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Observing Equipment and Aids
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There's more to observing than just telescopes. Here are a few of the extra pieces of equipment at SBO that help astronomy students study and understand the sky.
There's probably no observing aid so useful for learning the
night sky as a planisphere, or star-wheel. The observer
dials in the current date and time - or equivalently, the
local sidereal time - and the resulting window shows an
accurate sky map of everything that's "up".
But most starwheels have a couple of problems. They're small, so an instructor has difficulty showing several students at a time around the sky. And, of course it's dark outside where you need to look at it. Juggling a flashlight makes things more complicated, and also defeats your night vision when comparing the map with the sky overhead.
The Observatory has largely overcome these difficulties with its 40-inch diameter planisphere mounted on the south wall of the Observing Deck. Its sheer size makes it convenient for group use. The skymap is dimly back-lit, so that one can identify the star patterns without turning on additional lights. And, it's also motor driven to automatically keep track of the sky over the course of the night.
Here's how this unusual stargazing tool was designed and built.
Every astronomical facility should have some, and SBO is no
exception. Binoculars are excellent tools for viewing large
bright sky objects such as the Moon, the Pleiades and other
large open clusters, Andromeda and Pinwheel galaxies, and
some diffuse nebula such as M42 and M8.
Our binoculars range from a set of handheld inexpensive 7x50s (7 power, 50 mm lens diameter) - "pass 'em out, and hope that we get 'em back" - to tripod-mounted 11x70s and 20x80s . The Gemini mirror mount is for those who prefer the convenience of sitting at a table and looking down.
Although CCD imaging has largely replaced photography,
there's still a use for 35mm photography. SBO keeps several
camera backs (Nikon F's, and Pentax K1000's) available for
students who don't own a manual SLR camera but still want to
shoot for the stars.
For observers that bring their own camera backs, we also have a large collection of T-adapters to mate virtually any SLR camera back to an eyepiece holder mount.
The SSP-3 eyepiece photometer from Optec provides an easy
and accurate way to do photometry on individual bright
stars. The photometer simply replaces the eyepiece at a
telescope. A flip-mirror switches between the detector and
an eyepiece for focussing and pointing.
Slide-in filters permit intensity measurements in five different spectral bands from the near ultraviolet to the near infrared: U, B, V, R, and I. Added versatility is obtained with three sensitivity scales and two different integration times. Signal output can be fed to an A/D converter and computer, for real-time logging of transient events such as occultations.