BUYER/NEW USER TIPS
Well kiddies, I have been back from New Mexico for almost a week, and I am finally able to sit down and relay an observing report. We (my partner and I) went to New Mexico from Aug 7 thru Aug 14, ostensibly planned so we would be there during Perseids though that was not THE main purpose of our visit, with ETX90EC and all manner of my photography gear in tow (I am a freelance outdoor and nature photographer). My GITZO 340 pro tripod and NPC Pro Head, with the Scopetronix Tripod Adapter for ETX served double duty as both photographic and ETX support. We stayed 6 nights at a most wonderful place, the Dobson House B&B (http://www.bbonline.com/nm/dobson/index.html), a totally solar powered 'earthship' (http://www.earthship.org/index.html), 13 miles north of Taos, on a 100 foot hill overlooking the Rio Grande Gorge. The skies were incredible, clear for all but one of the nights we were there, though there was some dust and haze present at times, and occasionally a few drifting clouds. A small amount of light pollution was visible on the horizon in the directions of Taos (where a dark sky initiative is being promoted) to the southeast, and from Espanola, about 35 miles due south, was also present. Despite these 'problems' the skies were incredible, and nothing I have access to here on the east coast could compare. The Milky Way was bright all the way from one horizon to the other. We saw Perseids activity from the first night we were there (Aug 7). There was turbulence, making stars nearer the horizon twinkle noticeably, and planetary viewing during the week was less than optimal, with max useable magnification in the ETX of about 150x (I have been able, on rare occasion, from damp, stable skies to go up to well over 250x to 300x, and the ETX optics produced great planetary images!!!). The Autostar, still using v1.0c, produced my usual, consistent 80 to 85% target acquisition within the field of view of the 26mm ep. What follows is a list of objects observed, with some commentary. Of note is the fact that I have not seen more than a very few observing reports from ETX users who have had the scope under such fantastic and dark skies. I guess people who live 'there' can justify larger setups to begin with. My impressions of the potential of a quality 90mm scope to produce highly satisfying views of even 'difficult' objects were readily verified under such conditions, however. I have frequently urged people to never underestimate a scope such as the ETX, especially when used under truly dark, clear skies, and aided by a modicum of well developed observing skills. 'Showpiece' objects were all astounding, with all the typical details ascribed to each readily visible, such as the dark dust lanes of the Trifid Nebula, for example. Dimmer objects, such as low surface brightness galaxies, while basically devoid of well defined detail, still 'snapped' into view against the contrast-enhancing, pollution-free dark sky background, with their sizes and overall shapes easily detected. (Ok, Ok, M31 and M33 were more impressive in 10x50 binocs, with M31's entire span clearly visible, something not possible in most scope's fields of view -nor from my light polluted skies-, and M33's low surface brightness was not diluted by magnification and it clearly showed its boxy-oval shape). The brightest globulars began to resolve faintly at outer edges, and open clusters were all simply beautiful. Perseids were visible every night, with the best sessions on Wed night (11/12)...between midnight and 3 am we saw a rate of at least 30 per hour, but it varied quite a bit. Many showed glowing trails, and one was like a lightning flash, lighting up the entire sky and mesa!! Thursday night (Aug 12-13) we went out around 10 pm, with our B&B owners, who were delighted to get a guided tour of about 12 of the finest showpieces through the ETX and to see some meteors. From 10 till about midnight, we saw LOTS of Perseids, many with glowing trails, at a rate again of about 30/hour. After midnight it slowed down significantly, though the ones we then saw seemed brighter and with longer trails. Aug 8/9 M51 hints of the spiral structure visible M101 easy to see its size and shape despite low surface brightness M92 very nice M13 typically excellent M5 nice M80 nice M4 very nice M7 great M6 the Butterfly was simply stunning M22 easily resolved into individual stars at about 80x, beautiful, simply the best globular observable from most north hemisphere locals M8 Lagoon readily seen, cluster and nebula in same fov simply beautiful M20 slightly dimmer than M8, but dark lanes obvious, beautiful M17 stunningly beautiful emission nebula, one of the best and brightest, shape readily visible in small scope M26 tiny thing, but easily observed M11 utterly stunning at low and medium powers M27 bright, no longer a 'dumbbell' but round, with the two sets of lobes of different brightness obvious M57 great as usual M31/32/101 too big!! The smaller satellite was somewhat of a fuzzy star, the larger obviously a small elliptical galaxy. M31's core was bright and well defined, and the spirals filled the rest of the field of view, with a faint hint of the inner dark lanes visible. The 'top' and 'bottom' edges of the narrow dimension of the oval that fit in across the fov were clearly visible and well defined against the sky background and in contrast to the bright core. M33 low surface brightness, but boxy oval shape readily visible against dark sky background, and at the VERY edge of visibility were faint hints of the spiral structure or dark lanes Aug 12 M22 same as above M55 decent M75 this was a small and dim globular, but easy to see, not like from back here in the east M30 ditto M72 ditto M73 a dim asterism (these last 4 -and several others I observed out there- have eluded me in the east, due to rampant light pollution) M2 nice M15 very nice M74 one of the toughest M objects, with low surface brightness. Somewhat ghostly, but size and shape easily observed against the dark sky background M34 wonderful open cluster M103 ditto M76 The Little Dumbbell, one of the hardest M objects of all, was readily visible, shape and all, due to compact shape and higher surface brightness than most galaxies. Note: the Autostar v1.0c database lists this object incorrectly in every way, so I simply input the coordinates manually, and had to slew around just a tiny bit, whereupon it slid readily into view M77 another very low surface brightness galaxy, but very nice, size and shape easily seen against dark sky background Jupiter and Saturn magnification limited due to turbulence, Jupiter stunningly bright to naked eye Aug 12/13 Guided tour (I was the guide) for our B&B hosts, observing comments same as prior nights: M22 M4 M6 M8 M20 M17 M11 M27 M57 M13 Albireo always a thriller! Later, I tried for some more challenging subjects. Failed to detect the Little Gem, although I HAVE been able to see it from here in the east: NGC 6308 The Bug, this was on the very edge of visibility, probably the most challenging object I tried, possibly due to the southerly declination, low altitude when I tried it, and the horizon light pollution from Espanola, 35 miles due south NGC 7662 Blue Snowball, Very nice, bright, compact, blue color visible, withstands some magnification, appears as a slightly fuzzy star at low powers NGC 7293 The Helix Nebula, large, low surface brightness, but obviously round and with a faint hint of the helix 'arms' visible Overall, I was MOST impressed by what my little ETX90EC was able to make visible to us. I was hoping to work on some more challenging subjects, but time and company, along with wanting to see some meteors too!, made that an ongoing project for future observing sessions. Still, I feel that I worked the ETX to its fullest potential, and it did not fall short in its ability to perform. I was delighted to be able to finally have a truly portable, high quality scope with me during my travels for outdoor and nature photography, which frequently coincide (by design) with astro events and which usually place me in locations with incredible skies. Under such conditions the ETX/Autostar combo has proven its mettle with potential to spare. I am one truly satisfied ETX owner, and have so far gotten more use and satisfaction out of it since I got it than in the prior decade from my rarely used, venerable Criterion Dynascope RV6 6" Newt. The ETX is just such a pleasure to store, transport, and setup, and the Autostar makes observing sessions so much more user friendly. That it fits in an airline overhead bin in a protective camera bag, complete with everything I need...scope, 6 assorted ep's + barlow, standard handbox ('spare'), Autostar controller, cables, tripod adapter, batteries, auto power cables, tabletop legs (for 'spare' or polar use on a tabletop), bubble levels, guides, maps, and more...and that I can now take an entire observatory with me on a plane and transport/carry it all with one hand is amazing, and these are a few of the strongest selling points that the ETX90EC has going for itself for me. Sure, I'd love to have a larger, goto equipped scope, but for my criteria, there is simply no other unit that can compare or meet my needs. Maybe someday if we move to a place like New Mexico, a larger more permanent installation could become reality, but for now, taking the ETX with me does the trick. Take care -- Jeffrey Nutkowitz/Optiques Classic Photographic Imagery Freelance Outdoor and Nature Photography Emphasizing a 'Sense of Place' http://members.aol.com/OptiquesJN "If you don't change the path you're on, you'll end up where you're already going."
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