Sidewalk astronomy with SkyWatcher Mak 90

March 9, 2012

I took the little SkyWatcher Mak downtown tonight to do some sidewalk astronomy. I haven’t blogged about sidewalk astronomy in a long time because I haven’t done any in a long time. And that’s been bumming me out. I was away from it for too long.

I got started doing sidewalk astronomy back in 2009, as part of the global 100 Hours of Astronomy event during the International Year of Astronomy. It’s a pretty straightforward gig: take a telescope to a public space and give passersby free looks at stuff in the sky. The moon and planets are good targets, because people are familiar with them (not everyone knows what the Pleiades are), they’re naked-eye visible so you can point them out to folks, they punch through city light pollution just fine, and they look great in small telescopes. I know some sidewalk astronomers take big telescopes, and more power to ’em, but I have found that my inclination to go do it is proportional to the size of telescope I have to lug downtown (about five blocks from my house).

For the first long while, my sidewalk scope was my original 90mm Mak, the Orion Apex. It was perfect for the job: compact, lightweight, able to be set up and torn down in about one minute on either end, sharp optics, easy for newbies to focus… Then one night at an astronomy club outreach I reach out in the dark and turned the wrong knob on the mount, and dropped the telescope. On the way down it hit a tripod leg and my foot, but neither absorbed enough energy to keep it from hitting the ground pretty hard. The impact spalled a bit of coating (at least, and possibly some glass underneath it) off the primary mirror. I sold it cheap to a fellow amateur who thought it was salvageable.

My next sidewalk scope was another 90mm Mak, an old orange-tube Celestron C90. I had always wanted one, ever since I saw my  first telescope catalog back at age 12. They are sweet little scopes, build like tanks, and since they focus with a rotating barrel like a camera lens there is not much that can go wrong with them; if the focuser ever gums up you just unscrew the front part of the tube, re-lube the threads, and screw it back together.

It turned out, though, that I liked the idea of the C90 better than the actual thing (this was a far different beast from the modern C90 that is on sale at Amazon and elsewhere). The rotating barrel sounded good in theory, but in practice it was a huge pain to focus the scope while keeping it pointed at an object, especially at moderate to high powers, and especially for people with no experience. I used the C90 for sidewalk astro once or twice and then sold it.

(Aside: one of these days I’ll blog about the joys of buying and selling used telescopes. The bottom line is, scopes hold their value pretty well. If you are judicious and buy used you can usually sell them for what you paid for them, so once you’ve ponied up the initial investment you can essentially try out new [to you] gear for free.)

Then I went through a phase of doing sidewalk astro with bigger scopes: a 5″ f/7 reflector on a homemade mount, a 5″ f/5 reflector (Stubby Fats), and an 80mm f/11 refractor (Shorty Long). These are all fine scopes for showing people stuff in the sky, but not so hot for having to lug five blocks. I needed a dinky scope, something bigger than my 50mm refractor (which is too small for that kind of work) but smaller than my other scopes. Frankly, what I needed was a 90mm Mak, I’d just put myself in the position of not having one.

Until now. Suitably armed with the SkyWatcher Mak, I went forth into the warm spring night, and between 7:35 and 8:45 I showed 48 people the moons of Jupiter. The seeing was godawful, as bad as I have ever seen it. Jupiter was a visibly waving ball of fire, when normally I can see at least half a dozen cloud bands (as shown in the previous post). But the Galilean moons were all visible, strung out in a ragged line to the west of king of planets, and everyone who stopped to look seemed bowled over by the views, so who am I to complain?

I didn’t take the multi-mount that came with the scope, just the little Universal Astronomics DwarfStar alt-az mount that I used to use with the old 90mm Maks (shown in the picture at the top of this post). I left the finder and diagonal on the scope, put it nose down in the included backpack, put spare eyepieces in the side pockets, put all that on my back and carried the folded tripod and mount in one hand. It was great, just like old times.

John Dobson argues that the only measure of a telescope’s value that is worth a damn is the number of people who have looked through it. By that metric, I reckon this little Mak may end up becoming my most valuable scope. I’ll keep you posted!


  1. I store my Orion Skyscanner in my office across from UCLA, serving as a sidewalk astronomy instrument in the campus village and on UCLA astronomy open house nights (starting last week), as well as a DSO observing scope along the Malibu coast on clear moonless nights.

    Very easy to pack and transport. When assembled, the scope, mount and tripod can easily be picked up with one hand.

    The C90 Mak might work for this purpose, but I would need to get a RACI finder if I’m going to use it with the Skyscanner tabletop mount and Manfrotto tripod. Also a bit heavier (5 lbs. vs. 3.4 lbs. for the OTA), so the views might not be as steady.

  2. More of a question to you. Do you use tracking mounts with your scopes? How do you find and HOLD when looking at objects – upside down? I’ve been fighting with a 78mm Bushnell (I know I need to move up, that’s why I’m here) for months; saw Jupiter (actually, a bright fat dot) and its 4 moons first night after I picked it up at a garage sale, managed to fiddle hold it in place for a few seconds (but never again since!). I couldn’t see any bands.I also woke up early a few times to catch Venus but I couldn’t see more than a vaguely greenish blob. Swapping the 12.5mm and 4mm eyepieces is very risky, since everything moves so fast across the sky.

    I’ve been going crazy for the last 2 weeks, with Jupiter and Venus overhead and Mars starting to creep up and I can’t get the scope to target and focus. Do you take photos by mounting the camera or feeding into a computer program? I assume long exposure times might actually make some of the galaxies visible? I also saw a faint dot called Saturn but never saw any rings. Is my scope out of alignment, or can you actually see it with a 3 inch tube?

    I don’t have the budget for a 12″ monster, but I really, really would like to see SOMETHING for a change… If I spend my savings on a 4″-5″ tracking Orion and I’m back to the Saturn dot my wife will skin me! The local astronomy club isn’t meeting until May.

  3. Hi Roger,

    Thanks for writing. What model is your Bushnell–a reflector or refractor? Possibly this one, or the Sky Tour model? If so, there are a couple of possible explanations for the underwhelming performance.

    The most likely culprits are the 12.5mm and 4mm eyepieces. Magnification is determined by the focal length of the telescope divided by the focal length of the eyepiece. If I’m right about your scope model and it’s one of the 3″ reflectors, the focal length is 700mm, so the magnifications are 56x with the 12.5mm EP and 175x. Those magnifications might not sound high, given that some inexpensive telescopes are advertised with ridiculously high powers of 500-600x, but they are actually pretty darned high. If the 12.5mm EP is your “low power” EP, no wonder you’re having a hard time finding stuff–it’s probably giving you less than 1 degree of sky. And the 4mm EP is probably worthless; 175x is more magnification than all but the best 3″ scopes can sustain.

    If I’m right about the focal length of your telescope and the eyepieces, don’t despair. The best and cheapest upgrade that will make the most difference is a good 32mm or 25mm Plossl, which you can find for about $30 online. A 25mm would give you 28x and a 2-degree field, which would make a HUGE difference. A 32mm would be better still, giving you 22x and a 2.5-degree field.

    It may sound odd that I am talking up low-magnification EPs instead of high-mag ones. The truth is that low-power EPs are just more useful. And you don’t need a ton of magnification to see a lot out there. The rings of Saturn are easily visible at 28x, and at 56x you should be seeing a LOT of detail on Jupiter, Saturn, and most everything else you point the scope at.

    More importantly, a good low-power EP is a critical tool in finding and viewing things with the telescope. First you want to get the target lined up in the finder scope, then you center it in a low-power eyepiece and see how much detail you can make out, then–if the seeing permits–put in a high-power EP to see if you can make out more details at higher magnification. All of this assumes four things:

    1. That the finder scope is of adequate size, focused at infinity, and aligned to the telescope. A LOT of people get frustrated and give up over the relatively simple problem of having an out-of-alignment finder.

    2. That you have a good low-power EP, like a 25mm or 32mm Plossl.

    3. That you have a good moderate- or high-power EP. For starting out, something like a 10mm or 12mm Plossl is good.

    4. Finally, that the mount is sturdy enough to hold the telescope securely without a lot of bouncing around, which makes it very difficult to find things and nearly impossible to hold them in the eyepiece once found.

    Now, a garage sale scope can be a wonderful fixer-upper project. But it is not what I would recommend to anyone for a first telescope. From what I’ve seen, 99% of garage sale scopes are of the rickety, undermounted variety with next-to-useless overpowered eyepieces. These scopes can be rescued, but it takes some work: better eyepieces for starters, adding a better finder (like a red-dot model), and usually either reinforcing or more often simply replacing the mount. For a good example of very thorough rescue job on a garage sale scope, see Rod Nabholz’s Kid Peek Telescope.

    Like I said, garage sale scopes can be rescued, but it’s not something I would wish on anyone, especially someone who is just getting started. If it’s something you feel up to, go for it, but I’m actually going to recommend another path. Set aside the garage sale scope for now and start fresh.

    You don’t need a tracking scope. All you need is a solidly-mounted scope with an intuitive alt-az mount, a useful finder, and useful eyepieces. Fortunately there are a lot of affordable options. The least expensive that I would recommend is the Orion FunScope, which is currently $40 + $10 shipping. If you can swing $100, there are a host of options, including the GoScope 80, SkyScanner 100, SpaceProbe 3, and Observer 70, all of which have received very good reviews in Sky & Telescope and elsewhere. There is a young man in our local club who has been doing a lot of great observing with the Observer 70, including both solar system and deep-sky work. Frequent commenter Terry Nakazono has been cruising for galaxies with his SkyScanner 100–and finding them, in truckloads, even from less-than-perfect skies.

    If your budget won’t allow for a new telescope right now, don’t despair. You can do a surprising amount with binoculars. My first view of the moons of Jupiter was with the 7×35 binoculars I’d had since high school.

    About my photography: it’s all very low-tech, I just hold the camera up to the eyepiece of the scope, what’s technically called “afocal projection photography”. It only works on bright targets like the moon and planets. Getting photographs of faint fuzzies–galaxies, nebulae, and so on, absolutely requires a tracking mount, and I would not make that your first goal. Doing serious deep sky astrophotography requires a LOT of specialized and reasonably expensive gear and a lot of people who might otherwise have long and happy observing careers get frustrated or burnt out by jumping into astrophotography without knowing enough about the sky or their equipment.

    I hope all of this has been useful. I don’t mean to imply that your scope is useless. It probably is optically fine, just hobbled by the wrong eyepieces and possibly a shaky mount. But if you’re not seeing the cloud bands on Jupiter or the rings of Saturn, then something is wrong. If it’s a reflector, the mirrors might be out of alignment. Fixing up a garage sale scope is a noble endeavor, and the scope is probably worthy of that level of attention. But it’s a very hard way to get started. If you can, I would set that scope aside, get some experience with something that is easier to use, and decide later whether you want to fix up the garage sale scope. Just my $0.02. Good luck and clear skies!

  4. Thank you for the reply. My Bushnell 78-9930 looks like that, except it’s black. It has (or had, actually) an illuminated mount, with a handheld something or other – which never worked. The mount has adjusting knobs. The horizontal one is fine – the one that adjusts for altitude (azimuth?) doesn’t tighten properly so if I manage to get something in the eyepiece, by the time I tighten it, it drops the rear an inch or so, and droops, anyway. Budget is not an issue, I can afford $200-300, I just don’t want to waste the money. I’d like to really see a legible Saturn and I have an extra laptop, I have a digital camera, and a kid who’s very interested in photography and starting to experiment with time exposures and filters (and likes TV astronomy). So I thought if I “buy for the future” and have marginal technology, perhaps we can get shots of some galaxies or nebulas – using many-minute exposures? Various Amazon reviews mention Neximage cameras and the 2x Barlow as a kind of “zoom fix-it” for many telescopes. I get lost in the magnification explanations though I understand that “wide-field” scopes are better light collectors for deep-sky stuff and “narrow-field” scopes are better for the planets. The first time I saw Jupiter and the 4 moons I almost wet myself. But they moved fast out of sight (Earth rotation) and Jupiter was a very bright barely-visible disc, but no colors. Some of the photos you’ve linked to the 70-90mm portable scopes are amazing (yes, multiple exposures, etc.). I’ve watched every Space documentary out there and every Sky at Night I could find (don’t ask) – but I don’t know my constellations too well – that’s where a locator (and tracking) mount might help (to keep in sight). Your little 90mm Mak seems reasonable – I don’t need batteries, I have a plug on my deck. Are the Plossl wide-angle lenses? Why do people recommend the Barlows? (I actually want to tinker with/realign the Bushnell – but not now, I’d rather get a decent scope.) The super photographs of Andromeda you link are rather discouraging, actually – for the non-Hubble accessing crowd – but appetizing! Last summer (or was it 2 ago) I saw a mock-up of the James Webb assembled in a park in front of where I work. I can’t wait to see Pluto on Bastille Day 2015! You might consider “upgrading” yourself to podcast status and post videos on iTunes. This website rocks!

  5. I’ve watched every Space documentary out there and every Sky at Night I could find (don’t ask) – but I don’t know my constellations too well – that’s where a locator (and tracking) mount might help (to keep in sight).

    What will help a lot more is just getting outside and learning the constellations. It doesn’t take very long to get familiar with the bright stars and the signpost constellations. The Evening Sky Map is a free monthly 2-page PDF that shows the whole sky right after dark and lists of good targets for naked eyes, binoculars, and small telescopes. I’d recommend starting with that. If you find everything on the naked eye list for a couple of months running, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the spring constellations look like. Then just repeat until you’ve got them all.

    I also recommend getting binoculars or using them if you’ve already got a pair. I hardly ever go out for a serious observing session without binos, they’re just so useful for finding my way around and working out starhops before I try to get the telescope on target. A lot of amateur astronomers find that the same is true, and this is the source of the saying that “the best first telescope is a pair of binoculars”. Of course binoculars cannot replace a telescope in terms of what you can see, but they are a very useful tool to use alongside a telescope. And binocular stargazing has charms all its own.

    One more free tool to recommend: download Stellarium and just play with it. It is a tremendously powerful and intuitive tool for understanding what’s up there, how things move across the sky, and how to find and identify things. I cannot overstate how helpful it was for me to use Stellarium when I was first starting out, and 5 years on it is still one of the most-used tools in my arsenal.

    The reason I’m so big on learning the sky is that even with a tracking mount or GoTo, you’ll need to know what’s up to know what to send the telescope to. And most GoTo systems have to be aligned at startup, which requires knowing at least a few bright stars.

    Are the Plossl wide-angle lenses?

    Not particularly, but they are wide enough. For eyepieces, wide-angle versus anything else refers to apparent field of view–how big the circle of sky appears in the eyepiece. Older designs like Huygenian and Ramsden eyepieces tend to give narrow fields of view, around 30 degrees or less, which can feel like peering through a soda straw.

    Plossls offer a 52-degree apparent field, which many observers find comfortable. There are lots of designs that offer wider fields of view, from 66 degrees for Orion’s Expanse line, to 68 degrees for the Orion Stratus, Vixen Lanthanum, and TeleVue PanOptic lines, to 82 degrees for the TeleVue Nagler and Explore Scientific 82 Series, to 100 degrees or more for TeleVue Ethos and Explore Scientific 100 Series designs.

    The problem with widefield eyepieces is that blowing up the apparent field like that can degrade the image in subtle ways, especially if the incoming light cone is wide (short focal-ratio scope). The more expensive lines like the Ethoses have those aberrations very well controlled, but you pay for it–a single Ethos eyepiece runs $600 or more, which is more than I’ve paid for any single telescope in my observing career. There are budget widefields, too–the Orion Expanses are about $60, and their OWL clones are a little over half that–and they perform pretty well, especially in long focal-ratio scopes where the incoming light cone is narrow. But they don’t perform as well as eyepieces costing 10 to 20 times as much.

    Plossls are popular because they offer reasonable field of view, they’re pretty well corrected for most aberrations, they perform well in all kinds of scopes, and they’re inexpensive. They’re not perfect, but they’re pretty darned good, so they’re sort of the baseline for eyepieces these days. Most telescopes that come with eyepieces included come with Plossls.

    For a longer, more detailed breakdown of the various eyepiece designs, see this post by Uncle Rod.

    Why do people recommend the Barlows?

    Barlows effectively double (or triple, for 3x Barlows, etc.) the magnification of any given eyepiece. So with a couple of eyepieces and a Barlow you actually have four choices of magnifications. They’re also good on those rare nights when the sky is still enough to support “stupid high” powers–say, 400x and up. It wouldn’t pay for me to keep a 3mm eyepiece around, I just wouldn’t have enough opportunities to use it to justify the purchase. But I use my 6mm eyepiece a lot, and on those rare occasions where I need a 3mm eyepiece, I use the 6mm EP with a 2x Barlow.

    (I actually want to tinker with/realign the Bushnell – but not now, I’d rather get a decent scope.)

    Good. I think that is the wisest path.

    The super photographs of Andromeda you link are rather discouraging, actually – for the non-Hubble accessing crowd – but appetizing!

    Well, it’s all about the feeling of what happens at the eyepiece. As you said, “The first time I saw Jupiter and the 4 moons I almost wet myself.” I’m sure you’ve seen much better pictures of Jupiter, taken by various space probes, but they don’t have the same visceral impact as seeing something for yourself at the eyepiece of a telescope. I’ll bet that when you first see Andromeda in your own scope, the feeling will be way more impressive than any photograph you’ve ever seen.

    As for choosing a first scope, read around. There are lots of good astronomy sites. Probably the best is Cloudy Nights, especially the Beginner’s Forum. A lot of people go there for advice on a first scope. Read up, ask questions, keep an open mind. Clear skies!

  6. Jupiter always appears as a very bright, almost white disc. How do you “tone that down” to actually see the colors? Strange, didn’t think about it before, but “collecting” light is very helpful when trying to see galaxies – but too much is not good for viewing planets. Also, it seems to me that refractors are often described to exceed reflector sharpness while being maybe 1″ smaller. So, a 4″ refractor is comparative to a 5″+ reflector. Am I misreading?

  7. “Also, it seems to me that refractors are often described to exceed reflector sharpness while being maybe 1″ smaller. So, a 4″ refractor is comparative to a 5″+ reflector. Am I misreading?”

    This is what I want to find out with my recently purchased 80mm Orion Short Tube 80-A refractor, compared to my 100mm Orion Skyscanner reflector. Will it perform better or worse on deep-sky objects such as globular clusters and galaxies, despite its smaller aperture? Planets and double stars look sharper and cleaner through this smaller aperture scope than the slightly larger reflector.

  8. Jupiter always appears as a very bright, almost white disc. How do you “tone that down” to actually see the colors?

    That’s easy: magnification. You can also use filters, but remember that when you magnify an image by a factor of 2 you spread out the light by a factor of 4–if the linear dimension is twice as big, the area is four times as big. It took me a long time to grasp this. To get a very immediate, visceral understanding of it, try observing the moon and planets near sunrise or sunset, against a reasonably bright sky background. However bright the sky is to the eye, it will be much darker in the eyepiece, and darker still as you go up in magnification.

    Strange, didn’t think about it before, but “collecting” light is very helpful when trying to see galaxies – but too much is not good for viewing planets.

    True, but remember that resolution goes up with diameter as well. My 5″ Mak gives a very pleasing view of the planets with no diffraction spikes, but there is no question that my 10″ Dob blows it away in terms of resolved detail, even if the view is not quite as…I dunno, “pure”.

    Also, it seems to me that refractors are often described to exceed reflector sharpness while being maybe 1″ smaller. So, a 4″ refractor is comparative to a 5″+ reflector. Am I misreading?

    Yeah, that’s what people say. If you want to see some fur fly, get in one of the CN threads where people compare a 4″ apo refractor to a 6″ Mak or an 8″ SCT.

    From my own experience, I do find that the crisp, contrasty view through a refractor is something special. But that comes with two big caveats. The first is that I can afford a 10″ reflector, and move it around easily on my own, whereas a 10″ or even an 8″ refractor would require a big truck and probably a permanent mounting. The second is that, IMHO, the view through a good Mak has about 90% of the refractor cleanness-of-image, at less cost, and in a much more compact package. Hence my love for Maks.

    This is what I want to find out with my recently purchased 80mm Orion Short Tube 80-A refractor, compared to my 100mm Orion Skyscanner reflector.

    Oh, excellent plan! Please, please do this comparo and write it up. It would be very interesting and hugely useful.

  9. Terry,

    Yes, please do this comparison. Have you used your Orion 80-A much yet? If so, what are your impressions? It gets consistently great reviews.


  10. Hope to take the two scopes (SkyScanner and Short Tube 80) out for a test under darker skies sometime after April, as I’ll be gone for vacation most of April and I’m busy with work between now and then. Looking very forward to it.

  11. Hi Terry,

    I just read your reply to “Steve” on the forum. My god, I thought, after reading about his 7th or 8th LONG post (really quasi-rants) denouncing the FirstScope/Funscope, is this really an issue to expend so much time on? Even the administrator, after posting several reasonable counterpoints to no avail, finally gave up.

    Then came your quiet and measured reply that not only did you have, and ENJOY, your FunScope because it actually was a decent wide field scanner and you caught a number of Messiers with it, but that you had also ordered a FirstScope! So now you had two of the very scope he so vehemently denounced. I am thinking Steve’s head must have exploded at this point.

    As you may (or not) have read in one of my previous posts to Matt, I bought a FirstScope from Amazon just a few weeks ago as a sort of ultimate grab-and-go for those nights when I might get in 10 minutes or so and didn’t want to haul out and set up my SB6 and wanted a sort of “binos-plus” option. Well, I’ve used it several times and, like you, found it a lot of fun. So easy to use (I can actually sit it on the wide arm of an Adirondack chair and use it as I sit in the same chair and lean forward just a little). I haven’t had the time to use it much, and I lack your experience, but I’ve had nice views of M42, the pair of NGCs below it, and that graceful “S” curve of stars between Mintaka and Alnilam along with assorted random star clusters. Most enjoyable. When the clouds rolled in, I just one-handed the FS and took it back inside.

    I just didn’t get the wrath Steve seem to have for what is just a simple and inexpensive scope that has obvious limitations, but still has a niche and a value.

    I look forward to your FS-FS shoot out.

    The FunScope, though the same OTA/focuser/mount as the FirstScope, is without doubt the superior overall package with better EPs AND a finderscope. But then again, for us, these are upgrades with little purpose as a) the FS at, say, 10x, is itself a finderscope, and b) we’re not going to use the EPs that come with the FS, so this is a really a non-issue. But for the same price, the FunScope is for sure the better deal.

    I enjoy reading your posts, both here and on the forum.


  12. Thanks Doug! Since I ‘ve heard and read so much about the FirstScope (even though the OTA is identical to the FunScope), I just had to get one for myself and see firsthand the views through the 2-element eyepieces.

    But if you read Steve’s two reports from 2009 he linked, especially his second one, you’ll find that he’s actually quite sympathetic to the FirstScope, if used with better EP’s and as a deep-sky instrument. In fact, reading his second report wanted me to dig out my old FunScope and start observing with it again.

    Any serious observing/shootouts in darker skies will have to wait until after April. I will also probably take the FirstScope apart like Steve did and make some physical alterations with it to see if I can improve it’s performance (along with using better eyepieces of course!).

  13. Terry,

    Addendum: Forgot to add that I like the aesthetics of the FirstScope, the black and white OTA set against the mainly white mount. Also, the names of history’s great astronomers wrapped around the OTA is pretty cool. But this is one of those aspects that users seem to either love or hate, not much “It’s okay” middle ground. I just like the look of it sitting there.

    I did read (well, more like scanned as the 34-page length and overly-technical language, ad infinitum, made it read like an excerpt from a doctoral dissertation in optics) Steve’s 2nd PDF and was somewhat surprised by his conclusion which was You know, for fifty bucks this is a little scope you can have a lot of fun with.

    My thoughts exactly.


  14. Bought a 5″ Orange Celestron with tracking mount. After one month I still can’t get the sight aligned. No matter, I use the remote to move the scope. Followed Jupiter and Venus for a couple of weeks daily. Managed to star align in about half the time – but looking for Messier objects hasn’t worked out. A couple of weeks ago I pointed the telescope at Saturn and saw it for the first time – very tiny, but very bright, but the ring was clearly legible! There were 3 other faint dots I could see (one, about 3-5 ring diameters to the left I assumed to be Titan, the other two at right, were much closer, just outside the ring, Iapetus? Rhea?) but what surprised me was the appearance (imagined?) of two darker rings on Saturn itself, maybe storm lines – but wasn’t Saturn supposed to be bland, without bands? In my scope Jupiter is about as big as Saturn with its ring, and I can barely see 2 bands – cannot believe I could see anything on Saturn, cannot believe I could resolve the ring, much less bands!!

    Saw the Orion Nebula with binoculars, seemed clearer than the scope, where it seems fainter, but bigger, all B&W – yes, that’s because of the eyes. Mars was pretty pathetic, worse than Venus. The tracking is OK, provided you star-align first, and is the only way to keep Jupiter or Saturn visible for more than 30 seconds. I finally understand why tripods must cost more than the scope itself – still, you have to start somewhere. I half expected this to start and end with the planets, but I’m hunting nebulas. Horsehead, being a finger away from Orion, is not visible – I understand people can’t see it with much bigger devices, No luck with galaxies – even if I don’t live near a big city, light pollution is there. The 2x Barlow and quality of lenses are truly a step up from my previous 3″ scope, although I vaguely expected Jupiter and its 4 nearest moons to be slightly bigger than what I saw in the 3″. The size is about the same.

    Question: this wasn’t cheap and a scope twice as big costs a fortune (for me). When the time comes, does it make sense to keep mount and tripod and just get a bigger tube? The same setup for an 8″ is twice the cost, and it seems that it may be impossible to see galaxies (more than 2-3), even the closest, in anything less than a 10″, maybe even 12″ if the skies are too bright – and that won’t change. Some say Andromeda covers as much sky space as 3 moons – but if you can’t see it with eyes/binoculars, what use is a scope?

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