Saturday, February 17, 2007

My first telescope - Part III

The original clock drive on the Starfinder 826 was beyond salvation. So after some research, I decided to replace the mount with a newer, better one with "Go To" capability. Naturally, I looked up the Meade catalogue, trying to find the best solution. The LXD-55 mount works out to be OK, in theory at least, but the LXD-55 has been around since 2001 and persistent rumours of a newer mount coming out soon held me back for a while.

Finally the word was out - the LXD-55 will be replaced by the LXD-75. The best part is LXD-75 is miles better and comes complete with Autostar #497. With it you can point the telescope to any of the 30,223 celestial objects in the database automatically. So no more moving the telescope by hand and having to track the objects manually.

Autostar 497 controller Meade AutoStar #497 Controller

Again I went back and consulted Looi at Infinity Infocus, the Malaysian dealer for Meade to see if the 826 mount can be upgraded with an LXD-75 drive. I did not want to use a tripod because it will obstruct the counter weights. That' s because since my location is very close to the equator and the latitute adjustment has to be set very close to zero degrees. At that angle, the counter weight will hit the tripod at certain angles. The idea is to stick to the good sturdy old pier of the 826.

Meade Starfinder 826C Newtonian 8 inch f/6 telescope with LXD-75 mount

The new mount - note the distance between the counter weights and the black color pier. If it was a tripod, the counter weight bar will most certainly hit one of the tripod legs.

Sure enough, after much discussion and brainstorming, we've got a solution - remove the old mount, drill 3 separate holes on the tube of the pier to extend it with Vixen pier, the put the LXD-75 mount on top of it. The end result was very satisfying, by June 2005 my 20 year old telescope is back in action with some serious "Go To" capability!

Meade Starfinder 826C pier with LXD-75 mount

Meade LXD-75 mount with the Starfinder 826 pier - a unique combination.

Meade's Autostar is pretty cool. It is powered by a Motorola 68HC11, 8MHz procesor with 1MB flash memory. The 30,223 objects in the AutoStar database include :

  • 5,386 objects from the Index Catalog (IC); galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters of all types; the complete Index Catalog
  • 7,840 objects from the New General Catalog (NGC); additional galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters of all types; the complete New General Catalog
  • 109 objects from the Caldwell Catalog of the best objects for small telescopes 110 Messier (M) objects; the complete Messier catalog
  • 16,800 stars from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) catalog, including double stars, variable stars, and other stars of special note
  • 50 Earth-orbiting satellites
  • 26 asteroids, including all of the brightest asteroids
  • 15 periodic comets
  • 8 major planets from Mercury to Pluto

You can also program the AutoStar to include additional objects. Better yet, you can hook it up to your laptop and use the software to control the telescope. Just point on the desired object on the screen, say the Orion nebula M42, click and the telescope will slew and locate M42 for you.

Now all I need is an observatory to house all of that ....

My first telescope - Part II

Fast forward to 2005, the year I decided to pick up where I left off in 1987. The good old telescope was stored at my dad's house, at a nice little corner in a dark store room. I manage to drag the thing out, opened the optical tube and looked at the primary mirror. It's got some dust and fungus on it, the same goes for the secondary mirror. I dismantled the optical tube and mount and took it back to my house in Shah Alam. I spent a whole weekend cleaning it. The parts and screws had some rust on them and I must have used up half a can of WD40 cleaning them! The fibre glass tube is still in very good, sturdy condition despite sitting in the dark for close to 15 years! But outer coat of white lacquer had turned a bit yellowish.

The Meade Starfinder 826C, 8 inch f/6 with Rigel Finder.

Cleaning the primary mirror was the most crucial part. Having gone thru various web sites and consulted experts from all over the world in forums, I prepared the necessary – lots of distilled water, a bit of dish washing liquid, clean bucket and cotton, lots of it.

I removed the 8 inch primary mirror from the cell and immersed it in a bucket of distilled water, added 2 drops of dish liquid and used cotton to gently wipe or rather drag the cotton over the mirror surface three times while underwater. After that, rinse it with distilled water and leave it to dry. Worked like a charm – not a stain.

The secondary mirror was bad. After cleaning it the same way, the fungus was still there. So I sent it to Mr. Looi at Infinity Infocus to clean it using industrial grade ethanol. The result was much better but the damage was already done.

This the the view from the focuser, note the yellow stains on the secondary mirror.

After more than 15 years, the grease on the focuser was dirty and dry. I took the focuser apart to clean and put in a new layer of grease – Panef white lithium grease to be precise. It lasts longer and provider better lubrication that the regular yellow/brown color one. You can get it from Ace Hardware store. I also cleaned the finder scope and got rid of most of the fungal growth.

Next, fixing the clock drive ….

Friday, February 16, 2007

My first telescope - Part I

The year was 1985 and the once every 76 years' Comet Halley was fast approaching. I was very exicited about the event and I was absolutely delighted when my dad decided to buy a telescope so that we can see it up close. So I look thru the Astronomy magazine, examining my options and product sepcifications. There were many to choose from. There were names like Parks Optical, Celestron, Orion, Meade. And of course, there weren't any Malaysian made telescopes, so we have to order it and had it shipped from the US.

I was pretty sure that I wanted a reflector, it was a matter of which type and size - Newtonian or Catadioptric. After a week or so I decided to get a Meade Starfinder 826C, an 8 inch F/6 Newtonian reflector. Even back then Meade telescopes seemed like a pretty good product. The telescope comes with 9mm and 24mm eyepieces, worm gear clock drive, 8x25 finder and a German equitorial mount. It weighs in at 75 pounds. The price was only US$1,590, excluding shipping charges. Back then the exchange rate as only 2.56!

In comparison, the Meade 2080 LX5 with Quartz LX Pulse drive will set you back by US$3,600. The Celestron Super C8 Plus was going for US$2,400.
Today's Meade LX90 with goto capability only costs US$1,974. What a major leap in terms of price and capability! And I still have a copy of the good old Astronomy magazine with all the old prices and specifications and putting it next to a recent copy of the same magazine you can see a real difference in terms of technology, pricing, features and functions - amateur astronomy has indeed come a long way in 20 years.

I remember receiving the telescope some where early part of 1986. The shipping documents were lost when we shifted house some years back - and I cannot recall the exact date which we received it. 1986 was an evenful year - it was on 28 January that space shuttle challenger exploded some 72 seconds after take off. And yes, I saw Halley with and M42 as well.
The Meade 826C was not an easy telescope to use - for a 17 year old. And the clock drive as 110 volts and there was no way it could be used with our 240 volt current. To top it off, it was heavy, moving it in and out of the house was difficult. The telescope was mounted in a metal pier rather than tripod. I didn't have a car then so I had to contend with the skies in the front yard in Cheras.
My celestial adventures took a back seat in 1987 when I went to Australia to further my studies. And no, I did not bring the telescope along with me. Since I was the only astronmer in the family, the good old 826C was left untouched for many years. When I came back to Malaysia I was extremely busy with my career, got married along the way, further my studies again for 2 more years, before I had any budget or time to pursue my very first passion .... until recently.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How it all started

For me the was the defining moment happened more than 20 years ago. My father had just purchased his whole new set of the hard covered, golden colored, 24 volume, Encyclopedia Britannica, the best part of the deal was a bonus set of 12 volumes of maroon colored Children's Encyclopedia - that went to me and my younger brother.

My dad taught me how to use it as a reference for any topic you can think of (well, just about). Although he was not an engineer or scientist, my father has always been fascinated by science and technology. Every now and then he will tell us all about what he's read and about the wonders of science in our everyday lives.

Inspired by his vast knowledge in that area, I then decided to go thru the encyclopedia from cover to cover, going thru all the possible topics in a effort to "learn all things possible" - unfortunately that effort ended at the Astronomy chapter when I decided further explore by finding other references on this topic to quench my intense curiosity and fascination for the night sky. And I have been an amateur astronomer since.

So what's your story?

Email me at and I will publish it here.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Welcome to Astronomy Malaysia!

Welcome to Astronomy Malaysia.

This is a blog site dedicated to all amateur astronomers in Malaysia. I plan to write and share about my experiences in this interesting subject. I invite readers and contributors alike, in the long run I hope to build a team of writers on this topic. I hope that this site will also a foundation for networking and knowledge sharing for all things astronomy.

And of course, it is not restricted to Malaysians only, I welcome astronomers from all over - terrestrial or otherwise!

I plan to have the following sections and categories :
1. Knowing the sky - guide to observational astronomy with periodic updates on new events
2. Viewing equipment - telescopes, mounts, binoculars, tips and tricks, product reviews
3. Astrophotography - camera, tracking, mounts and techniques
4. Observation sites - list and maps to dark sky sites around the country. I hope to collect and rate each of the site in terms of light pollution levels, accessbility, personal safety and proximity to good food and coffee!
5. Books and software - reference books, atlas, maps, reviews
6. Astro Buddy - social networking and informal gatherings @ observation sites or even StarBucks! May be publish a directory of Malaysian astronomers?
7. Buy and Sell -looking for pre-owned astronomy stuff? This is the place.

I hope that you will find this site useful, for beginners as we all advanced astronomers.

Feel free to send your comments and feedback to

Do email me if you are keen to contribute articles.

Thank you.

P.S. - So why the nickname Orion? Because Orion is one of the largest and easily recognizable constellation in the night sky and its belt has always been used as a guide to locate other stars and constellations like Siruis and Aldeberan. So I hope that this blog will do the same for all of you.