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Make more out of stargazing nights

September 18, 2009 at 03:00 PM

Crisp, cloudless nights make fall the season for stargazing. Ma Nature rewards us with nightly shows of meteors, planets and moons.

You do not need a telescope to begin an astronomy hobby. We already have the right gear, our eyes. A telescope becomes handy when your curiosity is permanently tickled.

The cool thing about a sky hobby is you can enjoy the view without knowing what you’re seeing. Or you can learn about the stars and take the hobby as far as you wish.

Back in the late ’50s and early ’60s, it was easy to learn what to see. The space-age thing was big, and newspapers routinely published star charts and advised when planets and satellites were visible. The Web now is the best source with dozens of astronomy sites.

A site answering questions and suggesting current viewing is: http://www.earthsky.org/tonighthome

Latest versions of Google’s Earth viewer offer a Sky option that shows you the current astro scene over your house. Print it and take it outside: earth.google.com

You can put a planetarium on your monitor with Stellarium. This free, 53-megabyte program shows 3-D sky views set by your area’s coordinates. It’s so good, a number of planetariums run it in their big projectors. Download the version for your operating system at: http://www.stellarium.org

The Hubble Telescope is repaired and sending new photos. It’s recent upgrade, by space-walking astronauts, gives it more power and clarity. It’s photos are published at: hubblesite.org

Backyard viewing opportunities for manmade satellites are detailed at: spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata

Children always have questions about the sky. Getting them involved, especially with a computer and a telescope, can begin a lifelong hobby or perhaps a career.

Scopes run the gamut from less than $100 to, well, the sky’s the limit. Celestron’s FirstScope line for newcomers runs $40 to $400 for reflector models.

Most telescopes come with sky software. Quality of that varies widely. Better options can be found on the Internet.

Jim Hillibish writes for the Canton Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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