First Telescope

Baader filters

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Following Ron’s suggestion and very kind ordering of Baader filters when I asked what astronomers get up to during a cloudy Spring, I can now report on how I’ve got on with them.

I didn’t even know what a Baader filter was, such is my ignorance. It turns out it is a very shiny film that filters out an insane amount of sunlight, thus avoiding instant blindness when looking at it through binoculars or a telescope. This is a great advantage and ensures continuing viewing opportunities. Some DIY is needed, in true Blue Peter style using double-sided sticky tape and old cereal (or in my case old Star Wars Lego) packets. You can see the results of my efforts in the photo.

So what can you see with them? You can see sunspots! Earlier today I was able to see sunspot 1305 and of the sunspots that form part of the decaying sunspot 1302. It seemed as if I could see some granularity across the whole of the surface of the sun as well but I don’t know if that was really there or just my imagination.

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Friday, March 25th, 2011

saturn030311Last night I took advantage of the first clear night in ages when I actually had some time and wasn’t absolutely shattered to go and have a look at Saturn. It was beautiful and even with my modest scope I could see the gap between the body of the planet and the rings. I could also see two moons: definitely Titan and, I think, Enceladus.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen Saturn through a telescope. My son was given a (good quality toy) telescope for Christmas a couple of years ago. On the first clear night we could, we took it out into his grandparents’ back garden and looked at Saturn through it. The rings were obvious and the whole family crowded round to see. My son was 7 at the time and this was the first time he’d seen Saturn. My gran, his great gran, was 94 and this was also the first time she’d seen Saturn. All those years, and she’d never looked. She was as amazed as my son. It was a wonderful evening.

I’d just like everyone to take a moment, open their eyes and look up.

(The image is from the gallery and is by the very talented CADAS member Bud Budzinski.)

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Simple photo

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

So it’s not anywhere near up to the standards of everyone else on this site but this photo is my first attempt at taking something with my not-much-used-will-it-ever-stop-raining-and-clear-up telescope. It was taken by holding a digital camera up to the eyepiece and hoping for the best.

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Orion Nebula

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

By crumbs we don’t get many clear nights do we. In fact, it only seems to be clear on the third Wednesday of the month or when I’m out somewhere. But tonight, despite being a tropical -2C, it was just so beautiful out, so I dusted off the telescope and dragged it outside. I was wearing: the usual items on my lower half, which I’ll spare you details of, 2 t-shirts, 1 jumper, 1 very thick fleece, 1 big coat and 1 thick wooly hat. I was pleasantly warm.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing this right now is because I finally got to look at the Orion Nebula through the telescope. I’ve been looking forward to this and I wasn’t disappointed. This won’t be news to you old hands out there but it’s beautiful isn’t it. Even with my modest ‘scope you can see structure to the cloud, whisping away in different directions. It took my breath away. Then I looked away from the eyepiece and just looked around the sky. Worth losing the feeling in my fingers and toes for, any time.

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Thursday, October 28th, 2010

October has been planet month for my telescope and I. Jupiter is far too good an opportunity to miss, of course. The shifting moons, the clear bands of cloud, the sheer beauty of it hanging in the sky, especially recently, so close to the moon. No one person has looked through the eyepiece at Jupiter without being amazed by the bright star they seem to see with their eyes transforming into the banded planet they’ve only ever seen photos of.

Currently close to Jupiter, visually if not literally, is Uranus, as I’m sure you all know. It took me a few tries to find it but there it is, a pale blue dot, to misuse a famous phrase. You just have to wonder at how Herschel ever managed to find it. (I hadn’t realised that it was called Herschel for many years before the name so beloved of school children came into common usage.)

Neptune has proved much trickier as it’s so much lower to the horizon and, from my house, loitering above floodlit sports fields. Last night Sam and I found it though. A dark blue dot! Amazing how thrilling these dots can be.

Last night also brought my first encounter with dew. Lots of it! The telescope was dripping. Quite amazing really, but very annoying.

Blowing my own trumpet a little but all this telescope business has led to me giving a talk at Sam’s school. The children had hundreds of questions and were so eager to find out everything they could about space. They didn’t quite remember all the facts accurately but they did well, I think! I know CADAS members do a lot of ‘spreading the word’ – it would be great to hear more about all this on this site.

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The further adventures of one man and his telescope

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Since my last post I’ve been jolly busy looking at galaxies, the moon, globular clusters, open clusters, binary stars (is it old-fashioned to call them binaries, they always seem to be called double now?), a planet (Jupiter of course) and even one planetary nebula. My son (Sam, aged 9) has joined in a lot and absolutely loves it and my partner and her youngest have enjoyed looking at the wide variety of sparkly or fuzzy objects there are up there. I’m starting to know my way around the sky quite a lot better and what at first seemed a daunting endless expanse now seems a ever so slightly less daunting endless expanse.

I’ve learned a few things so far:

It’s not as hard to find objects as I thought it would be. I deliberately didn’t buy a mount with a fancy auto-finding whatsit because I thought I should earn my spurs by finding objects myself. I have developed what I suspect isn’t an entirely original strategy of pointing the telescope in roughly the right direction and then moving it around a bit. It’s a lovely feeling to find something new and an even better feeling to be able to point the telescope at exactly the right spot straight away.

I’ve found out that open clusters are hard to find from your town back garden unless it’s pretty dark. I’ve worked out that things are quite dark at high magnification (by which I mean a 12.5mm eyepiece with a 2x shorty Barlow on an 8″ reflector) and that often a lower magnification is more interesting.

I’ve realised that it’s utterly amazing to see another galaxy even if it is just a ‘pale cloud’ (Andromeda and its companions). And you can see it with the naked eye too. All those people who glance up and don’t realise they’re seeing a whole different galaxy… (that was me until a few weeks ago, too).

I’ve discovered I’m not quite so keen on the Cloud Appreciation Society as perhaps I once was. Although another way of seeing it is that there’s always something to look at.

I’ve noticed how many interesting objects seem to be just below the garden wall.

Finally, I’ve found out that lots of people do actually want to come round and look at my big telescope, which is a surprise. Assuming they mean what I hope they mean, it shows just how much interest there is in what’s up there.

Next stop on my big adventure… trying out some of the photography ideas in this month’s Astronomy Now.

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First viewing

Monday, August 30th, 2010

After three cloudy English nights we were off on holiday to an old farmhouse in France. We’ve been there before and in August the nights are clear and very very dark; a perfect place for watching the sky. A week of amazing observing awaited.

One thing I did notice though is that there isn’t enough room in my car for the telescope and my children. On this occasion they weren’t coming with me but this could cause difficulties in the future. I’m sure they’ll understand.

So, all excited about the dark skies, and having successfully got a big long black tube through customs without incident, guess how much time I got to use my lovely new telescope? About 30 minutes, in a brief break in the clouds, that’s how much. And it was almost a full moon too, so it wasn’t that dark. But I did look at the moon a fair bit and it was amazing to see it in so much detail, and I got an idea of how great it’s going to be when I can use it properly.

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Friday, August 20th, 2010

Yesterday two rather large boxes arrived. My partner said one was big enough to put a body in which, given her previously stated views on how the house wasn’t big enough for the telescope and all of us, sounded rather ominous. However I’m quite tall and have a BMI the size of the national debt so felt she probably wouldn’t have the time to do anything about it.

Although the instructions said assembly was easy it involved the use of tools which is usually a sure indication I’ll be hurting myself at some point in the near future. There were lots of nuts and bolts and even a couple of springs but, for once, it did all go together in a fairly straightforward manner and I was able to avoid a trip to Yeovil hospital. The telescope is indeed big.

The trickiest part of the whole procedure was aligning the view finder (it shines a red dot where you want to look). The instructions said you needed to point the telescope at something a quarter of a mile away and it was best to do this in daylight. Given the position of our house the only location where it was possible to point it at something so far away was through a window upstairs. Transporting your shiny, new, rather expensive, much longed for and (did I mention) very big telescope up a flight of stairs so soon in its life is very traumatic. And back down again too! I managed though and even got the scope aligned (with the top of a tree).

All I need now is a clear night or two – doesn’t look likely for a while!

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The Purchase

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Many many years ago I finished a degree in Maths with Astronomy at the University of Leicester. Now, I must admit, the Astronomy half of the degree was the half I didn’t understand so much but nevertheless that interest has always been there. I didn’t do much about it until a few years ago when I bought some Bresser Cobra 10×50 binoculars. These are fine and have served me well, giving a hint of Saturn’s rings and the occasional view of a Galilean moon or two, with the occasional visit to a fuzzy blob here or there..

Then my brother bought my son a telescope from the Science Museum. It’s basically a toy one but Sam and I have worked our way through Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn, stopping by the Moon many times, and seeing a few more fuzzy blobs. However those of you visiting this website will know that a plastic refractor from a museum shop doesn’t quite cut the mustard although I can’t really complain about something that’s got my 8-year old son enthused about the wonders of the night sky and helped my 95-year old Gran to see Jupiter for the first time (she’d never really looked before). So I did some research and took some advice and plumped for the Orion SkyQuest XT8 which is an 8” Dobsonian reflector. I hadn’t quite realised how large it was (I should have known really but didn’t think about it) until after I’d ordered it, which has caused a few household discussions and resulted in one or two items (well, three) being put on eBay in order to make room for it. But it’s on its way and I’m really rather excited about it!

So this little blog will be the story of my first proper telescope and my exciting adventures with it. Stay tuned and happy sky gazing.

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