What a heavenly year for stargazers. We’ve had a spectacular solar eclipse in Asia, a clutch rescue of the Hubble Space Telescope, and the surprising crash of a comet into Jupiter—discovered, no less, by an amateur astronomer. Try the gear below to find the next marvel yourself.
TELESCOPE The design first used by Galileo 400 years ago this yeara€”which bends light with lenses, not simpler mirrorsa€”still produces the sharpest images available to amateurs. This modern version uses a six-inch lens for wide views, but costs half as much as others, thanks to efficient glass manufacturing.
AstroTelescopes 152-mm Giant Wide Field Refractor
From $800; handsonoptics.com
MOUNT Keep your scope steady anywhere. The MiniTower Pro, at five inches wide, is the most portable mount that can secure a 35-pound scope atop a tripod. The handheld controller lets you turn it precisely, or the motor, GPS and computer chip can direct the scope themselves.
iOptron MiniTower Pro
EYEPIECE Add this eyepiece to your scope to see an entire galaxy at once. Its steeply curved lenses offer a 100-degree apparent field of view, double the norm. It’s also the first eyepiece that’s waterproof and filled with nitrogen, so it won’t fog up or develop mold inside.
Explore Scientific 14mm 100° Eyepiece
CAMERA Track star movement or meteor flybys even when not at your scope. This weatherproof fish-eye camera sits outside to constantly save photos and video of the entire sky. The image sensor, tuned to the stars’ dim glow, snaps sub-megapixel shots to store hundreds for time-lapse photography. It beams pics to the Web over a Bluetooth or wired link to a computer.
SOFTWARE This app turns your iPhone or iPod into a celestial tour guide. Browse through its database of 2.5 million stars, or let it identify constellations as you hold the latest iPhone up to the skya€”it uses the 3GS’s built-in GPS, accelerometer and compass to determine what it’s pointing at.