23 Jul, 2009
I haven't added anything in the past year, because the (too few) nights
I had the scope out provided no new information: fun and good viewing,
to be sure, but nothing remarkble (pro or con). But in the last week,
I've been back out in New Mexico, same place as last year,
and have had two spectactular nights--one coming after the biggest
rainfall they've had here in years. So this seemed like a good time for
a report on how the scope is doing, after a year and a bit of
ownership, under nearly pristine skies.
First off, not a single problem with the scope so far. And it's seen a
lot of bumpy roads, as well as its share of nights outside under a
cover. Given how dusty it is up here, a mirror rinse may be in order
sometime soon; but that's it. The scope continues to hold colimation
very well. Nothing new to report, and on this front, no news is good
I didn't do a careful test of the conditions on the nights in question.
I was viewing as much as possible. But stars of magnitude 6.7 near
the Little Dipper were not hard to spot. On the first night, the
transparency was very good, though the seeing was not. On the second
night, the transparency was OK, but the seeing was terrific. At the end
of the second night--spent with Jupiter, watching Callisto's shadow
near the great spot, and occasionally sneaking off for very nice views
of Uranus and Neptune--a light wind was the limiting factor on
magnification. No matter how much power I threw at Jupiter, the image
was sharp and steady when the wind calmed. But I "settled" for
300-500x, and was delighted the next morning by how well my eyepiece
view matched the image provided by SkyTools3.
Sidebar: I am writing during the day, of course, and have just paused
in order to fail (yet again) to get a photo of the road runner who
often goes past the house. Indeed, it sometimes knocks--well, pecks--at
the glass back door, and has hopped up onto the lounge chair outside.
But each time I reach for the camera, the bird either disappears,
or something goes wrong: no card in the camera, it
was set for 2 second delay, the battery just gave out; I drop
something that makes a big noise; the back door sticks; etc. I have put
a small dish of bird seed near the door, and will soon be ordering my
Acme catalog. But back to night skies...
Looking at a series of NGC galaxies that I hadn't seen before
reconfimed that the 18FX does really well on faint fuzzies, and that
the slewing/tracking remains very accurate. (Likewise for planets. I
was quite impressed when a later slew from Neptune to Uranus put the
latter in the field of a 7 Nagler: push GoTO, and there you are; hard
to argue with that. ) I hadn't seen Stephan's Quintet since the last
time I was at this site. My
notes suggest that the view then was impressive, though even better
this time. But the optics really strutted their stuff on globular
clusters and big nebula. Regarding the latter, views of the North
American with a Pan 35 and a nebula filter were jaw dropping--perhaps
the best overall views I've had in any scope, since the greater detail
visible with a signicantly larger f/4+ mirror greatly reduces the field
of view. (I haven't yet had the chance to look through one of the new
f/3.3 Starmasters.) Ditto for the Veil. I continue to be very happily
surprised at how well a Pan 35 works in the scope. Switching between
this lens and an Ethos 13 on a Milky Way nebula tour kept me
occupied for a long while, especially once I got to the Eagle. I'm
quite sure that I saw pillars, during an extended period of
sitting steadily. When I got up from the scope, the Milky
Way was directly overhead and almost dazzlingly bright.
Indeed, conditions were good enough to spot the central star in the
Ring Nebula. It took high magnification and a little scope
jiggling to get the star to emerge, more or less clearly, from the soup
for the first time. But once I had it, I was able to reduce the
magnification a bit and get a larger field of view, leaving more room
for averted vision. (But since the nearby 13th magnititude star was
annoyingly bright, I tried to keep it out of sight.) Racking in
and out a bit provided several clear glimpses, including one during a
moment of especially steady seeing that revealed a
lovely green-blue spark.
Hard to ask for more from a very portable telescope. Get it under good
skies, and it doesn't get in the way; it makes what good skies offer
readily available. Easy to set up, easy to use, easy to break down.
Getting and keeping precise collimation is not a chore; nor is cooling
the mirror, as I noted before.
Pushing the scope around and star hopping is fun; but the software and
hardware do their jobs admirably, with less battery drain than I would
have expected. I push more buttons than I did a year ago, and don't
regret it. My wife Sue (63" tall), pictured below with the scope at
dusk, loves getting quick tours.
As a result, she's much more interested in astronomy than she was 18
months ago. And while I hate to admit this matters, the scope just does
look good--in use, and even in the basement at home, For what it's
worth, I have stopped thinking about an 18" f/3.7 as
either large or fast, and not just because Singmaster/Lockwood
pushing the envelope. And it's not that I want anything else;
anything larger wouldn't fit through the back door of
house. It's that after a year and a bit, the 18FX just seems like the
size of a decent telescope, and pleasantly shorter than just about all
the others that can show as much.
I'll be out here a bit longer, and will add a few more observing notes.
But then I'll call it quits on this "report." Bottom line: still very
happy, and now fully comfortable with the scope.