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Impressions from a beginner's foray into widefield visual astronomy: short-tube fracs and binoculars

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#1 Escape Pod

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Posted 04 October 2021 - 09:51 AM

Impressions from a beginner's foray into widefield visual astronomy: 120ST versus binoculars

 

Part One: New Toys

 

The first year of my return to astronomy as an adult was marked by misadventures as I struggled to learn how to use my equipment. 

 

A beginner’s take on the 80mm ED refractor versus the 150mm Mak

 

One of my initial impressions was that while a widefield frac is less demanding on the beginner than a medium-sized catadioptric like the mak, the larger aperture of the Mak was much more rewarding for most targets once I finally mastered mounting and using it. While the moon is pretty spectacular in either, comparing the acceptable view of M42 through an 80mm frac to the jaw dropper that the 150mm mak taught me the meaning of aperture fever.

 

"How cool would this look in a big dob," I wondered. 

 

Another impression was that many of the targets I was looking for were either not visible (e.g. North American nebula--even with filter) or just not that impressive even at 150mm (e.g. Pinwheel galaxy). I found myself circling back to the bright shiny ones like M31, M42, Double Cluster, and Bode/Cigar. 

 

Recently a fellow CN'er who found the thread, ABQJeff, pointed out to me that I was using the wrong tool (a 150mm Mak) to take in big targets like the North American nebula. Even with my 38mm 70* eyepiece, I was only seeing a sliver--which is to say nothing. Two things became obvious.

 

First, I should've been doing a better job planning my viewing sessions using tools like telescopius.com or SkySafari, including estimating the FOV for various objects. The GoTo was making me lazy.

 

Second, I should've been using my 80mm ED for larger DSOs. 

 

Therein lies my first equipment dilemma. I had purchased the SkyWatcher 80ED as a do-it-all grab and go that I could scan the sky with big eyepieces, barlow for planets, and begin to experiment with astrophotography on. But having tasted the resolving capability of the 150mm Mak on smaller DSOs like Orion's nebula, it was hard to go back to 80mm. The comments of ABQJeff and others made me feel like I wasn't unreasonable in this regard. He, and so many others I spoke to in a thread on approaches to widefield all pointed in one of two directions: The 120mm Short Tube refractor, or binoculars. 

 

Which approach to widefield is more awe inspiring? Short tube refractor or bino?

 

Unfortunately I couldn't get a clear impression of which would provide more inspiring windows into the cosmos. Do I go for maximum light gathering with a telescope and filters, or do I experience the simplicity and joy of stereo astronomy through a pair of binoculars? 

 

Greedily, I chose to pursue both. Having isolated the Orion 120ST with an alt-az mount as a way to explore widefield targets through a telescope, I turned to the CN binocular community to identify the best pair of under-$200 binoculars to accompany the short tube refractor. 

 

Only one bino: 8x42 (spacewalk), 15x70 (starfield), or 10x50 (Goldilocks?)?

 

As you can see in that thread, I failed in my mission to identify just one. Most say that if you can only afford one pair, it should be a 10x50 that balances light gathering, magnification, FOV and weight for hand-holdability. Others swear by their 7x35 wide-angles for their ability to spacewalk. So I ordered one example of each at around $100 a piece. 

 

I'm opening this thread as a way of accounting for my initial impressions.

 

Next up: Fast tubes mean expensive eyepieces. My first experience with Explore Scientific 82* hand grenades. 


Edited by Escape Pod, 04 October 2021 - 09:51 AM.

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#2 Escape Pod

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Posted 04 October 2021 - 10:11 AM

Fast tubes mean expensive eyepieces: My first experience with Explore Scientific 82* hand grenades? Meh. 

 

One downside of owning a short tube refractor like the Orion 120st is that they have a fast focal ratio (f/5 in the case of this one) that is much less forgiving of cheaper eyepieces like my Agena 38mm 70*. So after ordering the OTA I hit the Cloudy Nights classified section and started looking for suitable replacements, preferably ones that are parafocal.

 

One line that seemed to be well-regarded was the Explore Scientific 82 degree series. The ES 30mm 82* would allow me to achieve the same TFOV as my 38mm Agena 70* but at higher magnification and all the benefits that come with it in terms of dark-sky contrast. Similarly, the ES 24mm would give me about the same TFOV as my 30mm APM UFF 70*. I also found a 14mm 1.25" piece to help complete the set and give me greater range. 

 

They arrived before Orion shipped the 120ST, on an inexplicably clear night at that. So I took them out with the 150mm Mak to visit M31 and do a comparison against my bargain eyepieces and finally see how the other side lives.

 

The results -- at least in my f/12 Mak--were a little underwhelming to my untrained eye. 

 

Firstly, when you're moving from a 2" eyepiece to a 1.25" on stepdown ring into the 2" diagonal, the eyepieces are not parafocal. That was annoying. Makes me think I should've gotten the 2" 18mm ES 82 instead. 
 

Secondly, and more surprisingly/dissappointedly, they didn't produce a remarkable improvement in visual quality compared to my Agena 38mm 70* or my APM 30mm UFF 70*. Don't get me wrong. They looked very good. But in a "blind taste test", I'm not sure I would've favored them. For one, the starfield of a 38mm 70* "felt" easier to see than on an 82*. 

 

I don't have the technical understanding of optics to fully explain why.

 

Was it the difference in eye relief? I didn't seem to have a problem with eye relief on the ES 82s, though I did come to understand what folks mean by fishing your eye around the eyepiece to take it all in. 

 

Was it the difference in exit pupil? For a given FOV, a longer focal length eyepiece will give a larger exit pupil. Less of a big deal for the 120ST with an f/5 focal ratio. But on the f/12 Mak....

 

Or do I just not have the palate for expensive glass? 

 

We'll see once the 120ST comes and the skies clear. 


Edited by Escape Pod, 04 October 2021 - 12:42 PM.

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#3 jefffed

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Posted 04 October 2021 - 11:37 AM

The Mak at f/12 is most forgiving when it comes to abberations in the eyepiece. You will see a difference when the 120ST arrives.


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#4 NYJohn S

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Posted 04 October 2021 - 12:44 PM

In the ST120 you'll see a difference with the better corrected eyepieces. The problem is with the field curvature the stars won't stay sharp towards the outer edge of the field. If you want that you could get the TSFLAT2 - https://www.teleskop...-Anschluss.html

 

I don't have the TSFLAT2 but plan on getting one. I use my ST120 with the APM 30mm, the Agena 70º 38mm and ES 68º 24mm. The APM 30mm puts up a much nicer well corrected view but the Agena 70º 38mm works well enough for large DSO like the North America Nebula, Veil & M31. The ES 68 24mm also works nicely in the scope.

 

To me the ST120 is best used as a wide field scope. You might want to consider using it along side your Mak. Use Mak for the higher magnifications and the ST120 for larger DSO and wide field sweeping. 

 

That's what I did on my last dark site trip and it was the best week of observing I have had so far. I also bring my 10x50 & 7x40 binoculars. I love the 7x40's under dark skies, they give me a nice 7.3º FOV, but at home in my Bortle 5 sky the 10x50's darken the sky so I prefer them.

 

Here's my AD10 & ST120 side by side from the last trip. 

Attached Thumbnails

  • AD10 & ST120 1500px_9875.jpg

Edited by NYJohn S, 04 October 2021 - 01:40 PM.

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#5 Escape Pod

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Posted 04 October 2021 - 12:54 PM

In the ST120 you'll see a difference with the better corrected eyepieces. The problem is with the field curvature the stars won't stay sharp towards the outer edge of the field. If you want that you could get the TSFLAT2 - https://www.teleskop...-Anschluss.html

 

I don't have the TSFLAT2 but plan on getting one. I use my ST120 with the APM 30mm, the Agena 70º 38mm and ES 68º 24mm. The APM 30mm puts up a much nicer well corrected view but the Agena 70º 30mm works well enough for large DSO like the North America Nebula, Veil & M31. ES 68 24mm also works nicely in the scope.

 

To me the ST120 is best used as a wide field scope. You might want to consider using it along side your Mak. Use Mak for the higher magnifications and the ST120 for larger DSO and wide field sweeping. 

 

That's what I did on my last dark site trip and it was the best week of observing I have had so far. I also bring my 10x50 & 7x40 binoculars. I love the 7x40's under dark skies, they give me a nice 7.3º FOV, but at home in my Bortle 5 sky the 10x50's darken the sky so I prefer them.

 

Here's my AD10 & ST120 side by side from the last trip. 

That's absolutely the plan, John. Mak for small DSOs and solar system stuff, 120ST for the wide fields. I'm very encouraged to hear your positive results. 

 

I'm also impressed that the Agena held up well enough on the 120ST. That APM 30mm is known to be an amazing eyepiece, so I'm not surprised that it did will. But based on some of the things you read on hear, you would've thought that the Agena on an F5 would've looked like a kaleidoscope or something :). I'm going to hold off on selling any eyepieces until I do the test on the 120ST. I bought the ES 82s used, so I can sell them used if need be. 


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#6 NYJohn S

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Posted 04 October 2021 - 01:33 PM

That's absolutely the plan, John. Mak for small DSOs and solar system stuff, 120ST for the wide fields. I'm very encouraged to hear your positive results. 

 

I'm also impressed that the Agena held up well enough on the 120ST. That APM 30mm is known to be an amazing eyepiece, so I'm not surprised that it did will. But based on some of the things you read on hear, you would've thought that the Agena on an F5 would've looked like a kaleidoscope or something smile.gif. I'm going to hold off on selling any eyepieces until I do the test on the 120ST. I bought the ES 82s used, so I can sell them used if need be. 

I think you'll enjoy the ST120. The Agena does show a lot of off axis astigmatism so the stars become elongated near the outer edge of the field. I just try to look past that and accept it for what it is while enjoying the wide views. The APM 30mm spent more time in the scope because of that. 

 

I had it under dark skies for a week so I viewed quite a few objects and tried different eyepieces and even eyepiece / Barlow combinations. I found it was good up to about 110x. I had the Dob so I usually stayed at lower magnifications with it, 15x-40x.


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#7 SNH

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Posted 06 October 2021 - 09:23 PM

Wow, I've really enjoyed reading about your experiences, Don. I think you are doing a really good job and I'm glad you aren't having too much "analysis paralysis". I have a 10-inch f/11 SCT and a 130mm f/5 newtonian and it is interesting to see how different eyepieces perform in telescope. I like the ES 82 series, too. Plus, I have a pair of 8x56 binoculars that I enjoy using -- though I suspect I'd probably enjoy a nice pair of 10x50s even more.

 

If you are looking for more objects to view, you might want to check out my 250+ Deep-Sky Objects Visible With 7x35 Binoculars and the Naked-Eye, which can be downloaded using the link below in my signature. Don't be fooled by the title, though. They aren't all that easy!

 

Scott


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#8 Escape Pod

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Posted 06 October 2021 - 10:03 PM

This looks fantastic, Scott! Thank you for sharing your experiences with this community!



#9 Echolight

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Posted 07 October 2021 - 12:26 AM

I use a 10x42 when I’m feeling lazy. They are very small and light. The rest of the time, an 8x56. 
Neither are very wide. Around 6 degrees for both. But it’s an easy 6 degrees to see. Kinda like the difference in 70 degree and 82 degree eyepieces. 

 

I’ve been dreaming of an ST120 for ages. But after investing more than I ever thought I would on eyepieces, I find myself taking what I can get for cheap on the used market when experimenting with scopes. By the way, my XW40 kills the Agena 38 clone 40mm SWAN.

 

I’m picking up an old Tasco 8V with optical glass instead of spider vanes. It’s a 125mm Bird Jones with I believe an f/4 mirror that uses an internal barlow to make it an f/8. But I’m going to remove the barlow so it’ll be f4. Certainly won’t be as good as an ST120. Might not be any good at all. But it’ll do 3.25 degrees with 1.25 eyepieces. And it was kinda free since I was really buying it for the like-new Polaris mount that it came with.

I’m going to reserve judgement until I can test’r out. Heck, if it is any good, it might end up with a 2 inch focuser so I can use my 28-82 in it for another degree or more field of view.

Whatever it turns out to be, it’s kinda cute with it’s 17 inch tube and blood red paint job.... if that counts for anything.

 

If not an ST120, I might end up with an f/5 or f/6 102 achromat with 2 inch focuser. The f/5 102 will do well over 5 degrees I think.
I too think one of these would fit what I want from a small widefield refractor better than an ED80.

I don’t do astrophotography. And my much smaller, much lighter, and much much cheaper old deforked Made in the U.S.A. (to compete with Questar) ETX90 is pretty much equal to an ED80 on high power for lunar and planetary.


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#10 Escape Pod

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Posted 07 October 2021 - 06:35 AM

"An easy 6 degrees..." Well put, Echolight. I was feeling a bit of that last weekend when trying out the ES 82 eyepieces for the first time, comparing them to my Agena and APM 70*s. There really was something easier about the 70. I will have to experiment more to see if I can train my eyes and brain on the new approach, or at least see some advantage to the higher magnification to offset the impression. 

 

So the 120ST arrived last night. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out how I was meant to mount the vixen dovetail to the tube rings, but now she's all mounted to an alt-az mount (the Versago II) and ready for those **** clouds to part. You Texans don't know how lucky you have it with those big blue/black skies. 

 

My first impression of the short-tube refractor was "wow, this thing is thick." I don't think I'd ever seen 120mm of aperture on a refractor before. It's impressive. In that moment, I understood why everyone on here was steering me away from a 100mm ED as a compromise between aperture and optical quality. This sucker feels like it is made to bag DSOs.  I can't wait to try it.

 

Everyone comments on how bad the stock 2" focuser on these 120STs is. I found it quite smooth and, even with my hand grenade eyepiece attached (the 2.2lb ES 82 30mm), it seemed to perform well even with the scope pointed towards the zenith, and with the diagonal rotated off to one side should I need to reposition it for viewing. That was in my living room, though. I'll have to test it in the field. But my first impression is that, for less than $300 new, this OTA is a steal.

 

The VersaGo II mount also seemed quite capable. The tensioners for vertical and horizontal panning seemed quite solid. And by shifting the dovetail in the mount, and the OTA forward in its rings, I was able to achieve a balanced load even with the ES 30mm dangling off the end. 

 

 

 

For the permanent record of this thread, I also stumbled upon a bag that suits these short tube refractors pretty well. 

 

https://www.amazon.c...0?ie=UTF8&psc=1

 

It's a bit bulky, as it's made to fit a tripod as well. But being a soft bag it doesn't take up any more room than it has to, and I am storing my 10x50 and 7x35 binos in it for the moment. Widefield grab and go.  Also, its padding is a little thin, so I may supplement with some of the leftover bubblewrap I used to make the thermal blanket for my Mak.

 

As an alternative, ABQJeff shared with me that if you remove the dew shield these 120STs will fit in a carry-on hard shell case like the Pelican 1510. I noticed that Harbor Freight does a knockoff that knocks off $100 from the price of the Pelican. Choose your adventure. 

 

https://www.harborfr...arge-64819.html

 

 

 

Here's hoping for some clear skies this weekend!


Edited by Escape Pod, 07 October 2021 - 06:38 AM.

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#11 Echolight

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Posted 07 October 2021 - 09:11 AM

That ST120 should be a little easier on mounts than an F/7 4 inch ED also.


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#12 Escape Pod

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Posted 09 October 2021 - 08:03 AM

Part 3. How to plan a widefield observation session?

 

Knock on wood, a week after my gear arrived the clouds are parting. I am hitching up the trailer and heading to a dark sky site operated by the Columbus Astronomical Society. Supposedly it is a Bortle 3, so I am hopeful that the only clouds in the sky will be from the Milky Way. It’s time to give the binos and the short tube frac their first light, 

 

I am wondering what kinds of targets are best in mid-October. Looking at SkySafari, I see that the crescent moon and Venus will be within 3 degrees of each other right around sunset. That should make for some nice bino-viewing. And later in the evening the Andromeda Galaxy will be rising to the Zenith. But what to study in the meantime? 

 

53E95B38-7266-446A-BE3C-D2202D2DB3DE.png
 

I see that Milky Way objects like the Lagoon Nebula are getting quite low in the sky this time of year. By 9pm when the sky will be fully dark it will be down to 15 degrees above the horizon.

 

CCE5461D-09A8-437F-AB8A-56D8B29A5F46.png

 

Assuming no obstructions, is that too low to be enjoyed?

 

In contrast, it looks like the perfect night to try for the North American Nebula.

 

57ECA361-BF92-4FE7-9AB0-57D5B2407626.png

 

What other widefield targets should I be aiming for this time of year?

 

 


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#13 NYJohn S

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Posted 09 October 2021 - 08:48 AM

Definitely the NGC 7000 - North America. With the ST120 you can view it together with the Pelican Nebula. Hopefully you have an OIII or UHC filter for these.

 

The Veil Nebula is another. Same as far as a filter goes. I found the OIII to be better on this. You can view all 3 sections together but then I would recommend increasing the magnification and viewing them individually.

 

Kemble's Cascade is nice in Binoculars & the ST120. While you're there maybe check out NGC 1502 with your Mak. 

 

Double Cluster together with Stock 2. Very nice for a wide field view in dark skies.

 

M31 and the satellite galaxies, M33.

 

Mel 20, Mel 25, M45 all great binocular objects and the ST120. If you're there when Orion come up that could keep you busy all night. The belt stars are amazing with binoculars and the ST120 not to mention M42. Collinder 65 is nice with binoculars. NGC 7789 - Caroline's Rose, Auriga with M36, M37, M38

 

I just scratching the surface of what's in the sky and interesting to look at. 

 

Good luck and enjoy!


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#14 Escape Pod

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Posted 09 October 2021 - 11:02 AM

Definitely the NGC 7000 - North America. With the ST120 you can view it together with the Pelican Nebula. Hopefully you have an OIII or UHC filter for these.

 

The Veil Nebula is another. Same as far as a filter goes. I found the OIII to be better on this. You can view all 3 sections together but then I would recommend increasing the magnification and viewing them individually.

 

Kemble's Cascade is nice in Binoculars & the ST120. While you're there maybe check out NGC 1502 with your Mak. 

 

Double Cluster together with Stock 2. Very nice for a wide field view in dark skies.

 

M31 and the satellite galaxies, M33.

 

Mel 20, Mel 25, M45 all great binocular objects and the ST120. If you're there when Orion come up that could keep you busy all night. The belt stars are amazing with binoculars and the ST120 not to mention M42. Collinder 65 is nice with binoculars. NGC 7789 - Caroline's Rose, Auriga with M36, M37, M38

 

I just scratching the surface of what's in the sky and interesting to look at. 

 

Good luck and enjoy!

Many thanks for the target list, John! I picked up a used DGM NPB filter last year on the advice that “if you could only have one filter”… though I understand that North American responds better to an Oiii than a narrowband uhc like the NPB. 
 

We shall “see” (or not see smile.gif!


Edited by Escape Pod, 09 October 2021 - 11:05 AM.


#15 Escape Pod

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Posted 10 October 2021 - 01:28 PM

PREFACE: This entry became quite long, even by my standards. If you're an experienced wide field astronomer you might just skip to the numbered "impressions" bits in bold and have a good laugh. My primary intention here is to share some experiences with fellow beginners who might profit from my mistakes. 

 

 

Part 4: First Light

 

I don't know about you, but for me new astronomy gear often brings nervous energy and foolish mistakes. But I've never had an optical instrument fall on my head. 

 

Last night I drove to a dark sky (Bortle 3ish) location reserved for the Columbus Astronomical Society for a couple nights of camping under clear skies. Having left later in the afternoon than I intended, I leapt out of the car to get the gear in position before sunset. Already my first intended targets, the crescent Moon and Venus, were close to setting. A perfect opportunity for me to whip out a pair of binoculars and give it a "grab and go." 

 

 

Impression 1: When folks say that 10x is the maximum magnification binocular that can be hand-held, that translates to "on the outer-edge of enjoyability." For my unpracticed hands, 10x requires a monopod to be enjoyed. By comparison, 7x35 felt like a long, slow, deep breath. 

 

I had found the widest, lightest 10x50 pair of binoculars within my budget: the Orion Scenix WA. Coming in at 1.8 pounds, I assumed that the light weight would assist in providing pleasing views at the upper-range of handhold-ability. I was wrong. Admittedly, I was a bit amped up from racing into camp right at sunset. With every beat of my 'above resting heart rate' heart, the view in the binoculars shook visibly and distractedly. 

 

A bit surprised, I switched to the second pair of binos I am evaluating, a refurbished Nikon 7x35 AE. Immediately things improved. While the moon was smaller, the details were more observable because the view was steadier--and quite breathtaking! Lunar craters, shadowed by the termination line of a crescent moon, all against a dusk night sky with Venus and a few trees in the frame. 

 

Remembering a trick I had read about, I grabbed the 10x50s and headed for a camp chair with armrests, hoping that the stabilized elbows would deliver even more taken breath. No dice. While the view was better, I still found the shaking distracting. 

 

Determined to make the 10x50s work I dove into my camera bag, pulled out a monopod, and began furiously attaching the L bracket to the 10x50s and the quick release plate. Once secured (or so I thought), I lifted the monopod above my head to extend the legs. That's when it happened.

 

All of a sudden the monopod got really light and a fraction of a second later, WHAM!

 

1.8 pounds of bino (plus the L bracket that had come off of the quick release plate) bounced off of my skull and onto the grass. 

 

 

Impression 2: The dent on my skull. Also, slow down...

 

Having had it with binos for the moment, I set about deploying the Orion 120ST in hopes of catching the last bit of crescent moon and waiting for the stars to come out. Back at the house, I had practiced balancing the short tube frac on the VersaGo II mount with the 2+ pound ES 82 30mm. So pretty quickly I had the 600mm scope mounted, balanced, and panned over to the moon. 

 

 

Impression 3: What chromatic aberration? At lower magnification (20x), it was very difficult to detect. At higher magnifications it was manageable. For a beginning astronomer, the Orion 120 ST would make a fine first scope.

 

For a moment I wondered whether I'd accidentally mounted the 80ED. There was no apparent CA, I puzzled. Also, boy was this frac collimated!

 

Same goes for the binoculars. No noticeable CA in these non-ED binos. At least at dusk. Perhaps it would be more pronounced against a dark sky?

 

Fumbling to keep the scope balanced, I switched the 30mm out for the 24mm EP and sure enough there was the purple, sometimes green CA. Interestingly, I noticed the effect was diminished if I kept the moon at the center of the eyepiece. Furthermore, if I repositioned my eye slightly I could make it go way. Most of all, the lunar surface itself---the good stuff-- all appeared nicely resolved.

 

I was also really impressed with how the focuser performed. Even with my unwieldy 30mm EP attached, the 2" focuser felt smooth and precise. This was welcome news, as the 2-speed GSO focuser that everyone raves about is on backorder until 2022. 

 

Given its strong aperture per dollar price point, the 120ST left me with the impression that this scope would make a very fine alternative to the Dob for an all-purpose first scope.

 

With the moon set and the stars came out, I began sorting out my observation plan. My thinking was to take advantage of the dark sky location by working my way up the Milky Way with binos and the 120ST with the nebula filter screwed in. I figured I would unscrew the nebula filter and turn to star clusters later in the night.

 

As you'll see, the evening dew had other plans unfortunately... .

 

My first target was Lagoon Nebula. Low on the horizon and descending, this target would be three firsts for me: My first test of the 120ST's performance on DSOs, the first real test of my nebula filter (the DGM NPB), and--most nerve-wrackingly, my first attempt to locate a DSO without the help of a GoTo mount. Besides M31, I had never successfully located a DSO by hand. 

 

 

Impression 4: Manual alt-az mounts are so much more fun than GoTo for lower mag targets, and a much better way to learn the night sky. 

 

I am notorious for relying on GPS to get around. Having lived in Columbus for 5 years now, I still find myself using it to get to places like the airport or the mall even though I've driven to them dozens of times. The GoTo mount that came with my 150mm Mak was having the same effect on my stargazing. 

 

Don't get me wrong. I really appreciate the ability of my GoTo mount to track high-mag targets on the Mak so I'm not constantly having to concentrate on keeping the target centered in the eyepiece. But I quickly realized that, much like GPS, relying upon the hand controller to locate objects in the night sky was hindering my ability to navigate the celestial sphere. 

 

That said, I am still a bit reliant on technology. I had purchased the larger version of the Sky and Telescope Pocket Atlas last year hoping it would help me learn my way around the night sky in a more quaint and low-tech fashion. But I found that, with my aging vision and denial that I need reading glasses, it was not legible under red light. So tablet and Sky Safari it is.  

 

Activating the night vision saving features on my iPad, I pulled up Lagoon Nebula and located some pointer stars in Sagitarius and--still scarred by my first experience with the 10x50 binos--grabbed the 7x35s and went looking for my target. To my surprise, I believe I was able to locate the faint fuzzy patch where the nebula was located. I quickly went to the Frac and began walking the red dot over to the same patch of sky. 

 

Sadly, I was in too much of a rush to "see it bigger" in the 120ST before the nebula set, so I didn't record my impressions from staring at this part of the galactic cloud through the binos. But upon quickly locating the nebula in my 30mm eyepiece where I believed I had spotted it through the 7x35s, I became excited about how binos might assist me in my journey to be my own GoTo computer. I hope to slow down more tonight and spend more time using the binos as a primary observation tool. 

 

First impressions of the Lagoon nebula unfiltered was that it was quite faint. I knew it would not be as dramatic as my first nebula, M42 as observed from a Bortle 1 sky in Big Bend National Park. But to my untrained eye I found myself questioning whether I'd really found the nebula, or if it was just a large and poorly resolved star cluster. So I screwed the nebula filter into my 2" diagonal and went back to the eyepiece. Bam! That's a nebula! And I nice one, too. One that invited a bit more magnification. Again, not as dramatic as M42--which was practically life-altering. But as my second nebula, quite satisfying. And a good showing for the DGM NPB filter.

 

I successfully studied Lagoon nebula under various magnifications using the 30mm/24mm/14mm until it set. 

 

 

Impression 5: These ES 82 eyepieces are really quite nice. But I was surprised that even my two-inchers--the 30mm and 24mm--aren't perfectly parafocal. Quite close, but still require minor adjustment. 

 

 

Leaving the nebula filter in place, I began working my way up the milky way andI repeated the exercise with the Eagle and Omega nebulae. Smaller and fainter, I found that these responded less well to magnification. The really satisfying view, as I recall anyways, was seeing them both well-framed in the 30mm 82* FOV. But I couldn't quite make out the eagle shape.

 

It being 9pm, I knew that the North American Nebula was approaching Zenith. Here I was unable to utilize the binoculars. May need to invest in one of those zero-gravity chairs everyone is raving about smile.gif.

 

Locating pointer stars around Deneb and walking the RDF over, sure enough, there was an upside down (and flipped because my diagonal is not RACI) North America rounding the zenith. At this moment I experienced a feeling of liberation, having bagged several DSOs without the aid of a GoTo. I might be cut out for this after all. 

 

That said, NGC 7000 was fainter than I had imagined. The area of greatest initial interest was the contrasty bit where the Gulf of Mexico would meet Mexico. But as my eyes (and expectations) adjusted, I became quite pleased with the star field shining through the gas.

 

This view did leave me wondering how much better it and certain other nebula are through an Oiii filter as opposed to my NPB, which I believe is of the narrowband UHC family.  Of course, going back to Texas or some other Bortle 1 site would be fine also smile.gif.

 

Impression 6: I see why visual folks sometimes opt for filter wheels too. It would be fun to be able to quickly switch back and forth between no filter, NPB and Oiii. 

 

 

From the zenith, I then panned over slightly to Cygnus and found the Veil Nebulae. Or the Eastern Veil at any rate. I strained to make this nebula out with the 120ST, and was unsure if I could make out the other two. Deflated, I took out one of my favorite bargain eyepieces, the 38mm Agena 70, wondering whether the larger exit pupil of the eyepiece would play better with the nebula filter. It looked about the same as with the 30mm ES 82.

 

Disappointed, I then paused and thought "wait, why does it look about the same?! Besides being a hand grenade, the ES 82 was much more expensive!"

 

A quick survey of the lens quickly yielded the answer. Lots of coma and other optical imperfections that are invisible on my f12 Mak yet glaring on this unforgiving f5 Frac.

 

Either way, the 38mm Agena helped me learn something about my eyes. Going from an exit pupil of 6mm on the ES 82 to 7.6mm on the Agena 70 didn't yield better optical performance, even with the nebula filter in the lightpath. 

 

In defense of the light-gathering abilities of this short tube frac, however, I should note that by this point in the evening I was beginning to lose ground in fighting off the dew. Not having any dew heaters, I had read that Don over at eyepieces etc used a fan to clear his optics of dew. Evidently, even just channeling the warmer ambient air over exposed glass to a point. I had been careful to replace caps and return each eyepiece to a padded case between uses to keep the temperature of the EPs up.

 

Before all hell broke loose, I was able to swing around to the Dumbbell Nebula and enjoy some really rewarding views at various magnifications. Here, being able to close in with the 14mm was really nice. Though the loss of brightness was significant, even in this dark sky location. Though I am now wondering if I hadn't already lost to the dew by this point...

 

 

Impression 7: Dew is hell.  And blowing warmer ambient air onto exposed glass stops working as the air temperature approaches the dew point. Bite the bullet and invest in dew heaters.

 

My plan to spend the midnight hours turning to galaxies and star clusters was cut short as the clock struck midnight. I was working so intently to locate Andromeda that I didn't notice how the ambient temperature had reached the dew point and the field around me had turned into a fog bank. Only upon my bewilderment that Andromeda looked so unimpressive through the 120ST did I lift my eyes away from the eyepiece and realize my gear got drenched. 

 

These articles helped clear up a lot of my own confusion on this matter, including the myth that dew falls down from above, or that I should take my gear out and let it reach ambient temperature before starting an observing session. 

 

https://www.skyatnig...g-on-telescope/

 

https://skyandtelesc...aling-with-dew/

 

I plan on ordering a couple of USB dew heaters upon my return to civilization. In the meantime, before tonight's viewing I am going to head into town and purchase some chemical hand warmers and rubber bands/velcro. 

 

Now how to safely get those dew spots off my objective lens?

 

I know, don't touch them....


Edited by Escape Pod, 10 October 2021 - 01:38 PM.

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#16 Escape Pod

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Posted 11 October 2021 - 10:35 AM

Part 5: Graduation Day

 

If first light was a bit of a circus, last night was graduation day.

 

I'm not saying that I'm a blackbelt now. But an evening that began with Mezcal and reclined bino-viewing, and culminated in running two telescopes with hand warmers velcro'ed all over them till 3am definitely puts me in green belt territory now I believe. 

 

Last night's target list was a combination of the more intriguing offerings in Turn Left at Orion's fall collection, plus several gems that NYJohn brought to my attention. Regrettably I left a few of his off because they didn't rise early enough in the evening. Little did I know that I was in for the best see'ing I've ever had. The kind that starts to post up images that look electronically assisted they're so good. 

 

EA48849F-6AA6-4B72-9022-629E11B88FB1.jpeg

 

It was also the first time that I ever successfully made it through a dozen targets in one night, even though one of my scopes was being hand-driven by me. This was made possible by my improving skill with Sky Safari. Clear dark skies helped produce remarkable seeing, but the ability to create observations lists and sort them by transit time really helped me choreograph the evening. 

 

8B724D3F-0CF9-4174-8757-BD62113FA860.jpeg

 

And speaking of choreography. As the target list contained several globular clusters and smaller galaxies, I decided to run my Mak alongside the Orion 120st. The catch is that I only own one 2" diagonal. Every time I switched scopes to see how the different eyepiece/scope combos performed on a target I had to move it with me. All the while keeping things tucked away from the creeping dew. 

 

Now for the good part. Gear on targets. 

 

Heeding the previous evening’s lesson to slow down, I gave the binos much more attention tonight. They both delivered, but the 10x50 made a strong comeback. Once properly stabilized on a monopod, they produced increadibly rewarding dusk views of the crescent moon right down to the horizon. The presence of a few stray, wispy clouds only added to the enchantment. 

 

Once things got properly dark I decided to pick up where I left off the night before and start with Andromeda. Moving the ES82 pieces back and forth between Mak and Frac, To my surprise, the view that really jumped out at me was the 24mm on the Mak. It is without hyperbole that I say I have never seen M31 in such splendor. I couldn't quite resolve spiral arms, but the density of the cloud and the brightness were unmatched. 

 

The seeing was so good, and the galaxy so close to the zenith, that M31 absorbed all the magnification I threw at it. Even the 14mm on the Mak—nearly 129x—was majestic. The galactic core was full of light despite an exit pupil of only 1.2mm in this pairing, and with all the contrast you’d expect at that level of magnification. “This almost looks like the photos,” I muttered. 

 

Is this how the Dobsonians live?

 

I also took this show as an opportunity to put one really good eyepiece, the APM 30mm UFF 70, against the ES 24mm 82. With such equivalent TFOVs it was a tough call, at least in the f12 Mak. I lack the technical knowledge to evaluate them critically, but I do think the APM presented a modestly flatter field. But compared to the 82* ES, even at 70* the APM felt a touch more “looking through a straw.” That said, it’s a very generous, nicely controlled and contrasty milkshake straw. smile.gif

 

Impression: The APM 30mm can really give the ES 24mm 82 a run for it’s money. I see why some folks prefer the flat 70 degree FOV. Very subjective. 

 

Poor Pinwheel galaxy had a tough act to follow. Faint as ever, I always struggle with this one.  But the dissappointment was short lived as another standout performance of the Mak - 14mm combo was on deck: Globular clusters. 

 

M15 and M2 are so beautifully framed and granular at 129x—Orion should bundle the 14mm eyepiece with their 1800mm Maks. In comparison, the short tube frac paired with the 14mm provided M15 a pleasing view, though here the 30mm on the Mak also provided equally sufficient framing of the globular cluster. No surprise, since they are of equivalent magnifications. But a good showing for the 120mm Frac that it can produce resolution on par with the 150mm Mak. 

 

The planets were nearby, so I took a quick detour with the Mak to compare the 14mm ES82 against my Orion 7-21 zoom. Both eyepieces performed brilliantly on Jupiter and Saturn. For time’s sake I didn’t bother trying the planets on the achromatic refractor. But I suspect at higher magnification the chromatic aberration would’ve been distracting. 

 

Sidebar: That cheap Orion 7-21mm zoom really lives up to its hype. https://www.cloudyni...yepiece-thread/

 

At this point I was starting to wonder at what the utility of the short-tube frac was for me. Seemingly widefield objects like M31 were sufficiently framed within the 30mm 82* EP mounted to the Mak, and of course it was killing it on the tighter globular clusters. Maybe I’m a Mak kinda guy?

 

Then I turned the Frac to the Double Cluster. I didn’t even bother with the Mak.

 

As one reviewer of the Orion 120ST put it, “Mount an ES82 24mm 2" to the ST120 and point it at the Double Cluster, then proceed to pick your jaw up from the floor.”

 

I would agree. Though the real killer jaw drops for me happened with the 30mm and the 14mm on the Frac. At 82 degrees, the ability of the 30mm EP to frame NGC 869 and 884 against an equally rich starfield produced the strongest “spacewalk” sensation that I’ve experienced to date. In contrast, the ability to walk around in the open clusters with the 14mm and close in on the bracelet inside of NGC 869 was marvelous. Paired with these scopes, the 24mm felt more milk toast than Goldilocks on this target. 

 

Impression: If you always wanted to be an astronaut when you grew up, grab a short-tube frac and a wide angle eyepiece and point them at the Double Cluster. 

 

Throughout the evening, the Orion Scenix 10x50s played a major role in helping me locate DSOs on the Frac. Once I identified guide stars on Sky Safari, I was able to lean back on the rocking chair and trace the path to where the target would be. I didn’t try it with the 7x35 as they were out of arm’s reach, but I expect that several of these star clusters would’ve been more uncertain at the lower magnification. I also found that my ability to hand-hold the 10x50s is improving. And some of the views through the binoculars, especially the double cluster, produced the kind of ooo—ahhh that rivaled the telescopes in terms of the impression they created.

 

Impression: At under $100 a piece, the Nikon 7x35 AE (refurb) and Orion Scenix 10x50 WA deliver views and capabilities that compliment one another and my telescopes. 

 

The last few targets on the list were rather underwhelming on the telescopes after such show-stopping performances. One, Kemble’s Cascade, really impressed with the 10x50 binos. Hat tip to NYJohn for pointing out those hidden gems for me. 

 

It was well past midnight when the ambient temps approached dew point and the field turned into a fog bank. I dutifully packed up the scopes and took them in the trailer to release whatever moisture they accumulated. 

 

I must say, the handwarmer velcro technique worked brilliantly all evening on both scopes and eyepieces. Those little packets really did last for well over 5 hours, requiring only the occasional shakeup. I find myself torn between investing in a dew heater system or enjoying the analog simplicity of the hand warmers. It was this feat more than any other that made me feel as though I had graduated.

 

Just as I got the scopes put away I noticed that Orion had risen in the night sky. Unable to resist my favorite DSO, I grabbed both pairs of binoculars and got myself in a good reclined position. The suggestion of nebulosity was clearly visible in the 7x35s, and the belt and sword were perfectly framed in their 9 degree FOV. Grabbing the 10x50s, M42 was much more clearly visible. Yet while I blame these for forcing me to go back inside and get the 120ST back out for a go of it with the nebula, overall I found the 7x35 to be the perfect aperitif to a fabulous night of viewing. The smoothness of the view as I panned from Orion north to the Pleiades provided a sense of relaxation that the unmounted 10x50s could not match. 

 

Impression: The premise of this thread is bogus. It is not 120ST vs. Binos. The answer is, yes please. 

 

These two classes of optical instruments compliment one-another so nicely. As grab and go instruments, the Binos are unrivaled. Even the 10x50s on a monopod are so much more simple, direct and immediate. I can imagine taking this pairing on a back-country hike and really enjoying it. Though maybe I need the 15x70 laugh.gif

 

And when you’re rowing your own in terms of pointing the short-tube frac, the binos work really nicely as a finderscope. Truth be told, I’ve never tried an OTA mounted optical finderscope. The exercise last night makes me more intrigued by the possibility of adding a laser pointer. But until such time as I can find a mounting bracket for the 6x30 finderscope sitting in the bottom of my gear bag, binos plus RDF plus 30mm EP make a fantastic team on the 120ST + VersaGo II.

 

And at less than $300 for the OTA and under $100 for the binos, it isn’t the most extravagant proposition. At least, until you discover that the f5 frac demands APM/ES/TV level eyepieces. Thank god for paypal 6 months no interest so I can spread out the pain inflicted by CN classifieds.

 

So like I said, the bino relaxation session pushed me deeper into the night as I remounted the 120ST and headed for Orion. 

 

I began with the 30mm unfiltered, and there she was, M42, burning brightly and framed in glorious splendor. Even at 20X, I could make out the trapezium through the sharp optics of the ES 82 30mm. Attaching my NPB filter, the resolution of individual stars was degraded but the quality of the nebula reached new heights. Impressions of wispy clouds stretching into the darkest abyss really showed the ability of a nebula filter to create those contrasty images. 

 

It was here that the 24mm ES 82 delivered as Goldilocks. While the 30mm provided excellent framing, and the 14mm let me walk around the Trapezium, the 24mm produced the most lasting impression. The gradiations of light achieved with the help of the NPB filter produced images that absolutely compare with some astrophotography results I’ve seen. All of this live, with real photons from hundreds of light years away passing through 120mm of achromatic glass and into my pupils. Truly a moment. 

 

Final Impressions: 

 

When I first began exploring the night sky, I felt frustrated that only a handful of objects (targets like M42, the Double Cluster, Bode and Cigar galaxies, the Moon) delivered the kind of splendor that one sees in astrophotographs and perhaps unfairly comes to expect. Tonight, new gear helped me identify new and splendid targets, and see old friends like M31 in their true splendor. 

 

But I believe the thing that I took away most from yesterday evening, and from this experience with widefield astronomy more generally, is that sometimes it is not about the grandiosity of the image. Sometimes it is about learning your way around the night sky with a simple mount, a forgiving FOV, and a star chart. The images I saw last night formed memories that will last me a lifetime. But the biggest gift of all is the feeling that I’m finally starting to understand my place in the night sky… 

 

…that I’m starting to feel at home out there.


Edited by Escape Pod, 11 October 2021 - 08:05 PM.

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#17 Mitrovarr

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Posted 11 October 2021 - 12:07 PM

You mention a Bird Jones at one point with an "internal barlow". The lens in a Bird Jones is not a barlow but a critical part of the optical system that corrects for the spherical mirror. If you take it out, the images will be horrendous.

#18 Escape Pod

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Posted 11 October 2021 - 12:31 PM

Are you referring to the Dakin Barlow? I don’t have a bird Jones. 



#19 Mitrovarr

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Posted 11 October 2021 - 12:37 PM

Are you referring to the Dakin Barlow? I don’t have a bird Jones.


Sorry, the person who mentioned that was Echolight, not you. I didn't realize at the time.
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#20 Escape Pod

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Posted 11 October 2021 - 08:19 PM

Sorry, the person who mentioned that was Echolight, not you. I didn't realize at the time.

Fair enough. I went on and on so much in this thread that I forgot my own name at times :)



#21 teashea

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Posted 11 October 2021 - 08:24 PM

very interesting impressions.......



#22 ABQJeff

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Posted 11 October 2021 - 08:27 PM

Great series of posts Escape Pod! Thank you for sharing your adventures with your new binos and 120ST.

Although I prefer NA, I highly recommend trying for Veil again when you get the chance. Eastern Veil (I name it the “Mustache Nebula”) is brighter, but Western Veil has Cygnus 52 in the middle of it, both are visible at same time in the ST120 with ES82-30mm. If you have a tough time finding it, mount the ST120 on the SSIV to get there the first time and notice some landmarks so you can do it manually the next time.

Also, thank you for the shout outs flowerred.gif , I was just passing along some of the knowledge I learned on CN and my own adventures (although I haven’t yet dropped my binos on my head, so you have me beat there, haha lol.gif ).

Love your dew solution of using hand warmers…but what is dew?
(just teasing from New Mexico wink.gif ).

You are always welcome to come and visit and we can have our own mini-star party of Cats and Fracs!

PS now we just need to work your ED80 back into the mix…hint Daystar Quark Gemini laugh.gif 

CS!

ABQJeff


Edited by ABQJeff, 11 October 2021 - 08:29 PM.


#23 Escape Pod

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Posted 11 October 2021 - 09:40 PM

Great series of posts Escape Pod! Thank you for sharing your adventures with your new binos and 120ST.

Although I prefer NA, I highly recommend trying for Veil again when you get the chance. Eastern Veil (I name it the “Mustache Nebula”) is brighter, but Western Veil has Cygnus 52 in the middle of it, both are visible at same time in the ST120 with ES82-30mm. If you have a tough time finding it, mount the ST120 on the SSIV to get there the first time and notice some landmarks so you can do it manually the next time.

Also, thank you for the shout outs flowerred.gif , I was just passing along some of the knowledge I learned on CN and my own adventures (although I haven’t yet dropped my binos on my head, so you have me beat there, haha lol.gif ).

Love your dew solution of using hand warmers…but what is dew?
(just teasing from New Mexico wink.gif ).

You are always welcome to come and visit and we can have our own mini-star party of Cats and Fracs!

PS now we just need to work your ED80 back into the mix…hint Daystar Quark Gemini laugh.gif 

CS!

ABQJeff

 

Tell me about it! I spent most of last winter stargazing in the deserts of Cali and AZ. When that fog bank came down and soaked my gear I thought, “what the heck is this!? 

 

Actually, I wonder if some of my nebula observations were hindered by dew. I’ve read that even before you get visible condensation it can diminish the light-gathering abilities of the scope. I certainly experienced night and day differences with andromeda on the second night with proper dew control….
 

Many thanks for the invite. This will happen someday. Maybe we can get mezcal added to your signature.

 

PS, looking at the binos in your signature, I see 12x60 and 20x80. I’m thinking about adding a more magnified pair, possibly something that can get by mounted to a monopod. 15x70 seems like the magic number. But I know you put a lot of thought into your gear selections. Any particular reason you settled on those two magnifications? Are you happy with them?


Edited by Escape Pod, 11 October 2021 - 09:40 PM.


#24 ABQJeff

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Posted 11 October 2021 - 10:43 PM

Tell me about it! I spent most of last winter stargazing in the deserts of Cali and AZ. When that fog bank came down and soaked my gear I thought, “what the heck is this!? 

 

Actually, I wonder if some of my nebula observations were hindered by dew. I’ve read that even before you get visible condensation it can diminish the light-gathering abilities of the scope. I certainly experienced night and day differences with andromeda on the second night with proper dew control….
 

Many thanks for the invite. This will happen someday. Maybe we can get mezcal added to your signature.

 

PS, looking at the binos in your signature, I see 12x60 and 20x80. I’m thinking about adding a more magnified pair, possibly something that can get by mounted to a monopod. 15x70 seems like the magic number. But I know you put a lot of thought into your gear selections. Any particular reason you settled on those two magnifications? Are you happy with them?

I started looking at 16x80s  (5mm exit pupil, 4.1 degree field of view) to compliment my 12x60s, but several commenters on CN said 16x and 12x were too close and wouldn't offer that much of a difference (like telescopes, want to go up by at least 50%).  Also 20x would cut light pollution better.  However for you, with your 10x50s, 15x70s or 16x80s would fit that bill.

 

But anyway, my 20x80s are fun.  I have them firmly mounted with a parallel mount and use them for manual spotting/observing of larger open and globular clusters, M31, M57, M27 - Dumbbell, Veil, NA, Moon, etc.  when I only have a narrow viewing window (no time for setting up a scope) or I just want something different than telescope views.  As you were describing there is a sense of accomplishment in knowing the sky well enough to manually browse thru it.


Edited by ABQJeff, 11 October 2021 - 10:45 PM.

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