Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Jupiter-Saturn conjunction and other elements of the night sky

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People are often looking for interesting things to do at night. Well here’s a secret – you just have to get out there and look up into the sky. Believe me, there are some really awesome things to see. Just put your phone down and look up. Here, I’ll go through all of the best things to watch.

Should I use binoculars, a telescope, or neither?

Let’s talk about telescopes and binoculars first. I’ll go ahead and say it – if you don’t have a telescope, don’t worry just yet. A beautiful telescope is expensive and you kind of need to know what you are doing. On top of that, it requires some setup before using it every night.

And the binoculars? The binoculars are great. You can get a pair of them for not too much, and you can even use them for more than just staring at the night sky. On top of that, they are quite easy to use. Binoculars can do two useful things. First of all, they produce a magnified image. If you look at the moon through binoculars, you can see a lot more detail in the craters than with the naked eye. Here’s a little advice on the moon: don’t look at the full moon. It’s super bright and you really can’t see a lot of detail. If you wait for a beautiful thin crescent moon, you can see more shadows from the mountains and craters. Believe me.

Photography: Rhett Allain

The second thing binoculars do is increase the light collecting capacity. Look at your eyes (use a mirror). Notice the size of your pupils. They are not that big, are they? Oh, they get bigger when it’s dark. But all the light your eyes detect has to go through your eyes. Now look at the front of a pair of binoculars. Note that the lenses are MUCH larger. This means that they can collect even more light. With a pair of binoculars, you can see things that are otherwise too faint to be detected with the naked eye in the dark sky. This is especially true if you are trying to see comets or nebulae.

Look at the planets

OK, let’s move on to some good things to see. Perhaps the best (and easiest) thing to see are the planets. With the naked eye, you can see five of the planets in our solar system (technically you can see Earth as well). The visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. The remaining planets (Neptune, Uranus, Pluto) are too far away and too dark to be seen without a lot of patience and a nice telescope. I want to say, Neptune was not even discovered until 1846.

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