What's new here?

Posts tagged ‘telescope’

The Long Life and Sudden Death of the Edmund Astroscan Telescope

Few telescopes in this world are as….distinct as the Edmund Astroscan, I mean, _look_ at it:

astroscan

The Astroscan may hold a record for the longest running mass-produced telescope on the market, possibly only beat out by some of the classic Cassegrain models. It is also was one of the most controversial telescopes made (at least that wasn’t an outright scam or waste of people’s money). A simple search for the Astroscan in Astronomy forums reveals that the little red telescope has many detractors, and many defenders:

“I’ve never seen one that was in collimation”

“I love it! It is so easy to use!”

“Its an old design that should have been put to rest a long time ago, there are much better models in that size and price range!”

etc…

The back and forth actually reminds me more than a little bit of of the old Mac vs. PC wars on newsgroups, where PC advocates objected to people buying things that might not have been as  powerful or economic as what they used and Mac advocates vehemently defended their choices with rabidity and dared to be a fraction of the marketplace. Of course, in this case the scale was much smaller.

So what was the story behind this little telescope? Why was it so different than other telescopes? What happened to it? Why was it so loathed and loved? I shall try to answer these questions with my limited experience of having worked for Edmund Scientific for the last couple of years that the Edmund family owned the Scientifics division (The Edmund family still owns the Industrial Optics portion of the company).

In The Beginning

In 1976 the Edmund Scientific company started developing a telescope that would be its flagship model. The idea was to make something that was easy to use, easy to transport, and wouldn’t look out of place in a 1970’s Living Room. Given that in that era almost all commerically sold telescopes were tripod mounted things that took up a lot of real estate when set-up this was bit of a sea change. The optical system was developed so that the customer would not have to do any maintenance (or collimation) that reflectors often required. It was also designed with an optical window so that dust and other debris entering the tube would be minimized. The body was developed out of ABS plastic to be as durable as possible, and was smooth enough so that it would ‘roll’ on its base without being so slippery as to move with a hard breath.

Some decisions were made for its contruction. It initially did not have any aiming mechanism as it being a rich field telescope was assumed to be good enough to along (it wasn’t). The problem was mostly aesthetics: Any aiming mechanism would spoil the clean lines fo the Astroscan’s body. Eventually a sheet metal aiming deveice was developed that helped. Later models, as shown in the above picture, had a red-dot finder added for aiming.

The Astroscan was aimied squarely at novice users and this was both a help and hinderance. Hardcore amatuer astronomers were grumpy that so much effort was put into a telescope that wasn’t aimed at their needs, and didn’t address what they felt was ideal in a beginner telescope. The validity of their arguments continues to be debated to this day.

A harder barrier for the Astroscan to overcome was its low-power. Being a rich field telescope with only 1 eyepiece included it had what seemed like an anemic 16x magnification. This was in an age where retail department store telescopes were sick with ludicrious claims of unattainable magnification (640x!!!!). Edmund had hoped to have their new telescope sold by wholesale as well as through their famous catalog, and seeing this stylish but-low-powered telescope next to the fake claims of cheaper telescopes was a hinderance to those long-term wholesale plans.

Other features of the Astroscan were controversial: To reduce costs the focuser used a rubber wheel (as opposed to a rack and pinion system) that would press against the eyepiece’s base and move when the focuser knob was turned. But this wheel would develop ‘flats’ that made for a bumpy focusing experience, and in very cold weather it could shrink and not ‘grab’ the eyepiece properly. That said, some people loved it, including the founder of Orion Telescopes, Tim Geisler.

Other features of the Astroscan would be introduced later, mostly as accessories: A threadable solar projection system, a moon hook that would allow the Astroscan to be mounted to classic Equatorial mounts, a camera-style tripod that was designed especially to allow the Astroscan’s base to thread onto it, an image inverter, and a few more items were developed.

The Astroscan did well as telescopes sales go. The exact numbers are unclear but in its lifetime it is assumed to have sold around 90,000 units, making for around 2400 units per year, which is good numbers for a company that does not exclusivelty sell telescopes.

The Mid Life Crisises-es-es

The Astroscan had been planned on being sold below $100.00 and much of the developement issues were based on that cost limit. But this was to cause a few growing pains for the Astroscan. For one, the 70’s were an era of major inflationary pressures and keeping costs down just was not possible. At some point in the 80’s a decision was made to move production to the less expensive Japan. Production began in that nation after many, many, many long meetings and trips by the senior brass from Edmund.

Japan’s production, like most things in the Astroscan’s history, was polarizing. Some considered the Astroscans of that era to the worst ones ever made (even calling them ‘Astroscams’) while others declared Japan’s attention to optical details produced some of the best models made. In any case, production costs in Japan rose steadily over the years to the point where, when combined with the overseas shipping costs, it was no longer economical to produce the Astroscan in Japan. Production was returned to Barrington, NJ in the USA.

By this time, the Astroscan had quite a number of years since its development and was starting to look a little long in the tooth. It hadn’t had much attention paid to its design in years (the last major changes happened when the production was moved to Japan). There were other issues:  The Astroscan screamed 70’s design, but not loudly enough to provoke nostalgia. It’s cost had also risen to over $350 Much higher than optically similar models), the product copy hadn’t even been rewritten in what seemed liked decades (dated-sounding references to ‘Space-Age design’ were still present as of the 1999 catalog).

Other issues were a problem. Edmund had introduced a series of lower-cost beginner telescopes to work as a fleet with the Astroscan as the Flagship, but none of them garnered much success. The wholesale program became a morass as other retailers undercut Edmund’s pricing, or even broke up the telescope into its component parts and sold them individually to get around any Minimum Advertised Price policy Edmund might introduce. The wholesale program also did not account for retail inventory needs, so telescopes were often shipped out to other retailers when Edmund’s own retail telescope sale needs were not fulfilled.

Even worse, the patent on the design was due to run out in 2000 and a slew of imitators came in. The most visible of which was the Bushnell Voyager

voyager

The Voyager was not as sturdy as the Astrscan, having a coated styrofoam body instead of ABS, but it had a cost of $199 vs the Astroscan’s $360. Other imitators soon popped up, such as the Orion Funscope:

funscope

Other, ‘interesting’ Astroscan imitators appear courtesy of Edmund’s Chinese agents. The most internally infamous of which was a model (one never developed for the consumer) which was just straight optical tube shoved into a painted metal ball. It was immensely heavy compared to a traditional astroscan and had just a piece of colored tape to cover the seam between to the tube and the ball. The telescope famously used the rack end of a zip-tie for its focuser rack. Oddly enough the optics in the telescope were not bad!

Still, it seemed like something needed to be done:

The New Astroscan that never was.

In 2000, plans and committees were set up at Edmund to help revitalize the aging Astroscan. Message boards were inquired, costs assessed, ideas explored, et cetera. Among those plans it was decided to do an ‘almost-overhaul’ of the Astroscan. The optics would be changed to more modern and less costly counterparts. A mechanical engineer was sourced to develop and improve the focuser. Sourcing parts from Asia was explored to reduce cost while still keeping the production in the USA. Eyepiece changes were considered and it even variations on the body color (a star pattern on black was considered, not uncommon today but radical for the time) were considered, as well as a possible oversized (6″ mirror) version! The overall plan was to get the Astroscan competitive in the new playing field, to answer as many of its criticisms as we possibly could, and overall revitalize what had become a dusty corner of the world’s telescope offerings. How much would the new Astroscan differ from the old one? We’ll never know.

In 2001 it was announced that Science Kit & Boreal Lab would purchase the Edmund Scientific. All work on the New Astroscan Project ceased. Edmund continued to produce the Astroscan for SK&BL while they consolidated the move to their facility, but eventually they set up production of the Astroscan in China. The quality was a bit more concerning and the classic RKE eyepieces were replaced with generic Plossl eyepieces (partly because the Edmund family still claimed the rights to the RKE eyepieces and sold them in their Industrial Catalog for years afterwards).

Under SK&BL or one of the other administrating companies the Astroscan continued to be sold until 2013, when disaster struck.

What’s in a Mold?

Its not clear what happened, but somewhere someone dropped something shouldn’t have, or something wore out, or …well anything. The mold used to produce the Astroscan body broke. That is all we know at this point. It could have been wear & tear, having been used to produce at least 90,000 telescope bodies.

Molds are costly, and while developing a new model could have been done it would have required new machining, new engineer work, and a host of other aspects. ScientificsOnline decided to not produce a new mold. Instead they introduced the Astroscan Millenium, a mini Dobsonian with similar optical characterisics.

astroscanmill

Oddly enough, this ‘new’ design solved all the issues that critics had complained about with the Astroscan: it had different eyepieces, you could now collimate it, etc. Of course it lost its classic design and character in the process, and if that design looks a bit familiar it is because other companies have been producing for over a decade:

009

It essentially a red version of the Orion Starblast Mini-Dob. The irony here is that the StarBlast was designed to match the optical features of the Astroscan. Welcome to your closed circle.

The Aftermath

Although not as rage-inducing as the PC/Mac wars, there definitely was an element of form vs function with the Astroscan. Yes, they did go out of collimation despite the claims, and it was very hard to get them back. That said, I have seen ones bought in 2nd hand stores on the cheap that were perfectly collimated – everything else was messed up, however.

The simple fact is that Edmund Scientific was not really poised to become a full manufacturer of telescopes like Meade, Celestron, or Orion. They had a great contender with the Astroscan, but all of their other models were not as able to support their costs of development. While some of the telescopes  Edmund made in the 60’s were classics, they would not be able to compete in the modern market.  Edmund did not develop an import line of telescopes the way other major telescope brands did. This is not a surprise as the Edmund company found there was more money to be made developing industrial optics than there was in the telescope market.

The Spirit of the Astroscan is not gone forever, either, Astronomer Norm Sperling, who actually worked on the original Astroscan design ran a Kickstarter Program to develop an Astroscan inspired telescope.  In fact, it is essentially the Astroscan made by more modern methods and suppliers. The kickstarter has ended, however, and it is unknown if production will continue.

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

 

Telescope Technology – why it seems so far behind sometimes?

Every now and then we get someone asking the question ‘Why can’t a computerized telescope do ‘x’?’ Usually ‘x’ is ‘find things in the night sky without me having to work at it’.

3111

The answer, as is often the case, is complex.

When computerized telescopes first started being mass marketed (many computer systems existed as add-ons or on high-end telescopes and as early as the 80’s) they general impression given by their marketing was that they did everything for you. No aligning the finder, no two star alignment system. Just toss the telescope onto the grass lawn and start watching. This was pretty much a lie, and many folks soured on telescopes as a result. The marketing tried to be a bit more clear as other companies added different computer options, but what most folks wanted auto-alignment and tracking. So what went wrong?

  • 1) What people are comparing it with is not exactly accurate

Many folks are stumped by how they can have a planetarium program on their smartphone (or tablet) that gives them googleskymapscreena good idea of what they are looking at in the night sky. What they don’t realize is how innacurate those programs are. They give you a general idea what is up there, sure, but the next time you use it look at just how far off it actually is. The programs can be as much as an hour off, and when you telescope is cranked up to 120x and is looking at 0.05 degrees of the night sky a miss is as good as a mile. Your smartphone does an approximation based your location, the time, and how the tilt sensors are reading. But those sensors aren’t perfect  and the GPS positioning can go awry very easily. Some advanced astronomer  may use planetarium programs by having Pads or phones attached to their telescope, but these are used as more of an adjusting, high detailed star map than as a direct guard

  • 2) The Telescope Manufacturers aren’t exactly rolling in loads of research cash

GPS companies, smartphone manufacturers, Pad manufacturers all have one thing in common: They aren’t small companies. Apple is a mutli-billion dollar company, Google (who developed the droid system) isn’t exactly poor, Samsung, LG, etc. Even when these companies are having hard times they aren’t exactly small. And they spend tons of money trying to stay on top.

Telescope comapnies, by comparison, are on the smaller side. A telescope company that has more than 100 employees is probably a bit bloated. Development and engineering crews are probably in the single digits, with some outside contractors being hired as needed. So this means telescope manufacturers aren’t going to have bleeding edge tech to work on and with. Even when they do get a good idea, it can take a long time to develop & bring to the market.  And it will probably use up a large amount of the research budget. An example would be Celestron’s SkyProdigy series, which while it would have been much more expensive to develop 10 years ago was still probably not an easy developement cycle. And this bleeding edge tech does not ensure success. The SkyProdigy is fairly expensive (smaller models were dropped some time ago), and may not work as well as claimed.

The thing is, almost all of us carry some kind of cell phone, if not a smartphone so the market is huge (even then some phone makers have embarrassing failures). But with telescopes the market is limited, there is no ability to take loss leads on the telescopes becuase the customer will subscribe to an astronomy plan. If a product comes on the market it needs to earn its way in sales and margins.

  • 3) That said, there is some seriously backwards technology on telescopes

Pretty much all computer guided or controlled telescopes include some sort of hand-controller. This usually connects with an ethernet cable to the telescope itself. No problem, ethernet cable is still well in use, even in an age of everything being wireless. But suppose you want to RS232run the telescope from your laptop using a planetarium program like Starry Night or something? You’d need a cable to run that, sure, but what kind? You’d probably think some kind of USB cable, and probably one of the bigger sizes like USB.

Nope.  Odds are you have to connect to your laptop using a RS232 cable. That’s right, old pin and socket tech from the 90’s. These are connection systems that started to go out of style in computer design with the introduction of the first iMac and yet even some of the most modern of telescopes has this connector. Keep in mind that laptops got rid of this connector as soon as they could (pin connections are a big space waster).

Even on less computer gadget features, inconveniences can rule the day. Most reflector telescopes designed after 1999 usually have easy-to-handle knobs on the back of the optical tube for aiding in collimating the telescope’s mirror.

2016-06-14 14.15.49

These knobs are convenient, have a nice grip, and are much easier to turn. But here is the back of a computerized telescope that, while modern in design, uses an off-the-shelf tube that has an older screw-based collimation system.

2016-06-14 14.16.10

Le sigh.

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

 

Telescope Tips: Finder Scopes vs. Red Dot (Reflex) Finders

Aiming a telescope is tricky: It sees only a tiny portion of the sky, it might not be in focus for what you are looking at, and slight bumps can throw off your aim. That is why most telescopes come equipped with some kind of aiming device to help you find objects in the night sky. In the past this was almost exclusively with a Finder Scope – a little, low poweder telescope on top of the main telescope’s optical tube with a cross-hair that was used to aim.

FINDER SCOPES

The design of these little telescopes would vary from 20mm to 50mm in diameter, and the power was from 5x to 9x, typically. The holding bracket originally

083

would be two metal O-Rings with three thumbscrews each to adjust the aim of the finder scope. More recently that design would be replaced with a single ring with two thumbscrews and a spring bracket. Those were the good ones, anyway. Cheaper telescopes would often have a plastic 5x finder scope with a single holding bracket with

Not a good sign.

Not a good sign.

three plastic thumbscrews that would often frustrate new telescope owners as this mount is clunk and hard to control and the optics in the finder scope were poor.

This frustration would lead to a buig change in smaller telescopes around 10-15 years ago as they switched from cheap finder scopes to using reflex finders.

 

REFLEX FINDERS

Reflex finders, or red dot finders involve no magnifying optics. Instead the reflect finder has a window that you look through and a red dot is projected to show where the telescope is aimed. Adjustment is made by two knobs. This was much easier to deal with fot new astronomers as the main frustrations with cheap f

080inder scopes were mostly alleviated by using a red dot finder. But unfortunately they were replaced with new issues. The first being that all too often the new astronomer would leave the Red Dot Finder on after the viewing session was over, which would drain the battery. Long term storage would also be an issue as many would forget to remove the battery and they might leak acid onto the electronics.

The final issue was that once the astronomer gains some experience they will not be able to use the Red Dot Finder for a technique that is ued by more advanced astronomers to find objects: Star Hopping. This is where the viewer jumps from star to star in the field-of-view of the finder scope to get towards an object they are seeking such as a small nebula or globular cluster.  The technique involves having one bright known star that is near another known star (not as bright) such that they can both be in the field of view of the finder scope. That 2nd start is then centered in the finder scope and a 3rd star that is near the edge of the field of view is found and so on. It is a tricky technique to learn and unfortunately you can’t do it with a Red Dot Finder.

SO which to choose? Well, some do not:

Why_not_both-

More determined astronomers will actually have both designs on their telescope. A red dot finder to easy aiming along with a larger finder scope for close work and star hopping. This may not be an option for those using smaller telescopes as they have limited space for such extravengance.

Here is a summary of the main points along with some other advntages and disadvantages:

FINDER SCOPES:

Advantages:

  • Have actual magnification
  • Can be used to star hop
  • Magnification gives a  better sense of where you are viewing
  • Can be purchased as ‘right angle’ which makes using them on Reflecting telescopes easier

Disadvantages:

  • Harder to use for new astronomers
  • Trickier to align properly with the optical tube
  • Cheap ones extremely hard to aim
  • Need to keep clean

RED DOT FINDERS

Advantages:

  • Easy to use, especailly for new astronomers
  • Much easier to align with the telescope

Disadvantages

  • Batteries can be drained if you forget to swithc off
  • Batteries can leak in long term storage
  • No magnification means no star hopping

Have fun viewing whichever you use!

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

Testing the New Universal Smartphone Camera Telescope Lens.

Every Smartphone has a camera, and those cameras have become almost ridiculously sophisticated. Once, phone cameras were novelties that could take VGA quality photos to send to buddies via text messages. Now they are multi-megapixel systems with sophisticated software that can simulate many features of a DSLR camera. Except that the lens is still a little thing and can only do so much.

So this why there have been the addition of attachable lenses for cameras. Previously such devices were phone specific, but now with the use of soft jaw clamps they are universal. This means no losing your optical toys when you upgrade phones.  We have already carried and reviewed the Smartphone Microscope, as well as the Macro and Fish Eye Lens sets, both useful additions for your phone camera. Now we have the Smartphone 8X Telescope Lens and are going to review it!

First, here are the pieces you get:

2016-01-19 10.28.11

(more…)

REPOST: Spectrum Scientifics Telescope Buyer’s Guide

The holidays mean less time for blog posts and more people looking into buying their first telescope. With this in mind we are reprinting our telescope buyer’s guide for the season:

Spectrum Scientifics Telescope Buyers Guide

There are several telescope buyers guides available on the Internet, some good, some not so good. At Spectrum we are writing from our experience with customers and hope to make this simple and helpful.

Towards that end, the first and in some ways only rule of telescopes is:

Aperture is King!

Aperture is the diameter of the main lens or mirror of the telescope. The bigger it is, the more light the telescope gathers. Do not judge a telescope by its magnification, and stay away from any brand of telescope that sells itself on excess magnification claims (300x!, 600x!, etc.). This is sure sign of poor quality.

More light gathering means better, brighter images, assuming all other things being equal. Decent commercially sold telescopes usually start about 60mm in size (about 2.3”) and go to 20” diameter or more. Roughly speaking, every 2 extra inches of aperture doubles the light gathering capacity of the telescope.

The big problem with getting more aperture is that it increases the size and weight of the telescope. Having a huge, giant telescope with lots of light gathering power has little benefit if it is so heavy you never want to take it out and use it! A minor, but critical caveat to the ‘Aperture is King’ rule is that the small, portable telescope that gets used all the time is more powerful than the giant telescope that never gets moved out of the garage.

(more…)

New Artec Kits: See Through Ice, Convertable Telescope, Planet Engineer and Celestial Globe

We’ve carried Artec kits for a few months and they’ve done quite well. Some of the kits have a rational outlook to them and others have the zany Japanese anime-influenced look to them that makes them twice as awesome. Most of the new kits fall into the latter category.

First up is a rather odd kit: See Through Ice

5431

(more…)

Testing out the Carson HookUpz IS-100 Universal Smartphone Optics Adapter

Carson Optics has introduced a new product to the world of Smartphones. The HookUpz Universal Smartphone Optics adapter. This is a device that hopes to make the now nearly ubiquitous Smartphones even more useful to hobby and industry as it is supposed to allow you to attach almost any Smartphone to almost any optical system (microscope, binocular, telescope).

5439

But that brings the question: Does it work? We’ll we spent some time fiddling with one to find out!

(more…)

Classic Spectrum Blog Repost: Projection Solar Astronomy

Editorial Note:  With a partial solar eclipse being visible in select parts of North America today it is a good time to re-cap one of our older posts about how to project and image of the sun onto cardboard using a telescope or binoculars. Sadly given that we are still in a Nor’Easter here in the Philadelphia region we will probably not be able to enjoy the eclipse.  So be sure to view it for us if you are able:

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

With the just passed annular eclipse out in the Western part of the USA a couple of weekends ago and the upcoming transition of Venus you might be inclined to buy  a fancy solar filter for that telescope.

Well there might be a problem with that. See everyone else had the same idea as you, and that means the manufacturers of such filters are pretty much out of stock! It can even be hard to find just the filter material! What to do?

Well, there is another way of viewing the sun without the use of a filter. It can be tricky and it can be dangerous if proper care is not taken.  That method is called projection astronomy. This is where you use the telescope & eyepiece to actually project the image you would normally see with your eye onto a board or other bright surface.

What do you need? You need a telescope with an eyepiece (preferably lower-medium powered), a sunny day, and something to project the image onto.

We came up with this kind of last minute, so we just used a flat box on a clipboard. It had problems with the box seams, but the surface was very bright (brighter than the average piece of printer paper) and so would give a decent image.

Crude, but effective.

Next up, we need a telescope. We used an Orion StarBlast 6 , mostly because that is what we had around the store.

Telescope is in action.

Note that the picture above shows the telescope in action. When setting it up and aiming it you should LEAVE THE DUST COVER ON.  This is the best thing for your safety.

Aiming your telescope at the sun is pretty easy, just try to get your tube to make the smallest shadow possible.  When you think you are on target, remove the dust cover and see if there is any light coming through the eyepiece. DO NOT look into the eyepiece, ALSO DO NOT LOOK DOWN THE AT THE EYEPIECE. View it from the side. We are not responsible for your losing your eyesight!!!

Now a further  safety warning: Try to avoid getting any body parts in the path of the light coming out of the eyepiece. Hold the board on the edge, work around the telescope, not over it, etc.

So now that you are lined up with the sun, you can see what kind of image you have. Place the projection board about a foot or so away from the eyepiece. Move it closer or further away to try and get it into focus. DO NOT bring it closer than 6 inches from the eyepiece, the light is a little too concentrated there and some types of paper might burn.

Some adjusting will be needed. It is best to move the screen rather than the telescope. If you must adjust the focuser, put the dust cover over the front of the telescope.

So what kind of view so you get? Well, here is a shot of the screen that is a little closer than the last photo:

This didn’t show up too well in the photo, but if you look closely, you can see some sunspots projected on to the board to the right and right/down of the center.

 

How well will projection astronomy work on the transit of Venus? We don’t know for certain. The sun will be very low in the sky and there may be more distortion or discoloration as a result. But if you have the time and the telescope, this isn’t exactly an expensive experiment! Just remember to be careful! Pointing a telescope at the sun always has risks – just use common sense and keep out of the path of the projected sunlight and you should  be fine!

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

REPOST: The Spectrum Scientifics Telescope Buyer’s Guide

Reposting this for the holidays!

Spectrum Scientifics Telescope Buyers Guide

There are several telescope buyers guides available on the Internet, some good, some not so good. At Spectrum we are writing from our experience with customers and hope to make this simple and helpful.

Towards that end, the first and in some ways only rule of telescopes is:

Aperture is King!

Aperture is the diameter of the main lens or mirror of the telescope. The bigger it is, the more light the telescope gathers. Do not judge a telescope by its magnification, and stay away from any brand of telescope that sells itself on excess magnification claims (300x!, 600x!, etc.). This is sure sign of poor quality.

More light gathering means better, brighter images, assuming all other things being equal. Decent commercially sold telescopes usually start about 60mm in size (about 2.3”) and go to 20” diameter or more. Roughly speaking, every 2 extra inches of aperture doubles the light gathering capacity of the telescope.

The big problem with getting more aperture is that it increases the size and weight of the telescope. Having a huge, giant telescope with lots of light gathering power has little benefit if it is so heavy you never want to take it out and use it! A minor, but critical caveat to the ‘Aperture is King’ rule is that the small, portable telescope that gets used all the time is more powerful than the giant telescope that never gets moved out of the garage.

What Kind of Telescope?

There are three types of telescope: Reflector, Refractor, and Cassegrain. For beginners purposes, only the first two should be seriously considered. Cassegrain telescope are very nice, but are a bit advanced for first time scope buyers.

Reflector telescopes use parabolic or spherical curved mirrors to gather and concentrate light. The advantage of reflector telescopes is that they are the most economical for larger sizes. The disadvantages are: in inverted image (meaning a reflector telescope cannot be used for looking down the street) and a need for occasional maintenance: the mirror must occasionally be aligned, or collimated to ensure the telescope is working at its best.

Refractor telescopes use two or more lenses to gather and bend (or refract) light. The advantage for refractors is that, at equal sizes, they provide a more crisp image of the object being view versus a reflector telescope, refractors also can be used for terrestrial viewing (i.e. Looking down the street again), and they do not need to be collimated like reflector telescopes. The disadvantages to refractor telescopes is that as refractor telescopes get larger, they increase in price at a much faster rate than reflectors. At smaller sizes, say 2-3” in diameter, the prices are roughly equal for reflectors and refractors. But by the time you reach a 5” aperture, the price of the refractor will be at least double that of the reflector.

Due to the difficulty of grinding larger lenses, the weight of those lenses, and an optical effect called chromatic aberration (where the light is broken up as it travels through the refractors lens in a manner similar to prisms) refractors generally are not made larger than 5-6” in diameter.

What Kind of Mount?

Any telescope is going to need a mount! There are three different mount designs to consider: altazimuth, equatorial, and dobsonian. Whatever mount you decide on, it should be strong enough to hold the optical tube without wobbling. Nothing is more annoying than trying to view an object in the sky, only to have it bounce around and be unwatchable because of a poor mount.

Altazimuth Mounts:Altazimuth mounts are simple mounts designed to help aim the telescope in simple up/down (altitude) and left/right (azimuth). Altazimuth mounts are simple and intuitive, and work well for beginners. They are also useful if you wish to use your telescope for terrestrial viewing. The problem with altazimuth mounts is this: objects in the sky do not move in convenient up/down, left/right motion. They move through the sky in an arc (or at least it seems that way to us!). This means that trying to track celestial objects using an altazimuth mount can be like drawing a curve with an etch-a-sketch! For most beginner viewing, this is not an issue, and one can always reacquire an object that moves out of the field of view. But it does mean that if you find a nice object with your telescope, and leave to go let your friends know, it will likely move out of the eyepiece view by the time you come back!

Equatorial Mounts: Sometimes called German equatorial mounts, are distinguished by their counterweights that are needed to keep the telescope properly balanced. Equatorial mounts require more setup than altazimuth mounts as they must be adjusted to your latitude and aimed North. They are also not as intuitive to aim as altazimuth mounts as they do not follow left/right up/down motions but instead move along declination and right ascension. This follows the path of stars, planets, and deep space objects, but takes some getting used to. The advantages of equatorial mounts are that they can track objects with a turn of a knob, or they can even be motorized. The other advantage is that with some study, the equatorial mount’s setting circles can be used to actually find objects in the night sky! Equatorial mounts are also required for any type of astrophotography, but for beginners this should not be a great concern.

Dobsonian Mounts: Some consider the Dobsonian to be just variant of the altazimuth mount, and they are not completely wrong. Dobsonians have the same advantages and disadvantages of altazimuth mounts: intuitive movement, no tracking, etc. But the difference is that a Dobsonian mount uses a lazy-susan style platform to move in azimuth and usually some form of hubs to move in altitude. The result is that a Dobsonian mount can handle much, much heavier optical tubes than most altazimuth tripod mounts are capable of handling. Thanks to several improvements in design, Dobsonian mounts have become more and more popular as they are one of the most economical telescope designs on the market today.

Other Considerations:

The optical tube and mount are major concerns, but they are not the only things one should consider when buying a telescope:

Eyepieces: Eyepieces are often overlooked when buying a telescope, but they should be considered seriously by the beginner as they are 50% of the overall optical system. Almost all telescopes include 2 eyepieces, but by no means are all eyepieces created equal. Cheap telescopes usually include old, cheap eyepiece designs such as Ramsden or Huygenian designs that actually can make the image worse. The telescope you buy should come with eyepieces that, at a minimum, are Kellner or preferably Plossl design. These eyepiece designs are considered the standard for decent eyepieces.

Finder Scope: Every telescope needs a finder scope, a small telescope that sits on top of your main optical tube and aids in aiming the telescope. Most lower end telescopes these days use a reflex finder which projects a red dot onto an optical window to show where the telescope is pointing. These reflex finders are actually easier to use than a cheap finder scope would be. However, for larger telescopes a 6×30 (which stands for: 6 magnification, 30mm aperture) finder scope is much more appropriate. Larger telescopes may also have even larger finder scopes. Avoid telescopes with old 5x finder scopes, or at least be willing to try and attach some sort of reflex finder in its place.

Optional Accessories: Not everything you need for observing the night sky will come with your telescope (and if it does, beware, some companies gussy up cheap scopes with cheap accessories!). There are some things that should be in any astronomer’s ‘kit’. Such as:

  • A Planisphere

Make certain this is one you can read easily at night with your red flashlight!

  • A Red Light Flashlight :

A red flashlight prevents you from losing your night vision the way a regular (white) flashlight would.

  • A Barlow Lens

A Barlow lens is a lens you slip your eyepieces into that then doubles or triples their magnification. Having a barlow is like doubling the number of eyepieces you have. Make sure you have a barlow before you go buying additional eyepieces.

  • A decent Astronomy book

Don’t just buy a book with pretty pictures. Make certain it is a useful book that gives helpful instructions and advice on how to use your telescope, find& observe night-sky objects and other hints. Make certain to read it fully before you go observing, then refer to it during your observation session.

  • Time and good weather

Make certain that you have time for your new hobby. It takes some commitment for even casual viewing. Also, make certain that before you go observing that the weather is decent for viewing. There’s no point in going observing on a night where haze clouds everything in view!

  • Warm clothing

OK, you should really have this stuff already. But it is important to know. Even in warm summer months the temperature can get surprisingly cool at night. Be certain that you are ready for the weather, wherever you are and whenever you observe.

Other accessories you should consider, but are not as crucial as the above items are:

  • FiltersThere are a lot of filters available, and they all help with viewing certain objects. Moon filters cut down on the bright moon (which can actually be painful to view through a large telescope!). Color filters help bring out features of the planets. Sky Pollution filters reduce (but do not eliminate) the effects of light pollution. Read up on their effects and decide if any of these filters are right for your needs.
  • A Carrying Case (for accessories)Eyepieces, barlows, filters, books, & planispheres! All these little parts can be hard to carry and just shoving them into a bag isn’t a very good idea. Consider buying an accessory case to put your eyepieces, etc in for easy transportation. The time to consider getting a carrying case is when moving the accessories is starting to get in the way of your night sky enjoyment.
  • Binoculars!
  • If you haven’t already gotten a full sized pair, you should. Binoculars make for easy viewing, help find night sky objects. And are great for quick viewing. These need not be specifically astronomy binoculars, just a decent pair of full-sized binoculars will work fine.

Things Not To Worry About

There is plenty to consider when buying your first telescope, but some things should not be worried about. These include:

Astrophotography:

Astrophotography, even in the age of digital cameras, is pretty advanced stuff that requires a lot of time and equipment. Trying to jump into it, or making your telescope buying decisions based on it, is like learning to swim by jumping into a the deep end of the pool. First make certain that you enjoy astronomy, and can commit the time for basic viewing before you even consider taking up astrophotography. Remember that if you need a different mount than what you initially buy as your first telescope that you can usually sell the old telescope at a reasonable price.

Ultra-High End GPS Super GoTo Computer Guidance Systems:

These systems, while great, can actually be problematic. They are expensive, aren’t the ‘idiot-proof’ systems some folks make them out to be, they limit you from learning about the night sky, and many designs actually require that you aim with the computer. This means if the computer’s motors run out of battery power, you can’t even aim the telescope yourself! Basic guidance systems, such as the Orion Intelliscope line are useful for finding objects in the night sky without taking the experience away from you! Consider these instead of completely controlled systems.

Color!

If one were to look through a book of astronomy picture you would think that every view of the night sky through a telescope is awash in bright, pretty colors. Sadly, this is not the case. Most of these photos are taken with long exposure photography and show colors that, while there, are not apparent to the human eye. Be realistic about what you see, and make certain that the telescope you buy doesn’t have tons of unrealistic photos on its box (which were usually taken by the Hubble Space Telescope or the Viking and Voyager probes!).

Above all else BE READY TO ASK QUESTIONS!  Ask your local salesman, ask for advice online. Don’t be shy! Amateur astronomers may be opinionated but they are more than happy to share their experiences and expertise with you!

Want to buy telescopes?

www.spectrum-scientifics.com