28Dec2016

Get The Best From Your Christmas Telescope

Family group

The whole family can enjoy the wonders of the night sky with a new telescope.

Did you get a telescope for Christmas? Lucky you! The New Year in the west is great for sky gazers. The sky is full of bright stars, prominent constellations and fascinating celestial sights.

Lots of budding astronomers get their start in January using telescopes they got for a Christmas present. While it is true that many have been hooked on skywatching for life by viewing the wonders of the night sky through their first scope, it is also true that many others have had their initial enthusiasm for astronomy dampened, particularly if they didn’t know how to properly use it.

Was your new instrument advertised by the manufacturer as promising “spectacular views” of the moon or the rings of Saturn at magnifications of, say, 500-power or more? Unfortunately, it won’t happen. High power dilutes the brightness of an image, as well as aggravates any unsteadiness of detail.

You’ll probably be surprised to discover that your most pleasing views with your new scope will come at much lower powers, that is using eyepieces of around 25 mm. Low power, in fact, makes a telescope much more convenient to handle, and if your telescope mount or tripod is a bit shaky, as least lower powers will not magnify ‘the shakes’ as much. OK, let’s head out back.

Promo shot

A Christmas telescope will keep you busy for hours each night.

Wow, with so many inviting targets overhead what can you expect to see in your new telescope? Well, you’ll be able to see many of the same things you see in magazines and books, but what you actually see in your telescope will be smaller and less spectacular. It simply isn’t realistic to expect a small amateur telescope to produce visual images of the same quality as large observatories.

The Moon of course is one celestial object that never fails to impress. During early January, the Moon rises in the early morning skies which leaves our early evening skies perfect star targets! Hey, don’t forget you can see the Moon in daytime as well this week and it comes up fine. A telescope can keep you busy on the Moon forever. I’m living proof of that!

If you’ve got a camera in your smart phone hold it up close to the eyepiece, move it around till you see the Moon’s disc and click! You might get a neat photo out of it. Your first astro pic!

Here’s a surprise we can’t wait to tell new telescope owners. Go and find the familiar constellation we call the ‘Saucepan’ and find the middle ‘star’ of the handle. It’s not a star it’s the famous Orion Nebula, a luminous, swirling cloud of gas and dust 1,500 light years away where stars are being born.

This nebula is obvious in any telescope, and always gives me a buzz, even after 40 years. Hey, I almost forgot, check out the Southern Cross as well tonight. It’s lying low down on its side in the south east all this month.

Boy Viewing Credit D.Reneke (2)

Did you get a telescope like this for Christmas?

Despite its tremendous brilliance, Venus is a bit of a disappointment right now appearing as a brilliant blob of light in the pre-dawn sky. Jupiter will rise late evening during early January and shines so brightly all by itself. Its four bright moons are a constantly changing target even in binoculars.

The Quadrantids meteor shower will be visible from now until January 5. It peaks overnight on the 2nd and into the morning of the 3rd, with about 40 sightings per hour. While you’re out there enjoying the warm summer evenings, find out what satellites will be visible from you location by checking out www.heavens-above.com/.

More tips on sky watching and how to get the most out of your telescope can be found at my website www.davidreneke.com. There’s also a free 323 page e-book called ‘The Complete Idiots Guide To Astronomy’ for anyone subscribing to my free weekly newsletter. Written by: Dave Reneke

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