Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems).
The older I get, the more fascinated I am by the stunning precision of celestial events, the ways our solar system works, and the wonders of the universe beyond. And, while learning about lunar cycles, planetary orbits and other marvels that sparkle in the vast darkness of outer space, I discovered the Mile High Astronomy store in Lakewood, a fantastic place to geek out on astronomy.
It’s the only dedicated telescope store in Colorado, and it isn’t just for experts. It’s a welcoming place for novice stargazers, too.
The owner, who goes by his one-word legal name, Sorin, said there are only about a half dozen dedicated telescope stores in the United States since much of the business has gone online, adding that the closest to Colorado are in Texas and Arizona.
“There are very few brick-and-mortar telescope stores left,” Sorin said.
There’s a lot more in his store besides telescopes, though. It’s a great place for novice stargazers to get started with a good pair of binoculars and an introductory how-to book or two.
“Binoculars are a great way to get introduced to astronomy,” Sorin said. “This is where we direct a lot of people who are just wanting to get started. They don’t know if they want a telescope yet, but they want something.”
The store, at 9797 W. Colfax Ave., carries celestial guidebooks for binoculars and small telescopes, such as “50 Things to See With a Telescope,” a constellation-focused guide for kids and their parents.
“This is a nice guidebook that introduces people to the night sky and to the constellations, and focuses on about 50 of the brighter objects that you can locate just by identifying those constellations and where to look,” Sorin said. “It’s a great thing to do with binoculars to help you orient to the night sky.”
Another guidebook, “Sky Atlas for Small Telescopes and Binoculars,” is described as “the beginner’s guide to successful deep sky observing.” At Mile High Sky, there are planispheres, which are inexpensive plastic gizmos that can help orient you to the rotating night sky at given times if you’re trying to find a specific constellation.
Planispheres are inexpensive rotating gizmos that can help stargazers find constellations as they move through the night sky. (John Meyer, The Denver Post)
There is a beautiful photo map of the moon, measuring 24 x 24 inches, which indicates where Apollo missions landed and other prominent lunar features. There are stickers and patches from several NASA missions. I snapped up the Apollo 11 patch as a memento of that historic launch, which my family and I watched from a causeway near Cape Canaveral in 1969.
“All of us are amateur astronomers ourselves,” Sorin said of his staff. “It’s a passion for us. It’s really nice for us to be able to share that with people. Because we’re that informational resource, we can help you make the most of these events.”
For a generation, Denver’s best telescope store was S&S Optika in Littleton, which had the reputation of being one of the best optics stores between Chicago and California. Like Mile High Astronomy, S&S Optika catered as much to amateurs as professionals. After the owners retired and closed the store in 2015, Sorin created Mile High Astronomy to fill the niche.
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If you’re excited about the solar eclipse coming in October, Sorin stocks eclipse glasses for safe viewing, ranging in price from a $2.50 model with paper frames to binoculars you can use to look directly at the sun ($44 to $130). For $12.95, you can get a package containing a pair of 2X magnification eclipse-safe viewers and a map showing the path of the eclipse. He even sells seven different eclipse T-shirts.
If you’re ready to step up and buy a telescope, Mile High Sky has them. Most telescopes these days are sold online, and Sorin fulfills orders online to buyers across the country. But being able to see the inventory in person is better. Sorin stocks a wide range of beginner telescopes from $100 to $1,000.
“With telescopes, it’s very hard to understand how big it is when you are looking at a picture on a website,” Sorin said. “We get a lot of people who come in that have been doing their research online, which we definitely encourage, and have specific models in mind that they want to see and are often surprised. ‘Oh, that’s a lot bigger than I thought it was,’ or, ‘Oh, that’s not going to work for me.’ That’s part of why we’re here, and why want to have this showroom. All of our inventory is on our website. People can order online, and we ship across the country.
“But we still have a phone line, we pick up the phone, we’re here to answer questions.”