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Buying Guidance for Darker Area

observing beginner
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#1 thestar


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Posted 24 September 2020 - 07:49 AM



I have been wanting to get a telescope since I was young. I live in an area with (what I consider) dark skies. You can clearly see the milky way on cloudless nights, you could see the neowise comet with your naked eye, clearly. That is about as far as I could take my references. The pandemic offered up another opportunity to really spend some time looking up at the stars and sent me on a war path to figure out what kind of telescope I want. 


My biggest goal would be to see nebulae and galaxies. While the images of galaxies and nebulae are cool, I can find them online, from a professional who has better equipment, knows what they're doing and can enhance the color with software. What I would really like to do is see them through the eyepiece of a telescope. I keep reading that this is either isn't possible, or isn't what is pictured because of the limitations of light gathering. I do have a camera, and would consider taking pictures down the road.


Looking at the planets, stars, and other objects will definitely be high on the list.


I have been trying to read on the different types of scopes, the comparisons and recommendations. Like everything, everyone has their preferences and consensus is impossible. 


For scope, I've looked into reflector telescopes in the 6 in to 10 in range. I am saving up to make this purchase as a family present for the holidays. There are no young kids, so no restrictions there. Travel is not a major concern, though this may travel 2-3 times per year. There is an official "dark site" near me that I may wish to visit for the extra absence of light.


It boils down to a few points:

- Can I see the things I want? Are they as stellar (pun intended) as I am hoping?

- What will it take to see these object? Diameter, type of scope?

- Can you also look through an eyepiece for in astrography telescopes? What sort of limitations should I expect?



Looking to hear from anyone's experience, first buys, upgrades, favorite places to look. Excited to make my selection and get started!




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#2 Tangerman


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Posted 24 September 2020 - 08:23 AM

If you want to get into astrophotography, that'll be a different pursuit and require different equipment than visual. I can answer some visual questions. 

From the dark site it sounds like you have, you should have a wonderful time with a telescope. I have a 10", and before I moved to Georgia, I would take it out to the desert in Utah often. You can certainly see galaxies, but they won't appear as in pictures, as you've been told. They usually appear as diffuse patches of light. Many of us get addicted to searching for these "faint fuzzies" and seeing how faint we can go. The brightest galaxies do look good, though. On good nights, you should be able to get some structure on some of the bright ones like M51. Others, like the needle galaxy, have their own charms. 

Nebulae often look fantastic, with lots of fine structure you can see. But don't expect color. The Orion Nebula looks a bit green to me, but everything else is in grayscale. The Veil Nebula is wonderful, as are many others. Planets also look great, although this really depends on the night (turbulent air ruins the planets). 

Will things be as stellar as you hope? Depends on your hope. There are many who are underwhelmed after looking at astrophotos. In a dark site that's less likely, but still entirely possible. I love looking through the telescope, but my wife doesn't care as much (she also gets tired at night, while I don't easily, and she has worse night vision than I do). 

The bigger the telescope, the more it can show you. A 10" is more than capable. The easiest (and cheapest) way to mount this is a manual Dobsonian. There are many available. The Apertura AD10 is a great kit that has all you need to start out. 

With a large telescope, try looking at some globular clusters too. I find them stunning. My wife really enjoys those too. 

Good luck, and welcome to CloudyNights!

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#3 MalVeauX



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Posted 24 September 2020 - 08:34 AM



Sounds like you're in at the very least a green zone for your light pollution. That's very good these days.


Seeing a nebula or galaxy is a different animal than seeing huge bright things. Galaxies in particular can be difficult other than seeing the glow of their core. The key to seeing these objects is surface brightness. The sky's brightness (light pollution) relative to the surface brightness of the object (galaxy, etc). So the absolute best way to see a galaxy or nebula is simply to have a darker sky so that there's a bigger gap in brightness between the sky and the object's surface brightness. The second best thing to do is to have as large of an aperture as you can manage to gather every last photon you can on what's going to already be very dim. For galaxy hunting, native eyeball visual observing, I would suggest going straight to a 12" aperture. I would even say go 14" or 16" if possible. However, that's a huge scope and definitely not for starting out simply from a physical size/weight point of view as it would be a chore honestly and it's really only for an enthusiast that is ok with working and doing chores just to get a view or a permanent setup, etc. But a 12" is still a manageable size scope and isn't so heavy that it's absurd, so this would be where I suggest starting.


12" Newtonian in a Dobsonian mount (or larger)






The other option is to look into nightvision eyepieces that will simply enhance what is in the view. It's real time EAA basically. This is a big game changer for most people as long as you're ok with the green color on everything. But you'll see nebula and galaxies in ways you cannot see without it, more like how images are. And you can then use a much smaller scope and still see tons, and for that, I'd target an 6" or 8" aperture.


A big scope is going to be a common suggestion due to aperture and aperture matters for what you're trying to see (dim objects).


But I would highly suggest also considering a smaller portable scope (like a small short refractor, 102mm (4") at least) for fast views to compliment a larger scope. Under a dark sky you can see tons even with smaller scopes, and these are great for "all the time" use without much effort as they're light and small. While an ED/APO refractor would be ideal, there's nothing wrong with a good 102mm or 120mm achromatic doublet for DSO viewing, where there's not much if any CA to worry over anyways. Check out the 120mm F5 achromatics, or 102mm F6.67~F10 options that are inexpensive.


Very best,

Edited by MalVeauX, 24 September 2020 - 08:50 AM.

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#4 Napp



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Posted 24 September 2020 - 08:38 AM

If you want to know what objects look like through a scope pick up a copy of Turn Left at Orion.  It contains sketchs of nebulae and galaxies.  Sketches much more accurately convey what these object actually look like to the human eye.  You can also check the Sketching forum here on Cloudy Nights.  Look at the telescope descriptions for scopes you are considering.  But note that you will probably not see all the detail in the sketches.  You will need to build your observing skills to do that.

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#5 B 26354

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 09:56 AM

Many of us long-time DSO observers (I've been at it for sixty-six years) use binoculars alongside our scopes. If you want a decent idea of what a "faint fuzzy" looks like through a telescope before you actually buy one... get a pair of something like these:




...and check out M31 (the Andromeda galaxy) and M42 (the Orion nebula). Both of these objects are large enough that even at 12X, you'll see them rather well.


Because of their greater light-gathering potential, larger telescopes, in the 8" to 10" range, will reveal a bit more of what's visible with these objects -- they'll be a little brighter, and a little more "extended" -- but again, the 12x60s will give you a very concrete notion of why we call them faint fuzzies.


As everyone has pointed out... no telescope is going to give you views that even remotely resemble what you're used to seeing in photographs. But if you like what you see in the binoculars, you'll love what you see in a telescope... and you'll be really happy that you have both. Right now, by the way, B&H Photo seems to be the only vendor that has the 12x60 SkyMasters in stock.


Also... as others have recommended, order Turn Left at Orion, immediately:





Edited by B 26354, 24 September 2020 - 09:58 AM.

#6 DSOGabe


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Posted 24 September 2020 - 11:17 AM


From your description you have excellent skies for viewing. With such dark skies a moderate sized scope of 8-10 inches will be more than enough for years of fun. 

Unlike others, I recommend getting a scope with an equatorial mount, such as the reflector you mentioned. EQ mounts are not that difficult to master and saves from having to invest in another scope in the future if photography is something you are considering. Just because the mount is powered and computerized, it does not mean you cannot use it for star hopping to learn the sky. Besides, the databases on the mounts do not include everything that is up there, so even with an EQ mount star hopping is still needed!

As for photography, I would recommend holding off of that for a while. That is something with a steep learning curve and requires more equipment (aka money). Just enjoy visual observing for now. But as a warning, visual observation will not give the views one sees in pictures, magazines, or TV; many DSOs will still be faint, fuzzy objects and that cannot be helped due to the way our eyes perceive light and their sheer distance. Beware of the Hubble Syndrome! 

Whichever scope you finally decide on, it will come with 1 or 2 average quality eyepieces. So allow for getting a couple more better quality ones. I would suggest looking into wide field ones (68 degrees or so), a polarizing lunar filter-the Moon will dazzle your eye in a larger scope- and a UHC filter for nebulae. 

Edited by DSOGabe, 24 September 2020 - 11:24 AM.

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#7 SeattleScott



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Posted 24 September 2020 - 11:35 AM

For galaxies and nebulae under dark skies, minimum 8” aperture. Preferably 10-12” for good results. That being said I can see a lot of galaxies with a 4” refractor under really dark skies. They just don’t look like much (until I flip to the camera).

There aren’t really telescopes that are good for visual and learning long exposure AP. There are telescopes that are good for visual and short exposure AP (EAA). Night vision is an intriguing option but remains somewhat prohibitively expensive for most.


#8 MellonLake


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Posted 24 September 2020 - 11:41 AM

I would recommend a 10" or larger telescope.  In my 10" Dob I have seen hundreds of galaxies (67 in Virgo alone in one night in June) and many many faint nebulae.   A 10" Dob is also very good for planets and the moon.  It is really an all around telescope.  Bigger is better for viewing galaxies and nebulae but after 10" or maybe 12" portability really gets to be an issue.  If you can put a telescope on a cart and wheel it out of the garage to a viewing area in the yard consider even 12" or larger (16").  The light gathering power of a telescope goes up with the square of the radius so a 16" is actually almost 2.5 times the size of a 10" and 4 times the size of an 8".   



#9 rhetfield


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Posted 24 September 2020 - 11:58 AM

A big scope like a 10" in a dark area like you describe will show a great deal of objects. 


As others have suggested, looking at the sketch forum would be a good way of knowing what to expect.  Sky safari is a nice app that can be set up to show the field of view of any scope/eyepiece combination - that helps know what things will look like.  Only thing with sky safari - it won't show how dim it might appear.


With any scope, you want to factor in how big and bulky it is, how long it takes to set up, and how often you will actually go to the trouble.  This is especially true of bigger scopes.


You also have to factor in how you would actually find objects in the sky.  One nice feature of dobs is that they can be easily and cheaply fitted with degree circles that allow them to be pointed at the coordinates of the object we want to see.  The manufacturers do not add these, so we have to do it ourselves.  Phone and computer apps are cheap/free ways to get the real time coordinates based on time and location.


Scopes almost never sell with all the needed accessories.  Dobs at least come with a good base.  They never give you the full ranges of eyepieces.  A low magnification eyepiece and often a medium magnification eyepiece.  Never the high magnification ones you often want.  The big scopes often come with 2" focusers, but rarely will they give you a 2" eyepiece to maximize field of view.  Expect to spend at least another $300 on accessories to better take full advantage of the capabilities of a big scope.

#10 MrRoberts


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Posted 25 September 2020 - 07:22 AM

C-9.25 or 10" dob

#11 Tony Flanders

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Posted 25 September 2020 - 08:26 AM

I live in an area with (what I consider) dark skies. You can clearly see the milky way on cloudless nights, you could see the neowise comet with your naked eye, clearly.

That doesn't narrow things down much. At its brightest, Comet Neowise was visible from city centers, and the Milky Way is readily visible all the way from Bortle Class 5 to Class 1. Regardless, if you can see the Milky Way easily with your unaided eyes, that means that you will be able to see tons of other galaxies through even the smallest telescope. Likewise for nebulae.
However, you do need to temper your expectations. Amateur astronomers call these objects "faint fuzzies" for a reason. Even through the very biggest telescopes they appear fuzzy, and with the exception of a handful of nebulae such as M42, they also appear faint.

For scope, I've looked into reflector telescopes in the 6 inch to 10 inch range.

Yes, that's the standard recommendation for a beginner in your position. To be more specific, Dobsonian reflectors, which are much easier and more comfortable to use than old-fashioned equatorial-mounted reflectors.


Starting with a 12-incher wouldn't be out of the question, but that puts you into a different portability class, and also means that you will have a severely limited maximum field of view. For those reasons, I actually use my 7-inch Dob more often than my 12.5-inch Dob. However, when I do use the big scope, I certainly appreciate its vastly brighter and more detailed views!


Do not plan to use the telescope for astrophotography as well. If you decide to take up astrophotography, figure on buying a whole 'nother telescope and mount specifically for that purpose. In the long run, that's both cheaper and more effective than buying one scope that attempts to do both jobs

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