Hand Controls

Meade's (Autostar) and Celestron's (NexStar) HCs look a little different (Plate 11) but are similar in function. They include both numeric keypads and an array of dedicated buttons to allow users to input information. Both flavors of hand control feature relatively small LCD displays that give feedback on what is being entered into the HC (date, time, and location, for example) and display various types of output—object data, telescope position, etc. The major difference between Meade and Celestron HCs is that Meade uses a red-on-black display, while Celestron uses black on red. Meade's HC display is much easier to read at 3:00 in the morning. Otherwise, the NexStar and the Autostar are nearly indistinguishable. The Nexstar offers nine user-selectable slewing/centering/guiding speeds: 6°/second; 3°/ second; 1.5°/second; and 128x, 64x, 16x, 8x, 2x, and 1x sidereal. There are also three selectable drive rates: sidereal, solar, and lunar. The Autostar features 6.5°/ second, 3°/second, 1.5°/second, 128x, 64x, 16x, 8x, 2x, and 1x sidereal and the

Plate 11. (Hand controllers) The Meade Autostar and Celestron NexStar hand controllers are very similar. Credit: Author.

same user-selectable tracking rates as the NexStar. The HCs' features and slewing speeds can vary a bit, depending on the model of scope with which they are used. Meade also makes an Autostar II HC for its top-of-the-line models that offers further features and refinements.


If a telescope is not any good without a good mounting, a mount is not any good without a good tripod. What is a good tripod? In my opinion, the baseline is still Celestron's original Orange Tube tripod. It provides the best combination of lightness and stability ever seen in a Schmidt Cassegrain tripod. This famous "triangle-tripod's" legs and braces were a series of triangles forming, from an engineering standpoint, the perfect design for a tripod. A similar arrangement is often found in the expensive tripods used by professional photographers for large-format cameras or by surveyors for their instruments. This tripod provided excellent support for the C8, but users did not like the fact that it was not adjustable or collapsible. Most owners described loading it into a small sedan as akin to wrestling with an octopus.

Today, all Meade and Celestron telescopes feature collapsible tripods. The usual one found on a CAT is a tubular affair with legs that can be extended to bring the height of the tripod head up to about 4.5 feet. Most also have a "spreader," a metal or plastic bracket that fits beneath the tripod head and pushes against the legs. A threaded knob-and-rod arrangement allows the spreader to be tightened against the legs, ensuring they are held firmly apart. Both Meade and Celestron have done a considerable amount of work to upgrade their tripods in recent years, but it must be said that most of the companies' tripods, while adequate, are hardly oversize.

One thing that can help is leaving the tripod legs unextended. Since most CAT users like to sit while observing, that does not usually create a problem.

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