Lifestyle

Explore Scientific: Traveling and Stargazing


One of the best parts of an Airstream road trip comes after the sun goes down – when the stars come out and the sky puts on a celestial show. Scott Roberts knows this firsthand, and he takes his love of skywatching on the road in a vintage Airstream he calls “Barbara Jean.” Decked out with astronomy-friendly red lights and tons of storage for his telescope collection, Barbara Jean made a stop at Alumapalooza 9 this past June. This is the first of a series of posts from Scott about great telescopes to take on the road and some of the amazing things you can see when you look through the eyepiece.

As a young child, I had a fascination for the stars. These brilliant points of light scattered across the inky sky seemed to promise adventure, and they awakened a passion for exploration.

I never lost that passion, and when I started my own telescope company — Explore Scientific — 10 years ago I immediately sought out the perfect ways to share it with others. For me, the ideal way is to crisscross the country chasing dark skies and sharing the wonders of the universe with thousands of people at star parties, state parks and roadsides.

Just as I see my telescopes as vehicles that take me on epic journeys through the night sky, I see my Airstream — the Barbara Jean — as a capsule that will transport me to intriguing places and amazing people. With its unique look that is simultaneously futuristic and retro, the Airstream is truly timeless and when I step inside it reawakens my childhood love for adventure and discovery.

It is not only the feeling it invokes that makes the Airstream the perfect accompaniment for stargazing. The nooks that hug its curves offer impressive storage capacity that easily allows me to take multiple telescopes, mounts, eyepieces and other accessories on the road while still leaving plenty of room for my personal effects and supplies.

When I hit the road, I usually have at least five telescope options on board ranging from small refractors to a large 12” Dobsonian. Each promises its own transformative experience.

Some of the first scopes I pack are a handful of selections from our Explore One junior telescope line. These starter telescopes include a 70mm refractor and a 114mm reflector. Although junior telescopes are sometimes dismissed as simple toys, they actually are the real deal and are a great way for many to dip into the amateur astronomy hobby. The 70mm refractor is excellent for exploring the chiseled terrain of the lunar surface or seeing sights like the rings of Saturn. However, under dark skies, it will show surprising details in deep sky objects as well – like arms of distant galaxies or the wispy nature of large nebulas. When you consider that Galileo used a telescope with crude optics, a much smaller aperture and a very narrow field of view to discover sights like Jupiter’s four largest moons, you can imagine the potential of this telescope.

One of my favorite telescopes from Explore Scientific’s FirstLight series is the 152mm Mak-Cassegrain with a GOTO mount. This versatile telescope offers an impressive six inches of aperture in a nice compact package. It offers a feast of observing options by easily capturing countless nebulas, galaxies and star clusters in the eyepiece with crisp definition and amazing contrast. With a database of hundreds of thousands of objects at your fingertips, the computerized GOTO mount is the perfect companion for a long night of stargazing because it gives you the opportunity to spend more time looking at a celestial beauty than looking for it. After you have navigated to your chosen sight, the German equatorial mount will smoothly track the object as it drifts across the night sky.

I often round out my inventory of telescopes with an Explore Scientific 12” Truss Tube Dobsonian.  Part of a family of telescopes ranging from 10-inches to 20-inches of aperture, their size looks intimidating when fully assembled, but they actually quickly break down to an extremely manageable and highly portable size. These telescopes are workhorses for deep sky observing because they gather copious amounts of light to reveal stunning details in nebula, galaxies and faint star clusters, and it’s the lure of seeing a galaxy millions of light years away that was the hook to get me into astronomy in the first place.

The spirit of exploration that an Airstream embodies can also be found in the night sky, and I encourage everyone to look up and discover what wonders await. On the Explore Scientific website, you can find a calendar outlining my upcoming travels with Barbara Jean. But between these official events, you can rest assured that I will be on the open road and under star-studded skyscapes connecting people to the cosmos.

Scott Roberts is the founder and president of Explore Scientific in Springdale, Ark. He is an avid amateur astronomer who has spent more than 30 years in the astronomy optics industry.