Lesson 3) Telescope Tips and Tricks

There is a new chart in the Astronomy classroom - a chart that shows the phases of the Moon. As Professor Turing walks in, he glimpses the waning gibbous Moon in the window. After waiting for the class to quiet down, he looks up at the students and begins to speak.

Welcome back, students. So many of you have had much fun observing the skies, and I am pleased to hear that there have been no accidents involving telescopes during the Full Moon earlier this week. The quizzes last week also looked great! 

That being said, let’s go over some useful tips and tricks for magical telescope use.

Magical Telescope Tips and Tricks

2016 Lunar Phase Chart.
Source: Wikipedia

Now that we have gone over the basics of how to use magical telescopes, let’s discuss some tips and tricks for magical telescope usage. As for telescope skills, do not be worried if you are not an expert right away - the more you practice, the better you will become.

The first thing you will want to do before going outside is make sure that what you want to view will be visible. Of course, if you just want to have fun, you can just go outside and see what you can see, but if you are looking for something in particular, you will want to consult a table or other chart that can predict what can be seen at that particular time. Also, check the weather, as clouds and rain tend to obscure astronomical objects in the night sky.

For your convenience, I have hung a lunar phase chart on the wall of this classroom, on the door to my office, and on the main entrance of the Astronomy Tower. This lunar phase chart is made by the finest magical astronomers in Mexico, and it contains many magical features that we will go over in a future lesson. Even without activating the magical aspects of the chart, one can see the predicted phases of the Moon for each particular day - from January on the left to December on the right. As you can see from the chart, last week there was a waxing gibbous Moon. The full Moon occurred earlier this week, and right now there is a waning gibbous Moon.

Today’s Lunar View
Source: Miami Valley Astronomical Society

In just over a few days, in what phase will the Moon be? That is right, the last quarter. Next week, in what phase will the Moon be? Yes, it will be a waning crescent. Good job, everyone! Your skill at reading this chart is improving already!

Remember when I mentioned last lesson that the Moon’s visibility depends on its phase? Waning crescent Moons are best seen in daylight hours, and they tend to set before night. Therefore, do not be surprised if you do not see a crescent Moon in the sky next week. Not to worry - there are still plenty of items in the sky to look at, including the moons of other planets.

The second thing you will want to do is ensure that your eyes and your telescope are adjusted to the night. Astronomy is super exciting, and I understand the urge to run outside and look at the skies as fast as possible. However, running from a warm, well-lit room in the castle to a cooler, darker environment outside means that your eyes and telescope need time to adjust. And please, for your telescope and your safety, please do not run outside - the night’s darkness and one’s excitement tends to blind one to unintentional traps along the way - and keep your telescope in the storage bag until you get to the viewing site. The bag is charmed with spells to greatly reduce the chance of your telescope breaking should you accidentally drop it on the ground.

Once you are outside and at your intended viewing location, uncap your telescope and leave it exposed to the air but by your side for about ten minutes; this will give your telescope’s magical functions enough time to adjust to to the outside temperature. You can use the time to scan the area for good places to view the skies and/or for potential safety hazards and ambushes. One way to be safer and to have company is to bring along an astronomy partner to your observation sessions. When you are outside, do not bring a light or light-producing object, though you may carry the small magical Astronomer’s Lamp that comes with the telescope; this miniature light will illuminate your surroundings so that you can find your way and record your observations while having almost no effect on you and your telescope’s ability to see in the dark.

After your observation session, cap your magical telescope on both ends and transport it back to the building in the enclosed bag. Once you are back in the building, quickly look over the telescope lenses for dust, dirt, and damage. Your lenses have been charmed to be resistant to dirt and damage, but it does not hurt to check to make sure. Should there be dirt that does not come off, come see me for some charmed telescope cleaning wipes. Be aware that it may take a few minutes for your eyes and your telescope to adjust again to the light levels and temperature indoors.

Following these tips will help you get the most out of every telescope session. The more you practice these tips, the more positive habits you will develop, and the more automatic these will be. Try these tips out the next time you observe the night skies.

Advantages and Limits of Using a Magical Telescope

Another common question that I encounter is “Why are we using magical telescopes when we could be using Muggle ones?“ Those with Muggle Astronomy backgrounds may know from personal experience or literature about some of the capabilities of Muggle telescopes built for amateurs. While Muggle telescopes for amateur Astronomers are amazing in their own right - many Astronomical discoveries have been and still are made by amateur Muggles - Magical telescopes have many advantages over Muggle telescopes.

Beginner-Level Muggle Telescopes with Tripods
Source: How Stuff Works

The first advantage a magical telescope has over a Muggle telescope is a more stable view, even without a tripod. Beginner-level Muggle telescopes are too large to put in your pocket and require a tripod to ensure that the shake that comes naturally when you hold a telescope, especially for a longer time,  does not affect your viewing experience. After all, no matter how still we stand, we cannot stop ourselves from shaking a bit, and the magnification on a telescope accentuates the previously almost unnoticeable movement. On the other hand, the spells used in making a magical telescope not only ensure that they are smaller and lighter than their Muggle counterparts - after all, you can fit these magical telescopes in your pocket - but they also ensure that the view on the telescope compensates for the unmistakable “shake” that occurs when viewing objects at higher magnification.

In addition, a magical telescope will give a better magnification factor than a Muggle telescope many times its size. There is no way that a Muggle telescope on a tripod can beat the magnification available on our handheld von Rheticus model student telescopes. Later this year, when we point our telescopes at other planets in the Solar System, we will see that our magical telescopes can give us very clear views of those planets. Many Muggle telescopes meant for amateurs cannot.

Likewise, when using magical telescopes, there is much less loss of resolution than in Muggle telescopes at higher magnifications. At very high magnifications, many amateur Muggle telescopes have blurry images. The magical charms and methods used in the construction of magical telescopes ensure that even on the highest magnification, magical telescopes will give crisp images. If you attempt to go past the limits of your magical telescope's capabilities, the telescope will let you know - the whole viewing area will be given an unmistakable blue tint, and the bottom of the screen will suggest that you use a telescope with higher magnification.

Perhaps the most interesting advantage of using a magical telescope are the magically-enhanced special features. Visual observation is only one of the many things a magical telescope can do. Next week, we will learn about one of the many special features available on this telescope.

Of course, magical telescopes have their limits. As mentioned above, there is a limit to how much magnification a magical telescope can provide. In addition, magical telescopes – like Muggle telescopes – have a narrower field of vision in higher magnifications than in lower magnifications. That being said, magical telescopes have many advantages over Muggle telescopes, which is why I am teaching you how to use magical telescopes in class.

That is all the time we have for today. Please complete your assignments before next class. I will see you next Wednesday evening. Thank you for your time! Class is dismissed.

Ever wonder what is beyond this Earth? Yes, the night sky may be beautiful, but knowledge of the heavens will also help you become a better witch or wizard. In Year One, you will observe the skies with a magical telescope, learn about our solar system neighbors, and discover how magic reflected off astronomical objects can affect us all on Earth. Come join us in Astronomy 101 - it’s an out of this world adventure!

NOTE - This course will soon be undergoing rewrites. Stay tuned!