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Help needed selecting for a school astronomy budget


njs
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Hi, I've been asked to give an equipment proposal for a primary school astronomy club. With a possible budget of min £500 to max £2000 what would you suggest? My thoughts are a computer goto telescope catadioptric design, powerful enough to give impressive views, a range of eyepieces, a cheapy laptop to run Stellerium and perhaps another two other scopes of different style like refractor and reflector dob or EQ mount. So I'm looking at FLO and the range looks like either Celestron or Skywatcher. Any other suggestions?

Need some help selecting please!

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Hi Neil

That's a great question. I'd suggest a small(ish) Mak for long focal length sharp views of planets, a large(ish) dob for dso's and maybe a short tube refractor on motorised eq for wide angle imaging projects. Here's a few links:

Dob - Dobsonians - Skywatcher Skyliner 200P FlexTube GOTO

Mak - Maksutov - Skywatcher Skymax 127 OTA

Refractor - William Optics - William Optics Megrez 72 FD APO

You can vary the tube sizes and mounts to fit budget - or get them second hand to cut costs and/or obtain higher specs.

There are other combos of course but here you'll have a variety of types and sizes, and they can base plenty of different projects on them including observing challenges, drawing exercises, and imaging projects. They will need a few accessories too so make sure you know what each scope requires by way of power, eye pieces, and collimation at least. The kids can bring webcams or borrow dads dslr's lol

I could fit all that in £2000 with a mix of new and used :)

(oh - they can borrow a laptop from the school computer rooms lol)

Edited by brantuk
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Don't forget that primary pupils are tiddlykids! So they will not be able to safely reach the eyepiece on a big Dob or EQ mounted newtonian! I would stick to refractors / Maks - it is likely that they would get the biggest "wow" from the Moon and Saturn/Jupiter + its moons, DSO's are just faint blobs and very dull (to an under 11 year old!).

They would probably appreciate a videocam / computer link to see the Moon as a group too. You may even be able to mount a simple digital camera to the eyepiece (with one of those special brackets for that purpose) for each pupil to be able to take their "own" picture of the Moon.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Don't forget that primary pupils are tiddlykids! So they will not be able to safely reach the eyepiece on a big Dob or EQ mounted newtonian! I would stick to refractors / Maks - it is likely that they would get the biggest "wow" from the Moon and Saturn/Jupiter + its moons, DSO's are just faint blobs and very dull (to an under 11 year old!).

They would probably appreciate a videocam / computer link to see the Moon as a group too. You may even be able to mount a simple digital camera to the eyepiece (with one of those special brackets for that purpose) for each pupil to be able to take their "own" picture of the Moon.

I agree. Main targets for this age group will be all things solar system, even M42 may fail to impress. They need instant wow factor to keep the interest. Nothing like the moon, Saturn and Jupiter for that.

If it was me i would be thinking of suggesting something like a Celestron 6SE. Tripod can be set to a handy height for kids. The eyepiece will never be in an awkward position. It has GOTO. And the 6" SCT is ideally suited for the targets in mind.

You'll have enough budget left for a Ha Solar Scope too.

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We have a Nexstar 6SE at the school (11-18yo) I teach at. It's perfect for the pupils.

  • Very easy to set up quickly and goto the objects you want - pupils are not patient creatures
  • The tripod can be lowered such that even the smallest of them can look through the eyepiece
  • Because it is small it can be taken in and out easily
  • Long focal length - great views of jupiter and the moon which the pupils really love

I would go for something similar, remembering to get a few essentials like a powertank with it (we tried using AA batteries for a while, it was amusing).

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I wouldn't recommend a solar scope for this age group as there is too much risk that they look through something else at the sun when they get home.

My two main criteria would be Alt Az and tracking. I think a 6SE would be great, and the video camera idea is good too. If you went for something like this Astro video cameras - Watec 120n - Mintron @ Modern Astronomy then you'd get better views on the PC/TV than you would see through an eyepiece.

Helen

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I wouldn't recommend a solar scope for this age group as there is too much risk that they look through something else at the sun when they get home.

My two main criteria would be Alt Az and tracking. I think a 6SE would be great, and the video camera idea is good too. If you went for something like this Astro video cameras - Watec 120n - Mintron @ Modern Astronomy then you'd get better views on the PC/TV than you would see through an eyepiece.

Helen

Or looking at it another way. If you don't introduce them too and point out the dangers of the sun, they may go home and grab their parents bins and decide to take a look at the sun. At least by showing them the solar scope and describing how important it is not too look, only through special scopes, they may get the message. It's tricky though. Both my kids have seen the sun in both white light and Ha, and both understand how dangerous it is without me around.

But i know what you mean Helen. Plus theirs the school insurance and H&S issue with the sun. So probably a total no go anyway. :D

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Yes, always a hard one Russ! I remember reading somewhere of a guy who used to do solar demos for schools. His first act was to put a carrier bag behind an unfiltered scope and watch it burn - then ask if any child would like to put their eye there instead!!

My nieces and nephews have it drummed into them that they can only look at the sun through Auntie Helen's special telescope!

Helen

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mum was a deputy head in a primary school for years and i help out with the odd project at times. i'd say refractor just for ease of viewing, ideally a goto just because it would allow the kids to find things with supervision ( and it avoids teacher etc looking an idiot when they cant find mars straight away)

setup time is also going to be important ( which favours a refractor over a reflector again) but needs to be balanced against the setup being stable enough to stand the childrens stumbles etc. a pernament pier would be ideal even if the mount still had to be fitted to it each time, the setup time will be reduced and the whole setup would be far more stable. maybe some form of padding to wrap round it would help aswell. talking of wrapping up, try and base the club in a warm classroom etc that is a short walk from the scope so they don't get too cold. (though adults seem to feel it far more than kids)

on a simliar theme some red lighting would be a good safety idea and a few red light torches. maybe a laser pointer would also help to show them constellations etc.

most important thing though is have a plan of what is going to be done with the equipment. moon, jupiter, mars, saturn etc are great for the first couple of times but to a casual observer they never seem to change unless you can prompt them to notice it, maybe get them to drawn jupiter and it's moons each time to they see the difference ? (thats one big splot of paint and 4 little ones plus what looks like the big bang where they knocked the paint over)

finally i'd guess that eyepieces with good eye relief would avoid problems both for children that wear glasses and give a bit of a safety margin from them geting an eyepiece in the eye when they lean forward too quickly.

finally finally :D don't forget books but be carefull not to get their hopes too high with fantastic images before they use the scope.

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  • 4 weeks later...

First thing I would do would be to check with the school to see if they are VAT Expemt. Not sure how it is with schools or what could be claimed but it would be worth finding out. That could make a real saving with the impending VAT increase to 20%.

If it was me i would spend my 2k on

Advanced Series GOTO - Celestron C8-SGT XLT GOTO

Dobsonians - Skywatcher Skyliner 300P Dobsonian

Evostar - Skywatcher Evostar 102 (EQ3-2)

that would come to around £1900 and theres a number of netbooks around now for about £200 you could even ask the parents if they can donate one. The 12 inch dob and 4 inch refractor would throw up good images of the planets that would sure give more than a few WOW moments and also give better images on deep sky stuff while the goto one will be a nice gadget that would keep the kids entertained. With a premium instrument like the C8 as a added bonus.

Best of luck

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