Top 10 “Rookie” Mistakes Astronomers Make

Over the years, you’re bound to make these “rookie” mistakes when getting into astronomy. Even as you become a seasoned observer, there’s always going to be something that happens!

Forgetting Items to Your Observation Session

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This one is a no brainer. Over the years, yours truly has:

  • Taken a group of people far away to look at the deep sky through a telescope, only to forget the eyepieces!
  • Went to a location for a meteor shower that with below freezing temperatures , and forgot a heavy coat!
  • Bought a portable hammock stand to set up for viewing a meteor shower, only to forget buying the actual hammock itself!

Always make sure all of the needed items are with you, especially if you’re going to a far away location!

Forgetting to Charge/Change The Batteries For Powered Equipment

This applies to all of your powered equipment and cameras. All tracking drives require portable power, especially when out in the middle of nowhere. Many Go-To drives eat up D batteries like yours truly eats sushi, and are best used with a portable power pack. When doing a major observing session, it’s important to make sure everything is charged beforehand!

I forgot to change the batteries to one of my green laser pointers, and thus saw it die when the presentation time came.

I have also left my camera turned on for several days prior to a night I wanted to try and snap a “super moon.” I had the perfect spot, and was ready to go, when I pulled out the camera and saw it was already on, and the battery was dead… oops!

Forgetting to Put On a Solar Filter
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Originally taken by Alaska Thomson, who gave me permission to use this image.

Solar filters mean life and death for your eyes, as exposing your unprotected eye to the focused light from the Sun for  even a second can damage it permanently!

When observing the Sun is a repeated routine, it should become second nature to make sure the filter is attached to the front of the telescope, right?

One day, I put the solar filter on the finder scope, and of course used it to get the Sun aligned safely. But then I put my eye up to the eyepiece and instantly saw the bright white light. Thankfully I was able to turn away quick enough before any damage could have been done. But it could have been bad!

Don’t forget to put the Solar Filter on the telescope!

Using Too Much Magnification

“I can get the Moon, but for some reason my telescope can’t get the whole Moon in view!” “Are you using the wide eyepiece?” “I’m using the one that says 10mm on it.” “No, that’s too narrow, you need to use the 25mm first!”   A lot of people think that using a higher magnification eyepiece makes things easier to find. But that isn’t the case! They give narrower fields of views, and they allow less light, making all the objects seen in the telescope much dimmer.

Always start with the widest eyepiece you have, and then work your way down to increase the magnification!

The Use of Bright White Lights and Smartphones

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It’s natural to need a flashlight in the dark. It helps you find your way, and if you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s a life saver!  However, when you’re observing, using white lights is a major no no! If you attend a star party and shine a white light everywhere, you may get yelled at!

White lights ruin your adaptation to the dark, and you won’t truly see the wonder of a dark sky until your eyes have been adapted, which can take up to 30 minutes! While you’re observing, use a red light instead!

Smartphones can give you amazing star maps that help you find what you’re looking for. But unless you have it set to “red light mode” and dim the screen all the way down, they will ruin your dark adaptation!

Observing During a Full Moon 

There goes a saying, “when the Moon is full, astronomers put their telescopes away.”

A full moon is beautiful, but it washes out the deep sky and is just as bad as observing from a light polluted location. If the Moon is full AND you observe in a light polluted location, now you’re just being silly!

The bigger mistake is going to a dark location during a full moon and expecting to see a beautiful star-lit sky. In fact, it will look underwhelming! For this reason, I avoid catching a meteor shower if there is a full moon, and I won’t even try it unless there is a predicted meteor storm of thousands of meteors per hour!

Trying to Observe Without Learning How to Use the Equipment!

This mainly applies to those with equatorial telescopes, or even those with Go-To systems.

Watching my father sweat cats and dogs while painstakingly trying to keep objects in view with an unbalanced, non polar aligned, equatorial telescope was quite the memory. But unfortunately, because he never learned how to properly use it, the telescope collected dust for a decade before I stepped in and gave new life to it.

Don’t try observing with your telescope unless you have an idea how it’s supposed to work!

Buying A Telescope In Haste!

A good telescope is like buying a car, you need to know what it can do before you buy it! All astronomers hate hearing about someone having a telescope that is collecting dust because it was bought in haste.

You got to ask yourself, “Do you want to just look at the Moon and planets or fainter deep sky objects? Are you really devoted to this or is it more of a pastime? Is this for a child or an adult?”

This website has a whole guide split into three parts for you to help prevent this! You can find it on the Helpful Information Page! You can also visit observatories that offer public viewing or attend star parties and “test drive” other telescopes. The users are more than happy to give you firsthand information!

Unrealistic Expectations

One major unrealistic expectation is the idea of deep sky objects looking like the pictures! It can be disappointing to find out that these colorful nebulae look gray in a telescope, and other objects just looking like uninspiring smudges at first.

You have to realize the things you’re looking at are from distances that are thousands to perhaps millions of light years away!

But if you put your ego aside, you can realize what the telescopes are capable of! Telescopes collect more light than your eye, making what isn’t visible, visible! You can see stars that you can’t see with the naked eye, and star clusters become easily seen. You can see features on the Sun, Moon, and planets!

Saying there’s ten listings when there’s in fact nine!

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This was intentional.

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