- >>>NOTE: I did not mention Dobsonian scopes. These are large diameter telescopes with heavy bases mounted at ground level that are nicknames light buckets because they can take in so much light (due to their large diameter tubes). I have never used one of these or seen one close up. They must be excellent for deep sky observing.
**UPDATE: I was too dogmatic about the use of altazimuth scope mounts. They can work for low power observing with repositioning about every 15 seconds, but require some tricks to be learned to use at higher power since the field of view has narrowed and it is more difficult and repeatedly necessary to readjust the scope to bring the target back into view. If the scope you want has this mount then try it out. Be sure though that it is a stable and sturdy mount/tripod configuration to minimize jiggle from touching the scope or wind. AN EXCEPTION IS THE DOBSONIAN SCOPE. These all use alt-azimuth bases on the ground or floor and apparently work fine.**
The recent close approach of Mars (and the presence of Jupiter and Saturn in the same quadrant of the sky) and the transit of Mercury across the Sun has stimulated my interest in observational astronomy. Here are my cryptic suggestions to anyone interested in starting this hobby:
- Learn the constellations. Six-10 are enough to find your way around the sky and appreciate the imagination of the ancients. Also enjoy the satellites and occasional meteorite or even a visible comet.
- UPDATE: Hints: After reading about the prominent constellations go to a semi-dark location. Take your children or mate too! Pretend that you live in the ancient world and observe constellations as imagined by observers without optics in those days. Don’t bring any optics, but do bring your constellation guide (planosphere or cell phone app). Lying on a blanket is good.
- UPDATE: You will need a red light to read your star charts in the dark without losing your night vision. [[This can be purchased of course, but DIY too–> small plastic box (Jameco, Digi-key, others), 9V battery and connector, super bright red LED, push button on/off switch, and a resistor to limit current. There are online nomograms to determine resistor value]].
- Binoculars. They open up a whole new world of sky exploration. View star clusters, galaxies, nebulae. The images are not large, but some become visible with low power. The planets don’t look any better, but you can see the 4 Galillean moons of Jupiter and the Moon is fabulous. Best of all binos are portable and easy to set up.Eventually you may want to build a viewing support (It’s all on the internet)
- Telescopes. Refractors and reflectors and their variations have pros and cons for whatever is your intended use.In general the refractors are best for planetary observation and the reflectors for deep space objects, but there is great overlap. Buy quality and only cry once. Realize that as the price goes up, up, and away the improvement in viewing becomes less and less. An astronomy scope needs a sturdy tripod and an equatorial mount: no camera tripods, no altazimuth mounts will satisfy you.
- References: a rotating star chart, Stellarium (the free computer program that is EXCELLENT), 40 Nights to Knowing the Sky, Binocular Highlights, and Touring the Universe Through Binoculars (more advanced and technical).
- A few astropix–>Sun Dog, Space-X on the way up (not my photo), Sun filtered by smoke from Canadian fires, Moon, several of Jupiter, one photo showing bands of Jupiter, Mercury transit of the Sun (the tiny spot on the lower right side). Then eclipse of the moon in progress ( not my photo).