Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#103 - Monday, August 14, 2017 - Celestial Adventures with the Library

Christa, my Girl Scout co-leader, works at the library, and one of the other employees is working on building up a program for millennials.  I went to their game night a few weeks ago, and she asked a while back if I would do an astronomy program about the library telescopes!  The Astronomical League and many astronomy clubs have been donating small telescopes to local libraries that patrons can check out.  In the case of my local library, my astronomy club has donated two Orion Starblast 4.5's, with some modifications made.  The eyepiece and telescope caps are attached with string so they don't get lost; the eyepiece is a zoom eyepiece that is glued into place; and the CR2032 button cell battery in the red dot finder was replaced with an easily-accessible set of two AAA's, among other things.  They also come with instructions.   It's a cool program!

I spent the first half talking about the solar eclipse – what it is, where to go, and what to expect.  It was mostly cloudy, but in some parts, the clouds were thin enough that I was able to find a few double stars at least to look at.  We looked at Albireo and Mizar/Alcor.  Albireo was an easy split in these 4.5” Newtonian reflectors, but Mizar/Alcor you really had to squint.  The scopes were very easy to use, even for someone who started out on a goto mount like me.  We didn’t get to see Saturn behind the clouds until it cleared up a little more in the south, but there were still a few people left.  It was definitely recognizable – you could see the separation between the rings and the main body of the planet.  It looked quite nice, actually.  Saturn is absolutely my favorite thing to look at.  That, and globular clusters in big giant Dobs.  :)

Despite the clouds, I think the program was a success!  There were only a few actual “millennials” there – a lot of older folks just saw that it was a program about the eclipse or about astronomy and wanted to come – but that’s fine.  It was a good evening!

I am off to Casper, WY for ASTROCON and the solar eclipse tomorrow!  I'm bringing my Celestron NexStar alt-az mount with my Borg 76ED to image the eclipse, and I've got by BackyardNikon scripts all ready to go - one for the partial phases, and one where I'll hit the "go" button 1 minute before totality, using the Solar Eclipse Timer app for the audio cue.  One major advantage of using an alt-az mount for the eclipse is that I can plop it down wherever and not have to do much setup - no polar alignment, no alignment stars the night before, just "okay mountie here's the sun" and it'll just track it.  It's wonderful (and tested - the sun only moved one sun's-width over the course of four hours on my back porch a few weekends ago).  I was hoping to borrow a light equatorial mount from someone for taking advantage of the dark skies and doing some astro imaging, like the Celestron AVX or the CGEM or something, but 'twas not to be.  So, instead, I'm going to do a little experimentation.  Back when I was first using my NexStar mount with my 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain (no focal reducer), I could get about 25 seconds on a frame and only lose about 30% of them to period tracking error, vibrations, etc. However, the much-shorter focal length and much larger FOV of the Borg should be a little more forgiving, so my only limit should be field rotation.  If I can't quite get to 2 minutes in the parts of the sky where 2 minutes is possible without field rotation (I've got a table of altitudes, azimuths, and what exposure times are feasible), then it is actually possible to guide the NexStar.  PHD booted up and started talking to it no problemo.  Now whether the guiding actually works is another story - but I'll try without it first and see how things go.  Yay experiments!  I'll post all the details.  Forum posts I read were inconclusive about whether it was possible, so I'm hoping to have a nice definitive answer to that question.

The drive down will be fine, but the drive back will likely be a nightmare.  I originally planned this trip over a year ago when I wasn't sure how much time I'd be able to take off work, so we made the trip as short as we could - we're only doing Friday and Saturday of the conference, and then we're leaving right after the eclipse is over, about 2 PM Mountain time (allowing some time to pack up).  Our drive is mostly outside the path of totality, but I moved our overnight hotel stay up a few hours, and I still think we'll be getting in rather late.  And then we will have an even longer drive the second day back home.

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