Last updated: 17 June 2001

This is a "User Opinions" page where YOU can express YOUR opinions. Contributions are welcome of course.

Subject:	Knowing the Night Sky
Sent:	Thursday, June 14, 2001 10:26:00
From:	berg@ans.net (Kevin Berg)
This is just a little commentary on the use of GoTo scopes versus manual
slewing and the use of star charts/computer software, to assist one in
knowing the night sky.

As a first scope, I've had an ETX-90/EC since March 1999, and it has
proven to be one of the best purchases I have ever made for both
portability and viewing (given MY expectations from its aperture). Of
course, both the technical and non-technical support provided by Mike's
web site has made it an even better purchase. In fact, I have been so
satisfied by the scope's performance, the support and information
offered by Mike's site, and the hobby in general that I have recently
purchased a SkyQuest XT10 (10" Dobsonian) from Orion to hunt down those
fainter deep sky objects.

As most of you may know, a Dobsonian is an excellent choice of scope for
viewing deep sky objects in particular. And you also may know that
Dobsonian scopes don't include GoTo capabilities like the infamous
ETX/Autostar combo, although manual GoTo devices using encoders (i.e.,
digital setting circles) and drive mechanisms starting at $400 and up
are certainly available for Dobsonians.

Let me first say that I will NEVER let go of my ETX and its GoTo
capability/portability, and have learned quite a bit about the night sky
using it, but I've also learned that I have become somewhat dependent on
its ability to find objects, and realize that, at least for myself, I
will never attain the level of knowledge the night sky has to offer in
terms of knowing where objects are until I am FORCED to find them
myself. This approach (thru star-hopping) may not be for everybody, but
for those willing to take on the challenge, I believe it is one that,
with time and patience, will provide a wealth of night sky knowledge.

You might be wondering why I am writing about manual slewing and
star-hopping, being that this site has so much support concerning the
use of the GoTo capability of ETX scopes. The answer lies in those
situations where something goes wrong (or could go much better) and the
problem is associated with that GoTo feature, like improper alignment,
battery/power failure, some form of mechanical/slewing problem, software
glitch and/or something else that affects or disables that GoTo
funtionality. It's at that time when, instead of calling it a night
(especially when it seems like you've waited an eternity for good
weather, right?), you can rely on your star-hopping techniques to get
you through the observing session. Let's face it, if all else fails, you
can at least use a binocular and/or your own two eyes to hunt down even
relatively faint objects - or can you? Well, not unless you have a
certain level of ability in knowing the night sky.

So, if you're like me, you might want to do yourself a favor when you
can and practice a manual GoTo method, by using (1) a non-GoTo scope
like a Dobsonian (if you have access to or can afford one), (2) the
setting circles on the ETX, (3) a binocular, or (4) your own two eyes,
all of these with a decent star chart. Perhaps you could practice one of
these options when your ETX is working just fine, in order to LEARN
THOSE CONSTELLATIONS; In fact, you don't even have to LEARN the
constellations first - just learn how to star-hop, and learning the
constellations becomes inherent in that task. I think you'll be glad you
did WHEN you do have that GoTo "problem", and Murphy's Law says that in
time, you will. Even if you were able to somehow escape Murphy's Law,
you would still be satisfied by knowing the night sky a LOT better than
you did before.

I'm hoping for the day when I can confidently say that I don't require
the GoTo feature to find deep sky (or any other) objects. Again, I
believe that with time and patience, that day won't be far off. Hats off
to you folks with ETX's WITHOUT the Autostar, and any other non-GoTo
scope owner.

Finally, let me close by saying that for those who choose to rely
strictly on the GoTo feature to find objects, that's perfectly fine,
because that's what it's all about - personal choice. However, I also
want to personally experience the work it takes and the satisfaction
gained by finding objects without that magnificent GoTo feature - and
learn the constellations much better by star-hopping. To me, having a
GoTo scope AND mastering the star-hopping technique is kind of like
getting the best of both worlds. And, to many of us, the thrill of the
hunt is just as important (and sometimes more important) than the find.

Thanks for listening,


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