I just got back in from a very cold and thus brief observing session with my ETX-LS 6. I wanted to test out the telescope control feature of the newest version of Stellarium. I am impressed, not only is Stellarium one of the most beautiful planetarium software out there, but they have added some very nice features. Here are just a few.
1. Expanded database of stars. 600,000 by default! HIP and Alpha references for thousands of stars, and you can expand to over 210 million simply choose to download the optional databases (9 total).
2. Satellite tracking in real time. I haven't yet verified the accuracy with an actual observation, but seeing the ISS arc across the screen is very cool.
3. Eyepiece field of view. You can now get an idea on how a deep-sky object will appear in almost any eyepiece simply by entering in a few parameters. Then you have the option of zooming in on that object to get a field of view comparable to what you would see at the eyepiece of your specific telescope and eyepiece combo.
4. Telescope control. To me, this is the most interesting new feature. There were external program components in Stellarium 0.10.0 that just never worked for me at all, but this version was tested tonight and it work flawlessly with my ETX-LS. I'll post a screen cast one night to my blog. Extremely easy to interface.
5. It's FREE! Still a open-source program. Can't beat that.
I'm impressed with Stellarium 0.10.3, it has opened up a whole new method of observing. You should check it out, even if you do not own a computerized telescope.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Friday, February 5, 2010
Now we come to Wednesday, and I decided that the weather was not going to hold up much and not worth the effort of driving to my normal observing spot to setup the ETX-LS and all the "extras" that are needed to setup a computerized GOTO telescope. I thus declined that endeavor, and instead took out my beloved Orion 6" Intelliscope dob for the quick peek fix I was looking for. Having buildings, trees, and a streetlight filling most of my view around my apartment, I had one small break, just above me at the Zenith, that permits me to view Mars. I took the scope outside to permit it to cool down, and after about 30 minutes, went of to see what the night held in store for me. I was also exited to test out the new Meade 8.8 and 14mm UWA eyepieces I had. It's been almost two months since they arrived, and only 2 extremely brief and disappointing occasions to test them out. Tonight was going to be brief, I knew that since the satellite photos showed the high clouds coming my way, but at least it seemed like some steady air.
I was pleasantly surprised when the small but sharp image of Mars came into focus with the 14mm. Indeed an 82 degree eyepiece is like looking into space through a port-hole. Confident that the nights seeing permitted higher power, I popped in the 8.8mm UWA. Snap to focus, and there was Mars, crisp and clean, with noticeable detail. The mare was very easy to make out, and the polar cap seemed to extend further then I had recalled from my previous view. The mare located just south of the polar cap took up nearly half of the hemisphere, with a disconnect at the equator, before a slightly dimmer mare took over, and this one seemed to extend almost the entire southern hemisphere of the planet, with a slight break just about mid-way. A wonderful view.
For just about an hour, I swapped in different eyepieces and barlow combination's, but I rested on the 8.8 UWA and my trusty 12.5 PL, both provided nice views. The 8.8 barlowed gave me about 277x magnification, and a nice image scale, but I lost out a bit on the contrast with the dimmer view. The 12.5 PL barlowed seemed to show the most detail in moments of steady air, but most of the time I spent with just the 8.8mm. Its sharp image and generous field of view were something that I was not use to having before, and I took in the view for as long as I could, before those pesky high clouds rubbed out most of the image.
I really came to appreciate Mars that evening. I also came to appreciate how nice it is to have a 82 degree eyepiece for a dobsonian, since it permitted more time to view the object before I had to nudge the scope and center in the object back in the field of view. I'm looking forward to better weather, not only to further test out the new Meade eyepieces, which by last nights indication are going to be wonderful, but also to revisit the Red Planet to tease out more detail. I miss Jupiter, but thankful that Mars can offer some intriguing sights as well when the seeing permits.