Filling the Long Cloudy Winter Nights

The past few weeks in southern Ontario have been particularly cloudy, and it’s most frustrating. Like a lot of people, I’ve been itching to get outside at night. Three nights ago there was a break in the clouds for a few moments and I was able to spot Jupiter. Sigh.

Well, not to dwell on the negative, here at Pine River Observatory we’re putting the time to good use.

1. Reading

Apart from re-reading a couple of classics for inspiration – notably Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and Cosmos, I’ve been working my way along through The Ever-Changing Sky: A Guide to the Celestial Sphere by James B. Kaler and dipping into the delightful Observing and Photographing the Solar System by Dobbins, Parker and Capen, a product of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, or A.L.P.O. I’m also leafing through Sky & Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas, dreaming of observing and photographing nights to come.

2. Planning for 2013

There’s a chance I’ll be doing some travel in 2o13, and I’m already thinking of seeking clearer – or new – skies. Am checking out observatories near my destinations, astronomy clubs, and in general, what might be possible if I tack a few days of holidays onto work-related trips.

I’ve also started to prepare a list of “must see” objects for 2013 for stargazing at Pine River. I’m using Carte de Ciel, the free sky carting software, to take a look ahead and see what might be accessible at appropriate times from my various locations. They’re “starter” objects, but I’m hoping to see and photograph the North America Nebula, Flame and Horsehead Nebulas, and the Orion Nebula, to start.

3. Preparing Equipment

My “fixer upper” project this winter has been to clean up and repair an old 80mm achromatic reflector that I picked up for a song (and a few dollars) at a local ‘scope shop. I had been looking at the thing for months; it was sitting on the floor of the shop in a big wooden case. I guess I’m a sucker for old optical equipment (“Well, D’uh” says everyone who knows me) and after a little poking and prodding at the old beast, I did indeed buy it.

An old 80 mm refrector - my fixer-upper project for Winter 2013.

An old 80 mm refractor – my fixer-upper project for Winter 2013.

It’s branded as a “Polaroscope” – a brand about which I have found little on-line. In the case was:

  • the 80mm f/15 optical tube with finder
  • the mount, in pieces and looking like it had been used as a car jack, and relatively crudely finished wooden tripod legs and metal triangular spreader/tray
  • a 1.25″ diagonal with a large mirror
The 80 mm Polaroscope refractor certainly has a certain presence.

The 80 mm Polaroscope refractor certainly has a certain presence in the livingroom. Will it live up to its potential in the field?

I’ve been having fun cleaning up this instrument and making some repairs. The eyepiece collar looked like it had been run over by a truck, and was jammed into the focuser with nothing more secure than a winding of aluminum duct tape. I’ve cleaned it up, replaced the eyepiece thumbscrews, bent it a little better back into place, and epoxyed it into the focuser tube. The lens cell looks pretty good, but the mount is still pretty dirty. The finder scope will need more work – its mounting rings were pretty screwed up too. For now, I’ve put the tube on a much heavier mount to get things started. The original mount will likely be the last thing I work on; it’s functional but grimy.

The details are that it’s branded “Polaroscope,” is an 80mm refractor (I assume it’s an achromatic), 1,200 mm focal length, f/15. Once cleaned up I’m hoping to put it to use at star parties for planetary and lunar observations. I’ve already used it for a little lunar photography, with a Nikon D5100 at prime focus.

telescope trademark

The trademark on the objective lens cell of the 80mm refractor. Look familiar to anyone?

4. Blogging

In December 2012 I set out to create the Pine River Observatory blog, and so far, so good! Preparing material, formatting images, and actually writing blog posts have kept me busy through a fair bit of the Holiday break this year. I have been able to maintain the somewhat hectic pace of a posting per day since starting the blog on the 20th of December. I anticipate bringing that down to perhaps one or two posts per week once I’m back at work, but am also hoping to have a lot more to post once I can see some clear sky at night and not just freakin’ clouds!