What Went Wrong

You should read the diary of our fictional beginner’s disappointing introduction to astronomy before coming here. Unfortunately, his experience is quite common. I would say I speak to more people who tried and abandoned Astronomy, with an experience such as this, than those who started well and developed a keen interest.

Here is a quick commentary on what went wrong, with pointers to more in-depth articles and advice.

Our friend’s expectations worked against him. Astronomy is fun, exciting, and interesting, but it’s not easy. Developing the necessary skills takes time, and equipment we can afford will not show images like you’ve seen in magazine photos.
Our beginner made some common mistakes, like getting astronomy advice and buying a telescope from a department store. But he also did the smartest thing he could have done, by making contact with a local Astronomy club.
There are many types of telescopes and mounts, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Our friend bought a very standard “department store telescope” configuration without really understanding what his options were or even what all the parts were for. He also didn’t fully understand the operation of his scope’s finder.
Even the equipment he chose could have served him better. Setting up in the dark, a common error, made things harder than necessary. He could have set up the scope, and aligned the “sight” in daylight.
Our friend would benefit from a basic understanding of the sky, which doesn’t even require a telescope. Visiting an astronomy club, or reading a good introductory book before starting, would have helped explain some of the puzzles he encountered.
He has demonstrated what is probably the most common misunderstanding shared by beginners: magnification, which is often the basis of absurd advertising claims by unethical telescope manufacturers. Most beginners don’t realize they need far less magnification than they think.
Location (not written yet)
There is nothing wrong with observing from your yard in the city, but our friend probably doesn’t realize the importance of dark skies. Much of the difference he experienced at the star party and cottage he visited was a result of darker skies, not better equipment.
Our beginner started with some good, easy objects, but then quickly jumped to things that are challenging even for experienced observers. It’s no surprise he couldn’t find them. Focusing on relatively easy targets and then building up the difficulty as he gained experience would have been more satisfying.
Speaking of finding things, it’s challenging as soon as you move beyond the moon and the two or three brightest planets. For some amateur astronomers, finding things is a large part of the fun, as it’s a skill that requires development and practice. It’s certainly much more than just “pointing your telescope where the map says”.
Our friend’s observing buddy told him “aperture is everything”. While it’s certainly true that aperture is important, it is not “everything” and when our friend sank more money into a much larger telescope, he probably did so before he was ready. Apparently it wasn’t the magic he hoped it would be.
Accessories are as important as the telescope, and there are things our amateur could have purchased that would have made his experience better. But his expectation that a “light pollution filter” would be a magic solution to his problem of finding galaxies was incorrect, and lead to disappointment.
The for-sale ad mentioned a “camera adaptor” so it would seem that, at some point, he tried astrophotography as a way to bring out the colours and details he was missing in his visual observations. This was probably a mistake for a beginner, as astrophotography is difficult, requiring another set of skills that take time and patience to develop.

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