Telrad: Best Thing Since Individually Wrapped Cheese Slices

Observing notes from Saturday, March 23, 1996

I know the title of my notes may sound funny, but this past Saturday night really proved the worth of a neat little device called Telrad. The Telrad is a reflex sight that provides a non-magnified window to the stars. Through the use of a LED and reticle, 3 illuminated, red rings are projected onto the sky. Once aligned with your telescope, you look through this device with both eyes open. The center of the bull's eye is where the scope is pointing. It's that simple, and EASY! You can find things 100 times better. You simply point to where you think the object is according to the star chart, and most times it is in your low power field of view or very near by. I highly recommend the Telrad reflex sight, or any of its cousins out there on the market (such as the Orion EZ Finder that projects a tiny red dot, or the Rigel Quick Finder). Regular finders still have their place because they can help you locate objects that are normally invisible with the unaided eye. But sometimes the inverted image and narrow field of view keep you from finding anything. On this particular night of observing, I didn't use my regular 6x30 finder at all.

I was using my Meade 10" Starfinder telescope. A waxing crescent Moon was setting behind the trees, so I decided to view a few deepsky objects along with my main target, Comet Hyakutake.

I observed my main target first, since it is the star of the celestial show all over the northern hemisphere. Although I could easily see the tail, it was not as long nor as bright as the night before because now I was observing from my light polluted back yard. Still, the comet is quite an impressive sight. I could still see a huge jet right behind the comet. The coma is very large and the nucleus is tight. I could detect a light blue color to the comet and tail which I hear is typical. I continued to gaze at the comet until I decided it was time to observe some deep sky objects.

My first targets were the twin galaxies M65 and M66 in Leo. I just wanted to see how much the Telrad would help me in finding these objects. I aimed the scope in the appropriate direction according to the star chart. I glanced in the low power eyepiece....nothing but stars. I move the scope just a little, and BINGO, two galaxies slide into view. That was easy. Since I've visited these before, I decided to move on. My next targets were the string of galaxies M95, M96, and M105, also in Leo the Lion. Again, the Telrad led me right to them. The little fuzzies were easily located. I tried to find Comet HondaMrkos that was suppose to be in the region, but I guess it was too dim.

My next target was M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici. I have seen this object before from the skies of Microsoft's campus, but it only appeared as two fuzzy spots. This time I had a little bit darker skies, and a couple more inches of aperture. With the Telrad, I immediately found M51. As I scrutinized the image, and used averted vision, the spiral structure came blazing through!!! The Whirlpool Galaxy really resembles its name. I really want to observe this object from a dark site one day.

My next target was M101, a face on spiral galaxy in Ursa Major. Although I've seen beautiful pictures of this graceful spiral, I could barely see it through my scope. I think I could just detect a hint of it's wispy arms, but that's about it. It seems like a target for darker skies than mine. By the way, this was a new observation of this object, keeping with my goal of observing something new during each major observing session.

Since the Telrad was doing its job, I decided to go after more new game. The spiral galaxy M63 in Canes Venatici was an easy catch. Although a spiral, it was slightly elongated due to its galactic orientation and it had a bright core. It is also known as the Sunflower Galaxy.

Since I was in the galactic neighborhood, I scooped up M94, another spiral galaxy in Canes Venatici. This was a bright, nearly face on spiral, but I really couldn't detect the spiral structure. I really didn't take too much time observing because I was so excited about how the Telrad was helping me bag all these new objects. M94 was another addition to my new list.

The next target was M106, yet another spiral galaxy in Canes Venatici. With all these galaxies, you'd think I was in the Virgo region or something. Not much to report with this new object. It is rather bright and easy to find, but offered no detail, just a smudge of light.

I then zipped up to M109, an elongated galaxy in Ursa Major. It was a barely visible, smudge of galactic light next to the 2.5 magnitude star Phecda. I've seen this one before, so I moved on.

After such a fine view the night before, I decided to find the globular cluster M3 again in Bootes. The Telrad took me right to it. It is a tight ball of stars, bright and easily resolved. Of course the king of the sky for the northern hemisphere is the globular M13 in Hercules, but M3 is spectacular enough to be a member of the royal family. Hundreds of the stars are visible. I highly recommend this globular.

With M3 being so easy, I decided to try for another globular cluster in the area. Next up was M53 in Coma Berenices. Although not as bright as M3, the ball of stars known as M53 was an easy find, and I could resolve the stars with my 10" scope. For the record, M53 was another new target for me.

My last telescopic target of the night was another deepsky object in Coma Berenices. The magical Telrad once again guided me flawlessly among the countless stars. The spiral galaxy M64 slid into my low power view. This galaxy is also known as the Black Eye Galaxy because of its dark dust lane along the nucleus. I could detect a little structure, but didn't gaze too long. My deepsky thirst had been quenched by just the thrill of finding these objects. I'll take more time to look them over at a later date. Score another new object for me with M64.

Of course, before retiring for the night, I once again trained my eyes and binoculars on Comet Hyakutake. It was still there, glowing brightly. It's such a beautiful sight. It seems to bring about a special calm to the night, almost as snow does when it's falling.

As for the Telrad, if you don't have one, I suggest you get one. It will help you find stuff easier and quicker. So far I've heard nothing but praise about this device. It helped me net six new objects on this observing session (M53, M63, M64, M94, M101, M106), as well as visit some past acquaintances. I can hardly wait until my next adventure out under the stars.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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