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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Meet the Amateur Astronomers at Tele Vue Optics #1

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 Betancourt
Customer Care

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. 

Jon at Cherry Springs Star Party (A. Martinez).

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.

Tele Vue MPT telescope with iris adjustment.

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Mars Opposition Season Images!

We mean it when we say this upcoming 2020 Mars Opposition will be the “best” one this decade and beyond for mid- and high-northern hemisphere observers. The next time Mars will be this  “large” in the eyepiece is 2033. But at a Declination of -27.8°, it will only rise  11° over the horizon for observers in London. Click image for full-size view.

The public will likely learn from the media that the Mars Opposition is a “one-night” event, on October 13th,  when the planet rises at sunset and is brighter and larger in appearance than usual. However, amateur astronomers know that the 2020 Mars Opposition is more like a “season,” where the planet grows in size each night over months, stays near peak size for a while, and then slowly fades away over the weeks. This gives us an observation window much longer than a single night!  

Mars on 2020 September 04 by flickr user José Luis Pereira. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Taken with 275mm, f/5.3 Newtonian on GEM mount with Tele Vue 5x Powermate and ZWO ASI290MC color camera from Brazil.

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NP127is: Imaging the Skies Over Upstate New York!

We noticed some great Tele Vue-NP127is images on Instagram tagged with our #RPTVO (repost hashtag). They were all taken by Greg Thompson in Tele Vue’s home region of the Hudson Valley, NY. Due to the weather, one has to be persistent to be an astro-imager in these parts. So, we contacted him and that resulted in this guest blog post in two parts. The first part describes his journey into astrophotography and experience imaging with the Tele Vue-NP127is and the second part is a step-by-step guide for image acquisition and processing.

 
Reprocess of The Pillars of Creation by Instagram user Gregory Thompson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. The Eagle Nebula (Messier 16 or NGC-6611) is a diffuse emission nebula and open cluster that is home to the finger-like “Pillars of Creation” star-forming region. Ultraviolet light emitted by the young, giant blue stars in the nebula causes the gasses in the nebula to glow. The “Pillars” are actually cold accumulations of dust and gas that are silhouetted by the background glow.
Exposures at ISO 800 and 1600, 174 x 60″/45″ because of wind and low elevation.
Tele Vue-NP127is APO refractor with Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR riding on iOptron CEM60EC mount. Software: BackyardEOS, DeepSkyStacker, StarTools, and Corel Photo-Paint X5.

When I saw the first image of the Orion Nebula on the camera’s LED screen ─ WOW, I was hooked!

As a child, I would always look up at the night sky in hopes of seeing a “shooting star.” I loved the night sky but was never interested in astronomy or cosmology as a young man. I began a photography business in 2011 and had to take early retirement from my day job of 25+ years. My photography led me down many roads, from portraiture and landscapes, birds and wildlife, and many other genres. I had heard of astrophotography but was not interested as I thought it was beyond my reach. Then the television series “How the Universe Works” came to my television in 2016 and could not get enough of it. Soon after, I was browsing a photography forum that I was a member of, and saw some photographs (Deep Sky Objects’s) that a well-known scientist and photometrist had posted using a camera that I already had, and a lens very similar to one of my lenses. That opened my eyes wide and I then began to research everything about astrophotography. Three months later I bought my first camera tracker (Fornax LighTrack II) and accessories to begin my new hobby. That was in the fall of 2016. When I saw the first image of the Orion Nebula on the camera’s LED screen ─ WOW, I was hooked!

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Tele Vue-85: Imaging the Skies Over Queensland Australia!

Vesselin Petkov’s imaging setup consists of the Tele Vue-85 APO refractor with Tele Vue 0.8x Reducer/Flattener (TRF-2008) and ZWO ASI533MC Pro color CMOS camera. Orion Mini 50mm Guide Scope with ZWO ASI120MC-S color CMOS camera provides guiding. Tele Vue Starbeam finder allows for swift target area acquisition. All gear is mounted on Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ5 mount. Image by Vesselin Petkov. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
The combination of Tele Vue-85 APO refractor and Tele Vue 0.8x Reducer/Flattener (TRF-2008) create a potent, highly portable, flat/wide-field (480mm @ f/5.6) astro-imaging system. The following gallery of Southern Hemisphere nebulae, by Vesselin Petkov, is a great example of the exquisite results possible with the Tele Vue-85.

Imaging was done from his driveway in Queensland Australia in Bortle class 5 (suburban) skies. We’re impressed that the images presented here are composed of color sub-frames without the use of filters or calibration frames.

 
The Trifid Nebula by flickr user Vesselin Petkov. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Hardware: Tele Vue-85 with Tele Vue 0.8x Reducer/Flattener (TRF-2008) into ZWO ASI533MC Pro color CMOS camera using AstroImager for Mac software. Guided using Orion Mini 50mm Guide Scope with ZWO ASI120MC-S color CMOS using PHD2 software. All mounted on Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ5.
Imaging: 32 x 300” lights (Temperature -5C; offset 5; gain 10) and no calibration frames from Cairns, Australia in Bortle Scale (1 best, 9 worst) 5 skies. Processing with PixInsight and Photoshop.

“Trifid Nebula” (M20 or NGC-6514) was named by John Hershel (1792-1871) who dubbed it the “Trifid” — from Latin for three parts or lobes — based on his telescopic observations of the divisions in the central part of the object. A single giant star in the center of the nebula powers the red glow of hydrogen gas surrounding it. The outer blue zone is starlight reflecting off of dust. The stars around the nebula are an open cluster.

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Mars Opposition: Visual Amplification and Imaging Tips

Mars. Copyright Rodrigo Carvajal (@shadalf on Instagram). 11” f/5 Newton with Tele Vue 3x Barlow for an effective focal length of  4200mm. Captured with QHY5III 178C color camera. Images were taken 18-days apart where Mars grew from 13.8-arc-sec diameter to 16-arc-sec. (Resized and re-oriented from original to simulate the change in apparent diameter.)

Mars is growing daily in size and brightness as it approaches opposition night on  13 October 2020.  On that date, the “Red Planet” will shine at magnitude -2.6 and be 22.4″ in diameter. At 5.5° above the Celestial Equator, it will be well placed for northern observers. Enjoy it while you can as it will not reach 22″ again until the year 2033!  See our prior post on the Mars Opposition to learn why this will be the Last “Best” Mars Opposition for Northern Hemisphere!
 

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Rodger W. Gordon’s Thoughts on the Tele Vue-85 and Questar 3.5″

Al Nagler (“Dr. Dioptrx”) with his Tele Vue-85 and Questar 3.5″.

Rodger W. Gordon has been an amateur astronomer since 1952 and has written over 300 articles for various amateur astronomy publications. Having owned hundreds of eyepieces, he has been known as the “Eyepiece King” of the hobby. In his long career, he has worked for Edmund Scientific, Vernonscope, Optical Techniques, and has consulted for Questar.

At the Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) in April 2007, we introduced the 13mm Ethos 100° eyepiece. The overwhelmingly positive response to it at ensuing star-parties led me to explain why the view elicited so many enthusiastic “WOW!” comments in an essay on our website “The Majesty Factor – The Nexus of Contrast, Power, Field” (also on our mobile site). As an example of the enthusiasm, I included the following:

Right after NEAF, Rodger Gordon, a well-known “eyepiece junkie,” wrote me: “Definitely the finest wide-angle eyepiece I’ve ever seen. If God is an astronomer, this is the wide-angle eyepiece he’d choose. You can quote me.” Thanks, Rodger.

Knowing Rodger’s long experience with astronomical equipment, and the fact that we both own Questar 3.5″ telescopes, he sent me the following letter, written July 17, 2020, about comparing his Questar 3.5″ to his son’s Tele Vue-85.  I like to call the Tele Vue-85 my “Goldilocks” telescope because it’s just the right aperture and size for everything from a quick “no excuse not to go out” observing session to a full night of enjoyment. However, if I judged telescopes by their sheer beauty and elegance, I guess I would rate my Questar as the “Majesty Factor” winner 😉 .

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Last “Best” Mars Opposition for Northern Hemisphere!

Left: Russell Croman’s Mars (© 2003) image with 14″ f/10 RCOS Ritchey-Chrétien Cassegrain and Tele Vue 4x Powermate using Philips ToUCam Pro webcam as imager. Effective focal length was 14,224mm! Stack of about 800 frames (best of 2,400 taken) at 1/25″. Image taken 25 July 2003 and featured in Sky & Telescope magazine.
Right: Ericli28 Mars (© 2016) image with C11 and Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate using QHY5L-II-M camera. Taken June 2, 2016. This was an AstroBin Image of the day for 19 March 2017.
Images are copyright by their respective owners.

The Mars 2020 opposition will be the “best” this decade for mid- and high-northern hemisphere observers.

Let’s start out by stating that the Mars 2020 opposition will be the “best” one this decade for mid- and high-northern hemisphere observers. (Better even than all the ones in the 2010’s!) On opposition night, 13 October 2020, the “Red Planet” will be brilliant in the sky at magnitude -2.6 and 22.4″ in diameter at a Declination of 5.5° above the Celestial Equator. It will reach 44° in elevation above the horizon in the city of London, UK.

Mars is an “outer planet”: its orbit is outside that of Earth’s orbit. Opposition: Earth and outer planet line up on the same side with Sun (bottom of diagram). Conjunction: Earth and outer planet line up on opposite sides of the sun (top of diagram). Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

(Due to the non-circular orbits of Earth and Mars, the instant of opposition is not usually the same as the closest approach between the pair: there can be a two-weeks difference in time. So, we’ll talk in round numbers when discussing the size of Mars around the time of opposition.)

With regard to this year’s event: yes, there have been “bigger” oppositions. In 2018 Mars was 24” in diameter (ranking with the super-duper, 2003 opposition that had Mars at 25″). However, while Mars was bigger in 2018, it was at -25.4° Declination and barely cleared your neighbor’s fence in the northern hemisphere. This year it’ll be +30.9 degrees higher in the sky! 

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