Do you feel that your telescope is just too small?
Here's a friendly place for you to hang out if you get the feeling that
your small telescope just isn't big enough to be useful. Or you may feel that you can't afford a telescope big enough to really enjoy the hobby. If that's how you feel, enjoy this site for some practical information on the use of small telescopes. Also consider the very popular NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe as a way to gently but significantly punch up your astronomical knowledge.
As proof that small telescopes can provide wondrous entertainment,
this site has pages of observations and photographs of the moon and
planets taken through instruments as small as 2 inch (50mm) aperture, and no
bigger than 6 inch (150mm). Take some time to view the picture pages, and see
if these images through modest sized telescopes don't convince you.
Though I've been an amateur astronomer for some 45 years (and a professional
astronomer for some of that time), I primarily use small and modest sized
telescopes. I started with my copy of Norton's
Star Atlas and Reference Handbook and a little 7x50 Moon Watch telescope. From there I
moved up bit at a time. I've been through aperture fever, having owned up to a
10 inch behemoth Newtonian on an Equatorial mount, but currently my biggest
telescopes are 6 inch Newtonians.
While my 6 inch Newtonians are my big guns, I often use a Meade ETX-90
because of its charm and convenience, and still own and use a small 2 inch
Jaegers refractor and two classic 60mm Japanese make refractors for their
crisp views, low maintenance, and quick cool down times.
And yes, I even use binoculars for stargazing, comet viewing, and special
celestial events. My favorite pair is my 15x70 Barska
Binoculars which is mounted on a handy mirror mount. It may surprise you
that many experienced amateur astronomers make considerable use of small
telescopes, as small as the venerable 60mm refractor or binoculars. My Barska
binoculars weren't that expensive for what they deliver, and I notice that the
SkyMaster Giant 15x70 Binoculars with Tripod Adapter are very much like my Barska binoculars, and also at
a very affordable price.
At left you see results of the Amateur Astronomer Survey which shows that fully half of the
astronomers who took the survey not only use binoculars in their hobby, but
often use binoculars. Consider clicking on the survey link and
adding your input to the database.
Still haven't purchased that first telescope?
In case you're considering a telescope purchase, I've created tutorials that
layout the basic characteristics of four major types of telescopes used by
amateur astronomers, as well as some information on binoculars. There are
certainly more telescope types out there, but the ones I give details about are
by far the most common. The telescope types discussed in the tutorials are the
refractor, the Newtonian equatorial, the Dobsonian, and the Cassegrain (2
types). If you want more detailed information about the astronomy hobby,
check out The Backyard Astronomer's Guide. It will give more detailed guidelines about what telescope may be right for you.
If you haven't purchased a telescope yet, check out the following tutorials
before you shop: Telescope Overview, or
the specific tutorials on Refractors, Newtonians, Dobsonians, Cassegrains, and Telescope Mounts .
Hopefully, these telescope tutorials will help you get a feel for what type
of instrument you need for what you enjoy viewing, and reveal approximately
what it might cost to satisfy your interests. Most of the information
presented is obtained from my personal experience. Once you select a telescope,
or even if you already have one, consider getting a good book on how and what
to observe, like the very popular Turn
Left at Orion. A source like that will really help get you off on
the right foot.
If you have logged a bit of time as an amateur astronomer, I invite you to
take the Amateur Astronomer Survey,
and see what most amateur astronomers are up to.
Some Telescope Shopping Suggestions
I suggest you begin modestly, as the Astronomy 101 t-shirt
design suggest. Wait until dark, then look up. For starters (and for optics
you'll use for years) consider a quality pair of binoculars. I often use a pair
of 15x70 binoculars, and can see most Messier objects with them, though you may
want to start with a 7x50 pair. Binoculars that magnify over 10 times cannot
really be hand held, and must be on some kind of stable mount.
With binoculars I can see all the Messier open clusters, several nebula, and
a number of galaxies. In addition, my best comet views have been obtained with
binoculars, and I've had very enjoyable views of special celestial events, such
as the crescent moon passing near the Pleiades, or lunar eclipses.
Only the planetary nebula and small globular clusters are poor targets for
my binoculars. The objects are not too dim, just too small to be distinguished
If you want to check prices and what's available, use this customized search engine:
If you're a do-it-yourself type of person, you may want to consider making
your own telescope. This can be a total project where you even grind your own
mirror, or a less strenuous project where you purchase the optics already made.
If you want to build your own telescope, check out the Dobsonian plans at Dobsonian Plans.
I often use even a small, 50mm telescope refractor. At f/15, my 50mm Jaegers
provides surprisingly good images of the moon, planets, and countless star
objects. Its main limitation is its limited ability to resolve the dimmer
galaxies, though some practiced observers can even detect many of those with a
small instrument. So don't feel that you must buy the biggest telescope in
the store. You can have years of entertainment with much smaller and less
Where can you get more information?
There are many places to get more information on the subject of
telescopes and observing. Web searches, for one. It won't be easy, in that on
the web you'll see many different opinions. Each of us inevitably cloud our
advice with our own preferences. The fact that the advice offered by
different writers varies doesn't make any of them wrong, it's just that each
person has different hobby needs that he or she wishes to fulfill.
A good site for the beginner astronomer is Beginner's Guide To
Astronomy. There you'll find information tidbits on telescopes, observing,
and available observing targets for different times of the year.
Over the years I've accumulated a nice collection of astronomy and telescope
books in search of information, and I really enjoy reading them. I'll be
surprised if you don't eventually accumulate your own collection. You might
begin your search at ABEbooks. Their site connects
you to hundreds of new and used bookstores, and I'm sure you can find some
Speaking of books, some freely available public domain books are
available for instant download at the Gutenberg Astronomy
Shelf. While some of this information is dated, the ones on astronomy
history are still a good read, as well as are the observing guides.
If you want to know what's happening in the astronomy world, a web source of
up to date astronomical news that will keep you up to date can be found at:
Universe Today - Space news from around the Internet, updated every weekday.
What's It All About?
What many people like about astronomy as a hobby is that each night
can be an adventure. There's always the old friends up there, constellations
and stars that return each season. But there's always change as well. The
planets get closer, then further away. Jupiter has its moons move across
its surface for entertaining (and scientifically valuable) displays, not to
mention storms so vast that even amateur sized telescopes can see them.
Saturn flaunts its rings in varying configurations over the years, and each
Mars opposition has surprises. You'll definitely regret missing an encounter
with a comet, since many will never return within your lifetime. I invite you
to periodically check out my Tonight's Sky page to see what's upcoming each evening.