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Posts tagged ‘Astronomy Hints’

Repost: So you got a new telescope for the holidays – A new telescope owner’s primer

This is a repost of our usual post-holiday telescope primer for new telescope owners:

So you got a new telescope for the holidays: A Quick Primer for new telescope users.

Be it X-mas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Solstice or Giftmas this is the season for getting telescopes as gifts. Sadly, many of these scopes might be rushed into usage and some critical steps might be 016skipped. This can result in a frustrating experience for a budding young astronomer who may give up their new hobby prematurely. This can be avoided if you only take the time and a few precautions to make certain you get the baby steps out of the way without too much tripping and falling.

1) Do as much as you can during daytime first!

I can’t stress this too much. Many folks assume they can assemble their telescope right out of the box at their chosen viewing spot – in the dark. Suffice it to say this is not a good idea. Assembling out of the box at the viewing site might be an extreme example but you should certainly try working your scope and getting the ‘feel’ for it during the daytime as much as possible. Take your telescope outside during the daytime and point it at a nearby tree or other object (the object should be at least 1/4 mile away). Use this object to align the finder scope (see below) as well as test how the eyepiece focuses. Try changing your eyepieces between the low and high powered ones to see how that works as well. Move the telescope in large movements as well as using the slow motion controls as well. When you do these things in the daylight you can get a much better feel for how they should work than if you try them at night. Also if you drop an eyepiece or loosen a screw you have a decent chance to find it. Get your mistakes out of the way when the sun is up.

2) Assemble your telescope properly

This should go without saying, but it is amazing how many folks skip a few steps or don’t attach parts, or don’t read the instructions properly. We’ve seen telescopes in for “repairs” just after the holidays that were just put together wrong, or some critical final steps were ignored (slow motion controls not attached, counterweights not placed). Most of the time, there are very few non-critical elements of a telescope’s construction. So be sure to follow the assembly procedure carefully. Allow yourself a couple of hours as well (maybe three hours for certain models of dobsonian telescopes) for the assembly. Don’t assume you can just put it together a 1/2 hour before you plan to head out and view.

3) Align your finder scope. Align your finder scope! ALIGN YOUR FINDER SCOPE!

Get the point? Many folks ignore this step until the last minute and we can tell you that trying to work a telescope without an aligned finger is very,very, very hard. Even the lower 084magnifications on a short focal length telescope only see a little under 1 arc degree of the sky. This is a tiny portion of the sky so hoping to find an object with just the eyepiece is really hard to do. There is a reason why almost all telescopes come with a finder scope. So make sure to align it (During the daytime per suggestion #1) . If your telescope comes with a red-dot finder instead of an optical finder scope, be certain to carefully align that as well during the daytime – and don’t forget to switch it off! A dead battery in a red dot finder is nobody’s friend.

4) Did you get an Equatorial mount? Figure out how it moves!

An equatorial mount has some great advantages over a regular altazimuth (altitude-azimuth) mount. It can track, be motorized, and the larger ones can even be used with setting circles to locate objects in the night sky. But these are only true if you take advantage of the equatorial mount’s features and set it up properly. During the daytime (suggestion #1 again!) try a rudimentary set-up of the equatorial mount. This does not have to be super accurate as some telescope’s instruction manuals may require, just enough to get mostly accurate tracking for a little while. Perhaps more importantly, get a feel for how the telescope moves – you are used to moving things in an up/down left/right fashion. Now you need to get used to moving the telescope in declination and right ascension. Try moving the telescope from one target to another using the mount properly during the daytime to get a better sense of it. One thing to keep in mind is that the counterweight is there for a reason – it shouldn’t be pointing down all the time.

If you have a larger Equatorial mount keep in mind that you can use the setting circles to help find objects in the night sky with the help of a star atlas. But this means you have to learn to use it. Read your instruction manual carefully. You might also consider downloading a Sidereal Time app for you smartphone. You’ll see why once you figure out the details of using your Equatorial mount.

5) Choose your first targets wisely!

Many folks go out with their telescope and just point it at the brightest thing in the sky. This is fine if the brightest object is a planet or the Moon, as there is lots to see. But very often at this time of year the planets might not be out until very late and the brightest thing in the sky is the star Sirius. Problem is, Sirius is just a star and stars appear as just a point of light even when magnified through your telescope. This can be a very boring target and can be disappointing if it is the only bright object. So make certain before you go out for your first night’s viewing that you know what will be up! Most telescopes these days come with some rudimentary planetarium software that can show you what the sky will be like on any night. Failing that there are online websites that do the same thing (sometimes better). Planispheres can also be used, and if you have a Smartphone or pad you should download a planetarium app like Google Sky (its free). Depending on what time of the month it is, the Moon may not be up during evening hours. Since we suggest the Moon as a great first target for your telescope you might want to wait for it. Failing that, try to look for the brighter planets.

6) Got a computerized telescope? Take advantage of free smartphone apps to make it much easier to set up!

We’ve been kind of ‘meh’ about computerized telescopes in the past, and are still a bit wary of a telescope where 70% of the cost is in the computer andGoogleSky motors and not the optics. But we have softened a bit since they have become a bit easier to use – and not because they changed, but rather our phones did.

Computerized telescope makers kind of make it seem like a computer means your telescope will magically find things in the night sky. All you need to do is toss it into your yard and enjoy the viewing. But that is not how they work. To set up the telescope’s computer you need to point it at two named stars so it can calculate where everything else in the night sky is located. This used to mean that to set up the telescope you had to have good knowledge of the night sky to find those stars -which kind of defeated the purpose.

But now smartphones are ubiquitous these days and there are plenty of planetarium apps out there for free that will help you identify those stars. Smartphone planetarium apps are not super-accurate (they can be off by as much as an hour)  but they will help you spot and identify bright stars that you need to aim your telescope at to orient the computer.  This makes the computer orientation much easier to do than trying to learn to use a planisphere or star map on the fly.

7) Learn, learn learn!

There’s a host of information for astronomy newbies on the internet and in books. Amateur astronomers are very keen on sharing their knowledge and experience with you. Check out the major magazines online websites such as Sky & Telescope or Astronomy. There are a zillion astronomy websites with forums as well you might wish to peruse. Even on this blog we have a collection of Telescope Tips you should check out for helpful advice. Also consider joining or at least contacting your local astronomy club – you can find all kinds of help from them, as well as many other benefits from membership (such as loaner equipment).

If your first night with your telescope is a good one, then you’ll have a much better time with the hobby. But always remember a little planning goes a long way!

Happy New Year!

Interested in buying telescopes?

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

Telescope Tips: Spherical Mirror vs. Parabolic Mirror.

This is actually an issue that may be affecting more and more people buying their first telescope. A few years ago multiple sellers 013on eBay flooded the market with cheap no-name reflecting telescopes that had short tubes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with short tube telescopes, in fact they can be great for beginners as they tend to have wider fields of view. ( Because Short Tubes = Lower mangifications = Wider fields of view = easier to find objects in the night sky!).

Unfortunately all those cheap telescopes with short tubes had a big shortcoming – they all had Spherical Mirrors in them instead of the more called-for Parabolic Mirrors.

(more…)

The Art of Surviving an Astronomy Session

So you got yourself a new telescope and it is a clear night out. Time to grab the new telescope and bring it outside, right? Hold on there; as many new astronomers have discovered, an observing session isn’t as simple as when you go outside in the winter/early spring to put out the trash. There are several things you should probably prepare before you go out for a night of observing.

DRESSING FOR THE NIGHT WEATHER

Far, far too many folks dress for the daytime weather. This can be a problem for you if the daytime was a happy 78 degrees and then drops as the sun goes down into the 60’s.  Many an observing session has been ended prematurely because the astronomer forgot to wear a sweater.

For colder weather, it is 670px-Dress-for-the-Cold-Step-1-Version-2wise to dress in layers.  This way you can adjust your level of warmth as the night goes on. The only trouble with dressing in layers is that you need to get dressed indoors where it is warm and putting on multiple layers is a bit more complex than just tossing on a jacket. I have had sessions where I dressed for warmth and then had something delay my exiting the house, the result being me sweating up a storm before I got outside.

PREPPING THE AREA AROUND THE TELESCOPEfoldingtable

Even if you only have the eyepieces that came with your telescope and a star chart it might not be a bad idea to have somewhere to put these items down. A simply folding aluminum table can help a lot without being too much of a burden. You might also consider some kind of carrying case for the eyepieces. Keeping them in your pocket can be hard on the glass and coatings in the long run.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO VIEW IN ADVANCE…OR DON’T

2241largeWell before you go out, you should decide what you would like to observe that night, or if you just want to aim the telescope around and see what you can find. The latter can be lots of fun, but it can also get old pretty fast if you don’t find anything of interest. The former does require some planning, so be sure to check your planisphere, planetarium program or other astronomical assistant before going out.

HAVE FUN!

Far too many folks turn hobbies into chores – Astronomy is by no means unique in this regard. Doing some work in any hobby to get the most out of it is to be expected, but turning it into a huge burden can make you burn out on astronomy.

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

 

 

 

 

 

REPOST: So you got a new telescope for the holidays – A Quick Primer for new telescope users.

Be it X-mas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Solstice or Giftmas this is the season for getting telescopes as gifts. Sadly, many of these scopes might be rushed into usage and some critical steps might be 016skipped. This can result in a frustrating experience for a budding young astronomer who may give up their new hobby prematurely. This can be avoided if you only take the time and a few precautions to make certain you get the baby steps out of the way without too much tripping and falling.

1) Do as much as you can during daytime first!

I can’t stress this too much. Many folks assume they can assemble their telescope right out of the box at their chosen viewing spot – in the dark. Suffice it to say this is not a good idea. Assembling out of the box at the viewing site might be an extreme example but you should certainly try working your scope and getting the ‘feel’ for it during the daytime as much as possible. Take your telescope outside during the daytime and point it at a nearby tree or other object (the object should be at least 1/4 mile away). Use this object to align the finder scope (see below) as well as test how the eyepiece focuses. Try changing your eyepieces between the low and high powered ones to see how that works as well. Move the telescope in large movements as well as using the slow motion controls as well. When you do these things in the daylight you can get a much better feel for how they should work than if you try them at night. Also if you drop an eyepiece or loosen a screw you have a decent chance to find it. Get your mistakes out of the way when the sun is up.

2) Assemble your telescope properly

This should go without saying, but it is amazing how many folks skip a few steps or don’t attach parts, or don’t read the instructions properly. We’ve seen telescopes in for “repairs” just after the holidays that were just put together wrong, or some critical final steps were ignored (slow motion controls not attached, counterweights not placed). Most of the time, there are very few non-critical elements of a telescope’s construction. So be sure to follow the assembly procedure carefully. Allow yourself a couple of hours as well (maybe three hours for certain models of dobsonian telescopes) for the assembly. Don’t assume you can just put it together a 1/2 hour before you plan to head out and view.

3) Align your finder scope. Align your finder scope! ALIGN YOUR FINDER SCOPE!

Get the point? Many folks ignore this step until the last minute and we can tell you that trying to work a telescope without an aligned finger is very,very, very hard. Even the lower 084magnifications on a short focal length telescope only see a little under 1 arc degree of the sky. This is a tiny portion of the sky so hoping to find an object with just the eyepiece is really hard to do. There is a reason why almost all telescopes come with a finder scope. So make sure to align it (During the daytime per suggestion #1) . If your telescope comes with a red-dot finder instead of an optical finder scope, be certain to carefully align that as well during the daytime – and don’t forget to switch it off! A dead battery in a red dot finder is nobody’s friend.

4) Did you get an Equatorial mount? Figure out how it moves!

An equatorial mount has some great advantages over a regular altazimuth (altitude-azimuth) mount. It can track, be motorized, and the larger ones can even be used with setting circles to locate objects in the night sky. But these are only true if you take advantage of the equatorial mount’s features and set it up properly. During the daytime (suggestion #1 again!) try a rudimentary set-up of the equatorial mount. This does not have to be super accurate as some telescope’s instruction manuals may require, just enough to get mostly accurate tracking for a little while. Perhaps more importantly, get a feel for how the telescope moves – you are used to moving things in an up/down left/right fashion. Now you need to get used to moving the telescope in declination and right ascension. Try moving the telescope from one target to another using the mount properly during the daytime to get a better sense of it. One thing to keep in mind is that the counterweight is there for a reason – it shouldn’t be pointing down all the time.

5) Choose your first targets wisely!

Many folks go out with their telescope and just point it at the brightest thing in the sky. This is fine if the brightest object is a planet or the Moon, as there is lots to see. But very often at this time of year the planets might not be out until very late and the brightest thing in the sky is the star Sirius. Problem is, Sirius is just a star and stars appear as just a point of light even when magnified through your telescope. This can be a very boring target and can be disappointing if it is the only bright object. So make certain before you go out for your first night’s viewing that you know what will be up! Most telescopes these days come with some rudimentary planetarium software that can show you what the sky will be like on any night. Failing that there are online websites that do the same thing (sometimes better). Planispheres can also be used, and if you have a Smartphone or pad you should download a planetarium app like Google Sky (its free). Depending on what time of the month it is, the Moon may not be up during evening hours. Since we suggest the Moon as a great first target for your telescope you might want to wait for it. Failing that, try to look for the brighter planets.

6) Got a computerized telescope? You might want to ignore it -at first.

And by that we mean the computer, not the telescope. Some models of computerized telescope don’t allow you to operate the telescope without the computer, but if you can try to figure out as much as you can without computer aid before you even start using it. Computers often make many things in our lives easier, but they can also frustrate you -a lot. Most computerized telescopes may require you to have at least some knowledge of the night sky to set up the alignment system (the telescope usually needs to be aimed at a couple of stars to align). This can mean that if you don’t know what stars to point at or if the system is a bit off because a tripod leg is set short than another you can spend a lot of time trying to get the computer to act properly and get frustrated. So rather than doing that spend some time getting familiar with the night sky first by using your scope on bright, easy-to-find objects.

7) Learn, learn learn!

There’s a host of information for astronomy newbies on the internet and in books. Amateur astronomers are very keen on sharing their knowledge and experience with you. Check out the major magazines online websites such as Sky & Telescope or Astronomy. There are a zillion astronomy websites with forums as well you might wish to peruse. Even on this blog we have a collection of Telescope Tips you should check out for helpful advice. Also consider joining or at least contacting your local astronomy club – you can find all kinds of help from them, as well as many other benefits from membership (such as loaner equipment).

If your first night with your telescope is a good one, then you’ll have a much better time with the hobby. But always remember a little planning goes a long way!

Happy New Year!

Interested in buying telescopes?

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

Astronomy Hints #18: Do I need a red light flashlight?

There are many factors that can effect the quality of a telescope session: clouds, turbulence, haze, light pollution, moonlight, and so on. Most of these the astronomer cannot do anything to change, but one of them – night adapted vision, you do at least have some control over. You cannot control everything your eyes do, but you can help them a lot.

Many beginning astronomers often make a common mistake of going from a brightly lit house with their telescope out into the darks skies and start viewing through their telescope immediately. This can be a bit unsatisfying if you are looking at dim deep space objects. The will be extremely faint simply because your eyes are not adapted to the darkness. This isn’t just about the pupils of your eyes dialating, either. (more…)

Assembling the Orion SkyQuest XT8i Intelliscope Dobsonian Telescope – Part 1

A bit of a disclaimer here. This is going to be as much of ‘what’s wrong with the Intelliscope’s instructions as much as it will be a  ‘how to’ for helping set-up your Intelliscope.

005First a little background: Dobsonian telescopes, with their large mirrors and lazy-susan bases have been around for ages but it wasn’t until Orion released their SkyQuest XT line in the late 90’s that they became popular. Previous Dobsonian telescope models had issues with balance and were trick to keep on target.  Odd solutions like weights added to the outside of the telescope were clunky and awkward for basic users. Orion solved the issue by adding the CorrectTension system, which was a spring that held the optical tube of the Dobsonian to the base. It was a simple and elegant solution and it worked very well. The line got excellent marks and was considered one of the best Dobsonian lines on the market . At first Orion just sold a 6″ and 8″ model, then added a 10″ model, a 4.5″ kid’s model, and later a 12″ model.

For several years, Orion pretty much dominated the Dobsonian Market, but when imitators cropped up they decided to improve their classic Dobsonian by adding a computer guidance system (not a computer control system like many GoTo telescopes). Here you would get the advantages of having a computer system to help you find objects. It would not require batteries for any motors and the observer would be the person moving the telescope, using a hand controller to guide them.

The whole system using a pair of magnetic encoders, and development was tricky. The initial plan was to have the Intelliscope completely replace the original Dobsonian line where it would be sold with and without the controllers. This didn’t happen due to some development issues. Once the Intelliscope was ready it was sold both with and without the controllers, but after a few years it was sold strictly with the Intelliscope controller system. This unfortunately left some ‘development scars’  that will show up from time to time as we assemble the telescope. (more…)

Astronomy Tips – Using & reviewing astronomy apps on your smart phone Part 1

So you got yourself a telescope. Great! But you couldn’t afford all those computerized doo-dads that everyone else has on their telescopes and like you see on that one telescope shown in the SkyMall catalog. Boo..wait, you don’t need that! You’ve got a Smart Phone!

iphones

Now Smart phones are no substitute for experience with a telescope, but they can make your life a little easier during an observing session.

First up is the 800 lb gorilla of astronomy phone smart apps: Google Sky Map

googleskyapp

This app is very straightforward: you point your phone at the sky, and based off your location (determined by GPS or other methods) it shows what is in the sky in the direction the phone is facing:

googleskymapscreen

This is great for identifying what is in the night sky, for finding out where deep sky objects will be in comparison to stars you can actually see and so on.

It is not perfect, nor is it a substitute for a Star Map or Planisphere – for one thing it can only show a small portion of the sky (even when using a larger screened Pad. Another problem is accuracy – the Sky Map seems to often be off by an hour or so and it is not certain why.  It may just be the physical limits of the orientation of the phone. Nontheless, it is invaluable as an app

Verdict: Strongly Recommended.

Next up: SkEye

Skeye

SkEye is very much like Google Sky Map except it has a few other features, main that it has the potential to act with your telescope as an object finder!

On the surface, it starts as another planetarium program:

SkEyescreeen

It is somewhat less intuitive that Google Sky Map, starting off with the Red light setting on (astronomers use red light to night disturb their night vision). Some of the setup is a little bit more involved, and we can’t see. It also is not automatically set up to follow your path as you move it around.

On the plus side, at least for more experienced astronomers, you can use SkEye to turn your telescope into a push-to telescope. The process involves ‘attaching the phone to your telescope’, which is a bit on the vague side.

A pro version is available which has fainter stars and shows satellites. The cost is $9.00

Verdict: Better than Google Sky Map for Advanced astronomers – casual users should stick with Sky Map

Telescope Simulator by SUPANOVA

telescopesim

Telescope simulator is not free. It costs $1.39 as of this writing. Its purpose is to give you a realistic idea of what you will see through any telescope. You can adjust the aperture, eyepiece size or pick from 50 popular designs.

The reason for this app is so you can see why there are differences in telescopes. As we like to tell folks buying a telescope: Any telescope will let you see Saturn’s Rings, but the question is how good do they look? This app hopes to answer that question.

By our own tests the appearances were accurate. Of course any such app will lack the real life effects of turbulence, floaters in your eye, and other unpredictable effects, but this is only a simulation, after all.

The major disadvantage is that there are a limited number of objects to view in the app.

Verdict: Planning on buying a telescope? Probably worth it. Otherwise not needed.

Telescope Flashlight

telescopeflashlight

There are actually quite a few apps like this, but this seems to be the most popular one.

Red flashlights are used by astronomers to preserve their night vision. What this flashlight does (unlike regular flashlight apps) is instead of using the flashbulb LED, it simply turns your screen red:

telescopeflashlightscreen

That’s pretty much what it does.

You can adjust the brightness of the light by using the volume buttons on your phone as even a red light that is too bright. It seems to work well.

The bad stuff: Ok, so if it is just a flashlight app, why does it need to access so much stuff on my phone? Does having access to my contact list make it a better flashlight? This stuff is a concern.

Verdict: Works as advertised, but be wary of its intrusive nature. There are other red flashlight apps out there.

Part 2 coming soon!

www.spectrum-scientifics.com