Field Issues and Accessories

Telescope ^/arning Lights It's amazing how dark it can get on a Moonless night away from city lights. It'll get so pitch-black that scopes on the observing field will be nothing but vague shapes in the darkness. A modern SCT with its dark blue or gray tube becomes as invisible as a Cheshire CAT. Most of the time that is not a problem. Amateur astronomers encountered at club or larger star parties are careful as they walk across the field and carry red lights for navigation. At a public outreach evening it might be a different story. Visitors or novices without scopes of their own tend to wander from telescope to telescope in the dark and don't carry flashlights: "Hi! Mind if I look through—OOPS!—sorry, was that your telescope?"

The solution is three small red LED lights strategically positioned on the telescope tripod. These can be purchased from astronomy equipment suppliers, but there is no reason to do that. They are easy to make, and putting together telescope warning beacons makes a nice cloudy night project. An electronics supplier like Radio Shack can furnish three red LEDs, three AA battery cases, three switches, and the three resistors needed to drop battery voltage enough to prevent the LEDs from "frying." The package the LEDs come in will usually contain instructions that show how to wire up the LED and which value of resistor to use. Choose standard brightness LEDs rather than high intensity models to protect everybody's night vision.

Wire the three resistors and LEDs and switches in series to the proper terminals of each battery case, tape leads and LEDs to the sides of the cases, stick a piece of Velcro to each tripod leg at a suitable height off the ground, apply pieces of the "opposite" type of Velcro to each battery case, and insert batteries. Stick lights to tripod legs using the Velcro and that's it—fire 'em up, and the CAT will be noticed by even the most starry-eyed novice. An even more effective warning system—or at least one that looks cool—can be made by using blinking LEDs (actually small assemblies) instead of regulars. These are nearly as easy to find at a local electronics store as standard LEDs

Telescope Equipment Transporter Most CAT-wielding amateurs soon accumulate tons of gear: in addition to scope and tripod, there's the observing table, observing chair, accessory case, dew shield, batteries, laptop computer, and who knows what else. When observing from home, it's a positive pain to carry all the astro-stuff to the far side of the yard. To alleviate this pain, create a telescope equipment transporter (TET) by customizing a high-sided garden cart. Actually, the only customization required is the addition of a piece of fiberboard or plywood large enough to cover the cart top. Place all the astrostuff in the TET, wheel it out to the observing location, remove the stuff, and cover the TET top with the fiberboard so it becomes a movable observing table. For even more convenience, leave the batteries used to power the scope, computer, and dew heater system in the cart and run cables from the TET to the CAT. Using a TET can make a high-capacity (and heavy) deep-cycle marine battery practical for use with the scope.

Eyepiece Cases Aluminum cases filled with cubed foam are the ultimate accessory case. They are sturdy and can be customized to hold everything from large 2-inch eyepieces to big Barlows to reducer/correctors. Formerly, these cases were expensive items; usually they were sold for carrying pro-level photographic equipment. But then a wonderful thing happened. The same style aluminum attaché cases began to be produced in China. Shortly thereafter, various astronomy vendors began selling these reinforced boxes expressly for use as eyepiece cases. And they sold them for a fraction of the cost of similar photo cases. It's true these Chinese-made wonders are not as strongly built as a "real" camera gear case, but they are more than adequate for most amateur astronomy applications. Look in the tool/hardware section rather than the photo department, as they are usually advertised as toolboxes or "tool attachés" and sell for less than $20 apiece!

The tool attachés are a great boon, but there are plenty of other boxes that can be adapted to that purpose. Particularly nice are large plastic toolboxes. Larger ones can even be found with wheels and handles so that they can be wheeled out to the observing position, sparing a tired astronomer's back the strain of lifting a bunch of Naglers. Plastic pistol cases also work well. Most are inexpensive, lightweight, waterproof, and include cubed foam.

Dryboxes Where do all the countless little widgets astronomers buy in addition to eyepieces—cords, computer accessories, scope tools, filters, spare batteries, etc.— go? The local sporting goods seller has the perfect astrostuff carrier in the form of a "drybox." A drybox is a plastic box, usually in the 12x10x10-inch size range, used by hunters for carrying ammunition and other things that need to be kept dry and organized. The dryboxes sold today resemble (and are probably based on the design of) the .50 caliber ammunition boxes used by the military. Hunters and astronomers have in common the need to carry small, fussy, moisture-hating things into the field, so these boxes work perfectly for either pursuit. In addition to providing dry storage, they include trays featuring small compartments that are a natural for small astro-items. Hunting not popular in your area? If fishing is a common pastime, a tacklebox can serve just as well as a drybox.

Hacking a CAT

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