Welcome to the Cowiche Astronomer
Note – In addition to my photography hobby, I have been an avid amateur astronomer most of my life. This is a WordPress version of my first astronomy webpage that I started in 1995.
My name is Bruce Perrault and I’m an Amateur Astronomer living West of Yakima, Washington – USA, near the little farming community of Cowiche.
I first become interested in astronomy as a young boy and in 1957 can remember watching the Russian Sputnik go by with my family from our farm in Outlook, Washington. Actually, what we saw was the second stage of the booster rocket. The Sputnik itself was to small to be seen with the naked eye. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Russian Sputnik on October 4th, 2007, I’m also celebrating 50 years in amateur astronomy. I still enjoy watching the many satellite’s go over, such as the International Space Station. If you would like to observe the ISS, click here for times it will be visible in your area. It’s a very bright object and quite impressive to see.
Our family purchased a 4-1/4″ telescope in the late 50’s called the “Palomar Junior” made by Edmund Scientific. A nifty name for a scope back then. We spent many hours looking at the Moon and planets, especially Saturn and Jupiter. Here’s an enjoyable article about a telescope like it written by a fellow amateur astronomer. I continued to use the 4-1/4″ scope for many years and always watched the big events each year as the seasons and planets moved by. I still have it and often take it to our club public stargazing sessions. In 1972 we moved from downtown Yakima to our home in the country on Naches Heights, which is just East of Cowiche. With the higher altitude and darker skies, it was perfect for viewing at night.
The darker skies of our new location enhanced my interest in observing and in the mid 70’s I decided to build a bigger telescope. After much looking, I built a 10.1″ Dobsonian telescope to help with my interest in observing dim, deep sky objects. This scope was nicknamed “Little Blue”. It brought to life the many faint galaxies and nebula that the 4-1/4″ just couldn’t handle. I was even able to see the planet Pluto (now demoted) on a number of occasions with it. The 10.1″ was a great little friend to have along on a clear evening and served me well through many observing seasons.
After building the 10.1″, I designed some setting circles for it and used them and a scientific calculator to convert right ascension & declination to azimuth & altitude to help locate objects. I entered the computer age with a used Commodore VIC-20 and in 1983, I bought a new Commodore 64. What a great little computer that was. I wrote a program in basic that included the Messier list. Just enter the Messier number and it gave me the alt/az to set the circles. I had one of the first “goto dobs” around. Pretty nifty back then. I no longer use the setting circles and now prefer to enjoy the fun of star hopping. I now use my computer with a planetarium program to assist my observing. My thought on this is the newer “goto” scopes keep you from needing to learn the sky and its many constellations. I guess I’m just old fashioned.
My brother Wayne and I started going to the Goldendale Observatory in the early 80’s and learned how to use their big scope, a 24.5″. We found it operated much like the old Palomar Junior which also had an equatorial mount. This was a real treat for us and back in those years we were allowed to sleep over and spend the entire night observing. At Goldendale, we learned first hand how to observe in a dome and found ourselves running outside to figure out where we needed to rotate it to find the next object. I’m use to that 360 degree view you get on an open mountain top. In 1982, we started attending the Table Mountain Star Party and meant other amateur astronomers. This was our first opportunity to view from a high mountain site with our large scopes.
Wayne built a 13.1″ Dobsonian and we spent many hours observing the Messier and other deep sky delights with our two scopes. Eventually, Wayne moved to the coast and needed a smaller scope, so we traded and I now observe with the 13.1″ Dobsonian, which I am constantly modifying, trying to make a better mousetrap. I still spend many hours each year observing from our home with the 13.1″ and my wife Pauletta and I make trips into the mountains each Summer to go camping and observing. The views from 6000 feet on a moonless night are real treasures of our universe. The milky way looks like a white river.
For those interested in the telescope details. The 4-1/4″ is an f10.5 and is an excellent lunar and planetary scope. It was purchased from Edmund Scientific in the late 50’s. Both the 10.1″ and 13.1″ are f4.5’s and the mirrors were purchased from Coulter Optics in the mid to late 70’s. They excel in deep sky objects. The 10.1″ won first place in 1993 at the Table Mountain star party for the best amateur Dobsonian. Eventually Wayne and I traded telescopes as he wanted a smaller one. The 13.1″ has often been seen at local star parties and public viewing sessions, but now lives primarily in my observatory. John Dobson viewed with it in 2001 at a local star party and asked if he could star test my scope. Of course I said yes and after doing so, he pronounced it a very good mirror. This is the second mirror for the 13.1″, the original was broken in a freak accident in the 80’s. In the Fall of 2011, I had the 13.1″ mirrors (primary and secondary) re-coated with semi-enhanced coatings and the primary laser center spotted. It now performs even better than before. From a dark site I have looked at 15th magnitude stars with it and viewed all five of the Stephan’s Quintet galaxies. It nicely splits Epsilon Lyra on clear nights. We again looked at Pluto just for fun in the Summer of 2011 at Table Mountain.
I picked up a nice used 5″ diameter, 18″ focal length Beseler projection lens, so I made a little refractor type, rich field telescope (RFT). This is a 14 power, wide field scope that is best for looking at the milky way or viewing comets and large nebula. This telescope can either be hand held (cradle it like a baby) or mounted on a tripod. It is very handy for a quick look at something. I use it with a 32mm Erfle eyepiece for a wide field of view. It is not much more powerful than binoculars, but gathers a lot more light with its 5″ eye.
My interest in observing deep sky objects continues to take up much of my observing time and I am currently working on the list of Herschel objects. I always find time to look at the planets that are up. There are always Comets or Meteor showers to observe and the Leonids shower of 2001 was the best I have ever witnessed. Who can forget Comets Hyakutake or Hale Bopp and the Mars close approach of 2003. I use Sky Map Pro 8 and SkyTools 3 on the computer to help plan my observing and locate comets, planets etc. On the left I have listed sites with observing information or programs that I use to help with this task, along with some of my favorite non-astronomy links. Visit the Yakima Astronomical Society for additional information on area activities and astronomy links.
I received some 11 x 70 Oberwerk binoculars for Christmas in 2007. This was a great improvement over the 7 x 35 binoculars I had been using. The 11 x 70’s can be hand held for short periods or tripod mounted for better stability and views. I always recommend for anyone getting started in astronomy, to start with binoculars and a planisphere or star atlas. The ability to quickly scan large areas of the sky cannot be matched with a telescope and the binocular view using both eyes is much more realistic and stunning, especially on comets, star clusters and nebula. The most popular binoculars for amateur astronomy are either 7 x 50’s or 10 x 50’s. You can indulge yourself though and get some 20 x 80’s or 25 x 100’s for some really great views, but you will need a tripod for these. Another thing you can do with binoculars is use them to project an image onto a sheet of paper of the Sun, view a solar eclipse or look at sunspots using this method. Here’s how. WARNING – DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN.
In October 2007, I completed Cowiche Observatory, a simple 9′ x 9′ slide-off roof observatory to house the 13.1″ telescope and me on breezy nights. The roof slides on Teflon pads, similar to a dobsonian telescope. I also made the South facing wall fold down, so I have the option (when needed) of observing objects down to the horizon as they rotate into view. I have installed shelves along the North end for my eyepieces, star charts and other gear. My Denver Observing Chair also fits and stores inside and the entrance door folds out of the way when I am observing.
The reasons I finally decided to build an observatory are quite simple:
- My telescope and astro gear are in one place, that is dry and out of the way.
- The telescope and atlases are setup and ready to go when I want to observe.
- Not having to re-collimate the telescope optics after setting up each time.
- The telescope mirror is acclimated when I want to start my observing sessions.
- The 42″ high walls act as a wind break on breezy nights for me and my atlases.
This is a private observatory and is not open to the public. Along with building the observatory, I removed some trees to give me about an 80% unobstructed view of the heavens. I applied a layer of small river rock around the building to keep the mud under control. I also built a simple Denver Observing Chair (pictured left) that adjust to my eyepiece height very quickly and makes observing for several hours quite comfortable. It folds up for storage. All these amenities helps me to further enjoy my hobby of amateur astronomy. You may also be interested in my Photographing Star Trails page. I explain how to use a digital camera to photograph star trails, including a slideshow of star trails I have photographed.
The Cowiche Astronomer web site begin in 1995 when there were only 18,000 web sites up. It hasn’t seen many dramatic changes since then, just a simple site currently converted to a WordPress page. Now there are about 200 million active sites and 1 billion total if you count inactive ones. For a history of the very first web page, which started at CERN click here. The Clear Sky Chart below gives the conditions of the sky in the Yakima area. Click on it for more detailed information. Also included below are some astronomy links I often use – Bruce Perrault