Well, I survived a night of sub-freezing out at Blue Diamond, a site southwest of Las Vegas with the Unistellar guys. It was an interesting night and a couple of LVAS members stopped by as well. Some of us call this particular location the "Blue Diamond" site because it's on the Blue Diamond Road, or the south road to Pahrump, as they say, "over the hump to Pahrump. As a matter of fact, just a few miles further up the road is the Mt. Potosi site where the Las Vegas Astronomical Society (LVAS) has our observatory.
The site isn't an ideal dark site, to say the least. It has a fairly dark view to the south and southwest, but to the east and northeast, you have the Las Vegas light dome. In fact, you can actually see the Strip, including the Luxor light! Yeah, that kind of place but it's a lot darker than anywhere in town. Also, that night, there were high thin cirrus clouds around so transparency was not going to be ideal, plus a quarter moon. To top it off, as you'll see, we had clouds moving in. In essence, this was perfect conditions to try out this enhanced EP.
Now a couple of caveats before we get going.
#1 This is something I'd never use personally because I'm a strict visual observer in that I prefer live photons, not Memorex. Also, if conditions are bad enough I need something like this, I'm just not going to observe.
#2 This device requires an automated telescope. Period. It will not work on a Dobsonian or any un-driven telescope. It's just not made for that.
#3 This device has the potential to be a boon for those that can't get out to ideal skies and those looking to enhance their views even under ideal skies, if they choose.
Now, back to the story.
Laurent and company finally got their scope and eyepiece in but alas, part of it never made it. In fact, part of it was stolen, the part that allows communication with the outside world and also the labeling within the image, so while we could see the images, we could not see the labeling that showed up in the images on the web site. The scope operator, Arnaud Malvache was there first with the scope set up and he told me something about a police report because apparently, from what I gather, those pieces were part of the package and they were taken out of it when it went through customs. Oh well...
Arnaud and I had a great talk about the scope and the other guys joined us and we stayed pretty much in Orion or nearby. The views through the scope on M42/43 were actually comparable to my 16-inch.
Now, to repeat myself a bit, about sky conditions. The Blue Diamond site, which is the bicycle/hiking trail parking lot about five miles from the Potosi observatory on the Blue Diamond road isn't exactly a pristine location under the best of circumstances. In this case, a quarter moon or so was out. Plus the transparency was mush and clouds were starting to move in. However, we had a few holes. Does this sound like the "average" circumstances to which a lot of amateurs might take advantage of this technology? As you'll see in a moment, maybe so.
What I did notice about the EP was that the view was square, or actually rectangular and not round. Not a perfect rectangle either. That was the nature of the prototype, so I had no real issue with that. Another thing was that when he shifted to a different object, he had to put a cap on the end of the telescope tube to do a dark frame. Arnaud said the final version will do this automatically so people won't have to do that.
Now, the need for a drive was definitely there because it took a good minute at least to integrate. When he set it on the object, just like the Mallincam, you don't get an instant view. It takes time to develop, like film, at least in my view. However, once it does, the image clarifies. I will say though that I never did see any color. Maybe it was the particular unit or maybe it was the deplorable sky conditions.
At first, I had M42 at 102X in my scope but I wanted to try my new big honkin 30mm Explore Scientific 82 degree EP I got for Christmas. At 63X, that actually more matched the view they were getting in the smaller scope, so I kept that EP in there.
On brighter objects, the views pretty well matched.
While we were waiting for Laurent and the media to show up, Antonin Borot, the other part of the team (the one with glasses) showed up with a Spanish media guy and Antonin and I had a great chat. This was about the time the two LVAS guys left.
While Jerry was still there, I suggested a couple of other objects like the Horsehead. First we started with the flame, NGC-2024. Now, this was where the little scope really shined. As it turns out, it could not pull in the Horsehead. However, the flame, once the eyepiece integrated, showed up plain as day.
In my scope? With a UHC filter, it was so dim, I could just barely tell something was in the background but not enough to really call it an observation. Without a filter, it was completely invisible. This is a case where the image intensified eyepiece had a clear advantage over my scope.
Now, after we thoroughly explored that avenue, I asked him to try NGC-2022, a small planetary in the shoulders of Orion. It was very dim but still visible in my scope at 102X. Though he got the right area in the image intensified scope, no dice. The object was too small. It turns out, Arnaud told me that objects much smaller than the Ring Nebula are not cut for this device, especially in a smaller scope because the magnification is just too low. That's something I talked to them about Sunday in our final get-together critique. I said they need to do something about magnification. If that's wholly dependent on scope size, that would really limit the objects this device would work on. They talked about listing objects for different size scopes. I find that limiting, especially if one wants to pull in faint fuzzies like NGC galaxies, many of which would be too small to see.
For our final experiment before the rest arrived, we tried the Rosetta Nebula. Though the cluster appeared and the small scope showed a few more stars than mine did, neither of us saw even a hint of nebulosity.
So, back to the Orion Nebula.
For the media, when they finally showed up, his scope failed! The batteries died and he had a bad connection. Oh boy...
In the meantime, I showed them Orion and chatted with the Spaniards from Madrid. It seems we had something in common since I lived there for 10 years.
Things got a bit tense for the team because clouds moved in and completely obscured Orion, but finally, just in the nick of time, batteries changed, connection fixed, Arnaud ran through the whole setup again, got everything tweaked and the clouds moved over just enough to do the demo. The reporters got to see the Orion Nebula through both scopes then we went to the Flame Nebula and they saw it fine in the little scope and absolutely nothing in mine.
That was pretty much it. We were all popsicles by then and packed up. My Gatorade I'd been nursing was almost frozen. I never did finish it.
I took three photos but have never been successful attaching images here at Cloudy Nights without sending them to the moderator. So, I'll say you're not missing much! They're not the greatest since I took them in the dark and couldn't see what I was shooting.
So, that's it for now.