Guide to Using a Small Telescope for Beginners

So you bought a small telescope and don’t know how to use it – Here are some great tips for getting the most out of it.

If you are fascinated by stargazing but don’t know how to use your new bought telescope, we can guide you with some effective tips. Here, we present the tips from an experienced stargazer known as a telescope guy as he handled a lot of telescopes in his entire life. This thing can be second nature to him, but it can be a challenge for the people who are not familiar with this. Here are some great little tactics what can make your first experience of handling a telescope far more hassle-free.

  1. First thing that most people ignore is to feel that it is necessary for the optics and the air inside to adjust with the temperature difference between your house and the outside world. Or else the lenses can fog up and demean the view and then most people think that this is the problem of the telescope he uses. To avoid this, put the telescope outside where you want to sit for night gazing at least half an hour before you start using it and put off the cover if it has any.
  2. Find the darkest area to set your telescope for sky observation. Try to get away from any house or road light. It will clarify the telescope view and give you an amazing experience of night sky observation. Obviously, your eyes will take time to adjust slowly, but at the end this will make a big difference in what you are able to see.
  3. Generally, the tripods of cheaper telescopes are not very stable. It can sometimes be a little bit shaky. Do your best to make it stable and find a solid flat surface to put your telescope. If you put it on a wooden deck, it will vibrate when people walk on the deck or even talk. Keep in mind that a telescope amplifies the views more than a hundred times, so a tiny shake or disturbance will also be magnified more than a hundred times.
  4. Make sure that the night you have chosen for stargazing is not a full moon night. If you do so, you will not get a good view of the moon. On this night, there is no shadow on the moon, and the light from it will flush out the other objects in the sky. You can choose the night with the waning crescent moon as the thin moon has the shadow on it and you will get enough darkness too.
  5. You should collect some data before the night of observation from the internet or a book. Make a list from your data on the objects you want to observe at that night. We have attached a list for example at the end.
  6. If you get more than one eyepieces with your telescope, start using the eyepiece with the lowest power at first. It helps your eyes to get used to the magnifications and understand the differences.
  7. Before starting looking through the telescope, give it some time and let your telescope be stabilized after moving it. Do not touch the telescope while looking through it, because it may start shaking.

How to find celestial bodies easily

The first and the biggest challenge a stargazer faces is to move the telescope to find out the things in the sky in the first few trials. As it is magnifying the celestial bodies, it gets difficult to find out the thing the observer wants to observe. If you move the telescope just an inch in any direction, the whole view moves a long way in the sky. Here are some techniques on how you can find things easily and use the telescope smoothly on your first hand.

Fig 1: The different parts of a telescope you should know.

  1. First, choose any object from nearby on the earth like a tree, a remote house or beacon and point your telescope at that.
  2. Then look at the object through the finderscope. If your object is right at the center of the crosshairs of the tiny finderscope, then the setup of the telescope is done. If the object is not in that position then loosen the screws on the finderscope and fix it again so that the object is right in the crosshairs.
  3. Before looking through the big telescope, look for the object through the finderscope first. It will make finding the object through the big telescope much easier. 

How to use different eyepieces

It is a good idea to start observing the sky with the lowest power eyepieces. Because according to the rule of thumbs, the greater the power of the eyepiece, the smaller the little lens is. It is better to work with a larger lens at the beginning. When you will get used to handling or managing this little lense, you will be able to handle the tinier lens later.

Fig 2: Picture of telescope view of while using lowest power eyepiece

When you use the lowest power eyepiece, you can see more sky than the higher power eyepiece just like the picture above. Assume that the circle is the circumference of the view you can see through the telescope. The swirly thing is the object you want to find and the others are stars.  

Fig 3: Picture of telescope view of while using higher power eyepiece

But this picture above shows the view when we fit a higher power eyepiece in the telescope. If you notice, you will see that this view shows less stars than the previous. That means it is displaying less area of the sky compared to the previous one. But it is not needed to say that it is easy to move the telescope around to find the swirly object when we can see the larger area of the sky. Because as you see a smaller portion of the sky, small movement of the telescope moves the view a lot which makes it challenging to find the objects.

This is why one should begin the observation with the lowest power eyepiece. Once the object is detected and centered in the view, then the observer can change the eyepiece and fit the higher power eyepiece to have a closer look.

List of the sky objects you can observe with a telescope

 If you own a telescope for the first time in your life, you can start looking at objects that can easily be detected from nearby. I assure you that you will have an awesome experience. Here is the list of such objects you can observe on the first nights.

  1. The Moon- This is the most spectacular thing you can explore on the first night you hold a telescope. You will be able to see a more clear view of the surface of the moon with craters. But keep in mind that you should watch it when it is half or less. You will get a clear view then. Otherwise, the light of the moon will obscure the view. The smaller the moon, the larger the shadows and the better the view with craters.
  2. The Planets- Our own solar system has 8 completely different planets which are unique in their look and the characteristics. Point your telescope to the Jupiter, and you will see the four moons moving around it and the extraordinary bands right across the middle of the planet’s surface. Turn your telescope to Saturn, and you will be able to witness the amazing ring surrounding it. With the cheaper telescope, the views may not be well defined, but you will be able to detect them. You will be able to look at the red planet Mars and the bright planet Venus too. Explore them and understand our own solar system with your own telescope.
  3. The Galaxies- Our solar system is at one arm of our galaxy Milky Way. With your telescope, you may see the other part of our galaxy. Besides, you also can find the M31 Galaxy looks like a spiral cotton ball which is in the constellation of Andromeda pretty easily. For this, locate the galaxies on a star map and then try to find it in the night sky with a telescope. 
  4. Star Clusters- Though you might have to locate this on the map before and look for it in the night sky, it is not difficult to have a look at some of the star clusters. In the Constellation of Hercules, you will find a nice cotton ball which is actually a star cluster named M13. You may even be able to specify the individual stars too.

If you just follow the techniques and know how to apply them, your inexpensive and tiny telescope can give you an unbelievably great experience.

Here we have enlisted some of the books on astronomy with a short review especially for the beginner stargazer to know how to find and locate objects in the deep night sky.

Book 1: See It with a Small Telescope: 101 Cosmic Wonders Including Planets, Moons, Comets, Galaxies, Nebulae, Star Clusters and More

Fig 4: The front cover of the book ‘See It with a Small Telescope’

If you are a ametuer astronomer with an inexpensive telescope in hand and full of love and passion on astronomy, this book is an ideal guide for you.Will Kalif, the author of the book is also a passionate stargazer who got his first small telescope when he was a teenager. Since then he loved the telescope and astronomy, and in his book, we can understand his intense love and enthusiasm explicitly. In this book, you will find the guidelines on how to find and track at least 101 celestial bodies buried in the deep night sky and obviously with your small portable telescope.

Though you may not feel like an astronaut while observing the space with this, or it may not help you to discover a new object like the astronomers. But you will enjoy the struggle to find and detect the objects on your own and you will feel the urge to explore deeper into the unknown.

This book is full of tips and tricks on how to best use every telescope part going beyond the basics and get the best views of individual objects. Despite not including any technical paper and complicated star chart, this book helps the reader with the step-by-step instructions with simple and clear description to find over 100 celestial bodies in the deep sky, for example, Jupiter’s moons, Saturn rings, The Andromeda Galaxy, The Orion nebula, Pegasus Globular Claster, Polaris Double Star and Apollo 11 Site and more.

Book 2: NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe

Fig 5: The front cover of the book ‘NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe’

Nightwatch is a series of books on night sky observation and all the books of this series got the review to be the best handbook for the starter astronomer. The author Terence Dickinson discusses every single problem a beginner faces starting with how to choose the best telescope within your budget, how to even pronounce the names of the constellations and including stars, different telescopes and so on. He also describes the fact that the view of the night sky is not like the expectation of a modern city-dweller. He gives ideas on light pollution, averted vision and the reason for the harvest moon to be exceptionally bright. It also provides numerous photographs of the sky taken by amateurs which will instill more inspiration in your mind on astrophotography.

Book 3: Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope–and How to Find Them

Fig 6: The front cover of the book ‘Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope–and How to Find Them’

This is an amazing book for small telescope users as it covers the methods of finding many objects from light polluted skies. Even if you live in a big city, this book can be a valuable asset. This is why Sky & Telescope mentions about this book, ‘This should be packaged with every first telescope. It’s as nearly perfect as such a book can be.’ This book is also called as ‘‘the home· astronomer’s bible’ as it includes intensive information regarding all the aspects a novel astronomar needs.

Book 4: A Field Guide to Stars and Planets (Field Guide to the Stars and Planets)

Fig 7: The front cover of the book ‘A Field Guide to Stars and Planets (Field Guide to the Stars and Planets)’

This is an excellent book for the star gazers as it delivers a lot of information on the latest data on solar eclipses, planetary positions and phases of the moon. 

So, new astronomers, what to wait for? Grab a book and your tiny telescope, and start exploring the new world!