OK, you found the Moon in your new telescope but what is the next object you will look at? The Moon is easy to find, but to see planets you need to know where to look and what to look for. Unless you know how to find planets you are pretty much limited to the Moon. If all you want to look at is the Moon that’s OK, but if you want to expand here is some advice. (NOTE: you do not need a telescope to find the visible planets)
First realize the Moon passes by all of the planets once a month. For example on January 21, 2013 the Moon will be very close to Jupiter. If you go outside in the early evening and find the Moon you will see a bright “star” near the Moon. That “star” is Jupiter. Using the Moon to find planets is the easiest way to find them. You just need the date. The distance between Moon and planet will vary. Once you find the planets you will be able to keep better track of them.
So where can you go to find out when the Moon passes by a given planet? There are several ways but the easiest is to load up “planetarium” software on your computer. The one I recommend for beginners is Stellarium. Not only is it very good, it’s free. These programs simulate the sky on your computer for any location at any time. Put in your location, select a date and time and see the sky from the comfort of your own home.
The program allows you to see hour by hour or day by day in a matter of minutes. The first thing you will notice is everything is moving. Once you get the basics of operating the program, track the Moon for a month. Set you observing times 30 minutes after sunset or 30 minutes before sunrise to start. Sunrise? Remember the Moon is visible in the morning sky after the full moon and in the evening sky after the new moon. Also display the ecliptic on your screen. You will always find the Moon and planets near this line.
Most every amateur astronomer I know uses these programs. You will soon find it an indispensable tool. Once you get the Moon and planets down you can use the program to finding the M objects.
Oh yes. Saturn, look east around 5:30am January 6, 2013. Don’t want to get up a 5:30am wait until May 22 where the Moon and Saturn will be well placed for observing around 9:30pm.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Stellarium is a great way to learn astronomy. And it’s fun.
Wishing you clear skies