More is More; Accessorizing Your First Telescope

By Angie Parkinson
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At some point it strikes most amateur astronomers – aperture fever. Once you've pointed your beginner telescope at a few targets, you may want to upgrade to a larger instrument. Great views often inspire the pursuit of even greater views.

There are those who fight aperture fever – generally the budget conscious who want to give their wallets a break – but many may be tempted to max out their credit cards in pursuit of Hubble Space Telescope-like views. This is really not necessary, nor is it even possible. However, you can up your enjoyment of any telescope with a few simple accessories. You may not get full-on NASA-quality views, but you will love the wider variety of astronomical vistas, and experimentation with these telescope add-ons will lead to hours of fun. It may even stave off the urge to buy a much more expensive telescope.

Eyepieces

An eyepiece manipulates the views your telescope offers. Changing your eyepiece changes both your magnification and the width of your field of view. Most telescopes for beginners come with two eyepieces at least, but there is a whole universe of eyepieces from which to choose. Remember, sometimes you want to lower your telescope’s power to take in a wider vista of space.

If your telescope does not already come with one, consider purchasing a Barlow lens early on. You can place this right in line with your telescope's eyepiece to add instant magnification. Keep an eye out for Plossl eyepieces as well. These combine a set of four optical elements that work together to offer a wide apparent field of view, making it feel more like you are walking in space and not just observing from afar. Consider going to a star party and asking other amateurs what eyepieces have worked for them.

There are many, many other types of eyepieces that can also add to your viewing experiences. They range in price from about $10 all the way up to thousands of dollars. Better quality optics will give you brighter views, given the same magnification. Check the online forums and network with other astronomers to understand different eyepieces before investing too heavily. Most eyepieces are cheaper than a new telescope, though.

Solar Filters

Never look directly at the sun with or even without your telescope. These words of wisdom surface so often in websites, books and manuals that you would almost think it goes without saying. It does not because it is so important. It bears repeating. Looking at the closest star to us can cause serious and permanent damage to your eyes if you don't have the right equipment. A solar filter will help you view the sun safely. Make sure you buy your solar filer from a reputable manufacturer. And be certain the solar filter you get is specifically designed and fitted to your exact telescope. In fact, don’t point your unfiltered telescope at the Sun, even if your eye is nowhere near the eyepiece. Magnified sunlight can start fires.

Lunar Filters

The moon may not seem that bright, but when its light is intensified by your telescope's optics, it makes it difficult to see anything. Lunar filters can turn down the volume, lowering the intense sunlight bouncing of Earth's moon, so that you can see all of the details that make our natural satellite so fascinating. Besides lowering the light level, most lunar filters are polarized to reduce glare. You’ll really appreciate that when it comes to discerning fine details of the Moon’s mountain peaks, crater rims, dust rays and sharp shadows.

Other Filters

Adding different colored filters to your telescope can really highlight details in a wide range of celestial objects. Certain filters can reduce light-pollution from cities and towns nearby. With the right filter, you can trim down the twinkling of turbulent air and reduce the scatter from interfering wavelengths. This is especially important for better views of the planets. Finding out which filters work best for each target is part of the fun, but some manufactures sell planet-specific ones. When you observe the surface of Mars, for example, remember that you’re actually looking through two atmospheres. Placing a green filter in front of the Red Planet’s light can really improve what you’ll see on its dusty plains. You can even stack filters for color combinations that offer unique effects.

Red Light Flashlight

Anyone who has ever been out stargazing for a while when a car pulls up with its headlights on will understand the importance of purchasing a red light flashlight. When your eyes are adapted to the dark and you are exposed to headlights or reach for a normal flashlight to look at a chart, you temporarily destroy your night vision; and not only yours, but every other astronomer in sight. That can kill the views you see through even the best telescopes for beginners. It will take about 20 minutes for your eyes to readjust for good observing. A red light flashlight will preserve your night vision. In fact, you might even try a set of red astronomy goggles; you wear them for 20-30 minutes before going outside to observe. So when you get there, you’re already dark-adapted. Just, please don’t wear them to drive!

Alternate Power Supply

Motorized telescopes can use quite a bit of power – especially if you’re going to be observing for hours – and replacing batteries over and over gets old fast. Several companies offer rechargeable, portable power stations, sometimes called power tanks. Most of them include a flashlight, and some even include a radio and jumper cables in case your car battery dies – which is not a bad idea for all of the remote locations you'll be in that offer the best night sky for telescopes.

Other accessories may also enhance telescopes for beginners, but these are some of our favorites. They add to your costs but also add to your overall astronomy experience. We think you will find them worth it.

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