Sunday, January 10, 2021


Issue 572: Happy New Year’s 2021 from the AstroBlog


While things don’t exactly look good now (to say the least), I hope we can expect something better than another whole year of “I’VE GOT A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS!” Anyhow, this is the traditional AstroBlog New Year's update, muchachos.

Before we get to that, however, I know y’all wanna know WHAT SANTA BRUNG Unk. Well, not any new telescopes; that’s fer sure. If you follow this here blog even intermittently, you know Unk has been engaged in thinning the scope herd over the last several years. Oh, I’ve still got telescopes and eyepieces aplenty. But I’m down to one SCT, a few nice refractors, and a 10-inch Dobbie.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t get anything that was kinda-sorta astro-related, however. Something I like to do every week when I can is check into the Amateur Astronomy Digital (radio) Voice Net. A weekly meeting of amateur radio operators who are also amateur astronomers. This very fine net, hosted by NCS Jason Hissong, NX8E, a great ham and a great observer, can accommodate both DMR and D-Star users. The net meets every Wednesday night at 9 pm EST.  It’s a good net, but I wasn’t checking in very often. Why? Because the only D-Star radio I owned was a HT (handie-talkie, that is). Unk has never been a big fan of HTs, you see.

Anyhoo…the little VHF rig in the shack here, a Yaesu FT-1900, was about a dozen years old, so I figured it was time to upgrade. What did I ask Santa for? I thought about the Icom ID 5100—I love its big display—but it really seems more suited to mobile use, so I went with the ID 4100. And, after wrestling with the RT Systems programming software on Christmas afternoon, I got it set up for both analog and digital operations, and hope to become a regular on NX8E’s net henceforth. You can too if you hold at least a Technician license. If you’d like to join the net, see the Amateur Astronomy Digital Voice Net page on Facebook for details.

Anyhow, now for the annual wrap up…


The little old blog from Chaos Manor South was idle during most of 2019. If you can believe it, there was but a single post that year, my annual Christmas epistle. The reason there was essentially no blog in 2019 was two-fold. First, I suffered a serious accident that year and was laid up for months. When I was up and around again, I had a book to get out the door, the long awaited second edition of Choosing and Using a New CAT that so many (well, maybe one or two of y’all) had asked for. But with that done and 2020 on the way, it was time to get the blog, which will always be near and dear to my withered old heart, back on the air.

January brought an article on poor, old Meade, which was in the midst of yet another bankruptcy. The long and short of it was the company that bought Meade after their last crash some years ago, Ningbo Sunny, lost an anti-trust suit, declared bankruptcy, and was looking for a buyer. Where are they now? I haven’t heard much news about ‘em lately. They are apparently still getting some product to dealers, however. The website comes and goes and products, even bread and butter ones like the LX90, are frequently shown as “out of stock.” The irony? As that bad news came out, I’d just completed a review of their LX85 and was quite impressed. “Meade is back,” I thought.

In a good sign for the revival of the Blog, January 2020 featured not one but two entries. The second being an account of my yearly ritual of photographing M13. This edition concerned me doing that with the above mentioned LX85 the previous fall. As above, I was quite impressed by the optics of the 8-inch Coma-Free SCT that came with the LX85 GEM package, and also by the quality of the AVX-like mount. Actually, I thought the Meade LX85, which features ball bearings on the declination axis as well as the RA axis, unlike the Advanced VX, tracked better and was easier to guide.


April? How about February and March? There wasn’t any February and March. Unk wasn’t quite ready to get the Blog back on the rails till April, but when I did, I swore I would get at least one and sometimes two new articles out the door every stinkin’ month. The first of these was a real blast from the past, since it found me in the backyard with my Mallincam deep sky video camera I hadn’t used in years.

I was curious to see how it would work—or if it would work at all—since I had not applied power to it in at least five annums. But the Mallincam Xtreme fired right up and worked just as well as it ever had. So did everything else. Yes, your silly Unk did fumble around a bit with the Mallincam software, but he finally got back in the groove.


The theme of 2020 was resurrecting the AstroBlog and my astronomy gear, too. My beloved Losmandy GM 811G had lain fallow for a long while. This mount was such a breath of fresh air when I received it:  all that beautiful machining was so darned impressive after many years of  using Chinese GEMs. And so was the Gemini II controller. Campers, not only does it have a color touchscreen, tactile buttons if you prefer them, an Ethernet port, and a USB port in addition to a good, old serial port, it is amazingly easy to use and accurate.

As with the Mallincam, I was hoping all would be well after going on two years of disuse. And it was save for one thing:  the mount’s internal battery, a button cell. After getting over the shock of what one little battery can cost on fricking Amazon, Unk installed it in the Gemini II, got the mount into the backyard, and got it going again. “Going” meaning this wonderful mount performed just as well as ever.

Confronted with a downright strange stretch of clear spring weather, your uncle was able to get another Blog entry into virtual print in May. I realized that if I were to get outside with a telescope more regularly again, I needed a project. That project, I decided, would be The New Herschel Project.

Which would be decidedly more modest than the original Herschel (2500) Project documented in this blog. That project, a.k.a. “The Big Enchilada,” involved me observing all 2500 Herschel deep sky objects in less than three years. This time? Fewer objects, but more challenging in its own way:  I would observe the original Herschel 400 objects from my average suburban backyard. I would use the Mallincam when necessary, but the largest aperture telescope would be the largest left in my inventory. My sweet 10-inch Dobbie, Zelda.


The month’s first entry was about the first evening of the New Herschel Project. And, more prominently, the telescope I used to essay that:  Charity Hope Valentine, my Meade ETX 125. Like everything else the little scope had lain dormant for years.

Before I could think of getting her into the backyard, I knew I’d want to replace the battery in Charity’s LNT finder (she is a PE style ETX). That battery, like the Gemini II’s cell, keeps the scope’s clock running. I ordered one for Charity, and ordered one for the Celestron AVX as well, since I reckoned it would be good and dead too. Replacing Charity’s battery was a pain as always, but I got ‘er done and got the little scope into the backyard.

Alas, clouds scuttled our mission after we’d seen but one object. I was glad I’d got the little scope outside, though. For one thing, I found that the hand control cable was going bad. The insulation was gone in places. I’ll replace that “soon.” Another reason? She is a good little telescope and I still and always will love her.

There was a third entry in June, believe it or not. But it recounted a rather bitter affair. I’d found my Celestron Edge 800 had a severe problem. After seven years, the paint on the interior of her tube was failing. That necessitated carefully removing as much of the old paint (which had quite obviously been applied to an improperly prepared surface) as possible and repainting the interior.  


Following the above debacle, I was anxious to get the Edge, Mrs. Emma Peel, under the stars to make sure everything was well with her. I did, and managed to snag quite a few Herschels as well. That evening was also my introduction to Celestron’s CPWI telescope control program, which I dubbed “the new NexRemote.” I had been so out of touch during 2019 that I hadn't even been aware CPWI had been modified to work with the Advanced VX mount. Overall, I was quite pleased with the Celestron freeware.

July’s second article took Unk from the high-tech to the very lowest tech. Wherein your correspondent went hunting for the amazing Comet Neowise with binoculars. I began with my 100mm giants, but when it became obvious I’d have to hunt up the parts and pieces of their mount, I backed off to my Burgess 15x70s. The comet looked amazing nevertheless.


August recounted Unk’s adventures with hand-held astronomy software from the Palm Pilot days onward. This was spurred on in part by a Sky & Telescope assignment I was working on, a Test Report on the new version of SkySafari. Needless to say, I was impressed by the new ‘Safari. I’d skipped a version, and was amazed how far the software had come in a short while. I don’t hesitate to say it is now fully the equal of most PC and Mac astronomy programs.


Well, Muchachos…September was not exactly an astronomy-friendly month down here in Possum Swamp. We were hit by a pretty serious hurricane, Sally. This installment was about the passage of the big storm. While it caused a lot of damage to our east, the sum total of her depredations here was a downed 6-meter antenna and a few limbs in the yard. We were on the standby generator for less than an hour.


The year began with my M13 tradition and it was ending with the same. I knew I had to get out right away, as soon as the Gulf calmed down, or there would be no yearly M13. To be honest with y’all, it had been about three years since I’d done any astrophotography, and I was a mite nervous about whether I’d remember what to do and how to do it.

To make things easy on myself, I employed my beloved William Optics Megrez II Fluorite, an 80mm f/7, Veronica Lodge. She makes astrophotography as easy as that difficult art ever can be with her excellent wide-field optics. My results were nothing special, but got me back into the groove of polar alignment, guiding, and image processing.

Annnd…there was a second blog in October. With a splendid Mars opposition in progress, I just had to get into the backyard with telescope and camera—my old ZWO ASI120, and the Edge. The shots I got were not the best I’d ever taken; it had been a long time since I’d shot the Solar System. But they were not bad, either.


November brought another Herschel evening, and a pretty good haul of objects. The ostensible goal was getting CPWI working in wireless fashion with the AVX mount, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that was a no-go. My first generation Celestron wireless dongle just wouldn’t stay connected for long. I went back to “wired” and had mucho fun doing Herschels visually.


The final post of the year was about—what else could it have been about?—The Christmas Star, the grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. The article also comprised my annual Christmas card to you, my dear readers, but the focus was on the opposition. For once the weather cooperated, and I was able to see the spectacle and show it off to Miss Dorothy and a few neighbors with my 80mm f/11 achromat, Midge.

2021? Who knows what this year will hold? It is starting off in genuinely crazy fashion. Unk? I have two hopes:  that me and Miss D. get the vaccine soon and that I get up the gumption to get a scope outside and really start knocking off some Herschels. Which I promise to do just as soon as it gets a little warmer, muchachos.

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