Beginning Astronomy / Observational Astronomy

Starting simple

Meade DS-114AT

Last week, a dear friend offered me her husband’s 4.5” Meade motorized reflector. I didn’t ask, but I think it’s one of those gifts that she bought one Christmas at Sam’s Club thinking that it would be a great new hobby for them to share.

It reminded me of what a huge proponent I’ve been of starting this hobby armed with only a humble pair of binoculars – and not some hugely expensive and heavy 25×100’s, but a decent pair of 10×50’s that you can pick up for less than $100. Fortunately, my friend probably only dropped a few hundred on this scope, but I think they would have been better served using that money for a decent pair of binoculars and a parallel tripod.

Standing in awe beneath the stars with your trusty telescope sounds romantic, but there is this reality of battling the mosquitoes and the elements, the primal fear of the dark, and the frustration of not finding or seeing objects, that makes amateur astronomy a hobby not for the faint of heart.

Before you drop a couple grand on a telescope, you first need to really know how you feel about:

• Frozen fingers verses happy, toasty fingers
• Watching the celestial heaven verses watching television
• Bundling up into six layers of clothes verses sweat pants and a tee
• 22°F verses 68°F
• Getting spooked alone in the backyard in the middle of the night verses turning over and snuggling next to your warm, snoring sweetie
• The frustration of finding a distant planetary nebula verses the frustration of finding the book that you’re in the middle of reading
• A restful eight hours of uninterrupted sleep verses sleep deprivation that lingers for days

I think that everyone should be required to show proof of binocular purchase before they’re allowed to buy a telescope. That way, they’ll find out if they’re cut out for observational astronomy.

I purchased these binoculars a few years ago from Orion, and I absolutely love them.

The optics are great and they’re light enough that I use them without a tripod. Amy and I have completed a number of Astronomical League awards armed with only our 10×50’s and a star map, often with our elbows propped up by some part of a car. Sure, it’d be great to have a descent setup, but finding things on our own is how we’ve become familiar with the night sky, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Time to get off my soap box. Amy’s coming over tonight and we’re going to drag the new scope into the living room and see what it can do. Hopefully the Autostar works without a hitch and we’ll have a new toy to play with.


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