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Andy's Column

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To GOTO, or not GOTO, that is the question.

Andy69

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You have gazed up at the night sky for years thinking one day I’ll buy a telescope. You’ve caught the odd episode of the sky at night and have the whole series of Wonders of the Universe on sky+. Finally after watching stargazing live you’ve decided this is the year you buy one. After doing extensive internet research you have settled on a telescope, the only decision remaining is do you buy the GOTO option or not?

The answer to this is YES!

Let’s face it, you bought a sat nav for your car and after the man at Halfords fitted it, you were secretly amazed when you followed its instructions to your home and you now use it frequently to give you directions to places you’ve been to before. So if you need some computer assistance to find Birmingham then you are most certainly going to need it to find the Whirlpool galaxy because space as Douglas Adams famously observed is big. What he’d also have mentioned if he’d been writing a book on observing rather than hitchhiking was that most of the stuff you want to look at is practically invisible from your average light polluted garden.

It does rather seem like cheating though. This is the conundrum, you like science stuff and you imagine that learning the constellations and stumbling across astronomical wonders will be a nice, relaxing way to spend an evening so you should resist the technological temptation.

Now if you live in the south of France and do all of your observing in a t-shirt whilst polishing off a bottle of red on a warm summers evening then maybe you should go the old school route. The reality here in the UK though is that it’s far too light in the summer to see anything other than solar system objects. This means if deep sky observing is your thing then you’re going to be out in a field in the depths of winter, trying to locate something that could optimistically be called ghostly while you slowly develop frostbite in your extremities. It is at this point if you’ve bought the GOTO equipment you will be able to spend the little time you have before your core body temperature drops to dangerously low levels actually observing things you want to look at. Admittedly the rage and frustration your non-GOTO fellow astronomers will experience will keep them warmer for a bit longer but it won’t quite be long enough to find any of the things they had on their observing list before exposure takes its toll.

Still not convinced? I know what you’re thinking; surely these setting circle things are used for navigation? Your mount has them and you’ve bought a sky atlas and read the chapter on right ascension and declination and you imagine with a bit of practice you’ll be able to manually find anything you like as well as any GOTO computer can.

Well yes, but really, no. In theory with decent setting circles and a little time and patience then I’m sure you could successfully navigate around the night sky. In practice however the setting circles on your mount are at least ten times too small to be of any use and about a hundred times too small to be in any way accurate. But if GOTO still feels like cheating take heart because it isn’t the throw it together and the computer will sort it all out panacea that the brochure will have you believe. There is still a fair bit to learn so if programming a video recorder was a challenge for you then you’re really going to need to read the manual. Heresy I know.

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If I see something in the sky I have not noticed I can take a dobsonian and point it at the object. I can view it happily and never actually need to know what it is, or to an extent where. It just needs to be visible enough for me to aim the scope at.

 

If I have a goto, then OK I have to set it up, but I likely also would have to go find out what the same object was. You do after all have to tell a goto where to go to. Even if I can goto a nearby star (which I will have to know) then manually slew to the unknown object I can then ask the goto what am I looking at.

 

So with the goto I either seem to have to learn what it is before observing it or can learn from the goto what it is. Not however necessary with the dobsonian in the first instance and not possible in the second.

 

So why the repeated cry of you will not learn the sky with a goto. Learning the sky with a goto seems to be almost a intrinsic function of owning one.

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Many thanks for your two posts Andy, both extremely (disarmingly) funny and wise. I'm planning to buy my first scope in the next couple of months (as savings will allow) and am very heartened at your goto endorsement.

The bottom line is this is a cold and wet island at a pretty northerly latitude, and you are the first I have read to make that consideration so plain.

I first thought a nice reflector without goto, but with transport also an issue (too many trees in my backyard) I've been eyeing up a nice C4se.

My old man has just moved to the Loire valley, so I could in theory get the scope out there to share the fun.

Although I might stretch to the 5 if I get the additional expense past my better half....

Do keep your posts coming and clear skies

best wishes

Roj

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Many thanks for your two posts Andy, both extremely (disarmingly) funny and wise. I'm planning to buy my first scope in the next couple of months (as savings will allow) and am very heartened at your goto endorsement.

The bottom line is this is a cold and wet island at a pretty northerly latitude, and you are the first I have read to make that consideration so plain.

I first thought a nice reflector without goto, but with transport also an issue (too many trees in my backyard) I've been eyeing up a nice C4se.

My old man has just moved to the Loire valley, so I could in theory get the scope out there to share the fun.

Although I might stretch to the 5 if I get the additional expense past my better half....

Do keep your posts coming and clear skies

best wishes

Roj

Thank you for your comments.  I wouldn't say I endorse GOTO mounts as such.  There is an argument for them as much as against and it's really one of those things that is a personal preference.  As a newbie astronomer there were times when it's been so frustrating trying to find something relatively easy (like Andromeda) that I really wished I'd had a bit of electronic help.  But on the other hand when you do manage to find an object for yourself you do gain a degree of satisfaction from sticking with it.  The other point is that GOTO isn't a magic fix for observing because even if you've set it all up correctly and the mount has slewed to a particular target you want to look at, if the conditions aren't quite right or you suffer from light pollution you still aren't going to see what you'd hoped.  
 
None of the entries in this blog are designed to offer any serious purchasing advice but if I was going to say something sensible it would be to check out your local astronomy society before buying anything.  With a bit of luck they will be a friendly bunch who will be happy to show you a range of telescopes, mounts, eyepieces, etc.

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If I see something in the sky I have not noticed I can take a dobsonian and point it at the object. I can view it happily and never actually need to know what it is, or to an extent where. It just needs to be visible enough for me to aim the scope at.

 

If I have a goto, then OK I have to set it up, but I likely also would have to go find out what the same object was. You do after all have to tell a goto where to go to. Even if I can goto a nearby star (which I will have to know) then manually slew to the unknown object I can then ask the goto what am I looking at.

 

So with the goto I either seem to have to learn what it is before observing it or can learn from the goto what it is. Not however necessary with the dobsonian in the first instance and not possible in the second.

 

So why the repeated cry of you will not learn the sky with a goto. Learning the sky with a goto seems to be almost a intrinsic function of owning one.

I don't recall saying anywhere in this article that you won't learn the sky with a goto.  I think you may have misunderstood the purpose of this post and my blog in general.  In the intro to my first posting on Andromeda I tried to set the tone which is perhaps best summed up in the line "They are not meant to be a serious attempt to tackle any of the subjects with any sort of authority."

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I always say this , a goto system is ok but what tends to happen is this you set up and do it's star align and the paper work will say the skies are your oyster that's not always the case ,but when it is ,it's great ,then what happens is you tend to spend a very short time on each target .because you can point at any thing it takes my eyes a good 15 minutes to really start pulling the fine detail out planets and galaxies and the novelty of the goto soon wears thin after a while

I love to star hop I really do it took me a good 15 months to learn all the goodies that can be seen at the eye piece and the knowledge of knowing where things are is satisfying to say the least ,

If you loose power or stub your toe on the mount it's a new star align ect

Goto is great for some,and not for others the limited viewing nights in the UK make goto a great choice for those that want it and the technology these days is good so if it's what you require go-for it

But my dad always said to me "knowledge is power" . when I have friends round I enjoy manually moving the dob mounted newt around ,the thrill of find in the targets is one hell of a feeling and showing other his great .

Pat

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I always say this , a goto system is ok but what tends to happen is this you set up and do it's star align and the paper work will say the skies are your oyster that's not always the case ,but when it is ,it's great ,then what happens is you tend to spend a very short time on each target .because you can point at any thing it takes my eyes a good 15 minutes to really start pulling the fine detail out planets and galaxies and the novelty of the goto soon wears thin after a while I love to star hop I really do it took me a good 15 months to learn all the goodies that can be seen at the eye piece and the knowledge of knowing where things are is satisfying to say the least , If you loose power or stub your toe on the mount it's a new star align ect Goto is great for some,and not for others the limited viewing nights in the UK make goto a great choice for those that want it and the technology these days is good so if it's what you require go-for it But my dad always said to me "knowledge is power" . when I have friends round I enjoy manually moving the dob mounted newt around ,the thrill of find in the targets is one hell of a feeling and showing other his great . Pat

I totally agree.  Personally I don't have a goto mount but I can certainly understand the attraction particularly in the UK when sometimes we're lucky if we get one decent nights viewing per month.  I've found a laser pointer to be a big help in manual observing because if you shine it through your finder scope you at least have a good idea of where your telescope is actually pointing.

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