The Art of Using a Telescope
Once you've obtained an astronomical telescope, what can you expect of it?
Both less and more than many new owners realize.
One of the fun parts of being an amateur astronomer is showing off the heavens to others. The "oohs" and "aahs" as people get their first good look at the Moon or Saturn are a pleasant reward for the proud telescope owner. Naturally, you will have aimed the scope at the most spectacular object above the horizon. Sometimes there's a temptation to show people more typical objects ghostly, barely visible apparitions with obscure catalog numbers "to give them an idea of real astronomy." The reactions then are not so encouraging, even when viewers are told they're looking at a recently recovered comet or a galaxy 50 million light-years away.
The truth is, most of the thousands of objects visible in amateur instruments are not the least bit spectacular. Anyone who gets a telescope expecting dramatic visual thrills is in the wrong hobby.
The riches that astronomy offers are of a different sort. Visual observing outdoors in the dark usually means working to detect something that's extremely faint, tiny, hard to find, or all three. The more difficult the task, however, the greater the rewards of success. The excitement lies in finding and seeing, first-hand, remote marvels far beyond our planet and in gaining skills and knowledge as an amateur scientist.
Too many people buy a telescope as if it were a TV, expecting it to show pictures all by itself. It's more like a piano, which gives back only as much value as the work you put into it. Learning to use a telescope well is a whole lot easier than learning a musical instrument, however. If you practice the techniques described here, you'll soon master the skies.