One of the biggest problems that beginning astrophotographers have is simply finding their way around the night sky. It's easy to get frustrated if you want to photograph the spectacular Orion Nebula, but can't even find it.
You have to take some time to learn your way around the night sky. You could use a computerized Go To telescope to find things to photograph, but you might be a little embarrassed when you show someone the picture and they ask where it is in the sky, and all you can reply is "I don't know".
But it's not hard to get started. Learn how to read a star chart and learn the major constellations. Learn the big bright groups first, such as the Big Dipper, Orion, Cassiopeia, Scorpius and Sagittarius. They are unmistakable, and they point the way to some of the finest deep-sky objects in the night sky.
Don't worry about learning all of them. There are some small obscure ones that are, quite honestly, not that interesting.
Almost all star charts are based on the constellations. There are two basic ways to use the constellations to find objects in the night sky - star hopping, and the geometrical method.
In the star hopping method, you start with a bright obvious star, and then hop along to fainter stars until you come to the object you are interested in.
In the geometrical method, you locate an object by finding two stars that form, say, a right triangle with it. Or you draw a straight line between two stars and extend the line to find an object of interest.
Both methods work very well and once you learn them you will probably find your way around the sky with a combination of both.
Constellations and star charts come in two basic forms - printed star charts and computer planetarium programs. Computer planetarium programs are very neat because you can even put the sky in motion with them, and see how it moves through the night. You can zoom into to small objects, and you can print out detailed charts at different scales.
Printed charts can be very handy out under the night sky where you might not have a computer or a source to power it all night long at a remote observing location at a dark-sky site.
Learning how to use a good star atlas or planetarium program is an invaluable way to find your way around the night sky, and to find the treasures of deep-sky objects.
Good Star Charts
Good Planetarium Programs for PCs
Good Planetarium Programs for MACs
Computerized Go To Telescopes
Another way to find objects in the night sky is to use a computerized Go To telescope mount. If you start out with this method, you won't really learn your way around the night sky, you'll be dependent on the computer. If you set the mount up and correctly initialize and synchronize it, it will find objects just by punching their catalog number into the hand controller. But you really have to know the sky first to synchronize it. A Go To mount can save a lot of time if you want to photograph something that is too faint to be seen visually in your scope, if it is set up correctly and if you learn how to use it.
Most of the planetarium programs will also control many computerized Go To telescopes, but you will need a computer and a way to power it. If you are observing from your back yard or driveway, this is not a problem. If you are observing from a remote dark-sky location, you will need something like a powerful deep-cycle battery to power the scope and computer.
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