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NigelCampbell

SkyWatcher SynScan GOTO - what the Manual doesn't tell you!

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Since I've had my SW130p Alt Az Goto scope for almost a year now I thought I would write a little something for anyone thinking about a similar GOTO scope as their first step into astronomy.

My thought process when I got the scope was probably fairly typical. I figured that the GoTo system would allow me to find my way around the sky fairly quickly without having to learn every inch of the night sky manually. I also had limited time for observing and thought that this scope would get me going much quicker from the start.

Neither of these things turned out to be true.

So before you make the choice to Goto or not to Goto here are a few things they don't tell you in the manual.

1. Mount set up.

Stability is the key here - don't fully extend the legs (keep the scope low if you can. It must be level - I can't overstress this - buy a spirit level and triple check that it is level - with the scope on and balanced. Rotate the scope all the way round and check that it stays level.

2. Handset set up.

Entering the LAT and LONG - These coordinates have to be correct. Also make sure you are not using decimal coordinates found on some websites. Get the correct ones for your location - Don't enter them the wrong way round - Most sites give you North then West buy the SynScan wants West then North (made that mistake a few times!)

Get the right timezone. +00.00 for the UK

Be accurate when entering the time.

Daylight Savings - can't tell you how many times this confused me - for clarity this means British Summer Time (when the clocks go forward) so for right now the answer is NO.

Then you can begin alignment (I use 2 star align)

This is where the fun starts. The handset will list possible alignment stars. At this point you will realize that you really don't know enough about the night sky and may not be able to locate Mizar or Alioth without a star chart. Also the handset assumes you have an uninterrupted 360 degree view. So when the Handset suggest Dubhe (front tip of The Plough) and I'm at home on the patio - that is behind my house and obscured from view.

So then I had to use Stellarium on my laptop or starwalk on my iPhone to work out which star is which.

Having located a star which I can see I then line up the red-dot finder on it and then get it centred in the EP - It will inevitably then suggest a second star which is either obscured by houses or trees or list some that I just don't know.

Suffice it to say that this takes some time. If it takes too long between the first and second star alignment things are not great form there on in.

So Quick set up? - NO not at all

Easy to find my way around with no knowledge of the sky> - NOPE

Don't get me wrong - when it is all set up and working it is great. (providing you don't get overexcited and accidentally kick one of the tripod legs causing you to have to do the whole alignment again!)

But I have only been able to get up and running quickly by being very prepared in terms of having the right coordinates before I go anywhere with the scope and being very careful when entering data into the handset.

In addition I have had to learn the night sky so as to be able to locate various stars for alignment. So I bought a good star atlas and also a copy of Turn Left at Orion. Knowing the night sky really does make things easier.

Other issues.

As I said - it assumes a 360 degree clear view. So if you go on the Deep Sky Tour and choose Andromeda - it might still be behind a tree or house.

It also does not know what scope you are using. So some of the DSO's it is listing may be well beyond the resolving power of your scope - The 130p is great but some targets are beyond its power.

Batteries - Don't use rechargables - the power output drains and the scope goes out of alignment. Invest in some kind of PowerTank if you want a full night's observing.

Try and find a 360ish clear viewing point if you can - it makes a world of difference.

Plan your observing session - I will use Stellarium (free to download for Mac or PC) to plan the night's session - choosing targets and times before hand. I will use a star chart to make sure I know where the scope should be pointing.

In many ways (bad weather aside) it has been great getting to know this scope and it certainly forced me to learn the night sky. If I could have a "Do over" I would have bought an 8" Dobsonian but there is still a lot to recommend the 130p Goto.

My next purchase will be a SW250px Dob - but without learning the night sky first I would be as out of my depth with that as I was with the 130p.

Hope that helps someone in making the right decision on a scope - or if you bought a Goto scope maybe it will be useful to you.

Clear Skies - Nigel

Edited by NigelCampbell
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Hi Nigel.

An excellent demonstration of how goto is not quite the 'out of the box and look' experience that some sales literature would have us believe.

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As you say Nigel the GOTO is not a miracle worker though to be fair you do have a choice of alignment stars so don't have to use the first one it suggests. All you need to know are 2 bright stars visible from your location preferably fairly low in the sky.

Using the GOTO is rather like a satnav.....its adviceable not to throw away your map book. :icon_scratch:

Edited by Space Cowboy
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I totally agree! Scrolling through the list of possible alignment stars the first time I used it told me that I really knew very little about astronomy! These days I have already chosen my alignment stars before I get started so it certainly speeds things up.

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That's a great link Micheal - why they don't print that in the manual is beyond me - it's not like the information is going to go out of date!

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The OP's first post should be compulsory reading for all newbies!!! It would save many people frustration and money.

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Thanks for that , am presently deciding on my first scope and this helps me be still unsure of what to get but a little wiser.

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Great summary of the pain you go through when you realise it's not quite as easy as you thought! If I know what time I will be going out I use the handset with Stellarium earlier in the day and decide which stars I will use. Still not knowing my way about the sky that well I draw a little diagram of the areas of the sky I will need for setup which I find easier to use in the dark than a sky chart. What used to take me an age now only takes a couple of minutes - unless there are clouds in the wrong places! I also have a small bag of sand (about 2.5 kg) that I put on the eyepiece tray to add further stability to the tripod.

Edited by brucen

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Perfect summary.

I think newbies often buy GOTO as the easy option.

It is good, but not for beginners...... and that catalogue of 1000s of items which are to dim to see, gets em every time.

Edited by earth titan

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I use a goto package and would not like to be without it, but....

The mount is permanently fixed on a pier in a shed. So there are no level/polar alignment problems.

The 'goto box' real time clock has a back up battery, so you don't have to faff about setting date and time every session.

So I go into the shed, power up the mount, slide back the roof and goto. But this is not at all the 'starter' kit promoted in the sales literature.

A clock battery is a really useful low cost option that was omitted from many of the SW/Meade/Celestron boxes I have used.

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It [GOTO] is good, but not for beginners...... and that catalogue of 1000s of items which are to dim to see, gets em every time.
I have to disagree with this. My first 'scope was a GOTO one and without the extra assistance it gave me in finding my way around I'd never have got further than looking at the Moon.

While there are certainly a few issues with learning and setting up a GOTO telescope for the first time, most people do those (like discovering how to set the location & time) once only - after that they know. Similarly, once you've done your first polar alignment, most people mark where the tripod legs are located on the ground and just put the 'scope back in the same place each time. After that the alignment holds pretty well.

The point about discovering which objects are too dim to see is valid - and it holds for all telescopes: computerised or "star hopped". However, with push-to types you have the added uncertainty that you've followed the right stars to get to your destination, so you can't be sure you're even looking in the right place. Whereas with a GOTO mount if you can't see an object, that's because it's not visible - not because you're aiming at the wrong place in the sky.

You do learn the sky with a GOTO scope, simply by seeing where it ends up pointing when you set it to something interesting. People don't just program in an object and then not look to see where in the sky it is (well, imagers do :icon_scratch:) and since everyone uses a planetarium program, you get to see the context and nearby objects, too.

In short, my opinion of GOTOs is like having a GPS in your car. Learning to drive is a separate operation from learning where you want to go. With a GPS you trade having to program it with where you want to go for having it direct you to the location (provided the directions are clear - some are, some aren't, get a good one.) Without a GPS you have to follow roadsigns - akin to starhopping and hope you don't get lost.

Each has their own limitations and advantages. Though personally I find technology easy to use, and once the initial setup/learning has been done I find my GOTO scope gets much more use than my non-GOTO ones.

Edited by pete_l
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I have to disagree with this. My first 'scope was a GOTO one and without the extra assistance it gave me in finding my way around I'd never have got further than looking at the Moon.

That's been my experience too. I think the biggest problem with the Skywatcher SynScan is the appalling manual. Otherwise I'm delighted with my scope and I think GOTO is great.

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Nigel - this is a great assessment and will be really useful information for folks starting out who are thinking about Goto.

I got the 250px Goto a little while ago and it has helped me a lot in getting to know the constellations better and specific stars. Now I'm like you, I plan ahead so I am ready for star selection for the star alignment. That in itself is helping me understand how the night sky changes from hour to hour and day to day :icon_scratch:

And what a great link Michael - why on earth is that not shipped with every skywatcher goto!!

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Don't get me wrong, I think GOTO is utterly brilliant. But I know two people who bought GOTO as their 1st scope and found the learning curve too steep. What with polar alignment, knowing the constellations and then not finding the catalogued objects, they abandoned the hobby. Perhaps it's an age thing, but I'm glad I didn't start out with GOTO. I'm only just getting the hang of it all now.

Superb link. That will really help.

Thanks.

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I also find a lot to like about the GoTo - I would add that I usually drive a short distance to my viewing location as it gives Milky Way dark skies and 360 degree view - so I have to do the whole setup from scratch each time.

If the handset had a clock battery this would save a great deal of hassle.

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Or get a Celestron. The Goto in that means that you don't need to select certain stars....just centre three brigh-tish stars and hit Align. If you have a GPS model it gets the Lat, Long and time from the GPS system, so setup is even easier.

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im a newbie and bought a cg5-gt goto to help find stuff for my son. I found the initial setup a bit difficult to start with with trying to find the stars that it was suggesting but then realised i didnt need to find stars that i didnt know - just pick out 3 of the brightest, easiest stars you can see and get their names using stellarium or 1 of the host of smartphone apps and just use those as your alignment stars. once your aligned you can then start hoping around and learning where the others are in the sky for future alignment reference.

after a couple of frustrating nights trying to setup the way described in the manual ive found this a much easier and quicker way of doing it

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If you download the PDF in the enclosed attachment and print them it lists all of the alignment stars and their positions and which constellation they are in. I have found this invaluable when looking for the appropriate alignment stars

Http://www.iceinspace.com.au/63-501-0-0-1-0.html

Superb link - thank you! :icon_scratch:

I'd add one thing to the OP and that's watch your date format. It's US (mm-dd-yyyy) not UK format.

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I think the biggest problem with the Skywatcher SynScan is the appalling manual.

I couldn't agree more. The biggest frustration with my new telescope (apart from the lack of clear skies!) has been the poor quality of the manuals. When I found out what I was doing wrong in various situations, it turned out to be really simple things, if only the manual had made it clear.

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Entering the LAT and LONG - These coordinates have to be correct.

A little obvious really. No point entering the Lat and Long of Brisbane if you are Birmingham.

Rechargeables are no good because they are 1.2 volts not 1.5 volts, using rechargeables means you are not supplying the required voltage.

Get the right timezone. +00.00 for the UK

This is stated in the handbook, they draw a picture of the time zones and supply the relevant number at the top. This is covered in the handbook.

it assumes a 360 degree clear view.

They all do, the scope has no idea of where you live and the buildings, or whatever, are around you and limit your view.

It also does not know what scope you are using. So some of the DSO's it is listing may be well beyond the resolving power of your scope - The 130p is great but some targets are beyond its power.

If you ask it to goto some object the mount does as requested. Also stand in the middle of dartmoor and that too dim object from your garden may well be visible.

In addition I have had to learn the night sky so as to be able to locate various stars for alignment.

Meade's choose the stars for you, you do not need to know them, just stick in the centre the bright one.

But I have only been able to get up and running quickly by being very prepared in terms of having the right coordinates before I go anywhere with the scope and being very careful when entering data into the handset.

2 options, enter the data while at home before you go anywhere. If it is lost at power off then no good. Meades allow you to enter 6 custom positions so you can preset and just select the new position from the custom list. Alternatively just enter the place you are going to and when powered back on the default is the last location entered.

The Meade's I have all have 4 custom locations entered, I just select the relevant when at the place or, easier, power on at home, select the new location, power off and when I switch it back on this last location is the one used. Level, enter time, DST and tell it to align, literally that is it. As the Lat, long, timezone etc is the one it already has.

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I couldn't agree more. The biggest frustration with my new telescope (apart from the lack of clear skies!) has been the poor quality of the manuals. When I found out what I was doing wrong in various situations, it turned out to be really simple things, if only the manual had made it clear.

The Skywatcher manuals are not that bad, apart from the EQ3 and EQ5 Synscan upgrade sheets. There are a lot worse out there example. No instruction on how to polar align, setting the latitude scale, setting circles, just 4 sheets long, spelling mistakes. I could go on. Even Vixen manuals (great telescopes) have very sparse manuals.

Peter

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It's easy to say the manuals are not that bad when you're looking at them with the hindsight of experience. You should see them through the eyes of a noob!

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