So, I was at the grocery store the other day, admiring the baguettes, when I heard footsteps directly behind me. The pressure of staring eyes caused me to lift my snout into the air, that’s when someone tapped me on the shoulder.
“You know, I want to get into amateur astronomy, but I don’t have the cash! The gear is way too expensive!” A voice said.
I turned around and placed a hand upon the disheveled individual’s shoulders.
“Don’t worry, my friend! Let me ask you a question: are you blind?”
The disheveled individual scratched his scalp.
“Well…no…” He said.
I grabbed his lapels.
“That’s great! You have eyes, right?”
The disheveled individual blinked those fleshy orbs inside his face.
“…Well…yes…” He said.
I smiled and laughed.
“That’s great, my friend! You have all that’s needed! You’re all set! No need to spend a penny! Feel free to go buy your box of Pop-Tarts and leave me alone.”
There’s no denying it—backyard astronomy is expensive. Very expensive. Telescopes, mounts, eyepieces, books, filters, none of these things are cheap, and, instead, will bankrupt mere mortals. Apochromatic refractors…large aperture reflectors…astrographs…catadioptrics…binoculars…CCD cameras…eyepieces…star diagonals…filters…dynamos…mounts…Barlow lenses…the list goes on.
You need none of it!
That’s right! Throw away the catalogs! If you’re able to read this sentence, then you have all that is needed to look up the night sky dress and enjoy celestial wonders.
I’m going to break this topic into a handful of enlightening posts. Let’s explore the first astronomical object, which requires absolutely no gear.
This should go without saying, but it’s true: the night sky is filled with stars, and to prove this fact, you don’t need any special gear! Go outside, and, well, take a look—you’ll see a nightly canvas filled with illuminating points of light. We call these shiny lights, “stars”.
How many visible stars are in the night sky? Your guess is as good as mine! The human eye is able to see down to the 6th magnitude, and guess what? There are thousands of stars, which are 6th magnitude, or brighter.
I see your face cringing. I can hear your thoughts: “But, but, stars are boring! I been looking at stars my whole life and they’re boring!”
Does that sound like you? Don’t lie.
If it does, hey, don’t worry! You’re just a little jaded, possibly an asshole, but, hey! Don’t worry! We all been there. I ask you to keep an open mind. Crack open a few books. Prowl the interweb. You know what you will discover? The night sky is filled with very interesting stellar objects—all of them demand your attention.
Don’t believe me?
All right, all right, let’s take a gander at the cosmic freak-show.
Let’s see…where shall I begin? Oh! I know…ha…I know. Prepare to have your mind explode straight out of the top of your cranium.
Have you ever read about The Demon Star? No? Sit back and prepare to be cosmically obliterated—this Winking Demon is known to blink at observers, periodically dimming, then brightening, at predictable intervals. Why? How can a star possibly do such a thing? Welcome to the world of variable stars.
Not interested in cosmic demons?
That’s fine, that’s fine.
What about big stars? Fat stars? HUMONGOUS stars? Aha! I finally have your attention. Stars come in a wide variety of sizes: puny, small, medium, big, very big, large, huge, fat, fat bastard, ridiculously fat, and horrifically plump.
Betelgeuse—a glowing orange tangerine—lounges upon Orion’s left shoulder. Speaking of fat bastards, Betelgeuse is quite large: this particular supergiant is estimated to have a radius of around 1000x the sun, which equals…850 million miles (1.4 billion km)!!!
I could sit here all day and blabber on, and on, and on, and on about notable stars:
See what I mean? (pardon my northern bias)
Algol will probably be the most difficult, but once you know where to look, the Demon Star will shine down upon your pathetic mortal soul! Muhahahahahaha.
No cash? No Problem! The night sky has a free admission—it’s only a matter of knowing where to look. By the time we’re finished, you will be the most frugal observer in the entire Milky Way!