Keep Looking Up!
- Last Updated on Saturday, 11 June 2011 13:22
- Written by Don Lohse
Backyard astronomy is one of my favorite “I’ve got five minutes with nothing to do” activities. I am a big fan of the late Jack Horkheimer who produced the “Star Gazer” show on PBS. His focus on naked-eye astronomy and exhorting people to “keep looking up” is a wonderful thing. I have been interested in astronomy since I was a young adult, and my first telescope was one of the 60mm refractors that often end up (as mine did) sitting in the box since they usually produce more disappointment than excitement. Over the years I have used a number of sizes/kinds of telescopes, and all I can say is unless you are a committed astronomy person, get a pair of astronomical binoculars and a good sturdy tripod to keep everything steady.
Why? Because setting up a telescope takes time (unless you have a permanently installed instrument — try lugging a 11” Cassegrain telescope around), more time to let the optics settle down from temperature changes, align everything, and then you can start observing. Remember the “five minute” comment? Anyway, my 11 x 80 binoculars take a couple of minutes to set up, don’t really need to settle down, and have a very wide field of view — useful since most telescopes have a very narrow field of view unless you get an expensive wide field eyepiece. They also go along in the car anytime I head for the mountains, a dark sky wonderland after city lights.
Without getting into too much technical detail on binoculars, two things are key — quality and exit pupil/eye relief. Good optics are a joy, bad optics will make you crazy. Spend the time researching and spend the money (a decent pair can be found for less than $100) to get quality binoculars. Technical information about binoculars is readily available, here is a link to a good information resource. As far as finding a good source for binoculars, try Binoculars.com, they have a great assortment of products.
OK, backyard astronomy is one thing, the Hubble Space Telescope is another. I love the Hubble, and the images it captures are truly jaw-droppers. Everyone should visit the Hubble image website, and browse through the gallery of images. I have used the images to make dozens of backgrounds for my computers, and they never cease to give me enjoyment and make me consider my place in the cosmos. Some of my favorites can be seen below.