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First Light in the LITEBOX Telescope

By Jane Houston Jones
Published 2004-09-02 15:31:54

Have telescope, will travel...is the battle cry of the Sidewalk Astronomers. We travel the highways and byways, the sidewalks and blacktops of the Bay Area , bringing our telescopes and astro-knowledge to share with the public, and with anyone who seeks to know more about our universe and its many stellar wonders. I star-hop from school yard to school yard, from dark mountain to light-polluted sidewalk. My public and educational crowds vary from 750 comet/eclipse watchers, to a more intimate class of 12 combined 4th and 5th grade students at a rural Nicasio - Marin County school , to 200 prospective telescope makers and watchers on the first day of John Dobson's Telescope Making class in San Francisco.

Sidewalk star-hopping can be heavy work, when you have a 75+ pound plywood mount and a 72 inch cardboard tube to haul around, and a small car. (I won't even mention logistics related to my other new scope, a 17 ½ inch Coulter, which is just a tad bigger and heavier! - although it comes equipped with wheels, it weights over 300 pounds) I needed a light-weight portable scope in a big way. When my new LITEBOX 12.5 inch F 5.74 70 pound travelscope it was nearing completion, I thought first light should be in Hawaii, where it was made - sharing a new scope with old friends at the monthly Hawaii Astronomical Society (HAS) Star Party at Dillingham Airfield on October 4. I joined the HAS a few years back during a vacation over in Hawaii. Of course I wanted to show off my star-hopping and planet locating skills, and enjoy sharing my new scope with the members of the club and members of the public.

After a few practice sessions, scope and scope maker and scope owner - all three - were ready for the dramatic first light. Set-up went smoothly. Many of my fellow members were there to witness this event at dusk, and watch the ever popular dance of the collimating bolts. "That's good, that's better, that's bad, that's very bad, go back to where it was before, there that's almost perfect!". Collimating complete, I was ready to offer and enjoy a 12 course photon feast. I have to admit, my heart was racing and my hands were shaking as I aimed my new scope at the 3 day old crescent moon. Without the aid of a telrad, I sighted off an angle of the diagonal cage, a famous "Sidewalk" technique, we non finder folks must master or die. Then the telrad did go on and was collimated. I was now off and running! For the next 6 or so hours, I was in astro heaven, finding and sharing the wonders of the universe with my friends, tourists, HAS members new and old.

The celestial objects on my hunting list and recorded in my observers log this night were a visual feast for the senses and for the soul. 7 planets included the ones I spotted by starhopping, - Neptune and Uranus - not as easy in the dark sky. There seem to be so many more stars in Hawaii for some reason!. Thanks to a veteran named Walter for the Saturnian moon show and tell, including the moon Iapetus! My targets were the obvious ones not seen from my home latitude of 37.58 n and included the constellations Sculptor, Fornax, Eridanus, Phoenix and Grus. These constellations yielded many spectacular Fall splendors. Hunting them down, and coaxing their hidden charms into my eyepiece for the first time was exhilarating! In spite of reverting to my Sidewalk Astronomers persona, and sharing the "top 20" or so visual beauties of the fall with the public, which included Roland and Betty, just the very cutest couple on earth - from New Orleans, I was able to get through nearly all of my 'hunting' list. This included 28 Messier objects, many repeated over and over for the public, as were the ever popular planets. Favorite Messiers which looked best through my new scope were M33 --Pinwheel and M101 Spiral Galaxy (thanks Barry Peckham for nudging my new scope over a bit to grab M33 !) galaxies. Next favorites (not listed in any order) were the celestial zoo objects: M16-Eagle, M17-swan (omega), M1-crab, M11-wild duck. I can't leave out the beautiful clusters in Auriga and Ophiuchus, Scorpius, and Saggitarius and the magnificent Hercules cluster which burst into the eyepiece like millions of glittering diamonds against a backdrop of black velvet. Aaaahhhhh!

I also found 19 other NGC objects, many for the first time! Of these, my favorites were NGC 288 and 253 in Sculptor, a spectacular cluster and spiral galaxy. NGC 55, an edge-on spiral galaxy between Sculptor and Phoenix was another beauty. NGC 891 in Andromeda was another nice find! When brilliant white Sirius, the Great Orion Nebula and the Pleiades appeared in the sky it was time to call it a night. All good star parties must come to an end and so did this one, before I completed all of my celestial conquests. I guess now that I have a travel scope, I'll just take that motto imprinted on our Sidewalk Astronomers tee-shirts to heart. Have telescope, will travel! I have and I will! Back to the land of fragrant blossoms, active volcanoes and great star parties, where you can wear shorts all year round, and all night long. Just remember the bug spray! If you have questions, contact me at Janemarin@aol.com for information or visit the websites of the Hawaiian Astronomical Society or LITEBOX telescopes,just by clicking on their names. See you at the Star Party!