Friday, May 28, 2010

Angst Over Which Scope to Buy?

This is a re-post from a thread on the Cloudy Nights site. Someone had asked about what kind of scope was good for astrophotography. Lots of answers there, and you should read that whole thread, but I gave some advice that I think is really good and wanted to post it here for the general astro-community that might not have seen it on CN. Here you go:

I am a photographer. My main interest in getting into Astronomy was to take pictures of the stars, nebulae, and galaxies. I went through the same hand-wringing you did about 8 months ago. I ended up with a Meade 8in SCT with Coma free optics, and LXD75 mount.

To this day, I have not taken one real picture.

This is for two reasons. 1) I found that the learning process is quite slow. Both in terms of theory, and reading, and also because you have to get to know your equipment. Astronomy is the perfect "lab-oriented" hobby. You read about something, you go and do. and 2) I became really enamoured with just trying to learn the night sky. You have to know what to image. There are quite a few objects you could find right away and try shooting, but the more I learned, the more I just wanted to look through the scope to get better at knowing the sky and its contents.

So with the SCT I'm learning. But then I got the itch to try a refractor. And with the Northeast Astronomy Forum just a month or so ago (NEAF), I ended up buying 2 refractors.

This is an expensive hobby. Go slow, and don't worry about "getting the wrong thing."

All that said, if you want to have the best luck at imaging, and you want to also do some visual study, get a small Apochromatic ("APO") 80-mm refractor scope, with as good a mount as you can afford (I myself want to upgrade to the Atlas -- BTW, these mounts are larger than you think from the pictures on the websites). Small scope, hefty mount, and a few nice accessories like a 2-inch diagonal, 2 or 3 eyepieces from wide-angle to high-magnification. You're already talking about $1500 easily.

But if you start with a small scope, you can use it anywhere, you'll like the hobby better, and you won't feel like you got the wrong stuff.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NEAF 2010 at Rockland Community College

This last weekend was the North East Astronomy Forum, otherwise known as NEAF (pronounced neef). It was my first ever astronomy show and fair, and I gotta tell you, it was a complete geekfest. I've never had so much drool fall out of my gaping mouth before. The janitor was following me around with a mop.

By the way, if you don't recognize these two fellas above, they're the stars of the Discovery Channel show, Meteor Men. I don't much follow the show as meteor hunting doesn't really appeal to me, but hey, they're celebrities, so I figure they gotta rate something, right?

So, anyway, in my early days as a computer hardware geek I used to go to PC Expo here in New York at the Javitz Center. The next big event after my computer tinkering days was PhotoEast for photographers, again at Javitz. Each year, these shows get less and less exciting, and so I've been less enthused about going to anything like that anymore. But NEAF was a new venue, a new adventure, and certainly a new problem: they sell stuff at NEAF for the duration of the two days, and many vendors drop their prices considerably in order to have you spend money.

Well, I couldn't resist. I did spend some money. In my next post I'll tell you what I bought, and also report on some of the neat equipment I looked into at NEAF. Until then, enjoy this photo of one of the largest and most expensive telescopes I've ever laid my eyes on.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Long time no see, and things to report

It has been a very, very, very long time since I wrote anything here. The fact is, the kids and work always takes precedence, and with my job, I've been traveling quite a bit.

Right after the last post, I got shipped off to California (sunny LA) to work on a Disney project. What was to be a 2-week stint turned into a 3-month engagement.

Then soon after I came back, I'm now traveling back and forth from New York to Boston for another project. While travel is compensated well, it unfortunately does not allow for much stargazing or time to write your thoughts down. It's one of the reasons my personal photo website lays stale for so long.

Anyway, let's get to some things I can report. First off, my hand controller arrived while I was away in California, and I was able to make use of it. Let's talk about expectations: I figured now that I have the computerized module, I would be able to see all sorts of things. Well, that didn't quite work out, as I had a lot of trouble at first trying to do the initial alignment the very first night. The scope would slew to places far from the target, and what I now know as backlash played havoc on my enjoyment of the instrument.

The next day I decided to read some more of the manual, and do the training that Meade says you should do by targeting terrestrial objects and using the hand controller. With training done, the next night I was able to do a much better job of getting the right target in my viewfinder.

The sights I saw that night amazed me. It's been a little too long to remember which objects I saw, but suffice it to say that I was able to view a variety of star clusters for the very first time in my life.

Some weeks ago, I also bought an SCT focuser from someone at Cloudy Nights. I was hoping to use the focuser in lieu of the SCT's own focuser. The additional weight is not great on the scope, but if it would prevent me from touching the mirror focuser, I'd be happy. Unfortunately, tonight I tried the focuser for the very first time, and found that I did not like it.

Fortunately, however, having gotten the Autostar to work properly last time, I was able to use the hand controller to see the "Night's Best" objects, one of which was Saturn. I had never in my life seen Saturn, and was quite excited to be able to view it through my telescope. In fact, I was so excited, I got my parents to come see it. My mom was completely amazed, and so has now, near retirement age, has seen Saturn for the very first time in her life.

Goes to show, astronomy will amaze everyone.