Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nerdliness is Genetic

Tonight I introduced my kids to astronomy via telescope. One (hyphenated) word... awe-inspiring.

Previously we have used a pair of 70s vintage 7x35 binoculars from Sears or just gone out with the old eyeballs. You can see a ton of objects with your eyes and even more with binoculars, but there are some advantages to the telescope that I had never considered for the kids. Namely:

1) I find interesting things and they can just walk up and look - We started with the moon via a 25mm eyepiece and worked them up to the 12mm and finally 4mm eyepiece. That gave them 3 different chances to look at the moon over the course of 30 seconds, see the same thing 3 times at increasing magnification, but feel like they were looking at 3 completely different views.

2) The increased detail makes things look "like the box" - Too often things disappoint compared to the marketing. Beginner/entry-level telescopes certainly fall into that category. Trying to head this off at the pass, my sis-in-law (who bought the scope for Christmas) and I explained that stars will still look like points of light but we can see more. We also explained that we will barely be able to see the details of the planets (Jupiter's stripes, Saturn's rings, etc.). They were stoked when they could see extreme detail in craters along the shadow terminator on the moon. They couldn't (be still enough to) resolve the stripes or red spot on Jupiter, but I saw the stripes. That will take a little practice for the boys to master.

3) They can actually see things moving in space - We often sit outside and watch satellites orbiting and figuring out which ones we are seeing during visible passes. Until the telescope, this was the peak of their observed understanding of orbits and motion in space. The 4mm eyepiece changed that tonight. I lined up the westernmost lunar horizon with the eastern edge of my field of view and let the moon traverse the field. My 5-year old asked how I was making the telescope move across the moon without touching it. But my 7-year old jumped in with "Daddy isn't moving the telescope, the moon is moving around the earth. And DADDY, YOU CAN SEE IT MOVING! LOOK!"

That was enough to brighten my night and put a smile on my face as I got more acquainted with the scope in the cold after they went to bed. It also rekindled my desire to eventually buy or construct a high-quality telescope like a Stellarvue refractor or a homebrew Dobsonian. My poor wife... my strange, completely nerdy hobbies just never end. Did I mention we tilled in some compost and planted some winter rye in one of our poorer soil beds this morning at the request of my 5-year old? :)

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