Unfortunately, with the triumph of continued roof access comes a little tragedy. My SLT mount, which has never been all that great of a mount to begin with, has broken. Not badly, mind you; it still works. Two of the three plastic center leg spreaders that spread out the tripod legs and hold onto the accessory tray have cracked off and become completely separated from their attachments on the steel tripod legs due to my being less than perfectly careful in opening and closing the tripod. One leg had been cracked – but still connected – for over a year. The whole thing went kablooie a few days ago as I returned from my outing at Creekside Park.
These spreaders also keep the legs of the tripod from spreading out too far, such that if someone were to accidentally kick out one of the legs, the scope wouldn’t topple over. They also keep all three tripod legs spread out at the same 30-degree angle, making it easy to adjust the scope to make it level, as you know that the tripod legs themselves are staying in the same relative position to each other as you raise and lower them.
This is more of an annoyance than anything else. One part that’s annoying is that superglue won’t fix the legs, no matter how hard I’ve tried. I was able to glue the pieces so they stuck back together, but the superglue just wasn’t able to hold it together when I used the scope for the first time. So much for the “super” in superglue. Next up is to strip off the superglue and try some epoxy. Let’s hope that works. Otherwise, I’ll have to buy a brand new mount. Oh, well!
In that vein, I have been drooling over the various iOptron mounts for quite some time now due to their ability to comfortably carry two scopes at once. This is the siren song for me, as not only do I have two scopes, but I’d like to get bigger and better ones, too, and the iOptron mounts can handle them. On the Mak end, my six loyal readers know that I lust after the 180 Mak; on the refractor side, I’m equally enamored of the Explore Scientific AR 152. While the iOptron couldn’t handle both of these at once, they could handle the 180 Mak and a 102mm refractor (or my ST-80), or the AR 152 and the 127 Mak.
On the one hand, I just don’t feel the need to spend a grand or more on a mount right now, when either of those larger scopes are still yet another grand or so away, especially because I’ll need to buy two-inch eyepieces with them. Something cheaper will do very nicely, I’m sure. The Celestron SE mount is a nice improvement over the SLT. And at just $349, that’s very affordable for me right now.
My buddy’s SE mount was perfectly sturdy, ridiculously accurate, and it is rated as being able to carry 12 pounds. That would be enough to comfortably carry both the Mak and the ‘frac the same way my SLT mount currently struggles to do above about 65 degrees altitude. It would also be enough, of course, to carry the 8SE optical tube which it was designed to handle. It would be a bit of a strain to handle my other beloved VMC200L at 13 pounds, but I think it would just hold it.
On the other hand, the SE mount would just be a stopgap measure until I got the iOptron. Other than the VMC200L, the SE mount doesn’t really have any upgrade path for me optically. For example, it would not be able to carry the 180 Mak at 16 pounds, and it sure wouldn’t be able to carry the ES AR 152 at 23 pounds. Meaning that the $349 would be “wasted” where it could otherwise be almost a third of the cost of the iOptron mount. Then again, the SE mount might be a better – albeit heavier – grab-and-go mount than my not-so-hot SLT mount. Decisions, decisions.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve got a brand new observing chair, the Starbound. It’s flippin’ sweet! When I observed in New York, I was either on my apartment building’s roof, where there was a nice roof deck, and plenty of chairs, or at Carl Schurz Park, where there were plenty of benches. Here, not so much, and especially not so much in isolated patches of darkness in parks.
The chair is great – nice padded seat, fully adjustable in height from waaaay down low to nice and high to meet all my observing needs. The only assembly you have to do is to put the seat on yourself when it arrives by attaching it with four screws. Unfortunately, complete lame-o that I am, I couldn’t even do that correctly: three of the screws fell out, off to locations unknown. Yes, you can say it: I have a few screws loose. Whoops! Off to Home Depot for some more screws! I had another chair choice, the Vestil, but the forums clamored out pretty much in one voice and said that the Starbound is worth the extra 55 bucks.
The chair’s one drawback is also its most positive feature. The Starbound seat is infinitely and easily adjustable just by lifting up on it with one hand and moving it to whatever height you want. When you “let go” and place the seat back down, it locks into place by friction. But because of this height adjustment mechanism, if you’re unwary, the seat can slide straight to the floor, and very quickly. Not so good for outreach, where people are always grabbing things they’re not supposed to. But for me, it works great.
In fact, in the short time I’ve had it, I’ve already noticed that I am observing DSOs at any altitude above the horizon without giving it a thought, because all I gotta do is just adjust the chair, which takes all of four seconds. Previously I would avoid observing DSOs high up in the sky because doing so would require me to readjust the height of the tripod legs, with the result that I’d have to realign the scope’s alignment from scratch and waste a few minutes doing so. That was too much of a pain to do, so I would typically observe objects when they were below 60 degrees in altitude. Obviously, this is the opposite of ideal, because it’s always better to observe an object when it’s at its highest elevation. But laziness took its toll. With this chair, no longer – laziness has given way to convenience.