Laser Pointer for Astronomy
Waikato Times

Me and my gadget - Laser pointer

09:01 05/01/2012
This article originally appeared in the Waikato Times.

Dave OwenSpace nerd Dave Owen, president of the Hamilton Astronomical Society, tells Chris Gardner about the favourite gadget in his man-bag.

What is your favourite gadget?

As a space nerd, I have a bunch of gadgets I can't live without, from my phone loaded with astronomy apps to attachments for pimping my telescope. However, sometimes it's the simple things that make the most impact, and in my case, nothing compares to one of the simplest gadgets in my man-purse: the green laser pointer. It's pretty much the same as a standard red laser pointer, except that it's easier to see at night and it draws an amazing line up into the sky, seemingly right to the star or planet it's pointing at.

What do you mainly use it for?

Two things. First, I hold it against my telescope to help line up whatever I want to view in the night sky. This makes the whole process much quicker and easier.

Second, and more importantly, I use it to point out things in the sky to other people. I do a lot of astronomy education under the stars, explaining to people what's up there. Without a pointer, it's painfully slow and difficult. Try it yourself. Pick a random star and then try to show someone else exactly which star you're looking at. In most cases, it's practically impossible.

With a laser pointer, it's not only easy to point out individual stars and planets, but I can trace constellations, explain relationships between different objects, and even point to the spots on the Moon where the Apollo astronauts landed.

For a simple gadget that's really nothing more than a finger extension, this thing is completely full of awesome.

How would you make it better?

Laser pointers are dangerous and the world is full of idiots, so I'd include a built-in IQ test that determines if the user is smart enough to operate it safely. If the user fails the test, the laser beam is disabled and the pointer will instead display a harmless hologram of Justin Bieber.

Dave outside the observatory