The Neophyte Astronomer

Blog pages  chronicle my progress as a neophyte astronomer.

News:

Check out the October 2019 issue of Adirondack Life Magazine! (page 8)

My GPS module failed again on June 17, 2019, after having used it successfully only ten days before. Check out another blog entry on resetting the GPS module.

October 18, 2018 issue of the Lake Placid News.

Page 33 of the September, 2017 Northern Home, Garden & Leisure magazine!

Star gazing in the Adirondacks

Having moved from the city to the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks – I was struck by the beauty of the night sky and discovered the Milky Way for the first time.

I’ve always been interested in astronomy – ever since abandoning hope of becoming an astronaut at age 9. But my pent-up excitement – quashed by time spent in an urban area – was unleashed after discovering the Adirondack night sky. And when my wife and I happened across a 4 1/2″ Newtonian reflector in a toy store window – we jumped at the chance to begin sharing the views with our son – also about 9 at the time, and who’s now studying to become an astrophysicist!

City dwellers can only dream of beholding such celestial beauties as the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Darkness is elusive. But here these are naked-eye objects and the sky glitter with jewels!

Sceen from Keene, NY.
An 86 second exposure from Keene, NY. in the Adirondack Park

Greetings. I’m Dave, an amateur astronomer, just enjoying the beautiful and rare dark skies of our rural community.

I started this blog to chronicle my adventures, share some photos, and perhaps even offer a few viewing and equipment tips as I fumble my way through this hobby of amateur astronomy. And so enticed was I upon gleaning the Great Ring Nebula (M57) – my first “deep sky object”, that I set aside our 4 1/2″ Newtonian in favor of  a new 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope – a Celestron CPC-800 XLT.

Dwelling on a wooded lot as I do precludes the use of a permanent pier or observatory. Therefore, I do my observing at a local cemetery. This location boasts easy access and a 360° view down to about 12° of elevation, hindered only by the mountainous terrain and mercurial weather. There’s even a well-located picnic table. I use the space respectfully and never leave anything behind.

But I became lonely in the cemetery, surrounded only by the lost souls and eerie echos of coyote song.

I thought – I’m in a public place that’s easily accessible, what an opportunity to share astronomy with my neighbors! So now I look forward to inviting neighbors as I setup my telescope, and have discovered that astronomy outreach is a reward in itself!

I love sharing the views. I’ve met lots of people and I delight in their reactions to first seeing the rings of Saturn or some deep sky object. So if you’re ever in the Lake Placid, NY. area – contact me! I’ll add you to my email list and we’ll go star-gazing!

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Our observing site is in a relatively dark spot for the Northeastern United States which is otherwise terribly light polluted.
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Celestron CPC-800XLT computerized telescope

My CPC-800 XLT telescope is portable enough to be running in about 10-15 minutes. I initially decided to stick with the stock altazimuth mount. This is fine for visual observations but I eventually longed to try my hand at taking a few pictures.

Those first crude attempts at astrophotography using nothing but the stock CPC-800 and a Canon DSLR were enticing, but also frustrating. An altazimuth mount is not suitable for taking more than the shortest exposures due to a phenomenon know as field rotation. No matter how well the telescope tracks motion of the stars, they will appear to rotate around the center of the field. This ruins any exposures longer than about 30 seconds.

I knew what I needed – a wedge. A wedge is nothing more than a heavy chunk of metal that mounts the telescope at an adjustable angle – set to match the latitude of the observing site. This sets one axis of the telescope pointing to the north celestial pole so the telescope rotates about only this one axis while tracking.

I wanted to learn how to perform polar alignments before spending money on a big, mindless chunk of metal. And so, I made my own wooden wedge before taking that path.

I realized that adding a wedge would necessarily complicate setup and alignment and cost valuable observing time. But experiments with the wooden wedge were successful, and I eventually did buy the Celestron heavy-duty wedge.

Now I polar-align the telescope nearly every time I go out observing – even if only visually – with the goal of getting good enough to perform this procedure in a hurry. I can be set up and polar aligned in about 30 minutes on a good night. Speed is important since I have to set things up every time I observe.

Without the wedge, the altazimuth mount of the CPC-800 curtailed my ability to do astrophotography. But not enough to keep me from trying at first! Even my first crude photographs of the Orion Nebula were enticing and revealed colors that were barely visible through the eyepiece.

I continue to experiment and improve my astrophotography skills, and I hope that trend begins to emerge in my blog entries.

I’m often joined by my friend Kevin who has similar equipment, and we share views of the heavens through my 8″ and his 9.25″ telescope. We observe when conditions are favorable, when we have time, and when the mood strikes us. So we provide only short notice – sometimes a day, sometimes a couple of hours.

If you find yourself visiting the Lake Placid region of the Adirondacks then perhaps you’d like to join us too? Contact us to be added to the email list.

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The Orion Nebula imaged through my CPC-800. This is a typical amateur astronomers first astrophotograph. Far more beautiful images are readily available on the web. Yet, this illustrates what you can do with simple equipment, and shows the colors your eye can’t see!

Astronomers are dependent on clear, dark skies. Here’s the astronomers forecast from ClearDarkSky.com for the Keene, NY. area. It’s also available from the widget menu of every page.

Keene Clear Sky Chart

As I alluded to above, dark skies are becoming a rarity. This isn’t foremost in the busy minds of most people, yet “you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone!” – Joni Mitchell

You can help. Please employ outdoor illumination thoughtfully. Light pollution affects wildlife, astronomers, and your own biological clock! Darksky.org has some great information if you care to take a look. Thanks!