Begin Your Journey to Stargazing and More!
For thousands of years, humans have been fascinated with exploration. It’s in our very nature to voyage, explore, and try to understand every corner of our world. Over time, our gaze shifted upwards towards the distant stars and galaxies.
Until now, our understanding of the heavens was so limited. Even so, limited knowledge of the night sky never stopped curious would-be explorers from peering at the night sky and trying to discover and understand new and strange phenomena.
From the ancient Greeks to Galileo, to the famous Isaac Newton, generations of minds have brought us closer and closer to understanding some of the biggest mysteries of the universe. Thanks to Isaac Newton himself, we now have a more advanced and modern form of the telescope to help us view the stars better than ever before.
If you find the stars and galaxies as enthralling as the great minds who came before us, you’re in good company. The interest in astronomy and stellar observation has been growing at a record pace, thanks in large part to the recentdiscoveries from NASA.
It’s never been an easier and moreaccessible time to get into stargazing as a hobby, or potentially even a future career path. If you’re new to stargazing and are looking to buy and set up your first telescope, this guide is for you! We will show you how to set up, calibrate, and clean your first-ever telescope!
Brief Intro to Modern Telescopes
Up until the 17th century, would-be stargazers had to rely on “refractor” telescopes to observe stellar phenomena. These would barely be considered telescopes by today’s standards. While they were able to magnify distant objects such as stars, they suffered from a serious flaw known as chromatic aberrations.
Due to the design and the way these early refractor telescopes magnified images, they presented the celestial objects in view with a serious color shift. Users made due for hundreds of years until Isaac Newton discovered a better way.
This leads us to Newtonian Reflector telescopes. These new telescopes worked by placing one or more curved mirror lenses to avoid the chromatic aberration that plagued earlier telescopes.
The most powerful modern telescopes, even those used by professional astronomers, are Newtonian reflector-style telescopes. Even the mightyHubble Space Telescope is a Newtonian reflector telescope!
While modern astronomers have upgraded the original model and given it the ability to see star clusters and the background universe in different spectrums of light, the original design of Isaac Newton has withstood the test of time.
If you’re looking for your first telescope, we heartilyrecommend the reflector telescope. These telescopes are easy to set up, affordable, and will give you professional quality stargazing results! Let’s look at what it’s like to set a reflector telescope for the first time.
Setting Up Your New Telescope
Once you’ve bought your new telescope, you need to resist the urge to immediately rip open the box and start slamming parts together. We get it, you’re excited to start mapping out celestial coordinates and deep sky objects, and so are we!
The first thing you should do, however, is to carefully remove all of the parts from your telescope and get yourself acquainted with them. Your telescope will include the main body, usually a tripod or other stand, and a finder scope.
The main piece of the telescope should be inspected to make sure there isn’t any damage from packing, shipping, or storage. Inspect the pieces for any obvious damage and be sure to take note of any screw holes or locking mechanisms (depending on your telescope’s manufacturer) as you’ll use these later to attach accessories and your finder scope.
Make sure the tripod stand (if included) is in working order. Inspect all of the legs and fully extend and lock them. Apply light pressure to make sure the tripod stand was manufactured correctly. Don’t apply too much pressure since the tripod isn’t meant to hold a human’s body weight. It should be able to stand up to a little added weight, though.
You certainly don’t want your telescope tripod to buckle when you’re in the middle of stargazing as it will almost certainly result in irreparable damage to the delicate mirrors and lenses within your telescope!
Next up, take a look at the various eyepieces included within your telescope. They should easily screw on or lock into the main body of the telescope when you want to switch them out. When you are initially setting up your telescope, you should select a lower-powered eyepiece, which can be determined by measuring the focal length.
To find the lowest magnification eyepiece, find the highest focal length numbered eyepiece that you have and attach that to your telescope. Always remember that magnification power is the inverse of focal length; the highest focal length is the lowest magnification eyepiece, and vice-versa!
Lastly, take a look at the finder scope. The finder scope is a small attachment that is almost reminiscent of a precision army rangefinder. The finder scope will be attached to the body of your telescope using either screws or a built-in locking mechanism (again manufacturer-dependent). This will help you align and calibrate the telescope. We will go into greater detail on that later!
When you’re ready and have finished doing a quality check of all your telescope’s included parts, it’s time to begin assembly! Thankfully no special mechanical knowledge is needed, and if you ever get stuck on an assembly point for your specific telescope model, you can always consult the user manual which should be included within the packaging.
Begin by attaching the tripod and the finder scope to your telescope. Carry your telescope outside to go through the calibration and alignment steps. It helps to be in a darker location so that you can see the stars more easily. It will be very apparent when you have aligned the telescope lenses properly. Let’s take a look!
Calibrating Your Telescope
Before beginning the actual calibration, you should adjust the individual eyepieces to be at the most comfortable level for you. Adjust the tripod as needed and try to find the most comfortable position to look through your telescope. We hope that you’ll be looking at the beautiful stars in our galaxy for more than a few minutes at a time!
Once you’ve adjusted the telescope to find a comfortable position, you’ll be ready to begin calibrating the lenses. Double check to make sure you’re using the lowest magnification choice for your eyepiece. Next, select an object in the night sky to test your telescope on. The moon is usually a convenient and readily available stellar object!
Once you turn your telescope to look at the moon, chances are that you’ll only see a giant, blurry, ball of white light. You’ll need to use the focusing knobs on the telescope until the image you see is a clear, crisp picture!
Once you’ve gotten the calibration in tune for your lowest magnification choice eyepiece, take some time and have a little fun with your new telescope! Then you’ll need to repeat this process for every other magnification choice eyepiece that was included in your telescope’s box.
Once you’ve calibrated all of your eyepieces, you’ll be ready to align your finder scope! The finder scope may at first seem a little redundant, but it’s a very helpful little gadget to have. Space is extremely vast and always moving, as is the Earth we live on.
A finder scope will help you locate and align objects within the central magnification lens of your telescope. Finder scopes usually come in two styles: an optical finder scope which is very similar to a pair of binoculars in that it uses a cross hair-style target to help you find things, or a red dot style finder scope. As the name implies, this type of scope uses a red laser dot to help you find objects.
A lot of beginners will actually find it easier to use the finder scope first to locate celestial objects, although if you have an automatic telescope this becomes a moot point. With a computerized or automatic telescope, you can simply plug in your coordinates, the time of year, and what you want to see. Once you have entered this information, your telescope should be able to find it for you automatically.
Let’s say you like doing things the old-fashioned way. Besides, if you already know exactly what you’re going to look at, then you can’t happily discover something new and unexpected. If you’re going to manually use your finder scope, you’ll need to calibrate like you calibrated your eyepieces.
Again, we recommend using the moon to do this since it’s easy to find and you know exactly what you should be looking at. Slowly adjust your finder scope until the object you want to see is in the center of the crosshairs, or dead center in the red dot. That simply depends on which type of finder scope you’re using.
Once you’ve adjusted the finder scope so that the object you want to see is at the absolute center of the scope, you’re done! The process is fairly easy, and no fancy computerized telescope or mount is needed!
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve finished the setup of your first-ever telescope! You’re ready to see all of the stars, planets, and constellations, and maybe even discover something new. The very last thing you’ll need to keep in mind is routine maintenance to make sure your telescope lasts for a very long time.
Periodic Re-Adjustments and Cleaning
You don’t need to go crazy with maintenance, but a little routine care will go a long way in keeping your telescope at its best. You’ll need to check your alignments every few months or so to make sure that none of the parts have shifted.
Perform the same tasks that you did to originally calibrate your finder scope and eyepiece: go outside and find the moon, point your telescope in that direction, and make sure the moon is in the center of your finder scope and can be seen clearly through your main lens.
When it comes time to clean your telescope, you’ll probably be happy to learn that you don’t really need to clean your telescope all that often. The only exception is the eyepiece and finder scope since your face will be routinely pressed against those parts of the telescope.
The oils from your skin can cause blurry and streaky marks on the lens that might make you think your telescope needs to be recalibrated when it really just needs a quick scrub with a cleaning solution. There aretelescope cleaning kits available that will have all that you need to get your telescope back to looking like new.
The main body of your telescope will probably only need to be cleaned once or twice a year, especially if you’re primarily stargazing from your own backyard. Using compressed air can remove any large dirt and dust particles. An alcohol-based cleaning solution will allow you to easily wipe away any remaining dirt and dust.
Lastly, be sure to wipe dirt and grass off your tripod mount simply because you probably don’t want to pack away a dirty tripod!
The Stars are Calling
Now that you’ve learned how to use a telescope, you’re ready to get started with your new hobby! There’s a reason why the vast beauty of the universe has captivated humanity for millennia. The infinite depths of space are home to mysteries that are waiting to be discovered.
The human spirit is naturally imbued with the desire to explore, and thanks to the great works of Isaac Newton, and to the many brilliant minds who have come after him, exploring the stars is as easy as walking out in your backyard and setting up your telescope.