Sunday, October 30, 2011

Observing the Moon with a 60mm Telescope

This article is part of a series on using and observing with a 60mm telescope, one of the most common of beginner telescopes. The information also applies to larger scopes, which can show more detail and find objects that are difficult with a 60mm scope more easily.

The 60mm scope can be a very rewarding scope to use, however, especially when getting started. They are compact, often inexpensive, even for quality scopes, and easy to use when well designed. They remain useful even when there are better scopes in the house because of their small size, light weight, and general ease of use.

I used a 60mm scope as my primary telescope for over 10 years. My first scope was a 60mm telescope, unfortunately mated to an extremely poor mount. I fought the mount for many years, if I had been less mule-headed I would have probably given up on astronomy. Fortunately, I finally decided to rebuild my mount using wood from my school's wood shop scrap bin. It looked awful, but held the scope on target and steady. The optics were actually pretty good, once they stayed where they were put.

Observing The Moon
A 60mm is enough scope to enjoy practically everything the Moon has to offer. The craters, valleys, walls, ridges and seas of the Moon will all stand out nicely at low to medium powers (25 to 150 powers). If your telescope has a clock or computer drive you will also be able to use higher powers on the Moon (150 to 250 powers). It is one of the few objects that is bright enough for high powers for a small telescope. But it will be a lot harder to get a sharp focus and to stay on your target at higher powers.

The best place to look on the Moon's surface for nice detail is near the dividing line between night and day on the Moon. This is where the contrast is the sharpest. Plus, you can see changes as time passes in these places. One of my favorite things to do is find a crater where the rim is in sun, but the floor is still in darkness. Sometimes, every so often, I can watch the Sun illuminate the central peak of a crater as I watch. It'll go from darkness to a sudden spot of light in the middle of the crater. Other times I'll look at an area, go look at other things elsewhere, then come back an hour or so to see if anything has changed in areas I've looked at earlier in the night.

Many parts of the Moon will be too bright to show much detail, or will be so bright in the telescope that it'll ruin your night vision. In this case the little Moon filters that come with many telescopes, designed to be fitted to the eyepiece, can be helpful in cutting the light down to a more tolerable level and help bring out some contrast. Unlike the little solar filters, these are safe to use. If a Moon filter didn't come with your telescope, there are many color and "neutral density" filters available that you can get inexpensively.

Neutral density filters are strictly "black and white" filters that cut down brightness without changing the colors of what you're looking at. They are my favorite for using on the Moon, especially when I'm looking for color on the Moon. One sort is a polarizing filter, which can be adjusted to different darkness levels. These are also useful for seeing cloud details on Venus, but they tend to be expensive.

Color filters also work well on the Moon. Darker colors often come in packs of different color filters that are commonly sold. About the only object these darker filters are useful on is the Moon. Dark red, orange, green, and yellow filters will each have a different effect.

Light color filters are nice for bringing out detail in areas of the Moon where there is some color in the soil. These colors are very faint, and the filter will eliminate the ability to see the colors directly, but they will bring out more detail of the surface in these areas.

Be careful of trying to take the magnification too high. It's tempting on the Moon, but more detail will actually be seen at moderate powers by relaxing (a couple of deep breaths are always good) and taking the time to let the subtle details of the image "sink in" as you view.
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2 comments:

srm said...

Sir,
I am planning to buy a used telescope...
a 90x telescope(60mm aperture, a table top tripod,f/6,f/20 lens)..I am beginner in astronomy..can you please advice me whether this is good?
Thanking you
Menon

Mark A. Graybill said...

Some table top tripods can work out, but my experience with them generally is that they aren't that great.

I recommend trying it out, but also consider regular mounts on either a stanchion (a single vertical post with legs at the bottom) or a tripod.

It should be adjustable to be comfortable both sitting and standing. If you'll need a diagonal to be comfortable while viewing, include that in your budget.

Your scope should be comfortable to use even if you spend 15 minutes or more at the eyepiece. If your neck or back gets stiff or uncomfortable, or you can't keep what you're observing in view, something about the set-up isn't good enough.

Good luck!