Sunday, September 27, 2009

Balancing Act

This post covers some tips, tricks and observations on scope balancing.

Of the several things you need to do to properly align your telescope, I previously posted about balancing via the use of a leveling system... this one covers another important aspect; balancing your telescope.

When you pull the scope out of the box and use *only* the accessories provided in the box, which may include the scope, tripod, small star diagonal, small finder-scope and maybe one eyepiece, it is likely that all the equipment will balance fairly well. When you start adding new accessories like I have, you will start to see that the scope will become unbalanced and heavier in either the 'front' or 'rear' ends of the scope. Additionally, you may find that now your scope is heavier on one side or the other, but that is for a different post, this one only covers the front / rear balance issues.

So now you have an interesting challenge, you need to add weight to either the front / rear of the scope to balance it out. You do have some options, I chose to head to to see what counterweight options they had available. Looking at their storefront I saw the following options:
--> top weight set
--> bottom weight set
--> complete weight set

Then I was faced with the inevitable question, what should I order? Without any documentation to guide me to a decision, I opted for the complete weight set.. I couldn't possibly go wrong there! (famous last words)

So in comes my order, I read the instructions and placed them on my scope.. now to do my balancing act.
I immediately installed the top weight (only 1 to start) and the bottom rail (with 1 disc). I was able to almost immediately balance vertically by moving the bottom rail to a rearward position (see image below).

Notice the weight on top as well as the position of the weight disc on the bottom rail, this position allowed me to get a perfect balance vertically, but unfortunately not horizontally. So I would reposition the weights horizontally to get balance and it would negate my vertical balance, leaving the scope unbalanced in the vertical position again... just when this looked so simple... ;-)

I ended up taking off the upper / lower weights and observed the scope balance more carefully. The scope was pretty heavy in the rearward upper position, placing a weight on top made horizontal balance easy, but didn't help the vertical balance at all. So noting the above, I decided to not put a counterweight on the top at all and instead move the bottom counterweight into a more forward position.

Moving the bottom counterweight back and forth, I was eventually able to find the sweetspot for both vertical and horizontal balance.

Now my scope is perfectly balanced in both the vertical as well as horizontal positions!

One other thing that I had to work on for the balance was the position / distribution of the weights on the bottom rail not only for balance but also to ensure that I could clear the CPC base with the bottom counterweight. I was able to find and mark the position appropriate to this particular visual setup.
As I use some other accessories like cameras, etc.. I had to additionally put other marks on the bottom rail so I could know where exact balance was for these other configurations (eg: imaging).

Of note: In retrospect, now knowing my scopes balance points, I would have probably just ordered the bottom rail and weight set, saving myself $79.00 (plus shipping / tax). Of course your mileage and setup may vary... understanding your setup and observing your specific balance variables on your setup, will lead you to select the right product for you.

Happy (Photon) Hunting!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Scope Port Protection: Homebrew

I have heard some horror stories about scopes electronics being fried by dew getting into the external ports on the CPC (eg: aux, PC, etc). This is probably a real issue as you have contacts inside those ports that do carry electricity, dew build-up *could* lead to the possibility of shorting those contacts, leading to (guess what) a fried CPC motherboard.

Hadn't happened to me yet, but I convinced myself that it *could* happen to me and so off I embarked on a small project: to find a cheap and easy way to cover those exposed ports!

So looking at the options here:
You could surf to, where you will find molded 'dust covers' @ .69 cents each + shipping of $4.49 (total $5.18 for one RJ-45 cover, not even adding the RJ-11 dust covers to the equation)
You could go to your local Radio Shack (now called 'The Shack") and pick up 3 RJ-11 connectors and 1 RJ-45 connector, 4 small finishing nails, glue or epoxy and some leftover black paint (paint is optional) and make yourself some nifty plugs for only about $2.00 (save yourself $3.18++, get it done in one day and have the fun of building homebrew... priceless!)

*** Note: I have some basic tools (eg: crimper for connectors) so this option may not be for everyone as you do have to crimp the empty connector to get it to fit into CPC ports. ***

Here is what I did:
- Buy supplies (above incl; 1 rj-45 connector and 3 rj-11 connectors)
- Crimp the connectors to fit into CPC ports
- Pushed finishing nails into the rear of connector (where wires normally go), just enough to hold in place, you should not push them too far in as you don't want them to come in contact with the connector contacts.
- Applied epoxy to nail / rear of connector to hold in place (of note: I oriented the nail such that it pointed downwards or away from the tab on the connectors, time will tell if an upwards or downwards orientation is best, will update blog accordingly)
- Let epoxy set for 2 hours per the instructions
- Painted the units, let them dry for a couple of hours..
- Insert into CPC ports and walk away

Now should you need to unplug covers and plug in a device, just grab the nail and push in the tab, you will be good to go.

As the retail dust covers make no promises about being water-tight or any such thing, this option *should* be at least as good as the dust covers.
I take no responsibility for your scopes *protection* from dew or any other problem that arises from using this method of plugging your CPC external ports.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Telescope levelers (part III)

This is the final post (perhaps) on the telescope levelers... so about now after two other posts on the leveler quality as well as installation methods, I am now at the point to comment on the use of the levelers.

On average it took me about 10 - 15 minutes of lower tripod leg adjustment to get my scope to level and even then on many occasions the level wasn't 'dead-on' but as close as I could get it without messing around with it for another 10 minutes or so.

Now in comes the TPIastro telescope leveler... it took me all of 2.5 minutes to get a PERFECT level, a really 'DEAD-ON' level. No lifting, pulling, pushing or any hard labor, merely turning the handles and watching the movement on the bubble-level. I could have never imagined an easier way to level my scope.

I can take that 7.5+ minutes and use it towards gaining 'dead-center' on my star alignments!

Awesome job on the levelers TPIastro!

I would highly recommend these levelers to anyone requiring perfect level!

Telescope levelers (part II)

In the previous post I spoke about the new telescope levelers from in terms of fit / finish. This post will cover the installation of the levelers on the Celestron HD Tripod.

Ok, so I unwrapped the Telescope levelers and took down my telescope to start the install process. The Celestron HD Tripod is a pretty stable device overall, pretty solid and heavy. Here is what I did to install the levelers:
1) Removed my telescope from the tripod
2) Removed the telescope wedge from the tripod (to make the tripod easier to maneuver)

Now here is where the decision point comes in... in order to install the levelers, you need to first remove the existing tripod extension legs... there are two ways to do this (that I am aware of) one of the options is easier than the other, but in some ways perhaps not optimal.

Methods of removal:
a) Unscrew each tripod leg from the tripod 'head' and extension leg will come (fall) out of the top of the upper leg.
b) Release clamp on extension leg and pull briskly until the internal guide pops off, leaving a part inside the tripod upper leg.

Method (a) is more difficult and time consuming but it is the method I chose. Why did I choose that method? Great question!
I opted for method (a) as it offers me an easy way to get back to 'stock configuration' in case I ever decide to sell my CPC and HD Tripod. Method (b) leaves parts inside the tripod, which *may* lower the selling price of the unit.

Ok, so method (a) it is:
1) remove the locknuts and bolts from the tripod head, releasing the legs from the head
2) there are some small screws that hold the upper leg tube assembly to the tube head connector (get a piece of tape and put the screws on the tape to ensure they don't get lost)
3) tap off the tube head connector with a rubber mallet (it is wedged in pretty good)
4) tap off the 'ground spike' at the bottom of the lower extension tube, the rubber mallet is good here too.
5) Once the head connector and 'ground spike' is removed, you can release the lower extension leg clamp and invert the tripod upper tube, the lower extension leg should fall right out of the tube.

So now the old lower extension leg is out of the tripod, next comes the easy part. Take the new leveler and insert it into the bottom of the upper tube, closing the clamp to restrict the movement of the leveler. Place the tube head connector on the upper leg tube, insert the screws that connect these parts. Next replace the head tube connector and head connection, using the head screw and bolt to secure the connection.

Super simple! You have now successfully installed the new levelers!

Next post will cover the acquisition of perfect level and differences in time to acquire level with the new equipment.

Until then, happy photon hunting!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Telescope Levelers

If you are into astronomy and more specifically astro-photography, you will eventually run into many 'learning opportunities' that need to be overcome in order to capture that great shot of .

One of these 'opportunities' is leveling the telescope, this of course is no easy matter.
Let me give you an example: I have about 100 lbs sitting on my tripod legs, this makes upwards and downwards adjustments on the individual legs very difficult and obtaining a perfectly level telescope nearly impossible for one person to acquire.

In comes Telescope Performance Industries to answer all of my leveling needs! I spoke with Dave Y at about their levelers and how they could make my telescope leveling duties much easier and more accurate. Dave told me about his manufacturing process, materials used and sent me the documentation as well as some photos so I could see his work in action.
I immediately liked what I saw, in fact I thought to myself if they were half as well constructed as they appeared in the photo, these would be very solid levelers and make it 'super-simple' to dial in my telescope.

Dave shipped me a set to mount on my telescope, along with stellar documentation and packing that would have made a mummy jealous. When I opened the box and packing materials (probably spent the majority of the time unwrapping the bubble wrap!), I saw a sight to behold! The levelers were even better quality than they appeared in the photos / documentation, worth every penny just on look and feel alone.

Next blog, mounting the levelers on my tripod and putting them to use...