First Light – Meade ETX-90EC – Sept 8, 2013

I had finally decided to take my ETX-90EC out to look at the sky in August.  We had a few weeks of perfect summer clear nights.  The kids were visiting my parents so no excuse not to stay up late.  I had re-read all the manuals and got everything prepared.  Then fate stuck.  The weather turned bad and the entire weekend was cloudy.  We had a vacation the following week so I resigned myself to just waiting for the next opportunity.

That opportunity came quicker than I could have imagined.  The weather forecast was for an entire week of hot days and clear nights in September.  The sun was setting earlier and the moon was also setting early in the evening.  So, I re-prepared to head out on Sunday evening, September 8, 2013.

The home position for polar alignment for the Meade ETX-90EC turned out to be very straightforward.  The Meade tripod helped with this situation.  I had also purchased a power adapter so I didn’t have to worry about batteries.  I also took out my eyepieces and red flashlight.  I add everything ready and then started the alignment using the Meade AutoStar.

The Meade AutoStar easy alignment was more straightforward than I thought.  It kind of made me wonder I didn’t try earlier.  The telescope slew to the first star, Arcturus.  I wasn’t sure if it was the correct one but there was only one bright star in the distance.  I used an app on my iPhone called Star Walk.  I was able to confirm I was in the right area.  I used the finderscope to get it closer to center and then looked through the eyepiece for finally centering.  I hit Enter of the AutoStar and it moved to the second star.  I did the same process.  However, this task was much harder because the telescope was pointed straight up and I could easily see through the finderscope.  The finderscope is a straight through type.  I had to get on the ground.  It was also made even more difficult because I hadn’t extended the tripod legs.  I figured it would be easier to be sitting in a patio chair.  Nevertheless, I got it aligned.

Then, I was at a loss.  What to a look at now?  I wasn’t prepared for the next step.  I used the AutoStar to search for a planet but none were visible at this time.  Uranus was but it was in the eastern sky which was blocked by my house.  I was out of time but remembered in the back of mind that there was a binary start in the Big Dipper so I usedg Star Walk to figure out which one and GoTo it.  I had to move the telescope to get close but there it was.

To summarize, I had finally aligned my ETX and saw something.  Not bad for my first light and first night.

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Orion SteadyPix Deluxe Camera Mount review

I was reading about how to get started in astrophotography and that afocal photography was a good place to start.  I purchased the Orion SteadyPix Deluxe Camera Mount.

I did a test inside the house and the results were fine.  I had to turn off the flash on my camera along with setting the delayed shutter to avoid any movement from pushing the shutter.  I did some experimenting with camera modes but ended up just staying with the automatic mode.

I will need to do more testing outside.

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Planetarium Software Review

With my purchase of binoculars from Orion and Celestron FirstScope, I received two planetarium software CDs.  The first was Starry Night Orion Special Edition and TheSkyX First Light Edition.  I decided to compare both so see which would be a good choice to start using.  I also added Stellarium to the comparison because it was free.  My long term plan is to get one of the paid edition but since I am just starting out, I figured I would use what I got.

Though I had heard of Starry Night before, I wasn’t impressed with the Orion Special Edition.  It did show the night sky at my location, date and time.  That was about it.  It had all the basic controls for a planetarium software.  I liked the opening prompt of what was visible in the sky tonight. There was no view of the constellations.  So it was hard to figure out what I was seeing.  I could click on a star to get more information.  I assume the paid editions offer more features.

TheSkyX seemed to have more features.  I like the ability to control what is displayed like constellations, star names, planets and Messier Objects.  It also had an observation list you could create.  It also showed a picture of the object when you selected it.  This looked a very good product.

Stellarium was an open source software.  I too liked itself user interface.  It didn’t seem to have all the features of the TheSkyX but was very straightforward.

I am going to try both the TheSkyX and Stellarium.

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Astronomy software research

From the binocular and FirstScope purchases, I received two software programs:  TheSkyX First Light Edition and Starry Night Orion Special Edition.  I did a quick bit of research to see what else was on the market for astronomy related software.  There seemed to be a few general categories.

Celestron FirstScope Telescope review

The Celestron FirstScope telescope has been an excellent addition as a telescope for my kids to use.  I have no problems letting them touch it and look at what every they wanted to.  The finderscope makes the telescope useful and the moon filter is a nice addition when they are looking at the moon.

To summarize, great telescope.

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