My other hobby - Astronomy

Len Philpot

Well-Known Member
I've been an amateur astronomer / observer since 1987. I was hooked after buying a set of cheap Sears 7x50 binoculars, at half price, and then taking a look upward outside one night. Although I've owned a number of telescopes over the years, I'm definitely not in the "upper echelon" of gear-head-status among amateur astronomers (much like photographers).

For what it's worth here are some (most?) of the scopes I've owned over the past 35+ years, in roughly chronological order. Virtually all of these shots are just quick cellphone (or older P&S digital) images. There's no art here!! LOL I also won't go into all the mounts that accompany some of the scopes. That's a whole 'nuther rabbit hole but suffice to say it's a mixed lot, which I moved between scopes on a regular basis.

My first scope is not pictured, a 4.5" f/8 Newtonian reflector of dubious quality. I improved it and had an optician refigure the optics until it was a nice little scope. Then naturally I sold it to make way for my second scope...

A home-built 10" (254mm) f/5.51 "Dobsonian", which is an integrated mount / structure style popularized by ATM (amateur telescope maker) John Dobson in the 1970s. I bought the more difficult to make hardware components but built the rest from plywood. It wasn't built from plans, per se, but just from other examples which I adapted for my use.


I wanted a decent refractor and bought this used Tele Vue Genesis 4" (100mm) f/5 Apochromatic ("Apo") optical tube. It has two doublet lenses in a Petzval configuration.


This is a much less expensive little 80"mm f/5 wide-field achromatic refractor. This type of scope is generically referred to as a "Short-tube 80". It's more for wide-FOV scanning, not high power observing. It's cheap, portable and fun, as long as you don't try to make it do something it's not designed to do. I made the tripod / mount it's on in this photo.


A friend and fellow astronomer passed away in 2003 from cancer and included me in her will. There were a couple of scopes as well as some eyepieces and other accessories. This one was a Meade SN-8 f/4 Schmidt Newtonian. Schmidts in general have spherical (not "figured" parabolic) primary mirrors, but include a slightly non-flat (but complex shaped) optical corrector plate ahead of the primary in the optical train to remove the spherical aberration. The Newtonian variant has a diagonal secondary mirror to direct the image outside the tube at a 90 degree angle. They're made for wide-angle viewing, with a fast f/ratio. It came on a fork mount (which I called a tuning fork mount due to its vibration), so I made a smaller Dobsonian style mount for it from the wood of another scope I got from her (which was also a Dobsonian).

sn81.jpg sn8_Dob.jpg

So that other scope that I cannibalized for the mount? It was a 14.5" (368mm) f/4.5 Dobsonian. It was originally bought new by another friend, sold a few times and eventually she bought it. By that time it had been ridden hard and put up wet, so to speak. So I took the optics out of it and bought a TeleKit from Astrosystems. You provide some basic information about your optics, choose a few options and they make a custom kit from Baltic Birch 15-ply wood, cut on a CNC router. Then you put the kit together with slow-cure epoxy, sand and varnish it, add the hardware they sell with the kit and you've got a premium "Dob" for generally less than half the usual price. Here's mine (with me) after completion, 20 years ago (my hair is NOT that color anymore!!):


I wanted a smaller "grab-n-go" scope, but one that was still large enough for serious observing. I bought this one used from a guy in St. Louis. It's a commercially made 8" f/6 Dobsonian, which I tweaked to oblivion and used for several years before selling in 2018 (I think?). It was a nice little scope:


By this time I had years earlier sold the Genesis (above) and I wanted another refractor, so I got this from a friend. It's a Sky-Watcher 4" (100mm) f/9 Semi-Apo refractor. It has an ED doublet which has pretty good color correction. A more sophisticated triplet (with flourite or more exotic glass) has been correction but is MUCH more expensive.


Sidebar re: prices... See that white contraption (mount) on the right-hand edge of the frame? That's an Astro-Physics mount and by itself is easily 4x (or more?) the cost of both this scope and the mount it's on.

At a "star party" (observing event) a friend sold me this "OTA" (optical tube assembly) for $40. It's also a Schmidt-Newtonian configuration, 5.5" aperture, f/3.6, called a Comet Catcher. These were made in big numbers around the time of Halley's Comet in 1986-87. Some of the production run examples were, shall we say, better than others... :) This one seems to be OK, but like the Short-Tube 80, use it for its intended use for best results: Wide field, Milky Way, open clusters, etc. It came with no mount so I built a little (you guessed it) Dob-style mount that attached to an existing tripod. I eventually gave it (sans the tripod) to a friend.


OK... getting more recent now. I found this little no-name / re-badged Chinese 80mm f/7.5 achromat refractor online at a good price. I still have it. It's not (the telescopic equivalent of) Leica optics, but for what it does it's fun to use.


(last two scopes in the next message)
The Telekit was carried around in the back of a truck I owned between 1999 and 2011. That truck was replaced by a Honda Accord 4-door sedan. Despite the way the Telekit broke down into smaller components, the mirror box was still about 66 lbs., which made it a bit of a back-strainer to put into the back seat of the Accord (fully assembled, the entire scope was about 120 lbs). Eventually that meant it didn't get used too much, so after a friend had several of her (and her husband's) scopes stolen, she bought it from me with her insurance money.

I replaced it with a DobSTUFF 12" (303mm) f/5 Dobsonian made by a guy in Palm Desert, California. Folks in Palm Desert have no concept of Louisiana humidity and dew, but I knew that going in and have modified the scope to handle the moisture. Here it is assembled:


It's sitting on a Round Table Platform (brand) equatorial platform. That allows the scope to track the sky for up to an hour before it needs to be reset (a 30 second process).

Here's the scope disassembled and then reassembled in a transport / traveling configuration:


This scope is almost 50 lbs lighter than the TeleKit. There are some known moderate compromises, but they're not an issue and it's much easier to transport. Of course now (14 years later) I'm working toward replacing my Accord with another truck... of course!

And finally, I sold the Sky-Watcher refractor and replaced it with this Guang-Shen ("GSO") 6" f/6 Newtonian OTA. It rides on the same mount the refractor used, but has much more light-grasp. I really like this little scope.


The mount is an iOptron AZ Mount Pro, a computer-controlled "goto" alt-az mount.

...and that's where the stable stands at the current moment. I have no plans to buy, but who needs plans? 🙃
You've had some scopes! Do you still do much observing? Did you ever do imaging?

When I married my wife, I was chagrinned to learn that her 8" scope was bigger than my 90mm. About a year ago I got all fired up about shooting DSO's and decided before I went crazy spending money, I'd investigate remounting the 8" (since it suffers from an actual Y2K s/w problem that has to do with the goto algorithm only using two digits for solving the year - hence it was oly good from 1901 through 1999). Once I saw the cost of remounting that I thought that I'd be better off getting an 80mm refractor. Then I started investigating stacking s/w and all of the calibration images involved.

I think I purchased 3 or 4 books (Bracken, Woodhouse) on Deep Sky Imaging and started reading Cloudy Nights on a regular basis.

It's still on my bucket list but maybe somewhere in the future.

I subscribe to both Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazine. They're good showcases for printed images taken by guys with lots of imaging time in dark sky locations. I'm not certain that at this point in my life I have the time to dedicate to shooting 30 hours of the same smudge in the sky through multiple filters to get a false-color masterpiece.
Very impressive, Len. I have a friend who used to run the Mills Observatory in Dundee, my home town. He’s 80 now, and his eyes are not what they used to be, sadly. He built his own little observatory in his garden. He always helped me with my Astro enquiries. I bought a Sky Watcher scope, but never got on with it, and donated it to the local school. Instead I got a decent pair of astro binoculars, and found the experience much more to my liking. I’m happy just recognising basic clusters and so on as I pan around the skies. That’s as far as it goes for me. You must have seen some incredible things.
You've had some scopes! Do you still do much observing? Did you ever do imaging?
Yeah, it was more than I thought until I compiled the list! :) However (and not to justify myself) I know plenty of people who've owned many times more... Just goes to show, I guess.

The only legit astrophoto I've ever taken is this one:


That was shot on an alt-az mount, which works for the moon, but not for anything fainter since it tracks in micro-steps and being alt-az there would be field rotation.

I got interested in possibly doing some (camera lens) wide field photography during COVID and ordered a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i Pro Pak. It took forever to come in (as typical) so during the wait I read up, watched videos, etc., on light frames, dark frames, bias frames, dark bias frames, filters, dithering, stretching, Hubble palette, ad nauseum. I downloaded DeepSkyStacker, SiriL and a few others.

Then the mount arrived just as the winter rains set in, followed by a very cloudy spring. Once summer was arrived, it was stay-inside-after-dark season (mosquitos). So a year later and zero photos. By that time my interest had completely faded. That was three years ago and I've shot two (mostly test) daytime time lapses using the mount as a panner. So much for my astrophotography. I kept reading how the standard rule of thumb was, "Plan on throwing away everything you shoot for the first year at least" and realized the odds of ever producing a decent image was basically zero. I like viewing astrophotos, but I'm not in the right place to make them.

I subscribed to both magazines for years, but dropped Astronomy more than a decade ago. It just seemed to be increasingly lightweight in content. I kept S&T (eventually in digital form) until a few months ago when I disabled auto-renew. In the days BI (Before Internet) there were precious few options for such information. Now a magazine subscription became (to me at least) superfluous.

At any rate, I've always been a deep-sky observer more than planetary and both more than imager. Years ago I completed the AL's Messier programs, Herschel 400 and a few others.
I bought a Sky Watcher scope, but never got on with it, and donated it to the local school. Instead I got a decent pair of astro binoculars, and found the experience much more to my liking. I’m happy just recognising basic clusters and so on as I pan around the skies. That’s as far as it goes for me. You must have seen some incredible things
Yes, some neat stuff although to the non-astronomer I'm sure they were all just "faint fuzzies". LOL

In the last few years I've observed less, but that has more to do with a waning interest in logistics and my increasing dislike of the Louisiana / deep south climate than a decrease in astronomical interests.

The two local "sites" I used for observing have gone downhill. One is on the edge of a seasonal flood-control lake (in a swampy area) that during the summer is drawn down to about 2m deep. It's about 3km x 11km is size, so when it's stagnant during the summer it's a huge mosquito farm. They're unbelievably bad there. Plus you have the local yahoos fishing, shining lights and blowing down the gravel road at high speed in their trucks -- Not the best environment for optical endeavours.

The other site is closer, more convenient and "controlled", but it's in a wildlife management area that's used by the Louisiana National Guard (army) for training. Also, they've been doing prescribed burns to control the amout of undergrowth. The net result is it's been pretty much closed for March and April, two of the four best observing months here. Being close to town it's too bright for serious observing, but I can at least scratch my itch every now and then.

My backyard is out of the question. My western 'horizon' (if you want to call it that) is a pair of ~30m tall sweet gum trees and there are lights everywhere.

Oh well, nothing new about that! :cool:
I read up, watched videos, etc., on light frames, dark frames, bias frames, dark bias frames, filters, dithering, stretching, Hubble palette, ad nauseum.
This is what put me off: all of the stuff you need to do to apply s/w to the actual images of your DSO. In the end to get a colorful masterpiece you're essentially doing false-color anyway. Your moon shot is nice (much better than anything I've gotten with a tripod mounted camera/lens). As I noted, I was thinking about remounting the 8" OTA on a new/tracking mount but truth-be-told lugging that beast around might have been fine 20 years ago but probably not now and I live in a Class 7 Bortle location, so travel would be required.
I had a friend back in my late teens who had a telescope which we both used for a while and we were also involved in a project at school building one from a kit (I cannot recall what other than it being a reflecting telescope). I enjoy the images that people produce (less so the enhanced milky way with scenery that abound these days) and have a friend who is very good at it (as well as at buying telescopes it seems).

It is certainly an interesting pastime and I find the kit fascinating. My other optical obsession goes the other way (and is linked to my profession) and I have a large number of microscopes and associated stuff. I think there is a link to one here somewhere.
Here it is although it has grown a few extras since this was taken!