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18 Month Checkup: 20" f/3 Spica Eyes/Lockwood Dobsonian

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#1 Mike Wiles

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Posted 22 October 2020 - 05:46 PM

As I see it, there are two truths in visual astronomy when it comes to new telescopes:

  1. Nearly all new telescopes are "amazing" and "wonderful".  My 20" f/3 Spica Eyes Dob with optics from Mike Lockwood was no exception.  Heck, my 60mm Jason refractor that I bought as a teenager in the mid-eighties was the same way.  There's nothing like a new telescope.
  2. All telescopes have a "personality".  As a telescope gets used, you learn its strengths and weaknesses.  You find things that you enjoyed that you didn't expect, and you learn to correct or compensate for any of its peculiarities that will undoubtedly surface with repeated use.  And again, the Spica Eyes Dob is no exception.  

I've had the telescope for about 18 months now and I've been able to put it to pretty large amounts of use in that time.  I thought it would be useful to post a follow up report on the telescope now that I have a broad range of experience with it.  It's been nearly all good, and a few tweaks of the telescope in that time.  For the backstory on this instrument, I posted a First Light Report in July 2019 that can be found here.  

 

My original goal was to have the largest aperture, premium dobsonian that could be built with native tracking that didn't require a ladder or wheelbarrow handles and could fit into the backseat of GMC truck.  I thought I had exactly that 18 months ago when I took delivery of the scope.  And today, it remains true.  The telescope has continued to perform at a top level every time that I've had it out since then.  

 

50514499496_78e0080ee4_b.jpg

 

It's strengths:

  • Quality Construction:  It's still built like a tank.  The starting point of the laser beam for collimation has landed somewhere inside the circle of the CatsEye hotspot every single time.  Once collimated, the telescope holds collimation until its torn down for the return trip to home.
  • Fast cool down:  I run the rear cooling fan all night long, and I point a small box fan at the primary during twilight to aid in cool down.  The 1.25" thick optics are near equilibrium by the end of twilight and do an excellent job of remaining close to ambient temperature all night long.  The biggest benefit of this is being able to use higher power than I'd previously thought possible pretty much all the time.  
  • It's quiet:  The cooling fan is inaudible at the eyepiece.  It's possible to hear the motor on the tracking platform, but you have to listen for it.  No whirring of motors, no fussing with cables.  While this doesn't actually make the telescope perform any better, it's a great benefit to the overall observing experience.  The only time the telescope intrudes on the observing experience is to stop and reset the tracking platform every 80 minutes.  
  • It's a strong performer on nearly all objects.  I'm convinced that there's nothing that a large aperture, well made, well collimated and ambient cooled optic doesn't do well.  On my last 8 day observing trip I hit a broad range of targets, and the scope excelled:
    • At 475x, Mars feels as big as the moon just like those emails have been promising for years. 
    • Inspired and encouraged by fellow CN'er Allan Wade - Phobos, Deimos, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon were checked off my planetary satellites observing list.  
    • I spent a couple of hours teasing out and confirming NGC and IC objects in M33.
    • Globular clusters at high power are just ridiculous assaults on my eyeball.  This trip included confirmed observations of Pease 1 within M15.  
    • There's nowhere in the 2.5º space between the eastern and western Veil nebula that doesn't contain nebulosity. 
    • It was a joy to chase down and track near earth asteroid 1999 AP10 on October 17th for over an hour.  

This isn't to say that the telescope has been perfect, because it hasn't.  As I've learned its personality there have been a few things I've had to learn to manage and a few things I've changed.  None of them detract from the enjoyment of the scope or make me wish that I'd made a different decision.  

  • Low altitude objects are really low.  Viewing Omega Centauri and other far southerly objects will have you near sitting on the ground or kneeling into the eyepiece.  It's a pretty simple workaround to reset the EQ platform right before these observations as doing so will angle they eyepiece upward, making for more comfortable observing.  
  • I've wrestled with stiction.  I've learned to keep the teflon clean and to soap the bearings occasionally as a solution.  But early on, I had some issues with stiction, especially in azimuth.  I'm probably also jaded coming from an Obsession Classic as my previous scope.  There's nothing more buttery smooth than that telescope.  
  • The shroud continues to teach me patience.  The light shroud fits the telescope so tightly that it's a process to get it onto the scope and pulled down into position.  Since it only happens once it's a minor quibble...but it could have been just a *touch* looser fitting.  
  • The cooling fan and platform batteries have died. This is certainly from user neglect.  The 3ah battery for the cooling fan and the 9ah battery that powers the platform no longer hold a charge.  I've replaced them with more easily removable and rechargable 3ah lithium ion batteries.  If one battery dies, I just swap it out in about 30 seconds with a freshly charged one, and put the other on a charger in the RV.  This change in batteries has also had the benefit of eliminating about 9 pounds of total weight from the scope. 
  • I've never used the 'controller' on the EQ platform.  Normally, I just power it up and push it underneatht the telescope out of the way so it can do its job.  As part of the battery replacement project, I semi-permanently mounted the EQ platform's electronics to the platform itself, where the old battery used to be located.   Here's a shot of the platform's base with 3ah battery and electronics mounted to it.  

50513785728_0d36c3c94b_b.jpg

 

In conclusion, I had hoped to build a lifetime telescope with this project and I'd like to say that I've succeeded.  It has been the perfect telescope for me and has given me nearly zero issues.  But if I'm being totally honest, I have to admit that I've caught myself more than once standing at the eyepiece thinking..."I wonder what this would look like with a 30" mirror".  

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Mike

 

50514499426_175c9efa4e_b.jpg

The Animas mountains of New Mexico put on quite a sunset show while waiting for darkness last week near Portal, Arizona.


Edited by Mike Wiles, 22 October 2020 - 05:47 PM.

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#2 John Rogers

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Posted 22 October 2020 - 06:02 PM

Sounds like an awesome telescope.  Thanks for the original and follow-up reports.



#3 Sheol

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Posted 22 October 2020 - 06:06 PM

     You had a Jason Refractor as a kid too, huh? LOL My 1st useful telescope. Also had a 60 or 70 mm Jason with a built in Zoom EP. I used that puppy from 1977 (X-mas) to 1981. I bought a used Criterion Dynascope 6 inch reflector after that. Well, my mom did. Was a HS graduation present. Best one ever!

 

   Clear Skies,

   Matt.



#4 eyeoftexas

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Posted 22 October 2020 - 07:24 PM

Beautiful scope.  Thanks for the report.



#5 Codbear

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Posted 22 October 2020 - 09:25 PM

Mike,

 

That's a cute little scope you have there! lol.gif

 

All kidding aside, Tom's handiwork is very impressive. My SpicaEye 24" F3.2 was delivered by Tom in May of 2019 and I have been equally impressed. And yes it is built like a tank, which I love.

 

While I enjoy looking through my 4" apo at DSOs with its 4* FOV, I just don't get as excited as I used to with my 11" or the 16" (which I sold) anymore on DSOs...kinda hard to compete with the 24".

 

I got the GoTo which has been very beneficial for me. Since I have a muscle disease, I have it permanently housed in my backyard. Even though my back yard is Bortle 4, I'm sure it doesn't compete with your location.

 

Here's to continued enjoyment!

 

Sam



#6 Kunama

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Posted 22 October 2020 - 10:37 PM

Glad to hear that you're still happy with the SpicaEyes scope Mike.  Sounds like it is performing beautifully.

My SpicaEyes clone "Excalibur" (18"F3.5) is very similar to your scope and should do me for the rest of my days.

With Tom O's blessing I built mine a couple of years ago and may still build a platform for it.

 

Nice location you're set up in !!!


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#7 a__l

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Posted 22 October 2020 - 10:44 PM

You have thin mirror for 20" telescope (the thickness of the mirror in the center is 21 mm (!) .

If I remember it right, one of my quartz secondary has such a thickness.

What mirror cell do you use for EQ mode of operation?


Edited by a__l, 22 October 2020 - 11:07 PM.


#8 Mike Wiles

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 11:38 AM

My SpicaEye 24" F3.2 was delivered by Tom in May of 2019 and I have been equally impressed. 

That is a fantastically impressive telescope that you have.  When I took delivery of my 20" at Tom's shop, your 24" was sitting there in the shop right next to mine.  Tom said "just needs some final testing" about the scope.  It took my attention away from my own beauty that I was there to pick up for a couple of minutes.  It was sitting just out of the left side of the frame below when I picked my 20" up.

 

50520783936_9d3050db88_b.jpg


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#9 Mike Wiles

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 12:09 PM



What mirror cell do you use for EQ mode of operation?

The mirror cell was built by Nate Currier at Aurora Precision.  It's an 18-point design with whiffle tree edge supports. 

 

Interesting, I just went to Nate's site to dig up a link for this reply....and he's recently redesigned his website.  The mirror cell image that he's using on the site is the exact mirror cell that he built for my telescope...20" x 1.25" @ f/3.  

 

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#10 herschelobjects

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 03:39 PM

A beautiful telescope and a superb observing location, Mike. If I may, here is my 22" f/3.3 Slipstream version, a telescope I was very fortunate to acquire 4 years ago. As far as I know, it’s the only SpicaEyes scope of any size in Canada. Seriously, it’s like having a small, research-grade telescope in the backyard. The Si-Tech drive system, slip clutches and Argo Navis are a joy to use for this rapidly aging star hopper. The pointing accuracy is usually very good and frequently excellent. I have to agree with your assessment of the features of your telescope. You have to be careful with the supplied 12-volt rechargeable batteries; like you, I’ve had a couple lose charge over the years but that was due to negligence on my part. If I haven’t used the telescope for a couple of weeks, I top up the charge and before an observing session I make sure it is fully charged up. Congratulations on your acquisition, if it’s anything like mine, it will last forever.

 

 

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#11 Kunama

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 04:52 PM

Those SpicaEyes are certainly beautiful instruments, in both platform and" Slip" versions.  My clone "Excalibur" is based  on one of  his earlier designs, I am still trying to decide between the EQ platform or StellarCat

 

 


Edited by Kunama, 24 October 2020 - 04:36 PM.

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#12 Spikey131

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 06:39 PM

Thank you for the update.

 

It takes at least a year to get to know a scope.



#13 dustyc

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 08:07 PM

Pease 1 is a 15th magnitude object. That's if it was condensed into a star point source. Since you were able to confirm, I'd say the scope is DEFINITELY up to snuff. Great job!

Getting down to that area is on my bucket list.



#14 Allan Wade

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 01:04 AM

But if I'm being totally honest, I have to admit that I've caught myself more than once standing at the eyepiece thinking..."I wonder what this would look like with a 30" mirror".  

 

Which leads to the “I wonder what this would look like with a 50” mirror”.

 

Stunning looking telescope Mike.


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#15 glend

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 03:38 AM

Those SpicaEyes are certainly beautiful instruments, in both platform and" Slip" versions.  My clone "Excalibur" is based  on one of  his earlier designs, I am still trying to decide between the EQ platform or StellarCat

Matt does that fit in the motor home?



#16 Starman1

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Posted 26 October 2020 - 04:30 PM

Pease 1 is a 15th magnitude object. That's if it was condensed into a star point source. Since you were able to confirm, I'd say the scope is DEFINITELY up to snuff. Great job!

Getting down to that area is on my bucket list.

Depends where you observe.

I often get down to 15-15.5 magnitude on galaxies in the 12.5" when conditions are optimum.

A 20" in the same skies could go a magnitude lower.

To put that in perspective, that is about 2 magnitudes brighter than the stellar limit for the scope.

In the middle of a globular, it's even harder because of identification of the target.

Here is a list of faint, distant, targets to try:

Attached Files


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#17 dustyc

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Posted 26 October 2020 - 09:33 PM

Thanks for the list Don. It will with me on my next dark sky trip. 



#18 Mike Wiles

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Posted 27 October 2020 - 09:59 AM

Those SpicaEyes are certainly beautiful instruments, in both platform and" Slip" versions.  My clone "Excalibur" is based  on one of  his earlier designs, I am still trying to decide between the EQ platform or StellarCat

I went with an EQ platform solely for the simplicity.  I very much enjoy starhopping and being at the eyepiece.  I spend my professional life looking at a screen and finding solutions to highly technical problems.  I wanted to avoid that at all costs while observing....but I still wanted tracking.  That led me to the EQ platform.  

 

That being said....if (when wink.gif ) I were to ever commission another, larger aperture instrument I'd rather have a StellarCat or SlipStream system for tracking.  If had larger than a 20", I'd want the 6" of additional height from the EQ platform back.  I'm not the tallest guy on the observing field. :)

 

Your 18" is a sweet scope.  Knowing that it was built similar to Tom's design, your build thread on the scope was a factor in my decision.  


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#19 Mike Wiles

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Posted 27 October 2020 - 10:16 AM

Which leads to the “I wonder what this would look like with a 50” mirror”.

 

Stunning looking telescope Mike.

Thanks Allan!!  Even now, I spend more time looking at the "Mirror Blanks In Stock" section of Mike Lockwood's site than is healthy for my bank account.  


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#20 Ivan Maly

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Posted 21 November 2020 - 09:55 PM

Thanks for the update, Mike. It is important that users write reviews (or updates) after this much experience with their scopes. How many times a year, after all, do we get to go to remote sites. Hopefully we average 12. I think 18 months is the right time for a review, and of course only good scopes can get reviewed at 18 months. Glad to hear it is working well for you. A stable 20 that you can load and unload by hand is a treat.


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#21 Tyson M

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Posted 21 November 2020 - 10:04 PM

I absolutely love this scope.  Thanks for sharing your reviews, and check in one year later.

 

I am thinking about a lifetime dob, and this package looks enticingly like the perfect tool for the job.



#22 gatorengineer

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Posted 23 November 2020 - 07:34 PM

As a question, how do you look at an object 20 degrees off the horizon comfortably?


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#23 Mike Wiles

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Posted 24 November 2020 - 07:56 AM

As a question, how do you look at an object 20 degrees off the horizon comfortably?

This is an excellent question.  In my case, the only time that I'll find myself looking at an object 20º off the horizon is if it's in the southern sky.  Omega Centauri, NGC 5128, etc. 

 

In cases such as that, I'll reset the EQ platform before pointing the scope at the low object in the south.  Resetting the platform will "lean the telescope" to the east, causing the focuser to angle upward if the telescope is pointed to the south.  With the observing chair set as low as it'll go, it's seated observing and comfortable with the eyepiece in this position - but it *is* low.  


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