What can I expect to see/enjoy with my telescope

Hi,

I’ve always had an interest in stargazing and amateur astronomy. For my 15th anniversary with my company I was offered a gift. To my wife’s significant disappointment, I chose a Celestron 6 SE over a fully automated cappuccino maker.

I’ve been out with it a few times, mainly on cold clear nights in the Smoky Mountains. Saturn looked really cool, as well as some double stars. But that is about it. I just suck at finding reference points in the scope that I can program into the finder system, and have literally spent 2+ hours each night getting it correlated to the point where the motorized system can auto-align to a catalog of objects (this involves identifying two, and ideally three, known stars, upon which the scope can automatically compute and point to the relative position of other objects). I cheat and use an iPhone App (Starwalk) to identify the stars, but getting a specific star in the field of view of the telescope is close to impossible for me without a lot of trial and error.

Once aligned, it works very well for planets - I can hop from Mars to Jupiter consistently. Large stars as well - once zeroed in it finds other stars in the catalog and navigates almost perfectly on center to each. Everything else has been a fail - no nebula, close galaxies or anything like that. Andromeda looked like a cloudy fuzz, yet I have a very distinct memory (one that has been verified by other people that were there) of seeing it very clearly through binoculars on an exceptionally cold and clear night at a defunct ski resort in Vermont.

What should I expect to be able to see? We’re pretty remote in the Smokies with little light pollution (at least a lot less than Tampa, where I live the other 99% of the time - the cabin in the mountains is the in-laws place). Most nights it’s dark and clear enough that I can (barely) see the Milky Way, and the stars are just gorgeous. I would just like to see more of them with this dang scope.

Comet Lovejoy – THIS week!

That looks like a fairly decent Schmidt-Cassegrain 6" reflecting telescope.

You should be able to clearly see the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn.

The moon should look phenomenal. I used to have a 4" refracting telescope and could make out the above.

I’m still looking for the Lovejoy comet with binoculars. I can’t find it. :frowning:

How are you trying to zero in on your guide stars? In the main scope (I hope not!), or in the finder scope, or in a naked-eye reticule? Is your finder and/or reticule zeroed in well on the main scope? A good way to get them zeroed is to go out during the day, and aim the main scope at some prominent but distant piece of the landscape (turn the drive off for this): A corner of a building, the tip of a flagpole, a mountain peak, etc. If you’re a little bit off initially in your aim, you can usually figure out where you should be based on what else you see, and correct it that way. Once you’ve got the main scope aimed at your target, you can adjust your targeting.

I don’t know the winter skies as well as summer, but one thing your should definitely be able to see right now is the Orion Nebula. Do you recognize the constellation Orion? If you find the three stars of his belt, below those are the three stars of his sword. The middle star of the sword may look fuzzy even to the naked eye (depending on your eyesight), and is the Orion Nebula. It’s got a whole lot of nebula, plus some brand-new stars in its core.

While we’re in the vicinity of Orion, follow his belt line to the left, and you’ll see Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Don’t bother looking at it in the scope; stars are boring. I mention it only for reference: If you follow the belt line to the right, about twice as far as the distance to Sirius, you’ll see the Pleiades, another naked-eye object (a cluster of stars). Naked eye, you’ll see about six of them, or maybe eight if your vision’s very good (I don’t know why they’re called the Seven Sisters-- Stars #7 and #8 are about the same brightness). With a telescope, you’ll see a bunch more.

Once it gets to summertime, you’ll have an easier time of it. Find the constellation Sagittarius (it looks exactly like a teapot, and will be near the southern horizon). Once you’ve found that, you can just about point your scope at a random spot in that vicinity of the sky, and have a pretty good chance of seeing something interesting (prominent examples include the Lagoon and Triffid Nebulas). Oh, and you’ll also be a lot more comfortable out, too.

Finally, I’d just like to say that I’m glad you chose a decent scope. Too many beginners get a no-name piece of trash from a big box store, with such terrible quality that you can’t see anything. But Celestron (and Meade and Orion, the other two big names) makes quality scopes.

EDIT:

Be warned: If you look at the Moon after your eyes have adjusted to the dark, it’ll be painfully bright, and you’ll lose your dark adaptation. Save it for a night when you’re not looking at anything else. You’ll get the best views near a half-moon, because the shadows will throw the mountains into contrast.

Thanks for the info, Chronos (and all).

I am using the finder scope to locate objects. I did align it one day to the tip of a cell tower that is perhaps .5 - . 75 miles away. My problem is that the alignment is subject to user error – the finder scope is just a ring with an LED elevation mount in front of it that you can adjust to be center in ring and then target both on an object, but I’m frustrated by the relative position of “me” compared to the finder scope – if I’m not looking at it exactly straight on from the same position that I zeroed it I just can’t easily find things in the scope that I can clearly see in the sky (and that are also present in through the finder).

This is undoubtedly user error, but on a dark night I just can’t see if I’m looking through the finder dead-on or if I’m at a small angle which changes everything. Compounding this is the position of the scope – I centered it while it was pointing at the tower, which was perhaps a 45 degree inclination and very comfortable for me to stand and view, but target stars are sometimes close to the horizon or almost directly overhead, which means I have to contort my body and get into an uncomfortable position to view “dead-on” through the finder and scope.

At any rate, I have made it work…but still haven’t been able to see as much as I have hoped. I’ll refer to your post as I explore the skies – I have seen Pleiades through binocs before as well, and would like to again. May I ask where you are in the world? Summer and winter is relative, as is what is in the night sky. Summer viewing here in Tampa, FL is almost a non-starter – too much cloud cover and humidity coupled with light pollution on most nights.

Consider getting a moon eyepiece filter that reduces the moon’s light. This link has lots of information on filters, but some seem quite limited.

I bet your finder can find each of the Messier objects. There are “challenges” to see how many you can find in one night, such as the Messier marathon in the spring. I don’t have automatic drive so I’m envious; I wish I could find objects automatically.

Something that helped me overcoming how disappointing the views in a telescope are, especially compared to the great pictures from Hubble, is that you are looking directly at an object, with no interpretation or interference. Think how cool it would be if Betelgeuse were to explode while you were looking at it!

You can always check Tonight’s Sky and Earthsky Tonight for ideas of what to look for.

When friends ask me to show them something in my telescope, I rarely ever go beyond the solar system. The moons of Jupiter (I always explain how they are a clock) and the rings of Saturn, when available, and usually finishing up with the moon. With a decent telescope, you get a real sense of the moon as a place, a landscape, that you don’t get in photographs.

Once you get beyond Saturn, it’s pretty much points of light and fuzzy stuff. Fuzzy stuff is cool, but once you explain to people what that fuzzy thing is, they almost always want to see what the Hubble picture of it looks like.

Personally, looking through a telescope gives me a feeling of wonder that feels more “real” than looking at pictures, even though professional pictures are cool and I look at them too. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not so much what you can see, but how you feel when you’re seeing it.

My luck with deep sky objects is hit and miss, but when I manage to see one, it’s always a thrill, even if it’s just a fuzzy thing I can barely see. It’s not the nebula, it’s idea that it’s really out there, impossibly far away, and I can see it!

45-50 minutes after sunset, Venus is bright in the west, and for a few more days Mercury can be seen to its right. I’d say a 6-inch scope should be more than enough to see what phase Venus is in.

Wow! The Celestron 6 SE looks like a nice scope. I don’t think a fully automated cappuccino maker would have given you the same resolution. I do believe Celestron will allow you to accessorize this product. Maybe save up and add a Star Sense Auto-Alignment Telescope Accessory?

Indeed. I’ve just come in from my evening walk and I had lovely views of both Venus and Mercury.

Yes, I’ve just been out in the garden looking at it through binoculars.

Could a person see the ISS?

I think a telescope would actually make it more difficult to see the ISS since it’s moving so fast. You can see it with the naked eye using this site to determine when it’s visible in your area.

Yes, very easily, if you know where it’s going to be. It’s slightly brighter than Venus, and moving very quickly, so it’s extremely easy to spot. Trying to find it through a telescope would be a challenge, I think, because it’s moving so fast.

http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Here’s an amazing video of the ISS passing in front of the moon (slowed down 10 times), which gives you an idea of just how quickly it moves across the sky. http://vimeo.com/108295796

You can see the ISS with your naked eye, and in fact it’s often the brightest thing in the sky.

You can in principle also see it through a telescope, but it’s very tricky, since it moves across the sky quickly: You basically have to be really good at guessing where it’s going to be, aim the telescope at that spot, and then quick look through just as it’s passing. I had a student once who had the knack for doing that, so I’ve seen it, but it’s not something I’ve ever been able to pull off myself.