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Saturday March 25th 2017

‘Top 10 Objects’

Top 10 Night Sky Objects for Astronomy Beginners

Orion Nebula (M42), Image credit: Wolf DammYour first telescope has just arrived and now you can’t wait to try it out. Trust me, I remember this feeling very well. The universe is calling and it want to be discovered by you. There are so many exciting objects to explore. So, what to aim your telescope at?  I created a list of ten celestial objects that are great for beginners who own binoculars or small telescopes. The targets described represent different kinds of objects that exist in the universe. All objects are easy to find, and their size makes them equally suited for refractors, reflectors, catadioptric telescopes or binoculars. With the exception of the last listing, the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), all objects can be observed even with full moon.


Top 10 Objects for Binoculars and Small Telescopes

Top 10 Night Sky Objects for Astronomy Beginners A short version of the Top 10 Night Sky Objects can be download as PDF and printed. It is a one pager and serves as reference for the field. Links to constellation maps are offered for all stars and deep sky objects. I really recommend a planisphere for beginners; it makes it so much easier finding constellations at a certain day. Alternatively, SkyMaps offers a great monthly two- pager that shows all visible constellations and provides useful further information about current stargazing objects.  These maps are also free and can be downloaded as PDF.

 

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Moon

MoonThe Moon is an ever fascinating object that can be observed almost throughout the year. Common presumption is that the moon can be seen best at full moon, but this is actually not the case. The best time is when it is a quarter or less. Sun light comes now from the side and moon features cast long shadows which render the telescope view almost plastic. It is most exciting to observe along moon edges and the Terminator, the line where the dark and illuminated areas come together.

Facts:
The Moon came into existence when a Mars-size planet crashed into the early Earth. Fragments orbited the Earth and coalesced within just several weeks to become the Moon. The dark areas visible today at the moon are called Maria, from Latin “Sea”. They are meteorite craters that flooded with hot lava. Lava layers can be up to 10 km (6.2 miles) thick, higher than Mount Everest. Diameter: 3 476 km (27% of Earth)
Distance to Earth: 384 000 km (199,000 miles)
Mass: 7.350 x 10E19 tons (1.2% of Earth)
Density: 3.341 g/cm3 (61% of Earth)

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Jupiter

Jupiter is the fifth and largest planet in our solar system. It is a gas giant which is primarily composed of hydrogen and helium (very similar to our sun). Jupiter may also have a rocky core of heavier elements.

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. It is a very bright and exciting object to observe. Four moons can be seen even with small telescopes or binoculars. If the conditions are good some cloud bands are visible, and with larger telescopes it might be possible to see some cloud details and the great red spot.

TIP: It is fun to draw the position of the moons and follow them over a period of time.

Click here for more information about the position of planets.

Facts:
Jupiter is a gas giant with over 100 moons. The four largest are Io, Europe, Ganymede, Callisto. They are also called the Galilean moons. When Galileo saw the movement of the moons he could no longer accept a geocentric model of the universe. Diameter: 142 980 km (11.2 x Earth)
Mass: 1.899 x 10E24 tons (318 x Earth)
Density: 1.32 g/cm3 (24% of Earth)
Distance from Sun: 4.95 AU

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Saturn

Saturn, Image credit: Wolf DammSaturn is probably the most enigmatic of all planets. Its rings have given awe to many people who saw it the first time. Since Saturn is double as far from the Sun than Jupiter, it receives only a quarter of the light. While it has almost the size of Jupiter, Saturn’s larger distance results in a smaller, fainter view in the eyepiece. We tend trying to compensate by increasing magnification, but this multiplies air layer disturbances as well. Unless seeing conditions are perfect, a good compromise is a magnification between 100 and 150.

With a very small telescope or under not so good seeing conditions, Saturn’s rings might just be seen as “ears”.  In fact, this is what Galileo saw when he first looked at Saturn with his telescope. He concluded that these “ears” must be two close moons on either side of Saturn, but two years later the moons were gone, and again two years later the moons re-appeared. We know today, that the “disappearance” was caused by looking at the ring edge on but it was very confusing for Galileo at that time.

Click here for more information about the position of planets.

Facts:
Saturn is a gas giant, and has over 62 moons, with Titan and Rhea as the largest ones. Saturn has a very low density, in fact if we could build a bathtub large enough to hold Saturn, it would float on the surface. Diameter: 123 000 km (9.4 x Earth)
Mass: 0.569 x 10E24 tons (95 x Earth)
Density: 0.67 g/cm3 (24% of Earth)
Distance from Sun: 9.54 AU

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Mizar & Alcor

The Big Dipper is probably the best known asterism for stargazers in the Northern hemisphere. Big Dipper consists of seven stars and belongs to the constellation Ursa Major, or Great Bear. It is easy to find and its serves as guidepost to Polaris. Find the brightest two stars at the outer bowl edge, Dubhe and Merak. Take 5 times their distance and you reach Polaris, the Northern Star.

Mizar & Alcor
Mizar & Alcor (click on image for larger scale)

Big Dipper holds some surprises that are revealed at closer observation. Point your telescope at the handle bend and what you see are not one but two stars. The brighter one is Mizar, the dimmer star is Alcor. They are also known as “Horse and Rider”. People with good eyesight can distinguish these two stars with bare eyes. If the seeing conditions are good, choose high magnification and take a closer look at Mizar. You will see that Mizar itself has another close companion star.  The image above shows an actual photo of Mizar A, his close companion Mizar B and Alcor (click at the image to open a larger scale version).

Click here for a star map of Ursa Major.

Facts:
The Mizar – Alcor system consists of even more stars that are however too faint for small telescopes. Four stars belong to the local Mizar system and the Alcor system consists of two. New research has revealed that both systems are gravitationally linked, making Mizar & Alcor a true 6-star system. Constellation: Ursa Major, UMa
Magnitude (Mizar/Alcor): 2.2 /4.0
Separation: 11.8′
Distance: 83 Light years
Mass (Mizar/Alcor): 7.7 /2 x Sun, Diameter: 4.1 / 1.8 x Sun
Luminosity: (Mizar/Alcor): 63 / 13 x Sun

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Albireo

In the night sky: late Spring to Fall.

Albireo, HunterAlbireo is the fifth brightest star in the constellation Cygnus (Swan). With naked eye it appears to be single star but a telescope resolves it as double star. Both stars offer a striking color contrast. The brighter star shines in yellow color, the smaller star in blue.

Image credit: Hunter Wilson.

When observing colorful stars, it can be beneficial to do this somewhat out of focus. Since the star disks become larger, colors become more prominent. The reason for this is that a larger number of color receptors in the eyes can collect color information . Play with your focuser and see what works best for you.

Click here for a star map of Cygnus.

Facts:
At this point it is unknown whether the stars are optical doubles or gravitational linked and orbiting each other.The brighter star itself has a very close companion, too close though to be resolved with a telescope. Constellation: Cygnus, CYG
Magnitude: A 3.2, B 5.8
Separation 35″
Distance 390 / 390 Light years
Mass: 5 / 3.2 x Sun
Diameter: 16 / 2.7 x Sun
Luminosity: 950 / 120 x Sun

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Orion Nebula (M42)

In the night sky: Winter and Spring.

Orion Nebula (M42)The Orion Nebula is part of the constellation Orion. This truly beautiful nebula can be found just below Orion’s belt as a part of Orion’s sword. It is one of the brightest nebulae and is visible to the naked eye.

Because M42 is over an arc minute wide use your lowest magnification to ensure it fits in the field of view. The four stars at its center are called “Trapezium”, they energize and ionize surrounding gasses which leads to this beautiful spectacle.  Due to its brightness the Trapezium stars draw the observers attention, but scanning the area around them, you will see many smaller stars and layers of ionized gas.

Click here for a star map of Orion.

Facts:
Orion nebula is the closest region of massive star formation to the Earth. It hosts protoplanetary discs and brown dwarfs. New stars and planets are born here right now. The strong radiation emitted by the Trapezium stars is so powerful that young neighbor stars are pushed into the form of an egg. Constellation: Orion, ORI
Magnitude: 4.0
Size: 65’x60′
Distance 1,344 Light Years
Diameter: 24 Light Years
Mass: 2,000 x Sun

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Andromeda Galaxy (M31)

In the night sky: Summer, Fall and Winter.

Andromeda Galaxy (M31)The Andromeda Galaxy belongs to the constellation Andromeda. It is the farthest object that can be seen with bare eyes. It is so large that it will most certainly exceed the field of your telescope view (binoculars have sufficient viewing angle) Nevertheless is a fascinating moment taking a peak at another Galaxy for the first time. The core is very bright and the surrounding areas can be seen nicely.

There are many ways finding the Andromeda Galaxy in the night sky. My favorite is to extend the most pointy part of the Cassiopeia “W”three times.

Click here for star maps of Andromeda and Cassiopeia.

Facts:
The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy has an estimated 1 Trillion stars (Milky Way 200 – 400 Billion). Its center comprises a massive black whole. Andromeda Galaxy will and the Milky Way are moving towards each other. They will merge in about 4.5 Billion years. Constellation: Andromeda, AND
Magnitude: 3.44
Distance 2.54 Million Light Years
Mass: 1- 1.5 x Milky Way Galaxy

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Hercules  Cluster (M13)

In the night sky: Spring, Summer and Fall.

Herkules Globular Cluster, Image credit: ESA, NASAAs it’s name already reveals, the Hercules Global Cluster lies in the constellation Hercules.  The Globular Cluster is almost as old as the known universe and offers beautiful view even for small telescopes.

Image Credit: ESA, NASA

It is a bit more challenging to find Hercules Globular Cluster. First we have to find “The Keystone”, four stars of the constellation Hercules that build a trapezoid. M13 lies on the line between Eta Herculis and Zeta Herculis. These are the two stars in “The Keystone” at the side of Arcturus. Move a little bit towards Eta on the Eta-Zeta line and you have found this beautiful globular cluster. If you have difficulties to find “The Keystone”, two bright stars, Vega and Arcturus help. Draw a line from Vega to Arcturus, “The Keystone” is located about one third the distance from Vega.

Click here for a star map of Hercules.

Facts
Despite it’s age, Hercules Globular Cluster has not changed its form much. Pressure of star radiation pushing stars apart and gravity force pulling them together, resulting in an equilibrium. The stable conditions were thought to be beneficial for possible forming of life. In 1974 a radio message was sent to the Hercules Cluster with the large Arecibo radio telescope. The digital message included information about man, earth and the solar system. Constellation: Hercules, HER
Magnitude: 5.8
Distance 25,100 Light Years
Diameter: 168 Light years
Mass: 600,000 times Sun
Age: 14 Billion years

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Double Cluster (NGC 869 & NGC884)

In the night sky: Fall, Winter, Early Spring.

The Double Cluster (NGC 869 & NGC884), Image credit: Wolf DammIn his classic Field Book of the Stars (1929), William Olcott called the Double Cluster: “One of the finest clusters for a small telescope. The field is simply sown with scintillating stars, and the contrasting colors are very beautiful”. Does this not make anyone thrilled to observe this fine object? What we see are in fact two independent open clusters. They are about 800 light years apart but due to their position in the sky, they fit both in the view of a small telescope.

The Double Cluster belongs to the constellation Perseus. It can be easily found with the help of the constellation Cassiopeia. Just follow the inner leg of the shallow half of the “W” (Cassiopeia Gamma – Delta) about two third of the way to the next bright star, and you will find the Double Cluster.

Click here for star maps of Perseus and Cassiopeia.

Facts:
The Greeks knew about the object as early as 130 BC, but the true nature of it was not discovered not before the telescope was invented.
The radiant of the Perseid meteor shower (Aug 12 & 13) is located in the neighborhood of the Double Cluster (SW).
Constellation: Perseus, PER
Magnitude: 4.2
Distance (NGC 869): 6,800 Light Years
Distance (NGC 884): 7,600 Light Years
Age (NGC 869): 5.6 Million years
Age (NGC 884): 3.2 Million years

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Dumbbell Nebula (M27)

In the night sky: Fall, Winter, Spring

Dumbbell Nebula (M27), photo credit: Wolf DammWith a magnitude of 7.5 , the Dumbbell Nebula is the faintest object in our Top-10 list. It is however the second largest planetary nebula in the northern sky and can be found relatively easily. The Dumbbell Nebula is located in the constellation Vulpecula, Latin for “Little Fox”. Vulpecula is a very small constellation with faint stars, southwest of Albireo in the constellation Cygnus. My preferred way to find M27 is with the help of the constellation Sagitta, the “Arrow”, just south of it. Its stars are brighter so they are easier to make out. They are shaped like an arrow with feathers (or a triangle  with tip). The Dumbbel Nebula, M27 is pretty exactly north of Sagitta’s tip star, Gamma Saggitae.

Click here for star maps of Vulpecula, Cygnus and Sagitta.

Facts:
M27 is a planetary nebula. This term was coined by early astronomers who thought these nebulae were planets. In fact, they have nothing to do with planets. Planetary nebulae are clouds of material, shed by a star. It glows because it is excited by radiation emitted by a nearby object. Constellation: Vulpecula, VUL
Magnitude: 7.5
Distance 1,360 Light Years
Diameter: 1.44 Light Years
Central star
Dia: 0.055 Sun, Mass: 0.56 Sun
Age: only 9800 years

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Further Material



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Positions of Planets

Saturn, credit: Nasa
Saturn, image credit: NASA

The tables offer monthly positions of the four brightest planets: Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Note, that a constellation may not be visible during the night.  Another good monthly reference is created by the folks of SkyMaps.  It shows monthly events and locations of planets and can be downloaded as pdf for printing.  Also Sky View Cafe and Astronomy Magazine offer very nice online planetaria that show positions of planets and provide a wealth of other information. Both need Java installed on your computer.

2012 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus AQR PSC ARI TAU TAU TAU TAU GEM CNC LEO VIR LIB
Mars VIR LEO LEO LEO LEO LEO VIR VIR LIB SCO SGR SGR
Jupiter ARI ARI ARI ARI TAU TAU TAU TAU TAU TAU TAU TAU
Saturn VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR
                         
2013 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus SGR CAP AQR ARI TAU GEM LEO VIR VIR OPH SGR SGR
Mars CAP AQR PSC PSC ARI TAU GEM GEM CNC LEO LEO VIR
Jupiter TAU TAU TAU TAU TAU TAU GEM GEM GEM GEM GEM GEM
Saturn LIB LIB LIB VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR LIB LIB LIB LIB
                         
2014 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus SGR SGR CAP AQR PSC ARI TAU CNC LEO VIR LIB SGR
Mars VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR LIB SCO OPH SGR CAP
Jupiter GEM GEM GEM GEM GEM GEM CNC CNC CNC LEO LEO LEO
Saturn LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB
                         
2015 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus CAP AQR PSC TAU GEM CNC LEO LEO CNC LEO VIR LIB
Mars AQR PSC PSC ARI TAU TAU GEM CNC LEO LEO VIR VIR
Jupiter LEO CNC CNC CNC CNC LEO LEO LEO LEO LEO LEO LEO
Saturn SCO SCO SCO SCO SCO LIB LIB LIB LIB SCO SCO OPH
                         
2016 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus OPH SGR AQR PSC ARI TAU CNC LEO VIR LIB SGR CAP
Mars VIR LIB SCO OPH SCO LIB LIB SCO OPH SGR CAP AQR
Jupiter LEO LEO LEO LEO LEO LEO LEO VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR
Saturn OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH
                         
2017 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus AQR PSC PSC PSC PSC ARI TAU GEM LEO VIR LIB OPH
Mars AQR PSC ARI TAU TAU GEM GEM CNC LEO VIR VIR VIR
Jupiter VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR VIR LIB LIB
Saturn OPH OPH SGR SGR SGR OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH SGR
                         
2018 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus SGR AQR PSC ARI TAU CNC LEO VIR VIR VIR VIR LIB
Mars LIB OPH SGR SGR CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP AQR AQR
Jupiter LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB LIB OPH
Saturn SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR
                         
2019 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus OPH SGR CAP AQR PSC TAU GEM LEO VIR LIB OPH SGR
Mars PSC ARI ARI TAU TAU GEM CNC LEO LEO VIR VIR LIB
Jupiter OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH OPH SGR
Saturn SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR
                         
2020 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus AQR PSC ARI TAU TAU TAU TAU GEM CNC LEO VIR LIB
Mars OPH SGR SGR CAP AQR AQR CET PSC PSC PSC PSC PSC
Jupiter SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR
Saturn SGR SGR SGR CAP CAP CAP SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR SGR
                         
2021 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus SGR CAP AQR ARI TAU GEM LEO VIR VIR OPH SGR SGR
Mars ARI ARI TAU TAU GEM CNC LEO LEO VIR VIR LIB SCO
Jupiter CAP CAP CAP CAP AQR AQR AQR AQR CAP CAP CAP AQR
Saturn CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP
                         
2022 Jan Feb Mar Apr May June Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Venus SGR SGR CAP AQR PSC ARI TAU CNC LEO VIR LIB SGR
Mars OPH SGR CAP AQR AQR PSC ARI TAU TAU TAU TAU TAU
Jupiter AQR AQR AQR PSC PSC PSC CET CET PSC PSC PSC PSC
Saturn CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP

 

Constellation Maps

 
AQR- Aquarius ARI – Aries CAP – Capricornus
CET – Cetus CNC – Cancer GEM – Gemini
LEO – Leo LIB – Libra OPH – Ophiuchus
PSC – Pisces SCO – Scorpius SGR – Sagittarius
TAU – Taurus VIR – Virgo  
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Observing Tips for Beginners

 

Amateur AstronomersAmateur astronomers have to face some challenges with equipment, weather and environment during their stargazing sessions. The tips listed below help to overcome some initial hurdles and make the celestial night show even more exciting. If you have further tips, please contact us. We will be glad to share them with our fellow amateur astronomers.

Finder Alignment

Some telescopes come with finderscope others with red dot finder. Either way, the finders need to be perfectly aligned with the telescope axis. Alignment can be carried out during the day. Point your telescope at a stationary object far away. A chimney, an antenna mast or a mountain peak will serve well. Move the telescope so that the object is exactly in the middle of the eyepiece view. Lock the telescope in that position: Re-check if the object is still in the middle of the view. A adjust the finderscope / red-dot-finder by turning the adjustment screws so that the cross hair / red dot is exactly on the object. Do not compromise. Time spent for propper aligning means less time searching objects and more time observing fascinating objects.

Finding Objects with Finderscope / Red Dot Finder

I look for objects with both eyes open, one directly aimed at the object, the other through the finder. One has to get used to this way but once acquainted with it, objects are found much easier. Using the finder view with two eyes provides not only a small cutout of the sky but you can see a large part of it.

Magnification

Most telescopes come with one or two eyepieces. If you have more than one, start your search for objects always with your lowest magnification (the eyepiece with the largest focal length). The longer the EP focal length, the wider the field of view and the easier it is finding objects. Once the object is centered in the eyepiece, you can increase magnification with shorter focal length eyepieces.

Stay Warm

Besides setting the equipment up, stargazing is really not a very physical activity. Due to the excitement about celestial objects it is ofter forgotten that our body can loose temperature – quite quickly that is. Make sure to wear sufficient layers of clothes to keep you comfortably warm. The winter, nights in the desert or at high altitude remind us permanently to stay warm, but it can become very cold during a night after a nice, warm day in Spring or Fall. Check the weather forecast for the night. Take particularly windchill factors in account and dress accordingly.

Dew

How does dew form? The dew point is the point at which the air is saturated with water vapor. Warmer air is able to absorb more water vapor than colder air. If the air it cools down, excess water vapor has to go somewhere. On a greater scale, it will rain, on a smaller scale, exposed objects get wet.  Whenever air cools down our equipment cools down as well and the exposed surfaces radiate excess heat. As this happen, moisture condenses at a greater rate than that at which it can evaporate, resulting in the formation of water droplets.

Moist lenses disturb the view significantly. Because they have their mirror deep down in the tube, Newtonian telescopes are relatively save, but all other types of telescopes, including binoculars are unfortunately susceptible to dew. A simple but a little bit cumbersome trick is to point the telescope downwards between observing sessions. When pointing it down, it is more difficult for the radiated heat to escape, and lenses will keep their temperature longer; and with that, they stay longer moist free.

Another defense against dew are large(r) dew shields. Most telescopes come with some dew protection but these shields are often far to small. Larger dew caps are available for every telescope but they can be be made easily with readily available material. Dew shields delay dewing, unfortunately, they cannot prevent it completely.

When the telescope gets moist, take utmost care when de-fogging the lenses. Best is not to touch the lenses at all, especially when they are coated. A fan is often the preferred option. If you have to use a cloth, take a very soft one. Do not rub, only dab the lens to make sure the lens coating is not damaged during cleaning.

Heating telescopes with special telescope heating bands is most convenient. These dew heaters keep the telescope just a bit warmer than the air temperature and with that, preventing dewing and moist surfaces. Heating bands need however a 12 V power source, and they can draw quite some current.

If you bring telescopes from the cold into the warm, lenses will moist almost immediately. Do not put the protection caps on right away, wait until the lenses are completely moist free.

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Getting Started

So you think you are interested in amateur astronomy. Well, you are not alone. Every one of us who has become “hooked” on our hobby started out right where you are now. Hopefully we can get you started in such a way that you will find our hobby interesting and rewarding.

Most beginners get involved in amateur astronomy because they have looked up at the majestic night sky and found it fascinating. We have all marveled at the beautiful images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Just remember, if you expect to see images like those from Hubble, you are going to be deeply disappointed. After all, if we amateurs could see “stuff” just like Hubble, NASA would never have spent billions of dollars putting the observatory into orbit.

First of all, and this is extremely important:

DO NOT GO OUT AND BUY A TELESCOPE UNTIL YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT/NEED.

There are lots of telescopes out there and some are total junk. So do not go out and make a major purchase that could very well disappoint you once you gain additional experience.

If you have not already done so, stretch out in a lawn chair and look up at the night sky. You will be amazed what you can see on a clear dark night just by “looking up”. Most people have binoculars so try using them from the lawn chair, you will see even more. Just scan the sky and look for areas of interest. The moon is visible almost every clear night of the year. Look along the “terminator”, the region between the light and dark parts of the moon. This is where you will find the most visible detail. Light pollution (along with clouds) is the biggest adversary for observers. If you live in an area where there is a lot of light pollution, try going out into the country where the sky is much darker. State Parks are a great place to view the night sky and you will see a lot more.

Skymap.com - free monthly skymaps with explanation of interesting objectsAs you gain observing experience you will want to learn more about “what’s up” in tonight’s sky. Most people know about constellations, but which ones are currently visible? Will I even recognize them if I see them? What are the names of the bright stars that I can see? Are any of the planets visible tonight? Are there any Deep Sky Objects (DSO’s) that I can see? To answer these questions, and many more, you will need a roadmap of the sky. These roadmaps are called sky charts and planetariums. A simple free version of a sky chart is available online at http://skymaps.com/.

Have you ever wondered how a telescope works? Is it just plain old magic? Nope, there is a real reason that we can see all of those objects in space that are so very far away. If you would like to know more, take a look at http://science.howstuffworks.com/telescope.htm. This site does a great job of introducing the beginner to the kinds of telescopes that exist and how they work.

Find an astronomy club in your neighborhood and visit them at their public nights and star parties. You will meet great people who are glad to talk with you about astronomy and equipment, and will be glad to show you celestial objects with their telescopes.

Once you have attended some astronomy events you will discover that there is a lot more to amateur astronomy than you ever thought possible. You may have even found out that your real area of interest is not what you thought it was. Hopefully you have had the opportunity to view through various types of telescopes (and other observing tools) that are available. You may have even decided what type of telescope best fits your interests. You have been introduced to a whole new vocabulary of names and terms. You have found additional sources of information including books, the Internet, monthly publications and computer software (just to name a few) that will allow you to continue to learn about your new hobby.

Yet you have just scratched the surface. Amateur astronomy is a lifelong pursuit and the only regret that many of us “old timers” have is that we did not start it early enough in our lives. For many, amateur astronomy is a family happening. Regardless, now is the time for you to really get started.

Posted with friendly permission of : Indiana Astronomical Society
Source: http://www.iasindy.org/astronomy101.php

 

Further Information:

  • Sky & Telescope Guide: Getting Started in Astronomy for Northern Hemisphere or Southern Hemisphere. Great free pdf guide from Sky & Telescope. It offers valuable tips and advise for astronomy beginners, and it comes with bi-monthly star charts as well as a map of the moon.

 

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A Telescope for under $100

Refractor 70mm on alt-azimuth mount
Refractor 70mm on alt-azimuth mount

This article is for people who are in the market for their first telescope – but have only a very limited budget (say $100) at their disposal. Some amateur astronomers will say spending $100 on a telescope is wasted money, simply because there is no great telescope for that amount. Good optics is expensive, but not everyone has hundreds of dollars to spend and there are indeed some decent telescopes that are fun and do not break the bank. A tight budget should never prevent anyone to start a fascinating hobby. 

Telescopes are available in three basic types: refractors, reflectors and catadioptrics and they come with different mounts. An Astronomy Source article “Introduction to Telescopes” in coming soon. The link from souledout.org  provides also a nice overview on telescope types.   

What can you see with a beginners telescope?

Quite a lot. I heard people complaining that the view through their basic telescope did not reveal bright and colorful images. Well, do not expect Hubble quality images with a $100 telescope. Suitable objects for these telescopes are the moon, the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn, some of the brighter deep space objects, and stars. Observe  Andromeda Galaxy (M31) or Orion Nebula (M42), you can also see the famous Hercules Cluster (M13). Stars shine in different colors due to their different temperatures and consistence, and there are many exciting double or ever multiple star  systems to watch. Did you know that Polaris, the North Star,  is actually a 3-star system? 

When looking for a budget telescope, keep in mind:

  • Do not consider department store telescopes that come with a ton of accessories, parts and pieces, and promise magnifications of whopping 500x or even more. These items are usually toys. There is nothing wrong with toys, but really, don’t expect clear images or lasting fun and excitement with those. What you can expect is inferior optics a lot of plastic parts that will break soon.
  • Glass lenses. Plastic lenses simply do not deliver the view quality of well polished and adjusted glass lenses.

New versus used

  • Telescopes can last very long if they are treated well. Used scopes are often available for half the price of a new one and many astronomers choose to buy used, simply because they want more: for the same money they get a much better (used) telescope, offering better images.
  • Be very careful buying a telescope at a yard sale. You may get lucky and find the deal of the century. More likely is however that the item is in a bad shape, because it has been neglected over years.
  • However, used equipment sold by serious amateur astronomers is usually in pretty good condition. True astronomers care about their equipment. A good source buying used telescopes and accessories is www.cloudynights.com. Check their classifieds and see what it offered here. Sellers describe their items in detail and provide usually very reliable information about the condition of their goods. Look for other dedicated astronomy sites that offer classifieds.
  • If you decide to buy used, you should wait – and be quick. This sounds like a paradoxon, but you should watch the classifieds for a while to get a feeling about a fair market price of  the the item you have in mind. When you see the right one, be quick to get it. Good items are often sold within a couple of hours. 

Further items for amateur astronomers:

  • Planisphere. Easy to operate map like device, that shows you where stars, constellations and planets are – all year long.
  • Red Flashlight. Eyes adapt to the dark, this is called night vision. Night vision takes a while, about 15-30 minutes, but allows to see much more and much fainter objects in the dark. Exposure to bright light, with the exception of red, erases light vision immediately and it takes another 15-30 minutes.
  • A good  astronomy book about telescopes and star watching gives helpful hints for the beginner and advanced astronomer.

Conclusion

Beginning astronomy is the start of a great, very exciting and fun hobby. A simple 70mm or 80mm refractor on alt-azimuth mount is probably the best choice as starter telescope for around $100. These telescopes are very easy to set up and simple to operate – just point and see the universe.   

 Further reading


  

 

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Solar Dynamics Observatory

Solar Dynamics Observatory 2017-03-25T19:43:08Z
Observatory: SDO
Instrument: AIA
Detector: AIA
Measurement: 171

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