I finally picked up the adapters so I can hook my DSLR up to the prime focus on the Celestron. I've been playing around some, and trying to get the hang of things. Shots of M32 turned out pretty awful, but I hope to process and post something (and PA visibility without a solid mount doesn't help).
Last night I got some shots of the crescent moon, however, and they turned out pretty well. Here's one, shot at 1/20 and ISO 200.
First things first: The comet was everything folks are saying, and better than I expected. If you've not yet seen it, don't expect the classic image of Haley, with a massive, bright tail shooting sparks to the horizon. This is a traditionally dim comet, and its curious brightening is part of the din of current interest. The comet is also on the opposite side of the sun from Earth, so the tail is actually extending away from us, as if we were looking down the barrel of a baseball bat.
That said, it's easily visible to the naked eye in Perseus (finder map here; at 9 PM or so the comet should be 50 degrees or above the Northeast horizon -- if you were to hold your arm out with your hand in a fist, that's about five fists up), and should be impressive for nearly anyone in binoculars. For Kate and I both the reaction when taking our first look through the eyepiece of the telescope (the 32mm) was "Oh my!" The comet was much larger in the field of view than I expected, taking up about as much space in the telescope as does Moon (although to the naked eye, it looks like a bright, fuzzy star).
Here are two images from a photo I took last night (Digital Rebel XTi, EFS 18-55mm kit lens at 54mm, f/5.6 for 2 minutes). The first is the full photo, the second is a cropped blowup of the comet proper. Click both to embiggen.
Not bad for my first try, I think! Now I have to order the T-ring adapter so I can hook the camera right up to the telescope ...
Stumbled across a new (and new to me) astronomy blog today: Adventures in Astrophotography, by Anthony Arrigo. Several reasons I like the site: Astronomy nut (here, here), starting to play with astrophotography (here, here), and lives in Park City, Utah, just up the road from where I grew up in SLC and just over the hill from our family place in Brighton (here, here!). Check it out, and I look forward to reading more -- especially about how the backyard observatory is coming along ...
Speaking of astrophotography, here's hoping the skies clear so I can go outside tonight and take some shots with the Canon Rebel XTi. I've been reading up on settings and methods most of the afternoon, and hope to take some long-exposure shots as part of my learning curve. If they work, I'll post 'em.
My folks were in town and spent the night so they could grab some grandbaby time. With the move back to EST, this meant my Pop woke around 4 AM. I was already up tending the baby (and giving Kate a break), so I took the scope out back and gave the ol' man a quick tour of the morning PA skies. On the menu: A quick view of the Orion neb before it slipped below the trees to the West; Mars (distinct but without noticeable surface features); the Moon (spectacular at waxing crescent); and best of all, Saturn.
Even though the dawn was breaking and the Moon was just next door, the ringed gas giant did not disappoint. This was the first I'd seen the rings since I was a kid, and my first view of Saturn through my new telescope, and it really was a thrill. The gap between rings and planet was clearly visible in the 25mm lens, and with the 12.5 and the Barlow banding in the clouds and the ring shadow on the planet were clearly visible (as were two Saturn moons, Titan and Rhea). It the lower-power lens it looked a bit like this (from my Equinox software):
All told, it was a great morning.
We had great seeing here (at least, for Philly) over the weekend and I was able to spend some time viewing the Moon. I think I enjoy planetary viewing the most, with the Moon and Jupiter being my favorite objects. I took a bunch of photos, and have added them to the Moon gallery over there in the right-hand column. Again, nothing fancy -- I literally shot these by holding my digital camera up to the lens. But they turned out alright. Some samples (click to embiggen):
I spent a good bit of time getting to know the telescope last night and again this morning (gotta love that 4 AM feeding). First smart move: Setting the scope up during sunset for last night's viewing. This made it much easier to get the thing level, plug in the AC adapter, set up my lenses in the accessory tray, and perhaps most important, allowed the scope to adjust to the ambient temperature so I wouldn't get dew on the lens (which I didn't). Conditions were better than earlier in the week due to lower humidity (a bit) and clear skies (translation, good clarity, not the best transparency). Morning conditions were significantly better due to the more slender, and later-rising, Moon.
For my object list I worked from Skyhound's excellent In The Eyepiece This Month page, focusing in particular on their "Objects for Newbie Skyhounds" list. (The whole site is a fantastic resource, and the object-specific pages are wonderful.) Here are the objects from my list that I was able to see from the front yard (based on line of sight, not magnitude), with observing notes for each. The pictures below are simulated by the excellent planetarium software Equinox 6, although they seem smaller than in the lens because they're not filling one's field of vision. But the proportions are right.
This is my new (and first) telescope, a Celestron NexStar 8 SE. It's an eight-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, which is a nice all-around scope that combines elements of a reflector and refractor. This is the telescope I've always wanted. A neighbor had a classic Celestron SCT (probably a six inch based on my memory) and I longed for that telescope -- the shape, the view, and especially, that orange color. Awesome!
The scope is just over eight inches across and about 17 inches long, with useful magnifications ranging between 29 and 480 times. What's great about this scope is its NexStar system, an on-board database of some 4,000 stellar objects (and which you navigate with that keypad on the fork arm). Take a moment to tell the scope your location and time, align it to a few stars in the night sky, and then just select and go. What to see the Hercules Cluster? Select it from the "Named Objects" menu, punch "enter" and the scope automatically slews to the object. It's extremely slick.
Other hardware I'm using (all made by Celestron):
I tried my telescope for the first time in the Poconos earlier this week. The first night was cloudy, and I only had a few moments to poke around the sky, getting a glimpse of M31 which, while just a fuzzy blob with a noticeable center under the conditions, was a thrill nonetheless.
The first real opportunity to try out the scope was actually in the early morning. Our son, James, likes to wake for a feeding around 4 AM. At that time the clouds were gone and Orion, Mars, and most important, the Moon were in view. I managed to take some photos of the Moon just by holding my small digital camera up to the lens (and by futzing with the film speed, etc.). I've created a gallery for the shots, which is here and also linked in the column over there on the right.
Here's a nice full-field picture from the few that were steady enough to make the cut. Click to embiggen. What's nice is that I took this using the standard 25 mm Plossl eyepiece that came with the scope. Yesterday UPS delivered my eyepiece accessory kit, which augments my eyepiece set with 12.5mm (smaller numbers = higher power) and 32mm eyepieces, and a 2 inch Barlow lens (and a few filters). With the Barlow and the 12.5, I should have an effective power four times greater than that pictured below (with some associated loss of resolution). Fun!
Since I was, oh, say ... five? ... I've loved the stars and all things astronomy. It's been nothing more than an interest since then, until now. This past week I finally purchased a telescope, fulfilling a dream and wish I've had since those days as a wee lad. More on the setup later. For now I want to introduce Through A Glass, Darkly, a little blog that will serve as my web nexus for logging my viewing and e-community involvement as I pursue my new hobby. A great way to spend sabbatical, eh?
About the name. First, I've always liked the line. The original reference is from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 13:12, which (in the King James) reads:
For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
The general interpretation of the phrase is that humans have an imperfect perception of reality; this is certainly true in general, and physically accurate when considering backyard astronomy. Second, the word "glass" is generally interpreted to mean "mirror," which is certainly appropriate when considering telescopes. Third, the entire passage is Paul's famous passage on the meaning of love, and it's worth reading astronomy or not.
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
More on 1 Corinthians 13 at Wikipedia.