The Height of Summer

We get asked a lot about telescopes; beginner scopes in particular. Our goal is to hook you on the night sky; to get you out exploring the Moon, the Sun (with proper filters and protection), the planets and beyond. Surprisingly, you don’t have to spend a lot of money or have a big telescope to do these things. My first telescope in 1975 cost me $20; that’s about $75 today. I bought it myself. It was a small reflector, with plastic lenses and cardboard tube. It was super easy to use and easier to maintain. It was light and portable. It showed me the craters of the Moon and the clouds of Jupiter. I was most excited when I guessed where Saturn was in the night sky and saw the rings for the first time. I’ll never forget that experience. The cheapest of telescopes sealed my love for astronomy. It was better than the telescope Galileo used to change the science of astronomy. A pair of cheap binoculars borrowed from my grandmother brought deep sky objects to my attention. By star hopping (using bright stars as markers to find dimmer stars and dimmer stellar objects), I could find dim galaxies, gaseous nebulae and compact globulars. I could sail from the edges of the solar system to the far reaches of the galaxy and beyond. I could take the binoculars anywhere and the sky was mine. A few years ago, I bought a $100 pair of Celestron binoculars with a wide field of view. It’s my instrument of choice for stargazing; just laying back and taking it all in.

A quick search online showed dozens of telescopes under $80; many by well-known telescope makers such as Celestron and Meade. As school begins and we start thinking about how to engage our children’s interest in the natural world, starting simple is the best path to lifelong learning. More importantly, my advice is to hook first then upgrade once the passion and interest show consistently. Don’t miss a chance to check out the Moon or Jupiter even with this summer’s cloudier weather. Recently, the group offered a service where we come out and help setup and familiarize you with your new telescope. If you desire such a visit, please visit our website and fill out the form. We’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as we can.

Mercury alone remains in the morning sky this month. On Aug 12th, the swift, innermost planet reaches its highest point in the morning sky. Venus and Mars set at about 8 pm throughout the month. On Aug 15th, Venus reaches its greatest brightness. Check out the Moon close to Jupiter on the 9th. Jupiter is near the Milky Way this month and in the sky almost all night. Saturn trails Jupiter to the east by about a clenched fist held at arm’s length and without many stars around, it stands out in the sky. This month presents one of best meteor showers of the year, the Perseids. The meteor shower peaks on the 13th but the Full Moon on the 15th will blot out all but the brightest ones. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait to see this spectacular meteor shower. Earth is crossing the dusty and wide path from Comet Swift-Tuttle. The meteors appear to form from the constellation Perseus; what astronomers call the radiant but they can show in any part of the sky. Generally, viewing the swift streaks of light is best between midnight and dawn but evening viewing offers a chance to see an “earthgrazer.” These meteors move along the horizon, have really long trails and move slower, Though rare, they can be spectacular and memorable.