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A meander into the skies

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After a disappointing holiday in Devon from a clear skies point of view (great time otherwise), I returned to Essex last night to be greeted by a few stars in the sky. The view in Devon was North facing, different from my south facing garden, so I took my Dob out the front with its security lights and road junction and went hunting for the objects I had lined up for my holiday. This was to be a Cassiopeia night.

Iota Cas. Found this after a bit of a struggle to even see the fainter end of the W! Once found however, this turned out to be a great test of my eyepiece set. Firstly, all 3 were just visible in the TV Radian 10mm. I tried a 2.25 barlow, but as usual, I struggle with barlows, maybe as I have a single speed focuser, maybe just because I struggle. I also compared the view to the Skywatcher 10mm that came with the scope and happily found the view not as crisp as well as narrower and darker, although still splittable. The barlow was pretty much unusable in this eyepiece.

The Baader Zoom was tried, as I have not had a huge amount of joy with this EP in this scope. This was a happier experiment. The zoom is very useful at finding and then splitting and the 8mm full power (which is actually my highest power at the moment) also made the 3 way split quite easily. The barlow again was a bit of a blurry mess. I need to get some proper high power eyepieces it seems as the barlow approach simply is not working for me. Radian 10mm for the rest of the night.

Another thing I noticed is that I am having balance difficulties with the Dob and think I need some counterweight to help prevent the forward tipping and the extreme tension required to prevent slipping.

Next up was Struve 163 (can you tell where this list comes from!). I had already seen the triangle in my hunt for Iota Cas, so this one was pretty easy. What great colours! The C star was far enough away that it didn't even seem like part of the group. This is a mag 10.7 star, so nice to see how I can push the 10''.

Eta Cas was a nice sight and quite easy to find and it was good to gauge how 13 arc seconds looks like in a 10mm EP. However, I could not find the next one, Burnham 1. Even with a clear guide, I just couldn't make it out and will leave to a night when I have more power and possibly darker skies.

Struve 3053 needed a couple of restarts back to the starting star to get, doing the run from Gamma to Kappa and beyond. What a nice reward though. A littler Albireo, with a lovely and crisp orange and blue combination. From the spacing earlier, this looked a little larger than Eta Cas, and so it proves as this is a 15 arc sec difference, so getting a feel for this. To bring me back to earth, Sigma Cas completely eluded me after, and as the clouds started to roll in, I used my MaxVision 28mm to get a feel for stepping with this low power EP and judging distances between the main Cassiopeia stars (2.5 EP width for the Alpha->Gamma step by the way!).

All in all, a very enjoyable hour or so and great to get some time and experience at the eypiece. I used a chair this time rather than a kneeling mat, and preferred it I think, although doing finder work with a straight through is a neck-cricker...

Source: Cassiopeia Double night


I recently picked up a second hand 10mm TV Radian from a fellow SGLer and have finally managed to give it a proper outing.

I have been out a few times before now to try it out, but that was from my back garden and mostly curtailed work nights or nights when I have been concentrating on imaging. Last night however was a proper session with the 10'' Dob at a darker site (albeit still a 'school' night)

Also at the site was a C11 so I had something to compare to. My first few uses of the TV had been quite impressive, but not earth shatteringly so. Tonight was slightly different. My finding skills with the Dob are now much better, so after a few swaps with a 2'' 28mm eyepiece, I simply left the Radian in and managed a few objects without the need for changes.

No night of mine is complete without a good look at M13 at the moment, so this was the first target. The scope had been out for a bit, so fully cooled. The cluster was very nicely sized in the field of view, with enough space around it to give a really pleasant composition as well as enough space to allow decent viewing time before a move was needed, thanks to the decent width the EP gives. After a few moments, the individual stars resolved into pure pin-pricks within the cluster, like a frosty morning spider's web and the overall effect was the best I have seen of this object, and I have looked at it quite a bit! Some people came out from the dome where the C11 was and were commenting the view was actually brighter and clearer in the Dob, and I couldn't disagree.

Next were a couple of nearby nebulas, the ring, which was clearly visible, but still very small and then the dumbbell. This proved to be much more impressive and the ghostly egg timer was also nicely framed in the EP and gathered equally impressive comments from the people present. I certainly haven't seen it better than that in any scope/EP before.

A few doubles followed, the head of Delphinus (gamma I think) clearly seen as a very pretty little coloured pair, with the orange (dare I say a hint of gold) and blue partners clearly visible and pleasantly split. Albireo was very colourful and split as far apart as to almost make it look completely distinct from each other. I also saw a very nice one in Casseopia, with a tiny orange star next to a much brighter whiter neighbour, a very nice contrast and a great object for the EP to show off with.

All in all, a really impressive outing for this eyepiece, which has obviously been well looked after. This has put my mind at rest regarding second hand items, and thanks to Simonfromsussex for selling it to me and taking good care of it. The eye relief on this EP is perfect for me as a glasses wearer, and thanks to all here in this forum for such a wealth of information, without which I would never have acquired this lovely little eyepiece on my own and would have ended up with something inferior and almost certainly more expensive.


Managed to get some first lights as it appears to be called!



Friend popped down to collect the 130EQ he is taking off my hands. We had a little star party in North Essex. The skies were not overly kind, so left the HEQ5 to its own crazy non aligned weirdness and concentrated on the newtonians. Saturn was found in both to great effect and we did a few doubles before the moon demanded attention. This was cloud obscured, but some great views and a very pleasant (albeit short) evening.

Another day later in the week, I took the 80ED along to the NEAS observatory and put it on the NEQ6 on the outside pier. A proper first outing, as the skies were wonderfully clear in comparison. Saw the ring nebula for the first time, and took in the glorious colours of Albireo and the double at the head of Delphinus. A couple of globulars and then went home to spend another hour or so looking intently at the moon with the Dob. Am seriously enjoying our big satellite. Managed to see some craters down to 7km across with the 8mm end of the Hyperion zoom. Some amazing mountain ranges. Lots more to see!


Apology due

There seems to be a definite consensus in these forums that there is a strong positive correlation between new astronomical purchases and less than ideal weather conditions. I am hereby giving due notice and apologies for my splurging of large chunks of cash and inviting the clouds in.

After much deliberation, I have decided to birthday treat myself to a full astronomy kit upgrade from my starter 130EQ. I am now sufficiently hooked and certain that this is not a fleeting affair, so have taken the plunge. My goals involve being able to take images as well as doing some proper astrophysics, so a decent mount was a priority. This ended up a choice between the Celestron AVX and the HEQ5. Both look to be great mounts for the price range I could go to. The AVX also has the bonus of coming with decent and cheap OTA options as well, but the EQMOD factor and my desire to observe as well as image at the same time has led me towards a bit of a Skywatcher love-in:


Evostar 80ED Pro

Skyliner 250px

This gives me the ability to practice tracking, aligning all the other good skills an EQ mount requires, along with PC control and a scope designed for imaging. Once set up with a DSLR and subbing away however, what is one to do with oneself? Why, use a Dob and get observing of course!

As a cheeky bonus, I also bought a pair of B&S binoculars, the 8x56 ones on offer at FLO. I must thank them for my avalanche of questions they dutifully and uncomplainingly promptly answered.

Again apologies to all, but believe me when I say that if the purchase/weather correlation is accurate, no-one will be more frustrated than me.


Drunken Binos

Friday night. Had quite a few drinks. Took my dog out just before bedtime and lo and behold. The stars are out.

Got the sunlounger lined up at the summer triangle, got Stellarium on my MacBook in night mode, got a rug for my dog, and a blanket for me and with a set of 10x50 binos borrowed from NEAS went to work. Very enjoyable.

Reminded myself that I still remembered the star names in Cygnus + the various stars around the triangle and through to Arcturus. Meandered around Hercules and spotted M13. Fuzzy, wobbly, but still great.

Realised from Stellarium that there were 2 more Messier objects in this area as well. M29 + M39, both open clusters. Found M39 nice and easily. Nice line of standout stars pointing right at it. Looks good in binoculars, more than just a fuzz. Familiarised myself with that area before hunting for the more elusive M29 which was duly found. I also looked out for the various local nebulas and with some averted vision managed to convince my drunken self that I had found them. I think a second confirmation session is required before I can tick them off when I ever get round to doing proper logging of my sessions, no matter how inebriated.

Split Alberio, just and then after some more simple wanderings around Delphinus, called it a night. I do wish the skies were like this more often.


There seem to be lots of ways to contribute to the human database of knowledge as an amateur astronomer, which is one of the main reasons I am so keen on this pastime, alongside the fact that the skies are just so mesmerizingly touching. I have just discovered another:

Double Star measurements.

This involves measuring the separation and angles of double stars and submitting them, and/or peer reviewing other people's submissions. This all sounds very acceptable!

There is also photometry, which seems like a lot of hard work and difficult for amateurs (ie me) to contribute in relation to the others.

The other area I have seen is spectroscopy, which to me sounds like a perfect blend of astronomy, astrophysics and achievability. I love the idea of being able to find out crucial information about objects incomprehensibly far away, purely through the application of skill with your equipment and rainbows. Lovely, and this remains a big motivational factor to learn and master what is available to us humble amateurs. It's good to have a variety of short/medium and long term goals, and this one ranks high as a long-term biggie.

I feel I am nothing if not overconfident in my abilities involving something I am a rank beginner at, but if you don't aim high, you are never going to hit high.

If anyone knows other avenues to contribute to the fountain of human knowledge, please let me know. I started a thread about it: http://stargazerslounge.com/topic/219146-enlarging-the-noosphere/



Next on the learning list is collimation.

Tried to follow the 130EQ collimation instructions without a collimating tool and ended up just fiddling around with the various knobs and screws. Managed to make all my stars a very sparkling, eggy smear. Not a perfect start, but not to be deterred.

Went to the society observatory and dug out a laser collimator. Fiddled around a bit, but came to the conclusion it was out of batteries as there was certainly no laser. A kind guy there helped my try to do it manually by staring down the barrel and then doing the out of focus star donut approach. This worked to a degree, but think the main issue is with the 'experimentation' I performed on my secondary. Far, far too much allen key action.

I read a very good guide on the interweb : http://www.garyseronik.com/?q=node/169 and am now going to attempt the unthinkable and dismantle the telescope to put a ring binder sticker on my primary mirror. Oh the advances in technology we have made. I am also going to get hold of my very own Cheshire collimation tool.

I will report back on this surgery when I can get over from laughing at the reality of what it is I am actually going to do.


Busy night. Installed the Atik software on the society laptop and managed to take some grainy pictures. The installer has an ordering problem in that the apps fail to install correctly as the drivers don't install before them, and the driver install that happens after doesn't work or doesn't install the right version. Using the 'update driver' feature from Device Manager and choosing the unzipped folder directly installed everything fine.

A little later, after dark, I managed to get into the dome and get the C11 pointing at M13 using a low power eyepiece. I then swapped in the Atik and tried a few 1 second shots to try and get focus. After quite a bit of FF (focus fiddling), I started seeing some star formations, much more magnified than expected! I also saw a truncation, but the realised the dome wasn't in the right place either and was cutting a bit off. All in all, it proved that it works and I will have a more formal go at a later date as I had to leave at that point.

Also, I got a chance to see through a refractor, a Williams Optic FLT110. It didn't have a finderscope, so it was plonked on an NEQ6 on an outdoor pier and roughly polar aligned, kindly done by one of the other members. The planets looked great, as did the doubles we managed to snag, however I was underwhelmed by the visual aspect on the DSOs we looked at. I realise now by experience that there is no one wonder scope, and that these scopes might make fine imaging scopes for DSOs, but last night, it was nowhere near as visually impressive as the C11.

Also, a very old 4'' Tal was dug out of storage and set up as well, with some members going on long nostalgic trips meadering about Hercules.

Couple of ISS passes and all in all a great, albeit cut short night at the observatory as I had to get home. When I got back, I set up my Astromaster with my new Hyperion and set about double hunting and to find M13 to compare against the much more expensive refractor from earlier. Directly overhead is more trouble than one might imagine it seems. Albireo looked great as always and I am loving the new eyepiece. I am slowly getting to grips with my scope and the new eyepiece has come at a good time, as I really appreciate it now, as I probably would not have as much a few weeks ago. M13 was a big smudge when found, but at least I found it. Will do a more formal learning viewing of the heavens from 'Turn Left at Orion' on the next available night from my garden.

Happy days, aren't clear nights nice.

ps, i really really don't get on with the 130EQ starpointer. might invest in a laser pen or even more extravagently, a finderscope.


Eyepiece arrived in the post yesterday. Baader Hyperion Mk III Clickstop Zoom. Quite a mouthful. Quite an eyepiece as well. All very well wrapped and in great condition (thanks Jim). Managed a late evening view of the moon between the clouds and was mightily impressed. Very happy with it and I now have a decent range of eyepiece strength all to myself for my scope. Happy days. As Rune commented on another post, the equivalent barlow is worth looking into methinks.

Finished 'Handbook of Astronomical Image Processing' this week as well. It's one hell of a book, and gloriously heavy duty. Just the kind of low level detail I was after. I will hand it back to the society today at the social meeting, which looks like a clear sky evening as well as a bonus. Will take the Atik 16c software to install on the society laptop and see if we can get it working properly tonight.

Also, as my entry into photography, it is clear that I really need my own scope to do this, rather than rely on the society ones. I am coming up to a milestone birthday, so am going to pool resources and get a decent future-proofish mount and a nice AP ready scope. I will keep my Astromaster for casual viewing and learning the skies with my new Hyperion EP. 'Turn Left at Orion' arrived this week as well to help with my sky learning, so its all coming together nicely.

The kit I am looking at is an HEQ5 Syntrek (no goto) and a Skywatcher Evostar 80ED. This looks like a decent starter AP kit as well as something I will use as long as it holds together. It has the benefit of lots of users on this forum and around the interweb for support and the mount can be controlled by a humble PC, which is exactly the plan, hence the lack of Goto. This saves me some £££ and forces me to know my way around the heavens a little more. The society has a nice looking Williams Optic triplet refractor I will haven't looked through, so will try and get it setup (with help!) on their NEQ6 tonight to get a feel for how it all works.

Still excited about all this and still confused. So much to learn. Excellent.


New Eyepiece

And so it begins. The start of what I suspect is a never ending path of incremental upgrading.

My humble stock eyepieces that came with my 130EQ were a little shown up by the eyepieces I tried when I took my scope to my society's observatory. As a result I have been looking to get some personal upgrades and got some excellent advice via this very forum : http://stargazerslounge.com/topic/217684-eyepiece-sets/ and other excellent threads started by others.

As a result I have been doing rather a lot of window shopping and research and have decided that rather than buying one at a time, I would go and get a Baader Mark III Hyperion Clickstop zoom for now. This allows me to have multiple eyepieces in a single package without having to buy them all. Reviews seemed good and although the Williams Optic zoom lens I tried out in my scope wasn't that great, I understand the Baader one to be a different kettle of fish. Also, it allows a direct DSLR connection on the eyepiece itself which fits in rather nicely with my longer term goals. It should also serve me nicely when I eventually get a different scope, which is certainly on the cards as well as a new mount (window shopping not restricted to eyepieces...)

I found a second hand one on astrobuysell and it is being posted today. There are no forecasted clear nights for the immediate future, so will road test when I can.

I also have ordered 'Turn Left at Orion', as I have decided that I want to know the skies without Goto while I am not neck deep in astro imaging hurdles and this eyepiece seems perfect.


After my first really decent night's viewing (weather wise, seeing wise, viewing wise) with some good people doing a variety of things, I have some thoughts to record on a slow morning after.

  • Double Stars are great. After seeing Albireo and the colour contrast in my own scope, I think doubles are indeed great.
  • It is worth taking way too many layers of clothes. It gets colder than you think.
  • Zoom lens not as great as I thought it might be.
  • Binoculars are surprisingly well worth it. Have to do some research to find a cheap/decent pair.
  • Need to keep learning way around the sky. Considering holding off getting a Goto for a while longer until I am more familiar.
  • Imaging appears to take a long time and means the scope is tied up for the evening : you can't see anything with your own eyes. One scope for pictures, binoculars or another scope to keep you observing (assuming setting up and running is smooth - I intend to find out).
  • Have a plan. Running out of ideas when tired with great viewing needs avoiding.
  • Iridium Flare and a full pass of the ISS ticked off with aplomb. Worth getting a phone app to give you alarms for these events. Nice way to add moments to the evening.
  • Don't plan on doing too much the next morning. Home at around 3am, in house later (see below) - sleep a while after
  • Don't forget your house keys. Breaking in while trying to not wake everyone (and failing) is quite fun, but not a regular option I feel!

All in all, very enjoyable. Learnt a lot, mainly that even though research is great, actual experience is key.

Oh yeah - laser pens are marvellous.


This has been a bit of a post burst, but its a slow day and after this I am now up to date...

The society has an Atik 16IC CCD camera. It doesn't look like it has had much use and indeed when I finally managed to get the observatory PC switched on, none of the ASCOM or Atik software worked. Driver not installed correctly was the message when I plugged the camera in and I was subsequently told that there are lots of connector errors and USB problems with it.

I took it home for some TLC.

First thing I noticed was that the power supply was a variable voltage one, so obviously not the original power supply. The next thing I tried was downloading all the latest Atik drivers + software from the Atik site. These installed with varying degrees of success on my Windows 7 pro running PC. I plugged the Atik in, the fan powered up and I plugged in a USB port to see what would happen. Nothing. The device was not recognised. I tried a better quality USB cable, same dice - nothing. I installed a different version of the software from the Device manager 'Update driver' windows config screen (Windows is such an evolved mess these days). this found the correct driver and we were back in business.

The camera controller application installed is called Artemis it seems. It looks a bit like early garage written VB apps and a bit rubbish, but looks aren't always everything I have learnt, so going to give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

I managed to get the camera recognised, and got a nice black screen with a green rectangle within Artemis. Doing test pictures resulted in a big fat nothing. just the same unflinching black screen. I also got lots of USB Error message boxes popping up intermittently. Not good.

I checked the specs of the camera online (weirdly not easy to find). It requires a 12V 0.55A power supply. The variable voltage power supply that was in the case was a 1A+ supply, so it was sending way too much current through the camera. I tried a couple of different supplies I had to hand, but basically I had to go and buy a 12V 0.5A supply from maplin for about £10. I plugged this in and lo and behold, taking a quick image resulted in a glorious sea of random variable pixel shades. Happy days.

I have not really had more time to see if the sensor has been damaged by the amount of dodgy power sent through the unit, but it does seem to distinguish various shades of white, although concerningly, an image taken with a cover on resulted in a very noisy and worryingly white image. I have no idea what it is meant to do or even how Artemis scales when displaying the images, so this mystery will have to be left for another day. I also got USB errors from the app when the new power supply was disconnected/interrupted, which caused Artemis problems, but an disconnect and reconnect from within Artemis fixed this, it doesn't do it automatically.

Glad I managed to get it working of sorts, as it means I have contributed a small amount back to the society and if I can get this camera working on the society PC hardware, then a good deed will indeed have been done.

Astro Karma +1


The prospect of imaging those great views of planets, nebulas and far away galaxies in multi colour glory has been brought back down to humble earth rather quickly. This is a good thing in many ways, but means effort is going to have to be applied.

Here are a list of things I learnt very fast after my first effort at strapping my Pentax DSLR to the telescope using a x2 barlow and T adaptor combo with my AstroMaster 130.

  • The sky moves remarkably quickly
  • Good focus is an art
  • Stability is rather important...
  • The camera can see so much more than the eye can
  • Light pollution sucks
  • The light from the LiveView DSLR screen is really bright
  • Doing things in the dark is harder than you think.
  • Adding wine to the mix adds more levels of complexity


This is a blog describing the path from a total novice to someone who contributes to amateur astronomy here in the UK. It is by its very nature presumptuous in that I am that total novice now and there is certainly no certainty that I will be able to become what I would like to be in this field. This might be due to any number of technical, financial, motivational or even family constraints, but I intend to document each step and progression in order that others can follow, learn and hopefully take encouragement from, or commiserate in the drawn out crash and burn.

My beginnings come from an attempt to understand the workings of camera photography in general, with the family purchase of a Pentax K-500 DSLR. This was bought for fashion photography by my wife, but seeing as this is not my area of expertise I rather optimistically decided to try and photograph the sky. After much fumbling about the internet (and not having found this forum either), I have ended up with a Celestron AstroMaster 130 EQ with a little RA motor, purchased from a little shop in Colchester for £150.

The scope is easy to put together, and for my novice eyes looks the business. The controls of the EQ mount had me totally perplexed, but for the first couple of nights I didn't care as I simply moved the scope about manually, not attaching the motor, nor even bothering with the fine adjustment dials, just man handling the whole scope. My amazement at seeing Jupiter and its moons after 20 frustrating minutes of even trying to find it was comical. The spotting finder thing on this scope is rubbish by the way.

In order to try and understand things better, I enrolled on the free MIT Optics course : http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/mechanical-engineering/2-71-optics-spring-2009/ and printed out the course notes and watched the videos on the train on the way to work. This is brilliant, if a little over the top for doing astronomy. Going through the derivation of Maxwell's wave equations from first principles is quite something for the unprepared.

I have also joined the North Essex Astronomical Society. This has turned out to be a great decision and something I think is essential for anyone new to this activity as you can get so much out of it. The society has access to an observatory which is in a darkish sky area with a C11 in the dome and lots of other scopes/mounts/eye pieces and stuff. The main benefit is the people who have been very friendly and helpful and being shown globular clusters, double stars and galaxies by people who know what they are doing has been hugely beneficial and fun. I have taken my AstroMaster there and tried out the eyepieces to give me a sense of benefit they can bring and what I would like for myself.

This is a quick summary of where I am currently and as I take on different aspects of this vast hobby, I will write about them.

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