Holiday Telescope Gift-Giving Advice 2020

This year has been rough. Before I give any advice on telescopes, please consider inspiring those who were hardest hit. A donation to Astronomers Without Borders is a powerful gift since hope, inspired by a cosmic perspective, can be the most important gift of all.


1) Telescopes are for skywatching. That means you should think beyond the glass and metal telescope and think about what it represents!

Subscribe to a great sky-watching podcast, like Sky Tour.  At home, point your computer to www.heavens-above.com. On the go? Use your mobile device and dial up Heavens Above or download the android app: Heavens Above. On your Apple device, perhaps Star Chart is what you’ve needed all your life.

Really have the cosmic itch? See a star show at your local planetarium! (Make sure to ask which one is about constellations, though.) Go to your local skywatching sessions. Planetarium staff and telescope owners are friendly, polite, and love answering questions about the heavens.

NOTE: If you aren’t very interested in #1, you shouldn’t buy anything yet.

2) Want to buy something? What is your budget?

If a telescope is new and costs less than $200, it is likely plastic junk that will be hard to aim, hard to see through, and it will frustrate you into never using it again. If this is your budget, you have two options: binoculars or Craig’s List (or estate sales or other informal sales markets).

Ready to spend more? $400 is likely to get you a solid, satisfying piece of equipment along with good eyepieces and a case. Most will have a hand-paddle with buttons that will allow you to point the scope and align it to the sky easily. So which kind to buy?

I like this guide:  http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/types-of-telescopes/   

3) Now think about logistics, like telescope weight and bulk.

(The Celestron CPC-8 and the author hoping you aren’t thinking “weight” and “bulk”)

In that picture, I look really happy, right? But that 85-lb telescope plus eyepieces case, stepstool, and power pack to keep it running…it means I can’t just grab this all the time. And taking it camping? Only if my vehicle can pull right up to the observing site.

The scope I’ve had for 20 years, however, is the one below and I take it out ten times as often. It’s just easy, light, and while it doesn’t collect as much light or give me as many heavenly bodies to look at, it’s more than enough to see the Moon and planets and a few things I really want to show my friends. (You can’t see the smile in this photo, but it’s there.)

Meade ETX90

(The Meade ETX-90 projecting the Sun just before the August 21, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse)

4) Where can you get your scope and eyepieces, tripod, and other accessories?

Pick up a copy of Astronomy Magazine or Sky & Telescope from your local bookstore’s magazine stands and flip through the ads. There are a lot of choices.

I own a device from each of the “big three” telescope manufacturers and I love them all. Don’t make me choose!

Celestron          Meade         Orion

…but, High Point Scientific has always given me balanced perspective regardless of the label on the telescope.

4) Want a more comprehensive guide of equipment? A thorough overview of how to select a telescope or set of binoculars, as well as what to do once you own it is written by a man who owns dozens of telescopes and reviews them professionally: Ed Ting. Check out his site http://www.scopereviews.com/begin.html

5) Last words of advice that might seem random, but you can thank me for them later:

  • Bug spray can destroy your optics. Don’t spray bug repellent near your eyepieces, telescope, finder scope, or filter sets. Don’t wipe your hands (or allow others to) on your telescopic equipment if you have bug spray oil on them.
  • Have kids and adults hold the footstool handle when looking through the eyepiece. If not, they a) could lose balance, and b) could grab your telescope and misalign it (or worse).
  • Fall, Winter, or Spring: Layers. And fingerless gloves. And hats. And blankets. And hot chocolate or coffee (off to the side, of course).
  • Cut off the mouth of a red balloon and put the remaining balloon snugly over your flashlights. Red light doesn’t harm your night vision, but other colors will!

and most importantly…

  • Skywatching is best done with friends and family. Sharing this experience means, among other things, not being terrified of accidentally falling upward into the sky and floating away into lonely and empty space by yourself. But it mostly means enjoying time pondering philosophy, science, art, and folklore with your own special community.

Good luck, Happy Holidays, and may all your skies be filled with stars!

To find out how 62 astronauts learned about the stars at Morehead Planetarium and the man who made that training program happen, check out Tony Jenzano, Astronaut Trainer.

My New Article on BBC Sky at Night Magazine

What would it be like to have famous space explorers in your home as a kid? Find out from the perspective of someone who knows in my latest article in the BBC Sky at Night Magazine:

https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/space-missions/growing-up-with-astronauts-carol-jenzano/

#SkyAtNight #BBC #NASA #Astronauts #inspirationalstories # #inspiringstories #scbwi #stem #childrensbooks #literacy #rolemodels #books #writerslife #Astronomy

A Magical Review of My Book

When my kids were ready for chapter books, Mary Pope Osborne whisked them away on marvelous adventures through her Magic Tree House books. The curious brother-sister duo, Jack and Annie, pulled my children into pre-historic times to ride atop dinosaurs and into King Arthur’s castle decorated for Christmas. Reading was never more fun and imagination ruled the day.

Mary Pope Osborne was asked if she would like to comment on Morehead Planetarium & Science Center’s first children’s book, Tony Jenzano, Astronaut Trainer: The Man Who Made the Stars Shine. Yes, the book that I wrote and that Benlin Alexander illustrated.

Her response?

This beautifully illustrated book by Michael G. Neece brilliantly captures a chapter in the history of the Morehead Planetarium. But it does so much more–it’s a story of commitment, courage, learning and the imagination. The bonds formed between museum director Tony Jenzano, Morehead Planetarium, and an amazing roster of famous astronauts were profound and lasting, and played a major role in sending the first Americans into space.

Mary Pope Osborne, author of the Magic Tree House Series

I suppose there is not much left to say when a legend in children’s literature makes that kind of pronouncement except…buy your copy today!

I Write… Children’s Books?

One of the most surprising events this year has been my unexpected excitement about writing a children’s book called When Astronauts Came to Town. This desire overwhelmed my creative energy already committed to creating books for adults about this same Morehead Planetarium history.

It’s my kids who made it inevitable. Helping them grow up means a constant stream of items coming into and being removed from their bedrooms. Small toys like action figures and Lego kits usually give way to game consoles, field hockey gear, and musical instruments. Similarly, children’s books usually get pulled from shelves to make way for YA, sci-fi, and horror novels.

Pulling Clarence the Copycat from my daughter’s shelf, I found myself crying over the idea that we would lose it. As I secreted this precious story away in my office and wiped my face, I looked at all my planetarium research papers. And it hit me.

“Kids would really love learning about Tony Jenzano. He made stars glow in a huge domed room. He had astronauts over for dinner.” If my reaction to a children’s book about the copycat were any indication, other parents could find an emotional connection to my children’s book about Tony.

Early this year, I wrote and rewrote. After several drafts, I went to a workshop delivered by a deeply passionate soul, Susie Wilde. That session ignited my passion for telling this story even more. CJ Jenzano, an experienced educator and the daughter of my book’s central character, gave great suggestions and the book took better shape.

And in the past month, Morehead Planetarium agreed to publish the book with an illustrator of my choice. This week’s successful meeting with a brilliant illustrator, Benlin Alexander, has made the book seem even more real.

20190808_133236
Michael Neece with Benlin Alexander

Early next year, publisher Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and distributor UNC Press will push these books to Amazon and to a bookstore (and planetarium gift shop) near you! Details to follow soon, so stay tuned.

Oh, and if you were concerned, those other books about Morehead are still in process. Again, stay tuned.

Continued Celebration of North Carolina-NASA Connections

Cameron Clinard at ABC-11 interviewed me recently and produced this beautiful piece about former Morehead Director Tony Jenzano and the astronaut training he oversaw in Chapel Hill many years ago.

https://abc11.com/5166118/

Included is a nice reminder of our recent visit by Apollo 16 Moonwalker Charlie Duke and our March 13 visit by astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison.

#abc11 #moreheadplanetariumandsciencecenter #TonyJenzano #NASA #CameronClinard #NorthCarolinaSkies