Archive for March, 2012

My God, it’s full of stars!

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Those who know me know that I geek out a little bit about space. I love living in a place where on a clear night, I could walk outside, look up, and see the Milky Way. I have seen the ISS, the Space Shuttle, and other random satellites cruise by in the night sky from my front yard.

Though I own a crappy little telescope, I don’t spend much time looking through it as I would like.  You see, it has a really flimsy tripod.  It also has one leg that JUST WILL NOT STAY UP SO IT ALWAYS FALLS!!!  Sorry, I got a little nerd rage on you.

When you look at something through any telescope, you have to move it every minute or so.  If you don’t, the object you are looking at will quickly be out of your viewing area.  This is because the Earth is spinning.  It also gives you an idea of how fast we are moving.�
With my telescope, when you adjust it, the legs wobble or fall and it is such a pain to get it steady again that it just becomes a huge ordeal.

Another thing about my telescope is that I have two eye pieces.  One will give you a larger area to look through.  For example, with this eye piece I could see the full moon in its entirety with extreme detail.

The second eye piece is apparently good enough to see details on some the planets in our solar system.  I say apparently, because I have never been able to view them very well using this eye piece.

This is what is supposed to happen.  Line up a planet, say Mars, with the first eye piece.  This gives you a wide area of space and allows you to see Mars as a dot of light in the sky.  Once you get Mars centered, you swap out the eye piece, and if you don’t see Mars, you make slight adjustments till you are looking at our red neighbor and waving to its alien inhabitants.

What actually happens is that I find Mars, center it, and swap out the eye piece.  I then spend the next 10 minutes adjusting the blasted telescope and fighting with its collapsing leg too much to actually see a close up of Mars.  Because of my issues with the stand, I have not been able to confirm life on Mars.  Sorry folks.

I know I could go out and actually spend money and get a new telescope and all these issues will be erased.  I know this, and as much as I would love to do that, I just can’t justify several hundred dollars on a new telescope.  Not yet, but one is on my wish list.  I keep asking Santa, but he disappoints every year.  *sigh

All this to say, I was finally able to view some of our planets up close.

This past week the family and I drove up to Flagstaff, and visited the Lowell Observatory.

I have wanted to visit there forever, but never made it.  This observatory is where they discovered Pluto, mapped the surface of Mars, and are currently observing and studying Titan (one of Saturn’s moons).  They also are open to the public and offer viewing through the “big” telescope.

Needless to say, I was very excited to be able to go check it out.  I was a little worried that my daughter might get bored, but she was a trooper and was familiar enough with the planets to know what was being said and appreciate the information that was presented during the tours.

I don’t want to go into details on everything we saw, or learned, as I think this post is getting too long and some things deserve their own post.  So teaser for a later post.

But I will give you a quick rundown on what we experienced.

We looked at the sun through a specially fitted telescope.  It.Was.Awesome.  We were able to see (for realzies) solar flares coming off the surface of the sun, plus a sun spot.  Too cool.  Or hot, I guess.

We were able to view Venus, Jupiter and three of its moons, Mars, a binary star, and the Orion Nebula through different telescopes.  By far, the nebula was the coolest.  But seeing the bands around Jupiter and viewing Europa with my own personal eye ball was very exciting.

I did get a chance to talk to one of the guys about telescopes and what I should look for in a new one.  The one they had in the gift shop was real nice, at a fair price, and he told me what it could do, and how to make it even better.  I didn’t buy it, but I really wanted to.  I mean, I REALLY, REALLY wanted to.

If we wouldn’t have had so much cloud cover this past weekend I would have brought my crappy telescope out and tried again to see what I could see.  It is probably a good thing I didn’t, because I am still on a space-nerd high from last week.  Reality would have tainted my fun, and taint fun is something I am just not into.  I’m not judging, I’m just sayin.

If you would like to see some really cool pictures of what I mentioned, check out  I always come here and get new backgrounds for my PC.  Looking through a telescope, everything is black and white, not color.  But the pictures will give you an idea of what we witnessed.

If you ever have a chance to check out Lowell Observatory, I highly recommend it, or an observatory near you.  Unless you don’t like this kind of stuff, but if you don’t, why did you read this far?

Wanna-be Astronomer