Saturday, July 24, 2004

Stuff To Do On Cloudy Nights Part 4 - The 'Plain Box Atari'

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Well, I was perfectly happy with my Plain Box Atari Portable until
I put in the Star Raiders cart and found that the Video Touch Pad
didn't work in joyport 2. So I added the +5 volt connection to port 2
thinking that all it needed was some power. Nope still no go. Then
I added support for paddles 3 and 4 to port 2 and it worked!
For some reason paddle support is required to get the touch pad
to work - go figure. Then I found out that I couldn't get the
computer attack control or the shields to come up so I had to
add the difficulty switches for ports 1 and 2 which control those
functions. Whew!

So now I figured I'm finally done with this thing, yahoo!! That was
until I put in the Starmaster cart which is a Star Raiders clone and
in some respects even better than the original. In order to bring
up the Galactic Chart you have to toggle the TV Type switch (color
/black&white) so I added that.

Now I think I'm done. Yah sure, at least until I put in another game
cart I haven't played.



Since my last entry, I added a few bits of hardware to my Plain Box Atari 2600. A paddle control, paddle fire button and two joystick ports. The top joystick port can also control a pair of paddles. So now I can play two player games that use two joysticks or two paddles! Cool. I think I'd better stop adding things because as you can see from the side view its starting to bulge in the middle!

IT'S DONE!!! My 'Plain Box' Atari 2600 Portable. I decided building the official case was too much work for a first timer like me, so I took the inner box from an IOGEAR laptop usb card and used that. The display is an Intec 2.5" screen and the joystick is from parts of an old pc joystick. It has a DC in plug on the side below the on/off switch so you can run it from a wall outlet. It takes 6 AA batteries to run both the Atari board and the screen. You can play with or without the joystick handle because it unscrews from the pad but I actually prefer the handle for most games.

I started this project on 5/20/05 so it took me almost two months to complete. After a good amount of frustration but mostly fun I can finally say I did my first real elecronic hack.




Well I shouldn't say it, it's really dumb to say it but I'll say it anyway: It's Allllllllliiiiiiivvvvvveeeeeee!!! A month and a half and one fried TV later I finally got video and audio to work on an Intec Screen Pad which I removed from its attached PS2 controller. There it is in the image above, Frogger actually on the screen complete with music! Now all I have to do is connect all of the joystick and paddle controls and then start making the case. You can see part of the case with some Atari lables in the background. Geezze, look at all those wires! My Atari 2600 Portable may soon be a reality. I'll put some more pictures up as I go along.


Saturday, June 18, 2005

I decided to take some time away from astronomy for awhile and get back to another hobby of mine - hacking electronic stuff. Below is a picture of my latest project which is to build a portable Atari 2600. Below that is what it's supposed to look like when I'm done. Wish me luck!

If you're interested in doing this yourself go here:

Hacking Video Game Consoles

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Observatory And Mars

©2006 Richard Murray

This is my portable observatory which I finally repaired after a serious disaster last winter. This is a great observatory with only one serious drawback. In high winds it has a tendancy to act very similar to a hot air balloon. Even though I had it anchored down with six stakes during a storm last winter the winds kicked up to around 85 miles an hour, tore it up from the stakes, threw it over the roof of my house and into the neighbors back yard! Luckily no one was hurt. It's now secured with six heavy duty stakes and 5 sand filled jugs (amazingly, it only sustained minor damage).

I built the observatory from plans off the internet. The entire structure with the exception of the tarp is made of pvc pipe, glue and lawnmower tires. Total cost was about $200.

The photo to the right of the obseratory is of Mars taken with a webcam on 8/7/03 at 4:31am est. Mar's southern ice cap was at its peak when this picture was taken and Mars was one month away from its closest approach to Earth in 30 years.

Here's the link to get plans on how to build the observatory: Portable Observatory

Here's an enlargement of the Mars image:

©2006 Richard Murray

And here is a close up view of the Martian surface:

M42 The Orion Nebula

The photos below are of one of my favorite deep sky objects, M42 the Orion Nebula. They were taken with my 8" schmidt-cassegrain telescope, a Nikon 995 digital camera and a Toucam Pro webcam on January of 2004. From left to right: a raw unprocessed image with Nikon 995; an image with Nikon 995 with processing in Photoshop to bring out more nebulosity; a close up of the central region of M42 taken with the Toucam Pro webcam; an enlargement of the second photo.

Note: The Orion Nebula is large enough to encompass 20,000 solar systems stacked end to end!

Quote: Replicant: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die." 'Blade Runner' (1982)

©2006 Richard Murray

*See the Archives on the left for more astrophotos*

Two Jupiters

I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate this past new years than to do some imaging in the wee hours of the morning. Besides, in southwestern Michigan you take whatever clear nights you can get!

I have included two images. The one on the left is my second image of Jupiter using a Toucam Pro webcam taken at 4:40am est 1/1/04. The right image was taken on 11/10/03 at 6:24am est. Both images pictured were taken with the same equipment -

8" SCT telescope, Toucam Pro webcam
Televue 3x barlow lens, Baader Infared Filter

and both were taken and processed using K3CCDTools, Registax2 and Photoshop.

The major difference between the two is their altitude (and of course to some degree seeing conditions) at the time the image was taken. The one on the left was taken at an altitude of 52 deg and on the right at 36 deg. At northern latitudes it seems that a few degrees can make quite a difference in image

Note: Notice the Great Red Spot located at the lower left of the second image.

Quote: "At the time of his death, if he were on Jupiter, Elvis would've weighed six-hundred and forty-eight pounds." 'Mystery Train' (1989)

©2006 Richard Murray

*See the Archives on the left for more astrophotos*


©2006 Richard Murray

Saturn is a great planet to photograph with its intricate rings and dozens of moons. But most important is its largest moon Titan which Cassini will soon be visiting with its attached Huygens probe. Titan is the only known moon in the solar system with its own atmosphere so Huygens 2 1/2 hour descent to the moons surface should be very interesting indeed.

So here's a picture I took of Saturn with my 8" scope and a modified Vesta webcam. This was taken on 9/6/03 at 6:44am est from my front driveway.

Note: Saturn is the only known planet that is less dense than water which means that if you could locate a bathtub large enough to put it in, it would float!

Quote: "You've never seen anything til you've seen the Sun through the rings of Saturn!" 'The Incredible Melting Man'(1977)

*See the Archives on the left for more astrophotos*

M82 The Starburst Galaxy

©2006 Richard Murray

These two images are of M82 the 'Cigar Galaxy', or better known today as the 'Starburst Galaxy', which is an edge on irregular galaxy located in the northwestern sky this time of year. It's just slightly above and to the right of the Big Dipper. I took these on 6/14/04 with my 8" scope and a modified Toucam webcam. The picture on the bottom is the original image. The image on the top was rotated and reworked to get a better look at the dark dust lane of gases that split the galaxy in two. These dark lanes were carved out when M82 collided with its sister galaxy M81, a spiral, in the semi-recent past about 600 million years ago. M82 is about 12 million light years distant. M82's core suffered dramatically from its collision and today is going through a heavy formation of new stars, turbulent explosive gas flow, and as discovered recently by the Hubble Space Telescope, the formation of 100 new globular clusters (very bright, compact groupings of about 100,000 stars) .

Quote: "NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has imaged the core of the nearest starburst galaxy, Messier 82 (M82). The observatory has revealed a seething cauldron of exploding stars, neutron stars, black holes, 100 million degree gas, and a powerful galactic wind." Chandra X-ray Observatory press release on January 14, 2000.

Here are a couple of links for more information about M82:


*See the Archives on the left for more astrophotos*

Looking Down a Tunnel of Gas at the Last Gasp of a Doomed Star

©2006 Richard Murray

Except for the rings of Saturn, the Ring Nebula, M57, is probably the most viewed example of a celestial band in the night sky. It's located about 2000 light years away, but because of its high surface brightness, its easy to spot even with small telescopes. The nebula itself is one light year across which is about 1000 times the size of our solar system. Observing the ring from Earth, we are actually looking into the end of a barrel shaped cloud of gas which has been spewn off by a dying star. As seen in the above images, blue gas near the hot central star gives way to cooler green and yellow gas at greater distances with the coolest red gas located along the outer boundary. The central stars ultimate fate is to probably end up as a white dwarf about the size of planet Earth.

I took the image on the left with my 8" SCT scope and a Toucam webcam on 6/21/04 at 12:18 am. The image on the right was taken with NASA's Hubble Telescope.

Note: The two stars seen in the central part of the left image are not actually located within it. The central star that created the nebula is very faint and difficult to observe even with large amateur telescopes. The faint speck at the very center of the Hubble image on the right is the actual dying star.

"I first saw the Ring through a small telescope in my back yard, when I was a high-school student in the 50's. My astronomy books taught me that it was a round sphere of expanding gas." In fact, the round shapes of planetary nebulae when seen in small telescopes gave rise to the name two centuries ago: their circular disks resemble those of planets, and thus they were called nebulae with a "planetary" shape."

from The Ring Nebula Project

*See the Archives on the left for more astrophotos*

Correction: It appears that the star in the center of my image of M57 is actually the dying star spoken of above. The Toucam webcam with an 8" scope, especially with a 60 sec exposure as this was, is perfectly capable of imaging a 15.3 mag star such as this one. So, in fact, this is the central star! Look at the bottom page of this link and you'll see how the stars match up: Catching The Light (thank you, Jerry Lodriguss)

*See the Archives on the left for more astrophotos*

The Snowball Nebula Alias The Double Nebula

The Snowball Nebula, located in the northeast part of the sky this time of year, is one of the rarer double ringed nebula which has a bright, well defined ring of gas surrounded by a much larger,dimmer, hazey envelope.

This was a tough little devil to find especially in an 8" scope like mine and the fact that it's a very diminutive object to begin with. Looking through a 20mm eyepiece, it appears as a very small slightly fuzzy star not much different from the surrounding stars.

Here's a quote from one of my favorite books, 'The Universe From Your Backyard':
"Eight-inch telescopes at 300x, seeing and transparency permitting, show NGC-7662 as an elliptical ring of light with a dark center. An 8-incher doesn't show the outer nebulosity or the dim 13th magnitude central star, but larger scopes may."
Well folks, that was written (in 1988) well before the advent of webcam astrophotography. Now with an 8" scope you can see the inner ring, the outer nebulosity as well as the central star all while observing it on your laptop!!

Note: This is the type of nebula which it is assumed our Sun will produce as nuclear fusion slows and eventually stops, and as a red giant it expels its outer layers of gas leaving behind a hot white-dwarf star.

Techno Stuff: 8" SCT Vesta 690k RAW mode No Filter Alt-AZ 17.5 sec x 60 Dark Subtract Brightness & Gamma 50% Gain 85% 6/29/04 3:30 am est (8:30 ut)
©2006 Richard Murray

Nasa's Hubble Telescope False Color Version of The Snowball Nebula

*See the Archives on the left for more astrophotos*

The Eyeball And The Snowball

©2006 Richard Murray 

What I like most about imaging planetary nebula is that they are strange. They have very odd shapes which are individually unique and often resemble things we are familiar with. The nebula on the right is NGC 7662, better known as the Snowball Nebula.

The nebula on the left is NGC 7009 or the Saturn Nebula named so because it resembles the rings of Saturn seen almost edge on. It's about 1400 light years distant from us. Frankly, I think it looks more like an eyeball or the CBS tv logo. I took the Saturn Nebula image on 7/16/04 at 2:11am est with my 8" SCT and a Vesta Pro webcam.

Another strange thing about these kind of nebula is that you are basically looking back with a kind of photon time machine (the telescope) at a star that eons ago has stopped working and gone into its late retirement years. It has gone from being a massive red giant blowing off a shell of gas light years across to become a small hot white dwarf with in some cases a diameter no bigger than the planet Earth. You can see the white dwarf star in the center of both images.

Another unusual thing is that we don't really understand these objects very well. Astronomers are still puzzeld as to how planetary nebula acquire these unique shapes and strange symmetries. The computerized models we have suggest that we should be seeing a lot of gas turbulence withing the nebula itself which we aren't seeing at all. We do see fast moving gas clouds on the outside edge of these nebula that were formed well before the nebula itself was formed but we don't know what caused them.

Note: The Saturn nebula was discovered by William Herschel in 1782, also the discover of the planet Uranus as well as numerous other planetary nebula. Herschel did a complete survey of the visible sky in England with his 20 foot reflecting telescope and discovered literally thousands of objects. Since he didn't have a computerized gear driven scope like we have today, he employed a rather unique method for his great survey. He would train his telescope on an area of the sky, stop it and leave it there letting the Earths rotation bring one object after another into view. He then shouted out his descriptions to his sister Caroline who would stand at the foot of the ladder and record every word! For this monumental effort he was given a knighthood, a pension of 200 pounds a year and named the Kings Astronomer.

Techno Stuff: 8" SCT Vesta 690k RAW mode No Filter Alt-AZ 20.5 sec x 40 Dark Subtract Brightness and Gamma 50% Gain 85% 7/16/04 2:11 am est (7:11 ut)

NASA's image of the Saturn Nebula