Sunday, December 02, 2007

 

Hey Y'all, Where are the Christmas Astro Goodies?

Yeah, yeah, I know, "'Hey' is what horses eat." What I wanna know, though, is where is all the cool new astro-gear we long to see as ho-ho-ho and mistletoe time approaches?

With the economy—the amateur astronomy economy at least—none too healthy, it seems, many of my bubbas and bubettes are bemoaning a supposed lack of new astro-goodies this holiday season. While it’s true neither Celestron nor Meade (!) has released a new scope line in time for ol' Santy Claus to pack 'em in his bag, there’s a whole lotta good at least newish stuff out there, as a stroll through the latest issue of Sky and ‘Scope revealed shortly after its January issue plopped through the mail slot and landed smack dab in Chaos Manor South’s front hall…

Rat-cheer on the inside front cover is TeleVue’s amazing (so Unk has been told) Ethos 100 degree apparent field hunk of glass. This 13mm ain’t cheap, and while Your Old Uncle specks he’d like one, he’s not anxious to hand over a fat fistful of farthings without being able to try one first. Despite the fact I did oodles of star parties from sea to shining sea over the last six months, nary an Ethos did I see. They should be getting into the hands of users with a vengeance by the time the Spring Starparty Season starts, so we shall see…

Hmmm…Meade’s ad lineup shore has shrunk from the glory days of ten page front-o-the-magazines color extravaganzas, but there is a nice color full-pager of a dude and his rugrat playin with one of them MySKY thingies. If you’ve been indisposed over the last six months or so, this is Meade’s tarted-up version of the Celestron SkyScout star-finder/locator. I had the chance to see one in action recently and was fairly impressed. Despite the small size, its color display is both pretty and usable—even for my middle-aged eyes. The thingamybobby seemed purty accurate too. One thing I did think was weird/funny (ha-ha funny)…the owner had to lay the derned MySKY on the ground on its side before it would get a GPS fix. The major CAVEAT, though? What’s this gadget do for you (or for Nancy Novice) for 400 bucks that a 4 buck planisphere don’t (other than look supercool?)?

OK, lessee…next page has an ad for the Bisque Paramount, “Call it the Red Giant.” It may not be new, but I shore want one. Me drooling over this 12k mount brings to mind all those afternoons in junior high study hall salivating over the Unitron and Cave brochures.

But what’s new, what’s new? Well, how 'bout THE CUBE. This is an awful cute and awful cheap and awful colorful alt-az go-to mount designed to accommodate small scopes via a Vixen dovetail. You get a lot for your 199 Georgie Washingtons: a go-to mount, a tripod, a purty li’l hand paddle, even (optional) GPS capability. Unfortunately, early reports indicate, as you might expect, less than impressive go-to accuracy and build quality—‘bout what I’d expect for two C notes. If they get the bugs out, though, this thing could be huge—in a small sorta way.

Next page…you ain’t gonna believe this, but MORE goodies. If the Ioptron Cube ain’t your style, howsabout a high tech barndoor mount? The Astrotrac, which is being sold by Adirondack Video Astronomy, out barndoors every barnoor/camera tracking mount this ol’ boy has ever seen, maybe e'en the Tak Sky Patrol. Unfortunately, they don’t egg-zactly give this here Astrotrac away. Its 700 dinero bottom line means I’ll be sticking with my two-boards-a-piano-hinge-and-a-bolt cam tracker for the forseeable future.

Don't need no barndoor? Get a load of the planetary cams by The Imaging Source on the following page. I’ve been looking for something a cut up from my SAC7 and Neximage (more sensitivity, higher frame-rate), unfortunately, the Lumenera cams, nice as they are are a wee bit pricy, and the IS cams have heretofore been saddled with a Firewire interface, something I haven’t wanted to fool (operative word) around with. That’s all changed now with the release of a pair of planet cams (monochrome and color) in a more standard USB 2 format. With these babies in the 300 buck range, even I might be able to glom onto one before Mars is completely gone, ya never know.

Also on deck? New cameras from Quantum Scientific Instruments. These hummers look interesting, but the words “Laboratory-quality” indicated to stingy ol’ Unk that they must command a price range just a wee bit unpalatable for His Cheapness. HOWSOMEEVER…a check of QSI’s website reveals that, while they do offer some heavy hitters, they also have a 768x512 format cam at just a hair over two grand. Might be a brand to keep a peeper on.

What else, what else?…Celestron has a full page ad for their SkyScout. I’ve had the same “what for” reaction to this as I have had to the MySKY, but Celestron is apparently attempting to widen the thing’s appeal with a small-scope/SkyScout combo. If this works decently, it could have some appeal for beginners. Sure, you can get an introductory go-to scope for less, but novices can detach the SS from this rig and have a lot of fun with it, I guess.

Thumbing on, we come to the annual “Hot Products” piece. The most cool thang here this year? Obsession’s 18-inch “suitcase scope.” If you’ve got the 6540 shekels required, Mr. Kriege will sell you a scope that allows you to join the Bigdob Boys, but which fits in a 26x20-inch case and weighs all of 90 pounds.

Also in the “Hot” section is one of everybody’s fave new items. While it’s been out for a while, the Skyshed Pod home observatory dome is causing ripples in amateur astronomy that are just beginning to be felt. This high quality 2-grandish dome allows those who’ve dreamed of a real observatory, something more attractive and functional than the chicken-coop-like affairs Unk Rod and his redneck buddies cobble together and call “backyard observatories,” to fulfill those Christmas dreams.

SBIG, not surprisingly, has a coupla Hot Products, too. Most interesting being a surprisingly low-priced new item, the AO-8 adaptive optics guider. Lots of us have wanted something that can really make our fork mounts set-up and behave during imaging, and this thing will do it. Best part? $699.00.

Moving on…‘nudder Meade ad. Not for the MaxMount, I’m sorry to report, but nevertheless interesting. Just when you were gettin’ used to Meade’s innovative and effective DSI II cameras, out they come with a III. This is a little more expensive than the predecessors at $1295.00, but has one very important advantage: a larger chip. Its 2/3rd inch sensor is a nice step up from the webcam-brigade chips Meade's used in the DSIs heretofore. Alas, still no active cooling.

On past the usual ads for big dealers like Orion and Astronomics and sech, we come to the land of the little ads. Couple caught my jaundiced eye. First was one for the Adirondack Stellacam III. Again, this ain’t per-zactly new, but, again, its presence is just now beginning to be felt on the amateur scene. It’s much like the Stellacam II, Adirondack’s previous integrating deep sky video cam. With two important differences: it can be ordered with a cooler and, most importantly, you can integrate for as long as you want (the II is limited to about 12 seconds). While this sounds good, I wonder if it really is? The beauty of the SCII was that it freed you from worrying about guiding while delivering very dim DSOs (I can run down li’l 18th magnitude galaxies with my Stellacam II and C11). With long integrations you’re back to the land of guide cams and guiding software. Sigh. If I wanna do that I’ll just break out the SBIG. I am willing to be convinced, however.

Finally, for those of us who dream of huge GEM mounts, there’s a small ad from Alpine Astronomy for a big mount, an Italian made big-dog called the “GM4000.” It looks a little like a cross between a Paramount and a Lamborghini and sports a payload capacity of 300 pounds. Unfortunately, while it carries a payload rating twice that of the Red Giant, it also carries a price tag twice that of the Bisque beauty: $24,500!

Nah, I ain’t a-gonna be buyin’ any 25G mounts anytime soon, and I speck neither are most of y’all. Nevertheless, we can dream, cain't we? In retrospect, I think I had near-bout as much fun drooling over the scopes in them Unitron catalog on study hall afternoons as I would have had actually observing with one of those impossibly (for me) expensive beauties. And dreaming is what Christmas is all about, ain’t it?

P.S., you-all...don't forget The Urban Astronomer's Guide makes a perfect holiday giftbuy SEVERAL (hey, it's my blog; if I don't plug my consarned books, who will?!)

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