Telescope

After more than two decades, I was recently able to catch up with the old 6-inch aperture Meade Starfinder telescope and started using a Celestron Nexstar 6SE. In just a few days of owning the telescope, I was quickly able to take a look at many deep sky objects that I had never seen before, and that would have taken me at about an hour to find and track. With the Nexstar 6SE, it now takes me only 5 minutes to setup alt-az alignment with Skyalign and to point to any objects visible at the time.

Eyepieces

  • Celestron 25 mm

  • Meade 12 mm

  • Meade 9 mm

Filters

  • Meade #8

  • Meade #21

  • Meade #38A

  • Meade #56

  • Meade lunar filter d = 0.9

Barlow

  • Meade variable power Barlow lens 2X - 3X

Power Source

One of the best ways to make the Nexstar portable power-wise is to get a battery or power tank that can feed the telescope for at least a few hours. Fortunately, there are not-so-expensive batteries especially available for Celestron telescopes that address this question. If you're like me (sleep deprived because of kids) and are only able to stargaze a few hours when the weather is right, then a small power tank should suffice.

Link to PowerTank Lithium LT.

Celestron's PowerTank Lithium LT

Battery Performance

Even though I have not measured the performance of the battery myself, data available shows that this battery can deliver a steady voltage for a long period of time when compared with other Lithium batteries loaded similarly. This is great because it means that tracking performance will not deteriorate as much as the battery charge is depleted.

Simulation Software

Some things have changed since the late 90s! It feels like coming out of an astronomy coma! As you will see in one of the sections below, my computer was a desktop which I couldn't move much. So, it also made sense to have a fixed setup for the telescope.

Mobile devices have made things much more... portable. Back then I had been using Siennasoft's Starry Night Deluxe (1998?). The surprising thing, Starry Night has been maintained and upgraded during the years, now produced now by Simulation Curriculum. They have also come up with smartphone versions of it, named SkySafari, both for Android and iOS.

Versions of the Starry Night software are included with Celestron telescopes, but they seem to be tailored to the very beginner. Not what I am looking for! So I explored their desktop and mobile versions a bit more. After looking a prices and reconsidering my needs (portability, databases, mapping features, etc) I decided to gear up with Starry Night Pro for Windows and SkySafari Plus for Android. Both are superb software packages!

Binoculars

Previously I would not have considered binoculars as part of the stargazing equipment. Probably because the old Starfinder had such a nice "finder" and was sufficient to get me pointing the actual telescope in the right direction. But again, since portability is one of the criteria that has recently driven my choices around stargazing equipment and software, I will now consider figuring out ways to leverage binoculars for planning and complementing telescope observations.

In fact, the Nexstar SE telescopes come with a laser finder with no magnification. Hence, it seems like a good idea to use binoculars to survey the sky before and while observing with the telescope. This may especially come handy when tracking comets. Although there have been no bright comets in the sky for a while, when this happens their tail can extend for a few arc minutes or even degrees. Thus, the tail would not fit in the field of view of the telescope and magnitude estimations may be better achieved with binoculars.

Celestron Outland 10X42 Waterproof Binoculars with Rubber Coating

My teenage years' setup

The telescope

My older telescope was a 152.4 mm newtonian reflector, 1220 mm in focal length and f/8. This instrument is a Starfinder from Meade Instruments. I got it in November 1997. It has a 6x30 mm finderscope, DC motor drive in the polar axis and a German equatorial mount. It was very well polar-aligned thanks to Jerry Lodriguss.

The camera

  • Meade 216XT CCD camera.

The Computer

  • Acer Aspire Pentium 100 MHz

The software

  • Starry Night Deluxe v2.0.2

  • Meade Pictorview v6.44