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Nexstar 11 GPS in EQ Mode w/ tag-on Orion Express

Posted by Ronald Abraham   10/10/2009 08:54AM

For two days I had been watching in hopes of finding an ideal place to set up a scope on Friday night. Considering the big temperature drop and that most Oklahoma sites I use were not supposed to ripen for observing till late, I decided to stay home and just use the Nexstar 11 GPS set up in my dome building.

The first thing I noticed was that the inside of the dome was dripping wet. Weather has been such a pain here this year that everything was covered with moist dust from lack of use. I also realized that my laptop charger was missing, so I would have to use laminated sky maps instead of a screen.

Once I got the rig fired up and did a quick align, I decided to spend the evening chasing NGCs in the notheastern quadrant of the sky above 30 degrees altitude. After doing Vega and Capella as alignment stars, NGC 663 was my first target. The Nexstar in EQ mode does not miss targets; it centers them. The optics were not quite equalized, so I kept the Meade 40SWA in place to monitor the snowballs slowly shrink into pinpoints over the next hour. Meanwhile I had the Orion Express 80 riding atop with a UO MK70 40mm Konig; and yes - the stars were pin pricks, but unfortunately against a Red Zone light sky.

After dead centering gotos on the Double Cluster, M34, Pleiades, and M31/32, I moved 40 Konig to the Nexstar and confidently stuck he 24mm TAL UWA in the Orion. The Konig's razor sharp contrast helped the Nexstar while the TAL darkened the background in the Orion. Star images were shrinking in the Nexstar after only 15 - 20 minutes.

I started covering a lot of "ground" - NGC 7662, 1857, 1778, and 1664 stopping to explore and commit to memory the star pairings while trying to figure how shock fronts interacted to create the arc and line patterns when each emerged from its star nursery. No doubt, this was a very unusually good Oklahoma night.

Stellar objects began degrading a bit, so after discovering the dreaded frog on the windshield, I attached my Kendrick defrogger, ran a few errands eleswhere. I returned 10 minutes later discovering that the frog was gone, and WOW - star images were getting teeny! It then struck me: Why not waste a bit of time and do a goto for M33; that $%@#* is so elusive I never see it here. I adjusted slew speed to about 1/2 degree per second and it popped out with averted vision just as I hit the directional arrow - mind you in a red zone with street and security lights.

I guess you could say I took the spot-on gotos for grantedf for the first hour, but as I tracked eastward through Auriga - the interesting Messier/ NGC combos in the area like M38/NGC1912, etc. down through M35 it became apparent that this was a special night with a very special scope.

While you may read this as more of an observing session chronology rather than a product review, let me just stop you. The better a piece of equipment performs, and the better it ergonomically interfaces with it's user, the better the experience. In this case the telescope functioned transparently - as if it wasn't even there. All things considered - this carbon fibered tubed scope with impeccable soundtrack is perhaps the finest all around SCT on the market from optical, structural, and electromechanical standpoints.

Every time I see any used 10" Meade LX200 GPS advertised several hundred dollars higher than the Nexstar 11s listed, I am totally dumbfounded. I've owned that Meade model and there is just no comparison. Since I am overwhelmingly happy with both brands in my current "stable", the Celestron just has a special sweetness about it relative to the Meade 10" and 12" units.

First of all, the Celestron does not sound like backhoe when slewing, and does not move like a backhoe when slewing fast or slow. The hand control seems to have less temperature related issues. I prefer the Meade's hand control attachment port on the fixed base, but Celestron provides both an attachment point on the rotating base and in the recessed hand control stowage pocket on the fork. Although the Celestron goto system gives up some of Autostar2's advanced functions, it seems to serve better with less, and it aligns more easily. It is also a "softer" shape - especially with the unusually large base and sweeping blended curves of the fork. The Meade Autostar 2 SCTs are not quites as sweet in this area; the older Meade Classic models were impressive structurally, but the hard edges were as comfortable as the bumper on an 18 wheeler.

I chose the fast little Orion Express 80 which was shared with every marketer from Sky Instruments to William $$ Optics to Stellarview. It is not an APO or ED, but better optics and mechanicals in this class of instrument probably don't exist. Bust China all you want; the express is also a keeper. In this application this little OTA nestled via Losmandy hardware to the Nexstar 11 is like a trophy girlfriend with a heart of gold hugging your arm and refusing to break eye contact.

My eyepiece collection should also be considered. I could sell them all quickly and buy a full set of Ethos - and I may. But for now I have a very confortable eclectic mix that is very complete. While 2+ hours of actual observing observing was sprinkled with superlatives including seeing M33 so well, I'd have to say that my time with M76 was very special. I moved from the 40mm Konig to the 24mm TAL, and finally to the 9mm Japanese Nagler as I observed M76, a faint planetary nebula. I had trouble getting the stars to pinpoints at that magnification, but the nebula somehow won the battle with what little light was bouncing off the atmosphere and divuldged its shape and character to me.

I was happy. Then I discovered I was all frogged up as I mentioned earlier. After strapping on the heater and defrogging, the woozy cotton balls shrank into dots, and this neat little planetary created an unforgetable image I hope to see again soon. And - yes - I could hear cars, trains, and sirens into the wee hours; and - yes - it was below 40 degrees but I was cozy in a sweatshirt and jeans under the dome. I came to a realization many of us in this neck of the woods share: Oklahoma weather is hardly condusive (much less alluring) to the practice of amateur observational astronomy; but having the right setup close to the fridge, bathroom, and warm wife soothes an often otherwise frustrated soul who always wonders why the sky gets so crystal clear from waxing gibbous to waning gibbous moon and cloudy most of the other time.

In addition to SCTs, I have newts, refractors, and Maks; but for intown use, this particular setup is terrific. These carbon fiber units always seem to be offered for hundreds less than 10" Meades of the same vintage.

If you are considering buying a second hand scope, consider the Nexstar 11. Many are advertised with the JMI case. While the scope works great in Alt Az., it's tracking performance in EQ is exceptional on my modified Meade Superwedge; there is simply a drilled 1.5" thick plastic spacer that allows the huge Nexstar base to clear the truss brackets flanking the tilt plate. Considering my years and experience, I would have to say that if all but one of my scopes had to go, this would be the keeper.