Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Smaller Telescope, Part I - In Defense of Smaller Telescopes

As an advocate for smaller telescopes, I frequently find myself trying to find better methods and procedures for the amateur and small telescope enthusiast. As I have grumbled many times, many amateur astronomers tend to put anything with an aperture less than 152mm (6 inches) into the category of toy, save for a few, high end exceptions. But as their light gathering capabilities are usually similar to these higher end smaller instruments, I find this a bit puzzling.
Instead of trying to find resources for smaller telescopes, perhaps a different approach is needed. That approach is to use resources and tools developed for binocular astronomy.
In short, binoculars are nothing more than small, twin telescopes, held together. They are all almost always low power, with 7x to 10x being perhaps the most common, regardless of aperture. Most books for binocular astronomy therefore tend to concentrate on objects that can be easily observed at lower powers, such as open clusters.
A small telescope, 70mm aperture or less, has two viewing advantages immediately. The first is, of course, magnification. With a modest assortment of eyepieces, one can choose their magnification, but normally they can have higher magnification than comparable binoculars. The other advantage is a steady mount. You can buy tripods and tripod adapters for binoculars, or other devices to steady the view. However, telescopes, even inexpensive ones, almost always include some sort of mount. 
The combination of magnification and steady mount makes a small telescope complimentary or preferable in many ways. When  combined with observer guides for binoculars, the small telescope enthusiast is now armed with the tools necessary to do a fair amount of observing. 
Perhaps most binocular astronomy guides should carry "and small telescope" in their titling.
Next, we will look at some of the best resources for the smaller telescope.

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