Benjamin K. Tiefert > Astronomy
Ben's Astronomy Page
Observing Journal | Equipment | Projects | Favorite Objects | Resources | Observing Chair | Trips
Welcome to my astronomy page. I am an amature astronomer from Dayton, Ohio. Here you will find my observing journal, where you can follow along as I discover the heavens and refine my astrophotography skills. Along the way I share helpful tips, links to online resources, and stories of sharing the skies with friends and strangers alike. Enjoy!
June 2, 2009 - Just a quick note: I *do* still exist. I just discovered how horribly out of date this site is. I'll post updates, mostly surrounding my other hobbies, in the weeks to come. In the mean time, please know that my email address has changed. I can now be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Clear skies!
April 16, 2005 - This Saturday was the first of the year's VOA stargazes to which I contributed. A big crowd of scopes and small crowd of visiters made for more of a club night out than anything, but fun was had by all.
April 15, 2005 - I pulled an all-nighter at Caesar Creek State Park to unwind from work Friday night. Did a little imaging and some general stargazing. It was nice to be back under the stars after biting reality during the work week. I setup by my lonesome by the side of the bathhouse and just relaxed the night away. I've had more imaging time than processing time lately, which is not a bad problem to have.
April 12, 2005 - I've arrived home after a delightful week attending the Chiefland Spring Picnic. I did a little of everything, and a lot of nothing while in Florida. I hope to share a full encounter, but for now let me just list the highlights:
Here's a quick preview of some of my images from Chiefland from this trip. Once I find the time to process them thoroughly, I'll post them in high resolution.
November 6, 2004 - Still haven't had a chance to write about this November night at the Cinci dark sky site, where I managed to snag my first really killer shot of the Running Man.
October 31, 2004 - Well, poo! I guess our golden luck has finally run out when it comes to weather and astronomical events this year. Despite an excellent show of the Venus transit, useable skies for the Persieds, and two very cooperative weeks in Chiefland, this year's lunar eclipse was largely a flop. We waited patiently at the VOA park in Mason, OH, but the clouds simply didn't break. We gave up around 10pm, and I drove the 45 minutes home to find a small hole in the clouds through which I observed the latter half of the eclipse from a lawn chair. I had hoped to take a series of images to combine into an animation or progression, but It was not to be. My friend, Forrest Egan, got a wonderful shot at just such as series of photos from Florida. Do checkout his website for a very nice spread.
In an effort to do something astronomical this week, I reprocessed my image of M1 from Chiefland. This time I setup concentric masks within the nebula so I could seperately process each area of brightness to bring out the best detail. In effect, this is a cheat to allow for better dynamic range in each section of the curve at the expense of overall (perceived) dynamic range. I think the trade-off was worth it because the spider-web strands stand out much better. I also gave the color a liberal rebalancing, because I've noticed that my particular 10D pushes everything in the yellow direction during these longer exposures (perhaps my whitebalance shouldn't be set to "Daylight?" - though other than pesky little things like negative results, I can't fathom why.) Here's my second stab at processing, this time using only the nine best frames, stacked via a Median combine, and careful use of curves as to not bleed the brighter areas to white - which saves my stars from bloating as they did before:
The highlight of this trip, other than the excellent company of fellow members of the Chiefland Astronomy Village and the delightfully dark skies, was my breakthrough in getting my ST-4 to consistently guide unattended exposures. I setup my Canon 10D, 8" LX200, and ST-4 imaging for two prolific nights while I visited with the guys and took in the view through Scott's amazing 24" Starmaster Dobsonian telescope. We also enjoyed an early display of the Orionid Meteor Shower, averaging one every five minutes or so. Here are thumbnails of my week's imaging, each after a rough stack and preliminary processing:
I also imaged The Pinwheel Galaxy (M33), the Crescent Nebula (NGC4888), and an open cluster with a planetary nebula in it (M46), but I am not yet satified with the results, so I haven't reduced them for web display. For each of the above nebulae, I also plan to process the stars and the nebula seperately and then recombine them in the end. This should bring color back to my stars, and keep them from bloating as they have, above.
Sept 18, 2004 - Pat, Mike, and I had a *very* productive night this Saturday. I spent the first half of the night taking a series of 7 frames (72 three minute exposures ) of the "dark side" of the Milky Way using a 23mm camera lense. I've yet to stitch them together to my satisfaction, but once I do I'll post it. Here is a sneak peak of the second half of my night's work on the Great Orion Nebula:
Sept 13, 2004 - I've processed an image of the moon taken on 8/24/2004 at 8:57PM. The seeing was steady, and I am particularily pleased with the result. I don't recall the setup used for this image, though I'm pretty sure that this was through my Orion ED80 with a 2" 2x Powermate (barlow) for an effective focal length of just over 1200mm. This exposure really shows off the capabilities of the Canon 10D when you realize that it was taken at ISO1600. Very little grainy noise appears in the photo, and most that does is a result of the Unsharp mask and jpeg conversion portions of the image processing. View this at the highest resolution is critical. I especially enjoy the detail in the crater wall of the top-most crater. (I should look this one up.)
I also found the time this past weekend to play around in Photoshop and stitch together this portrait of the moon that I call the "Two Week Cheat," because it was created by combining two photos taken two weeks apart. It's a blatant (and obvious) hack to see the dark side of the moon. The combination isn't perfectly aligned, but what's interesting is that the red color of the left half was not a special effect, so this exposure was conceivably achievable by purely optical means. The moon was red because it was low in the sky on a very humid night, which scattered all the blue light from the image before it could arrive at the camera (and the eye.)
Sept 12, 2004 - Another "productive" weekend! Both Friday and Saturday were spent at the beach. Friday was probably the most gorgeous evening of the year from that location, and we took advantage well into the morning. Saturday night was mostly overcast, but I was thrilled nonetheless because I finally am getting the knack of my SBIG ST-4 autoguider. For the first time, I was able to focus, acquire a guide star, all on the first try. Unfortunately, my laptop is not cooperating with my camera (Canon 10D) for some fluke reason, so I could not get to critical focus. The night did bring one of the most spectacular ISS passes in the last couple years, preceeded by a magnificant Iridium flare, which punched through the thin haze with a brilliant halo. I wouldn't be suprised if the majority of UFO sitings were due to unfortunately undereducated soles happening upon such a flare.
Pat found a very interesting triple star system while searching for an elusive edge-on galaxy. The star Almak (sp?) in the Andromeda constellation is very saturated with color, almost as much as Alberio. Other highlights included Kemble's Cascade and a good number of "shooting stars."
This weekend was also my third attempt at photographing M31. (I've yet to even publish my second attempt, which was better than my first attempt from CAS DSS). This time my autoguider was working, so I hooked the camera up to my larger telescope, but the results are still leaving quite a bit to be desired. In the coming week I'll publish these last two attempts. I find that when I push the processing really hard and bring out everything just a tick over the noise level (where most of the image information is stored), I reveal a very strange streaking that I do not know the source of. My best theory is that it's from very slight image drift which is "enhanced" via the stacking process, but I'm not at all sure. When I post the image I'd be happy to get a second opinion
I'm also working on a better equipment page. You can see an unfinished preview of the page. I've been so frustrated at the lack of consistent research material for some of this equipment, that I've decided to get serious and document my struggles in this new section.
Sept 7, 2004 - This year is flying by at an incredible pace, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the marching-on of the heavens. As Summer constellations lead high in the sky to Fall treasures arriving before midnight, the shorter days are bringing noticeably more observing time in the evenings. My friends and I have taken great advantage of this extra time. This long Labor Day weekend we were out at Caesar's Creek on both Saturday and Sunday nights.
The skies were mostly hazy on Saturday, but on Sunday they opened up and really gave us some spectacular viewing. I continued working through my latest observing project: Vic Menard's list of 400 interesting objects for larger telescopes. I especially enjoyed NGC 7789, which is a densely packed open cluster of about 900 moderately dim stars. On Saturday we caught a Mag -8 Iridium Flare, and Sunday night showed a -2 flare in almost the same position. As the night bore on, Mike, Rick, Pat and I tinkered with our newer toys. Pat showed off his 12" LX200's freshly cleaned corrector plate. (Cleaning a corrector plate is a brave undertaking, and we were all duly impressed.) Later, he provided us all a laugh while we eavesdropped on his struggles with voice-activated telescope slews. His laptop's voice recognition was repetitively misunderstanding him, and at one point out of frustration he swore "F You". The computer chimed in with the synthetic voice reply of "You're Welcome."
Mike put his new Meade LX55 GEM Mount through it's paces with AutoStar and SkyTools while Rick and I traded eyepieces for the evening. Once the moon rose, Pat and Mike did some serious observing with their Moon Atlas software guiding them from crater to crater, and I experimented with color filters on the moon. I concluded that the orange color filter made the most difference, but even then the effect was minimal on a scope with good color correction. I'm sure the improvement is much more drastic on an achromatic refractor.
On Saturday I did some unguided photography using Pat's TeleVue-85 atop my LX200, and the results were mixed. I still cannot seem to accumulate enough light on M31 (The Andromeda Galaxy) to do her any justice. When the moon rose, I tried Pat's TeleVue 0.80x focal reducer on my LX200 and was pleased to find that the third quarter moon was well framed on the chip of my Canon 10D Digital Camera. I bracketed for focus in about thirty step, and took multiple exposures in hopes of catching a moment of steady seeing. The next day I chose the best exposure and applied Photoshop's Unsharp Mask to bring out a little more detail. The brilliant orange color was exactly how it appeared low in the sky that night, and was not the result of any filtering of post processing. Here it is:
Aug 23, 2004 - Late last night I spent some time reprocessing the Milky Way photo that I took at Chiefland earlier this year. Click on the thumbnail, below, and compare it with the original version.
Aug 15, 2004 - Last night the Dayton and Cincinnati clubs held the annual Caesar's Creek Camper's Persied Meteor Shower Star Gaze. Although the weather forecast was ominous, Mother Nature pulled a stunt and presented eight hours of mostly clear viewing. The beach area filled with vehicles and tents, the park rangers setup a bonfire on the beach, and an enthusiastic crowd of a hundred or two setup for the night.
As dusk set in, Pat gave an hour long presentation to explain Astronomy Basics. He was able to stop his presentation to show everyone an Iridium Flare right on cue, which the crowd really seemed to enjoy. Before sunset, we showed dozens of campers views of the sun, and after dark we dodged clouds and shared views of many of our favorite deep sky objects despite murky transparency that was only yielding magnitude 4 skies. Although the Perseids meteors were not very frequent (perhaps one every five to ten minutes), they were still very enjoyable. Also, before dark I was able to grab a set of bracketed exposures of a great sunspot using my ED80 telescope, barlowed to 1200mm. Here it is.
Aug 11, 2004 - Here are a few shots of the sun and moon that I've taken over the past month. These are part of an ongoing project of mine to collect a photo of the moon at each phase, to ultimately combine into one poster-sized print.
Aug 10, 2004 - This past weekend a few of us (Pat, Mike, Rick, a few others) from CAS camped out at the Cincinatti Club's dark sky site Friday and Saturday nights in hopes of clear skies. This was my first trip out to the CAS DDS and I must say the skies are amazingly dark. This was the first time I could see M13 with the naked eye (along with many other Messier objects). As fate would have it, we only had useable skies the first night. The second night clouded out pretty much as soon as I had my photography equipment setup. I was only able to get five 2 minute exposures of M31 through my Orion 80mm Refractor before things went to pot. Here are the results:
The weekend had far more thrills than disappointments, however: The weather was beautiful, Rick served up some tasty grub, the company was entertaining, and Friday night's visual work was a blast. The Veil nebula was absolutely breath taking, and I saw both components of it in the same field of view my refractor. I played a little game of trying to catch as many objects in one field of view at a time. We (Pat) netted The Eagle (M16) and the Swan (M17) at once, as well as the Lagoon (M8) and the Trifid (M20). Under these dark skies, M22 was just as interesting as M13 (Though *not* in the same FOV). It's a shame that it isn't above the horizon more of the time at this latitude.
Before the fog rolled in Pat and I took a peak at the rising moon, and found several neat features at this phase, including a crater with two ravines that looked like hands on a clock. Unfortunately the seeing was fairly horrible, so I couldn't snap a shot to add to my moon collection. (Which, come to think of it, I really ought to post online soon)
I'm looking forward to the Perseid Meteor Shower this weekend. If the weather holds, we'll be in for a treat as we share the skies with the campers at Caesar's Creek beach for the annual Perseid bash.
Aug 2, 2004 - Ohio weather STINKS! Other than the campers' star gaze a few weeks back, good nights for astronomy have been non-existant this summer. On the other hand, my other hobbies are benefiting from their new-found attention.
July 24, 2004 - Tonight we (CAS, MVAS, Pat, and I) pulled off another very successful campers' star gaze at boat dock area of Caesar's Creek State Park. I also took a few photos of the moon both tonight and Fri night (yesterday), as well as an image of the amazing sunspot group that's put forth such a nice display this past week. When I get time I'll post the images.
*** Update - See the August 11 entry for these moon and sun images ***
June 22, 2004 - We were blessed with clear skies both Friday and Saturday of this past weekend. Pat and I got out both nights at Caesar's Creek and had a great time. Saturday was by far the better night, and we stayed until 4:30 in the morning. The transparency was unusually good for Ohio, and by the early morning the Milky Way was easily visible all the way through Cassiopeia. Pat took a few hours of film and I tinkered with my ST-4 recently purchase from Astromart. Inbetween cursing fits trying to get my autoguider to work, I perused the Milky Way with my Orion ED80, and quickly discovered that my favorite eyepiece with that scope is the 31mm Nagler. I've never seen so many stars in one field of view before in my life. I forgot about hunting down objects and just enjoyed browsing the skies from Cygnus through Sagittarius. The encridbly rich field views were syncopated with familiar sights like M27, Brocci's cluster (The coathanger), the clusters in Sagittarius, and finished with a delightfully framed Lagoon Nebula (M8) and Trifid Nebula (M20) in the same field of view! This night really put the summer objects in prospective within their stellar neighborhoods.
Although I never did get my ST-4 to work well (more calibration is required), I did expose a few frames throughout the night. Just before the sun set, I was able to get a few shots of the terrific display of sun spots. Later in the night I tried my hand at the Lagoon nebula, but decided not to guide the photos. The resulting image is educational if nothing else. It illustrates how stars smear and trail when not guided. Sometime in the next few days I will post the sunspot photo along with a reprocessed variation of the 3rd quarter moon from the 8th.
June 15, 2004 - Just a few thoughts today for future imaging: I've learned over the past week that many imaging targets will require more than one length of exposure to composite a balanced image. For instance, the next time I attempt the Orion Nebula, I will use three different exposures to capture the core without burning it out, yet still get the faint extended regions. The same goes for M51 There simply is too great of a contrast between the faint details and the bright details to capture both on one exposure without burning one out (over saturating that portion of the film / chip with light). I also hope to be able to push exposures longer thanks to a newly purchased (and yet to arrive) ST-4 autoguider and ETX guide scope. Both of these items were acquired on AstroMart, a great astro auction site.
June 14, 2004 - I've taken a shot at processing my exposures of M13 from the fifth of this month. I loaded up the folder only to discover that I had accidentally had the camera in JPEG mode instead of RAW mode. Argh! I decided to tinker with the JPEGs anyway. The results actually aren't that bad. These are 7x45 second IS400 exposures, aligned, stacked, and curved:
Changing subjects, I have a few ideas for community-based astronomy projects. Here they are:
I've been looking for a good search engine / database of amateur astronomer observations. Does anyone know of such an endeavor? I would ideally like to see a common meta format that would allow for easy queries of observations by time, subject, technology, especially of astro images. Such an archive (either central or distributed) would aid in research matters tremendously. (Wouldn't it be nice to see all images containing McNeal's nebula in one query?) If this has been attempted before, please let me know (See the "Contact Me" section of my homepage). Otherwise, this might make for a good XML project.
I also would like to see a project where individuals around the world collaborate to image a time-lapse video of Jupiter's moons in motion. This would involve a network of astro imagers with similar equipment put to use over at least a 48 hour period, each with a designated time period. Any thoughts?
June 13, 2004 - The past two days were spent largely at the Apollo Rendezvous event here in Dayton, Ohio. After several engaging lectures, I had the honor and pleasure of sharing dinner with Scott Ireland and Jack Newton. Scott Ireland fascinated everyone with a thirty minute presentation of his latest passion: vulcanology. Jack Newton was the keynote speaker of A.R. and shared his experiences from the bleeding edge of CCD astronomy. Mr. Newton also gave a brief slide show highlighting his new Arizona Sky Village and shared the recent forest fire drama that threatened his home in British Columbia. These guests, along with the outstanding contributions by MVAS volunteers and the people from the BMD made for a very memorable weekend.
June 8, 2004 - We really lucked out in Ohio and enjoyed pristinely clear weather for viewing the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. I took a photograph every 20 seconds which I will later turn into an animation. Here's one of them chosen at random:
June 7, 2004 - I got so caught up with image processing yesterday that I forgot to mention the most significant observation of the evening! Pat trained his 12" LX200 before sunset, and we caught Venus within an estimated 1 degree from the Sun and T-Minus 72 hours. The view through the telescope was basked in yellow light, and Venus took the form of slender crecent of massive proportions. This will be of larger apparant size than I had imagined come tomorrow's transit. Ohio luck is changing, too. It appears that we just might get a clear morning tomorrow to see the last 90 minutes!
June 6, 2004 - Last night I finally got to play with my Canon 10D DSLR under the stars! After several hours of setup, calibration, and practice focusing, I took 2 dark frames and 4 three-minute exposures of M51. After some basic processing in ImagesPlus, here is the result: (More frames will follow shortly, along with the video.
I also took several dozen shots of M13, and 9 shots of the moon. I will process those later and post them.
For those of you that are uninitiated to astrophotography, most of the fun is being able to "see" things that are too faint to see even when looking through the telescope. This galaxy is barely visible visually through my telescope, and you can't really even see the spiral structure unless under pristine skies (which are extremely hard to find in Ohio.) The challenge of astrophotography is something akin to photographing people on a train that is several miles away, moving at sixty miles per hour on a dark night all the while trying to maintain concentration because it's three in the morning. The object is very dim, so you have to use a long shutter rate to collect enough light to see it. This problem is compounded by the fact that the target is moving (well, actually, the earth is rotating, but the effect is the same), so you need to "track" the object during the exposure. The drives on even the best telescope mounts are slightly less than perfect, so you have to watch carefully and make minor adjustments (this is called "guiding"). Furthermore, you are looking through a LOT of atmosphere, and if the conditions are not just right, the image will seem to "boil", obliterating fine detail. If all of these challenges are overcome, the result is quite rewarding.
June 5, 2004 - I finally installed ImagesPlus and have made my first attempt at processing an astrophoto. My target was M42 that I took this Spring at Chiefland (see below for original. ) Here it is after some basic processing. I can tell there's still a lot more to get out of it.
More information can be found both at Mike Unsold's official website and at the ImagesPlus Yahoo Group.
May 31, 2004 - If it weren't for the moon this Memorial Day would have made an excellent night for deep space viewing. As the sun settled in the west the skies turned to a deep dark blue and I could tell that the transparency was excellent. Unfortunately the moon was nearly full. Being a work-night, I tooled around for only fifteen or twenty minutes, looking mostly at the moon. Only a couple days shy of full, the terminator was nearly at the limb, and there was one very large crater I don't think I've observed before. I'll have to look it up on a moon chart before I forget what I saw. Speaking of moon charts, I highly recommend checking out The Photographic Moon, which is not only the best moon guide I've yet to find, it's also free! (Kudos to Sky and Telescope magazine for cluing me in to this one)
May 29, 2004 - Tonight was another very successful public stargaze at the VOA park. We had roughly 10 club member and about 150 guests. Although the skies came and went throughout the evening, we were able to show the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn (low), Venus (a very thin crescent - not a naked eye object!), a comet, two Iridium flares, and an ISS pass. The satellites in particular really seemed to wow everyone, but we certainly got quite a reaction from the planets. Every couple minutes throughout the night you would hear someone call out to their friend or family member "You've got to come over here and see what's in THIS one!" I think that's a sign of a successful night.
After the crowds thinned out we club members talked shop and checked out each other's equipment. I fiddled with my knife edge focuser and the other guys tried out my Orion 80 ED. Mike was nice enough to loan my his 8-24mm Teleview Zoom, which is a very fun toy to play with. Zooming in on the moon almost gives the impression of space travel. Zzooooomm! There truly is no end to this hobby (nor to its expense.)
May 28, 2004 - After a rainy week I finally got to poke around the hazy skies with the Orion ED 80 and my latest toy, a Borg eyepiece turret. The moon was putting forth a nice display, as was Jupiter. Saturn and Venus are just setting too early. I can't wait for the June 8th Venus transit! I just hope that the weather holds. What else - oh - Forrest has some new rich field astro photos taken with his Canon 10D and a 20mm lense at his www.digitalastro.com and I discovered an excellent moon tutorial at moonbook.hkas.org.hk
May 8, 2004 - This Saturday evening was spent at camp Whip-Poor-Will conducting a stargaze for the Girl Scouts encamped there. The turn-out was splendid, with dozens upon dozens of kids and approximately ten club members. Several of us brought multiple telescopes, which kept the lines short. The skies were beautifully dark but seeing was a little mushy. Before I arrived, Pat freeman gave a presentation and provided materials from the Night Sky Network. The kids greatly benefited from this preparetory material, and had plenty of intelligent questions. Afterwards, a few of us lingered to talk shop, tinker with our latest toys, and take in a few views before the clouds rolled in around the one o'clock hour. It was nice to get a proper first-light with my new refractor, and Orion 80ED. This was a night well spent.
May 4, 2004 - The weather has been cold and cloudy for the past week, but I've been keeping busy purchasing some photography equipment . After learning about astrophotography with digital SLR camera from Forrest Egan, I took the plunge and purchased a Canon 10D, ImagesPlus! software, Canon Timing Remote, and a Taurus Tracker III. I also happened into a deal I couldn't pass up at AstroMart on some more film camera equipment, including an STI knife-edge focuser. I can't wait to try out the new toys . For now I'm content reading up on them and getting them organized into my travelling and storage "systems."
Oh, I almost forgot: after a two month wait, my Orion ED80 refractor has been shipped. I'm expecting it to arrive on Friday. I'm hoping that this will serve many functions well, including serving as a guidescope, quick-look scope, widefield astrophotography lense, and (maybe) as a long lense for birding. Speaking of which, if you haven't checked out my birding page, go now and see what I've been up to in daylight hours with the my new Canon 10D.
April 24 2004 - I contributed at the VOA stargaze in Mason, Ohio on behalf of the Miami Valley Astronomical Society. Despite an overcast day, the evening brought partly-cloudy conditions and we were able to chase down the Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Mizar to an eager crowd of a dozen or two. Pat brought his TV-85 and I setup my LX200 in alt-az mode. Afterwards, Todd, Pat, Fletch and I enjoyed an excellent pizza at Todd's pizzeria. Mission accomplished.
April 19 2004 - I spent this April's new moon and the preceding week at Chiefland Astronomy Village in Florida with the company of Pat Freeman. Some ask: Why travel 913 miles South for a week without even visiting a beach? You just have to have the proper latitude. Take the following picture of The Milky Way as an appetizer. Note how high Sagittarius is at thirty degrees of latitude (And it's only halfway towards meridian in this shot!) Many objects impossible to see below the horizon in Ohio are visible from Florida, and even more objects that are only mediocre low in Ohio skies are magnificent when higher in the sky.
Dark Skies are only half the draw to this unique astronomy village. This would not be nearly as endearing of a hobby if it weren't for the plethera of good people that comprise the main-stay of party attendees. Among the several very generous people I met in Florida were Scott and Diane Hanford. They humbly allowed me to take the reigns and slew their monsterous 24" StarMaster go-to dobsonian telescope to several objects. The Whirlpool galaxy (M51) was breathtaking, looking very much like it does in photographs with direct vision. I also had the pleasure of meeting Forrest Egan, who demonstrated digital astrophotography with his Canon D10 DSLR and ImagesPlus. He went out of his way to give me a three hour workshop on the end-to-end process of setup, imaging, and image processing. His website showcases his excellent astrographs, including my favorites of his: M16 (The Eagle Nebula, which most people will recognize as "The Pillars of Life") and M20 (The Trifid Nebula). Also among the many fine and admirable astronomers at the party was Ken Schmidt, a fellow Buckeye. This gentleman is delightfully eccentric and was down-right entertaining.
Rewind to the beginning of the week: Driving down to Florida in a very determined manner was a 13 hour affair. Arriving at 8:00 a.m., Pat and I setup our tents in the dry and attempted to take naps in the heat. By evening the winds picked up and thunderstorms rolled in. Despite the weather we were both very content to relax in the warmth away from the office. We entertained ourselves by watching DVD's on a laptop computer and by sampling the local restaurants. Despite the camping, we were hardly "roughing it." In the evening we chatted up a storm with the neighbors under a large tent proudly titled "The Swamp." (Think M.A.S.H.) There we met Dave, a regular to Chiefland. During days he trains seeing-eye dogs, and he brought his latest pupil with him for the trip - an adorable Australian Shepherd named Boyd. After many hours sharing stories, exchanging jokes, and (occasionally) waxing philosophical, the rain provided a peaceful backdrop against which to drift to sleep.
What's that noise? That nothingness? It stopped raining! Quick, haul out the refractor, I spy a sucker-hole! With 5 minutes of frantic setup, I stole my first look at the breath-taking Omega Centauri. The skies opened up a little more and we trained Pat's 12" LX200 on this amazing globular cluster of thousands of stars. Viewing this object is the type of experience that the words "majestic" and "mesmerizing" were invented to describe. This sneak peak on Tuesday night wet our pallets for what would be a very fulfilling week.
All Wednesday afternoon the sun presented an ever-changing display of grand prominences and a few small sunspots visible through Mark's outstanding Hyrdrogen Alpha setup on his 4" Teleview refractor at <.70 Angstroms. Mark leveradged the clever technique of wrapping his H-Alpha filter in dew heaters to dial-in the proper temperature for peak narrow-band performance. The result was the best compromise between surface detail and solar prominences I've yet to experience.
Wednesday night was forecast to be windy and partly cloudy, but Mother Nature had a lovely twist in store. Just as the sun set, the clouds cleared and the up-until-then persistent winds died. This night was probably the best of the week due to the very low humidity. My prevailing memory was the view of M51 in Scott's huge Starmaster.
On Thursday night I took my first tentative steps into the art of astrophotography. I attempted M42 (The Great Orion Nebula), M37 (One of my favorite open clusters), and M46 (an open cluster with a planetary nebula interloper). My best results were by far with M46. Click on the thumbnail to see a slightly larger version, and look for the donut towards the top of the cluster. This ring is the remnant of a red giant star that blew off most of it's mass before collapsing into a white dwarf, much as will be the fate of our home sun, Sol.
Friday night was the unofficial social night as the field filled to the gills with telescopes, tents, and vehicles. I bumped into Jim, Steel, and Phil, who I originally met at last year's Peach State Star Gaze. Chuck, from Wolf Camera, setup shop as the sole vendor of the party. Later in the evening I shared a bottle of 1999 Mandel Cabernet Sauvignon with Scott and Paul(?). The wine turned out to be fantastic, as did the company. This evening became an all-nighter for me when I met Forrest, who shared his experience and guidance with digital imaging on his C8 and Canon 10D.
On Saturday the club had a barbeque which brought out at least 150 people. In the late afternoon I fiddled with some daytime stargazing, and was able to view Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn along with several bright stars while the Sun was still quite high in the sky. Pat setup his solar projector and drew a small crowd, and I napped in a lawn chair while serving as right-ascension motor for the contraption, repositioning it every 5 minutes. Saturday evening was our last night in Chiefland. Pat lent me two Olympus OM1 cameras with long lenses and I attempted to photograph the Virgo cluster with both cameras simultaneously mounted to the top and bottom of my telescope. At about one in the morning I packed up my optics and went to sleep early in preparation for the long haul home.
This week has proven to be the highpoint of my time as an amateur astronomer. The skies were dark, the heavens were sparkling, and the camaraderie was first-rate. And somewhere in Kentucky along a dark stretch of I-75 we were escorted home by a bright fireball that careened across the horizon as though to say farewell, and clear skies ahead in Ohio.
Dec 29 2003 - On Dec 27, 2003, I took this picture of the moon using a handheld eyepiece projection technique with a funky 80mm eyepiece on my 8" LX200 and my Fuji FinePix 6MB digital camera. This is a single exposure at 1/125th of a second, f/3.6 camera f.r., f/10 primary tube f.r. The image was cropped and scaled to 33% of the raw captured image.
Beginnings (2002) - Astronomy was always a passing interest for me, but I really caught the bug early in 2003. I have my father to thank for getting me started. His purchase of a 6 inch EQ reflector was just enough to get my mouth watering, with great views of the Moon and Jupiter from his light polluted suburban back-yard. I have to admit that I do like the equipment as much as I enjoy the experience of stargazing. This hobby is an engineer's dream!
As is the case with my hobbies, I quickly became engrossed in study. I purchased a few books, all of which recommended purchasing binoculars and attending a star party or two. A quick trip to Dick's Sporting Goods fixed the binoc problem, and a jaunt online revealed the Miami Valley Astronomy Society (MVAS). I was off and going, binoculars in hand!
One thing led to another (as One Things usually do), and as you will see below, I've accumulated quite a few toys and have spent many long nights under the heavens. I attended the Peach State Star Gaze in October 2003 and the Chiefland star party in April 2004. During the warm months, I enjoy sharing the sky with others during public star parties at events for the VOA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Volunteers in Parks, and the campers at John Bryan State Park. (MVAS has a standing arrangement to provide public star parties to campers throughout the warmer months of the year). I look forward to taking a more active role organizing these events. There are few things more fascinating and rewarding in my life than being the priveledged witness to someone's first view at Saturn, the moon, and the other show pieces of the night.
This section has moved over here.
Observing Journal (Old)
This isn't the typical object by object list of objects wrangled. Instead, I have chosen to share some of the more significant, unusual, or interesting experiences I've had. Update: 3/05/2004 - this section is outdated, I'll post the rest of 2003 here soon from my hand written notes.
The Easy Winners
These are the objects that I enjoy sharing to newcomers. They can be appreciated with direct vision in my baby-eight.
Celestrial Events / Conditions
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