With the Skywatcher Explorer 200p telescope we are heading up to the stars for an astronomical review of this rather special 8 inch reflecting newtonian masterpiece.
My background in astronomy is purely one of amateur, I purchased the telescope for observing as much as I could within a limited budget (although I do have targets which include putting the 200p telescope in a shed which I aim to convert into an observatory with a sliding roof – but that’s another story!
On with the 200p review.
The telescope itself (as is the case with most telescopes and the skywatcher explorer 200p is no exception) comes in two main parts.
The tube assembly which contains the mirrors, holdings for the lenses, focus wheel control and tripod mounting bracket.
The tripod and equatorial mount together – which serve to support the scope in as robust and steady a manner as possible, and also allow, via the telescope mount, the astronomer to adjust the direction the telescope is pointing either via fine tune wheels or more rapid directional movement with quick release levers whereby you would move the tube large distances by hand.
The Skywatcher Explorer 200p Telescope Tube
As mentioned, the 200p is an 8 inch (hence 200 for 200mm) mirror, and its tube measures 920mm in length, its focal length is F/5. It weighs in at a hefty 8.25KG – so whilst it is fairly portable, the word fairly is the operative word. It isn’t the weight which makes it a bit awkward, more the shape and size with the bits sticking out.
It has a very solid build feel to it, with a steel case and robust plastic trimmings at both ends. It comes with a cover to prevent dust entering the tube whilst it is in storage and talking of this, I keep mine stood on its end pointing up – with no problems.
On the side of the tube is the finder scope, this is a relatively cheap and cheerful telescope in its own right, with a very wide angle field of view and a cross hair inside. This caters for extremely fast locating of the celestial object you are trying to observe, so long as it is visible to the naked eye. For deep space objects which cannot be seen, a goto computerized system is required (see HEQ5), because if you can’t see an object (a galaxy for instance) due to either its distance or light pollution (or both) – then you cannot visually point the Skywatcher 200p in the right direction!
Locating the Moon as an example is very easy and simply a matter of aiming the telescope in the general direction, then moving the tube with the control wheels until the cross hairs are central on the moon. If the finder scope is aligned correctly, then when you look through the main eyepiece you will see the moon in the center of the view – at this point the focus controls are used whilst looking through the main lens to achieve ultra sharp focus. If the current moon phase is a crescent, either waxing or waning (or basically there is any part in shadow) then craters are clearly visible.
Two different sizes of eyepiece come with the skywatcher, both a 10mm and a 25mm lens. The 25mm is for a wider angle of view than a 10mm and offers less by way of magnification. A barlow lens is also supplied. Either of the two lenses can fit into this, and whatever magnification is provided by the lens in place is multiplied by two (it is a 2xbarlow).
The whole assembly is ringed by two metal straps on which a sliding mounting bracket is fastened. This slots onto the mount head and its length means that the front of the scope can be moved away from the tripod to allow easier access to the eyepieces. Additionally, for ideal positioning of the eyepiece, the tube can rotate thus raising or lowering the level. For example a shorter person would have it pointing down whereas a taller person my prefer it pointing upwards, so that they are looking down through the lens.
I have observed the following with my telescope to date – and you have to bear in mind that we have terrible cloud cover and light pollution where I live.
Jupiter (and four of its moons)
You will note that I mentioned the Sun. I purchased some solar filter film and made a fitting from cardboard which slots on the end of the telescope. On a clear day with the sun high in the sky you will be able to view the sun in all its glory, the magnification is high enough to resolve sun spots. I have a digital camera, and using a bracket (which was not supplied with the skywatcher explorer) I can fasten the camera to the scope and take photographs – here is one of the Sun taken with my equipment.
This is very impressive for an amateur telescope and even borders on the level of quality required by more experienced astronomers. In fact, with layering software, much more detail can be extracted from the images using filters and various colour adjustment settings. The software is free.
Another photograph of the sun, this time exhibiting the entire disk – when viewing through the telescope – this is similar to what you will actually see – it is beautiful and if you are anything like me you will be really taken back once you see it for yourself.
Moving on to the Moon, again showing photographs is a good way of describing what you can actually see – but not as good as viewing yourself. When your eye is up against the lens, the view is much brighter and sharper than you see in images – unless you are well practiced in astronomical photography and photo processing.
Earlier this year we saw the Lunar Eclipse, I took the scope outside and spent a number of hours watching the transition. Here are the results I got of the “blood moon” as it is sometimes referred to.
Whilst this shows a particular event I was able to enjoy with the 200p, a more typical shot would be as follows, this is taken of the crescent and it consists of three photographs joined together. The Explorer 200p does not quite fit the full moon into the field of view on my camera in one shot.
I think you will agree, this is a fantastic result for a back yard astronomer and it is down to the quality of the telescope – not my expertise! It would not really be fair in this review though to exclude a photo showing the magnification available – which is theoretically or in practical terms upto 400x. Simply feeding the light rays straight of the parabolic mirror into the camera via the guide mirror, we can produce the following magnification with no zooming using software. Whilst these are a blurry, this is due to my inexperience – rather than a fault of the scope, but with the correct tracking or guiding hardware the 200p is capable of much more. Below shows what you see with your eyes – but when looking, everything is pin sharp.
If you direct the telescope towards the planets, such as Jupiter, you will see a small ball with some colour. For example on a clear night with good seeing (this is the term used to describe atmospheric conditions which can sometimes distort the view) you will see two bands on the planet Jupiter, and very clearly be able to see four of the moons depending on their current orbital position. A photograph which includes both the planet’s clouds (or bands) and the moons at the same time is difficult to attain, the reason being that the exposure required to capture the clouds is much lower than that required to capture the moons, as they are so much dimmer than the planet itself as it reflects the suns rays. So one (high around 800) ISO setting is required for the moons, whereas another (low ISO 400) is required for Jupiter. The effect is as follows :-
Now this is not what you actually see though, what you see is razor sharp jupiter with its jovian companions – and at the same time the stripes on the planet surface. The following image was taken using the correct ISO settings for the planet – thus eliminating the moons.
Saturn is very difficult to photograph, but when looking at it the rings are a sight to behold and you definitely get a sense you are staring at a planet!
Again – superb pictures which even resolve separate rings within the system are attainable with practice and expertise. This is a single frame with no tracking – in other words something you can produce with the bare minimum of a camera and the skywatcher.
The Skywatcher 200p EQ5 Tripod and Mount.
The telescope comes with different mount types depending on the kit you buy. My budget allowed for the manually operated EQ5 mount and tripod. The mount describes the “head” of the tripod if you like, the part which sits between the legs and the tube assembly.
The mount is very heavy and cumbersome to move around, mainly because it has two counter balance weights which act to steady the telescope when in use. Balancing the scope reduces stress on the worm gears and I would strongly suggest using them rather than being lazy and leaving them off – this will ensure the cogs last longer.
This is NOT a typical camera tripod like you would see a photographer using at a wedding. This is a very heavy duty tripod with thick steel legs and hard rubber feet giving it a solid firm grip on the ground. Built into the head is the polar alignment scope which enables the astronomer to point the mount in a northerly direction – aligning with the Pole Star. Once this is accurately set up, the knobs on the mount will turn the scope “in line” with the way the stars appear to rotate in the sky due to the Earths equatorial rotation.
The wheels allow for very fine adjustment – this is required because as you are watching, the Earth is turning and when at very high magnifications in particular, objects quickly move out of view – drifting across the mirror as you watch.
Whilst a manually operated mount is fine for me – I do suspect that many people would prefer an automated motorized mount of the point and play type. However I am not all that concerned for myself because the manual operation is allowing me to learn some very fundamental basics about amateur astronomy which I would not have gained with an automatic system.
Using the mount takes a little bit of getting used to, however let me demonstrate, this is my six year old son operating it whilst standing on a chair and watching the Moon. He is guiding the scope to keep it on track and has also made adjustments the focus matching his requirements. I would by no means describe the 200p as a starter telescope for kids – it is far more sophisticated and powerful than that – but to demonstrate ease of use once things have been explained, see below. I have no problem in allowing my children to use the scope under my supervision and the education they get from this I consider invaluable.
Summary of the Skywatcher Explorer 200p Review.
I can honestly say that this telescope has far exceeded my expectations for my budget. Whilst there are more powerful instruments available, the cost tends to rise exponentially with aperture size and the knowledge required to operate them successfully and efficiently rises in a similar way. The learning curve depends on your own experience, but for me, the Skywatcher 200p gave me a real challenge with plenty to learn on topics such as Polar Alignment, Focal Length, Finding Objects, Filters, Right Ascension, Declination – the list goes on. To give an example – do you understand this? :-
“The angular distance as measured in an eastward direction following the celestial equator from the vernal equinox to the hour circle of the point in question”
That is Right Ascension “explained” – so really – irrespective of the scope you go for, these topics will be of interest and whilst they do not need mastering at first – the 200p will certainly demand an understanding of this fundamental navigation/co-ordinate principle if you wish to progress to using it for more serious astronomical photography and video (yes – you can even take videos through it with a webcam!)
If you are starting out in astronomy, or if you are experienced and satisfied with the results shown above (knowing that you can do better with a camera!!!) – get one!!!