Tips on using a Telescope

For first-time telescope users, getting started can be a real challenge. You may have assembled the unit exactly as per the manual but when you point it towards something and look, chances are you don't see anything or you get a very blurred view, and you don't know why. In this section we give you some tips that could help and make this process easier if you're using a telescope for the first time. These are general guidelines and should help you regardless of the type of telescope you own.

  • Start in the day - As counter-intuitive as it sounds, a good time to "learn" how to operate telescopes is during the day time, and on land! When you look through a telescope tube you are looking at a very small portion of the sky. Without references and with the celestial objects continuously moving, it isn't easy to find the target in your view and to be able to align and focus on it,all in the dark at night. On the contrary, in the day time and on land it is easy to learn how to operate it as you can use fixed objects like buildings, billboards and mobile towers to try it out. Once you see something, you will have a reference of how much the view moves when you move the telescope to the left/ right/ up or down. Just be sure to choose a very distant object, because due to high levels of magnification, telescopes will only work if the object is far enough.

  • Aim big - When you get the knack of how to operate the equipment during the day on land, and are ready to start viewing at night, start with a big object like the Moon, as it is easy to find and then move towards smaller objects like stars or planets etc.

  • Magnification - Start with the lowest magnification eyepiece. This will make it easier to find the object, bring it in the centre of the frame and focus the view. Once you have done this, you can carefully replace the eyepiece with the higher magnification ones one step at a time, without moving the telescope or the tripod. The eyepiece with the highest number printed on it (focal length) provides the lowest magnification, and vice versa.

  • Skip the fancy attachments - Initially, use just the eyepiece and until you know how to align the scope and find an object in it, don't use attachments such as Barlow, erecting eyepiece, diagonal mirror and so on. Every time you add an attachment between the OTA and the eyepiece, it makes it slightly more difficult to find your target object in the scope

  • Make the most of your finder scope - A finder scope is a smaller, low powered, simple scope that is attached to the OTA and parallel to it. It helps you find the object faster as you can use it as a reference point. When trying to align the telescope to your target, first see through the finder scope to ensure the object is centered in it, and then use the actual OTA to further align to the object. The concept is same as that explained in the magnification

    • However, in order for this to work, the finder scope itself needs to be first calibrated/ aligned to be perfectly parallel to the OTA (since finder scope is detachable, every time you attach it you need to first align the finder scope to the telescope).

    • To calibrate the finder scope, do the opposite of how you would use the finder scope - during the day time, find a distant object (on land), center the object in the OTA, and then fine tune the finder scope adjusting screws such that the same object is visible in the center of the finder scope as well

  • Know your bearings - you can download mobile apps like Sky maps, Sky Safari, Heavens Above and so on. These apps are free to use and can be very handy as they help in below 2 ways:

    • Point the phone towards something in the sky and know what it is

    • Search for and navigate towards a specific planet/ star/ constellation in the app

  • Binoculars - We cannot say this enough! The best first-time investment you can make in stargazing, are a pair of binoculars! Every astronomer has one in their kit. Binoculars help you get started in the field of astronomy, become familiarized with the night skies, help you in learning how to navigate in the sky (star hopping techniques, etc). They're easier to use than a telescope as they do not require any major setup and they can reveal a lot more of the night sky than your unaided eyes. These can be a great first step towards getting started in astronomy and makes using a telescope a bit easier later on. Check this section for recommendations for binoculars.

  • Keep up with your target! Note that all objects like stars, planets, Moon, etc are continuously moving in our sky. This is due to the earth's rotation. So once you find the object and have focused on it, your job isn't done! every few seconds the target will appear to move out of your view, and you need to use the fine adjustment/ slow motion controls on your telescope to ensure the telescope alignment moves along with it. This is called manual tracking. If your telescope came with a GOTO mount, it is likely that the automatic mount will do the tracking for you. The higher magnification you are at, the faster the target moves out and more frequent tracking is necessary to keep it within the field of view.

  • Expectations on what will be seen - Majority of Visual Astronomy using telescope (without any additional filters etc) is in monochrome/ black and white. Do not expect to see contrasting color details of the objects. At most, an overall shade of color might be seen (for example, Saturn may appear orangish, Mars reddish, and so on). What you see on Google images for planets like Jupiter and Saturn is probably not what you will see through a telescope. Bear in mind that images of celestial objects are often a result of hundreds of long-exposure images taken through DSLRs and later processed in softwares over several hours through techniques such as stacking, noise reduction, RGB editing and other post-processes.

  • Using telescope is a skill that one needs to acquire. No matter how much you read or videos you watch, you must try it out once, twice, thrice or more, before you can see anything through it. Do not get disheartened and do not lose patience if you don't succeed the first time. Its like learning how to ride a bike or swimming or anything that requires you to practice and learn in order to be good at it.