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Rethinking and refining equipment choices


I’ve had enough experience with visitors at the observatory to now refine my equipment choices and develop a pattern for the sessions. First, I want to make sure each session at the Observatory involves some naked eye observing, some observing with binoculars, some observing with telescopes that the visitors control entirely and some observing with telescopes that I control and they look through. To this end, I’ve come up with four groups of observing stations.

The first group is for the naked eye and hand held binoculars. In this one I would recommend people stand and the main equipment is my green laser pointer. However, my one rotating, adjustable beach chair is great when using hand held binoculars, so I would include it at this station and maybe add a chair or two eventually. (In fact, as I think about objects like meteors and comets, plus constellation study, the chairs are a good idea.)

The second station would be the three, relatively modest, binoculars on mounts. I have an old Vista mount (a simple, light-weight metal parallelogram) and am building one of Pete Petersons pipe mounts (See; http://www.petersonengineering.com/SkyDiv/binocmount.htm). I have also ordered a small parallelogram mount made of red oak – with a small red oak tripod – from Burgess. Looks cool and I have good reports of it, at least when used for these light weight binoculars. (See: http://www.burgessoptical.com/Mounts/TinyTitanCombo.html) This is very much like the Vista mount and provides the same functionality. What I like about the two paralellogram mounts is the ability to point them yourself, then move them down to the height of a youngster without having lost the object you were pointing at. but the pipe mount is the only mount of the three that could handle large binoculars and at some point I may add a pair. But I feel 10X50s are perfectly adequate – especially when mounted. So on these three mounts will go the old 10X50s I got from Orion many years ago, the 12X60 Celestrons, and the 16X50 Pentax – these last two kindly donated to the program by the gentleman who purchased my Myauchi’s.

I think the binocular stations will add an important step in the new comer’s ability to find deep sky objects and once they have located them in binoculars, they will know what to expect when they use the telescope’s finder. On a more subtle basis, the binoculars help with context. In fact. I hardly ever go through a personal observing session without some binocular time.

The next station incorporates three manual telescopes – a 4.5-inch Orion Dob – modest aperture, but a real sweetheart to use and impressive both optically and mechanically. A 6-inch SkyWatcher refractor on a homemade, Dob-like mount, is also an excellent scope for the beginner – very intuitive to use. This has both a Telrad and optical finder. Finally, I have the 8-inch LX200 which, with its slow motion controls – the computer is shot, as well as the drive motors – makes an effective and relatively simple manual telescope. It is a good optical finder, but I should add a red dot to it. (I find optical finders can actually confuse beginners when looking for an object, such as Albireo, in a sky that suddenly becomes crowed with stars. If an object is visible to the naked eye, the red dot – or Telrad or Rigel – finders all are better choices.

(At this writing I have a requst in to buy a 6-inch INtelliscope on Astromart at a very good price. This one does not have the computer with it, but that could be added later. It came up forsale, of course, right after I ordered an identical, new scope with computer from Orion. But two of these would be nice to have and I suspect that without the computer the used one would fit nicely in witht heother manual telescopes, maybe replacing the LX200 which is harder for the beginner to master with its combination of slow motion controls and locks. On the other hand, I haven't heard anything for 24 hours, so maybe thats cope has been sold.)

The last three telescopes are a just-ordered Orion 6-inch Intelliscope with computer controller - as mentioned. I see this as a transitional instrument. I got the six-inch because I have more confidence in the F8 optics than I do in the larger, faster scopes, and it will cool down more quickly But the main reason is it’s at the weight limit of what I want to carry in and out in a single piece during set-up and take down. I see this as a transitional scope. Depending on the assignment and group it may be used as a manual scope by visitors. On the other hand, if folks are having trouble finding deep space objects with it, the computer can be turned on. There are no drive motors, of course.

However, most of the time I see this as one of the scopes I will point – using the computer - so that people can then take on an observational assignment where they spend real time at the eyepiece and collect data or draw, rather than search for some faint fuzzy. (I am not a big fan of seeing how many objects you can find and how quickly – I like to encourage time on target and the development of observing - as opposed to finding - skills.)

I will continue to use the two “go to” scopes this way – the 8-inch LX90 in the dome and the 15-inch Obsession on the Observing Deck with its ArgoNavis and ServoCat.


What I will be selling is one scope I’ve had a long time – the ETX90 RA – which I find gets little use in these sessions, and the Orion ShortTube 80 which, again, gets little use. Neither scope really makes a good fit with the program for various reasons, though both are fine optically and well mounted.

I’ve also, with regret, cancelled the order I placed last spring for one of Steve Dodson’s ( “Stargazer Steve”) little 6-inch, truss tube, Dobs. (See: http://stargazer.isys.ca/ ) I was ordering this with the idea it would be a great, little travel scope – and I still think it would be. But I no longer plan to do much traveling and while I would find the scope personally useful as a grab ‘n go , it would not be as useful to the program as the Orion Intelliscope. Steve – whose production of this particular scope was delayed because of a fire in the optical shop that makes the mirror - is a wonderful, understanding gentleman and a pleasure to do business with. I wouldn’t hesitate to order one of his scopes in the future if it happened to fit the needs of my program.

Bottom line – the set-up is pretty near complete, I believe. Yes, I’ll probably tinker with some things in the future, but from this point forward I can focus almost entirely on developing what I have dubbed “learning opportunities” and learning what does and doesn’t work for people through practical field experience with small groups.


Posted by Greg Stone at December 4, 2005 11:03 AM Comments? Please email me: gstone@umassd.edu

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