From our Other Members...
A Convenient “Grab & Fly” Telescope Setup
- Category: Other Members
- Created on Monday, 06 February 2012 22:18
(Reprinted with permission from Tom Koonce of The Antelope Valley Astronomy Club.)
Have you ever headed out on a long trip and wished that you could do a little star-gazing once you arrived at your destination? But perhaps you have thought about the logistics of traveling with a telescope like the inconvenience of getting your telescope equipment through airport security, potential damage to the telescope, or maybe been daunted about what eyepieces and accessories to take? This article could help you to stop worrying… and start packing.
I had a unique opportunity to travel “down under” to observe from the dark skies of south central Australia, east of Melbourne, and then from the large island of Tasmania located off the southern tip of Australia. I knew I had to take a telescope with me or I’d certainly regret it. Major airlines fly into Melbourne, but only small “regional” airlines fly into Tasmania, so the amount of baggage I could take on the three week trip was strictly limited to a total weight of 23 kg (50.7 lbs). My astronomy setup would have to fit into an already limited volume that included work attire, a bulky jacket, shoes, shaving kit, notebooks of work materials, and a laptop. While the observing portion of this trip was secondary to the business portion of this trip, it was still very important to me personally and deserved careful planning ahead of time.
Some of my initial questions to be answered were concerning the climate of the location. Would it be hot or cold this time of year? Cloudy or clear? Dark skies or urban light pollution? My excitement grew as each of these answers were favorable to potential great southern sky views of the Clouds of Magellan, Southern Cross, Alpha Centauri, Canopus, the Coal Sack, the Tarantula Nebula, and on and on. Wow.
Now what telescope should be taken? It had to be portable, deliver wide-field views when paired with one or two eyepieces, but be of sufficient quality that I could “crank up the power” if I wanted to. It needed to be rugged enough to survive the jostling of going through security (I foresaw a major hassle regarding this) and the vibration shock of the flight and maybe a rough landing. It also needed to be light enough to be supported by a photo tripod since such a tripod was the only possible support within my weight and luggage volume limitations. The Tele Vue Pronto ED doublet refractor telescope with a 480 mm focal length, f/6.8 and an objective diameter of 70 mm was chosen. I had purchased a Pronto in mint used condition from a friend for $500 several years ago and loved it. When this short refractor is paired with both a Tele Vue 13mm Ethos and an 8mm Ethos, it can provide stunning views. The scope was also fitted with a 90 degree prism, two inch eyepiece focuser, a glass solar filter and a simple red dot sight.
I made a new foam insert for the stock Tele Vue Pronto padded carry bag to fit the telescope, both Ethos eyepieces, the right angle prism and accessories. I chose a closed cell foam with sufficient density to provide cushioning for all of the items, but rigid enough to hold each item securely. The solar filter, small red flashlight, my small southern sky atlas, dust blower and an O-III filter had to be carried in a 1 gallon ziplock in my suitcase, but still I was pleased that I managed to get my observing essentials down to such a small package.
The tripod I chose was the Manfrotto "Bogen" Carbon Fiber Tripod (BOG190CXPRO4) with a standard ball head. The entire tripod was no longer than the Pronto’s carry case and I attached to the case with Velcro straps. The tripod was very light, but surprisingly stable with the 6 lb Pronto, diagonal, and with a 2 lb Ethos eyepiece mounted on it. Its maximum load was stated to be 11 lbs. The lack of a celestial drive was not an issue for my visual observations made with this setup. Also the time to setup and take down was less than 5 minutes. There was the expected difficulty looking at any object at zenith with this setup. To be honest, a big reason why I chose this tripod was because a friend offered to let me borrow one for the trip, and it’s hard to argue with “free”. It is an expensive tripod, but a perfect “Grab and Fly” match for this telescope setup.
The “Grab and Fly” Telescope Case and Contents
Before the trip I had a concern regarding what this telescope/eyepiece/tripod package would look like to the airport security folks on their scanners since they probably didn’t seen too many telescopes come through as carry-on baggage? Primarily because of this, an extra hour was planned for security questions prior to the flight. I could have relaxed. I had no fluids (of course) in the bag, and nothing looked like a weapon on the X-ray. The TSA was very reasonable and had no problems whatsoever with the telescope. They did ask me what it was, to which I told them it was a “telescope lens”, and then they sent me on my way. I was to my gate with an extra hour to spare. Once on the plane, this entire setup conveniently fit into an overhead aircraft bin, even on the regional-type aircraft from Melbourne south to Tasmania.
The trip allowed me ample time to observe the southern sky. The telescope setup worked like a champ. While I only used the solar filter once, I had the telescope out every night for at least two hours and all night long on the weekends. The weather in Tasmania had me chasing openings in the clouds for a couple of nights, but it cleared up and provided the darkest observing skies I have ever seen in my life. Regretfully the 70mm Tele Vue Pronto isn’t made anymore, but its been replaced by its close (more expensive) cousin, the Tele Vue 76 APO Doublet Refractor.
While this article has been about the selection of a convenient “Grab and Fly” telescope that could be taken anywhere one may be headed, I haven’t said much about the deep sky views I had on my trip, of the hours I spent smiling, ear-to-ear, as I leisurely cruised from the Tarantula Nebula over to the Clouds of Magellan, or mention the friendliness of the Australian amateur astronomers I met. Those experiences were the real story made possible by having a “Grab and Fly” telescope.