Finding the right telescope for you, in this week’s edition of ‘Look Up! What’s in the Night Sky?’

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Bryan Shumaker

NASA/JPL Solar

System Ambassador

Fellow astronomy buffs, I salute you! The weather has been legendary–in the wrong way for much night sky observing. Although we have had a few clear nights, it has been so cold that my equipment will not operate properly! Some of the cables I use to link my computer to my telescope and mount are so stiff as to be unworkable, and it has been physically difficult to remain outside in these frigid conditions. Let’s hope spring arrives soon!

On March 13, 1781, famous British astronomer William Hershel discovered Uranus.

This was a real triumph for Newtonian physics and mathematics, for its position had been predicted by noticing slight orbital changes in Saturn and Jupiter which could only be explained by the presence of a new, undiscovered planet.

This strengthened the age of scientific reason and enlightenment considerably.

Percival Lowell was born on this day in 1855 and became famous for his observations of Mars.

A wealthy man from the east coast, he picked the clear dark skies of Flagstaff, Ariz. for his observatory. It still is present and continues to add to the science of astronomy.

Also, the space probe Giotto flew by Comet Halley on this day in 1986 and took pictures of the comet nucleus.

Also this week, space probe MESSENGER began its orbital survey of Mercury.

It continues to send back spectacularly detailed maps and shows geology that confounds Earth bound geologists with some its findings.

The moon is full on March 17, although viewing may be difficult due to the extreme weather conditions.

I thought a brief discussion about telescopes might be in order, as there is a great deal of misinformation out there.

I just want to start by telling you that the telescope mount is far and away the most important part of a telescope system.

A cheap, shaky mount will make viewing anything almost impossible, and the frustration experienced will discourage even the most enthusiastic of budding astronomers.

This means you should avoid, at all costs, the junk sold as telescopes at the department or “big box” stores, no matter how enticing the packaging looks!

A quality instrument and mount can be had for not much more. Ask an experienced night sky observer, attend a local astronomy club meeting, read on the internet, or contact me for advice on a new telescope purchase.

Another important decision that needs to be made is to decide just what you plan on observing.

Do you want a scope for terrestrial viewing, such as bird watching?

Is it just the moon and planets?

Or are you interested in some of the more obscure deep sky objects–the nebulae and galaxies, for example? A third consideration is how much do you want to have to do to set up the equipment.

Can you lift the scope and mount? Will it fit into your car?

Do you plan to eventually do some astrophotography?

Perhaps the final question concerns how much you want to spend.

A superb quality scope for general viewing can be had for just a few hundred dollars.

A high end scope and mount can cost thousands of dollars.

I strongly suggest you think these questions over before you purchase anything, and really consider attending one of our NOMAC (Northern Michigan Astronomy Club) meetings. Our website is www.nomac.net and the officers are listed along with their contact numbers.

We would be glad to give you advice and suggestions.

Better yet, if you come to one of our meetings, you can try out a whole variety of telescopes and get a much better sense as to what would be best for you. Remember, you can always sell a good quality used scope to finance your next one.

Until next week, stay warm, be safe, and try and keep looking up!

Go to http://www.nomac.net/ for more information.