Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Searching for the Oldest Stars: Ancient Relics from the Early Universe by Anna Frebel ( a review)

I just finished reading this book recently and well I am ready to put to words my thoughts.

First I enjoyed it, but be warned there are three chapters that are pretty hard to get through. The reader really needs a good understanding of how atoms and chemistry works for those chapters. The remaining chapters are very good "popular level" book reading and I loved reading them. Her talking about the fires in Australia that nearly burned down a power pole that controlled her telescope, the computer reboot problems of a telescope (hmm sounds like what amateurs deal with too!) and how her PhD thesis made a huge discovery for her, are worth the price of the book. I also liked that she included personal pictures of her using telescopes instead of sticking to stock images. I would also like to convey that the author's love from astronomy and science really does come through in the book.

The problem(s) for the book though are those three chapters about how stars become metal poor (and the chemistry in stars) are really hard reading for a normal person or someone maybe with a passing interest in space. I really struggled in those chapters. I however do not consider myself well versed in the science of how stars work however. I would guess those chapters though are at a reading level above some of the 101 level astronomy text books out there such as Astronomy Today or the text Universe. For the record the author does warn those chapters might be hard for casual readers in her introduction.

Overall though I enjoyed this book as a whole but I did wonder after finishing it if the author took a couple of her lectures and a couple of public speaking engagements and tried to merge them into a book. The book really to me feels that way looking back on it after reading. I was really hopeful that this book would be more memoir/popular science reading then it was, those were the parts I enjoyed the most when they were present. I would completely read a memoir type book on the author's travels as an astronomer.

I would lastly like to say that while this review may come off as critical, it shouldn't. Anna Frebel and her book are really good reading, and I think any amateur astronomer who is interested in the lives of stars would really enjoy this book.

One last thing, the author is on twitter, and I did tweet to her and she responded. I didn't ask her any questions from her book, but I do get the impression that if a reader were to ask a question she would be very responsive to those questions.

Closing I would really like to hear Anna Frebel speak, I imagine this subject of old stars would make for an interesting lecture at a star party or astronomy club meeting. Maybe she will pop up on one of there SVA lectures or SETI lectures on YouTube!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Not a bad month of observing!

Since my last post I have mailed off two sets of observations for observing pins with the Astronomical League. I have mailed off for the Comet (silver) and Binocular Variable Star, now the waiting and the watching of the mailbox starts! Since my last blog post I did receive my Binocular Double Star pin. In the back and forth to the observing coordinator I mentioned if there was any interest in a Binocular Master Observer pin. The coordinator passed that inquiry up the chain so maybe there will be a Binocular Master Observer pin in the future. That would be cool.

In other news I have been still working on knocking out the Double Star pin, I am about at 30 stars completed with the telescope. I am enjoying the program as a whole, but overall I think I enjoyed the Binocular Double Star program more. The regular Double Star does require a telescope and while fun is a little bit harder to do. I also started the Binocular Deep Sky pin, which will be the last binocular pin I will be able to earn easily. There is a Advanced Double Star Binocular and a Southern Skies Binocular either of which would be tough for me to do, being the former requires big binoculars and a tripod and the other a trip to the Southern Hemisphere!

I am also currently reading a book that maybe next month I can post a review of. I also discovered a neat new podcast called WeMartians. It is available on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts from!

So that is all I got for this month, next month or two will have some reviews of books and other things in the works, so stay tuned!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

So it is 2017

Hi Everyone!

So it is 2017, and it has been a while since I have updated the blog. A few things have happened, I finally finished the Messier pin and got my award in the mail. I have also finished the Binocular Double Star pin and will be mailing it off soon (like next week). I finally got to observe comet 2P/Encke, which is a comet I have wanted to see for a while (like years!). I am one comet away from mailing my observations in to get the Comet Observer pin and certificate (silver level).

So while the blog has been really quiet, I have been getting some sky time. I started the Binocular Variable Star pin late last year and am about 70% done with it. We had good weather in the fall here in Alabama.

So that is all I really have. I am really going to try and update the blog more since I also got a new iMac! My old 2009 MacBook Pro was getting old and slow but I am still planning on using it for observing though.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Virgo Part II: Observations

Here is Part 2, the observations.... enjoy!

M49 A round glow with a bright core. A nice one similar to M87 50X.

M53 A globular cluster NOT a galaxy. It is somewhat resolved and takes power up to 109X pretty well. A nice break from those dim galaxies!

M58 A bright core, mostly evenly bright oval. 50X

M59 A bright oval that brightens more to the core. 50X

M60 It is a brighter galaxy with NGC 4647 nearby. It Averted Vision the galaxies look to touch? 50X

M61 A round glow, with a core, the round halo part of the galaxy is not really even in brightness. 50X

M64 A bright round glow. Even with averted vision not really seeing the black eye, maybe a hint of it. Kinda in a no mans land for star hopping. 50X

M84 A little brighter then M86. A bright oval with a core. 50X

M85 A bright core with a fainter halo. NGC 4394 pairs up with this galaxy.50X

M86 A little fainter then M84. It appears maybe a little bit bigger and/or extended then M84. 50X

M87 A round glow that is bright core. It has a jet, that can be seen with larger scopes 50X.

M88 A bright core, the rest is a oval glow that is somewhat pointed to the south east. Maybe a field star(s) is imposed on the galaxy in the south eastern side.

M89 A bright and round glow. 50X

M90 A unevenly bright and round glow. It has a nice core. 50X

M91 A small but bright core, the rest is just a circular glow. 50X

M98 Pretty bright, elongated but not even in brightness. The core is not every even in brightness either. 50X

M99 Elongated, with a core. Not really seeing the spiral structure with Direct or Averted vision. 50X

M100 Very bright and has a nice core that is round and small. The edges are kind of diffuse. 50X

M104 The Sombrero!, I can see two lanes pretty easily, but it really doesn’t look like a hat though. Very nice. Bright. 50X

I have included all the objects one would hunt down while doing the Virgo/Coma galaxy hunt. I also included M53 which if you are hunting these galaxies down is a nice distraction from the “dim oval” or “dim smudge” of the galaxies. I have always found galaxies interesting but with the rural skies of where I live and the size of scopes that I owned, galaxies have never really been a favorite. They really do take patience and good skies to be able to tease the details out of.

My notes I kept short for the blog and also pretty general. Hopefully they reflect pretty well the impressions that others would have under similar conditions with similar equipment.

I think star hopping these galaxies is really something everyone should do at least once. It really teaches you how to use your scope and navigate the sky in area that is pretty tough to star hop. Once you get started though one mostly just galaxy hops in this area.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Virgo Part 1: My equipment & resources for observing Virgo Messier List Galaxies

This past month I was able to get in a epic observing run to catch all the Virgo galaxies and I was victorious. I did it by star hopping which was a little tough being there isn't a lot of stars to hop from in Virgo. I found a few things essential in getting successful results:

1. A 8X50 Right Angle Correct Image finder scope.
2. Knowing how big the FOV of my finding eyepiece with my scope is (50X with a 1.3 degree field of view)
3. A book with the images of the galaxies. I used The Messier Object by O'Meara.
4. Sky Safari 3 on my Macbook.
(I also used the recent binocular observing article in Sky Telescope from April 2016)

Now do you need all 5 of these things, well no. I do think the first three are pretty valuable. An observer could get by without the Sky Safari and the magazine article if they had a good star chart. Actually there are probably some better printed materials out there for the Virgo cluster then what I used.

I found the galaxies in Virgo to be pretty tough, mostly because of the lack of stars to hop from AND well with an 8in scope galaxies are not going to be bright unfortunately. The skies at Chandler Mountain are darker then where I live, but they are not super dark either. The Milky Way is pretty easy to see in the summer but it is a bit harder in the winter. I also found hopping the Virgo area to be mentally taxing somewhat too. One is pointing their scope in a somewhat small area of the sky, but there is numerous galaxies in the area, so one has to galaxy hop a lot. Also knowing how big your FOV is helps, because for me I can count FOVs to move around in a tougher area of the sky. I personally set my Sky Safari to show the rings for a Telrad and the FOV of my 8X50 finder. I found myself taking my time, studying the image on the laptop and comparing it to the book a lot. I would highly recommend reviewing or looking at sketches of these objects before going out and observing. Try and find sketches made by folks using a size scope similar to your own. I like using The Belt of Venus blog
, but there are others out there too.

I used mostly my 24mm eyepiece which gives 50X with my scope. I find that eyepiece and my 11mm eyepiece are my two favorites for deep sky objects. I also use a 16mm some too if the 11mm is too much power or I just do not like the view. All my eyepieces except one are from Explore Scientific or Meade and are either 68 degree or 82 degree. The three eyepieces give 50X, 75X and 109X in my scope. I also have a oldie but a goodie Orion 32mm Optiluxe, which is for really low power and comets! For higher power observing I have 8.8, 6.7, 5.5 and 4.7 eyepieces from the Meade 5000 series line. I use them for the Moon and planets.

My telescope is a 8in f/6 Orion Skyquest XT dob. I have the 8X50 Orion RACI finder and a Telrad. I use the ScopeStuff magnet weights to balance the scope with the two finders up front putting so much weigh on the scope.

Thanks for reading! Next month will be Part 2, which will be my observations and thoughts on the galaxies. Till then Clear Skies!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Another AL observing pin down

Well earlier this month I got my Sunspotter pin, which is exciting. I also got started on the Hydrogen Alpha Observing pin with my recently acquired PST. I am still learning to use the PST, but it is fun and I do enjoy seeing the Sun outside of the white light bandwidth that I was able to do with my dob.

I also got another five double stars knocked out on the Bino Double Star and knocked a few more features on the Moon for the Lunar II pin.

However I haven't been able to get any real dark sky time due to work and weather. At one point this year I thought I might be able to knock out 5 pins, but that is looking in doubt unless I can get some more of the Messier objects done. Summer and the haze is rapidly approaching and it is tough to get any really good observing done once the haze, heat and clouds settle in.

I decided to not continue the Mike Brown class mainly because I have too many irons in the fire. It is very good, but I just don't have the time to commit to it right now.

I really wish I had more to report this time around, but sadly I just haven't really been getting a ton of eyepiece time the last few weeks.

So till next month, keep looking up!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

On turning 70... 70 objects that is...

Hi All! So this past month I went observing and worked in some more Messier objects. I keep a list on a spreadsheet so I can track progress. Well I hit 70 this month, which is enough to get the Astro League certificate (no pin though). I haven't emailed anything in yet to get the certificate, but hitting that 70 objects really makes me feel I have made some real progress towards the pin.

Also this month I am enrolled in Mike Brown's class again for the second time. I really enjoyed taking it the first time and learned a ton.

So I really don't have a ton to really report though, I am just excited about hitting those 70 objects. However Virgo and the galaxies located there still await and it will be a challenge. Hopefully next month I can write my thoughts on it, assuming the weather is good one night and I can get out there and see the Virgo galaxies.