Ever since Diana and I were young, we’ve had a keen interest in outer space. As is evident with many of our blog posts, we are drawn towards anything NASA or SpaceX is doing, and we love checking out the night sky. Our positions as interpretive hosts at Prineville Reservoir State Park in Oregon last summer introduced us to the worlds beyond our solar system, in the fact that we had a 16″ deep space Dobsonian telescope to use and share with guests. As our time there was winding down, we knew there was probably going to be a telescope purchase in our future.
The reality of the situation is that we are full-time RVers. We had become used to some pretty amazing images through the eyepiece of that 16″ diameter telescope. With the physical constraints of available storage space, we knew we weren’t going to be able to haul a 6 foot tall Dobsonian scope around with us. Would we be happy with anything smaller? Enter my cousin John.
His classification as an amateur astronomer is somewhat of a misnomer, as he is a wealth of knowledge on the subject of nighttime stargazing. He is a member of the University Lowbrow Astronomers, a group of 90 or so amateurs that is associated with the University of Michigan. He also worked for Rider’s Hobby Shops for many years, so he knows what would suit our needs. His suggestion was a Celestron 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain Reflector. Through the use of concave and convex mirrors, the size of the scope is greatly reduced.
And here it is! It’s actually much smaller than it looks, as the black portion at the end of the scope is a flexible dew shield. It helps keep the glass at the end of the unit from collecting dew from the night air, in addition to cutting down on light coming in from the neighborhood. Setup is easy, taking us about 10 minutes from placing the tripod to being fully aligned and ready to go.
Once everything is set up for the location we are in, a catalog of available objects to view is automatically stored in the hand controller. From there, it’s a matter of pushing a few buttons for the scope to find a star or planet. And if that isn’t cool enough, it tracks the objects as the Earth rotates. Oh, yeah…. 🙂
In Oregon, we found that the best part of viewing the night sky was being able to share it with others. In the week or so since we bought it, we have had several neighbors stop by to take a peek in the evening. Melbourne Beach isn’t exactly the darkest place around, but we’ve been able to see the Moon, a faint Andromeda Galaxy, and a stunning Orion Nebula. The first and last ones are crowd pleasers. In the early morning, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are in full view. Eventually, we will get a mount to take some photos of what we are observing. I was able to take a couple of handheld shots with my iPhone, which is fairly tough to do.
Here is an out-of-focus Saturn. It is much sharper in the eyepiece.
Same thing with Jupiter and two of its largest moons. With the filters that came with the package, we could actually see the Great Red Spot.
The easiest thing to snap an iPhone photo of through an eyepiece is the Moon. There is enough detail for the phone to focus on, making for a fairly decent image. This was taken Friday, February 23. In this photo is almost all of man’s lunar exploration history.
I’ve drawn the approximate landing sites of the Apollo missions on the photo, just for reference. Apollo 12 and 14 are just beyond the terminator (shadow). No telescope on Earth is strong enough to see the actual Apollo hardware, but NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has secured some neat images of them. That darker spot between Apollo 11 and 17 is the Sea of Tranquility.
As we get more proficient with the scope, we will share more images. More importantly, as we meet up with people on the road, we will be able to host star parties! Here’s hoping for clear skies to explore some amazing vistas!