Backyard Astronomy

January 26, 2015

Beginning a backyard astronomy adventure

A couple months ago my wife casually asked if I would start looking into telescopes for our kids. I paused, then asked her to take a day to seriously consider the consequences of what she was asking. After our kids inevitably lost interest, was she prepared for a husband that might not? If we were going to do this I didn’t want a toy store telescope like I had when I was a kid - I wanted to see stuff!

To my surprise, she agreed to it.

After a lot of research, I had dizzying array of new glossary terms and good idea of what they looked like. I could at least explain the pros and cons of the different types to a normal person.

Fortunately for me, I got lucky when one of my scopes showed up on Craigslist. It was listed as a SkyQuest XT4.5, a dobsonian reflector which has a lot of praise beginners. Unfortunately when I went to see it, it was immediately obvious it had been listed wrong. Whereas a 4.5 could arguably fit on an end table, this one took up their entire living room! It was actually a XT6 (the numbers refer to the diameter of the tube, or aperture). I was glad I did my research!

It was a lot more scope than I planned for, but still an excellent scope for the money. My wife had reluctantly approved the 4.5 (she’s more of a refractor girl), so I had to make a Louisiana Purchase kind of decision. I figured I had already warned her - about getting a scope (and also our marriage), so I had some leeway.

The scope itself

(banana for scale)


My first target was the moon. I took these shots with a cell phone. Have you ever tried to take a picture with a camera through one of those viewfinders at popular points of interest? Or through a set of binoculars? Yeah, this is very similar. It was hard to balance the cellphone just right to get a good picture. I’ve since learned that many amateurs will take a video and then capture stills from it. That seems like much better approach.

I later decided that I should make better use of our DSLR. Since it would obviously take better pictures. These turned out better still - you can actually see the stripes in Jupiter! I can only imagine that I’m going to get better the more I get used to the equipment.

Signs that your new hobby might be catching on

None of these pictures have been posted processed yet, which is why they appear like a mirrored image. I'm still working on the post-production potential of this hobby.

The Moon

Jupiter (1)

Jupiter (2)

That looks like Jupiter!

I’ve discovered my laziness in learning all the functions on my DSLR has now hobbled my amateur astrophotography desires. I understand there is an almost endless ceiling for this stuff, but at the moment it seems my setup alone has almost an endless ceiling!

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