Big fish with light tackle

October 20, 2013

From the first time I read it, I have had a strange fascination with Jay Reynolds Freeman’s “Refractor Red meets the Herschel 400” (available here), wherein he describes observing the legendary deep-sky list with a 55mm refractor. Freeman wrote, “Ask people who land big fish with light tackle, why I do what I do.”

Lately I’ve been working through a slew of the open clusters in the Herschel 400 myself. And I have found that some clusters are dead easy to recognize as distinct bright patches in my 9×50 finder, but at the eyepiece they just sort of dissipate into the background starfield. That plus some fairly transformative rich-field experiences with small refractors (like this one) are working some kind of alchemy on me.

In a feat of Freeman-like proportions, my friend and frequent 10MA contributor Terry Nakazono has logged and sketched over 500 DSOs in the past 3 or so years, including 368 galaxies, almost all with scopes under 5″ aperture, mostly from at least somewhat light-polluted skies. He is just religious about dark adaptation, averted vision, and patience.

Possibly as a result of all of the above, lately I have had this mad desire to go out to the desert with a 70mm or even a 50mm refractor and spend the whole night observing with only that instrument. It feels like my reverse aperture fever and my deep-sky interests are slowly colliding. That plus a sort of perverse desire to knowingly commit to a “suboptimal” (aperture-wise) observing program just because it sounds fun.

I shared this plan on CN and fellow user blb wrote:

No mater what size telescope you use, it seems that you are looking at objects that are on the limits of what can be seen with that size scope. Once I realized this and read, some years ago now, what Jay Reynolds Freeman had to say about his observations, I came to realize there were way more objects to be seen in a small telescope than I would probably see in my lifetime.

I think this is exactly right; I find that with whatever instrument I have to hand, I tend to throw myself up against its limits.

AstroMedia plumber's telescope: a 40mm achromat made with plastic plumbing fittings

AstroMedia plumber’s telescope: a 40mm achromat made with plastic plumbing fittings

In particular, I know that all of the Messier objects have been logged with a 50mm telescope. What about a 40mm scope? I see that AstroMedia has a 40mm f/11 achromat kit (also available from AstroMediaShop.co.uk). That is strangely fascinating to me. (It would be simpler to use a larger scope and simply stop it down to 40mm, but somehow it seems more “pure” to use a scope with a native aperture of 40mm.) However, I think I would first do a Messier tour with a Galileoscope; just because other people have found all the Messiers with a 50mm scope doesn’t mean that I will, and it makes sense to start with that easier goal before plunging right into uncharted territory. It would be mighty tempting to put the 40mm scope and the Galileoscope on the same mount, though…

So…I’ll keep you posted.


  1. […] have time for stargazing. « Double stars, urban observing, and where I go from here Big fish with light tackle […]

  2. Thanks for confirming that I wasn’t just being a rookie when I was making fascinating, at least to me, observations with my Galileoscope when it was the only thing I had to work with!!!

    And, ummmm……one Galileoscope coming right up…


  3. Thanks for confirming that I wasn’t just being a rookie when I was making fascinating, at least to me, observations with my Galileoscope when it was the only thing I had to work with!!!

    A couple of years ago there was a very contentious thread on CN called, “Where does serious aperture begin?” My favorite answer was someone who said that serious observing begins whenever you get serious about observing, and whatever aperture you have to hand therefore becomes serious aperture.

    Also, Jay Reynolds Freeman did his first Messier survey with 7×50 binos because they were all he had.

    Finally, as Uncle Rod says, there’s no wrong way to do amateur astronomy.

    So use whatever you want, however you want, and if anyone tells you you’re doing it wrong, they can get stuffed.

    And, ummmm……one Galileoscope coming right up…

    I know–very much looking forward to it!

  4. I had a lot of fun testing out that Meade 60mm refractor on DSO’s in semi-dark skies over in Banning (near Morongo Bay) when I was writing my CN review for that scope.

    Now I’m really curious to see what that Galileoscope can do on DSOs, especially with its excellent optics!

  5. […] this, I’d found the quote–in one of my own previous posts! The post of mine is “Big fish with light tackle“, the quote was from CN user blb, originally posted here, and here’s what he actually […]

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