Tuesday Feb 10, 2009

Hacking 21st century technology with greatest generation craftsmanship

The times I spend diagnosing, testing, analyzing and documenting system problems are interesting from a scientific discovery/mystery viewpoint, but there is something especially enjoyable about creating new code (of course without any mysteries or bugs for someone else to analyze ;-) During these long winter nights, my wife knits or sews childrens things and patchwork quilts while I take apart a broken toy or patch together some gizmo which could easily replaced for a pittance. Not long ago, my wife bought a toy telescope for 1 euro at a car boot sale. Some toy telescopes have surprisingly good optics in the objective (front) lens and terribly bad eyepieces designed as marketing gimmicks to pretend that they can pull 625 power out of a 60mm objective (defying the laws of physics in this universe) This along with the flimsy mounts on toy telescopes makes them all but useless for learning to appreciate astronomy. I was about 12 when my parents gave me a Skillcraft 2" Newtonian telescope. 2" reflectors with 1" secondary mirrors are diffraction limited even if you use a shaving mirror for the primary! But shortly after Christmas 1976, the mount broke and I had a useless tube. My grandpa was a carpenter, toolmaker and metal worker so he fixed it and with rivets and brass he made the mount look like new. (as though repaired by the robots in Metropolis.) The optics of that telescope weren't great but I did manage to see the rings of saturn by using a paper Dixie[tm] cup as an adapter between this scope's eyepiece and one of my dad's good camera lenses. Because memory of a great depression lasted several generations, my grandpa spent time fixing this $20 toy and my parents hung onto that toy until 2008. I told them that the optics were never good and 20 years of corrosion of the tiny aluminized mirror wouldn't have improved anything so I recommended that they throw out the scope. But I asked if they could send me grandpa's mount. So 9 years after he died, grandpa gave his great grandkids a Christmas gift. I attached grandpa's sturdy mount to the telescope from the car boot sale. Added a 0.965 to T-Ring and T-Ring to Pentax K adapter to my Pentax \*ist DL Digital SLR and, it's almost a respectable 700mm lens: Kids telescope Moon with Kids telescope

Now I only need to wait a couple of years for Saturn to tilt at a nicer angle and my kids will have no problem seeing Saturn through this telescope.

Monday Aug 18, 2008

August 16, 2008 Lunar Eclipse from Malahide Ireland

Lunar Eclipse, Malahide Aug 16, 2008
We had about three minute long cloud break during Saturday's lunar eclipse. The photo shows the moon rising in partial earth shadow. Malahide's St. Sylvester church is in the foreground. Moments later the clouds closed in and the mosquitoes descended upon us. It was time to go home.

Wednesday Jan 16, 2008

Racine High School Sophomores discover Asteroid!

Comet Hale Bopp over racine

Congratulations to the students at Prairie High School in my home town of Racine Wisconsin for discovering an asteroid and having the opportunity giving their newly discovered asteroid "2008 AZ28" a nicer name. As far as I know, this is the first time an asteroid was discovered as part of a high school science project. Yeah I know, the photo above is of a comet. I took that photo of comet Hale-Bopp over a Racine county farm a few years back. Asteroids aren't quite as photogenic amidst the light pollution of the Chicago->Milwaukee sprawlopolis. Anyway, I suspect an asteroid is just a comet that's out of ice and out of gas.

Friday Nov 16, 2007

Comet 17PHolmes with Pentax \*IST-DL digital SLR normal lens


As an amateur astronomer with a limited budget, I normally wouldn't pay much attention to a 17th magnitude periodic comet. There are thousands of comets, asteroids and other bits of space dirt out there. Most are dimmer than the 16th magnitude which puts them far beyond the reach of my F5.6 Celestron 500mm Maksutov here on the outskirts of a light polluted city. But when on the night of October 23rd, one of those spaceballs named 17P Holmes conveniently brightened a million times to magnitude 2.5, suddenly it was worthwhile looking at.

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