May 2019

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina.  These sights will be broken down into three sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, and with a small telescope. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which will occur this month on May 4th. For May, your best viewing nights will be from May 1st to the 10th and the 22nd to the end of the month. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on May 15th at 9 pm.

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I decided it was time to use a few columns to summarize the most important information that I gave you over the last 11 years; 129 columns!  I will break this information down into various categories.

1. How to begin a hobby in amateur astronomy:

Do you enjoy looking up at the night time sky?  If so, start by learning the constellations in the night sky; not all of them, but the most prominent ones.  To learn the constellations, purchase star charts on line or just download charts.  What I highly recommend is you purchase a Planisphere (note: they may be called other names).  They are inexpensive, about $12 to $15.  The Miller Planisphere is my favorite, and is available on Amazon. Special Note:  Buy the 30 degree for South Carolina as the 40 degree is for northern states. 

The star positions on these Planispheres are correct for well over 20,000 years.  The planet location information on the back is only good for a few years.  However, it only takes a minute to go on the internet to find which constellation a planet is in at any given time.  Note: If you like to follow/observe planets, they slowly move through just 13 constellations, the 12 Zodiac signs, plus Ophiuchus.

Try to visit local astronomy viewing events to gain more first-hand knowledge and have local amateur astronomers answer your questions.  In addition, you will have a chance to see and look through various telescopes before you buy.  Check out public viewing events at Francis Marion University, usually in the spring and fall, and possibly at Lynches River Park.

On a personal note:  I plan to provide the Florence area with free public viewing events using my own collection of equipment.  At present, two other ScienceSouth employees may also volunteer to help this plan become viable.  Times, and locations, will have to be worked out over this summer.  Remember, due to the problem of high humidity during the summer months, the best viewing will be in the fall; note, Saturn will be in perfect position throughout this fall.

2.  What about the equipment I need?

First of all, go to any of my telescope purchasing November columns, and download a copy for future reference.  Key points:  Buy all your astronomy equipment at an astronomy store, usually found on-line.  Best choices are: Orion, Meade and Celestron.  This also includes any binocular purchases.  A reason for this is because some binoculars used for bird watching or sports are not the best choice for astronomy.  Never buy a telescope from a department store, or any scope that advertises its power.

If you are just starting out, buy a good pair of binoculars (price range $100 to 150).  When and if you want to continue your hobby, move to a Dobsonian telescope; it’s best to start with 8 inches, minimum 6 inches (price range $400 to 600).  Stay away from any GoTo computerized telescopes, they may seem useful, but you will never truly learn the night sky.  Finally, remember, I always prefer viewing through large binoculars 25 X 100 mm (price range $300 to 350) and a decent tripod (price range $75 to 125).  Also remember, big binoculars and every telescope will require some type of finder/aiming device.  Always buy a Red-Dot finder which is the most efficient at a reasonable price.

Does anyone read books anymore?

Once you decide that you will venture into the world of amateur astronomy, you should buy some astronomy books. I myself have acquired too many astronomy books, but they are all quite good.  Most of my books are directed at specific observing targets or methodology.  So, where should you start?  The most basic amateur astronomy book for the last 30 years is “Turn Left at Orion” by Consolmagno and Davis.  This is the considered by many to be the best starting book, and it is more comprehensive than you might think.  This is not a quick weekend read, but instead contains a vast amount of star charts and targets to seek out every season of the year.  A second book is my personal favorite, “NightWatch” by Terence Dickinson.  Be sure to buy the spiral bound edition only; you will thank me when you start using the star charts.  There are only 20 “special” star charts in this book, but the book itself is filled with other valuable information.  The information found in each of the charts is unique versus standard star charts.  They are not cluttered, but overly useful. 

Remember after you bought a telescope and looked at the Moon, planets, and maybe a few star clusters then you can work through these 20 charts.  You will have plenty to enjoy!

To be continued…

Naked Eye Sights:  The springtime night sky, dominated by the constellation Leo sitting prominently in the south.

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power):  Try to find the nice open cluster known as the Beehive Cluster (M44) in the constellation Cancer.  Just move the right of the lion’s face until you spot it; you will definitely know it when you found it.

Telescope Sights (60-100mm):  The Virgo Galaxy Cluster to the left of Leo.

Dobsonian Telescope (6 -8 inch):  The Virgo Galaxy Cluster to the left of Leo, take your time because there are many galaxies to find.

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