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Other Thoughts for the new astronomer

Tracy Perry

Dark Sky Lover
Founder
214
28
Texas
Telescopes

William Optics 103mm
Celestron NexStar 8SE


Just a few thoughts since I jumped into this hobby head first without doing much research but had some spare money to spend.

Rule #1: Bigger is NOT better. * There is a reason this is #1 *
Instead of a 120mm or 100mm refractor, you may be better served to start with something in the 60-80mm (if a refractor) range. These are an ideal size for viewing as they don't restrict as much of the sky... and a VERY important part for any astronomer is learning the sky.
Determine what you really want to see... the scope needed for planetary is not the same as you will want to get for deep sky objects. And then to add on to that, whether you plan to do astrophotography or simply live viewing will help determine your choice of telescope.
A Schmidt-Casselgrain (such as the NexStar series) are great for planetary viewing with the mount they come with but for the moon with the 8se, you will only see about 1/3 of it but you can see the moons of Saturn with no Barlow... but if you want to do any DSO captures, be prepared to spend some money on a new mount/tripod setup.

For simple viewing of DSO's (deep sky objects), you can't beat a nice Dobsonian telescope. It's not great for tracking and doing long term exposures (until you get into the higher end ones), but because of the basic design nature, you can get much larger aperture, frequently for less than you can a refractor. The Dobsonian is basically a reflector telescope (yet another decent starting scope for live viewing) with a different mount.
You can get a REALLY nice Sky-Watcher Dobsonian 12" with GoTo for around $2500. For a really nice intro Dobsonian, you can get a 8" flex tube for around $755 (USD) and the same with a GoTo mount for around $1450 (USD).
A 6" Celestron Newtonian with tripod will set you back around $1500 (USD) and it doesn't have GoTo capability.

Rule #1a - More complicated (automated) is not better
Learn to do the basics first. Get an understanding of the "why" behind what the automated process does.
Learn the basic major star locations in the sky.
Manual polar alignment.
Focusing your scope.
Getting alignment with your stars when setting up the GoTo mount manually

There are plenty of great guides out on the internet (both written and YouTube) to introduce you into this addictive (and admittedly expensive - as much as fishing easily) hobby.

Rule #2 - A DSLR is not necessarily the best choice for a camera
If you have a nice newer Canon camera, you will have better luck with getting some good photos. The Nikon camera is great for terrestrial images... but when it comes to astro work, the Nikon API for software interface lags way behind Canon.
If seriously looking at getting into astrophotography, I'd concentrate on getting a dedicated CCD style (ZWO ASI/QHD QHY) camera for this, and use the DSLR for wide field captures.
Start with a good color camera (like an ASI585MC) that is not cooled, but is great for planetary stuff, which is what I'd recommend starting on. You can progress to it with some of the better DSO's, but when you reach that field, you are going to be jonesing to upgrade to a better camera, similar to a ZWO ASI Pro series, if mono with a filter wheel, otherwise color.

Rule #3 - A full "package' isn't always the best deal
There are some decent beginners packages out there. I started out with one, a William Optics ZenithStar 103mm with mount/tripod, flattener/reducer and a spotting scope.
All the scope stuff was decent... but the mount is what I would now consider barely adequate at a beginners level. Once you start stacking more equipment for capture on the EQ-35 Pro that it came with (rebadged by William Optics), you will quickly discover that the mount/tripod was marginal for the base equipment, much less any additional toys you add (EAF, camera, filter wheel, RPi/ASIAir, power distribution block). You will quickly be wanting a better mount. Luckily in my case, my EQ-35 Pro will be relegated to the NexStar, which has a sucky mount as it is, and then I can upgrade my primary capture setup to a better tripod/mount system.
My suggestion... even though it may appear to be a little more expensive on the front end... eventually it will end up being cheaper.... start with a quality mount... then add a decent beginners scope in the 60-80mm range (referring to a refractor since I am concentrating on image capture) By getting good quality mount

Rule #4 - Guide scopes are vital
If you plan on doing any longer exposure captures... a guide scope with a decent camera will be vital.
You can get 30-45 second exposures with no big issues if you have done a good polar alignment and a 3 star alignment... but without a good guide scope/camera, lengthy exposures can still be problematic, depending on the mount (see rule #3). You get into the $2500-$7000 mounts, and you have less issues... but the intro mounts most of us will be exposed to in a kit form are not quite up to that level of ability.


Final rule - If you hunt, sport shoot or fish.. give it up unless you have DEEP pockets. You will continuously find more and more "toys" that you could use, and upgrades that would benefit you.


I've spent the last several months while I've been sitting outside reading taking a break and pulling out the iPhone and loading up SkyView and exploring the sky with my naked eye. Once I started learning where the major stars were, I then was able to start concentrating on the constellations and the basic layout of them, so that if I coudl see them (even if partially) reflected in the scope, I knew the area of the sky I was looking at.
Word to the wise... the view through the scope is TOTALLY different than your eyes will show. Through the scope you will see MANY more stars. In fact, I'd probably recommend that anyone interested in astronomy start off with a nice set of binoculars (you don't have to get astro grade ones... .simply 8x50's will do fine as long as they have decent optics).
 

OhNo

Founding Member
Well said Tracy. I would like to add that for Astrophotography the best money you can spend is on the mount. The ability to track and guide with accuracy can not be overstated. Another thing to remember is the capacity of your mount. The common rule of thumb is don't load your mount to about 50% of it's total capacity.

I am slightly over the 50% rule with my largest scope and AP gear on. With this set-up I have to be especially critical in my balance. If I am off balance too much my guiding suffers. However for AP you don't want prefect balance. If the balance is perfect you guiding will also suffer as the guiding will continually "HUNT". All mounts will have a certain amount of "Backlash" in their gear trains. A Perfectly balance system causes a fight between the tracking and guiding making for lower guiding efficiency (Higher Total RMS).

For us in Northern Hemisphere we should consider having our balance slightly heavy East, and Back (camera end of a refracting scope).
 
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