It has, to put it mildly, been an eventful ten weeks since I last wrote in this journal. We endured a sustained effort to subvert democracy and a frightening insurrection in the midst of what - we hope - was the worst stretch of a once-in-a-century pandemic . . . and then, at long last, we exhaled with the return of decency and competency to the White House. There were nights I was too consumed by the news to take out a telescope, believe it or not.
But the bigger reason for the lack of updates here has been the atmosphere. For months it has been every bit as turbulent as the politics in this city; in fact, I don't think we've had a night of good seeing since early November. I took out my Takahashi FC-100DZ a couple times, if only to catch a glimpse of Mars before it grew too small for detailed observation. While I caught a glimpse of those dark albedo features and even the southern ice cap, the planet is now too small for the kind of views that dazzled me last summer and fall - and the seeing never really brought it all into focus.
On the night of January 12th, with our observation deck deserted, I did manage to haul the Takahashi and my TV 85 to the rooftop. Since I swapped my FC-100DC for the DZ primarily to obtain the best-possible views of Mars, I thought I'd compare the view through the Takahashi with what I could get using the TV 85. As I've written in these pages, the TV 85 offers gloriously high-contrast views, but its color correction is supposed to lag behind that of the Takahashi refractors, especially the DZ.
So, was the view very different? Well, the seeing was awful, so that hampered the comparison . . . and my red dot finders abruptly stopped working, which made it much harder to quickly compare the views. Then I discovered, to my surprise, that my AYO II mount has developed a little slippage, especially when holding two telescopes. Is it time to look for a new medium mount?
In any case, I did eventually get a chance to observe Mars through both telescopes. I thought that perhaps I could make out a little more detail with the DZ, but the seeing was so bad and the usable magnification so low that I couldn't be sure. I was, however, struck by the difference in color. Mars was much redder through the TV 85, and the planet's colors looked more accurate, more natural using the DZ. To me, at least, that's roughly synonymous with "better." The difference was big enough that I can't really imagine using the TV 85 over the DZ for planetary observation, even in bad seeing and cold weather.
In any case, I have some tinkering to do before using either telescope again; new finders and perhaps a new mount may be in order.
It's hard to properly celebrate Independence Day this year, though that didn't stop the jet fighters and the bombers from roaring overhead yesterday evening. Fireworks followed - hours and hours worth - but I was more interested in the other parts of the sky. At 11:45 PM, I set off to view the "Buck Moon" - and maybe, just maybe, catch a sight of what promised to be a very subtle penumbral lunar eclipse.
I decided to take my trusty TV 85. Clouds were closing in, and so I wasn't sure what to expect when I reached my park. Five minutes of viewing? A full hour? It didn't seem worth it to take a larger telescope. Plus, after all those sleepless nights lately - and full days of work and childcare - I was too tired to lug anything bigger.
When I reached the park, I realized, first, that Jupiter and Saturn are now quite high in the sky even at midnight, and second, that seeing was really quite good - better than it had been on July 2nd and 3rd. I realized, too, that I couldn't spot a lunar eclipse, but that the hazy sky had adorned the Moon with a beautiful golden tint. And wow, was it bright. After a few moon-free early mornings, it was strange to see my telescope cast a shadow in the park.
It was a strange atmosphere last night. While seeing was quite good, the air was hazy, almost watery. The Moon in particular looked like it was made of liquid: a giant and intricately-detailed bubble. Still, what a sight. Tattered clouds swept by from time to time, and just before I packed up a distant bat fluttered directly across the lunar surface. Like something from a Dracula movie.
Turning to the planets, I was again impressed by the TV 85 (a recurring theme on this website). At modest magnifications, the little refractor really is a match for any other telescope I've owned. Jupiter's great spot was plainly visible, and so were dusky clouds on Saturn - and the Cassini Division, winding all the way around those rings. In moments of especially good seeing, Jupiter's surface was thick with intricate detail.
Of course, the view of both was a good deal dimmer through the TV 85 than it is through the APM 140, and the colors were more muted than they are even with the Takahashi, let alone the APM. I tried increasing the magnification last night to almost unusable levels to dim the view enough to get a decent picture with my iPhone. I succeeded, at least, in taking my first blurry picture of the great red spot - but, as always, I lament the quality of those phone pictures.
Part of me wished last night that I had had the energy to haul out a bigger refractor. That concerned me a bit. My Takahashi is not much heavier; would I always feel this way when I set out with the TV 85? Even so, you can't go wrong with the little scope - and I left the park satisfied, despite the prospect of a measly four hours of sleep. There's nothing like a fine refractor on a moonlit night.
It's been a while! With around 8,000 COVID-19 cases confirmed in DC - and who knows how many undiagnosed - I've resolved to use my telescopes only in conditions of average or better seeing, and only with at least one showcase object in the sky. For two months, that combination basically did not materialize. Conditions were so bad for astronomy here in DC that I saw plenty of advertisements for telescopes published by people in and around the city.
A couple weeks ago, the sky was finally clear. Although seeing was below average, I couldn't stand being cooped up in my apartment any longer. I took my TV 85 to our rooftop and had a look at the rising full moon. Though the TeleVue never disappoints, the atmosphere was just roiling, and the view was soft. I could only use low magnification. Still, it was nice to catch a glimpse of something astronomical.
Then, last night, seeing was briefly better than average - it's been so long since that happened - and at dusk the Moon was a beautiful crescent hanging over the western horizon. This time, I took out my Vixen ED115S, and resolved to walk around ten minutes to a nearby park. After two minutes of walking with all my gear, I was sore, sweating, and ready to quit. I ducked into a nearby driveway, then walked over to a patch of grass bordering a private school and forest. From there, I could see the Moon in a gap between trees. Good enough!
With the Moon sinking towards the horizon, seeing was not quite as good as I expected. Or more accurately: it was inconsistent. At times, the view was a little fuzzy, or perhaps hazy; at other times - and briefly - it was crystal clear. Still, I now had my first opportunity to test the Vixen in conditions that were better than terrible.
It's an impressive telescope, no doubt about it. It's immediately obvious that it gathers more light than the FC-100DC. This was not a given, because small Takahashi refractors are renowned for outperforming larger telescopes. But subtle features, such as rilles, that are hard to see in my smaller telescopes are clearly visible in the Vixen, giving a mesmerizing complexity to the lunar landscape. You truly get the sense that you could explore it forever. And in particular, the "ashen glow" of the crescent Moon - that majority of the lunar disk illuminated by Earthshine - was much brighter than I can ever remember seeing it. I could actually make out a lot of features on that part of the Moon - a first for me.
Above all, the optics are sharp. I also feel that they take noticeably longer to cool down than those of the TV 85, for example, or even the Takahashi. And if you really look for it, you can see just a bit of false color on the lunar limb when the Moon isn't perfectly in focus. It's just a hint of greenish-yellow, but it's there. I guess I've developed expensive eyes while using these fine refractors. I actually doubt that I'd be able to see even these hints of false color with the Moon higher in the sky; that's something to check out next time. Still, for now I think there may just be a bit more of that color than I can make out with the Takahashi.
There's also more coma - more distortion on the edge of the view - than I see through my smaller telescopes. This is not surprising, and it does not feel distracting to me; you really have to look for it to notice it. But notice it I did when the sky darkened and a star appeared near the Moon at low magnification. My Vixen has a number of heavy upgrades, and that makes it about twice as heavy as the FC-100DC. Still, the AYO II mount holds it with no problems at all. The view, in fact, is rock steady - better than I expected. I can't give that mount enough praise.
After about 40 minutes, the mosquitoes were out in force and I had to pack up quickly. A pity; I'd hoped to catch a glimpse of some other objects, but I have to admit that my observing site was far from ideal anyway.
I am very happy with this telescope. The optics are superb, if not entirely color-free, and it just feels good to use and handle. It's almost the perfect size for a medium-sized refractor; any bigger, and you get the sense that it would be much harder to mount. As is, you barely notice it's there sometimes. You could get lost in that view.
The Vixen provided another useful lesson to me last night. With a heavy heart, I decided to sell my Mewlon 180. Although the telescope is absolutely beautiful, it just takes too long to cool down - and it's too heavy to carry far in its case. I've been debating whether to use the funds to buy a larger refractor, but now I wonder whether the Vixen is the biggest telescope I can manage - until I have a backyard or car, at least.
Life - for me, for millions in the United States and around the world - has changed just a bit since I last wrote. Friends and students have fallen ill, and so many have lost their jobs. It feels crass to complain, but still: my family of four is now largely isolated in our little apartment, and my office is in a walk-in closet. It's less than ideal.
In these difficult and chaotic times, I of course have no way of traveling for work, which means that I have a surplus sitting in my research budget. Not surprisingly, that got me thinking about improving my little telescope collection.
With the Mewlon around, I decided that the C8 was expendable, after all - especially since the device I purchased to make it acclimate more rapidly (a Lymax Cat Cooler), is much bigger and heavier when accompanied with a battery than I'd anticipated. So I sold the C8 and its accessories, then used the profit to buy two new Baader diagonals: supposedly, the best on the market.
Now I had three telescopes in DC, and really four is probably the sweet spot for me. This past winter convinced me that I'm going to have my easiest observing sessions when it's cold - certainly on the rooftop, since nobody goes up there when it's even a little cool. I decided that I needed a somewhat bigger doublet refractor that would cool down very quickly, but gather a bit more light than the Takahashi FC-100DC could reveal. It couldn't be too big, however, or I wouldn't be able to easily carry or mount it. And it couldn't be prohibitively expensive (not an easy restriction, considering how refractors scale in size and cost).
After doing a lot of research - too much, considering my other obligations - I settled on a Vixen ED 115S. This is a fine doublet telescope that shows very little false color when in focus (so little that it passes as an apochromat), gathers substantially more light than a 100mm telescope, is versatile at F 7.7, and remarkably light at just over 10 pounds. For some reason, it seems to be quite rare.
The telescope is decidedly not cheap, however, though it does ship with second-rate accessories that nevertheless can only be purchased as accessories when buying from TeleVue or Takahashi. To my astonishment, I found the Vixen with a heap of top-rate add-on accessories - tube rings, greatly upgraded focuser, handle, etc. - for sale at an incredible price on Astromart, in used but like-new condition. I pulled the trigger, and the telescope arrived just a week or so later.
For more than two weeks after the telescope arrived, the clouds and rain would not relent. I suppose that's good; coronaviruses apparently do not spread as easily in humid weather. And certainly fewer people went outside. Still it was frustrating, especially as I increasingly worried about navigating my building and touching the germs on every surface. Hauling telescopes through the building increasingly seemed like a perilous prospect.
Then, last night, the sky cleared for just a few hours. I forgot about the pandemic for a moment and hurried to bring both the Vixen and my trust TV 85 to the rooftop. I mounted them on the AYO II: perhaps the finest piece of non-optical equipment that I've purchased in this hobby.
It was quickly apparent that both seeing and transparency were nothing short of atrocious. And I mean atrocious: the night probably offered a worse combination of both than anything I've experienced in the past year. On top of that, gusts of wind rolled over the rooftop, and clouds defied the forecast to move in quickly from the west.
In that context, my decision to bring the TV 85 quickly paid off. I might otherwise have been worried that the new telescope was partly to blame for the somewhat soft appearance of the Moon, for example. But the blurriness and inconstancy of the view were, if anything, even worse through the magnificent optics of the smaller telescope, despite its smaller aperture.
And despite the uncooperative atmosphere, the Vixen impressed. It took just a bit more time to cool than the TV 85, and provided useful views almost immediately. A look at Venus quickly revealed that the Vixen shows noticeably less false color than the TV 85, even in poor seeing. The TV 85 showed a fringe of blue around lunar limb in these terrible conditions; not so the Vixen. It should be noted that, to my eyes, the TV 85 normally offers almost no false color: perhaps even less than the FC-100DC (it's just amazing in that regard).
With its remarkably wide view of view, the TV 85 did provide superior views of the Pleiades. The Vixen dazzled too, but there was just something about the TV 85 view that stood out. Maybe the fault lay in the eyepieces: while I used a TeleVue Plossl in the TV 85, I used a Baader Hyperion Zoom in the Vixen. In my experience, there's no substitute for TeleVue eyepieces.
A look at Orion, however, exposed the advantage of larger aperture. Despite the abysmal seeing, the Trapezium was absolutely crystal clear, with an impressive amount of space between its components. Switching to a 2", 55 mm TeleVue eyepiece revealed all of Orion's belt at around 16x, glittering and glorious despite hazy atmosphere and light pollution.
In short, the new telescope is wonderful: optically on par with the Takahashi and TeleVue, nearly as portable as the Takahashi (though it requires a heavier mount and tripod), almost as quick to cool down, and aesthetically really nice to boot. It is also just a joy to use. There's no fussing with anything, and it works beautifully on the AYO II mount. My only complaint comes by way of comparison: while the upgraded Moonlite focuser is rugged and fluid, the stock TeleVue focuser is just a bit smoother.
Who knows what the world looks like when I next write. In the meantime, it's nice to be reminded - with the aid of two fine telescopes - that the universe will remain more or less the same.
It's been a remarkably cloudy month. I even travelled briefly to Arizona, and even there, in the desert: rain. I could scarcely believe it. But at last, tonight the clouds parted over Washington, DC, and although the sky was just a bit hazy and I didn't have much time, I figured I'd take the TV 85 to the rooftop anyway.
I'm so happy I did. When I stepped out, the Moon was high in the sky - just passing the Pleiades, actually - Venus was still well above the horizon, and Orion was glorious overhead. I just picked up an AYO II mount - a much sturdier upgrade over my VAMO Traveller that took about four months to manufacture and ship - and was eager to see how it would perform.
It's odd: seeing for me can vary enormously from one part of the sky to the other. Part of the reason no doubt has to do with how often I observe from a rooftop. Warm air rising from my building naturally obscures anything too near the horizon. But after observing from enough parks, I'm convinced that DC must have some unusually turbulent - or at least complex - skies. In any case, Venus was a bit of a mess for me tonight, though of course I could clearly make out its phase. And I was impressed to see very little false color around its disk - none when the seeing briefly stabilized.
The Moon, by contrast, was just stunning. I know I've sung its praises repeatedly in these pages, but wow: the TV 85 is a miraculous telescope. Maybe I just have a perfect sample? Once again, I saw absolutely no false color on the Moon. Once again, the view was absolutely razor-sharp, with that beautiful cold, white hardness that the Moon can have when it's high in the sky. And the mount clearly made a difference in stabilizing the telescope. It's a hair less smooth than the Traveller, but much sturdier and nearly as compact.
This time, I enjoyed picking out the subtlest shadows I could spot at nearly 200x. It's always striking to me that those shadows can give the impression of towering peaks on the Moon - the impression of the lunar landscape that prevailed until the Space Age - whereas of course the Moon's surface is quite flat compared to Earth's. It's amazing, the optical illusions oblique light and a lot of distance can inspire.
TeleVue, it seems, does not get a lot of love compared to its competitors: Takahashi, for example, or AstroPhysics. Apparently TeleVues show just a bit too much false color, and their cost is just a bit too high. But when it comes to optical quality, my TV 85 is easily a match for my FC-100DC. False color is absent; stars are absolutely pinpoint. The TeleVue also seems to focus just ever so slightly more perfectly than the Takahashi - although that may be a result of its smooth, two-speed focuser - and it cools down more quickly.
The Takahashi, of course, is all but flawless in its own right. And it draws in more light, which does make it better for some purposes. All the same, I've never been disappointed after observing with the TeleVue; I've never felt that I really should have brought out a bigger telescope. It's an incredible little instrument.
It's been cold here, for DC standards, and often windy, and the nights have had an annoying tendency to cloud over at short notice. In those conditions, the TV 85 really is ideal. It cools more quickly than some of my eyepieces, it sets up in a matter of minutes, and it consistently provides views that exceed my expectations. It really is a magical little telescope. I have never been anything other than impressed after using it.
The other night, I walked onto the observation deck just as clouds were rolling in from the west - weather forecast be dammed! They moved far more quickly than I thought possible; after I set up my telescope, they had almost reached the Moon and Orion. I had just seconds to take pictures before they arrived. I did catch a short video of the first streamers beginning to race by the Moon. Just a few minutes later, however, I had to pack up. When the windchill is cool enough to numb your fingers, it's always a mixed feeling when you have to walk in earlier than you expected.
Last night, the sky was perfectly clear, but the seeing was mediocre at best and transparency wasn't great either. Still, the Moon was high in the sky, and not quite full, with intricate vistas I haven't often observed coming into view along the retreating terminator. This time, I was driven inside not by wind-blown clouds but by the windchill. Luckily, I've become quite good at realizing when my fingers are in trouble.
Still, with temperatures at around -1° C before the windchill, the TV 85 gave me some spectacular views in no time. And although some complain that TeleVue telescopes reveal just a bit more false color than, say, Takahashi telescopes, I see no difference between the TV 85 and my FC-100DC. At the limb of the Moon, with the telescope acclimated, there is absolutely no false color. The divide between the brilliant lunar surface and the inky blackness of space is absolute.
Not the best observing nights, but the combination of the Moon and the TV85 never fails to please.
A glorious full Moon tonight, in bitterly cold weather. While it was -1° C outside with a windchill of -4, it certainly felt a lot chillier on our observation deck. The TV 85 cooled down mercifully fast - even faster than my fingers - and I was able to observe some interesting details on an almost blindingly bright Moon before I started to worry about frostbite.
Over the past year, I steadily replaced my Celestron and Explore Scientific eyepieces with TeleVue equivalents, and some nights I really notice the difference. This was one of them. The eyepieces are just so crisp and clear; so easy on the eye. Of all the astronomy equipment I've purchased, my favorite might just be the TeleVue 3-6mm zoom eyepiece. It really gives up nothing but field of view to much more expensive, fixed-magnification eyepieces, with the possible exception of my Ethos.
To me, there's always something a little miraculous about seeing the full Moon through a telescope, especially after you've become acquainted with its partly illuminated surface. Owing to shattered glass forged in the fires of cosmic bombardment, many features on the Moon reflect light directly back to its source, rather than off to the side. Much that is usually invisible on the lunar surface therefore pops into view when the Moon is full, including the glorious ray systems around some of the Moon's biggest craters. It's partly why it took "Selenographers" more than two centuries after the invention of the telescope to draft a passably accurate map of the Moon.
Luckily - or perhaps not - we now have cameras. My iPhone never quite captures what I see, but it's always nice to share something after a night outside.
Last week, it was clear for two nights in a row, with the Moon below the western horizon and all the bright planets setting soon after the Sun. A good time, I figured, to have a look at Orion - rising to the east at around 8 PM - and track down some double stars that I'd missed in years past. I've recently become much more interested in double stars, partly because I now imagine what the sky must look like from orbiting planets.
On both nights, I was forced to use our observation deck. My daughter was a little sick, and I had to be on call in case she woke up and needed something. Since it's illuminated, the deck is a terrible place for deep space observation, but it's a whole lot better than nothing. Unfortunately, atmospheric turbulence was high and seeing on both nights was therefore somewhere between atrocious and worse than average. Not terrible for low-power observation of Orion and open clusters, but nowhere near good enough for splitting tricky double stars.
On night one, I stepped out with my Takahashi refractor: my go-to, all-around telescope, especially in cold weather. The seeing was then closer to atrocious, especially near the horizon, and views of Orion were not exactly the best I've had. I've focused on getting great equipment, but more often than not it's the atmosphere that limits what I see at night. On top of that, it was gusty on the observation deck: gusty enough to actually push my telescope. Not a great night, to put it lightly.
Undaunted, I stepped outside on night two with both my TV 85 and my Mewlon. I observed for around 45 minutes with the TeleVue, lingering on the Pleiades and Hyades: brilliant open clusters that are now high in the sky and therefore spectacular at around 9 PM. The seeing was well below average: bad enough to notice at low magnifications, but not bad enough to spoil the view (in contrast to the previous night).
After a while, I mounted my Mewlon. For over a month, I've waited for a sturdier mount to arrive from Stellarvue, but no success. I've had to cancel and go with another option, from the manufacturer of the only mount I have now: my VAMO Traveller. This mount is downright miraculous for its light weight and ability to handle substantial telescopes, but it's overmatched with the Mewlon.
The view was therefore a little wobbly, and the problem was compounded but two equally bad problems: the seeing near the horizon, especially with the higher magnifications that the Mewlon permits, and the thermal state of the telescope, which had still not cooled down in the low temperatures (it was around 7° C). Stars danced in the eyepiece, or even stretched into short lines: a bizarre effect that I've rarely seen.
Still, by around 10 PM, at modest magnification, I did get a decent view of Orion: a great deal brighter and perhaps more impressive than what I'd seen with the TV 85. Rigel A and B were also much easier to split with the Mewlon than with the TV 85, though I did manage it through both telescopes in spite of the awful seeing. Castor A and B also made for a brilliant and impressive binary, though, again: it was hard to find the targets I was hunting for with the opaque sky (transparency was low) soaking up DC's light pollution.
In short: not the best night for the Mewlon, and exactly the kind of conditions in which the TV 85 can match much bigger telescopes. As usual: I'm still happy I stepped outside!
It was quite cold here last night, but I got a new eyepiece - an TeleVue Ethos 3.7 mm - and I was determined to use it. Unfortunately, the atmosphere was restless and the seeing poor to atrocious, so I was largely limited to low magnifications and wide field views. The TeleVue 85 was perfect for the task.
Early in the night, the jewels of winter started rising over the horizon. I was on our illuminated observation deck with a three-inch telescope, and Orion was still climbing above the light-polluted murk of the eastern skyline, but still: I had a nice view of the Trapezium at around 66x. I even captured something of the view on my iPhone, though of course: much is lost in the translation. The Orion Nebula is something that never, ever gets old to me.
The Pleiades, being higher in the night sky, looked spectacular, especially at very low magnifications (11x with my 55mm Plossl). Towards the end of my night, I finally used the Ethos on Rigel, and managed to clearly make out Rigel's companion, Rigel B (itself a double star, but that was beyond my telescope) at 162x. Not bad, considering the terrible seeing!
The TV 85 is a masterpiece. As I've written before, I just don't understand how so much telescope fits in such a tiny package. At low or high magnifications, the view is consistently spectacular - and surprisingly bright.
It's been a while since I wrote. I've come to realize that, with young kids, I just about never have the time to do something as decadent as write for fun. And I certainly don't have time to write long articles purely for myself - or the occasional wayward visitor. Yet here I am, writing again while rocking my infant son to sleep.
Over the past few years, I've gone through my share of equipment and seen so many beautiful sights. I've learned a lot about what equipment works for me in Washington, DC, and what I most enjoy seeing. Here's a little list:
1. Aperture is absolutely, most definitely, positively not king, and don't be fooled by anyone who tells you it is. Aperture is one very important factor to keep in mind when selecting optical instruments, but by no means the most important.
I received tenure this year (!!!), and shortly after I did I had what appeared at the time to be a great opportunity to visit the southern hemisphere. That fell through - I couldn't get a Yellow Fever vaccination on time - but not before I'd used some funds to buy what seemed to me to be the perfect travel telescope: a TeleVue 85. I remember seeing advertisements for TeleVue refractors as a kid, and wondering why anyone would spend so much money on a telescope so small. I went ahead and bought a VAMO traveler - a wonderful little mount - and a carbon fiber photography tripod. Together, the whole setup weighs about 14 pounds.
When everything was ready, I walked outside onto the observation deck of my building to catch a glimpse of Jupiter just after its opposition. High, hazy clouds rolled in just as I stepped outside, partly obscuring Jupiter. Yet I set up my telescope - in just a couple minutes! - and had a look anyway. It was hard to make out many details, and I packed it in before too long.
A few days after, I walked out on a truly clear night. This time, my first stop was the half moon. I was absolutely floored. I'd never seen the Moon with such astonishing clarity and contrast. I'd thought my Skywatcher 100ED gave me great lunar views; clearly, I was missing out all along. Turning to Jupiter gave me a hint of detail that I'd never seen before. Saturn, despite being very low on the horizon, was a beautiful sight near its opposition.
Lately, I've written an awful lot about nineteenth-century astronomers - amateur and professional. Back then, many debated whether small or big telescopes offered the best planetary views. I'd assumed that the debate had been sparked by tensions between amateur and professional astronomers (the amateurs typically couldn't afford the gear that professionals used, with some big exceptions), rather than real experience. Now, I realized I'd been wrong.
It occurred to me: if this little telescope gave me the best planetary and lunar views I'd ever had, why did I have so many bigger scopes? It didn't help that the little instrumented exuded quality like nothing I'd ever owned. Everything about it made it an absolute joy to use.
The following night I lugged out my 8" Edge SCT, on its heavy mount and tripod. This time, the whole setup weighed in at about 33 pounds. Seeing was better than it had been the night before. I had to know: with an aperture of 200 mm, would it show me even better views than the 85 mm refractor?
The views were brighter, for sure, but they lacked the crisp contrast that the refractor provided. I saw a good deal less detail on Jupiter, and the Moon wasn't nearly as detailed. I was actually a little embarrassed when two neighbors asked to look through the telescope, because I remembered the glorious views from the previous night. I felt a pang of regret that I hadn't brought the TV 85 instead.
That brings me to the second, related lesson:
2. Cooldown, weight, ease of use, contrast (versus brightness), fit and finish, and perhaps above all the local environment (on the ground and in the air): all can be as important as aperture.
One reason that views through the Edge quite literally paled in comparison to those through the TeleVue is that the Edge hadn't yet acclimated. Not surprisingly, the Edge can take over an hour to reach thermal equilibrium. These days, with a newborn and a three-year-old, an hour is usually all I have to observe. Moreover, even on a simple alt-azimuth setup, it takes a good 10 to 15 minutes to set up - compared to fewer than 5 with the refractor. It turns out, all of that matters a great deal to me.
So does weight. The easiest way for me to use a telescope is to lug it up several flights of stairs. Observing on the observation deck of my building, I've found, can attract a lot of unwanted attention. I like outreach, but observing for me is most enjoyable when it's just me and the sky. Maybe my kids will make me reconsider that feeling, when they're old enough. Anyway, my "best" regular observing sites - they're still far from ideal - are a 15-minute walk away. It's just not haul 40 pounds of gear for that long - especially when you aren't sure that your telescope will acclimate before you have to pack up.
That's the other thing: I hate collimating. Yes, I've become pretty good at it, and yes, an SCT doesn't need to be collimated much. But give me a telescope I can set up and look through, right away, with no fuss. Especially when I don't have much time to observe!
Then there's our local environment. In the winter, it gets pretty cold here: all the more reason to have a telescope that cools down fast. In the summer, there are mosquitoes: all the more reason to observe fast. The air can be turbulent (though we do have stretches of good seeing): not a big deal when using smaller apertures, but incredibly frustrating with bigger telescopes.
In the city, I tend to restrict my viewing to planetary, lunar, double stars, and the really big showcase deep space objects (Orion, for example). In light-polluted skies, I put a premium on pinpoint stars and stark contrast. I've found that high contrast optics can give better views of deep space objects even when those views are dimmer.
Lastly, there is just something about a premium instrument that makes you want to use it. Every little thing becomes a pleasure, from unscrewing the dust cap to adjusting the focuser. Yes, it's silly, and yes, maybe it's what you notice when you read too many telescope reviews. But it matters, especially when you're in a hurry.
So, my third lesson:
3. I'm a refractor guy, through and through.
It's worth noting how personal this lesson is: completely attuned to what I value, where I live, and my life circumstances. That it's taken years and more money than I care to admit to reach that lesson does make me resent the ubiquitous comments on astronomy websites that tell people what telescope to buy. No, the best answer is not always the biggest you can afford.
After taking out the Edge that final time, I went on the kind of binge that I still can't believe I had the energy for. I sold just about every piece of astronomy gear I had, including four telescopes, three mounts, and two tripods. I have to say: it often hurt. Away went the telescope - the C8 - that I'd always fantasized about having. Away, too, went a really nice 100 mm refractor: my Skywatcher 100ED. If it couldn't offer better views than my much smaller and more portable TeleVue, it had to go.
But I didn't want to sell for the purpose of selling - nor did I feel comfortable with just one telescope. Once I'd ditched just about everything, I agonized over what second telescope I'd like to have. It had to be relatively small, while offering something that the TeleVue didn't - or at least, giving a little something extra that the TeleVue couldn't. I wanted something that I might use when the seeing was really steady, even if it was a bit harder to use.
Ultimately, it came down to two choices: a Skywatcher 120ED and a Takahashi FC-100DC. Both are refractors, of course. The Skywatcher is a good deal bigger and slightly less expensive. The Takahashi technically gathers less light, but the optical quality is such that it might actually offer better views of just about everything - especially planets. I eventually settled on the Takahashi.
Other 100 mm Takahashi variants have longer focal lengths, which makes them better attuned for planetary observing. Yet the difference is negligible, and the shorter focal length of the DC makes it a more versatile telescope for deep space observing. It also makes it much easier to mount: I could easily use the same mount I purchased for the TeleVue 85. So, to my astonishment, I made a purchase I never expected to make: I bought a Takahashi, one of the most celebrated telescopes in the hobby.
My dream is to use the Takahashi for planetary, lunar, and double star observing, especially when I have a bit of extra time, or when the weather is nice enough for a walk to a nearby park. If I have time - hah! - I'll write an update on how it works for me. For now, I'll collect all the little accessories - from a diagonal to tube rings - that Takahashi chooses to sell separately.
It's been quite a journey, but I hope I now have telescopes to last a lifetime. At least, until the next big purchase comes calling . . . .