A brief introduction to my ongoing love affair with Amazon Prime
True to the beauty of Amazon Prime (which I highly, highly recommend if you’re an Amazon frequenter) my Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope arrived two days after I ordered it. That evening I rushed home from work, anxious to setup and use my first telescope.
The Telescope – Unboxing and Setup
The Celestron 70mm Travel Scope is a refractor telescope. The term “refractor” refers to how light is focused in this specific type of telescope. Essentially, a refractor telescope uses a lens to focus the incoming light through the eyepiece. Check out this article on refractor telescopes over at Wikipedia for more details than you probably care for!
In any case, the scope comes in a nicely packaged box. There are a couple of different parts: The tripod, the main telescope tube, a diagonal, a finderscope, and two eyepieces (one 20mm and one 10mm).
Everything seemed to be of decent quality, but the tripod was notably flimsy (this comes into play later). Even having no idea what I was doing, the setup was very easy. Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure what the different parts did at this point, but everything assembles pretty obviously. The basic steps are 1) open and extend the legs of the tripod, 2) thread the main telescope tube onto the mounting bolt on the top of the tripod, 3) unthread the silver spinning nuts on the top of the telescope tube, 4) align the finderscope onto main telescope posts and rethread the silver spinning nuts, 5) remove the cap from the small end of the main telescope tube, and 6) insert the diagonal into the main telescope tube, then the 20mm eyepiece. After that, you go look up!
Amateur Astronomy: attempt #1
I was lucky to have clear skies that night, so I rushed up to my rooftop. The instruction manual suggested first aligning the finderscope. I had no idea what this meant and was anxious to see something, so I skipped this step. It didn’t take long to come back to it though. Obviously, my first instinct, as I suspect is common for most, was to look for the Moon. It did not disappoint.
Finding the Moon wasn’t terribly difficult once I got used to manipulating the tripod. As soon as I got close, I could see the glow build just outside the field of view. Then, wow. Your first look at the Moon through a telescope is absolutely unforgettable. If you’re even considering getting your first telescope, do it; I can’t recommend it highly enough. However, as I’ll get into shortly, consider avoiding the same mistake I made with my first purchase. Check out my recommendations on how to go about buying your first telescope.
Amateur Astrophotography: attempt #1
Perhaps its a sad commentary on the digital age, but after I’d picked my jaw back up off the ground, my first instinct was to reach for my iPhone and fire up the camera. Not knowing if it would work, I brought my iPhone up to the eyepiece. As it got closer, I could see the light streaming from inside the telescope onto the back of the phone. After some fiddling I got it lined up, and like magic, the Moon was glowing on my iPhone screen. A quick tap to focus, then snap. Here’s how it turned out:
My interest in iAstrophotography was born. Next up was Jupiter, sitting pretty high up in the sky. Quick side note: whether or not you have or are considering getting a telescope, you should check out the app Sky Guide. It’s basically an interactive, augmented reality view of the night sky. It’s awesome for finding locations of celestial bodies, discovering new things to look for, and just generally becoming more familiar with what’s up there. $1.99 very well spent. I could pick out Jupiter easily with my own eyes, but trying to find it in the telescope proved challenging.
After scanning back and forth with the telescope for about 20 minutes, I gave up. Here’s where the finderscope comes back into play. The finderscope is basically a very low magnification, large field of view scope…kind of like what old timey pirates would use to scan the shoreline. The idea is that if you can align the center of your finderscope view with your main telescope view, you can then easily point to the star in the finderscope, and voila, there it is in your main telescope. The key is that alignment. I’ve come to realize that aligning the finderscope (at least this one) is a bit of an art form – one which I’m still not very good at. I may do a more detailed post on this later. The process is to first point your main telescope at something on the earth that you can recognize and is fairly distant (e.g. the top of a far away tree or the red light of a radio tower). Then you tweak the fine adjustment screws on the finderscope until that same object is centered in your crosshairs.
There’s a reason it’s called amateur astronomy
With my finderscope aligned I sought out Jupiter. Here is where some of the major limitations of the Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope kicked in, along with my buyer’s remorse. Jupiter obviously appears tiny in the night sky compared to the moon. Thus, you have to be much more accurate with centering it in the telescope to keep it within your field of view. The tripod of this telescope quite frankly has a TON of slop when you make adjustments. It will drift severely after you tighten the clamps. This makes it extremely frustrating to find objects in the night sky with any efficiency or accuracy. The scope itself yielded a pretty decent view, but it was overwhelmingly difficult to obtain that view. Eventually I got lucky enough to snag Jupiter in the frame briefly and even luckier to capture it on my iPhone. Here’s how it turned out:
Jupiter is the big shiny one, and to my amazement, I learned that those four mini-star looking objects are actually some of Jupiter’s larger moons. I had no clue you could see the moons of Jupiter with a $75 telescope.
I continued trying to find stars and other objects, but it was too big of a hassle. I quickly realized that I needed to cut bait with the Travel Scope and find something at least a little more serious. My advice: the Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope may make a decent gift for a young kid to spark their interest, but if you can pony up a little more cash (into the $250-$400 range) you can get a DRAMATICALLY superior telescope. Again, check out my page on buying your first telescope for some more information.
A star (photographer) is born
All told, this was an amazing first experience. It certainly accelerated my passion for astronomy and astrophotography. I’ll be back with some more details of my early starscapades.~Matt