How to Enjoy Watching the Night Sky Through a Telescope

While naked eye astronomy has a long history, there are clear advantages to sky-watching with a telescope. It's not just that telescopes have the effect of bringing things closer; it's that their light-gathering power actually brings more detail to the image.

What Types of Telescope Are There?

Astronomical telescopes generally fall into one of two main categories, reflector telescopes and refractor telescopes. Both use the principles of optics to create an image in the eyepiece, but they go about it very differently. One has lenses in the optical tube assembly, while the other relies on mirrors:

  • Refractors: A refractor telescope is the same kind you see in pirate movies, and is also what people use as a spotting scope for larger telescopes. Each one has a series of lenses which bend, or refract, the light so that you get a brighter and sharper image.
  • Reflectors: Rather than lenses, these telescopes use mirrors to focus an image on the eyepiece. The big advantage of reflecting Celestron telescopes is that not only is it easier to make large mirrors than large lenses, but they also produce less aberration so you get a better overall performance. The size is determined both by the diameter of the primary mirror but also the focal length, which determines the ideal placement of the secondary mirror that feeds your eyepiece.

What Do You Need for Star-Gazing?

Beyond the obvious requirement for a telescope, there are a number of other accessories you can take advantage of in your quest to become a successful backyard astronomer:

  • Mounts: The most common mount is a tripod, which can securely hold a telescope such as the Celestron NexStar pointed at a particular patch of sky. Many are computerized, so that you can automatically aim your scope at the appropriate part of the sky without having to search yourself. When possible, you want an equatorial mount so that your scope can follow the stars across the sky as the night progresses. These alt-azimuth mounts stabilize in two axes for better viewing. Some even have no-tool designs for ease of mounting.
  • Binoculars: These give you a wide field of view and are great for just sitting in the back yard and watching the sky. What you lack in detail you make up for with the natural field of view. They are also handier to carry than even a portable telescope.
  • Clothing: Warm clothing is a vital part of any amateur astronomer's toolkit. The optimal conditions for optical astronomy require clear nights and they are often cold. Warm clothing lets you focus on celestial objects without worrying your shivering will upset the tripod.

Using a Telescope

There is something about the feeling you get the first time you shift your eyes from the spotting scope to the eyepiece and really see the night sky for the first time. A small refractor like the finder scope doesn't really do the sky full justice, not even when compared to a larger refractor telescope.

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