I need a bigger telescope 

The summer is flying by. I just got back from the 2010 Golden State Star Party (GSSP) up in Adin, California. Adin is a great little town, and the local people are super nice. GSSP is held on a few acres of Albaugh's Frosty Acres Ranch. The organizers do a great job of turning an empty cow pasture into a self contained astronomy encampment for four nights. The skies are incredibly dark. The site is on a bit of a rise in the middle of the "Big Valley", so you can see house lights some miles away. Once you realize how far away they are an just look up, you can practically read by the light of the Milky Way.

Here's a shot of my camp, complete with Orion 8" dob.

It's nice and cozy. The Aluminet provides much needed shade, especially when trying to sleep in after a long night of observing.

The problem is that there are some seriously big telescopes there: .

This one is a custom made 30" telescope. I can't really call it a dob, since money appeared to be no object in its construction. It is an alt-az mount, completely motorized and computerized for go-to operation. I left feeling quite inadequate in the aperture department. I wonder how much I can get away with spending on a bigger telescope before the spouse complains....

I'll be headed to Yosemite with the Sonoma County Astronomical Association in about a week. More great camping with telescopes!


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Monitoring WWVB 

I had a thought about monitoring WWVB on 60KHz the other day. Since I have a really stable source of time (GPS disciplined Rubidium Oscillator) why not log the phase of WWVB relative to the GPS time instead of monitoring the amplitude of the signal?

I can think of a few ways to do this that would be easy to implement:

1) Pure analog setup with a ramp and a sample/hold circuit
2) Frequency counter with a & b inputs to measure the time.
3) Microprocessor to measure the time difference.

Since I have a suitable counter, maybe I'll set up to watch the time difference over a few days to see how it looks before deciding on a final approach.

Thoughts anyone?


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Maker Faire 

I had a really nerdy weekend! I spent Saturday at the Maker Faire in San Mateo. I've been a big fan of Make magazine since it debuted, and I have been to all of the Bay Area Maker Faires. This year was really great. A mind-bending experience as always. Plenty of Steampunk, model rockets, trebuchets, mad science, tesla coils, robots, you name it. I highly recommend attending.

The other nerdy thing I did was to go to Sturgeon's mill, which is a steam powered saw mill in western Sonoma County. The mill has been on this spot since the 1920s. When it was shut down in about 1963, Wade Sturgeon, one of the original partners, continued living on the site. He had the foresight to keep the rain off the old mill, and to go out once a week with his oil can to keep everything lubed and moving. I wish more people could think ahead that way. Recently a group including Wade's family got together and brought it all back to life. When you stand on the deck as they saw logs, you can feel the pulse of the steam engine and hear the exhaust note change as the saw blade bites into the log. IT'S ALIVE!!!


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Decametric Receiver Mods 

I've been playing with the TenTec 1056 receiver to optimize its performance measuring solar noise. One of its features as a communications receiver is the fairly narrow and adjustable bandpass filter. The manual doesn't say, but it appears to have about a 1KHz bandwidth. This is really too tight for picking up broadband noise from the sun.

The guys at Fringe Dwellers recommend adding a switch to allow you to bypass the bandpass filter stage altogether. This goes a little too far the other way for my suburban location. The Radio Jove receiver has a multi-pole filter with a 3.5 KHz bandwidth. I decided to follow their lead. I put a simple RC filter in place and so far it seems to be working well.

Here's how it is hooked up. Remove the "Mute" jumper and put an SPDT switch across it with the common to the right end. Across R12 (3.3K), put a series combination of a 1K resistor with a 0.047uF cap. The resistor goes to the right, the other end of R12 is ground. The node where the resistor joins the cap connects to the other end of the bypass switch. Voila, a simple RC filter.

Now to record data for a couple of days and see how my results compare to others.


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Astronomy Day 2010 at the RFO 

We are all set up for Astronomy day here at the Robert Ferguson Observatory. We are getting a good crowd for Solar observing which will last until 4:00 PM. Then after a break for a meeting and dinner, we'll be back to show the night sky. I brought my Orion 8" dob, several others will be here with small scopes, and all of the large scopes in the observatory will be operating. We also have not 1, but 4 lecturers who will be giving a variety of talks starting at 8:00 PM.

Although there are no sunspots today, the sun appears to be active in the decametric radio spectrum. Dean has picked up several noise bursts on the Radio Jove receiver.

Wherever you are, there should be some club doing public astronomy today. If not, at least go out and look at the moon and Venus tonight just after sunset.

Dark Skies!

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