Weekend Stargazer: June 24 – 26

M4 and M80
Use this chart to locate the trio of globular clusters near Antares, in Scorpius. (The blue circle corresponds to a binocular field of view.)

Evenings this weekend are largely moonfree, but with the solstice having just occurred, darkness is in short supply. Even so, there’s time for a little deep-sky viewing. Indeed, one of the most interesting globular clusters is well positioned due south — that is if you can tear yourself away from Mars and Saturn, which lie nearby. The globular I’m referring to is M4. Because of its southerly declination, M4 has a short observing season, which often leads to the cluster being overlooked. Continue reading “Weekend Stargazer: June 24 – 26”

In the May/June 2016 SkyNews

SkyNews-MJ16-cover

This is my first issue as the magazine’s editor, having taken over the position from Terence Dickinson. It’s a great honour, and Terry has been a tremendous friend helping make the transition remarkably smooth. As I note in my editorial, he will be contributing his new column, Cosmic Musings, starting next issue.

In spite of my expanded editorial duties, I’ll be continuing my regular On the Moon column. In this instalment I talk about the May Blue Moon. Don’t be surprised though if you’re unaware of it — it’s a “seasonal” blue Moon.

For more about what’s in the current issue, visit SkyNews.ca

Review: Canon’s Image-Stabilized Binoculars

Canon 15x45s

Over the years I’ve tested virtually every affordable image-stabilized binocular on the market for reviews appearing in Sky & Telescope magazine. Canon is the clear leader where astronomy is concerned. The company currently offers six models, each with something to interest the backyard stargazer. Some of these binoculars are among the very best available for astronomy, while some are more general purpose.
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A Tracking Platform for Astrophotography

Tracker lead image

This simple, easy-to-build mount provides the perfect introduction to long-exposure astrophotography.

Round stars. That’s the difference between astrophotos captured with a camera that tracks the sky’s motion versus one that doesn’t. Traditionally you’d make a tracked photo by placing your camera piggyback on a telescope with a motorized equatorial mount. But that’s a lot of equipment to deal with if all you want are some nice-looking constellation portraits or a shot of a newly discovered comet — especially if you have to travel to reach your favorite dark-sky destination.
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No-Tools Telescope Collimation

Telescope front view

For optimum performance, precisely aligned optics are a must. Luckily, achieving this goal doesn’t have to be difficult.

Most telescope users know that the only way to get every last drop of performance from a reflector telescope is to ensure that the optics are in good collimation. Here’s a method that’s simple and doesn’t require tools or even a centre-dotted primary mirror.
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Five Reflector Performance Killers

Reflector telescope front view

The Newtonian reflector is one of the most versatile optical configurations ever created. Whether homebuilt or commercially manufactured, a good Newtonian can rival the performance of any optical design.

Knowledge is power. The more you know about your Newtonian reflector’s potential and its pitfalls, the better equipped you’ll be to ensure it’s delivering peak performance.
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Building the Outback Travelscope

Me at Uluru

Me, the Outback Travelscope, and a bloody big rock.
(Photo courtesy George Brandie)

When I was preparing to travel to Australia for a total solar eclipse and some dark-sky observing sessions in the Outback, I decided it was finally time to rebuild my 8-inch travelscope so that it could go into my suitcase and arrive safely at my destination.
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Getting the Most From Astro Binoculars

Bino user

Binocular stargazing is full of surprises. Sometimes you stumble across a pretty cluster and wonder how you’d previously missed it. Other times, you hunt and hunt for a galaxy listed at 8th magnitude, only to come up empty handed. It’s enough to make you wonder — what makes one object a binocular standout and another difficult challenge? Compiled here are the five most important factors that determine whether or not a deep-sky wonder will turn out to be binocular trash or treasure.
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Build This Simple Binocular Mount

Bino mount in use

Requiring only a few parts, this simple and effective setup provides stable images for detailed views of the night sky.

“This is the best binocular mount I’ve ever used!”

Those were the first words out of my mouth as I came indoors from testing my just-completed binocular rig. It’s rare that I build something that actually works better than expected, but finally I’d come up with a binocular mount that provides steady views, is easy to use, very portable, and simple to build. It was a good night.
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A Beginner’s Guide to Collimation

Front view

I’ve been building and using telescopes for more than three decades and I’ll share with you a secret: collimating a Newtonian reflector is easy. So why does it seem so difficult when you’re just starting out? Probably because you’ve done your homework by Googling the subject and have read and re-read everything you’ve found. And now, you’re lost in a forest of information — some of it contradictory, some of it densely technical. Truly, sometimes less is more.
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