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Hitching a ride

Before buying a new piece of equipment, be sure to test-drive it.
During my college days in the late 1960s, I didn’t own a car and often had to hitchhike to get from place to place. Nowadays, I would never recommend this mode of travel (I’m older and perhaps wiser, and understand the sheer number of crazies on the highways), but I do advocate hitchhiking via a different mode of transportation — the telescope. Not only does telescope hitchhiking take you to destinations far beyond anything you could access on the freeway, it might save you hundreds of dollars when it comes to purchasing astronomy gear.

When the first 100° wide-angle eyepieces appeared on the market, I knew I had to have one. Sure, the price was astronomical (pardon the pun), but after four decades as a dedicated backyard astronomer, I felt worthy of the luxury.

Fortunately, I belong to a vibrant astronomy club: the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston. At one of the club’s observing sessions, member Steve Clougherty was using one of these eyepieces to view deep-sky objects through his 18-inch Dobsonian. When I heard this, I had to hitch a ride on his scope! To my surprise and dismay, I couldn’t take in the full 100° apparent field of view — not without moving my head up and down and side to side. I returned to my scope and inserted one of my 82° wide-angle eyepieces. Peering in, I could just capture the whole field without any head movements. This was more like it! To spend hundreds of dollars for a slightly wider apparent field would have been a waste of money.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you avoid buying a 100° wide-field eyepiece. Several members of my club own such eyepieces and describe their performance in three words: amazing, amazing, amazing! And your eye may be able to take advantage of the wider view. What I am suggesting is that, whenever possible, try out a telescope or telescope accessory before purchasing one. Hitching a ride on a telescope allows you that opportunity.

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