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Articles

All New Telescope Owners, Please Read!

by JayTee

Hello to all the new and lucky telescope owners,

Please use your telescope for the very first time during the day.

All of the following information will strive to support the above statement.

But first, WARNING, WARNING, WARNING – NEVER POINT YOUR TELESCOPE ANYWHERE NEAR THE SUN!

I’m writing this post so that you and yours will have the highest possible chance of having a pleasant evening viewing our amazing night sky. To me, it is a shame when I read that someone got so frustrated trying to set up the scope in the dark that they just gave up. Or you started losing your audience (wife, kids, friends/relatives) because the setup was taking so long or nothing could be found or brought into focus. This first experience may determine whether you can’t wait to use the scope again, or it winds up on Craigslist.

First a little background on me. I've been using a telescope (sometimes several at once) for over 50 years. I've owned more than two dozen and I've built two of them from scratch. I still purchase new pieces of equipment regularly and new scopes as often as I can afford them. To this day I test out and become acquainted with each new scope/piece of equipment during the DAY! This also applies to cameras!

The advantages of setting up your scope during the day:

  • You can see what you are doing which includes looking at and even (heaven forbid) reading the supplied instructions.
  • You can survey the backyard (or wherever your perceived choice spot is) to find the best/most level/widest open location. Don’t forget to look for the evil street lights (if you can see them, they can see you). Also, look for a secondary site just in case your first doesn’t work out (unseen street/porch light, dog poop, and any number of things).
  • You can see how the mount fits together and how it should be set up.
  • You can see all of your tools and all the adjustment screws that you will be adjusting. Plus you’ll more easily be able to visualize “lefty Lucy, righty tighty".
  • You can see how to install the scope, AKA the Optical Tube Assembly (OTA), onto the mount.
  • You can see the holes where the mounting screws go for the finder (scope, red dot/reflex, Telrad, etc).
  • For those scopes that use a 90° diagonal, you‘ll be able to see where it goes and how to secure it into place.
  • You can see the focusing knob(s)
  • You can see where to insert the eyepiece (EP) and how to secure it into place.


To realize the rest of the advantages, you will need to point your scope at a far away mountain/hilltop, a cell tower, or even a tall tree. I don’t even go outside to do this (I open my sliding glass door), but realize if you try to focus through a window you will not necessarily get a “focused” image because of the window glass’ irregularities.

WARNING, WARNING, WARNING – NEVER POINT YOUR TELESCOPE ANYWHERE NEAR THE SUN (obligatory repeat warning)! Besides the obvious damage to your eye, you can also damage the optical surfaces in your scope. In fact, stay on the other side of the sky away from the sun!

Note: The images in your scope will either be upside down (reflectors and simple “no diagonal used” refractors) or reversed left to right (like looking in a mirror), this applies to Refractors and Catadioptric telescopes (Cassegrains, Maksutovs, etc) with the diagonal inserted in the focuser. This is normal because it is not important whether an object is shown correctly. In space, there is no up or down (and no one can hear you scream!).

NOW THE MOST IMPORTANT PART

  • You need to practice bringing an image into focus. Make sure you start with the highest numbered (in millimeters) eyepiece (EP) (usually a 25mm). This is your lowest power EP.
    • The first time you use the scope you won't know whether to rotate the focusing knob(s) clockwise or counterclockwise (anti-clockwise) to gain focus. So instead of guessing, just start with the focusing tube all the way in and then rotate the knob slowly so the eyepiece moves slowly away from the objective and be patient, it may take a few minutes to find focus.
  • Now that you have the hilltop/cell tower/tall tree in focus, you can move over to your (newly installed) finder (scope, red dot/reflex, Telrad) and center it (using its adjustment system) on the object that is in your telescope’s Field of View (FOV). Once you’ve adjusted the finder -
  • You can practice removing the EP and replacing it with another one (the next lowest power) and practice bringing that EP into focus on the distant object. Most inexpensive EPs require you to refocus.
  • If your scope came with a Barlow lens, now is the time to practice using that too. The high magnification produced by the Barlow will make focusing and viewing the selected object much more difficult (but on rare occasions, worth it).
    • Higher magnification is not necessarily better. Higher magnification produces; a dimmer image, and an image much more susceptible to the blurring effects caused by air currents, this is known as seeing.
      The worst problem caused by the barlow is that it magnifies the shaking your mount allows. Sometimes it's so bad you can't even bring the image into focus.
  • At this point, you can include your audience to help them get acquainted with their newest family member.
  • Show them where the focus knob is; tell them what they are looking at, and then talk them through focusing the image in the EP.
  • Show them how shaky/jumpy/jiggly the view through the EP is when you bump or lean or hang onto any part of the scope or mount. Especially with the Barlow lens installed!
  • Show them where the feet of the mount are so they can become better aware of how not to kick the mount and, depending on the mount, knock it out of alignment, or worst case, knock over the whole scope. This is just as important as showing them how to focus.
  • Have a plan on what you are going to observe. I want to see the moon (if it’s up, Jupiter, also if it’s up and the Orion nebula (M42).
  • Lastly, and in my humble opinion, the best part of daytime practice: showing your audience how to use the scope, during the DAY, will build a sense of anticipation for the evening’s adventure into outer space!


Almost lastly: I would suggest that you start with very bright objects; the moon should always be your first choice because it is big and bright and easy to find. This is followed by the planet Jupiter it is one of the 3 brightest stars in the sky. If you do look at a bright star (Sirius, Capella, Betelgeuse, for example) they will always look like a pinpoint of light (when in focus). Because of their distance no matter how much you magnify it, it will still be a pinpoint of light!
To help with locating your first objects, I would recommend you download a free planetarium program called Stellarium. If you prefer getting your information online, I use a site called Telescopius (https://telescopius.com/)

Lastly: There is a generally accepted belief that all telescope deliveries (and the delivery of anything relating to viewing the night sky) are accompanied by an inexorable overcast sky (sometimes for many days). So it may be best to hold off showing your audience how to use the scope until you have some assurance that that evening’s sky may be clear. This will hopefully stave off as much disappointment (whining) as possible. Of course, YOU should be setting up and taking down the scope daily in order to become very comfortable with the whole procedure.

Final words: An hour or two practicing the setup and use of your new telescope will provide a pleasurable "first" night and then many years of trouble-free and breathtaking observing.

May you have clear skies and many, many awesome viewing sessions,
JT

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