Friday, April 25, 2008

If I was emperor...

Here's what I'd do first. I'd come to your home, right after dinner, take you by the hand, drag you outside, and make you look at Saturn through a telescope, so you can see the rings.

Partly because I know you'll really dig it. I have to yet to meet anyone who didn't.

But mostly because I love watching people's reactions when they see it for the first time. About three weeks ago I took some of my ecology students on a field trip to Yosemite, and I took my little Edmund Scientific Astroscan (love it!). About 9:30 I set it up on the hood of an SUV (on a towel, so it wouldn't scratch the paint) and gave the interested a brief tour of the sky. We started and ended at Saturn. One of the guys had never looked through a telescope before. I'm not saying that to knock on him--most people haven't. I'm saying it because it was freakin' awesome to get to be the one to show him this stuff for the first time, and especially freakin' awesome to start with Saturn.

Then a couple of weeks ago we had some friends over and as we were walking them to the car at the end of the evening we all stopped to have a naked-eye gander at the moon. Somebody asked if any planets were up so I pointed out Saturn right by Regulus, and then I said, "Look, just wait two minutes. You've got to see this." I keep Shaft, my Orion XT6 Dobsonian reflector, parked against the wall in our pointlessly immense* entryway for just this purpose, and about 90 seconds later one of our friends was getting her first ever look at Saturn. She literally squealed with delight.

* I'm convinced that the houses in this addition have big entryways just to stick it to people from the coast. It's about a third the area of our entire apartment in Berkeley and it serves no purpose other than to ostentatiously show off the fact we have tons and tons of space.

Look, seriously, if you haven't seen it you just have to. It's mandatory. Most space stuff you can see pretty well with binoculars, like the Orion Nebula and the moons of Jupiter, but you'll need higher magnification to grab Saturn's rings and that means a telescope. In the Bad Old Days decent telescopes were usually prohibitively expensive, but not anymore. Orion's StarBlast has gotten uniformly great reviews (here and here for starters; Sky & Telescope and Astronomy both loved it but their reviews are behind paywalls) and it is under $180, so unless you're reading this from a library computer you've got the juice. A new Edmund Astroscan is just under $200, damn near indestructible, and will last forever.

It works well for kids, too, and it's tough enough you won't freak about that. If you need something bigger--something you might need more than one hand to carry outside, say--I got Shaft on sale for under $250 and it looks like a freakin' howitzer.

Back to task: Saturn. Look now, and save me some work in the future.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


It is a very amaizing post and I like it.

10:56 PM  

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