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My telescopes—Part 2

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What’s Up

By Steve Coe

My telescopes—Part 2

I went to Riverside in 2001 and fell in love.  The latest Nexstar 11 GPS was being displayed and David Fredericksen and I both really liked what we saw.  It is an 11 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that provided excellent contrast and a pretty sharp field of view.  I really liked the electronics.  In the past much of our time under dark skies was spent trying to find the object you were searching to see.  The Nexstar system made that all a thing of the past.  Once you aligned the mount to two stars very accurately it just found things all night long.  Amazing!

I owned my Nexstar 11 GPS for 6 years, it was a very trustworthy scope and I saw a lot with it.  I simply got the itch to try something new and different. 

Me and the Nexstar 11 GPS near Happy Jack, Arizona.

Meanwhile, in the observatory in Phoenix, I decided I had enough of trying to repair the Meade 7 inch Maksutov.  The electronics were a constant source of aggravation and I wanted to replace it.  So, I sold the 7 inch Mak and bought an 8 inch Nexstar to put into the observatory.  This made a big difference it two ways.

First, now I had a system that really could find things accurately from the backyard.  I started searching out double stars with this scope and had a great time for years looking at multiple stars.  Once I got it all set up, it never missed. 

Second, the handpaddle of the scope I took out to dark skies (the Nexstar 11 GPS) and the handpaddle of the scope in the observatory were identical.  So, I did not have to remember which scope was which and it saved me a lot of grief and mental gymnastics. 

In the observatory the Nexstar 8 GPS takes over from the Meade Maksutov.

Once I sold off the Nexstar 11 I got hooked on refractors and I have had one ever since.  My first refractor was another scope that was aimed at getting wide fields of view.  It was a 4 inch f/6 Orion refractor.  I used it on an Orion Sirius mount.  This set up worked quite well.  The mount was beefy enough to hold the little refractor in a steady manner. 

This small refractor had the usual trouble with inexpensive refractors—color.  If you aimed it a bright star like Vega and put in a high power eyepiece it was psychedelic; lots of blue and purple swirls of color that turned on and off with the seeing.  So—don’t do that!  It is not what this telescope was made to accomplish.

If, however, you aim this telescope at any Messier open cluster, or the Double Cluster, or the Orion Nebula, or along the Summer Milky Way, you are in for a treat.  There is good contrast between the stars and dark lanes.  Bright nebulae are surrounded by a sea of stars that can’t be seen with a high power, narrow field telescope.  No one telescope can do it all.

The Orion 4 inch refractor on the Sirius mount at the Five Mile Meadow site near Happy Jack.  What a great night for looking up and down the Milky Way.

Now that I am firmly hooked by refractors, I decided to try a larger one…could you see that coming?  I found a deal on the Cloudy Nights website and sent off the money order to get it delivered.  Once the scope showed up, I got it all mounted on the Sirius mount.  Then I had it made clear to me that this was just not enough mount for the 6 inch f/8 Celestron refractor.  When I touched the focuser to get a sharper focal point the scope wiggled for ten seconds.  Rather exasperating, wouldn’t you say?

6 inch f/8 Celestron doublet refractor on an Orion Sirius mount.

I started looking for a new mount and the folks at Starizona in Tucson come through again.  I decided to try the new Celestron CGEM and am very happy with its performance.  Now the big refractor is well mounted and the commands are very similar to the old Nexstar system, so there is little “re-training” to be done.

This set up is so good that I built an observing list around this particular scope and mount.  I call it the “Small Telescope Project”.  I add together the Messier objects, the brightest NGC, the best multiple stars and some asterisms that are favorites of mine.  All this is available on the Saguaro Astronomy Club website (www.saguaroastro.org).

Me with the 6 inch refractor on the CGEM mount at the Oregon Star Party in 2009.  Lots of fun.

Once I finished observing the objects in the “Small Telescope Project” I got the itch to try astrophotography again.  The CGEM mount lends itself to doing this and so I kept it and sold off the big refractor and some other accessories to acquire a wide field photographic rig.  I settled on an ED 80mm guiding for a William Optics Megrez 110mm.  I had been using a Canon 350D camera with the Hutech modification for some time to take images through simple DSLR camera lenses.

At the Table Mountain Star Party in the state of Washington I had nothing but trouble.  At one point I had about 5 people surrounding me trying to help.  I wasted 8 hours of clear skies and never got the imaging system up and working.  I am sorry; I have little patience for this type of stuff, so I gave up.  I sold off both refractors at the star party and I hope that the people who purchased them are having a great time and are getting good results. 

Astronomy magazine will just have to deal with not having my images for the cover next month.

It seems to me that once one door closes, another opens.  The folks at the Sun River Observatory were selling a Televue TV 102 refractor.  It has an aperture of 102mm (4 inches) and a focal ratio around f/8.  The views with it are excellent.  Sharp star images, detail on Mars at 200x and it is easy to use.  It is perfect for wide field views and also works at powers up to 250X.

Here is the TV 102 on the CGEM mount set up at the Antennas site, far from the lights of Phoenix.

You know me by now, I always want some more aperture.  Again, a member of the Cloudy Nights gang puts just what I want up for sale.  I buy a 9.25 inch Celestron SCT and it is in excellent condition.  These tube assemblies are famous for sharp views with great contrast and mine is no different. 

I split a double that had a separation of 1.4 arc seconds and was able to show it to Dick Harshaw.  He is the president of SAC and has much experience with viewing double stars.  When he says a scope is a good performer, I believe him.  I know that for a few of you, a split of 1.4 arc seconds is a “hohum” evening.  In central Arizona that is a pretty rare night.

The 9.25 SCT on the CGEM mount, again at the Antennas site.

I used the TV 102 and the 9.25 inch SCT on the CGEM mount for several years.  They did a fine job, both provided sharp views and good contrast.  Obviously the SCT has a much longer focal length so it was better for double stars and solar system objects.

However, (I know you can see this coming) I decided to take on a larger telescope for more light gathering on deep sky objects.  With that in mind I sold off what I had and made a deal with Tom Clark to build me a 16 inch alt-az scope.  It did a fine job for about 3 years, I saw lots of detail in nebulae and galaxies.  The views were well worth remembering.  I enjoyed the digital setting circles (Sky Commander) and it consistently put objects into the central part of the field at 100X. 

Then I saw that my eyes were starting to fail.  I had gotten all that I was going to get out of trying to view faint objects.  Detail that I had seen earlier in my life was just not available to my vision as I made my way toward my middle sixties.  With that in mind I decided to take on imaging wide field parts of the sky.  Dean Koenig at Starizona made me a good deal on a new CGEM mount and I purchased a used Vixen ED 80 from a SAC member.  I also updated my old Canon Xt camera with a refurbished T2i.  I use the system both to piggyback the camera with a variety of lenses and to shoot through the small refractor.  This new imaging set up does an excellent job and I am very happy with the results. 

There are a variety of things that I have learned from owning all these telescopes.  Here they are in no particular order.

There is no such thing as a good, cheap telescope.  Many people buy an inexpensive department store telescope for Christmas or give it to a child for their birthday.  Very often they are just a disappointment.  A decent starter scope costs several hundred dollars whatever you do and there is no getting around that.  Join your local astronomy club or get on the cloudy nights website.  There is a Beginners Forum here on Cloudy Nights, join in with questions from novices, we will try and give you a good answer.

There is no such thing as an all purpose telescope.  No scope will provide excellent views at high magnifications and then drop down to also provide wide field, high contrast views of the Milky Way.  If you invent one, patent it right away.  It is the reason that I have wound up with several telescopes over the years.  One for wide field, one for high power.  The good news, they both fit my CGEM mount.

For large apertures, the seeing is going to be the limiting factor on many nights.  If this is a well made telescope then the highest usable magnification will be limited by the air overhead long before the figure of the mirror or the brand of eyepiece you are using.

Which leads me to one of A.J.’s famous statements “eyepieces are a religious discussion”.  Assuming you have a good telescope, then the rest of the viewing is done by the combination of the eyepiece, eye and brain.  If you have some eyepieces that fit the way you like to observe, they are the “correct” eyepieces.  There are several brands of expensive eyepieces that just don’t fit my eye.  Either you have to get so close to the glass that you feel cramped, or I cannot find the right position for my head and eye to get the most out of the eyepiece.  Many observers use and like these same eyepieces I can’t or won’t use.  Try out an eyepiece before you buy it, or make certain that the company has a good return policy before reading out that credit card number.  This is another place where joining an astronomy club makes a difference.

I think the most important lesson is that the easy to use telescope is the one that will get used.  I learned this with the big, heavy 18 incher.  It just stopped being fun having to set up and tear down that big telescope.  The views with it were certainly excellent but eventually it had to go.

Once I saw what a joy it was to step out to the observatory, roll back the roof, put in an eyepiece, flip a switch and start observing, I was hooked.  I got a lot of observing done when I had the convenience of a backyard observatory available to me.  Yes, I know that my observatory was in Phoenix, but it still allowed me to do the Moon, planets and double stars.  I never ran out of things of view. 

I know that I have owned over 20 telescopes, and a wide variety over the years.  I have no doubt that A.J. and some of my other observing buddy’s chuckle about the whole thing when they see me with a new telescope.  A.J. has owned only three telescopes in 30 years.  Maybe he just found the right scope quicker than I did, or maybe I just like having a scope that is new to me.  It has certainly been a learning experience.

This is the 100th article I have written under the name “What’s Up” for Cloudy Nights and I am now going to call a halt.  It has been fun and I thank all the folks who have sent me messages saying that they enjoy my writing. 

Clear skies to us all;

Steve Coe 

  • Dave Mitsky, sftonkin, pstarr and 53 others like this


Thank you for the above.  Thoroughly enjoyable, candid and informative.



Thanks, Steve, for all the hard work.  I am really just getting into Cloudy Nights and plan on going back into the files are reading your past articles.  I understand from my own efforts the kind of work that goes in to such things and appreciate the effort you have put forth.  I can also understand your desire to stop after one hundred of them.


Best Regards,

Jeff Morgan
Nov 25 2014 04:03 PM

Nice article Steve. Thanks for your contributions!

I greatly respect you sir.  Thanks for your good work.


Ted Nashville TN

Folks, I appreciate the kind words and am very happy to hear that people will be using my contribution to CN.  I have often said it is a great place on the Web.


Clear skies to us all;

Steve Coe

Thanks for the articles, always a pleasure to read.


Clear skies, & Cheers as they say over here in the UK.





Thank you for your fine contributions to CN over the years. I'm looking forward to reading many of your previous articles this cold Wisconsin winter as I reverse a decade of astro inactivity in the Spring of 2015. 


Harvey Herman

Harvey, Mike, et al;


I am glad you have enjoyed the writings so far and I wish you the best for the future.  I am writing this under very cloudy skies, so it is the spirit of this web site.


Clear skies (in the future) to us all;

Steve Coe

Steve; thanks for all your article bud, it been a pleasure and an honor to read them, and Ive learned tons from them.

As for the never ending scope cycles, I think we all go that route eventually, lol.



If we didn't go through the "I need a new scope" routine, how would the Shop and Swap area ever get anything done?


Andy, I am always happy to hear from someone who has read and enjoyed my writing it is the big payback for doing the "work".


Clear skies to us all;

Steve Coe

I myself have many telescopes and enjoy astronomy like a true fisherman  with his many rods and reels and dozens of specific hooks for catching that right fish.I am following your very steps. If you turn your back you may just see me. Every telescope has a story of its own to tell the viewer .

Mr. Coe,


You are just so genuine and I am so sorry to learn that that was your last posting.

God bless you Sir and Thank you. 

Tony G.

Hi Steve,


I enjoyed reading your posts and am sorry to hear you won't be posting any more.


In reading your posts it sounds like you and I have had similar experiences and I am reminded of the old saying, "The best telescope is the one you use most often". 


These days for me this means scopes in the 4" - 7" range. I have owned larger scopes in the 20" range and used larger ones at star parties.


However at this stage of my observing career smaller scopes work best for me as they are easier to set up and use.  


Also when I observe I take notes and make sketches. It is much easier to do this when I am comfortably sitting down in an observing chair rather than standing on a tall ladder to reach the eyepiece.


In addition, sketching at the eyepiece has allowed me to train my eye to see more detail with the telescopes that I have.




Eric Jamison



Tony, thank you for the kind words.  I will certainly write some postings for CN, just a little more irregularly.


Eric, we have been exchanging messages about our observing for many decades and I agree that being comfortable at the eyepiece makes a difference in what I see.  Also sketching does make an observer see more detail.  I enjoy my simple wide field imaging, but my drawings are more personal.


Take Care;

Steve Coe

Jan 08 2015 11:49 AM

I have that same little Orion f/6 100mm scope. I have to tell you guys its a fantastic little achro . Never had to collimate it ,pin point stars right out of the box. And the CA is no bother to me at all. Nice job Eric.. 

mike h

Hi Steve, I enjoyed your posts and want to thank you again for introducing me into this hobby back when you were teaching.  I just upgraded from my Z10 to an xx16g and I love every minute I'm looking into it.


Clear Skies!

Feb 20 2015 12:57 AM

Steve, it's been a real privilege and always a pleasure to read your articles.  Great writing, great description of the objects, and phenomenal sketches.  Your book actually sparked my interest in taking my sketches to the next level.  Hats off! Thanks Steve!  

Aznights and Justin;


Thanks for the very nice comments.  It is always nice to know that folks are reading, using and enjoying my output.


Steve Coe

Hi Steve,  I've enjoyed your Deep Sky Observing book and refer to it quite often.  I thought I would put in my two bits on the one scope that can do it all: the TV-140.  Only about three dozen were ever made.  I have used it on an alt-az mount and been outside observing in minutes.  High power views have split doubles under one arcsec and low power is amazing with its f/5 speed.  A few years ago I saw the companion to Sirius at under 100X.  Just about a perfect all-round performer.  Ed

Martin Bonadio
Mar 06 2015 05:32 PM

Nice read Steve - it's always good to hear from you!



You are one of my favorite astronomy writers. I have two of your books and have read many of your articles over the years. I really like the youthful enthusiasm you add to your writing. I experience what you write and feel as if your words are my words--at least my thoughts. You know so much about astronomy, but you do not put yourself on any kind of stage above the reader. You are so real, so sincere, so genuine, so ... so ... so ...


I look forward to your next project.



Great read! Thank you for all your contributions at Cloudynights.



Howdy folks;


I am always happy to hear from satisfied "customers".  Nothing will make you think about what you are observing more than trying to write about it.  Realizing that other people are going to read your text (hopefully) gets you to write more goodly :p


Clear skies to us all;

Steve Coe

Apr 14 2015 11:25 PM

At least you'll still be lurking around these parts.  See you soon.


...out there!


Best wishes,


New to the community but really enjoyed reading through your experiences.  I just stepped up to my second scope in 30 years (should get it next week) and reading your experiences is helpful in considering options that are available.  I am sure the experiences have been memorable.

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