Don’t be hate’n on the Moon!

It think it’s high time I came out of the closet and disclosed something to my fellow astrophotographers.

Most of my friends know me as a deep sky imager. Occasionally dabbling in a planet, or the sun, or maybe even the moon. Truth is though, the moon is my original love. It was the sight of the moon through a cheap telescope at the age of 7 or 8 and the sight of craters… that lit a fire in me that has never died. It was shooting the moon through a large reflector with my wife’s SLR on black and white film that was my introduction to astrophotography, and there is an unfinished lunar atlas I’ve started in my archives that is a project I still hope to return to one day.

How many times have you ¬†heard someone at a club meeting, or on line, exclaim “Ahg, the moon will be up and ruin everything!”. Really? What the heck is wrong with the moon? The moon is wonderful and amazing, and it changes every night… actually it changes hourly! Yes, it’s familiar terrain, but it’s never quite the same exactly. The moon is beautiful through an eyepiece in a way that I still think no one has captured photographically. You can observe the moon through thin clouds that would ruin deep sky photography, you can observe the moon in the worst light pollution on the planet, you can even observe the moon in the daytime! It’s the ultimate astronomical target. Can’t stay up late… well, it’s an early morning target for part of the month. Can’t get up early? That’s fine for part of the month you can catch it after dinner. Oh, the summer is terrible for astrophotography because it’s too hazy? Ha, the moon doesn’t care about your haze! Suck it up and catch some reflected sunlight! Remember too, partly cloudy means partly moonshine too ūüėČ

What about history and cultural significance? There are more songs about the moon, more cultural stories, traditions, and history associated with the moon than all 88 constellations combined!

If you’re reading this you are most likely already ruined by being exposed to astronomy too much. You’ve forgotten what it was like to be a noob. Stop showing people those fuzzy blobs in the eyepiece. No one is really impressed by how many light years away a formless shapeless barely discernible¬†mist is…. really (sometimes when they say they see it, they are faking it too), I’m serious and I’m telling you this for your own good. The A-Number One most impressive object for just about any John-Q-Public to see through a telescope is… okay, besides Saturn… the MOON!
(I’ll give quarter to a cool Ha telescopic view of the sun… maybe… it’s too hot and it makes me sweat though… I might actually put that as a third place object).

Still doesn’t match the eyepiece view.

Low power, high power, 16 inch or 60mm telescope, the moon always delivers. You can also easily take a photo of it. With a cell phone, a pocket camera, or a DSLR. No long exposures, no deep cooling, or stacking. Just take a shot and maybe give it a tweak or two in Photoshop… and it’s beautiful. Sure, go crazy and get into lucky imaging with a video camera, or just stick to the eyepiece. I will never pass up an opportunity to look at the moon through an eyepiece. It has a dynamic range, a creamy sharpness that only the human eye can deliver when looking actually at the thing.

And… and.. and… well, there you go.

Hello, my name is Richard. I’m a deep space astrophotographer… and… I love the moon too.

 

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What does science tell us?

So often I see the phrase ‚ÄúAccording to science‚Ķ‚ÄĚ, or ‚ÄúScience tells us that‚Ķ‚ÄĚ, followed by a context that leads me to believe the author really doesn‚Äôt know what science is. Science is poorly taught in most public schools, poorly understood by most policy makers, vilified by some religious groups, and most certainly misrepresented by the mainstream media with very few exceptions.

Science is not a body of knowledge, as most people understand it. It is a philosophy and method of determining what is true and what is false. I learned the scientific method in grade school (clearly, it is well taught from time to time too!), and it has changed my life. The essence is simple; what is true, can be tested. What is true, is repeatable. What is true, can be reproduced (or observed) by others following the same procedure.

Science cannot be wrong, because science is not a thing that can have an opinion, but science is not a set of facts either. Science is a methodology for figuring things out. Period. Do not confuse science with the results science can give us.

A scientist is someone who uses science to figure stuff out (whether for a living, or just as their worldview). This can range from who killed the neighbors cat, to what stars are made of, or even how to keep children from getting measles. The practice of science is not infallible, it is self correcting though, and the fact that it can be corrected does imply that science can sometimes give us false answers… but that does not negate the fact that science is simply the most reliable and objective means we have of knowing what is true or not, and accurately understanding how the universe and our world works. Given enough data, science gets to the bottom of things better than anything else we’ve come up with.

Science is the difference between objectivity and wishful thinking. People have a natural tendency to look for evidence that supports what they believe, and reject evidence that disproves what they want to be true. Fear is also a powerful bias enhancer, and fear can make you believe almost anything. This is true of every single human being on earth. A scientist is simply someone who acknowledges this about themselves, and then proceeds to conduct a life long war on these personal biases. It‚Äôs not just a good scientist, but a good human being who can in light of new information change their minds. Human psychology however sometimes makes this exceedingly difficult at times. But when this happens, don‚Äôt blame science‚Ķ as a friend of mine often says, ‚Äúsometimes it‚Äôs not the plane, it‚Äôs the pilot‚ÄĚ.

Richard is a Software Engineer who has worked in the sciences for most of his career developing software for medical instrumentation, visual simulation, and finally astronomy as a developer at Software Bisque.

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Okie-Tex Star Party

Welcome to Okie-Tex!

Welcome to Okie-Tex!

The Okie-Tex star party is held every September around new new¬†moon at camp Billy Joe in the Oklahoma panhandle. Friends have told me that the skies are better than the famed Texas Star Party, and that attendance often swells past 500. Hint… hint… “Richard, it’s a great star party to attend as a vendor”.

So this year I did, or rather we did. Steve Bisque and I both were in Maui for another conference that overlapped the Okie-Tex this year so we could not make the entire week, which is a shame because I understand the weather was phenomenal until we showed up! After a day’s recuperation and repacking, I flew to Denver to rendezvous¬†¬†with the the rest of the Bisque crew, and we drove down that Wednesday. We had quite the caravan, with one SUV, and a large pickup truck towing a trailer full of goodies. Steve Bisque, his daughter Sarah and her new husband Scott along with Don McFarland (production manager) came with me and we brought five Paramounts. One of each model, save the largest Taurus 600.

The Paramount Parade!

The Paramount Parade!

It’s about a 5 to 6 hour drive down from Denver, and the site is quite remote. The last 30 minutes or so is all via dirt road with the only infrastructure around being farming communities. Hilariously, I had just switched my cell phone service from AT&T to Verizon because I was tired of my friends with Verizon all having cell service at star parties when I did not. Of course, this time the universe had the last laugh and only AT&T cell service was available! Fortunately the camp had WiFi service and I was able to send smoke signals back to my family upon occasion, and check on social media and emails. Although the WiFi did go up and down a few times, it was much better speed wise than many other star parties I’ve attended.

Her name is "Victoria" ;-)

Her name is “Victoria” ūüėČ

Five Paramounts on the field was a hit, and I recount some of this on my Software Bisque blog. We brought a few telescopes, including a large 20″ to put on the big Taurus 500 equatorial fork. I carried my Veloce along on the flight and shipped an imaging train based on the FLI Microline 16200. This is an amazing imaging setup, and it was the only mount imaging ready for the star party we had setup. The others were mostly for show, except we did put a solar scope on the MX+ during the day. I hate flying with imaging gear, and would much rather drive from home, but this was just too far for that to be practical.

A week long star party greatly increases your chances for clear skies, and the previous nights were “glorious” if friends also in attendance are to be believed. We were there just two nights however, and the skies were mostly either cloudy, or hazy most of the time. We had

Best Milky Way anywhere. Period.

Best Milky Way anywhere. Period.

some fun with the Veloce doing short exposures of several objects just to show Sarah and her husband what raw data looked like coming off the scope. I managed a decent Milky Way shot the second night, and got almost enough data on the horse head region to make a decent image. I got enough of a sampling of good skies to make me lust for more. These were quite simply the darkest skies of any star party I’ve ever attended. It was a close match to my favorite, and darkest sky site I know of in the Dry Tortugas (and much easier to drag a lot of equipment too!). I was very impressed with the Milky Way at the Nebraska Star Party last year, but the Okie-Tex Milky Way wins hands down. It was truly awe inspiring.

 

A shiny ring was exposed at the front of my light shield on the Veloce, and that created a little artifact on the

Not quite as much data as I would have liked.

Not quite as much data as I would have liked.

horse head (you can make out the ring from Alniltak). Internal reflections are always a challenge no matter what optic you use, but at f/3 those curves are dangerous at high speeds! A little additional velvet at the front will nip that in the bud for next time.

The location for the star party is simply beautiful, especially for me being from the eastern US I’ve only seen terrain like this on TV westerns or on the occasional visit out west. The web site showed just north of 300 registrations, but the registrar on site said we had close to 500 people total. I’m not sure the reason for this discrepancy, but it certainly did feel like a 500 attendee event. There were several other vendors in attendance as well, and a meal service was provided that was quite good for star party food. Certainly more convenient that us cooking meals while also trying to “work”.

Just a part of the field.

Just a part of the field.

Also of importance is that ample power was available. This is great for imagers, or anyone who needs to charge batteries, laptops, etc. Power was not available on the “RV Scale”, but certainly enough to run your imaging or visual rig for the night. The weather was warm during the days, and cool at nights, and hot showers were also available. I would not call this “glamping”, but fussy people who like to stay in hotels would not likely be comfortable; an RV might be a better choice for them. I grew up camping, so I rather enjoyed it.

dinotrackscroppedThe area around the Black Mesa is a natural history wonderland. There is a nearby volcano (extinct) you can visit, native american petroglyphs, and a friend took me to a spot where there are preserved dinosaur tracks in a creek bed! The next time I attend, I will make some extra time before or after the star party to do some additional sight seeing. I’m a sucker for museums and nature hikes, and opportunities for nature photography abound. Alas, two days “working” was not enough to truly sample the area as a tourist. Next year our conference in Maui falls right over the new moon, and not only intersects, but completely overlaps the Okie-Tex. Instead of imaging from great Oklahoma skies, I will have to settle for the peak of Haleakala. Something tells me I will be okay with this.

Richard

 

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Do-it-yourself RH-200 Focuser Upgrades

Newly upgraded Veloce with FLI Atlas focuser.

Newly upgraded Veloce with FLI Atlas focuser.

Victoria, as she is called, is my Officina Stellare RH-200 astrograph, or the Veloce. Eight inches of aperture at f/3 (3.46 corrected T/value) she is the Ferrari of my collection. When I first bought her, she had the standard manual focus and I’d carefully (and manually I remind you) watch the HFD or FWHM values from a focus star while moving it back and forth with a small dial on the back. The Veloce is the most thermally stable scope I have too, so often I was lucky and I only had to do this once per night.

Gino and Giovanni repairing my baby at NEAF 2013.

Gino and Giovanni repairing my baby at NEAF 2013.

It did not take long however and I wanted automated focus, so I inquired with Gino at Officina Stellare, and they sent me the motorized focuser kit for the Veloce. This was RoboFocus compatible, and for a few years I was largely satisfied. Of course, there is a long story of how I damaged the Veloce putting this on myself, and I hand carried it to NEAF in 2013 where Gino and Giovanni “took care of me” so to speak. They ended up cannibalizing the RH-200 they brought to the show for parts to repair what I had damaged on the existing focuser on mine. This was way above and beyond the call of duty, and I am most grateful to my two friends!

Step 1 is to identify and remove the tip/tilt screws.

Step 1 is to identify and remove the tip/tilt screws.

This is not about that incident however, as it is poorly documented, and possibly best forgotten… rather, I recently redeemed myself by upgrading Victoria again, this time with an FLI Atlas focuser. It turns out, even I can do this without having to resort¬†to a mobile factory repair! The story of this upgrade begins when I was at the Advanced Imaging Conference in 2015 when I told Giovanni Dal Lago that I had acquired an Atlas and was wanting to know how easy it would be to retrofit my scope with it (well aware that they do sell a package with the Veloce and Atlas already together). He assured me this was an easy upgrade, and even had the exact¬†adapter I’d need there at the booth. He very kindly let me take it home with me.

The bare back of the Veloce.

The bare back of the Veloce.

It has taken a few months for me to get to the upgrade due to other “entropy”, but once I started it only took about an hour. The first thing you have to do is remove the existing focuser assembly, and this includes the back tip/tilt plate. The smaller of the tip/tilt adjustment screws simply push against the back of the rear of the scope, but the larger screws actually screw into the scope and hold the whole thing on. Carefully removing the four larger screws¬†will completely separate the focuser and the back plate. There are several very thin washers on the backs of these screws, take care not to loose them. I also completely removed the smaller push screws as well to get them out of the way.

VeloceAtlasStep3

Five more bolts remain to completely remove the old focuser.

Once the whole assembly is removed, on the back side you’ll find four screws that hold the focuser to the rear plate. These are the same size as the screws¬†that hold the plate to the back ¬†of the scope. Also a larger bolt that is actually the main screw/worm for the focus movement. This one is very long, and you have to remove it completely as it also contains the thumb locking wheel. You will not be able to remove the focuser completely from the rear plate without taking it out. I was briefly tempted to cut the bolt to save time, but then sanity reminded me that at some point in time I may want or need to put this back on.

The rear tip/tilt plate with and without the Atlas adapter.

The rear tip/tilt plate with and without the Atlas adapter.

With the tip/tilt plate completely empty now, it was a simple matter to screw the Officina Stellare supplied adapter into place. The adapter is threaded to mate with the tip/tilt plate, and the rear side has the indentation that the Atlas attaches and clamps down on.

Washers replaced, screws held up by tape.

Washers replaced, screws held up by tape.

Now, to a whole group of the population who like myself are perhaps less than superbly¬†mechanically inclined, we know taking things apart is easy… putting them back together is the tricky part. Remember all those small thin washers? They need to go back on, so I put the screws back through the holes in the plate, and then put a small piece of tape over them to keep them from falling out. I could invert the whole assembly and put the washers back in place.

Ready to mate to the Atlas.

Ready to mate to the Atlas.

Now, carefully I could turn¬†the assembly back on it’s side and reattach to the rear of the Veloce one bolt at a time. First I got all of them started being careful not to jostle things so that the washers would drop off. Once the bolts were threaded though, they were captive and I was golden.

I learned something from this exercise about the push pull pins… it’s really just push. The larger bolts loosen the tip/tilt plate, but it’s the smaller screws that push against the back of the scope that provide the tension. Loosen the smaller screws, and tighten the larger screws to draw it in. Or, loosen the larger screws, and tighten the smaller screws to push out. Both should be tight for a rigid system. This is one of those things that I sort of already¬†knew… but now I really know. Seeing how this adjustment works more intimately has improved my confidence for the next time I’m out under the stars tweaking the alignment.

The final product. Ready now for a filter wheel and camera!

The final product. Ready now for a filter wheel and camera!

Finally, the rear of the Veloce is ready to accept the Atlas focuser. A question I momentarily struggled with was which way¬†is forward? A good part of me wanted to make the FLI logo forward, this puts the heaviest end of the focuser closer to the scope, and moves the camera in/out on the back side. I went with the logo out for one¬†reason. It is easier to attach/detach cameras on this side of the focuser without having to run it out any. I like the idea of being able to remove the camera, or put on a camera without having to have power and a computer to move the focuser. If I have any lingering doubts about this project, it’s about this choice. I reserve the right to flip the focuser after a night or two under the stars.

Of course I have a new toy now, so the weather gods will likely make me wait a while…

Richard

 

 

 

 

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