For retailers selling telescopes and binoculars, sales generally stay steady throughout the year. But every year there are specific events in the night sky which might result in extra sales, particularly of astronomical telescopes. To help you prepare for such occasions and perhaps even leverage them to your advantage, here’s a quick run-down of some of the most significant celestial events visible in UK skies over the next couple of months.
Peak of the Leonids meteor shower – 16th-17th November
Though meteor showers are of course best viewed with the naked eye due to the limiting field of view of binoculars and telescopes, they are events that provoke interest in the night sky. Those watching the meteor shower may be inspired to purchase astronomical telescopes or binoculars to view further celestial events. The annual Leonids shower is visible this year from the 6th to the 30th of November, with a peak of around 15 meteors per hour on the night of the 16th/17th. December meanwhile sees the more dramatic Geminids meteor shower, peaking on 13th/14th December.
Comet ISON – 28th November
Late November sees the closest approach of comet ISON to the sun. The comet was discovered just last year and has since caused quite a stir among skywatchers. Though early speculation suggested that it might be visible at dawn with the naked eye, this is now seen as unlikely. For astronomers though, ISON is certainly one to watch well into December.
Good views of the Andromeda Galaxy
Those with astronomical telescopes should get a good view of the Andromeda galaxy in November, with it appearing high in the sky at around 20:00 GMT. This spectacular galaxy is our nearest celestial neighbourhood and can also be seen with the naked eye, but would-be astronomers may prefer to view it through binoculars before graduating to a telescope.
The annual Lyrid meteor shower is set to take place later this month, and that means it’s the perfect time to get those astronomical telescopes out to make sure you’re ready for it. The Lyrid meteors, known as April’s shooting stars, can produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds with there usually being around 10-20 sightings per hour, although uncommon surges of as many as 100 in an hour have been known. It’s this unpredictable nature that makes the Lyrids so tantalising, because the possibility of such a huge number of them means they could make for a truly spectacular show.
And, this year offers something extra special — the meteor shower is set to coincide with the new moon, guaranteeing a dark sky so the meteors themselves will be far more visible. There won’t be any moonlight to obscure your view which will make the show even more spectacular, and if you want to see the shower at its best then get out there on the night of April 21/22 (meteors should be visible between the 16th and 25th of April, but it’s this night that the shower should peak).
The Lyrid meteors will be visible with the naked eye so everyone can enjoy the show, but the only way to really experience it in all its glory is to get the right astronomical telescopes to suit. Doing so will ensure maximum vision to bring the night sky to life whilst ensuring you can make the most of this astronomical event, and if you’re looking for the scopes to suit just get in touch and we’ll happily advise.
Always on hand to offer our little bit of wisdom when it comes to telescopes, star charts and such, we thought you might need reminding of the Perseids meteor shower, one of the summer’s most prominent and consistently stunning celestial events.
The Perseids garners its name due to the perceived origin of the shower (called the “radiant”), the constellation Perseus. The Perseids enjoy the venerable parentage of the Swift-Tuttle comet. The amazing Perseids meteor cloud consists of detritus ejected by Swift-Tuttle as it passes close to the sun.
An interesting side note of the Swift-Tuttle comet; upon its rediscovery in 1992 it was feared the comet would likely strike the earth or moon. However, upon further calculations this appeared not to be the case. Swift-Tuttle will next be highly visible to the naked eye in 2126.
The 2011 Perseids show is estimated to last from the 17th July – 24th August, peaking on 13th August. The long viewing life of the shower makes it the ideal practice ground for pushing astronomical telescopes to show off the best celestial marvels the night sky has to offer. In the UK we can expect a peak of around seventy meteors per hour. One of the great things about
Parseids is that you don’t necessarily need even one of our beginner astronomical telescopes to see its brilliance.
For more information on telescopes and stargazing tips, take a look at the comprehensive guides in our “Books & Maps” area.
Whether you are new to astronomy or a long time enthusiast, using telescopes to search the skies is a fascinating and at times exciting experience. The word astronomy means ‘law of the stars’ and we have our forefathers in ancient times to thank for plotting out the early maps of the skies.
Of course, these people did not have anything more than the naked eye to chart the stars, but the early work they did without the aid of telescopes was later picked up by astronomers who did have the means to see the stars and planets in more detail. If you are new to astronomy and you want to familiarise yourself with the constellations, using a star map is one of the best ways to do this.
Once you have an idea of what you are looking for and it‘s location in the sky, a good pair of binoculars will allow you to see our neighbours in the solar system. If possible, try and find a spot which is free from street lighting and other illuminations as this will allow you to see the stars without it being tainted by light pollution.
Many astronomical societies who are based in towns and cities will often travel out to isolated rural areas in order to make the most of the inky blackness of the skies above, and if you have never had the experience of looking through binoculars or a telescope in this environment, you really will notice the difference when you try it.
Although vast swathes of the UK’s countryside are polluted by the sinister orange glow of our street lamps, you needn’t journey too far to find ideal spots for your astronomical telescopes.
Galloway Forest Park, Southern Scotland
In 2010, Galloway Forest Park ascertained a level of acclaim thanks to its status as a Dark Sky Park, making it an ideal location to thoroughly enjoy your astronomical telescope, toasty flask of tea and jam sandwiches. The most popular spot in the park is Loch Trool.
Kielder Forest, Northumberland
Kielder Forest’s 250 square miles of dense woodland beauty are noted as being amongst the darkest in England. Check out Kielder Observatory (situated on the impressive Black Feel looking down on Kielder Water) if you fancy using your telescopes in a little more comfort than usual!
Lundy Island, Devon Coast
Although Exmoor boasts darker skies than many other parks, the ten mile trip across the Celtic Sea to Lundy Island is well worth the journey; a favourite spot for holidaying astronomers.
Nestled just over a mile off the coast of the Wirral peninsula, Hilbre Island is a private island where public overnight stays are unfortunately not permitted. Special permission is intermittently granted to astronomy societies and professional groups via the Friends of Hilbre Island.
Although most of us are within relatively easy reach of a decent spot to set up our telescopes, we heartily recommend a few tailored nights on unfamiliar territory. Coinciding your travels with celestial events is a great way to make the most of your trip.
In many ways, now is a good time to buy an astronomical telescope. However, because of the huge choice of such products available, consumers can be left feeling confused.
If you are in this position, don’t despair. There is plenty of information and advice available to help you make sure you end up with the device that suits your personal needs.
Before you go into the details of particular products, you should consider what exactly it is you are after and you should have some basic grasp of how they work. This will enable you to make a more informed choice between the objects.
One of the main aspects of the devices is their aperture, or the diameter of their main optical component – which can be a lens or a mirror. This determines its ability to gather light and its capacity to resolve images.
If you are keen to observe dim galaxies, nebulae and star clusters, you may benefit from opting for a telescope with an aperture larger than ten inches. These ‘deep-sky’ objects can be hard to locate otherwise.
However, if you are not focused on this, a smaller astronomical telescope may be more appropriate for you. After all, you may well have to transport the item and if it is lacking in portability, you’re use of it may be limited.
These are just two factors you should bear in mind when selecting your telescope but they are a good place to start. By taking your time over the decision, you should be able to avoid frustration and disappointment over the end result.
In the case of so many products, consumers can be driven to think power is everything when they are choosing between different options. However, in the case of astronomical telescopes, this is not so.
Some individuals may be surprised to hear that a telescope’s aperture has no bearing on its magnification, but rather it is the focal length – which is the distance from the lens or mirror to a point at which it forms an image of the distant object.
Generally speaking, low powers are used to look at faint subjects such as galaxies and nebulae because if they are enlarged too much, they will lose some of their clarity.
So when seeking an astronomical telescope, simply going for the most powerful possible may defeat the point and you could be left with inferior results, depending on what your goal is.
There are a plethora of such devices available and when searching through the options, you should have your specific requirements in mind.
This way, you will be able to avoid homing in on a product that is inappropriate. By approaching the task of buying in this way, you are likely to be able to avoid possible disappointment.
There are three main categories of such telescopes used by amateur astronomers. Roughly, they fall into refractors, reflectors and catadiopiric.
Whichever of these you need, make sure you take into account all the necessary factors – rather than simply power – when short-listing your favourites and eventually deciding on one that you believe is right for you.