I've been fascinated by space for as long as I can remember. As a kid, there was not form of fiction that captivated me more than tales of people traveling among the stars. It was the ultimate expression of my beloved High Technology–the ability for man to escape the gravity well of his home and soar anywhere he chose.
A few weeks ago I picked up a pair of 30 x 50 binoculars that I could mount to a tripod. The moon view available was amazing. More amazing was seeing Jupiter go from a point of light to a tiny disk, surrounded by 4 points–it's moons. Mars and Saturn were also disks, albeit much less dramatic than the giant of Jupiter. If I stayed out long enough, and did a good job hiding from porch lights, passing cars and even people's indoor lights coming out of windows something truly amazing would happen-my binoculars would let me see nebula and star clusters.
Binoculars are fantastic stargazing tools, but they only set you up to want more. And now more is what I have: I am the proud owner of a Celestron Nexstar 6se. Here you can see it setup between my house and my neighbor's, a spot I selected to get the broadest view of the sky with at least some protection from street lights. My backyard is dark, but it's also treed in, so viewing options are much more limited.
My rig consists of the scope, included stand, optional SkyLink GPS, power tank and a set of 1.25" eyepieces. After a lot of research, I settled on the 6se for a few reasons:
- The Schmidt-Cassegrain design balances the advantages of a reflector and a refractor while keeping the size of the scope down.
- A six inch scope can produce some great views while still being small and easily portable.
- The Nexstar 6se is computer controlled. When combined with the optional GPS, I only have to aim the scope at one known star, and then correct it's aim at a second and it can then automatically point itself at any object I want to see.
- It looks really cool.
My ability to star hop is pretty limited, so the fact that this scope can key in on one of the handful of stars I can easily find and know the name of and then find everything else for me is really amazing. Then there's the view. I started out looking a Venus, because it's over the top brightness made it an easy object to find, test focus on and align the star finder to. The Venus view was nice–I could clearly make out it's current phase. By the time I had the scope focused and figured out alignment Jupiter had passed below the horizon.
I spent some time looking at Mars, and the red planet was much more dramatic through a scope than I'd ever seen with my own eyes. I tried checking out a few Nebula, but my night vision was reset to often by typical suburban activity, so I settled for some clusters instead.
We don't always realize just how much we miss of the night sky in an age of rampant light pollution. The Nexstar 6se did a great job of cutting though the haze to show me dozens of stars where none were visible to the naked eye.
Time was passing very quickly. Each hour subjectively felt like 15 minutes or so. That means Saturn was out and available for view in a very short amount of perceived time. I knew Saturn would be dramatic, it is often said to be one of the most amazing sights available to the suburban viewer. It is. I didn't take this image, but I did search for one that looked the most like what I saw, and this pic was taking with the Nexstar 6se:
Saturn took my breath away. I fumbled around in my accessory kit to find my Barrow lens. This particular Barrow just doubles the power of whatever eyepiece you are using at the time. Here I could clearly make out the rings of Saturn, and the bands of clouds on the planet itself. I brought Jenny outside, and she remarked that it didn't look real.
This is the first time I have viewed Saturn with my own eyes as more than a tiny dot. I asked Jenny to rouse Madison out of bed so she could see it. My neighbor likewise brought his son out to see it. Looking at one of the giants in our solar system was awe-inspiring and humbling.
Today our species has very limited abilities to travel the planets, and no way to travel to distant stars. We explore the reaches of our solar system with robots. We've been to the moon, and we regularly sent people into low Earthorbit. Last night, standing in my yard I was able to get a sense of our place in the universe and a vision or what we one day may be able to do.
I guess you could say I am happy with the telescope.