The best telescopes are not the most expensive, it’s the ones that are being used! The last thing you want is a telescope that collects dust because you don’t know how to work it, or because you didn’t know what you wanted it to do.
This article is assuming that you followed the correct advice and got yourself a decent telescope, or you have acquired one by inheritance or giveaway. If you got a “trash telescope” from a department store, a glorified toy, then this article cannot help you!
Know the Specifications
It’s important that you know key specifications, such as the aperture (how wide is the telescope), the focal length, the type of telescope, and the type of mount that you’re using. Make sure you know which part goes to what, as any missing part can become a problem when the telescope isn’t working properly.
If you don’t know the specs because you got the setup from a garage sale or inherited it from someone, it’s okay to ask someone like yours truly who can help you. Look for hints, such as brand name, and any other names that are stuck on.
Make sure your Mount is Steady and Level
It doesn’t matter how great the telescope is, if you don’t have a good mount to hold it, you’ll spend more time trying to keep the telescope still than actually observing.
Find the most flat and solid surface you can find, and make sure the your tripod legs are fully extended. Tripods that are not fully extended or level can make the balance an issue, and sometimes your entire set up can decide to “re balance” itself if you’re not careful, putting everything back out of alignment.
Get an idea where your tripod legs are, because smaller telescopes are lightweight, and can easily be kicked out of alignment on accident.
Dobsonian telescopes obviously don’t have these issues with tripods, but they still need to be placed on a flat and level surface. If you’re using a wheeled dolly to bring it out, make sure the wheels are locked!
The Finder Scope Needs to be Aligned Too!
A good finder alignment means the difference between spending time looking, versus spending time observing!
The finder scopes are very light, and can easily be bumped out of alignment when being transported. Finder scopes typically use three screws to loosen and tighten, and each twist moves the cross-hairs in your view closer or further than where you need it aligned.
There’s several ways to make sure the finder is aligned. One is during the daytime, where you can point your telescope at a distant object at the horizon and then aligning the finder until the cross-hair is dead center on the object seen in the telescope.
The other way is to point the telescope at a bright naked eye object at night, especially the Moon, and then moving the finder cross-hairs until the bright object is centered on it.
Using a German Equatorial Mount? Get it Polar Aligned!
The article, Using the Celestial Coordinates, has a detailed section on getting your equatorial mount polar aligned. If you have a German Equatorial Mount, then it applies to you! If you have an Alt-Azimuth mount, it does not!
Using a Go-To? Get Familiar With 2-Star Align!
While most Alt-Azimuth Go-To telescopes have options such as “Quick Align” and “Auto Align,” or even “Solar System Align” and “1-Star Align,” it’s not quite the best thing to do. They may not be as accurate as you’d like, especially if the software happens to have the date, the time, and location wrong. 2-Star align, usually with two stars on opposite sides of the sky, gets the alignment the most accurate, and literally puts everything available at the push of a button.
But remember, 2-star or even 1-star align requires you to know which bright stars are up in the sky. Have 3-star align? Even better!
Always Start With a Wide Field Eyepiece
People often make the mistake of using high magnification eyepieces when looking for an object. This is a rookie mistake because the field of view is much more narrow, and the eyepiece is letting in less light. Not to mention, it makes things more frustrating.
Lower magnification eyepieces give you wider field of views, and make things much easier to spot!
The Brighter Objects Don’t Need Special Techniques To Find
The Moon is easy! You can simply point your telescope in that direction, and if you’re not using your finder, you can simply follow the glow until the bright disc of the Moon becomes visible!
The brighter planets and stars are also relatively easy to spot, as in your FOV their brightness will stick out against the darker background. While you should be using a finder to aid, I have found these objects many times without it just by slewing the telescope until I spotted the bright object. Once again, use your WIDE angle views to help!
Do Not Expect Galaxies and Nebulae to Look Like their Pictures
On Ranking Objects Worst to Best Seen Through Telescopes, nebulae, galaxies, and globular clusters are pretty low on the list. Aside from a few exceptions, they are notoriously disappointing to the human eye, and long exposure is what brings their details out.
Galaxies, nebulae, and globular clusters often look like uninspiring dim gray smudges that don’t contrast that well. While many of these cataloged objects were found with and thus can be seen with a small telescope, that doesn’t mean they can be seen well.
Practice Practice Practice!
If you want to be decent at using your telescope, you’re not getting any better by letting it collect dust! Telescope knowledge is gained by doing it!
People watch yours truly and see how easy I make it look. Again, it’s all been done through countless observations, growing knowledge of where things are, and even what to expect when searching for objects.
Sure, you can always practice in your yard, but you should always consider bringing your telescope to an organized star party, and get in contact with other telescope users. They can help you with yours, while at the same time you learn more about what’s up in the sky!
Events that Orion Bear Astronomy hosts are listed here. Feel free to contact yours truly through email or social media if you need help with your telescope!