TRO Blog

TRO Primer

NGC 2392 200x20 processed
Eskimo Nebula taken at TRO with the Celestron 11″

 

 

TRO Primer

 

It occurred to me recently my standard assumption is that everyone who looks at this site will understand what is posted. Not so! A friend of mine, an accomplished golf pro, wanted to go to a star party. So we went off to a party out in Kansas for the Astronomical Society of Kansas City. I was so proud of myself! Every time I talked to someone about an astronomy topic I turned to my friend and explained in great detail what we were talking about. On the hour drive home I asked him what he thought about the experience. His comment was “I really enjoyed looking through the telescopes but I had no idea what you were talking about!” It struck me that maybe this blog is a similar situation!

What is Temple Research Observatory? It is a home owned telescope and shelter dedicated to understanding more of the night sky. My observatory business card states “Understanding Through Research.” Some people just look through their telescopes, others like to play with the gadgets, however I like to learn things. Some of what you learn comes from trying to run an automated telescope (hundreds of pages of manuals!) and other information comes from the stars themselves. For example when TRO was established in 2009 it was common knowledge among many astronomers that White Dwarf Stars (old stars that have blown off their outer layers just leaving the hot core) do not vary in brightness. Some thought there could be a small variation due to star spots but that seems a bit absurd when you think about the structure of this kind of star. Turns out in my studies that many of these stars have a very slight but pronounced variation in brightness. In fact no one is quite sure why or how this happens. The star is so dense that the atoms are crammed together as close as they can get. A teaspoon of this matter would weigh around 5,000 pounds! How can a material that cannot be compressed any more pulsate, or change shape? There are several others studying these stars but lots of professionals went onto other objects because they believed that there was little to be learned, everyone knew that these stars didn’t vary! These are the kinds of issues the TRO addresses.

What telescopes do you have? The main scope at TRO is an 11″ telescope. The size usually refers to how large the mirror or lens is. Since light gathering is enhanced with bigger objectives (lens or mirror) then knowing the size is the most important feature of the scope. The light gather power of the objective is way more important than how much it magnifies! The larger the lens/mirror the more light that you gather. The telescope (Temple 28) was manufactured by Celestron and modified by my friend Tom Krajci. The stock telescope came with an aluminium tube. This is ok for looking through a telescope because you tend to focus when you go to a new object. But it is not so good when you use a camera and expect to observe all night. With the original tube, when the temperature drops 2-5 degrees the focus changes and will blur images taken with a camera. So the C11 CPC (model type) has a custom built carbon fiber tube. Carbon fibers don’t contract or expand with temperature changes so the temperature can change by 25 degrees and there will be no change in the image due to the tube.

The telescope itself is controlled remotely and robotically. Using a program called TeamViewer 10 I can control/program the scope with my computer indoors or even with my Kindle and phone! After programming the scope and making sure it is aligned, you start the control program and walk away. I do check on the scope from time to time using a computer, tablet or phone. In the morning after taking images all night I then download the images into my home office computer. These images are then processed (calibrated it is called) and run through software recording the variations in brightness.

I also have “The Beast” a 6″ refractor telescope, “Little Eye” a 60 mm telescope, “The Bargain Bucket” a 8″ homemade telescope and numerous other telescope setups. I have a Meade ETX that I use for looking at the sun with a homemade filter. At present I am working on making a Meade 8″ telescope into my travel scope. This is to facilitate imaging during the Monsoon in the southwest. You can pack it into your trunk and head off someplace where the skies are clear! Overall you can never have enough telescopes!

These are just a few of the things that Make TRO. Keep an eye out here on the TRO website for more discussion of how a home observatory works.

Paul

Clouds, clouds go away…

Experiencing our second week long gray out! We had about 10 minutes of watery sunshine this morning but the clouds have rolled in again in force! Good time to work on images and data I guess, but it is hard to get motivated with such gloomy weather!

When I bought Temple 28 (11″ Customized Celestron CPC) a year ago it came with a Lenovo ThinkCenter Desktop computer. Dual core and completely loaded with all the software to run everything. Compared to some of the computers I have used to run similar rigs this thing is a Ferrari! Still I was having problems controlling the computer by Teamviewer and it would crash a lot. So during our last gray period I actually looked to see how much memory the thing had. 2 Gbs with a 64 bit operating system! No wonder I was having issues! A 64 bit Windows system needs at least 3 but better 4 Gbs of memory to run smoothly. If you were only running text type of software 2 Gbs would be adequate but not when you are auto running lots of images. So I looked up the memory for the computer and ordered 2 more Gbs on Ebay. Wrong type! Looked in my scrap box and found 1 Gb of compatible memory.

Wow, what a difference even 3 Gbs make! No problems using TeamViewer, no issues with all the programs you have to run to control the scope. I have 1 more gb coming that should make the computer much more user friendly. Though you can use up to 8 Gbs in this system 4 seems to be the best trade off between speed and cost.

I am looking forward to more sunshine! With sunshine comes dark nights! So Clear skies everyone!

Paul Temple

Amateurs vs Professionals

If you read a lot of astronomy forums there seems to be an attitude of “there’s no science left for amateurs to do in astronomy.” This is usually followed by “well, let the surveys do it!” These comments are sometimes valid, sometimes they are not. It would seem to me, however, that we are entering the golden age of amateur science in astronomy!

At present astrophotography is driving technology changes in astronomy. User friendly scope systems abound and terrific cameras that professionals could only dream about a few years ago can be ordered off of the internet. For those of us that perused the Sears Catalogs drooling over a 90 mm refractor, the availability, size, price and quality are almost unbelievable! Who would have thought that you could buy an 8″ telescope that can be used out of the box to do imaging, for less than & 1,300! That you could buy a cheap imager to do planetary imaging for $75, that will give you pictures to rival the best planetary images taken in the 1960’s with much larger telescopes.

I recently purchased EC Slipher’s book on his Mars work at Lowell Observatory. When it was released in the early 1960’s it was the definitive work of it’s time. This work was the culmination of years of pains taking imaging with the finest telescopes of the day.  Now, however, I have a friend that takes much better images of Mars with a 3.5 inch Questar and video camera! Dr. Slipher would be astounded at the quality of imaging coming out of the amateur community with modest equipment! I often wonder what Lowell, Slipher or Herschel would think of today’s amateurs and equipment?

So back to the original idea. Is there anything left for an amateur to do? The answer is an unadulterated “yes!” The Association of Variable Star Observers has a data base of variables called the VSX. In this database are 325,019 stars. More are being added all the time. Many of these stars have been added in the last 20 years and are a product of survey work. If you peruse this database you will find that only a few of these stars have ever been issued an AUID number (identifying number for the AAVSO database) so there are no observations outside of the original survey. Some of the surveys are quite extensive and little new observation is needed and others are in need of confirmation of data. You could stay busy with just this database alone  for the rest of your life!

There is also visual observations of stars. Both of my CCD’s just flat out can’t get good magnitude measurements on stars that are brighter than about 9th magnitude. For brighter stars eyes are still good measurement instruments. Plus, there are legacies of observations that go back 100+ years and it would be a shame not to continue that legacy. There are also area’s like cataclysmic variables, nova’s, supernova’s and white dwarfs that are good targets for amateur contributions to science.

Something I am contemplating doing is to point my telescope at a place in the night sky and repeatedly image it every clear night for a year or two. It would be a poor man’s Kepler mission. In this type of study you could discover a new planet, nova, variable or nothing at all! It is possible to do this kind of thing because you own the equipment! Professionals seldom have the luxury of using a scope for such a long period of time on such a long shot effort.

Today is the best day of astronomy! We live in a time of unprecedented opportunities and technology. Enjoy it!

Paul Temple

 

 

TRO 2015

There are some changes in store for TRO in 2015! The first issue is getting a real roof plus siding on the telescope shelter. Since we were gone over Christmas to my son’s wedding in Oklahoma I had to move the telescope indoors since you can’t currently lock the shelter! That is a pain and takes 3 stout men to do it! The plan is to put corrugated metal panels on the roof and then use plywood for the sides. The canvas has worked fairly well but does not provide the level of security needed for an extensive telescope setup.

The second issue is better polar alignment and wire routing. Polar alignment on a fixed wedge scope is quite a challenge! You physically have to move the tripod legs up and down or side to side. It is hard to get the right level of precision! A small rubber hammer is useful for moving the scope! This is a time consuming job but is well worth it in the long run.

There are a lot of wires! Heaters, focusing, power supplies etc. I just need to take more time and rethink how the wires should go. My last run kept losing alignment. Turns out the cold made the wires stiff and it was causing the scope to slip! So some time and energy need to go into how to route them better.

After getting the shelter secured I plan to set up the Meade LX 200 for spectroscopy. This is to do low resolution spectroscopy. Several years ago I purchased a Star analyzer 100 at the SAS/AAVSO meeting (2009) in CA. Though I got fairly familiar with this setup on several scopes it was never used to it’s potential. With a dedicated 8″ I think the potential resolution can be easily reached and the scope become productive.

Overall I think 2015 should be a very interesting and productive year!

Finished with outside

 

Here is what the shelter looks like. Not very secure!

TRO is up and running!

Bad weather has kept TRO closed and the Temple 28 telescope inactive for several weeks. While transferring data this morning from the last 3 nights of use (which are spread over a month) Temple 28 has taken over 1,500, three megapixel images! Most of this data is of several stars on the AAVSO VSX database that had no observations, (outside of the initial discovery) at all. In fact I have requested 4 new AUID’s over the time period represented by these 3 nights observations. Awash in a sea of data!

Stay Tuned for more discoveries and news from TRO!

 

Paul Temple