Courtesy of the Primland Observatory
Bob Hampton recommends a Dobsonian telescope for beginners – “It’s a relatively new telescope – it looks more like a cannon than a telescope.” Because it can move on more than one axis, it’s easier to aim.
“Don’t buy a computerized telescope,” he adds – people become dependent on the GPS or auto tracking features and “they never learn the sky. Get under the skies with a star chart.”
And you can keep it simple:
“People don’t realize that you can just take your binoculars and scan the Milky Way and see star clusters,” says John Goss. “You can see galaxies, you can see nebulae.” A clear sky, a lawn chair, a cup of hot cocoa, a pair of binoculars and a star map can be all you need.
If your backyard is too bright, “a lot of amateurs take their telescopes up on the Blue Ridge Parkway.” Milepost 139, Cahas Mountain, and milepost 144, Devils Backbone, are good spots in Virginia.
Look up your closest astronomical society or club, go to a star party. Green Bank hosts its annual Star Quest in early summer, and another spot in West Virginia – Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state – hosts the Almost Heaven Star Party in early fall (in 2013, Sept. 6-10).
Elaine Osborne’s advice to beginning astronomers:
“Do not go out and buy a telescope right off. It takes time to learn how to observe, you need to join an astronomy club in your area. If you don’t have one start one like we did. I along with two other local observers started Echo Ridge Astronomical Society here in Elk Creek.
“In a club setting you will meet fellow astronomers who have experience in choosing the right scope and also be glad to let you look through their scopes to help you decide on your choice. You can go to your library and check out astronomy books, find one on constellations and become familiar with your night sky.
“Maybe all you want is to view the moon, planets, or deep sky objects like galaxies. There are so many books and online resources you can find. You may not want to study any of them and just want to see what wonders are out there. One of the best free planetarium programs out there, in my opinion, is Stellarium.
“To date, no one owns the sky, so you don’t have to pay to go out and look up. If you are in a dark area and it isn’t raining or cloudy you have a free show: watch the International Space Station go over, numerous satellites, meteors flash by and planets shine brightly, surrounded by many twinkling red, blue, and yellow stars.”
Winter 2013: A New Comet
The PanSTARRS Comet: “In February/March of 2013, there should be a bright comet appearing in our sky – a lot of people haven’t heard about this because there have been a lot of other things in the news besides comets,” says John Goss. “It should be the brightest comet since Hale-Bopp” – but be prepared for disappointment, too: “comets are pretty fickle – sometimes they kinda fizzle out. Sometimes they do a lot better than people expect.”