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How to Choose a Microscope

How to Choose a Microscope

You probably don’t have super power robotic eyes like the 6 Million Dollar Man, but armed with a good microscope, you will have the power to see amazing things that you wouldn’t be able to see with the unassisted eye. To choose the best microscope for you, you’ll need to understand:

  1. Your Purpose
  2. What Type of User You Are
  3. Features and Mechanics
  4. Your Budget
  5. Accessories

Your Purpose

Your purpose is the most important factor when choosing a microscope. The kinds of things you want to look at with it will determine what type of microscope you need.

There are two basic types of microscopes – compound (high power), and stereo (low power).

If you want to use the microscope to look at very small things, such as the internal structure of cells, you’ll most likely want a compound microscope. If you’re looking at larger things, such as coins, stamps or circuit boards, you’ll most likely want to use a stereo microscope.

Low power microscopes generally magnify objects by up to about 120X. High power microscopes usually magnify subjects up to 1,000X or more.

What Type of User You Are

Determine who we be using the scope. Will it be a child, a student, or a professional? For children, it’s best to choose a simple, inexpensive microscope, which sometimes might even be considered a toy.

Student Microscopes

Students need a good quality student microscope, and professionals need a high-quality research model. Regardless of who the scope is for, make sure you choose it based on the quality of resolution and detail, instead of just the magnification.

Features and Mechanics

Evaluate features and mechanics. If you’ll be viewing two dimensional objects, such as stamps, minerals, coins or insects, then you should choose a stereo microscope. Stereo microscopes have two eye pieces, which give you greater depth perception than models with only one eye piece. Compound microscopes have one eye piece, and are preferable for viewing two-dimensional objects such as slides.

Look for a microscope that has a slanted eye piece (versus one that comes straight up from the top, since these are easier to look through. Also, look for an eyepiece that rotates. This is especially important if you have more than one person using the scope at a time.

Maybe the most important part of the scope are the objective lenses. These determine your magnification. We wouldn’t recommend going less than a 4X, a 10X, and a 40X. Some scopes will add a 100-immersion lens, which is great for high level microbiology.

The Stage is he next area to consider. Most scopes will have spring-hinged stage clips. But you may want to consider upgrading to a mechanical stage, which will let you hold the slide in place, and easily move it around for fine-tune adjustments.

What Kind of Microscope

Consider the light source. Keep in mind that LED illumination runs cooler, and will better preserve specimens. We recommend looking for an adjustable iris diaphragm, so you can control the amount of light that will be showing through your specimen. This will make it easier to see some features of your specimen, and allow for better depth of view within your specimen.

Make sure the microscope you’re going to buy is well built. These instruments are expensive, and you’ll want quality components and construction that will stand up to years of use.

The frame should be sturdy, and well-built. Look for frames made of metallic alloys that minimize vibration, and don’t expand and contract with temperature changes. Never buy a scope with a frame made from plastic.

You’ll also want to make sure that the lenses are made of optical glass, that the focus gears are made of metal, and that they attach to the metal frame with metal screws. You also may want to choose a model that has ball bearings in moving and rotating parts, instead of just oil.

Finally, consider a digital microscope if you wish to display images on a computer, manipulate images, and share images.

Your Budget

Next, consider your budget. A children’s model usually costs around $100, while costs for student and research models run hundreds or even thousands of dollars. You might be tempted to buy a low power, inexpensive microscope. But we encourage you, if you’re in it for the long haul, to consider investing in lab-grade scope. You can get one for around $200 – $300, and it’ll be worth your investment.

Accessories

Determine what accessories are included in the package, and what else you may need to buy.

Conclusion

If you think through all of the points above, then your decision about which microscope to buy will be more informed than 99% of the general population, and you’ll know what it takes to get the best microscope for your investment. And armed with the right microscope, you’ll be well on your way to making great discoveries for a lifetime!

 

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How to Choose the Best Telescope for You

How to Choose the Best Telescope for You

Telescope Buying Guide

It’s a fascinating time to be in amateur astronomy! There are a lot of telescopes and accessories available at affordable prices. Choosing a telescope may seem a little daunting at first because of all the technical jargon, features and options. But with just a little bit of basic understanding, it’s easier than you might think to choose the best telescope for you.

There’s no one simple answer to the question, “what’s the best telescope to buy,” just like there isn’t one for “what’s the best car to buy.” This guide will make it easy to choose the best telescope for you, with your own personal reasons.

Consideration 1 – What Do You Want to Observe With Your Telescope?

The first step is to ask yourself what you want to do with the telescope. Deciding what you want to look at with a telescope makes it easy to narrow down your choices.

So think about what’s important to you. What do you most want to look at with your telescope? How dark is the sky where you live? How experienced of an observer are you? What fits in your budget? How much storage space do you have, and how much weight do you want to carry when you move your telescope around?

Consideration 2 – Aperture. The Most Important Feature of a Telescope

The most important feature of any telescope is its aperture. Aperture means the diameter of the telescope’s main optical component, which can be either a lens or a mirror. The size of your telescope’s aperture determines both how much light it can capture, and how sharp the image will be.

The more light that is captured, the more objects you can see in the night sky. The best recommendation is to buy as much aperture as you can afford (or can lift, since large-aperture telescopes get quite heavy).

With a 6-inch telescope you’ll be able to see craters on the Moon as small as a mile across. Pretty amazing, right? In turn, with a 3-inch scope, you’d only be able to discern craters that are 2 miles across (under the same conditions, and with the same magnification).

Telescope Apeture

The same two instruments looking at a faint galaxy on a night without a moon would show an even more dramatic difference. Because the surface area of a 6-inch mirror is four times that of a 3-inch mirror, it collects four times as much light. This means that the galaxy would appear four times brighter!

Another way to think about aperture is that from a dark location, you can spot dozens of galaxies beyond our own Milky Way through a scope with an aperture of 3 inches. But you’d probably need a 6- or 8-inch aperture to see those same galaxies from a typical suburban backyard due to light pollution. And regardless of how bright or dark your sky is, the view through a telescope with more aperture will be more impressive than the view of the same object through less aperture.

Consideration 3 – Magnification. It’s Great, But it Isn’t Everything.

A telescope’s aperture doesn’t determine its magnification. Any telescope can provide almost any magnification. The magnification of a telescope is determined by the eyepiece you use. So you can change your magnification just by swapping your existing eyepiece with one that has a higher magnification.

But high magnifications alone won’t do you any good. The two main factors that limit the effectiveness of magnification without giving you a blurry image are: aperture (again) and atmospheric conditions.

There is only a limited amount of detail a telescopes main mirror or lens can create. So you need to find the optimum magnification to show the most detail without spreading out the light too much, making a dim object too dim to see, or turning a bright object into a big blur.

Good observers generally use low powers for looking at faint things like galaxies and nebulae, and no more than medium-high powers to look at bright things such as the Moon and planets. To help understand this, think about what happens when you enlarge a digital photograph too much. It looks pixelated and blurry. Excess magnification on a telescope does the same thing, just making the object you’re viewing more blurry.

So how much power is too much? The simple rule to find the top useful magnification is to multiply you telescope’s aperture in inches by 50 (assuming perfect optics and steady night air).

Another way to think of this is that a high-quality 4-inch telescope should not be pushed beyond about 200x. Even a small telescope with good optics will show you Saturn’s rings or the principal cloud belts on Jupiter, since these can be seen at a magnification of 75x. On the other hand, if you see a small, 2.5-inch telescope scope advertising “300X power,” you’ll know it’s just hype and you may want to look elsewhere.

Consideration 4 – Types of Telescopes

Types of Telescopes

There are three standard telescope types, or optical designs: Refractor, Reflector, and Compound (or Catadioptric). Which one you choose will depend on the observing priorities you have.  Each type is suited best to a different application, and some are more versatile than others.

Refractors

Refracting telescopes, or refractors, are probably the most common telescope around, and fit the stereotype of how a telescope “looks” — a long tube with a large lens in front and an eyepiece at the back. The front lens (the objective) focuses light to form an image in the back. The eyepiece is a little magnifying glass which you look at the image through.

Advantages

  • Easy to use due to the simplicity of design.
  • Excellent for lunar, planetary and binary stargazing, especially with larger apertures.
  • Sealed tube protects optics and reduces image degrading air currents.
  • Rugged. Needs little or no maintenance.

Disadvantages

  • Generally have smaller apertures, typically 3 to 5 inches.
  • Smaller apertures mean less clear viewing of distant galaxies and nebulae.
  • Heavier, longer and bulkier than reflector and cassegrain telescopes with the same aperture.
  • Good-quality refractors cost more per inch of aperture than any other kind of telescope.

 

If you want to look at terrestrial objects (wildlife, etc.) as well as stars, a refractor is a good choice. If you’re only going to be stargazing, a Reflector will get you more bang for the buck.

Reflectors

Reflecting telescopes use mirrors instead of lenses. The eyepiece is located at the side of the main tube, up near the top. There are a variety of reflecting telescope designs, but the most common is the Newtonian.

If you want the most aperture for your money, you’ll want to strongly consider a reflector. Good quality reflectors can provide sharp, high contrast images of every kind of celestial object at a much lower cost than with an equal-aperture refractor.

For the best value, you may want to consider a particular design of reflector known as the Dobsonian. A Dobsonian is a Newtonian on a very simple, rugged mount. These popular telescopes are available with apertures from 4 inches to more than 30 inches, and might be the best in convenience for the casual viewer.

Advantages

  • Usually have larger apertures which mean excellent viewing of faint deep sky objects (remote galaxies, nebulae and star clusters).
  • Low in optical irregularities, with very bright images.
  • A reflector costs the least per inch of aperture compared to other types of telescopes, because mirrors can be produced at a lower cost than lenses.

Disadvantages

  • Generally, not suited for terrestrial applications.
  • The tube is open to the air, which means dust will get on the optics, even if the tube is kept covered.
  • Reflectors may require a little more care and maintenance.

A Newtonian reflector is hard to beat. If you don’t need to view terrestrial subjects, and don’t plan on doing much astrophotography, there isn’t a better telescope for the money.

Compound (or Catadioptric)

Compound telescopes use a combination of both lenses and mirrors. They offer compact tubes and are relatively light weight. Two popular designs are the Schmidt-Cassegrains and the Maksutov-Cassegrains.

Many people looking for a highly versatile, highly portable (for the aperture) telescope that can be used for viewing anything in the sky and for astrophotography will tend to choose some form of compound instrument. Telescopes of this type also tend to be the most highly “technologized,” with a lot of options for computerized pointing and photographic adaptations. In short, they’re excellent general-purpose scopes that can use a wide variety of accessories.

Advantages

  • Most versatile type of telescope with excellent lunar, planetary and deep space observing, plus terrestrial viewing and photography.
  • Best near focus capability of any type telescope.
  • First-rate for deep sky observing or astrophotography with fast films or CCD’s.
  • Closed tube design reduces image degrading air currents.
  • Compact and durable.

Disadvantages

  • More expensive than reflectors with the same aperture.
  • Their appearance may not be to everybody’s taste.

If you want a little bit of everything, from deep-sky to planetary viewing and photography, as well as portability, a Compound telescope is a great choice.  It’s the one telescope that can be used for almost any application.  That, and its moderate price, make the catadioptric one of the most popular telescope designs on the market today.

Consideration 5 – Telescope Mounts

There are two basic types of telescope mounts:  equatorial and alt-azimuth.  Which one you choose depends on the application of the telescope, as well as portability and setup considerations.  A good mount is important for stabilizing your telescope and permits it to be directed to part of the sky you’re interested in, and to follow celestial objects smoothly and precisely as the Earth turns beneath it.

Types of Telescope Mounts

An alt-az mount works like a tripod’s pan-and-tilt head, moving the scope up-down (in altitude) and left-right (in azimuth). Equatorial mounts also possess two axes, but they’re tilted so that one can be aligned with the rotational axis of the Earth.

A “stable” mount is one that won’t wiggle the telescope too much when you hold the focus knob, so you can see when you’ve found the sharpest focus. Also, when you let go of the telescope after finding and focusing, the aim shouldn’t jump to one side.

Some telescope mounts have small motors to move them around the sky. In the more advanced models of this type, often called “Go To” telescopes, a computer controls the movement. After you’ve entered the current date, time, and your location (and many newer models don’t even require you to do that), the telescope can point itself and track thousands of objects in the sky. Some “Go To”s let you choose a guided tour of the best celestial showpieces, complete with descriptions of what’s known about each object.

Consideration 6 – Your Budget For a Telescope

Deciding how much to invest in your telescope is the final consideration. Pick the telescope with the biggest aperture you can afford that meets your precise needs in the hobby. Sometimes spending a little more on a telescope ensures that you get a better one that will last you longer and that you will use more often.

The Best Telescope?

In conclusion, any telescope can literally open your eyes to a universe of delights in the sky. With a little care and though in selecting the right telescope for you personally, you’ll be ready for a lifetime of exploring the night sky. So, is there a perfect telescope out there? Actually, there is for you. It’s the one that meets your own individual needs, and the one you’ll use the most often!

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How to get started with Astrophotography

How to Get Started in Astrophotography

If you love photography and want to graduate to the wonderful world of astrophotography, you have come to the right place. There are some basic things you need to know to get started with astrophotography. So here goes!

Types

There are different types of astrophotography that can be pursued by you. Here’s a brief look at some of them.

  • Deep space: This is the hardest type to do and is the photography of objects that are beyond our solar system.
  • Solar system: Taking photos of our solar system is possible with the use of telescopes though a high-quality DSLR camera can do the trick too.
  • Time-lapse astrophotography: This will have you take photos with lots of exposure over time and you can then use them to make a video.

Astrophoto of the Moon

Important equipment you will need

In astrophotography, good equipment can make a world of difference. Here are a few pieces you can’t do without.

  • Tripod: This is mentioned first because it is actually no less important than any of the other equipment you need. Without a tripod, it is impossible to keep your camera rock-solid, which is the basis for taking great photos of space. Investing in a good-quality tripod will ensure that you are covered on the basics.
  • Lenses: Good-quality lenses are another thing you can’t do without. You need lenses which will allow as much light as possible to pass through and for that you need them with a large aperture. The larger the aperture is, the more expensive the lenses are going to be. However, it is not impossible to get quality at a good price if you research well before making the investment.
  • DSLR camera: You need a camera that lets you capture as much light as possible. Quality DSLR cameras are now available at the right price points. You also need one which has very good low-light capabilities.

Planning is key

If your hobby is astrophotography, planning beforehand is extremely essential. Here are the things you need to plan in advance.

  • Location: As with the restaurant business, with astrophotography too, location is all-important. It is a good idea to research a location in the day-time before going with your camera at night. This will give you the opportunity of finding out in advance how good a location is. You can use Google Maps too.
  • Know where what you want to shoot is: Knowing where the stars you are planning to shoot is important. The sky is moving constantly, with the earth hurtling through space at an amazing speed of 67, 000 miles per hour! That is the reason why knowing where the stars you want to shoot are positioned during the time you will be going. There are apps to pinpoint locations in our Milky Way so it is a good idea to check them out.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are truly interested in astrophotography, there is a lot of information out there. So go ahead and start with your homework today.