Our Recent Acquisitions
One of our most recent acquisitions is a Meade 8 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope (or SCT), with a new technology twist. Not only is it a GOTO telescope, but it is capable of aligning itself. We have numerous GOTO telescopes, and some that are "push-to", but the track the object, once it has been acquired. My experience with GOTO telescopes has been mixed; they work, mostly, but sometimes they don't, and the alignment process has to be repeated, eating into observing time.
The Meade ACF (for Advanced Coma Free) telescope, with "Light Switch" technology, ships with the claim that you can set it up, turn it on, and it will align itself correctly, every time. I am an old "Carefully align your equatorial mount" kind of observer, so naturally, I was skeptical. Before I put this in the collection, I wanted to make sure this technology actually worked. Lightswitch is an onboard CCD camera, which can be used for imaging. But the alignment system uses to to achieve a high level of accuracy in alignment, by matching the star field observed to what is expected, as the telescope visits alignment stars. I initially tried to align in mid-twilight, and the telescope informed me that it was not dark enough to complete alignment.
I have now had it out for observing for 2 nights, and I am impressed and largely satisfied with its performance. On my first night, I made a mistake, and it took two attempts to get the alignment right. My first attempt (once twilight passed) was purely my mistake. The second try was quite successful. I let the telescope align itself, then visited several naked eye objects, and the scope found them, withing less than a 30 minute of arc error, well within the field of view of my lowest power eyepiece. I had equal success with deep sky objects as well. The optics are excellent on this telescope, so in addition to good guidance, you have enough light gathering power to see and image a lot of interesting objects.
You won't run out of interesting objects to look at - the database in the telescope has 100,000 objects cataloged, all of them available via the hand paddle, by common name and catalog number. The telescope has a number of recorded audio lectures describing how to use it, and explaining selected astronomy topics. Thankfully, this can be turned off, in case you don't want to be overloaded with information while you're observing.
Downsides: This telescope is noticeably heavier than other 8 inch SCTs, and it requires a good deal of electricity. My first outing, I brought 8 "D" cells, which were discharged in about 3 hours. My second time, I brought 16 rechargeable "D" cells, and they lasted about 5 hours. For my next and last outing with this scope I am taking a Celestine "Power Tank", which was donated to RCA late last year (and refurbished at the Telescope Workshop), and has gone on loan quite satisfactorily with several scopes. I am sure it packs plenty of power to keep this telescope running as late as I care to use it.
After I am done testing this scope, it will be available to Telescope Library volunteers, and then it will be available to members, at OMSI. I expect that will be before the end of Winter. This may be a great way to introduce novice observers to some deep sky objects, especially it it helps them learn their way around the sky.
Next month, I will feature another telescope we are working on.