Equipment

I am often asked about the equipment that I use in observing, so this page will be dedicated to my current equipment.  One of the fun things about amateur astronomy is that there is an incredible variety of equipment on the market.  While there are many large astronomy suppliers doing business on the internet, we are fortunate in Tucson to have two local astronomy shops, Starizona and Stellar Vision.  I mention this as I strongly believe it is important to support these local businesses.  Not only for the obvious economic reasons, but both of these businesses and the individuals behind them (Dean at Starizona, and Frank at Stellar Vision) give back to the local community as much as they receive. Selling astronomy gear is not making anyone rich, and paying a little extra in taxes on a purchase comes back to us ten-fold.  Finally, if one needs technical support with equipment, both these vendors are a short drive away...no return authorization numbers, no shipping of equipment, no long wait for diagnosis and repair.  What you do get is expert assistance and personal service.

There is a strong used market in astronomy equipment, and I recommend Astromart to the individual interested in purchasing used.  STAY AWAY FROM EBAY, unless you are already an experienced observer and know what questions to ask.  Over the years I have purchased and later sold over half of my telescopes used on Astromart, as well as most of my eyepieces.  Astromart charges a one time fee of $12 to sign up but it is well worth the security that the site provides in terms of limiting the scamming that takes place. In about 75 transactions through them, I have never had a fraudulent experience.  Cloudy Nights also has a forum for buying and selling used gear, but I have never utilized this service.

Telescopes can be generally divided into three categories: Reflectors (those with mirrors), Refractors (those with lenses), and Catadioptric (those with both lenses and mirrors).  That being said, within each of these categories numerous different designs of telescopes can be purchased, from the mass produced import scope to the one of a kind hand-crafted precision instrument.  To the left is the first serious telescope I owned, a used Celestron Super C8+.  Actually, this was the second telescope I owned but the first department store 60mm plastic scope does not count in my book.  Isn't she a beauty?  This was an 8 inch Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope (SCT) through which I observed for countless hours.  She showed me the entire Messier catalog, several comets, and I made numerous sketches of the 2003 Mars apparition with her.

Several telescopes later (and wishing I still had that old Super C8+ in my arsenal) I currently have one refractor, one SCT, and a dedicated solar scope.  Each telescope has its strengths and limitations, and I choose which telescopes to utilize depending on what I am observing and where.

I am fortunate to own a Telescope Engineering Company 140mm triplet apochromatic refractor.  This is a hand-crafted telescope, considered by many astronomers to be a world class instrument.  While most amateur class telescopes are mass produced, TEC figures their own objective lenses by hand...in a small shop in Golden, Colorado.   The TEC 140 rides atop a Celestron German Equatorial Mount (CGEM) in the observatory (left hand picture), and sometimes atop a Discmounts DM-6 mount in the field (right hand picture).

At 5.5 inches of aperture, the TEC 140 is the workhorse instrument in the Lost Pleiad Observatory.  It does an excellent job on planets, provides nice low power wide field views, and has just enough light gathering for some of the brighter deep sky objects.  It is not a galaxy buster, but living close to town is not conducive to observing faint fuzzy details in galaxies. 

My second telescope is a Meade LX200 12 inch Classic SCT.  I use this telescope from the Lost Pleiad Observatory when I want the extra light gathering power for seeking out faint objects.  Due to its complex design using a corrector lens and two mirrors, it is not as sharp as a refractor and has slightly less contrast.  This telescope is well traveled, having started its career several years ago as a research instrument at the Arkansas Sky Observatories.  When it was retired from research it was sold to a private individual who used it for a few years before deciding to pass it along. It has been optimized  through several modifications, such as the two cooling fans which have been installed to circulate filtered air behind the mirror.  This aids the mirror in reaching ambient temperature. The stock focuser bearings have been upgraded to provide very smooth focus with minimal image shift, and the interior of the optical tube has been flocked to eliminate internal reflections and scattering of light.


Above left is the business end of the scope where you can see the the focal length is 3048mm resulting in an F/10 instrument.  The center image shows the cooling fans and on the right you can see the internal flocking.  Both my original 8 inch and the 9.25 inch that I have been using were fine performers, yet this scope is in another league.  Without hesitation I can say that it is the best SCT I have owned.  Certainly the aperture increase is significant, however, planetary images in this scope are sharper than either of my previous SCT's.  In addition, contrast is excellent and the fine detail that I have been able to observe from my backyard has been rewarding. While splitting double stars is the realm of my TEC 140 refractor, this big blue monster has impressed me.

Finally, when solar observing I utilize a Lunt Solar Systems 60mm hydrogen alpha dedicated solar telescope, equipped with a 12mm blocking filter.  While Lunt also makes front mounted filters than can be adapted to many refractors, this telescope has an internally mounted etalon filter that is precisely tuned using a patented air pressure tuning system.  This allows for precise movement across the entire band of the hydrogen alpha wavelength, which in turn allows for observation of the entire range of features visible in the suns chromosphere.  To observe the photosphere (the layer of of the sun visible in white light that often contains sunspots)  I utilize a Herschel Wedge, also manufactured by Lunt Solar Systems.  The wedge can be utilized in any refractor telescope (the bottom picture shows it inserted in the TEC 140).