SciComm, Space, Stargazing

Stargazing 101

My first proper stargazing/astronomy experience

So recently I was given a Celestron telescope to borrow for the summer! And seeing as I don’t have much else to do during this crazy time, I thought I might as well start straight away.

I’ve attempted to use a telescope previously, but never really had much success, for various reasons (lost the lens, didn’t have enough time, etc etc), but now I have a much better, newer telescope, and all the time in the world!

The telescope is a Celestron 114 LCM Computerised Reflector, which is super exciting for a couple of reasons: 

  • It is computerised! Although it takes a while to set up/align, which is a bit of a pain, it makes it great for beginners, you can plug in the name of any star/planet/nebula, and it will angle the telescope straight to it! Obviously you might not always be able to see it due to light pollution or if you don’t have the right lens, but it’s still very exciting! 
  • Another thing that I found quite exciting was that when setting it up, I used the Skyview app to pick the stars I wanted to use for alignment, and once the telescope is aligned, it tells you which stars you actually pointed it at! It feels really cool when it turns out correct. 
  • The other interesting thing about it is that it is a reflector, rather than the refractors I have used before. This means that it uses mirrors, instead of lenses, which makes it more compact, and better for deep sky observing, which is something I would really love to try out! A downside of reflectors is that it isn’t as good for astrophotography or planetary observations, but for now, at least, I think it will serve me well!

A few nights last week I went out to get the hang of setting it up, and to look at the stars- this was a real eye-opener, because, despite the fact that you still wouldn’t see much more than a point of light, you would see so many more stars than you could see with the naked eye! I tried pointing it at a patch of almost completely blank sky, but it turned out to be filled with stars, in a similar way to the Hubble Deep Field image, but wayyyyy less high tech and to be honest it wasn’t that impressive in the grand scheme of astro-imaging, but to me, it made me even more eager to get observing.

A very bad quality photo (flash on) from my first attempt of stargazing a few nights ago!)

By yesterday, I felt that I had gotten the hang of using it, and luckily the moon was up, so I decided to try have a look. Long story short, clouds starting rolling in as soon as I set up, and although I could still see the moon fairly clearly with my eyes and a pair of bionculars, I couldn’t for the life of me get it to focus, and so , dejected, I gave up and headed inside for a cup of tea. 

Excitement regained, I decided to give backyard astronomy another go earlier tonight, and this time, luck was on my side! Even though I had left the finderscope on overnight by accident and it had run out of battery, I managed to line up and focus the telescope on the waxing gibbous/ half moon within a few minutes. It was absolutely stunning- the photos I managed to hastily take on my phone through the lens don’t quite do it justice, but they are still lovely to look at:

I could have stared at it all night, but I had one more target planned. Today, April 3rd, saw Venus pass through the Pleiades- an occasion I couldn’t just let pass without even trying to find it! This took me a few more times to get right, but the result was absolutely extraordinary (again the images don’t do it justice, I think my astrophotography skills might take a little longer to hone). I only had 2 lenses- a 25mm and a 9mm, so I couldn’t get a super large magnification, but I could just about make out how it wasn’t quite a perfect circle… Like our moon, from our perspective, the inner planets also go through phases, depending on where the light from the sun is incident. And just seeing the incredibly bright planet against a backdrop of the Pleiades (which look quite faint normally, but through a telescope are actually a lot more vivid) was awe-inspiring.

After a few minutes of checking in on some of Earth’s closest neighbours, my mission was accomplished, and I came back inside to warm up (with the help of some hot chocolate), and write this post!

Warming up with a hot chocolate and a biscuit that had broken off in the same shape as the moon was today!

I can’t wait to do some more observing (especially of the other planets), and hopefully, I will get better as I go along! What are your top tips for an amateur astronomer/stargazer? Would you guys like to see more of my astronomy journey? What planet/object is (or would be) your favourite thing to look at?

As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments, and stay curious!

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