Observing Night – Sept 10, 2013

My goal for this night was to work on the precision of my alignment using the AutoStar on the Meade ETX-90EC.  I decided to try a higher powered eyepiece so the center would be a smaller area.  I did the first star and took extra time to center it.  I did the next star and again, took extra time to center it.  As an idea, I went back to the first star using the GOTO and it wasn’t centered.  I had read in the manual that you could sync the object to help on the alignment so I tried that.  I then went back to the second start.  Since this was vertical in the sky, the finderscope was really a pain.  I centered and synced and then went back to the first star.  It wasn’t in the centered again.  This was really getting frustrating and made me think it was one of the problem in finding a galaxy.  I was sure the margin of error couldn’t be that much and I wouldn’t be able to see a galaxy.

My quit time was approaching so I decided to look for a galaxy using the start hopping method.  I looked for a possible galaxy from the Left Turn at Orion book.  I found the originating stars in the finderscope and then moved to the location of the galaxy but saw nothing.  I was getting a more frustrated.  I sat down in the patio chair and did a little thinking.  My first thought was the galaxy was in the northern sky which was also in the direction of Seattle so maybe it was a light pollution issue.  The next was maybe I was missing something in the alignment process that I should research further.  This was my third night out and was getting a little burned out from the lack of relaxing nights after work.

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Observing Night – Sept 9, 2013

For this observing session, I extended the tripod legs to make sure I wouldn’t have the issue with the finderscope being difficult to look through when the telescope was pointed vertically.  The AutoStar alignment went the same but with a different second star.  This time I had come prepared with a couple of targets.  Earlier in the day, I had referred to the Left Turn at Orion book.  This book was very useful because it listed targets for the time of year and seeing conditions.  I like the book because it had sketches of what the target would look like in binoculars, a small 3“ telescope and a large Dobsonian telescope.  The first target was the Great Globular Cluster (M13)

But, before I looked for M13, I remembered reading that Saturn was out earlier in the night.  So, I put that into the AutoStar and off it slewed.  It was near the horizon in the southwest.  The moon was setting and had an orange tint.  Saturn was hard to make out.  I tried different eyepieces but nothing looked that good.  But, then I remembered that object near the horizon would be unstable due to air conditions.  So, I left it.

I entered M13 in the AutoStar and off it slewed.  I had to do some moving around but the “faint fuzzy” did appear.  Admittedly, it wasn’t a great view but I am happy to finally be seeing something in the ETX.

I next tried to find a galaxy listed in Left Turn at Orion but I didn’t have much luck.  I was starting to think made the light pollution was having an effect but also the alignment didn’t seem to be correct.  I would pick a star in the Big Dipper and it would be way off in the eyepiece and finderscope.  So, I planned to spend more time on trying to get a better alignment the next night.

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First Light – Meade ETX-90EC – Sept 8, 2013

I had finally decided to take my ETX-90EC out to look at the sky in August.  We had a few weeks of perfect summer clear nights.  The kids were visiting my parents so no excuse not to stay up late.  I had re-read all the manuals and got everything prepared.  Then fate stuck.  The weather turned bad and the entire weekend was cloudy.  We had a vacation the following week so I resigned myself to just waiting for the next opportunity.

That opportunity came quicker than I could have imagined.  The weather forecast was for an entire week of hot days and clear nights in September.  The sun was setting earlier and the moon was also setting early in the evening.  So, I re-prepared to head out on Sunday evening, September 8, 2013.

The home position for polar alignment for the Meade ETX-90EC turned out to be very straightforward.  The Meade tripod helped with this situation.  I had also purchased a power adapter so I didn’t have to worry about batteries.  I also took out my eyepieces and red flashlight.  I add everything ready and then started the alignment using the Meade AutoStar.

The Meade AutoStar easy alignment was more straightforward than I thought.  It kind of made me wonder I didn’t try earlier.  The telescope slew to the first star, Arcturus.  I wasn’t sure if it was the correct one but there was only one bright star in the distance.  I used an app on my iPhone called Star Walk.  I was able to confirm I was in the right area.  I used the finderscope to get it closer to center and then looked through the eyepiece for finally centering.  I hit Enter of the AutoStar and it moved to the second star.  I did the same process.  However, this task was much harder because the telescope was pointed straight up and I could easily see through the finderscope.  The finderscope is a straight through type.  I had to get on the ground.  It was also made even more difficult because I hadn’t extended the tripod legs.  I figured it would be easier to be sitting in a patio chair.  Nevertheless, I got it aligned.

Then, I was at a loss.  What to a look at now?  I wasn’t prepared for the next step.  I used the AutoStar to search for a planet but none were visible at this time.  Uranus was but it was in the eastern sky which was blocked by my house.  I was out of time but remembered in the back of mind that there was a binary start in the Big Dipper so I usedg Star Walk to figure out which one and GoTo it.  I had to move the telescope to get close but there it was.

To summarize, I had finally aligned my ETX and saw something.  Not bad for my first light and first night.

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Orion SteadyPix Deluxe Camera Mount review

I was reading about how to get started in astrophotography and that afocal photography was a good place to start.  I purchased the Orion SteadyPix Deluxe Camera Mount.

I did a test inside the house and the results were fine.  I had to turn off the flash on my camera along with setting the delayed shutter to avoid any movement from pushing the shutter.  I did some experimenting with camera modes but ended up just staying with the automatic mode.

I will need to do more testing outside.

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Planetarium Software Review

With my purchase of binoculars from Orion and Celestron FirstScope, I received two planetarium software CDs.  The first was Starry Night Orion Special Edition and TheSkyX First Light Edition.  I decided to compare both so see which would be a good choice to start using.  I also added Stellarium to the comparison because it was free.  My long term plan is to get one of the paid edition but since I am just starting out, I figured I would use what I got.

Though I had heard of Starry Night before, I wasn’t impressed with the Orion Special Edition.  It did show the night sky at my location, date and time.  That was about it.  It had all the basic controls for a planetarium software.  I liked the opening prompt of what was visible in the sky tonight. There was no view of the constellations.  So it was hard to figure out what I was seeing.  I could click on a star to get more information.  I assume the paid editions offer more features.

TheSkyX seemed to have more features.  I like the ability to control what is displayed like constellations, star names, planets and Messier Objects.  It also had an observation list you could create.  It also showed a picture of the object when you selected it.  This looked a very good product.

Stellarium was an open source software.  I too liked itself user interface.  It didn’t seem to have all the features of the TheSkyX but was very straightforward.

I am going to try both the TheSkyX and Stellarium.

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Astronomy software research

From the binocular and FirstScope purchases, I received two software programs:  TheSkyX First Light Edition and Starry Night Orion Special Edition.  I did a quick bit of research to see what else was on the market for astronomy related software.  There seemed to be a few general categories.

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