If you find the night sky beautiful, then you may want to invest in a telescope. An astronomical telescope to be precise. These will let you get as up-close and personal with the stars as you can without hopping on a spaceship. They’re great to have, but they don’t come cheap. A decent astronomical telescope will cost you at least a $100. This is why many people become apprehensive when it comes to buying them. If you’re planning on buying one, you may be wondering “what can I see with a telescope?” will the image that you see through its tiny view hole be worth it? Simply put; it is definitely worth it, especially if you’re into astronomy.
However, to fully appreciate what an astronomical telescope can do, we should first talk about them for a bit. If you’re going through this article, then there’s a good chance that you’re new to astronomical telescopes. We’ll also brief you through a few useful tips that may help you figure out how to operate these telescopes properly.
What is an Astronomical Telescope?
An astronomical telescope looks like a pretty simple contraption. Most people believe that it simply acts as a sophisticated magnifying glass. However, there’s a lot more that goes on inside of these telescopes. They make use of a number of lenses that capture a far off image and magnify it. There are two positive lenses that capture light and form the image of what the telescope is pointed at, this image gets formed at a telescope’s focal length. Another set of lenses in the telescope’s eyepiece are responsible for magnifying the captured image. Since these telescopes don’t have negative lenses in them, they produce inverted images. An inverted image of the night sky isn’t a big problem. However, this makes these telescopes impractical for terrestrial viewing.
The positive lenses of a telescope (also referred to as its objective lenses) are what determine a telescope’s power. Telescopes with bigger lenses can capture light better and vice versa. A bigger lens means that you can view objects that are further away and have fainter light emanating from them. Telescopes with bigger lenses are also more expensive and bulkier.
The eyepiece is at the back end of a telescope. Many people think that a telescope’s eyepiece isn’t all that important. However, it plays a huge role in determining the clarity of the projected image. A decent eyepiece should be able to offer good magnification and should prevent excess light from interfering with your vision while you look through it.
The biggest challenge with using astronomical telescopes is to minimize the interference of light pollution. Light-pollution has become a huge problem in populated areas. While it isn’t a big problem for most people, it certainly makes life difficult for people who like looking at the night sky. Light pollution washes out fainter light sources in the sky. This makes stars harder to spot. If you’ve ever looked up at the sky in the middle of the city and notice a severe lack of stars that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any stars in the area, you cannot see them since there are far brighter light sources closer to you.
Light pollution can be avoided by going to remoter areas for star gazing. However, not everyone has the liberty of moving around only to look at the stars. Stargazing is possible in city areas, you just need the right equipment. There are several telescopes that are designed to be used in well-lit areas. We’ve reviewed some telescopes that are great for using in well-lit areas in a previous article.
Tips on Astronomical Telescopes
Being able to set up your telescope properly determines whether you’ll be able to enjoy using it or not. The first thing that you should focus on is your telescope’s mount. A telescope mount determines the level of control that you have over your telescope. Cheaper mounts tend to be unstable and hard to adjust. This makes it difficult to make minute adjustments while you’re looking through the telescope. Also, keep in mind that if you’re going for a budget telescope, then you should stick to manual mounts. Some budget telescopes come with electronic mounts that point to selected objects in the sky automatically. However, unless you have a very high-quality mount, an electric one will be a pain to deal with.
The next thing to focus on is your telescope’s magnification. More magnification doesn’t equal to a better image. Setting your telescope’s magnification is a delicate process. You need to find a sweet spot for each image, otherwise, your image will become blurry and dull. The best way to find the right magnification level on a telescope is easy. Simply remember to set your magnification level to 4x to 25x the diameter of the telescope’s objective lens. The stability of your telescope’s mount is an important factor in this equation. A more stable mount means that your telescope will move around less. Even the slightest movements become a problem when you’re viewing things with such a high level of magnification.
Light pollution is a big problem, luckily you can find ways of dealing with it. When you place your telescope, you can do the following:
- Place the telescope in a dark shaded area. A tree or building’s shadow is great for this. Doing so will reduce the amount of excess light surrounding the telescope.
- Aim your telescope at a darker part of the sky. For example, instead of trying to aim your telescope on an area above the city, aim it towards the edge of the city.
- Before you begin viewing, give your eyes time to adjust to the dark. After 20 minutes, your eyes will become more sensitive to light. This will make fainter light sources easier to spot and view.
A telescope with a finderscope is always easy to use. The finderscope is a less powerful scope that can be used to spot objects that you want to aim your telescope on. Alternatively, you could use a pair of handheld binoculars to spot objects in the sky. However, a finderscope will allow you to position your scope with a lot more precision.
Now that we’ve talked about astronomical telescopes for long enough, it’s time to answer our question.
What Can I See With a Telescope?
You can see a lot with your telescope. However, every telescope has its limits which are defined by two things:
- A telescope’s aperture
- A telescope’s optical quality
The aperture of a telescope is the diameter of its main objective lens. As we’ve mentioned before, it determines how much light can enter the telescope. A larger aperture means that a telescope can spot objects that are further away in space.
The optical quality of a telescope describes how well a telescope can produce an image. This depends on a number of factors including a telescope’s aperture, its build materials, the quality of its lens, etc. Better optical quality is directly linked to the quality of the telescope itself. Expensive telescopes tend to be made with precision and quality materials. This makes their optical quality way better than more affordable telescopes.
Depending on the quality of your telescope, there are a number of observable objects floating around in the cosmos:
When you get your hands on a telescope, the first thing that you want to see is our moon. It’s already quite close to us and therefore viewing it through a telescope can be fascinating. Its distance makes the Moon easy to view, making it a great object for beginner astronomers. Even the cheapest telescopes can view this astral body in all its glory. You can see all of its surface details, and if your telescope is powerful enough, you can even view various kinds of geographical reliefs.
The second most easy to spot objects in the sky are our planets. There are 8 planets in the solar system, but only 3 of them are worth seeing through a telescope. The rest don’t have enough visual details to offer. Jupiter being the largest planet in the solar system is quite easy to spot. You can even see its four moons orbiting it. The second planet that you can see is Saturn. Even with a powerful telescope on hand, Saturn’s image will look slightly hazy. However, you can clearly see the planet’s rings. Venus is also quite easy to see, powerful telescopes can even capture its cloud formations.
Apart from these three, the other planets look like uniquely colored stars. You need a much more powerful telescope (think along the lines of Hubble) to clearly see these astral bodies.
Deep Space Objects
Anything that exists outside of our solar system is referred to as a Deep Space Object (DSO). Since DSOs are far off in space, they emit very faint light sources. This makes them viewable only through powerful telescopes. You need a telescope with a sizeable aperture to capture the right amount of light. With the right telescope on hand and low to moderate light-pollution, you can view many objects. These include a few nearby galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae.
There are certain items in the night sky that can only be viewed once in a lifetime. These include comets that fly by our planet after every hundred years or so. If you like challenges, then you can try looking for variable stars. These kinds of stars have varying light intensities and can be hard to spot. Another interesting object that you can view is the International Space Station. You’ll need a powerful telescope to see it, and you’ll also need to figure out its orbit.
More challenging objects in space may even have you calculating their trajectories and calculating when the right time will be to view them.
DSOs and challenging space objects are probably going to be off the table if you’re a rookie. These kinds of objects require not only powerful equipment, but also plenty of astronomical know-how. Most people start with the moon and our local planets and then work their way up from there. Astronomy can be a hobby that can try your patience at times. However, when you manage to get a glimpse of something floating far away in space, the waiting can be worth it.
You should keep in mind that you can also view the Sun through an astronomical telescope. However, never look at the sun unless you have the right equipment. There is dedicated equipment which is required to view the Sun through a telescope safely. Otherwise, you’ll burn your eyes out of your head.
Also, light-pollution will be your biggest enemy. Light-Pollution can be so bad at times that it can render even the most powerful telescopes useless. This is especially true if you’re trying to view DSOs or unique objects. These things have fainter presences and can be masked by light pollution quite easily.
Overall, there is a ton of stuff that you can view through a telescope. While some objects require quality telescopes, most of them can be enjoyed even with mediocre equipment. The kind of telescope you have will have an impact on image quality. Once you get used to dealing with light-pollution, you’ll find it much easier to view a variety of objects in space. Once you start looking at the sky through a telescope, you’ll begin finding an endless sea of things. All of which are sitting there, waiting to be viewed. The best thing about astronomical telescopes is that they let you see the universe from the comfort of your planet. You don’t need to be an astronaut to explore space. All you need is a decent telescope and a bit of practice.