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An embarrassment of riches.

I'm always amazed by what I see as I stroll the aisles every spring at the Northeast Astronomy Forum & Telescope Show in Suffern, New York--a showcase of the latest in telescopes, software, and accessories. I particularly enjoy discovering the incredible array of observing accessories that I never knew I needed but now covet. And everywhere I look, there are telescopes of all different sizes, shapes, and prices for sale. It's an embarrassment of riches and a far cry from the selection available when I got hooked on astronomy nearly four decades ago.

Like many amateur astronomers, I started out in the hobby by peering at the Moon, planets, and stars through a 60-millimeter (2.4-inch) refractor. Back then there wasn't a lot of choice if you wanted an inexpensive starter scope. Sure, you could build one, but if you weren't mechanically inclined (and I'm definitely a member of the all-thumbs set), purchasing an instrument was your only option. In 1968 a Unitron 60-mm altazimuth refractor could be had for $125--about $650 in today's inflation-adjusted dollars. And these days $650 can buy a lot more telescope than that!

Whether you have a little or a lot to spend, selecting the instrument that's right for you is never easy. The curse of decades past--lack of options--has been reversed with a vengeance; now there's an overwhelming amount of choice. That's why in SkyWatch '06 we've expanded our annual Telescope Buyer's Guide. Not only do we compare the features of 200 complete systems that are ready to use right out of the box, but this year we've added listings for 85 optical tube assemblies and 29 mounts, since these are increasingly sold separately.

But before plunging headlong into the Buyer's Guide itself, I suggest you read "Buying the Best Telescope" on page 63--particularly if you're new to amateur astronomy. This article by Alan Dyer clarifies the terms used in the guide and gives you the information you need to acquire a telescope that'll provide a lifetime of enjoyment.

No matter how you observe the heavens--with a telescope, binoculars, or just your eyes--you'll want to know what's up when and where to find it. Our suite of observing articles, beginning with "The Celestial Symphony" by Ken Hewitt-White on page 8 and concluding with our 16 monthly sky charts, will ensure that you won't miss any of the great celestial happenings forecast for 2006. As the year progresses, more details about many of these events will appear in Sky &Telescope and in Night Sky, our bimonthly magazine for novice stargazers.

"The goodness of the night upon you, friends." (Othello, act 1, scene 2)

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Title Annotation:Welcome to SkyWatch '06
Author:Deans, Paul
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Previous Article:Lots of knots.
Next Article:The celestial symphony: every step outside clear evening to enjoy the music of the stars.

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