No matter how old you are when you get into astronomy, there may be a few embarrassing questions you want to ask about how to use a telescope.
Here, I will attempt to explain how to use a telescope in easy, bite size portions. This post will give the beginner astronomer some basic knowledge and will give you plenty of further reading links. Enjoy 🙂
What are the different types of telescope?
First off, in terms of how to use telescopes, they differ vastly depending on the brand of telescope, but they all have more or less the same functions.
Reflector vs refractor telescopes
There are broadly speaking two types of telescope: reflectors and refractors. Refractor telescopes use glass lenses similar to eye glasses, whereas reflector telescopes use mirrors.
How can you tell the difference between reflector and refractor telescopes?
Refractor telescopes tend to be long and skinny like a tube. Reflector telescopes are usually short and wide. The eyepiece is usually in a different position too: eye pieces on refractor telescope are always on the back, reflector telescope eye pieces always tend to be in the middle-front.
Here's a great comparison of the two types if you want to geek about it.
Setting up your telescope
Make sure wherever you place your telescope is stable and secure. No rocky terrains or balancing beams please. Try not to use decking as it can cause vibrations when people move around which can disrupt your viewing.
Wherever you go, try to take your telescope out roughly half an hour to an hour before you wish to see anything. This is to make sure the scope gets used to whatever temperature you are in as you can get fog on the lens. It is also useful getting out a little earlier to get your eyes accustomed to the darkness.
Use a finderscope to focus your telescope. The finderscope is the ‘baby’ scope which is usually found on the side of the telescope.
Types of Finderscope
There are two types of Finderscope:
1. Optical Finderscopes - essentially small, low powered and wide angle with cross-hairs to help you centre objects
2. Red Dot Finderscopes - battery powered, and projects a small red dot on the finderscopes glass window to help centre an object. It has zero magnification.
How to use a finderscope
The first thing to do is point the main telescope towards something big and easy to see, the moon is a good target. Next, look through the finderscope and adjust the knobs until the same object, i.e. the moon, is in the cross hairs. The finderscope has a wider range of view than the main scope and acts as an aid to help line up the main scope.
Watch the video for instructions on how to use each type:
This is undoubtedly the most confusing aspect of astronomy as there are so many different options and sizes for eyepieces. It’s a puzzle in itself to figure out which to use.
Use a low power eyepiece first such as a 20mm, or 30mm to begin with. Once the object is located and clear, a higher eyepiece can be substituted.
Anything lower than 10mm is considered a high powered eyepiece. Going straight to a higher power seems like a good idea at first but you can get dimmer and smaller images depending on the light available.
If you are serious about astronomy; the best product to purchase would be a mount.
A good, sturdy mount is needed in order to take great photos and get clear, stable views of objects in the night sky. If your telescope doesn’t come with a mount or tripod, I would highly recommend buying one.
If you're interested in buying a good telescope and mount but you are not sure which one to purchase, read our guide about how much a good telescope costs.
Taking photos of the moon, stars and planets can be a difficult quest and certainly not one ideal for beginners.
You need a tracking system, long exposure modes, mount and somewhere to attach your camera to the telescope. It costs more money to be into this hobby but it is worth it to take great photos.
To take a picture of the moon, some people have simply placed their phones next to the eyepiece and clicked the shutter. You may get lucky and get a half decent shot, but chances are you'll get poor quality pictures. It's definitely worth considering a good quality telescope for astrophotography.
What to point your telescope at?
If you are slightly more advanced in your knowledge of the stars and planets, you might know of a particular object you want to search for. I would recommend checking out sky charts in order to find where the object of your desire currently is in the sky.
As I have discussed in other articles, the best place to observe the night sky would be rural areas or places with little light pollution. These could be fields, hills, National Parks; anywhere where street lamps and houses are few and far between.
It’s all about messing around!
I cannot really give you a step by step guide on how to focus in on an object as there are too many variables. These are the very basic steps that you can take in order to get some good views when using your telescope. I have had the most fun with my telescope when I’ve gotten out for a few hours and just played around with the eyepieces, magnification and focus settings. The best way to improving your skills is by getting out and messing around. You will find within a few hours it will get easier to see clearer images in a shorter amount of time.
So that's it folks, how to use a telescope!
There you have it, my very simple and bite sized steps on how to use a telescope. There are loads of websites out there which go into a lot more detail than I have if you need the extra guidance. The best lesson out there is to enjoy your telescope, don’t get bogged down in all the numbers relating to focal ratios and lengths. Start small, take simple steps, enjoy getting clear images of the moon before moving on and focusing on planets. Before long you will be setting up within minutes and getting glimpses of nebulas! Good luck beginner astronomers.