Getting over Aperture Fever

Fall weather brings clearer skies and earlier darkness, so I have been fortunate enough to get out in the field a couple of times with a telescope and binoculars. The most important thing that I have seen lately is the Milky Way, which I have been prevented from seeing by less than completely clear, light-polluted skies in my backyard observatory. I caught aperture fever at one of the Howard Astronomical League’s dark site star parties, but I quickly got over it.

Aperture fever, a condition that can easily drain the wallets and bank accounts of amateur astronomers, occurs upon realization that more aperture is never enough. On one particular night, I was out with my TeleVue NP101 4″ aperture refractor, and three other club members were set up adjacent to me. I was at one end of the line with my 4″ aperture refractor, Garry was next with a 10″ reflector, then Chris with an 18″ reflector, and finally Mark was at the other end of the line with a 24″ reflector. We did a comparative analysis of three objects through all four telescopes: the Hercules Cluster (M13), The Ring Nebula (M57), and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Although I could see, and have even photographed all three objects, with my telescope, the difference that could be easily seen in moving up the aperture scale from 4″ to 24″ was astounding at every step of the way in the brightness, and the amount of detail that could be resolved.

By the next morning, I had pretty much gotten over the fever. To be sure, the bigger telescopes can outperform mine in certain ways, but guess what? My 4″ can do things that their larger scopes can never dream of doing. With its wider field of view, my telescope can easily capture in a single image large scale objects, like the Andromeda Galaxy, North America Nebula, and many others. Their larger aperture, but narrower field of view telescopes could only painstakingly capture these objects with multi-image mosaics. Although still a novice astrophotographer, I have been able to capture some pretty nice images of these objects with this modest telescope.

For now, I continue to be happy with the fine instrument that I have, and I expect that it will be years before I have accomplished all that is possible with it, and there will be some events like close conjunctions of planets for which my telescope will be better suited than theirs. I plan to augment my wide field imaging capability in the near future by purchasing some camera lenses that can capture even wider fields of view.

What I especially want to share with my stargazer friends is that there is no “best” telescope for everything.¬† For a prospective telescope buyer, I would recommend doing some research, and settling on some specific interests, and picking a telescope that is suited to that interest.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.

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