Most amateur astronomers will find the need to use a telescope at some point. The best telescopes allow the viewer to see much more than what they can view with the naked eye. One question that many just learning astronomy have is, are telescopes easy to use?
The answer is yes, telescopes are easy to use. Many basic telescopes are simple to assemble and put into use. A little knowledge is helpful before beginning, however. There are different types of telescopes as well as varying components that perform different functions, such as safe viewing of the Sun.
Start with a Basic Model
Telescopes range from the most basic to more complex, powerful models. Beginners should start with a less complicated model while they are learning. The telescope will come with step-by-step directions on how to set it up. While some different mounts and lenses can be used, beginners should stick with the set up they purchased. Fancier lenses and different mounts can be added later for a richer experience.
The Easiest Type May Be The Reflecting Telescope
The most common telescope that most people are familiar with is the reflecting telescope. This type of telescope is also the easiest to use, especially for beginners. Other telescopes for amateur astronomers include refractor and catadioptric types.
Other Basic Types of Telescopes
Refracting telescopes have a long tube that has an objective lens in the front, which focuses light. These telescopes are easy to transport and can allow for the viewing of some planets and the Moon. It is not a good telescope for viewing galaxies.
A reflecting telescope has a concave mirror instead of a lens for focusing light. This type of telescope offers good visibility. The viewer cannot use this type of telescope to view objects on the Earth, however.
The catadioptric telescope is known as a compound telescope, as it contains mirrors and lenses. They are good to use as a tool for taking pictures of the night sky. They are usually more expensive than the other two types and may not be the best for a beginner.
Stay Away from Light Pollution
The best place for viewing the stars and planets is where there is little ambient light. It is best to head out away from large cities, making it much harder to see stars. A more powerful telescope can also help with the amount of light pollution.
Learn the Telescope
The user should get to know their telescope well. Inspect all components as they are removed from the box, not only for familiarity but to check for any damage. The best place to assemble the telescope is indoors. It can be difficult to learn the components and setup outside in the dark. Once the telescope is setup and the user has a good idea of how each component works, then it is time to head outdoors.
The individual components, such as the finderscope, should be thoroughly learned to produce the best viewing experience. For example, some telescopes have different mounts. An altazimuth mount works side to side and up and down, with an equatorial mount moves east to west and north to south. The altazimuth mount is the easiest to use for beginners and is standard on basic telescopes.
Telescopes are mounted on tripods, so it is best to use the telescope on a flat area to avoid damage to the telescope. A flat-roofed garage can work or a cement pad. When viewing in the mountains or other places away from civilization, a large flat rock can be used. The viewer can also bring along a piece of plywood to lay on the ground if a truly flat area cannot be found.
Learn the Sky
It is helpful to learn the sky before using the telescope. Star charts and atlases can assist in learning where celestial bodies are located. Most people know a bit about what is visible with the naked eye but may not be as well-versed in objects that can only be seen with a telescope. There are applications and software that can be used on smart phones or tablets to assist in locating celestial objects. Some telescopes are computerized and have their own navigation programs.
Once the telescope is assembled, and familiarity with the parts has occurred, it is time to get ready for viewing. The telescope should be level and polar aligned. Many people use a compass to align the scope with North. The finder should be aligned with the eyepiece by viewing a large object, such as the Moon. Make sure that when it is centered in the eyepiece that it is also centered in the finder.
Eyepieces and Focusing
Begin with an eyepiece with low magnification. Higher magnification shows a smaller part of the sky, making it more challenging to locate a specific celestial body. Also, do not forget to focus. Objects should be as sharp as possible and details apparent. Eyepieces can be changed to a higher magnification power if needed once the body has been located and is in focus.
Once the basics are learned, other options can be added. One of these items is known as a moon filter. The Moon can be very bright when viewed through a telescope, so a moon filter allows the viewer to see the Moon’s surface without such intense light. There are solar filters that allow for viewing the sun (never look at the sun without this filter or with the naked eye.) For protection, a telescope case and cover will help protect it from being scratched or broken.
Dew can collect on a telescope, so dew shields or strips might be necessary. Sometimes a hairdryer can help remove dew when a shield or strips are not available; just use it on the lowest setting possible.
It is surprising to many beginners what is visible even using low magnification.
Venus and Jupiter can often be observed, as well as Mars. Saturn and its rings are easily recognizable. There are many nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters to explore for anyone with a telescope and a little basic knowledge about its capabilities and the stunning night sky.