To say I was tired after my last morning out is an understatement. There's nothing like 16 straight hours of work and childcare after a three hour night's sleep. Yet when the forecast called for better-than-average seeing and transparency on another clear morning, I had to go out again. After all, it'll be a while before Mars looks this good. This time, however, I took my Takahashi FC-100 DC and my lightest tripod; I was still a little sore from hauling the APM.
Conditions were just about the same this morning as they had been on the sixth, and that provided a nice opportunity to test how close the view through a good 4-inch refractor can get to that of a 5.5-inch (the APM). In a word (okay two words): pretty close! The Moon dazzled with detail, although I definitely saw finer features - especially those rilles - with the APM. Mars was wonderfully clear, with dark albedo features obvious but maybe a bit less dark than they had been through the APM, and the south polar ice cap much dimmer. Orion and the Trapezium were wonderful, but I could only clearly see four stars in the Trapezium - with a hint of the fifth, "F" star. You could drive a truck between Rigel A and B, but maybe a slightly smaller truck than you could with the APM. The Takahashi is just a fantastic telescope.
I set out to observe Mars, and indeed I observed the planet for a good long time. Two years ago, during the last opposition, I dreamed of exactly the views I've had this year. Once again, I tried sketching the view on my phone, but it's become clear that I've reached the limit of what's possible with that technique. Next time, I'll bring sketchpad - but still, it's nice to know what I've seen.
I found that the steady atmosphere easily permitted a magnification of around 250x, which is rare in these parts - and better than I enjoyed on the sixth. Although I spent a lot of time on Mars, I found I kept returning to the Moon. There's nothing like the gloriously detailed lunar views a fine refractor can reveal in good seeing. Features visible around the terminator were especially interesting tonight, with plenty of tiny craters glinting at local sunset, and some really interesting, rectilinear scarps (or so I decided; I'll have to look this up later).
So, another great morning - but it'll take me a few days to recover this time.
The weather has been stormy over the past few weeks, but this morning the clouds cleared and the seeing promised to be good. I woke up at 2:45 AM and walked out the door by 3:20, hauling my APM 140. As I reached my local park, it dawned on me that conditions were essentially perfect. The sky was wonderfully transparent, the temperature was perfect, and there was a thin misting of dew on the ground. The rabbits and fireflies that used to give the park such a magical air, however, have largely disappeared (for now).
It was a special morning for more than one reason. The Moon had just passed in front (occulted) Mars, and the two worlds were still right next to each other in the night sky. It was a stunning sight as I set up the APM. Then, when I wheeled the big telescope around to have a look at the Moon, I was just floored by the spectacular, razor-sharp detail. Rilles and craterlets snapped into view as I've never seen them, and I thought I could actually pick up gradations of color on a Moon that has always looked monochrome to me.
It was easy to get lost in that view, but I had a job to do: observe Mars as it approaches opposition. Now, it's around five weeks away - hard to believe! - and wow does the planet look big and bright. The APM revealed it in spectacular detail, with Syrtis Major huge and dark on the planet's surface, arcing north from a south polar cap that now seems small (but bright), with Nodus Alcyonius obvious nearby. It was easily the best view of Mars I've had. By 4 AM the view softened a bit, as a turbulence entered our terrestrial atmosphere. I think I noticed a hint of the planet's rotation between 3:45 and 4:45 AM; Syrtis Major seemed just a bit offset from where it was when I set up.
I knew my iPhone would never capture even a half-decent image of the view, and I kicked myself for not bringing a sketching pad. Still, I have an app called "Paper" on my phone, and I used that to quickly just down what I could easily see. An enormous amount of detail is missing, of course, including many subtle grays south of Syrtis Major. Yet I'm hopeful that I'll get better at this, and I could tell that it helped me observe more closely and carefully.
By 4:30 AM or so, the highlights of the winter sky had climbed above the horizon. Of course, I had to have a look at Orion. To my surprise, six stars were visible in the Trapezium - a first for me, if memory serves. Through the APM, the nebula looked about as impressive near the light-polluted horizon as it does while near zenith with my Takahashi (or maybe even a little better). Rigel B was much easier to spot than I can remember, and the Pleiades were just spectacular. Venus, also rising in the east, was lost in atmospheric turbulence. But still, I observed its half-disk for a minute or so.
I've praised it before in this space, but wow - I cannot say enough about this APM refractor. There are times when I've fantasized about selling all my gear in exchange for an Astro-Physics refractor - something truly high-end. Yet I just can't see how the APM can be improved. I see less false color with the APM than I do with the Takahashi - even with the Takahashi's focal extender screwed in - and the detail, contrast, and color I can see on planets is just otherworldly (sorry). Bright deep space objects are a joy to observe, and the every last detail on the telescope - from the focuser to the dew shield - is a pleasure to use. Like my TV-85, there's something magical about this telescope. It's a true keeper.
Also deserving of praise: TeleVue Delos eyepieces. They are, without doubt, the best I've used in terms of clarity, contrast, and comfort for my eye. Maybe I'll get another come Christmas.
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 purchases 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.
The sky was clear the past two nights, as if to compensate for the arrival of COVID-19 in our city. Temperatures are rising, too, although they were plenty cool during that first night (March 7th). Since our baby still wakes up all the time - including every 1-2 hours at night - I once again walked up to our roof. Someday, I hope to be able to visit nearby parks again.
On both nights, I stepped out with my Takahashi FC-100DC. The telescope is absolutely stable on my next AYO II mount - a significant difference over the AYO Traveller mount, especially in windy weather (and it's been a bit breezy here on the rooftop). Although ClearDarkSky forecast average seeing on both nights, I've learned to take that with a couple grains of salt, and indeed once again there seemed to be pockets of decent and poor seeing in the night sky. On the 7th, the nearly-full Moon appeared reasonably steady through my eyepiece; on the 8th, a high-altitude haze and turbulent air worsened the view considerably. Still, there's always something satisfying about seeing the apparently full Moon in the night sky, and then discovering a terminator with a telescope.
I can only step out at around 8:30 most nights - after my daughter goes to bed - and at that point Venus, which is now near opposition, is sinking quickly towards the horizon. Not only does it then shine through a lot of atmosphere, but it's also just above a bank of currents boiling up from some pipes on our rooftop. And when I turn my telescope to have a look, it's usually right after I set up, when the tube still hasn't fully cooled down. Venus is, in other words, usually a shimmering mess of false color.
Yet on the eighth, for maybe five glorious minutes, I did get a nice view early in the evening, at around 82x with my Nagler Type 6, 9mm eyepiece (it's a favorite). Any more magnification, and the view softened in a hurry. At 82x, however, I thought I might just be able to make out some darker details in the disk; in fact I was quite sure of it, but of course unlikely visual phenomena that are just at the edge of perception should always be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. Minutes later, the view broke down and Venus was out for the night.
On both nights, with Orion very high in the sky, I easily split Rigel A and B. Turning to the Orion Nebula, I think I was able to make out five - perhaps even six! - stars in the Trapezium on the 7th. At 123x, the whole view seemed full of delicate nebulosity (faint, however, because I'm surrounded by lights on our rooftop and my eyes don't fully dark adapt). On the 7th, a small crowd came out to our rooftop and one young man wandered over. He asked me what I was looking at; I mentioned the Orion Nebula. "What's a nebula?" he asked. Vinny - that was his name - now you know!
On both nights, I did a little equipment testing. First, I've been tempted by the new Takahashi FC-100DZ. Its color correction is a bit better than that of my 100DC, especially at red wavelengths. With Mars reaching opposition later this year, it might be an upgrade worth making. On the other hand, the slight improvement in color correction comes at the cost of a longer focal ratio (F8 VS F7.4) and a substantially heavier (33% more!) tube. That may mean that I can't mount the DZ on my lightest-weight tripod and mount. And I wonder whether the DZ would complement my Mewlon as nicely as my DC can - at least in theory, since I rarely have a chance to use the Mewlon. The false color around Venus and even the Moon on the 8th (in poor seeing) did make me think, but for now I definitely lean towards keeping the DC.
I also tested a new pair of binoculars on the eighth. For a while, I've been looking for binoculars that aren't too expensive - I don't use binoculars enough to justify a high price - but also are more than toys. The big Celestron 15x70 binoculars that I've mentioned earlier in this space quickly fell out of collimation and are now completely useless. I bought a small (8x42) pair of well-reviewed Oberwerk binoculars last year, but they were surprisingly heavy, and they too lost collimation in a hurry. I returned them and replaced them with Nikon 10x50 Action Extreme binoculars.
Right off the bat, the feel and size of the binoculars felt right. They were actually easier to hold steady than the smaller Oberwerk binoculars. Turning to the Moon, the view impressed: a bit of false color no doubt magnified by that high-altitude haze, but wonderfully sharp nonetheless. I think this pair is a keeper, and at $150 I don't have to feel that it represents a blown investment if I don't use it much.
With the Moon and Orion high in the sky just after the kids went to bed, and the weather relatively mild, I just had to have a look. Once again, I hauled my Takahashi refractor to the rooftop - although I'm not sure "haul" is the word to use for carrying such a light telescope, mount, and tripod.
The currents coming off my building again add an artificial layer of low-lying turbulence to the view, and I'm starting to suspect that my Berlebach Report tripod can barely handle the FC-100DC (the TV 85 is a slightly better match). There's a bit more vibration than I usually prefer, though I'm sure that's also a function of the wobbly concrete slabs we have on our rooftop. In any case, although the seeing wasn't bad, the Moon trembled in the eyepiece.
Still the view was, at times, utterly spectacular, especially around Plato, where the rim shadows seemed fantastically long and sharp: as though they were cast by a gigantic palace overlooking the crater. At times it seemed as though the shadows shimmered ever so slightly, an effect first noticed by Selenographers in the late nineteenth century (and then blamed on "lunar meteorology"). Although the crater floor is pitted with tiny craterlets - well, tiny as viewed from Earth - I couldn't spot any. Is it futile to look for them with a small refractor? Maybe. I'll need to bring out my Mewlon when the weather is warmer.
The 3.7 mm Ethos eyepiece certainly makes a big difference on the Moon by greatly expanding the field of view, but the 200x it affords was just a bit too much for the atmosphere tonight. The view was just a little soft. Turning to the Orion Nebula with the eyepiece attached, the Trapezium wasn't as sharp as it was the other night, and the nebulosity surrounding it was a little washed out - partly, no doubt, by the brighter Moon. A lower magnification would have served me better, but I had to hurry downstairs to kids who needed my attention.
All in all, a good hour on the rooftop. Someday, I keep reminding myself, I'll be able to stay outside for longer!
Just a short post this time because, wow, has this month ever been busy for me. Either I've been sick or my kids have been sick, and there's far too much to do at work, so there's no chance for me to observe anywhere other than our rooftop observation deck. I can pack up my telescopes quickly when my wife needs my help - or when I'm just too sick to endure the cold for long.
Luckily, Orion is riding high in the sky during the fleeting minutes I usually have to observe, and that makes for some impressive viewing even from my light-polluted rooftop. Last night my Takahashi refractor gave me some beautifully ethereal views, with delicate nebulosity filling almost the entire field of view at just over 80x. I recognize that the above picture is, of course, terrible on some level. But with an iPhone, held by shivering hands on a cold night? It's not the worst!
The seeing must have abruptly worsened, because I spotted only hints of Rigel B and the white dwarf orbiting Sirius (the "pup") with a Nagler 9mm eyepiece. Both stars danced and flickered. Should I have used a higher power eyepiece? Maybe, but it was just too cold. In any case Betelgeuse was striking, even with the naked eye. It's dimmed to an extraordinary degree over the last few months! It's a sobering reminder that even stars diminish and die (although Betelgeuse may not go nova for many thousands of years yet).
A crescent moon is always a spectacular sight through any telescope, let alone the FC-100DC, and luckily I set up just before it slipped too low in the night sky. Still, I had to observe through a lot of atmosphere, and through currents welling up from the rooftop (my primary antagonist on our observation deck). As the pictures attest: the mesmerizing detail I can often see when the Moon is higher in the sky just wasn't there last night. But as always, the Moon was worth a look.
Not the best night, but any time I can get a quality view of the Orion Nebula from the city, I'll take it.
After quite possibly the worst travel experience of my life - thanks, United, for losing two car seats and a suitcase - we returned to Washington on New Year's Eve, where I was happily reunited with my best telescopes. The sky was beautifully clear and transparent on the first day of the new year (and decade), so I decided to ring it in with some Moon watching.
Anything above freezing now feels positively tropical to me, so I was quite comfortable on our observation deck. I would have preferred to walk to a nearby park, since it's too bright on the deck for my eyes to fully adjust to the dark, and that keeps me from enjoying deep space objects as I otherwise might. But my infant son still isn't sleeping, and I need to be on call. Luckily my telescopes pack up in under five minutes.
I began by observing the waxing Moon with a 25mm eyepiece in my Takahashi refractor, for a magnification of about 30x. Immediately, I was simply floored by the difference between that view - which came after about five minutes of acclimation - and the one I'd had through the C90 in Winnipeg. As usual, iPhone pictures simply can't do it justice. The Moon was rife with such extraordinary detail, even at that low magnification, that I could have stared at it for hours, and it had a three-dimensional quality that it never appears to have through a lesser telescope. Although these pictures don't show it, I could clearly see the Moon's ashen light - Earthshine bouncing off its otherwise unilluminated surface - even by naked eye, and the contrast between the sunlight and Earthlit parts of the Moon was glorious through the Takahashi.
Shifting to higher magnifications, I quickly realized that there was something odd about the seeing last night. Looking west, away from the bulk of the city, the view of the Moon was turbulent but stabilized briefly from time to time, revealing glimpses of extraordinary detail. Looking east, towards downtown, the seeing was consistently below average. The Trapezium at the heart of the Orion Nebula, for example, was a disappointing sight. In Winnipeg, the C90 had provided a better view - proof of the obvious fact that, no matter which telescope you use, light pollution and atmospheric conditions will play a huge role in determining what you see.
Betelgeuse danced wildly through the eyepiece, but still I was struck by how much it had dimmed over the past few months. Will it explode soon? It's vanishingly unlikely, but still possible . . . and if so, I'm happy I paid my final respects through the eyepiece. I've always loved comparing it to Rigel.
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.
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.