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    Default Public viewing night report, and other musings



    I'm not sure if this qualifies as "first light", because it wasn't my telescope, and I didn't locate the objects. But it was the first time for me to look at celestial objects through a telescope, and it was quite a thrill.

    Last night, my wife and I went to a public viewing night at the local university. On the roof, they had 4" refractor on a permanent pier, and a 12" Cassegrain reflector in an observation dome. There were maybe 15 other people there, excluding our hosts. The gibbous moon was bright, but the sky was nice and clear. While we waited for it to get darker, we took turns looking at the moon through the 12" reflector's 60mm spotting scope and also through the 4" refractor. I was astonished at the level of detail we could see along the terminator.

    We then looked at Saturn. Through the 4" 'frac, I could see Saturn's ring (though not much detail) and its satellite Titan, a small bright dot which was farther away from the planet than I expected. Through the 12", I could see a clear ring, but couldn't make out the Cassini line (probably due to my viewing skills, and/ or the bright moon). We then got a nice look at the Orion nebula, especially in the 12", which had big, crystal clear views of the trapezium and "nearby" stars, including trio of stars which form a diagonal line just to the right of the trapezium in the FOV. (A convoluted description: if you drew a circle around nebula, connected the trio at right with a line, and then shifted the line leftward to superimpose it on the circled nebula, you would form a "No nebula" sign, lol.)

    Having never viewed a nebula, at first I saw only the stars, and didn't really notice the nebula. As I viewed for a while, the nebular outline became increasingly salient. Its ghostly, ethereal beauty knocked me out. It's probably even better on a darker night.

    When we were leaving, my wife (who had been using subtle Japanese psychological techniques to resist my idea of getting a scope) actually said, "That was much more exciting than I thought. Now I want to get a telescope."

    When the viewing was over, I went home and walked out onto the golf course behind my house to hunt for viewing sites. I had previously found a decent viewing spot a couple hundred yards from my back door, but, through dogged trail and error, I discovered a nice spot about 20 yards from my back door. It's just outside my property line by the No. 5 tee box, but trees and houses nicely block out direct glare from street lights and garage lights.

    I had been leaning toward getting a Celestron NexStar 8SE because it would be easier to haul to the farther site, but with the discovery of the nearby site, I'm thinking that an 8" Dob might be a better choice. The area near the tee box is fairly level, and from what I have gathered, I could just plop down the Dob base without needing to level it like an SCT. I could eventually buy or make something like Wheeley Bars, and just roll the entire assembled scope out onto the golf course!

    For both of these sites, I can't set up on the golf course until it gets too dark to golf, and, although I might be wrong, it seems like it might be a PITA to level a tripod in the dark using only a red LED lamp. And the Orion XT8g costs hundreds less than the 8SE.

    I'll need to compare the two sites again when there's less LP from the moon. But I've never set up either an SCT or a Dob. If the nearby site is good, am I correct in thinking that a GoTo Dob would be quicker/ simply to set up on grass than a GoTo SCT?

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  3. #2
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    Oh, I forgot. The host professor kept using her iPhone to identify stars. It turned out she was using Stellarium. The name pops up frequently in message threads, but I never understood what it was. So as soon as we got home, we downloaded Stellarium to my wife's iPhone. I felt like Rip Van Winkle, just waking up to the 21st century:

    Me: I wonder what that star is?
    She: Betelgeuse! Betelgeuse! Betelgeuse!
    (Thankfully, Michael Keaton did not suddenly materialize.)

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    Sounds like you had a great night!
    Quote Originally Posted by Widespread View Post
    am I correct in thinking that a GoTo Dob would be quicker/ simply to set up on grass than a GoTo SCT?
    It depends on how the SCT is mounted. There are alt-az-mounted SCTs that will set up just as easily as a dob. An eq mount requires more careful setup.

    You get used to doing your setup and alignment by the light of a red LED. I use a red LED headlamp for general setup, and a hand-held red-lensed flashlight when I need to read a setting circle or do some similar fiddly task.

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    I would go for the Celestron 8SE -- fairly easy to haul around and a good goto system and tracking, in alt az mode.

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  9. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by KeithBC View Post
    Sounds like you had a great night!
    Thanks, Keith! Yeah, although not as flashy as the glossy photos, the eyeball gives an immediacy and sense of depth that doesn't come through in images. Reminds me a bit of when I went to Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. Photos don't do justice to the thick globs of paint he used. (Caveat: I do take a "when in Rome" approach when I travel, so my experience -- at the museum, not last night!! -- may have been botanically enhanced.)

    Quote Originally Posted by KeithBC View Post
    There are alt-az-mounted SCTs that will set up just as easily as a dob.
    Are they easy to level, and keep that way, even on soft grass? With the smaller surface area contacting the ground, I thought it might settle unevenly (compared with the flat Dob base) and throw off my alignment. Does the leveling not have to be that exact?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Lalumia View Post
    I would go for the Celestron 8SE -- fairly easy to haul around and a good goto system and tracking, in alt az mode.
    Thanks, Joe. I guess the GoTo and tracking are better than on a Dob? Any idea of the respective cool-down times? (And, sorry to belabor the point, but is set-up REALLY as easy as a Dob? I've never really liked using bubble levels in 3 axes, even in the daytime. )

  10. #6
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    You're correct the Dob would be easier to setup. (and depending on size may be a little easier to transport)

    If you get a chance it might be a good idea to find one at a star party so you can view through one and talk to the owner before you make your purchase.

    Selection of that 1st scope is always a big decision.

    Sounds like you had a great evening!
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  12. #7
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    Thanks, Gordon.
    Apparently the university has a star party once per semester.
    The date for the next one hasn't been set yet. We'll see if I can wait that long ;p

    David

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    Virtually all telescope mounts Equatorial and or Alt Az (with goto) must be leveled. This takes all of about 1 minute.
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    But if he doesn't get a GoTo Dob, then leveling is virtually no issue at all. And he has indicated he really doesn't like leveling.

    So for the price of a NexStar 8SE he can get a nice big Dob, not worry about leveling and enjoy the nice big light bucket.

    Me? I suspect I'd get the 8SE because there are so many different things you can do with the thing - and I don't mind doing the leveling.

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    Great read widespread..
    And nice way to win the wife over to the hobby..
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