Suburban Messier project–gear? rules? company?

July 20, 2012

Part 1: Inspiration

I am contemplating a new observing project. It started back in May, when Doug wrote a long comment that ended with:

You know what we need? Really, really need. One of these guys: O’Meara, Sue, Tony Flanders, etc. to write a book complete with sketches, using a Real People telescope in a typical residential suburban setting. A Celestron or Meade or Orion sub-$500 scope from a backyard or driveway in Torrance or Sacramento or Cleveland and do all the Messiers . . . or whatever. Then you’d have something you really could use with goals you had a realistic chance of achieving.

Come to my house, or one like it and do all your observing here. For a year. Sketch what you see through the eyepiece of a real world scope in a real world setting. Then I can say “Ah, so THAT is the pattern I am looking for.” And will recognize when I see it….

Hey, Matt, YOU have real world scopes. And a backyard. So, maybe you?

And I wrote:

Your question inspires me. I had already been thinking about doing a Messier survey with a small scope, just to see what could be achieved. I may fire up that observing program one of these days. If I do, I’ll try my hand at sketching, too. It probably won’t be soon. Our skies here suck in the summer, with lots of haze and smog and not much wind to blow it out. And it’s too hot to go to the desert. But I might do some runs up Mount Baldy, which is acceptably dark but not stupid-dark like the Mojave.

So, at first I was just thinking of doing a small-scope Messier tour, from wherever, including Mount Baldy and the Salton Sea. But I think that would be of limited usefulness. The orange/yellow zone skies on Mount Baldy are something that a lot of folks would have to drive to get to. The blue/grey zone skies at the Salton Sea are way too dark to be useful for what Doug was describing. Not at all like what you’d get in “Torrance or Sacramento or Cleveland”. If it’s going to be a suburban Messier survey, it needs to be from in town–specifically, from my front yard and driveway (my back yard has a verdant canopy of greenery which is beautiful but not good for stargazing).

The other part of this is that I have never sketched deep sky objects. I have often sketched planets, very approximately, to show how many cloud belts and moons I could see, and I have been sketching my way through the AL Double Star Club observations, but c’mon, that requires drawing 2-4 tiny circles. I haven’t sketched DSOs, and I think it’s a skill I should cultivate.

My desire to learn to sketch DSOs has been intensified by observing with Terry Nakazono, who sketches, and by seeing the really nice sketches done by fellow PVAA member Justin Balderrama (who blogs here). Justin is in his teens, but you’d never know it to flip through his observing logbook. And these guys don’t make a big deal out of their sketching–it’s just part of their observing technique. I dig that. I’d like to do that.

Part 2: The Rules

Okay, so I’m going to observe and sketch all the Messier objects from my yard. Using what?

For a while I toyed with the idea of getting one of Orion’s $100 tabletop scopes, the SkyScanner 100 or GoScope 80, just for this project. But lately I’ve been cutting back on scopes–I just sold Shorty Long and Stubby Fats–and I’m loathe to turn around and start piling them up again. The scope is going to have to be one I already own.

My current lineup includes:

  • XT10 (10″ or 254mm)
  • Apex 127 (5″ or 127mm)
  • Skywatcher Mak (3.5″ or 90mm)
  • Travel Scope 70 (2.75″ or 70mm)
  • SV50 (2″ or 50mm)

Since this is a small-scope project, the XT10 is out. I’m throwing out the Apex 127, too. Using Doug’s original “sub-$500″ criterion you could buy the OTA, but you couldn’t mount it securely, not unless someone was having a ridiculous sale on mounts. And, fer cryin’ out loud, Uncle Rod uses a 5” Mak as his back-up deep-sky scope (which is one of the reasons I got one for myself), so I think it’s big enough to also be disqualified for a small-scope challenge.

On the other hand, the SV-50 is too small. Reeling in all the Messiers with it would be an interesting challenge from a dark site, but from town it would be straight-up murder. Plus, I doubt too many amateurs these days are starting out with a 50mm scope. Anyone who can afford a 50mm scope can probably afford 10×50 binoculars (currently $25 at Amazon for a decent pair), and those will frankly be a lot easier to use.

That leaves the 90mm Mak and the 70mm refractor. And here I’m just going to make a command decision and go for the 90mm Mak, for a lot of reasons. The biggest is comfort. If I’m really logging, sketching, and taking notes, I reckon I’ll need about a half hour per object. Multiplied by 110 objects means 55 hours of observing time, minimum, spread out over the next year or two. If I’m going to spend that much time with any one scope, it has to be comfortable for both eye and body. The optics on the Travel Scope 70–on my example, anyway–are swell up to about 20x, acceptable up to about 40x, and frankly pretty gross after that. In contrast, I’ve had the little Mak up over 200x regularly with no image breakdown, and it’s got a nice flat field that is essentially free of aberrations.

The “body” side of the comfort equation is why I’m not using my son’s Astroscan. For him it’s fine sitting on a folding chair or even on the ground. For me it needs a table, which is never as stable as a tripod, and more of a pain to move around late at night in the dark. And like the TS70 it is wonderful for bright, wide, low-power scanning, but runs out of magnification pretty fast.

My one reservation about using the 90mm Mak is the long focal ratio–1250mm, or two inches longer than the XT10 even–which means high minimum powers and a narrow field of view. The max true field in this scope is only a little over 1 degree (compared to a max true field of about 4 degrees for the TS70), which is not enough to fit in the largest Messier objects. I’m not worried about the Pleiades–I’ll just scan around to see them all–or M31, where I’m unlikely to see more than just the core from town. It’s M33, the Triangulum galaxy, a large not-quite-face-on spiral galaxy, that makes me sweat. It’s going to be hard enough to see from town in the first place, let alone in a scope that won’t fit the whole thing into the field of view at once. But no scope is perfect for every job, and I want this to have some element of challenge, so I’ll stick with the little Mak.

I’ve also decided to eschew fancy eyepieces for this project, and just use ordinary Plossls, probably my 32mm (39x) and the three that came with the scope: 25mm (50x), 12.5mm (100x), and 6mm (200x). I strongly suspect that the 25mm is all I’ll need for most objects. A lot of DSO hunters recommend a 1-degree true field for finding objects and a 2mm exit pupil for observing them. In the 90mm Mak, the 25mm Plossl gives almost exactly those values:

True field of view (TFOV) = Apparent field of view (AFOV)/magnification; in this case 52 degrees/50x = 1.04 degrees.

Exit pupil = aperture/magnification; in this case 90mm/50x = 1.8mm exit pupil.

As with the fancy eyepieces, using the nice Astro-Tech dielectric diagonal feels like cheating.  I sold the 90-degree prism diagonal that came with the scope–I couldn’t get it out of the house fast enough. That leaves either a 45-degree erect-image prism diagonal that I just discovered I had the other day (which is the only reason I haven’t sold it yet), or an $8 mirror diagonal I bought off Cloudy Nights. Either is probably a good match for what would come with a beginner scope, but I’m going to use the cheap mirror diag. More Maks are sold with prism diagonals, but whatever, I can’t put myself through that many hours of looking through a low-end prism, and I don’t think substituting a piece of gear that costs less than ten bucks will corrupt the replicated beginner experience.

Now, the big question: what finder should I use? At first I was thinking I would just roll with the 9×50 RACI. It’s my favorite and most-used finder, and observing with it would be a cinch. But I am reluctant to do that, for two reasons. First, I know how to find stuff with a 9×50 RACI. It’s not going to push me or teach me anything. Also, I think it sort of violates the spirit of observing with the stuff that Joe Newbie would have available. A 9×50 RACI is a big upgrade, close to half of what I paid for the 90mm Mak in the first place. That leaves other three finders that I have lying around that I could potentially use:

  • The 20mm erect-image finder that came with the scope. Gag me with a stick. I know that a lot of 90mm Maks ship with these things, but they shouldn’t. This finder is good for two things: gathering way too little light, and making people hit their face on the scope when they try to get their eye behind it (you can see a close call here). For the love of Pete, if your scope came with one of these and you can’t afford anything better, get over to Telescope Warehouse and get a 6×30 finder with a bracket for $18-20 or a dot finder for $14 (also, if you just flat need a scope, they have 70mm achromatic refractors for $22 and 90mm achromats for under $40, although you’ll have to rig a mount).
  • The 6×26 straight-through erect-image finder that came with the Apex 127. I forgot this existed until I found it in an unlabelled box when I was cleaning up the front room.
  • The red dot finder that came with one of my other scopes at some point, which I never got around to selling.

There are actually valid arguments for both the 6×26 and the RDF. Most entry-level scopes these days ship with RDFs, including all of the Orion tabletop scopes, so for replicating the beginner experience it is probably the most legit. With a max true field of 1 degree in the scope, though, it will make for some punishing star-hops. The argument for the 6×26 comes from Jay Reynolds Freeman’s essay “Finding deep sky objects rapidly”:

I use magnifying finders instead of unit-magnification ones because I need to see more than just naked-eye stars to point the telescope accurately, and the extra light gathered by magnifying finders provides them. I use straight-through ones because I can keep both eyes open and use the finder cross-hair as a reflex sight, fused by the brain with the view through the other eye.

I don’t know that trick, but I’d like to.

Both the RDF and the 6×26 will be irritating in that they’ll force me to get my head behind the scope, but I reckon it’s time I learned more than one way of finding so I’m willing to make the sacrifice. Anyway, I’m still undecided on which one to use, but maybe you can help me out with that.

Part 3: Audience Participation

Now, gentle reader, I have three questions for you. Before we get to them, let’s review the plan:

I will (1) observe–or attempt to observe–and (2) sketch (3) all of the Messier objects (4) from my front yard/driveway (5) using my 90mm Mak and (6) inexpensive eyepieces. I don’t have a fixed schedule in mind, but doing the whole list in a year does not seem prohibitively difficult or time-intensive; that’s only 2 objects per week, on average.

The one hang-up there is that the dimmest objects will probably have to be observed when they culminate (get as high in the sky as they’re going to from  your latitude), possibly after midnight when a lot of folks shut off their lights and the LP slacks off a bit, which dictates a particular season. For the big mess of galaxies in Virgo-Coma, that means springtime, when the weather is iffy. I have gotten several of the Virgo-Coma galaxies from my driveway with 15×70 binoculars, but I wasn’t sketching or taking extensive notes, which will eat up observing time. In some cases it might not be a matter of going on dawn patrol to catch ones I missed, because in a small scope under LP they might only be visible near the zenith, late at night, during a narrow seasonal window. I’m going to try to get it done in a year, but if it slops over into a second year I won’t be devastated.

Now, if you’ve managed to hang with me this far, I have questions for you:

  1. Following the discussion in the previous section, which diagonal and–especially–which finder do you think I should use? Do you care? Is your interest more in seeing the beginner experience replicated from top to bottom, or just in the descriptions of the objects through a modest scope under light-polluted skies, in which case the mode of finding doesn’t really matter?
  2. Can you think of any other rules or conditions that would make the survey more informative/relevant/legit/challenging?
  3. Would you like to join me?

I’m dead serious on that last point. If you’ve never seen all the Messiers before, feel free to use whatever scope you like, from whatever observing site you like. Or use your big scope from home, or your small one from a dark site, or whatever–set whatever conditions you like for your Messier project. Sketch or don’t sketch, although it would be cool if you did, because then we could compare notes.

I’m planning to set up a sidebar page for this anyway, and scan and post my sketches and observing notes. I’d be happy to host yours, too, if you send them to me. I get 3 gigs of space on this blog, and so far in all of my time here I’ve only used 1/12 of it, so I’m not worried about running out of space by hosting too many images or PDFs or whatever.

I’d like to set an arbitrary start date of August 1 for my own survey, but if you happen to stumble across this post a few months from now and want to join in then, feel free.

Any takers? If so, let me know in the comments.

Clear skies!


  1. Hey, you Go, Matt!

    This would be cool. And valuable to many of us. I have been observing for about 6 months now (since early February) so am no longer a beginner, rather more on an entry-level-plus, I guess. And I still stumble around a lot and grab all the help I can get.

    I have sketched from day one. Not just Messiers (of which I probably have but 8-10) and NCGs/ICs (a few more) but a lot of just gorgeous star groupings and interesting asterisms (i.e. my “arrowhead” up in Ursa Major somewhere). So I have an ongoing permanent record of what I have observed that I most enjoyed, and I have a good time going back through them all from the beginning from time to time both to recall what I have seen, and how far along I have come. I read early on that sketching makes you stay and look longer than you otherwise would, and really, carefully study what you are observing, in effect making a given object your own. I think sketching the heavens is somehow a more personal experience than taking photos. I have found that sketching has hugely enhanced my overall stargazing experience.

    I can send along some samples if you want to see them. I have actually improved noticeably, re distance/relationships/brightness and size differentials etc. Even used some colored pencils on the big bright ones such as Arcturus, Vega, Antares, etc. And this from someone with zero innate artistic skills. When I tried to do a farmyard scene for a lesson on “perspective” in jr high school art, the pigs appeared to be suspended in midair above the cows.

    But I can do my dots in astro sketches!

    Okay, on to your points.

    1. Speaking for myself only, no, I would rather see you NOT try to replicate the beginner experience from the beginning, but rather apply your already considerable observing skills to the challenges of light polluted skies in a typical suburban home setting (driveway, patio, whatever) with a lower echelon scope (or scopes) and include finding as well as observing tips. And, of course, sketches.

    I have found observing guides that have sketches vs. photos are infinitely more valuable to me, give me a much better mental image of what to look for and recognize when I see. Harvard Pennington’s book does a good job of this. I just received it a few days ago, but like what I see so far.

    2. Ideally, an 80mm refractor such as a ST80 or 100mm reflector such as Terry’s would be ideal as these are the kinds of scopes the newer and less experienced observers have, but I understand your desire to go with what you already have. Although a 90mm Mak is probably a) not the best instrument for DSOs for the limitations you list (narrow FOV, mainly) and the fact that this is not a common entry-level observer’s scope, AND (for me, anyhow) hard to find things in because of the narrow FOV. Hence, I’m not sure if this scope would offer the best “lessons”.

    3. So I would like to see you use BOTH the Mak and the TS70, relate your experience with each on a given target, maybe even do 2 sketches sometimes, one for each scope view. Things like the Pleiades or Beehive, even M42 seem well-suited to the TS70. No, this is not “cheating” at all as even many newer observers have more than one scope. Even if they just have one, using both of yours will increase the number of people you will connect with as some will have one (or the like) or the other.

    4. You EP choices to me are not that critical a factor. As long as you don’t use Televues or Naglers. I do think that the Plossls that came with your Mak and/or whatever they are that came with the TS70 should be your basic arsenal, but I also see no problem with also using, say, an Orion Expanse 6 and/or some Agena SWA, maybe a 15. Most of us (myself, two other rookies up here who email regularly) added supplemental EPs within a month or so of getting our first scopes, and my guess is that this is more the norm than not. Because it becomes apparent almost as soon as you buy and read something like The Backyard Astronomer that see what you want to see the way you want to see it, you are going to have to pick up a supplemental EP or two.

    Results, I think, is what we are after here and having a nice bag of modest equipment (vs spartan, i,e, only what came with the scopes) make sense to me.

    5. VIewfinder. My vote is to use both, compare experiences, see which works better, how and why. Some scopes in this price range come with RDFs, some with 6 x 26s or 6 x 30s, so use both, again to reach the maximum number of observers, some of whom will have one, some the other.

    6. Ditto on the diagonal. I bought one of Stuart’s $8 mirrors and it works very well. And this is hardly an excessive expenditure!
    The point is to get the MOST you can out of true home-based suburban viewing, so it makes no sense to me to tie your hands behind your back by forcing yourself to use what you know is inferior geart when all you are proposing to use is really very inexpensive stuff.

    7. I will be happy to send you my sketches of whatever I come up with. Already have some Messiers sketched, hope to have others. But I am not sure how to post them. I could send them to an email address easily through my iPhoto, and they could be posted on the blog from there. If that works for you.

    And, yes, I always try “high up in the sky” first. But even then . . .

    I think this is a terrific idea, and both a worthwhile AND worthy challenge/project for you, one that you will personally derive much enjoyment and satisfaction, and one that will simultaneously help a lot of people who occupy the rungs way, way down the food chain from those you and Terry occupy and would welcome the inspiration and guidance that your project will provide.


  2. Addendum.

    I have noticed of late how many sentences in both Sue’s and O’Meara’s, even Rod’s books begin with “Under dark skies….” or some similar qualifier. Which the majority of us don’t have for the majority of our observing sessions.

  3. Truthfully, I’ve seen very few of the Messiers. In all likelihood, I’ve seen more than I know I’ve seen, I just didn’t know what I was looking for/at. The sort of sketches would help me a LOT.

    Now, in all these considerations, you also need to take into account the orientation of the drawings. And, I assume these are all dark on light (i.e., stars are dark). I’m like you, I’ve only ever sketched planets, and mainly for my own notes so that I can do things like observe the Jovian moon dance. The scope/diag/finder, etc. all come into this. I’m leaning towards UP as the top of the page. That means that the orientation is different whether I’m looking east or west, and what time of the year I look north. Southern objects usually have the same UP no matter what.

    So, I have trouble even with trying to flip images in my mind, for anything but the moon. I don’t have the problem in the observing, but I’ve looked at a lot of drawings/pictures and sometimes I just can’t SEE what the thing is, if my orientation is different. I also tend to have RA views (I don’t know what I’ll do with the SW100. I’m rather hooked on the SV diag. The seller is shipping me a 2” diag, but he admits he also uses a helical focuser, which probably means he has one of the Orion 2”-1.25” adapters that has a helical focuser built in. In any case think about that a bit.

    Scope: honestly, I don’t think too many beginners buy Maks. I know I never considered one. You really might want to use the 70mm refractor.

    Finder: I say both an RDF and a magnifying finder. If I had to have one or the other, I’d take the RDF. But then, I really don’t have enough stars to hop. But these are things a normal beginner goes through.

    Another thing to think of is the mount. As we’ve discussed before, I really like an Alt-Az for cruising, but if I were sketching, it would have to be an EQ, and I’d lean towards tracking. I think an Alt-Az would get frustrating after a while.

    I’d like to help. I don’t know how much time I’ll get, but I’m probably game come fall. It’s still too hot on 8/1. Now, what scope. What I think I’d do is mount the GS on the SW100 as the finder. I could sketch from the GS, which is smaller than you are proposing, but it would also allow me to take some good looks with the SW100 (I’m assuming the views will be rather fine). So, figure out a way to work me in. Probably give me ONE at a time, that’s south to west for me. Once I get one under my belt, I can see what to do next. But, honestly, wait until after Labor Day. I just got back from walking the dog, as I was to work at 5am this morning and she didn’t get a morning walk. The temps had just dipped below 100 (at 8:30). It was nice and dark, but way too many clouds, another day to day problem until mid-September.

    Anyway, I’m excited to see how this takes off.


    (Pasted in from email to Matt)

  4. I agree with David – use the 70mm refractor. This is the type of scope (60-70mm refractor) that most people get as their first telescope, mainly because it’s much cheaper than a 90mm. Mak.

  5. Hi Matt,

    I think the rules should depend on what your goals are. If you are hoping to provide a nice representation of what an inexpensive scope under suburban skies can do, I don’t think you should limit yourself when it comes to the finder or mount. As they won’t really affect the image at the eyepiece, but may help you complete the project without too much pain.

    Using a finder you are comfortable with and works well, might not completely replicate the beginner experience, but is that one of the goals? It’s pretty easy to post an entry or two about where to spend some money as a beginner to get the best upgrades, and you have already posted a few nice suggestions. There is not much to learn or teach by spending a year laboring under artificially difficult conditions. It won’t really be reflected in the sketches you do… except that you may do less of them or spend less time on each since you’ll be fighting against a tricky finder.

    Keeping the eyepieces and diagonal closer to stock would help to provide a sketch which is more in line with these sorts of scopes, so this restriction makes more sense to me than limiting yourself on the finder/mount side.

    Thanks for a fun project and a great blog!

  6. Hi matt,

    I am terry”s los angeles observing buddy and have sketched many objects (about 500 with various scopes ranging from my 40mm celestron cometron to my 10″f/5 gs) from my former home in brisbane, queensland australia with my now sold 3″ alt az newtonian and would gladly look through my 5 sketchbooks to see which messier object sketches i can contribute for your endeavour.


  7. David,

    I related immediately to your statement that you have seen (most likely) more Messiers than you realize, but just didn’t recognize them, even when you might well have had them centered in your EP because you didn’t know what shapes and patterns to look for, and how sketches would be a huge asset in taking this next step.

    Me, too. Exactly. I KNOW I have seen some Messiers without ever knowing it. Photos of these objects aren’t even remotely like what you actually see in a scope such as many of us have.


    I made the same point as David in my post, i.e. that that a 90mm Mak is not really the instrument of choice for stalking DSOs, and also an instrument that is far less common for entry-level/intermediate area astronomers, that your 70mm refractor would be the one closer to what most have and use; also, many DSOs are probably too wide to fit the Mak’s FOV. That said, I would still like to see you use BOTH scopes as I think the comparative sketches would be one of the most interesting features of this project. Who knows, some Ms might end up looking much better in the Mak, even with its narrow FOV.

    Also, good idea to maybe offer advice as to how money would be most efficiently spent on upgrades (such as Sheldon’s $8 mirror diagonal, maybe one of Agena’s or Owl’s SWA EPs, etc.) that can really make a difference for minimal expense.

    Also, to reiterate my preference, I would prefer to have the purpose be directed at what you can see and how well from a typical urban home setting through a relatively modest small scope rather than a basic observing course aimed at raw beginners.


  8. I have an Orion Mak 90MM. It was my first telescope. May not have been the best choice but I have enjoyed this scope a lot. I have been trying to follow the Messier Objects with the Mak. Have had the best luck working in tandem with a pair of 10X50 binoculars which give me a very nice wide FOV and then use the Mak to close in. I live outside Los Angeles and in a pretty badly light polluted area. Between trees, the house, street lights and the general horizon glow… well it is the average environment most of us face every night.

    It will be interesting to see how this project develops. I will probably follow along on this.

  9. Hey John.

    I, too, got a Mak for my first ever scope back in late January, but I sent it back to Orion pretty fast as that narrow FOV was just too hard for a newcomer to work with, and not good at all for seeing those fabulous rich field expanses of stars that, at this point in my observing career, are my main course. Using 10 x 50s as an ad hoc finder is an excellent idea.

    Your second point nails it: “Between trees, the house, street lights and the general horizon glow… well it is the average environment most of us face every night.”

    Exactly. Same for me. Hundred foot-plus high fir tree forest to the east, high neighbor roofline to the south, my own roof to the right, more roofs and trees to the North. I do have a clear viewing window to the south but it’s relatively narrow. And, of course, the usual suburban light pollution.

    So this is the purpose of the project. What can you do to maximize your observing success in this kind of house-based set-up? Good as they are, Sue French, Stephen O’Meara, et al are of limited value as the former observes from rural New York, the latter from 7000 feet up on the side of a Hawaiian volcano.

    So what Matt ends up scoring from his suburban driveway will provide an infinitely more practical experience for the majority whose observing starts right out the door.


  10. Well Doug i guess we just have to make do with what we have. The trees and houses blocking my view actually may work in my favor. They do act as light breaks and hide most of the street lights and just make me look at higher altitude objects. And since anything around here that is lower than 30º is not really worth the view, I need to aim higher. I can see 360º around, above altitude 45º.

    Now there are a lot of the Messier objects that are low on the horizon. Most likely they will be in the south. After staking out my backyard I found I do have a small area that gives me a 15º view South to SouthWest with a low altitude of about 22º.

    Over all I have 5 spots that are sky holes that I can view a bit lower on my property.

    I will be joining in on this and post sightings as I go here.


  11. Hey Matt, thanks for mentioning me on your post. I will try to post some pictures on my blog of my sketches as soon as possible.

  12. Hi Matt.

    I tried out my TS70 last night for the first time. We had a bright Gibbous moon for the first time in over a month, so a good target.
    LIke you, I was impressed with the sharpness and contrast of the TS; excellent detail and resolution. Even with my 6mm Expanse, the image was clean and sharp at 67x, nice crater light-and-shadow detail, no breakdown at all. I didn’t go any higher than 67x. The sky was so washed out by the moon that I really didn’t go after anything else.
    Also tried out the Mak 90 (same one you have) up to 83x and the resolution was razor sharp, a noticeable but not huge upgrade from the image at 67x in the TS. An accurate analogy would be the difference between watching the same tv program on a “regular” channel (TS) and an HD channel (Mak).

    So maybe a combo platter of the TS and Mak would work well for your Backyard Messier program.


    Quick question for you. I know that you have had superb results with your Skyscanner 100 at your Malibu dark skies site, but how would you characterize the results when you use this scope from your home (driveway, patio, whatever)? Thanks.


  13. I do almost no observing with my Skyscanner from my light-polluted home. However, the last time I used it from there, I was able to spot M1 (The Crab Nebula) with it.

    Otherwise, all my observing with this scope is done at semi-dark sites (e.g. Malibu, Simi Valley, Yucca Valley, Mt. Baldy) or dark sites (e.g. Mt. Pinos).

  14. Something you might want to think about in the Messier project is the use of filtering. It is kind of iffy, not every beginner can own a UHC filter or Oxygen-III. My 70mm f/10 will provide some good views for this project and that might helpful. Are you going to do all of your observing from light polluted areas or are you going to make any runs up to Mount Baldy?

    Clear Skies,
    Justin B.

  15. Hi Terry.

    Based on your rave reviews of the Skyscanner 100, I ordered one from Orion over the weekend, received it on Wed, and have had it out the past two nights. I took it into our front courtyard which is reasonably dark, though I am guessing our light polluted suburban skies are typical, that is the sky being more a charcoal gray than black. We have 3 tables out there and I can just move the SS from one to the next to the next to alter my observing window. First impressions: Your assessment is spot-on.

    What a terrific little scope!

    I was surprised at how bright images are, how easy it is to use, and how light and easy to move around it is, a true one-hand scope. I set it up on one table to scan the area around Antares, move to another table to check out the area around and south of Vega, and to a third to (later in the night) scan in and around Altair. The absolute ease of movement opens up a lot of sky for me in a matter of seconds.

    Over the past few nights, I have observed and sketched the open cluster Stock 1, Alberio and its surrounding star field, the Coathanger/Brocchi;s Cluster, Sagitta, a pair of sparkling open clusters last night that I am still trying to identify, and just begun to probe Sagittarius which is finally out from behind the huge forest of trees to our east and southeast (found a large smudge last night but the sky is till a bit moon-washed out so I wasn’t able to resolve anything).

    I use the 20mm 3-element Kellner that came with it for initial scanning and it works wonderfully for this, kind of a binoculars-plus. Also using the 10mm Plossl that came with my SB 6 and 15mm SWA from Agena. All work well, all produce sharp, bright images.

    Do you use the stock Kellners at all, or do you use your higher-end EPs exclusively?

    I am really impressed by the overall build quality, fit and finish of the Orion products I own (SB 6, SS 100, Scenix 10 x 50 binos). For $100, the SS has the look and feel of a serious instrument. Overall, Orion seems to me a notch above Celestron and Meade.

    I bought a Celestron TS 70 a few weeks ago to give to my sister and her husband who want a combo scope to use at their beach house, but they won’t be coming through to pick it up until the end of August, so I have taken it out a few times. Decent enough little scope but far short of the SS 100 in every way, including ease of use. You just cannot beat those little Orion half-Dob mounts, almost like using binocs.

    Matt might want to change his mind and use a SS for his Urban Messier Project.

    Thanks for your advocacy of the SS 100, I’ve read your posts on your experiences with it and decided that this would be an ideal grab and go instrument for those nights when I didn’t want to set up the SB 6, which is still my main scope and the one I use if I plan a night of serious viewing. But for going out for an hour to 90 minutes, as in the last 2 nights, the SS is the ideal complement, more than adequate and a lot of fun to use.

    And I love the look of it, a really handsome little unit.


  16. […] off, many thanks to everyone who has responded about the Suburban Messier Project. I’m going to do it, sooner or later, and I’ve started a draft outlining how my […]

  17. […] of this is just part of an extended run-up to the Suburban Messier Project. I’m not ready to get started on that, not yet. I’m too busy with teaching, and my […]

  18. […] there’s the Suburban Messier Project. I should just dig out a sketchbook and get going on […]

  19. […] finally give it a shot. I was going to do M57 first, and kick off my much-discussed, long-delayed Suburban Messier project. But I’d just been emailing with Doug and he’d recommended NGC 6633 as a […]

  20. […] duplications. My crystal ball is notoriously cloudy (remember the much-discussed, never-attempted Suburban Messier Project?), but I’m not too worried about either one. As far as exhausting my creative energy goes, […]

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