Sunday, April 24, 2011

Another clear day, but that was all.....

Spring happened on Friday afternoon through to Saturday evening.   Of course as always, the skies crudded over at sunset on Saturday.  I blew the dust and crud off the scope, opened the roof, and got the grease on the scope gears loosened up a bit with some solar tracking.
Did some daylight observing and got this shot of the sun.
My plans for going after some 10th magnitude galaxies in Ursa Major were again thwarted by our lousy spring weather.  Cliff Mass is right, the spring weather over the last years have been worse.   *sigh*

The techie details.
  • Camera - Canon 350D (with CLS filter, not needed, but I never take that thing off!)
  • Scope - Meade 12" LX200 with solar filter at f/6.3
  • Exposures - 10 at 1/500 second stacked with ImagesPlus
  • ISO - 100
  • Skies - clear and blue....then sunset happened.  Back indoors once again. Grrr....
(click image for the huge view)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

ISS - first look at the sky in 77 days.

It was 77 days (or nights) ago that the backyard observatory roof was open.  Last night wasn't really good for much since skies were hazy, and the moon was coming up around 10pm.  Just not a good night for the dim fuzzy stuff that I like collecting photons from.
The ISS was making a good pass, so I had to give it a try.  Took a peek at Saturn as a focusing target, and then waited for the station to appear.  Not a bad image, but I've had better.  I really need to try experimenting with different shutter/gain/gamma settings.  I'm still using my old settings of 1/500th second and about 40% gain.  That works fine for a station that isn't completed, but now it's a lot brighter, so I should go 1/1000 and maybe 60% on the gain?  Not sure.
I'll need some more clear skies to experiment, but again, we are socked in by clouds.
I'm pretty sure this is our space station, otherwise a Droid Starfighter has entered our system!
(Click any of the images for full size view)

Happy Birthday Hubble scope - and a very cool galaxy image.

21 years ago today, the now retired space shuttle Discovery launched the Hubble telescope.  At the time of launch, it wasn't known that the mirror was made slightly wrong and the scope needed glasses to read the small "Z X P E D" printed in small letters on the wall chart on the other side of the universe.  Hubble was fixed and has become one of the few things in the space program that the general public will know the name of (just the name and a few photos, I said nothing about knowledge of astronomy).
Hubble shows of on it's birthday with this very cool and almost science fiction looking galaxy that looks almost fake.  But it's real and we see it thanks to 21 years of this telescope.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Houston has a problem.

Here in Seattle, we can't too upset about a shuttle going to New York.  At least Seattle will get a wingless, full size training shuttle - and we'll be able to go inside it.
Houston, home of the astronauts, mission control for the shuttle, the US half of ISS control, and the huge pool that the astronauts train for spacewalks in - just to name a few things.  What did they score yesterday?

Real, genuine, flown in space, pilot and commander SEATS!

| Houston gets sat upon by NASA |

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

50 years, 30 years, and New York City?!

Happy Yuri's day (or Yuri's Night, if your city has a party).  Seattle used to have a party, and it was a pretty good one the first year, but sources I know at the Museum now tell me it's a real sore point when this comes up.  But maybe nobody would be in a party mood tonight after the news this morning.  So...50 year ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.  Ok, there is some conspiracy about him actually being the second in space, but first to survive the trip, but I'm not going there.  I haven's seen it yet, but there is a movie that was released today (First Orbit) about the flight.  Click the video below to see it all on Youtube.
Today is also the 30th anniversary of the first flight of the space shuttle on April 12, 1981.  John Young and Bob Crippen had a lot of guts (or some other sturdy male parts) to fly this totally unflown spacecraft manned for the first time it went into space.  They did have ejection seats, but they probably knew from looking behind them, they only had a few seconds to use them.  Otherwise, they would have probably popped out and been cooked to a couple of blackened husks in the SRB exhaust trailing about 600 feet behind the shuttle.  Even the Russians flew their Buran unmanned for the first try.  This may have been the last big gusty move of pilots in the early 80s.  Would a new spacecraft be launched be launched today with a crew on board the first flight?  Probably not.  Everyone is too scared to take any risk anymore.  Someone might get hurt, killed, or at least tangled into a nasty lawsuit.  Don't take risks anymore, exploration isn't that important. *Ugh!*
Finally, today we learned what museums around the country are going to get a space shuttle after they retire.  It was a total surprise, since museums that were picked just didn't make any sense.  Ok, KSC and Smithsonian, were pretty much expected.  California Science Center in Los Angeles gets Endeavour.  Uh... when did they say they were in the running for one?  Not a peep out of them, and they get one?  I read that they kept their request very quiet not to raise a bunch of excitement.
Then there is Enterprise, the parting gift shuttle for the leftover museum (we all wanted space flown hardware right?).  I was expecting and hoping that Seattle would at least get Enterprise if not a "real" space flown shuttle.  Then New York City was announced.  WHAT?!   I figured that they had even less chance then the Evergreen Museum in McMinville, Oregon, in the middle of the wheat field.  I do remember reading that the winning museum had to have fairly easy access to a runway that the 747 could operate on to deliver the goods.
...a sufficiently long enough runway on which to land the 747 that will carry the Shuttles to their ultimate destinations.
So, since Captain Sully landed an airbus on the Hudson, that qualifies the Intrepid Museum to barge the shuttle up the river and plop it on a dock surrounded by water?
Now look at the location of the museum in LA.  How do they plan on getting that thing from LAX (assuming they deliver it there) to the museum?  Close the freeway and tow it over there?  I just don't see how they met the requirements for the runway.  Again, Boeing field in Seattle would have been a better choice. 
If one of the shuttles went to Houston, and the other to Dayton I would have shrugged and said "We gave it a good try here in Seattle, but that was kind of expected.  Bummer!"
The shuttle ending up in New York is more of an insult.  Why have two shuttles only a couple hundred miles apart?  Have one in Seattle, then each corner of the country would have had a shuttle to amaze, wonder and inspire the future generations.   So much for sharing the shuttle with the whole country.  I guess we don't matter out here in the "wild west".  
Seattle will get the full sized, wingless, training mock-up.  At least there is word that we'll be able to go inside this, but it's still just a big model.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Seattle seasons. Are there really 4 of them?

Another cartoon today.  This is another one of my favorite local cartoonists that really knows how we feel here.  I like how the guy (possibly a Seattle astronomer?) is clutching his coffee cup with caffeine smeared across his face.  Perfect.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Happy shuttle commemorative cartoon.

The ending of the shuttle has been kind of a sad event for those who have grown up with it, maybe seen it in person a few times, and still try to see it fly over chasing the ISS on clear nights.
Seattle cartoonist Brian Basset created this cartoon that give the ending of the shuttle a happier feel to it.  It has been a great ride!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What really happened to Spirit.

We should check Uncle Owen's farm for our missing droid.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Astronomy cancelled, try flying instead.

It's now been at least 8 weeks since the skies were clear enough to do any backyard astrophotography.  The only time I've been out there is to occasionally peek into the observatory and make sure my roof leak fix is holding.  I had a leak directly over the telescope, which isn't good.  I've thought about trying to start building a Dobsonian scope around that 10 inch mirror I have, but motivation is very low for anything requiring clear skies.
"Slow Stick" electric plane
So, in my frustration I was looking for other ideas to tinker with and came across a very small video camera that can be attached to a model airplane.  I've had a partially completed "Slow Stick" in the basement, which I decided it was time to finish building and loft this little camera into the sky and see what happens.
Camera installed and ready
I found the camera in China for about $45 and nearly thought it was eaten by customs, but 5 weeks later it finally showed up.   The camera has 2 Gigs of memory, and they claim it can record 1.5 hours of video or a whole pile of still photos.  Basically, a flying webcam.  The camera is about half the size of a standard hotdog, but a lot lighter and won't plump when cooked.  A few rubber bands around it, and I had it strapped to the bottom of the plane.  I was excited to try it out, plane had some control issues with CG location and elevator trim, but I just dealt with it.  Bloody fingers also from trying to adjust the control rod without tools.  (Bloody hand seen in first video).
I took it down the street and tried it at the local park, it was a little windy (not much wind will toss this plane around) so that added to the workload of flying it.

It worked very well! An amazing view also, I'm estimating I got it up about 300 feet or so. I'll need a better battery to get it up higher for a wider view but this is a start.

Probably the highest flight yet, just a few houses down from my house. Notice dark clouds in the distance. Heavy rain just a few minutes later.

I like this video, not as high, but kind of fun seeing how close it got to disaster over that one tree on downwind to landing. I don't think I was in too much danger of snagging a branch, but I'll have to be careful.

This flight was at the school up the hill from the house. Again, just a little windy, but a fun view from above.

So there you have it. You too can easily build your own home-made backyard spy drone aircraft! Now to figure out evil uses for this. Ha!