Since I work with the public on a regular basis, and often do outreach events, I get asked questions about telescopes all the time. The following are the most common questions I get.
What is the Power of this Telescope?
Most people ask this question without any understanding of how telescopes work, thus I can just give them a random figure to sound impressive. I do try and help people understand what magnification means, but I can tell it’s way over their head sometimes.
Telescopes are meant to collect light, hence the wider the telescope the more it can collect and resolve finer details. The magnification is dependent on the focal length divided by the eyepiece I’m using.
Do I Need an Expensive Telescope?
No, you don’t.
Good beginner telescopes will minimally set you back a couple hundred bucks. If your budget is less than $100, I say invest in a pair of binoculars. The money starts adding up when you go for more advanced telescopes and the accessories that enhance the viewing experiences.
Why Can’t I see Anything?
Are the dust caps off? Are you looking through the eyepiece properly?
Lots of times people’s eyes are not properly aligned and can’t see the entire view through the eyepiece so all they see is black.
But if their eyes are properly aligned and still can’t see anything, chances are the object has drifted out of view or off center. No problem, let me fix it… and done!
What are you looking for?
Nothing, I already found it!
How Did you Find That?
It’s simple… I know where it is!
Oh wait… you mean what can help you find it? Unless it’s something bright enough to be eyeballed, you need to learn the constellations and which stars the deep sky objects are near. It also helps to learn how coordinates work in the sky.
Can You View the Sun Through Your Telescope?
Yes and No.
Telescopes actually focus and amplify incoming sunlight, and will blind you in less than a second if your eye is not properly protected by solar filters. But if you do have them, usually installed to the front of the tube, then looking at the sun through the telescope will be safe for your eyes and cameras.
“Why Are You Only Looking At the Moon?”
A man asked me that one night out of disappointment at Griffith Observatory while I was showing a full moon to the public under a light polluted Los Angeles sky! He then followed up with “Why wouldn’t you use this telescope to look at galaxies?”
The moon often washes out deep sky objects such as galaxies in the night sky, and a full moon is usually when astronomers leave the telescopes inside.
Why Aren’t You Looking At the Moon?
Either because it’s not out right now or because it’s my telescope and I can look at what I want!
Is There Anyone Looking At the Moon?
Can You Point to the Lunar Lander?
No. The moon is too far away and no Earth based telescopes can resolve features that small.
However, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a satellite that can dip as low as 31 miles above the Moon’s surface, can easily resolve the landing sites in good detail! Some of the sites still have tracks left behind their rovers!
Go look it up!
Can You Show Me a Planet?
Here are my three possible answers:
- Sure, it’s not a problem.
- None of them are visible in the sky right now.
- Well… there’s Uranus and Neptune, but they’re very far and dim.
Can You Point it to Something Else?
Sure, let me just move the telescope exclusively for you and make the other people behind you wait even longer… wait, no, I’m not doing that. Next!
Can’t you Zoom in More?
Yes I can, but I’m not going to. Unless the seeing conditions are good and the air above is super steady, the atmosphere above limits how sharp the object looks at higher magnifications, and zooming in makes it look more distorted.
Why is This <Deep Sky Object> so Dim?
If it isn’t already washed out by moonlight or light pollution, there are three possible scenarios:
- You’re viewing with a small telescope, which doesn’t allow as much light as larger telescopes.
- You’re viewing at a high magnification, which allows less light and thus it isn’t as easy to see.
Is that it?
Oh I’m sorry, is the view of a planet that is hundreds of millions of miles away not good enough?
If you expected Hubble quality pictures from long exposure, your expectations are way too high. If you leave your ego at home and realize the things you can actually still see with just your eye, then you start enjoying what you’re seeing!