Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Seeing the rings

Right now is a great time to see the rings of Saturn, just follow the moon down and to the left, past Spica and the next bright thing is Saturn. Hmm. Let me rephrase that, it's a great time to see the rings of Saturn through a telescope. A few months ago we bought a telescope for the parents who took astronomy classes together the little one. We kept the budget manageable enough that we could get a nice telescope sometime in the future if this works out. We've learned some lessons, which might have been different if we had a $3,000 telescope:
  • Jupiter and Saturn are a rush to see
  • Stars are just dots in the sky, which you make big and blurry with a telescope
  • Four year olds have the patience to see one celestial object a night
  • Four year olds "get it" and are excited to see a blurry star even its just orange in color
  • The moon never gets old
I do think there's a limit to viewing. Once we saw Jupiter and the moon, there wasn't much more we could get that wouldn't be more enjoyable by just surfing But then we waited and saw Saturn. I think we're going to find that we bring it out every 6 months, see some new object in the sky and get a renewed interest for a week. And that's perfectly fine.

We're lucky that Orion is a local company, with a store in Cupertino. The whole family went over one Sunday and we brought home a very reasonably priced telescope. There's an argument to be had that we should have just bought really nice binoculars, especially given my above statement about bursty interest. There's just something special about having a real telescope in front of you. Our budget was <$400. To extend our budget, we opted to go without any tracking mechanism, so that we can could spend more on the optics. (It's fun to just talk about the optics, I understand optics better now than I ever did in Physics class, but I'll save that discussion for another post.) The other balancing act was portability, we wanted to be able to bring it to viewing parties and just whip it out from the garage when it's nice out.

In the end, we got an Orion SpaceProbe 130mm EQ, with a 900mm focal length. And after some initial fun we bought the Orion Telescope Accessory Kit for a few more length and some filters, including a moon filter. In both cases they were on sale in the store, so the total was around $300.

We like it a lot. It's not too big that I can't just leave it setup in the garage. It's advanced enough that I can play with different lenses. Maybe in the future we'll be able to justify $3,000 for a sweet Cassegrain, but for right now this works for us.