One of the concerns I hear from potential astronomers is that they have to travel to a dark site to do any serious observations or astrophotography and they just don’t think they can haul that much equipment. Sometimes it is a matter of driving a small vehicle, sometimes a matter of weight they have to carry. Either way I can usually talk to them a little and help dispel their concerns.
Lets start by saying you can have a lot of fun with nothing more than binoculars which can be worn on a strap around your neck. Whether walking, riding a bicycle, a motorcycle or a car, there is no excuse for not participating with binoculars. Often I have two pair of binoculars with me when I go out for a night. They are too easy to just throw into the back of the car or in the backpack. Many astronomy clubs even have Messier events where observers attempt to view as many Messier objects as possible in one evening with only binoculars. Even for seasoned astronomers this can be a really fun event and is often combined with cookouts or outreach programs.
In many countries motorcycles are an extremely popular method of transportation for the majority of people, and indeed in the US they are fairly popular with college aged people for their great gas mileage and affordability. Unfortunately there is no way to do any astronomy beyond binoculars when you only have a motorcycle, right? Wrong. Assuming you are not pulling a trailer with your motorcycle (which would allow you to carry a full astrophotography kit without a problem) you still have room for much more than just a pair of binoculars. In fact, here are two options I can carry on my motorcycle should I want to take it for a night observing.
First is an iOptron SmartStar E R80 setup which was designed to be portable and is even featured in my Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography book. Included is the tripod, go-to mount (and they have a GPS version as well), all electronics running off battery power, camera, several eyepieces and remote shutter release. This entire kit fits without issue and will easily go on just about any motorcycle or even a bicycle as it mostly fits into a medium sized backpack.
Next is something a little bigger, an Orion 90mm refractor, and an older version is featured in my book Getting Started: Using an Equatorial Telescope Mount. While this simple EQ mounted telescope and has no computer or electronics at all, it is still a very nice little visual setup to grab and go on an unexpectedly clear night when you just want to run out for a couple hours.
So what about small cars? I drive a MINI Cooper S Countryman which although not the smallest out there I believe qualifies as a “small car”. I regularly carry my full astrophotography rig, table, two laptops, fan (for summer), blankets (for winter), chair, cooler, and on occasion a second telescope or AP setup.
Family cars can be used as well without sacrificing the back seat. My 8″ dobsonian with all my eyepieces, accessories, chair, table, computer, cooler and much more all fit neatly in the trunk of my Wife’s Buick. We could still carry five full sized adults.
There certainly are limitations but you should never think that you can not do any real astronomy or astrophotography because of what you drive, ride or even if you walk.
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