Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Monday, November 28, 2016

ExoMars Orbiter

We've been watching the "Mars" series on the National Geographic channel. It's pretty good, except for the gratuitous high-tension scenes, which almost made us turn it off.

Talk about synergy. Now the ExoMars Orbiter has reached Mars and is returning some great high-resolution pictures of the Martian surface.


ESA's new ExoMars orbiter has tested its suite of instruments in orbit for the first time, hinting at a great potential for future observations.

The Trace Gas Orbiter, or TGO, a joint endeavour between ESA and Roscosmos, arrived at Mars on 19 October. Its elliptical orbit takes it from 230–310 km above the surface to around 98 000 km every 4.2 days.
It spent the last two orbits during 20–28 November testing its four science instruments for the first time since arrival, and making important calibration measurements.
Data from the first orbit has been made available for this release to illustrate the range of observations to be expected once the craft arrives into its near-circular 400 km-altitude orbit late next year.
TGO's main goal is to make a detailed inventory of rare gases that make up less than 1% of the atmosphere's volume, including methane, water vapour, nitrogen dioxide and acetylene.
Of high interest is methane, which on Earth is produced primarily by biological activity, and to a smaller extent by geological processes such as some hydrothermal reactions. 
The two instruments tasked with this role have now demonstrated they can take highly sensitive spectra of the atmosphere. During the test observations last week, the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite focused on carbon dioxide, which makes up a large volume of the planet's atmosphere, while the Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery instrument homed in on water.
They also coordinated observations with ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, as they will in the future.
Complementary measurements by the orbiter's neutron detector, FREND, will measure the flow of neutrons from the planet's surface. Created by the impact of cosmic rays, the way in which they are emitted and their speed on arriving at TGO points to the composition of the surface layer, in particular to water or ice just below the surface.
The instrument has been active at various times during the cruise to Mars and on recent occasions while flying close to the surface could identify the relative difference between regions of known higher and lower neutron flux, although it will take several months to produce statistically significant results.
Similarly, the instrument showed a clear increase in neutron detections when close to Mars compared to when it was further away.
The different capabilities of the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System were also demonstrated, with 11 images captured during the first close flyby on 22 November.
At closest approach the spacecraft was 235 km from the surface, and flying over the Hebes Chasma region, just north of the Valles Marineris canyon system. These are some of the closest images that will ever be taken of the planet by TGO, given that the spacecraft's final orbit will be at around 400 km altitude.
The camera team also completed a quick first test of producing a 3D reconstruction of a region in Noctis Labyrinthus, from a stereo pair of images.
First ExoMars stereo reconstruction. Credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE
Although the images are impressively sharp, data collected during this test period will help to improve the camera's onboard software as well as the quality of the images after processing.
"We are extremely happy and proud to see that all the instruments are working so well in the Mars environment, and this first impression gives a fantastic preview of what's to come when we start collecting data for real at the end of next year," says HÃ¥kan Svedhem, ESA's TGO Project Scientist.
"Not only is the spacecraft itself clearly performing well, but I am delighted to see the various teams working together so effectively in order to give us this impressive insight.
"We have identified areas that can be fine-tuned well in advance of the main science mission, and we look forward to seeing what this amazing science orbiter will do in the future."

Sunday, November 27, 2016

transient luminous event

The Earth never ceases to amaze. Lightning that shoots UP from the clouds into the sky: blue jets, sprites, gigantic jets. WTF?

The Elusive Gigantic Jets of Lightning

The most common kind of lightning observed from earth discharges from cloud to cloud or from clouds toward the ground. The more elusive forms, called sprites, take place high above thunderstorm clouds and are visible as streaks of red. Even rarer are those that take place between clouds and the ionosphere where the electric potential is hundreds of kilovolts higher than earth's surface. They are called gigantic jets and they are extremely powerful. While a typical lightning strike may travel less than ten kilometers, gigantic jets have been observed to shoot vertically up for more than 70 km.
Along with sprites and blue jets, gigantic jets belong to a class of exotic forms of upper-atmosphere lightning phenomenon known as “transient luminous event” (TLE), so called because they lack several characteristics of the more familiar tropospheric lightning.
Photograph of a gigantic jet, captured in China on August 13, 2016. This image might be the best image ever captured of this unusual phenomenon. Photo credit: Phebe Pan
It wasn’t until the end of the last century that electrical activity above thunderclouds was scientifically proven, although rumors based on undocumented observations persisted for a long time. Sprites were discovered only in 1989, and since then have been photographed by the thousands. But gigantic jets were not observed until 2001. Only a few dozen observation has been made since then. The most recent sighting was in August, 2016.
Although their physics is not fully understood, researchers believe that gigantic jets could be a “missing link” in the Earth’s “global electric circuit” that helps maintain the potential difference of about 300,000 volts between the Earth’s surface and the ionosphere. The other components of Earth's global electric circuit include thunderstorms, the conducting ionosphere, the downward fair-weather currents and the conducting Earth.
Possibly the sharpest image of a blue jet available so far.
 A similar but less powerful lightning phenomenon are the blue jets. These electrical discharges occur from the top of cumulonimbus clouds above a thunderstorm to the lowest levels of the ionosphere, just like gigantic jets. However, they are short and penetrate only up to about 40-50 km above the earth. Blue jets are typically shaped in a narrow cone, and as implied by their name, are blue in color.
Also see: Sprite Lightning

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Morford on Trump

I don't think I'm through the mourning period yet. Or, perhaps, I'm still in denial. Either way, everything is going to be alright. Or not. Life is funny like that.

Five things you can do right now to combat foul Trumpism

Essential tools for brutal times…
1) Mourn thorough, and mourn deep
Warning: Beware racing through this insufferable moment in history too quickly in an attempt to get it over with, or to try and forcibly transmute it into fiery activism or to “something positive” (impossible) without taking sufficient time to sit, really sit, in this pocket of slimy horror, lest its real, transformational energy fail to take useful root.
Dems are accused of many things, but one of the most common might be losing our fire too quickly after election victories (or losses), getting too comfortably ensconced in our bubbles of positive and not recognizing the racist, sexist wolf shamelessly humping the door.
A good way to avoid complacency – or its sour cousin, abject despondency – is to really allow this moment to soak to the marrow, take it in so deeply we come out the other side transformed not into the passive peacenik progressives we once were, but into an entirely new warrior class.
2) Support, and pay for, real journalism
Yes, I know: MSM is under critical duress right now; it’s an obvious and convenient scapegoat, easy to blame the media (especially cable TV news, yeesh) for warping and manipulating the election, given how many pollsters and prognosticators – including me, of course – completely misread the most impossible-to-read election in your lifetime.
I suggest otherwise. Aside from the baffling polling disasters, journalism did its job more than admirably well against truly bizarre and often nearly impossible economic and cultural trends, not to mention certain political campaigns that defied human dignity. Journalism is a flawed, messy and decidedly human art, after all. And it remains more essential than ever.
Be advised: Trump loathes professional media, and there is every indication he will suppress and perhaps even persecute the free expression of ideas, particularly any unflattering or critical reportage he does not personally like (related note: if you have any empathy left in your heart, please offer some to the White House press corp. Their lives are going to be a living hell for the next four years). In short: A free press is more crucial right now than perhaps any time in modern history.
Me, I have paid annual subscriptions to NYT, LAT, the Guardian, WaPo, Atlantic, New Yorker, Slate, NatGeo and a few other print mags. I consider them vital public services, lifelines to intelligence and perspective. There is an exceptional pool of talent working in journalism today, and I guarantee you the best of them are, right this second, redoubling their efforts (and their newsrooms) to fight for clarity and human dignity for the next four years, against what is already a bleak tide of trashy, hate-filled propaganda blogs and rancid voices masquerading as real journalism.
And it’s a bargain: all told, all my subscriptions combined are still cheaper than a couple seasons of some mediocre show on Netflix. I mean, come on.
3) Move to a swing state.
I came across this advice somewhere recently, and, while at this particular moment I’m in a deep and grateful swoon for my beloved California and its legendarily progressive, open-minded and diverse agenda, and cannot imagine leaving – moving somewhere more politically lopsided and red has an unusual resonance, and power.
After all, changing the world only happens by becoming a potent beacon of that change, an intelligent, informed locus of kind-but-fierce energy around which the truth of our shared humanity can gather (see No. 4, below). North Carolina? Texas? Kentucky? Go forth, young radicals, feminists, activists and newly awakened Millennials, and multiply.
3) Advise and support the Democratic party
Rarely in modern history has the DNC establishment been so instantly shattered, so unexpectedly slammed backwards. So then: while the red tide of Trumpism wreaks unspeakable havoc in Washington and the world – and enjoys all the blame for what’s to come – the DNC gets a rare chance to rebuild itself anew, as it scans around (quickly, oh so quickly) for its next-gen heroes.
They need your help. Communicate with your elected reps, especially the new blood (godspeed, Kamala). Sign petitions, write letters, hold local meetings and rallies, join an activist group or ten (recommended: CTZNWELL), pay more attention to the various political maneuverings locally and in DC. Hell, run for local office yourself. Join the police commission. Attend local DCCC meetings. Get on a community board. We get few chances to remake a political party from the (destabilized) group up. Your involvement, at any level you like, could not be more needed.
4) Galvanize. Like a warrior
All done mourning? Terrific. Now, next: Allow yourself to be galvanized. Electrified. The energy of fear and dread, while depressing as hell, can also be a shockingly potent fuel.
I won’t call it a silver lining per se, because there is zero good about what’s coming. But I do recall when eight solid years of G.W. Bush so gutted our national dignity and poisoned our global identity, the energy for change became strong enough that it actually managed to slingshot us far in the opposite direction, straight to the then-radical, seemingly impossible idea of electing the country’s first black president – a man who, of course, turned out to be one of the finest, most respected and articulate leaders in our nation’s history. (Side note: Dear Obama – we are so very, so insanely, so heartbreakingly sorry).
Here’s my prediction: This time, it won’t take nearly that long. It’s a sure bet that Trump’s offenses will come so fast and so startling, his lecherous rape of the American experiment so complete, the energy available for backlash will become available far sooner (2018 mid-terms, to begin with).
We must be ready. This requires diligence and determination, but also not succumbing to fatalism, liberal infighting, shrugging pacifism. It requires not whining about how if only we had a viable third party, or if only Bernie had won, or Hillary had been a different person entirely, or blaming the MSM, or social media, or all the stupefied Millennials who didn’t show up to vote (far fewer in overall number than for Obama in 2012, for shame), because they thought it was a given that the world would always be their playpen. It requires notpicking up your toys and stomping away if your exact candidate, or ideology, or pet issues, are not perfectly addressed.
In sum: The energy for recoil and immediate change will come hard and furious this time. Watch for it. Gather it in. Share it with your tribe, your town, your lover, your representatives. Leverage it any chance you get in any way you can, from micro to macro. Do not hesitate, lest the trolls steal it and transmute it into further discord.
5) Reconnect with, and fully recharge, your immediate community
Obvious, but perhaps not obvious enough. In times of stunning hardship and grief, it’s tempting to panic, to feel suddenly very isolated and alone. It’s a terrifying disorder (not to mention a cruel illusion), and right now we’re seeing what happens when huge numbers of our fellow humans feel so intensely lost, so completely unseen, so disconnected from Source they actually turn violent and self-destructive, ultimately choosing to put their trust in a vile, abusive demagogue to command them what to think, feel, obey.
Your instincts are likely correct: Reach first for those closest and most connected to you, be they in your family, your tribe, your team, your apartment building, your neighborhood, your city or your club or (in my case) yoga kula, and circle the wagons. Talk openly. Listen deeply. Share your fears, your hopes, your heart and your strength. Hillary didn’t quite go far enough: We are not merely stronger together. We are transformative together. We are human together.
Caveat: This list is, obviously, largely non-specific, and does little to directly address the myriad moral and ideological terrors Trump is about to unleash on this country, from decimating the ACA, to unraveling every good Obama put in play, gutting women’s rights, calcifying the Supreme Court, reversing America’s clean energy policy, yanking the county out of NAFTA, harming immigrants and POC and the LGBT community, deriding human rights, and on and on. The list of his intentions is stunning in its inhumanity and brutality, and is easily one of the most demoralizing, heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen.
Full truth: I have little idea how to tackle those specific demons just yet, both because there are so many, and because exactly how he’s going to do it has yet to be seen. What I’ve got right now is humbly broadstroke: Gather our collective energy into a nuclear fireball of resistance, invoke the warrior goddess Kali with 1008 screams of No F—king Way, and gird ourselves for the most difficult, explosive, potentially transformative fights of our lives.
Suggestions appreciated. Outreaches of support and communal fire, always – and I do mean always – welcome.
Be loved, be seen, be held. And galvanize.

Friday, November 25, 2016

the dark rigidity

Found a good writing on the fact that fundamentalists supported Donald Trump in large numbers. 

When I was growing up in East Texas, I remember this idea quite clearly expounded, either in Sunday School or at church proper each Sunday morning, namely, that white people were superior to darker-skinned people, and darker-skinned people were darker-skinned because they had all been cursed by God as a race. At the time, I didn't question it. I was basically "brainwashed" like all the other innocent children.

I cannot tell when when I quit believing that, if I ever did even believe it. Believing something is quite different from being aware of it.

The article is quite long so I will paste only a few snips. Long but worthwhile reading. 

The dark rigidity of fundamentalist America: a view from the inside

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: “Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”
Trump supporters are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Even some Democratic leaders are saying this. It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete bullshit. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to throw attention away from the real problem. The real problem isn’t east coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

The religion in which I was raised taught this. Even though they’ve backtracked on some of their more racist declarations, many still believe the original claims. Non-whites are the color they are because of their sins, or at least the sins of their ancestors. Blacks don’t have dark skin because of where they lived and evolution; they have dark skin because they are cursed. God cursed them for a reason. If God cursed them, treating them as equals would be going against God’s will. It is really easy to justify treating people differently if they are cursed by God and will never be as good as you no matter what they do because of some predetermined status.
Once you have this view, it is easy to lower the outside group’s standing and acceptable level of treatment. Again, there are varying levels of racism at play in rural, Christian, white America. I know people who are ardent racists. I know a lot more whose racism is much more subtle but nonetheless racist. It wouldn’t take sodium pentothal to get most of these people to admit they believe they are fundamentally better and superior to minorities. They are white supremacists who dress up in white dress shirts, ties, and gingham dresses. They carry a Bible and tell you, “everyone’s a child of God” but forget to mention that some of God’s children are more favored than others and skin tone is the criterion by which we know who is and who isn’t at the top of God’s list of most favored children.
For us “coastal elites” who understand evolution, genetics, science…nothing we say to those in fly-over country is going to be listened to because not only are we fighting against an anti-education belief system, we are arguing against God. You aren’t winning a battle of beliefs with these people if you are on one side of the argument and God is on the other. No degree of understanding this is going to suddenly make them less racist, more open to reason and facts. Telling “urban elites” they need to understand rural Americans isn’t going to lead to a damn thing because it misses the causes of the problem.
Because rural, Christian, white Americans will not listen to educated arguments, supported by facts that go against their fundamentalist belief systems from “outsiders,” any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and it always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it. Of course, it really doesn’t matter whether they like it or not, it, like the evolution and climate change even though they don’t believe it, it is going to happen whether they believe in it or not.
Another major problem with closed-off, fundamentalist belief systems is they are very susceptible to propaganda. (ha! no shit)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

thunderstorm asthma

Wait, what? A thunderstorm caused a gigantic release of pollen and blasted it deep into the lungs of people, killing 6 and sending 17 more to the hospital?

Earth never ceases to amaze.

Death toll from Australia's thunderstorm asthma reaches 6

Six people have died and five remained on life support after a rare condition known as thunderstorm asthma struck Australia's second-largest city, officials said on Sunday.
The sixth victim died in a hospital on Saturday night from medical complications stemming from a wild thunderstorm that struck Melbourne on Monday night, a Health Department statement said.
Five patients remained in intensive care units and three of those were in critical condition, the statement said. Another 12 patients were in hospitals with less serious respiratory and related conditions.
Monday's storm caused rain-sodden ryegrass pollen grains to explode and disperse over the city, with tiny pollen particles penetrating deep into lungs. Around a third of patients who suffered asthma attacks on Monday reported never having asthma before.
The storm overwhelmed emergency services and hospitals in this city of 4.5 million people, with 8,500 receiving hospital treatment.
The world's first recorded thunderstorm asthma event occurred in Melbourne in 1987, when hospitals reported a five-fold increase in asthma cases. Similar events have happened in the United States, Canada, Britain and Italy. The last major event in Melbourne was in November 2010.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

This Modern World

Yeah, whew! We barely avoided electing a woman who mishandled email! (shudder)

click the pic

Monday, November 21, 2016

Wake Up Laughing

It is of course possible to feel thanks and gratitude, despite Trump's slash-and-burn campaign, and the imminent demise of much of what we might hold dear.

A Thanksgiving Message From Wake Up Laughing

"And on the 8th day God saw the world was funny, 
and She created laughter." -- Swami Beyondananda

Dear Friends, Fans and Co-Hearts:SwamiPilgrim
After a recent show, an audience member came up to me and said, "Thanks for the laughs."
I replied, "Actually, I laughed very little during my show.  Thank YOU for the laughs."
So ... to my audience, whether you've seen the show live or are chuckling at the Daily Laughsitives or You Tube pieces or written work or CDs ... thanks for the laughs.
To be perfectly honest, I create comedy to amuse myself and promote sanity in my field.  Sometimes Trudy and I laugh uproariously at a little joke just between us, and other times I am in front of an audience that is "tickled" to laugh.  When I'm out in public, I engage with strangers and commit "random acts of comedy" that leave people laughing or certainly smiling.  Just about anyone can learn to give "cosmic comic darshan" -- I've just had years of practice.
And while it doesn't take much to make me laugh even if I am by myself, laughter and comedy are social phenomena.  They are ways of sparking, weaving and sustaining community and connection.  Even in our darkest moments -- perhaps especially at these times -- we recognize how much better it is to laugh together than to cry separately.  A room filled with laughing people brightens everyone in the space.
The recent election that blew the lid off of our toxic political system has left many feeling bereft, devastated, discouraged, and in danger.  We are in uncharted territory, in a more "real" reality than the illusory "all is well" that held together during the neoliberal rule of Obama. 
In recent generations, comedy has been an effective weapon of "mass-deconstruction" as social satirists from George Carlin to John Oliver have been "pumping ironies" to bring toxic contradictions to the fore.  Never before have we been so aware of what is not working.  And while laughing in the face of darkness can boost our spirits, it may be time for comedy to take on an even more generative task:  Encourage us as we build a new world, despite the obstacles.
This weekend, many of us will be sitting down to feast with relatives who might share a different political or spiritual perspective.  (That's probably why we are put in families.)  Humor and laughter can provide the bridge from heart to heart, even if in our minds we feel separated by a huge chasm.  Here some ideas for using humor to build rather than blow up bridges:
1.  Remember, recall and recount good times shared, particularly family traditions and childhood memories.  Families that play together, stay together.
2.  Play games that involve creativity and emotional expression, like charades.
3.  Watch funny movies.  A doctor I know actually writes out prescriptions for movies like "Waking Ned Devine", a poignant and hilarious human comedy anyone can enjoy.
4.  Bring toys.  A friend of mine used to celebrate his birthday by inviting friends over to bring toys -- including squirt guns -- and play like children.
5.  Share jokes that are "appropriate for any audience."  That's what Trudy and I did when we lived in a predominantly-Baptist town in Texas.  Jokes became the currency of communication and connection.
6.  Design and initiate new traditions that involve laughter and play.  It's so easy to look outside ourselves and our family for entertainment "out there".  Grow your own fun, and you will "overgrow" the things that seemingly divide you.
7.  Remember and affirm the love that is at the core of who you are to one another.  Even if the divide causes emotions to get hot -- or cold -- hold the space in the center, and allow the peace to take hold.  You might also prepare for some grief or sorrow as well, as people grieve the separation that has divided kin.
In these times of uncertainty, the only reassurance comes from the love in our hearts, and the reflection of that love we see in our loved ones.  May we all attune in to the "Supreme Beam" this holiday season!
Steve, Swami, Trudy, Annette at Wake Up Laughing

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Blood on the Mountain

"Blood on the Mountain" was just released. It should remind us all that while Donald Trump promised the coal miners that he would "bring back all of your jobs" there is no way we are going to be able to do that. Just another lie to garner votes. And Hillary Clinton had no answer to the charge that she turned her back on coal workers. 

The plot of "Blood on the Mountain" is that it's a heartbreaking history lesson about a land of opportunity where Americans take up livelihoods that kill them. The main character is West Virginia's coal mining community, as they are in a state of constant struggle, whether at the beginning of the industry when towns were built to service the newfound natural resource, or later when they formed unions, or battling non-union workers who wanted to take their jobs in the middle of protests. Throughout these chapters, of course, is coal's toxic nature, destroying the lungs of workers, or creating mountains of waste controlled by dams that have been known to break (as with the Buffalo Creek flood in 1972, which killed 125 people). Evans and Freeman's film richly depicts this messy, perpetual state of inhumanity, but does so with a very clear mind and a big heart, reaching out to the viewer with captivating journalism. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Recently finished reading Bill Nye's latest book, "Unstoppable". It's a very accessible read, and it really does sound like Bill Nye talking. I really enjoy reading a book when I have heard the author's voice and can imagine them talking the text. 

This book is all about the challenges the world faces, and the great opportunities that exist in renewable energy, climate change, and other technology wonders. It's an easy and good read.

I was filled with a sense of optimism after reading it, but then Donald Trump was "elected" and cast a lot of this into doubt. It still feels like a great wrong has been committed, but I hold out no hope that the Democrats will put up much of a fight against him. I hope I'm wrong.

Here's a little video that Bill did for Funny or Die about climate change about a year ago.

Friday, November 18, 2016

stargazing gear

Here's another something that we will be doing more of in the near future: stargazing! Darker skies. Fewer people. No passenger jets or news choppers constantly whizzing around above us.

Like any hobby, stargazing can get pricey. There is a great intro to astronomy gear of all kinds at

A few snips:
"If you're just getting started in astronomy, the best thing to do is to first spend some time under the stars with just your eyes and get acquainted with the brighter stars and constellations," says skywatching columnist Joe Rao.
A good astronomy app can really help you get oriented. Check out our Mobile Stargazing page to understand what they can do. Reading books, watching documentaries, or listening to podcasts on how the cosmos works can whet your appetite for seeing these phenomena for yourself.
At some point, you'll probably want to go deeper than your unassisted eye can take you. The next step may be binoculars or a telescope.
Choosing a quality telescope is like picking the right vehicle to drive. Do you need a compact instrument to zip around to observing sites easily? Or a big truck to haul in loads of photons from distant galaxies? Do you want to investigate planets in our own star system? Or cities of stars far away?
Beginning skywatchers will need to choose between four kinds of telescopesreflectorsrefractorshybrid and Dobsonian.'s Best Telescopes for the Money can help.  Be aware that a new breed of telescopes has come to market, which are driven entirely from your mobile device. Amateur astronomy is about to get very interesting!
The Celestron SkyProdigy 130 is a fine example of a mid-market reflector. It sports an onboard computer to make your sky-sailing easy and fun. It aligns itself on the sky in under 4 minutes, so you don't really have to know star names to get up and running. The 5-inch (130mm) aperture is big enough to capture galaxies.
Orion's SkyQuest XT8i IntelliScope is a wonderful mid-price Dobsonian, best suited to those who like to drive around the sky manually. This big "light bucket" really hauls in the photons from the depths of the cosmos.
The Levenhuk SkyMatic 105 GT Mak-Cas is a great hybrid ("catadioptric"), using both lenses and mirrors to make a compact, highly portable telescope. It's SynScan computer can get you to nearly 43,000 objects under very dark skies. As an added bonus, you can use the scope to spot daylight sights – like animals or sporting events – as well.
Celestron's AstroFi 90 WiFi is a classic refractor with a digital twist: You run it entirely from your smartphone or tablet. You won't need access to a network; the AstroFi scope is a network and will work even where your cellular networks don't. The 3.5-inch (90 mm) aperture and hassle-free sealed optical tube is a good choice for planet-watching.
Just make sure to buy an "image-erecting" prism diagonal (like Orion's "Correct Image" diagonal) to make sure your images are right-side up and not reversed editors have come up with a list of some of the best telescopes for beginners.
Whichever you chose, please do yourself a favor and don't buy a cheap scope from a department store. Poor optics and flimsy hardware will turn you off to the beauty and majesty of the sky before you've really seen it.
Binoculars can work in a pinch:

Astronomy Binoculars
If you want to start small and portable – or feel intimidated by the idea of lugging around a big telescope – good skywatching binoculars can help. For not much money and comparatively little weight binoculars can reveal night-sky sights unavailable to the naked eye.  And, of course, you can use binoculars in daylight for birding, sports, people-watching, nautical navigation and more.
Most astronomy binoculars use "porro prisms" rather than the "roof prisms" common to smaller sports optics. To pick the best binoculars for your particular needs, try's handy binocular buyer's guide: How to Choose Binoculars for Astronomy and Skywatching
One of my favorite binoculars is the relatively small Oberwerk Mariner 8x40 (the numbers show you magnification). It has an extremely sharp focus, boasts great light-transmission properties and draws in a wide field. At just 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) in length, the rugged pair of binoculars makes for a good "grab-and-go" option. I use them at the telescope to spot interesting swaths of sky that I may want to investigate in fine detail.
You may not need a telescope at all if you go with "large" binoculars, like the Celestron SkyMaster 25x100. You will need a tripod, and perhaps a counterweighted arm to manage these in comfort. The eyepieces of these binoculars each focus separately – it's like working two telescopes sitting side by side. Some people find this too much to deal with. You may want to look into binoculars that use a center focus knob, like Orion's 20x80 Astronomy model.
You can find out which binoculars we recommend for stargazing in our guide: Best Astronomy Binoculars (Editors' Choice)
And there are apps and accessories you should consider: A cloaking device? A Dew Zapper? A chair? Portable power? A chair!

Just get out there and look out!