Telescope - Starting Out

Telescope - Starting Out

You may think about astronomy for awhile and then one morning you wake to the idea of scope ownership and what a great idea it is, but!!!  There is a whole heap of things to be considered before you take that step towards purchase of your optical device.
Firstly, is it a knee jerk reaction – have you recently viewed the galaxy (or a very small portion of it) in a friends ‘super’ telescope, possibly a 10-12 or 14” or maybe viewed a television documentary on the universe or some such.  Please don’t get me wrong, in fact, join the club.  Most of us start off in a similar fashion.  You must however, realise that the image you were looking at was through a large aperture telescope or enhanced for TV and you won’t achieve that same image quality in a smaller instrument, or at least not immediately.  My first telescope was indeed a ‘Tasco’ 60mm Refractor with a small battery motor on the RA Axis and when I eventually learned how to align it correctly on ‘Celestial South’ – the views of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter etc. simply blew me away.  It wasn’t long though before my 60 odd year old eyes were yelling at me for a larger aperture device, which came along in the form of a ‘Skywatcher’ of slightly larger dimensions.  My new scope was a 130mm, 1000mm Focal Length Newtonian which I enjoyed to the fullest.

Suddenly my targets were clearer and the objects I viewed were larger and I reckon more detail was evident in the eyepiece.  You can now see where I’m heading with this but more about my experience later.

It is now my belief that if you buy too small it is inevitable that you will upgrade and that will happen pretty quickly, so take your time and look about or even join your local club or group.  They are only too happy to pass on ‘good’ buying tips and show their latest acquisitions, be it a new ‘Red Dot Finder’ or scope or even a new set of the latest Flat Field eyepieces.  I’m sure most groups are ready to take in another member, we at Townsville Astronomy Group most certainly are!

So having seen all the different types and makes (brand names) of telescopes and if your head is still able to accept the challenge, a choice must be made.  Is the scope just for you or maybe it is to be a family affair!  Is it to be just for viewing or will you move onto ‘imaging’ in the future?  A well chosen instrument can last a life time, so choose carefully.
We know the basic set-ups:

  1. Alt-Azimuth mounted Refractors are usually for the casual point and look viewer and here I am referring to the smaller type telescopes 60-70 or even 90mm, believe me Alt-Az mounts are not confined to the smaller scope only.
  2. There is also the smaller Newtonian type telescopes that can be either mounted on an equatorial mount (with or without RA-DEC motor drives) or on the easier to operate ‘Dobsonian’ mount.  The latter is mainly a point and look type, although there is a version with go-to capability that is now marketed by several brand names.
  3. As in No. 2 choice there are the larger apertures in the Newtonian type which are most appealing in so far as their viewing magnitude increases dramatically. I believe a 10” or 254mm aperture Newtonian can be easier to operate on say a HEQ5 or EQ6 mount than its smaller more fiddly counterpart.  A ladder or viewing seat of special design may be needed for those younger members of the family or public and indeed these telescopes rise up to the 14” and 16” size and present quite a challenge for most people to reach the eyepiece but remain reasonably priced even on the better end of the market.
  4. If the telescope to be purchases is for the whole family then it must satisfy the adults needs.  In most cases if dad or mum walk away unhappy the children will follow and may loose interest altogether, so once again choose carefully.
  5. Now we get into the go-to type of telescope.  That is you put in co-ordinates and the telescope will slew to them.  If you have positioned the device well and did an accurate line-up procedure this should all go well.  OK!  It does take time and is somewhat more complex than point and look but remember the local group spoken of before, this is where they can help.

These scopes come in many different configurations and at many different prices.  From Refractors through to Newtonian, Schmidt-Cassegrain to Maksutov-Cassagrain and so on.  On top of all that (that is just the optical systems) we have to choose what sort of drive mechanism we will employ to power the new telescope.

Some come with drives ‘semi’ built while others are supplied as mount and optical tube assembly.  I have always had both types and they have always been of the Sky-Watcher or Vixen brand which in my humble opinion top the list.  See which although not alone in the market place has always been my choice.  The service is very good and the advice that of experience, the call is yours.

The Sky-Watcher 10” and 12” Newtonians in my stable I believe have the best optics available in the lower end market and the Vixen VMC200 Catadioptric is simply one ATO in a range of telescopes manufactured in Japan.  In my opinion the Refractors, in aperture out to 150mm is, dare I say it, unbeatable!  And I have that on good authority from many owners of that brand of telescope.  I remain opened to the findings of other amateurs on that subject but ‘my’ choice (my cravings) probably won’t change.

Although they are somewhat more expensive, the Vixen is a really good cure for that quality fever that attacks straight after or with aperture fever, that malidy you will find out about as time goes on.  Imaging – some of the best work I’ve seen in my short time at this hobby has been done using the combination of Sky-Watcher EQ6 and Sky-Watcher 10” Newtonian coupled with the GStar-Ex CCD camera which we purchased from .  now I realise it’s a bit early to talk imaging for some people whilst others get straight into it.  I, (whether right or wrong) feel it’s a good idea to get to know your way around up there before launching into greater things.  A well programmed mount, if set up well will automatically know its way around the celestial sphere but you on the other hand may not unless you go out of your way every time to look into your finderscope.  I’ve had many debates on this topic and it would seem that the jury is still out.  Some people take to ‘go-to’ telescopes like dusks to water.  I myself find it very difficult to part with a scope I’ve spent long hours at peering upwards, so I seem to have accumulated the odd one or six but having said that, it gives me a reasonable selection when I go out at night to view and I’m also not saying that you should buy too many but a good quick ‘point and look’ Dobsonion mounted Newtonian in the 10” range and an equally good and well mounted ‘OTA’ such as mentioned above for those imaging nights would be the ideal target.

There are other equally important things to learn along with recognition of stars and constellations such as, how to line your scope up on ‘Celestial South’, how to do a Polar Alignment or how to find those elusive objects even though they are right before you on a star chart but don’t seem to be there in your telescope.  What objects is it reasonable to look for, how far is it to far, what magnitude can the scope of your choice and indeed your eyes handle – remember, we all want you’re experience to be good!
After you have obtained your purchasing knowledge and maybe bought your telescope, then it is also time to obtain a good reference book for your field work and for me that is ‘The Atlas of the Southern Night Sky’ by Steve Massey and Steve Quirk.  It shows you objects that you can reasonably expect to find at around Mag 7 to 11 (and I like to tick em! as I find em!) plus a description and distance to target.

One other thing that people do that I find awkward, is buying this sort of thing on-line ‘Overseas” for a marked down rate just to save a ‘bob’ and then when something goes wrong with their purchase they expect retailers, here in good old Australia to help them out – come on people be fair, shop in your own country while you still can!  Things can only get better here, if you shop here!

OK folks!  I feel I’m starting to ramble so do your research, make your choice and good buying.

Clear skies and I hope to see you out there one dark night.