Archive for the ‘Globular clusters’ Category

Insomnia – I am making some progress on it, but not much, but when I woke up at 1:30 am this morning I at least could see stars. We have had a pretty steady dose of mostly cloudy, hazy, foggy, partly cloud and heavy rains lately – 7 inches one day, five inches more a few days later and about an  inch yesterday  – so clear skies have been unusual and don’t last long.

These clear skies lasted long enough for me to get the 66mm  WO scope out and after a false start – batteries are weak on the Celestron mount I suspect – I got it on the Desert Sky dual mount/Bogen tripod and had a good time with some old friends.

I actually have a little plan in mind – to establish a list of best objects for popular consumption on any given night – or more accurately, any given sidereal/star time – of the year.  My goal would be for these objects to be nice in any scope, so if they’re nice in the 66mm you can be pretty sure they’ll be nice in anything larger.  The 66mm thus establishes a base line. So my observations were made with this in mind.

Yes, I’m pretty sure I could make such a list from memory – but I would trust it more if I check each object with this in mind.

So – up for starters was, of course, Albireo. It did fine at 16X – was really pristine – but I think the newcomer would appreciate it more at 30X. Once they were certain what they were seeing, they could try backing off some.

I have a soft spot for Albireo, but I closed this session wilth Almach and I have to say that although it was pretty low in the east at this time, I still find its colors richer than Albireo. It does take significantly more power. I found it best at 78x, though it could certainly be split with less.

There’s no contest with the Dragon’s Eyes – they are a perfectly matched pair that’s pretty easy to split in binoculars and certainly split easily at 16X, but seem better framed at 30X.

Meanwhile the Dolphin presents more of a challenge. Gamma Delphini is a sort of pale version of Albireo – in fact I would have a sliding scale of intensity for blue and gold stars where I would rank Almach the most intense, then Albireo, and then Gamma Delphini. Needed about 50X to get a decent split and it was better at 79X.

I liked M13 at all powers from 16X to 79X – but it was best at 79X because at that point I could really see individual stars flashing across the main body of this star ball.

M31 was another object that did fine at all powers, though it was easier to pick out M32 at 79X.

As I think – and write – about this experience I basic process for visitors pops into my mind. I want to start them witht he naked eye view. From there, I’ll move them to low power binoculars on amount – just to let them know what they can expect to see with their own binoculars.  Next up would be the 66mm at 16X and on a tracking mount, tobe followed by the 5-inch SCT on tracking mount a with a 24-8 zoom. Finally they could go in the observatory and use the 8-inch SCT,

Last step? Show them a good image  – probably in the observatory and under red light –  of what they’ve been looking at and encourage them to go back and look again.

And in this process define a “glance” as one minute at the scope – a “look” as three minutes or more.


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After a hiatus of about four years I am back into deep sky video astronomy with both feet. The object of this form of astronomy is to provide live video views at the telescope – under the stars – which show far more detail in faint, distant objects than can be seen visually with the eye at the telescope. The video camera, a special one made by hand in Canada by Rock Mallin, simply slides into the telescope where the eyepiece normally goes.

This is not rocket science, but there are a lot of options, a lot of wires, and some stuff to learn, so at this stage my efforts are crude, but I’m happy with the results. I don’t see this as competing with still imaging where much different cameras are used to take super pictures which are then enhanced the next day in the computer.  What you see here is raw video – what you would see if you stood by the telescope and looked at the video screen. I discussed the reasons for doing this  in detail in a post about six years ago when I first tried deep sky video.

Yeah, Driftway Way Observatory looks a bit techy these days with all the wires and things 😉 That little screen about the size of a deck of cards is the recording device from Orion. It includes a nice monitor which is shown here displaying a menu. The whole thing is small and light enough to ride ont he telescope. (Click image for a larger view.)

Last night I tried for the first time  an Orion StarShoot LCD-DVR recorder – this is a new item – so new the Orion sales and technical folks could not answer my questions a couple weeks ago because they hadn’t seen one yet. So I decided to buy one and give it a try, since Orion has a reasonable return policy. My assessment? Neat. I like it. But then. I’ve only spent an hour with it. However, let’s cut to the chase. Here are most of the recorded videos from last night.

My first stop was M3, a globular cluster , and the different versions of it you see on the followingvideo are due to my playing with the MallinCam controls -sometimes taking very short exposures, sometimes longer ones. Also, the  drives on the LX-200R hadn’t really settled down yet, so you don’t get a satisfying – to me – view until the end of this brief clip.

About viewing these clips –

1. Enlarge to full screen if possible by clicking box in lower left.

2. Don’t treat like a normal video – there is no relevant sound and there is virtually no action. When you see something you like, pause and view as a still image.

3. Make liberal use of the slider beneath the video to jump from one section of the video to another.

Colliding galaxies

This next one is of one of my favorite galaxies – or rather, colliding galaxies – M51. Though I have viewed this countless times over the past 40 years or more, this is the first time I was really aware that the core of the smaller galaxy is much brighter than the core of the larger one. (I explore just that idea in another video later.)

I jumped from M51 to a much different subject, the Owl Nebulae in Ursa Major – M97.  I have always found this planetary nebular difficult visually, but in the video it’s fairly easy to see how it got its nickname. This won’t be obvious until I increase the exposure in the second half of the video.

From the Owl I went to another difficult, but astounding subject, m101, the great Pinwheel Galaxy just off the Big Dipper’s handle. This is notoriously hard to see visually, but the spiral structure, while subtle is easily seen – especially in the longer exposures near the end of this video.

M81 is best known, perhaps,a s the companion of M82. The two galaxies are fairly near to one another – and to us (11 million light years) and both can be seen int he same binocular field of view. They are quite different. M81 is a bright spiral – however, the spiral structure takes alot of exposure to bring out and only becomes apparent inthe second half of this video.

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OK, I wasn’t born yesterday, and the number of scopes I’ve owned and used extensively is well over 100, so why am I getting excited about  a cheapy version of a SCT “go to?”

SE6 after an enjoyable first hour of exploring the universe through the clouds and cold.

And I guess the answer is it just proved itself to be a very acceptable performer optically and electronically – and for my particular needs at this particular stage in my life, it’s a very good fit. Of course there are better optics available – and in a modern SCT.  But the combination of my old eyes, plus what I expect out of an astronomy experience, plus price, ease of use, and ease of transport and set up makes this little scope hard to beat. It is just what I was hoping it would be.

It arrived late yesterday afternoon from Amazon.com in one big box and was simple to unpack and set up – but it was raining of course – freezing rain. So I read the manual. Even though I was pretty familiar with the system from past experience,  I needed a refresher. I put some batteries in the scope and played a little to get the feel of it, pumping in my latitude and longitude, a one-time thing –  and I decided that the two-star alignment would work best for me because I know the stars – I don’t need the scope to pick them for me – and because I planned to use it on the deck where only about 40 percent of the sky is available to me, so stars the little sand brain choose would likely be behind a tree or house that it didn’t know was there. Then I went to bed with not much hope of using it in the morning.

But I was wrong. I awoke around 3:30 am and when I peeked out the bedroom window, there was Mars & Company screaming for me to come out. Without getting dressed I went down stairs and put the scope out the sliding glass doors onto the deck to cool down. Then I relaxed, put on some long underwear and made some tea. By 4 am I was entering the time and date and choosing Arcturus for my first alignment star. Of course I hadn’t had a chance to align the red dot finder, but it wasn’t that far off. A little scrolling brought the orange brilliance of Arcturus into a 32mm Plossl (46X and a tad over one degree FOV I suspect.) I then choose Vega and through  a hole in the clouds, found it, though by this time Arcturus had been smothered.

Did I mention the bright stars that beckoned me were  in a  sucker hole? If not, you now know the derivation of that term – they sucked me right out into the 30-degree night – had me walking gingerly, as flat-footed as possible, over a deck that had  a fresh dusting of snow on it. And yes, there were clouds moving fairly quickly across the stars, covering a significant percentage of the sky at any given moment. That’s why the first “go to” failed. I tried for M57 and immediately found it covered. It may have been barely visible, but I thought this is a silly choice for these conditions and 46X. So I went to M3 which was in the open at the moment – and darned if it didn’t put it pretty much in the center of that 32mm eyepieces – and I loved it! Well, loved it for the next 30 seconds before the clouds took over again.

But I pulled up my observing chair and started going through my small collection of cheap Plossls – nothing fancy here – that I had put in the eyepiece tray/spreader  – the 25mm Plossl that came with it, plus a 20, 15, and 10 of mixed heritage that came out of the box of long-ignored eyepieces. I never did try the 10 – nor the barlow. I just didn’t get the conditions and I was too enthralled with the view of M3 followed by M5 to want to fool around with changing eyepieces. I was comfortable sipping my tea and enjoying the sights both in the scope and with my naked eye. Passing clouds can be fun sometimes, first revealing, then hiding, then revealing again.

My last target was Mizar and while it didn’t place it dead center, it certainly worked – and the view was surprisingly sharp. I mean, classic, bullet-hole stars as long as I placed my head directly over the eyepiece. ( I don’t know if this is a symptom of old age, SCT optics, or the particular  Plossls I was using, but getting your head position just right sure does make the difference between flaring stars and good crisp ones. )  In any event, I used Mizar to do at least a rough alignment on the red dot finder.

Oh – and I wasn’t using the AA batteries I put in it – I was using a Power Tank I had handy and that’s obviously the way to go.  And with the Mizar sightings the clouds really got serious. But I had an hour of off-and-on viewing and  enough time to feel really impressed with the scope, though I never even checked collimation which, after its journey from wherever the heck these are made, is probably off, though the view of Mizar seemed to say it couldn’t be too far off.

Here’s what I liked:

1. Convenience. I can leave it set up next to the sliding glass door and at 21 pounds I can pick up the whole thing – including eyepieces – and have it outside in seconds. Another few seconds for grabbing the Power Tank, my observing chair, and tea and I’m home free. Putting it away is every bot  as easy.

2. The “go to” system. Until very recently I had sworn off these entirely.  Now I’m wondering why? What the hell am I trying to prove and to whom? That I know how to connect the star dots? That I don’t need a computer to find stuff for me in the universe?  Sure, that’s true – but with “go to” I can dispense with the connect-the-dots games. There’s a danger of losing a sense of context, but my continued binocular use gives me plenty of that.  And heck, I can add, subtract, multiply and divide in my head pretty well – but I would still rather use a calculator most of the time.

3. Tracking is right on and I love it. I went   and out several times when the clouds came over. I spent plenty of time in  a warm room with a red light on, giving my hands a chance to catch up with the rest of my body – they do get damned cold, damned fast. And when I came out the object I was viewing was right there int he center of the eyepiece waiting for me.

4. Optics. The sharp stars in the globulars and the bullet hole stars of Mizar were evidence enough for me that I was not making a huge sacrifice here. Yes, the contrast is down a little and yes, I wouldn’t mind having a little more light grasp. but six inches is enough to show me the kind of major deep sky objects I enjoy – the ones that have the power to develop that coveted sense of awe.

And that sense   awe has a better chance of finding me if I’m not all wrapped up in simply finding the next object, or  toying with complex eyepieces – or for that matter, binoviewers. Yeah, I’m cooling on them again.  We’ll see – but right now I’m thinking they add weight, instability, and complexity to the system and that all may be more than its worth to use two eyes at the scope. But we’ll save that for another day – or night, rather.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to trotting down to Gooseberry with this modest scope and taking on Mercury – hope it will be high enough and I can see it soon enough to get a clear picture of its phase.

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Windy, cold, but clear! I’ll take that any day over the muck we’ve had recently, though I must say seeing was poor and the older I get the less fond I become of cold. But what was keeping me warm last night was the fun of opening up the 30mm Universe – the night sky as seem through 10X30 IS Canon binoculars. It’s awesome.

Now I know a 30mm objective seems small, but here’s a summary of what I saw in a series of brief observing sessions in both the evening and early morning hours. (Yeah, I did a lot of going out for half an hour,then coming in and studying charts while I warmed up.)

In Draco I started with Nu, got a clean split (60″ gap) and so went to the fainter, 16/17 Draconus. Another cleansplit. Here the gaps is about 90 seconds. So I went to the more challenging Psi Draconis which I have not split before and has just a 30 second gap and despite passing clouds and unsteady skies I got “kissing” stars which occasionally steadied enough to give me a hairline split

Went to 56 Andromedae, which I had split several nights ago, and found it easily – and it splt very easily – but my real goal here was something more subtle – the open cluster NGC 756. And I found it – a faint sprinkling of star dust with two or three stars that easily stand out. But this is a real rich area of sky as the following chart shows, for it also contains two of the largest galaxies we see – M31, the Great Andromeda Galaxy, and M33, a much more subtle patch of white . So with relative litte movement of the binoculars – afterall, look at thai six degree field – you can go from an easy double stars to a subtle cluster to a great galaxy and to to a more ghostly one.

Click image for larger version - from Starry Nights Pro screens hot.

What I saw, though, does’t capture what I regard as a remarkable – and repeated – experience: One moment you have a star dancing around and then, almost like watching a photo print develop in a tray of chemicals, you realize you’re seeing two perfect stars. This happened more than once and I don’t know if it’s the image stabilization reaching a new level, or just my brain adjusting to the new scene and kicking into gear,

I experimented with the 11X56 Garrett Optical and the 15X70 Celestrons and I have to say, they just couldn’t deliver. The images were brighter, of course, but when push came to shove the resolution wasn’t there -especially where bright stars were involved. They simply won’t quiet down in any binocular I have, but they’re better in the 10X30IS. What’s more, even though the larger ones were gathering more light – and I was using them on a parallelogram mount – they rarely  allowed me to see any more details than the 30mm binoculars. Generally, whatever I could see, I could see with either, though extended objects, such as galaxies, were easier to see in the larger binoculars.

This raises real questions in my mind as to what is the best binocular for scouting and area while star hopping with a telescope. The 15X70s make extended objects pop more easily – but they give a significantly smaller field of view thanthe 10X30s. I need to experiment with this aspect of binocular use more.

What’s fun with Draco and the binos is you can go on a neat progression from 16/17 at 90 seconds, to Nu at 60 seconds, to Psi at 30 seconds – and all with stars that are pretty close to one another in magnitude.

On to galaxy land! Morning with Ls and Js.

After a few hours sleep I returned to observing in the morning and this time my first target was  M3 rising above Arcturus in the east. A quick scan and there it was, an obvious fat star with with crumbling edges among much “cleaner” ones.

This one's too easy - just draw line between Cor Caroli and Arcturus and you'll find M3 a bit closer to Arcturus and with a magnitude 6 star right next to it. (Click image for larger version - prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

But I was  interested in bigger – and much more distant – game.  First up was M81/82, the famous pair up behind the bigBear’s ears.  I say that. I don’t know howmany times I’ve seen them – certainly more than a hundred. But I always get lost looking for them despite some obvious clues. I think it was Sue French who said something like the “Big Bear has ear mites.”  That helps. It also helps to draw a line between two of the bow stars in the Big Dipper. But in the typical finder and these small binoculars they can be too faint to readily jump out at you. You need something more and I think I have it – three radily distinguishable asterims in a row 0 a bold triangle, a ragged “L’ and a 7.   The pair of galaxes we want is right off the end of the L as indicated inthe chart. To get in the right area, scratch around behind the Bear’s ears – or use the two bowl stars to make an arrow pointing the way.

I use the two indicated stars to cut across the Dipper's Bowl and get me in the right general vicinity. Then I look for the asterism in the next chart. (Click image for larger version - prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Sigma is actually a wide (19') optical double of fifth magnitude stars and forms a bold triangle with another star of similar brightness. The ragged "L" leads you to the two galaxies and if you see the "7" you know you've gone too far. The galaxies are fainter than the bright stars int hese asterisms, but keep in mind you are looking at objects about 10 million light years away shinning with the combined light of billions of stars.(Click image for larger version - prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

OK – traveling 10 million light years or so with objects I can easilyhold inmy hand is a real trip – but I wanted to go deeper and M51 provided thenext step. Seeing the famous “Whirlpool” galaxy takes you  out  about 23 million light years  and it’s a much easier trip – from a star hopping perspective – though the galaxies are a bit fianter and, of course, mushed together – quite different from the M81-82 pair.

Start with Alkaid, the last star in the handle of the Dipper, and head in the general direction of Cor Caroli. We really have two triangles here, as shown, the second consisting of magnitude 7 stars. Since all this fits in the same binocular field as Alkaid it's apiece of cake - that is, assuming your binoculars have a field of 4 degrees or more. The 10X30s I'm using have a 6 degree fov as indicated y the circle.

That encouraged me to take a look at the lion’s hip – Leo was rising in the east and he carries with him a slew of galaxiws, the brightest being M65 and M66 – and they’re also just plain simple to find.  These are my “J” galaxies – that is, I find them because of a pair of “Js” in the sky near them. In fact, the brighter J sort of hooks them.  Here’s what I mean.

Finding the Leo Triplet of galaxies starts with identifying th ebright triangle of stars that represents the Lions rear haunches. One of those is Thea and if oyu get it in your binoculars the two "J" asterisms should jump out at you. The fainter, larger one is there just to fool you - and I've been fooled by it sometimes, especially in a finder that reverses the image. But the smaller, brighter one is actually easier to spot and from there it's clear where the galaxies are. (Click image for larger version - prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t “see” these galaxies. I “detected ” them. Tome there’s a difference. “Seeing” means you can discern shape, texture, and form. “Detecting” means you know the object is there – that this tiny patch of sky is different in brightness from its surroundings, but where you to draw a picture of what you detected it would be an indistinct smudge. So what you see is a ghostly presence at best in such small binoculars, but I felt confident with M66, a little less so with M65 – and I might have seen the third member of this famous triplet, NGC 3628.

This all defies somewhat the common warnings you here about viewing extended objects. M66, which I certainly found easier to detect,  is listed as magnitude 9.7  and M65 a bit dimmer at magnitude 10.1. But in terms of surface brightness – taking into account how spread out their light is – they are both listed close to magnitude 12.5. Now given that I have a darned hard time seeing magnitude 9.5 stars with these binoculars, you would be justified in assuming that I am either crazy, or a liar, if I say I can see a galaxy with a surface brightness of 12.5.

But all that really illustrates is how puzzling this phenomena of sight and faint objects is.  Stephen James O’Meara, observer and writer par excellence, syas in his book “The Messier Objects,” that all three of these galaxies can be seen with 7X35 binoculars! (He wrote that before the time of image stabilization and I am sure he is not using amount for those.)  If that’s the case, then it certainly isn’t ridiculous for me to claim I’m seeing them with 10X30 image stabilized binoculars. So I have confidence that I am seeing what I think I am seeing.  It is also interesting that O’Meara finds M65 brighter and I find M66 brighter – and again, I have some confidence in what I saw because O”Meara also notes that other observers disagree with him and find M66 brighter.

This whole business of what you can see with what is variable at best and the role of magnification and field size and steadiness all complicate the question, not to mention light pollution and the atmospheres transparency at the moment.  So you really have to try these things for yourself. For me, I count it as great fun that with these tiny glasses I easily hold in my hands I have travelled 38 million light years out into the universe to pluck ancient photons from billions of stars. That’s awesome.


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The Explore Scientific  127mm f/7.5 Air-Spaced Triplet ED Apo arrived today.  I should quickly add that  at $1700 (NEAFF sale price) I don’t believe it’s a true APO – but in a word, it is good – very good. In fact I suspect this will become the scope I use the most.

I need more experience with it, of course, but I was impressed with the build and with a 10-day-old  moon and better than  average seeing -transparency was  below average – well, I’m going to wear out the word “wow” – I’m also well on my way to becoming a confirmed refractor addict.

The ES 127? Worth every penny! The only way I could go for a longer focal length than this would be with an entirely new pier and mount.  And at this point I certainly don’t see the  need for it. Other refractor fans will not be surprised, – you’ve been there.  But I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed this hobby more.  Some highlights of the first 90 minutes witht he ES 127  and that 10-day old moon over my shoulder –

1. Double- double – I have never seen it this way. Period. Oh I have split it very cleanly more times than I can count – but never like this. I cranked it up  to 381X with a 2.5 Nagler. Just incredible. With the same eyepiece the 80mm Lomo triplet was giving a good account of itself, of course, at 192X.  And the best framing in the five inch came with the 3.5 Nagler – 272X. And while I’m thinking about it – both scopes balanced beautifully on the UA DoubleStar.  I could even take the eyepieces out of both telescope – switch from 2.5 to 3.5 in the 127 – and still have the target in my fov – no slippage whatsoever. That’s good for a double mount.

2. Porrima – at last! I won’t kid you. it wasn’t like the double double – but there was plenty of clean black sky between them, though so much light they still fought with one another as they rolled across the fov. Here the full 381X was needed to get a really clean break – and I suspect I will find another night with better conditions – but this was delightful. In the 80mm i could not come close to separating them – they just waltzed across the field  – hinting at the existence of two bodies – but no space between them.

3. Saturn – four moons leaped out at me – I don’t know how many I should have seen – and this was over in the stronger moonlight.  But here the quality of the seeing really showed that it was not perfect – good, but room for improvement –  because Saturn could not take the magnification without  deteriorating. Even at that, i don’t recall a better view except one night of exceptinal seeing with the 15-inch when  Bob and Mark were here and Mark kept digging into his eyepiece case for shorter focal lengths. We had the 15 cranked up past 500. So there’s something to look forward to here.

4. Polaris – just charming, especially with the moonlight trying  – but unable – to wash out its companion.

5. M57 – now this awed me! Just a wonderful view under poor conditions. Here’s where I’m starting to think there’s no need for more light grasp to satisfy me.

6. M13 – again, very nice considering the intensity of the Moon, though it was lower in the west by this time.

If I can stay awake  – and transparency improves – I may go out after the moon sets.

Bottom line – I have lots of good things to say about this scope. I also have some quibbles, but minor. It will take a while to sort them out – but the 80/127 on the doublestar looks like my ideal observing set up – we’ll see how it stands the test of time.

Don’t think this means the Unitron will get ignored. When I have visitors I’ll let them use the 80/127 and the SCTs – I’ll use the Unitron  and other classic scopes.  AThere’s something to be said for honing your skills by using smaller scopes – sort of like as a kid when I learned to hunt with a single shot .22. My one issue with the 127 is they put  a straight through finder on it and though very nice, it just ain’t going to work for me when pointing much above 45 degrees -so I’ll swap it with a RA one off of one of the SCTs.  Of course on the DoubleStar mount my 80mm becomes the primary “finder.”

I got out again just before 4 am which gave me about half an hour of dark skies – so I did a very quick deep sky tour starting with M51 – could see it well – certanily enough to satisfy me and no challenge at all as it is in the 60mm.

M3 was disappointing and when I went to Izar I saw that part of the reason was the seeing – it came way down from what I had at 1 am. I would say at 1 am it was a 4, at 4 am a 2 on a scale where 5 is best – still, I could use close to 200X and could split Izar, but it was sloppy.

What was exquisite – just the  kind of view you would kill for – was Omicron1 Cygni. I thought the scope would overpower it, but oh my – the colors were what I imagine a fine wine is to a wine fancier – the primary was just screaming orange  – and the blue star was making a statement as well – but the killer was the green one – just the delicate of pastels.

But I get ahead of the tour – I went to M5 and found it much more satisfying than M3.

M11 was fabulous – which tells me that this scope is going to eat up open clusters.  (A large part of the charm of Omicron1 came from the black sky and loads of pinpoint stars in that neighborhood.)

M27 did well with just a hint of interior stars – if I had stayed longer I’m sure i would have seen more. Same with with M57.  The Double Double split, but not nearly so nicely in the poor seeing as it did earlier. Polaris did well, too – and Mizar – again, i thought this would overpower it, but with a 13mm Nagler it was fabulous – 73X.

So what next? Well, the 80mm F15 Towa 339 arrived today to round out the new/old scope binge. But my goal now is to start selling stuff – none of the refractors, of course. But I probably will part with a SCT. For personal viewing I could be very happy with the Unitron 114, the 80/127 rig, the C8 – and yes, the Obsession 15 for galaxy hunting. (OK, so who wouldn’t be. I’m damned lucky, but there are no computers, no electronic motors, no imaging gear and I’ve been waiting many years to get to this point  😆  I’ll keep the LX50 and I’ll see  where the Towa fits in with this mix. Folks coming over tonight, but I’ll give it a try. Meanwhile, off to Astronomy Day!

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Actually it was closer to 45 years ago that I began drooling over ads like this one.

And when my first Unitron arrived yesterday it was cloudy and the forecast dismal. But this little dude even knows how to break the new telescope curse. I was about to turn in early when I glanced through the sun room roof and there was the first quarter moon, fighting its way through the high junk. I was so excited I simply grabbed the Unitron – a Model 114 like the one in the picture, only with a few battle scars – and went out on the deck in my stocking feet with no jacket.

Yeah, the moon broke through the  high clouds – so did Mizar, Castor, Algieba and Saturn.


Now I know what the excitement is about. I know there are many observers who are saying – “so what took you so long to learn this? ” Hey – my parents always said my poor performance in school was due to my being a “late bloomer.” I attribute it toa streak of stubbornness where I have to do  everything for myself – the hard way. 😆  But if you’re a doubter and you hear someone saying those old long focal length achros can give modern APOs a run for the money, listen to ’em. I’m a skeptic turned convert and it happened with a single glance through an old .965 Ramsden eyepiece mounted in a “Unihex” that brought my reaction. It’s not a simple one. I know there’s more here than meets the eye – really. We’re talking gestalt! It is a wonderful blend of superb optics, almost quaint technology (like the compression slits that allow you to load six eyepieces into the Unihex and have none of them slip out despite the lack of set screws)  and nostalgia – oh, not to mention utter simplicity, solid build ( the proverbial brick outhouse has nothing on this baby) , light weight – and did I say anything about those optics?

I mean even the old, dirty, .965 stuff using the Unihex which must have degraded some over 30 years or so  – I mean, a 25mm Ramsden! Do you even know what a Ramsden is? If you don’t, I don’t blame you. In the 60s we felt an “achromatic Ramsden” was good – like a good Plossl is today.  You gotta be kidding me – a Ramsden delivering views like this!  And an 18mm Kellner, and a 12.5 Kellner and 9mm Symetrical – that last gives me 100X – more than enough to easily split Castor and Algieba. I couldn’t see the third component of Castor, but geeeeeze, I had mag 2.5- 3 skies! These are not ideal conditions.

And nostalgia. Yeah, it’s there. How about those flip down wooden tripod legs? Or the way the center spreader connects to them – no  chains. And a wooden case! Hell, when the clouds finally drive me in I sit in my library just staring at it, ignoring the book in my hand. It’s tall. When pointed up I can just reach to slide on the lens cap.  But the proportions are all perfect – quintessential telescope. This defines telescope like the Spitfire defines fighter, like the F86 defines jet fighter – or if you are more peacefully inclined – and I usually am – like the Piper Cub defines the fun of flying, or  DC-3 defines air transport.

And that viewfinder? I wasn’t even going to look through it. I mean a 5X23 – could that do anything? I’ve looked through junk like that with cheap modern telescopes and despaired. But this one? It was really one of the biggest surprises of the night.  And it focuses using a slit tube arrangement for compression that really does hold after all these years  – and it’s sharp – and they say the little sucker deliver a 6 degree 22′ field and I believe it. Made finding easy.

Yes, i did try my Televue eyepieces – and yes, on the hybrid .965 to 1.25 diagonal – and yes, there was a lot more through-put of light with them – did I mention the Moon? That was the first target. Honestly, the rugged peaks and valleys of the Apollo 15 landing site – the slash  of the Alpine Valley, of course – everything so darned sharp with such terrific ocntrast – and I cranked the power up to 180X with no sweat – 75X per inch!

Maybe my skies were exceptionally steady because of the high haze – I’m not sure. But I’m already in love.  Yeah, the focusing can be a pain with the old eyepieces because they are not even remotely close to being parfocal – so you have to pull out, or push in the draw tube some times because there just isn’t enough travel in the rack and pinion focus to accommodate the differences. Of course the Naglers are almost parfocal, so no hassle there.

Did I mention the stars. Those wonderfully sharp Airy discs?  That’s what I expect with the APOs – and I get them, of course. Other good achros can deliver them as well. They are a must for my viewing pleasure – though I know it just doesn’t matter to others.

I went to bed quite happy and caught  a break when I woke up at 4 am as well – but I could not split Polaris – too faint – at first I thought I did, but it was only light being thrown into the diffraction ring. BUT – I was able to split the Double Double – the wider component for sure, the other one questionable. (Omicron1 Cygni was lovely with the 25mm Ramsden.)

A friend on the West Coast with a bad case of refractoritis has been my mentor in my little excursion into long focal length achros. He says he uses TV Plossls with his. I’m not sure if that’s for economy, or because he prefers them over the Naglers for these scopes. Anyone have any thoughts on the subject?  I like the gestalt of using the .965 eyepieces and Unihex – but when I’m out at the extremes I’m hauling out the Naglers – with a slightly uneasy feeling, however. Nothing I can put my finger on, but I was thinking a simple Plossl might be a better choice.

Oh – saw the ring Nebula as well – including the central hole. Charming!

And M13 – Messier called it “a nebulae without stars” – now I know why. I would say the 60mm gives us a pretty good idea of the quality of Messier’s scope – I bet when using a good 60mm we are seeing what he saw. ( I know his scope was larger, but I don’t think the optics were this good.)  I felt M13 wanted to resolve – but that was more my past knowledge of it than what was in the eyepiece.

All Unitrons are not created equal. At least that’s the impression I get from reading what much more experienced Unitron users say.  I can’t say what the quality of the lens is that I have – I don’t have anything to compare it to – but it pleases the heck out of me  😆

Oh – and still making it’s way here from Oregon is  the 80mm F15 Towa. And arriving at the same time from Maryland should be a new Explore Scientific 127mm apo-wannabe. (Hey, there’s more to life than nostalgia and while a 4-inch Unitron appeals to me, I am the first to admit that  if you want some extra  photons in a package that won’t strain the typical mount, you need to go apo.

. . . and that’s it folks. I’m only going on AstroMart and the CN classifieds to sell stuff. My cup runneth over. Anyone interested in getting together here in a few weeks for a classics night? Observing with your scopes or mine as long as they are 25 or older? Let me know.

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Clear skies this morning, though I wasn’t prepared. I’m knee deep in planning my class – outlining 12 sessions for the year – but mainly working on this project I’ve devised that is a sort of a cross between and Orrery and a planisphere.

Anyway – that meant I had no plan for this morning and no advanced preparation, so I simply went to the little Observatory, opened the shutter,  and pointed the  8-inch SCT (LX-50) at M5 after scanning around some with binoculars. Transparency was excellent. Seeing wasn’t all that good, though I didn’t put it to the test.

I want to focus on  M13, as I mentioned earlier, but I need to do some comparisons as well and I know many observers feel M5 is  the nicer of the two bright globulars. I hate to pass judgment. M5 is different. It’s great. So is M13.  I’m not sure how I would place a value on the differences.

One thing I did have in mind to do, however, was check on Omicron1 Cygni which is promoted as a nice binocular triple. I couldn’t get three stars out of it the other night with 10X50 binoculars ,however – just two.  So I swung the 8-inch around as dawn was encroaching on M5 and picked up Omicron1 at the lowest power and of course the three are obvious.  I make out the primary as gold, the secondary – the one much closer to it – as blue, and the third, more distant star, as green – wonderful! (I know Bob, they’re all the same color 😉 wonder how others see them?)  This triple certainly deserves its stellar reputation. I can’t begin to imagine why I haven’t looked at it before. Incredible. Cygnus, rich as it is, somehow doesn’t attract me, except Albireo of course. Maybe I get frustrated by all those stars – I certainly get frustrated by the North American nebula. I know where it is. I can “see” it  – sort of, in binoculars. But boy, I can not make out it’s shape. I just see a difference in background color of the sky in that region. I checked on it again this morning – same result as always.

But getting back to Omicron1,  I decided to shut up shop quickly and scoot into the house and bring out the  set-up I devised last night with the 50mm Tasco. I’m using a dovetail bar to mount the Tasco 6TE5 and the 50mm Stellarvue “Little Rascal” side-by-side on a rather flimsy photo tripod.  This is the first time I tried it and it actually works. 😯  I pointed the pair toward Altair and made sure they were seeing the same thing – they are. The Little Rascal is F4.1, so with a 23mm eyepiece it’s delivering about 9X and nice wide field.  It’s good up to about 35X, but after that the image really falls apart. The Tasco can easily take you to 100X.

But this morning I had a .965 26mm Kelner in the Tasco, so that gave me about 26X in the little F12 scope.  So what did I see? The Little Rascal could split it – so my 10X50 binos should – I just need to get them steady. But there was not much joy in the faint images. The Tasco was something else. I enjoyed the view in it more than in the 8-inch. This is a great combination for this triple – a real nice fit. But I really need to fool around a bit with different eyepieces. The Kellner can only be brought to focus if you don’t insert it in the diagonal the whole way. Less than ideal, but a nice power – and yes, even with just 50mm of light  gathering power the colors were still there for me.

Bottom line – in 90-minutes  or so of observing I had more fun with the 5-10 minutes I spent with the Tasco and Omicron Cygni  that with the 8-inch.  I’m really getting hooked on these “classic” refractors – long focus achros. Nearly went crazy this weekend when three attractive scopes hit CN and Amart classified. The first was 60mm Unitron Model 114 on Alt-Az mount with Unihex eyepiece holder and in real nice condition. That’s on it’s way now from Florida and is due here Wednesday.  I’ve been waiting for over 40 years to look through a Unitron, so I guess I can wait a few more days.  😆

The second is a 339 Towa – 80mm F15 OTA.  This one has know nostalgic value for me. I really don’t knbow anything about Towas, except I read ont he web that they’re good.  It was just $120 – seemed reasonable. It now on it’s way from the west coast, so it will be a while.

What I really anguished over was 4-inch Unitron OTA that looked nice, but I was a tad uncomfortable with the seller and his “best offer” approach. Plus this is a guy who has several old Unitrons and right now is breaking them up and selling them piecemeal. If he had had the Alt-az mount ( he sold it a few weeks ago)  for this I think I would have given in and bought it. As it was I had to tie my self to my chair, then roll away from the computer 😉

Come on – I’ve never looked through a Unitron. I know they’re good. But I also am pretty sure that a modern APO is better – certainly has more light throughput with modern coatings. And, of course, is shorter and easier to mount. The guy did have an equatorial mount and clock drive. Ever seen a  Unitron clock drive for one of these large scopes?Looks like something out of a Jules Verne movie -a definite Victorian air to it. But now the price was really getting out of hand.  And I haven’t even looked through a 60mm yet! Gotta slow down.  🙄

Yeah, but running is fun!

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