Telescopefilter: How do I figure out how to use this older telescope?
January 12, 2010 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I just got a new (old) telescope. I have never used one. It's a Meade model 294 (Refractor?). Any pointers where I can find info on this model or type telescope and how to use it?? It will be for me, my 5 year olds and two year old. I have googled a bit but it's pretty confusing.
posted by beccaj to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
First the good news: your telescope has an equatorial mount. This is a trifle confusing initially but good in the long run. It makes looking at stars, planets, etc, easier because you only have one knob to keep the object in the field of view.

Some not as good news: the eyepiece size is .965, which kind of limits the eyepieces you could get for it.

Here's a good intro to amateur astronomy. You'll need to learn how to "align" your scope if you want to take advantage of the equatorial mount. If not, you can just point it at objects in the sky.
posted by jdfan at 8:54 AM on January 12, 2010

Whoa, a telescope bluebook.

There are a lot of tutorials on youtube

Basically, you'll first want to properly align your sighting scope (that little scope bolted onto the side of the telescope). That will let you find objects in the sky, and you can then look at them closer with the telescope.

There are different eye pieces and accessories that will screw onto the end of the telescope to give various magnifications, allow cameras to mount, add filters for looking at the sun, etc.

Have fun. My daughter got a telescope for Christmas and she loved looking at the full moon. On the next clear night we're going to try to see the Orion nebula. I have no idea if that's possible with what we have, but we'll give it a shot.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:59 AM on January 12, 2010

Low powered eyepieces. Buy one or two super low powered eyepieces. High magnification leads to wiggles and blurriness. Find a guide that shows you were easy to view object are, like the moon, Jupiter, Venus, star clusters (like M13) and nebula (like Orions). Go in advance of your girls so they aren't bored while you figure it out. Check for local star parties where you can go and learn from advanced astronomers.
posted by bprater at 10:09 AM on January 12, 2010

In general, you use a telescope by pointing it vaguely at something you want to look at, centering it in the sighting scope, and then looking through the eyepiece.

If it still has the equatorial mount it came with, those can certainly look intimidating. The basic idea is that when you get it set up the right way ("polar alignment") it brings the axes of motion of the telescope in line with the axis of motion of the Earth, so if you want to follow a star or cluster or whatever through the night, you just have to move the telescope slowly along the right ascension axis. It also means that if you know what time it is, you can point the telescope more-or-less at any given object if you know its right ascension and declination. I've never used one in anger, but there's a thorough discussion of equatorial mounts here. If this really seems like too much bother, you can virtually certainly re-mount the telescope on an altazimuth mount.

You'll want to align the spotter/finder scope; I'm sure there are guides for that.

One thing people tend to get wrong is power or magnification. The only thing magnification is much good for is looking at planets or the moon, which are massively bright objects*. For the other objects in the sky, the problem isn't usually making the image big enough. For example, the Andromeda galaxy and the Orion nebula are both bigger, in Earth's night sky, than the full moon. The problem is dimness. So what you want, if you want to look at a deep sky object, is maximum aperture/mirror size and minimum magnification.

*Or resolving double stars, etc, but those seem more like established astro-geek things to do.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:14 AM on January 12, 2010

Small refractors are very good for viewing Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and some of the other planets. I am not sure exactly which planets are up right now but I would point that scope right at Jupiter and Saturn, and you're bound to get the most oohs and aahs from a 5-year old. They probably won't be interested much in deep sky objects anyway and they won't look good in a small refractor.

I have never owned an equatorial mount telescope so I am woefully inadequate for helping with this area, but learning to align it will probably be the only hurdle here. The rest of it is just dropping in lenses... and I do recommend you avoid super-duper-high-power lenses and attachments as you will get very degraded, blurry results. With low power you get bright, crisp images. And make sure to avoid the biggest beginner error -- don't squint into the eyepiece! Keep your non-viewing eye relaxed or open if possible.
posted by crapmatic at 10:55 AM on January 12, 2010

Do you have a local astronomy club? Try and find one, as in my opinion there's no substitute for having a teacher on hand, both for the scope and for what will make interesting objects to view. Not that it's hard but it's more fun than reading an instruction manual, in the same way walking round a museum with a tour guide that you can ask questions of is more fun than having just a little tour book.
posted by edd at 12:11 PM on January 12, 2010

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