2021: A Year of Ups and Downs

Welcome to 2022! In this posting, we’ll examine how the pandemic impacted amateur astronomy this past year and review our most popular social media posts from 2021.

Sharpless 2-308 (Bicolor palette) by AstroBin user Diego Cartes. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This is our most-liked Instagram image of 2021 with 277 likes. It was also an AstroBin “Top Pick” nominee. It was made with our Tele Vue-76 APO refractor, Tele Vue TRF-2008 0.8x Reducer/Flattener (converts Tele Vue-76 to 380mm f/5), ZWO ASI 1600MM Cooled Pro monochrome camera, ZWO 7x36mm Filter Wheel (EFW), and iOptron iGuider ─ all riding on an iOptron CEM70G EQ mount. Imaged was binned 1×1 through ZWO OIII -7nm filters 51×900″ (12h 45′) and ZWO H-alpha 66×900″ (16h 30′) for a total integration time of 29h 15′.
COVID-19 Concerns

2021 U.S. COVID-19 New Reported Cases (7-day average). The early-summer dip, centered on June 21st, did not last very long. Adopted from New York Times “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count“.
As 2021 progressed, there were hopes that star parties and astronomy shows would return in full force as COVID-19 showed signs of being contained. Statistical data from early-summer 2021 heralded the good news: new virus cases had dropped dramatically to only 1/20th that of the January peak (graph at right). Mask and social distancing signs came down in anticipation of a return to “normal.” However, like a raging wildfire, the virus mutated and broke containment through the summer and fall and new cases reached and surpassed all prior peaks.

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Your 2021 Year-End Eclipse Images!

Baily’s Beads by Instagram user Wijaya Sukwanto. Two bright Baily’s Beads peek through mountain valleys on the Moon right before Totality. Red prominences are visible on the edge of the Sun and the ghostly Solar Corona emerges around the Sun. Images taken with Tele Vue-76 APO outfitted with Tele Vue 2x Powermate, Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR, and Tele Vue Sol Searcher under clear skies at Union Glacier, Antarctica on 04 December 2021.

What a way to end the year! We had the 19 November 2021 (almost total) Lunar Eclipse followed two weeks later by the 4 December 2021 Total Solar Eclipse. While the first event was at an odd hour and the second an odd location, Tele Vue scopes did capture both events. This blog is a gallery of your eclipse photos!

November Lunar Eclipse Images

Tele Vue-NP127is in the Hudson Valley
2021 Nov 19 Partial Lunar Eclipse by Instagram user and Tele Vue employee Mahendra Mahadeo. All rights reserved. Used by permission. These Five shots were taken over a 40-minute period, as the moon traversed along the edge of the Earth’s red shadow. Imaged with Tele Vue-NP127is APO scope with Tele Vue Large Field Corrector (LCL-1069) and an astro-modified Canon EOS SL1 DSLR. Totality (center) frame exposure was: 6 x 0.5-sec, 6 x 1-sec and processed with Photoshop CC, and Topaz Denoise AI. Orange County, New York.

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December 4th Total Solar Eclipse!

Have you been gearing up and packing for the December 4th total solar eclipse?  If not, you are not alone! The path of totality for this eclipse will be limited to distant Antarctica and the surrounding waters. So very few people will have snow boots on the ground there to enjoy the 1′:54″ view of the solar corona that day. The partial eclipse outside the path of totality is no consolation prize. It envelops the ocean south of Australia, South America, and Africa and barely makes landfall at the very tips of South America,  Australia, and New Zealand. Much of the southern tip of Africa will see at most a “nibble” taken out of the Sun. 

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November Planetary Events!

Uranus and the Dance of the Stars (1834) by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781 – 1841). Public Domain image from wikimedia.org.

November, from the Latin novem for nine, is the eleventh month of the year. The name comes from a time when the Romans had only ten named months totaling 304 days. The remaining days in the year were during winter and not assigned to a month. Interesting! With that out of the way, in this blog we’ll highlight November planetary events for sky watchers!

5 November — Uranus!
Uranus and moons composite image from the October 2017 opposition. Image credit and copyright by Anis Abdul. The imaging gear used was a Celestron Edge 11 telescope, that was “amplified” with our Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate to achieve 7,000 mm focal length. Imaging was done with a ZWO ASI224MC color camera. The gear rode on an AP900 mount. The best 50% of frames from 20-minutes of video were processed for the image. Software used was PixInsight and Registax.“One of the closer moon (Miranda) is actually visible in my stacks but is lost in the planet glow,” says Anis.

Famous as the butt of planetary jokes and puns, the “ice giant” Uranus will be visible all night on November 5th when it rises in “opposition” at sunset (hence it is opposite the Sun from Earth’s viewpoint). It will also be at its largest for the year: a diminutive 3.76″ of arc. It became magnitude 5.7 at the start of September this year and will stay that bright until early January 2022. Due to its distance and close-to-circular orbit, Uranus doesn’t vary that much in brightness over time. It’ll spend the rest of the year in the 5.8 – 5.9 magnitude range before the next opposition approaches. While technically a naked-eye target in dark skies, you’ll need magnification to confirm you’re looking at a planet and not a field star. 

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NP127is: Return to Imaging over Taos, NM

Back in March 2019 this blog featured a Tele Vue-NP127is APO refractor image gallery by astrophotographer Jerry Macon. All those images were done with red, green, and blue (RGB) filters or a dedicated color camera. Jerry has since added the Hubble Palette filters (SHO: Sulfur II, Hydrogen-alpha [Hα)] and O III) to his repertoire, and the color camera is no longer used. We feel Jerry’s imaging has evolved to another level of perfection in the past two years. So in this blog, we look at some of his latest work with the NP127is.

Sh2-240 (Simeis 147) Supernova Remnant
Sh2-240 (Simeis 147) Supernova Remnant – SHO by AstroBin user Jerry Macon. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Imaging was done with the Tele Vue-NP127is APO Refractor using Tele Vue LCL-1069 Large Field Corrector through filters and ZWO ASI6200MM-PRO (3.76 μm pixels) camera on Paramount ME II mount with absolute encoders (unguided with no dithering) under Bortle 3 skies in Taos, NM. The software used was N.I.N.A. and PixInsight 1.8. Filtered sub-frames: Antlia Hα 3nm 50mm: 142×200″, Antlia SII 3.5nm 50mm: 145×200″, and Chroma 3nm OIII 50mm: 145×200″ for a total integration time of 24h.

Cataloged as Simeis 147 and Sharpless 2-240, the name “Spaghetti Nebula” is its most descriptive moniker. This nebula is huge: it spans 3° (6 full-moon widths). It is the remnant dust and gas of a massive star that ended life in a supernova explosion. In this case, it left behind a pulsar (a radio-emitting, spinning neutron star). Due to discrepancies between the estimated age of the nebula and pulsar, some posit that two supernovae explosions happened in this region some time apart. Whatever the history of the object, we can say Jerry’s Spaghetti Nebula is quite tasty to the eye.

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On the left is a Tele Vue 4x Powermate as part of a speckle interferometry system (Figure 6, Genet et al., 2014). Light curve of eclipsing binary on right (Moschner et al., 2021) included data taken with Tele Vue-102.

In this installment, we travel to Kitt Peak in the Arizona-Sonoran Desert to “speckle” binary stars and finally learn what the impressive-sounding Bundesdeutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Veränderliche Sterne group does! (If you missed our prior Tele Vue Scientific installments, you can click to read Part 1 and Part 2).

4x Powermate and Speckle Imaging at Kitt Peak
Wide shot of the speckle interferometry system installed on the 2.1-meter scope at Kitt Peak. A Tele Vue 4x Powermate is the black vertical tube hanging off the bottom of the scope. (Figure 2, Genet et al., 2014).

Introduction Often practiced by amateur astronomers doing planetary work, “lucky”  imaging was invented by professional astronomers to try to “freeze” distortion of starlight passing through our planet’s turbulent atmosphere. This is done by taking many short exposures of a target, instead of one long one. Amateurs usually align and stack the best quality photos to create an image. Professionals use their data to perform speckle interferometry involving complex math. Speckle interferometry is useful in refining the orbits of close binary stars. The introduction to a 2014 paper, “Kitt Peak Speckle Interferometry of Close Visual Binary Stars,” explains how this works.

The resolutions of conventional visual binary observations were seeing limited until Labeyrie (1970) devised speckle interferometry as a way to circumvent seeing limitations and realize the full diffraction-limited resolution of a telescope. The light from a close binary passing through small cells in the atmosphere produces multiple binary star images which, if observed at high enough magnification with short exposures (typically 10 to 30 milliseconds), will “freeze” out the atmospheric turbulence and thus overcome seeing-limitations. Although the multiple double star images are randomly scattered throughout the image (often superimposed), their separation and position angle remains constant, allowing these two parameters to be extracted via Fourier analysis (autocorrelation).

The paper says that this technique, made practical with the introduction of the CCD camera, resulted in an order of magnitude improvement in binary star data measurement over visual observations. Speckle interferometry then became the preferred technique for characterizing close binary stars.

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Tele Vue-76 Gallery: Catching Up with Diego Cartes!

Back in December 2018, we featured some spectacular wide-field, deep-sky images by Diego Cartes Saavedra in Chile. All the images were taken with his Tele Vue-76 APO refractor and Tele Vue TRF-2008 0.8x Reducer/Flattener. This combination achieves a 380mm focal length at f/5, ideal for imaging large swaths of deep sky. You can still read the original blog at Tele Vue-76: Imaging the Southern Hemisphere. At the end of that post, we wished Diego continued success in his astrophotographic journey.  Ever since, we’ve followed his progress through his postings on the AstroBin imaging hosting platform for astrophotographers. We felt it was time to “catch up” with him and post some of his latest captures in this gallery blog.

NGC 6188 ─ The Fighting Dragons of Ara (Hubble Palette)
The Fighting Dragons of Ara (Hubble Palette) by AstroBin user Diego Cartes. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Imaging was done with Tele Vue-76 APO refractor, Tele Vue TRF-2008 0.8x Reducer/Flattener (converts Tele Vue-76 to 380mm f/5), ZWO ASI 1600MM Cooled Pro monochrome camera, ZWO 7x36mm Filter Wheel (EFW), and guiding with ZWO ASI 290mm Mini ─ all riding on a Celestron Advanced VX mount. Imaged with bin 1×1 through ZWO OIII -7nm 36mm: 59×900″ (14h 45′), ZWO SII -7nm 36mm: 78×900″ (19h 30′), & ZWO H-alpha 36mm: 69×600″ (11h 30′) for an amazing total integration time of 45h 45′.

Prior generations of supernovae explosions spread dust and gas in this complicated region of space. Continued explosions compressed this material and sparked the formation of new massive stars. Stellar winds from these stars intricately sculpted the region into areas of glowing gas, reflection nebulae, and dark clouds of dense matter. The resulting dark, dusty lanes conjure up images of two dragons. Light from open cluster NGC 6193 illuminates the large blue reflection nebula where the dragons face off. The dense, blue object at the lower-right is pk336-00.1 (also NGC 6164 & NGC 6165) ─ an emission nebula formed from the expanding outer layers of a giant, hot, O-type star at the center. Around this compact object is the faded outer ring of reflected blue dust from earlier shedding events. This image was awarded an AstroBin “Top Pick” nomination.

Sharpless 2-308 (Bicolor palette)
Sharpless 2-308 (Bicolor palette) by AstroBin user Diego Cartes. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Imaging was done with Tele Vue-76 APO refractor, Tele Vue TRF-2008 0.8x Reducer/Flattener (converts Tele Vue-76 to 380mm f/5), ZWO ASI 1600MM Cooled Pro monochrome camera, ZWO 7x36mm Filter Wheel (EFW), and iOptron iGuider ─ all riding on an iOptron CEM70G EQ mount. Imaged with bin 1×1 through ZWO OIII -7nm filters 51×900″ (12h 45′) and ZWO H-alpha 66×900″ (16h 30′) for a total integration time of 29h 15′.

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2021: The Giants at Opposition!

(L-to-R) Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune will reach opposition at some point this summer and fall. The planets will be far apart in the sky but are shown together in this composite image scaled to their relative sizes on opposition date. Your actual view in the telescope will differ. Jupiter & Saturn © Chuck Pavlick (Celestron 9¼ Edge HD with 2.5x Powermate and ZWO ASI 224MC camera), and Uranus & Neptune © Dane Hankin (Celestron NexStar 6SE with 2.5x Powermate and ZWO ASI 224MC camera).
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.

An “opposition” happens on the day that Earth and an outer planet line up on the same side of the Sun. For Earth observers, a planet in opposition will rise when the Sun sets and will be in the sky all night. Around the time of opposition, the planet is brightest, practically fully illuminated, and displays the largest angular diameter for the year. Right before, during, and after opposition are prime-time for viewing and imaging a planet!
Amateur and large observatory scopes can do best when imaging planets at opposition. It was just announced this summer that amateur astronomer Kai Ly discovered an unknown moon of Jupiter while examining opposition images taken with the 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope at Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii. This news comes just in time to take some confirmation images as Jupiter opposition season is upon us now!

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Paracorr-Newtonian for Visual and Imaging to f/3! Part 2

At top is a cropped image of the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) by AstroBin user Luca Marinelli. All rights reserved. Imaged through Teleskop Service ONTC 10″ f/4 Newtonian with Tele Vue Paracorr Type 2 coma corrector and ZWO ASI1600MM Pro mono camera. At right is the Tele Vue Paracorr logo. At bottom are the placement and back focus diagram for the 3″ BIG Paracorr.

In the last blog, we covered the history of the Newtonian reflector, its inherent aberrations, and how Tele Vue’s Paracorr enlarged the “sweet spot” of fast scopes to cover the entire field. We also compared the Paracorr – Newtonian combination against more “exotic” telescope designs for imaging. If you missed it, you can read Part 1 before continuing.

Which Paracorr to Use?
Over the years there have been two optical versions of the Paracorr.  The original Paracorr came in various mechanical designs which developed as we developed new eyepieces. For this BLOG, we’ll focus on the currently available three versions of the Type-2 Paracorr: 2″ Photo/Visual, SIPS, and 3″ Photo models. Performance improvement over the original Paracorr is most noticeable on all Newtonian/Dobsonian telescopes of f/4.5 and faster.

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Paracorr-Newtonian for Visual and Imaging to f/3! Part 1

At left is the original Paracorr with the Parrot Mascot. “Strawberry Fields” was a set of stickers on Al Nagler’s backyard shed (built by Al, David, and grandpa Max!) that were used to illustrate how the Paracorr eliminates coma in the corners. Within “Strawberry Fields” are superimposed various versions of the Paracorr.
Paracorr and the Evolution of Newtonian / Dobsonian Telescopes
Chromatic aberration in a simple glass lens. In this exaggerated image, each color (wavelength) of light focuses a different distance behind the lens. (public domain image)
Invented from lenses used to make eyeglasses, refractors were the first telescopes when introduced in the 1600s. However, the early refractor builders could not avoid building scopes that displayed color fringes (chromatic aberration) around bright objects. It was Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) who figured out that white light is composed of different wavelengths that we see as colors. Each wavelength will refract (bend) by a different amount as it passed through the refractor’s objective glass. The longest wavelengths (red) refract less while the shorter wavelengths (blue) refract more. As a result, the red component of the image focuses behind the blue component. Pinpoint images and higher magnification were out of the question with these primitive scopes. Even after the cause of chromatic aberration was revealed, refractor builders didn’t have the glass types and manufacturing skills to counter it for another century. Sir Newton, however, had an idea to build a second type of telescope that avoided refraction: a reflector.

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