Last updated: 10 September 1999

ETX under dark New Mexico skies

From: Jeffrey Nutkowitz (OptiquesJeff@worldnet.att.net)
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

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
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:
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
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'

"If you don't change the path you're on, you'll end up where you're already

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Copyright ©1999 Michael L. Weasner / etx@me.com
Submittal Copyright © 1999 by the Submitter
URL = http://www.weasner.com/etx/buyer-newuser-tips/newmexico.html