the kids (well, okay, so they haven’t been kids for a long time but you know…) saw B.B. King Saturday night. Yep, he’s still going. He’s got to be in his mid-80s. Told me it was a fantastic show.
Should add Donna and I saw him up in Bayfield Wis. of all places — oh, must be 5, 6 years ago now. Was a hell of a good time. He didn’t play or sing much. Instead what he did was sat down in front and talked, told us stories about his life, his career, what it was like being a blues musician back in the day, told silly stories, told jokes, played a little, told more stories. It was a blast!
Finally had some free time to mess around with the Cintiq. What’s the first thing I draw? My wife? One of my kids? The dog?
No, the dopey telescope. Oh well…
I was getting so tied of seeing that telescope sitting in the corner and gathering dust so I said the heck with light pollution, haze and generally poor conditions and I set it up out in the driveway.
Mosquitos were horrible, so I resorted to chemicals. I picked up two cans of good old Raid Yard Guard and fogged the backyard and the area around the scope. I wasn’t real hopeful about it actually working, but I had to try something or I was going to be wasting my time. It’s awfully hard to try to concentrate on staring through a telescope when there are mosquitos in your hair, behind your glasses, in your ears, crawling up the inside of your pant legs. They’ve gotten so bad around here that there are rumors that they’ve been carrying off small children to save for late night snacks.
Much to my surprise the stuff actually worked!.
I had the scope all set up and ready to go, aligned and everything, by 10 PM but had to wait another half hour or more before it got dark enough to see anything. So I was finally out there, Unfortunately there was no convenient wide spread power failure to take out the lights, especially the massive sodium vapor lamp right in front of the house. I wasn’t very hopeful.
The moon was brilliant. About a half moon, and even through the haze it was so bright it was almost painful to look at it through the scope. Then I started to look up objects to look at on my iPad using a program called Sky Safari Pro (one of the better pieces of software out there for astronomers)
I puttered around for a while with that, seeing not much of anything because most of the stuff I wanted to look at was low on the horizon and behind trees, houses, etc. So I used the sope’s built in Tour function. The computers in the telescope put together a list of just about anything that might be even remotely useful that’s above the horizon at the time, so I just started paging through that.
Oh my — M-3, one of the three brightest globular clusters. It’s about 33,000 light years away. It’s an enormous ball of stars, tens of thousands of stars packed into a ball about 170 light years across. Even with the bad conditions it wasn’t a dull gray ball of fluff, but a dense group of resolved stars.
The Ring Nebula - It was absolutely delightful. With a 23mm eyepiece it was glaringly obvious, a beautiful blueish green little smoke ring floating in space. Couldn’t make out the central star. NGC 6826, the Blinking Nebula. It showed up as a dense little ball of fluff. Cat Eye Nebula showed up as a pale pale greenish patch of fluff. Couldn’t see any detail, but quite neat.
Then galaxies - M 63, the Sunflower galaxy — just barely able to see it after looking for a long, long time. Such poor contrast that it was difficult to tell if I was looking at a galaxy or was just imagining things, but it was there. Pinwheel Galaxy, Sombrero Galaxy. I won’t bore you with the whole list.
All in all it was a fun evening. I was surprised at being able to see anything. Even at midnight when I wrapped everything up the sky was still a pale gray and it was bright enough out to be able to read large type.
Think I’m getting the hang of focusing the thing, too. Or perhaps I just wasn’t as fussy as I was the last time I was out with it and was trying to photograph the moon. With deep space objects like nebula which are fuzzy to begin with, especially in poor conditions like I had, focus isn’t that critical.
I’m still impressed with the capabilities of that Celestron 11 inch. The tracking and location functions are excellent if you take the time to do level the tripod properly and use some care when doing the alignment. Every object I punched into the system popped up almost exactly in the center of the field of view when it finished slewing.
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Update about using the CPC-1100 GPS
Okay, I’ve had the big Celestron for a few months now, and it’s time to take a look at it and evaluate what the thing has been like in actual use.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the telescope’s performance, although there have been a few issues. I’ll get to those as they come up.
I continue to be pleased with the optics. I live in a heavily light polluted area, with an overabundance of street lights, parking lot lights, and even the lights from two baseball fields, and even under those conditions it gives very good results. The other night, before it was even fully dark, where visually I could only see stars down to about magnitude 3 or so, I swung the scope over to first M 81, and then M 82 (known collectively as Bode’s Nebula). Even with the pale gray skies, the 6.9 magnitude galaxy M 81 was instantly visible and recognizable. I then aimed the scope at M 82, a much dimmer galaxy at magnitude 8. It was a bit more difficult to see, but it was obviously there as well. And this was with skies that were still not fully dark. I’d say that under really dark skies, with steady, clear air, this scope would have no difficulty in reaching out to magnitude 15.
The globular cluster M 13 was absolutely stunning even in the poor condition, with the stars well resolved into pinpoint images even in the bright sky we had.
Low power planetary views are absolutely stunning. At about 40X Saturn was small, but crisp, clear, the rings well defined. And occasionally when the atmosphere settled down, I could even just barely see faint bands of color in the planet’s atmosphere. Earlier in the year, when Jupiter was high in the sky, images of it were equally crisp and impressive, with some of the atmospheric bands clearly visible even at the lower power.
At higher power, well, atmosphere conditions haven’t been conducive to using anything for 100X or so. Because of a succession of heat waves, dust and turbulence, the seeing has been so poor that even trying to get a decent focus at higher power is nearly impossible, with visible rippling effects due to the heat and turbulence.
The one ‘gotcha’ in the whole optical package is focusing. I’d always heard that some SCT scopes are hard to get to focus, and that seems to be the case with the CPC 1100. With deep space objects under my light polluted skies, focus isn’t quite so critical because I’m not going to be getting impressive views anyway. But with planets and the moon, focus is critical for getting decent images.
Focusing this thing isn’t just difficult, it’s damn near impossible. SCTs focus by moving the entire primary mirror back and forth, and it has to move a considerable distance. So SCT focusers are something of a compromise between moving the mirror quickly enough to keep the user from going crazy, and the fine control needed to get a good sharp focus by moving the mirror only small amounts.
In the case of this scope, the control simply is not fine enough. You get closer, closer, closer, almost there… Then literally just brush the focus knob and it jumps past the focus point and out the other side. It’s extremely frustrating.
Can it be cured? Yeah, but only with additional expense. JMI and another company make so-called micro-focusers for a lot of SCTs, including mine. But they cost $250 or more. What they do is give you a 10 to 1 reduction. Moving the micro focuser ten turns is the equivalent of moving the normal focus knob a single turn. I suspect I’m going to end up having to get one unless I more experience with the scope gives me better control.
Tripod: Not much to say about the tripod. It’s massive and solid. Has a built in bubble level, and you’d darned well better use it, too. Make sure the tripod is perfectly level before you mount the scope on it, or you’ll regret it later as your GOTO features gradually drift out of alignment.
The GOTO mount. It’s a well known fact that I can’t find a bloody thing up in the sky, not even with star charts, people pointing lasers, giving me directions — none of it matters. If it’s up there, I can’t find it. That’s just the way I am. So for me a GOTO mount is absolutely essential if I’m going to ever see anything.
The Celestron GOTO system is quite good. It has a built in GPS so you never have to enter your location. It automatically knows exactly what time it is. It’s great. Do you need GPS? No. But I’m not sure if I want a scope without it now that I’ve got it.
Aligning the scope is a snap. I only use the 3 star alignment or the solar system alignment, so I’ll only talk about those.
The 3 star alignment is about as simple as it gets. All you have to do is find a bright star. Center it in the eyepiece. Press a button. Repeat for two more stars. You’re done. That’s it. Occasionally alignment will fail for some reason, and I’ll have to do it a second time. but that doesn’t happen very often.
One hint. Make sure that star is really centered. Don’t use your wide field eyepiece. Use one that has the narrowest field of view you have. Take your time. The better you get those three stars centered, the better the scope’s aim will be.
Solar alignment. This is used if you want to just go outside and take a quick look at the moon or visible planets. Just aim the scope at the planet, center it, press a button, and you’re done. The scope will now track the object. Quick, dirty, works quite well. I use this for the moon all the time.
Power: The scope requires a 12 volt power supply. It comes with the old cigarette lighter style plug so you can plug it into a car or into some kind of power pack. Some people make their own using a car battery. Others buy one of those expensive ‘power tanks’ made especially for scopes. I just ran down to Walmart and bought one of those battery booster packs used for jump starting cars. Has more than enough juice to handle the scope for hours, plus a built in flashlight, a second plug so I can use it to power my laptop, a USB charger, built in light… you get the idea. Works brilliantly.
Gotchas: Any problems? Of course there are.
Weight. This thing is bloody heavy. It’s right at the limit of what I can handle. If it were just a few pounds more, I’d never be able to deal with it. The upper part of the scope, containing the optical tube, forks, motors and electronics, tips the scales at around 65 pounds. It is also big. Handles are placed at convenient locations for handling, but it is still very heavy and very awkward.
Then there’s the focus, of course. I’ve talked about that before so I won’t repeat that.
Then there is the concern in the back of my head about the drive system. Every time I turn it on I keep my fingers crossed that it will power up and the motors will turn. Having one scope arrive DOA with a motor problem, and then seeing numerous reports on the Internet of dozens of people having similar problems doesn’t make me feel very optimistic, I fear. Granted, it’s been fine so far, but I’m still nervous about it. I do not want to have to box up that heavy beast and ship it off to California again.
stonedastronomer asked: Look into getting a bahtinov mask for taking images. They are an aid for focusing if you want to take photos through the SCT. Have to get one myself sometime.
Those masks do help, but The problem I have with the Celestron is that the focusing is incredibly touchy. It’s darn near impossible for me to get even close to what I want because it jumps too far. Just touching the knob is enough to totally mess it up. I need something that gives me a more fine control over the movement of the mirror. The standard focusing knob just moves the mirror too much. So I’m looking at a micro-focuser gadget that replaces the focus knob on the SCT. There are two knobs on it. The main one moves the focus normally. The micro adjustment knob moves it at a 10:1 ratio, so moving the micro know 10 turns would move the main knob 1 turn. Unfortunately those run about $250 - $275. I’m going to keep experimenting and see what I can do about it, but I suspect I’m going to end up buying the replacement focuser.
Still, I’m having a blast with the thing! Even with the light pollution problems I have here the views are amazing, especially deep space objects. They claim this camera can image even deep space objects, so once I have some more experience in using it and learn the software better I’m gong to try some of the brighter galaxies and see what happens.
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Focusing — focusing that CPC 1100 is an exercise in frustration. I’ve worked with telescopes before, but never with a big SCT like this, and while I’d heard that they are difficult to focus properly, I had no idea they were this touchy. This is especially true when trying to use the camera. A tiny bit out of focus when using the scope visually is no big deal, but god focus is essential when using a camera.
So I’m looking for techniques to help make focusing easier, and I’ve run into a gadget called a micro-focuser from JMI that I’m going to look into. It can’t make things worse and could possibly make it easier. So we’ll see what happens.
Finally more photos! These are stills from video made June 27. It was a miserable night. Very hot, very humid, and mosquitos descending on me in swarms like I’d never seen before. Even sprayed down with repellant plus fogging the entire area prior to setting up didn’t do much good.
I didn’t bother going through the standard alignment with the scope because conditions were so bad. I just did the quick Solar System Alignment, where you can point the scope at a planet or the Moon, hit a button, and bang, it’ll start tracking the object. Takes all of 15 seconds.
I got the camera attached to the telescope, hooked up the laptop, got everything running and started to shoot some video of the Lunar surface.
The Orion Star Shoot is not difficult to use, although the software they give you for OSX is not that good and can be infuriating at times. Especially when sweat is running into your eyes and you have mosquitos swarming around you.
Still, there is a learning curve to the entire set up, and a lot of this can only be learned when actually outside working with it.
Biggest issue I seem to have is getting that dopey telescope focused. It is so incredibly touchy it’s unbelievable. Just touching the focus knob without turning it can result in the focus jumping. Very frustrating.
It was interesting to actually be able to see the effects of the atmosphere on the seeing as I looked at the video later after I fled the mosquitos. The images swam and rippled and dimmed and brightened. It was really quite amazing.
Getting good astronomical video and photos is not easy. I have developed an enormous amount of respect for people who do this night after night, putting up with the weather, the equipment limitations, and the bugs!
One odd thing I noticed about mosquitos. When I finally gave up and decided to shut down, I flipped on the outside lights and immediately noticed that there were no mosquitos around me. None. The telescope, however, was being swarmed by the little buggers. I have no idea what’s going on with that. They were all over the thing. Perhaps some kind of smell it gives off? Perhaps an inaudible noise being given off by the electronics?
Okay, I’m the first to admit it ain’t much compared to the stuff you see on NASA’s website, but hey, give me a break! This is the very first image taken with the StarShoot, and considering the conditions were horrible and the software was even worse, I’m surprised I got anything at all.
While there were no clouds, it was very hazy with lots of sky glow. To make things worse, the lights at the baseball field about 4 blocks from here were turned on. Why, I have no idea. No games tonight. Atmosphere was very turbulent.
The Celestron worked quite well. After aligning it, I jumped to Saturn right away. At about 40X it was really quite pretty, with the rings clearly defined despite the poor conditions. At anything over 100X the seeing was pretty much junk, though.
So I tried the camera. There are some issues, some of which I can solve, some of which I can’t and will have to try to work around.
First problem is the image capture software provided for the Mac. It is absolutely horrible. There is literally no documentation at all. Not even a simple text file. You’re completely on your own, and the only thing you can do is start playing around and hope you get something right.
Second is focusing the scope. SCTs have a reputation for being difficult to focus. The slightest touch will mess them up. This is especially true with the camera. Focusing this thing was a first class pain in the neck. Get close — close — give it a tiny nudge, and the focus jumps beyond the focus point and you have to start over again.
The software was absolutely horrible. Like I said, there is no documentation at all. All you can do is play around with it and see what works. I finally got it working, sort of. At least to the point where I could get an image to appear on the screen long enough to capture it.
Then the screen went bright yellow. No idea why. Re-started the program. It started this godawful beeping noise that got louder and louder. Have no idea why. Seems to be no reason for it. Finally turned the sound off completely.
Managed to get it working again and got a couple more images.
I can see this is going to take time, patience and experimentation.
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