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Advice for a novice dad and astronomer

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#1 BigJustice

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 07:01 PM

I was referred to CN by an attorney friend in the area. I have been reading the forums for the past few weeks and quite frankly I think I am more confused than when I began. Such is the result of my obsession with research.

In thinking about Christmas coming up, I decided that I wanted to get my girls a telescope. I have always been fascinated by astronomy and love staring up at the sky to share with them the knowledge of what I do know. Independent of any prodding by myself, the girls both told me they wanted a telescope for Christmas. We just moved out to the country and the clearer skies have apparently spurred their interests as well as mine.

The girls (15 and 8) love to look at Venus. I think more than anything this as to do with the fact that they can see it so frequently and they can now identify what it is. They are also fascinated by all of the stars they can now see.

I am trying to determine what our first family telescope can be. I saw another post along the same lines and quickly saw so many people recommending the Bushnell Ares 6. As that poster seemed to have nearly identical guidelines to me, I thought I had found my answer. It was just near the end when the poster noticed that scope was discontinued. So my search began again.

Since so many folks seemed to indicate that the 6" DOB was the way to go, I switched my attention there. Right now I am looking at the Orion Starblast 6 or the Orion XT6. I was also looking at the Celestron AstroMaster 140 EQ that won best beginner telescope on telescopes.com. The reviews here seemed to blast the Celestron which was perplexing as it is a two time winner of scope of the year there.

As for what kind of viewing we will be doing, that's tough to say. I imagine we will start with the planets and other clearly visible objects. I'm sure that for some time I will be doing most of the exploring.

If anyone has any other suggestions I would greatly appreciate it. In addition to the suggestions for the scope, I would like to know some other must have accessories that I should go ahead and pick up. I would like to keep my total investment around $500 but I can go a bit higher than I need to.

I know this is a popular topic at this time of the year and I greatly appreciate the time that those who respond put into it.

Best Regards

#2 davidmcgo

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 07:20 PM

Good call to get a telescope, and welcome to the site! I might go with the Orion XT6 rather than the Star Blast since it is tall enough to put on the ground. The Starblast would need a really solid table or stand to get it high enough to use. Get the Intelliscope and it will help you find things.

I would not get the Astromaster, the Orion Dob will be a lot more stable (less shake) than a tripod mounted scope. Plus it is simpler to use and can be used without power if you don't need the locator.

The other benefit of the XT6 over the other choices is the longer focus is much more forgiving of misalignment and easier on eyepieces such that cheaper designs work well.

Regardless of what you get, get a copy of "How to Use Your Telescope" by Sam Brown from scientificsonline.com, best few dollar guide to understanding how telescopes work and how to use them ever written for beginners. I also really like their Mag 6 Star Atlas since it has a clear easy style, good advice, and good descriptions of a lot of showpiece objects.

Happy shopping and clear skies!

Dave

#3 pdfermat

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 07:28 PM

I agree the xt6 would be a more comfortable to use, stable choice, an xt8 would be great, too. I'd also recommend you check out the book "Turn Left at Orion". It's a great book for beginner targets for scopes just that size.

#4 Mr Greybush

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 07:30 PM

Here is exactly what the Doctor ordered

A Telescope.com and buy the Orion 8" Dob on sale for $349

B Shorty 2x Barlow to use with the stock EP for higher magnification. You can get better ep's later just use what is their for now

C Star Chart or Sky Atlas- Those can be either bought online at your bookstore or even download them for free from the internet.

Simply put you've spent roughly $500 and have a larger scope. Now a dob is the best bang for the buck simply because the bigger the bucket the more light you take in and the more objects and how well you see them the better.

I'm sure this will work fine starting out and if someone recommends a 10" that knows of one on sale and can still fit in that range grab it instead but this is what I found that you'll be fine with

The other thing with Dob's is learning how to collimate it but youtube and here of course has plenty of "How to's" to do it and once you've done it a couple of times its like riding a bike you know how to do it. enjoy

#5 Mr Greybush

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 07:32 PM

Nightwatch is another good book and so is Backyard observers guide

#6 rlmxracer

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 08:03 PM

I would opt for the 8"dob because its a great size for kids to view standing. It's only a little more $$ than the 6" and still under budget.
Either of these two would be the best bet.
https://www.astronom...scope_p18929...

http://www.opticsmar...a-ad8-dobson...

To that I would add a Rigel Quickfinder or Telrad ($40)
Either of those will work well with the optical finder that comes with the scope to help you find your way around the sky easier.

Last but not least a star guide like Sky and Telescope's pocket sky atlas.
The aforementioned books Left Turn at Orion and Nightwatch are also great starter books. Good luck and welcome to CN.

#7 gene 4181

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 08:05 PM

the 8 inch dob is probably your best bet. check out orion's clearance section, right under sale on header. sometimes you can end up with an xt8 for 305. with shipping. i just set one up for a friend and he just picked it up.

#8 lamplight

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 08:18 PM

+1 on the 8" dob.

maybe throw in a decent quality zoom eyepiece (baader mark III), or, make sure you get get one low, medium and high power eyepiece to start. the two dobs linked above both come with high (9mm) and low power (30mm) so a 20 or 15mm would be a good mid power. if budget allows also throw in a 2X barlow for plenty of options.

the apertura dob comes with a right angle correct image (RACI) finder which i find easier on the neck and more intuitive when reading star charts since it's "correct image". personal preferences vary ;)

part of the fun of observing is experimenting with how much magnification you can get away with on a given night due to the atmosphere.. so some modest additional eyepiece investment is highly recommended.

#9 chazcheese

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 08:35 PM

I have to agree with the 6" dob, here's a link to Orion's 6" dob . 8" would be nice (objects brighter), but you'll have about $50 more left for accessories, such as Nightwatch, Turn Left at Orion, etc, plus a planisphere, eyepiece, barlow, or whatever if you go for the 6". If you're in at least a semi dark area any decent scope will work, darker skies trump bigger scopes...up to a limit. Welcome to Cloudy Nights!

#10 rdandrea

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 08:48 PM

Advice for a novice dad? Put LOTS of money away for college. Advice for a novice dad/astronomer? Don't get your hopes up. Expose your kids to everything and let them make their own choices. Just don't be hurt or surprised if they're different from yours. Whatever they are, they'll be right for your girls because your girls made the choice.

#11 Paco_Grande

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 09:05 PM

More than likely, you, Dad, will be the main one to use the telescope; you never know if the kids will care for astronomy or not. Since you have the obsession, get the 8" dob.

#12 BigJustice

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 09:32 PM

Thanks for the advice so far. Fortunately college is taken care of. There is no doubt that I will be the primary driving force behind things. I just want to make sure that I provide enough quality to not dissuade or frustrate them with the hobby.

Would there be any value in going with a Goto package. Something like a Nexstar 5SE or something along those lines?

#13 Achernar

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 09:42 PM

A 6-inch F/8 would be a better choice than the Star Blast for several reasons. One is the long F/ratio ensures any well made eyepieces will give good views. Collimation is much less critical than an F/5, which demand accurate collimation to give good views. Finally, the eyepiece height is such that a child can easy get to it standing, or sitting on a stool. The eyepiece height makes aiming at objects easier. I started with a 6-inch F/8 Newtonian, and I still use a Dobsonian built around that telescope's primary mirror. A good 6-inch F/8 is a very good lunar and planetary telescope, and from a dark site it is capable of showing you 12th magnitude galaxies. Best of all, they can be found new for between 300 and 400 dollars. You will find a star atlas such as Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas, an adjustable height stool or chair, and a red LED light to be indispensable. The stock eyepieces will likely be Plossls, which will be fine to start. You can get an entire set of them for surprisingly little money, OR you could at a later time get other eyepieces that offer wider apparent fields of view and greater eye relief for a little more money. Join a local club also, they often have access to darker sites where a 6-inch can show surprisingly dim galaxies and nebulae. The picture below is of my 6-inch F/8, which is homebuilt of Cherry and Baltic Birch plywood. I would if I could get an 8-inch F/6 Dob, which is for many a perfect mix of light gathering power, portability and ease of use while still being at a reasonable price. They cost about $100 than a 6-inch, but the increase in light grasp will be apparent while looking at galaxies and nebulae.

With regards to GOTO, a 5 or 6-inch Celestron NexStar is a good telescope with great optics and a mounting that once you learn how to use performs admirably. They do require quite a bit of power and unlike a Dob with digital setting circles the telescope is useless without power or if the electronics develop a problem. I wouldn't be overly worried about that because Celestron services what it sells. NexStars are good scopes for those who want GOTO and do mainly visual observing. They are not made for photography in mind, but you could do it on a limited basis with short exposures or an ultrasensitive video camera. They are more expensive than a 6 or 8-inch Dob. GOTO has its uses, they are a big help in light polluted areas, but you still have to know your way around the sky. At least know it well enough to initialize the computer so it will point properly.

Taras

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#14 lamplight

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 09:46 PM

pros and cons.... if you get the scope aligned , the family might enjoy / benefit from the tracking.. and the "goto". plopping a dob down on the ground takes moments. the 5SE would need power, dew protection, etc.. but does offer some pluses as mentioned. its ultimately a a personal choice.. my mind is clear on which i'd prefer (dob, or and SCT like the 5SE). thats not going to help you though.. what we can do is point out the pros and cons of each. those are a couple. its a hot topic :)

#15 coopman

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 10:02 PM

An 8" Dob is what I would recommend. This is the same length as the 6" f/8 and only a little bit heavier, but will show you more than the 6".

#16 chazcheese

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 10:07 PM

The Nexstar 5SE a very nice choice...but it will require a lot more money and has a bigger learning curve than the dobs. Also dew will be a huge problem if you live anywhere with humidity, you'll need a dew shield or (anti)dew strips. Also you'll need a power supply if you're too far from an outlet. The Nexstar 5SE definitely has the cool, wow factor over the dob, but the dob has fewer requirements to initially get started.

#17 David Pavlich

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 10:29 PM

Welcome to Cloudy Nights, Jonathan! You've been given a lot of information to digest, but my first "big" scope was an Orion XT8 (my first was a 60mm Meade :grin:). It's a great size to start with and if your girls like looking at Venus, wait until they see Saturn! :ubetcha:

David

#18 sixfootzero

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 10:42 PM

I am in a similar situation, with two boys, and just worked through this riddle myself. I picked up a nice used XT8 on Craigslist and it included a copy of Nightwatch and a Celestron eyepiece/filter/barlow kit. I was looking at the XT6 and others when I found the XT8... The 8 is not appreciably larger or heavier than the 6, includes a 2" focuser and gathers a lot more light. I absolutely love it.
My personal feelings on goto scopes: The extra cost burns $$$ you could spend on accessories. More importantly, you will deny yourself, and kids, the benefit of learning your way around the sky. After only a month, I know many wintertime sky objects and can point the telescope at them from memory. It seems like an imposing task to find your way around, but with just a little practice it is not bad at all.
In addition to the included 25mm 1.25" eyepiece, I would recommend a good book, or a subscription to sky and telescope. I have not gotten the hang of the color filters included in my kit, but think a "moon" ND filter is imperative. I think there is a lot of focal length overlap in the Celestron eyepiece kit, so I don't know if that would be money well spent, but a higher power eyepiece or two and a barlow would be handy. I am about to add a 38mm 2" eyepiece (About $85 at Agena Astro) for a nice wide view, and just today I made a solar filter from an $18 piece of Baader Solar filter material. (Check out the sun spots. Awesome!)
You should be able to put together a solid kit within your budget if you shop carefully. Have fun and clear skies!

#19 kfiscus

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 10:45 PM

Definitely the 8" dob. I'd recommend a Zhumell or similar. The adjustable altitude bearings are much nicer than tensioning springs. (I own both styles.)

#20 BigJustice

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 10:56 PM

David, I have to tell you. The first time I saw Saturn through a scope I was transfixed. I was in college and the local astronomy club set up outside the local observatory's 20". The line to the 20" was long so I stopped off at the local guys' set ups first. Then I went in for the 20".

I want to share Saturn with my girls. That's my dad vision anyway. Fortunately they are pretty early risers.

Alright, right now the group is saying the 8" dob for the most part. A barlow lens, a number of books ( I will get them all). Perhaps a mid power eyepiece. (Size suggestions?)

What do you think of this:http://www.telescope.com/Orion-XT8-Classic-Dobsonian-Telescope-amp-Beginner-Barlow-Kit/p/102029.uts

That comes with the barlow and some other things as well.

If anyone feels passionately about another 8 dob please let me know. Or any other suggestions. I am not sworn to the dob.

#21 C_Moon

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Posted 01 December 2013 - 01:15 AM

If you like to do research, get yourself a copy of The Backyard Astronomer's Guide (quite possibly from the library, although it is a good one to invest in). I'm an engineer who also "likes to do research" and I think it gives an excellent introduction to what the hobby is all about as well as how to navigate the numerous options when it comes to equipment. Plus, the authors are professionals who do not have an agenda.

That book was indispensable to me when I got started. Especially for setting my expectations and helping me get a plan.

Now is a good time to get going as Mars will soon be well placed for viewing (something that happens only every ~2 years). I had similar timing when I started and Mars was one of the early joys!

Good Luck!

#22 TexasRed

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Posted 01 December 2013 - 01:35 AM

Consider adding a decent pair of 10x50 binoculars to your shopping list. They'll deliver nice wide-field views a telescope won't have and be very helpful in finding things as you learn your way around the sky. You won't stop using them either. It's also fun to compare the views with your bare eyes, the binoculars and a telescope.

#23 gene 4181

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Posted 01 December 2013 - 01:42 AM

they did have a close-out, clearance on an xt8 plus for 424. check out the clearance section. they do come up for sale often. the xt8 is a more refined model, it might have what you need right away. 2 speed focuser for sure. check out whats included on page. good luck making your choice.

#24 penguinx64

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Posted 01 December 2013 - 03:36 AM

Something that helps me is the FREE Stellarium program. You can download it at Stellarium.org. I get better star charts using this program than any book. The charts are real time too, once you put in your current location. It also lets you adjust the time and date to see star and planet positions in the future. For example, you can use it during the daytime to see where stars will be that night or on the weekend.

#25 kirscovitch

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Posted 01 December 2013 - 04:35 AM

I just bought my first scope as well. Celestron Nexsta130SLT. Kinda on the small side but I have had some pretty good views so far of the moon and Jupiter. Still getting used to it but the only issues I've had so far is with the finder.






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