You got your child their first telescope. It may be one of the ones I mentioned in my recommendations, or maybe you already had that department store telescope. What now? Where do you point? With a motorized GoTo telescope, you’ll start at Polaris (the North Star), select an object from the keypad, and off you go. The motorized mount will keep the object in the eyepiece for you. With a manual mount, you can just point and go, but you’ll have to continually track objects in the sky with manual adjustment knobs. With either scope you’ll want to have a planetariun app for your phone, tablet or computer to help you locate objects.
The obvious starting point is the moon. It’s big and bright, and a great object to use to learn the how the telescope moves, and what your eyepieces do. You can view the entire moon, or use a higher powered eyepiece to get a closer look at the craters. The full moon can be so bright that it hurts your eye to view. A filter such as the Celestron 1.25″ moon filter will cut the brightness and increase the contrast, making lunar viewing more enjoyable. At $10-$15 it is well worth it. The image below was taken through my 152mm Newtonian telescope and a DSLR camera. It is actually about 1,000 frames of a video stacked on top of each other to reduce the noise effects of atmospheric instability… but that’s another topic for the Astrophotography Blog.
Your next stop is the planets. This Summer (2018) will be great for planetary viewing with Jupiter, Mars and Saturn all up at the same time. They’ll be the brightest objects in your Southern sky. Jupiter is the brightest, and whitest looking planet. Saturn will be a bit dimmer than Jupiter and look yellow. Mars, the red planet, will be obviously… orange. Unfortunately, I don’t have good image examples of any planets yet, but I plan to get them as soon as the they rise high enough and I finish up a couple deep sky objects I’m working on.
Use your planetary or sky map app to find out where they planets are in the sky, and once you find them the first time, you’ll quickly just know which is which going forward. Use your lower powered eyepiece, usually a 26mm if it came with the scope to get the planet centered. After centered, switch over to the high-powered eyepiece – most likely a 10mm.
The Next Level
Once you get a good handle on planetary viewing, you can move over to some of the brighter deep sky objects. Heavily light polluted skies will unfortunately limit you to clusters, a few galaxies and only the brightest nebulae, but some objects below should be good to start with.
This is where the motorized GoTo mount will really come in handy. Most people face some level of light pollution, making it difficult to locate dimmer objects no matter your knowledge of the sky. Once a GoTo mount is well aligned to Polaris, you can pick out this object much quicker, giving you more viewing time and less hunting time. Some purist argue against this, but I believe using technology opens up the hobby and enables people to learn the sky with a little less effort. Anything, or any method that hinders participation is out for me.
Globular clusters are great. The brighter of the bunch looks like a big glob – hence the name Globular cluster. M13 and M3 are great places to start and are close enough to each other that you can hop back and forth between them on the same night without too much difficulty. Looking directly on, with a smaller telescope, they will look a bit like a blob, but averted viewing will allow you to pick out some of the brighter stars. Averted viewing is when you focus your eye into the dark space next to the object your viewing. This tricks your brain into seeing more detail in in objects. Below is a series of 30 second exposures stacked of M13. Use your planetary app to find these objects, as they are only visible to the naked eye in the very darkest skies.
M31, The Andromeda Galaxy is the obvious first on the list. If it’s not obvious to you yet, it will be soon. It is by far the largest and brightest galaxy to us. At about two million light years, it’s also the closest member of what is called the local group, consisting of our Milky Way, Andromeda, The Tiangulum galaxy and several other dwarf galaxies. So how big is it? The picture below went viral a few years ago. Most things you see on Facebook or anywhere else on the Internet about space are greatly exaggerated, or just outright false. This image, however, is not! If Andromeda was a bit brighter, this is about what it might look like in the night sky. It is moving toward us, so if you can wait a couple billion years, it will be right on top of us!
While it’s not as bright as the image, it can be seen by the naked eye. It will likely fill up most of the eyepiece if you’re in darker skies. Details in larger Galaxies also benefit from using averted viewing. View off to the edge of the viewing circle and you’ll notice details start to pop out.
To the East of Andromeda is the bright star Kochab. You’ll be able to pick it out because of it’s yellow color. Almost equidistant from Kochab on a straight line, is M33 – The Triangulum Galaxy. This one isn’t as bright and requires darker skies (that I don’t have access to) to reveal a level of detail. I’m anxious to get my camera on this when it comes back around later in the Summer.
A couple others good for visual observation are M81 – Bode’s Galaxy – and M82 – the aptly named Cigar Galaxy. A wider eyepiece will put the two galaxies in the same field of view. These objects are available year round, but sit highest in the sky at a decent hour during the spring. I’ve been working on these for quite some time, but have a long way to go.
Another brighter galaxy(s) great for visual observation is M51. All of Spring is a great time to view this object as is climbs up toward the Zenith after sunset. It will be visible through most of Summer, but you’ll want to catch it high in the sky. It’s a great object to take in and realize it is essentially one galaxy eating another! This is one I’m working on right now.
One of the reasons I jumped into trying to image the sky is because the light pollution near me prevents me from directly viewing these objects. I’m really limited to M42, the Great Nebula in Orion. It is extremely bright and even visible to the naked eye. On nights with excellent conditions you can pull out some detail in the core and even a hint of red. This is about five hours worth of exposures on M42. What you’ll see through an eyepiece is the core, and the brighter parts closest to the core. M42, and the rest of Orion will start coming up in the East in the Fall and remain through the Winter.
This should be enough to get you and your child started. Try to let your child find and view these all on his or her own. Let them have the full experience rather than just telling them “look in here” after you’ve centered an object. Teach them first, then help when needed, but don’t do everything for them. There’s a huge added sense of accomplishment and confidence building by doing this by his or herself. Make it fun and don’t push the issue every clear evening. Before you know it, your child will be teaching you!
Clear Skies – KA