New Scope Report

1997 May 3

Just a short? note about my experiences with my new 16" f/4.8 home-brewed DOB last Saturday night.

Being an "early bird" by nature, I arrived at Fremont Peak's SW parking lot around 1:30 pm on May 3rd (even earlier than usual) on the assumption that many of the others would also get there early to claim a decent spot (in point of fact, virtually every part of the SW lot is decent); as it turned out, I was met only by Michelle Stone who had stayed over from the night before. So I parked my van, spread out my tables, ladder, eyepiece case, etc., rolled out and assembled the scope (a remarkably short and easy assembly time -- those 3-4 months of design work really paid off), hauled out my chair, grabbed my Foster's and enjoyed both Michelle's company and the afternoon sun & breeze. By around 5:00 pm most of the regulars had arrived, by 6:30 pm the place was virtually awash with astronomers, and by the time the sun had dipped below the horizon it was definitely "Sardine City".

The skies started out at a somewhat mediocre level -- rather steady but not very clear and/or clean, in my opinion. At first I wasn't at all certain as to whether or not these conditions would allow my 16" mirror to present any meaningful indication regarding its true performance characteristics; however, as the skies slowly darkened, I began feeling a little more optimistic (but only a little)................

I had intended to make Leo's Triplet my "first light"; however, I couldn't just idly stand around waiting for Leo's hind leg reference stars to appear, so I turned to Mars (just to keep myself occupied, mind you; this was merely a pre-first-light test). First at 156x, then at 233x, I saw remarkably clear detail on the surface -- the bright polar cap, Hellas, and (I believe) Syrtis Major came through very easily and sharply. A couple of fellow astronomers came by to take a peek; they left duly impressed. I looked through Bill Arnett's 12" Meade, then rushed back to my scope to compare images: IMHO my image quality was virtually identical to his (he was viewing at, I believe, around 250x).

Focusing next on Arcturus to check out the stellar imaging, I was more than delighted to find this bright, bold yellow-white star coming through as a tiny (yet almost blinding) pinpoint of light, showing a clearly defined diffraction disk and four hair-fine diffraction spikes -- much finer than I had ever experienced in my 10", to be sure.

Finally it was time for my "official" first-light. Moving toward the lion's rear quarters, I trained my Telrad on the Leo's Triplet region and was rewarded with what I consider to be the just about the best image I've seen of this galactic triangle in any scope -- and I've seen it through a number of high-quality scopes, most of them 18" and larger. First-light had, for the record, been officially achieved.

At this point I decided to try some of the larger, brighter and more familiar objects: first was M51: the best view I've had of it since May 1993 at Organ Pipe Cactus Natl. Mon. in Arizona (just 5 road miles from the Mexican border); then M81/M82: amazing detail in both of them; then on to M101, M97, M13 (breathtaking resolution), M92, et al. I felt I was "seeing them again for the first time".

Interspersed with admiring many of the "oldies-but-goodies", I found myself working my target list and knocking off faint fuzzies with virtually no effort at all. In Leo's tail I zeroed in on NGCs 3681, 3684, 3686 , three "ducks-in-a-row" galaxies, plus NGC 3691 just off to the side; nearby NGC 3655 couldn't hide from me this time. Then, still in Leo, I was off to locate another triple-galaxy group, NGCs 3605, 3607, 3608; all proved to be easy marks. I thought to myself, "this is way too easy -- I should expand my magnitude range", but my current work charts and target list didn't allow for anything fainter than mag 13.3, having been generated for the limits of my 10"; so I busied myself seeking out these now-bright 11-13 mag fuzzies! I believe I checked off at least 22 new (to me) objects that night. Time simultaneously flew and stood still..........

Fate, in the form of deteriorating seeing conditions, finally decided to put an end to my eyegasms. Whereas I was initially experiencing pinpoint stars, I was now getting only blobs (as were Michelle, Bill and Mark Wagner, the only other scopers I noticed still viewing at around 4:00 am, the remainder of the crowd having either departed or zonked out). Ergo, since the skies were refusing to cooperate any further, and with Bill packing up and Mark and Michelle crawling off to their respective vehicles to log in some serious woodcutting time, I decided to call it a very satisfying "first-light" night. Being the only soul still present and conscious (to my knowledge), I packed up and headed out down the mountain, pulling into my driveway by dawn's early light at a respectable? 6:00 am.

Jim Bartolini; last updated: 1997 May 5