A Guide to the Sky, Telescopes, and Telescope Programs
Starting a Program
Who you need
Here are some of the key players you'll need.
Telescope "Expert" - only a limited skill set is required: someone to check batteries, check parts, collimate the mirror twice a month or so (10 minutes). Only collimating requires some knowledge, practice or special tools (a laser collimator is around $50). Only newtonian reflectors need frequent collimating (click here for info on the different types of scopes).
Trainer - can be the Telescope "Expert" but is not required. In-person training isn't strictly required. In theory, the on-line training can substitute for live in-person training. At the training sessions we do at Curie, we typically do what is in this video and then take the scope outside for a peek.
Reservations Manager - to manage an "eligible renters" list, to maintain a calendar, to receive reservations requests, to maintain a reservations calendar, to notify renters of their upcoming availability, to remind renters to return the scope. This job actually takes the most time and attention.
Scope Manager - this is the person who handles the actual checkin/checkout transactions. This person does not need to have any particular scope skill. A school administrator, staff member or teacher can do it. The logical choice is the school librarian. If this person is not the Reservations Manager, she will need to coordinate (via email?) with the Reservations Manager that the scope has or has not been returned or if there is a problem.
What you need
You don't actually need any equipment. In theory, there is plenty of naked eye astronomy to keep you busy for some time. Binoculars are inexpensive and are particularly good for seeing star clusters and the moon.
If you buy a scope, buy one appropriate for your audience and your skies. An inappropriate will provide a bad experience for the user.
There is no "perfect" telescope. They different types all have different advantages and disadvantages.
At Curie Elementary in urban San Diego, we started with the advice of the New Hampshire Astronomical Society but felt a six-inch scope would allow us to see some of the fainter objects, especially in the darker skies within a couple hours drive. While the Starblast 6i has a computer, we haven't emphasized that capability, although we may in the future (the computer can be a distraction, but it is easy to learn (it takes less time to learn the computer than to lose the sky). A computer makes it easier to find objects in a very bright sky like San Diego.
A new, non-computerized 6" dobsonian can be purchased for under $300. Adding a computer object locator adds around $150. The costs of basic accessories can start at around $50. There is no upper ceiling. A canvas bag, for example, may cost $70. A decent zoom lens or a good eyepiece can cost $100. Do not expect that the cost of your telescope kit to be your final initial cost. For Curie, five-hundred dollars got us well-started: a computerized 6" scope, a good zoom lens, a starmap, a planimeter, a red flashlight and a moon filter.
Click here for an idea of Scope Types and Costs
Most large metro areas have an Astronomy Club. Most have "outreach" as an
important part of their charters. Telescope Expertise and perhaps a
scope's "foster parent" might be available from your local astronomy club.
Do an internet search, make contact with your local club and find out what they
might be willing to help you with.
It helps to have an idea of who your school human and physical resources will be. Some of the issues that will need to be addressed include:
Questions or comments? Email:Jeff Martin