Telescope tips for an "intermediate" astronomy buff
January 24, 2017 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Looking for advice and references on how to get the most out of my refracting telescope.

I consider myself an astronomy buff, past the beginner curve; with a decent grounding in optics and astrophysics concepts, and a deep, deep love of the night sky. I built a fairly basic telescope in high school and it was a proud possession of mine until I decided to donate it to our science club. After that, I didn't take it up as a hobby again though astronomy has always been close to my heart.

I started looking at some local night sky clubs late last year (near Cambridge and Arlington, MA) and received a wonderful gift this Christmas, a competent 90 mm (3.5") refracting telescope: It came with three eyepieces (26 mm, 9 mm, 6.3 mm) and a 2x Barlow Lens. I want this to inspire me to devote more time and effort into observing the night sky. So far, I've had no trouble operating and using it to aim at the moon or common constellations. It's been a bit tricky to get a good view over the last cold, cloudy month here in Cambridge but I'm taking notes on better following night sky forecasts.

I think I'd like to utilize the tools I have to their maximum capacity. Do you have any tips or advice for how to make this a productive hobby (taking notes, learning)? Are there additional eyepieces I can use to make my experience better?

Additionally, I'm looking for your favorite online courses or videos that are catered to telescope enthusiasts. I'm looking for something past Astronomy 101 (if you know any good beginner refresher material, that's fine too).

Finally, what are some of your favorite objects in the night sky to look at during this time of the year?
posted by mysticreferee to Science & Nature (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The #1 best thing you can do is get involved with whatever amateur societies there are in your area. There are a number in the greater Boston area (1, 2, 3, 4, plus probably more, that was just a quick search). These are going to be great resources for learning more and advancing. The level of knowledge that members of groups like this have is staggering.

I'd definitely start an observing notebook, if you haven't already. A nice, larger-sized Moleskin (one like this with gridded paper) is a great splurge if you're looking for a nice notebook. I like this guide for giving you good ideas of what to put in a notebook. It's a great way to remember what you've observed and what things you might want to re-observe in the future. You probably need a red flashlight to go with it. You can buy expensive versions online, but I usually just buy cheap LED flashights and paint red nail polish on the front lens. You need a few coats to get them red/dim enough, but after that, they work great.

At this point, I wouldn't recommend any more eyepieces; you've got a good range of focal lengths and higher magnification isn't going to get you much in the New England skies.

Take a look at the stuff from Stellafane if you want to start digging more into the details of optics and telescopes.

The Orion Nebula (M42) is the one, obvious cool thing to look at in the sky right now. There are also a bevy of open clusters (NGC 2264, NGC 2244, M35, M36, M37, M38). M81/M82 are also up right now, but that's going to be impossible from such a bright site. Depending on how late you're up, Jupiter is also rising earlier and earlier this time of year. Observing the change in the position of the Galilean moons at a few different times is a fun, slightly more advanced project you can do with your telescope.
posted by Betelgeuse at 2:06 PM on January 24, 2017

Best answer: I use the Clear Sky Chart to help me pick good days and times to head out. This site details the various factors that make good viewing possible (cloud cover, atmosphere transparency, darkness, humidity etc). Use this map tool to select/review other observation points nearby.

Additionally, another tool I find useful for selecting locations is the Dark Site Finder.
posted by axismundi at 2:48 PM on January 24, 2017

Best answer: For an astronomer in my family, I got a book titled The Urban Astronomer. There are several books in that category, and I can't say which is best. BTW, I have several time see the advice that it's good to start with a pair of binoculars. You can see more than Gallileo did, including the moon's of Jupiter.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:24 PM on January 24, 2017

Best answer: Yeah, if you're not using Clear Dark Sky (per axismundi), you want to be using Clear Dark Sky! I have it bookmarked on my phone so I can check the observing conditions for that evening when I go to pick the kids up at school so I can plan my evening accordingly.

With a smartphone, Google Cardboard, and StarTracker VR, you've got yourself a little personal planetarium for under $20 (uh ... plus the cost of the smartphone). It's stupidly entertaining to be able to see in 3D at home, but it's also very helpful to practice picking out the constellations and objects I'm going to look for that night.

(StarChart infinite is my favorite app for non-VR, which includes transient objects and updates cosntantly.)

I particularly like the Little Beehive cluster near Sirius, nice and high overhead at this time of year. I think just because you can't see really anything there (with the light level I have in my city observing), and then you get out your optics and DUDE it's a whole freakin' chunk of sparkly stars!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:39 PM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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