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Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Swamp

The latest cold snap worked out well. For me at least.

The bugs in the swamp were killed off. So I was able to sneak into the swamp with the telescope. This is always fun.

So what is the deal with the swamp? Simply put, the skies are darker there. In the city the countless lights wash out the night sky. Now the telescope works in the city - even with a washed out sky. To a point.

You see, most people are unaware of what a telescope really does. People often assume that a telescope magnifies objects. Well it does - to a point. But if you REALLY want to magnify an object, what you need is a MICROSCOPE.

A telescope gathers and amplifies light. It makes a faint object brighter. So I can point the telescope at what looks like an area of the sky with nothing, because the faint stars are washed out in the glow of the city lights. But through the scope the star cluster is visible.

So what is the deal with power? Why are telescopes advertised as "400x"? Well in one word marketing. For the most part, a telescope advertised by max power is a toy. A lesser quality instrument.

A better telescope will advertise "resolving power" - or the ability to see fine details. For example, some of the stars in the Bid Dipper look like single points of light, but they are really double stars. One is even a quad star. A telescope with good resolving power will see two points of light, where a cheaper one may only see one. A better telescope will also advertise the size of the primary objective or mirror. Larger is better.

I have a Meade LX90. This telescope has an 8 inch primary mirror. It can grab a lot of light. It has pretty good resolving power. But it can not tell good light from light pollution, so getting it to as darn an area as I can is worth the effort.

I was able to see the moon. It would have been nicer if the moon were not so bright (a bright moon amounts to light pollution) but oh well. Looking at the moon is fun anyway. It was BRIGHT! Blinding.

Saturn was also up. Saturn is always fun. I had some friends who do not look at stuff through a telescope much, they were very taken by the moon and Saturn.

By the way - for objects in the solar system high magnification is useful. With the highest power eyepiece I have I could make out bands on Saturn. Being able to zoom in on lunar craters is also cool.

For deep sky objects, you want medium to low power.

For star clusters, you want very low power.

I hope to be able to run out to Everglades National Park again before bug season resumes. On a night with no moon, or a very dim moon.


Blogger Fuzz said...

Interesting. I would have thought high power was good.
We can see the Moon and Saturn but it would be cool to see the rings.


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