Saturday, 14 September 2013

Reinventing myself - Astronomy Pt. 1

I had posted a while back that I was at a place in my life where I needed to establish new defining activities ("hobbies") due to severe illness. Microscopy was one thing that has come back into my life. Now I'm re-establishing "macroscopy" with my interest in astronomy. For years and years I had helped Mike with his interest in the science by doing sketches (I'm the artist of the family) and basically hanging around to see what he was viewing at the time. He has been an amateur astronomer since his early 'teens and is now a real force to be reckoned with in this field (his Astronomy blog is here: Deep Sky NGC). Then we recently had the mirror of our old 4.25" reflector Astroscan resurfaced and I had been having a lot of fun poking around the universe with my own little 'scope. It was giving pretty impressive views and I logged a lot of Messier objects as well as some studies of Leo, Lyra and Aquila.
Mike then thought it was time for me to upgrade. Our "go-to" telescope company these days is Orion. Excellent, affordable, portable instruments and accessories. Mike has had their 12" Skyquest XX12i for about a year and has been extremely happy with it. It sets up and breaks down easily, is a breeze to transport and gives amazing views. It has push-to capabilities (computerized directions to which you manually guide the telescope). We checked what they had and liked the Starblast 6i, a 6" reflector along the lines of the 12". Better still, we saw one on their website listed as a second which would save us about $120. Done deal!

 



This is a tabletop Dobsonian stand, modelled on the same stand as the 12". While the stand would be great on a picnic table or other semi-permanent table, I needed portability, so while anxiously awaiting the delivery of my new baby I poked around the dusty corners of the web to see what other people were doing. There wasn't much to find. One person mentioned a storage tub, but this seemed unwieldly to me. Then I read a person's review where they mentioned a small portable workbench....hmmm. This sounded more like what I wanted. We found one at Canadian Tire (for my US friends, this is a huge CDN chain which is really hardware, sporting goods, outdoors stuff, you mention it...not just tires, LOL) for $17.99 CDN!!! Couldn't go wrong even if it didn't work. It was a bit of a PITA to assemble, but seemed lightweight enough to do the trick.


The Jobmate Portable Workbench
By cranking the two tabletop pieces out to their max, I would be able to set the Dob stand with two of the three feet over the edges, the other in the space in the middle and the central bolt assembly (essential to the push-to technology) would also sit in that central space allowing it to move properly.  It was a bit slippery on there, though (coated board), so it was time to tweak! I took some leftover laminate flooring and cut two pieces to fit around the 'scope base, then  glued and nailed these to the Jobmate:
 


 
 
These would effectively brace the stand without interfering with the movement of the base of the 'scope. I also added some of those self-adhesive felt protectors for the bottom of furniture legs (Dollar Store stuff) on either side to buffer where the two outer legs would come into contact with the stand and increase stability:
 

 
Add some nice black lacquer (including on those bright red crank handles which I will try to remove some day):
 
 
 
...and you have a folding, lightweight, very sturdy portable stand for the Starblast that doesn't vibrate or wobble. Pretty sweet for less than twenty bucks.
Here it is in the field before I did all the tweaks:
 
 
 
 
This stand puts the 'scope at exactly the right height for viewing (I'm about 5'6" and Mike's 5'9" and we were both fine - you could rotate the tube within it's cradle to adjust viewing height as well) and you don't have to reposition it around a large table for viewing ease, just walk around the stand. This stand solution works incredibly well; I'm really happy with the results.
 

 
Now, what about the 'scope? I'll review that in my next blog entry, but I'll let you in on a secret: it's all good!




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