From the December 2013 issue

Everyday accessories

A trip to the local hardware or sporting goods store is a must for a backyard observer.
By | Published: December 30, 2013 | Last updated on May 18, 2023

Where does the amateur astronomer go to purchase astronomy gear? If not online, most of us would probably head for a nearby optical goods shop. But did you know you can find items that enhance your enjoyment of the hobby in unlikely places? Let’s take some of the cash we saved from last month’s column when we garnered astronomical freebies from the Internet and use it for a backyard astronomer’s shopping trip. First stop: the cosmetics section at the local department store.

Lipstick and nail polish may not do much to improve a telescopic view of the Orion Nebula, but a rechargeable hair dryer might. If used gently and set at the lowest air volume, this device will help combat the dew that shrouds telescope optics and fogs up the image. The fix is temporary — we’ll need to repeat the process several times in an evening — but that’s better than having to return indoors.

Once optics are rid of dew, the serious astronomy hobbyist will keep a logbook to organize the notes and sketches that document each night’s observing. We’ll stop by an office supply store and pick up a three-ring binder and some unlined notebook paper. For basic eyepiece sketching and note taking, let’s add a clipboard and some #2 pencils. What about something to illuminate the clipboard in the dark? For that, let’s head to the local sporting goods store.

Visit the camping section in search of a hiker’s headlamp — an LED flashlight that straps around the head, keeping hands free to operate the telescope and take notes. To preserve night vision, we’ll select one with a red-light option. While here, let’s pick up a folding canvas chair to relax in during breaks or while scanning the sky with binoculars. With luck, we’ll also find a lightweight folding table to keep accessories and charts within reach and off the damp ground.

From the camping area, let’s move on to fishing tackle. Here we’ll find two useful items — a fishing vest and a tackle box. The vest pockets, in which anglers stow lures and hooks, also can keep eyepieces and accessories near. The tackle box will hold these items more securely, whether in storage or in the field.

Need quality binoculars? Hunters do. The size (10×50) recommended for backyard astronomy is a mainstay for hunters who want to spot game under low-light conditions. Need a finder for a telescope? We’re in luck! In the hunting department, we’ll also come across red-dot BB gun finders — essentially identical to the red-dot finders found on telescopes.

a fishing tackle box is a great observing kit
A fishing tackle box is a great observing kit for a night under the stars. To learn some basic items to put in this kit, visit
Michael E. Bakich

You might be tempted to get a BB gun as well and go after the irritating lights that invade your backyard. Not so fast, my friend! Rambo tactics aren’t necessary when we can visit the hardware store and purchase the materials to construct a simple light shield. With PVC pipe, adhesive, connector joints, a few plastic tarps, and bungee cords, we’ll construct a box-like enclosure to keep our telescopes in the dark and maintain neighborhood peace.

Have you ever had a loose bolt or screw tumble from your scope and disappear in the grass? Let’s be proactive and pick up any hardware odds and ends (nuts and bolts, thumbscrews, rubber washers, etc.) that might get lost or worn. To take care of on-the-spot repair needs, we’ll pick up a compact all-in-one tool (screwdriver, pliers, scissors, etc.). For quick temporary repairs, let’s also grab a roll of duct tape — the universal “fix-it” material.

At a hardware store, we’ll also come across a single-drawer tool caddy — a workable alternative to the tackle box as a carryall for eyepieces and accessories. It’s my preference. Having two tackle boxes, one for fishing and one for astronomy, creates the real possibility that I might absent-mindedly take the wrong one on my next fishing trip. A Plössl eyepiece is not the best bait for a largemouth bass! The tool caddy lets me see what I’m bringing, so the Plössl arrives at the observing area, not the lake.

Tired of torturing your knees on the hard, cold ground? A foam gardener’s kneeling pad will be a blessing! Need something to protect a telescope from dust and dirt? Pick up a box of large-capacity (approximately 50 gallons), industrial-strength barrel liners, and slip one over your scope when it’s not in use. Finally, get a can of WD-40 to keep your telescope mount working smoothly.

Remember, the telescope and eyepieces are only part of what we need to enjoy a starry night. We can find most of the auxiliary items in places not normally associated with astronomy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m moving on to the local supermarket for my final astronomy purchases — chips, cookies, and a few cans of soda. Can’t enjoy an evening under the stars without a midnight snack!

A quick shout-out to “Barlow” Bob Godfrey for the idea behind this article. Questions, comments, or suggestions? Email me at Next month: An asteroid takes out a 1st-magnitude star. Clear skies!