James Paulson's roll off roof observatory at the Sunridge Observatory site, taken in the summer of 1986, housing a 10 inch f/5 Cave Astrola Newtonian reflector telescope

Monday, September 27, 2010

Autoguiding an LXD75 Mount

When I first purchased my LXD75 mount I was told that you cannot autoguide this mount. Fortunately, through the use of the software program PHD and the ASCOM platform, it is possible to use this mount with ease. Getting it there however will require some effort.

I am going to use the Meade DSI in this example. It is an excellent little camera as it is sensitive enough to be useful and it is low cost. While it is no longer available new, it can be found often used. I am going to couple this to an ORION ST-80, which is an 80mm f/5 refractor that is also low cost and widely available used. You will need a computer, but you don't need a whole lot to do this as the computer will only be used for guiding. A Pentium III with 384 megs of RAM running Windows XP will suffice. Before you proceed, I suggest you update this operating system with all the latest updates and install the DOT NET framework, Version 3.5 as well, since Envisage needs it to operate. Proceed as follows.

1. Download the latest version of Autostar Suite (Version 5.5)
2. Download ASCOM version 5 and do the 5.5 update
3. Download the Meade drivers for the Autostar 497 hand controller
4. Download PHD Guiding software and install it

When you install the DSI for the first time, pick a USB port that you will use it on, and then install the driver by selecting the path C:/Program Files/Meade/Autostar Suite/Envisage/2K-XP

Plug the Serial to RS-232 adapter into your serial port (Com1), and use the RS-232 cable included with the DSI to connect to the 497 hand controller's port. Start PHD and select your camera (DSI), your mount via ASCOM and your set to calibrate.

That's all there is to it. Fairly simple.

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Unglorius Ending

How many times have you walked past a man who appeared practically homeless and aged and never thought twice about it? Yet behind every face is a story, and such was the case with one of the most famous amateur astronomers of the past century, a man whose works still are revered by many as the finest volumes on deep sky objects. I am speaking about Robert Burnham Jr, a man who discovered 6 comets, wrote the three volume set called "Burnham's Celestial Handbook" and spent 20 years of his life working on the same telescope that Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. And yet in his final days, he wound up selling paintings of cats in Balboa Park in San Diego just to stay alive. I wish this wasn't a true life story, but Tony Ortega does an excellent job documenting his life story in the article called Sky Writer.

I greatly admire the man for what he did and what he stood for, both professionally and in his life. Yet it is a tragic ending to what may well be one of the greatest men in his field as well, to see him withering away in poverty with such famous works and so much social injustice. Robert Burnham held a perspective much higher than our own earthbound existence, and his work will live on famously. Like so many, I was one of those who assumed he was the man who worked at Astronomy magazine all those years, and I remember the Astronomy Book Club discounting his works.

Only recently was he recognized for his efforts, and for that we should all be grateful.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The View From "Over There"

This photo is a picture of a nearby galaxy that we have named M33, located in the "constellation" that we call Triangulum. It is part of our nearby group, located roughly 3 million light years distant. It is an average sized galaxy in our universe, slightly smaller than our own milky way and a nearby neighbor M31.

What strikes me so much about M33 is the large amount of Ha visible in it's photographs. I can't help but imagine being in orbit around a star over there on a good "moonless evening" staring out into what they know as "space" with a "telescope" viewing and photographing some of the many DSO's visible. Devoid from their sky would be a few that we enjoy, such as NGC7000 (North America Nebula), M42(the Orion Nebula), M45 (Pleiades) and M13 (great globular cluster in Hercules). The view from over there would however contain many interesting objects, ones that we have named things like NGC 588, 592, 595, and NGC 603, as well as ICs 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 139-40, 142, and 143. All of these objects would assume patterns and names of their own, some of which might be huge and luminescent depending on their proximity to our new location. All of the asterisms in the sky that we call constellations would be non-existent, replaced by a new set of asterisms and identifiable stars. The Earth and likely our own Sun would be invisible, just a mere "blur" in the image they are capturing of our own galaxy on that dark moonless night.

Kind of gives one a whole new meaning to what we enjoy doing doesn't it?