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Awesome Astronomical Image Search January 12, 2012

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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AstroPix Beta.

It’s a beta, that is true. The website is still a little rough around the edges, runs a bit slow (or maybe that’s my connection…) and there can’t be more than a few hundred images, but this is most certainly a site worth perusing.

The search functions are great. The images not only have titles and information about where they came from, they’re tagged with all sorts of other info.  Want images of the same nebula in IR, H-alpha, visible, and x-ray? You can search for that. Artists’ concepts of an accretion disk around a binary star system?  You got it.

The only real problem I’ve found is that the image collection simply isn’t very large yet. For example, there are only 5 images with “spectral.centralWavelength” of 656 nm, and not one of them is the Sun. That should improve though, and even with a relatively small set of images, this is a great resource.

Globe at Night 2011 January 21, 2011

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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Do some science and learn more about the night sky and the environment!

The Globe at Night campaign dates have been announced, and there are actually 2 sets of dates. February 21 – March 6, 2011 is the normal, global campaign. Then there is a second round, March 22 – April 4 for observers in the northern hemisphere and March 24 – April 6 for observers in the southern hemisphere.

All you have to do is go out during those nights and find Orion for the first set of dates (Feb – March)  or Leo (March – April), match what you see to the magnitude charts on the site, then submit your observation.

You can report the observations at http://www.globeatnight.org/report.html, or if you have a smartphone, go to http://www.globeatnight.org/test/styled/handheld.html, confirm your location and the date and time, then select the magnitude and cloudiness, and submit. It takes about 30 seconds!

Not sure you can find Orion or Leo? Worried you might get the magnitude estimate wrong? The folks at Globe at Night have you covered! They have maps and interactive sky charts the will show you what the stars should look like from your location, and an interactive game to practice estimating magnitudes. There’s also information about Orion and light pollution, and of course all the old data, ready for import into Google Earth.

Galileoscope observations March 8, 2010

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Galileoscope, MichiganAstro.
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I’ve been posting observations for Globe at Night (http://www.globeatnight.org/) and we’ve had a series of unbelievably good nights for winter in Michigan.  But I am lazy, so I haven’t wanted to haul out my C8. But my galileoscope is just sitting in my dining room waiting to be used.  So I grab it and my Sky Quality Meter and head outside.

The Galileoscope is somewhat more powerful than my binoculars.  The Orion Nebula looks absolutely spectacular. The Pleiades are very nice, but they are wider than the field of view of the ‘scope, so I think I still like the binoculars better for them.  Mars is decidedly unimpressive. Saturn however is tiny, but has rings.  Of course, I know what I’m looking at, so I have a little trouble telling if my impression of a crisp hoop around the planet is really there, or if my brain is filling it in.  In either case, I certainly couldn’t mistake it for ears, so to the Galaileoscope team: COngratulations, you accomplished the goal of having something better than Galileo, but for a lot less money!

Last night I tried to take some pictures.  unfortunately, nothing was bright enough for my little digital camera, at least not while I’m just holding it up to the eyepiece.  In 2 more weeks the moon should be back in the evening  sky, and maybe it’ll be in time for the next round of good weather. Fingers crossed!

a cheap tripod alternative January 4, 2010

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Galileoscope, MichiganAstro, telescope beginners guide.
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Cardboard box mount

So you’ve just spent $15 on a new Galileoscope and need something to mount it on. Or maybe you just picked up your third used camera off eBay for $25 and you now have more optics than tripods. But you just can’t bring yourself to spend 3x more money on the mount than you spent on the optics.

Well you’re in luck. Here’s a cheap and easy solution: a cardboard box mount. This is a very basic alt-az style mount for any lightweight optics, and it really shouldn’t cost you more than a few cents to put it together. It may not be the most elegant mount, but it works.  And it doubles as a storage container!

Things you need for a cardboard box mount.

Here’s what you need:

  • Something to mount;
  • a cardboard box with some stuff in it to balance the optics;
  • a 1/4-20 threaded thumb screw (a bolt will also work, but it is less convenient),
  • 2 washers.

You’ll also need a pencil or pen and something pointy to put a hole in the cardboard box. The smallest screwdriver on a leatherman works realy well, though it is a bit smaller than the thread of the screw.Other good options include a small pocket knife, an ice pick, cork screw or  something along those lines.

How to assemble the mount:

  1. Empty the box and open it up.

    Taping the flaps will add to the strength of the box.

    • You will want it open while you are using it as a mount, so if it is a box with flap lids, you’ll have to decide what to do with one of the flaps, especially if you want to use it for storage.
      • Folding the flap down will add more stability to the hole and more support for the telescope.
      • It is best to tape the flaps down to keep them out of your way while observing, but not if you want to close the box to store stuff.
      • After repeated use, the flap will tend to fall in and become useless as part of the box top, or it may tear off.
    • If your box is lidded, remove the lid and set it aside.
  2. Mark the location with a pen.

    Mark the position for the thumbscrew at least 1" from any edge or corner.

    • The short side is better, since  that will make it easier to balance the telescope.
    • You want to to be a high as possible for a telescope, so if you are using something like a paper box, you may  want to stand the box on end and put the hole in the bottom.
    • Put the hole close to an edge to make it easier to get your head up next to the eyepiece. Make sure it is at least an inch (~2 cm) from any edge or corner so there is enough room to use the thumbscrew.
  3. Punch a hole roughly the diameter of the 1/4-20 thumbscrew. If you decide to go with something like a  kitchen knife be very careful not to make the hole too big. Big holes may not have enough support for your optics.

    punch a hole just big enough for the thumbscrew.

  4. Place a washer on the thumbscrew and push the screw through the hole from the inside of the box.  Place the other washer over the screw.
  5. Place a washer on the screw and insert it into the hole

  6. Attach your telescope/camera. Tighten the thumbscrew just enough to hold it in place. Too tight will wear out the box.

    Attach the telescope

  7. If you can’t tighten it enough to hold the telescope in place, you may need to add a couple spacers.

    Add a spacer (or a few) to make the box thick enough to tighten the screw.

  8. Add stuff to the box to act as a counterweight to the telescope. Load the side farthest from the telescope first.

Using the Mount

A Galileoscope on a cardboard box mount

  1. To adjust the altitude (up and down), lossen the thumbscrew slightly, adjust your telescope, then tighten it down.  Moving it without loosening the thumbscrew will wear out the box.
  2. To adjust azimuth (side to side), rotate the whole box.
  3. Be sure to check the hole and the area around the washers frequently, or at least before every observing session, since there’s nothing worse than having your telescope fall off in the middle of an observing session. If the hole does wear out, simply make a new one at least an inch from the old one.

When your box wears out, or if you decide it wasn’t a very good box, you can simply move the hardware to another box. If you plan to use the box for storage, I recommend storing the hardware in a plastic zipper style bag in the box rather than leaving your telescope mounted to it.

Some tips for choosing a box:

  1. A huge box may take up too much space and be inconvenient if you want to transport it somewhere.
  2. A short box may not have enough clearance for high objects and long telescopes.
  3. A tall skinny box may be to top-heavy to support a ‘scope or heavy camera.