Reviews

2017 American Solar Eclipse – Preparing and testing for live stream

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It’s settled now. We’ve booked ourselves for Oregon and will be camping the weekend prior the American Solar Eclipse. We’ll be meeting up my old astronomy friends from Tycho Brahe Astronomy Society in Lund, Sweden as well!

Long time I’ve been wishing to share live stream with a fairly good quality on several of the events I’ve been attending, sharing my experiences to friends who are either unable to attend, or due to time differences are unable to watch. So on the 21st of August, I’m going to stream live here and on my Facebook profile. It will be set to public so anyone who wishes can watch.

I’ll do my best to answer on comments while the live streaming is going on. If I miss any question please keep repeating it until my eyes catch it.

Live Streaming Facebook

The stuff I’ve got now recently are, cell phone adapter for live streaming purposes that will be attached to one of my telescopes, Solar Finder and lots of souvenir paper glasses with sun filter aimed for solar eclipses.

 

Niklas Henricson

Redding & Shasta Astronomy Club

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Henricson family visiting Redding
Henricson family visiting Redding

For months I’ve been waiting for my astronomy gear to arrive from Sweden. I packed everything last summer in 2016 and didn’t get to access my telescopes until January this year. Last weekend we decided to visit our family member who lives in Redding which is a small town near Shasta lake divided by the Sacramento river. He lives in a beautiful place close to nature so we didn’t hesitate for a second to load the trunk with my astronomy gear. It takes around 3 hours to travel from Sacramento to Redding, which is fairly far away from the town to spend time with family.

Saturday evening we went to Whiskeytown Lake and met members from Shasta’s Astronomy Club. A nice bunch of people who took their time to introduce themselves and tell us stories on how often they gather around every week to observe the beauty of the night sky in that area. I was impressed by their telescopes and knowledge and was happy to be among other fellow astronomy enthusiasts, exchanging knowledge about the night sky.

We had a good time with the kids and got to observe Jupiter with its moons, Leo’s triplet and the moon. We will definitely be visiting Redding again, maybe without the kids so we can stay much longer!

Below is the world’s largest sun dial at Turtle Bay Exploration Park

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Thank you Shasta astronomy friends!

Californian Twilight Sky

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One of the most amazing things about California, are the infamous sunsets. The stratocumulus clouds are shattered across the horizon but still merged reminding us the potential rainfall on its way, as the twilight spreads in the upper atmosphere dominating the evening sky with red, orange, pink and yellow palette of colors. A magnificent view to say the least!

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As I am gazing at the evening and night skies I can’t wait for my equipment to be transferred to the states from Sweden very soon. The need to be out in the nature and taking photos at the deep sky grows bigger for every day.

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

Prophecies are fun!

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Solar-System

So there’s this thing going around that California will suffer great disaster. All that according to one of Nostradamus prophecies. Let us have a closer look to what he wrote:

The trembling so hard in the month of May,
Saturn, Capricorn, Jupiter, Mercury in Taurus:
Venus also, Cancer, Mars, in Virgo,
Hail will fall larger than an egg.

Upon closer look let us sort the planets by constellations:

  • Constellation Capricorn:
    – Planet Saturn (Exists instead by the constellation of Libra)
  • Constellation Taurus:
    – Planet Jupiter (Exists instead by the constellation of Cancer)
    – Planet Mercury (The only one that matches the prophecy)
    – Planet Venus (Exists instead by the constellation of Gemini)
  • Constellation Virgo:
    – Planet Mars (Exists instead by the constellation of Taurus)

So nothing matches except of the planet Mercury. The 29th of May 2015 looks pretty safe to me, so enjoy your weekend everyone! No need to barricade in your shelters or buy any food supplies.

The image above was taken by the entirely free of charge program “Solar System Scope” which runs on a webpage at:

Solar System scope can be also be found for Android and Apple devices ready to be downloaded for free.

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

Android Phone Astronomy

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Mobile Observatory
I’ve been using for quite some time a few apps that I would love to mention. This time I’m promoting something called Mobile Observatory; its current version is 2.6 and has been developed by Wolfgang Zigma. I’m very restrictive when it comes to IT- or other tech-suggestions before I’ve tried things out for quite a while, but this phone app is very neat! For 1½ years now it sends me regularly updates only when I’m entering the app.

Also, it doesn’t force you to update anything if you just want to go ahead and start using it, even though you really want to if you’d like to keep yourself with up to date astronomical events and data. So my suggestion is to go ahead and download all databases in advance before heading out to observe the night sky.

I must say that I really dislike uncalled updates on my phone specially when they are forced upon you by Play Store; but the creator of this app is restraining the uploads quite well! I think I’ve updated the app itself only twice during these two years of using it.

I am attaching two links on the bottom of my blog post so you can visit and read all the features in detail, but I’ll mention just a few nifty ones that I find very cool.

  • Events – Upcoming astronomical events
  • Sky View – Shows you the current view of the sky based on your location
  • Sky Overview – Shows you the entire sky chart
  • Live View – Point your phone somewhere in the sky and it’ll inform you what you’re looking at
  • Twilight – The dawn, dusk, blue and golden times at your location
  • Eclipses – All about eclipses!!!
  • Moons – Planet moons, their current and upcoming orbits

The app has of course many more features. You can search deep sky and planetary objects, the app will bring you all the information you need in regards to  your location, point out the visible objects for you and give you detailed information on what you’re looking at. You can add objects in your favorites list, you can also browse back and forth in time for an object and also get suggestions on what are the best visible objects for a particular date plus allows you to add calendar reminders when it comes to events.

No need to purchase astronomical calendars or booklets anymore, this app really has it all you need and more for an amateur astronomer. But wait.. Did I mention it also has a night mode view in red light. How cool isn’t that?!

Event Information
Event Information
Jupiter Moons
Jupiter Moons
Planet Orbits
Planet Orbits
Star Chart
Star Chart
Twilight Diagram
Twilight Diagram

Jävan Observatory – Sweden

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Jävan observatory
Jävan observatory

During 1930:ies there were countless of meetings at the university of Lund regarding the problems in lacking an observatory. The old observatory at the park of Lund was outdated, old and fell victim of the growing city and therefore light polution.

It stood clear that astronomers were in serious need of a new observatory to perform their observations and provide students with a better place. They started investigating local areas outside the suburbs of Lund during 1940 and finally found a hill located near the village of Genarp. The new place was decided to be hosting the new observatory and it was not that far away from the university (30 minutes by car), but far enough to avoid light polution at night time. It wasn’t until September 1965 the university received the telescope mirror and in October 1966 the observatory was finally operating for the first time.

During planing it was decided that the observatory would have two domes, one at west and one east, both having the ability to look south at meridian. The main instrument was a Nasmyth-Cassegrain telescope provided with a spectrograph table, cooling system. The entire system’s weight was estimated to be 3500 kilograms. The main mirror is parabolic and 61 cm in diameter and weights around 98 kilograms. The hyperbolic secondary mirror is 16 cm in diameter and was made of Duran glass with aluminmum surface.

The main goal of the observatory was to study the magnitude of thousents of stars on one single shot through photoelectric photometry. 1973 the telescope had a spectrographer to enable studies in spectrum for individual stars.

As the decades passed by, the cities around Genarp (including Genarp village itself) grew larger. A new era in astronomy started enabling astronomers to either travel out of country to remote locations, or connect to an observatory across the world through internet. Jävan observatory was hard to compete to the new technology and the evergrowing cities around light poluting the skies.

This observatory stopped beeing operable at the late 90:ties. Regardless, for an amateur astronomer the hill location is perfect still for observations. The forest around the hill has grown wild and large pinetrees are covering the low horizon and most of the light polution is hidden behind the forest trees.

A friend of mine and myself went there one night (8th of May 2011) and began observing the night sky together. It was a beautiful night sky full of stars. We tried taking a few pictures on globular clusters towards south, but that night was windy causing pollen to raise in the air and therefore it was far from ideal in regards to astrophotography.

Summer, vacations and observatories

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Niklas Henricson
Niklas Henricson

I thought I’d write something regarding my summer activities. Amateur astronomy is very quiet during the summer season due to the light skye for the most part, the quick changing weather circumstances from day to day, but also because for a common Swede the summer season is dedicated for the anual vacations from work and studies. My family and I decided to visit Scotland this year, which was very beautiful. We decided to visit the major cities such as Glasgow and Edinburg, but also the country side of Scotland, such as lakes (Loch Lomond, Loch Drunkie) and parts of the Scotish Highlands. Scotland got rich scientific and engineering history. One interesting story is that of Scotsman James Watt (known from the unit Watt written on every light bulb you buy at stores). Watt was a poor engineer fighting with his economy issues most part of his life. He owned a little store selling his navigational instruments in Glasgow, but barely made any money that suffice for his family living at the time. Years passed and James suceeded getting an employment at the university of Glasgow, enabling him to access the university workshop.

Just as other innovators, James did what most people did not. He had passion in details and improvement. He analyzed the classical steam engine and found some basic flaws and weaknesses in the current system. At the time steam engines were very small and used for the most part in the Scotish country side, helping miners to pump out water from the coil mines.

James found out that Newcomen’s model of steam engine had very low efficiency. After some long nights and big efforts James finally found a way to improve the steam engine and win a high degree of efficiency at low cost. To make a long story short, his solution revolutionized and changed the world. His ingenious methods and solution to the steam engine was a major turning point in history changing the way of living. It is what we call today as the industrial revolution.

His steam engine was used hence in the railways bringing people and wares closer to each other, as well as commersial and the military fleets across the world. Brittain was back then the biggest empire in the world. The sun was always up shinning somewhere in the Brittish empire on the earth.

James Watt statue, Glasgow
James Watt statue, Glasgow

Thanks to James Watt’s efforts, we use today a unit called “Watt” in the S.I. system to honor his name. The unit Watt tells us what amount of efficiency (work) we get during a certain amount of time. Before that, it was common to use horsepowers (hp) but horsepower was a smaller unit in order to express efficiency large machines.

1 W = 0,0013596216 hp or vice versa 1 hp = 735,49875 W. That is why car salemen are using still horsepowers to impress potential buyers, instead of using Watt… People are more impressed when they hear thousents of horsepowers efficiency on the engines, rather then a few tens.

Regardless in daily life we’re using Watt in light bulbs.

Now the question is what does Watt mean for astronomy?

Astronomers are using mostly Watt to express the electromagnetic radiation efficiency on certain amount of area. Watt/square meter (W/m²).

Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to visit the Royal Observatory of Edinburg, but I will try and write about the local observatories of Skåne were I live and see if I ever fufill my dream visiting other famous observatories across Europe.

On my next article I will write about the forgotten observatory of Jävan, located in Genarp, not very far away from where I live.