Bible Culture.

The author’s red letter Holman NKJV bible, used for his daily devotionals.
















Dedicated to Billy Graham (19182018).


Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.

                                                                       Isaiah 40:28




In many ways, bibles are a lot like telescopes; both have the potential to transform your perspective. Some folk struggle to find even one. Others collect many different kinds. Some bibles are small and ultraportable, while others are large and unwieldy. Some copies of Holy Scripture are beautiful and ornate, lavished with fine art, and painstakingly assembled from the choicest natural materials. Still others are plain Jane, simple, with no frills; just the text, and maybe a concordance. Some folk parade their bible as if it were a measure of how well one walks with Christ. But many, not seeking to be ostentatious, quietly and modestly read their bibles in complete privacy. Some like to look at their bibles and never really look through them. Some learn a great deal from their bibles, others, little or nothing.

There has never been a better time to read the bible, for it is the only collection of books that makes sense of our earthly predicament and provides a coherent and just solution. The world is changing too fast and too much, and I fear that many have no real idea of where our kind is destined to end up. But by studying the biblical narrative, we can get a clear picture of where the world is headed for and what its fate will be. The bible shapes your worldview like no other body of literature, and keeps you moored in a view of morality that is absolute, and which cannot be changed by the fickle and ephemeral nature of human culture.

Today, many excellent translations in hundreds of languages are now available online or in traditional form. But are some translations better than others? Let’s look at the kinds of English bible translations that are now available.

‘Word for Word’ or ‘Thought for Thought’?

As any linguist will tell you, the process of translation is a task that cannot, by definition, satisfy all of the people all of the time. This is particularly true of the bible, where the original manuscripts were written in Hebrew, Aramaic and so called Koine (read common man’s) Greek. Thus, any translation involves a fair degree of discernment in choosing the right words to express, as precisely as possible, the original meaning conveyed in these texts. That has led modern biblical translation scholarship to adopt two basic philosophies; ‘word for word’ and ‘thought for thought.’ The former variety strive to exchange the words written in these ancient texts with modern words that, as far as possible, adhere to the original wording found in the most ancient texts. The latter adopt an entirely different, but no less important approach, taking the ancient texts and imparting a modern rendering that captures the essential thoughts conveyed by the original authors. Examples of good ‘word for word’ translations in the English language include the English Standard Version(ESV), the Modern English Version (MEV), the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV) and the New American Standard Bible(NASB). Examples of popular ‘thought for thought’ translations include the New International Version (NIV), the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Good News Bible(GNB).

Still other translations seek to reach a particular subset of society. For example, so−called Messianic Bibles, such as the fairly new Tree of Life Version (TLV), was compiled by Messianic Jewish scholars with the express intention to impart a distinctive Jewish voice to the Scriptures, removing words like ‘Lord’ and ‘Jesus’ and replacing them with their Hebrew equivalents, ‘Adonai’ and ‘Yeshua,’ respectively. Not a bad idea! Finally, there are very loose paraphrases of the bible, where the author’s intent is to summarise whole paragraphs of biblical text with a wording that departs quite a bit from the originals, and for the purposes of conveying the key ideas therein. Examples of these include the Message Bible (by Eugene Peterson) and the older but still highly popular Living Bible (by the late Kenneth Taylor). I use the latter to read extended passages of the biblcal narrative to my sons; a duty I take very seriously.

An aside: Did you have your children Christened? If so, you made an oath that you would bring them up in the Christian faith. Do they know the Lord’s Prayer? How about John 3:16? Do they know anything of the Gospels? Can they recite something from the Psalms?

The Living Bible: great for biblical narration.

















Finally, there are corruptions of the biblical text that should be avoided at all cost. Examples include the New World Translation (NWT), used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has monkeyed with the divinity of Christ, portraying Him not as God but merely a powerful angel, and the Book of Mormon, used by the Church of Latter Day Saints, which concocts an entirely fabricated narrative that mimics the bible (they’re bible wanabees). Another is the tongue−in−cheek Queen James Bible, which has removed all references to the abominable practice of homosexuality.

Choosing a bible can be a daunting task for a beginner, especially when one is confronted with the proliferation of translations. Having read and enjoyed many bible versions, I have found all of them to be useful and enriching. The ‘thought for thought’ versions are very easy to assimilate but at the cost of veering away from the technical precision of the ‘word for word’ varieties. In the end, I have found it helpful to enjoy a good example of both; the NKJV (for accuracy) and the NLT (for readability).  We’re all different though, and get different things from different translations.. And that’s OK too.

                                       Features to Look for in a Good Bible

All that having been said, there is another aspect of bible culture that is of some importance and this pertains to how well made the copies are. In short, a bible that is to be used regularly must ideally be well made and last many years if it is to be of maximal value. So, here I wish to offer some thoughts on my own experiences with a variety of bibles, and what features I tend to look for when shopping for a good, durable bible.

I have found hardback versions of the Holy Bible to be the least durable. They are generally quite poorly bound and tend to fall apart quickly with continued use. If you use a hardback version, chances are you’ll be taping it up before long. Much better are the soft covered bibles, which come as simple paperbacks, imitation leather (usually polyurethane or ‘trutone’) and bona fide leather bound incarnations. I avoid bibles that are heavily glued and not Smyth−sewn.

Smyth sewn bibles are much stronger and more durable than other kinds of binding.

















Soft covers also open out flat on a table or in your hand, largely avoiding the tendency for the pages to flip over accidentally or haphazardly.  The font size can also be an issue. If the font is too small, it will be difficult to read, even with eyeglasses. If it is too large, the bible will have to be bigger and heavier than is desired. That said, there are many thinline versions now available in 8 point or larger font, and which can be carried around easily in a rucksack or handbag.  The font should be clear and distinct, ideally with good line matching, so as to minimise the effects of text ghosting. Ideally, the bible will have a decent number of cross references, so that you can quickly find quotations taken from other parts of the bible that have a bearing on the part of Scripture being studied.  A comprehensive concordance (normally placed at the back of the bible) and a few relevant maps of the biblical world is also a godsend. Some folk like to have wide margins, so as to make notes. Others simply want the text, pure and simple.


Online Resources

In this digital age in which we live there are many excellent online resources to help you study the bible. Bible Gateway and Bible provide the entire text of the bible in many different versions, only a few of which I have mentioned in this blog. Perhaps the most comprehensive online resource is the NEW English Translation (NET) bible, which is a novel translation compiled by a team of biblical scholars accessing the best currently available Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, together with over 58,000 translators’ notes. The NET bible is also available in conventional form. I should also mention which seems to offer a similar service to the NET bible. One can also buy Kindle versions of most any bible translation for use on your electronic devices.

                                              My Personal Favourite Bible

While I certainly enjoy and cherish many English translations of the bible, I wanted to share with you some of the qualities I looked for in my own personal quest for a bible for study and use in my daily devotionals. I narrowed the translations down to two; the ESV or the NKJV. And while I can recommend both wholeheartedly, I gravitated toward the latter, owing to its literary ‘cadence’ and its devotion to the tradition of the original King James Version (though the author does not endorse so−called King James ‘onlyism’). I felt the ESV had developed too much of a ‘cult’ following and I’ve always been one to go my own way, championing the ‘underdog,’ as it were.

The author’s favourite Bible from his small collection.

















Having read the NKJV through a few times, I have never come across a typographical error in this version, unlike others I’ve encountered. For example, while reading the book of Jeremiah in the otherwise excellent Tree of Life Version(TLV) of the Bible, I encountered a clear error in this translation (see the TLV Jeremiah 34:14), which (for me) was slightly annoying. The same bible also has printing errors in the short book of Obadiah.  Errors are more likely to occur when small teams of biblical scholars are involved and the TLV had a smaller scholarship base than many of the more established English translations. I hope the committee responsible for the TLV can sort out these errors in due course. The NKJV has been around since 1982 (Thomas Nelson publishers) and so any bugs in this version have long been sorted out. Indeed, I was just a boy when the NKJV first hit the shelves; and yet, in the rapidly changing world in which we live, the NKJV is now considered somewhat of a classic lol.

Errors are irksome to find in a bible.

















It is also noteworthy to mention that the older Thomas Nelson rendition of the NKJV also featured asterisks alongside passges from the Old and New Testaments, indicating where prophecies were either fulfilled or had yet to be fulfilled. But these are eisegenic interpretations (reading into the text) and I liked the way the new Holman publication removed them so that the reader could interpret them in his or her own way.

I wanted a Smyth−sewn binding for my bible as these are very strong and durable, but also because they open flat without much effort. I also considered buying a copy bound in high quality leather (like with my NIV 2011), but yet again I have found the modern polyurethane (trutone) covers to be just as good. What’s more, unlike leather, they don’t need to be nourished from time to time with conditioning agents in order to keep them in tip top condition. In addition, leather, being organic, is biodegradable, so will decay with time; something the synthetic polymers won’t do to the same degree(so long as you don’t sit it out in the hot sun, day in day out lol).

I wanted a bible with only the text, neither with introductions or other distractions from the text itself. And while I used to take copious notes during my earlier bible studies, these days I just enjoy the bare text without margins.

Taking notes while studying the bible is useful but in the end I just wanted to read the text with no distractions.


















I wanted a fairly large font, so I could read it without using my glasses, even in fairly dim light.The quality of the paper had to be good too, but not so good that I would be afraid to soil it. The Holman has a single ribbon page marker, and while I would have preferred two, I can live with having only one. The text is printed in American English but that was never an issue for me. It had to be reasonably well line matched and I wanted the words of the Messiah in red lettering. All these requirements led me to a very useful version, published by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Unlike the cheap, bonded leather of the older Nelson version (the newer Nelson NKJV are better made though) of the NKJV, the Holman iteration has a beautiful but not overly showy trutone cover. Finally, I didn’t want to spend too much on yet another bible. The Holman was priced very economically and was well worth the modest price I paid for it.  I hope to be able to use it well into my old age.

The Holman NKJV (with gold gilded pages) has a beautifully simple trutone covering that won’t make you stand out in a crowd.

















So, in summary, there are many beautiful bibles available today; something to suit everyone’s taste, and for all occasions. My hope is that this short article will inspire others to begin a new study of the bible and to keep the words of our Creator alive and well in our hearts.




De Fideli.

My Wonderful Fastnewt 130 F5!

The extraordinary 130mm F/5 super travel ‘scope.

















A little over two years ago, I first began exploring the potential of a 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector. As you may recall, I was really quite impressed with what the telescope delivered for its very modest price tag, something I had come to expect after the very positive experiences I had had with a larger 204mm f/6 Newtonian for a whole year. Both telescopes were made by SkyWatcher, and had excellently figured parabolic mirrors with smooth, colour free optics. These collective experiences transformed my opinion of Newtonian reflectors, so much so that I have come to prefer them to my erstwhile favourite type of telescope; refractors.

The 130mm f/5 Newtonian is a very convenient telescope for travel and quick grab ‘n’ go excursions. Indeed, in one form or another, this telescope has travelled the length and breadth of the country with me and has never failed to deliver excellent views on all classes of celestial real estate. Over the 25 months I have owned it, it has clocked up well over 100 hours under the stars. Indeed, it was so easy and comfortable to use that I invested in making an already good ‘scope into a great one. I upgraded the flat to one of higher quality and had both mirrors treated with the best coatings money could buy. In previous blogs, I have described how I re−housed the open tube configuration into a more stable closed tube configuration with a better focuser. I also described how I lined the inside of the tube with cork before covering it with standard flocking material. All of the modifications were very cost−effective and, all in, set me back just a few hundred pounds.

I have enjoyed extraordinary success with the 130mm f/5 in my pursuit of double stars. It has resolved double stars down to 1.0” and elongated 0.9” pairs. And in recent months, I have been able to add a few more strings to my bow, including Iota Leonis and Eta Geminorum to name but two; systems that I found to be very difficult with top quality refractors of 4− and 5−inch pedigree under good, stable skies. Indeed, my notes confirm that on these and other high−resolution targets, the 130mm f/5 was more proficient than a 4−inch f/15 classical achromat, in violation of a tradition that hearkens back to the 19th century, and shattering forever the myth that good Newtonian reflectors cannot serve as first rate double star telescopes.

I can reaffirm the beneficial effects of insulating the tube of my 130mm reflector. My ongoing studies have shown that it significantly reduces tube currents while the ‘scope is acclimating, and in use, I have seen with my own eyes the beautiful, ultra−high magnification views of various tricky double and multiple stars. I would estimate that the insulating material consistently provides text book perfect images at the highest powers I have used with this telescope (over 400x on some objects during spells of good seeing) about 30 per cent more frequently. In addition, and as previously noted, the instrument is also an excellent lunar and planetary telescope for its size, as well as being a very satisfying deep sky instrument.

My success with double stars is particularly noteworthy, and I wanted to communicate another surprising advantage of using a small aperture Newtonian reflector like this. Anyone reasonably well acquainted with optics will tell you that as the f ratio of the primary mirror decreases, so too will the size of the field that is free of coma (an aberration that is particularly important to consider in high resolution double star work). So, conventional wisdom would say that an f/6 ‘scope will have a larger coma free field than an f/5 instrument and so on. But is this true? Surprisingly, the answer is “not exactly.” Let’s do the math to see what I mean.

The coma free field of a Newtonian system in millimetres, scales directly as the cube of focal ratio. Specifically;

The coma free field = 0.022 x f^3.

So, for my f/5 Newtonian we obtain a coma free field = 0.022 x 5^3 = 2.75mm.

Next, consider how this translates into true field.

True field in radians is given by; coma free field/ focal length.

Thus, expressed in radians, the true coma free field in the 650mm Newtonian will be:

(2.75/650) = 0.0042, and converting to angular degrees gives 0.0042 x 360/2pi = 0.24 degrees.

Consider next a typical high−power eyepiece used in double star divination. A popular choice I like to use is a Parks Gold series 7.5mm, coupled to a 3x Barlow lens, with an AFOV of about 50 degrees. This yields a power of 260 diameters in the 130mm f/5, so the coma free field at this enlargement is: 260 x 0.24 = 62.6 degrees!

This means that there is no coma to worry about across the entire field of view using this particular configuration. In contrast, if I were to use a 2.5mm Nagler or some such, offering an AFOV of 82 degrees, the periphery of the field would have some coma.  This observation helps explain why I have done so well using comparatively simple eyepieces!

Favourite double star tools: a Meade 3x Barlow (laevo) and a 7.5mm parks Gold ocular (right).

Curiously, we can do the same calculation for my 8” f/6 Newtonian, which has a focal length of about 1200mm, yielding 0.23 degrees; slightly smaller than offered by the 130mm f/5!

Another consequence of this result is that the coma free field will be proportionally smaller in larger instruments of the same f ratio. Consider my 12” f/5 Newtonian, for example. In comparative terms, a power of 260x will only deliver a coma free field of 26 degrees, which is only about 27 percent of the true field delivered by an ordinary 50 degree AFOV eyepiece.

This agrees with experience; to get the best images at 260x from my 12” f/5 , I have to keep the objects in the centre of the field to derive the best images.

                                                        On the Road

In need of a sturdy case.
















I’m a sentimental observer, and I have grown to love my 130mm f/5. I hope to travel further afield with it this coming summer, God willing, when our family will visit the south of Ireland. Here, I’ll hopefully be able to view Jupiter fully 5 degrees higher in the sky than I can at my adopted home here in Scotland. This will be about 8 weeks after it reaches opposition in May, but with the return of truly dark skies for a few hours at this more southerly latitude, I’m hoping that it will make a significant difference to the views. Fingers crossed eh!

For travel, as well as for just general storage of the instrument, I decided it was high time that I invested in a sturdy case for my “Fastnewt 130 F5.” I pulled the trigger earlier today by purchasing a decently priced aluminium flight case, with dimensions of 850 x 295 x 270mm. Here’s the link. I’m hoping this will give me enough room to store the telescope, finderscope, various eyepieces and Barlows, guide and note books etc for hassle free conveyance to our various destinations. As soon as it arrives, I’ll chime in again with news on how I get on with it.

March 9 2018

A fine looking case for my Fastnewt 130 F5.















A great case for a great telescope.


Well, the package containing my carry case finally arrived today after a delay of a few days owing to the dreadful weather of late. I’m delighted with it. It’s light weight and sturdy, and should fit the instrument as well as other stuff as I had planned. All I need to do now is cut the foam to size and I’m in business!

After supper I set to cut the foam. Here is the final result. I think it looks dapper!

Snug as a bug in a rug, ken.

















My new case has brought instant domestic dividends! You what mate? It’s got my wife off my case lol. You see, she’s always nagging me about how the Fastnewt 130 F5 clutters up our hallway. It was more or less permanently mounted on my Vixen Porta II from the day I acquired it. Now it has its very own space; a place prepared for it.

I was a bit over ambitious about just how much I expected to pack into the case. My guide and note books didn’t make the cut (excuse the pun lol); they’ll go with the general luggage; no sweat. There’s a silvery (foam) lining though; my home made flexi dew shield just sits ’round the optical tube, and the deep incisions I made to accommodate the finder ‘scope can also carry filters; a variety of kinds; polariser, colour and planetary. Because Jupiter will be low in the sky, colour filters, in particular, will help clean up the images. The polariser will serve me by day, cutting through glare.

March 10 2018

I am lucky enough to have acquired some very nice oculars over the years and have come to appreciate many of them. The f/5 optical system serves up very good images with fairly simple eyepieces, such as orthoscopics, Plossls and even Kellners (on axis). Some of my favourite eyepieces include my 32mm SkyWatcher Plossl, which is my main wide field eyepiece with the Fastnewt F 5, delivering a well corrected 2.5 degree true field; plenty big enough for the vast majority of deep sky objects. For medium power work, I enjoy the widefield options delivered by my Mark III Baader zoom (particularly at the 8 and 10mm settings), but also appreciate the more contrasty views served up by 6mm Baader orthoscopic as well as a 7.5mm Parks Gold eyepiece and a 10mm Orion Explorer II Kellner. For high power work, I am fully sated by amplifying these eyepieces using either a 2.25x or 3x Barlow.

The extra aperture afforded by the 130mm parabolic primary mirror takes grab ‘n’ go to a whole new level of experience; and that’s not a hyperbola! Five years ago, I may have been cajoled by articles like this, but having owned and used many small aperture refractors (including a Zenithstar 66 SD doublet & triplet, SkyWatcher ED 80, Takahashi FS 60C, TeleVue 76, Tele Vue Genesis (original f/5 fluorite model), Tele Vue 102, Skywatcher ED100, and even long (but still small apertured) Skylight 4″ f/15 and Moonraker 80mm f/15 achromats), to name a sizeable fraction, they were all vanities of sorts.

Newtonians alerted me to this rose−tinted, but ultimately delusional state. I just sensed something was wrong.  In contrast, I discovered an honesty in the Newtonian reflector that simply wasn’t there in other telescopes. You do get what you pay for, that’s for sure.  But from a purely visual perspective, you get a whole lot more with the Newtonian! I was seeing more details, capturing more light and extending my target base with the 130mm reflector. Denying or dismissing these facts is a vanity!

Faster, cheaper, better!

As stated in previous blogs, the Fastnewt 130 F5 is truly fast in other regards; most especially cool down. Indeed, (and unlike the Fastmax 180 F4.5) its open tube configuration and small mirrors ensure rapid acclimation without the need for fans and other active cooling systems. The provision of Bob’s Knobs on both the primary and secondary mirrors means I can fine tune collimation in seconds when the most exacting optical ‘syncing’ is called for.

As you may know, I am especially passionate about observing double stars. And the 130 F/5 Newtonian has turned out to be a fine instrument for teasing out pairs down to the theoretical limit imposed by its aperture. I enjoy watching such pairs and triplets moving through the field at ultra high powers. Here are a few sketches of systems I’ve just recently visited.

Iota Leonis: a tricky system in the southeastern quarter of Leo.

















A couple of other delicate systems as observed with the telescope.


The first drawing shows Iota Leonis, resolved using a 6mm Baader orthoscopic coupled to a Meade 3x Barlow delivering 318 diameters. The second set of drawings are of Mu Bootis(Alkalurops), a most delicate triple system, and Delta Geminorum (Wasat). These were imaged using my 7.5mm Parks Gold and 10mm Kellner, respectively, coupled to the same 3x Barlow. Over the last couple of years, I’ve managed a whole suite of difficult pairs with this telescope and it continues to go from strength to strength.

March 12 2018

I gave up on equatorial mounts after I quit doing CCD imaging and film astrophotography. I felt liberated in being able to find things using muscle power, eye and brain. No wires, battery packs, heavy counterweights and finicky cameras to think about. There is great virtue in such simplicity; it brings peace and joy in equal measure.

The Fastnewt 130 F5 sits pretty astride the Vixen Porta II mount. I have owned this piece of kit for about six years now and it has carried all manner of small and medium sized telescopes. It is an excellent match for this instrument and is gifted with slow motion controls. Over the years I’ve trained myself to use these controls to follow targets, even at very high powers. For example, during a recent excursion, I was following a double star target at 406x fairly comfortably  While looking through the telescope, I grasp both controls and make very gentle adjustments so as to keep the object centred, even in a very narrow field!

Faithful companion; my Vixen Porta II mount.

















This kind of work is equally amenable to sitting or standing modes. And it’s made possible by virtue of the close proximity of the focuser to both the azimuth and altitude controls. Such a configuration confers maximum stability for exacting, high power work.

Mechanically it’s been sound; strong, light−weight and modular, breaking down into easily stored and transportable components. It works in all seasons, and here in Scotland you really can experience all four in one day! But like any ole jenny, the Porta can have its moments. The plastic knobs of the slow motion controls have a habit of coming loose…..sometimes during very critical observing moments. That’s why I always check ’em over before beginning a vigil. Having said that, I am now looking into ways of improving these also. That said, there is such a thing as overdoing it; check out what this bloke did with his Porta lol.

The clever design of the Porta enables it to used in spotting ‘scope mode during daylight. I am enjoying my 10mm erecting eyepiece, which delivers a correctly orientated view at 65x with a 2mm exit pupil, but I’m equally enthralled at seeing the details of nature at super high powers, thanks to its superior light gathering power and resolution over a conventional spotter. When you’re using 150x and upwards, it matters little whether an object is upside down or rightside up. This is possible because my climate here does not (as a general rule) endure large diurnal temperature variations and that leads to stable air masses, allowing me to capture wonderful details of nature over distances up to a few hundred yards.

March 14 2018

Pi Day!

Stephen Hawking has gone to meet his Maker. The poor man suffered for so long, trapped in the prison of his wheelchair. May the Lord have mercy on his soul.

Once upon a time, I entertained a dream to have my very own observatory, but now that I’ve matured as an observer, I have little desire to create one. I’ll always have a mancave of sorts though, but not an observatory. My modus operandi is open air observing, using telescopes I can manage; so that confines me to instruments of 12 inches or smaller. I own all the telescopes I could possibly wish for in life. As I get older, I will likely use smaller telescopes more frequently, and the ultraportable Fastnewt 130 F5 will thus remain an important instrument in my arsenal. Right now, I’m in the prime of my life and can enjoy my 8 and 12 inch telescopes just as much as the 130. As good as the latter telescope is, there are many things in the firmament that are beyond its reach. There is a time and a place for them all.

Acquiring a solid tube for the optics at the heart of the 130mm f/5 has proven to be a good move. I can remove the instrument from its case and mount it with little in the way of collimation adjustment. Certainly, it is a great step up from the original Skywatcher Heritage 130P (open tube) in this regard, but with very little additional mass.

Corbie watching.

















I am very much enjoying using the telescope as my new spotting ‘scope for nature studies. It’s a pure joy to watch the noisy corbies that make their nests in the conifer trees near my house. The telescope produces beautiful, sharp images and even on a dull day like today its generous light gathering power makes such observations very worthwhile. You don’t miss a trick with a telescope like this! Sometimes they look straight at you and you can see the light in their eyes. I sometimes wonder whether they see me better than I see them!

The telescope also allows me to monitor the buds on the trees as Spring progresses. Horsechestnuts are among the first to bring forth their leaves ’round these parts. I can tell you that they’re well on their way, but will need a few warm, sunny days before we will see their full glory, draped in harlequin green.

Nature waits for no man.

I understand that some folk are reluctant to use Newtonians in terrestrial mode because the tube is open to the elements. But this too is a vanity. As I’ve described in a previous blog, Newtonian optics are easy to clean, and any dust that falls inside the telescope can be easily removed. I find cleaning the optics once or twice a year is plenty often enough. It’s not afraid of pollen, or dust, moisture or even an adventurous spider! Whatever makes its home on the optics or in the tube can be removed; no sweat.

March 15 2018

Well, the weather has taken another down turn. Hoping for some more clear skies, but no go, unfortunately. I do however have a wee treat for you; I found this review of a close kin of my 130mm Newtonian; enter the Vixen R130SF. This lady provided a good review of this telescope on a Porta II mount no less. The reader will note that no mods of any kind were made in this report, but I think you’ll agree that she ticks many of the boxes I have covered in my own exploration of this telescope.

March 17 2018

Lá ‘le Pádraig sona daoibh!

The Fastnewt 130 F5 has been tested in all weathers. I’ve enjoyed it at temperatures as low as minus 10C and as high as +25C. In general, the telescope performs better in milder weather but I have encountered textbook perfect images on many freezing cold nights.

When the weather is settled, I usually bring the instrument out from a warm, indoor environment and let it cool off to ambient temperature. Low powers can be enjoyed pretty much immediately, whereas medium power views (up to 100x say) are fine to explore after about 10 minutes. But for the most critical observations at very high powers, I usually give it at least 30 minutes.

In unsettled spells, such as those we are experiencing just now, I leave the telescope in a dry, unheated outhouse, so that it can be deployed at a moment’s notice. This is a strategy that works well for all kinds of telescopes. That way, I can enjoy the telescopic heavens even during the briefest of clear spells.

Like any other activity, preparation will always be your friend.

Time: 22:10 UT

Observing during a cold snap.

















The great French scientist, Louis Pasteur, was fond of saying, “chance favours the prepared mind.” I think this is true. Though the heavens declare that Spring is here; the weather says otherwise. Indeed, this is the coldest St. Patrick’s Day I can remember in many years. A biting easterly wind brought in more snow and temperatures struggled to rise above zero today. But I did get a short half hour spell this evening with the telescope between snow showers, and to my sheer delight I discovered that conditions were excellent. Northerly winds almost invariably bring turbulent air in this location, and quite often, those from the east are little better. But there are always exceptions. Shortly after 9 pm local time, I was able to visit a few of my favourite double stars; Polaris A & B, Theta Aurigae and Iota Cassiopeiae; old friends from the depths of space. Indeed the images served up were so good when the wind died down, I was able to make a recording of what the 130mm f/5 showed me at 183x. A telescope of this size will show a very delicate 1st Fraunhofer diffraction ring ’round Polaris A, a magnitude 2.0 star, together with its tiny spark of a companion. A similar looking system; Theta Aurigae, is significantly fainter; just +2.6. In contrast to brighter Polaris though, the first diffraction ring is much more subdued. It follows that fainter systems will show even less of their diffractive effects; a good thing when it comes to observing these beautiful, delicate wonders of nature.

Below is a pair of drawings I made to show these differences.































By 9:45 pm, the situation had deteriorated. The clear sky was gone and another snow shower had begun.

Still, it was good to get out, if only for a wee while!

March 23 2018

Time: 18:30 UT

The snow has gone and it’s beginning to look more springlike.

After attending a couple of students, I set up the Fastnewt 130 F5 in my garden near the closing of the day, in anticipation of a wonderfully placed 7 day old Moon. The Moon is especially good to observe in March and April, when we obtain the most magnificent displays of earthshine. It also gains altitude during the earlier points in its cycle. And while it has crossed the meridian by now, it is very high up in the sky and that means the chances are high that I will obtain beautiful images over a range of magnifications.


















The forecast promises to maintain clear skies well into the night, so I’ll have more opportunities of using the telescope; and not just on the Moon. If conditions are good, I’ll be able to resume my favourite passtime of double star observing. Fingers crossed!


Well, it was a bit of a mixed bag this evening. Conditions were rock steady but the sky became progressively more hazy as the evening went on. That said, the views of the Moon did not disappoint, especially earlier in the evening, when the haze was less obtrusive. As I mentioned in this and ealrier blogs, the Fastnewt 130 F5 delivers excellent views of the Moon and planets, when suitably placed, courtesy of its very decent aperture compared with more ‘traditional’ grab ‘n’ telescopes.. I recall with great fondness the wonderful images the telescope served up on Jupiter during last year’s opposition and even though its positioning in the coming months (it transits low in the sky about 4am at the moment) will be far less favourable than in 2017, I’m still very excited about seeing the giant world again through this telescope.

Hazy conditions often bring excellent, steady images. That much was clear when I visited some of the brighter double stars this eveing; Castor, Theta Aurigae, Algieba, Cor Caroli, Alula Australis, Mizar & Alcor and a few others.Newtonians rock when it comes to double stars and there are very encouraging signs that more and more amateurs are using these telescopes in their pursuit.

By 10:00pm local time, the haze became so dense that only a few of the brighter luminaries dierctly overhead were still visible. But not a bad innings nonetheless!

March 24 2018

I hope to employ the Fastnewt 130 f 5 in all the ways I’ve described for the rest of the spring and will report back after our trip to the Emerald Isle later this summer.

Thanks for keeping up with this blog.

Until then; farewell and best wishes to you all.



To be continued………..


De Fideli.

Changing Culture V: Using Newtonians in a Terrestrial Setting.

See the difference.

















In a previous blog, I described, in considerable detail, my enthusiasm for the lightweight but powerful 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector. This modest instrument beat the codpiece off a way overpriced 90mm ED apochromat which retailed for about £1,000 (and is now discontinued) on every test object. This little Newtonian has an excellent SkyWatcher parabolic mirror and the secondary was upgraded to an Orion Optics UK sourced unit, with a semimajor diameter of 35mm, thus delivering a moderate 27 per cent linear obstruction (so considerably smaller than a similarsized SCT or Maksutov). Both mirrors were also treated with Orion UK’s proprietary HiLux coatings, providing an overall reflectivity of 94 per cent. Further testing showed that it provided images that were effectively equal in brightness to a fine 127mm f/12 refractor (which has now been retired). The interior of the tube was lined with cork for improved insulation and then covered with standard flocking paper, maximising contrast and reducing stray light to near zero.

Such an instrument has provided excellent views of the heavens, from 20x in a 2.5 degree true field, to over 400x on very tricky double stars down to 1.0″ separation. During last year’s apparition of Jupiter, the 130mm f/5 Newtonian also proved its worth as a very capable planetary telescope. The instrument was also fitted with easytouse Bob’s Knobs on both the primary and secondary for ultraprecise collimation that takes just seconds to execute.

Newtonians need to be very well flocked to serve as effective terrestrial telescopes.

















It may come as a surprise to some readers to learn that this author spends as much time looking through telescopes by day as by night, and over the past few months, he has been using the 130 as a ‘super’ spotting ‘scope, where it has dlivered crisp, colourtrue images of a range of terrestrial targets, including, birds, trees and various manmade landmarks. This has led him to openly question the dominance of more conventional spotting ‘scopes (usually small refractors and catadioptrics). The only reservation I had while using the Newtonian for nature studies was that it delivered an image which was upside down and rightleft reversed. And while this ought not to bother a determined telescopist, some have dismissed the small Newtonian as a daytime spotting ‘scope precisely because of the orientation of its images. Yet, there are ways to produce correct orientation views through Newtonians and it doesn’t require expensive prism diagonals and the like; enter the Newtonian erecting eyepiece.

The SkyWatcher 10mm Newtonian erecting eyepiece.

















I was able to get hold of a 10mm focal length ocular marketed by SkyWatcher for less than £30. It has basic but effective antireflection coatings and appears to consist of a simple Kellner design with an extra lens inserted so as to invert the image at the focal plane and, unlike conventional refractor diagonals, it flips the image so that left and right are correctly presented.

The 10mm SkyWatcher erecting eyepiece has basic anti–reflection coatings.

















The eyepiece delivers a power of 65x, with a near 2mm exit pupil, which closely matches the diameter of my pupil during bright daylight. Optically, the unit delivers good, sharp images, with a welldefined field stop, although critical tests did reveal a small amount of lateral colour. Contrast is good but not quite in the same league as a dedicated astronomical eyepiece endowed with fully multicoated optics. Yet, it is more than adequate for casual nature studies.

The instrument can be focused on objects as near as 25 yards without adjusting the position of the ocular, but by moving the eyepiece further up the barrel, or using the supplied extension tube (pictured below),objects even closer to the telescope can be brought to a good focus.

The extender tube supplied with the 10mm SkyWatcher erecting eyepiece.

















Doing an internet search, I have also become aware of a 20mm model (supplied by Celestron with some of their smaller Newtonians), which would produce a power of 33x or so with the 130. This would be a useful addition for those wishing to extend the range of magnifications achievable with the telescope during daylight hours, and I will report back on this if I am lucky enough to find one.

Using the supplied extension tube allows the 130mm spotter to focus on objects as close as ten yards.

















So to summarise, there is absolutely no reason why observers possessing small Newtonian reflectors cannot use them in a variety of terrestrial applications. Their increased light grasp and resolution over conventional spotting ‘scopes and small refractors will both surprise and delight their users. The range of terrestrial eyepiece options available are quite limited at the moment (as far as I can tell) though, but I would warmly welcome the introduction of more models offering a greater range of magnifications, as well as improving the optical quality of these designs. But one thing is clear; using erecting eyepieces increases the verstaility of what is, already, a great, allround ‘scope.


Neil English is the author of Grab ‘n’ Go Astronomy.





De Fideli.

Some Experiments in Thermal Management with a Newtonian Reflector.

The author’s 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector enjoying a winter wonderland.


















As explained in earlier blogs, I have discovered, through extensive experience in the field, that Newtonian reflectors can render beautiful, colour free images of a wide variety of celestial objects, from the Moon and bright planets, to a wealth of bodies beyond the solar system. In my own niche area of double star observing, I found that a simple 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector resolved tighter pairs than a 90mm ED refractor and indeed, as deduced from my previous field notes, also exceeded the performance of a very fine 102mm f/15 classical achromat on good nights of seeing.

Refractors have a well earned reputation for garnering very stable images at the eyepiece, a consequence of the decent height of the entrance pupil above the ground, glass properties (crown & flint doublet objectives in particular), less intense tube currents and relatively small apertures which are quite often immune to the vagaries of the atmosphere. In comparison, reflectors can be rather temperamental. With their need for precise collimation and greater tendency to manifest thermal effects coupled to the (often) larger apertures employed in the field, Newtonians typically (but not always) serve up images significantly more unstable from moment to moment.

As I also explained before, this is not really a big issue for a seasoned observer, who has more than enough patience to remain observing long enough to ignore or wait for the disappearance  of these various bugs that attend the use of a good Newtonian telescope. That having been said, I elected to investigate the effects of some simple modifications that could potentially ameliorate the effects of tube currents in the 130mm f/5 Newtonian, so as to stabilise its images as much as possible.

This led me to investigate the effects of insulating the inside of the thin, rolled aluminium tube that houses the optics of this small Newtonian. My researches led me to explore the properties of cork; one of the best, natural and renewable insulators from the Creation.

I heard many a yarn recounted by veteran observers, that lining the inner tube with cork could dramatically dampen the effects of tube currents in Newtonian and compound telescopes. It seems to have originated sometime in the late 19th century or early 20th century, but in more recent years, some amateurs, whose work I trust, have also recommended cork as a suitable insulator for their telescope tubes.

The theory is fairly simple; the thin aluminium tube is an excellent conductor and radiator of heat. Indeed, under a clear sky, the temperature of a metal tube rarely tracks the ambient air temperature perfectly but instead can often fall off to a few degrees lower than the surrounding air during radiative cooling in the field. But by lining the inside of the tube with some kind of insulating material, one can keep this temperature differential between the aluminium tube and ambient air to a minimum.  This should create more stable images, especially at the highest powers, which would in turn make their visual study more profitable, as well as increasing their aesthetic appeal.

Materials & Methods

I checked out what types of cork were available and settled on the purchase of self adhesing cork sheet, which arrived promptly from the seller. Next, both the primary and secondary optics as well as the focuser were completely removed from the aluminium tube, which was then lined with the cork sheet.

Thin sheets of self adhesive cork can be purchased inexpensively from many retailers.

















Initially, I had just intended simply to paint the cork a flat black colour but was unconvinced that it was really dark enough to compare with regular flocking material. I therefore elected to cover the cork with the flocking material, which, in effect, would act like a double layer of insulation. After lining the tube with the cork overlaid with the flocking material, I also lined the drawtube of the focuser with more flocking material before putting the telescope back together again.  I was very pleased at the light dampening properties of the instrument  during daylight hours and noted that the images served up by the telescope were a little bit more contrasty than before the flocking material was added. The result is seen below:

The wonderfully dark interior of the telescope tube to improve image contrast.

















Finally, I was now ready to study the images of a variety of high resolution targets to see whether or not this tube insulation worked in practice. My tests were carried out over a number of winter evenings, where the ambient temperatures sometimes fell to −10C. Most of my observations were conducted on the evenings of January 18, 19, 20 and 24, but also included some shorter vigils during more unsettled spells. The telescope was given time to cool off to near ambient before commencement of observations.

The targets included some tricky double and multiple stars; theta Aurigae, delta Geminorum, iota Cassiopeiae, as well as  easier subjects like Castor A & B. In each case, I charged the telescope with a power of beween 260x and 406x diameters (so between 52 and 80x per inch of aperture) and the images studied as they moved across the field of view.


The carefully focused stellar images were very impressively presented in the telescope and appeared significantly calmer (read less susceptible to thermal degradation) as they moved across the field, their forms morphing significantly less than I had previously noted in the uninsulated tube. Indeed, during these vigils I enjoyed some of the finest images  yet garnered from this modest telescope. Specifically, the stellar Airy disks were much more in keeping with those I have enjoyed during the milder months of Spring and Summer. I was able to pick off faint and close companions much more easily and efficiently than I can remember when using the same optics in previous winters. The activity of insulating the inner metal tube most definitely improved the images from moment to moment, allowing me to enjoy their perfect forms for longer.

Further Comments

My correspondence with some highly experienced observers also alerted me to other ways tube currents could be minimised or even completely abated in Newtonians, including housing the optics in an oversized tube, constructing non cylindrical tubes (think hexagonal designs) and using active mirror cooling. A combination of all these strategies have been shown to improve image stability in reflectors and are well worth investigating in their own right. They will surely make an already good telescope into an excellent one.

I intend to insulate my larger Newtonians in the same way, and in due course.


The author would like to thank Martin Mobberley and Garyth64 for interesting discussions on cork.



Collins Stars & Planets (5th Edition): Book Review.

The new edition ( October 2017) of a favourite observing guide.

















Collins Stars & Planets (5th Edition, October 2017)

Publisher: William Collins

Authors: Ian Ridpath & Wil Tirion

ISBN: 978 000 823927 5

Book size: 400 pages

Retail Price: £19.99 (UK)

The urge to study the sky transcends national boundaries, and so it should. The skies are open to us all.

pp 2

It’s been ten long years since I last purchased my field guide to the stars: Ian Ridpath & Wil Tirion’s 3rd edition of Stars & Planets. Travelling with me the length and breadth of the country and also on a few overseas trips, this pocket sized guide has proven indispensable for my grab and go excursions under the night sky. Alas, the wear and tear over the last decade is now definitely showing. The binding has now come loose and the pages have become heavily soiled from excessive handling. So, I figured it was high time that I got a new copy of this well received volume, and was delighted to see that it was now in its 5th edition (October 2017).

Stars & Planets is the result of a fruitful collaboration between the British amateur astronomer, Ian Ridpath, and an illustrator, Wil Tirion, living in Holland. In keeping with earlier editions, the first two thirds of the work consists of comprehensive maps of the night sky (both northern and southern hemispheres being readily presented) as they appear from month to month. In addition you will find fairly simple maps of all 88 constellations that grace the night sky, together with a list of interesting objects; some brief mythology, as well as notes on their brightest stars and deep sky objects within reach of a small backyard telescope. The full panoply of celestial objects are represented, including  a suite of pretty double stars, open clusters, emission nebulae, globular clusters, the brighter galaxies and planetary nebulae.  What particularly attracted me to the earlier edition was the relative simplicity of the maps; they were clearly designed to be used in the field where they present the basic outline of each constellation, as seen with the naked eye from a reasonably dark country sky. This enables one to easily ‘star hop’ from one object to the next. Striking a balance between adequate content and clear presentation, it is ideally suited to casual observing, adopting a low tech (my particular favourite) approach.

Each constellation shows the main deep sky objects accessible to an observer with a small, backyard telescope or binoculars.


















I was delighted to see that the latest edition retained this same format, only that the maps are now presented with noticeably better contrast against a darker blue sky background. The introduction is filled with basic but very comprehensible facts to help you make sense of how the sky ‘works,’ as well as providing excellent notes on star names (both common and the Greek lettering system), how the planets move in the sky as well as such interesting topics as precession of the equinoxes. The final one third of the book covers information on practical astronomy, including a no frills overview of telescopes and binoculars, observing double and variable stars, comets and meteorites, the Sun, and the planets, including a brief overview of sky transparency and astronomical seeing. Here you will also find a very well laid out section on lunar observing, with plainly presented maps of the particular lunar sections that can observed as it grows from a thin crescent through to full Moon.

Overall, the content is ideally suited to those having small telescopes (60mm to 100mm aperture) and binoculars, with virtually all the objects being well seen with a telescope of just 6 to 8 inches in aperture. The volume is handsomely illustrated throughout, with very high quality images of a wide variety of heavenly bodies; both in the solar system and far beyond. While these are strictly not necessary in a field guide, they certainly improve the overall attractiveness of the book. My only criticism of the work is that the binding is the same as in earlier editions, and so will surely come loose with extensive handling. It would have been better to produce this with a simple ring or sewn binding for greater durability in the field.

For busy grab ‘n’ go observers.

















Overall, I highly recommend this book as a conveniently small (for travel) but excellent field guide to the night sky that will be appreciated by either novices or seasoned observers alike. It’s strength lies with its simplicity and will keep a busy amateur happy for many years.



Neil English’s ambitious new historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, will be publised later this year.



De Fideli.

The War on Truth: The Trouble with Astronomy Journalism.

A product of an overactive imagination? Artist’s impression of an alien Dyson Sphere.












For this is what the Lord says—
he who created the heavens,
    he is God;
he who fashioned and made the earth,
    he founded it;
he did not create it to be empty,
    but formed it to be inhabited—
he says:
“I am the Lord,
    and there is no other.

                                                       Isaiah 45:18

“Life should not exist. This much we know from chemistry. In contrast to the ubiquity of life on earth, the lifelessness of other planets makes far better chemical sense.” So wrote Jim Tour, W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Computer Science, and Professor of Materials Science and Nano Engineering at Rice University in a recent publication. Tour has been rated as one of the top ten chemists in the world at the moment and is very likely to become a Nobel Laureate for his ground–breaking work in synthetic organic chemistry.

All the while, when one reads popular news articles on the question of life on other planets the standard response is, “there must certainly exist life on other worlds…the odds stacked against it are astronomical.” Of course, when one examines the credentials of the folk making these claims, one invariably discovers that they have little advanced science training (and that goes for the editors of pretty much all extant astronomy magazines, whether conventional or on the internet). In other cases, we have astronomers making bold claims about life on other worlds but they too raise issues in my mind (they’re not generally trained in the molecular life sciences for one thing). What is more, they wish to promote their own world view; that the Copernican Principle (explained below) applies to all things, life included, and more often than not, to sensationalise a topic that has been known to sell a book or two in the past. In addition, just stating that life may be common in the Universe is sure to boost their chances of securing additional research funding too.

How are we to arrive at the truth of these opposing views? For me, I would always default to the true experts in the field, and in this particular case, this means siding with the folks who actually know what is entailed from a chemical standpoint. In another highly informative essay, Professor Tour continues;

“Life requires carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins. What is the chemistry behind their origin? Biologists seem to think that there are well-understood prebiotic molecular mechanisms for their synthesis. They have been grossly misinformed. And no wonder: few biologists have ever synthesized a complex molecule ab initio. If they need a molecule, they purchase molecular synthesis kits, which are, of course, designed by synthetic chemists, and which feature simplistic protocols.

Polysaccharides? Their origin?

The synthetic chemists do not have a pathway.

The biologists do not have a clue.”


Did you read that? Tour claims the biologists don’t have a clue! He’s correct, of course, since few biologists have a working understanding of advanced chemistry (or physics for that matter) and yet there is never a mention of Dr. Tour’s cautionary take on whether or not life is to be expected on other planets in any popularised narratives on the topic of extra–terrestrial life. They simply don’t want to know!

What the public invariably gets is naturalistic propaganda and not a true education.

Tour’s timely communications dovetail very nicely with other calls for restraint from within the Christian community. Drs. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, of Reasons to Believe, produced a ground–breaking work, “Origins of Life: Evolutionary and Biblical Models Faceoff, in which they pointed out the biggest criticism of the validity of prebiotic chemistry to chemical evolution was the scientists’ own data! Put simply, in perusing the materials & methods section of their peer reviewed scientific papers, they were able to show that pretty much every step the chemists make in creating a biologically relevant molecule was itself the product of intelligent design; the reactants were bought in in highly purified states, protected in highly specific environments (buffers and solvents), with particular pH values and optimal temperature regimes, the products carefully selected by stopping and starting reactions and isolating potential inhibitors to these reactions. Interestingly, the leading authorities in prebiotic chemistry have acknowledged these claims as valid. And yet, if you were to pick up the latest issue of a monthly astronomy magazine or online space science article, there is never any mention of these important criticisms. The public, once again, are left none the wiser. You see, one has to find stuff like this.

All this leads to a rather shocking conclusion; it is scientifically naïve to expect life to exist on other planets without the intervention of an intelligent agency being involved.

                                   Questioning Evolutionary Assumptions

The general public are used to having Darwinian evolution shoved down their throat, as if it were a science as towering and self–confident as chemistry or physics. But very few of the general public understand that, of all the sciences, it is Darwinian evolution that generates perhaps the greatest number of sceptics. While some scientists have rejected evolutionary theory having studied it to an advanced level, most critics of Darwinism come from outside the field; not surprisingly from physical scientists, engineers and the like. They point out that the origins of life are not at all understood and that the fossil record is woefully incomplete and has more to do with guesswork than anything else. A growing armada of scientists now accept that Darwinian evolution is not fit for purpose in this age of rapid scientific progress. And these doubts weigh heavily on the debate of whether or not life is common in the Universe. But there’s more.

Over the last quarter of a century, whole teams of scientists have pushed back the date to the likely origin of life to just a few hundred million years or less, from the formation of the Earth. What is more, studies on microfossils discovered within the Earth’s most ancient rocks, as well as state of the art chemical analyses of the various biomarkers within these structures show that as soon as life took hold on Earth, it was already biochemically sophisticated and extraordinarily diverse. While some journalists have used these emerging facts as ‘evidence’ that the origin of life must be easy from a naturalistic point of view, they refuse to consider another, and far more pressing point: the fact that life very likely began complex; both structurally and biochemically, it could not have evolved in the sense conveyed by contemporary evolutionists. But, yet again, there is no mention of these important developments in the popular literature. One magazine editor I approached about this issue sent me this clip as “evidence for evolution.” After enjoying a good giggle, this author duly responded by asserting that this was not science at all but pure fiction! So, what’s going on?

                                         Sweeping under the Carpet

One could pretend that contemporary biological science might be likened to the status of physics in the late nineteenth century, but it’s actually a lot worse than that. There’s a distinct chance that we will never discover the secret of life. You see, living things are mind bogglingly complex. Nobody understands them! What is clear is that the Darwinian status quo cannot continue to exist for much longer. A new paradigm is clearly required to advance the biological sciences. Many scientists now consider information to be at the centre of this potentially revolutionary era in biology.

                                           Challenging the Copernican Principle

The Copernican principle, stated simply, is that the Earth and its constituents does not hold any privileged position in the grand scheme of things and that everything we observe will have its analogues on other worlds. Back in 2000 though, palaeontologist, Peter Ward, and astronomer, Donald Brownlee, published a highly influential book, Rare Earth; why Complex Life may be Uncommon in the Universe, in which they set forth compelling evidence that although microbial life might be common, complex multicellular life ought to be far rarer than anyone had anticipated. Since then however, other excellent books have emerged including John Gribbin’s Alone in the Universe; Why our Planet is Unique (2011) and more recently still, Hugh Ross’ technically excellent tome, Improbable Planet (2016), in which they make the case that the Earth has many features that appear uniquely suited to supporting complex lifeforms. And to top it all, Professor Brian Cox, in his BBC production: Human Universe, also explains why humans are likely the only advanced lifeforms in the entire cosmos. And yet, despite the soundness of their arguments, it is rare (if at all) that the mainstream media will ever present this picture, simply because they run the risk of possibly alienating their readers. Instead, they peddle the same old mantra of life being common in the Universe. But what does the emerging scientific picture attest to?

To date, several thousand exoplanets (worlds orbiting other stars) have been characterised and while some have earth–sized planets, it is quite a leap of faith to conclude that they are habitable. Most commonly, the reporters make the point that the planet in question lies in that narrow annulus around its parent star, where liquid water could potentially be stable (the so–called habitable zone). But this is a far cry from making a planet habitable. And yet all the while, performing a google search of an article on exoplanets within their habitable zones invariably brings up images of fictional worlds graced with blue water oceans, white clouds and conveniently placed continents; figments of someone’s overactive imagination no doubt. Ross’ work in particular has also identified not one habitable zone, where liquid water could remain stable for long periods, but several other conditions that must be present if complex animal life is to be maintained over periods of several billion years.

Collectively, these new habitable zones include;

Water habitable zone

Ultraviolet habitable zone

Photosynthetic habitable zone

Ozone habitable zone

Planetary rotation rate habitable zone

Planetary obliquity habitable zone

Tidal habitable zone

Astrosphere habitable zone


All of these must overlap for a planet to sustain complex life over billions of years. Thus, seen in this light, it is highly probable that an Earth–like world is either extraordinarily rare or even unique, even in a cosmos containing quadrillions of planets. But you’d never hear that from the purveyors of methodological naturalism. In addition, a recent study suggests that the cosmos is poor in the vital element, phosphorus, making life on other planets that much more unlikely.

                                                   Stagnating Real Science

Taken together, these simple points paint an entirely different picture of what we should expect in searching for life on other worlds. Late in 2018, NASA will launch their giant infrared space telescope, the greatly anticipated James Webb, which will have the technology to chemically characterise the atmospheres of many exoplanets discovered to date. Will they find the signatures of life? Personally, I’m sceptical, given the truth about what we have thus far discovered about life on our own planet. But in the meantime, it would be fruitful for science writers reporting on such matters to present a more balanced case, both for and against such claims. Maybe then, they’ll be a bit more cautious about entertaining such fantastic objects as Dyson Spheres (KIC 8462852) and visiting inter–stellar spacecraft (Oumuamua). The industry owes that to its readers.

 An Aside:   A Christian Perspective on Extra—terrestrial Intelligence

As both a Christian and a scientist, I have thought deeply about such questions and have reached some working conclusions to help me grapple with these thought provoking concepts. As a scientist, I am sceptical of the evolutionary paradigm (though some Christians appear to accept it) as it has little in the way of explanatory power. Furthermore, I believe it to be an evil ideology that seeks to turn people away from the true God. The fact that we have not detected signs of advanced alien lifeforms despite having searched the heavens for over a half a century affirms my belief that Darwinian evolution is bogus; life must come from a mind and must be created for some specified purpose. But there is also a number of theological reasons why I think life is either extraordinarily rare or unique to Earth. This view has been shaped by a prolonged study of the Bible. It may surprise the reader that the vast majority of people who profess to be Christians have not read the Bible through, from cover to cover, even once, and so may not have developed the nuanced argument quite like the one I wish to present here.

The first point I’d like to make is that the Biblical God appeared in human form in the character of Jesus of Nazareth.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

The New Testament states in multiple places that Jesus “died once for all” (see Romans 6:10 for an example). This suggests that Jesus came to redeem sinful humans and not other creatures. Humans are the only creatures that God came to redeem.

The next point is that the Bible makes it crystal clear that the only deity we will see in heaven is Christ;

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

Thirdly, the Bible seems very clear about where the Lord, the Creator of the Universe, will establish His throne; in Jerusalem, before He brings this Universe to an end;

At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.

Jeremiah 3:17

Fourthly, the Bible informs us that the Universe will be consumed in fire:

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Peter 3:7

So, it would be unjust of God to destroy other putative lifeforms elsewhere in the Universe for mankind’s rebellion. And since God is completely just and holy, He would not cause other parts of His creation to suffer needlessly. That would make Him a monster.

Finally, the Bible speaks of Christ as a “bridegroom” and His church a “bride”;

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
 it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

                                                                                                Revelation 19:6-8

Here we have a fidelity issue. Time and time again through the pages of Scripture, the Lord condemns infidelity and encourages faithfulness to one wife or husband. Thus, if the church is to be considered as the ‘bride of Christ’, then the ‘bridegroom’ ought to be faithful and not seek or acquire ‘other brides’ elsewhere in the cosmos. After all, God is not a polygamist! Shouldn’t loyalty be reciprocal, working both ways?

For these and other reasons, the uniqueness of humankind as imagers of God (see Genesis 1:27) makes it very difficult to envision other creatures on par or superior to humans in the physical Universe (though it does not rule out the possibility that he created lesser creatures). We are either the crown of His creation or we are not (see Hebrews 2:7). That’s not to say that God did not create other forms of sentient beings; consider the Angelic realm, for example.

Seen in this way, the alarming degree to wish people will go to wish their sovereignty away deeply concerns me. It strikes me as an elaborate, postmodern manifestation of paganism; a grandiose scientistic delusion. I worry that God will disown them, just as they have disowned Him. Naturalistic science serves to undermine mankind’s significance by turning him into a ‘highly evolved animal’, distinguished only in degree from the rest of the animal kingdom. I believe this to be demonstrably false and envision the next decade or so as continuing to affirm our uniqueness in this vast cosmos in which we ‘serendipitously’ find ourselves in.

Return to the Lord and serve Him with all your heart, soul, mind and spirit before it’s too late.


Dr. Neil English, who was trained in both the biological and physical sciences, is author of several books on amateur astronomy and space science. His new book; Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, will be published later this year.


De Fideli.





Long Focus Redux: A Spell with the Orion SpaceProbe 3 Reflector.

The Orion SpaceProbe 3 altazimuth reflector in British racing green. In a word: awesome!

















Dedicated to Lars Filipsson


Tuesday December 5 2017

The Orion Spaceprobe 3 reflector package arrived in the early afternoon in perfect nick. It was purchased from deliberately so as to test whether such a company would deliver the product in good condition. The telescope was double boxed and each of the components were further packaged away safely in separate smaller boxes.  All items received looked fine.

The product arrived well packed with no damage.
















The optical tube assembly was protected with bubble wrap.
















The tripod had foam between the legs to prevent their movement during travel.

















All in, the instrument cost just over £70 delivered to my door. I could have opted for an even cheaper rendition of the ‘scope but I went with Orion USA because they have the telescope made to their own specifications, and that includes the addition of quality accessories; namely two good 1.25″ eyepieces; a 25mm and 10mm (probably modified achromats) with good antireflection coatings applied to their lens components, delivering powers of 28x and 70x, respectively.

Two superior quality oculars came with the Orion SpaceProbe 3.

















There were no junk Barlows with this package (a great relief compared with other entry level telescopes). I also received a collimation cap, a Philips screwdriver, a red dot EZ finder, an excellently written instruction manual and leaflet to enable me to download Starry Night software. The telescope also came with a one year limited warranty, so I could return it were I to find any of the components to be defective.

The telescope was easy to assemble and took just about 20 minutes of my time.

My first test was to see if the telescope delivered sharp images out of the box. A newcomer would be very disappointed if he/she found that it did not work as advertised. To my great relief (and joy too), the instrument delivered very sharp images with both eyepieces, so all was well.

One especially neat feature of the telescope was that the primary mirror came centre spotted, which greatly facilitates with accurate collimation. That was another reason I opted for the Orion model; some youtube presentations of other incarnations of the telescope did not appear to show this feature on the primary but carefully studying this video allowed me to glimpse this important feature, and I thereby reasoned that there would be a good chance of finding one on my model. My luck paid off.

Inserting a laser collimator into the eyepiece holder showed what my sneak peek observations confirmed; the telescope was quite well collimated in the factory and only needed slight tweaking of the primary and secondary mirrors (using the supplied screwdriver) before it was absolutely perfectly aligned. The entire exercise took just a minute or two and was easy to conduct.

The well written instruction manual has instructions on how you can tweak the collimation on the telescope using the screwdriver and collimation cap supplied with the ‘scope.

The telescope was found to be nearly perfectly collimated, as evidenced by the position of the red dot near the centre of the mirror.


















The fact that the instrument was well collimated didn’t actually surprise me, as the system has a larger relative aperture. At f/9.2, good collimation ought to be easily held.

Fine collimation is rendered very easy using the protruding screws on the primary mirror cell and the supplied Philips screwdriver.


















I elected to use the telescope using my own 6 x 30mm achromatic finder as well as not engaging the altitude bevel. Simply adjusting the altitude tension on the knobs on the mount head was good enough to provide just the right amount of tension.  I did check to see if both of these worked, by the way; and they did as advertised. I also chose not to attach the accessory tray, as this would enable me to collapse the tripod at a moment’s notice and store it away when not in use.

The telescope atop its altazimuth mount is very lightweight and can easily be lifted with three fingers. I moved the instrument to my back garden and gave it a few minutes to acclimate more fully in the cool, overcast daylight. Although lightweight, the aluminium tripod is quite strong and stable; a good match to the featherlight mass of this telescope. Motions in azimuth and altitude were smooth and hassle free, even using higher powers. Mechanically, I was very impressed at how well the instrument was shaping up.

The simple rack & pinion focuser  operated smoothly and can be adjusted so as to tighten or loosen it as desired. Applying the laser test showed that collimation remained stationary throughout its travel; neat!

The telescope has a good rack & pinion focuser that operates smoothly and accommodates 1.25″ eyepieces.


















As previously stated, I chose not to use the supplied EZ finder as they are pretty useless for anything dimmer than 1st or 2nd magnitude stars. I quickly found a 6 x 30mm unit that attached easily to the telescope and which did not clash too much with the colour scheme of the rest of the instrument. This is a much better option going forward, as it allows me to aim in on much fainter stars from my dark, rural sky.

Close up of the finder I mated to the ‘scope; note the matching colour and texture of the finder bracket with the focuser and rim of the optical tube assembly. Schmokin’ !

















Preliminary Optical Testing

The supplied oculars delivered extremely sharp views of distant trees at 28x and 70x. Contrast was excellent. I decided to push the telescope using the supplied 10mm ocular and a 2.25x Barlow. The result was truly astounding! But to be specific; the image remained razor sharp at this power (that’s 158x for your information) across the entire field. To be honest, I was a bit shocked and called a few of my neighbours to have a look. They agreed with me; the images were unreasonably excellent!

But I went even further; I attached my 7.5mm Parks Gold eyepiece to the 2.25x Barlow which increased the power still more to 210x. Amazingly, though the image was fast running out of light, owing to its small aperture, it was still tack sharp and full of detail!

This telescope appears to have astoundingly good optics for the very modest price I paid to acquire it!

This agrees with the findings of Lars Filipsson et al, who kindly alerted me to this ‘scope, as well as those of the American gentlemen on the youtube presentation highligted above. It also jibes well with the findings of the veteran observer(a Newtonian specialist) and Sky & Telescope reviewer, Gary Seronik, who gave the same instrument a 4 star rating. Former S & T associate editor, Tony Flanders, also liked the telescope.

Based on this preliminary testing; I can confidently recommend this telescope to beginners on a tight budget. Here’s a link to the amazon site I purchased it from.

How did they do it? What’s going on?

A perfectly shaped 76mm spherical mirror forms the heart of this instrument.

















Nae chance of starlight or moonlight this evening; very cloudy unfortunately

Wednesday December 6 2017

It is noteworthy that in his field tests, Seronik rated the SpaceProbe 3 reflector above that of a classic 70mm refractor. Indeed, concerning the former, he wrote that it was just a “nice telescope. It provided sharp images and was a joy to use.” What is more, only the larger aperture 4.5″ reflectors rated higher than the little long focus 3 inch reflector. As explained in a previous post, a mirror with a parabolic shape is the ideal form for a Newtonian, as it effectively negates the effects of spherical aberration. But for small mirrors (less than 5 inches or so), a spherical mirror can generate good images if the focal length is made sufficiently long. We need not enter into a technical consideration of these tolerances only to say that at f/9.2, the differences between a parabolic and spherical mirror are negligible, especially for a 3 inch aperture.

Of course, there are other advantages of long focal length systems. All aberrations get smaller as the f ratio increases, allowing even inexpensive eyepieces to work well. Traditional aberrations considered in Newtonians, such as coma and field curvature, are vastly reduced at f/9.2 compared with say, a comparable f/4 system. That’s why inexpensive eyepieces won’t work well in the f/4 Starblast but will perform admirably at f/9.2. Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to testing this telescope under the stars but that can’t happen until conditions improve.

With a focal length of 700mm, the instrument can deliver pleasingly wide fields with inexpensive eyepieces of long focal length. One obvous choice is my 32mm Plossl, which should serve up a power of 22x in a 2.3 degree field. That’s perfectly adequate for the vast majority of larger deep sky objects, so the instrument should give very pretty views during low power sweeps.

Thursday, December 7 2017

The Spaceprobe 3 telescope set up for more daylight tests.

















After a very wet and cloudy day yesterday, I was able to resume more daylight testing of the SpaceProbe 3 telescope this afternoon in much colder and brighter conditions.

I have been enjoying the two eyepieces that came with the instrument, both of which are labelled as “Explorer II” oculars. Conducting more tests at high powers, I can reaffirm that the optical quality of the telescope is excellent; noticeably sharper and brighter than a typical long focus 60mm achromat or shorter focus ED apochromat of the same aperture( 60mm).

The supplied oculars are very good but could do with a Barlow lens to extend powers when required.





Because the maximum magnification yielded by the supplied 10mm ocular is only 70x, I would recommend that users consider the purchase of a decent Barlow lens to increase the range of magnifications one can achieve in the field. For example, a 2x Barlow inserted ahead of the eyepiece(see the above image) will boost the power to 140x when used with the 10mm eyepiece and a 3x Barlow will give 210x. The higher powers, of which this small telescope appears eminently capable of, will come in handy when viewing the Moon, planets and close double stars. A 2x Barlow will also boost the power of the 25mm Explorer II eyepiece to 56x.  I would avoid the cheapest models though; try to go with a multicoated Barlow that will cost £30 or more new. Alternatively, you can always search the buy/sell websites in your country where you can pick up decent second hand models for not a lot of money.

With the tripod fully extended, the SpaceProbe 3 reflector is raised quite a bit off the ground allowing comfortable standing viewing for an adult, but the legs can be collapsed to allow a child or a seated adult easy access to the eyepiece. Newtonian reflectors are much more comfortable to observe with compared with refractors or Maks, especially when viewing objects at greater altitude above the horizon. And greater comfort means that one can engage better with the images garnered by the instrument so that they can be studied for longer.

Time: 21:45 to 22:15 UT

Seeing: III, clouds clearing gradually leaving a clear sky, more sleet and snow showers due overnight, waning gibbous Moon rising in the east.

Temperature: 0C

I enjoyed my first light under a dark sky with the Orion SpaceProbe 3 altazimuth reflector and it continues to impress. I inserted my lowest power ocular (a 32mm Plossl) and aimed it at Capella now high up in the eastern sky. The telescope focused this creamy white star down to a tiny, brilliant pinpoint. The first thing I noticed was how the astigmatism that is present in my observing eye did not manifest itself as it does with my faster reflectors (with focal ratios of 5 and 6) using the same eyepiece. I did not need my glasses to correct it. Moving the star from the centre to the edge of the field I was deeply impressed with how the focused stellar image did not become distorted. It reminded me very much of the views I grew fond of in my classical refractors. F/9.2 is a great place to be in a reflector!

From there, I moved to the Pleiades, now becoming more prominent in the sky as the hazy cloud dissipated. The image was just charming! A host of blue white fireflies glistening in the frosty winter sky. Increasing the power to 70x using the 10mm Explorer II eyepiece supplied with the instrument, I examined the 70x images of Albireo, now low in the west. The Airy disks were round and rich in natural colour; golden and blue. From there, I visited Almach much higher up and once again the lovely colour contrast pair was well resolved. Lifting the telescope with one hand, I moved from the back garden on to the front lawn and focused in on Castor A and B; a beautiful sight in this little telescope. I then tested the high power perfomance of the telescope by coupling my 2.25x Baader shorty Barlow to the 10mm Explorer II eyepiece delivering 158x. Both the A and B components focused down to hard, round Airy disks. I could not see any distortions in the image. Just beautiful round disks surrounded by a faint diffraction ring. The image remained equally sharp at 210x when I exchanged the 10mm with my Parks Gold 7.5mm.

Though the tlescope on its mount is very lightweight, I was still able to track this star system quite easily at the highest powers. I’m learning how to adjust the tension in the altitude axis so as to keep the system in the field of view for prolonged periods of time as I do with my other telescopes on their respective mounts.

So far, so very good! Now waiting for the Moon to rise higher in the sky; pretty excited with the prospect of seeing our natural satellite in this fine little telescope.

Friday December 8 2017

Time: 00:30UT

Just got in from a spell of Moon gazing with the SpaceProbe 3. I can confirm what the American gentleman said about this telescope in his youtube video clip and associated review; it’s an awesome lunar telescope! The 10mm Explorer II eyepiece with 2.25x Barlow produced a wonderfully sharp image of the lunar regolith at 158x. I pushed it some more using my Parks Gold 7.5mm (so 210X) and the image remained very sharp and with excellent contrast!

Isn’t modern mass produced technology wonderful!

Time: 12:30UT

I ventured outdoors again this afternoon to enjoy the high power views of the SpaceProbe 3 reflector. On these short and cold days, sunlight is a precious commodity and I especially savour the images of the tree tops that catch the rays of a feeble Sun. 210x is worth seeing in this telescope!

Based on what I’ve witnessed so far, there is another group of amateurs that would greatly benefit from experiencing this telescope; those that profess ‘advanced’ telescope knowledge and/or insist on procuring gear of the highest quality. For a fraction of the cost of one high end eyepiece, you can experience for yourself the virtues of this little telescope. I dare say, it would do you the world of good to do so!

We’re away for another short vacation this weekend. Hope to resume my observations with the Orion reflector upon my return.

Sunday December 10 2017

Tayside panoroma on an idyllic winter day. Shot taken from outside our hotel, shortly before midday, local time. The picturesque Kingdom of Fife lies just across the water.

After a great weekend of leisure and Christmas shopping in the city of Dundee in the northeast of Scotland, we arrived home at dusk (about 4pm local time) and after setting the fire, I ventured out on what proved to be the coldest night of the year so far to conduct more tests with the Orion SpaceProbe 3 reflector.

TIme: 16:40 UT

Temperature: −7C

Seeing: III, a tad below average, despite excellent transparency and a cloudless sky.

Left: the 130P Newtonian and right, the little 3 inch Orion SpaceProbe spying Epsilon Lyrae.

















Fielding both my 130P and SpaceProbe 3, I turned them on Epsilon Lyrae and charged them with a power of about 150x (10mm Explorer II ocular and 2.25x Baader shorty Barlow. Both telescopes resolved the four stars of this famous test multiple star system. The split was much more convincing in the larger 130P, as expected, but it was also well resolved in the 76mm reflector.

From there, I swung the telescopes eastward into Cassiopeia and centred Iota in the instruments. Again, I was rewarded with good results; the little Orion SpaceProbe 3 did manage to resolve all three components at the same magnifications but, as I expected, the image was brighter and more effectively resolved by the larger 130P telescope.

Time: 23:00 UT to 23:40UT

Temperature: −6C

With the Pleiades near the meridian by now, I tested the 32mm Plossl out in the same instruments. The 130P, with its shorter focal length, served up the larger true field (2.5 degrees) but the SpaceProbe also framed the entire cluster well using the same eyepiece (the Pleiades subtends a true field of about 2 angular degrees), albeit in a slightly smaller field of view. This time, I looked for vignetting at the outer edge of the field in the 76mm Orion reflector and felt that although a small amount was present at the extremities it wasn’t a big deal. The telescope certainly provides a generous maximum true field of view for beginners and more experienced individuals too.

By lowering the back leg of the Orion tripod, greater altitudes can be reached.

















By now, the Double Cluster (Caldwell 14) in Perseus was nearly overhead. Others have reported that the little 3 inch reflector cannot quite reach the zenith because the tube bumps into the tripod. Although this is true, I did find that lowering one of the legs of the tripod allowed me to increase the pointing altitude of the telescope a wee bit more, and I was finally able to view these magnificent objects using both the 32mm Plossl and the supplied 25mm Explorer II ocular. The view in both eyepieces was very beautiful in the little telescope but I did find the latter to be more compelling, as it delivered the slightly higher power and framed the clusters that little bit better.

Left, my 80mm f/5 achromat and right, the Orion SpaceProbe 3 trained on Rigel, now near the meridian.

















Next I fielded my 80mm f/5 achromatic against the Orion SpaceProbe 3, comparing the view of Rigel (Beta Orionis) now approaching the meridian. Though there was quite a bit of turbulence at this lower altitude, I was able to just resolve the faint companion at 166x in the ShortTube 80 using my 2.4mm HR eyepiece and at 158x (10mm Explorer II and 2.25x Baader shorty Barlow) in the 76mm reflector. The 80mm refractor image was that little bit brighter though, which didn’t present as too unexpected.

These results show that the inexpensive Orion telescope can resolve higher resolution systems when pushed to higher powers. Adequate cooling and careful collimation are always your friends in this endeavour.

Monday December 11 2017

A snow covered Ben Lomond, as seen on the morning of December 11, just a few miles from my home.

Time: 12:50UT

The icy weather continues.

I conducted a daylight test with the 32mm Plossl on the SpaceProbe 3. Aiming at some trees in the distance (150 yards) in bright, winter sunshne, the eyepiece gave a very nice, sharp, flat field. I did not notice any dimming at the edges of the field.

The rather thick vanes holding the secondary mirror in place.

















The secondary is held in place by three vanes that are rather thicker than in my other Newtonians. This gives rise to a more prominent diffraction pattern around high magnification stellar images. Although I find this perfectly acceptable for an entry level telescope, it could have been designed better. Such a small secondary mirror could easily be supported by thinner vanes.

One other issue I have with the telescope is that there is a clip on the right edge of the secondary mirror (as you look down into the eyepiece holder), which appears to shave off a small amount of light that could come to the telescope (see below). I have no idea why they used such a clip but, again,  it’s something I can live with.

The right side of the secondary mirror (seen here in this off centre image) has a clip which does cut off a small amount of light reaching the eyepiece.

















As mentioned previously, the two eyepieces that come with the telescope are of good quality. I believe they are two of a larger set of Explorer II oculars which originally came in focal lengths of 6mm, 10mm, 13mm, 17mm, 20mm and 25mm. I found a short review of them here. It makes interesting reading. Both the 25mm and the 10mm are apparently Kellners, while the rest are Plossls.

Time: 23:15 to 23:45 UT

Seeing: II, an improvement over last night, remaining clear and very cold.

Temperature: −3C

My adventures with the little long focus reflector continue apace. Tonight, I set the telescope up to have a look at some favourite seasonal deep sky objects. I began with M35 in northern Gemini, which looked like a storm of faint stars haphazardly strewn across the face of my wonderful 25mm Explorer eyepiece. I enjoyed a spellbinding tour of the Sword Handle of Orion, and was particularly impressed by the images served up of the Great Nebula in Orion (M42 & M43) using both the 25mm and 10mm oculars. The companion to Rigel was beautifully resolved in the improved seeing at 93x using my 7.5mm Parks Gold.

Beta Monocerotis as seen through the 3″ f/9.2 reflector at 210x.

















When I turned the telescope on Eta Orionis, I cranked the power up to 210x using the 10mm Explorer II Kellner and 2.25x Baader shorty Barlow, focused carefully, and was greeted by two kissing Airy disks; a very good result indeed for such a modest optical accoutrement! But the corker for me this evening was the sight of Beta Monocerotis triple system. At 210x the view was awesome! This telescope produces wonderful images of very delicate targets and with excellent contrast. No wonder seasoned observers and beginners alike are drawn to its considerable charms.

Wednesday December 13 2017

I have spoken before of the very high contrast of the images generated by the oculars that came with the Orion SpaceProbe 3. On the evening of Monday December 11, I was comparing the view of the Sword Handle of Orion seen with this 3″ reflector with that garnered by my 80mm f/5 ShortTube refractor. The SpaceProbe 3 had the 25mm Explorer II eyepiece and the 80mm refractor was used with the Mark III Baader Hyperion zoom eyepiece, which was set to approximately 14mm focal length, so as to show the region at the same magnification as the reflecting telescope. What I noticed but did not report at the time was that the contrast of the image in the Spaceprobe was much better than that served up by the Baader zoom in the 80mm f/5 glass. The difference was very striking; the sky was much darker and the nebulosity within the M42/3 complex more strkingly presented in the reflector image. I noted this result as very odd, as one would expect the refractor to have the better contrast. So last night, I dodged the showery weather and ventured out again to conduct more experiments.

Between 23:00 to 23:45 UT on Tuesday December 12, I decided to deploy my 130P reflector to observe the Orion Sword Handle and included the two Explorer II eyepieces  together with the Baader zoom  to compare and contrast the images. Since the 25mm Explorer II eyepiece gives a magnification of 28x, I first compared the view in the 130mm reflector using this eyepiece and the zoom set to the same magnifiation (so setting the zoom to near the lowest poewer setting at 23 mm). The result was remarkable: the 25mm Explorer II eyepiece produced a much more contrasty image than the zoom did, despite showing more in the way of off axis aberrations!

Switching then to the 10mm Explorer II ocular which delivers 65x in the 130P, I moved the zoom to near the 10mm setting (so delivering the same 65x power), I again compared the images. The 10mm Explorer II eyepiece produced a much more contrasted image in terms of sky background and how well the M42/3 nebulosity stood out in comparison with the Baader zoom!  Indeed the view through the 10mm Exploer II eyepiece on axis was truly excellent! What’s going on here?

My working hypothesis is that the number of lens elements in the eyepieces had a bearing on this very striking result. The Explorer II eyepieces are simple, 3−element Kellners ( modified achromats), while the zoom has 7 elements. The minimalist design of the latter oculars produced a dramatic difference (to my eye) in terms of how much contrast the images were producing at the same magnification. What an interesting finding! I shall conduct further experiments as soon as conditions allow.

Are minimalist eyepieces the way to go?

















A quick google search on this topic revealed some interesting results. Check out what the OP says here about the same eyepieces, together with the various responses.

Time: 22:45 UT to 23:40 UT

Temperature: 0.5 C

Seeing: II, very good between snow showers. Windy at times, sky noticeably brighter.

Classic 3 incher.

















If it wasnae fur yer wellies, where would ye be?


Got a fair good spell later in the evening after a couple of snow showers. I was comparing the view through the Orion Explorer II Kellners and my Baader zoom. Turning on two targets; M42/3 and the Pleiades, I studied the images in the 25mm Exlorer II and compared them to the 24mm setting on the Baader zoom. The result was quite compelling: the simple Kellner was noticeably more contrasty than the zoom set to 24mm. The field of view was also larger in the Explorer eyepiece too; and that’s consistent with what others have said; it gives a nice 50 degree field, quite comparable to a Plossl. In comparison, the Baader is more like 40 degrees at this setting. The 25mm Explorer produced an absolutely draw dropping view of the Pleiades high up in the south, with pinpoint stars set against a jet black sky. Again, it reminded me of the views I enjoyed through my classical refractors, using simple eyepieces. The Explorer II 25mm was made to be used with an instrument such as this! It just rocks with the small aperture and long native focal length.

The same tests carried out on the 10mm Explorer II eyepiece (and the appropriate setting of the zoom) produced slightly less striking differences but they were there nonetheless. What is more, the larger field of the zoom complicates the situation at this focal length.

I ended the evening looking at the same objects in both the 3″ SpaceProbe and my handy 80mm f/5 achromat. Again, I can report that the 25mm Kellner produced a darker sky background than the zoom set to 24mm in the refractor. Light grasp in both instruments was quite comparable though, with the edge going to the 80mm glass.

So, the little SpaceProbe 3 Altaz revealed a weakness in my trusty Baader zoom eyepiece. Though very satisfying, it does not offer up the very best contrast when it comes to eyepieces. That being said, I would never dream of parting with it. It’s still very good and comes quite close to what you’d get with a quality, simpler, fixed focal length ocular. Its zoomability keeps you reaching out for it.

Friday, December 15 2017

Small Newtonians in the snow.

















Because I wish to keep this little gem of a telescope( what would the point in selling it be?), I have bestowed the name Oona( a ‘she’) upon it.That’s what I’ll call the SpaceProbe 3 any more.


Oona: a ‘scope that offers delightful images.

















To sum up, the Orion SpaceProbe 3 represents tremendous value for money. It’s just a very honest ‘scope, just as ‘Rocket Roberts’ stated in his review. By that, I mean that you get exactly what it says on the tin. It’s easy to deploy and use, even if you live in an apartment with limited space. It is very lightweight so it can be carried around very easily, yet strong enough to allow you to follow objects even at higher powers. It gives very pleasing views of deep sky targets, as well as solar system objects (I personally cannot wait to aim this ‘scope at Jupiter in the new year) and can be enjoyed by all the family. I highly recommend this telescope to a budding young stargazer or more experienced observers wishing to enjoy the considerabe optical benefits of using an old school, long focus Newtonian.

This is where this review ends. My sincere thanks again to Lars Filippson for recommending this telescope for testing.

Thanks for reading.


Neil English is the author of several books on amateur telescopes. If you like this work and wish the author to continue, please consider purchasing one of his books.


Postscriptum: Former Sky & Telescope Contributing Editor, Gary Seronik, who is a Newtonian specialist, wrote a wonderful article on his website on this little 3″ f/9.2 Tasco reflector. You can read what he says about it here.


De Fideli.

New Adventures with the SkyWatcher 130P

Think inexpensive telescopes can’t deliver top class perfromance? Think again!

















Dedicated to Rob Nurse


One of the most egregious myths promulgated by contemporary telescope forum culture is that one has to splash out large sums of money for a high quality telescope. This is especially the case with refractor—obsessed enthusiasts who have reduced the hobby to an activity more related to pornography than anything else. Serving more as ‘phallic symbols’ than tools, they spend countless hours ‘drooling’ like animals over instruments with tiny apertures, and revealing little or nothing of any substance or lasting value. Over the last two decades their designers have systematically robbed an entire generation of amateurs with their ridiculously priced ‘peashooters’ and all for the sake of better colour correction. Yet all the while, the reflecting telescope was systematically ignored or down played; that is, until this author blew the whistle.

As a former victim of this dead–end cult, I came to realise through experience that despite owning and using a suite of high-end refractors (think Takahashi, Televue, Meade, William Optics etc), inexpensive mass—produced Newtonian telescopes from the Far East were not only superior to the latter, but were easier and more comfortable to use. In a previous blog, I brought people’s attention to the SkyWatcher Heritage 130P flextube Dobsonian that revealed its superiority to much more expensive telescopes (in this case a high quality 90mm ED apochromat) on all targets. The key to providing these high quality views involved careful collimation and adequate cooling.

These thoughts came flooding back to me after this author acquired a used SkyWatcher 130P optical tube assembly for the princely sum of £65 plus £10 delivery. Once it arrived I was able to collimate the instrument and test it out for its high magnification performance on good daylight targets, where it was found to deliver excellent images with no image breakdown at powers up to and in excess of 270x diameters. Such a telescope had a well figured 130mm (5.1 inch) f/5 parabolic primary mirror with a secondary mirror obstruction of just 37mm (so a modest 28 per cent), which is significantly smaller than their catadioptric counterparts, and so should enable one to see finer, low contrast details on the Moon and planets.

Now, I wouldn’t expect you to take my word for all of this. That’s why the reader will also take note of reviews carried out on the same instrument dating back over a decade ago. In this evaluation, for example, the highly experienced reviewer reported no image breakdown when the telescope was pushed to magnifications of 250x. This also resonates with the findings of this in depth review made by another experienced observer a few years back. Failing these, the reader should also take note of comments from a varety of other users here and here. In addition, in this short thread, posted in the Cloudy Nights refractor forum, the tester of essentially the same optics (the Astronomy Without Borders, One Sky Newtonian) reported that it was quite close in performance to a 120mm ED refractor costing many times more.

Beyond Symbolism

In previous work, I noted that a properly—tuned Skywatcher Heritage 130P proved to be a better double star splitter than a 90mm apochromat. In the same report, this author noted how this modest telescope was also capbale of rendering a much more convincing split of tight systems such as Pi Aquilae than a previously owned and thoroughly tested Skylight 4″ f/15 classical refractor. This should not surprise anyone; when conditions are good and the optics are properly aligned, aperture wins.

That said, this new blog will not concern the optics in the 130P pictured above. Rather, what I wish to write about here concerns the consequences of transplanting my modified Heritage 130P optics into the closed tube of the 130P. How would they behave?

The reader will recall that the primary mirror of the Heritage 130P was left unchanged as I judged it as perfectly adequate. But what I did do was to get it recoated with the finest coatings money could buy (still a modest investment) and in this capacity sent the mirrors down to Orion Optics UK to have them treated with their proprietary HiLux caotings for increased reflectivity, reduced scattter and optimal durability. I also replaced the existing flat with one of slightly smaller size (35mm minor axis diameter giving a linear obstruction of just 27 per cent) and higher quality (read optically flatter, but economically so). But how easy was it to house those optics in the new tube? As it turned out; it was quite straight forward!

The primary mirror transplant was the easiest to perform, involving a simple swap of the existing mirror of the 130P (also centre spotted!) with the HiLux coated mirror from the Heritage.

The primary mirror transplant: the HiLux treated primary from the Heritage 130P was placed in the 130P mirror cell (pictured at top right).

















The secondary mirror swap was a little more challenging. In short, they were designed differently, so necessitating the removal of the existing flat on the 130P secondary and gluing on the new flat derived from the Heritage 130P. In all, it took about half an hour of open heart surgery.

Finally, to ‘turbo charge’ the new closed—tube optics, I borrowed some Bob’s knobs from my 8 inch Newtonian and placed them on both the primary and secondary mounting cells as indicated below.

The new flat with Bob Knob’s inserted. Note the very modest secondary obstruction.

















And the primary cell….Note the back plate has been removed.

















Justifying the Transplant

While the Heritage 130P flextube telescope is ideal for airline travel (check out SteveG’s report on how he brought it to Hawaii while on vacation) and for vacations within the UK, I wanted to be able to mount the same optics in a more stable tube, especially since it would be used regulalrly for high resolution work over winter at my home. After having extensively used the helical focuser on the Heritage tube, moving to a proper rack and pinion was a huge step up in luxury. Have you any idea of how much easier it is to hold precise collimation with this new focuser?  I can assure you that such an upgrade is nothing short of pure, unadulterated joy!

The simple rack and pinion focuser is a wonderful luxury I have greatly appreciated.

















Rummaging through my old box of tricks, I retrieved a colour matched 6 x 30mm finder which is a huge improvement over the RDF supplied with the Heritage 130P. RDFs are only adequate if you wish to locate the brightest stars. With the 6 x 30mm finder, I will be able to pinpoint much fainter targets to increase the efficiency of my observations. All in all, Plotina has a new and more stable winter coat.

The upgraded finder for Plotina, raised from the author’s box of tricks

















Proof of Concept: Reports from the Field

Plotina belongs to a long and distinguished family of true and original apochromats. It’s fast f/5 relative aperture enables me to go from 20x and a very generous 2.5 degree field to powers in excess of over 300x for high resolution work, particularly in my chosen area of interest; double stars. In many previous blogs, I have also stated how good this little telescope was on the Moon and planets. Here I wish to continue her legacy by fielding my beautiful little closed—tube Newtonian under the starry heaven………

Seeking starlight.

















Date: November 4 2017

Time: 20:00 to 20:45 UT

Seeing: very good (II), frequent squally showers moving in from west, some good clear spells. Full Moon in the east.

Temperature: +3C


Polaris: Excellent star test. Intra and extrafocal images almost identical at 200x. In focus image revealed the faint, wide companion even in the bright moonlight.

Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae: textbook perfect split at 183x using Baader zoom at the 8mm setting coupled to a 2.25x shorty Barlow. Beautiful and faithful colour rendition of the four components.

Delta Cygni: A decidedly more difficult target, but once again easily handled and beautifully rendered at 244x using a 6mm Baader orthoscopic and 2.25x Barlow. A gorgeous, brilliant white Airy disk with a faint steely grey companion well separated from the primary.

Almach (Gamma Andromedae): not really a test but a sight for sore eyes in this fine little telescope at 183x.Lovely contrast.

Iota Cassiopeiae: the highlight for me this evening, now not far from the zenith. I charged the instrument with a 2.4 mm Vixen HR ocular delivering 271x. Focusing was very easy to achieve and I was delighted to see it deliver a bright and perfectly formed image of all three components in their true colours.

A quick look at the full Moon at 20x using my trusty 32mm Plossl revealed a razor sharp image rich in contrast and in a relatively enormous field.

Comments: To say that I’m pleased with tonight’s results would be an understatement! I am beside myself! The Vixen Porta II is a good mount for this telescope with its smooth slow motion controls on both axes, and with the eyepiece at a very comfortable standing height for me (I’m a six footer). All tested oculars come to a precise focus easily with the rack and pinion.

23:05 UT  to 23:35 UT ventured out again to test a few other tricky systems

Rigel: Easy at 81x despite its low altitude (still a wee while from culmination)

Eta Orionis; A corker at 243x! Very tight pair split with this marvellous 5.1″ speculum at a suboptimal altitude.

Theta Aurigae: Now favourably placed high in the eastern sky. Easy split at 183x

Date: November  5  2017

Missed an early session this evening, as we ventured out for bonfire night. Anger nonetheless kindled against those supposedly ‘experienced’ peers who left this amazing, economical telescope in the dust. Why did you not test it? Too busy drooling were you? Why did you not advise your peers about it?  How many amateurs might benefit from using this instrument?

You really need to examine yourself!

Shame on you!

Time: 21:45 UT to 22:30UT

Temperature: –2C

Seeing: II, remaining very good, very cold and clear, bright Moon in the east.

Iota Cassiopeiae: Easily resolved at 183x but better seen at 243x

Theta Aurigae: Observed once again this evening. Companion beautifully resolved from primary at 183x

Pushed the telescope hard on the waning gibbous Moon this evening. The telescope delivered wonderful images at powers from 20x to 325x! No image breakdown recorded at any of these powers. Wonderful images delivered in these sub–zero temperatures.

Comments: Lambda Cygni (0.9″) is now past its best and slowly sinking into the western sky, but I will attempt 52 Orionis (1.02″) and 36 Andromedae (1.14″) over this coming winter. I cannot for the life of me see why Plotina cannot resolve these systems under good conditons. Can you?

Plotina: a great blessing!

















Date: November 6 2017

More Justifications

Having a proper finder is a wonderful upgrade to the RDF supllied with the telescope. As stated previously, RDFs are only useful with the brightest stars and often, in colder conditions especially, the battery ceases to deliver its power rendering such a device useless. What is more, as a guy who likes to do all his observing without electronic appendages, fitting a traditional finder to this small Newtonian made a great deal of sense. When properly aligned it’s possible to centre objects, even at high magnification, increasing the efficiency of my observing sessions with this telescope.

Of course, one of the great joys of using this f/5 Newtonan system is the substantial increase in light gathering power it delivers over other other telescopic designs. Actually, it’s an enormous increase over a typical, small grab ‘n’ go refractor or Mak and will make your ‘quick look’ or grab ‘n’ go excursions far more rewarding than using an 80 to 100mm refractor, say.  F/5 is not so fast that one requires a coma corrector or some such and the field of view with a modest 32mm Plossl is quite well corrected across the majority of the expansive, 2.5 degree true field. One thing is certain; this telescope will be an absolute ball to use in the exploration of the winter deep sky.

Having a new winter coat avoids the need to fit a makeshift light shroud to the upper tube assembly, such as is the case with the Heritage 130P/ One Sky Newtonian. This affords a greater degree of protection against dew and stray light combined.  The increase in mass is negligible too; you can pick up the ‘scope with one hand or carry it under your shoulders even over a considerable distance.

As I noted with the Heritage 130P, quick acclimation is eminently possible with this telescope and my observations thus far made with the closed tube 130P give me little cause to think that its cooling off time will be substantially increased. 15 minutes is probably all you need, so even the laziest of you readers can get to work on the sky quickly and easily.

As described previously, I use a simple, inexpensive laser collimator to get quick and accurate alignment of the optical train. I consider the laser collimator a great improvement over the traditional  ‘collimating eyepiece.’ My high magnification tests conducted thus far show that the more stable housing of the optics in the 130P maintains this collimation significantly better, so there is far less anxiety involved in moving the telescope about.

One of the greatest (and largely unsung) assets Newtonians have pertains to their ability to be collimated rapidly. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve read of folk who accidently whack their refractor or Mak tubes off a wall or door or some such and then worry that the optics may have gone out of alignment. For a Mak, the issue can be resolved at home, but not very easily. For a refractor, you’ll likely have to send it off to some specialist for proper realignment of the lens elements; and at an additional cost to you. All of this, of course, is superfluous to the man who learns to collimate his Newtonian. You can bump it off any wall you like and still have the reassurance that it will be working optimally in a matter of minutes.

In this capacity, Newtonians are the ultimate, low stress telescope.

The weather has nose dived in the last twelve hours back to mild, wet and cloudy. Time to take a break from this blog and return again when conditions permit more testing.

Me super duper bazuka…. .ken.




Toodleoo the noo.

Date: November 7 2017

Time: 22:11 UT

Seeing: I to II, excellent, good transparency, waning gibbous Moon, not too overwhelming (yet).

Temperature: 0.5C

While some of you were drooling on the fora, I was busy finding 36 Andromedae while the Moon was still low and monitored it at low power until it crossed the meridian at 22:11 UT or thereabouts. Charging the 130mm f/5 Newtonian with a 2.4mm HR ocular delivering 271x I can report a fine split of this system. Both stars separated by a sliver of dark sky and distinctly yellow in colour. The view was even more compelling at 325x. Perfect Airy disks! This is a magnitude 6/6.5 pair and the separation is 1.1″.

This telescope rocks!

Let goodwill and common sense prevail!

As always, I would encourage others to see if they can split this system with a 5 inch Newtonian reflector. Make sure your optics are well collimated and the instrument fully acclimated (you don’t need a fan either). You’ll be very surprised what you will see under good conditions!

As you can gather, I have dedicated this blog to Rob Nurse, who has started a friendly correspondence with me. I learned that back in the early to mid 1990s, Rob employed a little Tal 110mm f/7.3 to divine some pretty tight doubles using this reflector and has been following my work. Below is just one page of some of his results (used with permission). This is more evidence that well made Newtonians are excellent double star telescopes.

Rob’s list of systems visited with the Tal 110mm f/7.3



















I hope you can see that he managed to split pairs down to about 1.3″ and his success was better the higher in the sky these pairs were situated. I suspect that he was wasn’t trying particularly hard to push the instrument though!

We need to keep working hard to root out the evils in this hobby, so feel free to help out if you can.

Date: November 8 2017

Last night was very exciting but I had to cut it short. 36 Andromedae was not a particularly difficult system for this telescope. For the record, it’s very close to the Dawes limit for a 4 inch unobstructed aperture. But in the right hands, the 130P is capable of doing significantly better than the finest 4 inch refractor money can buy. If you think otherwise, you’re simply deluded. Like I said before, I once drooled over a very fine 4″ inch f/15 refractor that set me back a small fortune. Yet this little reflector in my possession can outperform it; and I only needed to do some simple tests to affirm this. And no amount of justifying can change that fact.

For me, the reflecting telescope has been an instrument of liberation. Isaac Newton( 1642—1727), arguably the greatest scientific genius ever to have entered the human arena, invented this marvellous telescope. I think this was meant to be. But I hope you too can learn something from the hard lessons I have learned. The beauty of the Lord’s created Universe is not to be enjoyed only by an exclusive few. It ought be enjoyed by everyone. And the Lord has made this technology available to all at relatively little cost through the reflecting telescope. Pride has died; gratitude is born (sic gratia non superbia).

52 Orionis is just beyond the capabilities of a 4 inch aperture but should be quite doable with the 130P. I will have to wait for another good night to ascertain this.

Rob was also kind enough to provide a short list of other systems that will be interesting for those with small reflectors to visit over the course of the seasons. Some of these entries are dated but it would be fun to visit them nonetheless to see how they’ve changed over the years.

More tricky pairs to visit courtesy of Rob Nurse.


I’m blessed by having more quality eyepieces than you can shake a stick at but you don’t need to have the finest collection of ultrashort focal length oculars to boost the power in a short focus reflector. By far the most economical way forward is to invest in some Barlow lenses that can boost the power of the eyepieces that you may have in your possession.  For example, the Baader 6mm classic orthoscopic yields 325x with a 3x shorty Barlow and 243x with an economical 2.25x Barlow. My excellent Parks Gold 7.5mm ocular is also a great choice when coupled to a 3x Barlow yielding 260x. You can also get good results by Barlowing a medium focal length Plossl (a 9mm is a good choice).

A few decent eyepieces and some Barlow lenses can give you the magnification boost you need to get at tight pairs.

















Date: November 9 2017

Faster, Cheaper, Better

Two small, portable telescopes; on the left and in the background, the 130P Newtonian and on the right and in the foreground, a 90mm f/5.5 Apo refractor. Two fine grab ‘n’ go telescopes but one clear and unambiguous winner.

















If you’re thinking ‘phallically,’ then you’ll likely say the 90mm refractor is better; afterall, it has a smoothly gliding extendable dewshield and a super ‘sexy’ dual speed 11:1 focuser. It resembles a phallus too and ‘looks the part’ alongside you in a comfy, twoseater sports car. But if you’re thinking Biblically, using your eyes and brain as God intended you to use them, then it’s easy to see that the 130mm gives a much brighter, cripser and more detailed image at the same magnification and all with perfect colour correction (the refractor only approximates true colour correction). In previous work, I showed that the 130 Heritage truss tube configuration could split tighter double stars, resolve finer planetary details and pulled in fainter deep sky objects than the aperture—challenged refractor. Using inductive reasoning (but also adding my own ongoing experiences to the mix), the closed tubed 130P ought to do likewise….. and it does.

Here’s the rub though. The optically inferior refractor is valued much higher than the reflector; many times more in fact. Why? God only knows! But I’ll give you my opinion;  because it is seen through the corrupt lens of the phallus. You’re literally thinking like a Dick. That’s the ridiculous situation that has precipitated because of our blinkered perception of value and which has gone largely unchecked for nearly three decades.  What’s the refractor really worth? To a visual observer, slightly less than the reflector, surely?

Don’t be a phallus.

Get real!

Date: November 10 2017

In case you’re wondering, the 130P is actually slightly lighter than the 90mm Apo and should probably cool off just as quick as the latter. It’s also small enough to fit in a comfy twoseater, so there’s absolutely no excuse not to consider it as a most powerful grab ‘n’ go telescope.

Looks can deceive: the 130P is lighter than the 90mm Apo.

















This very morning I set up Plotina in my back garden to exploit the feeble autumn sunshine, looking at the now denuded branches of deciduous trees located a couple of hundred yards distant. Incredibly, I was able to crank up the power to 406 diameters using a Vixen 1.6mm HR eyepiece and the images garnered were beautifully sharp and rich in detail. That’s over 80x per inch of aperture folks; no’ bad…..ken.

Yesterday evening the veteran Romanian observer, Mircea Pteancu, kindly reminded me that he has managed good splits of 52 Ori , 36 And, Antares and Nu Sco, using a homemade 127mm f/7 Newtonian reflector, adding another experienced voice to the list.  You can read more about his findings here. F/7 must be a wonderful place to be in a 5 inch reflector. I bet it would hardly ever need adjusting and focusing would be child’s play. I’m envious of f/7 but f/5 will do admirably.

Low Power Sweeping

After I had finished with the students and grabbed a bite to eat, I noticed that there was a few clear spells and no Moon between 8pm and 9pm local time, so off out I went with the 130P and decided to stick with just one eyepiece; my good old SkyWatcher 32mm Plossl. The markings on the barrel are long gone by now but there’s still no mistaking it! Truth be told, it is one of my fondest and most used oculars. Delivering a power of just 20x in a splendid 2.5 degree field, I enjoyed beautiful views of the Pleiades, now climbing higher into the eastern sky. From my dark country home, the hinterland to this much loved open cluster is coal black in the telescope, its individual stars, tiny incandecsent jewels shining through the darkness. The 32mm Plossl gives a very well corrected field, with stars even at the edge presenting as very acceptable. It’s comfortable eye relief makes it a good choice for those who wear eyeglasses.

From there I ventured high overhead to the Perseus Double Cluster and boy was that a sight for sore eyes! It’s singular beauty never fails to set my heart racing and it was splendidly framed in the wide, well corrected field. From there I inched the telescope  further eastward, centring the wonderful Alpha Persei Association in the 32mm oculus. Thereafter, I swung the ‘scope back westward into Cassiopeia and enjoyed staring at the fascinating ET cluster for a wee while. It actually looks best in the Newtonian, as the upside down image presents it the ‘right way up’, as it were.  Sweeping the instrument through this constellation is always a special treat, with myriad Milky Way stars dazzling the eye.

Spotting a hole in the clouds in eastern Pegasus and Andromeda I homed in on the great spiral galaxy M31 now very high up, its bright, lenticular core showing up very well together with its gradually fading spiral arms. The two satellite galaxies were also apparent with averted vision. Moving west into Cygnus, I enjoyed the radiant colours of 30 and 31 Cygni, which are much more compelling in this telescope than they appear in large (70mm) binoculars. Comely Albireo was also resolved at this low power.

Finally, I swung the telescope over to Auriga, and after a minute admiring the silent beauty of brilliant yellow—white Capella and its starry hinterland,  I swept through the belly of the constellation, seeking out the compact open clusters; M36, M37 and M38. Though I could have done with more magnifying power, I was pleasantly surprised how well they looked at 20x.

I’m deeply impressed with the performance of this economical telescope, being capable of every kind of astronomical application you might need it for. In fact, it has no significant weaknesses. It’s very lightweight, so even those who are frail can get fair use out of it. Indeed, though I am personally enjoying the prime of my life, I can easily lift the telescope on its mount a considerable distance with only one hand. It’s easy to store too and won’t take up much room. I keep mine under my bed lol! It’s an unbeatable bargain for those on low incomes as well as pensioners, and will delight its owners with years of productive use.

Date: November 13  2017

Mounting Considerations

The 130 is so lightweight that it can be used profitably on a number of economical mounts. I generally use the Vixen Porta II with this instrument. The wonderful thing about the Porta II is that the tension on both axes can be adjusted to perfectly match the mass distribution of the telescope. The supplied hex wrenches that sit under the mount head can be accessed at a moment’s notice to make those small but important adjustments to the tension that make the telescope move very smoothly, even at high power.

Plotina towards the zenith and beyond.

















Because the telescope has a standard set of tube rings, one can also adjust the position of the instrument’s base so that observing at the zenith is easy to achieve.

The Porta II can also be adjusted in height to permit very comfortable, standing or seated observations. Thus far, I’ve only observed through the telescope in the standing position, as the weather has been so unsettled that a shower can turn up necessitating the instrument’s rapid transport indoors. But I hope to enjoy this telescope with a comfortable seat during more settled spells.

Tools an’ that.

















The same telescope can also be neatly mounted on the simple table top mount supplied with the Heritage 130P. When mounted on a small table, it can be used with ease for low and medium power sweeps but I would recommend a more sturdy mount for the highest power applications.

On a table top.

















And for those who enjoy equatorial mounts, the instrument is well matched to the fairly lightweight EQ 2 mount. Indeed, one can purchase the 130P along with the EQ 2 mount as a package from SkyWatcher or Orion Telescopes & Binoculars(USA). These mounts can easily be upgraded for smooth motorised tracking too.  See here for a quick over view of its operation on such a mount.

There is also a number of lightweight, fully computerised GoTo mounts that can be mated to the 130P if that is your thing.

These are just some of the mounting configurations you can use with this telescope. None will break the bank and all should provide years of hassle free use. My preferred mounting for this fine instrument is the Vixen II as I’m not entirely bowled over by equatorials. It has given this author several years of flawless use with a number of telescopes, and has travelled with him the length and breadth of the country.


Daylight Use

Observing the last leaves of autumn in a bright blue sky!

















During the middle months of the year, where sunlight is abundant and the length of the day is long, smaller aperture spotting scopes make near ideal tools for studying nature, but as winter approaches (and at dusk and dawn) at high northern latitudes, having decent ambient light becomes much more of an issue. This is where the significantly increased light gathering power of the 130P really shines. On a dull, overcast, winter day, only a couple of hours of decent lighting is available for nature studies. But it is in these conditions that the 130P shows itself much superior to conventional spotting ‘scopes. Where powers of 100x or above are really stretching the 80 or 90mm ‘scope, powers twice that and more are achievable with this ultraportable 5.1” Newtonian.

Of course, the Newtonian reflector provides an upside—down view of terrestrial scenes and while there are ways of getting decent right—side—up views, in practice it matters very little. When coupled to a digi—scoping device, the images can be easily inverted later on your pc.  When you’re examining the fine structure of tree trunks and branches or the splendid high magnification detail of leaves, rocks and wildlife in ultra—high resolution, you’ll soon forget about those upside—down images and delight instead on the rich details afforded by this optically excellent light bucket.

Because it gathers a very generous amount of light, you can also employ filters such as a polariser to cut through glare in the landscape and increase contrast on the brightest days.

A modern zoom eyepiece delights all the day long.



























Indeed, using both the Heritage 130 and the closed tube 130P extensively during the day has caused this author to question the dominance of other kinds of telescopes in daylight applications. It might not look quite as sexy as a Questar 3.5 or 80mm shorttube refractor but one look through the Newtonian will quickly reveal its clear superiority to the latter. And of course, there will always be some who balk at the Newtonian and reject it only because of its inexpense; sad I know, but that’s their problem and not yours, right? lol!

Don’t be a slavish follower of fashion; take your daylight observing elsewhere.

Date: November 14 2017

The last several nights were either cloudy or too unsteady to continue some of the high resolution work mentioned previously. Many of the clearest nights have been cold but very turbulent owing to strong northerly air flows, which always deteriorate high magnification views in these parts. Things were so bad in the wee small hours of Monday morning last that the telescope was unable to steadily hold the four brightest members of the Orion Trapezium! But I am thrilled to bits with the deep sky performance of the 130P. The Great Nebula still looked magnificent in the opulent field presented by the 8mm setting of the Baader zoom eyepiece (81x) and far more compelling than either of my shorttube refractors (80 and 90mm) can ever deliver. It’s a powerhouse of honest to goodness performance!

I will report some more once conditions improve.

Date: November 16 2017

Plotina; rising above it all.

















I enjoyed another bright and sunny late morning/early afternoon session with the 130P. I re—tested its ultra—high power performance on daylight targets. I can again confirm that the instrument is good to go at 406 diameters i.e. the image remains fine and bright and beautifully crisp across the entire field of a Vixen 1.6mm HR ocular. For the most part though, I am sated under these conditions by the 183x vista rendered by my Baader zoom and dedicated shorty Barlow, which delivers an amazing 0.4 degree true field.

Iblis scurries to and fro, scheming, desperately seeking to inflict harm on her. Yet no matter how much mud the enemy flings at Plotina, nothing sticks.

Like a faithful Collie, she just goes on strutting her stuff, by day and by night; naturally, gracefully, effortlessly; delighting her master.

Tonight looks good for yet another session under the stars.

Time: 22:30 UT

Temperature: 4C

Seeing: 2.5 Ant, excellent sky transparency, brisk westerly winds driving in some intermittent wintry showers.

Tonight, I set up Plotina to assess the seeing and targeted Theta Aurigae now situated favourably well above the horizon in the east. The telescope delivered a wonderful split of its B and C components at 271x. The former is tucked up real close to the substantially brighter primary (magnitudes 2.6 & 7.2, respectively) with a separation of about 4″.

One of the keys to getting success out of a Newtonian telescope on such high resolution targets is to be patient. The telescope generates some thermals especially on colder nights, where the high magnification image breaks up momentarily before coming back together again. One moment it morphs into a swollen mess of light but as it moves across the field the image settles down and delivers beautiful, textbook perfect images. You need to spend time with the telescope to learn how it behaves before you can get the most out of it, or to speak, with gravity, concerning it.

But I had bigger fish to fry. High overhead at this latitude on mid—November evenings lies mighty Cassiopeia, and under these fine conditions I homed in on Psi Cassiopeiae, a system I have given mention to in regard to a very fine Orion 18cm f/15 Maksutov cassegrain I put through its paces a few years back. The primary shines with a beautiful soft orange hue but about 20″ off to the east of it lies the faint C and D components (magnitudes 9.2 and 10.0 respectively) and are separated by a mere 2.3.” The challenge is to be able to see them clearly. Needless to say, the large Maksutov made light work of these faint companions but my field notes show that I could also see them with my very fine 5 inch f/12 classical achromat but only with a concentrated effort. The test tonight was to establish whether or not I could do the same with this 5.1″ f/5 reflector and I can report that the answer is affirmative! I employed a magnification of 183x and a concentrated gaze. This is not an easy target, but it is just possible with this telescope under near ideal conditions.

What does this observation establish you may ask?

It shows that the light gathering power and resolution of the 130P is on par with the 127mm f/12 refractor.

No’ bad, ken.

I ran in to inform my wife of my progress but loitered too long beside the fire, unfortunately. When I went back outside, it was raining and the poor telescope (and some choice oculars to boot) got a substantial drenching!


The wee HR got a showerin’ ken.

















But the 130P is no’ a Big Jessie ‘scope and a dousing of water from heaven does little to dampen its enthusiasm.

Bleedin’ showers ken…

















Date: November 17 2017

If it wasnae fur yer wellies, where would ye be? lol


You’ll be glad to know that Plotina made a full recovery and is now ready for more action under a starry sky.

Weather still looks iffy though but since the telescope cools off as fast (maybe faster; greater surface area an’ that?) than a small refractor, it can still be used as the ultimate shower dodger.

Shower Dodger.

















Date: November 18 2017

More on Faster, Cheaper, Better

It was another crisp, cool and bright day here in Scotland. And with some free time to cogitate upon the 130P, I can confidently report that its performance lies midway between a high quality 4 and 5 inch refractor, but at a much reduced price to the consumer. As I’ve demonstrated, it ticks all the boxes that an ‘apophile’ might make in an argument concerning image fidelity, portability, rapidity of cooling etc. How it looks should be of little concern to a dedicated observer, but maybe some value ‘form’ over ‘function;’ why, I’ll never understand!

Telescopes are not idols.

It must be stressed that my major objection to apochromatic refractors is their exorbitant cost per millimetre of aperture; a price I am personally unwilling to pay as I can make much better use of my disposable income (I’m frugal and I consider that a virtue). Simply put, their prices are far higher than virtually any other type of optics on the market and that alone will make them a prime target for new and more cost—effective technologies now being developed. Unless the prices of these instruments are significantly reduced, they will be superceded by new technologies that are faster, cheaper and better. For example, a few years back, this author introduced the amateur community to a novel flat lens technology that will surely revolutionise telescope optics if the good Lord grants us enough time to see it to fruition. The technology (now being developed for visual wavelengths as the article indicates) is scalable and affordable. Let us hope that they succeed in their researches!

In the meantime though, it pays to take a hard headed look at other affordable telescopes already on the market, and in the same aperture class as the 130P, to see how they measure up. As I said before, the 130P is in a completely different league to 80mm ED ‘scopes and 90mm Maks  (including the venerable Questar 3.5). Consider if you will, the Celestron C5, reviewed here in good detail. The instrument is quite portable but will take considerably longer to acclimate if taken from a warm room to the cold night air. With a focal length of 1250mm (so f/10), it offers up a maximum true field of about 1.25 degrees; that’s only half the field possible in the 130mm Newtonian! And with a central obstruction of 37.8 per cent, its performance on lunar and planetary targets will be noticeably inferior to this reflector (recall it’s only 28 per cent and mine was reduced to 27 per cent). Price wise, you can purchase a 130P and decent mount for much less than the C5 optical tube assembly alone!

Better still is the 127mm f/12 Maksutov. This has an even longer focal length (1500mm), reducing the maximum true field to about 1 angular degree. But it still has a central obstruction of 33 per cent and takes quite a while to acclimate (that is, if you’re unprepared!). 33 per cent is, of course, better, but not nearly as small as the obstruction in the 130P. This means that if the latter optics are decent, well collimated and suitably acclimated, it should outperform the former on low contrast targets under good seeing conditions. In this realistic review, the author correctly concludes that the 127 Mak rivals that of a top class 4 inch refractor in average conditions. So a good 130P (also cheaper than the 127mm Mak) such as the unit in my possession, should do that little bit better don’t you think?

Date: November 23 2017

At home with ultrahigh power.

















A Virtuous Telescope

After several days of rain and cloudy skies, the weather has turned much colder once again, bringing bright blue skies by day. Much of the north of the country got its first fall of snow in the wee small hours and we even got a sprinkling here but it didn’t settle. Making the most of the bright light, I once again tested the ultrahigh power performance of the 130P on a number of targets between 50 and 200 yards distant. Charging the telecope with a power of 406x, I got precisely the same results as I obtained before; namely, the telescope yields very sharp and detailed images (n=3) at this power, testifying to the quality of the optical system. This power ought to be useable on the best nights to ferret out the tightest doubles accessible to the instrument.

Today, of course, is American Thanksgiving Day, and I would like to wish all my USbased readers happy holidays!

Conditions look clear for tonight, so I may be able to report back later this evening. Tomorrow we travel 127 miles north for a short vacation. Needless to say, Plotina will be travelling with us in the hope that I can enjoy a short adventure with her under a very dark, winter sky.

I could do with a carry case for the telescope. But it’s certainly not an essential feature. Afterall, the instrument can be carried in your lap, or safely stored with the rest of the luggage in the boot of the car. And even if it gets knocked about, it’s easily remedied by a quick and accurate collimation once we arrive. No sweat!

I’ve just noticed that the eyepiece holder can accommodate a T2 adaptor to mate a camera or webcam to the telescope. That’s a nice touch, but something that doesn’t interest me, as I’m purely a visual observer, but it does means that the instrument can be used to do some entrylevel imaging when coupled to a motorised tracking mount.

Gosh;  are the virtues of this telescope ever going to come to an end? I wonder!

Time: 17:00 to 17:30 UT

Temperature: 0C

Seeing: IIIII, very cold, a little turbulence, crescent Moon setting in the southwest, no cloud.

This evening I obtained a beautiful split of Mu Cygni at 271x but a decidely better one at 325x. Secondary situated northwest of primary and much better resolved than in the smaller refractors (ST80 & ED90).

Lambda Cygni attempted also; very strong elongation but not resolved at 406x.

Some cloud moved in after 5.30pm local time raising the temperature by a couple of degrees in the process. Hoping for more observations later tonight.

Date: 24 November 2017

Time: 00:50UT

Seeing: IIIII, remaining a little turbulent, cloud clearing away after 23:00 UT

Temperature: 0.5C

A few high resolution targets selected this evening

Eta Orionis: a very nice split at 271x, pure white components; images improving as the system approached the meridian afer midnight. Twenty minutes can make all the difference on this mediocre night.

Theta Aurigae: Now very high up and beautifully presented in the 130mm speculum at 271x.

Rigel: Not really a high resolution test so much as an indication of how much light scatters at lower altitudes; quite low down when observed but faint companion easily picked off in the high fidelity field of my very good Parks Gold 7.5mm ocular delivering 87x.

52 Orionis: A good result! Stars appeared elongated at 271x and 325x but not resolved. Will have to wait for another good night to crack this 1.0″ pair. But my observations give me confidence that it will yield in good time.


Time: 11:30 am

Inbox filled with Black Friday junk; the unpleasant side of global consumerism.

All deleted now!

Thanks but no thanks!

Date: November 27 2017

Well, our weekend away went swell. Even though we left with about an inch of snow on the ground, the main roads had scarcely any of the white stuff. Indeed, it was only to be  found in the high places along the route. Arriving at our destination at dusk on Friday, the sky remained resolutely clear, but a bitter north westerly wind made it feel a lot colder than it was (fluctuating by just a couple of degrees above and below freezing). After we had settled in, I took the little reflector out of the boot of the car and secured it on its Porta II mount. Checking how well the instrument maintained collimation, the laser showed only slight misalignment of the secondary mirror. Indeed it was pefectly useable as it was for low and medium power work up to 120x. To be honest, I wasn’t really surprised. You see, the acquisition of her winter coat has made the telescope much more robust. Nevertheless, I made that slight tweak to the secondary to bring it into perfect alignment. No sweat; it only takes a few seconds.

A beautiful, late crescent Moon greeted us in the south southeast, the magnificent orb culminating at about 5:30pm, just above the tree line of the grove that marked the edge of the property. In a race against time, I fetched my trusty Baader zoom and dialled in the magnification that would provide the most majestic view; the 8mm setting yielding a power of 81 diameters, which would frame the entire crescent with plenty of dark sky to spare. Though the air was a tad roily, the image was still breathtaking!

Plotina in winter apparel (Rural Abedeenshire, Northeast Scotland, November  25 2017).

Because we had company, that was all the observing I got up to, apart from a wonderful half hour in the bright, early afternoon sunshine of Saturday (406x testing very favourably at this location too, so n = 4). Yet even these brief spells of observation were more than enough to reaffirm the worthiness of this instrumrnt as a choice travel ‘scope. Indeed, it has already been with me on several other trips the length and breadth of the country, where I discovered that skies can be great away from home.

Plotina in summer apparel on Skye, Northwest Scotland (August 2016).
















Plotina watching leaves at 243x  in Wigtown ( July 2017), southwest Scotland.

















There it is!

Travelling: yet another virtue of the telescope.

Intelligent Design

While carrying out my observations I became increasingly aware of the tendency of the simple 6 x 30mm finder to slip out of position. Even with an elastic band in place under the collar of the finder bracket, it still slipped more than I liked, necessitating a small readjustment in the field. This is a minor nuisance, and one I could easily live with, but I also discovered that the bigger, 9 x 50mm finder that normally sees light astride my main telescope; a 20.4cm f/6 Newtonian, also fits the 130P perfectly!

A good telescope with an aperture of 5.1 inches really ought to have an equally good finder. Unlike the 6 x 30mm, the 9 x 50mm is much less inclined to go out of alignment while in use and ought to pull in even fainter objects, increasing the 130P’s overall efficiency. The small additional mass up front is easily handled by the Porta II mount.

Serious fun! Plotina with her upgraded finder.

















I think that’s a good thing. Afterall, the equipment I have already invested in ought to be able to serve me in diverse ways and when I want to go for a serious night out with Plotina, I’ll be needing a serious finder to complement her excellent optics. In fact, I’m thinking of doing something similar with Gaius, my 80mm f/5 achromatic. It would be just dandy to use it on either my 8 or 12 inch telescopes!

Pint sized powerhouse.

















This afternoon, I took the 130P out for another look at the landscape. Focusing on a conifer tree some 150 yards distant, I once again obtained a tack sharp image at 406x (n=5). The instrument is probably capable of doing 100x per inch though (used to study tiny planetary nebulae and very tight doubles under good seeing conditions). I consider that exceptional!

The Lap ‘Scope

Can Plotina be used without a mount?

Back in 2010, amateur astronomer, Douglas Bullis, wrote an interesting Cloudy Nights article describing his “lap ‘scope,” a bare bones 6″ f/5 Meade Schmidt Newtonian(SN6). In the article, Bullis made the bold claim that the modified instrument was not a grab ‘n’ go ‘scope so much as a grab ‘n’ sit instrument. Be sure to check out the comments as well!  Having owned and used a SN6 for a couple of years, this author is confident that the 130P would make an equally good if not better lap ‘scope, allowing one to make 20x sweeps, delivering a 2.5 degree field.

The lap ‘scope.

















Of course, Bullis’ article is nothing new. In the 2001 book, Astronomy with Small Telescopes, the then Sky & Telescope columnist, Jay Reynolds Freeman, described his own lap ‘scope, a 6″ f/5 Newtonian reflector, showing that the concept has been alive and well for quite some time now.

Can you think of a more versatile instrument than the 130P?

Date: November 28 2017

Time: 01:25 UT

Seeing: very good, II, excellent transparency, no clouds.

Temperature: 3C

A most successful evening!

I began shortly after midnight seeking a split of Eta Orionis. This system was easily resolved at 271x.

Next, I turned the telescope to 32 Orionis, easily found near Bellatrix; an interesting and very tight pair at 1.3″ but the magnitude differential is about 1.6 (4.2/5.8). Charging the telescope with additional power ( x406), I ran the system from the edge of the eastern field and left it drift through until it reached the western field stop, and repeated this procedure several times. To my delight, it was a fairly easy split!

Next I moved over to 52 Orionis (a tighter, 1″ pair), near the bright winter luminary, Betelgeuse. Though I was monitoring this system for about half an hour, I found it considerably more challenging than 32 Ori. But at 01:15 UT as the system crossed the meridian, a power of 406x was just enough to prize these two nearly equal magnitude stars apart!

Would like to have used a bit higher power with 52 Ori.

Both systems orientated roughly NE to SW.

A glorious sky here!

Will discuss more later today.

Time: 11:00 UT

Last night’s work with the 130P was very encouraging. It shows that this small Newtonian reflector is an excellent double star telescope and capable of resolving pairs down to its theoretical limit.

I encountered a little issue while using the larger 50mm finder. At low and medium power, the larger finder worked well but while using the ultra high powers to tease these stellar pairs apart, I found it to introduce greater vibrations while focusing and that’s not a good thing. I thus switched back to the lighter 6 x 30mm while conducting this work. I  just need to place some cardboard or some such under the collar to tighten it up. We live and learn; no sweat.

I am very much enjoying using this excellent grab ‘n’ go telescope. It’s just one sweet little instrument. I feel it gives exceptional value for money and has already paid its way many times over with the wonderful images it has delivered, whether in the open or closed tube configuration.

I see the One Sky Newtonian thread is still going strong on Cloudy Nights, with over 260,000 hits. Very well deserved in my opinion!

The addition of Bob’s knobs to the primary and secondary mirrors of this telescope has been highly satisfactory. I have just ordered another set of these to replace the ones I borrowed from my 8 inch Newtonian. They should be here tomorrow.


The cold snap continues; so I hope to make more observations with the 130P.

Time: 23:50UT

Concerning Fidelity

A strong northerly air flow has caused the seeing to degrade noticeably from last night ( IIIIV), especially with targets located at lower altitudes. That said, some good targets higher up were still well resolved including, Theta Aurigae and Iota Cassiopeiae (271x). The reader will note that these systems are often touted as being ‘tricky’. A consultation of the literature typically (though not always) states that they are “often difficult…. requiring steady nights and high magnification“. This is yet another urban myth. They are accessible much more often than is commonly reported in the popular literature. Why should that bother me? Well, it’s partly about honesty and partly about authority. If I’m buying a book on visual observing, I would expect the author to relay accurate information, and not perpetuate an untruth/exaggeration. Experience is the only panacea.

Concerning Outreach

The telescope is a wonderful outreach instrument. I like to set her up in the evenings when I’m busy with my students. Tonight, a few of them beheld the beauty of a waxing gibbous Moon, either when they arrived or before they left for home. The Baader zoom worked its magic on this target after dark, with lots of “oohs and aaahs,” coming from them as they settled into the telescope for a gander. Because it’s a robust, nofrills instrument, with decent aperture, the 130P makes an awesome outreach telescope. Easy to set up and pack away, you’ll never have to worry about things that go bump in the night. I can’t say the same for other types of ‘scope designs though. ’tis the genius of Newtonianism you see!

Date: November 29 2017

Rejecting Materialism

Happiness with Newtonians; Plotina (laevo) et Octavius.

















I thank the Lord that I live in a place where the laws of physics are actually obeyed. Can you imagine that! A good telescope with a larger aperture, given fair to good conditions, always proves superior to a significantly smaller one, even if the latter is that little bit better millimetre for millimetre. That said, I find it highly curious that there are some places where the basic laws of optics seem to be violated; such as in the refractor forum of Cloudy Nights. As a scientist trained to think critically, I am given to wonder where the real discrepancy lies; the observer or the environment?

When you’re not thinking like a phallus, you see things objectively, as things really are, not how you want them to be. And the results obtained with Octavius were perfectly in keeping with those garnered by Plotina when assessed against the 90mm apochromat in particular.

The old adage comes to mind; a fool and his money are soon parted.

The new knobs arrived late this evening and were promptly fitted to Octavius’ primary cell. Now all my reflectors are ready to work as they were designed to; right the way through the winter. Yeehaw!


Our Creator designed our bodies to work best while being sober, in our right mind, as it were. And no matter how much we wish to escape reality, no altered plane of perception  can improve on this blessed state. I consider it a big no no to observe while under the influence of alcohol or other pharmacological agents. Just one drink alters my state of perception and I have always maintained strict sobriety while observing or making reports from the field. That said, I wonder how many amateur astronomers observe under the influence of alcohol or some other mind altering agent. I believe about one in every seven Americans has problems with alcohol and the incidence is probably higher in many other nations. I know for a fact that some prominent CNers are on record for saying that they enjoy one or two scotches before venturing out of doors with their telescope(s). But if  objectivity is to be the goal of the observer, and if the truth is to be valued above all other things, such behaviour most not be condoned. It’s all well and good to enjoy a drink; but not while making observations with the intention to report them. This could contribute to a variety of anomalous results reported by some individuals over the years.

For me, telescopes are instruments to be enjoyed in blessed sobriety, the way our Creator intended it to be.

An Enabling Telescope

Date: November 30 2017

St. Andrew’s Day.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m removing the cobwebs, pulling away the curtains, sweeping up the dust and opening the windows to let the light in. It’s as good a time as any to do so, and I hope that it will have a lasting effect on the hobby. I also hope that it will encourage more individuals to enjoy this wonderful passtime without fear of intimidation from the pretentious prattle of the gearheads.

Another beautiful but cold day here. With the Moon now growing rapidly in brightness, I would like to visit some of the easy, showpiece colour contrast binaries with the 130P this evening.

Could the 130P be your only telescope?  I think the answer is definitely *yes*. As I’ve demonstrated, it’s no one trick pony. Indeed, it does virtually everything you’d want to do with a telescope, and with an impressively high level of competence. Indeed, you could have an absolute ball with this instrument for many years.  But I am blessed with a few other telescopes that are more powerful (fine 8″f/6 & 12″ f/5 Newtonians); nothing overly flashy, but great workhorses nonetheless.

My transition to Newtonianism has been a worthwhile experience and, truth be told, the last few years of my observing career have been amongst the most productive and happy in my career as a telescopist. It’s been thrilling to see what they can do, especially in regard to high resolution astronomy. It feels right too.

Traditionally, one of the socalled advantages of refractors (and Maks too) pertains to their lack of maintenance. Reflectors, they claim, need some TLC to keep them in tip top condition. Although this is true, I question whether the lack of maintenance is being overplayed and whether it really is an ‘advantage’. For one thing, as I’ve said before, if you do have an accident with a refractor, then you’ll likely have to send it off to someone for professional realignment; which is not an especially pleasant prospect. More importantly though, are we to encourage slothfulness? Is it not good and fitting that the telescopist remain active; both mentally and physically? I dare say, the little bit of TLC needed to keep Newtonian reflectors in good shape is a blessing and not a curse. Personally, I’d rather remain a tinkerer than become bone idle.

Think Newtonians can’t work in the cold?

















Time: 17:30 to 18:00 UT

Temperature: -2C

Seeing: III, remaining a little unsteady, partially cloud covered, bright gibbous Moon rising in the east.

I had a spare half hour this evening so off I sped to some wonderful colour contrast doubles of the winter sky;

Albireo; now in the far west, always a beautiful sight in the telescope. Golden and blue stars wonderfully framed in the generous field offered up by the Baader zoom at 81x

Gamma Delphini: Now sinking into the southwestern sky. A beauty at 81x, with yellow and greenish components.

O1 Cygni; easily located between Delta Cygni and Deneb, this is a lovely sight in any small telescope and sure enough it presented beautifully in the 130P at 20x (Skywatcher 32mm Plossl) but even better at 81x. O1 is a K class star with a marmalade orange hue and just 4′ away lies 30 Cygni, which presents with a greenish tinge to my eye. And to top it all off, the 7th magnitude star SAO 49338 makes for a fetching addition to the field, located as it is just a few arc minutes east of O1 Cygni.

Gamma Andromedae (Almach): a corker at 81x; orange and green riding high in the eastern sky at this time.

Finally, swinging the telescope low into the far western sky, I picked up Rasalgethi in Hercules with its comely red and green components, easily split at 81x.

As I have demonstrated many times over the last few years, Newtonians work very well in sub zero temperatures. Therein lies yet another myth promulgated by those who wish to push refractors on other amateurs; another porky. Indeed I have split some of my tightest pairs with Newtonians in very cold temperatures. What is more, there is no correlation whatsoever between ambient temperature and seeing conditions. One memorable night a few winters back, I obtained a stunning image of the companion to Propus (Eta Geminorum), that ‘little blue pimple’, with Octavius, my 8 inch Newtonian, in freezing temperatures. And truth be told, I have not seen it so well since!

Please don’t cultivate untruths. It’s unfair and discourages amateurs from going out under the starry heaven during cold spells with their reflecting telescopes (and that includes large catadioptrics which were extensively tested by this author a few years back). It pays to remember the work of the Reverend T.W Webb and William F. Denning, who dared to venture out with their large reflectors (with no fans either) during cold winter nights to bring the beauty of the sky into your warm and comfortable living rooms.


The Newtonian reflector reigns supreme over all other telescope designs. And this 130P has earned a distinguished place in my collection. It will remain my grab ‘n’ go telescope of choice in the future. It’s modest cost will allow many more beginning amateurs to cut their teeth in this wonderful hobby, with its excellent optics and great portability, but it’s powerful enough to engage seasoned observers as well. Whatever your preferred targets for observation are; Moon, planets, double stars, widefield and high magnification deep sky, the 130P will not disappoint. It also makes a wonderful daytime telescope for nature studies.  I commend SkyWatcher for bringing this amazing instrument to market and wish them every success in the future.

Thank you for reading.


De Fideli.


New Adventures with the Shorttube 80 Achromat.

Gallus Beastie…… ken
















Dedicated to Dave Russell


As you may know, I’ve written quite a bit (perhaps more than any other telescopist) about the venerable Shorttube 80 achromat. It’s a well–travelled ‘peashooter’ ‘scope that has punched well above its diminutive aperture and with thorough testing in the field, has exceeded all of my expectations. My particular model was purchased for about £150 and that extra cash bought me an instrument with a fully rotatable focuser that can accommodate 2 inch and 1.25 inch oculars, a well baffled internal tube and a retractable dew shield. The original crown & flint elements (branded as Opticstar) were replaced with a SkyWatcher objective and were professionally spaced and centred for optimal performance.

Gaius: my trusty 80mm f/5 achromatic refractor fitted with a Celestron 1.25″ prism diagonal.

















My 80mm F/5 achromat continues to serve as a highly capable birding ‘scope for crisp daylight images rich in contrast using my equally versatile Mark III 8–24mm Baader zoom, which delivers a very useful range of magnifications from 17x to 50x and with a generous field of view. Indeed, I consider this telescope to be far more versatile than a variety of 90mm Maksutovs that have come and gone over the years. The 8mm setting of the Baader zoom delivers a near ideal 1.5mm exit pupil which is especially good for enjoying larger deep sky objects (DSOs) in a generous 1.4 degree true field. Extensive field experience with this particular instrument has demonstrated that it can be used profitably at double this power to get close up views of smaller DSOs like small planetary nebulae and open clusters. For the widest ultra–rich sweeps, I adopt a simple but good 32mm multi–coated SkyWatcher Plossl eyepiece delivering a power of 13x in a near 4 degree field.

Because it’s a fast achromat, many observers have dismissed it as a high–resolution telescope incapable of delivering adequate high magnification views of the Moon, planets and double stars and this author would be the first to concede that it needs a bit of help when extending magnifications over 100 diameters.  That said, because I have grown very fond of this modest little ultra–portable telescope, I have sought long and hard to try to improve its optical performance at higher powers to make the instrument as versatile as possible. And that will be the subject matter of this blog.

As I have related before, I was rather taken aback by the ability of this telescope to resolve double stars within the remit of its aperture. Indeed, many hours of field work has allowed me to resolve an impressive suite of binary and multiple star systems very much at odds with received opinion. But like everything else in life, you’ll never know unless you try. Systems like Delta Cygni, Epsilon Bootis, Iota Cassiopeiae, Xi Ursae Majoris etc have all been resolved with this telescope under good seeing conditions and with nothing in the way of additional help. In recent months, I have been evaluating the performance of a 90mm f /5.5 ED apochromat in regard to the resolution of double stars and found that, like the venerable 80mm f/5 achromat, that this very fast telescope was equally capable of resolving such systems (indeed a little better owing to its greater aperture). The former instrument is fitted with a very fine 11:1 dual speed micro–focuser which has greatly aided precise focusing at high magnifications (up to about 250x) in the field. The shorttube 80, in contrast, is far more difficult to focus under the same high magnification regime owing to its single speed Crayford–style focuser, faster relative aperture (f/5) but also because at ultra–high powers the chromatic error of the telescope makes precise focussing far more challenging. And it was this issue that I decided to re–investigate.

The 90mm f/5.5 ED doublet used in comparison tests.

















Unfinished Business

My experiences with the 90mm f/5.5 ED refractor as well as a 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector showed that I could push these fast telescopes to powers as high as 250x and above profitably to tease apart tricky binary stars such as Mu Cygni A & B under good atmospheric conditions. I very much wanted to be able to do the same with the 80mm f/5 shorttube. Because of the latters’ smaller aperture, 250x would be about the upper limit that I could expect. My aim was to obtain the sharpest possible stellar images freed from (as much as possible) the chromatic ‘fog’ that attends pushing such a fast achromat to such high powers. Without changing the prescription of the lens (using an ED element), or stopping down the aperture (which I was unwilling to do), the only possible way was to remove the offending wavelengths from the image by blocking the principal offending wavelengths. And that led me, once again, to explore the use of filters.

The usual minus violet filters, which include the fringe killer, semiapo filter and Wratten no. 8 light yellow filter were a step in the right direction but not really good enough to do the job, as all of these do not remove all of the offending unfocused blue–violet wavelengths. What I sought was a filter that would remove all of the unfocused light but still allow as much light as possible to be transmitted to the eye. High efficiency light transmission would be a very important parameter, as at very high powers the images become especially dim in such a small telescope. My search was narrowed down to two such filters; an inexpensive light green Wratten no 56 and the (somewhat more expensive) Baader 495 longpass filter. The latter was brought to my attemtion by Dave Russell, an amateur astronomer based in Upstate New York, who carried out extensive tests using his 140mm f/5.7 Vixen Neoachromat. Below are the published transmission curves for these filters.

The light transmission curves for the Wratten light green filter.










Light transmission curve for the Baader 495 long pass filter.











Daylight Testing

I conducted a series of tests during cool, bright autumnal afternoons, where the temperatures did not fluctuate up or down. My targets included. for the most part, leaves from the topmost boughs of trees located between 80 and 150 yards away. The 1.25″ diagonal on the shorttube achromat was threaded with either the Wratten no. 56 or the Baader 495 longpass filter. The 80mm f/5 was charged with a power of 250x using a 1.6mm Vixen HR eyepiece, and as a control, I stopped down the 90mm ED ‘scope to 80mm using a makeshift cardboard aperture mask and used a 2mm Vixen HR ocular to derive the same magnification (250x).

The Vixen HR 1.6mm eyepiece used with the 80mm f/5 achromatic telescope.

















The results for both filters were remarkable! The light green filter did very well indeed, removing the vast majority of the offending short wavelengths, but the 495 long pass filter removed all of it. The images derived were very sharp and punchy using both filters, as if a foggy veil had been lifted from both images that greatly increased the contrast and sharpness at these uber high magnifications. This type of transformation was not noted with the aforementioned minus violet filters which only remove about half of the offending secondary spectrum. Both images were really quite excellent and almost as sharp as that derived by the ED ‘scope on the same target using the same magnification. The only significant differences were the colour casts generated by the filtered achromatic images; the Wratten gave a green cast, the Baader longpass, a yellow hue.  In addition, I carefully noted the brightness of the images. This time there was a clear winner; the Baader 495 longpass filter, which was clearly transmitting more light to the eye.

Consulting the data on the Wratten no. 56 filter revealed that its light transmission is about 53 per cent. But as you can clearly see in the hand–held images of both filters below, the Baader 495 longpass transmits significantly more light.

Light transmission comparisons between the Baader 495 longpass filter (left) and the Wratten no. 56 filter (right).













These daytime tests showed that the 80mm f/5 achromat could indeed generate very sharply focused images when the blue–violet secondary spectrum was completely removed. It also showed that the Baader 495 longpass filter was generating a significantly brighter image at 250x since its passes practically all visible wavelengths beyond about 495nm. In contrast, the Wratten absorbed most of the offending blue–violet and a significant fraction of red wavelengths (as indicated by the transmission curves shown above).

The author is aware that the Vixen HR series of oculars are very expensive and may be beyond the budget of some amateurs. Thankfully, there are other ways of deriving the same high magnifications using less expensive eyepieces. For example, I could achieve a power of 240x with the shorttube 80 by mating two shorty Barlow lenses to a 6mm orthoscopic eyepiece with broadly similar results.

Very high powers can also be achieved by stacking shorty Barlows to more economical eyepieces. In this case, a 6mm orthoscopic was mated with a 2.25x Baader Barlow as well as a 1.6x Barlow made by UK Astroengineering. Note that the configuration doesn’t protude too much above the diagonal.


















Under the Night Sky

Keeping the longpass filter in the diagonal and turning the telescope to the bright stars Vega and Deneb, the filter imparted a beautiful golden tint to them which I didn’t find distracting.  In most fields where the brightest stars were absent, one would be hardpressed to notice that any filter was in place. Turning next to the Pleiades and Perseus Double Cluster, the filtered images appeared every bit as bright as the unfiltered view with little or no light loss that I could discern; and which came as quite a relief to me. The lattter clusters, in particular, appeared very striking in the generous field of view served up by the Baader zoom at 50x. Red stars were especially easy to see and indeed were slightly enhanced using the filter. More generally, stellar images appeared tinier and more intense with the filter in place. The Andromeda Galaxy, now very high in the sky, stood out beautifully against a sable hinterland at 13x. Then I swung the telescope over to Lyra, now sinking into the western sky and located the Ring Nebula. Comparing the filtered and unfiltered views at 100x, I was very pleased to see that the images were quite comparable with only slight dimming in the latter. This showed that the filter was passing most if not all of the doubly ionised oxygen (500.7nm) which sets these planetary nebulae aglow. This will come as good news for those amateurs who like using larger aperture short focus achromats in pursuit of emission nebulae.

Gaius enjoying a clear autumnal sky.

















At higher powers, the stellar images snapped to a very tight focus with zero chromatic fogging much more easily than in the unfiltered view. This is a real bonus as there was now far less ambiguity to the position of best focus than when attempting to focus without the filter. Some may dislike the colour shift in the stellar Airy disks but, truth be told, this was of little concern to me as all I wished to do is to get very tight and tidy stellar images at the highest powers. Indeed, the ED ‘scope (a very good FPL 51 doublet) also imparted a slight yellowing to the Airy disks at high powers (above 150x) which departed somewhat from their true colour. Were I looking to get accurate colour information though, I would unhesitatingly recommend neither instrument over a 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector which will always reveal the true colour of the subject stars as well as being able to resolve tighter pairs than either of these refractors (and retails for about 1/7th of the price of the ED telescope to boot). In short, the goal was never to turn the achromat into an apochromat but only to allow me to achieve the brightest and tightest Airy disks at the highest powers.

High Power Night Time Tests

Shortly after 7pm local time on the evening of October 27 2017, I set the telescope on its Vixen Porta II mount and directed it at a first quarter Moon that was now culminating low in the south. A brisk westerly wind was blowing, carrying cloud patches over the landscape but there was enough clear spells for me to assess the image using the longpass filter. I charged the instrument with my Baader zoom and dedicated 2.25x Barlow and dialled in the 8mm setting yielding 113x. This particular configuration provides a wonderful panoramic view of our companion in space, its generous field allowing the entire lunar hemisphere to be examined at once.

Even without the filter, the image was quite good but it was plain to see that the crater rims were tinged in unfocused blue–violet and as Dave Russell previously reported with his 140mm Neoachromat, the entire surface was bathed with a faint ‘lavender fog’  which softens the image ever so slightly and which cannot be focused out. With the filter in place, the Moon took on a striking yellow–green countenance but the sharpness of the image was noticeably improved. Gone was any trace of unfocused light and the lavender fog completely removed. The prominent northern craters, Aristotle and Eudoxus were beautifully sharp, and the many ridges within Mare Tranquilitatis really stood out. The image just snapped to focus (and at f/5 you’re either there or you’re not!). Moving further south, the craters Hipparcus and Albategnius were stunningly presented with perfect delineation between their sunlit and shaded floors. And then my eye met with the rugged southern highlands presenting Theophilus, Cyrillus and Catharina  perfectly as if etched out with a laser. To be honest, I found it hard to take my eye away from this visual banquet but I eventually switched to higher power, inserting the 2mm HR ocular delivering 200x. Again, the image snapped to a sharp focus and yielded wonderful details. The lunar Apennines were simply astounding to study at this high power with excelllent contrast and no image breakdown whatsoever! Mount Hadley stood out boldly near the location of the Apollo 15 landing site.

My findings agree very well with the reports made by Russell. This is one excellent filter for lunar studies, transforming an otherwise mediocre 80mm lunar ‘scope into a very good performer. Because of its small aperture, a telescope such as this is relatively insensitive to the vagaries of the Earth’s atmosphere and I went away from the field fully confident that I could push the instrument to still higher magnifications on this wonderful target under better observing conditions.

Impressed? Chalk it down!

On the evening of October 28 2017 at 7:30pm local time, I set up both the 80mm f/5 achromat (with the 495 longpass in place) and the 90mm ED refractor stopped down to 80mm to get another look at the Moon in the south. Conditions were blustery all day but a clear spell came between 7pm and 8pm. Hoping for the best, I quickly discovered that the seeing was horrendous lol (Antoniadi  IV). What a difference a day maketh! Views were just passable at 113x in the 80mm f/5 and lousy at 200x. But precisely the same was true with the ED ‘scope. At powers of the order of 100x the images were just useable, but at double that magnification, it was well nigh impossible to get a sharp focus.

This was also confirmed on a double star situated much higher up in the western sky. Turning to Epsilon Lyrae 1 & 2, neither telescope could convincingly split the stars at a power of 200x. These observations provide an important lesson in their own right. Even small telescopes are not immune to seeing. And though the ED refractor is of unquestionably higher optical quality than the shorttube 80, the seeing conditions on this occasion completely overwhelmed both instruments.

The Meat

On two evenings of good to excellent seeing (October 25 and 29, 2017) I was finally able to test the high resolution performance of the longpass filter with the 80mm f/5 achromatic telescope, using the aforementioned stopped down ED ‘scope as a control. Examining the images of Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae at 250x, the filter enabled me to achieve precise focus easily and consistently. The Airy disks appeared clean, greenish yellow in hue and round as buttons! Light transmission was excellent. The same was true when I tested the telescope on Delta Cygni; the companion being readily seen in the very good seeing conditions presented on these two evenings. But the proof of the pudding, as it were, lay with Mu Cygni A and B (very near the Dawes limit for such an aperture), which I have found to be exceedingly difficult to image well using the native 80mm f/5 achromatic optics, with the best views delivering a vaguely dumbbell like morphology. For reference, the 130mm f/5 Newtonian makes light work of this system and the pair is just resolved at 250x using the full aperture of the 90mm f/5.5 ED refractor. But stopped down to 80mm in the latter ‘scope, the pair was consistently seen to be touching. Using the longpass yellow filter on the ST80 finally allowed me to see these stars distinctly at 250x, the two Airy disks indeed touching each other, like a tiny snowman in the sky, the fainter companion (4.8/6.2) orientated roughly northwest of the primary; and just as the stopped down ED ‘scope had delivered. This is good evidence that the 80mm f/5 telescope can resolve to its theoretical limit, presenting images that are accurate representations of reality.

I am confident that the filter can indeed improve the performance of the telescope at the highest powers. It further dispels the myth that the ST 80 cannot do this kind of work. As usual, I attribute this to an admixture of laziness, the presumption of inadequacy, and sheer lack of interest.  As ever, I would warmly encourage others to follow my work and to confirm these or related findings in due course.

The reader will remember that such a telescope has no need of such a filter (or any other filter) for low and medium power work (up to 100x or so). Indeed, this author is of the firm conviction that the very acceptable levels of secondary spectrum produced at these modest powers are desirable, educational and comely, in equal measure.

The longpass filter will also be utilised as a tool to enable me to obtain the sharpest possible images of the brighter planets when they come around. And while, in this capacity, I have obtained very encouraging results last season using the No. 56 Wratten filter, the longpass should help it perform that little bit better.

What other telescopes might benefit from using the yellow longpass filter?  Certainly, a variety of fast achromats come to mind but I would caution that as the aperture gets larger and the focal ratio is kept low, sphero–chromatism will quickly overwhelm the ability of such a filter to perform as it has done in this 80mm ‘scope. The reader will recall Russell’s comments that the secondary spectrum on the ST80 is not overwhelming to begin with (indeed it is similar to that seen in a 6 inch f/8 instrument) and so the filter need only be used where the highest resolution is sought (planets and double stars). The author is also aware that Russell’s instrument is a Petzval design, so has a longer focal length doublet to start with. Still, I would encourage others to experiment using the more recently introduced 6 inch f/5.9 achromats, as well as the ubiquitous 100mm, 120mm, and 150mm f/5 achromats on the market.

That’s where this blog winds up. So ends the tale of my quirky little achromatic.

Thanks for reading!


Postscriptum: For more on what can be done with the Shorttube 80 achromat in regard to splitting close binary systems see pages 39 and 43 of the the book, Astronomy with Small Telescopes (2001), where a number of suitable targets and magnification regimes are discussed. Happy hunting!


Neil English’s soon to be published work; Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, calls upon the vast resources of history to debunk many other telescopic myths.


De Fideli.

The ‘Foot’ ‘Scope Project

Fintry, July 2017.

















Saturday July 8 2017

I took a chance on a large reflecting telescope; a Dobsonian with a 305mm (12”) mirror and focal length of 1525mm (so f/5 relative aperture). The price was just too good to pass on so I contacted the seller and it transpired that he was a professor of optics from a Welsh University. I asked him about the telescope and in particular, about its optics. He assured me that they were good from his limited use of it, a tad over corrected but otherwise fine. When I enquired as to why he was selling the telescope he simply admitted that he didn’t have much time to use it and would rather see it collecting starlight than sitting in his garden shed. Although based near Chester, England, the owner kindly agreed to drop off the instrument in person (with an appropriate reimbursement for pertrol) and so early on Saturday morning, he and his wife set out on the road north to my home here in rural central Scotland. The day was bright and sunny, good for a car trip and they arrived in the mid afternoon.

Branded as a ‘Revelation’ 12” f/5, the instrument is fitted with GSO mirrors, which, as I have shown in previous blogs, has now established itself as a manufacturer of high quality optics at very reasonable prices. A few years back, I had actually tested one of these units but, unfortunately, found the mirror to be astigmatic; a real show stopper for me as I like to push my instruments on high resolution targets.

Larger than life: the Revelation 12″ f/5 Dobsonian dwarfs Plotina, my ultraportable 5.1 inch f/5 reflector (shown on the left).

















The instrument came with all the usual accessories; a 9mm Plossl (1.25” fitting), a 30mm wideangle ocular (2” format), an extension tube and a ‘straight through’ 8 x 50mm achromatic finder ‘scope. And while the original instrument came with a built in fan, the owner apologised that he had taken it off whilst installing a set of stronger springs to support the primary mirror and had forgotten to reinstall it. He was relieved to see that I wasn’t in the least bit bothered about it and reminded him that many of the great observers of yesteryear never used fans on their reflectors and that this didn’t seem to hinder their fine work in any significant way. He gave me a wide smile. I handed over the cash and treated the couple to high tea, where we discussed, among other things, the many virtues of the Newtonian telescope. Suitably refreshed, my wife and I bid them farewell and they began their long car journey south of the border.

No sooner as they hit the road, I visually inspected the primary mirror and found that it had accumulated quite a bit of dust, which imparted a milky appearance to its surface. There was no evidence of coating deterioration on the primary mirror, but it would require a good cleaning, so I removed it from the tube, gave it a ‘finger tip’ cleaning, described previously in this short blog, using a few drops of washing up liquid added to a bowl of lukewarm water, before hosing it down with my garden hose, whereafter it was dried out indoors and reinstalled in the tube.

The primary mirror as received. Note the milky appearance due to a thin layer of fine dust on its surface.

















A sudsy mirror.
















There we go; a nice clean mirror ready to reinstall in the tube.

















The mirror was centre spotted (which came as a relief) and I noted its thickness to be 36mm, so about 1.5 inches (1:8 thickness). Thus, it is acceptably thin and should cool off in a reasonable amount of time.

The telescope came with a very smooth dual speed (10:1) Crayford style focuser, a feature I was to learn to greatly appreciate, as the reader will discover shortly.

The Revelation dual speed focuser; an excellent addition to an economical telescope.

















Collimation was very easy to perform using the oversized knobs on the rear of the primary cell, as well as using a small Philips screwdriver to make the appropriate adjustments to the secondary.

The oversized knobs on the primary make precise adjustments child’s play. The previous owner installed stronger springs to better hold the cell in place.

















An inexpensive SkyWatcher laser collimator whipped the optics into line in a matter of seconds. Later I removed the secondary mirror for inspection and noted no coating issues with it either. I measured its minor axis to be approximately 70mm so a very respectable linear obstruction of the order of 23 per cent. Not bad at all!

Movements on the lazy suzan mount were smooth and easy to execute, both in azimuth and altitude; certainly adequate to the intended purposes I wish to use the telescope for.

I fitted the instrument with my right angled 8 x 50mm finder borrowwed from ‘Octavius’, my 8 ” f/6 Newtonian reflector. Whatever others claim concerning the curse of acquiring a new telescope to play with, the weather remained fair for me that evening, with the promise of a clear sky, albeit in summer twilight. So I readied the instrument and set it outside to acclimate as sunset slowly approached.

The 12″ f/5 Newtonian awaiting maximal darkness on the evening of July 8 2017.

















At 23:00 BST, I managed to track down the bright summer luminary, Vega, in bright twilight and excitedly aimed the telescope at it, using a power of about 190x initially. To my great relief, the star focused down to a very tight disk with intense diffraction spikes from the secondary support. The image was remarkably calm and I then racked the eyepiece inside and outside focus. Again, I was very impressed at how the defocused Fraunhofer diffraction pattern presented itself. The optics looked nice and smooth, being virtually identical inside and outside focus. Inserting a quality, 6mm orthoscopic yielding 254x, I re-examined the star in the same way. Again, I was very impressed at how the star test was shaping up. I noted a touch of overcorrection; but it was very minor. There was no visible sign of astigmatism (phew!) or ugly zones. This was indeed a good, large, mirror; no, a very good mirror; in fact, as I recall, absolutely astonishing for the low price I paid for it!

As the sky grew a bit darker, I swung the telescope over to Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae, which the finder was just able to pick up in the bright, twlit sky. Leaving the 6mm orthoscopic in situ, I was delighted to see that it rendered a textbook perfect split of all four components. From there, I moved the instrument westward into Bootes and centred Epsilon Bootis (Izar) in the field. Refocusing slightly (it has a lower altitude afterall), I was again rewarded with an excellent image. This tricky, colour contrast binary system can elude telescopes if the seeing is not up to scratch. It was around this time that I reached for my trusty Baader single polarising filter, which imparts a slight darkening of the twilit sky and increased the contrast of the stellar components without imparting a colour shift. The filter improved the image still further by reducing irradiance, I thought. Indeed, I recalled that the previous owner had also learned this trick whilst observing Jupiter with the telescope, so he was a convert to using filters on bright objects too!

Feeling more ambitious, I turned the 12” reflector on Pi Aquilae now positioned low in the south southeast; an interesting binary system with roughly equal magnitude components separated by about 1.5”. Well, the instrument made light work of the system; both stars focusing down to beautiful, round buttons at 254x. Finally, at around 00:15 BST (Sunday), I swung the telescope up the sky once again, where the difficult Delta Cygni was now showing in a darker sky. Again: astonishing! The telescope made very light work of picking off the faint companion set beside the comparatively bright primary. The image was wonderful and calm; a fine night to begin my adventures with this large telescope. Alas, there it had to end, as I had to rise early the next morning, but I retired from the field confident that I had an excellent telescope and one that would assuredly be put to good use in the coming days.

Monday July 10 2017

Time: 16:30 BST

After an afternoon of drizzly rain, it stopped for a wee while allowing me to perform a high power daylight test to the telescope. With a very overcast sky, the temperatures had stablished so I was assured of a good image of a relatively nearby terrestrial target. Coupling a 2.25x Barlow lens to the 6mm ortho yielding 570 diameters, I focused on the topmost boughs of a horse chestnut tree adorned in its full summer foliage and located approximately 80 yards distant. Focusing carefully with the fine focuser of the telescope, I was greeted with a beautifully sharp image of the leaves, with all their minute imperfections being made manifest before my eye. 570x is very close on 50 x per inch of aperture and it passed this daylight test with flying colours. Still, I was quite unprepared for what I experienced the following evening.

Tuesday, July 11 2017

Time: 22:50 BST

Seeing: very good (II), partially clouded over again after a rather clear evening.

I began the evening with a star test on Vega as before at 254x, the result of which was as good (if not better) than the results obtained on Saturday last. Very slight overcorrection noted. Nothing else to report. Polariser used to darken the sky a bit.

23:15 BST: Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae perfectly split at 253x. Cranking up the power to 570x yielded similar results. Stars tiny and round; very well corrected optics.

23:20: Ditto for Epsilon Bootis at 570x. Excellent split. Beautiful stellar diffraction images at these uber high powers. Amazing!

23:40: Delta Cygni. Wonderful split at 570x. More turbulence witnessed at this power but the image was mighty impressive. Stars remaining, tiny and round.

Wednesday July 12 2017

Time: 00:10 to 00:20 BST

Temperature: 10C

Seeing: remaining excellent (I/II)

Moved the telescope over to Lambda Cygni, a 0.9” pairing of white stars well positioned very high in the sky. At 254x, the system was well resolved. Then the power was increased to 570x and the image rexamined. Wow! I had never seen the system so clearly and so easily at a glance. The stars are orientated north to south, effectively perpendicular to the direction of drift!


The experience affirms the superiority of aperture under good seeing conditions. What a magnificent telescope I have in my possession!



The following evening was also clear. Details below:


Time: 23:45 to 00:15 BST (July 14)

Plotina(left) and the 12″ f/5 field tested side by side.


Temperature: 13C easily noted as the midgees were more numerous tonight than the cooler night of last night.

Seeing: III/IV much more turbulent than the perfection of last night

Instruments: 130mm f/5 Newtonian & 305mm f/5 Newtonian

Targets: Epsilon 1 and 2 Lyrae: split in both instruments but aesthetically more pleasing in the smaller instrument (powers employed 185x and 253x, respectively)

Epsilon Bootis: Not reliably seen in the larger instrument at 250x. Only a swollen seeing disk with maybe a hint of a companion under brief moments of improved seeing.

Companion was clearly seen in the 130mm instrument and aesthetically more pleasing at 185x

All absolutely normal.

What a difference a night maketh!

After a week’s vacation to the southwest of Scotland, I was able to resume my testing at home.

Sunday July 23 2017

Time: 23:45 BST

Instrument: 12″ f/5 Newtonian

Seeing: Appears excellent once again (I/II), quite a bit of cloud, clearing slowly.

00:00 BST (local midnight July 24)

Had a quick look at 78 UMa at 570x but failed to resolve this 0.8″ system now about half way up the northwestern sky. It is considerably lower in altitude than Lambda Cygni though. Will stick to Lambda Cygni.

00:18: Finally cleared up, but still quite hazy. Managed another excellent split of this system this evening. Execllent definition at 570x. System followed through several fields. The addition of the fine focuser is a godsend. Very useful addition!

This is the second time in 12 days that I’ve managed this subarcsecond pair!

Therein lies a project; to ascertain, through actual observation, the frequency of such nights that are available for the 12 ” to do this kind of high resolution work at this location.

00:50; went out to reexamine the system and still very well resolved!

General Commentary:

As it so happens, Lambda Cygni is Astronomy Now magazine’s Double Star of the Month (August 2017 issue  pp 86). This is what astronomer, Bob Argyle, says about the system;

In 1842, using the new 15 inch refractor at Pulkowa, Russia, Otto Struve noted that the star was a close and very unequal double star. The companion (B), some 1.5 magnitudes fainter than the primary, was found in position angle (PA) 107 degrees (east southeast) and at a distance of 0.7 arcsecond. Since then, the companion has moved retrograde to PA 5 degrees (almost due north) and the separation is near one arcsecond………B is easily seen though not so easily measured with the 20cm refractor at Cambridge; a measurement last year put B about 5 degrees behind the ephemeris, which is derived from the 391 year orbit of Wilhelm F. Rabe(18931958).

pp 86

My observations match Argyle’s very well. That it can be monitored with a 12 inch f/5 Newtonian shouldn’t surprise those who have followed my work over the years. Having enjoyed tremendous success with both a 20.4cm f/6  Dob (which has split this system but not nearly as convincingly) and a smaller, 13cm f/5 ultraportable Newtonian (pictured above), I was never in any doubt that the larger instrument would deliver. But to my knowledge no one has addressed the frequency with which this observation can be made with a 30cm aperture at this location. My hypothesis is that it is significantly more frequent than is commonly reported in the literature(or on forums). I do not, however, consider my location to be special in any particular way.

While I would concede that a large aperture classical refractor, mounted on a good equatorial mount, would be the ideal instrument for measuring this system, my observations suggest that the 12 inch reflector shows it more easily, supporting my previously stated maxim: ‘eye seeth afore I measureth.’

Monday, July 24 2017

A set of Bob Knob’s was fitted to the secondary of the 12 inch, thus facilitating quicker collimation in the field.

Bob’s Knobs replacing the generic screws on the secondary.

















Looking good tonight for clear spells.Fingers crossed!

The 12 inch awaiting darkness.

















Time: 23:20 BST

Temperature: +15C

Seeing: A notch or two down on last night. (Ant III), Clear sky, very little cloud.Midgees legion.

Marginal split reported at 570x (with polariser) but seeing disks swollen due to atmospheric turbulence. To get some perspective on this, Ant III seeing allows a good split of Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae in the 12 inch, but less aesthetically pleasing splits of Delta Cygni and Epsilon Bootis; again with slightly swollen seeing disks.

Will have another look shortly after midnight.

Tuesday July 25 2017

Time: 00:10 BST

System slightly better resolved; certainly to be counted as a split at 570x. Very impressive!

An Aside: 00:30BST

Had my first look at M13 with the telescope. Sky not fully dark yet but boy is it impressive at 254x! Easily superior to the best dark sky images with the 8 inch. Physics is physics afterall!

14:50 BST

Some Implications of the ‘Foot’ ‘Scope Project

One of the most important things a tester of telescopes must do is to work in an environment that allows such instruments to be properly assessed. For example, if one lives where the seeing is continually lousy, or at best, mediocre, one will consistently report that small, high quality optics beats everything else, especially on planets and double stars. This is, of course, the mantra of the refractor nut,  and it is true only insofar as what their local seeing can establish. Having said that, find out where your favourite telescope tester does his/her observing, and what the seeing is generally like there. Chances are you’ll see a pattern in their reports. It is anomalies like these that lead to much heated (and needless) debates on forums, where the sincere convictions of one individual conflicts with others, only because the air under which they live puts a ceiling on what can be achieved.

For example, a long time reviewer of telescopes provided an in depth review of the Discovery 12.5 inch f/5 Dob in the November 2003 issue of Sky and Telescope Magazine. In that review he states that big Dobs are not always the best choice for double star observing. He writes:

A large Dobsonian is not always the first choice for double star observing; the scope is often too bulky to track at the high powers necessary to split close doubles. Nevertheless, I ran some tests with the 12.5 inch PDHQ. The well known stars Mizar and Polaris were easy, as were the Double Double in Lyra. I was also able to split Alpha Herculis, which has a relatively easy separation of 4.6 arcseconds but is made somewhat difficult by the mgnitude difference (3.5 and 5.4) between its components. But despite repeated tries, I never did split Delta Cygni, an even tougher target with 2.2 arcseconds separating its 2.9 and 6.3 magnitude components.

pp 57

While there is no other indication from the same review that there was anything untoward about the optics in this telescope, what does seem odd is that he never managed to split the relatively easy pair, Delta Cygni. This would indicate to me that his seeing conditions were just not up to scratch for this task. The 12.5 inch ought to have done far better if his conditions were in any way decent. Thus, and with all due respect to the tester, reports like this must be taken with a pinch of salt.

Time: 22:45 BST: Looking promising again tonight! Yeehaw! I have just come in from a quick test on Epsilon Bootis with the 12 inch telescope and managed an excellent split at 254x. Midgees biting like mad though. More cloud tonight but some good clear spells presenting themselves.

Temperature: 14C


I spent some time earlier dipping into the interesting chapter 11 of the 2nd edition of Observing and Measuring Double Stars (Argyle R.W, ed). I have mentioned the author’s work before; a one Christopher Taylor, who has been observing  ultra tight binary stars from central England since the 1960s using a 12.5 inch F/7.04 Calver reflector. On page 135 Taylor mentions something of great interest to me;

It is probably in part the lack of such training and consequent failure to distinguish the seeing blur( the gross image outline) from the still visible Airy nucleus which is responsible for the persistent myth that seeing limits ground level resolution to 1 arc second at best, and is certainly the origin of some of the more spectacularly absurd figures one sees quoted for alleged image size.This author’s experience of typical conditions at a very typical lowland site may be of some interest in this context: using a 12.5 in Newtonian at 400 feet elevation (130m) in central England, an equal 0.75 arc second pair (such as η CrB in May 2000) is steadily separated by a clear space of dark sky at 238x in seeing of only III to II (Ant.)

pp 135

You don’t say!

Time: 23:41 BST: After waiting for a suckerhole to appear in the clouds, I finally got a glimpse of the system (it’s dead easy to find!) for about 90 seconds, but enough to witness yet another clean split of the stars. Power 570x. Much better than last night. Steady image with plenty of dark sky separating them.

n = 4

I believe Taylor is telling the truth. My observations so far match his.

I would warmly encourage others to participate in this high resolution experiment. A 10 or 12 inch Dob should do the trick, and don’t worry about how much the instrument set you back. As far as I’m concerned the cheaper the better!

Vere dignum et iustum est.


If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll be well aware that I’ve been chasing Lambda Cygni for a few years now. The 8 inch f/6 Newtonian has resolved the pair well, but only on the best nights (Ant I), but the 12 inch f/5 seems to show this spectacle of nature routinely at Ant III or better. I think Taylor is on to something here. Allow me to couch what I think he’s saying in the simplest possible terms:

With a modest gain in aperture, separating these stars is easier because there will always be moments in fair to average seeing conditions for the larger aperture to split them. It’s pretty much analogous to the idea that a larger aperture shows planetary details better even in fairly rough seeing because nature provides opportunities to let those details pop into view, if only for a few fleeting moments. Shimples!

Wednesday July 26 2017

Doing the night shift ken

















Time: 23:18 BST

Seeing; Ant II, partially cloudy, brisk westerly wind

Temperature: 13C

Comments: If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing fully and completely.

n = 5. Good split at 570x. Image breaks up momentarily but comes back together often enough to see both components clearly. Making more observations in the next half hour or so.

Time: 23:41 BST

System revisited and easily resolved under tonight’s conditions.

Thursday, July 27 2017

The results that I have obtained thus far can’t be exceptional. They must be part of a broader aspect of natural behaviour Thus, there must exist many such places where larger aperture Newtonian telescopes have done the same thing. And since this blog is about the performance of Newtonian reflectors in particular, I contacted Mark McPhee, an amateur astronomer based in Austin, Texas, USA. Mark has been observing and imaging subarcsecond pairs with both his 8″ f/6 Orion (XT8i) Newtonian and a 15 inch f/4.5 Newtonian and produced this amazing post back in December of 2016.

Quite clearly, Mark has provided powerful evidence that subarcsecond pairs cannot just be observed but they can also be effectively imaged. Many of Mark’s targets, of course, go considerably deeper than anything I’ve done in this blog. I asked Mark to provide an overview of what his typical conditions are under which he performs his work. This is what he said:

I gather that my seeing is very good here compared to that for most. In the warmer months (which is most of the year here) I can get a good number of very good seeing days in. I often rate the seeing as at least a 3 out of 5 with a good sprinkling of 3+, 4- and bone fide 4’s in the mix. So, the images I presented are fairly representative of what I see and match a 3+ out of 5 on average. A seeing of 2 or less would likely not be feasible for imaging (or splitting) these challenging systems.

This agrees with the observations I have made thus far regarding Lambda Cygni. But he thinks his conditions might be a wee bit special. I respectfully disagree  (n=?). I also believe that if other amateurs tested their large Dobsonians (up to about 15 inches), many more would discover their power to resolve such pairs.

Mark has since gone from strength to strength. He writes:

I am in the process of compiling about 30 double star measures of rather difficult pairs for my first solo JDSO submission–this will contain a detailed description of my methodology.

Fondest congratulations Mark! I hope it will the first of many such submissions!

Nota bene: Mark has also posted work done with his XT8i. You can see some of this work here.

Further thoughts on the Newtonian in respect of high resolution, double star astronomy

Taylor’s essay in chapter 11 of the aforementioned book states that he has done all his subarcsecond double star work in the open air, that is, there is no observatory. My work is also conducted entirely in the open air.

Taylor’s analysis, reproduced in my blog here, advises that this kind of work is unlikely to be successful at < f/5 relative apertures. This author’s work is in disagreement with that conclusion, as is McPhee’s phenomenal results highlighted earlier. My own work utilises only a Barlow lens (2.25x) boosting the geometrical optical train from f/5 to approximately f/11.3. Furthermore, the use of a Paracorr (or other coma correcting optics) would also help correct the field of view for this type of exacting work. Taylor’s analysis never took any of these considerations into account and so his f ratio restrictions can be somewhat relaxed. Thus, I can see no theoretical barriers to owner’s of f/4 Newtonian systems with good, properly collimated optics. Why not give it a go?

Friday, July 28 2017

Well, I’ve reached my first milestone with this telescope; I have (very probably) used it more than the previous owner has lol!

Am I happy with it so far? You bet! To be honest I’m rather in awe of how good the optics are. As I have said previously, I have always suspected that the chances of acquiring a good, mass produced telescope in this aperture class is rather less than for smaller telescopes, such as an 8 inch. The reason I believe this is the case is that the amount of effort needed to get a good mirror must scale with the area of the surface to be worked. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that claim. How many times have we heard of individuals purchasing a telescope of this size only to be disappointed with the star test it serves up? And there is no shortage of folk who decided to have the primary mirror refigured or some such. From the observations I have made, I am relieved to say that I have absolutely no intention of upgrading the primary. I do however plan to do what I did with my smaller Newtonians, namely to get the mirrors coated with HiLux enhanced coatings, as I have been very pleased with how the others have turned out.

After talking with Orion Optics UK, I decided on replacing the secondary mirror with a slightly smaller unit; in this case a 63mm minor axis diameter. That’s a little bit smaller than the existing 70mm flat but not enough to require a lower profile focuser or some such. The new flat will give a 20.6 per cent linear obstruction, so very respectable indeed for all round work. I intend to get the primary recoated later in the autumn.

The original flat elliptical mirror in its plastic housing.

















The replacement dovetails nicely with a turn in the weather. After a longish spell of fair evenings, we are now sat under a big, ugly low pressure system delivering torrential downpours; so not good for hauling out a large telescope like this.

What a roller coaster ride it’s been so far. Going forward, I determine to accept nothing on faith, or received wisdom, but only to see everything with my own eyes.

Newtonians have been so very kind to me, helping me to take my observing to new heights of sophistication. For many years I dismissed their powers largely for trivial reasons. Sure, they don’t look quite as fetching as a pretty refractor or compact catadioptric, but it’s the views that count. My environment clearly permits me to exploit telescopic aperture in a productive way, unencumbered by physical, geographical or psychological boundaries. And should I get an opportunity to observe while the new flat is being fitted, I’ll be reaching for Octavius, my wonderful 8″ f/6 Newtonian, the instrument that most powerfully catalysed my transition from small refractor culture. For more than a decade I succumbed to the charms of the object glass, being exceedingly zealous to promote their various attributes. Indeed, it is all too easy to engineer a scenario where the little ‘peashooter’ ‘scopes always win. Try comparing a 4 inch refractor to a 12 inch reflector say, while the latter is still acclimating and you’ll see what I mean. Newtonians teach you to be patient with telescopes, to figure out how best to tame them. And when you do that, a whole new Universe is set before you.

My dream ‘scope: Octavius, a simple 8″ f/6 Newtonian reflector.
















Saturday, July 29 2017

There will be a slight change of plan regarding the secondary mirror. I have decided just to have it recoated. Afterall, the existing mirror works perfectly well and the central obstruction is already acceptably small. The better coatings will increase light transmission to the eye and help increase overall contrast in the image by scattering less light/lowering irradiance. The primary will follow suit later this year.

Monday, July 31 2017

Secondary despatched to Orion Optics UK.

Haste ye hame!

Time: 23:00BST

Seeing: very good but not perfect (Ant II), slight westerly breeze, some breaks in the cloud.

Instrument: 20.4cm f/6 Newtonian reflector, 450x, polariser

Octavius; carrying on the subarcsecond project.

Comments: Continuing this project with Octavius, I was delighted to get a convincing split of Lambda Cygni again this evening under conditions which I did not think would be favourable enough for the 8 inch instrument to pull off. Perhaps it was my recent training with the 12 inch or my lack of diligence in following up this system with the smaller instrument under less than ideal conditions that led me to conclude that it can only be seen in Ant I. Clearly it can be resolved in Ant II. Thus, using inductive reasoning we have n = 6.

Time: 23:50 BST

With a good clear spell now developing, I decided to have another look at the system with the 8 inch. 450x is a good magnification for this kind of work, but even at this power, the system remains small and tight, so I had the idea of boosting the power still more; to 600 diameters using a not too frequently used Vixen 2mm HR ocular.

Well, it certainly improved the situation! The pair were more convincingly separated at this power than at 450x.

Ocatvius certainly has excellent optics for an 8 inch ‘scope! 600 represents 75x per inch of aperture; very good indeed under field conditions.

Thus, in all future observations of well placed subarcsecond pairs with this instrument, I will utilise this ocular as it has clearly proven its worth tonight.

System reobserved just after local midnight at 600x. Split once again confrmed.

A rather specialised ocular: the 2mm Vixen HR.
















Tuesday July 2017

Time: 22:45 BST

Instrument: 20.4cm f/6 Newtonian

Seeing: III, more turbulent than last night, good transparency.

Comments: After a day of torrential downpours with some sunny spells thrown in for good measure, the sky cleared at sunset and I was able to perform another observation. Tests on both Epsilon Bootis and Delta Cygni both revealed their companions at 200x but not as well as last night. Applying 600x to the instrument on Lambda Cygni revealed a very complex diffraction pattern. One can easily discern that the system is duplicitous but no clean split was forthcoming. Out again for another look.

NB. The Vixen HR series are not threaded to accommodate filters. What a bummer. Such an expensive ocular without this basic provision!

Time: 23:07 BST

More cloud encroaching unfortunately. Time to pack up methinks!

Time: 23:17 BST

Hold your horses! Had another look; seeing improved and a split recorded at 600x so n = 7

Comments: Not that unusual for seeing to improve during a vigil. Both stars steadily held on and off through a couple of fields.

Explanations: slight gain in altitude or more thorough passive cooling of the optical train; more likely the former as the system was first examined earlier tonight than last night.

Heavy dew now; so need to pack up.

Time: 23:27 BST

Couldn’t resist one more gander lol. Both stars cleanly resolved between intervals of turbulence, where the image breaks up. This is so cool!

n = 7 stands.

Note tae sel’: Will attempt to refrain from making observations before 23:00 local time (22:00 UT) at least for the next few weeks.

Thursday, August 3 2017

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise

Proverbs 6:6

I was reading through my Bible this morning and the proverb above just jumped out of the page. It’s amazing how Scripture does that eh?

What an extraordinary run of results so far! It appears I can manage a decent split of this pair any time the seeing is fair to good and as long as I use decent telescopic aperture.

All sorts of questions popped into my head, such as;

  1. What is really meant by a subarcsecond night?
  2. Are the results obtained thus far the result of special seeing conditions?
  3. Is the complete lack of such sustained observations of this kind on the various double star fora attributed to good old fashioned laziness?

Like I said, I strongly suspect question 2 is false, as I don’t really think that my location is an isolated system.

But what about question 3? How many folk really understand the nature of the environments in which they regularly observe? Would more people report the same had they enough diligence to do the necessary work? I dare say they would!

The newly coated secondary should be with me towards the end of next week so I’ll be able to resume testing with the foot ‘scope.

Time: 23: 25 BST

Gaius(laevo) et Octavius: fratres aeterni.

















The forecast predicted a mostly overcast evening, but as I’ve explained many times before, there will always be the odd break now and then. I decided I’d be ready early this evening, fielding both Gaius, my trusty 80mm f/5 achromatic, as well as Octavius (20.4cm f/6 Newtonian) from about 20:30UT.

I enjoyed a few favourite double star targets with Gaius as I waited for time to pass after 22:00 UT and at 22:25UT I finally got my chance to examine Lambda Cygni at 600x with Octavius. I can report yet another clean split so n = 8.

By 22:37 UT it had totally clouded over, so no further tests could be made.

I suppose the old adage is true: good things come to those who wait. Or how about, chance favours the prepared mind?

The system is very well placed now for far northern observers so if you have a good medium sized Dob, give it a go. Chances are you’ll see it regularly too!

For those further south, why not pick another candidate system just below the 1″ threshold. What have you got to lose? It’d be fun discovering new stuff eh?

Or do you have something to hide? I wonder!!

Friday, August 4 2017

I am hoping as many people as possible will participate in this project to get to know their local conditions better. Surely such knowledge is valuable! Of course, there will be places here and there that won’t yield these results (or at least nearly as often), yet in truth, of all the places I’ve observed from for any length of time here in Scotland, only two locations proved poor quite a bit of the time (and one of them includes my previous abode in the village of Kippen just 7 miles away).

Nor do I claim any credit for myself. This was Christopher Taylor’s revelation and therefore his ‘discovery.’

Away for a short weekend vacation. See you guys n’ gals next week.

Monday, August 7 2017

Tiberius (laevo) et Octavius: fratres aeterni.

















Time: 20:20 UT

Another night of tests coming up. Good clear evening, ken. I felt like Hulk Hogan fielding Tiberius,  my 5 inch f/12 refractor, a top quality long focus instrument. Weighing in at 40 pounds (OTA only), it’s a beast of a ‘scope. Accompanying it is Octavius.

Time: 22:15 UT

Seeing: Very good (II), some light cloud moved in but large swathes of sky remaining clear. Moon low in the south southeast.

Temperature: 12C

Lambda Cygni examined in both instruments.

5″ f/12 refractor: Unresolved but strongly notched at 429x and 572x

8″ f/6 Newtonian: Easily resolved at 600x, so n = 9.

The limited aperture of the refractor is plainly on display. The 8 inch reflector is far more suitable to this kind of work than a 5 or 6 inch refractor.

Ye cannae change the laws o’ physics captain.

Don’t you just love debunking myths.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Time: 23:25 UT

System reexamined and once again split at 600x.

Also studied Delta Cygni (now at zenith) at 200x with the 8 inch reflector both with and without the Baader single polariser. I can report that the filtered image gives a more aesthetically pleasing image of the companion. The stars are tighter pinpoints. Very refractor like! This is a marvellous (and relatively inexpensive) little tool for the reflecting telescope.

Wednesday, August 9 2017

Time: 23:17 UT

Temperature: 13C

Seeing: A notch down on last night, slightly more turbulence (II/III). Some rather stubborn cloud moved in, dousing the instrument in a light shower of misty rain lol. Thankfully all optics were covered! Once the cloud moved away, another observation was made.

Instrument: 20.4 cm f/6 Newtonian

Comments: Rather late to the table this evening, owing to considerably more than expected cloud cover. Lambda Cygni resolved unstably this evening at 600x. Diffraction pattern more messy, but the image does settle down frequently enough for its full duplicity (i.e. two non contacting stars) to be plainly discerned.

n = 10

Time: 00:03 UT

System reobserved and split confirmed in the same manner as earlier. n = 10

Time: 20:45 UT

I can hardly believe it’s only been a month since I started this blog. Seems a lot longer than that!

I received news today that the secondary for the the 12 inch will be with me early next week, so slightly later than I previously envisaged. But Octavius is doing rather a good job don’t you think?

Yet another clear night this evening and the 8 inch has been set up to do another night’s work. Looking good.

Dream machine, ken.

















Time: 22:30UT

Seeing: II/III. Almost a carbon copy of last night but with no cloud.

Instrument: 20.4cm f/6 Newtonian

Temperature: 12C

Comments: Started observing the star at 22:00UT but was unsuccessful for quite a few minutes. I found it hard to focus tonight and checked collimation of the optical train, making a slight adjustment (which probably would not have made much difference). After a few more unsuccessful tries, I finally gave it a go at 22:30 UT and did manage a split of the components at 600x, so n = 11.

Out again for another observation.

Time: 22:48UT

Another successful split at 600x. No problem, easier this time. n = 11

Thursday, August 10 2017

Time: 23:13 UT

So another good night of work. Clearly, it’s generally beneficial to wait until the system rises as much in altitude as possible, so my earlier attempts might be reflecting this to some degree.

I am missing the sheer aperture advantage of the 12 inch instrument. My notes and mental recollections showed me how much easier it is to see the components of this sub arc second pair. They are easier to see at a glance in the larger telescope, no question about it. I just wish I had the secondary back, but I know I’m just being impatient. Silly me.

Saturday August 12 2017

Time: 20:30 UT

Champion ‘scope; Octavius.

















After a couple of cloudy and wet days, we have another clear sky here this evening.The glorius 12th! So, once again, I have fielded Octavius to continue the work until the 12 inch is ready.

Time: 22:03 UT

Instrument: 20.4cm f/6 Newtonian

Seeing: Very good (II), wonderful transparency. no cloud; a beautiful evening!

Temperature: 12C

Comments: System split at 600x. No problems tonight. n = 12. A telescopic meteor darted across the field while the observation was being made; a Perseid of sorts!

Away to briefly watch for more meteors.

Tuesday, August 15 2017

Time: 20: 22 UT

After another couple of overcast nights with no prospect of getting an observation in, the sky looks good again this evening. Alas, the secondary has not yet arrived back, but I have been assured that it will be with me tomorrow. So, I call upon the services of Octavius for a last time.

I have been reflecting a little on the results I have thus far obtained. In essence they demonstrate a very basic tenet of telescopic astronomy; a tenet accepted by all previous generations of amateur astronomer but less so in this one for reasons I am acutely aware of; that aperture rules provided the conditions are good enough to exploit those apertures. Indeed, this work fits seamlessly with all of my other work. For example, a 130mm f/5 Newtonian  proved superior on all targets to a 90mm apochromatic refractor (which was very embarrassing). The 8 inch reflector proved crushingly superior to a very high quality 5 inch refractor on all targets. Indeed, the former will outperform any refractor up to at least 6 inches (I’ve actually tested it against a 160mm triplet and found the Newtonian better in some respects and at least its equal in others). These are true and expected results because my environment can clearly handle moderate apertures very well. Indeed, I am more than happy to test any refractor in the aforementioned size range against my 8 inch f/6 Newtonian if the reader is interested in delivering a unit to my home. I suspect though that I’ll not have many offers lol. Denial and hubris, no doubt, are key factors here. But the offer is there should any one of you wish to take me up on it.

Will the 12 inch do likewise to my 8 inch? Judging on what I’ve observed so far, I can’t think of a single reason why it wouldn’t, but those tests will continue in due course.

True darkness is upon us once again! And what an autumn it will be for the 12 inch reflector!

Time: 21:33 UT

Temperature: 12C

Seeing: Excellent ( I/1.5), beautiful clear sky, very gentle southerly breeze

Instrument: 20.4cm f/6 Newtonian

Comments: Lambda Cygni easily split once again at 600x. Indeed, it was so easy this early on that I had a go at 78 UMa (easily found in the Ploughshare), which has a 0.8″ companion. At 21:40UT I managed to see this companion at 600x on and off as it drifted through the field! That’s very encouraging to say the least! Though considerably lower in the northwestern sky at this time, the excellent seeing allowed me to glimpse it!

n = 13.

Away to have some fun with the deep sky now. Talk again soon.

Wednesday, August 16 2017

Time: 19:48 UT

Well, the recoated secondary arrived here safely this afternoon, as promised. They did a great job on the mirror. Looks flawless. There was a slight hiccup with the original mirror holder though. If you look at the image posted Friday, July 28, you will notice that the original mirror was held inside a plastic holder. The technician at Orion Optics informed me that while he was prizing the flat out of the plastic(read cheap) structure it actually fractured!

Shockeroonie ken !

All was well though when he kindly offered to mount the flat on one of their own secondary structures (with no additional charge). And naturally, I accepted!


The newly coated and edge blackened secondary on the new supporting structure.

















That was a nice gesture on their part.

Like all the other secondaries I’ve handled, I gave the edge of the mirror a coat of matt black paint before remounting it inside the telescope tube. Optics were then accurately realigned and now the instrument sits ready to sample star light once again.

The accurately measured flat minor axis is exactly 70mm, so that translates to a very respectable linear central obstruction of just 22.9 per cent.

The heavens opened in the early morning and continued all day. Still cloudy and dreich as I write.

Thursday, August 17 2017

Time: 21:34 UT

Seeing: Very good, II, sky cleared at sunset after another day of torrential rain.

Temperature: 13C

Comments: A race against time this evening, as more heavy showers are forecast overnight. But I had the 12 inch f/5 Newtonian maintained near ambient temperature in my dry, unheated shed. I can report a very good split of Lambda Cygni at 570x (6mm Baader classic Orthoscopic with 2.25x screw in Barlow). As reported previously, the pair of white stars are easier to see in the 12 inch than in the 8 inch. Very impressive sight!  n= 14

Now retiring the ‘scope before the next downpour is upon us.


An aside: As well as the other observing blogs I’ve done over the last several years in the peaceful surroundings of my home, I left it a few times in order to engage with the public on other(mainly) double star projects establishing the efficacy of other telescopes for the interested amateur. See here and here for examples. One can gauge the frequency of fair to good skies I enjoyed in recent years, which I believe strengthen the central tenets of Taylor’s hypothesis, at least at my observing location.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Time: 22:50 UT

Temperature: 13C

Seeing: IV, below average, good transparency, little cloud

Instruments: 20.4 cm f/6 Newtonian & 12″ f/5 Newtonian

Comments: companions unresolved in both instruments (600x and 570x, respectively). Turbulent, swollen and disjointed diffraction pattern.

Saturday August 19, 2017

Time: 21:15 UT

Seeing: III, blustery winds, some clear spells.

Temperature: 12C

Instruments: 20.4cm F/6 Newtonian & 12″ f/5 Newtonian

Comments: After another unsettled day, we got a reprieve in the late evening, so I decided to field both instruments again. Lambda Cygni pair just resolved in both instruments (same magnifications as last night) but it was that little bit easier to discern in the larger instrument, despite the choppiness of the atmosphere. n = 15.

Wednesday August 23 2017

Time: 20:25 UT

Say, that’s a bonnie lightbucket oot me back gairden, ken.

















After another brief vacation and a few days of inclement weather, it’s back to work again tonight. Good chance of making another observation a little later on. Fingers crossed eh!

Time: 21:45 UT

Instrument: 12″ f/5 Newtonian

Seeing: very good, II, light westerly breeze, mostly overcast with the occasional clear spell.

Temperature: 15C

Comments:  A braw evening. Target beautifully split with the 12 inch at 570x. The combination of the 6mm classic Baader orthoscopic and 2.25x screw in Barlow proved much more comfortable to use in the field than one of those fancy schmancy Vixen HR thingmies.

n = 16.

Time: 22:00UT

Target examined once more and full duplicity easily discerned at 570x.

This is a verifiably real phenomenon. How many times must I repeat it to demonstrate its veracity? This high resolution target is accessible in the foot ‘scope any time the seeing is fair to good. Why should my observing location be privileged?

I dinnae ken.

Time: 22:45UT

Overall Conclusions:  The Taylor hypothesis appears to be correct. I got this from the essay he wrote in the aforementioned book and not from anyone on the internet. Taylor could state this as real because he made the observations to demonstrate its validity, as did I. I am astonished and a little upset that this has not been reported by those who claim to have the most experience.

This is where the blog ends. But I will come back to this occassionally with updates.

I would encourage others in possession of moderate aperture Dobsonians to test this work for themselves. Make sure your optics are accurately collimated and thoroughly acclimated before conducting such tests. Good luck and thanks for reading!

Update: August 29 2017

Lone Ranger….ken

















Two more sightings made on August 26 and August 29 (consecutive observations). Both with 12″ f/5 instrument at 570x.

n = 18.

Update: August 31 2017

Two more good nights of observations made (30th and 31st August) and two more clean splits to report with the 12 ” f/5 reflector at 570x.

n = 20

Update: September 5 2017

Two further consecutive positive observations to report with the 12″ f/5 Newtonian made at 570x on Friday and Saturday, September 1 and 2.

Thus n = 22.



De Fideli.