Just dew it
I’m in the process of working out something pretty exciting. It’s a dark observing site on a farm that was recently converted to conservation land and the town conservation people actually want people there at night. Well, stargazers anyway, it’s not like they want crackheads or gang-bangers wandering around. Anyway, not being a crackhead or currently affiliated with a gang, I found myself in conversations with the people who make the decisions and it’s very cool to see something like this come together and be able to contribute. I’ll be more specific once the final stamp of approval is on all the permits.
Last night I went out there to see how it was after dark and field test my new mount. The equipment performed beautifully, but in many ways the viewing conditions were laughably bad.
The moon was at about 80% (waning), so still pretty bright and in the sky by 9:30. The cloud cover was much more then predicted, though it was mostly a wispy veil across the sky, which the moon did a good job of illuminating. Also it rained a lot this week and last night was the first cold night of pre-fall, so things were already wet when I got there. I could only barely see Polaris through the bright haze of clouds, so my alignment was a bit off, but not too badly. Jupiter was about two degrees east of the moon and so bright it was still easily observable. Thankfully, I really enjoy looking at Jupiter, since that was about all I was able to see. After about an hour or so, the dew decided I had been out there long enough and shut me down. It was gross and I had to leave my equipment cases open last night to let them dry.
So, crap conditions, but an AWESOME night! Don’t let my descriptions fool you, I had a great time and it was an important field test for my new gear. Next time, I may hold out for a clearer sky though.
While I’m on the topic, it’s worth saying a few things about my gear. This was a test during lousy conditions, so I’m weighing performance against this.
The scope I’ve been using for a long time. It’s a modern 8″ Celestron SCT and the optics are great. I added a high quality dielectric diagonal (bumped the light transmission up something like 9%), which helps too. It’s at F/10, which I like as a nice mid-point focal length.
The mount is new and a HUMONGOUS improvement over the old one, which was a lightweight altazimuth goto system. The PR-GEM is solid, tracks smoothly and I’m sure if I had been able to align it correctly would have been spot on. Set up in the field was easier than I expected too.
The finderscope is ridiculous. It’s like looking through a paper towel tube, but the build quality is amazing and it works like a charm. I’m very happy to have figured out how to align it in the dark too.
The eyepieces, some new, some I’ve had a while, all 1.25″, all saw some use on Jupiter last night. My old 40mm Vixen NPL wasn’t used much, but I still like that thing for figuring out how far off my target is while I’m setting up, plus it’s probably the only inexpensive 40mm 1.25′ eyepiece available. My 6mm (Baader) and 9mm (UO) Abbe orthos were great in the moments when the lousy seeing let me get focus, as expected, they had great contrast and pretty much no eye relief. The Astro Tec 12mm and 18mm are new, both good contrast and comfort and really seemed nicer than their price suggests. I also picked up some Explore Scientific 9.7mm and 14mm units, which could double as blunt weapons they’re so sturdy and heavy and only lose a bit of contrast while being VERY comfortable to use.
My dew shield, a necessity for a cold late-summer night, was left at home. How on earth I managed to forget it on a night like that is truly beyond me.