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The Night Sky

Have you've ever looked up in the night skies, been marvelled by what you see, and thought about taking a closer look?

If this is you, then I can inform you that you're not alone.

Amateur Astronomy has really taken off in the last two decades, together with the abundance of well priced, eminently competent, higher quality equipment available now. However, for the complete beginner with no experience, the one question which will be particularly obvious is, - "What do I want to get terrific views of the skies?"

The very first introduction lots of individuals have to Astronomical gear is when they see their local Department Store, and find cheap telescopes provided in brightly colored boxes asserting 525X magnification and revealing impressively detailed color images of planets and nebulae.

Do not be deceived by this. This really isn't the performance you will get, and it is definitely NOT what you will see - particularly with the telescope in this box from this Department Store.

These are only toys. And unfortunately, despite equipment costing many, many times longer, you still won't find the detail and colour depicted on these sorts of boxes.

Firstly, when you look into a good telescope, you won't see colour. The minuscule number of light coming from heavenly objects is simply not enough to enroll as colour - typically - on our retinas. Having said that, it's possible to see some simple colour detail on planets and nebulae which are big and/or close enough to give sufficient light output. However, these are comparatively few and far between.

Astro-photographers on the other hand, have an entirely different variety of possibilities available to them. Using even modestly priced gear, it is possible to create impressively detailed color pictures of some of the most beautiful heavenly objects.

Even with these limitations, there's something quite special about looking through your telescope, and seeing planets, stars, nebulae, star clusters and so forth, with your own eyes.

I will say that without exception, when I have introduced family and friends to their first view of Saturn in all it's glory with clearly visible rings and the gap called the Cassini Division, the response is almost always a wide-eyed gasp and a "wow!" . Jupiter, likewise with it's four clearly observable Galilean Moons which move in real time should you watch for many minutes.

Obviously the objects you are viewing are moving the whole time you are looking at them. In case it is not obvious, that means your extent as to follow along for as long as you wish to look at. Some telescopes you simply push to follow. These are known as Dobsonian Mounted Reflectors following the terrific sidewalk astronomer John Dobson, who introduced astronomy to the masses as a pastime. As an alternative, you can purchase telescopes that proceed on electronically controlled mounts. These are many and varied and generally cost quite a bit. However, these are largely for photographers, where stability and quality are paramount.

Either way, to observe these heavenly objects this intimate and personal, as you have never seen them before, gives you a wonderfully odd, yet spooky, feeling of being just a small speck in a world far larger than you have possibly ever believed before. To see things in your eye-piece which are so far off that they could really have ceased to exist millions of years back, seems totally incomprehensible in a simplistic sense. It's so tricky to imagine the light with that dim and distant thing taking countless millions of years to attain your eye.

If you are interested enough that this has whetted your appetite for more, then just have a note of these points before dashing out and purchasing equipment which might not suit your requirements.

Tip #1- Do not rush out and buy a Department Store telescope. They are toys and will only frustrate and disappoint.

Without going into too much detail, they are:

Each is wonderful for some things and not so good for others.

Tip #3- There is a saying in astronomy that states "Aperture is King". That means the bigger the objective mirror, the more light recorded, the better the view. This is so correct. Do not ever underestimate the need for aperture if you are observing visually (instead of imaging)

Tip #4- Do not buy cheap.

Tip #5- Consider just purchasing a set of decent binoculars first and have a scout round the night sky. This is so much fun, along with the gorgeous wide-field, '3D' perspectives you get together with binocs are an incomparable delight.

Tip #6- Join a Native Astronomical Society. This way, you can look through everybody else's equipment at first to find out what you prefer. Plus these kindly folk will be only too pleased to talk about their advice and point you in the ideal direction.

There is so much information available on the internet in case you just Google it. Here is wishing you a lifetime of enjoyable heavenly viewing.