A friendly visit to Scope City

by Dan Wright

When I walked in the door at Scope City, Sam looked up, broke into his biggest, most gregarious smile, bounded from behind his desk, greeted me with a booming voice, and just about crushed my hand in his paw. Oh, there was supposed to be a waiting list for LXD55 scopes, but he, yes, he happened to have, right there in stock, the very 6" Schmidt-Newtonian I had been hankering for.

With his quick memory, he had not forgotten the phone conversation, last month, when I mentioned interest in one of these puppies, so he'd been saving it for me 'cause he knew I'd eventually succumb to my yearnings and drive up to get it.

It was loaded in my car and the deal was done. Too fast! I had driven all that way and wanted more time to admire the showroom. The entire perimeter is lined with scopes, tucked closely together with legs intertwined and OTAs bristling like a thicket of spears. There's another sweeping curve set up inside the first; scopes of all makes and models glittering under the florescent lights. Rank upon rank of your dream eyepieces and accessories stand regally in glass showcases, as though they were the Queen's very jewels.

Talk about a kid in a candy store! I browsed and cast around and turned knobs to judge how smooth they were, and toyed with the idea of putting extra things on my credit card (heck, interest rates are low, I told myself). But in the end I just got a red dot finder.

I mentioned to Sam that he was almost the only astronomy source in the Bay Area; the only other biggie is Orion in Cupertino. Yeah, he said, but why go there? They only sell Orion stuff. Well, I said, they're a short drive for Silicon Valley people who just want something quick, like maybe a replacement red LED flashlight, or a star map or moon filter or something. As I headed out the door, Sam tossed me a free LED flashlight, saying now I had no excuse to go to Orion.

First light for this new scope was 5:45 AM Sunday morning (2/16/2003). Although Saturday night was hard rain, Sunday dawn was clear with a brilliant Venus. Now, I knew this scope was an f/5, still I was surprised at how high an eyepiece I had to use before I could see Venus' phase. But this is what I wanted, a rich field scope to complement my narrow f/10 Schmidt-Cass.

Besides the fast f/5, the other reason I bought it, is that I think it will travel. Not quite overhead bin, but in two checked suitcases, with custom foam padding. Also, it's a driveway scope; I can leave it set up in the garage and carry it out quick if I want.

It arrived slightly out of collimation, and I made this worse fiddling with the screws in the back, so now I have to get serious with a Cheshire and a star test and get the collimation right on. I hear fast scopes are particularly finicky about collimation.

I took the mount completely apart, right down to its last nut and washer. This is typical for me (I've been doing it since I was a kid); I get something new and first thing I take it apart to see how it works. I wiped away all that tacky Chinese grease and spread high-quality lithium grease in its place, then re-built the mount, setting minimum backlash on the worm gears. Now it floats to and fro as though by magnetic levitation.

The weather dudes say this weekend looks clear, so you know I'll come out to play, moon phase notwithstanding. Hope to see you under the stars.