Don’t read this. Wait until night time, then go outside and look up.

When not being a scientist or bashing woo, XtalDave likes nothing more than hanging around in the shadows at night, with a pair of binoculars.


*Flat cap* When I were a lad, I were properly into astronomy. I was a member of the JAS (Junior Astronomical Society, donchaknow), and would avidly watch the Sky at Night or indeed any science documentaries with a vaguely astronomical theme. I also lived about 15 miles from the Jodrell Bank radio telescope facility (*ahem* run by my current paymasters), and spent many hours  in the old visitor centre – the one with the fake control panel for the Lovell telescopethat you could press all the buttons on. It had a planetarium, and a small steerable radio telescope that YOU the punter could steer and maximise the signal by pointing it at the sun. EVEN ON A CLOUDY DAY.

(Note: Since then, the old visitor centre was knocked down to make way for a new one. There were many delays and things were a bit bleak there for a while to be honest, but I am reliably informed that the new discovery centre is funded (and built?).)

I also travelled down to the London Planetarium once to see a show hosted by Heather Cooper. I got her autograph and everything.

Anyway – so hopefully you get the picture I was into space in quite a big way. My interest faded for a while, but is now back with a vengeance – no doubt spurred on by me wanting to try and instill the same amount of wonder in my own lads. It also helps that Astronomy is apparently the new rock’n’roll.

So anyway – I don’t have a telescope 😦

Aside: If everyone who follows me on twitter gave me £1, I’d be able to get a very respectable telescope. Just a thought. I’ll just leave that hanging there.

What I do have is a little pair of binoculars.

I’ve had these for ages. They are only tiny 7x25mm ones. Hardly ideal for stargazing. However.

The other night it was so so clear that I decided to grab them and go wandering somewhere where there was little or no interference from street lights.

The views were stunning. Venus, Jupiter and Mars were all very visible. My vantage point also gave me very good views of Orion, Taurus, Gemini & Cassiopea – although the Andromeda Galaxy was a little too low in the haze to make out.

Even my little binoculars were able to pick out the smudge in Orions belt that marks the location of the Orion Nebula, and separate out the Pleidies in Taurus

What I could see was a faint pale band snaking across the sky – I know what I thought it was, but thought that I must have been kidding myself. But no. I went home and checked on Stellarium. It was the milky way. Visible to the naked eye. Score. Add this to the naked eye views of Mercury that I got earlier on in March and this has been a productive astronomical few weeks.

So, in these times of austerity, what astronomical feats can you accomplish, and how?

With even small binoculars, you should be able to pick out some nebulae, and resolve planets as small discs. My binoculars are woefully small, and not really up to the task. Kash Farooq has written this post on how to get a decent pair of binocs at a reasonable price. Even with poor binoculars, you will be amazed at how many more stars there are in the field of view than you thought.

You will also need a decent program or app to let you identify what it is you are looking at. I heartily recommend Stellarium on your computer, and Google Sky Maps on your smart phone. Both are free.

However, my biggest advice to you is this: Get off your backside. Get out of your house. Go somewhere dark. The difference in the sky between even low levels of light pollution and very very low levels of light pollution is astounding. You won’t regret it.

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