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How to Use a Refractor Telescope: Comprehensive Guide

vintage refractor telescope
» Telescopes » How to Use a Refractor Telescope: Comprehensive Guide

Whether you are looking for a nice and easy-to-use telescope to give to your kid on their birthday or are interested in exploring the natural world up there, you will surely appreciate the following recommendations. This detailed buying guide will provide you with information on how to use a refractor telescope, which characteristics to pay the most attention to when picking one, and which common mistakes to avoid. Read on carefully to make sure you end up with a model that fully suits your individual needs, stargazing interests, and budget.


Refractor Telescope Buying Guide 2022

Do you want to find out how to use a refractor telescope, and which design of a refracting telescope is best for amateur astronomers? Here is how:

  1. Unscrew and remove the dew shield.
  2. Use three screws to collimate the objective lens.
  3. Ensure that the star is symmetrical while being in and out of focus.

man adjusting a refractor telescope

What is a refractor telescope, and why use one?

Refracting telescopes are a wise choice for novice astronomers since they are simple to build, easy to operate, low-maintenance, and affordable. As for their assembly, it is pretty straightforward: a refracting telescope uses two or more objective lens elements, a long tube, and an eyepiece.

The number of lens elements in a refraction scope traditionally depends on the type of product you have. Thus, entry-level models are among the simplest-built ones and utilize 2-element objectives to correct the chromatic aberration. These telescopes are easy to use and offer superb optical performance even suitable for daytime astronomical observations.

Another variety of refractors, apochromatic telescopes, relies on three or four lens elements to provide a professional-grade, advanced deep-sky exploration experience. These models guarantee the maximum contrast and the best possible correction of the chromatic aberration, which ultimately translates into much sharper and more vivid images.

While having a somewhat outdated (although still highly efficient) design, refractor telescopes are an excellent pick for amateur astronomers eager to explore the beautiful mysteries of our Solar System, with its numerous planets and moons. For those wanting to look deeper into the universe, though, reflector scopes will do a much better job as they come with robust light-gathering abilities.

The advantages of refracting telescopes:

  • excellent sharpness and contrast;
  • user-friendliness and low requirements for maintenance;
  • greater compactness and durability;
  • better image stabilization under poor lighting conditions;
  • reflections and light path interruptions are virtually non-existent.

refractor telescope in the day

How does a refracting telescope work?

If you are new to astronomy and using telescopes, the first questions you are likely to ask are: “what does a refracting telescope do?” and “how does a refracting telescope work?” Lucky for you, most refractors are set up to make astronomy easier for novice users. Even with minimal or zero skills and experience, you will quickly learn to get splendid views of the Solar System’s planets and moons, as well as enjoy dazzling deep-sky objects.

Refracting telescopes use objective lenses to collect light from celestial targets and direct it to the eyepiece. The objective lens bends light somewhat to produce a focal point for the eyepiece to receive. When it travels through the objective lens, the light is slightly bent to give a point at which rays meet after refraction – a focal point – that the eyepiece receives, unbending the light. As a result, the needed magnification is achieved.

Today’s refracting telescopes can utilize a construction in which two or even three lenses of different shapes and glass materials are placed close together. It is done to mitigate and correct problems, such as chromatic aberrations, where not all the colors of the spectrum are converged at one point, which results in an image-distorting colorful aura visible around sparkling objects.

How to focus a refractor telescope?

Although it might not seem like it on the surface, focusing a refracting telescope is a simple task. With a bit of patience, you will be able to do it pretty quickly, even if it is your first time around such equipment. Below, I will explain what focusing means and why it matters. Read on to learn how to focus a refractor telescope and get the best quality of images in no time.

Let’s start with the “why.” Telescopes need focusing because:

  • eyepieces are not all the same; they have different focal point positions;
  • our eyes are different, so the best focus for one might not be suitable for someone with severe shortsightedness or other eye disorders;
  • the use of various accessories such as reducers or a binoviewer requires the ability to frequently change the focus;
  • curved fields can also be an issue. With some types of glass, you might have to re-focus between the edge and the center.

Now, as to “how.” The focal planes of the telescope and the eyepiece must align to obtain a clear and sharp image of a celestial body. That is why you must adjust the focus every time you switch the eyepiece of a refractor.

While most refractor telescopes are factory aligned, some models might need additional tweaking, especially if they experienced shocks during transit. Here is what you should do to collimate the scope, that is, to align the telescope components to bring the light to its best focus:

  1. Collimate the objective lens using a set of three screws at the front of the lens cell. These can be accessed by unscrewing the dew shield.
  2. Keep adjusting the focus until the star appears symmetrical both in and out of focus.

Refractor Telescope FAQs

Refractor telescopes are a bit more complicated than traditional telescopes which is why people often have questions regarding them. Here is more information about their use.

What is the disadvantage of a refractor telescope?

All refractor telescopes have a common drawback known as chromatic aberrations. This effect causes a variety of colors to appear around the celestial object and distort the image. One way to fix the problem is to employ compensating lenses to counterbalance the aberration.

What is the difference between refractor and reflector telescopes?

A reflecting telescope uses a mirror placed at the rear of the main tube to gather light from deep-sky celestial targets and distinguish the faintest objects and most subtle details. They are cheaper than refractors, but their use requires more effort in terms of optical alignment adjustments.

How many lenses does a refracting telescope have?

Depending on the price range and the model of a refracting telescope, it can have a different number of lenses. Usually, they have from two to four lens elements that help magnify, focus, and stabilize the image.

Refracting Telescope: Great Option for Everyone

A refracting telescope is a good pick for beginner astronomers and seasoned skywatchers alike. Easy to set up and use, undemanding, and affordable, refractors are particularly good for obtaining high-quality, high-contrast images of Solar System targets and deep-sky astronomical objects. If you came here without knowing the definition or purpose of a refractor, I hope that this guide will help you set things straight.
What telescope do you prefer? Do you find refractors to be more manageable and reliable than reflectors? Speak up in the comments below this post!

About Michael Oliver Barlow

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