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 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.