Go Out:  Look Up!

A Guide to the Sky, Telescopes, and Telescope Programs

Home Observing The Sky Equipment Program Info Schools How-to Links


Live Training

Check the Curie Calendar page for scheduled Live Training

On-Line Training

Here's a cheatsheet of what you can do to enjoy the sky, with or without a telescope.  If you're planning to check out a scope or are on the waiting list, these are some things you can do right now to make your time with the scope more enjoyable.

Way Before

Way before you check out the scope, get familiar with the sky.

Learn where the North Star is.  It's polite enough to always be there.  32 degrees above the North Horizon.   It is not the brightest star in the sky, but it is the brightest in that broad area.

The first thing is to figure out what is up.  You don't need to learn the whole sky, just a couple of things that are good targets.

For example, in early March, the Constellation Orion is right overhead, a little to the south.  The Orion Nebula is a great target and is visible with binoculars.  Learning Constellations is one way to break the sky down into manageable and memorable pieces. 

A planisphere is perhaps the easiest way to learn the visible constellations.  They tend to be $10-$15 and are available at Scope City, OPT, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and the Gift Center at the RHFleet Space Theatre

Planetarium Software is software that show details of the night sky at any given time.  Whereas Planispheres are very simple to learn and use (because their scope is limited), some planetarium software can be complex and intimidating.  They can be very sophisticated or simple enough to run on a smart phone (actually some iPhone apps are very sophisticated).  Finding a program or app that suits you can be very helpful in learning the sky.  A plus on some smartphones with compass and GPS functions is astronomy apps that adjust their display depending on where you are aiming your phone.

Stellarium Free Planetarium Software is feature-rich and a good way to get a feel for how Planetarium software works.  Google Sky and the Google SkyMap are available free (I believe).  StarWalk is also a good app.

Soon Before

Learn a couple constellations that will be prominent during your checkout period (use a planisphere or Planetarium software).

Where are Jupiter and Saturn?  If they're up, you'll want to view them.  Jupiter is that very bright "star" low in the western sky after sunset (March '11).  It is worth looking at but detail will be iffy because it on the far side of its orbit and the thick air is murky.  The moons should be visible.  It will set earlier and earlier and then pass behind the sun to become a morning "star".  Saturn rises after 9:00p (March '11).  It's very bright, an easy and wonderful target.  Their position changes slowly.  Watch them over a few weeks.  Use binoculars. 

Where's the moon going to be?  What phase is it?  What time does it rise?  What time does it set?  (those things are all related). 

If the moon sets early, it will be a crescent, which makes it a nice early target without having to use a filter (though you might want to use one anyway).  It makes a nice twilight target and can give you a headstart on playing with the scope.  Once the moon sets the night should get dark.

If the moon is nearing full, it will make faint targets near it hard to see.  You will want to use the moon filter to view the moon.   A full moon actually shows less detail than a non-full moon because there are no shadows that highlight the lunar features.  Bright object, like star clusters, generally remain visible in moon-bright skies, but plan which faint objects will be up in areas away from the moon.

The Day Before

Know what is going to be up tomorrow.  Know a few of the constellations.

Prepare an observing plan.  It doesn't have to be fancy, just have an idea of what you're going to look at. 

Review the Note to Parents.

Review the telescope instructions.


When you Pick up the Scope / The Day Of (before dark or before your in-the-dark trail-by-fire)

Review the Part List.  Make sure everything is included.  Familiarize yourself with the scope in the daytime (it looks nice on the dining room table).

Review the Equipment Checklist.  If anything runs on batteries, check that they work.  Powered devices may include a computer, a red-dot finder, and any flashlights.


Refer to the telescope instructions handout as necessary.

Hopefully, you have some idea of what is going on in the sky.  Refer to a planisphere to orient yourself. 

View the easy objects, so that you have success.

Then, let the star-hopping begin.  Star-hopping is the process of using bright stars as guides to get to the dimmer things you can't see with your eye.

The star-hopping map we have included in the accessory pack is Walter Thomas's Finder Charts of Deep Sky Objects for Small to Medium Telescopes (or similar).  It consists of large Constellation charts plotted with their brighter deep sky objects.  Descriptions of the objects are on a page below the chart.  Some smart phone apps do a very good job of this as well.





Questions or comments? Email:Jeff Martin