Amateur Astronomy in the Time of Pandemic

Christmas Tree Nebula at Amboy Crater by flickr user William Allen. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Astronomy in the time of Covid-19: Getting out in the desert for astrophotography is definitely sheltering in space. Taken at Amboy Crater on March 16, 2020.

Imaging details: Tele Vue-85 APO refractor with Tele Vue TRF-2008 0.8x Reducer/Flattener (converts TV-85 to 480mm f/5.6) imaging into ZWO ASI071 MC Pro Camera. Accessories: Tele Vue Starbeam Finder with Apertura illuminator, ZWO 30F4 Guides Scope with Starlight XPress Lodestar X2 Guide Camera. Mount: Celestron CGX EQ. Software: Celestron PWI, PHD2 Guiding, Astro Photography Tool 3.82.


It was March 19th of this year when we published a blog post, Shelter in Space, inspired by an image posted to flickr by Los Angeles based amateur Bill Allen. At the time we wrote:

Getting out in the desert for astrophotography is definitely sheltering in space.

We encountered the above phrase, this week, in the caption of an image of the Christmas Tree Nebula, made with our Tele Vue-85 APO refractor. We felt it apropos for our hobby as it succinctly conjures the connection between amateur astronomy and our current moment in world history.

Toward the end of the blog we opined:

As a strategy to avoid “cabin fever,” one local New York City television station has urged people to get outside and connect with the natural world — while maintaining social distance. Not an easy task during the day, but an easy prescription to take for amateur astronomers doing their night-time viewing and imaging.

During the course of that week, New York State had been putting out proposals for limiting the number of employees working in non-essential businesses. The proposals first called to limiting staff to 75%, and as the week wore on it evolved to 50% and then a draconian sounding (for the time) 25%. 

The next day, Friday, March 20th, the first full day of Spring — exactly 7-months ago — we found out that social distancing under the stars was not enough: New York State had ordered 100% closure of non-essential businesses statewide for the foreseeable future.  So, we hastily announced on this blog that we would be Closed Due to Covid-19 Until Further Notice.  The news headlines at the time and the uncertainty of the duration of the closing was a jarring development for our staff and some wondered how this would impact the hobby when and even if we re-opened our doors.

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Mars Closest to Earth: NOW!

Mars 2020 Oct 4 R(G)B by flickr user Roger Hutchinson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Mars imaged from London just before midnight on 4th October 2020. The volcano Elysium Mons can be seen as the bright circle at the 2 o’clock position. Celestron Edge HD11, Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate and ZWO ASI174MM camera.

We’ve reached the peak of the current Mars observing season with the planet closest to Earth:62-million km or 38.5-million miles on October 6/7th. At -2.5 magnitude and 22.6″ in diameter, Mars is a  conspicuous, intense orange target in the sky that is brighter than any star, except our Sun and is only outshone by Venus and the Moon in the nighttime sky. When it reaches opposition next week, on October 13th, it will still be 22.4″ in diameter and a tad brighter at -2.6 magnitude.  It will remain greater than 20″ in diameter for the whole month. So, weather permitting, put an eyepiece in the scope this month and show it to all your friends!

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NP127is Imaging the Skies Over Sydney!

We were struck by the neon-like colors produced by Murray Parkinson’s imaging through our Tele Vue-NP127is APO Refractor using different combinations of Hydrogen-alpha (Hα), doubly ionized oxygen (OIII), and ionized sulfur (SII) filters. His Porpoise Nebula image below looks like it is leaping out of the page! Others agree: he provided the cover and inside cover spread images for Nightfall October 2017 (a journal of astronomy in South Africa). He tells us “I love my two Tele Vue refractors. Only wish you made a 12-inch refractor … .” This week’s guest blog post is a gallery of his work from suburban Sydney, Australia.

“When I became interested in astrophotography, I quickly learned that the quality of the optics was crucial to achieving high-quality results. Only the very finest telescope designs can deliver round, pinpoint stars across the entire frame. I chose the Tele Vue-NP127is partly because of the reputation of Al Nagler and partly because of trust in products made in the USA. I also had a lot of trust in the salesperson who looked after me at BINTEL in Sydney. He always gave excellent advice on what to buy.

“Without a doubt, the versatility of the Tele Vue-NP127is stands out in my mind. The telescope delivers true astrograph performance when imaging at multiple focal lengths. It also delivers brilliant views when used visually and is light enough to transport to a dark sky location on a car camping trip. I still love visual observing and appreciate a telescope that can deliver on all accounts.

The Porpoise Nebula in Canis Major
2019_03_03_EZ_Canis_Major_HaOIII by flickr user Murray Parkinson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Imaged with Tele Vue-NP127is APO Refractor at f/5.2 with QSI 683wsg camera on EQ8 mount. Exposures through filters with 2 x 2 binning as follows: Astrodon 3-nm Hα for 10-hours total and Astrodon 3-nm OIII for 18-hours total.  Acquisition and processing software used: Nebulosity 4, PHD2, PixInsight, Lightroom and Photoshop. Imaged from suburban Sydney.

“This faint Oxygen III nebula is catalogued as Sharpless 308 in the constellation of Canis Major and is commonly called the Gourd Nebula, but I am one of those people who see a Porpoise first, or I am fonder of porpoises than gourds anyway. The nebula is classified as a Wolf-Rayet bubble and originates from the star located close to the centre of the frame.

“When I was a young boy in the early 1970s, my stepfather took me to see a movie at a drive-in theater in the country. At the end of the movie, I stepped outside the car and looked up to behold the summer Milky Way overhead. This was the first time I had seen the Milky Way from a dark location and I was overwhelmed with awe. To this day, I still experience awe, swooning at the beauty of a starry night when I am lucky enough to camp somewhere truly dark.

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