Enhanced image of Saturn eclipsing the Sun taken in 2006 by the robotic Cassini spacecraft. Courtesy NASA/JPL.
There’s something special about seeing Saturn in a telescope. Sure, viewing any of the planets is pretty great – the telescope reveals an object that to our eyes appears to be a star is actually a disc, a whole ‘nother world. It’s enough to get any observer’s heart pumping.
But then there’s Saturn – it’s not just a disc. Currently when viewed at very low powers the rings form much of the visual bulk of the planet, giving it an oval appearance with a hint of dark separation between the planet and its rings. What a surreal viewing experience to see this strange, wonderful object hanging in space.
With Saturn rising shortly after 7:00 PM and setting around 5:00 AM, now is a good time to view the planet, which is a showpiece in even small telescopes. For the best view, try to catch the planet as high in the sky as you can – currently it reaches maximum altitude around midnight. At my 40°N latitude the planet only gets up to ~30° so the atmosphere can make high power viewing difficult but still worthwhile. I was able to take advantage of a recent clear night to view Saturn with both a 60mm refractor and the Celestron FirstScope.
Finder chart showing Comet Lovejoy’s position on March 8, 2015. Courtesy of Heavens-Above.com
Comet Lovejoy (official designation, C/2014 Q2) is hanging around longer than anticipated but even so my last views of the comet seem sure to come sometime this week. I was out tonight viewing the comet, which has faded to around magnitude 6, and while I could spot it in 8×40 binoculars it took much more effort than it did two weeks ago.
Not only is the brightness fading but its position is becoming less favorable. Cassiopeia is sinking ever lower in the Northern sky putting the comet down in the proverbial atmospheric muck. What’s more is that my backyard isn’t ideal for observing in this direction. I have trees back there. Still, this is one instance where the switch to EDT actually helps, giving me an extra hour to get home and have a shot at observing the comet before it drops below the tree line.
The FirstScope and included 20mm and 10mm eyepeices.
Small, inexpensive telescopes have an appeal all their own. Ideally they are simple to use and though they don’t collect the most light or have the highest quality optics or most robust construction, under a clear night sky they can reveal a host of wonders. In practice few of these cheap telescopes actually live up to these aspirations and many of them are so flawed in optics or mechanics as to be more frustrating than fun.
The Celestron FirstScope (you can also find it at Amazon) is a small, 76mm, reflector that has interested me for some time. It is incredibly inexpensive; the regular price is under $50 and I’ve seen it on sale for under $35 from time to time. So what makes the FirstScope any different from countless other cheap telescopes?
[Update Feb. 24: The one-day sale is over and as of this writing the price at Amazon is back to the regular price of $45.49.]
Amazon has the Celestron FirstScope for $33.99 as the deal of the day.
This simple, cheap telescope is best suited to low power, wide field viewing (think 10-30x) so if you’re looking for great performance on the Moon and planets you’ll want a different scope. I’ve been thinking about adding one of these to my scope collection for a while now and this deal was enough to get me to bite.
Hopefully I’ll get to view Comet Lovejoy through the FirstScope before it fades. In any case I should have a full review posted sometime in the next few weeks.
[Update Feb. 28: The full review for the Celestron FirstScope has been posted.]
Original content copyright 2015 by David Philips. All Rights Reserved. This post may contain links to affiliate sites; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.