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Telescope for holiday cottage dark skys


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Hello,

We have a remote cottage in a dark sky location and would like to purchase a fool proof easy to use scope for our guests to use. We are assuming more experienced guests will bring their own. So something sturdy which would just keep novices engaged without costing too much would be ideal.

I have an image of something wooden and old but probably just being daft!!

Thanks for your help.

 

Edited by Zenny
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A couple of questions might help with a recommendation, firstly what's the top end of your budget?

Also do you go there to setup before guests? Thinking any collimation etc could be dealt with beforehand

Would you be there on guest arrival to show them the ropes?

Do you have somewhere to store it? Would it be easy to get it outside?

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Thinking about less experienced persons kicking it over in the dark.....

A dobsonian base is good with probably a 150mm/6" mirror reflector to keep size and weight manageable.

A refractor ought to be a short tube (not the traditional long tube) with the heaviest tripod you can reasonably handle.
Packages combining a scope and mount tend to include the lightest mount/tripod the manufacturer can get away with.
This means purchasing separately.

Some simple star charts so your guests know where to find interesting things on any night.

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Short Tube refractor (maybe a Skywatcher ST 102 like this https://www.firstlightoptics.com/startravel/skywatcher-startravel-102t-ota.html), Alt Az manual mount, red dot finder, heavy tripod - the SW Steel one looks good value.   

And I would say a cheaper Zoom eyepiece to give a range of magnification without faff changing/dropping eypeieces. Lots of people rave about this one https://www.firstlightoptics.com/ovl-eyepieces/hyperflex-9-27mm-zoom.html but there are cheaper examples from Skywatcher & Celestron too. 

Everyone intuitively knows how to use a set up like this and there's no issue with collimation etc. I've enjoyed great views through my ST80 of all sorts of objects from a dark location - if you could stretch to the 4 inch however it would be more rewarding on favourite Deep Sky Objects.  

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I would echo the short tube refractor on alt az with a red dot finder and zoom eyepiece. 

Would also add that you use an erecting prism diagonal not a mirror so it's less confusing

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2 hours ago, Zenny said:

Hello,

We have a remote cottage in a dark sky location and would like to purchase a fool proof easy to use scope for our guests to use. We are assuming more experienced guests will bring their own. So something sturdy which would just keep novices engaged without costing too much would be ideal.

I have an image of something wooden and old but probably just being daft!!

Thanks for your help.

 

 Nice idea and welcome to SGL 🙂

In my opinion a 6”  Dobsonian like this is relatively cheap, easy to use and has good performance…….

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/stellalyra-telescopes/stellalyra-6-f8-dobsonian.html

Whatever you end up with do put a big sticker on it that says

“DO NOT USE THIS TO LOOK AT THE SUN”

 

 

 

Edited by dweller25
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I am going to suggest something slightly outside of the box, how about binoculars?

Something like .... https://www.firstlightoptics.com/observation-binoculars/opticron-oregon-observation-20x80-binoculars.html

Where we have stayed in cottages with spotting scopes or binoculars, we have used them every time. Those binoculars are likely heavy to use so think about adding a tripod, chair and a few pictures/maps of things to view. 

All the best and welcome to the site.

 

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I think that if for guests, perhaps a copy of Turn Left at Orion might be useful as a reference guide to have, people staying can refer then to seasonal objects and visual expectations. Telescope as mentioned above, something quite sturdy such as 6" dobsonian with a low power, quite wide field eyepiece attached. But this would need something like a rigel quikfinder attached, unless a goto model. Perhaps a laminated A4 sheet with some basic instructions and good point concerning do not look at the sun, maybe a sticker on the telescope and mentioned at the bottom of the instructions sheet. Perhaps additionally, a good pair of hand held binoculars. 

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Whilst a binocular is a good recommendation, I feel that most people who rent holiday cottages are likely to already have one and would be attracted by an instrument that extended the views further.  A short tube refractor or 6" Dobsonian both have their merits.  I would  support the red dot finder and a zoom eyepiece as being ideal, goto would be too complicated for non astronomers on a short stay.  "Stellarium" would be available on the inevitable phone or tablet or one of the astro apps.     🙂

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Hi @Zenny and welcome to SGL. :hello2:

What a great idea!

Along with other SGL’ers… I too would think a ‘Dobsonian’ telescope, a zoom eyepiece and pair of binoculars would be a good starting point.

If you get binoculars you will also need a photo or video tripod and a mount for them. Below is an image of the mount I use my binoculars on…

41bA2kp1wlL._AC_US327_QL65_.jpg.8e1578b9a32ea3c8a343d719d11e66f4.jpg
Attached below is a useful set of instructions/guide to the mount written by SGL’er @BinocularSky

TG-manual.pdf

Other things to consider purchasing… 

  • upgrading the ‘scopes supplied eyepieces
  • red torch/light
  • star atlas/charts
  • planisphere
Edited by Philip R
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There's a few factors in direct opposition to each other here : you want something easy to store move and use, but not easy to quietly vanish into someone's car boot at the end of the stay (relatives ran a B&B for many years, it's astonishing  what some folk can fit in a suitcase)

You want something robust and easy to use for all ages and experiences, which will withstand careless handling, but a good , worthwhile instrument, not a toy.

I assume you don't have much astro experience yourself, and any maintenance and/or explanation of how to use the kit would be down toyou.

You didn't say how much you want to spend , but I'd assume the lower the outlay the better, and you also don't mention if it's a tiny cottage with little storage space, or has outhouses where a 'scope might be stored, or if it is a property for 2 rented to adults, or a family holiday venue where all ages need to be catered for.

A 150 dobsonian would be cheap, and challenge the most enthusiastic kleptomaniac as far as smuggling it out would go, but it would need space to store it, would be vulnerable to damage by anything dropped down the tube. I don't think collimation would be any kind of problem, because if the optics went a little out of alignment, a beginner wouldn't even notice, and an experienced user would simply sort it out (as long as you included a cheshire collimator with the kit)

There's even a company who rent dobs out by the day, and they seem to survive the onslaught of  beginners ... https://www.darkskytelescopehire.co.uk/

Ypu can get a decent 150mm (6") aperture dob for £250 https://www.firstlightoptics.com/stellalyra-telescopes/stellalyra-6-f8-dobsonian.html

A refractor would be more the sort of thing a visitor with no astro experience might expect and be comfortable with, but then it's almost too portable / steal able and a reasonably priced one will have bits which can be fiddled with/broken/lost , lots of screws, bolts and adjustments which attract interfering fiddlers, and breakable plastic accessories. For the same price as the 150 dob you could get something like this

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/sky-watcher-az-pronto/sky-watcher-evostar-90-660-az-pronto.html  Easy to use , not too big or heavy , not too great an expense.

Binoculars would be a cheaper option, and their advantage is the all-in-one nature of them, no bits to lose,  but the theft possibilities are endless , and they would likely be taken out for the day as well , which might exacerbate the chances of loss or damage.

Is there a garden or yard with a good view adjacent to the cottage  ? If so, I've an idea ...

Heather

 

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How about something like that discussed in this thread?

It seems fairly easy to use, point and look. A complete beginner would have no idea were to start with a Dob or any other setup unless you show them, but you mentioned a remote cottage. Similarly, unless they are familiar with the night sky, finding any DSOs would be hard to impossible for them. They probably want to look at the moon or planets quickly before giving up. The chances with a more expensive setup going wrong is fairly high as well. I like your idea and I do not want to sound to negative.

 

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My day job is Dark Sky Advisor to the Cranborne Chase International Dark Sky Reserve. As part of my job, I advise potential astro-tourism hospitality businesses on what sort of observing kit to get. As others have already advised, keep it simple! Up-down/left-right (i.e Altaz) - avoid equatorials like the plague!

* A couple of basic 8x42 or 10x50. Easy to use, don't require much instruction.
* Something like a 16x80 or 20x80, preferably on a simple parallelogram. Again, easy to use when it's set up, because the parallelogram allows the eyepiece height to change, therefore family friendly.
* Something like a ST102 on an AZ5. Minimal instruction required.
* 6" Dob. Minimal instruction required.

Anything bigger gets a bit heavy.

You could also consider providing:
* A bespoke observing platform.
* Folder of info, including seasonal stargazing guides and instructional hints.
* Stellarium and app suggestions.
* Red torches.
* Reclining chairs and blankets.
 

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1 hour ago, Kon said:

How about something like that discussed in this thread?

 

The problem with these is they are very difficult to aim at a night sky. They are fine for terrestrial, because you have lots of visual clues that aid targetting but,  for astronomy you've just got a load of stars, which look pretty much the same to beginners, for reference. I doubt most would get more than the Moon.

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2 minutes ago, BinocularSky said:

My day job is Dark Sky Advisor to the Cranborne Chase International Dark Sky Reserve. As part of my job, I advise potential astro-tourism hospitality businesses on what sort of observing kit to get. As others have already advised, keep it simple! Up-down/left-right (i.e Altaz) - avoid equatorials like the plague!

* A couple of basic 8x42 or 10x50. Easy to use, don't require much instruction.
* Something like a 16x80 or 20x80, preferably on a simple parallelogram. Again, easy to use when it's set up, because the parallelogram allows the eyepiece height to change, therefore family friendly.
* Something like a ST102 on an AZ5. Minimal instruction required.
* 6" Dob. Minimal instruction required.

Anything bigger gets a bit heavy.

You could also consider providing:
* A bespoke observing platform.
* Folder of info, including seasonal stargazing guides and instructional hints.
* Stellarium and app suggestions.
* Red torches.
* Reclining chairs and blankets.
 

And a planisphere (with some indication of where North is for the extremely navigationally challenged) .

Most cottages I've stayed in have a few books around, you can find loads of beginner-type general astronomy books in second hand /charity bookshop, or online, most will have star maps, moon maps and general observing advice.

Heather

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Another dark sky person here in a professional capacity...over the last two years, we have left 10x50s, a book about binocular targets, planisphere, red light torch and a bit of info about light pollution on our holiday cottages (work's not mine!)...we did float the idea of leaving a small 'frac or 6 inch dobsonian but were concerned about small children/dogs damaging the equipment. Left a feedback book and it's great to read what folk have discovered!

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Sorry to sound so negative about this, but there is no way we would do this in our cottage, apart perhaps from providing a relatively inexpensive pair of 8x50 bins, and some basic astronomy books. 

We own a small cottage as a second home in a reasonably dark sky area (Bortle 3).  Some years ago we looked into renting it out as a holiday cottage. We are also surrounded by holiday cottages down there and hear about the experiences from the owners and their cleaners. Although most guests are fine, you will also get the sort of guests who will treat the property in the way that a 1960s rock group treated their hotel rooms. That’s an inevitability, not a maybe.  Partly for these and  various other reasons, we prefer to not rent the property out - only making it available to close friends and family. 

Nevertheless, I think you have the basis of a good idea.  You might include information in the marketing details about the dark skies. You could market it at amateur astronomers. You might also provide an observing area with some hard standing for a tripod. You could provide an outside power outlet. 

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Agreed, I don't think you want to provide complex equipment unless you are interested in astronomy yourself. If the cottage is next door or very close to your own living space then perhaps get a small refractor and alt-az mount that you can provide upon request, but usually most astronomy-breaks tend to have a night of supervised instruction before allowing people to use actual kit on their own (if at all). I imagine they use this time to gauge how drunk the guests are, whether they have a real interest and whether their expectations of what they might see are firmly on the ground.

If you are going to be hosting a serious astrophotographer, who brings their own kit, then this is what they want:

  • A Level Concrete Plinth 2.5m x 2.5, perhaps with the direction of the celestial pole clearly marked out, or tripod lines marked (at 120 degrees from each other) - with the bisect of two of those lines being celestial north. Preferably the plinth would be in an unobstructed location with good views of the sky.
  • At the plinth - Power Supply, preferably either mains (if they have their own PSU), 12V (For most Astro kit) and 19V (for NUCs).
  • A Ethernet port that connects the Concrete Plinth to a warm room, also with mains power. Also nice to have Wifi in the warm room, for internet access.
  • Darkness, no security lights, no other guests turning on lights that ruin exposures. Perhaps some low level red lighting.

If the weather is good, as also mentioned in this thread, a set of Reading / Reference materials, Binos, reclining chairs, and blankets would be appreciated by anyone.

Some nice touches would be a plaque with the latitude and longitude of the location. Perhaps a digital time-sync'd clock. Probably wouldn't be used much, but it shows you've gone to some effort to accomodate.

Some might appreciate a weather station, with readings for some of (budget permitting): Temperature, Relative Humidity, Wind Direction and Speed, Precipitation, Cloud Cover, and forecast. If you provide a B&B then a printout of the local hourly weather forecast for the upcoming night at breakfast is also a nice touch.

A lot of amateur astronomers are also interested in exchanging experiences and knowledge with other like minded people, so having an interest in astronomy yourself is very much a plus.

Edited by gilesco
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I'm waiting for the OP to come back with some extra info on the storage possibilities and environs of the cottage , no point in elaborating on ideas without that . A lot also depends on what kind of people their target renters are : families/couples/casually interested 'normal' people :evil4: / astro hobbyists / astro photo enthusiasts ?

Will the expense of the kit be worthwhile ? This is a business , and any money spent needs to show a return.

The theft/damage/careless use possible problem could be minimized by offering a 'scope as an additional extra , with a payment (and maybe a security deposit as well ) which underlines the value of the object.

Heather

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"...without costing too much...", would be just how much exactly?

For the last twenty years or less, we have been living in the heyday of inexpensive telescopes, and manufactured by a small handful of companies in China.

These companies have come a long way since their respective beginnings, and in producing above-average and even fine optics these days, of lenses and mirrors both, of refractors and Newtonians both.

With Newtonians, Newtonian-Dobsons("Dobsonians") in this case, you get a larger aperture over that of a refractor, per pound spent. 

With a refractor or a Newtonian, what you see is what you get.  If either has a long tube, it will have a long focal-length; if a short tube, a short focal-length.  

The lower powers are less demanding on a telescope, and are the forte of the shorter telescopes.  The lower powers also reveal the largest, the widest views of the night sky, and binocular-like.  Objects in the night sky are easier to find with those shorter.  Views at the higher powers are possible, to about 100x or so.   Hence, I would recommend a shorter example of either of the two designs, and for a balanced, well-rounded experience.

If you choose a Newtonian, there will be maintenance of the optical-system, collimation, to perform on occasion; like the fine-tuning of a stringed musical instrument.  The more often the "violin" is "played", a "bass-violin" even, the more often the tuning required.

If you choose a refractor, like a 90/660 achromat as previously suggested, there would be virtually no maintenance required.  Although the aperture would be smaller, again, per pound spent.  But under darker skies, a 90mm unobstructed aperture would show a great deal. 

With chairs, and a few tables of somewhat varying heights arrayed about and round the viewing area, a tabletop Newtonian-Dobson would serve; for example...

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/bresser-telescopes/bresser-messier-6-tabletop-dobsonian.html

There are the collapsible tabletop Newtonian-Dobsons, which are easier to put away upon the Sun rising...

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/dobsonians/skywatcher-heritage-130p-flextube.html

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/dobsonians/sky-watcher-heritage-150p-flextube-dobsonian-telescope.html

However,  I can't help but think about the mechanics of those, the pulling-apart and the collapsing, and how they might become damaged more easily over time; wonky in their motions.

A 130mm or 150mm aperture would be quite the eye-opening experience for your guests.

Then, for whichever you choose, a 7-21mm or 8-24mm zoom-ocular is an absolute must.

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