Photo By: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and ME!

I had a talk with someone recently who was extremely disappointed after buying a telescope for the first time. He was so excited to see the objects that he had always seen on space and astronomy websites, television shows etc. so when he pointed his telescope to the sky for the first time he was in for a serious reality check.

Astronomy and Sky Watching can be a lifelong rewarding experience (for me it certainly is) but there’s some things you first need to know before taking the leap. First and foremost those magnificent photos you see in advertisements for telescopes, filters etc. etc. are just that, advertisements. Most if not all of those photos were not taken by the equipment in the box you are buying and if they DID, then they were taken by experienced, veteran astrophotographers with a great deal of money invested in the science of astrophotography. In addition you will never be able to see what even the most basic of DSLR camera sensors can pick up. Human eyes just can’t do it, it’s impossible to capture with your little eyes what a sensor can capture through long exposures, different band filtering, processing etc.

A note on color; aside from planets and some stars you will not see color in space while looking through the eyepiece, again there is just not enough light coating your eyeballs to accomplish that. The universe, as far as your eyes are concerned is black and grey with points of white light.

My favorite objects to view for detail are the Moon first and foremost, not the full moon but instead the different phases. You see crater carved mountain chains with shadows, different effects such as the Lunar X, Walther Ray etc. Saturn is always a surreal experience for me, it just never seems to look real, I love it. Jupiter is beautiful as well, visible are the bands, the GRS (Great Red Spot) and its four Galilean Moons which you can watch orbit the gas giant through the night. Uranus and Neptune will never be more than pale green and blue fuzzy dots and Pluto, well unless you are in black skies with decent aperture forget about it. Mars you can expect to see an orange hue with some shaded areas representing land formations at best but as for quality high detail you just won’t see any.

This brings us to this side-by-side comparison I created (If you are reading this on IG, I posted this in 2 posts vs. the side-by-side) of Hubble’s version of M1 Crab Nebula alongside my version of the same object. We have all seen this amazing photo of the supernova remnant over and over again but just what does it look like through the eyepiece of a telescope? This here is pretty damn close; actually my photo is a 90 second exposure, no processing from middle of the road dark skies so through the eye piece it is actually a little dimmer. Trust me, it’s there! If you can’t see it then stare at the blackness, not dead center but look around the center of the photo and quickly blink and it may appear for you. This “Blinking” technique as well as averted vision is used all the time by amateur astronomers to capture a glimpse of faint, dark sky objects. If you take my photo and run it through photoshop or whatever and just mess around with different lighting and saturations it will pop out a little but I just wanted to illustrate what you will see with your own eyes in dark skies.

What I DO NOT want to do here is discourage anyone from the hobby because I believe you should ALL own telescopes, binoculars etc. and explore your universe while we still can. But you certainly need to be into it for the right reasons and with realistic expectations. I think getting into astronomy with a level head and knowing what to expect will keep the disappointment factor low and translate into a better appreciation for the hobby. If you have any questions ASK AWAY!!! Oh, please let me know what you think of this side-by-side; if you like I could create more like this.

Image | This entry was posted in Astronomy (Learning), Astrophotography (DSOs), Images, ME vs. .........., Nebula (Planetary), Supernovae & Novae, Telescopes & Detection Equip. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Personally I think the idea behind this post is brillant. As a newcomer to visual observation with the scope myself, i had the luck to read about experiences like this beforehand, and to get to the field with managed expectations. With a 5inch scope in fairly polluted skies, well, i needed those 😀
    I found the part where you describe realistic targets very interesting, keep ’em coming 🙂

  2. Pingback: ME vs. THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE (Round 2) | danspace77

  3. Kris says:

    Great post. I found this blog just out of curiosity as to what the crab Nebula actually looks like because through my basic of basic telescope (doesn’t have an equatorial mount), I couldn’t see Jack. having a reference for all the major sights would be great. i’ve been trying to find M31 for a while but again, can’t see a thing. certainly not a huge spinning disc of suns like we see online. any help would be greatly appreciated. i don’t want the telescope to go to waste and i want to get my daughter interested when she’s old enough

  4. humberto barajas says:

    Please keep posting the side by sides, I’m new to the hobby . I have a 8 ” dobsonion and want to know what I can realistically be able to see and what to look for.

  5. Mark Coffman says:

    You will see better images than his M1 from a dark sky, but his post is pretty accurate. Try to look at brighter dark sky objects, such as M42. M45 (the pleiades) for example is so bright and so big you can’t even use a scope… honestly. I like X and H Perseus are amazing: NGC 869 and NGC 884, are incredible. There are lots of non Messier objects which are bright. There are about 14000 objects visible in a small scope. Maybe 500 of those are pretty cool, if you have a good clear night. The colder and the clearer the better. You also want low wind, say less than 5 mph. You want to be a minimum of 50 miles from a city of 1000 population. If there are any lights where you are at… any at all… a passing cars lights ruin your night vision for 30 minutes if you’re young and as much as an hour if your older like me.

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