All posts by Fred

Almost 60 now! Beautiful wife of 30+ years and two beautiful daughters. One Australian Blue Heeler. Star Gazer since I was big enough to look up. Make a living as an engineer. Driver to the malls and payer of the bills. Unabashed optimist. If in doubt - go Hawaiian, and always keep looking for the pony. Please read Romans 1:20 and ask yourself if all this is really just one big accident....

Comet Johnson

Quentin, Mike, Wallace and I saw the comet last night at Wallace’s neighborhood park. Nice dim glow a little east and north of Izar; exactly where the chart showed it to be. Its at Mag 7 and not a naked eye object but we viewed it through Mike’s ETX125, Wallace’s 12X80 binoculars, and Quentin’s new Celestron CPC8. Seeing was a little shaky but good enough to split Izar. Transparency was good and we took in the Sombrero, Cat’s Eye, NGC5866, Beehive, and Jupiter. Several slow meteors and two passes of the ISS! One almost occulted Jupiter and the other was low to the North through the trees. Dew shut us down around 10PM. Really nice – if short – impromptu night.

Earth Day 2017!

Birmingham had a March for Science on Earth Day along with over 600 other cities in the U.S.A.. I set up the Club’s Coranado to give folks a view of the Sun in H-alpha. Lots of interest. Lots of oohs and ahhs. I also had a pair of paper eclipse glasses and they were almost as popular as the scope! Had a lot of great discussions on amateur astronomy and I threw in my thoughts on light pollution. It was Earth day after all.

There was concern that the event would be one big political rant. It was not. There was talk about assuring that science continues to be a priority but not a lot of finger pointing. The press on this event and the others that I read this morning made it look a lot different than what I observed. At least in Birmingham.

The Earth is warming up. Man’s contribution to that and his ability to influence any change may be debatable but the fact that the Earth is warming is not. It is following a pattern that has repeated itself five times over the past 600,000 years that we know about and there is no reason to think this cycle will be any different. It is generally accepted science that the sea levels will rise from one to three feet by the end of this century. Since 40% to 50% of the worlds population lives within 60 miles of the coast this should give us pause… 80 years is not a long time to begin to reconfigure our infrastructure for these changes. We need to be doing something to get ready right now regardless of how popular it is. Facts are facts folks. This is not a political issue – or at least it shouldn’t be.


New Scope and Mount Installed today

Mike, Wallace, Rick, Bob, Scott and I worked at the Club’s Chandler Mountain site today. We installed the new MI250 mount and C14 and worked on the dome getting the motorized controls connected. Also got the demolition done on the old wind breaks. Messier Marathon had to be rescheduled for next week. Thunderstorms and rain for tonight.


















Urban Outreach – Rail Road Park Camp Out Downtown Birmingham

Mike waiting on the sun to go down.

Mike, Charlie, and I were invited to set up an astronomy demonstration at the second annual Rail Road Park Camp Out in Birmingham’s Southside yesterday.

We set up the club’s 20″ Obsession, Mike’s ETX125, Charlie’s Orion GoTo XT14, and my Questar 3.5. The Samford Planetarium was represented and brought their Vixen 85MM refractor and the University’s Questar 3.5.

There was rain earlier that morning but as we began setting up later that afternoon the clouds were thinning and by twilight we had clear skies. Even with the solid Bortle 8 skies the campers were able to see a thin crescent Venus, M42, M93, M3, Jupiter, M44, Castor, and M36. Earlier in the afternoon they was some solar viewing with white light filters but no sunspots showed up.

To cap it off there was a Mag-1.7 Iridium Flare just SE of Procyon a little after 8PM.

Lots of stuff to see regardless of where you are.


Club update and the ETX90RA – It’s been a while…

We’ve got the Blog going again. Thanks, Ed!

There’s been a lot of stuff going on! A C14 has been donated! It and an MI-250 mount are going to replace the 12″Meade LX200 at Chandler and also fully automated Sirius dome and 10″Meade LX200 GPS have been donated! The dome is up and we hope to have  everything operational by the upcoming Messier Marathon on Saturday, March 25th.

But to the important stuff…. I took the ETX90RA out under the stars on Friday night. I must admit that it has taken a more back-up role since I got the Questar but I couldn’t resist it the other night. I even set it up on the original 883 tripod. Lots of fine adjustments for accurate Polar Alignment.

It did not disappoint. Tracking was spot on. M81/M82 duo were a stretch with the full moon but they were there. It was a beautiful still night and Castor split wide open with the 7mm UO Ortho. Two tiny headlights on a dark road centered in perfectly concentric and steady diffraction rings.

This little scope still holds it own. Yes its plastic and it takes a second for the drive to engage depending on how you slew into an object. Yes you need to replace the stock finder. Yes you need to take the base plate off to change the batteries. Lots of stuff to complain about… or you can get over it and learn how to use it. The setting circles are excellent. The optics approach superb. Its not hard to beat the mount but you’ll need to spend a lot more money to get optics  marginally better. All this for something you can still get for less than $200 on the used market. Wow.


Are you bored? Nothing to do? Check out the updates to the ETX 90RA Greatest Telescope in the World…

Check out the latest additions: How to find things, and 33 things you can do to help you see things in the eyepiece of a telescope.


Fun stuff you can use even if you don’t own an ETX 90RA.



Telescopes, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and a Super Moon

Two adorable little girls look at the Super Moon

Mike, Ed, and I met at the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Shop on Hwy 280 near CR 119 the night of the Super Moon. We set up a couple of scopes, drank some really good coffee, and shared a clear – if bright – sky with about fifty or so folks throughout the evening. Mike had already set up his 8″ Celestron when I arrived at sundown. I set up the Questar 3.5, unfolder a good chair and the two of us walked in the Krispy Kreme to get our first cup of coffee for the evening.

We had a great spot. The shop is about 50 yards off of the main road and there is a sloping grassy area between the parking lot and the traffic. They have one of those 1940’s restored delivery trucks on display with the Krispy Kreme markings and we were right next to it in clear view of the people traveling up and down the main drag. It didn’t take long for folks to startwalking up and asking us if we were there for the “big moon” that had more urban astro gazersbeen talked about on TV for a couple of days.We told them there was more than the moon up that evening and treated them to a storybook thin-crescent Venus, a tiny orange Mars, and the usually stunning Saturn. Most of them had never looked through a telescope and they loved it. I even got a hug from the adorable little girl on the step ladder in the picture. ( Mike was jealous… 🙂 )

We also took in Rasalgethi and Iota Cancri and the folks remarked that they didn’t know stars were different colors.

Long Time No Blog/Telescope Fever

Well, its time we reactivated the blog!

Been long enough.

I am finally finishing the ETX articles and want to print a small section on the fever that one time or another has infected all of us.

This is the opening paragraphs of reason number nine of why I believe the ETX 90RA the Greatest Telescope on Earth. I think it puts things in perspective. What do you think?

“When someone is considering getting a telescope it is usually the result of Telescope Fever.

Telescope Fever is a malady that has only two known cures: the actual purchase of the equipment, or a sobering review of one’s bank statements. In some instances the bank statement review only delays the onset of equipment purchase. Telescope Fever dulls the senses and causes obsessive fixations on usually a single piece of equipment and two questions:

1. What can I see with it?

2. How much does it cost?

(A variation on number one is: How many bells and whistles does it have?)

The person at this point is totally immersed in telescope review sites and flashy magazine articles – usually ignoring the more negative comments because secretly they have already made up their minds. They might wait for a star party and actually look through one of the scopes they are considering, but this is pretty rare and goes against traditional “telescope fever” protocol.

The telescope is purchased and delivered and only then do the symptoms of “telescope fever” begin to subside. The head clears and additional questions begin to surface:

3. How do I put this thing together ( the instructions are usually lacking in one or more areas)

4. How do I operate this thing once I do put it together?( crew-served telescopes are not unheard of)

5. Where am I going to store this thing? (perhaps a large barn?)

6. How am I going to move this thing to a dark site? ( Check the GCVW specs on your tow vehicle)

7. Where’s the rest of it? (Didn’t all those accessories shown in the magazine come with the base package?)

8. Who can I talk to about all of this? ( The factory?…. the high end scopes usually have great factory support, …the others?)

The answer to question No. 8 usally leads to the answers to the other questions. This is where the vendors and users groups comes in.”

Home-Made Solar Filters

In the June meeting there was a question about how to make your own solar filters. I have done this in the past using two materials: RG Solar Film from Thousand Oaks, and Baader AstroSolar Safety Film from Baader Planetarium. The RG gives a much more aesthetic yellow color but does not quite have the contrast that I believe results from using the rather starkly white Baader film. Both give good views of sun spots. No. You will not see prominences in white light. Thousand Oaks can be purchased directly from them at , and the Baader can be purchased from OPT at . The Baader website ( and the Thousand Oaks site above, both give instructions on how to assemble the filters.

Remember! You must either filter, completely cover, or remove you finders when observing the sun. Viewing the sun can be done safely, but you’ve got to be continuously conscious of what you’re viewing.

There are also a number of folks who will sell you one of those wonderful glass filters. Of course there’s always the PST from Coronodo and the Lundt line of solar dedicated scopes if you desire Ha(hydrogen alpha, not ha 🙂  ) .