Jag Venugopal's Blog

December 2, 2011

Experiences with a new telescope

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 6:48 am

After about a year of watching the sky with binoculars, we finally decided to buy an honest-to-goodness telescope. After much research, we narrowed in on the Meade ETX 90, a highly regarded scope in many reviews. We ordered from Adorama through the Amazon marketplace.

Sadly, when you buy from an Amazon seller, it is not the same buying experience as purchasing from Amazon. I was shipped what was clearly a demo product, with signs of shelf wear. The tripod was missing. And I was charged the full price. Long story short, it took nearly a week to convince them to take it all back and refund my money.

Simultaneously, I developed cold feet about the ETX-90 after learning that the manufacturer had placed it on closeout. Telescopes are precision optical instruments, and especially considering the amount of plastic on the ETX-90, I was worried that the availability of spares would soon become an issue.

I chose the Celestron 4SE because it had the same technology as the ETX-90 (Maksutov-Cassegrain, 4 inch) and looked like it was going to stay in production. Ordering from Amazon was super-fast. I placed the order on Friday and asked for it to be shipped overnight for $3.99. Amazon actually fedexed the whole thing to my home for Saturday delivery. They’re the only company that will ship a huge package (size of two full suitcases) to a customer’s home overnight for under 4 dollars. (Yes, I do pay for Prime, but even then…)

My daughter and I eagerly put the whole ensemble together, only to discover that the star pointer would not work. And, with it now being the weekend, we had to wait until Monday to order a replacement part from Celestron. When I did call them, however, they were pretty good about agreeing to ship a replacement right away. In the mean time, with the right amount of tapping and twisting the star pointer, we managed to overcome the loose contact and get it to work for the time being.

 Finally getting the telescope out on a clear night taught us our first lesson… the goto function on the scopes require fairly precise alignment, and even then, its not spot-on. After spending time aligning the scope by making it level and centering two or three separate known stars, the telescope travel was only approximate. Telescope manufacturers’ marketing materials would have you believe that the computer-controlled goto feature is precise and takes you exactly where you want to go. The reality is that it requires a lot of setup and fiddling, and at best you get a decent approximation.

For all our troubles, what have we seen so far? Stunning images of the moon’s craters. Jupiter and its moons, with the cloud bands clearly visible. Uranus (although very small), the trapezoid in the Orion nebula, the doubles in Castor and Polaris, and Andromeda. Individual stars such as Betelgeuse were very beautiful, with their reddish color clearly visible.

Right now, we’re just getting going figuring out all the bells and whistles. The next few weeks seem promising, once we’ve ironed out the kinks in the goto feature.

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