Astronomy is a great way to spend time, and while you can spend a lot of money, you don’t have to. There are clubs all over the world, and most of them have public viewing nights. My club meets every month, and it’s open to the public. We meet in a park less than 60 miles as the wind blows from NYC and its quite dark. Even then, there are many events even in NYC. While the great cities of the world do not offer the best viewing of the faint fuzzy things, you can always look at the moon and planets which are always a treat. There is something special about seeing it for yourself with just some glass and a few mirrors between you and the object.
Again, though, you do not need to spend money for this hobby. Just head to one of your local club’s events and look through their equipment. As someone who has their own equipment, and does a lot of public events, trust me, that’s why we have them. It’s fun for us to hear and see your responses to what you see. We love it.
Even if you plan on buying equipment yourself, I still recommend you go first. There are 3 major types of telescopes, and they all have different trade-offs. Also, nothing in this hobby is cheap, except for sharing. Some clubs have large telescopes that few individuals could afford. They are housed in permanent enclosures, and offer fantastic views.
Once you get past that, I suggest simply buying a pair of astronomy binoculars, a mount adapter, and a inexpensive mount. Those three items together will cost you about $100, and that’s about as cheap as you can go in astronomy. Astronomy binoculars are heavy. Your arms will shake after a while. You will want to stare at things for a long time. Your brain and eyes adapt to what you are seeing, and the darkness over time, and develop greater detail. Grab a folding chair, and connect those three items, and enjoy the view.
What can you see with binoculars like that? Well, you won’t see that image I took above which is of the Orion Nebula.
You will see the moon in much greater detail than that image I took above. The dark spot on the left is actually a leaf blocking part of the image. I am using that one to show how even through trees, you will see the moon quiet well.
Jupiter, Saturn, and the moon are all easy targets. I still use binoculars to look at large clusters of stars like the Pleiades. I also use them for bright comet hunting like 21P. Please note that the last link there is showing current comets, so 21P may not be visible when you read this unless you are reading this within a week or two of my posting; it’s already fading fast.
Let me not forget meteor showers! Those are some of the best things to see. There is one almost every month of the year. On any given day, you are likely to see a few if you are out in a place that is dark enough for long enough. Saturday, I saw 4 between 8 pm and midnight.
Still feeling sore from my running injury, I did not bring my scope out. I have the 14 inch, not the 16 inch version, but the views are amazing. Still, it’s too heavy to move while I am still recovering from my trail running injury earlier this year. Soon, though.
I started off by introducing myself to a family that was struggling with a scope. They got it as a gift for their son, and came to the club site to take advantage of the darker skies. I spent some time with them, and helped them get going. I really can’t recommend those $100 or less telescopes. You are better off with a $50 pair of binoculars. The telescopes at that price point are hard to use, hard to setup, and really too small to produce good detail. With both eyes engaged with binoculars, you see much greater detail on what is in effect a larger image.
After that, I wandered around saying hello to my friends, and enjoying the view from their scopes. Some folks have bigger telescopes than mine, some have smaller ones. Some folks have refractors, some have SCTs, and some have reflectors like mine. My reflector is on a dobsonian mount, and most are. Thus they are usually called Dobsonians. They are more accurately called Newtonians because Newton invented them.
It doesn’t matter the scope; they are all great. It was a good clear night, and nice and warm. We were able to see Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Neptune, and Uranus. As a matter of fact, one person was able to get such a good view of Mars that we were able to see the ice cap clearly. That was really cool, and the first time I have seen it that clearly.
Aside from that, we looked at more than a few of the faint fuzzies. Dumbell Nebula, Ring Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy and the Great Globlular Cluster in Hercules. The last one there is my favorite. We looked at a lot more objects, but I didn’t write them all down.
There were at lest 4 shooting stars that I saw, and more than 15 were seen by others. They are very quick, so if you are not looking in the right spot, then you will miss them most of the time. One, though, lasted a long time; maybe 2 or 3 seconds. I think it could have been a bit of space junk as the last Delta II launched the day before. Either way, a lot of people saw it.
It really was a great night. Peaceful, quiet, and no howling coywolves. There are a lot in the region these days. It’s a beautiful sound to hear them howling, but its a bit unnerving when you hear a lot of them howling when you are in the park late, and one of the last people observing as I am on occasion.