Archive for the 'astronomy' Category

Led Astray By (A) Photon – WordPress, Jetpack, and The Perils Of Embedded Clear Sky Charts (And Other)

Friday, May 1st, 2015

A re-post from the CNY Observers website (www.cnyo.org).

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

CNYO has been anticipating our first observing session at Beaver Lake for this year, with the first of our two Spring dates (April 23rd) already clouded/snowed out. The forecast for April 30th hadn’t looked too much better based on Monday estimates, leaving us to wonder if attendees would be stuck indoors with a lecture instead of outdoors with the rest of the universe.

I woke up early on the 30th to blue skies and a very bright Sun, certainly already exceeding the expectations of the past few days. But what of the afternoon and evening?

As I am prone to do on the day of an observing session, I headed right for the CNYO Cheat Sheet, where one can find the sky conditions for a large part of Central New York in the form of several Clear Sky Charts (CSCs – and, based on the different cloud cover at different locations, even begin to piece together how the skies at your location may change). The morning’s CSCs are shown in the image below.


You will note that the bars to the far left (representing the morning) are not the dark blue squares that would indicate an almost cloud-less sky. As the red text at the bottom notes, sometimes the CSC images from a previous session are still sitting in your browser’s cache and, to make sure you’re looking at the newest data, you should hit Page Reload. Well, 5 or 10 of those didn’t change matters at all. I clicked on the Downtown Syracuse image in order to see what the actual CSC website said about today. An almost perfect band of dark blue – prime observing weather (when the wind is mild, that is).

So, what happened?

The first clue came when I right-clicked on one of the images in order to see just the image in my browser. When you do this, you should see something like: cleardarksky.com/c/SyrcsNYcs0.gif?1

What I saw for the link was the following: i1.wp.com/cleardarksky.com/c/SyrcsNYcs0.gif?1

Something is afoot in Boötes.

A quick google search indicated that the i1.wp.com (which might also be i0.wp.com, i2.wp.com, maybe more) site is, in fact, an image (maybe other) repository for wordpress.com that is supposed to speed up your page downloading process (by being faster than the same image you might load somewhere else) and is called upon, specifically, by Photon – one of the functions built into Jetpack (itself a large suite of plugins for WordPress that very generally make my life much easier by providing Site Stats, Contact Forms, etc.). That said, this is no good for the Clear Sky Chart, as you don’t know how many days ago that i1.wp.com image was saved (and it clearly ain’t today’s!).

To disable this feature (if it was turned on, anyway), go to your WordPress Dashboard and click on Jetpack on the right-hand side.


At present, Photon is the first clickable item at upper left. Click on “Photon” to reveal the following image:


Click on Deactivate and go back to your Clear Sky Chart-containing page:


You’ll note that the Clear Sky Charts are fixed (revealing an excellent day for Solar and Night Observing) and you’ll also see that the NASA/SOHO image is different, the SWPC/NOAA image is different, and event the Wunderground logo is different. Quite the site fix!

If you have the same problem, I hope the above fixes it. If you know of a site running the Clear Sky Chart and it doesn’t reflect what you see outside, let the site admin know.

CNYO Observing Log: The Winter Of Lovejoy – Green Lakes, Jamesville Beach, And New Moon Telescopes HQ – January 9 to 14, 2015

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

A re-post from the CNY Observers website (www.cnyo.org).


Caption: Comet Lovejoy imaged on January 10th by the ever-impressive CNY astrophotographer Stephen Shaner. From his CNYO Facebook Group post: Last night was the first in over three months it was clear enough to shoot, but it worked out well because Comet Lovejoy is at its peak. Here’s a quick process of about 40 minutes of exposures between 8-9 PM as it crossed the meridian. FOV is roughly three degrees. Distinct pale green coma in the eyepiece but unable to make out a tail or see it naked eye.

The 2015 skies are going to be full of comets. Well, at least six, to be exact, that will be either naked eye- or binocular-visible. That’s still quite a few to those keeping track! The amateur astronomy community has taken heroic efforts to scientifically identify and track new comets in the last, say, 400 years. The rise of, for instance, the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (or panSTARRS) as a method for finding and tracking both comets and near-earth asteroids (or, lumped together, “objects,” for which you might hear the abbreviation “NEOs”) has greatly increased the number of accounted-for fuzzy objects in our fields of view (and provided us a giant leap in our existential risk assessment infrastructure to boot). Quite simply, we’ve more + better eyes on the skies, meaning we’re bound to continue to find more and more comets and asteroids. You can even subscribe to NASA twitter feeds that announce the passing-by of these hopefully passers-by (see @AsteroidWatch and @NasaNEOCam).

The discovery of NEOs may or may not qualify as a modern John Henry-ism, as amateur astronomers are still discovering objects at a decent pace thanks to improvements in their own optics and imaging equipment. Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, is one such recent example discovered by famed modern comet hunter Terry Lovejoy (who has five comets to his name already).

Comet Lovejoy And More In CNY

Comet Lovejoy has made the winter sky that much more enjoyable (and below freezing cold that much more bearable) by reaching peak brightness in the vicinity of the prominent winter constellations Taurus and Orion. Visible soon after sunset and before the “really cold” temperatures set in (after 10 p.m. or so), Lovejoy has been an easy target in low-power binoculars and visible without equipment in sufficiently dark skies. Now on its way out of the inner solar system, its bright tail will shrink and its wide coma (that gives it its “fuzziness”) will disappear as the increasingly distant Sun is unable to melt Lovejoy’s surface ice. Those of us who dared the cold, clear CNY skies these past few weeks were treated to excellent views, while the internet has been flooded with remarkable images of what some have described as the most photographed comet in history (a title that will likely be taken from it when a few other comets pass us by during warmer nights this year).


Caption: The tiki lounge at Green Lakes State Park, 9 January 2014.

The first observing session around Syracuse this year happened at Green Lakes State Park on January 9th. Bob Piekiel, one of CNY’s best known and most knowledgable amateur astronomers, had his Celestron NexStar 11 in the parking lot behind the main office, which was fortunately kept open for attendees hoping to warm up between views. To Bob’s C11 was added my Zhumell 25×100’s, providing less magnification but a wider field of view to take in more of the comet’s core, tail, and nearby stars.


Caption: A very prominent Orion and arrow-ed Comet Lovejoy from the Green Lakes parking lot. Photo by Kim Titus.

The Friday night skies were only partially on our side, offering a few short-lived views of the Orion Nebula and Lovejoy. Jupiter was just bright enough to burn through some of the cloud cover to our East, giving us slightly muddled but otherwise decent views of it and its four largest satellites for about 10 minutes. By our 9 p.m. pack-up and departure, the skies were even worse – which is always a good feeling for observers (knowing they didn’t miss a chance for any additional views by packing up early).

The night of Saturday, January 10th turned into a much better night for observing, offering a good opportunity for some long-exposure images to try to capture Lovejoy just past its luminous prime. The following image was taken from one of the parking lots at Jamesville Beach – the same spot where Larry Slosberg, Dan Williams and I observed the nova in Delphinus. Light pollution aside from the 30 second exposure, the brightest constellations are clearly visible and a fuzzy, bright green star is clearly visible in the full-sized image. Click on the image below for a larger, unlabeled version of the same.


Caption: An array of Winter’s finest from Jamesville Beach, 10 January 2014, 8:00 p.m. Click on the image for a full and unlabeled version.

The imaging continued in Marcellus on January 10th, with Bob Piekiel producing a zoomed in view of Lovejoy.


Caption: An unmistakable view of Comet Lovejoy. Image by Bob Piekiel.

As with all astronomical phenomena (excluding solar viewing, of course), the best views come from the darkest places. A third Lovejoy session was had up in West Monroe, NY on Wednesday, January 14th with fellow CNYO’er Ryan Goodson at New Moon Telescopes. Putting his 27” Dob to use, the green-tinted Lovejoy was almost bright enough to tan your retina. With dark skies and no observing line, we then attacked some subtler phenomena, including the Orion Nebula in Orion, the Eskimo Nebula in Gemini, and the Hubble Variable Nebula in Monoceros. The images below are our selfie with Lovejoy and the best of Winter, a snapshot near the zenith (with Jupiter prominent), and the Northern sky (click on the images for larger, unlabeled versions).


Caption: Ryan and I pose for 30 sec, our fingers completely missing the location of Lovejoy (red arrow). Click for a larger view.


Caption: Some of Winter’s finest from NMT HQ, including a prominent Jupiter just to the west of (and about to be devoured by) the constellation Leo. Click for a larger view.


Caption: A view of NMT’s opening to the North, including Cassiopeia at left (the sideways “W”), the Big Dipper in the middle, and Jupiter at the right. Click for a larger view.

A Clothing Thought…

As we can all attest to, the nighttime temperatures this month have oscillated between bitterly cold and painfully cold. The pic of my Element’s thermometer at my midnight departure from West Monroe read -12 F (and the tire inflation warning light stayed on until I hit 81 South), yet with the exception of the tips of my toes, I wasn’t very bothered by the cold.


2015jan22_nmt_layersIt’s one of the cold realities of amateur astronomy – you never realize how cold it can get outside until you’re standing perfectly still at a metal eyepiece. The solution is as old as the sediment-grown hills – layers! The top half of my outfit for the evening is shown below, featuring six (yes, six) layers from turtleneck to final coat. My bottom half featured three layers that decorum permits me from showing here. For those wondering how the blood still flows below the belt, the answer is simple – buy yourself an outer layer two or three sizes larger than you usually wear. In my case, my outer coat’s a bit baggy and my outer pants are a very tightly-meshed pair of construction pants with a 40” waist (from a trip to DeJulio’s Army & Navy Store on Burnet Ave. in Syracuse).

And don’t worry about color coordinating. The nighttime is the right time for the fashion unconscious.

“Stu’s Last Lesson” – Sky & Telescope’s Focal Point For December, 2014

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

As posted on the CNY Observers website (direct link).

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

2014oct23_stuDr. Stuart Forster (a.k.a. STU – full caps) was one of the THE fixtures in the CNY amateur astronomy scene and his name still comes up regularly, often as part of some pearl of wisdom being imparted to new observers and seasoned members alike (I’ll leave you to read the top of the Stuventory page for more info about STU and to check out links to some of his images on the Syracuse Astronomical Society website). The trials and tribulations of Ryan Goodson and myself to handle the massive equipment collection we’ve come to refer to as the “Stuventory” is olde hat to local observers who’ve kept track of the process from a far. The sorting, documenting, and distribution of the Stuventory has taught us both about how very unique the hobby of amateur astronomy can be when you step beyond the 1×7 mm binoculars in your head and effort the collection of more and more photons.

To that end, and to prod others to recognize the complexities of sorting through the mound of gear inhabiting their basements, garages, and domes by those who follow when the unexpected happens, I am honored to have an article on the topic, “Stu’s Last Lesson,” included as the December 2014 Focal Point in Sky & Telescope magazine.


The article can be distilled to a single, all-encompassing message – Imagine you not being around to help your family unload your astro gear, then take steps to simplify their lives. Think about all the boxes, hex wrenches, leftover focusers and brackets from your modifications to other scopes, eyepieces (eyepieces!), cables, controllers, everything, and organize it all, either in a notebook or with a bunch of pics and notes on your smartphone.

If you read the article and have other ideas on how to help organize your equipment, by all means let others know (post a comment here, write a letter to the editor with your ideas, start a cloudynights.com thread, etc.). In the meantime, I hope the article gives you the impetus to block out a Saturday afternoon listening to astronomy.fm as you commit your astronomical obsession to pen and paper (or keyboard and monitor). Better still, I’m pleased that readers of Sky & Telescope (of which he had the full collection back to 1964) will learn a little bit about one of CNY’s great amateur astronomers.

Remembering The Godfather Of Solar Astronomy, Robert “Barlow Bob” Godfrey

Friday, June 20th, 2014

As appeared on the CNY Observers & Observing website on 20 June 2014:

The field of amateur astronomy hosts many different personalities. Some love to know anything and everything about astronomy equipment. Some prefer the study of astronomy through the ages. Some enjoy the banter around a large scope with others at midnight. Some enjoy the quiet solitude of a small dome or open field. Still others enjoy setting their equipment up in the middle of the chaos of a large group of people to show them the sights. Some take their love of outreach well past the observing field, taking it upon themselves to educate others by taking what they know (or don’t yet know) and making it accessible to the larger audience of amateurs and non-observers alike.

Amateur astronomy has seen a few key players pass this year, starting with John Dobson this past January and the noted comet hunter Bill Bradfield just a week ago. Both are noteworthy in their passing in that, amongst a large, large number of astro-hobbyists, their names are held in higher esteem because of their unique contributions to amateur astronomy. In the case of Bill Bradfield, he singly was responsible for finding 18 comets that bear his name, making him responsible for helping map part of the contents of our own Solar System from his home in Australia (reportedly taking 3500 hours to do so). In the case of John Dobson, he not only synthesized many great ideas in scope building with his own to produce the class of telescope that bears his name, but he also made it part of his life’s work to bring the distant heavens to anyone and everyone through his founding of what we call today “sidewalk astronomy.”


Barlow Bob at the center of the 2014 NEAF Solar Star Party. Click for a larger view.

The CNY amateur astronomy community learned of the passing of Barlow Bob on June 13th through an email from Chuck Higgins of MVAS. I suspect most people in the community didn’t even know his real name was Robert Godfrey until the announcement of his passing. The announcement of his passing had much farther to go, as the list of people and clubs that Barlow Bob had made better through his own outreach is as large as his many contributions to solar astronomy. For the record, below is a snippet of his contributions to the CNY astronomy community generally and to me specifically.

The Postman And Telephone Operator of Northeast Astronomy

I have a decent handle on all of the astronomy clubs in the Northeast thanks to Barlow Bob’s habit of forwarding newsletters and email announcements around to his email list. Those who’ve not edited a club newsletter do not know how much this simple gesture was appreciated! In my 2008 reboot of the Syracuse Astronomical Society newsletter the Astronomical Chronicle, the biggest problem facing its monthly continuation was new content. Not only did Barlow Bob provide a steady stream of articles for “Barlow Bob’s Corner,” but I learned about several free sources of space science news from these other newsletters (the NASA News Feed and the NASA Space Place being chief among them – still sources of news and updates freely available to all). He saved myself, and the SAS, several months of organizing content and finding relevant material. Those newsletters remain available in PDF format on the SAS website, many peppered with varied hot topics in solar astronomy that Barlow Bob chose to write about for “Barlow Bob’s Corner.”

As part of his aggregative exploits, amateur astronomers in his email loop were also treated to a yearly events calendar of nearly all of the East Coast star parties and special events. His and Chuck Higgins’ 2014 Events Calendar makes up the majority of the non-celestial phenomena listed in CNYO’s current calendar.

I also had the pleasure of being one of the recipients of his many (many!) phone calls as a regular of his “astro-rounds” call list, during which I learned early on to have a pen and paper ready for all of the companies to check out and solar projects to search for. Barlow Bob loved being on the edge of solar observing technology, both in pure observational astronomy and in solar spectroscopy (his Solar Spectroscopy History article is among the most concise stories of the history of the field). A number of his voice messages lasted little more than 15 seconds, but provided enough detail for a requisite google search and email exchange after.

“You keep writing them, I’ll keep publishing them.”

Barlow Bob was, by all metrics, a prolific writer on the topic of solar astronomy. My Barlow Bob CD contains at least 50 full articles along with pictures, equipment reviews, and society newsletters including his articles. Barlow Bob took great pleasure equally in his own understanding some aspect of solar astronomy and his committing that understanding to keyboard and computer screen for others. While many amateur astronomers delight in knowing something well enough to be able to talk about it with authority, precious few in the community actually take the next step and distill all they know into something others far beyond their immediate sphere can appreciate. Even those who’ve never been to NEAF likely knew of Barlow Bob through his writings. Along with his founding of the NEAF Solar Star Party, his many articles will serve as his lasting contribution to the field. We will continue to include Barlow Bob’s articles on the CNYO website and we hope that other societies will consider doing the same. Some of those articles are available on his dedicated webpage at NEAF Solar, http://www.neafsolar.com/barlowbob.html.

The Bob-o-Scope Comes To Syracuse


Barlow Bob and “the works” at Darling Hill Observatory. Click for a larger view.

While Syracuse only managed to have one solar session hosted by Barlow Bob, that one session provided a number of lasting memories. After a few months of planning around available weekends and Barlow Bob’s own vacation schedule, we finally settled on the early afternoon of 30 July 2011 for a solar session (with a lecture by CNY’s own Bob Piekiel to follow that evening, making for one of the better amateur astronomy weekends in Syracuse) at Darling Hill Observatory, home of the Syracuse Astronomical Society.


Very likely him at Darling Hill Observatory. Click for a larger view.

Our initial plan was for an 11 a.m. set-up and a noon to 3-ish observing session. Saturday morning started a bit earlier than I expected with a phone call at 9:30 a.m. – Barlow Bob, ever ready to be out and about on a clear day, was outside the locked front gate of Darling Hill Observatory. A frantic prep and drive out later, Barlow Bob and I set up and placed his many scopes on the observing grounds to the delight of about 30 attendees. I myself took one look through the Bob-o-Scope and began calling people, telling them “you have to come and see this.” A full day of observing in, Barlow Bob didn’t end up leaving Darling Hill until just before 5 p.m. The hour we took to leisurely pack his station wagon with all of his gear was full of shop talk, people and equipment to be made aware of, and plans on a similar event at some point in the future. That hang and the view through his Bob-o-Scope are two of my favorite memories during my tenure as SAS president.

Barlow Bob and a spectroscopy mini-lecture at Darling Hill Observatory, 30 July 2011.

The Sun, being the excellent, usually accessible target that it is, is ideal for hosting impromptu observing sessions at most any location. Members of CNYO now do as a small group (and with cheaper equipment) what Barlow Bob would do single-handedly – set up and observe “with attitude.”

Not Just NEAF

Barlow Bob is known to many in the community as the founder of the NEAF Solar Star Party and as the author of articles for “Barlow Bob’s Corner.” To those of us with a bent towards public outreach, Barlow Bob is an example of someone who could take some fancy equipment and his own know-how and run a one-host show. Barlow Bob committed a great deal of his own time and talent to doing for our nearest star what those like John Dobson did for far more distant objects. Despite the many, many amateur astronomers in the world today, it’s still a field where a single person can have a strong influence simply by being a perfectly-polished primary mirror that reflects their own love of the field for others to appreciate. Amateur astronomy outreach can learn a lot from Barlow Bob’s example and CNYO will continue in his footsteps of making safe, variously-filtered solar sights available to the public as part of our observing efforts. May we all become a bit more familiar with our nearest star, following in Barlow Bob’s footsteps to observe it “with attitude.”


“It’s like looking in a mirror!” Barlow Bob and I at Kopernik’s 2013 Astrofest.

* Announcement of his passing on Cloudy Nights: cloudynights.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php/Cat/0/Number/6581115/Main/6578514

* David Eicher’s announcement at astronomy.com: cs.astronomy.com/asy/b/daves-universe/archive/2014/06/16/solar-astronomy-guru-quot-barlow-bob-quot-dies.aspx

* A memorial webpage at forevermissed.com: http://www.forevermissed.com/robert-a-godfrey/

The 16-inch f/4.5 Collapsible-Truss Dobsonian From New Moon Telescopes – Feature Article In Astronomy Technology Today

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

As first appeared on the CNY Observers & Observing website, www.cnyo.org, on 22 June 2013.

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

As if NEAF wasn’t already an excellent first showing for Ryan (and Heather!) Goodson and New Moon Telescopes (including discussions at Cloudy Nights (link 1, link 2) and a recorded observation in Sky & Telescope in this month’s issue), I am pleased to provide a full copy of the result of their first NEAF meeting with Gary Parkerson, Managing Editor of Astronomy Technology Today (www.astronomytechnologytoday.com): A feature (and cover) article (by yours truly) giving the NMT 16″ f/4.5 Dobsonian a complete walk-through in the May-June 2013 issue.


Before anything else – I’d like to personally thank Gary and all at ATT for providing a platform for my review of the NMT scope, their continued support of other amateur astronomers through many years of excellent equipment reviews, and their complete coolness with allowing CNYO to repost the complete article for your viewing pleasure.

Click HERE For The Full Article (PDF, 2.3 MB)

From the article:

New Moon Telescopes (NMT, newmoontelescopes.com) is a very recent addition to the list of manufacturers of custom Dobsonians, having made their first company appearance at the Kopernik Winter Star Party (kopernik.org) this past January and their commercial appearance at NEAF 2013 this past April.

While NMT is now making itself known to the larger amateur astronomy community, NMT is no secret to Central New York observers. Amateur astronomers in several CNY astronomy clubs have seen the expert woodworking skills and design choices of NMT’s owner and sole craftsman, Ryan Goodson, first-hand, giving CNY observers and their always unpredictable weather conditions the honor of being NMT’s original customer base both in rebuilds and new Dobsonians.

The article introduction is no joke! There are three NMT Dobs owned just by CNYO session hosts alone (Larry S, Dan W, and myself), not counting whatever Ryan brings to our observing sessions, then several additional just in the CNY area (one CNY customer’s beautiful 18” Dob having been on display at NEAF). I remember just within the past ten years when SCTs and fancy mounts seemed to rule the observing grounds at Darling Hill Observatory, now all of the sessions I attend are populated by light buckets. The GOTO is increasingly being superseded in favor of memorization. I say excellent!

As a point of discussion in the article, I make reference to Ryan’s high-end component choices (the MoonLite focuser being high on the list – my “Ruby” (NMT #1) is named for its red focuser). I spent an extra block of time discussing the merits of a primary mirror purchase from John Lightholder at Lightholder Premium Optics.

Just as I have seen many an amateur astronomer start with seemingly decent eyepieces, then eventually sell and buy their way up to TeleVue (my personal bias, anyway), I have heard too many stories of observers with primary mirrors that eventually have their faults found out over the course of many observing sessions (the primary mirrors, that is). The solution, while not cheap, is simple – start with the best you can get and never, ever, find yourself regretting an “intermediate” purchase when you go to finally take the plunge on a high-quality primary.

The mirror alone cost more than many of the major vendors are currently charging for complete-and-shipped 12-inch Dobsonian telescopes. The reason is simple – it is absolutely worth it.

A final thought about the whole enterprise comes from Gary himself at ATT:

The Goodsons’ telescopes captured my attention, as did the Goodsons themselves, for the simple reason that they represent one of the aspects I love most about the telescope industry. Astronomy enthusiasts are primarily served by what are essentially cottage enterprises, populated with business people and craftsmen for whom their astro products and services represent labors of love. Most are family businesses, as is ATT, a fact that is reinforced with each trip to NEAF as I am privileged to again greet in person the family partnerships who gather there each year.

I am grateful to Gary and ATT for allowing us to repost the complete article on the CNYO website (and this pruned version of the issue was generated from the PDF I obtained as an enlightened subscriber to the digital version of ATT). It remains an excellent source of information from real users of equipment, a kind of completeness of analysis and discussion many of us had the pleasure of experiencing during discussions with Stu Forster and still have the pleasure of experiencing with my favorite local scope-sage Bob Piekiel.

And why yes, now that you mention it, it is easy to subscribe to ATT today! Click on the image below for more info!



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