I just read somewhere that March 10th is the International Day of Awesomeness. It’s probably not an official government holiday or anything, but seems to exist to celebrate all things awesome. So, what could be more awesome than the starry sky? Living where I do (high in the mountains) with reasonably clear skies on many nights, I can step outside and look up and grok the awesomeness of the stars. And, this past week or so — and into March — the awe-inspiring sight of the planets Venus, Jupiter and Mercury just after sunset. Mars is rising in the East, and if you wait a few more hours, you can see Saturn rising very late in the evening. If you have binoculars or some kind of telescope, so much the better. You can check out Jupiter’s moons, for example. Or, if our own Moon is up, you can scan its cratered surface. That’s the kind of astronomy awesomeness that gets people hooked on stargazing for life.
Speaking of telescopes, I know that people have a lot of preconceptions and misconceptions about ‘scopes. When I worked at Sky & Telescope, we regularly answered questions in our magazines about the “best” scope to buy, the “most economical” and so on. Truth is, what you buy depends on what you want to look at, or if you’re planning to do astrophotography. Or, if you just want something you can easily pick up and take outside. That’s where binoculars come in handy, and I’ve always recommended people start out with a pair of 10x50s as a good choice. But, telescopes can give you awesome views, too. I’d recommend you peruse Sky&Telescope.com or Astronomy.com for some good advice there.
A former colleague from Sky & Telescope got involved a few years ago in a cool project called the Galileoscope. It was originally created to help celebrate the Interational Year of Astronomy in 2009. The Galileoscope is a small, build-it-yourself telescope that thousands and thousands of people have constructed and used to look at the sky. It’s a perfect way to introduce children to the sky and the instruments we use to observe it with. You can learn more about the Galileoscope here, including where it can be purchased. By the way, if any readers work in or run planetarium or science center gift shops, there are special discounts for bulk purchases to sell in gift shops. Check it out! It’s awesome in its own right and worthy of celebration!
I mentioned above about how the planets are lining up for some gorgeous views in the next few weeks. In fact, I focus on those views in the latest installment of Our Night Sky, the monthly stargazing program I produce for Astrocast.TV. So, if you’re into some planetary viewing awesomeness, check it out. It’s about four minutes long, and along with the planets, we look at a few constellations and a couple of deep-sky objects. It’s enough to get you started on some awe-inspiring sightseeing through the cosmos!