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Buying a Telescope - Part 4

Day 28

A final thought, but the most important one.

Now I’ll tell you the most important secret about telescopes and observing, the thing that’s more important than the aperture, more important than how sturdy the mounting is, and more important than portability.

That thing is experience. Here are three examples.


With my 2.4-inch I independently discovered the planet Jupiter. I pointed my telescope at a bright “star” rising in the East and found it wasn’t a tiny, sparkling (due to the atmosphere) point like stars but a little, pale, white oval. Also there were tiny “stars” on either side in a straight line. They were the Galilean satellites discovered by Galileo, Io and Europa (the size of our moon) and Ganymede and Callisto (about the size of the planet Mercury). Jupiter itself was the white oval in the middle.

Later, I visited the planetarium and saw Jupiter for the first time in a 10-inch telescope. I could see the dark belts on the cloud surface! Now here’s the magic. After that, I could always see the North and South Equatorial belts on Jupiter in my telescope. As my mentor would later say, my eye had become educated.


In my super-observing 20s I’d seen many galaxies but had never observed the face-on galaxy in our Local Group, M33. I’d tried many times and could point a telescope right there but couldn’t see it. Galaxies are very dim with a very low surface brightness. After all, notice how hard it is to see our own Milky Way and we’re inside of it! And M33 was not even at an angle but flat, face-on.

Back then there was this precocious, teenage amateur in the astronomy club who could find the galaxy without any trouble. At one gathering in the observatory, he put the 14-inch Celestron on the galaxy and for the first time I was able to see it! From that time on, I had no trouble finding and seeing M33.

The 2.4

One night, at my parents’ house, when I was in my 20s, I took my old 2.4-inch telescope out to observe. By that time, I was an experienced, star-hopping, deep-sky observer. The finder didn’t work and there was no diagonal and I had to crane my neck and look up through the telelscope while sitting on the ground. I had my old Norton’s Star Atlas I’d bought as a teenager. With that little, old, $30 Sears telescope I was able to find M81 and M82 galaxies in Ursa Major, M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy, M1 the Crab Nebula, M27 the Ring Nebula, and more!

The conclusion

What you see through a telescope has more to do with your personal experience than the telescope itself. That means, to see things, you have to use the telescope! The more you look, the more you’ll see. That’s true in a single night and it’s true in a lifetime.