Things you really need include:
- Firm ground to put the scope on
This may sound stupid, but the first few times I used my scope I had placed it on the wood deck behind my house, and wondered why the images kept bouncing around at high magnification. When I noticed this got worse if other people were walking around on the deck, I figured out that wood decks do not make good telescope platforms - they vibrate too much. Doh!
- Red Astronomer’s Flashlight (and Astrogoggles) You need a flashlight that doesn’t blow your night vision, which takes 30 to 45 minutes to establish.
This means a light that is red and dim. You can put a red lens on a small flashlight, but that will be too bright. You’re better off with a flashlight designed for astronomy, which means one that uses variable-output red LEDs rather than an incandescent lamp. The best red LED flashlight
I have found is the Rigel Systems Starlite. It is sturdy and well-designed and you can vary its brightness; it sells for about $25.
Celestron and many other
vendors sell another made-in-China unit for about the same price as the Rigel Starlite. But this flashlight is not as well made - the front
-piece is made to slip off so you can remove the internal mechanism and change the 9-volt battery (which plugs directly into the internal circuit board). Over time, the front-piece becomes
loose and falls off, allowing the internal circuit board to also fall out - an exasperating experience especially in the dark. You can fix this by removing the internal circuit board and drilling a small
hole on the flashlight body and the front-piece, to allow you to screw the front-piece to the body of the unit with a small sheet-metal screw. But why bother - get the Rigel Starlite.
You might also consider purchasing the Astrogoggles sold by Orion
for $20. Their purpose is that you wear them for a while before you start observing and during that time they start the process of getting your eyes dark-adapted. They really are useful especially at the
beginning of an observing session when you need brighter light while setting up your equipment, or during a session if you need brighter light for some reason. To avoid answering embarrassing questions,
just be sure that no member of the general public sees you wearing them <grin>.
- Starizona Landing Pad
If you have a Celestron NexStar GPS or Meade LX200 scope larger than an 8”, you will find that when placing a scope that heavy onto its tripod it is a difficult pain in the
rear (actually, in the back <grin>) to move it around so that the tripod’s center pin slips into the center of the base of the fork mount. Starizona manufactures an accessory they call a Landing Pad,
which is an indispensable accessory for a heavy scope. The Landing Pad mounts atop the tripod and serves to index the base of the scope’s fork mount so that the mount immediately slips onto the
tripod’s center pin (and also makes it a lot easier to find the scope’s fork base tripod bolt holes) - it converts what is often a two-person job into a simple maneuver. Starizona refers to it as the
“marriage-saver” and they’re not kidding - if your spouse is disinterested in getting up in the middle of the night to help you mount your scope (especially at a remote site) you’ll appreciate
what a great accessory this is. It sells for $50 in the Celestron NexStar version, and $150 for Meade LX scopes (I’m not sure why the Meade version is so much more expensive). Another
option for Meade SCTs is the “Mounting Assistant” sold by Scopestuff for around $85.
Scopestuff also sells a related accessory for Celestron Nexstar GPS scopes that is worth having - their “No-Tools Tripod Mounting Bolts”, for $25. The stock tripod mounting bolts have small
heads intended to be tightened with an allen wrench, which is a real pain especially in the dark. The Scopetuff “No-Tools” bolts have large rosette cap heads that allow you to tighten (and loosen
) the bolts by hand, and are the bolts that Celestron really should be providing with the scope.
- A Can of Compressed Air Get a can of compressed air used for blowing dust off of office or electronic equipment, available at most good office supply stores. Use it to blow dust off of the
scope’s front correcting lens, out of diagonals, and off of eyepieces. It’s safer than using liquid lens cleaners and tissues, and will delay the need to use them. However, since most of these
cans use flourocarbons as the propellant, be careful not to allow any liquid propellant onto the corrector - see the Cleaning discussion on the SCT Tips page for important information on this
- Magazines Subscribe to Sky and Telescope or Astronomy. These monthly magazines will
provide you with tips on what to view with your telescope each month (including detailed information on planetary viewing for the month), updates on news in astronomy in general, and
reviews on techniques and accessories that will enhance your ability to observe. The price is reasonable for the information you receive, and the ads can give you some good ideas about the
accessories you may find helpful and the vendors who sell them. Of the two, Sky & Telescope tends to be oriented a little more towards amateur astronomy, and Astronomy more towards the
science of astronomy. Get a copy of each before you decide on which one to subscribe to. Another related magazine is Amateur Astronomy; this tends to focus more on amateur
telescope-making and large “light-bucket” Dobsonian scopes but it does include observing information in each issue. (The editor/publisher once asserted that the average deep-sky visual
observer uses a scope in the 12” to 18” range (!) so I guess the majority of us, who actually use scopes in the 8” to 11” range, better start saving our money...)
- Books One or two good books that will guide you to the beautiful objects out there. See the Observing page here for more information on books and also on Observing Lists (spreadsheets
that list the best objects to view).
- Local Astronomy Clubs There’s probably an astronomy club near where you live. It’s a good idea to connect with that club - members tend to be very helpful to novice astronomers and will
go out of their way to lend you a hand. This includes advice on observing or equipment and often the club members will loan you an accessory to try before you buy your own. They will know
where the nearest locations are for dark skies. Also, don’t underestimate the value of a support group since you chose a hobby that requires you to stay up at night when everyone else is
asleep. <grin> The local club will do star parties and other events that will show your spouse or significant other that you haven’t completely lost your sanity (or, that there are others of us who
have also lost ours...)
- A Case for the Scope An 8” GoTo scope is a big enough investment that it ought to be protected from dust and damage when it’s being stored or moved. If you think you will take the
scope on an airplane you probably want a hard case with foam molded to fit the scope. The problem with these, though, is that they’re heavy and you need to take the finders and most all
other accessories off before the scope will fit in the case.
If you observe at your house and all you need to do is
protect your scope from dust, etc., for an 8” SCT go to WalMart and get a Sterilite #1735 122 quart container, and add 3” of foam at the bottom (foam padding is sold
as “chair pads” for re-upholstering a chair, by fabric/craft stores such as Joanne). As you can see in the photo on the left, an 8” SCT fits very well and if you have a Pekingese, he will approve.
If you need to carry the scope or drive it around in a car, an aIternative
is the soft case that has in the past been sold by Orion. (Click on the thumbnail on the right for a larger image.) It is well padded and it will
take an 8” scope with the finder and a Telrad attached (although that’s a tight fit). It is somewhat less expensive than a hard case, at about
$150 with shipping. Orion has stopped selling any telescopes but their own brand so they don’t carry this case any longer. But it is sold on the Cases and Covers Web site.
- Telrad Finder A Telrad finder isn’t actually a scope, in that it is not magnifying an image. It’s a zero-magnification unit that has a glass
window through which you see the night sky, and it projects a variable-brightness red-lighted “bull’s eye” pattern on that window.
It serves the same purpose as a finder scope but is a lot
easier to use. The advantage is that you can easily see the night sky and so it’s easier to find and aim at the star you have in mind. A Telrad finder is about $40 and
a great investment. The salesman from whom I bought my U2K recommended one and predicted that I wouldn’t use the U2K’s finder scope after I started using the Telrad. He was right.
Note that the three “bulls-eye” rings in the
Telrad finder are set for diameters of 1/2, 2, and 4 degrees in the sky. Keeping this in mind you can start to develop a feel for the apparent distances between stars and areas covered by constellations,
since sizes and separation distances quoted in star guides are given in terms of degrees and minutes.
Another advantage to the Telrad is that it accepts the Kendrick SunFinder, which I describe on the Nice to Have page. The only disadvantage to the Telrad is
that it’s a little clunky-looking and you almost cringe when you put it on a beautiful scope - they really need to hire a good industrial designer.
- Dew Prevention Unless you live in an arid location you will find that under the right meteorological conditions the corrector lens on the front of your SCT will collect dew and become
fogged. This essentially terminates your observing session unless you take steps to prevent it. There are a number of accessories to prevent dew formation on a corrector lens - click on the Dew Prevention link at the top of this page for more information.
- Observing Chair You’ll want a portable “Observing Chair” so you can comfortably observe objects for longer periods of time. Originally I placed this item in the “Nice
To Have” category but over time I have come to believe this is a necessary (“need-to-have”) item. Visual observing is contemplative and you need to be
comfortable enough to look at an object for a while, to really see it. You can’t do this if you are standing up and bent over your eyepiece in a way that
is uncomfortable after a few moments; an observing chair makes contemplation possible. It is especially important if you want to observe the
planets - the best views of the planets occur when you observe them for long-enough periods of time that atmospheric distortion/turbulence occasionally
settles down and you catch a very clear view of our solar system neighbors. See the Observing Chair link for more information on these chairs.