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"Prima Nocta" - The First Night

The following is partial text of a letter we just received from another customer of ours who has recently acquired a new instrument.

I got back from a week of vacation and immediately descended into work crunch mode. Oh well.

The executive summary:

  • Everything arrived in perfect order.
  • I had good seeing weather for a few days.
  • The system was really easy to set up and to use.
  • Early observations were very satisfying:
    • Terrestrial
    • Celestial
    • Solar

The long form:

I accepted delivery on a stormy Thursday (8/21/97). UPS was still clearing the backlog, but FedEx came through. That evening I unpacked. Yes, I did clip a dollar bill to a lamp and got things started (should have had Ben Franklin on it considering the toys being configured). Nice results, no surprises. The fit and finish was much better than I expected. More like Leica stuff. It is still pouring outside.

On Friday night, I pack for the Maine trip. The car is full *and* I keep the Questar case totally upright as instructed.

Saturday evening is the first time the Questar is deployed under the open skies. I started by viewing some beaches across the lake (Sebago) at a distance of 3 miles. The sun was about to set.

I mounted the Questar on a moderately sturdy camera tripod (Tiltall), found true north with a cheap pocket compass (17 deg W variation from GPS), latitude was 44 deg N (GPS again). With a quick and dirty polar alignment completed, I was ready to get started. As the evening darkness crept over me, so did the clouds from the west. Hurriedly, I found the tiny disc of Mars. It didn't creep from view even after a few minutes; the alignment was good. Then the clouds started eating into everything. It was a short observing session.

On Sunday night, I aligned the drive with Polaris itself. No better viewing results were noted as compared with an alignment assisted by pocket compass and inclination. Hmm, the polar alignment process must not be *too* critical.

In any case, I was hunting for Jupiter tonight. At 9:00 PM local, it glared at me through some tree branches. The view to the south was riddled with trees but I just had to work around it. I quickly found the image in the finder and then *bang*, there it was under high power. I tried all of the eyepieces at hand. The 16mm eyepiece with Barlow engaged seemed the best for the conditions of the evening. Jupiter's bands were distinct. What a sight. Tracking was perfect. Hey, this is too easy. Its moons certainly appeared non-stellar.

After switching back to binoculars to scan the Milky Way (the seeing was great on this night), I stumbled across some very interesting clusters (could have been M23, M24 or M25). Pointing to that region of the sky with the Questar revealed a stunning number of stars. Star images were very behaved as we eased the focus control ever so slowly back and forth to find that magic point. Your team did a great job in checking out this Questar prior to shipment.

The next day, we were blessed with a cloudless morning. The waning crescent of the moon was visible at 11:00 AM local in the south western sky. I brought the Questar out (under the shadow of a tree to prevent solar accidents), quickly aligned with compass and inclination and observed the mountains on the terminator. What a great daylight view! Why are there so few photographs of the moon with the blue sky as backdrop? The contract was wonderful.

Ok, it was now time to view the sun. First, I completed a checklist (no accidents please: finder's solar filter engaged, eyepiece cap on, primary solar filter on) and then moved the telescope into the sun and realigned it to the pole.

My first solar view was spectacular with prominent sun spots visible with the 16mm eyepiece. Stunning views of the spots were coaxed out of the 8mm (and no Barlow). What a great few sessions to start off the new telescope experience! Alas, the rest of the vacation saw clouds and then a little rain.

When I returned home, I had one great observing evening with clear and continuous viewing of Jupiter. It wasn't the same seeing as in rural Maine (with dry air) but things will get better as the fall weather rolls in.

So, I have just started on a long journey of exploring the skies. The Questar mix of portability, optical capability and manufacturing quality are very satisfying.

Thanks again for your pre-purchase advice. Should I bother to fill in the Questar warranty card? All of the area codes around here are about to change.


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