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A little late in posting this one due to work and the arrival of a new/old ‘scope but wanted to record my first solo trip to a darker site and a memorable observing session.
As dark fell last Thursday (May 6th) there was a deep clarity to the sky that convinced me to do something I'd been threatening to do since the end of lockdown, put the gear in the car and drive 15 minutes out of town to a local country park. Farley Mount is a favourite viewpoint around Winchester and I'd previously clocked its near 360 degree horizon and elevated position away from immediate lights.
The dis-incentive to date had been a ten minute walk from the car park through deep and ancient Yew woodland to the observing site, but the sky conditions, largely moonless night, & a lighter day in the diary at work Friday convinced me to bite the bullet. I don't mind admitting I was bit nervous for no rational reason, I'm a big lad and despite any local superstition all I'm really likely to run into up there is the occasional poacher (I took the chance the cold would keep al fresco couples and any attendant, ahem, spectators indoors).
Nevertheless I was glad of the relaxed Canadian astro-dude banter of the Objects to Observe in May edition of the Actual Astronomy podcast in the car on the way up there and as an extra precaution took my heavy and very bright night-watchman style Maglite torch/truncheon for reassurance. I was pleased to find the car park deserted, no steamy cars or worse still, blood-stained pickups with deer in the back in evidence. The sky was mesmerising however, good seeing and good to excellent transparency. By the time I'd walked in, selected a spot allowing use of a handy bench as observing table and gone through the familiar routine of set-up I’d got very happy with my isolated situation and ready to track down some more spring Messier objects.
This site is about 10 miles from Southampton and with a clear line of sight down to the dockyards and the ships strung out along the Solent and on toward Portsmouth. Beautiful in its own right but casting a glow to South and South East up to about 50 degrees. Basingstoke glows dimly over the Northern horizon about 20 miles away but only seemed to be affecting a dome up to about 15 degrees. All other directions were dark to the horizon and no local lights at all. This is a big step up from the local park! The Milky Way was very plainly visible along with M13 and 10+ stars in Ursa Minor.
I used a Mak 127 on an AZ GTi, Baader Hyperion 24mm giving 63x magnification, a Neodymium filter and occasionally switched in a Baader Zoom 8-24mm to up the power.
Aligned Vega & Arcturus then slewed to Vindemiatrix as a start point for some of the galaxies I haven't yet spotted in Virgo & Comma B.
Took a quick look at M86 & M84 region first to gauge conditions against my last session in that area of sky and it was immediately clear the darker site and clear sky made a huge difference. The galaxies sprung out in 9x50 finder and I could see more of the nebulous regions surrounding the core. Took a quick sweep NE along Markarian's chain from there and it was dotted with 7 or 8 fuzzy patches in the same field, amazing.
By this time I was getting dark adapted and relaxing into the new environment, so turned to new targets.I orientated myself through the finder in a triangle between Vindemiatrix, Porrima and Omicron Virginis and started hunting for a fuzzy patch between a diagonal pair just off centre right (in RACI view) of that region…
M49 – Spent quite a while hunting this one before realising I’d aligned on the wrong fuzzy patch between a diagonal pair & had to resort to Stellarium on the iPad to find an optical triple in the bottom right of field which confirmed I was in fact looking at NGC4526/NGC4560 – “The Lost Galaxy” apparently now found. A quick sweep up and West found a wider spaced pair and there was a faint fuzzy cloud with a slightly brighter centre, surprisingly dim though. Not a lot of features so moved on but M49 located.
M85 - found to R of 11 Coma Berenices, verified by the presence of dim star on lower R edge. Not much detail but nice to find.
M100 – moved to 6 Coma Berenices as a reference then up and W to place a pair bottom L and look for M100 top right, eventually perceived as much as saw this – to my eye was only visible in averted vision – some sense of circular shape, apparent but really dim, brought home the vast distance (55 Million light years).
M99 – back to 6 C.B. and put it in the top L of the field and a little down to the right, along the base of a low triangle of dim stars was M99 – a highlight of the night, whilst very faint showing some spiral structure- took a long look at this one.
M98 – back the other side of 6 C.B an oblique egde on clearly visible as a “stripe” – reminded me of a dim M82.
M61 – Looking half way along the line between Porrima and Omicron Virginis this one took me ages to find. I kept going to the spot where I thought should be and panning around not finding much. Tried a GoTo and that landed me in the dark. Eventually used Stellarium live on the iPad to confirm I had 16 Virginis and a line of 3 stars above in the field then moved up & found M61 between its 2 bridging stars. Another one very faint, and with averted vision some cloudy spiral form was visible.
That all took a while and I was a bit cold so I decided to just hit GoTo on some targets of opportunity and see what I could find. Transparency up at the Zenith and over into Lyra and Cygnus was by this time superb.
I had a bit of globular-fest alighting on:
M13 which looked superb with many stars resolved and not for the first time a hint of dark lanes.
M92 – smaller area than M13 and dimmer with less resolution but still lovely and a new “M” for me.
M3 – Jumping around a bit but this is the first globular I found in binoculars and I wanted to compare.
M5 – Tighter than M13 but I think slightly more spectacular, may be my favourite so far.
M10 & M12 in Ophiuchus – easily popping into view in the finder.
Have to confess I’d stopped really making notes by this stage. After all that galaxy hunting at the limits of both scope (and more to the point observer), the GoTo was behaving and the globulars look like celestial fireworks and are so easy to spot – great fun!
Couldn’t resist a look over at M57 and things were so crisp and transparent over there I tried for M27 also and there it was, bigger than M57 and with a discernible double sphere shape.
I rounded off with a super view of M81/82 with a sense of shape in M81 and of dark band across M82. Also notable was that where the other galaxies I’d viewed that night were grey mists of varying density – these appeared both brighter and golden in colour. Really amazing view.
Just one more… (it was gone 2.30 am by this time and getting a bit blowy which wasn’t helping tripod stability or my core temperature!)
M51 – great view with twin cores, a discernible spiral and a lane of connecting stars between the two centres. Amazing way to finish.
An unashamed Messier-ticking session then but some unforgettable views and firsts, I am already plotting my next darker sky run, now, how far do I have to go to lose the glow from all those dockyards…?
I saved the original packing for my Mak127 and have supplemented it with a cut-up foam sleep mat and a strip of sticky Velcro. Now all fits snugly in a standard sports bag with room to spare for finders, diagonal etc. Star Adventurer tripod + AZ GTI an easy carry - all seems safe, ready to Grab and Go!
I have for sale my Skywatcher Startravel 120. Objective lens 120mm; Focal length . It is in excellent condition, clean and only very minor marks. Clean optics, no fungus. The focusser is the original one and works smoothly; 1.25" and 2" adaptors. With both caps.
A very good starter scope, or good as a portable scope.
Included accessories: red dot finder; 90 degree star diagonal; 10mm & 25mm EPs; mobile phone adaptor. All in as new condition.
Please don't ask me to split this package.
Price £140.00 no offers.
It will be very well packed.
Payment: paypal or bank transfer
I can deliver by Hermes; I can get a quotation for this if you wish. Or you can make your own courier arrangement, or collect in person.
Please PM me if you would like more information.
I recently bought an Askar FRA400 f/5.6 Quintuplet APO Astrograph. I couldn’t find much info about it in advance – the best was a thread on Cloudy Nights – so thought it might be useful to other folks to jot down some of my feedback. I’m happy to answer any specific questions or clarify any points written in this review.
This is a great telescope that’s fun and easy to use, but with a few issues potential buyers should be aware of.
I got into astroimaging a few years ago, using a Sky-Watcher Evostar 80ED DS-Pro and ASI1600 mono camera plus filters. I enjoyed it, but the arrival of a new baby took a lot of my time (and energy!) so I sold everything with the intention of coming back to the hobby a little later. Barely a year on and I was missing astroimaging a lot, so decided to get back into it, but this time trying to create a simpler set up that would get me imaging on a clear night with the minimum of hassle.
I bought a William Optics Zenithstar 73 II APO 2019 with reducer / flattener, but had terrible issues with streaky corner stars due to backfocus problems. I tried a few things with the help of FLO (great customer support, of course) but in the end returned the telescope as it looked like I’d gotten a duff one. Luckily, at this time FLO started stocking Askar FRA400 f/5.6 Quintuplet APO Astrographs. Its Petzval design promised to be free of backfocus issues (assuming no reducer), which given recent experiences was music to my ears. I decided to go for it, and pushed the button.
I’d be coupling it with a ZWO ASI 2600MC-PRO USB 3.0 Cooled Colour Camera. I went OSC to keep things simple. However, I live in Bristol city centre – Bortle 8 light pollution – so added an Optolong L-eXtreme to my basket so I could still do narrowband imaging.
I decided to forego the optional Askar f/3.9 Full Frame Reducer for FRA400/5.6. This was for four reasons. 1) The L-eXtreme isn’t as effective with very fast systems; 2) 400mm is good to frame the targets I’m most interested in; 3); with the reducer I’d need to get the backfocus spot-on, and I’d had enough of that with the WO ZS73; 4) I’d save £269!
Askar FRA400 f/5.6 Quintuplet APO Astrograph
ZWO ASI 2600MC-PRO USB 3.0 Cooled Colour Camera
William Optics 32mm Slide-base Uniguide Scope
ZWO ASI 120MM Mini USB 2.0 Mono Camera
ZWO EAF - Electronic Automatic Focusmotor
ZWO ASiair Pro Wireless Astrophotography Controller
Optolong Dual-Band L-eXtreme Filter (2”)
ZWO 2″ Filter Drawer with M48 / M42 Connections
Primaluce Lab 30mm PLUS Spacers
William Optics DSD 245 Plate
Dew heater straps
Orion Sirius EQ-G mount
Not being a pixel peeper, I’m not qualified to write a detailed analysis of image quality here, but I will post a single sub so people can make up their own minds. I can say though that I’m very happy with the views – both through the eyepiece and via the camera. There are some aberrations (fringing maybe?) around stars at the edges of the frame -- zoomed examples included below.
Issues and solutions
Build quality on the whole is good, a different league to the 80ED, but not quite up there with the WO ZS73. The dew shield is a little loose, and on the cusp of sliding down under its own weight when the telescope is pointing straight up. I solved this by putting a white elastic band on the main tube, just behind the dew shield – a DIY fix but works just fine. The lens cap also feels a bit loose, but hasn’t fallen off. The default focusser is ok, but doesn’t quite have the premium feel of the WO ZS73. I upgraded with a ZWO EAF, which was very easy to install, and works perfectly. I'd consider this a must if you're astroimaging.
The supplied dovetail is quite short, and makes it difficult to achieve balance if using a heavy camera. I solved this with Primaluce Lab 30mm PLUS Spacers and a William Optics DSD 245 Plate. This allows for good balance, plus there’s room for an ASIAIR PRO to be attached at the back.
All my accessories are attached to the left-side of the telescope, making it slightly off-balance. However, there are enough holes in the spacers and tube rings to allow for the dovetail to actually be attached slightly off-centre to the telescope, allowing for it to all be well balanced. You can buy a Finder Plate to open up more options.
The telescope comes with a conical M68 to M48 adapter. Askar say this is threaded for 48mm filters – ideal for my L-eXtreme, or so I thought. I couldn’t really see where there was a thread in the adapter. I e-mailed Askar customer support, and got a reply two days later saying that the thread is inside the adapter. Fair enough, there is a thread in there, but no way of actually getting a filter inside and screwing it tight. It’s really odd. I e-mailed Askar again to ask for clarification, but this time didn’t get a reply. So, I don’t rate their customer service. From more research online, it looks as if some of the adapters come in two parts that screw together, presumably to give access to the thread. In the end I bought a ZWO 2″ Filter Drawer with M48 / M42 Connections. This fixed the issue, and is very convenient, but is an extra cost that should be considered.
The ASKAR FRA400 doesn’t come with a carry case, which is a bit of a shame.
I’m really happy with my ASKAR FRA400, and think it’ll serve me well for years to come. Once the initial issues were overcome, I’ve been finding it a lot of fun. It’s compact and light -- I can carry the OTA with all attached accessories in one hand. It pairs well with the ASI2600 and L-eXtreme. The ASIAIR PRO controls everything very neatly as well. If I see a gap in the clouds, I can set everything up (tripod and mount in the garden, attach telescope, polar align, autofocus, start imaging) in 20 – 25 minutes. I’m looking into a DIY pier in the garden, which should reduce this to 5 – 10 minutes.
Single FITS sub, straight from the camera (with L-eXtreme):
Single 300s sub with L-eXtreme, debayered, stretched, and resized to 50%:
Random star from the centre of the frame:
And the edge of the frame:
8.5 hours of integration time. One of my very first attempts at processing with PixInsight, so definitely not the limit of what the telescope can do, but more an indication of what a beginner can achieve in Bortle 8 skies:
Views of the Askar FRA400 in my garden:
After much research, primarily on this site and The Binocular Sky, I got hold of the above binoculars. I spent ages writing a review specifically for this site of what I found, as a thanks for all the advice I had received. By the power of idiocy I then managed to post it on Cloudy Nights instead (I had both open in my browser). Too much Christmas port I guess
Anyway, too late to take it down as some have already replied and I guess I shouldn't post the same thing on two sites so here is a link to my review on completely the wrong site No offence at all to Cloudy Nights but I wrote it with the Stargazers Lounge audience in mind and it may make less sense on a US site.
Comparison of Pentax SP 50 WP 10x50 and Nikon Action EX 10x50 CF