Observing Items for Newbies. Suggesions from Jay, maybe others.

So in a continued theme, I thought I would offer some advice to a newbie just starting out. In comments, free to modify, add, or tell why you wouldn't recommend a certain program I've listed.

When I first started out I would observe even under a full moon. I learned quickly that the full moon isn't very good for anything, but from the waxing gibbous through the waning gibbous phases, there were plenty of objects to go after, and they were not your traditional deep sky objects like galaxies, planetary nebula, nebula, etc. What I learned was instead of not observing during the these two phases and before for the waxing crescent and First Quarter, why not get a lunar filter and observe the moon?! Noble idea. Then I found another project to do that let me observe a deep sky object, double stars. I know that double star observing isn't for everyone, but during this time I found I really enjoyed splitting doubles, and observing them. I also found out about carbon stars which have some wonderful shades of red or reddish orange to them that I just love. That will be for another post on its own, carbon stars. So here are some suggestions to those just starting out.

So you know, all links go to the Astronomical League and to one of their observing programs. If your a member of a local club, many are part of the Astronomical League and if you complete a program you can get a nice certificate and a pin for some of them. For me the goal isn't the certificate, its all the fun I get to have observing the objects that are part of the program. Also, personally I don't have a time limit, I get done when I get done. Last, don't be afraid to NOT observe from a program if you want. Sometimes always doing a program can get old. Mix it up! When you do finish a program and as long as your club is a member of the Astronomical League, just find out who you need to pass your logs off with to get your goodies. So with no further adieu, here are some recommendations:

When the moon is in the waxing gibbous to the last quarter stage:
Lunar Observing Club:

At full moon its hard to observe the moon unless you have a good moon filter but when the moon is bright, no need not to observe, and white light won't hurt your eyes while you observe it!

Double Star Club:
Some people like em (I do) and some don't. You can decide. More than viewable during the bright moon phases though.

FYI, the list of objects are in the PDF Format on the bottom.

Finally, when the moon is out of the way (from about wanning crescent through First Quarter) here are two suggestions:

The Messier Club
Make sure to click on the Messier Club List on the bottom and it will show you a list by season of what items to go after and you can download the list as a PDF and print it off.

The Urban Club

This provides a four lists of items to observe if you live in a heavily light polluted area. Look at the four links at the bottom and each provides either information for viewing in light polluted skies (if your new, please read that) or a list of items to observe. Check out each list or if you just want some Deep Sky Objects to do from home:

The Urban Club DSO List

I hope this helps anyone new to the hobby to get started with what to observe. If you need a quick Atlas for free look in the Stellar Media Thread over at CloudyNights. and there is a good one there, but it takes a lot of printing. I recommend the Pocket Sky Atlas for getting started. Also, in the Equipment Forum this a sticky thread called Links of Interests and one link there, Carol's Picks has great links to other info. For instance, about half way down are free Telrad charts that could help you in locating objects.

I hope the links do help someone wanting to get started on observing. Take what you want from them and go from there, or do nothing with them. Most of all, have fun and realize you need some patience as your just starting out. It takes time to learn everything but you learn from doing, so don't stop observing. Yes, may your equipment always work right, may your skies be clear and your seeing terrific, or in other words, Clear Skies to you!



Well, another cold and wet day in northern Utah today. It cleared last night and I could have take either the XT6 or XT8 out to do some planet (Saturn) viewing and sketching and/or some lunar observations, but we had a lot go on yesterday. We got a new/used car. I don't buy too many cars new, I hate car payments. So yesterday I purchased a 2002 Nissan Pathfinder with around 85000 miles and had my mechanic check it out before the purchase. Hands down, in excellent condition and no accident damage. Is it perfect? No. Is it in really good and decent shape? Yes. Now I have a vehicle I can take out with me, load up at an end of a session, and grab a few hours of sleep in it before driving home. The bad side of it, gas mileage. 18 to 20mph will hurt but we were ready to assume that responsibility to have the carrying capacity.

Now on to my post today which is inspired by a friend's post, Nobody Special or Tom over at Cloudy Nights. He posted about what eyepieces he has and I thought I would go through my progression and then thoughts for the future. The images will be blurry as the camera I used was the first one I grabbed. I will probably try to re-shoot some of these later.

I started with the XT8 scope, brand new for $100 through a educator program that use to be offered through a local planetarium. With the XT8 at that time, Orion included the 10mm Sirius Plossl and the 25mm Sirius Plossl. That has changed and now Orion only includes the 25mm with their classic scopes.

Here's a image of the two eyepieces, and yes, I do have extra 25mm's and a few 10mm's for the scopes I bought for my school program that will not be part of this review directly, since they are the same as the ones here.

As most will know, the 25mm Sirius Plossl is by far the better of the two eyepieces. The eye relief on the 10mm makes it almost unsuable for me as does the narrow field of view. With the 10mm one has to constantly adjust the self tracking of the dob as most objects fly through the eyepiece. The 25mm provides a decent field of view with a decent eye relief and thus pretty good views. For a long time it served as my finder eyepiece which is what I believe it is meant to do for those just starting out.

What I found out with this eyepiece is that is just wasn't enough to grant me what I wanted. I bought the 2x Shorty Barlow, which if you unscrew the bottom serves as a 1.5 barlow also, and that gave me some decent views for about 3 months, yet that just wasn't cutting it.

I read reviews online and decided to try the 17mm Sirius Plossl. Now why all the Orion's? Because there is a local shop nearby and as a member I got a discount as a member and often the items were priced with lower prices than the current retail was so I got the item with a discount for an excellent price. That made it easy to do. So I picked up the 17mm Plossl and I have to say, I had my new favorite eyepiece. The 17mm doesn't have a huge FOV, 52 degrees if I remember right, but the magnification seemed just right. I used this with a barlow as my main Ep for about 3 more months.

Well, I knew I wanted a wider field so a couple of months afand this local shop carried the Orion Epic ED-2 eyepieces, the Orion Expanse, and the Orion Stratus line. My first pick up at this time was the 32mm Sirius Plossl (discount and old retail price) and I have to say, this is probably with the 17mm my favorite of that line. If I had to have two Sirius Plossls from Orion I would take the 17mm and the 32mm. The 32mm delivered the bang and the view that I found at the time truly wonderful. I still use the 32mm on some objects if I don't want to convert to the other 2 inch wide field EP I have or if I need a ok wide field at a Star Party where there are a lot of kids.

Here is what my Plossl line up finally ended looking like without the extra EP's from my other scopes.

I also picked up at the same time a used Orion 9mm Expanse and at first I really did not like it. It kidney beaned on me, and blacked out on me all the time. Then one night something happen. Looking at M42 with it, I saw a view that even the 17mm Plossl hadn't shown to me in terms of FOV and seeing. That night I figured out it was where I placed my eye that mattered. Eye placement on that eyepiece is the key to using it successful. Since that night I can honestly say I have not had one black out (unless I have caused it on purpose) or a kidney bean. The eyepiece gives a pretty good view at 133x and I still use it in the XT10 I have from time to time.

I bought my first filter around this time also. The Orion Ultrablock Narrowband Filter. Why this and not the Lumicron? At the time David Knisely over at CloudyNights and on the Web had reviwed them and though the Lumicron had a slight advantage over the Ultrablock, in reading his review at the time, it felt it was a tie. I could pick up the Ultrablock locally and again, that is important to me (I like being able to buy locally) and so I did. I have never regretted it. The Ultrablock NB Filter works terrific. I got it initially for use with the planetary nebula that I chase every month and still do (I don't blog on it here since this has been dedicated to my Herschel Hunt but I may add my PN's into the mix). I've used it on other objects also.

This was sufficient for a few more months until I read over at Cloudy Nights about the Hyperion and Stratus eyepieces. I knew the shop had the Stratus, they were local (important to me) and I got a discount and probably a lower price then ordering online. At the time, the Hyperion's were $119.00 shipped and I was able to buy my Stratus' locally for about $3.00 more than that and was quite happy. I walked out of a local shop, supporting them and taking the product home to use that night. My first Stratus based on what I had read and researched, and with some advice from Tom Trusock at CloudyNights, was the 13mm. I will always remember looking through that EP at the time with a wonder 68 degree FOV and the magnification it brought. I was in heaven. It became and still is my number one workhorse and probably will remain so until I buy a 13mm Televue.

Yes, that's my MacBook Pro screen in the background with a certain site I've mentioned in this post up. Shortly after purchasing the 13mm, my mother came out and insisted one day when I went to buy the 21mm Stratus, which I use as m finder eyepiece, that she get me another filter, so I got the OIII filter. First on the 21mm Stratus. It is a wide field, sharp like most of the Stratus EP's except near the edge, but to be honest, I don't really ever notice that too often and it doesn't bother me. Perhaps after I own my first Pentax or Televue that will change, we'll see. I find that with the 21mm Stratus, I really don't need to use my finderscope all that often unless I am really stuck on an object or just need to orient my head to the sky. Now if I could only have two EP's in my set, they would be the 13mm Stratus and the 21mm Stratus. Now some of you may think, why not sell all of these and get the Hyperion Zoom and be done? Good question and I think that is up to each of us to determine. For me, I like the view in the individual EP, and I think they offer a little sharper view and a wider FOV at some magnifications. So, for me, I like individual EP's and my mind probably won't change on that. Doesn't mean that I don't think the Hyperion Zoom is a terrific EP, or the way to go for many, I'm just saying its not the way for me.

My two go to eyepieces, the 13mm and 21mm Stratus:

My OIII filter has also come in quite handy, and I used it a lot last summer, but not a whole lot lately. I have to admit that on filters I need to spend some more time online reading up on them but I find I use the Ultrablock NB a lot more than the OIII filter. Often on PN's I use both to compare the view and more often than not for me, I find the Ultrablock provides details I don't see with the OIII. You'll notice I took them out of the box and used a label maker to make a lable on the bottom of each filter. This allows me to see with a faint red light which one I am grabbing for, or as I have kinda of memorized where they are in the case, more often than not I don't need a light and just pull it out and the white tape with the black letter will sometimes allow me to make out the word so I know which filter I am using.

My next two EP's were also gifts that I received about a year ago, and I find I use one sometimes a lot, and I don't use the other too much. My daughter had a job and saved up money and because she knew I liked by 17mm Plossl so much, yet I liked my Stratus EP's, she went and bought me the 17mm Stratus. I love the eyepiece, as it is clear, concise and gives a great view. I just like the 13mm a little better and thus I don't use the 17mm that much. This is where I open up again and show how I am though. Since this came from my daughter who was 16 at the time, and at a significant cost to her, I have a very sentimental value to the EP and probably will never get rid of it. Dumb some may think as it is only an mechanical object. Yes, but for me it represents something a whole lot more. My daughter reaching outside of herself, and if you have or have raised teens knowing that when a teen does something like this it is a wonderful moment as you begin to see how they are transforming from kids toward adulthood (and that is something every parent I think, though scared to death of, should welcome! Our children are to be guided, empowered, held accountable and allowed to make choices and mistakes so that as they progress, they enter adulthood ready for the challenges that come with it. Well, as ready as anyone can be, we all still mess up. I'm 45 and I still mess up, just ask my wife if you ever meet her!). So that 17mm will probably will something that is always in my EP case and if nothing else, as I grow older and perhaps a little more sentimental, I will remember the many things it stands for. Much like every time I use my OIII filter, think of my mother which is a different story for a different day.

Kendra's Eyepiece

The other eyepiece I bought with birthday money (it is also when I purchased my second observing chair) from ScopeCity in Las Vegas. It is the 5mm Hyperion. I love the magnification this eyepiece brings on those nights when I can really use it. I usually when using it, have to track my object and then wait for those periods of clear seeing that come and go. Using a high power lens requires patience and fortitude to get those few seconds of clearness on the object your looking at. Overall, I do wish often that I had purchased the 8mm or the 5mm as I think 150x would be more useful than 240x. I thought I would just barlow the 13mm Stratus for 184x, and I have done that, but it is almost like doing a barlow of a barlow, which is ok, but it is also a pain to pull the barlow out, hook up the 13mm Stratus which is like a hand grenade to the barlow and put it in the tube. You'll use 150x a lot more than 240x, especially on galaxies.

5mm Hyperion

My Stratus and Hyperion Line:

One item I forgot to mention is the Orion Q70 32mm EP. I purchased this after reading several reviews, and one in particular from Steve who is down in Mountain View and use to be on Earthlink with a website/blog and reviews of equipment. The Q70 is not a high end eyepiece and it doesn't claim to be. It is fuzzy on the edge (then again, that personally doesn't bother me) yet is it clear and sharp in the middle. I really like the two inch wide field of view it offers and have used it on the Double Cluster and other such large items with good success. Notice I still have it. It works just a touch better in the XT8 than in my XT10, but I still use it on both. For $79 it was a good EP to get and have in the kit.

Last Christmas, my wife gave me for two gifts a moon filter and a Hydrogen Beta Filter. I have used both, and enjoy both. Saw the horsehead with a fellow friend this winter from a dark site. Clear and crisp, the C shape we saw stood out. I posted that sketch here. I don't think I would have seen it even at this site without the filter. David Knisely has a list over on CloudyNights of items you can see beyond B33 I have used the filter to see several of those items.

Something I'll share with you is what I did to the bottom of my Stratus and Hyperion bags that come with them. I used a silver magic marker and just wrote on the bottom what eyepiece is in that bag. I like using the bag as a way to protect them. When I'm in the field, i.e. a dark site I can pick up the bag and see what EP I am getting. Often I don't need this in the winter as I carry the two EP's I am going to use the most in my coat where they are snug, warm and protected. Come summer though this helps.

So where am I now? As long as the XT8 and XT10 are my main scopes, I'll just keep what I have. I know they are not the elite or top of the line, but I'm okay with that. I am looking to make a final truss dob purchase in the future, and after I get that scope I'll probably get a couple elite EP's as well. What I will do there is probably get something around the 13 and something around the 21, and a 8 or so. I think three premium eyepieces is enough to get by with an outstanding scope.

Some of you may wonder if I regret going the Sirius Plossl route and not going with the Meade or Televue Plossls. No regrets on my part. It was a learning process and when I work with students after school, I let them use the Plossls once they have been trained with no problem. Sometimes to have fun, and I never write about it, or report on it, I simply observe for an hour or two with the Plossls. Having compared the Plossls to the Stratus or Hyperion, I would recommend to anyone with a XT8 or XT10 to get the 21mm Stratus and the 13mm Stratus. You'll want a high magnification lens also, so for that I recommend the 8mm though I don't own one, my reasons listed above are clear. There are other wider field of views available now and I recommend to a newbie to check into those. I'm content for now with the scopes and equipment I have, though I know I need a little bit larger scope down the road to capture some objects the XT10 just cannot reach. I hope your skies are clear, that your equipment works without flaw, and that your seeing is tremendous! Enjoy the sky, and most important, enjoy the people in your life whether they share this hobby with you or not and make sure they know you enjoy being with them.