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.