Archive for February, 2010

UPDATE – March 2 – 2 am

Galileo should have been so lucky!

If the old guy had had a scope like this he would have had at least one more miracle to report – Saturn has rings! Even with them titled at a very bad angle, I could easily make out the rings of Staurn using the 50mm scope and nothing but a 20mm Kellner eyepiece yielding 30X – about the most powerful scope Galileo had did – but, of course, the objective on the little Tasco is much better.  With a 6mm Celestron Plossl the view was much better, and I could even pick out Titan – and that with a moon just two days past full and only 7 degrees away.

Speaking of the moon, I only looked at it briefly – a solid bank of clouds were moving in quickly from the west – but once more I detected no color at low magnifictaion. (I didn’t attempt high magnification. But I have used very good binoculars at 15X and seen more color on the moon than this. Maybe I’m not as sensitive to it as others, but the CA on this F12 lens seems  absent. When I switched to Vega, just 25-degrees above the horizon int he northeast it was a perfect, round dot – brilliant, with no color tinge I could notice.

I gave M13 a try and was disappointed. On a dark night with no moon – and higher – it will be better, but I this was my first warning that you can push 50mm of light gathering power only so far.  At 30X it was a fuzzy star – at 100X it was really quite faint.  I switched to the Double Double and had could get nothing except an elongation in the correct direction – roughly east-west for one of the pair, north-south for the other. No clean split, even when I tried to push it with 5mm and 3.5mm Naglers. (Yes, it feels ridiculous using an eyepiece worthf our times as mucha s the scope 😆

Curious, I put the 60mm Orion F15 refractor on the other side of the Double Star mount and tried it on  the Double Double.  A little better, but nothing I would call a clean split. The 5mm yielded the best view – a figure 8 at 180X – the 3.5mm way over did it. I suspect under the right conditions the  50mm could split it.

But the 50mm warrants a lot more testing and play time.  I’m looking forward to trying the .965 eyeieces that came with it, and I need to compile alist of bright doubles and other objects where it has a chance of delivering satisfactory results. M42 and M45, for example, I’m sure will be good, as will Albireo and perhaps Almach. Hmmm… the last should be agood test.

Original post follows  . . .

Oh boy – this is going to be fun!

I feel like a kid this morning, anxiously peeking out the sliding glass doors every 30 minutes to see if the clouds are going to give me a break – and they do!

Not much of one, mind you, but about 3:30 am I got a good long look at the moon, just a tad past full, and felt like I was using my first telescope all over again.  What I was using, actually, was a 50mm Tasco 6TE-5  that has been refurbished by someone who knew what they were doing – not me. You can read more about this 40-year-old “toy” scope in “The Teddy Bear Scope Gets Some Competition!” in the “Telescope” section of this Board, or on my blog here. ([url]http://wp.me/pmWBO-c0[/url]) Carrying this puppy out to the yard feels like – well, feels like you’re carrying a six-week-old puppy. I doubt that it weighs as much as my binoculars. 😆

First light result – the moon was sharp, clear, with only the slightest hint of false color. ( It must gave been there, but honestly I couldn’t see it on this first try.) Bright spots like the Cobra Head (Aristarchus) and the wonderful crater and V that mark the border of the Marsh of Sleep  really popped and I could just see a bit of terminator region.  About an hour later I got another break and went out and this time was able to observe Mizar, splitting it first at 100X, then at 30X, and both splits were clean, with nice little round dots for stars – no fireworks or seagulls or comets of any sort. Vega looked the same, but neither Albireo nor the Double Double were out of the clouds, so I couldn’t check how it handled color, or give it a really severe test like the Double Double. Saturn would have been fun too, but every time I looked it was in the clouds. Heck, I could barely pick out the handle of the Big Dipper through high clouds when I was able to point it at Mizar. (The split I’m talking about is Mizar itself – of course Alcor split widely even at 15X.)

For these quick looks I didn’t fool with the .965 eyepiece collection. Instead I used a 40mm Antares Plossl as a sort of finder. On this F12 scope it gave me 15X and better than a three-degree field of view.   I doubled the power with a 20mm Kelner, then went to 100X with a 6mm Celestron Plossl.  All of these were 1.25-inch eyepieces and I used them in the hybrid, .965-to-1.25 diagonal.  I’m anxious to try the .965 diagonal, which I’m told by the previous owner is “very good,” and the Kelner and Konig .965 eyepieces, but with this horrible weather we’ve having, who knows when I’ll get the chance?

I mean these were near terrible transparency conditions, though pretty darned good seeing when you got a lucky break. There was 80-90 percent cloud cover and the moon washing everything out when you had a clear spot. Still, it was great to be outside at night again and the 32-degree temperatures made it feel absolutely balmy.

Time to go take another peek – see if there are any more breaks! Nope – solid cover!  Ah well  – I’ve had more fun this morning than I’ve had in over a week.  Can’t wait to really test this little scope and do a shoot out with the Teddy Bear scope to see which one of these “kids’ scopes” gets to stay up late and play with the adults. I think I know the answer, but I’ll try to keep an open mind.

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OK – first there was FirstScope – remember?

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And today it’s competition, fresh out of a time warp from 1969, arrived.

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That’s my “new” Tasco 6TE-5! Did I own one of these in my younger days? Not sure. But this looks a lot like the old scope I’ve had out in the weather over my mailbox for several years to let people know they’ve arrived at Driftway Observatory. Only on this one, the glass looks great, the finish (redone) is handsome matte black, and included are ten .965 eyepieces, two finders, a Vixen-style dovetail, two barlows, the standard diagonal plus a hybrid diagonal that will take standard 1.25 eyepieces.

So what the heck do I want with a 50mm F12 scope from the 1960s with .965 eyepieces? Good question. I actually think it might help in outreach efforts. No kididng. That was one of my reasons for getting the FirstScope, though it’s been a disappointment in terms of performance. When I saw the ad for the 6TE-4 on Cloudy Nights it seemed like a good idea and when the current owner heard I wanted it for outreach he knocked the price down from $100 to $80 without my asking.

Was that a bargain? I don’t have a clue. But it seemed like a good idea at the time and I can’t wait to get out and give this little scope a try. I’m particularly interested in its optical performance, head-to-head with the Celestron FirstScope. But I understand from the start the comparison is not fair – we’re not doing apples to apples. To begin with, the Tasco came with an absolutely abominable, dinky little tripod and so as purchased would be next to useless. (If you had asked me in 1970 should you buy a Tasco like this I would have told you no – it’s a piece of junk.) Here’s how it originally looked – this is from the original instruction manual.

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But I suspect the lens is the saving grace – and the focuser is pretty smooth as well. Don’t get me wrong. I am not syaing that akid in 1969 got a betetr deal than a kid in 2009. As a starter scope the FirstScope is a better choice. At least it doesn’t carry the threat of blinding that the sun filter did with the little refractor – and the FirstScope is far better mounted. But I suspect the 50mm F12 refractor as configured now will out perform the 76mm F3.95 reflector, though I’ll try to keep an open mind when testing.

in any event, the performance on the FirstScope is, I’m sad to report, too poor for me to want to use it to illustrate to visitors what a small scope can do.

The tripod was long discarded from the Tasco I now have. The one that arrived today is meant to be looked through, not looked at. Two blocks have been added to the bottom that take the standard 1/4-inch photo tripod thread, but are spaced so that an included Vixen dovetail fits perfectly on them. So if I want, this little scope can now be way over-mounted on my Voyager or DoubleStar mounts. Someone – who I have to assume knew what they were doing – has flocked the inside, repainted the tube, and collimated it. Yeah, that 4X15mm finder sure looks dinky, but it’s very clear, so I’ll withhold judgment for now. Here’s what came with the scope – though I added a 1.25-inch eyepiece to the picture for size comparison.

Tasco 6TE-5 and accessories, as purchased used. Click image for larger version.

If those eyepiece names look unfamiliar to you, you’re showing your age. Ramsdens were the Plossls of that day, in that they were considered a good standard. They were an improvement over the Huygenians. the most common type. I’m not sure what “SR” stands for – symetrical? The two that interests me the most are a 26mm Kellner and a 10mm Koenig. The Koenig is sort of like a Plossl, but with better eye relief as I understand it.

Bottom line – the Tasco may be quite functional with the .965 eyepieces. That will be interesting to see. But functionality is my goal. I did not buy this for its nostalgic value – though there’s a taste of that in it. If I were buying it as a collectible I would not want a scope that had been modified, repainted, etc. The only thing convincingly original here is the box with original foam, cut-to-fit, packing. I wanted this because I honestly believe you can have some real fun with a 50mm refractor and in the outreach I do, I don’t want folks thinking that you can’t enjoy astronomy unless you have something that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. So if this little scope performs as I hope it will – I will use it quite a bit.

Keep in mind that the gain in light gathering power from our eye to this scope is MORE than the gain from this scope to my 15-inch! Which will be irrelevant, of course, if the Tasco turns out to perform poorly. Quick checks in daylight in the rain – through the windows – are encouraging, but don’t really tell me much. Oh – and don’t blame me for this weather. I’m very familiar with the new scope curse, but I refuse to tale responsibility for a solid week of bad weather just for a buying a 40-year old 50mm telescope. :roll:

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Sweeping up old, familiar galaxies was not nearly as easy as I thought it would be – but then, I somehow managed to miss the Shuttle Endeavor streaking across the sky at -0.5 magnitude – in total a rather humbling experience that  proved the fun of being wrong. Maybe you can set me straight if you care to wade on through to the end 😉

It all  started about 10 hours before with a little modest testing.

I need to find a cure for my telescope addiction – I can’t even tell you how many scopes I’ve bought and sold in the past six months and since I’ve been scratched unceremoniously from Astromart – those folks have no manners – the trail I left has vanished  🙂 But buying and selling used scopes does have it’s upside, though, in that I get to experience a lot more options than I ever did before. In any event this latest round was making me think we cut this whole telescope size business way too fine.  OK – I’ll be careful about the use of the word “we.”  Imagers are understandably more demanding of a scope than I am, and for that matter so are a slew of visual observers who are much more tuned in to detail than me. So I’ll just say that for me, the differences between an 80mm scope and a 120mm just aren’t that obvious. Heck, I hardly use my 15-inch at all these nights because the smaller scopes seem to meet my demands with less hassle. But this doesn’t stop me from getting on a kick where I decide that I really “need” a six-inch achromatic refractor. Because of their size  – and recent favorable reviews on Cloudy Nights – I was looking at the Explore Scientific, an  F6.5 152mm scope – and a similar one, but different brand, from Hands-on Optics.

But just how much light do I gain with the 150mm?  I can do the math, but what it boils down to is what is  the faintest star I can see. Yes, I know all sorts of games can be played with these numbers as well. But for comparison purposes  I decided to accept the Orion numbers  as at least relatively correct.  They show the [b]80ED with a limiting magnitude of 12.2, the 120 ShortTube at 13.1, and 150mm Celestron they sell at 13.6.[/b] By those numbers the F5 120mm achromatic offers almost a full magnitude jump over the 80 ED and the 150mm adds another half a magnitude.  So what’s that mean in real observing experience? Answering that question was my goal last night. I don’t have a 150mm scope right now, but I do have an 80ED and a 120ST and so I could put them both on the DoubleStar mount, use the same diagonal and eyepieces for both, and see what I could see.

The focal length for both scopes is 600mm, so that ruled out magnification as an issue. Yes, there was a first quarter moon dominating the area near the zenith, but so what? The playing field was level, if a bit washed out.  I pointed them at M42 as a starting point. The 120mm view was obviously brighter – or was it? That was my first subjective impression and I think it was accurate – but when I tried to prove it to myself by tracing the extent of the nebulosity – especially with M43 – I just couldn’t pin down a real difference. And when I scanned for the faintest stars visible there was nothing in the 120mm that I couldn’t find in the 80mm – though I must admit the stars on the borderline were a tad easier to see with the 120mm. But nothing blew me away. Nothing said  “wow, i really need more aperture than the 80 can offer.” (OK  part of this might be better glass and a slower focal ratio in the 80 – but light grasp is light grasp, right? Size is the major factor.)

I won’t recount all the details of my little experiment. Suffice it to say I repeated my test on two open clusters,  M35 and it’s much fainter companion, NGC 2158. Then I switched to M1. I played around changing diagonals – I had one for each scope, but I switched them back and forth to make sure that wasn’t causing the difference. I also upped the power, starting with a 24mm Panoptic, but also using 13mm, 7mm, and 3.5mm Naglers. [b]Where did the 120 shine? On NGC 2158 and  M1. [/b]These low- surface brightness objects were difficult targets in the moonlight and while I could barely detect NGC 2158 with the 80mm under these conditions, I could actually observe it with the 120mm. M1 showed in both scopes, but was certainly brighter and easier to see in the 120mm. So with marginal targets you start to really notice the added light gathering power. But with many targets the difference just wasn’t enough to make me crave a larger scope.

This is good.  I really don’t want to sell the SV80S Lomo – though it would more than cover the cost of a 150mm achromatic – and when I started observing that was my plan. But just to get my feet solidly back on the ground I did one more test. I looked at  Algieba, a favorite double, that was fairly low in the east, it’s altitude aggravating the already poor seeing. The 80ED showed me a wonderful pair. Little, bright dots with subtle color. Charming! The 120mm gave me the kind of sparkling stars that fascinate Cub Scouts who visit Driftway Observatory, but are not what I’m seeking. Sparkling lights are nice on Christmas trees – not so nice when trying to split doubles.  I took the 120mm off the DoubleStar and replaced it with the C8 SCT. Algieba calmed down a little, compared to the 120mm (remember it is an inexpensive F5  and not intended for double stars). But the 80 ED gave the best images.

This isn’t really a fair test. I don’t expect the F5 achro to perform like and F7.5 apo-wannabe on doubles. But I’m have trouble believing that any six-inch refractor that is short enough to work well on my mount  is just not going to be able to deliver the kind of star images I crave. Mind you, the split was wider in the other larger scope. Increased size does mean smaller star images.  I’m not saying an 80 ED can do everything well. But this was an enjoyable 90 minutes of observing and it cured me of my current lust for a 150mm achro. I’m not knocking these scopes. Just saying they don’t offer enough extra light grasp to make me want to part with a smaller apo to get one.

So I went into the house at peace with my scope envy for the time  being, watched a little Olympic speed skating, and actually got a very rare six hours sleep – delightful. Felt I could conquer the world – and since it was now 4 am there was still time to get out to witness the 4:34 am pass of the Endeavor  – I had checked Spaceweather.com’s “Satellite Flybys” before going to bed – which was to be followed a few minutes later by the ISS. By 4:30 am I was comfortably settled on the Observing Deck with my hot seat (“Lava buns”) beneath me, my tea beside me, and my super-wide-angle 5X24 Bushnells in hand. These are my “Lyra” glasses in that they can show that entire constellation with plenty of breathing room around it. Even with just 10 minutes dark adaption I was seeing every star in the Little Dipper. Transparency was a five – in magnitudes, I’d say 5.5.  Wonderful. No wind, either.  But the Endeavor was due to appear in the ENE and not be all that high. I figured that would put it in the apple tree branches pretty quickly, so I took a short walk to my easterly viewing station where it’s clear to the horizon – and I waited, and waited and … checked my clock and it was now several minutes past the appointed time.
How the heck did I miss something of magnitude -0.5 moving across the sky?[/b]

“Pop” – there was the ISS, right on schedule, though not as bright as the morning before. But no Endeavor.  I must be going blind.

But I didn’t give it much more thought because I wanted to take advantage of this great transparency and I didn’t have much time left before astronomical twilight began. So I went back to the deck and swung the 80/8 – that’s my new shorthand for the 80 ED and C8 combination on the DoubleStar – I swung it in towards the hole between Denebola and Porrima where I knew the Virgo galaxies hang out. Haven’t made any serious excursions in this direction this year, so my memory of exactly what is where isn’t that fresh. But I figured with a 2.7 degree fov on the 80 ED with 24mm Panoptic I should be able to sweep up M84/86 or at least some of the members of Markareian’s Chain. Wrong!

I don’t know how I missed them. This was at least as mysterious to me as the missing shuttle. I swept a couple times with the 80 ED, then switched to the 8-inch, also with a 24mm Panoptic and  focal reducer – no luck.

Well, not zero luck. With both scopes I kept stumbling across two galaxies. But they were singles and in this territory I’m used to seeing at least two galaxies at a time, if not four or five. The first was bright and round and while I didn’t recognize the star patterns in the field – quite bright and distinctive, I might add – I assumed this was M87. The second was dimmer and fairly near an 8th magnitude star and my memory told me that was M58. But if so, where were the other galaxies? I couldn’t place M87 in my mind  in relation to the other galaxies – for some reason it has never interested me much – but I new it was in the neighborhood. But no cluster galaxies. Finally I gave up.  I did stare at “M87” for quite a while and noticed a few individual stars which I assumed must be foreground stars in our galaxy.  And what a wonderful cascade of bright stars leading down to it!

Can you guess now where I was? Do I hear Bob Magnuson saying “dummy, you were on M53!” If so, Bob, you’re right. I went in and checked the charts, having committed the field stars to memory. Yep. That was an M53. Why the heck did they put a globular cluster so close to this galaxy field”? I don’t know if I’ve every looked at it. Or maybe I looked at it in my “go to” days and so didn’t appreciate its spatial context? (that’s one reason I’m no longer a fan of “go to” – I just wasn’t getting to know the  neighborhood!)  In any event, it’s worth another look, and this is what I like about being wrong.

Yes, I do plan many observing sessions and research extensively before going out. But other times I like to explore, find something, note its surrounding, then when the sky lightens, or the cold drives me in, I have fun figuring out what I had seen. In this case, what I read when I came in makes me eager to get back to M53.

[quote]William Herschell described M53 as one of the most beautiful sights in the heavens. Still, this whopping, 200-light-year-wide sphere of stars is an unsung hero among globulars for small telescopes. Perhaps that’s because it sits on the fringe of the Como-Virgo-Cluster of galaxies like a flower outside a forest of redwoods.

That just a taste of what Stephen James O’Meara has to say in “The Messier Objects.” Flower indeed – and I could find the flower, but not the redwoods! 😳

Ronald Stoyan, et al in “Atlas of the Messier Objects” points out that M53 was discovered in the early morning hours of the 3rd of February, 1775 by Johann Elert Bode who described it as “lively and round.” Yep – I can relate to that Johann. Imagine what it must have been like to be the first to see something like this! And this sucker is big! I mean, M13 blows my mind, but M13 is more than twice as close to us.  M53 is 63,000 light years away, has a diameter (accoridng to the Atlas)  of 230 light years, and about 750,0000 solar masses.  I’ll be back for a better look.

And what about that other dude? the one I thought was M58. Dimmer, mind you, than M53 – and keep in mind, I was using low power the whole time.  But it was a galaxy. Figured it out? It was bracketed by a triangle of  stars – a fifth magnitude star on one end, and the other two magnitude 7.  That help?

If you answered M64, the “Black Eye” galaxy, you are right and your star-hppomg slills far exceed mine.  Now that one I should have known – or probably would have known – if I had increased the power. But at this point I was keep the power low, the field wide, and trying to remember identifying field stars – so I didn’t notice the dark splotch on the core. And it was getting light. By the time I backed off these two the faintest stars I was seeing with the naked eye were magnitude three. But I like being wrong this way. I learn more.

OH – and the missing Endeavor? You all have that figured out, don’t you? When my wife got up I recounted my experience with it to her.

“I thought they landed last night,” she said innocently.


Oh my. Maybe I should look at the news once in a while. I didn’t even know there was a possibility of them landing last night. I just took the Spaceweather predictions as gospel. Maybe there was some fine print I had missed. but sure enough, they had come down last night, though early in the evening they thought the weather was going to keep them up.

But this is good news, too. I’m not blind. Nor did they crash.

And hey – it might still be clear enough to observe tonight, though the forecast for the rest of the week sure is dismal!

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Boy, this observing period didn’t start out as advertised! Wonder of the folks doing the public outreach at UMass Dartmouth encountered what I did a few miles away?

I had a session scheduled for 7 pm with one of the  “star hoppers” group and the forecast looked wonderful. In fact, when he arrived he couldn’t take his eyes off the sky and I had to keep reminding him to watch out for the slippery ground as we walked to the Observing Deck. Once there, I introduced the topic  for the night – open clusters – and explained how the observing log form encouraged him to look for specific aspects of a cluster, such as density, color of stars, patterns, etc. That maybe took 10 minutes and in that time the sky nearly entirely clouded over and the wind went from 7-10 mph to gusts of 30-40 mph! Incredible. We hunkered down near the fence that surrounds the deck, well-sheltered form the worst of the cold wind, and hoped this wasn’t throwing a monkey wrench into the club’s outreach efforts at UMassD. It took perhaps about 15-30 minutes for the skies to clear entirely. As little pieces opened up we got a look at Vesta, still in the same binocular field as Gamma Leo and its companion, but well beyond those two stars. More sky opened and we could pick out Auriga and I explained where to start looking with binoculars for  M36 and it’s two neighbors, M37 and M38.

These were high overhead and that’s where I began to miss my Hotech laser – badly. It’s an Astro Aimer G3 – pricey, but it includes white light, red light, and green laser in one unit – nice. For the first few months it worked fine.  But then about a month ago the laser started acting up. I thought it was just the cold and didn’t worry too much about it. But then the white light started getting erratic and after that the red light. The clincher came when I switched to fresh batteries and suddenly nothing worked! So it’s on its way to the folks at Hotech who have promised to replace it free of charge – nice, since it was 11 months into its one year guarantee! But I had forgotten how difficult it could be to help someone find something like these clusters – now high overhead and roughly 40 degrees from a 7-day-old moon that was washing stuff out somewhat.  As I noted, I get cranky at night – sleep deprivation – and I wasn’t the most patient of instructors. Fortunately, my visitor was much nicer than I deserve.

Bottom line, he eventually found all three clusters in his 10X50 glasses, despite the moonlight. We then switched to the Universal Astronomic DoubleStar mount. This is cool. Right now it has a C8 SCT with a Telrad sight on it and mounted next to that is an 8omm Orion  (80ED) with the 30mm Clearvue eyepiece that delivers a 4-degree true field of view at 20X. That’s almost as much as the binoculars, but with more light grasp and power.  So the process is get in the territory – now familiar from his exploring it with binoculars – by using the Telrad. He found M36 ( the easiest to start with IMHO) and then moveed to M38. The two fit in the same 4-degree field. M37 is a bit of a stetch in the other direction, but not hard. And, of course, when you have found the target and appreciated  the context that the wide field of view supplies, you then move to  the 8-inch. I use a focal reducer on this to bring the focal length down to 1260mm, so with the same eyepiece as use dinthe 80mm, the C8 is producing about double the power – and half the field of view. And that was the program for the night – compare and contrast these four. I think he did very well, becoming very familiar with that wonderful region of sky, and certainlys eemed to enjoy the accomplishment.

I didn’t fare as well. I fooled some more with the  Celestron FirstScope which continues to disappoint. I’m pretty sure I have it tuned up as good as it gets now and while it will reveal the Trapezium, for example, using its 4mm eyepiece, I only see it because I have seen it so many times I know what to expect. I feel a new user would probably notice just one star there. (Granted, seeing, was poor, but other scopes in the same size category could handle it better. I also played with a 6-inch Orion  “classic” DOB. I like this scope, but I’m not all that happy  with pointing a DOB. I’m spoiled by  nice, small refractors and the workhorse, 8-inch SCTs.

Morning, as usual, was better for me, though my four hours of sleep was fitfull. I don’t think I would have gone out, except I knew a good pass of Endeavor, followed by the SST, was in the works.  I really got to enjoy the DoubleStar and refined the pointing on it so that the target is centered in both scopes, even at moderate-to-high powers. I plan to review this, since it’s new – not only to me, but to the market – but I want to live with it a while. I always tend to be overly enthusiastic with a new piece of equipment at first. Now that I have these two scopes in sync on it, I’m wondering what will happen when I remove them, then do another set up next time its clear. I expect they will be close – but not sure if they’ll have to be finetuned again.

I used it on several familiar targets, but my real goal was to see how it would do on the ISS – and the answer is great!  I had a 24mm Panoptic in both scopes. That gave me 25X and close to  3 degrees in the 80mm. In the  C8 with focal reducer it gave me 52X and a bit more than a degree. So when Endeavor appeared right on schedule in the NW and climbed about 30 degrees I lead it with the Telrad sight, switched to the  80mm and it soon came into that scope’s field. I got it on the centerline and switched to the  C8 – Wow! Not like its photographs. Too much dazzle and seeing that was still a “2” at best.  But I could see one elongated bar with three bright bars crossing it,  I’m not the super patriot sort, but seeing the ISS and  a shuttle play tag almost always brings tears to my eyes – makes me feel our species, despite its many blunders, may indeed have a future.

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I frequently have to drag myself to the observatory at night – unless someone is coming over, or I have had a solid, two-hour nap during the afternoon. See, I seldom get more than four hours sleep at a time and frequently that’s all I get in 24 – so in the past 24 hours I’ve had two observing sessions and one of them was a flop because I was tired and cranky and even lonely – and the other was totally satisfying because it came shortly after I had had my fours hour of sleep and I felt totally plugged in and at one with the solitude.

The first was around 7:30-8:30 last night and I really didn’t do anything except look at M42 and M35 with the 8-inch LX50. I have it in alt-az mode now. If I put it on the wedge in the observatory it takes up just that much more space so as to become a nuisance with me frequently bumping into the finder, or eyepiece  as I turn to make notes.  So now I’ve set the wedge aside, connected it to the pier which has a flat plate on top, and am using it entirely manually – though the jury is out on whether or not it would be better to use the electronics to move it once I have acquired an object. The manual slow motion controls – really, even just pushing it – works pretty smoothly. In fact, for those coming here to learn this will be a nice inbetween step – a way to get familiar with the controls that is less complicated than also using it in equatorial mode. So they can learn on the LX-50 in alt=az mode, then move to the LX-10 – very similar, but in equatorial mode.

Transparency seemed better than forecast, so I tried to detect the thinner areas of M42, but with little enthusiasm. With M35 I played around more with NGC 2158, its distant companion cluster. As I said, transparency was good. But I still could detect only half a dozen stars or so – the rest were so much powdered sugar.

Then as a closing gesture I decided to look at Mars and was surprised to see it as good as I can remember seeing it.  I was not expecting particularly steady seeing and so had not tried for the  “pup” – I have yet to see this dim, close companion of Sirius – and Sirius was now behind some trees. But Mars! My goodness the north polar cap just jumped right out at you and Syrtis Major with the stuff that spreads out in either direction near its southern base – was all quite clear. Oh, not like what you see on the S&T Mars Profiler (http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/javascript/3307831.html) – several individual patches of olive drab blended together in one blob – but quite impressive considering that Mars is only about 13 arc seconds across right now and some 68 million miles away. Needless to say, I am not much of a planetary observer, for had I been I would not have closed up shop and gone in at this point

But when I got up around 3 am it was wonderfully clear and after a little reading I went out to the Observing Deck and played a little with the FirstScope – it’s proving frustrating, but I need to do more testing and I’m trying to get better performance by toying with the collimation. Bottomline – right now an inexpensive 60mm refractor is  blowing it away. More on that another time.  But I soon set it aside and put the 8-inch Celestron SCT in the UA DoubleStar mount along with the Orion 80ED I acquired recently. (There are some real bargains on these little APO wannabees on the used market right now and the one I picked up for $300 included a dual-speed focuser that’s much better than the original. Optically It’s performance is terrific. It gives the SV80S Lomo a run for the money. Though seeing was only average I got a nice clean split of the Double Double at 171X, yet while using similar power on the C8 I was having trouble splitting it. That led me eventually to spend some time in the predawn light recollimating the C8 using Polaris – this scope is another one of my recent bargain purchases.

But before I did any of that I settled down to sip tea and sip in the ancient photons from M13 and its sweet little companion, M92. I’ve been focusing on insight meditation of late and that led me to try to see M13 – not judge it. That is, I find it too easy to think of objects such as this as “beautiful,” or “glorious,” or :charming,” and the words are all worn out and mean little. So what was I really experiencing here? Of course, on one level I am visualizing where I am in the galaxy and where M13 is – and that’s fun. Also visualizing when it is and when I am.  But how can I describe it?  And that’s when the word “crystal” popped into my head, and then “rock candy.” Neither really fit, but they seemed headed in the right direction. The C8 – with a 13mm Nagler (154X) was delivering a wonderful image that showed a core studded with plenty of individual stars  – a snowball with ice shards? Perhaps. It was something like that. I was thinking of that fine ice, though, that comes tinkling down from tree limbs after the kind of icy-snow mix we got from the last storm.

That was the reality for me this morning. That’s what the photons were triggering in my brain after their 25,000 year suicide mission.  (Well, 25,000 years for me, no time for them, right?) In short, it was wonderful for me. The kind of still, star-filled morning I live for – at night I had been alone – lonely even. This morning was different. I was alone, yes – very alone. Most of the lights on the hills across the river were out. The yard was still. The air wasn’t moving. And I can’t hear worth a damn, so there was no sound.  The moon had set. This is being alone – but there is no loneliness, for this is solitude. That’s different. And, of course, not that much had changed from the night before, except that I had had some rest. But that’s why I find each observing session different, even when I’m looking at the same thing from night to night. I don’t think we can begin to exhaust these objects and what we see really depends on what we bring to the telescope.

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Friday (February 12) was brilliantly clear – not steady, but clear – and I had a couple of folks out at 7 pm who are learning star hopping and how to use the scopes. This is my new approach to my outreach activities, btw. I got tired and frustrated with giving what amounted to tours for folks who would take a quick look and go “oh wow!” So I asked for those who really want to learn their way around the night sky without enefit of computers and “go to” to raise their hands. (The one swho did are now on a short email notification list I call “star hoppers.”)

This evening I had a C8 SCT on one side of the new UA DoubleStar mount and the SV80S Lomo Triplet with 30mm Clearvue on the other side. This was on the pier on the Observing Deck. The 80mm gives a 5.1 degree fov at 16X with this arrangement, so it’s like a huge finder for the C8. In the observatory I had a ST120 set up on the UA T-Mount for comfortable, office chair viewing. With a 24mm Panoptic it gives 25X and about a 2.7 degree fov.

This widefield approach fit the assignment which was simply this:

Point the scope at Delta Cassiopeia and see what star clusters you can find within five degrees. (There are at least five). With the 80mm that meant keeping Delta somewhere within the field of view all the time. But even with the 120ST, the two main targets (NGC457 and M103) could be “discovered.” And in truth, that’s all they found. the other clusters are fainter, but once they located these they had fun exploring them at higher powers. (NGC457 has several names, but I think most people know it as “ET.” M103 is sometimes called the “Christmas Tree,” and that works for me, though I like the other Christmas Tree over between Betelgeuse and Gemini’s feet better.)

We finished up the observing by using charts from my other Web site (http://astrojourney.wordpress.com/) to find and record the progress of Vesta as it approaches Algieba – Gamma Leonis. Binoculars were the tool here.

This approach of developing a little exercise, having folks concentrate on it and stick with just a few targets for the entire session, seems to be working real well. The sessions are much more enjoyable for me this way – I played with an LX10 with 8-inch SCT most of the time and just did a little coaching from time to time as they explored on their own. In two hours the cold had pretty much finished up the observing session, but judging from feed back, everyone was happy. I particularly liked these email comments from Paul because it showed he was getting exactly what I had hoped he would get out of the experience.

I very much enjoyed the double telescope and the ease of operating it. What I’m woefully lacking is knowledge of when to switch magnification, among other things, and getting oriented is a little frustrating, but that’s a good thing because it forces me to grab the binoculars, look at the target object and study the surrounding area, and then compare that to the view in the telescope. I know I’m repeating myself here but, what is constantly being reinforced for me is paying attention to detail. For ex., looking carefully at Gamma Leonis and surrounding sky and then comparing that to what’s on the chart. “Oh..wow! I’m seeing a double star where the chart indicates only one, so, that must be Vesta!” Again, I very much enjoy specific assignments, like carefully studying of the Pleiades, but what also works for me is pointing me is a specific direction, ex. Delta in Cassiopeia and then telling me to look for anything unusual that might catch my eye and see what happens. It appeals to my sense of adventure.

For me there was an interesting lesson here as well. Joe , using the 120ST, had an easier time locating both ET and M103. I don’t think this was so much the extra light grasp of the 120 over the 80mm. I suspect it was more the extra power. For those just learning their way it’s really hard to know what you are looking for and how it will show up under different magnifications. You can see both these objects in 10X50 binoculars, but only if you know what you’re looking for – and my hope is that Joe and Paul will remember these objects much more because they found them, not me.

After they left I went in and saw the opening ceremony for the Olympics – Bren had Tivoed it – then went out for another hour or so using the ST120 in the observatory – trying to decide if this is really a good addition to the mix here, or whether I’ll sell it. The decision is to sell. It has taught me a good lesson in the value of stopping down and just how much you can see with very little objective. I found that with it stopped down to 53mm on this night I could still pick out M65 and M66 – but not the third galaxy in that group. In fact, I had trouble detecting it with the full 120mm. Bottom line for me – scope is fine to use much the way you would binoculars – to sweep about. But as you crank up the power on close double stars, for example, the 80mm apochromatic runs away from it – either the ED80 or the Lomo Triplet. And since the Lomo can also do wide field sweeping nicely – well, I just don’t see a place for the ST80. So it will go on the market shortly. The ED 80 might not be long inthe mix either, but I’m not sure.

Meanwhile, I have the mighty 76mm FirstScope Celestron set up on the pier in the observatory and am hoping for clear skies tonight (Sunday), though I expect pretty horrible seeing.

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OK, I can’t be real serious about this – yet. Out of the box – heck, in the box – this thing just simply made me smile.

Postby Greg Stone » Sat Feb 13, 2010 12:37 pm

OK, I can’t be real serious about this – yet. Out of the box – heck, in the box – this thing just simply made me smile.

UPDATE- Saturday, February 20 – PM

The more testing I do the less I like. Briefly, I don’t find the tabletop idea at all appealing, the optics leave a lot to be desired, and the lack of a finder is devastating. In two separate sessions I could not find Saturn, though I knew right where it was. I thought I was look at it, and I attributed my inability to see anything Saturn-like to the optics. I wasn’t looking at it. This is shocking to me because I routinely use small refractor – including and F15 60mm – without a finder. Admittedly a DOB is more awkward in this respect, but I didn’t realise just how awkward. When I finally did locate Saturn during a third session the view was disappointing when compared to that through an inexpensive, 60mm refractor. It may be out of collimation. Although the directions don’t tell you this, you can tweak the position of the secondary mirror – but not the primary. I’ll try some more – but if someone asked me right now, I would say “don’t buy.”

UPDATE- Monday, February 15 – PM

Shoot! I should have bought the Orion FunScope! Oh, I know there are other inexpensive scopes out there, but I didn’t even check to see if Orion had a competitively-priced offering since they carry Celestron. Turns out they do – for $49.95 they sell what looks like the same scope – they sell the Celestron too – for $49.95.

Here are the critical advantages of the Funscope:

1. A red dot finder is included  – absolutely essential!

2. More reasonable choice of eyepieces – 20 and 10mm rather than 20 and 4mm. Yes, this means you don’t get 75X, vut I suspect the 10mm would be easier to use. There some hint int he descriptions that these are of better quality – but I would have to see them. They are not Plossls.

3. Much, much better directions – including how to adjust azimuth tension. But really, from a beginner’s viewpoint Orion did it right, including lots of very useful information in a directrion book that shows they are really thinking about how a beginner might try to use this scope.

4. Collimation instructions. But scopes have three screws that will allow you to adjust the angle of the secondary mirror, but Celestron never mentions them.

The FunScope just might be a viable $50 telescope – though the first thing the beginner will look at is the moon and no moon filter is included and with 76mm of aperture it may not be absolutely needed, but would be helpful. So that adds about $20. (Celestron includes one in their accessories package which is another $17 and has several other items.)

UPDATE – Monday, February 15 – AM

Yep – I’m always complaining about my Observatory being too small – I think I’ve at last found a scope that fits on the pier and doesn’t crowd me! :lol:

IMG_1142.jpg (64.2 KiB) Not viewed yet

Granted, it won’t stay there long – but I used it for almost two hours this morning and in the end I’m still pondering this basic question:

Is there such a thing as an inexpensive astronomical telescope that will attract beginners into the hobby? Or are there so many trade-offs with the inexpensive scopes that they simply provide a disappointing and frustrating first experience that drives more people away from the hobby than they attract? I know lots of us started this way (I did) and that may make us think it’s the way to start – but I’ve met an awful lot of people who have inexpensive scopes tucked away in their closets because, having used them once or twice they gave up in frustration. And while I had some success with the $45 FirstScope from Celestron I have to say that on balance I would only recommend this with serious qualifications and my first recommendation to beginners is to learn the sky with your naked eye and invest in a decent pair of 10X50 binoculars.

But I still have hopes that something good will turn up inthe smalls cope department, so here’s what I learned this morning with the baby DOB.

The session started out well. I pointed the scope towards M13. (I didn’t use the attached laser because I wanted to stick with the out-of-the-box scope.) In any event, M13 was found in 30 seconds of sweeping the area at 15X. Would a beginner have recognized it when they saw it? if they had been instructed properly, yes. If they were just prowling on their own and thought M13 would look like its pictures, they would be lost. But let’s assume they have some good coaching. The supplied 20mm eyepiece gives a field of view of roughly 2 degrees – Eta Herculis can almost fit in the same field as M13. and with the supplied 4mm eyepiece (75X) you get M13 and the two seventh magnitude companion stars that bracket it. You also get a little resolution of the outlying stars in M13 which does look like something special. So my initial score for the scope was high.

But it was pretty much down hill from there. The views of Saturn were so un-Saturn-like that I don’t think a beginner would have known they were seeing the ringed planet. (Granted, the rings are tilted so we don’t get much of a view in any scope right now, but I still expected to see more of a sense of a planet, and I didn’t. In fact, I had to check several times to be sure I was on Saturn! (A fourth magnitude star was in the same widefield view, however, and left no doubt.) I kept trying different eyepiece combinations and I have to think a beginner would be totally baffled by what they saw – and, of course, disappointed.

I then spent a lot of fruitless time trying to sweep up M81/82 and here I got very frustrated with not knowing where the scope was pointing. I had turned off the red light in the observatory so I would have a better chance of seeing these two galaxies and as a result the black tube of the scope pretty much vanished in the darkness. I finally gave up and switched to tracking down Mizar which was high overhead. This took me much longer than expected as well, but I did find it and I did split it, though I found both focus and eye position quite critical. Mizar looked more like a small comet if everything wasn’t just right – and when it was just right, it looked like the stars in a child’s book with several bright spikes. Still, with the 4 mm eyepiece perfectly focused, Mizar in the middle of the field, and my eye positioned correctly I could see a satisfying split. The same was true with Albiereo – and the colors were a rich gold and deep blue. I could not split Algieba, however, though I did get a nice view of Algieba, it’s close companion, and the bright asteroid,Vesta, forming a near perfect triangle. Seeing was average.

I suspect the little scope will do fine on the moon – and probably on M42, M45, and a few other bright open clusters. The movement in altitude is fine and tension easily adjustable. The movement in azimuth is more of a problem. It was still too loose for me this morning and tightening it requires two wrenches that I didn’t have handy. I still find it difficult to remove the tiny 4mm eyepiece – nothing to grip. But the major problem is the lack of a viable finder. The accessory kit you can buy includes a small optical finder. I think an inexpensive red dot would be much more useful. But with a scope costing $45 you could easily double the price simply by adding a red dot finder and a single Plossl eyepiece – even if you purchase them on the used market!

Earlier posting on this scope follow.

UPDATE – Sunday, February 14

Ooops – maybe I should have said it made me laugh! Or cry.  Mind you, I have had only a quick peek through the clouds, but my concerns, listed in the initial post below, were amplified by this experience. Details below the picture.

That’s Mr. Edward Bear – been a member of my wife’s family for nearly seven decades – giving the scope a quick indoor test. Close focus is amazingly – well – close.

Issue 1 – There’s not always a table top handy to set it on. It’s 4:30 am and I can see some stars through the window, so I grab the FirstScope and go out in the snow-covered back yard and . . . well, after some futile experiments with other objects, I find an old steamer trunk and drag it out of the telescope shed, set the little scope down on that, and set a chair beside it. That works – as long as I move the scope around to whatever edge of the trunk makes using it easiest  – depends on where you’re trying to point. (I’ve never been a fan of table-top telescopes for this reason.)

Issue 2 – Finding your target. The best target I saw that had popped pretty much into the clear at this moment was Mizar in the Dipper. This would be an easy enough target to point out to a beginner – but, could they find it? I found it in less than a minute using the 15X supplied eyepiece. But I found it because I knew what I was looking for. A beginner would be easily fooled had he/she landed on one of the other bright stars in the Dipper’s handle. How would they know that what they saw at 15X was Mizar? OK – let’s say we’ve given them a chart in advance showing them what Mizar looks like in the scope.

Issue 3 – Loose azimuth bearing. The scope moved freely and when you changed power or focused it was likely to move in azimuth when you didn’t want it to. The altitude bearing has a huge knob on it by which you control tension on that axis. The directions point this out clearly. But they  totally ignore movement in azimuth. Fine. You and I know what to do – get a couple wrenches and tighten up the nut at the base. A few minutes work and the tension is just right on that axis. But that might frustrate a beginner with little or no mechanical skills since it simply isn’t mentioned at all in the directions. If you stick to the directions you point the scope only in altitude 🙄

Issue 4 – Comets where no comets should be! OK- stop with the “I told you so.” I’m forever the optimist. 8)   So don’t take this too seriously. Conditions were hardly fair. I had high, thin, moving clouds over the Dipper, plus others around that only let first magnitude stars pop through in places. So, the view through the hastily focused eyepiece wasn’t great, but under the circumstances it was acceptable. Bright stars certainly danced and more disturbingly took on a comet-like shape. Switching quickly to a 13mm Nagler didn’t solve the problem – the image improved, but was far from perfect. I didn’t have any Plossls handy – this was a rush experiment.  Besides, the hole in the sky was not going to last long and I wanted to test the supplied eyepieces. So I got Mizar  in the center of the low power field and switched to the supplied 4mm (75X) eyepiece. Not all that bad. With careful focusing  – aggravated by the loose azimuth bearing which I hadn’t fixed at that point – I was able to cleanly split Mizar. (Of course at 15X Mizar and Alcor were wide apart – but I’m talking about splitting Mizar itself. The images still had comet-shaped halos around them, but there were bright, round dots in the middle of the distortions and more careful focusing and better skies could have made a difference.

Conclusions. Obviously I want to test this scope some more. But based on this experience I would not buy this for my grandchildren. Teddy may have fun pretending to look at the sky with it.  I suspect a beginner would have serious problems after using it to look at the Moon, Venus, and Saturn.  Doing that, however, may prove easy enough and satisfying enough to justify the purchase. So I’m not ready to totally dismiss it at this point. But my initial enthusiasm, driven by better workmanship on the exterior than I expected,  has cooled considerably. Celestron gets high marks for trying, but . . . well, we’ll see. Stay tuned.

(Resume initial post from Saturday, February 13.)

What I’m talking about is Celestron’s mini-DOB produced for the IYA and named FirstScope. Cost me $45 and I got free shipping from Amazon – couldn’t resist. And it’s already made me feel good enough to justify the expense.

The specs here are simple – 76mm mirror at F3.95 which gives a focal length of 300mm and with the supplied 20mm eyepiece a power of 15X – a 4mm eyepiece, also supplied, gives 75X.

My first impression was it was incredibly small – but then, so is a Questar :shock:

My second impression is it is built a heckofalot better then I expected. The feel is solid, the movements in altitude and azimuth smooth. The finish, nice – though I’m not sure that adding all those famous astronomical names in wrap-around text on the tube was a good idea visually, in it’s own way, it’s a nice touch – a little history lesson. The rack and pinion focuser is smooth and it easily focused down to about 10 feet – maybe closer – I didn’t try.

I can’t judge the quality of the optics at this point – who knows. My guess is the eyepieces are the real weak point. The second weak point, especially for beginners, will be pointing it. Abd finding a place to set it down might be problematic, but to a lesser degree.

I love one note in the brief instructions which suggest that while the image is inverted and flipped, you can see it right side up if you position yourself in front of the telescope and a little to one side. And that does work. Never thought to try that with my 15-inch Obsession :|

I dropped in the 4mm eyepiece and well – I couldn’t get it out. No fingernails and nothing left to grip with – so I picked up the scope in one hand, flipped it over, and caught the eyepiece in the other hand. Not sure this is what Celestron had in mind. The other eyepiece presents no such problem. Both comes with caps for both ends. Nice-fitting lens cap for the tube which is closed at the rear.

Can’t wait for some clear skies – really. I’ll try to do a serious assessment because this may be the most telescope the beginner could get for $45 – then again, it may cost way too much to bring it up to usable speed, We’ll see. Oh – there is a little add-on package ($17.32) with more eyepieces, a dinky finder that I really don’t think would be much of a help, and a nylon tote bag. I’m not going to get it. But Teddy is ready – and so am I – talk about grab-‘n go!


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I find I tend to get drawn into M42 and ignore a lot of the other neat stuff in Orion, so last night (2/11/10) I went out early to look for some double stars – no luck – 70 percent clouds – though the stuff over Orion was thin. Looked again around 8:30 pm and it was still at least 50% clouds, but Orion was entirely in the clear. So I hunted down some stars I’ve previously ignored, starting with  Iota Orionis and its companion double ∑747. Both showed easily in the 8-inch, LX50 with a 24mm Panoptic.

(BTW – this is a real neat SCT I picked up for $300 complete with working mount, equatorial wedge, tripod, and several extras. I think part of the reason for the price was the mirror was starting to develop some unidentified lifeforms. These looked scary, but I  saw them once before on an LX90 I then owned and when I sent that scope back to Meade for motor repair, it also returned with a clean primary mirror. Can’t be magic – so I figured there must be some way to clean them and if I had to I could break the scope into parts, sell the parts, and make my money back and then some.  But that was before I thought about contacting Pete to see if he had some suggestions – he sure did! He not only showed me how to do it,  but did the job. That was great because up until then I had never even dared remove the  correction plate from a SCT!  These things look more scary than they are.  Hey Pete – thanks again – terrific views!)

Anyway, back to Iota. Sissy Haas, in her book “double stars for small telescopes” calls this a “pair with fantastic contrast.” I wasn’t that overwhelmed, though I did like it. Double stars take a while to grow on me.  But I sketched the field, moving up to a 13mm Nagler. With that I could put Iota and companion in the center of the field and ∑747 still appeared at one edge. At 4.7 and 5.5 these two white stars were the brightest in the field besides Iota and so widely split I would not have thought of them as double if I hadn’t read about them in advance.  This is one of those fields I’d like to study with a much smaller scope like the 50mm refractor that should arrive in a week or so  – hmmm. . . or that $45, 76mm baby DOB from Celestron which may arrive this weekend – I think it would be much more appealing. But its good to get to know this way. What was most interesting was when I got inside later and checked a Sue French piece in “Celestial Sampler”  on other stuff around M42, I found  she identified Iota as a triple! She said there was a third star to the ESE of the primary – split by 50 seconds and at 9.7 the faintest of the three. I checked my drawing and sure enough – I had put a faint dot at just the right point. So I saw it – but honestly, I would never have associated it with Iota – it was just one more star in a fairly rich field. But that will make Iota a real challenge for the small scopes.

My second project was the quadruple star, Lambda, in what I think of as Orion’s head. The problem here was quite different. I had screwed up when filling out my double star logging form and put down the wrong position angle for each component. I didn’t notice at first because the first component had a PA  close to the mistaken value.  So I identified it and  because I had the separations down correctly, I figured out the other two as it began to dawn on me that I had the wrong position angle data. When I got in the house and checked my drawings against the correct data in the Haas book I had recorded all four stars correctly. Again, these were no challenge for the 8-inch but for me would be more interesting in a small scope.

I’ll come back to these over and over again. My goal, always, is to make objects into familiar old friends.  I don’t keep lists, but I do try to build a relationship with objects that look fresh to me each time I see them in part because I use different telescopes, but also because different nights bring different conditions and, of course, I’m different each time – but how can you exhaust the awe that’s inherent in every astronomical object?

And in that spirit I checked out the Trapezium, of course – just four stars this night, though I saw the E and maybe the F star a few nights ago with this scope. Both seeing and transparency were a notch below average on this night. Still, I was able to get a hint of the faint nebulosity that completes the  M42 loop and shows so well in images.

I had log sheets for three more Orion doubles to check out, but the clouds were now moving in on Orion.  But this was one more example of how good it can be on a less than perfect night – the kind I used to not bother to observe on!

Morning and clear again[/b][/size]

I seldom sleep more than 4 hours at a time – not a choice, just the way things are – and so I was up at 4 and out again at 4:30 and this time there were only 10 percent clouds. No plan. I have hot tea and I like to meditate each morning and if it’s clear, I do so at the telescope.  In this case I  quickly locked onto M3, high overhead, and with a 13mm Nagler enjoyed the view. This isn’t what some would call meditation. Heck, it isn’t what I would call meditation. It’s really quiet contemplation. Has some  meditative components and some observing components. Sometimes my eyes are closed. Sometimes they’re open. Always I’m at peace and when I think my thoughts are directed to the star city in front of me. Yes, it’s cold – I guess about 25 degrees – but I’m in my tiny (6-foot)  observatory which with its dome and slit limits the amount of sky to which I radiate heat.

Oh – I checked on Porrima.  Do you know Porrima? I don’t. Geeeeeesh! Half a century of amateur astronomy and I’m still the last kid on the block to discover these things.  I don’t know how many nights I’ve used Porrima as a starting point for finding my way into the Virgo galaxy cluster. I’ve even read stuff in which the writer refers to it as “beautiful Porrima.” Beautiful? That should have been a clue, but it wasn’t. I should have checked it on Jim Kaler’s web site. Kaler is my star guru. I love his books.  But as I said, I’ve used it as a stepping stone when hunting much bigger game – galaxies. Then just recently I learned why everyone loves Porrima. 😳

As Kaler succinctly puts it: Porrima is “one of the finest double stars in the sky.”

And it certainly sounds like it! Two very close, magnitude 3.5 stars. How close? I found this information on the separation and position angle – which is getting wider – in a post on Cloudy Nights:

From the 6th catalog of orbits:

2008 PA 41.3, Sep 0.924

2009 30.7, 1.168

2010 23.7, 1.389

2011 18.5, 1.591

2012 14.4, 1.777

So it’s somewhere around 1.4 arc seconds now. Yeah! But on this morning it still looked like an egg-shaped blob to me.  Now mind you, the collimation is fairly good on this scope, but I really should take the time to fine tune it.  I don’t think that’s the problem. The seeing is a 2 out of 5 – not good.  But boy this whets my appetite. I do want to split this star. This sentence from Kaler [url]http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/porrima.html[/url]certainly sums up the fascination from a technical perspective: “Thirty-eight light years away, the stars average 43 Astronomical Units from each other, about the distance between the Sun and Pluto, the orbital eccentricity taking them between 81 and 5 AU.” So this spring will be the time to go for it.

But I was in the middle of M3 where a mere two stars close together is child’s play. Here we have half a million stars  jammed in a sphere 33,000 light years away. That’s meditation material!

When I leave M3 it still seems dark enough – though it’s after 5 and the Sun rises in about 90 minutes – to see what I can see in the Virgo cluster.  I’ve been using small refractors a lot lately and I’m interested in seeing what an 8-inch scope does with these familiar galaxies, so I simply plunge right in.The Telrad allows me to quickly climb up the three stars that form an arc starting with Porrima, then take a sharp right and go up a tad . . . look in the eyepiece – I’m using a 24mm Panoptic again – and bingo! Two bright galaxies side by side making a triangle with a fairly bright star – and when I look more closely it’s more like a long, thin diamond, for opposite the star is another, much fainter and smaller galaxy. Looks like the beginning of Markarian’s Chain. I sketch it quickly, then look around a bit. Find another galaxy . . . but already the sky is getting light and when I finish up at 5:45 am it is way too bright for galaxy hunting and my hands are getting cold. I think those first two galaxies are M84 and M86,  but I’m not positive until i check my sketching against an online photo. There’s a helpful one here:[url]http://observing.skyhound.com/archives/apr/M_86_01.gif[/url]

The morning’s observing has left me with a dilemma, though. I really like having the LX50 in the observatory. I like using the equatorial wedge, I  like the slow motion controls. And I like the RA motor. (I don’t like the auto focus – removed it – but that’s not the issue here.) The issue is space. My dome is just 6-feet in diameter. I have a pier in the center. Put the LX50 with wedge on that pier and it’s fairly high. Too high most of the time for my office chair I like to use, but OK for an observing chair. However, if I’m high on that observing chair I have to get off it in order to take notes on the counter top which is under a very, very low ceiling/roof. (Think of my observatory as a doghouse with the top lopped off and a dome plopped over part of it and you’ll get the idea. It’s very functional for one person. OK for two – very crowded with three. I envy Pete’s set up where he can seat about 11 people around the scope. When I have even a few folks out to observe I use the deck, not the observatory.

But I bumped my head enough times in this observing session – and bumped the scope enough times – to think that maybe the LX50 has to find a home on the deck, or in the yard. What really works for me in this small building is a T-Mount from Universal Astronomics. That will take a small refractor, or an 8-inch SCT and because of all the ways it can move, allow me plenty of space to operate and to do so without ever leaving my comfortable office chair.  That breathing space, I think, outweighs the advantages of electronic tracking and slow-motion knobs on the LX50.

And if you’re thinking “why not an LX90” or other go to scope, it’s a good question. I built the observatory with my LX200 in mind – that was around 1991 when  the LX200 was so new  the manual I got from Meade was out of a copier – they hadn’t printed the real manuals yet! But that scope is long gone,and so is the LX90 – in fact, so is anything with a computer on it. I know folks love “go to” and I have no beef with them at all – but I don’t. Purely personal preference that depends in part on why you;re observing at all. i really like star hopping and a couple years ago sold all my electronic equipment – go to scopes and a very nice deep-sky video set up – and went back to visual observing and pushing scopes around. Now I’m backtracking just a bit with  the recent purchase of an LX10 and and LX50 on equatorial wedges.  I want to use them a while. See if I like them.  It fun to try to think rational thoughts and make plans, but in the end the only thing that matters to me is took at my own behavior. From a rational standpoint one scope may make more sense than another – but I ask myself a simple question: What do I use? So I’ll drop these wedge-mounted Meades into the mix and if they get used, they stay. If they don’t, they’ll be sold to someone who will use them.

But for the moment, I’m putting the T-mount back in the observatory. It’s more flexible, more comfortable to use, and suits me fine. I do well over half my observing in the open where the LX scopes will get plenty of opportunity to strut their stuff – and I’m anxious to see how those in the little “star hopper” program I’ve started like them.

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Got out this morning from about 4 -5:30 with the idea of testing an Orion ST120 more – really trying to decide if I want to keep this one in the current mix of scopes, or if I really won’t use it that much because it doesn’t offer enough of an advantage.

What I don’t like is the sloppy images if you crank up the power. I’m spoiled by the SV80S with Lomo Triplet. But,the 120 adds about a magnitude to the 80 and that makes wide field sweeping easier. Ultimately, if I keep this it will be teamed with a C8 on a Universal Astronomics DoubleStar mount. So this morning I tried to look at it primarily from the standpoint of how it does at sweeping stuff up. But I couldn’t resist playing with some double stars – though seeing was poor – and stopping it down to do that. The way I stopped it was to simply put the lens cap on and remove the smaller cap in the middle that opens a hole I measure at 53mm. That’s small, but I was surprised at how bright the images stayed.

On Albireo, quite low in the east, there was a definite advantage to it being stopped down. I was using a 24mm Panoptic and the stars certainly got crisper and gave a more aesthetic view when stopped down to 53mm. The light loss was inconsequential. The Double-Double was a somewhat different case, though again there was an advantage in stopping down. It was still quite low, the seeing was a “2” on a scale of five and I simply couldn’t split it, though I came closer with the scope stopped down. In this case the light loss was more apparent primarily because of the 10.4 magnitude star that forms a triangle with the two pair. When I stopped the 120ST to 53mm that star pretty much vanished. So yes, I was losing two magnitudes by stopping down. But it wasn’t apparent in some other views.

I went to M81/82 and here the 2.7-degree fov comes in handy. It was easy to sweep up the pair. What surprised me is that I could hardly tell the difference between the view at 120mm and the view at 53mm. Maybe I was just remembering what this pair looks like in handheld binoculars. Here I was using 53mm, but at 25X and that not only enlarges the image, but provides better contrast. But I switched back and forth a couple of times before I was convinced that the 120mm did give a brighter view.

Switching to M51 the difference was more apparent, though again at 53mm I could clearly see both galaxies. Hmmm… how about M101? To sweep that up I first went to Mizar, planning to walk up the trail of stars that leads from it to M101 – but I stopped at Mizar long enough to try stopping down. Yep! At 120mm Mizar did not split. Of course I saw Alcor – but I mean Mizar itself wouldn’t split. But at 53mm it did – a victory for something like an F10/11 focal ratio created by stopping down! Then I trekked on up to M101 and here the difference in brightness paid off. I certainly could see M101 nicely with 120mm at F5. Stopped down to 53mm and it took a lot of imagination to tell there was a galaxy there. My hands were getting cold about this point, but I did pop over to Virgo galaxy cluster and without stopping down quickly picked up several galaxies.

So, I established to my way satisfaction that the 120ST would make a nice companion to the C8 on the double mount. BUT. . . when I got in and started playing with the numbers, indecision set in. If I put the SV80S next to the C8 I lose perhaps a magnitude – but I gain considerably in usable FOV. Using the Clearvue 30mm (82 degree AFOV) eyepiece on that scope will give me about 16X and a field of view that’s a bit over five degrees and with a 5mm exit pupil – about the limit my old eyes can use. The same eyepiece on the 120mm gives me a respectable 4 degree fov, but I doubt I would gain much in light grasp because the exit pupil moves up to 6mm and my eye won’t handle that. So the 24mm Panoptic is as much eyepiece as I can use with the 120mm.

So here’s the trade off I’m wrestling with:

Use the 120mm for its extra light grasp?

Or use the 80mm for its huge fov?

I will not part with the 80mm. I’m in love with the pristine images it delivers. Period. So if I keep the 120mm it means having both scopes and I really don’t know if the 120mm will offer enough of an advantage to make me want to switch from one scope to the other. (Yeah, I could mount the two on the DoubleStar, but neither can do what the 8-inch SCT can do – which is just about anything OK and with significantly more light grasp than either scope. (Anything,that is, except deliver a wide field of view.)

Any suggestions? Am I missing something in my calculations? Yes, I’ve considered binoculars – but they aren’t nearly as versatile as either of these scopes and I don’t know of any binoculars that can deliver anything like a five degree fov – well, a 70X15 will usually get you to around 4 degrees and the light is right around that gathered by an 80mm scope – but you’re still limited, even with ones that have interchangeable eyepieces. They simply don’t have the quality objectives to allow you to crank up the power.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m, not complaining. Much of the fun I have these days is considering this sort of thing, then buying and selling online to try out a new mix while meetingt he challenge of not denting the family budget – sales have to equal purchases, or something pretty close. :P

Oh – and later in the morning had a few folks take me up on the offer to view what Spaceweather.com calls “behemoth sunspot 1045” – it is huge – and 1047 – but I didn’t see 1046 – or I’m not sure I did. What I saw was two spots in the general vicinity of 1047. From the shot on Spaceweather it looked like 1046 was much farther south – or north – well, not that near 1047!

In white light – using the SV80S – I counted 13 individual spots all apparently part of the 1045 complex. In Hydrogen Alpha (using a PST with 13mm Nagler) I could see the 1045 complex for what it was – a huge , integrated disturbance. Paul, Lon, Karen, and my wife Bren all shared in the observing. Transparency was great. Seeing was acceptable. We could use up to about 50X to advantage. Viewed from about 10 am to noon. This is the first time I’ve had a scope set up for white light viewing right beside the PST – very interesting. I also was surprised to learn that the PST is apparently flipping both E/W and N/S like a finder or reflector. I had previously assumed it acted like a refractor/SCT with a diagonal mirror – not so.

There was also one huge prominence on the northeast edge, as well as half a dozen or so smaller ones. So the sun is getting interesting once more. How nice!

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