Now, With Stars in Our Eyes . . .

With stars in our eyes, those of us who attended this morning's PMUG are still marveling at the sights we saw. John Carter gave a presentation on two Mac programs for Astronomy. Talk about interesting and informative! Lively questions and answers gave us more information. Now, John fills us in on some additional details in the report below:

I bought the Meade DS2114 ATS-TC 4.5" Newtonian telescope with Autostar #494 and a color USB camera at Sam's Club for $199.00. It's a great beginner's telescope.

At power on, this telescope performs a self diagnostic setup. It requires 8 AA batteries (not provided) and one CR2032 (provided). The CR2032 maintains current date and time once it is updated. I find that I have to re-enter my location (by Zip code) and telescope model each time I turn it on, but that takes only a few seconds. I can alternately choose to enter location by state and nearest city (Prescott is available). There is no provision to plug in an external power source.

The DS2114 ATS-TC is also an excellent telescope to be taking to public star parties and introducing people to Astronomy with.

I find that the tripod is very sturdy and easy to adjust and lock into place.

This telescope does have some minor drawbacks along with its major features.

The drives are very noisy. It's like they didn't bother to grease the gears or make them fit very well together.

It doesn't track perfectly, but good enough to get a decent image and the drift isn't so bad that you will lose the object in a 25mm eyepiece even after 20 minutes or more.

The focal length of 1000 with an f/8 ratio means that you won't see the entire Coat Hanger using a 25mm eyepiece without a focal reducer.

To get the 1000mm focal length in such a short tube, they installed a barlow lens in the focuser. This also reduces the amount of light at the eyepiece. When compared with a 4" Celestron, I couldn't tell difference.

The telescope was slightly out of collimation when I tested it with my laser collimator. The adjustment screws require a spline wrench, which I don't have. The big problem with using a laser collimator is that the built in barlow lens in the focuser causes the laser beam to blow up - you no longer have a dot to work with. But since I couldn't make any adjustments, I can't say for sure what it will finally look like.

The red dot pointer is an excellent choice for a finder, but the dot is fairly large and not at all round. Still, it gets you where you need to be quickly and with no fuss. It has a two position slide switch for adjusting the brightness. This pointer is not very secure in its mount and easily be knocked out of alignment. It also completely disappears when the Moon is in the sight even at the highest intensity.

The 1.25" focuser offers a near press fit to my 1.25" eyepieces - very hard to get them in, so you don't even need to use the set screws. But the eyepieces that come with the telescope slip right in. 

I haven't bothered to use the 9mm and 25mm eyepieces that came with the telescope because they don't offer a very wide aperture at the eye. It would be worth replacing those eyepieces at the earliest opportunity, and that increases the cost of the telescope to at least another $150.00 (but honestly, you will do that with any telescope you buy anyway).

The focuser really needs a 10:1 dual speed control. To focus on any object requires an extremely touchy adjustment. This is bad news for taking photos with a camera. I don't think there's any hope of getting a dual speed focuser for this scope due to the fact that it has to have that barlow lens built in.

The Autostar Suite that comes with the DS2114 is not the full program. You have to pay extra for that. The feature that is missing is the interface to Envisage, which gives you the ability to view the output of the camera. There is a separate program for viewing the camera image, but it doesn't interface with Autostar Suite.

The USB camera comes with a shutter release button for taking still photos with. The instructions read: "Hold the shutter release cable until the image is steady on you PC screen, then press the shutter button." Due to the jitter of the image, this may take several tries before you get a decent photo. I would think you really need to upgrade to the full version of Autostar Suite to take advantage of Envisage.

That being said, I do have the full version Autostar Suite with Envisage, and Envisage would not detect the USB camera even after installing the driver for it.

I didn't bother using the Autostar program simply because I have Starry Night Pro and prefer to use that planetarium program.

The setup and alignment is the same as with any Meade Autostar. After the simplest setup (align the tube North and level), the scope would train close enough to an object to make me smile. After a two star alignment, objects still would not center exactly, but close enough to re-center and re-sync the control. Once there, the drift, although noticeable, was minimal.

When I first targeted Andromeda, the scope first trained on Mirach, asked me to center on that star, and then slewed to exactly center on Andromeda. What a pleasant experience that was! The next time I targeted Andromeda, it went straight to it.

The Andromeda galaxy is easily identified as a large, but not too bright glob. You can only make out the central bulge. That's really not much different than what you can see with a 6" Newtonian.

Overall, I would say that Autostar on the DS2114 performs very well. And for $199, it's a bargain!

What most people will object to is the light gathering capability. Hey! It's a 114mm aperture! What do you expect?

I was able to use my own Meade DS-II color camera on the DS2114. The result was somewhat disappointing for direct viewing because of the jitter caused by the drives. Nevertheless, decent photos can still be taken.

Here's an untouched, stacked image (15 images, 1 sec each, all handled by Envisage) that I took of the Moon on November 6 with the DS-II camera and a .5x focal reducer.

(See the photo of the moon at the start of this entry.)

You may notice that the upper edge of the Moon appears to have lost its "roundness". I have yet to discover what causes this. My first guess is that it is the Barlow lens in the focuser. It may just be an optical illusion on my part due to the aspect ratio of the image.

At last! My original quest to be able to do astrophotography has finally been realized!

Let's face it. Once you get bit by the astronomy bug, when you're through buying all the eyepieces and other accessories for any telescope, you will add up to $3,000.00 to the cost. But this telescope will get you started at the lowest possible cost and all the eyepieces and accessories you buy for this telescope will work with any other. How similar is that to buying software and accessories for your Mac?

I do not recommend buying this scope anywhere except at Sam's Club for two very good reasons: 1) the price of $199 is the lowest you will find it anywhere, even online, and 2) you may not get one out of the box that works, so taking it back for an exchange is never a problem at Sam's Club.

Costco also has a Meade telescope for $199, but it is a 90mm refractor (Galilean telescope), and instead of a USB camera it has an extended 6 piece eyepiece set. Other than that, the Autostar, tripod, and mount are identical. A reflector telescope provides a brighter image than a reflector (Newtonian telescope) for the same size diameter of the primary lens of the refractor vs the primary mirror of a reflector. It has been said that a Newtonian mirror would have to be about 1.5 times larger than a Galilean lens to provide the same brightness of an image. Hence, the 90mm refractor will give as good or better an image as the 114mm reflector. Some refractor enthusiasts say the image in a refractor is sharper.

But if you have $39,999.00 to spare, I recommend the Meade 20" LX400-ACF.

Now, if you want to know about the Astronomy Club's meeting this next Saturday, or anything else about the Mac programs John uses be sure to connect with him:  and his web site:

Thanks again, John, for a good presentation for PMUG.