...The Cost of Amateur Astronomy Back to scope choices

   The passion that some of us have for astronomy can become far too expensive if we allow it to be. On the other hand, if we don't succumb to the temptations or obsessions that we are sometimes capable of, amateur astronomy can be rewarding enough on a fairly simple budget.
Passion on a budget?

   Of course the need or desire for basic accessories like eyepieces, although they are certainly necessary accouterments, can cloud our vision somewhat and make us crazy at times. After all, who can resist the sexy allure of a fine and hefty ocular. The world may not be the same without a Panoptic or an Ethos in our collection. There's something about a World Class eyepiece that makes us feel good, even if our telescope is middle-class.

   On a budget, some folks will shell-out a few hundred on a scope, and then go over the top on accessories. It must be normal to do that, because we see it so often. Advertising works. A good photo of a great product will get us every time. First we want it. Then we need it. Then we have to have it. And suddenly we can't do without it. A friend was heard to say once, "If all the accessories that we really COULD live without were dumped into the sea, Manhattan and Brooklyn would be under thirty feet of water."

   So what is the cost of astronomy? For a poor kid in the Bronx, it may be the price of a subscription to Sky & Telescope magazine, which might take months to save up for. Or perhaps just the subway fare and the price of admission to a planetarium. Passion knows no minimum, and the money we spend on it is purely what we find 'comfortable'. Those who find comfort in the simple basics are the truly devoted; the spiritual essence; the purists; and the determined. The 'Ones', without whom we might find a vacuum in the 'somewhere' of the fun we seek.

   Each time we see a new face with an inexpensive telescope, and that 'look' of eagerness that shouts for the sun to set, we simply have to go up to them and offer a smile and encouragement. It doesn't take a genius (or even very long) to figure out that they might have saved for years to get the equipment they brought along. But you can tell right away by the care they take of it, that they appreciate it all the more. And even if there's not much knowledge, there's a certain identifiable sparkle. A passion.

   The cost of amateur astronomy is universal. There is a price of admission we all pay just to step up to our own eyepieces. Whoever you are, your heart and soul is the fare for liberating your mind. We know of no amateur astronomers – either rich or poor – who's hearts don't beat as loudly at the eyepiece. Or at a planetarium. Or even when all we have are the pages of an open wrinkled magazine.

the Belmont Society, 01-14-04

...Finderscopes, Telrads, etc. .....Back to scope choices


   A Finderscope is simply a low-powered "spotting scope" to manually align your main telescope on (or near) a target. Virtually all popular telescopes come with a finderscope. They have wide fields of view, so you can locate a "general" area to scout or search. They will also allow you to locate an object that is just beyond naked-eye visibility. You center the object in the finderscope; it will then be in the field of your main eyepiece. Finderscopes are almost always mounted in a stand-off holder that is attached to the main telescope tube near the focuser. Many manufacturers and distributors offer aftermarket or 'upgrade' finderscopes. Some are sophisticated, and are equipped with diagonals which will accept a 1-1/4-inch eyepiece. Very large telescopes can be equipped with very large finderscopes.
   Red-dot finders were actually widely used on hunting-type shotguns long before being adapted for telescope use (we believe they're a Remington patent). They offer zero magnification, and are simply used to center an 'area' in the field of view. An illuminated red dot is seemingly projected onto the sky. They are handy for pointing the main telescope in a general area within naked-eye visibility.

   The Telrad finder is an extremely popular type of zero magnification finder device. It offers a bonus.   The Telrad finder attaches to the main telescope tube, and functions completely independant from other finder devices. It is primarily meant to be an auxiliary finder. You can have as many finders on your telescope as you want (there's no rule about what you can attach to your scope). Many veteran amateurs have an arsenal of devices taped, wired, or strapped to their telescopes.

   The added feature of this type of device is the "viewing screen", which exhibits concentric target-circles that appear to be projected onto the night sky. The outer circle approximates the wider field of view in your normal ("factory equipped") finderscope. The innermost circle represents the approximate field of view in your main telescope.

   The illuminated red circles are controlled by a rotary dimmer switch that regulates their brightness between high and low.


    These green-light gadgets burst on the scene a few years ago, and have taken many observers and clubs by storm. Laser pointers were initially used as hand-held tools for pointing out areas of the night sky for the benefit of students and newcomers. But lately, they are being used as actual "finder" devices, attached to telescope tubes in place of the standard finderscope. It's kind of a cool arrangement, as the beam appears to be projected onto the night sky at infinity. Their green light is more visible to the human eye than the original red light lasers we were accustomed to.

What type of telescope should you buy?

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