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Low-Level Observing

Mercury Winter 2010 Table of Contents

Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula (M42), captured from a small observatory 70 miles outside of Houston, Texas.
Credit: Don Taylor (Sam Houston State University).

by Brian Oetiker

"First Direct Detection of an Extra-solar Planet" reads the New York Times headline. A glance at the article might leave you assuming that the planet was discovered using a large telescope at a remote, high-elevation location or perhaps by a multi- billion dollar observatory in Earth orbit. Reading on, you may be surprised to find that astronomers actually discovered the planet with a small telescope located not too far from the city of Tucson, Arizona.

Intrigued at the prospect of an exciting discovery being made right in the "backyard" of a large city, you suddenly remember that old telescope sitting in the attic and wonder if you should dig it out and turn it skyward. But then you think: "I live in a larger city than Tucson and at a much lower elevation. I can't even see the stars from my driveway. There's no point trying to do serious astronomy where I live."

Well, don't give up, because you can observe interesting celestial sights near low-elevation big cities. In fact, astronomical finds are being made at sites other than remote, high-elevation observatories.

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