Today was a nice day. The weather was sunny, but not hot and the sky was fairly clear. I already had my telescope in my car for plans that were not starting until after sunset. But I decided to do a bit of sun gazing while the sun was up. “Sun gazing” is a term that might raise a bit of concern since looking at the sun directly can be damaging to one’s vision. Don’t worry, I wasn’t doing that. I was using proper equipment. I grabbed some video clips from my gazing and shared them on my YouTube and Instagram accounts. This post gives further information about that video.
Acquired for the 2017 eclipse, I have a solar filter that covers my telescope’s opening. These filters block more than 99.9% of sunlight. A hole even as small as a pin head would render the filter unusable by letting too much light in. Without the filter, simply pointing the telescope at the sun could be damaging; there could be heat buildup inside the telescope, and whatever is on the viewing end of the telescope will suffer serious burns with exposure of only a moment.
I have a couple of telescopes at my disposal, but that telescope on the motorized mount is generally preferred for a couple of reasons. One is that it automatically points at the planet, star, or nebula that I select from a menu in a hand controller (after some calibration). Another is that it will automatically adjust in response to the earth’s rotation. This last item might not sound significant, but it is! With my manual telescope, once I’ve found a heavenly body, the body is constantly rotating out of view. With proper alignment the body can be tracked by turning a single knob. But it can be a bit annoying when one looks away for a moment only to return and must hunt down the body of interest. The downside of the motorized mount is the weight and the need for electricity. My full motorized telescope setup is over 100 pounds. At home this isn’t a problem, as I can carry the full assembled setup in and out of my home and connect it to my house’s power. For usage in other locations, I must either bring power with me or have my car nearby to provide electricity.
My telescope is a much older unit. It is a Celestron CGEM 800. This specific model is no longer sold since it has been replaced with newer models. With the CGEM 800, there were additional accessories I purchased to add functionality that comes built into some other models. I added GPS to my telescope, which enables it to get the time, date, and the telescope’s location (all necessary information for the telescope to automatically aim at other bodies). I’ve also added WiFi to my telescope. With WiFi, I can control the scope from an app on a mobile device. For some scenarios, this is preferred to scrolling through menus on the two-line text only display on the scope’s hand controller.
While one won’t be viewing any sunspots with it, I also keep a set of eclipse glasses with my setup. I use these when aligning the telescope with the sun. While they are great for looking at the sun, you won’t be able to see anything else through them🙂. If you want to be able to see more details you would need a telescope that filters out specific wavelengths of light. The Meade Solarmax series are great for this. But they are also expensive and only useful for viewing the sun.
These telescopes cost about 1,800 USD.
At this time of the year from where I live, there are only a few bodies from the solar system visible; the sun and the moon. If I were to use the telescope at 5AM I might be able to catch a glimpse of another planet just before the sun begins to wash out the quality of the image. Not something I’m interested in doing. I’ll take the telescope back out later in the year when there is an opportunity to see more.
On another YouTube channel someone mentioned they thought it would be cool if it were possible to control a telescope with a Raspberry Pi. Well, it’s possible. I might try it out. I’ve controlled my telescope from my own software before, and may try doing it again. Later in the year when the other planets are visible, it might be a great solution for controlling the telescope and a camera to get some automated photographs.