March 5, 2017: “I’ll take a new telescope for $2000, Alex”; and Aldebaran Occultation

Well, my Jeopardy appearance was great.  ABSOLUTELY GREAT!  Of course, I’m not allowed to discuss how I did, but I had a really awesome time.  The other contestants were all mah Jeopardy nerds and we bonded nicely, even though we were in competition with each other.  The people working on the show were all very nice and thoroughly professional.  Just being there was a bucket list item crossed off. The experience is all a blur to me now, but being on that stage, with Alex, and actually playing the game for real, well, wow.  WOW!

I can report that I basically did not study.  Yes, I had four weeks between the notification and the show, and I took out a good dozen books from the library – on art, opera, Shakespeare, pop culture, geography, the World Almanac – but I’d say that I studied less than twenty hours or so in the approximately 28 days.

And I think I did the right thing by doing that – the questions were either in my wheelhouse, the knowledge that I’ve built up literally over an entire lifetime, or they flat out weren’t, and studying just wouldn’t have helped me.  For example, one of the topics I did study in the meanwhile was opera, and I think I did a pretty good job studying it.  But none of that studying helped me any.  It was all the stuff I’ve always known that worked for me, not anything I tried to cram in during the weeks leading up to the show.

I am upset about the Final Jeopardy question that I lost on.  I didn’t have a clue (get it?), and I wouldn’t have gotten it in a million years, even if I had access to Google for the full thirty seconds; so that part doesn’t really upset me.  I also bet correctly, so I’m not upset about that, either.  What does upset me is that the other contestants got it right!  The question was “impossible” – how the hell did they ever figure it out?!?

As I mentioned in my last Jeopardy column, I can absolutely confirm that I won a minimum of $1000, because that is the least you can win on the show, just for coming in third place.  I can also safely report that I did not pull a Cliff Clavin, or go into the red. You can see for yourself how I did when my show airs on May 25th.  That’s Memorial Day weekend, so if you’re interested in watching, why not just set the DVR to record the entire series, just in case you’re away for the weekend and, you know, I’m on more than one show?

This blog is about observing with light pollution.  So far, I’ve decided the best way to observe in light pollution is to move 2000 miles away from it.  Okay, okay, so I still have significant light pollution here in Denver as well, with a limiting magnitude of about 3.8, but it’s a darn sight better than Manhattan where it was about 3.0.

And the other way to observe in light pollution is to simply give in and buy a bigger telescope – which, thanks to my “vast” Jeopardy winnings, I am now in the position to do.  Truth be told, I already have about $1500 “saved” up for a new scope and mount.  With the additional $1000 from Jeopardy, that brings me up to $2500, actually, not the $2000 in the title of this post – but since there is no Jeopardy question worth $2500, $2000 makes sense.  I am going to finally cure my aperture fever by buying a scope that will let me go significantly deeper.  I have narrowed the choices to three:

1. Celestron Evolution 9.25 ($2200 complete, including mount and built-in battery). I would also “need” to get a focal reducer/field flattener and a 2-inch diagonal, plus a 2-inch eyepiece or two, bringing this to just over $2500.

Pros: Jump of about 1.5 magnitudes over my current Mak, and the largest magnitude jump of all the scopes I’m considering. All-in-one solution that has great reviews. (Although I don’t really care about the ability to control the scope via wi-fi.)

Cons: Capable mount, but not one that I could grow with – for example, to later buy a 5 or 6-inch refractor for use on it. Longer cooldown than choice 2, below. OTA may be a tad heavy for the mount.

2. Vixen VMC200L ($900) and Skywatcher AZ-EQ5 mount ($1350). Again, I would be getting two-inch equipment with this as well, bringing the cost to the same $2500 neighborhood.

Pros: As I’ve written before here, I love the concept of this “Field Mak” design, faster cooldown with an open tube, handle for easier mounting, much lighter than a catadioptic of similar size. Supposedly no collimation issues.  (Note that I only love the concept, as I’ve never actually used or looked through one of these.)


The AZ-EQ5 is my “replacement” for the issue-plagued iOptron line of mounts that I wrote about in January.  Just like those iOptron scopes, the AZ-EQ5 also lets you mount two scopes side-by-side, but each scope can be up to 30 lbs.  That’s huuuuge.  This gives me enormous flexibility for future purchases – such as using the 200L on one side and a 5 or 6-inch refractor on the other simultaneously.  Using two different types of scope at a time is a sirens’ song calling out to me.  But hopefully not leading me to my doom.

Cons – About one-third less magnitude grasp than the 9.25 (13.51 vs. 13.86); loss in contrast due to a large central obstruction and unusually thick spider vanes.  And the mount also supposedly has problems in terms of moving when it’s not supposed to, even though the clutches are locked down.

3. Skywatcher 180 Mak ($1275) and SW AZ-EQ5 mount ($1350). While more expensive, this comes stock with a two-inch diagonal and eyepiece.  Here is the Mak mounted on the AZ-EQ5 in the double-mounted alt-az configuration:

Pros – No collimation! Sharp images; less loss in contrast than the Vixen due to smaller central obstruction and no diffraction spikes. I’ve already done a heads-up comparison between the Vixen and the 180 Mak here.  This choice also has the same AZ-EQ5 pros.

Cons – Slightly less light grasp than the Vixen, and least light grasp overall (13.28 vs. 13.86 for the 9.25) of all of the choices. Slightly higher price. Longer cooldown than the Vixen.

One more option would be to buy the 9.25 OTA used at Cloudy Nights, and put it on a new AZ-EQ5 mount – and save a few hundred that way.  The 9.25 OTA sells new for about $1200; they sell used for about $650-700.  The total would be just over $2000 for that, plus I’d still have to buy all the 2-inch accessories to go with it.  But that scope on that mount would pretty much be the best of both worlds.  I could thereafter fulfill my dream of putting a big refractor and a big catadioptric on the same mount.

Another option is that the DAS has recently purchased one of those iOptron MiniTower mounts for its members to borrow and use for a month at a time.  This would be a great way to get a hands-on look to see if everything I’ve read about it is true or not. But the difference between the MiniTower and the AZ-EQ5 is that while the AZ-EQ5 is supposed to be able to carry 30 lbs. of scope on each side, the MiniTower is able to only carry 30 lbs. on one side and 10 on the other.  The AZ-EQ5 is awful sweet!

Since the entire reason that I’m getting this scope is to go deeper, that means that the C9.25 is far in the lead of the other two in my thinking.  Unfortunately, I don’t get my Jeopardy money for almost another seven months.  Dayum!

Finally, last night was another open house at DAS’ Chamberlin Observatory.  As usual, I was able to help out a couple of beginners in figuring out how to use their scopes, which I always thoroughly enjoy.  I helped someone who had bought a $40 scope at a garage sale, and then I helped someone else who had bought a $400 scope brand new.

One of the attractions was the almost first quarter moon, which, of course, is always a crowd-pleaser.  And Orion and its Nebula were riding high in the sky right as darkness fell.  But there was another attraction as well – the moon’s occultation of Aldebaran.  I’ve previously written about the moon’s occultation of Venus, which I observed back in November 2015 during the day.  This was different – a dramatic eclipsing of a 1st magnitude star, Aldebaran, Alpha Tauri, at night, as the dark side of the moon moved right over it, as the moon passed through the nearby Hyades.

In the weird Denver weather, I was able to lay back on the nice warm lawn in front of the observatory and watch it with my binoculars.  The occulation was instantaneous, but I feel I need to emphasize that it was really, really instantaneous.  No dimming.  Just wink! and it was gone.  The collected crowd on the lawn out in front of the observatory gave out a collective gasp the moment it happened, followed by applause.

Intellectually, of course, I know that the moon has no atmosphere.  As a result, I fully expected and understood that there is no dimming – the occultation has to be essentially be instantaneous.  One moment Aldebaran isn’t blocked by the moon, the next, it will, with no in-between.  But to actually see it was breathtaking!


One thought on “March 5, 2017: “I’ll take a new telescope for $2000, Alex”; and Aldebaran Occultation

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