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11/30/2015

Explore Scientific 20mm and 9mm 100 degree Eyepiece Review

     


     I have played with these eyepiece, I have owned these eyepiece and now I finally am comfortable with the two that I settled on.  Let me state up front I am not going to review the 14mm ES 100 degree eyepiece because for my situation, I opted out of getting that eyepiece.  The 14mm provides a clear, crisp image, a wide field of view that allows for an object to drift through the field of view allowing the observer to study it if that is their choice. However,  for me, the 9mm does that equally as well and I much prefer the magnification of the 9mm over the 14mm.  

     Now, let me state up front that I own the 9mm and the 20mm ES 100 degree eyepieces and these are the two I am keeping. No Ethos? Nope, I have alluded to this in other posts, I can afford the Ethos, I can afford the 6mm, the 10mm, the 13mm, the 17mm and the 21mm IF I opted to.  I don't opt to.  A long time ago in this hobby I made the commitment and made a personal objective that I would not spend any more money on this hobby than I could afford or to get a product that I found very useful. It also meant making choices on my equipment that have made sense for me in a variety of ways while keeping me focused on what I spend.  In life, hobbies, jobs, relationships, material things etc. will eat up as much time or money as you want to sink into them. To be successful in life one has to know when to put in a ton of time, when to back off, what limits to set for oneself and how much money one is willing to spend. I openly admit, in my life I have been blessed with the opportunity to make income for several ways.  That has met I have sufficient for the needs of my wife and I, to help others out and to enjoy some things in life.   What does this have to do with an eyepiece review? A lot.  If you understand that about me, you will understand why I drive a Subaru Outback and not a more fancy crossover. Though not perfect, the Outback is very, VERY useful and provides me with what I need.  That is the same for the Explore Scientific 100 degree line versus the Ethos. The Ethos are the elite but the Explore Scientific 100 degree eyepieces are very close and thus are very, VERY useful. 

     For me the Ethos are the top line in uber wide field viewing right now. I believe they have been for some time. However, when I compare the 9mm ES 100 degree to the 10mm Ethos, the 9mm ES is close enough that for me that the ES 9mm 100 degree though not perfect, and perhaps 90% of the Ethos 10mm, that means that for the price difference, the ES 9mm 100 degree becomes an extremely useful eyepiece when my goal is a wide field experience. 

     The 9mm Explore Scientific 100 degree eyepiece is a well crafted eyepiece. For the remainder of this review I will call it the 9mm ES.   The 9mm ES have some positives that I like about it. First, I love the fact that you can place an object on the outer edge and just watch, watch, watch, and watch that object some more as it floats across the field of view.  The views are sharp, crisp edge to edge and enjoyable.  You definitely get an immersive or space walk feeling using them. Last for me, the 9mm and the 20mm (throw the 14mm in there also if you want) ES provide a viewing experience that can end the need for multiple type of eyepieces at different focal lengths.   

    The 9mm ES though has some cons and those are significant for me. The first is not a deal breaker, I have left my dobs with sufficient counter weight to offset any heavy eyepiece and the ES 9mm is a heavy eyepiece.  It it the lightest of the three, but still rather heavy. The 9mm ES is listed in at 1lb 8oz so yes, combine that with a Paracorr Type II and you will be tip heavy if your scope does not have sufficient counter weights.  Not a deal breaker though for me. 

     There is coma in the eyepiece, and that to me is evident when I use them in one of my dobs. Though not glaring, it is enough that to me it can by annoying but in a wide field like this, I spend most of my time in the center of the FOV, and thus coma on the outer edge is not a big deal. As stated, I can put them into a Paracorr Type II and that cleans it up. 
    
     The next are the 9mm ES tend to fog up easily because of their short eye relief.  This means you will need to keep a dew heater strip on them while observing if dew is an issue. It isn't for me, so again, not a deal breakers. 

    However, this last con is a deal breaker for me.  The 9mm ES is listed with 12.5mm eye relief, and I personally think it is a little bit less, not much, just a tad.  This means no eye glasses or you will need to successfully compensate for the use of glasses if you wear them. A dipotrix could help with astigmatism but for me, someone who can prefer to wear my eyeglasses at times observing, the short eye relief gets in the way.  

    On my telescopes with my ES AR102, the 9mm ES works wonderfully. It is perhaps one reason I keep it.  In my 10", 14", 17.5" and 24" dobs, the eyepieces work, but they require some extra effort for me to feel comfortable using them. The go from being very useful in my book on my dobs to somewhat useful.  

     I do want to touch on why not the 14mm over the 9mm ES 100 degrees?  I use to LOVE the 14mm or 13mm view/magnification through an eyepiece.  Then about 8 years ago as I progress in my own observing style, I found out that for me, the 10mm is my starting area for viewing details on MOST (not all, but most) DSO's.  There is enough magnification difference (in my 17.5 the 14mm would provide 143x and the 9mm 222x while in my 14" it comes to be 14mm 117x and the 9mm is 182x) that when I am studying, observing and sketching an object, that extra 60x or so is enough to shot some detail that I wouldn't see.  Granted, sky conditions have to allow use of the 9mm or a 10mm, but where I live, they usually do year round.  So for me, the key magnification is the 9mm over the 14mm.  Your mileage may vary (YMMV) from my experience and tastes, and there is nothing wrong with that. 

To rate this 9mm ES I would give it the following: 

Build: 5/5 
Weight: 3/5 
View: 5/5 
Color: 4/5 
Eye Relief: 3/5 (4/5 IF you don't wear glasses) 
Overall: 4/5

An excellent eyepiece that is used by the right observer will bring hours of useful joy in gazing upwards. 

     The ES 20mm 100 degree eyepiece or ES 20mm as I will call it is a well built, excellent performer. Again we see here an eyepiece that is useful to the owner, VERY useful and at a price that will leave additional income in your wallet to save, spend on other items or to simply enjoy.  Here when I compare it to the 21mm Ethos I see about 88%-90% of the performance of the 21mm Ethos. That is very close in my book and close enough that for me I have purchased and kept the 20mm ES.  Color is good here, stars are sharp across the field of view and its a pleasure to observe with.  Very similar field of view to one of my favorite wide field eyepieces, the TeleVue 26mm Nagler. 

     The cons are similar to the 9mm ES above. Weight is one issue. Here the 20mm ES weighs in at 2lbs 2oz, and yes, that is a LOT of weight.  You will need to balance your scope after putting in this eyepiece if you haven't in the past.  Coma is similar to the 9mm, perhaps a little bit more yet a coma corrector clears it up for me on my dobs. More importantly, with the 20mm ES I do see some off-axis astigmatism.  Not bad, but it is there if one knows what one is looking for. Weight though can easily be modified so there is no impact to the scope and to the balance of the scope.  Dew on the lens is an issue again and that slightly longer eye relief at 14.5mm or something perhaps just slightly less, is more than the 9mm ES, but not enough if your an eyeglass wearer. You can remove your eyeglasses if you wish but as mentioned, you will need a way to compensate for the astigmatism if you suffer from that. 

    In my scope, the 20mm ES works wonders when I just want to scan or need a wide field finder eyepiece. That is how I use it.  My uber wide field is the 30mm ES 82 degree eyepiece.  This is another great eyepiece offered up by Explore Scientific. There is an argument that since I use premium optics in my telescopes, why wouldn't I use premium or the best of the best eyepieces? Because I do, they are the Pentax XW and TeleVue Delos eyepieces are for me, the premium eyepieces I use and some orthos.  

     The Explore Scientific 9mm and 20mm 100 degree eyepieces are extremely good eyepieces, and they allow me to scan quickly, and to let some optics drift at 9mm.  I do not use them on a regular basis because of their eye relief, except on my Explore Scientific AR102 refractor (still use my Pentax XW and Delos more though).  Because of their eye relief they will not be everyday eyepieces for me, and neither would the Ethos. As a result I opt to have a very useful eyepiece, the 9mm and 20mm ES 100 degree eyepieces that save me the cost, give me very good view and I can use to sweep, drift or as an outreach eyepiece at a star party or to loan at a private observing session.  I am glad I have them, not going to part with them, and they have a place in my eyepiece collection.  

Build: 5/5 
Weight: 3/5 
View: 5/5 
Color: 4/5 
Eye Relief: 3/5 (4/5 IF you don't wear glasses) 
Overall: 4/5

     My ratings for each eyepiece is the same, and though not perfect, they are as I have said, EXTREMELY useful if you don't want to pay for the cost of a TeleVue Ethos.  My main eyepieces are the Pentax XW and the Delos, because I believe they give me a sharper and crisper view of a wider variety of objects and I love that 70 degree to 72 degree field of view.  Visually, that is where I am at and I really am comfortable with it.  So if your by my scope one night, you'll find a Pentax XW or a TeleVue Delos in the focuser more often that not.  You may find depending if I am sweeping or wanting a LONG magnified look at an object the 9mm ES 100 or 20mm ES 100 degree eyepiece in the focuser. They are also the two eyepieces I will loan out if someone is observing with me and don't have a set of good eyepieces.  I trust them enough to share them.  If you are considering them, and understand the pros and cons I have shared and can live with them, AND you have the cash, go ahead and purchase them if you want. They work well for me and I would hope they would work well for you! 

     Next up for an eyepiece review, a shoot out between the ES 20mm 100 degrees and one of my favorite eyepieces, the 30mm 82 degree Explore Scientific.  I know which one I prefer already and which gets more use.  Why is the question and I'll share that coming up in another post at some point. 

11/29/2015

What First Telescope to Purchase?

     This is a question that I get from time to time in an email.  There are actually a lot of option and a lot of things to consider if your looking purchase your first telescope or buy one for your son or daughter. One thing I want to say upfront DON'T buy one of those Big Box telescopes. They are cheap and will not offer the magnification or views that you and your child would want.  You will need to plan to spend from $200 to up to around $600 in my opinion.  There is an excellent article over at Sky&Telescope at this LINK that I highly recommend if your thinking about a first telescope.  Other than that, here are a few telescopes I can recommend.



If your wanting a refractor, I don't think for a first telescope you can go wrong in buying the Explore Scientific AR102 Refractor.  It is currently (it is on sale so the price will go up) $299.99 LINK for a 4 inch achromatic reflector. This telescope will make a planet or the moon have a blue hinge around it unless you also purchase the Baader Fringe Killer filter LINK for $79.00.  It comes with a 8x50 finderscope to help you find objects up in the night sky and then zoom in with your eyepieces. This filter will be screwed into the bottom of your eyepieces.  You will also need a mount, and I recommend the Twilight I mount which is at this LINK for $199.99.  You may want to shop around the Internet and see if you can find the mount/tripod cheaper.  For eyepieces I would recommend the following two (and for any telescope purchases I recommend these two eyepieces):


The Explore Scientific 11mm 82 degree will provide sufficient magnification for objects you may want to see up close. Currently this eyepiece is $159.99 at High Point Scientific LINK. Bottom line, this eyepiece often goes on sale so if your patient and check a couple of times a month you may see it down to $119.99 to $129.99.  Well worth having.


The 24mm Explore Scientific 68 degree eyepiece is a wonderful wide field eyepiece that will allow you to see a wide field in the eyepiece, bringing in objects like the Andromeda galaxy, the Double Cluster, the Orion Nebula and other wide field objects. Great as a finder eyepiece to let you find objects and then put in the 11mm 82 degree eyepiece for higher magnification.  Cost is $159.99 right now LINK though it can go down to $99.99 up to $119.99 (IF I remember right).

Total cost if you buy per above is $899.95.



The other telescope that I would HIGHLY recommend also is the SkyWatcher 8 inch dobsonian reflector for $399.99.  This telescope can provide a lifetime of viewing and allows objects such as in the Messier catalog to really jump out. Now these objects are not color, think black and white and smaller (forget seeing Hubble in the telescope).  This telescope comes with the 8x50 finder, up top, that lets you find objects and star hop using an atlas like Sky&Telescopes Pocket Sky Atlas to find objects. Then you can put in the 25mm or the 10mm Plossl eyepiece. The 25mm gives you a wide field and the 10mm gives you a more magnified view. I still recommend the two Explore Scientific eyepieces, the 11mm and 24mm above, but if your cash tight this scope comes with two plossl eyepieces which can get you started.  You also won't need the Fringe Killer Filter for $79.99 for this telescope.

Total Cost:
$399.99 starter
$159.99 11mm 82 degree Explore Scientific
$159.99 24mm 68 degree Explore Scientific
Total Cost: $719.97

You can thus go for the $399.99 and have a great starting telescope set up.  Pay the $719,97 and your even that must more sweet.  With this telescope, make sure you get a collimation cap with the purchase so you can check collimation (the alignment of the two mirrors) from time to time. It won't need it a lot, but you should check it every three or four months with this telescope.

So there you go! My two recommendations for telescopes if you are wanting to come into the hobby. Check out Sky&Telescopes article.  You can see the difference between a refractor (the AR102) which will cost more to get going initially and is 1/2 the aperture size (4 inch) vs the Skywatcher 8 inch which is double the aperture size and has it all in one package.

A Review of a YouTube Review of Explore Scientific 12" Truss Tube Dob


    I watched this online review of the new Explore Scientific Truss Dob, 12"  So after watching that, I wanted to do a post here about it.  Okay, this is not going to be a review of Dakota Starry Nights review of his new 12" Explore Scientific Truss Tube dobs (see below). I am going to state upfront that I think that Dakota Starry Nights did an excellent job in his video review of his new scope.  What I am going to do is to review the scope itself based on what he discovers.  I will have to refer you to the video for some aspects of this scope since I do not own it, I will not be owning it so my review is limited.

     One thing I need to start doing upfront in my reviews and probably in my posts, is to state my objective for the review, or state up front my objectives for my observing etc.  So in keeping with that my objective today is to 1. offer insight into the build of the Explore Scientific 12" Truss Tube Dob; 2. Review the capability of this scope in lieu of price point, materials, quality of build and modifications required to make it work efficiently; 3. Begin a discussion of cost vs quality and what a manufacturer of a dobsonian telescope should provide for what they offer.  In other words should a scope be perfect for what price?

     So without any adieu, I want to post from YouTube Dakota Starry Night wonderful review of his 12" Explore Scientific Truss Tube Dob.



     I could spend the remainder of this entry going over the quality of the review that is put together here. I'm not because the objective of this review is not to review Dakota Starry Night review, but to use his review to answer some questions about this scope.

     So, one of the first things I saw in this is that the telescope arrives in one package that weighs 75lbs. More importantly, the box will tell you this is a 12" or 305mm f5 dobsonian telescope. Being f5 is significant. It is below f5 that I would say that a coma corrector is required to enhance the view and reduce coma from the mirror in the eyepiece.  So do you need a coma corrector with this scope? At f5 I would assume you could probably go either way with one, using one or not using one based on one's preference.  That is one thing I picked up right away. Edit: Actually for myself, I want to add that at f5 I would use my TeleVue Paracorr Type II in observing to eliminate coma from the mirror.

     The next thing pointed out is the truss poles.  They seem to follow a basic construction method used by mass produce dobs and that is a two pole to on bracket on the top design. The XX14i and XX14g from Orion have a similar design to their truss poles. It is nice that they are blackened to reduce any glare from ambient light. These brackets are efficient and work though when I owned a XX14i I found them fun to get attached at first. With time that wasn't a problem.

     Bearings I do  want to touch on.  The bearings look to be made of aluminum and to have a "fiberglass" strip that is glued down and then riveted on the end. I have to say that my two dobs from Dennis at Dobstuff have also had a tack at each end of the alt bearing holding the formica down.  I found absolutely no use for them so on the 14" I removed them and used contact cement to glue down the bearing and it has held find now for over 3 years.  I did the same on the 17.5", though on the 17.5" the material on the bearing was already glued down nicely, something I had provided to Dennis as a suggestion from the build on the 14".

     My first issue with the build of this scope has to do with the roughness of sanding or grinding on parts of the mirror box in the rocker.  I don't care if a dob is $700, $2000, $5000 or $10000 or more.  It should be delivered in a working and in excellent condition. Anything else is laziness on the part of the builder in my opinion.   The rough parts that occur and are shown at around 5:05 into the video are simply inexcusable in my opinion. Now, having said that, I am going to offer a counter argument to that. For less than a $1000 for a 12" dob you get a pretty functional dob here that yes, as we'll review, needs some mods, but nothing so bad that you can't do them and have a really nice functioning dob for less than a $1000.  If you want a scope or dob that is perfect, needing no modifications, then I would steer you to a Teeter or StarStructure or JP Ashcroft dob but your going to pay a very premium price for that. So not an objective so to speak, but at some point cost versus quality has to be a point that is raised here. Edit: I believe the counter argument is not valid but will leave it here.

     The next point that I did not like in the review is the notion that the back plate is made of aluminum, while the sides are made out of steel. Furthermore, there is rust that is showing either underneath the paint through the paint.  Rust is not something that a purchaser of this dob needs to be worrying about.  This is seen around the 5:25 mark in the video review.  Explore Scientific needs to replace the steel with aluminum asap and keep them that way.  They need to make Dakota Starry Nights dob right by replacing the rusted parts.  It's one thing to make a mistake, but the notion of personal responsibility is something that individuals, small companies and large companies need to remember in this reviewers opinion. The latches on the upper lid are also of poor quality and would require replacement by a part that would be more lasting in my opinion. Either a bolt of some sort or latch mechanism that would be more secure.

     The lack of a center spot on the primary mirror is something I am actually glad to see. It is something that I believe an amateur in the hobby needs to learn how to do.  Having said that, a template should be offered by Explore Scientific to help those not so mechanically inclined amateurs to spot this.  However, as I stated, this is something beneficial for a newbie to learn how to do, and if they are uncomfortable to get someone locally in the amateur community or from their club to help them do this.  I LOVED Dakota Starry Night use of a dry erase marker to make his spot, and then his easy removal of that mark after the spot was applied. I would highly recommend replacing the donut here with a Catseye Collimation triangle or hot spot.  You'll find later with collimation that it will work better if you do that.

     The shavings in the rocker box are something to be aware of, and to clean out as you don't want them getting on your mirror.  The apple board or bead board used on the bottom for azimuth motions seem to be very similar to what many ATMers and other manufacturers of dobs use for controlling their azimuth motions. Since the azimuth motions are not an issue in this review, I can only assume that Explore Scientific got this part right.

     The upper cage and spider seem to work well.  The focuser is a base two speed focuser, one that I had on my XX14i and it worked nicely.  The secondary cell is interesting and I'll be interested to see how it holds collimaiton over the long term. I don't anticipate an issue with it, it is different than the traditional secondary's I have used including a Bob's Knobs or something similar to them. One thing, it will easy to reach around and collimate the secondary.  In terms of collimation, I am not sure I like the long pole to collimate the primary mirror. Actually, I don't like that method. There is the advantage of never having to move to the back of the scope and turning the primary mirror dobs, It is probably a good thing for someone new to the hobby, and who will be content with this scope being their primary scope for sometime. Those who may want to move up in aperture in time, needs to know that is not how other dobs are collimated and you'll have to learn a new method moving forward. A Howie Glatter Laser and TuBlug eliminates the need for a long handle like this though.

      I find it very interesting that in this mass produced dob, it is the altitude that has issues and not azimuth motions. Typically in a mass produced dob, and for that matter in most dobs, if there is an issue with motions it is in the azimuth motions.  Not with this dob. Dakota Starry Night has to make some decent modifications to get his altitude motions working smoothly and to square the bearings on the rockers of the base. I also think that I would have cut some of the teflon away from the bearing as too much teflon can increase friction as well, causing some stickiness.  On my two dobstuff dobs, I cut back the altitude teflon pads on the 14" and a little less on the altitude pads on the 17.5 to get the smoothness in altitude that I like on my scope.  This is something I would do on this Explore Scientific Truss Dob.   I do like Dakota Starry Night's additional felt pad to help his altitude motion as it goes low or up to zenith.  It is evident that Dakota Starry Night is comfortable modifying his telescope for himself and what he feels it should be.

     One of the things pointed out in the review is the ability to move the placement of the focuser and the red dot finder and the ability to move their location. In a traditional dob. you can set up the focuser and finder on either the left or right side of the dob. In this dob you can place the focuser to where it is centered straight up. If you watch the video this gives you a better neck position in using the eyepiece.  Focuser placement is a preference that each observer has to determine for themselves. I observe with my focuser on the right side as I am left eye dominant. That means I pull the scope to me, and not push it away from me. It means for me that I am sometimes taking a step backwards as I move the scope. Sketching, is where I find pulling toward me sometimes an issue as I have to dismount my chair, move it, remount it, and make sure I still have the object in the finder. Then again, I am usually sitting five to five and a half feet above the ground when I am sketching. My point, focuser placement is a personal decision.  Dakota Starry Night shows where he likes his, and how to make adjustments. If you purchase this scope it will be up to you to do the same.

     So what is my view of this scope based on Dakota Starry Night's video review? I am really into the saying in the hobby that "everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is a compromise."  The Explore Scientific Truss Dob 12" is a great example of this. The aperture is a good size at 12".  12 inches on a primary mirror in a dob will give a lifetime of viewing.  In the review we do not know the quality of the primary mirror as no star test was offered by Dakota Starry Night nor was their the opportunity to test the mirror using a variety of traditional methods.  A star test would have helped to confirm how good the quality the primary mirror is, at least providing a guide until a more traditional method could be done. My guess on the primary is that it is a good mirror, not excellent or suburb, but good.  It will provide good views and for most of the time, unless your use it, you would never tell the difference between this mirror and a premium mirror's performance on most observing nights.

     The materials of Explore Scientific Truss Dob 12" is mixed.  The aluminium parts seem okay, with the bearings working.  Adjusting the materials to make the altitude motions acceptable is perhaps the biggest challenge I took away from the video review. If you purchase this scope, be prepared to deal with that as I find that in most mass dobs, companies don't listen to their customers and the same issues continue to exist. I would assume this will be true since Explore Scientific did not respond to Dakota Starry Night's input to them.

      The use of steel on the sides of the rocker is discouraging. Rust is evident and that means it will have to be dwelt with if one is going to use this dob for a long period of time. There are answers out there, perhaps using a drill and a metal sander to take out the rust and then reinforcing the metal with other newer parts welded in.  It could simply be sanding out the rust and applying a cure that stops the rust and painting over it. I do like the baffling and the dark color means ambient light will not be an issue.

      In terms of thermal management, this scope has two behind the mirror fans. This should help to to cool the mirror, but I would like to see a fan on the side blowing across the top of the mirror sideways to break up any heat currents radiating there.  This should be an easy modification to make with this scope, but it will take some planning and design to execute it effectively.  That would go a long way to helping to eliminate any thermal management issues. This may not be needed and probably won't be pursued by most owners of this scope, but a boundary layer fan would improve viewing.

   I haven't used the scope but this is what I would rate it for what was shared in the video:

Ease of Use:  5/5
Collimation: 3/5 (the long lever I am not sure of but that could change)
Materials: 3/5 (You are going to have to make modifications to make this scope work; watch for the rust)
Cost: 5/5
Baffling: 4/5
Primary Mirror: ?/5
Secondary Astingmatism: ?/5
Azimuth Motions: 5/5
Altitude Motions: 2/5
Build Quality: 3/5
Overall:  Around  3.5/5  (rust issue has to be resolved, quality of primary would help, fix the altitude motions are needed to get to a 4.5/5).  It would equal I imagine about what I felt my XX14i was, a solid 4/5.

Remember, I DO NOT own this scope nor have I used it.  I am basing this on what I saw from the video.  Gary Seronik on his website LINK states the following that I think pertains to this scope (and most scopes).

No telescope is perfect — every instrument has its shortcomings, some of which are simply part of the design, while others arise from how the design is implemented. But there’s a difference between “perfect” and “useful.” Although we should do what we can to make sure our scopes are running well, don’t get so obsessed with absolute perfection that you never take the time to enjoy the wonders that even an imperfect scope can show you.

 I have to reiterate what Gary Seronik says here, NO TELESCOPE IS PERFECT.  Like I said, they are a compromise.  Some issues are a result of the design. Some are from how the design is implemented. I know in my two Dobstuff dobs, I love the simplicity and easy of cooling that the telescopes offer. I have had to make my own adjustments, make my own improvements to get motions, and function where I want them.  Those are things I made a conscious decision when I purchased the scopes, knowing I would have to make improvements and changes to make the scope my own.  This Explore Scientific 12" scope is no different. It is not perfect (I have never seen a perfect scope, EVER) but it is useful.  Primary mirror quality would help to satisfy if this is a good mirror, a poor mirror or a suburb mirror.  I do believe for the cost, this telescope will deliver quality views of the universe, enough so that it will keep most people busy for their entire amateur career.  Again, if you USE this scope on a regular basis, it will show you more, teach you more about observing than a JP Ashcroft that sits in your garage except for six to eight times a year.

I would like to thank Dakota Starry Night for his tremendous and wonderful review. Perhaps one day I will be given the opportunity to use an Explore Scientific Truss Dob 12" or 16" and can give a more in depth review. I enjoy Explore Scientific as a company, and I enjoy their products.  I hope this scope becomes the winner that their other equipment has been for many looking for useful astronomical products of high quality.


     So finally, the quote by Gary Seronik raises a question. Do you need a premium telescope to observe? What are the differences or trade offs?  There are always compromises.  The 18" Teeter may seem perfect, until you have to lift it, keep the finish up because your in the field all the time with it, and you have to make some adjustments to make it fit your own observing style.  That 32" Webster may seem perfect too until the same things come into pass, including having to get a new vehicle to carry it to a dark site.  Or you find that you don't have the time in the backyard to wheel it out or load it up to the dark site. The mere thought of transporting the scope makes you cringe about even going and you make other plans for that night.  I could go on and on about this.  I did in one post where I basically said what matters is not your telescope, but how often you use it.  Again, no scope, NO scope is perfect.  Perhaps I should say no scope is perfect for anyone. I believe a scope is a work in progress, that grows with you as you grow as an observer. As a tool, you will make changes and adaptations to it.  That is natural.  The question comes down to what scope are you going to use.

     Since I believe that no scope is perfect, and I believe that every scope has compromises, the question comes down to what do I want? Most amateurs probably have a 2 to 5 year lifespan in the hobby. Is it worth spending $3000, $4000, $5000, $6000, $7000 or more for a top tier telescope?  Are those in the best interest of every amateur. Of course not. Each of us in the hobby when we buy a telescope have to determine what we want out of that tool, what compromises we are wiling to make, what we are not willing to compromise on.  As no scope is perfect, the key comes down to is this scope useful for what I want to use it for for the cost I can afford?  If it is, and it is a useful scope, the most important thing is to get looking upward and enjoy the night sky and what your scope can and will show you.  We need less competition among equipment and more about using what we have to really enjoy those wonders above us.

     So my final conclusion is this. This scope has the promise to be a good scope, capable of really showing the wonders of the night sky above.  There are some materials (steel) that need to be replaced by Explore Scientific to stop rust from coming in.  The altitude motions need to be resolved.  If you fix those two items, add some baffling and perhaps a fan for thermal management on the side, this would be a scope that will deliver.  The price is right, there are modifications needed and I would like to see the steel replaced as a material.  Other than that, this scope, which is not perfect, but useful and can be made very useful as Dakota Starry Nights shows, can be a very useful scope. The question comes down to whether you as the user want to make the adjustments and modifications needed to make this a good to very good scope? Do you have the skills and materials you'll need? Those are some of the hard questions you need to ask yourself.


   

     

11/25/2015

What we have learned from VY Canis Majoris and how to Observe this Red Supergiant



Today a team of astronomers released a new paper on VY Canis Majoris. For those who don't know, VY Canis Majoris once held the title as largest star in the galaxy, but has been replaced by other stars that have been discovered and measured (Wikipedia LINK). I think one thing I am going to work on putting together is an observing program where you can go and take a look at these massive stars over the course of a year (the visible ones) and mark down which of these hypergriants you've seen. Anyway a paper, Large Dust Grains in the winds of VY Canis Majoris LINK released by P. Scicluna, R. Siebenmorgen, R Wesson, J.A.D.L. Blommaert, M. Kasper, N.V. Voshchinnikov and S. Wolf provides evidence and reason on why such massive stars like VY Canis Majoris lose so much mass in a given solar year (in the case of VY Canis Majoris it is losing 30 times the mass of the Earth each year). To quote the article in Astronomy Now:

But now, with the new SPHERE data, we have found large grains of dust around this hypergiant. These are big enough to be pushed away by the star’s intense radiation pressure, which explains the star’s rapid mass loss.”
The large grains of dust observed so close to the star mean that the cloud can effectively scatter the star’s visible light and be pushed by the radiation pressure from the star. The size of the dust grains also means much of it is likely to survive the radiation produced by VY Canis Majoris’ inevitable dramatic demise as a supernova. This dust then contributes to the surrounding interstellar medium, feeding future generations of stars and encouraging them to form planets.
Article on Astronomy Now: Ageing hypergiant star’s weight loss secret revealed LINK

Rather exciting news if you ask me! As that dust is pushed outward away from the star by its radiation, causing not only mass loss, but also perhaps signaling as the dust increases, how close the star may be to the end of its life (speculation on my part).  One idea that did come to me is that this gives further evidence to the notion that the supernova that caused the Cassiopeia A SNR was indeed a massive star that had shed sufficient mass in terms of large dust particles that when it went supernova, the light was indeed absorbed by these large dust particles that had been shed in significant mass loss prior to the end of the progenitor star's life. Cool!

It may also signal that as much as we anticipate viewing or observing a supernova explosion from a massive star, it may not be so tremendous as we may think. Sufficient absorption by the dust particles may lessen the view for us here on Earth. Then again, some of these like SN 1987A and others we observe from other galaxies are significantly bright enough to be seen visually. So the dust particles may explain mass loss, but the large dust particles may not hinder stars that may undergo mass loss, but not enough to hinder the light from the exploding supernova. More study will follow I am sure as we strive to find out more about these stars.  Guess we won't know for sure until we can really study a massive star that goes supernova. It could also explain why so many of the supernova's (not all, think Messier 1 in Taurus in 1054 CE) that have been seen from Earth have been from Type Ia explosions. A white dwarf exploding by colliding with another white dwarf, or by taking mass from its companion until it passes the Chandrasekhar limit of 1.44 solar masses do not generate the large dust particles prior to going supernova. It could be that is why they act more as a standard candle than a Type II SN.  Pure speculation on my ignorant part, but I welcome comments that clarify the points I have made.

So a few items. Here is a video based on the paper from ESO on the discovery. Take a look at it.









     What is interesting about that second video is this paper I have shared, explains more about how these massive stars like VY Canis Majoris are possibly viewed for losing so much mass via the large dust particles.


      Here are some pictures to give you a sense of how big a star VY Canis Majoris is (used from the public domain under Fair Use):









Yes, this is a very massive star yet in the night sky, well, if you want, use a telescope or binoculars and see what you can see and how large this star is in the sky. It is about 1.9 kiloparsecs or 3900 light years away from us here on Earth.  To help you star hop (and remember, there are more than one way to get there) I have made a few star charts that show how you may want to hop to this massive star. Again, I will be building a program of observing those most massive stars and sharing it here in the next couple of weeks, probably after December's new moon period so look for that.



1. Here is the first star chart to help you identify Canis Major if your not familiar with it. At the top of Canis Major is Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky of all the seasons.  Down from Sirius lays Wesson, at the dog's hind legs and tail. Go to Wessen to start our star hop.


2. Below is a series of hops you need to take to get in the general area to get serious if your using a telescope. 






3. Below is the way I use to get to VY Canis Majoris in my telescopes. To be honest, don't expect to see much more than a star but look to see if you can see color or anything around the star. If nothing else you can say you have seen one of the largest stars in the Milky Way.  This is a star that will end its life in a Supernova explosion, resulting in the creation most likely of a stellar black hole, or a pulsar (I learn to the black hole because of the mass of the star).  It will be interesting to see when this star does go supernova how much light is absorbed by the large dust particles and how much light blasts out.  





11/24/2015

New video from Alexander Massey on the Mellish Method of Sketching

If you haven't seen or viewed Alexander Massey's sketching tutorial on YouTube, you should do that ASAP.  Alex gives a wonderful presentation and your able to watch as he demonastrates the techniques he uses to obtain such faboulous sketches. One thing I learned is I over think my sketching and need to think in more simple terms. Anyway, here is his video and check out his blog at alexanderastrosketching@blogspot.com.au.  Here is the LINK to his blog.  Below is the video if you want to view it!



Also, if you haven't had a chance, take a look at Gondwana Telescopes at this LINK. Alex has some wonderful dob designs and other items that are terrific and I recommend checking out. If you ATM you may get a few ideas or if your in the market for a scope, he may interest you (if your down under but you could contact him if your in the States I am sure).  

Observing November 13th, 2015 FR006 Site 1 & October 11th & 12th, 2015; Cool . . . . Emergency Field Repairs to my DobStuff 17.5



     Well, I took the 13th of November off of work as the weather was clear and the conditions were looking great.  I loaded up the 17.5" scope, (I have the feeling to take the 14" but didn't) and drove out to FR006 Site 1.  We had had a storm come through earlier in the week and there were some patches of snow still about.  Here are some pics of the area:




This is on the drive out. By the time I got out there it was around 4:30 p.m. and the Sun was beginning to set.  The Sheeprock Mountains have their first covering of snow for the season. The drive out was fine, but as I turned up FR006 I could see snow to the side of the road in patches and the road was fine, but a little muddy . . . enough for a Subaru Outback to have some fun!

At the site, there was snow in patches as I have described, but there were enough dry areas next to where snow had melted and made the dirt there a little muddy.


The above picture is one of my favorite to take from the site. The Sheeprock Mountains to the west have a beautiful view and remind us that though we are in a desert, there are other habitats also.  You can see the patches of snow here. 



Looking to the south here on the edge of the observing field. 



Yes, the Belt of Venus starting to show to the southeast and yes, it was cold about 44 degrees F when I pulled into the site and took these pics. 




Looking south from the site. A little snow is nothing! 



The view above, vs the first one in this set of images, is more realistic of what the view is actually like of the Sheeprock Mountains. I truly live a wonderful and diverse part of the country! 


Looking southeast from the site. 



 One of the secrets of this site is that the elevation is around 6800 feet so you have elevation to get above the haze and the views are wide open.  This southern view is tremendous year round! 


Well after taking these pictures, I put down my ground cover, talked with my friend Jeff and his son Nathan (my son is also Nathan but Jeff's Nathan I REALLY like when he comes out. He really helps out and he is so positive and cheerful that he reminds me of my Nathan and he simply brightens the mood of all around!) and then brought out the equipment cases and the scope. I assembled the scope rather quickly and everything was going good. After assembly I brought out the Howie Glatter Laser and TuBlug and got to task of collimating my scope. I was rather excited because since August when I gave it a good all around collimation using my Catseye tools and my Howie Glatter tools the scope had been holding collimation with only a minor tweak needed each session. Last session though the scope for the first time had a problem holding collimation down low and when I put in the Glatter 635n laser, it was all over the place. I assumed I had a major issue, so I called my friend Jeff over to help. No, collimation was holding but the screw that attached the curved spider to the bracket on the ring, had fallen out.  The spider was now loose. 

We looked for the missing bolt (I found it the next day in the back of the Outback when I unloaded) but no luck. I was actually pretty downcast. Then a red SUV pulled up with two club members, Denise and Marlene and Marlene's husband Larry.  Marlene saved me by having an extra allen socket bolt that fit into the spider allowing me to secure the spider and to gain and hold collimation. I then inspected the scope and especially the upper ring in detail, and found that the upper ring and the spider were connected via a bracket and a wood screw that went into the upper ring. Well the wood screws did not hold the weight of the Destiny Observatory grade spider.  So the next day I tried a fix and now I have fixed the scope. I'll post more on that in a few days but basically I moved the spider six inches and then drilled a hole and put in 1/32nd bolts and used a washer and a nut to secure them to the ring. Firm as can be, steady and I will now simply check the nut and bolt to ensure that they remain tight prior to leaving for a session.  Here are some pics. 



Above you can see the bolt that I used to put through the hold I drilled and then secured it on the other side with a washer and a bolt. I kept the wood circle between the bolt and upper ring. Easy fix, one I don't think I should have had to do. Then again, a dob is always a work in progress. 




Above you can see the bolt sticking through, the nut and the washer is hard to see but is there. A much more secure version that what I will show below. 






Above is the wood screw that Dennis used to secure the spider to the upper ring. The problem on a large size dob like this is that the observatory grade curved spider from Destiny is too heavy to remain secure with just a wood screw with continued use. I shared this with Dennis and he is making the adjustment moving forward, so if you get a dob from Dennis, just make sure of this.  You can also see the black screw that holds the spider to the L bracket here and I had to replace that. The bolt is inexpensive and I have a few extra just to be save but check the tightness of your bolts from time to time, probably every three to six months. 



A better view of the L bracket holding the spider to the upper ring with a wood screw and the 1/4 inch wooden circle under the wood screw.  I kept the wooden circle under each for spacing but the bolt system above is one that is well used.  When I moved the spider and reattached it, I removed the secondary and then reattached it and gave the scope a great collimation job again using the Catseye and the Howie Glatter. 


So there you go. A fix in the field, one that after a year I was disappointed to have happen, a temporary fix that let the observing occur and then a permanent fix and the scope is probably in better shape now. I would have simply drilled through each of the current holes for the wood screws, but the one in the last two images would go through the Moonlite Focuser plate and I didn't want that.  So a simple moved is what I did.

    In the field that night I had the opportunity to really have some fun. One of the most wonderful things that night was to listen to Marlene and Denise who are relatively new share their excitement about observing. They probably didn't realize how much I enjoyed hearing them say "Andromeda, that's it, I'm done for the night. Awesome!"  As they discovered and looked at what for me were old time "eye candy" M31, the Double Cluster, M57 etc., their excitement enhanced mine.  As I came across and sketched my objects, I found that my enjoyment was enhanced by remembering how wonderful it was to be out here, observing.  I loaned Marlene my 20mm and 9mm 100 degree ES eyepieces, and tried to loan her a 12mm Delos to use also, but she was busy with what she had.  Next time Marlene, I will loan you the Delos so you can see them.  Perhaps the 11mm 82 degree ES eyepiece also.  So I have to say thank you to them for coming out and observing that evening and sharing their enthusiasm and excitement! I would welcome them anytime to come back!

At this event it was also nice to have my good friend Jeff and his son Nathan. Nathan went to the dar to read after a while but his positiveness and cheery disposition always makes an observing session an improved experience when he is with us. Jeff I believe had a good night using his 17.5 inch StarStructure to observe and got back into the swing of star hopping for those faint fuzzies.  Daniel was also along helping out, using his binoculars and seeing many more things through them then I at once thought possible. Daniel has made me use my 4 inch refractor more and more to see and discover how far I can push my observing both at a dark site and at home.

So what did I observe this night? A variety of objects and I tried some new things out sketching wise. Here are my sketches of some of the objects I observed this night.



 1. NGC 1060, NGC 1066, NGC 1067, NGC 1057 galaxies in Triangulum. November 13th, 2015; FR006 Site 1 Owl's Roost; 08:11pm MST/0211 UT on 11/14/15; Antoniadi II, clear, cool, 38 degrees F; 17.5" dob; 10mm, 14mm & 20mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr; 

1066                                         1060
1067      UGC 2201                        1057 

I have tried to label the galaxies I observed in the field above. NGC 1060 is a rather bright but small galaxy with round edges that are firm and well defined.  Makes for a nice contrast with surrounding galaxies. 
NGC 1066 is rather faint, small and roundish though somewhat slightly elongated N-S; It is about the same size as NGC 1060 with a touch fainter halo but with a concentrated and bright inner core. 
NGC 1067 is very faint, very small and found with a low surface brightness.  UGC 2201 is barely visible and seen best with averted vision as a faint smudge.  
NGC 1061 is round with even surface brightness and very small.  It is about 2.5' N of NGC 1060.  NGC 1057 was not seen in this grouping. 


2. NGC 881 & NGC 883 Galaxies in Triangulum; November 13th, 2015; 10:39 MST/0439 UT on 11/14/15; FR006 Site 1 Owl's Roost; 17.5" Dob; 10mm, 14mm, 20mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr; Antoniadi II; Clear, cool, temperature 37 degrees F.

NGC 881 is very bright, has a stellar nucleus and a bright inner core region. It is the bottom right galaxy in the sketch.
NGC 883 is small, round and diffused, with no hint of a core system. It is the upper galaxy in the sketch.



3. NGC 750 & 751 Galaxies in Triangulum; November 13th, 2015; 08:37 MST or 0237 UT on 11/14/2015; Antoniadi II, clear, cool; 17.5" dob with 10mm & 20mm Pentax XW in Type II Paracorr.

NGC 750 is sitting W-E and is elongated with a bright inner core region.
NGC 751 is more roundish and has a slight brightening at the inner core with some possible hints of structure, some unevenness in the surface brightness is apparent. Both are faint.

I captured a few other faint NGC/Herschel 2500 galaxies and then I decided to have some fun with sketching. In the following attempts, I applied the pastel chalk directly to the black sketching paper and then attempted to even it out with the brush.  I then added layers using the brush. Much happier with Messier 74 result than the M31 result, but for the cold and dark, both came out pretty good.
I will also say that I again fell in love with the 35mm Panoptic, even more than the 30mm Explore Scientific 82 degree,  which I still love, just love the 35mm Panoptic a little more.


4. Messier 31; Messier 32 (small ball on left); Messier 110 (elongated galaxy on right). 11:00pm on 11/13/2015 or 0500 11/14/2015 UT;  Antoniadi I, clear and cool, 35 degrees F, Relative Humidity 64%; FR006 Site 1 Owl's Roost; 17.5" dob, 35mm Panoptic; 20mm & 10mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr;

Not happy totally with how the camera captured the sketch. I think it looks better in person but oh well.  Not bad for such a large object.  I have to say by this time of night, no ambient light was around at all except for the star light and the Milky Way and M31 and friends were position extremely well.  One of the best views of M31 I have ever had was out on this night (to echo an earlier comment from Denise).  Not a bad effort for a cold late fall night.  I need to spread out the chalk more and make it more fuzzy but the basic concept I like here.



5. Messier 74 or NGC 628 in Pisces, Face On Spiral Galaxy.  10:30pm MST or 0430 on 11/14/2015 UT.  FR006 Site 1 Owl's Roost; Antoniadi I clear and cool, temperature 35 degrees with 64% RH; 17.5" dob with 20mm, 10mm, 7mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr;

One of the best views ever for me of this wonderful eye candy galaxy from Charles Messier's catalog. Bright stellar nuclear with bright inner core was easily viewed Both spiral arms could be discern in the eyepiece with the fuzziness of the galaxy in apparent in the background as well. Just an awesome view. Best view of the night and in my opinion, best sketch (and I am getting the camera figured out here).  WOW! is all I can say.

That was it for this night. I packed up with Jeff around 11:30pm after 4 to 5 hours of fall observing, with winter rising quickly to the east. I realized as I stood looking at the constellations in the sky how quickly the seasons change. It seems like September was just here and then October with the approach of Halloween and now November is here with Thanksgiving in a few days. The winter constellations by midnight are up in the sky and the signal that fall is giving way to winter, for me, is the rising of the brightest star in the sky, Sirius.

OCTOBER 11th & 12th, 2015

I did get a dark sky session in during October, actually a couple of them but will combine them for space.  Actually the last two sessions have had fun occurrences to them. In October, about 1:30a.m. local time, I was taking a break from observing but looking at the sky when I noticed a flash of light that to me, at first, looked like a Nova going off. It was a short, intense, bright light that flared up and then faded away.  We started to see more and more as we looked up. Well being rational, I began to think and the idea that F16's out of Hill were over the test range at high altitude and were engaged in maneuvers against each other and were dropping chaff, then I changed my mind to flares. Some may disagree with my outlook since we were relatively close to Dugway, but I really believed we were seeing USAF F16's on maneuver at high altitude letting off flares. It looked like this video somewhat, but we never saw multiple flares in sequence, just what I would suppose were some floating backwards from their launch point creating multiple effects.


The next one was the missile test from the USS Kentucky launching an unarmed Titan II missle. The Kentucky has come out of refit and after refit they test their missile system to make sure it is working right (among other tests).  I had seen another similar incidence back in 1982 in the Bay Area when Vandenberg AFB had launched a Minuteman II missile.  Daniel was there and we talked about it and he had seen that Minuteman Missile test in the early 1980's as well, and we both were confident that is what it was. We were right. It provided a break from our observing that night. I did view in the 17.5 the missle as in the 27mm Panoptic we could track it and this YouTube movie captures what I saw with 4 others in the eyepiece. In the later stages the missile would S warp after having a single cone of exhaust followed by a double cone of exhaust from each end the the spiral S pattern. This video covers what we saw until it fell below the horizon. My friend Jeff was there as was his son and two other observers.  Nathan, Jeff's son saw this event and did a great job tracking it in my 17.5" telescope. I am very impressed with Nathan's skills with a telescope for being only 14 years old! Nathan even confirmed what we were all seeing.

So two rather cool events! Haven't had that much excitement in a LONG time out observing but it was fun. Made for a good experience.

So I am just going to list the items and sketches I did from these nights of observing (October 11th, 12th, November 7th).


1. NGC 949 Galaxy in Triangulum. October 9th, 2015; FR006 Site 1; Antoniadi III; 11:29 pm MDT or 0529 on 10/10/2015 UT; 17.5" dob; 27mm Panoptic Finder; 20mm & 10mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr.

Small, relatively bright galaxy that lays NW to SE. It has a dull outer edge yet magnification will pull out a brighter inner core region. This is a one time visit.




2. NGC 925 Galaxy in Triangulum.  October 11th, 2015 11:45pm MDT (545 UT on 10/12/15); Antoniadi I, clear, cool temperature 28 degrees F, RH 48%; FR006 Site 1 Owl's Roost; Type II Paracorr on both sketches.  Top sketch was with a 10mm & 7mm Pentax XW and the bottom sketch was with the 14mm, 20mm Pentax XW and the 27mm Panoptic eyepiece. Thus the differences in appearances. 

This is a wonderful galaxy to observe in the mid to late fall with the constellation Triangulum positioned well for an easy observation later in the evening.  The galaxy is easily seen in the 20mm Pentax XW and the 27mm Panoptic eyepieces. The galaxy lays in both sketches ESE-WNW and does not have a stellar nucleus, yet has brightening in the inner core region. The galaxy is ill defined at the outer edges and at the low magnification range has hints of spiral structure at the extremities. With higher magnification that hint of structure begins to refine itself a little more. 


3. NGC 890 galaxy in Triangulum. October 10th, 2015 10:36pm MDT or 0436 on 10/11/15 UT; FR006 Site 1 Owl's Roost; Antoniadi III to IV, wind gusts to 20mph steady at 7mph to 10 mph; 17.5" dob; 20mm & 10mm Pentax XW; Type II Paracorr. 

This was the nights of the flares from the planes. Conditions got worse as the night came on and shortly after this I called it a night as the scope was vibrating in the wind as the gusts continued to rise as a dry cold front was getting ready to pass by thus increasing those south winds.  

This is an elongated galaxy laying SW to NE.  Bright inner core region with ill defined outer edge. It's a fun galaxy to take a look at and easy to star hop too. Triangulum has a lot more to offer besides M33, which is still wonderful, but there are many other galaxies in the constellation to observe! 



4. NGC 784 Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum.  October 12th, 2015, 12:40am MDT or 0640 UT; FR006 Site 1 Owl's Roost; Antoniadi I, clear, cool, 26 degrees; 17.5" Dob; 10mm, 14mm, 20mm Pentax XW; Paracorr Type II; 

Wonderful galaxy to view and it is fairly bright, no concentration at the core but there is mottling and uneven surface brightness near the core, combined with brightening at the core.  Elongated N to S. Another fun galaxy to observe, tease detail out with and to see. 


5. Constellation Auriga, naked eye sketch. October 12th, 2015, 1:19am MDT or 0719 UT; Antoniadi I.  

I have decided that I want to include a naked eye sketch of the major constellations and this is the first of that effort. The camera has removed some of the nebulosity that I saw in the constellation, especially around the bottom four stars and in the center.  Overall it is a decent representation of what I saw. Next up is the mighty hunter Orion as I think that will occupy me and give me some challenges. I will do that when I take the 4 inch refractor out with me to sketch and capture Barnard's Loop visually soon. Also, with this sketch I will soon upload and label it and then repost so someone wanting to poke around in Auriga can see where some of the objects are in it as a reference. 

Well there you go. A couple of exciting events, a field fix followed by a major repair that improved my 17.5" dob and some great time under dark skies in Utah's West Desert under the shadow of the Sheeprock Mountains.  Here's hoping to more of that in December and January! 


11/04/2015

All in the Details or Pay the Price to See More . . .

     Yep, sorry, been away as I was gone for over a week in October. I spent a couple days observing and then spent a week up in Oregon and Washington with my wife and sweetheart visiting sites along the Lewis and Clark trail, and visiting the beach and ocean, one of our favorite things to do.  Then I have been busy at work and some personal items at night.  So I haven't posted my sketches or my observing sessions from October. I'll be doing that this weekend as I get ready for observing next week, I hope.

     Here in northern Utah, the weather has changed. We have moved from highs in the upper sixties to the upper forties and next week to the low forties with lows in the twenties.  That means cold weather observing and I am ready with my winter clothing and items charged and ready to go.  Now if the dirt roads out to my favorite observing sites can stay dry after our first snow next week.  Just ready to get out and observe again. My one dilemma, do I take the 14 inch or the 17.5 out?

     One item that has come up that I am very passionate about is the question of whether increasing aperture of a telescope, or improving the quality of the eyepieces one uses improves what one sees, or what really goes to improving the view.  I have been an active observer for a long time and I have well over 5000 objects in my observing logs, and I have sketched many of those objects.  Here is what I have found improves one as an observing. The huge secrets, the key to improving oneself as an observer are these two items.

     First, the main action that any of us do to improve what we see at the eyepiece is this, observe. Yep, nothing great here it is simply to observe and observe on a regular basis.  I observe typically seven to twelve times a month, sometimes more. This includes three to four deep sky observing trips, three to four lunar sessions, a couple to four sessions of double stars and open clusters.  The only way to get better at observing, the only way to see more is to pay the price and observe.  That is what it takes and to be honest, there are not a lot of people willing to pay that price to improve the details of what they observe at the eyepiece.

     There are some who think if they simply buy a premium mirror, a premium structure and premium eyepieces that that act, the purchase of premium items will improve what they see. Yes, to a point a premium setup can improve what you observe but only if you are observing. One session of deep sky observing from a backyard in a light polluted backyard and then two to four outreach events in a light polluted site are not going to make one a premium observer.  Like with anything in life, if you want to be a top notch, quality observer then you have to pay a price.  There is no other way.  I know from experience, that someone observing with say an Orion XX12i or XX12g with a decent mirror, but observing five to ten times a month, is, over time (say 3 to 5 years) is going to train their eye to see more than say someone with a Zambuto 18 inch mirror in a Teeter Teleescope who observes once a month if they are lucky and perhaps uses it at a star party for outreach twice a month.

     Yes, the 18" Zambuto and the Teeter structure are premium and yes, they will show more but to really take advantage of that, you have to learn how to observe with them and more importantly, you have to learn how to observe in order to maximize what those premium optics and structure have to offer. To do that takes using them and using them on a regular and consistent basis.

     The next thing that truly improves one's ability to observe and to see more is to leave the light polluted backyard and travel to a dark site; I mean a REAL dark site.  The first time you go you'll probably find it hard to observe because of the sheer volume of stars you see.  However, a dark site, free of light pollution and scatter, allows a high quality mirror and structure to perform at their maximum based on the sky conditions of that night.  If you don't believe me, view the Messier objects that are observable from your backyard, then take your  telescope and eyepieces and get thee to a dark site.  Then look at the same Messier objects. There is a significant difference.  Now take your time to observe the differences and if you do this over time, you'll discern that the detail level from a dark site is significantly more than from a light polluted zone.

     So do premium optics, structures and eyepieces matter? Sure they do IF you are in the process of becoming a premium observer.  IF you pay the price to view these items, observing them and comparing them, you will begin to discern the differences in the details.  Then move on to NGC items that are not so bright and large and you will learn to discern, to glean out the details on these objects, knowing which has details to offer you and which do not. You'll find eventually, you don't need to buy a book with someone else's observations, you'll be making your own.  If you own some of these fine books, you'll use them only to compare your own observations.  Again, if you don't have a premium optic or structure, that is fine. You can still learn to be a premium observer IF you pay the price and observe on a regular basis. If you can get to a dark site, that is an added plus.  The key though is to observe and if that means your backyard, that is better than not observing.

    So, to review, in my personal opinion, premium equipment and optics enhance what one sees, but the key to observing and really seeing more, is to use what you have. Use it often, use it to see a variety of objects and you'll find, over time, that you really improve as an observer.  You won't need to speak to what you see to others, because you'll KNOW what your capable of.  If you choose to upgrade to a larger aperture, you'll find that yes, aperture does increase what you see, but in truth, your eye will be trained to really show what that new scope is capable of. There is no quick fix to seeing more. If you want to see more in amateur visual astronomy, you have to pay the price of time and effort to observe on a consistent and regular basis.  Isn't it funny. This is a truth that is eternal because no matter what one does with one's life, one has to be willing to pay the price to really be good at what one is doing.  Keep looking up and enjoying the wonders of the night sky!