Weekend Stargazer: August 22 - 24

M11 finder chart

The Scutum Star Cloud and M11 are prime, dark-sky attractions.

Summer new Moons are what deep-sky observers live for — and the August 22 – 24 weekend is about as good as it gets. The nights are significantly longer than during last month’s new-Moon window, and the weather remain relatively mild. Overhead, the glowing band of the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon. There’s so much to see that it can be tough to choose! One area that I find particularly eye-catching is the Scutum Star Cloud.

In the September/October 2014 SkyNews

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The most accessible mare for evening viewing is also one of the most interesting — and that's true whether you're using a telescope, binoculars, ore even just your eyes. Mare Crisium is the subject of my regular On The Moon column. But it's not just Crisium that's of interest, it's also the craters that dot the smooth mare floor, and the surrounding features that make the area a rewarding region for telescopic exploration.

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

In the September 2014 Sky & Telescope

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Dark nebulas are one class of deep-sky object that doesn't get enough attention. So, in this issue's Binocular Highlights, I shine a light on B142 and 143, also known together as Barnard's E, after Edward Emerson Barnard.

Many of the best telescope makers are also very active observers. For them, designing and building a new scope is a means to an end. Oregon ATM Mel Bartels clearly falls into this camp. In this month's Telescope Workshop column, I profile his startlingly short 6-inch f/2.8 wide-field scope.

To find out what else is in the issue, visit S&T’s web site, www.SkyandTelescope.com.

Happy reading — and as always, your comments, questions, and suggestions are welcomed.
Gary

Exploring Imbrium Debris

Daylight Moon

The Moon approaches first-quarter phase in a deep blue twilight sky.

When the Moon is nearly at first-quarter phase, the terminator sweeps across some of the most unusual lunar terrain. Aim your telescope toward the region lying between little Mare Vaporum, and the expanse of Mare Tranquillitatis. There you’ll find oddly furrowed features and a couple of badly beat up craters.

Seeking Globular Cluster M4

Scorpius

One of the most interesting globular clusters in the entire sky is M4, in Scorpius.

One of my favourite Scorpius targets is globular cluster M4. Here's how to find it.

In the August 2014 Sky & Telescope

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When it comes to keeping your optics clean, are you a Felix Ungar, or more of an Oscar Madison type? One is too fanatical about pristine glass, the other perhaps not fanatical enough. Regardless, keeping your telescope and eyepieces in tip-top condition doesn't have to be intimidating or time consuming. In my full-length feature article, How To Clean Your Optics, I show you how, why, and when to roll up your sleeves and give it a go.

In this issue's Binocular Highlights, I describe a few treasures in the seldom explored Teaspoon of Sagittarius. There you'll find a nice open cluster and a challenging double star.

In the July/August 2014 SkyNews

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Our nearest neighbour is a fascinating place. In my regular On The Moon column, I provide 10 fun facts that you can use at your next Moon-observing party. You just never know when a factoid or two might come in handy.

For more about what’s in the current issue, or to read my weekly This Week's Sky column, visit SkyNews.ca

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.

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.

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.

The Top 5 Comets of the Past 20 Years

Comet Hale-Bopp

Magnificent Comet Hale-Bopp on April 3, 1997. It is unquestionably one of the finest comets of the past two decades, but is it the best one of all?

Few celestial objects excite the imaginations of stargazers and the general public like a good comet. The recent apparition of Comet ISON prompted me to reflect on the all the comets I've been fortunate enough to see in the past 20 years. There have been some stunners, some surprises, and a few that could have been great, but fell short. Here’s my (highly subjective) pick of the five most interesting and spectacular comets from the past two decades.

Great "New and Improved" Astro Web Site

SkyNews.ca

Just a quick note to all my readers to check out the new and improved SkyNews.caweb site. I’m happy to say that I get to be the site’s editor and work with some of the best astronomy writers in the business, including Terence Dickinson, Alan Dyer, and Ken Hewitt-White, to name but three. One item I hope you’ll find of particular interest is my regular “This Week’s Sky” column, which will highlight the most interesting observing events over the coming seven days. Check in regularly and enjoy everything we have on offer!

Gary

Telescope Economics: To Build or To Buy?

Sam and scope

I built my 12.75-inch Dob for less than $700 — much less than a comparable commercially made scope would have cost. But is making your own scope always a money saving proposition? That's what inquireing minds (canine or otherwise) want to know.

For diehard ATMs, building telescopes is a way of life. But for others, the decision about whether or not to make a scope often hinges on economics. Will I save money building my own? The question shows up regularly in on-line forums and in my e-mail box. Before the emergence of a large-scale commercial telescope industry, the answer was a definite “yes!” But with the current abundance of low-cost, imported Dobs, and the increasing expense (and scarcity) of telescope-making supplies, it’s reasonable to wonder if it’s still possible to save a few bucks by going the home-made route. The prevailing conventional wisdom says “no,” but my own experiences suggest the answer isn’t as cut and dried as that.

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.

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.

Build a Hinge Tracker for Astrophotography

Scorpius stars

This image of the Scorpius Milky Way was captured from Costa Rica with a DSLR camera and the simple hinge tracker mount described here.

If you have a DSLR camera and are interested in astronomy, you’ve probably considered dipping a toe into the astrophotography waters. But a camera is only part of the equation — for exposures longer than a few seconds, a tracking mount is usually necessary. Unfortunately, most suitable mounts are relatively bulky, or expensive, or both. But not the hinge tracker. It costs less than $10 to build, takes less than an evening to assemble, and requires no batteries. And best of all, you can put one together even if you’ve never built anything more complicated than Ikea furniture.

My Photo Web Site

FilmAdvance title

I invite everyone to check out my web site, FilmAdvance.com.
In addition to astronomy, photography is a big passion of mine. So, I started FilmAdvance.com as an outlet for my photographic explorations. There will inevitably by some astronomy related content posted there, but mostly it’s about seeing the universe through the lens of a camera, instead of the eyepiece of a telescope. Look in on it from time to time to see what I've been up to with my cameras and darkroom. Enjoy!

Review: Canon’s Image-Stabilized Binoculars

Canon ISB

Combining optical excellence with rock-steady views, Canon's image-stabilized binoculars are a stargazer's dream come true. But is one best for you?

For a long time, 7×50 or 10×50 binoculars were considered the best choice for stargazing. Such binos are relatively lightweight, inexpensive, and capable of delivering fine wide-field views of the heavens. But most people find that hand-held 10×50s represents the upper limit of the weight and magnification comfort zone. Models featuring higher magnification or more aperture require a tripod or dedicated binocular mount for steady views. Even 10×50s rarely work near their potential without support. Unfortunately, such devices ensure that an instrument much loved for its portability and convenience becomes encumbered with as much paraphernalia as a small telescope. Enter the image-stabilized binocular.

The Big Red One: My Optimized 6-inch f/9 Reflector

Big Red 6-inch f/9

Attention to detail is what separates a regular Newtonian reflector from one optimized for high-contrast performance. This 6-inch f/9 uses every trick in the ATM’s book to deliver superb planetary and deep-sky views.

This was the first telescope I made using my own optics. Like most telescope makers, I got started the easy way, by building Dobsonians with mirrors ground by others. But one day I got bit with the mirror-making bug. I blame my friend Lance Olkovick, our local club’s mirror-making ace. But why a long-focus 6-inch? At the time I was a hardcore Jupiter junkie and was convinced that a long-focus Newtonian would deliver excellent views of my favourite subject. I also wanted to prove a point.

Exploring Low-Power Limits

Andromeda

The old saying that less is more rings true for telescope magnification, but there are many factors to consider before choosing your ultimate wide-field eyepiece.

Low-magnification views of the night sky can be breathtaking. It’s only with low power that we can fully appreciate the splendor of the Pleiades, the foggy expanse of the Andromeda Galaxy, or the wispy filaments of the Veil Nebula. But if discussions on internet forums are anything to go by, there's a lot of confusion out there about how magnification, field of view, and exit pupils relate to each other. And without understanding these factors, you might end up shortchanging your telescope’s low-power capabilities.

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