Buying a Telescope

Astronomy, the study of celestial objects, space, and the universe, is a pretty awesome subject. You can learn a lot about space from books and the internet. However, you can also go outside and take a look up at the sky. Since we can only see so much with our eyes alone, we need telescopes to help us see the things that are really far away. While they can get pretty expensive, even a budget model can help you see some really cool things. In today’s post, we’re going to talk you through what to look for when you buy one for yourself.

There are three basic classes of telescope:

  1. A Reflector uses a mirror to direct light toward the eyepiece. These tend to be the cheapest models. They show no excess colors; bright objects won’t have a colored fringe around them like they can with other scopes.
  2. Catadioptric (compound) telescopes use mirrors and lenses to send images to the eyepiece. This does not require a large tube so they are small and compact.
  3. Refractors gather light with a lens at one end and focus the light at the eyepiece at the other end. These are often the largest and most expensive telescopes. They also typically have the best image contrast.

Regardless of the magnification, the best indicator of a good telescope is going to be the aperture. Telescopes work by gathering light, so the larger the aperture (the hole allowing the light through), the better.

Once you know which type of telescope is right for you, you need to buy a mount. This is just as important as the telescope itself. A good mount will be easily transportable, sturdy, and allow the telescope to move easily when you want it to. A bad mount will wobble in the even the lightest breeze, causing images on even the best of telescopes to shake or even cause the lenses/mirrors to fall out of alignment. There are several types of mounts—some motorized and some manual. Reflector telescopes are almost always paired with a Dobsonian mount that allows you to move the telescope up and down (altitude) and side to side (azimuth). There are also Equatorial mounts, which are typically motorized to compensate for the Earth’s movements. A much newer development are Go-to mounts. These mounts are motorized and work with a computer to find and track any celestial object you choose.

If there is an astronomy club in your area, go along on an observation. This is the best way to try out a variety of equipment. You can ask questions and get a practical feel for what telescopes work best for you.

Keep in mind that no matter the quality of the telescope you buy, you’re not going to get the same quality as someone would using observatory instruments or fancy cameras. You’ll still be able to see some amazing sights, though!

The Planets!

Have you ever stared up into the sky at night and wondered about all you see up there? Us too! One of the things we always were curious about as kids was the planets.  What made them planets? How were they different from stars? Is there life on other planets? Can we see any with a telescope? We’ll try to answer all these questions, plus give you a little more info on those great wanderers known as planets, below.

First things first. What makes something a planet? Scientists from all over the world got together in August of 2006 to answer this question. They decided that it has to be something that revolves around the sun, is big and heavy enough for its own gravity to make it fairly round, and has to be big enough to “clear its neighborhood” of smaller objects in its orbit.

There are eight celestial bodies who fit the description, listed in order by their distance to the sun (starting with the closest): Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Here are some interesting facts about them:

  • Mercury is composed of mostly heavy metals, which makes it the second densest planet (Earth is first).
  • Venus is the hottest planet, with temperature shovering at 863°F. It has a very dense atmosphere, which traps heat really well.
  • Venus and Uranus rotate clockwise on their axis. The other planets go counter-clockwise.
  • Water has only been found on Earth so far, which is amazing considering we have so much of it—70% of the surface of our planet is water. This also means that Earth is the only planet able to support life.
  • Mars is home to the tallest mountain in the solar system: Olympus Mons. It’s 88,600 feet high, and scientists think it could still be an active volcano!
  • Jupiter is the largest planet in terms of size and mass.
  • Although Saturn is the second largest planet, it is the least dense because it consists mostly of hydrogen.
  • Saturn’s rings are small pieces of dust and debris mixed in with billions of tiny particles of ice. The fact that ice is reflective is what makes it visible to telescopes here on Earth.
  • Scientists think something collided with Uranus, causing it to rotate the other way. It also has rings, which scientists think is made up of pieces of a moon that was destroyed when something hit it.
  • Neptune travels 164.8 Earth years to make its trip around the sun. It has only completed the trip once since it was discovered back in 1846.
  • Neptune also has a moon called Triton, which scientists think may have been a dwarf planet that was dragged into Neptune’s orbit, mostly because it orbits in the opposite direction of Neptune. Triton is the coldest known object in our entire solar system, with a -391°F recorded temperature.

So what makes a planet different than a star? We’ll give you two reasons.The biggest is that stars create their own light, while planets reflect it. Stars create this light through nuclear fusion, something planets cannot do. Stars also rotate around the center of their galaxy, unlike our planets (which rotate around the sun, which is a star).

There are a few planets you can see with the naked eye. The big giveaway is this: the light from stars comes to us from so far away that it bends, creating a twinkle effect. Planets are much closer, so they don’t usually twinkle. If you know where to look, you should be able to see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. If you have really sharp eyes, you might be able to spot Uranus, too!

What is Life Like for an Astronaut?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an astronaut, and get to travel to places that are literally out of this world? We do! We got to meet a real astronaut recently, and we asked him a bit about what it was like being on the International Space Station. Here is a little about what we were told:

Most astronauts from the U.S. have a military background. They go through extensive training before being selected for the space program, and again after admission. It can be a grueling process because life in space is very different than here on Earth!

For example, a bathroom in space is nothing like the one in your house. Especially the toilet! Astronauts need to use leg restraints to keep themselves on the toilet. The toilet itself has to work like a vacuum cleaner to suck air and waste into special tanks. The process is a lot harder than at home!

Their ‘kitchen’ also looks different. Some food has to be stored and prepared differently. You can bring an apple with you into space, but you can’t have a salt shaker—salt and pepper have to be in liquid form because otherwise, it would just float away when you tried to put it on your food. Some foods are dehydrated to make it easier to store. Some need to be heated, so there is an oven, just like at home. However, there is no refrigerator in space. Astronauts need to be careful about how their food is stored so that it doesn’t go bad. Nutritionists make sure that each astronaut eats the proper diet while they are in space.

One of the things astronauts must do every day is exercise. Without the effects of gravity on their bodies, astronauts are in danger of bone and muscle loss. They use specialized equipment that can provide them with the workout they need to stay fit in space. On a typical day, astronauts spend about two hours exercising.

In addition to exercising, astronauts have work to do aboard the space station. They conduct science or medical experiments and also perform maintenance on the station itself. They do things like make repairs and update computers, cleaning, and other basic tasks.

Of course, they don’t work all day. They get time off for things like holidays and weekends. They can use their free time to read, watch movies, listen to or play music, compete against each other in card games, or other recreational activities. They can even communicate with their families back home! One of their favorite pastimes is looking out the many windows on the space station and checking out that awesome view.

Because there is no day or night in space, they have scheduled hours for sleep. Typically it is for eight hours at the end of each mission day. Because there is no real gravity, astronauts can sleep however they want, even standing up! They have to secure themselves to something so that they don’t literally “drift off” while they are asleep and accidently hurt themselves. They have their own small crew cabins where they can sleep.

We hope this answered some of your questions about what life is like in space, and that you enjoyed reading this as much as we did learning and writing about it!