Double Stars and Star Clusters

Posted in Observation Record on November 12, 2014 – 8:38 PM
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It wasn’t a great night for astronomy, but it was warm and reasonably clear. Although it was a weeknight, it seemed an opportune evening to do some observing. I’ve learned that from my light polluted driveway, somewhere in the 4.5-5 on the bortle scale, deep sky just isn’t reasonable in most cases. I still try, but spending time on double stars and open clusters brings its own rewards.

I had to deal with pretty heavy dew, but overall good seeing.

I started the evening by finding Almach (γAnd). Almach is the next star from the reddish star Mirach which I use as my first guidestar in finding with the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) as well as the triangulum galaxy (M33). Almach is a double star similar to, but requiring higher magnification than Albireo (ΒCyg). It has a similar striking color contrast; the brighter orange star is thinly separated from a dimmer blue companion. At 60X almost no separation was seen, but 200X really brought out the pair.

Moving west from Almach is M34, an open cluster of about 5th magnitude. This is the typical open cluster. Lots of stars clustered together. This is a fairly large cluster as it fit nicely with a low power eyepiece (38mm, 70 degree FOV).

Moving over towards Cass, I hunted down M52. This cluster lies along a path from Shedir to Caph (4th and 5th stars of the Cass “W”). M52 is not the typical open cluster as it is considerably smaller and dimmer. It has a glow more like a deep sky object under low power. However, once a little more magnification is added (60X), the individual stars appear. To me, they form a shape like an “A” or a space invader from the old Atari game. A single brighter star appears with the grouping of pretty evenly dim points of light.

NGC 7789
Moving not far off Cass is another star cluster, NGC7789. This object, while much bigger, was more diffuse. I was unable to locate it under my low magnification widefield eyepiece. However, moving to my trusty 60X eyepiece, the cluster revealed itself. This cluster is also called “Carolyn’s Rose” however under my light polluted skies I couldn’t quite make out the features as well as I had under darker skies. One part of the object was clear, resembling a backwards C, but the other side was washed out. Perhaps more magnification and less dew will improve the view. I will need to reobserve.

Even under my skies, I was able to visually see this star. Finding Hamal just above my tree line, I followed it to Sheratan and over a short distance to γAri, Mesarthim. Under 200X magnification two very evenly bright white stars were well separated. The pair looked like glowing eyes in the night. A very fine double worth showing to others.

Not far from Mesarthim is λAri, another double star. I could not see this visually, even though it is 5th magnitude. It was not hard to find, tracing a line from mesarthim back to Sheratan extending about 3 times further. This is a very wide double and not evenly bright at all. At 60X, separation was similar to Mesarthim at 200X. Not impressive at all, but little effort to find.

I packed it in after about 2 hours. Had to work in the morning and it was starting to get cold. Plus the layer of dew was only getting thicker. A pretty good night – and an unexpected weeknight under the stars.

Custom Homemade Foam Cases for Telescopes and Accessories

Posted in Hardware on October 14, 2014 – 9:15 PM
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Having to travel with telescopes is a little bit daunting. I really like my dobsonian – it’s pretty indestructible and I can pop it in the back of the car. However, an 11″ SCT can get way out of alignment (or worse!) rolling around a car. And a heavy mount is best kept together for ease of transport and to prevent knicks to the pretty orange anodizing. Plus keeping a bunch of accessories together is another story.

Custom cases are expensive – I priced them out. JMI sells a hard case for a C11 currently priced at $579. I didn’t pay much more than that for the scope itself! A case for the CGEM is a relative bargain at $469. I bought some cases on Craigslist, including a Pelican 1660, payout about half of retail. Bringing them to a local foam cutting place, they wanted $275 for the foam and CNC cutting on the big case. Looking to do 2 big cases and one small, it didn’t make sense. So I searched all over the internet to find the best price for foam. Rule 1: Foam is expensive. But after searching, I found what seems to be a major distributor. They had the best prices – and free shipping on orders over $75! “The Foam Factory” offers the charcoal packaging foam typically found in these cases. They sell regular and firm densities in small and large sheets. (I write this on my own, I haven’t been compensated for the endorsement).

Foam Factory has at least two online storefronts, each with slightly different offerings (and I even noticed a small price difference). I bought a full sheet (80″x72″) of the 3″ foam, a full sheet (80″x72″) of 1″ foam, and a half sheet of 1 1/2″ eggcrate foam. In all cases, I bought the firmer foam. The cost difference was about 25% and I figured firmer foam was easier to cut – and probably gave added protection. I also bought some pick and pluck foam which is only sold in smaller sheets, up to 24″x26″ and up to 3″ thick, all at 1cent per cubic inch (very good price). I bought 3 sheets of the 2″ variety. All this foam combined cost about $200, shipped. It seems like a lot for packaging foam, but as I said, foam is expensive.

About a week later, the foam arrived. How does a piece of foam larger than 6′ square get shipped? I wondered that myself. It came rolled up and folded up and then wrapped up. The bigger sheet was about a 4′ tall roll and about 2′ across. Wish I got a picture! The other package was similar size and contained the rest of the foam (same size, but thinner). Everything was wrapped up really tight in several layers of saran wrap and taped secure. It was a lot of packaging (I hate waste) but it got here in perfect shape. After unpackaging everything flattened out and was ready for cutting!

Craigslist is a great place for cases. You can get Pelican cases at a reasonable discount, but there are plenty of other random things out there you can use. For me, I don’t see my case landing in water or being driven over… I did get a one pelican case on a pretty good deal, but also found a bunch of “placed training mine” kits. These turned out not to be in the best condition, but still useful. Who wouldn’t be intrigued with this label on your case?

Placed Training Mine Kit Case

I also found a case that I think was used for a musical instrument.

Cutting the foam was not fun. I’ll be honest. The sheets are large and it’s difficult to measure and keep square. I’m sure there are more precise ways to accomplish the task. I used chalk lines to make the marks and then a jig saw to cut. However, a jig saw wont cut all the way through a 3″ piece of foam. So I used a “hot knife” (kind of like a soldering iron, but with a cutting edge) to finish the job. In some pieces, I used just the hot knife. No, my cuts are not as clean as a CNC router and it isn’t really a thing of beauty. But my instruments are secure, I have room to expand, and I saved at least $600 doing it myself.

BY buying both 3″ and 1″ flat foam and 1 1/2″ eggrate, I was able to make nearly any size I needed. I always put a 1″ piece on the bottom of the box. This piece should not be cut so all the equipment has a minimum of 1″ cushion on bottom. I then filled with 3″ pieces. If needed, I added 1″ pieces on top to make the right height. On the top, I filled with flat foam and the eggcrate to get the correct depth. I used spray adhesive to laminate the pieces of foam together. For the lids, I found I needed some adhesive to keep it more secure. Somehow, it all worked out and all my cases work great. You can see the pictures below.

Here is the Mount, all kitted up in the Placed Training Mine case. It isn’t the ideal case, but the price was right. Everything for the mount except the big counter weights and tripod are in there (even my extension bar) plus a compartment for misc. cables and such.

The C11 was placed in the Pelican 1660 case by itself. It fits like a charm with plenty of protection. The case has wheels and a handle to reduce the chance of accidentally dropping the case. However, even if dropped it is packaged pretty snug! I wish I could have fit more in there, but protection is important.

C11 Case

The music case now holds some misc other items. The pick and pluck foam will allow me to reconfigure as needed as my accessories change.
Accessory Case

Also not shown I have some smaller cases I filled with the pick and pluck foam. It’s great for cameras, and other smaller bits that you want protected, but aren’t heavy.

So much to do

Posted in Lessons I Learned on October 12, 2014 – 10:31 PM
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There are some times I have so many things I want to do, it seems like there just aren’t enough clear nights. Once the astronomy bug hits, it’s pretty hard to quell – especially as the weather has been less than cooperative. I’ve been out about once a month since the Spring – which is better than the 6+ months I sat indoors before that.

I used the recent spate of cloudy nights to build a giant battery box so I can power my astrophotography rig all night. I also made custom foam lined cases so I can save the shipping boxes I had been using to haul the equipment. I’ve been through the past 6 months of Sky and Telescope a few times. I’m ready to get out!

I have been fortunate enough to do two public outreach events lately. I really enjoy sharing my knowledge and hopefully inspiring kids to look up. It’s true that big telescopes can reveal some really cool stuff, but sometimes just looking up at the moon or the seasonally changing stars can yield a sense of awe.

Recently I picked up a book on the Herschel objects. I’d like to start looking at those visually, including finding the objects manually. Additionally, I’d love to get the aforementioned power supply out into the field to practice my imaging so at some point I can get back into spectroscopy. It’s just hard to get scope time when the moon isn’t looming large.

Next week I’m off the coast where it is reasonably dark. I hope to catch some good star trail images… and I may be able to bring a scope with me, too.