From the May 2016 issue

I am struggling to find a system for telescopic observations of the planets and their major moons worthy of photographing. One wrinkle: I am in a wheelchair and almost blind.

Robert Parisi, Elizabethtown, Kentucky
By | Published: May 30, 2016
Meade's LightBridge Telescope
The modular build of Meade’s LightBridge telescope — and other Dobsonians — makes for simple setup and takedown, a key concern for observers with mobility issues.
Astronomy: William Zuback
Every amateur astronomer faces the delightful challenge of choosing equipment to match his or her lifestyle, seeing conditions, and schedule. Your biggest considerations when choosing equipment will be maximizing the light-gathering power of your scope while keeping the system within your ability to set up and maneuver efficiently.

Yerkes Observatory has helped make skies accessible to the visually impaired for many years. We’ve found that the best way to start is to get comfortable with eyepiece observing options and then explore the robotic telescopes available online. Another good first step is to contact a local amateur astronomy club. They are typically knowledgeable and welcoming. Go to a few events.

Dobsonian telescopes also provide good first experiences for amateurs and are common at astronomy clubs. You should be able to roll right up to an 8-inch Dob for a firsthand view of the Moon and planets. Experience moving and pointing a telescope to the best of your ability. Don’t be afraid to call ahead and ask if anyone has access to tactile graphics of some of the observing targets.

If you are lucky, someone at a star party will be using an off-the-shelf webcam mounted to a scope to view targets on a monitor, providing you many more options for enlarging and maximizing the display for your needs. You may want to pursue a system like this for yourself. Many amateurs take very good planetary images using this method. Coupling a small go-to telescope with a webcam may let you explore objects too dim for you to see while giving you maximum independence.

Another area to explore is the world of robotic telescopes accessible via the Internet. Slooh and New Mexico Skies provide telescope time to the public on a fee basis. You can use their online interfaces to request images of your choice while controlling exposure time and filters. When the images are returned to you, you can then use whatever optimizations you typically use with your monitor to view your work.

Kate Meredith
Director of Education Outreach
Yerkes Observatory
Williams Bay, Wisconsin