Monday, 18 November 2013

Staying power: a story of first telescopes, by Jonathan Powles.

Flame Nebula NGC 2024 and Horsehead Nebula IC 434

First posted on Jonathan's blog, and reposted here with permission.

Peter's photo of M41 brought back memories of when I first started out with Astronomy.

It was 1986, I was 19, and we all had Halley fever ... I had my first job, and my first scope soon followed: a Vixen 5" f/5 Newtonian on a very simple GEM mount. I used to run into M41 while looking at Sirius—the unexpected ones are always better I even tried some astrophotography with my dad's old SLR (no 'D')—somewhere I have some pink smudges that were my proud attempts at M42 and Eta Carina.

I used the scope obsessively for a couple of years, then it gradually drifted into uncollimated disrepair. It came with me for ten years in the UK, and saw a lot of light pollution and not much else. But basically for the last 25 years has essentially been a spider breeding station and less of a light bucket and more of a rain bucket. It has been variously under the house, in the roof cavity, and outside on the verandah for the past 15 years. I just couldn't bring myself to throw it away. I always vowed that one day I'd return to astronomy.

So, last year I finally got the opportunity to get set up with some functioning equipment—an SCT 10" on a decent mount, with a guiding setup and a Canon 60Da. At the same time, out of nostalgia, and while waiting for my new scope to arrive (it actually arrived the day Patrick Moore died, 9/12/2012 - that's another story) I decided to clean up my old Vixen. I pulled it out, cleaned up the structure, replaced all the rusted screws, cannibalized the old 0.95" fittings to build something that would accept my new 1.25" eyepieces and camera adapter, and sent the mirrors off for recoating.

Earlier this year, while learning the ropes with the new state-of-the-art kit, I suddenly on a whim threw the old 5" Vixen on to my new mount and attached the camera. This image of the Horsehead was the result—20 x 4 min subs. And you know, it's not half bad, especially for a dear old scope that cost $300 in 1986.

So now the old scope comes with me to Mt Stromlo public nights and is operated by my 15yo son while I run the 10" SCT. He had at least a hundred fascinated kids looking at lunar craters in September.

Not a bad way to have spent my first ever paycheque, all things considered.

It just all came flooding back thinking about M41.