La Caja de Los Gatos Observatory: July 14, 2003

by Mark Wagner

Yesterday I received an upgrade motor and hand controller for my Osypowski built Compact Equatorial Platform. I had sent Tom O my old motor and a check for the upgrade middle of last week. Installing the new motor was true simplicity. Two screws secure the motor to the ground board, and everything is instantly aligned. Two cords came with the hand controller, a short one that can be tucked under the platform while in use, and a long one, which allows the user to be at the eyepiece comfortably while holding the controller.

Setting the platform up is simple. There is a solid top board upon which the rocker box of my scope sits, and a ground board that has the motor and bearings on it. When I place the scope on the platform, it sits down over a pin (I remove the ground board of my Dob, so I am using the rocker box with the hole in the bottom). There is no hunting around to be sure the scope is sitting correctly on the platform, there is no way to make a mistake. It literally takes me under 30 seconds to set up. That's just how it went last night. Oh, I also like that the platform is large enough to be under nearly all of the bottom of my rocker box. I am somewhat skeptical of designs that do not provide an adequate footprint to support the scope. Why? I once tried placing a scope that was too large for my platform on it. The scope jumped the track during the night, and it was a major pain in the boo-tay to screw around with it, trying to "right the boat" in the dark. I like platforms with plenty of support under the rocker box.

So, last night I did a rough polar align with my newly enhanced platform and waited for astronomical dark. The instructions described how to adjust the motor speed up or down as needed. I used Vega and Deneb as test stars for adjusting motor speed. I kept increasing the magnification until I had my highest power eyepiece in. When the stars would stay motionless for several minutes at a time, I switched eyepieces and began looking at deep sky objects.

The first was The Cats Eye Nebula, NGC 6543, in Draco. I found an easy trick to locating it - I use 18, 19 and 22 Draconis - which are in a straight line - and draw an imaginary line out to the east, about the same distance. I then use 33 (Gamma) and 32 Draconis to draw a line intersecting the first line. A low power eyepiece should get the planetary in view.

The seeing was okay, but not great. With my 7 Nagler and 3.8 Ultrascopic, I could see an oblong gray haze, and sometimes even a dimmer outer halo, barely. There were hints of a central star (oh... this is with an 8" f/7 Newtonian). I walked into the house and fixed my self an adult beverage, came back, and just like advertised, there was the Cats Eye, right where it belonged.

I moved to M13. I used the 20 Nagler and had a truly marvelous view. Nice little tight stars everywhere. I was able to relax, with the object staying dead center, and let my eye wander around, noting that when I avert my vision to about 30 degrees off axis, I got noticeably better resolution of the glob. I sipped my drink, looked up at the sky, looked into the eyepiece, went inside the house to see what the dogs were up to (they got bored when I began telling them about the globular) and made myself, another, er, glass of liquid refreshment.

Out I came again. I knew this night was just for testing the new motor and hand controller on the platform, but I was having fun. I pointed the scope at NGC 6940, the nice open cluster in Vulpecula, just off 39 and 41 Cygni. Into the center of the eyepiece, nice rich grouping of stars, one of my favorites among the non-M opens.

I also noticed on other thing, while the platform was tracking.... the sound my old motor made was gone. There is still some sound, but it is much more muted than before.

It was getting late, I've been working a lot of hours, and decided to turn in. The night was a big success, both in terms of how the new equipment operated, and in my hitting targets from memory.

I plan to be out back again tonight. Me, my Dob, and my platform.