Mercury Transit

Today Mercury crossed between the Earth and the Sun. These Mercurial transits occur roughly 13-14 times a century – the last one was in 2006 and though we only have to wait until November 2019 to see the next one, the following transit won’t happen until 2032.

Between clouds and trees in my Eastern sky this morning I wasn’t sure I would be able to catch the beginning of the transit but it worked out. I set up my 80mm refractor with a Baader solar film filter for white light viewing. With this telescope an 8-24mm zoom eyepiece gives me 20-60x, which is just about right for solar viewing as the high end of the range still allows the entire disk to fit within the field of view and daytime seeing conditions don’t often allow very high powers.

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Gary Seronik leaving Sky & Telescope

Sky & Telescope’s May 2016 issue announces the departure of Gary Seronik who will be leaving the magazine become the chief editor of the Canadian SkyNews. Over the past 20 years Gary has made significant contributions to S&T and the May issue contains his final columns.

One of my favorite regular features of S&T has been Gary’s Binocular Highlight column. In fact it was with a planisphere and a copy of Binocular Highlights, a collection of articles from the column published in book form, that I first started observing and I’d highly recommended the same combination to other would-be enthusiasts.

I’m glad that the monthly Binocular Highlight will continue to appear – starting with the June issue it is to be taken over by Matt Wedel of 10 Minute Astronomy. Here’s wishing both Gary and Matt the best in their new roles.


Original content copyright 2016 by David Philips. All Rights Reserved. This post may contain links to affiliate sites; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

Vanguard Auctus Plus 323AT Tripod Sale

Vanguard 323AT Tripod

[Update Mar. 3: It looks like B&H has sold out and the tripod now shows as discontinued.]

B&H Photo is having a sale on the Vanguard Auctus Plus 323AT tripod.

This sturdy, ~8lb tripod will make a good platform for the AWB OneSky and can even be used with a 4″ refractor, provided it isn’t too heavy or long.

After receiving mine and being impressed with the stoutness and quality I thought I’d pass this along. If you’re looking for a stable, mid-weight tripod for photography* or spotting / telescope use this is an amazing deal at the sale price of $159.99.

*Though it’s a bit on the heavy side unless you use a larger format and lenses.


Original content copyright 2016 by David Philips. All Rights Reserved. This post may contain links to affiliate sites; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

Levenhuk Strike 900 Pro Refractor Review

Levenhuk Strike 900 Pro

The Levenhuk Strike 900 Pro refractor and EQ2 mount.

The burgeoning astronomy enthusiast faces one of the most difficult decisions in the hobby – what to choose for a first telescope? The choice is difficult not only because of the vast range of available options but more so because of a lack of awareness of the viewer’s own preferences and tendencies. Ideally the first instrument will nourish a love of viewing the night sky that will enable the observer to get over any inconveniences or difficulties that might be encountered early in their journey.

I tried to keep these considerations in mind when assembling my impressions of the Levenhuk Strike 900 Pro – an equatorial mounted, long focus refractor kit clearly designed with beginners in mind. Before we start I do want to point out that this telescope was provided by Levenhuk on loan for the purposes of this review and I have spent the past four weeks putting it through its paces.

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Supermoon Lunar Eclipse

Total lunar eclipse on September 27, 2015.

Total lunar eclipse on September 27, 2015.

We had clear skies for Sunday night’s lunar eclipse and it was quite a show. I was able to photograph a sequence from umbra to totality lasting about 2 hours.

The photos were taken from my back yard with a Canon 6D attached to a 5″ refractor at prime focus. Exposures ranged from 1/250 second at ISO 100 to 1/3 second at ISO 6400. With the exception of the last image, the bottom half of the sequence are blended exposures.


Original content copyright 2015 by David Philips. All Rights Reserved. This post may contain links to affiliate sites; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

The Joys and Laments of Viewing Under Darker Skies

Over Labor Day weekend I brought the OneSky along on a family camping trip to the green zone skies of Northern VT. Thanks to the late rising third quarter moon I had lots of time under dark skies gawking at an overwhelming number of stars. It had been a little while since I’ve used the OneSky and I was reminded just how great a scope it is.

Some highlights of the two nights were seeing the Andromeda galaxy stretching beyond the OneSky’s 2.5º max field of view, the Double Cluster, and the brightest, most detailed view of M81 / M82 I’ve had yet. Not to mention the star clouds of the Milky Way arcing across the sky.

Returning home I was disappointed to see my skies appearing gray and washed out but I am slowly becoming re-accustomed to my suburban backyard view of the heavens. I’ve heard of other enthusiasts who only or primarily observe from a dark site and I can certainly see the appeal. The Moon and planets excepted, pretty much every object shows a brighter, more detailed view under a darker sky.

Still, I plan to pursue enjoyment in viewing from wherever I can. At the very least it’s good practice – keeping me mindful of the constellations’ current positions, star hopping to new and familiar targets, and rehearsing the dance of working with the telescope – it all helps me to make the most of the brief opportunities I do get to view under darker skies.

And while this rationale may help to steel myself against the temptation to accept a memory of magnificent skies as a replacement for viewing from my backyard, once outside it doesn’t take long before I am enjoying the views through the eyepiece on their own terms.

Clear skies!


Original content copyright 2015 by David Philips. All Rights Reserved. This post may contain links to affiliate sites; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

60mm Sessions: Omnicron Cygni

Annotated finder chart for Omnicron Cygni. Original chart from the TUBA Atlas.

Annotated finder chart for Omnicron Cygni. Original chart from TUBA

These last nights, though brightened by the full moon, have been clear, cool, and relatively free of bugs and so as tends to be the case this time of year I find myself drawn to spending more time under the night sky.

Moonlit nights are a good time for observing double stars as the brightened sky does little to diminish their beauty. Out I went with my 60mm scope and copy of Double Stars for Small Telescopes to explore Cygnus.

With Deneb (Alpha Cygni) shining bright near the zenith I pointed my telescope roughly towards the tail of the swan and looked through the 6×30 finder. I was surprised to see what appeared to be a wide double star with a striking color contrast.

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The Perseids are Coming!

Each Summer the Persied meteor shower gives North Americans their best opportunity to view a flurry of “shooting stars”, with one appearing roughly every minute at the apex.

The Persied meteor shower peaks the night of August 12th* but activity will still be heightened a few nights before and after. This year the peak activity falls during the New Moon, which means conditions for viewing the shower will be good provided the weather cooperates.

In fact you may occasionally see a Persied meteor even now. The other night I was outside for a few minutes just checking the stars and saw a bright meteor streak by radiating from Perseus in the North East.

For more information on the Persieds and tips on how to observe the shower, check out the American Meteor Society’s viewing guide and Sky & Telescope’s article.

Clear skies!

*4:00 AM on the morning of the 13th to be precise.


Original content copyright 2015 by David Philips. All Rights Reserved. This post may contain links to affiliate sites; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

Is an 8″ Dobsonian the Best Telescope for a Beginner?

A boy and his Dob viewing the Moon.

Follow any discussion of a beginner asking about a first telescope and it won’t be long before an 8″ Dobsonian is suggested. It might be the most recommended scope for beginners, and not without good reason, though there are several factors that should be seriously considered before buying one.

A Dobsonian is a Newtonian reflector on a simple alt-az mount. Before John Dobson popularized his simple, inexpensive mounting method, German equatorial mounts were commonly used, which were by necessity large and heavy, and thus expensive. By comparison an 8″ or greater Dobsonian becomes relatively affordable and portable.

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An 80mm Refractor under Dark(ish) Skies

I spent last week in North-Western Massachusetts, a relatively rural area that shows as dark-yellow on the light pollution charts, which is to say it is considerably darker than my red zone suburban backyard. I was understandably eager to observe under such conditions and so came the decision as to which telescope to bring along.

The AWB OneSky was an obvious choice but for whatever reasons (maybe just for the sake of variety) I decided to bring an 80mm refactor. While the 5″ aperture of the AWB would’ve been appreciated, under decent skies an 80mm can be a satisfying scope, and, being equipped with a 2″ focuser, the 80mm is capable of some breathtakingly wide fields of view.

It turned out that over the course of the week there was only one really clear night for observing but it certainly made bringing the scope worthwhile.

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