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Astronomy Student's Disappointment


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Hi friends,

This one really makes me mad! :( One of my high school students said a relative had given him a used telescope, and could he bring it in so that I could help him with it? He said he was having real problems just trying to see Saturn and the Moon. Understand that this young man was one of my own students, and at this point in the semester, he knows how to use a Dobsonian, a star map, and find and focus and sketch.

Once I saw this hunk-a-junk, I knew immediately what his problem was. The scope was a Meade "Saturn" 114mm 'digital' telescope. Essentially a 114mm f/9 Newtonian on an Alt-Az fork mount on top of a very light weight aluminum tripod. The flaws became immediately obvious.

The tripod had no way to lock the legs in position - they were quite flexible and actually allowed the scope to change height as you were using it! (This was spring-action from the leg flex, not anything on purpose.) The focuser looked like a nice 2" rack and pinion, but as I got closer, I saw that: a) the focuser was all molded plastic, :) the focuser (in spite of its large barrel) was stopped down to only take a 0.96" eyepiece, not even 1.25"! Then I noticed that in addition to the 4mm Ramsden eyepiece (horrible eye relief and only about 25-deg afov) came along with a 3x barlow (all plastic, of course - even the single (uncoated) lens element was plastic!) which combined to give an "Amazing!" 675x. The 25mm and 12.5mm Huygens lenses (a great lens design from the 1680's) we not much better. I checked collimation, it was OK, but the secondary was too large - cutting off too much light... and yes, the spider and secondary cell were both molded plastic, but they were well matched by the plastic primary mirror cell and spherical mirror. Oh, the finder? 5x25 with - wait for it! - all plastic tube, lens, and dovetail mount.

And it doesn't stop there - this thing was a GoTo scope! It had alt-az drive motors (plastic housing, plastic worm gear, plastic spur gear) and a controller. The spur gear was stripped on the altitude axis so the thing wouldn't even stay when raised into viewing position. It was clear that it had been purchased, set up, and then yanked around, drive ruined, tripod sprung - and then given away to an unsuspecting, and very excited, youngster (after a suitable long and dusty period of outdoor shed storage, of course.)

I did my best and showed my student how to remove the motors and turn it into a (semi) functional dob. He is going to build a base for it later. Good for him, but that isn't really the point.

Why do Scope manufactures sell junk like this!??

Not only did they charge $400 for this thing, but it seemed custom-designed to teach someone that: a) Astronomy expensive, :( Astronomy is very difficult and frustrating and requires the patience of Job, c) Even if you do it right, the views are crappy anyway, so you won't have any fun or see anything worth while through the eyepiece.

If there were evil super-villians like in the Batman comics or a James Bond movie - I could see this as their ingenious plot to ruin amature astronomy forever. :) Ok, so why oh why would a company that supposedly wants people to take up the hobby ever import something like this to sell? And why would they put their good name on it? My student summed it up very well as he was leaving - "Well, I'm not giving up on astronomy, but I'll never buy anything from this company ever again!"

I tried to explain that there was a world of difference between the stuff they designed and made themselves and the junk they imported with their name pasted on it. My student said: "But isn't this supposed to be the beginner scope that gets me excited and wanting more?" (Clever lad, that!)

I'm with him. As a teacher of astronomy and a telescope owner for over 40 years - I just don't get it. It's like trying to learn golf only to have the club pro give you bent clubs while saying "Don't worry, by the time you learn to hit the ball with these, you'll be ready for some golf clubs that really work!

I just don't get it; and frankly, it makes me a bit ill to think on it.

Dan

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There should be better information about these cheap scopes, but (as you well know) they advertise things like "525X magnification! See the moons of a planet in the Andromeda galaxy! This scope is so powerful that you can see the back of your head!" etc, etc.

I'm afraid I fell for it back in the early 90's, hence the 'bane of my life' line in my sig.

The companies that sell these things should be fined heavily for false advertising.

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The scopes may have got a whole lot better and affordable which itself is a great achievement, but why do so many manufacturers STILL illustrate their scopes with colourful star fields in the background? Is this not false advertising? I wouldn't mind if the product was an imaging camera, especially if it was the one that took the background image. I have just looked through a recent copy of Sky at Night magazine (I'm sure the other mags are as bad) and in addition to the 'colourful' ads, the magazine further fuels this misrepresentation of reality by including colour images in the current month's observing section of targets. None of this images are credited as deriving from deep sky astro imaging and would give the impression to anyone browsing the magazine that this is in fact what you might see through a scope. It might be alright for most of us who understand what we're looking at but maybe not for beginners who might well end up disappointed. This is not as blatant as '525x' magnification ruse but I do feel this policy should stop.

Clear skies (though not in colour!)

James

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They charged him $400.00 for that heap of junk? You student's first taste turns out to be a sour one when all he wanted was a "real glimpse". There will always be those that prey on others. They don't care how much passion they exterminate in their search for a profit! Very sad but I'm happy that he has you in his corner to help him. Shine on!

Isabelle

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Unfortunately this particular "manufacturer" has form on this sort of cynical mug's eyeful marketing. But it's also true that modern consumers want to believe that a few hundred pounds will buy them a telescope that will show the Encke Gap and the pulsar in M1, ten minutes after they plonk it on the lawn for the first time. Buying a precision instrument and spending hours learning how to use it are old hat.

But surely beginners can do a simple reality check when buying a telescope : "please, I'd like a telescope, with sharp optics and a stable mount, hold the electronics, flim-flam and unrealistic claims". Why go to buy a telescope and spend most of the money on electronics? Today there are several middle market scopes out there where the optics are scarcely more than a throwaway accessory perched on top of an electronic marvel. But suitably marketed, and the punters turn up in droves.

Sigh.

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Today there are several middle market scopes out there where the optics are scarcely more than a throwaway accessory perched on top of an electronic marvel. But suitably marketed, and the punters turn up in droves.

Sigh.

I know - I just feel bad for the 'punters'. They aren't setting out to be silly, they just don't know any better. Part of the problem is department stores each Christmas lining up the standard three scopes:

One labeled "Good" Classic 60mm f/11 refractor on a yolk mount and flimsy wooden tripod. The sign says: 150x! for just $100

One labeled "Better" 60mm f/15 refractor on the same yolk mount with a rotten plastic finder scope and a 3x plastic barlow. The sign says: 450x (wow!) for just $189

And the last one is labeled "Best!" 60mm f/15 refractor on a really wobbly, sloppy EQ mount with a 5x plastic barlow and a 3mm RA lens (exit pupil << 1mm). The sign says: 950x (Just like Hubble!) for just $299!!!!!

The "Good, Better, Best" routine coupled with selling telescopes based upon their purported magnification has done more to drive kids away from astronomy than anything else I can think of. I was lucky as a lad actually - my folks could only enjoy the "Good" scope, so I had pretty good views and eyepieces that delivered magnifications that were actually reasonable for my little 60mm Tasco... and I still enjoy astronomy today.

Rotten telescopes are like maggots - they have their natural life cycle. They are laid under a dead tree (usually late in December!), then they hatch out on the 25th, but spend very little time in the dark before migrating to the closet or garage where they pupate in the dust before moving off as Jumble Sale larva to infect some other poor soul with disappointment and frustration.

Anyone got a can of bug spray? And a match?

Dan

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But it was a 'known name'. It must be good. That name has been seen on very expensive professional kit in a big observatory. Get my drift?

It is up to those of us who know a little more than nothing to tell the manufacturers in whatever way we can to watch how they market. Selling rubbish today will stop you selling the replacement next year.

When I look at any Meade kit, I am suspicious. Is the £1000 scope really worth the money? It might be a £500 scope with a £500 badge. Can I buy the equivalent with a different label for less? Having had a good look at the 'short cuts' in the build of my ETX90, this view is strengthened. I got caught with the hype and only saw the quality in the months and years following purchase. The result is that I have never bought anything better from Meade.

This badge/price association is already made by many in the UK between Celestron and Skywatcher.

My first scope was a 25mm refractor on a small (table top) tripod. Guess what. I didn't get a 2nd scope for years. Flooding the market with rubbish cannot do astronomy any good in the long term.

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My first scope, as a young boy, was a 60 mm Tasco. A hideous pile of steaming junk. I pretended to my parents that it was useful, but really it served no function other than to spy on my neighbours. Even the moon was a disappointment. I had it for more than 10 years, because I couldn't get rid of it. I left it at my parents when I left home and they kindly brought it up to my place in case I needed it. When I moved house again I "forgot" it was in the loft but my landlord very kindly passed it on to me. In the end I put it in a skip with great relish. It was quite some time before I got my next cheap scope- a Celestron 114mm Newt. It was only £140 but it was absolutely fantastic.

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There are two companies I just have a dislike for - Meade and Celestron - that I would not touch with a barge pole.. I also had the same impression SkyWatcher but the EQ6 mount is a reasonable mount (and the only one really in the capability/price bracket).

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Yo, I even contacted Meade in ref. to the Lightbridge. Not negatively, but giving them a few hints and suggestions on tweaking what they supply.

Answer :none.

I'd go with Skywatcher every time. They think their scopes out to be used.

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There are two companies I just have a dislike for - Meade and Celestron

I agree as far as Meade go- I've not been impressed by their products. I have owned two Celestron scopes though and have found both to be excellent.

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Celestron's cheap stuff can be downright awful too.

I bought a 60 slt with the intent of only using the mount to carry my Tal 1(4.25" newt). I was horrified by the build quality of the ota.

Andy.

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A reader once wrote to the Sky@Night magazine asking them to take a lead in starting up a scheme which would help ensure that beginner astronomers were not going to be ripped off with ridiculous claims or shoddy workmanship etc. The idea was to try and help introduce a kind of kite mark that would help and reassure people that a scope was fit for purpose and of a minimum quality. Surprisingly, the magazine didn't want to know. It wasn't that the reader wanted the magazine to create and maintain the scheme, rather that as the magazine was in the business of promoting all that is good in astronomy, naively thought it might want to help the reader by using its influence to help raise awareness and standards which would benefit everyone, including its advertisers. It would certainly help limit some of the nonsense that can be bought on Ebay. Yet they still said no.

Thankfully, forums like this contribute massively in helping beginners by sharing many years of experience in using some of this kit. It's a shame that this help is often sought after the individual has already bought some of the nonsense that's out there. It's one of the reasons I don't like the notion of a 'beginner's scope', I mean you don't go to an opticians and ask for a beginners pair of glasses. There's only ever one proper scope, and that is one which does what it says on the tube.

James

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Cheap stuff from any maker is just that, the cheapest they can produce a specific product range. There are always going to be corners cut to make the price point. What does annoy is when you pay a premium price to a premium manufacturer and find the quality is no better than the "basic" cheap alternative. I like to think when I pay a bit more it's for better optics, better design, better quality control or aftersales support. When you pay more and get none of these then disappointment sets in.

I doubt I would buy meade again but I have happy views on my William Optics, TeleVue, Celestron and Skywatcher kit. The skywatcher stuff is cheapest and shows it but I don't mind that. If it was dearer I would be less happy with it.

Cheers

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Hi Guys,

I just want to make it clear that I haven't got a down on the Meade company. I've used their stuff, and sold it to customers when I was in the business. Most of their mid-grade stuff is decent, and some of their high-end gear is absolutely brilliant. Remember that it was Meade who first developed the GoTo system that we all enjoy so much back in 1992. The much-vaunted Celestron company played catch-up in scope design for years afterward.

My post was much more about business practices, and protecting new astronomers - especially the young ones. They deserve better - much better - than this. I suppose the company wonks figure that if there will be X millions of dollars worth of junk scopes sold this year, that they aught to be sure that they get their share... but at what cost!

Some friends on Cloudy Nights (an American site similar to this one) suggested that is there was a sticker that said something like: "Approved by the National Council on Astronomy Education!" it would help loads. How true, but there is no such council on my side of the pond; and for all the years I have been banging the drum on public astronomy education (over 25 years), no one has invited me to join (or form!) such a council. I really don't thing the Federal Education wonks give a rat's [removed word] for astronomy education, and I'm sure they don't even know (or care) that I exist, either.

I think I'm going to contact the local Lion's club and the local Library and see if they would be interested in hosting an afternoon "How to Buy Your Child A Telescope!" and couple it with a star party so the parents can try out a junk scope compared with a decent one. Maybe sometime around October.

Dan

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Some friends on Cloudy Nights (an American site similar to this one) suggested that is there was a sticker that said something like: "Approved by the National Council on Astronomy Education!" it would help loads. How true, but there is no such council on my side of the pond

That sounds a cracking idea, maybe an International Association of Astronomy Educators (or something similar) could be created (as a purely voluntary effort), whom could advise on such things? I'm sure manufacturers would be keen to get such an organisation's seal of approval. Industries are always creating their own industry-funded bodies to award themselves such accolades, would be nice if there were a genuine one.

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I started off with one of those plastic things as well. It was called Geo 50600 or 60500 - I don't quite remember. I used the scope for solar projection with my daughter a few times but eventually it ended up in the trash.

The mount was.. flimsy. The legs of the aluminum tripod was about the thickness of a finger. When I tried to use it the view would bounce all over the place. Frustrating? Oh yes..

The eyepieces were marked Kellner but the focal lengths were nowhere near the stated focal lengths.

I got the thing as a present but really it was a waste of money.

It really is a shame that goods of such limited functionality is produced (and sold!).

I really hope everyone who buys these things will (unlike me) demand their money back so there is no money to be made from selling rubbish like this.

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I would never belive Meade would sell such a ****.:)

General rule when buying a telescope is to avoid great magnifications and Hubble-pictured boxes.But hey, Meade?

Im feeling really sorry for people who look at this video, buy this telescope and then dissapoint when they realise that image they can see is much more different then on these pictures.

(starting from 3:15)

I mean, in my 200 Dob at 390X Saturn is more than twice smaller.Even not to mention seeing conditions.

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Did he actually pay $400 for it? He was given it by a relative, so presumably it was the misguided relative who stumped up the cash. Same difference, I know, but at least at that rate the student themselves didn't burn up their savings on a trashy scope, right?

As for Meade, the only experience I have of their stuff is my dad's ETX 90, which he was never happy with. Now that I have my own scopes, and a tiny bit of experience, I've had a look at it (with the hope of getting it running with Stellarium) and have been very disappointed with the rubbish mount. The ALT stalls and fails every time, and the hand controller is enough to send me mental. It's definitely put me off ever considering a Meade of my own.

The optics seem...alright, though. I'm half tempted to pull off all the mount junk, and use it as a guidescope!

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Junk sells otherwise it wouldn't be made.

Buying a first "anything" is a mine field for the beginner, and the junk out there be it a telescope or say a guitar crushes many beginners aspirations.

But on the other hand there are plenty of websites like this one to guide people.

The first scope I bought when i was a kid was recommended to me and my dad by Mike Durham about 25 years ago, was Ziess Telementor 2 which was a quality piece of kit I was lucky to have a good guide before the internet days :)

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The subject of "cheap" telescopes comes up periodically. Honestly, I have nothing against the manufacturer and seller of these cheap telescopes. I am always surprised how 100% of the blame is placed on them.

The way I see it, it all comes down to a free enterprise -- the law of supply and demand. As long as there are people out there who believe in the magical power of “oil snake” and are willing to pay for it, oil snake seller will flourish.

Those who are serious about their first telescope purchase and who complete diligent research will never fall for these cheap telescopes.

In summary, I do not view these cheap telescope manufactures as sinister but rather as savvy business people who are making easy profit thanks to a large number of uninformed telescope buyers.

Jason

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