|The Journey Begins|
It was December of 1997 and Carol purchased Chuck a Meade Polaris 114mm Reflecting Telescope for Christmas. Yup, a "department store" telescope. Three .965 inch eyepieces (25mm, 12.5mm and 4mm) and a 3x Barlow. Well, the scope sat in the box until the weather started to clear in March. Once nice clear evening we took the scope out of the box, set it up on the wobbly wooden tripod, took it out into the driveway and pointed it at the brightest thing in the sky. We looked through the eyepiece and there was Saturn. Incredible, we could see the rings, the planet, and an inky black background. We were both hooked!
We had no idea how to find objects in the sky and decided to join our local astronomy club (Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society). We went to some meetings, purchased star charts, and tried to use the scope. A friend removed the .965" reduction ring from the focuser and put in an 1.25" plossl eyepiece to show us the Orion Nebula. Ah Ha! Eyepieces really do make a difference. Time to start learning about Telescopes.
Moving on Up
It didn't take long to outgrow the Meade Polaris. Next stop was a Celestron G5 which was ordered in September of 1998. What an improvement! More aperture, 1.25" eyepiece, steady mount, and a motor to make the telescope track the stars. Time to start observing the heavens. Chuck started the Astronomical League's Messier Certificate program and Carol started the Messier Binocular Certificate program. What a difference. We loved the equatorial mount. Suddenly it was easy to follow the star charts. One slow motion knob moved the scope North or South, the other moved the scope East or West. It was starting to make sense. Chuck finished the Messier objects and started the Double Star Certificate program.
Chuck's job required a bit of travel. We had been on vacation out west (Yellowstone) and in the Caribbean and we longed for a nice Airline portable telescope. Chuck really wanted an AP Traveler, so he put his name on the waiting list. But how long would we have to wait? We thought we should buy something to hold us over. The Tele Vue Pronto looked good but we met Al Nagler at NEAF in 2000 and he convinced us to buy a TV85 APO.
We ordered the Tele Vue 85 and a Tele-Pod Mount in April 2000. Chuck was thinking that we would need more aperture in the future and the Celestron C11 looked like a great OTA. More aperture meant we would need a stable mount. The Losmandy G11 looked really good, so we ordered one at the same time as the Tele Vue 85. Unfortunately, the mount was back-ordered and the company we ordered it from (Pocono Mountain Optics) went out of business while we were waiting. Chuck called Losmandy, and they agreed to deliver a mount for the price quoted by Pocono. Can't say enough about the integrity of Scott Losmandy! Well, to make a long story short, the TV85 turned out to be a wonderful scope. What a telescope, portable, easy to setup, beautiful color correction, mechanically superb!
Stability for a while
We still have the Tele Vue 85. It has traveled to the Caribbean several times, out to South Dakota and Wyoming, to many star parties, and to the Adirondacks for our summer camping adventures. Still hope to get a bit more aperture and maintain the portability. We have waited 5 years for the AP Traveler so it must be getting close.
The first year we went to NEAF, we met Barlow Bob and saw the sun in H-Alpha light through his DayStar H-Alpha filter. We fell in love with solar observing right on the spot. But who could afford it. Well, a couple of years later, Coronado introduced the SolarMax 40 for only $875. We had to have one. Ordered it, waited 9 months, and finally took delivery in March of 2002. Been with us ever since.
The Losmandy G11 got some upgraded counterweights from Robin Casady and a 12 Volt sealed automotive jump start battery for a power supply. We use a Tele Vue G11 Mount Adapter plate to hold the Tele Vue 85 on the mount.
We still have the Tele Vue Tele-Pod mount. This is a light weight mount that fits in a suitcase. We use this mount for photographing birds in the yard, for short observing sessions at night, and whenever we travel.
Nikon convinced us to enter the digital photography world when they released their Coolpix 4500 camera. This 4 Megapixel camera connects to the telescope easily and takes beautiful pictures. A zoom lens is standard, the camera uses compact flash cards for storage, and we purchased the optional cable release that enables long exposure using the bulb shutter setting.
Image processing is done with Registax and Images Plus. Both programs are highly recommended. We just got a copy of Photoshop but haven't installed it yet.
The Nikon Camera became a problem because it no longer focused on infinity using the manual setting. Canon announced a new version of the 20D specially designed for Astrophotography (but still usable for regular photography). They got us! We ordered the Canon 20Da and it arrived in mid-August and we bought a used wide angle and telephoto lens on EBAY. It is still early, but the camera is working beautifully.
2006 brings AP 160 and ST4
As luck would have it, a friend of mine had his name come up for a new AP 160 telescope. After 5+ years of waiting he decided the price was just too high. I told him that I would like to purchase the scope, gave him the down payment and after another year of waiting the scope arrived in perfect condition. The bad news was that the scope was just too heavy (and the focal length too long) for unguided pictures using the Losmandy G11 mount. After attending NEAF in 2006 (and visiting the AP booth), I decided that an AP 900 mount was in my future. And wouldn't you know it, one showed up on Astromart in a few weeks. I bought it and the seller had an ST4 autoguider at a very reasonable price. Turns out the ST4 was able to guide the AP 160 mounted on the G11 mount (with an AP guide scope piggybacked on top using Losmandy dovetails). Quite surprising since the G11 is rated for 60 lbs. Conventional wisdom says that the G11 is good for about 35-40 lbs for Astrophotography. My setup is in the range of 70 lbs and works (not perfect but it works)!
Now we get the AP 900 working
The AP 900 needs a very steady tripod. We had seen an ATS portable pier at the North East Astronomy Forum (NEAF) and were very impressed. We placed the order, only to learn that there was a long waiting list. Fortunately the G11 was holding up and Chuck had plenty to learn about astrophotography, polar alignment, guiding, and processing the keep him busy for quite a while. Finally the ATS portable pier arrived. What a work of art. Heavy duty, solid as a rock, top quality construction, we couldn't be happier.
Here are links for all the equipment: