Using a Small Telescope

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Portable telescopesThere is nothing that compares with the view of a total solar eclipse through a telescope. It is like the difference you experience of looking at the moon with just your eye and then a telescope. It doesn't really matter what size of telescope you are using - the view is very different. With a telescope the craters and mountain ranges are revealed and the moon takes on a very different appearance. The view of a total solar eclipse through a telescope is much the same. Prominences are amazing and the corona simply fascinating.

Unlike most astronomical uses of a telescope you do not have a lot of time to study the object in the eyepiece. You most certainly do not have much time for changing eyepieces or inserting a barlow lens. That said, I confess to having done both. Before the eclipse I practiced doing the same with the telescope by looking at the moon, memorizing the twists of the focuser, and perfecting the 'no look' rapid change of lenses. The Questar telescope is marvelous at this task with the built in barlow lens. All that is a required is a flick of a switch to swing the lens into place and a twist of the focusing knob.

I found the best views to be with a wide field eyepiece, 25mm or larger. You can see plenty of detail and still get a good overall view as the scene slowly changes. Looking closer you can see the prominences slip behind the moon's edge or appear against swirls in the corona as totality takes place. With the wide field eyepiece of the Questar (32mm) the magnification is approximately 40x and the angle of view about 1.3 degrees. The moon's half degree size fits comfortably, the prominences pop out in an almost 3D fashion, and the inner corona glows with neon threads twisted around each other - it really is something to behold.

When visiting another hemisphere (for me, going South of the Equator) a small telescope is a lot of fun if you get a chance to do some night time observing. Bring along an atlas or sky map to help navigate the new and unfamiliar sky looking for the 'best of' with the telescope - it really is worth the hassle of carrying it along in most cases.

But what about photographing an eclipse with a small telescope?

First off, let me define what a small telescope is from my perspective. Small telescopes are those with an aperture of 5" (12cm) or less. A popular term for a small telescope is a "grab and go" scope. The type of telescope you can quickly carry out into the night for a fast view of a planet or the moon. Folded optics make for very compact and portable telescopes although small refractors should not be ruled out. If it can fit in the overhead storage of a modern airplane then it is a-okay for eclipse chasing.


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