Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

Too many clouds makes me crabby.

....but then a clear night without any clouds, still makes me crabby - in a "Crab Nebula" kind of way!  Messier 1 or M1 for short.  I still don't really see a crab in this, but maybe when Charles Messier cataloged this it might have looked like a crab back then.
Clear! (it was about 20 minutes
before this was taken)
This is probably the first "serious" image taken since the new observatory has been put into operation.  I still have some work to do, mainly syncing up the dome and scope so the hole lines up at all times.  More on that later.
I'm pretty happy with how this turned out.  The autoguiding was working very well and I only have very minimal star training or "Twinkie" stars as I call them (RIP Twinkies - but know you will always be around ad edible).  I was experimenting with a 30 day trial of some Canon EOS software that I think I really like a lot, it even moves the PHD guider software for auto-dithering.  Pretty nice.
The photo is made up of 9 images taken at f/6.3, ISO 800 and 300 second exposures.  My biggest gripe right now, other than cloudy skies, is the fact that it's been well over a year since I've done any serious imaging (I'm a serious believer in climate change!) since skies have just sucked for a long, long time.  It's been so long that I've forgotten a lot of my processing skills that I learned.  That's really annoying as I sit staring at hot pixels on the screen scratching my head and muttering through clenched teeth "how the **** do I do this again?!"
More to come?  Sure, just a matter of when.

Summer work on the Astro-Shack Observatory (Part 1)

I've been slacking on the blog site way too long.  I think my astronomical interest seems to dwindle with the increase of clouds or lack of good skies around here.  Sure, we had a pretty amazing summer with 80+ days with zero rain but once skies cleared up enough and the moon was out of the way, we had forest fires and HUGE amounts of smoke which destroyed even the darkest blue Clear Sky Chart predictions I've seen in a long time.
The dome in the original location on
Little Bear Observatory
I did a lot of work on the Astro-shack over this time though.  EAS inherited a dome from Tomas Palmer (same generous guy who donated the 12" Meade).  Tomas, if you read this blog, please contact me.  I lost touch and your phone number didn't work when you moved!
Anyway, I did some upgrades to the observatory by putting a dome on the roof.   I foolishly did all this work myself with the constant risk of falling off the roof, stepping off the top of the ladder, or other hazards of solo construction.   I have great balance and a sore back but I did accomplish the task!
It started with a trip to Redmond to remove the dome from Tomas' roof.  Not too hard despite the shutter door flying off the dome on it's own, but nobody got hurt. 
A couple trips in the truck, and the dome parts were
in my backyard ready for cleaning and assembly
It took a couple truck loads to get all the parts home.  Then I spent a few hours cleaning years of grim and gunk off the fiberglass parts.  Boat soap works well and the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers for the tough scuff marks.   
It all fits together!
Can't procrastinate once the roof
is pulled off.  Gotta do it!
It was then assembled on my deck to line up all the holes and figure out where all the puzzle pieces when together.  I marked the parts with a pencil so I could get everything in the right place again later. 
I knew where I was going to mount this thin on the roof, so I climbed up and simply started pulling panels off.   This was very late July, so I figured I had maybe a month if I was lucky to do this before the rain....got lucky and had almost 3 months.
Some rafters cut out, and the new
dome support frame is seen around the
bottom half of the roof. 
The flange was an 80 inch square so my plan was to build a frame around the roof that it would just neatly sit in and be bolted down.  Measure three times, cut once.  That's my rule that I follow - most of the time unless I get cocky (that when mistakes happened).
Rafters cut out leaving the square
frame ready for the dome flange.
Flange was tight, but fit perfectly.
I basically stripped down the roof to the bare rafters and build the square support around the rafters leaving the peaked roof in place until I was ready to cut that all out and put the dome in place.  I figured that might be the easiest way to do this, and the triangular shape of the roof would give it some strength from the angles.  I did add plenty of other cross-pieces around the square just to make sure.  Once the frame was secure, I could then remove the remains of the old roof and leave the new support in place ready for the dome to rest on top.
I then put the flange in place one corner at a time.  I nearly panicked briefly when it seemed that I didn't take into account the thickness of the fiberglass, but with some gentle pounding, nudging and yes - cussing - I got it in place.  All screw hole lined up beautifully but tightly.  Perfect bit of engineering work on my part!
Next on part II, I'll show you the dome and telescope mount modifications.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Some more photos of Neil Armstrong

Thanks to Robert Perlman of CollectSpace.com for sharing some other great photos of Neil Armstrong.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

So amazing...and we haven't rolled yet!

Just over 24 hours after Curiosity landed, the images keep pouring in.  Kind of embarrassing that I seem to get a lot of my news from Facebook, but I pretty much have all my aviation and space addictions and fetishes filtered down pretty well there and the photos keep showing up!
Anyway, the most impressive thing this afternoon to come from Mars was a little animated video taken from the rover just after the heat shield dropped away exposing the camera all the way down to the surface.  Notice the dust cloud in the circular pattern as the sky crane engine exhaust hit the surface. The wheel can be seen appearing like "landing gear" as the rover landed on the surface.
So next we'll see these same photos in 1600x1200 resolution!  So if I have already fallen out of my chair seeing these, where to I fall when it gets better?  The rover hasn't even moved yet!
I had a feeling that the NASA site would have probably gotten bogged down to hardly a slideshow, so I attended the landing party at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.  They expected maybe 200 people to show up, but then there was over 600. Theater was packed, lobby was packed and they had to open the theater in the main gallery so everyone could get a view.  Loud cheering, screaming and and excitement  when the landing announcement was made.  I'm sure the museum crowd could have out-screamed the JPL crew!  Very exciting to see, and yes, the last 7 minutes were very tense and terrifying hoping the thing wouldn't add a new crater.  Wow.
At midnight I finally headed home relieved and excited to see what would show up the next morning.  Such fun!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Six more wheels on Mars!

Need I say more?  :-)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Return of the Saturn V class beast?

Infographics are always fun.  Here is a nice one of NASA's plan for the SLS booster.  Something bigger than the Saturn V with nearly 10 million pounds of thrust - now THAT would be one to see in person!
So 2017 for the first flight of the SLS, I'm betting that SpaceX will fly their Falcon Heavy first though.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Another reason Seattle should have gotten a shuttle.

New York already broke Enterprise!
It would have been a quick trip across the street from BFI's large runway to the Museum of Flight's hanger that was ready for the shuttle.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Will we, or will we not?

No surprise at all that Seattle astronomers were again thwarted in our plans to see the annular solar eclipse the other week.  I did try to image a view of the backyard getting darker at totality then brighter again.  My efforts were unimpressive since the passing thicker/thinner clouds ruined the effect since it was always pretty dark in the first place.
Not totality yet, but did it even matter?
Last night we had plans to do our yearly star party for the Mt. Si high school up at Snoqualmie Point park.  A few of us did go up despite totally overcast skies.  It was cancelled but we mainly got out just for a nice drive to the mountains, and chat with some astronomer friends for a while and shake our fists at the sky cursing as the full moon did peek through a small hole now and then.
Click for larger view
Next week we'll have the chance to see an event that won't happen again in 100+ years - the transit of Venus across the face of the sun.   
Forecast for Tuesday - 

  • Tuesday: Showers. High near 61. South southwest wind between 10 and 14 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%.
  • Tuesday Night: A 30 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 47. 
Hey!  Interpolate between 80 and 30% we may have about 50% chance of seeing something?  Or maybe that's just the chances we'll be outside and not get rained on.  Ah, yeah...

I've pretty much learned not to get too worked up over these things anymore, otherwise I'd be very disappointed, so I just shrug and say "meh....if it happens, great.  If not, there is the internet streaming view of the sun and Netflix for the evening".  hopefully soon my Netflix will be gathering dust as the summer weather arrives.  
If the rain gods spare us, I'll probably stop by Bellevue College and see the event from there.  
Clear skies!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Late afternoon on the rim of Endeavour.

I'll have to admit that I've been slacking on blog updates lately.  Just been busy (stressed?) with a lot of changes lately.  Mainly getting used to a new job. Very hard to do after getting pushed out of a job after 7 years, but things are settling down after a couple months now.
So I'll try to resume again with some cool stuff from space, Earth, and whatever else catches my eye.  Again, Seattle hasn't been very astronomy friendly over the last months with lousy skies, so I haven't taken any new images to post, but maybe that will change in the near future since rumor has it that La Nina is dead, and we may get something that resembles "spring" this year - eventually!
So, here is a photo that has been floating around the internets yesterday that is just very spring like. I like this comment on the description of the photo "This crater spans 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter, or about the same area as the city of Seattle."  I'd like to see a Photoshop comparison of that!

Friday, February 3, 2012

When Oppy sees her shadow, does that mean a longer winter on Mars?

Another one of those very cool "Ooooooh!" photos that us Earthbound Mars explorers can appreciate from our virtual rides along with Oppy on Mars.  Hard to believe that the little rover is still alive and well after EIGHT YEARS now!   My old rover T-shirt that I bought at Kennedy Space Center years ago is already worn out and used as a greasy rag, but at leas one of the rovers is still going.
From the look of the panels, it does look like Oppy could use a direct hit from a dust devil to clear off that coating of dust. But the rover is now in position for the Martian winter, tipped toward the sun for maximum solar power.
Look at the photo below, that little bump on top of the hill shadow is the shadow of the rover, with the sun glory around it.  Very cool!

Monday, January 30, 2012

A shooting star is not a star at all

Just a fun little video I came across.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Guide to the ISS.

Now that the International Space Station is complete, a guide has finally been published by NASA.  Nice thing is, this is a free download, and  you can burn through all your printer ink if you decide to print out all 130 pages.  Looks like a good publication, tons of photos diagrams, cutaways and other goodies.  I wonder if NASA will sell printed versions of this?  I'd go for it since I have the attention span of a goldfish when reading books on a computer screen!