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A 12 year newbie journey and a Moonlite

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After decades of being fascinated by space and its mysteries about 12 years ago I bought a Bresser Messier N203 8" Newtonian and had a lot of fun observing the planets and moon.  I made do with the free basic eyepieces that came with the scope for a couple of years but eventually invested in a single excellent Vixen Lanthaneum UWA (68) 5mm eyepiece which afforded much better planetary views and stunning close-ups of the moon.  Unfortunately due to the demands of a busy shiftworking job and a young family my telescope fell out of use eventually.  This was further compounded by the time taken to drag the scope outside, align and set-up, wait for thermal stability and then pack it all away again which added to the general hassle factor so the mount ended up languishing in the shed for several years and the OTA was put in a spare room and then eventually the garage.

In recent months I have been observing again with binoculars - it's amazing how rewarding combing the night sky is with those and how easy it is just to mooch around enjoying the wonders of the heavens.  Around 15 years ago I acquired a basic £100 10x50 Bushnell set although holding them steady was a challenge they worked well.  They're not very compact though and so a couple of years ago I purchased a far higher quality pair of binoculars - the Pentax SD 8x42 WP.  These are in a different league optically, pin sharp, waterproof, nitrogen purged so they don't steam up and far easier to hold steady.  A great all round choice for a pick up and go bino. 

With all the free time afforded by Covid lockdown I decided to get my old telescope out of the shed a couple of months ago.  Sadly when I pulled it out the entire mount was a rusting hulk of metal only fit for scrap!  The drive motors no longer worked and the mechanism was evidently in dire need of stripdown, service and lubrication.  After investigating the costs of such remedial work I discovered that even just having it serviced would likely cost 60% of the cost of a brand new mount.  Luckily the OTA was in far better shape having suffered only some dust and dirt on the mirror.  I briefly pondered the option of buying my dream scope - a Celestron CPC 925 but then with job insecurity at present and the fear that I might not use such a scope enough to warrant the £2700 cost I felt that a cheaper solution would be more prudent.  I was also rather fond of my old telescope and rather liked the idea of resurrecting it and making it even better than ever!  After a bit of hunting around I found a Bresser Exos 2 Go-To mount on sale for £499 and purchased it.  It's the new version of my old mount and is actually far superior in terms of both look and feel.  My old mount had always been rather stiff to use, the new one was buttery smooth and far better finished - it also had the benefit of built in go-to.  I bought some new parts too for the OTA - new tube rings, illumination units for the finderscopes and an additional counter weight in Bresser's rather fetching new white and red colours.  After all that given it was dirty with 12 years accumulated grime I elected to wash my primary mirror for the first time ever!  That was a mildly hair-raising experience - especially because I decided that the recommendation to use cotton wool for this was only propagated because microfibre cloths hadn't been invented when the advice to use cotton wool first emerged.  Anyway I am happy to report that a soaking wet microfibre cloth and distilled water did a fine job on cleaning the mirror without scratches and that was replaced successfully and laser collimated. 

Having observed for a few nights with my old eyepieces I decided to treat myself to a couple of new Explore Scientific wide field eyepieces as these seemed to offer a nice balance between quality and price.  In came the 24mm 82 degree and the 8mm 68 degree and I'm happy to report that both offered massively better quality than my old kit ones.  Crucially even on my 900mm f4.5 scope they didn't suffer from field curvature and I have since gone on to order a 2x barlow from FLO (which has yet to arrive).  I spent many nights during the spring and summer finding numerous deep sky objects for the first time and having my mind blown by seeing M51 the Whirlpool galaxy or various globular clusters so clearly.

In tandem with my scope refurbishment I started investigating buying a pier.  I've always hated tripods because of the way they provide more chance of tripping over things in the dark and because they are heavy and bulky to move around.  It became clear that commercial piers are ridiculously expensive (£400-£500) and even having something fabricated by a local metalworking company was costly.  It was then I stumbled across the so called 'Todmorden pier' made from concrete blocks.  My pier needs to be mounted on my back garden patio as the lawn is a mudbath in Winter and I was concerned about drilling down into the slabs and cracking them and so a friend who is very DIY savvy told me about something called 'Sticks like [removed word]'.  I was dubious but decided that given the low cost of the concrete blocks it was worth a try.  So 3x concrete blocks (£7), masonry paint £20 and some of the rather rude glue (£5) and I was up and running.  The pier is solid as a rock literally and took very little time to build.  I investigated the idea of buying a pier adapter plate (£80 ish) and was about to press the button to buy one when I remembered my old mount!  I salvaged the adapter plate from the old tripod and secured it to the top of my new pier with more of the unmentionable glue after painting it with some red hammerite salvaged from the garage.  The result as hopefully the accompanying pics show is a very pleasant looking pier complete with drinks holding shelves which is stable, aligned and level.

I have now taken to leaving the scope on the pier overnight when we get runs of good weather protected by one of those Telegizmos silver foil covers (£70).  It greatly encourages me to observe more frequently having the scope aligned and already temperature stabilised and has proved to be totally watertight even in rain.  Better still the silver foil coating keeps the scope fairly cool in the heat of Summer.  Of course I still dream of having a Skyshed Pod and unobstructed views across empty fields when I eventually retire but as a cheap interim solution this is a huge leap forward. 

I was now very happy indeed with what I was seeing with my rejuvinated telescope and have been savouring many nights under the stars in recent weeks, taking great delight in being the only one up at 2am in the garden with a mug of tea in my thermal mug.  The feeling of being at one with the universe is hard to describe but truly beautiful to experience and I'm having a great time exploring Messier objects galore that I have never seen before.  Go-to accuracy on the Bresser Star Tracker system has been good and it usually places objects within the 24mm eyepiece field of view.  The only annoying part of the system is the fact it emits loud beeps when it completes a slew and I haven't yet found a way to make it silent!

The last piece of the jigsaw was to replace the focuser.  My scope has a frankly appalling rack and pinion focuser which is hard to fine tune and when you do turn the focus the entire image pivots left, right, up, down in the view due to the excessive play in the drawtube and the generally poor engineering.  Trying to focus on a star is akin to trying to shoot down a Tie fighter from a gun turret on the Millenium Falcon!!  I'm a pretty incompetent DIY'er though and fear of the difficulty of fitting a new focusser had prevented me doing anything about it for years.  This year though I decided I would finally crack the problem.  I contacted First Light Optics who provided superb advice and batted back and forth some pictures and measurements of my existing focusser and its unusually long drawtube.  In the end I settled on a beautiful red Moonlite CR2 dual speed Crayford with their longest 2.75" drawtube.  This took 5-6 weeks to arrive from the USA,  but FLO were very good at keeping me informed of the likely delivery dates. 

The Moonlite and it's associated fitting kit arrived yesterday and I have to say the quality of engineering on offer is utterly gorgeous, it makes my old focuser feel like a joke, the metalwork is superb, the engineering worthy of NASA, the anodising is flawless.  Best of all though (and I didn't know this when I ordered it!) the mounting kit comes with a mounting plate pre-drilled for almost every popular make of scope - so I didn't need to drill into my OTA at all because the mounting plate had pre-drilled holes which correspond to the Bresser's mounting geometry.  I slowly and methodically removed the old focuser, fitted the new one and am absolutely delighted with how incredibly stable the focus is now.  No more shooting tie fighters while focussing!!  As a visual observer the focuser is a part of my scope I interact with pretty regularly and it is a joy to be able to do that with the Moonlite and to savour its precision.  I would recommend fitting a Moonlite to anybody using a budget chinese scope like mine - it really does elevate the whole experience and makes it feel like a far more capable astronomical device.

I didn't bother collimating last night and still found stars and globular clusters tack sharp and precise but that's my next task today!  When I pulled my rusting mount out of the shed earlier this year I didn't really anticipate spending as much money as I have on getting it all working again, however having made the investment I feel I now have a great mid range telescope which is fantastic for DSO's and lunar observing in particular and is just a total joy to use.  I'm so happy with it now that I might not ever bother buying something like the Celestron CPC when this does everything I need beautifully.

Thanks to FLO and Bresser EU for all their help and advice and wishing you all clear skies,








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  • 1 month later...

What a wonderful write up and a fantastic looking setup. I can see why that has made such a difference to the quality and quantity of your observing. I love the matching red highlights, lifts the whole thing in a subtle but effective way.

I look forward to hearing more reports as we head into proper Astro darkness 👍👍


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  • 2 years later...

Perfect! I now have all I need to build my pier on a deck using a couple of heavy concrete slabs as the base for the Todmorden. No drilling necessary either. Excellent. I wonder if I ever have to strip it down, would I be able to cut into the "Sticks like sh**" glue around the tripod base on the top block to reuse or would I have to accept the three tripod legs are now redundant forever? Just in case.

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