Advice on Astronomy? I'm Full of it!
For better or worse, here's what I use under the dark skies of the Pacific
Northwest. Locals are encouraged to visit me under the stars to see what works
well for them; non-locals will have to travel, or just take my word about these
things... or just ignore me!
Why do I use Meade eyepieces? The simple answer is that, years ago, the company
I ordered from was out of 9mm Naglers so I took the 8.8 Meade Ultra-Wide. It's
not quite that simple though; I leaned toward the Meades despite pressure from
the local TeleVue fans, and the missing 9mm gave me a comfortable reason to
choose what I wanted anyway. My favorite observations have been using the
24.5mm Super-Wide, which feels like it has a built-in nebular filter! It's
wide, sharp and has great eye relief. Other Meades in my collection include the
SWA 18 amd 13.8, and UWA 6.7 and 4.7 for power.
It's not all Meade, however. When I went to the 2-inch focusers I planned to buy a 32mm Erfle for
power and a 50mm Plössl for maximum field. For the same price, however, I could
have both rolled into University Optics' 32mm WideScan: power and an 80-degree apparent
field! It was a big investment for one eyepiece (although not any more!), but
it was a great choice. I haven't found just the right eyepiece in the 10mm range, having tried
several in the past. I picked up a bargain Orion Expanse 9mm, which is currently vying with the
Meade 18mm and 2x Barlow to fill that spot.. no clear winner so far.
I do now have a full selection of color filters, having obtained a mess of them for
the Mars 2003 super-opposition. I tend not to use them often, but they are there for
when the time seems right. Oddly enough, my favorite color filter is not a common one,
though I've always maintained that it should be! I found a 48mm FL-D filter at a local
camera shop; while its intent is to balance flourescent lighting for daylight
film, it is simply a rose-colored filter that reduces glare and warms images
slightly. It works great on the moon, Jupiter's cloud-bands, and other bright
planets without seriously shifting the colors.
My main nebular filter is the Meade 910N Narrowband filter for 2-inch eyepieces.
Field tests showed it to be a match for the UHC in nearly every situation, with
two effects: 1) a slight green tint to images, and 2) about $80 more change in my
pocket. Reason 2 makes all the difference to me!
Although I always did a decent collimation job with my AstroSystems sighting
components, the price of laser collimators finally reached my price point. I
now own a Pro-Optic 1¼" laser and have tightened up my alignment a bit more.
With two scopes faster than f/4.5 that's a very good idea!
Alas, another new accessory is a pair of reading glasses. I tried a pair at
a recent Oregon Star Party and found out just how much better the maps can
look at 2AM with a little help. I wonder how long I've needed those?
Much to the dismay of many, I use a 4×32mm rifle-scope for a finder. It allows
me to star-hop from much fainter stars, and probably half of the Messier objects
are directly visible in the finder from a good site. People are often amazed at
how quickly I locate objects; if more people had these I would appear far more
ordinary! For the comfort of others I also have a Telrad (I take it out of my
box and show it to them when they ask me where it is). I mounted a push-button
on the front so the power can be switched on and off without losing the
brightness setting of the original switch. I have never gotten the hang of
Telrad use; my most common method of using it is from down the tube, sighting
through binoculars. I now own one of those red-dot finders, much smaller on the
tube and slightly less irritating; time will tell how much use it gets.
I carry three sets of actual maps and one virtual set. The paper versions are
the Cambridge Sky Atlas (first edition), Tirion's Sky Atlas 2000.0 (I purchased
the new edition at the y2k Oregon Star
Party), and both Uranometriae (without the field guide). These will get me
where I want to go regardless, but I tire of the page-turning when the hunt gets
hot in Uranometria. Therefore I turn to the virtual version, where no
page-edges interfere: the MegaStar computer atlas. This program and a laptop
keep me updated on minor-planet positions: no paper map can do that for random
dates and locations. Used laptops are cheap enough that this route compares
favorably to the new Millenium Star Atlas, and both the weight and the number of
pages (and edges!) in that three-volume set made the decision easy for me.
With the re-release of Peterson's Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, I've
added that to my books and maps. It's a wonderful, data-packed volume with
excellent Tirion maps and pretty pictures to boot. I've waited several years
for an updated version, and it's worth waiting for!
Several books come with me to the field, but most are for daytime reading. My
best first book was the Peterson Field Guide; I'm glad the new edition is out!
Sinnott's book 'NGC 2000.0' is a constant reference companion, assisting me when
three nearly-identical smudges confront me in the eyepiece. Another
highly-recommended item is the RASC Observers Handbook, which is full of good
information and relevant monthly data. The Peterson's Guide mentioned
previously has much of the same information for the next few years but with less
detail. Other reference materials include the appropriate monthly magazine and
MegaStar printouts of minor-planet fields (that laptop can get heavy - it stays
warm and dry in my vehicle).
At the '98 OSP I finally broke down and purchased a 'normal' eyepiece case.
It's just large enough to hold optics and one flashlight safely, so it nests in
a larger heavy-duty case that holds all the books and maps. The laptop is in a
well-padded bag that comes along on its own. I have a plastic clipboard for
sketching, one of those with a section underneath for holding pages, pencils and
the like. I added a red LED light on a stalk and a switch by the clip; the
wires extend to a pair of batteries in the pencil-holding area inside. I also
recently picked up one of those three-ring binders covered in heavy-duty nylon
that zips shut; it holds more pencils and notes from previous outings. It took
me a while to summon the nerve, but I gently separated the Cambridge Atlas maps
from the binding and placed them in plastic page-covers in this binder for
weatherproofing and safety. I hate breaking books, but the maps are better
Another handy item that will probably get more use soon is one of those
toolboxes that doubles as a step. With my next telescope or two having focal
lengths of 6-7 feet, this will be handy for myself on occasion, and guests might
use it frequently. Some day I will create an eyepiece box that fits inside