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A little about myself

  When I first got into astronomy, I was just a young child. A friend of mine introduced me to Saturn through his 60mm refractor, and I've been captivated ever since. I started reading astronomy books from the library and couldn't get enough. A year later, my parents bought me my first telescope, the renowned Dynascope RV-6, a classic 6" f/8 reflector. Over the past 50 years, I've observed the skies with telescopes ranging from 2.4” to 48”. These days, my main focus is on exploring lesser-known deep sky objects, including those found in the VV catalogue of interacting galaxies, galaxy trios, Shakhbazian galaxy groups, and flat galaxies. My current telescopes range from 22” to 30”, allowing me to delve even deeper into the wonders of the universe.

Star Hopping Methodology

   I have a strong preference for star hopping and have honed my skills over the years. Some of my friends are amazed at how quickly I can locate objects using just a zero-power finder and my 24mm Panoptic eyepiece. I attribute my proficiency to experience. While I have experimented with digital setting circles (DSCs), I found that using traditional star charts and techniques for star hopping is actually more efficient for me. Since most of the objects I observe are not in the preloaded catalog of DSCs, manually entering the coordinates can be quite laborious.

  My primary approach involves initially centering the object with the zero-power finder (Telrad or Rigel QuikFinder) using appropriate star charts and then further refining the centering using a low-power eyepiece, such as my 24mm Panoptic. Once centered, I often increase the magnification to at least 230x, and sometimes even higher. Observing at medium to high power allows me to capture details that might be missed at lower powers. For instance, tight galaxy pairs, trios, or groups may require high magnifications to distinguish individual components. I find myself observing between 230x and 500x more than 90% of the time.

Observing Methodology

  I not only observe at high powers, but I also prefer to use very high contrast eyepieces. My current favorites are Orthoscopic eyepieces as I use those 90% of the time.  If I need to go wide field, I’ve found that the 72-degree TeleVue Delos is the best in class in terms of observing threshold objects and offers enough "wide-field". However, the wide field eyepiece goes in my focuser when I observe very star-poor regions, where very little if any field stars are visible at high powers.  There were several times when I was looking at something in Cetus or a star-poor region at 500+ power, I was getting lost due to the lack of field stars, so I had to pull back and throw in the Delos.  A bit more detail is in the Eyepieces section, which discusses which eyepieces I use and why.

  Once I’ve located the object, I generally observe at varying magnifications and note details visible.  Sometimes some detail is visible at higher powers and other detail at lower powers. My observing notes are generally a composite of what I see with varying magnifications.  Hence when I write my notes, I generally include not only the telescope and atmospheric conditions but the magnifications as well.  When I sketch objects, I generally observe at several magnifications, then sketch in the details as a composite of the different magnifications.  Since I observe at the edge a lot, I use different magnifications and mostly Orthoscopic eyepieces.

Observing Sites

  Our observing sites are typically located in the Sierras of Northern California at 5,000 feet and higher, alongside other TAC and TAC-Sac observers. Our most frequently utilized site is situated at an elevation of 7,800 feet under NELM 7.0+ skies. Since my relocation to the Texas Hill Country, I have found that it takes at least 3 hours west to reach observing sites that offer skies equivalent to those in the high Sierras. Alternatively, I can travel 5.5 hours west and arrive at the world-famous Texas Star Party (TSP) site.

  As for major star parties, I regularly participate in the Texas Star Party, the Oregon Star Party, and the Golden State Star Party.

Telescope Building

  I don't just observe the skies, I also have a passion for constructing telescopes. Although I haven't built one since 2011, my most frequently used telescope is the 22” model that I built back in 1999. Over the years, I've crafted a variety of telescopes, with sizes ranging from 16” to 28” reflectors. You can find more details about the components in "Telescope Components" link on left.

Speaking at Major Star Parties

  I have had the honor of speaking at several major star parties when I was invited. However, due to work commitments, I had to decline some invitations to speak at other events. Some of the star parties or events where I have spoken include:

  • 2010 and 2012 Texas Star Party  – afternoon speaker
  • 2011 Oregon Star Party – evening speaker
  • 2009 Golden State Star Party – evening speaker
  • 2010 SVAS Star-B-Que – evening speaker
  • 2012 NCA speaker

There is one award that I was blown away when I received it.  The TSP Lone Star Award in 2009.  I was very shocked!  Thank you to the organizers of TSP.

Optics I use on the field and some commentary


  • 22" f/4  home-built reflector   I often find myself using this telescope the most because it's fairly light and highly portable. With its 22-inch high-end glass, I feel it strikes a good balance between aperture and portability. It's convenient to pack this telescope along with all my accessories and camping gear into my Volkswagen New Beetle (old vehicle) and now the BMW 330i. The primary was figured by the late John Hall of Pegasus Optics, resulting in a very fine figure. I've pushed it to 1200x with full aperture, and there was no image breakdown, meeting the 50x per inch quality guarantee. I've also been using the Crossbow Platform with great success!

  • 30" f/4.3 Starmaster with Sky Tracker   This telescope is mainly used during major star parties due to its large size, which makes it impractical for a single person to set up. Transportation requires a trailer, unless you have a vehicle like an Excursion. It's a tight fit, as the long truss poles and 12-foot ladder barely squeeze into the transport vehicle. The primary mirror was expertly crafted by the late Steve Swayze and is of high quality. I had the opportunity to observe Mars at 1200x magnification during the 2003 Oregon Star Party and was amazed by the incredible level of detail. The Starmaster telescope has outstanding customer support and offers the best optics among commercially available truss telescopes. Each telescope is rigorously tested by the late Rick Singmaster himself over several nights before leaving the shop.

  • 4" f/11 AstroTelescopes refractor is primarily used for quick backyard views. It is equipped with an ultra-smooth focuser that closely resembles the famed Feathertouch, and it boasts exceptional hand-figured optics. At the 2010 Golden State Star Party, I was able to view Jupiter at 450x and was amazed by the level of detail without any image breakdown. While there is minimal color in very bright objects, the amount of color is less than expected in an f/11 system. Some individuals even suggested that the views through this telescope are comparable to those through the renowned 4" f/15 Unitron.

  • Criterion RV-6 equatorial mounted reflector. This was my first serious telescope I picked up when I was 10 years old.


     Narrow field, "Low Glass Count" and Very High Contrast
  • Zeiss ZAO-II (10, 6, and 4mm) and ZAO-I (25mm) - I highly value my Zeiss ZAO-II eyepiece for Deep Sky observation. Its exceptional features, such as superior light transmission, minimal scatter, and high contrast, allow me to capture even the faintest details. I have extensively used various eyepieces, and the ZAO-II outperforms all others, with the exception of the TMB Supermonocentric, which I previously owned. Despite initially considering them redundant, I regret selling the TMBs. What sets the ZAO-II apart is its design—only 4 elements in two groups—along with outstanding polish and coatings. While the ZAO-II is my primary choice, I opt for my Delos when observing galaxy clusters or star-poor regions with rich fields of galaxies, where I tend to struggle with high powers.
  • Baader Genuine Orthoscopics (18, 12.5, 9, 7, and 5mm) - I've been using these eyepieces to complement the Zeiss eyepieces. They make for a great alternative to the Zeiss ZAO-II’s, as a complete set of BGOs costs as much as just one ZAO-II eyepiece when purchased used. They are truly excellent eyepieces and surpass the Delos, Ethos, or any wide-field eyepiece when it comes to viewing threshold objects. At the 2009 Golden State Star Party, a couple of beginners were able to observe more detail and background stars with the BGO than with the Ethos. We conducted a comparison between a 6mm sample of both eyepieces and the Zeiss ZAO-II. The University Optics HD (which I believe is the same as Baader) is closer to the Zeiss than the Ethos. You can check out the results here (scroll to the bottom).
  • Baader Classic Orthoscopics (10 and 6mm) –  I purchased these eyepieces specifically to compare them to the ZAO-II and Delos, as they all have the same focal lengths, ensuring a fair comparison. In summary, I've observed that the performance of the BCOs falls between that of the Delos and the ZAO-II, leaning a bit closer to the Delos. Priced at $74 each, they offer good value, especially considering that the ZAO-II and BGO are no longer readily available.

      Wide field, "High Glass Count"
  • Televue Ethos (17, 13, 8, 6, and 3.7)  Presently, the Televue Ethos stands out as the premier ultra-wide field eyepiece available. After comparing various focal lengths across different major brands, I found that the Ethos offers superior depth and contrast compared to others. The Pentax XW comes close and serves as a great alternative for those looking to save on expenses (Refer to the note below about the Delos). While the Explore Scientific 100-degree series is a decent alternative, it does not perform as impressively. Therefore, those seeking top-notch quality should opt for the Ethos.
  • Televue Delos (17.3, 12, 8, and 6mm)  I have recently been using the Televue Delos, and it has truly impressed me as the deepest wide field eyepiece I've tried so far. I believe it is constructed with 6 (or 7) elements compared to the 10 elements in the Ethos. From what I've been told, both the Delos and Ethos feature meticulously polished surfaces with glass-matched coatings, which contribute to the highest contrast and transmission possible for a wide-field eyepiece. Of course, I'm eager to experience it firsthand, as the true measure of an eyepiece's performance lies in what the observer actually sees through it, rather than in theoretical specifications and numbers. So...
Experience with Delos versus Ethos under very dark skies
During OSP 2011, I had the opportunity to borrow the 6mm Delos from a Televue representative. The night skies were exceptionally dark with a NELM of 7.5. I focused on observing two specific objects, Hickson 99 (components D and E) and IC 1296. For more detailed notes, click here.

In sum, I found that the Delos performs noticeably better than the Ethos when observing extended objects, although it doesn't quite match the performance of the Zeiss. The objects I used for threshold observations were Hickson 99, component E (magnitude 17.7), and IC 1296 (a low surface brightness galaxy near M-57).

The Delos can be likened to a narrower field Ethos with added eye relief, and it provides even more contrast and transmission. I was very impressed with its performance. As a result of my experience at OSP 2011, I decided to sell all of my Ethos eyepieces and acquire the Delos instead. 

The Delos is my wide field of choice when it comes to observing DEEP.
  • Televue Panoptic (24mm)  I use this as my main finder eyepiece since I always keep the 2"/1.25" adapter in my focuser. It's the widest practical 1.25" eyepiece. While I wish for a 22-24mm Delos in 1.25" format in the future, I don't think it's physically possible based on my understanding of how the Delos is manufactured.

Several thoughts of high glass count versus low glass count eyepieces when observing faint deep sky objects

When observing faint deep sky objects, it's important to consider the differences between high glass count and low glass count eyepieces. Typically, I compare eyepieces with the same focal length to assess their performance, as even a 1mm difference in focal length, especially at higher powers, can result in a significant variation in magnification. I usually test these eyepieces on threshold objects, such as a mag 17.7 example I used at OSP, or very low surface brightness objects. Additionally, the variation between two given eyepieces becomes more noticeable with larger scopes. For instance, the contrast between the Ethos and the BGO eyepieces is quite apparent when used with a 22” reflector, whereas I couldn't perceive the difference when using my 6” refractor.

The diagram provided illustrates that the difference between eyepieces increase when aperture increases. The graph has been somewhat exaggerated to allow for text and annotations. It's important to note that this plot is purely for demonstrative purposes and does not represent a scientifically accurate portrayal.

While some individuals may claim not to perceive the difference, I, along with many others ranging from highly experienced individuals to beginners, can confidently discern the variance. Even a beginner was able to observe the difference between the eyepieces.

Other Visual Accessories

  • TMB Barlow 1.8x ED  I highly recommend this Barlow. The coatings are so well applied that the glass is barely visible under normal light. This glass is manufactured at the renowned Zeiss Jena facility and is widely considered to be on par with the famous Zeiss Barlow, and some even believe it to be superior. As far as I know, it consists of only two elements in one group. A recent transmission test conducted by an individual on CloudyNights.com using a laser and sensor revealed that the TMB Barlow has a transmission rate exceeding 99%!

Deep Sky filters.  Note all links below are to actual scans as produced by Cary Optic Wave Laboratories.  I've also noted the age of the filters as I understand that the quality of filters changes over time as companies constantly change and/or improve the filters.
  • Lumicon UHC – Workhorse narrow-band nebula filter.  The current version is far better than the original 1990s version as it rejects the red wavelengths.  This filter has replaced the Orion Ultrablock filter as my primary narrow-band filter.  The filter was picked up at about 2014.
  • Orion Ultrablock – The original, made in Japan, back in the early '90s.  Not the current version, which is currently made in Korea.  Solid everyday narrowband filter.
  • Omega Optical NPB – Outstanding filter and a good alternative to the Ultrablock or Lumicon UHC filter.  The stars appear natural versus greenish as this filter also passes some red.  Some observers sometimes prefer this over the O-III for planetary nebulae.   Picked this up in about 2010.  You can pick it up here or here
  • Lumicon O-III – Workhorse planetary nebula filter.  I think this is the best O-III filter. I picked it up to replace my older Lumicon blue box O-III filter in about 2007.
  • Lumicon H-beta – The well-known "Horsehead Nebula" filter.  Best used on the "redder" nebulae, such as the California, IC405, IC 5146 (Cocoon Nebula), etc.  This replaced my old blue box Lumicon at about 2007.
  • Astronomik CLS – Good filter for protoplanetary nebulae and reflection nebula where the Ultrablock/UHC doesn't work.  Outstanding filter for the younger (bluer) galaxies, such as NGC 253, M-33, etc.  Don't let the "budget" marketing label fool you.  This filter actually passes quite a bit more than your standard broadband filter, while rejecting a majority of the light created by artificial light sources, such as street lamps.  Jimi and I have used this filter to enhance the view of Hanny's Voorwerp with his 48" reflector.
  • Lumicon Deep Sky - rock solid broad-band filter.  Picked it up in about 2014.
  • Lumicon Comet - Picked it up in about 2014.
  • Baader Moon and Skyglow – Interesting filter that really works in enhancing the lunar and planetary contrast.  Acquired in 2010
  • The Celestron LPR Nebular was my first filter of any kind to reduce light pollution. I picked up way back in about 1983.  It still works well, considering that it was probably among the first generation with the early Lumicon filters.  I actually saw the Veil for the first time ever with this filter with a 6" reflector in west San Francisco.  Yes, in the city of San Francisco in 1984.

Other accessories
  • Mickel's self-centering collet 2"/1.25" adapter with both 2" and 1.25" filter threads.  This adapter lives in my focuser.  This adapter is no longer available in the market.
  • I'm still considering the AstroDon Sloan G filter for visual use as my buddy, Jimi, and I have found it effective for protoplanetaries or objects like Hanny's Voorwerp (offical site of discoverer or an image).

Collimation Tools
  • Catseye sight tube, Cheshire, and Autocollimator
  • Lasermax holographic collimator – Got this in 1995 and was the best one out there back then.  There are many current offerings from Glatter, HoTech, etc are also very good.  I haven’t tried many of them as I got one that work and works well for me.  It is also very hard to find anywhere now.
  • Glatter’s The Blug barlowed collimation plug – Great tool for those times I arrive a bit too late to use the autocollimator, which requires a bit of ambient light to work.  It works great.

Contact me by email at alvin dot huey @ faintfuzzies period com