NEAF 2014 visit summary – April 12 & 13, 2014
A small contingent of NSAAC members attended the two day North East Astronomy Forum in Suffern, NY this past weekend. For most of the NSAAC members in attendance this is an annual pilgrimage but my only previous trip to NEAF was about ten years ago and I only attended one day so I was looking forward to the two day trip this year. We stayed at the Comfort Suites just over the state line in Mahwah, NJ. It is not nearly as close as the Crowne Plaza in Suffern NY but the accommodations were excellent and the rates were better. They also served a complimentary breakfast which was enough to keep us fueled for another full day at NEAF until we stopped for an all-you-can-eat dinner on the way home at the Country Pride restaurant off of US84 at exit 71 in Connecticut.
There were some great speakers at NEAF this year although some were repeats from last year. I particularly enjoyed Dr. Alan Stern, NASA’s Principal Investigator for the New Horizons Mission to Pluto and the live video Q&A session with Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of new TV series Cosmos. Dr. Tyson’s video Q&A was so popular that people had to be turned away when the auditorium reached capacity.
Some of the vendors and products that I enjoyed learning about at NEAF follow below. Statements made by me are simply my opinion and not necessarily an endorsement. I have provided links so that others may learn more about the products or services offered.
New Moon Telescopes – I spent some time on Saturday talking to Ryan Goodson of NMT when we went over his 16” F4.5 with a fine tooth comb. I especially like his collapsible truss system, dove tail jointed rocker boxes and high quality wood finish. The lacquer finish on NMT’s telescopes is noticeably better than other vendors similar offerings. Ryan tells me that the finish on NMT products is a secret recipe and is completely waterproof. I am thinking it is at least a marine grade finish. I was not a big fan of the old crescent rocker box bearings so I was happy to see that NMT is now using a nicer looking, lighter, powder coated aluminum bearing. The dimpled powder coating surface gives the same effect as ebony star and is quite smooth in the altitude movement. NMT uses Lightholder primaries and Antares secondaries. http://www.newmoontelescopes.com/
Our friend Tony Costanza from the Astronomy Shoppe was once again at NEAF this year to show off some of his newest offerings – Tony demonstarted his BlueLink Bluetooth telescope control which allows the user to wirelessly control their telescope with a tablet or smart phone. Tony also displayed an eyepiece projection system called Solar View. The product is intended for outreach use and it includes a solar and lunar projection screen. http://www.astronomy-shoppe.com/
High Point Scientific was well represented at NEAF. I stopped by to say “Hi” to Dave. If you have done business with Highpoint then you have surely spoken to or exchanged emails with Dave. Dave provides excellent service to all of his customers and Highpoint’s prices on eyepieces and other accessories cannot be beat. http://www.highpointscientific.com/
One of my favorite new products seen at NEAF was not an expensive, high tech device but a rather simple accessory. Kendrick is offering a new anti-dew micro controller. I think a lot of people do not need a $100+ controller for one or two anti-dew heating elements and Kendrick has recognized that so they have developed a 7A, single channel, dual output, micro controller that will be priced at $65. http://www.kendrickastro.com/dew_controllers.html#MicroController
Kevin Ackert and I checked out the Apertura dobs on display at the Opticsmart booth. Both scopes on display were appointed with the tweaker’s dream package which includes a number of upgrades like tube flocking, heavier primary mirror springs, light shield, secondary collimation knobs, soft grip guide knob and an additional eyepiece tray. Over all I like the Apertura dobs a lot. The quality of components and finish is certainly better than the Orion or Zhumell dobs. The azimuth motions are silky smooth on the standard roller bearings and the dual speed focuser appears to be a finely machined, quality addition. The 12” that was on display did have some wobble in the base. I am not sure if that is inherent to all the larger Apertura dobs or just an anomaly of the display model. http://www.opticsmart.com/
I took a close look at some of Celestrons new Nexstar Evolution telescopes. As the name implies this is a logical next step for the consumer telescope. Most of the new and innovative features of the Evolution series are in the mount. The mount offers worm gears and upgraded motors for improved tracking and reduced backlash. The mount also has integrated carry handles and manual clutches. For the first time in a consumer telescope the mount includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with a 10 hour run time and built in wireless control from iOS and Android devices. These telescopes are not cheap though. They are about 35% more expensive than the Nexstar SE line. The Nexstar Evolution is offered with a 6”, 8” or a 9.25” optical tube with StarBright XLT coatings. http://www.celestron.com/browse-shop/astronomy/telescopes/series/nexstar-evolution-telescopes
Dennis Gudzevich submits the following opinion of a vendor that he liked –
“I was very impressed with Polaris Precision Company, which manufactures a series of products called the Lander Pier/Tripods, and I am particularly interested in their automated tripod which you can raise or lower to a comfortable working height with a remote control. As far as I know you can raise and lower it by around 17 inches. The only thing that I wish that they had added was an optional built in battery pack. Right now you have to use an external power source such as the Celestron Power Tank and an external power cable. Other than that, I like the tripod. It seems very stable, and they say that it will maintain polar alignment from horizon to zenith. Plus it only weighs about 30 pounds. For those members that use an equatorial mount are probably aware, it can sometimes be a pain setting up a tripod just to find out that it’s too high, or too low for all viewing with all people. You can put an equatorial mount on top, or a fork type mount for telescopes or binoculars, and they can custom make a mounting plate for your needs. I look forward to seeing some reviews of the product in the future.” Members can check out their site and video at www.polarisprecision.co.uk.
Ron Sampson entered a drawing held by Vixen and won an 80mm refractor. I think that was the only prize won by anyone from NSAAC. I did tell my wife that I “won” some prizes. Now I just have to keep her from seeing next months credit card statement.
Some of the other vendors visited included; TeleVue, Vixen, Sky Watcher, Meade, Explore Scientific, Teeters Telescopes, Astronomy To Go, TelescopeS.net, OPT, Moonlight focusers, Astronomy Magazine, Sky and Telescope, Astronomy Technology Today and many, many more.
While at NEAF we saw some friends from back east. We ran into Michael Deneen and Mario Motta of GAAC who happened to be staying at the same hotel as us. We also saw Ted Blank in the Celestron Theater and chatted briefly after one of the talks.
Finally, Kevin Ackert shares one of his NEAF experiences –
“Don’t wear a Red Sox shirt. A guy tried to charge me $20 for a bottle of water, then lowered the price to $5. The next day I found out the water was $2 a bottle. He told me it was because of the shirt. Then two NY cops get on me, ‘What can we get him for? Let’s keep an eye on him…’ When at NEAF, do as the NY’ers do.”
Good advice Kevin.
We had a great time at NEAF even though I missed the solar observing. We spent most of the day Saturday in the Celestron Theater so we missed the solar observing and Sunday was mostly cloudy in the morning so there wasn’t any solar observing taking place. I am already looking forward to next year.