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What can I see with a Meade ETX-125?


Q:  Tom, 

Hope you are doing well. I read your article on Meade ETX-125 at http://www.weasner.com/etx/observations/2006/etx-125_obs8.html.

I have had a Meade 125 AT for about 6 months now.  I am amazed at the list of objects that you have been able to view.  So far, I have viewed moon and few planets.  I have the eyepiece set (series 4000), along with Barlow lens.  However, the size of the images are very small even with Barlow. Except for the moon, and Jupiter (could see the red spot and few Jupiter moons), the size of the other planets (Venus and mars) are very small.  I have tried the high power eyepieces along with Barlow, but the size is still the same as with 26mm.  Am I doing something wrong.  Do you have any advice?  Any specific "Barlow + eyepiece" recommendation for different objects (mars, Venus, satellites and other deep sky objects).  Appreciate any inputs.  Thanks Ananth

I am located in Bangalore, India.  My neighborhood is dimly lit.  I can easily watch the objects that I aim at.  It is a challenge to watch objects below about 45 degrees from horizon because of the compound wall and neighborhood lights.  Otherwise i am fine.  Altitude/lat/long: 3000 ft. above sea level, Latitudinal Parallels: 12 degree 8' N Longitudinal Meridians: 77 degree 37' E.  Obeserver level: I am a beginner to intermdeidate.  I keep a watch of the skymap to discover the viewable objects.  Yes, ETX 125 is the first and the only telescope.  I went for this model because of portability and decent aperture size Eyepieces:  I have the series 4000 Plossl Eyepiece & Filter Set.  It contains the following 6.4mm Super Plossl - 1.25in. 9.7mm Super Plossl - 1.25in. 12.4mm Super Plossl - 1.25in. 15mm Super Plossl - 1.25in. 32mm Super Plossl - 1.25in. 40mm Super Plossl - 1.25in. #126 2X Barlow Lens - 1.25in. Color Filter Set #1: #12 Yellow #23A Light Red #58 Green #80A Blue Moon Filter -1.25in. Hope I can make the best of my telescope with your inputs.



A:  Hi Ananth, 

Thanks for the information, it was very helpful.  With your setup, you should be able to see *most* of the Messier Objects pretty well.  You have a good selection of eyepieces, and for the focal length of the ETX-125, the eyepieces that you will be using the most will be the 32mm, 15 mm and the 9.7mm Plossls. You can view the Double Cluster and M45 the best with the 40 mm.  Here are a couple of recommendations. 

bulletBecome good friends with your neighbors and invite them over to look through your telescope at a few deep sky objects. first because it's a nice thing to do, and secondly they will quickly see how annoying they're outdoor lights are to getting a good view and it might make them more agreeable to turning them off if you ask them later. 
bulletGet an 1 1/4" O-III filter (Nebula Filter) Get this narrow band filter from Orion, Meade or Lumicon. It will help on planetary and other emission nebulae like the Orion Nebula and the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. With you altitude and seeing conditions, This filter will make a huge difference to your observing experience. The other filter that I'd recommend is a variable polarizing Lunar Filter. (about $40 US) but worth it since you can just dial the polarizing filters in such a way to reduce the amount of light to a comfortable level. 
bulletAdd an extension onto the end of your scope to block ALL stray light from coming into the tube. I made mine out of a black closed-cell foam camping sleeping pad and some velcro.  It extends 12 inches out from the end of my tube when I observe (like a dew shield). Its only 1/8 inch thick so it's very light. The reduction in stray light has improved my contrast when observing the dim galaxies of the Coma and Virgo galaxy clusters. 
bulletStudy the object you are looking for ahead of time in books. After I've done this, I find that I can see more detail than if I just look through my eyepiece first. A lot of observational astronomy has to do with "training" your eyes to see subtle contrast differences. There were several instances when I was first starting out when I had my telescope pointed right at an object and couldn't see it because I didn't really know what I was looking for, and then I'd ask an experienced observer over to help me locate the object only to hear them chuckle and tell me that the object was already dead-center in the field of view. 
bulletDon't smoke or drink too much coffee on the day of observing. Both nicotine and caffeine adversely affect your eye's responsiveness. Avoid looking at the sunset or bright reflections during the period of time leading up to sunset. Pretend your a pirate and try out the eye patch for a couple of hours before one observing session and see how much difference it makes! 

All of these recommendations will definitely improve your view and your viewing experience. But even with all of these there may be a few of the Messier objects that you just won't be able to see, for instance M77 and M74 are very difficult. With patience and optimum darkness and seeing conditions will finally yield results, though just barely. After the Messier list, check out the Caldwell list and one of the the other "Best Of" autostar lists fro Dr. Clay Sherrod available online. (Or I can send these to you if you already have the Meade 505 cable which allows you to update the Autostar software.) I'm a bit jealous of your Latitude because you get to see some of the Southern Sky gems that are below my horizon. I had to drag my equipment down to Australia a few years ago because I wanted to see some of the sky you get to see!  If you ever get to California, please come visit us at our Club.  We have really great people and we'll lend you a scope to use while you are visiting.  Thanks for the question and the later supporting context... I hope I answered your concerns. 

Clear Skies!



Update:  11/26/2008

(To Astro-Tom users:  If you have not already discovered Michael Weasner's excellent website that concentrates on the Meade ETX telescope, I'd like to give you the address: )


Please take a look at Mike's presentation created in July, 2008 about what you can actually see with the different models of the ETX telescopes.

His eyepiece views in his presentations are fairly close, but I have gotten a bit higher magnification views with my ETX-125 than he shows.  The Moon is spectacular with the ETX-125 and when I use my 7mm plossl I get sharp, detailed, Lunar crater views :-)

Please let me know what you think and how your ETX is working out for you.

Clear Skies!





What is the Best Telescope for $200

Q:  Im 49 and I have less than $200 to spend on amateur astronomy  and Id like to get the best possible observing experience for my kids and me.  Ideally, Id like whatever I get to be portable so I can take it up in the mountains to look at the stars when we go camping.  Also, it gets really cold in the winter here.  What do you suggest?

A: Hi,

Knowledge about where, when and how you plan on using your astronomy equipment helps to focus in on the right advice for you as an individual observer.  With Winter weather coming, you're going to want something EASY to bring in and out of the house when the temperatures drop!  In my experience, this requirement should steer you to (1) large binoculars mounted on a tripod, (2) a Dobsonian telescope of 6 inches to 10 inches of aperture, (3) a 60-80mm short tube refractor telescope that you can leave set up on its mount and just carry out, or (4) for about $200 it is possible to get a good, used, small Schmidt-Cassegrain electronic telescope like an ETX-90EC.  Any of these would be quality instruments (see brand recommendations below) and will produce good views of the night sky but with varying amounts of resolution and light gathering ability.  You'll have to hunt for deals, but I have, at one time or another, owned each one of these scopes and paid less than $175 for each!

For simplicity, you may enjoy 10 X 50 binoculars (5mm exit pupil).  There are many options in this range of binoculars.  Check Meade, Celestron, Vixen, Nikon, Canon, and others.  Younger observers have pupils that open up further than 5 mm and may want the light gathering ability and 6.5 mm exit pupil of a pair of 12 X 80 binoculars.  Binoculars have a fixed amount of magnification.  The first number of "10 X 50" means that they magnify ten times.  The second number means that the big lens on the front is 50mm across.  The bigger the front lens, the more light they gather and the more $$ you have to spend to buy them.  Another consideration is that heavy binoculars are hard for kids to hold steady for any length of time so you may need a tripod.

A telescope has the benefit of variable its magnification by utilizing different eyepieces.  If a telescope has a focal length of 1000 mm, a 25 mm eyepiece (standard) will produce a magnification of 1000 divided by 25 = 40 times (40X).  Most planetary observation is done at about 90X, and galaxies/nebulae/star cluster are best seen at 40-50X.  Telescopes produce spectacular narrower-field, higher magnification views and you can use them for astrophotography, but they aren't as portable as binoculars.  Personally, I own and regularly use both because they are complimentary.  I purchased binoculars first and learned my way around the constellations and then tackled stellar details with a telescope, but you can learn the sky either way.

A Dobsonian telescope is really easy to set up and to use.  You just point it like you would point a cannon, moving it with your hands and look through the eyepiece.  Very simple and straightforward to leave set up then simply carry the entire setup outside if your back is OK.  Most importantly, Dob telescopes will give you the biggest mirror aperture for the dollar and you'll be able to see the most detail on the Moon, rings of Saturn, galaxies, nebulae and star clusters.  Remember: Aperture Rules the Night The more light collected and fed into your eye, the more you will be able to see.  A 10" mirror collecting light is better than an 8" which is better than a 6" mirror.  Good used brands include Meade, Celestron, Orion, Discovery, and others.  You can even make your own.  Ourl astronomy clubs may sell very good Dobs with a finder scope occasionally at their annual Picnic.

If you want to take the scope and head up in the mountains, Id recommend a used Meade ETX-80 Backpack Observatory ($299 retail) for maximum portability.  This is a 80mm "Go To" refractor that comes with 9mm and 26 mm eyepieces, a tripod and a backpack to carry it all in.  The electronic handbox controller allows you to scroll through an menu of objects, push a button and then the telescope moves itself to the object automatically.  Another option is a Meade ETX-90EC, which is a 90mm Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that has more aperture and much longer focal length for more power to see details.  I have several telescopes, but I frequently use the ETX-125EC which is similar to the ETX-90EC, but with a larger aperture.  I find that it is very portable and fun to look through.

When there are big events like RTMC, PATS and other gatherings of amateur astronomers you should go to them and ask around for a good deal.  I'd suggest that you pass out a flyer to people saying that you're new in astronomy interested in buying one of these scopes (above) for less than $200 and list your phone number.  Often times with the info that you are brand new in the hobby and have a great interest in astronomy, one of the old-time amateur astronomers may have just what you're looking for sitting in a corner and might be willing to sell it to you at your price.... you never know.  I've gotten a couple of my best scopes just by putting out the word that I was interested in a certain type of scope and have gotten calls.

Clear Skies!