Beginner Astronomy: Where to Go and What to Bring

Space Junk Podcast is back! In this episode, Dustin and Tony return to basics and discuss what it means to be a beginner in the hobby of amateur astronomy today and offer advice on where to go observing as well as some tips on what to bring with you.
Our hobby has changed a lot over the decades and it has never been easier to immerse yourself and your family in the beauty of the heavens. A lot of complicated barriers that used to exist have been removed with better technology that enables making high quality optics and electronics at a price point everyone can afford. What's more, the tools and techniques available to everyone now for learning the night sky have shortened the learning curve dramatically. It is now possible to observe and image objects in the night sky, objects that used to take weeks and months of practice for a novice to master, in a matter of a day. Nowadays, one can find once challenging objects with relative ease.
You've never needed much money or fancy equipment to get started in our hobby, but getting off on the right foot maximizes your enjoyment right from the beginning. Dustin and OPT have made available some amazing starter kits that will not break the bank and we discuss those kits in detail in this episode.

Timestamps for Beginner Astronomy: Where to Go and What to Bring Episode

01:00:00:14 - 01:00:28:11

Tony: Hey, everybody. Welcome back, Dustin, and I are finally back making new episodes of Space Junk Podcast. And today we're going to be talking about beginner amateur astronomy, getting into the hobby for the first time and in particular, we want to talk about where to go and what to bring with you. So to get this topic going to Dustin and I are going to tell you what we think on these topics as we neither one of us have any shortage of opinions. How are you doing?Dustin

01:00:28:23 - 01:00:38:00

Dustin: Good! It is so good to be back, man after the break. Yeah, a break was much needed, you know, with the the whole world kind of coming apart, right?

01:00:38:02 - 01:00:40:18

Tony: Yeah, it's like, Wow, total system.

01:00:42:11 - 01:01:18:19

Dustin: Yeah, it really is. It just on and on and on. And you know, supply chains are insane in the whole. And it's not even just telescopes, it's the whole world. Everybody's dealing in every single industry. People are dealing with just chaos. Even all the the boats out at the ports right now. I mean, it's just craziness everywhere you look. But so the break was needed. But I've missed this. I'm really excited to be back and, you know, talking astronomy every week, and this is exciting. We're going to we're going to do some things differently, too and make this a little bit more social, which I'm really excited about as well, right?

01:01:19:04 - 01:01:56:23

Tony: Yeah, you'll be seeing a slightly different format with this, we'll be posting to different platforms and things, different different snippets from this recording. So please let us know what you think. There's lots of ways to do that. You could do it by email You could just send me an email. Tell me what you're thinking. Also on any of the social media channels that we're posting on, of which there will be a lot. So just give us feedback. We definitely want to hear what you want to hear and we'll be happy to put it make an episode all the way around it. So. So are you guys? Is our thing starting to calm down a little bit on your end? As far as the the supply chains and all that stuff, things are going OK?

01:01:57:23 - 01:02:01:00

Tony: Well, normal has a different definition now I can imagine.

01:02:01:13 - 01:02:35:00

Dustin: you know, I mean, we we still have an OPEC headquarters, but we're a fully remote operation now. It's going to stay that way. We're going to remain that way indefinitely. You know, and which is it's really interesting how all of this, you know, coffee kind of forced rapid evolution on businesses where it, you know, it made companies invest in, you know, new technologies and things to be able to work remotely. But what that did is it opened up, you know, a talent pool globally as well, which is really a powerful thing when you think about it.

01:02:35:02 - 01:03:03:20

Dustin: I mean, being able to, you know, cross out of just a locality and find talent around the world is really pretty special. So it's I mean, it's come with, you know, so many, so many terrible things. But also, you know, there have been a lot of evolutions in business that I think have probably been healthy for many companies to really embrace or at least those of those, you know, lucky companies that have been in a position to

01:03:06:03 - 01:03:20:04

Dustin: grow through. So it's come with, you know, countless challenges and OPT hasn't been immune to that at all. But also, you know, it's forced us to look at things in a different way, which I think is always a healthy practice for a company.

01:03:20:16 - 01:03:52:00

Tony: Definitely. Yeah, I've been reading about a lot of people saying something similar in their in their business plans are either adapting or they're they're failing. So it's good to see what you guys are doing you've got you guys have always been an agile company, in my opinion, and been able to make changes were needed in almost, you know, far as I could tell from the best. So it's good that it's good to see that you guys are adapting well and you're right about the talent. Now you can get talent from anywhere in the world. You can you can work with the best possible people, no matter where they are. And that's, I think, also a big, huge thing too.

01:03:52:02 - 01:03:53:02

Tony: So I agree with you on that.

01:03:54:17 - 01:04:23:23

Dustin: The time zone thing is no small thing, either, right? I mean, we have a team member in Australia. And I use that is the most extreme example. But you know, you think about it, while while she's awake, it's like all the astronomers here are doing astronomy, and it's it's really pretty interesting. Even just the difference between Pacific and Eastern Time zones are significant. So people on the East Coast are, you know, they're they're reaching their night a lot sooner.

01:04:24:01 - 01:04:56:06

Dustin: People in the West Coast are still, you know, just having dinner. So it's it's really an interesting thing how many doors are opened up by these new changes. But you know, like I said, man, I mean, it's come with so many challenges and in my heart breaks for all the companies that have done everything right in in this unpredictable chaos comes in. And it's just, I mean, the statistics, the statistics are staggering how many companies have suffered because of because of these changes in just not I mean, it's unpredictable.

01:04:56:08 - 01:05:26:01

Dustin: There's no way that anybody could have known this was coming and. It's crazy, so we feel extremely fortunate to even still be serving our customer base and still have the team we do, it's it's craziness, man, but this is still the best part of it is talking astronomy and helping this community grow. And it's been my life mission and will continue to be. No matter what. And you know, it's still, as I know it is yours as well. It's what we've always bonded on.

01:05:26:05 - 01:05:33:05

Tony: Oh, I know. All right. That's why I'm glad we're doing this again. It's my weekly Dustin fix where we get to talk with him and be together. And I appreciate that.

01:05:33:17 - 01:06:14:15

Dustin: Yeah, that mission. I mean, it's just it got in my blood, man. And I always say, like, I'll never get it out, but it's just the I can't think like if you look back on your life and you're like, you know, really like if there's one thing I just did, I just shared this access to the universe with people. I gave people this perspective, you know, and and regardless of what the number is, it's not even about quantity. It's just knowing that there's no way to share that with somebody and and not be life changing. So, you know, it's really, in my opinion, an extremely important mission, and we're just so very thankful to still be still be pushing ahead and pushing ahead, strong, doing astronomy and helping people, you know, achieve those astronomy goals .

01:06:14:17 - 01:06:47:15

Tony: And so as I was getting ready when I was thinking about this episode and I was thinking about, you know, among other things, some of the things you were just talking about about, you know, why it's so important to be talking about this, this hobby and the universe and giving perspective. It's something that has always driven me to. I got I got to thinking about when we're thinking and thinking about a episode on the beginning amateur astronomy I've done. I've talked about this a lot. We've even done episodes in the past about different aspects of this.

01:06:48:01 - 01:07:24:00

Tony: I got to thinking about the idea that I think I'm kind of out of the loop on this because what a beginner now in amateur astronomy is isn't so clear cut back in the day, meaning ancient times when I got started being a beginning astronomer meant that an amateur astronomer meant that you bought a telescope with an eyepiece and you went out and you tried to struggle with a planet sphere to find out all the were the constellations were and where the cool stuff was. You know, the planets and and you know, the nebulae that you wanted to see in the galaxies and then you had to hunt and peck and try and find them.

01:07:24:02 - 01:07:46:00

Tony: That's what being a beginner was back in the day, and it's evolved over time since then. But now I wanted to ask you because you've got your, you know, you're right in it, you're in the you're in the mix directly every single day. What are you saying at OPT? As far as what is, what does it mean now to get started in the hobby? What are people doing that you're noticing?

01:07:47:07 - 01:08:08:14

Dustin: You know, I have to I have to steal a phrase we just used for describing the business. But rapid evolution, I mean it. The beginner doesn't mean now what it did. Even when I got started, you know, seven, eight years ago, I guess it's been more than that now. My time just for me, like these last couple of years don't mean anything in my mind yet,

01:08:08:21 - 01:08:11:09

Tony: and we're living in a time warp for sure.

01:08:13:16 - 01:08:18:03

Tony: It is. Our day is. I don't know. I know. That's a better question.

01:08:18:09 - 01:08:50:00

Dustin: Yeah, exactly. So you know what I'm what I'm seeing, though, is that beginner used to mean, especially because the hurdles were so real and it was so expensive. You know, those those two things, it was so challenging and so expensive. That beginner truly meant beginner. It meant the best thing you could possibly do was go join your local club. And I used to give this advice all the time. Go join your local club. And before you ever try to buy anything, go use a bunch of other people's stuff.

01:08:50:02 - 01:09:01:16

Dustin: Go look through as many telescopes. You can go, look through binoculars, even go just, you know, get under dark skies with nothing. Just go, you know, just use your eyeballs and enjoy some dark skies.

01:09:03:09 - 01:09:59:01

Dustin: But I'm telling you, man, like the beginners now, because there's so much information in the access to the information is instant. And then some of the like world class gear now is affordable and relatively simple to use. And you know, the companies have done a lot better job about making things go together. And, you know, as far as like kits go and things of that sort. So people are becoming successful very, very quickly where a lot of the beginners now, instead of having this trajectory of your go from a visual astronomer like we did to eventually looking, you know, through this do longer magnifications visually, then to maybe putting a camera on it, on a wide-field system, then hoping that you can maybe get an image of like something like the Moon to eventually you're going to start doing tracked guided exposures and taking pictures of nebulae and galaxies.

01:09:59:05 - 01:10:00:18

Dustin: But this is. A multi-year process,

01:10:02:10 - 01:10:25:11

Dustin: you know, to really be doing it well. You've got people now that within starting five, six months later, are getting APODs. I mean that that curve now is just so flattened that it's just people get in, they're all in and they're taking world class images. And I won't say overnight, but I mean, almost almost in a matter of months, they're taking world class images.

01:10:26:07 - 01:11:01:14

Tony: Yeah, there really is a difference. I mean, it used to be like you just pointed out the the difference between looking through an eyepiece and connecting a camera, an SLR with with film in it to a to a telescope to get any kind of picture out of it was like the difference between an amateur and a professional, right? You you really needed a lot of knowledge and skills to be able to get a decent picture out of your telescope. So nowadays, so there was definitely a distinction between a beginner visual amateur astronomer and a beginning

01:11:03:04 - 01:11:26:13

Tony: astrophotographer. And that that that gap is has really gotten closer. So are you seeing them? I mean, now they're you can pretty much just by any telescope. Almost all of them have photographic capabilities with minimal effort. You can even put yourself through them now. Are you noticing now that it's hard to distinguish between well, as you're getting into observing with a eyepiece? Or is it getting into?

01:11:28:07 - 01:11:58:12

Dustin: I think what happened is that that line that used to be kind of drawn in the sand between visual astronomy and then imaging, that line has been blurred. All of the equipment now is so good that you can you can buy as you just mentioned, right? You can buy a really good telescope for whatever purpose it is that you want to use. And then even if it is just with your cell phone, you can start taking pictures immediately. And or, you know, a lot of scopes can can do both very, very well.

01:11:58:21 - 01:12:07:16

Dustin: And so people, people just go back and forth between the two a lot more seamlessly. Then that used, I mean, used to not really be possible. You just went one direction.

01:12:07:21 - 01:12:42:19

Tony: Yeah, yeah. And you really had to kind of commit because the dollar value for being a good observer visually required some decent, really decent pieces and and good optical train and really good mounts. Everything requires a good amount. But but it was, you know, you really did need to commit because a lot of times the investment was pretty significant either way, and not a lot of people had enough to do both. So. Well, that's interesting because I yeah, I think now if you were thinking about being getting into the hobby and you're seeing all these great pictures on social media, I think that's driving a lot of people into the hobby.

01:12:42:21 - 01:13:05:00

Tony: And I think that is probably an emphasis now over a visual observing. Because of that, you want to be able to share your results with people on Facebook or people on Instagram. So. So I think that might be another factor that's getting people more into the. Being able to take pictures and images with their with their equipment, so

01:13:05:09 - 01:13:37:10

Dustin: I think both are truly, truly special and you and I have talked about this a lot. But, you know, visual, there's something special about it and I still really enjoy it. I mean, even, you know, hear it. My mother had a small get together here for my birthday recently, and we had to scope out and we never we didn't do any imaging at all. It was just visual and we were showing people that had never seen Saturn and Jupiter. We were showing it to them for the first time, and there were probably seven or eight people that that looked through the telescope that had never seen it before.

01:13:37:19 - 01:14:09:03

Dustin: And I'm telling you it was one of the most enjoyable nights because there's just nothing that beats that. There's nothing that you know in imaging is still where my heart is. I, you know, I would count myself an astrophotographer before all other things, you know, science or visual. Like, I love astrophotography, I love everything about it. But there's just nothing like the sharing aspect visually showing somebody in their own eye looking through an eyepiece where it's just a personal experience, witnessing another planet for the first time.

01:14:09:16 - 01:14:17:17

Dustin: And I don't know, you know, I don't know how you beat that with anything else that astronomy offers.

01:14:17:22 - 01:14:50:04

Tony: Well, I mean, what you're preaching to the choir with me because absolutely, you can't beat it is my response. You just that's the best way to go. But let's be honest, I mean, it's dying out. I mean, I I don't see I think visual observing is one of those things that it's just sort of a thing that's kind of nice you do once in a while, but really, everybody wants and I'm telling you again, it's because of social media. They want to get out there and show everybody their stuff. Nobody, nobody really gathers round the telescope anymore. To do any visual is all that's really cool now.

01:14:50:09 - 01:15:01:05

Tony: They want to posted on Instagram and Facebook or whatever it is and and share it that way. And that's the real driver. I think so. I don't know. I mean, I guess I get it. I'm a little bit sad.

01:15:01:14 - 01:15:33:00

Dustin: But you know, you get what you get it like we are. You're a science communicator by trade. It's what you do. You share all day, every day. I'm here doing this with you because I also enjoy sharing. Sharing is what this is about. I think it's one of the best parts, if not the best part of the hobby. Literally. What I just said about the visual astronomy side was that what makes it so amazing is sharing, not not just looking at Saturn and Jupiter myself over and over again, although it's all, it never ceases to amaze. It's the sharing aspect that I think is so incredible.

01:15:33:02 - 01:15:44:02

Dustin: So how can you, you know, how can you not expect that the most shareable form of astronomy, which is clearly astrophotography, is going to be the one that gets the most attention?

01:15:44:05 - 01:16:14:11

Tony: I hear you and I capitulate. I completely agree. It's the way of the future is the way things are going to be. I mean, even the brand new telescopes coming out now, some of the like the know Stellar's and the Selina's, all of that stuff, you know, it's geared exactly toward that. So so I get it. And I and I think that that's a that's the way of the future. I do for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the main thing we're going to get into here in this episode, which is light pollution and and where to go and actually do some observing.

01:16:14:13 - 01:16:33:06

Tony: What are some of the best places to go and do some observing? And where would you, what would you bring with you? So with that in mind, you know, let's talk a little bit about that. You know, where are good places to go observing and when you do, what are what are some things we could bring with us as we go? Do that?

01:16:34:08 - 01:17:05:11

Tony: Yeah, so. Well, there's two questions the first yeah, it would be where, but also we probably need to address win because as you pointed out. Yeah, that's true. The skies, the skies are, you know, the dark skies are going away. It doesn't mean they're going to be gone in the next month or the next year or anything like that. But they are shrinking and you can watch a light pollution map even if you just Google Light Pollution Map or go to light pollution map dot info. You can see the world and the light pollution around the world.

01:17:05:13 - 01:17:35:17

Tony: And even if you just go to the United States, you take a look at it. I mean, it's almost like the United States has cut down the middle running streak from North Dakota all the way through Texas. Yeah. And if you are east of that line, I mean, there there are very few places outside of really West Virginia and a very small chunk of New Hampshire. And in Maine, there's really not a big chunk of dark sky anywhere on the east side of the country.

01:17:36:20 - 01:17:42:11

Tony: Yeah, and literally go west, young man. That's, you know, that's that's definitely where the best guys are.

01:17:43:12 - 01:18:06:07

Dustin: Yeah, it's challenging. And then you also get a lot of cloud cover and things. So the eastern side of the country has it pretty tough. But even even the parts that would be in quotes dark skies on the east side of the country. When you look at a light pollution map, you see that the west side of the country. I mean, it's a completely different realm. You know, like the the it's color coded, obviously, as like a

01:18:07:22 - 01:18:39:01

Dustin: the light pollution map. When you see it, you'll, you know, it's got a key and kind of tells you where it's going. But again, a light pollution map dot info, but it shows all the major cities. So obviously, like Atlanta would be like white and red, and then it goes to yellow and green and then, you know, like a darker blue. And eventually, what you're trying to get to for dark sky is like black or gray. That's that's what showing the really dark skies in there is almost no black or gray on the entire east side of the country running all the way.

01:18:39:03 - 01:18:54:03

Dustin: Like I said from North Dakota Street, if you drew a line straight down all the way over there, it's almost it's almost nonexistent. Yeah, except for the mountains in West Virginia. But then on the west side of the country, there is more dark sky than there is light pollution.

01:18:55:17 - 01:19:28:02

Dustin: But you can tell that, you know, even in the the the dark sky areas, there are major cities in the cities are expanding, like if you look at Denver, for instance, you know, you can see that that growth is happening very quickly and that those dark skies are getting smaller and smaller and will continue to. So it's really for people that are interested in truly getting under dark skies, having that experience where, you know, we talk about the sky is so dark that the Milky Way itself will cast your shadow on the ground.

01:19:29:04 - 01:19:37:05

Dustin: The time to do that is now it's to make that trip sooner rather than later, while the dark skies are still as abundant as they are.

01:19:38:14 - 01:20:12:02

Tony: Yeah, I. I'm always reminded of that I lived in Alamogordo, New Mexico, for several years back when I was really young and the memory of arriving in the evening, it was like six or seven o'clock and in the early evening and I parked in a parking lot of the International Space Hall of Fame, which is right above the Tombaugh Planetarium, where I was working, had a nice view of the city of Alamogordo, and you could see white sands missile range out in the distance. And when I got out of my car and I just happened to turn west, I saw the most.

01:20:13:02 - 01:20:43:23

Tony: Stunning sunset I had ever seen it was deep red going out over the mountains behind the missile range, and it was just it took my breath away and then the stars came out and really it was the first time I heard it. And I this is after living in Colorado for a long time with in Boulder, where the skies are really good. I was I was still taken aback by it. So the the desert southwest is probably the premier area for observing in the United States for getting these really dark and amazingly bright skies.

01:20:44:19 - 01:21:15:22

Tony: And it is absolutely worth it if you as you get into the hobby and let's say you're living somewhere up in on the East Coast or in Florida like I do and you, you need to get over there, make a road trip. It's totally worth it to see this kind of thing because it was just pointed out this stuff is going away. And I would even say, and I don't mean to be a negative nelly here, but it's not coming back. We're not getting these guys back that once, once they're gone, you know, I don't see anybody making any real effort to claw them back.

01:21:16:00 - 01:21:46:20

Tony: So. So now's the time to get out there and try and experience these guys. In the best place to do that is west of the Mississippi. Unfortunately for us on this side of the country, so I definitely second that motion. It's a it's an amazing experience and there's lots of places you can go that are like. Retreats, they specialize in this, right, I mean, are there places where like in New Mexico and I think Arizona, like Drew, was telling me about somebody in Arizona that does this? Oh yeah.

01:21:46:23 - 01:21:51:06

Tony: Even in California, where you where you are, there's places you can go.

01:21:52:10 - 01:22:13:10

Dustin: Yeah. Yeah, there are people all over, you know, even Ian Lauer is doing doing those retreats now with people and teaching them this guy out in California. And you know, it's he's IanLauerAstro on Instagram. Anybody interested? But you know, that's one of the family. So always got to give him the love where we can

01:22:13:12 - 01:22:18:13

Tony: slowly and is awesome. I have a great dad. He's funny beyond. Believe me, he will. You will definitely have fun.

01:22:19:00 - 01:22:21:12

Dustin: Yeah, yeah, he is. He is amazing. But anyway,

01:22:23:13 - 01:22:58:17

Dustin: yeah, it's it's one of those things I really do think is an important experience, especially for families that go do it. You'll never regret it. And you know, it's not even inexpensive. It takes you whatever it costs in gas and maybe a hotel room for the night, if or or for the day. Yeah, you'd be up all night, but it's worth it in like you just described. I mean, it really does. It knocks the breath out of you when you first see it. And Tony, what are your fave? One of my favorite videos you've ever done is actually one that you just did as your intro for deep astronomy. If you go, if listeners haven't seen this, you should go to deep astronomy on YouTube.

01:22:58:19 - 01:23:37:10

Dustin: Go to Tony's channel. It's an amazing channel for anybody that doesn't already go to it, but go check out Tony's channel in your your intro video. You have, you know, you've got you've got the perfect voice for this type of video and you're like, you know, on a dark, clear night, you know? Yeah, you know, when when the sun goes down, you will witness 3000 stars, you know, with your bare eyes. And when I heard that the first time I'm thinking is that it? Because, you know, it's just when you're out under those skies like that, it just the number seems like there's no possible way you can even calculate it because it's just a wall of stars, no space in between them.

01:23:38:01 - 01:23:42:22

Tony: Some astronomers say you could see, as I've heard, some astronomers say you could see as many as 9000.

01:23:44:12 - 01:24:02:09

Tony: But I used three because I believe that's what most people will actually see. Sure. But yeah, under a reasonably dark sky, I don't know. Like maybe in Denver or let's see what what's another one, maybe in the outskirts of Denver or the outskirts of Phoenix or Flagstaff? Well, you might see nine, but

01:24:02:11 - 01:24:07:20

Dustin: in regardless, it's not like you're going to sit there and count them all. And I never know which one you counted, you know?

01:24:09:12 - 01:24:26:06

Dustin: And I think what really makes it more challenging is as you get under dark skies, you get completely lost. You don't even know what you're looking at. I mean, I look, I know the constellation. I'm out. Yeah, I'm talking astronomy all day. Every day I get under a truly dark skies. I'm completely lost, can't find anything. I can't find the North Star, the debris. Anything came

01:24:26:08 - 01:24:26:23

Tony: Can't find the Big Dipper!

01:24:27:01 - 01:24:56:04

Dustin: You can't find the Big Dipper, you can't find anything. And it's because the sky quite literally just turns into what looks like a cloud. You know where it's just it's all pushed together, and it's just such a dense wall of stars that the only ones you really can pick out. And that's maybe why they say it's three to 9000 or the truly bright, exceptional stars, because otherwise, I mean, it all just blends together as this big cloud coming over.

01:24:57:04 - 01:25:37:14

Tony: Yeah, yeah, it's and I remember the first time I actually got lost was again in New Mexico. It was like I was trying to find familiar constellation Cepheus Cassiopeia, though the ones that we all know. I just love. Yeah, good luck with that. Is that is I guess what I think. I think I know. You know, so it's like, you know, it's like, I have to make sure I even got a compass out, wants to make sure I was facing north. Yeah. Just to make sure I had. I had it right because yeah, you can get really lost in it. So if you so if you don't live in the western half of the nation, which I guess most of us don't, I don't know what is the population distribution is the United States, but but I know a lot of people live on the east of the Mississippi River.

01:25:38:01 - 01:26:08:19

Tony: And my advice to you guys would be if you're in, say, like, I'm in Florida, it's crowded. The lights, the night skies suck. And this is the best time of year. We're coming up on it now. November through March is about the best time to do sky gazing here, not only because the nights are longer, but the this the dry season. We don't get a lot of clouds and it's the best time to go out and observe here. But I live next to a city where I can see the light dome, right? So I could.

01:26:08:22 - 01:26:52:16

Tony: It's in my way. It's directly in the north northwest, and so I'm struggling with that. What I do is I've noticed that the one good thing about Florida, I mean, there's a lot of good things, OK, but there's a lot of bad things too. But one of the things I like the most about Florida is that there's a lot of state parks here and there's a lot of national forest I happen to live. I'm lucky enough to live next to the Ocala National Forest, which has no development in it, and there's several state parks in there. And what I've started doing is I volunteer some of my time to some of the state parks on Saturdays and Friday nights to give start talks at the parks for free because the are generally located in an area where there's not a lot of development.

01:26:52:18 - 01:27:24:12

Tony: So my advice to you is if you live in an area like this and there's a state park within, say, a reasonable driving distance to you, start there, go check it out at night. A lot of state parks are closed at night, so you have to go in the area around it. But if they but if they will let you in, they go in in the evenings and see what the skies are like, at least in the region if you can't get into the park. Exactly. So that would be one piece of advice there's most of us have a state park or even a city park at some point.

01:27:25:22 - 01:27:38:06

Tony: I'm not going to speak to safety. I don't know how safe some of these city parks are, but you know you have to judge that on your own. But that would be a place to start to see what the night sky. They're probably going to have the best night skies in your region a lot.

01:27:38:08 - 01:27:44:00

Dustin: And it's always going to be darker than, you know, the neighborhood that you're in. Or, you know, the city

01:27:44:19 - 01:27:49:08

Tony: At least try to get away from streetlights where you're not shining directly on your face, if you can do that right?

01:27:49:21 - 01:27:55:14

Dustin: Right, exactly. Or away from, you know, the football stadium next door or whatever, you know.

01:27:55:16 - 01:28:27:00

Tony: Yeah, exactly. It's it's amazing how just cutting out directly shining streetlights in your face helps if you can somehow put up up. I don't know. I used to. I actually had put up curtains on little little poles and then one of the neighborhoods I lived in because there was a streetlight right across my my front yard. And to block it out, I would put up a little barrier to it. It just that. Just getting rid of that direct shining in my face light, I was able to see a lot more stars.

01:28:27:02 - 01:28:59:14

Tony: So that helps in the light polluted area. And then what if nothing else? What it does is it keeps your night vision as good as it's going to be, because every time you look in the direction of that streetlight, your irises are going to close up. So it's nice to have something that doesn't, you know, constantly cause you to snap your iris shut every time you look near light, and that'll help that you'll see more stars that way. And then if you're a visual, if you're doing this visually, then you know, getting behind that screen and looking through the eyepiece, you'll see a lot more do that.

01:28:59:17 - 01:29:32:00

Dustin: Yeah, and and this is still something that can be done. I mean, pointing out you have you have a 20 inch telescope and it's not wasted in your. Yeah, that's a huge, I mean, half meter telescope. It's huge, what? Seven feet tall or something? Yeah, but it's still not wasting even. Yeah, even in Florida. And I'm looking at the map right now, and Florida is one of, if not the most challenging states on the east side of the country.

01:29:32:02 - 01:29:48:05

Dustin: I mean, there are no areas that reach the darkest level other than the ocean, of course, and none that even reach the second darkest area. So the entire state of Florida is a challenge in out where you are. And it looks like you're standing on the surface of the Sun.

01:29:49:11 - 01:29:50:09

Tony: It's pretty bad.

01:29:50:21 - 01:30:23:00

Dustin: It's pretty bright and it's still not wasted there because there's a little secret, you know? The jewels of the night sky are going to be the things that are bright enough that you can see them from these light polluted skies anyway. If you just, you know, if you just use those little tricks like you just mentioned, get the direct light out of, you know, out of your face, out of the view from the telescope. And it's going to make a huge difference. And when you're going after things like Saturn and Jupiter in the Moon, you know, even Venus, you're going to be able to see those.

01:30:23:02 - 01:30:43:08

Dustin: They're so bright in the night sky that you know, you can see these things from cities. Yes. It's not like you shouldn't do this just because you're, you know, on the east side of the country or you happen to be in Orlando or Atlanta. You can still do this stuff and you can still really enjoy the things that are the most enjoyable aspects of visual astronomy anyway.

01:30:43:17 - 01:31:15:14

Tony: Yeah, yeah. And it's another thing I've taken to doing. You really can't. It's a kind of a cheat because I live in Florida. I can do this. I go out into the middle of lakes and rivers on a boat at night. And of course, this is really only good for visual observing with maybe binoculars, but not a telescope. And I'll just sit out there and look up, though, because it's in the middle of a body of water. I'm sure I'm protected from a lot of a lot of stars, and I'm sorry, light pollution, that's that's in the area.

01:31:15:16 - 01:31:48:16

Tony: So some of the darkest skies are actually out in the middle of the water. And I've thought about this because I have a houseboat and I've thought about what, what, what my telescope do on that if I tried to observe it, of course, the answer is it any kind of high magnification. It would be completely unusable because the boat would be rocking and I wouldn't be able to see anything. So it's not a practical way to do it with telescope or for visual, just like naked eye observing at some of the things I do. And if you're a beginner, which I think is an important thing to do, is to get a connection to the night sky and whatever way you can.

01:31:48:18 - 01:32:22:10

Tony: And if you're in one of these light polluted areas, I highly recommend just going for a walk somewhere looking up. Try to pick the darker areas. I know you've got to be concerned about safety in some cities and stuff like that, so take the appropriate precautions. But but make that connection and then you'll be like, Well, what is that? And so I I have this. I don't know what app you used, but I have an app on my phone called Skyview, and it's the free version. And I like it because I can say, What is that? Sometimes I don't even know. It's like it's hot Jupiter. I'm not sure. So I'll I'll start the app and I'll point my phone up at it in the sky view.

01:32:22:14 - 01:32:32:22

Tony: And what I like about Sky View is that it gives me this real big cartoon view of whatever it is. I'm looking at this like a big view of Jupiter. But it also plays this really cheesy.

01:32:35:05 - 01:32:47:15

Tony: Planetarium music in the background, I kind of like it, so I listen to that and watch it to sort of point my phone around at the sky too. So yeah, maybe that's where you do astronomy.

01:32:48:03 - 01:32:48:18

Tony: You watch

01:32:49:16 - 01:32:50:07

Tony: what

01:32:51:00 - 01:32:52:16

Dustin: you do astronomy for the music.

01:32:52:22 - 01:33:22:16

Tony: Yeah, I do. I mean, well, I mean, there's some art is some kind of music, and a lot of electronic music really gets me in the mood for astronomy. Like the old guys like Vangelis or Jean-Michel Jarre. These these electronic artists that were around in the 70s and 80s that really resonate with me. I love that crap. And this was kind of like that. This is kind of cheesy space music in this app. But you know, anyway, it's it's Skyview. It's the free version. I didn't even pay for it. But those help. Yeah, and I don't think I could download. You are helpful.

01:33:23:12 - 01:33:58:04

Dustin: Yeah, no. Those apps are great and you can get the free like I have SkySafari. Same same idea. Same kind of thing. And there's a free version. But yeah, hold holding your phone up and just being able to point. What is that? I wonder what that is and being able to see that and all the reference stars around it. You know, it's really nice. And then being able to click on it and get some information about it, it's just a really fun way to explore the sky, even if you don't have a telescope or binoculars or anything else, you know. But I think the big the big challenge for people is generally just getting started.

01:33:58:13 - 01:34:21:12

Dustin: Once people get started, they're off and running. But if they get started in the wrong way, it becomes one of those things where it, you know, it just feels like it's too intimidating. It's not fun. It's frustrating. This stuff doesn't work or I don't know how it goes together. And that's where I think that's the depth of a lot of budding astronomers is just the frustration or intimidation factor.

01:34:22:01 - 01:34:53:03

Tony: Yeah. And that is a great Segway into the next segment of our episode, which is we want it. We don't want to just give you advice on how to do astronomy or how to you know what? You know what our opinions are on looking up or taking images or doing a visual observing whatever it is. We also want to give you some concrete things that you can do. And so we're going to talk a little bit about some gear that you can get that we would recommend. That goes along with what we were just talking about, which is we want to get the right start.

01:34:53:06 - 01:35:17:03

Tony: So OPT has put together these packages, which are designed to help minimize this sort of barrier, any kind of barrier and to get you started off on the right foot. And so we'll talk about those for a little bit right now, and hopefully you guys will check those out in the in the links that we that we're sending you. So that's the what what are we talking about here? What are these? What are these kits that we got going?

01:35:18:08 - 01:35:56:09

Dustin: Yeah. So you know, we were we were very resistant to this for a long time when we first started the the podcast. And this is just a full transparency moment. And it was actually something that we found that we were causing more problems than good with. Because when when Tony and I started this and we were talking with Jenny, we're like, Well, look this, this should exist, these conversations should exist, and we should be able to answer questions and make this easy for people. But it shouldn't be like a salesy avenue. There should be something that's just like, bring astronomy to people and, you know, share the love of astronomy for people.

01:35:56:18 - 01:36:08:03

Dustin: And the reason that, like these packages came into existence was actually the reverse. It was the constant comments like, Hey, I come to your podcast expecting expecting that you guys are going to give you some answers on gear.

01:36:08:18 - 01:36:10:08

Tony: We tried to stay away from that, you

01:36:10:10 - 01:36:16:12

Dustin: know, and we're like, We're sorry, we're trying to do the right thing, but we're trying to be white. We don't know what to do.

01:36:16:14 - 01:36:18:12

Tony: We don't want to sell you stuff all the time, right?

01:36:18:18 - 01:36:51:06

Dustin: Yeah, exactly, exactly. But we found that it was actually causing more harm than good then to just put it together for people and make it easy. And so at the request of multiple listeners and you know, a few affiliates even trying to simplify it is is the goal. And that's exactly what this is. It's in line with that goal. And so I want to be clear that these packages, there's multiple packages, and the reason for that is because people have different goals and they have different budgets and they have, you know, different things.

01:36:51:11 - 01:37:29:09

Dustin: They're really trying to get out of astronomy. And so the first one was, you know, built on the assumption that some people are not going to just be head over heels in love with the hobby from the second they get in kind of the way we were, we we got in and we knew then we're never getting out. But that's not going to be the experience for everybody. Some people are like, I just, you know what? I want to experience the Moon. I want to experience Jupiter, but I also don't have the time or energy or just availability to be out every night doing this, you know? And so that's kind of what these packages are.

01:37:29:11 - 01:38:01:09

Dustin: It's like a a way to sample astronomy and see or at least this first. Packages beginner package is a way to see like, do I really like, is this as powerful as I think it's going to be without spending a ton of money? You know, and so we put one together, that is a scope we had designed specifically for this to be inexpensive but still be adequate for, you know, beyond just adequate, you know, phenomenal views of the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn.

01:38:01:16 - 01:38:32:01

Dustin: And then the brighter objects like you'll be able to see the Orion Nebula and then Andromeda, but not something that's going to be like a big telescope, like what Tony has where you're going to basically see anything in the universe you want to see. This is more here's a budget telescope that's super portable. Throw it in the car. It's it's super rugged. The kids aren't going to break it, but it's really inexpensive. So the whole package is called the beginning astronomy telescope starter kit. So on the OPEC website's really simple use type.

01:38:32:03 - 01:39:08:08

Dustin: In "beginning kit", it's going to pull it up, but it comes with the telescope and everything needed. This is a manually operated telescope. You don't have to have a battery or anything like that, literally just point it at a light in the sky and look through it. And then from there, you know, you'll see that light focus it to whatever your your vision is. And and that's it. I mean, really, really simple. Also comes with a laser pointer, a beanie, a a headlamp because we know the first thing that people are going to do. We were we were kind of like, should we put a headlamp in there? Somebody one of our team said the first thing people are going to do is they're going to get excited.

01:39:08:10 - 01:39:15:17

Dustin: They're going to go to a star party with this thing. And if they don't have a head lamp, they're going to be turning on their phone light and they're going to get kicked out of the Star Party.

01:39:17:10 - 01:39:50:19

Tony: That's right. So put the red headlamp in the kit. So that's in there and then a cleaning cloth, and that whole kit is one hundred and forty nine bucks. And it's been, you know, it's been exactly what what people were asking is for the people that have gotten into, you know, truly been extremely happy and grateful for it because it's it's not, you know, a $1000 entry point. It's not a, you know, like a lot of the kids before were or $2000 to jump in, it's like, Hey man, one hundred and fifty bucks, try it.

01:39:51:04 - 01:39:59:23

Dustin: If you don't like it, it's not, you know, it's not. You're not out of thousand dollars, right? But we haven't seen anybody yet. That said, they didn't love astronomy, right?

01:40:01:00 - 01:40:27:23

Tony: This is about the price of a of a pair of binoculars. So what I like about right is that, you know, the telescope that we're talking about is incredibly lightweight. So if you don't have good skies where you live, you you need to be able to just pack the thing up in your car, even carry it on your your on your shoulder and a little shoulder case or whatever, and just walk or ride where you're going to go. This is light enough for that right and the right, and the laser pointer is cool because it's a laser pointer, and

01:40:28:01 - 01:40:33:17

Dustin: that's my favorite part of the whole kit and favorite part of any kit. And all right, the child wants to get a laser.

01:40:34:04 - 01:40:46:08

Tony: Yeah, he goes, Oh, I see the Big Dipper as your girlfriend goes "I don't see it". OK, well, let me pull up a razor one and I say, you say, here's the two star. Here's a pointer stars. These are the little the North Star. And then there's these other Yeah,

01:40:47:06 - 01:40:55:01

Dustin: yeah, you're out there calling things out that don't even exist just so you can point stuff out in the night sky to everyone. Yeah. Now it's the magic,

01:40:55:03 - 01:40:57:09

Tony: Oh god he's playing with the laser pointer again!

01:40:57:11 - 01:41:07:06

Dustin: Yeah, you just have to be careful. We definitely need to say this. You just have to be careful. Do not ever, ever, ever shine this thing at airplanes. That is a federal offense.

01:41:07:08 - 01:41:08:11

Tony: You can get arrested for that stuff.

01:41:08:13 - 01:41:21:04

Dustin: Yeah, do not ever shine in astronomy laser pointer at an airplane. That is not a good idea. So if you know if you have the kids outside using the laser pointer, make sure that they're being watched and they're not shining that thing in an airplane.

01:41:21:13 - 01:41:39:12

Tony: Yeah, and the refractor itself is, you know, 70 mm. That's really good for planets and bright and seeing some of the brighter things the Moon, of course, things like that. So it's a good way to get started. It's easy to use. I mean, you just point one, look at it and you'll know how to use it. It's just like using

01:41:39:23 - 01:42:04:18

Dustin: that was the whole point, man. And that's that's what the team was after. And that's why they went out and they just did it, you know, for Universal Astro, because it was just like, it's got to be, it's got to be intuitive. The second you see it, like you just said, you have to know like, OK, there's nothing intimidating. If I point this at the Moon, I'm going to see the Moon. I don't have to learn any motors and I have to learn any software. I don't learn anything, just point and look. And you're done.

01:42:05:05 - 01:42:09:19

Tony: Yeah, it doesn't have a mount that's on a clock drive. I mean, does have a does have a tripod, but

01:42:10:00 - 01:42:15:01

Dustin: yeah, it has a tripod. It does not have any any electronics at all. It is just point in.

01:42:15:03 - 01:42:17:12

Tony: Look, yeah, what's the eyepiece that comes with it?

01:42:18:14 - 01:42:20:18

Dustin: Uh, I think it's 24, 25 mm.

01:42:21:03 - 01:42:27:03

Tony: All right. So you're looking at yeah, so they yeah. So it's a 25 millimeter eyepiece and so

01:42:28:20 - 01:42:38:07

Tony: and it's got a 400 millimeter focal length, so you divide twenty five into four hundred. That to. You the magnification you're looking at. I don't like going to do it my way right now.

01:42:39:19 - 01:43:07:04

Dustin: So it has the 25, which is the standard. That's what everybody's going to use for most things and getting the full picture of the Moon. But we also put a 10 millimeter eyepiece in there. So that's included. All right. You know, when, yeah, when people want to because on 70mm, you know, you can get away with that 10 millimeter eyepiece and see, you know, more detail on the craters or see, you know, the moons of Jupiter is there passing over or, you know, that kind of stuff. So it does have the 25 and the 10.

01:43:07:06 - 01:43:38:05

Tony: All right. And the other thing I like about the headlamp, I have about 10 headlamps of my house here, and none of them are rechargeable. So I love the fact that this one is because you just, you know, plug it in a USB port and you recharge it. So to me, that's a big deal. I look for that now and a lot of things, this is the stuff recharge box. I'm sick of throwing away batteries, so that's another real plus for the headlamp as well. So all together, pretty good kit, I think. I mean, this is it's portable. You want that with something to take it anywhere.

01:43:38:07 - 01:43:57:02

Tony: It's easy to use ,one look at it, you know how to use it, and you got to have something to work on your head because man, you know, we're coming up on winter and I don't have to worry about it as much as you guys do up north because wintertime is cool, especially if you're in Maine. So all that work as well. So we've got another kit too, don't we? I like this one.

01:43:58:08 - 01:44:00:16

Dustin: Which one we have, we have quite a few. Which ones which

01:44:00:18 - 01:44:05:00

Tony: are. Oh, I'm sorry. So this one's a Star Party Essentials adventure kit.

01:45:42:13 - 01:45:43:11

Dustin: Yeah man.

01:45:43:17 - 01:45:45:17

Dustin: We're gonna put an laser pointer in everything. Yes, that's my favorite part.

01:45:47:23 - 01:45:57:02

Dustin: So I know we need to grow. But still, you know, I'm sorry, but lasers are fun. Yeah, well, it come up if they do the beginner search on the web site.

01:45:57:19 - 01:46:30:01

Dustin: Yeah, yeah. So actually on the website all the way through Christmas, at least we're going to leave up. We have it listed as stocking stuffers for amateur astronomers. On their home page is a banner, but it pulls up all of the kits that they've put up recently that are, you know, these kind of beginner to intermediate level kits. And then all of the more advanced kits are included on the home page under astro kits. So there's two different places to find kits on our website, but all of that stuff is pulled up.

01:46:31:11 - 01:47:06:23

Dustin: And yeah, I mean, there's quite a bit, he gets his detailed all the way into like getting light pollution filter kits and, you know, in in, you know, an entire like work maintenance bench kit that has everything from, you know, like measuring back focus to, you know, even adaptors, you know, adapters get locked together. It's got like strap wrenches and everything. You can possibly imagine cleaning solutions to maintain a kit. There's kits for that purpose as well. So these kids are just they're designed to be a solution to real astronomy problems.

01:47:07:03 - 01:47:26:09

Dustin: Whether that problem be, where do I get started or how do I maintenance my telescope? Or, you know, even just, Hey, how are you have a camera and a lens? I just want a platform to put it on that's going to eliminate star trails so I can track across the sky like there are kids for all of that stuff on these pages.

01:47:27:00 - 01:47:57:11

Tony: Yeah. And I can't tell you how helpful that is, because when you're just starting out in a new hobby, one of the things that you know can get real confusing really fast is like, Well, what do I, what should I have and what are what am I going to end up buying later that I wish I had that I didn't buy this time. And so these kids kind of solve that problem. And I'm going to tell you now the difference with these two kits is one, you know, the the there's one with the telescope down with this power bank. Let me tell you about this power bank. If you could use these for just about anything else you could think of, it comes with a lithium ion battery, which is a 42.

01:47:57:19 - 01:48:08:15

Tony: I can't believe I love how they do this 42000 milliwatts amp power now. That's just 42 amps, really. But but this is useful because it's got 100 watt inverter and

01:48:10:10 - 01:48:42:00

Tony: built in with it for AC power. Now this these things are useful with not just charging your phone or or anything else, but whenever you're traveling at all. Having one of these power banks around, I guarantee you it is handy because I use I have the Celestron one and I have a couple of off brand ones that I got from Amazon. And all of those are very, very useful. And this one for the price is better than all of those. So I highly recommend having just a power bank handy no matter what you do, even for storms at your house or if you know, if you have power outages, whatever, they really are handy.

01:48:42:02 - 01:48:48:00

Tony: And of course, you're going to need it if you start getting clock drives and cameras and all that stuff to plug in.

01:48:48:02 - 01:49:23:19

Dustin: So, you know, it's funny. We just surprised Trevor Astro Backyard. He's is an awesome guy, but we just surprised him with one in it. It just got in and I saw he posted a story about it today, actually. So this it won't be today when this podcast goes live, but it's today for the people that follow Trevor. And I feel like at this point, everybody does. Yeah, he's an awesome you've got a huge following. Yeah, yeah, he's he's a he's a great human man, just a good dude. But I really is. Yeah, he he just got his and he's like, it just said finally, portable power.

01:49:24:11 - 01:49:25:23

Tony: Yes, that's right.

01:49:26:06 - 01:49:42:13

Dustin: You feel like we do. Oh yeah, we do. Yeah, because it is. I was carrying a I was carrying a car battery around for a long time when I was when I was running my imaging rigs out in the desert and that neither feels safe nor practical.

01:49:42:20 - 01:50:02:17

Tony: Got this big honking lead acid battery? Yeah, I used to put it on a little handcart. What I carry around, just like it, didn't have to lift it up and just, you know, drag it around that way. And yeah, man, it's they're heavy. These lithium ion batteries are nowhere near as heavy. They are way more power for the punch. And then, of course, they last a lot longer as well in terms of recharge cycle.

01:50:02:19 - 01:50:17:07

Dustin: So yeah, and your chance of dying by using it is zero where, you know, I always felt like you're fiddling around in the dark with this massive car battery. I was I was like, Man, if I survive tonight, I'm going to have an awesome fire,

01:50:18:03 - 01:50:28:18

Tony: you know, just especially in the dark with like one of these things, like 800 amp hours. Some of them it's like, Oh, that's pretty crazy, actually. Definitely. So these are these are really safe.

01:50:29:16 - 01:50:45:21

Dustin: Yeah. And they're a lot more like they're they handle the weather a lot better, too. Then just like a car battery that's not meant to be set in the sand and all of that, you know, these things can handle it. The the other one, it's really not a good idea to go out into the desert and get and do and everything else all over a car battery.

01:50:47:12 - 01:50:59:04

Tony: Yeah, not a good idea. Yeah. And I just can't say enough about how handy portable power is in this day and age now. And you just you just use it for everything. So it's definitely a decent kit and what? I want to check that out.

01:50:59:06 - 01:51:30:20

Dustin: So yeah, and in the whole goal here is just solve problems like, I mean, you know, it's just it's not important. Like if if people don't want to start with motorized motorized controls and all of that, it's really not important in my, you know, at least I don't believe it is, although I hear a lot of people want to see a lot of comments all the time, people saying, Look, you're going to be a lot more successful if you just get go to right out of the gate. And while I do agree that go to is just all trick and.

01:51:31:08 - 01:52:14:02

Dustin: I mean, being able to just say, you know, go to Andromeda and then it's there or even even better, just typing it in on your computer and running your entire rig from your computer, the cameras, everything like that is that is beautiful and that is how I run my systems. But getting started? I mean, that's a lot of investment for somebody that's never done the hobby or or never tinkered. I really think the way to do it when you're really just getting started is to grab something durable that you don't have to baby, that you can just throw in the car and set up and do exactly what I was talking about doing on my birthday out here is like pull people over and say, You know what? Really get the shared experience, say, you know what? Come over here and take a look at this.

01:52:14:08 - 01:52:25:23

Dustin: You're literally not going to believe what you see. I'm not even going to tell you what it is. Just take a look, look at this and show somebody the craters in the Moon for the first time or Saturn or Jupiter. You know, that's that's going to be tough to beat.

01:52:26:01 - 01:52:29:22

Tony: And if you're in any kind of place that's got foot traffic, people are going to come up to you and say, What are you looking at?

01:52:30:23 - 01:52:45:06

Dustin: Oh, yeah, yeah. You go to a local local event of any kind and you plop that thing down and say, Yeah, yeah, come take a look at this telescope. Like, who's going to say, No, I just, you know what? I'm firmly against that.

01:52:47:13 - 01:52:49:01

Dustin: Yeah, I shall not

01:52:49:03 - 01:52:52:08

Tony: covid safe too, because you're not touching anything. Right? Yeah.

01:52:54:12 - 01:53:09:17

Tony: Okay. All righty. Well, that is. So I highly recommend you guys check these out. The links are in the description box of the videos or the and also on the OPT website ( & So definitely check these out. And do you have anything else you want to add?

01:53:10:14 - 01:53:39:09

Dustin: No, I'm just man, I'm so excited to be doing these again. I am already I can't wait for next week in just a little little hint. This isn't a hint. This is just exactly what it will be. But next week we're gonna be talking about Observatory backyard observatories. Yeah, and and exactly how to what it means and the different types. Which ones are really, really great and which ones can be money pits and devastating?

01:53:40:04 - 01:53:53:08

Tony: Yes. Yes, it's yeah. I have spent many decades on as I've built several in my backyards and various places I've lived. So it's a good it's a topic we've gotten a lot of requests on from from you guys. And so we're going to we're going to talk about that next time.

01:53:54:01 - 01:54:12:14

Dustin: And I have seen a lot of mistakes. I've seen six figure mistakes people have made that they didn't know it was six figures at the time, but they just kept kept trying to solve that problem. And it, you know, it added up and added up. And we're going to talk about how to av oid that stuff. If you're interested in the backyard observatory, how to do it right the first time and avoid all those pitfalls.

01:54:12:23 - 01:54:22:01

Tony: Yep. All right. Well, thank you, Dustin, very much. And on behalf of Dustin, I'm Tony Darnell. Thank you all so much for listening. And as always, keep looking up.

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