I have a Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope, and I have had some, umm, challenges dealing with alignment issues (Solving alignment problems with the Celestron NexStar 8SE). When I started surfing the ‘net to find some solutions, it didn’t take long to find out about Michael Swanson, the resident online expert for all things NexStar. He wrote the previous guide, he has an active website, he participates in online discussion forums. He’s everywhere you need him to be, except maybe in your own backyard when you’re viewing.
I finally caved and said, “Yes! I need that book!”. And then found out the new edition was about to come out. So I waited a bit, pre-ordered it, waited a bit more, finally got it, and immediately put it on my TBR pile and didn’t do anything with it. Sigh. I have about eight other astronomy books I want to devour cover to cover too, but this one is more practical. One of the few things that works for me with NF books when I’m dragging my feet to read them is blogging as I go, so I am going to try that here. I did it with Jeffrey Kottler’s “Change” – Chapter 1 and the 13 chapters that followed it before doing my final book review ( Change: What Really Leads to Lasting Personal Transformation by Jeffrey A. Kottler (BR00118)). Since this is the year where I want to test everything astronomical, and work out my mental bugs, I thought maybe I would heed the classic advice of RTFM, or in this case, read the f***ing after-market user’s guide wouldn’t be a bad starting point. I’m not going to summarize the chapters, mostly I’m just going to highlight what I learned from each one that I didn’t already know or that I felt was well done.
Chapter 01, the Introduction, runs a short 9 pages. Here are some highlights:
Page 2: Under a section called “Are GoTo Scopes Appropriate for Beginners“, Swanson goes to the heart of the frequent debate. Lots of astronomy types prefer reflectors over refractors, Dobs over Maks, blah blah blah. And are quite adamant that their preference is the one true view. One area where you frequently run into this is the question of GoTo scopes, where many sniff that it is a terrible way to learn astronomy, that you don’t learn anything just doing point and go. Except you do, as Swanson points out. You learn the night sky, and where things are, you just don’t learn to do the initial (often very frustrating) act of star hopping. Even the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, of which I am an active member, embeds this in their observing certificates — if you are using a GoTo scope, you’re not eligible for the certificates or pins. Since YOU didn’t find the objects, YOU don’t get recognition for the observing. Although, you might be able to fake your way in through at least sketching the objects (the rules aren’t clear on that point), but I digress.
I love the paragraph in the book however, I guess because it EXACTLY summarizes my own view — “Granted, some will not follow through in acquiring even this computer-assisted knowledge [of the sky and sky hopping], but would they have taken the much steeper path by learning to star hop?”. For myself, the clear answer was no, I wouldn’t have. I have a GoTo scope precisely because it cut the opening learning curve so I could be observing quickly and maintain my interest. If I was star hopping from A to B to C, and “trying” to see if I could find D, I would have been REALLY frustrated. I didn’t know what to expect, and some of the objects are so faint and fuzzy, I wouldn’t have known if I was successful or not. And probably would have just thought I was stupid. I needed to prevent the frustration from killing my interest before I even got into it. Of course, my subsequent alignment problems didn’t help with that, but I digress again!
Page 4: The main chunk of the chapter is the history of NexStar scopes, and it was interesting to read. I also liked the summary of common characteristics of GoTo scopes — motor drives on both axes, encoders to keep track of the location of each axis (oh, so THAT’S what encoders do!), handheld computers or connections to other devices with a database of objects, and controls (hand or on the devices) to tell the scope where to move to and how to stay tracking the object.
Page 7: I hadn’t realized the StarSense AutoAlign accessory came about in 2013 nor did I view it as being something for all of the computerized mounts. I really only thought of it for my own, not as a “whole line” accessory, although of course it would be. I am interested in trying the Star Sense sometime to see how big a difference it makes on my scope. If I understand it correctly, it basically adds a “seeing eye dog” to the scope so that rather than me pointing it at a star as part of the alignment process, it itself figures out which stars it can “see” with the camera, and does up to ten stars to get a much more accurate alignment. Sounds awesome, but I am reluctant to pay the $500 price tag if it is only marginally better than what I do on my own, but since alignment is a huge pain in the patootie for me, I definitely want to try it and compare. Of course, though, it adds weight to the scope, a not-insignificant concern on a fork arm.
For me, it was an auspicious beginning chapter. I like his style and voice, I’m learning stuff even in the short intro chapter, and gives me hope I won’t bog down in the middle of a dry discussion of something like exit pupils (one of my nits to pick with the annual RASC Observer’s Guide).