Sunday, March 28, 2021
Issue 573: Charity Hope Valentine Rides Again!
That often sought after but also much-feared Ground Truth? I
am a FAR less active observer here in my late 60s (it feels awful strange
to say “late 60s”) than I was even five years ago. In part, that is due to the accident I had in
early 2019 that most of y’all know about. I talk about it more than I
should, perhaps, but that is because it now seems to have been the watershed
between “young” Uncle Rod and "old" Uncle Rod.
How has that affected my observing? Well, most noticeably it
left me not as able to deal with gear setup. And I don’t just mean heavy stuff.
This afternoon I made the mistake of picking up my ETX 125’s tripod with my
“bad” arm and it sure let me know that wasn’t what I should have done.
Thankfully, I began selling off my big/heavy astro-stuff—the C11, the
truss-tube Dobsonian, the Atlas mount, etc.—about five years ago. I had a strong
whiff of “change is in the air” even then.
Certainly, I still have telescopes and mounts. I have a C8,
a Celestron Advanced VX mount, some nice refractors ranging from 6-inches to
66mm in aperture, a Losmandy GM811G, and my 10-inch truss tube scope, Zelda.
And, when I’m feeling good, I can handle any of ‘em. When I’m not so
good but still want to look at something, my 80mm f/11 SkyWatcher achromat "Eloise," on an AZ-4 alt-azimuth mount works—like she did for the Saturn – Jupiter conjunction.
But it ain’t just that I sometimes have a hard time physically dealing with telescopes and mounts. That is far from the whole story. Another result of the accident is a lingering fear of falling in the dark. For that reason (and the pandemic, of course), I haven’t been to a star party since January 2019. Heck, I haven’t even been out to the local dark site. I feel much more relaxed in the familiar backyard even if it means giving up magnitude 6 skies for mag 5 ones (at zenith on a good night).
I also feel the cold more acutely than I did. This had
actually begun some time before 2019, but seems to have accelerated since then.
The result is unless it is a mild night, I’m staying inside. Oh, I
can still do astrophotography on cold nights, since I can get the
scope/camera/mount going with the aid of PHD Guiding and Nebulosity
and duck back into the den while the exposure sequence runs. But that doesn’t
much feel like a night out with the telescope to Luddite Unk.
Even my astrophotography has ebbed. Not so much in the
number of targets I shoot, but in how I do it. ‘Twas not long ago I was eager
to embrace the latest hardware and software to hit the imaging game. Now? I
have more time to play with such things, but I just don’t seem to have as much
patience for the new and (for moi) complex—at least not when it’s dark
and I’m hooking things up by flashlight.
I know the big deals today are things like Sequence
Generator Pro, and small computers like Raspberry Pis mounted on the scope to
manage everything and shoot images to a phone or tablet. Not for Unk, I guess.
If I take pictures, it’s usually with my thirteen-year-old Canon 400D DSLR. And
I no longer participate in the Cloudy Nights mounts forum quest for ever tinier PE figures. Nor do I dream of more-better-gooder to the tune of ten
thousand-dollar telescope mounts. If my stars look round, and I think my
pictures look pretty, that is enough. More than enough.
|Still as pretty as the day I met her.
And that’s the way it is at the beginning of a
new decade of this new century. Hey, y’all, I ain’t looking for sympathy. Don’t
need it. I was quite active in astronomy from the 80s and into the
mid-90s, and extremely active from the mid-90s to about 2015. There
weren’t too many things in the sky I didn’t see or image; too many outstanding
astronomers I didn’t meet; and too many star parties, museums and observatories
I didn’t visit. It was “What a ride, what a ride!” folks. I just wanted
y’all to know the reasons you don’t and won’t see the blog as frequently as you
once did (I would still like to do at least one new article a month).
Enough of that stuff. Let’s talk telescopes.
Not quite a year ago, I resolved to get my beloved 15-year-old ETX125 PE, Miss Charity Hope Valentine, out of
mothballs. I replaced her LNT battery, got her into the backyard and had a good
time. For a while. The next time I drug Charity out, she was acting a mite
peculiar. The Autostar display would come and go. Sometimes she wouldn’t
respond to commands. Once in a while the Autostar computer would reset.
Now, I was tempted to say “She’s just gettin’ old—like
you, Unk.” But I didn’t want to leave it at that. Charity still looks
beautiful—as pretty as the day I met her. I’m proud to say I’ve taken good care of her. Surely, I could do a little troubleshooting?
|A 16-year-old Autostar cable.
Which I did—some eight months later. What was up with that?
Well, at the time I discovered Charity’s problem we were right at the start of the
2020 hurricane season, which was a doozy, and whose storms stretched on to
November. Then it got cold and I went “refractors on grab ‘n go mounts” all the
way (Charity is less of a hassle to carry and set up than a fork-mount 8-inch
SCT, but not by much).
Anyhoo, couple of days ago, I got off my butt and ordered a
replacement from one of my long-time go-to vendors, Agena Astro Products. After
it arrived, a test with Miss Valentine showed it and her worked just fine. What was
left to do other than set the girl up in the backyard on a cool but not bitter
Now, originally the scope to be set up wasn’t going to be
Miss Valentine. I still have every intention of carrying on with the New
Herschel Project. However, one look at the afternoon sky showed that was
likely a non-starter. While still clear, there was obviously increasing
haze. The C8 would stay inside and the ETX would go outside because of the
degrading conditions—the situation that is her forte'.
When it finally got dark (blast this DST), out
back went your old Uncle. As you know if you’ve read my past installments
concerning her, Charity can be a neurotic sort. Some nights, gotos are bang-on
all over the sky. Others, she can’t find anything. Which would it be
While I probably should have done drive training after a
year, almost, of the scope not being used, it was chilly, so I just set Miss in
PE home position—turned counterclockwise in azimuth till she reaches her hard
stop—and turned on the power. That is all you have to do with the ETX PE. The
scope reads the time that’s kept current with the battery in her LNT (“Level
North Technology”) module, finds tilt, level, and north with the aid of her sensors
and compass, and heads for the first of two alignment stars. Charity chose
Sirius and went that-a-way.
Charity has the most trouble with targets
anywhere near zenith. That is compounded by her long focal length and the fact
that since she is limited to 1.25-inch oculars, you ain’t gonna be using long
focal length ultra-wide 2-inch eyepieces to make finding easier. Nevertheless,
my girl put both M35 and M37, both of which were up pretty high, in the field
of that 25mm. How did they look? Not so hot. The haze was thickening and
really scattering the light pollution.
But, with Charity aligned, I thought we might as well visit some old
friends anyhow. Which? Oh, the usual heavenly masterpieces like the
above-mentioned open clusters, and, of course, M42. If you’re an “advanced
observer” you’d probably scoff at the targets Charity and me essayed (we spent
quite a bit of time on the near First Quarter Moon). I know. I once fit
that “advanced” appellation and was more interested in chasing quasars than
looking at the dumb old Moon. But that was then and this is now and Rod and
Charity had a fine time oohing and ahhing at marvels that never age even
as we do.
Miss Dorothy and I have now received both doses of the vaccine and hope
the same is true for you.