Space Music back online

Posted by XTSee on 5th February , 2009

Apologies to anyone who has tried using the Music Player on my site recently, it’s been broken!

Adobe brought out Version 10 of their Flash Player recently which has tighter security, and so I needed to update the Wimpy MP3 Player that my website uses to play its music.

Unfortunately even though Wimpy provided a new version to fix the problem, I didn’t notice it wasn’t working for a little while.

Anyway, it seems to be working again properly for Firefox and Internet Explorer, so if you want to listen then go to my Astro Cosmic Deep Space themed choice of music.


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Moon Snow Glow

Posted by XTSee on 5th February , 2009

Tonight, Moon spread slow, solar White against Black
Her soft eery glow tween fleeting Wisps track

Cast shadowy patterns, ‘pon glistening carpet herewith,
Reflect ten-thousand-fold pinpoints, honouring heavens Zenith.

The Field dark, and yet strangely alive,
Shows overhead passing. And synchronised
The gray shapes blurred motion; Cast down - No Sound.

Marching from far side to near……..

Eyes downward, sense heightened, and so faint I see

The pulse of Snow Moonlight - so fine and the Hue
Near magical, borders on Aurora Blue,
Each Clouds edge advance the cold ground into View

Again, overhead passing they flee.

English snow, so rare and now such a Sight,
Moon shines ebb, then flow, down up to the Night
This wonder, the quietness, her crisp icy flight

I ponder Mare Tranquillitatis for me?

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How to improve worm gear backlash on Celestron CG-5 Equatorial Mount

Posted by XTSee on 4th February , 2009

I’ve not long had my new Celestron C6-S SCT XLT Telescope, but following a minor problem with the Backlash setting in the SynScan Pro V3 Goto Upgrade hand controller (which was fairly easily fixed by a firmware update to correct the excess Backlash adjustment), my interest was piqued and I wanted to check at an early stage that my scope and mount were adjusted to get the best from them.

A couple of things were niggling me:-

  1. I had read in various places (Cloudy Nights forum, and some personal astronomy websites) about the importance of ensuring correct tension adjustment of the worm gear driving the Right Ascension axis of the telescopes equatorial mount to reduce to a minimum the “backlash” inherent in commercial EQ mounts (preventing backlash altogether only occurs in very expensive top-end telescope mounts with extremely high-precision gearings). While the Goto hand-controller uses software control to help overcome Backlash problems (there is a Backlash compensation setting for both RA and Dec axis) by rewinding/forwarding the servo-motor to take up any mechanical backlash slack, it is better to try to minimise backlash mechanically so that the software need perform the least servo-motor movement necessary. [Backlash occurs in the Declination axis too, but it is considered a less important problem than for Right Ascension tracking]
  2. Although the CG-5 EQ mount supplied with my C6-S telescope is built to quite a high quality standard, I think that the person in the factory is probably less interested in ensuring the mount is constructed and fine-tuned to the level of accuracy that I personally would like. Its a matter of preference, enjoyment of the DIY approach to get the most of my astronomy equipment, and I feel confident enough to dismantle, clean, re-assemble, re-grease and finely adjust the mount, at least if only to assure myself that nothing further can be done to improve things! However I had an inkling that there was room for improvement, because when the scope was rotated about the RA axis, there seemed to be some binding, either due to Chinese sticky grease, or possible over-tightening of the RA worm-gear? Being a perfectionist, this bugged me, and I wanted to do something about it.

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Silent Running - Huey, Louie and Dewey

Posted by XTSee on 24th January , 2009

Do you remember a wonderful melancholy old film called Silent Running starring Bruce Dern released in 1972?

Silent Running DVD Cover

Silent Running DVD Cover

I came across it in our local supermarket bit bin for 2 quid, and I can remember loving the film when it first came out (I was 10 years old then), so thought what the heck, why not get it for a laugh.

The DVD describes the film as follows;

As this science fiction classic opens, botanist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) has spent three years aboard the space freighter “Valley Forge” preserving the only botanical specimens left on earth under huge Geodesic domes.

When he receives orders to destroy the project and return home Lowell rebels and hijacks the freighter, killing his fellow crewman, injuring himself, and plunging the craft into the gaseous rings of Saturn.

From that moment on, he has only the trees, the gardens, and two “Drone” robots, Huey and Dewey, to keep him company on the loneliest adventure of all.

Isn’t it funny how you perceive things when you’re young?

I braced myself for possible disappointment and sat down to watch.

While watching the film this time round I was thinking how incredibly slow-paced it was, with lots of bad over-acting, funny notions of what space travel would be like, and how Freeman was able to re-program the drones intelligence to perform surgery on his injured leg, and later play cards with him, simply by re-soldering a couple of wires, and clipping a couple of others on rather clumsy looking printed circuit boards which dropped rather sloppily into slots in the top of the drones.

It was quite frankly laughable, and had to be watched tongue-in-cheek. I was amazed at how long it took Freeman, who was apparently a professional botanist, to realise why all his plants were dying in the domes. Simply because they weren’t getting enough light, after they had gone off course and far away from the Sun!!! What a dunce.

The saving grace of the film is definitely the special effects by Douglas Trumbull (great for their time), and the characterful drones, with subtle movements of their bodies to indicate their innocent looks, expressions and “emotions”, LOL, and the way they quietly converse with each other or tap each other. Apparently they were operated by double-amputees. See a picture of the three Silent Running drones, Huey, Louie and Dewey here.

Poor old Louie gets blasted off into space fairly early in the film as they pass through the rings of Saturn, when his leg becomes trapped in a gangway. His two mates later discover just the bottom half of his leg, and Freeman rather heartlessly tells Huey and Dewey “That’s what happens when you get careless” - poor thing!

Later, as he races along one of the corridors in a 6-wheel electric buggy, Freeman accidentally runs over Huey, and attempts to repair his busted robot arm with a couple of prods and fiddles here and there, then announces, sorry that’s the best I can do. I thought - What? Haven’t you got any spare parts for the drones, or proper tools on this huge spacecraft? Oh dear. You have to suspend your disbelief somewhat!

Strangely, Joan Bayez who was a very popular singer of the time, and performs two folk songs in the film, never actually watched the film!

The name of the 2,000 metre long spaceship “Valley Forge” comes from the name of the real US Navy aircraft carrier used as the film set location for the interior of the spaceship, before it was decommissioned and scrapped.

It’s all rather strung out, but worth a laugh and still has fond childhood memories for me. It’s not too bad really. What a sucker :) I’m going to have to watch it again to see what else I missed that I can take the mickey out of!

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More fun with the C6-SGT XLT SCT Telescope

Posted by XTSee on 21st January , 2009

C6-SGT SCT with XLT Starbrite coatings

C6-SGT SCT with XLT Starbrite coatings

My new Celestron C6-SGT SCT telescope with Starbrite XLT coatings is brilliant. Last night was quite a nice night for viewing, best I’ve had in weeks.

One of my wife’s work colleagues stayed over last night, and he was interested to see through it, and I didn’t want to miss a chance, so out we went.

Took my time polar aligning (although I don’t have a polar alignment scope), but can view roughly through the hole the polar scope would fit, and see right through the body of the mount to line up on Polaris, then fine tune through the eyepiece.

The 3-star alignment was very easy and accurate now the backlash is fixed. Backlash needs tuning though. I thought with each star I aligned on, 1, 2, 3, it would progressively improve the accuracy, but actually not until all 3 have been aligned. Then its absolutely spot on every time when I goto objects. Very impressed. And with widefield objects its just a case of panning around at whatever speed you fancy.

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Synscan PRO Goto Backlash problem

Posted by XTSee on 20th January , 2009

In my previous post about my new Celestron C6-S telescope, which I upgraded to Goto using the SynScan PRO Version 3 Goto Upgrade Kit for EQ5 I mentioned that the direction keys didn’t appear to be responding correctly.

In one direction they will nudge tiny amounts, but in the opposite direction, it slews several minutes/degrees of sky very quickly, then slows down to tiny adjustment again while I hold the key down, then when I release the key it stops, and then hit the opposite direction again it slews the same amount  back again.

The motor Backlash thing is just bugging me (being impatient), and I’m sure that it is either my not understanding how its supposed to work, or else I’ve got some setting wrong, e.g. the Backlash, or I did my
alignment wrong. My friend explained to me however that backlash is normally only a very tiny compensation - nothing massive.

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My new Celestron C6-SGT XLT Goto Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope

Posted by XTSee on 19th January , 2009

After the shennanigans of receiving two of the same telescope, and regrettably having to return one of them back to First Light Optics, I spent the first evening reading through the manuals. There’s no hurry because bad weather is forecast for the next few days, so I’ll just get used to learning about it and putting it together nice and slow.

Celestron C6-SGT-XLT Telescope

Celestron C6-SGT-XLT Telescope

So here it is. It should be noted that mine is not strictly a proper C6-SGT, because I bought the Advanced Series C6-S XLT (non-Goto) in the January sales (£200 off!) and then also ordered a SynScan PRO GOTO Version 3 Upgrade Kit for EQ5 to give the same functionality as the full goto Advanced Series C6-SGT XLT.

Now that I’ve read through the manual, in hindsight it may have been better to pay the additional £100 I saved overall, because although the Synscan upgrade works perfectly well with the Celestron EQ5 mount, the Celestron version of the Goto system seems superior to the Synscan.

There are some slight aesthetic design differences and the functions described in the manual for the Celestron suggest quite a few extras that the Synscan does not have, e.g. both +ve and -ve Backlash settings for RA and Dec (the Synscan has just one value each for RA and Dec), Filter Limits to keep goto within certain RA/Dec co-ordinates, Goto Approach, Calibrate Mount, Polar Align function, Sun menu (prevents the Sun being chosen for safety).

Otherwise most functions are identical or near equivalent.

The object database on the Celestron provides a couple more grouping options, e.g. SAO, Abell, Asterism, CCD Objects.

Overall the scope seems well built, and the assembled scope and EQ5 mount are very sturdy and secure.

The Synscan GOTO is pretty cool the way it does the alignment, and slews around to each star position, before locking on and tracking. I love my XT10i, but with the C6 it feels like I’ve got a “proper” telescope now - there’s something very satisfying about watching the scope move to the required object.

I did a quick finder scope to OTA alignment out of upstairs window to a streetlamp in the middle of the village.

There was a clear sky for a couple of hours last night so I took it out and had my very first attempt at polar alignment, then 3 or 2 star alignment (seems difficult, maybe I’m not getting it right yet), before having a go at sighting up some objects.

First light was on the Beehive, then the Double Cluster. Very nice and smooth to pin sharp focusing despite being a bit of a dull night.

There are a couple of things I’ve yet to understand better!

For instance there are RA/Dec directional keys (of course), for aligning or just repositioning the view.

Well in one direction they will nudge tiny amounts, but in the opposite direction, it slews several minutes/degrees of sky very quickly, then slows down to tiny adjustment again while I hold the key down, then when I release the key it stops, and then hit the opposite direction again it slews the same amount  back again.

A bit wierd and I guess its something to do with taking up “backlash” (which can be adjusted), but I’m not dead sure if this is normal, or only occurs after I’ve done 2-star as opposed to 3-star alignment, or happens when viewing objects in a particular half of the sky?

Oddly the manuals don’t say a thing about this behaviour, and I’m wondering whether I need to upgrade the hand controller and motor firmware?

Tried finding something on Cloudy Nights forum about this auto-reversing when pressing the direction keys, but couldn’t and wondered whether I just wasn’t searching for the right thing.

Oh well - shall see in due course. [Update: read a later post about upgrading the Synscan firmware to fix a problem]

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Two for the price of one!

Posted by XTSee on 15th January , 2009

Hey hey - I’ve hit the jackpot!

Yesterday I said I was hoping to receive my new Celestron C6-SGT XLT Schmidt-Cassesgrain Telescope.

Well when I got home this is what I found….

Two Celestron C6-SGT XLT Telescopes

Two Celestron C6-SGT XLT Telescopes

How neat is that eh? I didn’t realise my purchase was a Buy-One-Get-One-Free offer!

I was supposed to only get 2 boxes, but as you can see First Light Optics have delivered two identical C6 telescopes to me. Big boxes contain tripods, small boxes contain the OTA.

How kind of them :)

Now what should I do? Wait a while to see if they notice?

Give one to a friend?

Sell one on the cheap?

Hmm. Well I think really I should phone them and see if they’re missing a telescope!

Anybody want a free C6 ?

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First Light on Venus

Posted by XTSee on 14th January , 2009

A few times recently when leaving work I have looked up to see Venus very bright in the evening sky, but by the time I have got home, cloud has moved in, or after the usual home chores, dog walk, meal, chat with the wife, its too late and Venus has got too low in the sky.

So tonight I made a point of getting home in good time, and upon checking the Internet for the next few days weather forecast as being yet more cloud, and possibly rain, I decided to make the most of the starry night and get my XT10 telescope straight outside, set up and at last (more than a year after getting the scope) I have seen Venus close up with my own eyes.

Venus is in Aquarius this month and climbing into Pisces as January and February progress, and with my 10mm EP + 2xBarlow (240x magnification), the planets disc is half full now, and waning through until about mid-March when it becomes a sliver of a crescent, but also starts to descends back toward the horizon in the first half of March. On the 22nd January it passes within about 2 degrees of Uranus, which might be something nice to watch out for.

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An Ancient Astronomy Relic for a New Year

Posted by XTSee on 3rd January , 2009

A Tribute to John Ellard Gore - Astronomer

Whilst putting the Christmas deccies away in the attic today 3rd January 2009, and rummaging around in a box of old photos, I came across two old astronomy books, which I cannot for the life of me remember their origin; possibly my uncle gave them to me, or I got them from a car boot sale?

Whichever it was they’re a nice find considering I really can’t remember where they came from or even seeing them before.

One is the 1979 Hamlyn Guide to Astronomy by David Baker, and illustrated by David A Hardy. Of course some aspects of the book are a tad out of date now, but its nearly 300 pages, 160 of them in colour, and including 88 constellation descriptions with corresponding sky maps.

Star Groups BookStar Groups Book

However, the more interesting treasure is an ancient book called Star Groups - A Students Guide to the Constellations, by John Ellard Gore, F.R.A.S., M.R.I.A and Honorary Member of the Liverpool Astronomical Society.

This book was published by Crosby Lockwood and Son of London in 1891, making it 118 years old!

On the inside cover is lovely scripted writing which says “West Sussex Gazette, Nickname Competition - Nov 1896, Presented to Mr. G.C.Ballard as Equal Second Prize by The Member for the South Downs“.

Out of interest I turned to Map 16 in the book which is for Orion (like my website), and the map depicts in black and white the same map as can be seen on the front cover of the book (shown to the left here), except the hardback books front cover is a dark royal blue, embossed with silver writing and silver stars in the constellation map (click the image for full size).

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