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First Light, First Telescope, First Marriage


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First Night, First Telescope, and Marriage

After two careers, raising a family, and doing all the responsible things that was expected of me, I am finally getting near retirement age and had to start thinking of what I was going to do with the next 50 years of life (ambitious, I know). I have always been interested in the sciences, and was completely enthralled with Carl Sagan's Cosmos series in the "70s (At least I think it was the "70s, as that decade is still a bit fuzzy, but much better than the "60s which I don't think anyone who was there remembers!) I figured that getting started in astronomy would occupy some time, not to mention it would give me an excuse to sleep late in the mornings.

While doing my research on scopes and such, I was just about to the point of buying when I saw that Hardin Optics was closing up their retail department and going strictly contract with their optics. I live about two hours away from Bandon, Oregon, where they are located, and my wife and I took a drive up to see if they had anything useful on sale. Boy howdy, am I glad I went!

Intending to buy a 10" Dob, I was scared off when I saw the size of the thing. But I was fascinated with a short tube, 8" Newt they had on an EQ mount. Still thinking that the Dob was my best bet, I asked about the Newt. Since the store was closing in two days, they wanted to move stuff. The Hardin Dobs are real popular so there wasn't much room for negotiation, but the Newt was a different horse altogether. When I got the price as low as I thought, they then threw in a drive motor to push me over the edge. The price was such that I still had some of my scope allotment left over.

My wife of thirty years, Sandi, was attracted to a little GoTo, the NexStar 80 GT. She thought it was cute. (I guess I should be glad that she thought the scope was cute and not the sales manager) Humoring her, I said that it was a small scope, but would be nice for the Grandkids, and it was portable, if not practical. The price on the 89GT was such that it still fell within my allotment, but I didn't want to seem piggish or impractical, so we left with the Newt and some assorted artifacts.

We took the tourists tour thru the lovely little town of Bandon, and even went out to see the world class golf courses. If you are a golfer, this place is heaven! The store was on our way back to California, and I could hear it calling as we turned south. As we got close, Sandi said that she really liked the 80GT and the more we talked, the more we (she) decided we should get it. Whipping thru traffic, I pulled in, threw down the card and took the little refractor out to the car. (I didn't feel piggish because two hours had passed since we were last in the store and maybe they wouldn't remember us) That is when I realized I should have brought my truck! Sandi's little Infinity was packed to the gills with telescope stuff as we went south on highway 101. (She didn't even mind that I packed such that what she called, "the weight rod thingie," was jabbing her in the back of the head as we drove)

Telescope stuff starts here, kinda'

We got the scope home and went straight to work assembling them. My Newt was pretty much all together from being out on the sales floor, but Sandi's little 80GT was all in a little bitty box. I secretly chuckled that I would be out discovering new comets and nebulae while she was still trying to figure out the instruction guide. Everyone has grappled with indecipherable instructions like, "locate and insert the widget adjustment assembly as shown in diagram number 62b." I struggled thru the balancing of the OTA (for a reference of my ignorance, I add that it took me two weeks to learn that OTA was the scope's tube and not some obscure astronomical setting) I tuned to her to ask where my little screwdriver was and froze in amazement as she was slewing her already assembled refractor around the room. When she asked me what our latitude was so she could enter it into the computer, I took it like a man, smiled, and pleasantly told her "25', 42" South ought to do the trick."

Finally having completed the set up on my Newt, I took it outside and dialed in the finder scope. Looking down into the tube, I realized that, although the sales manager told me the scope was collimated, I thought it was a little off. This is where too much knowledge and absolutely no experience can get you into trouble. Being the prototypical enthusiastic incompetent, I started playing around with the adjustment knobs. I soon had my Newt "perfectly" collimated.

Now to wait for dark! Dark isn't so dark once the coastal fog rolls in, which was about an hour before sunset. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I am sure that this is not true relative to meteorology, so I walked outside every 15 minutes till early morning to see if the fog had lifted.

The fog lasted two days and then a storm blew in. All day Saturday a light ran fell and the forecast was for more of the same for the next couple days. Luckily, that evening, it blew out and we had somewhat clear skies. We pulled the scopes out and set up in the year just as Ol' Sol was settling in for some repose. That is when I learned Sandi was right when she advised me 15 years ago to level the ground better before planting the lawn. Although perfectly balanced and collimated, I learned the OTA will not stay put unless the mount is level. Focusing in on Jupiter, I was amazed at how fast it drifted out of the view of my 25mm eyepiece. That was until Sandi asked if the front end of the telescope was supposed to drop slowly towards the ground when I let go of it. I deftly responded that it was a built in feature for tracking objects that drop below the Southern horizon. I tried to divert her attention by suggesting that she should see if she could polar align her little refractor while I made a few adjustments. "Oh, I have already done that! Want to see Jupiter?"

Gritting my teeth, I walked over to where she had set up. There it was! A bright white disk with four moons clearly visible. Turning the focus knob, I could make out the cloud bands! Awesome! With a new sense of urgency, I went back to the Newt and hurriedly tried to rebalance everything. Trying to help, Sandi came over and asked if moving the weights up the, "stabbing in the back of the head thingie," would help. (If you skipped the history, this comment would not make sense) I responded emphatically, "NO!" I had it balanced perfectly and what was needed was to adjust the legs.

Remember when you were a child, and your mother used to comb your hair and straighten your clothes while you stood like a mannequin? Well, there you have it. I stood still, holding the scope, while Sandi calmly adjusted the legs for me until the tube would stay where it was pointed. Of course I later learned she was correct about the weight thingie, but I haven't yet obtained the humility necessary to tell her so.

Thanking her, I asked her if she had taken the computerized tour of the constellations included in her cue little GoTo system. "Yes, but the trees around the yard would only let me see a few dozen of them. Lyra was particularly nice." I started to think that the cute little GoTo scope may not have been impractical after all, but was not prepared to admit it and render all my self-gained knowledge meaningless.

Tripod adjusted, I tried again. Finally, there was Jupiter! Three bright white disks overlapping each other to form a clover-like array. Suspecting that my, "perfect collimation," was not so perfect, I sneaked into the house to get the little screwdriver that came with Newt to see if I could improve upon perfection. It is difficult, but you can collimate your optics somewhat in the dark, with a target in view. I turned and tweaked and refocused until I could see the wandering wonder as a single entity. Beautiful! That is when I learned the difference between aperture and magnification. We were both using a 25mm eyepiece and although brighter than in Sandi's 80GT, Jupiter was not bigger. I could see the cloud bands and the moons a little better because of the brightness, but the GRS was indiscernible.

Easy solution to that; just needed a little more magnification. I put in the 9mm eyepiece and dialed her in. There I was, viewing Dark. Another epiphany, as I learned what the drawbacks of a narrow view eyepiece were. When I did manage to briefly capture the planet in the 9mm's view, it was still too fuzzy from my impromptu collimation to make out any details.

Time to throw in the 2X Barlow and see if that could give me some resolution. First, with the 9mm eyepiece. No way. Couldn't find anything. Next, back to the 25mm. Got Jupiter centered and pulled out the Barlow, set it in the adapter, dropped in the 25mm and looked. There it was! A large fuzzy circle with my spider web clearly visible. OK, focus! Dialing her in, it was ever so close to resolving, when I ran out of throw on the focusing knobs. AAARRGGHH! Technical point here, do not tried to take apart your Barlow in the dark to see if you can make it a little shorter. Those pieces are hard to find in the dark. "Please turn off the white flashlight and use the red one," Sandi asked, "I am trying to find Saturn and the flashlight keeps reflecting off the glass on the front of my scope." "That's your lens," I corrected through clenched teeth.

Resolving myself to more study, learning my scopes capabilities, and covertly begging for help in the Cloudy Nights forums, I settled in to just watch Jupiter moves across the sky with the 25mm. My frustrations fell away as I reveled in the view of another world and its tiny moons swinging towards the west, with the occasional satellite whizzing past. (Or was it East? Sandi tells me the planisphere makes perfect sense if you face South while locating objects in the Northern sky. Go figure!)

Finally, Jupiter sets behind the redwood trees my neighbor refuses to thin out because it might displace a spotted owl or some obscure genus of amphibian. Sandi suggests I look at Arcturus, high up in the sky and I begin swinging the EQ to the East. Twisting the fine adjustment knobs until my forearms hurt, I can almost get the 8" tube pointed high enough to see (I hadn't installed the motor drive yet). The eyepiece starts to slide out of the adapter as the scope rotates to the left. Catching it just in time, I learned the importance of tightening down the set screw when switching out eyepieces. Fortunately, Sandi, enthralled with viewing all the astronomical wonders her little 80mm refractor can see, didn't notice. (This would be a good spot to make a point about whether aperture size is analogous to life, but since this is a family site I will let the reader draw their own inference)

By now, I realize that we have been out viewing for nearly four hours. My back and neck are feeling the effects of fifty something years and the gyrations necessary to look near the zenith with a Newtonian on an EQ mount. Mercifully, the fog starts to roll back in. Feigning disappointment, I suggest to Sandi we should pack it in. I am certain that the intuition attributed to the fairer ****, and the empathy developed over 30 years of marriage, induce a willingness to call it a night and resist the temptation to point out how much she enjoyed her tour of the skies with her cute little refractor. Everyone should be fortunate to have someone that cares enough not to gloat.

Things I learned:
  • Never assume that research takes the places of experience.

  • Learn how to use your equipment before you undertake your viewing.

  • Set screws are there for a reason.

  • Motorized drives will save you a lot of work.

  • Have a bright red flashlight handy.

  • Collimation isn't as easy as it is made out to be. Especially in the dark!

  • Read everything you can find in the Cloudy Nights forums. There is a lot of knowledge out there.

  • GoTo scopes are wonderful for the novice.

  • Never underestimate something just because it is cute.

  • And finally, do your viewing with someone that loves you and already understands your eccentricities.


May the fog go elsewhere and your nights be clear.

Dan

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