off into the great beyond!


Gallery of Space:
Day one with my new Red Ryder with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time

(A.K.A. Orion XT10 telescope)

I must've been good this year!

Merry Christmas to me! Kij ordered me an Orion XT10 telescope for Christmas 2002, and it arrived a little early. As this was packed in an enormous set of boxes - too big to either hide or even move - she decided to give it to me early.

I had been hinting about how great this particular one would be for months now, strategically leaving the Orion catalog lying about open to a certain page... you get the idea. I've been meaning to get a telescope again for years; "amateur astronomer" is part of my self-definition, and it's been strange not having a real telescope (my 60mm zoom doesn't really count).

So I tore into the boxes and assembled everything within an hour of the packages arriving. What a well-engineered, easy-to-assemble, well-documented telescope! All the holes were drilled just right for assembly, and all the hard-to-assemble stuff was already put together.

It comes with a collimation cap to put in the eyepiece holder, which is reflective on the side facing into the tube, and there's a tiny hole for peering down into the optics. The primary mirror has a clever ring painted at the center (in the shadow of the secondary, so it doesn't affect anything), which made collimation a snap. The primary mirror cell has three big aluminum thumbscrews for adjusting the mirror, and three smaller thumbscrews that lock the collimation in place. I had never used this kind of system before, but was collimated in about 30 seconds! Wow!

recommended by 4 out of 5 cats

My last telescope was a home-built 8" that was a bear to collimate, and about as difficult to set up in the field as this whole thing was to assemble! This is also my first Dobsonian telescope, a design that uses a simple rotating box for a mount. The tube moves up-and-down by the wheels on the sides riding on teflon pads atop the sides of the mount, and the whole shebang moves side-to-side by rotating on three teflon pads between the ground board and the telescope mount's box. Simple and elegant design, first built by an amateur telescope-builder named John Dobson. Orion improved the design by adding springs that hold the tube down onto the mount with enough force to keep the user from bumping it around too easily.

I wasn't sure it would be comfortable to use this telescope, with the eyepiece so low, but it's at the perfect height to peer into space from a regular footstool!

Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy and I had to go off to work.

Well, when I came home, the sky was just starting to clear up a little, so I pulled the 'scope out onto our patio, right in the middle of well-lit neighborhood, and the moon was nearly full. Even so, Kij and I had some tremendous views of the moon (duh), which was in its most dramatic phase: One limb was still partially in shadow, so ragged mountains outlined that side, while the rest of the surface was almost painfully bright, rays stretching all the way across the orb.

The detail in a 10" telescope is amazing! So many more craters than I could see in my 8". Bright white ones, ringed ones, black ones, and so on. Gorgeous!

Then I pointed at Jupiter. The monster planet was vividly orange-brown, with two very clear bands and four moons whose discs showed that they were clearly moons. Mind you, this detail during a hazy sky and with the optics still warm, just outside for a few minutes!

I had to show Kij the Orion Nebula, because you don't need a clear night for that one. WOW! Dust lanes, wide expanses of gas, diamond stars being born at its core.

Then on to Saturn. WOWEE! The mirrors were more cooled by now, so the image in the eyepiece was growing steadier. We could see two bands, even the Cassini Division in the rings! Over the next several minutes, the orb of the planet itself grew more and more distinct from the ring system until the whole thing looked positively 3D. I love this telescope!

As the clouds rolled back in, a quick look at the supergiant star Betelgeuse, like a 4-pointed golden gem, and then a double-double star, and then all we could see was the moon again. The clouds made it easier to look at it, less overbearingly bright.

Ah, I am a happy guy! The best Christmas present ever!

dogs definitely approve!