If you are new to stargazing, then it must be very confusing for you to understand how to use a telescope. Having a good grip on telescope is the fundamental criteria for stargazing. In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about how to use a telescope for stargazing.
How To Use A Telescope For Stargazing?
Choosing The Telescope:
There are lots of types of telescopes available in the market. Each type has its own purpose, pros and cons. Mainly telescopes can be classified into 3 types: reflector, refractor and catadioptric. The type of telescope you need to choose depends on what you want to see, where you are and many other factors. Here is a short description of each of the type of telescope:
- The refractor telescope has a very simple design. It consists of a long tube. There is an objective lens at one end of the tube. The lens gathers all the light and focuses it into one point. Refractor telescopes are mostly beginner friendly. You can observe planets and moons clearly with it. Also, the telescope doesn’t require much maintenance. However, you can’t observe distance celestial objects and galaxies with it.
- The difference between refractor and reflector telescope is, reflector telescope consists of a concave mirror instead of a lens. The purpose of the mirror is to gather light and focus it. Though this one is not suitable for observing terrestrial objects, it can be pretty okay for a beginner who just started stargazing.
- In catadioptric telescopes you’ll find both traits of reflector and refractor telescopes. It consists of both lens and mirror. These telescopes are good for photography and widely used in astrophotography. Also they are much more compact in design. However, these telescopes are not that budget-friendly for a beginner.
The telescope you need to buy will largely depend on where you live. If there is a lot of light pollution, you’ll need a much higher power telescope. On the other hand, a regular telescope will do fine if the light pollution is minimal. Also keep rain in mind while choosing a telescope. Rain or dew drops can largely affect your stargazing at night. So, you need to choose a telescope considering this factor too.
Decide What You Want To Observe
Before buying a telescope, you first need to determine what you want to look at. Not all telescopes are suitable for observing everything. If you want to look at moons and planets, then you need a telescope that can provide high-contrast, crisp resolution. Regular reflector or refractor telescopes will be okay for that. However, for observing distant celestial objects, galaxies, nebulas etc, you’ll need something with a bigger aperture like a large reflector telescope.
Many beginners often make the mistake of thinking that higher power means better viewing and crispier resolution. But it’s not quite right. Power doesn’t work like that on a telescope. The higher power a telescope has, the more it will amplify the blurriness of a view and dilute the brightness.
Here is a quick calculation tip to determine how much power a telescope can handle at maximum level. Just keep this simple thing in mind:
1 inch of aperture= 50 times power
So if you have a telescope with 6 inch aperture, the maximum power it can handle is 300 times. For a 3 inch aperture, the maximum level will get down to 150. It is as simple as that.
Don’t think that the higher power a telescope has, the more you can see. Too much magnification will result in blurred image. You need to determine how much power your telescope needs to have for your purpose.
Learning About The Finderscope:
Finderscopes generally come with the telescope attached to one side. They possess a smaller magnification power than the main telescope itself. As a result, through a Finderscope, you can observe a much larger field of view, which is essential for manual aiming. The Finderscope is also used for locating an extraterrestrial object to observe it with the telescope. Now most Finderscopes come with crosshairs to locate an object accurately.
Learning About The Mount
There are mainly two types of telescope mounts: equatorial and altazimuth. A basic idea on both of these mounts is crucial for knowing how to use a telescope for stargazing.
- Altazimuth mount is for beginners. It is much simpler than equatorial mount and perfect for someone who is just starting out with telescope. This mount only moves side to side and up down.
- Equatorial mount is much more complicated. These mounts move from celestial north to south and west to east. The rotating axis of the telescope, also known as the polar axis, should be aligned to the North Star, Polaris. Once aligned, the telescope will then move as the motion of the sky around this axis. The motion will be similar to star’s movement starting from east to west.
- Getting used to the equatorial mount can be challenging. Each time you want to observe a new object, you’ll have to set everything from the beginning. First you’ll need to unlock the axis of the telescope. The using the Finderscope look for the object you want to observe and lock it in the position. If your Finderscope comes with crosshairs, set the object in the middle of the crosshair. After everything is set, there are tiny movement control handles through which you can control the movement of the telescope. Though equatorial mounts are much more complicated, they produce a more accurate result.
Learning About The Tripod
This step requires common sense rather than any technical knowledge. When you are setting up your telescope, make sure the tripod is properly set on a level surface. The three legs need to be accurately balanced otherwise it may cause the telescope to fall over. Always set the telescope on a level field.
Knowing The Sky
Before even getting a telescope and spending a load of money on buying one, you need to know the night sky. Without a proper grip on that, no matter how expensive your telescope is, you won’t be able to observe anything.
First determine what you want to observe. There are moon, other planets, meteor showers, nebulas, distant galaxies and a lot other celestial objects. After you’ve determined what you want to observe, then it is time to find out the suitable time, weather, location, etc.
Here are some tips:
- If you want to observe the stars, a moonlit night won’t be the ideal circumstance. The sky needs to be dark.
- For stargazing, it is crucial to learn about the constellations and individual stars. If you want to observe a specific constellation or star, learn about it. See when is the ideal time, weather, location to observe it. This information will come in handy a lot!
- Having a good grip on the sky chart is essential for any new astronomer. It will help you to know where to point your telescope at night.
Choosing The Location
After you’ve decided what to look for, you need to do a bit of research. See when that particular object is most visible and where is the preferred location. This simple research will increase your success in observing the object 100 times more.
- The light pollution is very important to consider when stargazing. If you are living in a place where there is a lot of light pollution (in a big city or town), then you need to get to a higher place (preferably on the roof of a building) where the pollution will have less impact.
- Choose a place where you’ll be alone and not disturbed by passerby. The fewer people there are, the more you can concentrate and observe.
Practice and Practice Again:
If you are thinking that you’ll be able to observe the stars perfectly like a pro in the first try, then you are living in the world of a fool. Stargazing is an art and it can only be mastered through patience and consistency. Practice again and again. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. Here’s a great way to practice:
Set your telescope with the lowest power eyepiece you’ve got. Now point the telescope at a distant terrestrial object (about a 100 feet distance), preferably towards a treetop or a chimney. Lock the object in the center of the crosshair. See if you can observe the object with the telescope. If you can, try with a higher powered eyepiece. If you can’t, try again.
NEVER AIM THE TELESCOPE TOWARDS THE SUN!
Wear comfortable dress when heading out for stargazing. Dress according to the weather. Also, take some snacks and beverages with you. I always like take some hot coffee when I am stargazing.
Stargazing Tips Wish I Knew When I Were Starting Out
Here are some of the stargazing tips for beginners who are just starting out:
- Before you even buy a telescope, it is important to learn about stars, constellations and night sky. The best way to learn about them is through books. NightWatch is one of my top favorite books for any beginner who wants to learn stargazing. I have found the cheapest price on Amazon. Click here check out the current price!
- After you have gained a pretty good idea on stars and constellations, now it is time to learn your gear, the telescope. Before even buying one, learn everything you can about telescopes from online. Learn how they work, what are the types of telescope, which one is suitable for what purpose etc. Also do learn the maintenance and assembling of a telescope.
- Once you have got your first telescope, start practicing with it. Practice aiming the telescope to a distant object, preferably a few hundred feet. An ideal target will be the chimney of a house. Try different eyepieces while practicing. These practice sessions will help you to get a good grip on your telescope.
- If there are any, then join a local astronomy club. I wish I did that when I was starting out. A club can be a wonderful resource for anyone who is starting to dive into a new field. The fellow club members encourage each other and this way, learning becomes much more effective and interesting. Through astroleague.org, you can try to find the astronomical club nearest to you.
What To See?
For a beginner, the most prominent object to observe in the night sky is the moon. Moon is certainly very easy to locate. When you aim your telescope at the moon, a ton of surprises will be waiting for you. I guarantee that the fine details of the Moon’s texture will leave you amazed. It certainly left me like that.
Near the Moon, there will be Venus. Venus is most prominent just after sunset and before sunrise. You can even observe Venus with a binocular if the atmosphere is ideal.
Another planet you can observe through telescope is the Jupiter. Even with a binocular you can see the 4 bright moons of Jupiter. As you get a bit more experience, you can try to see the Saturn in the southeast region of the sky (at dawn).
There are also many more nebulas, constellations and stars you can observe. But first, start with the easy larger objects. Once you get the hang of it, you can try objects that are much farther in distance.
This Is My Favorite Telescope For Stargazing
This article is not about the best telescopes for stargazing. However, I want to mention my favorite telescope for stargazing as this will help out most beginners. I can vouch for this telescope, it’s cheap in price and offers all the features that a beginner-friendly telescope should have.
I am talking about Celestron 70AZ Refractor Telescope. Suitable for beginners, it deserves to be anyone’s first telescope for stargazing. Amazon is currently selling this model at the cheapest price. You can click here to check out the current price.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to keep both of my eyes open or only one?
Answer: Yes, you’ll need to keep both of them open. It is because, when only one eye is open, it vibrates which result in a poor observation.
Does shorter lens mean lower power?
Answer: Actually no, it’s the opposite. The shorter the lens is, the more power it has.
Are planets visible during daytime?
Answer: Not all of them, but a few can be observed during daytime. However you’ll have to know where to look and when to look. Venus can be observed easily during daytime. You can also observe Jupiter during sunrise and sunset.
What should I do if the image turns out to be blurry?
Answer: There should be focusing knobs with your telescope. These knobs are located mostly around the eyepiece. Adjust the knob to increase or decrease the distance between the lens and the eyepiece. Try adjusting until the image gets clearer.
What is the relation between mm and magnification?
Answer: The higher the mm is, the lower will be the magnification. A 4 mm eyepiece will produce higher magnification than a 25 mm eyepiece.
I hope by now you have a solid idea of how to use a telescope for stargazing. I tried to explain everything one should know when he is just starting out. Stargazing can be a very complex field. I tried to leave all the complex parts and present you with the easy way to observe night sky.
If the guide has helped you, do share with your friends who are as just as curious about night sky as you.