Variable Star Observing with a Telescope

Even when a telescope is your primary instrument, you should have binoculars nearby and use them. It's easier to scan the sky and search for a particular star field with binoculars, then switch to your telescope when you've found something of interest. The binoculars will give you a wider field of view so it's easier to figure out where you're looking.

Again, comfort is important. Assume a comfortable viewing position with your head and eyes level with your eyepiece. Make sure that you can reach your telescope controls so that you can make minor adjustments. Keep your charts and log book within arm's reach.

The big difference with using a telescope compared to using binoculars is that you will be observing using only one eye. This can be challenging since, normally, you spend most of your time using both eyes to see. If you find it difficult to keep one eye closed while observing, using an eye patch will help. Place the eye patch over your non-observing eye and you won't need to be concerned with what that eye is doing. It's usually a little more comfortable keeping both eyes open, and using the patch to cover your non-observing eye allows you to do so.

Depending upon the type of mount that is supporting your telescope, some positions will be more difficult to reach than others. For example, when using a German Equatorial mount, especially when supporting a refractor telescope, observing directly overhead can be difficult because your eyepiece will be located closer to the ground than in any other orientation. If you have a fork mount and you are not using a wedge, observing directly overhead is also difficult. A wedge allows an alti-azimuth mount to be converted into an equatorial mount. Dramatic changes in position may require you to rebalance your telescope and it's not unusual for this to occur several times during an evening. Dobsonian telescopes do not produce these annoyances. They're easy to move to new positions and the eyepiece is usually in a good position.

All of these preparations, whether it be with binoculars or a telescope, are made in an effort to eventually do one thing - accurately estimate the magnitude of a variable star. Let's examine the different methods used to make variable-star estimates. You've got more decisions to make so I'll provide you with enough information to help. When you first begin, try several of these methods. See which one works best for you. Then, when you feel comfortable, choose one. Then stick with it. As time passes, perhaps a few weeks, you'll find that your method becomes second nature and making estimates will become easier for you.

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