I’ve spoken quite extensively on the considerable virtues of my modified 130mm (5.1- inch) f/5 Newtonian with a 27 per cent obstruction. In contrast to the prognostications of fake theorists and arm-chair amateur astronomers, it has proven to be a fantastic all-round ‘scope, easily trouncing smaller grab ‘n’ go refractors and equivalent sized Maksutovs costing significantly more. It provides very pleasing wide field views at low magnification and excellent performance at high magnifications, especially on a suite of double stars, the Moon and bright planets.
As a double star enthusiast, I have managed to split systems down to one second of arc with this telescope during the winter months but in theory it ought to do a little better. Specifically, the classic Dawes limit for this aperture is given by 4.57/5.1= 0.89″ but is confined to pairs which are reasonably matched in terms of brightness. In this capacity, I was curious to see whether I could resolve the very challenging Lambda Cygni, with a current separation of 0.92″, the components of which differing only by 0.4 stellar magnitudes(5.4 and 5.8).
Taking full advantage of the hot, settled spell (Scorchio lol!) that is currently being enjoyed by residents of the British Isles, I eagerly sought out a system I’ve visited many times before, but mainly with my larger instruments (8″ f/6 and 12″ f/5 Newtonians). I speak of course, of that easily accessible system riding high in my summer sky after midnight during June evenings; Lambda Cygni.
This magnitude 4.5 system is easy to track down, even in twilight, and in preprartion, I have been monitoring an easier system; Pi Aquilae, located much lower down in the east south east at this time. My reasoning was simple; if this lowly system was well presented at high powers in the 130mm instrument, there would be a decent chance that Lambda Cygni would also bear fruit. But that proved to be easier said than done. Over several nights, both this week and last week, I have carefully studied the system but invariably recorded strong elongation. Yet in double star observing, as in so many other arenas of human enquiry, it pays to persevere; and finally in the wee small hours of June 27 2018, I won my prize!
At half past midnight, I noted an exceptionally stable and well resolved Pi Aquilae at powers of 260x and 406x and excitedly turned my telescope on Lambda hoping for a better result. And at 2 minutes past 1am local time, it yielded. Letting the system drift through the field several times over a period of a few minutes I could make out two distinct Airy disks intermittently separated by a delicate sliver of dark sky using a power of 406 diameters!
To put this in context, I have previously just resolved this system using a fine 127mm f/12 achromatic refractor at very high magnifications. And though my recollections show that it was that little bit better at ferreting out the pair, it was always very challenging and only possible under similarly clement conditions. So a most satisfactory result, but not at all violating the rules of classical optics. If something is possible, it will happen; you just have to be there to experience it!
I made a drawing of what I observed at the eyepiece( shown below);
I’ve been thinking about the eyepieces I wish to bring on our summer vacation and decided to treat myself to an upgrade to my trusty 32mm Plossl. To that end, I gravitated toward the Explore Scientific 24mm 68 degree ocular, which would provide a power of 27x in a 2.5 degree field (the maximum possible for a 1.25″ focuser). So I ordered one up for the princely sum of £142 plus shipping. I had very high expectations about this eyepiece judging by the excellent performance of two other 68 degree Maxvision oculars ((34mm and 40mm also marketed by Explore Scientific) I have already field tested. Both of these provide very highly corrected fields across a very expansive field and provide excellent eye relief for maximum viewing comfort. The eyepiece was ordered on Monday June 25 and it arrived in the early evening of June 27.
As soon as it was getting dark, I fielded the 130mm f/5 Newtonian once again in order to test the new eyepiece out. Centring Vega in the field, I focused the image and to my chagrin, I noted pretty harsh field curvature and coma in the outer part of the field. When Vega was sharply focused at the edge of the field, the stars in the periphery of the field were quite badly out of focus. This was patently not the result I expected for such a pricey eyepiece. What is more, the eye relief was pretty poor too. I had to bring my eyeglasses right up to the field lens, with the ruuber eyecup pushed down, to try to take in the entire field but it was barely possible and far from comfortable. “As tight as a knat’s chuff” is an expression that immediately sprang to mind lol!
When I compared it to my 32mm, the eye relief was far more comfortable (being about 0.73 times the focal length in millimetres, so ~ 23mm) and though the magnification was slightly lower (20x) the Plossl proved significantly better corrected at the edge of the field!
Was I disappointed? You bet I was! I don’t know if I received a lemon or not but on the morning of June 28 2018, I phoned the dealer and explained that the eyepiece did not perform as advertised and that the 32mm Plossl I tested alongside it delivered better performance. Thankfully, they gave me the go ahead to send the eyepiece back so they could test the unit out. I expect a full refund in due course.
What a palaver!
Anyway, while thinking about my next move on the low power eyepiece front, I intend to bring my trusty 32mm Plossl on my vacation, together with my old Mark III 8-24mm Baader Hyperion zoom. This will provide all the medium power viewing I will likely do, and the 2.25x Baader Barlow will enable me to increase the power to 183x; good enough to study quite a few double stars under dark, Hibernian skies.
After several more nights of observation with the 130mm f/5 Newtonian, I managed yet another sighting of the companion to Lambda Cygni. Specifically, on June 30 at 23:20 UT, using the same power of 406x, the stars were seen cleanly separated on and off during several minutes of observations. With the fine weather continuing for UK observers, I would warmly encourage others with instruments of 5 inches and over to have a go at this system at high powers. It’s very accessible with an 8″ f/6 Newtonian (confirmed once more around local midnight on July 1/2)
The Explore Scientific eyepiece arrived safely back at the dealers this afternoon (July 2 2018). I am now considering the Celestron 25mm X-Cel LX, which is purported to work well in f/5 optical systems and with a 60 degree AFOV should give nice, expansive views, well over 2 degrees in extent.
July 4th 2018: A Very Happy Independence Day to all my viewers in the Colonies!
We leave for Ireland on Monday next, July 9. I’m very excited about sampling the skies of my youth with my 130mm f/5. Of course, I’ve had other telescopes over there, back when my folks were still in the land of the living; a 90mm f/10 achromat (which is still at my sister’s home), and when the ETX 90 was all the rage in the late 1990s, I astounded my late father with its go-to capability and almost magical ability to centre and track down the planet Jupiter in the field of view one chilly Christmas Eve.
Bringing a Newtonian is a big change for me. It was always a small refractor or Mak that made it, but this time ’round, I can think of no better telescope to enjoy my vacation with. My wife got a bit of shock when I told her I’d be lugging the 130 in its case, but she has since come round to the idea of having me put all my astro junk in one neat place lol..
I’m relatvely new to Newtonians you see. I pretty much overlooked them, owing to the rise of refractor mania and catadioptrc telescopes in the last few decades. I did have one in my youth however; my second telescope, a Tasco 114mm (4.5-inch), f = 900mm or some such that came in a big yellow box decorated with fabulous photos of planets and deep sky objects. Back then though, I knew next to nothing about the rigours of fine collimation, or how to precisely align its equatorial mount(non-motorised). I bought it second hand from a jeweller that lived near me. It cost me £100; an enormous sum of money for a young teenager in the early 1980s. I eventually sold it on to raise some funds for University a few years later.
Still, the 130mm is far superior in many ways to that old Tasco; greater aperture, light gathering power and sharper optics owing to its nicely figured parabolic mirror. No fooling around with complex mounts either; just stick it on the Vixen Porta II and I’m off to the races! Eyepieces have improved vastly as well; the Tasco came with two cheap Huygenians and a junk Barlow lens.
Mars’ fiery red mien graces my horizon after midnight and Jupiter is quite a bit past opposition, but I hope to get a better view of both worlds as they will rise a few degrees higher in the sky than they do here in rural central Scotland. And having the chance to explore the vast skyscape within the confines of the Summer Triangle (marked by Vega, Deneb and Altair) from a truly dark sky will be an enjoyable experience. That said, last night I lingered a while on a reasonable view of the Ring Nebula in Lyra with my 34mm widefield and 8-inch reflector in summer twilight. How much better will the views be under true July darkness?
I decided to pull the trigger on a Celestron X-Cel 25mm LX eyepiece, which should arrive here by Friday. Fingers crossed for reasonable performance in the f/5 optical system!
The sky is darkening more now as the days and weeks have flown by the Solstice. The stars of Delphinus are beginning to show in the deep twilight and so a chance to visit another summer favourite; the delightful colour contrast pair, Gamma Delphini.
After midnight on July 5 2018, I began searching for two systems; Gamma Delphini and Mu Cygni. The latter proved much more challenging to track down, even with the Celestial Swan now having gained a considerable altitude. Gamma is widely spaced and presents with an aureal primary and lemon-white secondary. Mu is much more challenging though, especially at this time of year; the secondary is situated right up next to the primary but the great light gathering power and resolution of this grab ‘n’ go telesope on steroids made light work of it at 260x but the view was even more compelling at 318x. It’s such a delicate system to study telescopically; like budding yeast seen through a powerful microscope. I made a couple of drawings of what I saw (shown below):
July 6 2018
Well, the new 25mm Celestron X-Cel LX eyepiece arrived late this evening. It was packaged well and a quick inspection revealed no internal dust in the optical train. It is very light, considerably less so than the 24mm Explore Scientific (ES) 68 ocular I sent back to the dealer and that’s a bonus, given the low mass of the optical tube. Like the Baader zoom, this eyepiece has a twist-up eyecup which allows the user to adjust the distance between the large eye lens and the eye. Testing it on the telescope in the bright evening sunshine revealed some very good things; the image of a distant rooftop was very sharp. Constrast was excellent. It showed a very small amount of field curvature and/or distortion at the edge of the field but best of all the eye relief was just right; that is, I was able to comfortably view the entire field with my eyeglasses on, in sharp contradistinction to the ES 68. Things were indeed looking good.
Around local midnight, I was able to test the new eyepiece on the stars. I am happy to report that it produced very sharp images of Vega and its hinterland, with good contrast and, to my relief, off axis performance was much better than I had experienced with the 24mm ES 68. Nor did I detect any internal reflections. There was a liitle distortion at the edge of the field but it was more than acceptable, certainly a notch up from the 32mm Plossl I have used for so long with the instrument. And like my daylight experiences, the eye relief was more than adequate when used with my eye glasses(which corrects for the natural astigmatism in my viewing eye). This improved perfomance may at least in part be attributed to the smaller AFOV of this eyepiece (60 degrees as opposed to 68 degrees with the 24mm ES) but maybe also to its design differences. Nevertheless, I am more than content with its optical performance as a low-power, wide-field scanning ocular, delivering a power of 26x in a true field of 2.3 degrees. And in consideration of the fact that it set me back just half the price of the 24mm ES 68 (£70), I think it represents a really good bargain.
Technology has come a really long way since the days of my youth.
A happy camper am I.
At 00:45 local time on Saturday July 7, I turned the telescope toward Cassiopeia, now low in the northern sky and washed out quite a bit by the presence of twilight. I used my 6 x 30mm finder on the 130 to track down the creamy white magnitude +4.6 star, Iota Cassiopeaie. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t go near such a system at this time of year owing to how bright the sky is, but the persistant good weather here inspired me to give it a go. From memory, this star is annexed to a triangular configuration of three fainter stars so it was easy to identify. This is a famous triple system and its delicate cast under good conditions never fails to impress. I was pleasantly surprised with how well it presented at 260x, with all three members showing up clearly and distinctly. I made a quick sketch of what I recorded in the small Newtonian telescope, and is shown below. This is well worth a try at high northern latitudes in small telescopes with easy access to the northern horizon.
I spent the afternoon of July 7 2018 deliberating about which eyepieces to bring and which to leave behind. The new 25mm Celestron is definitely coming on the trip. Further daylight tests showed that it Barlows real well with the 2.25x Baader shorty Barlow giving a nice medium power of 59x in a one degree true field. I have had second thoughts about the Baader zoom though, as it’s a bit on the heavy side and even with the same Barlow would only yield 183x, grand for most systems but since the telescope can very comfortably accommodate 50x per inch of aperture, I wished to coax that little bit more power out of the instrument. Racking my brains, I pulled out an older eyepiece which I had boxed away under my bed; a Meade Series 5000 5.5mm Ultra-Wide Angle (82 degree field). As I’ve said in a previous blog, I’m not overly enamoured by 82+ degree AFOV oculars, preferring 60 to 70 degree units in my field work, but upon testing it out in the 130mm f/5 Newtonian on a bright sunny day, I was quite impressed with what it delivered. A high-end eyepiece like this has very good edge-of-field correction and yields a power of 118x in a field of 0.7 degrees. Coupled to the 2.25x Barlow I can squeeze a high power of 266x out of it; perfect for the most challenging doube stars should they present themselves!
So, in the end, two eyepieces, both significantly lighter than the Baader zoom, will be coming on the trip with me, together with a single, 2.25x shorty Barlow. That combination will tick all the boxes!
This is a good place to wrap up this blog. Take care and see you all when we get back in a couple of weeks.
All the best,