How to Set Up & Use a Reflector Telescope

Written by josh baum
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A reflector telescope makes it relatively easy for anyone to explore the galaxy in detail without leaving the Earth. But telescopes are delicate equipment, and although many commercial reflector telescopes are fairly simple in design, special steps are required to set them up properly. Learn how to see clearly through the telescope, and use it to find specific celestial bodies.

Familiarise yourself with the parts and functions of your specific model of telescope. Different models of reflector telescopes have different parts, unique mechanisms and special instructions. For this reason, it is important to have an owner's manual designed exclusively for your model, and to at least read the parts diagrams and special warnings and precautions. Make sure you know the function and use of each knob and lens, and can readily identify them.

Pay special attention to the telescope's eyepiece mount and the interchangeable eyepieces. Every telescope manufacturer has its own mounting system for removing, installing and locking down interchangeable eyepieces, so you'll need to familiarise yourself with the one on your model. Failure to learn and practice this will make it difficult to change eyepieces outdoors in the dark, and you may damage an eyepiece as a result.

Study the finder scope. The finder scope is like the primary eyepiece. But it looks at a broader section of sky, and is used to help you approximate the areas you want to explore. The finder scope should be surrounded by knobs or screws that can be manipulated to shift the finder scope's field of view. Make sure you practice using this indoors, because you'll need to adjust this function in the dark when using the telescope.

Study your star charts. The extent to which you familiarise yourself with these is entirely up to you, as many people can find enjoyment from simply setting up a telescope and exploring the universe by "feel." However, if you want a greater frame of reference for the celestial bodies you see, spend time researching and memorising these charts before going out and viewing. This is important because you'll need to use a portable light source to read these charts out in the field, and every time you do this, you temporarily force your eyes to readjust to the change in light. This makes telescope viewing difficult for a minute or two after you turn the light off.

Pick your viewing area. Ideally, you should be in a rural area where ambient lights from surrounding cities and towns won't affect the clarity of your view. The area should be relatively clear of trees, telegraph poles and other tall obstructions, and you should be able to move within a single spot to get a full 360 degree view around you.

Set up your telescope tripod. Most telescope tripods have adjustable legs and locking mechanisms that keep the legs from opening or closing by accident. If yours has locks, unlock the legs first, fold them out and then relock them so they stay open. If you're setting up the telescope on ground that isn't perfectly even, see if your model has adjustable legs you can shorten or lengthen to make the telescope more stable.

Lock the telescope into the mount at the top of the tripod. The specific mechanism for this varies from one model to the next.

Install your weakest eyepiece onto the primary eyepiece mount, remove the lens cap and point the telescope toward the moon. Look through the eyepiece as you move the telescope so that the moon is right in the centre of the field of view.

Check the finder scope to make sure the moon is perfectly centred on the crosshairs or symbols in the middle of the field of view. If it is not centred, use the screws or knobs around the finder scope to adjust it until it is perfectly centred. This is called aligning the telescope, and this step should be repeated every time you set it up.

Your telescope is now perfectly set up and aligned. You can explore just for fun, or you can use the knowledge you gained from studying the star charts to find and track specific stars or constellations. If you need to check your charts, use a small LED light instead of an ordinary flashlight. LED light is a little easier on the eyes, allowing your eyes to more quickly readjust to the darkness.


Never use a reflector telescope to look at the sun for any reason. If you use your telescope during the day, make sure you have a solar filter installed. Failure to heed these warnings can result in serious eyesight damage.

Tips and warnings

  • Never use a reflector telescope to look at the sun for any reason. If you use your telescope during the day, make sure you have a solar filter installed. Failure to heed these warnings can result in serious eyesight damage.
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