Posts Tagged solar viewing

ASV Star-b-cue 2013

Last weekend we travelled to the ASV dark site for the annual star-b-cue, and it was awesome.

We went up on the Friday night. We set up in the early evening and then had to wait around for hours as the sun slowly went down. I did manage to get a good look at the moon, in a lovely crescent – I haven’t made the effort to see the moon in a long time, and it was glorious. That night involved a lot of reminding ourselves of the sky and also introducing some friends to our telescopes. One of them is an exceptional astronomer but from the northern hemisphere, so it was amusing to hear him talk about which bits he can’t see at all from home (like 47 Tuc!). And complain that Orion is upside-down. I didn’t have a viewing plan for the evening so I went with whims. Amongst the best things I saw was two moons around Uranus (Oberon and Titania, apparently) and I split Sirius! Unbelievable! I piked earlier than I had hoped – around 1am I think – I had hoped to see Jupiter but we were in spot such that it was still behind the trees when I was flagging.

Saturday was the actual star party. During the day I set up the solar telescope and various people looked through it; there were, I think, maybe six solar scopes set up – more than I’ve seen at any other time. And the sun was looking pretty fine; not incredibly active but some beautiful prominences and a set of sun spots in a cluster. I also took a wander around the site and checked out the new radio shack they’ve set up, recording the sun, meteors and Jupiter. The guy in charge was very pleased to play us the recording of a solar flare from October.

The evening progressed as these things do. The Lions Club provided a great BBQ dinner; there was a quiz – entirely music based this time, so I did ok; and there were heaps of people. There were dozens of scopes set up on the observing field; I didn’t bother going down to the photographers to check out their set ups. It makes me too sad to see Takahashis being used solely for imaging. Anyway eventually the sun went down, again; I looked at the moon, again, and had to make sure I stopped doing that early enough that I could get light-adapted, given how very bright it was. Again, I had no plan… so I looked at some globular clusters, and some planetaries; I saw some galaxies through the Dob. And I stayed up late enough to see Jupiter. Not a great view, to be sure, but when the seeing snapped in it was definitely worth staying up until *mumble230mumble*. Galilean moons all in a row.

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VicSouth Desert Spring Star Party

Pretty much exactly what the name says, the VicSouth star party happens every year at the Little Desert Nature Lodge just outside of Nhill. It’s usually held over the Melbourne Cup not-actually-a-long-weekend, and this year I was fortunate enough to be able to go for most of the weekend. I was very excited.

The event itself

… was very well organised. The location itself is excellent for astronomy – James checked the sky each night and got readings to indicate it’s the darkest skies we’ve ever observed under. There’s a big field that’s perfect for setting up many telescopes; there were lots of cables running to power but that’s always going to be the case. The field’s flat, it’s grassed, and it’s near the dining room which meant that the urn wasn’t too far away when it got to midnight and we were cold but still keen.

The location also works well during the day. We splurged and got a cabin – nice to collapse into a good bed – and we also went with the food package, which meant lunch and dinner. The dining room comes with big round tables that seat 8-10, which meant that we were forced to talk to people (the horror!) at each meal – we had some great conversations about astronomy and even other things. And the food was pretty good too. The organisers planned things for during the day, and I even got to some of it despite needing to nap each afternoon to prepare for the night’s viewing. A number of people volunteered to give talks, on everything from the geology of the local area, to ways the universe is trying to kill you; from astrophotography to organising your observing lists. It was a pretty good mix. And apparently each night there was a movie on the screen (including On the Beach), but I didn’t get to those.

The observing

I went without any preparation, except for the vague desire to get up and see Comet ISON. Since that’s the only thing that could be called a goal, as of the Friday afternoon, you could say that I failed, since 5am did not see me awake on any morning. Given that a small group of people did get up and then reported that it was a fizzer, I’m not too fussed.

We only got in a couple of hours on my first night before the clouds rolled in. Had a great view of Venus… because for a while it was pretty much the only thing to look at, given its insane magnitude and height in the sky. Also 47 Tuc, which rather started a theme for the weekend… I do love me a globular cluster.

The next night more than made up for the first, though, and we stayed up until about 2.30. I had made a List, and got through a number of doubles before I got distracted. I looked at some globular clusters, including some in the Large Magellanic, which I didn’t realise you could do. I also looked at Uranus and Neptune – to my everlasting delight we bagged Triton, Neptune’s main moon, too. James contributed to my distraction by convincing me that Andromeda through my ‘scope was the best idea, given its wider view; and we managed to see the two other galaxies around it, too, which did indeed look spectacular. He was concentrating on some faint fuzzies, and called me over to test my eyesight on some mag 13-14 galaxies… most of which I managed to see, or at least could convince myself that I did. And of course I greedily admired the Orion Nebula; I will never ever get bored by it. I was sad by how late Jupiter was rising – I saw it through the trees, and the Galilean moons were all in a row, but the view was utter mush.

The last night of viewing was also spectacular, but we sensibly didn’t stay up as late since we had to drive home the next day; so we pulled out at about 1.15. Again, I bagged a number of double stars – to my delight I discovered that I could split down to a 4″ separation! I didn’t think that was possible through the 120mm. I looked a few open clusters, but mostly they bore me; the Ink Spot and cluster of NGC 6520 were pretty cool, though, as the dark nebula of the Spot was quite noticeable with it being so dark. Again I got distracted by globulars, doing so a bit more systematically by dialling up all the globs in Sagittarius (there are so many Messier objects there!) on the Argo and working through most of them.

And there was observing during  the day, too. I had taken my solar scope, but someone else had their much-bigger, double-stacked one rigged up next to a white-light solar scope, so… yeh. Mine didn’t come out. I was mighty impressed with his set up: he’d got a piece of core flute, and attached to the scopes, so that they acted as a sun shield. BRILLIANCE. But, um… maybe a little bit TOO attractive….

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Observing the Sun with Coronado Telescopes

While it does discuss other brands, this book – as the name suggests – is designed to inform the reader about solar telescopes as made by Coronado (acquired by Meade in the last few years). Overall, it is a nicely presented book, with some detailed information about the telescopes and solar observing in general. The pictures in particular are a wonderful part of the package: there are numerous pictures of the sun itself, taken via Coronado instruments, which demonstrate what it is possible to see, as well as numerous pictures of the instruments themselves. However, this book is not without its flaws.

The thing which frustrated me the most about this book was the poor editing. It’s not so poorly written that it becomes unintelligible, but it is filled with enough silly mistakes to become quite irritating: mistakes which the author ought to have picked up on re-reading, and which an editor certainly ought to have corrected. That aside, the non-technical sections are clearly written and easy to follow. The audience is definitely imagined to be beyond novice at astronomy; unless you are an astronomy novice but an experienced photographer or otherwise have a good working knowledge of lenses, there will be sections of this book that will be difficult to follow. It’s also written in quite an idiosyncratic style. Philip Pugh, the main author, acknowledges this early on; it’s based largely on what he, and the other contributors, have personal experience with. They do mention some accessories and telescopes they haven’t personally used, which is good, but does leave room for the possibility that they’ve missed something. It also has numerous personal anecdotes throughout, which in general I found quite nice, although the mentions of business trips to Brazil got a little wearing.

Fortunately, the flow of the book itself is easy to follow. It opens with an exceptionally detailed contents page, and there are clear headings throughout all of the chapters. The Introduction begins with a little bit of the history of solar observing – but so little that he might as well just have skipped on it. It also includes a smattering of scientific information about the sun, which again was so limited that it felt like it didn’t really fit. Both of these really needed to be quite separate sections to feel warranted. The best part about the Introduction is Pugh’s discussion of the differences between white light and hydrogen alpha (Ha) observing in terms of what the eye can actually see, as well as his recommendations on how to keep records of observations. Reading the introduction is probably a good way to decide if solar observation is really for you: it’s certainly cheaper than buying a telescope and discovering that you hate it.

Chapter 2 focusses on the PST: the Personal Solar Telescope, one of which I own and is the reason why I bought this book. This chapter is excellent if you are considering buying one. It has great detail on what the PST looks like; how to attach it to various types of mounts; accessories (he doesn’t always come down in favour of the official ones); and how to find the sun using its inbuilt finder. There is a great deal of information about eyepieces, and includes an interesting appraisal of the PST overall.

Chapter 3 looks at the PST’s bigger sibling, the MaxScope. The chapter is largely the same as Chapter 2, although it has more information on photography. I am unlikely ever to even consider the MaxScope, so I will admit I did not pay a great deal of attention to the chapter details; it does seem as thorough as that on the PST, however.

Other Coronado products are the focus of Chapter 4. It seems to be a good rundown of the various options, with useful comparisons to other Coronado products throughout. It includes a brief section on accessories and options for mounting.

Imaging the sun is discussed in Chapter 5. This seems to be something a lot of solar observers get into, and while I was unconvinced when I first started using the PST, the appeal is slowly growing on me. The chapter includes very detailed discussion of how to attach and use a webcam (the best option for solar photography it seems), as well as post-processing and the advantage of stacking images. There are some lovely photos, of course, to serve as inspiration. The problem, of course, is that although this book is quite current – written in 2006 – the rate of change in digital imaging and associated software has been so rapid that this chapter is almost certainly hopelessly out of date in terms of its recommendations regarding the best or cheapest options for cameras, and what software to use (additionally he only suggests software for Windows machines). This chapter might give an interested imager somewhere to start, it could by no means be used as a sole guide.

In Chapter 6, the book moves away from Coronado products to give brief reviews and evaluations of solar telescopes and accessories from other brands which the authors have tried, while Chapter 7 discusses products they have not personally experienced. Having no experience with these things I of course cannot evaluate whether they are being completely fair or not, but the book as a whole gives no reason to suspect anything other than honesty.

Finally, Chapter 8 provides a fairly comprehensive summary of the book as a whole, and it concludes with a glossary which, while not being very detailed, is still useful.

Would I buy this book again? Probably not. It’s not the book I was expecting; I had hoped for more on solar observation itself, not what is essentially a buyer’s guide. Since I am unlikely to buy another solar telescope (my PST suits me down to the ground) it isn’t particularly useful. This is the sort of book which ought to be in libraries – particularly astronomical society libraries – where potential buyers can borrow it to read the relevant chapter.

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