For Tele Vue, January 2020 began optimistically: our Apollo 11mm Commemorative eyepiece had started shipping in mid-December and we innocently opined on this blog that the year would be best remembered for “20/20 vision” puns. Our usual round of winter telescope shows and star parties began with David Nagler jetting off for the late-January European Astrofest in London and Al Nagler debuting a 67mm converter for our 55mm Plössl eyepiece at the Winter Star Party in February. David Nagler visited the studio at OPT Telescopes in Carlsbad, CA to discuss The Future of Visual Astronomy for an early-February Space Junk Podcast. In March we were looking forward to the “2020 Messier Marathon” and the arrival of Spring in the latter half of the month. Instead, COVID-19 precautions shut us down from March 20th — the first full day of spring — to May 26th. Thankfully, we all returned to work healthy, but the new concept of “social distancing” put an end to any chance of in-person appearances for the rest of the year.
With the strange year of 2020 behind us, we now choose to look back at the positive. In 2020 we managed to publish 34-postings covering a variety of topics. In this week’s blog we’ll examine our most popular stories for the year based on reader raw page views.
The Jupiter and Saturn “Great Conjunction” was well-publicized and well-imaged. Even though the closest approach between the planets was Monday, they’re still in the vicinity and worth a look tonight! This gallery contains some of the best images of the event we found on-line, acquired with Tele Vue products.
According to a recent Solar Activity Update by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center, “Solar activity picked up at the end of November into early December, 2020, as several sunspot groups emerged or rotated onto the visible disk”. The update continues: “Solar activity is anticipated to slowly increase over the upcoming years towards the predicted solar maximum peak around July, 2025.” This is great news for observers of our nearest star! At times this year, there had been month-long sunspot “droughts” with no or few sunspots on the solar disk.
The return of Sun as a target of interest has led to a sudden uptick in Solar image postings to social media these past few weeks.
Is it just us or did it seem that 2020 was a longer than usual year? Yet while both the year and big Mars Opposition are waning, we can still look forward to some astronomical sights and surprises in the “20/20” sky. We list them in this week’s blog.
Tele Vue Optics was founded by an amateur astronomer, Al Nagler, and it is no surprise that amateur astronomers have been drawn to fill the ranks of Tele Vue employees. In this week’s blog, as part of an ongoing series, we meet one of the amateur astronomers at Tele Vue.
Our newest employee is a telescope builder and avid astrophotographer who has been busy imaging the night sky with a Tele Vue-85 and Canon DSLR since he started at Tele Vue. “Satesh” as he goes by, graduated with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, from City College of NY. Al Nagler, who also graduated from City College with a Physics degree, but just a “few” years before Satesh, has enjoyed having a fellow alumnus on our team.
In his own words, Mahendra describes his journey into amateur telescope building.
Astronomy was not always a specific interest of mine, it was always space exploration in general. When I learned that there are amateurs that build their own telescopes, that all changed because I felt as if space had become a bit more accessible to me. Being an aspiring engineer at that time, the idea of building something as elegant as a telescope was more appealing than buying one. An extra challenge I had was that I had absolutely no experience with amateur astronomy or telescope making and when I say absolutely, I mean I had never looked through a telescope. Luckily there is a wealth of information online about telescopes and mirror making and I read so much that I became confident that I could do it.
I approached mirror making as smart as I could. To prevent astigmatism, I decided not to grind the mirror by hand. Instead, I made a fixed-post grinder that was driven by a hand crank and this ensured that the mirror’s surface was ground symmetric about its optical axis. I documented the process in a handwritten journal in case I encountered any problems during Ronchi testing. I could refer back to my notes and see what caused the problem. That paid off because I encountered almost every problem I read about; zones, under correction, over correction, turned down edge, etc. I fixed all of them and finally, I had a parabolized 6-inch F/6.5 mirror uncoated. I quickly assembled the mirror into the optical tube. In October 2014, I looked through a telescope for the first time when I finally tested my mirror on the sky by observing the moon and star testing on Sirius. The mirror was still uncoated and I hadn’t made the Dobsonian mount as yet. I pointed the scope by propping it up on a chair. By the end of 2014, the mirror was coated and the mount was complete. The entire process took almost a year, from building the mirror grinder to completing the scope.
Even though we’re past the point of closest approach and opposition, Mars continues to loom large in the sky and is higher each night at the same time. In the northern hemisphere, the nights are coming sooner and lasting longer. Until mid-November, Mars will appear bigger than at any opposition until 2033!
If you’d like to try your hand at imaging the planet, study the next sections carefully as they contain image processing tips from top Martian imagers on the Internet.
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.