Category Archives: Tips & Tricks

How to Clean Telescope Eyepieces

I will show you how to clean my telescope eyepieces in this episode. And while eyepieces are generally maintenance-free, it’s good practice to keep your eyepieces clean. Over time, the oils on our skin will make the housing of our eyepieces sticky and this can attract dirt. Oils can also get on the lens which makes for a blurry view.

Here are the tools I will use in this video:

Squeeze bulb air blower

  1. Brush:
  2. Cotton swabs
  3. Microfibre cloth
  4. Alcohol
  5. Lenspen lens cleaner:

Pocket Sky Atlas:

Sky Maps:

How to Use a Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

This video is aimed at new astronomers who need some help on getting started or returning astronomers who may have forgotten how to use a dobsonian telescope. So if you are of the latter, this is going to be a good refresher.

  1. Inspect & Assemble Telescope
  2. Collimate Telescope
  3. Align Finder Scope
  4. Observe Through Finder Scope
  5. Observe Through Eyepiece

If you are just starting out, I highly advise that you first practice observing larger and brighter objects like the moon because it will be easier to locate.

Don’t Overlook Binoculars: 5 Advantages Over Telescopes

Obviously, they have their shortcomings in terms of aperture and magnification, but binoculars are often overlooked by new astronomers because when they think about astronomy, they automatically think about telescopes.

In this video, I will show you 5 advantages that binoculars have over telescopes:

  1. They are small and lightweight.
  2. They are easy to transport.
  3. You might already have one.
  4. They are less expensive.
  5. They make it easier to find objects.

While they also have their obvious disadvantages, like smaller aperture, binoculars have a special place in astronomy. Enjoy the video.

Click here to watch it in a new window.

How to Sketch Stars for New Astronomers


Similar to regular sketching, astrosketching is a relaxing and rewarding activity where the subject is the beauty of the night sky.
In this video, i’ll cover the basics of amateur astronomy sketching including:
– Why Astronomy Sketching is Fun
– What tools you need
– Sketching techniques
– Logging your observation
– Digitizing your sketches
– and some common Challenges
I used M45 as my subject which is perfect for beginners like me. You are drawing a portrait of the universe. Take your time and enjoy it.

How to use an Equatorial Mount for Beginners

In this video, I will introduce new astronomers to the basics of using telescopes on an equatorial mount. How to use an Equatorial Mount for Beginners will explain the difference between an equatorial mount and an altazimuth mount and the advantages of each. How to determine the right ascension and declination motions using slow motion control knobs. Without getting too technical, I will describe the equatorial grid, right ascension, declination and how your equatorial mount follows these imaginary lines. I also walk through a simulation of how it would operate out in the field using Stellarium planetarium software.

Collimate a Telescope without a Cheshire

In this video, I demonstrate how I collimate my newtonian telescope without a cheshire (if you don’t have one). There are 3 basic steps to collimating: 1) Center the secondary under the focuser; 2) Align the secondary to the primary; 3) Align the primary back to the secondary. In step one, I will use a camera phone instead of a cheshire to center the secondary under the focuser tube. Click on the video below to play.

How I Learned to Use a Right Angle Corrected Image (RACI) Finder Scope

Orion 9×50 Right Angle Corrected Image Finder Scope

Many telescopes come with a straight-through finder scope or a right-angle finder scope. My Discovery 8 EQ came with the later which was very difficult to use because it was unintuitive. My 12″ Sky-Watcher has a Right Angle Corrected Image (RACI for short) finder scope. The advantage of using a RACI over a straight through finder scope or a regular right angle finder scope are:

  1. The 90 degree eyepiece allows you to use the finder scope more comfortably;
  2. The Amici prism corrects the image caused by the 90 degree redirection so that the image is right side up.

This eliminates  2 problems: 1) straight through finders can become uncomfortable to use especially when objects are near zenith, and; 2) objects in the finder scope move in unintuitive directions.

However, for newcomers to Astronomy like myself, locating objects through the RACI finder scope still proved to be challenging because of one thing: the view is awash with stars I have never seen before, especially in light polluted skies. I found myself in this situation not too long ago, and in many cases, I still do. The solution was simple, but difficult to master. At least in the beginning.

Rough Aligning

To rough align the finder, I stand behind the telescope until my head is aligned with it so that the optical tube appears vertical. Then I point it to one of the major stars of the constellation in question. This took some practice, but after a few sessions, I can now rough align without standing behind the telescope.

Using Binoculars

My finder scope has a 9x zoom magnification. I also happened to have a pair of binoculars which has an 8x zoom magnification. If I were to locate M13 in the constellation of Hercules, with the naked eye, I can only see 4 major stars. Through the binoculars, I can see more major stars and dozens of minor stars.

The view through my binoculars will be very similar to my finder scope. At first, it’s hard to tell which portion of the constellation I am looking at. So I spend a few minutes studying the constellation comparing views in the binoculars, finder scope, and a sky atlas.

I look for patterns and shapes that I can use to star hop. For examples, I try to imagine shapes, like triangles, squares, or curved lines on the atlas, and then I try to look for those in the field of view.

I keep doing this for every new constellation I am studying. I try to learn the names of the major stars if I want. After a while, my brain and my eyes develop a stronger connection with my orientation in the constellation in question.

In the case of M13, it took me a week to find it the first time. But after about 3 successful attempts, I can easily resolve it through the finder scope as a faint star within a few seconds. This is because my brain and eyes know where to look and what to expect to see.

Using a Keyring

After a few times practicing, you will have an idea of the size of your finder scope as it is superimposed in the sky. But in the beginning, you probably won’t. A good technique is to use a keyring, a rubber band, or something round that you can change its shape.

Look through your finder scope and identify the major stars you see. Then place a keyring on your sky atlas to estimate your field of view. Move the finder scope one degree, or until you see the next major star. Then on your atlas, move the keyring in the same direction.

Keep using these techniques until you become familiar with the constellations. Eventually, you will become so used to it, you won’t need the keyring, or maybe even a star atlas on your favourite constellations.

Do you have any tips for using a RACI? Let us know in the comments section below.

Stargazing at Long Sault Conservation Area

Long Sault Conservation Area

When I first took up this hobby, I had a Meade 90mm refractor and set it up in my backyard. I also set it up in the front yard, and a few times, in an empty field in my neighbourhood. This was all good for observing planets, stars, and the moon. However, I could not find any globular clusters, nebulas, and galaxies aka Deep Sky Objects (DSO’s).

I heard and read that it was either I had too much light pollution or my scope was too weak. I bought a larger scope instead: the Discovery 8 EQ.

Well, after a week, I still could not find any DSO’s so it was time to try it in a dark sky site. I found out that the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada uses the Long Sault Conservation Area once a month for star parties. So I decided to try it out because I have not joined any Astronomy Clubs yet.

From where I live, Long Sault Conservation Area is a 23 minute drive in mostly dark, mostly straight away 80 Km/h highways. It is in the Oak Ridges Moraine region so it is quite elevated. When I first scouted the area, I noticed how it was clean and well maintained. There were a few cars in one of the two parking lots. Visitors walked their dogs, biked, and hiked. There are 2 washrooms in the main parking lot, and a solar powered pay parking machine.

After sunset, and people started to leave, it got very dark and quiet. The trees around the main parking lot can block up to 10 degrees above the horizon, but they shield you from the breeze. There were no stray light sources from anywhere, even from a distance. In my first 2 scouting trips, it was too cloudy and foggy to see the sky. But on my 3rd trip, I was in for a treat: I found the Milky Way Galaxy for the first time in my life with my naked eye.

On August 3rd, 2013, I joined 8 other amateur astronomers from the Royal Astronomical Association of Canada Toronto (RASC Toronto) in Long Sault Conservation Area. I didn’t really know what to expect, and how to behave around other observers. I had a few “firsts”. This was the first time I observed with more than 1 other astronomer, my first star party, and the first time I looked through a 12.5″ telescope (a dobsonian).

It was a cloudless night, seeing was above average, and I did not notice any fog on the way there. People were very friendly. Sometimes, someone would call out an object that they have in the eyepiece and we would come have a look. Besides a couple of people with binoculars, I was the only one with an unguided telescope.

In my rush out the door, I forgot to bring my Nightwatch book. But the organizer (“Stew”) was kind enough to help me locate M15 using his binoculars and his green laser. He also let me borrow his star atlas and offered me a couple of sketching tips using a kneaded eraser.

If you plan on observing at Long Sault Conservation Area, take note of the following:

  1. Parking is not free. You must pay for parking even at night to help pay for maintenance of the park.
  2. If your mobile provider uses WCDMA (i.e. Wind Mobile), you will not get a signal unless you roam.
  3. The nearest gas station is at least 15 minutes away, so make sure you have enough gas for a round trip.
  4. The area is officially closed and off limits after dark, so do not wander off into the woods.
  5. The parking lot surface is gravel, so if you drop your eyepieces, it will scratch them.
  6. For your own safety, bring a buddy and avoid observing alone.

Overall, it’s worth the drive to Long Sault Conservation Area for stargazing. I still observe there because it is convenient, very dark and well maintained. I also heard that the parking lot is ploughed during the winter. For more information, visit

Astronomy Observation Session Checklist and Tips

I live in a white/red zone so my skies only show the major stars of the constellations, so I have to drive to a dark sky site whenever I want to observe DSO’s. It seems every time I drive out to a dark sky site for astronomy sketching and observation, I always end up forgetting to bring something. Last night, I forgot to bring my observer’s chair. The night before that, it was my blending stump. So I came up with a checklist for me to go over before each trip.

I only bring 1 telescope at a time so I will only check off items under the ‘Dob’ or ‘Newt’ categories.

Category Item
Dob OTA caps
Dob Mount
Dob Altitude Handles
Dob Focuser adapters/caps
Newt OTA cap
Newt Mount
Newt Suppression pucks
Newt Focuser cap
Accessories Eyepieces & caps
Accessories Flashlights
Accessories Observer’s chair
Tools Sky Atlas
Tools Laser Collimator
Tools Allen key & screwdriver
Sketching Clipboard
Sketching Pencils
Sketching Blending stump
Sketching Sketch templates
Sketching Reading light
Attire Eyeglasses
Attire Jacket & Hat
Attire Gloves
Optional Laptop
Optional Binoculars
Optional Camera
Mandatory Coffee

At the end of the observing session, I use the checklist again to make sure I did not forget anything. If I am alone at the site, I also drive over and light up the spot to  check for any garbage I might have left behind.

Common Sense Tips

They may not applicable to you, but these obvious ones are my pre-requisites:

  1. Make sure the weather forecast is favourable.
  2. Ensure my car has enough gas for a round trip.
  3. Fully charge my mobile phone’s battery.
  4. Tell someone where I’m going and when I will be back.

Are you an amateur astronomer who has to drive to a dark site to observe like me? Care to tell us what you have on your checklist, if you have one?