We've already brought you a beginner's guide to astronomy, and the heavens recently lined up for an impressive celestial peepshow. Now it's time to take a look at the stargazing gear that will guarantee a fantastic front row seat to the heavens.
Meade's droolworthy 20-inch Advanced Coma Free (ACF) telescope is the same design used in large observatories and even in the Hubble Space telescope. This is scaled back to be considerably smaller and just slightly more affordable.
It includes a heavy-duty automated mount that can quickly reposition up to 114kg of equipment at the push of a button. Custom stargazing and tracking software lets you control the telescope from anywhere in the world through a web browser. It provides a priceless view -- so what if it costs more than the truck you haul it around in? $US35,000.
A nice big telescope perched on a motorised mount needs two things: power to keep it running, and a counter-weight to keep the motors from failing. The iOptron has cleverly combined both of those into a single unit, the PowerWeight.
The PowerWeight packs about 3kg of lead-acid batteries, which provide up to 12 volts and 8 amp-hours of power. In the middle of nowhere, it should keep a telescope running all night long. And it's also one less thing to lug around. $US120.
If you've dropped 35 grand on a telescope, you're probably going to want to keep it safe and easily accessible. Real observatories keep their gear in a retractable dome. With AstroHaven's kits, you can build the same thing in your back yard.
The company's largest model, a 6m fibreglass dome, features a powered opening system that automatically splits apart its segmented roof. It can be configured to work remotely. Stare into deep space from the comfort of a deep seat. Contact Astrohaven for pricing.
Of all the stargazing and astronomy apps available for iOS, SkySafari 3 is the best. It has a database of 15.3 million stars from the Hubble Guide Star catalogue, over 740,000 galaxies and more than 550,000 other celestial objects. There's a good reason the app takes up almost half a gig of space.
Coupled with the SkyWire adaptor, which interfaces with your iOS device's dock connector to add an RS-232 port, you can use the app to control a compatible telescope mount. Then, an amateur can easily, automatically find anything in the night sky. $A41.99 for the app, $US80 for the cable.
One of the few reasons someone might legitimately need a high-powered green laser pointer is for astronomy. Simply gesturing up at the night sky with your finger to point out a particular constellation is an act of futility.
With 250mW of power, the green shaft of light blasting from pointer can clearly, quickly show your guests where to see the planets, constellations and other heavenly bodies you're so excited about. $US150.
T-Mount SLR Lens Adaptors
If you want to preserve the stunning images you're seeing through your telescope's viewfinder with your digital SLR, you're going to need one of these simple T-Mount adaptors to interface them together.
Available for Nikon, Canon and Pentax hardware, the adaptors let a camera peer into your telescope's viewfinder, then snap images of the celestial scenes passing the telescope's lens. Emailing a photo also makes it a heck of a lot easier to share the night sky with your friends, instead of inviting them over and refereeing while they all fight to peek through your telescope. $US15-$US25.
Image: Andreas Koeberl/Shutterstock