I got a telescope as a belated 40th birthday present. I had a small telescope as a kid (a generous gift from my parents) and it was sufficient to kindle an interest that lasted 30 years. Don’t underestimate the value of exposing your kids to new hobbies or activities!
The telescope - An 8-inch Dobsonian
Here’s what it looks like. I went into Bintel in Glebe with a $400-500 budget and the intention of buying a reflector telescope (a “traditional” telescope, the same type I had as a kid) but the shop guy helpfully mentioned that once you look at the moon and the planets and a few other objects with a $400-500 reflector, you run out of things to look at. He mentioned that it’s best to get a scope that gathers lots of light and proceeded to show me the Bintel-branded 6-inch and 8-inch Dobsonian. I went with the 8” based on the 90-degree finder scope and that it gathers more light than the 6” - it seems to have been a good choice. I made my decision and when I came back to buy it they didn’t have stock, so I ended up buying from Andrews Communications (the Bintel models are rebranded GSO scopes). The box is big, so be prepared!
Go manual! Quite apart from cost, I made a conscious decision to go with a simple setup. I wanted to learn about the position of objects in the sky rather than press a button and have the scope point there directly. I was happy to manually adjust the scope rather than have a motorised mount (though I’ll probably change at some point in the future - I think it’ll help with keeping the objects in the scope as they move, which will make things more fun).
I’m really happy with my purchase. It’s a little heavy to lug around, but didn’t cost the earth and the night sky is breathtaking when viewed through it.
SkySafari 4 Software
SkySafari on the iPad is an astonishing piece of software. Being able to point at the sky to see what you’re looking at is amazing. It has a great database of objects and the ability to adjust the viewing time (to view the sky as it will be this evening or next month) is amazing. At $4 it’s a no-brainer and comprehensively beats SkyWalk and the other Apps that I’ve seen. It also shows satellites, which are fun topic if you’re viewing the sky near dawn or dusk.
There’s lots of advice about buying and using telescopes and eyepieces. I found these to be great.
- A Framework on How to Choose Telescope Eyepieces
- A Treatise on Optimizing Planetary Views
- A Treatise on Optimizing Deep Space Object Viewing
Extra References and Equipment
After a few sessions viewing the night sky, I learnt a few things and made a few changes. You can go nuts and spend a fortune, but I’m trying to use what I have until I know better.
- Stay warm: ski pants, my Icebreaker base layers, gloves and a small blanket (it’s winter, after all)
- Viewing is better when you’re sitting: a chair (when looking at objects that are low in the sky) and a bar stool (when objects are overhead)
- Standard eyepieces are OK for deep space objects (DSOs), but not so good for planetary viewing: A 5mm Orion Edge-On-Planetary eyepiece
- Deep Space Objects are fun, and seeing more stars on a map helps with navigation: SkySafari Plus (more DSOs and stars to about mag 12)
- Planning “telescope nights” isn’t just random luck anymore: SkippySky helps me plan ahead based on cloud cover and other factors.
- Curated lists and charts for Australian skies and background information make it easier to plan, and to discover: Australian Astronomy book