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NEWS BLOG by Sean Walker
An Astro-Blast at NEAF 2010
Touring the showroom floor is nearly an overwhelming experience — it's a good thing this show lasts two days! The largest scope we saw on the floor was a 40-inch (1-meter) Dobsonian reflector from Great Red Spot, priced at $59,000 and weighing 620 pounds (280 kg). This behemoth was followed closely in size by the new 36-inch Monster Dobsonian Telescope from Orion Telescopes & Binoculars. Orion's scope weighs in at 375 pounds (170 kg), comes with ServoCAT Tracking and and Argo Navis digital settings circles, and costs $55,600.
On the other end of the affordability scale, a lot of people seemed to be mulling over Orion's assaults on the $100 barrier: a 100-mm (4-inch) f/4 tabletop reflector with a paraboloidal mirror, two eyepieces, and red-dot finder, and an 80-mm f/4.3 refractor on the same mini-Dob mount, also with two eyepieces and red-dot finder. Both retail for $99.95 and weigh an easily-tossed-in-the-back-seat 6 pounds.
For the discerning astrophotographer, a number of premium imaging scopes made their debut at NEAF, including new offerings from PlaneWave Instruments, Deep Sky Instruments, Starizona, Takahashi, and Vixen. Meade Instruments used the opportunity to reintroduce its flagship instrument the MaxMount 20, a 20-inch (0.5-m) ACF catadioptric reflector optimized for imaging combined with a heavy-duty equatorial mount.
Speaking of telescope mounts, many high-end computerized German-Equatorials made their first appearance at the show. Software Bisque introduced its new Paramount MX, a lighter, more portable (yet still super-precise) version of its immensely popular Paramount ME, and also launched its anxiously-awaited TheSkyX Professional Edition software, which introduces total observatory and camera control into the mix. iOptron also unveiled its new light weight iEQ45-GTN German Equatorial go-to mount, along with the first production model of its heavy-duty iEQ75 that can carry up to 75 lbs. plus the required counter weights.
Some unexpected excitement happened Sunday afternoon. Four nights earlier, a brilliant fireball over Wisconsin had lit up the landscape for hundreds of miles around, making news across the Upper Midwest. The incoming object may have weighed about one ton; meteorite hunters immediately began racing to locate fragments. One of the meteorite dealers at NEAF announced over the PA system that a meteorite from the fall had just been brought from Wisconsin to their booth, and people crowded around to see an object so fresh from space.
While NEAF is primarily about the tools of the trade, the show also includes a full program of lectures. This year's keynote speaker was Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley, who gave a captivating presentation on supernovae. Steve Arnold and Geoff Notkin of the Science Channel's "Meteorite Men" show were on hand — Arnold was the one who showed up with the Wisconsin meteor fragments. Good catch, Steve!
Check out our extended coverage of the show — including the Northeast Astro Imaging Conference (NEAIC) that preceded the show — in Sky & Telescope's August issue.
Posted by Sean Walker, April 20, 2010