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Welcome to Sky Insight's Astronomy Articles

This is a collection of articles and information on topics related to astronomy, astronomical events, astronomy related equipment and activities (e.g. observing, astrophotography, etc). The articles on this site are not reproductions of copyrighted works, unless permission had been granted by the original author.

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Featured article

Dobsonian Mount for 4.5” Newtonian Reflectors

by Michael Hackney

Several weeks ago I attended a “Star Night” with my youngest son’s 3rd grade class. I begrudgingly pulled out our Meade DS-114 4.5” Newtonian Reflector and headed to the school. I say “begrudgingly” because for the past several years I have not used the scope much - primarily because it is so difficult to set up. After spending several years struggling off and on with the German Equatorial mount, polar alignment, and “Go To” computer control, I just stopped using the scope. Going to “all manual” mode was also a pain because the manual movement of an EQ mount is non-intuitive. My kids would lose interest or “freeze to death” before I could get things set up and ready to observe. So there it sat in the corner of my study gathering dust - until this particular Star Night.

During the night, I had the usual struggle with my scope. The science teacher running the event, Mr. Chaple, (who also writes a monthly column for Astronomy magazine) was there with his large Newtonian Reflector and a large crowd of kids and parents. It was dark enough that we could see the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) overhead in the cold November sky. I watched in amazement as he simply grabbed the scope and swung it into position to view the Andromeda Galaxy – no computers, no motors, and no batteries! When I got my turn to look, I was even more amazed at how stable the image was – virtually no vibration from the scope – even while I refocused. But the best part was when I tweaked the scope to recenter the image. The scope actually moved where I wanted it to, without resistance!

When the crowd thinned down later in the evening, I spent some time looking at the scope and mount and talking to Mr. Chaple. He told me the mount was a Dobsonian and explained how it worked. I was surprised at first to discover that such an experienced amateur astronomer was not using state of the art electronics on his scope. When asked about this, he simply replied, “This is much easier and faster.” He got that right!

When I got home I started Googling "Dobsonian Mount". There is a wealth of information on the Web about them. I learned how John Dobson basically brought amateur astronomy “to the people” with his simple but highly effective homebuilt telescope and mount that now bears his name. The Dobsonian Mount is a type of Altitude-Azimuth (Alt-Az) mount – a fancy way of saying that it swings up and down and left and right – very simple and intuitive! It is also very easy to set up and allows the scope and mount to be disassembled and reassembled in seconds, making transportation easier. The best part, however, is the Dobsonian Mount is very simple and inexpensive to construct. The only negative I discovered was that because these mounts are not equatorially aligned, astrophotography is more difficult. But even that limitation can be addressed with an equatorial platform or computer control.

So, armed with this information and photographs, descriptions and many plans published on the Web, I set off to build my own Dobsonian Mount.

Click here to read the entire story of how Michael made his Dobsonian mount


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We are organizing a new astronomy club in McHenry County, Illinois. Click here for more details.

Observing Mars at the Yerkes Observatory

Observing Mars at the Yerkes Observatory By: Al Degutis

On Friday Oct 28, 2005, my neighbor Dave, his long time friend Roman and I went to Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin for a special observing session of Mars and a few other deep space objects.

Yerkes observatory, which houses the worlds largest refractor telescope (a 40-inch), typically only gives morning tours of the buildings and telescopes on Saturdays. Because of the close encounter with Mars, they were hosting two evening observing sessions: 1) observing Mars through small telescopes in the yard for $5, and 2) observing Mars and other objects throught their 24-inch reflector telescope inside their second largest dome. Dave, Roman and I had reserved spots to observe through the 24-inch telescope. Attendance was by reservation only and was limited to 10 people...

Click here to read the entire account

About Yerkes

by David Drizner

On the shores of Lake Geneva, in the small town of Williams Bay Wisconsin, sits a world famous, and world-class observatory. Yerkes observatory (pronounced Yer-keys) is named after Charles Tyson Yerkes, it’s principal benefactor. Yerkes came to Chicago in 1881 – hoping to escape his tarnished and scandal-plagued reputation in Philadelphia. It was here that he hoped to make his fortune.

Click here to read more about the history of Yerkes

The 2005-2006 Apparition of Mars

The 2005-2006 Apparition of Mars By: Jeffrey D. Beish

During 2005 Mars will not be as close to Earth as it was in the last apparition of Mars in 2003; however, it will be higher in our sky so every astronomy enthusiast will have the opportunity to see and enjoy Mars. We want to heighten your awareness of Mars in the coming year and, by explaining what kinds of observations are possible and how you could be making such observations, enlist your support as a Mars observer.

What the Mars Section of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO) are asking you to do – sketch and take images of Mars from your backyard - may seem old-fashioned and unscientific compared to the accomplishments of the space missions to Mars. These missions mapped geological features and monitored atmospheric phenomena of the planet from orbit. But the spacecraft for monitoring atmospheric conditions of Mars are no longer in operation. Until the next missions reach Mars, everything we learn about Martian phenomena will come from terrestrial telescopes - and amateur planetary observers.

Read more about observing Mars...

Lunar Atlas Project

The purpose of the Lunar Atlas group is to produce a new high-resolution atlas of the Moon. Through our close assocation with the Yahoo Lunar Observing Group, we have connections to many of the finest Lunar photographers and sketchers on the planet. However, with the inexpensive technology now available to amateurs--webcams and Registax--you don't have to be a "prominent imager" to be able to contribute meaningfully to this project!

Click here for more info on the Lunar Atlas Project.

Latest Lunar Images

Current events

Recent Events

  • 10th Planet Discovered in Kuiper belt - An object that appears to be larger than Pluto has been discovered beyond Pluto on the Kuiper Belt. It was discovered by Dr. Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology and his colleagues using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego. It is currently about 97 times farther from the sun than Earth, or 97 Astronomical Units (AU). For comparison, Pluto is 40 AU from the sun.
  • The Supernova SN 2005cs in M51 is slowing dimming - A supernova (SN 2005cs) has been discovered in M51. It's magnitude could reach the mid 12's. This will likely be the brightest supernova in many years. It is located in the first spiral arm, roughly opposite of NGC 5195.
  • Venus and Jupiter Conjunction Sept 1, 2005
  • The Perseid Meteor Shower 2005 peaked on Aug 12 - he Perseid meteor shower is one of the most popular meteor showers because of when it occurs (summer in the Northern Hemisphere) and the large number of visible meteors. These two factors explain why this meteor shower attracts more non-astronomer observers than the others.
  • Dr William Hartmann visits Woodstock IL - Dr. Hartmann, who was a member of the Mars Global Surveyor team member and has had many books and textbooks published, did an hour-long presentation accompanied by a slideshow. The basis for his talk was the content found in his newly revised "The Grand Tour: A Traveler's Guide to the Solar System".
  • Mars will be as large as the Moon - This is a hoax or actually a misunderstanding. Read more.


Talking Telescopes

The Talking Telescopes Yahoo Group Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) answers questions about telescopes (e.g. which one to buy), about eyepieces and telescope maintenance.

Meade Deep Sky Imager (DSI and DSI Pro)

The Meade Deep-Sky-Imager FAQ answers questions about using the Meade DSI and DSI Pro, as well as hardware and software questions and solutions.

Orion StarShoot Color Imager

The Orion StarShoot FAQ answers questions about the Orion StarShoot DeepSpace and Solar System Color Imagers.


SCT-User Yahoo Group FAQ

Astrophotography and CCD Imaging

Imagers and Cameras

  • Orion StarShoot Color Imagers - NEW
    • Orion StarShoot Deep-Space and Solar System Imagers - rion will be shipping their new StarShoot Deep-Space Color Imager and StarShoot Solar System Color Imager in Nov 2005. These new products offer a lot of features at an entry level price. Both imagers will include a copy of MaxIm DL Essentials Edition to control the cameras, capture and process images.
  • Meade Deep Sky Imager
    • Deep Sky Imager FAQs
    • Obtaining Your First DSI Image - The Meade Deep Sky Imager is designed to be an easy to use single shot color camera. Along with it’s dedicated software, Autostarsuite, it is capable of imaging thousands of objects in the night sky with relative ease once the user understands the software settings and some of the basics of CCD imaging. This document was written to help those who are new to the DSI and/or the Autostarsuite software.
    • How to connect the DSI to a Meade LX200 Telescope with the Microfocuser and a Meade f/3.3 CCD Focal Reducer/Field Flattener by Mike Luckow
    • Meade Deep Sky Imager

Image Galleries

Articles and resources

Imaging Projects

Astronomy Podcasts

Podcasts are audio and video programs that are available via subscription, typically free of charge. You do not need to own an Apple iPod to subscribe to, or listen to a podcast. Podcasts can be played on most MP3 players.

For more info on Podcasts, check out this Wikipedia page