Tag Archives: astronomy equipment

T-4 Days….

Until Stellafane!

I’ve been busy starting to do packing work and realize I have a bit more packing to do in front of me.  I’ll be ready in time, though.

I’m looking forward to Stellafane, hanging out with fellow members of the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers, and learning about amateur telescope making (ATM).  I already have two telescopes (10″ and 8″ reflectors) as well as three binos, so after I get a 80mm refractor, I’m done.  But, I’d like to see how they are made.

I’d also like to try to pick up an 11mm Nagler eyepiece for mid-range observation (I have a 24mm eyepiece).  I also have my eye set on a 3-6mm Nagler for really up close work, but that resides on my Amazon Wish List and won’t happen until after my next quarterly bonus.

I’ll have a bit more to post after this coming week after I go to Stellafane.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, check out this cool commercial for the Weather Channel about Cherry Springs State Park in the boonies of PA.  That’s my next major destination.

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Preparing for Stellafane and other Star Parties–Turning my Prius into a Star Party Tent and Figuring out Packing.

Stellafane is about 2 months away at this point, however, the star party at Cherry Springs is a month away, and there are rumors of some DVAA members going to Blue Mountain at some point soon.  So, I’ve been kicking the prep into high gear.

I’ll update this post as appropriate as we get closer, in case people like the way I pack and want to try it themselves.

LODGING

First item of business is sleeping quarters.  On a social worker’s salary, spending $100 per night or more on a hotel for just me is a bit much when it is Thursday through Sunday.  So, I needed to look at other options.  I looked at many tents, but ultimately decided to go with http://www.habitents.com/.  They produce a tent that fits on the hatchback of any Prius from 2003 forward.  Here’s a couple of stock photos from the Internet:

Fits two. Snugly.
It can also provide a nice view.

Below are some photos from what I have set up so far with my own car, graced with my daughter Luci channelling Vanna White.  I still need to pack up more when the time actually comes.  I’ll show you more pictures then.  The photos below have not been touched up, so please accept the flaws.

First, this is what it generally looks like, with the windows  of the tent down.   The windows do, of course, go up.  The chief advantages of using this kind of tent are to enhance ventilation, increase leg room, and enhance one’s Prius geek street cred.  Basically, what you are seeing is that it attaches to the hatchback, which is up, and from which it hangs.  It has the big door, and it also has two side windows.  The windows have a plastic part that keeps out the rain, and the no-see um mesh part that keeps out the bugs.  Of course, both can be opened.  The Habitents is made out of 180T 1000 polyurethane coated polyester tent fabric. Polyester is stronger, more UV resistant and retains its shape better (does not stretch) in wind and rain. Polyester is naturally hydrophobic and the polyurethane coating increases its water resistance, according to the website.  The hooks go in well below the paint, so I didn’t see any problems with putting it on in terms of scratches.

image_7One question is about the waterproofness of it while the hatchback is open.  The website purports that rain will fall into the groove in the picture below where it attaches to the hatchback and it will run off to the side.  I haven’t tried it yet, but the next time we get a rainy night where I can sleep in it, I’ll give it a whirl to see.

The installation was easy.  In the picture below, a long webbing pocket fits on the top of the hatchback to form something of a seal.  Then, after draping it over the car, you lift the hatchback, pull the tent over, and lightly hook up the straps, tightening later.  It took about 2 minutes the first time, so it could conceivably be done in a relative downpour.

image_11

Below is what the inside of the car looks like.  The front seats are moved all the way to the front, and the back seat has the headrests off and are moved forward.  The hatchback trunk cover is removed.  That’s a Thermarest Base Camp XL mattress on top of a thick yoga mat.  It fit fine.

OK, so she’s prettier than Vanna White.

image_14And, the next two are me inside with a view of the neighborhood.  I had PLENTY of room in terms of length (I’m 6’3″!) and could see sleeping pretty comfortably in there, assuming that I didn’t have a tremendous amount of other stuff keeping me company.  More on that later.

image_2It took a lot of junk food to make the mountain in this picture.  I’ve seen smaller mountains on the Moon through my telescope.

imageAs you can see in the pictures above and below, sitting room is an issue with this arrangement.  Being 6’3″ and big, I needed to do some twisting to get around when lying down.  Being new to the tent, I entered and exited by the side doors, which took some acrobatics.  In the future, I’ll enter by the back flap of the tent, duh.  Here’s Luci sitting comfortably with and without mesh.  I was able to do the same when I cleared the part of the tent under the roof of the car and sat under the trunk door.

image_6 image_12Habitents recommends that Prius campers purchase specific plastic containers for storage (about $6 each at Targét) which can be stacked between the back seat and the front seat (Sterilite 56 and 28 qt containers, stacked).  I plan to put clothes, dry food, toiletries, etc. in these).  The purpose is so that there will be a level space for the head to rest beyond the end of the back seat.  Don’t let the picture below fool you.  This worked just fine when I tried it, because my chest and head made the back seat go down to become even.  While camping, I’ll have my pillow there.

image_4Of course, the front seats will need to be storage spaces.   I plan to put my car jumper battery there (to power my C-PAP, which will also be there), as well as food and whatever else will fit that MUST remain dry.  To drive, however, the containers behind the seats must be moved.  This arrangement, therefore, would be most comfortable for one person, less comfortable for two.  I would not add more than that for this tenting situation.

image_8 So what else will I do?  I have a tarp on order which I plan to string up between a pair of hiking poles and the inside of the doors.  This will provide some shelter from the sun and a private place to change.  I’m also debating just hanging the tarp off the hatchback itself.  I’m open to input on this.  I have some ponchos that I plan to hang off of it to help with privacy.  More pictures as I get closer.

I also noticed that even with the ventilation of the tent, it was still hot.  So, I think I”ll bring a couple of old sheets to hang up along the length of the car windows for privacy, and I’m considering getting some no-see-um mesh to hang on the windows with magnets.image_10

Price for the tent?  $99.

Now, look.  I know you are looking at the pictures.  Yes, that’s a Prowler Regal in the backyard.  Currently, we don’t have a car that can tow it, and for one person going camping, you can’t beat the gas mileage of a Prius compared to a Suburban towing the darned thing.  I will miss using a shower, though.

We are selling the Regal, if anyone is interested.  It’s a 40 footer with bells and whistles.  Camping outdoors in the summer in air conditioning is quite popular.

PACKING LIST

Here’s what I’m thinking of bringing, if space permits.  I’d love input on these, and have already benefited from some:

  • [ ]Credit card
  • [ ]Clothing
  • [ ]Sunscreen
  • [ ]Reading glasses
  • [ ]Sunglasses
  • [ ]Hat
  • [ ]Umbrella and/or poncho
  • [ ]Sneakers/sandals
  • [ ]Reservations
  • [ ]EZ Pass
  • [ ]Power cords for gadgets brought
  • [ ]Computer and cords
  • [ ]Iphone & cords
  • [ ]Ipad and cords
  • [ ]Earphones
  • [ ]Toilet kit
  • [ ]Swiss Army Knife
  • [ ]Camera and charger and other equipment and lenses
  • [ ]C-Pap with backup mask
  • [ ]Medications
  • [ ]Wash car, check fluids and tires
  • [ ]neck pillow
  • [ ]Pajamas
  • [ ]Tent
  • [ ]Sleeping Bag/sheets
  • [ ]Sleeping Pad
  • [ ]Dew Shield (need to make)
  • [ ]Insect repellant (with DEET)
  • [ ]Red flashlight and red cellophane
  • [ ]Star Atlas
  • [ ]Reading glasses
  • [ ]Snacks/Food
  • [ ]Towels/washcloth
  • [ ]Nylon rope/paracord
  • [ ]Bungee cords
  • [ ]Warm clothes, warm shoes/hiking boots, hat, warm jacket
  • [ ]Batteries for astronomy stuff
  • [ ]Allen wrenches
  • [ ]Duct tape
  • [ ]Electrical tape
  • [ ]Logbook/pencils
  • [ ]Camera
  • [ ]Telescope/Binoculars with mounts (just bringing an 8×30 and a 10×50 with a p-gram mount to Stellafane)
  • [ ]White drop cloth
  • [ ]Tarp
  • [ ]tent spikes
  • [ ]battery charger (have one for the C-PAP, need to purchase a second one)
  • [ ]Furniture (table, lounge chair)
  • [ ]Hiking sticks for tarp
  • [ ]Sterilite 28 and 56 quart container x2
  • [ ]Lighter
  • [ ]Coleman stove and fuel, cooking supplies
  • [ ]Water container (5 gallon)

If space permits:

  • 25×100 binos with tripod (can’t see the zenith with these, but can see other things)
  • Guitar
  • Tin Whistle
  • Don’t worry, I will leave my bagpipes at home.
Don't believe me?
Don’t believe me?

Any other ideas for packing?

CONCLUSION

I’m really looking forward to going to Star Parties to see what they are like, and I’m even more looking forward to meeting people and relaxing in the outdoors.

I’m looking for suggestions and questions and comments on ways to make camping at Star Parties more awesome, so feel free to comment here.

 

A UFO?

Last night I was out just observing in general with my 10×50 binoculars.  I was trying out my red dot finder and found it to be extremely helpful.  I looked at Jupiter, Orion, the Pleiades, Perseus, Andromeda, and Cassiopeia.  Just for the fun of it, no official recording of observations.  The sky was not too great in terms of transparency, about a 2-3 on the following scale.  I live in a “white zone”, i.e. a place heavily impacted by light pollution.  Having a street light on my property doesn’t help, either.

1 :: Mostly Cloudy

2-3 :: Hazy; 1 or 2 Little Dipper stars visible

4 :: 3-4 Little Dipper stars; Milky Way not visible

5 :: 4 Little Dipper stars; Bright parts of Milky Way visible (Scutum starcloud)

6 :: 5 Little Dipper stars; Milky Way visible with averted vision

7 :: 6 Little Dipper stars; Milky Way visible

8-9 :: Excellent: 7 Little Dipper stars; M-31 (Andromeda Galaxy) visible

10 :: Superb: M-33 (Triangulum Galaxy) and/or M-81 (Bode’s Galaxy) visible

While looking at Andromeda and Cassiopeia, I saw a rapidly moving gray object that did not have blinking lights moving from S through NW in Andromeda through the lower part of Cassiopeia around 9:18 or 9:19p.  I had never seen one of these before.  It was most likely a satellite.

With a little help from people in the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers group, I was able to access a database of satellite passes at Heavens-Above.com, but didn’t see my newfound friend.

Interesting.  There were other satellites in the general area, but none that were flying from S through NW around lower Cassiopeia at that time.  Maybe it was one of those satellites that aren’t on the official register, or perhaps an NSA satellite keeping an eye on us or the little green men were involved.

Probably just proof of just another space related conspiracy theory.

I’ll be wearing my tinfoil hat to work today.

14-2-11 7:45-8:20PM OBSERVATION (Constellation of Andromeda/Andromeda Galaxy [M31]) [OBS #5]

Today I braved the elements again and got in another observation. This time I went a little west of Cassiopeia and looked at Andromeda and the Andromeda Galaxy/M31.

Again, I had focus issues with my camera.  I think what happened was a combination of star drift and too wide an aperture.  I was using my 50mm lens, and I noticed that I had stuff out of focus at 1.8, but when I moved my aperture to 3.5, it improved.  I was able to get a picture that wasn’t too incredibly horrible out of about 20 shots.  In this one, the Andromeda Galaxy is somewhat present.

Canon 60D with 50mm lens.  32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100.  Unannotated.
Canon 60D with 50mm lens. 32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100. Unannotated.

Here is the image with a little more of a guide to what you kinda sorta are seeing:

Canon 60D with 50mm lens.  32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100.  Annotated.
Canon 60D with 50mm lens. 32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100. Annotated.

That smudgy thing in the circle is the Andromeda Galaxy.  It is around the size of the moon, about 2° in size.  It is noteworthy that Mirach (β Andromeda) is a red giant.  By naked eye this could not be seen, but it could be seen in the above photo.

Here are some clearer views in Stellarium.

Andromeda Constellation in Stellarium
Andromeda Constellation in Stellarium
Detail of Andromeda featuring the Andromeda Galaxy.
Detail of Andromeda featuring the Andromeda Galaxy over on the right.

I also spent some time fiddling with a multi reticle red dot finder that I purchased which goes on top of the 25x100s.  Got it to work by zeroing in on the moon.  It does make finding things easier, assuming I can star hop to where they are.  With binoculars, though, compared to telescopes which are inverted and/or upside down, it is far easier.  the Finder can also double as a rifle sight (yet another hobby of mine).

Red Dot Finderscope
Red Dot Finder
140211 14-02-11 Observation (Andromeda Constellation and Andromeda Galaxy) 7-45p to 8-20p - 35
Red Dot Finder

While what’s below isn’t my actual red dot finder in action (it was a bugger trying to take a picture of it due to depth of field issues), this is essentially what it would look like looking through it.

Here is my observation report for tonight:

Sadly, due to shifting transparency conditions, I was not able to see the Andromeda Galaxy using the 25x100s tonight, although I was able to see it with my 8x30s earlier in the evening.

Observation report for Andromeda (Constellation) and the Andromeda Galaxy.
Observation report for Andromeda (Constellation) and the Andromeda Galaxy.

Per Wikipedia:

Here is info on Andromeda, the constellation.

Andromeda is named after the daughter of Cassiopeia.  Andromeda was apparently chained to a rock to be eaten by the monster Cetus, which is behind Pisces.  It is bordered above by Perseus, below by Pegasus, to the right by Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, and the Pleiades are to the left.  Pisces and the Triangulum are to the left, but closer.  Only one or two stars in Pisces were visible tonight, and Pegasus was behind trees.

Perseus figures as the savior of Andromeda from Cetus (See this part of the Perseus myth).

Here is info on the Andromeda Galaxy/M31.

The Andromeda Galaxy/Messier 31 is one of the largest deep space objects of the Messier group.  It is a spiral galaxy about 2.5 million light years away from Earth.  It will collide with the Milky Way galaxy in the future!  In 3.75 billion years.  Not high on my list of anxieties this week.

Here is an interesting video on the Andromeda Galaxy:  Video on Andromeda Galaxy from NASA (public domain)

I hope to do another observation of the Andromeda Galaxy in the future, when transparency conditions are better.

My equipment

So here’s a list of what I use.

  • 8×30 unknown (“Sunset”?) make and model binoculars.
  • 10×50 Nikon Aculon binoculars (with an Orion parallelogram mount on a tripod and a red dot finder)
  • 25×100 Burgess binoculars on a tripod with a red dot finder.
  • 10″ Meade Starfinder Dobsonian (f/4.5 focal ratio, 1140mm focal length) with 20mm 1.25″ plossl and Meade 24mm 2″ UWA eyepieces.  6×30 finder for the Starfinder, telrad.
  • Neutral density and O-III filters, 1.25″
  • Canon 60D DSLR with Canon 18-150mm, 50mm, and Tamron 18-270mm lenses
  • Two eyeballs, enhanced with intraocular lenses.
  • Planesphere.
  • Various astronomy maps/books.
  • Macintosh Apps:  Astroplanner, Stellarium,  Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
  • IPhone/iPad apps:  Sky Safari 4 Pro, Clear Skies.
  • Green laser pointer…

…and a Tardis.