making astronomy accessible to all

This note is for those new to astronomy:
Never look at the Sun, as there is a serious risk of blinding yourself. This is especially important when using telescopes or binoculars except when you have a proper Solar filter fitted. If you are setting up in Sunlight, position your telescope in shadow so that you cannot accidentally catch the Sun, or leave the telescope pointing at it by mistake (which can wreck the optics and burn holes in anything behind).

So you have purchased a telescope, now you need to set it up so that you can see something...

Here are a few tips:

Read the Manual! Obvious really, but the answer to most of your problems will be in the manual for your telescope. If you don't have it, you can find most user manuals for the larger telescope brands online (see Further Reading).
Understanding the manual may be another problem altogether! But if you are having problems working out what the manual means (for instance when polar aligning); search online for explanations, you will find that if it's a common problem, someone else will have worked out an answer.

Set up you telescope in the daylight! It's no use waiting until the stars come out to get out your manual and start setting up your telescope. There are a lot of things that need to be set up in daylight for the first time.

• If you haven't observed from your site before; go out with a compass before it gets too dark to see the pointer and make some mental notes on how to find North in the dark. Lining up a tree or chimney with your observing site and maybe marking the observing site accurately is a good start.
- If your telescope has a polar scope, you will need to accurately centre it before you use it for the first time. This should be done in daylight. The process for doing it is in the next article in this Guide (Aligning your Telescope).
- Set up the finder. Point your telescope at a distant, easy to locate object (such as a TV aerial), lock it in position and align the finder cross hairs or illumination point on the same object.
- If you are aligning an equatorial mount; make sure it's base is level first. Ensure the elevation of the polar axis is set to your latitude (the North Celestial Pole will be at an altitude of 51 degrees for someone at 51 degrees latitude). For a first pass; if you are using a polar scope, set the centre on Polaris (this is 1 degree from the NCP, but is good enough for casual observing). Note; if you haven't centred your polar scope yet (as suggested above) your polar alignment will be a long way out.
- If you have no polar scope, but are using an equatorial mount; make sure you have correctly identified the polar axis - it's called the Polar Axis because it points to the Celestial Pole the whole time it is in use. It is set by the latitude set it up as above, but instead of aligning with the polar scope, you should have one leg marked N or North. Point that leg towards Polaris and with the telescope set up dead opposite the North leg; adjust the mount position until Polaris is near the centre of the finder.
- If you are using a GoTo mount for the first time; try setting it up during the daytime a couple of times (you are unlikely to be able to, but being able to find your way around the menus at night is essential). You can cheat, but giving it the time when you intend to go out at night (most GoTo handsets ask for date and time), then follow it's routine for 3 star alignment, and note down the stars it asks you to align on. Then find out where those stars are (or find where they will be when you are observing).

• A good planisphere, such as the Chandler Planisphere and a red light (the back light from a bicycle is suitable to start with) are very useful tools for setting up.

• Check out our Guide to the Night Sky section, and the Constellations section

• If you are still having problems, send someone a message using the Contacts on the website and bring your telescope and your manual along to the next meeting. We'll be happy to take you through the steps we have learned at one of our many observing events.

Further Reading

» Manuals from Meade Instruments
» Celestron Manuals and firmware downloads (you need your model number to find it)
» Skywatcher Manuals and firmware downloads
» Collimating a Newtonian Telescope (Sky at Night Magazine)
» Collimating a Newtonian Telescope (longer article from Astro Baby)
» Collimation procedure for RC and Cassegrain telescopes (Deep Sky Instruments)

Free Software

» Rescources and Tools

Article by Noel Clark

Mid-Kent Astronomical Society
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