Astrophotography from the Driveway

A clear night finally appeared, clouds have been plaguing this particular dark of the Moon. What to do? Maybe do some astrophotography?

The nebula complex M17 in hydrogen-alpha
The nebula complex M17 in hydrogen-alpha

I have a new piece of kit, a ZWO ASI Air Pro that has been on back-order since November. With shutdowns in China and the rest of the mayhem it finally arrived this week.

The unit is a little dedicated astrophotography computer that makes a lot of the setup so much easier, while simplifying the snarl of cables on the telescope.

Controlling the camera, filter wheel, and guiding is done through a very nice app on the iPad. In less than an hour I had the basics figured out and was taking images.

A few technical issues to learn about through the night, such as how to best configure the WiFi for use with the home network, how to access and download the images to the desktop computer, etc., but no real problems. I took images through until dawn’s glow appeared in the data, running from twilight to twilight.

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.

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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.

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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.

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