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2 Months with the AWB OneSky 130mm Telescope as a Complete Beginner

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I originally posted this on r/telescopes on reddit back at the end of April after I'd been using my Astronomers Without Borders OneSky 130mm Tabletop Dobsonian for 2 months. With our new forum spinning up, I thought this would be a good post to share here too so others can see my experience and potentially get some benefit out of reading it, and I've included some minor edits and comments in brackets to account for the time that's passed since then. I have since bought a used Zhumell Z10 and have used it a grand total of one time in the 2.5 months of owning it, so I guess you can thank me for the run of horrible weather we've had over the last few months. I am keeping the OneSky because it is so much lighter and quicker to set up and use with barely any acclimation time for the mirror, making it easy to to decide on a whim to take it out to look at the moon in my light-polluted neighborhood.

I have owned an AWB OneSky 130mm for right around 2 months now (received on February 24th), and after spending two months with it as a complete beginner, I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences. I am brand new to amateur astronomy and have never owned a telescope before now. I was given another telescope as a gift in mid-February and came to this subreddit seeking advice (which you can see here), and returned it and bought the OneSky. Being thrown into a hobby due to being given a gift is certainly an odd experience, but credit to my wife for recognizing that this is something I'd likely enjoy doing if given the chance.

So, what resources did I use to get started?

  • [r/telescopes] was the first place I came, as I said above. The pinned buying guide was essential to pointing me in the right direction as I started to suspect that the gifted telescope I'd received was actually bad and there are better options. Being able to come and ask questions and get answers from experienced people was great, and searching the archives and finding past discussions has also been helpful.
  • AWB OneSky Cloudy Nights thread - This is another place that has been excellent. I don't know if other scopes have dedicated threads there, but for the OneSky the thread has been excellent. It's been another place to go and get answers to questions and read through past discussions that are all about the OneSky, whereas this subreddit obviously has much broader discussions.
  • Sky Safari 7 Plus - Absolutely phenomenal app and has been essential to me learning the sky and learning where to find good targets. I'll share my observed objects list below, and the entire reason it's as long as it is is due to Sky Safari being an irreplaceable tool for me learning.
  • Astrospheric - Great app for using to figure out if you'll have a good night or not, particularly if you're trying to plan even a short drive out to darker skies.
  • Local Astronomy Club [hey, that's NEFAS!] - This gets mentioned a lot, but joining your local club is great. I've already done two outreach events with them and attended a general meeting, and being able to work side by side with someone who has years or decades of experience is something you won't get to do if you don't join a club or go to events. My club has a dark site an hour outside of my city in Bortle 3 that I haven't visited yet but intend to as soon as I'm able, and I'd imagine most other clubs are similar across the country.
  • AliExpress Scope Accessories List - Compiled by u/__Augustus_ [prominent amateur telescope maker based in Arizona and active on reddit], this is a list of vetted links to items available direct from China for much cheaper than what you'd pay at a US retailer. The dirty secret is that off-brand and name-brand budget eyepieces are made in the same factories and then branded later and sold for a mark-up, and this list helped me sort through and find some items to purchase that allowed me to save some money.

What equipment have I purchased in addition to the scope?

  • IKEA KYRRE Stool - The OneSky is a tabletop dob, so it needs to sit on something. The linked IKEA stool is the perfect fit and is only $25. I will say that it places the scope in a slightly awkward spot for viewing, as it's in between being comfortable for sitting or standing unless it's pointed straight up, but an astronomy chair or adjustable stool could help rectify that issue. I may attempt to build something for it to sit on, but for now the IKEA stool will do.
  • Harbor Freight Apache 3800 Case - I would have bought the slightly smaller 2800 case, but when I went to the store the 3800 was on sale for $30, the same price as the 2800. It's definitely large for the small collection of eyepieces and accessories I currently have, but I can grow into it as I add. Solid case for the price, especially when compared to Pelican cases.
  • Black Diamond Headlamp - I actually already owned this but discovered that it has a red light function that I'd never used, so it now lives with my scope stuff.
  • 3D-Printed Light Shroud and Flocking Paper - I learned quickly from reading here and at Cloudy Nights that a collapsible scope like the OneSky really needs a shroud to elevate the scope's performance. My friend has a 3D printer and printed it for me for free with an old spool, and then I painted it and lined it with flocking paper.
  • Mounted Green Laser - This has been an absolute game-changer. The OneSky comes with a Red Dot Finder that is decent enough, but when you're pointing at anything higher than 30 degrees, it's a literal pain in the neck to use because of how low you have to get to use it. Popular finders like RACI scopes and Telrad are too large for the small collapsible tube of the OneSky, and as such options are limited to upgrade beyond the RDF. The laser pointer is perfect for this; it comes with a corded button that can be turned on and off quickly and makes it really easy to point the scope where you want to with little effort. I've seen generally positive sentiment around using a mounted laser, but I've also seen some discussion of it being a bad option due to the potential dangers of using it, namely it having the potential to blind or be a problem with planes. Checking the sky for planes before using is easy enough, and I intentionally take the battery out of the mount when I'm not using it to prevent accidental activations. I also don't use it at outreach events where there's a lot of people around. But given that 95% of my observing time so far (albeit with a small 2 month sample size) has been either alone or with only one other adult aware of the risks, the laser has been a great option with low risk of causing problems.
  •  Eyepieces
    • Celestron X-Cel LX 25mm - Excellent eyepiece for this scope and a worthy upgrade over the included 25mm. Has a wider FOV and significantly better eye relief. I got to try one out before ordering when a club member let me use his at an outreach event.
    • SVBONY Redline 9mm - Another great upgrade over the included 10mm, particularly for the price. The 25mm stock EP is at least useable, but the 10mm stock EP is really bad with annoyingly short eye relief.
    • Celestron Omni 2x Barlow - Can't be beat for the price, and I couldn't notice any difference in using this vs a more expensive Barlow borrowed from a club member.
  • Potential future purchases
    • Higher power eyepiece (likely something in the 3.25-7mm range for when planets are back). [I now own a 6mm SVBONY Redline and a Baader Hyperion Zoom]
    • Binoculars - would love to have a good pair of 10x50 binos in the future to put in my case and use alongside the OneSky. [I now have a pair of Bushnell Legacy WP 10x50]
    • Astronomy chair - may buy one, but more likely to make an attempt to build one. May start with something like this that is easy yet functional
    • Filters - I'm conflicted about this one, as it seems most filters aren't actually that good, but there does seem to be a consensus that UHC and OIII filters can actually be worthwhile buys

What have I been able to see?

First off, a note on my observing conditions. I am in a large Florida city in Bortle 6-7 and my house has a street lamp in the front yard and heavy tree coverage in the back, so I don't have great viewing opportunities at home. However, my in-laws are about 20 minutes away on the coast line in Bortle 4 just between two cities, so I have twice made a trip out to sit on their dock over a marsh and had a great time. Most of this list was done alone with Sky Safari as my guide; the two outreach events I did with my club mostly just hit the highlights you'd expect while doing outreach. With all that said, here is what I've observed in the OneSky in my first 2 months:

  • Local Objects:
    • The moon (duh) - The moon sucks when it keeps you from viewing DSOs, but at least for now I am still fascinated by looking at it, particularly at high mag. As a bonus, it's great no matter how bad your light pollution is.
    • Jupiter - could clearly see the 4 moons but never was able to make out surface detail; it was already getting low on the horizon and I only had the 10mm stock EP at the time, so 65x mag just wasn't powerful enough to see anything. I'm looking forward to it coming back.
    • Venus - never more than a bright disc
    • Mars - just looks like a red star because of how far away it is at the moment
    • Uranus - just a little blue disc
  • Deep Sky Objects
    • M3 - Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici
    • M5 - Globular Cluster in Serpens
    • M13 - Hercules Cluster
    • M41 - Open Cluster in Canis Major
    • M42 - Orion Nebula
    • M44 - Beehive Cluster
    • M45 - The Pleiades
    • M51 - Whirlpool Galaxy
    • M68 - Globular Cluster in Hydra
    • M81+82 - Bode's Nebulae
    • M92 - Globular Cluster in Hercules
    • NGC 2264 - Christmas Tree Cluster

[Note that I significantly expanded on this list in May and have now logged 44/110 Messier objects, including the Virgo Galaxies, but my progress has come to a grinding halt with the recent cloudpacalypse brought on by me buying the used Z10]
I've also split some double stars but admittedly haven't done a great job of keeping track of those. Open clusters in my opinion make for the best targets in the OneSky, with globulars also being decent. Beehive and Pleiades are my favorites so far. I admittedly could probably see globulars even better with higher power, but right now I'm limited to 144x or less with my current EP collection. M13 is the best globular I've seen, with stars able to be resolved at 144x. Others either have required averted vision to resolve or can't be resolved at all and only appear as bright smudges. Galaxies are nothing but faint smudges, with M81 being the easiest to see the faint haze of the structure. M31/Andromeda was already dropping too low on the horizon for me to see, so I haven't actually observed it yet. M42 is obviously very impressive, with the faint haze of nebulosity able to be seen at 72x while also being able to see the Trapezium. Getting a brand new scope in February was a blessing and a curse: a blessing because M42 is such an awesome target in even a small scope, but a curse because it sets bad expectations for what other DSOs will look like when you put them in the scope.

What else?

Time for some random thoughts and musings, mostly about my experience of learning and doing so much so quickly.

  • Observing is NOT like looking at astro photographs! This is the biggest thing with which I had to come to grips. Everyone, no matter where they're starting from, has seen awesome astro shots. Whether it be from Hubble (or now JWST) or an amateur with good equipment, most people have seen some fantastic photos of how beautiful space is. Using a 5" telescope in your backyard is NOT going to be anything like looking at those photos. I had to completely reset my expectations of what I'd be able to see, but that isn't a bad thing. For me, half the fun has been finding stuff on my own and having a sense of achievement from that. I was ecstatic when I found M3 in my backyard for the first time a few nights ago, and I continue to feel that way every time I find a new target for the first time or even find a difficult target on subsequent times.
  • Aperture envy is real. It's only been two months and I'm already looking at marketplace forums/websites for used 8 or 10" dobs. I saw an 8" for $200 the other day and it was gone in an hour. That said, I've made the decision to stick it out with the OneSky for at least a year before upgrading unless I see a truly this-seller-has-no-idea-what-they-have kind of deal. It's a great scope and I will continue to learn a lot from using it. [As mentioned in a previous edit, I found a used Zhumell Z10 for $300 in May on Cloudy Nights Classified and feel like I got away with theft.]
  • Outreach is fun! Even though I'd only had my scope for a month, going with my club to help do a Girls Scouts event [in Green Cove Springs] was a rewarding experience and I already knew enough to be helpful and educational in talking about astronomy and putting my scope on targets for observation.
  • Journals/logs are a must. I didn't realize this until a week or two ago, but having record of when I first viewed an object and describing what it looks like is something I wish I had started from the beginning. Currently I'm using Sky Safari's built-in observing session tools, but I'm open to looking at other digital options. I'm not a pen-and-paper kind of guy, so let me know if there are some other good tools out there. My biggest fear in using Sky Safari's admittedly great tools is that there doesn't seem to be a way to export logs, which means I could lose access to them should the service shut down.
  • Imaging with a dob and a smartphone is a waste of time. I bought a cheap $10 eyepiece mount and grabbed this image of M42 the first night I spent at the Bortle 4 location. Looking back, it's a cool thing I was able to do but I have shelved the mount and spend zero time trying to grab photos since then. The photo is pretty good for the equipment I used but is very bad by any other metric. I spent probably 30 minutes of my 2 hour session trying to grab that photo which ultimately to me is a waste of time that could have been spent observing. I'm not opposed to getting into imaging down the road, but if I do it will be with equipment made for imaging.
  • Dark skies make a big difference! I live in Bortle 6-7 and driving just 20 minutes to Bortle 4 makes such a huge difference in what I’m able to see. Some of the tougher targets I’ve found are impossible at my house given the light pollution, while the darker location either enables them to be seen at all or at a minimum makes it easier to find things.

I'm sure there's some stuff I'm forgetting, but this post is long enough already. In conclusion, this is an awesome hobby and the OneSky is a great beginner scope, and I can't wait to keep learning more.

This topic was modified 4 months ago by Zach Williams