A Tour of the Invisible Universe

A review submitted by Jack Swaton, a BIPH user, to the Cloudy Nights Review Contest. December 29, 2009

John Homka - BIPH Owner & Galaxy Hunter

I finally had a chance to use my BIPH (2nd production run) for 2 nights last weekend at a very dark sky site --- Cherry Springs State Park in north central Pennsylvania. I used my 18.5" F4.0 homebuilt dob and Televue 4" F5.0 Genesis.

About a dozen or so other observers on the field had first views through a BIPH and the comments ranged from "WOW" to "amazing" to "it looks 3-D". Some of the favorite targets were :

Eagle -- the pillars were easy to see

Swan --- 3-D like with incredible contrast

Helix -- outer layers visible with knots of nebulosity in the main ring

North American/Pelican -- contrast between the dark and bright areas was truly awesome, wide field views with the 4" Genesis of the North American and sweeping all through Cygnus was a lot of fun

Crescent --- this may have been my favorite object, the bright areas of nebulosity just seemed to jump out and I really got the impression of 3-D.

Orion Nebula --- this is the only object I had to caution observers that their night vision might be impacted ---- but it didn't seem to deter anyone from looking :-) Even though the nebulosity was incredibly bright, the trapezium stars were still easily visible --- I don't understand how the BIPH automatically adjusts for brightness, but whether I use a reducer or barlow and switch between an 18.5" and 4" scope the brightness is always just right.

Horsehead -- looked like a photograph with the 18.5" . Easily visible in the 4" Genesis.

Rosette --- Some observers picked this as their favorite of the night ---in the 18.5" it spread out over 5 fields of view and sweeping from the outer areas to the central opening was very 3-D like.

Many of those that viewed through the BIPH are seasoned observers and have observed these objects many times through different scopes ---- and I mostly heard comments that this was the best view of the object they ever had. No one seemed to have any issue with night vision (except maybe with M42)--- the views were much like that through a regular eyepiece.

Prior to this observing trip I have used the BIPH in my 5.5 mag backyard and although the views from Cherry Springs are more contrasty and detailed, the views from my backyard are also very good with no indication of a greenish tint. Some of these objects are barely or not even visible without the BIPH in my backyard.

One of the galaxy clusters I observed was NGC 1275 in Perseus. The observations discussed above all utilized an H-Alpha filter which is removed when observing galaxies and globulars etc. In my backyard, I use a Lumicon Deep Sky filter when observing galaxies and similar (which mostly eliminates the greenish tint from light pollution). From the dark skies at Cherry Springs I did not need to use a filter on galaxies and star clusters--- there was no green tint at all. In the field with NGC 1275, I observed about 20 other galaxies. As I moved the scope over a few fields of view, each field had another 10-15 galaxies. I had printed an observing chart of the area with galaxies down to 16 mag and I was observing galaxies not on the chart.

Globulars through the BIPH (with a 4X barlow) have to be seen to be believed. It was also great fun just scanning around the sky with 200mm and 50mm camera lenses attached to the BIPH --- especially with the H-alpha filter.

Mechanically, the BIPH ran flawlessly ---- by the end of the observing sessions the BIPH had accumulated about 35 hours of run time on the set of AA batteries and was still working fine --- it dropped to 26 F on Sunday morning. Since there are no wires to attach, I was quite often switching between the BIPH and regular eyepieces/binoviewer to compare views.

I could go on with much more observing details, but I just wanted to report on some of the highlights. I built my first scope and started observing over 40 years ago, but these 2 nights using the BIPH at Cherry Springs was one of my most memorable observing times ever.

John Homka

John Homka - BIPH Owner & Galaxy Hunter

Galaxy clusters are one of my favorites and I was happy to be able to see all seven members of Copeland's Septet --  even structural detail in NGC 3753

Without the BIPH I was able to only detect 2 of the galaxies with averted vision.  I also found that using a Lumicon Deep Sky Filter on the BIPH improves the view of  galaxies and clusters for me  ----  the darker background seems to make the galaxies and stars clusters brighter even though some of the light is being reduced by the filter.   I never previously found this filter to improve the view of galaxies visually.   It also makes the slight green tint almost dissapear and the view is much like that of a regular eyepiece.

John Homka - BIPH Owner & Galaxy Hunter

There was still snow on the ground adding to the light pollution so I could barely see all the stars in the Little Dipper(not a great night), however, the view of the Orion Nebula compared to Sunday night was like night and day. Last night with the H-alpha filter the nebulosity was incredible --- parts of the outer nebulosity almost looked 3-D. I next tried for the Horsehead. I wasn't tracking or using digital setting circles so I just moved the scope to easily find the Flame and then moved in the direction of the Horsehead ---- and there it was --- better than the view I had from a 32" Dob with a H-beta filter at Cherry Springs on a great night. It looked great with and without the focal reducer and with the higher power. It's so nice to focus quickly and not have to deal with wires, brightness/contrast controls and wait for integrations to complete. - John Homka

Steven Lutz - BIPH Owner

Things are going well. I want to say thanks for making such a great product with the BIPH / Power/Filter switch - it's a sweet setup . Lately I've been busting globs to the core and going through the Scorpius/Sagittarius constellations - fun stuff!

David Butler - BIPH Owner

The BIPH worked as it should. The Orion Nebula was spectacular better than photos showing the Trapezium dark dust and bright clouds that extended over the entire field of view. I only used the H-alpha filter with no Focal reducer (hadn’t unpacked it yet). I had no problems with the BIPH. The sky was bright when I started and transparence could have been better. For example I never could see the wizards hat in the Hyades cluster. M82 filled the entire field of view and I could spiral arms in M81 which I never saw before.

David Butler - BIPH Owner - Galaxy Hunter

I had a four hour viewing session last night. I tried 34 galaxies and 20 Nebulas plus a few Globular clusters like M53 and a dozen or so open clusters. No gloves a mistake. The good news was the galaxies I saw 33 out of 34 galaxies I tried with the BIPH. M101 is also a blue face on Galaxy but it showed up. May add some more challenging galaxies to the list. But I covered a good part of the list. The dimmest Galaxy was 11.4 and 4’. The focal reducer extended out to its maximum easily comes into focus. More stars could be resolved in globular clusters and further away from the centers with the BIPH.

Tom Trusock

NGC7000 - the North American Nebula was absolutely enthralling - quite literally, it looked like a photo - actually, it looked more solid than it does in photos - sort of like a cloud. Even though it's still a low powered binocular telescope, there was a definite 3-d view to the cloud-like North American Nebula. The Milky Way showed - well - oodles and oodles of stars, but one of the most striking areas was down in the far southern reaches. Since the BIPH works well into the IR, one thing that clearly stood out were the dark nebula in Scorpius and Sagittarius. These were flat out stunning. Now I've looked at this region time and time again with wide field refractors, and while there's definitely something to be said for the aesthetics of a "naturally aspirated" version, I don't think I've ever had a more "defined" view. - Tom Trusock

Jim Welisek

The thing reminds me of the STV, very sophisticated from a technical point of view, but absolutely a no-brainer to use. There is no intraocular or diopter adjustment, just an on/off switch. The resolution seemed a bit better than the Collins and the FOV was larger in the BIPH. That's what my perception was with just some quick spot checks when I got a chance to use the Collins. Most vividly I remember a 3D effect on the Pillars of Creation as well as the way the swan and Lagoon just seemed to go, and go, and go... The Lagoon blew me away. - Jim Welisek

Chris Schroeder

The view was incredible, with a soft green glow with nice contrast, the view was easy to see from about a foot away. It did Barlow nicely. All in all an impressive device. - Chris Schroeder

Jim Burnell

I had a lot of fun with you guys and your new product. It is certainly effective at showing the vast hydrogen clouds in the Milky Way. - Jim Burnell

Jim Welisek

It's really hard to explain what it was like. There are two optical paths, but it felt like I was looking with both eyes at a single TV screen that was a foot away, when the tube had to be only a couple of inches. If you've ever used video eyeware, it's the same kind of 'depth' illusion that makes you feel like you're looking at a 40" screen several feet away when it's all contained in the eyeware. No one said anything about difficulty merging the images and nobody asked about it, so I'm assuming no one had trouble with it. - Jim Welisek

David Parmet

A week or so ago we tried the BiPH out on my 6" Newtonian. The views were amazing - I can see a lot from our location but I never thought I would see the North American, Swan, Triffid and Lagoon nebula from my backyard. Note that the full moon was coming up from behind some trees and the some of the lights in my house were still on. - David Parmet

Doug Welch - BIPH Owner

Canadian Gemini Scientist
Department of Physics and Astronomy  
McMaster University

I did get up at 3am this morning and used the BIPH! And everything worked as advertised! I had my 85mm f/1.4 lens out front with the 77mm H-alpha filter. The North America nebula was a cinch and so was the gamma Cyg set of nebulosity! Wow! I also panned down the fraction of the Milky Way I could see from my backyard and saw lots of wonderful items all the way to the Lagoon nebula! Back up in Cygnus, it took me awhile to locate the thin sliver of the western arc of the Veil, but I did see it.

The sky was less than perfect because there was incipient fog - ironically due to the clearness of the sky beforehand.

Thanks again for building and selling me this dream machine!! It is worth every penny and more!

Dan Grim

Just wanted to let you know I am really enjoying my BIPH. From my backyard, I have never been able to see the North American Nebula, but BIPH made that possible. The view of the Lagoon Nebula looked like a photograph; and, from my backyard under poor seeing, I saw hints of structure around M51. What a thrill!

Dr. Lawrence Faltz

The last time I saw the North American Nebula was with 7x50 binos from 9,000 feet in the pitch-black Colorado Rockies; Doug showed it to me from his driveway in suburban Westchester (maybe 150 feet above sea level and 35 miles north of Times Square) on a very hazy, very humid night, with a H-alpha filter in front of the cheapie 105 mm C-mount lens on the BIPH. It's hard not to be a believer. - Dr. Lawrence Faltz

Jack Swaton

I’m continually amazed by what I can see.  I’ve seen more handheld with BIPH than I have in my 13” dob ever. Now to get to some dark skies!!!!

I keep thinking how this is good for someone like me and how it impacts my enjoyment of astronomy. For me, one of the incredible blessings is it's nature as an ultimate grab-n-go deep sky light bucket.  For my money, the BIPH serves to eliminate suburban skies and create dark skies even whether or not there is a moon. It also lets me find targets much easier (and since I have no nav system, this is a boon).  For me, it’s as much about convenience and ease of use as it is about anything else. To be able to beat the full moon and pull in the Milky Way stars on a moment’s notice from my driveway is priceless. - Jack Swaton - Starry Host

Mike Virsinger

The fine resolution surprised me as did the lack of scintilation I was expecting. There was some, but it was quickly forgotten as you got lost in the image that was presented. Now this does sound like a lot of hype, but the device is really that good. The most interesting part of using the BIPH was how easy it was to incorporate in a night of viewing. It was swapped in and out of the telescope as easy as changing an eyepiece. It was a lot of fun and certainly one of those special nights of observing that I will remember for a long time. - Mike Virsinger

Mike Cefola

Once I inserted the BIPH using an H-alpha filter, the Veil took on a view, the likes of which I truly have never seen before, even in much larger dobs. The detail was extraordinary and the brightness was beyond description. I followed the Veil to both major sections observing bright knots, intertwining filamentary structure that had me in total awe. Similarly, the Crescent Nebula in Cygnus displayed the same amazing amount of detail with the distinct crescent shape that was lacking in the views not utilizing the BIPH. After catching my breath, I moved on to the edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 891 in Andromeda. I happen to love observing edge-on galaxies but as many of you know, they can be of very low surface brightness and hard to see in detail. NGC 891 is such a creature. My scope’s view without the BIPH displayed a very long narrow object that extended almost 2/3 of the field of view but was quite dim and could possibly even be missed when looking for it. The BIPH took care of that problem big time. The view was so bright and sharp that the central dust lane looked like someone had drawn it with a dark sketching pencil. The bulge was clear and defined as well as the galaxy’s arms extending out in both directions. This truly was a memorable moment in my many hours of observing with the scope. While I was on the galaxy kick, I decided to try M33, the big face -on galaxy in Triangulum. Again, I first found it through the regular binoviewer means which provided a rather dim view due to its extremely low surface brightness. Although I could make out some spiral structure, it was faint and lacking of any real detail. No problem! With the BIPH inserted into the focuser, M33 exploded into view. Structure of the arms was so vivid that knots could be seen in them which usually come out only in ccd images. The extent of detail and brightness on the BIPH screen was fantastic. - Mike Cefola

Mark Holden

I expected it to weigh much more than it did. I'm guessing it's about half way between the weight of a 40mm Paragon and a 41mm Panoptic. While it seemed light considering the size, it seemed to be very well made. - Mark Holden

Eric Johnson

BIPH Owner in Florida

The extra detail visible with the Ha filter is impressive. The Lagoon Nebula is at least three times larger than I thought it was, and it's possible to immediately make out detail in the Swan and Trifid Nebulae and M82 and M51 that are impossible to otherwise see. My five-year-old daughter immediately commented on the black dust lane in the Sombrero, and recognized it later when I showed her a color image on the APOD site.

Bruce Dickson - BIPH Owner

We tried it on a number of lenses and a 10" SCT at around f/5 under mag 6.5+ skies. The general opinion was that it performs phenomenally when used in binocular mode with a fast lens. The performance on Omega Centauri (NGC 5139) and the Butterfly cluster was sublime - easily outperforming the best views I've had with any telescope. The performance on the Eta Carinae nebula was impressive.