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My Astronomy Page
Michael Swartz & Michael Jr. love Astronomy
This is a picture of me and my son, Michael Jr. with my Plettstone 18" reflector, designed by Albert Highe and built by Michelle Stone in 2004.   It features an 18" Pegasus mirror, an Argo-Navis  & ServoCAT go-to and tracking system by Gary at StellarCAT, and some very fine woodworking by Michelle.  It is a wonderful telescope to use because it moves so smoothly and provides really beautiful views of planets, clusters, nebula and galaxies.

Michael & I were at a starparty in a parking lot at Henry Coe Park in Morgan Hill, CA just before sunset.  That was a good night of observing with friends.

Here you see me studying the planet Neptune one night up at the Monte Bello Open Spaces Preserve on Page Mill Road just west and up the mountain road of Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, CA in the spring of 2006.

The skies were clear, dry, dark and calm that night... a perfect night for viewing beautiful far away objects.  

The Plettstone 18" telescope is a good size.  It is not too big to handle, yet big enough to support an 18" mirror.  It features an open truss design which is easy to set up and take down, it is pretty light weight and it allows the mirror to cool down very rapidly.

Take a look at my Astronomy Hobbies Memories page.  It has more pictures of my old telescopes, astronomy friends, and stories of past stargazing adventures.

The man in the green jacket is Eric Nicholas, a naturalist who at the time of this picture was working at the Ardenwood Historic Farm  park in Hayward.  We did a starparty for some of the people in the community.  He did an educational astronomy presentation and then we went out to their little orchard area and provided viewing opportunities for the people.  The Fremont Argus took some pictures and did an article on the event.  You can see my telescope in the front of the picture.  My son can also be seen behind the telescope listening to Eric talk about something in the sky that night.

He now works for the Alviso Adobe Community Park in Pleasanton. It is a historic dairy farm.  My son and I get to help out now and then by bringing our telescopes over for his astronomy programs at the park.

The San Jose Astronomical Association conducts these kinds of evening observing sessions (commonly called "star parties") for schools in mid-Santa Clara County, generally from Sunnyvale to Fremont to Morgan Hill.   -->  Schools click here for info

Starparty at Ardenwood Historic Farm park in Hawyard CA

My young son and daughter looking through Erics telescope.

Eric, Me and my son Michael Jr at Alviso Adobe Historic Dairy in Pleasanton CA

Helping out at a starparty Eric held at the Alviso Adobe Dairy.
I attended a 4 day starparty at Lake San Antonio during the fall of 2005 called CalStar.  At the time I also had a pair of  telescopes set up specially for solar viewing.  The main telescope featuring the gold colored filter at the front end was a Takahashi 90mm refractor with a pair of h-alpha filters.  It had a 90mm h-alpha filter on the front and then a 40mm h-alpha filter fitted into the focusing tube, followed by a BF30 blocker and a pair of Denkmeier binoviewers. The second telescope was an Orion short-tube 80mm refractor outfitted with a Type 2+ glass solar filter piggy-back mounted on top using a Televue camera piggy-back adapter.

With this dual telescope setup, it was possible to comfortably look at two layers of the sun.  I could look at the violent and turbulent chromosphere and see flows of plasma, prominences and filaments and eruptions.  And through the white light filter I could see the sunspots very clearly on the suns photosphere.

It was a wonderful set of telescopes which provided views of the sun unmatched by any other system I have seen.  Here is what my friend Dawn Baird-Chleborad had to say about it after she and her husband Cary Chleborad did some viewing at a club activity one day: Read.  

I had to sell it one year and I sure miss it.  I hope it's new owner is enjoying it as much as I did.
Sometimes, I would set up my telescopes at parks, parking lots or at schools and look at the sun, share the views with others who had joined me or were just walking by.  The sun is different every day.

Here is a picture of my young son and daughter in 2004 at a starparty just before sunset with their little telescope in the parking lot at the Monte Bello OSP park.  My son was looking at a local hill for coyotes when his sister came up to the telescope and put the lens cap back on.   It was a classic moment when two opposing goals met in beautiful comedy.  They have enjoyed many nights out with their dad looking at the sky.  I really enjoy sharing astronomy with my kids.

Sam Swiess and his loving and faithful companion Maria run Scopecity in San Francisco where I have been to many times to learn about and see all things astro-optical and of course to buy many of the things my astro-dreams have been made of over the years.  They are wonderful people who have always gone way beyond normal customer service.  They become extended family to their customers and they make you feel at home in their store.   They are good people and they have a nice showroom.  

My wife and I were up there recently to pick up a few little things for our astronomy setup.

Here is my lovely wife and telescope model Georgeta posing by a little 10", 3 pole open truss dobsonian style telescope made by Dennis Steele who runs dobstuff.com.

We ordered one of these little 10" telescopes for my son so we can do stargazing together and also help out at school starparties together now and then.  The design is remarkably similar to my telescope.  So Michael Jr now has a junior version of his dad's telescope.  

This picture was taken in the showroom of Scopecity in San Francisco where Sam and Maria have an amazing variety of telescopes, binoculars, microscopes and accessories.  All you need to look at anything large or small.  ...very cool...

This is Michael Swartz, Jr. with his dobstuff telescope on his first night out.  We just went to a vacant lot in our neighborhood and set up our scopes.  It soon became too windy and we had to pack up and go home.  But it was a fun first night.  This little telescope is very well made.   It has nice contrast and the stars look very sharp.  And as you see, it is just the right size for him.

Having the ability to look at the sun's photosphere and the sun's chromosphere side by side is very nice.  And it looks cool too!

This is my new setup for solar viewing.  I got a Lunt LS35T  for h-alpha and an Astro-Tech 72ED with a glass solar filter for white light. I then mounted those with scopestuff vixen clamps on top of a Garrett heavy-duty video tripod.

The Lunt LS35T isn't in the same league as a $5000 double-stacked Coronado SolarMax-90 filter on a $2000 Takahashi Sky90.. But.. for only 699.00... it works very well.

Actually, it is amazing the amount of detail that can be teased out of this little scope by carefully and patiently adjusting the tilt of the filter, the focus and moving the scope back and forth a little, or by looking at an area at a slight angle.  It provides a very satisfying solar viewing experience for such a small telescope.   I like it!

           Check out spaceweather.com for current solar activity!

And here I am at the Monte Bello OSP park by Palo Alto, CA looking up at M81 though my Plettstone 18" reflector.  

My son and I go there often to get away from the winds of Mountain House.  It is a pretty good place to go for stargazing.

For a list of good places to go stargazing in the bay area please look at http://www.observers.org/sites/ .   This page has descriptions of the observing sites, directions to get there and a clear sky clock for each to give astronomy focused weather information.  It is a good reference.

Calstar 2011 was held at the south shore campground of Lake San Antonio which is a little north west of San Pablo and a little south west of King City California, from September 29 thru October 1st.  Amateur astronomers, mostly members of  "The Astronomy Connection" and the San Jose Astronomy Association, had a 4 day and 3 night star party.  There were around 50 astronomers and telescopes scattered about an open meadow which served as an overflow camping area.  We had all that space and pretty good skies to enjoy for those 3 nights. 

In the pictures above you see my wife, kids and me by our telescopes.  We were a little unprepared for the camping part of the experience.  Georgetas cooking was great but I think we need to figure out the tent and packing part a little better.  We have a year to get ready for the next one.  It was really a lot of fun.  

Lately I have been taking my solar scopes to work and going out at lunch just ouside the library.  I will look at the sun for a few minutes, enjoy the view, see what new stuff is going on, etc... After a few minutes I notice that students walking around begin to notice me looking at something in the sky with some strange telescopes.  I wave a few over and offer them a look at the sun. They say "sure, I would love to see that!". Then I show them the photosphere and it's sunspots, then the chromosphere with it's red color and features such as prominences, filaments, etc.. that show the magnetic turbulence

Now and then a physics major or a professor will walk by and we will have a really interesting discussion.  So, this is my time to look, learn, and share the joys of daytime solar astronomy.

It is a nice way to spend a lunch break.

My friend JT and I enjoyed a warm Saturday afternoon at Central Park in Mountain House.  Our kids were keeping themselves busy playing in the sand while we were enjoying observing the activity on the sun.

There were a couple pretty big prominences and a good splattering of sun spots.  We shared the views with other families in the park who happened to be walking by and were curious about what we were watching.

It was a beautiful day at the park to be enjoying solar astronomy.
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