First-time astronomers

Two novice stargazers tell us how they got on with their first attempt at astronomy.

Vixen BT81S-A

Tested by: Phil Davis

Cost: £999/$1,199


“When my friend first suggested I borrow his Vixen BT81S-A binocular telescope for my first astronomy attempt I was a little bit apprehensive. Having never even used a regular telescope before, this seemed like a bit of a leap into the fire, so to speak.

“Nonetheless, with his help I decided I would give it a go. We had a spare tripod mount hanging around so we attached the binocular scope on to it. The telescope comes fully assembled, aside from the eyepieces, so setup was simply a case of mounting it on to the tripod.

“Next, we attached the two eyepieces (yes, this telescope needs two rather than one). These need to be the same size, so we used two 40mm eyepieces at first but later tried the 25mm ones as well. With it ready to go, we took off the lens caps and began observing the universe.

“With a manual mount, I must admit even my more experienced friend found it pretty difficult to hone in on any particular objects. However, after a good while making our way around the night sky (and just generally observing random stars, which was great in itself) we finally found an object of interest: Saturn. It was pretty incredible to be able to clearly see the rings of Saturn, and even the gap between the rings and the planet itself.

“While this particular scope might be a bit too advanced for me, it has certainly ignited a passion for astronomy I didn’t know I had. I’m already planning to purchase a decent pair of binoculars and, eventually, a full telescope. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back to this binocular scope one day more the wiser.”

Sky-Watcher Heritage-114p Virtuoso

Tested by: Sherwin Coelho

Cost: £184/$280


“Having not tried astronomy before, I decided it would be best to get started with a smaller scope, like this one, so that I could get to grips with using a telescope for the first time. The Sky-

Watcher Heritage-114p Virtuoso is akin to what a good entry-level DSLR is for aspiring photographers. It’s a worthy investment because even if you don’t buy lenses in the future, you have a robust future-proof camera capable of delivering good pictures. But if you do want to take your passion further, you have the option of buying better lenses and even upgrading to a better camera in the future.

“Setting up the telescope was incredibly straightforward. It comes in a manageable box that can be thrown into the boot of the car (ideal for camping and stargazing trips) and can be assembled in less than five minutes. It does take a while to work out where everything fits in, at first go, but it gets easier with each try.

“My first night out I wasn’t particularly blessed with a clear sky, but it still gave me a decent view of Saturn’s rings and, on another night, a clear definition of three of Jupiter’s four moons. The x20 and x50 eyepieces do the job relatively well, though it would be advisable to get better ones if you plan to use the telescope for deep space observations. I’ve read that the highest practical power the Sky-Watcher Heritage-114p can support is up to x228, so there’s loads of room for improvement if you’re willing to invest in it.

“The Sky-Watcher Heritage-114p Virtuoso is sleek, pretty, easy to assemble and good to use. It’s a robust yet basic starter kit for aspiring astronomers to view the cosmos from a telescope that doesn’t demand its own corner in your room, and I’ll definitely be using it in future for some more astronomy.”

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