What to See with Your New Telescope. As the gift-giving season comes to an end, maybe you've got a shiny new telescope to call your own. Read our article on how to get started using it! What to See with Your New Telescope.
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Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's new Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? I don't think so — not for beginners, anyway, and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically. As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury (magnitude –0.4) appears lower in the dawn every morning. About 45 minutes before your local sunrise, look for Mercury low above the southeast horizon. Don't confuse it with twinkly Antares, which is moving ever farther to Mercury's upper right.
Venus (magnitude –4.0, in Capricornus) is the brilliant “Evening Star” shining in the southwest during and after twilight. It will continue to move a little higher every week all winter.
In a telescope, Venus is still just a small gibbous disk 13 arcseconds in diameter; Venus is still on the far side of the Sun, but it's rounding our way.
Mars (magnitude +0.2, near the hind foot of Leo) rises in the east around 10 p.m., beneath Regulus and the Sickle of Leo. Mars is brightening rapidly now week to week as it approaches Earth. It shines highest in the south around 4 or 5 a.m. In a telescope Mars has grown to 9 arcseconds wide, on its way to 13.9″ at opposition on March 3rd.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.6, at the Aries-Pisces border) shines very high in the southeast in twilight, due south after nightfall, and moves lower in the southwest as night grows late. It sets in the west around 2 a.m. In a telescope Jupiter appears 43 arcseconds wide; see our observing guide.
Saturn (magnitude +0.7, in Virgo) rises in the east around 1 or 2 a.m. and is high in the south at dawn. Spica, just a little fainter at magnitude +1.0, is 6° to Saturn's right or upper right.
Uranus (magnitude 5.8, near the Circlet of Pisces) is still high in the south-southwest right after dark.
Neptune (magnitude 7.9, at the Aquarius-Capricornus border) is getting low in the southwest after dark, more or less in the background of Venus.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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