Well, after a six-month hiatus, I thought it would be a good idea to let all six of my readers know that I didn’t fall into a ditch and that my telescope didn’t melt or shatter. You know how you’re typing in a nice long entry on a computer, and all of a sudden something happens and it just gets lost? And you end up getting frustrated and storming off?
I had been preparing a nice long entry on my Memorial Day observing when that happened. Pretty annoying. I was observing then because it is just about the darkest night of the year. The reason for that is because here in Manhattan, a lot of people go away for the three-day weekend, and when people go away, the light pollution goes down. That night, I was able to do some late-night observing of Saturn, and I was able to just barely see Rhea with averted vision. At magnitude 9.7, this is the dimmest object I’ve confirmed that I actually saw, and I do think it was because of the favorable LP conditions. Surface banding was also apparent.
Unfortunately, literally right at that time, the scope went on the fritz – again. The exact same problem I had had in altitude that I had discussed in my December 5, 2014 post recurred – but in a totally different scope, as that first scope was returned to Amazon. For no apparent reason, after six months of excellent service, the altitude motor on the mount wasn’t tracking properly. And at the same time, the handset wasn’t responding to button presses to move the scope – there was an 11-second delay between pressing the button and the scope starting to move. Yup, 11 seconds. Both of these appear to be problems endemic to this mount. Obviously, my return period with Amazon had long since expired. But the 2-year warranty with Celestron was still good. So I contacted them to arrange to return it to them.
And thus my odyssey through warranty hell began. At first, they wouldn’t even accept the mount back for repairs, as they were “changing over to a new computer system” for over two weeks, and as a result, couldn’t issue return authorization numbers. Suffice it to say that Celestron’s warranty isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Celestron customer service lies to you at every opportunity, saying “Oh, that 30-day turnaround period in the warranty is 30 working days, even though the warranty clearly doesn’t say that at all, and legally, of course, our not saying that is binding upon us,” and then saying, “Oh, your mount already shipped out. Oh, I mean, your mount has been repaired and is at our shipping desk, ready to be shipped out. Oh, I mean, we haven’t started working on your mount. Oh, I mean, we can’t find your mount.” They literally told me all of these things, and in that order. It took over two months of emailing, telephoning, and just generally beating my head against the wall until I got my mount back with the clutches tightened. I have never encountered worse customer service.
In the meantime, I was not completely without astronomical recourse. Interestingly, if my mount had to go, it went at the absolute best possible time. For two months after Memorial Day, there were only a handful of clear nights. The rest of the summer I was completely clouded and rained out. So, after practically being unable to observe for a solid two months, in late July I figured out a way to take my ST-80 out. I mounted it onto my old, unused, and unloved Bird-Jones scope, my Meade DS-2130, with the Lyra Double-Double cradle and a pair of bungees. I loosened up the clutches on the Meade’s mount, and I was able to use it as an alt-az mount to go starhopping.
And starhopping I went! It was actually a lot of fun to hunt around to find some of the brighter Messiers and very satisfying to actually find them myself. I couldn’t believe I was able to resurrect my old starhopping skills which I hadn’t used since I was a teenager, over 30 years ago. Well, my starhopping skills and Stellarium – I brought my laptop up to my roof, put it in red-light mode, and it worked like a charm. It’s actually a simple matter in Stellarium to limit the magnitude of the stars on the screen to what you can actually see, to flip the view so it matches the reverse view through the refractor, and to expand the scale of the image to be the same 3 1/4 degrees that you can see at 16x – and that makes starhopping very easy. I also just cruised around the Milky Way in what I now call “the Swan’s Spine” (patent pending) and Sagittarius. Very pretty.
After I finally got the mount back from Celestron in early August, I continued gawping at Saturn. With the help of the Baader Moon & SkyGlow filter, I was finally able to cleanly split the ring into two rings and see Cassini’s Division directly, not with averted vision. You can only do this when the seeing is good, but I could definitely see that dark stripe in between the two rings.
In the meantime, a while before my mount went on the fritz, I had ordered a pair of Arcturus binoviewers from Camera Concepts and Telescope Solutions that I had seen at the NEAF conference in April. These are just about the most inexpensive binos out there, at $169, but they seem to be of decent quality – inexpensive, but not cheap. They are basically the same body – and therefore the same internal optics – as the more expensive Celestron and William Optics binos. What’s nice about them, other than that low, low price, is their flexibility. They come with a pair of 30mm Plossls and both 1.8x and 3.0x nosepieces, which is a better value than other brands. These are basically Barlow lenses so that the included pair of EPs can be used at various magnifications. I also bought a second 10mm Orion Plossl for very cheap so I could see how other EPs functioned in them.
Unfortunately, the binos were delayed for a while due to their having to “clear customs” and in the meantime, I had sent the mount back practically the day before the binos arrived, so I couldn’t test them out. I was concerned about my ability to merge the images from each eye into one image. This was because I had never, ever been able to see anything happen in those 3D posters that were all the rage in the 90s. It would really suck if I couldn’t even look through the binos during the 30-day return period, only to find out afterwards that I couldn’t use them.
Fortunately, I had made arrangements with Randall, someone I had met through Facebook’s Telescope Addicts page, to go do some outreach with him over at Lincoln Center plaza in mid-June. The AAA holds weekly outreach sessions there, and there were about half a dozen scopes lined up along the plaza. The crowds were enormous as the opera and ballet and whatever other events ended and the people came pouring out.
Randall had brought a nice 10″ dob and a Galileoscope. I manned the Galileoscope and gave everyone a bit of info on how the 30x view through the scope represented what Galileo had to work with 400 years ago, how he was the first to see Jupiter’s moons and Venus’ crescent, which let him figure out that the Copernican earth-centered universe was wrong, and how he couldn’t figure out that Saturn had rings due to the low magnification and the imperfections in his handmade scope. I gave that shpiel about a couple hundred times to the massive crowds on the plaza.
And Randall did let me try out the binos in his dob. After some fussing with them to figure out how they worked, work they did. They gave about 75x or so, which was definitely enough magnification to see the true nature of the ring. Randall said he even saw the Cassini Division, which I didn’t. But I was able to successfully merge the images into one, so I knew the binos were a keeper.
Since then, I’ve used them a lot on Saturn and especially the moon. There is a pseudo-3D effect that your brain applies because it’s seeing the image in both eyes. The entire setup is nice and sharp, even when using the 3.0x nosepiece. This gives something like 165x or so, more than the 154x that 30mm Plossls with a 3x Barlow would give. This is because the binos cause the light path to be increased by a few extra inches which results in increasing the magnification slightly.
Interestingly, using just the 10mm Orion Sirius Plossls with no nosepiece – which should result in the exact same magnification as the 30mm Plossls and the 3.0 nosepiece – yields an even higher magnification and a dimmer image. This is due to changes in the length of the light path – the nosepieces actually work to shorten the light path when used versus when they aren’t. This is to allow newts, which have very little in-focus travel, the ability to use binos. Some estimate the increase at about 20%, which would put the 10mm Plossls at about 185x or so. I haven’t used the binos on other objects yet, because of the loss of light due to all the extra glass, but I do plan on using them on M42 and Jupiter soon.
Next time: The Stupidmoon, the Urban Starfest, and the Nethermead.