Betha's Returned!


Tax day had an advantage after all - Bertha came home! It's back up in the dome and a brief test in the rain seems like it's working okay. We'll see how things go once it's aligned and a few "go-tos" have been attempted.

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Leonid Meteor Shower


Late on Monday night, around 4:00 am EST, the Leonid meteor shower will be in full force. Expected to be better than average this year with about 500 meteors per hour, we should be in for a real treat. The Earth is passing through the debris left by Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle as it passed through our solar system in 1466.

The image on the left shows Leo at the center, which is where the name originates. The meteors don't actually come "through" Leo, but it gives the viewer the impression that they do. Plus, if you're looking towards Leo, you will have a better chance of seeing them. The image on the right is from Sky and Telescope magazine's article on the event.

A meteor storm is when there are 1000 or more seen per hour, so this will be "half a storm." But, many of the meteor showers we see are around 100 or so per hour, so this should be a real treat. Again, the time to first see them is Monday night, which is technically Tuesday morning. It will be repeated the following night to some degree as well. Either way, you won't likely see much of anything until after midnight. Let me know if you like the show!

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Bertha's in the House (Dome, actually)


Taking a gamble that UPS was more reliable than Meade's estimate, I reported yesterday that Bertha was due to arrive today. Fortunately the gamble paid off and Bertha was delivered! After carrying the box inside and unpacking her, I carried up to her spot in the dome and set her back up. This time when I turned on the power, the handset actually lit up properly and the buttons worked.

Of course, Bertha came home on a rainy night. The only good news is that I was able to get her inside before the rain started. I also tested the declination drive by slewing the scope a bit manually, and it sounded much better than when I shipped her away, so hopefully they adjusted that too.

I say, "Hopefully" because I received nothing in the way of documentation on what was done. I guess when you're getting service done "for free" on an insurance package they can do whatever they want. I still would like to know what they repaired or replaced. Oh well. The good news is that after almost three months, I'm back in business. Now for some clear skies!

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Bertha Returns


It seems like forever ago since I was able to gaze at the stars with Bertha. In fact, I reported on July 1st that Bertha has Brain Damage and the AutoStar II controller wasn't responding. Even after receiving a new one from Meade, I was getting the same results. The hand controller was completely dead and the scope wouldn't respond. The only option was to ship it back to Meade in California.

Fortunately, I purchased the Sky Assurance package, which as of this repair has paid for itself. The program includes shipping in both directions, including sending the shipping materials to you, so I avoided tons of shipping charges for a hundred pound instrument. Plus, all the repairs were included, so that saved a ton too.

So, Bertha went back to the factory, which is actually now in Mexico, to be repaired. I'm assuming the main board in the base of the yoke was replaced. I also had them check the declination motor, as it was starting to act funny as well. With fingers crossed, I hope to be able to report tomorrow night that Bertha is back in the dome and functioning properly again.

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See Sun Spot(s)


Many of my stargazing friends spend a lot of time look at our day time star. No wonder, as it yields a number of interesting sights. Thanks to a tip from my friend Bill, who helped me build the observatory, he told me that after a two-year low in the number of sun spots to see, there are now some to view. Jumping on the chance to try out my solar filter, I manually guided and focused my brain-dead telescope and found my first sun spots ever.

Sun Spots
Sun Spots
As the picture at right shows, those little dark spots, which have to be many times larger than the size of the Earth, showed up in Bertha. It was a bit of a challenge to get it to focus reasonably well, and I can't see the actual bubbling of the Sun's surface, but the spots are definitely there, as you can see.

On a much larger scale, I checked on the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), to see an image of the sun spots from space. SOHO was launched on December 2, 1995. The SOHO spacecraft was built in Europe by an industry team led by prime contractor Matra Marconi Space (now EADS Astrium) under overall management by ESA. The twelve instruments on board SOHO were provided by European and American scientists. Nine of the international instrument consortia are led by European Principal Investigators (PI's), three by PI's from the US. Large engineering teams and more than 200 co-investigators from many institutions supported the PI's in the development of the instruments and in the preparation of their operations and data analysis. NASA was responsible for the launch and is now responsible for mission operations. Large radio dishes around the world which form NASA's Deep Space Network are used for data downlink and commanding. Mission control is based at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

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Starkle, Starkle, Little Twink


Some months ago my mother shared this little version of every astronomer's favorite nursery rhyme:

Starkle, starkle, little twink,
Who the heck you are I think?
I ain't under the alchofluence of inklehol,
As some thinkle peep I are.
The drunker I sit,
The longer I git.
I fool so feelish,
I don't care see who's me.

Happy 4th of July!

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Bertha has Brain Damage


After hours of work, including a session to 1:00 am to guide it to over 40 stars in the SmartMount process, Bertha's AutoStar II handset died. The garbage characters continued, and after trying to reload the firmware, which failed, I was unable to revive her by pressing the "safe mode" keys on the handset, as the handset was no longer working. Fortunately I signed up for SkyAssurance from Meade, so its a free replacement, but Bertha will be done for about two weeks until the new AutoStar II handset arrives. Murphy strikes again.

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Size and Space


I received an awesome email today from a great friend who knew I would appreciate the pictures. I thought it would be great to reuse the photos here and share some perspective on our solar system and beyond.

Inner Solar System
Inner Solar System
The first picture shows us the inner solar system, plus the strange addition of the dwarf planet Pluto. The image gives us a great perspective on why Venus is often called Earth's sister planet, as they are both relatively the same size, with Venus having a diameter 86% of Earth's. Mars weighs in at 53% of Earth's diameter and only about 11% of Earth's mass. Little Mercury follows up behind with roughly 38% of Earth's diameter and only 6% of her mass.

 

Outer Solar System
Outer Solar System
Looking outward, we see the gas giants with Jupiter showing us why it is the biggest planet in the solar system. With a diameter over 11 times the size of Earth, and 318 times her mass. Saturn, the second largest planet in the solar system, has a diameter 9.4 times that of Earth, but because the gas that makes up Saturn is so light, it has only 95 times the mass of Earth. Since we know that Bertha can see Uranus, what does Bertha actually see? Well, Uranus is 4 times the size of Earth. That's a big, ah...planet. What makes it tough to see though is that it's 19 times farther away from the sun than Earth, so that makes the apparent size of Uranus much smaller. (that's a relief, huh?) Moving further out and away from anatomically-oriented space objects, we find the last gas giant, Neptune, at roughly 3.9 times the size of Earth. It's even hard to see is that it's 30 times further away from the sun, or 4.5 billion km away.

Solar System
Solar System
Putting it all together, the sun certainly makes Earth look like the Little Blue Marble it was called back in the 60's. Little Mercury is a tiny spec compared to our central fire ball.

Sun and Arcturus
Sun and Arcturus
Let's take a look at how our star stacks up against other stars we can see. What makes this picture so interesting is that I was using Arcturus last night to align Bertha, switching between Polaris and Arcturus. As you can see by the picture, Arcturus is about 10 times bigger than our sun but its luminosity is about 100 times greater. One of the closest giant stars, it's 36 light years away and is the fourth brightest star in our night sky. Sirius, or the Dog Star, the brightest star in our night sky, is twice the size of our sun and about 20 times brighter. The reason it is brighter than Arcturus is that it's only about 8.7 light years away.

 

Betelgeuse and Antares
Betelgeuse and Antares
But Arcturus isn't nearly the biggest thing we can see. Take a look at the right shoulder of Orion and you'll see the red colored Betelgeuse. This star is 1000 times bigger than our sun and 13,000 times brighter. But, it gets even better. Antares is a class M supergiant star, with a diameter of approximately 700 times that of the sun.  If it were placed in the center of our solar system, its outer surface would lie between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Antares is approximately 520 light years from our solar system. Its visual luminosity is about 10,000 times that of the Sun, but because the star radiates a considerable part of its energy in the infrared part of the spectrum, the bolometric luminosity equals roughly 65,000 times that of the Sun!

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Dang Weather!


After finally fixing the problem with the wedge, and actually getting the scope roughly aligned, I realized that I would need to engage the "SmartMount" function to get the tracking to where I needed it to be. This function, built into the scope, selects roughly 40 stars that you align to, one at a time, and tell the scope when you're "dead center". This refines the tracking of the scope, as it learns any errors that are present in the gears and tracking.

However, thanks to Mother Nature, I haven't had any clear skies to try the procedure. This picture shows the

Dome and Grey Skies
Dome and Grey Skies
dome from the backyard, and the absence of blue skies should be a clue. Even the Bel Tor Clear Sky Clock says the sky should be "average", or 3 out 5 in terms of seeing conditions. But I just looked up and saw nothing but yuck. Hopefully in the next few days a glimmer of clear skies will occur and I can continue working on Bertha's tracking and accuracy.

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Polar Alignment Issue Resolved


After weeks of trying to figure out why I couldn't align Bertha on the wedge, I decided to take a fresh look at the problem in the daylight. I wanted to see if I could track down the source of why I was unable to move the scope on the wedge far enough to align it with Polaris in the polar home position. As I turned the horizontal adjustment knob, I noticed that I only had a few degrees of movement, yet the groves on the base of the pier seemed to allow it to move much further.

Base of Wedge and Mounting Bolts
Base of Wedge and Mounting Bolts
In frustration, I grabbed the Allen wrench that came with the wedge and loosened the mounting bolts that held the wedge to the pier. I turned the horizontal adjustment knob again, and to my surprise, the scope had all the movement I needed.

In the end, what I learned was that in my concern over the scope falling off the pier, I had tightened the three mounting bolts on the base of the wedge too tightly. I had aligned the base to the pier very carefully, assuming I had the pier pointed at Celestial North. However, given that I did a "gun site" alignment with a laser level on Polaris, which is 390 light years away, there's no wonder why I was off a few degrees. By tightening the bolts too much, I had reduced the movement capabilities of a very capable wedge, and there was my problem.

After loosening the bolts, I was able to steal a few minutes of somewhat clear skies to attempt a true polar alignment. I only had a chance to do the two star alignment before the clouds blew back in, but I'm confident I will be able to get Bertha aligned properly now. Fortunately my friends at LVAAS came to the rescue and provided excellent advice and guidance on how to polar align the scope. As you can see by this photo,

Alignment of Wedge to Pier
Alignment of Wedge to Pier
which shows the location of the wedge in relation to the pier AFTER alignment, I was way off course without being able to move the wedge. Now with the scope in the right position, I should be able to begin a formal drift alignment procedure.

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