but usually very elusive, globulars.  From just about everywhere I've observed, this one is low on the horizon in the murk, but still looks beautiful.  Even though it was early, and would climb much higher later in the evening, it was already close to 40 degrees above the horizon and very visible.  In the scope it resolved almost completely into a riot of stars.  It is pretty massive by globular standards, and is not strongly condensed so it gives a really nice view.  Seeing this somewhat familiar object in a whole new way really made me feel like I had a lot of wonderful experiences ahead of me observing from the southern hemisphere.

Clouds were starting to be a bit of a problem, and I had a hard time orienting myself under the unfamiliar sky with only partial views.  I decided to go grab a peek through the club's big gun, the 25" Obsession.  They had it pointed at the Orion Nebula and I thought it would be a kick to compare the view with my C6.  I climbed the ladder and looked through the eyepiece.  They had a good bit of magnification right on the Trapezium.  All five main stars were easily visible, and a nice bit of dark nebulosity carving out the edge of field.  My 7mm eyepiece was still back home, so I could not muster as much magnification on my C6, but it was still very nice view.  I actually enjoyed the extra context and the nebulosity is bright enough to be beautiful in any scope.

Since it seemed like an easy catch, I turned my attention to the Tarantula Nebula, an HII region in the LMC.  It's easily identifiable in either binoculars or a finder scope as a knot of increased brightness embedded in the diffuse glow.  Through the scope it showed a nice bright nebulosity that showed some nice variation and subtle detail with continued viewing.  I'm looking forward to visiting this again with a wider variety of eyepieces and maybe a filter.  Certainly I'd love to have a long look with a larger scope!

As the clouds continue to occlude various parts of the sky, I tracked down two more globular clusters, NGC 362 and 419 in Tucana.  I was searching for 362 specifically, but ran across 419 as a nice surprise.  They were both quite nice, with 419 much dimmer than 362 but still easily identifiable as a globular.

By this time most of the sky was clouded over, but through a small opening to the east I could see Saturn had risen, so I decided to end my night with my favorite planet.  The view was not fantastic, the combination of thin clouds and low altitude presented a low-contrast and roiling view, but it was still very satisfying.

The total tally was four globulars, two galaxies (LMC/SMC), two nebula one planet, seven meteors and one flyover of the ISS.  All in all a really wonderful first night and more than I hoped for considering the weather and my inexperience with this new starscape.

Packing Up

I decided to leave the scope on the field and pack it the next morning.  It's a little finicky to get everything back in the suitcase and I felt secure at the club site.  I walked back to bed and had a pretty good sleep in my new tent, with new sleeping bag, new pad... basically new everything as I did not bring any of my camp gear from the US.

The next morning I woke up pretty early and went out to retrieve my scope.  As I was so excited to get some observing in the previous night, I took this opportunity to grab some pictures and really get a good look around.  The LMDSS is a great site, and I'm really looking forward to getting my membership so I can use it on a regular basis.

The LMDSS is situated amongst some beautiful bushland

There are actually three fields, one for visual, one for astrophotography and there is an additional section for radio astronomy.  I did not have a chance to get a good look at the radio astronomy gear, but I wandered out to the photographic field to see how it differed from the visual field.

Wide view of the Photographic Field 
Four of the dozen or so piers in the Photographic Field

It's set further away from the clubhouse, to avoid any light contamination, and has a good number of piers for mounting rigs.  There is also a dome which houses the clubs permanent astro-imaging setup.  Next time I'm definitely bringing my DSLR for some wide field astrophotography.

I wandered around a bit more and finally decided it was time to pack up my kit.  It was quick work in the daylight but I was glad I did not attempt it at night.  I have to really take everything apart and its important to make sure everything is packed well to avoid any damage.  In the picture below you can see the scope with the mount below it in frame and the tripod above.  The blue bag is for my 8x50 finder and the green fingerless gloved to the lower-right hold and cushion the star diagonal.  The whole thing is topped off with some bubble wrap tucked between all the metal parts and it's zipped and strapped shut.

The C6 travel kit, all packed up

My C6 travel kit is airline carry-on friendly, except for the weight

Let's do it again

After such a long time it was so refreshing to be observing again.  It made me crave another outing as soon as I can muster it.  I've applied as a member to the ASV and I expect to get my membership approved shortly which will allow me access to the site almost any time.  If my work, finances, and the weather cooperate I could observe once or twice a month around the new moon and I'm really looking forward to it.

Anyone have any suggestions for what should be on my next observing list?  Here's hoping for clear skies for all the observers out there.