3 Ways to Get Observing Quickly with a New Telescope
The saying goes, the best telescope to have is the one you will use.
Telescopes are a great gift, either for your self or for someone else. When you are given one, or buy your first one, it will open up a whole new world to you.
The stars, planets, deep sky objects and the Moon are all incredible sights through even the smallest telescope. But there are three things that will spoil your enjoyment of your new telescope, make you disappointed, and let your telescope languish in the closet.
- Not knowing how to use it.
- Not knowing what to see and how to find objects
- Expecting too much.
So how do you overcome these and become an excited and curious amateur astronomer with your new telescope?
I'll take you through three ways of getting the most out of your new telescope, and I'll give you some tips on what to look for to get the most WOW in the shortest time.
A new telescope has a learning curve.
You'll have the best observing experience if you are efficient with your equipment, know what you can see, and know what to expect.
Be patient with yourself. Becoming an amateur astronomer takes time.
1. Read the Manual
I worked in IT support for a long time. People get a new computer on their desk and think they know how it all works. Then they get stuck, frustrated and send out a call for help. As a support person I had to resolve these problems, so I needed to know how things worked. To to that I read the manual. I read about how it all went together and what buttons, switches, configuration settings, apps, display icons and everything else.
Now, when something goes wrong with my camera, car, oven, lawnmower etc, the first place I go is to the manual.
So the first step is to read the manual! Follow these steps and you'll be off to a flying start the first time you take it out in the dark.
- Get the manual in your preferred reading mode. A lot of devices these days come with downloadable manuals so check the manufacturer website if you don't get a manual in the box.
- Scan it cover to cover, so that you know at a basic level all the main parts to your telescope.
- Read through the setup instructions in detail.
- Set it up inside, in the light, by following the setup instructions exactly.
- Discover how it works without actually seeing anything.
Note that some telescopes may need a long view of something distant to setup the focus or "collimate" the lenses (refine the focus). There will be instructions for these. Follow them carefully.
Remember that precise setup of your telescope will improve your experience and save you a lot of time when you are out observing.
2. Know What you can See
The sky is big, and it is always changing. What you see in the sky tonight will be different in a few months time.
The sky has enough to keep you busy as a naked eye observer, but with a telescope you can find many more objects. There are different ways to find objects in the sky. Learning them all is a useful way to understand the sky.
There is a lot to learn about the sky. At Our Wide Sky we have a plan to help you learn what you need, get the most out of your telescope and discover the incredible night sky.
The best way to get started is with our Naked Eye Observers Checklist. Most of the objects on this checklist are excellent objects for a small telescope.
You'll also get three free email lessons, including how the sky works.
Use the form to sign up.
Three ways to find your way around the sky with your telescope:
Electronic mount. Many telescopes have an electric drive and a database of objects. You align your telescope with compass directions and a few stars (you'll know how to do this if you followed step 1). Then you select your viewing object from and it will automatically find the object for you. Some telescopes have GPS mounts that automatically locate your position and time and the direction the telescope is pointing.
Reading a Star Map. Knowing what is visible in the sky for your observing session is one of the important skills of an amateur astronomer. There are good starmaps available online for free, and apps and software that you can download and use. Learning how to do this will save you a lot of time, and ensure an efficient and rewarding observing session.
Star hopping. To find an object that you can't see with your naked eye, and follow a trail of brighter objects to find the position of your object. Use a wide a field of view you can (change this by using different eyepieces) and then moving from one star to another. It's useful to understand angular distance in the sky (degrees, arcminutes, arcseconds) and how this relates to your telescope and eyepieces.
3. Know What to Expect
Consumer telescopes are small. They have an aperture, which means that there is a limit to the amount of light that they can gather from the sky. The more light you can gather the better the image in your eyepiece.
You know those magnificent astophotography images you see? You won't see that through your telescope. They are made with large aperture telescopes and high resolution, long exposure imaging devices.
What you'll see through your telescope will be small bright stars, small disks of planets, some with features and moons, and faint fuzzy objects that are difficult to see.
That sounds dissappointing. Don't let it be disappointing - ALL OF THESE SIGHTS ARE AMAZING.
The most important things to seeing an object at its best are light and focus. Try out different eyepieces. You'll discover that magnification is less important than clarity. You'll see more with a clear bright view, than a bigger object.
So even though you'll be seeing small faint things, remember this:
They may be faint, they may be challenging to find and see, they may be white and featureless, but they are all amazing.
Where to Start
Start with our Naked Eye Checklist.
Most of the objects on the checklist are all great viewing through a telescope. You'll also get three email lessons to help you observe.
Here are some more suggestions:
- Aim your telescope at the Moon every chance you get. At the terminator (the place where the moon surface changes from dark to light) you'll see the sun lighting up the tops of mountains and ridges. This view changes every day!
- Look at bright stars and see how stars are different colours.
- View the planets. See Jupiter's moons and Saturn's rings and moons. See Venus as a crescent (Do not to direct your telescope at the sun. This will damage your telescope and your eyes.)
- Find a faint fuzzy. Deep sky objects are challenging to find and see.
- Random observing. Point your telescope at a patch of sky that seems to have a lot of stars, and just look. Try to see the faintest objects, and identify them with a good starmap or app. I've discovered many interesting objects just by random observing.
Your new telescope is a window into many other worlds. Take the time to learn how to use it, know what to expect and where to look for interesting objects. Be patient with yourself, learning astronomy takes time. I've been doing it for decades and I still learn something new every day.
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