Night time observing session - first light if you will
03/20/2020 - 2.5 hours long from 20:45 to 23:15
-13C Yellow zone dark site, clear skies, seeing was average(3/5) to good (4/5), transparency was average (3/5) to below average (2/5).
AP 105 Traveller EDF, SVM2 mount. Various eyepieces.
Because I was testing out optics and it was cold, I hit up the standard showpiece objects and didnt look for anything obscure.
The plan was that I wanted to try and catch amazing dusk seeing and view Venus, then work my way west to east.
Packing up the car with this set up is a treat. The scope in its bag is stout and heavyish but very easy to handle. I grabbed it and my eyepiece case from the basement directly to the car.
Then I carried my astro chair and folding camping table in another trip from the patio to the car. Then the mount from the garage into the car and I was ready to go.
In contrast to my 12" dob, which also is somewhat grab and go, there is waay less work involved fitting it into my car. The seats all have to be folded down and moved a certain way to maximize room for the OTA, and the base has to be disassembled carefully in two pieces and placed in a certain spot. It is actually a lot of work, so this traveller set up was such a breeze.
The reason why this point is important, is because the refractor has to compliment the 12" dob. I will use the 12" dob in certain circumstances, and the refractor in other circumstances. If the refractor set up is too fiddly, I use it less.
Last night was fairly cold and I didnt feel like a fiddly set up for the 12". Plus the transparency wasn't going to be great so I was thinking this would be a double star/Venus night.
A short drive to my dark site and after 5 -10mins of set up I was ready to go.
The first 15 mins or so at low power showed heat plumes, which is to be expected. It went away after 30-45mins.
I do not use a finder scope. I use a 31N and star hop or scan to find objects. Then I put in a 17ES92 to frame at higher power. If I need to get closer, then goes in the leica zoom.
Because i was doing higher power work, the AP 2" 2x barlow and the 1.25" Tele Vue 5x Powermate were utilized.
I wanted to really bump up the magnification tonight to really try and see some details in Venus.
The leica zoom is an interesting eyepiece. I wouldnt rate it as being the very best Venus eyepiece. Insane glare made suppressing the light hard.
At lower power setting 25x, the Disk is perfectly focused. Crescent shape apparent. At 50x the disk when perfectly focused shows some stray light, which I am fairly sure its the eyepiece. With a barlow or powermate, it completely disappears.
On that note, I really wanted to eek out some cloud detail in Venus. I took a page out of Mike's observing book and tried higher powers with the 5xpowermate which made it a 3.56mm to 1.78mm zoom.
At max power setting, 343x, disk remained fully sharp and actually looked pretty good. I backed off the zoom just slightly, I reckon 2mm and enjoyed the Venus disk immensely.
I cant say that I definitely saw cloud details. I thought I saw only the slightly dark irregularities for only ephemeral moments of the seeing, but i twas just too hard to call. Since I was getting moments of spurious color (atmospheric dispersion) in the wavy seeing at times, I felt I couldnt say what I was seeing was a sure thing. I certainly could not have sketched it. I really think this planet needs a filter.
I changed it up and put in the 31N and viewed M45 as it was right beside it. Conditions of transparency weren't excellent at all, at the beginning of the night id say it was average.
The 4 degree views through the 31N are addicting. The stars are very small pinpricks. Even at 610mm and f5.8 , I couldnt really see any field curvature. I tried looking for it at the edges. All I saw at first were heat plumes then it got steady. It makes me wonder it I was seeing coma in less expensive fast optics. For this reason, this scope reminded me of the views NP127, although the NP127 was much heavier and awkward to use and mount via alt az.
Using the 17ES92, I can just frame the brighter members of the 7 sisters. Nebulosity was easily seen around the members. In fact, I think I am getting better at picking it out, and it very faintly looks like some of the photographs you see. That could be a testament to the optics (premium scope, diagonal, eyepieces) and dark site as well. It wasnt my best view of M45, but very good.
I scanned around with the 31N closer to Cass. I observed Stock 2 and the double cluster. The double cluster with a 31N exhibits 3.9 degrees, and just starts to take on that whirlpool shape you get with medium power binoculars.
There is two trails of stars that lead into the double cluster, and one of those follows to Stock 2, the other star trail in the opposite direction towards Cass.
From Stock 2 I starhopped to Mirfak and Melotte 20. Couldnt quite frame it all, this is a true binocular cluster but outstanding view.
I starhopped down the towards M31. With the 31N I could see M31 and M32. With the 17ES92, I could faintly see M110. Not bad, this is a hard target when transparency isnt above average. Even when it is, not all scopes can pick it out. I tried with a friend and an NP101 with above average transparency, and with the two eyepieces it was extremely faint. My friend couldnt see it at all, but I knew where to look and on further scrutiny, on the edge of visibility is was barely detectable. This night the conditions were not as good, so score another point for the Traveller.
I went back to Cass, to the last member Caph. I was actually looking for Caroline's Rose (season is virtually done for it), but I don't think I saw it embarrassing but I wasnt in the right direction, and if I did scan over it, there are so many stars in Cass and the milky way I was lost in the view! I did find M52 and observed that with all eyepieces, including the Leica zoom. Nice small faint cluster.
I decided to make my way back south then east.
I went after the Auriga clusters. These were easy pickings in the 31N. M38 and M37 really start looking impressive in refractor apertures of at least 100mm. I utilized the 17ES92 and leica zoom on these. Tiny pinpricks at higher zoom mags, looked beautiful but conditions werent excellent.
I scanned up Hyades, Aldebaran was looking great. Couldnt quite frame the 5 deg cluster with the 31N
I tried to find M1. Another one I scanned for and missed. I shouldve checked SS6, but I just didnt do it. I realized now I was scanning between Bellatrix and Tianguan when I needed to go higher up passed it. It is actually in between Bellatrix and Elnath.
3.9 degs really buys you a lot of real-estate in Orion. Can frame all of Cr70 which is always a treat. Can frame NGC 1981, M42, NGC 1999 all together. I could observe all 4 members of the trapezium with the 31N. With the 17ES92, the nebula really takes on some life and large bat wings visible, as well as M43's nebulosity. I also tried here with the leica zoom and 5x powermate, to pick up other members of the trap but no luck. At the highest settings the stars starting turning fuzzy in the nebula cloud, although a dark nebula right beside the trap was very much apparent.
I actually think I found a target I have never seen before, a small faint nebulous patch of light just above Cr70. On further scrutiny, I found M78 NGC2068, a reflection nebula.
I split Alnitak with the 8.9mm setting on the Leica zoom. Faint looking companion.
I quickly went after Meissa and Cr69. After some scanning around, I found it and split it very well with the leica zoom and 5x powermate. This was another great view, one of the better in the night. Hard star point with beautiful airy disk visible.
I made my way to the ultimate test- Sirius.
The conditions of seeing were not above average. They were about average, with fleeting moments of above average.
Sirius is a treat to view with a high quality apo. My 100ED struggled with it. It is a hard point of light in the AP105.
I tried with really high power with the leica zoom and 5x powermate but it was harder to pull out the companion. At those magnifications, it started to look like the 100ED does, were the pup becomes diffuse and lost in the glare of Sirius first diffraction ring, only visible but its inherent blue color that doesnt mix well with Sirius.
But backing down the magnification, to zoom ranges of about 14mm-10mm, the pup would momentarily jump out of the glare of Sirius and be fully resolved! There was no black space between them, and its hard to say it was a "split", as the jargon implies a black space between them. More like two orbs right up beside each other. But several times, the pup jumped out from the glare of Sirius and retreated back into the glare. This process repeated itself enough times to fully declare it split.
That makes the AP105 one of only 2 scopes that has ever done this for me. One of which being a Vixen100SF (100ED clone), but the seeing was during dusk and exceptional. Something I have only seen once in my 5 years in the hobby. Conditions werent nearly as good last night, and Sirius itself looked immensely better in the AP105 rather than the 100ED clone. Score another point for the Traveller.
The optics of this scope are so fine, they remind me of the longer focal length triplets like the SV80L and TSA102S. I cant say what is better, especially as they arent side by side. But when you use a premium scope, you know it when you see it when you play with the intra and extra Fresnel rings and racking out the focus in and out. It's hard to write in words, but you immediately know it when you see it, and you enjoy racking out stars in and out.
The wide field of views of this scope act like a flat field tele vue, just cools down faster. The Traveller seems like a mini NP127.
A few further notes of the night.
With this scope package (my eyepieces, my mount, the scope), everything just works which is an immense joy. The focuser had no problems freezing up in the prolonged cold (unlike the exceptional AT92 I had but at -19C for an hour). There is no tension brake on the AP to hold heavy eyepieces towards the zenith, as its not needed-it holds everything perfectly fine. Using large glass grenades as finders works exceptionally well with a short focal length refractor with a strong focuser. The AT92 was a joy to use for the same reasons the AP105 is a joy to use. These are skirmishing-style scopes that allow you to launch ambush assaults that you can quickly deploy against the night sky when conditions arent ideal in some form or another.
A small portable, high quality apo with great mechanics means even on the coldest nights, you will want to have a shorter session at a dark site. I can fully say, if you want an Astrophysics 92 Stowaway on a budget, I'd say buy an AT92. I think it may be Astronomics best scope. If you want a Traveller on a budget, buy an NP101. Your primary concern on that decision would be based on your mount.
That being said, the mechanics all around are nicer with the AP105 over both scopes, but you sincerely pay for it. Nothing I have used to date matches the build quality of the Astrophysics 105 Traveller, but then again, nothing comes close to it in price.
The reasoning behind keeping a scope like the AP105 Traveller, is that even though it costs an arm and a leg, it is a scope you want to use. Isn't that the most important thing?
To review so far:
Astrophysics 105 Traveller pros:
-build quality second to none
-large aperture in the smallest form factor
-rides very well on medium duty alt az mounts even high power tracking
-optics are sublime
-does ultra wide fov's, and high power planetary/double star viewing
-cool down is acceptable despite its tank-like robustness, seemingly a bit better than Tele Vue quad element air spaced frac (possibly 10-15mins earlier to go?).
Astrophysics 105 Traveller cons:
-price (buy once, cry once)
I still have another couple tests to do. A lunar session I am particularly looking forward to, preferably first quarter moon. Then I will try and catch Mars later this year.
Thanks for reading and clear skies!
Edited by Tyson M, 21 March 2020 - 01:42 PM.