Evaluation

Casing for telescope mounts

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I must say this was one of the best gifts I got for my birthday by my wife. It is a Condition 1 – Airtight/Watertight Case #839 with Foam. I absolutely needed one for my EQ6 Pro mount! For years I’ve been transporting and wrapping this mount in bed sheets and thick bed covers to provide safe transportation to and from my observation sites.

The mount was also transferred by sea all the way from Sweden intact. I had to pay lots for insurance so that all optics could be replaced if something happened.

This is a-must-have if you don’t know how to provide a safe casing for your telescope mounts that are originally shipped inside cardboard boxes from vendors.

My wife got this case from Amazon for just $93.60 ($103.37 if you’re not an Amazon Prime customer). Needless to say, this is just as nice as a Pelican case without the Pelican price. A real Pelican case would cost nearly double the price $176.28 for an equivalent type of case.

The interior dimensions for the Condition 1 case are, 21.91 x 16.96 x 8.41 inches.

So a big thank you goes to wifey for being very thoughtful about my hobby!

Niklas Henricson

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Birthday and gifts

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On my birthday my beloved wife made me the most amazing present an astrophotographer could wish for. She took the composite image of the Great American Eclipse in Oregon last summer, printed it out on a 16 x 20 inches poster and finally framed it! Now it’ll decorate our wall to remind us of an amazing experience from our solar eclipse trip to Corvallis, OR.

Thank you my love!

Eclipse Composite
Composite image of Great American Eclipse 2017

Niklas Henricson

Cosmic Watch – App of the Year

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Screenshot_20171109-184948There are many apps that went through my download lists over the years, but none that have drawn my full attention so far. When it comes to astronomy apps available around for Android, iOS and Windows, there’s a huge variety in the app stores (I’ve mentioned a few in the past). As matter of fact I’ve had many thoughts on building my very own to use out in the field in order to help find my favorite objects, guide my telescope, create log book entries, search in databases, etc. But nevertheless there has never been enough time to build something worth keeping a long time. Before you know it you either loose your phone, get a new one and loose whatever these apps have stored locally in their internal databases on the phone.

One day as I was browsing my emails doing my weekly clean up, I came across an email with subject “SWISS Made Cosmic Watch For Astronomy in 3D”. In the beginning I thought it was one of these ads I receive letting me know of what cool gadgets I can buy. Ads that normally find me through diverted AI search bots checking at my age, my interests, location and places I’ve visited on internet. Interestingly though, Google didn’t toss that particular e-mail in my spam folder and so I opened it up.

The very first sentence made me understand it wasn’t one of the regular salesmen or spam bots that greeted me, but instead a person who was impressed by my blog. I kept reading and he asked me to evaluate his app.

For starters I didn’t expect much until he gave me a redeem code to download his app for free. The download finished just before I had to leave for work and I didn’t have much time to look at it before it was lunch time. Needless to say my jaw almost dropped once I switched it on.
In all honesty I never seen such advanced graphics and such an awesome implementation of a mobile device app before. And mind you, I’ve worked as a software engineer for almost 20 years now.

Among the many features available, the ones I got mostly impressed about were the ability to see the planet positions over time both in the future but also in the past. You could look at the planet position on the day of your birth, or other historical events down to the seconds level.

The modes available can display the position of constellations in night sky at certain point of time or real time in the day, make you zoom into features on earth’s surface and add favorites to re-visit something.

Well done Cosmic Watch and big thanks for letting astronomy fans access such great work!

This app exists for both Android and iOS devices

Cosmic Watch is developed by Celestial Dynamics Ltd.

Niklas Henricson
Sacramento, California

US Prepaid – No contract SIM cards for your European cell phone

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Cell Phone BillDue to solar eclipse event this summer and for those of you who decide to visit US, make sure you look into prepaid – no service SIM cards when you arrive. Unfortunately there’s no guarantee your european cell phone plan will be as cheap as it’s at your home. I’ve experienced personally issues when I was visiting my wife several times in the past. US phone network providers like to charge a little bit extra, causing issues once you get back home to discover a 400 – 700 USD bill at your doorstep.

I will refer to an article from Trip Advisor that explains what your options are,

United States: Mobile Phone Service for visiting the US

And also, The best prepaid and no contract plans in the US (February 2017)

Finally don’t forget to check that your phone is “unlocked”, meaning that it’s not bound to a specific SIM card provider and also what network coverage each US provider offers, depending which place you plan to visit during your vacations. For example here’s the LTE coverage for T-mobile: T-Mobile LTE coverage map

 

 

Niklas Henricson

Solar System Scope, INOVE

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Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-29-24

I wrote on my previous blogpost about the Solar System Scope by INOVE. This time I thought I’d write some extra about it. Beside their awesome interactive website, INOVE has developed their solar system to be accessible from Android devices. If you enter the App Store make a simple search for “Solar System Scope” and you’ll find it available for free.

It is the perfect app to teach yourself and others (your kids, or at the school) about our solar system. These days you can connect a mobile device to your laptop to enable projection on big screens.

Solar System Scope has some basic data about each object that is part of our solar system. From planets to dwarf planets, moons, comets, asteroids, constellations as you browse among many of them enabling you to explore their orbits, behavior and most importantly fast forward or rewind to observe their positions at a certain point in time.

Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-34-41 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-34-22

Another cool feature is that you can “open up” planets to look at their interior and see what they consist of. Above you have two examples from the planets Saturn and Mars respectively. I believe this app is the coolest so far when it comes to graphics and usability. It is a very user friendly and intuitive app that has a simple design making it possible start using its advanced features within seconds.

Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-29-36 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-31-10 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-30-51 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-31-21 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-31-48 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-32-37 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-33-18 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-33-51

I really hope INOVE takes this app one step further and offers us to explore other neighbor solar systems that we know off in scientific ways. How cool wouldn’t that be?

Unfortunately this app is only available for Android devices. I was hoping one day they’ll make a release for Windows mobile devices as well.

Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-30-08 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-30-35

Mobile Devices & Polar Alignment

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PolarFinder

By owning an equatorial mount, you’ll find yourself in the situation to perform a polar alignment to your mount each time you assemble your equipment prior an observation. However, apart from using the setting circles and calculating the polar star position manually, there are a few phone apps worth mentioning that would save you a great deal of time. Before phones and tablets entered our lives amateur astronomers relied on printed paper sheets including an approximate to the polar position reticle sky chart that resembles the finder scope reticle chart in your mount.

Today’s phone apps are able to locate your exact position through the phone’s built-in GPS ability including the exact time and thus calculate more accurately than before the current polar star position allowing you to do a finer alignment to your scope mount.

I will mention three phone/tablet apps starting with the old classic PolarFinder (http://polarfinder.com/) that also exist as Windows and Linux programs available on their website. A version for Mac and Windows phones is on the way *thumbs up*

PolarFinder
PolarFinder
PolarFinder
PolarFinder

This app was the very first one that appeared at Play Store but I never succeeded making the reticle image cover up the entire screen as shown in the screenshot. Also its not very obvious in the reticle as where the polar star should be located at.


Northern Polar Alignment

This is a much simpler version of polar finder that supports only the northern hemisphere. You have to set date and time zone manually as well as your longitude every time you enter the app. It has some static text with information on the screen and it doesn’t look overly impressive by any means. It wouldn’t be my first choice or recommendation to anyone in comparison to what is available out in the app stores.

Nothern Polar Alignment
Northern Polar Alignment
Nothern Polar Alignment
Northern Polar Alignment

PolarFinder

The next app is called PolarFinder developed by Jótzef Lázár and is in my opinion the best choice so far. It uses GPS just as the previous app but has many more options to choose from than any of the previous apps so far.

The best function is that you can change reticle types to ressemble the reticles in the most known mount types. These are Ioptron, Astro-Physics, Losmandy, Skywatcher, Takahashi, Vixen, AstroTrac and StarAdventurer.

The longitude can either be entered manually, or acquired through the phone GPS. You can adjust the markers distance, night mode, date format, star sizes and hemisphere location (north/south).

The image orientation option is greyed out when you choose among telescope types and enabled when you use the “Built-in” reticle type.

PolarFinder
PolarFinder – Reticle
PolarFinder
PolarFinder – Preferences
PolarFinder
PolarFinder – About

AP  Polar Align

For the windows phones and tablets out there you’ll find this neat app that by default in night vision mode. You can choose to either allow the phone enter your GPS location or enter it manually. The night vision brightness is adjustable through a slider and the reticle is very easy to understand. A double tap on the reticle image zooms in for more detail. I would say this app is neat and has a very clean layout. Finally, this app is found for free in the Windows Store.

Reticle
Reticle
Manual Location
Manual Location
Brightness
Brightness
Help
Help

Weather Live on Android

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I’ll continue writing more about other neat apps that I always carry around with me on my phone and tablet. The next in order is something that concerns everyone when it comes to weather forecasts and Weather Live is actually the one that predicts weather outcome the best for your local area.  It is very simple using it and provides information about the humidity, precipitation, pressure, wind strength and direction, average temperature, lowest and highest temperatures, how temperature feels in combination with wind, you can add locations and most importantly check the visibility! The app comes both as a full freeware (with ads) and an ads-free version for a little over a buck. The app comes also in an iPhone version and can easily be found at Apple’s App Store. Weather Live is developed by an app company called Apalon.

I’m adding a few screenshots from my phone that give you an overall idea of the layout.

Complete Overview
Complete Overview
Complete Overview
Complete Overview
Widget Formats
Widget Formats
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Overview Screen
Overview Screen