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Monthly Archives: December 2007

31 Dec

The local newspaper had a headline this week about how bad light pollution has become east of the Mississippi. Of course, this comes as no surprise to me, being trapped as I am, here in the Chicago area. (It was, however, a real shock to my peace of mind when I moved here about four years ago.) Light pollution limits me to about 3rd magnitude stars on the best of nights and that is a far cry from what I knew out on the prairies of Nebraska during my youth. What has been a surprise, though, is how popular astronomy …

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27 Dec

I’ve been too long without a camera. Ever since I dropped my old companion – my Pentax Optio A10 – and destroyed the LCD screen, I have been a woman without a digital camera. That may not be as dangerous as a woman scorned, but it does make me nervous (not a good thing for an emotional creature like me). So, I guess it’s time to let go of the Pentax and move on to another digital camera. I am tempted by the elegant little Leica D-Lux 3. I know, I know, I can get basically the same thing in …

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26 Dec

“Help! I just got a new telescope for Christmas and I can’t see anything. Is there something wrong with this telescope?” This is an all too familiar refrain that comes my way after Christmas. Sometimes it really is a matter of a defective telescope, but most of the time it’s a matter of not being familiar with telescopes and what to expect when a beginner first uses one. That’s why I added some articles to our website that will help. My article, Telescope FAQs, explains basic setup for a small telescope and it can be used with any brand of …

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24 Dec

Feeding birds is a great way to get started in birding and, beyond a backyard feeder (placed where you can see it through a convenient window) and some bird feed, you don’t need much in the way of equipment. Nearly any binocular will allow you to watch the action at a feeder as long as the feeder is not too close to your window. You just want to be sure your binocular focuses closely enough to see the feeder. The good news is that most birding binoculars focus down to fifteen feet or less. All you need to add is …

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20 Dec

Quick! What astronomical object offers an amateur astronomer the greatest wealth of detail to observe? Answer: the moon. Yes, the moon offers more detail for a telescope than any other object in the solar system and, for many city bound astronomers plagued with light pollution, perhaps even more detail than the total of all the deep-sky objects in the sky on a given night. Wow!

So why isn’t the moon a more popular target for astronomers? For one, I suspect it may be a matter of mystique. The moon simply does not have that exotic appeal and mystery of the …

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19 Dec

Learning at least a handful of bright stars is a good idea for a beginning astronomer, even those using a computerized telescope. If nothing else, you can use a bright star you know as a quick check for your telescope’s computer alignment. You can learn some bright stars with the aid of a monthly star map, such as the Celestron Star Map, or, in this day and age of technology, with a handheld sky computer, such as the Celestron SkyScout or Meade MySky.

Every astronomer should know how to use the “pointer” stars (Merak and Dubhe) at the front of …

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18 Dec

Good news for those lucky enough to get a new telescope for Christmas! As long as you have clear skies, you will some great targets for that new telescope. The first, and one I recommend for beginners, is the moon. The moon makes an easy to find target for beginning astronomers. It also a great target to use for practicing the basics of focusing and to understand the effects of changing magnification. The moon will be full on the 24th, so you may want to use a moon filter if your telescope doesn’t have one. The next target will be …

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17 Dec

On rare occasions, I drift into a materialistic frame of mind and, at those times, my thoughts are usually a matter of a new road bike or, especially around the holidays, a new premium telescope. Being that I have a fascination with things small and simple, it is only natural that thoughts of a Televue 76 or Stellarvue APO telescope dance in my head. I really like the idea that these will fit in a Christmas stocking, albeit an extra-large one. That’s the idea, though – small, portable, exquisitely made and even optics that outperform typical telescopes of their size. …

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13 Dec

Bigger is generally better in an astronomy telescope, no doubt about it. A telescope with a larger mirror or lens will see fainter objects than a smaller telescope and will also see more detail in these objects. However, that is not to say a small telescope is not useful. For may of us light-polluted and city-bound astronomers, brighter objects, such as the moon and planets are more practical targets to observe than faint deep-sky objects. For planetary work, a good refractor, even one as small as 80mm is still a great choice. This is especially true if it has an …

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12 Dec

Getting around to making out my Christmas wish list. Not being a material type, my wishes are for things I regard as beyond price. First, I wish for a dark sky, free of light pollution. I would even leave my binocular and telescope behind just to enjoy the view and see the Milky Way stretch across the sky. Next, I wish for one good day on at the marsh on the shorebird flats. Again, I would even leave my spotting scope at home. Just seeing flocks of shorebirds wheeling and dipping over the marsh would bring tears to my eyes. …

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