Last updated: 22 April 2005
Subject: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." - A. Einstein Sent: Friday, April 22, 2005 08:11:24 From: Phelps III, Robert C. (firstname.lastname@example.org) In early summer of 2003 I purchased an ETX-125. I had watched the evolution of the ETX series of scopes for a couple of years before I purchased mine (the $100 eyepieces and free tripod helped me make the decision). One of the reasons that I decided to purchase a scope now was the upcoming close encounter with Mars that was to take place in August of 2003. I had been using a 10" Coulter dobsonian given to me by my sister after she had purchased a 10" Meade with GOTO capabilities. The dob was a good scope, but the lack of tracking made using it frustrating. I did use it to see the dark, blotchy scars on Jupiter immediately after comet S-L 9 smashed into it, so it was an effective scope. After reading all I could about the ETX, I set it up on my south-facing deck off the first-level of our two-story home. I then discovered that Polaris was not visible and I needed to use a compass to find north. I also realized that I was surrounded by trees making it difficult to find alignment stars for the easy-alignment routine built into the Autostar. Over several evenings I worked with the scope and manage to occasionally get a decent alignment and began to see the worth of the scope. That first summer I spent most of my time watching the moon and Mars. I purchased a web cam, did the necessary alterations to use it with my ETX, downloaded some astrophotography software, and tried to prepare for the close encounter with Mars. During August, 2003 I did manage to get a couple of groups of decent stacked images of Mars. Using the Sky and Telescope web site, I was able to identify some of the details (more like shadings on the planet's surface) in the images I processed. All in all it was a satisfying experience. Winter approached and I seldom got the scope out. In early 2004 we made the decision to sell our home and build a new home. We found a building site on a 200-foot bluff overlooking a wide river valley. The back of our new home faces south. While making the transition from our old home to our new, the ETX stayed in its hard case and through the winter of 2004-2005 there was little opportunity to use the scope. In fact, for the first six months of our occupancy we had 15 days that it didn't rain. Late in March of this year I discovered that I could see Polaris from my deck and tried to do an alignment but I had forgotten about centering the scope's circular travel. During the alignment it the scope hit the clockwise stop and the alignment failed. Clouds moved in before I could try again and I gave up in disgust, wondering why I had spent all this money on a scope that was so hard to use and didn't seem to work all that well. I went back and re-read all of the documentation on the scope and discovered why it had failed the last time I tried to use it. I practiced with it until I was sure I could do an alignment correctly. The in mid-April I heard a weather forecaster predict 5 days of clear weather 4/17 through 4/21. On that Friday (4/17) I brought the scope out while it was still light. I aligned the finder scope with a microwave tower two miles away across the valley and waited for darkness. Remarkably, the sky was cloudless, and the night was cool, but not cold. It was too early for insects to be out in large numbers. It was the perfect night for viewing. I had checked my Starry Night software and discovered that Jupiter, Saturn, and the moon would all be visible during the early evening. I waited for Polaris to appear. When it finally did, I centered it in the finder scope and was pleased to see a bright shiny dot in the center of my 26mm eyepiece. I leveled the scope and successfully aligned the scope using Sirius and Arcturus. I navigated through the Autostar menu to Jupiter and punched GOTO. I was rewarded with a clear view of Jupiter and the four Galilean moons dead center in the eyepiece. It knocked my socks off. I adjusted the electronic focus on the ETX and saw light and dark bands on the planet as well as those four diamond-like moons. I noticed the over the next several minutes Jupiter drifted off-center so I synced it and the drift stopped. Next, I instructed the ETX to find Saturn. It slewed toward Saturn and nailed it in the center of my eyepiece. I saw light bands on the planet, the rings and, with some delicate focusing, even saw the Cassini division. Saturn started drifting too, so I synced it and the drifting stopped. I left the scope for a while (15 -20 minutes) and when I returned, Saturn was still dead center. I had the scope slew to the moon and spent the rest of the evening switching between those three items. I was impressed with the precision of the scope and also came to realize that taking time to do an accurate alignment really paid dividends as the evening wore on. I repeated the experience the following evening with equally good results. The following evening, Sunday 4/19/05, I brought out the scope early, along with my laptop and the Meade LPI. The evening started clear but patchy clouds moved in as the evening progressed. I shot several series of images of Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon with some success. I need to work on image processing and using the LPI, but the success I had keeps me motivated to keep trying until I get it right. Those three days were the best experience I have had using the ETX. As this summer progresses I will try to expand to deep sky items. There are not many experiences that are more awe-inspiring than that first look through the eyepiece at the disk of Jupiter and its four visible moons. Over the years I have shared that experience with those that have never looked through a modern telescope with decent optics. I have shared it with those that have seen the same planet in images from the Hubble Space Telescope. After their initial reaction, which generally involves some form of "Oh wow", they become quite and introspective as they processed this new view of the universe. It is hard to deny that Jupiter is really there when you look at it across miles of intervening space. Then, slowly comes the realization that the size of the solar system and the size of the universe forces us to acknowledge that our place in the universe fades into obscurity while conversely the realization that we are part of that same incredible universe. As others, much more astute than me have said, we are star-stuff that has evolved to the point that we are aware of our origins.
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