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Monday 12 April 2021: let the bells ring! By 9am I was at the Enterprise lot in Peckham, south London, and by 10am I was on the road to Dartmoor for my first dark skies expedition.
I bought my first telescope a few months ago – a little ST80, after lots of great advice on this forum – but hadn't used it outside of Bortle-9 skies, where I found it to be ... fun, but not mind-blowing. So I was looking forward to seeing whether @ScouseSpaceCadet was correct: that in dark skies, away from the blinding wall of the council estate LEDs, said mind would indeed be blown even by what seems to be the smallest useful amount of aperture. Unfortunately the BST Starguider 8mm EP and the Rigel Quikfinder that I ordered didn't arrive in the post in time. So I was stuck with my 26" and 10" Plossls, Astro Essentials barlow and an RDF.
Luckily, like the rest of you, I got three straight clear nights. To whip through them:
Day 1. Carpark, Ashbourne Woods, Rattery, Devon. Accompanied by two friends who'd never used a telescope before.
No moon, but a fair bit of extra light from the campsite lot, from the occasional passing cars and from my friends' insistence on checking their phones periodically despite my stern admonishments. The sky was still amazing even without a scope, although some of my easy newbie targets (Orion nebula, Pleiades etc) were already below the horizon. But we saw a few lovely things through the ST80. (*Friends' review in quotation marks)
-Mars ("no way")
-Castor ("well blow me down")
-the Beehive ("Wow!!!")
-M3 ("Oh yeah, there it is")
-The Leo trio ("I think I can see something...")
Overall assessment, as I fiddled endlessly with eyepiece caps and loose screws and jerky AZ3 mount and malfunctioning slow-motion controls: "It's a good thing you aren't trying to impress a girl"
Day 2. Friends gone. Who needs them. I drove to Haytor carpark, Dartmoor National Park, at midnight. But – full disclosure – it was terrifying to arrive in pitch blackness in the middle of a moor where killers famously dump bodies, and the dark tourist info building and the popping sound of the cooling engine and the occasional bleat of a sheep in the distance freaked me out so much that I couldn't relax and scarpered back to the safety of the campsite carpark. Fail! Objects:
-Leo Trio – yes, definitely saw them this time through averted vision, with notable shapes, although it felt much more like a box-ticking exercise than an impressive view
-Crab Nebula – nope
-Auriga clusters M36, M37, M38 – clearly seen through the ST80 and very impressive indeed. Was starting to really get the hang of finding things and using the equipment by now – the RDF is actually fine with such a short focal length
-NGC2244 and the Rosette Nebula – Cluster yes, nebula no
Overall assessment: not bad ... but my cowardice meant I had to deal with car and campsite lights again. Why had I come all this way? Slunk back ashamed to the sleeping bag.
Day 3. Carpe diem. Fear is the mind-killer! I found a big stick in the woods for protection, drove out to Dartmoor again but this time while the sun was still up, scouted out a good site – high on a hill near Hound's Tor with no nearby buildings or hedges for serial killers to hide behind – and set up.
As the sun set and the moon shone, I settled in. The only light was from the lunar sliver (but wow, that damn thing is bright), distant Exeter and the odd car zooming past every 15 minutes or so, which I closed my eyes against. Besides allowing me to conquer my fear, the other nice thing about arriving early was that I caught some of the stars before they vanished below the horizon. Objects:
-Orion Nebula. WOW. Mind blown. I can't imagine what that looks like through a bigger aperture with better eyepieces and a nebula filter (still kicking myself @Size9Hex for not picking up yours) and higher in the sky. What a truly incredible thing to be able to see as a human being with one's own eyes.
-Leo Trio. Snooze, old hat (yeah that's right @Tiny Clanger, I said it)
-M94, fuzzy dot
-Cor Caroli, easy split
-Polaris, failed to split in the 3" ST80 – that 10mm Plossl is grim
-Whirlpool galaxy – yes!!! Both M51 and NGC 5195. Now that is cool
-Pinwheel – yes! Not as amazing as the Whirlpool but hey, that is an entire galaxy in my field of view
-The Double Cluster – yep, there they are, sparkly and clear in the refractor
-M81 and M82 – smudges, they admittedly are. But again – ACTUAL GALAXIES
-M13 – the Hercules great globular cluster. Pretty amazing. No stars resolved, unfortunately, but that is certainly a large glowing fuzzball of several hundred thousand floating fusion reactors.
By 1am, I'd been outside for nearly 5 hours in freezing cold temperatures so, buzzing and exhausted, it was time to head back to the relative warmth of the tent.
Dark skies, well, you all know the difference they make. I need to find some better viewing spots closer to London – car rental and petrol is expensive for a long trip, even if camping. The ST80 is also a good little device – @ScouseSpaceCadet was right. Extremely clear widefield views and I got the impression it was magnifying well, just being let down by the EPs and Barlow. CA was an utter irrelevance even on the brighter objects – maybe it's a bigger problem in a more powerful telescope? Or maybe it's more of an astrophotography concern? Or maybe I just don't care. (Or care yet.)
-EPs. The 10mm Plossl must be banished back from whence it came.
-Mount. The AZ3 is actually perfectly usable in the ST80, because the field of view is so wide it really doesn't need to be too finely calibrated. But it's jerky and sticky and you need to move it a few degrees past your target because of its dreadful recoil, or whatever you call it when mounts settle in a slightly different place to where you've pointed them. The stupid slow-mo controls won't seem to stay on, either.
-Aperture. 3" is so small! The faint fuzzies were never more than blobs at best. I demand more. A 4.5" ED frac a la @Commanderfish)? A 127Mak a la @Sadiestorm? A Heritage Dob 150 a la @Tiny Clanger? Time to enquire about the health of Uncle Visa.
Overall assessment: THANK YOU SGL FOR HOOKING ME ON THIS WONDERFUL PURSUIT.
I wasn’t able to get out to the park last night but once the smaller of the children was abed & the teenagers uploaded to their games I popped on a hoodie (cunning anti-security light plan) and decamped to the garden, wine in hand, for an impromptu after dinner tour with the ST80.
After wrestling with the old wooden tripod on my “new” Prinz 330 60mm earlier in the week, the Manfrotto 55 and full height viewing position made this feel quite the luxury experience!
Wide-field views weren’t bad either...
15.4, 9.30 PM
ST80 & Baader Zoom.
Seeing good, transparency patchy at Zenith, murky below 30 degrees.
Castor - almost split @50x low over rooftop
M44 Beehive - great view, put the red dot right on it. Was above the houses & enjoyed the soundtrack to a neighbour’s party whilst lost in space.
Melotte 111 - lovely view. Super round pin points & some good colour contrast with white & a smattering of orange stars. ST80 loves these slightly fainter clusters. No hint of CA. This cluster now firmly on my highlight list.
Chertan & 73 Leonis - but no triplet (well it was worth a try)
Algieba - Split (just) at 50x, nice yellow headlights.
Had a look for anything apparent in the Virgo galaxy field but lots of white LP to SE so no chance.
Cor Caroli - beautiful view in the ST80. White primary with smaller fainter white secondary - nice round stars.
Mizar - again a super field, Mizar A&B look a close pair at 50x with size contrast - easy to imagine as an orbital system. Alcor a way off and a couple of other faint stars making a nice little asterism.
M81 & M82 - yes! From the garden, a first outside of M31! Hoodie over the EP. Dropped the red dot carefully in line from the diagonal across the bowl of the plough/dipper. Galaxies popped with a slight nudge from original guess. See an oval and a stripe & that fantastic orientation - obviously no detail but a rewarding view from among the security & streetlights!
Enjoyed for ages with a glass of wine!
Civilised galactic travel...
Skies started to clear as I was finishing work on Friday and checking the Met Office Cloud Cover forecast things looked happier than on Clear Outside for my part of the world, so I took my go -bag out into the garden to cool & crossed my fingers for later.
When the rest of the house went to bed I sneaked out through silent streets close to midnight, the crescent moon with its full disc illuminated by Earthlight was dipping in the West near Aldebaran & the Pleiades and there were fine, high skeins of mist with tantalising clear patches between. Seeing was quite steady and transparency good outside of those streaks of high mist which meant about 60% of the sky looked in good shape. I'd made a list of spring galaxies to go for starting with M94 after reading @Pixies report on here, I figured I'd start with that and see how it went, working my way to fainter targets as conditions allowed.
I've relaxed into my observing spot in the park and decided I would invest a bit more time setting up & bring both the Mak 127 on an AZGTi and the ST 80 on a photo tripod. I will be doing that again...
I was using a Baader Hyperion 24mm 68 degree in the Mak which gives its maximum TFOV of just over a degree and put a Baader 8-24mm Zoom in the ST80.
I aligned the Mak on the top 2 stars suggested by Synscan and noted the gradual turning of the season- it was midnight and it had me point at Vega & Arcturus, spring really is well on the way! Focussed in an out on Vega and enjoyed some lovely round patterns either side of focus.
On to Cor Caroli which made a lovely clean white pair at 63x, stayed there for a while.
Hit GoTo for M94 and after some searching settled on a nice fuzzy patch with a brighter centre and some definite surrounding nebulosity, soaked it in for a bit and made a sketch (ahem, VERY rough).
Everything was a bit uncomfortably close to the Zenith - haven't really solved the whole observing position thing yet, not sure I can carry one of those big wooden chairs about but mean to experiment with the cheapo camping chairs in the cupboard and see if it helps, until then a degree of neck-ache remains inevitable (or better target selection!) .
Meantime I'd sought out the Double Cluster with the ST80 and was really pleased to get a lovely view with neat round points and some colour apparent in one or two of the orangey members. May just be a novelty but having a break from peering at faint fuzzy things to take in a wide field view of a favourite object really added to the enjoyment for me.
With the Mak I went on to search for M51 & M63 but couldn't find anything having hunted around for a bit but was having no joy. Later with Stellarium and the atlas I've become almost certain I'd landed on M63 by mistake - be interested in any opinions based on my sketch (gives the RACI view from the Mak 127 i.e. reversed LR)
In the end I gave up and put both 'scopes on M13 and enjoyed my best views of the Great Hercules Cluster yet. I switched the Zoom into the Mak and played with all magnifications from 63x - 188x, much above 120x wasn't adding much but at that power stars were resolving in and out across the cluster - literally breathtaking. The contrasting wide-field view in the ST80 gave scale and context - really enjoyable way to appreciate a real gem.
Seeing, heavy dew and numbing toes conspired around the same time to send me home to warm and mull over whether I'd identified M94 or not.
Could people please post pictures of what dso’s look like through a ST80 stacked and processed with clear nights?By Mostafa
What do dso’s look like through st80?
Celestron C8 XLT + extras and SkyWatcher Star Travel 80 (ST80)
I have a Celestron C8 with XLT Starbrite coatings. Will include the full length base plate, both visual and imaging backs, scope rings, front 8" end cap and the finder scope with it. No box I'm afraid. Optics are good and clean, focal length is huge - 2300mm from memory. This lot would cost close to £1300 new and one with less spec went for £750 on fleabay recently. Might be interested in a part exchange or will let it go for £450 collection only.
Also, I have a SkyWatcher Star Traveler 80 - good optics, used as a guide scope - just the scope itself (does not include the barlow in the photo) - now including dovetail bar and scope rings looking at around £50 for it.
I have decided to save up for another refractor, WO, Equinox or even toward an Esprit. However, I would also consider p/ex for an Intel NUC and/or Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox.
Please excuse some of the colours - I used my astro modded 6D which was in the observatory so the "nice" purple is actually black !!
Both these are collection only.