William Optics GT71 f/5.9 Triplet Refractor

My last telescope purchase goes back to about 11 years when I upgraded from a beginner 130mm Newtonian to the 80ED bargain APO refractors launched by Syntha (Orion/Skywatcher) that everyone was raving about. I got one of the light metallic blue Skywatcher (SW80ED) and have been happy with its good optics and versatility for both visual and photographic use. Well actually, I upgraded the focuser as the stock unit didn’t do well with the weight of DSLR, often sliding out of focus or shifting when the tension was adjusted.

Over the past few years I’m been evaluating what should be my next move. From the 80ED there are many possibilities in the $800-$1200 CDN price range:

  • An 8in or 10in fast newton; a good bargain when it comes to pure light gathering power, and the fast ratio is great for photography. However collimation needs to be spot on, and will require frequent adjustments.
  • A 100-110mm doublet refractor will also gather more light and retain the easy of use like the 80ED.
  • Some entry-level catadiaoptric like Ritchey-Chrétien or Schmidt-Cassegrain are interesting with longer focal lengths for planets and galaxies

But with any of these options, the weight of the optic increases, and my current Vixen GP will start to struggle. Changing both telescope and mount was out of the question. I wanted something that could go well with my current gear. Hence a 70-80mm APO triplet started to look interesting, especially the small packages offered by some of the fast ones. After a week under dark skies without my telescope, I decided I needed something portable.  That’s when I jumped on an occasion to grab one of the star party demo units from William Optics: the Gran Turismo 71mm APO Triplet Refractor.

davIt may be a demo, but it looks brand new. Not a scratch on the powder-coat finished white optical tube or even the gold-colored dove-tail. Everything feels solid and the focuser looks like it can easily handle the heaviest DSLR. The SW80ED focuser is screwed to the back of the optical tub while the GT71 is one CNC machined unit, eliminating mis-alignment. As this is designed to be a travel scope, the soft-case that comes with it is very nice, much more portable than my current Orion hard-case. And at 2.2kgs, the weight is well within the range for the Vixen GP mount.

To compare the size, I’ve set it up next to my SW80ED, where it comes to almost half its length. The 80ED shares the same tube as the 100mm version, hence it’s bigger than it needs to be and the dew shield does not retract. Overall, the GT71 is more compact and will pack just about the same viewing power as the SW80ED.

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Below is a view of the optics.  While the SW80ED only has about 5 baffles within the tube, the GT71 has a good 30 of them to keep any stray light from ruining the view.  While both use FPL-53 glass, the SW80ED only has it in the rear element, while the GT71 is used for all three optical elements.  The SW80ED provides views free of chromatic aberration, however it’s designed to perform well in the blue and green part of the spectrum.  Anything is the deep red was falling out of focus, especially if a focal reducer was used.  The GT71 will perform better over a wide range of spectrum.

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I didn’t travel with my SW80ED, but now with a more compact telescope, I’ll be inclined to simply grab it during for my outings.  I just now need a light alt-az tripod to go with it.

2017 Product – Meade EclipseView

With the total solar eclipse scheduled for August 21st, expect to see new lines of products catering to the novice observer wanting to get up close with the event.  Meade has recently announced the EclipseView product line for April 2017 which includes a binocular, a small refractor and three small reflector telescopes specifically for those wanting to experience the eclipse but with a limited budget and beginner experience.

Meade EclipseView [Meade]

Meade EclipseView [Meade]

The product line offers the following models, all equipped with removable white-light solar filter required to view the sun at all times.

  • 10×50 Binoculars
  • 60mm f/13.3 Refractor (includes 12.5 and 4mm eyepieces and 2x barlow) with an AZ mount
  • 76mm f/9 Reflector  (includes 26 and 6.3mm eyepieces and 2x barlow) with an AZ mount.
  • 82mm f/3.7 Reflector (includes 26 and 9mm eyepieces and 2x barlow) in a compact table-top mount
  • 114mm f3.95 Reflector  (includes 26 and 9mm eyepieces and 2x barlow) in a compact table-top mount

Of the bunch, only the 114mm has the better parabolic mirror, the others opting instead for the simpler spherical mirror.  Therefore the 114mm will provide a sharper view edge to edge, especially a high magnification.

These aren’t new telescopes from Meade, but existing models from their Infinity, Polaris and LightBridge Mini Series kitted for solar observation.  While Meade advertises that these telescopes can also be used at night to view the Moon, planets and the stars, you’ll want to get a red-dot view finder to replace the existing solar pin-hole finder.

Of course you can also add the appropriate solar filter to any telescope, no need to limit yourself to the above gear.

[Meade]

 

Sunspot 2529

Sunspots on the sun come and go.  Count them for many years and you’ll soon find out that there is an 11 year periodic cycle when the solar magnetic activity peaks.  We are presently in Solar Cycle 24 and on the tail end of the double peak of 2011 and 2014.  So why would I want a solar filter when the Sun is heading into a quiet period?

Number of sunspots observed and predicted for 1995 to 2020

Number of sunspots observed and predicted for 1995 to 2020

Well, just because the number of sunspots goes down doesn’t mean that there’s not good some great observing opportunities.  Sunspot 2529 provided that perfect occasion to finally try out my new solar filter.

Sunspot 2529 (April 10, 2016) - Benoit Guertin

Sunspot 2529 (April 10, 2016) – Benoit Guertin

The above image was captured on April 10th, 2016 with on my Skywatcher 80ED with Canon 400D at ISO 200 and 1/500s.  19 frames were processed with Registax6.  Sunspot 2529 is still visible today and may be there for another week as readings indicate that it’s quite stable.

There are various types of solar filter out there.  They all essentially do the same thing which is to permit only a small percentage (roughly 0.001%) of the white light to pass through.  Solar filters are not designed to allow observation of prominence and flares, special hydrogen-alpha narrow-band pass filters are required for that,  but they do allow a view of sunspots and granulation if you happen to have sufficient focal length.  By blocking out most of the sunlight, you can then safely observer or photograph the sun.  Remember not to install your finderscope, and move the telescope away from the sun before removing the solar filter.  Your telescope is a MIGHTY strong magnifying glass.

Shopping around there are generally two types of solar filter: glass and film.  While the glass are more durable, the films offer just as good optical performance at a lower price, especially for larger aperture.

Thousand Oaks Optical R-G Solar Filter

Thousand Oaks Optical R-G Solar Filter

Normally for anything in the optical path, especially filters, backyard astronomers are always looking for the smoothest and most parallel surfaces, but for solar film, it appears that the ripples from the loose film have no effect on the image quality.

The filter that I selected is the R-G Solar Filter from Thousand Oaks Optical.  It provides a light yellow pleasant view of the sun, and works very well both visually and with the DSLR.  I enhanced the yellow in the photo of the sun above, but it’s quite close to what can be seen and photographed.

Mark your calendars for May 9th 14:57UT, Mercury will transit in front of the Sun.  The last time that happened was 2006.

Headlamps -Free Your Hands

As much as we avoid any type of light source when doing nighttime observations, there are moments when a bit of extra light helps locate the right eyepiece, make those small adjustments, read a sky chart or operate the laptop/camera.  For the longest time I’ve been fumbling about with a hand-held flashlight (red film equipped), often resorting to holding it in my teeth to keep my hands free.

A short while ago, while over at a friend’s observatory he handed me a headlamp for the evening.  Wow what a difference that made!  No wondering where I had left the flashlight, and both hands free when changing eyepieces, or checking sky charts.

Headlamp with white and red LED

Headlamp with white and red LED

 

 

There are plenty of models on the market, but be sure to have one that has a red night-vision mode.  The Black Diamond Spot that Santa placed under my tree can be dimmed in both in white and red light.

Observing Pluto – What Does it Take?

With New Horizons‘ flyby of Pluto and all the great images the spacecraft has been returning I’ve wondered: Is it possible to observe Pluto from one’s backyard?  Personally I’ve never bothered trying for Neptune and beyond as I knew my small 80mm aperture telescope would not be up to the task.  Nevertheless I looked up Pluto’s apparent magnitude and found that it varies between 13.6 and 16.3 due to its elliptic orbit around the Sun.  It’s last closest approach (perihelion) was September 1989, and unfortunately Pluto is currently distancing itself for its 248 year journey around the Sun therefore slowly dimming, sitting right now at apparent magnitude 14.

Pluto as viewed by New Horizons during flyby (14 July 2015) - NASA

Pluto as viewed by New Horizons during flyby (14 July 2015) – NASA

What size of telescope does it take to observe an apparent magnitude 14 object?  Based on the theoretical limits it should be possible to make visual observation with a 10in aperture telescope, but most would say you need a 12in if you plan to observe with an ocular.  Of course, equipped long exposure cameras you can have a smaller telescope, but a high focal length would be preferred to reduce to better pick it out from the background of stars.  And I’ve managed to pick up mag 14 stars in my photos with the Skywatcher 80ED with 60sec exposures.  Therefore Pluto should be accessible to backyard astronomy.  Note that at Pluto’s size and distance it shows up as a light point and not a sphere like the other planets.

Up to the challenge?  Middle of November will be a great opportunity to locate Pluto as it will swing within 1deg of Ksi 2 Sagittarius, a magnitude 3.5 star.  In the June edition, Sky & Telescope created a great star-chart to locate Pluto until December 2015.  Good Luck!

Click on image for Sky & Telescope Pluto 2015 Sky Chart

Click on image for Sky & Telescope Pluto 2015 Sky Chart

Reference: Sky & Telescope

Atik Infinity Camera – For Video Astronomy

Atik has just released a new camera dedicated to video astronomy: the Atik Infinity.  It is a step up from their Titan that sells for about $600, but still marketed as entry-level camera due to its ease of us and just scratching the $1000 selling price.

Atik Infinity Camera - Atik

Atik Infinity Camera – Atik

It’s designed around the Sony ICX825 sensor, the same one used with good success on their 414EX, and can be ordered as monochrome or color.  Atik also supplies a custom software application that allows you to live view, control the camera with real-time integration and broadcast on YouTube the resulting video stream.

While it may not have the active cooling of the 414EX, the lower price, smaller footprint and freedom from dew/frost issues that cooling brings it will certainly draw attention.

Below is a recap of the Atik Infinity live broadcast performed by Atik on September 8th to demonstrate some of the Infinity’s capabilities.

Ref:Atik

iOptron Tri-Pier

In astrophotography, a solid mount is key.  But you don’t want something that is too heavy that can’t be transported to your favorite spot away from light pollution.  iOptron has released a Tri-Pier combines the stiffness of a pier with the portability of a tripod.  It can be used with their mounts, or with proper adapter to other makes.  With 220lbs of maximum capacity, this can hold some serious gear.  I can’t even think up 220lbs of astro-gear!

iOptron Tri-Pier (photo: iOptron)

iOptron Tri-Pier (photo: iOptron)

Source: iOptron