Our goal at Cloudy Nights is to assist amateur astronomers in better understanding the equipment that goes with the hobby. We strive to accomplish this goal in three ways. by providing a forum for reviews of telescopes and accessories by providing a forum for commentary articles on the many facets of the hobby that touch equipment by encouraging and sponsoring events and contests to get kids...
Looks great on my iPad as well as my Macbook. Love the new features, much more contemporary. Thank you so much for investing in this upgrade -- I'm going to hang out here even more now (and I didn't think that was possible!).
Please visit my Cave-astrola website dedicated to the history and work of Thomas Cave, Jr. This has become a very special project that I felt I needed to do to preserve the history and life of a very special amateur astronomer, manufacturer and telescope pioneer, Thomas Cave. Please wander through the pages of this site and try to get a feel for a time gone by. The period is early 1950's to 1980. Cave introduced a telescope for the amateur astronomy market that had quality optics , a solid heavy mount and motorized tracking. The Cave-Astrola telescope became the most sought after equipment for the back-yard astronomer. Southern California was the hotbed for amateur astronomers and the birthplace of many telescope and telescope related companies. The planet Mars and it's canals became the craze. Thomas Cave and his father began a company to fulfill the needs of a growing astronomical and telescope community.
This is a collaboration of information from contributors from all around the world. I have collected articles and images from authors, newspaper reporters, Cave family members, friends, astronomers, co-workers and fellow historians. If you would like to help preserve this interesting period in our history of telescopes, please feel free to contact me using the contact page. Materials have to be original and owned by the contributor. Full credit will be given within these pages. Contributions do not have to be formal and in magazine quality, but can be as simple as remembering a conversation with Cave on his back porch.
Many articles are still to come. Changes will be posted on the sidebar to the left. The blog will also include the list of new articles, pictures etc as they are added. Enjoy!
Tom "turk" Terleski
"Sorry for the self promotion, just trying to learn the ins and outs of this new website software!"
MEADE LX 200 10" Classic, Vintage Criterion RV6 Dynascope, Meade 90mm refractor, Various EP's including 2 inch ES 100 deg. 14mm, UO 80 deg. 20mm, Meade 84 deg. UWA 30mm, Celestron E-Lux 40mm, Meade 56mm, Meade 2 in. Di-Electric Diagonal and a lot of accumulated "stuff".
Welcome to the New Cloudy Nights. Thank you for your patience over the last 48 hours, it will pay off in the long run. Below you will find the updates that have happened and the updates that will happen over the weekend.
The first phase of Cloudy Nights migration has now been completed. Which is great news, however the second phase is now underway. This phase can slow down the site quite a bit as we are importing all of the images into the forum. The third phase should start this weekend which will start the import of all the photo posts and related images that aren’t showing up on the New version of CN. After that phase is done the fourth and final phase will be to import the archives back into the live site.
The most important part of this e-mail is in this section.
1. Your log-in is now your e-mail address.
2. You will need to use the “lost password” link to reset your password as none of the passwords transferred over due to the encryption.
3. We are working on getting the classifieds up and running, but it will be a few weeks at the earliest.
So, welcome to the new CN. Look around and don’t be shocked if the layout on the sides starts to change over the next few days. We look forward to any feedback you have about the site and layout, but remember it will be slow for the next few days.
The 2014 version of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's Observer Handbook (now in it's 106th year of publication) has been out for a month or so. While the format and much material has been carried over from past years, there are several bits that are either new or revised.
As one would expect, all of the date/specific pieces of information have been updated to reflect the new year while some articles have been revised significantly. Namely Telescope Parameters, Galaxies Nearest and Brightest, and Radio Astronomy with Radio Sources.
In addition as has been the trend, you'll find some new content here as well. Two new articles: Observing Artificial Satellites by Paul D Maley, and Astronomical Precession by David G Turner and Roy L. Bishop both make their appearances. In addition you'll find a an article titled: Featured Constellation: Auriga by Chris Beckett.
Also one should note, there are a (very) few articles (or tables) that no longer appear: Amateur Supernova Hunting, and the Table of Precession for Advancing 50 Years.
While the purpose/general content of the book has not seen a major change observers who found the time specific data of use will certainly want to upgrade.
Like it's predecessor, the 2014 RASC Observer's Handbook is a labor of love and should have a place on every serious amateurs bookshelf (or stowed away in the backseat of your truck).
BTW - If the the Observer's Handbook is new to you or you're wondering what the fuss is all about, then you might want to continue on to read my post on last year's handbook.
Many years ago, when I purchased my first serious telescope, a 2.4-inch Unitron alt-azimuth, I began a love affair with refracting telescopes. The six months of scrimping, saving, and doing odd jobs paid off in years of delightful observing. As I moved to larger, more capable scopes and developed a severe case of “aperture fever,” the charms of the little 60mm faded away. But I have also learned that small can be beautiful, and the recent introduction of a bevy of small, high-quality refractors has re-ignited my interest.
With 50 to 66mm ED and APO refractors from William Optics, Borg, Takahashi, and TeleVue already on the market, the latest entry from Astronomy Technologies attempts to provide unsurpassed value in a package that bests the competition in price and standard equipment. The 66mm units from Taiwan are advertised as “apochromatic” and boast a price of $329, shipping included. Available in a variety of tube colors: White, black, forest green, dark blue, chrome, anodized red, burnt orange, and brass - this petite offering boasts some very desirable features. A dual-speed (11 to1 ratio) rotatable Crayford focuser, retractable dewcap, and CG-compatible dovetail mounting plate with ¼-20 mounting point are all included, as is a nicely made hard, metal-look carrying case.
Optically, the AT66 uses a multi-coated, air-spaced doublet that features one element of Japanese-sourced Ohara ED glass. Ten internal tube baffles provide excellent suppression of stray light and enhance contrast. The focuser is capped by a 1.25” compression ring fitting AND a standard Celestron/Meade SCT threaded ring that can accommodate SCT accessories, including a thread-on 2” star diagonal. The telescope is covered by a 2-year warranty.
The AT66 (top) is very compact and slightly smaller than the William Optics ZS66
With 66mm of clear aperture and a focal ratio of f/6 (efl 400mm), the AT66 is very small and light. At only 3.9 pounds and with a fully- retracted tube length of just under 12 inches, it is easily mounted on a reasonably sturdy photo tripod or lightweight alt-azimuth or equatorial mount. For my tests of the scope, I used a Celestron CG-5 equatorial - a bit of overkill, but rock steady.
A telescope this small with its expansive low-power field-of-view can probably get by without a finderscope. However, a recessed screw near the back of the tube can be unthreaded and replaced by a William Optics 6x30 finder bracket. I believe that this mounting point will also accommodate the W.O. fitting for a red-dot finder.
The Astro-Tech’s focuser is a dual-speed Crayford with a calibrated scale on the drawtube to “mark” the focus point for different photo and visual applications. There is plenty of travel and a generally smooth and progressive motion with just about the right amount of feel. One point in the focus range, however, has a small area where turning effort increases by some 40 percent. Not bad, and rendered not very important by the large rubber- grip focusing knobs. The 11-1 ratio fine focuser on the right side of the unit is very smooth, and necessary when high power is employed. A knurled ring can be loosened or tightened to rotate the focuser to any desired position – a little different from the thumb screw that William Optics and others employ on their scopes – but quite convenient and foolproof.
The retractable dewcap, a nice feature, moves without sticking or binding and has enough friction to keep in place when the scope is pointed vertically. A metal dust cap with felt lining fits snugly, keeping dust out and avoiding damage to the optical tube.
The entire set-up is well-made, displaying an unexpectedly high level of fit and finish. The AT66 looks a lot more expensive than it is.
Of course, the real test of any telescope’s value hinges on its optical performance. With good late spring weather and reasonable seeing and transparency conditions, I was able to put the diminutive refractor through its paces on a dozen or so nights. With a William Optics ZS66 Petzval and an Orion Short Tube 80 in hand, some definitive comparisons were possible. For evaluating what the AT66 could do when pushed to its limits, I used a Takahashi FS-102 APO to confirm or refute what I saw.
The Astro-Tech star tests pretty well. Racking Polaris in and out of focus at 114x, using a TeleVue dielectric star diagonal and TV 3.5 Nagler Type 6, I found generally good correction for spherical aberration and negligible astigmatism. Out-of-focus rings were concentric and well defined, with a prominent red outer ring on one side of focus and a similar ring of cyan on the other. In focus, the North Star displayed a clean airy disk and concentric first diffraction ring. The central disk did offer up the expected white-yellow hue, but the diffraction ring was tinged with a deep red, something I’ve noticed on a number of short-focus ED refractors. My unusually high sensitivity to red light probably exaggerated this effect. I suspect that the optical design and materials of the ED doublet skew correction to minimize the violet excess that is truly bothersome to many observers and substitutes a less noticeable red.
The small size and light weight of the AT66 make it an obvious candidate for terrestrial observation. When it arrived, after I tried the usual “power pole insulator” test to check optical alignment, I pointed the scope at some nearby flora and fauna. Using a 9mm TeleVue Nagler Type 6 at 44x, I found a neighboring blue spruce defined in sharp detail that created an almost three-dimensional effect. Color saturation and fidelity were excellent. Then, after hearing a sharp, repetitive metallic sound in the distance, I discovered an inept male woodpecker furiously attempting to extract insects from a metal-clad transformer box – a beautiful sight in rich color for me, but a Tylenol moment for the bird. The telescope does indeed perform very well as a spotting scope.
LUNAR AND PLANETARY OBSERVATIONS
After many years of having used APO refractors in the 4 to 6-inch range, my expectations for the little 66mm were not particularly high. I anticipated that the limited light grasp of the Astro-Tech and the consequently dim image would consign it to mediocre low-power views. Not so. With Saturn descending into the western sky, I managed to get a very satisfying image of the ringed planet. Because most potential buyers of the AT66 are not likely to employ expensive eyepieces such as the TeleVue Nagler or Pentax, I relied on an Orion “Shorty Plus” Barlow, standard TV and Orion Plossls, and a Celestron zoom ocular to obtain the needed range of powers. At 80x, with the zoom/barlow combination, the planet’s rings were clearly defined with the Cassini Division being just visible near the extremities. The South Equatorial belt was faint but visible, and the shadow of the planet’s globe on the rings was easy to see. Titan showed without difficulty, and Rhea popped into view with averted vision. Image brightness at this power was adequate to reveal subtle gradations in color. With the power pumped up to 120x, however, no additional detail could be seen, save for the Cassini Division which became easier to discern.
The planet Jupiter provided the biggest surprise in the little scope’s performance. Even though 80x seems insufficient power for planetary viewing, the disk of the giant planet approximates twice the diameter of the naked-eye moon and four times its area. The detail visible at that power was astonishing. Both Jovian equatorial belts stood out boldly, the northern one displaying its ruddy hue, and the Great Red Spot Hollow was quite apparent in the southern component. The Great Red Spot itself was questionable, but the South Temperate Belt and polar areas could be picked up with fair ease. At 114x, though the image dimmed considerably, dusky festoons could be seen in the Equatorial Zone. Additionally, the tiny shadow of Europa came in and out of view as the seeing varied. Unwilling to believe what I had seen, I verified the observation with a fine Takahashi FS-102 APO. In comparison to the AT66, the William Optics 66mm Petzval also delivered a sharp image with considerable detail, but the purple “wash” of its less-than-perfect color correction reduced contrast as powers climbed to 85x and above. The Astro-Tech scope displayed no violet excess that I could detect.
I was able to observe the moon in its various phases from ultra-thin waxing crescent to several days after first quarter. Again, the Astro-Tech impressed with its sharp image and better-than-expected contrast. A 21x view of the slender crescent with a 19mm TeleVue Panoptic revealed no color error whatsoever and well-defined earthshine on the unilluminated portion of the disk. Several nights later, with a working magnification of 80x, the scope clearly showed the linear “crack” in Petavius and the squared off central crater in the Hyginus rille. Shadows were dark and quite black, except for a tiny adjacent bleeding of deep red that came and went with changes in seeing conditions. At 114x, this minor color error became more noticeable, but the overall image remained very sharp and pleasing. At identical powers, the W.O. scope was awash in purple haze that required a minus-violet filter to reduce to acceptable levels. The Orion Short Tube 80, despite its larger aperture, couldn’t keep up with the 66mm scopes as it was compromised by the severe color error endemic to a short f/ratio achromat.
A few days past first quarter, our natural satellite became a fine target for some high-power viewing. Using a Takahashi 2.8mm LE eyepiece generating 143x, I found the lunar Straight Wall to be well-defined and prominent. The terraced walls of Copernicus stood out boldly, and the chain of tiny craterlets nearby could be glimpsed in moments of steady seeing – an unexpectedly impressive sight. However, the image became rather dim at that power, and the small exit pupil created numerous “floaters,” looking something like a group of drunken eels staggering across Mare Imbrium. Older observers should be aware that using high power with a small scope might generate this annoyance.
DOUBLE STAR OBSERVING
With reasonably steady seeing and decent transparency on a couple of nights, I was able to put the AT66 through some classic double star resolution tests. The scope cleanly separated all four components of Epsilon Lyrae at 80x, though the closer pair was barely resolved. Colors appeared to be pure and accurate, with none of the yellow-green cast created by some achromats.
Epsilon Bootis, a fairly difficult test, resolved at 80x and was easier to see at 114 power. The first diffraction ring of the primary star was fairly thin yet prominent, but it displayed a strong reddish tinge. The red excess of this scope does begin to show up at higher magnifications, but never to the point of ruining the basically solid image.
Gamma Leonis, Castor, Iota Cassiopeiae, Rasalgethi, and several other often-observed multiple stars all resolved easily while providing some very pleasing images. This telescope definitely resolves to its theoretical limits.
Finally, pushing the little refractor to the extreme, I tried to resolve the very difficult Delta Cygni, normally a test for a 4-inch or extraordinary 3-inch scope. Despite loading the magnification to 200x, the faint, close companion simply did not show. The AT66 is good, but it’s not magical.
THE DEEP SKY
Certainly, a 66mm refractor is at a severe disadvantage in deep-sky observing when compared to larger telescopes. For the same price as the AT66, one can purchase a 6” Dobsonian reflector or 4” achromatic refractor optical tube. But the little scope does have its virtues and surprisingly good deep-sky performance. Its real ace card is in low-power, rich-field viewing. With a thread-on 2” SCT diagonal and 40mm Orion Optiluxe eyepiece, an expansive 6 plus degree field-of-view is created at only 10x – just the thing for sweeping the rich star clouds of Cygnus and Sagittarius.
At higher powers (60 to 85x), the telescope’s excellent contrast allowed some fairly decent sights and created a number of real observing challenges. The Ring Nebula (M 57) just began to show its annular shape with averted vision. M 13 was at the limit of resolution, its brightest stars being glimpsed with eyeball-popping averted vision and patience. Galaxies M 81 and M 82 in Ursa Major formed a neat duo at 40x, and the Beehive (M 44) was a sparkling assortment of stars at the same power. None of these objects was particularly bright, but they were generally pleasing. Switching to a 12-inch Dob immediately afterward, however, made me feel as if I’d just acquired the Hubble Space Telescope. Not a bad thing at all.
One unknown characteristic of the AT66 is the level of quality control and consistency of its optics. The first telescope I received, despite its beautiful orange-copper anodized finish, had two serious flaws: The optical train was well out of collimation, and the focuser had two points in its travel that generated a lot of friction and a grinding sound. An e-mail to the dealer brought an immediate replacement and an apology. I suspect, as with many Taiwan-sourced telescopes, that quality control is not up to the standards set by the elite manufacturers such as Takahashi and TeleVue. I expect that consistent quality in Astro-Tech products will be achieved as the company gains more experience. In any event, it is comforting to know that reputable dealers stand behind the product and will make good on the 2-year warranty with a minimal hassle for the consumer.
In summary, I believe that the Astro-Tech AT66ED is a very fine instrument and an exceptional value for the money. Is it a true apochromat? No. But it is very close and certainly much better in color correction than the ubiquitous TeleVue Pronto and Ranger. It easily puts any short-focus achromat to shame. It won’t quite perform with the expensive 60mm APO’s from Takahashi and TeleVue, but it does serve up sharp, high-contrast, and very pleasing images. Everything one would expect to see with a small, high-quality refractor is visible, and the joy of pushing a telescope to its supposed limits and beyond is a real treat. With its diminutive size and inherent portability, nice fit and finish, and striking appearance, this telescope will make a lot of “grab-and-go” astronomers very happy. Small, in this case, IS beautiful.
Now, if they would only make a 90mm for a little more money.