September 18, 2014

Review: The Princeton Tec Red-Light.

An indispensable piece of astronomical gear!

We always find astronomy in unexpected places. Recently, a new review product came to our attention while reading No Easy Day, an account of the Navy SEAL/DEVGRU raid that took out Osama bin Laden. The May 2nd, 2011 raid was timed to coincide with the darkness afforded by a New Moon (another astronomical tie-in), but it was a piece of SEAL gear and its cross-over potential for astronomy that caught our attention.

[Read more...]

Review: The Hooded Observing Vest from Dark Sky Apparel.

The Hooded Observing Vest in Action!

Looking for the perfect gift for that astronomy-obsessed someone in your life this Xmas? (OK… we don’t call ourselves obsessed, but you know…)

No doubt you’ve heard that same someone complain about the neighbor’s million candle-watt power floodlights, or accompanied them in a 100 mile quest for truly dark skies… if only there was a way to bring the dark skies to you… [Read more...]

Adventures with CALSky.

A most excellent ISS pass! (Photo by Author).

Pssst. I’m going to let you in on a secret observing tool of the astronomical pros. Ever wonder how the astro-imaging elite gets those impossible-looking pictures, such as the International Space Station transiting a partially eclipsed Sun? Like everything else these days, “there’s a web-site for that,” and if you’re willing to wade into world of astronomical data a little bit, you too can be taking bizarre astrophotos like the pros… trust me, we won’t get too “mathy…” [Read more...]

“Trick-out” your Scope!

Our “Star-Party Special!” (All images by Author).

So, you’ve got that brand new Dobsonian or Schmidt-Cass, and you’re looking at making a few add-ons to assure your look isn’t entirely “stock”? Like digital cameras, one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life-time is the purchasing of a first telescope. True, the technology changes so quickly, today’s cutting edge instrument is tomorrow’s old tech. These days, some of said technology has even moved online, with programs such as Slooh and the like…  [Read more...]

The Rise of Glovelite.

Glovelight in action…(All photos by Author).

In our never-ending quest to explore the cosmos, we here at Astroguyz HQ probably own more red lights than conventional flashlights. As we mentioned last month in our post about tips for observing, light at red wavelengths can give us star chart reading capability while still preserving that all important night vision. [Read more...]

Review: Starry Night Pro 6.

Astro-candy for your desktop!

Astro-candy for your desktop!

 

   Let it never be said that you can run too many planetarium programs… this week we look at Starry Night Pro, a comprehensive desktop sky simulator. We were lucky to receive this bundled with one of our Earth Science courses in pursuit of our teaching degree with Western Governors University, and it has become a standard short-cut on our desktop. Just how does it stack up against what’s out there? [Read more...]

Review: A Classic 1x Finder!

A true classic... (All photos by Author).

A true classic... (All photos by Author).

 

   Sometimes the simplest devices are the most ingenious. The week, we take a look at the astronomer’s secret weapon; the Telrad Finder. Anyone who has spent any amount of time with a telescope knows that accurate pointing is a true challenge. When you are sweeping the sky at even moderate magnifications, you may be looking at a field of view much smaller than the Full Moon, itself only the size of a fingernail at arm’s length. [Read more...]

Review: Microsoft’s World Wide Telescope.

World Wide Telescope Logo.

World Wide Telescope Logo.

 

The market for astronomical online software has really exploded in the past few years, and amateur astronomers and educators have reaped the benefit. What was offered by many companies for prices sometimes over 100$ a pop now can be had for free. Programs such as HNSky, Stellarium, and Google Earth all offer Planetarium-style software that can be run right on your desktop. This week, we’ll look at Microsoft’s entry into the market with their World Wide Telescope (WWT).

One thing that initially struck me about the WWT was the ease for loading and use. Several larger astronomy programs have a knack for crashing or locking up mere mortal computers that many of us employ in the field. Released in early 2008, it runs pretty seamlessly for a Beta application. And this isn’t just a knock off of Google Earth; WWT gives you full access to a spectrum of surveys, from Hubble, WMAP to 2-MASS and more. The WWT promises unrestricted access to astrophysical data in an online community format. I’m particularly interested to see what users do with this access and the homemade tours they produce.

WWT Telescope II.

M92 Globular Cluster screenshot.

So, how useable is this software for in the field astronomy? Well, WWT does come with telescope controlling capability via the popular ASCOM series of controllers; in theory, one should be able to download the software plus the ASCOM drivers, connect and configure the telescope, and use it to point the instrument at various objects. Most new telescopes are now of the GOTO variety, although I’ve used similar software in a manual pointing capacity. I’ve heard of some users having difficulty getting the WWT to work in this regard…we welcome any personal success/failure stories as we have not yet attempted the use of WWT in this mode.

As a simulator, WWT does the job pretty well. For an example, we simulated next month’s South Pacific eclipse from various locales, and the WWT performed flawlessly. While use of the time controls and spatial location is pretty straight forward, we would like to see the inclusion of a local horizon and transit meridian to get a sense of our local bearings… an overall orientation does exist in the lower right side of the control panel but a plug-in addressing this would be handy, lest your telescope start pointing at the ground…

WWT Telescope III.

WWT Screenshot…its full of stars!

Which brings us to what I believe is the WWT’s greatest asset; its use for education. Star party clouded out? WWT would be a tremendous backup resource with its numerous tours of the sky; just keep in mind that it’s not a true “stand-alone” program as it does require an Internet connection to operate in the field. Right click on an object, and it gives you a quick look list of data. The format for star info is particularly refreshing… it gives you proper name, SAO, and just about any other pertinent catalog designation, all in one shot. This eliminates tedious cross referencing, as your scope may refer to a star by its esoteric forgotten medieval name (!) while you’re trying to hunt it down by SAO designator…

And heck, WWT is just plain fun to play with… I love the ability to probe the universe in infrared goggles, or pan around the Phoenix Lander site. Now in its second year, I’m really interested to see what folks will do with this new web-based tool and how new data will be integrated.  One could easily see amateur astronomers banding together to use the data to scout out new comets or asteroids, or creating historical, you-are-there tours of the cosmos, or perhaps simply sharing their latest images or favorites via the community. You can never have too many planetarium programs, and WWT makes a worthy and unique addition to any growing collection.

WWT screenshot.

Screenshot; exploring the Phoenix landing site with the WWT!

Review: INOVA’s X5 UV flashlight.

 
Not your ordinary flashlight! (All Photos by Author).
Not your ordinary flashlight! (All Photos by Author).

 

   Last week, we delved into the exciting world of orbital ultraviolet astronomy. Keeping with a theme, this week, we here at Astroguyz will review a favorite new toy of ours; the INOVA X5 personal UV flashlight.   [Read more...]

Review:Redshift 7: The Ultimate in Astronomy Software.

Redshift

Availble from Maris technologies! (Credit: Redshift).

Desktop-based planetarium programs have really come into their own in the past few years. From their early evolution in the 1980′s with computer programs written in Basic that would show you stick figure constellations, planetarium programs are now full fledged sky simulators that allow you not only to control your telescope and plan your observing sessions more effectively, but allow you to travel through space as well as time. [Read more...]

21.9.9: The Autumnal Equinox.

A celestial alignment; in a neigborhood near you? (Credit: Art Explosion).

A celestial alignment; coming to a neighborhood near you? (Credit: Art Explosion).

Can you feel it? The brunt of northern hemisphere summer is about over, giving  way to our favorite season here at Astroguyz; Fall. It’s not just our collective imagination; this Tuesday marks the Autumnal Equinox, or the spring (vernal) Equinox for those down under. This marks the mid way point for the Sun’s apparent journey form north to south, and the beginning of spring and fall, respectively. Of course, we’re the ones in motion!To be technical, this is the point that the Sun rests at 180 degrees along the ecliptic, and at a right ascension of 12 hours and a declination of exactly 0. This occurs this year at precisely 21:18 hours Universal Time on Tuesday, September 22nd. The Sun will rise exactly due east from your locale and set due west, our personal favorite observation to make on this day (weather willing) to site any potential local “Stonehenge” alignments. [Read more...]

Mirror Collimation; Some Tips & Tricks.

dog.

Have Dog, will Collimate! (Photo by Author).

This week, we here at ye ole Astroguyz are going to delve into an oft avoided but crucial technique that will allow you to get the most out of your shinny new (or old!) reflecting telescope; the fine art of mirror collimation. Sure, nearly every owner’s manual gives you a how to, but I’m going to share some neat tricks learned in the field through years of mistakes and experience. Ready? Let’s collimate! [Read more...]

Convertable Gloves for Cold Weather Astronomy.

Gloves.

Astronomy Rocks! (Photo by author).

   Ahhh… it’s sometimes the simple things that make all the difference in observational astronomy. Now that we are once again spending northern hemisphere winter in sunnier climes (i.e. Hudson, Florida), I reminisce about all those chilly nights in Maine and Alaska under the stars. [Read more...]

Gear Review: Canons Image Stablized Binoculars.

binocs.

15 x 45 Classics. (photo by Author). 

 

  Every once in a while, we here at Astroguyz find a toy that surpasses expectations. Canon’s Image Stabilized (IS) binoculars are one such gizmo. I’ve had my trusty pair of 15 X 45’s for almost ten years now, and they’ve worked flawlessly! They also fit my two criteria for taking on new technology; they’re simple to use (there’s only one button to push!), and they’re maintenance free. [Read more...]

My Exploits with the Personal Solar Telescope

PST.

All Photos by Author.

There is nothing like a new toy to refresh my interest in Astronomy. A couple of years back, I had a chance to man a loner scope for a solar “star” party at the re-opening of the Fox Theater in Tucson, Arizona. Five minutes of training by Flandrau Science director Mike Terrenzoni, and I was off. [Read more...]

Planetary Imaging with an Off-the-Shelf Web Cam.

Jupiter via Webcam

Jupiter via the Webcam Method. Photo by Author.

A few years ago, I came across an article in Sky & Telescope about an emerging technology. Apparently, some intrepid sky enthusiasts (I hate the word amateur… to me it denotes bottlecap collecting or trainspotting and other space filling activities) were creating their own planetary webcams. [Read more...]