Constellation Photography by Lee Coombs


One of my earliest projects when I first started doing astrophotography was photographing all the Northern Hemisphere constellations. These early photos are still some of my most used photographs whenever I give talks yet were the easiest to take. With today’s modern films, one can record all the stars visible with the naked eye in less than ten seconds!

The equipment needed for this type of photography is any camera whose shutter can be locked open for about 10 seconds, a tripod and a locking cable release (will be needed for this and many of the projects to be described in future articles).

Photographing the relatively bright stars that delineate most constellations is relatively easy. If the exposure is too long, two things can happen. One is, you begin to get star trails instead of pinpoint stars due to the Earth’s rotation. The other is, you would record so many stars that it would be difficult to pick out the constellation stars. For a tripod-mounted camera, exposure time should not exceed 10 seconds for a lens around 50mm and 15 seconds for 35mm lenses. Lens aperture should be set at between f/2 and f/2.8 or the lowest f/setting on your lens. Using a cable release to open the shutter prevents camera vibration and is a must for long exposure photographs. Just about any film can be used for this type of photography with speeds of between 200 and 1000 being the norm.

So, let’s take our first constellation photograph. Most constellations will fit in the field of a 50mm lens but a few would require a wider angle 35mm or 28mm lens. With your camera on a tripod or other solid support, frame the constellation as you would like it to appear. Set the lens to infinity and either wide open or stopped down one stop (e.g., from say f/1.4 to f/2) if sharper star images at the corners are desired. Don’t stop your lens down more than this or many stars may not be recorded. Now, open the shutter for a slow count of ten then close it. Your first constellation has now been captured. It is always a good idea to experiment with different exposure times and lens settings for a given film and location to optimize the results to your taste. When you take the film in for processing, be sure to indicate to “print all frames” or, if slides, “mount all frames” since these frames look blank to the person doing the processing. Also, take a few normal shots at the beginning of the roll so that the film cutter has a clear border to register on.

Another bonus to this type of photography is that today’s modern color films are capable of recording the colors of most stars. A photograph of the constellation of Orion shows the orange color of Betelgeuse, the blue color of Rigel and the pink color of the Orion nebula (M42) in the sword of Orion. Other star colors are also quite apparent. As you acquire your constellation collection, bring the photos to our meetings to share with the group. Most importantly, have fun!






Photographing the Sun by Lee Coombs


With an abundance of light, photographing the sun may seem like an extremely easy thing to do. It is this abundance of light, which includes harmful infrared and ultraviolet radiation, that presents the problems associated with solar photography.

As kids, many of us experimented with a magnifying glass using it to focus the image of the sun and thus concentrated the sun’s rays to produce a spot image having intense heat (primarily produced by the mostly invisible infrared rays) sufficient to ignite a piece of paper or fry an ant. Imagine what would happen of that focused image fell on a piece of film in your camera or on the retina of your eye!

The invisible high energy ultraviolet radiation could also cause permanent damage to your eye unless proper filtration is used. Using the wrong type of filter to observe the sun could allow this radiation to pass through and cause eye damage even though the intense visible rays from the sun are reduced to a comfortable level. For these reasons, a safe solar filter must be employed to reduce the harmful radiation from the sun and allow for reasonable exposure times and comfortable viewing.

Solar filters from Thousand Oaks Optical, Baader, Orion and others are of either glass or Mylar designed specifically for solar use. If you own a name brand telescope, custom filters designed to fit over the front end of the main tube are available. Schmidt Cassegrain and Newtonian reflecting scopes may employ a full aperture or an off axis type of filter. These “visual” solar filters allow you to observe and photograph the sun safely and take advantage of the high resolution that your telescope provides. Never use solar filters that are designed to be used at the eyepiece end of the telescope! A decade or so ago, these eyepiece solar filters were commonly included with many department store and imported refractor telescopes and there were many horror stories of these filters cracking from the intense heat of the focused sun while someone was looking through the eyepiece! If you have one of these filters, destroy it!

To obtain photographs of the sun that show any sunspots to good effect, a focal length of at least 1000mm (equivalent to 20X) must be used. Due to atmospheric limitations, you gain very little using telescopes having apertures over 4-inches. For more detail, higher magnifications must be employed and are usually achieved by using barlow or eyepiece projection techniques. A means to attach your cameras to the telescope where the eyepiece is usually located makes this and other types of photography most convenient. Your camera, however, must be one that the lens can be removed and replaced by this adapter. Get an adapter that also accepts eyepieces so projection photography may also be employed. Many astronomical supply companies sell these adapters for very reasonable prices. If your camera does not have a removable lens but is a reflex camera (allows you to view and focus through the lens), an afocal method can be employed where the camera is mounted on a tripod and the image of the sun projected into the camera lens which is set wide open and at infinity. The image is then observed through the camera and focused using the telescope.

The best film for solar photography is slow black and white film. The very best in this category is Kodak’s Technical Pan 2415. For the beginner, however, slow color film may also be used. It is not important whether you use slide or print film but stick to speeds of ASA100 or less to get the contrast necessary to record sunspots well.

Most solar filters produce an orange or bluish image (Mylar-type). The Baader filter material produces a more normal white image but you will have to make your own filter cell as the Mylar-type material is all that is available. Most prefer the light orange color as produced by the Thousand Oaks and others.

Since exposure times are usually quite short, you do not need a tracking mount, however, having to reposition, focus and shoot in a short period of time can be a nuisance. If your camera has through the lens metering, then start with that exposure and bracket one or two stops on either side of it. Use a cable release or the timer on your camera to make the exposures and minimize vibrations. Keep good notes so that bracketing will not be necessary once you know the best exposure for the different lens systems and films you employ. Many of the techniques you use for solar photography will apply directly to Lunar and planetary photography to be covered in a later article. The best advice is to just get out and do it. Learn from your mistakes and before long, you will be producing high quality images of the sun to be proud of.






Reflections of an Obsession by Tom Frey


Some of you probably don’t know me but I’m called Obsession #860, a truss tube Dobonian telelscope. My credentials include an18 inch f/4.5 Galaxy objective mirror with an enhanced coating and a JMI NGC MAX set of digital setting circles. I’m constructed of maple and red alder plywood. I pal around with a Telrad and 8 X 50 finder scope but really see eye to eye with my best friends, the13 mm and 17 mm Nagler eyepieces. One of our group, 8.8 mm Meade is fine but a bit arrogant, always boasting about making things bigger and better. His cousin, 26 mm Meade Series 4000 is cool. He really takes in the whole scene. But we all make a good set.

I’m almost three years old and I live in San Luis Obispo in a nice cool, dust tight enclosure most of the time. The guy that takes care of me (his name is Tom) takes me out for a monthly viewing of the stars at the Santa Margarita KOA with my friends and occasionally to Red Hill Road off of Hwy 58 where the view is truly spectacular. There are lots of other friendly scopes and owners at these gigs.

A little background on how I wound up in SLO: My predecessor was a 4.5” RFT that Tom made for his daughter, Angie, in the early 1980’s. Tom and Angie subsequently accompanied Lee Coombs, Jim Carlisle and others in CCAS to the RTMC in the 80’s. There, both Angie and Tom developed a severe case of aperture fever and realized that the 4.5” RFT was only the beginning. Angie decided to build a 10” Dobsonian out of oak-veneered plywood for her high school senior project with the help of Lee Coombs and her dad. She took this to RTMC and got honorable mention for her first telescope. As daughters move on with their lives, Angie moved on with her telescope leaving Tom with, you guessed it, the 4.5” RFT. During the many trips to RTMC, Tom developed a fascination for the truss tube Dobs that were being exhibited. But it was Pete Roebber that pushed him over the edge in 2002. One evening with Pete and his 18” Obsession
(a distant relative) at the KOA site convinced Tom that this was to be the next topic of discussion over dinner with Norma. “Uh dear…”. So I appeared on the scene in October 2002.

My friends and I do our best to provide exceedingly clear images of deep sky objects; the globular clusters, galaxies and, along with my associate the OIII filter, nebulas like Orion and the Veil. My best memories include showing folks these wonderful objects in the sky, and especially youngsters who have never looked through a telescope and hearing the “Wow…Helen come look at this” or “you mean all of those white dots are stars?”

Well, if this were “Inside the Actor’s Studio”, James Lipton would be asking me a variety of questions from carefully scripted 3×5 index cards. He might ask something like the following. What is/are your:

Favorite Eyepiece: Good ol’ Mr. 17mm Nagler
Favorite Deep Sky Object: Without a doubt, M42, the Orion Nebula; makes my truss tubes tremble.
Turn On: Dark sky locale where you can’t see your feet,
Turn Off: White flash lights at star parties and dust
Greatest goal: A Messier Marathon at Glacier Point
Your favorite curse word: Oh Firi ( Fog is rolling in)

And, if you could change yourself for the better you would…

Latch onto a ServoCat (go-to system for Dobs) so I could follow the stars..no hands

There are well over a thousand of us now. And my creator, Dave Kriege, a dentist in Wisconsin has started assembling 12.5” and 15” models. You can learn more about us HERE. Don’t forget the word “telescope” in the address. Tom had an embarrassing moment when…Oh well.

So please come visit Tom and me at the KOA campground. We’d love to show you around the sky.






My and My Scope by Ryan Koch


Greetings, after having attended a few of the wonderful star parties put on by CCAS I’ve just recently decided to become a member and was given this opportunity to introduce myself.

My name is Ryan, or perhaps more commonly known as “that guy over there with the Coronado PST,” and I currently live in Templeton. Beyond amateur astronomy I’m an avid student of philosophy (have nearly completed my BA in philosophy from Cal Poly) and the martial art of Aikido (just in case a wild animal attacks while I’m hunched over the eyepiece).

Like many I’ve had a lifelong feeling of wonder and awe at the profound beauty of the night sky, but it only occurred to me about four years ago to buy my first telescope. I started my journey then with what at the time seemed to me a massive 10” Dobsonian, which much to my parent’s horror lived where else but in the living room.

On my first night out I was enthralled by the incredible beauty of the stars I could see through it, and marveled at what I thought to be only a regular cloud in the sky blocking my view of four little stars in Orion. Oddly enough all these years later that “cloud” is still there, but fortunately so is my great love for the majesty of the universe. In that time my telescope collection has expanded, the most recent addition being my home made 16” truss Dobsonian telescope built around a Meade primary mirror, which had its first public appearance at September’s star party. The planning and building process ended up taking me about a year’s worth of sporadic work to complete. It was one of those projects that seem easy on paper, but not quite so easy in practice as I labored during hot summer days trying to make square cuts and racing to align parts as glue dried.

During its construction I had often wondered if it was really all worth it, but that wondering came to an abrupt end last winter with the telescope’s first light. Appropriately enough the first deep sky object I pointed the telescope to was the first I had ever observed, that same little persistent cloud more commonly known as the Great Orion Nebula. It was one of those observing experiences you will never forget, made all the better knowing that I was seeing it through a telescope built by my own hands.

Despite having bought and sold many telescopes over the few years I’ve been in this hobby (a bit of an equipment addict), I know the 16” will be one that I will keep for a lifetime. My passion for astronomy has only continued to grow and I’ve recently begun to explore solar H-alpha viewing with my PST, as well as getting into astrophotography. Anyway, so there is a little about myself and my telescopes, I look forward to meeting and sharing the night sky (oh, and even day sky with the solar scope!) with the rest of you in the future.

Clear Skies,
Ryan Koch






Me and My Telescopes by Jim Carlisle


I started out in amateur astronomer as a kid interested in building my own telescope. At that time, that was the way most amateurs got their scopes, especially if you were too poor to buy one. My first telescope came from the advertisement pages of Popular Mechanics magazine, when I was 10 or 11 years old, in 1949. It was two plastic lenses, for two dollars, which I stuck in the ends of a cardboard tube. I could see the rings of Saturn–better than Galileo could! I was hooked.

There was a group working on mirrors in the basement of Griffith Observatory which I attended once or twice when I was at Berendo Jr. High. I don’t think I followed through with that group, as Mother moved a lot. However, I purchased Allyn Thompson’s Making Your Own Telescope. For the next several years I dreamed about and worked on that project, grinding and polishing my own 8 inch mirror. I decided to build a fiberglass tube for it. What a mess! I was in Whittier, next to a refinery. You couldn’t see a star in the sky. I tried to find a star with my home made telescope. Instead, I pushed my eyepiece through the telescope, and heard it hit the glass. Kerplunk! My heart sunk. I had it professionally refigured and aluminized again. But I don’t think I ever had it in a telescope that I could see a star with it.

My mirror making career was a failure, but I was determined to make my own telescope. Finally, I bought a 13″ Odyssey Dobsonion which had glorious views. Prisoners at Soledad later helped me machine a unique telescope mount for my ill-fated fiberglassed/homemade mirror telescope. This unique one armed fork mount was the first of its type, and won a prize at the Riverside Telescope Makers conference. But I never really tried the optics in it.

Not having learned to avoid fiberglass, I made a black one, for a Jaegers 6″ objective. This ridiculous telescope ended up being published in Peter Manly’s book Unusual Telescopes (1991, Cambridge University Press).

About the same year as that picture was published, I received a patent on the telescope that I am most proud of, my Newtonian Binocular telescope, which is a revision of Sir John Herschell’s (son of William Herschell) invention. It is two Newtonian telescopes put together in such a way as to allow the viewer to comfortably view the sky as he/she would with a regular Newtonian. The modification was in the configuration which allowed comfortable access to Zenith regions of the sky, which was not possible with Sir John Herschell’s telescope. [See Patentedbinoscope.jpg] This won an RTMC award as well. It was covered in Astronomy Magazine, as one of the finest views of the sky for that year (1991). It was very portable for a large (10″) binocular.

During the same period, I built a telescope out of foam board. It was one of the easiest to use and most portable. I think it was the first telescope I ever saw made out of this material. Tom Frey recalls the time we took it to RTMC, and I accidentally broke off the secondary spider while travelling in his van during a stop. While travelling the back roads–at night–I was in the back of the bouncing van taping it back together. When we got to RTMC, I pulled it out of the van, and pointed it at the stars. They were pinpoints of light! Tom was floored. He has never forgotten that experience.

My last homemade telescope was a giant 17.5″ binocular, which I managed to get to a viewing at the Monthly star party. The view of Lagoon Nebula through it was fabulous.

My Wife, Pat, suggested that I clean up the garage of my telescope making stuff, and buy a nice high tech scope. I only heard “buy a nice high tech telescope.” I found an RCX 400 and later built a pier. Lee and my neighbor, Jim, helped me place it on the pier. I now remotely control it from the house, and have enjoyed the honor of doing some actual exoplanet research with it, with Tom Smith, Russ Genet, Jolyon Johnson. I cover the scope with a telescope cover and with the umbrella shown in the background. I prefer this arrangement to a shed, to lessen the daytime heat. Also, the view is not obstructed by a building.

My story is one of many failures, with a few successes. But I think my boyhood experience with the $2 lenses and cardboard tube is what hooked me.






Me and My Telescope by Dr. Russ Genet


Since I couldn’t make up my mind which of the many telescopes I’ve been involved with over the last half-century was my favorite, Aurora agreed that I could write two articles: one on my past telescopes, and the other on my current telescope. Here is number one.

I wasn’t born in a telescope, but from our ranch in Yucaipa, California, we could see the morning sun glinting off the domes of both the 48- and 200-inch telescopes on Mt. Palomar. I spent a month every summer with my grandparents who lived at the foot of Mt. Wilson. We often picnicked on the observatory grounds near the 60- and 100-inch telescopes.

My first scientific instrument was a microscope—a gift on my eighth birthday. Within hours I had removed the microscope’s eyepiece, borrowed my grandmother’s stamp-collecting magnifying glass, scrounged up a Quaker Oats box and, voila, my first telescope! The chromatic aberration was terrible but, along with the other neighborhood kids, I could see craters on the moon and even the moons of Jupiter. As a young teenager, I went one step further, buying a 3-inch objective lens from Jaegers which I assembled into a stovepipe telescope with a plumbing pipe mount. I soon discovered airplanes, rockets, and girls, however, and that was the end of telescopes until I was nearly forty (1979).

My last semester of graduate school was a bit slow, so I decided to try my hand at some personally-funded scientific research. I chose observational astronomy as an area where small dollars could still fund real research. Looking through five years of the Astronomical Journal to find observational projects that I figured I could have done myself, I found some 30 possibilities. Of these, 28 were photometric observations of variable stars. Drawing the obvious conclusion, I quickly ordered a 10-inch Cass mirror set, a 1P21 photomultiplier tube, and one of the first Radio Shack TRS-80 microcomputers. Within a couple of months the telescope, photometer, and observatory were assembled, and observations were being reduced on the microcomputer. Out popped my first light curve.

The problem with observational science was, I soon discovered, that it took several hours most every night out in the cold making boring, repetitive measurements. The fun part for me was studying the light curves, trying to discover what the stars were really doing. The answer, of course, was to have the microcomputer control the photometer, perhaps the telescope and, ideally, the entire observatory. This took some doing, but with some help from my friends the entire process was automated by 1983. Since then, I have designed or been involved with many robotic telescopes, including a couple of 1-meter telescopes.

Looking back over 50 years of telescopes, I can now say that my first telescope—the Quaker Oats Scope—was my favorite. I can still remember the excitement when the neighborhood kids gathered around, we first pointed it at the moon, and, to our total astonishment, saw craters. Telescopes have always been special to me—right up there with airplanes, rockets, and women.

Part 2

My first Quaker Oats Box telescope remains my favorite, as described last month, while my fifth telescope, the Fairborn-10, holds my record for productivity—now having automatically made photometric measurements of variable stars every clear night from an Arizona mountaintop for over two decades. Nonetheless, I am now faithfully devoted to my current telescope, a Meade classic LX-200 equipped with a Santa Barbara Instruments Group ST7 CCD camera, a high-precision CNS Systems clock, and a Dell computer with a Maxtor 200 gigabyte external hard drive. This observational system, the Orion Observatory (OO), is housed in a small tilt-off-roof enclosure that looks like a small “two-holer” outhouse when the roof is closed. Appearances notwithstanding, “OO” does not stand for the Outhouse Observatory, thank you very much.

Located just one mile from Santa Margarita Lake and some 20 miles inland from the costal ocean fogs, the Orion Observatory is blessed with clear skies most every night between April and November. As the first stars come out, I tilt off the roof and power up the equipment. The Sky moves my telescope to the night’s eclipsing binary, and I use CCD Soft to place the system in autoguide. Without another astronomical thought, I move on to other things. All this takes less than five minutes. Throughout the evening and night, the system—tracking a binary—automatically takes hundreds of one-minute CCD camera exposures, about 700 megabytes worth of data by morning when the system shuts itself off on reaching a western limit switch. It thus avoids an embarrassing cable wrap-up should I sleep in. Before breakfast I take all of two minutes to power the system down, shut the doors, and close the roof.

The real work, being done with Tom Smith at the Dark Ridge Observatory where similar observations are being made, is the reduction and analysis of our voluminous data. We are both observing short-period W UMa-type eclipsing binaries. With rotational periods of only six hours or so, we are able to obtain complete light curves every night. These are being analyzed for changes in shape due to migrating star spots, and for small changes in eclipse timings caused by mass exchange between the two stars or, if periodic, due to a Jupiter-sized planet in orbit around the binary. Although over fifty years have now passed since my first telescope, I’ve never lost interest in what, with a bit of persistence and work, these captivating instruments can reveal about the universe we live in.






Me and My Telescope by Lee Coombs


I have always had an interest in astronomy and, while in junior high school, fabricated a variety of telescopes from old eyeglass lenses or any other optics I could get my hands on. My first real astronomical telescope was one I built using a 6-inch f/8 mirror that was given to me by a friend of the family. This instrument served me well throughout high school and my early years in college. While in graduate school at Purdue University, my interest in astronomy was rekindled and I became fascinated with the hobby of astronomical photography. I read everything I could get my hands on and formulated in my mind a telescope that would serve this purpose for me.

After graduating in 1970, I took a teaching position at Cal Poly. About a year later, I ordered my “dream” instrument from Cave Optical Co., a 10-inch f/5 Newtonian on a clock driven, equatorial mount. The first two or three years I used the instrument visually during which time I moved from San Luis Obispo to Los Osos. Having my own house, I then planned to build an observatory and pursue my astrophotography dream. The mounting that the telescope came with was fine for visual work but was not beefy enough for serious photographic work.

As luck would have it, Cal Poly was in the process of replacing the old Cave Astrola observatory mount, which was used with their 12.5-inch f/8 Newtonian, with a new Byers mount to be used with a 12-inch Cassigrain. They planned to just junk the old mount which had seen many years of use (and abuse). I asked if I could use it and they were thrilled to give it to me just to get it off their hands! I spent some time fixing it up as well as I could and turning it into a very serviceable astrophotographic mount. So began my entry into the world of astrophotography. I am still using the same telescope and mount for my work and have continued to modify and improve my system to fine tune it in an attempt to get the best results that my equipment can deliver.

Even after more than 30 years of doing photography, my results are still improving and I have no plans to get another instrument since I feel I have yet to realize the full potential of what I already have. Over the years, I have had over 900 photos published in various astronomy magazines and books that have been taken with my 10-inch Newtonian. It has served my interests well and I look forward to many more years of use.






Me and My Telescope by Aurora Lipper


My telescope was given to me as a Christmas present by my husband. The telescope was the “treasure” of a Treasure Hunt I was sent on, picking up parts and pieces of the telescope along the way (the motor drive was found in the clothes dryer). I had never owned a telescope, or even a pair of binoculars. And I wasn’t really sure which end to look through when I finally did get the thing together.

My first, last, and present telescope is an Orion 8” Newtonian on an motor-driven equatorial mount. A modest first-time set-up of eighty pounds. I enjoy using a laser-sighting pointer instead of the finderscope, and I am very attached to a 17 mm Lanthanum Superwide eyepiece. As I am permanently embedded in educating the public, I find myself using my telescope just as much during daylight hours as nighttime, so the solar filter gets quite the workout. (I was initially hesitant about pointing a black telescope at the sun for eight hours during open-air events, but no problems have yet arisen!) For star parties and solo nighttime work, I find a polarizing filter for lunar observing and an O-III filter for planetary nebulae rounds out my equipment case nicely.

Enough about the equipment. What have I actually done with it? One of my first times out, I found a peaceful pasture with no fences (eighty pounds to heft, remember?), so I pulled over. I was going solo with no escort that night, and I courageously set to work. As I was working to align the telescope, I was so involved with my task so that I didn’t notice who had slowly crept upon me… a herd of cows. Not one cow, but maybe twenty of them. Surrounding me and my telescope. (Only at the time I hadn’t yet realized they were cows and had quickly abandoned my telescope with a yell and a mad dash for the car.) Thankfully, stampeding had not crossed their minds that night.

Most of my public education adventures have been during daylight hours. What a new experience it is to see the faces of my audience! I try to schedule for days with the sun and moon high in the sky, for added interest. You would not believe how many people will insist that the moon only comes out at night; only to glance upward and resume a sheepish look and a “well, that’s what I was told” attitude. When did we stop thinking for ourselves?

My telescope is a friend, a highly polished tool for inspiring young minds. Wielding it to its utmost oooh-ahhh capability allows me to stretch the imaginations and cultivate the curiosities across generations, from grandma to preschooler.

As a rocket scientist used to blowing things up myself, it has taken a lesson or two in patience to just watch things blow up from a distance. I look forward to many more nights and days of exploration and learning, both from my audience and the telescope.






Radio Astronomy by Tom Smith


radio-sunset4It all started back in late 2001 when I became interested in obtaining an Amateur Radio License so that if I moved to some remote place without phones I would still be able to get hold of help. Well, I have always had a fascination with electronics and theory so once I started reading, lots more than was ever required for a HAM ticket, I found that the majority of the interesting electromagnetic spectrum was far from what we perceive in visible light.

I became interested in searching the web for topics on radio astronomy and projects that could be put together with common, mostly free, stuff. Well, I found much more “stuff” than I expected in and around my very neighborhood.

My first attempt was to cobble together a simple yaggi and connect it to an FM radio receiver during a meteor shower. Well, that worked okay as I was able to hear a signal rise from a normally non-audible distant radio station as the ionization trails of the meteors reflected the distant signal back earthward. Okay, then came the curiosity with the sun.

I had just found a great source of information and a newsletter that I could subscribe from a group called SARA. That is the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers. You can check them out on the web at http://www.qsl.net/SARA/ and they have a newsletter that you can subscribe to if you wish. Well, getting deep into this I found that many were building radiometers using standard TVRO 3-meter dishes, the kind used for the now defunct C-Band satellites.

For several months I scanned the neighborhood streets as I jogged and finally found what appeared to be a disconnected, and apparently abandoned 3-meter wire mesh dish. I made my move the next day and confronted the homeowner asking about the dish. Well, after a few minutes conversation and a discussion about the potential “science experiment” that I wanted to perform, he was more than happy to have me haul that massive dish out of his yard and save him the trouble of disposal. Now with a dish in hand, actually I stuck it on a wooden fence post that I got from the hardware store, and the kind donation of the old receiver for the C-Band system, I put together my first radiometer.

Okay, one problem, I didn’t know how to get a usable signal that I could somehow pump into the PC for analysis. That actually didn’t take me long to figure out as I had read an article about one person constructing a simple analog output tap from a commercial, and inexpensive, satellite finder. I borrowed some feed-through capacitors from a buddy and went about converting the satellite finder into my signal source tap.

The next problem was to get that analog signal into the PC. I fiddled around with the onboard sound card and the audio input and it worked for raw signal recording but I wanted more. I wanted to see the signals changing on my PC screen in some kind of software that I could use for analysis. I searched around again on the web and found a company that provided, free back then, a simple serial interfaced 4-cahnnel A/D board and software. Of course if I’d pay the big $15 they would send me a key that would unlock the full four channels for recording and saving my data to disk. I soon found that I was intrigued with Fourier analysis and the ability to show a sort of signal spectrum in my data.

My first observing subject was, of course an easy one, the Sun. There were many small technical issues to resolve, like getting the dish to actually point at the Sun when it transited across the field of view. There were no motor drives on this baby so I have to manually position the dish to point to about the right elevation for the maximum transit height at noon local time and then hope that it was pointed close enough to catch some of the signal. Well after a couple of days and figuring out that I could use the Sun’s shadow in conjunction with the dish and feed horn I was able to point it quite accurately. I made my first full passage recording and I was off.

Next was the study of interferometers and what I could do with one of those two-dish babies. Then 4 more 3-meter dishes sprung up in the yard and with the erecting of each I got a scowl from the misses but she understood my passion for learning about stuff that others would find odd and she gave a hesitant approval.

So I never actually got a good fringe from my solar observations but it was just because I had been using the commercial feed horns at 3.7 – 4.2 GHz with the associated LNB (Low Noise Block Down Converter). To get a true interference signal requires that both the Low Noise amplifiers be down converted using a common oscillator unless one has access to much more sophisticated equipment.

You know that most of the fun was in learning about what could be done and the theory behind it. So two years later my passion switched back to my old favorite, optical astronomy and the dishes have sat dormant ever since then.

I did manage to donate one just two weeks ago to a student at Cal Poly who was working on a radio astronomy senior project. I understand that the dish is being mounted on the campus for others to use as well. I feel real good about the fun and learning process that I had building the systems and hoped that they could be put to good use by someone else. Indeed that has come to pass with this recent donation. Hum, I wonder what will strike my fancy next. Anyone want to wager a guess? I know, lets study far away binary star systems and even ones that eclipse each other.






My Brief Astronomy Adventure by Robin White


In 1980 I decided to do something that was very unusual for me at the time….read a book! The book I chose to read was “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan. I know most of you reading this now have read Cosmos at some point in your life and therefor understand the impact it could have on a young man interested in science.

Well, It had a profound impact on me! From that moment on I became an avid reader of anything scientific especially astronomy. Over the years my interest oscillated and I always had the dream but not the means of owning a quality telescope.

Skip forward to the 21st century….. My daughter is off to college and I am somehow teaching Astronomy part time at Battles Elementary School in Santa Maria without having graduated from college. I decide that it is time to take the plunge. Like all of you I research the internet until I can’t see the PC screen in focus and I come to the conclusion that the best option for me is the Meade 10” Starfinder Equatorial. After several nights of viewing and seeing other scopes owned by my new friends at the CCAS, I soon realized what I have always known about myself, that I have a very short attention span and would soon become bored of trying to locate objects on my own and view them visually. So off I go to exchange my scope for the instrument I really new I wanted from the get go….the Meade LX200 10”. Ok, now were talking. The only thing missing now is astrophotography.

My first attempt is with a Sbig STV all in one monochrome CCD system. After 2.5 years now of CCD experience I can’t think of a better system to start with. I soon came to realize what was missing was higher resolution and COLOR. So now I have graduated to a Starlight Express MX7c all in one color system with self-guiding options. Wow, I am doing now what 7 years ago could only be done in a major observatory. This system also allows me to venture into the world of film astrophotography which I am tinkering with now. Thanks to Carl Sagan, the Internet and the wonderful friends I have made through the CCAS I am fulfilling a lifelong dream. That’s my story in a nutshell.

What is CCD astrophotography?

CCD stands for Charged Coupling Device. It is basically a Digital camera on steroids. A computer chip in a shell that allows itself to be bombarded with electrons. Usually requires a PC with appropriate software to control the camera and display imaging results. Used primarily for Astrophotography! The camera is mounted to the telescope in place of an eyepiece.

What is the minimum equipment I need to do astrophotography?

A film camera that allows open shutter settings and a mount that will track.






Me and My Scope by Dave Majors


Although I am still fairly new to the club I have been interested in astronomy for many years. Born in 1958 I grew up alongside the space program. In the early 1960’s I lived in El Paso,Tx where my mom worked at White Sands Missile Range-apparently on classified projects as to the day she passed away she never would tell us what she did. I was told that I met Gus Grissom on one of his “Time In The Barrel” assignments

My first serious introduction to astronomy came in 1970. A neighbor had one of the Orange C-8s and I first saw Saturn and its rings. The sky was a deep azure that I have never seen since. Saturn looked like a little jewel that you would swear you could put your hand out and pluck out of the sky.

In 1972 I got my first telescope (a Sears $30 special) for Christmas. It wasn’t up to anything really serious but I got my introduction to the Moon and Jupiter. My mom got a good laugh when I got my first good look at the moon and exclaimed that “Wow-It really is round”. I made up my own names for the area around the Apollo 11 LZ. I call the straight between the Sea of Nectar and The Sea of Tranquility the “Straights of Apollo” and the area between Moltke and the highlands the “Armstrong Passage”.

After taking astronomy under Dr. John Bowen at Cuesta College in the late 1970s I decided to try my hand at making my own 6” Newt from a set of plans for an inverted fork equatorial from Astronomy Magazine. I wasn’t up to making my own mirror but everything else except for the secondary and spider I made from hardware store parts- such as an eyepiece holder made from a pipe flange and a sink drain. I couldn’t figure out how to properly secure the tube assembly and ended up using ropes to secure the tube to the platform. This was my first serious scope and I learned the Messier Catalog and began to follow some variable stars that Dr. Bowen had introduced me to in his class such as R CrB and R Leo (both of which I still follow). I also got to see my first Saturn Ring Plane Crossing in 1980. This one was actually a triple-crossing although I only remember seeing two of them. I also got interested in Eps Aur during its 1982 eclipse but my observations have unfortunately not survived.

I obtained a C-8 in 1985 and this turned out to be my workhorse for the next twenty-three years. I tried my hand at photography and got some decent images. I started to follow my variables in a more regular and systematic fashion when I found some good deep sky sites out behind Ft. Hunter Ligett. I tried experimenting with some digital setting circles but either I put them on wrong or the technology was still immature -or both. Anyway the performance was inconsistent. I went everywhere with this scope and it got pretty beat up being knocked around on forest service roads and the legs became rusty crusty from damp ground. Once at a school sidewalk astronomy in Paso Robles CCAS member Gus Nelson commented that with my little dings in the casing my C-8 looked the way all scopes should-very heavily used. In 2004 I started on the Herschel 400 list. I got all but 40 which I could not positively identify in my C-8. By 2008 the corrector on the front end had become pitted and the coating worn by years of exposure to Morro Bay air. It was time to upgrade

In the fall of 2008 I got my latest pride and joy-my 12” Orion Intelliscope. With this one I was able to easily find those 40 Herschel 400 objects that had eluded me with my C-8. I am now able to follow many of my dimmer variables through their entire cycle. My personal best observations have been R CrB at mag 14.7 and NGC 7320 in Stephen’s Quintet (the latter at the Dancing Deer Ranch site on Jun 5 2010)

After attending a couple of the CCAS monthly events I joined in the fall of 2009 so as of this writing I am completing my “Rookie” year. I have found our monthly star parties at Star Hill the highlight of the month and have begun to schedule my camping trips to avoid missing these.

Dark Skies and Good Hunting!

David W. Majors
12” Intelliscope






Fun with the Sun by Michael Spingler


When I was 12 years old I had my first view of the sun with my homebuilt 8” Newtonian. Ever since that day I have been hooked on solar astronomy.

My first solar filter incorporated a Hershel wedge design. This system used a non-aluminized diagonal which was inserted into the eyepiece holder, and very dark neutral density filter. The non-aluminized diagonal transmitted approx. 5% of telescopes light to the neutral density filter. Since 5% of the available light (and heat) were still going through the neutral density filter, and 100% of the available light passes through the optical tube assembly before reaching the filter, this solar filter design was not very safe. The neutral density filters were known to heat up and crack (mine did), allowing damaging sunlight to enter the eye. The Hershel wedge has largely been replaced by solar filters that are placed over the front of the optical tube assembly, filtering light before it passes through or is reflected off any optical surface.

Next I bought a Thousand Oaks Type 2 solar filter. Although this filter was a vast improvement of the Hershel wedge filter, this filter gave a false orange-yellow solar image. This filters performance is also dependent upon the accuracy of the optical surface which has been known to vary widely from one filter to another.

After doing some research, several reports indicated that the new Baader solar filter was superior to all other white light filters. I decided to buy one for the C-8 that was on loan to me from CCAS. I was so pleased with the filters performance that I bought another Baader filter for my new TEC 10” f12 Maksutov. Images of the sun in white light were the best that I had ever seen. The Baader filter contains a film surface that does not affect optical performance; a great advantage to using this type of filter design. Because of the superior optical performance, faint details like faculae and granulation were much more apparent.

There was one area of solar astronomy that I had always longed to explore — viewing the sun in Hydrogen Alpha. Twenty four years ago I had my first view of the sun in Hα at Mt. Pinos. I was determined that some day I was going to purchase a Hα filter system. One year ago this month I finally purchased a Daystar Hα filter system and I have been having a wonderful time viewing the sun on a regular basis. Next month I will share some of my experiences viewing the sun with my Daystar Hα filter.

Now let’s address the exciting world of Hydrogen Alpha viewing. This article is not going to be very comprehensive in scope since I am going to refer all of you to what I consider to be the best web sites available regarding Ha viewing and technology.

After getting my first view of the sun in Ha over 20 years ago, I decided that some day I was going to get a Ha filter for my telescope. Each year at the Riverside Telescope Conference I observed with a man who had a 2” f/30 refractor that was used exclusively for Ha viewing. While other people were forming lines around the latest and greatest big Dob’s every night, I felt that I had the best seat in the house viewing the sun through this little scope each day of the conference. The next year I could not wait until I got back to the conference to again view the sun through this marvelous little instrument. It was at this conference that told one of our CCAS members, “If I could only view one type of astronomical object, it would be the sun in Ha”.

Finally in 2002 after more than 20 years of waiting, I finally got my dream system; a Daystar .6A ATM Ha filter system! This last year has been one of my most exciting of all of my 39 years of astronomy. One thing that makes Ha viewing so exciting is that unlike most other astronomical objects that show little if any change over the course of time, the sun is constantly changing! As I am writing this article my scope is tracking the sun in my backyard; and I am going to see quite a difference in solar detail when I return to my scope.

(Oct 9, 2003 3:00pm PDT. I have just returned from my telescope after taking a short break from writing this article. During the short time that I have been writing this article a very small prominence that had just developed has exploded into a HUGE prominence; the largest prominence that I have ever seen! It is approximately 70,000 miles long tip to tip, and is rising about 50,000 miles above the surface of the sun.)

I have often been asked how I chose my particular filter. Ha filters come in various bandwidths. One can purchase filters that have a bandpass as high as 1.0 ångström, to a low of .2 ångström. High bandpass filters are much less expensive, are excellent for showing prominences around the solar limb, but are very poor for showing surface detail. Low bandpass filters are much more expensive, show excellent surface detail, and still show fairly good prominence detail around the solar limb. I chose a 0.6 ångström filter which allows me to see excellent surface detail and still very good at revealing prominence detail.

When one is comparing one Ha filter system to another one has to be very careful to use the same power in each telescope. I have often seen Coronado Instruments set up several of their Ha systems using a short focus refractor and a low power eyepiece to yield approximately 40 power. The views are very sharp and have very high contrast due to the small image size and the minimal effects of the atmosphere at low power. One can look at these systems and then go to another filter system which is using a more modest power (say 100x) and come away with the belief that the first system outperforms the second high power system. This is equivalent to a person looking through one telescope at Jupiter at 200x on a night of average seeing and then going to another telescope and view Jupiter at 500x and coming away with the belief that the second scope was a poor performer because of the large boiling images.

I am going to predict that just like 1980’s which was the decade that the dobsonian telescope came into prominence, and the 1990’s was the decade of the refractor, the first decade of the 21 century is going to be the decade of Ha solar viewing. Do what ever you need to do to get one of these marvelous Ha filters systems. Starting at less than $1,000 , I promise you that it will revolutionize your astronomical viewing.

Editor’s Note: For Baader information, click here. There you will find information on how to make your own solar filter using their (around $10) film for your telescope.






Moments in my Professional Astronomical Career I Would Just as Soon Forget


by Dr. Ray Weymann

I have done both theoretical and observational research and there have been some awkward moments in both. Early in my career I was a coauthor on a paper which involved computing the interior structure of the sun throughout its life. Standard practice in scientific research publications is to submit your paper to the Editor of a professional journal. The Editor in turn sends the paper out to be ‘refereed’ by an anonymous reviewer who passes judgment on whether the paper should be published and makes suggestions for modifications. In this case, the report was favorable but suggested some changes which I thought were nit-picking. I made these corrections for the Editor and in a separate letter to my coauthor listed them but also expressed my minor irritation about the referee as well as making a few snide remarks about the Editor, who, I thought should have ignored the referee’s comments. No big deal—BUT— I mixed the two letters up and sent the ‘snide’ one to the Editor and the ‘nice’ one to my colleague. I should point out that the Editor was not exactly Mr. Nobody, but Prof. S. Chandrasekar, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics and one of the most famous astrophysicists of the middle of the last century. As a recent phrase has it, (which will be well known to those of you who follow politics): OOPS!

An embarrassing observational moment occurred when I was observing at the University of Arizona’s 90″ telescope on Kitt Peak. I was working with a colleague and good friend, Dr. Harland Epps, one of the premier designers of astronomical instruments. Harland had designed a new instrument for the telescope and we were making the first long exposure with this instrument (it was a kind of spectrograph called an ‘echelle spectrograph’). I need to explain that this was long before the age of electronic detectors like CCDs, so sensitive photographic plates were used. You loaded the plate into the light-tight plate holder, then mounted the plate holder at the focal plane of the instrument, pulled the dark slide, and after 2 or 3 hours went back to the dark room to develop the plate and see how your exposure had turned out. In this case, after the exposure, when I went to retrieve the plate holder I found–a gaping hole. I thought that Harland had put it in and he thought that I had put it in, while all the while it was warming itself in the dark room. Another ‘oops’ moment.

A third recollection could have turned out to be more embarrassing than it did, but also involved photographic plates. I was just beginning to start a program of observational research a couple of years after getting my PhD at Princeton, which emphasized theoretical astrophysics. So, as a novice observer I was looked upon by the veteran observers with great skepticism and as an ‘all thumbs’ theoretician who probably didn’t know one end of the telescope from the other. I was scheduled for a few nights at the Lick Observatory using their (then) fairly new 120″ telescope with, again, a spectrograph using photographic plates. These photographic plates were made by Kodak and often came only in large 8″ by 10″ sizes. The plate holder for this instrument required a smaller thin piece, so it was necessary to use a plate cutter to cut the glass to size. Of course this had to be done in complete darkness. The cutter was intended to produce a straight scratch along the glass surface. If all went well, applying appropriate pressure on either side of the scratch produced a satisfying “snap” sound and a nice clean cut. But all did not go well. There was a horrifying splintery sound which I knew (and confirmed by feel) resulted in a jagged, ragged, and useless piece. I tried several times with the same result and was beginning to panic. The sun had set and it wouldn’t be long before it was time to start observing. What do to? I finally decided to swallow my pride, call one of the veteran observers to help me out and face the inevitable derision of the greenhorn theoretician-turned-observer. The gentleman I got on the other end of the phone was Dr. George Herbig, a very distinguished spectroscopist (and still active now at the University of Hawaii). I explained the problem and he came over and I prepared for mortification. I listened for the first crisp snap–but heard the same splintery sound. And again. And again. I must admit though that the sound was music to my ears. It turned out the cutter had a bad diamond and was also in need of some subtle adjustments. But George did save the day (or rather the night) and I was able to get some wonderful observations and gain some experience as on observer.

Of course I have made more goofs than these, both in the area of theory and observing. So, we are all human and make our share of mistakes. The main thing is to learn from them and not repeat them, a lesson not only for astronomers but for life in general.






Great Moments in Astronomy by Walt Reil


As many astronomers can tell you, holding star parties and heading into unknown territory to perform your stargazing can sometimes throw you a curve ball and present rather interesting and challenging situations. Aurora asked that I relate any events that might make for interesting reading for CCAS readers, so here are several items that immediately come to mind.

I am 58 years old and have been involved in amateur astronomy for approximately 10 years, ever since attending a CCAS Santa Margarita Lake KOA star party and seeing Saturn for the first time though Kent Wallace’s monster 20″ Dobsonian telescope. Listening to Kent describe the objects in the night sky is an experience that is so enjoyable, he exudes his excitement, fascination and wonder of it all. Like so many astronomers, I was immediately hooked, mesmerized by realizing that Saturn was actually there and looked like the pictures, but far grander and more energizing in person. Wow! Look at the rings! Unbelievable! So, I slowly became outfitted with a telescope and immediately became CCAS president for about 6 years. It was a thrill helping guide KOA star parties and share it all with the public, especially children.

A number of years ago, when Mars was to be at its closest-ever to Earth, CCAS astronomers were eagerly looking forward to the Saturday star party occurring at that time. We all wanted to see Mars up close and personal in our telescopes. As some of you probably already know, the KOA star party hill is not very big and can get crowded quickly. Well, on the Friday before the star party, I was leisurely reading the Telegram Tribune newspaper and stumbled upon a large photo of a telescope and story about Mars being at its closest and that a CCAS star party would occur Saturday night at the KOA, which the public was welcome to attend. When I saw that article, the hair stood up on my neck, my heart began racing, I think I stopped breathing, and my brain began spinning as I quickly realized what this could mean. Sure enough, my worst, yet exciting, fears did come to pass.

I was normally scheduled to direct traffic Saturday night before it got dark. What happened was unbelievable, for the CCAS and the KOA. Literally hundreds of cars began arriving, filled with people of all ages and dogs. They were coming from Santa Maria to Fresno to see MONSTER MARS! I directed traffic for 3 to 4 hours solid, putting cars all over every empty square inch in the KOA campground area, and up and down the main road for hundreds of yards!

Star hill was absolutely JAMMED with hundreds of people, lined up about 50 deep at our collection of ten telescopes. It was truly a spectacular situation, showing the sky to so many people (and their dogs). I think the last person left close to midnight, then our small group of CCAS astronomers got a breather and spent another couple hours observing Mars and other objects. It was a gorgeously warm evening, so it was absolutely perfect. Lesson learned … be careful what you advertise!

On another occasion, a couple years ago I obtained a new Orion SkyQuest 10″ diameter Dobsonian telescope and was anxious to experience “first light” with it. So, I decided to go to the highest point in SLO County, on top of the Caliente Mountain ridge way out in California Valley near Soda Lake. It was a spectacular day with crystal clear weather as I made the two-hour drive out Hwy 58 from Atascadero. 5,000 feet is a nice elevation. And, I was planning to spend the night.

I arrived and got all set up for the night. The sun was about to set, so I had dinner and took a walk around the hill top. I could not have asked for more perfect weather. Not a breath of wind, warm and you could see a hundred miles in all directions. As I was preparing to begin observing, I sat down for a few minutes to absorb it all, taking in the breathtaking beauty. I was stunned and my heart began racing as I was looking to the southwest just after the sun had set, to see the gorgeous arc of a Delta II rocket launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base, then hearing the rumble of the exhaust blast. What an incredible experience! I was all set for a long night of observing. Or so I thought.

As it was getting dark and I was studying my star charts and beginning to view objects, I felt a breath of a breeze. Pretty nice, being on the slight cool side. I was in Seventh Heaven. But it quickly ended, as the wind began to increase. After about 45 minutes things were starting to fall over and blow off my tables. I realized that I might be in trouble. Sure enough, I quickly closed up everything and stuffed it under and in my truck. Then I retreated inside the bed of the truck (under a hard-top canopy) to sleep for the night. I did not get much sleep that night because the wind rapidly turned into very strong gale force, buffeting the truck and sage brush hitting the truck every now and then. For most of the night it felt like a freight train was blasting by. Ah …. what an enjoyable night! Not!

The next morning was super calm, not a breath of wind. Bright sun and crystal clear blue sky. I enjoyed the morning for a couple hours, again taking a long walk and studying the many valleys below through my binoculars. Then made the picturesque drive back home. The country really is spectacular from Caliente Ridge, seeing the while Soda Lake far below and mountain ridges all around. I loved every minute of that solo trip. But did not care much for the lousy stargazing evening. Lesson learned … be prepared for anything.

My last very short story is this. Please be very careful when walking around the KOA star hill, as you may encounter some rather interesting animals, which I have experienced so far without any problems. First, watch out for skunks. Leave them alone and make some noise to scare them back to their home. Second, watch very carefully on the ground during daylight to be sure you do not step on a Tarantula, as you might sometimes see several of them as you walk around the KOA’s dirt roads. They will not hurt you. Just help guide them off the roadway to help protect them. They are precious and fascinating creatures.

So, have a great time as you venture into our beautiful country to be involved in astronomy. Share it with family and friends, having them look into the heaven’s to marvel at the magnificent universe in which we are so very fortunate to live. Above all, when possible, show the night sky to children and have them look through telescopes, encouraging them to “Reach for the Stars”!






Me and “My” Scopes by Dr. Ray Weymann


Please notice the quotation marks around the title, because none of the telescopes that have been a part of my life have been “mine”–I have never owned one!

Lets begin in 1946, when I was a 6th grader in Miss Weber’s class. She was an enthusiast about science teaching, especially astronomy. (Too bad there are not more like her today.) So, when she found out that I was already hooked on astronomy even at that age, she decided that the class would build a telescope and she somehow rounded up the funds. I was “project scientist”. I sent away to some mail-order place for a very inexpensive simple lens and eyepiece. I went to a sheet metal shop and had them make us the tube. To mount the lens in the tube I designed a wooden “cell” and went to my Uncle’s house where he had small shop in his garage. I proudly took out the precious lens and as I was handing it to him, to my horror it slipped out of my hands and headed for the cement floor and disaster. If you have seen the recent ads for Southwest Airlines (“Want to get away?”) you will understand my feelings at that instant. But lady luck smiled on me, and the lens landed unharmed on a large pile of sawdust on the cement floor. The telescope was completed and a few weeks later Miss Weber’s class got our first look at Saturn’s rings–a sight that I still never tire of.

Fast forward some 32 years to Tucson Arizona, where at the U. of A. my predecessor as Director, Bart Bok, had overseen the construction of our 90″ telescope. Using that instrument my colleagues and I took the spectra of the “double quasar” which established it as the first known gravitational lens. Just a few weeks later, by one of those serendipitous events so common in astronomy, I was carrying out a routine survey of quasar spectra with my graduate student when the seeing quickly improved from about 2 arc seconds to better than 1 arc second. To our amazement, the single fuzzy image of the quasar we had been observing broke up into 3 distinct closely spaced images, but worsened again before we could get spectra of them individually.

Fortunately, just a short time before, the Multiple Mirror Telescope (photo below) on Mount Hopkins had just been commissioned and we were scheduled for two nights with that telescope and the its spectrograph. Since I was heavily involved in the birth of that telescope I should say a few words about its history and novel design. Through his connections with the military, Dr. Aden Meinel (then in Tucson) acquired six 72-inch mirror blanks and he and Dr. Frank Low, an infrared astronomer, conceived the idea of putting them together as a single telescope but specialized as a low-cost infrared telescope. It became clear to me that the same concept could also yield a powerful general purpose telescope, and in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution we were able to raise funds from the federal government and the state of Arizona to build such an instrument.

At the time the “MMT”, as we named it, incorporated several novel designs, aside from the unique idea of combining the light from 6 separate mirrors into a single focus: It was the first large telescope to utilize an alt-azimuth mount, which required very sophisticated computer control, and it was also the first large telescope to be housed in an enclosure which co-rotated with the telescope. This could be very disorienting if you entered the building facing east and went out the same door to find yourself nearly stumbling off the steep western slope of Mt. Hopkins. But, back to the observation: we succeeded in getting spectra of the 3 separate images of the “triple quasar”, thus confirming the 2nd known gravitational lens. Since that time the 6 separate mirrors of the MMT have been replaced by a single 260″ mirror, though it is still called the “MMT”!

I should mention two more of “my” telescopes I have been fortunate enough to use and do interesting science with. First, the Hubble Space Telescope, for which I was on two of the instrument design teams. The first of these was for a high resolution spectrograph. With this instrument my colleagues and I discovered the so-called “low redshift Lyman alpha forest”, but to explain the significance of that discovery would take a separate article and/or a CCAS talk, so I won’t attempt it here. The second such instrument was “NICMOS”, a near-infrared camera. With NICMOS our team took what at that time was the most sensitive infrared image available in a section of the famous area of the sky known as the “Hubble Deep Field”. One of our goals was to identify possible extremely distant and newly forming galaxies. We found one such promising candidate and later confirmed it as mentioned below. Of course one doesn’t “observe” with HST but instead copies to your home computer (using secure passwords to prevent pirates from stealing your data!) the files at the HST science center. I must confess it isn’t really as much fun as observing at a telescope, but the data is wonderful.

The confirmation of the distant galaxy candidate mentioned above was made at one of the Keck telescopes (10m or 400″ diameter mirror) on Mauna Kea. Access to this telescope is jealously guarded by Cal Tech and the U. of California, but through the good offices of a friend, the Director of the Keck Observatory, we were able to obtain a spectrum of this object and confirm that it was a proto-galaxy, the most distant known at that time. The Keck telescope is an awesome instrument, located at nearly 14,000′ on lunar-like Mauna Kea. But “observing” at the Keck telescope almost makes me blush with shame: In the lush setting of the town of Waimea on the “big island” one observes remotely from a comfortable control room at 2400′, a far cry from the privations of a cold, windy night guiding a long exposure in the “good old days”

This already-too-long tale doesn’t leave room to describe two other “old friends” I have used–the 200″ Palomar telescope, and the 100″ telescope on Mt. Wilson: the telescope with which I made my first observations as a professional astronomer when I was a post doctoral fellow in 1960. Finally, I will leave to a talk I promised Walt Reil I would give to the CCAS on “Observing with Magellan” (photo left) –the new pair of 260″ telescopes at the Carnegie Observatories Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

So, those are some of “my” telescopes. I think it may not be appreciated how much all astronomers–professionals and amateurs alike–owe to the skill and dedication of those engineers, scientists and administrators who have conceived, designed, constructed and fought for funding of, all these wonderful telescopes, along with the powerful instruments and detectors without which they would not be effective. Too often, credit goes to those who made the discoveries, when in truth without these instruments they would never have been made. And still more powerful instruments are in the offing and with them even more amazing discoveries will be made.

~Dr. Ray Weymann






Meet our CCAS Members!


ccas9As a CCAS member, you can borrow quality club telescopes for free, have the opportunity to participate in astronomical events, be exposed to fascinating topics and occasional guest speakers, and get a reduced subscription rate to popular astronomy magazines.

No previous experience required!

If you’re fascinated by the stars as we are, you are in the right place. Find out more about becoming a member of CCAS by clicking here.