Its fun to show kids the sky with a small telescope. It helps instill them with a sense of wonder and encourage their curiosity.
But kids do not generally have a ton of patience. Modern motor-drive scopes can remove much of the tedium of pointing and aligning the scope. (Some even have a built-in
GPS and sky object database).
However, most of us are not blessed with a clear 360 degree horizon that affords complete freedom in choosing what to look at next. Hey, lets look at Saturn
.(2 minutes later)
oh, sorry kids, its behind the house right now. Aww, Dad!
Heres a gadget to help plan your evenings observations taking this into account.
It is a very low-res camera with a fisheye lens. It has a magnetic compass and a bubble level off to one side of the lens. A cable is provided to upload the data to your computer or your telescopes pointing system.
You take this camera to your planned viewing location during daytime. Set it on something approximately at the level of your telescope, with the lens pointed straight up. Rotate it until the compass needle points at the N, and make sure the bubble is centered in the level. Duck down so you are out of sight of the camera, and press the shutter button on the side.
The camera takes a low-resolution picture of your horizon to pick up where all the trees, houses and so on are located. Now you can upload this picture to your astronomy computer (either the one attached to your telescope, or your PC). It uses it to calculate the effective horizon for your location.
With the knowledge of the skyline in your area, and your latitude and longitude (which it would need to know anyway), the program can now tell you precisely what is visible at any given moment, taking the tree line into account. Now when observing with the kids, you can help plan out the evening so boredom never sets in.
It also has uses in naked eye viewing, such as learning the constellations. It could print out a customized sky chart for that night that included the actual trees and such on the horizon.
lets see, Id like to show them Jupiter, Mars and at least one nebula and one galaxy. When would be a good time for that?
OK, kids, heres the plan for tonight