8i SE XLT and Accessories:
New Owner's Perspective
February 7, 2006
I've been involved in astronomy all my
life. I was one of the few kids
who wasn't put off by their department store telescope. I just learned to use it with low power
only and tried to ignore the coma.
Next came a hiatus in high school, after which I did my observing with a
Celestron 8 in the late 1970's on loan from the Physics department at college. Some more time went by and I spent many,
many hours starhopping with my Coulter Odyssey in the late 1980's through mid
At this point in my life, I wanted a
lightweight, easy to use scope that was appropriate for my semi-urban
environment here in central Oregon, so I chose to buy the Celestron NexStar 8i
SE XLT with a 24mm Televue Panoptic eyepiece and three Radians ? 14mm, 10mm,
This Observing Session
Well, after waiting since December 18th (when
I received my Nexstar 8i SE), I finally had a clear night last evening and was
able to take it out for a test drive.
In short, I was thrilled with the scope, it's mounting, and new Televue
eyepieces. Details follow:
My goals last night were pretty modest. First, I wanted to learn to use the
SkyAlign feature and evaluate its accuracy. Second, I wanted to check out the performance of my
eyepieces. Finally, I wanted to
see what the overall performance of the scope seemed to be in my relatively urban
environment. I live in Eugene, OR
which is a community of about 115,000 and I would rate general transparency at
about magnitude 4 to 4.5.
So, in order. SkyAlign is wonderfully easy
to use and is extremely accurate.
I had looked up the Lat/long of my driveway using Google Earth earlier
in the day and had entered them into the scope so I didn't have to reenter that
data, just the date and time.
Unless one were traveling a lot with this scope to different locations,
I can't imagine why anyone would need GPS because the data entry is so quick
and easy. I performed the
alignment using Sirius, Polaris, and (deliberately, to check the claims of
*any* three bright objects) Saturn.
Using it for the first time took no more than 5 minutes to set up and
align; the hand control guides you all the way through the process. After alignment,
I slewed to Saturn, the Moon, Mars, M42, M36, M37, and M38.
All objects showed up dead center in the 24mm Panoptic eyepiece. No problems
with the tracking, either. Objects stayed dead center
in the field for as long as I looked at them. I haven't yet done any adjustments
to the slewing directions or backlash adjustments, yet. I
can only guess that if I follow Mr. Swanson's advice (in his book or on his
NexStar Site) relative to those items that things will only get better, if
Mount and Vibration
I can't say enough about how lightweight and
easy to handle this scope is. It
truly is an 8" "grab and go". I
had considered buying the CPC 8" but was deterred by its considerably bigger
heft, and I am very glad I did not buy it.
Star testing on the collimation showed no
need for adjustment from the factory settings as it was shipped to me. Airy disks on both side of the focus
were circular and well defined.
I had concerns about the relatively
lightweight mount, but that turned out not to be a problem. Vibrations, when I knocked on the
scope, damped out in 2 seconds or less.
I can't comment on its performance in wind, because there was no wind
last night. Focusing, however, was
a major pain primarily due to the location of the knob immediately *beneath*
the diagonal rather than beside it as in the CPC series. The scope was fairly jumpy during
focusing. I think that a JMI
motofocus united may be in my future.
The folks at Astronomics tell me that the JMI unit will clear the base
at the zenith and that the Celestron motorfocus will not.
Saturn as absolutely magnificent viewed
through my 14mm and 10mm Radian eyepieces. I could clearly see the Cassini division and hints of cloud
banding on the planet. I didn't
try the 8mm Radian on Saturn since it was relatively low in the sky and I
didn't think that the seeing would accommodate that much power. I did use the 8mm on the Moon and found
that the focus was relatively easy to achieve and that the resolution was
excellent. All in all, I am very
impressed with the Radian eyepieces.
I can't say enough good things about the 24mm
Panoptic. The wide field views
were superb. M42 was a beautiful
glowing cloud which filled the eyepiece with a petite and distinct Trapezium in
the center. Gorgeous. The Panoptic worked well on the 3 open
clusters in Auriga as well.
Resolution was excellent, with M37 particularly well resolved into many
dozens of faint stars. The other
clusters were excellent as well with tack sharp images to the edge of the
field. I have to admit that star
clusters have, for many years, been my favorite DSOs.
Mars, at its current distance, and so long
after opposition, was nothing more than a featureless ruddy pinhead. I didn't push the power because the seeing
wasn't all that great.
For all the debate about the relative merits
of GOTO, I have to say that in an urban environment, it is a great feature to
have. Star hopping, as I did for
many years with a Dob in an urban sky, would be too difficult for me to want to
Some comments about some accessories that I
want to include with this report. The unit power finder supplied with the
scope is *awful*. It was difficult
and unwieldy to use and gave a false dot when viewed slightly off center. There
is a Telrad in my very near
Two accessories which I had already bought
deserve special mention. I had
already decided that trying to use the hand controller while mounted on the
side of the arm would be difficult.
I had read about an accessory made by S&S Optika in Englewood CO
called the "Wing Thing". It is
basically a plastic cradle which mounts inside the arm where the hand
controller fits and allows the hand controller to sit at a nice right angle to
the arm which makes for easy use while at the eyepiece (You can clearly see it
in the photo). A serendipity was
that it also provided a solid back to the controller while pushing
buttons. If I remember correctly,
the price was 29.95 plus shipping.
You can find them on the web using a Google search.
I also fell in love with the fanny pack for
eyepieces made by Orion. Talk
about a convenient and safe way to handle eyepieces while at the scope! It's very comfortable to wear and keeps
the eyepieces right at hand.
A Family Affair
I'll also mention that my wife came outside
for a brief time to look at Saturn.
She fell in love with the view.
I also persuaded her to stick around for a brief minute while the scope
slewed to M37 so that she could see an open cluster. She couldn't get over the view and as she kept looking saw
more and more stars resolved in the field. "Like looking at diamonds on black velvet" was her
comment. I better watch out╔.could
be competition in the future.