How to get the most out of your ﬁrst night observing with a telescope, including what to observe, when to observe, how to find things and which eyepieces to use.
You can divide these into three categories - getting to know your equipment, getting to know your observing site and getting to know the night sky.
First of all, have a go at setting up your first telescope during daylight hours to get the feel for it and how all the parts ﬁt together. You don't want to be fumbling around in the dark wondering how everything fits together while the starry skies are glistening above you.
When you come to setting up the mount and the tripod, you should make sure you know how to make the setup sturdy and secure. It's also a good idea to work out how you should be orientating the mount for observing - on some tripods, one of the legs needs to be pointing north. If you have a motor drive, it is also worth knowing how to align the mount with the night sky, so that you do not need to keep moving the telescope during observations.
This leads on to the place you intend to observe from. If that's from your garden, then it's worth ﬁnding out which direction is which with a compass, and consider whether the view in any direction is affected by tall trees, buildings or bright lights. If these do affect the view, ﬁnd a location where the effect is minimised. It's also worth remembering that while a clear northern view is useful for aligning to the Pole Star, the best horizon to have clear is a southerly one.
You may already have some knowledge of the stars and constellations, through naked-eye stargazing or from using binoculars, and while it's useful to know something about the sky before you start observing, your ﬁrst telescope is a great way to get to know the night sky better. You should certainly have access to a good star map, or even better an interactive planetarium software such as the excellent and free Stellarium.
Depending on the time of year, the two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, are very good to look at with a small telescope. They are also easy to locate, often being the brightest object in the sky after the Moon and are easily identifiable with a low power eyepiece. Mars is also a good target, but can be a little more difficult to locate.
At this early stage of using a small telescope, don't expect to see views like the ones you see in the magazines, books of Hubble images. Even with high magniﬁcations, planets, galaxies and nebulae will still look small, but just remember that you are looking at them through your telescope, which is picking up photons of light that have been travelling light years through space to get to you, and that sense of wonder and satisfaction won't be far behind.
Always start with a low power magnification and work your way up towards a higher magnification. The larger the millimetre number (e.g. 25mm) the lower the magnification. Lower magnification gives you a wider field of view and a better chance of locating objects. Once you have located your target, you can swap the low power eyepiece for a higher power.
Before going outside, get your eyes accustomed to the dark by turning the lights out in the house. This way your eyes can get adjusted to the dark, while you remain warm. Remember to only use a red light torch!
Above all, wrap up warm (if it's winter) and have fun!
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