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Space Science

Entry-Level Astronomy? 358

Posted by kdawson
from the getting-started-for-a-grand dept.
brobak writes "I'm getting ready to move into a new home on a couple of acres of rural property a significant distance from any large source of light pollution. I've always been interested in astronomy in general, and I would like to put my dark skies to use by picking up decent telescope and learning a bit about the skies over my head. The overall budget for this project is going to be around $1,000. I am particularly interested in astrophotography, but I understand that that may carry me outside the scope of the initial budget. I've already signed up for my local astronomy club's next monthly meeting. I have been doing Web research, but I thought that the Slashdot community would be the perfect place to get opinions on entry-level equipment, websites, and books."
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Entry-Level Astronomy?

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  • Astronomy software (Score:5, Informative)

    by jchillerup (1140775) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:50AM (#20549585)
    The first thing I'd do would be to install Stellarium [stellarium.org]. That'd enable you to "tune in" on stars, even in cloudy weather.
    • Celestia (Score:2, Informative)

      by lobotomir (882610)
      I would also recommend Celestia [shatters.net], because in addition to simulating the night sky it lets you "travel" to points of interests -- the planets and nearby stars, so you can view them from different angles. Lively modding community around that one, too.
    • by Mr2cents (323101) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @06:38AM (#20550801)
      While we're listing astronomy software: Kstars [kde.org] is great too.

      And if you want to use a (web)cam on your telescope, take a look at registax [astronomie.be].
    • by screen404 (1103803) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:37AM (#20551659)
      I have been doing backyard astronomy for a few years now.

      Hear is the list of groups and websites you want to visit or sign up:
      http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/DeepSkyImager/?yguid=222412370 [yahoo.com]
      http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/ETXASTRO/?yguid=222412370 [yahoo.com]
      http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/astroplanner/?yguid=222412370 [yahoo.com]
      http://www.weasner.com/etx [weasner.com]

      The software. One of the best softwares i have tried is Astroplanner http://www.ilangainc.com/astroplanner/ [ilangainc.com]
      It allows you to plan your observations or download plans of others.
      Will control your telescope and help align it correctly. runs both on Mac and PC.
      They guy is very good at support, and it is not very expensive.

      ps: I'm associated with Astroplanner but a very happy user.
      • by Rei (128717) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @11:56AM (#20554945) Homepage
        The Weasner site would, of course, only be particularly useful if they're buying a Meade. As a Meade owner myself, however, it's wonderful ;)

        Anyways, to the poster: First off, let me recite the standard advice for getting a telescope:

        1) Don't buy from a "junk" brand (and there are a lot of them -- Bushnell, Tasco, Baytronix, etc). Get a name brand -- Meade, Celestron, Orion, etc.
        2) Get large aperture, but keep the telescope portable, or you'll never use it.
        3) Don't buy from Ebay.
        4) Don't even buy from a store like Walmart. Buy from a telescope dealer.
        5) Get quality optics like Televues and Naglers.
        6) Subscribe to astronomy magazines, join a local astronomy club, and on and on.
        7) If you can't afford everything above, just buy binocs.
        8) Don't do astrophotography; you'll just be disappointed.

        Let me tell you that most of that advice is bollocks.

        Follow #1 and, as money allows, #2. Completely ignore the Ebay advice. Ebay is *wonderful* for telescopes and accessories (of course, verify that they're actually cheaper there than elsewhere before you buy, but they usually are). I find that things get to you faster from Ebay, too, and they're almost never "backordered" like so many stores are. I bought my scope, four eyepieces, and a barlow from Ebay, and everything was exactly as described, shipped quickly. One caveat: With the scope itself, if it has a motorized mount or an autostar, make sure you have a warranty. This is very sensitive scientific equipment, so Murphy's Law applies. Also, never trust an airline with *any* part of your scope any further than you can throw them, no matter how well you pad it. Trust me on this one. I've had an equatorial mount sheared clean in half by them -- i.e., straight through a bolt with about half an inch of steel, sheared right off. I think they were having a monster truck rally on top of my luggage. If you're taking a scope on the plane, the whole thing must be carryon. Let me also take this change to plug Meade's customer service, which I've dealt with several times, and have been *very* pleased with.

        The "Televue and Nagler" advice is idiotic. People who advise that (and I've heard way too many) would have you spend your entire budget on two eyepieces. There are plenty of cheaper eyepieces that aren't too much lower quality than those top-of-the-line pieces. Antares eyepieces are good. I use Meade 4000 series, and have been very happy with them. On ebay, you'll only spend about $40 each for them.

        Your budget is bigger than mine was, so I wouldn't recommend my scope (a Meade DS 2130AT -- a 5" newtonian with a motorized equatorial mount and autostar -- $170, plus some money for eyepieces to replace the junk ones that it comes with). You can do better than 5" aperture. I wouldn't go with a newt at all; they'll get too heavy and bulky as they scale up, and the short tube newts aren't that good. I think you'd want one of the Cassegrain or Maksutov varieties so that it'd be more portable. Perhaps something in the Meade LX series.

        It doesn't hurt to join clubs or subscribe to magazines. On the other hand, you don't *have* to. There are plenty of astronomy forums online, and lots of articles.

        As for astrophotography, it's not a case of "don't do it", just "do it right and be patient". One thing not to do, IMHO, is afocal with your current camera. On sites that list afocal as a method, caveats with it often are not stressed enough. If you have a fast lens, the vignetting will be atrocious, often to the point of the pictures hardly being usable. Also, the higher the magnification you use, the worse the vignetting. You really need a camera that you can remove the lens on (eyepiece projection and prime focus astrophotography). Ignore the people who say to get an SLR (non-digital). If you want to use a regular camera, get a DSLR; modern astrophotography benefits hugely from digital postprocessing. However, any camera that might be even a little heavy should
    • by mikehoskins (177074) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:46AM (#20551745)
      I read in an astronomy magazine that a budding astronomer should first buy a high powered pair of binoculars (10mm x 50mm) and star charts, plus a red LED flashlight.

      That way, you get used to pointing out where things are in constellations. You also find out if you can handle the long nights, getting your eyes used to darkness and waiting, waiting, waiting.

      It takes about an hour to get used to the darkness. Red LED flashlights also keep your eyes dilated, having little effect on night vision.

      If you get good at doing things the "old-fashioned way", then buy from somebody on EBay, who spent the big bucks and found out they weren't as interested as they originally thought.

      Worst case, you got a good pair of binoculars and saved about a grand.

      Best case, you learned a lot more about astronomy and will be able to find anything by constellation.

      Of course, download and use Stellarium. They have a red night vision mode you can take with you on a laptop. (I'd still recommend dimming the display as much as possible and enabling a 1 minute monitor shutdown, to keep your eyes).

      Also, go to http://heavens-above.com/ [heavens-above.com] for more information about tracking objects in the sky. (Be sure to synchronize your clock to the atomic clock, since satellites and other objects wait for nobody). Watching satellites pass is a good way to keep yourself interested in astronomy, while you wait, wait, wait.

      Heavens-above.com and Stellarium are excellent planning tools, as are your handy star charts.

      • I'm an amateur astronomer myself and Mike's advice is perfect. Astrophotography is addicitive, but needs planning and patience. As I assume you don't own an telescope yet, my advice is to buy a good binocular. If you still want to buy an telescope, buy a cheap ( not cheapo ) one, around US$ 250, with EQUATORIAL mount, that's VERY important. Get used to it, learn what you like the most to observe ( deep-sky objects, planets, moon, variable stars, nebula ), learn how to align your telescope so it can track th
      • That's all very good advice.

        I've take to using my binoculars more than my telescope. While I don't get the aperture with the binoculars, I do get the ease of instant set-up time and a wide field of view so I can see not only the various objects in the sky, but also the star field around them.

        The wide field of view helps you learn the sky too. You get the big picture when learning what is what up in the sky, which makes finding things easier down the road with a telescope.

        Another little tidbit--don't be so
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EBFoxbat (897297)
      You'll want the fastest (optically) scope you can afford. Don't be conc0erned with aperture. You'll appreciate the fast speed (low f/stop) when taking photos.

      Have realistic expectations: You'll NEVER take Hubble-like pictures and there are very few things (outside of our atmosphere) that you'll see any color from with your eye. Photography offers a better change to capture color.

      Learn about stacking multiple exposures: see Photoshop or applications like AStroStack

      Spend the extra money on a good tripod and m
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jdray (645332)
        You forgot, "Buy equipment that's not frustrating." A friend of mine has an entry-level 8" Dobsonian (?) telescope that he loaned me for a few months so I could try out astronomy. The focus mechanism on it was operated by unscrewing a thumbscrew that held the eyepiece in place, then sliding said eyepiece up and down in its socket to focus. The slightest bump to the main tube pushed the thing out of inclination angle, but (maddeningly), moving it on purpose was an effort (too much push, it went way too fa
    • Is whatever scope you get, get a Telrad for it. A Telrad is a zero reflex finder. It lets you point the scope with your eyes open looking through a non-magnified view with a projected set of concentric circles on your target. Even with a Goto mount, the Telrad is what I would call a necessity.

      My experience went from a few seasons of frustration, to actually being able to easily find deep space objects and planets in the scope, the moment I got a Telrad.

      Also, concerning software, Cartes du Ciel is a fr
  • How dark is it? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jdigriz (676802)
    What's your Blortle number?
  • Web site (Score:3, Informative)

    by tumutbound (549414) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:52AM (#20549605)
    Have a look at http://iceinspace.com.au/ [iceinspace.com.au] while it's run out of Australia, there are members worldwide.
    'Where to start' is a common question there.
  • by Artaxs (1002024) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:54AM (#20549617)
    ... Google Sky [google.com].
  • A Great Camera? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SpottedKuh (855161) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:55AM (#20549623)

    Now, I know that this probably won't be the kind of answer you're looking for, but here I go anyway...

    Personally, if I had the kind of space you had, with no light pollution, and if I had the budget you mentioned: I would buy a high quality digital SLR camera. Obviously, if you're looking to photograph things that you need a telescope to see, this wouldn't be a good use of money for you. But, if you're looking to take shots of constellations and the moon and such, then a high-quality digital SLR with a tripod will work beautifully.

    Plus, such a setup would allow you to take great photos of various weather phenomenon (e.g., thunderstorms). While it may not be the case for you, most of the people that I know that enjoy photographing the moon and the night sky also love photographing weather as well.

    And, obviously, you'd then have a great camera for travelling and such.

    • by paganizer (566360)
      I've thought about doing this sort of things a few times; i live in Paris, TN these days and light pollution is effectively zero.
      What i considered doing for a while was using cheap scopes, webcams and software like astrostack to composite the images; I've seen images on the net that were produced with less than $500 total worth of hardware that are truly phenomenal, created by compositing the output of 4 60mm meade telescopes.
      The nice thing is that all you have to do to make your images better is add more c
    • Re:A Great Camera? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @04:35AM (#20550149)
      Personally, if I had the kind of space you had, with no light pollution, and if I had the budget you mentioned: I would buy a high quality digital SLR camera. Obviously, if you're looking to photograph things that you need a telescope to see, this wouldn't be a good use of money for you. But, if you're looking to take shots of constellations and the moon and such, then a high-quality digital SLR with a tripod will work beautifully.

      A good dSLR can be had for under $500 (Canon 350d/d40) new or even less used (KEH.com and fredmiranda.com (Buy & Sell forum) are good sources) and quality tripods start at $100.

      That leaves the choice of lens - whatever you buy if you decide to go the camera / tripod route invest in a really good lens - it's better to buy a $300 body and a $700 lens then vice versa since your glass has a greater impact on picture quality than MP's and you'll want fast glass (the ability to shot at faster shutter speeds in low light). Your investment will pay off over time since the lens will stay with you when you get a new body. Don't get all wrapped up in MP - anything 6mp or above is more than adequate for virtually any shoot. Don't worry about the endless Canon / Nikon fanboy debates - both are great systems so pick one that you like, meets your needs and fits your budget; realizing that you investment in lens will pretty much result in a lock to one manufacturer.

      I'd recommend holding of on a purchase until you attend a club meeting or too - you'll get advice there as well as a chance to talk about what you want to do and learn about other's rigs before you invest.
      • and you'll want fast glass (the ability to shot at faster shutter speeds in low light).

        While fast, and prime, lenses help in some types of photography, for night shots what you really want is a shutter release cable for time delay, elapsed tyme shots.

        whatever you buy if you decide to go the camera / tripod route invest in a really good lens

        Tripods are very handy, I use mine about 10% of the tyme, but for shooting the stars what you want is a camera mount for your telescope.

      • Don't worry about the endless Canon / Nikon fanboy debates

        For the most part. However, I have a Nikon D80, and there are issues [google.de] with this camera as far as astrophotography. It's a great camera overall, but the amp glow sucks for longer exposure astro shots...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by falconwolf (725481)

      Personally, if I had the kind of space you had, with no light pollution, and if I had the budget you mentioned: I would buy a high quality digital SLR camera. Obviously, if you're looking to photograph things that you need a telescope to see, this wouldn't be a good use of money for you. But, if you're looking to take shots of constellations and the moon and such, then a high-quality digital SLR with a tripod will work beautifully.

      To stay within budget and get good exposures of the night sky, stars and p

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Starwanderer (230199) *

        unfortunately I live in a brightly lit city and know of no place where I can go to shoot the stars
        Try http://www.darksky.org/darksky/ [darksky.org]. Click on Dark Sky Finder version 3 and input your coordinates. It will show you the dark sky sites closest to you.
      • by Mr2cents (323101)
        The big advantage with digital is that you don't have to develop the film. You can try as much as you want, and you don't have to wait days to get the result and then realise that it's underexposed (while still having to pay for the film. With digital, you can take a trial-and-error approach, without having to spend money on film.

        It doesn't have to be a fancy camera, a webcam mounted on your telescope will get you quite far already. I've made a complete mosaic of the moon that way, 2000x2000 pixels with a s
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rs79 (71822)
          Just another datapoint for the "film is dead" theme...

          I'm just a hacker when it comes to photography. I have a newish Canon DSLR which I think is awesome. But i have friends with serious serious camera collections and portfoios.

          They're all disassembling their darkrooms and have gone completely digital. Film is dead there, they use Epson printers with the Ultra Chrome inks. While the ink isn't cheap it is better and more durable than current photographic methods.

          They use 'spensoive things like the R2200 and
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by frenetic_wimp (469446)
        No point in buying a fullframe DSLR for astrophotography. Reduced frame gives you a blow-up factor, meaning you can get better shots with shorter lenses. Seriously, how often do you need ultra wide angle field of view when photographing the night sky? And how often do you wish you had a lens just _that_ bit longer? For the price of a 5D ($2,500) you can get a 40D _and_ a 400mm f/5.6 L lens. Throw in a 1.4x teleconverter and you have a ~900 mm equivalent camera system - nice for moon shots etc. For stars
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ceoyoyo (59147)
        Digital has a HUGE advantage over film in almost all areas of astrophotography. It's well worth getting a DSLR. You don't need full frame (for telescopic use full frame is fairly useless because the edges of the field in most telescopes are quite degraded). You can get an older model DSLR for less than what you'd spend the first year in film and processing.

        The real advantage of digital is sensitivity. Digital sensors capture a LOT more of the light than film does. Much of that sensitivity is swamped by
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ookabooka (731013)
      TouCam is dirt cheap and perfect for entry level astrophotography. Just google around, there's lots of literature on modifying/using the camera. I myself have taken some nice pictures of jupiter and moon(with filter) using a Toucam and 114mm maksutov-newtonian telescope. After you capture a video w/ the camera you can boot up registax to process it and make a compilation of multiple video frames for a nice still image. If you want to go for imaging deep objects like M31 or other galaxies, you will probably
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by De Lemming (227104)
      And if you want to go this far, here are some articles on modding your digital SLR for use in astronomy (noise reduction for longer exposure times by cooling the CMOS imaging chip, removal of the infrared filter,...). I've not done this myself, so YMMV.

      300D Peltier Modification [jupiter-io.net]
      Canon Digital Rebel 300D IR Filter Removal Modification and Peltier Cooling Plans -by Gary Honis [ho8.com]
  • Go slow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:58AM (#20549629) Homepage Journal
    Hang out at astronomy clubs and go to their camp-outs and slowly glean more info before blowing a wad of cash. Maybe subscribe to Astronomy Magazine [astronomy.com]. However, don't be tempted by the ads to buy the Ultra-Mega-Scope. Work your way up slowly. And, purchase a good star map with all the common nebula's and galaxies marked. Also note that the best viewing targets tend to come out in the winter, so prepare yourself for cold weather.
  • by Starwanderer (230199) * <o7qvwwk02@sneakemail.com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @03:01AM (#20549663)
    Yes, $1000 is a rather small budget where astrophotography is concerned. A good mount alone can cost many times that amount. Please don't skimp on the mount. I assure you, few things in life are more frustrating and miserable than attempting quality astrophotography on a cheap, inadequate mount.

    You can get a quality telescope for $1000, especially if you build your own. I grind my own mirrors because the mirror I make myself is quite a bit better than all but a very few of the ones commercially available. It's quite a bit of fun too.

    Your best course of action would be to hold off on getting a telescope for now. Get good astronomical binoculars ($200 - $400) and learn the sky. Once you've done that, you'll have a much better idea of exactly the aspects of astronomy that interest you and you'll have some additional time to decide upon the right equipment. You'll also have more time to save some additional money for qualityequipment.
    • by bataras (169548)
      >>>I grind my own mirrors

      ENTRY LEVEL ASTRONOMY, DUDE.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Starwanderer (230199) *
        Yes, entry level. A lot of amateur astronomers have ground their own mirror for their first telescope. It's not a difficult thing to do at all, although I'm sure it might sound as if it would be to someone who hasn't done it.
        • I'm out in Iraq right now (Army) and I can say that your post has me interested in buying some "Astronomical binoculars." Buying a telescope and having it shipped out here is not really a good option.

          Offhand do you recommend any particular brand?
          • by djupedal (584558)
            "...your post has me interested in buying some "Astronomical binoculars."

            I took it as any pair that costs more than the new house...you know: 'budget', 'prosumer' and 'Price?? If you have to ask, you can't afford it! A s t r o nomi-cal!'

            I'll go out on a palm frond and bet that the Army has some pretty good hi-tech field binocs that may not have made it into the Christmas '07 Eddie Bauer catalog just yet...
      • by smchris (464899)
        Good old Edmund Scientific, catalog available through any Popular Science, in its prime in the 60s sold grinding kits up to 10"-12" inches if I remember with tons of parts: mounts, tubes, diagonal mirrors, eyepieces. Would have been nice if they had sold Foucault testers.

        Anybody have similar suppliers today for parts and aluminizing at their fingertips?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FireFury03 (653718)
      I grind my own mirrors because the mirror I make myself is quite a bit better than all but a very few of the ones commercially available. It's quite a bit of fun too.

      Can you provide information on how the amateur grinds mirrors? What kind of equipment do you need?

      Thanks.
      • by Starwanderer (230199) * <o7qvwwk02@sneakemail.com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @04:38AM (#20550163)
        Sure. It's not nearly as much equipment as one might think. The Stellafane ATM pages http://www.stellafane.com/atm/atm_main.htm [stellafane.com] are a good starting place to learn about how it's done. The best book I've found on the subject is How to Make a Telescope by Jean Texereau. Another fine set of books are Amateur Telescope Making - Volumes 1, 2, and 3 by Albert G. Ingalls (Editor).
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by nacturation (646836)

        Can you provide information on how the amateur grinds mirrors? What kind of equipment do you need?
        I would recommend this link:

        http://www.google.com/search?q=information+on+how+the+amateur+grinds+mirrors?+What+kind+of+equipment+do+you+need? [google.com]
         
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by tom17 (659054)
        I just spent the last hour or so googling and investigating this since his comment. I love making stuff so this intreagued me.

        There is plenty of stuff out there about it. Basically you start from a blank piece of plate glass or Pyrex (or portals it seems) and you make yourself the 'tool'- The tool is a convex shaped lump usually with small porcelain tiles on the working surface (A glass tool was traditionally used but this means using a second blank just for that so making your porcelain tiled tool is cheap
        • when you push the glass lens over the edge of the tool, gravity and the longer duration of contact causes the center of the lens to wear more than the edges, which causes the edge of the tool to wear faster so both the tool and the lens start out flat and are curved to an accuracy of a couple ten-millionths of an inch when your done.
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:00AM (#20551315) Homepage
      You can get a quality scope that will WOW you for far less than that. Orion Skyquest X10 classic. 10" Dobsonian that blows away everyone that looks in it for $550. Go up to 12" and kick the crud out of almost all Cassegrain scopes for $870 and get something that can blind you by looking at the moon! it has fantastic quality all over it. and YES I have taken photographs with it. no not long exposure but then that's advanced and not entry level like the question asked.

      For a grand I can set someone up for basic entry level easily out of an orion catalog. That is where he needs to start. and he also needs to stay away from anything smaller than 8" primary mirror size.

      Oh if it's a refractor telescope, dont touch it. Short of professional 6 figure versions I never looked through a refractor scope that was worth it's weight in scrap aluminum.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by szyzyg (7313)
        Oh you are more than a littel harsh with refractors..... I use mine for imaging and the tube (sans mount) costs $200 from Orion's catalogue. Sure you get less aperture for your money, but you also have to deal with fewer alignment issues and it has a lot less coma than reflectors (unless you want to spend $$$ on a paracorr).
  • by Derwood5555 (828126) <derwood@NOspaM.naebunny.net> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @03:02AM (#20549667)
    When you go to your astronomy club's meeting, see if they have a group that builds telescopes. Building your own telescope is a great way to save a lot of money, plus you'll learn a lot in the process.

    If you're lucky enough to be in the SF bay area, the Chabot Observatory Telescope Maker's Workshop is a great place to learn about telescopes, and also how to build them. They can guide you through the process, and its really not as hard as you might think. http://chabotspace.org/vsc/observatory/telescopemakers/ [chabotspace.org]

    If you want to hold of on astrophotograpy for a while, I recommend picking up a Dobsonian mount telescope. They're a low cost design, and you can find 10 and 12 inch reflectors for $800. Also, they're easy to build, which goes back to the building your own comment earlier.
    Dobsonians are not suitable for photography though. But, they are a cheap way to break into backyard astronomy.
    • Just a clarification, so you can compare what I'm talking about in my other post. A dobson is a newtonian reflector (has a huge mirror, and good brightness) with a dobsonian mount. Dobsonian mount is the cheapest possible. You cannot adjust it to the ecliptic plane, etc. Also such dobson is quite good for deep-sky (big mirror = big brightness), and terrible for planets (blurry view on high magnifications due to airflow turbulences and cannot track planet moevement on the sky due to cheap dosbon mount). Pe
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jamie (78724) * Works for Slashdot

        I agree with basically all of what you're saying except the last sentence. It sounds like the person asking the question hasn't spent a lot of time looking at the stars and doesn't really know if it's going to turn into an occasional night out having fun or a serious time investment. For such a person, spending a few nights with a decent no-frills Dobsonian reflector finding celestial objects themselves will tell them how much they love the sky. If it turns out they really love it, they can invest thousands

  • Best advice I got (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BuR4N (512430) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @03:12AM (#20549739) Homepage Journal
    The best advice I got (now in retrospective) when starting out was to buy an telescope that was easy to take out and setup, the best scope is the scope you use often.
    • by Spackler (223562) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:42AM (#20551205) Journal
      The best advice I got (now in retrospective) when starting out was to buy an telescope that was easy to take out and setup, the best scope is the scope you use often.

      I SECOND THIS. I can not say it strong enough. This is THE most important advice for someone just getting in to astronomy. So many people as they are buying their first telescope take the wrong road.

      There are 3 roads to take here.

      Road 1: It's only $129 and it magnifies 8000 TIMES. - The trap is that the optics are junk in it.

      Road 2: I will see more deep sky stuff with a 10 inch dob, or a 12 inch SC. - The trap is that it sits in the basement, unused. It is too much of a pain to just get out on a wonderful night, so it sits. This is the advice the poster above was giving you.

      Road 3: A nice middle of the road scope that fits your budget and you use all the time to learn the sky and see things that are amazing.

      As others have said, the astrophotography aspect of it is really going to be above your budget. Sure, you can get the "webcam converted to a starscope", but it is junk. Stay within your budget, and get a nice scope for yourself. One that you can get outside at the drop of a hat. Not something that becomes an anchor.

      Let me quote him again:

      The best advice I got (now in retrospective) when starting out was to buy an telescope that was easy to take out and setup, the best scope is the scope you use often.

      That was the best advice I got as well. The best one is the one you will use. I guess that means smaller is better in this case.

    • by p_trekkie (597206)
      I can't agree with the poster above more...

      I started off with a similar budget and goals as the article poster and wound up with a high quality 8" Newtonian on an equatorial mount. The problem is that while it's a good enough scope to attempt basic astrophotography, it's really bulky to transport anywhere and takes at least ten minutes to get set up (many more if attempting long exposures). So it sits unused for the vast majority of the time.

      On the other hand, a summer camp that I worked at had
  • by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @03:12AM (#20549741) Journal
    $1000 is not much. I've been doing research quite a long time on what should I buy, to get the best possible view both for planets and deep-sky. You know - usually for deeps skies a newton with huge mirrors is good, while they are not applicable for planets, because newtons cannot produce big magnification with enough detail. While for planet viewing the refractors are the best, because they can produce big magnifications without the distortions of newtonians. But refractors have too small aperture to collect enough light for comfortable deep-sky viewing.

    The best balance in this big_mirror/refractor conflict is an apochromatic refractor. Because - apochromatic means that the lens are covered with special layers that give about 96+% of light transmission (so it's better than non-apochromatic refractor, where some light is wasted on the lens and you don't see deep-sky objects clearly), and special layer eliminates light dispersion like in an optical prism (otherwise each color would go on a different path and the resulting picture of something looked more like a rainbow instead of beight sharp). And also as a refractor it's good for planets. But... this APO refractor has to have big aperture, or it won't work for deep-sky anyway.

    Refractors have some other advantages - for instance you don't have unnecessary air flow between the lens because they are inside a tube. Newtons are much brighter (good for deep-sky) but air turbulence blurries the view on planets.

    Oh, and forget about cassegrains, they are compact, that's true (the only advantage). But the view is terrible.

    Well if you have just $1000 you gotta decide: (1) want to see distant galaxies (newton), or (2) view to see planets (refractor). But I suggest to spend a bit more cash and get APO refractor. Should be good for both.

    You can look at those reviews I had bookmarked long time ago: http://www.cloudynights.com/item.php?item_id=1260 [cloudynights.com] and http://www.cloudynights.com/item.php?item_id=32&pr=2x6x17 [cloudynights.com]

    You can consider Takahashi also, althought from my research it looks like TMB make better equipment, but you never know that for sure: http://www.tmboptical.com/itemsGrid.asp?cat_id=4 [tmboptical.com] .
    • by gomoX (618462)
      No, apochromatic means solely that chromatic aberrations are corrected for (reducing dispersion as you stated above). I don't think transmission can be improved over whatever is specific to the glass in the lenses, but it sounds like you are describing a lens coating process in which flare and reflections are eliminated, thus producing better contrast and allowing you to see objects that are more faint, but not really improving transmission.
    • by Astro Dr Dave (787433) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @04:31AM (#20550137)
      I'm a moderately experienced amateur astronomer, and a professional astrophysicist. I have a nice TMB 105 apochromatic refractor, and I would never recommend one to a beginner. Good apo refractors have impeccable quality, but they are not cost-effective, unlike a halfway decent 10" Newtonian (which will cost 1/4 as much, yet give far superior views).

      Aperture is king. Aperture wins. You can never get enough aperture

      My advice is to forget about astrophotography for the moment. Do not get a DSLR camera -- you will want a dedicated astro-camera with a cooled CCD sensor. You will also want a good equatorial mount (Losmandy, Astro-physics, or similar) which will cost at least ~$2000. Deep-sky astrophotography is expensive and for the moment, you're better served with a good visual instrument to get you started. (If you just want to take images of the moon and planets, you can get by with a webcam and a lower cost equatorial mount.)

      With a $1k budget, you won't be able to do deep-sky astrophotography. Given your budget, the economics of astro-imaging, and the difficulty of putting a large telescope on a quality equatorial mount, your best bet is to forego imaging until you can save a substantially larger amount of money. In the meantime, get yourself a 10" or larger Dobsonian-mounted Newtonian. They may look cheap, but you will appreciate the aperture when viewing deep-sky objects.

      Oh, and join a local astronomy club if you can.
      • I might add that buying the best occulars, eyepieces, you can afford as they'll usualy be either a lifetime investment or a lifetime agravation.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by E-Lad (1262)
        This man speaks the truth.

        Seriously, you want to learn the sky and the gear before you try photography. That's a whole different world.

        First, like the parent of this post, I would also suggest a 10" Dobsonian telescope, specifically an Orion Inteliscope XT10. This scope will run you about $700 on average.

        Second, while the XT10 or whatever scope you get will come with an eyepiece or two, you'll still want to invest in more eyepieces. Eyepieces comprise half of the telescope. Initially with your scope purchas
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Phroon (820247)

      $1000 is not much. I've been doing research quite a long time on what should I buy, to get the best possible view both for planets and deep-sky. You know - usually for deeps skies a newton with huge mirrors is good, while they are not applicable for planets, because newtons cannot produce big magnification with enough detail. While for planet viewing the refractors are the best, because they can produce big magnifications without the distortions of newtonians. But refractors have too small aperture to colle

      • There are exotic reflectors with the secondary mirror located off-axis, out of the path of incoming light.
    • you must be nuts to recommend an apo on a $1000 budget. a good one will be at least 4x that. you can buy a decent 8" newtonian, some eyepieces and a pair of decent 80 mm binos for less than $1000, and those are going to be way more versatile than an apo refractor.
      you might even have some left over to buy a cheap 35 mm camera and make a barn door mount to take pictures of the sky, which is your best bet for entry level astrophotography.
    • An apochromatic refractor is color corrected against at least 3 wavelengths of light.
      The cheaper acrochromatic type is corrected against 2 wavelengths. Most of the largest (and most famous) refractors ever built used just two pieces of glass, and so were acrochromatic types. However by using a focal length of F15 or greater, the residual color of these telescopes is not a problem. More modern lenses are made from 3 or more glass elements which reduce the color to a very small percentage, and allow shorte
  • When I was young in the early 90, I was madly in love with astronomy. I subscribed to and religously read a astronomy magazine for young kids called "Odyssey" that was published by the same folks who put out "Astronomy" and "Sky & Telescope" (Alas, they sold the title to Cobblestone not long after and it went downhill very quickly) Though I was just a kid with poor parents, I had dreams and invested a lot of thought and energy into fantasizing about how best to budget for my hobby (even though I had
  • Just be sure that you aren't so driven by aperture lust that you get something too big and clunky to use. If you can anchor it in a fixed position, like a permanent observatory, go for all the aperture you can get. If you plan to move it in and out of the house, stay at about 10 inches or less. They get big and heavy *very* quickly. I'm happy with a 6 inch (150 mm), because I can take it places without wrecking my back or needing a new truck.

    It seems a secondary consideration, but the smaller telescope you
  • Buy binoculars (Score:2, Informative)

    Seriously, get a good (as in buy them from a proper telescope shop) set of binoculars and a decent camera tripod.

    Both are useful outside of astronomy and until you know whether you are really keen it's not worth spending lots of money. They are also great to use as spotters while you are using your real telescope as they have a fantastic field of view.

    I started with a pair of Gerber 10x50s which is getting to the limit of what I would consider comfortable to hand hold without a tripod. The tripod itse
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @03:29AM (#20549829)
    There are many astro (and astro-photo) yahoogroups.

    They are well versed in helping beginners and will be able to give you advice and guidance on this fascinating hobby. They have their own experts who don't necessarily post here.

    As a starter, get the book "Turn Left at Orion". Read it. This will set your expectations of what you can really see. If you are still enthusiastic, go ahead and take advice on what equipment to buy. Be aware though that there are as many opposing opinions as there are people willing to offer you advice (including this one). You will still have to choose which ones you want to adopt.

    Good luck and clear skies

  • Budget too small (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cecil (37810) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @03:32AM (#20549837) Homepage
    You're not going to have enough budget to pull off any sort of astrophotography that will satisfy you, so I would recommend you start saving up.

    For astrophotography you absolutely *must* have an equatorial mount, it is simply impossible to do astrophotography with a stock altitude-azimuth mount, because while it can still track the sky as it moves, the view will rotate as it does so. With an equatorial mount, the view stays properly aligned even while it tracks the sky. German equatorial mount is the preferred mount for astrophotography. Even looking at just the mount you've pretty much blown your budget right there.

    Secondly, you're going to want a high quality right-ascension drive motor. It's possible to get by without one, though tedious and limiting, but don't bother with a cheap one. The gearing is insufficient for astrophotography and will cause jerking and backlash resulting in awful pictures.

    You'll also need to get a heavy duty mount and tripod, because a normal tripod is only designed for the weight of a telescope, not a telescope with a camera hanging off the end. You also need to make sure you've got a very sturdy, firm mount, because any vibration at all will ruin your pictures. Remember we're talking about huge magnifications and long exposures here, it's extremely easy to blur the pictures. Astrophotography is a challenging enough hobby to begin with. Inferior equipment can make it damn near impossible.

    You'll notice I haven't even talked about the actual telescope yet. That's how important the mount and tripod is to astrophotography. So now that I've completely blown your budget, I'll try and be a bit more gentle on the telescope side of things. Probably the most bang for your buck in this case will be a newtonian reflector telescope. They're by far the cheapest type of scope per inch of aperture. Sort of big and unwieldy, and they require very precise and regular maintenance (called collimation). I'd recommend a bare minimum of 5" aperture, but as high as 8" if you can manage it.

    Then you have to figure out how to mount your camera to the telescope, which is a black art in and of itself. Duct tape is not recommended. For most SLRs and telescope brands you can find a suitable T-mount adaptor which will allow you to attach your camera in place of the telescope's eyepiece. For non-SLRs, I'm not sure. If you were thinking of getting an actual astronomy CCD camera (such as the popular SBIG brand) well that alone will blow your budget and then a whole lot more. Then you'll want a second one to use it as an autoguider. :)

    Astronomy isn't cheap, but it is rewarding. Good luck and clear skies.
    • Re:Budget too small (Score:4, Informative)

      by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@nOsPAM.gdargaud.net> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @06:19AM (#20550681) Homepage

      Secondly, you're going to want a high quality right-ascension drive motor. It's possible to get by without one, though tedious and limiting, but don't bother with a cheap one. The gearing is insufficient for astrophotography and will cause jerking and backlash resulting in awful pictures.
      I'm not sure if this really applies anymore. Nowadays with a digital SLR attached you can take short exposures (just a few minutes) where the defects in alignment and stability won't show, and then stack the images in software. As an introduction to astrophoto it beats blowing thousands on an arch-stable mount.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Zoinks (20480)
        It matters. Actually, what matters more is the actual exposure time vs. field of view. Just like in regular cameras, the higher the magnification (higher zoom), the narrower the field of view and the more sensitive the image will be to any motion during exposure.

        For planetary images, you can do pretty well with short exposures and using align/stack software. By short, I mean 1/30 to 1/2 second. This will get you pictures of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

        For deep-sky stuff, you need to have mu
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lumpy (12016)
      Incorrect.

      I shot many MANY photos including long exposures with a dobsonian scope and a tracking table. Less than $1000.00 spent on scope and table. It moves the whole scope as one with the sky and if you follow directions it is set up polar so it works well.

      Do I shoot incredibly dim deep sky objects? nope I only have a old SLR digital and a 10" dob, not enough light collecting capability for the distant stuff. But i got photos of the horsehead and other nebulas that upset the guys at the club that have
  • Lets see.... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Ecuador (740021)
    I was an amateur astronomer for years before I switched to being just a computer geek (no dark skies where I live now). However, even if my Messier-marathon nights are over, I think I can still give some good advice. So, let us start with equipment. Since you really don't know what you are mostly interested in viewing, I would say get a 6" - 8" Newtonian reflector with a decent equatorial mount (you can find deals for much less than $1000), or if you want to stretch your budjet you could get a more compact
  • Don't pick up a $100 telescope from Wal-Mart or whatever, "just to see if it's fun". That's a good way to frustrate yourself out of of a potentially interesting hobby. At a minimum, you need a scope with an equatorial mount (and you'll need to learn how to set it up). Trying to track things moving through the sky with an altitude/azimuth control is just way too annoying. For most photographic purposes, a motorized mount is necessary. These days, that probably also means you'll get a remote controller and co
  • by HarryCaul (25943) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @04:13AM (#20550043)

    If so, what would a basic setup generally look like? Any pointers to sites?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Tastecicles (1153671)
      A scanner capable of picking up along the 20cm band is a good start; this is the hydrogen band (H1) most commonly used in array radio astronomy for plotting the positions of strong radio sources. With a directional antenna such as a satellite dish it is possible to pinpoint "local" sources such as the sun and nearby microwave sources (such as ovens and wifi hotspots). Radio static is an indicator of background radiation from the Big Bang; analysis of this white noise is still keeping radio astronomers busy
  • by Phroon (820247) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @04:19AM (#20550091) Homepage
    I went through the same thing. I was fresh to amateur astronomy and didn't know what to do. My first warning: Don't spend to little on a telescope. $180 for a StarBlast [telescope.com] is the lowest I'd pay for anything decent (and it is, I drool over it as a quick 'plop down and observe' scope from time to time). Second Warning: Astrophotography is insanely expensive. As in 10+ times your budget. Don't do it. If you really want to do astrophotography take a camera, put it on a tripod, point at the sky, set it as wide as you can and expose for 15 seconds for digital, a few hours for film. The results are quite nice.

    Here's what my own experiences have taught me: Get a Dobsonian. With $1000 you can get a 10"-12" Dobsonian and still have tons of room for accessories. A dobsonian is very portable compared to a refractor and with near zero setup and takedown using it is much easier than a refractor too. 10" is a lot of aperture and you won't catch the "aperture fever" for something bigger for a while. The scope I eventually got is an Orion [telescope.com] XT10 Intelliscope [telescope.com], but you may not want the computerization with your budget.

    I found the people at Cloudy Nights [cloudynights.com] very, very helpful. They have reviews of lots of products as well as their forums and they tend to specialize in getting the most out of your money.

    As far as books go, I use Nightwatch [amazon.com] by Terence Dickinson every night I observe just for the charts. Star Watch [amazon.com] by Philip Harrington goes well with Nightwatch as good place to find new objects for the beginner. A lot of people suggest Turn Left at Orion [amazon.com], but I fount it to be a bit slow and the charts lacking in lower magnitude stars for their size.
  • assuming you live at all close to one. Sometimes it's listed under Physics.
  • For a beginning setup, I would recommend a simple Meade telescope such as the ETX series (I have one of these). The telescopes are motor driven so they can accurately target and track objects, and have remote controls that let you program in coordinates to go seek out -- very useful when coupled with either a book of easy to find targets (like those star guides most bookstores carry) or software that lets you find interesting objects to look at. Personally I prefer, when looking around for pleasure, to us
  • http://www.astroimagen.com/ [astroimagen.com]

    The photos that this guy manages to take are stunning! He gives full details about the process and equipment. The web is in Spanish, I hope it won't be a problem.
  • As the other posts have indicated a good entry level astrophotography rig will run several grand. However, there is a lot of "obsolete" kit hitting ebay and astromart these days that can be made pretty capable. On your budget I would go with an old clock driven fork mounted SCT (ex. Celestron C8 [ebay.com] or Meade LX50 [ebay.com]).
  • by SoupIsGood Food (1179) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @05:44AM (#20550443)
    First things first... decide if you want the focus of the hobby to be the scopes or the stargazing.

    If you're serious about the stargazing, forget the pricey glass. Get a decent set of binoculars and a few good books, and one of those plastic "Star Wheel" sky charts.

    For the binocs, a basic pair of 10x70's will set you back a hundred and fifty bucks or so online. For the books, try Astronomy for Dummies and Left Turn at Orion. Also, your library will have back issues of Sky and Telescope - read 'em, and then visit their site. [skyandtelescope.com] They have star maps you can print out that shows what's worth looking at each month. Try not to be too put out by their over-agressive marketeering.

    The learning curve will be steeper than a big-bucks robotic "Goto Scope" that aims and focuses for you, but with a nice lawn chair, some decent binoculars and a rough understanding of what you're pointing them at, a night under the stars won't fail to deliver a few thrills.

    Once that gets old, then look into the big-money glass. Telescopes, on their own, are a pretty damn rewarding hobby, especially once you get into making and modding them yourself. But unless you really, really know what you're after, dropping a grand on glass isn't a good idea. It likely won't be anywhere near what you want once you understand what that is.
  • Start small... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tastecicles (1153671) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @06:11AM (#20550613)
    A decent pair of wide field binoculars and a good sturdy tripod (20x60's weigh like 6 pounds so a tripod is a must). I recently picked up a pair of 20x75 Russian bins for less than £200 (US$400) and a surveyor's tripod for £30 (US$60). If you have an SLR camera with an M42 mount it wouldn't be a stretch to build a ring adapter for one side of the binocular and spot with the other side, you can get some good closeups of the moon and some of the brighter deepsky objects (LMC/SMC/M33/M42, etc.). Being in the middle of a city I found that film was getting a bit expensive particularly with a lot of shots being spoilt by streetlighting bloom, so I started to experiment with CMOS and CCD. I quickly came to the realisation that a supercooled CCD was far more sensitive than any film, and so went for broke and bought a cheap secondhand palmcorder. A freon cooling system later and I'm taking shots of the Pleiades cluster in the middle of a major metropolis!
  • Either a Meade ETX or a small Newtonian on a equatorial mount for the scope. Either one will give you a motor-driven imaging platform that you need for any kind of astrophotography. For a camera suggestion, if you have a notebook computer, an inexpensive webcam ($115 or so), and a free program called Registax will get you into lunar and planetary photography without breaking the bank.
  • I'm vaguely interested in this stuff too. If you listen episode 7 and episode 33 of astronomy cast [astronomycast.com] (bottom of the page) the rather foxy Dr. Pamela Gay will give you lots of interesting advice.

    I heartily recommend listening to all the other episodes too.

  • Got my first one in Februray, just got my second one. I whole heartedly agree that the mount is king. You must have a good one. The best thing I've seen so far in your posting is that you have joined your local club. You'll learn more in one night with a club member then you'l learn in a thousand /. posts.

    I live in a city so light pollution is terrible. But, I get a lot of enjoyment with my binoculars. I've found dozens of Messier objects in the city. Sure, they are faint smudges but the joy has been in be
  • Seriously - H A Rey wrote one a good time ago. It's a nice intro, and is somewhat memory-friendly, if geared towards the younger set. I believe his treatment is a bit unorthodox, but its still is nice book.

    google link to the book [google.com]
  • For $1000 you are much better off buying a good laptop and visiting http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ [nasa.gov] everyday.

    You can also check out porn sites that are much more interesting to look at.

    I have had 3 good quality hobby level telescopes - a 6" Newton, and 2 8" cassys, one manual, one computer (goto). In looking back at my experiences, the first one was the only one that really gave me any pleasure, as I bought it for and observed Haley's comet. Everything else was disappointing. Astrophotography is out of
  • I can heartily recommend the Astronomy Hacks book (Amazon Link [amazon.com] (no referrer ID)), which is part of O'Reilly's "Hacks" series. Average 5* reviews from 48 reviews.

  • First thing I would do is to subscribe to Sky and Telescope and start reading it cover to cover.

    Second, you need to ask yourself, do you want to do Science, or have fun, or something more like Art ? If you want to do science, you should look into

    - asteroid occultations (these always need more data) or
    - variable star observing (look into the AAVSO [aavso.org] or
    - searching for or confirming new comets

    Astronomy as a science requires patience and is generally unglamorous.

    If you want to do Art (i.e., pretty as
  • by YGingras (605709) <ygingras@ygingras.net> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:58AM (#20551867) Homepage
    Do not buy anything, except binoculars and a star finder, before you go it a starry night party and try a few instruments. Good binoculars will cost 20$ to 100$, something like 7x50 to 10x50 will be perfect. You don't need Celestron or Bushnell binoculars; any no-name brand will do as long as you have a 50mm apertume.
  • get yourself a nice telescope, and spend all your money on the optics. you might even purchase the optics from edmund scientific or other such low cost option, and opt to make your own lens/mirror mounts and adjusters(old micrometers) as well as the tubes(concrete forming sonotubes perhaps).

    reflective vs refractive? personally i'd choose a reflective(parabolic mirror, single fold; fewer surfaces for distortion/abbaration) over refractive, but that's a matter of what you can purchase at the time. at the end

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