How To Begin Astronomy On A Budget
Do you have a 60mm telescope? Chances are, if you're an amateur astronomer,
either new or experienced, you likely either have or had at some time a 60mm
Are you tired of taking flack for having a 60mm telescope? I'm sure, if you
have such a telescope, you're oft reminded by some of your astro-buddies that
you need a bigger telescope.
Do you need a bigger telescope?
I'm sure that many of you wonder if that small telescope you bought (or are
thinking about buying) will see any details on the moon or planets, or any star
objects. Rest assured that much of the negatives you've read about 60mm
telescopes is nonsense. Not all, but much.
The truth is that a 60mm telescope on a steady mount is capable of
delivering quite good images of the moon and planets, as well as hundreds of
star clusters, some galaxies, some nebulae, and many double stars. In fact,
one enterprising enthusiast put together a list of telescopes to keep your eye
out for, and a challenging list of objects for 60mm telescope users. His site
is the The
Year Long 60mm Telescope Challenge. Perhaps the more limiting thing about
most available 60mm telescopes is the wobbly mounts they come with. Beef up or
replace that mount and you'll likely have a fine performing telescope.
I put this web page together to show that even a very modest-sized
telescope, if of reasonable quality, can see and even photograph more
lunar and planetary detail than you'd likely imagine. I took on the challenge
of getting these images through a 60mm f/17 refractor telescope to prove a
point. The telescope used is described on the DIY Refractor
Telescope page on this site.
I've seen many advice articles on what telescopes beginner astronomers
should buy, and while there's always some good points presented, it seems to me
that the things that can be viewed through a 60mm refractor are often
significantly understated. So I took these images to show not only what you can
expect to see with such a telescope, but what you can even photograph if
you have the inclination, some time, and a bit (well, maybe a lot) of
If you want to start an astronomy hobby on a budget, and maybe even do a bit
more than just observe objects, let this web page give you some inspiration. I
put this telescope together and constructed a pipe-tripod mount for it, as
described below. You can skip all the preliminary work if you want by simply
purchasing a commercial 60mm to 70mm refractor, such as the Celestron 21062 AstroMaster 70 EQ Refractor Telescope.
The 70mm instrument listed is a bit bigger in aperture than the 60mm
telescope I used for the results on this page, so it is capable of even better
views and photographs. It's also on an equatorial mount, making the tracking
of objects easier. I have a similar 70mm telescope, but without the mount. I
use it on my same old pipe-fitting tripod. At 900mm focal length, like my
60mm, the listed 70mm is very well color corrected.
Start With The Tripod Mount And Telescope
I put the telescope above together on a very meager budget, less than
$150. The Pipe Fitting
Tripod only cost about $50 and a bit of elbow grease. The mount may look
embarrassingly crude, but it is simple to use and rock solid. Click on the
indicated link to see how you can make one.
The DIY 60mm
Refractor Project only set me back about $125. The telescope is made
from new old stock parts, obtained from the sites listed at the
DIY 60mm Refractor
Project link. Rather then build your own or purchasing a new 60mm
telescope, you can cruise Ebay for a classic 60mm of yesteryear, and you'll
likely end up with a fine performing telescope for peanuts.
The telescope I made is a 60mm refractor of the old school long
focus design, with a focal ratio of f/17. That makes the instrument an
excellent performer for lunar and planetary work, even though only 60mm in
aperture. If you go shopping for a good planetary-capable refractor, look for
one with a focal ratio of f/15 or larger, though they are harder to find. More
commonly, you'll find 700mm focal length 60mm telescope, which translate to
f/11.7 focal ratio instruments. With at least 700mm of focal length,
you'll get good color correction and more magnification with any given
eyepiece -- a plus for lunar and planetary observing.
If You Want To Take Pictures -- Add A Camera
If you want to use your telescope for more than observing, you can get
started inexpensively in a number of ways. The pictures near the end of this web
page were taken with a Celestron NexImage
astro-camera, which cost me about $100. In the image above you see my
Celestron NexImage web cam and Barlow lens inserted into the telescope's
You can see that when taking photographs, I removed the star diagonal,
inserted the Barlow, then inserted the camera. The Barlow doubled the
magnification of the telescope to give me higher resolution images.
If I want wider field images, I insert the web cam directly into the
focuser, leaving out the Barlow lens.
You can probably get into astrophotography at an even cheaper price. You can
make your own Web Cam
Astro-Camera as I did. It works exactly like the Celestron NexImage, and
might cost you even less. You'll need a bit of construction skill and possibly
a camera adapter that has a camera T thread on one end, and a 1.25 inch snout
on the other for sliding into a standard telescope focuser.
You can even take moon photographs with just a typical digital camera. I
show how to do that on the Digital Camera
Mount web page. You can also get some good shots by just focusing the
telescope on the moon and holding a digital camera up to the eyepiece, as shown
at the bottom of the 60mm Refractor
Project. Photographing planets with a digital camera requires a camera that
lets you turn off the auto focus and auto exposure features. Frankly, if
shooting planets is your desire, you want to go beyond a hand-held camera.
The Celestron web cam came with the handy image stacking program RegiStax.
If you make your own web cam astro-camera, you can get RegiStax and install it on your
computer. With RegiStax, you can take movies of a few tens of seconds with
your web cam astro-camera, then line up and stack the individual frames to
get a good average image. This gets rid of much of the atmospheric effects
and pixelization caused by the camera.
And Now, Some Photographs
The following photographs were all taken with the illustrated 60mm telescope
and the Celestron
NexImage web cam. Note that the telescope was mounted on the heavy-duty
pipe-fitting tripod. That tripod has neither a clock drive nor slow motion
controls. However, it is extremely sturdy and holds the telescope at any given
position with absolutely no vibration.
I lightly tapped the telescope in desired directions to make minute
adjustments in the pointing angle, then used my laptop to collect film strips
(.avi files) with the Celestron NexImage camera. Naturally the target drifted
through the field of view as the earth rotated, but the shutter speed of the
NexImage was sufficient to capture sharp images on each frame. The fact that
each successive frame of a movie was shifted in position was taken care of by
processing the files with the RegiStax software program that came with the
A sturdy mount is most critical for photographing objects at high
magnification. You'll do much better with a modest telescope on a solid mount
than with a bigger telescope on a wobbly mount.
I used 620x480 resolution for the image capture. In this case, images were
aligned and stacked using a program of my own design rather than RegiStax. Why
my own program? Mostly because I use Linux as my operating system, and RegiStax
is designed to run on Windows.
By choosing a specific area for alignment before stacking, I was able to
extract those portions and enlarge them a bit while still achieving good
results. For the lunar images, I show both the full-sized stacked images and an
enlarged portion. These give a sense of what can be viewed through a good
quality 60mm refractor. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
The moon images each consist of between 20 and 40 stacked frames. The
Jupiter image has about 150 stacked frames. Stacking at least 60 frames is more
desirable, but since this telescope was on a non-tracking mount, the field of
view and earth rate combination conspired against me, limiting reasonable field
moon images to about 40 frames.
Click On Any Image For A Closer View
Moon, Plato Region. 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera. This is one of my favorite areas of the moon, with the big Plato crater and Alpine Valley.
Moon, Alpine Valley, 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera. Notice the bright crater with ejecta in upper left of image.
Moon, Plato crater, 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera. This image doesn't capture the small craterlets that can sometimes be seen on the
Moon, Apennine Mountains, 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera.These rugged mountains form the partial rim of the great Mare Imbrium sea. A recent theory suggests that a sizable asteroid impact early in the Moons formation created this circular basin.
Moon, Fra Mauro Crater region, 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera.
Moon, Fra Mauro Crater, 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera. An interesting old crater with a large segment of one wall missing.
Moon, Eratosthenes Region. 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera.
Moon, Eratosthenes crater, 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera. At times I've struggled to see those 3 mountain peaks in Eratosthenes even with my 6 inch reflector. But here, the 60mm captured them nicely. For scale, Eratosthenes is 36 mi in diameter. See if you can see the 3 peaks on your next
Moon, Straight Wall Region. 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera.
Moon, Straight Wall, 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera. A feature that's invisible except when the terminator is close by.
Moon, Tycho region. 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera.
Moon, Tycho crater, 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera.
Notice the small peak next to the central mountain peak. During a full moon,
you'll find that Tycho is the center of the greatest bright ray system
on the moon.
Moon, Clavius region. 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera. Clavius is a very big crater, and as the image reveals, Clavius has had many
impacts on its floor sometime after formation, as well as a couple of impacts
on its rim.
Moon, Clavius crater, 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera.
Jupiter. 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera. In this
inverted image, the NEB (brown belt) is easily seen. You can also just
see a shaded region where the SEB usually is visible, but not in this 2010
image when the SEB all but disappeared. Also visible is the NTB and the
darkened polar caps (see Observing Jupiter).
Jupiter. 60mm f/17 telescope with Celestron NexImage camera. This is my
best black and white image, stacking about a dozen of the best frames. This
is more like what is actually seen through a 60mm telescope.
You might wonder if stacking images can create more detail than actually is
visible? No, it cannot. If the telescope doesn't deliver details beyond a
point, stacking won't either. But stacking can minimize the camera and
atmospheric conditions that would otherwise limit photograph quality.
Can you really see all the detail shown in these photographs with a 60mm
telescope? In a word -- yes, if it's a quality one. There are differences
between what can be seen in stacked images like these and the actual telescope
view. Looking live through a telescope, one can see more detail -- yes, that's
more detail. The atmosphere has moments of clearing that give the
viewer very crisp views, if only for short intervals, as shown in the movie at
On the other hand, by post processing images, one can adjust the contrast to
bring out details that may not be easily seen with the eye at the telescope.
For example, notice the brown North Equatorial Belt on the Jupiter photograph.
Through a small telescope, color such as this isn't perceptible by the eye,
though it is through larger telescopes. But the color is there, and the camera
picks it up. Through the 60mm eyepiece, the NEB is quite visible, but it looks
dark gray instead of brown.
So if your budget or need for portability demand you consider a 60mm
telescope, just pick a good one and you'll be happy. Consider browsing eBay for
vintage 60mm telescope, many Japanese made. Look for brands such as older
Tasco, Sears, Towa, Unitron, Polarex, Mayflower, Jaegers, Edmund, or Monolux.
These brands are some of the fine brands made yesteryear, before the 60mm was
considered to be primarily a kid's telescope.