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MarkMittlesteadt

Knowing the night sky versus GoTo...and light pollution...

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I have a Meade ETX105 with GoTo capabilties, but I also know my way around the sky fairly well without GoTo.

I know there are people in either camp, where some think GoTo is cheating, while others feel it is a blessing. I feel BOTH are very worthwhile. My GoTo allows me to have the scope automatically find the object I seek faster and allows me to observe more and also show others more in a shorter period of time. Due to my family situation, I can't really sit out all night like I would sometimes like to. Sometimes I may only get an hour or two to observe. Depending on who is with me, they may only want casual looks and if there are a lot of people who want a "look", GoTo and the associated automatic sidereal tracking allows more people to enjoy the night sky. And for me, sharing these views is more important to me than "studying" these objects on my own.

Having said that, I do feel it is important to know the night sky, not only without GoTo, but without any optical aids, be it a telescope or even binoculars. Why? GoTo sucks if you can't get your scope aligned right in the first place (and I've come across many who have great setups but don't know how to use them properly). They also get lost if the GoTo is not accurate enough to place the object in the FOV. 

The other night, my knowledge of the night sky came in very handy. My home location has terrible light pollution. Right in a city surrounded by other cities (total population of the area exceeds 100,000 people). Skyglow from street and parking lighting makes it difficult to find almost anything. To give you an idea just how bad it is, towards the SE there is a shopping mall within one mile of me. To the East is a paper mill and an ugly biomass plant. To the SW is another shopping mall. To the NE is the largest city in the area. West to NW is just about the only area of the sky not completely lit up. Light pollution is so bad that not only can I not make out constellations, the best I can hope for is the brightest lights of asterisms. 

Try star-hopping using only the brightest stars of an asterism to find something! GoTo really helps with that problem, although the resultant views of what is found (especially Deep Sky objects) is far less than ideal. 

However, the other night I brought my scope out and intentionally left my Autostar in the house and used only the basic controller (which does nothing but electronically move the scope, with no sidereal tracking whatsoever. I set up my scope behind my house to block two street lights and my neighbors porch lights. I wanted my family to see M31 and that object still holds a great fascination for me. I could only make out (naked eye) Casseopia and the giant square of Pegasus. BUT...knowing exactly where to look I pointed my scope towards M31's location. Keep in mind, with light pollution as bad as it is, M31 was not even visible naked eye as it's location was towards two street lights and one of the shopping malls further down. My first look through the finderscope showed me M31 in it's FOV. Bingo! there it was. I centered it in the Finder, and looked through my Zoom 8mm-24mm EP at it's lowest setting and there it was!. I centered it and zoomed in a bit and called my family out to see it. 

Because of my knowledge, neither the lack of GoTo, nor the light pollution kept me from finding it. Granted M31 is not difficult under normal circumstances, but given my almost twilight-like seeing conditions due to light pollution, I found it in about 10 seconds. There are people I know with GoTo that sometimes can't even find it under truly dark skies. 

So...GoTo is a good thing, but knowledge of the night sky combined with GoTo is, well...heavenly. 

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Ugh...it should have said "M31" instead of "M21 was not even visible naked eye..."

Is there a way to edit posts? I hate typos and being a writer I like to be able to correct mistakes. I see nowhere to click on a post I made and edit it. Anyone know how, if it's even possible? 

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You need to have made 250 posts on the forum to get access to the edit function. We had some problems with a few people misusing it in the past so we had to restrict it's use.

GOTO is a great tool that many find very useful. I don't use it personally now although I have in the past and I can see it's attraction and I don't think it's cheating in any way.

It's a hobby for the vast majority of us when all is said and done and everyone should be free to pursue it in whatever way they like  :smiley:

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You need to have made 250 posts on the forum to get access to the edit function. We had some problems with a few people misusing it in the past so we had to restrict it's use.

GOTO is a great tool that many find very useful. I don't use it personally now although I have in the past and I can see it's attraction and I don't think it's cheating in any way.

It's a hobby for the vast majority of us when all is said and done and everyone should be free to pursue it in whatever way they like  :smiley:

Thanks for the tip on editing. I'll just have to proof my posts more carefully before submitting. ;)

I didn't post this to start another "GoTo Versus", but rather to point out the importance of obtaining at least sufficient knowledge of the night sky so that it is a more enjoyable hobby. Yes, some do take it beyond hobby status, which is pretty cool to be able to do that, but those of us who only partake in it occasionally would benefit more from some basic knowledge, I do believe. 

Every time I have my scope out at backyard parties, before anyone even gets to look through the scope at anything, I have them try to find the objects location naked eye first while I give them some facts about it. Under dark skies, even naked eye, M31 is a real crowd-pleaser when they can actually see it even without binoculars. ;)

I try to get people to use their imagination and to get some understanding about our place in the universe conceptually first, before seeing an object through the EP. 

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I've been using Goto for a while, and it's pretty good. However, without manual driving... with less wires, less computer-y stuff I find the experience more rewarding and enjoyable. I'm not a technophobe by any means, I actually earn living developing web technologies, but I discovered that I liked manual observing better. I guess I'm old fashioned in this sense. :)

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I've been using Goto for a while, and it's pretty good. However, without manual driving... with less wires, less computer-y stuff I find the experience more rewarding and enjoyable. I'm not a technophobe by any means, I actually earn living developing web technologies, but I discovered that I liked manual observing better. I guess I'm old fashioned in this sense. :)

Yes, I agree. With my ETX105 (which was purchased as a smaller alternative to my 8" SCT so I would observe more) the GoTo function just kind of comes along for the ride anyhow. But just as often, if not moreso, I only use the basic handcontroller (not the Autostar one) so it's really more in manual mode most often anyway. 

I use GoTo more when I'm going to bring the scope to an outdoor party and want others to enjoy it. Makes it easier on me. By myself, it's almost more fun to just find my way and discover things on my own. 

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Hi Mark, Great Post, it would be great if everyone had the access to really dark skies, but for the majority of us on here, its about making the best of what we have.  Observing under light polluted skies is a real problem for us all - when it comes to locating DSO's there's a fine line between actually seeing the object or it being all but invisible - this is down to the fact of how "dark" the background sky is - it can be really frustrating for the new observer - who, through no fault of his/her own, can't actually "see" anything - you then start to think, Am I looking in the right place? Am I using the correct magnification? - this really becomes a main issue under light polluted skies.

I observe mainly under similar skies to you, with very low powers ( x40 ish) the background sky is really bright and with the best intentions, the contrast just isn't there to enable you to see the faint DSO that you've been searching for and time and time again you'll go back to the atlas and check and re - check your position and sweep the area time after time.

The lovely colour photos in all the publications don't help also - even with the largest aperture - your only going to see a faint grey "smudge" on the majority of DSO's - and that's if you have a decent dark sky.  My location only gives me the brightest stars in each constellation - towards the horizon all the major stars are washed out - so I have to settle for the higher constellations (your probably the same), for me, its the whole astronomy thing, setting up, waiting for the sky to darken, the clouds clear on out, waiting for the planets to reach a nice altitude, then just taking my time on each object, wether it be a planet, the moon, or a DSO, observing in real time as the GRS comes into view on Jupiter, or the subtle banding and ring detail on Saturn, the really bright polar caps and major land forms on Mars to sweeping the Moon, crater after crater and the relief of the Jura's and Apennines when on the terminator.

For me its all about real time observing knowing that an object millions of miles away is just "down" the eyepiece.   Paul.

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Hi Mark, Great Post, it would be great if everyone had the access to really dark skies, but for the majority of us on here, its about making the best of what we have.  Observing under light polluted skies is a real problem for us all - when it comes to locating DSO's there's a fine line between actually seeing the object or it being all but invisible - this is down to the fact of how "dark" the background sky is - it can be really frustrating for the new observer - who, through no fault of his/her own, can't actually "see" anything - you then start to think, Am I looking in the right place? Am I using the correct magnification? - this really becomes a main issue under light polluted skies.

I observe mainly under similar skies to you, with very low powers ( x40 ish) the background sky is really bright and with the best intentions, the contrast just isn't there to enable you to see the faint DSO that you've been searching for and time and time again you'll go back to the atlas and check and re - check your position and sweep the area time after time.

The lovely colour photos in all the publications don't help also - even with the largest aperture - your only going to see a faint grey "smudge" on the majority of DSO's - and that's if you have a decent dark sky.  My location only gives me the brightest stars in each constellation - towards the horizon all the major stars are washed out - so I have to settle for the higher constellations (your probably the same), for me, its the whole astronomy thing, setting up, waiting for the sky to darken, the clouds clear on out, waiting for the planets to reach a nice altitude, then just taking my time on each object, wether it be a planet, the moon, or a DSO, observing in real time as the GRS comes into view on Jupiter, or the subtle banding and ring detail on Saturn, the really bright polar caps and major land forms on Mars to sweeping the Moon, crater after crater and the relief of the Jura's and Apennines when on the terminator.

For me its all about real time observing knowing that an object millions of miles away is just "down" the eyepiece.   Paul.

Yes, fighting light pollution is just a fact of life for most observers these days. 

But also, I couldn't agree with you more...it's not about reproducing Hubble images in the EP...it's ALL about seeing the real thing, no matter how bright or detailed it is or isn't. To just know I am looking at something so large, yet so mind boggingly distant is thrill enough by itself. 

Then again, I got a private tour of the Yerkes Observatory (not the public tour) and also got to spend a night with just me and one of the Yerkes astronomers and got to use their 4 foot reflector. I think I'm still in awe, even 6 months later. Funny thing is, this astronomer uses an ETX105 as her own personal scope so I don't feel so bad, nor do I feel I'm "missing out" on something. 

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I find much the same as Mark. Goto is a tool to be used and a person can use it in different ways. I know most of the main stars and the constellations, probably don't need goto but I have it, and I have fully manual as well.

You don't need automatic on a car but it can be damn useful at times.

Try telling everyone to throw away their satnavs - whats wrong with a map book and the road signs?

If you have satnav and use it then I say you cannot criticise goto on a scope, a satnav tells you where to go to. :grin:

I am of the nature however to want to know where any goto will/should goto before I tell it to go there. So having a goto means I will previously have worked out where it should end up. So a goto is not often used with blind trust. I have seen ones used by people that will ask a goto to go to something and have really no idea if it is looking to or at the right thing.

Recall one night a person commented as I walk by that the crab nebula was too dim to be seen, I double checked that they meant the crab nebuls (confirmed M1 in Taurus) then pointed out where Taurus and M1 would be, about 30 degrees left and 5 or 10 higher then they were looking at. I never did find out what had occurred.

So a goto used that way can learn you the sky. Determine what you want to see, work out where it should be and have the goto confirm or otherwise your new found knowledge. :rolleyes:

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I recall attending a public outreach event run by a local astronomy society a few years back. There was a power failure to the site and all the scopes provided by the society were GOTO. The Moon and Jupiter were found easily for public viewing and that kept the event going for a while but then it came onto deep sky objects the scope operators seemed a little stumped about how to find objects to view. Despite being one of those being "outreached too" I ended up showing them how to find M81 and M82, the Ring Nebula and a few other nice DSO's and they seemed somewhat amazed that I "just knew where they were". And I was not that experienced back then either :undecided:  

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I'm not a technophobe by any means, I actually earn living developing web technologies, but I discovered that I liked manual observing better. I guess I'm old fashioned in this sense. :)

Me too - I'm a web dev (well, technically, a SharePoint dev) - and I've another theory. We were talking about something similar at work the other day. I reckon 'old hand' geeks are more into the simplicity and elegance of a solution, reducing the things to go wrong 'cos usually they have in the past.

It's not old fashioned - it's experience...

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I use both GOTO and eyeball. I have EQMOD controlling my HEQ5 but I also use the RDF, this especially if I'm not imaging and just want a look around, but then EQMOD can get the scope on something too dim to make out with the RDF. With imaging, of course, the target might be too dim to see through the scope, especially through London light pollution.

Fortunately I know my way around well enough to know if the goto is playing silly wotsits.

So I guess the answer is a bit of both, use the goto as a tool, but also know the sky well enough that you're not dependent on it.

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I must admit I was a little anti GOTO to begin with, mainly because I felt it may prevent one from learning the sky and getting involved in the hobby. Personally,  not using it is a great way to learn the sky I think, and for me that is satisfying part of it,  but in the end of the day each to their own in whatever way the observer wants to do things.

Personally it is not high on my list of something  to have, or want to pay for on a scope seeing it costs quite a bit, considering that it can be put into things more important to me, the actual scope when you are on a budget, but what if you live in light polluted area where there are little stars where a red dot finder may be next to useless in some cases, it could be handy. 

In 10 - 15 years time  and I know my skies well enough I may well perhaps use one when I am a pensioner  ... or  perhaps not, seeing I'll  have all that spare time at that stage anyway :smiley:

Edited by AlexB67
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My scope has goto and I have found it a boon in helping me around the sky. My next scope (12" dob. all being well) will not be goto as I think I have got the confidence to go star hoping now. As a tool to help you out I think goto is brill and would recomend to a first timer like myself until you can get about without it. 

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My scope has goto and I have found it a boon in helping me around the sky. My next scope (12" dob. all being well) will not be goto as I think I have got the confidence to go star hoping now. As a tool to help you out I think goto is brill and would recomend to a first timer like myself until you can get about without it. 

Manual star hopping + good star Atlas is the ultimate fun...

Goto if I can't be bothered.. :D

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I can't tell you how many times I've been at some casual star parties and some guys have these large fabulous scopes on GoTo mounts but have little to no experience with finding things in the night sky on their own...and they even have a hard time getting their mounts even aligned properly in the first place, making their GoTo (at best) more of a "GetNear" system.

Then they spend a great deal of time frustrated by not being able to find what they are looking for. GoTo serves a fabulous purpose, but one will only get out of it what one puts into it. First step is basic orientation with their location on Earth and where True North is. After that, most GoTo mounts want some basic alignment stars to get the mount "locked into" where it is on earth with where it needs to go and how to calculate it's movement. Once you get those basics down, GoTo should function well enough to almost always place the object in the FOv at low powers, or in the finderscope at the very least, if not dead on centered if properly aligned.

So one needs basic knowledge of the night sky...i.e.- True north (not magnetic north) and knowing Polaris is slightly off of true north is helpful for accurate alignment along with alignment stars that are easily naked eye guides. Basic constellation and asterism shapes and where they are relative to time of year, time of night, your location on Earth are all basic concepts that make even GoTo work successfully, much less manually star hopping.

Star hopping and finding a faint object is VERY rewarding when one knows even basic concepts. It is an exercize in futility when one doesn't have that knowledge. GoTo can be equally frustrating without basic knowledge.

I always joke that my wife is directionally challenged, even with GPS she gets turned around and lost. Why? I can be backpacking out in the middle of wilderness and find my way. She can't find her way even with a map or GPS telling her the way because relying solely on technology without understanding the inherent limitations of that technology will still leave you lost.

And honestly, I find truly dark skies more challenging to get myself oriented than those filled with light pollution. While dark skies give better views, every time I do happen to be under very dark skies, there are SO many stars visible to the naked eye, I can get lost hardly finding my major guide stars among them! ;)

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Ugh! Again, I formatted my last post into paragraphs and it showed up as one long, hard to read paragraph! No way to edit yet! I apologize for that.

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Ugh! Again, I formatted my last post into paragraphs and it showed up as one long, hard to read paragraph! No way to edit yet! I apologize for that.

Indeed!! Hard on the eyes LOL

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Ugh...it should have said "M31" instead of "M21 was not even visible naked eye..."

Is there a way to edit posts? I hate typos and being a writer I like to be able to correct mistakes. I see nowhere to click on a post I made and edit it. Anyone know how, if it's even possible? 

Sorted.

I do not use goto because that cost an arm and a leg when I bought my scope. I like hunting for stuff, but there are many situations where goto is handy.

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Then again, I got a private tour of the Yerkes Observatory (not the public tour) and also got to spend a night with just me and one of the Yerkes astronomers and got to use their 4 foot reflector.

Awesome. I've always wondered, is it pronounced "Yerks" or "Yerk-ees".

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personally I don't have goto but the reasons are budgetary in the main; I'd sooner have more aperture for my budget than more gadgetry. in real terms there's no difference between looking in a book that someone else created, using that information to then navigate the sky and using an eyepiece and scope to see it, and using a computerised list of objects that someone else created to navigate the sky and using an eyepiece and scope to see it. it's the same thing. that said luckily I really enjoy finding things manually as it's part of the 'journey' for me. in poor conditions, goto is a real benefit as it allows you to find things which are almost impossible to hop to manually as you cannot see the guide stars!

as I have said many times before, there's room for all kinds in astronomy.

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I think our hobby is similar to fishing.

You normally sit there on your own, with the occasional club event, manufacturers demo day, or a weekend away with family and friends.

So a go-to is like a sonar fish finder.

Better results with less effort.

For me, the chase is better than the catch.

So I am happy to hone my skills without using the expensive gadgets wherever I can (my time is free).

For those who want the results without the hassle, A go-to must be an indispensable tool.

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Awesome. I've always wondered, is it pronounced "Yerks" or "Yerk-ees".

"Yerk-ees".

There were so many fascinating things I got to see that most are not privy to. I got to see the (at the time) NASA's unfinished cryogenic infrared camera and talked to the guy making it (who also worked on Hubble, the automated observatories in Antarctica and many, many other projects). A very humble and interesting man and his workshop looks like anyone's typical machine shop, but top of the line tooling machines. When I met him he was staining some bookshelves, which he joked about, saying his pay should increase because of the skill required for that job. :D I got to see their 3D printer where they make parts to test for tolerances first before machining.

I got to sit in a chair Einstein sat in and read some of his original notes while he was there. I got to see the world's largest refractor. I got a souvineir bookend from the old library.

Because of my networking background I helped the astronomer get their 4 foot reflector to re-establish communications with the computer that runs it, and got it back online with the rest of the world's observatories. My name is on 4 Deep Sky images we took with that scope along with her's as being credited with the photos taken (that then went to a computer downstairs for analysis).

Yerkes is still viable and does more for astronomy still to this day than most (even professionals) realize.

I still get goosebumps thinking about it and the astronomer told me I have an open invitation to observe with her anytime I'm down there.

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I think if astronomy is just a past time/hobby for someone then it matters not in the least whether they use GOTO or not, it matters not in the least whether they know their way around the night sky or not.

All that matters is that you enjoy looking up/out using whatever instrument you so desire. The only rules, should dooz, should haves, should knows, must nots etc etc that apply are those that people inflict upon themselves.

Enjoy your past time/hobby in anyway you so desire, do your own thing, in your own way and you won't go far wrong  :icon_geek:

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