Sunday, June 15, 2014

Solar Astronomy, My Way

Bianca, my current choice for observing the Sun
In this digital age, we have become perhaps too reliant on things being available to us in an instant. I'm as guilty as anyone else in that regard; I have scanners and digital cameras and all sorts of image processing software, as well as specialized (albeit lower tech) video gear for my telescopes. 
Yet here I am, everyday before noon if possible, setting up my old 60mm, 450mm FL telescope "Bianca", complete with solar filter and 9mm Kellner eyepiece, to study, and sketch, the Sun.

The business end. My old scratch built Baader film solar filter.
The goals here are multiple. Chief among them is the simple task of improving my observation skills. When you set out to draw something, you it pay a lot of attention. True, I can be remarkably fastidious when it comes to noting small details. Doing so when the subject is in the night sky, and being observed directly, is another matter entirely.
The other goal is to improve my ability to record the information. Currently, I have three astronomical journals. The first is for written record. The second and third are for the visual recording of observations, with the second being specifically for solar observations. 
This is my so called "Green Book".
All of my journals are simple composition books, but numbers two and three are graph ruled, 5mm to the square. I use an old COX (an office supply company from Taiwan) compass for drawing my solar disk, and have set a standard radius of 76mm (3 inches) inside the front. I also do my best to ensure that the circles are all set in the exact same position on each page.

I did say I could be fastidious.
After each observation, I compare my data to the information at This is to double check on my alignment and number of spots observed. I miss some, make no mistake, but keep my observations true; no corrections are made.
Since early April, I have been keeping a steady log of the Sun. To date (15th June, 2014), I have recorded forty four complete observations. I hope to fill this journal by year's end, weather permitting.
Again, this isn't to say that using digital methods is bad and that I am a Luddite of sorts. Far from it. The idea here is to improve my ability as an observer. When it comes to astronomy, that is something we should all strive for.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Just A Little Note About Eyepieces

There's no substituting good eyepieces.
Aside from being a somewhat awkwardly phrased sentence, it is an utter truth. At a minimum, you need three eyepieces for any telescope. Years of practice, experience, and standing on the shoulders of giants has taught me that.
Traditionally, and for a very long time, most telescopes came with Huygenian eyepieces. These simple, two element eyepieces are just okay, and not much better. Their biggest problem is eye relief, making viewing through them a less than desirable experience. I use them, to be honest, but I don't really recommend them. The lowest quality eyepiece I recommend is a Kellner. Think of this as an evolved Huygenian eyepiece with better eye relief and a much better field of view. Next up the ladder, and still very affordable, are Plossls. From there, you start to climb somewhat in expense and complexity, almost always corresponding with better viewing.
Yet I still use cheap eyepieces and accessories. Why?
I don't know, perhaps I'm lazy.
Here I am, in Charlotte Hall, Maryland, and the one eyepiece I choose to bring is a 9mm Kellner. This isn't so bad, but I've chosen to couple it with an inexpensive 2x Barlow, one that appears to be a single element, a lone plano-concave lens.
And it is not quite okay.
For stellar work, it seems to be okay, though just slightly. However, for planetary work (and right now, the evening sky is blessed with three planets to choose from), it fails miserably, at least in combination with my old Monolux 60mm F7.5 "Bianca".
The lesson here?
I have a much better Orion 2x Barlow. Use it.
Live and learn.
After all, there is no substituting good eyepieces.