All posts by Scott

Christmas Eve 1968

 

Earthrise
Apollo8 Mission patch

 Almost 50 years ago the famous Apollo 8 mission to the Moon was well underway.  It was Christmas Eve 1968 and the spacecraft had just entered lunar orbit that same day. That evening, astronauts Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft. Said Lovell, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” They ended the broadcast with the crew taking turns reading from the book of Genesis. You can relive that historic moment by clicking the video below. Merry Christmas!

 

Telescope Instruction Manuals

There’s nothing like getting a new telescope! The anticipation of the delivery and then once it does arrive the pure excitement of unboxing your new instrument. Yes, it’s like Christmas and your birthday all wrapped into one.  After the boxes have been cast aside and a rough assembly takes place we turn our attention to the instruction manual for all the “hmm, I wonder where this fits?” or maybe “I know this is the thing that goes on here but why is it not staying on?” We’ve all been there at some point. Time to consult the manual. My Dad always used to say “If all else fails, read the directions!”

I myself enjoy instruction manuals for all things electronic and of course that means telescopes to. You know you’re a nerd when you actually look forward to kicking back with a nice cup coffee and reading through the entire instruction manual page by page whether it be a hard copy or online in PDF form.

It’s no surprise when the same information that is contained in many of these manuals surfaces such as polar alignment or directions for adjusting the counter weights to get the balance just right but nevertheless it’s still fun to read through the manual and know all the ins and outs, features and new tricks you can do with your new toy.

So I understand when folks browse my site and look through my telescopes section for either the pictures, the specifications or even for my meager reviews and comments about them but many times people are also searching for the instruction manuals as well.

Over the past few days I have slowly collected all the instruction manuals for the telescopes that I own except for one. There is one that is proving hard to locate but I did find a manual to a very similar model made by the same manufacturer (Meade) and so I’ve offered that one up in it’s place. But I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit. So with all the manuals gathered up I have uploaded them to this site and made them available for download on each of their corresponding pages. So now, for instance, when you visit the site’s page for the 10″ Meade LXD55 you’ll also find a link at the bottom of that page which can be accessed for that scope’s instruction or user  manual. Simply click the link to display the manual and download it to your machine if you need a copy of it.  This also holds true for all the scopes on this site now.  Easy enough and hopefully helpful to those seeking the original instruction manuals.

Total Lunar Eclipse January 31, 2018

Total Lunar Eclipse 02/20/2008

A  total lunar eclipse will be visible (weather permitting) from the North Texas area early on the morning of Wednesday, January 31, 2018.  Here are the eclipse event times (CST) specific to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

 

4:51 a.m. Penumbral Eclipse begins

5:48 a.m. Partial eclipse begins with Umbra making contact

6:51 a.m. Total eclipse begins

7:20 a.m. Maximal Eclipse for DFW area

7:24 a.m. The Moon sets for DFW area

7:26 a.m. Full Moon occurs for DFW (occurs below horizon for DFW)

7:29 a.m. Maximum Eclipse (occurs below horizon for DFW)

Since this eclipse is occurring while the Moon is in the process of setting here in the DFW area it’s very important to make sure you have an unobstructed view of the western and north-western horizon if viewing from the DFW area. This eclipse occurs very close to the horizon for DFW and in fact maximum eclipse actually occurs below the horizon but the eclipse does enter the total phase prior to the Moon setting. So find some place where you have a good clear view void of trees and buildings of the western horizon in order to observe and enjoy this eclipse event to the fullest.

 

The eclipsed Moon and Saturn.

Since this eclipse is happening close to the horizon this presents a great opportunity to photograph or image the moon with interesting objects in the frame or foreground such as trees, buildings (cityscapes), towers, etc. So if you are looking to image this eclipse some careful planning and choice of location could lend itself to some amazing shots of the fully eclipsed Moon.

Total Lunar Eclipse 02/20/2008

Also, since this eclipse is happening in the dead of winter for us be sure to prepare for the cold. Dress warmly and have your hot coffee at the ready. Most of all relax and enjoy as Luna pulls a hat trick and turns a hot-looking blood red in the middle of a frosty winter morning.

Star Parties This Fall 2017

As the Autumnal Equinox passes us by the nights start growing longer and cooler in this part of the world. It’s the perfect time for a star party. I thought I would offer up some star parties that you’ll want to add to your calendar. Star parties are great opportunities to get out under the night sky, visit with like minded folks and peek through an assortment of telescopes.  This can be very rewarding especially if you are thinking about buying a telescope.

The events listed below are within an hour or so drive, or closer, from the DFW area that I have  been to in the past and have found to be very enjoyable. Some have presentations at the beginning of the evening explaining basic astronomy concepts and discussing what can be seen in the sky and telescope that evening. Don’t miss this presentation as it will provide important info and guidelines for the evening as well as help set the tone and your expectations. Also, sometimes there are astronomy related giveaways or door prizes that you can get in on too.

If you plan on attending here are a few things you’ll want to consider. Should you stay the night and camp out if that is an option? Be sure to keep a close watch on the weather as the event approaches. The weather can change quickly and impact your plans. Should you arrive early on the day of the event and take in hiking or fishing and maybe a cookout?  At the very least I’d suggest getting there a bit early to settle in, find a good spot and look around. I find that arriving as the event is getting underway or a little late just does not allow for a relaxing and enjoyable evening. This is especially true if you are taking your own gear and need to set up or find a spot to camp, etc. Oh, and don’t forget the essentials like bug spray, a chair, drinks, a snack and warm clothes or a jacket. You might be surprised at how quickly the temperature can drop after sunset.

Astronomy Day, Saturday, September 30, 2017 – Check your local listings! Astronomy groups and clubs as well as state parks, science and history museums, and planetariums, etc. are sure to have activities and events planned on Astronomy Day.

Praire Sky Star Party @ Tandy Hills Natural Area, Fort Worth, TX on October 14, 2017. The Fort Worth Astronomical Society holds a monthly star party on the 2nd Saturday of the month weather permitting at the Tandy Hills Natural Area 3400 View Street, Fort Worth, TX 76103. FWAS Members will be on hand with several telescopes set up from 7:00 PM – 11:00 PM at Tandy Hills for viewing the night sky. This event is still free & open to the public. All ages welcome.

Palo Pinto Mountains State Park Star Party @ Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, Strawn, TX on October 14, 2017. Palo Pinto Mountains Star Party will be on Saturday, October 14th beginning at 4:00 pm. PPMSP is a new TPWD park property near the town of Strawn, Texas which serves as the gateway to the newly acquired state park property.  Members of the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas and the Fort Worth Astronomical Society host this free event. There will be telescopes that you can use to view stars and constellations. Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, 1915 FM 2372, Strawn, Texas. Google Map.

20th Annual North Texas Skywatch Star Party @ Lake Mineral Wells State Park, Mineral Wells, TX. – This years NTSW star party will be held on Saturday, October 28, 2017 which is also International Observe the Moon Night. Come to the Lone Star Amphitheater where you can learn about astronomy and to have a chance to see the night sky through a wide variety of telescopes. There will be a beginner’s astronomy slide presentation at sunset. Held at the Lone Star Amphitheater in Lake Mineral Wells State Park, 100 Park Road 71, Mineral Wells, TX, 76067. The program is free with paid park entrance fee or a State Park Pass.

6th Annual Rio Brazos Star Party @ Acton Nature Center, Acton, TX.  The Rio Brazos chapter of Texas Master Naturalists will be hosting a star party on Saturday, November 25, 2017 from 7:30 to 10:30 pm at Acton Nature Center, 6900 Smoky Hill Ct. Granbury, TX 76049. We will have a guest speaker at the twilight program under the pavilion adjacent to the parking lot starting at 7:30 pm followed by a short walk down the path to the farmhouse where we will have telescopes with guides. Please bring a blanket or chair to sit, water to drink and enjoy the evening. Restrooms are available on site.

Total Solar Eclipse From Hopkinsville, KY

What a great adventure to Tennessee and Kentucky to see the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. I viewed the celestial show from Hopkinsville, KY with several coworkers who also made the long drive.

TSE 08212017 – The moment before totality

The “solar funnel” (solar projection cone) seen below that I had made a few months back in preparation for this eclipse was a huge hit with eclipse chasers! I received many compliments and plenty of return visitors to check the progress of the partial phase.

 You can view the HD video I shot before, during and after totality below. Totality begins at about 10 minutes into the video.

You can find many more of my eclipse pictures as well as pictures of the telescopes and fellow eclipse chasers on my Total Solar Eclipse – 8/21/2017 page that I’ve added to this site. Click the link just above or navigate to Astrophotoghaphy > Eclipses > Total Solar Eclipse – 08/21/2017 on the menu in the upper left on this page.

Great American Total Solar Eclipse

We are now in the home stretch for what is being called the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. Not in 99 years has a total solar eclipse made its way across the continental U.S. and surely it will be one of the most observed total solar eclipses in history.

Total Solar Eclipse – February 26, 1998

The last total solar eclipse that I was present for was on February 26, 1998. Nineteen years ago my wife and I took a 7 day cruise and saw the eclipse on board the ship off the coast of Aruba in the Caribbean. Seeing the eclipse at sea was a very special treat indeed. With a flat horizon for 360 degrees it’s easier to see the moon’s shadow build on the horizon, speed toward you at almost frightening speed, over take you and speed away. I vividly recall the emotional response it generated in me and all who were there to see it. No pictures or movies can accurately reproduce this type of event. It simply must be experienced. I learned first hand that day why and how some many people become eclipse chasers. Sounds odd to those who don’t give a second thought about astronomical events but rest assured the experience drives people to see it over and over again. Kind of like a roller coaster junkie or sky diver who lives for the thrill and once seen longs for the next high from his or her obsession.

Partial Solar Eclipse October 23, 2014

If you are not lucky enough to live along the path of totality or are not planning to travel to the path of totality and you live in the U.S. then you can still take part in this eclipse minus the totality part. In other words, you’ll still get to see a partial solar eclipse. During all phases of a partial solar eclipse eye protection is a must. Do not look at the sun unless you are using the special eclipse glasses (made of solar grade Mylar). These glasses are available from many retailers across the country. I have seen them at Walmart and Lowes locations here in my area. If you can’t find them you can always order them online. Search “solar eclipse glasses” on amazon.com for a host of sellers. Don’t wait to long. As I mentioned we are getting very close to eclipse day.

Media outlets will be ramping up coverage as we approach eclipse day on August 21, 2017.  There will be live streaming coverage on the internet from a host of locations across the country.  NASA TV and other cable TV channels will be broadcasting the event as will local stations. That is great if you are trapped inside for the eclipse but if you aren’t then might I suggest getting outside and watching it yourself. You can always review the eclipse coverage via your DVR later.

If you are traveling to the path of totality I’d suggest leaving a day or two early and allowing time to get to your destination. Attempting to travel on eclipse day to see the event might  be more troublesome than you initially thought. Traffic will be extremely heavy and gridlock might occur in some places. The last thing you want to do is spend what you thought was going to be fun day with the kids watching the eclipse only to end getting in late and having to rush around or worse watching the eclipse from the car on the side of the highway.

Whatever you end up doing for the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 I wish you clear skies and hope you are able to take a peak at the event given your busy schedule or better still enjoy totality! And if this one doesn’t work out in your favor then shake it off and start planning for the next one which occurs for us here in the U.S. on April 8, 2024.

If you are needing eclipse data on your location regarding start time, max eclipse and end time as well as what percentage of the Sun will be obscured by the Moon you can go to this special Google map. It allows you to drill down and select your location to produce important eclipse data. It also lists the 2024 eclipse so you can start your planning!

Solar Funnel Project

5″ Meade Newtonian reflector with solar funnel.

Doing star parties over the years I have witnessed long lines of party-goers queued up to take a peak through my telescope. I’ve found this to be the perfect time to talk to folks about what’s being looked at in the telescope. I like to throw out some fun facts and this always spawns more questions and curiosity in the gathered group. Talking to adults and kids about the night sky is one of the greatest aspects of doing star parties.

There is a limit to how many people can look through the scope at any given time, put simply it’s one at a time.  But when I saw this neat gadget called a “solar funnel” I immediately knew it would be great at eclipses to show participants the partial phases and better yet it could do this via projection so many people close by can view the eclipse at once.

After a quick study of what was involved, the materials needed, the construction of the device, etc. I decided to get to work on it. It seemed easy enough. I already had an eyepiece lying around that I could use. So all I really needed was the funnel, hose clamps, and the rear projection screen material. All total I spent less than $20 (minus the eyepiece) for these materials from the auto parts store, hardware store and online ordering the rear projection screen.

The solar funnel works as advertised. This will be a great tool to use during solar eclipses. While testing it out I saw birds, planes  and clouds all pass in front of the sun. I was able to see a very small sun spot as well. In my pictures there of course was not an eclipse in progress so the sun appears round.  Alas, I can’t post any eclipse pictures with it just yet but at this writing we are only 3 months almost to the day away from the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.

To give the sun the orange color in these pictures I threaded on a #23A orange filter just for kicks. Otherwise you can use a yellow filter or no (eyepiece) filter at all for a white sun.

The solar funnel is best utilized with a small refractor telescope. You might be saying “then why are you using a reflector telescope?” As long as you stop down the optical tube to one or two inches by using an aperture mask (see first picture on this post) you can use a Newtonian reflector. Not stopping down the telescope can be dangerous and will result in permanent damage to your reflecting telescope.

This device is not recommended for catadioptric telescopes or scopes that incorporate both lens and mirrors. Also, be sure and remove or cap off your finder scope before observing the sun. This is also a good time to give the obligatory warning about never looking at the sun with your naked-eye or especially with a telescope if you are not absolutely sure about your equipment and filters. Seek professional assistance before you attempt to observe the sun if you are unsure. They’re your eyes. You only get two (in most cases) so use them wisely.

The solar funnel instructions can be found here. This was an easy and fun project that I’m sure will be a crowd-pleaser at eclipses.

Update – Here are some pictures of the solar funnel in action during the total solar eclipse of 8-21-2017

 

Happy eclipse chasing!