June 10, 2015 8:00 pm
As you probably know, we’re running a contest for our fans with Celestron, the leading manufacturer of telescopes and space imaging equipment, called Mission StarTalk.
Each week for 6 weeks, Celestron will show an unidentified celestial object, and if you correctly name the object using the NGC or Messier numbers, you will be entered into a drawing for a SkyMaster 15×70 Astronomy Binocular. All correct answers will be entered into a Grand Prize Drawing to win a NexStar Evolution 6 Computerized Telescope.
You can find out more about the contest here, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.
When I was talking to the folks at Celestron, I mentioned that my daughter is into space exploration, but that we didn’t have anything except a pair of old binoculars for stargazing.
Well, Michelle at Celestron decided to remedy that situation, and sent me a NexStar Evolution 6 Computerized Telescope to use with my 10-year-old daughter.
Full disclosure: I had a blast setting it up and using it with my daughter, so what follows next is unabashed enjoyment, father-daughter bonding, and a glowing review of my experience. And yes, daddy did explain to his daughter that this is one of the perqs of working for StarTalk. (She’s familiar with some of the other perqs already, having met Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and Mike Massimino!)
First of all, the box. It was huge. And, like kittens, kids have been known to be more excited about the box than the gift. At first.
Once we started uncrating the scope, Annaliese was all about the equipment.
And, because I’ve made it this far in life without having my own telescope worthy of the name, I was all about my daughter enjoying the experience of her first telescope.
I put her in charge of the operation, and she never looked back.
She read the instructions cover to cover – after all, she wants to be an engineer, so plans and operating manuals come with the territory.
She told me what to do, and I handled the heavy lifting.
Assembly was easy.
Annaliese downloaded the app and installed it on her iPad.
We plugged in the scope to charge the motors, and called it a night.
Hey, she is only 10, and bedtime is strictly at 9.
When we reconvened a couple of nights later (Girl Scouts, dance and other activities preempted us!), we calibrated the red dot spotting sight and the telescope, so that the computer controls would work.
This caused us a bit of trouble, mainly because we live near NYC, and it’s hard to find bright stars at night, between trees, lights, and other problems. But, mostly, the stars aren’t very bright before 9 pm this time of year.
That’s a lesson for my daughter, too: Not everything works right, right away.
But, even calibrating was cool. Using the iPad, you select the stars your red-dot sight is lined up with, press a button, and the computer moves by itself to find the star.
When I was a kid, the telescope only moved when you knocked it over on its little tripod.
So we went through the checklist, retraced our steps, and stuck with it.
Watching my daughter troubleshoot, without losing her temper or getting frustrated, because this was something important to her, is one of those moments I am going to always remember.
We joked about Mike Massimino’s stories about fixing the Hubble Telescope, and how, if he could do it while floating in space, by comparison this was a piece of cake.
And then, when we were finally ready, we zoomed in on the moon.
Now, I remember talking to Jupiter Joe, a sidewalk astronomer and member of the StarTalk Cosmic Community, and he told me how amazing it was when a kid first looks at the Moon, or Jupiter, through a telescope and sees it, not on TV, not on a movie screen, but with his or her own eyes.
Amazing isn’t a big enough word for watching your own child look at the craters of the moon, large as life, with her own eyes for the first time, and then look at you with thanks for bringing her that experience.
Then Annaliese called her mother to come outside, and got to play tour guide and show her the moon, and the scope, and how it all worked.
If you’ve ever taught your child something, and then watched as a couple minutes later she teaches it to someone as if she’d known it forever, you know what I felt.
Right there, in those few minutes, it was a microcosm of everything we’re here to do as parents.
I look forward to a later bed time, or at least nights with no school or early activities the next day, so my daughter and I can spend hours looking up. She’s already planning what she wants to look at – and to show me.
But I also know that one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had embodying the meaning of “Keep Looking Up!” didn’t come from gazing skywards with my own eyes.
It was watching my daughter looking up with hers.
That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
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