OK, you got that bright, shiny, new telescope for Christmas. You have had it out of the box and on the tripod in the living room, and you have wondered where all those little round eyepieces go and what do they do.
Another question you have is ... what is there to look at?
Relax young astronomer, that is a question every new astronomer has had. Perhaps you have even taken it outside and looked at some stars, but all you could see was a bright, round dot. Well, that basically is all you are going to see when looking at a star, a bright dot.
Well, let's get started. Tonight and for the next several days a lovely crescent moon will be in the sky. It is easy to spot and a great "first target" for your new telescope.
For another one, look east just after sunset for a bright dot, that is the planet Venus. However, it is just not another bright dot.
As you watch over a period of time, you will see it change from a round dot to something that looks like our moon when it goes into a crescent phase.
Since Venus is closer to the sun than we are, we see different phases just like the moon. It is interesting to keep track of what you see. Record the date, time, and draw a picture of what you see and over the coming weeks you will notice the change.
If you feel comfortable enough, try looking just below the moon for another planet, the outer gas-giant Neptune. It will help to find it in binoculars first so you will know where to look. The pair will just fit inside the binocular field of view.
Another bright dot, this time in the southeast, is the planet Jupiter. It makes a fine telescope target. Not only the four Galilean moons are visible, but look for the northern and southern equatorial belts that go around the planet.
The moon will join Jupiter on Jan. 2, making a nice pair.
For your last target of the evening, be outside at about 6:30 p.m. DST and look east for the giant constellation Orion, the Hunter. Find the three belt stars and the three stars hanging below it marking the sword.
The middle star of those three is not really a star at all, it is one of the greatest astronomical sights that can be seen. The Great Orion Nebula. It is a giant, glowing cloud of gas and dust with four bright stars in the middle of it. They are called the Trapezium because of their almost-rectangular shape.
Just remember, for good observing you need a really dark sky so be outside about one or two hours after sunset. It is cold so dress warm, and have fun.
If the sky is cloudy on the night you want to observe, just go to your computer and point your favorite web browser to www.astronomy.com or www.skyandtelescope.com. Both places have a link called "The Night Sky This Week." It will give you a nice list of things you might want to look at and for.
If everything doesn't work out well at first, just remember. Even the great astronomers of today had to start small, just like you. Just keep it up and stick with it. You will master your scope and learn how it works and how to work it.
New moon, Jan. 4. Earth closest to the sun on Jan. 3.
More astronomical blathering.