An Evening with a New Telescope

The Astro-Tech 6″ RC is a wonderful little telescope… A true Ritchey–Chrétien design, at a size well matched to DSLR astrophotography. It was get one now or never, these were the last of the production run, and now they are gone.

Best of all, Astronomics was letting them go at a fire sale price… Less than $300 each!! It may have taken months on a waiting list, but I finally received one. Then it took another two months of waiting for some necessary accessories to make it work! No problem with the wait, I was patient… mostly.

With the final parts, the extension tubes, in hand. I determined to spend part of my four day Thanksgiving weekend getting the new ‘scope into service.

The Orion Nebula
NGC1976 or M42, the Great Orion Nebula, sum of 113 frames at 35x5min, 38x1min, 20x20sec, and 20x5sec. Taken with the Canon 20Da and a AT6RC telescope.
It took hours to rearrange the setup, un-bolting and re-bolting telescopes to and from the plates of aluminum that hold everything. Carefully aligning each of the four items in the setup… Main telescope, guide telescope, the finder CCD camera and a Telrad. Finding the best focus, recollimating the 6″RC, re-balancing the mount, fixing a computer power supply issue, rearranging and tying up all the myriad of cables, etc. etc… Astrophotgraphy really is the art of endless details. Finally, late into the evening, I took the first test image.

A few images later and things were not looking all that bad, maybe even functional. Better yet, my venerable ST-4 autoguider seemed to be tracking well. Maybe take a real picture? What to shoot? Something easy… M42 was rising over the garage… Why not? Just a test for the new setup, a fair chance something will go horribly wrong.

AT6RC & ZEQ25
AT6RC atop an iOptron ZEQ25 mount
Result? Not too bad. This is despite many shortcomings… I forgot to take raw images, thus I had to process from the JPEG’s. I didn’t get any decent calibration frames. There seems to be substantial flexure between the guide ‘scope and the imaging ‘scope, but it is slow and does not effect individual frames. Actually the registration drift over the hours helped me process out the hot pixels and other image artifacts by creating an effective dithering. I did lose a few frames to vibration, the mounting could be stiffer, and I must be careful to walk softly on the concrete slab of the driveway during exposures.

But still, not bad for a first real attempt.

The stars look nice across the frame, showing that the collimation is decent, always an issue with the RC design. I suspect the optical quality of the telescope is quite acceptable. The brighter star images are a bit “fat” but that is due more to the mediocre seeing over Waikoloa. After all of these years shooting with a refractor, I had forgotten how pleasing diffraction spikes can be. Better yet, with the scope positioned for north up on the tube, the spikes are neatly at 45° to the cardinal directions. I am looking forward to some more imaging sessions with a new telescope.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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