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29 Aug - First Light: Borg 107FL f5.6


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Date: Wed 29th August 2018.

Scope: Borg 107FL f5.6 (focal length 600mm).

Eyepieces: Ethos 6mm (x100), Plossl 55mm (f2.6 x11). Night Vision: PVS-14 with Photonis 4g INTENS.

Filters: Astronomik 6nm Ha CCD.

Moon: 90% :(


It’s all a bad memory!

I’ve had the luxury of my roll-off shed for three years and all my observing has been in the shed apart from the occasional manual push-to Borg session on the patio. During that time I had forgotten what a pain in the ass it is to setup a goto scope outside when all the gear has to be brought outside! Seems to be similar to the experience of visiting children, surely my kids were not as bad as this lot!


Sky conditions were not the best.

When I got outside the lower southern sky was lost in cloud. Above me were a few main stars and there was a covering of thin high cloud mostly everywhere else. But when you have a new scope what does any of that matter! Onwards…


Setting up the new scope and mount.

I secured the Borg 107FL to the Skywatcher AZ5 GTi, added the red dot finder and the diagonal and carried it out onto the patio to begin to cool…

Back inside, I rustled up my 4” dew heating tape, Tracer battery, Synscan handset + cable. I made some swaps in my eyepiece case replacing the 10mm Ethos with the 6mm, adding the 3.7mm Ethos, removing the Paracorr2 etc. I put my PVS-14 and 6nm Ha Filter into the case. On top of the case I had my IPad (in waterproof case), notebook, Bracken Astrophotography Atlas, red torch, pen which I then carried out in one go and onto the Patio table.

Back inside, grabbed the power cables and battery. I started to connect the mount then realised I needed a cigarette splitter box and I needed a cable to take power to the dew tape!

Back inside, grabbed the missing cables from a drawer in the study and finally got everything plugged in and switched ON :)


Red dot finder, Doh!

I walked straight into my first problem, the red dot finder did not match the stars in the sky into the eyepiece!

Back inside to find a screwdriver. ( At least the Baader Sky Surfer V is a joy to adjust, isn’t it? ). Time is now lost to holding Mars in the eyepiece and then looking through the red dot finder and making some adjustments with the screwdriver.

After a few iterations, it was good enough.


2-star alignment woes and then some!

If the red dot finder was an inconvenience then the six iterations of failed alignments was a nightmare that eventually drove me back inside AGAIN to view the internet for inspiration!

I had no problem choosing a named star and getting it into the eyepiece and then centred. I had no problem choosing a known second star and watching the scope slew to about an inch away (through the red dot finder view).

I had no problem getting the second star centred.

“Alignment Successful”

“Warning: some words about NPE defaults” (What???)

The skywatcher synscan handset is not very user friendly and you seem to have to press “ESC” to be able to choose a target once alignment is complete. When pressing “Esc” you are re-prompted “Alignment” – Leaving you wondering "Did it align or not?"

( I was very unimpressed with SynScan, Nexstar+ is much easier to use )

Anyway, every time I selected a target, the scope would slew to a position in the Sky at the wrong Altitude.

I repeated this six times, on one occasion I chose Mars as the first target and the scope ended up pointing straight down at the ground. I was having a heart attack trying to stop the slew (with Nexstar+ its easy, just press one of up, down, left, right and the scope stops) but nothing seemed to stop it from going where it wanted.

This was when I swore loudly thanking skywatcher for producing a mount that was beyond my capabilities and headed inside for some internet browsing.


God save the internet!

Firstly the NPE Warning, seems to be something to do with EQ mounts (why Skywatcher cannot just code this out for AZ mounts seems to be an reflection on them rather than me), I had to go into the NPE menu (which is hidden in the middle of the Alignment menu that you only see when choosing the alignment – Doh!) and set all values to “0” (Annoying warning FIXED) :)

I need to have the clutches super tight (Check)

I need to finish with up & right movements (I had been trying to do this but the scope works in reverse to the up/down button pressed so I was doing down and right). Readers should note that Nexstar+ allows you to reverse the up/down buttons from the menu – Skywatcher are you listening??

I could try defocus the star to a massive blob for centring (check)

Make sure the stars you pick are between 15 and 60 degrees high (check)


One final try before I cry and go inside a failure…

After repeating the 2-star alignment process once more and implementing all my learnings from the internet, I got the usual handset lie of “Alignment Successful”.

I entered a target “M34” and a short slew occurred…

I looked into the eyepiece and to my wonder, there was the “dancing man” of M34 (Success at last). :)

The time was 0030, I had been at this now for almost three hours and the alignment was finally complete!!!

During this process, I had been into every menu item and made changes that will help in the future such as enabling the slew limits and dimming the handset but I have to say that Skywatcher have a lot they could learn from “copying” some of the Nexstar+ functionality, Synscan seems a bit of a “toy” in comparison.


Let the observing begin?

More test slews M52, M103, M15, M27 and all with success! I was overcome with joy until I put my glasses back on and looked up – the clouds were everywhere, there was the occasional thinner section but I had no intention of stopping now and admitting defeat for the Borg’s first light…


Borg Star Test.

I did a few star diffraction ring tests now. The Borg presented lovely diffraction patterns on both sides of focus. :) Stars could be focused to lovely tiny bright dots. I looked for field curvature in the 6mm Ethos, I did not see any. :) I will repeat this on a better night.


Ready for Night Vision.

I added the Astronomik 6nm Ha CCD filter to the diagonal, threw in the 55mm TeleVue Plossl and attached the PVS-14 NVD to the eyepiece.

IC1396 – Elephant trunk – This was probably a bit optimistic as the sky was so bad, I could make out a large faint patch of nebula but nothing within it.

Heart nebula – Two small bright patches of nebula stood out against a very faint nebulous patch.

Soul nebula – Decent sized faint nebula patch.

NGC281 – Pacman – Yes, I can see it! At last, something to view. I could see the full patch of nebula surrounding the tiny star cluster. :)

North American + Pelican – Not a lot on the first visit but I did come back later and was treated to a decent view of the North American with its two brighter sections within. The full shape of the NA was framed nicely in the Borg FOV. I saw most of the Pelican, its beak was clear and most of the body. :)

Gamma Cygni – Yes, I can see it. Another sort of success, I could at least see and trace nebulosity around this region. :)

Crescent – Yes, its there. Small and bright. Not my best view but under clouds I guess that I should not complain too much. I scroll around and see two further patches of nebulosity south of the crescent. :)

NGC6995 Veil – Yes, I can see 6995. The rest of the veil is lost in the clouds above me.

Bubble – Two small patches of nebulosity in the FOV. One is the Bubble, which I can just about make out with a dose of wishful thinking and the other ???

Cave – Yes, there it is. Small and bright.

By now the clouds are really taking over and the 90% moon has made it to the SOUTH, so I decide that I have had enough. Its 0210am.


Thoughts of the observer.

I cannot remember ever having a satisfactory “first light” experience in the past but this has to be by far the worst. The goto fiasco was painful but I learned a few good tips that hopefully will make next time a little (or a lot) better. At least my handset defaults are now what they should be, I can’t believe they have slew limits disabled as a default, I nearly had a heart attack when the scope headed straight down towards the ground!

On a positive note, the mount coped easily with the Borg 107FL. I managed to get a nice balanced setup and I did not hear the motors struggling at any point.

If the mount had been delivered with the Azimuth clutch tight then I would not have been so worried about over tightening it and maybe some of the goto inaccuracy could have been avoided.

Anyway, today is another day. I have all the leads etc that I need now stored in handy Jiffy bags so I should be able to cut out some of those unwanted trips back inside. :)

The dew tape worked admirably, everything was soaking with dew when I came inside EXCEPT FOR THE SCOPE THAT IS!


Clear Skies,



P.S. I thought of something I liked about SynScan (to be fair), it remembers my location & elevation(?) so I did not have to enter it again & again. And the thing I missed most about Nexstar+ handset was the "raised ridge up/down/left/right" buttons which made them easy to find with your fingers without any need to look at the handset, last night I kept hitting "2" (rate) when I wanted "down" (maybe skywatcher can think of this for SynScan v5?)


Edited by alanjgreen
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7 minutes ago, John said:

Interesting report Alan. The Borg is obviously lovely but your GOTO experiences remind me why I don't use that factility in my observing.


Unfortunatley, I now need the goto because with night vision I see so much nebulosity (Sharpless et al) in the sky that I cannot identify it without the help of nearby SAO stars or NGC/IC objects :) (Its easy with the dob and nexus push-to as I can see exactly where I am pointing, but with manual pushing a frac the FOV is huge and nebulosity just keeps popping up!)

- I do like to know what I am looking at!


It is nice to have TRACKING though, objects just sit there and no nudging! (Hands in pockets to keep them warm :) =Luxury)

Eventually, I hope to use Sky Safari with the AZ5 GTi but need to wait for Skywatcher and Sky Safari to iron out all the bugs... I spent 18 months helping Celestron iron out bugs from StarSense = NEVER AGAIN!

Edited by alanjgreen
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I have to say I've owned 2 goto scope mounts. The first - Meade ETX 90 (many moons ago) was fun ish, and OK to use. broke on 3rd session!. The little SLT mount was a joy!.. and really simple to use. That said now I only have 2 tracking mounts. I can jump round the sky happily to be fair.

Interesting report BTW


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58 minutes ago, alanjgreen said:

Eventually, I hope to use Sky Safari with the AZ5 GTi but need to wait for Skywatcher and Sky Safari to iron out all the bugs... I spent 18 months helping Celestron iron out bugs from StarSense = NEVER AGAIN!

If you get a handset and Skywire then you would be able to get up and running sooner Alan. I suspect (might be wrong) that it may take them a long time to fix the issue as it is more related to the iOS limitation around background applications rather than being a bug fix.

The Borg is an intriguing scope. On paper the spec would suit my observing likes quite closely, decent aperture, very transportable and short ish focal length. My reservations have been around field curvature (in long focal length widefield eyepieces such as 21 Ethos/31 Nag) and colour correction so I will be interested to hear your opinions.

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8 minutes ago, Stu said:

If you get a handset and Skywire then you would be able to get up and running sooner Alan. I suspect (might be wrong) that it may take them a long time to fix the issue as it is more related to the iOS limitation around background applications rather than being a bug fix.

The Borg is an intriguing scope. On paper the spec would suit my observing likes quite closely, decent aperture, very transportable and short ish focal length. My reservations have been around field curvature (in long focal length widefield eyepieces such as 21 Ethos/31 Nag) and colour correction so I will be interested to hear your opinions.

Thats true. But Sky Safari (on my IPad) is setup for connecting to the Nexus (on big dob) and I do not want to mess that up and lose all my settings.

I also dont want a wire and Ipad near the scope (and more to the point my big feet, hard patio etc) as I am liable to break the lot when I am half asleep at night. Its bad enough with my glasses on and off and nowhere to put them without worrying about my Ipad too.

I have to walk over to the table to take notes, check the Atlas etc so its not too bad. The FOV on the frac is so big that any NGC/IC/SAO nearby gets whatever I am after in the FOV. The Velcro solution works well with the handset (making it easy to store out the way), shame I can't get some Velcro on my glasses!

Just need to tie down the darn Skywatcher 2-star alignment!


Edited by alanjgreen
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Nice report Alan, the setup looks promising, despite the trials and tribulations. Hopefully you will find it very quick to set up now you've ironed out the issues and organised your gear for quick access, and you can enjoy some real observing.

I had major issues getting my SkyProdigy to work properly, but now it's fine I can really appreciate it, and have seen a LOT of new objects thanks to goto. To be honest, although the StarSense is working fine now, I think it is the SLT-based mount that I am most impressed with (as long as it's on a good tripod), and I'd be happy to swap the StarSense for SkyAlign. Shame it's not possible to buy the SLT (now SkyFi) on its own. 

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5 minutes ago, RobertI said:

I had major issues getting my SkyProdigy to work properly, but now it's fine I can really appreciate it, and have seen a LOT of new objects thanks to goto. To be honest, although the StarSense is working fine now, I think it is the SLT-based mount that I am most impressed with (as long as it's on a good tripod), and I'd be happy to swap the StarSense for SkyAlign. Shame it's not possible to buy the SLT (now SkyFi) on its own. 

I had the Celestron wifi dongle when I had a CPC1100. My "vision" of sky safari, star sense and the CPC1100 was never achieved. Recurring errors with dropped wifi signal, and random failures to find the starsense camera "on the bus" brought that dream to an end.

Thats why I have been so impressed with the Nexus on the dob - it just works! (always)

I dont mind slumming it with the handset, just a shame SynScan appears "half baked" compared to NexStar+ :(

Edited by alanjgreen
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6 minutes ago, Galen Gilmore said:

Nice report.

This now makes me a bit frightened of Go-To mounts, lol.

Are you a man or a mouse? :)

- Just go in "eyes open", knowing the first night is going to be a pain so try to make sure its not "new moon", on any other night is only "half the pain" really.

Edited by alanjgreen
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    • By alanjgreen
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    • By alanjgreen
      Dates: 28th & 29th November 2019.
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    • By alanjgreen
      Date: Friday 8th November 2019. 0300-0600am
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      IC2177 Seagull nebula.
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      Sh2-240 Spagetti.
      I pick a large nebula from the best of Sharpless, sh2-240 next. It appears as a large circular faint shape. There is a central vertical zig-zag section and I see several hortizontal-ish black lanes travelling through the patch (as I get my eye in). There is definitely lots to see here and its deserving of its place in the “best of Sharpless”.
      M42/M43/NGC1973, Orion and the Running Man.
      Okay, I’ve waited long enough! I slew to NGC1973. The only thing you see at the eyepiece initially is M42 of course! It’s so bright and wonderfully detailed. At this low magnification it reminds me of a “bird in flight” with bended wings. The “fish head” is the brightest section but I am fond of the blackness that spews from the fish head and seems to spread out and around M43 next door, it is black as black can be. M43 has an intricate shape inside its almost complete circular patch, but I speed by to seek out the Running man. Tonight the bright patch is clear as day and as I look on a black shape within the bright patch comes and goes, it’s not a “pair of legs” but it’s a black patch within nevertheless.
      I slew directly up from M42 and a bright patch comes into view, over to the right a bit and there is IC434 bright and thick. The horsehead is tiny but clearly visible and having a decent shape tonight. However, I am completely drawn to the long nebula bend section to the left which runs down from the Flame too. I do not remember noticing this section before but it’s been a year since Orion was here and I cannot remember everything that I see!

      I now manually slew up from the Flame to find a thick horizontal nebula lane running across the full fov. I follow it right and then down and back under until I find myself back at the Orion nebula (M42). I guess this is Barnards Loop. I had earlier searched for it to the left of Alnitak (as that’s where it is with the dob but this “star diagonal” used in refractors regularly sends me the wrong way when I try to retrace the big dob steps!
      Angel Fish – Huge and bright. Way too big to see the fish at x11 magnification. I do my best to tease out some features but it is just too huge!
      NGC2174/Monkey’s head.
      Instead, I move onto the Monkeys Head. It appears small and bright but as usual I see “Mickey Mouse” with the refractor and star diagonal turning things around. I slew around and pick out two patches above, one is sh2-247 the other is unknown. I slew below and find the wonderful tiny triple nebula sh2-254,255 & 257 (another Best of Sharpless member).

      NGC2395 Medusa – A small shimmering crescent moon shape is observed.
      M1 Crab – A small shimmering patch. With time at the eyepiece I see a bright circle around the outside and the occasional jumping line details within but cannot hold the interior in my view.
      NGC2359 Thor – A small faintish semi-circle.
      IC443/IC444, sh2-249 – The triplet of nebulas all fit into the fov and are a lovely sight that takes a good while to look around and take it all in. The Jelly fish (IC443) has lovely “tenticles” section that breaks backwards RHS. There is a small bright patch directly in front of IC443 (IC444) and then behind this the large oblong nebula structure sh2-249. I see the fine black lanes within sh2-249 next to Tejat Posterior (bright star).
      Sh2-265 – Picking another large Sharpless object, I headed for SAO 112667. I found a small bright patch (sh2-263) then above that a huge bright nebula that after slewing around, reminded me of a “walkie-talkie”. It had a pointed section at the upper LHS. And an interesting double lane at the lower sections.

      Sh2-260 – Next I picked sh2-260 (which I have only ever seen with the big dob). I slewed to SAO 112142 where I discovered a very large faint nebula shape. It was larger than the fov and seemed to appear as a “thin teardrop” shape. I cannot find any images of this so at the moment it is unknown to me.
      I noticed the sky brightening from around 0550hrs so I headed for a last look at the Rosette and Flaming Star regions before deciding to pack up at 0600hrs.
      I am glad that I made the effort to get up as I felt like I got “more than I imagined” from my session (which sent me back to bed happy, if a little cold – at least I had my hot water bottle to bring my feet back to life).
      I think that I have concluded that I need to get the widefield Borg 107FL out more frequently, when it’s cold then the dob in the shed is a much more appealing thought.
      -          I have added an unexpected 7 entries to the “Ag1-xx” nebula catalog for the unknown/extra patches that I will need to come back and confirm… (up to 97 entries now).
      I also now have some lingering memories to help me through the barren spell of the full moon (out here in the dark countryside, the full moon is a real killer!).
      Hope you enjoyed the read and my sketches!
    • By alanjgreen
      Dates: 26th thru 30th Oct 2019. (Over twenty hours of observing time!!!)
      Scope: 20” f3.6 Lukehurst Dob with Paracorr (fl = 2089mm & f4.1).
      Night Vision: PVS-14 with Photonis 4g INTENS.
      Eyepieces: Plossl 55mm (f2 x38), Panoptic 27mm (f4 x77).
      Filters: Chroma 5nm Ha filter.
      It’s a Miracle!
      I have been out observing on each of the last five nights racking up a combined time outside of over twenty hours – It’s a long time since I have had such a good run. I have written 17 pages of notes during my sessions too…
      I have observed many objects of different types during this time outside. So, I am going to divide up this report into object type sections so you can scroll to objects of your favorite kind…
      Planetary Nebula.
      First up planetary nebula, this is an object type that I rarely write about but having bumped into a few of these while out nebula hunting with my 5nm narrowband Ha filter combined with my PVS-14 night vision, I decided to build a Sky Safari observing list based on “The Brightest Planetary Nebulae Observing Atlas” by Massimo Zecchin and get out and observe them with a plan. The eyepiece attached to the PVS-14 for these observations was a 27mm Panoptic yielding x77 magnification.
      NGC6826 (Blinking Planetary) – Very bright solid ball with a thin halo of lighter shade.
      NGC7027 (Magic Carpet) – small bright ball, there is either a fine line running through it or it is two-toned. Has a detached faint circle around it.
      NGC7048 (Disk Ghost) – small dim circular patch made up of “dancing lines”. Looks alive.
      NGC7026 (Cheeseburger) – Tiny and bright. Made of two patches with a haze on either side. Reminds me of an “overhead shot of a rowing boat with oars out either side in the water”.
      NGC7008 (Fetus) – small dim, almost square shaped patch. Black circle at centre then dominated by thick bright outer layer (does not go all around the outside).
      NGC6905 (Blue Flash) – tiny, dim patch made of moving lines. Looks brighter on one side.
      NGC6543 (Cat’s Eye) – small bright patch. Tiny dark spot in the centre. Seems to have a thin layer of lighter dancing lines all around the outside.
      NGC7662 (Blue Snowball) – tiny. Very bright solid ball. There is a faint detached outer circle.
      NGC40 (Bow Tie) – Excellent. Very bright with two curved sides. The inside is filled with fuzzy stuff that is leaking out from both ends. There is a small circle at the centre.
      M76 (Little Dumbbell) – Looks like a “box kite”. Brighter patches at either end, connected by fainter central oblong section.
      NGC1501 (Oyster) – Tiny and bright. Looks alive. Reminds me of a bright “woolen ball”.
      IC2149 (Red Sword) – very tiny but bright. Has a small circle around it.
      NGC1514 (Crystal Ball) – star inside a black circle with multi-toned nebula shell encircling that. Nebula is multi-lined and shimmering. Looks alive.
      NGC7139 – Small mesmerizing ball. Shimmering jumping lines within. Alive.
      The "alive" planetary nebulae are great to look at, they are literally moving and dancing around in the fov. 😀
      Another object that I has not been on my radar for several months! Well, I managed to find three over the last few nights.
      C/2017 T2 (PANSTARRS) – With the 55mm Plossl (x38) it was small but easily seen.
      C/2018 N2 (ASASSN) – With the 27mm Panoptic I found a decent sized fuzzy blob to the side of a star. It was easily seen and the best of the three. 😀
      C/114P Wiseman-Skiff – Even with the 27mm Panoptic, this was a tough object to find. I needed to turn the gain up to the max but I found it exactly where Sky Safari said it should be!
      Now the great square is in the south, there are some of the brightest night sky galaxies available for observing. I have observed the following NGC6946, 6643, 6503, 6140, 6015, Stephans Quintet, 7331, 185, 147, 278, M110, M32/32, M33, NGC404, IC10, NGC669, 684, 672, 972, 925, 949, 1023, 891, 1160, 1161, 7814, M74.
      It’s a decent list, but the outcome has been disappointment. The only galaxies that I observed the spiral arms were M33, 31, 74, NGC891, 6643, 7331. Here are a few descriptions from my notes:
      NGC6946 (Fireworks) – With the 55mm Plossl and no filters, I could see the twin fingered arms coming out from the core around the back. I got hints of a third fainter arm coming out underneath.
      NGC6643 – A small galaxy. You can easily see the core and surrounding halo. There were some faint anti-clockwise arms beyond the halo but they were tough to see in direct vision.
      NGC6503 – small and bright. Slightly edge-on. Tiny bright core with large halo surrounding. Hints of black lanes within the outer halo.
      Stephans Quintet – All 5 galaxies easily seen with the 55mm Plossl (x38). There was even a sixth galaxy in the fov (NGC7320C)!
      NGC7331 – bright core, slightly dimmer halo surrounding. Swirly fainter disc beyond that. Hints of a lane top-side and a black patch (usually signifies that arms are there) behind core on outer edge. I could see the four “flea” galaxies that sit to the LHS.
      NGC891 – Wonderful. Large edge-on galaxy with swollen core section and thick black lane running its full length in direct vision.
      NGC751 – A strange one, with the appearance of a double-core. Sky Safari says its two galaxies NGC750 & 751).
      M74 – At first I see a mid-sized fuzzy patch but I keep looking. I see a circle around the core appear first, then an arm seems to leave at 3o’clock and curve up and left. Then I see another arm at 9o’clock going out and down anti-clockwise. I note a four star rectangle and add it to my reference sketch. I can see images that confirm the arms on the internet.

      IC10 - I had already observed this underwhelming galaxy earlier in the session when I happened upon it again by chance (whilst I had the 5nm Ha filter fitted and was just sky scanning) and found it as a pleasing patch, it was only when checking Sky Safari that I found out it was the IC10 galaxy that I was looking at. It appeared so much clearer with the Ha filter that I wondered what the bigger galaxies on offer would look like in Ha?
      Lets try Andromeda & Triangulum in H-alpha.
      I have written about my experiences with M31 and M33 many times before, so I won’t be repeating myself today. Instead, I want to talk about an H-alpha experiment that I carried out over a couple of hours with M31 & M33 as my targets.
      I loaded my Chroma 5nm Ha filter into the Paracorr2, then added the 55mm Plossl for maximum image brightness and pointed at M33. To my surprise there was a very large galaxy sitting in the fov with many fuzzy shapes abounding. It took a few minutes to take it all in and start to recognize NGC604 and work back from there…
      With no Ha filter then the big reverse S of the main arms is clear in direct vision, now the arms are not clear but if I look carefully then I can trace tiny Ha patches that are marking out the arms in the fov. I decided to start sketching these patches and add the occasional curve where I was seeing “implied” arm structure.
      It was quite a surprise just how far out from the core some of these Ha patches are located, signifying that actual physical size of M33 is larger that we may think when visually observing our neighbour.
      Here is my sketch:

      Onto M31, where the results were less impressive but I was able to see the galaxy and some Ha components within so it was not a waste of time at all.
      I noted three Ha patches in the upper sections of M31 but it was the lower sections that were a bit of a revelation.
      Regular observers of M31 will know that it’s a dead loss below the core to see very much at all! Well, in Ha the lower section can match the upper section and in fact I saw a greater number of Ha patches in the lower section including a couple of really big ones.
      Here are my sketches of the two halves of M31:

      I spent many hours looking at the many large and small nebulae in the Milky Way from Cygnus to Orion. I have written about them many times before and will not do so today.
      I was also able to spend some time scanning the “empty spaces” in Sky Safari looking for objects that I could find with the night vision and marking them for the "AG1-" night vision object catalog that I am continuing to work on...
      I am now up to 82 objects having added a further 38 objects during October. I have also managed to revisit 52 of the objects to confirm their existence and descriptions.  
      Time to catch up on my sleep.
      The weather forecast seems to say wet weather until full moon, so it looks like I will be stuck inside for the next couple of weeks, guess there is no pleasure without pain!
      Clear Skies,
    • By alanjgreen
      Time does not stand still...
      It has been 17 months since I wrote the original version of the above named article and there have been a few changes in the intervening time period…
      1.       I now have 17 months more a-focal experience of using a telescope with a night vision device attached directly to the eyepiece.
      2.       A new forum has been created for the discussion of such “Electronic Assisted” observing equipment on this website.
      So I decided to revise my article and post it in this new “most applicable” forum.
      Let us start with the basics…
      What is a-focal observing?
      “a-focal observing” simply means that the night vision device is attached directly to an eyepiece (after the focal point of the telescope). You are placing the night vision device’s objective at the exit pupil point in the light path.
      The easiest way to achieve this is the use the “TNV-14 Eyepiece Adapter” (available from Tele Vue). This adapter has threads on either side to connect (1) any Dioptrx accepting Tele Vue eyepiece to (2) a PVS-14 Night Vision device.

      Here is a picture of a Tele Vue 55mm Plossl connected to a PVS-14 using the TNV-14 adapter.

      To perform “a-focal” observing we need to simply insert this “stack” into any telescope focuser. If the attached eyepiece can achieve focus then there will be a focused image available to view in the PVS-14.
      Here we see the stack attached to my 20” dobsonian and my 107mm Borg refractor…

      What are the advantages of a-focal?
      The biggest advantage is that you WILL be able to reach focus in any scope. Unlike other options you are simply placing the night vision at the point of the exit pupil. For Newtonians, this is a big point.
      Fundamentals of a-focal observing.
      Now we are past the basics, we have some slight more complicated “fundamentals” to get our heads around…
      1. The PVS-14 night vision device is designed to work at a focal ratio of f1.2 (which is very fast). To get the most from the device then we need to aim to send light from the eyepiece as fast as possible to take maximum advantage of the night vision device. A faster focal ratio results in a brighter image, a slower focal ratio results in a dimmer image.
      - Here we have been given a “lucky break”. Because the PVS-14 has an effective focal length of around 26mm, if we use any eyepiece with a focal length greater than 26mm then the “effective” focal ratio of our system gets “magically” increased.
      [I will show how we calculate this effective focal ratio shortly but think of this on a par with adding a focal reducer into the light train].
      Unfortunately, any eyepiece with a focal length less than 26mm will decrease this “effective” focal ratio of our system.
      2. The PVS-14 has a fixed forty (40) degree field of view. It does not matter how wide field our eyepiece is, the night vision device will only ever show the centre forty degrees. This means that you don’t need 100 degree Ethos or 82 degree Nagler eyepieces, narrower field of view Plossl, Panoptics & DeLite’s will be fine.
      - Again, don’t panic! There will be so much to see in the forty degrees that it will feel like 100 degrees. I have come from 100 degree eyepieces and I have never once wondered where my huge FOV went
       3. Eyepiece eye relief is important. You need eyepieces with enough eye relief to match the distance from the top lens surface of the eyepiece to the position of the night vision objective lens. Too much or too little eye relief will result in loss or distortion to the outer edges.
      What is the minimum set of eyepieces that I need?
      I use a total of four (4) Tele Vue eyepieces with my Night Vision device:
      1.       Tele Vue 55mm Plossl. This is my main work horse eyepiece. I use this eyepiece for >90% of my observing time. The reason it is my most used eyepiece is that it gives my telescopes the fastest possible “effective focal ratio” (which results in the brightest possible image at the eyepiece). In simple terms think of this eyepiece as being able to double the speed of your telescope (like a 0.5x reducer). I use this eyepiece for nebulae, galaxies & open clusters.
      2.       Tele Vue 35mm Panoptic. I use this eyepiece occasionally when I want more magnification but still want a bright accelerated image (it acts like a 0.7x reducer for the effective focal ratio). An alternative to this eyepiece would be the Panoptic 41mm - I use the 35mm because it’s half the weight of the 41mm! I use this eyepiece for nebulas, galaxies, comets, large open clusters.
      3.       Tele Vue Panoptic 27mm. I use this eyepiece again for greater magnification, usually for supernovae, globulars, comets & open clusters. I do not use this for nebulas and galaxies as the effective focal ratio is now too low and details are becoming lost at the eyepiece.
      4.       Tele Vue DeLite 18.2mm. This is my least used eyepiece (as its focal length is smaller than the 26mm of the night vision device). In use, it has the effect of slowing my effective focal ratio and producing a dimmer image. It does however produce about the maximum useable magnification with my night vision a-focal setup and I have been successful using it for faint tiny supernovae and bright globular clusters.

      What about the huge exit pupils?
      [Exit pupil is the width of the light beam being emitted from the top of the eyepiece and traditionally astronomers baulk at anything wider that the width of the astronomers own eye pupil as it is not possible for our eye to consume the whole of the light beam]
      [Exit pupil is calculated as the eyepiece focal length divided by the telescope focal ratio so a 55mm Plossl in an f4 scope will produce a light beam 13.75mm wide]
      As the night vision objective lens is 20mm wide then it can take all that light in and process it with room to spare! Whilst your eye pupil would be flooded and loads of light wasted, no light is wasted in this case.
      But as the eyepiece focal lengths get shorter (and the exit pupils get smaller too), the night vision device soon starts to become starved of light.
      How do I calculate this “eyepiece focal ratio” exactly?
      Now seems the right time to show the maths to calculate the “effective” focal ratio of your telescope/night vision setup:
      Effective focal ratio = NVD / (EPFL / TFR) where
              NVD = night vision device focal length = 26mm
              EPFL = eyepiece focal length
              TFR = telescope focal ratio
      As an example, if we have a telescope with a focal ratio of f4, the 55mm Plossl will produce an “effective” focal ratio of f1.9.
      [Effective focal ratio = 26/ (55/4)  =1.9] 
      Does the focal ratio of my scope actually change?
      The answer is NO. These changes in “effective” focal ratio that I mention only happen inside the night vision device. If your scope is f4 then it will remain f4.
      Is a-focal observing, low magnification observing?
      Simple answer = Yes it is. You need to get as much light as possible into the night vision device as fast as you can get it to go. All of the photons that you can get into the device will be amplified by the night vision device enabling you to see views containing previously unseen detail. In some cases, the amount of new detail on offer will be overwhelming!
      At first, you will want to change eyepieces to achieve greater magnification but you soon discover that you actually see less detail (due to loss of effective focal ratio and exit pupil) so you soon return to the longer focal length eyepieces.
      How do I calculate the magnification that each eyepiece will give me?
      There is no change here. Take your telescope focal length and divide by eyepiece focal length.
      If your scope has a focal length of 1800mm then you would get the following magnifications from my eyepiece set:
      -          55mm Plossl (1800/55 = x33)
      -          35mm Panoptic (1800/35 = x52)
      -          27mm Panoptic (1800/27 = x67)
      -          18.2mm DeLite (1800/18.2 = x99)
      How do I calculate the TFOV?
      I used Sky Safari for this. I setup my eyepieces in the “equipment” section using a setting of 40 degrees for the fov and it did the rest…
      Can I use a coma corrector with night vision?
      If your telescope has a fast focal ratio and you find that you need a coma corrector now then you will still need it for use with night vision. I used a Tele Vue Paracorr2 with my 20” dobsonian before I had night vision and I am still using it with Night Vision. In a big reflector, the best place for filters in the light path remains on the bottom of the Paracorr.
      What about filters?
      This brings us nicely onto every astronomers “favourite” topic – filters!

      When combined with filters, night vision devices can allow us to not only see what was not visible before but also to steal back some darkness by blocking out our old enemy, the moon!
      In the Cumbrian countryside, the night sky has an SQL of around 21.6, class 4 Bortle. Please take this into account when reading my experiences as your SQM may not be the same as mine.
      1.     General observing – For general observing, I do not use any filters as the best results are achieved by letting all the light into the night vision device. The PVS-14 has manual GAIN which means there is a knob that can be turned to decrease the gain and darken the image at the eyepiece – this is the only filter that I use in general observing.
              Moon – If the moon is up then I add a Baader 610nm Red filter into the light path. This is a good filter for reducing the effects of the moon on the sky background. It can also be effective if viewing low to the horizon where light pollution can be an issue.
      2.     Filters for observing Nebulae
      For nebulae viewing, a narrowband Ha filter in mandatory. I have tried 12nm, 6nm and 5nm and my preferred choice of bandwidth is the 5nm. As this filter is the “key” to seeing nebula then please do not scrimp of a “cheapie”. If you want to get the maximum from your expensive night vision device then only consider top brands such as Chroma, Astrodon, Astronomik or Baader.  I am currently using a Chroma 5nm Ha narrowband filter.
      Your choice of Ha narrowband filter will directly affect whether you see some of the fainter nebulae objects or you do not see them!
      3.      Filters for observing Galaxies
      For galaxy viewing, there is no filter that can improve the unfiltered view. 
      However, if the moon is up then I use either the Baader 610nm red filter or an Astronomik UHC Visual filter. If you are viewing tiny smudges then either are okay, if you are viewing larger galaxies with spiral arms, then I find that the Astronomik UHC Visual filter gives slightly more spiral arms than the 610nm red. Both beat unfiltered viewing if the moon is up.
      @GavStar is using a “Baader IR pass” (685nm) filter from his city location for all non-Nebula targets to cut out the light pollution.
      Which night vision units can I connect to my telescope for “a-focal” observing?
      As a UK based astronomer there are very few options for us to purchase a Night Vision Device with the latest military specifications. The Tele Vue adapter works with the PVS-14 night vision device so this led me in that direction. 
      I purchased my PVS-14 from www.actinblack.com based in Luxembourg.
      Please do read my article on “Understanding Night Vision Tube Specs a little better” and do be prepared to wait a month or two for actinblack to get a new batch of tubes into stock (from which you can then pick the best one for astronomy use). I had to wait two months for a new batch of Photonis tubes to come into stock before I was sent three tube specification sheets to choose from via email.
      Having selected my tube then it was delivered to me in under a week from placing the order.

      Which telescope do I need for Night Vision?
      This is a good question and one that will be debated long into the future. My opinion is that the best telescopes for a-focal night vision use are telescopes with fast focal ratio.
      I am using an f3.6 dobsonian and an f5.6 refractor.
      Our goal is to achieve the brightest possible image at the eyepiece and focal ratio is the key to achieve that.
      As we can see from above, there is a rather restricted set of eyepieces needed for night vision astronomy but if we pair these eyepieces with telescopes of varying focal lengths then we can get a wide range of actual field of views and magnifications. This drove my minimal set to two telescopes, one long focal length dobsonian with good aperture and largest possible magnifications (with long focal length eyepieces) and one short focal length refractor for wide field with decent apperture (> 4") and light enough for travel.
      What can I see using Night Vision a-focally?
      At this point, I want to point you to some of the many posts from @GavStar  available on this website. His images do reflect what I can see visually with my two setups.
      Let me go on to summarize what I have been seeing in the last 17 months since the initial article.
      I have now almost completed the full Sharpless catalog (303 of 313 objects). The only ones that I have not seen are the ones that are too low to my horizon!
      I am working through the 200 brightest galaxies available in the skies above us. This project is more than half way complete and so far I have observed the spiral arms of 68 galaxies with direct vision.
      Last year I viewed 17 supernovae, down to a magnitude of 16.8
      Globular Clusters
      I have so far failed to give sufficient time to Globulars, but their brightness means that I have been able to see some of the smallest and faintest on offer above us. I will get to these once my Galaxy project is completed.
      Night Vision works well on comets, in a side-by-side test with traditional eyepieces, I saw better results with the night vision device.
      Open Clusters
      Night Vision gives great results with open clusters. The smallest ones just jump out at the eyepiece as you nudge around.
      Failure – night vision is no good for planets. They are too bright.
      Failure – night vision is no good for the moon. It is too bright.
      Here are a few links to some of my reports (there are many more if you use the search facility)...
      Do you still use eyepieces for observing?
      My eyepiece case has been mostly sold off now. I have a set of short focal length DeLite eyepieces for planetary and I have some eyepiece pairs for solar observing with my Lunt LS60.
      I use eyepieces to complete the 2-star alignments of my telescopes then it’s become automatic to just switch straight to the Tele Vue Plossl and my night vision to get into my nights observing. With the GAIN turned down it really is no different to using an eyepiece and you just see so much more…
      Hope this helps somebody,
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