9/1/2017 A Good Evening at the River Ridge Observatory

I went up to the RRO Friday evening, arriving just at sunset. Now that it is September, that is about 7:35 rather than 8:28. My goal was to shoot Saturn before it starts getting too low.  By the time I set the 9.25″ SCT (aka Night Ranger) it was dark enough to start looking at Saturn if nothing else.  Saturn is just past the meridian at sunset now so it won’t be long before it will be too low to try to image.

I started with the color 120MC that I have ignored lately and took a couple series of images at prime focus (f/10 2345mm) before switching to the monochrome 120MM with a red filter. Both cameras are 2.4 megapixels but since the color divides that into red, blue, and green the monochrome is higher resolution.  Also, the red filter can help reduce atmospheric shimmers. After a few series at f/10 I decided to get out of my comfort zone and add a 2x barlow and shoot at f/20. This of course meant 4x the exposure and increased chance of shimmers in the image. Nevertheless I think it turned out okay.

The first image is the color at f/10, you can tell cause it is in color.  The other shows a fair amount of detail if I say so myself. Some of the concentric rings in the rings might be processing artifacts but I don’t think the belts in the atmosphere or the polar hexagon are. Those are legitimate.

When I got done with Saturn, the Moon was too bright to work on some Astronomical League observing programs so I decided to shoot the Moon too. I went back to f/10 but kept the red filter.  I just wandered across the surface looking for interesting features.

Copernicus and Eratosthenes region

Mare Crisium Region

Mare Frigoris region with Plato

Plato and Sinus Iridum region

Tycho region

Clavius Region

Gassendi region



7/3/2017 Rainy Day Project

I’ve been thinking of a way to mount one or two cameras to my Nexstar SLT mount so they can track the sky. Hopefully here it is. I’ll remove the straps when the time comes to reduce weight. The plan is to have the larger camera (EOS T5)  zoomed to 300mm for the eclipse which should be enough to capture all of the corona. The other, an SX50 HS, can zoom much farther to close in on the disk. A third camera will be set up stationary separately and wide angle to capture the entire 3 hour event with the Sun moving across the field of view. There is a third 1/4-20 post near the centerline for when I’m using one camera.

Visible in the second picture is a mini-ball mount to give me greater control over the direction and tilt of the cameras.  I’m already thinking about drilling holes in the disk closer to the edge to give me room to tilt. Determining the relative direction of the Sun’s axis on game day would let me orient the cameras to match.

I’m hoping for clear skies soon to test the rig.

3/31/2017 Friday Night at the River Ridge Observatory

I wanted to shoot the planet Mercury so I went to the RRO before sunset to set up. Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, is having its best apparition of the year right now. Saturday is technically the peak but tonight is just shy of that. What this all means is the Sun sets at 7:30, I was able to find Mercury by 7:50, and the little guy was in the trees by 8:05. I had to scramble to take several short videos at different exposures and focus points and the last was the best. Here we have the best 20% of 1000 one millisecond exposures through a 9.25″ SCT (focal length 2340mm) at Optimus Prime focus. Not going to win any awards with this but its off this year’s bucket list.

Here’s an image taken of the planet Jupiter later that evening. I didn’t wait until it was high in the sky but it turned out okay. If I had waited the Great Red Spot might have rotated away. On the left and right are the moons Io and Ganymede respectively. Best 25% of 5000 10 ms images through a 9.25″ SCT at prime focus.

Last but not least from last night, the Moon. This was taken with my simple Canon SX50 HS maximum zoom, slightly cropped, at I think 1/400 second ISO automatic. I’m starting to re-appreciate that camera. It has a smaller chip than my Canon Rebel but that means a larger effective zoom (50x ~ 1200mm lens). Not as good in low light and can only take a maximum of 15 second exposure but it shoots in raw format and excels at this kind of stuff (and birds).


One more thing about last night, Chris Lasley and I looked for the new Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak (aka T-G-K). He gets the credit for actually tracking down this comet now between the Big and Little Dippers. This is and will be in our evening skies for a few weeks. I tried my hand at finding it but walked away to shoot Jupiter. Chris persisted and found it and then later confirmed that this was it. We couldn’t see much other that a fuzzy patch that didn’t appear to correspond to something else.

The Molly Project continues …

Last night, Molly the 16-inch f/4.5 Dobsonian telescope had her public debut at the River Ridge Observatory. It was mostly a successful debut. The images were bright and clear. We looked at the Orion Nebula (M42), Bode’s Nebula (M81), the Cigar Galaxy (M82), M79 in Lepus (one of the few globular clusters in the winter sky). I even chased the International Space Station for a bit until I lost it. I could see that it was oblong instead of a point or circle but I was so busy trying to keep it in view I couldn’t really observe it.
The elastic variable counterweight system worked at first at all angles but later had trouble. I’m not sure what to make of that, maybe temperature. I need to see what weight I can reduce from the top or transfer to the bottom. Also, I brought a light shield for the upper assembly but forgot a way to attach it. That said, I think we just need tweaks now.

The Molly Project continues …

I put the 16 inch scope together for the first time tonight. The six truss rods attach with bicycle clamps, collimation knobs and a power button for the fan at the top of the mirror box.  I’m going to shorten the ground board legs and the truss rods a bit before I’m done. The six truss rods are connected to each other and as identical as I can make them. I need to add a bungee or something to keep them together while attaching.  Plenty of fine tuning to do.

The Molly Project continues …

I’ve been doing mostly small stuff on the scope since the last post but today I made a couple of major steps forward.

  1. I cut the Ebony Star Formica for the altitude bearings and glued them to same. I’m waiting for the contact cement to cure.
  2. Took the relevant parts back to the River Ridge Observatory for second measuring session. This time I also took my truss rods so that I could mark them. Then I cut them. I cut them long (hopefully) and will remove a little at a time until they are just right.

I’m very close to first complete assembly but I didn’t want to mess up the contact cement by rushing it. After that will come the trimming of excess truss rod mentioned above, plus excess board for focuser and telrad, probably balancing. Truth be told the design doesn’t allow for proper balancing in advance. Hopefully it will be bottom heavy as that will be easier to address.

Venus and Mars 2/25/2017

I was able to take these images of Venus and Mars Saturday night.  The goal was Venus with Mars being way past its last opposition of about 9 months ago and now only about 3 arc seconds across.Venus on the other hand is close to one arc minute across and will only get larger for a few weeks before passing under the Sun and entering the morning sky. Venus was shot with a red filter and even so each frame was a quarter of a millisecond.  It was the best 20% of 10,000 frames. Mars was best 20% of 5,000 frames with no filter and each frame was one millisecond. Last night Mars was about 6 magnitudes (or 225x) dimmer than Venus. Both were low in the west and seeing conditions were awful.  Also seen but not imaged was Uranus, which was pretty close to Mars.

The Molly Project continues…

To follow up on yesterday’s post, today I took the mirror box and the upper telescope assembly to the River Ridge Observatory so that I determine the proper separation. Besides the sky, the site has a view of another mountain across the valley about two miles away. Since yesterday I attached the focuser and telrad boards to the UTA and added the focuser. You can see my hi-tech boards and clamps.
Note: when walking around with a 16 inch mirror in the sunlight be careful not to burn your retinas out.

The Molly Project Continues…

Things are coming together.  I’ve recently painted everything that needed painting.  If I had to do it over, I think I would have gone with stain but it’s too late to fret over that and I can’t rebuild something until I build it first. The red is a little darker than some of these pictures. More like the last picture than the second.

The first picture shows the mirror cell resting on the threaded rods that will be used for collimation. In the center of the cell is a fan and at the edge is a push button toggle to turn it on/off. The fan will be used to help the mirror reach equilibrium. I decided early on to go with a simple cell with 18 felt pads in the best locations for support.


Next, we see the 16″ (or 0.4 meter) mirror safely in the box resting on the cell.  You can see the three collimation knobs that will allow me to collimate from the top rather than the bottom. Hidden behind the knob on the right is the push button from the other picture that will let me turn the fan on or off.


Finally, for this post, is the upper tube assembly with the secondary mirror and spider.  Next I need to attach the board for the focuser and focuser itself.  After that I can place the mirror box above and the UTA below on  jig to determine the optimal separation and from that the length of the truss rods.

I’m hoping for first light in about a month.