Novice astronomers lookin' good

January 03, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Novice astronomers got free pointers on Saturday to broaden their universe.

Sure, a telescope brings the solar system's sights into your home and your head -- if you can figure out the right way to use it.

At Discovery Station at Hagerstown, TriState Astronomers club members held a clinic to go over the finer points of looking at the sky's finest points.

About eight telescope owners took them up on the offer, including 10-year-old Olivia Barton of Hagerstown.

She said her new Meade 114mm reflector telescope, a Christmas gift, was "the one thing I really hoped for."

"You can make a new discovery every day -- find a new comet, find a new star," she said.

Olivia said mental adjustment No. 1 was: When looking through the viewfinder, everything is upside down. Maneuver right to go left, and left to go right.


Her father, Michael, said Olivia learned at the clinic how to care for the lens and how to sight the viewfinder.

Susan Stoner and her 8-year-old son, Chase, showed up with Chase's Edu Science telescope, which he bought earlier in the day.

Chase said he learned to appreciate astronomy while looking through a friend's telescope.

"I just like (how) the planets are lined up," said Chase, adding that he has picked out the Seven Sisters constellation.

Steve Berte of Middletown, Md., who joined TriState Astronomers a few months ago, examined the components of Chase's telescope with him. He helped Chase remove a bracket and flip it around to the correct position so the telescope can point higher in the sky.

Berte advised Chase about looking through the eyepiece by leaning in only with his head rather than putting his hands on it first, which makes it shake.

With members from Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, TriState Astronomers organizes viewing parties and teaches astronomy basics to individuals and groups, including Scouts and school classes, said Dan Kaminsky, the club's chairman.

Hands-on experience helps someone learning a sophisticated piece of equipment.

"Even if you read it in a manual, it doesn't make as much sense as someone showing you," Kaminsky said.

Club member Barry Schmidt, a self-described "science geek nerd," recalled an awestruck young boy at one of the club's star parties. The boy looked through a telescope, then at the sky, and couldn't believe what he had seen.

Schmidt understood.

"I can go out and look at the moon for hours," he said.

Kaminsky said the group gladly helps newcomers to astronomy who might wonder about the "extra parts" that came with their telescope.

Saturday's clinic was well-timed for people getting used to new telescopes that were Christmas presents.

Kaminsky said the club will hold another clinic Jan. 24 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Smithsburg Library on West Water Street.

Telescope tips

For a good telescope, be prepared to spend at least about $150, said Dan Kaminsky, the chairman of the TriState Astronomers club.

Kaminsky and club member Barry Schmidt also suggested:

o Use aperture size as a guide when buying a telescope, not magnification.

o Learn the difference between a refractor telescope, which uses a lens, and a reflector telescope, which uses mirrors.

o Get a good tripod. Shakiness can be discouraging to someone learning to use a telescope.

o Do some research by coming to the club's meetings or on the Internet.

o Be realistic about what you'll see. Kaminsky said objects in the sky often are "faint, fuzzy things" that take some time to examine, decipher and appreciate. Don't expect to replicate the sharp images produced by the Hubble Space Telescope.

-- Andrew Schotz

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