Today there is an IT gadget for just about every aspect of observing the heavens. Go To technology is no longer an added luxury but a standard part of most proper telescopes. The modern attitude seems to be - ‘Why go through the tedious process of aligning your scope when in two or three easy steps, a computer will do it for you?’ And star-hopping your way to a target is practically frowned upon – punch in the name on your hand held device and hey presto you are there.

Digital cameras, web cams, image stackers, image manipulation software,– We are told we don’t have to waste hours chasing the perfect shot because you can now make the poorest quality shot look quiet decent after a few minutes on your MacBook Pro.

We now have SkySout and iPhone Aps that allow you to just point at an object to identify it. Lasers, computers, shiny buttons, fancy screens – And though the recession has kicked in world wide, most gadgets are still feasible candidates for most people’s birthday and Christmas lists.

My early exploits at observation involved pouring through atlases and Lunar maps with a red light, taking ages trying to set up my scope and then running off a 12 photo role of film, varying aperture and exposure settings in the hope of getting a good shot. Then there was the nervous excitement of getting the roll developed and printed just to get that one gem which sometimes wasn’t there. But as time went on and my budget extended to a greater number of rolls of film, my hits improved. If I had a Go To and digital camera, I don’t think I would have learned as much about the art of finding objects and achieving a good photo. It was because of the challenges, that the old style technology presented me with, that my passion for astronomy grew. And because of the limited technology I had to learn a lot about the sky, geography, star locations, photography, knowledge which has stood to me ever since.

Recently I have seen a number of young and not so young people get their first scopes which have all the best technology lashed onto them and they spend more time messing around with the buttons then they do looking through the eye piece. They can spend an hour or two star gazing at various objects and still not know where anything is and in what direction the stars are moving and never spending more than 3 or 4 minutes on any one object. After a few weeks they get bored and the scope becomes a fancy ornament to drag out from time to time to impress their friends.

I’m not advocating a return to the dark ages, I love technology-I am the ultimate tech geek. No, my point is that, for people starting off, they should really be encouraged to go lite on the electronics and heavy on the optics. Set up a few simple occasional projects like, switching off the GoTo and see how fast you can locate a target object, or trying to take a raw image in as little number of tries as possible to produce something that is good enough to hang on the wall. Please, if you are new to star gazing, don’t let the technology blind you to the simple pleasure of looking through a lens and just admiring what you see – for what use is a telescope to the blind!



    You need to be logged in to leave a comment

    About Me

    I'm a science manager by profession and an amateur astronomer by passion! I am particularly interested in Lunar astronomy and have my own web site dedicated to all things lunar.


    Location:Dublin, Dublin