The “Best” of 2020

Tele Vue Optics, Inc. started the year 2020 optimistically.

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.

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Images: The Great Conjunction!

Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction on 12/20/2020. by Instagram user Rodrigo Carvajal. All rights reserved. Used by permission. The planets were 7.5-minutes-of-arc apart. Imaging was done with 11-inch, f/5 Newtonian Reflector using Tele Vue Paracorr Type-2 Coma Corrector onto a QHY5III 178C Camera. Two 60-second videos combined to correctly expose both planets. From Santiago, Chile. From there, the planets were 23.5-deg above the horizon at sunset.

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.

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Have You Been Watching Jupiter & Saturn?

A simulated eyepiece view of the Jupiter and Saturn conjunction on 21 December 2020 with stars removed. The field of view is about ¼ degrees. The four Galilean moons will be easy to spot. Saturn’s moons are much dimmer and will blend in with the field stars. Your view may be rotated and inverted depending on the equipment used and location on the Earth.
Great Conjunction: Countdown to December 21st!
On December 16th, Jupiter and Saturn will be a full-Moon’s width apart at dusk as they sink into the south-western horizon. Watch this pair each evening as they draw ever-closer together until they pass within 1/10 of a degree on December 21st. This is the great Jupiter / Saturn Conjunction of 2020! This is the closest they’ve been together since 1623 and most sources say that conjunction was not observed due to the planet’s vicinity to the Sun. The last time the pair was definitely visible this close together was in 1226 in the morning sky. This is a rare “must-see” event indeed!

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BREAKING NEWS: Apollo 11mm and Sky Events!

Al Nagler, Tele Vue Optics founder.
Tele Vue Sells Out of Limited Edition Apollo 11 Eyepiece!
Last year, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and in recognition of Al Nagler’s contribution to the greater effort that made the mission possible, we “launched” a limited run of 300 commemorative Apollo 11mm eyepieces. 
 
While we have shipped our last Apollo 11mm eyepiece recently, dealers may still have some in stock. Act now if interested!
 
Tele Vue Apollo 11mm eyepiece is an original design, with unique packaging, that included a serialized commemorative medallion matching the engraved number on the eyepiece.
The following note is from Al Nagler.
 

Dear Tele Vue Aficionado,

Thank you for your continued enthusiasm for our products. We’re sorry for some product delays due to an unexpected increase in demand during this pandemic time.

Here’s an announcement I’m making today that’s unique in my lifetime, leaving me conflicted between happy and sad:

We’ve sold out of our limited edition special production run of the Apollo 11 eyepiece celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing.

Yes, I’m sad they are gone, but happy to have spread more joy among our astronomical community. Little did I know in the 1960s that my design for the LEM Simulator optics, showing a 110° star field to the astronauts would change my life, inspiring me to eventually share wide-field views with fellow amateur astronomers by founding Tele Vue Optics, Inc.

I’d appreciate your taking a few minutes to see my PowerPoint presentation, I Thank My Lucky Stars on the Tele Vue blog to share my life path with you.

Stay well,

Al Nagler

 

Our readers followed the story of the development, arrival, packaging, and distribution of the Apollo 11mm eyepiece on our blog. See the following links:

Images below: (top) Apollo 11mm eyepiece “Magic Moment” at Tele Vue headquarters with the development team (left-right): Paul Dellechiaie, Al Nagler, and David Nagler. (Bottom left) Tele Vue CEO Al Nagler with Apollo 11mm eyepiece and his Alan Bean, (4th Man to Walk on the Moon) autographed print. (Bottom right) 2019 NEAF Show tease.

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Here Comes the Sun!

Sunspots 25 Nov 2020 by flickr user Antonio Agnesi. All rights reserved. Used by permission. The image was captured through a Tele Vue Ranger refractor with Celestron Ultima 2x Barlow and Lunt Herschel wedge with Baader Solar Continuum filter. The camera used was a ZWO ASI 120MM. All gear was carried on a Skywatcher AZ-EQ6 mount. Exposures 5ms and the best 120 frames were stacked. macOS software used was ASICap, Lynkeos, and Photoshop CC.

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. 

A detailed look at sunspots 2785 and 2786 by Instagram user Michael Harriff. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Taken on 29 November 2020 in Hydrogen-alpha light ─ “This was the only clear shooting day in several weeks! 😩”. A Tele Vue 4x Powermate on a Lunt 80mm MT refractor allowed the system to reach 2,240mm effective focal length for this close-up shot. The camera used was the ZWO ASI174MM (mono).

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Meet the Amateur Astronomers at Tele Vue #2

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.  


Mahendra Mahadeo
Mechanical Engineer

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.

Al Nagler in his City College sweatshirt (left) with Mahendra Mahadeo (right) socially distant while standing with Al’s 12-inch, f/5.3 Newtonian that won first prize for Newtonians at the Stellafane Convention in 1972. The framed photograph on the ground nearest Al is of the Double Cluster. Al took it with this scope: 80-minutes, tracked by hand back in the film days was enough to end his pursuit of astrophotography! (Staff photo).

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.

Shown is the cover of Mahendra’s telescope building journal. Over the last six years, he’s filled this codex with draftsman-like sketches of mirror grinding machines, pitch laps, Dobsonian mounts, and telescope designs along with copious notes and data on his work in progress. (Staff photo)

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.

Mahadeo’s design for a mirror grinder. (Staff photo)

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Mars: Keep on Viewing & Imaging!

Mars at opposition, 13th October 2020 (center image) by flickr user Roger Hutchinson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Hubble’s Closest View of Mars — August 27, 2003 (left image), credit: NASA, J. Bell (Cornell U.) and M. Wolff (SSI). BAA Mars Mapper image (right image) is © The British Astronomical Association 2020. Roger’s image is rotated 180° from the original to match BAA Mars Mapper orientation for locating features. Mars is centered at about 160° west latitude in his image with Olympus Mons super volcano (on top of the Tharsis bulge volcanic plateau) at lower-left. This is one of the best Olympus Mons / Tharsis renditions we’ve seen this Opposition: compare it with the scaled-down and rotated Hubble image on left. Roger’s image was made with a Celestron Edge HD11 with Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate and ASI174MM camera.

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!

You can use the excellent Mars Mapper 2020-2021  web app (mobile version) on the British Astronomical Association website to identify features on the planet when you observe or image it.

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.

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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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