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!

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!

While you’re observing, use a red light instead! Red light is less intense, and allows your exit pupils to stay wide enough to adapt to the darkness – once a bright white light gets shone into your eyes, your exit pupils shrink, and many objects in the sky are no longer visible until your eyes fully adapt again. If you attend a star party and shine a white light everywhere, you may get yelled at! 

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 also 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!

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 watched the beam die during the presentation.

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 For Sun Observing
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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, I was mere microseconds away from directly exposing my eye to the unfiltered Sun when I saw the bright light coming out of the eyepiece in time and turned away! If it happens to the best of us, then it CAN happen to you if you’re not careful enough!

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

Assuming  High Magnification Means Amazing

 We often say that any telescope box or product listing that mentions its magnification capabilities is actually leading you down a rookie trap!

The things that determine how much magnification you can use have to do with the telescope’s resolving ability, and the steadiness of the atmosphere between your telescope and outer space! While every scope has their theoretical resolving limit, you can safely say that larger telescopes have more resolving power.

In fact, the more you magnify, the more you see the distortion “rippling” effect that makes objects look like they’re under water unless the air above is super steady – hence most of the time, viewing objects at low to medium magnification mean sharper views.

Are there times when a larger telescope paired with super steady air and high magnified views put a small telescope to shame? Absolutely! But more times than not, our atmosphere will prevent resolvable magnification past 200-300x, and on the worst nights, even low magnified views under 100x will look “soupy!”

STARTING With 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 assume that using a higher magnification eyepiece makes things easier to find because they still think magnification is everything. But in reality, high magnification equals NARROW fields of view. It’s the difference between the feeling of scanning for something through a wide cardboard tube versus a narrow straw!

Always start with the widest eyepiece you have and thus you see more of the sky, and then work your way “down” to increase the magnification!

And if the lowest and widest eyepiece you have STILL gives you narrow high magnified views that make it nearly impossible to tell what you’re seeing, then you need to purchase even wider eyepieces, especially if your new telescope has a much longer focal length, and the widest eyepiece that came with your old Powerseeker now gives you 140x magnification when it gave you only 50x on the old scope.

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!

NEVER Learning How to Use the Equipment!

This mainly applies to those who buy a telescope with an equatorial mount because you listened to the sales pitch of “oh yeah you can track and do long exposure!” 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.

It also applies to those who buy a computerized telescope but never bother to understand the software nor learn the alignment procedures.

You cannot expect to be proficient with your scope unless you practice using it. There will always be someone you know that’s willing to help guide you in person, but never bothering to practice on your own, looking up tutorials for things you may not understand, learning key alignment stars, or even… here’s a concept, READING THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL – all of that is asking for you to embarrass yourself if you try to bring it to a star party, or for you to give up and waste that money you spent!

Support Your Neighborhood Astronomers!

You know where mainstream media sites get their information? From people like us! Support Your Neighborhood Astronomers! Everything is free, but donations help keep the website alive and go towards outreach events!

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