Moon

 Chris and Cindy's
 Amateur Astronomy Page

[Introduction] [Recent Images] [Equipment] [Projects]

In the beginning...

I (Chris) really became interested in astronomy in 1998.  I was driving home one night and saw the full moon and thought to myself, "You know, I've never had a telescope."  So, being a gainfully employed adult, I figured I'd go out and buy one.   A little internet research, however, convinced me to instead get a book on constellations (The Stars, by H.A. Rey, is superb).  I also borrowed a pair of binoculars from a friend.

So I spent a year and a half  learning the major stars and constellations.   Then in 2000 I went nuts and bought several telescopes, small and large.  (I'm sure the subscription to Sky and Telescope magazine Cindy got me for Christmas didn't have anything to do with it. :-)  I was planning on following the "usual" beginner advice and getting an 8" dobsonian-mounted newtonian reflector, but after reading a S&T review of the 8" dobs from the major manufacturers, I hesitated.  Every one of them seemed to have some sort of problem, and never having looked through a telescope before, I was afraid I'd end up with a lemon and never know it or not be able to properly collimate a newtonian.  (In retrospect I should have joined the Austin Astronomical Society and gotten some advice and help...ah, well.)  So I opted to spend a little more to ensure I got a good scope, and bought a Televue Pronto- simple, small, and manageable.  And so began my journey into amateur astronomy...

My primary interest is in galaxies.  Light pollution makes it essentially impossible to see galaxies with a telescope within the city, so instead I take pictures of them using a telescope and a CCD ("digital") camera.  The wonders of digital technology allow me to take pictures in the light polluted skies, and then "subtract out" all the light pollution leaving the galaxy and stars.  (This method has its limitations versus going to truly dark skies, but it is better than nothing.)  Fortunately, however, light pollution does not wash out everything (yet).  Even from the city, the sight of M42 (the Orion Nebula) through the 18" is truly breathtaking! 

[Update May 2003] Over the last month or so Cindy has gotten interested in astrophotography, too.  I am now fortunate to have a partner on those late nights.  It is also nice to have another common interest.

Recent Images

Here are the most recent images Cindy and I have taken.

M51 "The Whirlpool Galaxy" (right) and its companion, NGC5195 (left) taken May 18, 2003
20 x 3 min images, Mewlon 250 telescope @ f/12 / AP900GTO mount / ST-10xme camera binned 3x3

(Above) This was the first image Cindy and I took together, on her second night out no less.  It is the first image I took (well, actually helped Cindy take) since finishing night school, and my best image to date.  The processing could still use a little work, but practice makes perfect.

m22_cld2_small.jpg (45126 bytes)
M22 taken September 6, 2001.
18 x 15 sec. images,
FSQ-106/AP400GTO+ST-7

(Left) Okay, so it's not recent, but until I get some more shots, it is still recent enough.  This is the first image I took with my FSQ-106.  I was really out just familiarizing myself with my recently-acquired AP400GTO.  Things were going smoothly, so I decided to take a few images even though I didn't polar align very carefully (hence the short exposures) or have my focus spot-on.  Overall, I'm pretty happy with such an off-the-cuff shot.  Processing consisted of dark-frame subtraction and summing the 18 good frames out of the 20 I took, plus a histogram adjustment to bring out most of the stars.  Recall M22 resides in a very crowded area of the sky, just above the Teapot. My flat field frames were all useless, so I just cropped off the portion of the field where vignetting was prominent.

Equipment

m250_njp_chris_small.jpg (45967 bytes)
Yours truly with the Mewlon-250 scope
on the NJP-160 mount.
  Thank goodness I
now have JMI Wheeley Bars so I don't
have to lug it in and out of the garage by
hand anymore!

Cindy jokes that I am not really an astronomer, but rather a "telescope collector".  Okay, I admit that I probably just like messing with the equipment as much as I enjoy using it.  (And I *know* I'm not the only one like this! :-)  I also enjoy reading about other equipment (I've probably read every review on Ed Ting's www.scopereviews.com...twice...or more), particularly equipment that I might hopefully end up buying someday.   Anyway, here's a selected listing of my current equipment.  I'll write up a review of it all some day  in the hopes of inspiring someone else, answering someone's questions about certain equipment, or giving yet another equipment junkie like myself something else to read.   In the meantime, if you have questions about any of it, feel free to email me and I'll try to help out.
  • Takahashi FSQ-106 (106 mm f/5 apo refractor) on an Astro-Physics AP400GTO mount.
  • Takahashi Mewlon-250 (10" f/12 Dall-Kirkham Cassegrain reflector) on a Astro-Physics AP900GTO mount.
  • JMI NGT-18 (18" f/4.5 Newtonian on a split-ring equitorial mount).   This is my deep-sky scope- the Orion nebula is simply breathtaking through it, even from within the city limits of Austin, Texas.  I also plan to do some CCD work with it.  The long focal length and fast focal ratio will be a killer combination.  I have a love-hate relationship with the rotating nose of the scope.  Being able to rotate the eyepiece to any position is a huge convenience, and often precludes the need for a stool or small ladder.  However, collimation is not easy, as the mechanical error in the setup causes collimation to vary depending on the position of the nosepiece.   When collimation is on, the views are spectacular.  When it is off, well, break out the collimation tools.  If you are really picky about collimation, this will drive you nuts.  I usually just figure out what part of the sky I'll be observing, rotate the nose to a good location, and collimate the scope for that location.   Not perfect, but it works out okay.
  • SBIG ST-10xme CCD camera + AO-7 Adaptive Optics Device.   My CCD equipment.  The AO-7 is a must-have for longer focal length work.  I am working on building my own color filter wheel.
  • Televue Pronto (70mm f/6.9 semi-apo refractor) on a Televue Panoramic alt-az mount.  My quick-look scope.  I plan on getting a solar filter for it someday.  This was also my first scope, so I will always have a special fondness for it.  The mount is good, but the lack of slow-motion controls is a major annoyance.  The diminutive Pronto is Cindy's favorite.

Projects

I enjoy making accessories and modifications to equipment.  Current topics:

* Yeah, yeah, technically it should be "Opossum Pass", but there is just something about the two P's that seems right.