Neck Pain and Eyestrain

Hobbies that involve the physical universe are not necessarily compatible with the corporeal universe, hence the title of this post. Like so many others, when night falls, I find myself frequently drawn to the sky and its wonders, and if I’m blessed with a clear steady night and can stay awake long enough I like to drag my telescopes (yes, you can’t have just one) out and set them up and enjoy what wonders I can see in our light-polluted skies.

Our city skies are a human tragedy. We are now raising generations of children who have not seen the Milky Way. Don’t know that magnificent globular clusters exist. Have never seen the moon beyond the haze of city air. The tragedy is that it needn’t be. Its not at all difficult to design and use “low-cutoff” lighting, that only illuminates what it needs to, rather than throwing half the light up into the atmosphere, to no one’s benefit. Cities (the very few) who have embraced a “dark sky policy” have seen their municipal energy costs decline by as much as 58%. We simply waste too much power, and in the process, rob ourselves and our children of one of our most precious and ancient heritages – to know where we are in the universe, and to understand the magnificence that is our neighbourhood.

I wish I had the space to put up a proper observatory, but my yard layout just doesn’t facilitate it, and the fact that I live in a valley makes it even more difficult to chose a place to put the scopes. So, mostly I have to content myself with dragging them in and out of the house.

I got lucky one week this summer when I was off on some vacation time, to also have a week where I could set them up and leave them up for a few days. Rarely do I have them all out at once, simply because of the amount of setup work involved.

Without further ado, here is my (current) telescope farm:

The leftmost telescope is a jewel of a scope. This is a classic Celestron Celestar 8 (The big black part in the middle), from the days of hand-figured Celestron optics. I purchased this as a used scope when everybody was getting into computerized telescopes. The view through this is exquisite. The design is called a “Schmidt-Cassegrain” reflector after the inventors of the optical path. 8″ lens, folded optical path, giving it the performance of a much longer scope.

You’re seeing it in full dress mode here: atop the C8 is a William Optic Megrez 72mm refractor telescope (the white one – straight through light path), taking advantage of the “sidereal” mount (tracks the sky). Below the WO (behind it actually) is a Telrad sight for lining up on stars, and the small black telescope on top is an optical sighting scope.

The black band around the C8 at midpoint is a Kendrick dew heater; there is one back on the eyepiece as well. These function to warm the optics of the scope up enough to prevent the formation of dew on the lens. They work very well. On the back end of the C8 is a two-speed SA-GSO fine focuser and a 45 degree diagonal. Ahead of the black band is a plastic dew shield that reduces dew formation as well and prevents stray light from getting into the tube (ie from neighbour’s porch lights…). Its taken me quite awhile to get all this together (praise be the god of Ebay).

The middle telescope is a 10″ Sky Mentor Newtonian reflector on a Dobsonian mount. This is a “push to where you want it to go” scope. Hands down, nothing beats a big “Dob” for just noodling about the sky (this actually isn’t all that big at 10″, but as the diameter of the mirror goes up, reflectors get Real Big real fast. Double the mirror size and I’d need a stepladder to look through it, but oh, what a view…!). You just sit down beside it on a stool and push it around to wherever you want to look. Simple, uncomplicated. Great when its late and you’re tired but the sky’s too good to waste. This one is equipped with a cooling fan to take the summer heat out of the mirror, and has a couple of sighting scopes/finders on it. I probably use this scope more than any other, just because there’s not much fuss to set it up.

The rightmost scope is a Meade ETX 90 RA. The 90 is 90mm, the diameter of the lens. This is a design similar to, but different from the C8, called a Maksutov. It too has a folded light path. I use this one for solar viewing mostly (with a proper filter – never, ever, ever, point a telescope at the sun without a proper filter. You will be blinded permanently instantly). Along with the William Optic, its also a good terrestrial telescope for daytime spying, er, viewing. The ETX is also mounted on a sidereal drive.

The two pictures below the telescopes were taken through the ETX 90 early one very humid morning in June 2004. The humidity was so high, it didn’t look like I was even going to be able to see the sun through the haze. The first picture shows the planet Venus moving (transiting) across the face of the sun, approaching what is described as the “3rd contact”. As the planet crosses the limb (edge) of the sun, it makes 4 “contacts” – 2 at the left side of the sun, front and back, and 2 at the right side of the sun as it leaves, front and back. These “contacts” are important, because it is at these junctures that much can be determined about the atmosphere of Venus (among other things), as it refracts (bends) sunlight.

The second picture is of Venus making its 3rd contact. You can see an optical illusion created by the diffraction of sunlight – the “black drop”: a secondary shadow just off the right edge of Venus, and the “pinching in” of the edge of the sun, both caused by light rays bending through the atmosphere of Venus. Unfortunately due to the haze, the detail is not as sharp as it might have been. No sunspots are evident, not because there aren’t any (there were), they’re just obscured by the haze.