Christmas Telescopes

We just received the Costco Christmas sales mailer. Every year there is a telescope featured, promoted as a gift. Not just slightly featured either, but included on the front page of the flyer, the first thing you see when you pick the mailer up.

Celestron Astromaster 130EQ
A typical inexpensive telescope, the Celestron Astromaster 130EQ

The telescope this year is a Celestron Astromaster 130EQ, the typical small reflector on an equatorial mount. The deal includes several eyepieces, filters, and a cell phone adapter for afocal photography.

Those of us with long practical experience just cringe when we see such telescopes. These cheap telescopes are usually more of a frustration to would be amateur astronomers than useful. Cheap ‘scopes have deterred more folks from the hobby than we will ever know.

Continue reading “Christmas Telescopes”

Picnic on the Green

It was more of an event than I expected, and a much larger crowd. There were two bands, multiple food trucks and stands, performances by a dojo and a hālau, and of course a bunch of telescopes provided by Keck and the West Hawaii Astronomy Club.

Scott in the Sun
Scott showing folks the Sun with a white light solar filter

Maggie , the school librarian had contacted Keck to see if we could provide a speaker and a few telescopes for viewing. Given the telescopes part the request got passed along to me to get the club’s assistance with the telescopes side.

As usual the club members volunteered quickly, no problem getting enough people and telescopes into place to do the event. As long as the weather held over Waikoloa this would be a good event.

Continue reading “Picnic on the Green”

Getting a Mirror Re-Coated

The classic Cave Astrola telescope has become my roll-out, quick observing session ‘scope, often found in my driveway. I have also used it a few times at darker sites when I expect the weather to be damp or dewy as a Newtonian is more protected.

The restored 8" f/6 Cave Astrola under a dark sky at Kaʻohe
The restored 8″ f/6 Cave Astrola under a dark sky at Kaʻohe

While the restoration job was finished some time ago, I never got around to re-coating the optics. Meanwhile the telescope has seen good service on many occasions as I enjoyed this fun-to-use instrument.

The optics did need some attention… The primary mirror from the Astrola appeared to have not been re-coated since it was made in 1978. Thus the aluminum coating was over 40 years old. While the coating looked bad, it was still serviceable, producing reasonable images.

Still, the loss of light due to the old aluminum coating was probably reducing the effectiveness of this 8″ telescope to something more like a 6″ telescope. I had meant to get it re-coated some time ago, but we know how these things work.

Continue reading “Getting a Mirror Re-Coated”

Were the telescopes built without permits?

This is another fairly common myth about the existing telescopes on Mauna Kea, that most of the telescopes were built without permits or issued “after-the-fact” permits after construction.

UH88 under the Milky Way
The UH88 telescope under the stars of the Milky Way

This is another myth built on a kernel of truth, the two earliest of the remaining thirteen telescopes were built without proper conservation district use permits in place. What is now Hoku Kea was built by the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories and given to the university a couple years later. The UH88 was built by the University of Hawaii in 1968.

As this was the State of Hawaii building on state land, apparently things were a bit lax. In retrospect this is no surprise, the state government was scarcely a decade old at this point and many of the administrative rules and regulations we now take for granted were still being written and implemented.

This is where the myth comes in, as somehow the other telescopes are accused of the same issue. The claim often made is that “most of these structures were un-permitted”. This is often claimed as part of the evidence for mismanagement by the university.

This is incorrect… All of the remaining telescopes were built with proper permits in place. The key permits are the Conservation District Use Permits or CDUP’s that allow the use of state land on the summit of Mauna Kea. Permit numbers and dates are listed in the table below…

Continue reading “Were the telescopes built without permits?”

Remove the abandoned telescopes?

One of the most pervasive claims surrounding the summit is that there are obsolete and abandoned telescopes littering the summit region. The claim seems to be pushed to show that there is no need for a new telescope or that the university’s management of the summit is negligent.

CSO
The CalTech Submillimeter Observatory under the stars

There are currently thirteen telescope facilities. All of these telescopes are functional, or were usable scientific instruments prior to shutdown, none have been abandoned in any sense.

Two of the telescopes are currently shutdown, in many ways victims of the current controversy rather than obsolescence. Both could be brought back on-line to perform useful science if allowed.

The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, or CSO, was shutdown and is now awaiting dismantling and site restoration. An environmental assessment and a conservation district use permit are in process to allow this to happen.

Even while CSO has been shut down the reasons were budgetary, not so much obsolescence. The telescope itself is planned to be dismantled, moved, and reassembled on another site elsewhere in the world.

The University of Hawaii Hoku Kea telescope was due to be recommissioned with a new telescope installed in the recently renovated dome. This is on hold due to the TMT issues and the dome is likely to be dismantled as part of the deal to allow TMT. Loss of this telescope is unfortunate as this was a student telescope for university astronomy students.

Given the actual status of these two shutdown telescopes it is clear they are not abandoned as per the usual claim. All of the other facilities on the summit are operational and doing science.

Continue reading “Remove the abandoned telescopes?”

April Observing List

For our late April West Hawaii Astronomy Club star party I have put together a short observing list. This in my effort to expand our skills and knowledge of the sky.

NGC6656
M22 or NGC6656 in Sagittarius, a classic globular cluster

The best upcoming weekend for a star party is May 4th, the same day as new Moon. The 4th is also AstroDay Hilo and many members including myself will be busy. Thus our next new Moon star party will be Saturday, April 27th. With a last quarter Moon rising a little before 2am it is a nice night for a star party with dark skies until long after midnight.

Ten objects, from easy to a few more challenging targets, something for everyone. None of these are Messier objects, a couple are from catalogs you may have never heard of. Trust me in that there are a few nice surprises to be found here…

NGC2362
RA: 7h 18′ Dec: 24° 57′ S Mag: 4.1 Open cluster in CMa
Centered on the bright star Tau CMa

h3945
RA: 7h 16′ Dec: 23° 19’S Mag:4.8 Binary star in CMa
Pan north of NGC2362 a few fields or about 1° north and a touch west, called the Winter Alberio

The Stargate
RA: 12h 36′ Dec: 12° 1’S Mag:7 Asterism in Crv
Very bright, easy to find, just one degree SW of M104, look for a triangle within a triangle

NGC4361
RA: 12h 24 Dec: 18° 47’S Mag:10 Planetary nebula in Crv

Melotte 111
RA: 12h 22′ Dec: 25° 51’N Mag:1.8 Open cluster in Com
Hint: Do not use the telescopeNGC4565
RA: 12h 36′ Dec: 25° 59’N Mag: 9.5 Galaxy in Com

Trumpler 20
RA: 12h 39′ Dec: 60° 36’S Mag 10.1 open cluster in Cru
Large, try binoculars or lowest power, very rich!

DY Cru
RA: 12h 47′ Dec: 59° 42’S Mag: 8.4-9.8 Carbon star in Cru
Put Mimosa in the field, put in an eyepiece for about 100x and look 2′ W of Mimosa, if needed put Mimosa just out of the field of view to cut the glare

Pismis 4
RA: 8h 34′ Dec: 44° 24’S Mag: 5.9 Open cluster in Vela
Large, bright, use lowest power

Trumpler 14
RA: 10h 43′ Dec: 59° 32’S Mag: 5.5 Open Cluster in Car
Part of the Eta Carina nebula complex, 19′ NW of Eta Carina

NGC3532
RA: 11h 5′ Dec: 58° 46’S Mag:3 Open cluster in Car
Big, bright, use lowest power

You may notice a lot of seemingly odd catalog designations… Pismis, Trumpler, Melotte… Just to show that there is a lot to discover beyond the Messier and NGC catalogs.

A couple hints… All of these objects are to the south, setup your telescope to be comfortable looking south. Most of these will not be in your telescopes little computer if you use GOTO. Learn how to enter manual RA and Dec coordinates.

M6 The Butterfly Cluster
M6, the Butterfly Cluster, 9 x 1min Canon 60D and AT6RC

All of these objects should be visible in the early to mid-evening on April 27th. Those in Canis Major should be viewed first, while the last are in Crux which rises around 7pm and culminates around 10pm.

The dimmest objects listed here are tenth magnitude, within easy reach of a six inch telescope. If you do not have a six inch, check out the view in someone else’s telescope. The brightest object here does not even need a telescope, indeed it is too large to fit in the field of view.