Dec 01

December 2008

What’s Up in the Sky December, 2008
By Peter Burkey

“What kind of telescope should I buy?” is a question I hear often at this time of year. With the Holidays coming up and the economy in need of a boost, what better time than now to make such an investment?

Whether you are pondering the purchase for yourself or someone else, there are several important factors to consider. One is the experience level of the recipient. I usually think of a telescope as being appropriate for someone who has already shown an interest in observing the sky without one. So, for the beginner I recommend star charts and a good pair of binoculars.

Consider also how the telescope will be used. For example, I know several individuals who observe from sites near Holland, but they have rather large scopes. You won’t see much with a $300 telescope from your back yard. In that case a good, portable instrument such as the Astroscan by Edmund Scientific may be right. On the other hand, if you live away from the glare of cities and have a yard or nearby field in which to observe, then a larger scope may be the answer.

There are essentially two types of telescopes – a refractor, which uses a lens to form the image, and a reflector, which uses a mirror. Both types require various eyepieces for close-up or wide angle viewing. In fact, the “power” of a telescope is actually determined by the eyepiece and, although widely advertised, is of lowest priority. For a durable, economic, quality, first telescope, I would recommend a reflector.

This type of telescope also comes in essentially two models. The Dobsonian has a long tube in a cradle of sorts that sits on the ground. Looking somewhat like a cannon, it moves up and down and swivels left and right. The other type looks like a giant camera lens mounted on a tripod. They often have a drive motor for aiming and tracking stars. Each has its advantages, but you usually get more telescope (but fewer features) with a Dobsonian.

Finally, you must decide whether or not to get a “go-to” scope. This is a computerized, motorized feature that allows the telescope to automatically point at selected objects. If it is within your budget, I would give this serious thought because it solves one of the most common problems in amateur astronomy – finding things in the telescope.

I recommend online sources for further information. A simple Google search will yield plenty of sites to aid in your quest for the right instrument to observe what’s up in the sky.

This month in history:
Dec. 3: Pioneer 10 spacecraft makes closest approach to Jupiter – 1973
Dec. 7: Apollo 17, final Moon landing mission, launched – 1972
Dec. 11: First auction of Soviet space hardware and artifacts – 1993
Dec. 14: Gene Cernan, Apollo 17 astronaut, is last human to walk on Moon – 1972
Dec 17: Orville Wright makes first powered flight – – 1857
Dec. 24: Apollo 8 makes 10 orbits of the Moon – 1968
Dec. 27: Meteorite ALH 84001 discovered – 1984
Dec. 31: First flyby of Saturn’s moon, Iapetus, made by Cassini spacecraft – 2004

Here are this month’s viewing highlights:
Planets this month: Jupiter and Venus continue

Dec. 1: Crescent Moon is above and to the left of Venus-Jupiter pair at dusk.
Dec. 5: First Quarter Moon
Dec. 12: Full Moon – largest since 1993
Dec. 13-14: Geminid meteors peak
Dec. 19: Last Quarter Moon
Dec. 21: Winter solstice – first day of winter – 7:04 a.m.
Dec. 27: New Moon