Blackie's Cloudy Skies Pages M31  

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Welcome to my astronomy pages.

I have a story to tell you. A number of years ago, I purchased a townhouse in Prescott, Arizona. I did so primarily to get out of the heat of Phoenix during the summer. Anyway, while walking my dog late one evening, I looked up and saw the Milky Way. Living in Phoenix my entire life, I had forgotten about the stars, you just don't see many of them in Phoenix. When I saw that river of stars flowing across the dark sky, it just struck me that I was missing a lot. So, for Christmas, 2001, I gave myself a telescope. After a doing a bit of research on the web, I bought an eight inch Meade dobsonian. They had just been discontinued, so I got what I thought was a pretty good price. As a result of my research, I bought the Meade with the understanding that I would probably have to make changes to the scope, but that was going to be part of the fun since I love to tinker. With the Meade, there were so many things that need to be changed that I had absolutely no qualms about drilling new holes in the tube to try something. I have completely rebuilt the base, replaced and relocated the altitude bearings, removed a large steel plate from behind the mirror to enable the scope to cool down, and installed a fan to speed up the cooling process. It is amazing to me that Meade ever sold such a poorly designed scope, (it is easy to see why it was discontinued) but the optics were pretty good and after the changes, it was a pretty good dobsonian. {time passes}

The nice little Nexstar 80GT was my first foray into goto astronomy. It has been a blast to play with. It is amazing that you can buy a computerized goto scope for less than $300.00. This little scope simply couldn't compete with the 8 inch Meade Dob for deep sky objects, but with the Nexstar, I had a chance to find them. I was having great difficulty finding the faint fuzzies with the Meade because with the light polluted skies of Phoenix, the normal "guide" stars were simply not visible. Actually, very few stars are visible to the naked eye from my driveway. At least with the Nexstar, I now know where to look. {time passes}

Since then, I have had the Nexstar 4GT, the Nexstar 5i, an 8-inch Celestron SCT on an ASGT mount, the Nexstar 8GPS, two of the Nexstar 11GPS, and now an Celestron 11HD on a CGEM mount. I have sold, traded, or given away the N80GT, the N4GT, and the N8GPS. I still have the N5i, the 8-inch on the ASGT, and the N11GPS. I have the Nexstar 11GPS riding a set of Wheely Bars, which allows me to roll the big scope out of the garage and be set up in about five minutes. I have mounted a Stellarvue AT1010 OTA piggyback onto the N11 GPS. It seems to get me the best of both worlds and tracking for the wide-field scope is vastly improved. {time passes}

My latest adventure is astrophotography. The picture of the moon at the top of this page was taken with a Phillips ToUcam Pro webcam. The Nexstar works very well with the webcam and I have taken some nice moon and planet shots at prime focus of the big scope. I have had a SAC 7B and a SAC 8 astro camera. The webcam was a whole lot easier to master... The SAC cameras work well, when they work, but have had some software issues, at least for me. Now, don't get me wrong, the SAC 8 was probably the best value on the market for a VERY sensitive black and white camera. {time passes}

For Christmas, 2004, I acquired a used Canon 10D. On the downside, it is not cooled and will probably not work well in the summer in Phoenix, but it is certainly easier to use than the SAC cameras. I have taken some decent photos with the 10D, but the learning curve for processing images has slowed my progress somewhat. {time passes again}

Since then, I have acquired a Canon 1000XS camera modified for astrophotography and the impressive Hyperstar system for the N11GPS. I use Craig Stark's Nebulosity 2 to control the Canon 1000XS. I find Nebulosity a very easy program to master, and surprisingly robust. I use a cute little 9-inch Acer netbook to run Nebulosity and save my images. The standard 160meg hard drive comes in very handy. I keep one of the big scopes in Tempe, and the other up in Dewey, where the skies are much better.

My latest adventure is doing long exposure photography using an equitorial mount. The Hyperstar system works wonderfully and certainly allows the use of an alt/az mount to do wide field astrophotography. However, I have found that there are limits to what you can accomplish with just a wide field system. Occasionally, you want to image smaller objects. Things that just don't show up well on a wide field image. So, I first purchased a used Celestron AS-GT mount, and I have been learning the joys of equitorial alignment. I have added a Q-guide camera controlled by PHD guiding software to autoguide the mount, and I have finally taken a few acceptable images with the mount. So, I have now gone even further down the road and purchased my "dream" system, a Celestron 11-HD scope sitting on a CGEM mount. I will let you know how all of this works out.

This site is constantly under construction, so please be patient with any problems that might occur. If you come across any holes in the programming, just assume I am looking for an appropriate plug. As regular visitors will undoubtedly notice, a complete redo of this site is in the works, hopefully to make it a little more attractive. Hope you like it. (last update: 11/15/10)


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