Last updated: 4 March 2000

Software, Using the Setting Circles

From: jmurphy@touchnet.com (John Murphy)

Bought an ETX-Classic in May 99. Love it. Have 40 observation sessions logged. Don't have to futz with the Autostar. Don't have to worry about downloads, calibrations, etc. And since my original ETX is not upgradable to the autostar, I can't get one. Forced me to learn the sky--at my own slow pace, but I now understand the big picture. I can find planets, Orion Nebula, Pleadies, but that was it. Couldn't figure out how to star hop to find the elusive "M" objects like M31 Andromeda or M101-Pinwheel. I thought maybe I'd just get lucky and find them magically one night in my trusty 26MM lens. (Also have the Meade Barlow which I like very much)

Then I did 2 things: (1)Downloaded Starry Night Backyard software from Sienna Software. (2) Figured out how to use the "Setting Circles" --the 0-90degrees Declination (up and down) and the 0-24 Right Ascension circle that goes left to right. A big "DUH" finally hit me between the eyes. With these 2 things, I can now function like a manual-Autostar (not perfectly, but close enough.) This is a good skill for all you Autostar equipped folks to learn also...

1. Starry Night Backyard Software:
Downloaded the eval copy to see what it is like.
Wow. Am sending them the $39 for the license to use after my 2 weeks free use is up. Start it and it immediately shows you what is up...like the sun during the day or stars at night. Can "point" it any direction--default is South--just like when I look out my back door. Can label the planets, M objects, even star names. It can show stick figures or cool "pictures" of the constellations to show my kids and the cubscouts for their astronomy night. BUT WHAT IT REALLY DOES is let me see where the M objects were in relationship to the constellations I could find myself. Great to use on cloudy nights--because it's like looking out---then you can zoom in on things.

That was the beginning of my eureka. I right-clicked on M31 Amdromeda Galaxy, and brought up an INFO WINDOW that shows a picture of the galaxy--big woo--but then it also showed this cryptical information:
RA: 0h 42.958m and Declination 41deg 18.097min-
the specific coordinates for the exact time--as shown on my PC. Then I remembered reading and not really understanding the Right Ascension and Declination covered on P.10 of the ETX manual. Did this mean that I could somehow point my ETX at 0h42.95m and 41deg 18.077 and see M31? What is RA and DEC? Can't be that simple can it? Well, in a short answer, it ain't quite that simple, but close enough for me.

2. Setting Circles on ETX: Declination and Right Ascension This was the part of the manual I skimmed at first because I wanted to see the moon. Then planets. Now I really need it--so I re-read it. The Right Ascension setting circle is the "band" with numbers from 0-24 that loosely fits around the base of the scope. At first I thought I needed to glue it down because I thought it was a mistake from the factory. Don't glue it down, trust me on this one.

Second, I noticed that the scale has 2 sets of numbers. 0/24, 1/23, 2/22 ... basically to confuse a guy like me. After re-reading the manual, I found out that is because if you use the telescope in the Northern Hemisphere, you use the TOP numbers. In the Southern Hemisphere, the BOTTOM Scale. I guess Meade wants to have some hidden gems buried in their documentation....

Basically if you start with a pretty decent polar alignment--scope pointing north with your center leg set at the right latitude, you have a starting point.

Then I pick a very bright object I can find easily. Like Jupiter. Find it with the telescope. Then I either go inside house to my computer or bring my laptop out with me and find Jupiter using Starry Night and see where says it should be in Dec and RA. Point my ETX there, check the Declination (0-90 up/down) to see if it is right, and it pretty much is. (EUREKA#2 Starts here) THEN I CAN MOVE THE SETTING CIRCLE FOR RIGHT ASCENSION TO THE PROPER TIME that the software tells me. THIS IS WHY THAT SCALE IS NOT GLUED DOWN! For this instant, now my ETX is pointing at Jupiter, and the setting circles agree with the proper coordinates. I am realitively calibrated. NOW I CAN CHECK OUT WHERE M31 ANDROMEDA is in Starry Night software, in Dec and RA, and pretty quickly move the scope there, using both the RA and DEC and it should be relatively close in the sky. Maybe not right on, but a lot closer than my absoultely random guesses... You can also find the coordinates with a paper based star chart--but Starry Night is very cool.

The moral of the story? There are several.
1. The ETX Classic or any non-AUTOSTAR ETX is a very cool and functional tool. Good out of the box. Good as you get better. Better to learn the sky by actually understanding the movement than just punching in GOTO instx on a handset. (You AutoStar users can do this after the novelty of the hand controller wears off....)
2. RTFM. That's a software acronym for Read The F****** Manual. It's all there. DUH.
3. Starry Night is pretty cool.
4. Keep looking up and striving to learn.

Mike--this is a great site. Inspires me to learn more and hopefully share how my frustration became a eureka.

Now if I could only get everyone in Kansas City to turn off their lights, please. I live in a southern suburb and often can't see Polaris due to light pollution. Luckily, most of the cool stuff is in Southern sky so as many of your readers say: Clear Skies!

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