What's the difference between looking at the sky from a dark site versus from a city?  Everything and nothing!  In a dark sky, you can see everything and from the city you can see nothing (except a few bright objects and stars (see: Naked Eye Astronomy).

Do you need equipment to really enjoy a dark sky?  Not at all.

Stars Galore!

While you might only see dozens of stars from the city, and maybe a couple of hundred from outside the suburbs.  

The darkness of the sky is the biggest factor in what you can see with or without a telescope.  There are a number of ways to measure or rate a sky's darkness.  "Limiting Magnitude" is one way - the brightness magnitude of the faintest stars visibile.  The Bortle Scale is one way to rate a sky - from 1 for a great dark site sky to 9 for an inner city sky.

Estimates that there are only about 5,000 stars total visible from earth with an unaided eye.  That doesn't sound like much, but as your sky gets darker, the presence of the stars become much more immediate and visceral.  A really dark sky shows more stars with a greater contrast with the background: it simply feels more powerful, more present. 

The Milky Way!

One of the most profound treats of a dark sky is seeing the Milky Way - our galaxy's arms spanning from one side of the sky to the other. 

There are two bands of the Milky Way: one on each side of the sky. 

One side, known in the Northern Hemisphere as the Summer Milky Way, is the galactic arm we're in on the inward side - towards the galactic center.  The galactic center is in the direction of bright knots in the Milky Way in the constellation Sagitarrius. 

The other side, known as the Winter Milky way, it the outward arm.

Don't rush to put your eyeballs against eyepieces.  Set up a chair, get comfortable and soak in the sky.  Get away from campfires, lights, cell phone screens and let your eyes adjust to the dark.  It takes around 10 minutes for your pupils to fully dilate and your optical biochemistry to fully adapt to the dark.  You'll see much more.

You'll also notice that your central vision doesn't pick up the fainter stars. The the center of your retina is optimized for color detection, not sensitivity to light; the perifphery of your retina is far more sensitive to faint light.  With or without an telescope, you can use averted vision to see fainter details.


The Restriction of Instruments

Everyone understands that telescopes multiply.  The flipside of magnification is reduction - reduction in what you can see.  Whereas almost a full hemisphere gets into your naked eye, binoculars and telescopes only let a small swatch of sky in.  Granted, it's brighter and magnified, but it is less sky.

Generally the greater the magnification, the smaller your field of view - the smaller swath of sky you see.


The utility of binoculars in astronomy - their pimary appeal, in fact - is that, while they typically don't magnify much, they brighten objects and maintain a very wide field of view.  Sweeping through the Milky Way with binoculars is an experience you cannot duplicate with a motorized a telescope with high magnification - it's a completely different feel.

Wide-field Telescopes on Simple Push Mounts

Wide-field telescopes (or rich-field telescopes) are those with short focal lengths.  They tend to be excellent for low-magnification and wide views. 

Even inexpensive refractors do very well with low power stars and deep sky objects (to be able to magnify bright objects to high power, more expensive glass is required). 

Mirrored telescopes provide wider apertures comparatively cheaply.  

A simple push mount (tripods with refractors and dobsonians with reflectors) allow pushing the scope by hand through star fields.  The direct touch to move the scope and see the star field move accordingly provides an experience that a motorized menu-driven scope simply cannot provide.

Pushing through a starfield is a great way to feel connected to the universe.

Big Complicated Scopes

To be clear, big complicated scopes are awesome.

They allow very high power observation of small faint objects.  They throw up great images.  But they're complicated and put a lot of equipment between you and the sky.

They tend to have big learning curves and are expensive.

They're awesome.  Different.  Awesome.