Grab a Piece of

In two words: Use it.

You don't need a plan, but many first-time sky watchers christen their new telescope by looking at the moon. A more original inaugural journey begins by marking out an interesting-looking piece of sky for yourself and studying it. Find what you can. Later, we'll talk about recording what you see.


Few truly interesting avocations are safer than astronomy, but it is critically important to be aware of one very serious danger.

Never use your telescope to look at the sun unless you have affixed to the front end of the telescope a specially designed solar filter. (Never use a solar filter that screws into the eyepiece. The heat of the sun's focused rays could easily damage such a filter, causing it to break without warning, suddenly sending unfiltered focused sunlight into your eye, causing blindness. Proper solar filters cover the front end of a telescope.)

Looking at the sun with an unfiltered telescope will burn your retina almost immediately.

Remember what you used to do to ants with a magnifying glass? Well, sunlight focused by your reflecting or refracting telescope (or by binoculars) will do the same thing to your retina. The resulting damage to your eyesight is permanent.

See Chapter 16, "Our Star," for instructions on viewing the sun safely.

Another good way to start is to go to your local library and check out Astronomy or Sky & Telescope magazine. Both of these periodicals (and their online equivalents) include a guide to the night sky in their center section every month, and you can check to see if there are any planets in the sky or which constellations are up. Also see Appendix E, "Sources for Astronomers," for recommended guidebooks.

An interesting second activity is to locate another piece of sky—one that looks almost empty—and try to find dim and distant objects. Test the limits of your new telescope and your own eyesight. Notice how many more stars you see with your finder telescope, which has a larger aperture than your eye, and then notice how many stars you see in your main telescope.

Close Encounter

Close Encounter

A no-cost alternative to purchasing a telescope is to look at the night sky through the cardboard tube from a standard roll of toilet paper. No, this isn't a rather pathetic way of pretending that you have a real telescope. It is a genuine observing exercise: a method for estimating the number of stars visible in the sky.

Look through your toilet paper tube at five different parts of the sky and count how many stars you see in the field of view. Let's say that in your five separate fields you see 12, 15, 20, 11, and 10 stars. That is a total of 58. Now you have seen 58 stars in a small fraction of the sky (five toilet paper tubes' worth, to be exact). To estimate how many stars you would see in the entire night sky (with unaided eyesight), multiply this number by 15 (because we have assumed that the tube is 1.25" in diameter and 3.75" long). In our example, there are 58 times 15, or about 900, stars visible in the night sky in this example. In the country, your total number will be higher, and lower in the middle of a city.

Telescopes Mastery

Telescopes Mastery

Through this ebook, you are going to learn what you will need to know all about the telescopes that can provide a fun and rewarding hobby for you and your family!

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