STRANGE BUT TRUE STORY
Yes, You've Uploaded v2.1ek...But do YOU Have the LATEST Version of AutoStar?
A version you will NOT find on your Meade download.
It had all the makings of the perfect night....it was too late to go to our dark sky site on Petit Jean Mountain, so I was preparing for a long, dark night behind my home in Conway. The ETX 125 was carefully placed in home position on its tripod and I chose to put an LX 90 on the permanent pier in my observing deck.
The afternoon skies were a deep blue, an occasional wisp of high stratus dragging by as the waning daylight brought cooling and inviting temperatures to the outside air. There was no moon tonight....the sky was dry and the air still. All the way to the horizons the royal cast of the sky never brightened, signifying the deep clear that dreams are made of.
Comet LINEAR 2001 A-2 was perched near the feet of Orion, awaiting nightfall. Soon the telescopes would pierce the fragile cloak of night toward distant cosmic wonders.....galaxies, globular clusters, perhaps what would be the last glimpse of ringed Saturn as it had moved ever-so-closer to its parent sun.
So, everything had to be PERFECT for this (what-turned-out-to-be-not-so-perfect) night. I always make a point to set up my portable telescopes early in the evening so that I will have plenty of light to work with. There is much to be done with a Go TO computerized telescope prior to dark.
You must first level the telescope system; the ETX 125 on the tripod would have to be leveled in its temporary position but the LX 90 would be merely placed onto the awaiting pier, ready and aligned for every observing session. Once leveled, the telescopes would have to be set in Polar Home Position, which requires accurately "aiming" each scope toward the North Celestial Pole. I use my setting circles which have been accurately adjusted to read "0" when the scope tubes are level to the ground (prior to placing in Polar) and then rotating the Declination to read "90" when set in Polar mode.
All of this is best done during daylight. At night, there are frustrations that are only exaggerated by one's eagerness to begin observing at once!
Remember, that so far I have done NOTHING that requires the AutoStar, initialization, or any form of alignment.....indeed, I don't even need any POWER at this point of my initial set-up.
So, once done getting the scopes in home position, I needed to get power to them; the pier has power so I just plugged in the LX 90....the ETX 125 needed an extension cord to the AC / DC converter, so that was run quickly out to the tripod. All the power requirements were set and ready.....but nothing plugged in nor connected at this point.
That is ALWAYS the last thing I do....I do NOT like power glitches in my telescopes!
Back inside I gathered all the necessary accessories and put into the accessory case that were not already there. I had worked on my AutoStars earlier in the day so they were loose as was one eyepiece. All was gathered and transported out to the observing deck. An eyepiece for "Easy Align - 2-star" was inserted into each diagonal holder, moving the telescopes ever-so-closer to the final eagerly-awaited startup at dusk.
I carefully set the accessory cases (AutoStars and all) down on the workbench inside the observing deck where they would protect all the goodies inside from any blowing dust and pollen.
THE PREPOSTEROUS PUZZLE.....
And.....then it happened.
What you have to understand is that this setup was not at all unlike my getting ready sessions that I have done hundreds of times over....exactly the same.
Once all the aforementioned "busy work" was done, there was still a bit of daylight and my wife Patsy and I were enjoying discussion and examining the springtime rebirth of our gardens throughout the backyard. The way we "enjoy" this activity is for Patsy to point and discuss and for Clay to shake his head and act interested as I nervously expend energy awaiting nightfall and cosmic pleasures.
"Oh...LOOK at the Red Bud seed pods," she exclaimed merrily and enthusiastically while pointing to a bunch of stick-like fingers hanging where there were some pretty nice looking flowers last week.
"Can you believe how many......."
"BEEEEEEP!" Her words were stopped by that all-too-familiar sound to ETX and LX 90 users.
"BEEEEP!" it repeated.
She changed the subject quickly and with noticeable frustration at the intrusion. "Your THING'S going off!!" she interjected.
"I beg your pardon?" I responded to the comment.
"Your THING'S going off....the doo-dad! It's beeping!" she explained, wanting to get back to the garden update and variety review.
So I looked around attempting to find my "doo-dad" that was "going off" to no avail. And then I heard the sound again: "BEEEEEP!" The unmistakable and irritating monotone that only our AutoStar can produce once it is finished doing its business.
"There...there it is again," Patsy reminded me as I looked around for the AutoStars....where WERE they? Lordy, they weren't even HOOKED UP, I thought. But while I searched, they kept going off....
"....BEEEEEP!" "beeeeep!" "BEEEEEP!"
Well, now I was getting concerned. Something was just NOT right....I had worked on the AutoStars (both) that day but did not do anything that would cause them to just go off at random. Normally, we hear the distinct "BEEEEP!" sound after it locks onto an alignment star or after a GO TO....not just when it is just sitting around. So I figured I had messed something up.
I went over and looked at the LX 90 on the pier....the AutoStar was not even PLUGGED IN! It was still in the accessory case!
Went over to the ETX 125....the AutoStar WAS plugged in, but the power was NOT connected via the extension cord, nor were there any batteries in the scope!
I have spare AutoStars which were in the sun room just off the deck where we were, so I checked inside to see what in the world was going on. All this time, the air was FILLED with multiple "BEEEEP"....."BEEEEP!" It was like having a cell phone ring SOMEWHERE in the sofa late at night with all the lights out and danged if you can find the thing before your caller hangs up on you.
The AutoStars in the house were dead.....no power, no display....just dead. No Beeps. The AutoStar for the LX 90 was dead....still in the box....no power, no display...just dead. No Beeps. The AutoStar for the ETX 125 was silently resting on the wedge...no power, no display....just dead. Also no Beeps.
'BEEEEEP!" And it kept on keeping on. What in tarnation was going on?!
Clearly, the irritating sound was coming from the direction of the observing deck; each time we would venture further into the yard or across the veranda, we could clearly noted that our "BEEEEEP!" emanated from that direction without a doubt....
....we were getting closer.
And, then....as though to just twist the knife in deeper and make us look like total fools to nobody but ourselves (thank GOD the neighbors stayed home tonight), a little 'COWBIRD' flew down from a high power line across the highway and landed on the south wall of the observing deck.
It had been years since I had seen the North American Brown-Headed Cowbird (molothrus ater); as a kid I used to lay in the fields of my grandparent's farm in Ozark, Arkansas and listen to their song on the hot sultry August afternoon....
"BEEEEEP!" the rascal shouted in my ear as his partner left the power line and flew northward into the Red Bud tree to join him. "BEEEEP!" she joined chorus in Wagnerian style, just rubbing our AutoStar noses in our falling for what had to be the BEST AutoStar impersonation I have ever heard, and one likely not duplicated in my lifetime!
Undoubtedly the female Catbird was pointing out the small Red Bud seed pods in places where he distinctly remembered small pretty pink flowers from the week before....
So...though all this, I believe that I have been enriched educationally. My body of knowledge concerning the construction and operation of the Meade telescopes has merely been increased many fold from this unique experience of which very few - if ANY - other ETX or LX 90 users EVER get to experience!
Yes, folks, I have learned exactly WHERE Meade came up with that irritating, annoying and ear-piercing monotonous tone for the completion of an AutoStar GO TO....
....they made a recording of the North American Brown-Headed Cowbird, and simply fed that rascal into the Autostar.
(p.s. I got rid of the Cowbirds....shooed 'em away with the flick of a wrist. Now I've got to figure out what to do with the AutoStar....)
P. Clay Sherrod
Arkansas Sky Observatory
Conway / Petit Jean Mountain
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