You've got a new telescope now what?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Okay, you come down Christmas morning and find that new telescope you were wanting. After your initial flood of joy at all the sparkly, shining things on it, what do you do now?

That was the situation I faced, when at age 12, I was given a telescope by my parents for Christmas. I could not wait for it to get dark, so I could go outside and see the wonders of the universe.

True, it was a department store piece of junk (POJ), but it was a telescope.

At the crack of dark, I was outside with my new scope, a stool to sit on, and the heavens to explore. Now, what to look at?

That is the question that new astronomers have faced from the beginning of time (well at least since Galileo). Not only what to look at, but where is it?

That is why all new astronomers need to spend some time in the books--specifically a good star atlas or star map--before they take the scope outside. I know that doesn't sound like fun, but if you are going to spend time looking at the stars, you have to know where and what they are.

However, I would like to at least give you a jump start on your observing. Unfortunately the best and first thing you will want to examine won't be visible until the early morning and that is the moon.

It will be at third quarter on the 20th of December and new on the 29th, so that puts the moon out of our reach, at least for this week. Saturday, December 31, will be a good evening to go out and catch a two-day-old moon and start your month of moon watching.

When the moon reaches first quarter on January 6th, that will be a grand occasion for moon watching. Especially examine the southern highlands with all the craters.

Now before starting, there is something you need to determine. Does your scope turn the view upside down or reverse it? That is important to determine, so you will know if what you're looking at is right side up or upside down or backward.

Fortunately, there are other things to look at just now, which is the second item on our list; planets. Right now in the southwest, about 45 minutes after local sunset, there are two for our viewing pleasure.

The first you can't miss, it is the very bright Venus; the second is to the lower right and it is Mercury, which will be the most difficult to find, because it is a very tiny dot in the glow of sunset.

If you spend any time examining either one, you will soon discover they have phases just as our moon does.

There is another planet worth examining and that is Jupiter, the King of Planets. However, he is in the early morning sky. If you want to be up at least an hour before sunrise, look high in the southeastern sky. Jupiter is the brightest thing there.

It will be fun to watch the four Galilean moons play around the planet.

SKY WATCH: First-quarter moon tonight, Wednesday, December 7th. Mercury, the first planet out from the Sun, will be in our evening skies, beginning Saturday, December 10th. Look low in the southwest for a small, bright dot below and to the right of Venus still in the glow of sunset. Here is an event you don't want to miss. In case you missed the occultation of Aldebaran by the moon in October, you will have the opportunity on Monday, December 12th. The almost full moon will cover the star Aldebaran beginning about 8:24 pm MST. Look high in the south, above Orion, for the moon and star. The occultation should last until 9:38 pm MST. A great event for binoculars or telescope.

NEXT WEEK: Some goodies in Orion and more astronomical blathering.

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