Today is the first day of school. As a side activity I teach a class at one of the local law schools to help young attorneys (hopefully) get employed. So I thought that I should take this opportunity to try and teach a little basic astronomy at the same time.
The first thing you need is a desire to learn. With that you can do anything. The main instrument used by most amateur astronomers is a telescope.
There are two basic kinds of telescopes: a reflector and a refractor.
A refractor is the “spyglass” type of telescope with a large lens at one end (the objective lens) and an eyepiece at the other end. The objective lens gathers all the light and focuses it at a point. The eyepiece provides the magnification so you can see the object you are looking at in the night sky.
A reflector, as the name implies, uses mirrors to gather and focus the light to a point and an eyepiece to magnify the image.
Reflectors can be much larger than refractors. Due to the physical properties of glass, the largest a refractor can be is 40 inches in diameter. After that the glass will start to deform under its own weight and distort the image. A reflector can be much, much larger. Current plans for a 30 meter telescope (and larger) are in the planning and constructions phases right now.
One of the questions that gets asked most by beginning astronomers is which type of telescope should I buy? My answer is always – binoculars. A good pair of binoculars will allow you to look at the night sky very inexpensively will you visit your local astronomy group and figure out the kind of telescope that you would like to purchase. Each type has advantages and disadvantages, so it all depends upon what you want to do as to which telescope you should get. The best way is to try them out and ask questions at a star party. Besides being loads of fun, everyone at the star party with a telescope will have lots of good information for you. So shop around before you settle on your first scope.
P.S. the book at the beginning of the post is also available for purchase at the usual places if you are in a hurry to learn about astronomy.
– Ex astris, scientia –
I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +