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  #1  
Old 07-28-2009, 03:41 PM
HorseloverFat HorseloverFat is offline
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Amateur astronomy in Chicago?

I now have access to a rooftop and am thinking of getting some kind of telescope. Will I be able to see anything of interest in the middle of Chicago? Ive read the light pollution and air pollution in the city causes problems. If this is doable, what is a good entry-level telescope for a beginner under $500 or so. Any books, webpages, etc on this would be appreciated too.
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  #2  
Old 07-28-2009, 04:01 PM
Dinsdale Dinsdale is offline
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Originally Posted by HorseloverFat View Post
I now have access to a rooftop and am thinking of getting some kind of telescope. Will I be able to see anything of interest in the middle of Chicago? Ive read the light pollution and air pollution in the city causes problems. If this is doable, what is a good entry-level telescope for a beginner under $500 or so. Any books, webpages, etc on this would be appreciated too.
My family as some friends are quite into astronomy, tho I am quite ignorant. But my understanding is that at the low end most hobbyists would be better off buying a nice pair of binos with image stabilization, than most lower-priced scopes.

We live 25 miles west of Chi, and my wife and her friends would regularly drive an hour or more SW to find a good dark sky site. You will be able to see some interesting things in downtown Chicago, but of course, it will be limited. Heck, the moon itself is pretty darned cool, and you should be able to see Jupiter, Saturn, Mars... But a lot of the clusters and Messier objects will be invisible to you.

Re: resources - The Bad Astronomer used to post here. My wife used to subscribe to Sky and Telescope. A good friend of mine used to run the Naperville Astronomy Club and manage their website (my son landscaped their observatory as his Eagle project!)
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  #3  
Old 07-28-2009, 04:27 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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In the middle of city itself, you'll pretty much be restricted to the Moon, the planets, and (if you have the right filters; don't try it if you're not sure you know what you're doing) the Sun. You can still go out on stargazing trips away from the city, either by yourself or with a like-minded group. It looks like the local astronomy club is the Chicago Astronomical Society; you might want to contact them.
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  #4  
Old 07-28-2009, 04:44 PM
crowmanyclouds crowmanyclouds is offline
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... the Sun. ...
First thing I thought of too.
For my $500 I'd get this, a dedicated, hydrogen alpha, solar telescope.

CMC fnord!
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  #5  
Old 07-29-2009, 03:47 AM
Kyla Kyla is offline
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I own a telescope. I never once used it when I lived in Chicago. The seeing is absolutely abominable. I wouldn't waste my money on a telescope unless you plan on driving to Wisconsin every time you want to look at the sky.
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  #6  
Old 07-29-2009, 08:30 AM
Dinsdale Dinsdale is offline
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I wouldn't waste my money on a telescope unless you plan on driving to Wisconsin every time you want to look at the sky.
Yeah - another benefit of binos is they are more readily used for other things than a scope.
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  #7  
Old 07-29-2009, 09:38 AM
scr4 scr4 is offline
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I wouldn't get binoculars if I were observing in a big city. As Chronos said, the only things you can see well from a city are major planets, the moon and the sun. Binoculars are useless for observing these objects. Much better to get a slow (long focal length) refractor, or a catadioptric (Schmidt cassegrain or Maksutov cassegrain), or a dedicated solar telescope mentioned above.

Either that or get a pair of binoculars and drive outside the city.
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  #8  
Old 07-29-2009, 10:33 AM
coffeecat coffeecat is offline
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I had years of fun with a 4" Newtonian right next to Boston. Everything's about 2 magnitudes dimmer, but I could still see the Orion nebula, M31, M81 and 82, the Pleiades, and, of course, the Moon and planets.

This is nicer than my baby.
The 8" is still under budget.
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  #9  
Old 07-29-2009, 01:08 PM
KlondikeGeoff KlondikeGeoff is offline
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I second the motion to get in touch with an astronomy club. Not only can they tell you where the nearest dark skies are, but they probably have "star partes" where members set up their scopes, and let you look at all the different types. If they do have star parties at some dark sky spot, be sure to ask to go along so you can see all the wonders of the sky.

Also, for a beginner, I'd definitely advise going to the library and reading the many good books for neophyte backyard astronomers. One I recommend is The Backyard Astronome's Guide. It has a wealth of info on astronomy, but also about all the types of teescopes and what to look for.

Then, if and when you decide to buy, definitely look at second-hand scopes. Many are for sale as people move up to bigger and better scopes. Also ask the astronomy clubs if any of their members have a scope for sale.

My advice is to move to northern Arizona for good dark skies.
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Old 07-29-2009, 01:41 PM
rowrrbazzle rowrrbazzle is offline
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Originally Posted by HorseloverFat View Post
Will I be able to see anything of interest in the middle of Chicago?
As already stated: no, except for the brightest objects. I drove from Chicago to just west of DeKalb to see Hale-Bopp and one aurora display (it was worth it). I'll third the suggestion to find an astronomy club. And a little Googling will turn up relevant sites like this: http://www.observingsites.com/ds_il.htm
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  #11  
Old 07-29-2009, 02:01 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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As already stated: no, except for the brightest objects. I drove from Chicago to just west of DeKalb to see Hale-Bopp and one aurora display (it was worth it).
Well, Hale-Bopp (and Hyakutake, the year before it) would have been visible from the city, but you'd have gotten a lot better view from someplace darker. And those were both exceptionally bright, as comets go.
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  #12  
Old 08-07-2009, 07:49 AM
brooking brooking is offline
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Of couse you can do astronomy from a city

I'm disappointed by the answers to these questions and by the column's reply. The conventional wisdom is you can't do astronomy from a city and in general this wisdom is correct, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't and there aren't ways to really improve the situation. Telling someone new to the hobby to to drive 20-30 minutes every night is not going to make him/her do it with any regularity.

Light pollution is terrible in all big cities and we'd be better off without it for many reasons, but the actual worse thing for doing astronomy is trying to do astronomy with direct light shining in your eyes. If you go to the darkest skies in southern Arizona but had some huge headlights pointed at your scope, your observing experience would be WORSE than if you observed from the brightest city assuming you could shade your eyes from direct light. Not only could your headlighted-eyes not see dimmly but you'd also have all these distracting eyeball reflections on the eyepiece.

So access to a roof is a GREAT way to do astronomy. You get above streetlights, you have a wide open sky (hopefully you are above the treeline), and you have room to roam to reposition your telescope to avoid lights or see specific low-lying objects.

You need a telescope. Binoculars won't cut it. You need a big telescope, the bigger the better. Too big and it'll be too heavy to lug up the stairs to the roof, but big is important. In the city that I live (Austin) I live 9 blocks from the heart of downtown (6th/Congress) and had access to the roof. We would go up there with my 4" refractor and my friend's 8" Dobsonian reflector. Every time my friend's scope won out hand's down except on moon and planet views. Once in the winter we hauled up my 15" truss reflector and we had views of Orion's Nebula (M42) that rivaled views I've had through a 5" telescope in the darkest skies I've ever been to (southern New Mexico).

The size of your scope matters for seeing dark objects, period. You won't be able to see any of the faint things but you'll be benefited in drawing in extra photons from the bright objects. We've seen galaxies (M81/M82) through the 8" inches from the roof, all sorts of clusters, double stars, planets, the moon. You could never get bored observing from an urban location with an 8" telescope.

As to what telescope, I recommend one with digital setting circles. Once you orient the scope to two identifiable stars (and the only stars you'll see are bright ones so its actually easier to find your way around an urban sky than a dark one when the sky is overwhelmed with stars), it'll help guide you to objects. I personally detest digital telescope things as they only add to the complexity of a telescope, but sometimes you want to find things that have no stars anywhere close and they are quite useful for that. Unfortunately digital setting circles add $100+ to the cost of a scope so don't feel obliged.

Which scope? I'd recommend an 8" Dobsonian with digital setting circles. Specifically thi Orion should be pretty good--they are a company that has been around for at least 20 years and are known for helpful customer service: http://www.telescope.com/control/pro...oduct_id=27183

Again, if $500 is the hard limit then get the 8" (or 10" if you can handle the weight) one without the digital setting circles and get some accessories I list below:

What else? You'll need an atlas of some sort. Pocket Sky Atlas is all you'll need from an urban location. You'll eventually want better eyepieces as the ones that come with your scope aren't that great. The forums on cloudynights.com are rampant with speculation on the best cheap eyepieces. If you like books and like to pursue all options the Backyard Astronomer's Guide is great for gear and a general sky guide--be sure to get the 2008 edition. Star Ware is also good for talking about specific telescopes and eyepieces.

As to what to observe, it will be hard to know exactly what you'll be able to find through your scope. As a general rule star clusters (open and globular) are easiest followed by bright emission nebula and planetaries nebula. Galaxies are the hardest--there are probably only 10 you'll be able to see. However, double stars are fabulous and easy if you choose bright ones there are hundreds to from Chicago's sky (my favorite is Alberio). You'll never get tired of observing the moon. For most astronomers the moon is the enemy casting light. But for you, it just gives you one more thing to observe without adding too much light. Learn its craters by name. Charles Wood's book and columns in Sky & Telescope magazine are wonderful for making lunar geology fun.

Joining a local club and going to rural star parties is a great way to learn more about other telescopes, objects to observe, good eypieces, etc. Every astronomer loves sharing views of their telescope so don't be afraid to ask for a peek.

In sum, don't let the conventional wisdom get you down. Get a decent dobsonian scope, take it to the roof and find the moon and Jupiter. You'll be hooked. Learn to find more objects (having a knowledgeable friend would help). Take the new scope to darker skies when you can. Always keep observing.

Clear skies.
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  #13  
Old 08-07-2009, 02:16 PM
Snickers Snickers is offline
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Excellent post, brooking.
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