Sunday, September 23, 2012


The Herschel Project Phase II Nights 1 and 2

The  title for this one could actually have been “Chiefland Redux, Redux, Redux” because what I did Down Chiefland Way and the reasons I did what I did were much like the way things were in this edition of the Little Old Blog from Chaos Manor South. What’s that, muchachos? I ain’t making much sense this Sunday morning? I reckon you are used to that, and I also reckon we should rewind and start this story at its beginning.

A few months back Miss D. mentioned we should plan some kind of a trip for our anniversary, coming up in September, so we tossed around a few ideas. Maybe duplicate our honeymoon, where we drove up the east coast to Virginia (which is appropriately for lovers). But this didn’t seem to be the year for a long road trip. Then, Miss Dorothy suggested we combine a Chiefland Astronomy Village (CAV) observing run with said anniversary trip. We’d observe the deep sky and also spend some time visiting the attractions of Florida’s Nature Coast. I suppose it’s possible somebody, somewhere has a wife more wonderful than mine, but I DON’T THINK SO.

As our departure date, 12 September, approached, I started making big plans. This would be the perfect time to begin The Herschel Project Phase II. As y’all know, I have finished observing all the H-objects, but that doesn’t mean The Project is over. I still need to do some nice DSLR images of the best of the best, make plenty of sketches, and use the Mallincam Xtreme video camera to re-shoot quite a few of the aitches I captured with my old black and white Stellacam.

I decided I’d tackle the first two tasks this trip, imaging with my Canon digital single lens reflex and doing some sketching. What would I do the picture taking with? My standard astrophotography rig, my Celestron Ultima C8, Celeste, and her Atlas (EQ-6) mount. Sketching? I’d do that with the C8 as well. After all these years as a C8 owner, I am still a big fan and one of my missions is to show folks just how deep this “small” and inexpensive telescope can go.

I was all set then? I thought I was, but then a couple of things changed. The first change was in the weather. As usual, the closer the trip got the worse the forecasts became. The 10-day for Chiefland started out impressively clear, but when we got within five days it began to go south with a lot of “partly to mostly cloudy.” That was not enough to make Unk change his observing plans, though. What was enough to do that was that I had to make a technical support visit to a ship in New Orleans the Tuesday before our departure.

By the time I got home from NOLA Tuesday evening I was bushed. Somehow, I persevered, getting all the gear packed in the 4Runner. As I was finishing up, it hit me: “Rod, you are way too worn-out to spend hours messing with a DSLR.” Miss Dorothy encouraged me to simplify, too. Why not have a nice, relaxing visit down to the CAV now that the Big Enchilada was done? That sounded good to me, but I hedged my bets, packing the Canon Rebel in the 4Runner anyway.

Florida Welcome station near Pensacola
The more I thought about it, the more visual observing with a little sketching thrown in seemed the way to go. Which would make this run very much like the January 2010 “Chiefland Redux, Redux” trip. My condition this time was not as dire as then, when I was recovering from (minor) skin cancer surgery, but it was close enough. That trip to New Orleans coming not long after a sea trial onboard an amphibious assault ship had been enough to get me down, way down. I have finally had to admit I just can’t shrug off these things like I could when I was 30.

In addition to dropping back to “jus’ lookin’ with Celeste,” there would be another similarity between the two CAV visits. In January 2010 I was all het-up to check out the CG5 mount’s new firmware for its NexStar hand control. This time I’d have the new (still beta) software for the Atlas’ GEM’s SynScan HC. Seems as Synta (who owns Celestron) is finally working to make the feature set of the SynScan more like that of the NexStar. The beta firmware adds an AllStar polar alignment routine (called “Polar Realign” for the SynScan) and several other tweaks.

In case the skies degenerated completely to sucker holes, I thought it would be cool to have something along to allow me to cruise the deep sky without worrying about mount alignments and go-to computers. Could have been the StarBlast, but I was ready to finally get out with my “new” 25x100 Zhumell binoculars and the EZ Binoc mount Dorothy and I built for them. What with the weather and my Herschel obsession over the last year, those giant binoculars had done nothing but sit in their case.

It was nice to have Miss D. along for this CAV venture—she missed my July expedition—and to be back to our usual routine. Bright and early—but not too early—Wednesday we got up, packed our suitcases, and made it out the door just a little past 8. Didn’t want to leave too early, since check-in time at our nominal Chiefland camping ground, The Day’s Inn,  is now 3 p.m., engendered, I suppose, by the motel’s need to cut back on housekeeping staff in these economic hard times.

Lovebug season.
Anyhoo, before hitting I-10 for the five-and-a-half-hour drive we stopped at our local downtown Mickey D’s for breakfast. Prob’ly don’t have to tell y’all what I got: chicken. Fried chicken. On a big biscuit. With grape jelly AND ketchup on it. Heck, y’all, I was on vacation. Following our repast it was head west on I-10 time with the Real Jazz channel punched-up on the dadgum XM satellite radio.

Made our customary stop at the Florida Welcome Center outside Pensacola, and, as I was browsing the racks of tourist brochures while waiting for Miss Dorothy, it came to me that it was a dern good thing I had decided not to do any DSLRing. I couldn’t have done any if’n I’d a-wanted to. While I had thrown the Canon in the truck, I forgot the case with the guide camera, my Orion StarShoot, in it. Oh, well, I reckoned the astro-gods were just underlining that I needed to take it easy this time.

The trip down was absolutely uneventful, with my only comment being that it sure went faster with Dorothy at my side than it had when I was all by my lonesome back in July. It wasn’t long before we were exiting I-10, stopping at our usual Sunoco station for gas and snacks (Jack Link Sasquatch Big Stick for Unk, natch), and getting on the Florida – Georgia Parkway, Highway 19, the gateway to The Nature Coast and the Chiefland Astronomy Village.

In addition to Miss D’s company, there was another nice change. Instead of heading into towering clouds as we drove south, we appeared to be leaving them behind. I wasn’t sure how much observing I’d get in Wednesday night, but it sure looked like I’d get some, and there wasn’t much doubt we’d at least be able to set up the gear, unlike the last time Dorothy was with me.

That’s what I thought, anyway, but when we got within about 20 miles of C-land, it began to rain. It was heavy at times, but seemed more like scattered showers than an advancing front, and it at least washed some of the lovebugs off the 4Runner, Miss Van Pelt. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen more lovebugs than we encountered this time. We ran through literally clouds of the little suckers all the way down 19.

We arrived at the Day’s Inn just after three and checked in. Dorothy and I were back in our usual first floor poolside room, and it and everything else was just the same as always: clean, not fancy, but sufficient and mucho bettero than a tent. What next? Sticking to The Plan, we headed for the CAV. It was sprinkling in-town, but it looked to us as if the shower was of the very local type. To the south we were seeing plenty of blue sky.

And so it was. It was not raining and had not rained at the CAV. Like the motel, the astronomy village was Just the Same, just the way I like it. The field had been freshly cut and the air was delicious. Even better, it was obvious I would not be on the field alone on this night. Our friends John and Bobbie were setting up their scope, and the trailers of several of our other buddies were on the field. It sure would be nice to have some company Wednesday evening.

Set up went purty easy. Having one other person help makes getting the EZ up canopy (actually I use a Coleman these days) EZ-er. Scope? Celeste is nothing, but there is no denying the Atlas mount’s head is a handful at a bit over 40 pounds. Nevertheless, it was considerably easier to get on the tripod than my fork mount NexStar 11, Big Bertha, is. The binoculars? I unpacked the EZ Binoc mount, but figured I would leave the glasses in their case till Thursday night. Tonight would be all Celeste, to include a full check-out of her “new” hand control.

Worked up a bit of a sweat, but not too bad. A breeze was blowing and the mercury hadn’t climbed past the upper 80s. E’en so, it was nice to get back in the 4Runner, crank up the A/C, and head to Wal-Mart to execute Part Three of The Plan: stock up on supplies we hadn’t brought with us. That included the usual items: MONSTER ENERGY DRINKS—natch—Jack Links (their beef sticks since the Flaming Buffalo Chicken Nuggets seem to have disappeared), bottled water, Kolorado Kool-aid for after run libations, and some granola bars for the field for comparatively healthy late night snacking. Before leaving, I snagged yet another Star Wars t-shirt to add to my wardrobe of observing field wear.

After shopping, it was time for a bite to eat, since the clock was saying it was now past five. With Wally-World’s in-store Macdonald’s gone (looks like they may be in the process of building a new fast food stand), we headed for the Taco Bell next to the Day’s Inn. Against my better judgment I got the Dorito Taco Big Box. I simply could not resist, y’all. Slathered everything in the Taco Bell Hot Sauce I favor, gobbled it all up, and we headed back to the motel.

And the clouds scurried off to the west.
After allocating our purchases to the room or the truck depending on whether or not they needed to go to the field right away, and having a quick peek at the sky’s layout for the night on the laptop with Stellarium, it was getting on to seven and I needed to high-tail it to the observing field. Yeah, the scope was set up, but I still had to get the laptop going. Even though I did not plan to operate the mount with the computer on this night, I would still need it to run SkyTools 3 so I’d have a list of objects to work.

Out at the site, I scrambled around getting everything just so before taking a break just after sunset and turning a weather eye on the sky. Not bad. Why, not bad at all. The clouds I’d hoped were just afternoon clouds had turned out to be just that, and were drifting west toward the Gulf of Mexico. Looked like it was going to be a nice night and maybe even a long night. Relatively speaking, anyway. In mid September it wouldn’t get good and dark at the CAV till after 9 p.m.

All that remained to do was get my power squared away. There’s AC on the field, and that runs the laptop, the dew heaters (via a little 12vdc power supply Unk has had for years), and normally the telescope/mount. I’d intended to power the Atlas with AC, anyway. It’s only been the last couple of years that I’ve begun running the scopes on mains current at CAV, and since I had not had the Atlas down to Chiefland since '08, I had no AC supply for the big dog.

I couldn’t find a wall-wart around the Old Manse with the current-handling capacity of Orion’s Atlas power supply, so I figured I’d better just order their (fairly reasonably priced) unit. That wasn’t all I ordered. Our Cupertino friends had been advertising a larger accessory tray for the Atlas tripod. I don’t put eyepieces on an eyepiece tray, but I do find a big one helpful for holding the dew heater power supply, a surge suppressor, a can of Monster Energy Drink, and other stuff. So I ordered that too.

The Synscan HC looks like a NexStar, but ain't quite that.
In just a week or so, a box from Orion was on the front porch. I was suspicious, however. Looked too flat for a power supply wall-wart to be in it. Indeed there was none. There was a note on the shipping list that said the wall-wart would ship on that very day. Which meant it would not arrive till the Friday after we left for Chiefland.

Oh, well. I’d power the Atlas with a jump start battery. No big deal. HOWSOMEEVER…as a regular customer, I notice that a lot of Orion’s products seem backordered these days. And I am hearing complaints about that from lots of folks. Hope we are not going back to a time like the early 90s when you couldn’t order a dern Kellner eyepiece from Orion without it being on backorder. Given that Orion charges premium prices for almost everything they sell, if they can't offer speedy delivery I believe I'll start looking for someone else (like the erstwhile B&H Photo) who sells similar SkyWatcher stuff. 

How about the tray? Works good and is, I guess, worth its somewhat exorbitant price. I was surprised, however, to find that, rather than replacing the Atlas tripod’s normal accessory tray, it bolts onto it (they tell you that on the Orion web page, but I reckon I missed it). Not that that makes a big difference, I suppose. Just a little strange. I guess the tray would have had to be heavier and thicker to replace the original. At any rate, it did the job I wanted it to do, providing a nice large surface for my assorted at-the-scope stuff.

With the bright stars winking on, it was time for your old Unk to get on the stick. While I planned to use the hand control’s new AllStar style polar alignment, I wanted to be in the neighborhood of the pole to begin with to make tweaking with the HC as quick as possible. Before starting the Polar Realign business, I’d do a normal polar borescope alignment.

The easiest and most effective way to use the polar scope involves nothing more than it, the mount’s R.A. setting circle, and the hand control. Start out by putting the North Star in the middle of the borescope’s field. Rotate the mount in R.A. until the circle on the reticle where Polaris goes is on the bottom, and set the R.A. circle to 0. Turn on the mount, enter time and date and position, and observe the Polaris Hour Angle the HC displays. Then, unlock the R.A. axis and move the mount until the R.A. circle (top scale in the Northern Hemisphere) reads that value. Lock it down. Move the mount in altitude and azimuth until Polaris is in the circle on the reticle. Voila! Pretty good alignment. It would have been more than good enough for my visual observing, but I still wanted to try the AllStar bidness.

The vaunted Happy Hand Grenade.
Alrighty, then. Go-to alignment next. Let’s see, star one…howsabout Alpheratz? Turned the mount back on, re-entered all the setup info, and began the three-star alignment. Finally found my star of choice in the list, centered Alpheratz up, and told the Atlas to go to Star Two. That was where things got different. I thought Alderamin might be a good #2, and figured I’d have to scroll through a long list to find it. Nope. It was there, but was one of only two choices. In the past, you had to make the decisions on the best alignment stars yourself, unlike the NexStar HCs, which only present good choices. Apparently the SynScan controller is now doing the same thing, filtering stars by their ability to produce a good alignment. Anyhoo, accepted the HC’s first pick for the third star, Arcturus, and I was done.

The question then became “How well done?” In the past, allowing the HC to choose its own alignment stars has resulted in very poor alignments. Not this time. Everything I requested all night long was somewhere in the field of the 13mm Ethos and often in the 8mm at f/10. Yes, those are ultra wide field eyepieces, but go-to quality was good enough that I suspected most if not all my targets would have been on the small chip of my Mallincam Xtreme.

Which brings us to the eyepieces I’d use on this night. I love my big 8 and 13 Ethoses, but I also wanted to give my el cheapo 16mm Zhumell  (also sold by TMB Optics) 100-degree job a try. All these eyepieces would ride in a very special star diagonal, my Denkmeier Power Switch with Filter Switch. That rig allows me to instantly switch the C8 between f/10, f/20, and f/6.6 AND…it lets me put either one of two filters into the light path. Having the Denk’s filters, Barlow, and reducer available at the flick of a switch means I do a lot more experimenting with various magnifications and filters than I normally would.

Before doing any deep sky cruising, I wanted to try the automated polar alignment routine. Since I’d experimented with AllStar a time or two, I knew how the SynScan’s Polar Realign should work. Pick a star from a list, usually one to the south and near the intersection of the Celestial Equator and the Local Meridian. Slew to it. Mash a button and the scope slews off it. Adjust the mount via its altitude and azimuth adjusters till the star is centered and you are done.

One of the stars the Atlas chose was Antares, which was reasonably well placed, so I OKed it. As above, the scope slewed away after I’d centered it. The star landed not too far from the center of my Orion 12mm reticle eyepiece when the slew stopped, which, I thought, indicated the polar scope did a pretty good job. Re-centered with the alt/az bolts, and, as instructed, went on to a new 3-star go-to align using the original three stars. When I was done, the HC indicated via a read-out of “Mel” and “Maz” that I was about 15-minutes from the NCP.

I could have done another Polar Realign followed by another 3-star to dial the pole in closer, but I’d accomplished what I wanted—I’d proved to myself that the new procedure at least seems to work. It’s hard to tell just observing visually, but the quality of my go-tos and lack of egregious declination drift suggested Polar Realign is ready for prime time.

Mount alignments done, it was now approaching 21:30 and good and dark and time to have some fun. I did a few spurious go-tos to check accuracy, which resulted in M13 in the west, M22 in the south, and M82 in the north all being easily in the field of the 16mm Z. I stopped at M13 for a while to give the 16mm a good try-out. A globular’s hordes of tiny stars are a challenge for any wide-field eyepiece, but the 16 Z acquitted itself well. Especially at f/10, the stars were decent almost to the field edge. No, they were not as good at f/6.6, but the Denkmeier reducer does not claim to be a field flattener. Final verdict? The eyepiece produced acceptable views, was very useable, and didn’t break the bank.

After that? I couldn’t resist hanging out down south for a while, visiting the sinking faves of summer: M8, M17, M16, M22, M11, and all the rest. The night’s skies had started out a little iffy, but were now fairly cooking. The Milky Way’s “steam” was boiling out of the teapot’s spout. Frankly, I wished I’d gone ahead and set up the 25x100 binocs, but that would wait for Thursday night.

Now the time had come to get back on the Herschel bandwagon. I started out easy with M110, which is indeed a Herschel, sketching this elliptical companion of M31. How do I sketch? I don’t claim to be the world’s gift to art, but I do have a system down. I draw in a sketch diary, a spiral bound notebook of good drawing paper easily available in art supply stores or even drug stores. I draw with a variety of pencils, mostly a medium hb. A Sharpie-type marker does the stars. How do I see what I am sketching? I use a gooseneck red LED light I got from Astro Gizmos a while back. This is clamped to the Rubbermaid Storage Clipboard that supports the sketch diary.

My decades old Rubbermaid storage clipboard.
I start with the Sharpie, plotting the field stars with larger dots for brighter ones, natch. I don’t necessarily draw every star, but I do enough to allow me to accurately place the target object in the field among them. Stars done, I pick up the pencil if I am doing a galaxy or nebula, or continue with the sharpie for a glob or open cluster. I certainly don’t draw every star in a globular or even in a rich open cluster, just enough to give the general impression. I will usually go back to a pencil, a hard one, for dimmer globular stars. I indicate nebulosity in all objects both by sketching it in and by drawing outlines. I also make notes about the object on the paper. The goal is to have enough data to be able to come back and make a finished sketch later.

I complete my drawings by daylight, trying to get to them while I still have a good memory of the objects’ appearances, maybe within a week of the observing run. I indicate stars with small dots and do nebulosity with soft pencils, charcoal, an art gum eraser, and blending “stumps.” I strive to render the details I saw and only the details I saw, not those I remember from images.

When my sketch is as good as I can get it, I scan it into Adobe Photoshop, render the stars in their proper size/brightness with the airbrush tool, and do any needed touchups to nebulosity using a variety of the program’s drawing and painting tools. When I am finished, I reverse the picture’s colors, making it a negative image so I have nice white stars on a black background.

So what did I sketch? Enough objects but not too many. Didn’t want to burn out on the first night, but I did want to cover some ground, and ended up doing fifteen Herschels. Let me tell y’all, it’s a lot more work to draw fifteen aitches than it is to image fifteen with the Mallincam!

When I finished my sketching, I wasn’t even close to being ready to call it a night. I zipped all over the sky doing tons of pretty stuff. What were some of the standouts? One was NGC 7331, The Deerlick Galaxy. It had been a long time since I’d seen it look as good in a mere 8-inch. Not only was its sweeping spiral arm there, I kept staring and was able to pick out a couple of the “deer,” the little NGC galaxies clustered around big mama—a good job for a C8. Another winner was M15. I never tire of looking at its spray of miniscule stars and its tiny, condensed core. Even at the relatively low power of the 16mm eyepiece at f/6.6 a goodly number of the cluster’s stars were resolved.

The empty streets of Chiefland in the wee hours.
So it went for the next few hours. At about 1 a.m., I found myself a little weary—though not as weary as I thought I would be by that time. I hopped over to the clubhouse, got my second Monster of the evening out of the fridge, chugged it down, and was ready to go—heck, raring to go—again. Still, by the time 2:30 in the freaking morning came around, the Day’s Inn was sounding better and better. I threw the Big Switch, put the computer in its bag, and headed back to town. No shame in that. In addition to sketching fifteen objects, I'd visually observed at least fifty more, though some only briefly while checking the Atlas’ go-to accuracy.

Back at the motel not much was going on. Miss Dorothy, who had elected to hang out in the room Wednesday night, was snoozing and the cable TV yielded nothing but boring foolishness like Pawn Stars. Weren’t even showing the dern UFO Hunters. I settled for Adam Richman stuffing his gullet with barbeque sandwiches in the ongoing battle of Man vs. Food. There was that brand new bottle of Rebel Yell, of course. A Shot or two of that, a little browsing of the Cloudy Nights bulletin boards to see what was up in that other battle, Man vs. Meade, and the Rodster was sawing logs.

Friday morning brought a fresh batch of clouds and another Day’s Inn motel breakfast. “Hey, wait a minute, Unk. FRIDAY? What happened to cotton-picking Thursday?” You will hear all about Thursday next week. That was the night I let the Zhumell binoculars loose on the summer Milky Way, and it was incredible, but I didn’t do a lick of Herschel work, and The Herschel Project is what this entry is ostensibly about, y’all.

I trotted down to the lobby with Miss D., resolving to stay on the healthy side before my digestion began protesting all the junky road food I’d consumed over the past couple of days. Bowl of Frosted Flakes (née Sugar Frosted Flakes). Half a plain bagel. Orange juice. I did have an ulterior motive. I was saving room for lunch at my fave Chiefland eatery, Bar-B-Q Bill’s.

The gang down at Manatee Springs.
Before Bill’s, Miss Dorothy and I had a road trip on our itinerary. We motored a few miles south from Chiefland to Manatee Springs State Park. We’d been there before and were anxious to do some more walking on the cool and shady trails. No manatees did we see, of course—they are strictly winter visitors—but there were plenty of mullet, who had been driven up into the springs by Hurricane Isaac. Every few minutes a fish would jump, landing back in the water with a startlingly loud splash in the quietness. In addition to the fish, there was plenty of other wildlife from beautiful birds to a group of turtles sunning themselves. It was a pretty day and we had a good time walking down to the Suwannee River.

Loved the park, but I was more than ready for Bill’s when lunchtime came. I won’t belabor the subject; I’ve raved often enough about what I consider the best barbeque joint in the southland. I will just say “good as ever.” Or maybe even “better than ever.” D. and I ordered the same thing, the storied lunch special:  pork (beef if you prefer), fries, beans, garlic bread, salad bar. All for a crazy-small amount of bucks. As always, the old-fashioned salad bar was a big hit with me, though I tried to go easy on it so as to leave room for all that barbeque slathered with Bill’s insane spicy sauce.

Thence back to the motel where I did some resting and catching up on my reading of Astronomy Magazine after a dip in the pool. Surprisingly, the water was on the chilly side. Summer is going, even down south in Chiefland, alas. As y’all know, Sky and Telescope is tops with me and would be even if I didn’t write for it, but I still like Astronomy OK. Sadly, busy as I am the magazine often gets shoved onto the “read later” pile. I was happy to spend some time with their last four or five months’ worth of issues.

At 7 p.m. it was time to return to the fabled Billy Dodd Memorial Observing Field. Not that I had high hopes. As the afternoon had grown old, the clouds had multiplied and this time they were not drifting off as sunset came and went. Sucker holes and haze and nothing but. I contented myself with messing with the SynScan firmware, which I found I could confusticate if I tried.

The cool pool.
Since the software is still in beta release, I would expect some rough edges, and that is not a down-check as long as they round ‘em off in the final version. When I was doing the AllStar alignment, I’d noticed some rather odd star choices. Yeah, it’s supposed to be “all star;” you should supposedly be able to use any star in the sky as a polar alignment helper. But, still… Mizar? Choosing that as my Polar Realign Star resulted in Celeste pointing at the ground rather than at the star and doing the same when I aborted Polar Realignment and sent her to M13.

I redid the Realign on Antares to make sure the routine wasn’t busted and then did some playing around with alignment star choices. While the SynScan is well on its way to providing good stars automatically, it can still pick baduns. Accepting Arcturus as my first star resulted in the HC offering Vega, which was nearly overhead and close to the Local Meridian, as an option for star number 3. Permitting that led to all targets being away from the center of the 16mm Zhumell’s field and some in the northeast area of the sky being out or nearly out of its field. The amazing thing was that even given the poor choice of Vega as the cone-alignment star, most objects were at least in the field.

After I was done messing around, I performed a 3-star alignment one last time, on a whim using Alkaid as the number three star rather than Arcturus, which resulted in the best alignment of the trip, probably because it was, unlike Wednesday night’s Cone Star, within the suggested 30 – 70-degree (north or south) declination range. Everything, every single object from horizon to horizon, was dead center in the eyepiece without fail.

And the clouds were back on Friday.
Final thoughts on the SynScan HC? I don’t think the beta firmware is quite there yet, but the SynScan does seem on its way to being the equal of the company’s NexStar--or at least closer to that than it has been. I never had to worry about getting objects in the field, and based on my experience and what I’ve been told by other folks, I believe the Polar Realign function works well. What do I still miss? A list of named deep sky objects would be nice and so would some fine-tuning of alignment star choices, but other than that it all seems to have come together. That said, I still prefer EQMOD, but it’s nice to have the option of a fully functional, mature HC for those times when I don’t want to use a PC in the field.

So, go-to was real good. What did I look at? I did five more Herschel sketches, but getting even that many took most of the night, since I had to do a lot of waiting for clouds to pass. When I couldn’t get at a Herschel, I looked at pretty stuff or cool stuff or memorable stuff. Best sight of the evening? M31 riding high as seen in my old 35mm Panoptic eyepiece. The galaxy’s nucleus was a tiny burning pinpoint, there was a dust lane on view despite the not so hot conditions, and M32 and M110 were crazy bright.

In between looking, I spent a lot of time hanging out with my Chiefland buddies. It was almost like we had a real star party going on, with the crowd having grown to at least ten observers by Friday night. In addition to shooting the breeze, we did plenty of checking of the Clear Sky Clock and the Weather Channel thanks to the wireless Internet on the field, trying to determine what Urania planned to do with her sky.

What we could see above us and what was on the I-net seemed to suggest the clouds might scud off after midnight. How long after midnight? That was hard to say and, dadgum it, Unk was feeling tired again. Having to wait for long stretches between sucker holes was getting me down. At 12:30 I disgustedly threw in the towel and threw that accursed Big Switch. I knew good and well the sky would probably turn beautiful ten minutes after I left, but it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

Back at the motel it was a traditional denouement with the Ghost Adventures crew of Zak, Aaron, and Nick hanging out at a scary old abandoned insane asylum. That, a little Yell, a little web surfing, and I wound it down. It seemed odd not to be signing off with, “Another 100 Herschels done,” but I’d gotten some Project work accomplished to the tune of about 20 sketches between Wednesday and Friday night, and seen a few cool things despite the fricking-fracking weather. Most of all, I’d had fun, which, believe it or not, muchachos, is still the most important thing for me in amateur astronomy.

Nota Bene:  If you'd like to see more pictures of our CAV trip, you will find plenty on Unk's Facebook page. Not a FB friend of mine? Like good, old George Takei I have never been known to turn down a friend request. Unk needs all the friends he can get!

Next Time:  Night of the Giants...

Thanks for the note about Facebook - I just sent a friend request.

And thank you for a terrific blog! I have to appreciate your name for your C8: my wife is Celeste and she gave me my Celestron 80f5, leading to the discussion group by that name.

Best to you from the Pacific Northwest from someone who enjoyed 7 months in Biloxi in '75/'76.
My pleasure and thanks for your kind words, Jim...
Uncle Rod,

While trying to determine when my Orange Tube C-8 was made by looking on the 'internets' via the serial number, I ran across a PDF you posted, I think, ~2008: .

I'm 66 and my astro journey has been very similar to yours. I grew up in rural North Carolina. I started out making a 2 inch refractor from an objective and small, single positive focus lenses for the eyepiece all from Edmund Scientific using spray-top caps and tooth paste caps for mounting the lenses in telescoping cardboard tubing from Edmund, natch. Pretty good moon and Saturn's rings were OK. Later after getting some "dough" from hard summer farm work, I bought a 3 inch Edmund f/10 reflector. Pretty good views of the moon but hard to see any deep-sky objects - mirror too small and obstruction too large. But it was easy to collimate 'cause the tube was short.

Later, after getting a "piled-higher und deeper" degree in biochemistry, there was a little more disposable income. Perusing S&T I found that I could afford, barely, a Cave 8 inch, f/7 Newtonian. It took a while to get it (try 6-8 mo). Later learned that Cave was investing our money in CDs and building the scopes after maturity. Anyway, it was worth the wait 'cause mine had excellent optics. One morning I saw more detail on Jupiter with it than I've seen in larger scopes since (I know, the seeing was, like the Bo Derek movie, 10 out of 10).

The Cave 8" was great but not very portable as you found also. I opted for a C8 in the early '80s (serial no. 809176). It stills works fine and the mirror coatings don't seem to have deteriorated much, if any, over the years; however, my old eyes aren't what they used to be so it's a toss-up whether the coatings are less reflective or the good ole eyes have dimmed over the years.

Anywho, I was struck my the similarity of our astronomical journeys.

Wishing you clear skies, always...

Don Horne

HI Don:

Great story...thanks! :-)
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