The Decision

After many months of careful consideration, the telescope I finally settled on was the 1986 model Celestron Super C8 Plus. This telescope is a Cassegrain design reflector with a Schmidt corrector. This combination Schmidt-Cassegrain design is the most popular in use today among amateurs purchasing medium to large size telescopes. Let us revisit my original list of important qualities and see how the Celestron meets my needs.

(1) Aperture: At 8 inches in diameter, the Celestron could reach objects as faint as magnitude +13.8, the brightness of Pluto. The telescope came with optional coatings to improve light transmission to boost the limit to magnitude +14.0

(2) Portability: The Schmidt-Cassegrain design uses a convex secondary mirror and an f/10 objective. This design allows an 80-inch focal-length telescope to be accommodated by a tube that is only 17 inches long. The entire telescope assembly, the fork-arm mount and clock drive base weighs only twenty-three pounds.

(3) Optical Quality: At that time, there was no mass producer of consumer telescopes that had a better reputation for quality than Celestron. Remember that as I write this, this was nineteen years ago. Though Celestron certainly has not slipped, its competition has certainly gotten better.

(4) Versatility: At f/10 and 8 inches of aperture, the Schmidt-Cassegrain has enough focal length to provide crisp images visually, but it is fast enough to yield reasonably short photographic exposure times while reaching a theoretical photographic limit of magnitude +16.

(5) Durability: The Schmidt-Cassegrain optical design is nearly as rigid and maintenance free as any refractor,though some collimation is occasionally needed. The fork mount and drive base are made of cast iron and will last forever.

(6) Upgradeable: The Celestron product line comes with a wide range of visual and photographic accessories for use in any application. The scope comes with a star diagonal mirror and two eyepieces (a 26-mm Plossl and a 7-mm Orthoscopic) providing 77x and 286x. This got me off to a good start and I have been able to add many accessories since purchasing the scope, including some that could not have been imagined in 1986.

(7) Serviceable: The telescope is covered by Celestron's limited warranty. If anything breaks, it gets fixed for free (assuming that I did not take a hammer to it).

Other telescope purchasers as I said may have other criteria that are important to them while others may not be interested in some of the things that I want. One observer may want aperture in a telescope and nothing else. He may have no interest in astrophotography or any other complex applications or may already have a smaller telescope that can do that. This observer may want a moderate cost second scope solely for the purpose of pulling out the faintest objects out of the sky he possibly can for the lowest cost. This observer might be interested in a type of Newtonian reflector called a "Dobsonian." These scopes come mounted on the simplest type of mount, often on wheels for ease of movement. They are built for one thing only, size. Dobsonian buyers can get scopes as large as 16 inches or more for the same price as a Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain half the size. There are also users who want a small telescope that can be whipped out with only a few minutes notice. Such telescopes as Bushnell's Voyager and Edmund Scientifics Astroscan cost around $200 and provide a 5-inch Schmidt-Newtonian reflector that sits in your lap or on a special cradle. Whatever your needs are, there is a telescope to suit your purpose. Make sure you put in the research and thought needed to ensure you get the scope you need, not the one the salesman says you need. List what you need for a telescope to do and get one that does it. Don't get a Dobsonian if a computer controlled GO TO telescope is what you really need. The only result of that will be that you will own a telescope that can detect sixteenth magnitude galaxies, but is completely useless to you if you don't know how to navigate. The modern GO TO scope is wonderful if you are lost, particularly if they have a GPS receiver. All you have to do is turn it on and the GPS will automatically update your position and time so that the telescope can now point with arc second accuracy to any point in the sky without any other input from the user other that being told what the target is. Both Celestron and Meade sell their largest scopes with this technology, but you will pay over $5,000 for it. If you know your way around the sky, a 20-inch Dobsonian will do a better job optically and cost you only about 40% of the price. To use the analogy of the golfer again as we did in the first pages of this book, if you don't have the right equipment to do the job, all you will experience is frustration. A golfer who uses clubs that are even 2 inches too long for him will be completely unable to perform with them. The clubs must be perfect your game and your body. So must your optical equipment for the job you will ask it to do.

Telescopes Mastery

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