Everything is ready for your next trip. All the luggage is in the car, you’ve got somebody to take care of the plants, food is packed, and you even purchased an affordable water container. But this trip is more special because you are taking the telescope. However, you can’t simply get it out of the car and expect to be blown over by the sky’s beauty. But don’t worry as we;’ve gathered some of the most useful tips when it comes to using a telescope.
Make sure to take with you sky maps so you will know where you should look into the night sky. If there are some friends joining you with their own telescope, make sure everyone has a map. There are some phone apps and computer programs that might be useful so check them out before leaving.
Look for a dark spot
No matter how good your telescope is on paper, it will become useless if you set it up in a zone with a lot of light pollution. If you are in a city, go as high as possible. You can obtain a permit to set it up on the rooftop or use a pasture.
Know when it’s the best time
During the winter nights, the sky is as clear as possible because there is no humidity in the air. Furthermore, the moon’s phases can influence the viewing experience. For example, the moon could be so bright that is might be difficult to see other celestial objects.
Face the Equator for the best experience
The best direction to point the scope is toward the Equator. So if you are living in the Northern Hemisphere, you should face South and vice versa for the Southern Hemisphere. In addition to this, point the telescope over a forest or grass. Grass and trees absorb the sun’s energy during the day and don’t radiate the heat back during the night.
If there is a large city south of you, you might need to find a different viewing spot as the radiation will affect negatively the image’s quality.
Don’t overcomplicate things
If you don’t have a lot of experience, begin by searching for bright sky objects such as the Moon or big planets like Saturn or Jupiter. These will be easy to find and you will get some satisfaction right from the start.
The Moon is an awesome target especially if you have a small telescope. Because it is our closest neighbor, you can find it with your naked eye and its surface covered with eye-catching traits will keep you wondering.
Try using both eyes
This might not be a common practice, but looking through the scope’s eyepiece with both eyes open gets you an advantage. Even if telescopes are not manufactured to be used this way, you might get a better view. This is because the opened eye becomes less efficient when it comes to seeing any kind of object.
It makes sense when you think about how the doctor asks you to cover one of the eyes but keep it wide open. Because of how the eyes are wired, the brain keeps comparing the image from both eyes. Furthermore, by keeping one eye closed, eye muscles can distort and fatigue your vision.
Wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness
In general, this takes around 30 to 45 minutes. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness, remain in the dark. Don’t look at your phone for a long time and stay away from any bright lights. To adapt to the light, your eyes only need 5 to 7 minutes.
Use a red LED flashlight
Using a red LED flashlight will not affect your dark vision because red does not affect your eyes the same way a blue or white light does. If you can’t get a red flashlight, you could use a regular flashlight and cover it with a red paper or cellophane.
You will need a light source when setting up the telescope or when taking notes. So don’t forget to put a flashlight into your backpack before leaving the house.
Let the telescope get used to the environment’s temperature
Not only your eyes need time to accommodate. No matter how excited you are about getting to see some of the most beautiful celestial objects, don’t rush into it. After mounting the telescope, let it sit there unused for about 25 minutes so it gets to the same temperature as the outside ambient air.
This way, the telescope will not radiate heat or condensate. Both of these two can influence negatively how clear you can see the sky objects.
Learn about collimation
Through collimation, you are making sure the eyepiece is aimed at the center of the primary mirror. Also, the primary mirror must be aligned to the eyepiece’s center. The best way to do this is to check out the telescope’s manual. It contains exact instructions on how to align the telescope’s parts.
Focus the telescope
Some of the telescope’s packages include a cover with 2 holes in it. The purpose of this cover is to help you to focus the image. Once you’ve found the celestial object that you are interested in, fix the cover and adjust the telescope until you get only one image.
Always know where your eyepieces are
If you are not using an eyepiece, don’t just let it laying around as it might get affected by dew. The best solution is to keep them in sealed containers while they are not being used. You can use small plastic boxes with different colors. This way, you can color code the magnifications.
Have proper clothing
Because you are usually using the telescope during the night, the temperature is lower. Working in cold environments is common for an astronomer so you have to get ready for it. Keep in mind you will be quite inactive and will be standing in one spot.
Check the predicted temperature for that night and dress as it would be 10 degrees colder. The best method is to use layers of clothing so you can easily take off clothes if you are too warm.
Make sure the telescope is stable
Because its center of gravity is quite high, it is very easy to knock over a telescope. A slight bump or having it tangled in your open jacket might send it toppling. To make it more stable, you should lower its center of gravity. A simple and inexpensive way is to tie a weight to the eyepiece tray.
A weight of 5 or 10 pounds should be enough. If you attach a large weight, you might damage the telescope’s mount which will be expensive to replace. If the ground is quite soft and the mount starts sinking into it, use some boards or flat stones to keep it from sinking.
Setting it up on a solid surface
Even if you are tempted to set up your telescope on concrete or on a roof to avoid stability problems, it might not be the best idea. Places such as parking lots and roofings radiate the heat back even after the sun has set.
Even a small amount of radiated heat will influence negatively the ability to spot faint, distant objects. To test if the concrete’s temperature is higher than the environmental temperatures, you could use an infrared handheld thermometer.
A good location should be marked
If you found a location that gives you a great view, use it every night. This way, the field of view will remain the same every time and it will help you find objects faster.
If you are on solid ground, use some paint spray to mark the exact place of the mount’s legs. If you are on grass, mark the location on your phone’s GPS and try using some sticks to mark the telescope’s position.
Give it a slight jiggle
Because of how humans evolved, we are much better at detecting a moving object than a static one. So if you are having a hard time trying to identify a celestial object, try to move a bit the telescope so you can take advantage of this genetic human characteristic of our eyes.
It’s not all about magnification
Although it might be tempting to use the eyepiece with the highest power, it will not give you the expected results. A high-power eyepiece will make every object harder to spot and will amplify every gentle wobble or vibration.
If you are a beginner astronomer, it is recommended to use a low-power eyepiece to save time when looking for your target. Once you found it and have it centered in the field of view, you can go ahead and replace the eyepiece with a higher-powered one.