A GOTO experience

We had conducted our group’s star-party on a Saturday, 23rd December. Here we had a new member named Mr. Venkatesh Sundarajan who’s a bank manager by profession. He had purchased a Celestron 9.25″ GOTO Schmidt-Cassegrain (SCT) telescope from abroad. He had brought this wonder to the star-party and as it was the first time he was using the GOTO scope we had a few problems and trials and errors setting it up. That day after realizing some of the mistakes, we thought of taking some care the second day when I went to his home some distance away near Banashankari bus-stop, a few kilometers from mine.

I reached his home at sharp 5 pm on Sunday, with just some incomplete sleep from the previous day’s star-party. We carried the entire scope and it’s accessories from his car as he had left as it is. We took it to the top floor/terrace of the 11-floor posh apartment. We set it up as he knew how to do it all, I was just looking carefully mesmerized at the hundreds of formalities involved, hoping to fix it deep within my brain. Until now I was a total stranger to GOTO scopes and such costly and heavy-duty optics, and I was desperate to get known to it, as it would surely be a big factor in my future ventures in astronomy, especially comet-hunting. He first put the counter-weights on it, then did some other adjustments and finally after all came polar aligning, the main root of all success in using such polar oriented scopes. In the North was another apartment in the same premises which was blocking our view altogether. Hence he used an alternate and novel idea, he used a  magnetic compass to orient to the North. This wasn’t what we supposed to do precisely, but it was the best option. After doing some rough alignment, he cranked up the power from the battery of his torch. Now came what I really wanted to experience, using the GOTO part of a scope. Until now mainly since the past year starting December exactly, I had found quite many deepsky objects (DSO’s), to be precise around 327 DSO’s (!) including the many 172 galaxies (!!) that’s clearly around 52% or more than half of the entire statistics (!!!) with a manual and hand-guided telescope, that’s what most of us get to do. But inspite of that, experiencing an auto-pilot sort of vehicle was something which anyone would await and crave to even see. And moreover the harsh sound of it’s motors that it created while slewing (moving) was truely as if an aeroplane’s engine is cranked up and it’s taking off!!

 First we used 2 star-alignment which was the option present there, and add 2 other stars for calibrating. After doing this the polar-alignment was quite near too good. First light we thought of getting Moon, which was bright shining there at Crescent phase. It centered the Moon nearly in the center, which we duely brought to the center using the hand-pad. The view was simply….breath-taking!! Next was Andromeda galaxy in the list in the Bangalore light-pollution. It was slightly centered in the center, which we again brought exactly to the center with the hand-pad manually. It’s core was only visible with the spiral arms drenched in background haze. Next to test the GOTO precision we entered it’s companion M32 in the hand-pad; it centered in the same position with that slight error. It was visible as a soft star. Next we tried to find M15, globular cluster, which was around 30 degrees above the horizon, but after staring and looking around, I gave up because it was nowhere there due to lights. All this time we were in the western part of his terrace, so we though of moving to the eastern part to get views of the new objects there rising. We moved the scope by hand and hence disrupted the polar aligment, and now thought to use the scope as a manual scope finding objects by hand, as aligning would consume lot of time again.

 In the Eastern sky we had new views, of Orion constellation and others. We found Orion Nebula, it was good with dark lanes in it partly seen, whatever could from a city. Next we changed the eyepiece to a 4 mm (not sure of the make of it, mostly a Plossl). The Trapezium stars in the center were split so wide apart that it made you feel that you’re looking at 4 seperate stars!! Initially I was confused into believing that! After this with the same eyepiece on I tried to find the double star, one of the very few that I know, Gamma Aries. Remember that all the time we were observing, the finder scope was constantly changing it’s position and not in synchronization with the eyepiece. Hence that wasted some time everytime. Finally after some trials and errors, first I got it with a wide-eyepiece, a 32mm or a 25mm. It was a beauty! two blue-white twins very close to each other! I dont remember whether I succeeded finding it in a 4mm or not.

After this, we thought of winding the session, both of us eternally happy and totally satisfied with this small event, he because he had made his money’s worth by now knowing some new aspects of it, and me because I had come just a small step closer to learning something new what would help me in my future ambitious venture! I was all the more feeling better than before a “complete astronomer/observer” after having being slightly exposed to the other facet of observing apart from what I was regularly doing, manually hunting down objects, with only paper finder charts as the last resort and aid. This experience made me more familiar with the polar aligning concepts, using hand-pad controllers and moreover the comfort of sitting in a chair comfortably with a computer at your disposal whom you give orders and guide to find objects. How easily and without much body pains do those amateurs observe the night-sky, at the press of a button. Computers have made their presence felt even in this domain.

 Now all I’m waiting is for going again to a dark-sky, but this time for imaging celestial objects like galaxies, comets and asteroids, nebulae and clusters etc. with this 9.25″ GOTO telescope and a CCD imager camera. Hope that we get a chance to enter a new realm of astronomy now succcessfully, electronic astronomy!

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