BAN #275: Telescope buying advice, Book: It’s Alive, Dial-A-Moon 2021

30 November 2020   Issue #271

[Spiral Galaxy M81 image credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona]

Subscribers are always waxing in my life.

Astro Tidbit

A brief synopsis of some interesting astronomy/science news

For some reason, around this time of year, people like to buy telescopes. Duh.

I have a page on my blog with some advice for first-time telescope buyers, which may prove useful: A Holiday Telescope Buying Guide. I also have a brief, more general guide, too, that you should read first. I usually tell people to find a local astronomy club or society nearby and attend their meetings and star parties first, to see a bunch of different ‘scopes and how they’re used. That helps a lot, but given our current pandemicky circumstances, we’ll have to bypass that for now.

As it happens, the astronomical equipment manufacturer Celestron has just put out a PDF with advice as well, and includes tips for beginners and a viewing guide about what’s up in the sky. Perusing through it I think it looks like it’ll help. They also have guides for viewing the planets. [Note: Celestron sponsors my science vacation company Science Getaways, but I asked them to because I like their products. But y’know, full disclosure and all.]

My dear friend and astronomer Nicole Gugliucci also has a guide she’s written with lots of advice.

Come to think of it, so does The Planetary Society.

As does Sky and Telescope. Two, in fact.

AstroGear Today also has lots of info and articles about astronomical equipment.

Hopefully somewhere in all that are the answer you seek. I certainly hope you find something that will provide you with years of enjoyment of the night sky, and a deeper appreciation of the Universe surrounding us.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[The galaxy MCG+01-02-015, a lovely spiral that happens to sit in a very empty region of the Universe. From Thursday’s article. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA and N. Gorin (STScI) and Judy Schmidt]

Monday 23 November, 2020: The tweet that led to a science paper about galactic crepuscular rays

Tuesday 24 November, 2020: How our galaxy will kill our solar system in a trillion years, planet by planet

Wednesday 25 November, 2020: There's a big black spot on the Sun today… and scientists predicted it

Thursday 26 November, 2020: You think *you're* isolated today? Meet the galaxy MCG+01-02-015

Friday 27 November, 2020: Eat lasers, Carina Nebula!

I recommend

Something I think you’ll like

My friend Sanden Totten is a science communicator/writer. I met him when we worked on the Bill Nye Saves the World together, and he’s the real deal. Smart, funny, hard working, cheery, and above all, just a truly nice guy.

He also has a great kids podcast called “Brains On”, where he and his co-hosts Molly Bloom and Marc Sanchez talk about all kinds of science stuff for younger children.

[Your host with a copy of It’s Alive.]

So I’m happy to recommend a book they wrote called It’s Alive: From Neurons to Narwhals to the Fungus Among Us (affiliate link). It’s an absolute delight, talking about all manners of life on Earth, from stuff that’s plain old amazing to gooey gross stuff kids love, and the illustrations complement the text perfectly.

And it’s not like it’s just for kids; I laughed a lot reading it. For example: There are several matchups between two different things, like Durian vs. Corpse Flower: Which is stinkier?, and Fingernails vs. Teeth.

Overall it talks about plants, animals, humans, and microscopic life, featuring brief descriptions of scientists who do the work. Each page is divided up into short sections that make it easy to read, too.

If you’re looking for something for the holidays for a kid 8 years and up, well, here ya go.

Astro Tidbit

A brief synopsis of some interesting astronomy/science news

The new NASA Dial-a-Moon for 2021 is out! Yay!

This is a really cool web-based app where you enter a time and date, and it shows you everything about the Moon for that moment. It displays the phase the Moon will be in plus its correct size and orientation, as well as a huge list of data about its physical parameters like distance, coordinates on the sky, and position angle (essentially how much the face of the Moon rotates as it orbits the Earth relative to north on the sky).

For example, here’s what the Moon will look like on a very happy day: January 20, 2021.

[Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio]

On that day (at noon Eastern US time) it will be 44.6% lit and 403,357 km away (nearly at apogee, as far from Earth as it gets in its orbit). The line going behind it tells you its distance in Earth diameters (measured from the centers of both worlds): about 31.8 Earths.

There’s also a fun video that not only shows that throughout the year, but also a ton of other info, like crater and other feature names, where it is relative to Earth, where the sub-Earth point is (where, if you stood on the Moon, the Earth would be exactly at your zenith), where the sub-Sun point is, and lots more. If you want more info on what that all means, I wrote about it on the blog for the 2019 version.

My favorite part is to watch the Moon grow and shrink as its distance to Earth changes due to its elliptical orbit, as well as the libration, the apparent rocking and nodding it makes as it orbits as well (again, explained in the 2019 article). It’s actually rather hypnotic.

If you’re a complete novice at watching the Moon and want more info on phases and the like, why, a man I know pretty well will be happy, nay enthusiastic, to explain it all:

Enjoy the Moon this year!

Et alia

You can email me at (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!