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Is GoTo Wrong For Beginning Astronomers?

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What is the "destination" for the newbies??

Just to be able to tick off as many objects as possible in the minimum amount of time or gain an understanding of the heavens above us and how it all fits together.

IMHO there needs to be an Astonomy 101 which at least explains how a telescope works, how a mounting - Alt-Az and Polar works, what an eyepiece does, how to "see", and the basic ( I mean basic) issues of photography. Looking at the forum questions which come up over and over again and the "for sale" lists (!!); this might help beginners understand what they are getting into before they make too many costly mistakes.

Nothing to do with GOTO or not....just the basics of our wonderfull hobby.


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In fact a lot of the pleasure for me in DSOs, is the achievement of actually finding them in the first place. If a goto just takes you straight there and takes you on a whirlwind tour of faint misty patches, mightn't that get a bit boring?

The challenge is the thing for me.


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I had and equatorial mounted telescope when first started out. Now starting again i use a goto, which works fine even on a garden patio and objects are mostly in view. i must admit, old habits are hard to break and often don,t use the goto just steer about manually!

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It is a very personal choice Richard, when the amount of clear skies are few and far between I can see how goto can be used to maximise the available time at the eye piece...

That's my experience. If I hadn't had the benefit of GOTO when I started I think my first and only telescope would now be a home for spiders in the cupboard under the stairs.

The thing is, it's a hobby - something we do for enjoyment (at least that's the theory - it falls down a bit when you're out on a cold, windy night, freezing your rocks off trying to glimpse something between the clouds), so anything which adds to peoples' enjoyment is surely a good thing.

Now, I appreciate that for some individuals, the reward is in the journey and for others it's in the destination (and for yet more, it's in acquiring the best or the most toys). None is "better" than the others, they just want different things, that please them in different ways.

If you have the money, I'd say go to GOTO. If you then decide that astronomy's not for you, you can always put your equipment up on eBay - but at least you've been able to find out quickly that you've seen what astronomy had to offer, but aren't interested. It would be a shame if people abandoned astronomy, not because they weren't interested but because the frustrations of not being able to see the sights discouraged them too soon.

Edited by pete_l
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For me it's GOTO, I rarely have the time to spend wondering if I am looking at what I want to see or not.

In Scotland at least, clear nights are few and far between and for me my time cannot be wasted on the hunt. For others the hunt is the fun, but for me it's definately seeing the object or imaging it.

But as has been said, each to their own. GOTO's are relatively cheap these days and can add so much enjoyment even on the moon and planets and especially for children and family who maybe don't want to wait all night for the eureka moment of finding an object.

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I have limited time to go out at night, Goto gets me looking at things I would never have time to find.

I can understand old traditionalists feeling like its cheating, but I have to say I am also learning the sky well enough with Goto, sometimes I ignore goto completely and try to star hop (with which im slowly improving).

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Merlin your right about simple guides - thats in part why I write stuff cos I get fed up answering the same questions - its just easier to have a guide on my site and say 'go read this' - thats ythe whole basis of my site - laziness on my part :eek:

Seriously though Merlin you are expert on many topics so why not write up some of your knowledge. I do it as well because my obserbing time is so limited and its a way of both staying in touc with the hobby and contributing a bit to it - if all the effort I put in helps one newbie I would consider it worth the time.

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I can honestly say that I can see both sides of the argument. GOTO does reveal to you where stuff is. Trying to observe M51 in a 4" reflector was a nightmare - had I found it but couldn't resolve it or was I looking in the wrong place? Got GOTO and found I had star hopped correctly in accordance with my Star Atlas 2000 but just didn't have a enough scope to see it - very frustrating. :p Then there is the virtue of using GOTO when there is patchy cloud and you haven't observed for ages so you're desperate to get out. Well after alignment, you can dial in what you want and wait for the sky to clear and enjoy. We all know that this is often as good as it gets sometimes. :)

Conversely, GOTO reminds me a little of those establishments where you can help yourself to the starter course - there is a temptation to put a little bit extra on - GOTO can also make you a little greedy, encouraging you to rush the actually observing bit. If you've spent half the night looking for something, you're less likely to 'glance' at it for a short and will want to take a longer time examining it more closely - this extra time spent does improve your observation skills.

In honesty I am one of those people who actually switches it off occasionally. I want to discover my own objects and the Milky Way is a great area just to float around and see what you see. Our lifestyles (+ weather!) are not always helpful in providing us with enough time to sit still and enjoy it all and a little bit of help in the form of GOTO is understandable but remember not everything you might want to see is catalogued - comets?

Clear skies :eek:


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I personally treat Goto rather as I would a Sat Nav. I like to know where I am going, then use Goto or a Sat Nav for the last details.Learn something about the sky first, and don't just get a handheld computer to find everything for you. How do you know it is accurate?

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but what good is it if you can't identify Canis Major?

Goto won't help you identify Canis Major, the thing is too big, even binoculars won't show it all in relation to the rest of the sky, so it is eyeballs only.

Seems no use complaining about goto's, they are on Alt/Az, Equitorials and Dobs now, basically all scopes now have goto options available to them. And people like them.:):D:D

Remember that kids now who may have an interest in Astronomy are 100% used to a computer system and many will not see any problem with a computer system as the normal.

People at a recent evening were holding iPads up to the sky and these were identifing the section of the sky and what was in it. No scope necessary it would seem.

What was available 30 years ago is irrelevant to today, don't think that it is. The ED glasses that we now expect on half decent refractors weren't available then. Mirrors for reflectors were not available nor as accurate. Computer controlled systems make the accuracy possible now and they also make the mass production of them possible also.

Digital photography also makes astrophotography possible. 35mm film wasn't really up to it. Stacking was not applicable.

Could you consider a book of RA/Dec cordinates as a "goto"? They do tell you where to point to scope to see an object. That is telling you where to goto and making it easy. :eek:

You couldn't have posted this "complaint" 20 years ago, never mind 30. Seems to be using a digital computer system to complain about people using a digital computer system.

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I use GOTO a lot, but I also try to find objects without relying on the GOTO. I only have an RDF finder, so if there are no convenient naked-eye signposts to a target, then I rely on GOTO.

I wish I could instruct my mount to slew equatorially (e.g. the Up button goes North, instead of to the zenith) rather than as Alt-Az. Its computer could handle the maths easily. I think of the sky in equatorial terms but my mount insists on doing things Alt-Az, which I find pretty confusing when I try to star-hop. I know I could wedge my 4SE and get equatorial behavior, but I can't see Polaris from where I observe. So I'll just grumble instead... :-)

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I am a relative newb in this hobby too (about 18 months in) and personally, I have always used a book/map, a RDF and an optical finder easily and found almost all the targets I have gone for (if they could be seen - I have often been in the right place but unable to see them).

more recently I am working on a cheapo 'push to' system with a Wixey and a digital compass initially but eventually an angle encoder for both my scopes as well as a PDA to convert the co-ordinates; I have effectively given in to the GOTO crowd.

I don't consider myself an expert by any means and from home cannot even see let alone identify the lesser constellations, although maps and star hopping leads me to them.

At the end of the day we are mostly doing this for enjoyment rather than professionally and whatever we do should be about just that, enjoyment. Thankfully due to this forum, newcomers to the hobby have a mine of info on what works and what doesn't, what their options are etc. They can then decide what fits them and enjoy the hobby and any observing time they get. As long as they understand then limitations of what they buy then there's no reason they need to learn the sky.

Personally though I tend to agree they are missing out and chasing an endless list of targets from a handset ("yep, seen it, what's next") is not my cup of tea. I feel that the hunt is part of it and failure is not always a bad thing if you learn from it. I think that once you find a hard won target you tend to look at it more and for longer - but again that's not for everyone either.

As a former birder we saw cases where people had driven the length of the country to see a bird, arrive, lift the bins for 10 seconds and then get off for the next one. They were perfectly happy doing this but for me I wanted to see what the bird did, how it fed, how it flew and interacted with others etc. As others have said each to their own I suppose......

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I learn't the constellations by naked eye, got a closer look wih binoculars,then got a telescope. but that was nearly 30years ago under country skies.

How's the average beginner meant to learn the sky if they don't have access to darkish skies?

I wouldn't want goto, unless i got into imaging in a big way(unlikely), but i think its great for beginners- what was the hardest part when you started out?- finding things most likely.

Yep goto's great for beginners- gets more people interested in Astronomy in the first place,& stops the interest dying quickly when all they can find by hand is the moon.

And just because you start with goto, doesn't mean you won't learn to do it the old fashioned way later.


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I'm a beginner and when I bought my EQ6 mount it didn't come with the Goto motors. It was very frustrating for me to find the objects I wanted especially in Light Polluted London. It took me about 40mins just to find M31. Also considering how little clear sky I seemed to be getting.

When I upgraded to goto it was a revelation....I could quickly locate the object I wanted. I still use the Binos to do some star hopping and try to get my way round the sky. But don't think I would have seen one tenth of the stuff I have if I didn't upgrade and certainly wouldn't have enjoyed the skies as much.

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New technology !

As a child I spent many happy hours de-coking my dads cylinder head from his Hillman Minx every few months , putting 'dubbin' on my 'casey' ( waterproofing for a leather football for younger readers) and re-greasing my push bike bearings every other week.

Because I was taught the inner workings of things I find knowing why and where the heavens pass over and how they are laid out appeals to me so I generally spend my time learning this aspect of star gazing.

It suits me in the same way that I appreciate a car more for what is under the bonnet and whether it has progressive rate gas dampers than what it looks like.

You don't need to know the Otto cycle to appreciate a car, you may just like the colour !

Each to their own....

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Used to have an MG, had to "maintain" it on a regular basis, as in every other weekend.

Haven't touched the 4 yr old Passat since I got it, runs fine, smooth and more then twice the fuel economy of the MG and bigger, more power and more comfort.

Oh yes, people cannot break into it with a pen knife and start it up with the same pen knife.

Yes, New Technology ! Better reliability, economy, comfort, safety. Terriable isn't it. :eek::D:D

Is there a scope mount that doesn't have a goto capability these days? Have read of several Dob owners raving about the new goto enabled Dobs. So I guess there is a goto for everything.

Really the "debate" about goto should cease. I don't see it elsewhere in the world. Never seen the moaning whining and whinging about goto's on CN. It is a scope type and is used for astronomy. If someone doesn't want goto then don't buy, amazing simple, but stop the incessant moan. It is really BORING, and really belittles astronomy.

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The question its self says more than the answer. How can anything be wrong if it helps the individual enjoy doing their hobby. A pointless question in my book.

It is wrong if you buy a goto when your enjoyment is gained from the challenge of finding the target manually (a wasted extra expence) AND you dont use the goto.

The opposite also holds true and it is therefore down to the individual to chose what they will enjoy most.

I bought an SPX "8 newt and it is rubbish, why? Because i find it uncomfortable to use and hate setting it up but that doesn't make it a bad scope, just incorrect for me.

I tried an sct the other day and by god what a revelation in comparison.

The question really should be "is goto the wrong choice for your requirments?"

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I think we have to "move with the times"... To keep pushing the manufacturers. Aside from equatorial mounts, I can think of few products, which feature so many components that are immediately (and willingly?) dismissed as "quasi-useless" by their target users? Folks, I speak of setting circles. Aside: We, the more stubborn, have at least battled with (used) 'em? :p

In the 70's, I effectively put astronomy "to bed" - because I never thought I'd be able to afford a telescope. My interest is astronomy never waned, but, for ~35 years, was restricted to re-reading (post-war perspective!) books, I'd had since I was seven years old. After the turn of millennium, and enforced retirement, I then discovered that equipment had (for quite a few years) actually become affordable!

But then my pre-built observatory will (hopefully) be installed soon. Maksutov and Alt-Azimuth (Ioptron!) based t'boot... Y'gotta push the boundaries, right? :)

P.S. I don't mind these DEBATES - Queensbury rules n'all? I often gain from (albeit reluctantly!) seeing / incorporating others' arguments and ideas... :eek:

Edited by Macavity
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I think we have to "move with the times"... To keep pushing the manufacturers. Aside from equatorial mounts, I can think of few products, which feature so many components that are immediately (and willingly?) dismissed as "quasi-useless" by their target users?

I don't agree with this. Quite seriously, I once saw a pair of shoes with a compass in the heel. :eek:

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I think we have to "move with the times"... To keep pushing the manufacturers.

You have the problem the wrong way round. It's the manufacturers that push us ... advertise chocolate fireguards and some idiots would buy them.

If you want the convenience of a tracking altaz mount then you really need the computer to control it, and because you need to align the thing, you might as well have the "goto" functionality. In any case, it's a convenience. The issues are that setting up a goto mount takes time and seems to be a source of frustration to many beginners ... a non tracking mount doesn't have that, just plonk it down and start observing. And the sort of targets that beginners usually want to see are either so bright & obvious that goto isn't any real help (moon, planets) or so faint that experience is needed to be sure that the target has actually been located.

Goto isn't "wrong" but IMHO you get to see more interesting stuff doing the job by star hopping. And you get more observing time. And you save money on the electronics to spend on larger or better quality optics.

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I am a beginner and I have bought a GOTO scope!

Why, well I do not believe that you should have to serve an apprenticeship by trying in vain to look at the night sky. This could easily turn people off who do not want to spend hours and see nothing.

I will use my GOTO to begin with for sure but expect that I will want to learn more and may eventually not use the GOTO.

I have a pro-grade DSLR but occasionally still use programmed auto. Why not? I can take a photo on fully manual and do so very often but why miss the moment if you can just switch it on and stick it into auto-drive?

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