Friday, March 30, 2012

Limits Of A Gadget: A Love Story

In 1996 Meade, the world's largest astronomical telescope manufacturer, introduced the ETX, a low-cost and genuinely portable instrument capable of results close to the theoretical limits of optical performance. Since then several different models have been introduced, most of them controlled by on-board computers that automatically point the telescope at objects selected from a database of 12,000. Unfortunately not all these objects are visible when looking through the ETX! (They are included because they can be imaged with special equipment.)

More than any other small telescope, the Meade ETX has revolutionized amateur astronomy. Since it was introduced in 1996, it has become the standard by which others are judged, combining low price with optical excellence, a solid mounting, and - with the introduction of the EC models - computerized "GO TO" capabilities. The smallest ETX is a refractor, just 60 mm aperture; the largest is a 127 mm Maksutov-Cassegrain. But what can you really see well with these remarkable telescopes?

from the Oceanside Photo and Telescope introduction
to Mike Weasner’s book “Using the Meade ETX”

“Whole thing’s weird.”

“Know what it reminds me of?”


“The time I was stuck on Beulen Island with the old 97th bomber group. An Army nurse came ashore one day and caused just about the same disturbance as this guy from Mars has around here.”

“What happened to the nurse?”

“She liked it there.”

from the Howard Hawks production
The Thing from Another World

I’ve never owned a gadget telescope
but I knew a young couple who bought one.

On clear summer nights the couple tried out
their gadget telescope but they sold it
even before winter came. I believe
they had expected to see all the things
corporate advertising had hinted
they would be able to see. I believe
they had expected the things they could see
would look like corporate advertising
and the pretty pictures that had been hints.

That’s very bad gadget expectations.

A gadget telescope used along with
wide-angle binoculars and a book
about binocular astronomy
makes a great team. The gadget telescope
points to where to look with binoculars
to see things that binoculars can see.

Some things that are hard for binoculars,
for instance the colors of double stars,
are beautiful through gadget telescopes.

Love is about understanding limits.

I’ve never owned a gadget telescope
but probably I will buy one someday.
I like gadgets. Gadgets seem to like me.

That is better than being a creature
from another world stuck at the North Pole
with military men and scientists.

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