Space shuttle: What have we learned? Apparently, not the difference between astronomy and astrology!

Space shuttle: What have we learned? –

Ok, first off, half of this article is about Rep. Gabrielle Giffords attending the latest launch, not about “Space shuttle: What have we learned?”. Not that it is wrong to write about Giffords, it just does not belong in THIS article.

Secondly, and far, far worse, is

Musser was a high school freshman when the first shuttle mission took place in 1981. He said it fueled (sic) his interest in science and astrology. “The shuttle was the most complicated machine ever built by human beings. It’s an incredible machine,” Musser said.

Astrology???!!???!!! Are you freakin’ serious? Either it is an accurate quote, and Musser is an idiot (which I doubt), or the writer (Steve Kastenbaum) is a complete idiot and misquoted Musser (a far more likely scenario).

Is it any wonder that the public at large has no freaking idea about science, and is incapable of understanding the value of the space programme, when neither they nor the mainstream press understand the difference between “astronomy” and “astrology”.

(Or between “science” and “mythology” – which is the root of the whole evolution versus creationism silliness).


Something different – a few astrophotos

Well, we finally got some decent weather last week (not raining, but not so hot and humid that I could not really see much), so I had a shot at some astrophotography. My equipment is:

  • Celestron CPC 1100 Telescope
  • Alt-az mount
  • Canon XSi DSLR camera

Since I do not (yet) have an equatorial wedge for my telescope, I am limited in the exposure lengths I can use to about 10-30 seconds before field rotation ruins the image.

My first attempt was a simple star picture – Albireo – which is a pretty double star in the constellation Cygnus. This is a stack of 10, 15 second exposures:


My second attempt was of M13, a globular cluster in the constellation Hercules. This is a stack or 15, 15 second exposures:


Finally, I decided to try M57, the Ring Nebula, in the constellation Lyra. This is a stack of 20, 15 second exposures:


As I say, these are my first attempts at non-lunar, non-planetary images. I wanted to quickly work with a low number of images to stack initially, to see if I could get reasonable results. Next chance I get, I will focus more on one object, and go for a larger number of images to try to get more detail, better noise, etc. I am also just learning to use the image processing software, which is a major effort in and of itself.

(someday I will get a wedge, and be able to try longer individual exposures).

My first image with my new toy…(telescope, that is)

saturn test 2 ps

Tonight I got my first chance to try imaging with my new toy. This week I added a Philips webcam to my collection of accessories, modified slightly to work with my telescope, and had a shot at imaging Saturn, and this is the result. Not quite as good as I might have hoped, but not bad for the first astronomical image I have produced in about 25 years. I am still learning to use the various pieces of software involved, as well.

Now to go back outside and just enjoy the view 🙂

My new toy

Well, over the last month I have acquired a new toy – a telescope. This is the first scope I have owned in many years (since the 70s actually), and the first one I have used since my university days of the early 1980’s. Needless to say, things have change significantly in that time. I actually spent a considerable length of time debating what I actually wanted to buy – a large Dobsonian vs a small portable refractor which would be great for imaging vs. a fancy computerized Schmidt Cassegrain (or similar).

Instead of going through all my internal debates, I will just jump to the end result. I ended up buying a Celestron CPC 1100, which is an 11 inch, fork-mounted, computerized Schmidt Cassegrain, and is pictured below. I purchased the scope from Astromechanics in Barrie, ON. Despite some adventures with the shipping company, who “misplaced” the tripod for a few days, I must say dealing with Dave with Astromechanics has been a pleasure.

 telescope3 The telescope itself is, to say the least, really cool. As an astronomer/physicist-turned-software guy, there are many things on this scope to draw my attention. Mechanically, the scope, mount, and tripod are all very good. I have not seen any marks or blemishes, everything fits together cleanly, and is extremely steady.

The optics seem extremely good as well. Last night was my first real night of observing. The sky was very transparent, but there was a fair amount of instability in the atmosphere (really only noticeable when looking at the moon and Saturn, though). I was very impressed with the views. My first target was M42 (the Great Nebula in Orion). While I have seen this many, many times before, it remains one of my favourites, and was no disappointment in my new scope. Using a Baader Planetarium Hyperion 21 mm eyepiece (giving a magnification of 133x and a field of view of about half a degree), the view was breathtaking. A great deal of detail was visible, with tendrils and wisps extending pretty much across the field.

Observing Saturn next, I was impressed with the detail which could be seen in the rings during occasional moments of steadiness, along with hints of detail on Saturn’s cloud tops.

I also spent quite a bit of time looking at various open clusters (M36, M37, M38, M41). I could sit and stare all night at this sparkling collections (except of course I was freezing various body parts off!).

What impresses me most right now, though, is the alignment and GoTo software in this scope. For those not familiar with these products, this is a truly amazing piece of programming. All you have to do it level the tripod, set up the scope, wait for it to lock on the GPS signals, then point it at any three bright objects (stars, planets, or the moon), and the telescope figures out all the details it needs to be able to automatically go to any of ~40K objects in its database. The first couple of nights I was out, my tripod was still missing, so I had the scope set up on a folding portable workbench. I could not level it very well, and used three stars in the same part of the sky for alignment. Even with this, the go to consistently centred all of the objects I selected. Having now set the scope up on its tripod, and used stars more “distributed” around the sky to align, go to seems to be perfect. I have yet to see any problems, hiccups or glitches (and those of you who know me, know I can break almost any computer!).

Given the amount of stuff out there which you have to fight with to make work, it is refreshing to use something that just works!

Over the next few months, I hope to get into doing some imaging. I will post the results if I am in any way successful.