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Telescopes: Bringing the Stars Within Our Grasp

September 18, 2014

Last week we covered the UW Astronomy Department’s Universe in the Park (UitP) program. It’s a popular program, not only because it allows members of the public to learn about astronomy in the great outdoors (away from the confines of a traditional classroom) but also because for many people there is great attraction in the opportunity to use a high-powered machine like a telescope. Popular stereotype suggests that love for machinery is a strictly masculine trait; however there were certainly enough women at UitP in Governor Dodge State Park to prove that wrong!

A telescope is a particularly intriguing piece of equipment because it brings the stars down to our level, in a manner of speaking. We peer through the lenspiece, and all of a sudden that which was far away seems within our grasp. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until the next UitP to enjoy the view through a telescope! There are lots of resources online and in the library that will teach you all about telescopes, including how you can make your own.

amateurtelescope_bookOne excellent resource (available in the library!) for amateur astronomers is the Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series. This book series, named after famed British amateur astronomer and television presenter Sir Patrick Moore, excels at presenting the science of astronomy in an accessible and enjoyable way. One book in the series, Amateur Telescope Making in the Internet Age, will even teach you how to build your own telescope at home! All you require is:

  • Hand saw
  • Power hand drill
  • Manual hand drill
  • Several hammers
  • Assorted screwdrivers
  • Assorted wrenches
  • Soldering iron

The book lists a few other helpful tools like a table saw, but really all the necessary tools are things any DIY-minded person will already have. As for the optical parts, the book describes how to make a “Dollar Store Telescope” (as well as other more complicated models). This could be a great autumn project for an enterprising student!

The library has many other books and DVDs about telescopes—how to use them, make them and buy them—currently on display. Stop by and check them out!

Here are some great Internet resources on telescopes.

“Best Telescopes for Beginners,” Space.com—This is a great article if you are thinking about investing in a telescope for the first time. There is a lot more great information on this site, so make sure to browse a bit!

“Telescope Buying FAQ,” Astronomy TodayAnother great resource for first-time buyers, or anyone else who is interested in getting into amateur astronomy.

NASA’s Night Sky Network—There are over 400 astronomy clubs in the United States! Check out the full listing (and other information about the clubs) here. This would be a great way to take part in amateur stargazing without investing in a telescope.

Sky and Telescope Magazine—Sky and Telescope is chock-full of great information for amateur astronomers, including notices about upcoming astronomical events and new equipment. Also available in print in the library.

Stellafane Amateur Telescope Making—This is a great site for those who are ready move beyond the basics of building a telescope.

UW Space Place—The UW Space Place offers monthly telescope workshops and many other fun events. Purchase their Galileoscope Telescope kit here for $20 and bring it to the next Party with the Stars!