Wednesday, August 12, 2020

I Got A New Telescope, How Do I Find Galaxies?

August 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Articles, Featured, How To's, Starting Out

The Leo Trio: M65, M66, NGC3628

“I am using the stock eyepiece of this scope. I haven’t been able to observe galaxies, nebula and star clusters like I would love to. Perhaps I am doing something wrong?”

This is a comment somebody posted under my YouTube video “Omni XLT 150 Setup

It seems this is a common theme with many people that purchase a new telescope. The problem here is that  if these people don’t find help fast that shiny new telescope will be doomed to the garage and dust for many years before somebody else gives it a shot. That budding astronomer will loose interest and move on to a new hobby. They will miss out on all the joy astronomy brings. We should all know our tiny place in the universe.

In this article I will cover how to get started with a brand new telescope. If you are just getting started in astronomy and need help with the basics make sure you read my article “How to Get Started In Astronomy.”

Well I admit I was one of those put-my-telescope-in-the-garage people, but luckily my persistence paid off. My excuse why I could not find anything was usually related to my location. I live in the city and was always disappointed because I could never find any galaxies. I then pointed the blame to my location for the reason why I was not finding anything. All I could really do was point my telescope at a star “yup another tiny bright dot.” I paid no attention to the fact that I did not know the major stars and constellations. I also had no clue about Messier objects let alone how to find them.

I think my early impressions were that you get a telescope and point it anywhere and you’d be able to see more than just stars. Now that I think about it, that’s pretty ridiculous, but that is how a lot of us start out. I did however manage to find Jupiter and Saturn somehow, and even a comet once!

Okay so now you have a new telescope and you are ready to try it out! Okay, if you really have the need to see something quick and fast look at the moon. It’s funny because the moon is the brightest thing to see in the night sky. You can see tons of detail and it’s the closest thing in the sky to us. But once you are a few months into astronomy chances are you’ll hardly ever really be caught in the dark with a telescope when a bright moon is out.  Why? Because the bright light impedes our view of faint objects.

So what else can you look at? Try to find the planets. Just look along the ecliptic (the path the sun follows in the sky) and look at the brightest things in that path. Chances are if there’s something that’s brighter than most stars, it could be a planet. Chances are that anytime during the year either Venus, Jupiter, Saturn or Mars will be visible in the night sky.

So now that you got too see a few things quick, it’s time to move on and this may take some time.  Perhaps the fastest way to get into the swing of things is to join your local astronomy club. There will be many members there that will be glad to show you what they can see and will even help you get started on your telescope.

But if you are a do it yourself-er like me, or are not so outgoing, you need to learn things on your own. There are several different kinds of telescope mounts and you need to know about and also what you have so you can learn how to set it up to find cool things.

The mount is the part the telescope tube (OTA optical tube assembly) sits on to move around and point to objects. There are basically two main mounts that you need to know.

alt-az mount

The simplest is called an altazimuth or alt-azimuth more commonly an alt-az. With this type of mount you simply setup your tripod and move your telescope in just about any direction. Your telescope moves up and down and from side to side. The big giant tubes that look like they sit of the floor fall in this category (dobsonians). Alt-az mounts are easy to setup. You pretty much plop them down and start viewing the skies.

EQ Mount

The other type of mount is an equatorial mount also know as an EQ mount. This type of mount needs to be setup up a certain way. You need to have the telescope aligned parallel to the Earth’s axis, more commonly know as polar aligned. Yes it sounds crazy and scientific but it’s not really that hard to do. Since this is a beginners guide I wont get too detailed here. First point your telescope North (if you live in the northern hemisphere). If you don’t know where North is get a compass, or just note where the sun set. That will be West for the most part. From there you can find north. There you are now done. Okay, since you are getting into astronomy you probably want more performance and precision than that. Most EQ telescopes will have a polar alignment guide hole in the center of the mount. This is to attach a polar finder scope. To get your scope aligned well enough to do visual astronomy you can simply find Polaris and center it in this hole. If you don’t have a polar finder scope or hole for one simply move our mount and align it by site. Now it’s important to remember here that you are not moving the part of the mount where the telescope attaches to and swings from. You are moving just the base of the mount. This position remains fixed once you put your telescope on here and does not move the rest of the night.

The main differences between the two mounts is that with an alt-az mount you can be setup in minutes and need no power. But with an EQ mount, it takes more time and patience to get going, but you can track objects better and if you have a motor on your mount, the objects will stay centered in the eyepiece without having to move the telescope around.

Now that you have your mount setup and ready to go, you are now ready to start finding galaxies right? Almost, it depends on where you are viewing.

There are several things to consider when trying to find DSOs (Deep Space Objects):

1) Location- where are you viewing, in the city or outside of town. The brighter it is outside the harder it is to find stuff. Although it is possible to see galaxies in the city, most are pretty faint. Try finding M31 Andromedia first as it’s the biggest and brightest galaxy (except our own). A decent sky to view is when you can see the Milk Way. If it’s that dark then you can find most bright messiers (messier objects are a group of 110 deep space objects that were cataloged by Charles Messier- they are probaby the easiest and funnest items to start hunting out).

2) have an idea of what it might look like. Most galaxies are hard to see regardless of what equipment you use. You need to train your eye and get used to seeing faint fuzzies. When we do outreaches with our telescope clubs a lot of the people don’t see the galaxy I have the eyepiece centered on. No it’s not going to be in color and you are not going to see tons of details. But with practice you will start to see more detail (averted vision). They are called faint fuzzies for a reason.

Telrad pointing to Lagoon Nebula (M8)

3) Know where to look. You have to know the major constellations and brightest stars before so you can navigate the Messiers and galaxies. I suggest getting a Telrad finder and find or make some Telrad maps. A Telrad is basically a 1X finder that projects a bull’s eye in the sky. You use these marks to jump from place to place. I can easily navigate with my Telrad and maps, better yet with my iPhone app. This to me is the most important purchase you can make for this and just about any scope!

Okay so now that you have a better understanding of what you can see, it’s time to dust off that scope and get it going once and for all. Yes you may not see colorful galaxies with tons of detail, but you did find it. And that’s something to be proud of. And if that does not impress you, just remember that the light from that galaxy that you are looking at is millions of years old!


One Response to “I Got A New Telescope, How Do I Find Galaxies?”
  1. Captain Ippei says:

    Very descriptive article, a lot of beginners will find this extremely helpful. Great job!

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