Using the Meade ETX (book review)

By Malcolm Gibb

There can be few telescopes which have an entire book devoted to them but the Meade ETX is one and having recently purchased an ETX 90 I looked forward to reviewing this book. Mike Weasner bought his first ETX Astro Telescope in 1996 and created Weasner's Mighty ETX Site ( the same year, the book was a natural follow on from that. It has six chapters, namely, ETX Basics, ETX Hints and Tips, Observing Techniques, Objects, Photography and Questions and Answers. There are also a summary, an appendix, biography page and a very complete index, 280 pages in all.

The preface and the opening chapter give a short history of the range of ETX telescopes with the exception of the 105EC, which hadn't been introduced by the publication date. It then goes on to describe the Autostar GOTO computer and the range of accessories available. Not only are the accessories described in detail, but the formulae to give the theoretical maximum power and magnification that an eyepiece will give with any telescope are slipped in at the appropriate place in the text. Eyepieces, filters, and mounts are dealt with in a comprehensive manner then comes the turn of carrying cases, software and other add-ons. Most of the non-Meade products mentioned are from American companies which could present difficulties in supply but BC&F Astro-engineering can now supply everything required in the U.K.

Hints and Tips, this is one of these chapters where you come across something and think, 'why didn't I think of that before'. Everything from cleaning optics collimation tests, (the ETX range are not meant to be user collimated, you have been warned), simple tune-ups, Polar aligning with and without the Autostar, to travelling with the ETX and storage (keep the original packing).

Chapter 3 is quite a short chapter on Observing Techniques. Short it may be but I picked up a few good tips, one being to know the limitations of your telescope and not go looking for some object which your telescope is never going to pick up.

The next chapter deals with the sub title of the book, '100 objects You Can Really See with the Mighty ETX'. Starting with the Moon and the Solar system it works its way up to the challenge of galaxies. Good descriptions of what can be seen, when to view and the most suitable eyepiece to use are given but the photographs and drawings, as in the rest of the book, appear to have suffered in the reproduction process, or maybe we have just become accustomed to the quality of HST images! This leads on to a very short chapter on photography using the ETX in which the different methods by which 35mm. video and digital cameras can be attached to the telescope. Being a small telescope there is the problem of vibration and this is dealt with in some detail. A series of photographs of the Moon are used to illustrate enhancement with computer software but again I think the reproduction process has not done them justice. There is even one showing the effects of a dusty eyepiece and the image after using software (and a lot of work) to remove the circular spots. I would have thought that carefully cleaning the eyepiece would have been easier!

Chapter 6, ETX Questions and Answers is not like the usual Q and A sections one expects but nonetheless it is probably the most useful part of the book but beware, some of the maintenance and modifications suggested will invalidate your warranty (the author reminds you of this). Most of this section are the contributions of P. Clay Sherrod and Richard Seymour and P. Clay Sherrod's article with star charts, on aligning the ETX in Alt/Az mode makes for a very accurate GOTO system. This chapter deals with numerous subjects from purchasing a used telescope, importance of balance, Autostar Objects Database to tracking satellites and 'Performance Enhancement' Creating the Perfect 'GOTO' ETX' and many more. As I said, the most useful section of the book which will help you get the most out of your ETX.

The book is peppered with references to web sites and in particular to Weasner's Mighty ETX Site but in this age of the Internet that must be expected in a book dealing with a subject which is continually being updated. In conclusion, if you are considering purchasing or already own a Meade ETX, then this book will show you what it can do and how to do it, and is a perfect companion to the Meade instruction books.

Using the Meade ETX: 100 Objects you can really see with the Mighty ETX. By Mike Weasner with contributions by P. Clay Sherrod and Richard Seymour. (Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy series) (Springer-Verlag) 2002. 208 pages (paperback; ISBN 1-85233-351-0) Price '19.50/$34.95/'29.95