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Hello. My five year old keeps asking for a telescope. I believe we'd just be looking at the moon and planets at this point from home (small city in the US) and while car camping in the mountains of NC. The form factor of a small reflector telescope on a Dobsonian base is appealing to me. It seems like we would be able to easily take it camping (it would fit in the car with all of our other crap, err gear...) and it would be robust enough for my daughter to mess around with. Does that seem reasonable? If so, I have more questions. If not, what do you recommend instead? 1) If we're focusing on the moon and bright planets, would either the Orion 10033 FunScope ($67, Amazon) or the Celestron 21024 FirstScope ($33, Amazon) be sufficient? If so, which is the better choice? 2) If I order the FunScope or FirstScope, what extra eye pieces/lenses should I purchase? I don't mind investing in good eye pieces/lenses that we could use with an upgraded telescope or resell, if she loses interest. 3) I am willing to go up in price, if it is going to save us frustration, but I really like the idea of telescope that can really be hers...that I won't feel like I have to supervise her with it all the time that I can just let her use it. Should I be looking at something besides the FunScope and FirstScope? 4) Any book recommendations for little kids? Most I have seen have been geared towards older kids. Thank you. I'm at the I-don't-know-what-I don't-know stage and would love to have telescope for our next camping trip in 3 weeks--the choices are overwhelming.
This past Saturday was a pretty busy one with both public outreach and internal club activities. We started out at around 7:30 AM supporting a Cub Scout Advancement Day, where Cub Scout packs from around the local council get centralized assistance in accomplishing the tasks that they need for various achievements. In our case, club member Joe Statkevicus, one of the scout leaders, provided four telescopes for white light solar observing and coordinated the Boy Scouts aiding in the mandatory parts of the astronomy belt loop awards, while Paul Anderson provided three telescopes for the focusing part of their exercise and Terri Lappin and my wife Susan did the mandatory Solar System planetary identification, plus a meteorite identification and demonstration. I filled in with a Lunt 60mm H-Alpha solar scope to compete the picture of our solar system while the Cub Scouts accomplished their task objectives. We were busy for about seven hours as over 200 Cub Scouts and parents came through our area in groups. Joe had set up canopies for the hands on demonstrations, but, let's face it, you've got to be under the sun to observe the sun. So, we kept ourselves hydrated under the mid-90s temperatures, and the sun cooperated quite well for our solar observing "bonus" treat. Nice sunspot groups in the white light telescopes, run by the Boy Scouts, while in H-Alpha the sun had prominence groups around nearly 70 percent of the solar limb, two visible sunspot groups, and one huge faculae area that, in the last hour of our presence, actually threw out a filament boundary that we saw grow over the last forty-five minutes or so. Great experience for the tail end Charleys in the throng of scouts coming through. The clouds finally crowded out the sun, so that portion of the adventure was curtailed, but the mandatory telescope focusing and the naming and ordering of the planets of the Solar System could continue. Susan started having a bad but predicted reaction to some IV treatment she had had the afternoon before, so she had to leave around 1 PM so Terri carried the whole load of the Solar System domain, and Joe was awesome with all the scope management and provided the tents, and the Boy Scout mentors for the Cub Scouts were great facilitators to the whole session. I was disappointed that I had brought the wrong table to support my video monitor for the Lunt, but the old fashioned eyepiece viewing without a live video display worked just fine. It was, however, good to be finished. After recovering at home for a while, I talked with club president Bob Gilroy about our club's night Family Observing program at Flandrau Planetarium so I decided to wander down there and help out. This month's topics were to discuss the life cycle of stars, and see how the students (the intended age group is four to eight years of age plus parents) were doing on the learning of some constellations, a few bright stars in them, and some Deep Sky Objects to observe in them. Club members Don Cain and Chuck Hendricks came to help with the night observing part of the program, while I was going to help Bob with a constellation mythology tour appropriate to the ages. But, the clouds that cut off our solar observing kept rolling in so we lost the night sky part of the evening. In place of Chuck setting up his telescope on the University of Arizona Mall, I came up with a sort of physical demonstration of the life cycle of stars. Bob started things off with a simple discussion of the Big Bang, and all the hydrogen finally coming into existence out of the primordial particle soup. Then I had the children all stand in a group in the center of our demonstration/teaching room in Flandrau, and I had them hold out their arms. I told them that all of their names were now hydrogen, and they wanted to keep the space around them clear. We adults, parents and we other four, were called gravity and we started shrinking the space around the little hydrogen folks. We crept in closer and closer until there wasn't enough room for each hydrogen to be alone. When the arms of two the little hydrogen folks would touch, we had them put their arms on each others' shoulders and their names changed to helium, but they had to give up some light to do it. So, as we crowded them in, the hydrogens kept making helium, which pushed us gravities back a bit but eventually the hydrogens were mostly merged into heliums, and we gravities squeezed them together. Well, that meant that when the heliums clumped together, we called them Carbon and Oxygen, and it pushed us gravities back and made us all a red giant. Eventually, all of the star was drifting away, and all we had left was the white dwarf. We talked a bit about the size and temperature that was left, and how it would eventually cool down and when we were zipping about in our space cruisers we need to watch out for the leftovers in our way. We also talked supernovas, going back to Bob's initial universe of hydrogen becoming stars, and the end of life of stars being the source of every thing else - tables in the room, the building we were in, even the cars they used to come to the meeting, and how when we did our merging of atoms exercise we could go all the way to iron, which led to the question were did we all come from? Well, we use the iron from the end of life of the star to cary the oxygen in our blood, so we're all star stuff. I had them hold their hands in the air and close them, and bring them down, and now they were holding a piece of what was in a star at the end of its life. Bob had some great examples of relative sizes of stars with tennis balls, ping pong balls, and beads on sticks. It was a great way to demonstrate why some stars end their lives simply, while others are the catastrophic end in a supernova and might end in a black hole. Lot's of good discussion, sharp group of very young children who bought in to the whole experience. We ended up with some constellation and myth discussions, at their level of involvement, focusing around a double star in each of the four constellations or asterisms we talked about. Even without being able to do the telescopes outdoors, it was a pretty good evening. Once again my favorite phrase came to mind; You never know what life you'll touch. Let's get out there and touch some lives!