History (where did you start astronomy from)
I became fascinated with astronomy in 7th grade, starting an astronomy club named, “The Development and Exploration of Science (DEXOS).” We wrote some 70 observatories around the country, asking for info and help getting started. We heard back from many of the famous pioneer facilities like Palomar, Yerkes, and more. I tried to build an 8-inch Newtonian telescope as an 8th-grader, but could never really get it calibrated well. My love for the stars never really went away, but it took a back seat to high school, college and career. Around 2006, it flared up a bit with a used Celestron C8 SCT, but all I could see were some smudges and clusters. Again, it was a busy time. But in late 2019, a home school group asked me to set up my telescope and share a presentation. As the presentation ensued and the students lined up one at a time to try to look through the huge Nagler eyepiece, one of the student’s mothers quietly pulled me aside and asked, “Doesn’t it have a screen so we can all see?”
This question sparked a journey for me. I set about on a quest to discover how to create a system with a screen. Within a few weeks, I was trying to figure out EAA on CloudyNights astronomy forum. For whatever reason (I’m not sure why), I knew I had to sell my SCT and subsequently started with an 8-inch Celestron RASA. I finally had my 8-inch
What do I already have?
I’m happy to say that I’m really happy with…
- Celestron RASA 11-inch (cost: $4399)
- iOptron CEM70G (cost: $3318)
- ZWO ASI2600MC Pro (cost: $1999)
Budget (cost of starting kit, cost of current kit)
How much is too much?
Because I completely love the hobby and because I’ve taken my time in saving for items as I go, I wouldn’t really look at astronomy from the question of “how much is too much?” Instead, I would ask, “What is needed in order to get the job done the way I’m envisioning it?” I really love the kit God has provided and I hope to be happy with it for a long time to come. If all goes well, I hope to have an observatory for this kit by mid-March 2022.
I’m not sure I’m in a position to give much advice. I’ve only been doing EAA (and really, to be honest, astronomy in general) since December 2020. For me, that is translating into observing one or two nights per week, weather permitting. How much credibility do I have to offer advice to others with just that short time observing? Not much. But, speaking as if I’m this dust on the ground, and no more than that, I’ll try to think of something important to say.
Honestly, I don’t think I’d suggest buying a RASA for a beginner – like I was (like I still am). Tuning a RASA — adjusting for back focus and tilt — is a bit tedious. (See https://youtu.be/or7jRVgcgGE
Because I don’t have a lot of experience on other scopes, I’m not sure, frankly, what I would recommend. I only know that, to tune up a RASA, one needs an enormous amount of patience, determination, and a bit of luck – not to mention the addition of an adaptor (a camera interface) that allows for easy adjustment. (The native RASA only permits minor adjustments for tilt and virtually nothing for back focus.) I am fortunate enough to own one of the early Octopi Astro Camera interfaces. Honestly, without it, I don’t even know how I would have been able to deal with my weird star shapes. I’m grateful to Octopi Astro for their product design and engineering. https://www.octopi-astro.com/rasa-11
As far as any other advice goes, my only other thought might be – think about the mount first, actually. Make sure you allow budget for the best mount you can buy that will work for your OTA. (See more under “Mount” below.)
I think if I were beginning from scratch, I might still buy a RASA 8, exactly like I did. I’d just do so with greater information, knowing it would take hours (and hours) to tune it. The above videos don’t begin to tell the tale of how much time it took (at least 6-10 hours on each of the two RASAs).
I loved my Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro, which fit my original RASA 8 well. Unfortunately, when I upgraded to the RASA 11 (partly because I was moving toward an observatory), the Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro’s payload capacity was no longer sufficient. I had to upgrade. Unfortunately, like a lot of my world, I didn’t realize this would mean having to leave behind the software I had come to love – Green Swamp Server. I was so comfortable with it. It was so intuitive. I settled on an iOptron CEM70G and immediately disliked the iOptron Commander software that acts as both a “poor man’s pointing software” for iOptron Commander mounts as well as the simple ASCOM driver for iOptrons as well. Little did I know that, at least with the CEM70G that I own, one of the main reasons that I disliked iOptron Commander (the fact that iOptron Commander kept disconnecting, seemingly on its own) was because my mount couldn’t handle routing power and USB3 data through the in-mount wiring. Honestly, ever since sorting out that key problem, using iOptron Commander has been pretty transparent and seamless (just as some fellow CloudyNights users had suggested it should be). Boy, it sure wasn’t seamless before sorting out that problem! Now that that problem is sorted out, I would definitely recommend iOptron CEM70 mounts. Unless, however, you specifically want iPolar and iGuider built into the mount “natively,” it might make a bit more sense just to go with the CEM70 and not pay for the additional cost of a CEM70G (at least, until iOptron fixes the underlying problem that is troubling my mount, whatever that is).
Camera(s) and preferred targets and techniques.
I realize that some (on CloudyNights) have experienced some kind of oil leakage in their ZWO ASI2600MC Pro. For whatever reason, that’s one problem with which I don’t believe I’ve had to contend yet – so far, at least. So I’ve loved the camera. Having experienced it though, I’m not sure it’s worth the upgrade compared to lower res cameras like the ASI183MC Pro. I think, starting out, the 183 is a great camera. That’s how I began – and maybe I should have just stuck with it. But the 2600 is doing a great job and I love it.
What don’t you like about EAA?
This is an easy question to answer: “Nothing.” At this point, there’s absolutely zero about EAA that I don’t love.