A Stargazer is Born Maybe

My brushes with astronomy have been lackluster. I've peered through a telescope twice. The first time, I saw a very fuzzy, small, pale Jupiter, and I was not impressed. The second time, I saw a faint star cluster -- more impressive, but it still didn’t knock my socks off. Neither occasion inspired me to go out and buy a telescope or to begin poring over star charts.


Night Sky Collage


A few weeks ago, though, I added some information to a buying guide about telescopes we have on site. Since I know next to nothing about telescopes, I did some research on hobby astronomy, and now I want to try it. I'm not sure what swayed me -- maybe all the cool names (that I may or may not be pronouncing correctly in my head), like Pleiades, Triangulum and Ophiucus, or maybe the variety of things you can see in the night sky that I was unaware of, like galaxies, zodiacal lights and different types of star clusters. Whatever the case, I want to give hobby astronomy a shot.

Binocular Highlights from Overstock.com


I don't expect visuals that will blow my mind. For one thing, I've been spoiled by the Hubble photos that I've seen here and there throughout my life, and nothing that I will ever see with a hobbyist telescope will ever begin to compare with a Hubble image. For another thing, my forays into backyard astronomy will begin with a pair of binoculars. This is not as lame as it sounds. I hope. I've read that you can see a lot interesting things with a decent pair of binoculars, a star guide and good sky conditions and that using binoculars (like this model by Leupold) is a good way to practice locating objects in the sky. A good telescope would be a nice way to start, for sure, but I already own binoculars. (If you don't have a pair of binoculars, they aren't too expensive -- keep an eye out on Black Friday or Cyber Monday and you may find a pair at a good price.)


Thus far, all I've done with my binoculars is look at the moon and Jupiter since, from my back yard, they're the only remarkable objects in the sky. I haven't taken a look at a moon map to identify any craters or mountains by name, but it's still cool just to be able to see craters and the way the line between the light and the dark side of the moon weaves over ridges and valleys. Jupiter viewed with binoculars looks a lot like Jupiter viewed without binoculars ... except you can see MOONS! Four of them. I mean, they look like really small stars lined up across a large star, but it's still cool.


Have you ever looked through a telescope before? Did it live up to your expectations, or no? Do you have any new hobbies you plan on trying out in the near future?



Posted by

Chandler Warnick



Nov. 17, 2010 at 2:36 PM

OMG, I want a telescope so bad. I am obsessed with planets, stars and space, but I've always thought that finding anything up there would be too complicated. Maybe not!

Nov. 17, 2010 at 2:37 PM

I looked at the sun through a telescope once, through filters. It was amazing. There's something about looking at it with your own eyes, no intervening medium, that makes it immediate and real. I hear you can even make your own reflective telescope with the right gear.

Nov. 17, 2010 at 2:42 PM

I've seen Andromeda through binoculars, which is pretty spectacular. Growing up, my dad always had a variety of telescopes, from a giant one he built himself to one that moves to point at whatever you tell it to point at. I've seen star clusters, nebula, and a bunch of other things I can't remember right now, but my favorite thing I've seen to date is the rings on Saturn.

Nov. 17, 2010 at 2:42 PM

The coolest telescope I've ever seen was at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii. I've never tried smaller telescopes or looking at the stars with binoculars, but I'd love to try it. The latest hobby I'm about to take up is knitting! Woot!

Nov. 17, 2010 at 2:47 PM

My brother and I once drove across Nebraska in the middle of the night ... you can see a lot of stars over the prairie at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Nov. 17, 2010 at 3:13 PM

I think Nebraska is supposed to have some of the darkest skies in the US.

Nov. 17, 2010 at 3:20 PM

I love getting up early to watch meteor showers, or sleeping on our trampoline to star gaze. Don't really know all the star names, but I can usually pick out Orion's Belt and the Dippers. I was with some friends the night you could see the moon, Venus and Mars. One asked which one was which and the other one replied, "Well, the big one is the moon."

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