Sunday, August 15, 2010
First light for my 12-inch on an Equatorial PlatformAlmost three years I have been observing with my 12-inch Dobson from Orion Optics UK. I love to work with the Dobson. The setup goes very quickly (five minutes) and I'm ready to observe. I also like the fact that you can push the tube to any direction when starhopping, without having to use electronics. However, about one and a half year ago I took up sketching again, and very soon I noticed a big difference with my old telescope I used for sketching, an 8-inch Cassegrain mounted on an EQ-6. When using this set-up for sketching, the object stood perfectly still in the field of view, at any magnification.
With the Dobson however, at medium to high powers, the constant pushing of the tube to centre and re-centre the object during the process of sketching became annoying. But then again, I loved the views of my 12-inch Dobson compared to the 8-inch Cassegrain.
The conclusion was that, if I want to keep up the sketching, I had to by a new, larger telescope for my EQ6, because the 12-inch f5.3 is way to large for this mount. But then, why buy another telescope when I already got this high quality, large instrument. I started looking around for other options, and equatorial platform seemed to be the perfect solution. The platform would enable me to operate the Dobson just as I was used to, shoving the tube around (including the Argo Navis computer). I found only two or three companies that build equatorial platforms commercially, two in Europe and one in the US.
After doing some research I decided for a platform from Tom Osypowski's company, called "Equatorial Platforms". Tom has been producing these platforms for many years and, for me personally, experience and positive comments of many satisfied customers count more than the price. I ordered a standard platform with dual axis drive and a wireless remote control.
About three weeks ago my Equatorial Platform from Tom Osypowski arrived and I have to be honest, the platform looks very well built and the quality of all the components seems to be very high.
On Sunday the 25th of July my astronomy club organised a field trip to observe the Moon together. Around 20.30 hours we would meet and set up our telescopes in a field just 15 miles from my home. At six o'clock I packed the car, and I noticed that the platform is easy to transport. It doesn't use any extra space. I put it on top of my large eyepiece and equipment case.
Once I arrived at the location, the setup was a piece of cake. I oriented the platform to the North using my small compass I have always with me. Then I levelled the platform out using the four adjustable feet and the bubble level. After that I put the rocker-box on the platform, dropped the tube into the rocker-box and connected the platform to a 12volt lead-acid battery. I was ready to go. I pulled the platform into starting position and started the drive. The whole process of setting up only took 8 minutes.
Venus and moon
The first object I centred into the eyepiece was Venus. I immediately noticed the difference using the platform. First of all, Venus was very easy to centre in the eyepiece, using the push buttons on the hand control, even at 460x, and..... once in the centre of the eyepiece, the little crescent of Venus stayed put. No vibrations or movement. What a different experience of observing.
The next object was the Moon. I set the platform for lunar speed. With the binoviewer and the 25mm Plossls the Moon was simply unbelievable. The detail I could see, just because the object wasn't moving through the field of view, but standing perfectly still. Well I cannot imagine observing the Moon with anything else than this setup in the future.
After 1 hour and 40 minutes the platform reached the end of its run, and I had to reset it. This is done simply by switching of the platform, pull the platform back to its starting position, and start it again.
M 11, M 57, M13
After resetting the platform I decided on a quick tour of a few Messier objects. I set the platform for sidereal speed and starhopped to M11, M57 and M13. Again, I was so pleased to view these objects with all possible magnifications, without shoving the tube and re-centering the objects in the eyepiece. M13 with the binoviewer was unbelievable. I think that because of the platform, and the image looking almost frozen, I gain a magnitude. After this first session I could only come to the conclusion that this platform created a completely new observing experience, and I cannot wait to start sketching!