A New Telescope This Christmas?
During the Christmas season we are often asked our opinion about the best beginner telescopes for a Christmas gift. There are a great many good quality telescopes on the market now at reasonable prices so it is not too difficult to get a reasonably capable instrument. In truth, however, there are many factors to consider in deciding what to purchase, more than we can go into in this post. (Actually, we recommend that your first “telescope” should be a pair of binoculars. See our post about this subject Here.) Regardless of the instrument you choose, the biggest factor in the enjoyment of a new telescope or binoculars is simply having some guidance about what to look at.
It is true that a larger instrument is preferable, but unless newcomers can experience some success with the telescope they have they are unlikely to ever graduate to a larger one.
After looking at the moon and possibly a planet or two, most small telescopes are packed away in closets, rarely to be used again. Most binoculars are never even aimed upward in the first place. Without appropriate charts and reference materials deep sky objects can be difficult to find. Randomly sweeping the sky with a small telescope will usually be a disappointing experience, but with some direction there are a great many fascinating sights awaiting the observer with a small telescope or binoculars, especially if you are seeing things with your own eye for the first time!
Sky Atlas for Small Telescopes and Binoculars
To help provide this direction we have developed several easy to use products that will have even the most casual observer finding objects in the night sky. Our Sky Atlas lists and will help you find almost 200 deep sky objects with entry-level equipment.
Most astronomical atlases are written for telescopes of 6″ (150 mm) or larger. When we started our Sky Atlas project the most common size starter telescopes were about 2.5″ (60-70 mm). The result is that many of the faint and diffuse objects described in alluring detail in an a typical atlas are simply not visible in the scopes most of us start out with. This can lead to frustration when you can’t seem to find the things you read about. Many beginners will assume there is something wrong with their method or that astronomy is just too difficult and not fun.
The help solve the problem of finding interesting objects that you can actually see, our Sky Atlas for Small Telescopes and Binoculars provides a rich selection of objects that can be seen and appreciated even in small instruments and from moderately light polluted sites. Our Sky Atlas presents a variety of fascinating object ranging from double stars to globular clusters to nebulae and galaxies. We have observed all of these objects ourselves over the years with many different small instruments and provide first-hand commentary from field notes.
A large number of the objects in our Sky Atlas are easy to locate, but there are some challenging ones as well. Many of the objects are visible even from fairly light-polluted locations so you can be successful right from your own backyard. The more challenging objects will best be observed from a nearby moderately dark location, a perfect inspiration to take your telescope or binoculars and drop in to a Star Party held by your local astronomy club.
More Useful Tools
In our Sky Atlas, and almost every other atlas, the location of Deep Sky objects is given in reference to the constellation in which they appear. (See here for an explanation of constellations.) Our Sky Atlas includes easy to use maps that show the locations of the objects listed, but it is helpful to know exactly when you will be able to see them. For this our planisphere, The Night Sky, will show you what constellations are above you at any time of any night of the year.
There are some basic concepts and terminology used by amateur astronomers as well as some simple techniques for using your equipment that you should know about. There are also several different types of Deep Sky objects accessible to the beginner with simple equipment. Our Sky Atlas introduces these topics, but in our award winning booklet, Exploring The Night Sky with Binoculars we cover them in more depth in conversant, everyday terms that you will not have to miss a whole night of observing to get through.
Seeing In The Dark
Finally, you will want to refer to your materials while outside observing. As you know, your eyes adapt to the darkness once you have been out of the light for a while. As you adapt you will be able to see more objects and greater detail. It can take up to 30 minutes or more for your eyes to get to where fainter objects are easy to find but your adaptation can be ruined by just a fraction of a second of white light from a flashlight or telephone or computer screen. If you use a true red light source of low intensity your dark adaptation will not be damaged. This can be accomplished by covering a flashlight with a dark red cellophane or, more conveniently, by using our Night Reader Pro astronomer’s flashlight.
All of the above items are available separately in our Shop, or are available together at a discount in our First Light Astronomy Kits. If you have any questions about using your new telescope or binoculars Contact Us and we will be thrilled to help out.
May you have clear skies and remember to Keep Looking Up.