The Mount Before Christmas

Every once in awhile, the universe and karma come together in some truly spectacular ways. So here is my story … so far.

As most of you know by reading these columns, I am an avid fan of obtaining used astronomy equipment and attempting to restore them back to life. This is a great way to save money and learn how your telescope mount works inside and out.

The drawback is that you don’t really know the history and how it was treated. Was most of the equipment’s life spent in a warm climate and is it up to the task of operating in this great northern freezer we call home?

At the beginning of this month, my 30-year-old telescope mount (my most-used mount) finally gave up the ghost and died. It was obvious what the problem was: the main gears were toast and the cost of replacing them is out of my budget at the time.

After checking out the amateur astronomers’ marketplace, I decided that I would pursue the iOptron mini tower telescope mount. It could handle my little Borg refractor and my eight-inch telescope at the same time. It comes complete with lightweight but sturdy tripod, a case and is fully computerized. The only drawback is that I would be very limited to short exposure photography only.

Like my fellow companions of the night sky, my heart yearned to own a monster Losmanday Telescope mount. These mounts are big and can handle multiple adaptor plates, telescopes and cameras all at the same time. I have seen several and had the privilege to play with them; they truly are the ultimate machines for those interested in a rock solid mount.

They also come with a ballistic price tag to match, especially if you purchase one that is computerized.

Add to that having to purchase all the plates and adaptors so that you can mount your telescope tube to your new mount and now the dollar sign is way beyond the reach of this humble astronomer.

My old mount could do basic photography with a small refractor and operated OK visually with my eight-inch telescope, but was very limited in the photography department. All the same, these wonderful mounts and I have toured and explored the universe for many years. By most standards they are big awkward and somewhat heavy.

Anyways, just as I am getting ready to go and purchase a new Mini Tower, my Christmas present comes early and I was shocked to the say the least. A brand new Skywatcher EQ6 fully computerized telescope mount with GPS. A gift from a long-time friend who also shares a passion for the night skies.

People say that this mount replaces my old mount as reference standard for this price tag. I could not disagree more. This new Skywatcher EQ6 mount absolutely dwarfs my old mount. The counter weights that come with it weigh more than my other mount with the counter weight on.

It is very clean with internal wiring so you are not pulling cords out in the dark and it is pure white.

As for accessories, all you need is a power pack and away you go.

The dovetail bar needed to attach your telescope tube to this beautiful mount is included and so are two large counterweights, hand controller, cables and cords.

Upon setup, I was having problems with the hand controller, so I contacted the retailer who sold the mount, Island Eyepiece on Vancouver Island. Having been very helpful to myself and many other Yukon amateur astronomers over the years, we have to come to expect and enjoy excellent service and advice.

At heart, I am a backyard astronomer (I love to tinker and build) and, as a rule, I would rather build than buy. So I am not a big-money customer.

Outstanding service! As soon as I informed him of the problem, he contacted Skywatcher service in Richmond B.C. and the ball was rolling. Within a day I was contacted by e-mail from a service tech with instructions to try and upgrade the hand controller functions, so it would operate normally. Now, I am fairly good with computers, but this did sound somewhat intimidating.

The instructions were clear and very easy to understand. We did this, and a few other tricks for a day or two, but unfortunately to no avail. Finally the hand controller had to be shipped out, so I would have to wait until it came back.

Even at this busy time of year, it was back in my hands in just a few days. Every day I heard from either Island Eyepiece or Skywatcher service. Things were dealt with quickly and professionally. As some of you know, I spent many years in retail and these are people who raise the standard for quality and service.

The hand controller landed yesterday, so I quickly and carefully set up my mount in the living room and everything works just like it is supposed to. It is quiet, smooth and real easy to use. Would it work as well outside at –17 Celsius with my newly invented warmer for my hand controller?

Just after 1 a.m., we are ready to set up in the backyard and take it on its maiden deep sky voyage. The moon is high overhead and full, but there are still lots of stars and planets to be seen. Some really nice meteors are showering the northwestern sky and tempting me to go and get my photography gear.

With everything set up and running, I try the first target, Saturn. A couple of keystrokes on the hand controller and the telescope mount starts moving toward the ringed planet. Then there is an audible beep from the mount that tells you that your target is centred and when you look in the eyepiece, presto, there is Saturn.

The view was wonderful even in my little refractor. With the mount being so heavy duty and the little refractor posing no weight problem, it was easy to crank up the power. The view of Saturn’s rings nearly edge on and, with the moon Titan off to the side, it looked more 2D than 3D.

Next, we toured some familiar star clusters and the results were the same: the telescope put the star cluster right in the eyepiece every time. I could definitely get used to this.

Unfortunately, after a while, my homemade hand controller stopped working and the evening was over. As of now, I am busy scampering to build a better warmer for my hand controller.

I cannot wait for the Christmas break, when I will have a couple of weeks off so I can do some serious deep sky hunting in a moonless sky, with this amazing telescope mount.

Seasons best to you and your families, and don’t forget to take some time and get out and enjoy those amazing Yukon Night Skies.

High Lights

Dec. 19 Last quarter Moon.

Dec. 26 Venus and Neptune close together in the evening sky.

Dec. 27 New Moon.

Dec. 28 Mercury, Jupiter and a thin crescent Moon make an excellent grouping in the evening sky.

Jan. 1 Venus and the crescent moon make a nice pairing in the evening sky. A great photo opportunity.

Jan. 2-3 The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks. Best seen after midnight. Expect a great show.

Jan. 4 First Quarter Moon.

Jan. 5-9 Excellent opportunity to observe Mercury, a high vantage point is recommended.

Jan. 10 Full Moon.

Jan. 14 Venus is furthest from the sun and presents an impressive view.

Jan. 14-15 Saturn and the moon make a pairing in the late evening sky.

Jan. 17 Last Quarter Moon.

Jan. 21-23 Venus and Uranus join together close in the night sky. Great views in any telescope or binoculars, another great photo opportunity.

Jan. 26 New Moon.

Jan. 28-29 The crescent Moon and Venus low on the horizon in the early evening hours a high vantage point is recommended.

Above Whitehorse Dec. 27 at midnight. Sky chart courtesy of

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