Last updated: 31 August 2008
Subject:	Back To The Basics
Sent:	Sunday, August 31, 2008 08:36:22
From:	Steve Hollar (
This is a long report, but, I hope it might be helpful to others,
particularly those who are new to this and don't really have a direction
to go in.

When I got interested in amateur astronomy last year, 2007, after
finding an ETX-60AT at a yard sale, I jumped right in. My thoughts
immediately turned to astrophotography. After all, this scope had
motors! Within a few months, I bought a Meade LPI and DSI. I replaced
the surveyor's tripod for a Meade 884 Deluxe Field Tripod. A variety of
miscellaneous items were soon in my kit like filters and a Hartman Mask.

The learning process began with many hours spent trying for the one
great shot. I was doing pretty good. Then it hit me. After more than a
year, I would walk out at night, look up, and realize I still didn't
have a clue what I was looking at.

All this time, I was so involved in working on picture taking, I forgot
to really see and learn about what I was looking at. So, I decided to go
back to basics.

Last night was one of the most enjoyable nights I've spent with my
scope. I've upgraded to a new ETX-125PE as mentioned before. This time,
it was just me, the scope, and a log book to write down what I was
seeing and doing.

No frustration of Polar Aligning without Polaris being visible to me. I
just went ahead and let the 125PE do an auto setup. What a fantastic
feature that is. It's very accurate, particularly when using High
Precision Mode, and, I even managed to kick a tripod leg half way
through the evening, but, was easily back in alignment after just a
couple of minutes. If you have a 125PE and are not going to do
astrophotography, use this feature. I went ahead and did the simple
Tonight's Best tour in the Meade 497. What a show.

I took the time to really look at what I was seeing. By the way, the
diverted gaze method really works. Don't look right at the object, scan
around the edges. You will begin to see details in nebulas and resolve
stars in globulars far better than looking right at them.

I also used the database in the 497 to learn about the object. Then I
sat down at my card table and wrote down my impressions about it.
Finally, I just stood up and looked up. There is where the scope is
pointing. Now what constellation, or star formation is near it and what
points to it? This morning, I'm going over my notes while using the
Internet to look up the objects I saw and learn more about them. I'm
also finding them on a star chart.

Two particular sightings stood out for me. I had learned that Io,
Jupiter's moon, was going to come out of Jupiter's shadow at around
8:13. I did the auto align and chose Tonight's Best knowing Jupiter
would be the first on the list. I got it into view at about 8:05. Sure
enough, all I could see were three moons instead of the usual four. At
around 8:11 a very tiny pinpoint of light started to appear just to the
left of Jupiter. By about 8:20 it had it's full brightness. I have to
admit, it was exciting to watch.

The other sighting was of Neptune. This was a first for me. I thought it
would just be too dim to be able to see. Not a problem. The scope slewed
to the High Precision star. I centered it then it slewed to Neptune. It
was very close to the center of the FOV. It was an unmistakable blue,
non-twinkling point of light. With higher magnification, I could tell it
was a disk. What a neat way to end the night.

So for those out there who are just starting out and not sure where to
go with this, just slow down, look, and learn. It will bring a whole new
meaning to the words, Amateur Astronomer.

Steve Hollar

Lake Elsinore, CA

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