My interest in Astronomy stems from the late 1960's when America were racing to meet the deadline of landing a man on the Moon before the end of that decade. At the age of 9 I could answer nearly all the questions in the "How and Why - Astronomy" book that hardly ever left my side. I still continued my interest as I grew up and in my early 20's landed an administration job with Tasco who had their sales office in the same village where I lived. I eventually became the "Product Manger" and generally dealt with the hundreds of letters and phone calls Tasco received when Halley's comet made it's return in 1986. It was at this time that I had my first glance through a telescope (4.5" reflector) and caught my first every view of Saturn..

In 1986 we (my wife, then girlfriend) set up home on the outskirts of Harpenden, with some nice dark skies. I cut off an arm and a leg and used the money to buy a Vixen 102 EP scope, which set me back well over a £1000. However due to a change of fortune I had to sell the scope back to the retailer, at a fraction of what I paid for it. I've been scope less ever since, but kept looking at what was on the market. That was until I finally bit the bullet and got my current scope (full details on the equipment page). I'm now re-experiencing the thrill of seeing night sky objects again, and this site has been set up for you to enjoy that experience with me, and for me to pass on anything I find that might be of use, be that freeware, links to hardware, or astronomical events

My Equipment
First attempt at imaging

The prerequisites for my scope was as follows. Needed to be computerized, 6" aperture or more, still able to be portable, and within a £1000 budget. My first choice of scope was the Celestron C6-SGT, which is a 6" Schmidt Cassergain telescope on a goto mount. Every retailer I contacted had no stock available, but remarked that one could always be supplied from the importers. I arranged to visit my nearest retailer, who although didn't have stock, had a 6NE which might suit my needs. Whilst there I had the scope's slewing action demonstrated and was horrified to hear the noise it made. I was informed that the C6-SGT would be quieter and as they price-matched one of the online retailers the order was placed.

The next working day I received a phone call advising me the C6 was out of stock at the importers and it would be 4-6 weeks before stock arrived. I had also researched the noise issue and found that it too was loud, so promptly cancelled the order and started my research again. One scope the retailer did have in-stock was the SW200P which whilst a lot quieter, was dismissed as I thought it would be too big to store. But after some measuring up found it would fit nicely in a cupboard upstairs. I contacted Rother Valley Optics and ended up purchasing the 200P on a pro Goto EQ-5 mount for just over £665

The Skywatcher 200P is an 8" reflector with a 1000mm focal length, making that an f5, so it's max theoretical magnification without barlow lens's is 250x. However being quite a fast scope, it's also has quite a lot of light grasping power, making it a very good all rounder. The EQ5 mount is solid enough, and although the HEQ5 is more substantial, the price difference and weight made me rule this out. The SynScan computerized drive is both quiet in operation and can be driven from a computer running one of the many freeware astronomy planetarium programs. This was one of the items on my wish list as I wanted something that I could use remotely if my mobility become less as I got older, I mean long term as i wasn't planing on upgrading this scope in the next 20 years.

However in June 2010 that all changed. I really was getting fed up with the time it was taking to cart all the gear out to the garden, especially if I was going to do some imaging, so I started the building of a nice large observatory with warm room shown below. This now has the 200P on a pier mounted HEQ5 with an ST80 guide scope. This has now made astronomy really easy in that I can be up and running in minutes, snatching images between the clouds. The warm room has some comforts such as heating, kettle and internet and is a nice place in which to enjoy the hobby.

In December 2010 I looked at ways of improving the drive, and whilst there are a few people on various forums who have converted an EQ6 to belt drive, it seemed that no one had done the same with the HEQ5. Having sourced the right pulleys and belts I had the parts machined and then installed them one weekend. So far the PE (Periodic Error) the mount now produces is very regular and hopefully easily corrected. For full details have down load the PDF here

The HEQ5

Fully computer controlled from within the warm room, including focuser, digital SLR camera and guide camera.