Sky and Telescope
refractor operating at f/5
portable refractor on an Alt-Az mount. It comes with two
Kellner EPs (9mm and 25mm) as well as electric slow motion
controls. Can use the optional AutoStar computer guidance
When I was a child, I can remember sitting outside the house with my Sears telescope trying to look at the sky and coming away very disappointed. I could never find what I wanted to see, and when I did find something interesting I had no idea what I was looking at. I eventually put the telescope in the closet and walked away from the whole thing very disappointed.
Thirty years later my daughter wanted a telescope. I didn't want to buy one as I felt she'd have the same experiences I had with frustration and disappointment with astronomy. But it's a different world than it was those many years ago and you can now get telescopes that know where things are. And you can afford one.
So Christmas comes and there's a new Meade ETX-70 telescope. Orion nebula, here we come! Of course, like many things in life, it's not that simple.
The Meade manual has a great many shortcomings and considering the target audience of this product, they could have saved everyone a lot of trouble if they had added a few more pages which went into a better depth to explain what's going on. If you don't believe me, try getting through to Meade customer service during the month of January!
One sterling example of manual shortcomings was at a telescope class I attended a while back. A mother brought a 12 year old child to the class with the telescope (a 6" Equatorial Reflector) in the box, where it had been for two years. No one in the family could figure out how to assemble it so they brought it to the class.
WRITE A DECENT MANUAL!!!
Our Initial Sessions
Well, this telescope could not find a thing. Not even close. Then I finally got Meade CS on the phone. You need to train the drive and the process is described in the manual. It's not hard, and once I trained the drive, it started finding things with no problem after you go through the alignment procedure.
The manual also mentions to train the drive if the telescope starts to lose it's accuracy on finding things. We've had this scope for almost 8 months, and it has in fact started to lose accuracy on finding objects, so we will be training the drive again.
The Alignment Procedure
You have several options as to how you align your scope with the night sky. These are Easy, One Star or Two Star. The gist of what you are doing is telling the scope where north is, what is level and where one or more stars are. Easy alignment picks the stars for you while the other two have you scrolling through a list of named stars.
Additionally, what the manual does not tell you is that for best results, you must level the base and the tube. A pocket level works great for this. Plus you really want to do this with the 25mm eyepiece for the larger field of view.
Easy alignment likes to pick the two brightest stars available that appear outside of a certain distance of each other. With two star, the method I recommend, you can pick the stars you know.
Initially, we started using Betelgeuse and Sirius. Both are virtually unmistakable winter stars. Betelgeuse and Rigel, for example, will not work as they must just be too close together. We later started to substitute Regulus for Betelgeuse with good results as it entered the visible sky.
Some stars, especially when you are starting out, are not good stars to pick. Capella, for example, was one of the stars the Easy alignment was very fond of. Well, Capella has several almost as bright neighbors and we very quickly ran into "well, pick one".
My suggestions for newbies….Set up the telescope in the house, enter the date and time that you will be observing and select Easy alignment. This will show you the two stars it's going to pick while you're outside. You can then get your star charts out and make sure these are stars that you know.
Another important thing about this is that the star you have selected may NOT necessarily be within the field of view. Since the telescope does not have a finder scope, it gets tricky sometimes finding it. That's why I recommend the 25mm eyepiece for the alignment.
Using the AutoStar controller requires a few hints that will make life so much easier for you.
If you want to view, for example, the Orion Nebula, you can go to the Nebula menu and start pushing the scroll down buttons until you find it. In the controller, it's labeled "Great Orion Nebula". Once you select it, the scope will take you there.
You will spend a lot of time with the scroll buttons going from object to object. There is an alternative in that you can select Messier objects by number. So, selecting M42 gets you right to the Orion nebula.
Using this method and a good star chart, we were able to view nearly 32 Messier objects in one session in the summer sky.
One really nice feature of the AutoStar is that it contains all kinds of information on the object selected by using the scroll up/down keys. This includes magnitude and distance. Someone had a really good idea with that.
There are a few downsides to the AutoStar. Especially during the cold months, it will eat batteries. Meade advertises 20 hours of battery life, but that's a joke. Figure less than 6 hours during the cold months and maybe 10 during the warm months. It depends on how you use the telescope. If you are slewing from one end of the sky to another, you will go through a lot more batteries. When the batteries start to get low, the scrolling messages across the controller tend to be indecipherable.
Additionally, when the AutoStar slews to a new object, it gets pretty much there and then goes into a "fine adjust" mode which can really take a long time. Once it has completed slewing, you can adjust the position with the controller, but sometimes it likes to move it back. Why is unknown to me.
The AutoStar database contains over 1400 objects. That's really impressive, but you don't stand a chance on actually seeing the Horsehead Nebula with this scope. We've looked at a lot of things like the Horsehead Nebula, the North American Nebula, and assorted globular clusters. The consensus is there's something there, but you really can't make it out.
The optics on this scope are very good. You see a very sharp image of whatever you are looking at. All 4 moons of Jupiter, the red spot and the lines are visible. The rings of Saturn and at least one of the moons are also easy to pick out. The view of the Pleades is really impressive as is M13.
The downside to the optics is in the focusing. The switching from the 25mm to the 9mm requires a lot of turns of the focus knob. The focus knob is about the diameter of a dime plus it's butted close to the side of the tube. Forget about trying to use it while wearing gloves, which is a real mess during those -10º Michigan winter nights. I find it best to focus on a terrestrial object with the 25mm prior to going skyward. This provides a frame of reference to start with.
One feature that the telescope has with the AutoStar is a small database of satellites that you can track. Plus you can add a satellite or modify the orbital data for the existing ones. That's really good in that a lot of these orbits change, with the ISS changing orbit constantly.
You can get this data from sites such has heavens above, but once again the manual falls short on explaining how you enter the data. The issue is that the time parameters need to be converted from hrmmss to decimal hours. This also applies to dates.
Once you have set up the orbits and are ready to start tracking, the AutoStar goes into a countdown until it's ready, at which you can press a button and it starts tracking.
While it sounds simple enough, good luck in doing it. I have not tried more than a couple of times, each without success. Once you set it up and after you hit the entry button, you cannot change the angle of the tube. So it you miss, or it's out of the field of view, it's over and better luck next time.
Other "little" Issues
We purchased the tripod just before Meade started offering them as a package deal (read free). So I was automatically out $100 more than I would have paid a month later and that did not sit well with me.
We have replaced 3 tripod legs as they have all failed with the tension control lever on the extensions. Meade has each time sent us new ones, but it's really a pain when you get a clear night, are setting up, the leg breaks and you're out of business for a week. We have gotten around this by keeping the tripod set up so you don't have to mess with extending the legs.
The AutoStar controller has a wire bundle that connects to the base of the hand unit. The protective insulation came back from the base and the wires were exposed. Meade replaced the unit.
This is a fine telescope for the beginning astronomer. Under an adults' supervision, a child can easily learn the heavens and see it's wonders. I recommend it for such an audience. However, it is not a toy and I stress the importance of an adult being involved in it's use.
Furthermore, had Meade done a better job on presenting the manual to this target audience, a lot of problems and frustrations would have been averted.
Submitted by Bob Price - firstname.lastname@example.org