Monday, October 12, 2009


When I was young, eyepieces in my little corner of the universe was nothing more than an accessory to my telescope. As I got older I discovered that eyepieces are what makes the telescope. A lousy eyepiece will make the best telescope a hunk of junk. On the other hand a top rated eyepiece will turn a hunk of junk telescope into something worth while.

It all has to do with how the light gets focused to your eye. The telescope only initiate the process, the eyepiece does all the work in narrowing that cone of light into something your brain can process. So what I recommend if you have couple hundred dollars and you are itching for a couple of eyepieces, then stop, look at what you've got and put that money toward one eyepiece that you need. It is interesting to see the difference a good eyepiece can make on a telescope. A 25mm stock eyepiece that comes with a new telescope will produce an image quite dreadful compared to a good Televue Panoptic or Radian. Meade, has their series 5000 which are nice upgrades to stock eyepieces as well as Orion and Celestron.

Lastly, don't be too distraught about prices. Eyepieces don't go bad, and unless they get damaged by dropping them they will last forever. So they hold their value for quite some time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What's Size Got to do With It?

There is no easy way of saying this, so I am going to just say it... size is everything in Astronomy. Yes it's true guys, the bigger the better. The only time when when smaller is better is how it is used. 

Putting the innuendoes aside, the truth of the 
matter and this is the only known absolute truth with Astronomy, is that that the bigger the telescope is always better. A bigger telescope offers two advantages that can make all the difference in the world. A bigger scope means more light, this is essential because the sole p
urpose of a telescope is to collect as much light as possible and focus it to a single point on the back of your eyeball. Essentially speaking, the bigger the "objective" which is the word day, means more light. This is always true, it can never ever change. If you put my 8" schmidt next to a 30" dobsonian which is viewed on the upper left (the names aren't important at this time, just focus on the numbers), the 30" will always produce a brighter image than the 8".  There is another property to be understood from this size issue: a bigger telescope will always have better resolution. If I take a 3.5" Televue refractor (Televue manufactures some of the highest grade optics for consumers and the price tag shows that at roughly $500-$1000 per inch; viewed to the lower left) and compare it side by side by a 16" Newtonian (once again don't focus on the names only the numbers) which may only cost $50 to 150$ per inch, the 16" will have better resolution. It will be able to split close double stars better than the 3.5"

So why do I have an 8" telescope and not a 30?" Well now it goes back to "smaller is better if you know how to use it" and I should also ad "how to manage it" My 8" telescope weighs in at ~70 lbs. fully assembled and it fits nicely into my Chevy Tracker with room to spare. A 30" comes in at a whopping ~200 lbs. and wouldn't fit in my car. In fact I think it is the same size as my car. There is a matter of cost as well. My 8" Schmidt cost about $2000, the 30" cost about $20,000. My scope is computerize with goto capabilities and GPS location. The 30" has none of that stock. So if I want to save my back, keep my car, and feed my family, I can feel pretty good that my 8" produces more than adequate images. So you can get a 30" monster but remember, the best scope is the one that gets used the most. If you use your $60 pair of binoculars more that your 30" out of convenience, then rest assure, you just wasted a ton of money.

Word of the Day: Objective- this is basically how big the opening is on you optical aide albeit binoculars, telescopes, and even paper towel tubes. The objective is the diameter of the front lens or mirror on your binoculars or telescope. The objective is everything and it will determine the cost of your setup and your management of the system. So consider it wisely. 

Coming soon... What are those names I mentioned in this post?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Charles Messier- He put the "M" in Astronomy

Charles Messier (pronounced Mez-i-yay) is somewhat of an unsung hero to amateur Astronomy scene. He was a comet hunter, which he held 13 in his name which is a pretty good turnout given the fact that he was born in 1730 and the telescopes back then were less than perfect and he wanted to give something to his fellow hunters...a catalog. Most people would scoff at the notion of receiving a catalog as gift but Messier produced something a little different.

Messier noticed a problem that comet hunters were having during in the mid 1700's. Many comet hunters were all finding the same object and they were all publishing the same objects as comets. This would have proven disastrous because to have the same object with 20 different names could get confusing. So Messier went on a hunt to locate as many stationary, non star-like objects as possible with his 4" telescope. In 1774 he produced a catalog of 103 objects consisting of galaxies, nebula (however at the time, galaxies and nebula were thought to be the same thing and were called "grey fuzzies") and star clusters. Later on researchers found notes and evidence of 7 more object that he notated and today there are 110 objects in his catalog. This catalog prevented comet hunters from "discovering" the same object over and over again. The catalog also marked the position of stationary objects so comet hunters would not spend weeks if not months waiting for an object to move when in reality it was a galaxy.

What does this mean for us though? Well messier put the "M" in Astronomy. Have you ever looked at start charts and noticed objects titled "M31," "M42", "M45?" Have you ever been around Astronomy geeks and been confused because they never speak in complete sentences ie. M51 with low surface brightness at mag 9.2 in Canes Venatici? Well these are object that Messier cataloged (hence the "M" before the number due to Messier) and to this day it is one of the greatest catalogs for amateur astronomers around. Almost all of the objects can seen with a 4" or larger scope, easily locatable, and they keep on getting better with bigger telescopes. Today the Messier Catalog is a staple for anyone in Astronomy and it will probably stay that way for quite some time.

There are many other catalogs but that will have to be another post. For now if you are getting into astronomy, Messier will keep you occupied for quite some time.

FYI- each year around this time amateur astronomers have what is known as the Messier Marathon and the idea is to try to locate and see all 110 objects in one night. Its a great feat to accomplish but I wouldn't count on it as a credential for a job.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Now What?

Star Charts...Check
A book on Astronomy...Check
An optical aid (binoculars and/or a telescope)...Check
A clear night...Check

Now what...

So much hype is put into to gear and having the latest and greatest stuff is what is necessary to having a good night under the stars. A lot of people and I do mean A LOT, buy a lot of expensive stuff and never really seem to comprehend all its benefits and get frustrated when the experience less than "stellar."

Well it appears the best way to combat this problem is to get out under the stars and start looking at things that are floating in the heavens. What usually happens very early on when someone adopts this first practice is that they look at the same five objects every night. Usually it is the the brightest of bright deep sky objects like M51, M57,  M13, M27 (don't worry about the "M's" I will cover that sooner than later) or Saturn and the Moon. While each one of these objects are down right spectacular, they do get a little boring after a while. This tends to lead people into buying more expensive gear, thinking that more expensive eyepieces will make the view better, when in reality this leads to a vicious cycle of spending money on stuff you don't need. 

To help out with the "Now What" problem keep these points in mind when you are under the stars.

  • You are studying Astronomy so study it. If you are going to observe the same five objects every night then at least know everything there is to know about those objects. There is a wealth of interesting facts to these treasures so get to know them.
  • I recommend reading up on the constellations, believe it or not the sky tells a story and many other stories take place that are not so apparent the Greeks who came up these constellations never had television so the sky was the next best thing..
  • Pick a part of the sky and research it. Each part of the sky will tend to hold different kinds of objects. For example Sagittarius has a lot of star clusters and Virgo has a lot of  galaxies. Why is that you suppose? 
  • Pull out a set of star charts, I am currently using the start charts out of Night Watch by Terrence Dickenson, and study a constellation and try to find everything in it, ie double starts, galaxies, nebulas, star clusters... and make notes on each object.
  • Make note of object that are easily seen in the city so that when you get into a dark site you can either look at those same objects again or you can try to find those faint objects that you cannot see in the city.
  • Lastly, sometimes getting out under the stars isn't everything. Try reading the instruction manual for your telescope, study the motions of the sky, figure out what degrees are. In other words GET THE BASICS DOWN.
Hopefully these are some tips that you can use to help alleviate the "Now What" syndrome. Remember the best gear for visual astronomy are you eyes. No telescope is going to fix that.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Bouncing Baby Blog!

Hello Everyone,

I am proud to announce a new blog into the world. This is a blog that will record my little corner of the Astronomy world. I will be posting anything and everything astronomy and even try to post videos and instructional tools that can help people break the ice when it come to astronomy. Come back soon, I will be putting loads more stuff on here.