First light

First light it seems is the term used to describe when your telescope gets to go out and be used for its intended purpose for the very first time. A few days ago I received a bunch of boxes from Orion and quickly set about assembling things. I did have to make one phone call, read a bunch of directions and play with things a while but I finally got things running where I think they should be.

I Joined the North Houston Astronomy Club (they have a dark site in Montgomery and somehow are tied to SHSU’s observatory here in town, have to figure that one out later) and was headed down to their dark site when it hit me, I have no chair to sit on and nowhere to put my star charts, binoculars, drink, nothing! Fortunately I was passing an Academy sporting goods store so I stopped in to grab some essentials.

Once at the dark site I set up and waited for the sun to set:

Orion was correct, the views through this scope were nothing short of amazing and breathtaking. I got to see Jupiter, the Ring nebula and the Dumbbell nebula. I could clearly see the bands on Jupiter! In addition the Ring was bright blue and the Dumbbell was a pale blue, almost aqua. I had repeatedly been told you couldn’t see colors, they lied.

Since I bought this setup for astrophotography it seemed only fitting I try to take a picture so I attached my camera to the adapters and shoved that in the focuser to get some images. I combined two of them (one for the planet, one for its moons) and here is the result:


Amazing! Yeah, its a crummy picture, but for my first night out with no practice and no help really, it is amazing.

Special thanks to the NHAC members who were there and helped me find alignment stars, and even let me look through a Nagler eyepiece! Better than my Stratus eyepieces? Yes! $700 better? Nope, not even close. In fact, the guy with the Nagler seemed pretty impressed with my Stratus eyepieces, pretty dang good for the money.

What a night!

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Decisions made, packages arrive!

After spending more time than I care to admit reading, comparing and discussing different options I made a decision. I also came to realize that third party sellers may have idiots working for them that have no idea what they are talking about.

When I called around talking to vendors there were two that really stuck in my mind, funny enough they have almost the exact same domain name, and Here are their stories (dong dong): is a company named Hayneedle. They sell just about everthing, but have one website devoted to telescopes. They sell Celestron, Meade and Skywatcher primarily and were very friendly. After several conversations where I was explaining what I wanted to do and what cameras I had, etc, the salesman (Jeff) there sent me a quote on everything I would need to start based around the Meade Lightswitch 8″ SCT. is the website for Orion Telescopes direct. The salesman there, Laker, was very professional but maybe not quite as nice as the one from Hayneedle. He suggested a setup based around the Orion Premium 110mm f/7 ED APO refractor on a Orion Sirius EQ mount. It was a little more expensive than the Meade.

Now came the comparison: The Meade had the new “lilghtswitch” technology which supposedly could automatically align the scope just like flipping a lightswitch. Set the scope up, press a couple of buttons, BAM! You were good to go. Sweet. It also had 8″ of aperture and everyone in astronomy knows aperture is king right?

The Orion on the other hand had a beefier mount that was a true EQ mount and not a single fork alt-az. This means it can support more weight and do longer exposures. To do that on the Meade I would need something called a wedge and that isn’t cheap.

Doing a little more looking at things it seems I would have to learn to do collimation on the Meade, and it has to sit out longer to adjust to the temps before I could use it. It also has a problem called coma that the Orion does not (different telescope design). On further reading, it seems that since the Meade has two mirrors it loses a lot of light due to scatter and the mirrors blocking some of the light, the Orion is a refractor and does not have these issues. It is also very easy to put another telescope on the Orion mount, not so for the Meade. Lastly, the Orion package includes an autoguider for really long exposures (it’s possible to do 15 minutes or more!) while the Meade is limited to about 30 seconds.

Once you look at all the differences the choice was easy:

Now all I have to do it put this stuff together and make it work!

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This time I am doing things different

I have decided I want to get back into astronomy, specifically astrophotography. I will not make the same mistake I made last time of getting a scope because it was “highly recommended” and “what the vast majority of newcommers start with”. I am fortunate enough to have some money to throw at this and want something that will do a good job. I don’t want compromises. OK, I realize everything is a compromise, but I want something designed to do exactly what I want it to do, and do it well.

I am lucky in that this time not only do I have substantially more money than last time, and a greater desire to get serious, but also I now have the internet so I can do a lot (tons, and I mean tons) of research before I spend a dime. I am pretty good at that!

To start with I have grabbed copies of Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines to see what all is going on and find some vendors. It looks like the three big boys are still Celestron, Meade and Orion so I will have to check out the offerings from those three first. This is going to be fun!

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Beginning astronomy, and astrophotography

Whether you are beginning astronomy, beginning astrophotography, or both, you will sympathize with much of this. We all seem to start in a very similar way and this is my story.

My fascination with all of this started as a kid, as I am sure it did with most people. Since I was born around the time of the great race to the moon it was only logical that I was star struck (pun intended) with everything space related. In that time it was hard not to be. Model rockets were all the rage, and everything was advertised in some way with astronauts and space related themes. I don’t think it is possible that anyone will ever be brought up in such a space nurturing environment.

Fast forward to where I got my first “real” job, which I define as a job that not only pays the bills fairly well, but allows for enough extra cash to blow on not-so-cheap hobbies. I was really into photography so I had several camera bodies and a few lenses and I thought wouldn’t it be great to join that with my love of the stars? After much reading and many phone calls (this is pre-internet mainia so no web surfing involved) I bought what at the time (1996 or so) was supposed to be an awesome telescope for beginning astronomy and had some accessories. It was a Celestron 114EQ reflector like this diagram:

my beginning astronomy, a celestron EQ telescope Man how I hated this scope! Keep in mind I was a complete novice to this hobby, with no help, no clubs, and no internet to speak of. Rereading the manual over and over, and many phone calls to the store where I mail ordered the scope got me virtually nowhere.

I really wanted to like the scope as it cost me a small fortune and had me thinking of what all was possible. Unfortunately, despite what the salesman said, this was not a good telescope for beginning astronomy and even less so for beginning astrophotography.

I did however take one picture:

my beginning astrophotography, the moonThere were other pictures of course, but this was the best of the bunch, completely unedited (except scanning in the original 35mm negative, and resizing) just as it appeared on the print I had made. Obviously this was not the best beginner telescope for astrophotography. This scope probably spent a grand total of three hours outside spanning three occasions and was then turned into a living room decoration for the next fifteen or so years. I eventually resold it to a friend for his three young children who were getting started in astronomy. Since it had been so little used it was still in awesome condition and you could not buy a new one with the nice wooden legs anymore. I think his kids will enjoy it way more than I did.

I hope you enjoyed my beginning astronomy story!

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