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"The Nightlight" by Eyes on the Sky is all about how to see things in the night sky, things you can build to improve your amateur astronomy experience, and general thoughts on astronomy and light pollution.
By Dave Fuller on 1/23/2013 3:55 PM
I've never cared for the phrase, "You get what you pay for."  It's overly simplistic, and often used as a cheap, backhanded insult to those who cannot afford, I presume, whatever is most expensive - which is perhaps rather foolish anyway.  Being expensive has never meant being "the best" by default.  That's not to say that things that are expensive or bad, but the real question is this, "Is what I am getting worth paying more?"  Now, in my case, I believe there are some things you just don't skimp on: Tires and brakes happen to be two of them.  I figure if my car doesn't move forward due to the engine, that doesn't necessarily put me in danger (in most cases), but being unable to control or stop the vehicle - particularly at high speeds - can be quite life-threatening, and tires are the only thing between me and the road, and brakes are the best way to stop quickly, short of running into an immovable object.

In the world of astronomy, this manifests itself in the respect of, "Oh, you bought a cheap telescope...
By Dave Fuller on 1/18/2013 11:04 PM

Back in the mid 1990's, I did a LOT of reading to determine what the best telescope would be for me.  At the time, I decided an 8" Schmidt Cassegrain would be ideal: It seemed to offer the best blend of portability, ease of use, and options for astrophotography.  Around that same time, I also bought a Ricoh SLR (film - digital didn't exist in that format yet).  My "through the scope" shots were mostly pathetic and a large waste of film - which was not cheap to buy and print that many pictures to get so few results!  The camera wound up getting used piggyback style, and finally only for regular photography... until digital point and shoots came along.  And the scope?  Used less and less for a variety of reasons, and finally sold a few years ago.

But many of us who do visual astronomy also wish to capture and share what we see.  And delving into astrophotography again has never really left me.  I've dabbled with afocal stuff, and given how forgiving the software is on my smartphone (an HTC Inspire), it has made is simple for me to grab decent shots of the Moon and planets.  And the beauty of digital is taking 20 or 30 shots doesn't burn film - so I'd shoot away, find the best 1 or 2 photos, and discard the rest.

None of that is to say that I've forgotten about the real deal: Through the scope astrophotography.  I had looked at the digital offerings out there, and always felt like... 

By Dave Fuller on 1/4/2013 11:01 PM
I don't know if it's a sign of my advancing age, or my remembering better how to withstand colder temps, but 25F with a 16F wind chill tonight didn't seem all that bad.  Maybe it was because I had not been out for much serious observing in so long.  It had been totally cloudy for over 2 weeks, it seemed.  In any case, I finally got to DO some observing.

First, I took out the 10" Dob.  That was more due to slight laziness than anything - or perhaps my desire to get out there and see things in the night sky without having to put something back together.  The 6" f/5 was not on the mount, and it's tripod was being "borrowed" for another project in the basement.  I didn't want to use a 70mm scope, , the 4.5" Tasco was in pieces and the 90mm refractor was sitting on a pipe mount on a slightly-less-than-adequate tripod.  So despite not having used the 10" Dob in... wow - I really don't remember how long - probably sometime since summer? - I picked it up and dragged it out.

First up: Comet C/2012 K5 LINEAR....
By Dave Fuller on 12/31/2012 4:12 PM
Because I don't like to highlight objects in "Eyes on the Sky" videos I have not seen myself, I generally don't include things like comets where I have not viewed them to determine how easy they are to see.  Case in point: Comet C/2012 K5 LINEAR.  This comet has brightened up quite a bit over the last few weeks, and has even zipped right through the Big Dipper stars, then gone on through a fairly star poor region of sky.  That said, the magnitude information I have found ranges all over the map, from 11.5 to 8.5.  That's a pretty significant difference - a large enough one, in fact, that if I were to suggest it could be seen in a "XYZ" sized scope, it may not be due to it's actual brightness overall.  It may be close to 11.5 or 10.5, which is going to be a lot harder to see than if it really is at 8.5

Well, it's about to re-enter an area with well-known stars, but as you may have guessed from some of my other blog posts: It's cloudy here!  So, rather than make a video and hope that everyone can see it, I'm making this blog post instead so you can find some information to search for it if your skies are clear.  It will be conveniently situated near some bright stars in Auriga this coming week, so it's a great time to get out there and have a look, if you have the opportunity based on your local weather.

By Dave Fuller on 12/23/2012 10:57 PM
I've been considering what mount to build for my long, 6" f/10.9 reflector.  I thought I'd decided on a split-ring equatorial mount, but due to the length of the tube and the required size of split ring for that tube, I had second thoughts.  I posted on Cloudy Nights' forum about it, and some people made a good suggestion for me:

A pipe mount.

These are the types of mounts people use to make back in the 60's when it was much more of a "do it yourself or go without" era for telescopes, because many of the retail scopes were, comparatively, quite expensive.  And on top of the, fancy solid equatorial mounts were big, heavy and... expensive.

So what to do?  Build a mount from simple plumbing parts.

The thing is, as telescopes have come down in price over the decades, one things that hasn't changed is the cheap, flimsy tripod that goes with those...
By Dave Fuller on 12/21/2012 11:07 PM
So I asked for that "cloud filter" a few days ago.  Well, the clouds cleared, and I actually had some free time when it was clear.  So out came the 6" f/10.9 prototype reflector tube, on the SkyView Pro mount.  Not ideal, but the only mount I have for that scope set up right now.

BAM!  Jupiter, first at 82x to center it, then at 183x.  OH YEAH.  A 6mm EP to try at 275, but the very transparent sky wasn't necessarily a steady atmosphere.  That's okay; 183x is quite good.  Good definition of the belt system, and the four moons were tack sharp.

Can't say the same for my eyes.  Why's that?

It is COLD tonight!  Okay, 'grand scheme of things' not that terrible at 19F, but colder than any night I've been outside since... well, since sometime earlier this year when it was late winter 2012!  So 19F feels awfully cold, especially with a 3 to 7 mph breeze right on my face.  Turned around it was fine, but - well, I wasn't looking at anything that direction!

I did turn the scope down towards M42,...
By Dave Fuller on 12/18/2012 4:31 PM
That's a joke of course.  Cloud filters don't exist.  But if they did, it sure would be helpful.

I guess I only have myself to blame though.  My family has trouble finding Christmas gifts for me - with good reason.  I really am hard to shop for.  So this year I helped them out, and bought a few small items they could give to me as gifts.  I know - a little backwards (it's not like I didn't first propose them making or doing something for me instead!).  And these times are astronomy related - or more accurately, telescope equipment related.

Which brings up, "The Curse."

The Astronomer's Curse is one of those strange things that doesn't seem like it should logically occur, but often it does manifest itself.  "The Curse" is when an amateur astronomer purchases a "new to them" piece of equipment, it will be cloudy for at least a week or more AFTER they receive the item.

I skipped The Curse on one item - a Celestron C6N reflector.  It also has "cloud clearing" properties, wherein the times...
By Dave Fuller on 12/11/2012 8:27 PM
Because of clouds or other commitments, I don't always get to view every single object I talk about in the "Eyes on the Sky" videos near the time I talk about them.  Usually I have seen these objects at some time in the past, though not always.  This week is a good example; I know what the larger asteroids in our solar system should look like - I just hadn't ever actually seen one before.

Until now.  Of course, it looked very star-like, unlike the high-resolution photo on the right.

I literally went outside with just my coat on (it got pretty cold here near Chicago early this week), did not bother to dark adapt, and simply had my 7x50 binoculars around my neck.  I had taken a good look at the star chart I made, and made a mental note of where the 5th and 6th magnitude stars near Aldebaran and Vesta were, and what they should...
By Dave Fuller on 12/6/2012 7:56 AM

Like most amateur astronomers, I do not have an astrophysics degree, or much less a doctorate or master's in something related to astronomy.  I've just always had a connection with the night sky since I was young.  That said, I did choose both astronomy and meteorology as my required science classes in college - though much has changed in astronomy even since then.  

So in what field(s) is my degree?

By Dave Fuller on 12/4/2012 9:44 AM
Astronomy binocular buying guide Binoculars seem to be everywhere today.  Miniature, pocket-binocs can be had for $15 or $20, which is an astonishing price point when you stop to consider how many lenses and prisms are in them.  And though these may be perfectly acceptable for quick views of the occasional bird or squirrels, the sheer physics of their limited light gathering make them impractical for usage in astronomy.

That leads to the flip side the binocular world: The large aperture, high magnification ones.  These seem like a great idea as well: 60 and 70 millimeter lenses with 15, 20 and 25 times magnification.  We need more light through the lenses to see more, and higher magnification is always a good thing, right?  Well... yes and no.  Good, high-quality, anti-reflection coated lenses, BAK-4 prisms, expertly-collimated binoculars make great, specialty astronomy binoculars, but observers with instruments such as these will also need a beefy, strong tripod, because their weight will make them heavy...

The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.