Saturday, November 27, 2021
Issue 577: Unks’s Advanced VX Rides Again
The weather was nasty all through September and into October. On those infrequent occasions when the clouds parted, there was a big, fat Moon in the sky.
Your broken-down old Uncle had also been experiencing some health
issues that made him reluctant to hit the backyard. You know, this “getting old”
stuff is for the birds. Finally, just as clear weather came and Unk began to
feel more like his old self, a third shot of Moderna had him laid pretty low
for a couple of days.
Thankfully, all that is now past, and I am indeed close to being my old self again for good or ill. In fact, this past week I felt Good Enough to tackle my number
one astronomy priority, checking out my faithful Celestron Advanced VX GEM
mount. If you’re a faithful reader of the Little Old Blog from Possum Swamp,
you know my AVX took a bath some months ago. I’d left the mount outside under a
Telegizmos cover. Said cover was beginning to show some wear five years down
the line, but it had not had a huge amount of use, and I thought it would
That’s what I get for thinking. I noted some
gathering clouds as I covered scope and mount following my backyard observing
run, but it didn’t look like seriously bad weather was on the way. Unk was soon
snoozing peacefully and was not fully awakened by the sound of heavy rain and
thunder. Oh, I came somewhat to my senses, but thought, “The scope will be fine
under that cover,” turned over, and went back to sleep. The next morning, I
found that dadgummed Telegizmos cover had leaked and mount and scope were truly
What to do? I first addressed the C8, Emma Peel, my Edge 800
SCT who’d been riding on the mount. There was a little water in the tube. But
as you know, your ol’ Unk is nothing if not experienced in pulling SCT correctors.
In just a few, the scope was dry and snug again in her case. The mount? That
was a different story. It looked wet enough that I thought there was likely
some water intrusion. Removing the plastic cover of her electronics enclosure, I
did note some dampness. Rut-roh Raggy…it doesn’t take much to cause problems.
What I did was dry the boards off with gentle heat from my
heat gun, and leave the mount head open in the air-conditioned sunroom of the
New Manse. For several days. I then had another look. Didn’t notice any signs
of corrosion, soo…. I applied power and
the AVX appeared to function normally for an indoor “fake” alignment.
However, nothing would tell the tale like a long evening under the stars. And
there things rested for a wearyingly long time.
Finally, just the other day, the Clear Sky Charts and other weather
resources indicated I might get some clear—if cold—weather following a front
passage. Maybe one night. I was determined to take advantage of that, and despite
some high haze I got the mount into the good old backyard. In the interest of keeping things simple, I
left the StarSense camera and hand control in their box and just plugged in the good, old
NexStar+ HC. It had been so long since I’d done a non-StarSense alignment, I
wondered if I’d still remember how to do one.
Which telescope went on the mount? My SkyWatcher 120mm APO.
It had been way too long since I’d used this pretty telescope and was anxious
to point her—Hermione Granger is her name—at Jupiter before it was too late. It
was pretty clear seeing wouldn’t be too hot, not hardly, but I wanted a look at
OK, power on…the NexStar display came to life with only
a slight delay despite the cold weather (it was in the fricking 40s, y’all).
I was gratified to see the mount's real time clock was only off a few minutes despite
it having been months and months since I replaced the little internal battery
and not having used the AVX frequently. Not at all. Hokay, let’s get aligned.
By “aligned,” I mean the Autostar 2+4 alignment. I planned
on nothing more than some casual looking, and, so, my polar alignment consisted
of merely eyeballing Polaris through the mount’s hollow polar bore. One of the
great things about the Celestron NexStar goto system is that it is quite immune
to goto errors caused by polar alignment.
It turned out I did remember how to do an old-fashioned
alignment. Got it started and the HC
requested Vega, which was pretty far off center, but still in the finder. Centered
it up in the eyepiece, remembering—shazam! —to do final centering with the up
and right keys only. Altair next. That sparkler lined up, the NexStar+ axed if
I wanted to add calibration stars “Sure, why not?” The first, Fomalhaut, was
behind a tree, so I picked another. Calibration star three was near-centered in
the eyepiece of the main scope when the mount stopped, but I did one more anyway…well…just because I could.
The resulting alignment? It was a good one. For a while,
anyway. Anything I requested was in the center of a 12mm eyepiece. Heck our
first target, Jupiter was centered in a 7mm when the slew stopped. And
that’s the way it was until I decided to fetch my observing chair, and in the
course of placing it at the scope bumped the tripod, but good. Henceforth,
objects were toward the edge of the 12mm, but always in view. And…that’s just
the way it goes on an Uncle Rod observing run, as you surely know if you’ve
been reading here long.
Next up? If I couldn’t take a picture of the Great Globular,
maybe I could get a parting glimpse of him as he plunged into the west. By this
time, M13 was maybe 15-degrees above the horizon. Alas, when the slew stopped
and I inserted the 13mm Ethos I saw exactly nuttin-honey.
I wasn’t about to give up. I suspected the problem was the
focus difference between the 13 and 7mm eyepieces. I should have focused the 13mm
before I left Jupiter. Down here in the horizon muck, no bloated stars were
visible in the field to use for focusing. So, off I went to Vega to focus. There
I sharpened things up. Did I note the utter lack of false color displayed by
the SkyWatcher APO? Nope. After this long, I just take it for granted.
Vega was a pure, icy blue sapphire.
Back to M13. I spotted the cluster the moment the slew
stopped. Not bad, really. Dim, sure, but grainy and wanting to show a little
resolution. Would more magnification have helped resolve more stars? Perhaps,
but the cluster was dim as it was. Pouring on more aperture would have helped,
but I wasn’t about to lug out the 10-inch Dobsonian, Zelda. The SCT? My
observation is there’s not a huge difference in visual images presented by the
8-inch SCT and 5-inch APO, not enough to justify me changing OTAs, anyhow.
What next? How about M57? OK. To Lyra we went. The Ring
was just that, a perfect little donut displaying plenty of contrast. Since the
constellation was riding high, I thought we might essay the somewhat dim globular
cluster M56. It was actually pretty good, looking much like the horizon-bound M13.
My observation over the years has been it takes about 10-inches of aperture to
make this somewhat neglected glob look good. And 12-inches is better. My
long-gone old friend, my 12-inch Dobsonian Old Betsy, could make this seemingly
nondescript object into a freaking showpiece.
The next target, M76, the Little Dumbbell is thought by some
to be “difficult.” Not so. I once viewed this little sprite with my old 60mm
ETX from deep in the light polluted suburbs, at my old observing site at the
public schools’ Environmental Studies Center. The secret is an OIII filter. But
it has to be the right OIII filter. I walked into the sunroom and fished
a little box labeled "OIII" out of my accessory box. Onto the 12mm it went--with some difficulty. I was nonplussed that for some reason it didn’t want to thread onto the
eyepiece properly. With the filter finally in place, still no M76 did I see. What
My red flashlight revealed the problem. On the edge of the
filter-holder was inscribed “Lumicon.” When I bought this one in 1995, I
thought it was the bee’s knees. But either it has somehow degraded over the
years (possible, I guess), or I just know more about filters 25 plus years down
the road. At any rate, this old thing (one of the pink-hued Lumicons) doesn’t work
very well, and the filter threads on it were never quite right. In I went and
retrieved my Celestron (Baader) 1.25-inch OIII. Ahhh…there it was. Not
only was the mini-Dumbbell visible, it even showed off its twin-lobed shape.
After that? Hermione and I hopped around the sky, me occasionally
looking at SkySafari on the iPhone for inspiration. In no particular order…
M103. This oft-overlooked small (6’) but brilliant galactic cluster
was just beautiful.
M31 and company. M31 looked maybe a bit better than it
usually does from the suburbs. M32 was a brilliant little thing, naturally.
M110 was something of a surprise. It was easily visible despite sometimes being
a trial from compromised skies.
M27, the (big) Dumbbell was attractive, especially with
the OIII. Unfortunately, haze was developing in Cygnus area, and I had a hard
time seeing nearby M71, the loose little globular star cluster once thought not
to be a glob.
NGC 457, The E.T. Cluster. Does this little guy ever look
bad? Well I remember showing him off to Miss Dorothy from the urban backyard of
old Chaos Manor South. He looked good there, and he looked great here, a little
stick figure awash in a sea of stars.
M15, The Horse's Nose Globular. Haze was creeping into the Pegasus area now, so I didn't expect much from this little glob. Surprise! In addition to M15's preternaturally bright core, quite a few teeny-tiny stars were on display at the edges of this wonder.
Alas, before long, old Unk had reached his infamous “I
have had enough” stage. Those of you who know me or who’ve been aboard
this blog for long know that happens once my feet get cold. When they do it is
time to throw the big switch and cover the scope. Which I did. Said cover being
a new one, which I hope proves to be better than the lastun.
As for the mount, the Advanced VX, I was satisfied all is
well with it. Not a single hiccup from power up to power down. Which is a very
good thing. I need a mount in this weight/payload class, and with anything that
comes from China—as the AVX and her cousins do—being nigh impossible to get
these days, I certainly wouldn’t want to go mount-shopping right now.
Alrighty then. See y’all next time. Which will surely be
by Christmas Eve for our traditional blog post. But I do hope “sooner.”
"Trampling aimlessly across the sky" is a good description of how I use my telescope really. Not that I've been doing it much lately as even before I had to go to the ER the sky around here (Vancouver) has been more like an ocean! I almost feel like our recent disaster weather is my fault because right before it hit I had finally finished a tripod building project that got my 4" scope back into action and bought a couple of new eyepieces for my wife's scope. "New gear curse" taken to the extreme:-)
Good to hear you're doing better and got the booster too.
Thought I would drop you a note to wish you a very Merry Christmas. I have been following your articles, books and posts for over a quarter of a century -you're literally the original social media influencer!!
You have had a very big influence on my enjoyment of astronomy…..so thank you.
I hope a few photons from the Orion nebula will be tickling your retina this Christmas, as is your tradition.
very best wishes