View Full Version : Planets?

2003-Jul-18, 10:35 PM
Keeping in mind that I am ignorant to astronomy, but learning, I am a bit dis-enchanted and im not sure if im even making sence of this.

What I am learning by reading and reading is that astronomy is ALOT about the stars. Now I am sure that the stars hold a ton of excitement for me down the road, but my first interest is in our planets. I thought that I would go out with a telescope and see Saturn plain as day, but in reality it aint what you see in pictures. I thought it was my telescope so I returned it(it was a walmart cheapy), but I STILL want to experience some of our planets, are my expectations to high and also can someone please explain to me the interest of the stars for you as a backyard astronomer.

I have read alot about stars etc. and I am educated somewhat, but it doesnt hold the thrill for me that seeing the planets would. Am I a fake wannabe astronomer?

To show you how newbie I am, I want to also know why the moon seems to change its shape thru its cycle. Is this because of earths rotation, i mean revolutions? Where does the rest of the moon hide when its not a full moon?

PLEASE bear with me, I am a newbie here with loads of interest & ambition :(

2003-Jul-18, 11:04 PM
You can take an inexpensive telescope, point it at Saturn and your jaw will drop at what you're seeing. Pictures from Hubble and Voyager are cool, but nothing compares to looking into the eyepiece of a telescope and seeing Saturn, Jupiter or Mars live.

I set up a spotting telescope in my neighbourhood and pointed out the Moon, Jupiter and Mars for my neighbours. Most of them had never looked through a telescope before, and they didn't realize what you could actually see.

Getting involved in astronomy is easy, inexpensive and life-changing. If you haven't already, read my introduction to astronomy.

First Light: An Introduction to Stargazing (http://www.universetoday.com/am/publish/astronomy_introduction.html)

2003-Jul-21, 10:52 AM
You should get a very nice view of Saturn (rings obvious) with a relatively cheap telescope. It's so easy that I found it by accident just pointing my 4.5" reflector (about AU$700 = US$450) at a few stars. Even with a 100x lense you should be able to very clearly make out the rings. Go to http://www.meade.com and see what marvelous photos amatuer astronomers are able to take!

I live in Melbourne, Australia, and I was lucky enough to observe a complete lunar eclipse (which lasted around 4 hours, the longest for thousands of years apparently) through my own scope a few years ago. It was an amazing experience, and I did it in the country with no background light. The sort of place where you can see the haze of milky way easily with the naked eye.

Spend a few hundred dollars on a telescope and you'll have hours and hours of observing pleasure.


2003-Jul-24, 01:41 AM
Hi Stephanie

Don't worry, we all have to start somewhere :) No one thinks badly of you just because you're new to the subject!

RE the Moon, it's basically due to the Moon orbiting the Earth and the way the sunlight strikes it. It's a little tricky to describe just by using words but I'll give you the basics...

Imagine a clock-face with the Earth at the centre. Imagine sunlight is coming from the 12 o'clock position. You're looking straight down on the Earth from above the north pole so one half of the Earth is in daylight (the half facing 12 o'clock) and the other half is in night (the half facing 6 o'clock.)

When the Moon is in the 12 o'clock position, it's between the Earth and the Sun. Try to picture this in your mind because that way, you'll see that the Moon's unlit side is facing the Earth. Because that's all dark, you won't see the Moon at all. This is a New Moon.

When the Moon is in the 6 o'clock position, it's behind the Earth (and because of it's orbit, just above or below the Earth's shadow) so sunlight hits the Moon and the sunlit half of the Earth is visible from the nightside of Earth. This is a Full Moon. Because it's directly opposite the Sun, it rises at sunset :)

When the Moon is in the 9 o'clock position, we see a half moon in the evening (a Waxing Half Moon) and when it's in the 3 o'clock position we see a half moon in the morning (a Waning Half Moon)

I hope I haven't confused you completely...

RE planets etc... after 26 years, they're still my favourite...

RE telescopes... don't settle for a department store 'scope because they're little more than toys. I recommend a Meade or a Celestron starter scope - a 60mm (2.4") refractor is fine - you can get those for under $100 from Fry's / Outpost.com - http://shop4.outpost.com/search?search_typ...ring=telescopes (http://shop4.outpost.com/search?search_type=regular&query_string=telescopes)


2003-Jul-24, 06:43 PM
Hello Stephine;

Don't feel bad about being new. You have to start somewhere.

As for seeing the planets, is a very good start. You could proabley use a good scale of reference for size and distance, since the sci-fi's overrate the realility of the distances with 'warp drive' 'wormholes' and 'stargates' which makes it all look easy and close.

If the Sun was a ball one foot in diameter, the closet planet to the Sun (but not to us), would be a pin head 36 feet away. Earth would be about the size of the head of a corsage pin over a hundred feet in distance.
Mars would be less then half that size, and around 140 feet distance.
After that the distances start to really increase.

Jupiter would be one inch in diameter, and more then 500 feet away.
Saturn would be about 3/4 of an inch and nearly 900 feet.
The farthest planet Pluto would be pushing a half mile, and the next nearest star would be roughly 500 miles.
So it's no wonder Saturn is difficult to see. It's much like trying to see a dime which is half a mile away.

I continue to marvel at our own solar system and there is plenty to it, with a few very good web sites to tell you more. I'll give you just a few examples.

Jupiter now has over 60 known moons. The 7 planets with moons total 130.
Seven of them are larger then the planet Pluto. One of those is our own moon.

All the planets, moons, asteroids, comets and so on combined is still far less in mass then our Sun. If you take out Jupiter, everything else combined is still smaller then Jupiter. Likewise with Saturn. Everything other then Saturn, Jupiter and the Sun combined is smaller then Saturn. And finally Uranus and Neptune. everything in the solar system left after taking out Uranus and Neptune would be smaller then either of thoses two planets.

And there is so much more fun and facinating facts to find.

2003-Jul-29, 01:09 PM
I think I know where you're coming from. I've been an "astronomer wannbe" for more decades than I want to admit.
One thing I've noticed over the years is that although some aspect of the science seem to be hot at the moment, something else will be the topic of interest tomorrow. I mean, when I was a student back in the 60s, we sort of thought that we knew everything that there was to know about the planets, all nine of them. Jupiter had 12 moons, Saturn had 10, we knew the distance, mass and basic composition of each - we had it all figured out. The excitement was in "galactic astronomy", studying the Milky Way and others. Ha! Right. Even after Viking and Voyager, who knew that we'd find over 100 planets around *other* stars! We thought - indeed, we were told! - that that wouldn't be possible in our lifetimes. Sheesh!
And then there's cosmology. You don't need a telescope when you consider everthing in the universe to be residual noise! :) It's all calculations.
Everyone's been giving good tips about what to see (even with cheapie telescopes, some sights are great. Try the Orion Nebula this winter, if you get half a chance!). But the pretty sights are only part of what's going on in astronomy.

2003-Aug-01, 09:03 PM
Hi Stephanie,
Getting started in astronomy is such fun and wonder. I think most people start off thinking of our solar system: the planets, our moon, the sun and then from there they move on to deep sky objects in the universe. For me, the best part of astronomy was joining a local astronomy group. Those people want to "show off" their equipment and expertise. While some are interested mainly in planets, we have many more that are interested in stars, galaxies, nebulas, etc. By joining a local group you will be able to see planets in larger telescopes therefore; much more detail. (Remember, bigger is better!) I remember the first time I saw Saturn and actually seeing the rings! (I think everyone does!) But for me, Jupiter is really neat also. If you get the chance to look at Jupiter through a scope, think while your looking. Think about the cloud bands you see in pictures - with time and good clear seeing conditions, you will see the cloud bands on Jupiter. It takes time but we all start off somewhere! Good Luck!

2003-Aug-10, 11:49 PM
Of coarse the single most helpful thing a person getting into astronomy can do is to get a mounted telescope. Any telescope as long as it works will start the effect.

I remember when my wife and I got our little 60mm refractor.
Although it took quite a while to get it alignned with the viewer scope focused and set just right, once I got it pointed at the moon and in good focus the reaction I got from wifey-poo I will cherish to my dying day.
Then I put a stronger eye-piece in, and refocused, and moved it slightly.
One look and wifey-poo was hooked.

Ever since she has been looking at bigger and better scopes. I have a birthday coming and if my suspisions are correct, who-boy! Just in time to see Mars at it's closest ever.