New Toys and a Lunar Eclipse

The hobby of astronomy has always been an art form of simplicity and function. Let’s face it, when starting out in astronomy, the task of getting great views and being comfortable at the same time can seem quite daunting.

It is dark out and you are usually bundled up in winter clothing. This, and little screws that need to be tightened and changed (without bumping into your telescope mount), can definitely put a damper on any observing session.

Amateur astronomers are always on the lookout for things that will make viewing the cosmos that much easier and therefore much more enjoyable.

Enter into the marketplace, the iOptron, a fully computerized motorized mount. As a rule I am not fond of computerized mounts, but this time it appears to be a perfect marriage of form and function.

This amazing little unit (weighing only 3.7 kg or 8.2 lbs. including tripod) gives you everything that you need — tripod, motor drives and a hand controller — all for around $300.

Just mount your little scope, align two stars that you can identify and you are ready to go.

With a payload of up to 11 pounds, this is a versatile system for wide field astrophotography as well as viewing.

The hand controller is simple and easy to use. All buttons are large, well separated and, of course, backlit. Now just scroll through the menu and the mount takes you to your chosen target quickly and efficiently.

Speaking of useful, affordable, new toys that every amateur astronomer should own, have you seen the new gadget called PhotoSharp?

With PhotoSharp your Canon DSLR camera can auto focus with telescopes attached. This is important because trying to achieve critical focus with a camera and telescope combination on a frosty night, while you are bent over and looking in a little tiny viewfinder, can be a frustrating experience.

All you have to do is set the camera to auto focus, find a nearby star, push the shutter button half way down, wait for the camera to beep and then take your shot. I was surprised that PhotoSharp is good for deep sky as well as solar system objects.

This little ring screws in to where your lens normally does and then you leave it there whether or not you are using telescopes or camera lenses. For $100 this is a simple, smart and affordable accessory that represents great value. It is available at KW Telescope.

Now, what would you do with all these amazing new toys, you ask? Well, you would go out and enjoy the lunar eclipse on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

This could well be a perfect eclipse-viewing experience for everyone, whether photographer or amateur astronomer. This lunar eclipse begins as soon as the moon clears the eastern horizon around 7 p.m. and stays in full eclipse until 7:52 p.m. with the last of the eclipse visible until 9:10 p.m.

Clear Skies from James “Deep Sky” Cackette.

High Lights

Feb. 13 First quarter moon.

Feb. 20 Lunar eclipse starts at 5:43 p.m. Eclipse ends at 9:09 p.m.

Feb. 23 Saturn rises at sunset and is in the sky all night.

Feb. 28 Last quarter moon.

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

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