Amateur Astronomer's Checklist Part 1 (Visual Observing)

By: Brian Ventrudo
September 15, 2018

Discuss this article in the AstronomyConnect.com forums

Amateur Astronomers Checklist Part 1

Amateur astronomers at work. Image credit: Brian Ventrudo.

It's one thing to forget your bag of eyepieces or your hand controller in the basement when you've set up your telescope in your backyard. It's another to forget your bag of eyepieces or your hand controller when you've driven a hundred miles to a dark sky site on a pristine night of perfectly clear sky. If that happens, your evening is over before it begins, and your eager anticipation of a night of pleasant stargazing is replaced first by astonishment, then anger, then frustration, and finally, resignation. There'll be no stargazing for you tonight.

Most amateur astronomershave forgotten some important piece of gear back home. And it's no wonder. Even visual observers must often pack dozens of pieces of equipment large and small, from power cables and tiny Allen keys to massive counterweights and laptop computers. It's too much for most to remember, especially if you have more than one telescope or you alternate between visual observing and imaging.

That's why, in this article, we've put together a framework to help you set up your own ‘Astronomy Gear Checklist.' This one's aimed at visual observers, and it includes a list of commonly used bits and pieces, from your telescope's optical tube assembly (OTA) to your bottle of bug spray. No one needs all these items for every observing session. But you can use the ideas in the following list to assemble your own equipment checklist to match your telescope and personal situation. You might even create more than one checklist to match each of your telescopes and your various observing interests.

The Visual Observer's Checklist

TELESCOPES AND MOUNTS

☐ Telescope Optical Tube
☐ Mount Head
☐ Mount Tripod
☐ Rocker box and hardware (for Dobsonians)
☐ Counterweights
☐ Hand Controller
☐ GPS or WiFi Module
☐ Cables for mount power and control
☐ Telescope Shroud (for Dobs)
☐ Finder scope
☐ Telrad + extra batteries
☐ Telescope cover or wrap

VISUAL ACCESSORIES

☐ Eyepiece Case (with your eyepieces in it)
☐ Extra Eyepieces (tucked away in your telescope case or elsewhere in the event you forget your main collection of eyepieces)
☐ Barlow lens
☐ Light pollution (nebula) filters
☐ Color filters for planets
☐ Neutral density or polarizing filter for lunar observing
☐ Binoculars
☐ Binoviewers (including barlow or optical corrector)

LARGE ACCESSORIES

☐ Observing chair
☐ Observing table
☐ Reclining chair for binocular observing
☐ Plastic tarp

SMALL ACCESSORIES

☐ Dew heater controller
☐ Dew heater band for objective lens
☐ Dew heater band for secondary mirror
☐ Dew heater band for finder
☐ Dew heater band for eyepiece
☐ Dew shield (for refractors or compound telescopes)
☐ Lenspen or field kit for cleaning eyepieces
☐ Eyepatch (to keep light out of your observing eye)

TOOLS

☐ Duct tape
☐ Multi-purpose screwdriver
☐ Set of Allen keys
☐ Multi-tool
☐ Spare set screws and thumb screws

ELECTRONICS AND ELECTRICITY

☐ Power tank
☐ Power tank charging cables
☐ Flashlight
☐ Spare flashlight battery
☐ Laptop computer
☐ Red laptop screen
☐ iPad
☐ Smartphone
☐ Installed software

OTHER ESSENTIALS

☐ Star atlas
☐ Observing Log/Notebook
☐ Jacket
☐ Gloves
☐ Bug spray
☐ Sunscreen (for day use or for solar observing)
☐ Cell phone

Brian Ventrudo
About the Author

Brian Ventrudo is a writer, scientist, and astronomy educator. He received his first telescope at the age of 5 and completed his first university course in astronomy at the age of 12, eventually receiving a master's degree in the subject. He also holds a Ph.D. in engineering physics from McMaster University. During a twenty-year scientific career, he developed laser systems to detect molecules found in interstellar space and planetary atmospheres, and leveraged his expertise to create laser technology for optical communications networks. Since 2008, Brian has taught astronomy to tens of thousands of stargazers through his websites OneMinuteAstronomer.com and CosmicPursuits.com.