...Misleading Astronomy
...A subtle deception in advertising
.....Back to scope choices

Wow! Look at the colors

   Stars and planets and other bright celestial objects will exhibit striking colors in the eyepiece. But with very few exceptions, deep space objects (i.e. - galaxies and nebulae) will appear colorless in the eyepiece of any telescope. They will look grayish, with some brighter areas, but generally without any color whatsoever (have a look at our drawings pages). Although photographic film and CCD equipment can easily detect color in dim objects, the human eye cannot. 

   To some newcomers this is a grave disappointment. However, the mere sight of a galaxy, millions of light years away, sitting there in the eyepiece of your first telescope, is a hair-raising thrill even if it only seems a ghostly grayish apparition.

Our drawings at left show the double star Albireo, and the galaxy M-51.
Our illustrations below depict a nebula as seen by the human eye and by film.

As seen by the human eye
As seen by photographic film
Drawings/illustrations © The Belmont Society

   As much as we try to dispel it, the misconception still persists among newcomers that celestial treasures like the Great Orion Nebula and countless others are presented in 'living color' in the eyepiece of a telescope. And though everyone of course eventually learns the truth, there is a fundamental reason why this false notion endures within the ranks of newcomers and budding enthusiasts.

   The real culprits are the telescope manufacturers themselves, who repeatedly insist on displaying their scopes and eyepieces along with color photographs of deep space objects, thereby indoctrinating the uninitiated with a major misunderstanding. This is done in such a way as to give newcomers and novices (potential new customers) the false impression that they will see that object in the same way if they purchase that product. 

   Ferocious competition and marketing paranoia have seduced the corporate mindset into adopting a clever code of reckless indifference which is seemingly irreversible. They each apparently believe that addressing this issue will somehow permit the others to jump ahead in sales. In other words, "truth in advertising" can be considered parallel to suicide! 

Going too far

   To include a color photo in the same ad with the product is a time-worn gimmick that's been utilized by most manufacturers since the advent of color astrophotography. But to actually use it as paste-up art, to represent how it actually looks in their equipment is a cardinal sin of blatant misinformation. It's going too far.

   There can be only one reason for displaying an ad such as this: To deceive the unsuspecting and the uninitiated newcomer. It's a device to advance the notion that using their products will enable deep space objects to be viewed in color at the eyepiece. We find this not only objectionable, but inexcusable, and downright reprehensible.

...How things REALLY look! Back to scope choices

   Deep space objects do not appear in living color in the eyepiece of a telescope. Photographs show color because they gather light over longer periods of time. The human eye is not capable of discerning color in dim objects. Stars show their colors because they are bright. Nebulae and galaxies don't because they're dim. Here are some examples from our drawings:

Double star
Eta Cassiopeiae

Double star
95 Herculis

Double star
Beta Cygni

The Whirlpool Galaxy

Galaxy in Sculptor

The Pinwheel Galaxy

The Swan Nebula

The Rosette Nebula

The Iris Nebula

Globular cluster
in Aquarius

Globular cluster
in Hercules

Globular cluster
in Sagittarius

Double cluster
in Perseus

Open cluster
in Orion

Open cluster
in Auriga

Stars display colors in telescopes because they're bright.
But galaxies and nebulae look grayish because they're dim.


...Light Pollution .Back to scope choices

   Light pollution is basically everywhere. It's worse in the cities and in urban neighborhoods, and not as bad in outlying districts and suburbs, but it's just about everywhere. If you're fortunate enough to live in a remote area isolated from city lights, street lights, porch lights, headlights, etc, then you are lucky indeed, and the views you have of the night sky are about as good as it gets. But even under a dark sky, there is still junk up there that will keep you from seeing things clearly. 

As an example:

    The Andromeda Galaxy (M-31) is roughly 3 million light years distant. That's 3 million times 6 trillion miles. It sounds very far away (and it certainly is!) but by astronomical standards it's really just up the street. To give you an idea of how close it is, and how polluted the sky is, consider this:

Illustration by The Belmont Society
   If it weren't for light pollution, atmospheric turbulence, and the diminishing effect of interstellar junk, your telescope would reveal the Andromeda Galaxy as plainly as the Goodyear Blimp. In fact, it would be too big to fit in the eyepiece. In its entirety, M-31 takes up 3 degrees of apparent field. The full moon takes up only half a degree. Thus, the Andromeda Galaxy is the width of six full moons in apparent field.

Nomenclature - the typical Dob

What's an f/number? - Fast vs slow

What you can see... and what you WON'T see

The Cost of Amateur Astronomy

Finderscopes, Telrads, etc.

What is "GO-TO"?

Recommendations - GO-TO Systems

Misleading Astronomy

How things REALLY look in the eyepiece 

Light Pollution