Sunday, August 25, 2013

Coming full circle...the ballad of the Celestron C8...

This had to has been in a making for the longest time. I have tried most major types of telescopes, both reflectors and refractors. Once class of scope that I have yet to dabble in is  catadioptric scopes. These class of scopes marry the best of both worlds. The thing that has always discouraged me from owning one was simply the cost (even the OTA's cost a whole heap more than your standard newtonian, with all the bells and whistles) and the taboo that they are jack of all trades and master of none scopes. Since coming to LA, and moving into the university apartments on the second floor, and having to share my carport with a neighbor, my 10" dob has not seen much action. Now don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic scope. The problem is its weight and girth. Having to lug the scope in two trips down two flights of stairs is just not fun at midnight, when I usually start my observing sessions. Even on oz, the only time when the scope got a whole heap of star time was when I lived in a town house in Toowong, Brisbane, where even then I had to make two trips out. And once you chose a spot, that is where the scope stayed. I once pulled a back muscle moving the scope in one piece. It is doable but not recommended. This is where the C8 comes in. These are classic scopes that have been around for as long as I can remember. Due to the ever expanding scourge that is light pollution, catadioptric scopes, especially the schmidt-cassegrains, or SCT's for short, rose to popularity in the 80's, and still remain one of the most sold scopes today. And the two big names in the SCT business, Meade and Celestron, have been duking it out for years...and they still are. I must confess that I have always been a Celestron man. Must be something to do with my firstscope, which was a Celestron. That and all those glossy brochures. The only other company I like as much if not better than Celestron is Orion, and they are just importer of scopes.

So how did this C8 land in my possession? It was simple really, I was looking out for a used C8 OTA to be used on my Vixen PortaMount. This was to be the 10" replacement as this rig would not sacrifice much in the way of aperture, and still be super portable for trips down two flights of stairs for burb viewing, as well as dark sky jaunts to places where I had to carry my scope a certain distance (i.e. Malibu). For that the 10" was just out of the running. My limit for a used C8 OTA was $250 and under with postage. That means the scope had to be closer to $200 for the OTA, since postage would cost approximately $30-$40 for a package that weight about 16lbs. Most used C8's go for between $250 and $300 (with the newer ones going for even more!) without postage and that kept me on the fence. One option was to buy used OTA's from the AstroPartsOutlet since I have heard good things about those guys. They sell scopes and parts (some literally works in rack and pinion focuser's, no corrector lenses, etc etc.) and they had two Meade SCT 8 incher's for about $250. They are located close to Mount Pinos so that's not much of a drive for me. It was then when I saw this excellent deal for a used C8 on Astromart for under $200. That was a done deal for me. I was the first person to respond to the ad and before you could hit the buy it now button, it was winging its way to me. This scope was supposed to have a small dent on its side (hardly noticeable to me) and spotty/ smudgy coating (really? it just looks like dust to me!). The scope came with a Celestron 1.25" visual back, a nice Telrad (never owned a Telrad!), a dew shield (nice dew shield material too!), two dovetails, a Losmandy type dovetail and a Vixen long dovetail from Scopestuff, both on opposite sides of the OTA. Now if I ever want to upgrade to a imaging rig, this will be a boon for me. The focuser took a little bit of getting used to though since I have always been a rack and pinion kinda guy.  Focusing was okay, if kind of stiff. I wonder if it needs lubricating. However once you get it close, it only requires minor tweaks to get it focused. And surprise surprise...I detected no image shift, one of the quirks of SCT's as focusing is achieved by moving the primary mirror back and forth on a focusing track.

In the field

Now comes the acid test, the star test. The scope, on the Vixen Porta mount is only slightly heavier than the C6 on the Porta, so it is easily carried in one hand, freeing my other hand for accessories such as my camping chair, etc. etc. Definately a plus when it comes to grab and go stargazing. Optics are also surprisingly good, with perfect collimation. The airy disc are reminiscent of refractor views and showed no asymmetry whatsoever when defocused on both sides of the focus. No doughnut holes and no spiking on stars like in my newts. Also the views appeared sharp to the edges with all my ep's, even the inexpensive ones such as the Orion Explorer II ep's. The views of the moon were nice and color free. I did not detect any chromatic aberration if there were some to be detected. I have never seen the craters stand out like that at high magnification. As mentioned earlier, this is most likely the product of superior contrast!!!!!

Views of DSO's were very nice. My premium ep's really shone in this scope for some strange reason. The optical quality of these ep's were very noticeable in the C8. I used all three ep's of my premium ep's, the 24.5mm Meade SWA, 13T6 TV Nagler and 6mm TV Radian. Even my 20mm and 15mm Orion Expanse ep's performed wonderfully. The few DSO's I tested the scope on included some summer objects, but mostly fall objects. Bear in mind that testing was done in the presence of a almost 80% illuminated waning moon. It was noted that contrast was excellent in this scope, better than in my newtonians, probably a product of good baffling and the extended dew shield that came with the scope. Here are my notes of the views:

  • M57 (Ring Nebula, Lyra): Wonderfully framed at 83x in my 24.5mm (my lowest powered ep..the equivalent of a 32mm Plossl with its 68 degree FOV). Ring was bright and distinct at this magnification. Bumping up the magnification to 102x (20mm Expanse) gave a even better view. Also viewed at 156x (13T6) and 338x (6mm Radian) without loss of brightness. Best views at 156x with the Celestron/Baader OIII (yes finally the filter is useful...somehow better than the NPB). Equal in brightness from the burbs to the 10" (will have to do a confirmation...going by memory).
  •  M27 (Dumbbell Nebula, Vulpecula): Nicely framed in the 24.5mm at 83x with the OIII. Viewed at all magnifications, as detailed above. Best views in the 20mm Expanse at 102x with the OIII. Big and bright with some detail discernible, like the variation in brightness between the northern and southern portions.
  • NGC6826 (Blinking Planetary, Cygnus): As above. Best views for wide field in the 20mm Expanse at 102x with the OIII. Awesome high powered views at 156x (13T6) with the OIII. Preferred the native view sans the OIII at 338x with the 6mm Radian. The planetary was a little whitish green disk even at the lowest magnification, which was of course not as low as on my wide field reflectors.
  • M13 (Hercules globular, Hercules): Getting a little bit low now and was down in the light pollution swamp but nevertheless resolved with averted vision to the core at 156x (13T6) and at 338x with the 6mm Radian. View would have been markedly better had the globular been higher. My preferred magnification was 156x as it was a good mix of resolution and brightness.
  • M92 (Hercules): Same for this globular, although the resolution was not all the way. Also in light pollution swamp. I am confident there will be more resolution had this been higher. Best views again at 156x.
  • M15 (Pegasus): Not fully resolved even at 338x with the 6mm Radian. M15 has a very tight core, reminiscent of 47 Tucana in the south. Nevertheless very beautiful with it myriad of resolved sparkling suns at its periphery, and a few winking in and out across its dense core. This globular takes magnification better than M13 and M92, probably due to its more compact nature.
  • M2 (Aquarius): Very nicely resolved even at 156x (13T6 Nagler). Gorgeous at 336x (6mm Radian). My favourite views of this globular was at 156x though as this resolved the globular almost fully and gave a good balance of brightness, with the globular framed by a dark background. The best globular viewed this night, besting M13 probably due to its elevation in the sky.
The verdict......

So yes the used C8 OTA is a winner in my book. It came with everything I needed, including Vixen and Losmandy rails, a Telrad (which is currently not useable due to its location on the OTA), a 1.25" Celestron visual back, a home made plastic case for the OTA (with foam inserts cool!!!!), as well as a flexible yet sturdy dew shield that fastens with velcro. When I agreed to purchase the scope, I was worried that I might have to get other extra's to properly use the scope. I might still need a visual and photographic reducer at some stage (damn the SCT specific ones are expensive. The cheapest new reducer I found was from Agena Astro. They were "Antares" branded and they cost $89 for a f/6.3. The Meade and Celestron branded ones are more expensive. Meade also carried a f/3.3 reducer but those cost over $100 bucks!), but as it stands, the scope is well equipped to be used out of the box. The seller also mentioned smudgy corrector plate and a small dent on the side of the OTA, which was not all that noticeable. I can foresee myself getting back into visual astronomy with this scope.


As promised, in order to make sure my memory was not playing tricks on me, I had the 10" GS f/5 dob out in the field for testing last night, as my memory of what objects look like in the C8 was still fresh in my memory from two nights ago. All class of objects looked at did not have significant additional detail on them in the 10" (I kind of expected this but just wanted to be sure). Brightness factor, if at all visible was small. I guess side by side you probably could detect a slight increase in brightness in the 10". This was however not apparent to me tonight. As an example, both the Ring and Dumbbell looked identical in brightness in both scopes at similar magnifications. Any details I could see in the 10", I could also detect in the C8. I found that I could push the C8 higher in magnification than the dob, indicating that the C8 was very well collimated. On globulars, both scopes showed a similar level of detail. As with the planetaries, whatever resolution I got in the 10" dob, a similar level of resolution was seen in the C8. It was noted, however that somehow stars seemed sharper and popped out more in the C8. As mentioned previously the C8 is very well baffled and the background was a nice dark canvas. Now my dob is flocked too, but still the background and contrast was inferior in comparison to the C8. So will the C8 be able to fill dobbie's big 10" shoes? I think it most certainly will, and with extra room to spare on my car boot!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Equipment roundup......July-August 2013 (Edited July 2015)

I figured this is a good time as any to take stock of what equipment I currently possess and what I have used in the past. My years as an amateur astronomer has seen me buy and sell my fair share of telescopes, eyepieces, filters etc. etc. From the early 80's to about 2001, the only equipment I owned and used were my trusty orange tubed Celestron Cometron CO40, my dad's old beat up 20x50's and my 10x50 K-Mart/ Hanimex binoculars. I entered the "equipment expansion phase" of the hobby between 2001 and present (August 2013) when I dove headlong into the hobby in ernest. No doubt I would have missed out on some which have slipped my memory but I will attempt as best as I can to put to paper what I have owned, with brief notes on a particular piece of equipment and my thoughts on their pros and cons. This list will be split into telescopes, and all other accessories.

Telescopes Past and Present

My scopes over the years
In order of age

  1. Celestron Cometron CO40 40mm f/20 alt az (achromatic lens) orange tube (1984 current)-Great lil scope. My apo scope…no chromatic aberration. Showed me my first views of Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s cloud belts and moons and some of the brighter DSO’s.
  2. Explorer 76mm f/9.2 newt alt-az (spherical mirror) navy blue tube (2001 sold)-Another great lil scope. First views of M57’s doughnut and M27’s apple core. Good color free planetary views till about 150x.
  3. Explorer 150mm f/9.3 (spherical mirror) Bird Jones EQ 3-2 navy blue tube (2001 sold)-Scope plagued by aberration. Views sharp in the middle but deteriorated away from the sweet spot. Best views between 50x and 100x. Low powered views plagued by what looked like coma, even on axis. Stars showed astigmatism. Views deteriorated above100x. Hard to collimate.
  4. Celestron/Vixen C6 6” f/5 parabolic OTA black tube (2004 current)-Fantastic performer. Virtually no coma detected, Views good till theoretical max 300x.
  5. Orion 80-ST 80mm f/5 OTA achromat white tube (2004 sold)-great lil performer but views warmer in color, but still good for planets till about 150x.
  6. Synta 102mm f/5 ST OTA achromat navy blue tube (2006 sold)-bad spherical and chromatic aberration at anything above 50-60x. totally outclassed by 80ST.
  7. Kasai alt az 60mm f/6 scope achromat orange tube (2006 sold)-cute lil scope. Surprisingly color free.
  8. Yosco alt az 60mm f/11.7 scope achromat white tube (2006 sold)-great metal build and terrible optics. Badly stoppered down.
  9. Meade 114mm f/8.8 Bird Jones spherical OTA grey tube (2006 sold)-luke warm optical performance. Views sharp to about 100x.
  10. Orion StarBlast 4.5” 114mm f/4 dob metallic green tube (2007 sold)-fantastic lil performer. Views softened about 100x but viewable till 150x.
  11. Guan Sheng 10” 250mm f/5 (parabolic mirror) dob white tube (2005 sold)-Blow your socks off scope. Views sharp to 300x when air currents come into play. Spiral structure in many bright galaxies. Planets show minute detail such as festooning in Jupiters belts, moon disk transiting Jupiter’s face and Saturn’s Encke Minima division
  12. Unbranded 90mm f/5.6 (achromatic lens) table top grey tube plastic (2009 sold)-aweful night time performance. Chromatic aberration, spherical aberration and astigmatism. Only good for daytime views.
  13. Celestron Powerseeker 127mm f/7.9 Bird Jones (spherical mirror) EQ 1 black tube (2008 current)-Surprising performer after the debacle that was the Explorer 150 and the Meade 114. Views were nice and sharp to about 150x. Good for planets and smaller DSO’s. At low magnification, views softened up as you moved away from the sweet spot in the FOV.
  14. Celestron Firstscope 76mm f/3.96 (spherical mirror) mini dob black tube (2010 sold)-Great low powered views. Not good for views over 50x due to spherical aberration. Does not come with finder unless you get the upgrade kit (which is not worth the price). Similar to the Orion Funscope, minus the better accessories or the tripod mounting shoe.
  15. Celestron Cometron CO60 60mm f/11.7 (achromatic lens) grey tube (2010 sold)-Another great lil achromat. Nice planetary views. Downsides are the 0.965” accessories and 5x24 finder. Lil or no chromatic aberration and nice airy disk on stars.
  16. Orion StarBlast 4.5” 114mm f/4 (parabolic mirror) imaging OTA grey metallic tube (2011 sold)-Same as the StarBlast dob, but has a bigger secondary for maximum illumination of the CCD chip. Lower set focuser as well as it does not focus with normal eyepieces unless a Barlow or extension tube is used in conjunction.
  17. Orion Skyscanner 100 f/4 (parabolic mirror) scope maroon tube (2012 current)-Fantastic small scope and the best bang for you table top buck. Tripod mountable and good views slightly above 100x. Super portable as well and shows bright views of all manners of DSO. Can also serve double duty as a planetary scope (no chromatic aberration).
  18. Meade 60mm f/11.7 (achromatic lens) alt az navy blue tube (2012 sold)-One great lil performer. Used it a few times under dark Pinos skies. Good to its theoretical max of 120x. Little if no aberration or chromatic aberration.
  19. Celestron Powerseeker 70mm f/10 (achromatic lens) alt az black tube (2012 sold)-Lack of chromatic aberration due to longer focal length. Scope, however was plagued by astigmatism and pinched optics and I could not fix it no matter how much shimmying I did. Also too much plastic used in the construction.
  20. Orion Spaceprobe 76mm f/9.2 (spherical mirror) alt az metallic green tube (2012 current)-Fantastic performer. Shows much more than its aperture would suggest. Great for high powered planetary views as well. Great views till about 150x!
  21. Orion Funscope 76mm f/3.95 (spherical mirror) metallic green tube (2012 sold)-Great low power scope. Not good above 50x due to spherical aberration. Similar to the Celestron Firstscope mini dob, but with better accessories (Kellner eyepieces and red dot finder).
  22. Celestron NexStar 102GT 102mm f/9.8 (achromatic lens) alt az GOTO black metallic tube (2012 current)-My current most used scope. Sharp and color free views. Great CCD imaging scope with the Meade DSI I color. Mount not the best as it is a little too flimsy and shaky.
  23. Celestron Travelscope 70mm f/5 (achromatic lens) OTA black tube (2012 current)-Great wide field scope. Not too shoddy for intermediate magnifications too (between 50-70x). Not good above 100x. Immediate plans to be used on the NexStar GT mount for wide field CCD imaging. 
  24. Celestron C8 (2013 current). Just got this OTA and will be doing a extensive review of this OTA when I get the chance. My plan is to use this as my main big scope for hunting faint fuzzies on the Vixen Porta mount. As it has a longer focal length, I will be using this for the smaller DSO fare. For wide field, the C6 will be my choice.
  25. Orion StarSeeker II 130mm f/5 OTA (2013 current). The latest addition to my growing family of OTA's. Got this for cheap as it was floor stock at Orion in Cupertino (did I mention I love Orion Telescopes?). Great lil OTA (its amazing how much smaller and lighter this OTA is compared to my Celestron/Vixen C6!) that came with a Vixen style dovetail, but no ep's, finders or even a finder mounting shoe. Has a nice but too tall 2" focuser (my Meade DSI would not come to focus, bummer! It does with a barlow but that pushes the magnification wayyy up). The views are night and tight as it comes with a parabolic mirror. And since it has the nice burgundy metallic sheen, it looks like the bigger brother of my SkyScanner scope ;)
  26. Edmund Scientific Astroscan (2013 current). Another cheapie I got off e Bay whilst randomly browsing. Seeing how this goes for $289 brand new, I think I got one heck of a deal as I got this for $60...yes $60 bucks. Did not come with ep's, finder's or anything but it did come with the base and the Edmund cover, the things that matter.  The mirror and optical window are in excellent shape. No scratches or blemishes. the only caveat is the one I got is a newer one (i.e. made in China ones). Hope it performs as well as its US made brethren. I am stoked as this is one of the scopes I dream of owning as a kid. Now the only scope left on the list is the Orange Celestron Comet Catcher ;) 
  27. Orion OmniVista 60mm f/7 (2014). Another japanese 80's vintage scope from the Halley's Comet era. I looked through my 1985 Orion catalog and this scope was listed as a tabletop but did not have an Orion sticker or name. Doing a Google search turned up one Orion OmniVista (which this scope basically is). Comes with a vintage alt-az yoke mount with slow motion controls on both axis. Niceeeee......
  28. Orion GoScope 80 (2015). Again one of my random off the cuff purchases when I visit the Orion store. Got this for a song, just the OTA and fiddled around with it to try to get it to work with different diagonals with no success. This only works with the proprietary screw on diagonal. Sold it off eventually.
  29. Burgess BackPacker 65ED (2015). Another random purchase while browsing the AstroMart site as I always do. Price was too good to ignore, and sheesh ED element....sold! Keeping my fingers crossed. This scope has a history though. Bill Burgess had plans to market and sell a small ED scope that people could use for day hikes and stargazing. I was on the lookout for a cheap RFT for CCD imaging. After ordering the first 100, he ran into problems with the lens cell that would not allow collimation, and the two lens elements that would not mate well enough to give good views. To cut his losses, he sold those as parts for a song ($25 a pop, no focuser though). Industrious and penny pinching astronomers grabbled up the scope and found a way to make it work. My version seems to have gone through at least two hands and has a nice single speed GSO Crayford focuser. Views are pretty color free in comparison to a normal two element achromat, but still not as good as lens free reflectors. Best at mid and low mag.
  30. Celestron Cometron CO60 (2015). Here I am again, rescuer of scopes about to be tossed. Man what a gem of a find on Craigslist! $15 for a long focal length Japanese made 60mm f/11 (metal focuser!!!!) on a Vixen Polaris Mount...score. The mount itself is worth the price of admission. This beefy mount that Vixen used to make can be used in altazimuth and EQ mode due to its design. The OTA itself has a longer focal length (910 versus 800mm) and has fully coated optics. Comes with a metal body 0.965" star diagonal (not the plastic bodied ones on the lower end Cometron scopes) and a single 10mm Celestron Kellner. A very nice addition to my vintage collection!


  1. 20x50 japanese binoculars (current). These were my dad's and I used it quite a bit in the early 80's with my Celestron Cometron CO40. Its seen comets such as Halley's and Hyakutake. I think we still have it although the optics are now severly miscollimated and I don't know how to fix it.
  2. 10x50 japanese made K Mart/ Hanimex (current). The binoculars that got me back into the hobby in 1997. Great wide field views of Comet Hale Bopp and an excellent finder binoculars. Only fully coated and the views are kinda dim.
  3. 15x70 wide fields. The first of the cheap chinese giants. These were a revelation for me and they could be used handheld for brief periods or when reclining. Superb eye relieve and immersive field lenses (at least 68 degree FOV's). Multicoated on all air to glass surfaces. I spied Barnard's galaxy in Sagittarius and Leo 1 in Leo from Mount Barney in these wonderful binocs. I loved them so much I got its bigger brother and sold these off. Rubber coated and fully user collimatable.
  4. 20x80 wide fields (current). Wow if the 15x70's were a revelation, these were the bomb. Fully multicoated on all surfaces. No bluish reflections at all, superb eye relieve and expansive 68 degree or more views). The barrel was heaps longer than the 15x70's but strangely these felt lighter and easier to hand hold steady for longer periods. I guess it was the combination of weight and length that made this possible. When photo tripod mounted, this binoc resolved stars in Omega Centauri, M22, M55, M4, Pavo and Ara globs...nuff said!
  5. 10x40 Orion ShoreView roof prism (current). Got this on a whim and mostly for daytime terrestrial use. Surprisingly sharp waterproof performer. Not so good for stargazing, but that was not what it was purchased for. Optics are fully multicoated on all surfaces and this binos have excellent eye relief.

Other miscellanous equipment


0.965" ep's
  1. 25mm Celestron Kellner (2x Current) Superb lil performer if a little tight on the eye relieve. Very bright views in small scopes.
  2. 12.5mm Celestron Kellner. Very nice mid range ep for small scopes. 
  3. 8mm Celestron SR (Current). Like looking through a drinking straw...but views were crisp.
  4. 6mm Celestron MA. Same as the above.
  5. 25mm Meade MA. Very similar in performance to its Celestron counterpart.
  6. 12.5mm Meade M. Similar to its Celestron counterpart.
1.25" ep's

  1. 12.5mm Super Plossl-Tight eye relieve. Otherwise a great mid range performer. A step up from Kellner's.
  2. 20mm Super Plossl-Tight eye relieve. Otherwise a great performer. No off axis aberration apparent. This was replaced with an Orion Expanse 20mm which had better eye relieve but worse edge of FOV performance.
  3. 32mm Super Plossl-My first multi coated super wide FOV ep. I loved this ep to death as well and used it everywhere on all manner of objects. The best low powered ep in my opinion and the max FOV you can get in the 1.25" format. Better than the 40mm Plossl's out there for sure. Gave me unforgettable views of the North American Nebula and the Veil Nebula in my Orion 80ST. The only reason I sold this was to make way for my 24.5mm Meade SWA which had the same FOV but at a higher magnification.
  4. 25mm Kellner-Low end ep's that came with my Explorer 150mm EQ. They were okay coated ep's with the bluish tinge to the lenses. My first 1.25" ep's!
  5. 10mm Kellner-Tight in the eye relieve department but not impossible to use. Surprisingly good mid range views.
  6. 6mm Kellner-My first glimpse of the planets in the larger barrel size format ep's. Very tight eye relieve.
  7. 25mm Orion Explorer II (current)-Came with my Orion SpaceProbe 76. Great little performer. Views are definately brighter in these fewer element ep's in comparison to the wider FOV multi-element ones.
  8. 17mm Orion Explorer II-Wow is all I can say about this ep. Abberation free off axis and just the perfect magnification factor to see detail in DSO's in my Orion StarBlast, the scope it came with. Also gave great views in my Orion 80ST and 10" dob. I still miss this ep, which was sold together with my StarBlast when I moved to LA.
  9. 10mm Orion Explorer II (current)-Nice ep too. A little tight in the eye relieve department, but useable.
  10. 6mm Orion Explorer II-Very tight on the eye relieve, but otherwise excellent high powered views
  11. 20mm Orion E Series-These are great performers. Came with my Orion SkyScanner. Brighter views than my multi element ep's. Terry and me suspect that these may be 3 element Kellner ep's as their FOV's are smaller than those in similar focal length Plossl's. These seemed to have replaced Orion's now defunct Explorer II series ep's.
  12. 10mm Orion E Series-Same as the above. Eye relieve is tight but still usesable with eye glasses.
  13. 24.5mm Meade SWA (current)-My most used ep. Got this used, and with a slight chip on one of its elements. Gives superb wide field views with it gorgeous 68 degree FOV. This is the older japanese made model and is a whole heap chunkier than the current incarnation. I leave my NPB filter screwed in for most part as it gets most use looking at extended nebulae.
  14. 20mm Orion Expanse and clone (current)-I had one in oz, sold it off, and I liked this ep so much I got another one off Astromart when I came to LA. This is the other ep, besides my 24.5mm SWA that gets used the most. Views are nice and sharp in the middle of the FOV, but abberations start kicking in some 15% from the edges. Still it has very good eye relieve and gives sharp views in long focal length refractors. I don't think I will ever part with this 68 degree FOV ep ever again.
  15. 15mm Orion Expanse and clone (current)-Same as the above but with tighter eye relieve. This was my mid range ep, until I obtained the 13mm T6 Nagler. Despite this I still use this ep regularly as it has very good eye relieve. Again like the 20mm, abberations creep in once you get within 15 - 20% of the edge of the FOV.
  16. 9mm Expanse clone-Used the buggery out of these high powered 68 degree FOV ep's. Superb eye relieve (you can keep your glasses on). They served me very well for years until I got my 6mm TV Radian. Absolute bargain for the performance. There was flaring and ghosting but I did not give a crap as they were so cheap. Heaps better than the regular Plossl's. If you want to step up from Kellners, MA's and Plossl's, I totally recommend this ep's.
  17. 6mm Expanse clone-See short review above. Exceptional performance for the price. More worth than the ED ep's in my opinion...very light and cheaper too.
  18. 5mm Celestron X-Cel ED-Great chunky ep with exceptional eye relieve. Got this to use as a high powered planetary ep. My gripe with this ep was flarings. Seems like the internals were not very well flocked. Also the views were distinctly warmer than in the Radian an indication of poorer chromatic aberration correction.
  19. 11mm UWA 80 degree-Both one new and one used over the years hoping they would remedy the weird problem with this ep. Nice expansive views but very very poor eye relieve. Even with my eyeglasses off I had problems taking in the views and had to press my eyeballs up to the glass, and in the process getting eyelash oil on the field glass. Not recomended. 
  20. 6mm TeleVue Radian (current)-One of my dream ep's as well, and I have had this for a while. A great high powered planetary and lunar ep. Fantastic views of smaller planetaries as well as a globular cluster buster.
  21. 13mm Orion Stratus 68 degree FOV. This is one big honking ep, almost up there with the 2" barrel 30mm UWA. In fact this ep can be used in both 1.25" and 2" modes. Its so heavy it made my Orion dielectric diagonal unscrew! Pretty good on axis, but image deteriorated beyond the sweet spot. Not as badly affected as the Expanse ep's though. Fully multicoated with excellent eye relieve. You could see the whole FOV with your glasses on and the rubber eye guards rolled all the way down. I sold this because I could not justify having a 13mm T6 Nagler and this...and the Nagler was heaps smaller and lighter, with totally corrected edge of field distortion. 
  22. 17mm Japanese TeleVue Plossl-An older style TV Plossl, one of the original ep's that revolutionized amateur ep's. Got this one cheap just to try out. Great multicoated ep, but very poor eye relieve.
  23. 13mm T6 TeleVue Nagler (current)-My dream mid range ep and I finally procured one for cheap off Astromart (got to love Astromart). Gorgeous multi coatings, expansive FOV, no edge of FOV abberations..what more could you ask for in a visual ep. My only gripe is its shorter eye relieve. I cannot take in the expansive views with my eyeglasses on.
  24. 18mm Orion Long Eye Relieve prototype eyepiece  (current)-Got this on my recent trip to the Cupertino store for cheap. This is a prototype model so it does not look like its chrome barreled brethren. It is all black and looks more like their flat field line. Supposed to have one ED element, 20mm eye relieve and a 55 degree FOV. Performed brilliantly in both my fast scopes, the Orion StarSeeker II 130mm f/5 and in the Astroscan. Images were sharp out to the edges. Nice. No flaring on brighter objects.
  25. 20mm KK Widescan 82 degree FOV eyepiece-Loved this ep to death and used it heaps in my C6 and 10" dob. I sold it as I needed funds and I was using my Orion 20mm Expanse a whole heap more. Better edge of FOV correction but poorer eye relieve. Multicoatings on this was awesome, and it was a rather small and light ep for its FOV. I would totally buy another one at some stage now that my ep collection is maturing.
  26. Other not worth mentioning cheapies such as 20mm, 12mm, 6mm and 4mm HM eyepieces that came free with various scopes such as the Firstscope 76 and the NexStar 102GT.


  1. 30mm UWA 82 degree-Bought this on a whim after looking through Andrew's 31mm T5 Nagler. The views are as immersive, but of course this one had more off axis abberations. Views got bad around 20-25% from the edges. Great wide field milky way sweeping eyepiece under dark skies. The background was too grey under suburban skies.
  2. 42mm Orion DeepView 52 degree-Since I started using my C8 in earnest, I have had issues examining bigger and more expansive objects. The obvious solution was to get an eyepiece with a longer focal length. Through experience with multiple lens element eyepieces, This time I wanted something that would give me the lowest possible magnification, well corrected and flat field performance and minimal or no distortion. This three element multi coated eyepiece filled all the criteria above and more. A truly wonderful eyepiece, perfect for use with my long focal length SCT!
  1. Lumicon UHC 1.25"-Great filter. On the pricier side but it served me well for the longest time. In fact it was the only filter I had for a while until I discovered DGM Optics. Great views of nebulae both from the suburbs and from dark sky sites. Sold it as it did not enhance nebulae as well as the DGM NPB filter, plus it gave off a weird green tinge to DSO's.
  2. DGM NPB 1.25" (current)-Best of the narrowband filters. Side by side with the Lumicon UHC, this filter showered more detail in extended objects like M42 (like the other tendrils that were all but invisible in the UHC), Tarantula, M20 and Eta Carina (dark lanes more pronounced). Passband is slightly narrower than the Lumicon UHC and it seems to be a hybrid between a narrowband filter, like the UHC and line filters, such as the OIII. Also gives more natural colors in comparison to the UHC. Also I understand it is hard coated and not a sandwich filter so there are no reflections like in the UHC.
  3. DGM VHT 1.25"-Fantastic wideband filter. Passband was narrower than the Orion SkyGlow and it behaved more like a wide passband UHC type filter. I sold this and regret that decision to this day. I would probably get another one when the price is right.
  4. Celestron 80A 1.25" (current) Great filter for enhancing Jupiter's belts!
  5. Moon Filter green 1.25" (current)
  6. Baader Moon and Skyglow 1.25"-Okay filter. Very minimal enhancement to any object. Helps with chromatic abberration in ST refractors.
  7. Orion SkyGlow 0.965"-My first LPR filter and I used the heck out of this in my 76mm Newt. Sold it as it was of the smaller 0.965" format.
  8. Orion SkyGlow 1.25" (current)-I liked the VHT and SkyGlow filter (0.965") so much I got another one later on when Orion was having an accessory sale. This filter does well for galaxies and star clusters from suburbia, as well as enhancing reflection nebulae. It also does double duty as my LPR filter for suburban CCD imaging of DSO's.
  9. DGM OIII 1.25"-Got this on a whim. Does enhance some nebulae better than the UHC type filters (i.e. Veil Nebula comes to mind). Did not get much usage so I sold this off.
  10. Celestron-Baader Planetarium OIII 1.25" (current)-The filter bug bit me again after selling the DGM OIII and this was going for cheap on Astromart so I got another one. Still does not get much use, but at least I have a OIII in my arsenal for nice views of the Veil in my 10".
  11. Zhumell OIII 1.25"-Going for very cheap as a pair with the below filter on Astromart so I bit the bullet and got them. Since I already have an OIII, I got rid of this one and kept the below.
  12. Zhumell UHC 1.25" (current)-This filter is weird, it gives views in between the NPB filter and the SkyGlow......but not quite as good as my old VHT....
  13. Orion SkyGlow Imaging Filter 1.25"-My first non visual imaging filter which I got from Orion as a blem for more than half price off. Filter definitely works as advertised and much better than using the visual one in its place. Makes imaging from my red zone skies easy!!!


  1. Meade 2x tele-extender 0.965"-Used this a bit in my smaller scopes. Nice little barlow with all metal construction. Only fully coated.
  2. Orion Shorty 2x barlow 1.25"-Used this a bit until I chanced upon a Shorty Plus barlow for cheap. Seems multi coated on one element.
  3. Orion Shorty Plus 2x barlow 1.25" (current)-My barlow of choice. Has one ED element to correct color. I use the barlow mostly with my short focal length small newtonian's....and sometimes for planetary views with my 10", if the atmosphere permits. Multicoated.

Star Diagonals

  1. StellarVue Dielectric diagonal. Great diagonal with 98% reflectance. Used this exclusively with my Orion 80ST.
  2. ScopeStuff hybrid diagonal (2x current). Used this exclusively with my smaller refractors. I have one currently in use with my Celestron Cometron CO40 back in Malaysia so I can use my current 1.25" ep's in the scope for wider views.
  3. Orion Dielectric diagonal (current). The is Orion's latest iteration and this made in Taiwan diagonal is super excellent with 99% reflectivity. I use this with my NexStar 102GT and hope to use it in my C8.

Astro-imaging cameras (both current)

  1. Meade Deep Sky Imager (DSI) color one shot I CCD-Got this one for a very cheap price on Astromart. Just what the doctor ordered. I have been dipping my toes in the astroimaging pool for a while now, but was reluctant to take the plunge due to the cost associated with such endeavours. I found that for a little cash outlay, one could get some decent shots with this beginner CCD camera and an alt az GOTO tracking mount. Sure my piccies will not rival those taken by Hubble...or Jack Newton for that matter. What is important is that these were taking by mua. As Uncle Rod puts it, this is instamatic astrophotography at its best. I might upgrade to a larger chip CCD cam someday (probably a Meade DSI III or a Orion Starshoot Pro), but for now I am having way too much fun with this lil cam. Gives me a great reason to stay out under indifferent skies.
  2. Orion Color Solar System Imager IV CMOS-Not used this much yet for some strange reason. I had a brand new one and returned it, only to find a super cheap unit on Astromart. Gives great lunar shots. Have not tried it on the planets yet! Note that  most of these cams will not work on newtonian's due to insufficent in travel on the focuser.
  3. Orion Starshoot Deep Sky Imager II OSC-Got this as an upgrade for my DSI I OSC as this has a bigger sensor and TEC cooling. Only tested the camera out three times (two under dark skies) and the camera was harder to work with as it was, firstly heavier, and secondly I never got used to using MaxIm DL as an imaging software. Color balance was all wrong on the cam and I could not for the life of my get it to work properly. Sold it and wetn back to using my excellent DSI I, until the below came along....
  4. Meade Deep Sky Imager (DSI) II OSC-I love Astromart. Can't say that enough. Found a used DSI II for an excellent low price a week or two after selling the Orion SSDSI II. The cam basically has the same CCD chip specs as the Orion in a package no bigger and heavier than the original DSI I. I did not even have to fart around with the software, etc etc as I have already gotten the Meade Envisage software to work well. Got to imaging right off the bat. I liek this cam so much, I sold my baby, the DSI I, as I wanted it to get used more......

  1. EQ1. This mount came with the black 127mm Powerseeker and it held this scope very sturdily. I am guessing this will be a great mount for ST scopes ranging from refractors right up to ST 127mm OTA's. Since the Powerseeker was bought primarily for its OTA, to be brought home to Malaysia, I sold off the EQ1.
  2. EQ3-2. This was my primary mount from 2001 right up till 2012 when I got my Vixen Porta Mount. I hardly used it in EQ mode and used it almost exclusively in alt az mode. As it had slow motion controls, this was an ideal mount for this purpose. Held the 150mm Bird-Jones very sturdily but was marginal at best for the longer C6 6" f/5 Celestron/Vixen. I attributed its "un-sturdiness" to the stamped aluminium tripod extendable legs. After I replaced this with some black wooden legs I got off a fellow on Astromart (these were from the older EQ2 mounts available from older chinese and taiwanese made scopes), the mount was rock solid. Finally got replaced by my current alt az mount, the Vixen Porta Mount. This mount had a non standard dovetail mount too which was very inconvinient. Held my ex 102ST OTA with ease.
  3. Optex  heavy duty photo tripod (2x and clone). This was my second mount for every other OTA I had when I was in oz. This mount had a removable shoe, so it was very convenient to use. Tripod was good for holding small to large binoculars and it held my Orion 80ST while I had it. Not good for views above 45 degrees for astronomy. You had to guess-timate and overshoot so the object can be placed in the FOV. I had a makeshift counterweight to allow the scope to be used at higher elevations. Heavy use of plastics, with stamped aluminium legs. Good for use with the Orion Precision Slow Motion Adapter.
  4. Orion HD-F2 photo tripod (current). Got this used off Astromart. Fantastic heavyweight fluid head photo tripod with removable shoe, like the Optex one. All metal construction unlike the heavy plastics in the Optex photo tripod. This is a great wide field panning mount for my ST scopes and served double duty as my mount of choice for my mini tabletop Orion SkyScanner scope. It can also be used with the Orion Precision Slow Motion Adapter for binocular use. Again not an ideal mount for astro as anything above 45 degrees tended to have problems with tight locking...but better than the Optex. My only gripe is that this is the older model with the twist turn locks for the retractable legs. It gets slippery and hard to turn when the metal goes cold from being out under the stars too long. Has rubberized ends which helps with dampening times.
  5. Vixen Porta Mount (current). Astromart is king. Wow dob like smoothness and stability, plus adjustable height for comfortable seated viewing. This mount takes the cake for sturdiness, lightweight and slow mo, since it has slow motion knobs. No fussing around with lock knobs and stuff, it stays where you push it. You can then track like a dob, but only better as it has slow motion controls. Super sturdy and it holds my C6 OTA with ease. Damping time 3 seconds or less.....NICEEEE. Can't wait to try it out with my C8. I have to date used the SkyScanner 100mm OTA, the Funscope 76mm OTA and the Travelscope 70mm OTA on this and each and everyone of them were a joy to use on this mount. A must have!
Other miscellaneous gear

  1. Orion Steady Pix Camera Mount-Used this for a good year to image the moon and some of the brighter DSO's (such as Pleiades, M42). Was hard to use as you had to get the camera lens at just the right distance from the eyepiece. Speaking of which only long eye relieve eyepieces would work for this sort of prime focus eyepiece projection method. I used this mostly with my Kodak Z990 and an Orion Expanse 20mm ep. Also I had issues getting it to clamp down sufficiently tight as it would sometimes unscrew itself causing my heart to skip a beat (i.e. cam almost went crashing to the concrete). Sold it when I obtained my Meade DSI I, which is an awesome starter DSO CCD camera.
  2. Meade Focal Reducer f/6.3 for SCT-Just got this and have not tested it out yet. Will update when I do. This brings the focal length of the C8 down to the level of the 10" dob so I will be getting wider views with my lower magnification ep, my 24.5mm Meade SWA. The focal reducer feels very heavy and well made and the coatings look to be fully multicoated. can't wait to get it tested out. It will act as a seal for the OTA too ;)


Monday, August 12, 2013

Malibu Strikes Back.......9th of August 2013

It has been coming for the longest time. We have been kept away for way too long. The weather has been totally uncooperative. Extended forecast have been giving us a reason to get excited for weeks, only to dash our hopes when the weekend drew nearer. This weekend was no different. Forecast were for excellent clear skies for Solstice Canyon, our primary observing site, for both Friday and Saturday night. Alas as the night approached, the weather report changed from excellent to very good (meaning that the skies were going to cloud over later in the evening). This night we took the chance and ran with it. Below is an account of our tale.....

Terry's scopes: 114 Powerseeker on Versa Go II mount and his new Meade 60mm alt az

So yes we came back to Solstice Canyon. Were the skies clear? Check. Did we get some visual observing? Check. Did the skies fog over? Check. So how was the session? I think there was a mutual agreement between Terry, my observing buddy and me that we were just glad to be back at our old observing spot. Solstice Canyon in Malibu does not have the darkest of skies. For that one has to drive to up to Mount Pinos. What we do like about Malibu is its closeness, and its solitude. Unlike Pinos, we don't have to content with other fellow astronomers, or hikers (and their stupid lights). One also somehow also feels closer to nature as you can hear the mighty Pacific Ocean roar over the canyon walls. This particular site is also excellent for imaging as it offers darker skies than Culver City, and it is usually very still, unlike Pinos with its gusty winds due to its higher elevation.

Tonight we had four scopes in attendance. I had with me my Celestron Nexstar 102GT and my Orion Spaceprobe 3. Terry brought with him his current main observing scope, A long focal length Celestron  Powerseeker 114 (black tube) on his Orion Versa Go 2 alt az mount, and his newly acquired Meade 60mm alt az. I don't think we both had a very specific plan. Terry just wanted to add to his growing list of objects and to test out his new 60mm under darker skies. I wanted to re-image some of the DSO's I had done earlier under light polluted skies and to hopefully add to my growing list as well. We did accomplish some of the above mention, but not without some frustration. For one the skies were clear, but at the same time not as dark as we remembered it to be. We were discussing about this and how we have not really been to our Malibu site during summer. It could be that it really does not really get fully dark, or if it was just the particular night. I attribute its lack of darkness to particulate matter and moisture in the air. There was just too much reflected light. That extra sky luminosity caused Terry to only successfully bag one new galaxy, even though he had been hunting a greater number in Serpen's. That was frustrating for him.

I too had my own frustrations. Even though most things came together and I even got to arrive at the site earlier than normal, Murphy's Law, as usual, reared its ugly head. Firstly the GOTO mount misbehaved throughout the time we were there. It would go into some "I am going to point at zenith" death slew when I chose M11. Go figure. And after imaging only M27, yes one single object, the computer battery (which was on full charge last weekend...maybe I am not remembering things as clearly as I did) decided to die on me. It was at that point that I said stuff that, I am going to do visual astronomy and enjoy the night with my Orion SpaceProbe 3.

The only DSO I shot that night...M27, The Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula

So did I enjoy the night? Despite all those frustrations, I had a surprisingly enjoyable night. For one I have not been out observing with Terry much or at all in the last couple of months, mostly due to the marine layer being a permanent resident over much of the coastline. I managed to squeeze in a couple of visual observations earlier in the evening and took a peek at some of the usual fare. The only galaxy I looked at that night was M51 in Canes Venatici. I was actually planning to re-image this galaxy, but alas it was not to be. Not much detail visible in the 102GT as it was getting lower in the sky. This galaxy will probably be lost to me the next time I am out under new moon sky conditions.

Since the laptop battery died, I went into visual mode. This is a much more relaxing way to spend ones time under the stars. I observed several objects through the 102GT before its battery died. Most of these were globular's in Sagittarius. All showed some level of resolution. In order of the most stars resolved: M22, M10, M12 (all three more or less fully resolved with numerous stars strewn over the fave of the globulars). Other objects observed in the 102GT included nebulae in Sagittarius, M8, the Lagoon Nebula looked the best in the 24.5 Meade SWA (41x) with the NPB filter in place. The same was true for M20 (Trifid Nebula), M17 (Swan Nebula) and M16 (Eagle Nebula). Did manage one open cluster, M11 the Wild Duck cluster in Scutum.

The headless astronomer : This is how I hunt DSO's...with my monks hood on to cut out stray light...SpaceProbe 3

When the battery started to go all weird on me, I packed up the 102GT and started using the SpaceProbe 3 in earnest. Good thing I did. Views were gorgeous in this lil' gem of a scope. I especially like how tight the stars looked and how nice the contrast was. It made everything jump out a little better. Earlier in the night, I looked at M6 and M7, two breathtakingly beautiful southern open clusters. It was a good thing too as Scorpius goes behind the hills pretty early this time of the year.

The nebulae in Sagittarius also looked beautiful in this scope. I used the same ep as I used for the 102GT, the 24.5mm Meade SWA (28x). Due to the shorter focal length, more of M8's extended nebulosity was visible in the SpaceProbe 3, in comparison to the 102GT, which had a narrower FOV with the same ep. There is just something to be said about a nice bright nebula being framed by a dark background! M20 looked better in the 102GT, probably due to its larger aperture, but M17, the Swan and M16 the Eagle looked equally stunning in the SpaceProbe 3, in comparison to the 102GT. The other objects that looked better in the 102 GT included open cluster M11 and the globulars. However that being said, this lil scope still continues to amaze me. Resolution was clearly evident in M22, in fact with averted vision, most of the stars were resolved in this 3" scope. The other two notables included M15 in Pegasus and M2 in Aquarius. Both showed some resolution on the periphery with averted vision in the 13T6 Nagler in this scope (54x).

It was then that we started to notice the marine layer slowly creeping across from the south east. Last object for the night was M57, the ring nebula in Lyra, which was slightly pass zenith. Views were nice in the 24.5mm Meade SWA at 28x, but was heaps better in the 13T6 Nagler at 54x. The celestial doughnut showed its dark center in the 13T6 Nagler. We called it a night at slightly past 12.30am.

The perfect antidote from the realities of life...a dark sky getaway!

Ah Mount Pinos what would I do without thee. In my times of strife and stress you are there, like a dark beacon lighting my way in the darkness. I have been feeling like that since the marine layer came to permanently live over my skies. It has been starless for a couple of weeks now. It is infurating because the days are nice with gloriously blue skies. But as soon as the sun starts to set, the marine layer moves in from the coast, and by the time it gets dark, which is closer to 9pm now due to summer, the skies are totally clouded over (or fogged over whichever way you want to see it). Like the year before, our usual dark sky site in Solstice Canyon in Malibu is a no go since its affected by the marine layer even more than the skies over Culver City! So my only option is to drive further and get away from the coast. Good thing we SoCal residents have Mount Pinos accessible to us. Its is ideal for visual astronomy as the skies there are truly pitch black. It is actually better in summer as the marine layer shrouds the LA basin, trapping the light pollution under its foggy dome. So yes in summer when it is new moon weekend, Mount Pinos comes to mind. And come to mind it did!

M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici

Now I wasn't sure what I was going to be doing at Mount Pinos. I have imaging on my mind pretty much all of the time these days and feel empty if I do not get a single new object to image. This time was no different, but I opted to keep my options open, as two trips prior to this saw cold gusty breezes (i.e. impossible to image with my small GOTO scope!). The weather has been very warm of late though, and Dave, my other observing friend had visited Pinos the Tuesday before I went. He experienced calmer night skies so I was hopeful I would get some imaging time. This proved to be partially true when I finally decided to bite the bullet and head there. The skies were clear, with some wispy clouds to the south east. These were threatening to enshroud my targets in the then rising Sagittarius. Good thing they kept at bay.  I knew from the start that this was going to be a great night seeing that there was only slight gust of wind, and warm wind at that. There has been only one other occasion when it has been this ideal. Pinos is usually cold :(

 M64: The Blackeye Galaxy in Coma Berenices

Started off the night doing the usual stuff such as aligning the GOTO mount. I had with me the Celestron Travelscope 70 on my Orion HDF2 photo tripod. This little OTA is proving to be one solid little wide field performer. Such scopes do best under pitch black skies as they can be used to their fullest. Under urban and suburban skies, the background is all grey and muddy, washing out minute detail in DSO's. Tonight it was reveling in its travels to the milky way and back. I was determined to do some visual observing so I started off the night using the GOTO and the Travelscope on some of the more obvious and brighter targets such as the nebulae in Sagittarius, the open and globular clusters in Scorpius, some planetary nebulae in Lyra, Aquila and Vulpecula (you know who they are ;). I even checked out some now fast sinking galaxies such as M81/82 in Ursa Major, M51 in Canes Venatici, M64 and NGC 4565 in Coma. After perusing some of the faves, I decided to start imaging some of the now fast disappearing galaxies. Started off with M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici. Wow when the image came on the screen I could not believe my eyes. The spiral arms were so obvious. Due to the slight winds, I could only imaging for short burst and it was exasperating as I had to be on constant alert to stop the exposure when the winds started to kick up. Imaging at Mount Pinos is a test of patience.

M8 : The Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius

Next stop was also another galaxy, M64. This one surprised me too as the black eye was so obvious, even though I could not expose it for as long as I wanted to. I will revisit this galaxies someday from Malibu when the conditions are optimal. Pinos is just not an ideal spot for imaging. Other DSO's I imaged throughout the night included some which I had imaged previously from my suburban site. M8, the Lagoon Nebula was nice, although I need a much wider FOV. the narrow FOV of the  Meade DSI did not do this object justice. I aim to image this object with the Travelscope at some point in time...maybe even from my light polluted playground.

M20 : The Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius

M20, the Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius showed more nebulosity at shorter exposures from Pinos in comparison to my light polluted playground in Culver City. This object is framed nicely as it covers a smaller area in comparison to its neighbor M8. M16, the Eagle Nebula was nice as well and showed more of its wispy nebulosity at shorter exposures. The real revelation was M17, the Swan Nebula. I never get tired of imaging this beauty. So much detail even from suburbia. Even better from Pinos. If only I could have tried for longer exposures and more frames!!!!!!!

M17 : The Swan/Omega Nebula in Sagittarius

Also imaged star clusters. M22, the crackerjack was an obvious choice. Did not get better images than what I obtained previously at Malibu when the skies were calmer and I could expose for longer periods. Also imaged M11, the Wild Duck cluster in Scutum. This one is a very rich open cluster that does not resemble a flock of migrating ducks, unless you view it in smaller scopes that do not resolve its fainter members.

M16 : The Eagle Nebula in Sagittarius

Was also planning to image M57, the Ring Nebula and M27, the Dumbbell Nebula as I have yet to image this from a dark sky site (I did very good results from suburbia mainly due to me being able to take multiple frames and longer exposures due to the still nights here, coupled with my Orion SkyGlow filter). Both were also overhead so I gave up. Also the computer battery started to blink....the HP Laptop battery usually last approximately 2 1/2 hours and I was really pushing it. To avoid losing data due to the system shutting down on me, I decided to call it a night for imaging.

M11 : The Wild Duck Cluster in Scutum

The next couple of hours were spend leisurely perusing the milky way with my naked eye (have not felt this relaxed in ages!!!!!) and hunting some new objects to sketch in Draco, a constellation I am very unfamilliar with due to its close proximity to the pole star and Ursa Minor. I sketched a total of 10 new objects, including the famous Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543). The other 9 were galaxies in Draco: NGC 6503, 6015, 5985, 5965, 5907, 5905, 5866, 5308 and 5322.

M22 : The Crackerjack Cluster in Sagittarius

So yes I was fulfilled. I did not drive as far in this time and the lights from the turnoff from the I5 were still visible, plus I had a visit from a friendly local sheriff. But the weather has not been this nice and balmy at Pinos in a while. Plus the winds did behave occasionally, allowing enough "in between" time to image what I had set out to. I went home with a big smile on my face. And I had such a good time, I did not realize it was already 4am when I started heading time hopefully Malibu!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Blast from the past.....dark sky jaunts to Leyburn.....13/14th of August 2004

Once week late but as they say better late than never. Weather here has been abysmal for stargazing. The only place with a semblance of good clear skies is at Mount Pinos and even there the weather report has been for mostly clear. Too tired to think of driving there on this clear moon free weekend so its me and my blogs...stay tuned...heaps more coming up...

 13/14th of August 2004

Viewing conditions: Superb transparency magnitude 7 skies (or better) ; Telescope: C6, 10x50mm Binoculars, Orion 80ST on photo tripod, a 10" DOB, 4” ST Refractor
Observing notes:

It has been a while since I have updated this page. The main reasons for this is that I have been doing most of my observing from home in suburbia. Have had a very productive observing schedule of small and brighter than magnitude 13 planetaries (via blinking) and globulars to keep me very busy. But every now and then, you get the call of the wild, to be one with the great spectacle of our own galaxy blazing from horizon to horizon…and what better time to do that then during the southern austral winter? In the past I have been very hesitant about going due to the extremely cold temperatures that my tropical body is not used to. But constant prodding from my good observing buddy Andrew (thanks Andrew) and David made me cave in. This plus the fact that that it was going to be milder this weekend, clear (and I mean clear..this is the first time we have ever gone up to Leyburn with ultra clear skies all the way…no clouds at all until…well read on) and quiet (only the 4 of us there Andrew, David, Ray and me. The rest were all at Camp Duckadang for the Astrofest!).

Anyway the journey began after lunch on Friday afternoon. Having my usual ration of fish and chips, I drove home to gather my gear (some new gear to test out!). We had it all packed and ready to go at about 1.35pm. Packing the C6 and the EQ into Andrew’s already heavily packed white Charade was a challenge which Andrew surmounted marvellously! And away we went, off into the blue yonder. We arrived earlier than usual as well this time round (about 4.15pm) so we had plenty of time to setup, eat our dinners and chat (or so we though). Most time was fritted away by collimation of both the C6 and the 10” DOB. By the time we sat down to relax and have our dinner, the sun had started to go down. It still amazes me how dark the skies here are even before astronomical twilight decends. And this time we had zodiacal light to deal with. This is the first time I think I have ever see zodiacal light. Just goes to show how nice and dark this spot is.

Well before it got really dark, we started to see the milky way and of course I went for Jupiter. Last chance to get a look at the gas giant before it disappears for another ½ year before coming up at godly hours of the night. The views were anything but good as Jupiter was very low in the murk to begin with. I next turned the scope (C6 and the 80ST) on some old fave’s that were going to disappear under the horizon later in the night. Since I was in the vicinity of Corvus, I gave M104, the Sombrero Galaxy a look. Nice dark lane bisecting the galaxy (nice views in the 10” as well…david’s new DSC’s were not fully setup yet). Next came some nice wide filed views of the glorious carina region in the 80ST with the 20 Expanse. All were very nicely framed in the 80ST (also nice in the C6). Clusters looked at included 3293 near Eta carina, 3532 (this one blows me away everytime I see it but it really needs a wide FOV to be fully appreciated), 3766 and 4755, the jewel box (this ones loks better at 166x!). Also had a prolonged look at Eta carina at 47x with the UHC in the C6. Its amazing how the UHC brights out the loops and swilrls. And while I was in the region, I had a very good look at 5139 Omega Centauri (which already looks very good from suburbia). It was an amazing ball of resolved stars at 166x in the C6 (resolved even at 47x…actually looks better at low mag because at high mag, the cluster looks more like an open cluster due to its looseness). Also looked at some of the celestial splendours in Centaurus like 5128 (Centaurus A…again visible to the naked eye and the dust lane was just sticking out like a sore thumb in the eyepiece), 4945 (nice fat streak of light that was just as well seen in the 80ST…dark skies do make a difference on extended objects like that), 4976, that small galaxy near 4945. from there it was a short hop to the blue planetary 3918 and M83, the face on spiral at the head of Centaurus. From suburbia only the core and hints of the spiral fuzz is visible. From Leyburn the core was bright and the fuzz that was the spiral arms were just as bright! I though I could see it with my naked eye even! Next I moved onto the spiral planetary in Musca (5189). Again the views were pleasing without the UHC but better with the UHC. I briefly also had a look at both globs in Ara with the 80ST (4833 and 4372).

It was then that I decided to do a tour of some of the better globulars (as well as some of the lesser known ones). With the added clarity and sharpness of the C6, I have had good resolution on the brighter and more well known Messier globs. What better way to start the tour (especially after Omega Centauri) than M5 in Serpens and M13 in Hercules. Again both look very well resolved at 166x (and even better at 250x). M13 seemed to resolve better but M5 was right up there, with brighter stars to boot. The chain of stars effect was again seen in M13. I also had a look at the other glob in Hercules, M92. Also very nice resolution. This one has the dubious honor of being overlooked due to its more well known contemporary (same case for 362, it being overshadowed by 47 Tucana). Also had a look at the loosely arranged M10 and M12 in Ophiuchus. Again very nice resolution all across the disc. Now onto the bigger and even brighter globs….47 Tucana (the LMC was higher now and the SMC was just hovering above the horizon…damn the seeing and transparency is perfect!) and M22. Both were brilliantly resolved in the C6 at 166x. Again the loosely arranged M22 looked more pleasing at 47x as with Omega Centauri. Its lopsided shape showed a lot better at low magnification and it was very nicely resolved as well. 47 Tucana looked brilliant at both low and high magnifications. The core is really intensly bright and I liked the views in the 80ST at a mere 12.5x! And since I was in the region, I decide to explore the Tarantula which was now higher in the sky. Nice compact nebula with heaps of swirling arms. I then had a look at two other very bright and easily resolved globs, 6397 in Ara and 6752 in Pavo. Both these globs have very bright members and a very readily resolved even from my suburban skies. The were utterly brilliant at Leyburn. Both were very easily resolved with 6397 showing a fuzzy but resolved center (fuzzy from suburbia) but  6752, the Starfish in Pavo was its brilliant self. Looking good at 47x (starfish effect more apparent) and looking even better with its outstretched arms and chain of stars effect at 166x. I then remembered that galaxy in Pavo (6744) which I had seen but had not yet sketched). I decided there and then to sketch the galaxy. Nice bright core (easily visible from suburbia) and fuzzy arms. Done! Swinging my scope around, I then went for M57 (Ring nebula) and M27 (Dumbbel Nebula), two of my faves. The Ring was amazingly brighter at 166x and 250x even without the UHC. The 13 magnitude star next to it was ridiculously easy. M27 looked better with the UHC in at 47x. The applecore shape was almost non apparent as the nebula and its outer bits were so bright! 

It was then that Andrew decided to look up the Helix Nebula (7293). He had its position memorized by heart and found it readily in the 10”. The ghostly doughnut looked incredible with the UHC in the 10”. Screwing the UHC onto the 32mm Plossl, I first had a look at it in the 80ST. Looked like a larger M57! Boy was it bright at 12.5x. I then had it in the C6 at 47x and made a sketch again. And it did look like a celestial smoky lips blowing a kiss to whoever was observing. Looking up, I realized that Cygnus was in prime position. Time to get a look at the Veil Nebula (6992-95), the North American Nebula (7000) which I had seen once but never sketched and the Blinking Planetary (6826). First up 6826. Ridiculously easy to find blue green orb. Blinking effect was not that apparent in the C6. Sketched that one and I think I noticed the boxy center at 250x. The onto the larger objects with the richest field 80ST and the UHC at 12.5x. The Veil revealed both its wreaths at that magnification with the UHC. Andrew had it in the 10” with the UHC and the views we had that night would remain with me for the rest of my life!!!! Now I had seen the Veil before in the 10” but it must have been the transparency or something because it was just plain spectacular. We followed the eastern portion of the Veil to the western portion. The sharp tip at 52 Cygni was especially apparent and the Veil itself looked filamentous or “fibrous” as Andrew so eloquently put it (like a photo’s minus the color). Definitely the highlight of the night (and possibly my observing career until I look at it through a much larger scope)! And did I mention the North American Nebula? It was there in the 80ST with the UHC at 12.5x. The brightest portions to me was southern California and Mexico. Was too wrapped up in the moment to remember to look for the Pelican Nebula next to it. By the way we looked up later and could see the North American Nebula with the naked eye. The skies were that good!

Next up was the brilliant constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius. Andrew noticed some clouds gathering on the south-west horizon and they seemed to be approaching. It was close to 11.15pm when that happened. Not wanting to miss out on all the goodies at the center of our galaxy, I quickly turned to the above mentioned constellations….M4 in Scorpiusin  particular. Again the row of 10 magnitude stars down the middle stood out at 166x (even at 47X). While I was looking at this, Andrew interrupted me and asked me to find both the Bug (6302) and the faint ring (6337) at the heart of Scorpius. Both looked excellent. The bug was its usual brilliant blue green streak with a very bright center while the Scorpius ring looked much better with the UHC from dark skies. Note that the ring did look like M57, only much thinner. I then looked at M6, M7 and 6231 (the False Comet) before the clouds started to interfere with observing. All these were best seen at low magnification in the C6 (better seen in the 80ST at 20x). Deciding that it was best to use to 80ST at 12.5x with the UHC, I had a brief  look at M8/M20 (the Lagoon and Trifid), M17 (the Swan) and M16 (the Eagle) nebula. All there were amazingly bright with extended nebulosity in the 80ST. It was then that I wished I had taken my break a little later as I wasted about 20 minutes of clear sky. The clouds now covered most of the sky apart from the very northern horizon. The final looks we had that night was of a rising M31/M32. The central core of Andromeda Galaxy was amazingly bright and its spiral arms seemed to go on forever. Both satellite galaxy’s were easily visible. I would have liked to hunt down some planetaries in Aquila (had already started when the clouds claimed that part of the sky) as well as some galaxies in Andromeda, Phoenix, Pisces and Sculptor but alas it was not to be. We went to bed at about 1.30am when the whole sky clouded over…..well we did have a very good night that night. In Andrew’s words “We had an excellent winter sky without the winter temperatures”. I went home grinning from ear to ear as I had finally seen the milky way stretch from horizon to horizon. Till the next time…..