Learn How To Set Up A Telescope: A Detailed Guide For Beginners

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A telescope is a marvelous instrument to help you explore the fascinating universe. If you’ve landed your hands on your first telescope- congratulations, you’re on your way to discovering the breathtaking beauty of the night sky. However, not knowing how to set up a telescope properly can dampen your enthusiasm and even turn your excitement into frustration. So, before you begin sky-watching, turn your sights to this guide, which will transform you from a complete novice to a competent backyard stargazer in no time.

Getting Acquainted With Your New Telescope

1. Gaining Knowledge Of The Cosmos

Before we begin, if you haven’t already, you should consider investing in a couple of good books on stars and constellations. Rushing outside with a telescope, before understanding where to look or what to look for is like buying a Lamborghini without knowing how to drive. In fact, arming yourself with theoretical knowledge can help you appreciate your telescopic observations even more. 

To get the best viewing experience, you need to know where and when to look. For example, if you’re looking to observe stars, a moon-lit night won’t  do you any favors. If you’re in search of certain constellations, knowing their patterns and which way to look can help you locate them faster. For example, the Great Nebula of Orion is best visible in the Southern sky during the early evening hours.

2. Operating And Setting Up The Equipment 

Once you’re ready to set up your new telescope, remember that getting acquainted with the equipment can take some time. Be patient and practice setting up and operating your equipment indoors. Try aiming and focusing your telescope on daytime terrestrial objects before heading out to gaze at the night sky. This has two advantages- not only are daytime objects brighter and easier to spot, but they also won’t drift out of your field of view due to the Earth’s rotation. This method will help beginners learn how to focus their telescope accurately. 

3. Understanding The Capabilities Of Your Telescope

Most amateurs have a mistaken impression that more power means better resolution and viewing. On the contrary, high power dilutes the brightness of the image and aggravates unsteadiness among the details. As a general rule of thumb, the maximum amount of magnification for any telescope should not be more than 50 power per inch of aperture. For example, for a 3-inch refractor, 150 power should be the maximum. 

Even for Barlow lenses and perfect optics, this is the maximum limit of magnification. Remember, your telescope’s image can only be magnified to a certain extent before it ultimately blurs the object. So, don’t fall for marketing gimmicks promising 500 power on a 3-inch aperture. The best telescopes are designed to give the ideal magnification, brightness, and resolution of celestial objects for the best viewing experience. So make sure to choose wisely.

Learning How To Use Your Telescope 

1. Aligning The Finderscope

The finderscope is typically attached to the side of your telescope and is independent of the eyepiece. It is designed to display more of the sky than the main scope itself. As the name suggests, it’s purpose is to locate celestial objects in the night sky. Aligning your finderscope helps you find the generalized location of the objects you are looking for. Once the generalized location is determined, you can utilize your telescope’s main lens to focus on the object.

2. Mounting The Telescope

There are two types of mounts associated with telescopes- Altazimuth and Equatorial mounts. You need to learn which type of mount your telescope has in order to operate it.

a. Altazimuth Mounts

Altazimuth mounts are easy to operate for beginners. They allow the telescope to move up and down and side to side. 

b. Equatorial Mounts

Equatorial mounts are designed to move across the celestial North to South and East to West. While Equatorial mounts are more helpful and accurate, they are complicated to set up. The rotating axis needs to be aligned to Polaris, also known as the North Star. After it is aligned, it will follow the motion of the sky from East to West around this point. 

It takes time getting accustomed to equatorial mounts as each time you want to view a different celestial object, you will need to unlock the axis. You are also required to utilize panhandle controls or slow-motion cable controls to make smaller, precise movements. 

3. Collimating The Telescope

With jarring movements, the secondary mirror can often get misaligned. It is a common occurrence when you move your scope back and forth. When your telescope isn’t collimated correctly, it can cause elongation of the stars or planets you view. These are called comas and appear as hazy blobs around the celestial objects. 

This can be quite a frustrating experience for many amateurs. Therefore, you need to make sure that the secondary mirror is aligned with your focuser. To collimate your telescope, you will need a collimation cap, which is generally included in your telescope kit. You will also need to place a piece of paper into the tube to measure the distance between edges. A screwdriver will help adjust your mirror. Collimating your telescope takes some practice, but  plenty of tutorials are available online to help you out.

4. Using The Tripod

While setting up your telescope, you need to make sure that the three legs of your tripod are well-balanced. An improperly balanced telescope can fall over, leading to damaged equipment. Therefore, when scouting for locations to set up camp, look out for nice and flat, level areas for your telescope.

Exploring The Night Sky- What To Look Out For?

As a beginner, the moon is probably the most rewarding object to view. If you’ve never seen the moon through a telescope, you’re going to be awe-struck by the level of detail. The best part is that since the moon is large, bright object precision isn’t required to view it, making it ideal for beginners. Even budget telescopes do a great job at capturing the details and intricacies of the moon. After the moon, planets like Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are some of the brightest objects in the universe that are easy to capture. Viewing the famous rings of Saturn is a marvelous experience as well. 

Stars and constellations require a bit more effort and precision to locate. An excellent place to start would be circumpolar constellations such as Ursa Minor and Cepheus. These constellations are easy to identify and are always present in the night sky throughout the year.

While star-gazing is fascinating, one of the biggest reasons why telescopes find their way into dusty attics and garages is because people don’t know how to use telescope. We hope this article gave you an idea of how to set up your telescope and explore the night sky. While it may seem daunting at first, with a bit practice and skill, it can be a rewarding experience.