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  • The Road to Your First Telescope - A Newbie Astronomers Perspective

    I am still new to this hobby and just now getting my first scope(s) up and running, so this is not advice from a wise old astronomer. This is advice from one who has been in and out of a variety of hobbies. This is my newest passion and I have been immersing myself in information. I am going to share what I have learned so far in the hope it helps others get started.
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    There are no beginner telescopes. There are beginners and there are telescopes. That's it! And there are beginner's expectations, which can sometimes be unrealistic.


    What would be the perfect first telescope? We all ask this question.

    •One that can be purchased within your budget. ( is your budget realistic?)

    •One that will give you the opportunity to learn about the sky. (Do you want to learn or do you want to look at things?)

    •One that will not frustrate you or fall so far shot of your expectations that you walk away. (what are your expectations?)

    •One that you can handle (these things get big and heavy)


    Which telescope is that? That depends on you, your budget, how willing you are to learn and how unrealistic your expectations are. If you think you are going to spend $200 and see things that look like the Hubble photos, I suggest you take up flying model airplanes. That is my other hobby. Even with a $2000 scope you will never see views like the Hubble photos. Ever! If you could then they would not have had to launch Hubble into space.

    Want to get into astrophotography? Do you have the budget? Are you prepared to learn the world of computer editing software, video, photography and astronomy all at once? Do you have the budget? From what I read here, this can get really expensive really fast if you are going to try and get images that look like the Hubble photos. The cost of entry here keeps dropping so don't walk away yet, but consider your expectations. Do you have the budget and the commitment?


    GoTo - Goto scopes are like GPSs for your car. You tell them what you want to see and they point the scope at it. Cool! Some might say that goto scopes are beginner scopes because you don't need to know much of anything about astronomy. If you can master aligning the scope, it will find things for you. But will you learn the skies from a goto scope? That is up to you.

    When I started using a GPS in my car I stopped learning routes. I would arrive at a destination and people would ask what route I took. "I don't know, I just followed the GPS." No need for maps, just tell the GPS where you want to go and it will take you there. But how much do you learn about the route? Could you get there without the GPS? (Where are my maps?)

    There are goto scopes that cost $250 and there are goto scopes that cost $2500. Are they both good first scopes because they are goto? That depends on your budget.


    Mounts - You may think of them as tripods but they are so much more than that. They can range from $50 to $5000. Some are manual, some are motorized and some are fully computerized. A lousy mount can ruin the viewing experience of a good scope. Many entry level telescopes are reasonably good but the mounts are so poor that they ruin the experience, or so I am told by the wizards on this board. My first telescope, when I was in middle school, had a lousy mount but I didn't know any better.


    Dobsonians (dobs) - A dob is not a scope type it is a mount type but people talk about them like they are a type of telescope. Dobsonians are Newtonian reflector scopes that go in a dobsonian mount. The mount is very inexpensive but very stable. They look like a fancy lazy susan turntable that sits on the ground.

    Many have advised me, as a new astronomer, to get a manual dobsonian (mount + scope) because they provide the most aperture for the $$ and telescopes are all about aperture. The more aperture the more you can see.

    Most dobsonians, are simple manual scopes that rest on a tilt/swivel base the ground. They are stable and simple to use but you need to learn how to "star hop" to find things. This is like learning to travel with a map. You have to read the map then read the sign posts to find your turns. More work than a GPS but most likely, when you get there, you will be able to tell someone how you got there and you will be able to get there again. You learn the route.

    On a bang for the buck basis, dobsonians are a good choice. Note that there are more expensive dobsonians that have guidance to help you find things and there are even goto dobs, but the cost goes up and up.


    Binoculars - Probably the best advice I received on this and other forums was to get a pair of 7X50 or 10X50 binoculars, some basic books and charts and go look at the sky. See what you can see from your location. Start to get to know the stars with the binoculars. Learn to star hop to find things. I was surprised how much more I could see with $25 binoculars than I could see with my naked eye, even in my heavily light polluted area.

    I have to say that this has been wonderful. I learned a little about the sky over my head and how much I could see from my yard. I got a little experience with star charts and books. And I started to learn about star hopping. Total investment, for binoculars, books and charts, about $100. And I will use these forever so there is no loss of investment. And binoculars can be used for other things such as watching sports, birds, nature, architecture, vacations, camping, all sorts of stuff. So if I drop out of the hobby my binoculars will still get use.

    I also learned about light pollution in my area. I learned about the challenges of avoiding street lights and the like. And I learned a little about "field of view" which is important to a beginner and to experienced astronomers alike.

    I learned about convenience. I could grab the binoculars and go for a 30 minute observation in my side yard. Setting up some telescopes can take longer than 30 minutes when you factor in assembly, collimation and "temperature stabilization" time. So my 30 minute observation session would not be possible with some of the telescopes I have considered.


    Budget:

    For some, $200 is the absolute limit of what they can spend to get into this. You can get started for $200. For some $2000 seems like an easy entry point. Would we recommend the same scope to both of these beginners because they are beginners? Likely not.


    Portability

    Here is something I had not considered. If you get a BIG scope you will have great views. But if you get a big scope, where are you going to store it and where are you going to set it up?

    I attended an observation night with a local astronomy club. There must have been 20 scopes there of various sizes and types. Everyone was very friendly and all were happy to give me a peak through their scope and to tell me about it.

    One fellow had a BIG Celestron 11" SCT scope that he loved. Cost about $3000 all up. But he said he rarely used it because he could not move it and set it up by himself. It was too heavy and too clumsy to move by himself. He later purchased a smaller scope, a 6" I think, that he loves and uses a lot. No, it does not give him the views of the big scope but the smaller scope gets 10X the sky time because it is light and portable.


    It is all about aperture, not magnification


    In the end they all do the same thing, gather light! That is what telescopes do, they gather light. Then the eyepiece magnifies the image. The more light you have the better the image will look as you magnify it. There is more to it than that but for this discussion that is close enough. I have learned that most observations are done at less than 300X magnification and the majority under 200X, even with big scopes. many people do a lot of their observations in the 30 to 60X range.

    You can take a small scope, say a 60 mm refractor or reflector, and magnify the image 300X and the image will be dark and without sharp features, assuming you can focus on it at all. There is not enough light to allow that level of magnification. So if you want to get to high magnifications you need a big aperture so you have enough light to magnify. Telescopes are all about aperture. But small aperture scopes say under 100 mm/4 inches can give you a lot to look at with a modest expenditure.

    This is similar to having a 2 MP camera and a 20 MP camera. Both take great snap shots that look good at 3X5". You can make wall posters from photos from each but the wall poster from the 2 mp camera will look grainy and without detail. The wall poster from the 20 MP camera will look much better.


    Scope Types - SCT, MCT, Newtonian, Refactor


    I am not going to describe all of these types of scopes. In the end it is all about gathering light and bending it to your will. Each scope does it in a different way. The result is that some scopes have inherently wider apparent fields of view which are better for some purposes than others, but they can be used to look at everything. Others have inherently narrower apparent fields of view which make them better for some purposes then others but they can also be used to look at everything. So there are compromises with all designs. There is no one perfect scope.


    What I have learned from the good people on this forum is, if you stay in the hobby, you end up with three types of scopes:

    •binoculars - wide view, quick to grab and look. Most people seem to have at least one and some have many

    •a smaller grab and go telescope. What is small varies by person but typically this is something with an aperture of 6" or less and for some an 80 mm/3.1" refractor is the perfect scope for this purpose. This is their travel scope, short observations window or take it on a trip or vacation scope. Quick to set up by one person.

    •a big aperture scope to see dim deep sky things, usually a reflector of 8" or more. Bigger, heavier and maybe less convenient to move around but, what views!


    This is a broad generalization but it points out that no one tool does every job equally well. Some have a scope for planets and a different scope for deep space objects. Some are designed for AP, astrophotography, and some for viewing. Most can do both but it is a question of optimization and budget.


    And what is a grab and go to you and what is grab and go to me will differ. Some will say their 8" dobsonian is their grab and go scope. Others will give this distinction to an 80 mm refractor. Your smileage will vary.



    What is this Newbie doing? (my journey)

    I am not suggesting you follow me. But I will share my path. You might find it works for you.

    First 60 days - Reading this forum, and purchased the following. Total of Less than $100. This is to help me figure out if I am interested. I also attended a local astronomy club's "observation night" and had a lot of opportunity to look through everyone's scopes and get their advice. I have not joined the club yet, but if I get serious about this I will join the club. I plan to visit another club soon.


    Binoculars - In my case, Cheap 10X50 Binoculars (there are probably better choices) ,
    * Guide to the Stars
    * Moon map
    * Sky Chart
    * red light
    * Turn left at Orion


    First Scope

    I was all over the place with this. Big dobs, expensive SCT goto scopes and ... all over the place. The budget was $500 to $1500 but in the end I decided to take a smaller first step. I purchased an 80mm refractor goto scope for $250. Mead ETX 80 If I stay in the hobby this will be my grab and go scope, my travel scope.

    I have so much light pollution and so many obstructions by my house, my main observation area, that I decided I needed the help of a goto. I could not see things to the extent that I wanted, with the binoculars. So star hopping has been a bit of a challenge. But I was not prepared to invest in a "big scope" yet. I am still not sure if I am committed to this hobby. The new scope had not arrived at the time of this writing but I will update this when it does arrive to see if this was a good choice. If not, well $250 is not going to break me or swamp the family in debt.

    Gift Scope - A friend heard I was getting into this and handed me a 3", 76mm aperture, Newtonian reflector scope that had belonged to her father. Wow! I went from no scope to two scopes of different types in a matter of a week. If this had happened first I would not have ordered the ETX but it had already shipped. I can still return it but most likely I will keep both.


    The Comparison - So I am presented with a great opportunity. I will have a goto refractor and a manual reflector of similar size. They have eyepieces with similar magnification and they are both quick and easy to move around. I will be able to do a comparison as to what they are like and which way I want to go for the big scope, if and only if I continue to be committed to the hobby. I will post reports.


    Summary

    This is a quick summary of what I have learned at 60 days into the hobby. I put it here to help those just getting into the hobby. I have shared the advice I have received and the little bit of knowledge I have accumulated to try and make it easier for you to travel this early, bumpy road to getting to know the skies.

    Feel free to comment, positive or negative, and to ask questions. I have a ton of links saved that will gather together and post as a resource to newbies like myself. But more importantly, there are a lot of smart people on this forum who will likely jump in to help. You have come to the right place for help.


    Clear skies to you.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: The Road to Your First Telescope - A Newbie's Perspective started by aeajr View original post
    Comments 39 Comments
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      Friends,

      I want to revise what I wrote in post 37 about Focal Ratios and Field of View, however the forum locks the post after 15 minutes so I can't.

      Further research shows that the difference between what I am seeing in the eyepieces of the two telescopes may be more related to what eyepieces I am using than the Focal Ratios of the telescopes. Sorry for any miss information I may have provided.

      I refer you to this discussion for more detail:
      Focal Ratios, magnification and field of view - do I have this right?

      Also an interesting but technically very detailed article here:
      http://bbastrodesigns.com/rft.html#Work

      I thought I had managed to simplify the wide field/narrow field thing but I find I am wrong. Sorry.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      Comparison of the two scopes. - I promised comparisons between these two scopes, not to provide a buying recommendation but to bring out factors that might not be obvious to someone looking for a first telescope. These are both entry level scopes. I don't know that these comparisons would have value to someone looking at higher end equipment.

      Both the Meade ETX80 and the Tasco are small and light and are stored assembled, standing on their tripods in the garage. They are both light so I can grab either one and walk out 100 feet to the location where I want to set up and have it ready to go in minutes if I want to view manually. Sometimes I grab both and walk out. Transport is a total non-issue.

      The Tasco lacks an accessory tray. I plan to do something about that.

      The ETX 80 gives me the option to set up for manual use or to set-up for GoTo, which the Tasco can't do. This takes only a few minutes to set-up. The hardest part is getting the scope level as the ground where I place it is not level. They supply a compass and level that fits in the eyepiece so I can align it North and level the scope. To get it level it is up a little on this leg and down a little on this leg till I get it level. That takes more time than anything else in the set-up process.

      Once I have it level and pointed North, then switch on the computer, press a couple of buttons and the scope picks two alignment stars. All I have to do is confirm their alignment. Total deployment time, including fussing with the level, about 10 minutes.

      Between the two I like the Meade ETX better overall. The 1.25" eyepieces give a more comfortable view with twice the field of view compared to the .965 eyepieces in the Tasco. At this point I like that overall wider field of view. I have 3 eyepieces for the Meade and two barlows so I have more options for viewing on the Meade. I bought a 1.25 to .965 adapter to try and use the ETX eyepieces in the Tasco but can't get the ETX eyepieces to focus in the Tasco, so that is out. If you are thinking of buying a used scope, I would avoid ones with .965 eyepieces.

      Other than some wobble in the mount, the Tasco works well. I wish it would let me rotate the tube to change the viewing angle of the focuser. Being able to rotate that tube would be a huge benefit and I would look for that on any Newtonian/Dob that I might consider for the future. The FOV is about half that of the Meade and the .965 eyepieces are not as comfortable for viewing but not too bad.

      I was given the Tasco, I did not buy it. It came with one Tasco eyepiece, 12.5 mm. I have added a second Meade eyepiece, 40 mm for low power, wider angle scanning of the sky. That was going to be it for this scope as I planned to adapt the ETX eyepieces. Since that did not work I decided to order a cheap 2.3X barlow to extend its range a bit. However, without an observing chair there is an advantage to that high eyepiece position on the Tasco for high angle viewing. Other than the moon I seem to be doing a lot of that high angle viewing right now. With the ETX that leaves me kneeling on the ground.

      Meade tripod is tall enough for most viewing but the taller stance of the Tasco tripod gives me more viewing area over the surrounding bushes, houses and trees. I wanted to look at Saturn last night but it was behind the trees. This is a big point of consideration around whether I want a Dobsonian next as they sit on the ground. There are parts of my property where a Dob would be severely hampered by the fact that it sits on the ground, surrounded by 4 foot high shrubs, houses and trees. That might cost me too much sky as compared to a tripod mount and could be THE deciding factor on what telescope I get next.

      What will help with both scopes, eventually, will be acquiring an observing chair with an adjustable seat. That will make the various observation angles much more convenient for both scopes AND it will make it easier to use the Tasco with the legs collapsed which should make it more stable.

      So, bottom line, I would not go and buy that Tasco. I like the ETX 80 better for a variety of reasons. But since I have both I can gain side by side experience with both types of scopes which will give me a better perspective of what to look for in my next scope. Will it be an 8" Dob or an 8" SCT and whether I want it to have computer aided targeting or not.

      And, BTW, the value of my binoculars has not been diminished by having two telescopes. The binoculars come out and are actively used at every observation session. I use them as a first targeting tool to help me pick out where I want to point the scope when I am working manually. I also use them to see if I can see what the scope sees with the binoculars.

      I hit an interesting little cluster of stars last night in the Tasco, at 17.5X But when I looked at that area of the sky with the binoculars I saw nothing but blank sky and maybe the slightest hint that there might have been some very faint stars. Even at 76 mm the Tasco gathers about twice the light of the 50 mm binoculars so there are stars that the Tasco or the Meade can see the binoculars can not see.

      I hope these reports are useful. I will keep posting whatever I feel is relevant and might be useful to my fellow newbies.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      What a delightful evening I had. This was a real demonstration of the value of a GoTo scope for those who do not have someone to help them learn the sky. I studied star hopping and have successfully found things by that method. it is great fun. But sometimes I want to just go out and look at stuff, without planning or preparation.

      Tonght there was no plan. I walked out the door around 9:30 and there were stars! Cool! I went to the garage and grabbed the ETX 80 which is left fully assembled on its mount. At 12 pounds I just pick it up with one hand, my box of accessories with the other and walk out to the sidewalk in front of the house which has become my observation site.

      Aligning the Goto on the scope take about 5 minutes. At that point I can tell it to find me things or I can tell it to take me on a tour of the sky. Tonight I went on a tour.

      The tour started at the Double cluster in Perseus, then Pleiades, Vega, Albireo, M13 globular cluster, then Enif, Formalhaut. Altair, M34, M15 and I finished the tour on the Dumbell Nebula. At that point I had been out for over 2 hours so I called it a very satisfying night.

      The reason I bring this up in this thread is that some of these things the telescope showed me were in parts of the sky where there are no stars visible to the naked eye. To my South and West there is nothing but glow in the sky. These would have been difficult if not impossible for me to find by star hopping.

      I enjoyed the tour and want to go back to some of these things again after I read up on them. Some I will up in "Turn Left at Orion" and see how I can star hop to them, now that I have seen them once. Others I will have to depend on the telescope as there are no stars visible for me to hop.

      I hope this discussion, and these reports, are helpful to you.

      Clear skies!
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      So here is where I am on my road. I am not suggesting you follow the same path I have followed, only that you pick up whatever tidbits you can from my experience to help you decide how you want to get involved in this hobby. You can start slow, as I have, or you can jump in head first. Either way there is a lot of sky out there.

      I came to this Astronomy forum to learn about how one gets involved in this hobby and got a lot of good advice

      Based on that advice I got the 10X50 binoculars, Turn Left at Orion, a Planisphere and a red flash light were where I started.- Great way to start!

      My next step was a light weight short focal length goto refractor, the Meade ETX 80. When I use the Goto feature it will find the targets for me, slewing automatically to the right spot and put the target in the eyepiece. Then it will automatically track the target for me. I love this scope and am very happy with it and would recommend it to any newbie looking for a way to ease into the hobby at moderate cost. A key selling point for me was that I could release the clutches on this telescope, leave the computer turned off and use it as a fully manual scope for star hopping, a skill I want to develop.

      Naturally I was looking ahead to a larger aperture telescope in the future, should I feel committed to the hobby. I narrowed it down to an Orion 8XTi intelliscope or a Celestron Nexstar 8SE.

      Today I made a commitment to purchase a Orion 8XTi Intelliscope. This was sooner than I planned but a used one popped up and I could not pass on the deal. This is an 8" Newtonian/Dobsonian telescope. Unlike the GoTo on the Meade or the Celestron, which use drive motors to find a target and to automatically track it, the Intelliscope is an assisted manual telescope. I tell it what I want to see and it tells me where to point the scope to find the target. So this is a guided manual scope. The Focal Ratio of F5.9 means that the scope has an inherently wider field of view than the Celestron NexStar 8S. I have come to realize I like that wide field of view.

      The 8XTi is a weight and size that I feel will be easy to handle and easy to transport. It will have a large enough aperture to let me see the deep space things that interest me and support magnification high enough to get great views of the planets. And, the Intelliscope computer will help me find the targets in my extremely light polluted sky. There are whole sections of the sky that have no visible stars so star hopping would be extremely difficult in these sections of the sky. But when I want to star hop I can do that with ease.

      With the hundreds of dollars I saved, compared to the Celestron NexStar, I can buy more accessories, an observation chair and other things I will want.

      So, weight, convince, computer assistance and the ability to operate the scope manually were, in the end, the final basis of my selection. And, while cost was not my primary concern in the end it does free up a lot of cash.

      So, now I have binoculars for quick observations and the ultimate in portability. I have a short FL refractor that will be my travel scope or a quick to use scope. This can also be my second scope when I am showing the sky to friends. I can put this on Saturn and it will track Saturn and keep it in the eyepiece while I work the 8XTi to show my friends other sights that only a big scope can see.

      How will you travel the road to your first telescope and beyond? That is up to you. But this is where the road has lead me and so far I have enjoyed it very much. This should complete this journal.

      Please let me know if I can help you in any way.
    1. mrlovt's Avatar
      mrlovt -
      Thank you, Ed. It's been fun watching your journey, between here and the Cloudy Nights forums you've really shared a lot, and reminded me of all that there is to learn about this astronomy thing that I've been doing since I was a child. Thank you for sharing your experience coming to this as many do, an intelligent and curious adult. I think you've provided a very fair look at the questions an adult beginner brings to the hobby - and you've shared the answers you found along the way, the answers that worked for you. That is as it should be. We may observe the same heavens and be bound by the same laws of physics, but each of us inhabits our own space and time, leans into the eyepiece with a unique background, and views with our individual aspirations and expectations.
    1. Mhanis's Avatar
      Mhanis -
      Ed,

      I cannot wait to read your impressions of the 8i, I am looking at either that same one or the 10i. When will you get your hands on it?

      Mark
    1. Harshil Patel's Avatar
      Harshil Patel -
      Wow sir great read thread.
      I think its very helpful thread for forum members.
      Thank you for this sir......
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mhanis View Post
      Ed,

      I cannot wait to read your impressions of the 8i, I am looking at either that same one or the 10i. When will you get your hands on it?

      Mark
      Hopefully Friday night. Rain is forecast for most of the weekend so chances are I won't get to use it till next week. I am printing out the manuals now.
    1. Spartan8029's Avatar
      Spartan8029 -
      I've found that any information a beginner looking to get into astronomy needs, can all be found on these forums. It's great having such a vast collection of information available that helps avoid alot of the trial and error process that normally occurs without having a great community to turn to for help! Great write up and adviceyou gave here, cheers!
    1. MCox's Avatar
      MCox -
      Ed,
      I've just discovered this thread and read thru your posts, and I'd like to compliment your sussinct essays. They cover so much of what many of us discovered when we learned about observational astronomy. Really first rate job.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      Thanks for the kind words. I had a similar string going on another forum but the moderator locked it as inappropriate to the forum. Here I was able to keep it going.

      I will likely do a report on a comparison between the 80mm refractor and the 8" dob to share what I learn.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      Added an 8" Dobsonian

      As stated elsewhere, I have been enjoying the Meade ETX 80, 80 mm refractor GoTo scope. I still have a lot to explore with that one. It is SOOOO convenient and the GoTo works really well. I would highly recommend it for a newbie on a budget, someone looking a travel scope or a way to get kids engaged in astronomy. I really like it.

      I had no intention of buying a bigger scope till Christmas or later. I had two on my radar, the Celestron NexStar 8SE and the Orion XT8i.

      Well, a deal came across my path for a used XT8i in excellent condition that I could not refuse. I bought it. Orion Skyquest XT8i Intelliscope. Came with Orion Sirius 26mm and 10mm eyepieces, 9X50 finder scope. Have not fully tested the Intelliscope feature but everything else works.
      Orion SkyQuest XT8i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope | Orion Telescopes

      At 42 pounds it is easy enough to lift and carry the whole unit fully assembled. Walking it 100 feet to my observation location from my garage will be very workable. However I am likely to explore some kind of rolling platform to make it even more convenient.

      I got the scope on Friday. It was cloudy Friday and Saturday nights so no observing. During the day Saturday I adjusted the finder scope. I also did a collimation with the included collimation cap. That was pretty easy. Scope seemed to be out of collimation. When I went to adjust the primary mirror the locking screws weren't even finger tight. I would guess they were never locked down. He said he had never done a collimation in all the years he had it.

      Last night, 9:00 pm, the sky was full of clouds. But by 9:30 or so the sky had cleared and there stars to be seen. I quickly carried the scope to the observation spot and set it up.

      Tradition, my tradition, says I have to start at Vega. And so I get Vega in the finder scope and sure enough it was in the 25mm, 48X eyepiece. Cool! Looked bright and beautiful. Decided to try the defocused star test on collimation. Vega looked like a nice uniformly centered disk as I defocused it. So we declare the telescope sufficently colluminated!

      Now, where is that pesky Andromeda Galaxy. No computer help this time, we are going in raw, unassisted, naked. Come here you smudge of light.

      OK, great square in Pegasus, now slide two stars over to find Mirach, now two stars up, uAnd and vAnd. Now it should be just a little above ..... there you are you sneaky smear of light. GotCha.

      Good news is I found it star hopping, first time doing that with this scope. Bad news it is still just a smear of light in my Bortel 6/7 skies, however it is a brighter, larger smear with this scope than with my 80 mm refractor.

      I only spent about 30 minutes before I put it away. What I really noticed is how many more background stars there were. Each step I take up in aperture I see more and more stars. Cool!

      If the sky is clear tonight I will try the Intelliscope feature and I will try my 2X and 3X barlow to see how this responds to higher magnifications. The 2X will give me 96 and 240X. The 3X will give me 138X and 360X with the stock eyepieces. I am also going to compare the Sirius Plossl eyepieces to the Meade Super Plossl eyepieces I have for the ETX 80. Those are 9.7 and 26mm, so almost the same specs.

      I have to say that I am very happy with my purchase. XT8i now has a place of honor in the garage with the ETX 80 refractor, Tasco 76 mm reflector, the old Sears 60 mm refractor (retired) and my Gordon 10X50 binoculars.

      Do I regret buying the ETX 80? Not at all! As stated elsewhere, many people have a large aperture scope and a travel scope. The Meade will continue to be used at the house and will serve as my travel scope. That was the plan all along.

      Oh, and my new Celestron 15X70 binoculars showed up too. Very bright and not as heavy as I had feared but they will definitely benefit from a braced position or a tripod. These and the 10X50s will also get plenty of use, especially for travel where bringing one of the telescopes is not practical.

      One of the local Astronomy clubs has an observing session planned for Wednesday so I plan to bring the XT8i to the session. Will see what tips and tricks the members may offer.
    1. bladekeeper's Avatar
      bladekeeper -
      Nicely done on Andromeda, Ed. Congrats on the XT8i. That scope should serve you quite well for a long time to come. Best of luck on Wednesday. I am looking forward to reading about your experience.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      Location, Location, Location


      Anyone new to astronomy should be looking to visit the local astronomy club(s). Many have "observation nights" where the membership bring their telescopes and set-up to enjoy the sky. Most welcome visitors. You can even bring your telescope. They hope that if you like the experience you will want to join the club.

      The real benefit to the newbie is that you get to see a lot of different telescopes and talk to a lot of different people. What do they like about this scope or what do they dislike. Sometimes you will come across an opportunity to buy a used scope at a good price. And when you do this within a club setting often the person who sold it to you will teach you all about how to use it and how to get the best out of it. That can be worth more than the scope itself.

      The other thing you get out of a session like this is you get to see their observation site. Is it convenient for you? When is it available to be used? How dark is it?

      I attended my second session with the Astronomical Society of Long Island yesterday. The first time I was there it was a 3/4 moon and the building had the outside lights on for a program they were running outside.

      Great group of friendly people. There were telescopes of every kind. Dobsonians, Celestron and Meade SCTs. A Meade maksutov cassegrain, several refractors, a couple of Newtonians on EQ mounts and a guy doing astro photography with a 2" refractor on a very expensive looking self tracking/correction mount hooked up to a laptop doing frame processing. He was doing time exposures of the Andromeda Galaxy. Very cool.

      Everyone was happy to offer a look through their telescopes. They were happy to help you find something with your telescope. It was a wonderful experience.

      I had my 10X50 binoculars with me, my 15X70 binoculars and my new/used 8" Orion XT8i Dobsonian telescope. I had the Meade EXT80 in the car but never pulled it out. There is only so much stuff you want to haul around, but I had it if I wanted to pull it out.

      The biggest impact on me was the sky. Stars! So many stars! Their site is MUCH darker than by my house. I was overwhelmed just trying to find the familiar formations that I know at home. This was wonderful. I may join the club just to get access to this site.

      From my house the Andromeda Galaxy is just a smudge in the ETX 80 at 15X and 40X and too dim at 60X. And it is somewhat hard to find because even when I have it in the eyepiece it is not especially visible. Forget about seeing it with my binoculars.

      But at this site I easily picked it up with my 10X50 binoculars. In my 15X70 binoculars it was much more impressive and much brighter than it had looked at home in the ETX 80. that wasn't because the binoculars are better than the ETX, it was because the site was much darker.

      When I got it into the 48X eyepiece on the 8" Dob it was really good.

      Now don't let me mislead you. Even at this site we are still talking about the Andromeda Galaxy as a glow in the eyepiece, nothing that looks like the pictures you see in magazines. But instead of being the smudge that I see at home this was a rather bright smear of light that actually started to exhibit some detail in the 8" Dob at 48 and 120X.

      The bottom line for this report is not about my visit to the club but to impress on you that what you see is as much dependent on where you are and the light conditions as it is on what equipment you use. If I did not have the 8" Dob I am quite sure I would have been very pleased with the view with the ETX 80 as compared to what I see at home with either scope.

      If you are not familiar with the Bortel scale, you can learn about it here. I am no expert on the subject but my subjective assessment says my house location would be considered a Bortel 7 and the observation site I was at last night is probably a Bortel 4.

      So, buy your scope and lean to use it but also consider your light conditions. I will continue to do most of my observing at my house, but now I have a much better idea of what is possible under better conditions. And, by the way, the experienced people there were still calling this site a light polluted site. They did not consider it a dark site but boy was it a major improvement for me.

      As I become more planned about my observations I will be working with "Turn Left at Orion" to pick out what I want to see in the parts of the sky where I get the best views. I will also look at the relative brightness of each object. If you are not familiar with magnitude ratings for stars and objects, you can learn something about this here. My suggestion is start with objects or stars with a level 4 or lower at first. Even in a light polluted area like mine I can see these with my 80 mm telescope. The work you way into the dimmer stars and objects. As the number goes up they get dimmer. It is said that you can see a mag 6 star with the naked eye at a dark site. But a 3 might be a challenge if your site is very light polluted. So give yourself the best chance for success with your early targets.



      Clear Skies and success in your exploration of the cosmos.
    1. mrlovt's Avatar
      mrlovt -
      Quote Originally Posted by aeajr View Post
      If you are not familiar with the Bortel scale, you can learn about it here. I am no expert on the subject but my subjective assessment says my house location would be considered a Bortel 7 and the observation site I was at last night is probably a Bortel 4.
      Nice report - and I'm glad you had such a good experience! I think most of us are more than willing to share what we know. As for figuring out where your backyard falls on the light pollution spectrum, check out:
      Bortle Dark-Sky Scale
      Light Pollution Atlas 2006
      The night sky in the World

      All those can help put your area in perspective. Just remember to account for recent growth. Sadly, our skies are continually being lost to light pollution.
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      If you are new to astronomy and found this thread helpful, feel free to visit the newbie observation thread where we hang out, share experiences and help each other.

      A Newbie's Early Observation Log - Join me!
    1. aeajr's Avatar
      aeajr -
      60 Day review of the ETX 80 – Astronomy Forum
      Meade ETX 80 - 60 Day Review


      I will likely do one on the XT8i Intelliscope at some future time.
    1. ulookinatme's Avatar
      ulookinatme -
      I have to say that was a fantastic read through and very informative for someone like me, I am nearly a newbie because I'm still waiting on delivery of my first telescope (Celestron 114EQ) which was bought on impulse power (after a look through the observatory on Calton hill) but after reading this thread I find myself strangely attracted to a second scope and I still haven't had a look through the one I've already purchased, I never even considered a goto as I just wanted to randomly look at the sky/stars/planets as it were, however having spent some time on here I can see a complete re evaluation of my goal is in order, thank you for your thoughts on the matter it has certainly woke me up.
    1. bladekeeper's Avatar
      bladekeeper -
      Hi Allan!

      I'm very glad this thread has been of use to you. That's a good thing!

      However, this one is a bit on the aged side. If you would, please sir, give the Astronomy Forum Rules and Terms of Service - Part One, The Legal Stuff a read, and please note the section discussing the revival of old threads.

      Your understanding is sincerely appreciated, my friend.

      Clear skies to you sir!
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