Follow Optics Blog:

Monthly Archives: February 2012

29 Feb

Ever get a crazy idea in your head that seems less and less crazy the longer it stays there?

One of the problems of doing astronomy with my telescopes in our yard is the forest. Our small yard is surrounded by a towering forest of white pines, balsam firs and other typical north woods trees. As a result, I don’t have much of a window to the night sky. That means that constellations low to the horizon are off limits to the telescope eyepiece. Finding a good location to setup and use a telescope, then, has always been a challenge …

Continue reading

28 Feb

Every time I look at the moon through the telescope eyepiece, the hair on the back of my neck stands on end, so to speak. The moon may be our closest neighbor in space, but it is definitely not earth-like. One look through the telescope eyepiece tells you that. That we can view such an otherworldly and alien landscape in amazing detail from our own backyard is astonishing. No wonder I setup & use a telescope to view the moon every chance I get.

The moon was my very first target in a telescope. One look at the moon in …

Continue reading

27 Feb

Today is the last winter session class on amateur astronomy that I am teaching to a local group of our seniors. It’s been fun even if it has been a little frustrating. How can you possibly teach someone even a fraction of what is out there in the night sky to see in six hours, not to mention teaching them all about astronomy binoculars, telescopes and telescope accessories? You can’t, of course, but it sure has been fun for me trying.

We will return, next fall, for more class time, but over the summer I will be showing students how …

Continue reading

24 Feb

Every now and then, I’ve been asked to recommend a spotting scope for viewing one’s neighbors. Now, how on earth can you make such a recommendation and focus only on the issue of spotting scopes? Not easy, but I did my best.

In all my many years of urban and suburban living, I can honestly say that I never used my binoculars and spotting scopes to watch my neighbors. Not that I didn’t always have a spotting scope setup in my living room, mind you. Optics are standard décor in any home of mine. As I write this, there are…

Continue reading

23 Feb

Icicle season is here, though it’s a bit early, this year due to our unusually warm winter. Now when folks think of icicles, they naturally think of cold weather. Truth is, it takes a bit of warm weather to make icicles for us, up here in northern Wisconsin. You need temps to be above freezing by day and temps well below freezing by night to grow good icicles. In other words, icicles are a sign of spring for us in the north woods.

Spring, of course, is still months away for us and no one around these parts gets too …

Continue reading

22 Feb

It’s quite understandable that people love to view Hubble images and other great photos of objects in space. How could anyone not love those spectacular images?

The images we see in the telescope eyepiece with our backyard telescopes can never rival those Hubble images, of course, but I think they are every bit as exciting for me simply because I am seeing the real thing with my own eyes. That hands-on aspect of amateur astronomy is a big part of the thrill for me. Unfortunately, opportunities to use my telescopes and astronomy binoculars and see objects with my own two …

Continue reading

21 Feb

I’m becoming an active birdwatcher. Do I need a spotting scope?

In general, yes, I recommend a spotting scope for anyone getting into birdwatching, though no need to rush out and buy a spotting scope, right away, as long as you already have your birding binoculars. Binoculars should always be the first birding tool for the beginner. A spotting scope will definitely add more birds to your bird list, however.

Spotting scopes will greatly expand the range at which you can identify birds, though. Even very occasional use of a spotting scope will add birds to your bird lists. In …

Continue reading

20 Feb

It takes more than just a night sky free of clouds to make for a good night of astronomy with the astronomy binoculars or telescopes.

Sunday night, for me, was a good example. The sky was clear, the stars oh so bright and I was hopeful as I made ready to setup and use a telescope. Mars was shining brightly in the constellation Leo and, not having seen Mars in the telescope eyepiece for quite some time, I turned my 4” refractor telescope at the red planet for a closer look.

First look in the telescope eyepiece confirmed my growing …

Continue reading

17 Feb

Bill and I chose to retire on a lake up here in northern Wisconsin for a good many reasons. Most of these reasons are the traditional reasons for choosing to be near a lake, such as providing a convenient place to go fishing, canoeing or kayaking, but there was also a much less traditional reason – I also needed a place to setup and use my spotting scopes.

When you live in forest country, open areas are scarce and about the only place to use a spotting scope is along the shores of a lake. Lakes are our “open country” …

Continue reading

16 Feb

It goes against all the standard advice given to new astronomers to setup & use a telescope on a deck and, heaven knows, I’ve warned beginners not to do this, myself. Deck surfaces are not the most stable observing platforms for telescopes and the more magnification you use, the worse it gets. A single footstep can induce a wobble in the telescope that can be seen in the telescope eyepiece and those wiggles will test your patience before they disappear, believe me. With really high magnifications, even shifting your weight starts things to wobbling in the telescope. Not good.

So, …

Continue reading