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What Objects To Focus On For School Astronomy?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the satellites-and-moonbeams dept.

Education 377

IceDiver writes "I am a teacher in a small rural school. My Grade 9 students are doing a unit on astronomy this spring. I have access to a 4" telescope, and would like to give my students a chance to use it. We will probably only be able to attempt observations on a couple of nights because of weather and time restrictions. I am as new to telescope use as my students, so I have no idea what objects would look good through a 4" lens. What observations should I attempt to have my students make? In other words, how can I make best use of my limited equipment and time to give my students the best experience possible?"

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The Sun (4, Funny)

dcollins (135727) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090484)

Advantages: Easy to find in the sky. Viewable during daytime hours.

Re:The Sun (4, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090502)

The moon. You can actually look at it without going blind.

Re:The Sun (4, Informative)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090536)

Jupiter and Saturn too. You can even see some of their moons.

Re:The Sun (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090656)

With a 4"'er, you're not going to get any detail out of Jupiter or Saturn. No cloud bands on Jupiter -- just the moons as points of light. Saturn will look like this [msu.edu] or this [vox.com] if you're lucky.

But the moon looks great at any magnification.

Re:The Sun (3, Interesting)

Animaether (411575) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090874)

I used my binoculars to go spotting at Jupiter a while back after this image...
http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/image/0907/lune-jupiter4_riou.jpg [nasa.gov] ...totally blew me away.

Screw the sun and moon, The Blue Marble and dozens of infographics of the solar system with "you are here" labels.. that image - and subsequent direct viewing - instilled far more of a sense of being inside a solar system than any of those things.

That said - I'd go for the moon right afterward as well.. seeing the craters, especially on a waxing or warning moon, is great and can easily be done by kids.

The aforementioned image happens to have our moon -and- Jupiter + its 4 largest (well, most visible at the time) moons, which just makes it all the more awesome.

Re:The Sun (3, Interesting)

n3v (412497) | more than 4 years ago | (#31091024)

I've definitely had great luck viewing Jupiter even from my suburban backyard and a cheap telescope. Moons and all..

Re:The Sun (4, Funny)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090682)

That's no moon.

Re:The Sun (2, Interesting)

haystor (102186) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090734)

Moon first, it's amazing and easy to find. They'll get to see it in more vivid detail than possible in pictures.

Jupiter and Saturn are a different experience. They'll be dull and tiny compared to everything we've seen. The rings of Saturn will be visible as well as the 4 big moons of Jupiter. The big "ooh" factor here is that when you zoom in on those two particular "stars", there is a whole lot more to see.

I've heard people say good things about M42, in Orion, but I've never had much luck, too much light in my area.

Most star viewing is probably best done without a scope, maybe a green laser pointer.

Some equipment that might be helpful:
A filter for the moon, especially if it will be full. On a 4" scope, that's a lot of light to be focused on the eye. $12
I spent about $130 on a nice eyepiece with good eye relief (distance from your eye to the eyepiece). This made it much easier to share the scope with my kids. It also lets people with glasses view with glasses on. I only bought the really nice one at my highest resolution (so far).

Re:The Sun (1)

Smooth and Shiny (1097089) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090936)

Have to agree here. I remember when I was young (I think) and looking at Saturn. I remember how cool it was to see the moons and rings with my own eyes.

Re:The Sun (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090558)

Neighbours' bedroom windows. A much better view.

Re:The Sun (1)

LucidBeast (601749) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090562)

I'm tempted to make Uranus joke... Anyway, Jupiters moons and red spot are pretty cool and and so is Saturn. Download a starmap application or I guess there are some online so you know what's up there and when.

Re:The Sun (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090850)

You can't come even close to seeing the red spot with a 4" telescope. Lucky imaging on a good quality 6", maybe. Probably not.

Re:The Sun (4, Funny)

batquux (323697) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090770)

The moon is more important too, being that it shines at night. The sun only shines during the day when it's light out anyway.

Re:The Sun (1)

kickedfortrolling (952486) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090892)

To be fair, i look at the sun quite often with no ill effects

Re:The Sun and Stars (2, Interesting)

Xeno man (1614779) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090952)

The Moon is probably a great place to start and the rest of this thread suggests several other natural satellites such as Jupiter or Mars but you can also try finding some artificial satellites as well like the International Space Station (ISS) It orbits fast enough that the station is visible several times each day all day long, it's just a matter of tracking it. How much detail you can see I don't know, probably not a lot but the fact that you can see something man made hovering overhead in space is amazing in of it self.

Re:The Sun (1)

nitro316 (1179211) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090530)

You beat me to it by 2 seconds. you sir, are a bastard and a charlatan Looking through a telescope at the sun will be an experience they will never forget.

Caution: (5, Funny)

drainbramage (588291) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090566)

Do NOT look at Sun with remaining eye.

Re:The Sun (0, Redundant)

thewils (463314) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090572)

Just remember to not use your one remaining good eye.

Re:The Sun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090600)

Would they not need to invoke the use of a solar filter at this point? In what hemisphere are you in IceDiver?

Re:The Sun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090822)

The Sun can be dangerous, it can litterally burn your eye out. Try posting this question on one of two web sites, www.cloudynights.com or www.astromart.com (both of which are astronomy related web sites) which will give you far more information than is availalbe here.

Also, consider having a local astronomy club come in and do a show and tell. The night sky can be rather unforgiving and frustrating if you don't know what to look for. Having someone guide you through finding things will make it much easier for your students.

To suplement your equipment, try getting a few of these: https://www.galileoscope.org/gs/. You could have the students take a couple of them home on a rotating basis and at twenty bucks or so each (plus shipping) its not a huge loss if one gets broken.

The "Turn Left at Orion" book is a good book. Also, I would be remiss if posting on slashdot and I didn't mention some piece of technology. Try looking for a "Celestron Sky Scout".... a fun little device that lets you sight through the viewfinder and will guide you to items in the night sky. It is expensive ($250.00) so it may not be in your budget.

Re:The Sun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090904)

Advantages: Easy to find in the sky. Viewable during daytime hours.

Equipment : Baader filter and webcam

Re:The Sun (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090906)

Disadvantages: Can damage telescope. Might not be visible if cloudy. Not as neat as looking at planets or stars. Oh yeah, it also causes instant blindness.

How about the planetarium? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090948)

Not to be snarky, but most colleges teaching Astronomy should be willing to arrange a field trip for your class to coincide with one of their labs.

Disadvantage is its at night.

Advantage is anyone signing up for a voluntary field trip would be interested in the subject

Alternately, maybe your area has a planetarium?

Re:The Sun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090974)

Obviously, you will need a solar filter. You should be able to see a sun spot or two. See http://spaceweather.com/ for more detail.

The Sun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090506)

... point telescopes directly into it.

Uranus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090516)

Tell'em to find it.

Planets (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090520)

Jupiter and the Jovian moons. Should be easy to see. Saturn and it's rings.

easy stuff (3, Informative)

An ominous Cow art (320322) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090542)

I'd suggest objects that are very easy to find, so the students don't spend the whole time searching for them.

Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus, M31 (Andromeda galaxy), Orion Nebula (M42) are a good start.

Re:easy stuff (1, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090754)

They're going to be so unimpressed looking at those things through a cheap 4" telescope.

Jupiter: They won't see any cloud bands -- just a glowing white dot. They might see phases on it. They'll see the Galilean moons as four points of light indistinguishable from stars.
Saturn: They'll see an oblate bright thing -- Saturn with ears, to quote Galileo. Their imaginations should allow them to picture them as rings.
Mars: A slightly tinted dot, probably with phases
Venus: They'll see phases on a white dot, nothing else.
M31: A faint, barely visible blur
M42: An uneven blur

With a stock 4"'er, the only really cool thing you'll see with just your eye is the moon. With a good hydrogen alpha filter, you can get a good look at the sun. With a software image stacker and a camera eyepiece, you might be able to create fair images of some of the larger, brighter nebulae and whatnot. Even lucky imaging won't get you too much out of Jupiter or Saturn, though.

Re:easy stuff (1)

An ominous Cow art (320322) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090976)

Good points. I was remembering my time using my 10" telescope, years ago.

Re:easy stuff (1)

eparker05 (1738842) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090880)

Don't focus on deep sky objects initially. While planet's may be cool to look at in a good telescope, try constellations first.Knowledge of constellations can lead to more intricate and profound understanding of the sky. You students will be able to see the constellations 'orbit' the north star. Planets will be easier to find, as they will seem like an out of place star. All of this can be done with the naked eye or a pair of binoculars!

Messier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090548)

Messier Objects (M31, M57 are easy to find).

Options. (4, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090554)

1. The moon.
2. How about the moon?
3. You might want to consider the moon.
4. Have you given any thought to the moon?

No special filters needed, and it's by *far* the most visually impressive with a small aperture. If you can get appropriate filters, the sun is another good option. Everything else.... you might see phases on some of the larger bodies. And you'll probably be able to see the Jovian moons as points of light. That's about it. Perhaps a faint blur for the Andromeda galaxy if you're in a good location.

But the moon looks awesome even through a small scope.

Re:Options. (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090674)

Indeed. And by "appropriate filters" Rei means go to the local university and borrow an H-alpha etalon (interference filter). Not, "get some red glass from Edmund Scientific."

Re:Options. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090774)

Or a projector setup for the telescope. You project the image from the eyepiece on a small screen.
http://www.astrosociety.org/education/publications/tnl/05/stars2.html [astrosociety.org]
for more info http://solar-center.stanford.edu/observe/ [stanford.edu]
Actually Solar observing looks like a good class activity.

Re:Options. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090726)

I have to second the Moon. Deep space objects will tend to be fuzzy blobs at best. Jupiter, Mars, and maybe Saturn would come next.
Maybe the North Star or the Pleiades to show them just how many stars are really there. Of course do it yourself first so you don't disappoint.

Re:Options. (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090916)

Ooh, forgot about the Pleiades. Sure, they're just points of light, but they're a bunch of clustered pretty blue points of light. :)

Re:Options. (1)

BlackPignouf (1017012) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090738)

s/aperture/focal length/g

Re:Options. (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090740)

Calculate the rotational speed of the moon?

Re:Options. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090896)

I also have a 4" scope.

The moon is great in a telescope. But it can be very bright. IMO, the best option to cut down on the brightness is to get a variable polarizing filter. This allows you to adjust the filter the proper amount depending on the phase of the moon.

Of course Jupiter, Saturn are good targets. Also, look at some globular clusters (double cluster is good, Pleiades is nice through a 4". Check out some double stars too (alberio is always nice to look at).

Planets, Nebulae (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090560)

Jupiter and its moons are an obvious one, Saturn too. Some more easy to find objects, Orion Nebula is always cool and easy to find.

Space Station (1)

snmpkid (93151) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090574)

See if they can find it before the POTUS cuts its budget.

Women! (1)

hatten (1640681) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090582)

Everybody knows that it's excellent to look at women through thick glasses!

Book to read (4, Informative)

SteveAstro (209000) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090584)

A great book for beginners is Turn Left at Orion, by Guy Consolmagno
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Turn-Left-Orion-Hundred-Telescope/dp/0521781906 [amazon.co.uk]

Re:Book to read (2, Informative)

hguorbray (967940) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090902)

also recommended

the star hustler -Jack Horkheimer

his shows highlight whatever celestial events or objects are upcoming

-I'm just sayin

Tin foil hat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090590)

Study the moon. You can explain how the Van-Allen radiation belt proves that the moon landing is a conspiracy!

Planets and Clusters (2, Informative)

m85476585 (884822) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090606)

Planets and clusters are probably the easiest objects to find with a 4" telescope (same size as mine). Planets are really easy to find since you can usually spot them, and you should be able to see some detail- moons around Jupiter, and Saturn's rings.

Clusters (globular, open, etc) may be a bit harder to find and harder to see, but some of them are impressive with even a 4" telescope. The Messier objects shouldn't be too hard to find with a star chart.

Planets (1)

shadowkiller137 (1169097) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090608)

Planets are always fun to look at, for instance if you have decent optics you should be able to make out some of the colouration on Jupiter as well as some of the moons. The moon is also a good place to look, you should be able to see interesting shadows on the craters or if you have a half moon look that the line between light and dark you can get some interesting contrast there.

When are you doing the class? (4, Informative)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090610)

Different things are visible at different times, although a four inch telescope is really only going to be able to see the the brightest objects. A little better than binoculars, but surprisingly little better after you account for the perception boost binoculars get by letting you use both eyes.

If you're talking about a nearby observation opportunity, then let me recommend Sky & Telescope - At a Glance [skyandtelescope.com] and Human Spaceflight Realtime Data [nasa.gov] as sources of interesting things to look for. You can also nearly always find a satellite or two around dusk, if you know where to look. Nasa has some pages about that as well.

Make sure you have some information to talk about about everything you plan to look at, since most of the class will be standing around the telescope rather than actually looking through it at any given time.

Location is important (4, Informative)

Mayhem178 (920970) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090612)

You didn't mention the location of your school (probably wisely); however, it would be useful to know at least the vague region in which you live, as it impacts what's visible at different times of the year.

The moon, Venus, and Mars are good places to start. NASA has a "Near-Earth Object" program (http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/) that may be of interest to you.

Also, while man-made objects aren't necessarily directly related to astronomy, the International Space Station is also quite visible with the naked eye; I'm sure a telescope would make the observation much better. Again, this depends on your location and when the ISS will be visible there.

The Moon. Jupiter. Saturn. Venus. (2, Informative)

andersen (10283) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090616)

The Moon. Jupiter and its moons. Saturn. Venus. The Orion Nebula. The Andromeda Galaxy.

And get out there and look at the dramatic and easy stuff. Jupiter and its moons is really cool to watch. And you just can't go wrong with the moon. All of the things I listed above should be easy to find with a small telescope. Looking for much more is going to be frustrating and boring for a group of students. Looking at stars is going to be very boring (stars look like points of light, even with the best telescopes). Go grab a copy of http://www.stellarium.org/ to help you find things and you should be good to go.

Re:The Moon. Jupiter. Saturn. Venus. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090866)

Pleiades, Orion nebula, Moon (view terminator for dramatic relief of mountains and craters), Saturn

All of these will show enough detail that kids will recognize them for what they are.

Wrong place to ask (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090618)

Why ask this hear when there are numerous places where you'll get better answers. Try www.cloudynights.com.

Check these out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090622)

Check this link out it's the one I have used for several years for other Astronomy classes,
All of the objects listed can be seen with a small telescope (4 - 6")... there are several targets on the list so check them out in advance and see what's best visible in your region.


I'm also fairly sure the NASA website has a very good list of targets including space junk and satelites that can be seen and I know the space station can be seen with a 4" scope depending on the time of year and your region, you just need to use the start chart index on their page.

Look, stars! Dozens of them! (1)

Minwee (522556) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090624)

That kind of depends on where you are. If you're viewing from way out on the edge of town with nothing but farmland in all directions then you'll be able to see some pretty impressive things like the rings of Saturn, Jupiter's moons, the canals on Mars, the mote in Murcheson's Eye, C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate... That kind of thing.

On the other hand if you're in downtown LA you might want to show them some of the stars in the Big Dipper, or see how much of Orion's belt you can make out. After that it's time to head back into the classroom and have a nice long lesson about Light Pollution.

Re:Look, stars! Dozens of them! (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090998)

It's sad how light polluted even farmland is these days. I live in eastern Iowa. I mean, you'd think, "Iowa! You must have great viewing conditions, right?"

Mediocre at best. [cleardarksky.com] .

How much we've polluted our night skies is tragic. If you want a low Bortle limit in the US, you have to go to remote parts of the desert southwest or rockies. And I hate to think of it, but I doubt even that will be the case by the time our kids reach our age.

My recommendation (1)

Slayer (6656) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090626)

There are tons of books about this topic, especially about objects which can be viewed through binoculars or small telescopes. Consolmagno's "Turn left at Orion" provides a great introduction and has a really cool map of the moon. My recommendation with a 4" scope would be obviously the Moon surface, Jupiter and its moons, Saturn (you can see the ring in a 4" scope!), Andromeda, Orion Nebula, and possibly some colorful stars. Despite the great excitement many astronomers have for their craft, most of the "exciting" objects look pretty dull to the layman or are not visible through a 4" scope. People are pretty spoiled by all the colorful nebula photos which are so abundant anywhere.

What would look good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090640)

"I am as new to telescope use as my students, so I have no idea what objects would look good through a 4" lens."

How about Miss Crabapple through her bedroom window?

Messier Objects (1)

Zarquil (187770) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090648)

There's a whole bunch of ways to approach it, but my favorite is to dig up the Messier objects - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messier_object [wikipedia.org] - visible in your sky and just run down what you have available. Tried and true, fairly well known, and they're tough enough you have to actually look for them, but mostly easily enough to find that the students can find success. Another bonus: There are fantastic images available online and you can dig up a pile of photos that will help them see what they're looking for. Side topics up for discussion could be photo manipulation, wavelengths of light, and why the photos don't look the same as we can see through a microscope. It's important in case you think you can put a camera at the end of a telescope and just snap off equivalent photos.

Personal recommendation: If you're just starting yourself take a look at the Astronomy Picture of the Day http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ [nasa.gov] to see what kinds of interesting objects are in the sky at that particular time of year. They give great talking points there targeted towards interested amateurs like me.

Stellarium (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090666)

Download Stellarium for free and explore with your PC.

Some of these (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090668)

The moon
The Orion nebula
The Andromeda galaxy
find mars
Identify well known constellations
Meteor showers
The international space station
Some globular clusters
make it a fun social event for other reasons

Moon first, then planets, then DSOs (1)

Zobeid (314469) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090676)

A four-inch scope (like the classic Edmund Astroscan that I started with) can show good examples of all the major object types in the night sky.

The moon looks great in any kind of telescope. Get a moon filter and expect to spend some time on it.

If the scope and eyepiece are decent, the rings of Saturn and the Galilean moons of Jupiter should be easy targets, and cloud bands on Jupiter just about visible, though you won't see much detail. Likewise Mars. . . Easy to see the planet, but no details. Phases of Venus should be easy. Mercury is dependent on good timing and can be hard to spot. Uranus is another tricky object to find in a scope, since it only looks like a faint star until you get the scope right on it.

When you get into "deep sky objects" like galaxies, nebulas, and star clusters. . . All these can be seen in a 4-inch scope, but you'll have to pick the biggest and brightest examples of them. You'll also have to explain that they're going to see a faint fuzzy splotch when they peer through the lens, not fireworks or something out of Hubble.

Solar System Objects (1)

Blackdognight (1329141) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090694)

In a four inch scope the planets are a good option. Jupiter and its satellites are always fun to look at and you should easily be able to see cloud bands on the planet's surface. If you're lucky you can likely even see the shadows of the moons cross the surface of the planet. Saturn is a must if at all possible. Unfortunately in the spring Orion may not be visible in the evenings so that rules out the Orion nebula (the only naked-eye nebula for the Northern hemisphere - not sure if there's anything down South). The Andromeda galaxy might be a good representative of a galactic object although there won't be much detail in a scope that size. I recommend checking out skyandtelescope.com and doing a search for local amateur astronomy groups in your area. You will likely find a local group that is willing to donate their time to present to your students and make their instruments available for an evening or more. They likely have 'scopes that far outstrip the four inch scope you already have access too which will give access to a whole range of diffuse and distant objects like galaxies and nebula.

Astronomy Targets for Beginners (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090712)

Good source of free starmaps: skymaps.com

Here are some fairly easy targets off the top of my head...

Moon: Choose a night when the Moon is not full -- have a look at the terminator (the boundary between the dark and light parts). You might be surprised at how those craters and hills seem to pop out at you.

Mars: Mars is near Opposition and should look pretty good -- you might even be able to see a white spot at one of the poles -- that's the polar ice cap.

Other Planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury are usually pretty easy to find. See a current starmap for times and locations. (Saturn will rock your world.)

Albireo: The head of Cygnus the Swan is a double star -- one yellow, one blue. Striking and easy to find.

The Ring Nebula: In Lyra, almost centered between two of the stars (find yourself a star map for a visual). It's faint, so you'll want to be away from city lights, but a small telescope should barely see it. It will look like a dim gray ring. Show the kids that, then show them the HST picture for comparison.

The Milky Way: Billions that faint gray swath turns into billions of stars when viewed through a telescope (even a small one).

The Neighborhood of Scorpius: There are several interesting things to see in Scorpius. Globular clusters, etc. Get a starmap and point the scope(s) South!

Dress warm and have fun out there!

Ron Proctor
Production Coordinator
Ott Planetarium - Weber State University

In order (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090720)

1. The Moon (As easy as it gets)
2. Venus (Very easy to find)
3. Saturn (Fairly easy)
4. Jupiter (Moderate)
5. Mars (Sometimes)

Don't bother (0, Troll)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090732)

American kids don't care about stuff like this, and even if they did, they'd never be able to find gainful employment in it when they finish college. Teach them skills which will be more useful for their future careers. Here's a range of examples for different kids:

1) for the dumb kids, teach them how to flip burgers and operate deep fryers.

2) for the middle-intelligence kids, teach them how to set up scams, because that'll be a very important industry in the future of America. Examples include loan-modification scams, where you get people to pay you $3000 to "attempt" to work with their lender to modify their loan, but you never actually do anything and point to the small-print disclaimer in the contract saying results are not guaranteed.

3) for the smart kids, teach them about law, so they can become lawyers. We can never have too many of those in this country, especially with all the scammers. Victims need lawyers to sue the scammers, and scammers need lawyers to help them shield their personal assets from lawsuits and successfully funnel money from the scam-business to their personal bank accounts.

Re:Don't bother (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090888)

The bitterness is strong in this one!

Orion Nebula and Andromeda Galaxy (1)

OddThinking (1078509) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090736)

How about the Orion Nebula [homeboyastronomy.com] , which you can see with the naked eye, even with a good bit of light pollution. And mayby the Andromeda Galaxy [homeboyastronomy.com] , which you can also see with the naked eye if there isn't much light pollution, and can easily be seen with binoculars or a small telescope.

Re:Orion Nebula and Andromeda Galaxy (1)

OddThinking (1078509) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090760)

Not sure what I did to screw up that second link, but here it is again: Finding the Andromeda Galaxy [homeboyastronomy.com]

Some Suggestions... (4, Informative)

Astronomerguy (1541977) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090748)

The moon, particularly when it's NOT full, as there is more detail to see when it's not full. Someone mentioned Jupiter and it's moons. Observe them over several nights, have your students sketch what they see, discuss why the moons are in different positions each night/hour. Get a copy of "Skyways" from the Royal AStronomical Society of Canada - it's a resource for teachers (http://www.rasc.ca/publications/index.shtml). The Pleiades star cluster is always beautiful. Saturn will be high in the south east and is always nice even in a small telescope. Mars will be high in Cancer next to the Bee-hive cluster. Both are wonderful small-scope objects and will be very close together. The three bright galaxies in Leo, "The Leo Triplet" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Triplet) will all fit in a field of view nicely. Good luck!

Here are some things you can look at! (5, Informative)

CyberBill (526285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090750)

Hi, I help run an astronomy group (San Diego Astronomy Association) and I think I can help you out - feel free to contact me directly if you have questions.

Right now I would recommend showing off:
The Pleiades (M45) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleiades_(star_cluster) [wikipedia.org]
The Great Orion Nebula (M42) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_Nebula [wikipedia.org]
The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andromeda_galaxy [wikipedia.org]

You can also check out the planets - right now Mars is pretty close and bright, but it isn't much to look at through a 4" telescope. You can show off Saturn, but it doesn't rise until kind of late. You should be able to see the rings, but right now they are edge-on.

Depending on where you are located, you may also be able to check out some smaller galaxies and nebula. Also, depending on where you are located, get in contact with an astronomy group and see if you can visit a local amateur observatory. We have a site about an hour from down town San Diego where we have a 22" telescope available for public viewing once a month and we also have public events held almost weekly where we bring telescopes generally around 10" in size (I bring my 16" on clear nights).

Others have joked about using your telescope to point at the Sun - obviously don't do it. Even pointing the scope at the Sun will permanently destroy eyepieces and coatings on optics - and if you happen to look through it, say good bye to your vision. Permanently. However, if you can get yourself a solar filter to put over the telescope, you can safely observe the Sun - which is pretty interesting. You should be able to see sun spots and perhaps prominences with the right kind of filter.

Good luck, and clear skies! :)

Moon, Saturn rings, Jupiter moons, Orion Nebula (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090768)

Pretty much the big four for that size telescope.

Also maybe sunspots, if you view it by looking at a piece of white paper held a few inches from the eyepiece and explain about not looking through it directly.

Spring visibilty is good. (3, Informative)

skinny.net (20754) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090776)

Link to general visibility -- http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mjpowell/Astro/Naked-Eye-Planets/Naked-Eye-Planets.htm [slashdot.org]

Your geographical location doesn't matter too much in spring, as you'll get plenty of viewing along the ecliptic.

I think the linked site is for northern hemisphere. Hope your kids understand ecliptic before you're done.

More links like it? google terms: planets visibility 2010

What every kid wants to do (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090790)

Do what every kid wants to do with a large magnifing device: you burn ants! It's a great daytime activity, and gives tham a chance to release their aggressive tendencies. Gets them outside burning calories, cutting down on clildhood obesity, unless they start eating the ants.

moon is good (1)

badpool (1721056) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090794)

I think the moon idea is best. You can check out the craters, and if you make sure not to move the telescope, you'll be able to notice the movement of earth and moon relative to each other (i.e. the moon will edge closer to the edge of the scope's field of view as time goes on).

something else to check out. (2, Informative)

wierdling (609715) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090802)

Although it isn't actually looking at the objects with your own telescope, all of the data that the Hubble Space Telescope creates is free to the public. To use the data you will need a copy of Adobe Photoshop, but once you have that it can be great fun to create the same sort of images you see from the Hubble Heritage site. To use the data (that you get in fits format) in Photoshop, you need to download the "Fits Liberator" from the http://www.spacetelescope.org/ [spacetelescope.org] site (check the projects tab). You can then get the data from http://archive.stsci.edu/hst/search.php [stsci.edu] (you will have to create an account).

Re:something else to check out. (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090966)

NASA Image of the Day Gallery [nasa.gov] has some fantastic photos of stars, nebulas, planets (including the Earth), moons, galaxies, spacecraft, the ISS, the Hubble (and things it has photographed) etc. They're available in very high resolution and some are breathtaking.

No Photoshop needed for that one.

First, don't use the telescope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090806)

Unless you have done this already, start by orienting them to the sky without a telescope.
There is a lot to see with just a set of eyes.
Then use a few pairs binoculars to see some of the larger things like the moon, small constellations.
A lot more students can see a lot more that way.

Choose familiar stars. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090814)

Always start off with stars the students will recognize immediately. Rajnikant, Kamalahasan, Shivaji, MGR, Saroja Devi, T R Rajakumari, T K Thyagarajabhagavadhar, N S Krishnan ...

some observations (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090818)

Get accustomed to setting up and taking down your telescope in the dark. You probably want a couple of flashlights with red filters to reduce night vision loss. Your students might be able to bring a few more binoculars or telescopes so that your students have something to do other than wait their turn at the telescope. Finally, I see a few links to sites about amateur astronomy. These can be pretty useful since there are a number of unintuitive things about telescope observer that would be better for you to find out ahead of time (for example, nebula look better at smaller magnification because they have low surface brightness).

Heavenly bodies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090830)

We will probably only be able to attempt observations on a couple of nights because of weather and time restrictions. I am as new to telescope use as my students, so I have no idea what objects would look good through a 4" lens.

Are you in the Santa Monica area? If so, answer is obvious.

In other words, how can I make best use of my limited equipment and time to give my students the best experience possible?

DO NOT go there!

... nobody? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090832)


Venus (4, Informative)

PhreakOfTime (588141) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090834)

Venus will become an evening star in the next few months. If your observations are over a few weeks, it would be an excellent evening target as it will go through its phases, much like our own moon does. If the observations are around twilight, you can even have them attempt to see Venus while the sun is still up by looking in the same part of the sky when the sun is up. It gets harder with age(sigh) but I remember easily being able to do it when I was around the age of grade 9.

The Moon focus on the shadow line, or a time when its around 1 week bfore a full moon, as the terminator(shadow) will show excellent surface relief of features.

Jupiter will be probably be only an early morning target during that time, so thats probably out.

Saturn isnt going to be a very good target, other than to show it as a planet, because it is in the part of its orbit where the rings are tilted almost edge on to earth.

Globular Clusters M13 in Hercules would be an excellent target.

Planetary Nebula The 'ring nebula' in the constellation Lyra will be a excellent target for evening viewing, if its late enough, as from most locations in the US it appears almost at the zenith

Double Stars Even through a 4" scope you can see some amazing color contrasts. Albireo in the constellation Cygnus is one of the best, with one red, one blue star. Also, you can go in to some detail about the different types of telescopes, and their functions.

But most importantly, focus on the history of Astronomy itself. There is a rich history over thousands of years of astronomers that have taken us all the way to where we are now, and we wouldnt be here without those giants of the past; Gallileo Gallelie, Nikolas Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Charles Messier(hes the 'M' in all those objects...M13, M31, etc), Edwin Hubble, Edmund Halley.

I envy you. Have Fun!

9th graders (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090852)

For 9th graders and a 4" telescope under rural skies: the Moon, moons of Jupiter, rings of Saturn, phases of Venus, an open cluster, M13, and a color contrasting binary star such as Albireo. Anything else will look like a faint smudge of light. Also, you might be able to mask a good portion of the aperture, and view sunspots from the projection of the sun.

I did this in Grade 10 during the day (2, Informative)

Dr. Evil (3501) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090864)

In grade 10 the most impressive viewing I had was a daytime viewing of Jupiter. We looked at multiple planets during the day, it was very cool. It was an elective astronomy class though, so everyone there was very interested.

The moon is good, but planets, depending on what is in the sky, would also be very cool. You can really see that Mars is red.

Show them whatever inner planets are visible this time of year and they'll probably never forget it. Venus, Mars and Jupiter are awesome... and show them how you found them in the sky.

Saturn (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090870)

As other posters have mentioned, the moon is definitely something you should go for - it's big, bright, easy to find and quite impressive through a small telescope. Plus it's got historical significance for the role it played in Galileo's observations. Jupiter is another obvious target (also with historical significance). If you have enough time between your observing opportunities you can get the kids to draw the positions of the Galilean moons at the first session and then see that they've moved at the second. Venus and Mars are also good. You should be able to make out the phase of Venus (if it's not full or new) and might be able to see some detail on Mars (if you hurry), depending on the seeing. Some bright galaxies (Andromeda) can be interesting. The great nebula in Orion is also good because, under dark skies, you can just make it out with the naked eye but a telescope can reveal some detail. The Pleiades and other clusters are also good. You could also try splitting some binaries, such as Alcor and Mizar in the Big Dipper.

This page gives some suggestions: http://irwincur.tripod.com/ten_best_obj_-_small_telescope.htm [tripod.com]

Whatever you do, if it's visible, don't miss Saturn. Even in the smallest telescopes Saturn is visible as something that is clearly not the round star that it looks like to the naked eye. It's the first sky object I remember seeing through a telescope or binoculars and being able to see that there is structure in something that appears to the naked eye as a featureless point made an impact.

4" is a small telescope - stick to bright objects (3, Interesting)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090878)

Some suggestions:

- Start with the planets, and bright messier objects (brighter than magnitude 4 to start with). Don't waste too much time on fainter deep sky objects - you need a larger scope (bigger aperture) and/or low light pollution.
- Take a look at the zodical constellations and plan ahead to look at what's visible at the time of year your course is on.
- Get a planisphere, and a book or two.
- Take a look at the free astronomy software out there - especially Cartes Du Ceil/Skycharts, Celestia, Stellarium. There's excellent paid stuff too but start with what's free.
- Get in touch with your local astronomy club and talk to them - some of them will have been in it for decades and will intimately know what's viewable from your location for a given time of year. You might even be able to get one to come out for an observing night.
- Look up the brightest stars in wikipedia
- Find a local professional astronomer and ask if they know of any school programs your school can get involved in. There may be a chance to get the kids to do some real science
- Get a hold of a cheap pair of 7x50 binoculars. Binoculars are easier to use than a telescope, can be mounted to a camera tripod if you wish, and easier to learn to use before stepping up to a scope.
- Create some basic analogue setting circles for your telescope and learn to align it so you can be sure you know what you're looking at
- Make sure your kids know what they're looking at. Kids are use to big visuals and if they don't understand what they're seeing even the most impressive sites like Saturn's rings will be a let down

The web is your friend. Lots out there. Not all related to observing. Google beginner astronomy.

Focal Length, type? (1)

CokeJunky (51666) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090920)

4" is a wide definition. The focal length, optical type (a 4" refactor is a very different beast than a 4" reflector, and there are lots of options in-between), and available eyepieces factor in. None the less, planetary targets are usually impressive.

The moon is always a good choice. Don't wait for a full moon -- partial phases are more interesting because the lighting and shadows emphasize just how bumpy the moon is.

I have a 4" F13 scope (roughly 52" focal length -- 1350mm), and it's not bad for brighter nebulae as well, such as M42 in orion, and galaxies such as the Andromeda galaxy.

Teach them how to read a map... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090922)

... a map of the sky. Show them star charts. Do a basic polar alignment of your scope (assuming it as an equitorial mount), point the scope to a known object like Sirius and set the setting circles, then have them find a prominent object by star hopping, then by dialing in the R.A. and Declination. Use a nice wide-angle eyepiece - calculate the field of view based on the focal lenght of your scope and the eyepiece.

Astronomy is a great segway into optics, cartography, geometry. All easy things to demonstrate and play with in the classroom.


Contact your local astronomy club. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090926)

It would be more than likely that if you were to contact your nearest astronomy club, you'd find people more than willing to bring MUCH BETTER telescopes right to your class and people who would be willing to spend time with your class showing you the most interesting things in the sky.

Anonymous coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31090954)

I've worked a bit in astronomy with the public. While I've not looked through a telescope for ages:

The Backyard Astronomer's Guide by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer.
Was the book we recommended most of the time. Very good source of info on everything.

If you are new to it.
A) Familiarize yourself with the sky with the naked eye. Use a starfinder, learn major constellation.
B) You can use a pair of binocular for a lot of objects.
C) Planet are always easy to spot, check on the net where they are at the moment. Saturn, Jupiter, Mars are always a hit.
          Saturn and Jupiter are the most interesting thing to watch for beginners.
D) Look at known stars that are double/triple stars. The easiest to spot is in the tail of the big dipper.
E) Stars have different colors. I don't remember on the spot and I'm at work, but there is blue/red/yellow stars.

Simple list - easiest to more difficult (2, Interesting)

SengirV (203400) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090958)

1) The moon - easiest to find, everyone enjoys seeing it up close for the 1st time. Focus on Tycho crater and terminator.
2) Saturn and Jupiter - next in line of ease. details apparent in even the smallest of scopes. You might get lucky and see Saturns rings at a large angle, or a transit of one of Jupiter's moons.
3) Venus and mars - Though not that difficult to find, the detail, other than venus's phases can be a little disappointing.
4) Some of the easier Messier objects -
  - Globular clusters - once you practice, they are easy to find in binoculars. Will be very surprising to students who are unfamiliar with Globular Clusters.
  - Open clusters - Pleiades for example
  - Galaxies - Andromeda would be the easiest, next in line is probably M81, M83

Once you get down to #4, you really need to practice finding them before attempting it for the 1st time in front of the students.

Heavens Above! (1)

mungewell (149275) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090960)

As well as all the previously mentioned objects (moon/planents/etc.) you could consider man made stuff as well including ISS, satelite 'flashes', radio beacons from satelites.

There's a real time 'calculator' here:
http://www.heavens-above.com./ [www.heavens-above.com]

These would help you students understand orbits.... even just a simple GPS reciver which shows which satellites are above you would be cool.

Learner-centered astronomy (2, Informative)

Kreuzfeld (308371) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090984)

Why not let your students choose some/all of the targets, subject to final vetting (or pre-screening) by you? In this way they gain a feeling of ownership over the process and generally become more invested in the subject matter. You could even point them to Stellarium [stellarium.org] for free home planetarium software to plan their observations.

Whatever you decide to observe, your students will get more out of it if they are actively involved -- i.e., no passive observing. If you have several nights, you could look at Jupiter each night and have them sketch the arrangement of the moons (c.f. Galilei 1610). If you have a solar filter, you could do the same thing with sunspots (if any are visible). Venus, Mars, or Saturn's rings may be attractive targets, depending on what you want to do with the observations.

Finally, there are additional astronomy education resources at the Astronomy Education Review [aip.org] , a free online journal.

Don't use the telescope! (1)

eparker05 (1738842) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090988)

Astronomy may have been revolutionized by the telescope, but the field was founded on the naked eye. I know it seems like a great idea to show off a new gadget to your students, but doing this will bias their minds to believe that one can only appreciate the stars with an expensive telescope. This is flat out false.

Teach them about constellations. Make it a contest to point out the most constellations! Knowledge of the constellations can lead to other insights, like the importance of the north star. When your students understand this, they might be ready for a telescope.

Start with the Moon (1)

StupendousMan (69768) | more than 4 years ago | (#31090996)

I teach astronomy courses to university students. The best object by far to look at is the Moon, as others have said.

  1. it's big and bright, so you can't miss it
  2. students can compare the view through the telescope to the view with their naked eyes
  3. students can compare the view through the telescope to the view through binoculars

I've written a number of outdoor lab exercises for introductory astro students which would be perfectly appropriate for your students. You can read one on the Moon, in particular. [rit.edu] Or you can look at the lists of exercises in this class [rit.edu] or this other class [rit.edu] for more ideas.

I'd recommend the "Limiting Magnitude" exercise as one which you can do when the Moon isn't up. It will help if you have several pairs of binoculars in addition to the telescope.

Good luck!

Like everyone else says, go for the moon (1)

boristhespider (1678416) | more than 4 years ago | (#31091020)

Do *not* go for the full moon, the light washes out all the interesting stuff. Go at a waxing or waning moon, and look along the line of shadow to properly see the craters. Also, be warned, it hurts like crazy if you're not careful. There's enough light coming off even the moon to nuke your eye unless you filter it.

As for stars, be warned that even on a clear night the "seeing" is likely to be poor unless the air's really still. The "seeing" is basically how much the moving air pushes the image around as it's coming down, and unless the night is very still indeed it absolutely kills stars -- they're just pinpricks of light, and they'll jump around in your view like crazy. It will also tend to blur even Saturn and Jupiter, but certainly go for Saturn anyway. Jupiter's worthwhile if you've got quite a few well-spread nights to view on, so that you can see how the moons move. You can get them to draw Jupiter and its moons, and compare their pictures over the course of a month or two. Otherwise it's probably not going to be all that exciting unless you're very lucky and get to see some of the bands.

Pleiades is a good call, as is the Orion nebula. Also, Betelgeuse so the kids can see how damned *red* the star actually is -- I find that's much clearer through a telescope than to the naked eye. Otherwise I'd stick to planets and the moon because the seeing could well be a killer.

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