I am a telescope guy. Been doing it all my life and have handled a whole lot of telescopes. The stuff is almost second nature to me. Just recently I bought an inexpensive telescope for a young family member. And I came to realize that a telescope can be a bit of a challenge to people who are not very familiar with it. There are some things to learn and some great little techniques you can use to get the absolute most out of your small telescope. My goal here is to help you to get an enriching experience out of a small investment.
So here is my guidelines for getting the most out of a small telescope
- Put the telescope outside at least half an hour before you plan on using it and take any covers off of it. The optics and and the air inside the tube will need to adjust to the temperature difference between your house and the outside world. Otherwise the lenses can fog up and degrade what you see.
- Do your observing in a dark area. Find the darkest area you can find and when you are using the telescope try to stay in that area and away from any house lights. Your eyes will need to adjust slowly and this will make a big difference in what you see!
- If you have an inexpensive telescope the tripod that it sits on will not be very stable. It will have a little bit of shake in it. Be sure to place it on solid ground. If you place it on a wooden deck it will shake as you move or as other people walk on the deck. Remember that it is magnifying things a hundred times or more so the tiniest movement will be magnified one hundred times.
- Try to avoid viewing on nights with a full moon. You won't get good views of the moon because there are no shadows and the light from the full moon will wash out a lot of other things in the sky. The best nights are those with thin slivers of moon because you will get dark skies and wonderful crater shadows on the moon itself.
- Do a little research ahead of time either on the web or with a book. Use the research to make a list of some of the things you will try to find that night. ( I have a list for you at the bottom of this page)
- If your telescope comes with several eyepieces you should start out your viewing with the lowest power eyepieces.
- When looking through the telescope you should give it a few seconds to stabilize after moving it. And when looking through it don't touch it or it will shake.
Let me expand further on using the lowest power eyepieces
One of the biggest challenges to using a telescope for the first few times is trying to move it around to find things in the sky. And because it is magnifying things it can be a challenge to move it around and find what you are looking for. Just an inch in one direction moves the viewing a long ways in the sky. Here is an explanation of this and how you can find things much easier.
Here is what to do to make finding things much easier.
Point your telescope at something on the earth that you can see. A far away house, tree or even light. Get it centered in the telescope. Now look through the finderscope. Is that object located right in the crosshairs of the little finderscope? If so then your telescope is ready. If not, you should loosen the screws on the finderscope and readjust it so the object you are looking at is right in the center of the crosshairs.
Now when you are looking for things in the night sky you can look through the finderscope first. With this little scope it is very easy to find things. Then when you look through the big telescope the object will either be right there or very close to right there.
Using Different Eyepieces
When hunting for things in the night sky you should start out with the lowest power eyepieces. As a rule of thumb the lower the power of the eyepiece the larger the little lens is! The lens is the glass piece that you look into. So grab the eyepiece with the largest lens and put it in your telescope. Start with this one! Here is why:
Let's say this circle is what we see when we look through the eyepiece of the telescope. The swirly thing is what we wanted to find. But also see how you can see five stars? You can see a good amount of the sky so it is easy to move the telescope around to find the swirly..
But here is what we see when we use a higher power eyepiece. You can see how much less of the sky is seen. We are looking at a smaller slice of sky. And while this means we get a better look at the swirly thing it also means it is much more difficult to find it! Small movements of the telescope move the view around a lot so you can hunt and hunt and it is hard to find things!
So, start with the lower power eyepiece and find the object first. Get the object centered in the view then switch to the higher powered eyepiece to get a closer look at it.
SO, What Can you look for in the night sky with a small telescope?
Here is my list of things you should look for on your first few nights. These objects are easily found with small telescopes and will give you a rewarding experience.
- The moon -- of course! But only view it when it is half or less. The smaller the sliver the moon is the better the viewing. There will be larger shadows and you will see craters much more defined.
- The Planets - Yes, if you can you should turn your telescope to Jupiter. With an inexpensive small telescope you will be able to see the four moons that revolve around it and you will be able to see a band or two going right across the middle of the planet. Second you should look to Saturn. With a bit of magnification you might be able to see the planets rings. They won't be well defined but you will see them as protrusions out the sides of Saturn.
- A Galaxy! Yes, There is a galaxy called M31 in the constellation of Andromeda. Locate this on a star map then find it in the night sky. You will be surprised by this. It will look like a little spiral fuzzy cotton ball.
- A Nebula! In the constellation of Orion is the M42 Nebula. This is very nice nebula and it will appear as a fuzzy little cotton ball.
- Globular Cluster - In the constellation of Hercules there is a star cluster called M13. This is nice formation of stars and your telescope might see it as a nice cotton ball. But you might be able to resolve it into some separate stars. Very nice.
Using even an inexpensive and small telescope can be a very rewarding experience if you just know some of the good viewing tips and techniques.
Here are a couple of good books for beginners that will help you locate and find objects in the night sky:
See It with a Small Telescope: 101 Cosmic Wonders Including Planets, Moons, Comets, Galaxies, Nebulae, Star Clusters and More
A Note from Will:
This book was a work of joy for me. I have loved telescopes and astronomy for my whole life since I received my very first small telescope as a teenager. With this book I hope to share that passion and enthusiasm with you. There are lots of wonderful things to see in the night sky and in this book I show you 101 of them!
It doesn't take an astronomy degree to feel like an astronaut and explore space with a small telescope. See It with a Small Telescope takes the mystery and struggle out of exploring the unknown and discovering new worlds! With hands-on tips and tricks, this book offers a complete guide to unleashing the full power of a small telescope and going beyond the basics.
Without technical jargon and complicated star charts, this book offers step-by-step instructions and easy-to-use illustrations for finding over 100 celestial objects in the night's sky, including:
- Saturn's Rings
- Jupiter's Moons
- The Orion Nebula
- The Andromeda Galaxy
- Polaris Double Star
- Pegasus Globular Cluster
- Apollo 11 Site
- and more...
The third edition of Nightwatch continues its tradition of being the best handbook for the beginning astronomer. Terence Dickinson covers all the problems beginners face, starting with the fact that the night sky does not look the way a modern city-dweller expects. He discusses light pollution, how to choose binoculars and telescopes, how to pronounce the names of stars and constellations, telescope mounts, averted vision, and why the harvest moon looks especially bright. Most of the lovely photographs in the book were taken by amateurs, which gives the section on astrophotography a particularly inspirational gleam.
Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope--and How to Find Them
An excellent book for small telescope users...As the resurgence in small telescopes continues, this book will be of use to all users of such instruments. Since many of the objects covered in Turn Left at Orion can be seen from light-polluted skies, this book is a valuable asset even if you live in a large urban area.
"...should be packaged with every first telescope. It's as nearly perfect as such a book can be." Sky & Telescope
"...for those intent on doing some serious observing with a small telescope, Turn Left at Orion has much to recommend it."
"An excellent introduction to astronomy for beginners and a field guide for experts." -- -- St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"An excellent introduction to astronomy for beginners and a field guide for experts." -- Review
"Brimming with dazzling celestial photographs and timely astronomical information, the newly revised Peterson Field Guide to the Stars and Planets is a must-have resource for any amateur stargazer." -- -- Country Living Gardener