Saturday, June 13, 2020

Backyard Astronomy

As a member, I borrowed a Meade 10-inch Maksutov-Cassegrain Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope from the Austin Astronomical Society for the next three months. [Edited 24 Sept 2020.]

It took a couple of hours with the manual and practice indoors to understand the computer controls. Weighing about 80 pounds (35kg), it is meant to be set up and left outdoors, if you can. At the orientation, the equipment manager cautioned against letting rain get directly on the computer console. I waited for a week of weather to pass and bought a heavy plastic tarpaulin to supplement the ones I have. Once aligned and programmed, the computer encoder and 18-volt DC motor will drive the telescope to any of 200 targets in its database. For the first night (morning, actually), I just took the easy targets: Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. The next day, I went back to the user manual to figure out the finder scope. Everything is a lot harder in the dark.

Snapshot changed 24 September 2020

With a smaller telescope, adjusting the tripod is always an option. With this, it never was. Once leveled and aligned, you pretty much change chairs, stools, and outdated tax manuals to sit or stand on, about as often as you otherwise change oculars. I used just two eyepieces, 32 mm and 20 mm for about 30x 62x and 50x 100x respectively. [The telescope has a 2000 mm focal length.-MEM] I also was happy to have filters for the Moon. It was bright enough to shine through two, the standard Moon filter and the Red for total transmission of about 1.8%. 


Viewing Jupiter, I could see turbulences along the bottom of the top band. Saturn’s rings were split. I could not tell if the “band” on Saturn was a “shadow” of the rings. Mars was a challenge because I was sure that I could detect shading in the middle two-thirds. 

As often as I go out in the backyard to view celestial objects through instruments, I am not sanguine about the activity. The stars are pretty at any magnification. If you do not understand what you are looking at, you have gained very little by the experience. My most surprising lessons were identifying the Andromeda Galaxy and the Beehive Cluster, both of which are naked eye objects that were catalogued a thousand years ago. 


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