Four Free PDF Star Atlas

Mag 7 Star Atlas Project (version 2.0) by Andrew L Johnson http://www.siaris.net/astro/atlas/

Mag 8.4 Star Atlas (Nov 24, 2005) by Toshimi Taki http://www.geocities.jp/toshimi_taki/atlas_85/atlas_85.htm

Tri-Atlas (2nd. edition) by Jose R. Torres http://www.uv.es/jrtorres/triatlas.html

Tri-Atlas A

Tri-Atlas B

Tri-Atlas C  is also a free iTunes download

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/triatlas/id592681081?mt=8

Deep Sky Hunter Star Atlas http://www.deepskywatch.com/deepsky-atlas.html

Deep-Sky Atlas

Deep Sky Hunter

Catagories Mag 7 Mag 8.5 Tri-Atlas A Tri-Atlas B Tri-Atlas  C DS    Atlas DS Hunter Pocket  Sky Atlas
Document type PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF Water Proof Book
Size 8.5 x 11 8.5 x 11 8.5 x 11 8.5 x 11 8.5 x 11 11 x 8.5 8.5 x 11 9 x 6
Mag limit (stars) 7 8.5 9.5 11 12.6 9.5 10.2 7.6
Mag limit (DSO) ~11.5 ~12.5 ~11.5 12.5 15.5 12.5 14.0 11.5
Number of chart maps 16 146 25 107 570 80 101 80
Selected Area Charts yes – 1 yes – 3 no no no no yes -21 yes – 4
Index chart included yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
Chart Numbered no yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
Reference to adjacent maps no yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
B & W yes yes yes yes yes yes yes no
Milky Way Outline no no no no no yes no yes
Color w/ Milky Way Outline yes no no no no no no yes
Print Format scalable no no yes yes yes yes yes n/a
DSO lists no yes no no no yes yes no

Mag 7

This is a good chart to use in conjunction with a Telrad finder and naked eye view. When printed on 8.5 x 11 and compared to the S & T Pocket Sky Atlas Cygnus chart 62 there are less nebula, but more important less text per chart. The fewer amount of text make the MAG 7 chart more readable. In addition the star scale size are larger on the S & T Pocket Star Atlas and easier to read at that size. If the charts can be printer on a larger size paper it would make a good rival to the Pocket Star Atlas, however it would not be water proof or as durable. I prefer the selected area map of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster of the Mag 7 chart mainly because it covers more sky area. Be sure to get the PDF or Excel files of DSO found on to bottom of the website.

Mag 8.5

At magnitude 8.5 these maps complement the view thru your finder scope or binoculars, assuming dark skies of course. I find the map scale pleasing when printed on 8.5 x 11 paper. Not too crowed with text labels and in my opinion the lack of constellation stick figure outline aid to this. Good over lap in RA and Dec with index to adjacent maps. They contain a fairly good selection of DSO objects with complementary text and spreadsheet files. Of course to make this a fine atlas comes with the price of quantity of chart, 146 in this case. The Coma / Virgo Galaxy cluster map contains more reference stars to use when star hopping this region.

Tri-Atlas   A, B, and C

These three charts are all based upon the CNebulaX software program. They each contain an enormous wealth of stars and DSO for you to find. Printing these on normal 8.5 X 11 paper is not practicable due to the amount of detail and stars on this scale. The extended constellation stick figures add to the distraction on the page. Navigating the Coma / Virgo cluster at the C scale is difficult enough without the use of  “pointer lines” that are used to identify the object name. Best practice is printing on a very large size paper, if you have a printer that can handle this. Alternately use the Adobe Reader to enlarge the map and the Snapshot Tool to copy a portion of the map. This can be pasted into your favorite text document for printing.  The C maps may well be a DSO enthusiast alternative to S & T Millennium Star Atlas but it comes with a price when printing at large scale.

I find the amount of text printed on the Tri-Atlas C charts overwhelming in the crowded regions of the Milky Way. The enhanced symbols for the double stars add to the confused look in many cases. In order put as much useful information as possible on the charts, constellation names, reference lines, star names, object labels, object names, and map references numbers will result in a crowded look to the charts with stars down to 13 magnitude. That is the price to pay when looking to create a chart with so much useful information. This is well suited for use with GOTO telescopes, rather than a night of star hopping.

In addition to the charts many supporting files on DSO and Doubles stars are available for download on the website.

Deep Sky Hunter Star Atlas

At slightly larger scale than the Tri-Atlas C these charts present a less clutter appearance of the stars are maped to 10.2 magnitude. Coordinate lines are drawn every 30 minutes in RA and 5 minutes in DEC when compared to bold lines every 5 minutes in RA and 1 minute in DEC for the same area of the sky of the Tri-Start Atlas C charts. It does not cover the depth of magnitude range of deep sky catalogs of the Tri-Star Atlas C charts nor include all of the catalogs, for instance double stars are not labeled.

The larger scale and less clutter is more pleasing to the eye and easier to read and still offering many deep sky object to find in a telescope of modest aperture. There are more deep sky objects plotted than on the Star Atlas 2000. I find these charts very easy to use. For a observer of faint fuzzies and larger aperture may prefer Tri-Star Atlas C over this one, but it is a good alternative between Sky Atlas 200 and Tri-Star Atlas C.

Under the DSO Guide on the website are many supporting file list and illustrated guides in PDF format.

These are my own personal opinions and will differ from your own depending upon your preference.

John D Sabia

Lackawanna Astronomical Society celebrates its 55th Anniversary

The Lackawanna Astronomical Society recently celebrated its 55th anniversary,
with a dinner at the Inne of the Abingtons. The LAS began in 1958 as a class,
then became a club, at the Everhart Museum in Scranton, PA, and since the mid
1970s, has been associated with Keystone College’s T G Cupillari Observatory
in Fleetville, PA, with its own observatory at that site.
Guest speaker, astrophotographer, supernova hunter, and eclipse chaser, Mike
Peoples, gave a presentation about his recent experience in Alaska as part of
the University of North Texas 1012 Venus Transit Team 1.

The 2013 Lackawanna Astronomical Society officers and board members in attendance
at the 55th Anniversary Dinner.
L to R, Rev. George Matthew and Tom Mills, board members, Jo-Ann Kamichitis, vicepresident,
Carol Leola, president, Diane Musewicz, secretary, Joe Kamichitis, treasurer.
Absent when photo was taken, Mary Sinkovich, board member.

LAS president Carol Leola, center, is amid the LAS members who have been in society
for over 40 years. They are, L to R, Jo-Ann Kamichitis, 42 years, John D Sabia, 45
years, Diane Musewicz, 42 years, Joe Mazzarella II, 40 years.

LAS members for over 50 years, left, Bill Speare, former science curator at the Everhart Museum, and Don Murray, a
founding member of the LAS, at right.

Don Murray, left, founding member of the LAS, and guest speaker, Mike Peoples, right,
look through the LAS historical scrapbooks.

A Solar “Wow!”

The weather was perfect, and the solar telescope was set up in my driveway.  I was playing around with the settings on my new Point Grey Research Chameleon camera.  My eyes were fixed on the laptop screen and I was just trying to get the exposure right so that I could image some surface details.  Then I saw something odd.  It looked like a huge prominence, almost as large as half the solar disc; but I didn’t think they got that big.  I am a solar newbie, but I’ve never even seen a picture of such a large prominence.  There must be some other explanation, but just in case, I decided to capture some images.

At about the same time, Tucker, my son, woke up from his nap and I ran upstairs and got him.  We both came back downstairs and decided to check the Internet to see if anyone else was seeing this.  Sure enough, a post on cloudy nights confirmed it.  Something is going on and it’s big!  With Tucker in my arms, I went outside and continued to fiddle with the settings until I was happy with the image.  Then I set it up to do some recording.  I brought Tucker back inside and sat him in front of a bowl of cereal, then ran back out to see the flare dissipating.  As quickly as it started, it ended; maybe 20 minutes total.

Meanwhile, a few others were posting on Cloudy Nights and I felt it was my responsibility to get my initial images out.  I did a very quick process job, and posted the first image just as some of the others rolled in.  No more then five to ten amateurs had recorded it, and I was one of them.  Yes.  I was excited.  The next day, I woke up early and checked space weather.  It turns out it was an M1.8 solar flare with an associated Coronal Mass Ejection.  Many of the solar experts claimed it was the largest they’ve ever seen.  I was just lucky enough to have caught it on camera.

huge-prommerged-2

My Life as a LASer, or Becoming a Star Geezer by Jo-Ann Kamichitis

Back in my 20′s, I used to tell my pals that I planned to become an eccentric old lady, so I needed to develop some quirks. Some of said pals would quickly point out to me that I was well on my way and I merely had to choose which one or two of my existing quirks I should concentrate on.

I finally decided on becoming a star geezer (AKA a long-time observer).

Geezer (geezerette?) or not, I have tried to avoid being too firmly entrenched in my observing style and opinions about equipment. This has been a struggle since I now own telescopes that are older than some of my observing buddies! What can they possibly tell me that I don’t already know? Plenty, as it turns out.

I bought my first scope in 1967. Although I craved one of those Unitron equatorial refractors you’d always see on the back cover of “Sky and Telescope” (especially tantalizing at Christmas when they’d always show it in front of a Christmas tree, with a huge pink bow tied around the tube), I bought instead a Criterian RV-6, 6″ f/8 Newtonian on an electrically driven German equatorial mount, with a 9X30 finder scope. I spent months reading catalogs and ads, trying to get the perfect combo of features, price and aperture. At a cost of $194.95, it was the first thing I ever bought on time payments. No credit cards yet, I got a coupon book to mail back my payments over 6 months,. I just couldn’t squeeze out another $90 to buy the RV-8 I lusted after.

Well it turned out that I want the thrills of observing not all the fussing around with equipment. I never polar-aligned the scope (OK maybe I did twice in the 25 years before Joe redid the scope as a Dobsonian for me) and when I sold the mount I wasn’t even sure the drive even worked, since I’d never plugged it in.

Luckily, my interest astronomy was lifelong so I persisted with the hobby even with that dinky finder scope, those teeny field lenses in the oculars that came with the scope and the neighbors who would turn on their porch lights or call my dad when they heard Diane and me prowling out there in the yard. “It’s only the girls”, Pop would say to those who feared Peeping Toms in the neighborhood. My sister and I were old enough to not be embarrassed out of using our scope, the way our baby brother had been for a few of his early teen years.

Diane and I joined the LAS in December 1970, with the idea that we’d actually participate in the activities. We’ve “paid” for that plan over the years by each of us holding every office at one time or another, except for Junior Vice President. We’ve been repaid for that plan by getting to see some great things that we might have missed otherwise and meeting a slew of interesting and nice people. Other benefits to me have been getting a nice part time job at Keystone College’s observatory and meeting my husband Joe, at the January 1980 meeting.

What I’ve enjoyed most is observing in groups. For one thing, the howls of coyotes aren’t nearly as nerve wracking when you’re in a clump of people. Neither are the sounds of other things going bump in the night. Beyond the cameraderie though, you get to try out other equipment before you buy anything. (Hmmm, maybe a GO-TO system isn’t “all” bad.) (Hmmm, maybe spending big bucks on eyepieces is a good idea!) Ethos eyepieces though? (Hmmm maybe I’ll just look through Orlando Gonzales’s). Just watch out for competitive observers like Jim Waltich.

Even better you get to pick people’s brains about observing tricks.It’s only since say 1995, that I’ve started to use higher power on deep sky objects, although the combined efforts of Cindy Krott, Dave Barrett, and Wendy Kazmierski still haven’t gotten me stacking Barlow lenses. Jim Spangler has managed to get me using my ZOOM eyepiece on things other than the moon and planets. Now I seek just the right combo of magnification and field-of-view for the most pleasing and detailed image.

Although I still MUCH prefer my 13 inch and 18 inch scopes, I have actually been using my smaller scopes to try for things. Cindy and her Televue Pronto convinced me that even the smallest scopes can show a lot more than I had thought. So I try using them on objects now that I never would have thought of before. Which no doubt is why the best view of the North American Nebula I ever had was on a great night using my 22 mmm Panoptic in my Astroscan. The best view of the California nebula I ever had was on another great night using my 8 inch. (Hmm great skies in both cases … no wonder I loved Cherry Springs State Park so much … and Stellafane).

From Mark Thomas, I learned that I have to somewhat control my thrill seeking and actually spend time looking carefully at such things as M61, using various powers. Mark also instigated the 15 minute rule, to curb some some of the socializing among some of us on truly good nights. You can’t spend more than 15 minutes between looks into an eyepiece on a good night. I think we have to reinstate that rule since good clear nights have been so rare these past several months. If Jim Waltich ever gets the time to observe again, we will really need that rule.

From Larry Peoples I actually got to see the charm of a GoTo system; from Dave Barrett, I’ve gotten back into marking the really good objects on my star charts (although I’ll never adopt his constellation figures). Don Murray has shown me the beauty of a good double star, while Joe Dukantas illustrates the value of a red observing hat and has sold us some of our favorite scopes.

John Sabia, much as I make mock of his gushing over every little meteor and faint comet, has gotten me to train my eye to really see detail on the moon and the planets and has helped me keep my observing enthusiasm high. I still can hear him yelling “Don’t unpack your car just get over here!” the night we got to see the 3 biggest impact spots on Jupiter. Not to mention the night, he and I dashed from the car into the classroom building trying to hustle a college class out to see the really great red auroral streaks that we had been looking at on the drive up. I can still see them looking at us dubiously and glancing at Tom Cupillari, to see if he thought we were just a couple of kooks, before they followed us outside. The aurora, by the time they got outside, had subsided to just some pulsating patches. Too bad their mothers had trained them so well not trust strange strangers.

Bill Speare may still gripe that it’s not worth owning a scope in NE Pennsylvania but I wouldn’t have ever tried a solar eclipse expedition without his experiences as inspiration. My success rate is 2 out of 4, and holding. I would never have seen Winnepeg in February, or Hawaii or Australia or New Zealand  without the excuse of an eclipse. Now I also get to vicariously travel to eclipses with the spectacular powerpoint shows that John Mudrian does after each one he tries to see. Finally someone who takes as many travel photos as I did (maybe even a lot more)!

I’ve been able to watch TGC Observatory develop from the beginning. What a break it was that Tom Cupillari wanted to get that 9 inch Clark refractor and dome from Dave Garroway, and he had the ambition and the skills to get the money and support for the observatory. Now that my back yard is so useless for observing the facility really means a lot. What with digital cameras and the bigger newer scopes (20 inch dob, 20 inch RC, easy to use go to 10) even I get some decent shots of the moon and lesser shots of the planets. So much better than the no shots I had with film cameras.

There have been some really memorable observing nights at TGC Observatory. A short (and way incomplete) list would include: the Leonid meteor storm of 2001; the 2004 transit of Venus; Comet Hyakutake stretching way across the sky; Comet Hale-Bopp the next year putting on a grand show; watching Saturn occult a star one year, then years later watching the moon occult Saturn; seeing M51 look all fluffy in Dave’s 24 inch scope; seeing NGC 7331 surrounded by a batch of smaller galaxies in the RC 20; Mars at it’s closest approach in 2003, with the 4 clear night full of mobs of public; in 1985, the state police coming in with bull horn telling folks (who had waited in lines for hours to see Halley’s Comet) to move their cars off the state road  … well you get the picture.

Thanks a lot Tom.

I’ve also had a lot of fun at the State Park Star Parties that we started under Joe Kamichitis’  first LAS administration. You even find that you even have regulars at the parks and at public nights at TGC Observatory.  John Nallin has been a great assistant … watching the scopes and reminding me to start with M13 or M27. My sister wasn’t quite as good at that although she and her kids used to be really good at blocking out car headlights, campfire lights, and the moon from the eyes of the observing public.

In addition there are many varieties of star geezer you can become. Get to know your personal limits. Just show the constellations to kids (only equipment needed is free star maps from online and a laser pointer just for you, the astro jedi adult). Be more technical if you want. Here are my limits. Serious astrophotography? After looking at what Steve Walters does, I know I am out of my depth.  I’ll just stick to tripod mounted camera astrophotography and casual through the telescope photography with my point and shoot hand held camera. Do serious research? Mike Peoples’ work with Tim Pucket on supernova searches in other galaxies, sounds like too much work. Just remember that the hobby of Amateur Astronomy can encompass every level of interest and expertise. Feel free to be an armchair or WW astronomer. Specialize in cosmology and string theory! There is room for everyone!

Near as I can figure out becoming a Star Geezer is easy , and it keeps you from becoming a crabby geezer!  In fact I’m usually on one of my astronomy highs, whether at the observatory, at state park star parties, and now the First Fridays in downtown Scranton. Astronomy keeps you young in mind so you don’t give off an actual standard geezer vibe. You want to show kids the moon and planets in your telescope, instead of chasing them off your lawn. Being “odd” saves you from becoming that cliche crank.

A Newbie’s Adventure in Astrophotography: Part 4

Imaging with a wedge requires a bit more effort during setup, but you can only do so much in Alt-az.  Rather then just dropping the scope into the tripod, and locking it down, the wedge holds the scope at an angle facing Polaris.  This is called polar aligning, and it is something that doesn’t have to be done with an Alt-az telescope.  It is one of the reasons that Alt-az mounts are a good idea for beginners.  Equatorially mounted telescopes have to be aligned on Polaris before you can do any observing or photography.  Alt-az can be aligned on any star or stars.  What Polar aligning does is allows the telescope to track the stars on only one axis.  A poorly polar aligned scope or Alt-az will begin to show rotation in the corners of a long exposure image.  While this may not bother a beginner, as you progress, field rotation as it’s called, becomes the enemy.  What this means, is you spend more time setting up and making sure you’ve got perfect alignment before attempting to image.   The wedge added 20-30 minutes to my setup routine.  It also makes it tough to do a full daytime setup.  I still have to wait to see a star before aligning my telescope.

M27 - The Dumbell Nebula

Since I purchased my telescope, Celestron has offered a firmware update that allows me to polar align on any star, not only Polaris.  This feature is called All-Star alignment and it is great!  This means I can get a head start on my alignment, and can align on any of the bright stars, not just Polaris.

Imaging on a wedge improved my images to the point where I could get 1 minute exposures without trailing.  That was all well and good, but I was only a single, but expensive upgrade away from having a full auto-guiding setup.  I purchased a new refractor telescope as well as rings and a counterweight system.  I also purchased an Orion Starshoot Autoguider.  An auto-guider locks on a single star and guides the mount as it tracks the sky.  It smooths out any bumps in the mount and allows you to image for very long periods of time.  I’ve currently pushed it up to 10 minutes before it shows any trailing.  This does require perfect polar alignment, but it also improves your images considerably.  I’ve posted some of my most recent images with my newest fully guided setup.

leo-trio-labeled

Coming off a spending binge on astrophotography, I now have a serious imaging rig.  While some may not quite look at a fork mounted telescope as a perfect imaging setup, it is stable, has good optics and outperforms many GEM style mounts.    At this point, my photographs are only limited by the darkness of my skies, and the effort I’m willing to put into them.  In future posts, I’ll go into some of my techniques and tips.


A Newbie’s Adventure in Astrophotography: Part 3

So I’ve successfully taken my first Moon photograph, and was looking to go deeper.  At the time, Saturn was high in the sky and I decided to try to photograph it.  I took a few exposures and also learned something.  You can get a much better view of Saturn through the eyepiece.  As it turns out, my DSLR wasn’t the optimal camera to use to photograph planets.  Since then, an number of hardware and software advances make it more possible, but at the time, I chose to move on.

Photographing deep sky objects is nothing like Moon or even planet photography.  Deep sky photography utilizes multiple long exposure photographs.  That is while the mount continues to track a target, the camera opens the shutter and holds it open for a specified duration.  That means a lot is going on while imaging, of course the mount and camera do most of the work.  This fact will allow you to automate the most tedious aspect of the process, so most of the effort goes into the setup.

The first thing you have to do is get the camera focused.  If the Moon is up, you can focus on that.  The same with a bright planet like Jupiter or Saturn.  But your next best option is a bright star.  My camera, the  Canon XS, has live view.  Live view allows you use either the LCD screen on the camera or a laptop computer as the viewfinder.  With live view, you can zoom in on a bright star and turn the focus knob until the star appears to be a pinpoint.  This allows you to get very close to perfect focus.  That said, only the 10 or so brightest stars will be visible on the screen, so don’t expect to see what you would see through the eyepiece.  When it comes to Live view, it is a focus aid and no more in regards to deep sky photography.

A Bahtinov Mask is a handy tool for achieving perfect focus.  My focusing routine went from being a 20 minute affair to less then a minute.  It also gave  me better focus which resulted in more attractive stars.  You can download a template to make your own Bahtinov mask or purchase it at Focus-Mask.com.

My first Deep Sky photograph was of M3 a globular cluster(top right).  Globular clusters are the best targets for newbies.  They are bright, Looking back, my results weren’t terrible, but they weren’t anything to write home about.  Needless to say, I was ecstatic about my results, and was hooked.

I considered myself lucky the first few days I had the telescope.  The weather held out, and I got to use it before the clouds rolled in a couple of days later.  This is another aspect of the hobby that can sometimes be frustrating.  For visual observing, partly cloudy skies can still provide for an eventful outing.  For astrophotography, clouds are a no go.  So I found myself checking the weather and hoping for clear nights.  These days I use the Clear Sky Clock on the top of the page, and it has proven very reliably and handy.

The Telescope I use, a Celestron CPC-800 is on an Alt-Az mount.  What this means is that the telescope tracks the sky on two axis.  This is unlike an equatorial-mounted telescope which tracks the sky on a single axis revolving around the star Polaris.  For deep sky astrophotography,  an equatorial mount is optimal.  That is not to say you cannot get nice images photographing in Alt-Az, but an equatorially aligned mount will allow you to take longer exposure photographs.  The limit in Alt-Az would be around 30 seconds otherwise, images show field rotation.  This is the biggest limitation of Alt-Az mounts when it comes to astrophotography, but there is a simple solution.  An equatorial wedge allows you to equatorially align an Alt-Az fork mounted telescope like the CPC.

I purchased the Celestron HD Wedge.  Now I could push my exposures a bit further.  In Alt-Az, I was getting 20-30s exposures.  At this point, I am able to go 45s without showing any trailing stars.  My pictures are improving, but I know I still have a way to go before I’m going to be framing them.

A Newbie’s Adventure in Astrophotography: Part 2

One of the first things you realize when doing astronomical observing is that the objects you are looking at don’t look like the photographs. You rarely see color, mostly just faint fuzzies.  But by using long exposure photographs you can bring out more details then you could hope to see with even the best telescope.   While the faint fuzzies are impressive, I found that I wanted to see more detail.  So I began my hunt for a camera.

Which camera to chose?

There are two basic types of cameras used for astrophotography, DSLR and CCD. Each type of camera has it’s own benefits and drawbacks, but I chose the DSLR for a few reasons. First, I liked the fact that I could use a DSLR for daytime photography. I’ve always been frustrated with point and shoots, and this became my opportunity to step up. At the time, I also liked the fact that I didn’t have to bring my laptopThe Moon out into the field with the DSLR. CCD’s require a dedicated laptop computer. As it turned out, I prefer using my DSLR in conjunction with my laptop, anyways. It makes focusing, framing and reviewing a lot easier. It also means that I can review my photo’s while shooting without disturbing the current shot. As well, DSLR’s are much more affordable then CCD’s.

The DSLR I chose was the Canon XS. At the time, it was Canon’s entry level DSLR and it came with features that help during an astrophotography session. Live view, for example, allows you to see and zoom in on whats in the viewfinder from the camera’s LCD or from your computer. It also allows you to set up a series of timed exposures(while hooked up to a computer), which previously required a separate timer hooked up to the camera. All in all, the Canon XS makes a very good imaging camera for astronomy.

Next, I had to attach it to the scope. I purchased a Celestron T-Ring and T-adapter. A T-Ring is specific to the camera model as it threads onto a DSLR just as the lens would. The T-adapter threads into the T-Ring as well as the telescope. Once all of the pieces are attached, the camera is hooked up to the scope. From here, I had to find a way to focus. Fortunately for me, there was a partial moon out, and I was able to use the moon for focus. At this point, I had already brought my laptop computer outside and hooked it up to the scope. Now, rather then looking at the moon through the eyepiece of the scope, I just sat down at my camping chair and observed the moon on my computer screen. I could also zoom in on any point in the image just by clicking.

So I snapped my first astroimage.  Then I adjusted the exposure and took another image.  My results are above.

Moon photography is the easiest type of astrophotography.  It is a big bright target, and doesn’t require much image processing.  A single short exposure photograph can be amazing.   This differs from planets, which tend to be smaller and require multiple short exposures, and stacking or combining of exposures to add detail.  Deep sky photography is the most advanced and requires precise tracking of the target and long exposure photographs.  In future articles, I’ll be concentrating on my introduction to deep sky photography.

Continued in Part 3…

A Newbie’s Adventure in Astrophotography by Adam Jaffe

This is the first of a series on my experiences in astrophotography and astronomy in general over the last two years.  I came into the hobby with little to no knowledge of astronomy or photography, so I was really dependent on the information available online.  I’m not saying I took the best route, but I’m at the point where I’m happy with my equipment and happy with my results.  Some of the first posts may just be a diary of my trials and tribulations, but later I hope to share some of what I’ve learned in a more instructional format.  But for now, just enjoy…

Part 1

I’ve always been interested in astronomy.  Looking up at the sky has always stimulated so many profound questions in my mind.  How big is the universe?  Where did it all come from?  Is life on Earth an anomaly?  Whenever an astronomy article came up on one of my regular websites, I’d read it.  I had made a habit of checking the Astronomy Picture of the Day.  I wouldn’t miss any Discovery Channel specials on space.  But, I realized,  there is only so much you can experience from second hand sources and I decided to take the next step.

I decided to buy a telescope.  I did some research and noticed that many of the Astronomy pictures I’ve been drooling over were taken by amateurs.  I had always assumed that without a NASA budget, photographs of galaxies would be out of reach.  Once I realized I had been wrong, my excitement grew.  I joined the Cloudy Nights forum, and asked for some advice.  I wasn’t prepared for how helpful the forum could be and I quickly had a telescope picked out and I ordered a Celestron CPC-800.

The telescope showed up the next day, and having read and re-read the manual off of Celestron’s website I began setting it up immediately.  I had absolutely no problems getting it set up and began my alignment.  As per the instructions, I picked three bright objects, centered them, and hit the align button.  My last alignment object was Saturn(for future reference, don’t align on planets).  As it came into the field of view, I was flabbergasted.  I could see the rings clear as day, and even some color detail.  I immediately sprinted towards my house to get my wife, but stopped and realized I forgot to hit the final align button.  I went back, completed the align and then proceeded to run into the house screaming for my wife.

Both my wife and I spent the next few nights out observing.  Saturn was the only planet in view,  but we also got a chance to look at M51 and a few other deep sky objects.  The other Cloudy Nights members did a good job of tempering my expectations, and I was very pleased when I saw the little wisps of The Whirlpool Galaxy and it’s companion galaxy.

We did get lucky, the rain that typically accompanies a new telescope purchase, held out for three days.  So we got three nights of observing before we were relegated back inside.  With only clouds and rain to look forward to, I decided to listen to the voice in the back of my head and begin searching for a camera.

Continued in Part 2…

Comet Hartley 2 by Adam Jaffe

The weather and the moon cooperated, and I had dark clear skies during Comet Hartley 2′s pass through October.  Here are some of the photo’s I took of the comet passing some objects of interest; NGC 281 (The Pacman Nebula), and NGC 884 & NGC 869(The Double Cluster).  I’ve also included an animation of the comet’s movement over the period of an hour and a half below.

comet-hartley-2-ngc-281

Comet Hartley 2 & The Double Cluster

Animated Comet Hartley

All photo’s were take from my driveway in Scranton, PA.  Taken with a William Optics Zenithstar 66  mounted on and guided through a CPC-800.  Taken with a modified Canon XS with an IDAS LPSv2 filter and Stacked in DSS.

THE GREAT LEONID SHOWER of 2001 by Diane Musewicz

The night of the Leonid shower 2001 was amazing in many ways. This “Oohs and Aahs” version was originally written for The Ecliptic. (the old LAS newsletter that was published for over 30 years)

First, I was able to find all the layers of clothing I needed to keep warm. This included taking my husband’s knit skull cap, one of his sweat shirts, and gloves. (I couldn’t find my own gloves or hat.)

Next, Sarah, my daughter, came along to the observatory. The thought that she would willingly spend a whole night outdoors away from her nice warm bed was amazing. She also convinced two of her friends to come up to Fleetville too.

Even though we arrived close to 10:00 PM, many club members were already there. I still drove to the back of the college’s compound with my parking lights on. You don’t want me driving with my lights off, believe me. We brought our lounge chairs from the front porch. They were cushioned
and sturdy. A few members had those adjustable chairs that fold in thirds and through the night you could hear thuds as their heads hit the ground, which might explain their additional counts of meteors.

Sarah chose to sleep in the car until it got more exciting. When her friends arrived, we directed them to the back seat of the car. I can remember thinking the headline would read “Unfeeling Mother Lets Daughter Freeze to Death While She Watches Leonids.” They immediately adjourned to the classroom to warm up and weren’t seen for at least one hour.
John Sabia started yelling out his count. Everyone tried to get their sightings added in to his count, but this was his own personal count. Some meteors were spectacular and some left dust trails. Dave Barrett brought a night scope with him. It was really amazing to look at the dust trails
with it.

While I was out in the field, Tom Cupillari walked out with the cellphone with a call for me. It was 2:30AM and I couldn’t imagine who it was. Who would be up at that hour that wasn’t already up at the observatory? It was Vince, my husband. He pictured just Jo-Ann, Joe, Sarah and me out in the field, so he was calling to see how things were going. I told him to get up here ASAP, and amazingly he did come up. When he got here, he was complaining that he could find his skull cap, his gloves or his one sweat shirt. I had to confess that I had taken them.

As the counts increased each hour, the Leonids delivered all they were supposed. The club members were not disappointed. By 5:00 AM I stopped counting. The meteors were coming down like rain. If you just did a slow spin around, you could see meteors in all directions. By 6:30AM it was getting daylight, so my group left. Other members stayed. I went to bed as soon as I walked in the door and was able to fall asleep. Another way the night was amazing.

VENUS TRANSIT June 8, 2004 by Diane Musewicz

The morning of the transit, I woke up at 3:30AM for a bathroom run. I crawled back into bed and held on because I had told myself I wasn’t getting up until 4:00AM. As I laid there not able to get back to sleep, I finally gave in and got up. In my zombie-like state I managed to eat breakfast and have my first cup of coffee for the day. I was just getting ready to leave the house at about 4:45AM, when the phone rang. Checking the caller ID,  I saw it was Keystone College. My sister, Jo-Ann Kamichitis, was calling with my morning wake up threat. I believe she said in her own special way, “Get you’re butt up here now!!” So I informed her I had to come back in to get the phone and I was on my way.

I figured I didn’t have to be the first one there because I don’t have a key to the gate or building. I don’t think I was the last one to get there, but most of the about 30 people were there and 15 scopes were already set up in the front parking lot and the back field.  That’s a good ratio – one scope to two people. I had on long johns under my slacks, and 2 shirts. Vince Cianfichi was attired in a T-shirt, shorts, a straw hat and sandals. He must have been in a different dimension, because more people were dressed like me.
It seemed to take the sun forever to rise. I said to Linda Smith, “I thought the dawn was supposed to come up like thunder.” John Sabia heard me say thunder, and told us he didn’t hear anything. I wish I could remember what song that line was from.  All of a sudden, Jo-Ann was running around yelling, “It’s naked eye!!” That was the start of a flurry of activity. It was still too dim to see through the filters, but we all could see it. What a thrill! Vince had his solar video setup going, and I couldn’t believe how big the planetary disc was. Then a few steaks of clouds managed to cover the dark spot. It made the sun look like Jupiter. Fortunately, the clouds moved.

I found the Mylar filters annoying. All I could see was me looking back at me, and I only had one eye. The welder’s glass and the one filter Jo-Ann had from “Astronomy Magazine” from a previous solar event worked best for me. I did manage to find the sun with the binoculars and the Astroscan Jo-Ann had set up. I couldn’t find it in Michelle Pettinato’s scope though. Michelle did get it herself when the sun got higher.  Charlie Stetz had an H-Alpha filter on his scope, so you got to see prominences around the edge of the sun too. Bob Smith had a projection set up with binoculars, so you saw two suns. In the 9 inch Clark as the shadow neared the edge John said he could see a slight crescent of the planet. Well, you know John, he always sees things no one else can. But I saw it too!

Tom Cupillari had a nifty solar projection setup, but when the sun first came up it was too low to use. Later on as the shadow neared the edge, I was the only one using it. I think during the morning, I managed to look through all 15 scopes. Some people had the nerve to have cameras attached to their scopes to get pictures. Usually they would take them off to see it live. I didn’t even try to get pictures, because I know me too well.  I would have dropped the camera, knocked over a few scopes and missed the whole event.

Don Murray wanted to get the planet when it was halfway off the edge of the sun, but Dave Barrett kept yelling from the back field for him to look through Charlie Stetz’s scope. So Don was torn. It was funny to watch him. He finally took the picture and then went to the back. By then there was a line by Bob’s scope. I asked Don if being a founding member of the club helped at the line. He said no. So I announced, “Founding member coming,” but the only reaction was Carol Leola’s laughing, “Were the seas supposed to part?” So much for respect for founding members.  I shouldn’t have started naming names. I know I missed people. We even had some “public” there and Channel 28 showed up too. I figure the reason we were successful was because I didn’t spread the word too much. If I had, we would have been rained out.

I told them at work I would be late. I got in about 9:00AM. As I checked out spaceweather.com there was already a page of pictures in the gallery. Around noon, it had 3 pages and when I checked around 5:00PM it was up to 5 pages. I guess a few other people saw the event, too. Eventually LAS member Linda Smith’s quick afocal shot with her digital camera through Michelle’s telescope was up on the site too.

Since we had a Board of Directors meeting that night we got to see first pictures from our board members. Everyone was still babbling about how good the morning went. As you can tell, it ended up being an all day event even though it was over around 7:30AM. I personally give the Venus Transit of 2004 a big thumbs up.

The last transit of Venus was about 120 years ago. Next one will be at sunset in 2012.