Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

More poor weather whining, need new finder scope or break my back, and Caltech Mike Brown(free) Coursera course

Greetings from Palmia Observatory,

Well, it's been a hard week to get any observing in.  Can I just whine a little bit about all of the interruptions that can attend the amateur astronomer?  Maybe you have already gone through these travails, but I'm suffering through them this week.

First, the weather didn't cooperate and high clouds were an issue even though there were a couple of hours here and there that would have been good.

Second, I had to wait for the finder scope to arrive in the mail.  So, my first attempt at using that last night didn't go too well.  My new Explore Scientific telescope is much longer than my other reflecting scope, so when I first try to use my finder scope to align on the North Star, I have to really contort my body, sort of like doing the limbo, or bending over as if to touch my toes so that I could see through the finder scope.  I considered whether to raise the tripod another foot or two, but this would require me to take the scope off, remove the computerized mount, readjust all the tripod legs and then put the whole thing back together.  I didn't want to go through this right then because the high clouds were coming in and out of view.  So I took the finder scope off and just tried to find the North Star itself. Polaris was just barely visible when the clouds were not present and then I discovered the finder scope was not focused properly because even though I could see Polaris with my naked eyes, I could hardly see it through the finder scope.  Luckily, the moon was up, so I sighted the bright moon and got good focus.  Now, I was too sore with all the contortions needed to find Polaris, I just gave up for the night and decided to get a different version of the finder scope that includes a right angle viewer so you don't have to get all bent out of shape to use it.  Now, I'm waiting for that item to arrive.

Third, while waiting for Amazon, I could have gone out and do some solar observing during the daytime, since I don't need a finder scope for that, but I still hadn't resolved why I couldn't consistently get good focused images of the sunspots.  I now believe that I had been overexposing the solar images and was not consistent in setting the exposure on alternate days.  Remember we are trying to do a repeat of real science by observing the sunspots on separate days and then measuring the sun's rotation rate.  I'm going to repeat two days of measurements with a more consistent exposure setting.  I guess that is at least one positive thing for the week.

So, here we are with the end of all this whining and no photo to show.  Ok, I'm sorry so how about let me make an Internet video recommendation in lieu of a photo?

Caltech professor Mike Brown is teaching a Coursera course on “The Science of the Solar System”, which started 3/30/15.  It's free and available everywhere on the Internet and I have watched the first weeks lesson and it's pretty good.  If you are so inclined with an interest in our solar system you should check it out. The course is for sophomores at Caltech, but viewers can just have fun with the lectures without getting involved or doing any of the quantitative calculations that are assigned to the "real" students.  I found the instructor very good and the presentations informative and easy to understand the big concepts.  Other amateur viewers will be posting comments and such so you are not completely alone for this course.  The first lesson is on Mars and its place in astronomical history and new lessons learned about Mars.  The separate technical questions are much more difficult, but you don't have to do those and even though they are available on the Internet will not be part of the videos that you can watch.

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