02 June 2011

Seeing Saturn with a $25 telescope

Hi -

Ever seen Saturn in a telescope?

Aw, heck. This was supposed to be a blog post about the beauty and "real-ness" of seeing an actual planet in your own backyard with a cheap-o telescope from a flea market, but I'm no poet. I'm not good enough with words. My point was going to be, "We spend hundreds of hours in the Internet, reading words about reality instead of experiencing it. We've seen thousands of images of Saturn in our lives, but it's easy to forget it's a real giant encircled ball millions of miles away. We all ought to buy a telescope, just a tube with a few glass lenses inside, plant it in our driveway, and crouch on our knees late at night to see Saturn for ourselves."

If you're reading this in June, 2011, Saturn is the only planet reasonable to see at night; everything else is sort of clustered near the sun, early in the morning.

TRY THIS: a cool applet will open up on your computer and you can see what Saturn looks like now, along with its moons. (go here, and click "...includes a JavaScript utility...").

Anyhow, in our little 2" or 3" scope, Saturn looked like a tiny yellow O with a line through it, like a letter of some Scandinavian novel held out at arm's-length. Using our imaginations it looked like this:

Anyhow, if you have the chance to grab a decent 3" refractor on a tripod, pick one up!


1 comment:

DDB said...

I've enjoyed doing this for years. You can actually see the Galilean moons of Jupiter with a decent pair of binoculars. It's fun to watch them change positions on a nightly basis, and if you have a decent scope, you can even watch for the shadow on the planetary disk during a transit.

The moon also makes a great target - so much detail pops out. It helps to get a polarizing filter to help cut the intensity down a bit.

I've wanted to get a Dobsonian for years; they're big, relatively cheap, and very easy to use, great for the hobbyist of enthusiast. I've also thought about plunking down some more cash and getting one of the computerized ones that has true right acension/declination capability, so you can look up an object in a catalog or astronomy magazine and zoom right to it...