As you can see in the photo above, my new imaging platform consists of the following:
1. Celestron CGEM Mount and Tripod: Several months ago a mate of mine demonstrated this mount's abilities, from the super-easy setup procedure to GOTO operations. I was really impressed with it, to say the least. I tossed and turned between this and the Orion Atlas, but liked the easy setup process of this mount. It is a very stable platform, apparently capable of carrying up to 40lbs of equipment. It has a very well-designed system menu, runs very quietly.
2. Astro-Telescopes 80mm, F7 ED Refractor: I didn't have too much money to play with in terms of an imaging OTA. I looked at various model refractors, reflectors and even the newer Astro-Tech 6" RC scopes. This 80mm ED refractor is the same scope as offered by Astro-Tech, just without the fancy labeling. A few reviews gave it a really big thumbs-up, and for the price ($100 less than anything else of comparable size) I thought I'd give it a go.
3. William Optics 66mm Petzval Refractor: Okay, I have had this scope for a while and have imaged through it a fair bit. This has now become my guide scope and is well suited as such for guiding the CGEM and 80mm ED.
4. Scopestuff Dual Scope Saddle Plate: The perfect accessory to have my two refractors mounted side-by-side upon the CGEM.
First Light Report
Tonight was cold and clear. Most of the US is in the grip of an arctic cold blast, and Austin, Texas, did not escape it. While there is no precipitation, temps dropped down to 19 degrees Fahrenheit. My plan was to get to the local observing spot before sunset and test out the new rig for a couple of hours before the cold got unbearable.
Setup was really a snap. I set up the tripod first, and then loaded the CGEM mount onto it. The counterweight bar and weight itself was easy to install, as were the two azimuth adjustment knobs. I attached the accessory tray (which has a few 2" and 1.25" holes for eyepieces, very handy!) and then leveled the scope using the bubble-level built into the mount. The Scopestuff dual saddle plate easily slid into the CGEM dovetail mount and was secured with the two mount bolts very easily. I then mounted my WO66mm onto one saddle and then the newer 80mm ED to the other. There was enough room between them, although the space between the two focuser knobs on each scope was a bit tight, but bearable.
As the sun set a few other folks rocked up, including the chap who showed me the CGEM and has answered a few emails about it, too. The night remained clear and crisp, despite poor transparency being predicted. I doulbechecked that all of the various bolts were tight, and then had some help with checking the balance of the scope before switching it on.
The menu system was very easy to navigate. I thought I would have issues coming from a Meade system but really experienced no difficulties at all. First I let the scope know that I was using a dual scope saddle plate by going to the appropriate setup area, so that it would accurately account for this with GOTO and tracking (using such a saddle plate places the scopes at a 90 degree angle from the standard homer position). Then I gave the scope's computer the information regarding my date, time and location. Easy stuff.
Now for the scary part! I started the alignment procedure. It asked me to select the first alignment star, and I selected Deneb in Cygnus. The scope away on its business, its quiet motors churning as my two OTAs were guided towards the alignment star. To my utmost delight, the scope placed Deneb square in the center of the 80mm's field of view! I then selected Betelguese and the same thing happened again - dead center! I confirmed both and then used Formalhaut and Rigel as further calibration stars. It was ready to go...
To start off with, I instructed the scope to take me to a few different objects - the Double Cluster, the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy and the M37 Open Cluster. All objects were placed squarely in the middle of my scope's field of view, without fail. It was very impressive!!! The computer was very easy to use, and I liked the additional information that the hand conroller gave me about each object.
Satisfied with the performance of the mount, I turned my attention to my new ED80mm refractor. I'll provide a more detailed review another time, but here's a brief observation report. The scope itself is excellently constructed, and came with a very large case with foam inserts. It also came with very solid tube rings and a Vixen style dovetail, all very solid and stable. The 10:1 dual speed focuser is lovely - very smooth and stable. It has stepper markings for reference which is a good feature. Here's what I observed and thoughts on each object:
- Double Cluster: Beautiful image, very contrasty. Stars were tack sharp (and I mean REALLY sharp) to the edge of the field of view with my Panoptic 22mm.
- M42 Orion Nebula: Later in the night this made for excellent viewing. I could see wispy nebulosity, and the trapezium was very clear indeed. Nebula was detailed at the core, very nice. I could see some nebulosity in the Running Man nebula region as well.
- M37: Fainter than the double cluster but still nice. Could detect a lot of stars.
- M1 Crab Nebula: Typically very faint anyway, the 80mm ED revealed the presence of the nebula and I didn't have to use averted vision to see it.
- Jupiter: While it was relatively low on the horizon, I could see the planet's disc and distinct cloud bands using a Televue Radian 10mm.
I decided to attach my
- 7*25 second exposures @ ISO800
- Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
- (I like this, excellent wide field with sharp, contrasty image to the edge of the field of view)
M42 Orion Nebula
- 5 * 25 second exposures @ISO800
- Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
- Noise removal in NeatImage
- (Even with a 25 second exposure, some Running Man nebula detail came out quite nicely)
So, this new imaging setup shows a lot of promise, and I can't wait to get it out to some dark sky sites and try out guided imaging. I am confident this will yield better results than my previous attempts.