Astronomy

I got my first telescope during the Christmas of 1979. It was a spindly little 40mm reflector from Sears and it came with just one eyepiece. It’s wobbly little wooden legs and plastic mount could barely keep the optical tube steady long enough to get a decent peek, but I managed to use that scope to explore the wonderfully cratered surface of the Moon, to see the moons of Jupiter and bask in the splendour of the rings of Saturn. That scope opened the world of astronomy to me.

Telescopes

I have had a vast variety of telescopes over the 40 years I’ve been observing (click here to see a full list!), but I currently have just two scopes that I use nowadays. My “big” scope is an 8-inch Schmidt Cassegrain from Meade and my portable “grab and go” scope is a 70mm achromatic refractor from Sky-Watcher. I tend to use the bigger scope more often because aperture tends to rule the day, all other things being equal. Think of a telescope like a bucket and the light from the cosmos is like rain drops. The bigger around your bucket is, the more rain drops you can catch at once. So, the bigger around (aperture) the telescope is, the more photons it can catch at once and the brighter the image will be at the eyepiece. This helps in picking out various details of an object whether it is the ovals and festoons on the clouds of Jupiter, resolving stars in the great cluster M13 in Hercules or seeing the spiral structure of the Whirlpool Galaxy M51. My little scope can see Jupiter, M13 and M51, but I can’t see anywhere near the same level of detail through it - simply due to the much smaller aperture (70mm vs. 203mm).

Both of my telescopes are mounted on German Equatorial Mounts (or GEMs). This type of mount has two axis that allow the scope to move side to side and up and down. The twist is that one of the axis is pointed at the north star (Polaris), so that when a motor is turned on in the mount (called the Right Ascension Motor), the telescope will actually “track” the object I’m looking at. That means I can get Jupiter lined up in my eyepiece and it will stay there for hours if I want it to. The motor is actually counter-acting the rotation of the Earth in order to keep the object in my field of view. This is very handy for doing extended observations on objects.

My main scope - a Meade 2080 LX6 Premier:
My portable scope - a Sky-Watcher 70mm refractor:

Eyepieces

All telescopes take the light they gather and focus it in a small area called the focal plane. The telescope itself does not magnify the image - it just provides the raw data and the eyepiece that you put in the focuser of the telescope magnifies the image and provides the presentation that your eye consumes. Eyepieces vary greatly in price and quality - the cheapest eyepieces will still provide an image, but it could potentially be very difficult to focus and could distort the image so much that details would be impossible to discern. I prefer higher quality eyepieces that provide a crisp, clear image of the object I’m looking at - but at the same time, I am a bit old fashioned and prefer light weight, simple eyepiece designs. Therefore, what I use is mostly Plössl eyepieces from Tele Vue Optics which although patented in the early 1980’s by Tele Vue, the design originates in the mid 1800’s. Similarly, my highest power eyepiece is an Abbe Orthoscopic design - modern in coatings and manufacture, but the design also originates in the mid 1800’s. The only complex eyepiece I use is a Meade Super Wide Angle which is based on the Tele Vue Wide Field design of the 1980’s. None of these eyepieces are terribly expensive (approx $100 each) but they all provide a beautiful, clear image of the target I am observing.

My eyepiece set:

(Left to right: Meade 24.5mm SWA, Tele Vue 20mm, 15mm, 11mm and 8mm Plössls, Fuyiyama 6mm Ortho)

Observing Targets

I have a small list of favourite targets that I like to observe, although on any given night I usually try to plan out some selected objects (most of which are not on my favourites list) that reside in a constellation near zenith (overhead) so that I can get a clear look. I used to try and log my observations on this website page, but I’ve learned over the years that I’m simply not that type of astronomer. It is an enjoyable hobby for me, and taking detailed notes every time I go out simply isn’t in my nature. I am not OCD in that way. So what I’ve decided to do is document here a list of targets that I have observed in the past and detail what I’ve learned. This will provide me a momento of previous observations and hopefully bring some enjoyment to my website visitors.

Solar System

  • The Moon
  • The Sun
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Mars
  • Venus
  • Mercury
  • Uranus
  • Neptune
  • Pluto
  • Ceres
  • Comet Hale Bopp
  • Comet Hyakutake

Deep Sky

  • M13
  • M92
  • M31
  • M1
  • M2
  • M3
  • M11
  • M22
  • M27
  • M32
  • M33
  • M42
  • M45
  • M51
  • M57
  • M65/M66
  • M71
  • M81/M82
  • M84/M86 (Markarian’s Chain)
  • M97
  • M104
  • M108
  • NGC 869/NGC 884 (Double Cluster)

Double Stars

  • Albireo
  • Gamma And
  • Eps Lyr
  • Polaris
  • Sirius
  • Theta Orion (Trapezium)
  • Alp Gem (Castor)
  • Izar (Bootes)