For lovers of astronomy and those dreaming of one day seeing proof of alien life somewhere out in the universe, recent word from NASA’s top scientists may well be igniting fresh hope. With two new telescopes ready to be launched by 2018, NASA is confident that alien life will be found within the next twenty years.
However, for those hoping for proof of little green men, there may be disappointment. Not only are the first signs of life not necessarily going to be anything we are familiar with, but the space agency expects that when life is found it will be outside the limits of our own solar system.
The chances of us being alone in the universe are rather remote. After all, with 300 billion stars in the milky way alone, many of which have multiple planets orbiting them, and with billions of galaxies in the universe, the chances of life only being found here on earth are rather slim. With a mind-boggling number of planets out there on which life could have begun, it is both myopic and somewhat megalomaniacal to believe that ours can be the only planet hosting life.
What life is likely to be found is still a mystery. It could be as simple as alien bacteria or as troubling as an intellectual species with far greater capabilities than our own. After all, our own sun is relatively young and in turn the life on other planets may well have been given a very impressive head start.
Up until now, scientists have been limited as to what they can observe in the universe. Whilst Kepler found hundreds of new planets in just a matter of months, a number of which had the potential to pay host to some form of life, the telescope could only see very large worlds and could give no indication as to the makeup of the planet or its atmosphere.
This is where new technology will come to the fore. Two new telescopes due for launch in 2017 and 2018 are expected to make Kepler pale by comparison, between them being able to locate hundreds of thousands of new worlds and understand the conditions on the planets. In turn, spotting biological markers and knowing if alien life resides or has resided on a planet will be far easier, and it is therefore likely to be only a matter of time before we discover signs of life somewhere out there in the universe.
At Sherwoods, we are constantly turning our eyes to the skies, and while we might not be competing with NASA in terms of how far we can see and how easily we could spot alien lifeforms, with so much still to see in our own galactic backyard, and with amateur astronomical telescopes improving all the time, there is no denying that now is one of the most exciting times in history to set our eyes on the universe. Who knows, there might even be creatures out there somewhere staring back at us.
For lovers of astronomy and those dreaming of one day seeing proof of alien life somewhere out in the universe, recent word from NASA’s top scientists may well be igniting fresh hope. With two new telescopes ready to be launched by 2018, NASA is confident that alien life will be found within the next twenty years.However, for those hoping for proof of little green men, there may be disappointment. Not only are the first signs of life not necessarily going to be anything we are familiar with, but the space agency expects that when life is found it will be outside the limits of our own solar system.Near CertaintyThe chances of us being alone in the universe are rather remote. After all, with 300 billion stars in the milky way alone, many of which have multiple planets orbiting them, and with billions of galaxies in the universe, the chances of life only being found here on earth are rather slim. With a mind-boggling number of planets out there on which life could have begun, it is both myopic and somewhat megalomaniacal to believe that ours can be the only planet hosting life.What life is likely to be found is still a mystery. It could be as simple as alien bacteria or as troubling as an intellectual species with far greater capabilities than our own. After all, our own sun is relatively young and in turn the life on other planets may well have been given a very impressive head start.LimitationsUp until now, scientists have been limited as to what they can observe in the universe. Whilst Kepler found hundreds of new planets in just a matter of months, a number of which had the potential to pay host to some form of life, the telescope could only see very large worlds and could give no indication as to the makeup of the planet or its atmosphere.This is where new technology will come to the fore. Two new telescopes due for launch in 2017 and 2018 are expected to make Kepler pale by comparison, between them being able to locate hundreds of thousands of new worlds and understand the conditions on the planets. In turn, spotting biological markers and knowing if alien life resides or has resided on a planet will be far easier, and it is therefore likely to be only a matter of time before we discover signs of life somewhere out there in the universe.At Sherwoods, we are constantly turning our eyes to the skies, and while we might not be competing with NASA in terms of how far we can see and how easily we could spot alien lifeforms, with so much still to see in our own galactic backyard, and with amateur astronomical telescopes improving all the time, there is no denying that now is one of the most exciting times in history to set our eyes on the universe. Who knows, there might even be creatures out there somewhere staring back at us.
As any stargazer will know, the bigger you go, the better things get. And it now seems that amateurs are taking this ethos to the extreme by building their own behemoths in their own back gardens.
Whilst most backyard telescopes will measure somewhere between 3 and 12 inches, one American amateur has decided to go that little bit further, building his very own telescope, with the primary mirror measuring 70 inches and the casing around it measuring up to 35 feet. Whilst this doesn’t beat the record-breaking 72 inch home telescope made by Lord Reece in the 19th century, it is certainly a very worthy contender.
The sheer scale of this telescope goes someway to prove just how popular amateur stargazing is becoming, and just how far those passionate about studying the sky will go to get the perfect view of the stars.
For most, however, financial, spatial and storage constraints will mean that dreams of 70 inch mirrors will indeed remain just dreams. However, with new technology appearing on the market all the time, even very affordable astronomical telescopes will now give an extremely good view of the cosmos, and all without the cost, hassle and indeed logistical nightmares that will accompany the task of building your own.
Yet, the extremes that people are willing to go to in trying to get a better view of the cosmos remain inspiring, and those who wish to use the best telescope or any other form of modern technology to see the universe in unique ways and in all its glory should always dream big. However, knowing where to start is also important and the more you can learn about how a telescope works and what makes a certain type perfect the better, and such an approach will certainly help those who do one day want to branch out and create their own stargazing monster.
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.
Many budding astronomers want to view the skies in the best way possible, but with notoriously fickle cloud cover in the United Kingdom and light pollution from nearby cities and facilities, the chances of even glimpsing anything beyond the moon are almost zero. So what can you do to maximise your chances and keep your interest in astronomy flowering? The first step is naturally to invest in good astronomical telescopes but it can also benefit you to simply be sensible.
Weather reports will naturally be your friend, since it is senseless to travel to a dark area only to find that the skies above are opaque with clouds. There will however be times where the weather is ambiguous: some cloud cover, some chance of seeing the desired astronomical phenomena. This will purely be a matter of your discretion, but what might inform your decision to travel is the rarity of the event that you are seeing. Some events only come around once every decade, century or even many millennia, so with a little bit of research on the Internet, you can easily decide whether to travel.
Location is all important. Again this will be largely dictated by the phenomena you are going to see and where is the best location to see it. To see more distant objects it is best to reduce interfering light as much as possible which can mean travelling into the countryside to get away from it completely. It is important to be wary that certain geographical features can actually turn the weather against you, particularly in Britain. Finding a spot that is ideal will be of primary concern and is something that a local astronomical group might have already identified. Joining them is a great idea and one of the best ways to increase your interest in astronomy rather than invest in telescopes only then to leave them in storage.
Night vision could help but it depends on what you want to do. If you are wanting to experience the outdoors as well as the night sky, then this could have uses. Again, interference from light in the form of nearby cities, moonlight, floodlights or even car headlights can ruin everything, even your equipment! So long as the conditions are dark enough, you should be able to see astronomical phenomena without the need for night optics. If you are wanting to use it, however, Cobra Optics offer a great range that can be used for astronomy as well as camping, bird watching, hunting and so on. These devices are particularly sensitive and are often not designed to withstand buffeting or shocks, so you must be careful with night optics, otherwise it will be an expensive waste of money. Optics like this can often be attached to other pieces of equipment.
We have lots of information on our site concerning all manner different pieces of astronomy equipment. If however, you are not finding the answers you seek, please send us an email and we will be only too happy to assist.
If you’re keen to observe the night sky (and why wouldn’t you be) then you will no doubt be thinking of investing in an astronomical telescope. Of course, these aren’t the kinds of instruments you go out and buy every day so it is important to take a little time to research the topic before you part with your hard earned cash.
Below are a few aspects which you will more than likely need to consider in this respect.
General & Specific Factors
Your choice of telescope will be affected by both general and specific factors. General factors include aspects such as how much you can afford to spend, how much space you have, where you will be using your telescope and how exactly you want to use it. More specific factors will include aspects like how portable you want your equipment to be, and which of the two main areas of interest – deep sky or the planets – you will be most interested in focusing on. If your main interest lies with observing planets then you will need a telescope that is able to provide excellent views at high magnification. If you’re keen to explore deep sky objects through your scope then large aperture is more of a consideration than magnification.
While most astronomical telescopes will allow you to see both planets and deep sky objects, your option to specialise in observing one or the other will depend a lot on where you will be doing your stargazing. Whilst being in an area where light pollution is an issue will not have much affect on your ability to view the moon and other planets, it will mitigate your chances of enjoying deep sky observation considerably.
You may be surprised to learn that power isn’t everything when it comes to choosing a suitable telescope. In fact, a telescope’s capacity to gather light (known as its aperture) is generally the determining factor in how much you will get to see. Indeed, it is often the case that the clearest and sharpest images are those which are obtained at much lower powers.
A small, high quality achromatic refractor with an aperture of between 60 and 80mm is ideal for a novice stargazer’s telescope, especially if it’s just the main planets and the moon that you’re looking to observe. Not only are these scopes relatively cheap and simple to maintain, they are also highly portable so you can easily carry them to locations which may be more favourable than your back garden. If you’re looking to view galaxies and nebulae then you may well need to invest in a slightly more expensive telescope with a 90 or 100mm refractor.
With more than 70 years of experience, we here at Sherwoods are able to offer unparalleled advice and guidance when it comes to purchasing telescopes for novice stargazers. To take advantage of this experience,call 01527-857500 or send us a message by emailing info@Sherwoods-Photo.com.
Like many people you may have received a telescope as a gift last Christmas. Indeed, you may have asked for this particular present after getting hooked on the BBC’s excellent ‘Stargazing Live’ programme last year.
Of course, examining the heavens is not always that enticing in the winter, as standing around in sub-zero temperatures late at night has limited appeal when you’re not quite sure what you’re supposed to be looking at.
However, now that the clocks have gone forward and the temperatures are considerably milder than they were in January and February (and March. And April!); you can dig out your prematurely stored telescope and really get your teeth into the amateur astronomy that Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain got you turned on to.
If you really have only unpacked your telescope a handful of times since Christmas then you will probably be a little uncertain about how best to enjoy all the wonders that the night sky has to offer at this time of year. This is not a problem though as we here at Sherwoods are more than happy to provide you with some handy tips that will help you to get the most out of your ‘new’ telescope.
Tip 1 – Getting a ‘Head’s Up’
If there is a full moon present then you would do better to schedule your stargazing session for another night. The reason for this is that the light from a full moon makes it very hard to distinguish things which are normally quite easy to see. In general, the best nights for stargazing are those with thin slivers of moon as they provide you with clear dark skies as well as fantastic crater shadows on the moon itself.
Tip 2 – Getting Ready
When getting your telescope ready for a night of scanning, take the covers off and leave it outside for at least half an hour before using it. This will enable the optics and the air inside the tube to get used to the difference in temperature between your house and the outdoors (which can still be significant at this time of year). If you try and use your scope as soon as you set it up then the lenses within it will more than likely fog up and impede your attempts to observe the heavens.
Tip 3 – Getting Steady
You must bear in mind that astronomical telescopes magnify things a hundred times or more; therefore even the tiniest of shakes will be magnified many times over. Unfortunately, it is a fact that many of the tripods which come with introductory telescopes are not known for their rock solid stability so you need to be very conscientious when you are looking for a place to set up. If you are staying within the realms of your back garden then setting up on your patio or lawn will probably be your best bet as they will provide your tripod with a solid base.
If you’re about to invest in new astronomical telescopes or you’ve already got your hands on these items, you’ll no doubt want to make the most of them.
There is plenty to see in the night sky, but if you live in an area with lots of light pollution, your viewing experiences might be limited.
Take a trip
However, if you’re prepared to move around, there are lots of opportunities to stare at the skies. For example, you might decide to head to Exmoor National Park to use your telescopes after dark. In 2011, it was designated Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect place to test your viewing technology.
Since then, so called ‘astrotourism’ in the area has been growing in popularity and a number of local firms even offer stargazing breaks and safaris.
Commenting on the viewing opportunities on offer in the area, Tim Braund from Exmoor National Park said: “Exmoor is an amazing place to marvel at the wonders of the night sky. The National Park is one of the few places in England where low levels of light pollution allow us to experience the delights of night skies that are sadly disappearing from much of the country.
Plenty to do
Of course, if you make the journey to the park, it’s worth checking out the other attractions the area has to offer. Located in the south-west of Britain, the park contains an array of landscapes within its 267 square miles.
During daylight hours when your telescope’s out of action, you can check out the range of moorland, woodland, valleys and farmland. It’s also worth investigating the cosy local pubs in the area.
The perfect telescopes
For the best viewing experiences, whether you’re in Exmoor National Park or anywhere else, it’s important to invest in the right telescopes. There are lots on offer and each device has its merits. To get the best results, it’s important to think about your personal needs and preferences.
Here at Sherwoods we offer an impressive variety of telescopes. Regardless of your experience and budget, we’ll have something that ticks all of your boxes.
Roughly speaking, these products fall into three categories and each has its strengths and weaknesses. These groups are the refractor, the reflector and the catadioptric. All of these items have a common function, which is to gather and focus light from distant objects to produce a bright image that can be magnified.
The full low down
If you want to get the full low down on these products, you can take a look at the relevant section of our website. Meanwhile, if you’re keen to access further information or advice, you can get in touch with our friendly and expert team.
By making sure you purchase the right telescopes for you and by taking advantage of the best viewing opportunities, you can explore the night skies in style.