A few weeks ago I bought a cheap telescope for astronomy. It’s a Chinese no-name 114 mm reflector with an equatorial mount and on the few clear nights we’ve had since then I’ve been having some fun looking at things.
On delivery day the most fun thing was unpacking and assembling it. Instructions were in English, but the booklet exhibited those wonderful quirks we associate with Asian instruction manuals from decades past. Figure 3B which illustrated some vital component was nowhere to be found … On the whole though it was fairly straightforward and I even managed to get the sight lined up reasonably well.
So far I’ve seen Jupiter and a couple of its moons and our moon, with all its craters. I’ve also discovered that the graduated lens in my glasses don’t make it easy to see anything in focus while squinting through a small sight.
Stellarium is free GPL software which renders realistic skies in real time and appropriate for your location. It’s very cool to be able to view the southern skies on my Powerbook and then go outside to look at the real thing. I can choose to outline the constellations, display the galaxies, whatever.
A different kind of software, but also cool, is Celestia, free space simulation software. I haven’t got the hang of it yet but it doesn’t just show you the sky from earth, but allows you to move to and view the universe from any point between the planets and the stars. It even has add-ons, including the International Space Station, Babylon 5 and Star Trek!
The Carter Observatory here in Wellington has a planetarium, and it’s about time I went along for a visit. I see they also offer online learning (for credit) and telescope sessions. In a month or two I should be able to take a few days off — this will be something to explore.