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Ranking SCT upgrades for planetary viewing

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#1 Rbuckyfuller

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 08:29 AM

I am pretty new to the hobby and have a meade lx90 8''. 

 

I have been trying to optimize my planetary views, and last night I finally got them the way I wanted them. 

 

Jupiter had multiple complex bands with "feathering" during good seeing and looked like a planet rather than a disk.  Saturn showed the Cassini division at all times, a darker top, lighter middle bands, and shadows on the ring.  Honestly, it was awesome and I couldn't tear myself away.  

 

While I'm sure it will be elementary for some, in case others are on the same path, here are the upgrades I think were the most important to improving my views (with cost in parens).  Really the first four were most critical, the others had minimal impact.

 

(1) Binoviewer.(Orion $125 used)  Last night was the first time I used one, and the difference was dramatic.  The planets looked bigger, with more contrast, and more 3d depth with the binoviewer.  I used two Svbony 15mm SWAs, and I think my binoviewer must have a integrated barlow given the magnificagtion I saw.  The moon was also knock-your-socks-off amazing through the binoviewer.

(2) Feathertouch focuser ($215 used).  Planets require very fine focus, and my Meade Lx90 stock focuser just did not cut it. 

(3) Learning to properly collimate an SCT (free!).  My manual for some reason recommended to use a low magnification eyepiece for collimation.  You need the highest power one, steady skies, and to be very slightly out of focus.

(4) Waiting until the planets were high(ish) in the sky. (compromises sleep, so very costly).  

 

. . . . there is a very big drop off from #4 to #5 below.

 

(5) Wide angle eyepieces instead of Plossls, these allow to watch the planets with tracking without them drifting to the edge of a view and with good eye relief.  ($25 each for redlines).

(6) Blue 80A filter (~$15).  Somewhat helpful, but usually requires me to look for a while before seeing the additional detail.

(7) Neutral density filter to dim down the planets. (~$15).  Same as above.

(8) Observing the planets near opposition. (free!)

(9) Peterson EZ focus upgrade kit ($35), an improvement to the focuser, but I needed a bigger improvement. 

(10) Scope stuff fine focus knob (~$20), not a big enough focuser upgrade to improve planetary views.

 

 

Stuff that simply did not work:

(1) All other color filters.

 

Do others have other upgrades or recommendations for planet viewing?


Edited by Rbuckyfuller, 14 September 2021 - 01:44 PM.

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#2 db2005

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 09:57 AM

Great list, thanks for taking the time to compile it. waytogo.gif

 

I find that adding the 0.63x reducer/corrector to my C8 improves views generally, especially off-axis. And, of course: Effective thermal management and dew control, but that almost goes without saying when we discuss SCTs.


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#3 MikeHC8

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 10:07 AM

Get Uncle Rod's book.  It will save you money in the long run.


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#4 Notdarkenough

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 11:22 AM

I find that the Baader Neodymium Moon & Skyglow is awesome for planetary visual observations. I use the 80A on Mars sometimes, but that is the only color filter I use. The Baader M&SG provides helpful contrast boost on every planet, vice Jupiter. For me, Jupiter is best unfiltered. 


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#5 REC

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 12:24 PM

Great idea for the BV! Only way to improve the views on the moon and planets. Do you have a dew shield? Besides dew, acts as a lens hood and keeps reflections off the front plate. otherwise, your good to go!


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#6 Napp

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 03:55 PM

I find that adding the 0.63x reducer/corrector to my C8 improves views generally, especially off-axis. 

Using a reducer when planetary observing would be counterproductive.  You would gain off-axis wise which is not needed for planetary and lose magnification.  Resolution might well suffer as a result of the added glass. 


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#7 ShaulaB

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 04:06 PM

If you are really into astro, waiting a few years until Jupiter and Saturn are Taurus and Gemini will be worth it. More degrees above the horizon helps.

#5 wider field eyepieces? Maybe learning to align the mount more accurately would help keeping a planet in the field of view at high magnification longer. And lowering the hand controller slew speed to the minimum setting will keep the planet centered. With enough practice, you won't have to think about which arrow to push.
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#8 Redbetter

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 04:30 PM

I never have seen any improvement with a binoviewer, just increased hassle and cost with duplicate eyepieces, etc.  Then again, I see as much or more detail with a single eye in my SCT and Mak as others describe with binoviewers.  The binoviewers require a considerably different focus position from what I recall, meaning that the mirrors are far from their design separation which impacts the overall correction (and focal length) of the system.  Some swear by BV's, I haven't seen any benefit.  I would put them far down on the list of things to try as a last resort if nothing else seems safisfactory.

 

I don't see any advantage to the 0.63 reducer/correctors for visual planetary.  They clean up the outer field, but not the central field, and they add a lot of glass.  They also result in some substantial movement of the primary/secondary position for focus from what I recall.  

 

Biggest impacts I have seen on planetary with SCT and Mak:

  1. Collimation.  If it isn't at its best, the images really suffer.
  2. Seeing.  Being able to evaluate seeing while observing, and finding conditions and locations when/where the seeing will be best makes a huge difference. 
  3. Observing planets at favorable elevations in the sky--impacts seeing as well as atmospheric chromatic dispersion.  The seeing component is obvious because of the "looking through flowing water" effect and how rapidly and how much the image fluctuates.  If the seeing is relatively good, then the chromatic effects of the atmosphere become apparent.  Usually seeing is a far bigger obstacle locally.
  4. Matching the eyepiece/scope to the seeing conditions.  Finding the optimum for the eye and the sky on a given night is how to get the most out of what is available at the time.  That is why it pays to have increments for high power.
  5. Red filters for Mars, I prefer a red #25 or sometimes a #23.  This somewhat depends on the sample of 25.  I have one 25 that is intermediate with the 23 in terms of transmission and another 25 that is quite dark.  The intermediate has been a favorite.   When the dust storm was at its worst two oppositions ago, I used a dark red 29 to show some surface features when it was just an orange ball to everyone else.  Smoke can also work to provide an excellent Mars filter...best seeing I have had locally came from smoke that stabilized the air/seeing--sufficiently that I was able to see Phobos and Deimos with my 8" SCT in the suburbs employing and occulting bar (wire actually.)

For planets there is no substitute for seeing.  


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#9 tommy10

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Posted 15 September 2021 - 11:59 PM

Best upgrade for planetary views is to upgrade your eyeball/ brain connection by sketching the planets. You can train your eye to. know what to observe , to see detail you would have missed , to look at Jupiter and notice how the bands and zones are interacting , to see when the red spot is about to peek around the limb, the chimney stack festoons , the golden brown orange colors of the NEB, detail inside the ez, the ba oval and the white ovals, all will be noticed after drawing them on paper and observing through your eyepiece. Same  thing with Mars, soon you will be able to tell how the albedo feature on a Mars change after each opposition, it’s not about equipment, it’s about experience.


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