Last updated: 17 July 2008
Subject: My ETX-90 Learns to Hula Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 11:06:13 From: Dave Wallace (firstname.lastname@example.org) On June 26th, I left Boston for a vacation on the islands of Kauai and Maui, Hawaii. I had booked four nights in Kapa`a, Kauai and five nights in Ka`anapali, Maui. The timing of the vacation was determined by the fact that the company I work for is shut down over the week containing the Independence Day (US) holiday -- July 4th. The locales were chosen based on my experiences on previous vacation trips and *not* because they would be particularly good observing sites. (In fact, these are "resort towns" and the light pollution is about the same as in the suburban US.) Astronomy was an "experiment", not the purpose of the trip. But since Hawaii has the "best view in the house" for the 2012 transit of Venus, I wanted to determine how well the ETX would travel. For this set-up, I had an ETX-90 OTA (the spotting scope model, actually) with a right-angle finder replacing the original straight-through one, a ScopeTronix flexi-focus and two focal lengths of Meade series-4000 Super Plossel eyepieces: the 26 mm and 12.4 mm. The 26 mm eyepiece was made parafocal with the 12.4 mm by use of rubber O-rings. For a mount, I had the medium-sized photographic tripod I've been using for photography for the last five or six vacations. (I'd already determined that this was a pretty stable platform when there was no wind.) I have a soft-sided carry-on bag that's approximately 10 x 13 x 21 inches. It's got one large zippered pocket one small one and a zippered flap on one side plus an unsecured flap on the other side. The large pocket is about six inches wide. The OTA and my camera bag took up virtually the whole of that. My laptop took up most of the smaller pocket. Spare underwear and socks provided what cushioning was possible for the OTA. I figured that the TSA would probably strip-search me when they saw the OTA in my carry-on, but I wasn't about to put it in checked luggage. (As it turned out, my bag was never even questioned.) Boarding was not a real problem, though I was booked into window seats in coach for all flights (which on a 757 are narrow -- my carry-on went into under-seat storage but had to go in lengthwise and somewhat limited my leg-room, but I'm used to that). My laptop got a lot of attention -- I use an XO-1 (http://www.laptop.org -- more about the computer later) which looks more like a kid's toy than a "real" computer. Seventeen hours later, I was renting a car on Kauai. Needless to say, by the time I'd checked into the hotel I was in no mood to look at the sky that night! The skies the following evening were cloudy (at least by the time I got out of the luau). But I had taken the time during the day to boresight the finder (which had come adrift due to vibration during the flights) and verify that the optics had survived the trip. The following day was spent sight-seeing (through the viewfinder of my camera) and shopping for souvenirs. That evening, I had my first chance to set up the ETX for astronomy. I picked a spot on the beach in front of the resort positioned so that the resort building blocked most of the area lighting of the courtyard. This site was not quite as dark as the spot I usually observe from at home but it at least had the virtue that there were no headlights from passing cars to surprise me. I started in at about 8:30 PM local time -- an hour after sunset in partly-cloudy conditions. My first target was the one for which dragging the ETX along was supposed to be worth the effort: Omega Centauri. This large globular cluster never makes it above my southern horizon back home. I'd photographed it about a year ago from Maui but I wanted to experience it in the eyepiece. Well, there it was -- nearly filling the field in my 26 mm eyepiece. Imagine M13 but several times bigger. Very nice! I went on to a another southern-sky sight: M8, then wandered northeast to where Jupiter was rising (fairly good seeing) and got a good look at the major two cloud-bands and three of his moons. After that, I hit a couple of pretty open clusters in the area of Scorpio near Sagittarius: M7 and NGC6383, getting better views of those than I ever did at home (where they're never more than 5 degrees above the tree-line for me). I finished up with old friends: Epsilon Lyrae, Albireo and Mizar, as I found myself doing a mini star-party as there were several curious on-lookers (including the guitarist who I'd been listening to perform earlier while having dinner). Finally, the sky was too cloudy to continue but I'd had about 90 minutes of observing time. My laptop provided assistance, as I had a whole-sky star chart program I'd written running on it to help me orient myself -- I needed that between having the building block most of the sky westward of me and clouds knocking holes out of the constellations, the 20-degree change of latitude and the number of additional visible stars compared to my severely light-polluted site at home. I did no more astronomy from Kauai. The following day was an afternoon tour from which I didn't return until about 8 PM and the day after that I had to check out, so I didn't want to be minus on sleep. The first evening on Maui was too hectic to even look at the night sky to see what the conditions were. But the second evening was worse -- I went to a live show (`Ulalena -- if you're ever on Maui go see it!) and it was well after nine PM when I got back. I remember noticing that the sky was clear but I had a 7AM pick-up time for a wilderness hike that I had to make. After returning from the hike, I re-did the boresighting of the finder (which had come adrift again on the inter-island flight) and set up in a dark corner of the property. I had a fair view westward but nothing east -- the exact opposite of the location on Kauai. That was okay -- for amusement I had Mars and Saturn to look at. This night (July 2nd), the arrangement was Saturn-above-Mars-above-Regulus, with Mars and Regulus very close. The whole grouping was between 15 and 30 degrees above the ocean in the west. It would have made a pretty picture, but the ETX was occupying the tripod and my camera was back in my room. The view of Mars, even at 83X, was nothing to write home about. Saturn was another matter: the rings were nice, Titan was visible and you could just see (or at least imagine you were seeing) some banding on the planet. But the trade-winds were bouncing the scope around some. Again, the clouds were moving in and I had to make another 7AM pick-up so after a quick glance at Mizar (just because I could), I called it a night. The following night was completely overcast by sunset. Which seemed strange as it was completely clear at 5 PM, but that's the way the weather sometimes works in Hawaii. On the evening of July Fourth, nearly all the fireworks in the sky were man-made. But I did get a nice look at Saturn, Mars and Regulus equally-spaced in a straight line. Before the clouds and showers moved in. :( I flew back on the evening of July 5th. My conclusion: unless you're willing to devote all (or at least a significant part of) your Hawaii vacation specifically to astronomy and book lodging in or be willing to drive to places known for clear sky in the evening and away from resorts, you might as well leave your telescope home. But if you go that route, the ETX-90 will definitely do the hula!
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