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Observation Report
Fiddletown, Saturday, April 14, 2001

by: Mark E. Hansen

Saturday I took my new Meade ED127 APO to Fiddletown for it's first light. As it turned out, there was a problem with the primary objective lens, so I took it back to the dealer on Sunday and he gave me a new OTA. Due to this, I'm going to have a second "first light" observational trip soon ;-)

This telescope is equipped with a tracking computer, similar to the Meade LX200 class telescopes. I can punch in the "code" for an object and the telescope should just slew right to it.

To make the computer work, you must first align it (and the telescope). The idea is that you situate the OTA in a particular position, then lock down the R.A and Dec. releases. This allows the computer to "assume" where the OTA is.

It then points to where it thinks Polaris is and you adjust the telescope to center it in the view.

Should be pretty easy. In practice it's not too hard. Worse, if you should bump the telescope, the computer no longer knows where the OTA is, and you must align it again from the beginning.

I got to the site around 6:30. Shneor Sherman and Steve Gottlieb were already there and setting up. I knew I'd be leaving before them, so I selected a spot that should make it easy for me to just slip away without bothering them too much.

It only took about 15 minutes to set up the telescope. Also, it only takes about 2 minutes to balance it. Not too shabby.

While I was waiting for the sky to darken down enough to find Polaris, I pointed the telescope at Jupiter. Because I had no finder scope (that's another story...) I had to do it the old fashioned way ... dead reconning.

Once I got Jupiter in the field of view, the computer slow motion controls made it a snap to center in on it. From there the tracking motors kept it in view for long periods, even though I hadn't yet properly aligned the telescope!

I was impressed.

Jupiter looked pretty good at 250x. I pushed it to 475x and it just looked terrible. Of course, it is still daylight by this time and the seeing is not that great.

Around 8:00 or so, I decided to start aligning the computer. This proved to be a little difficult, but I won't go into those details here. Once it was aligned it found objects quite easily.

The tracking motors are very quiet. In fact I was unable to hear them unless I placed my ear up against the mechanism.

However, when you ask the telescope to slew to an object, it makes a noise not unlike dueling electric hedge trimmers. Later in the evening Steve pre-apologized for the noise he was about to make with his cordless drill when it made about half the noise of my Meade! Hmmm, this could annoy some people.

I first pointed it at a few well known stars that it uses for alignment. It found them easily.

At 9:20, Shneor came by and suggested I point the telescope at M3, a nice globular cluster. Should be pretty easy: punched in M3 and "Go To" and a few seconds later I was looking in the eye piece at M3! Pretty nice work, Meade.

Using my Tele Vue Big Barlow and a Tele Vue 9mm Nagler (250x) I had a very nice view. Easily seeing a cloud of stars.

I then decided to try M51. Still at 250x I was not able to find it. I then went back to the Barlow and Tele Vue 35mm Panoptic (65x) and was able to see M51 and M52, but they just looked like blobs (perhaps this is another case where I need to learn to see more details...)

At 10:05, I decided to do a small star test and look for diffraction rings. I pointed the telescope at Procyon and went back to the Barlow and 9mm Nagler (250x). Got real similar views on both sides of the focus:

We could easily see a very distinctive center dot surrounded by very round rings. Just slightly out of focus gave us 4 rings. When we moved further out of focus, we saw several more rings (8-10 total? it was hard to count as they were so close together).

Shneor came over and had a look. He said these were good patterns, so I now feel better about what I should see.

One thing we noticed was the outer ring was larger, brighter and fuzzier along it's outer perimeter.

Around 11:30 I was changing the orientation of the diagonal and bumped the telescope out of alignment. Rats. This means I need to perform the alignment from scratch.

I'm going to have to look into this, because I can't believe it's this easy to completely blow all the alignment work you've done so far. I must be missing something.

I worked on aligning it for about 30 minutes, and decided to make an early night of it. After all, I have a 2 hour drive in the morning to take the OTA back to the dealer in San Francisco.

All in all, I think the computer was a good idea. I hope to get better at aligning it (read: get faster at it...) so accidents won't be so much trouble.

I hope the new OTA performs as well. We'll just have to wait and see ;-\

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