The skies were actually clear for the DPAS Viewing Night last Saturday. Visitors enjoyed Mars, Jupiter, and myriad stars without worry about frostbite. One Crossroads visitor commented, “It’s so clear tonight, maybe we will see the Milky Way.” Well, he was right, because every individual star we see with our naked eyes is a part of our own Milky Way Galaxy.
I’m sure this gentleman was referring to the Milky Way band of stars that this time of year looks like a rainbow of light reaching from northeast to west, rather low in the evening sky. The band is actually the star-dense center of our galaxy. To see other galaxies , nebulae , star clusters and other celestial wonders, you really need a good pair of binoculars or a telescope. It’s not surprising that a number of people have toyed with the idea of going out and buying a telescope. Unfortunately, the word “toying” is appropriate here, because many optical instruments sold as telescopes are merely toys. Inferior optical equipment tends to end up in the back of some closet.
Mike Lynch, who has been a guest speaker at Crossroads, wrote in his book Wisconsin Starwatch, “You want to buy at telescope. What should you buy and where do you buy it?
“Let me answer the second question first. Buy a telescope from a place where people know about telescopes. Ask lots of questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question. This is a big investment. Unless you know what you are doing, you can get taken to the celestial cleaners.”
“When you are buying a telescope, remember this: the most important aspect of a scope is light gathering ability. The more light you gather into your telescope, the clearer the image will be……Generally, the wider the telescope, the more light it lets in. When it comes to telescopes, fat it good!”
The Door Peninsula Astronomical Society is made up of people who know a lot about telescopes and they are eager to share their experiences with others. So the topic for their May 6 meeting is Telescopes: Reflector-Refractor-Dobsonian-Binoculars and More! Local amateur astronomers will discuss the pros and cons and answer audience questions about of various types of optical equipment. After the presentation and refreshments, if the skies are clear, participants will get a chance to try out telescopes and binoculars in the StarGarden. The 7:00 program will take place in the Stonecipher Astronomy Center and the public is encouraged to attend.
According to Lynch, “When most people think of a telescope, a picture of a refractor telescope pops in their brain. It’s a simple design. Light is gathered into the telescope by the objective lens at one end. The light refacts or bends inside the tube, and the object is viewed through an eyepiece at the other end of the telescope.”
Sir Isaac Newton invented the reflector telescope in 1609, but the design has been significantly refined over the centuries. This type is a tube with one or more often, several mirrors that focus and reflect light into an eyepiece. Reflectors come in many sizes. Some small and rather inexpensive. Other reflectors are enormous, with a cost that is correspondingly astronomical.
One popular reflector, the Dobsonian mount, looks rather like a cannon. John Lowry Dobson, who died January 15 of this year, invented this portable, low-cost (relatively!) reflector telescope.” Dobs” are sort of goofy looking, but they really are amazing instruments.
Dobson has been an inspiration local astronomers. Co-founder of the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers, Dobson made it his personal mission in life that everyone have a chance to see the Universe as it actually is, and to perhaps better understand it.
The following statement appeared in his obituary: “We all have to accept his big inheritance – we all can continue his work, going to the streets, showing to the people the wonders of our universe to continue John’s spirit.”
DPAS will not exactly be going to the streets, but they will sharing astronomy with the public, Door County style. Members of the society will present a viewing night as a part of the Door County Festival of Nature in May. In June, they will have their telescopes out at a concert at Birch Creek. In August, you will find DPAS members and their scopes in Whitefish Dunes and Potawatomi State Parks. And on October 8–the day of the next lunar eclipse, they will invite the public to Crossroads for Astronomy Day 2014.