Observing Report - An Hour of Star Gazing
Tuesday, April 21, 1998  9:15PM PDT   ( 1998/04/22 04:15 UT )


While channel surfing, I happened upon the QVC home shopping channel.
Normally I wouldn't give QVC a second look, but the sight of a cheesy
refractor caught my attention and I decided to see what was going on.  It
turned out that they were having an hour of "Star Gazing" items.

What I had seen on the screen was a powerful "Tasco 700mm Refractor" on an
alt/az mount, sold complete with 3 eyepieces and some starchart software.
Although they never clarified this minor point, I had to assume the 700mm
measurement was for the focal length, since the refractor appeared to be
around 60mm large.

This item was the "Special Value of the Day" at the way-special price of
$79.86+S&H.  While touting it's great features, they kept showing this home
camcorder video (shot handheld via eyepiece projection) of the Moon.  Or
perhaps it was just a parking lot with a bad pot-hole problem as filmed
from 700 feet up; it was kind of hard to tell given the image quality.  The
FOV and eye relief was so bad that the boiling lunar surface was shown
within a shifting, amorphous outline rather than a round portal.  The host
raved on and on about the scope, and especially the video.

While discussing the many things that the scope could be used for, the host
mentioned "newsing on ones neighbors".  Somehow he forgot to include "as a
blunt instrument for hitting oneself over the head for buying it in the
first place".

Anyway, he eventually turned to the topic of how many people were very much
into astrology these days, and how this is great for astrology.  He also
educated one caller with the impressive boast that he could point this
instrument at the second star in the Big Dipper's handle, and would be able
to see that it is *actually* two stars -- called Alcor and Mizar. (wow,
actual factoids)

The next object up for sale was a "Star Wheel".  I don't think the word
"planisphere" was ever mentioned.  This was not your usual plastic
planisphere, as the stars were printed on a translucent, dark-blue
background (so as to look like the night sky?)  There must have been
something else special about it that I couldn't see, because they wanted
$38.86 for it.

Next, for some reason, were Annette Funicello's line of cute little stuffed
bears being sold during this hour long "Star Gazing" special.  Ah.  They
play "Twinkle, twinkle little star".  How nice.

The next *astronomical* item was a Tasco 16x50 binocular for the low, low
price of $39.88.  Among the many things which were listed as things one
could do with it, he went on for about a minute about watching bikinis at
the beach, and how the styles are so much more fun to look at in the 90s
than they were in the 80s.  I think his program manager gave him a signal,
as he abruptly changed back to the fitness of the item for sports and

The host also took a moment to praise Art Bell's show.  He's the greatest.

The next item was a Bushnell 4.5" Reflector on an equatorial mount.  This
was your typical manually controlled mount.  Among it's many features was
the "four and a half inch, Hand-Ground mirror" which pulls in more light
than a refractor (I'm sure all you big-AP owners are sorry you bought those
photon-gathering-impaired instruments now).

Now the host decided it was a good idea to talk about manufacturers.
Apparently the only ones you should trust to buy from are "The Big Three",
Specifically, "Tasco, Bushnell, and Meade".  "The others, the no-name
brands,  are pretty iffy.  I wouldn't buy from them".

But here's something to make you refractor heads feel better about your
purchases.  I'll have you know that although refractors can't gather as
much light as a 4.5" mirror, they have greater resolution than a 4.5"
mirror.  This is true even of the 60, er uh, I mean *700* mm refractor
mentioned above.

Of the many things that this 4.5" reflector scope was deemed "good for",
the manual controls apparently excel at tracking L.E.O.s (that's "Low Earth
Orbiting Objects" for all you novices).  Specifically mentioned were the
Iridium satellites which are apparently more easily tracked with this
particular scope than the refractor.

Another great feature of this _equatorially_mounted_ telescope was the fact
that it has manual _altitude_ and _azimuth_ controls to help you follow
objects.  It also comes with 3 eyepieces providing 8 different magnifications!

Yes, its 4.5 inch "optical grade mirror" (as opposed to tactile grade?)
made the whole package well worth the $249.36 price tag.

Oh, and more bad news for the refractor owners out there.  Apparently these
reflecting style scopes can see more distant objects than your refractors.

Anyway, the next item of the hour was "Redshift 3" for $48.52.  Viewers
were treated to excellent simulations of flying on Apollo 13 and a fly-over
of the solar system, complete with vocal recordings narrating the images.
Unfortunately the host could not make it do exactly what he wanted, and
managed to exit the software at one point.  Nonetheless, the software "blew
[him] away"; it was "the best software ever".

Onto the next item: A "Polaris 900mm Focal Length with 60mm Lens"
telescope.  I have to give them credit for distinguishing between FL and
aperture in the product description.  This "Polaris telescope (made by
Meade)" was apparently  a marvel of modern technology, as "They found a way
to make it shorter than 900mm long".  This two-and-a-half foot scope "from
Polaris (made by Meade)" was a real bargain at $157.14

Not that it had anything to do with the products up for sale, but the host
got himself onto the subject of exploration of other planets, UFOs, and
such.  It was his personal (and highly informed) opinion that there is some
sort of primitive aquatic life under the ice on Europa.  Also (and I hope
he doesn't get "erased" by the MIBs for divulging this) the government is
holding back information on extraterrestrial life -- apparently because the
public will panic.

Oh, back to the "Polaris Telescope (made by Meade)".  Apparently if you
desire to drag your telescope out "in the wet rain, muck and mire", this
scope "is a good thing to do".  This little baby comes with 3 eyepieces and
will magnify up to 625X.  I have to admit, that *is* much better resolution
than the 4.5" scope would likely be able to give.

Next on the block were "Tasco Lumina 7x35" binoculars.  Early into this
sales pitch, the host decided to execute Jay Freeman's patented binocular
test by dropping them onto the table from the whopping distance of 3 inches.

Apparently the unique rubber armor coatings that Tasco thoughtfully
invented served to protected it well.  The binos sported "Ruby Coated
Optics", a WIDE field of view, and most importantly for comfortable
observing, "rubber coated eyepieces".  A steal at $42.86.

At one point during this item's sales pitch, I could swear the host said
the words "Lumicon coated optics".  But I decided to chalk that up to some
sort of side effect from the reduced blood pressure and shock my body was
experiencing after nearly 40 minutes of watching.

In the last couple of minutes, he again mentioned that you should only buy
from the "Big Three Optics Manufacturers:  Tasco, Bushnell, and Meade". (I
noted that they were always in that order for some reason)

At the end, he give some sales figures for the "Special Value of the Day",
the  Tasco 700mm refractor:  Apparently over 1800 had been sold.

I'm still seeing stars from this observing session.  My only regret was
that I did not have advance warning that something this entertaining was
going to be on.  I would have loved to tape this hour-long treasure in
order to share it with my astro friends at our next full moon party.