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New (Ageing) Astronomer - Advice Needed


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Sanity check required. With retirement fast approaching, and with an interest in space, science-fiction (heavy on the science) and astronomy, I thought it was time to dive into a new hobby. My first thought was to blow the budget on the biggest, fanciest telescope I could get my hands on - a 120-127mm refractor, a 200mm Newtonian or a big Dobsonian - but reading this thread - 

- made me change my mind; however, I do want to get something to start out with, to at least get me out and looking at the night sky.

My thinking now is to get myself a Starwatcher Evostar 90 on an EQ3-2 mount. Please check my reasoning.

  • This is a very affordable telescope, currently about £260, suitable for viewing the moon, planets, some stars.
  • It should be a good match for the EQ3-2 mount. One of the  downsides mention in reviews is that the lighter mounts can be too flimsy. (And I have some ideas involving steel shot and resin)
  • I am used to using optical theodolites and levels, so I am not put off by an equatorial mount. It will be a learning curve, but one I'm happy with. This will also help if I ever graduate to something larger/more complex. And I understand the mount can be set up to operate as an Alt/Az as well?
  • Can even have a RA motor drive attached, although one of the locals was a bit sceptical about this.
  • Any extras I pick up could be transferred over to a replacement.

So...does this make sense (or have I gone completely bananas)? Answers on a postcard please...

I can't find an exact figure, but I think the combined weight comes in at about 7-8kg, so easy enough to move around.

Edited by Paul_Sussex
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Hi Paul, welcome to SGL. In this hobby there is no size fits all solution but it is advisable to remember what has always been very good advice, the telescope you use most often is your best. I started with a 200 P dob and now have a SW ST 120 and a 127  Mak and they all get used. Good luck and enjoy your new hobby.

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Highly recommend naked eye and binoculars to start with. If you have not done any astronomy before and especially if you don't have someone with you to talk you through things like using finderscope, starhopping and generally finding your way around, then jumping straight in with a telescope will be very challenging and more likely to lead to frustration and disappointment than joy and wonder :)

If you are starting with no experience then I definitely think a pair of 10 x 50s or even 7 x 30 binoculars and a tripod will be money well spent. You can get some really quick wins - the moon looks amazing and is very easy to find! Scanning the milky way on a summers night with binoculars is always an amazing experience - I never get tired of that. Spotting jupiter's moons is easily within reach. You can see globular clusters, open clusters and, if you have a dark sky, galaxies and nebula. The other advantage is you don't need to worry about finderscope or inverted or mirror image views so locating things is considerably more straight forward.

If you are still interested after a season or two then adding a telescope to your equipment doesn't mean you won't stop using the binoculars - they will always be useful and enjoyable for astronomy. And if you lose interest in the hobby they are still a handy thing to have whenout walking or on holiday - same can't be said of an EQ3-2 mount ;) 

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Hello Paul and welcome to the site 👍

I think your reasoning is quite sound; it's as you say an affordable telescope, you have an expectation of what you will see through the telescope, any upgrades can go with you and you have thought about moving it around.

The one thing not mentioned in your thinking is storage. Whichever telescope you go for, it has to be stored somewhere safe and they are all larger than what you think. I started, like banjaxed, with a 200P dob and that did need some storage space but at the same time a very easy use device.

Here's a thread that is well worth a look... 

A few clear nights and some good views of the moon and you will be hooked like the rest of us. 😜

 

 

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Hi Paul,

It may be worth mentioning that there are a couple of healthy second hand sites worth checking, where you may be able to pick up a quality scope at a fraction of its new cost, such as here on SGL, and Astro Buy & Sell UK. There are so many lovely scopes available today that its hard to pin one down as a starter scope. Personally I think a refractor is a good choice, as it needs almost no special care, and will be as good in a hundred years as it was on the day it was bought. I do like 4" (102mm) as a serious aperture that will show good views of every kind of object. Of course whatever scope you choose, like every hobby it takes time and experience to become skilled, and the more you use it the better you'll become at observing.

 

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Posted (edited)

Many thanks, all, for your replies. And I appreciate that starting with binoculars could be the "sensible" approach. On the other hand, actually seeing the moon and possibly other planets through my own telescope...!

I could shave even more of the budget and go for a Capricorn 70mm EQ1 - according to FLO, "...The 70mm aperture, long focal-ratio and coated optics provide pleasing views of Jupiter and some of it's moons. Saturn with it's rings is easily identifiable and the lunar surface will show a wealth of detail. Some of the brighter deep-sky targets are also within reach including the Orion nebula, M13 Globular cluster in Hercules and the beautiful double-star Albireo..." Only £115 or so and still with an equatorial mount.

Whatever I got would be a learning tool for me - getting used to an equatorial mount and finding my way around the sky. And I am looking at joining one of the local groups, so wouldn't be doing this in isolation.

And not that I expect to do anything like as well, but I thought this thread was interesting - 

 

Edited by Paul_Sussex
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I'm a little  older than you and only really started getting into astronomy a year ago.  To start with I would suggest something like a Skywatcher Startravel 102t and a simple mount like a Skywatcher AZ5 and a tripod. Very simple and cheap to begin with. The only extras you need would be a 90 degree star diagonal ( the 45 degree diagonal that comes with that scope is only really suitable for terrestrial viewing) and a decent budget eyepiece.

You can just sit in the garden on a clear night and look at the heavens, if you want to progress from there then the sky is your  limit!

If you don't want to then you haven't spent a fortune but at least you have started with something half way decent, starting with something poor will almost certainly put you off.

Have a chat with First Light Optics linked to at the top of this page.

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12 hours ago, LaurenceT said:

You can just sit in the garden on a clear night and look at the heavens, if you want to progress from there then the sky is your  limit!

Im marking you down for using that awful pun , Laurence 🤣

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On 29/03/2022 at 09:53, Paul_Sussex said:

I am used to using optical theodolites and levels

 

16 hours ago, Paul_Sussex said:

go for a Capricorn 70mm EQ1

That's, IMO, like fire and water. I guess, you would be very disappointed by the mechanical "quality" of the mount. If you want to get a really sturdy mount, I'd suggest to rely on a Dobsonian telescope. If you don't want to delve into the dark arts of astrophotography, manual positioning and tracking can easily be learned and becomes second nature. For the price of the Capricorn refractor, you can get a 4" f/4 Dob, with accessories, like this:

https://www.teleskop-express.de/shop/product_info.php/language/en/info/p6827_Skywatcher-Heritage-100P-Tischdobson---100-mm-f4-Reiseteleskop.html

or, if you'd stretch your budget a bit, this one:

https://www.teleskop-express.de/shop/product_info.php/info/p2705_Skywatcher-Heritage-130P-FlexTube-Dobsonian---130-mm-Parabolic-Optics---6years--.html

But, as has been said, take yourself time, and consider to start with a decent pair of 7/8 x 30/40 binoculars. Keep reading and asking here - and welcome to the forum!

Stephan

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Hi Paul,

Like others here I'm in the second year of the new hobby, and it's certainly been a worthwhile journey so far. My own experience is that enthusiasm has been more important than getting the "right" setup. Each time I've been out with the telescope I've learned new things (and new lessons). These included disappointments - even when I felt I had my eyes open the realities didn't always match my anticipation - as well as real highs and moments of wonder. To some extent I think that so long as you don't buy an absolute clanger - and it seems to me you're not going to - you'll grow into the whatever equipment you get. After that it's quite easy to grab bits and bobs of equipment here and there to gradually upgrade according to your fancies and interests.... So far mine have yet to get really expensive!

The really big challenge I find is how few clear nights there are in the UK. For me this is not helped by juggling a busy job and having a young family, meaning that I'm often not able to get out until fairly late, and probably lose about half of the good nights because I'm just too dog tired to get up and out.

However I have never regretted it once I'm out! 

Edited by Giles_B
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1 hour ago, Giles_B said:

The really big challenge I find is how few clear nights there are in the UK.

I've written it before ... we must be the most enthusiastic and patient astronomers i the world . Light pollution , cloud and rain , wind , dew , fog, poor seeing , its all here in the UK ! 

Only our joy from the hobby makes it all worthwhile . 

To add my 2 pence worth of knowledge ( for knowledge read mistakes made in this hobby) , a 200mm Dobsonian would be a great start on your journey.

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Hi Paul

Welcome to SGL and welcome to the wonderful world of astronomy! As I tell my wife, it keeps me out of the pubs and from staggering home! ;)

I am going to be very contrarian here. From hard earned experience I have learned that you need to decide a few things before jumping in. It will save you headaches, frustration, and money. First you need to decide what really moves you. Do you enjoy hunting for objects, using a celestial map to navigate, and possibly only seeing 2-3 objects in a given night? Or do you not care about the map reading et al. and just want to enjoy what there is to enjoy out there? Or is it both? Next you need to not limit yourself by saying moon, planets, and some stars. That is like saying you are about to cook a 5 course 3 Michelin Star level meal for your guests but you are going to pop off to the backyard to eat a stale bread sandwich. Lastly you need to decide now, before retirement, what is the most you can spend.

If it is seeing not hunting, both, and a budget under £500 then I would suggest the Skywatcher AZ-GTi with 130mm Newtonian. https://www.firstlightoptics.com/telescopes-in-stock/sky-watcher-explorer-130ps-az-gti.html It is light weight, has enough aperture to actually see things, easy to work with, has the option of GOTO or slipping the clutches and star hopping, will be good on most every type of object, is compact for storage, and can be carried even on public transportation to a dark sky site.

If it is only hunting and you are relatively fit and still under £500 then you want a bigger aperture that will get you better views and better ability to star hop. The Skywatcher Classic 200mm Dobsonian is a great choice. https://www.firstlightoptics.com/dobsonians/skywatcher-skyliner-200p-dobsonian.html I would recommend upgrading it to use a right angle corrected (RACI) finderscope https://www.firstlightoptics.com/finders/stellalyra-8x50-right-angled-correct-image-raci-finder-scope-with-bracket.html so you are not bending in difficult positions and a Telrad https://www.firstlightoptics.com/finders/telrad-finder-astronomy.html. The combination of Telrad and RACI will make star hopping much more comfortable and easy.

If the budget is over £1,000 then it opens up good possibilities. For example the Celestron NexStar 6". 150mm is a good option and is the entry point where you will be able to actually see detail on objects that makes it interesting. You can still see much with the 130mm but the 150 is going to be a big step up. You will have to budget for additional eyepieces (EP). I would recommend a 10mm and 16mm in addition to the EP that comes with the scope. https://www.firstlightoptics.com/nexstar-evolution-telescopes/celestron-nexstar-evolution-6-telescope.html

And if you are willing to go up to above £2,000 then things really open up for you. The 200mm SCT will show you the real wonders of the universe. For that I would recommend the Celestron NexStar 8". The same applies to this scope with the 6" in terms of eyepieces. https://www.firstlightoptics.com/nexstar-evolution-telescopes/celestron-nexstar-evolution-8-telescope.html

The key with everything except the Skywatcher Dobsonian is you have a computer to move the telescope for you AND most importantly a weight and ergonomic footprint that will be comfortable to work with well into your retirement years and keep you interested and pleased as well. In the astronomy hobby the best telescope for you is the one you use. There is something that happens to almost everyone in the hobby. It is called aperture fever. The hobbyist buys larger and larger telescopes until it gets to the point where it is so big and so heavy that they no longer use it and it is put in a corner gathering dust. Some do stick with it and go super big in the dobsonian or SCT market going to 400mm SCT's or even larger Dobsonians but watching the gyrations they go though are painful. 

As to the cost, you should plan to spend once and cry once. £2,000 is a big number. So is £500 but in those cases you will only have to spend once. You will have a telescope system that lets you enjoy the hobby and will be easy to use well into retirement. And compared to other hobbies it is actually affordable. 

That aside two additional things that you should consider and I strongly recommend. First is a good star atlas. It will be your roadmap. I personally like Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas. It is compact but has excellent information in it. If you are a star hopper then it will be your guidebook. With a GOTO mount it will provide objects for you to look at. The second is a comfortable adjustable chair. It is not for your rear end it is for your eyes. You see more if you are comfortably seated.  I suggest the Berlebach Hydra II chair. https://www.firstlightoptics.com/astronomy-observing-chairs/berlebach-hydra-ii-observers-chair.html

 

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Welcome to the forum.  As you can see there are lots of great suggestions and often the advice is overwhelming and confusing.  This is because everyone will have had differing experiences when they started up, or ventured into the hobby.  It's also so varied as whilst you may feel that visual observing is the starting point, you then get drawn into the dark art of imaging, and find that the equipment you purchased, whilst being fine for visual, doesn't quite come up to scratch when used for imaging.

My best advice... spend a few weeks reading through the forum.  The "I'm new to astronomy, what scope should I get for £xxxx" type post is one of the most common questions asked.  Again, you'll see that someone who starts off with a £300 budget who really wants to end up imaging soon ends up spending four or five times their original budget, but ends up with the scope / mount / camera that will last that user a lifetime and make imaging less of a struggle than trying to do the same on cheaper equipment.  The problem is that like everything in life its subjective.  There are millions of ways to skin a cat (as the saying goes) and the same goes for astronomy.  As previously mentioned, if you have a fairly decent sky you can simply go out into the garden and simply look up with your own eyes.  That works, there is  a lot to be seen naked eye, but by using even a standard pair of 8x40 binoculars you see a great deal more.  Yes you can then get larger binoculars, but they need a tripod to keep them steady, and deep pockets as a pair of astro 20x80 binos will cost as much as a small scope.

There was one thread recently regarding why most people are recommended the HEQ5 mount as the entry level mount for imaging.... For £800 second hand, or just over a grand new it's a really capable mount that works well for visual and for imaging.  Yes you can still image on cheaper, and some would say less capable mounts, and there are threads on here showing what can be done with an EQ3 mount... but some would argue the effort to get the results with the EQ3 is more than when using the HEQ5.  Again this is subjective and depends on the type of person you are.  Again, as already mentioned, if you want to push a scope around, star hopping to find a target, then your money will go further.  If you just want the scope to find the targets for you, then the computerised scopes will cost a fair bit more for the same aperture.  It all depends on you as an individual.

It's like going to a car dealer and saying I have £20K to spend on a car, and not giving the sales guy any clue as what's important to you, what your skill set are (automatic or manual) or if you prefer basic level equipment but more performance, or less performance but with every computerised option and leather seats.  The same goes for any hobby or interest including astronomy.  For me personally I couldn't be had with all the faffing around to learn the night sky (other than the basic constellations) and star hop, so opted for a goto mount.  I then discovered that I got far better results imaging than visual form my location, but found the EQ5 mount I had purchased was on its limit for imaging.  I ended up with an HEQ5 / 200 PDS combination now housed in its own observatory, so I can be up and imaging in around 20 minutes from putting the key in the door and opening it up.  This works for me.... but naturally took a fair bit of investment, but it suits my current level of imaging, and interest. 

 

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Posted (edited)

Well...so much advice.

Just to clarify, my initial budget will be about £500. (And I'm an impulse buyer...I'm desperately trying to resist this https://www.firstlightoptics.com/offers/offer_starbase-80-refractor-and-mount-package_264215.html at the moment!) And would like something to use in my small garden - Bortle 4 and surrounded by other houses - and portable enough to take with me to some local open sites, which may involve some walking (and I'm not that fit). I'm more interested in planetary observation, at least initially, and no imaging apart from some basic "phone held to the eyepiece" stuff. Now, within that budget I could get an Evostar 120 on an EQ3-2 mount, but that would clean me out and I'd have a (fairly) powerful telescope on a mount that was marginal. So I'd rather go for something inexpensive* and hopefully with some change for extras.

I'm looking at August some time for a purchase and will certainly do plenty of browsing on here in the meantime. 

By the way, am I missing something obvious? Someone mentioned a for sale section on the forum, but can I find it...☹️

 

*Not "cheap"

Edited by Paul_Sussex
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1 hour ago, Paul_Sussex said:

By the way, am I missing something obvious? Someone mentioned a for sale section on the forum, but can I find it..

You won't be able to see it until you have a certain number of posts. Unfortunately, scammers meant access had to be restricted. 

1 hour ago, Paul_Sussex said:

In terms of being a reasonably lightweight planetary set up it is probably quite a good option. However, whether it is worth the price tag compared to an equivalent Skywatcher achro or Maksutov I can't say. For £500 you could get a 127 Mak / az5 which I would expect to outperform an 80mm achro and also could be carried in a backpack to sites away from home. 

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9 minutes ago, Ricochet said:

 

In terms of being a reasonably lightweight planetary set up it is probably quite a good option. However, whether it is worth the price tag compared to an equivalent Skywatcher achro or Maksutov I can't say. 

Oh, I agree. A Skywatcher equivalent (ish) is what I originally talked about. But it looks so cute and I could sit there fondling it and calling it "my precioussssss"! 😉 See what I mean about impulse buyer!

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Or you could go in another, different direction.....my first scope was a Skywatcher Heritage Flextube 150p Dobsonian. With 6" of aperture, you'll see a lot more than with a small scope, it's light and easy to move around and store - no need for a heavy mount / tripod -  and it's a great little all rounder, giving you fine views of not only the planets, but brighter deep-sky objects too.

With a dob, most of your money goes on the optics, not the ancillaries!

 

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42 minutes ago, Paul_Sussex said:

Oh, I agree. A Skywatcher equivalent (ish) is what I originally talked about. But it looks so cute and I could sit there fondling it and calling it "my precioussssss"! 😉 See what I mean about impulse buyer!

Oh well in that case, and with typical SGL budget creep, this is what you're after:

 

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Posted (edited)

As a complete change in direction, I've never considered a Mak, probably because I knew nothing about them. But they were recommended by the local shop as a good start. Any opinions on something like a Skymax 102? Seems to fit the light and affordable criteria. And although I was looking for an equatorial mount, something like this could be tempting - Sky-Watcher SkyMax-102S AZ Pronto | First Light Optics - or even this for instant gratification - Sky-Watcher SkyMax-102 AZ GTi | First Light Optics

 

Edited by Paul_Sussex
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12 minutes ago, Paul_Sussex said:

As a complete change in direction, I've never considered a Mak, probably because I knew nothing about them. But they were recommended by the local shop as a good start. Any opinions on something like a Skymax 102? Seems to fit the light and affordable criteria. And although I was looking for an equatorial mount, something like this could be tempting - Sky-Watcher SkyMax-102S AZ Pronto | First Light Optics - or even this for instant gratification - Sky-Watcher SkyMax-102 AZ GTi | First Light Optics

 

Sorry I'm going to be "that guy" here and make a different suggestion - https://www.firstlightoptics.com/maksutov/sky-watcher-skymax-127-az-gti.html

The 127 is a very well thought of scope, has more light gathering power and is good for a range of targets that benefit from higher magnification such as planets, lunar details etc

Huge thread on the az-gti mount here, it can also be modded to run in eq mode should you so wish - 

If you really get into the hobby, resale values are usually pretty decent if you want to upgrade the mount later, or you could even add different OTA's to that mount if you decided you also wanted to go widefield for example with a fast refractor

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  • Paul_Sussex changed the title to New (Ageing) Astronomer - Advice Needed
1 hour ago, doublevodka said:

Sorry I'm going to be "that guy" here and make a different suggestion - https://www.firstlightoptics.com/maksutov/sky-watcher-skymax-127-az-gti.html

Yet another set-up I'm now looking at. But with a £500 budget, doesn't leave anything for extras. How useable is this "out of the box"? Or would I immediately need eyepieces, diagonal, etc? I'll have to check out that thread for advice.

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Ive got a 200p.great scope .fabulous value for money.have no need to upgrade.a very popular scope.im 64 but have not issues with it.good luck with whatever you choose.

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2 hours ago, Paul_Sussex said:

Yet another set-up I'm now looking at. But with a £500 budget, doesn't leave anything for extras. How useable is this "out of the box"? Or would I immediately need eyepieces, diagonal, etc? I'll have to check out that thread for advice.

Totally usable out of the box as is, in time you'll probably want to upgrade the eyepieces, we all do ;)  shows what it comes with here https://www.firstlightoptics.com/sky-watcher-az-gti-wifi/sky-watcher-skymax-127-az-gti.html#in_the_box Also worth reading the reviews there to get an idea of what other people think of it

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