Celestron CGE Mount
My previous heavy mounts were a Celestron Ci 700 and an EQ6 SkyScan. I owned the Ci 700 a year or so ago, and I must say, it was a lot of mount for the money. But it was an old design, with lots of cable clutter. I don’t mind the fact that it was not a Go-To mount, because honestly, I could push it to new locations faster than I could wait on a motor to drive it there… But I didn’t like all of the external cables and exposed connectors. It was cumbersome to handle because of this. Also, it was heavier than I NEEDED for the only scope I was using on it, which was a Meade 152ED. But it handled that OTA exceptionally well.
Since I was only using it for the one scope, I sold the Ci 700 to move to a modern design mount, the EQ6 SkyScan. The EQ6 SkyScan is one of the nicest packaging jobs in the business. The mount is downright SLEEK as these things go. There were no external cables except for the power cord and hand controller. The packaging was WONDERFUL! Even the illuminated polar finder doesn’t require any external cables or batteries, being wired into the main power board! The fact that it was all Go-To was icing on the cake.
The EQ6 SkyScan was only barely capable of handling the Meade 152ED. I have read a number of posts or reviews elsewhere that suggest that the EQ6 is a “Heavy-Duty” mount. I can tell you from direct experience that the EQ6 was NOT in the same class as even the Ci 700 in terms of load carrying and stability. The culprit was mostly the tripod. At the tallest settings, the legs were just too shaky to handle a long refractor. To get a good eyepiece height when viewing at zenith, I knew that the C14 would require the legs to be extended on the EQ6. There is also the issue of the saddle. In my review of the EQ6, I commented that the manufacturer missed the mark here, and should have gone to a Losmandy style saddle. There are aftermarket adapters to do this, but again, I just didn’t think the EQ6 was quite up to the challenge of handling a C14. Now there is probably someone out there that has done it and will tell you that it works, but my own experience suggests that for the C14, it would have been unacceptable.
So when I purchased the C14, I KNEW that I would need upgrade once again to a heavyweight mount. I also knew that as good as a value the Ci 700 presents, I decided that for manageability and convenience, I would prefer to go with a Celestron CGE.
I did not consider the Losmandy G11 for a couple of reasons. First, I prefer the folding tripod of the CGE. I move my telescope in and out of the house, and the fixed legs of the Losmandy make it harder to maneuver through doorways and down steps.
The G11 is similar to the Ci 700 in the amount of cables and packaging. It looks too cluttered, and while that is totally an aesthetic consideration to some, for me it means that when carrying the head in and out, you are always snagging cables on something. Have you noticed that in the advertising, it is hard to find a picture of a fully wired CG11. I bet this is because they look so darned cluttered up. All that beautiful machining is totally tangled in wires and cables! The ads usually only show the bare mount. If you have ever seen one in person though, or seen a good picture of a fully wired-up one, you would know what I mean.
The G11 Gemini does NOT address this problem. The Go-To is tacked on to what is essentially an old design mount. It suffers from the same clutter as the Ci 700 and DSC equipped G11.
So while I needed a mount with more load carrying capacity of the EQ6, I wanted it in a modern design package. The EQ6 did spoil me in that regard. It is without doubt the best packaged mount on the market. It is absolutely sleek in comparison to these other mounts. To bad about that serial-style connector for the hand controller, the Gen “0” software, and wrong saddle though.
Enter the CGE.
The CGE is a MODERN design, fully computerized EQ mount. It is in every way superior to the Ci 700 that it replaced in the Celestron lineup. You can see the design lineage clearly. It has the same angular profile. To see a CGE side by side with the Ci 700 would be the same as seeing a 2005 Mustang sitting next to a ’66 fastback! You would know that they represented two wide steps in evolution but that they are both from the same company.
Aesthetically, some may prefer the lovely machined look of the Losmandy mounts, though I actually prefer the look of the CGE. Part of this is because of the clean packaging of course, but part of it is that it LOOKS modern and high-tech. The CGE is to me, a very handsome mount, even when fully cabled up and ready to go. It is a mount that looks far better in person than pictures can convey. The Ferrari Testarossa was that way. I had seen pictures of them in magazines, but when I saw a real one for the first time, I was stunned. The pictures didn't do it justice. Well, with the CGE, the diffrence between pictures and the real deal isn't quite so far apart as with the Ferrari, but the mount is far more attractive than the pictures would suggeat. The Losmandy just looks old to me these days. A classic kind of old, but old and cluttered none the less. Losmandy owners, this is totally subjective. Please don’t take it as being disrespectful. Losmandy builds beautiful mounts. But my recommendation to Hollywood General Machining would be to modernize their product line. If they had a mount with more modern packaging, I might have bought one, even at a higher price point.
Let’s take a closer look at the CGE, starting with the tripod. On the CGE, it is VERY rigid. It has a folding spreader at the lower end, and a rigid spreader at the top. The triangular bracing is excellent, and the tripod is the stiffest I have owned. It also has adjustable legs. This is a big change from the Ci 700, which did not have extendable legs, though some were equipped with aftermarket kits that provided this capability. The legs of the CGE seem stiffer to me as well, though I do not have a way to test this, but the Ci 700 was quite stiff as it was, and the CGE “Looks” beefier, so I am going to go out on a limb and say that it is probably stiffer. It is so rigid that I don’t even bother with the top spreader. When I am ready to move the tripod, I simply reach down to the folding spreader and lift it, and the legs draw in to their collapsed position, allowing the tripod to be maneuvered quickly out the door. Not a single paint ding so far on the mount (boy happy) or the door frames (girl happy)!
The design is VERY integrated. The electronic reside inside of the semi-pier, and all connector ports are mounted on the semi-pier where they are easily visible, and well marked. This keeps most of the clutter off of the head itself, which I really like.
The CGE has two cables that go from the semi-pier to the head. Both of them come out of the west side of the mount (Northern hemisphere west for my Aussie, Argentinean and Brazilian friends). This means I can lift the head from the tripod on the east side and hold it up against my chest to carry it, and no cables can get tangled or pinched in the folds of my heavy winter clothing. There are no protruding motor covers or connectors. Everything is tightly packaged, and nothing on the head itself has to be disconnected. There are no exposed connectors to break off. So while the head, weight shaft, and semi-pier probably weigh around 50 pounds. It is actually quite easy to move. The Ci 700 always seemed hard in comparison. It just had too much clutter, even though it weighed less than the CGE. The CGE isn’t QUITE as well packaged as the EQ6 SkyScan, but it is close enough…
Now with the EQ6, it was possible to move the head and tripod together, only having to drop the counterweights. This was only marginally feasible for me, but I used to do it.
But this is not really feasible with the CGE. It is almost essential to separate the head from the tripod prior to moving it. I leave the counterweight shaft on the head though. When the CGE is broken down this way, no single component is really all that hard to move.
So to move the mount, here is my drill. I keep the mount and scope completely set up inside my house. I will describe the break-down and set-up here. This will also describe some “Misses” in the mount design…
First, I pull the C14 OTA off. Ask me later about the whole C14 experience though…
Once the OTA is off, I drop the counterweights. The C14 requires 2 heavy weights, and I always take them both at once because I worry about one slipping and falling from the shaft. I have already had 2 occasions where a weight slipped only to be captured by the safety washer and bolt at the end of the shaft. These weights are HEAVY, and to me, it seems like the little nylon tipped lock screws that hold the weights on the shaft are at the upper limits of their gripping power. I am afraid that if I torque the screws harder, I may break off the little ears on the bolt knobs, which I did once to a heavy Losmandy weight. So here is an area that I think could be improved. Either the heaviest weights should get compression collar type locks (expensive, but very nice) or the lock screws should be equipped with bigger, grippier tips and a larger knurled knob to make it easier to get sufficient force applied to the locking tip against the shaft. But my advice in the meanwhile is to NEVER forget the safety washer and bolt at the end of the shaft, even for a minute!
The head can be separated from the semi-pier either by removing three hex-head bolts and washers at the top of the semi-pier leaving the semi-pier with the tripod, or by removing the three bolts and washers at the bottom of the semi-pier, leaving it connected to the head. The latter option means that you don’t have to disconnect the drive cables, and it only makes the head/shaft a few pounds heavier, so this is the way I break it down.
So, once I have the weights clear, I can remove the three hex-head bolts that connect the base of the semi-pier to the tripod. This is another of the misses… As I mentioned earlier, there are three of these hex-head bolts. They must be completely removed. Each has a flat washer that I think is important because they have milled-in flats in the semi-pier for them, which I think give extra clamping force. This equals six small parts that can be dropped in the dark, and a freaking TOOL to manage! Boy no like tools in the field. More on that topic later. By comparison, the Losmandy GM8 has slots cut into the base of their semi-pier. I don’t know for sure if the G11 does or not, but I think that it does. This means that while you need a wrench, at least you don’t have to completely remove and fumble around with all the little screws and washers. You simply loosen the screws, turn the pier a couple of degrees, and lift the head off. Now of course you can also buy the “Fancy” and rather expensive Losmandy knobs to go tool-less, but you could do the same for the CGE, though you still have the issue of the small washers and fumbling in the dark… But to me, both of these manufacturers are bad for not including knobs for this function in the base price of the mount. There is no excuse a manufacturer can give me anymore that works for me regarding the requirement to take small tools into the field. We should all demand better.
I don’t reconnect the hand-controller when I bring in equipment at night, so the next stip in my drill is to simply lift the head/pier/shaft off the tripod. I place them on a nearby dresser sitting on the base with the shaft sticking out over the edge. It balances OK on the base, but only just OK, so make sure that the supporting surface if solid and level. If your table or support wobbles or shakes when you walk across the room, this thing might tip over…
Once the head is clear, you can now easily collapse the tripod, carry it out, set it onto anti-vibration pads, and bring out everything else in reverse order. The only cables that need to be hooked up are the hand controller and the power cable. It only takes 4 trips to get everything outside (including C14 OTA, but not including eyepieces and such), and while the total weight is near 200 lbs, no single component is all that heavy or hard to move. Now I have NOT detailed the rather daunting task of mounting the C14 OTA itself. For now I will just say that this is the hard part. It is indeed a task that is manageable by one person (a big person to be sure), and probably the C14 is as big as you could do this with, but with practice, it goes well. In spite of this, setup actually goes quite fast. From being set up with a C14 in the saddle inside, to being ready to power up with C14 mounted outside takes me less than 10 minutes. I bet I could do it in 5 minutes if Celestron paid a bit more attention to the tools and knobs issue though.
Next in the process comes polar alignment. My NexStar 11 didn’t require this, but with the CGE, you have to be at least roughly aligned. I roughly polar align using my Telrad on the OTA to offset from Polaris in the direction of the NCP. Now again, I am a visual observer, and this works well enough for me, but here is another miss... If you DO wish to perform accurate polar alignment with this mount, you need another freaking TOOL! Boy no like tools in field…. Incredibly, you need a DIFFERENT hex head wrench because the altitude adjusting of the head used a different size hex screw! What were they thinking! Now oddly, for those that look closely, there is actually a little tiny tool “Storage” bay in the form of a rubber lined hole traversing the mount under the RA shaft. You can slip the wrench for this adjustment into the hole so that it is always handy! Like THAT is supposed to make me feel better??? Brother… Losmandy uses a large knurled knob for latitude adjustment, and it is even INCLUDED in the base price!!! At the VERY least, Celestron could have made all of the hex-head screws the SAME STINKING SIZE! What were they THINKING?
The CGE also uses tools for the azimuth adjustment. There is a small hex-head bolt that is used to make fine adjustments. Now being a visual observer, I can simply loosen the two clamp screws and turn the entire head, but for really fine polar alignment, I think using the threaded adjustment is probably going to be helpful. Losmandy mounts have knurled knobs here again. Celestron misses by making you use the hex wrench for fine adjustment.
Am I being too hard on Celestron? Yes and no. In my opinion, anything you can do to make setup easier is important. Setting up a CGE 1400 is already at the top of the heap in terms of commitment, and to add minor annoyances like this irks me. Go tool-less Celestron. Sooner is better… Retrofit me and I will even buy the kit!
Ok, most of the negatives are out of the way, and that is a good thing, because once you get this rig set up, it is a GREAT platform for observing. It has two critical attributes for the visual observer: It is rock solid, and easy to use…
Electronic alignment is simple. The first thing I like is that the “Home” position is defined electronically with switches. None of the other GEM DSC or Go-To mounts that I have owned have this. With the others, you have to set the position using little decals as a reference, or use the inscribed setting circles. I prefer the CGE method. It is perfectly accurate every time, automatic, and fast.
For alignment there are several options, but the one I use most is the “Two Star” alignment which is just about the only realistic option for someone that moves the scope in and out.
Now on the first CGE alignment, you should include a “Cone Error Calibration.” I have read a great number of posts regarding pointing accuracy for this mount, and mostly they have been critical. While the CGE doesn’t seem to point quite as well as my NexStar 11 did, I will say that it is at least as good as my LXD55 does most of the time. But not always. More on that…
Part of the problem is that for most OTA/GEM combinations, mount right ascension shaft and OTA optical axis alignment might not be perfectly parallel. The sight-lines of these two axises can either be converging, or they can be diverging. It is unlikely that they are ever “Perfect”, though with a little work, you can get them that way.
It is easy to test for cone error and ALL German Equatorial Mounts and OTAs are susceptible to it, so if you have a GEM, you should check this... Using Polaris, you can set the mount up so that the counterweight shaft is horizontal (parallel) to the ground on one side of the mount, then (Using your tools if you are a CGE owner), adjust the azimuth and declination so that Polaris is in the center of the field of view of your eyepiece. Once you have it centered, FLIP the counterweight shaft to the other side of the mount, and see if Polaris is still in the center of the field (It is OK to move the OTA in declination when you do this). If Polaris DOESN’T center in the field of view on both sides of the mount (and this works for ANY GEM mount) then you have cone error. This error will be present all over the sky, but on a mount with electronics, this means that the pointing will probably be off in at least half of the sky. Some mounts that use a 3 star alignment like the EQ6 can correct for this cone error. The CGE mount can also compensate for cone error, but it is done differently. On the EQ6, you need to do this adjustment at every power-on (assuming that the mount/OTA combination does indeed have cone error). That is why the EQ6 HAS a 3 star alignment. The CGE though, does NOT require that this be done with every power-on. The Hand Controller can store the cone error value.
The way that the Cone Error Calibration procedure works with the CGE is that you do a two star alignment on one side of the sky. Once you have your two alignment stars on one side of zenith, then slew to a star near “0” declination on the opposite side of zenith. Now if you have cone error, this will show it. The star will not be centered with the OTA on both sides of the mount. At this time, and BEFORE centering the star in the field, you enter the Cone Error Calibration procedure. The Hand Controller now prompts you to use the drive buttons to center the target star. Once you have done this and pressed the “Enter” key, the Hand Controller calculates the amount of cone error based on how far the target was from your starting position. It then SAVES this calibration so that next time you power up the mount, it already knows how much to shift the pointing based on whether the target is east or west of zenith.
Now to close the loop on cone error… You can eliminate cone error completely if you choose Well, Kinda… For scopes using tube rings, or dovetails using radius blocks, you can insert shims between the rings or radius blocks and dovetail plate. Shim the back if your lines diverge, and shim the front if your lines converge. The CGE Dovetials don’t use radius blocks. It doesn’t seem as easily feasible to shim the dovetail because of the design. But with the CGE at least, this doesn’t matter.
Anyway, back to the CGE. So, the CGE has a Cone Error Calibration, that when performed correctly, can compensate for this aberration to improve pointing accuracy.
Given an accurate 2 star alignment and a properly performed Cone Error Calibration, is the CGE a great pointer??? In a nutshell???? I would have to answer “No”. Now, my C14, when used with my widest field eyepiece, can only muster a circle about 44 arc minutes in diameter. Please keep in mind that this is probably the smallest field of view that you will suffer for the vast majority of telescopes that will ever ride in a CGE saddle… Most telescopes likely to climb up into the CGE saddle will probably do better in terms of actual field of view. But with the C14, I get some Go-To misses over the course of an evening. MOST Go-To operations do get the target into the field, but sometimes it just misses…
The Cone Error Calibration DID make a tremendous improvement though, and since doing it, the pointing has been MUCH better. Prior to doing the cone error calibration, pointing was poor. So this is indeed an essential calibration for a really long focal length telescope such as mine, and I prefer the way Celestron handles this over the EQ6, by storing the value of the error rather than making you do an extra star alignment every power-up to compensate, or by actually having to eliminate the cone error with shims as would be required with Go-TO mounts or DSC mounts that do not include a compensation routine.
Again, I want to be fair, the misses are usually VERY slight, and my suspicion is that with anything less than a C14, your pointing accuracy with the CGE is going to be close to perfect in the sense that you are far more likely to get EVERY object into the field of view of a low power eyepiece.
With the CGE, you also have the ability to do a “SYNC” function whenever you wish to improve pointing. This is simply a quick update to one of the original alignment stars to more closely calibrate the mount to your current general area of sky. All of the Go-To mounts I have ever owned except for the EQ6 had this function, so nothing unique here.
Now, let’s take a case where you need extra precise pointing. Suppose you are looking for a really faint NCG open cluster that has very low brightness, like a “Challenge” object. The CGE has a “Precision Go-To” function that I REALLY like. The Precision Go-To is a clever but simple way to nail that object into the center of the field, even if your regular pointing has not been perfect during the current session. When using the Precision Go-To function to select an object from a catalog, it searches its database to locate a suitably bright star nearby the target object. The mount then slews to that star, and asks you to center it. This function will use stars both fainter and closer than the main catalog of alignment stars, so that the mount will not have to move as far to get to the real target, meaning that there is less chance of missing the target. This function works exceptionally well. In the half-dozen times I have used it, it has pretty much nailed the target. Now if you do lots of really faint challenging objects, using Precision Go-To will get it very close to the center of the field of a low power eyepiece. While the Celestron does not have a Spiral Search, with this function, you probably don’t need it. And for imagers that can’t detect the object visually, I would think that this function would be extremely desirable.
There is one other feature on the CGE Handset that excites me. In a review of the NexStar 11 several years ago, I slammed Celestron for not including this function, and I was tickled to death to find it in the CGE Hand Set. Maybe all of the Celestron handsets have it now. The function that I wanted so badly was a “Constellation” function.
When I do a session, I either roam widely in kind of a very haphazard way, running here and there to visit old friends, or I work a small piece of sky looking to weed out new targets. I like maps and charts. I really do. But I don’t like bringing them out into the field anymore than I like bringing little hand tools. See, to me, I want as much observing time as possible. Making more than the absolute essential number of trips into the house the get things, or to put things away does not please me. When I take a telescope out, I want to OBSERVE. I especially don’t like bringing a CUMPUTER outside to observe. Go-To mounts ARE computers!!! I want that function IN THE MOUNT, and the CGE HAS it. The “Constellation” function is located under the “List” button of the CGE Hand Controller. Once you enter this function, it prompts you for a constellation name. Next, it prompts you for a catalog type, but rather than give you a list of ALL of a particular kind of object (NGC for example), it culls the list to only show the objects of that type IN that constellation. Oddly, at my version of Hand Controller, there is one slight issue. When viewed though this method, as you scroll through the info for an NGC object, it seems to classify just about all of them as “Nebula”, while most NGC objects are actually open clusters. Anyway, you can scroll through this list one item at a time and read descriptions of each object. If you see an object that interests you, you can press the “Enter” button, and the CGE will slew to that object! I ADORE this function! I can scour a single constellation and see just about everything in it that I think is within reach of my aperture and never have to look at a map or chart!
Now some people might think that this is kind of strange, because for many people, planning their observing session is pleasurable. But lately, I don’t have TIME to do this. I would rather spend the time observing. Also, I have had times where I planned a session and either ran out of objects (Computerized mounts are WONDERFUL) or perhaps found something like a cloud or tree in the way, and had to adjust to conditions. The Constellation function is a WINNER! I love it.
There is a “Last Alignment” function that I like. Since the controller has an internally powered clock, you can simply bring out the scope, set up, and use the “Last Alignment” function to get going. If you accurately polar align, your pointing might be pretty good. But I DON’T accurately polar align, and I still like this function. Sometimes if I want to get to the moon or something at the start of a session, and I can just take this option at startup, and the mount gets me pretty close. As the session continues, I can use the SYNC function to touch up alignment. The Last Alignment is also handy if you loose power during a session. I have tripped over cords in the dark, and while the CGE has a power cord restraint, my power supply does not, and I have knocked the cord loose from it. Being able to power up and immediately go back to observing without having to re-align is a VERY nice ability to have.
Otherwise, the Hand Controller is similar to other Celestron hand controllers. Many catalogs are accessed directly from buttons on the controller, so I don’t have to scroll through lots of menus. My LXD55 makes me “scrollalot”, and I don’t care for that.
The Celestron controller has good lighting for the display and keypad, though I really like the extra little red mini-light in the Meade hand controllers! I wish all hand controllers had that feature.
The mount is fairly quiet when slewing. It is not as quiet as the EQ6 was and it makes more of a can-opener tone than the turbine-like wine that the EQ6 makes (boy that thing sounds cool when it moves), but it is not so loud as to be objectionable. Quieter than my LXD55 by about half I would say.
I do need to mention the electronic switch limits. The CGE will stop driving once the mount crosses a few degrees past the meridian. Some imagers consider this to be a serious limitation, though at some point, the physical limit where the OTA contacts a leg would be reached. It is interesting to note that the Ci 700 has actual pegs to restrict movement to the same limit as the CGE and I never heard anyone mention this as a huge issue when reviewing that mount, and of course for visual use, there does not seem to be an issue at all. At least I am OK with it.
Ok, did I mention “Rock Solid” earlier? A C14 owner doesn’t know the meaning of “Low Power.” 70x Is as low as I can go. I find myself using stupid-high powers with the C14 though. I mean I hear people saying that they use 600x with their 43mm refractor, but most of this is empty magnification. The C14 DOES work REALLY well at high powers, which I consider to be more in the realm of 300x. By this, I mean I find myself eking out lots of faint stars in dim clusters that I could never see before. The magnification lets me penetrate into what many would call useless observing conditions. Even on nights of less than great seeing, I am seeing more detail at higher magnification that I have ever seen before (this is not a C14 review… That is coming later). This kind of magnification is taxing for a mount. Now the C14 actually has a fairly low polar inertia. What this means is that the majority of the weight of the OTA is carried in or near the mirror cell, which itself actually rides fairly close to the dovetail saddle. I don’t use a traditional finder anymore, so the only other weight is my Telrad, 2” diagonal, and the heavy Nagler and Panoptic eyepieces. Still, there is about 50 lbs of weight there, and another 50 lbs over on the other side of the mount. Anyway, when I touch the focuser, as long as I am ginger, nothing moves or shakes, even when focusing at 300x and 400x. If I do bump a leg or the OTA, settling is almost immediate (Note that I DO use vibration suppression pads). I have never owned another GEM that was this solid. And of all the things that are REALLY important in a mount, this is probably THE most important thing. The CGE delivers beyond my expectation on this point.
The CGE is a superb mount for the C14. As badly as I wanted a C14, I was really worried about the effort to set it up and break it down, and while this OTA mount combination is clearly at the top end of portable equatorially mounted telescopes in respect to effort, it has been rather surprisingly easy to manage (except for actually MOUNTING the C14 OTA which is more an issue with the C14 than the CGE mount itself), and quite delightful to use. EVERYTHING else I own is collecting dust now. Yes, the CGE is more work to set up than most other equipment I have ever owned (though it is easier than the Ci 700 due to lack of clutter and easier alignment) but when combined with the C14, it becomes part of a really incredible observing package.
Ok, maybe I was hard on Celestron about the tool thing. This is a great mount. Of the astro-stuff I have purchased in the last 5 years (which has been so much that my UPS guy and I are on good-friend terms), this ranks as one of the most satisfying purchases I have made. I am grinning ear-to-ear.
And wait until I tell you about the C14!
My regards, and thanks for reading.
Well, it happened. I came in one night and put the weights back on the CGE countershaft in my Florida room. The shaft maybe had a bit of dampness on it or something... I turned my back for just a second to reach for the safety retaining washer and nut, and the bottom weight slipped off... Tile floor... 25lb weight... Wasn't a pretty sight. My assistant astronomer was mortified. Me too. Don't turn your back on these, and take this as a re-enforcement to my comments in the review. These locks on these weights are at the edge of acceptability in terms of clamping force. I NEVER take one hand off of the weights now until I have the safety retainer on.
My mount was purchased used (and WHAT a DEAL - THANKS, Astromart), and it was an older mount. The most significant thing about this is that the hand controller software was something like Level 3.01. It is my understanding that the newest hand controller provides more accurate GO-TO. Please keep this in mind if you are in the market for a new mount. I think that you can expect better Go-To results than I reported in my review, however again, the pointing is good enough for me as it is.
Click here for more about this subject. -Ed.
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