I’ve been on hiatus for a while now, but I’m slowly getting back into things again. I have these concept art images from Jerry Shaffer to share today.
Collimation has become my nemesis in recent weeks. The seemingly simple task of making the center of one mirror reflect another is deceptively difficult. When I first got the PowerSeeker 127EQ, I hoped this would not become a problem. It was something other people had to deal with not me.
That changed when some debris blew into my scope and got stuck to the primary mirror. I tried tilting the scope and blowing it out with an air can, but it didn’t work. So, I needed to remove the mirror. I consulted the manual and some YouTube clips to see how to best do it. I undid the correct screws and carefully placed the mirror aside on a table where I could remove the debris with a lens cloth and a more direct application of canned air.
I was a little excited to have a reason to clean the mirror, believing getting the shipping dust off of it would give me a clearer image than I’ve had before. While I’m sure it did help, my first look at the moon and the bright February crescent of Venus was more like viewing them through a telescopic prism. The images were terribly skewed by the “coma,” which is the technical term for the telescope reflecting a smeared and stretched image, giving it a reddish and bluish light tail. Even the moon, which is the first and easiest thing to see, was blurry and I couldn’t focus the image to make it sharp.
I knew what the problem was and also knew what I read about the difficulty of collimating the 127EQ, but I believed I was better than others. I believed I could just follow the directions in the manual and do it by eyeballing things without even using a collimating eye piece. I was wrong.
Peering into the open (no lens) eyepiece, I could see the reflection of the primary mirror was well off center. I made some adjustments to the secondary mirror with a screw driver. The secondary mirror is held to the scope with a single, long middle screw and angled with a triangle of shorter screws. You turn those three screws one at a time to try to center the view of the primary mirror in the eyepiece. I did that, as best as I could, but I was just making my best estimation that the image of the primary mirror was centered in the circular darkness of the eyepiece.
The next step was to center the reflection of the secondary mirror inside the reflection of the primary mirror by adjusting the primary mirror.
On the 127EQ, the primary mirror has six identical screws spaced out in pairs in a triangular pattern. The most clockwise of the pair is the locking screw and the other screw is the adjustment and mounting screw. Yup, the adjustment screws are what hold the mirror into the bottom of the telescope.
Furthermore, the screws can really only pull the mirror tighter against the scope mounting. The pushback comes from three rubber sleeves or plugs the screws pass through. So as you tighten the screws you compress the rubber. As you loosen them, the rubber ideally expands to push the mirror out.
In practice, this is really problematic. Unless the mirror is horizontal to the ground, it’s weight tends to tilt the screws and the metal disc its mounted on against the edge and mounting brackets inside the tube, meaning the rubber plugs or plugs aren’t “strong” enough to push the mirror out as you loosen the screw or screws. There’s an entire video on the web about how to replace all six of these screws with finger-adjustable wings and how to replace the rubber plugs with springs.
I devised a simpler solution than replacing the plugs with springs. I know you’re supposed to be able to purchase some at the hardware store, but I didn’t figure it was worth the effort of trying to find some that might fit. Nope, I used gravity instead.
I learned that the best way to adjust the mirror was to keep it horizontal to the ground so gravity would do the job the rubber plugs couldn’t do and more evenly. There is some risk of the mirror falling out of the bottom of the tube by doing this, but it’s a really small risk since you would need to unscrew all three adjustment screws completely. By the time you popped the second screw out, you should be able to recognize the peril.
I found this gravity method also worked for adjusting the secondary mirror, at the risk of dropping a screw driver into the tube and cracking the mirror.
Figuring I mastered the mirror adjustments and after hours of tinkering, my eyeball results improved the image, but were still inadequate. I realized I needed a tool. Despite seeing all the reviews that suggested using a laser collimator, I opted to purchase the collimation eyepiece listed in the Celestron manual. I thought it would be cheaper than a laser collimator and almost as effective.
Thinking I had the problem licked, again, I slotted the eyepiece, which was recommended in the manual, and found it had two problems. First, it was too long. Unlike other reflector telescopes, the 127EQ is of the variety that needs a corrector lens in the base of the eyepiece to fix and focus the image bouncing off the secondary mirror. It’s kind of an inexpensive way of increasing the focal length of the scope without increasing the actual length of the scope or the size of the mirror. The collimation eyepiece wouldn’t slot fully into the eyepiece mount because the bottom of it would hit the corrector lens.
The other problem was the eyepiece tube was just a little too slender and the bottom of it was just loose enough when slotted in the eyepiece mount to move around. Meaning, I was eyeballing centering the eyepiece so I could center the image of the primary mirror so I could center the image of the secondary mirror in the middle of the eyepiece crosshairs. After many more hours, I got improved results but not enough to warrant the $30+ I paid for the eyepiece.
So, I returned it and bit the bullet. I purchased an inexpensive laser collimator, the SVBONY Red Laser Collimator, for about $25. Many reviews claimed the laser needed collimation itself because it didn’t come out of the projector completely centered. But there was an easy way to test this by rolling the pointer in place and seeing if the laser dot on the wall turned a circle of stayed mostly in place.
The one I got stayed mostly in place, but because of the corrector lens in the 127EQ I couldn’t just slot it and go. Nope, I had to take apart the eyepiece mounts, remove the corrector lens, and put it back together without the lens and without forgetting the proper orientation of the lens. That done, I slotted the laser collimator and tried not to blind myself as the beam lit out of the telescope. The collimation was well off.
I followed the directions as best as I could. The primary mirror of the 127EQ doesn’t have anything marking the center of it, so you’re doing your best to reflect the laser from the secondary mirror onto the middle of the primary mirror. More eyeballing. And yes, there are plenty of sites and videos about how to mark the center of the mirror with a sticky 3-ring reinforcement ring. I wasn’t even going to bother at this point. I ended up loosening the secondary mirror and adjusting it by hand before locking in the adjustment screws and then doing the same to the primary and then going back to the secondary and then back to the primary. For whatever reason, I wasn’t able to get the laser to strike the perceived middle of the primary mirror, reflect back into the eyepiece off the secondary mirror and hit the target in the laser collimator.
But I got much, much better results. I stayed up way, way too late on a clear and very cold night to get these. The lighting conditions were not ideal thanks to a lit parking lot and neither planet was especially close at the time, but I’m still proud of what I was able to do and my view of things with my eye was inspiring and far clearer and more vivid than my Galaxy S7 can capture.
The most powerful lens I used was the extra 9mm lens I purchased as part of a kit separate from the scope. Those kit lenses are by far my favorite to use. They manage decent magnifications with a great viewing area for my eye and pictures. I have the 4mm lens that came with the scope that can push it to its maximum, practical magnification of 250x, but that’s really kind of pointless if you’re getting a little more than twice the magnification at a quarter of the viewing area.
So, I picked up another after market lens I’m desperate to try when the sky clears. It has the 4mm focal length for maximum magnification, but with a 10mm lens to see it through. Check the pictures below to see the comparison. It’s also worth mentioning the lens is a lot clearer than the one that came with my scope.
My scope is collimated for the time being, but I’m not looking forward to doing it again. I spent hours figuring it out and researching it. When it comes to astronomy and this telescope in particular, collimation will remain my nemesis.
And thanks to theskylive.com for providing so much useful info about the planets.
I’ve been dabbling in some galactic voyeurism as of late. By that I mean, I’ve taken a crack at amateur astrophotography. Put more simply, I’ve been taking pictures of planets and the moon through my new telescope with my smartphone. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
It’s been surprisingly easy to do and has produced some pretty surprising results. No, I’m not taking Hubble quality images, but I am getting way better picture than I have any right to.
For Christmas, I was given the Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ, which is a Newtonian Reflector type of telescope. It uses a large mirror to capture light and focus onto a smaller mirror that sends the image to a lens in the eyepiece. It has a focal length of 1,000mm, which is the big number for determining the upper magnification power limit of the telescope. The formula goes that the magnification of the telescope is equal to its focal length (1,000mm) divided by the focal length of the eyepiece lens. The scope came with a 20mm and 4mm lenses and I purchased the Celestron PowerSeeker Accessory Kit for two more lenses, a 15mm and a 9mm. So with each of those eyepieces my possible magnifications are roughly 50x, 67x, 111x, and 250x. The 15mm and 9mm lenses are my favorites to use.
Included with the scope was a 3x Barlow lens, which for all intents an purposes, “zooms” in on whatever image you’re looking at by 3x at the cost of sharpness and brightness. It’s very much akin to using the digital zoom on a camera. I haven’t been too impressed with it so far and I’m curious if a 2x Barlow would produce better results.
So, with all these lenses and this pretty decent amateur telescope, I set out on my adventure of exploring the solar system from my driveway. It is not an ideal location to setup a telescope with plenty of light pollution (stupid streetlight), being less than 50ft above sea level, and only have a few completely clear nights. My first target was the moon, mainly because I wanted to adjust the finder scope so that it would be properly aligned with the telescope. The most frustrating thing about using any kind of high-powered telescope is actually pointing it at what you’re trying to look at. And the more powerfully and narrower the field of view is, the faster the object you’re trying to target will move away. I took a couple of videos that demonstrate this.
The moon is easy to find with a telescope, especially with the low magnification 20mm eyepiece. With the moon sighted, I adjusted the finder scope and set about trying a couple of different lenses. And once I was comfortable with those and operating the telescope, I broke out the handy little gadget that lets me attached my Samsung Galaxy S7 to the telescope, Gosky Universal Cell Phone Adapter Mount. Fitting my phone into it and adjusting it so the camera lines up with the eyepiece takes some fidgeting and is most easily done with a bright target like the moon and the low power 20mm lens. But it takes some trial and error.
Once I got that right, I had to manage the camera settings on the Galaxy S7. Getting deep into them hasn’t been as intuitive as I would like and I’m still playing with them. The camera wants to be helpful with a lot of automatic settings and light sensors, but those things actually hinder trying to take a crisp image. I suppose I should go hunting for an app designed to set the camera settings for astrophotography. One important thing I did learn (other than disabling flash) was to set at least a 2 second time delay on taking photos and video. My telescope is actually really stable on its aluminum tripod mount, but just pressing the camera button on my phone’s screen causes slight shaking that becomes more noticeable the higher up in magnification you go. That 2 second delay lets the vibration mostly subside so I could take a clearer picture.
Here’s one of the first pictures I took of the moon. I believe I used the 15mm eyepiece and you can see how I don’t quite have my phone’s camera close enough to the eyepiece. That curved edge on the right of the image is the phone catching the edge of the lens. The camera’s field of view tends to be larger than the lenses I have.
While taking pictures, it also occurred to me that I could shoot video as well. The camera actually works somewhat better in video mode for this than in snapshot mode. Unfortunately, there’s a little noise being picked up by the mic. I need to research how to disable it for these kinds of videos.
I’m going to work on getting some better pictures of the moon when it gets fuller and the weather clears up. The next picture, which was one of many I took, is of Jupiter and four of its moons, which I believe are referred to as the Galilean moons. The sky wasn’t perfectly clear when I was watching Jupiter, having a slight haze to it. Again, I’m going to try to get better pictures when Jupiter gets closer to earth in the next couple of months.
And here’s the video clip I took of the gas giant and its moons. Notice how swiftly it moves through the lens and the field of my camera at a little over 100x magnification and about 2x digital zoom.
But where are your Venus pictures, you might be wondering. Venus is the brightest object in the sky, second to the moon. Well, I’ve tried and I don’t know what gives. I got one good look at Venus with my low power 20mm lens where I could barely make out its crescent appearance. But after changing lens, it just turns into a bright blotch. One time, I think this was due to condensation forming on the telescopes mirror. Another time, I think it must have been some thin, high clouds. It should reach its peak brightness on February 17. So, I’m hoping for clear skies then so I can try to get some good pictures.
Until then, I’m looking forward to more galactic voyeurism with my Galaxy phone. I mean, Samsung must have known what they were doing when they named the phone that, right?
After months of training, I got to take my shot at the full 26.2 miles of the Louisiana Marathon and I finished it.
My first marathon, it was one of the hardest physical things I had ever done before in my life. Those last six miles were brutal, breaking down into longer and longer periods of walking and shorter and shorter periods of running. My legs-my entire body-ached, but not so bad I couldn’t move. Hell, I even ran up that god-forsaken overpass in the last couple of miles. I just felt like I ran out of gas, literally like a combustion engine trying to run on fuel fumes.
I think a few things contributed to this. First, I tried running a slightly faster pace than what I trained for, which is always a mistake, but I kept it up for 18 miles or so. I finished my training schedule more than a month early (You can read about that here.). While I did my best to maintain my conditioning, the weather, the holiday food and booze, and family concerns worked against me. And the race day temperature started in the mid-60s and got into the low 70s with some humidity, so it was significantly warmer than it had been for any of my long runs.
I also knew some friends and coworkers that ran into their own problems. One fell down early in the marathon and scraped up her hands and knees pretty badly. Another pulled a muscle around mile 19, but had been running at a pace fast enough that he had time to limp the rest of the way home before the sweep bus came along.
So, my finish time wasn’t great, 5:20, but it was still a finish time. And I have the medal to prove it. After running that thing, just the accomplishment of doing it is enough for me (for now).
Covered in body salt (and probably stinking terribly), I made it to the victory party with plenty of time to spare. There was a variety of food from several different vendors. Most of it was just free and didn’t require using one of the six stamps on my event bracelet. The Abita Brewing Company was out there with its trucks serving up its most popular beers. I had a Purple Haze, but there was also the Amber and The Boot – Louisiana Exclusive. It’s all pretty good beer, but after chugging a gallon mixture of water and powerade for the last 5 hours, my stomach wasn’t quite ready for beer or food.
Still, I had what I could stand out of principle, at least until I got back to my car and stopped at Jack in the Box on my way home. Eating an Ultimate Cheeseburger meal has become my post-marathon and half-marathon tradition it seems.
I wish I had my own pictures of the course itself, but I didn’t want to fumble with my phone while I was concentrating on staying with the pace team. The first half is great, aside from some rough roads. It goes from downtown Baton Rouge to Tiger Stadium on LSU’s campus by way of the streets around the LSU/Baton Rouge Lakes. This is obviously a matter of (completely biased, damn those last 10 miles!!!) opinion, but the second half of the route was just kind of plain. You were running through neighborhoods. I had more than my fill of that during my training. It was psychologically disheartening in a way. Still, there were tons of spectators and police officers and volunteers along the either leg to cheer you on.
People dressed in Batman and Super Troopers costumes shouted for us to keep going. Others offered us snacks and drinks and funny signs reading things like, “I don’t run marathons. I watch them on Netflix.” And the pace guy I ran most of the race with, as well as most of the runners, waved to and thanked each of the officers we passed. It was a good show of solidarity after such a rough year for the state.
With the marathon over and the training (thankfully) behind me, I’m turning my focus back to writing now. But really, writing a new book is just another kind of marathon. That’s depressing to think about right now, so I’m just going to stop.
If you’re curious, you can view the 2017 Louisiana Marathon results here.
I’ve been training for the Louisiana Marathon (@thelamarathon) these last few months. It (and other personal issues) admittedly sapped a lot of my free time and mental energy. So, I’ve been neglecting writing and blogging for about as long as I’ve been training, which is unfortunate because I wanted to blog about my training along the way. I can at least recap why I decided to run the marathon, how I trained for it, what the training was like, etc.
First, I ran the Louisiana Half-Marathon in January 2016 as part of Ainsley’s Angels and a group of coworkers that organize to push another coworker through the half marathon route. The company I work for was very supportive of the effort and made it into a big media event for us. I’ve avoided blogging about it or speaking too much about it on social media, because I try to keep my writing endeavors as separate as possible from my professional endeavors. I even wrote an article for the company newsletter about the experience that received a Hermes Gold Award, but thought it was best not to post a copy of the story on my personal site.
I can say it turned out to be a great experience. There were only a handful of veteran runners on our team and some of them were only with us until the half-marathon route split from the full marathon route. I have been running for years, but I considered a long run to be 5 miles. I believe I once ran a little more than 7 miles in my 20s, but that was it. When the fall before the race came around and I agreed to join the team, I had a lot of training to do. My coworkers gave me bits of advice, but I mainly just tackled it on my own, running in my neighborhood. Seven miles was easy to reach. 9 miles became a wall for me for a while. Sometime in October, I managed to run the full 13.1 miles and some more (closer to 14 miles). And I maintained this until the race in January, doing 6 mile runs mainly and the 13.1 miles runs a couple more times.
When the race came around, I was more than physically prepared for the run. But what made me hate even agreeing to the entire thing was having to go down to downtown Baton Rouge before the sun was up and wait in some of the worst cold January wind I had ever experienced in my life. I was miserable for hours until the race started, the winds died, the sun came up, and our team established a pace. The run turned into beautiful tour of the LSU campus and the nearby lakes, as well as parts of the Garden District.
What stuck with me, and motivated me to attempt the full marathon, was my memory of reaching the point in our route where the more veteran runners of our team went one way and we went the other. With roughly 10 miles into the run, I completely believed and felt that I could have gone with the veteran runners and done the full. Not only that, I wanted to go just to see if I could do it. So, I promised myself that if I was able to, I would sign up for the full marathon the next year. And I did.
The full marathon at 26.2 miles, however, is much more than just twice the distance of the half. It takes work, time, preparation, and experience to get to 26.2. When I reached that point where the routes split and thought I could have run the full, I would have failed, probably dying out around mile 16.
Knowing I would try for the full, I continued running on a regular basis as I normally did, but ran more longer routes of 5 and 6 miles more often. And when it came time to train, I sought advice from the Internet. I discovered Hal Higdon’s (@) site and settled on his Novice 1 training. The training would begin with a weekend long run of 6 miles and peak with a weekend long run of 20 miles a few weeks before the race. Fearing inclement weather and potential illness, I started just before the LA Floods.
The training was a catastrophe, initially, at least. The heat index was regularly above 110 degrees F. And the three short, back-to-back runs during the work week were wearing me down. In fact, my entire body was wearing down. Where I was able to run 13.1 miles without issue, I struggled to run just 7 miles. My legs ached, my back ached, my body felt like a lead weight, and it didn’t matter how much water I drank; I would just overheat.
Thinking this was all due to just the extreme heat (which it partially was), I tried running on a tread mill in an air conditioned gym. And still, no dice.
My body was just worn out. It didn’t matter how much I slept or what I ate and drink or didn’t eat or drink. The training was damaging me a little more with each new run. I started to think there was something wrong with me, something I couldn’t just explain away with being older. I went to the Internet again and discovered the obvious.
I would often take the OTC drug to treat aches and pains from working out, believing I was helping my body by reducing inflammation and ensuring a more restful sleep. In reality, I was handicapping my body’s ability to properly heal itself from exertion and recover. More than that, every time I had taken a couple pills a few hours after a run, I basically undid any benefit the run might have gained me with muscle and bone growth. It also seemed to screw with my body’s ability to properly hydrate itself. During my treadmill run, I actually became water-intoxicated and stepped off dizzy.
Ibuprofen is a great remedy for treating injury and the occasional injury of illness-produced body ache, but it’s not for the soreness that comes with training. Once I quit taking it, the training became a whole lot easier. Granted, I was apprehensive at first that I actually discovered what was holding me back, but the longer runs and shorter weekday runs got easier and easier. My legs became stronger and stronger. Any soreness I had after a run decreased in duration with each week, despite the miles I was running increasing. It was kind of startling and I’m curious what effect not taking the drug will have on any other training I plan to do after the full marathon.
So, discovering this about my favorite pain-reliever was a huge boost, but I ran into other problems.
Chaffing became a very serious concern. I finished the 15 mile training run bloody. I wasn’t completely unaware of the problem and had long since adopted the practice of protecting my nipples with band-aids. It sounds silly until you finish a run with bloody nipples and have to take a shower. That is pain, friend. Chaffing, too, becomes so much more exacerbated on longer runs with sweat-soaked clothing (dry-fit stuff doesn’t stay too dry when the humidity is well over 80%). I experimented with various runner lubricants for my more sensitive areas and found that the Gold Bond Friction Defense stick worked for me, as well as running in shorts with a lighter material.
With chaffing settled, I next had to contend with my running shoes wearing out. A couple of my long runs turned into complete slogs simply because my shoes were EOL. Various factors play into how long your running shows will last, but the ASICS running shoes I prefer are good for a little more than 200 miles before they die. This was an easy problem to fix, so long as I keep a mental odometer for my shoes.
I was able to run the longest run of the training, 20 miles, just before Thanksgiving. While it was a successful run I ran into another problem. I got to mile 18 and felt great. I even considered trying for the full 26.2 to see if I could do it. But between 18 and 20 miles, I ran out of gas. Finding that regular Gatorade is so sugary it makes me too thirsty during a run, I had been using the reduced-sugar G2 version, diluted with half as much water. And this worked great for balanced hydration. The weather had gotten cooler, so I wasn’t sweating as much, and I could sip this solution as I ran. It worked for me, except it only contained like 7g of carbohydrate. That’s not enough fuel for a 200 lbs. man to maintain a 5-hour run.
So, another problem and another fix. I needed more carbs. I switched back to the regular Gatorade (which makes me thirsty) and diluting it. How well this will work during the actual marathon, I can’t say. I’ll likely be sipping Powerade and water at the relief stations. But I managed a 17 miles run without that same kind of fatigue. Unfortunately, the run was stopped shorter than I would have liked by my running shoes being worn out and making my knees, ankles, feet, and hips hurt.
All these problems I’ve discussed have been physically in the nature, but the second biggest problem I faced during the training was the psychological aspect. Doing anything for 2, 3, 4, or 5 hours straight without a break taxes the mind. You can only loop the same neighborhood so many times before it starts to drive you crazy. Even falling into that meditative state many of us runners are familiar with carrying us through runs becomes fatiguing.
To counter this, I started running across major streets into other neighborhoods and, well, other parts of the city. New sights and curious holiday decorations helped, but only somewhat. I started running with my MP3 player, having to purchase a new one after sweat and salt killed the last one I had. On many of my longer runs, I’d listen to the LSU pre-game show on 98.1 and then about half the game itself. When football ended, I switched to the new Metallica album, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct. As much as I enjoyed the 3-disc special edition version of it, there was something just defeating about being on a run and having the album finish and restart from the beginning.
I can’t stress enough how much mental effort it takes to do these kinds of runs, unless you’re able to run them at a significantly faster pace. When I say the only thing I wanted to do after a long run was to watch TV or YouTube (not even play a game), I’m not kidding. Fortunately, the excitement surrounding the actual marathon, as well as running with friends and coworkers instead of on my own, should be a great help with the tedium.
The race is scheduled for January 15 and the weather should be good. I don’t like going into it never having run the full race distance before. So, I’m putting my faith in the training I endured and “race magic,” as the veteran runners call it. I’ll eat my same pre-run meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast and see how it goes. My predicted completion time sits between 5 and 5.5 hours, but I would like to finish under 5 if I’m able. I guess we’ll see at the 2017 Louisiana Marathon (@lamarathon).
On a side note: I’m resolving myself to contributing more often to my site, as well as getting to work on Divergent Chill III.