Astronomy can be a fascinating hobby. Unfortunately, as I was relearning this there was not much information out there for those starting out. These tips help save you time learning and more time viewing.
- Plan your viewing ahead
- Try astronomy with both eyes
- Allow your telescope to get used to the temperature
- Allow time for dark vision
- Study the art of collimation
- Dress for success
- Lower the center of gravity
- Focus your telescope
- Keep eyepieces under wraps
- Set up on solid ground
- Leave your cell phone inside
- Find a dark spot for viewing
- Know the best time for viewing
- Get a red LED flashlight
- Face south for better viewing
- Setting up on grass
- Remove all caps and covers
- Use the same location
- Create more stability
- Snug up your fasteners
- Get “jiggy” with it
- Take notes of your observations.
- When wanting to view the sun
- When the Moon is too bright
- Filters come in all colors
- Improve visual awareness
- Stay updated
- Join an astronomer’s club
- Find the Space Station.
- Go to the higher power.
You can also download a PDF version of these 30 tips & tricks for a printable tips list, it may help take your astronomy hobby to the next level.
Download a PDF version for your convenience at the bottom…
Quick Tips and Tricks:
Plan Your Night Sky Viewing Ahead
Have sky maps available for you to be able to know exactly where to look in the night sky. Here are the Map I use easy to get from Amazon.
There are also several cell phone apps and computer programs available for this. See article on apps and programs for Beginning Astronomers
Try Astronomy with Both Eyes Open
Observing through your telescope’s eyepiece with both eyes open gives an advantage. Telescopes aren’t designed to be viewed this way, but by closing one of your eyes, the open eye becomes less effective in seeing objects.
This is why the eye doctor blocks one eye but tells you to leave the blocked eye open. It has to do with the brain and the way the eyes are wired and muscle fatigue. The brain continually compares the images it sees with each other.
Plus, by closing one eye, you are using muscles that can fatigue and distort your vision.
Allow Your Telescope to Get Use to the Temperature Outside.
It is not only your eyes that need some time to adjust in the darkness. Before viewing anything from your telescope. Make sure that it has sat there on where it is mounted for about 20 minutes or more.
This allows it to neutralize to the same temperature as the outside ambient air. This way, it will not radiate heat, or condensate which both, can negatively affect how well it can see faint objects in the sky.
Allow Time for Your Dark Vision.
Remember to allow some time for your eyes to adapt to the darkness. It will take 30 to 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, allowing you to be able to see things in the dark more clearly.
After your eyes have adjusted, stay in the dark. Avoid going back to your house to get something. Your eyes only need from 5 to 7 minutes to adapt to the light, but when you come back outside to the dark, your eyes will need another 30 to 45 minutes to readjust again.
To learn more about dark vision click here
Study and Practice the Art of Collimation
Collimation is the act of ensuring that the eyepiece is aimed at the center of the primary mirror and that the primary mirror is also aligned to the center of the eyepiece.
Consult your telescope’s manual for specific instructions on how to achieve this with your telescope. You can learn more about collimation here.
Dress for Success, While Observing
The fact you are usually out when it is at night and cooler, or even downright cold is common for an astronomer. Also, if it is nice weather out the night will cool down fast because you are being inactive and standing or sitting in one spot.
I suggest deducting 10 degrees F from the predicted low that night. Of course, if you always listened to your Mom, “you can always peel off a layer or two if you are too warm.”
Lower the Center of Gravity on Your Telescope Mount
Telescopes can tend to be a bit “top-heavy” a slight bump, or brush with an open jacket can send it toppling.
You can tie a weight to a wire or string that attaches to the eyepiece tray to successfully lower your center of gravity. About 5 or 10 lbs. (2 to 4 kg) is sufficient.
You can use an old milk jug filled with water (remember water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon, so about ) You can also use, rocks in a bag, anything really.
If your ground is soft, set up on some boards or flat stones to prevent from sinking into the ground.
Focus Your Telescope
Some telescopes come with a cover that has 2 holes in it. You can use this to focus your image. Once your object is found, with the 2 hole cap in place, you adjust your focus until one image appears.
Then remove the cover and enjoy your viewing. You can tweak the focus from there if needed.
Keep Your Eyepieces Under Wraps
The eyepieces that you are not using at the time can be subject to dewing, or condensation. It is best to keep them in a sealed container while not being used.
An old Scooby Doo lunch box, or even just covering them with the caps they came with. I have used old paint spray can lids to sit them in and cover them. That way you can color code your magnifications.
Set Your Scope Up On Solid Ground
But wait…concrete, roofing, and Parking lots will radiate this heat back up after the sun has set. Remember that our goal is to observe the faintest light from the night sky.
Even a little amount of radiated heat from concrete or houses can affect your ability to see these faint objects. Get a little IR handheld temperature meter like this one I use from Amazon. It will let you know if that concrete is a lot warmer than the air.
Leave Your Cell Phone Inside or Turned Off While Viewing
Unless you are using an app within it for your viewing experience. The light from your phone, aside from being a source of light pollution, can also make it hard for your eyes to adjust to the darkness.
Give your Mom a call before you get started for the night.
Find That Sweet Dark Spot for Your Viewing
Even the best telescopes in the world would be useless in an area with a lot of light pollution. If you live in a city, get as high as possible. Get permission to set up on your rooftop, or ask permission to use a Farmer’s pasture. Watch out for the cow pies!
Know the Best Time to View the Night Sky
The sky is clearest in the winter nights because there is no humidity in the air. During summer nights, there is haze, which blurs the view.
The moon’s phases can also drastically affect your viewing experience. For example, during a full moon, the moon will be so bright that it will be challenging to see other heavenly objects in the night sky.
This does not help when it is a full moon, but that is the night of the conjunction. In this case you have to take time to view anyway. Filters will be your best friend in these times.
Get a Red LED Astronomer’s Flashlight
This Flashlight is so you will still have light when you need it, to find your eyepiece or notebook. For example, it may be challenging to set up your telescope on its mounting while in complete darkness. The flashlight should be the color red to help maintain dark vision.
Red does not effect your eyes like blue or white light will. If a red flashlight is not available, you can still use a regular flashlight; just cover it with red cellophane or red paper to help. To learn more about dark vision click here.
I had stumbled across this sites free red head band flash light, they also have a better headband, it is a rechargable unit that has a button for the red LED light and a button for the white light. Here is the Free one, here is the better one. I will say I have not ordered from these guys?
Face South for the Best Night Sky Viewing
The ideal direction to point your telescope is towards the equator (towards the south for those in the northern hemisphere and vice versa for the southern hemisphere) and over grass, or woods.
Grass and forest use the suns energy and then it does not radiate the heat back out that it absorbed during the day. If you have a large city due south, you may need to try viewing toward a different area or try a different location to set up.
Setting Up the Telescope Over the Grass
You should set up over grass for less heat distortion. However, to make sure you do not sink into the ground and change your telescopes alignment use some small stepping stones, or pieces of wood to set up on.
This way you won’t slowly sink into the ground. Good solid wood decks can offer a good place with less radiant heat at night also. Watch out for bouncing and movement though.
Remove All Caps and Covers of the Telescope
Some telescopes come with a focus or alignment caps that have smaller holes in them. It is possible to forget to remove these caps since they are designed to allow light through.
Once acclimated, make it a ritual to check that all caps and covers are removed for viewing.
Use the Same Location Like an Observatory
Try to set up your telescope at the exact same spot every time. With this, you will have the exact same field of view from your telescope on your every viewing experience. This will help you drastically in finding objects that you would want to view.
One way to accomplish this is to mark the spot on the ground where you put the legs of your telescope’s tripod. Setting up over a good solid deck you can insert some thumbtacks, magic marker, or drips of paint to save time on setup.
In the yard, you can make pads flush with your grass. Of course, the best is to pour a pier below frost line to have a year round same level.
Create More Stability by Going Over Your Telescopes Mount
Once set up, pull out each leg of your tripod just a little bit more to ensure rigid, sturdy support. Then take time to mark the location.
Snug up your fasteners. Check all of your bolts and nuts on your telescope mount. Make sure they are nice and snug but don’t over tighten, just enough tautness, so that you have control to create a position of the tripod and nothing can move on its own as you track.
Get “Jiggy” With It, Slight Vibration Helps
The eye is much better at detecting the movement of objects rather than that of a static object.
This is because of how we evolved. Seeing the movement of that Saber Tooth Tiger as it approached helped keep us alive.
So, if you are having difficulty in seeing a faint distant object, try to jiggle your telescope ever so slightly to take advantage of this human genetic trait of our eye.
I use two fingers and slightly tap them.
Take Notes of Your Observations
This compels you, not only just look at random things in the night sky, but also to identify them and write down what they actually are.
Astronomy is not a hobby just to see celestial bodies it is also about discovery.
When Wanting to View the Sun
DO NOT EVER LOOK AT THE SUN! I recommend always projecting the sun onto a surface using your telescope. Or, to use a Aperture Solar Filter, for viewing the Sun. For Sun viewing tips and tricks click How to View a Solar Eclipse Safely article.
When the Moon is Too Bright
The moon can also be a source of light pollution when observing with your telescope. So, using a moon filter can be extremely useful in filtering out the glare from the moon at the night sky.
This allows you to get a brighter image of the faintest objects in the night sky. Learn everything you need to know about filters in this article About Which filters to use where.
Filters Come in All Colors, But One Can Help Everywhere
A blue filter will help viewing over most all of your viewing. Check out what I think about Blue 82 filters on this article
Also, you can lay your filter on top of your eyepiece for quick viewing, or insert it into the adapter like your diagonal before the eyepiece mounts. This will allow you to change eyepieces and magnification without fooling around with the filter.
Improve Your Visual Awareness Using Your Telescope
While focusing on your center of view, try to see what is around your object (your view center) without moving your eye. This trains your eyes to be more aware.
Also, check each eye. One eye may be better at seeing far away, however your telescope is actually an image that is a couple inches away from your eye. So, check each eye.
Stay Updated to Astronomical Events
Trying your best to be updated on astronomy events like a solar eclipse, meteors or comets passing by, will allow you new cool stuff to try and see.
One way to do this is by following famous astronomers on Twitter. You can also like pages on Facebook that are dedicated to astronomy. Even Pinterest has neat ideas and things to help you improve on your new hobby.
I try my best to give the best cool thing to see each month via the email list. Feel free to sign up, or just do a google search and determine your favorite place.
Find a Local Amateur Astronomer’s Club Near You
A hobby can best be enjoyed with other people. Aside from the fun, a local astronomy club can help you with tips and tricks on how to use your telescope.
Also, by sharing gadgets to experience new things prior to purchasing. They may even have a more advanced telescope that you can get to use some as well.
Find the Space Station.
Try to look for the International Space Station. There are a lot of resources out there that can let you track exactly where the ISS is in orbit. When it does pass in your area, try to look at it with your telescope. Trying to find and track it across the sky is awesome.
Since it is much closer than the moon and other heavenly bodies, you will be able to see it in much more detail. For example, the solar panels on the ISS can easily be seen in detail, or at least the shape of them. In other words not just a bright dot.
Go to the Higher Power, Don’t Start There When Viewing
Sometimes when trying to find faint objects, it is usually easier to increase your magnification. What this does is make your field of view more narrow and actual empty space will become darker bringing out the faint object.
This is for when you are close to finding it, and you are just using your slow motion controls.
I hope you find this information to be helpful as I have wished it to be. It is designed to help bring viewing enjoyment instead of viewing discouragement. Check out these articles that might interest you on
About Why Some Telescopes Are Long And Some Are Short.