Some Comments on the New Living Translation(NLT) of the Holy Bible.

The New Living Translation (red letter edition) by Tyndale.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

                                                                                            Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

Preamble

Take a good look at the world around you.

Lawlessness is on the increase in every nation. Our TV and cinema screens are cesspits of filth, lewdness, blasphemy and the glorification of violence. Britain is now the stab capital of Europe. Anti-semitism is escalating across the globe, tearing whole communities and political parties apart. The cold-blooded murder of the unborn is legalised in most developed countries and soon the right to life will be denied to the newborn(it’s already happened in fact). Traditional family values have all but disappeared. Our churches are nearly empty, their elders, priests and pastors, feverishly busy spreading false doctrines. Depraved acts such as homosexuality(they have the audacity to call it ‘sex’) are being promoted as ‘good’ and ‘natural.’ Our children are being taught that they are ‘highly evolved animals'(based on Darwinian pseudoscience); gender is ‘fluid’ even though our chromosomal karyotype plainly says otherwise, boys can be girls or vice versa, and morals are ‘relative.’  Wars and rumours of wars are never far from the headlines. The Middle East is a tinder box ready to explode. Civil war threatens many nations. Whole economies are collapsing. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Steeped in debt, young people can’t afford to get on the housing ladder. Homelessness is at an all-time high. Our once clean cities are slowly becoming slums. Food banks are now common across the western world and their queues are getting ever larger. The biosphere is dying before our very eyes; insects, animal and plant populations are being decimated by pollution, unsustainable and aggressive agricultural policies, and climate change.The bountiful seas are becoming water deserts. And there’s no where to go.

Don’t you think something is terribly wrong with the world? Are you not concerned for the next generation( if the Lord tarries) who will see these trends continuing to escalate?

You’re either a fool or completely deluded to think otherwise!

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course, and I could go on and on.

What source of knowledge brings all of these evils into sharp focus?

Only the Bible provides the answers we so desperately seek. Moreover, it makes it pretty clear that it can’t and won’t be sustained.

The Bible warns us not to turn to idols(which includes atheism) for solutions. In the days of old, these took the form of carved images of wood and stone, animals and even persons( e.g. the Emperor Cult of the Caesars). And though the old gods are long gone, new ones have stepped in to fill the power vacuum; unaware AI, non-existent alien intelligences, sports personalities, rampant consumerism and greed (which the Bible teaches is yet another form of idolatory), ‘mind and body’ gurus, tree huggers and charlatans that promise the earth, steal your money, and leave you high and dry. The secular world believes man is benevolent by nature and can find the answers to all his problems, but let’s be honest; that humanist philosophy has failed miserably. Where exactly is that utopia you dreamt up in your vain maschinations?

It doesn’t exist and cannot exist.

In contrast, the Bible says precisely the opposite; left to his own devices, man is fundamentally not good. Humans become more depraved, more wicked and more desperate without guidance from their Creator. Without God in their lives, things always go from bad to worse. And the inspired Biblical writers foresaw all of it!

We need the Bible more so now than at any other time in human history.

How do I know this? I read the Bible every day. I see it all on the pages of Scripture, as if it’s today’s news. The secular world will accuse you of ‘bigotry’ and ‘small mindedness’ of course, for the simple reason that the same people are woefully ignorant of what the Bible actually says; not the watered down sermons you hear in a typical church on Sunday morning, delivered by a clergy that are increasingly afraid to offend anyone, but by taking heir of one’s self, and actually reading the Biblical text through and applying its principles in every day life. Seen in this light, the accusations of the secularists against true Christians are just more of the same: arguments from ignorance.

And that’s true bigotry!

There is a simple principle I apply in my dealings with the secular world: if it is approved of in the Bible, I’m for it; but if the Bible disapproves of it, I’m not for it!

It’s simple, straight-forward, and unambiguous.

In the 21st century there is an explosion of Bible versions written in the English language to suit the needs of a diverse group of people. The following diagram gives you an idea of the types of Bibles you can choose from:

The green zone represents very literal ‘word for word’ translations from the original Hebrew and Koine Greek. The orange zone represents an entirely different translation philosophy; the so called ‘thought for thought’ translations. Finally, the red zone represents the most loosely rendered interpretations of the Biblical text; the paraphrases.

As you can see from the diagram above, the New Living Translation(NLT) of the Bible is in the orange zone, so bordering between the ‘thought for thought’ and the ‘paraphrased’ renditions. But unlike true paraphrased versions like the Message or The Living Bible, the NLT is actually a true translation of Holy Scripture, but it places a great emphasis on rendering the essential ideas in simple, modern English. The NLT was formulated by a broad church of Christian denominations under a solid translation committee. This is evidenced by the lack of errors in the text(yes, I’ve found typos in other versions formulated by smaller committees) and the attention to detail they have displayed in bringing to life the timeless stories and moral teachings of the Bible for a modern readership. The NLT is available in the 66 books that comprise the Protestant Bible, but they have also produced a Catholic version (with its 72 books). The comments made here refer to the former.

The first edition of the NLT was published in 1996 and its aim was to turn the paraphrased Living Bible (composed by the late Kenneth Taylor in 1971) into a proper translation. It has since undergone several revisions (2004, 2007, 2013 and 2016), which aims to make the text as accessible and inclusive as possible. Like the NIV, the language is quite gender neutral, but the committee has clearly not gone as far as their NIV counterparts, which some feel has taken the issue a wee bit too far. Weights, measures and the timing of religious festivals are expressed in modern terms, which adds to the intelligibility of the text. The introduction pages to this Bible clearly explains why these strategies were adopted.

While it is acknowledged that any thought-for-thought translation is in danger of going too far, and that, ultimately, you are probably safer going with a good literal translation like the ESV, NKJV or NASB, I find there is much that is meritorious about this fresh, dynamic and often idiomatic edition of the Bible. I found it is excellent for speed reading( I obtained my copy in October 2018, but had sampled an earlier edition before giving it away to a friend), having completely finished it in just a few months. Although some renderings of the text were mildly alarming(see Luke 5:30 for an example), on the whole I thought the translation was very enjoyable and worth the effort to read through. At no point did I ever feel that the translators were watering down Scripture (e.g. the deity of Christ or the nature of the triune God), as some commentators have suggested. Indeed, in some cases, I felt it was easier to understand certain passages about the Atonement than in more literal word-for-word translations.

Many of the Psalms will come across as unfamiliar to those who cherish traditional translations, like my beloved NKJV, because the wording is different, but I found the differences enriching more than they were distracting. Consider Psalm 23, for example:

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

As you can see, it is worded rather differently to more celebrated versions of the Bible such as the grand old King James Version (which my family and I have committed to memory) but if I’m being honest, it conveys exactly the same comforting ideas as older renditions of this time-honoured Davidic psalm.

I would highly recommend this translation to everyone, but especially those who are making their first steps in the faith. I completely reject the idea that it is an inferior version compared with the more technically accurate renditions of the Bible, for I equate this kind of thinking to yet another example of legalism, which is just plain wrong and anathema to the true message of the Gospel. Afterall, God never intended for His inspired word to be misunderstood or that it be made accessible to only an elite few. Have we not learned anything from the days when the Latin Vulgate was the only version in existence, delivered and understood only by priests?

As our Lord and Saviour once declared:

O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.

Matthew 11:25(NLT)

That we have so many versions is a blessing and not a curse. Personally, I see it as part of the Divine plan to bring as many people to Christ before the Lord wraps it all up. I for one cherish the NLT as a fine addition to my Bible collection and one which I will continue to use and enjoy until the day I see Him face to face.

Ultimately, the message of the Bible is joyful and optimistic to those who have the wisdom to accept its teachings. So believers have absolutely nothing to fear! Indeed, Scripture anticipated that these radical changes in human society would occur near the closing of the age. It’s as if prophecy is unravelling before our very eyes, and that gives me goose bumps! In the meantime, we just have to keep on trying to make the world a better place and to speak up for issues that we believe are immoral. Moreover, the Bible has always encouraged us to be vigilant in the times we are given to live in. So take heart! Nothing should surprise you!

A few Words on the NLT Premium SlimLine Large Print Reference Edition ( ISBN- 978-1-4143-0711-4)

Now, I would like to say a few words about the particular NLT Bible I have sourced.

The beautiful Leatherlike Brown Gator covering of the Large Print Slimline NLT.

As I explained in a previous blog about my NKJV Bible, I like to have a hard copy of any Bible I purchase. The NLT is, of course, available for study online, but like any other Bible I use, I prefer to have a copy I can bring anywhere with me, without the hassle of relying on using electronic devices to retrieve the text. Afterall, we cannot be certain that we will have the internet forever, can we?

This NLT measures 6.5″ x 9″ and is about an inch thick. It has a paste-down liner and a strong, Smyth-sewn binding. The cover is Leatherex; making it very flexible and durable. It is very attractive to the touch and is easy to grip. It is not ostentatious and will not make you stand out in a crowd. It lies flat when hand-held or when opened on a table. The words are printed in 9.84 font, so very easy to read, even without my glasses. The quality of the paper is not the best but not the worst either, and is perfectly adequate for reading.  It has two colour-matched ribbons page markers to keep track of whatever text from the Old and New Testament I’m studying from.

The NLT large print Slimline edition has nice gold gilding on its pages and comes with two colour-matched ribbons.

The edges of the pages have a very nice gold gilding. The text is fairly well line matched with only a little bit of bleed-through visible from page to page. This is a red letter version. The colour of red is slightly paler than I would have liked but it does the job fine.I don’t really like footnotes, so I was delighted to see that they are minimal in this version of the NLT and are placed at the bottom of the page, where they provide little in the way of a distraction and are also printed in a smaller font size to the main text.

The NLT has the words of our Saviour in red.

At the back of the Bible, there is a fairly comprehensive 53-page concordance, followed by a single page presenting ” Great Chapters from the Bible.” This is immediately followed by a 3-page presentation of what the committee consider to be the “greatest verses from the Bible.” The last few pages present a useful 365-day reading plan to get the user through the entire Biblical text in a single year. Finally, like most Bibles, it presents a few useful full-colour maps of the Holy Land, including a detailed look at the places Jesus visited during his three and a half year earthly mission, as well as maps of the Greek, Babylonian and Assyrian Empires,and which also includes the route of the Exodus and the missionary journeys of Saint Paul.

For a modest cost of £26.99. I consider it a good value in today’s market.

 

I hope readers will receive the NLT with enthusiasm and that it will enrich your knowledge of the Bible in these somewhat alarming but ultimately exciting(for Christians and Messianic Jews)  times in which we now live!

With Every Blessing,

 

Neil.

 

Dr. Neil English recounts the stories of many Christian astronomers from centuries past in his latest historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

 

 

 

De Fideli.

 

 

Earth & Sky.

“Moonrise” by Stanislaw Maslowski (1884); image crdit Wiki Commons.

In a fallen world, where mankind’s rebellion against his Creator is now rapidly reaching pre-flood levels of wickedness, it is good to know that the planet Earth is still a pretty neat place to live. Protected by a just-right atmosphere of mainly nitrogen and oxygen, the Lord of Heaven’s armies has packed this planet full of living things and amazing geological features that bring joy to the human heart.

Our atmosphere is neither too dense or too rarefied, allowing us to peer deeply into the Cosmos, where we have caught a glimpse of eternity.  And all around us, our Creator has left clear evidence of His handiwork so that we are without excuse on the day of judgement.

The human eye can only see so much though, but our Creator chose to give us a mind that enables us to improve our lot, to see things in new and different ways. That’s how I see my binoculars; simple tools that bring heaven and Earth closer, providing a perspective that transcends the limitations of my corporeal form. I am especially fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world, away from the cities where atheism flourishes. Out in the sticks, I can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation more fully, in quietness, surrounded as I am by hills and valleys, green fields and lovely streams of cool, fresh rainwater that sustain the lives of all living things.

The author’s wide angle 8 x 42 binocular: extraordinary performance at an ordinary price.

My wide-angle 8 x 42 binocular, in particular, is the perfect tool for combining the beauty of the night sky with that of the comeliness of the earthly creation. And in this blog, I would like to share with you some of the kinds of activities I get up to to bring these worlds together. This binocular provides a power of just 8 diameters but has an angular field of view wide enough to fit over 16 full Moons in the same wonderful portal. And with its decent light grasp, especially in fading or low light, it is powerful enough to allow me to simultaneously appreciate sights in the heavens and on earth.

                                                  Picture Postcards

Surrounded by mature trees, sometimes many times older than myself, I have grown terribly fond of framing famliar celestial sights, such as the Pleiades and the Hyades in the foreground of their impressive branches. Sometimes, I would wait for the stars in these clusters to fall in altitude after they culminate in the south, so that they are seen to ‘hover’ over the conifer trees beyond my back garden. And if, by chance, the presence of a gentle breeze in the binocular image is witnessed (and it can happen a lot!), then you’ve got a home run; an epiphany of sorts! At other times, I will plan a vigil where the soft light from the stars fills the background whilst the foreground is occupied with denuded winter branches of the deciduous trees near my home. A little light pollution can actually be advantageous in such circumstances as it can help illuminate the tree branches making them stand out more boldly against the stellar backdrop.

Living inside a long valley with verdant hills that soar to about 1000 feet on either side, my binocular is good at framing the rising Moon as its silvery light clears their summit in the east, or as it sinks behind the hills in the west. There are many times where I can plan to observe the Moon and the hilltops in the same field, creating visual scenes that leave a deep impression on me. I give thanks to my God for allowing me to witness such scenes, safe and secure at the bottom of a great sea of fresh, clean air.

Ever since childhood, I have been attracted to storms, often venturing out to feel the energy they generate in the atmosphere. Sometimes these storms occur on moonlit nights and I would think it nothing to grab my binocular and carry myself off to some favourite haunts, woody glades and the like, where moonbeams create wonderful atmospheric scenes, complemented by the sound of wind whistling through their branches.

My binocular has renewed my interest in observing the full Moon, not in and of itself, but when it is surrounded by low lying and fast-moving rain clouds, as often happens here in the British Isles. I watch as these clouds enter the outer field, inching their way toward the bright satellite, and all the while lighting up with beautiful colours caused by refraction of moonlight through raindrops. The colours often start off deep and moody, like dried-in blood, when far from the Moon, but as they move ever closer, the colours they generate; gorgeous shades of pink, yellows and even rose tints; saturate the cones on my retina and,  upwelling feelings of great happiness.

The structure of clouds backlit by moonlight reveals wonderful, highly complex structures, as well as colours – knots, filaments and pleated sheets. Often the scene reminds me of the play of light on the matter which is expelled into the shells of planetary nebulae as imaged by a great telescope, with a white dwarf star being replaced by our very own Moon at its epicentre lol. Such natural shows of light and form rank as some of the most lovely and most surreal binocular images one is likely to capture. Sometimes, great gaping holes in the heavens open up around the clouds, allowing the light of the distant stars to be seen near the full Moon.

Dawn and dusk are good times to see some spectacular sights, such as the bright planet Venus sinking low into the sky, often silhouetted by interesting terrestrial structures, such as a distant hill,  an old barnhouse or silo, church or windmill. By getting to know your horizons, sublime scenes can be captured with your binocular, bringing heaven and Earth together, just like it will be in the New Creation.

Cityscapes can also be used to enhance the binocular view. Framing bright star clusters like the Pleiades or a crescent Moon in the background to an old church spire, domed cathedral, or grand municipal building, can make for a very fetching sight. Photographers  imagine likewise,of course, but the impromptu binocular experience is an even greater liberal art!

Another worthwhile project is to image the bright Moon over a large expanse of water, especially during calm conditions, when its  reflection  is quite mirror-like. Under the light of a town or city, smaller binoculars do just fine, like my little Pentax DCF 9 x 28 pocket instrument. You can even wander through your neighbourhood finding interesting foreground subjects to frame your celestial scenes in advance of an event.

It’s good to plan.

Well, I hope you get some ideas from this short article. In doing so, you can enjoy the best of the heavenly and terrestrial creations, and which can turn an otherwise mundane evening or morning into a very memorable one!

Happy hunting!

 

 

Neil English is the author of several books in amateur and professional astronomy.

 

 

 

De Fideli.

Notes on Going on Campaign.

In it to win it.

Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them;  for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’

Deuteronomy 20:3-4

 

As you may well be aware of, I don’t spend a lot of time on internet forums. When looking for specific information, I generally consult known and trusted authorities from books rather than the ramblings of folk whose only apparent purpose in life is to post stuff online. You don’t have to search for long to see that some folk spend nearly their entire waking moments on these forums(clocking up tens of thousands of posts in the process), wasting their employers time (read stealing) and that makes for very one-dimensional personalities, who ostensibly crave power or attention, or both. That is their world pure and simple; take that world away and they’d probably fall to pieces. What’s more, some of these characters resent individuals who hold different opinions to their own and go to great lengths to de-rail them, especially if it threatens their world view.

If I go online, I generally do so for a very specific purpose; to raise awareness of some issue that is important or to alert people to new concepts. I see this as part of apologetics per se, as there is usually a moral dimension to my ‘campaigns’, such as folk getting ripped off by unscrupulous telescope salesmen and their fanboys and to alert or inform the general public about ideologies that are patently false. One subject that is close to my heart pertains to the staggering complexity of living things in general, and human beings in particular, and the unprecedented accumulation of new scientific evidences that we are not on this planet as a result of some quirk of nature.

Evolutionary ideology has robbed many people of their self-worth. Putting their faith in a ‘monkey religion’ first promulgated by a second-rate Victorian barnacle collector by the name of Charles Darwin, who turned his back on his Creator just because he couldn’t come to terms with the loss of his daughter, they believe that we are the progeny of pond scum and that we slowly evolved through innumerable transitional forms to become the ‘naked apes’ we are today. What is more, for decades they have been fed a staple diet of ‘junk science’ that anticipates that the Universe is teeming with life and that anyone who expresses scepticism is to be viewed with suspicion or even derision. Invariably, these individuals are unwilling to do their own research and continue to propagate extremely dubious ideas to an unsuspecting audience. I felt it was high time to challenge this claim head on, to show that the evidence in support of these ideas was in fact extremely tenuous.

                                                      Know thine Enemy

Before commencing upon any campaign of this nature it pays to know your enemy; the mindset of those who are likely to challenge the claims you bring to the table and their motivations for resisting such claims. Very often it is just good old fashioned hatred. They can’t stand being told that their evolutionary bubble is about to be burst. Others resent for entirely personal reasons; consumed with murderous thoughts and green with jealousy. They are easy to spot as they always return to the scene, or lurk like cowards in the background endorsing their men with ‘likes’.  Expect ad hominem attacks from trolls; that comes with the territory and be prepared for insults being hurled at you. These are the God haters, the mob who believe and act as if humans were animals, so invariably, their responses reflect their bestial nature. Be aware also that many folk are naturally drawn to conflict; they are just there to be entertained.

                                                        Avoid Conflict

Responding to insults and getting embroiled in heated arguments online is to be avoided. It drains you of energy and causes you to lose focus. Doubtless it can be very difficult, but it serves no good to lower yourself to the level of the heckler. One must always remember that despite their belligerent unbelief, they are also made in the image of God, though they have long fallen away. Just make your points and leave it at that. Understandably, some folk seek genuine dialogue; but this can be done behind the scenes, via email or some other private medium. If they are really interested in learning, they’ll stick with you. If not, they will soon vanish in the aether.

                                                          Be Prepared

Before launching a campaign; prepare yourself. You need to do your research, bringing all relevant information to the fore. You need to check references, academic credentials etc. Where possible, one should aim to present the views of distinguished scientists, with solid track records. Holding a PhD in a relevant science would be an absolute minimum standard for me. Those who don’t  have such credentials are very unlikely to be nuanced enough in the field to bring anything concrete to the table. Unfortunately, there are frauds in every avenue of human enquiry (I’ve uncovered a few with googly eyes) and some continue to fall for their trappings. Be selective, presenting information that firmly establishes the points you wish to make. Avoid hyperbole. If at all possible, collate more information than is generally needed (auxilia) to re-inforce a point and ideally from a number of different sources. You never know, such data might come in handy if the thread takes a tricky turn. No one individual has an absolute monopoly on a truth claim. The truth is best displayed when several sources arrive at the same conclusion.

                                                             Don’t be Afraid!

Don’t be initimated by your adversaries. Sometimes the hatred sensed becomes so overbearing that it induces nausea; so I do what I do quickly.

If you’re prepared, there is little they can do to retort.

Seek the Lord always; ask for His advice.

Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.

Proverbs 16:3

 

 

Case Study: How Many Earths in Our Galaxy?

Intended Audience to be Reached: Atheists, evolutionists with a religious bent or churches which have been indoctrinated with evolutionary ideology; Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians. Also, the editorial teams of astronomy and popular science periodicals.

Typical response: Trillions upon trillions.

Scientific basis for believing in the Plurality of Habitable worlds: Life exists on Earth, a typical planet, so life must be common in the Universe.

Actual Evidence for Extraterrestrial Life: None.

 

                                      The Scientific Evidence Against the Case

The Wider Universe: Gamma Ray Burst Frequency at High Redshifts( z>0.5) and its likely consequences for living things.

Nota bene: This was not presented on the discussed thread but in a related thread on the same forum.

Christians have been at the forefront of the debate about whether life can arise naturalistically here on Earth and elsewhere. The organisation, Reasons to Believe, employs scientists trained to PhD level and beyond, who have thoroughly researched the issue. Many of the basic ideas were laid out in their book: Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (2014); which summarizes many of the problems in a clear and concise way.

The audience is asked to look at the reviews of the book and not to dismiss the book because of their Christian positioning.

The scoffers enter the scene and state their opinions.Some posters are gracious but others persist in scoffing(especially those who are singularly unqualified to offer a technical opinion on the matter) I asked the responders a simple question:

“Have you read the book yet?”

Furthermore, I suggest that abiogenesis(the notion that living systems can arise naturally) is scientifically impossible.

I re-entered the debate several years later in late 2018, as more science came to the fore:

Leading German biochemist(Dr. Clemens Richert) admits that cheating (human intervention) occurs in much prebiotic chemical research in a premier scientific journal.

World leading chemist, Dr. James Tour ( Rice University, USA) speaks out about the same issue as the German biochemist. Tour makes it clear that life cannot arise without an intelligent agency.

Dr. Tour also speaks out about the failure of Darwinian mechanisms to account for the complexity of life. Indeed, behind the scenes, Tour states that Darwinian evolution has now been debunked by the biologists.

I present a detailed talk on the fossil record (2018) by Dr. Gunter Bechly, a leading German paleontologist, who has studied the phenomenon for many years. Bechly presents clear and unambiguous evidence that the fossil record, with its serious discontinuities, does not support a Darwinian scenario. Furthermore, he concludes that life must have been designed.

I point out that Bechly was an avowed evolutionist until he was forced to reassess his scientific positioning as more fossil evidence emerged that could not be reconciled with a Darwinian evolutionary process. His change of mind was driven by the scientific evidence and not by any religious conviction (although he is now a Roman Catholic). The trolls re-emerge in the background supporting their man with “likes”. One of the trolls is a carpenter by trade (yep I did my research) from Upstate New York, another is a prominent ‘know it all,” a retired mechanical engineer from San Diego, who spends his entire waking life on these forums, following me around like a bad smell. Such individuals have expressed a singular hatred of this author in past encounters. However, both individuals are ultimately unqualified to offer any scientific criticism of the work presented; their dissent has no teeth.

Their man attacks the scientists at the Discovery Institute, who are sceptical of the evolutionary paradigm, calling them “frauds.”. I refrain from addressing this potentially serious accusation, as it’s an unnecessary diversion from the truth.

I then present more scientific evidence relevant to the question of whether life exists elsewhere in the Universe;

A team of Cornell University scientists(December 2018) identify potential fake biosignatures in simulations of exoplanetary atmospheres.

Astrobiologists, in their unbridled belief that biosignatures can be identified spectroscopically could pontentially identify fake life signatures and thus mislead the public.

A team of astronomers at Cardiff University, UK (April 2018) present a potentially serious problem of phosphorus synthesis in supernovae.

If phosphorus is only produced in localised pockets of the Universe then it raises a serious question about whether life can really be ubiquitous.

No responses are made by my adversaries on the two issues raised above.

One gracious individual asks for dialogue between myself and my adversaries but I suggest that he contact Dr. Tour directly and provide his contact details (and illustrious credentials). At this stage I deduced that no meaningful dialogue was really possible as the responses from my principal adversary strongly suggested that he did not look at the counter evidence ( a very common problem unfortunately) as presented in the thread.

I present a paper which discusses the concept of Specified Complexity, which offers a much better fit of the proposed relationships between organisms, and which is not predicated upon the assumption of common descent.

My adversaries fail to see the relevance of the work and accuse me of ” not knowing what I’m talking about.”

I ignore these ad hominem attacks on me and proceed to the conclusions of my “campaign.”

I present evidence(October 2018) that M Dwarfs, which comprise some 80 per cent of all stellar real estate in the Universe are very unlikely to support planets capable of harbouring life owing to their frequent flaring events, not to mention tidal locking of planets within their putative habitable zones:

 

At this stage I inform readers that the scientist who first brought the “Hand of God phenomenon” (the very phrase used by Dr. Richert in his December 12 2018 Nature Communications paper) in prebiotic chemical synthesis to the attention of the wider scientific community was Dr. Fazale Rana, staff biochemist with Reasons to Believe (www.reasons.org). Dr. Rana actually anticipated the admissions of both Dr. Tour and Dr. Richert in his 2011 book; Creating Life In the Lab.

More on this here: https://www.youtube….ZgO-sEw&t=1098s

 

I respond to one post (# 103) of this thread, where the poster presented work by Dr. Jack Szostak(Harvard University).

“It must be noted that some of Szostak’s claims of RNA self replication were retracted owing to the inability of his colleagues to reproduce the work.

Source: https://www.nature.c…UVvR6XRR1ibSn0=

In an interview Szostak said, “we were totally blinded by our belief [in our findings]…we were not as careful or rigorous as we should have been…”

Source:https://retractionwa…nal/#more-52894

Another 2009 paper by Szostak et al was similarly retracted.

My adversaries also seem singularly ignorant of my own scientific criticism of Szostak’s work in the same video sequence which I presented here and here.

I point out that in light of the gross negligence in accountability of origin of life research protocols and the “Hand of God phenomenon(read cheating)” that occurs in prebiotic research that Dr. Tour calls for a moratorium on such research.

One responder asks what the relevance of all my posts is.

I did not respond, as I deemed the string of posts as being logically consistent with the matter in hand. It was just another attempt at provocation but I did say this:

“I would suggest you speak with Dr. Tour on these matters. He is better qualified than I to elaborate on this and I’m not here to discuss details. But what I will say is the popular science/astronomy magazine articles and their editorial teams should stop flogging lies to the general public, who have swallowed this claptrap hook line and sinker, based on their pagan ideologies.”

Finally I presented a summary of what science actually tells us about life on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe by Dr Tour himself:

“Life should not exist. This much we know from chemistry. In contrast to the ubiquity of life on earth, the lifelessness of other planets makes far better chemical sense……….We synthetic chemists should state the obvious. The appearance of life on earth is a mystery. We are nowhere near solving this problem. The proposals offered thus far to explain life’s origin make no scientific sense.

Beyond our planet, all the others that have been probed are lifeless, a result in accord with our chemical expectations. The laws of physics and chemistry’s Periodic Table are universal, suggesting that life based upon amino acids, nucleotides, saccharides and lipids is an anomaly. Life should not exist anywhere in our universe. Life should not even exist on the surface of the earth.”

Source: https://inference-re…o-my-colleagues

At this point, the forum moderator, clearly incensed by these comments, blocks my further participation in the thread. The author acknowledges this as a flagrant violation of free speech but does not protest.

I would submit to the reader that what is presented above is actually the most accurate and up-to-date scientific assessment of the phenomon of life and whether it can emerge on other planets. It is at direct odds with the prevailing notion among science journalists and the general public, who, by and large, lack any scientific training on this matter. Doubtless the pagan media will continue to peddle lies to a naive readership. So be on your guard!

This is the position I hold to as of late January 2019

I mentioned that this campaign was a source of “great non-personal success.” This is evidenced by the large increases (up to ten fold) of the number of “likes” received from the viewing public to the youtube clips presented in the short time since they were posted. Hitting the “like” button helps to increase the profile of these presentations, allowing more people to find and share them with their friends.

Lies need to be exposed; as St. Paul declares:

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.

Ephesians 5:11

 

Dr. Neil English maintains a keen interest in origin of life research and is deeply sceptical of the evolutionary paradigm.

If you like this work and wish to support the author, please consider buying a copy of his latest book, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, which touches on such issues here and there, newly published by Springer Nature.

 

 

De Fideli.

Living without Lasers

Collimation tools; from left right: a SkyWatcher Next Generation laser collimator, a collimation cap, a well made Cheshire eyepiece and a Baader lasercolli Mark III.

 

It is undoubtedly true that by far the most prevalent reason why so many amateurs have dissed Newtonian reflectors in the past boils down to poorly collimated ‘scopes which lead to less than inspiring images. The amateur who pays close attention to accurate collimation will however discover the solid virtues of these marvellous telescopes and will soon forget the bad experiences of the past.

I’ve noticed a trend over the last few decades, where more and more amateurs have become lazy and impatient. They want instant gratification. This is one of the main reasons why many have turned to hassle-free instruments such as small refractors and Maksutov Cassegrains. It’s an entirely understandable trend, but in other ways it is lamentable. One of the downsides of this trend is that amateurs have become less concerned with learning practical optics, deferring instead to higher tech ways of obtaining optimal results in the field. One such technology is the laser collimator; a very useful device that has made accurate collimation far less of a chore than it was just a few decades ago. But while many have defaulted to using such tools as labour-saving devices, they have, at best, become less familiar, or at worst, all but forgotten the traditional tools used in the alignment of  telescope optics; tools such as the collimation cap and the Cheshire eyepiece, and in so doing have less and less understanding of how their telescopes actually work.

The desire for super-accurate collimation has undoutedly been fuelled by the advent of faster optical systems; often supporting sub-f/5 primaries. Once, the traditional Newtonian was almost invariably made with higher f ratios:- F/7 to f/10 and beyond, and requiring very little in the way of maintenance. This is abundantly evidenced by the scant attention astronomy authors of the past gave to such pursuits. In contrast, modern Newtonians are usually f/6 or faster, necessitating much greater attention to accurate optical collimation if excellent results are to be consistently attained during field use.

In my chosen passtime of double star observing, I have acknowledged the need for accurate collimation. Such work often requires very high magnifications; up to and in excess of 50x per inch of aperture, to prize apart close double stars, some of which are below 1 arc second in angular separation. At such high powers, sub-standard collimation results in distorted images of stellar Airy disks, and that’s something that I’m not willing to put up with. In this capacity, I have tested a number of collimaton techniques using a few different laser collimating devices but have also spent quite a lot of time comparing such methods to more traditional techniques involviing the tried and trusted collimation cap and Cheshire eyepiece.

To begin with, it is important to stress that the methods covered in this blog can be achieved easily with a little practice, and I will gladly defer to recognised authorities in the art of Newtonian collimation, such as the late Nils Olif Carlin and Gary Seronik, who have done much to dispel the potentially stressful aspects of telescope collimation. Nothing I will reveal here goes beyond or challenges anything they have already said. My goal is to reassure amateurs that one can happily live without lasers, especially if your Netwonians are of the f/5 or f/6 variety.

Many of the entry-level laser collimators often manifest some issues; partcularly if they are not collimated prior to use. Thankfully, the inexpensive SkyWatcher Next Generation that I have used for a few years did come reasonably well collimated, but others have not been so fortunate. One easy way to see if your laser collimator needs collimating is to place it in the focuser of the telescope and rotate it, examining the behaviour of the beam on the primary. If the beam does not stay in place, but traces out a large annulus, you will have issues and will need to properly collimate the laser. This is not particularly difficult to do and many resources are available on line to help you grapple with this problem. See here and here, for examples.

Of course, you can pay extra for better made laser collimators that are precisely collimated at the factory. Units that have received very good feedback from customers include systems manufactured by Hotech, AstroSystems and Howie Glatter. Some of these are quite expensive in relative terms but many amateurs are willing to shell out for them because they deliver consistently good results. My own journey took me in a different direction though. Instead of investing in a top-class laser collimator, I re-discovered the virtues of traditional techniques involving the collimation cap and Cheshire eyepiece.

My personal motivation to return to traditional, low-tech tools was stoked more from a desire to understand Newtonian telescopes more than anything else. Any ole eejit can use a laser collimator but it deprives you of attaining a deep understanding of how Newtonians operate. In addition, I have frequently found myself dismantling whole ‘scopes in order to get at the mirrors to give them a good clean and this meant I had to learn how to put them back together from scratch. The simpe collimation cap has been found to be an indispensable tool in this regard, allowing one to rapidly centre the secondary mirror in the shadow of the primary.

Singing the virtues of simple tools, such as the tried and trsuted collimation cap.

 

Using just this tool, I’ve been able to set up all my Newtonians rapidly to achieve good results from the get go, at both low amd medium powers more or less routinely.

For the highest power applications  more accuracy is required and I have personally found that a quality Cheshire eyepiece to be more than sufficient to accurately align the optics in just a few minutes. Not all Cheshires are created equal though; some are less accurate than others. For my own use, I have settled on a beautifully machined product marketed by First Light Optics here in the UK ( be sure to check out the reviews while you’re at it). For the modest cost of £37, I have acquired a precision tool to take the hassle out of fine adjustment. The unit features a long sight tube with precisely fitted cross hairs that are accurately aligned with the peep hole. It needs no batteries and comes with no instructions but with a little practice, it works brilliantly!

The beautifully machined and adonised Cheshire eyepiece by First Light Optics, UK.

A nicely finished peep hole.

The precisely positioned cross hairs on the under side of the Cheshire.

 

Because all of my Newtonians are of the closed-tube variety, they are robust enough to only require very slight tweaks to the collimation. I would estimate that 80 per cent of the time, it is only the primary mirror that requires adjusting in field use. I have found this overview by AstroBaby to be very useful in regard to using the Cheshire and would recommend it to others.

The Cheshire eyepiece is a joy to use when collimating my 130mm f/5. Because the tube is short, I can access both the primary and secondary Bob’s Knobs screws to whip the whole system into alignment faster than with my laser. With my longer instruments; partcularly my 8″ f/6 and 12″ f/5, collimation using the Cheshire is decidely more challenging as they both have longer tubes. That said, by familiarising one’s self with the directions of motion executed with the three knobs on the primary, one can very quickly achieve precise collimation. One useful tip is to number the knobs individually so that you can dispense with the guesswork of which knob to reach for to get the requisite adjustment. At dusk, with the telescopes sitting pretty in their lazy suzan cradles, and with the Chesire eyepiece in place in the focuser, I swing the instrument back and forth to alternately view the position of the primary in the eyepiece and the knob(s) I need to turn. Doing this, I get perfect results in just a few minutes; a little longer than can be achieved with a laser, admittedly, but not long enough to render the process exhausting or boring. It’s time well spent.

Know thy Knobs: by spending some time getting to know which directions each of the collimation knobs move the primary mirror, it makes collimation with a Cheshire eyepiece hassle free.

The proof the pudding, of course, is in the eating, and in this capacity, I have found the Cheshire to achieve very accurate results each time, every time. Indeed, it has made my laser collimator blush on more than a few occasions, where high power star tests and images of close double stars reveal that the laser was out a little, requiring a collimation tweak under the stars. Indeed, the Chesire is so accurate that it has become my reference method to assess the efficacy of all the laser collimators I’ve had the pleasure of testing.

While I fully acknowledge the utility of good laser collimators, I get much more of a kick out of seeing, with my own eyes, how all the optical components of the Newtonian fall into place using the Cheshire. Furthermore, the fact that it requires no batteries (and so no issues with the unit failing in the field for lack of power, as has happened to me on more than a few occasions), deeply appeals to my longing for low-tech simplicity in all things astronomical. The fact that the aforementioned amateurs also recommend the Cheshire as an accurate tool for collimating a Newtonian makes it all the more appealing.

Having said all this, the utility of a Cheshire eyepiece lessens as the f ratio of your telescope gets smaller, so much so that for f/4 ‘scopes ar faster, the laser technique will, almost certainly, yield more accurate results. But that’s OK. We are blessed in this day and age with many good tools that can make Newtonian optics shine!

 

Note added in proof: August 14 2018

A really good laser collimator: the Hotech SCA, which can be used with both 1.25″ and 2″ focusers and comes in a very attractive little box with straightforward instructions on how to use it. You will still need the collimation cap to centre the secondary though.

 

If you do decide that you don’t like using a good Chesire eyepiece for precise collimation of your Newtonian reflectors, then I would highly recommend the Hotech SCA laser collimator. It’s an ingenious device (but costs significantly more than a regular laser collimator), but in this case you really do get what you pay for. I have tested the device on all three of my Newtonians and it gives accurate and reproducible results that agree perfectly with the Chesire. It yields perfect star tests at appropriately high powers (I’d recommend a magnification roughly equal to the diameter of your mirror in millimetres for such field tests) both in focus and defocused. I’d go for it if you can afford it. You will still need the collimation cap to centre the secondary before use however. See here and here for more details.

Neil English is author of Choosing and Using a Dobsonian Telescope.

 

 

De Fideli.

Pulcherrima!

Beauty and the beast: my 130mm f/5 Newtonian versus a 90mm f/5.5 ED refractor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date: Wednesday March 28 2018

Time: 22:00UT

Temperature: −2C

Seeing: III, bright gibbous Moon, small amounts of cloud cover in an otherwise clear sky.

It is often claimed that refractors give more aesthetically pleasing images of celestial objects than reflectors. But how true is this statement? Last night, I learned yet another instructive lesson that shatters this myth once and for all.

Earlier in the evening, I fielded my 8″ f/6 Newtonian against a very good 90mm f/5.5 ED apochromat. The target was Theta Aurigae, then sinking into the western sky and so past its best position for observing. Seeing was only average. Both telescopes had been fielded about 90 minutes earlier with the optics capped, so both were completely acclimated. I charged the apochromat with a 2.4mm Vixen HR eyepiece yielding 208x. The 8 inch Newtonian was charged with a 6mm Baader orthoscopic ocular delivering 200x.

Examining the system in the 8 inch reflector showed the primary star as a slightly swollen Airy disk but the faint companion was clearly visible. In contrast, the view through the 90mm refractor showed a less disturbed primary but the secondary(for the most part) couldn’t be seen!

Question: How can an image be deemed more aesthetically pleasing when a prime target (the secondary) in that said image can plainly be seen in one instrument and not in the other?

Date: Thursday March 29 2018

Time: 00:05 UT

Temperture:−3C

Seeing; II/III, slight improvement from earlier, otherwise very similar.

Later the same night, I fielded my 130mm F/5 Newtonian along side the 90mm refractor and  turned my attention to a spring favourite; Epsilon Bootis, now rising higher in the eastern sky.

This time, I charged the refractor with a 2.0mm Vixen HR eyepiece yielding 250x. The Newtonian was fitted with a Parks Gold 7.5mm eyepiece coupled to a Meade 3x Barlow lens giving a power of 260x.  Examining the system, I was quite shocked by the difference between the images; the refractor did show a dull, greenish companion but it was entangled in the diffraction gunk from the orange primary. What’s more, the entire system was surrounded by chromatic fog owing to the imperfect colour correction of the refractor (an FPL 51 doublet). In contrast, the 130mm f/5 Newtonian image was far superior in every way; the Airy disks were smaller, tighter and more cleanly separated, and with zero chromatic fog to be seen. The Newtonian image remained just as stable as in the refractor image throughout the observation! The components also displayed their pure colours (as only a reflector can yield); the primary orange and the secondary, blue. In a phrase, the differences between the images was like night and day!

Conclusions: The 130mm Newtonian provided a much more aesthetically pleasing image than the refractor, which was compromised by its smaller aperture and less than perfect colour correction. As a small portable telescope, the Newtonian is far more powerful and is capable of delivering images that are simply in a different league to the refractor.

ED 90 Refractor: Proxime accessit.

130mm f/5 Newtonian(Plotina): Victrix/Pulcherrima!

 

Postscriptum: As always, I would encourage others to test these claims. Truth matters.

 

 

Neil English is author of Grab ‘n’ Go Astronomy.

 

De Fideli.

 

 

The War on Truth: The Trouble with Astronomy Journalism.

A product of an overactive imagination? Artist’s impression of an alien Dyson Sphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For this is what the Lord says—
he who created the heavens,
    he is God;
he who fashioned and made the earth,
    he founded it;
he did not create it to be empty,
    but formed it to be inhabited—
he says:
“I am the Lord,
    and there is no other.

                                                       Isaiah 45:18

“Life should not exist. This much we know from chemistry. In contrast to the ubiquity of life on earth, the lifelessness of other planets makes far better chemical sense.” So wrote Jim Tour, W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Computer Science, and Professor of Materials Science and Nano Engineering at Rice University in a recent publication. Tour has been rated as one of the top ten chemists in the world at the moment and is very likely to become a Nobel Laureate for his ground–breaking work in synthetic organic chemistry.

All the while, when one reads popular news articles on the question of life on other planets the standard response is, “there must certainly exist life on other worlds…the odds stacked against it are astronomical.” Of course, when one examines the credentials of the folk making these claims, one invariably discovers that they have little advanced science training (and that goes for the editors of pretty much all extant astronomy magazines, whether conventional or on the internet). In other cases, we have astronomers making bold claims about life on other worlds but they too raise issues in my mind (they’re not generally trained in the molecular life sciences for one thing). What is more, they wish to promote their own world view; that the Copernican Principle (explained below) applies to all things, life included, and more often than not, to sensationalise a topic that has been known to sell a book or two in the past. In addition, just stating that life may be common in the Universe is sure to boost their chances of securing additional research funding too.

How are we to arrive at the truth of these opposing views? For me, I would always default to the true experts in the field, and in this particular case, this means siding with the folks who actually know what is entailed from a chemical standpoint. In another highly informative essay, Professor Tour continues;

“Life requires carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins. What is the chemistry behind their origin? Biologists seem to think that there are well-understood prebiotic molecular mechanisms for their synthesis. They have been grossly misinformed. And no wonder: few biologists have ever synthesized a complex molecule ab initio. If they need a molecule, they purchase molecular synthesis kits, which are, of course, designed by synthetic chemists, and which feature simplistic protocols.

Polysaccharides? Their origin?

The synthetic chemists do not have a pathway.

The biologists do not have a clue.”

 

Did you read that? Tour claims the biologists don’t have a clue! He’s correct, of course, since few biologists have a working understanding of advanced chemistry (or physics for that matter) and yet there is never a mention of Dr. Tour’s cautionary take on whether or not life is to be expected on other planets in any popularised narratives on the topic of extra–terrestrial life. They simply don’t want to know!

What the public invariably gets is naturalistic propaganda and not a true education.

Tour’s timely communications dovetail very nicely with other calls for restraint from within the Christian community. Drs. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, of Reasons to Believe, produced a ground–breaking work, “Origins of Life: Evolutionary and Biblical Models Faceoff, in which they pointed out the biggest criticism of the validity of prebiotic chemistry to chemical evolution was the scientists’ own data! Put simply, in perusing the materials & methods section of their peer reviewed scientific papers, they were able to show that pretty much every step the chemists make in creating a biologically relevant molecule was itself the product of intelligent design; the reactants were bought in in highly purified states, protected in highly specific environments (buffers and solvents), with particular pH values and optimal temperature regimes, the products carefully selected by stopping and starting reactions and isolating potential inhibitors to these reactions. Interestingly, the leading authorities in prebiotic chemistry have acknowledged these claims as valid. And yet, if you were to pick up the latest issue of a monthly astronomy magazine or online space science article, there is never any mention of these important criticisms. The public, once again, are left none the wiser. You see, one has to find stuff like this.

All this leads to a rather shocking conclusion; it is scientifically naïve to expect life to exist on other planets without the intervention of an intelligent agency being involved.

                                   Questioning Evolutionary Assumptions

The general public are used to having Darwinian evolution shoved down their throat, as if it were a science as towering and self–confident as chemistry or physics. But very few of the general public understand that, of all the sciences, it is Darwinian evolution that generates perhaps the greatest number of sceptics. While some scientists have rejected evolutionary theory having studied it to an advanced level, most critics of Darwinism come from outside the field; not surprisingly from physical scientists, engineers and the like. They point out that the origins of life are not at all understood and that the fossil record is woefully incomplete and has more to do with guesswork than anything else. A growing armada of scientists now accept that Darwinian evolution is not fit for purpose in this age of rapid scientific progress. And these doubts weigh heavily on the debate of whether or not life is common in the Universe. But there’s more.

Over the last quarter of a century, whole teams of scientists have pushed back the date to the likely origin of life to just a few hundred million years or less, from the formation of the Earth. What is more, studies on microfossils discovered within the Earth’s most ancient rocks, as well as state of the art chemical analyses of the various biomarkers within these structures show that as soon as life took hold on Earth, it was already biochemically sophisticated and extraordinarily diverse. While some journalists have used these emerging facts as ‘evidence’ that the origin of life must be easy from a naturalistic point of view, they refuse to consider another, and far more pressing point: the fact that life very likely began complex; both structurally and biochemically, it could not have evolved in the sense conveyed by contemporary evolutionists. But, yet again, there is no mention of these important developments in the popular literature. One magazine editor I approached about this issue sent me this clip as “evidence for evolution.” After enjoying a good giggle, this author duly responded by asserting that this was not science at all but pure fiction! So, what’s going on?

                                         Sweeping under the Carpet

One could pretend that contemporary biological science might be likened to the status of physics in the late nineteenth century, but it’s actually a lot worse than that. There’s a distinct chance that we will never discover the secret of life. You see, living things are mind bogglingly complex. Nobody understands them! What is clear is that the Darwinian status quo cannot continue to exist for much longer. A new paradigm is clearly required to advance the biological sciences. Many scientists now consider information to be at the centre of this potentially revolutionary era in biology.

                                           Challenging the Copernican Principle

The Copernican principle, stated simply, is that the Earth and its constituents does not hold any privileged position in the grand scheme of things and that everything we observe will have its analogues on other worlds. Back in 2000 though, palaeontologist, Peter Ward, and astronomer, Donald Brownlee, published a highly influential book, Rare Earth; why Complex Life may be Uncommon in the Universe, in which they set forth compelling evidence that although microbial life might be common, complex multicellular life ought to be far rarer than anyone had anticipated. Since then however, other excellent books have emerged including John Gribbin’s Alone in the Universe; Why our Planet is Unique (2011) and more recently still, Hugh Ross’ technically excellent tome, Improbable Planet (2016), in which they make the case that the Earth has many features that appear uniquely suited to supporting complex lifeforms. And to top it all, Professor Brian Cox, in his BBC production: Human Universe, also explains why humans are likely the only advanced lifeforms in the entire cosmos. And yet, despite the soundness of their arguments, it is rare (if at all) that the mainstream media will ever present this picture, simply because they run the risk of possibly alienating their readers. Instead, they peddle the same old mantra of life being common in the Universe. But what does the emerging scientific picture attest to?

To date, several thousand exoplanets (worlds orbiting other stars) have been characterised and while some have earth–sized planets, it is quite a leap of faith to conclude that they are habitable. Most commonly, the reporters make the point that the planet in question lies in that narrow annulus around its parent star, where liquid water could potentially be stable (the so–called habitable zone). But this is a far cry from making a planet habitable. And yet all the while, performing a google search of an article on exoplanets within their habitable zones invariably brings up images of fictional worlds graced with blue water oceans, white clouds and conveniently placed continents; figments of someone’s overactive imagination no doubt. Ross’ work in particular has also identified not one habitable zone, where liquid water could remain stable for long periods, but several other conditions that must be present if complex animal life is to be maintained over periods of several billion years.

Collectively, these new habitable zones include;

Water habitable zone

Ultraviolet habitable zone

Photosynthetic habitable zone

Ozone habitable zone

Planetary rotation rate habitable zone

Planetary obliquity habitable zone

Tidal habitable zone

Astrosphere habitable zone

 

All of these must overlap for a planet to sustain complex life over billions of years. Thus, seen in this light, it is highly probable that an Earth–like world is either extraordinarily rare or even unique, even in a cosmos containing quadrillions of planets. But you’d never hear that from the purveyors of methodological naturalism. In addition, a recent study suggests that the cosmos is poor in the vital element, phosphorus, making life on other planets that much more unlikely.

                                                   Stagnating Real Science

Taken together, these simple points paint an entirely different picture of what we should expect in searching for life on other worlds. Late in 2018, NASA will launch their giant infrared space telescope, the greatly anticipated James Webb, which will have the technology to chemically characterise the atmospheres of many exoplanets discovered to date. Will they find the signatures of life? Personally, I’m sceptical, given the truth about what we have thus far discovered about life on our own planet. But in the meantime, it would be fruitful for science writers reporting on such matters to present a more balanced case, both for and against such claims. Maybe then, they’ll be a bit more cautious about entertaining such fantastic objects as Dyson Spheres (KIC 8462852) and visiting inter–stellar spacecraft (Oumuamua). The industry owes that to its readers.

 An Aside:   A Christian Perspective on Extra—terrestrial Intelligence

As both a Christian and a scientist, I have thought deeply about such questions and have reached some working conclusions to help me grapple with these thought provoking concepts. As a scientist, I am sceptical of the evolutionary paradigm (though some Christians appear to accept it) as it has little in the way of explanatory power. Furthermore, I believe it to be an evil ideology that seeks to turn people away from the true God. The fact that we have not detected signs of advanced alien lifeforms despite having searched the heavens for over a half a century affirms my belief that Darwinian evolution is bogus; life must come from a mind and must be created for some specified purpose. But there is also a number of theological reasons why I think life is either extraordinarily rare or unique to Earth. This view has been shaped by a prolonged study of the Bible. It may surprise the reader that the vast majority of people who profess to be Christians have not read the Bible through, from cover to cover, even once, and so may not have developed the nuanced argument quite like the one I wish to present here.

The first point I’d like to make is that the Biblical God appeared in human form in the character of Jesus of Nazareth.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

The New Testament states in multiple places that Jesus “died once for all” (see Romans 6:10 for an example). This suggests that Jesus came to redeem sinful humans and not other creatures. Humans are the only creatures that God came to redeem.

The next point is that the Bible makes it crystal clear that the only deity we will see in heaven is Christ;

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

Thirdly, the Bible seems very clear about where the Lord, the Creator of the Universe, will establish His throne; in Jerusalem, before He brings this Universe to an end;

At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.

Jeremiah 3:17

Fourthly, the Bible informs us that the Universe will be consumed in fire:

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Peter 3:7

So, it would be unjust of God to destroy other putative lifeforms elsewhere in the Universe for mankind’s rebellion. And since God is completely just and holy, He would not cause other parts of His creation to suffer needlessly. That would make Him a monster.

Finally, the Bible speaks of Christ as a “bridegroom” and His church a “bride”;

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
 it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

                                                                                                Revelation 19:6-8

Here we have a fidelity issue. Time and time again through the pages of Scripture, the Lord condemns infidelity and encourages faithfulness to one wife or husband. Thus, if the church is to be considered as the ‘bride of Christ’, then the ‘bridegroom’ ought to be faithful and not seek or acquire ‘other brides’ elsewhere in the cosmos. After all, God is not a polygamist! Shouldn’t loyalty be reciprocal, working both ways?

For these and other reasons, the uniqueness of humankind as imagers of God (see Genesis 1:27) makes it very difficult to envision other creatures on par or superior to humans in the physical Universe (though it does not rule out the possibility that he created lesser creatures). We are either the crown of His creation or we are not (see Hebrews 2:7). That’s not to say that God did not create other forms of sentient beings; consider the Angelic realm, for example.

Seen in this way, the alarming degree to wish people will go to wish their sovereignty away deeply concerns me. It strikes me as an elaborate, postmodern manifestation of paganism; a grandiose scientistic delusion. I worry that God will disown them, just as they have disowned Him. Naturalistic science serves to undermine mankind’s significance by turning him into a ‘highly evolved animal’, distinguished only in degree from the rest of the animal kingdom. I believe this to be demonstrably false and envision the next decade or so as continuing to affirm our uniqueness in this vast cosmos in which we ‘serendipitously’ find ourselves in.

Return to the Lord and serve Him with all your heart, soul, mind and spirit before it’s too late.

 

Dr. Neil English, who was trained in both the biological and physical sciences, is author of several books on amateur astronomy and space science. His new book; Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, will be published later this year.

 

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.

Questioning Culture: Small Refractor Onlyism

Why should refractors dominate small telescope culture?

Why should refractors dominate grab ‘n’ go astronomical culture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.

From Walden by H. D. Thoreau (1854).

There has never been a better time to choose a small telescope for travel and leisure; short tube refractors have proven especially popular in this regard owing to their compact size, clean optics, and in their ED glass incarnations especially, can be used at high and low powers. But even though they are capable instruments, their high cost for a relatively small aperture has fuelled optical designers to seek more economical designs that can compare well with them. I’m thinking of course of the venerable catadioptric telescope – usually in the form of the Schmidt- and Maksutov Cassegrains. The Celestron C5 and the excellent 90, 102 and 127mm Maks are deservedly popular in this regard but their longer focal lengths in comparison to a refractor make them slightly less versatile and their fairly large central obstructions cut down on micro contrast on tough targets like the Moon and planets. But is that the end of the matter? Certainly not!

The deeply dishy Meniscus lens on the the 90mm SkyWatcher Maksutov.

The deeply dishy Meniscus lens on the the 90mm SkyWatcher Maksutov.

Ask a typical amateur why they like small refractors and they’ll usually list a number of attributes. They have low mass, allowing them to be mounted on lightweight tripods and mounts. Because they cool off quickly, their owners can engage with the night sky in typically no more than ten or 15 minutes. Short cool down times is widely cited as one of the main reasons why so many aspire to owning one over the aforementioned catadioptrics, the closed tube optics of which take significantly longer times to effectively acclimate. With their retractable dew shields and the ability to have their diagonals removed, apertures in the 60-90mm range are airline portable, allowing users to enjoy a decent level of performance in foreign climes.

But in the last few years, a new breed of ultra-portable Newtonians have been brought to market that completely open up the choices now available to the savvy amateur astronomer, and dare I say may even prove more versatile and desirable than the small refractor that has dominated this niche for the last two decades. I am thinking especially of the new line of mini Dobsonians offered by companies like SkyWatcher and Orion USA. To get decent performance on the range of objects catered for by small refractors, you’ll probably need to consider a minimum aperture of 4 inches (102mm). In this capacity, both these companies now offer high quality Newtonian optics with f/4 parabolic primary mirrors. One can pick up such a model in the UK for £89 plus shipping. Installation is easy: attach the finder, pop in an eyepiece, and you can be viewing the heavens in moments.

The SkyWatcher Heritage 100P Mini Dobsonian.

The SkyWatcher Heritage 100P Mini Dobsonian.

Tipping the scales at just 2.8 kilos (6.2 pounds) including the wooden mount, it’s small mirror will cool off super quick and you can be enjoying the night sky in no time at all. Users report good optics both at low and moderate power (up to 120x or so), so that you enjoy wide field views of deep sky objects and decent views of the vast lunar regolith and the brighter planets. Such a telescope would probably compare well with a 60 or 70mm refractor. The SkyWatcher 100P mini Dob model is showcased in this link.

To match or exceed the performance of a larger 80mm or 90mm refractor you need to increase the aperture of the Newtonian by a significant amount. And while this usually entails comprising on portability, it ain’t necessarily so. Enter the SkyWatcher Heritage 130P; a wonderful, collapsible Newtonian telescope, complete with a well-constructed lazy Susan Dobsonian mount, and all for a very modest price tag (£129 in the UK). It meets or exceeds all the usual requirements for airline portability, its upper tube assembly sliding inwards to shorten the OTA to just 38cm. It can be used with a variety of mounts too, just like a small refractor. It cools off rapidly and is capable of both low and high power applications. Out of the box, it has a smaller (29 per cent)  central obstruction than a SCT or typical Maksutov – important for good lunar and planetary images. Furthermore, as highlighted in the link above, the  telescope can be modified in a number of ways that would further improve its performance.

Though I cannot vouch for the optics, readers from Canada and the United States will note that there seems to exist a very highly thought of incarnation of this telescope supplied by Astronomers Without Borders (make sure to view the 9 minute youtube video by scrolling down this page). You can also read through the 100,000 + hits this telescope has thus far received on Cloudy Nights. This truly is Something for Nothing!

Plotina, my superlative 5.1" (130mm) f/5 ultra-portable Newtonian.

Plotina, my superlative 5.1″ (130mm) f/5 ultra-portable Newtonian.

My own tests during daylight show that the images remain razor sharp up to 366x, all thanks to a very well figured, and fully collimatable f/5 parabolic primary mirror. In extensive testing against a 90mm f/5.5 apochromatic refractor costing nearer £900, the instrument outperformed it on just about every target. To elaborate, it showed a little more detail on Jupiter, better and deeper views of celebrated deep sky objects such as M35, the Great Orion Nebula, the Double Cluster and the Pleiades, among many others. The telescope showed me clean, well resolved views of iota Cassiopeiae, eta Orionis and theta Aurigae; systems that can sometimes prove challenging for a 3- or 4–inch refractor. Lunar vistas are stunning at all reasonable magnifications.

Interestingly, enterprising companies like Kasai Trading Company Ltd, Japan, have gone a stage further to offer premium quality 6-and 8-inch Newtonians (at f/5) in an ultra-low mass format for travel. These have the potential to completely re-define what it is to do grab ‘n’ go astronomy. And while more expensive than mass-produced models, they still offer considerably more bang for the buck than small refractors.

That a Newtonian could meet or exceed the usual requirements cited by amateurs as being important for both grab ‘n’ go and travel came as a great surprise to me, but it is true. Sure, small refractor enthusiasts will cite other, more subjective reasons for choosing a smaller glass over a larger speculum. For example, “The refractor gives purer details in the image.” Yet, having enjoyed many hours of viewing with an excellent 8–inch for a whole year and more recently with the aforementioned 5.1 inch (130mm) Newtonian, I am not at all sure what they mean and would only ask; how can one claim the image shows purer details when one can’t even see them in the smaller glass? “The colours are purer in a refractor,” they claim, evidently unaware that even the best corrected telescopes in this genre can only approximate the true achromaticity of a reflector image. Or, “I like the aesthetics of a fine refractor tube.” Well, one will soon forget what a telescope looks like when one peers through the eyepiece. Some folk don’t like diffraction spikes. I understand that, but having once been steeply immersed in small refractor culture for quite some time, I feel that this is something that is easily surmountable and can be quickly ignored or unlearned, as it were. What counts are the details presented in those images.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m as much a refractor fan as the next guy, but nowadays there is no compelling reason to adopt small refractor ‘onlyism’ if all one wishes to do is grab ‘n’ go astronomy. And having that choice is surely a good thing.

Dr. Neil English is author of Grab ‘n’ Go Astronomy.

De Fideli

Planetary Telescopes.

The author's plnetary telescope; a 8 inch f/6 Newtonian reffector.

The author’s planetary telescope; a 8 inch f/6 Newtonian Reflector.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have:

Deuteronomy 25:15

Comments on planetary telescopes by established authorities** in the field over the last 130 years.

As a really efficient tool for systematic work on planets, telescopes of about 8 inch aperture cannot be surpassed. It is useless waiting for the two or three serene nights in a year when the whole diameter of a big instrument is available to really good effect. Amateurs urgently require the appliances most efficient under ordinary conditions and they will find a larger aperture of little avail until it is much reduced by a system of gagging and robbed of that very advantage which is extolled so much; namely grasp of light. The 18.5 inch equatorial of the Dearborn Observatory cost £3700, the great Washington refractor £9000, the great Melbourne Cassegrainean (reflector) of 4 feet aperture cost £14,600, and at first it would appear preposterous that a good 8.5 inch With or Calver mirror, that can be purchased for some £30 will effectively rival these expensive and elaborate instruments. Many people would consider that in any crucial tests the smaller instrument would be utterly snuffed out: but such an idea is entirely erroneous. What the minor telescope lacks in point of light it gains in definition. When the seeing is good in a large aperture, it is superlative in a small one. When unusually high powers can be employed on the former, far higher ones proportionally can be used with the latter. We naturally expect that very fine telescopes, upon which so much labour and expense have been lavished, should reveal far more detail than in moderate apertures, but when we come to analyze the results it is obvious such an anticipation is far from being realized.

From W.F. Denning’s, The Defining Powers of Telescopes, Anno Domini 1885.

The planet looks as if cut out of paper and pasted on [the] background of sky. It is perfectly hard and sharp with no softening of edges. The outline and general definition are much superior to that of a refracting telescope.

E.E. Barnard comparing the views of Saturn seen with the newly erected 60-inch reflector atop Mount Wilson, with the 36-inch Lick Refractor, Anno Domini 1908

Source: Sheehan, W. The Immortal Fire Within: The Life and Work of Edward Emerson Barnard, Cambridge University Press, pp 398. Anno Domini 2007.

Although something worth recording may be seen even with a 3-inch, the intending student of Jupiter should have available a telescope of not less than 6 inches aperture. With such an instrument a great deal of first-class systematic work can be accomplished and only the smallest of the really important markings will be beyond its reach; indeed, until only a year or two before his death Stanley Williams made all his invaluable observations with a 6-inch reflector. An 8-inch is probably adequate for all purposes; a 12-inch certainly is. The bulk of the author’s work has been done with a 12-inch reflector; and although it would not be true to say that he has never yearned for something larger when definition was superb, the gain would have been mainly aesthetic and he has never felt that anything important was being missed owing to the inadequacy of his equipment.

Peek, B.M., The Planet Jupiter:The Observer’s Handbook, Faber, pp 36-37, Anno Domini 1981.

If the aperture exceeds about 12 inches , the atmosphere will seldom allow the full aperture to be used……..Direct comparisons of performance on different occasions have revealed an 8-in refractor showing more than a 36-in reflector; an 11-in refractor surpassing a 12-in reflector; canali invisible in the Greenwich 28-in stopped down to 20 ins, but visible in an 8-inch by T.E.R. Philips; apertures less than 20 ins showing more than the Yerkes 40-in stopped to 30 ins.

From Mars by J.B Sidgwick, Observational Astronomy for Amateurs, (pp 118) Anno Domini 1971.

One of the greatest Jupiter observers, Stanley Williams, used only a 6-inch reflector, but most serious students of the planet now would look for at least an 8-inch, although a good 5-inch OG can reveal surprising detail. This is not the place to debate the relative performance of refractors and reflectors, but good resolution, high contrast and faithful colour rendition are essential. A good long focal ratio Newtonian , a Maksutov, or an apochromatic refractor is probably the best but, as in every field, the quality of the observer is the most important factor, and good results can be obtained with any reasonable instrument.

Moseley T., from the chapter on Jupiter in The Observational Amateur Astronomer, (Moore, P. ed), Springer, pp95, Anno Domini 1995.

To recapitulate: Mars is not an easy target. Because the disc is generally small, it is essential to use a fairly high power telescope if it is hoped to see anything except for the most prominent features. Of course a small telescope such as a 7.6cm refractor or a 15cm reflector will show something under good conditions, but for more detailed work a larger aperture is needed. A 20cm telescope is about the minimum for a reflector; I would not personally be happy with anything below 20cm, though opinions differ, and no doubt observers more keen sighted than I am will disagree.

Moore, P., from the chapter on Mars in The Observational Amateur Astronomer, (Moore, P. ed), Springer, pp78, Anno Domini 1995.

A 3-inch refractor with a magnification of around 50x will show the planet and its ring system, but an aperture of no less than 6-inches is needed for observations to be of value; ideally one should aim for an aperture of at least this size – the larger the better. It has been claimed that the best magnification for planetary observation is about equal to the diameter of the object glass or mirror in millimetres. To see the fine details of Saturn’s belts and ring structure, a magnification of 150x to 300x is necessary, and therefore, according to the above rule, telescopes of 150mm or more are clearly required.

Heath, A.W., from a chapter on Saturn in:The Observational Amateur Astronomer, (Moore, P. ed), Springer, pp113, Anno Domini 1995.

Seeing varies from 0.5 arc seconds on an excellent night at a world class observatory site to 10 arc seconds on the worst nights. On nights of poor visibility, it’s hardly worth observing the Moon with anything but the lowest powers, since turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere will make the lunar surface appear to roll and shimmer, rendering any fine detail impossible to discern. For most of us, viewing rarely allows us to resolve lunar detail finer than 1 arc second, regardless of the size of the telescope used, and more often than not a 150mm telescope will show as much detail as a 300mm telescope, which has a light gathering area 4 times as great. It is only on nights of really good visibility that the benefits of the resolving power of large telescopes can be experienced. Unfortunately, such conditions occur all to infrequently for most amateur astronomers.

Grego, P., The Moon and How to Observe It, Springer, pp244, Anno Domini 2005.

As a choice for planetary observations then, there is a lot to be said for the Newtonian reflector in the 6- to 10-inch aperture range.

F.W. Price, The Planet Observer’s Guide (2nd Edition), Cambridge University Press, pp 41. Anno Domini 2000

 

It allowed visual scrutiny with very high magnifications, each time it was necessary.

Adouin Dollfus (2002) in a comment pertaining to the efficacy of the Great Meudon Refractor.

A high quality Newtonian reflector is a very powerful instrument, fully capable of superb performance in viewing the planets, when the optics are kept clean and properly aligned. They have been among the favorite instruments of serious planetary observers for many decades.

Bengton, J.L., Saturn and How to Observe It, Springer, pp57, Anno Domini 2005.

As good as my 6-inch f/9 is, the 8-inch f/6 I built soon after is crushingly superior in virtually every way — including planetary performance. This is something to keep in mind if you’re considering a long-focus Newtonian. A long f-ratio helps, but aperture is much more important. Would an 8-inch f/9 be better than my f/6? Probably. But mounting and using a scope with a tube more than 6 feet long is would be a challenge. And when the aperture gets much bigger, it’s easy to keep the secondary size small without resorting to extremely long focal lengths.

From an article entitled,The Big Red One, Sky&Telescope Associate Editor and veteran ATMer, Gary Seronik, commenting on the superiority of a 8-inch f/6 reflector over an optically superlative 6-inch f/9 reflector ‘Planet Killer,’ Anno Domini 2009.

I was once loaned a 4.5 inch refractor by the British Astronomical Association back in the 1990s; it was an excellent instrument, but the optical tube was longer than me! These days refractors come with much shorter tubes, but at considerable cost and apertures of 5 in., or more, however the cost of smaller refractors have come down in recent years. Although they look splendid, remember it is aperture(size of the telescope) that is the most important. Ideally you should get the largest telescope you can for your money.

Abel, P.G, Visual Lunar and Planetary Astronomy, Springer, pp 13, Anno Domini 2013.

All in all, if you can afford it, and if you have the room to house it in some sort of observatory, I would say go for a Newtonian reflector of 10 inches -14 inches aperture and as large a focal ratio as you can reasonably accommodate…..My second choice would be a 5 inch refractor…..having a focal ratio of f/12……or an ED apochromat ( f/8).

North, G., Observing the Moon, Cambridge University Press, pp 52, Anno Domini 2014

When Mars was closest to the Earth in August 2003, the Macclesfield Astronomical Society held a star party at Jodrell Bank Observatory with quite a number of telescopes set up to observe it. As the evening progressed a consensus arose that two scopes were giving particularly good images; my FS102 4-inch Takahashi Fluorite refractor (at around £3500, or $5000, with its mount) and an 8-inch Newtonian on a simple Dobsonian mount newly bought for just £200($300). I personally preferred the view through the f/6 Newtonian but others thought that the FS102 gave a slightly better image, so we will call it a draw. It is worth discussing why these performed so well and, just as importantly, why perhaps the others did not.

From A Prologue of Two Scopes: Morison, I. An Amateur’s Guide to Observing and Imaging the Heavens, Cambridge University Press, xiii, Anno Domini 2014.

** The author chose these individuals based on both published and unpublished observations of planets available from historical archives and/or books, and having (ostensibly) sustained these observations over many years.

                                   Relevant Physical Principles

 

Resolution:

A telescope of diameter D cuts off a wavefront and blurs a point source to an image size, I,  given by I = lambda/D (radians). This can be converted to arc seconds by multiplying this result by 206265 giving I = (lambda x 206265)”/D.

Making both units of diameter and wavelength (arbitrarily set to 5.50 x 10^-9 m)  the same we obtain:

I = 0.116/D

This is similar to the more familiar Dawes formula (expressed in inches given by 4.56/D)

Thus resolution scales linearly with aperture e.g. a telescope with a diameter of 20cm will have an angular resolution twice that of a 10cm instrument.

Contrast Transfer:

Optical engineer, William Zmek, in the July 1993 issue of Sky&Telescope magazine, analysed the effects of a central obstruction on contrast transfer, arriving at this simple rule:

Contrast Transfer of an Obstructed Telescope = Full Aperture – Aperture of Obstruction.

Consider this author’s chosen planetary telescope, a 203 mm Newtonian with a secondary minor axis of 44mm (22% linearly), the resulting contrast transfer will be the equivalent of a 203-44 = 159mm unobstructed aperture, the effects of the spider vanes being essentially negligible (~1-2 %).

This result has been amply borne out by the author’s extensive field testing.See here for details.

Larger apertures also allow the observer to enjoy a larger exit pupil, which is of paramount importance in studying low contrast details at magnifications typically employed in planetary studies. See this link to see how a consideration of the size of the exit pupil can radically change the direction of a discussion about two very different telescopes.

Light Gathering Power:

Image brightness is proportional to the number of photons collected, which in turn scales as the area of the optical surface. Thus a 20cm telescope collects four times more light than a 10cm, all other things being equal. Refractors, having no central obstruction and multi-coatings applied to the glass surfaces have the greater light transmission. Reflective surfaces exhibit proportionally less transmission to the eye due to less efficient reflection off optical surfaces. In the same article highlighted above, the author described the acquisition of ultra-high reflective coatings (and greatly reduced light scatter) to both mirrors (97 per cent). Thus the overall transmission is (0.97)^2 =0.94 and subtracting the obstructing area of the secondary reduces the overall light gathering power to ~0.9. Compared with an almost perfectly light transmitting refractor object glass, this represents a 10% reduction in light, a value that even a seasoned observer would be hard pressed to see. Thus, the author’s 20cm Newtonian has a broadly equivalent light transmission to an unobstructed refractor of equal aperture.

Atmospheric Turbulence, Seeing Error & Viewing Altitude

The astronomical seeing conditions at a given site can be well described by the so-called Fried parameter r0. We need not wade into the mathematical details to understand the basic ideas behind this model. In this scheme of events the air consists of moving cells which form due to small-scale fluctuations in both the density and temperature above the observer, resulting in the blurring and/or moving of the image. The larger these cells are (which is a measure of r0) the greater the aperture that can be profitably employed. For telescopes with diameters smaller than r0, the resolution is determined primarily by the size of the Airy pattern (which scales as 1/D) and thus is inversely proportional to the telescope diameter. For telescopes with diameters larger than r0, the image resolution appears to be determined primarily by a quantity known as seeing error and scales as (D)^5/6. So, for example, a doubling of aperture results in a 1.78x i.e. (2D)^5/6 increase in seeing error. Interestingly, while the seeing error does scale with aperture, the rate of increase is not nearly as rapid as one might anticipate. This implies that large apertures can work at or near optimally, though maybe not as frequently as smaller apertures.

Reference here.

The best estimates of r0 for typical observing sites used by the amateur astronomers seems to be in the range of 5–20cm (2-8 inches) and generally larger in the better sites at high altitude, where bigger telescopes are pressed into service. Intriguingly, r0 also appears to scale somewhat with wavelength, being as high as 40cm at 900nm(near infrared).

Reference here.

Seeing is also dependent on the altitude of the planet owing to the variation in air mass through which it is viewed. If one observes a planet at the zenith, one looks through 1 air mass. At 30 degrees altitude, the air mass through which the observer views is fully doubled and at 10 degrees altitude it shoots up to 5.6 air masses!

Reference: Morison, I., An Amateur’s Guide to Observing and Imaging the Heavens, Cambridge University Press (2014), pp 22.

In general, a long-held tradition recommends waiting for the planet to rise above 30 degrees altitude to begin to exploit the potential of any given telescope, large or small.

Taken together, these physical parameters can be used to adequately explain all of the aforementioned comments made by celebrated planetary observers over the decades and centuries.

Discussion:

Unbiased testimonies provide a bedrock upon which sound conclusions can be formulated. It is self evident that aperture plays a crucial role in seeing fine detail and it is reassuring that basic optical principles reaffirm this.

The list of British observers quoted above; Denning, North, Moore, Abel, Grego, Heath and Sidgwick etc, highlight the efficacy of moderate but not large apertures in divining fine detail on planets. The consensus appears to be that apertures of between 6 and 10 inches are most efficacious in this regard. This may be explained in terms of the size of the atmospheric cells that move over British skies, which allow telescopes in this aperture range to be exploited. My own discussions with many experienced planetary observers abiding in Britain affirm the truth of this; British skies seem to favour these moderate apertures. It is important to note that this conclusion has little to do with planetary imaging, which often employs significantly larger apertures to excellent effect.

The testimony of Gary Seronik shows that an optimised 6-inch f/9 Newtonian – which presumably would provide views rivaling a 6-inch apochromatic refractor, was comfortably outperfomed by an 8-inch f/6 Newtonian, again confirming the superiority of a little more aperture.

The testimony of E.E Barnard at Mount Wilson and Adouin Dollfus at Meudon shows that larger apertures can be used to much greater effect if seeing conditions allow. Both Meudon and Mount Wilson have enabled telescopes of 30 and 60-inches to be used visually, indicating that the atmosphere can be particularly good there and for long enough periods to permit a meaningful program of visual study.

There evidently exists regions on Earth where the seeing is poor (small r0) for prolonged periods of time, explaining why amateurs in these regions stick to smaller apertures. This in part explains the popularity of small refractor culture.

The most intriguing testimony is offered by Professor Ian Morison, also based in the UK, which, on the face of it, seems to lend more credence to small refractor culture. The reader will recall that during the August 2003 Martian opposition, a large number of amateurs, fielding various telescopes, were present at Macclesfield, England. Morison claimed that two telescopes were doing particularly well; a Takahashi FS102 Fluorite refractor and a mass produced 8″ f/6 Dobsonian and that there was no clear consensus on which was delivering the better views. Having owned several econo- and premium 4 inch apochromatic refractors (and even a gorgeous 4-inch f15 classical refractor), this author (also based in the UK) has become intimately familiar with their performance. And while they all provided good views of the planets, they come nowhere near the performance of the author’s 8-inch f/6 Newtonian, which, despite its very modest cost, proved ‘crushingly’ superior to the former.

So, Morison’s testimony presents an apparent contradiction, which must have a rational explanation.

Further investigation revealed that during the August 2003 Martian opposition, the maximum altitude of the Red Planet was just 23 degrees at meridian passage as observed from London (51 degrees North latitude).

Reference here

Since Macclesfield (53 degrees North latitude) is further north than London, the maximum altitude of Mars would only have been 21 degrees and thus was significantly below the minimum altitude recommended – 30 degrees – for planetary study. Thus, it is not at all surprising that Morison et al reached the conclusions they did.The Newtonian being more sensitive to the vagaries of the atmosphere would not have been performing optimally at that low altitude, while the smaller refractor was performing much as it always does. In addition, this author observed Mars during the same August 2003 opposition using a 20cm f/10 Schmidt Cassegrain. At 56 degrees North, the planet was only 18 degrees above the horizon at meridian passage. Needless to say, the images of Mars were nothing to write home about.

Interestingly, this author reached the same conclusion whilst comparing visual drawings of Jupiter conducted with a Celestron 8″ f/6 Dobsonian during the mid-1990s with those delivered by a 5-inch refractor in much more recent apparitions. It was subsequently discovered that Jupiter was low in the sky in Aquarius at this time, while the 5-inch refractor enjoyed views of the Giant Planet situated much higher in the sky. Last year’s Jovian apparition revealed the clear superiority of the 8-inch f/6 Newtonian over the 5-inch under these more favourable conditions.

Thus there is no contradiction; aperture rules when conditions are reasonable to good. Anomalies only arise under sub-optimal conditions – persistent bad seeing, low altitude viewing etc – or if one telescope has not fully acclimated when the other has etc, hardly a fair test.

This author has brought the reader’s attention to the efficacy of a modified 8-inch Newtonian on all types of objects; deep sky, planets, lunar and double stars. These testimonies provide further evidence that such an aperture – 20cm – is probably optimal for British skies and many other environs besides.

De Fideli

Taking Back Visual Astronomy II: Resolving Binary Stars with Newtonian Reflectors

Octavius the Progressive.

Octavius the Progressive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 De omnibus dubitandum

The Newtonian reflector has a long and distinguished history among dedicated observational astronomers. With the advent of generous aperture, silver-on-glass mirrors in the late 19th century, many more amateurs could enter the field and make valuable contributions to the study of the Moon and planets. What’s more, their comparatively enormous light gathering power compared with traditional refractors made it possible to see new morphological details of hitherto elusive deep sky objects, thereby aiding in their classification.

The traditional instrument of choice in double star astronomy has been the classical refractor. With their long, native focal lengths and excellent thermal stability, they are especially adept at separating point sources at very high magnifications, at or near the theoretical limit imposed by their aperture. Refractors don’t scale well though and become impractically cumbersome and expensive in apertures above 6 inches (and if you really want to do sub arc second work you’ll need something larger anyway). I have demonstrated in earlier work that more economical telescope designs – the Maksutov Cassegrain in particular- can be excellent double star instruments. Having used a large, 17cm f/16 Maksutov continuously for a year, this author debunked a long standing assumption about these telescopes that prevented many from exploring their considerable charms. Specifically, some prominent amateurs, perhaps in some desperation to justify the purchase of much more expensive refractors, cultivated the idea that large Maksutovs (and, by implication, other catadioptrics) would not acclimate. This assertion was found to be largely unsubstantiated, after extensive field testing showed that these instruments can and do work well, even in winter.

In more recent times, this author has begun to explore anew the many attributes of the Newtonian reflector. As described in an earlier review lasting about six months, a closed-tube 8” f/6 Newtonian reflector was found to cool quickly (typically 40 minutes for a temperature differential of 20C) – significantly faster than even a 5 inch refractor. What is more, no cooling fan was deemed necessary and the telescope offered up excellent, high resolution images of planets like Jupiter. What was most surprising however, was its ability to split tricky double stars when contemporary wisdom said otherwise. This led to further investigation by examining the historical literature in order to establish whether Newtonians were ever used for double star astronomy and, if so, how efficacious they were in this capacity.

Having explored the life and work of the Reverend T.W. Webb (1806-1885), it came to my attention that the celebrated 19th century observer had indeed used a large 9.25 inch f/8 silver-on-glass reflector made by George With to resolve very tight pairs at or close to the limit imposed by its aperture. As a follow up, double star observer, John Nanson, alerted me to the work of an obscure British 19th century observer – Kenneth J. Tarrant – who employed a 10.25 inch Calver reflector (probably a f/7 or f/8 relative aperture) during the 1880s and 1890s to not only observe double stars, but to measure them also!

I would invite you to examine the documents presented here, noting the dates and seasons when the measures were made, thereby providing information on the frequency and likely conditions (like English summer temperature swings) under which observations were conducted – as well as the measures themselves, some of which show that the mirror was indeed capable of resolving pairs at or near the theoretical resolution of the telescope. I canvassed the opinion of the double star expert, Bob Argyle, based at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, for his take on Tarrant’s data. Specifically, I asked Argyle whether there was anything in the Victorian amateur’s data that would stretch credulity, calling his attention to Tarrant’s measures of 25 Canum Venaticorum.

“As far as I can see, looking at Tarrant’s results, these are what I would expect from a good Calver telescope – in fact he did not seem to stretch the telescope very often. Specifically 25 CVn looks very plausible – the current WDS mags are 5.0 and 7.0 so it’s somewhat brighter than the values Tarrant gives (and currently at 1″.7).”
Tarrant’s measures demonstrate three things;

1. The British climate allowed him to frequently work to very high standards, which included sub arc second pairs.
2. The Calver reflector must have produced images stable enough for mensurative purposes.
3. Tight pairs with very significant brightness differences (up to two or three stellar magnitude differences) were also resolved.

Not much else is known about Tarrant however. “I don’t know of any other references to Tarrant’s work, “ said Arygle, “but he seemed to hold the BAA Double Star Section together before WWI finished it, and probably deserves a paper from one of the historical groups.”

In more recent times, a number of other observers using Newtonian reflectors have come to the fore. This author has already brought to your attention some of the ongoing work of Christopher Taylor, who employs an open-tubed 12.5 inch F/7 Calver reflector to watch a number of sub-arc second pairs moving rapidly in only a few years. You can see a few images of his telescope here. In addition, I am mindful of the work of the French double star observer, Jean-Francois Courtot, who has resolved pairs down to 0.66” using his homemade, 8-inch Newtonian since 1993.

It would also be worthwhile considering the portfolio of the well known astronomical artist, Jeremy Perez, who has sketched many double stars using both a 6″ f/8 and a 8″ f/6 Newtonian reflector, as well as the observations of Mircea Pteancu, who has used a 8″ f/6 reflector to successfully resolve sub-arc second pairs.

Thus, not only is there a historical precedent for the use of the Newtonian reflector in doing the kind of work traditionally associated with the classical refractor, but the notion that the former instruments would only be capable of such work in tropical or temperate climates is not supported by the evidence.

That said, not all Newtonians are equally well favoured to carry out such work!

To see why, we need to explore aspects of the physics of the Newtonian telescope.

Modern parabolic mirrors of decent quality are (or should be) essentially devoid of spherical aberration. The main optical defects in the Newtonian are due to other Seidel aberrations, particularly coma and astigmatism. Let C represent coma and A represent astigmatism.

Mathematically, the angular expansion (theta) of the image due to coma is given;

C = 3theta/(16F^2) where F is the focal ratio (relative aperture) of the telescope.

Astigmatism is given by:

A = ( D/2f) tan^2(theta), where f is the focal length of the telescope.

Since D/f = 1/F and if we consider small angles, where tan (theta) expressed in degrees ~ theta radians, the formula for astigmatism simplifies to;

A = (theta)^2/2F.

We can see from the formula for both C and A that coma (C) scales proportionately with theta while A scales as (theta)^2, so that for very small angles ( << 1 radian) it follows that coma will always overwhelm astigmatism in any properly executed mirror.

Let us now set the resolution of the telescope to the Dawes limit (in arc seconds) given by 4.56”/D
To convert this formula to radians, we need to do some more arithmetic.

1 degree = 60 x 60 = 3600”

Also 1 angular degree = 1/57.3 radians =0.017 radians

Thus if 0.017 radians = 3600” then 4.56” = (0,017/3600) x 4.56 radians = 2.21 x 10^-5 radians

So the Dawes formula expressed in radians is:

(2.21 x 10^-5)/ D where D is in inches.

For critical work at maximum resolution we may equate the expressions for coma and astigmatism with the Dawes limit;

Thus,

A + C = (2.21 x 10^-5)/D

But since A << C for any small angles (which is appropriate here), we may simplify this to just:

C = (2.21 x 10^-5)/D

Thus, since we have C = 3theta/(16F^2)

We get: (2.21 X 10^-5)/D = 3 theta/(16F^2).

Cross multiplying and rearranging, we obtain:

Theta = (16F^2 x 2.21 x 10^-5)/3D

Simplifying gives theta (in radians) = (1.18 x 10^-4 x F^2)/D

For convenience, we can now convert this formula to arc minutes;

1 arc minute = 1/60 degree = (1/60) /57.3 = 2.9 x 10^-4 radians

So, 1.18 x 10^-4 = (1.18 x 10^-4)/ 2.9 x 10 ^-4 = 0.407

Thus our final result is that

Theta (arc minutes) = (0.407F^2)/D.

We are now in a position to analyse what happens when we use various different numbers for the focal ratio (F). The formula predicts that for a constant aperture D, the maximum available field (theta) over which the image contains no appreciable aberrations scales as F^2.

This means that the faster the F ratio, the smaller the true field over which aberrations are minimized.

For example, a 8 inch f/6 mirror would have an optically corrected radius of (0.406 x 6^2)/8 = 1.83 arc minutes or 3.66 arc minutes in angular diameter. Doing the same math for F=5 and F=4 yields diameters of 2.54 and 1.62 arc minutes, respectively.

To see how this impacts work at the eyepiece, consider my own telescope, a 8” f/6 Newtonian. In order to get adequate image scale for sub-arc second pairs, I like to use a magnification of 548x (3.5mm Baader zoom and 1.6x Barlow). Since my eyepiece has an apparent field of 72 degrees, the true field available at this magnification will be 7.88 arc minutes [ that is (72/548) x 60]. Thus, the percentage (linear) of the field that gives perfect definition will be (3.66/7.88) x 100 ~ 50 per cent. When we get to an F/5 system, the percentage falls to just 30 per cent, and at F/4, a pesky 20 per cent!

One can see that at F/5 or faster, positioning the image of the double stars will become problematical, but that’s not the end of the story!

As anyone familiar with the operation of a Newtonian will tell you, the lower the F ratio, the harder it is to collimate the optics accurately. Indeed, the sensitivity to mis-collimation (a quantity called primary mirror axial error) in millimetres is given by the 0.022 x F^3. It follows that the wiggle room for a F/6 Newtonian will be a comfortable 4.8mm but just 2.8mm at F/5 and only 1.4mm at F/4!

What does all this mean?

In a nutshell, the faster the F ratio of the primary mirror, the smaller the true field at any given magnification that is truly free of aberrations and the greater the likelihood of mis-collimation. I was being kind when I described the result linearly; but when you recognise the relevant field area (which scales with r^2), you suddenly realise you’re in deep water. X marks the spot! LOLl

These are the principle reasons why an F/5  or faster Newtonian will be less likely to resolve to the Dawes limit. F/6 is about good enough – thank goodness for small mercies! – and anything slower is a bonus!***

This also agrees with my own experience, having never satisfactorily resolved sub arc second pairs with an F/5 or F/4 Newtonian. It also agrees with the aforementioned historical curiosities!

Look again at Tarrant’s measures of 25 CVn conducted in the summer of 1885.

Octavius; a ‘scope to believe in!

***Note added in proof: The above calculations do not preclude the possibility that a precisely aligned, fast Newtonians (f/5 or slower) can’t do this type of work  but rather serve to illustrate that the difficulty of achieving these high resolution results becomes more difficult as the F ratio falls. Investing more money in precision focusers and more exotic collimating devices can increase the odds of success, as could the possibility of introducing optical accoutrements like coma correctors (now being made by various manufacturers) into the optical train.

References

Bell, L The Telescope, Dover (1971)

R.W. Argyle (Ed.) Observing and Measuring Visual Double Stars, Springer (2012).

Results so far: In the last six months or so, I have had the privilege of using this fine SkyWatcher 8-inch f/6 Newtonian reflector. As explained in an earlier review, I modified the instrument by purchasing a smaller secondary mirror (22 per cent by diameter) made by Orion Optics, Newcastle Under Lyme, England. I could have reduced this further but I wanted the telescope to be an excellent all-rounder rather than just a one trick pony. Both the primary and the new secondary were treated to enhanced Hilux coatings, which significantly increased its light grasp, reduced scattered light around images and has a longevity that is guaranteed for at least 25 years. Such an instrument provides breath-taking views of the Moon and planets and serves up a 2.25 degree true field for stunning deep sky vistas.

Even before I had these modifications done, I was very impressed by its ability to resolve some tricky doubles and triple systems. On the best nights, stars present as tiny Airy disks, round as buttons, even at very high powers ( > 500x). The spherical correction of the mirror is excellent and displays no on-axis astigmatism, which is a definite show stopper for this kind of work. My best images yet came just a few nights ago, where on the mild evening of Friday, June 26 at 22:20 UT, I beheld the most striking image of Epsilon Bootis (340x) I have seen in just about any telescope! The components – a soft yellow primary and a royal blue secondary – were magnificently rendered with acres of dark sky separating them. The same was true when I examined Delta and Mu Cygni, as well as Pi Aquilae (1.5″); text book perfect renderings if ever I have seen them!

At twenty minutes past midnight on the morning of June 9 last, I managed to glimpse the elusive companion to Lambda Cygni (my best yet at this location, 0.9” and 1.6 stellar magnitude differential), convincing me that I could go still further.

My methodology is fairly straightforward and is based on the recommendations of Christopher Taylor, who I mentioned earlier.

• The telescope is checked for accurate alignment using an inexpensive laser collimator before the commencement of each vigil and backed up by careful star testing.

• Only stars above a certain minimum altitude are examined, not less than 35 degrees

• I use a Baader Neodymium Moon and Sky Glow filter, which darkens the twilit sky at my location, reduces glare from very bright stars, and retains a neutral colour balance.

• After charging the telescope with the appropriate optical power, the stellar image is swung to the east of the field and left to drift slowly into the centre, where it is critically examined by my eye. The above is repeated again and again until I am satisfied that what I am seeing is not a diffraction artifact or some such.

• The time, date and conditions, magnification etc are always recorded. And if at first you don’t succeed……. try try again Lol!

In my correspondence with Bob Argyle, he was kind enough to suggest two stellar systems which are especially ripe for study with the 8-inch speculum; 78 UMa, now conveniently located near the bright star Alioth in the Plough Handle (components have magnitudes 5.02 and 7.88, with a current separation of ~0.8”) and Tau Cygni (magnitudes 3.38 and 6.57 with an angular separation of 0.9”).

I will begin with 78 UMa, as it should be fairly easy to find near Alioth in the twilight.  I shall leave Tau Cygni to later in the season.

I will report back on my progress in due course.

If you have a similar ‘scope at home, why not give it a try too?

If these stars are not suitably located for you, seek out others of similar difficulty by looking up the WDS catalog.

This project will certainly tax your powers of observation.

It would be great to hear about your experiences!

 July 1, 2015

NB: Taylor used a ‘routine’ magnification of 825x with his 12.5 inch f/7 Calver to achieve separations of 0.35 -0.40″ pairs. May attempt slightly higher powers on my own (smaller, 8 inch) telescope, perhaps 600x plus?

Nae luck as yet. A heat wave has settled in over the UK. While southern Britain basks in sunshine, conditions have remained stubbornly sultry with lots of cloud hampering any attempts to track down UMa 78.

Attempted a brief vigil late in the evening of Friday, June 26. Although my ‘easier’ test systems mentioned above all looked excellent, cloud prevented me from locating  my target near Alioth. I did however ‘uncover’ a delightful new binary system about half a finder field away from Alioth; STF 1662 ( RA  12h 36 min, Dec: 56 34, magnitudes 7.83 an 9.75, separation 19.3″).

Just received word that my article on modifying the SkyWatcher Skyliner 200P will be featured in the August 2015 issue of Astronomy Now………hallelujah!

July 2, 2015

Time 22:50h UT

Ambient: Clear, good transparency, 14C, slight SW wind, strong twilight, seeing not so hot (Ant III-IV), midge flies legion.

Four ‘warm up’ systems  observed @ 340x

Epsilon 1&2 Lyrae: well resolved.

Epsilon Bootis: resolved with some distortion.

Delta Cygni: Companion seen periodically, but with some considerable distortion.

Pi Aql: Resolved fairly well but only occasionally.

A 1.5″ night. Little point in continuing. Packed up early.

 July 4, 2015

Happy Holidays to all my viewers in the United States!

Moi?

Semper eadem.

Weather still rather unsettled, very humid with lots of heavy down pours, so little else to report from my own observations.

Investigo: I love data and admire diligence. Though I don’t know him from Adam, the American amateur astronomer, Mr. Tom Bryant, gave me both in bucket loads!

Mr. Bryant has been very busy testing the performance of his C8 on hundreds of double stars from all across the heavens.

You can see the fruits of his considerable labours here.

Go on; have a good, long look at that huge list. Dates (all year round!!!), times, instruments, are recorded, and, crucially, the location of those observations.

Input! Input! Input!

Lol!

And I see he’s constantly updating (see the latest dates listed).

Way to go!

He’s done remarkably well on many sub-arc second pairs don’t you think?

0.7″ doesn’t seem too much of a stretch for him and he’s elongated pairs down to 0.5″!

Here’s a recent review of a modern C8.

This instrument has a central obstruction of ~ 35 per cent and takes a while to acclimate…. apparently.

Here’s  the climate data for Bethesda, MD, which is quite near Silver Spring, MD, where Mr. Byrant uses his C8 inside his cosy, wee observatory, Little Tycho.

Typing in the months, one by one, we see diurnal swings of about 10C throughout the year, and which is a little larger than those encountered at my location.

My 8″ f/6 Newtonian, with a 22 per cent central obstruction, ought to do just as well – if not better – would you not think?

Only the seeing and my laziness can limit its performance.

Surely?

 July 5, 2015

Some thoughts on a lazy, Sunday afternoon:

The diligence of Tom Bryant and Carlos has delivered treasures to them. Work pays.

God endowed King Solomon with wisdom because he desired it ahead of wealth and power.Still, because of his faith, the Lord gave Solomon all three, and in great abundance.

Yet, he was better at dispensing that wisdom to others than applying it to himself.

In the proverbs of that ancient King, we learn of the traps laziness sets for us;

No matter how much a lazy person may want something, he will never get it. A hard worker will get everything he wants. 

Proverbs 13:4

A lazy person is as bad as someone who is destructive.

Proverbs 18: 9

Why don’t lazy people ever get out of the house? What are they afraid of? Lions?

Proverbs: 26:13

Nuff said, eh?

20:30 UT

At last, another opportunity will likely present itself later this evening to visit 78 UMa.

With a bit of luck, I’ll have more to report back on soon enough.

But let’s not confuse ourselves. There is one telescope forum in particular that harbours a few lazy liars I’m in the processing of flushing out.

Folk who masquerade as being ‘experienced’ but ostensibly reveal very little of that quality. Nor do they show any real insight except that which they borrow from others.

They neither understand their observing environment, nor the kinds of instruments that would best work there. e.g. using a large, fast reflector to split low-altitude double stars in a desert?!

How dumb is that? Lol!

But this is just ignorance, and I’m willing to overlook that.
That said, there’s a more insidious side to all this, which I am not willing to overlook.

Lies, lies, porky pies.

You see, some individuals spend their time cultivating untruths about what can and can’t be done with certain telescopes, without ever testing these claims in a scientific way.

Worst still, they persist in maintaining these myths, despite the mounting counter-evidence presented to them.

I suppose it’s a form of blindness.

Why shouldn’t a Newtonian deliver the readies?

If you know, tell me; I’m all ears!.

iustitia! iustitia! iustitia!

July 6, 2015

00:20h BST.

Ambient: Mostly clear, tranquil, cool (10C), twilit.

Seeing: II-III

A better night tonight. Seeing fairly good.

All warm up systems beautifully resolved at 340x

0.9″ companion to Lambda Cygni well glimpsed at 548x during moments of better seeing

78 UMa: diffraction pattern examined on and off for 20 minutes at 548x. Higher powers found to be unhelpful. Companion unseen.

Heavy dew this evening.

Good, productive night, all in all.

22:25UT

Teeming down with rain tonight.

Thus far, it’s not the kind of Summer we enjoyed last year.

Still, when are two ever the same? lol

Moi?

Semper eadem.

It occurred to me that I’ve already achieved what I set out to demonstrate; that a decently executed Newtonian can be used to explore the dynamic realm of sub-arc second binary star astronomy; I mean, I’ve already bagged (a few times now) a 0.9″ with a sizable brightness differential (1.7), so anything beyond that just reaffirms my premise.

But I don’t think I’m being overly ambitious to work for something better. Do you?

I will continue to work with 78UMa until the skies get darker.

July 8, 2015

00:30h BST

Test everything; hold fast to what is good.

                                                                   1 Thessalonians 5:21

Ambient; mostly cloudy, 13.5C, a few patchy sucker holes opening and closing. Breezy (7mph westerlies).

Seeing: II, certainly a notch up on last night.

Only three test stars examined tonight; all images at 340x were clean and crisp but shaky in the wind.

Spent a few minutes on and off examining 78UMa at 340x and 544x. Complex diffraction image, no elongation observed at 544x, so the companion must be ‘disembodied’ from the primary (Airy disk round as a button). Wind and cloud making detailed observations very difficult. Companion unseen.

I have noticed, going back through my notes, and again tonight, that on windier evenings, the images through the Newtonian can look especially fine. I have thought about why this might be. Perhaps the breeze circulates the air inside the tube more efficiently and might be ‘brushing off’ any boundary layer that might be on the mirror?

I think there is something in this.

Mother Nature lending a helping hand, just as she must have done with other observers using their specula over the decades and centuries.

Thank goodness for the wind!

09:50h BST

Last night was most interesting. Not much in the way of systems observed but the quality of the images in the modest wind was duly noted.

It was such a simple revelation to me that I cannot help but think it is universally true.

My previous observing records with refractors and a large Maksutov have shown that good to excellent seeing can accompany windy weather. I look back fondly at the wonderful skies of last Summer, where I got superb results with a 17cm Maksutov. I note especially my observations made on the evening of July 16, 2014, where the Maksutov cleanly resolved Lambda Cygni  during a windy (9mph) spell.

In the case of the Newtonian, I think windy conditions can have additional benefits in improving image quality, independent of the seeing.

Open air observing with Newtonians appears to be a good thing and I shall continue with this custom.

Might a fan be beneficial?

Maybees aye, maybees naw.

Would I consider installing one?

No.Ohxi.

I get enough breezy evenings in a year to continue as I am.

Besides, I am willing to bet that the foolishness of the wind is smarter than the ingenuity of any man-made fan.

A curious aside: Our Victorian friend, Kenneth J. Tarrant, observed 25 CVn with his Calver reflector on the 189th day of the year. Curiously this was July 8, 1885 – almost exactly 130 years ago today!

LoL!

I found some old British archives for the general weather for that month here.

I note that in this meteorological document, for the dates July 7-11, there were ‘favorable South-westerly winds in most places’.

Might  Mr. Tarrant have enjoyed a few breezy evenings when he made these measures?

I wonder!

July 9, 2015

00:20h BST

Ambient: Clear, cloudless sky, very beautiful twilight, no ground wind, unseasonably cold (6.5C), seeing III-IV. Cool Arctic air flow tonight; bright stars scintillating strongly.

Test systems all resolved, but the more difficult ones not so cleanly. U78Ma examined at 340x an 544x but too turbulent to study.

Vigil aborted.

11:20h BST

I have been thinking about the wind again and how best to use it. When Mr. Tarrant observed 25 CVn, his telescope would have pointed westward, towards Canes Venatici, and if there were a southwesterly breeze during the time he observed the system, some part of it would have blown over his Calver primary mirror.

This immediately presented a simple activity that I could use profitably during breezy evenings. When first placed outside, I could remove the cap that covers the front of the instrument and point the telescope directly into the prevailing winds. That way, the air would be blown over the mirror and it would help expel any ‘stagnant’ air inside the tube.

When observing an object in a part of the sky away from the natural direction of the wind for any prolonged period of time, I could swing the instrument back into the natural air flow  periodically, for a minute or two perhaps, before resuming my work.

I did some searching this morning to ascertain if anyone had recommended this procedure, either in printed texts or online. To my astonishment, I came up with nothing.

Maybe you know better?

In addition, I have been looking at images of those silver-on-glass reflectors of old (existing before the era of the electric fan) and noticed that many of the tubes have little hinged  ‘windows’ at the side, near the primary mirror, so as to assist (presumably) the circulation of air in the optical train. I may consider something along these lines myself; perhaps drilling a coupe of small holes on opposite sides of the tube and fitting a fine wire gauze over them to enable air to flow through but not particulates.

I can make the wind work harder for me.

Something to think about anyways.

To my chagrin, more unsettled weather is forecast for the weekend ahead.

Mair anon..

July 13, 2015

23:45h BST

Ambient: almost entirely clear, tranquil skies, seeing excellent (I-II), 10C, humidity high.

Success!

Started on Delta Cygni (340x) and was rewarded with a beautiful calm image! Companion resolved from its primary by a veritable country mile.

Pi Aql: Very cleanly resolved (340x) even at less than optimal altitude.

78UMa: Companion seen fairly well, roughly due east of the primary and inside first Fraunhofer diffraction ring. Glimpsed at 22:50h but better seen at 23:30h.  Checked the WDS data on the system Der Admiral sent me the other week. Its estimated position angle of ~118 degrees agrees fairly well with my observation.

No’ bad ken.

Where next Columbus? LOL

Anyone following me?

Vigil ended owing to heavy dew.

July 14, 2015

Bastille Day, New Horizons hurtles past Pluto, ken.

20:00h

Consummatum est.

No more to prove. No more work to be done. No one left to fight.

A 8 inch f/6 reflector can indeed be used to resolve sub arc second pairs. You don’t need an expensive telescope to do it.

A little preparation and the determination to succeed is all that is required.

And one good night.

I contacted Bruce MacEvoy, who I had the pleasure of meeting in California a few years back. He will be editing a brand new edition of the Cambridge Double Star Atlas. Bruce followed my work with the Maksutov and, more recently, the Newtonian reflector. After congratulating him on his new role, I reminded him that he had a responsibility not to cultivate untruths about the types of telescopes that can and cannot do high resolution double star work. He assured me that the atlas will not endorse the fallacy that one type of telescope is superior to others.

Satis.

Nota Bene: November 29, 2015: Dave Cotterell, based in Ontario, Canada, posted a string of high resolution images of double stars – some quite tricky for any telescope – using his 12.5″ f/6.5 Newtonian, thereby providing more evidence that these instruments can and do make excellent double star ‘scopes. In addition, he has reported his visual results here, using the same instrument, showing that he was able to cleanly resolve pairs down to 0.5″ or  0.6″. Well done Dave!

De Fideli