Once we bought our house in Santa Fe, we realized that we could do something about our decades long interest in astronomy. You would probably expect that, I suppose, since the stars have played such a traditional part in navigation. But the thought of having a telescope while living aboard is pretty unrealistic: there's really not much way to use a scope aboard a boat; the naked eye or at most a pair of binoculars do just fine.
But having a homebase that doesn't move around has opened the possibility of getting a telescope. And that's what we did. Actually, we have 3... a couple small ones and one that's a pretty serious optical instrument.
Our Borg is a wonderful refractor that's well suited for travel. The used scope we bought has a 100 mm objective (about 4") and a Series 80 tube. The lens is an achromat and not expected to have perfect color, but it's remarkably good if you use good quality eyepieces. The whole Borg line uses a modular concept. Like all the Borg scopes, ours breaks down into 3 pieces (objective, main tube and focuser). One of these Series 80 scopes (80 mm tube diameter) fits nicely into a small Doskocil 12" x 16" case. That's hard to beat for a lightweight traveling scope!
Separately we bought a Celestron goto mount (NexStar 80GT, without the scope) which handles the Borg 80 series tube nicely when used with a special sleeve available from Borg. It's the smallest mount Celestron makes in the NexStar line and is well suited to the small Borg scope. Unfortunately they don't sell the mount by itself. We were fortunate to find a used one without a scope. The mount isn't a great choice for imaging, but the whole thing is easily picked up and carried outside on the spur of the moment and works just fine for visual observing.
The aluminum tripod that Celestron delivers with the 80GT is pretty wimpy. A single cross word and it shudders! Fortunately there's a cabinet maker in New Jersey, Al Pinnarelli, that loves astronomy and hates spindly tripods. He designed a terrific set of tripod legs which he adapted to our 80GT mount. You can find him at Al's Astro on the web. Is it OK to say that Al has great legs?! :-)
The nice thing about this is that the NexStar line of mounts have an RS-232 interface, so they can be interfaced with a PC. We use SkyTools 2 software which is terrific for planning an evenings observation pretty much on the fly.
This is a pretty common 5" catadioptric scope that's been around for many years in various evolutions. Like all our scopes, we bought it used and weren't disappointed. The optics are like new and the focusing mechanism hasn't been a problem for visual use. I'm not sure it's worth bothering to do any imaging with this scope... it's pretty small and, with the light loss from oclusion caused by the secondary mirror, a person is better off getting the 8" or larger NexStar.
Like the Borg setup described above, our NexStar 5 is light enough that it can be carried outside easily. So when we have a clear night and warm weather, it's great fun to drag outside with next to no pre-planning: set the tripod in place, find north, complete the alignment with visible stars and within 5 minutes you're having fun.
The tripod that came with the NexStar 5 is beefier than the one that came with the 80GT. But the heavier tube & mirrors test its limits of stability. So we bought a set of wood legs from Al's Astro for this scope too. Now, short of a direct hit from something going bump in the night, the scope is rock solid.
This is a pretty serious piece of equipment. I can't help admiring it every time I walk by it in the den. This 5" refractor has incredible apochromatic optics that are virtually free of false color. I couldn't be more happy with our choice. With the eyepieces we bought (TeleVue and Takahashi) we have a wonderful views. So far we've only used it during the Santa Fe winter, so we're looking forward to what warm weather brings!
The mount for this scope is a Losmandy G11 with Gemini goto computer (no relation to our Gemini boat!). With proper alignment, this mount is capable of very long exposure imaging. There are better mounts, but this probably has the most bang for the buck of what I could find on the market for imaging that would also handle the weight we have. Like the other mounts we bought, the Gemini has a computer interface which allows us to use a laptop and our SkyTools software for planning and controlling an observing session.
For imaging, though, it takes some additional tools. We bought a Santa Barbara Instruments Group (SBIG) 2000 XML camera which includes a tracking CCD in addition to the imaging CCD. This tracking imager augments the built-in tracking of the Gemini by adding corrections to the guiding to compensate for small pixel errors. Different software is needed for operating the camera and processing the images. We chose MaxIm DL/CCD. So far I've only been able to test the camera in the house: my thin Florida blood drove me back inside too quickly during the clear cold nights we had in February & March. Once the contractor finishes our patio we'll be out there frequently.