A few weeks ago I bought a Meade ETX 90 PE telescope and this weekend I finally had the opportunity to try it out in a place with relatively dark skies.
The telescope tube itself looks to be of a good quality and well made, but the unit housing the red-dot finder and the LNT (Level North Technology) unit seems a bit flimsy looking to me. I get the impression that it could easily be knocked about – even when in a padded case. I will find out whether or not this is the case sooner or later I am sure since I live in the centre of Bath and need to travel to reach a reasonably dark location. I also find the battery compartment a little awkward to get at and suspect an external 12v supply may be called for eventually. The premier edition tripod seems like a pretty solid platform to me and the telescope is easily mounted onto it.
Aligning the red-dot smartfinder
Before night came it was necessary to align ensure the telescope and the red-dot finder were correctly aligned with each other. This was a simple enough procedure:
- Switch the red-dot on using the Autostar controller.
- Manually point the telescope at some reasonably distant object (I used a shrub on a nearby hill and an electricity pylon – both I would guess between one and two miles away) and centre it as best you can in the eyepiece using the slewing controls on the Autostar (remembering that left and right are swapped of course!).
- Use the adjustment screws on the LNT unit to centre the red dot on the same object – initially mine was completely out of alignment – the objects I was looking at weren’t even visible through the red-dot screen.
I was doubtful that the red-dot finder would be accurate enough – especially as there’s no finder scope as such to look down – you just have to try and position your eye as straight as possible. However, my doubts were unfounded; with the viewing angle provided by the supplied 26mm Super Plössl, if something is centred in the red-dot finder, it will be visible in the eyepiece.
Aligning the scope
I had a serious battle using the automatic alignment function of the telescope, and this was almost entirely due to user error – although I felt the user manual was unclear in certain areas.
When you power up the scope the Autostar immediately gives you the option of performing an alignment. Fine. However, if you haven’t used the scope for “some time” it is likely the date and time will have been reset to whatever they were the last time you powered up the scope. This then means that the scope starts pointing at stars that aren’t there which is all very confusing. It would be useful if the Autostar showed you what it thought the current date and time were during start up…
Although omitted in the “quickstart” section of the manual a later section tells you that you should put the telescope into its “home” position by rotating the telescope horizontally in an anti-clockwise direction until it can’t move anymore. I forgot to do this on at least two occasions.
The user guide does say to lock both the horizontal (R.A.) and vertical (Dec) locks to “a firm feel only” however you need to make sure they are actually locked enough. A few times I waiting for the Autostar to ask me to center a star only to find the telescope was pointing downwards as the vertical lock wasn’t on enough.
Anyway, a combination of these errors and a random lost take-away delivery person driving up to me with headlights blazing meant it took me the best part of an hour to do what really should have taken about five minutes. I was relieved when the first one and then a second bright star appeared near the centre of the smartfinder and then a “Aligned successfully” message appeared on the Autostart’s screen. It was time to actually look at some stuff.
My telescope was now properly aligned, however it had taken me so long that Jupiter had unfortunately sunk below the horizon so I instead directed the Autostar to go to Saturn. After all the hassle I had been through so far, I was doubtful of any success what-so-ever. but was very happy to see Saturn almost right on top of the red-dot in the smartfinder, and even happier to see a tiny, but incredibly clear and beautiful Saturn near to the centre of the eyepiece. The rings were clear to see, and I swear I could almost make out one of Saturn’s belts although its entirely possible I was imagining things at this point.
Once I managed to take my gaze from Saturn I decided to view the remaining two planets that I could see – Mars and Venus.
Mars surprised me since it most definitely looked red to the naked eye, but through the scope appeared almost white although very definitely a planet. Ive no idea why this apparent colour change might occur but it was in marked contrast to Betelgeuse which I observed during one of my many attempts at alignment – this was most definitely red however it was observed.
Venus was very very bright and I think I could make out that it was around half full – I don’t know if I was genuinely seeing the phase of Venus of not, but it certainly matched up with what the NASA Solar System Simulator showed.
Next I decided to venture a bit further out and using the Autostar’s tour feature took a look at various open clusters in the western and northern skies. It was at this point that I realised what a lot of stars there are. Looking somewhere in the region of NGC1502 (I think) in an area of sky that actually seemed pretty empty to me due to general light pollution and I saw a simply stunning field of stars. In fact, almost everywhere you point the telescope you can see stars – I’m looking forward to observing in a truly dark area!
Continuing outward I randomly looked at two Globular clusters M92, and M5
M5 is around 24500 light years away, contains at least 100,000 starts and is thought to be very ancient (around 13 billion years old). M92 is a little further away at 26700 light years. Both seemed to me like very faint smudges that were slightly brighter towards the centre. I was impressed to be able to see either of them in my viewing location which was reasonably rural and dark but only a few miles from the centre of a reasonably large town.
I decided to try and look at something even further out and pointed the scope at M82 somewhere. This, again, appeared as a faint smudge – this time long and thin. I was pleased to discover later that this irregular galaxy is known as the Cigar Galaxy due to the way its shape appears from Earth.
Sadly, I had an early start the next day, and this was all I had time for. All in all I’d viewed things from around 1 mile (the shrub atop the hill) out to 12 million light years (M82) so I would say not a bad start at all!