Getting started (beginning) in Astronomy

Getting started in astronomy can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be overwhelming. Here are some steps to help you begin:

  • Learn the basics: Start by familiarizing yourself with basic astronomical concepts and terminology. You can find many beginner-friendly resources online, such as introductory videos or articles
    • Here are some basic astronomical concepts that are essential to understanding the universe:
    • Stars: A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by its own gravity. Stars emit light and heat, and are the building blocks of galaxies.
    • Planets: A planet is a celestial body that orbits a star, is not a star itself, and has cleared its orbit of other debris. There are eight planets in our solar system, including Earth, and countless more in the universe.
    • Galaxies: A galaxy is a large group of stars, dust, and gas held together by gravity. Our Milky Way galaxy is just one of billions of galaxies in the universe.
    • Black Holes: A black hole is a region of space with a gravitational pull so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape it. They form when a massive star collapses in on itself.
    • Nebulae: A nebula is a cloud of gas and dust in space. They are often the birthplaces of stars and can be seen as colorful clouds in the night sky.
    • Constellations: A constellation is a group of stars that forms a recognizable pattern in the sky. People have been naming and identifying constellations for thousands of years.
    • The Universe: The universe is everything that exists, including all matter, energy, and space. It is believed to be around 13.8 billion years old and is constantly expanding.
    • These are just a few of the basic concepts of astronomy, but there is much more to learn and explore!

  • Get a telescope: You don’t necessarily need a telescope to enjoy astronomy, but it can greatly enhance your experience. There are many types of telescopes available, so it’s important to do some research and find one that fits your needs and budget.
    • Telescopes come in different types and sizes, and each one is designed for different purposes and can observe different objects in space. Here are some general guidelines for choosing a telescope based on the range of space you want to observe:
    • Planets and Moon: If you are interested in observing the planets and the Moon, you will want a telescope that has good magnification capabilities. A refracting telescope or a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT) with an aperture of at least 60mm will work well for this purpose.
    • Deep Sky Objects: If you are interested in observing deep sky objects such as galaxies, nebulas, and star clusters, you will want a telescope with a larger aperture to gather more light. A reflector telescope or a SCT with an aperture of at least 100mm is recommended for observing deep sky objects.
    • Wide-field viewing: If you want to observe a large field of view, such as the Milky Way or a comet, a telescope with a shorter focal length and wider aperture is recommended. A refractor or a SCT with a focal length of 400-500mm and an aperture of 80-100mm will work well for wide-field viewing.
    • Astrophotography: If you want to capture images of celestial objects, you will need a telescope with a sturdy mount and good tracking capabilities. A SCT or a refractor with an aperture of at least 80mm is recommended for astrophotography.
    • It’s important to keep in mind that there are many factors to consider when choosing a telescope, such as budget, portability, and level of experience. It’s always a good idea to do some research and seek advice from other amateur astronomers or astronomy clubs before making a purchase.

Best way to clean model railroad track

Cleaning model railroad track is essential for ensuring smooth operation of trains and preventing derailments. Here are some of the best ways to clean model railroad track:

  1. Use a track cleaning car: A track cleaning car is a special type of car that has cleaning pads or brushes attached to its underside. As it moves along the track, it cleans the rails and removes any dirt, dust, or other debris.

2. Use a track cleaning fluid: There are various track cleaning fluids available on the market that can be used to clean model railroad track. These fluids are applied to a cleaning pad or cloth, which is then used to wipe the rails clean.

Track Cleaning Fluids

3. Use a track cleaning block: A track cleaning block is a small block of material, such as abrasive rubber or fiberglass, that is used to clean the rails. Simply rub the block over the rails to remove any dirt or oxidation.

Track Cleaning Bright Boy

4. Use a track cleaning tool: There are various track cleaning tools available, such as brushes, scrapers, and erasers, that can be used to clean the rails. These tools are particularly useful for cleaning hard-to-reach areas, such as switches and turnouts.

Tidy Track Rail Tracker Cleaning Kit 

This Woodland Scenics Tidy Track is my preferred method to clean track

5. Use a vacuum cleaner: A vacuum cleaner can be used to remove any loose dirt or debris from the track. Make sure to use a soft brush attachment to avoid scratching the rails.

Vacuums for cleaning track and excess scenery

Regardless of the method you choose, it is important to regularly clean your model railroad track to ensure that it operates smoothly and reliably.

Developing Your First Model Train Layout

To develop your model train layout there are four major steps to take before you begin construction:

1: Select the size of your model train, that is the scale or gauge. Scales range from micro-sized Z scale for tiny layouts to giant G-scale used mostly for outdoor garden layouts.

Visit hobby shops or model train websites and see the various scales available. Staff at a hobby shop will usually be happy to point out the advantages and/or disadvantages of each scale. Your decision about scale/size will be partly based on the space available for your layout. The most popular scales are O scale which is 1/48th actual size and the smaller HO scale which is 1/87th actual size. As a result of being the two most popular scales these have the greatest variety of locomotives, cars and accessories available.

Model Train Scales an article written earlier may also help.

2: Learn about layouts for the scale you have chosen by reading magazines such as O Gauge Railroading and Classic Toy Trains (these two are for O scale). Model Railroading provides detailed information about HO and N scale. All are full of information – all the good train hobby stores carry them or you can pick them up at places like Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Also visit websites related to your scale choice Google the term “model train layouts” for a great listing of sites with information about model train layouts. You may also wish to check out Youtube for more information on layouts.

Re-visit hobby shops you visited for information when deciding on the scale of your model train set and ask questions about layout. The good ones can provide helpful advice and they sell how-to books on wiring, scenery, detailing and other subjects.

3: You then need to decide on how you start. Do you want to start with a little layout that can later be extended? Do you want to set up a permanent layout right from the start? Do you want to develop a ‘theme’ layout say a layout depicting California logging railroads in the 1920s? The major decisions are to determine your objective and set the size parameters for your layout. Don’t forget that the size parameters for your layout will be determined largely by the space you have available a basement? the corner of a lounge room? portion of your garage? etc.

Deciding a Track Plan Before Building Your Model Railroad Layout another article written here.

4: Begin making sketches and drawings on plain paper it’s easier to make changes to your drawing than to have to physically pry up a section of track that ‘went wrong’. Refer back to magazines and websites during this planning stage just to see what others have done. Many magazines and websites will have photos of layouts appropriate to the scale you have chosen. There are even some computer programs which can help you with designing your layout – look for ads in model train magazines.

How To Choose and Buy A Telescope

by OpticsPlanet Guest Expert


Telescopes 101

1. Telescopes 101

In this guide you’ll learn how to choose a telescope, including how to choose a telescope for stargazing and some tips on how to choose a telescope for a child.  A telescope makes a wonderful gift for someone who has an interest in the night sky. Even a majority of the smallest inexpensive telescopes are capable of revealing the rings of Saturn, the cloud belts of Jupiter, hundreds of star clusters, and even distant galaxies. With a medium or large telescope, amateur astronomers rarely see everything there is to see with a telescope, even after years of observing. Astronomy is truly an interest that can last a lifetime, especially if you know how to pick a telescope that will continue to be used as the hobbyist picks up more skills.

How to Choose a Telescope

So how do you choose a telescope for a new astronomer? With so many telescope models designed for the beginner, it is sometimes hard to figure out how to pick a telescope, especially if you are not an astronomer yourself. Here are some frequently asked questions about telescopes for the person buying gifts for an astronomer. We have also included some telescope recommendations for beginning astronomers to make shopping easier. Learn how telescopes work with OpticsPlanet and become an avid astronomer for life. We’ll tell you all about the best telescope to buy when choosing between reflecting telescopesrefracting telescopesSchmidt-Newtonian telescopesSchmidt Cassegrain telescopesDobsonian telescopes, and the Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes.

Sizes and Measurements

Since any telescope, even a small one, can produce any given magnification with the right telescope eyepiece, magnification is not a useful way to rate a telescope. Therefore, the size of the lens or mirror (the heart of the telescope) is used as a general way to measure telescope potential. This is usually part of the telescope’s model description.

Size of the Lens or Mirror

The larger the telescope lens or telescope mirror, the fainter the objects a telescope will reveal (the more objects that will be visible), and the greater the telescope magnification it can use and still produce a good image. For example, at 120x, a ten-inch telescope will reveal hundreds of objects not visible in a three-inch telescope. In addition, at 120x, the 10-inch telescope will produce images that are brighter and sharper than the 3-inch telescope.

Large vs. Small Telescopes

For amateur astronomers, a small telescope generally refers to a telescope of 4 inches or less. A medium telescope generally means a telescope of five to eight inches and a large telescope usually means anything over ten inches in size. However, this is a very general way to look at a telescope. Optical quality and special features may allow a small telescope to outperform a larger telescope for some types of observing.

Is Larger Always Better?

When it comes to telescope sizes, not always. Large telescopes do translate into more objects seen and better images, but they are also more expensive and also less portable. Many astronomers choose smaller telescopes because they need to transport them to locations where the sky is darker and more stars are visible. Even if observing will be done at home in the backyard, portability is still a factor. When a telescope becomes a chore to move and set up because of its size, it’s doomed to collect dust in the closet. If you are buying a telescope for a new astronomer, especially a child, it also makes sense to start with a telescope that is suitable to their size, age, and interest.

What to Look For

You need a starfinder or planisphere. It will help you locate the most common things to look at in the sky. A great tool for the beginner is a finderscope, a piece of equipment that will help you find various objects in the cosmos. It also provides interesting facts and information about astronomical phenomena. It’s a great telescope accessory to get started in stargazing.

Proper Magnification

You probably don’t need as much as you think. Few astronomical objects require more than 350x magnification and most observing is done at less than 200x, even with a large telescope. It is essential to understand that as magnification goes up, telescope image quality goes down and that it goes down much quicker in a small telescope.

500x Magnification with Small Telescopes

Yes, you can get 500x or 600x magnification, even in a small telescope, if you use the right telescope eyepieces. However, at such extreme magnification, the images produced will be useless. Worse yet, especially for the beginner astronomer, as magnification goes up, the ease of astronomical telescope use quickly goes down. At 500x, a small telescope is impossible to use, despite what it might say on the box about magnification.

Minimum Magnification With a Good Image

That depends partly on Mother Nature. On nights when the sky is clear and stable, you can use higher magnifications than on nights when the sky is hazy or unsettled. Assuming good conditions, a basic rule of thumb is 30-50x of magnification for every inch of a telescope as a maximum. Thus, the top useable magnification for a 2.4 inch (60mm) will be in the neighborhood of 120x on nights when the sky allows it. This is still more than enough to see the rings of Saturn, cloud belts on Jupiter, and many star clusters and nebulae. Magnifications above this in a 2.4-inch telescope, even if you have the telescope eyepieces to obtain it, will produce images of low quality. Above 350-400x, even large telescopes have trouble seeing through the atmosphere above us.

Determining Magnification with the Eyepiece

Telescope eyepieces are marked with their focal length in millimeters, not magnification. To calculate the magnification you will get with any telescope eyepiece, divide the focal length of the telescope eyepiece into the focal length of the telescope. A telescope eyepiece with a focal length of 25 mm when used in a telescope with a 1,000 mm focal length, therefore, produces a magnification of 40x.

How to Choose a Telescope By Type

Reflector Telescope

Newtonian Reflector Telescope

reflector telescope uses a large mirror at the bottom of the telescope to focus light rays on a smaller mirror near the opening which then reflects the light into an eyepiece located at the top of the telescope. The Newtonian reflector is the oldest reflector design in use and still the most popular reflector telescope.


Reflector telescopes cost less to produce than other types and offer the most telescope for the money. Reflector telescopes produce good images and are favored by astronomers who need the largest possible telescope to find distant, faint objects beyond our solar system (deep-sky objects). If you are thinking of giving a telescope that will allow room to grow in astronomy, a medium (four and a half inches or larger) reflector telescope is the least expensive way to go.


Reflector telescopes are more fragile than other types of telescopes and need periodic readjustment of the telescope mirrors (a process called collimation) and, because they are open on the top (Newtonian reflector), the mirrors are exposed to dust and dirt and therefore need periodic cleaning. The reflector telescope is by no means fragile, but it’s the least childproof telescope design. The telescope eyepiece, located at the top of the telescope, may also be more difficult for children to reach.

Schmidt-Newtonian Telescopes

Schmidt-Newtonian reflector telescope is a catadioptric telescope (a telescope that uses both lens and mirrors). The SN telescope uses a special plate at the top of the tube to correct the image before it reaches the primary mirror at the bottom of the tube. This makes the SN reflector telescope shorter than a standard Newtonian reflector with no loss of performance.


The Schmidt-Newtonian telescope is a shorter overall reflector than a Newtonian reflector which makes it more portable and easier to use. Because of the corrector plate (lens) at the top of the tube, the optics in a Schmidt-Newtonian telescope are also better protected against dirt and dust than a Newtonian reflector.


Unlike the Newtonian reflector, the corrector plate at the top of the SN telescope can collect dew, and like the Newtonian reflector, the SN reflector still needs periodic collimation of the mirrors. These, however, are minor concerns in an otherwise excellent telescope design.

Refractor Telescope

Refractor telescopes use lenses (not mirrors) at the top of the telescope to focus light rays into an eyepiece at the bottom of the telescope. It’s the same design used in binoculars and most spotting scopes (daytime telescopes).


Refractor telescopes are virtually maintenance-free since the telescope tube is closed (not open as in a Newtonian reflector) and there is no telescope mirror to adjust. The refractor telescope is the most rugged telescope design and in the most expensive versions, a refractor will produce the brightest and sharpest image per inch of a telescope. The refractor telescope is a good choice for children, not only because it’s rugged, but also because the telescope eyepiece is located at the bottom of the telescope where it’s easier for small people to reach. Refractor telescopes are also easier to use as a daytime telescope (with an image erector) than reflector telescopes.


The refractor telescope is the most expensive telescope per inch of telescope size; beyond three inches, the refractor goes up very quickly in price. If you buy a beginner a small refractor, be advised that the beginner may quickly outgrow it if they stay with astronomy for long.

Schmidt Cassegrain (SCT) Telescopes

Schmidt Cassegrain is a catadioptric telescope (a telescope with lenses and mirrors) that uses a combination of mirrors to squeeze an optically very long telescope into a short tube. A Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope has features of both a refractor (eyepiece at the bottom) and reflector (uses lenses) but is considerably shorter and more compact than either one. The Schmidt Cassegrain telescope is very similar to the Maksutov-Cassegrain below, but it uses a thinner, less complex corrector plate at the top of the telescope making it more affordable and lighter in weight when used in large telescopes.


A Schmidt Cassegrain telescope offers some of the advantages of a refractor telescope – durability and less maintenance – but at a lower price. The main advantage of a Schmidt Cassegrain telescope is portability; even a 5-inch Schmidt Cassegrain is small enough to carry on the front seat of your car. A Schmidt Cassegrain is regarded as the best all-purpose telescope for an astronomer who will be mixing visual observing with astrophotography.


A Schmidt Cassegrain telescope has a mirror in the front that partially obstructs the field of view and causes some light to be lost. For this reason, you may notice a slight darkening at the center of the field of view, though the effect on performance is negligible. Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes do not produce images quite as bright as the best reflector telescopes or an image quite as sharp as the best refractor telescopes, but its versatility is better than either.

Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescopes

Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes, like the Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, are catadioptric telescopes (a telescope with lenses and mirrors). The difference between the Schmidt Cassegrain and the Maksutov-Cassegrain is in the shape and size of the corrector plate (lens) at the top of the telescope. The Maksutov-Cassegrain uses a heavier, more complex corrector plate.


The Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope corrector plate allows for very fine correction of its optics. The Mak is a telescope capable of superb image quality, second only to the finest refractor. The Maksutov-Cassegrain is also a great design for smaller telescopes and is very popular for spotting scopes.


The corrector plate on a Mak is heavier and more costly to produce. Maksutov-Cassegrain larger than 7 inches are, therefore, rare.

Dobsonian Telescopes

Dobsonian telescope is more of a type of mount than a type of telescope. A Dobsonian telescope is a large Newtonian reflector (six inches or larger) mounted on a simple box-like alt-az mount (see mounts below).


A Dobsonian telescope is the essence of simplicity and a perfect choice for the astronomer who shuns hi-tech gadgetry and electronics. The “Dob” is the telescope for the deep-sky purist who wants to see the faintest objects at millions of light-years beyond our solar system. The secret of the Dobsonian telescope is in its size – it’s the largest telescope for the money you can buy. A huge ten-inch or even twelve-inch Dobsonian telescope will cost less than a fancy computerized telescope half its size and will easily take you to places in the universe no smaller telescope can go. Even an advanced amateur will not outgrow a ten-inch Dobsonian in his or her lifetime.


Dobsonian telescopes above ten inches in size are a problem to transport – a disassembled ten-inch Dobsonian telescope will still squeeze into a hatchback with all seats folded down and no passengers, but a twelve-inch Dobsonian will not. Because a Dobsonian mount is all manual, it requires constant readjusting (though easily done with practice) to keep an object in the telescope eyepiece. For the same reason, it’s limited for use as an astrophotography telescope.

Telescope Mounts

A telescope is only as useful as its mount – the higher the magnification, the truer this becomes. A telescope mount not only steadies the telescope, but it also allows the telescope to follow stars and planets as they move across the night sky. When seen in the eyepiece of a telescope, stars and planets move slowly across the field of view in the eyepiece and disappear (because the telescope magnifies the earth’s rotation, not because the stars move). To keep the object centered in the eyepiece, the telescope must be moved constantly. This is done in several ways, depending on the telescope mount.

Alt-AZ Mounts

An Alt-AZ telescope mount requires you to move the telescope to the object you wish to find. You then move the telescope in two directions (up-down and right-left) to keep the object centered in the eyepiece as it moves. This is because stars move across the sky in a gentle arc or curve, but an Alt-AZ telescope mount only allows the telescope to be moved in a straight line.


Alt-AZ telescope mounts, because of their simplicity, are the least expensive telescope mounts. They are uncomplicated and rugged and the least likely to be damaged by over-eager children.


Because a star or planet follows a gentle curve across the night sky instead of a straight line, a telescope on an Alt-AZ mount must be adjusted both in an up-down as well as a right-left direction to keep a star or planet in the eyepiece. This is not much of a problem at low magnifications, but above 75x or so, an Alt-AZ mount can be frustrating for a beginner to use.

German Equatorial Mount

An equatorial telescope mount requires you to move the telescope to the object you wish to find, just as with an Alt-AZ mount. To keep an object centered in the eyepiece, however, requires only a simple nudge of the telescope because the equatorial mount moves the telescope in the same gentle curve that stars follow across the sky. You can spot an equatorial telescope mount easily because it looks like a couple of pipes laid crosswise against each other. One of these “pipes” often has a set of counterweights to balance the telescope as it moves.


An equatorial telescope mount moves a telescope across the sky in the same curved path that stars and planets move. To follow a star or planet, then, requires only a simple nudge of the telescope rather than two adjustments as needed in an Alt-AZ mount. This makes following objects in the sky much easier and makes higher magnifications more practical. Many beginner telescopes are now available with an equatorial telescope mount.


To use the equatorial mount effectively requires that it first be aligned with true north (near Polaris or the North Star). Children may need assistance for this. In larger telescopes, equatorial mounts become heavy and unwieldy and may require some disassembly when moving the telescope.

Manual GOTO Mount

A manual GOTO telescope mount is an Alt-AZ mount with a computer attached to one arm. A manual GOTO telescope mount requires you to move the telescope manually to find an object, just as in a standard Alt-AZ mount, but the computer gives you directions to find your object and tells you when you have found it. Once found, you still have to move the telescope to keep the object in the eyepiece (with the computer giving directions).


The manual GOTO telescope mount is an inexpensive way to help a beginner find an object in the night sky. it’s a good choice for those who wish to keep things simple but still need some help navigating among the stars.


A manual GOTO telescope mount still requires you to move the telescope yourself and is subject to all the other limitations of an Alt-AZ mount – best used at lower magnifications and for brighter objects.

Motorized Mounts

A motorized telescope mount is a mount that requires you to move the telescope to the object you wish to see but then keeps it in the eyepiece for you by moving the telescope with a motor. In other words, once an object is found, no adjustment is needed to keep it in the eyepiece. A motorized telescope mount can be any type of mount – Alt-AZ, fork, or equatorial – that has an attached motor. The motor moves the telescope at the same rate of speed as objects that move across the night sky.


For visual observing, a motorized telescope mount makes it much easier to use high magnification – the observer spends more time viewing and less time moving the telescope. This is also the best telescope mount to use when sharing the telescope with others – no need to adjust the telescope after each person has had their turn. For serious astrophotography, a quality motorized mount is a must, with a motorized equatorial preferred.


To be effective, a motorized telescope mount must be carefully aligned first. The procedure will vary with the type of motorized mount, and periodic corrections will be needed to keep things in alignment. The best motorized equatorial mounts can also be very expensive and cost as much or more than the telescope.

GOTO (Computerized) Motorized Mount

A GOTO computerized telescope mount is a motorized mount that finds the object for you using a computer (usually with a handheld controller) and then keeps the object in the eyepiece for you.


Astronomy changed in a big way when computers were added to a telescope. To find objects in the night sky without a GOTO mount requires use and expertise with a star map, knowledge of the constellations, and experience (one reason so many beginners abandon astronomy as a hobby). Now anyone with a GOTO telescope mount can do instantly what used to require many nights under the stars to learn. Yes, some beginners will never bother to learn the night sky because of this technology, but for those who develop a real passion for astronomy and want to learn their way around the stars, GOTO technology is a great teacher.


This is not a technology for those who have an aversion to bells and whistles or computers. There is also a matter of expectations to consider. On small telescopes, the computer database in the mount may easily exceed the capability of the telescope. In other words, just because the computer is pointing the telescope at an object is no guarantee that the image in the eyepiece will be impressive or even visible, especially on nights of poor sky conditions. No computer can turn a small telescope into a large telescope.

Fork and GPS Mounts

Fork Mounts

A fork mount is a type of Alt-AZ telescope mount, usually motorized (read “What is a motorized mount?” below). The fork mount is widely used on Schmidt Cassegrain and Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes. These are highly portable telescope mounts that can actually be used with or without a tripod if placed on a flat, level surface.

GPS Mounts

A GPS (Global Positioning System) is a navigational system that uses radio signals from satellites to locate your position anywhere on earth. On a telescope mount, it’s used in conjunction with motorized GOTO telescope mounts to inform the computer of the date, time, latitude, and longitude. For most GOTO telescope mounts without GPS, this information must be inputted manually by the observer.

Spotting Telescope (a.k.a. Spotting Scope)

spotting scope is a small telescope designed for daytime observing of birds, wildlife, boats, airplanes, and any application where high magnification is needed. Optically speaking, most spotting telescopes are refractors, but several excellent spotting scopes are Maksutovs. Many astronomical objects – the rings of Saturn, Jupiter, star clusters, nebulae – are within the magnification range of a 20-60x zoom spotting scope.


The biggest advantage of using a spotting scope for astronomy is that it can also be used for daytime observing. If you are uncertain that the person on your gift list will sustain an interest in astronomy – particularly children – a spotting scope is a much more practical gift than a standard astronomy telescope. It’s much easier to use a spotting scope for astronomy than it’s to use a standard astronomy telescope by day.


A spotting scope for astronomy is limited by its size – most are 80mm or less – and also by its magnification – most spotting scopes go no higher than 60x. However, a few spotting telescope models use interchangeable telescope eyepieces which makes them more practical to use as astronomy telescopes. (see next question).

Summing It Up

Now that we’ve covered how to choose a telescope, you should be prepared to pick one out depending on your astronomical interests. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or looking for the perfect gift for an aspiring stargazer, you can trust OpticsPlanet to meet all of your needs. Shop our Astronomy Store today!

More Astronomy Posts

The Wow Hobby

The Science Of Astronomy Really Is Fascinating

Tips For Getting Started In Astronomy

The Night Sky

Look Up In The Sky

The Best Sights for Astronomy


Astronomy Binoculars A Great Alternative

Moon Gazing

Space The Final Frontier

Comets Visitors From Beyond

Shooting Stars

Our Neighbors in Space


How to use a Telescope Correctly

Pictures In The Sky

How to Choose and Buy a Telescope by Optics Planet guest expert

Scenery – My six steps

Part 3 Trees

In part 3 we will finally talk about trees.

I part 1 we talked about preparing the contour of the land. We got an idea for the hills and valleys, used crumpled paper for hills and covered it all with plaster cloth. Lightly sprayed to cover the white cloth, then covered it with fine turf (earth). To read part 1 go here

I part 2 we went to the green stuff, grass, (fine turf grass), then some course turf and blended turf for that weedy look. And finally clump turf for the small shrubs and bigger weeds. To read part 2 go here.

Now in part 3 we will finish the six steps with some small trees.

The white area next to the roadbed is plaster cloth that needs to be covered.

In this photo I have applied ballast, only from the rail to the grass. This area is in fron of the passenger station and I will apply ballast, brick or concrete at a later time.

In the photo to the right the tree now looks fuller, you can’t see thru it.

I repeated this process with all the trees to be placed in this area.

In this photo you can see that some of the trees are thin and you can see thru.

to fix this I sprayed the leafy area with Elmers adhesive spray. The sprinkled fine turf over the area just sprayed. Then resprayed and sprinkled a second time to fill out the tree.

Now place a couple of drops of white glue, I use Elmers. On top of the hole, this will hold the tree in place and the snug hole will keep it near straight.

Now the trees will be planted (placed) on the layout. This is random. Take a look at the scene and place the trees where you think they will fit best.

Use an auger or something similar that will create a hole about the size of the tree trunk. You want it to be snug.

You have just planted a tree on your Layout in this scene. The first of many. Repeat this for as many or as few as you feel necessary to complete the scene.

In this short area I placed three trees. Just to appear to be a separator and not to hide what is behind it.

Trees can be used for many purposes one I will discuss in a future article will be to use them to separate scenes. Also I will discuss the various types and brands of trees available.

I hope that you found my six steps of scenery informative, they are quick and easy to complete. At the same time go a long way in bringing your model railroad to life. As you can see from some of the photos I use figures and vehicles and other items that also help bring a layout to life. We will discuss as many as you like in the future.

Thank you for reading. Till the next time.

Pictures In The Sky

One of the earliest activities we engaged in when we first got into astronomy is the same one we like to show our children just as soon as their excitement about the night sky begins to surface. That is the fun of finding constellations. But finding constellations and using them to navigate the sky is a discipline that goes back virtually to the dawn of man. In fact, we have cave pictures to show that the more primitive of human societies could “see pictures” in the sky and ascribe to their importance.

Constellations also have been important in culture and navigation long before we had sophisticated systems of navigation. Early explorers, particularly by sea, relied exclusively on the night sky to help them find their way to their destination. In fact, when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492″ and “discovered” America, he could not have done it without astronomy and the help of navigation of the cosmos, much of which is made possible because of the important constellations.

When learning to find the great constellations in the sky, we use the “find one, you found them all” system. That is because the easiest constellation to find will guide us to the rest of them. That constellation is The Big Dipper. Look to the northern sky on a clear night and widen your field of vision from just focusing on one star and it will pretty much jump out at you. In will look like a big kitchen pot or ladle, right side up in the fall, upside down in the spring.

When you have the big dipper under control, you can pretty easily find the North Star. This is the star that those ancient sailors depended on the most to find their way to land. Start with the far edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper, the side that is opposite the handle. There are two stars that make up that side of the bowl. So start at the bottom of the pot and mentally draw a line to the top star of the bowl. These two stars are “pointing” to the North Star. Just keep following that line, curving a bit with the sky and the bright star that you come to is the North Star. You can impress your friends or family if you know the scientific name for this star is Polaris.

The North Star can then take you to The Little Dipper. The key here is that Polaris is the tip of the handle of The Little Dipper and the bowl hangs down from the handle like it was hanging up in the kitchen. Be patient with this one as the stars that make up The Little Dipper are dimmer than The Big Dipper. But it pretty cool once you find it.

These are the obvious starting places but from The Little Dipper you can find the constellation known as “The Swan” or Cygnus. Just use the same system you used to find The North Star but continue drawing that line that started in those pointer stars in the bowl of The Big Dipper. Go about half as far as you went to find Polaris and you are there. You will see a trapezoid of stars about as big as The Big Dipper. This trapezoid forms the tail of The Swan.

That line that we are drawing from the pointer stars is our roadmap to another well known constellation which is Cassiopeia. If you use that line and imagine you are directly under the two pointer stars, you will se a big “W” just off to the left of the line. This is the constellation Cassiopeia, the wife of the king of Egypt, Cepheus, in Greek mythology. There are so many more wonderful constellations to find and a good star map can continue your search.

Like Cassiopeia, all of the constellations have wonderful stories and myths related to Greek culture. It is just as fun to find the star clusters themselves as it is to enjoy the rich culture related to that constellation. For all of the signs of the zodiac, for example, there is a related constellation in the sky. So whether you are serious about astrology or not, its fun to find the constellation that relates to your “sign” (or that of your children) and be able to see how the ancients related to these pictures in the sky.

How To Use A Telescope Correctly

by OpticsPlanet Guest Expert


Number on the Telescope Eyepiece

The number on the eyepiece is the focal length of the eyepiece. It is not the magnification of the eyepiece.

Eyepiece Magnification

The magnification of any telescope eyepiece used with your telescope will be the focal length of the telescope (consult your manual) divided by the focal length of the eyepiece. A telescope with a focal length of 1200mm will yield a magnification of 60x when you insert a 20mm eyepiece into the focuser. A telescope with a focal length of only 600 mm, however, will yield only 30x when used with the same 20mm eyepiece.

Telescope Eyepieces for Beginners

ALWAYS start observing with the lowest magnification eyepiece available until you become skilled in the use of your telescope. This will be the eyepiece marked with the BIG number (longer focal length), not one of the smaller numbers. Again, the number you see on the eyepiece is the focal length, not the magnification.

Low vs High Magnification

A low magnification eyepiece has a wider field of view (the amount of sky you see when looking through the eyepiece) than a high magnification telescope eyepieces. The low-magnification eyepiece therefore makes it easier to “capture” an object you are trying to find in your telescope. Your lowest magnification eyepiece will also give you the sharpest image as well as the brightest image.

Once you have located an object with your low magnification eyepiece, move the telescope so the object is as close to the center of the telescope field of view as possible. Replace the low magnification eyepiece with one of higher magnification. If the object is not visible after you have changed to the high magnification eyepiece, go back to the low magnification eyepiece and start again.

Increasing Magnification

A basic law of optics states that as magnification increases, image brightness decreases. In fact, if you increase magnification enough, an object will become too faint to see. This happens sooner in a small telescope than large telescopes.

Barlow Lens for Telescopes

A Barlow lens is a lens that you use with your eyepiece. A Barlow lens will double (2x Barlow) or even triple (3x Barlow) the magnification of any eyepiece that you attach to it. To use a Barlow lens, remove the eyepiece from the focuser, insert the Barlow and then insert the eyepiece into the Barlow. Remember, though, that a Barlow is best used with low magnification (long focal length) eyepieces. When used with high magnification eyepieces, it may produce more magnification than your telescope can use.

Disappearing Objects in the Field of View

The telescope is not only magnifying the object you are observing in the sky, it is also magnifying the earth’s rotation! The more magnification you use in your telescope, the quicker an object drifts out of the field of view. Manual telescope mounts will require you to continually “recapture” the object by moving your telescope slightly. Motorized mounts move the telescope for you and keep the object in the eyepiece.

Telescope Magnification Use

Use only enough magnification to provide a useable image. When you reach a point where the image has become so blurred as to lose useful detail, you are using too much magnification! At what point this happens depends on the object you are observing, the seeing conditions (atmospheric clarity and stability) and the size of your telescope (you can get more magnification out of a large telescope before images begin to blur).

Observing Expectations from your Telescope

You will be able to see many of the same things you see in magazines and books, but the images produced in your telescope will smaller and less spectacular. The images in magazines and books are produced by large observatory telescopes that take long exposure photographs with special cameras. It simply isn’t realistic to expect a small amateur telescope to produce visual images of the same quality.

Telescope Observing Benefits

There is so much more to that little smudge of light you see in your eyepiece than meets the eye! Spend a little time and effort to learn about the things you see in your telescope and you will appreciate them much more. Remember, that little smudge of light may actually contain billions of stars and its light may have taken many millions of years to reach your telescope.

Besides, much of the thrill in amateur astronomy is seeing the glories of the night sky with your own two eyes. The difference between seeing a picture of Saturn in a book and seeing Saturn in your backyard through a telescope is a lot like the difference between seeing pictures of Alaska in a book and going to Alaska to see it for yourself.

Amateur Astronomy

Amateur astronomy is also about the challenge of finding faint, hard to see objects. This often frustrates the beginner (hence the popularity of computer GOTO telescopes) but it also keeps the die-hard enthusiasts out late into the night. Even if you use a GOTO telescope, you owe it to yourself to learn how to navigate by means of a star map . There are no words to describe the thrill of finally seeing a faint galaxy or nebula after several hours or even nights of looking for it.

Lastly, there is a great amount of satisfaction that comes with knowing your way around the night sky. At a time when many of us feel alienated from the natural world, astronomy provides a way to reconnect to the universe around us.

Scenery – Six steps

Part 1

Many people’s first introduction to model railroading is with a simple circle or oval on a sheet of plywood. No scenery, no landscaping and maybe not even any buildings or vehicles

It doesn’t take long, however, to get the urge to start adding accessories to the railroad to make it more realistic. For many people, this become a lifelong endeavor, and can grow to very large proportions

There are many options for landscaping a railroad. You can add things like grass, trees, lakes or rivers alongside the track. Or you can get a little more in depth and add hills and valleys for your train to travel through, and tunnels through the mountains.

There are many methods and articles for scenery. I have read many articles, attended a few seminars (classes) and and discussed these methods at our club meetings. We have come up with our own methods for scenery. The six steps that work best for us. These steps are not hard and fast rules, merely a suggestion that will help you get to the point where you are not looking at a train running on plywood.

Step 1 The base, for this example, will be a 4 x 8 sheet of Fiberboard. A reasonable starting point. The track plan can be what ever you wish, an oval or something a little different from the internet or magazine. Our emphasis here will be scenery.

If you drive through the neighborhood or around town the main point you will see is that it is not level. Some grade changes are everywhere. (Work in small areas in the beginning, this will help you get experience and the learning process will be easier.) The first thing to do is plan what you you would like to have and where you want it. Then map a small area and begin. This is very easily done by clumping newspaper in piles and draping paper towels dipped in a plaster of paris mix and draping the wet towels over the clumped newspaper. A second method would be to use extruded Styrofoam stacked and carved to form the hills, then use the plaster cloth to form the terrain use Woodland Scenics Plaster Cloth. It’s not very messy. Using the plaster cloth can be used for small grades or larger hills. As the plaster is drying you can smooth the hill by using wet fingers and rubbing lightly for the smooth surface. You will find if you experiment you can have the terrain you desire.

The picture to the above shows two levels, the engine sits about 1.5 inch above the lower level. The blue Styrofoam hides the elevation. As you can see it does not need to be neatly cut. Rolled up newspaper also works well. Its only function is to support the plaster cloth. The styrofoam was glued in place with Elmers white glue

Plaster cloth can be cut to fit any size and location.

Here you see a cut piece of plaster cloth in place. I place the cut plaster cloth in a plastic dish to soak for several minutes then put it in place.

Here another sheet of plaster cloth has been put in place to complete the coverage of the Styrofoam. Use as many sheets as necessary to cover the area.

I like to place two layers of plaster cloth for strength. Then using wet fingers smooth the plaster as you can see in the picture the holes have disappeared by smoothing the plaster adding to the strength. The Styrofoam allows for smooth surface and smooth finish.

Rolled up newspaper will allow for a more hilly finish as the plaster cloth will follow the contours easily.

Here another sheet of plaster cloth has been put in place to complete the coverage of the Styrofoam. Use as many sheets as necessary to cover the area.

Once you are satisfied with the area you are working, paint with an earth color spray or brush whichever you desire. I find spray cans are faster and easier.

If you are working in an area where track has been placed you will want to mask the track as I did.

For this example I used a black spray paint to lightly cover the area.

At this point I walk away to let the paint and plaster dry. Doesn’t take very long.

Step 2 is spreading earth or sifted dirt onto to the wet paint. If you have let the paint dry fear not, you can use a spray on glue. 3M and Elmer’s both make a great product, I have used both. Spray the area with the glue and use a tea strainer to cover the area with earth, gently tap the strainer as you cover the area. You can use the Fine Turf or sifted dirt. The dirt can come from your back yard. Let it dry then put it through a tea strainer. let it sit for a day or two then use it on your scene. If it gets a little thick in areas don’t be concerned, you can smooth it out with a small brush or let it go. At this point you can spray the area with an inexpensive hair spray. That will hold everything in place.

At this point the two levels are connected by a rolling hill, covered in dirt.

In the next installment we will add grass, weeds bushes and shrubs to make the area appear to be ready for trees, people and vehicles. Bringing the railroad to life.

Continue to Part 2.


By Adventures in Homebrewing

If you are just starting out, wine concentrates offer an easy way for you to get rolling. They come with simple, easy-to-follow directions that eliminate all of the guess-work for even the first-time winemaker. In most cases, the wine making concentrates also come with all of the additional home wine making ingredients that are called for, pre-measured and ready for use. By offering concentrated juices in this way all of the variables have been eliminated, so you have to work hard to make a mistake.

In short, wine making concentrates provide you with an easy, consistent way to make impressive grape wines with remarkable flavor, body and character. And what’s more, you can create these bottles of wine for a fraction of what they would cost you at the store, as little as $4.00 a bottle. Tremendous wines that are worthy of recognition by friends and family.

So, go right ahead and dive into the interesting and rewarding hobby of home wine making. By doing so you will be joining the thousands of happy people who make and enjoy their own wines everyday with pride.


With wine concentrates there is a larger variety available to you than if you were to try to purchase or grow your own grapes. Currently, we offer over 200 different wine making juices from all over the world: France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Canada and California. From Cabernet to Chianti it’s all there for your choosing. It’s an incredible selection that allows one to make a medley of wines that never gets tiring.

And unlike growing your own grapes, these wine concentrates are available all throughout the year. So you can make your wine whether it be April or August. These concentrates will consistently make wines that are comparable to any $10 to $15 bottle of wine you buy at the store, and in the case of our higher-end juices such as Cellar Craft Showcase Collection, they will make wines that equal the $15 to $50 range.


Getting started with a batch of wine from concentrate is very quick and easy. It is simply a matter of pouring the wine concentrate into your wine making fermentation vessel, adding water and then adding the wine yeast and any other home wine making ingredients that are called for by the accompanying directions. After that it’s only matter of siphoning the wine off of the sediment from time to time as directed (“racking”) and adding any additional ingredients that may be called for along the way. The whole process usually takes anywhere from 30 to 45 days, from beginning to bottling, depending on the brand of wine concentrate you purchased. Your primary role in the whole process is to simply watch and wait.


Of the 14 different brands of wine making concentrate we offer, 11 of them come with all the ingredients you will need. All you need to do is add water. With the other 3 brands, these juices will have directions that call for wine making ingredients that you will need to buy separately.


These brands are considered “ingredient kits” because of their inclusion of everything you will need to make 6 gallons (30 bottles) of wine. They come with: the wine yeast, the nutrients, the clarifiers and such, all pre-measured in little packets. The sugars and fruit acids are already incorporated into the concentrate and have been balanced for superior flavor and character. Depending on the type of wine you are making, you may also receive flavor enhancement items such as oak powder to give a barrel-aged effect, dried elderflowers to develop the wines bouquet and dried elderberries to add body and depth to the wine. Very clear and complete directions are included, making these ingredient kits a powerfully, simple way to make incredible wines starting with your very first batch.


The other three brands do not come with any ingredients. They are simply the concentrated juice. These brands are as follows: SunCal Vineyards,  Alexander Sun Country and County Fair Premium Fruit Bases.  All three of these brands come with directions that explain what other ingredients you will need. You can also find this information on our web site within the description of each concentrate. The items that are called for are basically the following: Yeast Nutrient,  Acid Blend,  Wine Tannin,  Wine Yeast, and sometimes Pectic Enzyme or Bentonite. These concentrates will also need sugar added to them as well.


One of the things that makes wine making so attractive is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started, and if you already are buying wine at the store it can actually save you money. But there are some fundamental pieces of home wine making equipment you will need before making your first batch.

Obviously you will need a fermentation container for fermenting the juice. You will also need to be able to fit the container with an air-lock. This is to allow gases to escape without letting stuff back into the wine during fermentation. And, you will need some hose for siphoning your wine off of the sediment. All very simple items.

Beyond this you will also want to get a wine hydrometer. The hydrometer will allow you to determine the alcohol level of your wine, and it will help you to track the progress of your wine’s fermentation. An invaluable tool!

You may also want a second fermentation container to make it easier when you are transferring the wine off the sediment. Otherwise, you can temporarily move the wine into a couple of large cooking pots, just long enough to rinse out the fermentation container and then transfer the wine back to it.

There may be other items that may pique your interest like stirring paddles, testing jars and bottle brushes, but this is the basics of what you will need to get started.


Here are a few articles on our website that may be of interest to you. They are more specific articles about making wine.

Fermentation 101  

Corking Your Wine Bottles  

Wine Bottle Storage And Temperature


Making Wine From Grapes

Making Wine From Fruits  

Making Wine From Kits

Be sure to check out our selection of wine making equipment and wine making supplies available online.


Reflecting Telescope Information

When viewing distant objects through the use of a telescope, the most important part of that telescope is called the objective. The objective is that component of the telescope that has the ability of gathering the light that is available. Obviously, the larger the objective the greater is the capacity of the telescope to gather light which in turn allows the viewed image to be better visualized.

In addition, there are two types of telescopes. One type of telescope is called the refractor telescope and the other is known as the reflecting telescope. The difference between these two telescopes is how the light is captured.

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Refracting and Reflecting Telescope

The refracting telescope obtains the light through its objective that is made out of glass. Basically, in this type of telescope, the glass lens is situated towards the front of the telescope. As the light is captured by the objective, it is then refracted or deflected through a lens which allows for the viewed image to be magnified. Examples of this type of telescopic equipment include scopes that are used on rifles, binoculars and spyglasses.

A reflecting telescope uses a mirror as its objective. This mirror is located towards the distal end of the telescope. In addition, the mirror has a concave shape. The curvature of the mirror allows for the midpoint of the mirror to be the focal point for all of the light that strikes each part of the surface of the bowl-like mirror. This reflection is then captured by the lens to view the item of interest.

Advantages Of The Reflecting Telescope

There are several advantages to the use of a reflecting telescope. The major advantage is that distortion of what is being viewed is minimal. This is because, through the use of the mirror, the wavelengths are all reflected consistently. This advantage also leads to the reflecting telescope being less expensive than the refracting telescope.

In addition, through the use of the mirror as the objective, the support for this mirror can be all along the posterior portion of the telescope. This allows for the housing to be very large which will accommodate a larger mirror. Larger mirrors mean more light which results in increased visibility.


However, as with anything else, there are a few disadvantages in the use of a reflecting telescope. One of those disadvantages is size. This is due to the fact that these types of telescopes can accommodate larger mirrors. This results in the telescope itself being larger which may prove to be an issue when storing or relocating the reflecting telescope.

In addition, because of the use of mirrors, there may need to be occasional adjustments made so that optimum light alignment is maintained.

The World Of Refractor Telescopes

Refractor telescopes are some of the oldest telescopes available, utilized at around the beginning of the 15th century and still around today the refractor telescope is quite possibly one of the oldest telescopes in use today. Made up of concave lenses that allow the light to be refracted and images to appear bright and larger than looking at it with the normal eye the refractor telescope can greatly aid in seeing stars, planets and moons.

These telescopes are made up of convex lenses and an eyepiece lens similar to binoculars, these refractors gather light and bend it in order to view objects at a distance, which is particularly useful when looking at stars and the night sky Refractor telescopes may seem complicated and are made up of lenses that are concave and refract the light.

The telescope come in a variety of versions; the Galilean telescope which is named after its creator was one of the first versions and was improved upon by Johannes Kepler with the Keplerian Telescope, which is a refractor telescope that utilized a convex eyepiece as opposed to a concave of the Galilean model. The decades and centuries since have observed newer inventions and different lenses, with the achromatic refractors invented in the mid 16th century and later with apochromatic refractors.

Pros and Cons of Refractor Telescopes

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I stated previously that refractor telescopes have been around a long time and with that comes a definite plus since there is a definitive ability to know what the pros and cons of the telescope. These telescopes have obviously come a long was since the 15th century yet the technology has increased to a point in which the refractors have improved yet the size of refractor telescopes pose a problem in the fact that the larger the refractor lens the more chance that it can have defects or begin to sag.

While technology continues to grow and there is no telling where refractor lenses in telescopes will go to in the future one thing for sure is that refractor telescopes have been around for centuries and thus show no decline in their use by many of astronomers. So no matter what telescope you choose to utilize to view the universe or neighborhood, you can not dismiss the value of the refractor telescope and the impact that its utilization has had on astronomy and the search of the skies.