At any rate, I suppose one piece of big news is that I'm diving back into astronomy, and it all started when I picked up a used TeleVue NP-101 from an old acquaintance who was selling it (since he had a couple of larger refractors and didn't really use it anymore). Since this was the large(-ish) refractor I lusted after back in the day, I couldn't really resist (I had a 70mm TeleVue Pronto back then, which is about half the size at about the same focal length -- this is about as large a refractor as I'd want to deal with, for larger apertures I prefer other telescope designs). And so, now I have a scope again.
Well, a scope needs a mount, and I really want to stick it on a Losmandy GM-8. Unfortunately, they're somewhat backordered, so I'll have to wait a couple of months for mine to arrive, and in the meantime I'm making due with a borrowed alt-az (which works okay, but really isn't the same, especially if you want to put power on something, what without the tracking and the slight shakiness when you focus).
I also got some other stuff to make it useful -- I'd had a few books and supplies, but was missing a few key items like, say, eyepieces. So I got a cheap Celestron set (for the filters and such as much as the eyepieces, honestly -- the eyepieces themselves will make good star party eyepieces someday, maybe), and now a couple of "real" eyepieces, namely a 22mm Nagler and a 7mm Pentax XW. They make a decent pair, but eventually I plan to get a few more (the current plan is to get a 9mm Baader Orthoscopic, a 12mm Nagler, a 5mm Takahashi LE, and -- maybe -- a 2.8mm Takahashi LE someday, as well as a 41mm Panoptic whenever I get a telescope with a longer focal length than the NP-101. And, of course, every single one of these cost significantly more than the entire Celestron kit which combined contains five eyepieces and a bunch of other stuff). At some point I'd like to replace my Celestron C11 Schmidt-Cassegrain, maybe even get a medium-sized Maksutov-Cassegrain for planets and such, but for now, this is what I'm using.
Anyway, the big near-term thing I want to gear up for is the Messier Marathon, usually best done in March or so. (Farther down the road is the annular solar eclipse in May, and the Venus transit in June.) I've done it before with both a 4.5" Newtonian (the first scope I owned in Colorado) and my old 70mm Pronto (the Newtonian was about perfect -- the NP-101 should be as well -- but the Pronto was just a tad on the small side). So, both as a bit of practice and also because it was clear and I wanted to get some observing in, I did a mini-Marathon run today (a Messier 5k?), and I'm sure everyone is still reading and wants to know how it went... And so I'll tell you.
M74 -- the first failure of the night was the very first object, which I just couldn't pull out of the light pollution to the east, even after coming back to it and trying it a few times.
M77 -- no problem.
M31 -- extremely bright, so easy, although all you could really see was the core.
M110 -- the companion galaxies, on the other hand, were a complete bust, couldn't see them at all.
M32 -- see M110.
M33 -- no dice, it can be hard to pick out under dark skies, with this much light pollution it was hopeless.
M34 -- no problem finding this.
M76 -- couldn't find it. It's not a good sign when you can't even pick out the guide stars in the light pollution.
M79 -- couldn't see it. Pretty sure I was looking right at it, too.
M42 -- easy target, even pulled out the OIII filters and spent some time on it.
M43 -- on the other hand, couldn't see this part.
M78 -- no problem -- I was actually surprised I could see this one.
M50 -- I don't think I found this one; it was just too low (trees in the back yard, plus light pollution).
M47 -- I'm pretty sure I found this one when I was looking for M50 (it was almost impossible to see the guide stars).
M46 -- no dice.
M41, M93 -- didn't even bother, down behind a tree.
M52, M103 -- didn't bother, hard to see over the house.
M1 -- found it, was a little surprised I could see this one, too.
M45 -- easy under any conditions, so yes.
...At this point, I decided it was too cold (about 30ºF -- more to the point, the light wind was a tad annoying) and kinda gave up. I'd already seen the next objects anyway (M36, M37, and M38). I did take a look at M44 just because I hadn't through this scope yet (some of the other object above were repeats). So, managed to nab nine objects (out of 110-ish), failed to spot another nine, didn't bother with the rest. I might go back out later and look at some other stuff, but I'll probably just get up in the wee hours and look at Saturn or something instead.
[ Crossposted from http://doubt72.dreamwidth.org/5683.html ]