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V2012 Venus Transit

Panoramic Image of the prospective Verdemont Ranch Observatory site 



10/19/08 

I finally got around to reworking these pages a little bit.  Primarily out of need.  The website I had been using for counters finally succumbed  so I had to find a solution.  The Internet Company that hosts my domain name provides counters but they had a pretty "hinky" way of doing them and wanted to only allow five per web site.  Yeah, right - I am crazy about counters...  Kind of anal actually, so I fiddled around with their code and found a way around their five counter limitation.  However it required me to do some heavy modifying of raw html tags in every page I wanted a counter in.  So since I was going to be doing that, I figured I might as well make some changes I have been wanting to do for a while like adding a page of recent images and a page of "bests".  

In the meantime, which equates to three years since my last update here, I have sold the Minolta 7d and replaced it with a Canon 40d SLR, a much better camera HANDS DOWN!  I have also managed to get an LXD-75 equatorial mount and have it hypertuned by the folks at LXD-55.com so it can track fairly well.  And my primary portable imaging rig is two Orion Semi-APO refrctors a 120mm & 80mm mounted in tandem on the LXD-75.  I can image from one and guide from the other.  I usually image from the 120mm and guide from the 80mm.  The 120mm has a motorized Moonlite focuser and it is sweet with a capital S for sure.

I have been kind of reticent in my imaging a of late, as I have been doing a lot of outreach with my other scopes and that has been consuming the bulk of my astronomy budget these days.  I am looking to get back to doing more imaging as the winter months approach.


 

When I returned from Colorado in January I managed to convince my wife that I "needed" another camera.  A Minolta Maxxum 7d digital SLR camera.  It will accept all of my lenses from my film Minolt SLR camera and most of the accessories.  I acquired the beast and soon modified the remote shutter release cable so that I can trigger the shutter via the parallel port on my laptop and I had to write a piece of software to control the shutter.  The software can provide extended length shutter speeds up to a couple hours if required and it can be configured to take a given number of exposures automatically and along with Minolta's Dimage Transfer software the pictures get stored on the laptop's hard drive vice the camera's memory card.  I have only taken a few decent pictures with it.  One was a lunar shot about five days after the full moon, and a nice shot of the Orion nebula and the star cluster M13.  Please check them out.

 

8/29/4 

 I have added 22 Deep Sky images and 2 new Lunar images.  These are new images that I have been acquiring as I continue to hone my imaging skills with the SAC-8 II CCD camera.  Almost all of these were taken from my light polluted driveway.  I am anticipating better images when the humidity drops and I get a chance at some darker skies this fall.

 

Colorado July 2004 

   I had been anticipating our vacation to Colorado to visit my family for quite some time.  I had listened to others in my astronomy club who had recently traveled to New Mexico for observing, describe the great skies they had encountered.  I just knew that I would get even better dark skies at our family ranch near Westcliffe Colorado.  The elevation at the ranch is just over 8700 feet as measured by my hand held GPS receiver.  The valley floor is at 7800 feet and the mountains behind the ranch rise nearly 14,000 feet.  Click on the link to visit the prospective site of the Verdemont Ranch Observatory.  A series of pictures strung together to depict a 360+ degree panoramic picture of where I wish to place my retirement home and observatory.

  Now all I have to do is build an observatory, a house, a yard, and a garage then buy a four wheel drive and a snow mobile.  Not to mention a well, septic and bring in electricity.  It is a good thing I have a "few" years to save for this project eh?

In the mean time, I must be content with a visit now and then to my Mom's ranch.  We were on the ranch for eight days of which I managed less than ten hours observing time!  It rained nearly every day and night we were there.

Imagine, a picture of our computer room

At the ranch waiting for dark

The views during my short observation periods were no less than spectacular.  I had forgotten how clear everything was and how the Milkyway stands out like a speckled white ribbon.  Nearly zero light pollution at all, only a very slight orange glow coming from  Colorado Springs which lies on the other side of Pike's Peak 80 miles away to the Northeast.   I am sure the next trip will be fantastic!

 

My New Camera 

   I ordered a brand new SAC-8 second generation camera from SAC Imaging out of Melbourne Florida back in April.  I had telephoned them and inquired about the availability of the cameras as I knew that they can be back-ordered for quite some time.  They informed that the waiting list was at maximum four to five weeks tops.  That was before the head guy ended up having double hernia surgery.  I wanted the camera a such in advance as possible before our trip to Colorado in July so that I could become somewhat proficient in its operation.  At the end of the fourth week after placing the order, I called to inquire the status of the shipment.  The fellow told me they would ship the following week.  That sounded really good so I waited until the end of the following week and then again inquired as to the status of my order, not that I am a "little" anxious to get it.  He told me that it might ship in three weeks.  Man, what a bummer!  I sat there and kind of started wondering about time schedules.  If the camera did not arrive here until three weeks, that would give me only about two weeks to become familiar with the camera.  Doesn't sound so bad, until you factor in rain storms, cloud cover and all of the things that can inhibit a night of looking at the stars.

So I began thinking back on the the previous months events.  I was in San Diego the week after I placed the SAC camera order.  I drove up to a significant camera and telescope store in Oceanview California name OPT and seen a brand new SAC-8 on their shelf.  I refrained from buying it as I already had one on order.  Then after I returned home, I observed another SAC-8 camera up for sale on Astromart, an online auction site, that was nearly exactly what I wanted.  Again I passed it up as I had a new one on order that would be here in a "few" weeks.  I finally stewed long enough and sent the fellow at SAC an email detailing these events and how I had passed up a couple of "prime" opportunities to acquire a camera, but I held the course waiting for him and now it looked like I would be cutting the time schedule and learning curve a little tight before our vacation in July. Much to my pleasure SAC Imaging decided to go ahead and ship me a new camera they had in stock that they held for warranty replacements.  It arrived last Monday.  As I did my inspection on the camera I noticed some scratches on the camera and what appeared to be a crack in the side of the rear mounted cooling fan.  I went ahead and tried the camera outside on the stars that night and found that it could not achieve focus on the telescope at all.  The best I was able to come up with was a large fuzzy round shape as long as the fan was off.  If I turned the fan on, the round fuzzy shape turned into a cigar shaped fuzzy object.  I contacted SAC Imaging and told him of my woes.  They authorized me to return it and that they would ship me a knew on the day they received that camera.  I shipped the camera back to them Express Mail on Thursday about noon, the replacement arrived Saturday morning!  I spent almost the entire night just experimenting with the camera and trying to get images of Messier # 57 which is the Ring Nebula.  The picture in the deep sky section reflects the fruits of my nights imaging session of about seventeen images.  I was sloppy and did not record the parameters I used to acquire the images before I stacked and aligned them.  They were many different combinations of settings.  But for my first-light with the SAC, it did not turn out so bad.  Go take a look!   M57 Ring Nebula

 

East Coast Star Party 

   As a new BBAA member I was unsure of what exactly to expect at the ECSP this last weekend. I had ridden my motorcycle down to the campground's closed gate the previous weekend to get a feel for where it was and how far away from home it would be and I suspected that we would be somewhere out in the open with a nice unobstructed view to the East.

I had initially planned on arriving around 2:30 PM setting up my spot and then napping until dark. As things worked out I left my house in Chesapeake just after 2:30 PM, and just as I cleared Moyock my cell phone went off. It was my wife telling me that my package from Scopestuff had arrived in the mail, arghhh! I would just have to wait until after I returned home to install my counter weight system. 

I arrived at the campground about quarter of four and found that the main "scope-area" was pretty packed, so began my search for a decent spot. As good fortune would have it, I set up next to Stu Beaber whom I recognized from various email postings and his wd4sel license plate. After setting up my tent, cot and sleeping bag I set up my telescope, a 10" Meade LX200 GPS. Stu and I began getting acquainted and I found out he also has a 10" LX200 GPS scope mounted to a pier in his observatory also in Chesapeake. Another coincident I discovered, was that his musical tastes and mine are fairly similar in that he also enjoys older country & western to the tune of Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Hank Williams Sr., Elvis and several others. I was also able to learn a couple new "tricks" with my scope from him, I was reaping benefits from the ECSP already and it was not even dark yet!

Instead of my anticipated nap, I roamed around the "scope-areas" checking out the various light buckets everyone brought. Of course my jaw had to be readjusted from the full down position when I actually saw Kent's "little" baby. Ted had his "little" bucket as well. There were nearly as many different scopes as there were attendees I believe. 

The wares of Jeff Norwood's "Camera Concepts were very tempting as I poured over his tables. Jeff promised I could try just about anything he had and buy just what I wanted, the problem was that I wanted nearly everything he had. The sun was going down so I returned to my site and dinned on cold Hardee's chicken and diet Mountain Dew - the nectar of the gods.

Darkness finally fell as the stars began their ritualistic emergence. The prominent whir of "gotos" aligning took to the air. I took much care in my alignment and began checking out the customary gas giants. Before I started any serious sky ops, I decided to find my way back to Jeff's tables and see what I could "play" with. The first thing that caught my attention was a 2" Williams diagonal with a 1 adapter for only a hundred clams. Out came the plastic and BAM! I owned it. Since I had the new 2" diagonal, surely I "must" have a least one 2" eyepiece to go with it. That Televue 17mm Nagler Type four sure seemed like a good choice. As I walked back to my site with my new 2" setup I felt the familiar burning sensation in my wallet and the probable impending spousal doom upon discovering my weakness. I kept telling myself, "it is easier to acquire forgiveness than permission".

After installing the new two inch diagonal and 17mm Nagler eyepiece, I again gandered at Saturn, Jupiter and the Orion nebulae, I was simply awed by the clarity and field of view! I was beginning to get hooked on the 2 inch setup now. I had previously printed out a guide from The Ultimate Messier Observation Log site that detailed a thumbnail sized picture of what each Messier looked like and it was sorted in the suggested order of viewing for a marathon. I began going through the list with my GOTO scope and was able to see over 80% of them. They were very nice. I especially enjoyed M5, M13, M14, M42, M104 and my favorite M57. I was really getting into trying to see all of them, however the trees and were not cooperating with me at all so I missed about 25 or so of them. It is a shame that the "old-schoolers" look disparagingly upon us GOTO'rs when we use the GOTO functions on our scopes to see all of the Messiers in one night. I may be new at the astronomy, but my GOTO allows me more time to look and admire each one n o w and not in two years when I have mastered the sky. I fully intend on mastering the sky, but I also want to enjoy the sights and fully use my scope along the way.

About 3:30 AM I noticed that my feet were getting colder and colder and it also seemed as though the trees were conspiring against me in seeing anymore on my Messier list. Between my chilled feet and my frustration with the trees, I began entertaining second thoughts about my high dollar two inch setup. I decided to start comparing the views between my Meade 17mm 1.25 Plossl and the 17mm 2 inch Nagler, all the while wondering how my bride back in Chesapeake was going to react. I eventually came to the conclusion that the Nagler was indeed worth the money and that I deserved one really good eyepiece. Also several others had been asking me during the course of the evening if I was sure I was going to keep it - kind of reminded me of the vultures flying down every now and then to see if the poor creature was still breathing. Finally around 4:30 AM I parked the scope and crawled into my sleeping bag. Whoo-Whee! It had been many years since I have slept in a sleeping bag with all my clothes on including my long johns and woolen socks! In fact I was having a hard time keeping my head warm! It finally dawned on me that my cold head problem was because I was follicle-challenged now in my later years and that twenty some years ago I had a full head of hair to keep me warm. I reached over and grabbed my stocking cap and pulled it down over my ears and went to sleep.

Sunlight warmed my eyelids around 9:30 AM on Saturday. I unzipped my bag and "leapt" from my cot into my waiting boots. Stu was outside fixing his breakfast, it was still a little chilly in the morning air and I began contemplating breakfast. I brought a nice bowl of multi-grain Cheerios and a quart of milk in the cooler. I opened the cooler to get the milk and all of the ice seemed to have "zenned" into one block of ice encasing the milk and my last bottle of diet Mt. Dew. I decided to postpone the cold cereal until after my cleanup at the restrooms. While putting my contact lenses in, Kent came in for a shower and mentioned that a caravan was going to someplace called Mel's Diner in about twenty minutes for brunch. Hmmmm, boy did that sound good, a warm breakfast vice my cold cereal. I quickly finished my cleansing ritual and beat feet back to the site. I met up with the Caravan and trekked to Mel's for a really fine breakfast. I sat with Kevin and his wife who had to leave to drive back home to go to work as soon as breakfast was over.

After breakfast I managed to contact my wife on the cell phone who painted a very cold and wet picture for later that night. I decided that I didn't so much mind the cold, but getting wet on top of it and my scope getting soaked wasn't something I would cherish, so I spent the early afternoon breaking down my tent and camp site. I also moved my telescope down to try and get a better Eastern horizon view for that evening's viewing as I was planning on staying as long as I could. Once my scope was setup and covered I wandered back up to the main scope area where the folks were starting to get the grill going for the cookout. I conversed and wandered about waiting for the grub, the highlight of which was looking through one fellows Coronado Hydrogen Alpha sun filter equipped scope. Wow... I really want one of these! Then he tells me how much they cost, darn! The wife would never go for that much! So I placated my self by wandering about and every so often returning to observe the sun again and again. I met many nice folks and took some pictures both digital and 35mm. I had to have one of me standing under Kent's bucket.

Eventually dogs, burgers, pork & beans, chili and macaroni salad were consumed by all. Once everyone was done eating Kent organized everyone around his scope for a group picture. After we were all impressed by Kent's photography he began the door prize raffling. Many people won many great gifts including me, I won a Televue 20mm 1.25 inch eyepiece. After that we all began thinking about the nights observing and the threat of an impending storm to arrive around midnight. The increased wind began making everyone aware that there might be some truth in those darned weather forecasters. I needed gas in the van so I headed out to get gas before darkness fell. For some inane reason I went left on 168 looking for gas, twelve miles later I found an open station and filled up. It was fairly dark by the time I arrived back at my blue baby and began observing. After the wind nearly blew my flexible dew shield off twice I decided that I didn't really need it. The wind out there in the open was kind of brutal, I parked the van to try and block the majority of it but the wind still managed to shake my scope quite a bit. I spent most of the evening just going back and enjoying the things I saw the night previous. I also managed to enter the coordinates for a special high magnitude star into my Autostar control panel, to which I slewed to and began my search for the star I named after my wife through the star council for our anniversary. I felt fairly confident that I did find it, maybe up at Chippokes I can con the Solar System Ambassador to really help me find it.

The wind finally convinced me around 9:30 PM to put my scope away and head on back home to Chesapeake. I turned right onto 168 and after less than two miles, there was an open gas station, figures...

 


 

How I found Astronomy, again...

   My first foray into astronomy was precluded upon an ulterior motive.  I would go over to my high school science teacher's house to look out his telescope, and of course spend time with his daughter!  When I graduated from high school I bid farewell to astronomy for 28 years. On Christmas of 2003, my wife Karen surprised me with a Meade ETX-70AT telescope!  That night when we were all finished at her brother's holiday dinner, I came home and took the new scope out into our back yard.  Very carefully following the directions in the manual I was able to initially set up the scope and perform a fairly decent two star alignment, on about my sixth attempt.

Imagine, a picture of our computer room

Meade 5" ETX-125EC

   Once it was aligned I directed it to Jupiter.  Jupiter was an out of focus blob in the lower right hand corner of the eyepiece.  I carefully focused and centered it in the eyepiece. Wow, I was really looking at the real planet!   After calling my wife and daughter out to see my accomplishment, I then decided Saturn was my next target.  After another round of centering and focusing I beheld the jewel of our solar system in my eyepiece.  I must have stared at it for twenty minutes before once again calling the family out.  I spent the remainder of the evening discovering how limited a view of the heavens I actually have from my backyard.

   The next day my wife returned to work and I began looking at the rest of the literature that came with my telescope.  I soon discovered that the ETX-70AT was a little small and that better views could be had with a larger telescope.  I was eying the ETX-105 when I phoned my bride and asked her if she minded if I returned the telescope.  Before I could explain that I wanted a bigger one, she sadly began the saga of how she can never find a good gift for me, I cut her off and explained that the gift was fine, but I wanted to explore getting a little bigger one.  I guess I caught her by surprise as she said it was OK and told me where she hid the receipt.  I packed up the scope and off to the Discovery store I went.

   Once at the Discovery store I began looking at the ETX-105, but what really caught my eye was the ETX-125!  Wow! It was big compared to the ETX-70!  I was briefly concerned that the ETX-125 equipped with the Autostar controller would be nearly three times the cost of the littler scope, but hey!  You only live once and forgiveness is always easier to acquire than permission so I happily purchased the ETX-125 telescope with a eyepiece collection including a 5mm, 18mm wide angle and a 2X Barlow.

   That afternoon I set up the ETX-125 and lined up the finder scope, attempted to train the drives against the top of a radio tower about 3 miles away and then awaited darkness to fall.  As soon as I could see about a dozen stars I setup out on my driveway and started work on getting an alignment.  After nearly an hour of fiddling I gained a successful alignment and began my peering at Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.  I was definitely hooked, hook - line and  sinker.

   My next step was joining the Back Bay Amateur Astronomers club in Virginia Beach.  The week following the club meeting I attended the first BBAA Skywatch at the Northwest River Park in Chesapeake.  I set up my ETX-125 while several other folks arrived and began setting up their telescopes.  Of course mine only took a few minutes, just screw the base down on the tripod and point it north and level the OTA.  I then began wandering around checking out the other member's pride and joys.  I was amazed that so many people had so many BIG scopes.  By the end of the evening I was aware that my "big" ETX-125 was the smallest scope in the group.  I was very much impressed with Ted Forte's big dob.  I was also impressed by the Orion 10" dobs.  I was most impressed with the Meade 10" GPS unit Kevin Weiner was sporting.  I probably annoyed the hell out of them with what's this and what's that questions as well as sneaking peeks through them all night long.  I came home and told Karen about the big scopes.  However another big $$ telescope purchase seemed very far away indeed.

 

The Big Meade

   Soon January was over and I figured out our taxes on the computer.  When I was done, I was astounded to find that we were going to have our first tax refund in nearly 15 years!  Not only that, it was a significant four digit one at that!  I began having some thoughts about that big 10" Meade scope, but it was just dreams until Karen discovered that the return policy at the Discovery store was sixty days.  I called them and asked if we could return the ETX-125 and the accessories that I purchased with it for a full refund to be applied toward an even bigger scope.  They happily responded that it would be no problem.  My next call was to my lovely wife who was at work.  I told her of what I had learned and that maybe we could use some of the tax refund, the refund from the ETX-125 and some anticipated OT I was going to earn in February to purchase a new scope.  I kept my fingers crossed while she asked a few questions about the other accessories I had bought for the ETX such as the AC power assembly, the $99 Meade eyepieces special that I had ordered and the special threaded camera eyepiece.  I explained that they could all still be used with the new scope.  Upon contemplating it for a few moments she agreed that we could go ahead and order the 10" Meade LX200GPS scope.  I'll tell you, I had that ETX-125 packed up and on it's way back to the Discovery store in record time.  The new scope was ordered through the Discovery store at the same prices found on the Internet and they could have it to me in less than a week.

Imagine, a picture of our computer room

Meade 10" LX200GPS

   The day the scope was delivered I took a days leave from work and I actually went to the freight company and picked the scope up instead of waiting for it to be delivered!  When I arrived home, I went through a fairly extensive checklist for setting it up that I found on the MAPUG web site.  One of the steps was to download the latest firmware into the scope's computer.  I had done it twice on the ETX-125 so I was not really concerned about it screwing up as I knew the cables were good and the procedure was fairly straight forward.  I started the firmware upload to the scope and made myself busy doing something else.  Eventually I noticed that the progress indication had stopped, but the upload was not completed yet.  I left it alone for about an hour and a half and it had still not completed.  At that time I cycled power to the scope and to my PC which was "locked-up".  The PC came back up with no problems, the new telescope was another story.  It was dead,   D  E  A  D.  I immediately went out on the Internet user's sites begging for assistance.  Many folks responded, nothing worked.  Apparently the scope would have to be sent back.  I called Meade and they indicated it would take about three-five weeks.  Arghhhh!  Boy was I miffed!  I did not even get to point my scope at the sky and it was screwed up!  I was not looking forward to being without my new toy for an extended period of time.  The next day at work it dawned on me that maybe the Discovery store could provide some help.  They were very cheerful and helpful at the service center I called.  In fact they were nearly as distraught as I, and suggested that they could drop ship me a new scope, it would be there inside three-four days and that I should have the old scope ready for pickup when they delivered the new one.  WOW!  That is customer service!  That was on Thursday afternoon.  On Friday the Meade $99 dollar eyepiece special arrived and then the new scope came on MONDAY!  I again went through the MAUPAG checklist complete with uploading the new firmware with out any problems at all.  I was able to get the scope out that night for about two hours.  I was in my own little heaven!

This entire web site and contents is copyrighted (c) 2004

Imagine, a picture of our computer room

C.A. Jagow