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Observation Report
Davis, Friday, April 20, 2001

First Light Preview
by: Jane Smith

My telescope arrived around 4:45pm on Friday in 4 large boxes. I gushed at the UPS man for about 10 minutes, then he went about his way and I was left with the task of unpacking. After what seemed like hours, I managed to find my telescope amongst all the mountains of bubble-wrap. Gad, no wonder it cost $175 to ship this thing!

Eventually, piece by piece, my telescope emerged smelling of fresh varnish and simply sparkling. Larry arrived just as I was unpacking the mirror which pleased me to no extent as I was drastically in need of a little moral support at this point. Just the thought of handling a Zambuto mirror was scary, but actually picking it up and placing it in the mirrorbox was terrifying. But I mustered my courage, pulled it from the styrofoam, and picked it up. It was much thicker and heavier than I thought it would be. And once I'd removed all the protective coating I could see the little circle marking the center or the mirror. This pleased me immensely as the thought of taking a magic marker to my beautiful new mirror was unbearable.

Everything went together without a hitch. I puzzled over the Rigel Quickfinder briefly, but eventually it occurred to me that there was only one way it could fit in the baseplate, so I snapped it in. I didn't realize it would be mounted so close to the focuser, however later realized that it was a perfect place. I let Larry have the honor of removing the little black bag from the secondary, a task which seemed to please him a lot. He then proceeded to give me his "How to Collimate a Dob" lecture, in 25 words or less as he was running late for the SVAS monthly meeting. I paid close attention and, once he was on his way, dove into my first collimation attempt with zeal. However, I was about to hit my first stumbling block. Despite Larry's excellent, albeit short lecture, the collimation monster was going to rear its ugly head.

Whoever said, "You have to do it, to understand it.", certainly knew what he was talking about. Whatever I had read about collimation went flying out of my head as I stood looking in puzzlement at all the different tools. But not to fear, I am a determined, strong-willed woman and not easily swayed from my task. So I picked up yet another book and started to read. Eventually it began to make sense as I figured out what was what, where it went, what it was used for, how it turned and what all the screws did. My tenant manned the controls at the bottom of the mirror box as I gave expert commands such as, "No, No... Up, UP... nope, not that knob, try another. Oh, good, good.... that's the one... now try counterclockwise." It was truly pathetic, but we managed to get everything lined up eventually, or at least I thought we had.

Despite that the autocollimator showed exactly what it is supposed to when everything is collimated properly, the laser beam was still off when I put it in the focuser for a confirmation check. The beam hit just outside the bottom of the central marking on the mirror. This was a huge disappointment after having given such a vallient effort. So, after a hugh sigh, I tried again. I redid all the steps. However, this was to no avail. The laser beam still was not on-center. Hopefully Randy will be able to straighten me out. I'm doing something wrong but can't figure out what. I suspect it has something to do with the secondary, the one point on which I am still a bit unclear.

However, I wasn't going to let my failure at perfect collimation keep me from my first observing experience. Even though I wasn't pleased with the results of my collimation efforts, I hauled MEL outside for a look. There were several large breaks in the clouds through which I could catch an occasional star or two, albeit briefly. After rummaging around in Larry's little black bag, I found, much to my delight, a 15mm Panoptic. I popped it in, found a star in my Rigel Quickfinder, and proceeded to hit my next stumbling block. In all my concern for the collimation, I'd forgotten to align the telrad... ... did I feel like an idiot!

Out came the Panoptic and in went the 32mm Televue Plossl. I figured I was going to need a bigger chunk of sky to find a star that I could use to align the telrad. This turned out to be more difficult than I'd expected it would be. Having never operated a dob before, I didn't have a good feeling for what attitude to place the tube to capture the light. I groped around for a while and was finally able to find Capella (I think). It was in a rather large chunk of sky that was unobscured by clouds so stayed visible long enough for me to center it in my FOV and then move to the telrad and get it aligned. It was only then that I realized that my applied Physics had failed me and that the tube needed to be at a much lower angle than I had intuitively thought. See Randy, I told you that my Physics classes baffled me ;) After that, all was peachy!

I was able to align on a star, peer through the eyepiece, and VOILA, there it would miraculously be in Larry's EP. Of course, I didn't have a clue what I was looking at. The clouds were so thick that I couldn't make out one single constellation. And the patches of clear sky came and went so quickly that I only had a fleeting glimpse of what few stars there were. However, I was able to see enough to realize that I did need some help with collimation. I hopped around like this for about an hour or so after which time the clouds really came rolling in and my stargazing ended for the evening. Although this was horrendously disappointing, I still felt like I had learned a lot. More importantly, I had had a wonderful time. It was GREAT fun and only served to whet my appetite for greater things to come.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to this evening at Fiddletown. I am definitely going! However, I will check my email around 4PM just to make sure it is not a wash. Having never been to Fiddletown, I will need to follow someone in. What time does everyone meet at the Pokerville Market?

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