Star Party on Mauna Kea

Sun 25 January 2009

m42My just-purchased SV102ED is my first "real" telescope and is a purchase I've put off for decades (ever since I realized what a huge \$ gap there was between a mall-store telescope and a decent one). After a lot of research, I went for the SV102ED "clearance special" with the M1 mount, a star diagonal, and a 23mm eyepiece.

I was excited by what little I could see from my backyard in the past two weeks -- M42, phases of Venus, and Uranus-is-in-the-center-of-the-FOV-so-that-must-be-it. But last night was the new moon star party at the Visitor Center at the 9000' elevation of Mauna Kea.

Ho-ho-holy cow! According to the more experienced it was a "better than average" night with the temps in the mid 30s and very still air. The Milky Way, especially south of the Ecliptic, was phenomenal -- I can't wait to see it from there in the Summer!

Much of the first hour was spent with people volunteering to help me with my gear (thanks Ray!). Almost everything needed tightening, especially the clamshell. Initially, the scope would slide in the clamshell when pointing vertically no matter how tight the screws were; a fellow happened to have a patch of flocking material and scissors and that fixed that problem. I had screwed up my red dot royally and that took some time to get right.

By the time I got everything in order it was fully dark and I REALLY experienced the SV102ED for the first time -- M42, Andromeda, Perseus Double Clusterngc884: all much better than I'd ever seen them. The first huge thrill, though, was getting the Sculptor Galaxy by star hopping. Then the Owl Cluster, which looked absolutely FANTASTIC in the SV.

The big "get" for the more experienced viewers was the Tarantula Nebula which was just barely up, skimming the slopes of Mauna Loa. I guess I don't have the most refined tastes, but it wasn't a highlight of the evening for me.

To me the highlight was M81 & M82 in the same FOV. Awesome! That blew my mind, daddy-o, and several people thought the view through my telescope was the most striking.m81

I picked up the Crab and Horsehead nebulas (nebulae?) but, again with unrefined tastes, was happy to move onto M38 or just to point the 102 into the Milky Way and be dazzled.

Saturn rose around 10 and, as soon as it got up 15 degrees or so, I had to take a look. I was not expecting to see anything more than a disk, but the 23mm clearly showed the side-on rings! (Small but sharp!) Like any newbie, I spent a LOT of time on Saturn. I borrowed Nagler's that were 13mm, a 9mm with a Powervue, and a 6-3mm zoom. I absolutely LOVED the view of Saturn in the 13 and the zoom at its lower-powers. All the way zoomed in or with the 9mm+Powervue, Saturn transited so quickly that the telescope didn't settle down in between adjustments.

That was the only piece of the equipment that didn't exceed my expectations. "Alt-az is fine," said several people when I was researching, but especially at high magnifications it was frustrating to slew it and lose several seconds of the transit through the FOV to vibrations.

Around midnight the wind started coming up and turned the FOV into a field of apostrophes. Plus, I'd accidentally re-misaligned my red dot (trying to remember where the dimmer was) and I'd run out of hot chocolate. So down through the cloud layer anc back home.

I had gone up very much thinking in terms of a "shake down" and had low expectations for actually seeing stuff. Instead, I was repeatedly blown away by the quality of the optics of the 102: everything that I could find (or have someone point to with a laser or find for me...) was MUCH better than I expected it to be. Although the purchase was a
major decision, I'm absolutely convinced that I made the right decision to invest what I did. Now, of course, the problem is that I want a set of equally good eyepieces! (Which will have to wait for a LONG time!)

What a great night!