City Gazer vs. Country Gazer: How Your Telescopes Will Differ


Living in the country means unbeatable skies

Life in a bustling city or being out in the calm countryside contrasts each other in many ways. When it comes to astronomy, what would you say the main differences between the two are?

City Gazer vs. Country Gazer: How Your Telescopes Will Differ

We could point out that the country is far less polluted by smog, light, and noise; and has much darker and pristine skies. Did you also know that the type of telescope you own will in all likeliness be very different depending on if you’re located in the city or the country?

It’s true! From the size of the telescope, to the type of mount you’ll use – right down to what spectrum your telescope can “see” in – you’ll want to consider these pointers to choosing a telescope that fits into your needs depending on your location.

The Mount

Generally, there are two types of main mounts for telescopes: the equatorial mount, and the  alt – azimuth mount. Let’s quickly run over the core differences of the two mounts proceeding.

An alt – azimuth mount is the simpler design between the two – but don’t be fooled; it still has many advantages over the equatorial mount! As pictured, it has a sturdy, basic design that is very easy to use. It comprises of a vertical axis and horizontal axis.

Rotating about the vertical axis varies the azimuth (a roundabout motion that passes through the compass bearings of North, East, South and West) whereas rotating about the horizontal axis gives you an up down motion – varying the altitude or angle of variation. Hence the name. A Dobsonian mount is simply a variation of the alt – azimuth design.

Dobsonian mounted telescope

Equatorial mounts are slightly more “modern” designs. It is also comprised of two axes, but these are now the equatorial axis that tracks right ascension; and the perpendicular axis of motion that tracks declination. This design allows you to align your axis with the Earth’s rotational axis; compensating for Earth’s rotation.

Simply put – you could track the same celestial object for weeks if you wanted to without changing a single thing about your set-up, whereas with a simple alt – azimuth design, you would have to manually adjust for Earth’s rotation.

Now, either mount could work for either location. The problem with a Dobsonian mount for the city gazer is that they are often chunky and big (though their sturdiness means that they can house very large telescopes), and so can be very difficult to move around. As someone living in the city, you will most likely try to get away to those dark skies as often as possible, so you may want to consider a more portable; streamlined mount.

On the other hand, this is exactly perfect for those of you are already situated under the perfect skies for stargazing. Your Dobsonian mount – and thus your telescope – can be as large and chunky as you desire, since it’s not going anywhere after all. It also means that you may have the space to be able to house your Dobsonian mounted telescope in a dome… if you wanted to.

Equatorial mount and telescope


The size of the aperture (the main lens which gathers light) and the type of mount you have are almost directly related. There is no point in choosing a 20 inch telescope when all you have is a flimsy little mount, best suited to a 6 inch telescope – it simply won’t work.

Generally, you will see that Dobsonian mounted telescopes are quite large – 12 to 20 inch telescopes for most amateurs with this kind of set up. The large telescope is easily used in conjunction with the Dobsonian mount, and once again, doesn’t need moving around.

If you are in the city, there is more to your mobility than just the type of mount you have selected. An 10 or 12 inch telescope may sound like a dream come true, but can it fit into your car comfortably when the whole family and all your camping gear is already so tightly packed in? And is it comfortable (and possible) for you to move it around and set up by yourself, or is it too heavy?

As a basic guideline, if you are in the city and will be moving your telescope around a lot, is wise to choose an aperture of no more than 8 inches, which will suffice for all your amateur viewing needs. More importantly, it will be a well-loved addition to your stargazing arsenal, instead of being that annoying device that just sits there gathering dust, because it is too heavy and impossible to set up yourself.


Dreaded sky-glow

One of the most useful types of filters for city gazers are the broad – band “light pollution reduction” (LPR) filters. While they do not promise to eliminate light pollution completely (including mercury and sodium vapour emissions that contribute to sky glow), they do reduce these emissions by “blocking” out these wavelengths.

They have been designed to improve the visibility and clarity of deep sky objects that are usually best viewed under dark, unpolluted skies. There are still other filters that you can add to your set up to improve the view of seep sky objects, even if you are blessed with dark skies. Narrow band filters can vastly improve the clarity if emission nebulae.

The Actual Telescope

This may be slightly odd, but even the type of telescope you possess could be determined by your location. A light gathering, optical telescope could work in the country or the city (with country being the winner every time!) but a radio telescope is an entirely different matter.

Have you ever looked at large radio telescope set-ups, like MeerKat and The Very Large Array, and wondered why radio telescopes are placed under pristine skies seemingly better suited to optical telescopes? It’s because where there are dark skies, there are usually quiet skies too.

Radio telescopes need as little noise interference as possible – and a vast open country side is perfect for this. If you are interested and feel skilled and confident enough, you may want to try your hand at building your own radio telescope.

It does not matter where you are. Amateur astronomy is a unique pastime that builds a knack for technology, an appreciation for nature conservation, and the deepest sense of wonder. By choosing the right right kind of telescope, your stargazing experience can become that much more satisfying, and develop into a lifelong passion.

Pic - Luigi PapagnoWritten and supplied by: Luigi Papagno (Science writer Astro-Space News)

“I have been fascinated by astronomy and a passionate observer of celestial objects for most of my adult life. If you want to learn more about astronomy and how to get the best out of your stargazing equipment, then check out my blogs or follow me on twitter (https://twitter.com/f1telescopes) as I share insights and views on how to get incredible results viewing the night sky.”


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