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Lunar Eclipse This Sunday, September 27th

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Come to Travis County Milton Reimers Ranch Park Observatory this Sunday for a Total Supermoon Lunar Eclipse. The eclipse will begin at 8:07pm, reach totality at 9:47pm and end at 11:27pm. A supermoon is a new or full moon that happens to coincide with perigee, the closest the moon will be in its monthly orbit around the Earth. Bring a chair or blanket and come ready to learn about how moon phases and eclipses work. $10/car, cash only to enter the park. Admission to the observatory is free this evening. To learn more, visit earthsky.org or for a truly in depth explanation of why we have eclipses watch this video by Matt Parker, a comedian and mathematician who has made a career combining these two professions, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieUvzy6rnnw.

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Buying Your First Telescope

It’s an exciting moment when your child expresses interest in the stars above and asks for a telescope. You excitedly start looking for something affordable and seemingly easy for him or her to use.  You settle on something with a tripod and ‘go-to’ system that will find the stars for you. You open it up and set it up only to be disappointed when it is painstakingly frustrating to set up, and you can’t find anything let alone the moon!  I see far too many people buy a first telescope and then get frustrated, and eventually the telescope collects dust or sits in a box in a closet.  I have been through MANY, MANY telescopes to finally settle on the one I know to be BEST for BEGINNERS and they just happen to be the kind of telescope that most seasoned astronomers use too.

The best beginner scope you can buy is called a Dobsonian mount reflector.

10" Dobsonian

10″ Dobsonian

Dobsonian telescopes are named after and invented by John Dobson.  He created easy to use mounts for Newtonian, reflector telescopes that became very popular in the 70’s and now widely used by the masses. What makes these different than other telescopes is that the main tube which holds the mirrors is not attached to a tripod mount.  Instead, it is placed into a mount that sits on the ground. It uses an alt-azimuth mount which supports and rotates the telescope in two planes, the vertical and horizontal.  More simply stated, left to right and up and down.  They use mirrors instead of glass optics to reflect the gathered light from celestial objects. There is very minimal setup for Dobsonians, and they are CHEAP and easy to make on your own. Orion telescopes sell them for a good price and they come with a red dot finder which is necessary to be able to find objects easily.

I use the FunScope for the beginners in my classes. They are awesome at seeing the Moon, planets and larger objects in the sky which is all that you need to absolutely hook the beginner. There is also the Celestron Cosmos Firstscope which is basically the same with an eye nebula wrap  around the tube (inspired by the COSMOS series recently re-made with Neil deGrasse Tyson).      Unknown

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They can magnify objects up to 30 times their size with the given eyepieces.These are table top telescopes and are capable of being mounted on a tripod or one can simply place them on a portable table or flat surface. I use wooden tv trays. They come with a red dot finder which I find is absolutely essential. FunScopes cost $69.99.

 

 

 

 

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The next level up is a SkyScanner. This scope is the same as the FunScope except it can magnify objects up to 40 times their size with the given eyepieces.

 

 

 

These just came out last year. The Orion Astrodazzle is a 4.5″ table top reflector. They cost $159.99.

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There is also the StarBlast 6 reflector. It is a 6″ reflector similar to the Astrodazzle, but will need a very sturdy and wider tabletop to set it on our you can simply put it on the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best bang for your buck that will truly last through growing interest and is quite bigger (but not too cumbersome) is the SkyQuest series.  I would recommend a SkyQuest 4.5″ Dobsonian and up.  The 4.5″ diameter costs about $268 and is quite impressive and as easy to use at the previous table top ones.  They can magnify objects up to 90 times their size with the given eyepieces.

 

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Don’t know why this one slipped past me but check out also the Astronomers Without Borders OneSky. It packs down nice for travel and is a 5″ Dobsonian with a tabletop mount.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a SkyQuest 10″ Dobsonian and love it! It is very heavy, but when I show Jupiter to people and they can actually see the bands of color in it’s atmosphere, I know it’s worth it.

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If you get a bigger scope such as these I replace the factory finders with a TelRad. They project a red bullseye on a window which to us looks like a bullseye on the sky.

imagesThis makes finding objects super easy.   I would HIGHLY recommend this as it makes finding what you are looking for EASY, fast and a lot less frustrating. TelRad’s cost about $40 and it has been worth every penny. The man who invented the TelRad is Brent Watson. He made  Finder Charts that go along with it.  I have these charts and have learned a ton using them.  I would highly recommend them for someone who is ready to find other objects such as the Messier catalog objects or lesser known objects.

The next step you can take to be proactive and ensure that you will use your scope it to sign up for one of my classes.  You will walk away with the confidence to go out and really get to know the night sky.

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South Austin Summer Course

We had clear skies for our first 3-class summer course at Longview park in South Austin. We went on a solar system walk and got a feeling for how BIG our universe really is. We also started to learn how to use our telescopes. Everyone took home some homework: charting the Moon until our last class and taking azimuth and altitude measurements with our fists.  Our second class we learned why we have seasons and viewed M13, a globular cluster in Hercules as well as Venus, Jupiter and Saturn.  Last night we finished our last class with learning about the Moon phases and eclipses and what we can do to decrease light pollution. We ended with looking at the Ring Nebula. Below are two of the students from that class looking at Venus together from our first class.

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Cedar Park Summer Course

It has been a great turnout for the 3 class summer course in Cedar Park.  The last few weeks the students have been charting the moon and taking altitude and azimuth measurements. Tomorrow night we’ll get to share moon calendars and model the moon phases.  Saturn is now up near Sagittarius and able to see! The first class we learned about the immense size of our solar system by taking a solar system walk. The second class we all modeled the seasons with our bodies and learned about why the north star changes.  We also have begun to become really proficient at using the telescopes.  Looking forward to a great last class tomorrow night.

 

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Hands-On Astronomy in Cedar Park

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It was a beautifully clear night for moon viewing and stargazing last night! Students learned how to use their telescopes and saw Jupiter, the Moon,  and Venus. They heard a Japanese tale about the rabbit in the Moon and used a Moon map to find the Tycho crater and ejecta.  They also learned how to use a star chart to find the brightest constellations.  Overall it was a very productive evening! Thank you to Life in Motion Photograpy for snapping this beautiful photo of the class as night began to fall.

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Hands-On Astronomy with Cedars Montessori Elementary

Modeling precession of Earth's axis

It was a completely clear night last night for the second Cedars Montessori Elementary astronomy class. We go to know our telescopes and then viewed Jupiter, the crescent Moon, Venus and the Orion nebula.  We heard a Navajo star lore story about how the stars and constellations came to be. We finished the night off with learning how to use a star chart to find then spring constellations.  It was a great night and when it was time to end, it was hard to stop stargazing and leave!

 

 

 

 

 

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City of Sunset Valley Public Star Party

UnknownWhat a joy it was to be back for the 4th time with the City of Sunset Valley at their public star party last night and what a gorgeous night we had! We focused on Jupiter, the Moon  and Venus.  We saw two of the 4 Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter. I had the chance to tell some native star lore about the Pleiades and Orion constellations and take some visitors on a solar system walk. As always, their staff was so eager to help and learn.  Thank you lovely folks for a fun-filled and educational evening.

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Hands-on Astronomy Class with Cedars Montessori Elementary

Elementary students from Cedars Montessori met me under the stars and got to know a Dobsonian mount telescope before we headed outside to see Mars in conjunction with Venus and Jupiter and it’s Galilean moons.  Even though the clouds started to creep in on us, we still got to see the Orion nebula and of course our heavily cratered Moon. The students were intrigued by my green laser pointer! Below you can see me modeling the earth’s axis and it’s precession. To find out why this is so important to us here on Earth, sign up for Hands-on Astronomy and immerse yourself in the starry sky above.

 

Thank you to Steve Wolf who took all of these beautiful photos of our class!

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New Hands-on Astronomy Classes Starting February 28th

starry sky austin logoAre you curious about the night sky? Do you want to learn how to use a telescope and gain confidence in finding planets, stars and constellations? Join me, Amy Jackson, for night time stargazing and learn about our night sky and how to use a telescope.

Each class will incorporate one of the following topics: The Scale of the Solar System, Why the North star won’t always be our North star, The Reason for the Seasons, What Causes the Moon phases and Eclipses?

To learn more and register for a class visit the Hands-on Astronomy Class page.

 

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