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A beginner gently guided to his first telescope by a podcast

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#1 Polyphemos

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 12:01 AM

Greetings fellow space fans!  My name is Jim, I live in northern California about 50 kilometers north of San Francisco, and I am completely new and unschooled in the art and science of amateur astronomy.  That’s why I’m so happy to have found this wonderful website with its incredibly knowledgeable and generous members, and why I’m so excited to join in on the learning, sharing, and comradery.

 

I wish I could say I began my amateur astronomy days at the tender age of five, under Bortle 1 skies, and at the elbow of Clyde Tombaugh, but nope.  I started late this past November, just after Thanksgiving, when I came up with the brilliant idea of getting each of my two sons a telescope for Christmas.  They’re both in graduate programs studying Astro Engineering, and so I thought, What better gift to complement their interest in space than a capable telescope.  I knew absolutely nothing about telescopes.

 

I did know that my sons were very busy and in extremely challenging academic programs, that they lived in quite tight campus housing, had no time to learn the night sky, and as far as I knew had never given a moments thought to telescopes or astronomy.  I wanted them to be pleased and impressed with their telescopes, which also couldn’t take up much room, and I thought it best to keep to a reasonable budget just in case they ended up having zero interest.  I had learned some time ago that what I found interesting didn’t always excite my boys in the same way.  One never knows with children, and so I was taking a bit of a gamble.  I did my research - reflector, refractor, Newtonian, Maksutov-Cassegrain, Schmidt-Cassegrain, altazimuth, equatorial, go-to, push-to, achromatic, apochromatic, etc., etc. - until my head was ready to go supernova, and purchased two Celestron 6SEs.  Looking back, I could have done worse.

 

While the boys were home for their Christmas break we enjoyed the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction together, which was a very fortuitous and completely unexpected surprise, and when it came time for them to return to school I generously offered to let them store their telescopes at home with their mother and I.  No dice; bye bye Celestrons!

 

So there we were, my wife and I, newly hooked on the wonders of the celestial universe, and without a telescope to enjoy it.  Our requirements were different from our son’s.  We needed something small and portable we could take to locations away from the light pollution surrounding our own suburban neighborhood.  Something very small.  I drive a 1991 Miata; it’s a very small car.  At this time I hadn’t yet discovered Cloudynights.com, but I had stumbled onto the most wonderful of all amateur astronomy podcasts, “The Actual Astronomy Podcast”.  You knew there had to be a podcast somewhere in this narrative.

 

I cannot overstate how helpful, and entertaining, Chris and Shane’s podcast was for me.  Never dumbing things down, or overcomplicating what needn't be complicated, they guided me through telescopes, eyepieces, mounts, tripods, filters, diagonals, Barlows, and much, much more.  And because of them, and because of Chris in particular, we purchased our very first telescope, the mighty, incredible, unbelievable, incomparable, Orion ST80-A.  Now all we needed was a decent mount and tripod.


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#2 Dave_L

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 12:38 AM

Hello Polyphemos and welcome to CN. The 6SE scopes are magnificent! I love those, but alas, that little ST80A will load up into the Miata nicely! Enjoy and clear skies. waytogo.gif  



#3 therealdmt

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 01:18 AM

Congrats on your succesful scope putchase(s), and Welcome!

 

I semi-recently got turned onto my first scope since childhood by a podcast, too — Astronomy Cast. I have to say though, they led me to some extent the wrong way, but at least it was an inexpensive bump in the road and I survived it. Even though I’d only intended that first-since-childhood scope to serve as an inexpensive bridge to a second keeper scope once I found out for myself a bit more about what I’d want in a keeper, I’d still have to say their suggested Galileoscope fell a bit short. In particular, it was a literal pain in the neck for me, and it turned my less motivated wife off astronomy ("I don’t think Astronomy is for me", was her reaction after a couple of sessions of Galileoscoping). Oh well, like I said, I survived, eventually got a better scope, thrived, and my neck seems okay again these days (whew).

 

So glad to hear you’ve gotten off to a smoother start than I did! How do your sons like those 6SEs? I’d thought about re-starting with one of them or a 5SE myself, but eventually decided to go with a refractor on alt-az mount like I’d wanted (but couldn’t afford) since I was a kid. Refractors used to be quite expensive, but fortunately times have changed, in this case for the better!

 

Enjoy that new scope, and I’ll check out the podcast you mentioned. Astronomy Cast is still a favorite, but I’m not taking any more of their scope recommendations! smile.gif


Edited by therealdmt, 03 March 2021 - 03:55 AM.


#4 Hexley  Happy Birthday!

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 01:32 PM

The 6SE is my favorite scope ever, it's perfectly sized for the mount, and shows sooooo much in light polluted skies AND dark sites, travels easy (22ish pounds total is incredible)... don't tell the Dob, but I like it more than it, most nights (depends on my mood).



#5 Polyphemos

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 02:45 PM

Thank you for the welcome, Dave_L, I appreciate it.  I've driven though Joshua Tree NM many times, it's beautiful, and it must be an incredible place to view the night skies.  I'll have to camp there sometime soon.

 

Therealdmt, I think my sons have enjoyed their 6SEs, but the time they've been able to spend with them has been very limited, so I don't think they've had a chance to really appreciate its considerable capabilities.  Hopefully that will happen between their academic semesters.  I know I'm looking forward to one of their 6SEs visiting us soon.   I'll check out the Astronomy Cast podcast, and please let me know how you like, The Actual Astronomy podcast, if you have a chance.


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#6 Polyphemos

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 03:49 PM

As for mounts and tripods, I ordered a Desert Sky Astro DSV-1 altazimuth mount several weeks ago, but I never received acknowledgement of my order or payment, nor have I gotten responses to my email inquiries.  Given how many people have fallen ill these past weeks and months, I'm concerned for Mr. Media and I hope he's ok.

Edit: Mr. Media has responded so I believe he is alright.

 

While waiting for the DSV-1, I purchased a Celestron 80 EQ, which came equipped with a EQ-1 mount and a super flimsy aluminum tripod, for the princely sum of $10.  I disassembled the tripod into recyclable components and sent it on it's way to be converted into telescope tubes.  I then found a nearly new Celestron 70 AZ, which had a serviceable 1.25" steel tube tripod, for $50.  I combined the EQ-1 from the 80 EQ with the tripod from the 70 AZ and now have a not too bad mounting system for both the ST80 and 80 EQ.  I gifted the 70 AZ to a family friend who will make some wood tripod legs for it and enjoy it as his first telescope in the company of his young science loving daughter.

 

About that 80 EQ.  I purchased it from a very nice young man who underestimated the importance of protecting it from the elements.  The mount was rusted through and through, and the OTA was optically challenged.  I've since completely disassembled, cleaned, and refurbished the mount, lens cell, and focuser, and the view through it is pretty good to these inexperienced eyes.

 

buo1VvV.jpg

 

For the record, this ^ was before the cleaning...


Edited by Polyphemos, 03 March 2021 - 06:48 PM.

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#7 DSOGabe

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 04:45 PM

Now you need to get the tools to learn the sky in a way to truly enjoy it.

Highly recommended guide is Turn Left at Orion. A set of good star charts are critical. You can either get in book form or an app. 


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#8 Polyphemos

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 05:15 PM

Thanks for the recommendation, DSOGabe.  I’ve asked to borrow Turn Left at Orion from my younger son the next time he comes to visit.  I glanced at it briefly before he took it with him to school, and it looked very interesting.

 

We’ve got Nightwatch and David Chandler’s planisphere, which I quite like, and my wife and I also use SkyView and SkyPortal, and of course Astrospheric for seeing forecasts.  Our challenge is finding objects in a sky that only shows a couple of dozen stars at night.  It makes navigation challenging.

 

Fortunately, Orion is usually visible and we’ve been enjoying the many things to see in and around the Orion constellation, including several doubles, the nebula, and the Trapezium within the nebula.  I’ve been using the Trapezium to gauge seeing, and when the seeing is decent, the performance of the optics I’ve been playing with.  I’ve yet to see a fifth star within the Trapezium, but that gives me something to aspire to and to practice my averted vision searching for.


Edited by Polyphemos, 03 March 2021 - 05:16 PM.


#9 therealdmt

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 04:14 AM

I'll check out the Astronomy Cast podcast, and please let me know how you like, The Actual Astronomy podcast, if you have a chance.

I listened to the most recent episode of The Actual Astronomy Podcast today, and it was pretty much like it says on the tin, about actual [amateur] astronomy.

 

I can guess they named it The Actual Astronomy Podcast in response to the long-running Astronomy Cast, which, despite having an astrophysicist as co-host/resident expert, is more an "all things space-related" podcast, covering topics from science fiction to planetary science to cosmology, to astronomical research. to speculation on the future, to space flight, to games, to historical figures, to fandom conferences, etc. Using an amateur telescope is occasionally in there too, but it’s a minor component. In contrast, Actual Astronomy was more akin to a Cloudy Nights discussion, about amateur equipment, planning observing, time at the eyepiece and reference materials. Both are cool, but quite different. Gotta give that intro music to Actual Astronomy a big thumbs down (haha), but otherwise I liked the podcast itself and will tune in again; thanks for the heads up on it! smile.gif


Edited by therealdmt, 04 March 2021 - 04:41 AM.


#10 sg6

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 06:01 AM

For a mount first decide if you want a goto or a manual.

Manual costs less and is simple BUT tracking a target if there are 2 people is invaluable. I seriously think people buy goto's as much for the tracking as the goto aspect - I know I do.

 

The simple goto is the Skywatcher Az GTi. It is sort of "modern" in that it uses wifi and so is controlled from a phone or tablet. I use a tablet for mine, leaves the phone available for whatever else.

 

Will take an 80mm without trouble. I use a 72ED on mine. But have an 80ED coming, also have a 90mm ED that by rights should fit and people have pushed them to 102mm refractors.

 

All goto's need power and a 12v Lithium will do the job well, I built a small wooden platform to hold mine in place.

 

You can also get a solar filter and have a terrible time sat outside in the sun on a warm day observing the occasional sunspot and with a beer or two at hand. A terrible form of astronomy but someone has to do it. A Herschel Wedge will give a better image.

 

It's an idea/option that could be worth considering and being Alt/Az format makes using one more obvious.


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#11 Polyphemos

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 01:23 PM

I listened to the most recent episode of The Actual Astronomy Podcast today, and it was pretty much like it says on the tin, about actual [amateur] astronomy.

 

I can guess they named it The Actual Astronomy Podcast in response to the long-running Astronomy Cast, which, despite having an astrophysicist as co-host/resident expert, is more an "all things space-related" podcast, covering topics from science fiction to planetary science to cosmology, to astronomical research. to speculation on the future, to space flight, to games, to historical figures, to fandom conferences, etc. Using an amateur telescope is occasionally in there too, but it’s a minor component. In contrast, Actual Astronomy was more akin to a Cloudy Nights discussion, about amateur equipment, planning observing, time at the eyepiece and reference materials. Both are cool, but quite different. Gotta give that intro music to Actual Astronomy a big thumbs down (haha), but otherwise I liked the podcast itself and will tune in again; thanks for the heads up on it! smile.gif

Therealdmt, I am really pleased that you enjoyed the Actual Astronomy Podcast, and I think your description of it is perfect.  It is a one-of-a-kind podcast for us actual amateur astronomers, and there's nothing even remotely close to it in either form or content.  It's really quite brilliant.   Keep listening - it just gets better and better.

 

I think they named it what they did because this is their second crack at an astronomy podcast, which I suppose makes their first podcast the Not the Actual Astronomy podcast.  The Actual Astronomy podcast is largely unscripted and unedited, and wanders all over in the course of a single podcast, but that is a large part of its charm.  On thing that never changes is the focus on amateur astronomy, telescopes, and observations you and I can make from our own back yards with equipment accessible to most all of us; as you've noted, a lot like a really good Cloudy Nights discussion.

 

Funny thing about the music - it's one of my favorite parts.  Quirky, wildly imperfect, out of this world, and (perhaps thankfully) short.  I've heard the intro music at least 100 times, and it's still one of my favorite parts of the show and I always look forward to it.  I love it!  Hopefully it will grow on you too.

 

Anyway, I'm really happy you tuned in and got some pleasure from it.


Edited by Polyphemos, 04 March 2021 - 01:25 PM.

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#12 BFaucett

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 01:46 PM

I thought I'd add some links for reference.

 

The Actual Astronomy Podcast

"Join amateur astronomers, Chris and Shane, as they share their experiences of observing the night sky"

https://actualastronomy.podbean.com/

https://actualastronomy.com/

 

Apple Podcasts

https://podcasts.app...st/id1508892492

 

Audible (Amazon)

https://www.audible....cast/B08K5761L2

 

Twitter

https://twitter.com/...tronomy?lang=en

 

Cheers! Bob F.


Edited by BFaucett, 04 March 2021 - 02:07 PM.


#13 Polyphemos

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 04:58 PM

For a mount first decide if you want a goto or a manual.

Manual costs less and is simple BUT tracking a target if there are 2 people is invaluable. I seriously think people buy goto's as much for the tracking as the goto aspect - I know I do.

 

The simple goto is the Skywatcher Az GTi. It is sort of "modern" in that it uses wifi and so is controlled from a phone or tablet. I use a tablet for mine, leaves the phone available for whatever else.

 

Will take an 80mm without trouble. I use a 72ED on mine. But have an 80ED coming, also have a 90mm ED that by rights should fit and people have pushed them to 102mm refractors.

 

All goto's need power and a 12v Lithium will do the job well, I built a small wooden platform to hold mine in place.

 

You can also get a solar filter and have a terrible time sat outside in the sun on a warm day observing the occasional sunspot and with a beer or two at hand. A terrible form of astronomy but someone has to do it. A Herschel Wedge will give a better image.

 

It's an idea/option that could be worth considering and being Alt/Az format makes using one more obvious.

Thank you for the recommendations, sg6.  I have the Desert Skies Astro DSV-1 coming, which is a manual altazimuth mount, the EQ-1 equatorial manual mount which came with the 80 EQ, and a little table-top mount from a AWB OneSky reflector.  All have their place, but there's real value in a good goto mount, and especially so for tracking.

 

I've found my manual mounts are great at low magnifications, but at higher magnifications, say around 80x and higher, it's a distraction to continually chase the moving objects to keep them within the field of view.  A tracking mount would be ideal for reducing the workload, and I've been eyeing just the mount you've recommended; the Skywatcher AZ-GTi.  For the time being it's backordered, but I'll likely get myself one once they become available again.  A decent goto is just too useful not to have if you can swing one.  Another thing I've come to realize is that a goto will align your telescope with objects you can't locate with the naked eye, which is a real plus in highly light polluted areas like mine.

 

I'm familiar with the value of a good battery pack to power the goto, having purchased a couple to run my son's 6SE's.  I like that they're rechargeable, last through multiple days of viewing, and if I recall correctly the one's I got the boys weren't particularly expensive.  I'm confident that in the long-term they're less expensive than disposables, and hopefully create less waste.

 

Thanks for the reminder about a solar filter/Herschel Wedge; I'll add them to the list of items to research.  It is admirable to sacrifice to and to pay homage to Helios and the other celestial gods, and I'll be sure to pour a libation to him at each and every daytime observing session.



#14 Polyphemos

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 05:12 PM

I thought I'd add some links for reference.

 

The Actual Astronomy Podcast

"Join amateur astronomers, Chris and Shane, as they share their experiences of observing the night sky"

https://actualastronomy.podbean.com/

https://actualastronomy.com/

 

Apple Podcasts

https://podcasts.app...st/id1508892492

 

Audible (Amazon)

https://www.audible....cast/B08K5761L2

 

Twitter

https://twitter.com/...tronomy?lang=en

 

Cheers! Bob F.

Thanks for the contribution, Bob.  I was out hiking this morning and re-listened to episode #67 - Starter Telescope Recommendations, through a set of earbuds.  Chris and Shane discussed affordable, but still capable, reflectors, refractors, eyepieces, mounts, and tripods for every budget.  It's a great episode for anyone starting out, and entertaining even if you've got some time under the stars.


Edited by Polyphemos, 04 March 2021 - 05:14 PM.

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#15 FoxIslandHiker

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Posted 05 March 2021 - 02:34 PM

I listen to a number of astronomy podcasts and Actual Astronomy is definitely my favorite.


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#16 fallenstarseven

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Posted 05 March 2021 - 04:01 PM

Thanks for referencing the podcast!  I've subscribed and will start listening.  I'm not a huge podcast fan, especially for things from news sources and even enthusiast sites.   I often want to be able skim and jump around an podcasts make that cumbersome.  This one sounds like a good listen.


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#17 CGS 23

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Posted 05 March 2021 - 11:38 PM

 At this time I hadn’t yet discovered Cloudynights.com, but I had stumbled onto the most wonderful of all amateur astronomy podcasts, “The Actual Astronomy Podcast”.  You knew there had to be a podcast somewhere in this narrative.

<...snip...>

This is actually my favorite astronomy podcast... it's informative and at the same time really celebrates the night sky. I stumbled upon it through the "365 days of astronomy." (they feature a different podcast each night)

Glad you found a scope you like. 


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#18 BLS

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Posted 06 March 2021 - 09:25 AM

Polyphemos, I resemble your remarks.  Most of my astronomy education has come from this site.  I have scored some very useable Celestron refractors from Shopgoodwill (winner a 70 mm PS alt/az for $6.99).  If you haven't already, I suggest you join an astronomy club.  Since many have on-line meetings you can probably join one anywhere and get more information.  



#19 Polyphemos

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Posted 06 March 2021 - 01:53 PM

I listen to a number of astronomy podcasts and Actual Astronomy is definitely my favorite.

Same here, FoxIslandHiker!

 

Thanks for referencing the podcast!  I've subscribed and will start listening.  I'm not a huge podcast fan, especially for things from news sources and even enthusiast sites.   I often want to be able skim and jump around an podcasts make that cumbersome.  This one sounds like a good listen.

It's my pleasure, fallenstarseven, and I think you're going to love The Actual Astronomy Podcast.  While I enjoy many podcasts with many different subjects and formats, TAAP is the only one that I listen to that is always absolutely relaxing.  Chris and Shane are so laid back, and Canadian polite (highest level), there's never any stress or tension.  Pure listening bliss 100% of the time.

 

This is actually my favorite astronomy podcast... it's informative and at the same time really celebrates the night sky. I stumbled upon it through the "365 days of astronomy." (they feature a different podcast each night)

Glad you found a scope you like. 

Thanks, CGS 23, and celebrating the night sky is a great way to describe the podcast.   And here's the little ST80 on its AWB OneSky reflector mount and with a few accessories I've been playing with.  It will be my outreach telescope when conditions permit.

 

pBgQNlB.jpg


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#20 Polyphemos

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Posted 07 March 2021 - 02:15 AM

Polyphemos, I resemble your remarks.  Most of my astronomy education has come from this site.  I have scored some very useable Celestron refractors from Shopgoodwill (winner a 70 mm PS alt/az for $6.99).  If you haven't already, I suggest you join an astronomy club.  Since many have on-line meetings you can probably join one anywhere and get more information.  

BLS, this forum is a remarkable resource for information, and I’m grateful to Astronomics for sponsoring it.  For me as a beginner, learning about amateur astronomy would be immeasurable more difficult and frustrating without Cloudy Nights.

 

New is nice, but there’s something rewarding about rescuing and restoring worthy equipment and putting it back to work.  Below is the telescope that was left outdoors and was headed to the trash bin.  You can see a photo of the objective lens in post #6.

 

It has the Model T version of an equatorial mount - and I say that with the utmost respect and appreciation for both Model T Fords and EQ-1 mounts - and introduced me to the joys of single knob tracking.  I can walk away from the scope for ten minutes, and when I return turning that one right ascension knob brings the object I’d been observing right back into view.  That’s a huge plus not having to re-locate a small object in a big sky.

 

OMc60C9.jpg

 

Speaking of knobs, it was a mystery to me how those flexible shaft slow motion adjuster knobs could always be located as inconveniently and as absolutely far away as possible from my hand no matter where in the sky I was looking.  A set of three knurled aluminum knobs from Amazon solved that problem permanently.

And thanks for the suggestion to join an astronomy club.  The Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society looks like a great club, and my wife and I will be joining soon.


Edited by Polyphemos, 07 March 2021 - 02:19 AM.

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