Archive for December, 2009

As you get older winter gets to be less and less fun and so this morning, with the temperature around 13 degrees Fahrenheit – and a windchill around 3 – I opted to stay indoors and didn’t regret it. Once more I simply pointed the Stellarvue 50mm “Little Rascal” out the sliding glass doors, turned off the room lights, and prowled around a small area of eastern sky  framed by the sliding glass door and not  obscured by trees – well, actually I did a bit of exploring in the tree branches as well. What was different this morning was after starting off with inexpensive, simple eyepieces I switched to my Naglers and the change was gratifying. Yes, if you spend 10-20 times more for an eyepiece the view improves some – duh!

This is my indoor set-up. Of course, the room lights are turned off when observing.

But I am becoming more and more convinced that we can have a lot of fun observing the moon and stars from inside the house on a winter’s night and thus without freezing our butts of! Don’t get me wrong. I love to play the hearty astronomer and the view would be much better in a large telescope under the open sky. But I have my limits and as I get older, those limits change 😉  I think folks can have fun with naked eye, binoculars, and small, low-powered telescopes this way.  (Not a bad way to avoid the bugs and dew in summer, either!)  The keys to this kind of observing are simple:

1. Have an unscreened window or glass door.

2. Turn off the room lights and give yourself at least 10 minutes to dark adapt – a good time for meditation.

3. If you use optical aid, confine it to low powers. The highest power I used this morning was 41X – that’s about 20X per inch of aperture and truthfully, this little scope with it’s “fast” lens can’t handle much more even when outside.

What can you see? Plenty of stars. I had no trouble picking out Nu Draconis, a fifth magnitude double star, with my naked eye. I also saw one bright meteor.  I found the relatively bright globular cluster, M13 and observed it at 9X and up to 41X. No, I did not resolve the stars in it, but I certainly could tell the nature of the object and it was very satisfying to contemplate it this way. In fact, after that I challenged myself and looked for a second (fainter and smaller) globular, M92. This was tangled in the bare branches of a tree – but again, I could observe it well. And, of course, I could split a wide double star like Nu Draconis at 9 X and much better when I cranked it up to about twice that power.

I really am excited about seeing what else I can see this way.  The last couple of nights I have observed the Moon this way and shown it to visitors who were duly impressed – especially since they didn’t have to go outside!

Bottom line. Don’t expect miracles, but on these really cold winter nights it’s certainly possible to enjoy the night sky in warmth and comfort. the key is turning off the lights and giving yourself time to dark adapt. With our indoor lights we shut out the night – that’s sad and wasn’t always the case.  But we also fool our eyes into thinking its day and it takes time for them to adjust to the night.

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Woke up to clear – and prtty steady -skies, so I went out from about 4:45 to 5:45 to learn the path to some double stars and establish just how easy it is to see some of the Leo galaxies with the Genesis.

Observed Iota Cancri – it deserves the title  it has of “Spring Albireo.” Very close resemblance in brightness, separation, and color, so very easy to split ta low power. East to find – jusy spot the Behive, thent he two “two donkeys.” Use the donkeys to make an arrow point north to Iota. Like the donkeys, it’s fourth magnitude, If you use the distance between them as a measure, it is a bit less than three of that unit away.

Observed Zeta Cancri – it’s another magnitude 4 star about the same distance southwest of M44 that  Iota is north of it. With the 100mm Genesis could split the wider pair easily – but the third star eluded me.  I thought I saw it, but what I recorded in a quick sketch was way off in both magnitude and position angle. I need to come back to this with more aperture – at leats eight inches, possibly 10 inches – have a shot at seeing all three.

Dew/frost was a serious problem. Ice had frozen shutter shut on observatory. I moved the Genesis to Observing Deck. Very slippery and had to use hair dryer frequently to keep objective clear.

My other goal this morning was to get agood feel for the relative brightness of M95, 96 and M105 and compare them witht he Leo Triplet – M65, M66 and NGC 3628. Used 100mm to located M96/95/105 moving from Rho to 53 to the galaxy field. Location was easy enough, but galaxies were barely visible in 24mm Panoptic – much better in 9mm Nagler which caught either 95/96 or 96/105 in the same field.  Checked out this againdst the slightly brighter Triplet. Well, M65 and M66 are brighter and significantly easier to see. You can “observe” the Triplet with the 100mm – all three fit nicely in 9mm Nagler fov. But in comparison M95, 96, and 105 are barely what I would call “observable. ” Easy enough to see – but you don’t see enough to make much of what you see. Still, it would be a good exercise fo rbeginner to first find the Triplet, then seee how they can do with the other trio which are both more difficult to find and more difficult to identify when you do find them.

As a relaxing side tour I took a quick look at two well-known globular clusters. M13 does stand out above M3, though both are very nice. I get a real sens eof what they are at about 60X – the 9mm Nagler ont he Genesis.

First test of warm feet – battery powered sole for my shoes – and they did stay warm. But the temperature was right around the freezing mark, so this wasn’t a real tough test.

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OK, what really works is small aperture and low power – that is, I was once more successful with that combination while observing from the warmth and comfort of my library through sliding glass doors with the typical double-thickness, insulated glass in them. I was using the 50mm (205mm focal length) Sparrow Hawk from Stellarvue and some very simple, ridiculously inexpensive,  eyepieces from Burgess.  What was I able to see:

  • M13, the beautiful globular cluster in Hercules
  • Nu Draconis, a wonderfully matched pair of fifth magnitude stars that can just barely be split with hand-held binoculars.

Mind you – through these doors I have a very small section of sky open to me because of nearby trees. But I thought about going out to observe, however it was after 5 am, the temperatures was 27 degrees, it was windy, and there was a foot of snow on the ground. With dawn not far off it just didn’t seem worth the discomfort. Then I thought of the little telescope, sitting on its cheapy tripod in the same room.  I placed it near the doors, put a chair behind it, and immediately picked out M13 in the 23mm eyepiece (9X). Wow! That was easy. So I zoomed in on it and it’s two bracketing stars with the 12.5mm Symetrical. This yields about 16X and the most pleasing view. But I pumped it up with a 6mm Symetrical to about 34X.  Now don’t get me wrong. I could not resolve the stars of the cluster. But even at the lowest power it was obvious what I was looking at and the essential experience of the cluster is available at 16X.  The little scope won’t handle well anything much higher than 34X and  I doubt that the conditions – observing from a heated room through a closed, sliding glass door – would allow much more magnification.

Nu Draconis was also in view, so I swung over to it.  Again, at 9X I could just split it, at 16X the view was very pleasing, and 34X didn’t really enhance it much aesthetically.

Still, the bottom line is this. You can have a nice, meaningful astronomical experience with a small telescope and low power while staying warm and cozy in your home.

BTW – I have been out in the Observatory several nigths and mornings since the blizzard hit last weekend. On these occasions the temperature has been lower and the conditions generally poor – but at least it wasn’t close to dawn. My endurance allows only 60-90 minutes of outdoor observing, though,  once temperatures fall below 20. So I’m a farc ry from opting for indoor observing. But it’s fun to see just how much I really can enjoy with such a small scope without going out and challenging the cold.

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Click image for larger version.

Delightful search and find mission this morning that resulted in finding 11 Leo galaxies, a few of which were new to me and most I have not seen using a manual search. In fact, I have found none of them, up to now, using the Televue Starbeam finder which I am slowly coming to really appreciate. (Please note – those keeping “normal” hours will find these galaxies in their Spring skies – I get a jump on the season by going out at 4 am in December 😉

My guide for this expedition was Sue French and her “Celestial Sampler,” a delightful and useful book, and my  first goal was to locate M95 and M96. That done, I went on to M105 which I really feel is a wonderful pair of galaxies – that is M105 matches up very nicely with NGC 3284 just eight arc minutes away.  Another galaxy, NGC 3289, turns the pair into a tight trio, really making a second – and more challenging – “Leo Triplet.”  I then went on to NGC 3377 – which is simple because it’s right next to a bright star, and NGC 3412 which is also simple because   you simply extend a line between the bright star – 52 Leo – and NGC 3377 – a bit more than three times as far and you’re at NGC 3412.

These galaxies were my main goal, but I then moved on to the nearby – and very familiar – Leo Triplet and found them immediately using the red dot Starbeam finder. The main goal, of course, was to find these galaxies and plot a path to make it much easier to find them in the future.  But my secondary goal, almost as important, was to give this new – and very expensive – “red dot” finder a serious work out.  I was skeptical about this item – both because of the cost (roughly $240, but I got it for half that used) and because of the unusual design. I especially wanted to try the flip mirror feature on it because when you use this, rather than look straight through, life becomes much easier with the 10-inch. (I’m still not sure exactly how this thing works, but you can get an explanation and drawings on the Televie site here.)

Bottom line on the finder? It’s a winner. I will use it on the 10-inch and I may eventually get another one for the Genesis 100mm refractor, I don’t know. When I first got it, my goal was to use it on the Genesis, but I got frustrated during my first attempt and was ready to sell the thing – then I decided it might be worth while if I used it on the Dob. It is and I was wrong about it in general. This is a well thought out device and the flip mirror makes it the best unit finder I have used. All the other finders of this nature that I know about require you to look straight through them from behind and that can be a real pain in the neck. With the Starbeam you have a choice – look from straight behind it, or  look at it from the same position you look through the eyepiece – just as a right-angle diagonal of an optical finder does. I should add that I like to use both a red dot type finder such as this one, and an optical finder.  Which is best just depends on exactly what you’re trying to do.

Mind you, it was 13 degrees Fahrenheit this morning with some wind and so I didn’t hang around long to study these galaxies at this time, but I had a very satisfying hour and 15 minutes at the scope  and now think I can find all of these much faster. Here’s my trail of bread crumbs. (If the words sound confusing, jump straight to the charts – it will make more sense if you go back and forth between chart and text.)

Regulus, one of the first magnitude “guidepost” stars is the starting point. You then hop to Rho Leonis to the southeast, a star that’s on the bright side of 4th magnitude. From it, draw a mental line to Chertan (Theta Leonis), the faintest of the triangle of stars that mark the Lion’s hind quarters. There is about 12 degrees between these two – a bit more than a fist held at arms length – and the spot we want to investigate is nearly half way along that line – about five degrees east of Rho.

Click image for larger version.

What we’re looking for there is a fifth magnitude star known as 53 Leonis – and its companion, about four degrees north of it, 52 Leonis. (52 is just a tad dimmer.) Roughly halfway between these two is our main galaxy field, but start with 53. In the optical finder it’s easy to identify because there are 7th and 8th magnitude stars that make a triangle with it.

Circle represents field of typical finder - 5 degrees. Click image for larger view.

In the optical finder you should see an arc of three stars just to the east of 53 with the northern most of these the brightest. These are one degree away from 53 and give you an idea of the appropriate distance to the galaxies.  M96 makes a nice triangle with 53 Leonis and this arc of stars. The galaxy is not easy to pick up in the optical finder, but it is easy to approximate the area where it’s located. Doing that and then using a wide field eyepiece (1°22′) I was able to quickly capture both M96 and M95 – M96 appearing a bit bigger and brighter. (Both are roundish blobs.)

Finding M105 is then simple. Get M96 squarely in view and move gently north – again, in a low-power, wide field eyepiece I can capture both M105 and M96. In fact, I can capture four galaxies at once with this view because M105 is really a pair of galaxies that look like almost twin fuzzy stars and with it is third, much fainter, much more distant galaxy NGC 3389. (The second galaxy – the near twin to M105 in my opinion, is NGC3384.)

View using a telescope and eyepiece that yield a field of one degree 22 minutes. Click image for larger version. (Developed from Starry Nights Pro screens hot.)

Continuing north you’ll come fairly quickly to 52 Leonis and to its east – in the same field of view – is NGC 3377. (This is fainter than M105 and NGC 3384, but not nearly the challenge that NGC 3389 is.) If you draw a ine between the star (52) and this galaxy, then continue that line in the same direction, but about twice as far, you’ll come to another galaxy, NGC 3412. And continuing to the east about 2.5 times the distance between 52 and NGC 3412 you’ll find NGC 3489.

Of all these, the only real challenge in the 10-inch was NGC 3389. That’s so ghostly that you need some experience looking for really faint galaxies to know what to expect. A good starting point for gaining such experience is the nearby Leo Triplet – M65, M66 and NGC 3628. (Ten of the 11 galaxies mentioned all belong to the “nearby” Leo group of galaxies – roughly 38 million light years from us. The one exception is the very faint NGC 3389. It apparently much more distant.

I find the Leo Triplet by starting with the triangle of stars that mark Leo’s haunches – particularly Chertan (Theta Leonis). From that I move south towards a fourth magnitude star, Iota Leonis. I just put the red dot of the Starbeam finder halfway between these two and a tad to the west and the trio is in my low-power field of view. M65 and M66 are obvious. NGC 3628 – which appears in the same low power field to the north of these two is more ghostly, but in the 10-inch, to me, very obvious. Still, if you can see all three in your scope, you’re ready to take on the challenge of finding  the other Leo triplet, M105 and seeing if you can see its two companion galaxies.

Click image for larger version.

All charts with this post are screen shots from Starry Nights Pro software which I have annotated.

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Well, the weather cooperated for some – but sure played hard to predict. On the 13th the meteor shower was scheduled to peak here at midnight – but it looked like that would be right in th emiddle of a rain shower – well, storm, really! The morning forecast was for rain and clouds and it was downright stormy in the early evening. But when I got  up about 2:30 am it was beautifully  clear and I ended up counting 37 Geminids – and others had simiar experiences.

Hank, In RI, wrote:

It cleared up in Riverside about 11:30PM, and I watched about 2 dozen or so meteors right from my back yard in light drenched Riverside!
I hope you got to enjoy some as well.

while Jane in Westport reported:

yes, I too was up at about two am (new puppy needed to go out), and I was thankful for the wakeup call.  I saw only about 10 meteors but it was wonderful.   The path for most was mid sky to south for me here.   There was one that flashed from about half way up the sky and stayed burning for what seemed a long time — it was large, but then burst into about the size of a dime for a flash at the end as it got to the south.  WOW.  Thanks

and Ted, up near the NH/Massachusetts border also had agreat Gemnid experience:

looked out at 12:45 am and lo and behold it was clear.  Jumped into my warm gear and drove across the street to the state park.  With snow pants, hooded jacket, and my entire body inside a sleeping bag I was able to lie in comfort until 2:45 in my recliner.  Saw about 50 total, as you say mostly E and some N and S, but nothing to the W.  Five left trails that glowed for a second or two.  Nothing near the radiant for me either.  Transparency improved dramatically as the storm moved out to sea, and there was lightning on the E horizon the entire night, which was also beautiful.

Need coffee.

I went to bed while it was raining, but was out by 3 am, having seen my first Geminid through the sliding glass doors as I was nuking my tea!  I got serious about looking for about 45 minutes, sitting on the observing deck in the rotating beach chair – and in downright balmy 40-degree temperatures.  I counted two dozen in that time, including a burst of three in a single minute and 10 in a seven-minute period.  So they were still darned good at that point.

For me the interesting thing was the radiant – the point in the sky from which they appear to radiate – was nearly directly overhead, so I should have seen meteors in just about any direction. But most of the ones I saw were to the east of the radiant – just as Ted reported –  heading from Gemini towards the Great Bear and Leo the Lion.  The Winter Hexago dominated the western sky with its bright stars, yet i saw very few meteors in that direction. After about an hour I set up the telescope and while looking for an object near Polaris saw two or three more. I was out for  about two and a half hours total and counted 37 in all – but most of that time my eye was glued to a telescope, or I was looking at charts – I was not meteor watching.  Still.  even while doing other stuff you just couldn’t help but see some.

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How do I  test thee, little 10-inch Dob, let me count the ways!

Let’s take Em Three, Castor’s six, and one Iota of Cas-sio-peia;
Mix with Polaris and pal, plus Em Eighty One with Eighty Two;
Em Fifty One,  the Siamese pair, then Saturn and Mars too;
Now Leo’s Triplet, you know – Em Sixty-six and Sixty-five,
and ghostly En Gee See Three Six Two Eight – whew!

I know, I know, no rhyme, but there’s  reason – no rhythm, oh poo

What’s left?
A hive of bees, a Cobra too,
Still more?
Well yes, two unknowns
swept up in a trice,
not a bad deal,
– well worth the price!

With tons of apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and all other real poets, living or dead! – I know it’s not poetry, but I couldn’t think of another way to express the enthusiasm of the moment 😉

Yes, I’m talking about an Orion XT10 Dob that I bought slightly used for $500  several months ago and yes it has a little computer – digital setting circles really – and no, I didn’t use the cpomputer. Actually, I would have preferred a “classic” without the computer, but at least I can leave the lectronics in the house and I’m always thinking of resale value and I assume most people prefer the computerized version.  And while the above just doesn’t make poetry, it did make for a great celestial tour, completed in a bit under two hours – the temperature was 23 degrees and there was a wind –  and I did linger on several objects and managed to see four early Geminids as well! That’s my kind of observing. Did I mention this was at 4 am and I had had a good, solid, 3.5 hours sleep, so my spirits were up?

But really – my goal this morning was to assess the 10-inch Dob for optical performance, ease of use, and comfort. It scored high in all three categories.  See, I had taken the 15-inch down today because I plan to send the mirrors off for resurfacing. So the 10-inch Dob is a stand-in. Given its performance and comfort level when using – critical to me, not so critical to others – the 15-inch could be out of a job. I’m getting too old for high seats – almost fell off the other night – a tad scary.

But can I really find happiness with a dinky little 10-inch Orion? Ask me in a couple months. I tend to fall in love easily. This relationship might not hold up amid new challenges and bad moods  – I can go downhill fast when sleep deprived. Still, I was very impressed. Here are the details.

First, comfort. This isn’t trivial. I don’t think you can do serious observing if you are stressed – and thus distracted – while sitting at the eyepiece.I have one of those thickly padded,  piano-stool-like observing chairs that has seen little use because, while height adjustable, it doesn’t have much reach. It’s perfect for the 10-inch Dob though.  The objects I looked at ranged from a low of about 30 degrees (Iota Cassiopeia), to a high of around 62 degrees and I only adjusted the chair once. Were I looking at the zenith it still would require only a slight adjustment. So that means little fiddling witht he chair and its comfortable – not as comfortable as my office chair in the observatory, but a big change over trying to get cozy with the 15-inch.

Perhaps more important was I found it easier to find a comfortable – and secure – position on this seat without going through excessive contortion to look through the eyepiece. Still, this is the Dobs weakest point in my mind.  My arrangement now with the Stellarvue SV80ST Lomo in the Observatory is ideal. I use a comfortable office chair and a rugged Universal Astronomics T-Mount to bring the eyepiece to me in a position that requires no contortions and results in completely comfortable observing. So while the 10-inch scores higher than the 15-inch in this respect, it scores lower than an ideally -mounted, small refractor. I’d give it maybe a B- in this category. I wasn’t uncomfortable, but I don’t know how it would stand up under a serious observing session where I try to draw what I see.

There’s something else going on here that’s true of any Dob/Newtonian – your looking in the side of the telescope. I really prefer to be seated behind a telescope so that when I look up from the eyepiece I see my target with the naked eye. This is one of those very subjective things that bothers me, but may be of zero concernt o another observer.

OK – second test category – ease of use. Does it move smoothly and quiet down quickly. Yes. It’s no Obsession. The “buttery” feel isn’t there. But it moves with reasonable ease both for finding and tracking.  The azimuth motion is a bit more problematic than the altitude motion.  This is a very practical concern and the inexpensive Dob does well, though isn’t perfect.

What about finding things – manually? No Dob is intuitive. Sitting behind a refractor and pointing it is as instinctive as pointing your finger., Sitting beside a Dob and pointing it  is not. The 10-inch is no exception. What is good, however, is you can position both a unit finder and optical finder on it and I have done so. The unit finder is a Rigel with a pair of red bulls eyes to aim at your target and once you get used to where to position your head in order to see through it, it’s clear sailing. That puts you in the right region. The 8×30 correct view, right angle optical finder then helps you zero in on your target.  I found this all very doable and in quick time – BUT I frequently felt the need to get off the stool and put a knee on the ground in order to see through the Rigel finder. That’s a minus, though not a big one. (Normally I wouldn’t be changing targets this frequently, for one thing.)

I like the handy eyepiece rack and changing eyepiece wasn’t a hassle. Focus is hardly  like the dual-speed Feathertouch on the the 15-inch and SV80St – it’s a single speed and rather clunky – but I never had any serious problem achieving precise focus. A better focuser would be a luxury on this scope – not a necessity.

So ease of use? The mark moves up to a B.

Now – optical performance. Here I found myself mumbling things like “Oh man! Wow!” and “This is scary good!”

I mean it. Maybe the mirror on the 15 has really degraded  over five years of exposure to an unfriendly environment. Maybe my memory of the views in it are just foggy. And maybe a 15-inch simply isn’t that big of a jump – about twice the light gathering power – over a 10-inch. In any event, the 10-inch blew my socks off on all deep sky objects, did a creditable job on double stars, and wasn’t bad at all on the planets.

I started with the most delightful sight  – in my humble opinion – that a large reflector has to offer, a bright globular cluster. In this case, M3 was handy, though only about 40 degrees high in the east. It took only a glance with the 24mm Panoptic eyepiece to be convinced that good things were ahead. When I zoomed in tight with a 5mm (240X) eyepiece I was greeted by  a wonderful snowball, studded with ice crystals – in other words, many of the stars resolved beautifully. At that power it does drift through even a Nagler eyepiece fairly quickly – but  not so quickly to make observing difficult and this was one of the tests of how easy the scope was to move and track without disturbing the view for extended periods of time.

OK – how it do on a double? This is an area where I have found the 15 frustrating and I think its simply because the large objective means that it is more easily impacted by poor seeing conditions.  So the bottom line is this – when I looked at the familiar triple star Castor, I found the view better than what I remember seeing with the 15 inch and not as good as what the 80mm Stellarvue delivers. The reason? I would attribute almost all of the difference to how the larger scopes are more easily impacted by poor seeing. Seeing was ok – but hardly ideal.  I didn’t do a side-by-side test, so this will have to stand as an approximation – first impressions.

I wondered how it would do on a fainter multiple star, so I turned to what is a real challenge for an 80mm, Iota Cassiopeia. Great!  I find the view of this in the 80 mm charming – and it was the last thing I had looked at with that scope about 6 hours before. But I wouldn’t try to show that to a visitor. Seeing this triple with the 80mm requires very precise focus and a good idea of what you expect to see. In other words, its a fine target for an experienced observer. If I wanted to show off Iota Cassiopeia to visitors, i would definitely use the 10 inch. A little sloppy, but when seeing settled down, just beautiful – and the split was wide enough so I have no doubt even a casual visitor would see it and be impressed.

I found a quick peak at Polaris very impressive as well – very easy split. So I decided to go after M81 and M82 – never easy to locate, but using both finders I found them in a minute or two. That was a wow! Not the finding, but the seeing. M81 certainly looked like the impressive spiral it is, and in M82 the dark cloud that cuts diagonally across this cigar-shaped galaxy was immediately obvious.  With both I felt I could spend a lot of time attempting to draw what I could see. I went to M51, the Whirlpool, and had the same impression. I’m sure they were all better in the 15-inch – just not enough better to make a big difference to me. At this stage I’d rather use the 10-inch for how much it delivers in relative comfort.

On my way to the Leo Triplet I dropped by Saturn long enough to be impressed. I could see three or four moons, but I didn’t dally here. Planets are not that important to me and I’m no real judge of a scope’s performance on them, though I will say the best views I’ve ever had of the elusive Mars is with a 100mm refractor. Nothing I saw of either Saturn or Mars this morning made my think the 10-inch could do better unless seeing conditions were really exceptional.

The Leo Triplet? it just popped. Not only M65 and M66 – I expect them to be easy – but NGC3628 is usually a minor challenge and it wasn’t one at all this morning. Transparency was awfully good, of course, but the 10-inch took full advantage of it, delivering all three galaxies easily.

By this time there were some hints of dawn, but to round things out I took a quick look at two open cluster, M44 and M67, spending more of my time on M67.  I’ve examined both recently with the 80mm refractor and the 10-inch   did a more impressive job – it should, especially with M67 which has lots of faint background stars. But my overall impression was very positive.

Oh – and the unknowns? The one near M81 I’m 95% sure was NGC2976 with an apparent magnitude of 10.8 – about three magnitudes fainter than M81 – that fits my impression. The other, I just don’t have a clue. Didn’t have time to sketch the field as I did with NGC2976.

So, for the optical scorecard, a B+ or maybe A-. The only real issue is the unavoidable one of performance being impacted by seeing and that’s simply an issue of size as  said – comes with the territory. For what it is meant to deliver – the faint fuzzies – it did exceptionally well.

So now the question is simple. Will first impressions last? Or will this just be a case of puppy love. I don’t entirely trust my enthusiasm and, of course, I know that I had very good transparency which is just what this scope needs to bring out its best points.  So, let’s see where I am after a few months. If I could figure a way to get comfortable using the 15-inch there would be no question. But as I get older I get less impressed with sheer size and more impressed with what a telescope can deliver without demanding too much of me in terms of bodily contortions – in a word, stress.

And is this the ideal large telescope for my situation? I’m not at all sure. In the back of my mind I’m thinking of a 10-inch or 12-inch Meade LX200 Schmidt-Casegrain. They’re compacta nd you sit behind them las with a refractor. The Meade’s – unlike the Celestrons I’ve met – have manual slow motion controls and thus can be used manually. Maybe I can find one on the used market where the motors and computers are burned out and the owner wants to unload it cheap – stay tuned 😉

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My indoor, impromptu observing set-up. Click image for larger view. If picture is a bit fuzzy, it was handheld and very slow shutter speed - best I could do.

Through half a century of amateur astronomy I’ve been a good little boy, following the rules as I read them in various books – this morning I threw them all out the window and had a great time prowling the Moon!

OK – the main rule I broke is I sat in a heated sunroom looking through a rather dirty, double-thick pain of glass, while the lights of a nearby Christmas tree danced off said glass. And guess what? Not only did this beat hell out of freezing my butt off outside in the snow, but I actually explored an area of the moon that wasn’t familiar to me and I enjoyed doing it.

Oh – and did I mention I was using a dinky little 50mm scope on a dinky little camera tripod with some new-old-fashioned, ridiculously inexpensive “symetrical” eyepieces? That’s breaking three more “rules.”  Did I see all sorts of detail I’ve never seen before? Of course not. And I’m sure a serious lunar observer would scoff at the view with good reason.  But I’m a casual lunar explorer and  while I can recognize all the major seas and many craters and have explored in detail  areas such as the Apollo 15 landing area, there are still tons of mountains and craters on the moon that are new to me.

This morning – yes, I was doing this shortly before 6 am – what caught my eye was the area between the striking crater pair of Eudoxus and Aristoteles, and Cassini. There was a mountain range crossing the gap between those two – part of the Alps, I assume – and these were really catching the evening sun beautifully.  Now I should have gotten down to brass tacks and figured out what was the smallest crater I could see well, but I was having too much fun and by the time I decided to do that, a pine tree in the front yard had moved between me and the Moon! Drat it! That’s what comes from living on this spinning platform.

But seriously, the traditional caution of not observing in comfort through window glass needs to be challenged, especially if you live in areas of the country that can get down-right uncomfortable at certain times of year – and especially if you are a beginner, or casual observer just seeking the essential experience of communing a bit with the universe.

Sure, there was probably an advantage here to not trying to be too bold. A larger scope with more power might not have fared as well. But I grabbed what was handy, which was my tiny “Little Rascal” aka “Sparrow Hawk” made by Stellarvue. Right now someone is probably flinching at my calling this charming little scope “dinky,” but relax. Consider it a term of endearment. This is the second one of these scopes I’ve owned and the guy who sold this one to me included a couple of eyepieces he had gotten from Bill Burgess that are marked as a “12.5 UHC Symmetrical” and “UHC Symmetrical 6” respectively. They come to focus at opposite ends of the 50mm’s helical focuser which is a bit of a pain, but he told me the UHC  eyepieces werer marketed at $10 each by Burgess with about $2.50 shipping. (Hmmm… wonder what UHC is supposed to mean? Burgess fans, feel free to chip in here and educate me.) Bottom line – these are not the big guns of the eyepiece world and they don’t perform as well as my Naglers which cost about 20-25 times as much. Duh!

On the Sparrow Hawk these delivered  about 16X and 34X respectively – well, at least by the numbers. The apparent field seems somewhere around 40, but that’s just a  guess. (That’s my guess from looking at the 2-degree cacade of stars in Cygnus between the center star of the “cross” and Albireo. That cascade fit comfortably in the 12.5mm yield what seemed to be about a 2.5 degree true field of view.)

Last night I was out – freezing because this time I was under the stars radiating what little body heat I had to the black void – and I could indeed see fainter stars with the Naglers. But the 6mm gave a charming split of Albireo, and as I was prowling in the general area of the Andromeda Galaxy I swept up M33 using the 12.5mm. That kinda knocked my socks off. I know this galaxy is easier to see at low power and it was very near the zenith at that time, but I really didn’t expect to have it pop out at me as I was rather hastily moving towards another target.

Bottom line – the cheapy eyepieces are small, compact, and a good match for this scope. Their performance is a pleasant surprise. I found a unused soft case, attached it to the tripod with a Velcro strap, and the two eyepieces are now part of the permanent grab ‘n go set up. (They came in really neat plastic cups with a wider top to accommodate the rubber eye guards – nice touch.)

Oh – and the tripod – I’ve forgotten what brand it is, but it’s one of those generic camera tripods with flimsy, thin aluminum legs with plastic flip lock thingees on them. I put an old Orion slow-motion adaptor on top of it simply because it was lying around doing nothing else useful. It is not really necessary at these low powers, but it does help sometimes.

Could I have cranked the power up? Yes -a tad. I tried a 5mm Nagler (41X) and liked that view best. A 2.5mm Nagler (82X) was too much.

But the bottom line is this. I observed, seated in warmth and comfort. You can find hundreds of things on the moon with 10X50 binoculars. You can find more with this set up and it’s more comfortable to sit and give your arms a break. (Yes, mine get tired holding binoculars.) And if you’re a newbie just learning your way around the moon, this is a great way to do it. It should whet your appetite for some more serious exploration with larger telescopes, unobstructed by heat waves and thick glass. And if you want to sit outside in sub-freeziong temperatures, bless you! I’ve certainly done more than my share of that kind of observing.

But honestly, as I get older, winter becomes less and less fun, so I’m going to continue to explore what’s possible with this kind of indoor observing that fits my comfort zone!


Last night there was a brief hole inthe clouds, so I pointed the little scope out the sliding glass doors – and in quick succession was able to find M36, M38, and M35 – all witht he 12.5mm Symmetrical eyepiece. Now, could a newbie do this? I’m not sure. These did not jump out atme – I had to look and I knew what I wa slooking for – but I could see them clearly.  would it have been better if I were outside? Yes – and colder – much colder. 😉

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