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.
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!
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.
“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.
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, we meet one of the amateur astronomers at Tele Vue.
Jon is a Chicago native born and raised. Before joining Tele Vue Optics, he worked for 8-years on the retail side of amateur astronomy, splitting his time between 20/20 Telescopes outside Chicago and Woodland Hills Camera & Telescopes in Los Angeles. In this blog post we interview Jon about the “many hats” he wears at Tele Vue headquarters.
One role you’ll often find Jon fulfilling is quality control on Tele Vue eyepieces. Unlike other manufacturers, that may inspect a representative sample (or none at all), every single Tele Vue eyepiece is checked before going out the door. You might assume that inspecting and boxing dozens of eyepieces a day is tedious. But not for Jon. “I find it therapeutic,” he says while inspecting a 55mm Plössl for cosmetic defects under the glowing fluorescent ring of a magnifier lamp. He eschews the built-in magnifier on the lamp because he feels he sees more just holding the eyepiece close to his eye.