December 27, 2019
Every Christmas, I head to Winnipeg with my family to visit my in-laws. It is painfully, mind-numbingly cold, and of course I miss my telescopes back home. Yet I've managed to cobble together some equipment that lets me scratch my astronomy even while far from home.
This Christmas, I bought an Explore Scientific Twilight I mount to store in Winnipeg. This is my second time purchasing that mount - I sold my first purchase to help finance my VAMO traveller mount - and I again find myself both impressed and disappointed. The mechanics are, on the whole, quite good. It looks great! But quality control at Explore Scientific seems spotty at best. Twilight mounts have magnets that hold an allen key you use to adjust the inclination of the mount head. Both mounts I purchased had hanging magnets, only partly attached with glue. This new mount is smoother than the old one, but again the slow motion knobs just don't stay tight for long, which means that there's give in the slow motion controls. Not a big deal, but I've found that this is the biggest difference between premium products and that next step down: you know just what you're getting when you pay top dollar.
In any case, the mount makes a good pairing with the C90 I already had in Winnipeg, but not a great one. The C90 is almost comically over-mounted. I also managed to buy a C6 for Winnipeg this time around - they're bizarrely cheap right now - but it hasn't arrived yet. I felt its absence keenly when I tried to use the C90 to observe the crescent Moon on a cold (-20° C, or -4° F) morning soon after arriving in Winnipeg. Maksutov telescopes take a notoriously long time to reach thermal equilibrium - it's why I don't have one in DC, where I have to observe soon after setting up - and the C90 is certainly no exception. After 30 minutes the C90 hadn't come close to reaching thermal equilibrium, and the view was a blurry disappointment. The C6 should cool down a little faster, and then provide better views.
Roughly a week later, on a clear and positively balmy (around -8° C, or around 17° F) Winnipeg night, I stepped out after letting my C90 cool for around 45 minutes. ClearDarkSky told me that seeing would be mediocre at best, but in fact I found it remarkably good. The stars scarcely twinkled, and in fact for many minutes I enjoyed just looking up at the night sky with naked eye. When I turned to my telescope, I found the standard C90 finder to be every bit as bad as I remembered. It's literally unusable, and unfortunately the long focal length of the C90 makes it hard to use the telescope at low magnifications as its own finder. In the cold, I eventually found the Orion Nebula, and the view surprised me: not quite as good as what I see through my TV85, but not too far off. Through Winnipeg's dimmer light pollution, the nebula seemed about as bright as it does with the refractor back home.
After a little while I managed to see Rigel, too, and there was Rigel B, plain as day. With bright stars the difference between refractor and Maksutov telescopes is a little more obvious: though the C90 does a good job, stars are just a bit more colorful and a good deal sharper through the TeleVue or Takahashi. I gave up trying to observe Betelgeuse by telescope but did linger on it with naked eye. The giant star has been dimming of late - in fact I noticed that a couple weeks ago - and some think it may soon explode in a supernova brighter, from Earth, than the full Moon. In any case before long my fingers started to go numb, so I picked up my whole setup and simply carried it inside, in one go.
All in all, a good night. The C6 will likely reveal far more, and I look forward to using it here in Winnipeg.
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