Friday, June 11, 2021


Issue 574: A Short One…


Plenty of clouds down Chiefland way...
I haven’t been able to keep the blog on a monthly basis. Heck, I haven’t been able to keep it on a bimonthly schedule. When I can’t/won’t get out with a scope thanks to clouds, what am I gonna write about? Oh, I could go in for nostalgia, but there’ve been a bunch of posts of that sort over the fifteen years the blog has been around (yes), and that well is almost dry, muchachos.

I know it’s a cliché, but the dadgummed weather is just crazy-cloudy these days. A decade of Unk’s impressions doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the world of climate science, I know, but my impression is things are worse clear sky-wise. As I’ve said before, I noticed a change in my part of the country, the deep south, beginning nearly a decade ago, around 2012.

In those days, I was still loading up the truck, Miss Van Pelt, with a ton of astro-gear and heading south to the Chiefland Astronomy Village down in Florida at the drop of a metaphorical hat. I maybe didn’t get down there every dark of the Moon, but I got down there plenty, whether to pursue the Herschel Project, or just to take a picture of M13 from a dark sky, or play around with some new gear.

I’d usually do three days, and you know what? Even at the height of those southern summers I’d usually get two clear nights and sometimes three. But, then, about, yeah, 2012, I noticed the summer weather seemed different. I began to spend a couple of nights of a three-night run in the cotton-picking Chiefland Days Inn instead of on the observing field. And then there began to be complete skunkings. To the point where I grew reluctant to drive six freaking hours to sit in a déclassé motel room.

A rainy night in...Florida.
And it has now got to the point where (to me) the weather is more than noticeably worse year-round; not just in the summer. To include increasingly troublesome hurricane seasons  that stretch well into the fall.   And the weather ain’t just worse way down in Florida, but here along the northern Gulf Coast and throughout much of the country from what I hear. I maintain, again without scientific evidence, that something has changed with the weather and not for the good.

I’ll also admit I’m less hardcore than once I was. To be honest, I have trouble convincing myself to brave the clouds and the bugs and the haze and the heat to see a little something from suburban skies. I know I’ve missed some cool views that way, but there it is. Forty lashes with a wet noodle for Unk, and I promise to get out into the backyard more frequently henceforth. If it ever clears up and Gulf storms stay away.

Rather than let another month go by blogless, I thought you, my (overly) loyal and kind readers, might enjoy a little something…just a few bullets, really, about what's been going on around here (I almost said “around Chaos Manor South,” but those days are gone forever).

·       I had the pleasure of reviewing Phyllis Lang’s latest edition of Deep Sky Planner (Version 8, if you can believe that). You can read all about it in my Test Report in the upcoming issue of Sky & Telescope, but I can tell you it’s a goodun. 

·        Don’t forget to check your scope covers before you use them. I had a Telegizmos cover I bought back around 2016. While it wasn’t their “365” model, it was a good one, well made I thought. Six years is six years, though, and it did get a fair amount of use in my backyard. It’s so nice to be able to leave a scope set up under a cover for a few days. Almost as good as an observatory (which I have no interest in building at this juncture in my life). I should have paid more attention to it, though. The cover was looking a little tattered…but so what? The “so what” is we got a right good rainstorm in the early hours one morning and the cover leaked. Badly. 

There was some water intrusion into the tube of my SCT, Mrs. Emma Peel. That was not a huge problem to fix, however, since I’d become rather experienced in disassembling the Celestron (I’m still mad at them). However, what was even more drenched with water was my Advanced VX mount head. Rut-roh, Raggy. 

·       I love the AVX. It has never failed me for anything I’ve wanted to do with it. Heck, I’ve even gotten good guided astrophotos with it and the SCT at f/7. I’d hate to have to think about replacing it. I opened up the mount, dried it out, and let it sit in a low humidity environment disassembled for some days. Back together, I did a fake alignment indoors and the mount seemed fine. The only true test is under the stars, of course, and I have not been able to do that yet.  Fingers and toes crossed. 

·       If I have to replace the mount, what would I replace it with? Maybe not an AVX. You never know the truth of what you read on the consarned Internet, but it seems like not everybody gets a VX as good as mine. I’d probably replace it with… I dunno… An HEQ-5? iOptron’s new lightweight mount, the GEM 28? Search me and hope I don’t have to find out. 

·       What else…what else? Some folks get the impression I’m now telescope poor. Yes, I did sell off a lotta stuff, the larger instruments (good thing I did given my current condition), and also some of the less used astro-junk. But I’ve still got… 

66mm William Optics SD patriot refractor.

80mm WO fluorite APO.

80mm SkyWatcher f/11 achromat.

90mm Orange Tube Celestron C90.          

100mm f/5.6 Explore Scientific achromat.

100mm Celestron f/10 achromat.

120mm SkyWatcher f/7 ED APO.

125mm ETX 125 (the storied Charity Hope Valentine).

150mm Zhumell f/8 achromat.

200mm Edge SCT, Mrs. Peel.

250mm Zhumell f/5 Dobsonian, Zelda, who is now my Big Gun. 

And I still have a couple of boxes of eyepieces, three mounts (the AVX, a SkyWatcher AZ-4, and my Losmandy GM811G). So, don’t weep for me, AstroBloggers. That I got rid of so much and still have so much is a sign  I let my astro-buying get a little out of hand for a “while.” I’m good now and feel good equipment wise. 

·      What gets used the most? That’s easy, the 80mm APO, the SCT, and the 120mm APO. That’s for “serious” astronomy. What do I mostly use for a quick look at something and to keep my proverbial hand in? The 80mm f/11 SkyWatcher on the AZ-4 alt-azimuth mount. 

·      Do I at least think about new stuff? Not much. I don’t need more eyepieces, I’ve clearly got all the scopes I can use, and the three mounts are more than good enough. Assuming the Advanced VX still works. If it doesn’t? I need something in a similar weight class. As above, in the event, I’m thinking about an HEQ-5. I wouldn’t mind going back to EQMOD for scope control. I’ve also, yes, considered the iOptron GEM 28. Its weight and payload are impressive sounding. But I hear a lot of not-so-good experiences with their mounts. But I’m, yeah, hoping not to have to go our and buy any mount anytime soon. 

·       Astronomy software? These days my needs are simple. What I mostly use is three programs, which tend to the simpler compared to what I ran during, say, the go-go days of the Herschel ProjectDeep Sky Planner, Stellarium, and Nebulosity

·       There are many things to like about DSP. It is a mature and capable astronomy program. But sometimes it’s the little things. What has encouraged me to adopt it for my personal use? Nice large fonts. Having to squint at minute text on a dim red screen, even with your glasses on, ain’t no fun. 

·       Stellarium? I still love Cartes du Ciel and use it for some tasks. But Stellarium has come an awful long way in the last five years, and I don’t know what else I require. It’s just so pretty, too. That it now has built-in support for ASCOM makes the deal on this (free) software even sweeter. 

·       Nebulosity? It just works for acquiring images with my old Canon 400D and 60D (which are actually more sophisticated and capable than your silly old uncle needs for his astrophotography). It also has the best stacking routine in the bidness.

And…and…and… Can’t think of nuthin’ else campers. I hope to be back here again soon. Probably with the results of the AVX post deluge check ride. Till then, then...

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