New scope blues (I am so sorry!)

It is a phenomenon universally acknowledged that when an amateur astronomer acquires a new telescope or major scientific instrument the local observing weather goes sour. And so with a heavy heart I announce the repair of my G11 mount and the purchase and delivery of a Mallincam Universe, a Celestron Edge HD C9.25, and a further mount, a Skywatcher AZ-EQ6. The current sky is clear, but tonight will be cloudy, or at best partly clear with a bright moon close to full. So I extend my apologies to all who would otherwise be taking an interest in the spring parade of galaxies. I will endeavor to do less in the future, and to continue to be properly grateful to my beautiful, gracious, and sylph-like spouse. Amen.

Well, here’s a fine mess!

I’ve been unable to observe the stars visually for some time as a result of Fuchs’ Dystrophy, and I’ve been considering other ways to look through my ‘scopes for quite a while. One of the main paths I’ve been following is that of Video Astronomy, which essentially involves pointing a low-light video camera through the ‘scope and directing the output to a TV screen. There are several companies serving this line of astronomy, but the company which has always appealed to me the most is Rock Mallin’s Mallincam. The problem I have always had with any of the videocams, from Mallin or anyone else, is that the pixel resolution of the cameras generally falls in the NTSC or PAL ranges – for NTSC that’s 640×480 – which is a little too low for my taste.

Recently Mallin came out with t;he Mallincam Universe, a 6.1 mp camera which has a lot in common with the DSLR cameras I have been using. Its sensor is roughly the same size, but the software supplied with the camera gives a near-video experience – not live, but close to it. So I bought one.

It’s been cold out there, though, and I generally don’t observe in the cold. First light consisted of a brief look through the camera, hooked up to a tiny SV70 scope mounted on a photographic tripod. I successfully viewed the Moon – wheeee! Then I retreated back indoors, chilled to the bone. Real observing would require a bigger scope on a real astronomical mount. And that’s when my troubles really began…

I admit, I was eager to get started. Temperatures were finally above zero. The night was clear, and though I hadn’t prepared much, I didn’t expect any problems. The mount was tried and true, the camera was new but performed well on first light, and I had watched a number of videos explaining what to do with the camera and software. All I had to do was point the camera at Orion and grab a view of M42. What could go wrong?

As it turned out, very little actually went wrong, but it went wrong in a big way. Possibly as a result of the cold (it cooled down rapidly after sunset) the mount began to report a lag in RA motion, and eventually stalled. I fiddled a little. I fiddled a lot. The mount seemed fine. The cables were firm in their sockets and I had almost 14V of power, more than enough I turned everything back on and went through the startup process. Suddenly the mount took off in one direction, and wouldn’t stop until I pulled the power. I now have a runaway motor. Oops!

That’s about a $250 fix (new motor), and I could have gone ahead with that, but instead I decided to buy a new and lighter mount and trade in the old one in its current condition. I wouldn’t get full trade-in, but I could accept a small loss somewhere above the cost of repair. While I was at it I would sidegrade the ‘scope – same aperture, but with a flatter field and the opportunity to use Hyperstar. I took down the scope and mount and set off to Khan’s in Toronto, where I had just bought the camera.

When I got there, I was told I would have to order a mount before their technician would look at the scope, or pay for a couple of hours of the technician’s time – about $180. Before committing to the trade-in I wanted to know what they considered the mount and scope were worth – it would have affected what I would purchase, so I couldn’t order ahead of time. Considering I had just spent a couple of grand in the store for the camera, I was seriously annoyed, and decided instead to fix the mount and buy a new scope somewhere else. I may still replace the new mount, but not at Khan’s, and I’ll sell the old mount elsewhere. Send me a note if you have any interest in a Losmandy G11 with Gemini I controller.

Right now, though, I’m left without a fully-working mount, so it’ll be a while before I post any review of the Mallincam Universe. Ain’t this a fine mess I’ve put myself in? Hrrrmph!