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Beginners - the 2 roads to frustration

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#1 Kevdog

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 06:50 PM

It seems every beginner is going to suffer some frustration on their first few/many times out under the stars with their carefully selected first telescope.  What frustrations they have start with their choice of telescope.

 

Goto/Push-To:

 

The first time you take the scope out and you set everything up (as you've read in the manual many times before going out - hopefully!) and go to do the alignment procedure.  The first few times you mess up with one of the steps and have to start all over, sometimes resetting the whole scope.  Then finally, you (supposedly) get it aligned and select one of the famous objects.  The scope whirs or you push it to where you need to go, then you look in the eyepiece and...... nothing but stars.   You scratch your head and wonder why it's not working?  Did my scope miss?  Is the object not visible in my scope from my location?

 

Often times your first night out you end up seeing.... nothing!   A big fat zero.  You might be lucky and have a planet up that's easy to spot and just use the hand controller to put it there without using the computer.  Other times you're stuck with just a view of a few stars that look just like the stars you see with your eyes.

 

Then you finally get it aligned successfully (for real and absolute positive, but maybe not on your first night out) and you slew to some of the big name objects and actually see them!   Result!   Then you do the tour of the best objects and many you can't see.  Did your goto miss?  Can you not see it?  Often it's just a case of the wrong eyepiece used.  M57 looks like a slightly fuzzy star if your magnification is too low.  Some get washed out in light polution.  Maybe the transparency is horrid.  But you're new and you have no clue.

 

Time and experience heal both the alignment woes and the object selection/eyepiece selection woes.  But often their is a rough start, especially if you didn't find Cloudy Nights (or a similar forum) before purchasing and trying the scope out.  

 

My personal goto problem was the Orion XT12i.  Besides being a monster to haul in and out, when I first got it the computer was in equatorial mode (for some awful reason).  A call to Orion support finally fixed it so I could have some success on my 3rd night out.  The first 2 were total busts as I was unprepared for manually moving/aiming the scope.

 

Some people never get their goto right.  Sometimes the scope itself is defective.  Sometimes it's a PEBTAO (Problem Exists Between Telescope and Operator).  Either way it's frustrating.

 

Manual

 

You did it... you got the bigger scope that you have to manually point so you could get more aperture to pull things in.  You'll definitely be able to see more, better things more-better than those that chose a similarly priced GOTO scope.  

 

So you go out and your setup is pretty easy and straightforward.  If it's a dobsonian, you just plop it down.  If it's an EQ scope, it's a bit tougher, but for your first night getting the axis pointed roughly north is close enough.

 

Now what?   If you're lucky, one of the big planets (Jupiter and Saturn really) are up and you know about where they are in the sky.  They're pretty easy to find being bright.  You align it in your finder scope and put an eyepiece in.... and.... all you see are stars!   Wait, this was supposed to be easier than the GOTO option at least for something like the planets.  You scratch your head and pan around a bit and hopefully find the planet.   Looking back in the finder, you realize it wasn't aligned properly!  You spend some time getting the finder and scope to agree with each other and now you're in business.  The planet looks great and a big smile of satisfaction sets in.

 

So now you want to see something else.  Where do you start?   Starhopping is not too hard, but the first few times it is tricky getting oriented and then moving the scope in the correct direction.  If you're using paper charts, you have to twist them around until the match the sky at that time of night.  And then if you look through the finder and it's not a RACI (Right Angle, Correct Image), you're confused as the star patterns don't match the chart.  If you haven't read that the finder or even the scope changes how the stars are flipped/mirrored it can be very confusing.  And if using paper charts you have to do the mental gymnastics to try and get the two to match.  Plus depending on the chart there may be more or less stars visible, so you have to try and filter out the ones that don't match.  Finding some of the objects that aren't right near a bright(ish) star make your head hurt quickly!

 

Electronic charts (like Sky Safari) can help a lot if you know how to set them up.   You can flip the view to match what you see (either for finder or for through the scope) and you can also change how many stars are visible to better match up.  This helps a lot as the view you see with your eye matches what is on your chart and your mind only has to deal with trying to figure out where to go next to get to the object you are looking for.

 

Still, many of the first nights are spent searching rather than viewing.  My first night with the dob I spent 1.5 hrs searching and about 20 mins viewing.    And of course the most frustrating thing is not finding what you are looking for.  You seem soooooo close, and don't want to give up, yet after 40 mins you're done for.

 

Solutions?

The absolute best thing to do is try and find someone experienced to help show you want to do.  Nothing beats it.

 

Second best is reading a lot before going out.  Know how your scope works, how the views will look and what you might expect from each bit of your equipment.

 

Manual - get out with binoculars first.  Even 7x35s or 10x50s will let you learn star patterns and match them to charts and see some of the brighter faint fuzzies while using the forgiving wide field of view of the binocs.  Even cheap ones will have a much larger field of view (FOV) versus most telescopes.

 

Give yourself time your first night.  Get out before the sun sets to get everything set up while you can see.  Try out the alignment of goto scopes (even indoors just to learn how the software works).  Get your finder aligned.  All these things can be done before it gets dark.  Then take your time and understand each step.

 

Rewards!

 

After it is all said and done, most people get to see the objects that wow them.... and the first few sights through a telescope never leave you.  My wife and I will never forget our first view of Saturn through our cheap Meade 4.5" reflector.   Even the views today through my 18" dob cannot replace that first tiny view of the ringed planet.

 

And it only gets better and much much easier as you go on!

 

Clear Skies!

 


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#2 Melange

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 07:36 PM

thanks for posting this, i told myself I would be patient concerning my absolute zero knowledge with telescopes and your words give me that little support i need to calm down and step forward lol.


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#3 Duxrule

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 07:39 PM

+1 on the advice to go out with someone who has experience, and to go out with the binocs.  Both items made a HUGE difference in my level of success the last time out.



#4 GOLGO13

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Posted 05 August 2014 - 12:09 AM

Very true Kevdog. I've had frustration with both go to setups and star hopping.

 

Actually, I think my initial frustrations with "go to" may have been user error and the scope was probably working just fine. It actually was 1) not understand what can be seen in light pollution with a 70mm refractor 2) what magnification needs to be used for the particular object.

 

A lot of times these go to scopes suggest something like the whirlpool galaxy. Well, even my largest scope now (10 inch dob) doesn't really show that in my red zone light pollution. I really think they should ask you first "how bad is your light pollution" and then suggest something easier going.

 

I think another suggestion for binoculars is a chair of some sort to sit in while using them. It's pretty hard to use binos to find objects high in the sky without being comfortable. doesn't have to be fancy either. I use a cheap adjustable chair which people use to lay out on and get a tan. It only cost me 20 bucks. But zero gravity chairs would probably be the best.

 

I would also suggest considering a Telrad finder and Telrad star charts is a good way to get into star hopping. It's a bit more easy going...but the Telrad is pretty big and better for large scopes. An alternative for smaller scopes is the Rigel Quickfinder. Not quite the same as a telrad but pretty close.



#5 Allan Wade

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Posted 05 August 2014 - 01:53 AM

Good advice Kevdog. I saw Halley's Comet with a 60mm refractor. It was a piece of junk, but still allowed me to make notes and drawings of it. My next scope was a 4" Newtonian and I loved that telescope. I used it for years and learnt and saw so much with it.

 

Big aperture is so cheap now days which is one of the biggest problems for beginners, because it is very alluring. But the easiest way to get started is with something small and light on a simple, descent mount. Like an ED80/100 on an alt/az mount, or a 6" or 8" Dob. Get a couple of good books and then start making friends at star parties and the universe will open up to you.



#6 youngamateur42

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Posted 05 August 2014 - 06:30 PM

Kevdog, very nice, informative thread.  As someone else said, I think the temptation of a 10" (or even 8") scope for so cheap is not the right decision to make.  Start small, and work you way up when you feel it's necessary.  I shake my head when someone posts "Just had my first night out with my Z10 dob.  The views were nice, but I want more now!"  This, IMO, starts continuing thoughts of high expectations with their next scope.  Maybe I'm just being conservative and cost conscious.  But, back in the old days (before I was born lol) a big scope was an 8" or above, they are now considered mid range.  Nothing wrong with that, but, if I were give the the opportunity to choose my first scope again, my decision would not be any different.  I learned to train my eyes to see objects people said were not possible in my little 70mm scope.  I did that, and more.  My intent in this post is not to show off about "young eyes" or say I'm a better observer, but the intent is to show that small scopes are underrated and people should start small.  Read the book "Deep Sky Observing With Small Telescopes". It's a great read and an awesome reference for what to look at.



#7 Seanem44

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 06:14 AM

Good.

 

Always, the best scope is the one you use the most.  I have a CPC 925 I have used twice in the last two years.  (If anyone is interested in it, PM me).  I have a small condo, its on the bottom floor and its a pain to carry up to my deck for my light polluted skies.  My ZEQ25 with AT65 I can carry out back with one hand.  I image with it all the time.

 

Honestly though, when I go to a true dark sky site, I use the binos more than anything else.  Same for my wife.  She does love seeing globulars through a big scope, but she loves getting lost with binos as well.

 

If I could do it over, I'd start with Binos.  Then I'd graduate to a Dob and learn to starhop.



#8 csrlice12

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 08:16 AM

Sorry, gotta go check the house and dark site for bugs....somebody's been watching... :lol:



#9 Arizona-Ken

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 09:13 AM

Kevdog, 

 

Nice essay. We have all been there at one time or another. For help, a local astronomy club is a great start.

 

Arizona Ken



#10 amicus sidera

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 09:57 AM

I don't believe that the services of an experienced observer are necessary for a beginner; if one is needed, in the vast majority of cases it is almost certainly due to starting out on the wrong foot.

 

In these hedonic days, telescopes are, for the most part, purchased in the same manner as one purchases a television, and with similar expectations; this often leads to substantial disappointment at the eyepiece. All too many neophyte amateurs place the cart before the horse, encumbering themselves with relatively complex equipment prior obtaining even a modest understanding of the heavens and the objects therein. While some will of course be perfectly content to use computerized equipment in a casual way, if one wishes to obtain the greatest rewards from amateur astronomy, one would be well-advised to begin in the classic manner, as follows:

 

1. Learn the sky.

 

Familiarity with the brighter stars and constellations, as well as a basic understanding of the nightly and seasonal motion of the heavens, is within any beginner's grasp; such knowledge is a necessary foundation to further study, and once mastered brings a joy all its own. A good book on naked-eye astronomy, such as The Stars by Hans Rey, should be among the budding stargazer's first purchases, or alternatively a planetarium program such as Sky Safari or Stellarium.

 

2. Read.

 

In the early stages of any avocation, learning as much as one can about the intended activity is key to future success and enjoyment. Along with a book on observing sans visual aid, a volume or two on the structure of the cosmos, in addition to a good observer's guide, such as Burnham's Celestial Handbook (a bit dated, but still exemplary) will provide the beginnings of a library upon which to build later. A good basic star atlas containing charts and lists of objects, such as Edmund's Mag 5 or Mag 6 Star Atlas, should also be part of one's library.

 

 

3. Obtain a modest telescope.

 

This should be in the 3" to 8" range, equatorially mounted and with a clock drive if possible, and without go-to. New non-computerized instruments that fit this description are difficult to find, but there are many suitable instruments available on the second-hand market. This type of telescope will make one work to find a given object, but that is the entire point; making use of one's mind, eyes and hands to locate a target provides vitally important feedback, as well as a sense of accomplishment and learning. Dedicated and steady use of such an instrument over the course of a year or two will provide a solid foundation for a lifetime of astronomical endeavors.

 

Binoculars are not a necessary step between naked-eye and telescopic observing; they are of limited utility, and require funds which could be better applied towards purchase if a telescope. A pair can always be obtained at a later date, if desired; for that matter, so can a go-to instrument, once one is firmly grounded in the basics.

 

------------

 

To sum up, books and relatively simple instruments, in conjunction with one's curiousity and application, are the best teachers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Edited by amicus sidera, 06 August 2014 - 10:22 AM.

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#11 Kevdog

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 03:10 PM

 

I don't believe that the services of an experienced observer are necessary for a beginner; if one is needed, in the vast majority of cases it is almost certainly due to starting out on the wrong foot.

.....

 

To sum up, books and relatively simple instruments, in conjunction with one's curiousity and application, are the best teachers.

 

 

 

I do agree that reading a ton ahead of time definitely helps even out many of the kinks.  As does learning the sky.  But some things just don't translate as well between reading and actually being shown.  These days forums like cloudy nights and youtube videos and such are helping bridge the gaps even further, but if you're out at night and have a question, you can't get the immediate feedback.

 

A co-worker bought the Celestron 102gt for her daughter for xmas.   She brought it in and I spent 10 mins explaining how the alignment worked, how the finder worked and the focuser.  That 10 mins was worth hours of her pouring over the manual.  Yes it can be done the other way, but experience is the best teacher.

 

For instance it was very confusing when I couldn't find certain galaxies from my house that had a brighter magnitude than others I could see easily.  It wasn't until I learned about surface brightness that it finally made sense!  There's so much like that that just one night with an experience observer can teach you.

 

Oh and the advantage of binoculars was for learning how to star-hop with an easy entry point.   You can't star hop to DSOs with your naked eye as there are very few that can been seen without some magnification (especially to a newbie).  They are like a finder scope that isn't attached, so there's the freedom to move around and "figure it out".


Edited by Kevdog, 06 August 2014 - 03:12 PM.


#12 clmurphy74

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 03:20 PM

Also, something else that leads to disappointment is the readily available images of DSO that have been enhanced beyond all expectations.   Many want what they are seeing in their EP to match.  I remember the first time I ever saw Saturn and then Jupiter through my Mother’s surveyor’s telescope (purchased in the mid-90s with Marlboro points).  I was amazed, but also disappointed.  Where were the bright and vivid colors?

 

It took me years (almost fifteen now) to realize I’m not going to get those bright, vivid colors, well not without spending a small fortune (for me at least) on astrophotography equipment, in an EP on any sized scope.  I still want to hunt down and see my first galaxy and other faint fuzzies now I know what the reality is!



#13 jgraham

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 04:40 PM

I agree that the misrepresentation of astronomical images is a significant issue. Even in observing guides an popular observing columns the images are processed beyond all recognition. I didn't appreciate the extent of this priblem until I started taking my own pictures. Having access to my own, unprocessed source images has been a valuable aid to my visual observing. They show me exactly where to look and what to look for. I've been asked to host a stagaze for local friends and family and I'm very concerned that they are going to be sorely disappointed.



#14 GeneT

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 06:09 PM

Just stay with it. A few times out, and things will fall in place. Also, what you learn with this telescope will carry over with a different telescope.



#15 Kevdog

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 06:33 PM

I agree that the misrepresentation of astronomical images is a significant issue. Even in observing guides an popular observing columns the images are processed beyond all recognition. I didn't appreciate the extent of this priblem until I started taking my own pictures. Having access to my own, unprocessed source images has been a valuable aid to my visual observing. They show me exactly where to look and what to look for. I've been asked to host a stagaze for local friends and family and I'm very concerned that they are going to be sorely disappointed.

 

Yes, for framily, the planets and a few key objects are really all that will "wow" them.  Sometimes an object with some explanation will do it.  Like M51 is 2 colliding galaxies and you can make out that big smudge interacting with that little smudge to the side.

 

For the Android, I found StarLogFree gives a pretty good indication of what objects will look like in the eyepiece.  They are AP photos, but not highly processed.   You enter your scope and eyepiece info and it scales the image to pretty closely match what your eyepiece view will look like.  It helped a lot when I was starting out.



#16 tecmage

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Posted 06 August 2014 - 11:08 PM

I think there is no one right way for people to get into Astronomy. Yes, learning from seasoned amateurs might work for some, while reading and studying might work for others. Some people will be happy with Binoculars, and others might not be satisfied with anything smaller than a 20" Dob.  There are more tools available today for people with different types and levels of interest.  



#17 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 07 August 2014 - 09:16 AM

I think there is no one right way for people to get into Astronomy. Yes, learning from seasoned amateurs might work for some, while reading and studying might work for others. Some people will be happy with Binoculars, and others might not be satisfied with anything smaller than a 20" Dob.  There are more tools available today for people with different types and levels of interest.  

 

My thinking:

 

The difference between a frustration and satisfaction are expectations and attitude..  With a positive "cup half-full" and no more expectations than merely enjoying an evening under the night sky with a telescope, satisfaction and joy at easily in hand, frustration banished. 

 

It is all too easy to jump in with both feet before one actually understands what it is really all about, what the fundamental aesthetic, intellectual and spiritual aspects of amateur astronomy really are.  In our society, it is all to easy to believe the right equipment is the solution to any problem and that the wrong equipment creates the problem. In my mind, having the equipment that suits ones needs is eventually important but equipment is not what brings satisfaction nor is it what makes or breaks a beginners experience.

 

It really is about the observer, attitude and expectations.. If one can simply appreciate what is, all will be well.  Being able to stand out under that night sky and appreciate it for what it is, enjoying an unknown starfield in the eyepiece, with that cup half full attitude, how truly wonderful that can be..  In some sense, this simply means starting at the beginning.. discovering the night sky naked eye.  

 

I have no real advice except for something I have learned on Cloudy Nights.. It's better to look on the bright side.. Two roads to satisfaction and happiness..

 

As a beginner, I was lucky, I had no visions of spiral galaxies and opulent nebulae all decked out in glorious colors..  I just wanted to see what I could see, it didn't take much to make me happy. A beginner, unfettered by expectations, with an open, naive appreciation of the simplest things.. I hope I still have a Beginners Mind.

 

Jon Isaacs



#18 amicus sidera

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Posted 07 August 2014 - 09:26 AM

My thinking:

 

The difference between a frustration and satisfaction are expectations and attitude..  With a positive "cup half-full" and no more expectations than merely enjoying an evening under the night sky with a telescope, satisfaction and joy at easily in hand, frustration banished. 

 

It is all too easy to jump in with both feet before one actually understands what it is really all about, what the fundamental aesthetic, intellectual and spiritual aspects of amateur astronomy really are.  In our society, it is all to easy to believe the right equipment is the solution to any problem and that the wrong equipment creates the problem. In my mind, having the equipment that suits ones needs is eventually important but equipment is not what brings satisfaction nor is it what makes or breaks a beginners experience.

 

It really is about the observer, attitude and expectations.. If one can simply appreciate what is, all will be well.  Being able to stand out under that night sky and appreciate it for what it is, enjoying an unknown starfield in the eyepiece, with that cup half full attitude, how truly wonderful that can be..  In some sense, this simply means starting at the beginning.. discovering the night sky naked eye.  

 

I have no real advice except for something I have learned on Cloudy Nights.. It's better to look on the bright side.. Two roads to satisfaction and happiness..

 

As a beginner, I was lucky, I had no visions of spiral galaxies and opulent nebulae all decked out in glorious colors..  I just wanted to see what I could see, it didn't take much to make me happy. A beginner, unfettered by expectations, with an open, naive appreciation of the simplest things.. I hope I still have a Beginners Mind.

 

Jon Isaacs

 

 

 

Very well-stated, Jon; I, too, strive to keep a firm grasp on that Beginner's Mind, as it keeps me humble and makes all things new.


Edited by amicus sidera, 07 August 2014 - 09:32 AM.


#19 jethro

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Posted 07 August 2014 - 05:11 PM

Jon, thanks for your statement.

Isn't amateur astronomy all about being sucked in by the awe and beauty up there in the heavens?  At least it is to me.

While I'm new at using telescopes, I have always wondered and enjoyed the night sky. 

On this forum, I noticed a couple have lost their passion. I hope I never become so jaded, or I know it all, or having the perfect setup. If I do, I hope I'm smart enough to get out of the hobby.

It's not about knowledge. That knowledge will come within time. It's about being under the stars. Staring at the creation. I hope all of you will have that beginner attitude. To me, it's a wonderful thing to possess. 



#20 clmurphy74

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Posted 08 August 2014 - 10:46 AM

Just stay with it. A few times out, and things will fall in place. Also, what you learn with this telescope will carry over with a different telescope.

 

Oh I have stayed with astronomy.  The scope my Mom had, got sold by my brother while I was in college and I've finally got a job that may allow me to replace it with something nice.  Not one of the "Christmas Trash" scopes that was all I could afford the last ten or so years :(

 

What helped me with expectations was getting a subscription to Sky & Telescope as well as Astronomy magazines.  Also just reading here on CN was a big help as well.



#21 bvillebob

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Posted 08 August 2014 - 07:34 PM

Keep an eye on Craigslist.  Right now on the Portland Craigslist there's a 6" dob for $100, an 8" for $200 and a 10" for $250, all pretty reasonable and newer Meade / Orion models.  Affordable scopes are out there is you keep looking.







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