Saturday, October 31, 2009

First Light Report on 8-inch Meade SCT ACF

If you have read my previous entries, or seen my posts on CN, then you know that I ordered an LXD75 8-inch Schmidt-Cass, supposedly coma free.

Well, my telescope came on Oct 2nd.

But because my personal life is in upheaval right now, I was not available to open it up right away. Instead, it was 16 days later on October 18th, when my dad and my cousin brought it over from my house to my parents', that I was able to get my grubby little hands on it.

Because I'm living temporarily in my parents house just a couple of blocks down the road from my own house, their home has become littered with my paperwork, and all sorts of equipment, from the work laptop and monitor, to astronomy books, to my camera equipment, to the tripod holding my binoculars; and now this behemoth of a telescope.

I had read on posts at Cloudy Nights that the LXD75 mount was not sturdy enough for astrophotography. I'm not convinced that that is the case if you keep the weight down to acceptable limits but I have yet to do anything close to photography with the setup. That'll have to wait till some time later after I get the hand controller and I've had some experience with using the scope properly.

Of course, the old curse was upon me as well. The day it arrived, in fact most of the whole week of its arrival, it was cloudy and rainy. I laughed, thinking it was ok, because I simply couldn't get to it anyway. But when I finally did put it together, I was struck again. (Drats!) Oh well.

So let's get to the report.


When I dragged in the two boxes, it was obvious which was the mount and which was the OTA. Both the mount and the OTA were boxed for shipping, with a second box inside for the actual enclosure of the equipment, the actual package of the telescope.

The OTA was well padded with the foam inserts both above and below, and contained smaller boxes for the diagonal, 26mm Series 4000 Super Plossl, the visual back connector, 8x50 finder and finder mount with screws.

The tripod legs and mount in the other box were much larger than I expected, and with a little tinkering (trying to read the manual in my excitement made the process harder) I was able to put the whole thing together in an hour. The mount itself was not only larger than in photos, but heavier than I expected. And the legs were larger in diameter than expected too.

There were 2 manuals packed into the box. One was an older version, and the other newer version said this was the one for the 8-inch SCT ACF. So I used the newer one to follow instructions to put it all together.

And then the disappointment. No, it wasn't the clouds, though that was kind of expected. It was raining days before and after I opened the boxes.

No, the disappointment was deeper. There was no hand controller for the GOTO mount in the box the mount came in. At first I thought I'd been duped, believing that I must have missed the fine print, and there was actually not supposed to be any controller, that you'd have to buy it separately. So I scoured the manual, and the order list; I went through every piece of foam and packaging, and looked under the couch, and on the table; and finally, I decided that Meade had indeed forgotten to pack a controller for the electronic mount. Grrrr!

A couple of days later, I called Meade to ask about getting a controller, and after presenting proof of purchase, they told me I must wait a month as they get in a new batch of them. They were clean out, which explains why there was no controller in the package in the first place.

First Light ... Sorta (10-20-09)

When the telescope first had gotten to my house via UPS, my kids had told my wife that they wanted to wait until I was home to put it together with me. But as that would not happen for some time, I decided that my kids should get the thrill of discovering first light with me. A few days after I put it together, they came to visit and I dragged the whole kit and kaboodle out to the front sidewalk, and swung the scope toward Jupiter clumsily using the finder to home in on it. Next came the confusion of a first attempt at using an EQ mount. Oy! But I finally got it in the scope. I then focused as best as I could on Jupiter, and let my kids look. My 7 year old is a great fan of Jupiter having done a project on it in school, so she was thrilled to say, "I can almost see the stripes!"

It was true, you could almost see the stripes. It was blurred, and non-descript, but there was certainly a band of something running across the disk, and the moons were lined up perfectly on either side. My 4-year old then took a look, and reported, "I see a dot! Cool!" Of course, she has no idea what she saw, and neither do I. Next my dad look through, and after another look myself, I put the scope back inside, in deference to spending time with my kids rather than the scope. The kids had already lost interest and the night air was very cool, so nothing was really lost. We had a great first look through the scope.

Back at that moment of looking through the eyepiece and "almost" seeing the central dark band, I began to crave the free Series 4000 Plossl set from Meade that was to come once I mailed in the coupon, because I wanted immediately to use some of the higher power eyepieces. I have been waiting all this week, as last week a rep from Meade called to let me know it was being shipped this last Monday, but nothing has come as of yet (boo hoo).

A Better Look and More Thorough Examination

It wasn't until a few days after that first use--almost a week actually-- that I could really put the scope through its paces. Of course, I still didn't have use of the electronics, and the GOTO feature is DOA without the controller. So I began to use EQ mount manually to get used to locking and unlocking the axes and swinging the OTA into the right positions to view stars in different locations around the sky. The seeing has been average at best, to downright awful at times because of a constant thin layer of scattered clouds and high fog.

After that first light with Jupiter and my kids, I've taken my scope out about 3 times, and saw Jupiter multiple times, and additionally M31 (Andromeda) (straight overhead...ouch my neck!), the Moon, the cluster in Perseus near Mirphak, and the Pleiades. I also saw the star paired closely with Polaris.

I am starting to understand the reasoning behind not overamping the maginification, after seeing the Pleiades. I find the view much more beautiful through my binoculars than with the 26mm eyepiece, because the binocs shows them as bright diamonds in one clustered view, rather than a few brilliant stars separated by black space; so again, I'm wishing for that set of eyepieces so I can get wider views too.

The Finder

One important thing I'll mention now is that I need to get a RACI finder. This 8x50 straight through finder is an incredible strain on the neck especially when poining toward the zenith, and I have to crouch down on my knees and contort my body in very uncomfortable positions to use it. It's actually easier to use if the tripod legs are extended only slightly; full extension wreaks havoc on my back. And when you can't find your quarry in the finder immediately, the strain becomes unbearable.

Moreover, the upside down and reversed image is a deterrent. I'm used to upside down and backward--actually, it's rotated 180 degrees, because that's the sum of "upside down and backwards"--because I've grown used to the ground glass of my 4x5 Wisner, a bellows-toting, large format camera. But there is a huge difference between upside down and backwards when seeing a nice bright view through the groundglass standing in a relatively upright position, as opposed to trying to locate dim stars in a constricted view while contorting yourself like Chinese acrobat.

Speaking of finder scopes, I tried using the polar alignment scope one day and was very disappointed that I could barely make out any stars at all, and was actually not able to find Polaris through it. The view is dim, and it is near impossible. Perhaps if I'm missing some crucial "ah-ha" moment of truth, someone more experienced can guide me by leaving a comment.

Star Test & Collimation

I realized quickly after my first viewing that it was important to match the finder view closely to the scope's view, so I set about going through that exercise. The first time I set the finder scope, it jutted out too far back from the scope itself, so I had to readjust it till the finder's eyepiece sat just beyond the back of the OTA, which helps but only a little with the neck strain.

I've seen so many articles and posts about doing a star test that I thought I'd try it and see how well this unit stood up to it. The only thing I can tell you right now is that when a bright star is out of focus, it's not a PERFECT donut. When considerably out of focus, one side seems to be ever so slightly thinner and flatter than the other, and when just barely outside of focus, the flare of the star's dot "leans" ever so slightly to one side.

So that brings the question of collimation. Meade says that they collimate all units before they leave the factory, but shipping may have introduced enough vibration to have decollimated the OTA. Unfortunately I haven't gotten my confidence up enough to try collimating, but I plan to soon. I'm not sure I know what I'm doing with it just yet, but the scope's instruction manual has a fairly detailed procedure, and I've found other articles about collimation on the Net. I have a feeling that if I collimate properly (and the higher magnification eyepieces that are coming soon will certainly help to collimate better than just the 26mm alone), then I should be able to get a better feel for doing a star test.

Fit and Finish

The last thing I have to report on is the fit and finish. Overall, not bad, but I think it could be better. The metal ID plate that is attached to the OTA is already peeling off. The finder scope has some bits of paint chips or dimples. The counterweight itself just lost a bit of paint (don't know how, but I suspect I might have bumped it when bringing it into the house). Anyhow, I can't really ask for much more for the money I spent.

Still, I'm willing to accept these minor finishing shortfalls if the optics and other important criteria hold up.

Well, I think that's it for now. When I get the hand controller unit, I'll report on that, as well as the Series 4000 Super Plossl kit.

Thanks for reading, and here's wishing you clear skies!

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