A Newtonian Travel ‘Scope

Wednesday, February 3 2016: SkyWatcher has established a solid international reputation for producing high quality Newtonian optics for the modern amateur astronomer, and at prices that won’t break the bank. Having been thoroughly satisfied with a 8″ f/6 Skyliner Dob, I became very curious about a smaller, model – the Heritage 130P (a 5.1″ f/5 Newtonian with a parabolic primary) tabletop Dobsonian – which promises to provide decent light grasp and resolution in an ultra-portable package for take anywhere travel and short grab ‘n’ go excursions to the back garden.

The telescope was purchased new from Rother Valley Optics on Tuesday morning, February 2, and arrived in the mid-afternoon today. The price, inclusive of postage, was £129.

The telescope came double-boxed and involved no assembly. The optics looked clean and streak-free. A neat instruction manual accompanied the instrument.

The Heritage 130P Dobsonian as received.

The Heritage 130P Dobsonian as received.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘scope, weighing about 6 kilos with the mount, has a built-in carrying handle for swift transport into and out of the house.

Following along the same lines as their extremely successful flextube line of larger Dobs, the Heritage 130P can be extended to reveal the upper tube assembly, lengthening the tube from just 38cm to about 61cm. The lower assembly is adorned with the names of time-honoured astronomers, celebrating four centuries of telescopic astronomy. While some folk might find this ‘tacky,’ I rather liked it.

The Heritage 130P fully extended.

The Heritage 130P fully extended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remarkably, the telescope was almost perfectly collimated out of the box, as evidenced by the just slightly offset red dot from the centre-marked spot on the primary mirror. That’s a nice touch, as one can imagine the reaction of a complete novice were he/she to discover that the optics were delivering iffy views as a result of mis-aligned optical components. It might be enough to put someone off the hobby for good.

Note the position of the red dot from the laser collimator; just a shade out of whack.

Note the position of the red dot from the laser collimator; just a shade out of whack.

Once the collimation was tweaked, I investigated retracting and extending the tube assembly several times to investigate the rigidity of the structure. I am pleased to report that the collimation held quite well but might still require last-minute tweaking for more demanding tasks, such as obtaining the best lunar and planetary views, as well as double star work. Overall though, this is a very well thought out piece of kit and certainly better than I had anticipated.

 

 

 

 

The telescope primary and secondary mirrors are fully adjustable and can be aligned in a matter of minutes. Unlike the three ultra-thin spider vanes on larger models, the secondary mirror on the Heritage 130P is affixed to a single vane, which is a good bit thicker than the latter; a necessary design compromise to maintain that little bit more stability to the optical train.

The adjustment screws behind the f/5 parabolic primary mirror.

The adjustment screws behind the f/5 parabolic primary mirror.

The secondary support is of high quality and is easily adjustable with a user supplied hex wrench.

The secondary support is of high quality and is easily adjustable with a user supplied hex wrench.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The focuser is unusual. Unlike standard rack and pinion or Crayford type focusing mechanisms, the Heritage 130P employs a simple helical focuser which involves rotating the eyepiece either clockwise or ant-clockwise to bring objects to a sharp focus. In addition, the length of the upper tube can also be adjusted to accommodate cameras and other equipment. In short, any eyepiece will reach focus using a combination of these procedures. Only 1.25″ oculars can be used with the instrument, however.

The unusual helical focuser on the Heritage 130P Dobsonian.

The unusual helical focuser on the Heritage 130P Dobsonian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some observers may find reaching precise focus a little fiddly, but with a bit of practice, it works smoothly and accurately.

The Heritage 130P also came with a simple red dot finder (RDF) to aid in locating objects quickly under a dark sky.

The basic but useable red dot finder is easily attached to the upper tube assembly with a small screw driver.

The basic but useable red dot finder is easily affixed to the upper tube assembly with a small screw driver.

A particularly attractive feature of the instrument as received is the dovetail mounting of the optical tube assembly which enables one to remove the tube assembly from the mount proper for even easier storage.

The optical tube can be removed from the mount if necessary to aid storage/transportation.

The optical tube can be removed from the mount if necessary to aid storage/transportation.

In addition, the dovetail plate allows the user to mount the instrument separately on other types of mounts such as this author’s ergonomical Vixen Porta II alt-azimuth for an alternative style of observing. What a nice touch!

The SkyWatcher Heritage 130P mounted on the author's Vixen Porta II alt-azimuth mount; a particularly stable configuration.

The SkyWatcher Heritage 130P mounted on the author’s Vixen Porta II alt-azimuth mount; a particularly stable configuration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Optical testing: Although the instrument suffers from the introduction of considerable amounts of stray light during daylight use without employing some sort of light shroud, I set the instrument up in the late afternoon, aiming the instrument at a roof top about 100 yards distant. I didn’t wait around to use the supplied oculars (which are adequate but not great for testing) but instead decided to push the ‘scope as hard as I could. To that end, I ran inside and affixed a good quality 6mm orthoscopic to a 2.25x Baader shorty Barlow lens, which would deliver a power of 244 diameters. Inserting these into the helical focuser, I carefully rotated it until best focus was achieved. Although the view was a bit drowned out with extraneous light, I am happy to report that the image of the terracotta roof tiles came into very sharp focus; a great initial sign that the optics were of potentially high quality.

After dark, more cloud encroached, but I waited for the odd sucker hole and was rewarded by a clear spot corresponding to Auriga, then high in the eastern sky. Relocating the instrument in a dark spot in the garden, I centred the bright star, Capella, using my multi-coated 32mm SkyWatcher Plossl in the field (yielding a true field of 2.5 degrees!) and was delighted to observe (with my eye glasses on)  a beautifully sharp vista, with pinpoint stars across most of the field. Then, I investigated the high power view of Capella at 244x and after refocusing, was thrilled to see a tight white Airy disk with diffraction rings a shade more prominent than what I have observed in my work horse telescope, a larger 8″ f/6 Dobsonian. This could be explained by the larger central obstruction of the Heritage telescope (~29 per cent by aperture) as compared with 22 per cent for the larger 8 inch.

On a whim, I moved the instrument north-eastward from Capella and centred the star, theta Aurigae. Focusing as accurately as I could, I was able to steadily hold its very faint companion at 244x, some 4 arc seconds away from the primary. Very encouraging to say the least!

It wasn’t long before the skies completely clouded over, and the drizzle came back, ending my first light vigil under the stars. Needless to say, the instrument performed surprisingly well under admittedly dodgy observing conditions.

More testing in the pipeline though.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

11:00am

Having collimated the telescope in situ and placed a makeshift light shround around the upper telescope assembly (UTA), I am happy to reaffirm that the telescope delivers tack sharp images of distant willow tree branches at 244x.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Heritage 130P has a parabolic primary mirror, that is, it is figured into the shape of a parabola. Why is a parabolic shape responsible for such sharp images in a Newtonian reflector? It’s an interesting question, yet many amateurs accept it as a given. But we can do considerably better than that. We can analyse the properties of the parabola, one of the conic sections beloved to the mathematicians of classical antiquity, and thereby gain a deeper appreciation of why this shape, over all others, is chosen by opticians in the fashioning of high quality primary mirrors. Our analysis will borrow from the approach of the great French mathematician, Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who developed a way of investigating geometry using algebra.

A parabola is the set of all points which are equidistant from a given point called the focus and a given line known as the directrix.

The image below outlines the basic features of a parabola drawn on a x-y axis.

The Parabola

The Parabola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the focus be the point S( a,0) and the directrix be the line x=-a, as shown in the diagram. Consider any point on the parabola, P(x,y).

Thus, by definition, the length of SP = length of PM

So [(x-a)^2 + y^2]^0.5 = x + a

Therefore, (x-a)^2 + y^2 = (x+a)^2

Thus, x^2 -2ax +a^2 + y^2 = x^2 + 2ax + a^2

From which y^2 = 4ax ( Eq 1)

This is the standard form of the equation of a parabola.

Consider next the parametric equations x = at^2 and y = 2at.

Substituting the expression for x into equation 1 we obtain;

y^2 = 4a^2t^2 = 4a(at^2) = 4ax

So, x = at^2 and y = 2at represents the parametric coordinates of any point on the parabola y^2 = 4ax.

We can use this to derive two more equations that will enable us to arrive at the result we want. Consider the diagram drawn below.

The parabola with the point P defined parametrically.

The parabola with the point P defined parametrically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

y^2 = 4ax

Differentiating implicitly with respect to x we obtain;

2yf'(x) =4a

so f'(x) = 2a/y, which is the gradient of the tangent at any point.

Now since y = 2at, the gradient becomes 2a/2at = 1/t

And so the equation of the tangent to the parabola at the point P is given by:

y – 2at = 1/t(x-at^2)

Multiplying across by t  gives;

ty – 2at^2 = x-at^2

or  x – ty + at^2 =0 ( Eq 2)

Also, the gradient of the normal at P = -t and so the equation of the normal will be:

y – 2at = -t(x-at^2)

or tx + y – 2at – at^3 = 0 ( Eq 3)

Now we are ready to obtain further information from the parabola under discussion.

Let the tangent at P intersect the x-axis at R and the y-axis at U, and let the normal to the parabola at P intersect the x-axis at V, as shown in the diagram below:

parabola 3

The coordinates of R are obtained by setting y = 0 in equation 2

x – ty + at^2 =0 and so if y = 0 then x = -at^2 and so the coordinates of R are (-at^2, 0)

The coordinates of U are obtained from setting x = 0  into equation 2, from which it is easily shown that y = at i.e. U(0, at).

The x-coordinate of V can be obtained by setting y = 0 in equation 3;

tx + y – 2at – at^3 = 0 and when y = 0 we obtain:

t(x- 2a – at^2) =0,and since t cannot equal zero we have

x = 2a + at^2 and so the coordinates of V are given by (2a + at, 0).

From these results it is possible to verify the following:

(i)  U is the midpoint of PR

(ii)  length of SR = length of SV = length of SP

(iii) US is parallel with PV and that PU is perpendicular with SU

I will leave these as exercises for the interested reader.

Now, to the meat of the analysis. Consider a line PZ drawn parallel to the axis of the parabola as shown in the diagram below:

parabola 4

 

 

Since  length SP = length SV so too must angle SPV = angle SVP

But angle SVP = angle VPZ since PZ is parallel with RV

So angle SPV = angle VPZ

But ZPV is the angle of incidence of a ray of light incident upon a reflective parabolic surface and so the law of reflection requires that the angle of reflection be the same i.e. angle VPS.

But since P is independent of S, the result implies that any ray of light parallel to the axis will be reflected through the focus, S.

This is the reason why parabolic mirrors work so well, as they completely avoid a phenomenon known as spherical aberration, which can can plague other kinds of optical designs.

That’s enough math for one evening eh.

After a day of more or less constant rain, the sky appears to be clearing up and so I’ll get some more time under the starry heavens using my little parabolic Newtonian.

Thank goodness for small mercies!

Saturday, February 6 2016

Time: 00:05h

The telescope was collimated perfectly before use and left to cool in a dry, unheated shed. Initially, I had intended to use my Baader zoom and dedicated 2.25x Barlow to observe Jupiter, now 31 degrees above the horizon. To my chagrin, I discovered that this combination failed to reach focus. Due to the constant interruptions from clouds and with the rain never far away, I did not want to retract the UTA enough to get it to focus. Instead I chose a 7.5mm Parks Gold ocular and 2.25x Barlow yielding 195x.

Though the helical focuser is a bit fiddly and takes some getting used to, I am happy to report that the Jupiter images were wonderful in this telescope, with lots of nice detail showing up under moderate scrutiny. The planet’s enormous equatorial belts were seen in their faithful colours and many shades of tan were observed. A Baader Neodymium filter took away a little bit of glare surrounding the planet, helping to bring out more subtle details. Although I felt 195x was a little too high, and would have been happier with 160x, I was most impressed by what this inexpensive Newtonian was delivering.

Jupiter as seen through the Skywatcher Heritage 130P Dobsonian at midnight of February 6.

Jupiter as seen through the Skywatcher Heritage 130P Dobsonian at midnight of February 6.

Turning then to some brighter stars appearing from behind the clouds, I was equally impressed by how well the instrument focused them down to tight round Airy disks at the highest powers pressed into service (244x). The telescope seems quite immune to atmospheric turbulence as judged by the calmness of the images. Returning to a 32mm Plossl, I enjoyed a spell binding few minutes drinking up the famous Double Cluster (Caldwell 14) in Perseus. The 20x delivered by this eyepiece provided a very generous field of view, allowing both star clusters to be easily framed in a most beautiful portal.

This is certainly not a toy telescope! It is impressively powerful with high quality optics. Indeed my initial impressions were very similar to this assessment made by Ralph Bell back in 2009.

Monday, February 8 2016

Time: 18:30-45 UT

I enjoyed another brief vigil under the stars with the Heritage 130P Newtonian.  Charging the telescope with a 32mm Plossl (20x), I first visited the Pleiades, now high in the southern sky. Its constituent stellar components focused to fine points of light, pure white as the driven snow, with excellent contrast. Though I did not do a side by side comparison with my 80mm f/5 shorttube refractor, I was immediately aware of the Heritage’s significant advantages in light gathering power, with many more fainter members coming through at a glance. Then, I moved the instrument southwards, where majestic Orion was just about to culminate. The view of M42, the Great Nebula, was a sight for sore eyes. Cranking up the magnification to 81x with my Baader Zoom, I enjoyed a sumptuous field of view dominated by the emission nebula and Trapezium stars at its heart. The hinterland of the nebula was jewel encrusted with brilliant white stars set against a jet black sky.

Before packing up, I examined three higher resolution targets; first Rigel, just a few degrees to the southwest of M42. Using a power of 108 diameters, I was delighted to see the faint companion to this brilliant giant star cleanly and steadily. Then I swung the telescope over to Cassiopeia, now high in the northwestern sky. First I centred eta Cassiopieae and keeping the power at 108x I was able to easily split this pair, consisting of a beautiful yellow primary of magnitude +3.5 and its ochre companion some 13 arc seconds away, shining considerably more faintly at magnitude 7.4. Finally, I moved the Heritage 130P over to iota Cassiopeiae and could make out two of the three components of this system at a glance at 108x. The third member remained somewhat more elusive though, so I attached the Baader 2.25x Barlow yielding a higher magnification of 244x, refocused, and was overjoyed to see all three components clearly and precisely!

The Heritage 130P enjoying a dry afternoon.

The Heritage 130P enjoying a dry afternoon.

The imminent arrival of another student meant that I had to end the short vigil there, but it was very rewarding nonetheless. The telescope has great potential as a deep sky instrument and appears to be no slouch on moderately difficult double stars.

Tuesday, February 9 2016

Time: 19:00-30 UT

After a cool but crisp day, I continued my Newtonian education by fielding two telescopes; the Heritage 130P and a high quality 90mm f/5.5 ED doublet on loan for a a magazine review. Both instruments were given plenty of time to thermally acclimate and placed in the darkest spot in my garden to minimise stray light flooding into the open tubed reflector.

The multicoated objective of the f/5 ED90 'scope.

The multi-coated objective of the f/5.5 ED90 refractor.

The sky after sunset was clear but the stars were corruscating fairly wildly. Transparency was excellent though, so I decided to assess the seeing conditions some more by turning the 130P on Castor, now quite high in the eastern sky. Charging the telescope with a power of 195x, both the A and B components were resolved but there was quite a bit of turbulence which made the stars bloat significantly from their calmer appearances under better seeing conditions.  Comparing the same target in the ED90 charged with a power of 188x, both components were also resolved but there was still noticeable turbulence. It was not quite as unsettled in the refractor though, a consequence I suppose of its smaller aperture. This demonstrated to me that poor seeing can (though thankfully rarely at my location) adversely affect small telescopes. I judged the image in the refractor to be slightly more aesthetically pleasing under these conditions.

The reader will also note that the refractor comes equipped with a state-of-the-art 11:1 dual speed micro-focuser and so was considerably easier to focus finely than with the comparatively crude helical focuser on the Heritage 130P. This may also have contributed to my conclusions regarding Castor A & B. Accurately focusing f/5-ish instruments is never a walk in the park.

Turning to M42 once again, I compared and contrasted the images in both telescopes matching their image scales as best I could (~100x). Both telescopes delivered good images but the superior light gathering power of the reflector gave it a distinct edge. More nebulosity was seen and the stellar images were noticeably brighter in the reflector. This was despite the fact that the refractor had superior contrast, with a blacker sky background.

I am hoping that conditions will improve by the time Jupiter rises in the sky in a few hours from now.

22:45 UT

The sky has completely clouded out and the forecast predicts that it won’t clear again until the wee small hours. I am very tired though, so will leave further testing for another night.

Thursday, February 11 2016

Time: 00:50h

I fielded the same two instruments tonight as last night; the 130P reflector and the ED90 refractor. I finally found a good eyepiece to optimise the 130P’s capabilities on Jupiter; a 4mm Plossl delivering a power of 165x.The ED90 was charged with a power of 150 diameters.

Seeing was only marginally improved over last night (Antoniadi III-IV) but it was nonetheless a good test of what both instruments could deliver on Jupiter under these sub-par conditions (we have a north westerly air flow here which almost invariably brings more turbulent conditions but with excellent transparency).

I fitted a Baader Neodymium filter (with very high light transmission and virtually no colour shift, more a moon and skyglow filter than anything else)  to the 130P to reduce the glare a little.

Comparing the images in both telescopes over a period of about half an hour, I gathered my thoughts.

Both showed some nice details in the equatorial belts. The ED90 image revealed hints of more subtle details at higher and lower latitudes but in the end I felt the 130P showed that little bit more. In particular, it was easier to see those details at temperate latitudes, as well as the more delicate polar shadings. One very striking difference was the colour of the Jovian disk presented in the telescopes. The ED90 was noticeably yellower in overall hue – a consequence of its imperfect achromaticity in comparison to the perfectly achromatic reflector. The latter presented a brighter disk in its true colour; much more creamy white than yellow. The Neodymium filter showed that the colour in the ED90 remained the same but with a little more light loss.

In retrospect, this should not have come as a surprise; while the refractor has a low dispersion element, which improves colour correction, it still can’t deliver perfectly achromatic images. Yes, it’s a sizeable improvement over the traditional achromat but still not perfect. Only a reflector image – which brings all wavelengths of light to the same focus – could really reveal this. In addition, a brighter image can also help the eye see finer details. You need light to see such details.

That being said, I do know the ED90 is capable of showing more on better evenings ( data not communicated) but so must the 130P, as they were both compared under the same conditions. I am eager to conduct further tests in this capacity as soon as the seeing conditions return to normal.

This was an instructive vigil. The 130P should  give very decent images of Jove when the seeing is fair to good.

15:50UT

SkyWatcher has also brought to market a related telescope called the 130PD-S, which, as far as I can tell, features the exact same optics as those possessed by the Heritage 130P but retails for about £30 more. The optics are housed in a closed tube and the spider vanes are akin to what is seen on a traditional Newtonian. It also features a low profile 2-inch dual speed focuser for precise focusing and the secure mating of a CCD camera to the instrument. The 130P-DS has proven a huge hit with astro-imagers who have used it to good effect to capture stunning views of the night sky. Featured on this link is a plethora of deep sky objects captured by this modest telescope, but the reader will also take note of the lunar and planetary images captured by the same instrument.

Although not a visual assessment, I hope you will agree that the unlying camera shows just how good the optics are in these telescopes.

Friday, February 12 2016

Time 00:01UT

The seeing was vastly improved tonight, frosty but no wind. I only had time for one target; Jupiter. Like last night I fielded the same telescopes and employed the same magnifications etc.

Both telescopes served up some excellent images, but this time there was a clear winner – the 130P.

Though the image flitted somewhat between perfect focus and slightly out of focus in both telescopes, both instruments revealed excellent details in the equatorial and temperate belts. Details in the more prominent NEB were more finely resolved in the Newtonian than in the ED90. But what clinched it for me was the sighting of the Great Red Spot (GRS) near the western limb of the planet (at 00:01UT) that was picked off in the 130P but was not seen clearly in the ED90.

As always, I would be very grateful if someone could repeat these observations if you have the 130P and a good 90mm refractor.

The 130P is turning out to be a fabulous little telescope and I am overjoyed to have made its acquaintance!

19:30 UT

I have noticed that the price of the ED90 has been bumped up by £48 in the short time since I acquired it for review. It now retails for £868?! I don’t know why this was done (it was £820 just last week, remember?), but I can tell you I do not consider these telescopes good value for money and do not understand some people’s obsession with them. Under good conditions the Heritage 130P will outperform it and for 1/6th of the price. And if the classical achromat is the prince of telescopes, Newtonians are the ruling monarchs.

I would like to keep this telescope and learn how best to maximise its potential. I have bestowed a name on her; Plotina.

After another beautiful, crisp day, the firmament was glorious after sunset, with a gorgeous crescent Moon adorning the western sky. I set up Plotina at the side of the house and trained her on our life-sustaining satellite. She cools super quick, faster perhaps than the ED refractor that now sits in its case. The view of Luna at 20x was simply breathtaking, with razor sharp crater fields and the most wonderful earthshine from its dark side. Cranking up the power to 165x, the image remained razor sharp with excellent contrast and without a trace of chromatic aberration.
After that, I headed over to eta Orionis, a fairly tricky double star and was rewarded by a good clean split of the A and B components, the primary shining about a magnitude brighter than the secondary (3.8 and 4.8, respectively) and separated by a mere 1.7 arc seconds. Because of its f/5 relative aperture, it is very important to examine such high resolution targets at the centre of the field. This can be achieved by placing the system at the eastern edge of the field and letting it drift into the centre. The procedure is repeated several times until one is certain that the duplicity has been unveiled.

Some haar moved in a short time ago but hopefully it will clear later. I hope to field my most powerful telescope, Octavius, to continue my study of the Giant Planet.

Saturday, February 13 2016

13:00UT

My luck ran night overnight, as instead of clear skies, we got a fall of snow.

The final step in keeping anything in my family is to get my wife’s approval. For that, I had to get all my facts together to make a convincing case lol:

The optical tube assembly weighs just 3.2 kilos

The little lazy Susan weighs 2.8 kilos

The telescope can be collapsed to half its length.

The tube assembly can be used with a variety of other mounts.

The telescope is easy to tweak; involving a couple of minutes with a laser collimator.

The telescope is easy to carry about using one hand, so even when I’m feeling lazy it will not overtax me.

The telescope cools rapidly, so no waiting around or extensive pre-planning involved. Just set it out 15 or 20 minutes before use and you’re cooking with gas.

Because the tube is open, the optics can be accessed to remove dust and other grime easily.

The telescope gathers a very decent amount of light to go that little deeper than my short-tube refractor; very good for deep sky viewing.

The telescope takes high magnification well; images remain sharp and well defined up 244x (higher powers not yet tested) when conditions are average to good, so will perform well on lunar, planetary and double star targets.

The telescope can be improved in a number of ways; for example, the mirrors could be re-coated to give both higher reflectivity and increased durability, the secondary size re-assessed, ways could be found to refine the helical focuser, a permanent light shroud can be installed  etc. Any amount of tomfoolery is permissible!

The instrument exudes charm and is popular with the kids.

The entire package cost only £129.

I think these points will be enough to win her over. Fingers crossed eh!

16:00 UT

Improving the Focuser:

As mentioned earlier, the focuser on the Heritage 130P is of the simple, helical variety. One simply twists it one way or another to attain a good focus. But in the field at night, it can be a little frustrating to focus precisely, especially when using high magnifications. Manhandling the focuser almost always causes the telescope to move a little, necessitating re-centering of the object under study.

Fortunately, I was able to find a very simple solution; about six inches of string!

A new improved focuser!

A new improved focuser!

 

The string is tied in a single knot around the focuser, gripping the top thread, and leaving two overhanging ends which can be pulled in either direction causing the focuser to move inward or outward, as desired. This enables both course and fine focusing with much less vibration or annoying image shift. I tested it out during the day on a variety of targets at various distances from about 40 yards to infinity and it worked really well! This will allow more quality time observing and more precise focusing from moment to moment.

I’m well happy with the improvement!

Sunday, February 14 2016

10:50UT

St. Valentine’s Day and the first Sunday of Lent.

Last night I fielded Plotina just before midnight. After snowing for much of the day, the late evening sky cleared up to reveal the hosts of the second heaven. Seeing was very good but bitterly cold(-4C), but I was rewarded by quite an extraordinary view of Jupiter and its magnificent satellite system. I watched the planet for about 40 minutes, beginning at 23:50UT and ending at about 00:35UT.

This instrument continues to humble me in many ways. The optics are unreasonably excellent in this telescope; something I was not really prepared for, but hand on heart, it has thus far given me the finest views of Jupiter in any small telescope that has passed through these parts. I made a quick sketch depicting the planet’s appearance at 23:50UT (CM II 217 degrees), when it was 33 degrees above the horizon. The Great Red Spot (GRS) was plainly seen in the eastern hemisphere of the planet. The magnification employed was 165x and a Baader Neodymium filter threaded to the 4mm Plossl.

Jupiter as it appeared though the Heritage 130P shortly before midnight on February 13, 2016. North is at the bottom and west is to the left.

Jupiter as it appeared though the Heritage 130P shortly before midnight on February 13, 2016. North is at the bottom and west is to the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indeed, I was able to use this telescope to establish the most accurate longitude of the GRS during this apparition. The GRS was observed transiting the centre of the planet at 00:32 UT where the system II longitude was 243 degrees. Not bad eh?

In the immortal words of Alexander Pope;

Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.

Monday, February 15 2016

19:00UT

I subjected the 130P to a high magnification test on the first quarter Moon, at an ambient temperature of -1C. I am very happy to confirm that it handled 244x without flinching, with the craters, mountain ranges, maria and valleys  remaining tack sharp and colour free throughout. This is about as high as one would like to go with this telescope in the vast majority of applications and a testament to the quality of the underlying optics.

I would warmly encourage other individuals to test each and every one of the claims I have made about this telescope. Test everything; hold fast to that which is good.

Sound Biblical advice that!

23:15 UT

Way hay! I found me an online thread about the same telescope;  Enter the One Sky Newtonian from Astronomy Without Borders .

200K+ hits ……..Crikey!

Seems like I don’t need to say anymore, eh.

Watcha think?

Tuesday, February 16 2016

00:20UT

What a thread! The things they say about this telescope warms my heart.

That thread has saved me months of blogging; Laudate Dominum!

Gary Seronik of S&T also found the telescope a joy to use; see here.

And yet another independent review can be read here.

Here my story ends.

Thank you for viewing.

Post Scriptum: 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

10:25UT

Having just acquired the latest issue(March 2016) of Astronomy Now (pp 63), I read with interest that the current longitude (system II) of the GRS is 238 degrees. That’s just 5 degrees shy of my best estimate made with the 130P shortly after midnight on Sunday February 14 (see above). I’m thrilled to bits to have gotten so close with this nifty little travel Newtonian.

Monday March 14, 2016

I have found that the Televue bandmate planetary filter is a great match for the 130P whilst studying Jupiter.This filter will be used in all future observations of the planet with this telescope.

The Televue Bandmate Planetary Filter.

The Televue Bandmate Planetary Filter.

The primary and secondary mirrors of the Heritage 130P have been despatched to Orion Optics UK. Both mirrors will be re-coated with Hilux enhanced aluminium reflectivity coatings and a slightly smaller secondary (35mm @27% linear obstruction) is to replace the original flat.

Will report back on progress.

Tuesday, March 22 2016

The mirrors arrived back from Orion Optics UK this afternoon and I immediately set to work putting it all back together again.

Out came the matt black paint to darken the periphery of the new secondary mirror to further reduce stray light and increase contrast.

The primary mirror has been rocaoted with 97 per cent reflectivity Hilux coating. The smaller secondary ( also Hilux coated) is seen in the middle beside the original secondary.

The primary mirror has been re-coated with 97 per cent reflectivity Hilux. The smaller secondary ( also Hilux coated) is seen in the middle beside the original secondary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Applying a coat of matt black paint tot he periphery of the new mirrors cuts down on unnecessary stray light entering the optical train.

Applying a coat of matt black paint to the periphery of the new secondary mirror cuts down on unnecessary stray light entering the optical train.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side view of the recoated 130mm primary mirror.

Side view of the recoated 130mm primary mirror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The primary mirror had to be re-spotted at its centre but this can easily be done by placing the mirror shiny side down on a sheet of paper and tracing round its circumference. Next, the 130mm diameter circle was carefully cut out and folded first in half, and then once again into quarters. When the paper is unfolded the centre is marked by the intersection of the two crease lines. A scalpel (lol!)was used to excise a very small hole at the centre of the unfolded paper and then it was placed over the mirror, being secured in position with some cellotape. Finally, a doughnut shaped sticker was placed on the spot exposed by the hole. Job done!

Marking the centre of the mirror for collimation purposes.

Marking the centre of the mirror for collimation purposes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The optics were then rehoused in the tube, collimated using an inexpensive laser collimator (SkyWatcher) and briefly tested with an eyepiece. Everything looked dandy!The telescope should now deliver brighter, more contrasty images on all celestial targets. And those special coatings will last at least a quarter of a century!

Surely now Plotina will be as durable as any high quality refractor nay?

All I have to do is wait for a decent clear spell to see how well she performs under the starry heaven.

Plotina pining for a clear sky.

Plotina pining for a clear sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Jupiter as it appeared in the modified Heritage 130P travel Newtonian on the evening of March 23, 2016.

Jupiter as it appeared in the modified Heritage 130P travel Newtonian on the evening of March 23, 2016.

Beginning about 20:30 UT this evening, I took advantage of a clear spell after a few hours of light rain. Jupiter was about 34 degrees above the horizon and rising, and I continued observations through to 21:15 UT before more cloud rolled in. I captured some beautiful detail on the Jovian disk, including the appearance of the GRS at the planet’s eastern limb. As the minutes passed, the view of Jupiter got ever better as it gained in altitude. The 130mm f/5 performed flawlessly. The planet was brighter, crisper and cleaner than I had ever seen it before with this instrument under these conditions (Ant II). To say that I’m pleased with the modifications would be an understatement, but we’ll leave it at that.

I heartily recommend this telescope to my amateur friends across the world.

Wishing you all a very blessed Easter.

March 31, 2016

23:50 UT

I enjoyed a half hour with the Heritage 130P this evening after I had observed Jupiter. After spending some time in Leo hunting down some spring galaxies, I started looking at some double stars. Gamma Leonis was easy, Castor A and B just as easy, iota Cassiopeiae triple lovely and all three components resolved. Mizar & Alcor were glorious at 150x as was Polaris A & B. Izar (epsilon Bootis), a summer favourite, was high enough in the east for me to split it. These were all seen at 183x save for Mizar & Alcor. I then decided to try a pair of stars I haven’t visited in a while; Alula Borealis and Alula Australis in Ursa Major. They are high overhead this time of year. Aiming is quite difficult using just the RDF but with my 32 mm Plossl delivering 20x, I was able to frame them both in the same field. Starting with the orange star Alula Borealis, I employed 183x using my most comfortable ocular; the Mark III Baader Hyperion zoom set to 8mm with its 2.25x Barlow. Although this does not show the highest contrast views (but only by a surprisingly small margin!!), I was able to see the very faint spark of its companion. The primary is magnitude 3.5 but the secondary shines at magnitude +10.1 and only 7.4″ separating them! I was chuffed to see this in such a humble little reflector. Then came the icing on the cake; I moved south to Alula Australis (Xi UMa) and could see that the star looked ‘entangled’ but I knew I needed a little more power to get a clearer view. So I ran in and fetched by 6mm orthoscopic and coupled it to the little 2.25x Barlow yielding 244x, centred and focused carefully: Voila! The pair (1.6″ split) were beautifully resolved (magnitudes 4.3 and 4.8), the components round as buttons, with a kind of diffraction halo encircling them; kind of like an ‘aura’ encasing two luminous eggs in a wafer thin handkerchief lol.

I was absolutely beside myself in admiration for what this little telescope can do! I believe Newtonians have been terribly maligned as unsuitable for high resolution work relating to double stars but I now know that this is another myth. The telescope takes very high power well under reasonable seeing conditions and totally exceeded my expectations.  I feel privileged to finally ‘know’ and  to share this personal discovery with my peers.

If no one bothers, how can one ever discover the truth? The Heritage 130P is unreasonably excellent on everything; a great little bundle of joy!

April 7, 2016

Mr. Adam Blake from Pennsylvannia USA, was kind enough to share some video footage of Jupiter he captured with his One Sky Newtonian, as seen on the evening of April 5, 2016 during a spell of good seeing. He used an inexpensive 5X GSO Barlow and standard UV/IR filter on the camera at prime focus to capture the images, which have only been very lightly processed to show the telescope’s potential. See below.

Mighty Jupiter as captured by Adam Blake using the 130mm f/5 Newtonian on the evening of April 5, 2016.

Mighty Jupiter as captured by Adam Blake using the 130mm f/5 Newtonian on the evening of April 5, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21:30UT

I aimed the Heritage 130P at iota Leonis, now high in the south. Using 244x I was able to quite easily resolve A-B. The primary shines with magnitude +4.06 and the secondary +6.71 with 2.1″ separating the components. I would warmly encourage others to try this system, as well as the aforementioned star systems with this telescope.

A Portable Dew Buster: Are you concerned about dew building up on the open tube of the Heritage 130P? Nae worries! I never let any heating devices within a country mile of my telescopes, just like my forebears. I bought a portable three-speed fan for about £10 that zaps dew in seconds from the secondary and primary using cold air. Now you can enjoy the telescope under the stars for as long as you like!

Laudate Dominum!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 28, 2016

00:30h

At an ambient temperature of -1C, the Skywatcher Heritage 130P worked flawlessly to bag epsilon 1 and 2 Lyrae, eta Bootis (with its 10th magnitude companion), pi Bootis ( AB:  4.9, 5.8  separation  5.4″ and  AC: 4.9,10.6, separation 127″), alpha Herculis ( AB:3.5, 5.4, separation 4.6″ and a corker, AD: 3.5, 11.1, separation 79″)

For lunar and planetary studies, I can also recommend the Baader single polarising filter to use with this adorable little telescope. Retailing for £32.00, it significantly enhances belt detail on Jupiter, reduces glare and presents the planet in its natural colours.

The superlative Baader single polarising filter.

The superlative Baader single polarising filter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, May 15, 2016.

The view from the sandy beach at Luss, on the western shore of Loch Lomond. May 14, 2016.

The view from the sandy beach at Luss, on the western shore of Loch Lomond. May 14, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During a relaxing weekend away with a group of old friends in the picturesque and historic village of Luss, on the western bank of Loch Lomond, I took the little SkyWatcher Heritage 130P along with me, as it was so easy to transport and set up. After long sunny days outdoors, I set the instrument (on its Dob mount) up on the garden table for a look at Jupiter and the first quarter Moon, which were perfectly positioned in the evening sky.

The Skywatcher Heritage 130P on holiday.

The Skywatcher Heritage 130P on short vacation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As this was an annual event away, the crew were expecting me to bring along a telescope, but it is usually of the short refractor variety. I got some odd looks from the gang as I extended the upper stage of the ‘strange’ reflecting telescope, but I was sure glad I made the effort; they were all mightily impressed by the images the little portable reflector served up:- and even more gobsmacked when I told them how relatively inexpensive an instrument of this quality cost to acquire!

That's it guys: form a nice orderly queue.

That’s it folks: form a nice orderly queue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A close encounter with the first quarter Moon: Kenny's face says it all!

A close encounter with the first quarter Moon: Kenny’s face says it all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 21, 2016

 LightBridge Mini 130 5.1" tabletop altazimuth mini-Dob reflector by Meade Print Home Telescopes The Meade LightBridge. Image Credit: Meade Instruments.

The Meade LightBridge Mini 130 5.1″ tabletop alt-azimuth mini-Dob reflector
 Image Credit: Meade Instruments.

My collegaue at Astronomy Now, Steve Ringwood, has independently reviewed the New Meade Light Bridge 130 Mini Dob for the August 2016 issue of Astronomy Now (now in the shops) on page 108-10. Although a slightly different design to the Heritage 130P featured in this blog, the optics are essentially the same but features a solid tube and a more traditional four spider-vane secondary support for even more rigid collimation maintenance in the field. Steve found that the optics were very good indeed, being capable of powers in excess of 200x, in agreement with my findings. At $200, it is priced at the same as the One Sky Newtonian from Astronomy Without Borders, discussed above.

So more choice for the discerning amateur.

Brian Schultz, from his YouTube channel Cool Space, describes how the One Sky Newtonian can be fitted to an inexpensive go-to mount for added versatility. See here for a video clip.

August 8-9 2016

The Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, as seen in the opening scenes of the block buster movie, "Prometheus".

The Old Man of Storr (elevated in the distance), Isle of Skye, as seen in the opening scenes of the block buster movie, “Prometheus”.

Our family ventured to the remote Isle of Skye, a place of outstanding natural beauty, for our summer vacation. My trusty 130mm f/5 Heritage Newtonian travelled with us. Though the weather was mostly damp and windy, I did enjoy a bout of observing with the instrument during brief clear spells on the evenings of August 8 and 9. The sky is truly glorious at this location, presenting some of the darkest and most transparent skies in all of Europe. And the (not so) little 130mm did not disappoint, serving up jaw-dropping views of the northern Milky Way high overhead, once the crescent Moon fell out of the sky. Deep sky objects were a joy to behold, including M31,Caldwell 14, M57, M13 and M92. The North American Nebula in Cygnus was as plain as the nose on the your face, as were the eastern and western Veil nebulae nearby.

Plotina ready for action on the remote island of Skye.

Plotina ready for action on the remote island of Skye.

I can also report that high resolution targets – including a batch of close test double stars – presented very well indeed. Images of systems such as Izar, delta Cygni etc, were calm and well resolved at high powers (243x), showing that this island has good seeing conditions for such work. Scotland has many such places(as I continue to discover) if one is intrepid enough to find them out!

September 30, 2016

My experiments with the Skywwatcher  Heritage130P continue apace. A while back a kindly gentleman from the USA alerted me to a potential issue with the instrument; the loss of precise collimation as the instrument is pointed to different parts of the sky. In a series of experiments conducted over the last six weeks or so, I discovered that while tightening the shaft that holds the secondary mirror in place seems to solve this problem for lightweight eyepieces, it doesn’t always hold collimation for heavier oculars such as the rather bulky, Baader Hyperion zoom.

As a consequence, I have reassessed the suite of oculars I use with the instrument and have switched entirely to smaller, more lightweight units. Below is an image of my current experimental set up; a 32mm Plossl, delivering a power of 20x and a 2.5 degree true field. Using the tiny, screw-on 2.25x Baader Barlow, I can couple the 32mm ocular to give a power of 45x and a true field of ~1.1 degrees – just large enough to frame the entire Double Cluster in the field!

For higher power work, I use a Parks Gold 7.5mm delivering 87x, a 6mm Baader classic orthoscopic yielding 108x, and a 4mm Revelation Plossl (fully multicoated) giving 163x. Finally, using the 2.25x Barlow I can achieve 243x and even 366x when mated with the 6mm and 4mm oculars, respectively. I also have an old 1.6x screw-on Barlow made by UK Astro Engineering, which gives me still more options to play with.The Barlows will increase the eye relief of the short focal length of the short focal length eyepieces too.

Plotina with a suite of lightweight oculars and low profile Barlows.

Plotina with a suite of lightweight oculars and low profile Barlows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the winter I hope to fine tune this set up some more, but I am very happy with the range of powers available to me and the relatively low cost of its operation.

I also intend purchasing some Bob’s Knobs collimating screws to fit to the secondary assembly in order to make collimation even more easy to achieve.

I will report back later in the year to tell you how I got on!

The instrument continues to inspire in so many ways and needless to say I have grown very fond of using it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Plotina received her new set of Bob’s Knobs secondary screws to make fine adjustments to collimation easier. I consider these to be a quality acquisition going forward.

Bob's knobs for easier adjustment of the secondary mirror.

Bob’s knobs for easier adjustment of the secondary mirror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Upon further investigation, I have been able to tighten up the stalk holding the secondary mirror in place by inserting a small washer, as shown below.

A simple washer tightens up the secondary support.

A simple washer tightens up the secondary support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This increased rigidity allows the instrument to maintain precise collimation even after moving the telescope wildly in altitude and azimuth. This was verified using a laser collimator. The telescope can now use larger oculars once again, including the Baader zoom.

Monday & Tuesday, October 18 and 19, 2016

A break in the wet autumnal weather over the last two nights has allowed me to conduct further tests with the SkyWatcher 130mm f/5 Newtonian. I fielded a 90mm apochromat (retained for further testing) side by side with the instrument and studied how both performed on a variety of high resolution targets located in different parts of the sky.

Test instruments: a 130mm f/5 Newtonian (left) and a 90mm apochromatic refractor (right).

Test instruments: a 130mm f/5 Newtonian (left) and a 90mm apochromatic refractor (right).

Yesterday evening, shortly before midnight, I compared and contrasted both instruments in respect of their ability to maintain crisp, bright images of a waning gibbous Moon. Once our satellite achieved a decent altitude, I cranked up the magnifications on both instruments and examined the cratered terrain along the day-night terminator. Both instruments performed well but the larger aperture of the Newtonian allowed me to employ significantly higher magnifications (in excess of 300x) before the image became unsatisfactorily dim for my liking. The 90mm refractor, in contrast, maxed out about 200x.

Tonight, with better seeing but in colder(+4C) and hazier conditions, I ran the two telescopes to a variety of double star targets at various altitudes; gamma Delphini, theta Aurigae, Iota Cassiopeiae and delta Cygni; these systems were deliberately chosen so as to test how the 130mm Newtonian would hold collimation as it was adjusted in altitude and azimuth. My results show that the insertion of the washer in the stalk supporting the secondary mirror (described above) worked perfectly well, the stellar images remaining crisp, round and tiny. In every case, the Newtonian produced brighter, more convincing splits of these systems under equivalent magnification regimes – 200 to 250x.

These results show that the Newtonian is a wonderful, cost-effective and versatile instrument for all celestial targets and is noticeably superior to a much more expensive 90mm refractor, which quickly runs out of both light and resolving power in comparison.

I continue to highly recommend this instrument to those who are looking for excellent performance on a limited budget.

Nothing more to say really.

Thanks for following this blog.

Best wishes,

Neil.

Update: February 15 2017

My colleague at Astronomy Now, Ade Ashford, is helping to change culture by writing an excellent four page article on how to tune up the SkyWatcher Explorer 130PDS, mentioned in the blog above, and essentially the same telescope optically as the Heritage 130P (but with a closed tube) for better visual and photographic use. You can read this VERY interesting article in the March 2017 issue (page 98 through 102), out now.

Update: July 17 2017

Time: 00:09 BST

Location: Wigtown, Southwest Scotland.

Seeing: ( I to II): generally excellent, very calm

Instrument: 130mm f/5 Newtonian

Comments: A fabulous bout of double star observing. See notes below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update: July 18 2017

Time: 00:45 BST

Comments: Just in from another excellent session with the 130mm Newtonian. Highlight of the night was tracking down and resolving the lovely Mu Cygni. Tight pair, even at 244x and a fainter ‘companion’ wide away making it seem more like a triple system. Generous aperture and solidly good optics made very light work of this system. Like I said, this is arguably the best grab ‘n’ go ‘scope on the market today.  Details below;

 

 

Update: July 21 2017

Time: 00:35 BST

Instrument: 130mm f/5 Newtonian, aka ‘Plotina’

Seeing: Excellent (I); very clear before midnight. Some cloud moved in after midnight.

Comments: Still in Wigtown. Third night where conditions have been excellent.

Some very tricky systems resolved once again this evening with this modest telescope. Textbook perfect results!

Ashamed of my peers.

 

 

 

 

De Fideli.

A Short Commentary on David H.Levy’s, “The Quest for Comets.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of David H. Levy. Over the years, I’ve bought and read arguably all of his books and magazine articles. The enthusiasm he portrays in his writings is positively infectious. As soon as you read a few lines of his work, he reels you in with first rate story telling. His modesty too shines through, in the equipment he used through much of his life, and in the way he maintained this humility in the aftermath of fame and notoriety.

A native of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, David’s early love of the night sky, and in particular, comet hunting, has landed him the enviable position of being one the most prolific comet discoverers in all of human history, with a tally of no less than 22 to his name. Night after night, when others grew tired, bored or preoccupied with worldly pursuits, David took the covers off his telescopes and pointed them skywards in search of new treasure. Today he and his wife Wendee live in Vail, Arizona, where he continues the love of his life; hunting for comets. In later life, David took degrees in English literature and was awarded a PhD. in early 2010 from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for a thesis entitled; The Sky in Early Modern English Literature: A Study of Allusions to Celestial Events in Elizabethan and Jacobean Writing, 1572–1620.

HST image of the dark impact sites in the southern hemisphere of Jupiter which occurred in July 1994. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Although he has written no less than 34 books, it is arguably his title, The Quest for Comets, that brought Levy so much attention, both in North America and around the world, for in it, he describes amongst many other things, the discovery of Comet Shoemaker Levy 9, the fragments of which collided with the Giant Planet, Jupiter, in July 16 through 24 1994. I remember the event vividly, as I was then a final year graduate student presenting a paper at an international science symposium in Toronto, Ontario. With no telescopic equipment available to me, the best I could do was to sit and watch the live television feeds in sheer amazement, as one by one, the fragments of the comet, sundered into 21 pieces by the enormous tidal forces generated by the planet, smashed into its southern hemisphere, upwelling dark material from deep within its interior. This catastrophic event, marking the demise of one measly interloper from the Oort Cloud, represented the culmination of a 16 month monitoring program from the faithful night on March 24 1993, when it was first picked up on a photographic plate of the 40cm Schmidt telescope atop Mount Palomar, California. The Quest for Comets first appeared on the bookshelves 1995, less than a year after the famous collision event and, as usual, I devoured its every word from cover to cover!

Preface: While only a few pages in length, Dr. Levy provides the essence of his calling in life:

Setting up the telescope for comet hunting is pretty easy. All I really have to do is to make sure the cover is off. With the telescope’s slow, deliberate motion across a portion of the sky, comet hunting is not like a star party, where people line up to look at an object. When that happens, the sky is asked to be a servant, showing off Saturn, the moon, or some galaxy on cue. It’s the opposite with comet hunting. When I start a session, I have only a vague idea of what I may find in the next hour or so as I move the telescope forward for a few minutes across a region of sky, then backward through the next sector. Whether I find a star cluster or a galaxy, a red star or a bright double star, is really up to the sky, not me. The sky is master, my telescope the receiver, and I am the watchman.

viii

He later describes the momentous night he discovered his very first comet in Aquila, prosaically coined 1984t, the twentieth such object to be found during that year, and all done from his back yard in Arizona!

For Levy, hunting comets is;

…the slowest of all sports. It demands time; not time set by the hunter but by the sky itself. The moon acts as a referee brightening the sky and limiting the period available for searching. The game is especially competitive just after full moon, when a sky that has been too bright for hunting is suddenly thrust for 1 or 2 hours into darkness, and comet hunters all over the world rummage through it in a scramble for new comets.

ix to x.

Chapter 1: The Terrible Swift Sword: The Pleasures and Perils of a Comet

Covering pages 1 through 13.

In this opening chapter, Levy describes some of his earliest days of skygazing at Quebec’s Jarnac Pond, with his parents and grandparents. He tells of the excitement of witnessing a brilliant meteor shower from the August Perseids. He was just 14 years old during this memorable event and already in possession of a small telescope; most probably, ‘Echo’, a small, 9cm aperture, long focus Newtonian reflector. He acquired the instrument in 1960 and in another one of his books, The Sky: a User’s Guide (1991), Levy recounts the very first time he looked through a telescope, this telescope; the target, Saturn:

My first experience with a telescope back in 1960 was an awesome surprise. Two bright objects, Jupiter and Saturn, were well placed for this first look through Echo, my 9cm ‘Skyscope.’ I remember not being too impressed with the first night’s look., seeing only a doughnut shaped light where a planet should be. I learned the most important thing about telescope’s that night, that they need to be focused. The next night also was clear, and with the telescope my parents and I were able to adjust the size of the doughnut by pushing the eyepiece in and out. As the doughnut got smaller the image settled into an oval ball, not unlike what Galileo had seen. Then we saw what had always eluded the great seventeenth century observer; the image settled on a ball surrounded by an exquisite set of rings.

I was stunned……

pp 107

Small can be good, a valid point Levy picks up on when he discusses the comet first ‘discovered’ by Lewis Swift on July 15 1862, the body we now know as Comet Swift Tuttle. Truth be told, it was seen by several others, both near home and abroad, and at about the same time. Swift used a 4 inch refractor to pull it out of the sky. Surprising? Not really! Though there are arguably better choices available today, back then a 4 inch refractor would have made a formidable light bucket; drinking up many photons from those darker 19th century skies. Levy then unveils the scientific and historical interconnections that wove the conceptual fabric we understand as Comet Swift Tuttle in the modern era: a dirty snowball of rubble,mixed with a cocktail of ices, particularly water.

Chapter 2: When Beggars Die

Covering pages 15 through 22.

In this chapter Levy brings much of the ideas about comets entertained by ancient, pre scientific cultures including the Chinese, Chaldean, and Greco Roman writers. As part of the ‘heavenly host,’ comets, like the fixed and ‘wandering’ stars, were part of the divine realm. Many ancient cultures considered divine beings to live in remote places where human habitation wasn’t possible. Because they moved, this was an unmistakable sign to the ancient mindset that they were alive and that their light was the shining glory of life itself. But because cometary bodies appeared only occasionally, it was easy to associate their appearance in the night sky with portents of good or evil. Levy gives mention to a passage in the First Book of Chronicles from the Bible in which David might have been describing a comet in the sky;

David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.

1 Chronicles 21:16

Intriguingly, there was a comet in 971 BC which fits well with the reign of David, according to the best Biblical scholarship. Levy claims this allusion to a ‘comet’ was a portent of an ‘ill advised census’. The first line of chapter 21 provides the reason;

Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

1 Chronicles 21:1

Chapter 3: Taming the Shrew

Covering pages 23 through 36

In this chapter, Levy lays the historical foundations of how comets were gradually accepted as bona fide members of our solar system. Johannes Kepler, of planetary orbit fame, was probably the first person to observe a comet telescopically in the autumn of 1618, but throughout much of the seventeenth century, scientists were still very unsure about the nature of comets. Indeed, levy recounts much of the heated dispute between Galileo Galilei and the Jesuit astronomer, Horatio Grassi, who insisted that comets move in circular orbits following the system developed by Tycho Brahe. But it was obvious to Galileo that comets couldn’t possibly move in circular orbits because they would return with clockwork precision.

The breakthrough came at the end of seventeenth century when Sir Edmond Halley, using the best positional data provided by John Flamsteed, who was lucky enough to observe the motions of three bright comets in 1680, 1682 and 1683, to compute their orbits using the new physics of his good friend, Isaac Newton. Indeed, as Levy points out, Halley was the first to show that the comets that appeared in 1531, 1607 and 1682 were one and the same and that the same body would return to grace the skies at the end of 1758. Sadly, Halley did not live long enough to see it but it was picked up in December of 1758, to the delight of mathematical astronomers around the world.

Since this time, more and more comets have been shown to be periodic; some long and some, like comet Encke, with very short periods (of the order of a few years). Levy pays tribute to the great ‘celestial mechanicians’ of the 20th century, including Andrew C.D. Crommelin and the late Brian Marsden (whom this author had the pleasure of having dinner with at European Astrofest, in Kensington, London).

Chapter 4: Comet or Planet?

Covering pages 37 through 45

Levy spends this chapter summarising the monumental contributions of the Herschels to astronomy in general, and comets in particular. Sir William’s most famous discovery; the planet Uranus; began life as ‘probable comet’ before the mathematician, Anders Lexell, showed in August 1781 that its orbit was far too circular to be such a body. It was only after these calculations were made could Herschel safely conclude that his discovery on the faithful evening of March 13 of the same year was actually a new world orbiting beyond Saturn. Arguably the most proficient of comet hunters in the Herschel family was Sir William’s remarkable younger sister, Caroline (discussed more fully in a previous chapter of the book), who, with a neat little 6 inch aperture speculum reflector discovered her own tally of eight comets over the entirety of her long and extraordinary life.

The great younger sister of Sir William Herschel, Caroline Herschel (1750 –1848). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Chapter 5: The Sport Begins

Covering pages 47 through 62.

No comet hunter worth his/her salt, could ever underestimate the groundbreaking work of the Frenchman, Charles Messier, who took the time to paintstakingly catalogue a large list of so called comet masqueraders; nebulae, bright and faint, open and globular clusters, supernova remnants and the most prominent planetary nebulae that were likely to fool many a tyro into thinking they had discovered a new comet. Indeed, as Levy explains, some 98 per cent of all false comet discoveries are attributed to mis–identifying a Messier Object!

Messier’s famous list of deep sky objects is arguably the first list of celestial real estate every dedicated amateur astronomer observes, especially if you’re a would–be comet hunter. Levy informs us that he learned to recognise these objects beginning in 1962 with his 9cm ‘Echo’ reflector, but finished his Messier list in 1967 with the help of a larger instrument;

In 1962 I began my own Messier hunt with a single observation of the Pleiades, M45. (Why Messier included this big, bright, cluster, which does not look at all like a comet, is a bit of a mystery.) In spring 1967, using a larger telescope that I had in 1962, I finished my list while observing from my grandfather’s cottage at Jarnac Pond, Quebec.

pp 52

The ‘larger telescope’ Levy is referring to is most probably a 8” Cave Newtonian reflector (affectionately named ‘Pegasus’), which he mentioned in an online article for Sky & Telescope entitled, Why Name a Telescope?

In the late summer of 1964, fellow amateur David Zackon lent me his 8-inch Cave Newtonian while he was away at school. Eventually my parents agreed to buy the telescope from him for $400, and it is now named Pegasus. It has some of the finest optics of any telescope I own.

As anyone who knows about telescopes will tell you; the move from a 9cm to a 20cm aperture telescope is an enormous one, so Levy would have been greatly impressed at the increase in light grasp and resolution. Indeed, with the exception of a few catadioptric telescopes much later in his career, Levy made use of Newtonian reflectors almost exclusively in his solitary comet searches. He held these telescopes in very high esteem as evidenced by a remark he makes in his other book, The Sky: A User’s Guide:

It is true that such reflectors are considerably less expensive than are refractors of the same size. This does not mean that they are not as good; in fact, Newtonian reflectors are more widely used by experienced observers than any other type. Since all wavelengths of light reflect to the same focus, and since light simply bounces off a mirror rather than passes through it, special glass is not necessary.

pp 57

In this regard, this author wholeheartedly agrees. For purely visual use, and in apertures over 4 or 5 inches, refractors are a monumental waste of resources. Levy clearly knew this all too well. Indeed it could be argued that the obsession with refractors, as exhibited on contemporary telescope forums, has more in common with pornography than with amateur astronomy!

The prolific French comet hunter Jean Louis Pons (1761 – 1831). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On pages 52 through 55, Levy recounts some aspects of the life of one of his comet hunting heroes from yesteryear; Jean Louis Pons (1761–1831). Emerging from a peasant family, Pons was given a job as caretaker at Marseilles Observatory, France, but soon he was making his own observations. Using a rich field telescope of his own design; the so called Grand Chercheur“(Great Seeker); Pons went on to discover at least 26 comets (indeed he may have discovered a total of 37 comets according to some sources) making him, after Carolyn Shoemaker, the greatest comet discoverer of all time. Levy  spins an amusing yarn concerning Pons and the then Director of Seeberg Observatory, a one Baron von Zach. Experiencing a prolonged hiatus in his comet discoveries, Pons asked von Zach if there were anything he could do to improve his lot. Von Zach obliged him:

Search when there are lots of sunspots on the sun, the German astronomer suggested as a practical joke. Half expecting that Pons would make a fool of himself and redesign his program to search the night sky when the sun sported large spots, von Zach was very surprised to get a letter from Pons with profuse thanks. Large spots indeed formed on the sun, and soon afterward he dutifully found a new comet. To this day no correlation between comets and sunspots has been found.

pp 53

The late 19th century, so Levy reliably informs us, presented a golden age in comet hunting, doubtless stoked by the emerging culture of awarding medals of achievement (often accompanied by a cash prize). Indeed, it is arguably true that such a culture led directly to the careers of other celebrated comet hunters, including Edward Emerson Barnard(1857–1923) and the Scots born, William R. Brooks (1844–1921).The decade beginning 1880 witnssed a veritable parade of bright comets entering the shallows of the solar system. Indeed, we have yet to witness a period like this in our own time, but with comets, everything can change in a matter of days or weeks.

Chapter 6: A Different Drummer

Covering pages 63 through 76.

No great observer exists in a vacuum. Rather, they stand on the shoulders of other observers who came before them. In this capacity, Levy continues to pay homage to the great comet observers of the late 19th and early twentieth centuries. Coming from all walks of life, and doing all manner of jobs by day, by night they were united in their love of the night sky and their diligence to carry out long hours of searching in order to find the next icy comet to grace our skies. Here you will find excerpts from the lives of the Australian comet hunter, John Tebbutt (1834-1916), who used a variety of small equatorially mounted refractors in a simple wooden observatory of his own fashioning to scan the dark skies of Windsor, New South Wales. Retiring in 1904, Tebbutt stepped down from active searching  but found two comets (amongst many other things); one in 1861, the other in 1881.

From there, Levy pays his respects to the great British observer, William F Denning (1848 –1931), whom we have met elsewhere in the book, who searched the skies for comets from his home in Bristol, England, using a 10 inch f/7 With Browning reflector. In particular, Levy retells the amusing story of how Denning lost out on the discovery Comet 1881 IV on the night of July 11 of the same year, because he felt inclined to go for a nap! The honour of this comet find went to John Schaeberle of Ann Arbor, Michigan, who swept it up three days later on the evening of July 14. Still, Denning bagged several comets of his own over his long telescopic career.

Continuing on, Levy mentions the contributions of the Americans, John Mellish and Leslie Copus Peltier, as well as the Japanese comet hunters, Minoru Honda (1913–1990), discoverer of a dozen comets between 1940 and 1968, Kauro Ikeya (born 1943) and Tsutomu Seki (born 1930), who will always be remembered for their diligent searches for comets. Arguably one of the most endearing of all comet hunters which Levy gives mentions to is the Englishman, William Reid, who moved to South Africa in search of better skies. Discovering a total of eight comets, Reid’s modesty and generosity to his fellow amateurs was exemplary:

At the turn of the century, William Reid, another British amateur astronomer, moved to South Africa, where he discovered Comet Reid 1918 II in June 1918. Within the next 8 years, he found an additional seven comets. Not only did Reid dislike calling attention to himself, but he was also notably generous to his fellow comet hunters. As the story goes, he once found a comet (probably 1926 III), but before he reported it, he heard that G.E. Ensor, an acquaintance, had independently picked it up as well. Realizing that his competitor had never discovered a comet and feeling that he had enough comets to his credit already, Reid declined to report it himself. Thus the comet Reid is known as Comet Ensor 1926 III.

pp 67.

Fred Lawrence Whipple (1906–2004), seen here as a graduate student in 1927, who went on to become one of the founding fathers of modern comet science. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this chapter also, Levy also pays his respects to the great professional astronomer, Fred Lawrence Whipple (1906–2004), of Red Oak, Iowa, who spent most of his career at Harvard College Observatory, and was arguably the first to understand the physical nature of comets in essentially modern terms. Comets, Whipple claimed, are ‘Dirty Snowballs.’

Chapter 7: The Comet Cop

Covering pages 77 through 87.

Dr. Brian Marsden (1937–2010) , as I remember him.

In this chapter Levy mainly discusses the work of the late Brian Marsden (1937–2010), who after graduating from Cambridge University, took his doctorate at Yale and resided in the United States for the rest of his life. His area of expertise was celestial mechanics and served as the Director of the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) from 1968 until 1999. Like every other avenue of human interest, there are plenty of crackpots in amateur astronomy and Levy recounts some of the ‘colourful’ characters Marsden had to deal with in his day to day job. Indeed, Marsden admitted that the vast majority of the cases dealt with at CBAT alleging a new comet find were either genuinely mistaken or pure hoaxes.  Levy writes:

In his quarter century at the helm of the CBAT, Marsden has received few phone calls in the middle of the night, “and never a useful one,” he added. About 90 per cent of reports of new comets turn out to be false; mostly ghost images of bright stars or planets just outside the telescope field, photographic flaws, or two different galaxies thought to be a moving comet. Occasionally there are outright hoaxes. Once when someone from Columbus, Ohio, reported a comet, Marsden replied that he would wait for confirmation before issuing a circular. Some days later, a telegram arrived under the guise of the Tokyo Observatory with the required confirmation. However the telegram’s return address was not Tokyo but Columbus, Ohio! Another time an observer tried to claim credit for a comet that had already been announced; he alleged to have observed it the previous night. This time Marsden noted that the would be discoverer could not have observed the comet, since it had been raining all that night at the site

pp 83.

Levy goes on to describe another unscrupulous individual who, once confronted about his prevarications, turned nasty and despatched threatening hate mail to the CBAT staff, before committing suicide!

And they’ve not gone away! This author is well aware of a few deluded souls who would go to almost any length to perpetuate a lie within the hobby!

Chapter 8: Comet Tales

Covering pages 89 through 109.

In this, arguably one of my favourite chapters of the book, Levy describes the kind of dedication one needs to find comets. As you can imagine, it’s not for the faint hearted. It typically requires hundreds or thousands of hours searching the sky at dusk or just before dawn. Here, Levy discloses that, through no fault of his own, his comet searching programs decreased in intensity as he entered college in the late 1970s and by the early 80s, having clocked up a very respectable, 900 hours at the eyepiece, he still hadn’t found a new comet. But he took solace from the efforts of his fellow comet hunters, most especially the Californian amateur, Don Macholz, who had amassed 1700 hours of telescope time before he bagged his first comet and another 1700 hours of searching finally landed his second find. Levy wisely figured that the best way to increase his chances of finding a comet of his very own was to move to a location where more clear skies were available to him. So in 1979, Levy set up home in Tucson, Arizona;

Certain times of the month are crucial for comet hunting; right after a full moon and around the new moon. If I wanted a better statistical chance of discovering comets, I needed a site with a greater likelihood of recurrent clear nights during these periods. Therefore in 1979 I decided to move to Tucson, Arizona, where some 300 nights a year are clear enough to stalk comets. I chose the community of Corona de Tucson, some 20 miles east of twon, where the sky is pretty dark. I built a small observatory out of a 9 x 10 foot garden shed, designing the structure such that the roof slid off to reveal the open sky. Within a year I had a 16 inch diameter reflecting telescope, and then I resumed comet hunting in a big way.

pp 91

By this time, Levy had also acquired his beloved travel telescope, ‘Minerva,’ a 6 inch f/4 Newtonian reflector. What an excellent choice for travelling optics! After extensive testing and the slight modification of 5.1 inch (130mm) f/5 reflector, which outperformed much more expensive 90mm and 100mm refractors, this author settled on a similar sized telescope for serious astronomy away from home. You can read all about that telescope, known affectionately as ‘Plotina’ here.

Levy named his 16 inch f/5 Dobsonian, ‘Miranda.’

In an amusing addition to this chapter, Levy ‘discovered’ a comet while conducting an interview with Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of the minor planet, Pluto. Examining the old photographic plates from the 13 inch astrograph at Lowell Observatory, he came across a plate which recorded an unknown comet. Tombaugh (discussed elsewhere in the book) himself had found another one in his own plate searches but despite trying to follow them up, there was no way that either of these objects could be characterised enough to delineate an orbit; there was simply not enough data. Still, finding comets from digital images, either from large observatory class telescopes, or space based satellite data, has become very popular in recent years.

1987 was a bumper year for Levy, when his diligent searches turned up not one, but two comets, the first on January 5, 1987 and the other, on October 11, both of which were swept up with Miranda. The January 5 find was especially auspicious, since David had made two New Year’s resolutions; the first to finish a book he had been writing and the second, to find a new comet, and both had been fulfilled in the first week of the new year!

The move to Arizona clearly paid off for Levy, for in the next three years, he discovered as many new comets! To provide a sense of what it is like to discover a comet, best to listen to the master himself. This is an excerpt from the book regarding the discovery of a periodic comet, which he found while hunting in the constellation of Aries in June 1991;

The telescope’s field of view was about 1 degree across, or two moon diameters, and full of faint stars, I found nothing fuzzy or unusual in that field, so after a few seconds, I moved the telescope eastward and checked the adjacent field of view. After a minute of slow sweeping in this way, I moved the telescope again. Now a bright fuzzy patch of light entered the field of view, and for a second, a now familiar “red alert” went off in my brain. But this fuzzy patch didn’t fool me for long: By its elongated shape and its position, I knew that this was a distant galaxy called Messier 74. This galaxy is a highwayman, guilty of stopping comet hunters dead in their tracks. More than 200 years ago, it duped Messier, who sketched its position and then checked back later to see if it had moved, as all comets do. When the object remained frozen in the sky, he added it to his catalog as he went on in search of slowly moving cometary prey.

I’ve encountered M74 so many times that I know it as an old friend. But the sky was brightening so there was no dawdling over M74 now. I nudged the telescope down the field and another and another, slowly moving toward the horizon. When it got low to see distant treetops, I turned the telescope southward and then started sweeping back upward along an adjacent track.  Another minute passed by, and then the mental alert went off again: There was another fuzzy spot.

For an instant I thought it was M74 again, since the galaxy was so close by. But wait a minute: This object was quite a bit brighter. With mounting tension I put in a higher power eyepiece and looked more closely. While M74 had relatively sharp edges all around, this thing had a brighter center, then faded off so slowly that I could hardly tell where it ended and the sky began. Sharp edges are characteristic of a galaxy filled with stars; the gradual fading is a comet’s typical signature. This, I decided was a comet.

pp 102/3

This was the seventh comet discovered by David H. Levy from the comfort of his back yard! Cool or what! After the CBAT confirmed the new object, it was named Period Comet Levy 1991q.

But it wasn’t this comet that would bring world wide fame to Levy, so much as a comet he discovered back in March 19 1988 (Comet Levy 1988e). It was around this time that Levy first made the acquaintance of Carolyn and Eugene (Gene) Shoemaker (1928-1997), who had been using the 18 inch Schmidt camera atop Mount Palomar, California, to look for new asteroids and comets. The Shoemaker’s more ‘high tech’ approach to comet hunting had bagged them quite a few finds, but it was one in particular, Comet Shoemaker Holt 1988g, that intrigued everyone, Marsden included. Once the orbit computed for Levy 1988e was compared to that of 1988g, it turned out they were identical save for one significant difference; Comet Shoemaker Holt 1988g arrived at perihelion about three months after that of Comet Levy 1988e. Pondering these facts, Marsden advanced this explanation; 12,000 years ago, he suggested, these bodies were part of one greater comet that spliced into two pieces as it orbited the Sun. Slowly, over the ensuing millennia, the bodies drifted apart, one behind the other, as it were. To Levy, this was the stuff of dynamite!

Chapter 9: An Asteroid Hits the Earth

Covering pages 111 through 122

Meteor Crater, Arizona. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

In this chapter, Dr. Levy discusses his long time partners in comet hunting; Carolyn and Gene Shoemaker. With a Ph.D in geology from Caltech, Gene made his name in scientific circles by providing definitive scientific evidence that Meteor Crater, Arizona, was excavated as a result of a 50 metre nickel–iron rich asteroid colliding with the Earth some 50,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch. Prior to Shoemaker’s work, some geologists had entertained the idea that the 1.2 kilometre–wide and 120–metre–deep impact crater might have been caused by vulcanism. By 1960 Shoemaker had uncovered sediments that had been turned upside down, as well as minerals like coesite and stishovite (rare forms of silica formed by high pressure shock waves) which could only have been formed by shock heating to temperatures far in excess of those generated by extant volcanoes. Carolyn (born 1929), married Gene in August 1951, and after a brief spell as an schoolteacher, quit her post in order to raise a family. Later she was to join her husband on Mount Palomar in the search for asteroids and comets.

Eugene Merle Shoemaker(1928-1997). Image credit: Wiki Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is particularly interesting about this chapter is the unusual curriculum followed by graduate students in the physical sciences (at least at Caltech). Gene was instructed to acquire proficiency in written and spoken French and German languages, so as to be able to competently assimilate the findings of European science. Such thoroughness is unheard of today!

Chapter 10: A Turn on the Road to the Moon

Covering pages 123 through 128

In this short chapter, Dr. Levy continues to chronicle Gene Shoemaker’s progression from geology to planetary science and his joining of the astrogeology department of the US Geological Survey, which based itself at Flagstaff, Arizona. From the late 1950s until the end of the 1960s, the United States was hurled into a Space Race. Shoemaker’s work establishing the origin of Meteor Crater as an impact event with an extraterrestrial body, naturally lent itself to a study of the extensive cratering record of the lunar surface. That the Moon’s craters are to a very large extent caused by impacts and not vulcanism is certainly not a new idea. Recall, for example, how this author discussed the experimental work of Sir Robert Hooke back in the 17th century, where he experimented with firing projectiles into soft clay to see how well they resembled lunar crater formations?  The 1960s witnessed new ways of studying crater ejecta as a means of establishing their relative age and Shoemaker was instrumental in developing this fledgling new field (and which remains a fundamental part of undergraduate training in planetary science today). What Dr. Shoemaker really wished for though, naturally enough, was to get his hands on bona fide lunar rocks, or at least get much higher resolution images of lunar crater fields. Alas, he would never have the physical fitness levels to make the astronaut grade but at least he could explore the lunar regolith vicariously through the adventures of the Ranger and Apollo missions.

Chapter 11: Exploring Craters; From Ranger to Apollo

Covering pages 129 through 145

Levy develops the themes he introduces in chapter 10, by discussing the interesting question of whether the Moon has suffered impact events in historical times. The chapter opens with a brief overview of the so called Canterbury Chronicle, where five monks recorded what appeared to be a impact with the lunar surface over 800 years ago. The event was recorded by the abbey’s chronicler, Gervase.In 1976 the geologist, Jack B. Hartung, proposed that this described the formation of the crater, Giordano Bruno.

Lunar crater Giordano Bruno. Image credit; NASA.

The collision of an asteroid or comet with the Moon would cause a plume of molten matter rising up from the surface, which is consistent with Gervase’s account. In addition, the location recorded jives well with the crater’s location, just beyond the lunar northeastern limb. The relative youth of the crater is also evidenced by its spectacular ray system: caused by a ‘rain’ of micrometeorites, which kicked up enough dust to  erode a ray system relatively quickly (in geological terms). So it is reasonable to hypothesise that Giordano Bruno was formed during the span of human history, perhaps in June 1178, when the Canterbury monks made their observation. However, there are problems with the formation of such a large crater in relatively recent times. For one thing, the impact creating the 22-kilometre-wide crater would have ejected enough debris to trigger a vigorous meteor storm on Earth lasting at least a week, and yet there are no accounts of such an event from the historical records of the extant European, Moorish or Chinese civilizations. Their absence from the astronomical records presents a major objection to the theory that Giordano Bruno was formed within the last millennium.

Though Dr. Levy never mentions it, another explanation is that the monks may have witnessed an exploding meteor moving directly along their line of sight and aligned with the Moon. Because meteors appear about 50 and 80 miles up in the atmosphere, the laws of geometric perspective suggest that only a relatively small region of Britain (in this case Canterbury) would have the perfect geometry to make it look like as though the Moon suffered an impact.

The rest of the chapter discusses the Ranger, Sureveyor and early Apollo space missions to the Moon. In particular, their findings showed that the Moon does indeed suffer impacts of many kilogram sized and smaller objects pretty much all the time.

Chapter 12: A Pretty Good Moon for you, Shoemaker!

Covering pages 147 to 154

In this chapter Levy describes the venerable 18 inch Schmidt telescope and the work it carried out to discover earth crossing asteroids and comets at Mount Palomar. He writes:

As Palomar’s first telescope, the 18ninch has a noble history. Astronomer Fritz Zwicky used it to photograph fields of distant galaxies, and in these galaxies he discovered many exploding stars called supernovae. The 18 inch telescope is a photographic telescope capable of taking pictures of large areas of sky at once; each film covers 8.75 degrees of sky, the equivalent of more than 17 full moons lined up. On a single film, the searcher could record a large nugget of sky. Here was an ideal telescope for searching for comets and asteroids.

pp 147

To photograph with the Schmidt camera, the operator would first punch 6 ¼-inch (15.5-cm) circles of unexposed film with a film cutter (the “cookie cutter”) in the telescope’s darkroom. Then, the film was carefully mounted inside a film holder that applied the appropriate spherical curvature to it in order to ensure that objects photographed would all be sharply focused all across the film. The tightly-closed holder would then be positioned inside the telescope tube through a small door on its side. After removal of the holder’s cap, the film was ready for exposure in an adjacent darkroom. Levy mentions that in the 1970s, the telescope used IIa D film but in 1983 the staff switched to socalled ‘hypersensitised’ Kodak 4415 technical pan (which film astrophotographers my well remember), which was a little slower than the latter, but was far less grainy, so reducing the number of potential false positives picked up.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Shoemaker hired another Caltech scientist, Eleanor Helin (1932–2009), to initiate a new program dedicated to finding as many Near Earth Objects (NEOs) as possible; mostly consisting of either Apollo or Amor asteroids having diameters between 1 and 2 kilometres. To find them, the telescope took two exposures in succession; the first lasting 20 minutes and the second, for  just10 minutes (the telescope operating at f/2). This would allow any NEO to betray itself as a trail of light. Later, the 48 inch Schmidt camera was occasionally used to search for objects beyond the sensitivity of the 18 inch instrument.

With the arrival of Voyager 1 at Jupiter in 1979, Gene Shoemaker would get involved with the imaging team to study the thousands of photographs of the giant planet and its retinue of large satellites it was sending back to Earth. Levy vividly recalls the excitement as more of more of the Jovian system was being televised live across the United States but even this didn’t totally deter Levy from doing what he did best; hunt for comets. Just as Voyager arrived at Neptune Levy writes:

 

Voyager’s encounter with Neptune took place a few days before one of the Shoemakers’ monthly observing runs at Palomar. Since her husband would be tied up at the JPL. Carolyn asked me to observe with her at the 18 inch telescope. It would be my first observing run at Palomar. As I prepared to leave for California, I wanted to see Voyager’s views of Neptune and its big moon Triton. Tuscon’s public broadcasting station was carrying Voyager’s images live, and it seemed like my TV set was connected directly to the spacecraft then speeding by Triton. What a night to remember, I thought. But it was also a clear night. In between vies of Triton’s crater scarred surface, I went outside to the backyard to do my thing; that is hunting for new comets. At 9 P.M. I opened my backyard observatory and aimed Miranda my 16 inch telescope on a patch of sky in the west. For half an hour I’d scan, then I would go inside to catch a few minutes of Voyager as it sped by Triton. Back out in the observatory, back in again.

It would have been simpler to just spend the evening in front  of the tube watching the most riveting broadcast since Armstrong’s 1969 walk on the Moon, but I was glad I didn’t. Just past 11:00 P.M. I nabbed my fifth comet, Okazaki-Levy-Rudenko, 1989r.

pp 154

Chapter 13: Eage Eyed Carolyn 30 Comets and Counting.

Covering pages 155 through 165

There is nothing glamorous about searching for comets. There’s the simple, low tech procedure of observer, alone with his/her telescope, sweeping the skies slowly for signs of a faint, icy interloper. And in more recent times, a telescope is mated to a photographic plate and a guided exposure is made with the hope that the developed plate will reveal something new. Both require patience, preparation and long hours at the telescope. Nights can be cold and long, especially in winter. Of course, both of these ways have now been superseded by fully automated surveys using highly sensitive CCD detectors, but it does not in any way diminish the great sense of achievement one feels in being the first person to see one of these wonders of creation.

In this chapter, Dr. Levy provides a very palpable sense of what it is like to do the routine work of searching for comets using the wonderful 18 inch Schmidt telescope. Throughout the 1980s, he joined Gene and Carolyn on Mount Palomar very month to carry on this routine but very important work. The photographic plates had to be carefully loaded, the great telescope pointed at the right part of the sky. The mount, though state of the art when it was built in the mid 1930s, had to be manually guided and the process repeated many times in the course of a night.

Carolyn Shoemaker at the 18 inch Schmidt telescope, Mount Palomar. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

For the first two decades of Shoemaker’s marriage, Carolyn was busy raising her family but as they grew and fled the proverbial nest, she found herself with more time on her hands, and after spending a few years as a florist, Carolyn joined her husband in his ongoing search for comets and asteroids and though she felt a little clumsy at first, she soon became adept at operating the telescope and carrying on the stereomicroscopic examination of new plates. But what she longed for most was to discover comets of her very own.  And her wish came true in September 1983, when she was the first to stumble on Comet Shoemaker 1983p. Levy writes:

Comet Shoemaker 1983p was the first of a procession of comets. By 1987 Carolyn had found eight, surpassing Caroline Herschel as the woman who found the most comets. “Passing Herschel’s record was a special goal for me, not because there was anything personal at all there, but because it was a landmark and special in a way to find more than any other woman had found so far,” she told me. With her fifteenth comet find just 2 years later, Carolyn surpassed William Bradfield’s 14 comets, her second goal.

pp 163

But Carolyn also deeply respected the old ways of looking;

“Visual comet hunting, she said, “ takes an awful lot of patience that I’m not sure I would have. It involves a lot of cold hours and a lot of looking before you find anything. What I do involves a different sort of persistence. But the stereomicroscope is a better tool than many amateur comet hunters have.”

pp 163.

Levy explains that Carolyn Shoemaker went on to discover a total of 30 comets as of 1995, but she found a couple more by 2002.

Chapter 14: Are We the Progeny of Comets?

Covering pages 167 through 180

Ever since comets have been shown to harbour substantial quantities of simple organic matter, some planetary scientists have been rather zealous in trying to establish that such matter might have led to the origin of life through purely naturalistic means. What Levy presents in this chapter is pretty much consonant with the world view promulgated by celebrated planetary scientists such as the late Dr. Carl Sagan, who in his popular writings dating from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, portrayed life as a “cosmic phenomenon,” no more unique to the Earth than planets are unique to our solar system. Demonstrating a rather poor understanding of just how weak the evolutionary paradigm is, Sagan was absolutely convinced that life was an inevitability given the right conditions. In the quarter century or so since the ‘Sagan era’, scientists have gained a much greater understanding of just how complex even the simplest lifeforms are and the sheer impossibility of such life emerging from a blind, stochastic process envisioned by the various chemical evolutionary models presented to date. In order to grapple with the details of Sagan’s fallacy, I would highly recommend that Dr. Levy carefully read two books which very effectively address these issues;

Rana, F. & Ross, H. Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off, RTB Press (2014).*

Rana, F. Creating Life in the Lab, Baker Books, (2011).

The emerging scientific consensus as of 2017 is that;

  • There was no primordial soup at any time in the last 4.2 billion years.
  • There is no plausible mechanism for generating homochiral molecules on the primordial Earth
  • The earliest lifeforms were already complex and could not possibly have evolved.

 

Indeed, as Ross and Rana point out*;

Carl Sagan once compared Earth’s early oceans to a thin French consommé. In retrospect, his statement(unintentionally) insulted the French soup. Even the purest water on Earth today has a higher concentration of amino acids; by a factor of a hundred million, than could possibly have been deposited from outer space into earth’s oceans before life originated. In short, while extraterrestrial production of some prebiotic compounds does occur, the contribution of these materials to a prebiotic soup on Earth appears negligible. So does atmospheric synthesis of prebiotics.

pp 101

 

In short, the notion that we are just a ‘bag of chemicals’ is a gross simplification of what really goes on inside the cell. And since Dr. Levy is fond of quoting the odd verse from Holy Scripture, this author would like to issue a ‘Scriptural’ retort, as it were, to Sagan’s dated and naive view of living systems;

For thus says the Lord:

“You have sold yourselves for nothing,

And you shall be redeemed without money.”

                                                                                      Isaiah 52:3

 

Chapter 16: Could a Comet have Slain the Dinosaurs?

Covering pages 181 through 197

The fossil record, as incomplete as it is, testifies to a long and complicated history of life on Earth stretching back nearly four billion years. What this record attests to is that for long periods of time, life goes on with little or no change in either form or function but every now and then, an environment collapses causing whole ecosystems to go extinct. This catastrophism is then followed by the ‘sudden’ (at least in geological terms) appearance of new organisms eking out a living in new ecosystems. Thus, the story of life on Earth is one of long periods of stasis followed by sudden innovation and change.

In this chapter, Dr. Levy discusses the question of whether an asteroid or comet could have precipitated the extinction of arguably the most successful large animals (after humans) ever to have walked the face of the Earth. Accordingly, Levy mentions the famous KT boundary strata, where a global layer of iridium rich clay some 6mm thick corresponds to a time about 64 million years ago, when the dinosaurs were extirpated. He also discusses the likely smoking gun for this event as evidenced from the large (60 kilometre diameter) crater found under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico; the so called Chixulub Crater situated off the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Following the traditions of his scientific contemporaries, Levy asks the question of whether impacts of comets and asteroids with the Earth can also drive the evolution of organisms?

As a long time sceptic of the evolutionary paradigm, this author would suggest to Dr. Levy that there is no mechanism yet identified that can transform one kind of animal into another, exactly as stated in the first Chapter 1 of the Book of Genesis. That is, macroevolution has not been demonstrated. Many individuals look at the history of life on Earth and observe that it appeared to have started out in simple, unicellular forms and progressed to more complex creatures with the march of time.  Accordingly, they attribute this ‘progression’ to a kind of evolutionary unfolding. But I would suggest that this is the wrong way to look at the data.

Certainly, the first lifeforms on Earth were microscopic, unicellular organisms. But what many people fail to recognise is that such organisms are also the hardiest. For example, bacterial species have been found to eke out a living in concentrated sulphuric acid and crude oil, or are observed to thrive in places where they are subjected to lethal doses of radiation. Still others can survive in boiling hot water or inside frozen ice deposits. Thus, the Creator of all living things placed these organisms on the primitive Earth to help clean up the hostile (read toxic) environment in which they found themselves in. Only after these chemical poisons were removed from the planet’s surface in large enough quantities, could more complex forms of life be introduced, which would not have survived in earlier epochs. Indeed, it is easily shown that the more complex the plant or animal, the more vulnerable it is to physiochemical change. In short, God created whole ecosystems that would work to create an environment in which human beings would eventually flourish, whilst also working to produce the deposits of fossil fuels and a rich array of minerals that would assist humanity in launching a global technical civilization. Once ecosystems could not efficiently maintain a stable physical environment, they were promptly replaced by new ecosystems which could better cope with the changing circumstances (for example, a steadily brightening Sun or changing concentrations of greenhouse gases etc). Thus, what the fossil record attests to is not evolution per se, but an elaborate sequence of events that removes and replaces lifeforms, so as to maintain the best possible conditions for people like the wonderful Dr. Levy to eventually live and work in!

The Creation accounts in Psalm 104 beautifully attest to this scheme of events.

All of life on Earth works in unison not only to make human life possible, but also to allow humanity to thrive! Our kind has been given dominion over all other lifeforms as well as the planet’s resources to use wisely and productively. Ultimately though, this sequence of events is not sustainable in the long term. Nor was it planned to be!

Chapter 17: Getting Hit Again

Covering pages 199 through 209.

Comets became the centrepiece of modern apocalyptic imagery.

In this chapter Dr. Levy discusses the perennially interesting topic of whether or not the Earth will next encounter a collision with an asteroid or comet. Using examples from historical times, such as the Tunguska Event in Siberia which occurred on June 30, 1908. It is thought that a 100 metre diameter asteroid exploded over the Tunguska River, the resulting shock wave felling trees some 40 kilometres in all directions from ground zero. He writes:

The Siberian object did its damage without even bothering to hit the ground. As it entered the atmosphere, it encountered such high pressures that at 8.5 kilometers up, it disintegrated in a tremendous explosion. Coincidentally, Siberia got hit again less than half a century later, this time by a much smaller 70 ton iron meteorite that left dozens of small craters, the largest about 27 meters across.

pp 203.

Levy very clearly explains why small objects collide with the Earth all the time, but as the object size increases so too does the frequency of such collisions decrease. Indeed, Dr. Shoemaker was able to derive an empirical relationship whereby the probability of a collision scales inversely with the square root of the size of the object. Mass extinction events are reserved for objects in the range of 1 to 10 kilometres in diameter, and are expected to occur with a frequency of between 10 and 100 million years. The chapter ends by putting such an event in perspective, tempered by an amusing consideration of the estimated risks associated with other events in life.

Chapter 17: Deflecting the Terrible Sword.

Covering pages 211 through 225.

Following on from the content covered in the last chapter, the author discusses the options available to us were we to face a collision with an asteroid or comet that would threaten human civilization. Accordingly, Levy mentions the various deflection technologies conceived of up to this time (1995), as well as the various ‘space watch’ or ‘space guard’ initiatives being conducted by astronomers around the world. Though somewhat sensationalised in recent years by Hollywood box office hits like Armageddon and Deep Impact, these surveys will help safeguard humanity against the antics of marauding asteroids and comets. We are no longer helpless, unable to divert such a disaster, as we were for most of our history. Today, when more people are living on Earth than at any other time in history, we truly have the means of safeguarding our civilisation against such a cosmic disaster. Levy concludes:

Over thousands of years, we have come full circle with comets. Feared at first and later studied and enjoyed, they are now feared again as harbingers of doom. But unlike the soothsayers of yesteryear, today, with a considerable amount of planning and a lot of care, we may be able to travel to a comet and change its path so that it sails harmlessly by.

pp 225

 

Chapter 18: Maxwell’s Silver Hammer; A String of Pearls Strikes Jupiter

Covering pages 227 through 239

By now, we have reached the climax of Levy’s wonderful adventures with comets, for it is in this chapter that he explains the sequence of events that transformed just another comet (in this case CometShoemaker Levy 1993e) into arguably the most sensational astronomical event of the twentieth century. Further observations of the same comet by a number of observers using large reflecting telescopes that dwarfed the 18 inch Schmidt telescope used by its discoverers showed that the same comet had been sundered into a veritable “string of pearls,” as a consequence of approaching Jupiter too closely (actually it came within just 50,000 kilometres of Jupiter’s cloud tops in July of 1992). What’s more, Dr. Marsden, working at the CBAT, who had been working on its orbit, discovered that a collision with Jupiter was inevitable and would occur in July of 1994. Because of the interest the comet was now generating amongst the professional community, Marsden decided to rename it Periodic Comet Shoemaker Levy 9.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the 21 fragments of Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 as they appeared on May 17 1994, just weeks before their violent collision with Jupiter. Image credit Wiki Commons.

As the weeks went by, some astronomers predicted a rather lacklustre collision event, “like throwing pebbles into an ocean,” but as more detailed calculations were made concerning the amount of energy that the crash would release, astronomer, Steve Edberg, raised the stakes by predicting that the collisions would be “more like dropping an olive into a Martini.” The truth, of course, was somewhere between these extremes, as history so clearly presented.

Ultraviolet image(@255nm) of the major impact events of the fragments of Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 with Jupiter captured about 150 minutes after the collision events on July 21, 1994.Image credit: Wiki Commons.

 

Epilogue

Covering pages 241/2

 

To be continued…….

 

De Fideli.

Changing Culture Part IV: The Ultimate Grab ‘n’ Go ‘Scope?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Ich bin ein beginner!

As described in a previous blog, I have come to learn the many virtues of the powerful yet relatively inexpensive SkyWatcher Heritage 130P, a 5.1 inch f/5 tabletop Newtonian. I described various modifications I made to the telescope in order to optimise its performance. These included replacing the existing secondary with a smaller unit, giving a secondary obstruction of just 27 per cent. Both the primary and secondary mirrors were also treated with Orion Optics’ HiLux super high reflecting coating, providing brighter, more contrasty views of celestial targets. I also described some modifications which involved tightening up the secondary stalk holding the secondary mirror in place, which helped maintain precise collimation while the telescope was being slewed to different parts of the sky.

I can report that the telescope is still performing excellently, so much so that I now question the wisdom of using a small aperture refractor (or catadioptric) for grab ‘n’ go excursions. As explained in my blog, this telescope is very lightweight, fits on a variety of ergonomic mounts owing to the included Vixen style mounting plate, and cools super quick due to its relatively small, thin primary mirror and open tube configuration. But on the evening of December 19, I learned yet more of its secrets.

The night was cold (near zero Celsius) but the sky remained steadfastly clear from sunset to near sunrise the next day. I felt rather tired that evening, having gone through several hours of maths teaching, but I still wanted to venture out under the wintry sky before the waning gibbous Moon got up. So I turned to the 130P, mounting it on a lightweight Vixen II Porta altazimuth to get some observing in. Seeing conditions were not fantastic but perfectly adequate for most targets. The instrument was precisely collimated using an inexpensive laser collimator, as described previously, and made even easier since I installed some Bob’s Knobs secondary adjustment screws. This operation takes only a couple of minutes to execute accurately and I was then ready to reach for my Baader Hyperion zoom, an eyepiece I have grown very fond of owing to its excellent quality for its modest price. Indeed, it really is only slightly inferior to high quality oculars of fixed focal lengths. Thankfully, this is now being openly acknowledged by many amateurs on the forums. See this interesting link comparing this zoom to a much more expensive Leica zoom covering more or less the same focal length range.

The truly remarkable Mark III 8 to 24mm Baader Hyperion zoom and the light weight, low profile 2.25x Baader Barlow lens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In previous excursions, I reported that the zoom was rather heavy and I was concerned that it might be throwing off the collimation as the telescope was aimed at targets of varying altitude. But I can report that the addition of a single washer to the stalk holding the secondary mirror greatly increased the rigidity of the system and I felt I could chance using this large (and bulky) eyepiece as my only portal on the Universe on this frosty evening. So, how did it perform? In a word; magnificently!

The Skywatcher 130P outfitted with the Baader Hyperion zoom. Note the extended distance of eye placement from the optical train.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But to elaborate, I discovered that the zoom keeps one’s body a few inches further back, away from the optical train, and more effectively attenuates the thermal heat plumes issuing from my body. An open tube like the Heritage 130P is significantly more sensitive to thermals introduced into the optical train, especially on cold nights like that experienced on the evening of December 19. I was actually quite shocked at how calm the images appeared in the eyepiece, examing as I did, several fairly tricky double and multiple stars, including some of my seasonal favourites, like beta Monocerotis (at a fairly low altitude), and much higher up: theta Aurigae, iota Cassiopeiae and (the less challenging) Castor A & B. All were well resolved. The native zoom provides a very useful range of magnifications from 27 to 81x, and can be further extended to a greater range of powers up to 182x (and thereby further extending the distance from the optical train). The images of all these systems were remarkably calm!

Close up of the zoom housed securely in the eyepiece holder of the instrument.

Furthermore, comparing the views through the zoom and a much lower profile 7.5mm Parks Gold ocular and Barlow, I could see that the images remained calmer for longer using the zoom. The images were quite simply less affected by anthropogenic turbulence. This is going to make a very significant difference while conducting high resolution work with this telescope during the many cold nights we experience here in Scotland. Nor did the zoom cause any miscollimation issues throughout the vigil. The stars always focused down to small, tight and round seeing disks.

Moving back to the native zoom, I visited M31, riding high in the winter sky, followed by the beautiful trio of Messier star clusters adorning the heart of Auriga (M36, M37 & M38), and from there I visited to my favourite Messier open cluster, M35, in Northern Gemini. I experienced nothing but pure joy experimenting with the right magnifications to frame these clusters using the zoom and the Barlow. I especially like the way the zoom ‘opens up’ at the lower focal length settings (to a very generous 72 degrees indeed) allowing one to soak up the beautiful hinterland around the Auriga clusters.

From there, I panned the telescope down to M42, the Great Nebula in Orion, which had, by now, all but reached meridian passage, and I ‘dialled in’ the optimum viewing magnification (about 150x as it turned out), drinking up the beautiful, crisp nebulosity surrounding the theta Orionis complex (Trapezium).

My adventure under the winter sky was a wonderful experience and only ended once I saw the vault of light emerging in the eastern sky from a rising Moon. The telescope is well able to handle this extraordinary eyepiece, enabling me to effortlessly cruise from low to high power. As I already reported, it is significantly more powerful than a 90mm apochromatic refractor (tested extensively along side the 130P over several months). It can do things no 127mm Maksutov can do, especially on low power, wide field targets, and its smaller central obstruction ensures crisper lunar and planetary views.

This grab ‘n’ go system will take your short, backyard excursions to new heights, thanks to its very generous aperture. Can I recommend this telescope and zoom eyepiece combination highly enough?

Hardly!

 

Neil English is the author of several books on amateur telescopes.

Please check out this ongoing thread on a related telescope, The One Sky Newtonian, which is still going from strength to strength.

De Fideli.

Cleaning Newtonian Mirrors.

I’ve noticed that one issue that seems to give folk concern about investing in a good Newtonian pertains to having to clean the optics every now and again. I’ve never really understood this mindset though. Having had my closed-tube 8-inch Newtonian for about 18 months now, and having clocked up a few hundred hours of observations with it, I felt it was time to give the mirrors a cleaning. Here’s how I do it:

The mirrors are removed from the tube.

Two fairly grimy mirrors

Two fairly grimey mirrors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First I make sure that all the loose dust and debris has been blown off using an air brush. Next, I run some cold tap water into a sink and add a drop or two of washing up liquid. The water we use here is very soft; indeed we are graced with some of the softest water in the British Isles, which also makes drinking tea especially pleasant! If your local water source is hard, I’d definitely recommend using de-ionised/distilled water.

Starting with the secondary mirror, I dip my fingers into the water and apply some of it onto the mirror surface with my finger tips, gently cleaning it using vertical strokes. Did you know that your finger tips are softer than any man-made cloth and are thus ideal for cleaning delicate surfaces like telescope mirrors?

Finger-tip cleaning of the mirror.

Finger-tip cleaning of the mirror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, the mirror reflective surface is rinsed under some cold, running tap water.

Rinse the secondary with some cold tap water.

Rinse the secondary with some cold tap water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The procedure is repeated for the primary mirror;

Gentle massaging of the mirror using the finger tips.

Gentle massaging of the mirror using the finger tips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rinsing the primary mirror using cold tap water

Rinsing the primary mirror using cold tap water.

The mirrors are then supported on their sides to allow them to drain excess water, and then left to dry in a warm, kitchen environment. Stubborn water droplets nucleating on the mirrors are removed using some absorbent tissue.

Washed and drying out in the kitchen.

Washed and drying out in the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, the mirrors are placed back in the telescope tube, making sure not to over-tighten the screws which hold the primary in place inside its cell. All that remains then is to accurately align the optical train, as described previously.

There we are! Not so difficult after all; and all done in about 40 minutes! The soft water doesn’t show up any significant spots after cleaning unlike hard water sources and now the optics are as clean as the day they were produced.

With a busy season of optical testing and planetary observing ahead, I know that my 8-inch will be operating as well as it possibly can. And that’s surely good to know!

Gosh!

I feel a nice, hot cuppa is in order!

De Fideli.

Further Newtonian Adventures with Double Stars.

'Plotina'; the author's ultraportable 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector.

‘Plotina’; the author’s ultraportable 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this department of astronomy, the names of Herschel, South, Struve, Dawes, Dembowski, Burnham, and others are honourably associated and it is notable that refracting-telescopes have accomplished nearly the whole of the work. But reflectors are little less capable, though their powers seem to have been rarely employed in this field. Mr. Tarrant has lately secured a large number of accurate measures with a 10-inch reflector by Calver, and if care is taken to secure correct adjustment of the mirrors, there is no reason why this form of instrument should not be nearly as effective as its rival.

W. F. Denning, from Telescopic Work for Starlight Evenings (1891), pp 290-291

Eye seeth afore I measureth.

Introduction: Having spent several years enjoying the views of double stars of varying degrees of difficulty with a variety of classical achromatic and apochromatic refractors of various apertures (60mm-150mm), this author has dedicated the last 15 months investigating the prowess of Newtonian reflectors in regard to their efficacy in splitting double stars. Surprisingly, a 8″ f/6 Newtonian with traditional spider vanes and a 22 per cent central obstruction was found to be noticeably superior to a first rate 5″ f/12 glass, as well as a 180mm f/15 Maksutov Cassegrain, on all targets, including double stars.

These experiences have collectively led to a deep seated scepticism concerning the traditional claims of self appointed ‘authorities’ who have tended to downplay the Newtonian reflector as a worthy double star instrument. But as the quote from Mr. Denning’s book states above, this prejudice is not derived from sustained field experience. Instead, it is cultivated by, at best, tenuous theoretical considerations. And yet theory counts for nothing if contradictions are found by experimentation, and must be revised in light of new evidences brought to the fore by active observers.

In this capacity, this author has spent several months investigating the performance of a very modest 5.1 inch (130mm) f/5 Newtonian reflector on an undriven alt-azimuth mount. The instrument was modified  in two principal ways:

  1. The original secondary mirror was replaced with a slightly smaller flat (blackened around its periphery), giving a central obstruction of 26.9 per cent, significantly lower than Schmidt and many Maksutov Cassegrains of similar aperture.
  2. Both the primary and secondary mirrors were re-coated with ultra-high reflectivity (97 per cent) coatings delivering a light throughput broadly equivalent to a refractor of similar size.

The instrument has a single stalk supporting the secondary mirror which produces greatly reduced diffraction effects compared with more traditional  Newtonians, yet was found to be sufficiently rigid to deliver very sharp and detailed views of the Moon, planets and deep sky objects.

The single stalk, rigidly supporting the secondary of the 130mm f/5 Newtonian.

The single stalk, rigidly supporting the secondary of the 130mm f/5 Newtonian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The optical train can be accurately aligned in minutes by means of fully adjustable screws on both the primary and secondary mirrors and an inexpensive laser collimator.

The collimating screws behind the primary mirror.

The collimating screws behind the primary mirror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preliminary field testing has shown that the telescope provides very fine high power views of stellar targets under fair to good conditions. Even at  powers beyond 50 per inch of aperture, stars remain round, free of astigmatism and perfectly achromatic. Furthermore, the diffraction spikes attributed to Newtonians are much subdued in this instrument owing to its single vane secondary support. The diagram below shows the relative intensity of diffraction spikes manifesting from various secondary mounting configurations and the reader will note the minimal effects of a single support (seen on far left).

Comparison of diffraction spikes for various strut arrangements of a reflecting telescope – the inner circle represents the secondary mirror

Comparison of diffraction spikes for various strut arrangements of a reflecting telescope – the inner circle represents the secondary mirror.

 

 

 

 

 

Materials & Methods: The telescope was mounted on an ergonomic but sturdy Vixen Porta II alt-azimuth mount equipped with slow motion controls on both axes. the instrument was carefully collimated prior to the commencement of observations using a laser collimator. No cooling fans were employed. A red dot finder was used to aim the instrument and various oculars and barlows were used to resolve pairs. For fainter stellar targets, the system was centred first using a 32mm SkyWatcher Plossl which delivers 20x and an expansive 2.5 degree true field.

Results:

Date: 12.05.16

Time: 00:00-00:30 UT

Seeing: Antoniadi II-III

Epsilon Lyrae: x 271; all four components cleanly resolved, stars round, white and undistorted. No diffraction effects noted.

Pi Bootis: Easy at 150x. Components appearing white and blue-white.

Mu Bootis (Alkalurops): Wonderful triple system; fainter pair (magnitudes 7 and 7.6) separated by 2.2″ and perfectly presented at 271x. This pair has an orbital period of just 260 years!

Epsilon Bootis: Primary (magnitude 2.5) presenting in a lovely ochre hue and its fainter companion (magnitude 4.7) easily picked off at 271x.

Delta Cygni:  Magnitudes: 2.89, 6.27, separation:  2.7″

Well split at 271x, although conditions a little turbulent and not yet at an optimal altitude for observation.

Date: 13.05.16

Time: 00:00-00:30 UT

Seeing: II. Indifferent seeing at sunset (III-IV), improving as the night advanced (II).

Temperature: +7.5C

Xi UMa: beautiful clean split of this 1.6″ pair (magnitudes 4.3 and 4.8) at 271x

Epsilon Bootis: textbook perfect split @ 271x

Delta Cygni: Child’s play this evening, separation 2.7″. Companion presented as a perfectly round, steely grey orb @271x.

Beta Lyrae: remarkable multiple star system. Four white/blue white stars framed in the same field at 271x.

O^1 Cygni: a corker at 20x, but more fetching at 81x. Orange and turquoise stars, with the former showing its blue magnitude 7 companion.

Date: 15.05.16

Time: 22:30 UT

Seeing: II-III, clear, brightening moon, twilit

Temperature: +3.5C

Iota Cassiopeiae: Just one entry tonight. More challenging to locate owing to its relatively low altitude above the northern horizon and the encroach of twilight. All thee components well resolved at 271x. This is the third successful split of this attractive multiple star system with the same instrument.

Date: 21.05.16

Time: 22:10 UT

Seeing: II, partially cloudy, twilit.

Temperature: +10C

Epsilon Bootis: Another lovely split this evening @271x. Primary(magnitude +2.5) orange and the secondary a regal blue (magnitude 4.9) separated by 2.8″.

Xi Bootis: Striking yellow and orange components (magnitudes 4.7 and 7, respectively), separated by ~6.5″ and beautifully framed @ 150X.

Rho Herculis: A comely pair of blue-white stars shining at magnitudes +4.5 and +5.4. Easily resolved (4.0″)@271X.

22:30UT

Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae: textbook perfect split of all four components @271x. Subtle colour differences noted between the stars.

22:45 UT

Delta Cygni: Perfectly resolved at 271x. Magnitudes: 2.89, 6.27, separation:  2.7″

Date: 22.05.16

Time: 23:10UT

Seeing: II, very good, mostly clear, twilit, bright Moon low in south.

Temperature: +9C

Marfik(Lambda Ophiuchi): Quite hard to track down owing to an unusual amount of glare in the southern sky. System split at 271x. The components ( magnitudes 4.2 & 5.2), well resolved. Tightest system so far resolved with this instrument: 1.4″. Both stars appeared creamy white and orientated roughly northeast to southwest. Superficially, very much like Xi UMa but slightly more challenging.

No’ bad ken.

Date: 24.05.16

Time: 00:10 UT

Seeing: I-II, excellent steady atmosphere, no cloud, twilit, cool.

Temperature: +5C

Pi Aquilae: Another good target affirmatively resolved this evening. Separation 1.5″ with magnitudes of 6.3 and 6.8. Power of 271x applied. First hint of duplicity seen shortly after local midnight when the system was quite low down in the east, but much better presented at 23:45 UT when it rose a little higher.

Delta Cygni: Another textbook perfect split! This system is child’s play with this telescope, but remains a good indicator of local seeing.

I would warmly encourage others using this telescope, or its closed tubed counterpart, to confirm these findings.

Date: 28.05.16

Time: 22:45 UT

Seeing: II, good stable air for double star work, cloudless sky, twilit.

Temperature: +6C

Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae: beautiful easy and dazzling split of all four components @271x

Delta Cygni: Another textbook perfect split of this very unequal magnitude pair @271x

Mu Cygni: difficult to find as it is currently lower down in the east under twilit conditions. Excellent multiple star system, A-B well split @271x, colours white and yellow (+4.8/6.2 magnitudes, respectively), separation ~1.66″. Another tight, unequal magnitude pairing. C component too faint to pick off in the twilight. D component (+6.9) seen about 3′ off to the northeast.

Doing well so far don’t you think?

Ps. Interesting findings from a few guys here.

Date: 29.05.16

Time: 23:10 UT

Seeing: II, almost a carbon copy of last night. Twilit.

Temperature: +7C

Just two targets this evening.

Epsilon Bootis: a good ‘warm up’ system. The telescope showed a textbook perfect split during the finest moments at 271X. I have found that wearing a good heat-insulating jacket and hat gives noticeably better results on cooler nights, as thermal energy from the body can sometimes distort the image at least for a wee while.

From there I moved to my target system for the evening.

Sigma 1932 AaB: a very challenging system in Corona Borealis. It is located about 3.67 degrees directly west of Alphecca (alpha CrB) which is easily seen even in twilight. My 32mm SkyWatcher Plossl, which yields a field of view of 2.5 angular degrees was used, together with my star atlas, to finally track down this magnitude 7 system. After a few false starts, I eventually centred the target system, cranked up the power to 271x and, with a concentrated gaze, obtained a good split! This binary system consists of a pair of yellowish stars with equal magnitudes (7.3 and 7.4, respectively) oriented roughly east to west and separated by 1.6″.

Battle o' the weans. In the foreground a 90mm Apo, in the backgroud, a 130mm Newtonian.

Battle o’ the weans. In the foreground a 90mm Apo, in the backgroud, a 130mm Newtonian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date: 30.05.16

Time: 23:00-23:30 UT

Seeing: A fine and mild night, remaining very good (II), high pressure bubble stabilised over Scotland, some intermittent cloud, twilit. Midge flies back.

Temperature: +11C

Tonight, I wanted to compare and contrast two very different telescopes in respect to their ability to split a few of the tougher pairs visited thus far; a 90mm f/5.5 doublet Apo (retail price now £912 UK) and the 130mm f/5 Newtonian (~£200 UK with the modifications).

System:Delta Cygni

90mm glass; difficult split @208x

130mm speculum: much more cleanly resolved@271x

System: Pi Aquilae*

90mm glass: very dim, touching @208x

130mm speculum: cleanly resolved/brighter @271x

System;Marfik*

90mm glass: dim, elongated @208x

130mm speculum: fully resolved /brighter @271x

*Suboptimal altitude

You cannae change the laws o’ physics captain!

And ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Oh vanity of vanities!

Self-evidently, an unfair comparison: the 130mm f/5 Newtonian is clearly the superior double star instrument.

The words of the prophet, Isaiah, come to mind;

For fools speak folly,
their hearts are bent on evil:
They practice ungodliness
and spread error concerning the Lord;
the hungry they leave empty
and from the thirsty they withhold water.
Scoundrels use wicked methods, they make up evil schemes
to destroy the poor with lies,
even when the plea of the needy is just.
But the noble make noble plans,
and by noble deeds they stand.

Isaiah 32:6-8

Date: 31.05.16

Time: 23:05 UT

Seeing: III; significantly more turbulent than last night. Twilit.

Temperature: +10C

This evening I had intended to concentrate my observations on one target; the very difficult sub-arc second companion to Lambda Cygni, using my best instrument; a 8-inch f/6 Newtonian, in order that I might train my eyes to see this companion (separated by 0.9″) in my smaller 130mm instrument.

Using the 130mm as a seeing gauge; I found Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae to be resolved well but nearby Delta Cygni was poorly resolved. This was also found to be the case in the 8-inch aperture.

Project shelved for a better night.

Date: 01.06.16

Time: 23:30 UT

No opportunities afforded this evening owing to the encroach of haar after sunset.

Let us consider some of the optical principles relevant to splitting such a tight pair.

Diffraction theory states that the position of the first bright ring (between 1st and 2nd minima) is located at a linear radius of 1.63 lambda x F where lambda (wavelength) is quoted in microns and F is the focal ratio of the scope. By dividing this quantity by the focal length we obtain the angular radius of the 1st minimum (in radians) and this yields (1.63 x lambda)/D where D is the aperture of the scope in metres.

Now, there are 57.3 angular degrees in a radian and 3600 arc seconds in each angular degree, so if we multiply the above expression by 57.3 x 3600 = 206280 and so we arrive at 206280 x (1.63 x lambda)/D.

Setting D = 0.1m for example, and lambda = 0.55 microns (green)  yields 1849300 micro arc seconds, which is 1.85”.

Or more generally, the locus of the first diffraction ring is 185/D where D is the aperture of the telescope expressed in mm.

Applying this formula to the 200mm and 130 mm reflectors, the position of the first diffraction ring is 0.9” and 1.4”, respectively. Thus, the companion to Lambda Cygni will be located on the first diffraction ring in the 8-inch instrument, and inside the ring in the case of the 130mm telescope.

The primary has a magnitude of +4.5 and the secondary, + 6.3, so there is a magnitude differential of 1.8. The significant brightness differential makes this system more difficult to crack.

The Dawes limit for a 130mm (5.1 inches) ‘scope is given by 4.57/D in inches, which is ~0.9”.

More on this here.

Date: 02.06.16

Time: 23:30 UT

Seeing: III-IV, very turbulent

Conditions clear but remaining very turbulent. A light, northeasterly air flow is likely the culprit(see my local weather; Stirling, Scotland).

My notes show that I have glimpsed the companion to the primary on a few occasions over the last few summers with my 5″ f/12 achromatic. But I have seen it much more clearly – and also on a few occasions – with the 8″ f/6 Newtonian.

Date: 06.06.16

In order to maximise my chances with Lambda Cygni, I have decided to wait until August at the earliest, when the system will be high overhead here, in a dark sky. Patience is a virtue is it not? And I can afford to be patient with this one, as it is a very slow moving binary and so will remain very challenging for a good few years to come. So no hurry.

The capabilities of the 130mm f/5 on double stars have already well exceeded my expectations. My experiences with the smaller, 90mm refractor especially, have reinforced the notion that aperture is a vital commodity when it comes to seeing objects clearly and distinctly. It pays to remember that resolution scales with aperture. That’s why it is easier to see things in the 130mm than the 90mm, irrespective of how fancy its optics and mechanics are. And this can be tested, again and again and again…..ad nauseam.

This is factual knowledge, and facts are stubborn and immutable things!

Physics pays no attention to human hubris.

Physics cares little for hubris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the next few months I would like to return to the many beautiful and easy systems within reach of this remarkable telescope; even in heavy twilight.

Time: 23:00-59 UT

Temperature: +11C

Seeing: II, good, a little hazy, twilit.

I walked through the garden in the cool of the evening, after a very warm and sunny day. I set up the 130mm f/5 as usual and began to explore some of the nicer double stars of the sky.

Mizar & Alcor: A perennial favourite, high overhead this time of year, dazzlingly bright, the light from these stars fills the field and induces instant joy. Well framed at 81x in my trusty Baader mark III zoom.

Cor Caroli (Alpha CVn): Easy to find under the handle of the Ploughshare. Both components appearing white to the eye with magnitudes 2.9 & 5.6.

Alpha Herculis (Rasalgethi): A corker! At 108x, this pair presents as marmalade orange and blue-green, which orbit their common centre of gravity every 3600 years.

Albireo (Beta Cygni):  A stunning sight in the little reflector at 81x. Glorious contrast of colour; orange (magnitude 3.1) primary, blue-green secondary (5.1).

61 Cygni: historically very significant as the first star system to have its distance measured in 1838 by F.W.Bessel. Only 10.4 light years away. Both stars are cool, orange dwarfs with magnitudes 5.2 and 6.1.

Eta Cassiopeiae: A bit more challenging to locate in the strongest twilight coming from low in the northeast. Easily split at 81x, presenting as orange and red (magnitudes 3.5 & 7.5, respectively). These constitute a true binary system, with a period of about 480 years.

A quick peek at a more difficult pair:

Pi Aquilae: Once again, beautiful and easy to resolve in the 5.1” reflector at 243x. I have been observing this system for five years now, with various instruments. My notes from the end of July 2011 showed that it was very difficult with a high-quality 4” f/15 classical refractor, the twilight making it challenging. Observations made with variety of 5” refractors over the same period – and also in summer twilight –  show that it is not difficult in these sized instruments (only anomaly recorded in an optically so-so 6” f/8 speculum used for outreach also from 2011, where it was relatively poorly seen).  In the absence of a good 4” refractor at present, this provides good evidence that the 130mm reflector is indeed operating closer to the performance of a 5” glass than a 4” glass, which is very encouraging.

Before leaving the field, I spotted Saturn below the tree line in the south, so I decided to uplift the telescope on its Porta II mount and walk about a hundred yards to a grassy spot at the local primary school grounds, where I could better aim the telescope. Despite its very low altitude, it was a beautiful sight at ~150x, it glorious ring system now wide open for business. Cassini Division seen, as well as some banding on the Saturnian globe.

Vicious midge flies making any further observations uncomfortable, the vigil was aborted shortly before 1 AM local time.

Date: 08.06.16

Time: 23:00-30 UT

Seeing: II, good and stable, variable amounts of thin cloud, twilit.

Temperature: +10C

Polaris: Always a lovely system to study, even in the twilight. In the telescope at 108x, the 2nd magnitude primary (Polaris A) presents as a beautiful creamy white, the secondary a haunting bluish grey some 6 magnitudes fainter seen in the 10 o’ clock position in the 130mm Newtonian. A third companion lies much closer to Polaris A but is woefully beyond the powers of any backyard telescope to resolve. Interestingly, all three stars in this system, located about 430 light years away, are of the F spectral class, and thus should present with the same colours. This is readily seen with Polaris A but the exceeding faintness of the Polaris B hides its true colour. Polaris B orbits A at a distance of about 2400 further out than the Earth-Sun distance, taking over 400 centuries to complete a single lap.  Polaris A is a giant, pulsating star, part of a class known as Cepheids. With such stars, humans have been able to extend the plumbline of their reach into the realm of the galaxies. Stars like Polaris A have helped us gain a truer sense of the vastness of the Universe in which we miraculously inhabit. These are some of the things I like to ponder on, whilst spying the Pole Star.

16 Cygni: A fourth magnitude system a little to the northeast of the lovely red variable star R Cygni. In the 130mm f/5 at 81x, the decent light gathering power of the instrument presents the pair  in their natural colours: a yellow primary (magnitude 4) and golden secondary (magnitude 6), separated by about 40 arc seconds of sky.

Eta Lyrae: Located a few telescopic fields east of Vega, this is normally a very easy system to crack at low powers (~40x) with a magnitude 4.4 blue-white primary and 9th magnitude secondary wide away. In the twilight, I find a higher power of 108x is needed to see the faint secondary well, and is even better presented again at 150x. Much more gloriously presented from a truly dark sky.

Date: 17.06.16

Time: 22:30-59 UT

Temperature: +7.5C

Seeing: II-III, clear, twilit, bright waxing gibbous Moon culminating in the south. Evening made especially pleasant by the absence of midge flies, which don’t like temperatures below 10C.

After over a week long hiatus in the weather, which brought endless cloud and some rain, the sky finally cleared up this evening, allowing me to resume my adventures with my 130mm f/5 Newtonian.

Two reasonably challenging doubles to start with:

Epsilon Bootis: beautifully sharp and well resolved at 195x

Delta Cygni: Ditto @195x; always a joy to observe this system so well.

Iota Bootis: A wonderful low power system, located about 4 degrees northeast of Alkaid (at the tip of the handle of the Ploughshare). At 81x, the system was beautifully framed  and showed a yellowish primary(magnitude +4.8) well separated from a bluish secondary,  some three magnitudes fainter (+7.5). Very fetching colour contrast in the Newtonian!

95 Herculis: Found by panning some 10 degrees east of Delta Herculis. To my eyes, this nearly equal magnitude pairing(4.9/5.2) has a very subtle colour contrast: one appears silvery, the other creamy white. Easily resolved at 81x. Consulting my old Burnham’s Celestial Handbook Vol 2, there is an interesting discussion on the historical colour presentation of this pair, especially from some eccentric 19th century observers!

What colours do you see?

How wonderful it is to get outside on this beautiful mid-summer evening!

Date: 18.06.16

Time: 22:30 UT

Temperature: +10C

Seeing: II, some hazy cloud, bright Moon in south.

Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae: Textbook perfect split of all four components at 243x

Delta 1 & 2 Lyrae:  Easily found in the low power (20x) field of my 32mm SkyWatcher Plossl, just a few degrees to the east of Vega. No need for higher power with this system; lovely colour contrast – red and blue-white. Stars physically unrelated i.e an optical double.

SHJ 282: Seen in the same lower power field of Beta Lyrae, some 1 degree to its northeast. Under darker skies, it forms a wonderful sight in the 2.5 degree field of the 32mm Plossl, together with the celebrated Ring Nebula (M57). At 41x, this comely system (actually triple) looks like a copy of Albireo; an aureal primary well separated from its pale blue secondary.

Date: 27.06.16

Time: 22:45-23:10UT

Temperature: +10C

Seeing: II, very good, partially clear, beautiful noctilucent clouds in the northeast, fresh westerly breeze, nae midgees.

The weather has been quite unsettled of late, with little in the way of clear skies, but this evening I grabbed an opportunity with both hands and fielded my bonnie 130mm Newtonian.

A number of systems visited this evening including:

Delta Cygni: wonderful split and (as usual) easily resolved at 243x. Lovely round stars well separated in the twilight.

Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae: Textbook perfect at 243x

Epsilon Bootis: Very easy for this telescope, as I have found on many occasions now. Lovely colour contrast at 243x

Pi Aquilae: Better positioned these days. Easily split at 243x

11 Aquilae: Found by centering Zeta Aquilae in the low power (20x) field. 6th magnitude 11 Aq lies just one degree or so to its west. At powers up to 100x or so, only the white 6th magnitude primary is visible, but when the power is cranked up beyond about 150x, the much fainter 9th magnitude companion was observed wide away. Reasonable concentration is required to tease this out of the twilight. Once picked off, the greyish companion was better seen at higher powers (243x). This system is far more glorious in a fully dark sky, and I shall look forward to visiting it again in August.

All in all, a grand half hour under a Scottish summer sky. My little Newtonian reflector is most assuredly a proficient double star telescope. The unbridled joy of discovery!

Date: 29.06.16

Time: 22:45-23:20 UT

Seeing: Excellent, I-II, gentle breeze, very little cloud, twilit.

Temperature: +8.5C

After assessing the seeing in the 130mm Newtonian and judging it fine ( as evidenced by cleanly splitting Delta Cygni at 243x), I fielded my 8-inch f/6 Newtonian and turned it on Lambda Cygni, now considerably higher in the sky and applied a power of 450x. I also employed a Baader single polarising filter, which helped to reduce glare and darken the sky. I could indeed see the companion to the primary star intermittently and oriented north to south. And during the better moments I could see that it was clearly disembodied from the primary. I then turned the 130mm on the same system, employing a power of 365x with the polarising filter. Letting the image settle down as it moved across the field, I observed good elongation in the same orientation, but no separation.

This was a most exciting and encouraging vigil, the first of many more I hope.

Date: 01.07.16

Time:22:50-23:40 UT

Temperature: +7C

Seeing: II, good clear spells, some cloud, westerly gusts, cold, twilit.

After a day of heavy and frequent rain showers, I enjoyed a short clear spell around midnight.

Iota Cassiopeiae: Fairly tricky to track down in twilight, but was rewarded with a lovely clean split of this picturesque triple star system at 243x.

Eta Cassiopeiae: Picturesque colour contrast pair (A/B orange and yellow). Easy to split at powers at ~100x.

Sigma Cassiopeiaie: located a few degrees southwest of the easternmost star in the constellation ( Beta), this is a wonderful target for small telescopes. It consists of two blue-white stars separated by about 3.2″. The primary shines with magnitude 5.0 and the secondary, 7.2. Best seen at magnifications > 150x.

Delta Cephei: Beautiful and easy with the 130mm Newtonian. The stars appeared pure white and easily resolved even at low power but nicely framed at 81x. The primary is actually another Cepheid variable (described above in relation to Polaris).

Two tighter test systems visited:

Delta Cygni: good clean split at 243x

Epsilon Bootis: ditto at 243x

Date: 05.07.16

Time: 23:05-30UT

Seeing: III-IV, below average seeing, partially cloudy.

Temperature: +8C

Fairly choppy seeing this evening, as evidenced by somewhat bloated stellar seeing disks observed with the 130mm f/5 Newtonian.

Delta Cygni: barely resolved at 243x

Epsilon Bootis: split but not cleanly at 180x

Xi Bootis: yellow and orange pairing, easily resolved (6.4″) at 150x

Pi Bootis: Blue and yellow components, easily resolved (5.6″) at 150x

Zeta Coronae Borealis: Lovely yellow and blue-green components easily resolved (6″) at 150x

Mu Bootis (Alkalurops): All three components resolved easily with the 130mm Newtonian at 243x. System previously visited on May 12 last. The two seventh magnitude stars (B/C) were surprisingly well split (~2″), a consequence I suppose of their low brightness which curtails the size of their seeing disks. Fainter pairs seem less susceptible to seeing conditions.

Date: 08.07.16

Time: 22:40-23:00 UT

Temperature: +12C

Seeing: III-IV, remaining turbulent, mostly cloudy.

Further trials with the 130mm f/5 Newtonian.

Delta Cygni : unresolved at 183x

Epsilon 1&2 Lyrae: resolved at 183x

Cor Caroli: very pretty at 63x

Date: 11.07.16

Time: 22:45- 23:00 UT

Temperature: +13C

Seeing: III-IV, very turbulent mostly cloudy, a few suckerholes appearing here and there.

Two instruments fielded this evening; a 130mm f/5 Newtonian and a 90mm f/5.5 apochromatic refractor (price now hiked up to £1017?! i.e. fourth successive hike since review)

Epsilon Bootis (Izar): Companion resolved reasonably well with 130mm  reflector but very poorly (if at all) with 90mm refractor at comparable magnifications i.e.~180x. Quite revealing really!

Mission aborted owing to light drizzle.

Date: 12.07.16

Time: 22:30-23:00 UT

Seeing: III, partially clear, cool, twilit.

Temperature: +10C

The conditions were slightly improved over last night. I fielded the 130mm f/5  Newtonian again and examined the following systems. I employed a single polarising filter which does a very good job removing some glare and improving the aesthetic of the stellar images, especially in twilight.

Epsilon 1&2 Lyrae: easily split at 181x.

Epsilon Bootis: well split at 180x

Delta Cygni: good split at 180x and 243x

Low down in the east, I visited Delphinus for the first time this season.

Gamma Delphini: A corker at 181x! Located some 100 light years from the Solar System, the primary(magnitude +4.4) shines with a lovely marmalade orange hue, while the secondary (magnitude 5.0) shows up as lime-like. 9 arc seconds separates them.

Struve 2725: Seen in the same high power field as Gamma Delphini, this fainter system can be seen a little to the southwest of Gamma. This pair is a bit more challenging to spot, the primary and secondary having magnitudes of 7.5 and 8.4 respectively and orientated north to south. To my eye they both look white and are separated by 6″.

No’ bad innings for an average July evening, ken.

Date: 13.07.16

Time: 22:30-23:00 UT

Seeing: II-III, an improving picture, though not where I would like it to be. Partially cloudy, twilit.

Temperature: +10C

Systems visited this evening with the 130mm f/5 Newtonian (with single polarising filter) included:

Delta Cygni: well split at 181x

Iota Cassiopeiae: A beautiful, delicate triple system, well resolved at 181x but more compelling to behold at 243x

After spending about five minutes admiring the comely, sanguine Garnet Star (Mu Cephei), I move the instrument a little to its southwest until I arrived at a field of view containing two other stellar systems of interest:

Struve 2816: A magnificent triple system (actually quadruple). All three stars are arranged in a line running roughly northwest to southeast. A/B looks yellow to the eye (magnitude +5.6) with two equally bright stars (C and D), located 12″ and ~20″ away from the primary, respectively. A grand sight at 181x.

Struve: 2819: Just off to the northwest of Struve 2816, this is a fainter system requiring high powers to see well. Both stars appear white to the eye. The primary is magnitude + 7.4 and has a fainter companion (magnitude +8.5) ~13″ off to its northeast. Best seen at 243x.

Very much looking forward to darker and more stable skies coming back in a few more weeks.

Date: 18.07.16

Time: 22:20-30 UT

Seeing: sultry, clouded out, midge flies by the legion, twilit.

Temperature: +18C

Poodle versus Plotina

Lens versus Speculum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was hoping to get some observing done this evening, as the forecast looked reasonably promising after a long spell of very unseasonal weather (The Open at Troon sure wasn’t pretty lol). I have not been able to make any additional progress beyond what I’ve recorded but having been at this a few months now and having seen what I’ve seen, my conclusions are as follows;

The modified 130mm f/5 appears to be an excellent double star instrument! This came as a quite a surprise to me, as I was not entirely prepared for what it could deliver given its very modest cost. All of this can be tested, of course, and I’d warmly encourage you to have a go.

The instrument will comfortably outperform any 90-100mm refractor given a fair trial (proper acclimation, optical train alignment, reasonable to good seeing conditions, etc.). It is especially adept at resolving close, fainter pairs of roughly equal brightness.

Millimetre for millimetre, its performance in comparison to a refractor of equal aperture is much closer than is commonly reported (or commonly believed), though I would concede that the refractor will have an edge when pushed to the limits*.

*Valid only over the aperture ranges studied.

My conclusions are fully in agreement with the comments made by W.F. Denning (1891), reproduced above.

I will continue to monitor these and other double stars, God willing, in the coming months and years and will report back in due course.

It has been an absolute pleasure discovering the many charms of this little Newtonian. As telescopes go, there is something very endearing about their ingenious simplicity, and given half a chance, they can show you remarkable things.

As I write this, there are more encouraging signs that the prejudice traditionally attributed to Newtonians for this kind of work is being lifted and that is great to see! Just have a look at the CN Double Star forum to see some examples. I believe much of this prejudice is/has been due to the usual suspects: laziness, lack of interest, somewhat irrational, material attachment to other kinds of telescopes, and the like. You see, you don’t need a big vainglorious refractor (I should know, I’ve got one lol) to do this kind of work, and dare I say, one can actually derive a greater level of satisfaction achieving goals with these modest instruments over more traditional ones. You begin to see the hobby in a whole new light.

Thank you for following this blog.

Clear Skies!

Neil.

Updates

Date: August 17, 2016

Time: 00:05h BST

Seeing: Excellent: I, excellent definition, fairly bright sky owing to very late gibbous Moon low in the south, gentle westerly breeze.

Temperature: +12C

Instruments: 203mm f/6 & 130mm f/5 Newtonians, Baader single polariser.

Observation: The 8-inch reflector easily resolved Lambda Cygni B (0.9″), clearly seen at 450x and orientated at right angles to the direction of drift (E-W). Both components presenting as perfectly round and clean white. Deeply impressive!

The 130mm f/5 showed the system as plainly and strongly elongated N-S, power employed x325. Careful attention to accurate collimation necessary. Best evidence for the appearance of duplicity thus far recorded with this instrument.

Date: August 28 2016

Time: 23:10 BST

Seeing: Excellent (I), a bonnie evening, very steady, no clouds, no Moon, cool.

Temperature: +10C

Instruments: 203mm f/6 and 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflectors, Baader single polariser.

After obtaining an excellent high power split of delta Cygni & pi Aquilae with both instruments, I turned the telescopes toward lambda Cygni. The 8-inch served up another clear split of the 0.9″ B component at 450 diameters, just like the evening of August 17. The 130mm, once again showed strong elongation (north to south orientation) at 325x and 406x, but was not split.

 

De Fideli.

Changing Culture III: Aperture & Resolution.

On the left, a 90mm apochromatic refractor and on the right, a 203mm f/6 reflector enjoying a bout of late evening sunshine.

On the left, a 90mm apochromatic refractor and on the right, a 203mm f/6 Newtonian reflector enjoying a spell of late evening sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction:

One of the ABCs of telescopic optics is that resolving power scales linearly with aperture and light gathering power with the square of aperture. These are fundamental facts that are demonstrably true and have been used productively over two centuries of scientific applications. And yet, all the while, there has been a consistent drive in the last few decades within a section of the amateur community that somewhat erroneously links performance to absolute monetary value. This largely corrupt movement is most ostensibly seen in the refractor market, where amateurs are apparently willing to shell out relatively large sums of money for telescopes that, in terms of performance, are severely limited by their small apertures. This is a worrying trend indeed, and has led many astray within the hobby.

In this capacity, I decided to highlight the anomaly by devising a simple test which exposes this ‘peashooter’ mentality for what it is; a gross misrepresentation of basic optical principles.

Materials & Methods:

Two telescopes were set up in my back garden; a 90mm apochromatic refractor retailing at £1017 (tube assembly only) and a 203mm f/6 Dobsonian, with a retail price of £289, but with some basic modifications (97% reflectivity coatings and a smaller secondary giving a linear obstruction of just 22 per cent) which increased its cost to  approximately half that of the smaller telescope. The Newtonian was carefully collimated before use.

The telescopes were left out in the open air during a dry and bright evening when the temperatures had stabilised and were fully acclimated. Both instruments were kept out of direct sunlight. The refractor had an extendable dew shield to cut down on ambient glare, while the Newtonian was fitted with a flexible dew shield to serve the same purpose. To remove the complicating effects of atmospheric seeing, the telescopes were targeted on the leaves of the topmost boughs of a horse chestnut tree, located about 100 yards away.

Both telescopes were charged with approximately the same magnifications, in this case, a very high power was deliberately chosen; 320x. Next, the images of the leaves were examined visually, being especially careful to achieve the best possible focus, and the results noted.

Results:

The 203mm Newtonian images of the leaves were crisp, bright and full of high contrast detail. In comparison, the image served up by the refractor was much dimmer and a great deal of fine detail seen in the larger instrument was either ill-discerned or completely invisible in the smaller instrument. Though less dramatic, the same results were obtained when a larger refractor (127mm f/12) was compared with the 203mm f/6 Newtonian under similar conditions, with the latter delivering brighter, crisper images with finer detail.

Conclusions:

This simple experiment, requiring nothing more than a few minutes of one’s time and no complicated formulae or optical testing devices, clearly showed the considerable benefits of larger aperture. The images served up by the Newtonian were brighter and easier to see than those served up by the smaller instrument. Resolving power and light gathering power work hand in hand; you need decent light grasp to discern fine details and vice versa.These results were largely independent of the surrounding atmospheric conditions, as the targets were located at close proximity to the telescopes and thus had to travel through a short column of air.

These experiments were repeated with larger instruments; a 127mm f/12 refractor and the same 203mm Newtonian, with the same results, that is, the smaller instrument runs out of light faster than the larger and shows less fine detail in the images served up.

These results confirm that larger aperture is superior to smaller aperture. No amount of claptrap can change the result either. Complications may arise when the same tests are performed on celestial targets, especially during bouts of turbulent atmospheric seeing, when the larger instrument will be commensurately more sensitive. In such instances, it is the environment that introduces anomalies. But when conditions are good, the benefits of larger aperture will be seen, clearly and unambiguously. Absolute monetary value has little or nothing to do with the end result, in direct contradistinction to what is claimed by those who promote small aperture refractors in an unscientific way.

See here for further reading.

 

De Fideli

The Sceptical Astronomer Part III: Evolution in the Spotlight.

Here I wish to continue the work presented in Part I and Part II of this topic

 

Do you accept the theory of biological evolution? If so, why? Do you have the necessary cognitive tools to assess the theory?  Are you equipped with the latest knowledge that enables you to critically appraise the theory in light of new research findings?

Here, I present a variety of evidentiary points, testimonies, discussions and philosophic discourses that raise legitimate arguments against the theory of evolution, as promulgated by biologists.

 

But you have chosen to measure, count, and weigh everything you do.

Wisdom 11:20

Amazing Mitochondria

A simplified schematic of mitochondrial protein translocation. Image credit: Francisco J Iborra , Hiroshi Kimura & Peter R. Cook.

A simplified schematic of mitochondrial protein translocation. Image credit: Francisco J Iborra , Hiroshi Kimura & Peter R. Cook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we saw in part II, mitochondria are a type of organelle found in complex cells that play a pivotal role in generating the lion’s share of the chemical energy needed for its sustenance. And as we also learned, mitochondria contain their very own DNA, which maintain 13 actively expressed genes that play the most important roles in deriving this energy from chemical substrates. Superficially, mitochondria resemble a type of bacterium called the α-proteobacteria, which has led evolutionary biologists to propose that they arose through a mechanism involving one cell ‘eating’ another cell, but instead of digesting it down to its molecular building blocks, it somehow survived inside the cell and learned to co-exist with the host cell. Over time, evolutionary biologists suggest, many of the genes that encode proteins that perform their tasks in the mitochondrion were transferred to the nucleus.

But this has raised all sorts of questions including why mitochondria reproduce in step with the rest of the cell and how lateral gene transfer occurred through the nuclear pore when it was designed for the passage of RNA and small proteins into the cytoplasm but not DNA?

Now the puzzle grows ever deeper and this time it pertains to the unique protein complexes that direct proteins synthesised in the cytoplasm into the various parts of the mitochondrion. The vast majority of proteins destined for the mitochondria are encoded in the nucleus and synthesized in the cytoplasm. These proteins are tagged by an N-terminal signal sequence, which we can think of as a kind of ‘zip code’. Following transport through the cytoplasm from the nucleus, the signal sequence is recognized by a receptor protein in the Translocase of the Outer Membrane (TOM) complex. The signal sequence and adjacent portions of the protein chain are inserted in the TOM complex, after which time they begin to interact with a Translocase of the Inner Membrane (TIM) complex, which are transiently linked at sites of close contact between the two membranes. The signal sequence is then translocated into the matrix in a process that requires an electrochemical proton gradient across the inner membrane. Mitochondrial Hsp70 protein then binds to regions of the protein chain and maintains it in an unfolded state as it moves into the matrix. Further enzymes are required to process the imported proteins so that they can carry out their duties either in the lumen of the mitochondrion, or inside/on its membrane.

Understanding how this highly coordinated biochemical system evolved has raised headaches for evolutionists. In his 2014 book, In Search of Cell History: The Evolution of Life’s Building Blocks, Franklin Harold, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Colorado State University, states that, “The origin of the machinery for protein import is more complicated and is subject to much debate………..Most of the transferred genes continue to support mitochondrial functions, having somehow acquired the targeting sequences that allow their protein products to be recognized by TOM and TIM and imported into the organelle.”

The molecular machines needed to carry out this extraordinarily complicated process appears to be yet another example of a so-called irreducibly complex system, that would simply fall to pieces if any of the component protein molecules failed to be present in the right place and at the right time. How did the proteins encoded by the nuclear genes acquire the correct zip codes to get ‘posted’ to the mitochondria, unless it was designed? This should give any reasonable person doubt that such a system could come into being piecemeal, via an evolutionary process. More details here.

Punk Eek

Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.

Psalm 148:5

The longer the explanation the bigger the lie, so reads one ancient Chinese proverb. I find myself agreeing with this old adage, especially in relation to a new theory of evolution proposed by the late Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge and reproduced ad nauseam in our school and college textbooks. Acknowledging the lack of fossil evidence for Darwinian gradualism, they noted that new forms of life appear suddenly after long periods of stasis.  And that stasis itself was data, they noted. They proposed that the individual is not the unit of evolutionary change but the species as a whole. Gould and Eldredge proposed a mechanism called ‘allopatric speciation’ to attempt to explain away the abrupt appearance of the fossil record. In this scheme of events, a sub-population becomes geographically isolated by some kind of environmental change, such as the building of a mountain range or the shifting of a river’s course. The isolated population then evolves new traits from the ‘father’ species. When pressed about how such changes occur so rapidly, they could only offer the standard Darwinian narrative; descent with modification. Acknowledging the long periods of stasis followed by rapid speciation, they called their theory ‘Punctuated Equilibrium’ or ‘Punk Eek’ for short.

As a keen student of evolutionary biology, I have always found this theory to be mere ‘hand waving’, as it seemed to ‘explain away’ the missing fossils without providing a clear mechanism for those changes. Words, words and more words!

And that’s not good enough!

But it gets worst still for Punk Eek, for it has been discredited by a number of studies in the real world. Back in 2001, scientists from the University of Oregon showed that environmental fragmentation – a necessary prerequisite for punk eek to work – was overwhelmingly more likely to drive a species to extinction than anything else.

In yet another study of collared lizards in the Missouri Ozarks carried out in 2001 by a team of scientists from Washington University, they showed the same thing: perturbation of the environment leads to extinction rather than speciation.

Gould and Eldredge’s theory is, by their own admission, a descriptive theory of large-scale patterns over geological time, not a theory of genetic process. But if genetic process could not accomplish large-scale patterns, their theory becomes mute. A raft of more recent studies discussed in Part II of this blog show that if such rapid speciation were to occur it would necessarily involve mutations to the genes that play a role in the development of body plans and all such studies show that tampering with them leads to disastrous results.

The simplest and best explanation is that God both creates and destroys species in waves that improve their efficiency, and in order to cultivate an optimum environment for the emergence of the human species, the crown of His creation.

Further Reading: Meyer, S.C, Darwin’s Doubt, Chapter 7 (2013).

 

What Evolutionists Predicted and Got Wrong

Wee Pinochio

Wee Pinocchio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?

Psalm 94:9

 

The distinguished philosopher of science, Karl Popper (1902-94), in his great work, The Two Fundamental Problems of the Theory of Knowledge, famously said of scientific inquiry:

“In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.”

Over the years, many of the predictions made by evolutionists have turned out to be false;

These include:

(1) The DNA code is not unique.
(2) Mutations are random to an organism’s needs, not adaptive.
(3) Proteins evolve.
(4) The molecular clock keeps ‘evolutionary’ time.
(5) Similar species share similar genes.
(6) The species should form an evolutionary tree.
(7) Complex structures derive from simpler structures.
(8) Structures don’t form before there is a need for them.
(9) Functionally unconstrained DNA is not conserved.
(10) Natura non saltum facit !
What we have seen over the years however, is that whenever evolution is falsified, the theory itself evolves and its remaining adherents protect it from falsification.
And that’s not good science now is it!
For more things that evolutionists theorised, but were subsequently proved false, see this link.

Scientists Create Irreducibly Complex Bacterial Cells

Wee bugs.

Wee bugs. Image credit: Wiki Commons

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Matthew 6:28-29

Continuing a story reported in Part I of this blog, the American molecular biologist, J. Craig Venter, heading a team of scientists managed to chemically synthesise the entire (1079 kilobases) genome of the bacteria Mycoplasma mycoides, containing over 900 genes. In a very significant development, published in the March 25 2016 of Science, Venter’s group managed to reduce this genome size by almost half, creating a new, viable organism containing just 473 genes! Many of the genes in this ‘minimalist’ genome encode known proteins which pay pivotal roles in maintaining the cell cycle (it reproduces every 180 minutes under ideal laboratory conditions), but a further 149 of these genes have unknown function, probably related to maintaining an adequate fitness level in the organism.

But this raises a series of interesting questions: if a minimum of 473 genes are required to maintain life functions, it is quite clearly irreducibly complex, rather like stripping a car down to its minimalist form. Anything less and it just doesn’t work properly. And extending the car analogy, do you really think even a minimalist design could come about all by itself? Why don’t we see them popping spontaneously into existence in the junk yards of the earth? What is more, where did the cell come from in the first place? Where did the information contained in its genome derive from? Certainly not a blind, stochastic process envisaged by evolutionists!

What is clear is that the science underlying the inference to design in nature stands on solid ground. The truth will always win out, of course, though it may tarry in doing so. But what we can say with certainty is that the tide has well and truly turned on Darwin’s 19th century creation myth. Whether you’re talking about a car or a ‘minimalist cell’, it just won’t happen without a designer.

Time to jump ship perhaps?

Changing Culture

People power, ken.

People power, ken. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12

One of the main obstacles to the growing number of scientists who don’t accept the evolutionary paradigm as true science, is the traditional Marxist-like rhetoric of Neo-Darwinian adherents, who are unwilling to listen to those who have found serious scientific objections to their theories.

Thankfully, things are definitely looking up. In a new US national survey, Americans overwhelmingly supported the right of students, teachers, and scientists to discuss dissenting scientific views on evolutionary biology.

That’s such good news don’t you think?

We can only expect an avalanche of more dissent in the coming years!

The Nazi-Evolution Connection

Romani children in Auschwitz, victims of medical experiments. Image credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Romani children in Auschwitz, victims of medical experiments. Image credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

Darwinian evolution theory not only presents erroneous science, but in the wrong hands, it has been used to justify human depravity on a grand scale. Dr. Richard Weikart, Professor of History at California State University, has dedicated a considerable amount of his professional career studying the ideologies that helped shape the rise of the Third Reich. His influential book, From Darwin to Hitler (2004) takes a comprehensive look at how Nazi ethics gradually changed the social, economic and political landscape from the traditional Judeo-Christian worldview into a system based on evolutionary dogma. Weikart provides solid evidence that Darwinism altered conceptions of human nature to such an extent that it completely devalued human life, and which ultimately contributed to eugenics and the justification of ‘scientific’ racism that became widespread in Germany, the United States, and Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Intriguingly, one of the key individuals who shaped the new Nazi worldview was Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), the same biologist who faked drawings of animal embryos in order to demonstrate the ‘truth of evolution.’ As a result of the acceptance of these ideologies, abortions became widespread, the mentally ill, the deformed, the blind from birth, people with learning difficulties, as well as those with genetic diseases, were mercilessly taken from their families and sterilised/exterminated under special orders from Der Führer.

Make no mistake about it; the pseudoscience of evolution and its associated ideologies are the antithesis of the Judeo-Christian worldview, which it actively seeks to destroy. And that is why, ultimately, evolutionary theories are doomed to fail.

For more information on this important topic, please take the time to consider this insightful talk by Dr. Weikart.

Defending the Biblical Account of Human Origins

Louis Leakey examining skulls from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Louis Leakey examining skulls from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

Over the last few decades many paleoanthropologists have been promulgating the view that humans evolved from other less advanced hominin species and in a way that contradicts the traditional Biblical account of human origins. And yet, all the while, the emerging scientific evidence actually comports with the accounts in the First Book of Moses – Genesis. In this talk, Dr. Fazale Rana shows how molecular anthropological evidence points to a single human pair – Adam and Eve arising at the same time (within the margins of error of the available data). This data is at odds with the evolutionary scenario which predicts multi-regional origins. See here for more details.

For still more information about this interesting topic look here.

Can the Fossil Record Establish Anything for Certain?

Recrystallized scleractinian coral (aragonite to calcite) from the Jurassic of southern Israel. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Recrystallized scleractinian coral (aragonite to calcite) from the Jurassic of southern Israel. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

But where can wisdom be found?
Where does understanding dwell?

Job 28:12

As we have seen in previous blogs, the fossil record is woefully incomplete and looks nothing like the tree of life predicted by Darwinian theory. But of the fossils we do possess, is there really anything concrete that can be established from them?  In this article by William Dembski and Jonathan Wells, we discover the ad hoc way in which evolutionists cherry pick fossils to suit their own agenda and asks whether common descent can really be deduced from the data they do include.

OLD SETI-NEW SETI

Wee Alien fae space. Image credit: 20th Century Fox.

Wee Alien fae space. Image credit: 20th Century Fox.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:2-3

The folks at the SETI Institute seem to be getting rather desperate these days. After more than half a century of searching the galaxy for signs of ET, no one has phoned home. But because evolution is true, they just have to be there…..of course.

That’s why they’ve come up with a brand new stratagem……drum roll…….Project Hephaistos, named after the ancient Greek god of blacksmiths, who forged the magnificent weapons of legendary Olympian gods.

These aliens will be so advanced that they can cause stars and even whole galaxies to disappear……just like that! By looking through old sky surveys and comparing them with new ones, the researchers hope to uncover the mind-boggling magic of mega-advanced alien civilizations!

OOOOOOOOH…………..

And all the while they ignore the awesome engineering that goes into the simplest life forms on Earth!

I wouldn’t hold your breath if I were you!

More on Project Asbestos, er, em, Hephaistos here.

Quis est meus proximus?

Resources for the Curious/ Undecided

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
James 1:2-3

As you may be aware, this blog has been going on for a few years now. During this time, I believe I have provided a wealth of scientific reasons to doubt the Darwinian evolutionary paradigm. I hope you will agree that it has no real explanatory power and fails to account for the record of nature, as revealed by ongoing scientific investigation.

This is where I would like to wind this blog up, but I would warmly encourage those who are undecided or the curious to regularly visit two websites which are far better resourced than I to keep track of the debate.

  1. Reasons to Believe
  2.  Evolution News

Links to these sites can be found on my home page.

There is also this rather devastating survey of origin of life research/ prebiotic chemistry by Professor James Tour, arguably the top ranking chemist in the world today.

 

Thank you for following me on my journey.

De Fideli.

 

 

The Sceptical Astronomer Part II: Evolution in the Spotlight.

Here I wish to continue the work presented in Part I of this topic.

 

Do you accept the theory of biological evolution? If so, why? Do you have the necessary cognitive tools to assess the theory?  Are you equipped with the latest knowledge that enables you to critically appraise the theory in light of new research findings?

Here, I present a variety of evidentiary points, testimonies, discussions and philosophic discourses that raise legitimate arguments against the theory of evolution, as promulgated by biologists.

 

Are Endogenous Retroviruses Really Evidence of the Evolutionary Paradigm?

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…

Romans 1:20

Retroviruses are entities that inject their genetic material into the cells of their hosts, where it is translated into messenger RNA, and then transcribed into new viral proteins that assemble into new viral particles before breaking out of the cells they find themselves in. In other words, they hijack the biochemical machinery of the host cell in order to replicate themselves. Many retroviral species (such as HIV), after arranging for the synthesis of a complementary copy of DNA, have this genetic material integrated into the DNA of their hosts, where, presumably, it remains dormant for an indefinite period before being triggered by some environmental cue to initiate a pathogenic sequence of events.  Over time, some of these so-called endogenous retroviral sequences (ERVs)  were thought to lose biological function and would, unwittingly, be passed down to new generations enabling molecular biologists to construct phylogenetic trees based on common descent.

By studying the genomes of non-human primates and fossilised hominin DNA, some scientists have claimed  that because similar, allegedly non-functional ERVs were found at identical loci within the genomes of humans and some extant primates, it offered ‘incontrovertible evidence’ for common descent. But as we have gained new knowledge about these sequences we find that this neo-Darwinian standpoint doesn’t quite stack up. For one thing, many retroviruses do not generally infect gametes and so can’t be passed through the germ line. Secondly, the sites of ERV incorporation are now known to be non-random and so might be expected to be inserted at similar locations within the genomes of similarly designed creatures. What is more, the ERVs were widely assumed to be ‘junk DNA’ by evolutionists, but, yet again, that assertion has proven to be false. ERVs have crucial roles to play in the immune system (with their insertion loci being strongly linked to how they function) and there is yet much we do not understand about them.

Where once ERVs were smugly offered up as solid evidence of the evolutionary paradigm in action, advancing knowledge has cast a long shadow of doubt on this. Indeed, as the writer of this article argues, they better fit a common design scheme of events than anything else.

You can get more up-to-date information about ERVs here.

World-leading Chemist Doubts Macroevolution.

Professor James M. Tour is an internationally respected chemist, based at Rice University, Texas. He is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in brave new fields including nanotechnology and molecular electronics. Dr. Tour clearly understands what Darwinian evolution entails, but in this essay he explains why macroevolution – the notion that one animal or plant ‘kind’ can gradually change into another ‘kind’ – has not been demonstrated.

Evolutionary Ideologies Stunting Real Scientific Progress.

The pseudoscience of evolution remains unsupported by hard facts that would convince any level-headed sceptic but, worst still, its ideologies actually stunt any meaningful scientific progress. It’s a bit like saying, “aperture doesn’t rule in telescopic astronomy.” Can you imagine just how destructive that would be if astronomers really believed that? We’d still be in the dark ages looking through pea shooters! In the link provided here, the distinguished plant geneticist, Dr. John C. Sanford (who has published more than 70 peer-reviewed papers) explains why scientists who express scepticism about the evolutionary paradigm run the risk of being ostracised by their peers. But, as you will discover from listening to his talk, there are more serious reasons why evolutionary ideology prevents true scientific progress to be made: without constructive dialogue and intellectual freedom, we have nothing.

The False Narrative of Evolutionary Adaptation.

Were you or I to design a self replicating machine, it would be beneficial to program it in such a way that it can adapt to changing environments, and, in so doing, maximise its chances of long-term survival. Such biological qualities would be the hallmark of exquisite design by an intelligent agent. And yet the simplest viruses carried along on the air, or the multitudinous ‘animalcules’ that teem in a drop of pond water display such an ability, as do all higher forms of life.  And yet evolutionists expect us to believe these traits to be ’emergent properties’ of blind, stochastic processes. These thorny issues are discussed further in this short essay by Yale University virologist, Dr. Anjeanette Roberts, who argues that the simplest and best explanation for adaptation is masterful design.

Origins of Life: a Closer Look.

Of all the unanswered questions in science, it is arguably the origin of life and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe that are drawing the largest pools of private funding. Both endeavours have used up a great deal of tax payers’ dollars, so much so that they are now almost exclusively paid for by wealthy benefactors who are rather desperate to find answers (Matthew 19:24), if only to try to justify their own world views. In a recent analysis, this author explored the question of whether even the simplest steps toward the formation of life could occur naturalistically, finding instead that any such scheme of events requires an intelligent agency and therefore could not have arisen by purely Darwinian means. By extension, this must also be true anywhere else in the Universe. See here for more details.

On Evolution & Having a Moral Compass.

If all life on Earth came into being by an evolutionary process, there ought to be no compelling reason to have a strong moral compass. Our efforts to express compassion, through acts of kindness and empathy could as well be seen as interfering with the natural order, where only the fittest should and can survive. Indeed, one could rationally argue that such behaviour would be more of a hindrance than a help to surviving and passing on one’s genes.The Bible uniquely explains where these virtues come from because only the Bible emphatically claims that we are made in the image of God – the upwelling of all goodness. This short essay explores these ideas more fully.

Is Theistic Evolution a Cop Out?

He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.

Proverbs 18:17

Some Christians believe that God could have employed an evolutionary process to bring about life on Earth, and humans in particular. In this scheme of events, God is seen as ‘interfering’ here and there with the Darwinian scheme of events, in order to overcome what otherwise would be impossible odds from a purely naturalistic perspective. On the face of it, it appears as though such Christians are attempting to maintain some kind of ‘scientific credibility’ simply because it’s ‘fashionable’ or ‘respectable’ to do so. But is this theologically acceptable?

I believe the Bible can inform us on such matters.

Thus saith the Lord; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth;

Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them.

                                                                          Jeremiah 33:25-6

Clearly, the Lord would no sooner change the laws of nature than abandon the ‘seed of Jacob and David.”

Thus, God’s laws (ordinances) are fixed, anchored if you like, to his personality.

So to tweak is to cheat, so to speak.

Theistic evolution, for many basic reasons, just doesn’t jibe with many Christian theologians and a growing number of physical scientists are suspicious of it.

World Leading Neuroscientist and US Presidential Candidate Refutes the Evolutionary Paradigm.

Dr. Ben Carson, a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon and Republican candidate for the up-and-coming 2016 US Presidential Elections, speaks candidly about Creation Vs Evolution, highlighting some of the insuperable problems the evolutionary paradigm presents to a man of reason and faith.

Basic Math and Probability Continue to Confound Evolutionists.

At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.

Matthew 11:25

When it boils down to it, basic probability arguments continue to confound evolutionists who stubbornly wallow in their ignorance. In this link, physicist, Stephen Myer, and molecular biologist, Doug Axe, address the staggering complexity at the heart of every cell. In particular, they consider a typical protein comprised of 150 amino acid sub-units. The order of these amino acids  (known to biochemists as its primary sequence) dictates how it will fold into the complex, three-dimensional conformation that allows it to carry out its particular catalytic duty (structure dictates function). Their published (peer reviewed) laboratory-based experiments show that one would have to search though 10^77 sequences to get just one functional protein! These data show that unless the precise genetic information is provided first, such a protein wouldn’t have a ghost of chance of achieving it randomly i.e. in a (necessarily) stochastic Darwinian scenario.

For more on biological information, take a look at this interesting link.

LIfe at the Molecular Level Displays the Unmistakable Attributes of Design

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

Psalm 139:14

In the October 2015 Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP) Conference, biochemist, Dr. Fazale Rana, himself an expert on origin of life research, explains how the evolutionary paradigm fails miserably to account for the origin and wondrous complexity of living systems but instead reflects the unmistakable hallmarks of masterful design. You can view his talk here.

Eminent Mathematician Denies Darwin.

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

                                Romans 1:20

Many learned men outside of the biological sciences are sceptical of the evolutionary paradigm.

Dr. John Lennox, distinguished Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, publicly refutes the theory of evolution here.

Why Evolution Cannot Produce New Species

And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

                                                                                                                     Genesis 1:25

Unless their size be minute and their numbers legion, Darwinian mechanisms have no creative power over living things, and even then there is never a change in kind, just as our Lord declared to men long ago. To see why, see this short clip.

How Advances in Synthetic Biology Unwittingly Undermine the Evolutionary Paradigm.

Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.

                                                                                                                  Ecclesiastes 8:17

Molecular biologists have made significant advances in designing self replicating proto-cells which, they claim, reinforces the evolutionary paradigm. A closer look at how they create these proto-cells shows that they could never come into existence in nature, but depend on the presence of intelligent agency at every step in their development. Full details here.

Debunking the Religion of Carl Sagan.

Carl Edward Sagan ( 1934-1996)

Carl Edward Sagan ( 1934-1996)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

                                                                                                                          John 1:3

It’s been over three decades since the inception of Carl Sagan’s highly acclaimed television series, based on his best-selling book, Cosmos. In one of those episodes, Dr. Sagan presents an animated version of how he thought evolution could proceed from simple chemicals into advanced lifeforms. You can view this clip here.

Some points to note:

  1. There is zero evidence for a primordial soup.
  2. Chemists have yet to identify any credible sequence of reactions that could generate homochiral molecules on the primordial Earth.
  3. The first cellular lifeforms to appear 3.8 billion years ago were very likely complex.
  4. The first complex animals to emerge during the Ediacaran and Cambrian epochs required larger genomes, specifying a great deal more information. Not only has the origin of that novel genetic inventory not been elucidated, but evolutionists have not explained how such a dramatic turning for life on Earth could have occurred in such a rapid (in geological terms) timescale.
  5. Science has not yielded the transitional forms discussed in the video.

In short, this presentation is fallacious in almost every way, a fairy tale creation myth conjured up by men who refused to recognise their Lord.

A Bible Teacher Speaks Openly about Evolution and its Problems.

Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.

Hebrews 13:9

Internationally respected Bible teacher, David Pawson, talks frankly about the evolutionary paradigm, and the adverse effects it had on Darwin himself and his family.

A Physician Debunks the Evolutionary Paradigm Relating to the so-called ‘Bad Design’ of the Human Eye.

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

Collosians 2:8

Their hearts darkened, die hard evolutionists have attempted to show that the human eye is ‘badly designed’ and therefore is better explained by a blind, stochastic Darwinian scheme of events. But is that really the case? In matters such as these, it is always best to lean on the expertise of physicians, who have dedicated their careers to understanding the eye from an anatomical, physiological and histological perspective. In this link, physician, Dr. Eddy M. del Rio, casts his highly trained eye over this subject, concluding that by far the best explanation for their coming into being is exquisite design by a masterful engineer.

Leading Biochemist Speaks Frankly about the Intellectual Dishonesty of Darwinian Evolution.

For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.

John 6:33

The distinguished biochemist, Dr. Michael Denton, speaks honestly and openly about the problems associated with the evolutionary paradigm. And while Dr. Denton holds out for a more complete theory that can supersede our current and wholly inadequate scientific ideas about our biosphere, no such theory has emerged. At the end of the interview, Denton (an avowed agnostic) claims that a creationist account leaves too much of an intellectual vacuum, while at the same time alluding that nature reveals purpose and design at every conceivable level. Furthermore, while Denton holds out for a naturalistic explanation, he’s own non-Darwinian evolutionary theories cannot occur within a naturalistic framework.

You can’t have it both ways Dr. Denton!

The laws that govern nature cannot and did not bring life into being!

Human beings create complex objects every passing day without violating natural law; how much more so can the living God?

This interesting interview can be viewed here.

A Modern Day Persecution: What Happens to Scientists who Don’t Accept the Evolutionary Paradigm?

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:10

Despite the growing dissent to evolutionary atheism, it is still the case that many scientists who express doubts about the evolutionary paradigm have lost their jobs and/or have never received tenure. In this video link Dr. Gerry Bergman, a former Professor of Human Biology, talks about how he personally experienced persecution for his disbelief in evolutionary theories by being fired from his professorial chair at Bowling Green State University in 1978. I hope you’ll agree that this is a tragic and unacceptable form of intellectual bullying.

Bless you Dr. Bergman, you have God on your side!

A Science of Fakes & Fads

And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

2 Thessalonians 2:11

The allegory of Darwinian evolution is one of hoaxes, smoke & mirrors and endless back-tracking. In the following two essays, you’ll learn about some of the subtil twists and turns cultivated by evolutionists over the years, as well as learning more about the junk DNA debacle.

Whence Cometh Brain Power?

For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.

Isaiah 45:18

As we have seen previously, the origin of complex animal life remains an intractable problem for evolutionists. From out of nowhere, the first multi-cellular creatures emerged 575 million years ago in the Avalon explosion and by 545 million years ago, the Cambrian produced about 80 per cent of the complex animal phyla – replete with perfectly formed eyes and skeletons – that grace the Earth ’til this day. Back in 2008 neuroscientist, Nicholas Strausfeld, based at the University of Arizona, described the fossilised nervous system of a shrimp-like creature in Cambrian shale with a brain made from three parts, like that of extant animals. This presented a new problem for evolutionary biologists seeking to explain how it originated when there were no antecedents to call upon. Sceptics dismissed this as an anomaly, claiming that brain structures could not be preserved for half a billion years, but two new studies have not only shown how such tissue can be fossilised, but seven new fossils have revealed this same, three-part brain structure; a basic pattern displayed in all complex animals and humans too. As this article explains, evolutionists can provide no naturalistic explanation for the sudden appearance of animals with perfectly formed anatomies, which now includes brains as well.

Doubtless, there is a rational explanation for all of this though, it just ain’t naturalistic, that’s all.

Time and time again, the Holy Bible informs us that the Lord created all living things as they are, for His pleasure, and for our subjugation. It really is that simple, yet nothing but hubris continues to blind evolutionists, determined to keep running away from the only God, the living God.

Lingua Franca

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel. Source wiki common/

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel. Source wiki common.

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Genesis 11:1-9

Language is one of the defining features of humanity. Whether deaf, blind, mute, or graced with the full panoply of apparatus, all humans have the capacity for symbolic thought that appears to be unique to our kind. Yet, after centuries of vigorous scholarly study, no consensus on the origin of these languages has been forthcoming. One reasonable approach adopted by researchers is to assume that language has evolved over the millennia, as it does now, and by studying simple words like “I”, “ye”, “fire”, “hand”, “man” etc, and how fast they change in the various languages of the nations, it is possible, at least in principle, to determine when they first emerged and whether they originated from a single source.

This very approach was employed by British evolutionary biologist Mark Pagels, based at the University of Reading. Astonishingly, in a paper published in the May 6 2013 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Pagels was able to show that all European and Asian peoples may have had a common language as recently as 15,000 years ago. In the same paper, Dr. Pagels openly concedes that other insights garnered from archaeology, paleoanthropology, genetics etc, would need to be brought to bear to trace the origin of language further back in time.  In a more recent paper, dated August 26, 2014, and written by leading linguistic experts including, Noam Chowsky, Johan J. Bolhuis and Ian Tattersall, the authors admit that explaining the origin of language from a Darwinian standpoint is fraught with difficulty.

Calling upon a half dozen scientific disciplines, the authors argue that language is not one and the same as having the ability to communicate. For instance, the animals we share this world with can and do communicate, but that is not to say that they possess language. Nor is language to be confused with speech. Language, they assert, is a cognitive process that has its origin in neural activity, which in turn dictates vocalisation. Furthermore, language is still possible even when humans lack the capacity for vocalisation. For instance, the mute communicate by signing, but not through vocal speech. And yet, they have the same language capacity as people who have normal powers of speech because the neural apparatus required for language is already in place, buried deep inside their brains.

Because language is inextricably linked to symbolic thought, the authors reasonably suggest that it can be traced back to between 150,000 to 80,000 years ago – the time window during which anatomically ‘modern’ humans emerged on the scene. This is also strongly correlated with technological advances that are not evident in other hominins such as the Neanderthals, which failed to show any significant technological advance from the time of their origination some 250,000 years ago, until their extinction some 40,000 years ago, and thus, by implication, did not possess complex language. Using various evolutionary models, the authors conclude that: “the language faculty is an extremely recent acquisition in our lineage, and it was acquired not in the context of slow gradual modification of pre-existing systems under natural selection but in a single, rapid, emergent event that built upon those prior systems but was not predicted by them…”

The long and the short of these studies is that human language cannot be explained in a Darwinian context. And yet, the account in Genesis 11 is wholly consistent with humanity originating in one place and at one time in history, as well the sudden appearance of the  languages, and that they were instigated by God to stem the rise of a one world government system, where evil and corruption would suppress spiritual growth.

 

Mass Extinction Events Leave no Room for Evolutionary Advancement

Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
Psalm 104:29-30

The Cretaceous-Paloegene Event which removed 75 per cent of all plants and animal species on Earth beginning 66 million years ago, was followed by rapid speciation and the ushering in of the Cenzoic era, that still continues today. The event was characterised by a marked increase in global volcanic activity which included the Deccan super-volcanoes of India, as well as the Chicxulub asteroid impact event. Evolutionists had long hoped that these events would have drastically reduced rather than completely extirpated many of these species and that there was a sufficiently long time between them to explain this rapid speciation in a Darwinian context. Unfortunately, new research has dashed their hopes. As this article explains, these devastating events were not only more severe than previously entertained but they peaked at the same time (within 50,000 years of each other). Collectively, these data show that the Cretaceous-Paloegene mass extinction event was not only sudden but also thorough in its devastation. As a result, the subsequent mass speciation that occurred after these events could not have come about by an evolutionary process but it is wholly compatible with an act of creative will. The Lord wiped away these ecosystems because they were no longer efficient enough at removing carbon dioxide from the air (1700 ppm before the event and just 500ppm thereafter) and so, with an ever brightening Sun, might have resulted in a run-away greenhouse event that would make future life, and especially human life, impossible.

How caring and thoughtful is our heavenly Father, who sustains your every breath!

Give ear to Him this day!

Alien & Crystal Worshippers:- A Sermon Against Evolution

My son, fear the LORD and the king: and associate not with them that are given to change:

Proverbs 24:21

In the same way that atheism can be shown to be an intellectually vacuous position, so too is belief in the theory of evolution. In this link, which records the words delivered in an actual sermon by a Roman Catholic priest,  you can learn of more theological reasons to reject the evolutionary paradigm outright.

More on crystal worship here.

On Making Predictions

For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?
Deuteronomy 4:32

Human beings, uniquely created in the image and likeness of God, when provided with a critical mass of evidence, instinctively know when a world view is conceptually wrong. One of the fundamental problems with the evolutionary paradigm is that it fails time and time again to make predictions, either accurate or even approximate. This is not a ‘weakness’ that can be refined in the goodness of time. On the contrary, the more the theory is examined critically, the more inadequate it becomes as an explanation for the origin and diversification of life on Earth. In this article, you can explore the latest proclamations of evolutionists assessing their own theories! I hope you will agree it doesn’t paint the evolutionary paradigm in an exalted light.

SETI’s Double Standards

contact_movie_vla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
Deuteronomy 32:17

In the 1997 film, Contact, based on a novel by the late Carl Sagan, the central character, Dr. Ellie Arroway, discovers a radio signal despatched from the bright star, Vega. The message is simple; a series of pulses counting out all of the prime numbers between 1 and 100:- 2, 3, 5, 7,11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31 etc. Since there was no known natural source that could generate primes, Arroway correctly deduced that it was generated by an intelligent agent, even though she had no idea what kind of being it could possibly be. Instinctively, Dr. Arroway inferred ‘upwards’ towards the ultimate causation of the signal rather than ‘downwards’ to chance and necessity. The meaning (semiotics) of the signal would provide irrefutable evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence.

And yet, all the while, the grand synthesis of molecular biology has revealed the following:

1. Life requires a complex DNA data base of digital information.
2. The only source we know of such semiotic complexity is intelligence.
3.Theoretical computer science continues to indicate that unguided chance and necessity are incapable of producing semiotic complexity.

We receive a sequence of prime numbers and infer its intelligent origin.
We see unmistakable signs of master design in the cell and continue to believe that it arose by chance.
We have a contradiction here; a profoundly unscientific attitude, an unwillingness to follow the evidence where it clearly leads simply because the implications of doing so are not ‘palatable’.

Well, I’ve got news for you.
If you believe this, you are not being scientific.
There is no wisdom here, only folly!

On Discernment

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
Ephesians 4:13-14

One of the towering intellectual giants of the 20th century, the Irish-born Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963), started his adult life as an avowed atheist, “angry”, as he put it, “with God not existing.” But during his time at Oxford, he was taken under the wing of J.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, who instilled in him a renewed vigour to actively seek the truth, and which led him to becoming a Christian in 1931.
Although universally admired for his classic novels, including the Chronicles of Narnia, what is not widely appreciated is that he remained a keen student of Darwinian evolution and its philosophical implications throughout his life. And while he did accept the basic precepts of natural selection, acting to produce small variations within an organism, which he rightly acknowledged as ‘self-evident’, C.S. Lewis never accepted its broader implications, such as its claim to evince a change in kind. As explained in this video clip, Lewis became a staunch sceptic of the evolutionary paradigm, rejecting outright the notion that God could have used an evolutionary process to bring about the staggering complexity of the biological realm.

Were he alive today, I doubt Lewis would have changed his mind.

Head Teacher Bullied on Social Media for Declaring Evolution a Theory

If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.

John 15:18

Christina Wilkinson, a primary school Headteacher at St Andrew’s Church of England school in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, has been attacked on twitter for denying that evolution is a fact and just a theory. Cyber thug, Richard Dawkins, weighed in, calling her ‘ignorant’ and ‘stupid’ and that claiming so was ‘child abuse’.  See here for more details.

Mrs. Wilson is of course, quite correct. Evolution is an exceeding poor theory that has no place at the table of serious ideas in biology. The fact that Dawkins had to weigh in speaks volumes about their agenda of hatred, as well as the growing threat from educated creationists who are now using the best science to debunk what is, at its heart, an evil ideology.

Like I said before, why put your faith in a bunch of Marxist mutton heads who couldn’t solve a quadratic equation between them?

Having two intelligent boys going through primary school here in Scotland, I can assure you that when the time comes to debate the issue, they will be equipped with the best science to argue objectively with the most ardent evolutionist in the classroom.

God bless you Mrs. Wilson. As a Christian, it comes with the territory and is ‘sign of the times’. I pray that you will not lose your job.

The Trouble with Phosphorus

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord:

Isaiah 1:18

Phosphorus plays a pivotal role in life chemistry. Coupled to oxygen, phosphate is necessary for the production of the universal energy currency of living systems – ATP – and forms a crucial back bone in information-rich polymers, such as DNA and RNA. Phosphorylation events also play crucial roles in signal transduction within the cell.  Prebiotic chemists have been searching for ways in which such phosphate could be coupled to biologically relevant precursors but have been plagued by fundamental problems. For one thing, alkaline earth metal ions, such as magnesium and calcium, are efficient chelators of phosphate and remove the vast majority of it in precipitation reactions. Undaunted, a team of researchers at the University of South Florida and the Georgia Institute of Technology began to investigate a special mineral found in meteorites called  schreibersite, which is comprised of iron and nickel phosphides, to determine whether it could generate phosphorylated nucleosides – the building blocks of the nucleic acids. The team reported that when the mineral was incubated under alkaline conditions and heated to between 150-175 degrees Fahrenheit, they achieved the phosphorylation of the three carbon sugar, glycerol, as well as some nucleosides. And while the researchers hailed this as an important step in chemical evolution, their results need to be seen in the cold light of day.

For one thing, the yields were extremely poor, typically less than a few per cent. Moreover, the reactions required exacting conditions, such as an alkaline pH and scrupulously clean apparatus; conditions which would not be anticipated on the primordial Earth. The mineral incubations were kept free from chemical contaminants, which would compete with the said reactions and likely reduce the already paltry yields further. What’s more, there is widespread scientific agreement that the early Earth oceans (before the continental land masses arose) were acidic, and not alkaline, as required for the aforementioned reactions. Finally, the phosphorylation events were not site specific as they are in bona fide biomolecules, but actually occurred at various sites, some of which are not relevant to biochemistry.

Understanding how the molecules of life came into being remains an intractable problem for research chemists and scuppers any realistic chances that a plausible chemical evolutionary scheme will ever be forthcoming. But they do say a lot about intelligent design, however. More details here.

On Making Distinctions

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Genesis 2:7

Many naturalists presume that Bible believing Christians align themselves with Young Earth Creationists (YECs); who embrace the idea that God made the heavens and the Earth in six literal days. YECs reject the evolutionary paradigm because they claim that the Universe is only about 6,000 years old, and so there was not enough time for evolution to take place. On the other hand, Old Earth Creationists (OECs) attest that the Universe and the Earth are old – 14 billion and 4.5 billions years, respectively – but do not necessarily accept the evolutionary paradigm. Those that do accept evolution entertain the idea that the Lord set in motion an evolutionary sequence of events that led to all the species of plant, animal and microbe we see on Earth today.

Where does the evidence lead? There now exists a wealth of data that show the Universe is ancient beyond ordinary human understanding. The cosmos had a definite beginning in space and time, just as Genesis 1:1 states. Only one holy book, the Bible, authentically makes such explicit claims. But while theistic evolutionists have tried to twist the Biblical narrative to make their position more appealing to a wider cross section of society, it is neither scientifically credible or consistent with the inspired words of Scripture.

In this link, Dr. Rick Philips argues persuasively and passionately that theistic evolution is unbiblical.

In this link, OEC Greg Koekl, founding member of Stand to Reason, further explains the distinctions between creationists.

In this link three scholars from the premiere science-faith thinktank, Reasons to Believe, explain why OECs can live comfortably without evolution.

Personally, while I am very sympathetic to the YEC cause, it really doesn’t matter whether the Earth is 5 billion or 6,000 years old; evolution fails miserably in both camps.

Evolutionary Pantheism in the Church?

For I am the Lord, I change not:
Malachi 3:6

Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit priest, mystical philosopher and ET believer, who trained as a paleontologist and geologist. He was involved in the excavations that unearthed the famous Piltdown Man hoax as well as Peking Man, the fossils of which mysteriously disappeared.

Teilhard became obsessed with the evolutionary paradigm, believing that it was the be all and end all of existence. He even approved of eugenics as a way of ‘assisting evolution’. He coined the idea of the Omega Point, a kind of perfect state of being that we (and Christ himself!) kept evolving towards. Many of his ideas were completely contrary to the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church and, as a result, Teilhard was twice branded a heretic by the Roman See.

In his influential book, The Jesuits, Fr. Malachi Martin, described how the Jesuit Order embraced Teilhard’s ideas and had become “impregnated by his outlook.” The reader will note that the Jesuits have been described as the “cerebral cortex” of the Catholic Church.

Martin wrote that prior to the time of Teilhard:

Roman Catholics had always held that the emergence of Homo Sapiens was the direct act of separated creation by God, as outlined in the Garden of Eden account in the book of Genesis. For man, in Catholic doctrine, has a spiritual and immortal soul which could not “evolve” in any acceptable sense from material forms, even from “higher animals.” This is still the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. When Roman Catholic scholars who had accepted evolution as a fact tried to reconcile official doctrine with evolution, they assumed that God the Creator intervened at a certain moment in the evolutionary process and infused a spiritual and immortal soul into an already highly developed “higher animal.”

Pope Pius IX, the very same pontiff who declared ‘papal infallibility’ referred to Darwinian evolution as a “system which is repugnant at once to history, to the tradition of all peoples, to exact science, to observed facts, and even to Reason herself.”

Intriguingly though, Teilhard’s outrageous ideologies were actually praised by Pope Benedict XVI, and he was also noted for his contributions to theology in Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’.

See here for more details:

So, a man originally twice condemned as a heretic became the champion of the modern popes.
Why such revisionism? How can a theory that was once considered “repugnant” and an enemy of “reason” now be deemed acceptable?

I don’t understand!

Thankfully, some of the faithful are now becoming aware of Teilhard’s attempt to introduce his occultist brand of pantheism into the Roman Catholic Church by the back door. For more on Teilhard, evolution and Roman Catholicism see the following links:

Teilhard de Chardin: Poet or Fraud?

Teilhard and Evolution

Pope Francis and Teilhard

How Embryology Shows that Macroevolution is a Hoax.

Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb;
Isaiah 44:2

Evolutionary biologists have long sought to show that they can evince macro-evolutionary changes to organisms early in their embryological development, but as Dr Paul Nelson (PhD. Philosophy of Biology, University of Chicago), who has studied the academic literature very carefully shows, they have failed to demonstrate that this is the case. This is even acknowledged by experts in the field. Indeed, as you will see in this link, the earlier mutations occur, the more likely a creature fails to develop altogether. If you accept macro-evolution then you are privy to a lie. Are you prepared to live with that? Details here.

More on the Whale Evolution Deception.

And God created great whales.
Genesis 1:21

The allegory of the whale has been widely cited as the best ‘evidence’ of the ‘reality’ of evolution in action. But is it really? In this video link, we see that the ‘transitional forms’ used by proponents of evolution are in fact logical constructs fabricated by them. In this link, you’ll see that much of the so-called transitional forms are figments of the imagination of paleontologists, who have read too much into what the fossil evidence actually shows. See here for the full details.

What To Do with a Failed Theory in our Schools & Universities?
The pride of your heart has deceived you, you that dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that says in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?
Obadiah 1:3

Let us tread fertile ground once again. Suppose you found a cellphone and after examining it in close detail, claimed that it came into being through blind, undirected processes. You would be laughed at, of course, as the idea is patently absurd. And yet this is precisely the same predicament we find ourselves in with evolutionary biology. If the central tenets of Darwinian evolution have all but collapsed around us, then why persist in teaching the theory in our schools and universities? In this debate, Stephen Myer, a scientist and philosopher, engages with Michael Shermer, a journalist and Editor in Chief of Sceptic Magazine. In this exchange, you will note that Shermer ducks all the major points raised by Myer and the folks who called into the show.

UV Light Stops Chemical Evolution in its Tracks

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And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1:5

For many years, origin of life researchers have assumed ultraviolet light was one of the main energy sources used to drive prebiotic chemical reactions on the primordial Earth. Some 3.9 billion years ago, our world was devoid of a molecular oxygen-rich atmosphere and hence could not have formed an ozone layer. Because ultraviolet light has higher energy than visible light rays, prebiotic chemists have been using mercury lamps or either Fluorine or Argon-Fluorine lasers to simulate the UV flux incident upon the primordial Earth but new research casts fresh doubt on the efficacy of these UV sources to create any plausible prebiotic synthetic scheme.

In particular, a team of researchers based at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, pointed out that these UV sources emit at particular wavelengths and not over a broader range covering a continuum from 10nm to 400nm, which typifies the real UV output from the Sun. What is more, the researchers showed that some well-established synthetic schemes leading to the pyrimidines, cytosine and uracil (important components of RNA), which were found to be favoured at specific UV wavelengths, had much reduced yields when a broader range of UV wavelengths were adopted. Indeed, under these conditions, it was substantially the biologically irrelevant by- products that were produced.

This new research carried out by secular scientists in the field has thrown yet another proverbial spanner in the works for prebiotic chemists. Chemical evolution just isn’t tennis now is it? See here for full details.

A Failed World View

But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:

Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.

Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?

Job 12:7-9

Evolution-Jokes-01sm

Distinguished cell biologist, Dr. Stuart Newman, explains why Darwinian evolution is not up to task of explaining the splendour of the biological realm.

Distinguished immunologist, Dr. Donald L. Ewer, talks candidly about the inadequacy of Darwinian evolution in explaining the complexity of the vertebrate immune system.

An interesting talk concerning of the tree of life as promulgated by evolutionists.

 

Evo-Devo & the Creation of Monsters

The Hox genes of Drosophila melanogaster.

The Hox genes of Drosophila melanogaster.

 

For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.

 I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

Psalm 50:10-11

 

Molecular biologists have uncovered genes that control the formation of body parts during embryonic development. Some of the most important of these are known as Hox genes.

Humans and all other mammals have 39 Hox genes. Individual Hox genes control the function of other types of genes, and the same Hox gene can control different sets of genes in different parts of the body. Once thought to act like molecular switches, Hox genes play an important role in the development of many different anatomical features, including limbs and fins, the spine, the digestive system, and the reproductive tract in diverse species of both invertebrate and vertebrate animals.

One of the most remarkable findings in this field was the discovery that in organisms as distinct as Drosophila – the common fruit fly – and in humans, the same defective Hox gene results in abnormal development of the eye. This is despite the fact that the eyes of the various animal phyla are completely different on a structural level! What is even more remarkable is that in animals displaying bilateral symmetry – including insects and vertebrates – their Hox genes are expressed in the same order as they are linearly arranged on the chromosome. Thus, Hox genes located at one end of the chromosome are expressed at the head of the embryo, whilst those located at the anterior part of the chromosome are expressed toward the tail end (illustrated above). No one knows how this remarkable symmetry came to be, but from an evolutionary standpoint it defies credibility and yet it is absolutely true!

Evolutionary developmental (whence ‘evo-devo’) biologists thought they were on to something big when they discovered Hox genes; if they could generate mutations in these  genes they could bring about macro-evolutionary change, by inducing large scale changes in morphology. This idea was brought to the fore by University of Indiana biologist, Jeffrey Schwartz.

Alas, the experimental evidence does not support this bold conjecture. Two biologists, William McGinnis and Michael Kuziora, based at the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University, have observed that most Hox gene mutations in fruit flies cause fatal birth defects. In other cases, the resultant Hox mutant phenotype, while remaining viable in the short term, are invariably too unfit to reproduce. And when they tamper with the Hox genes to produce an extra set of wings, Drosophila is rendered incapable of flight.

What is more, it has been discovered that Hox genes in all animal phyla are only expressed when the embryo reaches the 6,000 cell stage, i.e. after the basic geometric form of the organism has been established.  The Hox genes are necessary for proper regional and localised development within the organism.

Tampering with Hox genes produces no new kinds, only monsters.

Has the case for macro-evolution been demonstrated? No.

The Miracle of Mitochondria

The mitochondrial electron transport chain.

The mitochondrial electron transport chain.

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Genesis 1:31

All complex animals, plants and fungi show remarkable cellular complexity. In particular, there exist a number of discrete structures called organelles, which perform specialised biochemical tasks inside their cells. These include mitochondria, which function to generate 95 per cent of the chemical energy for the cell, and chloroplasts, which in plant cells, function to harness the energy of sunlight to fix carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide and synthesise sugars. Cells showing this division of labour are called eukaryotes. Simpler cells, such as those of bacteria, do not exhibit this degree of internal structuring and are called prokaryotes.

Mitochondria have sizes typical of small, free living bacteria. What is more, these organelles were found to have their own DNA. Evolutionary biologist, Lynn Margulis (1938-2011), proposed that eukaryotic cells came into being after a prokaryotic cell ‘ate’ (via a process known as endocytosis) other prokaryotic cells, which evolved over long periods of time events, and reproduced in step with the host cell in some sort of symbiosis (mutual advantage), by chance, before coming under the control of the primitive eukaryotic cell, which developed chromosome structures, a nuclear membrane and so on and so forth. Over time, portions of the mitochondrial and chloroplast genome happened to be translocated to the nucleus, leaving behind a small vestige of their original genetic inventory ie. the mitochondrial DNA we see today. It is also noteworthy that other organelles, such as mitosomes and hydrogenosomes, do not harbour genetic material.

But a closer look at this scenario raises a number of questions. For one thing, how could the enveloped cells reproduce in a synchronised way? How did lateral gene transfer occur through the nuclear pore when it was designed for the passage of mRNA and small proteins into the cytoplasm but not DNA?

What’s more, even if DNA were passed between the engulfed cell and the host cell, the host would respond by degrading the foreign DNA, because it would interpret it as a virus.These problems have been ignored or glossed over by proponents of the evolutionary paradigm.

The question of why mitochondria harbour DNA may be better explained by design rather than an evolutionary process. Intriguingly, new research lends support to the former hypothesis. In particular, a collaborative effort between a team of US and British scientists used a novel computer algorithm to analyse a great number of mitochondrial genomes across many phyla. Their results reveal the following:

Many mitochondrial genes code for hydrophobic proteins that embed in mitochondrial membranes. If these were expressed in the cytoplasm of the cell, they would wind up in the membranes of other organelles, wreaking havoc with the cell’s biochemical machinery.

Quite a number of mitochondrial genes code for proteins involved in the electron transport chain. Their translocation to the nucleus would greatly reduce the efficiency with which these polypeptides can be replaced once they become faulty or denatured.

The content of Guanine and Cytosine (G and C, respectively) is especially high in mitochondrial genes. A high GC content confers greater stability to these bases, allowing them to better survive against the degradative effects of  reactive oxygen species, such as superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide (by products of the aerobic respiration).

So, it seems like there are very good reasons why mitochondria have maintained their genomes. It is very unlikely that such a scheme of events could come about by a blind evolutionary process, but it comports perfectly well with exquisite design by a mind far more advanced than human beings. See here for more details.

The Problem of Orphan Genes.

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Luke 17:21

Orphan (literally ORfans, “open reading frames of unknown origin” )genes were first discovered when the yeast genome-sequencing project began in 1996. Orphan genes are defined as genes that lack detectable similarity to genes in other species and thus show no clear signs of common descent (i.e. homology). Orphan genes are distinguished from others in that they are lineage-specific, and have no known history of shared duplication or rearrangement outside of their particular species, or clade. Recent studies suggest that between 10 and 30 per cent of all the genes sequenced in the genomes of a large number of multicellular organisms are orphan. Couple this to the fact that most complex animals have ~10^4 genes and upwards.

Indeed, according to one recent paper “only a small set of genes seems to be universal across kingdoms, whereas the phylogenetic distribution of all other genes is restricted at different levels.”

When they were first discovered, many evolutionary biologists assumed that as more genomes were sequenced and added to the data base, homologues of these orphans would gradually show up. But quite the opposite is true. Like many other problems in molecular biology, orphan genes were completely unexpected by evolutionists whose mantra is “ descent  with modification.” And while some evolutionists have attempted to “explain away” their origin, there is no credible scientific evidence to explain why these unique genes exist. To me, the explanation for orphan genes is simpler; the Lord put them there to express the uniqueness of each species, a distinctive act of special creation, as if to say, “Wherever you look, here I Am!”

More on orphan genes here.

 

Origin of Life; Truly a No Go!

I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:

Isaiah 45:5

A new scientific heavyweight, Professor James Tour, gives his verdict on origin of life research.

Icy interloper: Comet 17P Holmes. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

Icy interloper: Comet 17P Holmes. Image credit: Wiki Commons.

 

It Came from Outer Space-Not!

For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord.

Proverbs 8:35

For many years, astrobiologists have surmised that the inventory of organic molecules needed to kick start chemical evolution on the primordial Earth could have been delivered by comets and asteroids. Comets in particular have been shown to be rich in volatile substances such as methanol (a poisonous substance more commonly known as wood alcohol) and ammonia ice, which might fragment and combine in a variety of ways to create biologically relevant molecules, such as amino acids and simple sugars. Recently a team of French scientists created artificial comet ice by introducing water vapour, methanol and ammonia  into a specially prepared vacuum chamber and freezing it to -200C. Next, they used an ultraviolet lamp to irradiate the ice and then analysed the chemicals it generated. The team reported the synthesis of some biologically relevant chemicals such as ribose, an important 5-carbon sugar required for the synthesis of information rich molecules such as RNA. The researchers claimed that this was an important milestone in unravelling a plausible prebiotic source for this sugar but a closer look at their experimental procedure reveals a raft of problems.

For one thing, the researchers employed pristine materials under highly controlled laboratory conditions, carefully excluding chemicals that would throw a proverbial spanner in the works. The UV lamp delivered specific wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation which seemed to allow a small amount of ribose to be synthesised, but if conducted in the vacuum of space, a broad continuum of UV wavelengths would have been incident on the comet ices and many of these wavelengths destroy rather than create anything of biological relevance. This is supported by extensive spectroscopic observations of cometary vapours, which have not identified ribose (or any other biologically relevant sugar), making it very unlikely to have been derived in this way.

Furthermore, while the researchers invoked a chemical mechanism known as the formose reaction, the reality is that the yields of ribose were only about 1 per cent among a plethora of other reaction side products with no biological relevance. Ribose is chemically unstable too, and would most likely react with other chemicals to make the pathway unviable. And even if such molecules could survive the severe heat shock that would attend entry into the Earth’s primordial atmosphere, they would be hopelessly diluted in the planet’s early oceans.

In summary, this research is yet another demonstration of intelligent design more than anything else. It is exceedingly unlikely to generate any plausible prebiotic chemical inventory under true environmental conditions – either in space or on Earth. And without chemical evolution there can be no Darwinian evolution.

See here for more details.

An Interview with Dr. Anthony Latham

I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.

Isaiah 42:8

My compatriot, Dr. Anthony Latham, who now lives and works as a G.P. on the beautiful Outer Hebrides of Scotland, dedicated years of his life researching the evidence for and against the evolutionary paradigm. His very well received book, The Naked Emperor: Darwinism Exposed, focuses on the central tenets of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, revealing its complete inadequacy in explaining the origin and development of life on Earth. In this interesting interview, Dr. Latham speaks candidly about his researches and scepticism concerning evolutionary ideologies.

Playing the Waiting Game

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Psalm 19:7

The engine of evolutionary change requires the creation of new protein functions, but this invariably entails making a series of coordinated mutational alterations to the gene which encodes it. On the face of it, the intuitive response is that it would prove exceedingly improbable, increasing exponentially with the number of coordinated mutations required to manifest such an outcome, and in much the same way as the odds of acquiring one, two, three, four, five or six of the right numbers needed to win the lottery.

Professor of bochemistry, Michael Behe, based at Lehigh Univesity in Pennsylvania, and University of Pittsburgh physicist David Snook, addressed this very question in a ground breaking 2004 paper entitled “Simulating Evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues.” Using the principles of population genetics, they found that if generating a new gene required multiple coordinated mutations, then the waiting time would grow exponentially with each additional necessary mutational change. In particular, they studied how population sizes influenced the outcome, finding, not surprisingly that while larger populations reduced waiting times, smaller populations dramatically increased them. Specifically, their results showed that to evince just two coordinated mutations required a million generations but only if that population exceeded 1 trillion; a population size much greater than practically all individual animal species that have lived at any given time. Conversely, they showed that if the population size were only 1 million, it would take 10 billion generations to produce that change.

Curiously, in more recent research (2008) that attempted to refute their work, two Cornell University evolutionary biologists, Rick Durrett and Deena Schmidt, using a similar approach, calculated how long it would take to generate two coordinated mutations in the hominin line, separating the great apes from humans. Though their calculations reduced the time required to bring about such a change compared to that arrived at by Behe and Snook, it was still of the order of hundreds of millions of years! Indeed, the authors concluded that two or more coordinated mutations were “very unlikely  to occur on a reasonable timescale.”

That said, the reader will note that humans and chimps are thought to have diverged from a common ancestor just six million years ago!

Collectively, these results raise serious doubts about any evolutionary changes in animals with long lifespans (of the order of years) and small population sizes, particularly mammals, humans and their presumed ancestors. Clearly, neo-Darwinian mechanisms do not have the capacity to generate even two coordinated mutations in the time available for human evolution and so, cannot explain how humans arose.

Cooption: a non-Option

a dehydrogenase The three dimensional structure of the enzyme from the bacteria Colwellia psychrerythraea. Image credit: Matt Howard.

The three dimensional structure of a dehyrogenase enzyme from the bacteria Colwellia psychrerythraea. Image credit: Matt Howard.

The foolishness of man perverteth his way: and his heart fretteth against the LORD.

Proverbs 19:3

Faced with the problems highlighted by Behe and Snook, some neo-Darwinists have proposed another way for proteins to evolve. Known as ‘cooption,’ this is the process by which a structure or system with an original function adds or changes to a new function. A gene encoding protein A might have duplicated and mutated to encode a slightly different protein which performed some advantageous function, enough to confer some advantage to the organism. Eventually, as mutations continued to generate new proteins that were close enough in sequence and structure that just one or two additional changes would be enough to convert it into protein B.

To ascertain whether this could conceivably happen over a time scale postulated by evolutionary theories, a team of scientists led by Doug Axe and Ann Gauger, based at the Biologic Institute in Seattle, devised an ingenious experiment to test the cooption hypothesis. Examining a raft of protein sequences from a data base, they identified two proteins that had a very similar amino acid sequence and three dimensional structure. The first of these enzymes is known as KbL2 which catalyses the degradation of the amino acid, threonine, and the other, known as BioF2, needed in the biosynthesis of the vitamin biotin.

If they could demonstrate that just a few coordinated mutations could bring about the transformation of KbL2 to BioF2, then this would indeed lend support to the cooption evolutionary hypothesis. But if this required multiple coordinated mutations, then it would indicate that any Darwinian mechanism could not bring about such a change in a reasonable amount of time. In a seminal paper published in 2010 entitled, “The Evolutionary Accessibility of New Enzyme Functions: A Case Study from the Biotin Pathway,” their results were clear and unambiguous; Axe and Gauger showed that they could not induce a cooptional effect with two, three, four, five or even six coordinated mutations. The implication, as the earlier work of Behe and Snook showed, is that this mechanism could not operate on timescales that would make the evolutionary scenario viable. Indeed, in their own words, Axe and Gauger concluded that “evolutionary innovations requiring that many changes….would be extraordinarily rare, becoming probable only on timescales much longer than the age of life on earth.”

An Enduring Mystery: Homology

For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.

Hebrews 3:4

It has been noted for many centuries now that there are many anatomical similarities among the animals within a well-defined taxonomic group. A good example of homology is the pentadactyl (five-fingered) pattern of bones from the wing of a bat say, or the flipper of a dolphin, the leg of a horse or a human. Darwin believed that these homologies provided strong evidence for common descent, while his great contemporary, Sir Richard Owen, took it as evidence of common design, derived from a basic or archetypal plan set in place by the Creator.

If the Darwinian paradigm were correct, one should see strong evidence that the same genes give rise to these homologous organs across the various animals in a taxonomic group. Yet, as genetic evidence built up, it was clear that this is far from the truth. Indeed, it has been shown that regulatory genes which are homologous are often dedicated to organs that are not homologous. For example, the notch gene in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster plays important role in the formation of bristles and wings – structures that are clearly not homologous.

Indeed, as more and research was carried out on homology, the majority of cases showed the very opposite of what the Darwinian model predicted; that non-homologous genes encode factors that regulate supposedly ‘homologous’ structures. This puzzling situation was addressed by the American palaeontologist, Neil Shubin:

“It is clear from the fossil record that chordates and arthropods diverged at least by the Cambrian. The appendages of these two groups are not homologous because phylogenetically intermediate taxa (particularly basal chordates), do not possess comparable structures. The most surprising discovery of recent molecular studies, however is that much of the genetic machinery that pattern the appendages of arthropods, vertebrates and other phyla is similar.”

Thus, we can see that there is considerable confusion as to what the precise genetic basis is for homologies. If all life evolved from a common ancestor one should expect complete (or almost so) coherence. And yet it is simply not there.

One should also expect to see homology in the embryological development of animals such as reptiles, fish, amphibians and mammals. But this is not revealed by closer scrutiny. For example, the alimentary canal of the shark is formed from the roof of its gut cavity, and yet is derived from the floor of the same structure in lampreys. And in frogs, it originates from both the roof and the floor, while in mammals, the alimentary canal forms from a layer considerably lower down in the blastoderm.

In addition, the homologous fore-limbs develop from different trunk segments across different groups of animals. The same is true when one examines the amniotic membranes of birds and reptiles, which form in a completely different way to that of mammals.

Geneticist and evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900–1975) once wrote that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” But what we see in the case of genetics and embryology applied to the phenomenon of homology makes no sense at all.

The Mystery of Convergence

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

Matthew 6:22

One of the enduring mysteries of life is the case of convergence. The eye, for example, has appeared many times across many animal phyla. Broadly speaking, the eye takes two main forms, the compound eye, seen in arthropods, and the camera-like eye (like those of humans and cats say), which has emerged at least seven times in the animal world and, as we have seen, often without any structural antecedents in the fossil record (the Cambrian animals serving as an excellent example). Even evolutionists will concede that this striking recurrence of optical form could not conceivably have emerged from a common ancestor, before the putative divergence of these taxa. But why should there be convergence? The standard response is that it demonstrates how natural selection will arrive at the same or similar solution for organisms experiencing similar environmental cues. But certain types of annelid worms, jellyfish and several species of snail also have camera-like eyes, and so it is difficult to accept how their habitats have anything to do with the matter. To my mind, it’s simply a play on words and that simply isn’t good enough from a scientific perspective. How pray tell, would a jellyfish experience the same selection pressure as an air-breathing mammal or a soil dwelling worm?  If the evolutionary paradigm were even half credible, one ought to expect examples of convergence to be terribly rare (if ever); yet they’re everywhere in nature lol!

Convergences are inexplicable in a Darwinian context, but they make perfect sense within a creation framework, with each convergence displaying purpose and design.

More on the thorny issue of convergence here.

For the Birds

Wee birdie. Image credit: J.J. Harrison.

Wee birdie. Image credit: J.J. Harrison.

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

Genesis 1:20

 

We have seen how the Cambrian explosion was a creation event that led to the emergence of the majority of animal body plans in a geological instant, and which is totally inexplicable from a Darwinian standpoint. But it would be wrong to think that this was the only such ‘Big Bang’ in biology, especially when one considers the origin of birds. The hoopla began in 1871, when some quarry workmen at Pappenheim, Bavaria, uncovered a well preserved fossil of a creature with outstretched wings. This specimen was later named Archaeopteryx, one of six similar fossils uncovered from the now famous Upper Sonhofen Lithographic Limestone.

Archaeopteryx, which dates to around 147 million years ago, has features that are common to both reptiles and dinosaurs but not modern birds. For example, it displays a long, bony tail, teeth on both jaws and three distinct clawed fingers. In addition, and unlike modern birds, the sternum of Archaeopteryx is not keeled. Paleontologists have long cited this creature as evidence for the evolutionary paradigm, but it’s worth taking a closer look.

How did such a bird evolve feathers and wings; highly complex organs in a gradual process? Birds, unlike reptiles, are warm blooded. Their bones have been hollowed out to reduce weight, and their skulls must be rendered light and thin. Their hearts must be made more efficient to deliver adequate levels of oxygen to their flight muscles, necessitating a four chambered design. They would have to sprout specialised muscles to power their wings.The lungs of birds had to be enlarged and structurally altered, so as to optimise the exchange of gases. These alterations also required coordinated changes in brain structure so as to navigate while in the air.

And all of these changes have to happen together.

The fossil record doesn’t help, as there are no credible intermediates between dinosaurs and birds. Yes, palaeontologists have found some feathered creatures such as Sinosauropteryx, which had a skeletal system similar to a meat-eating dinosaur and feather-like down to insulate its body, but invariably these feathers were clearly not designed for flight! Other fossils such as Protarchaeopteryx robusta and Caudipteryx zoui, have been claimed to be ‘the immediate ancestors of the first birds.’ Yet these were subsequently dated at 120 to 136 million years. That places them younger than Archaeopteryx, a true bird!

Understanding how birds evolve essentially involves two schools of thought; arboreal and ground up. In the arboreal scenario, evolutionists envisage that tree-dwelling creatures evolved anatomical changes to help them jump from tree to tree, followed by ‘gliding’ and then fully-fledged flight. Ground up scenarios imagine a dinosaur developing shaggy scales that helped it flap along the surface better in search of flying insects or some such. Flapping flight also requires highly controlled muscle movements to get airborne, which in turn requires that the brain has to be re-programmed for these movements. Ultimately, this requires new genetic information that a non-flying creature lacks. It’s not hard to see the holes in all of this.

To take the guesswork out of paleontology, scientists turned to molecular genetics. The morphological changes that produce flying creatures ought to be reflected in the DNA of birds and, furthermore, one ought to able to reconstruct a phylogenetic tree that clearly shows the ‘descent with modification’ so necessary for the evolutionary paradigm to be credible. Alas, a massive and fairly recent study has unearthed quite the opposite; all birds emerged on the scene in an explosive event – dubbed the neoavian explosion – covering less than 10 million years. Moreover, the study found that the major inter-order groups diverged in an even more rapid explosion merely 1 to 3 million years in duration!

In an accompanying commentary to this study, the researchers stated the following:

When the researchers tried to build the new avian family tree, “we were shocked to find we couldn’t get a solid answer,” Jarvis recalls. As the consortium developed more sophisticated bioinformatics tools to analyze the genome data, they discovered that protein-coding genes by themselves were not the most reliable for building good trees. The non-coding regions within or between genes, called introns, gave better answers. And although the group had access to supercomputers, they still had to come up with a way to allocate the analysis to the machines’ many microprocessors. “It took 3 years to iron out the kinks,” Gilbert says.”

Let’s take a moment to consider their tactics. The data didn’t fit a treelike pattern. They then looked for ‘better answers’ that would square more easily with their world view. They weren’t going to reject common ancestry! Rather, they appealed to ad hoc explanations whenever necessary to explain why the data doesn’t fit a tree. Convergent (discussed above) evolution is just one of the mechanisms they invoked.

The power of words eh!

The expectation of these scientists was that molecular genetics would undergird morphological features but this is not what they found. It’s all just speculation and nothing that would convince a steely headed rationalist.

Here’s yet another commentary on an earlier (2008) study and why evolutionary theory really is for the birds.

Waking up to the Evolution Lie

Thus saith the Lord, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;

That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;

Isaiah 44:24-25

Dr. Kevin Anderson, formerly Professor of Microbiology at Mississippi State University, explains why classic evolutionary ideology is now in terminal decline.

Mathematician, philosopher and theologian, William Dembski, explains why new advances in information theory are exposing Darwinian evolution as a pseudoscience.

A Jewish Rabbi, Elyahu Kin, speaks candidly about the fallacies of evolutionary ideology, as well as the aberrant psychology of evolutionists.

Evolution and its Consequences

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

Matthew 23:24

 

Evolution is a secular religion, derived from pagan origins.

Evolution attracts and encourages atheists.

Evolution erodes belief in God’s sovereignty and omniscience.

Evolution could not have foreseen the emergence of humanity.

Evolution erodes the belief that God created Man to be good.

Evolution denies timeless standards of truth.

Evolution makes a mockery of Man’s need for redemption.

Evolution erodes the biblical idea that God gave us evidence of his handiwork.

Evolution teaches that humans are just smart animals.

Evolution has corrupted the minds of countless millions of Christians and Jews over the last two centuries.

Theistic evolutionists think evolution is ‘beautiful’.

Evolution; I spit in your hideous face!

Continued in Part III.

De Fideli.

Changing Culture.

Octavius: instrument of change.

Octavius: instrument of change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As  I have commented on in previous communications, an urban myth has been cultivated over the years regarding the unsuitability of Newtonian reflectors in the pursuit of double stars. In the last six months or so, there are encouraging signs that more people are bucking this trend using Newtonian optics of various f ratios and in the examination of pairs of various difficulty, including the sub-arc second realm;

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Exhibit E

These are but a few examples, and I can only hope that the changes will continue so that more people can enjoy this wonderful pass-time.

De Fideli