How To Use A Telescope Correctly

by OpticsPlanet Guest Expert

08/21/13

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.

TELESCOPES

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.

Disadvantages

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.

Shooting Stars

If you are a serious astronomy fanatic like a lot of us are, you can probably remember that one event in childhood that started you along this exciting hobby. It might have been that first time you looked through a telescope. But for many of us, it was that first time we saw a rain of fire from the sky that we eventually came to know as a meteoroid shower.

A view of a Meteor Shower and the Milky Way with a pine trees forest silhouette in the foreground. Night sky nature summer landscape. Perseid Meteor Shower observation.

At the time when you see the first one, it’s easy to remember the movie “war of the worlds” or some other fantastic image of aliens entering our atmosphere in droves to take over the planet. But with some guidance and explanation of what was going on, we eventually learned that these showers were not at all threatening or any kind of invasion. For the most part meteoroid showers are harmless, part of nature and very fun to watch.

So what are these strange lights in the sky? Are they aliens invading from Mars? Are the comets coming to start the next ice age? Or perhaps asteroids burning up as they enter the earths atmosphere. The answer to the above questions is no to the first and “yes and no” to the other two.

A meteoroid is actually a small piece of space rubble, usually dust or small rocks that come from either a comet or the break up of an asteroid in space and that eventually plummets toward the earth. We say “toward the earth” because the lights you see are the friction of the atmosphere burning up those small space tidbits and creating a spectacular show for all of us as they do so. A particularly exciting moment to witness is when a meteoroid breaks up or explodes on entry. A meteoroid that explodes is called bolides.

There are some interesting details about the life of a meteoroid that make the viewing of shooting stars even more fun. To be seen, a meteoroid only needs to weigh as little as a millionth of a gram. But the thing that makes them so spectacular to see is the tremendous speeds they reach as they enter the atmosphere. Before burning up, a meteoroid will reach between 11 and 74 kilometers per second which is 100 times faster than a speeding bullet.

We tend to think of seeing a shooting star as a freak event and we associate it with superstition (hence, wish on a lucky star). But there are actually thousands of them every year so it really isn’t that rare to see one. In fact, scientists tell us that over 200,000 tons of space matter enters the atmosphere each year and burns up on entry.

Comets are a big source of meteoroids because of the nature of those long tails. A large amount of dust, ice and other space debris gets caught up in a comet’s tail as it moves toward the sun. Then as the comet moves away from the sun in its orbit, tons of this matter is thrown off into space to disperse. As the Earth moves in its routine orbit around the sun, it often crosses through clouds of this discarded matter which becomes one of those “meteor showers” that are so popular for viewing.

These showers of shooting stars are pretty easy for astronomers to predict so you can get into position to see the excitement at just the right time of night and be looking at the right area of the night sky. Usually the astronomy magazine or site will give you a general time and location to be ready to look when the meteoroids start to fall.

Meteor Shower and the Milky Way with old ruin on foreground

Now keep in mind, this is a phenomenon of nature, so it may not observe the time table exactly. Also note that there is a notation system for where the meteoroid shower will occur based on what constellation is its backdrop. The section of the sky to focus on for the show is called the “radiant” because that is where the entering meteoroids begin to glow or radiate. The radiant is named for the constellation it is nearest too. So if the meteor shower is going to occur in the constellation of Leo, then its radiant will be called Leonid. This will help you decipher the listing of asteroid showers in the publications.

Comets Visitors From Beyond

The one thing we love the most in the world of astronomy is a good mystery. And if there was ever a mysterious and yet very powerful force of nature that we witness in the night skies, it is the coming of the mighty comet.

A bright comet with large dust and gas trails as the comets orbit brings it close to the Sun. Illustration.

The arrival of a comet within view of Earth is an event of international importance. Witness the huge media attention that the Haley or Hale-Bopp have had when they have come within view The sight of these amazing space objects is simultaneously frightening and awe inspiring.

Above all, it is during these comet viewings that the astronomer comes out in all of us. But what is a comet? Where did it come from? And how does it get that magnificent tail?

We should never confuse comets with asteroids. Asteroids are small space rocks that come from an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. While still quite stunning to see, they pale in comparison to the arrival of a comet. Asteroids also have received considerable study by the scientific community.

meteorite from outer space, falling toward planet Earth, dramatic science fiction scene

Not as much is known about comets. As a rule, comets are considerably larger than asteroids. The composition of a comet is a mixture of nebulous, gasses, ice, dust and space debris. One scientist called the composition of a comet as similar to a “dirty snowball” because the composition is so diverse and changeable. The center or nucleus of a comet is usually quiet solid but the “snowball” materials often create a “cloud” around that nucleus that can become quite large and that extends at great lengths behind the comet as it moves through space. That trailing plume is what makes up the comet’s magnificent tail that makes it so exciting to watch when a comet comes within view of Earth.

The origins of comets is similarly mysterious. There are a number of theories about where they come from but it is clear that they originate from outside our solar system, somewhere in deep space. Some have speculated they are fragments left over from the organization of planets that get loose from whatever gravitational pull and are sent flying across space to eventually get caught up in the gravity of our sun bringing them into our solar system.

Another theory is that they come from a gaseous cloud called the Oort cloud which is cooling out there after the organization of the sun. As this space debris cools, it gets organized into one body which then gathers sufficient mass to be attracted into the gravity of our solar system turning into a fast moving comet plummeting toward our sun. However, because of the strong gravitational orbits of the many planets in our solar system, the comet does not always immediately collide with the sun and often takes on an orbit of its own.

The life expectancy of comets varies widely. Scientists refer to a comet that is expected to burn out or impact the sun within two hundred years as a short period comet whereas a long period comet has a life expectancy of over two hundred years. That may seem long to us as earth dwellers but in terms of stars and planets, this is a very short life as a space object indeed.

Scientists across the globe have put together some pretty impressive probes to learn more about comets to aid our understanding of these visitors from beyond. In 1985, for example, the United States put a probe into the path of the comet Giacobini-Zinner which passed through the comets tail gathering tremendous scientific knowledge about comets. Then in 1986, an international collation of scientists were able to launch a probe that was able to fly close to Haley’s comet as it passed near Earth and continue the research.

While science fiction writers and tabloid newspapers like to alarm us with the possibility of a comet impacting the earth, scientists who understand the orbits of comets and what changes their paths tell us this is unlikely. That is good because some comets reach sizes that are as big as a planet so that impact would be devastating. For now, we can enjoy the fun of seeing comets make their rare visits to our night sky and marvel at the spectacular shows that these visitors from beyond put on when they are visible in the cosmos.

Space The Final Frontier

While it was just a TV show, that little speech at the beginning of the original Star Trek show really did do a good job of capturing our feelings about space. It is those feelings that drive our love of astronomy and our desire to learn more and more about it.

The thing that is most exciting about studying the universe is also the most frustrating and that is that no matter how expert we get, we are always just getting started. But if it’s any consolation, some of the most advanced minds in science and from history always felt that way about space. Even the greats such as Copernicus and Einstein looked up into space and felt like they were just a spec in the presence of such infinity.

USS Enterprise

Of course space is not infinite. It has to be finite which means somehow there must be an end to it. But if there is, nobody on this tiny planet has figured out where it is. The only thing that has brought us to “the end of the universe” is our limited ability to see any deeper into space.

But conquering the final frontier of space means more than just seeing more stars and planets and building the biggest telescope we can. There are some mind blowing concepts about how space works that we have ahead of us to conquer. The big bang and the expanding universe alone was enough to set your mind to spinning. But then we have the coming of Einstein and the theory of relativity to set the entire idea on its ear. All of a sudden space is not just three dimensions but the dimension of time becomes exportable and the twisting and maybe even travel through time seems almost possible.

The frontier of space is as much a journey of the mind as it is of distance. When Steven Hawking showed us the mysteries of black holes, all of a sudden, time and space could collapse and be twisted and changed in those intergalactic pressure cookers. If not for the wonders of radio astronomy, these ideas would remain just ideas but slowly science is catching up with theory.

But the brilliance of mathematicians and genius minds like Hawking and Einstein continue to stretch our concepts of space. Now we have the string theory that could revolutionize everything we know about space, time and how the universe relates to itself. We can’t just say, no, we have discovered enough. It’s the final frontier. The Starship Enterprise would not stop exploring so neither can we. Because there is a hurdle still ahead that has a name but no real answer to it yet. It’s called the Unified Field Theory and those that know tell us that when the Einsteins and Hawkings of our day crack that theory, every other theory will fall into place.

These exciting concepts seem some tools to put the enormity of space in context. That may also be the value of science fiction. Not only are science fiction writers often the visionaries of what comes to be in the future but they give us the idea that space is knowable, that despite how big it is and how small we are, we can conquer this frontier like we have conquered others before us.

For mankind, that is often enough. If we can get the vision that we can conquer something, even if it is something so massive, so impossibly huge, it seems that we are capable of anything. And the love of astronomy, maybe unlike any other force on earth, has brought together mankind toward that common goal of conquering the universe. The quest to establish an international space station and to cooperate on spreading our reach off of this planet seems to find commonality between nations that otherwise cannot get along on the surface of the earth.

That alone may be a reason that we must continue to support astronomy locally and the space program nationally. It is something that seems to bring peace rather than war and make us a better people. But more than that it is as though this is what we were created to do. To reach out to the stars may be our destiny. If so then our love of astronomy is more than a hobby, it’s a calling.

Moon Gazing

For many of us, our very first experience of learning about the celestial bodies begins when we saw our first full moon in the sky. It is truly a magnificent view even to the naked eye. If the night is clear, you can see amazing detail of the lunar surface just star gazing on in your back yard.

Naturally, as you grow in your love of astronomy, you will find many celestial bodies fascinating. But the moon may always be our first love because is the one far away space object that has the unique distinction of flying close to the earth and upon which man has walked.

Your study of the moon, like anything else, can go from the simple to the very complex. To gaze at the moon with the naked eye, making yourself familiar with the lunar map will help you pick out the seas, craters and other geographic phenomenon that others have already mapped to make your study more enjoyable. Moon maps can be had from any astronomy shop or online and they are well worth the investment.

The best time to view the moon, obviously, is at night when there are few clouds and the weather is accommodating for a long and lasting study. The first quarter yields the greatest detail of study. And don’t be fooled but the blotting out of part of the moon when it is not in full moon stage. The phenomenon known as “earthshine” gives you the ability to see the darkened part of the moon with some detail as well, even if the moon is only at quarter or half display.

To kick it up a notch, a good pair of binoculars can do wonders for the detail you will see on the lunar surface. For best results, get a good wide field in the binocular settings so you can take in the lunar landscape in all its beauty. And because it is almost impossible to hold the binoculars still for the length of time you will want to gaze at this magnificent body in space, you may want to add to your equipment arsenal a good tripod that you can affix the binoculars to so you can study the moon in comfort and with a stable viewing platform.

Binoculars for Astronomy

Of course, to take your moon worship to the ultimate, stepping your equipment up to a good starter telescope will give you the most stunning detail of the lunar surface. With each of these upgrades your knowledge and the depth and scope of what you will be able to see will improve geometrically. For many amateur astronomers, we sometimes cannot get enough of what we can see on this our closest space object.

To take it to a natural next level, you may want to take advantage of partnerships with other astronomers or by visiting one of the truly great telescopes that have been set up by professionals who have invested in better techniques for eliminating atmospheric interference to see the moon even better. The internet can give you access to the Hubble and many of the huge telescopes that are pointed at the moon all the time. Further, many astronomy clubs are working on ways to combine multiple telescopes, carefully synchronized with computers for the best view of the lunar landscape.

Becoming part of the society of devoted amateur astronomers will give you access to these organized efforts to reach new levels in our ability to study the Earth’s moon. And it will give you peers and friends who share your passion for astronomy and who can share their experience and areas of expertise as you seek to find where you might look next in the huge night sky, at the moon and beyond it in your quest for knowledge about the seemingly endless universe above us.

Tips For Getting Started In Astronomy

When you are thinking about astronomy, the first thing that comes to mind is a telescope. This misconception is found every day. Actually, the first thing you need to do is look at the stars with a pair of binoculars. You cam spend hundreds of dollars on a telescope that might not be the right one. One thing that star glazers will tell you is that some of the lunar eclipses and bright comets look better with binoculars than with a high-powered telescope.

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BINOCULARS for ASTRONOMY

You need to look around the sky with a star map and learn about the stars and other objects in space before you jump in and buy a telescope. Sometimes what you see through a telescope will be ugly, where as through the binoculars, it is a beautiful focused site to see. Once you learn about the stars themselves, you will have a better understanding of what you are looking at and how far away it really is.

Guide to the Stars

After you learn about the sky above you are ready to look for a telescope. Before rushing out and buying a telescope, you should find some astronomers who will share their experiences and maybe even their telescopes with a group. Trying out a telescope before you buy it is something that will help you decide on what telescope will be best for you.

Some things to consider are what you plan to do with the telescope, how much you have to spend and are you going to take photographs of your sightings. If you are a causal backyard astronomer, you might even look at the Dobsonian telescopes. Never worry about power, but be more concerned about aperture and optics. If you will be viewing planets, you will need a telescope with high magnification. You would not want to buy a telescope with 600 power, as it will not have the aperture needed.

Most professional astronomers use a reflector type of telescope. This is where the light path is diverted to the concave lens or eyepiece. With the refractor telescopes, the light passes through the telescope by way of a lens to the eyepiece. In some of the opinions from astronomers, the refractor is the best type of telescope for looking at the solar system. However, reflectors are cheaper than the refractors. Reflector telescopes are recommended for beginning astronomers.

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You will find areas with complete darkness are the best, but city viewing is fine if you have very little light to distract your viewing. Keep in mind that planet viewing is spectacular. You can see the ring around Saturn as well as view Venus. Jupiter, which changes every time you view it, is an amazing planet to keep an eye on.

You will want to have a star map, planet map and keep an eye on the news to find out when any interesting things are appearing in the solar system. Experience the sighting of a comet or meter shower, you will find that astronomy is a great way to spend the evening by yourself or with friends.

The Science Of Astronomy Really Is Fascinating

Galaxies, the cosmos, astrophysics, observatories, telescopes: How do we possibly comprehend the reality that the universe is beyond measure, infinite, and endlessly mesmerizing?

We can’t; that’s why astronomy remains so completely fascinating. It’s the things in life we do not understand that most often draw our interest; that’s simply a natural human impulse — to be curious, to wonder and to want to be in awe of something far beyond and outside ourselves.

We know that stars, like everything else, live and die and that there are scientifically “correct” patterns in the remote sky that both perplex and bewitch us. If astronomy fascinates, it is because there exists in everyone a profound empathy with a world that is inaccessible in its complexity. Who among us has not felt, even fleetingly, spellbound by the immensity of this cosmos, this universe?

Modern observatories regularly function as educational centers, providing this feeling of entrancement by presenting the wonder of the cosmos directly to the audience, short-circuiting the intellect for an hour or so and uncovering the wonder at the magic of theuniverse; promoting a sensory, visceral feeling for the human condition and its place in the great book of the cosmos.

Astronomy, the science of stars, planets, galaxies, and black holes, is the oldest science, yet it is the most intriguing because the study of the universe will help answer the most important questions human beings can ask, such as:

How did the universe begin?

What is the structure of the universe?

How will the universe change in the future?

How do the planet Earth and its inhabitants fit into the larger universe of space and time?

Though we may never know the answers to these kinds of questions in our lifetime, we’re always thankful for those who will follow us, prepared, with a scientific brain, to one day provide answers — and maybe more — to humankind.

It’s difficult to understand our own galaxy, and we’re constantly “adding to it,” or discovering new frontiers and small, more distant planets than those we’re already familiar with. The sun, and the concept of the planets just in our galaxy alone, provoke wonder and all kinds of speculation. It’s food for our brain; it’s one of those applications of learning that so enthrall, it doesn’t seem like we’re “studying” anything. It’s an effortless exercise in the Unknown Sphere of the Universe.

What better way to pass the time, to postulate upon, to have an intellectually stimulating discussion, maybe with people you don’t even know yet?

And what about the theories of particle physics that have been developed in conjunction with the standard Big Bang model to explain the origin, evolution and
present structure of the universe?

What about the origins, evolution, interiors, and energy production of the stars themselves? How are they formed? Why? And we’ve all heard of “interacting galaxies,” but just what, exactly, does it mean? It all sounds like, well, a kind of heaven — a place we know exists, but that we cannot quite see or understand.

Then, there’s Newton’s laws, the concept of work and energy, momentum, gravitation, sound and light waves.

If you haven’t felt a slight thrill yet, it’s eitherbecause you already know about these atmospheric wonders, or you’ve been living under a local rock.

So get out there and Observe the Universe! It’s absolutely spellbinding!

Astronomy Binoculars A Great Alternative

It seems from the moment you begin to take your love of astronomy seriously, the thing that is on your mind is what kind of telescope will you get. And there is no question, investing in a good telescope can really enhance your enjoyment of your new passion in astronomy. But don’t be too hasty to keep up with the big wigs in the astronomy clubs that have advanced telescopes. There is another alternative that can give you most of the advantages of a telescope and some extra flexibility and reduced cost to boot.

That alternative is a good pair of astronomy binoculars. Mostly we think of binoculars as the thing you use to see the football game when you have to sit in the cheap seats. But if you do some homework and had a good grasp on what your stargazing objectives are, the advantages of astronomy binoculars over an entry level telescope can be pretty convincing.

Stephen James O’Meara’s Observing the Night Sky with Binoculars: A Simple Guide to the Heavens 

* As a rule, they are cheaper. So you can get a lot of good stargazing at much less of an investment. You can always spend more money later but for now, this may be just the solution for you.

* There are not so many accessories. To own and operate a telescope takes a lot of orientation to how to set up and use the device. Beyond that, tuning it for optimum view and diagnosing it when you have problems can sometimes make the telescope more of the passion than stargazing itself.

* It is much easier to use. If you have not bought a telescope yet, you may have seen telescope owners going through a laborious set up and break down discipline for each use. This is time they are not looking at the stars. The binocular users are happily stargazing as this goes on.

* Binoculars are lightweight and portable. Unless you have the luxury to set up and operate an observatory from your deck, you are probably going to travel to perform your viewings. Binoculars go with you much easier and they are more lightweight to carry to the country and use while you are there than a cumbersome telescope set up kit.

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So give the binocular option some consideration. To make the most effective choice, however, here are a few facts about astronomy binoculars that will help you evaluate which ones are best for you…

Binoculars have two lens sets, one at the end of the eyepiece and a set right next to your eyes. The ones closest to the eye are called the ocular lenses which magnify the image (make it bigger). The ones closest to the sky are called the objective lenses and the size of these lenses will determine how much sky you can see at once. So anytime you are evaluating binoculars, there are two numbers associated with the set. So if the binoculars have a rating of 15-40, that means that the ocular lenses magnify 15 times and the later number is a relative number to how much of the sky you can see. The higher the second number, the more you can see. The explanation is simple. The bigger the lens, the more light it lets in. But be aware that the bigger the second number, the larger, heavier and more cumbersome the binoculars will be.

You will have to balance these two numbers with both your budget and what you want the binoculars to do for you. If you decide to go with a lower power binoculars, you could become frustrated with what you can see and you may have to take your eyes away from the view to get your orientation and consult the star map more often because your range of vision is so limited.

There will also be a temptation to buy a set of binoculars that have zoom functions and other features that will allow you to use it for other purposes such as hunting, whale watching or seeing the football game from the cheap seats. While this is good economy, those functions will get in the way when you are using the binoculars for astronomy. So if you are considering this purchase as your alternative to buying a telescope, our advice is buy binoculars made just for astronomy and don’t take them to the ball game.

Moon Fever

A NEW WAY TO VIEW THE MOON

Of all of the celestial bodies that capture our attention and fascination as astronomers, none has a greater influence on life on planet Earth than it’s own satellite, the moon. When you think about it, we regard the moon with such powerful significance that unlike the moons of other planets which we give names, we only refer to our one and only orbiting orb as THE moon. It is not a moon. To us, it is the one and only moon.

The moon works its way into our way of thinking, our feelings about romance, our poetry and literature and even how we feel about our day in day out lives in many cases. It is not only primitive societies that ascribe mood swings, changes in social conduct and changes in weather to the moon. Even today, a full moon can have a powerful effect on these forces which we acknowledge even if we cannot explain them scientifically.

The most obvious physical phenomenon that is directly affected by the gravity of the moon are the tides of the ocean. The tides are an integral part of how maritime life is regulated and the comings and goings of the fishing world in coastal communities. But not very many people know that at certain times of the year when the orbits of the earth bring the sun and moon into right alignment, there can even be tidal effect on inland bodies of water and even on the solid earth. Eons ago, when the moon’s orbit was closer to the Earth, it was the effect of the moon that caused massive changes in the topography of the land and on continental drift as well. This reflects the powerful effect the moon has had on both human history and on global geographical history as well.

The Book of the Moon: A Guide to our Closest Neighbor

You may sometimes wonder where the moon came from. Was it a planet that traveled too close to Earth and was captured in our orbit? Actually, the prevailing theory of modern science is that the moon was the result of a large scale collision with the still developing Earth early in its development which caused this large “chuck” to spin off into an orbiting body. This explains the similarity in composition as has been confirmed by many of the moon exploratory space missions that were conducted by NASA.

But this background also highlights another important influence the moon has had on Earth’s development that is seldom recognized and that is the stabilization of Earth’s orbital pattern. Most know that Earth is not round but more of an egg shaped orb. To be blunt, the Earth would wobble. Without the moon’s stabilizing influence, this shape would shift dramatically so the tilt of the axis, that is the polar caps would shift dramatically with each seasonal rotation producing climacteric, changes much more violent and drastic than we are used to. It is possible that life as we know it could not have developed here had the moon not been there to “keep the Earth in line” and continue to stabilize the orbital position of the Earth so our climate could remain stable and mild.

A third significant influence of the moon comes from that origin as coming from a collision which “ripped” the body of the moon from the developing core of the Earth. Because of this disruption in how the core of our planet developed, the metals that are usually intact in the core of the planet are actually scattered up and down the geography of the earth in diverse ways. Usually the metals of the planet are all concentrated deep in the core. But because of the collision which took the moon out to orbit, metals that have been crucial to the development of our industrial and technological cultures are readily available and easy for use to mine. This again, is something we can thank the presence of that lovely moon in the sky for.