Monthly Archives: November 2010

Telescope Tuesday: Beginner Telescopes

With the holiday season in full swing, and many people looking for gift ideas, a telescope is a great choice for anyone interested in Astronomy. For many beginning Astronomers, the hardest part is picking a piece of equipment. The best advice I can give is the “best” telescope is the one you use often.

Too often people end up spending thousands of dollars on overly complicated equipment which is used once or twice, then banished to the closet, never to be used again. Other times, people get cheap, inferior products that provide disappointing views and again, are banished to the closet.

Important considerations regarding telescope are aperture, cost and quality.

Many people will tell you “bigger is better” with regards to aperture, and this is true, to a certain degree.
While it is true that a 12″ telescope will have far more light gathering than say, a 3″ telescope – such a large telescope may be unwieldy and difficult to transport. Consequently, a small 3″ telescope may not bring in enough detail on objects.

In this economy, cost is definitely a factor. Buyers want the best value for their money and want to make sure they are receiving a quality product. It is inevitable that lower cost telescopes will have fewer features or less robust construction than a higher cost unit, but there’s a HUGE difference between “inexpensive” and “cheap. The previous distinction is what I believe to be the most important factor in quality.

There are many different technologies that have been used on telescopes since the 1600′s. Today many manufacturers can use plastic lenses instead of glass, fiberboard tubes instead of metal, black paint instead of flocking, etc. Construction is important in a telescope, and generally speaking, the more expensive, higher end telescopes are built to last for years, due to better materials and better mirror/lens coatings.

There are two lower end telescopes I that I use quite often.  

The Galileoscope was created as an International Year of Astronomy 2009 project and is a great tool to use for outreach events. This telescope mimics one of Galileo’s original refractor (lens based) telescopes. At a cost of about $50 this telescope is priced well for what you receive.

The telescope is of inexpensive design, and is sold in “kit” form, which I feel makes this telescope an excellent teaching tool.  One other feature is the 1/4-20 mounting nut on the bottom of the telescope that allows the Galileoscope to be used with virtually any tripod.

The other inexpensive telescope I use regularly is the Celestron FirstScope 76mm Dobsonian Reflector.  This telescope, while being small brings out quite impressive views of Solar System objects and some nebula like M42 (Orion Nebula).  The “table-top” design makes this a nice “grab and go” telescope to take when camping.  (I’ve since mounted mine to a tripod)

I suggest purchasing the Celestron Firstscope with the optional accessory kit, which includes a moon filter and two additional eyepieces.  While the included eyepieces are inexpensive, the moon filter will be invaluable since that is one object the Celestron Firstscope excels at viewing.

You can find the Celestron Firstscope model in stores or online from around $30, to the $50 range for a “bundle” with the acessory kit.

Both of the above telescopes are inexpensive “starter” telescopes that will easily last long enough to keep a new Astronomer interested until they can “graduate” to a more robust telescope.

NASA to announce Astrobiology Discovery on Dec 2nd.

From the press release: NASA Sets News Conference on Astrobiology Discovery; Science Journal Has Embargoed Details Until 2 p.m. EST On Dec. 2

WASHINGTON — NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

The news conference will be held at the NASA Headquarters auditorium at 300 E St. SW, in Washington. It will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website at

For NASA TV streaming video and downlink information, visit:

For more information about NASA astrobiology activities, visit:

MSL Monday

Curious about the next generation Mars rover?

Launching in 2011, the MSL is expected to arrive on Mars in 2012 and will be able to travel much further and over rougher terrain than Spirit or Opportunity. The MSL (named Curiosity ) will carry a suite of instruments designed to probe the geological history of Mars, including the search for signs of past (or current) life on Mars.

MSL’s instruments will not be able to directly detect life, but instead will be able to detect organic molecules commonly associated with life processes. Among the analysis for organic chemicals, MSL will also perform geological studies, atmospheric studies and radiation studies. The data from these experiments will allow scientists to better understand the habitability (past and present) of Mars.

In the image, you can see a size comparison between the Mars Exploration Rover (MER), Mars Pathfinder (MPF), and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) robots.

You can learn more about the Mars Science Laboratory at:

Photo Credit: NASA

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