Friday, October 16, 2009

Astronomy is for Everyone, Part One

Several years back, I wrote for my astronomy club a brochure of sorts on the subject of amateur astronomy and its accessibility to everyone. As time and other events permit, I will revisit that document by installments and bring it up today. I present for you today part one of this journey.

“Astronomy is for the amateur as well as the professional. The amateur can see for himself the sights that stirred Galileo, the Herschels, and other great astronomers. A high-school boy may be the first to see a comet, a rug salesman my discover a nova, and a homemaker can observe and map meteor showers.. An amateur's faithful observations of a variable star may be just the data an observatory needs."
--Adapted from "The Sky Observer's Guide", published by Golden Press, New York.

Anyone can be an amateur astronomer. If you like to gaze at the night sky, you are qualified. The great thing about amateur astronomy is that it's such a portable hobby. The only basic requirements are you and a moderately dark sky. You may increase your enjoyment by learning more about the sky with the help of books and magazines. Binoculars and telescopes allow you to gaze even more deeply in to the wonders of the heavens. Photography is another way that some amateurs enrich their observing experience.

Here is some information on the tools available to you. Please use it to answer your questions, direct your attention, and enhance your enjoyment.

Getting Started

A Basic Guide: The beginning observer should have a book on general astronomy. Even a little knowledge greatly increases the pleasure of observing, and it prepares the observer to undertake real astronomical projects. Golden Press puts out some very good pocket-size books that are ready companions for the beginner and the experienced amateur. The are entitled “The Sky Observer's Guide,” “Stars” and “Planets.” Peterson Field Guides and the National Audubon Society both publish excellent astronomy field guides.

A Planisphere: A planisphere, or star-finding wheel, is part of the kit of every astronomer, from the child to the old pro. They consist of a wheel illustrated with night time objects, attached at the center to a second piece, and covered with a third piece that allows a portion of the wheel to be seen through a circular or oval window. They are usually made of thick paper or cardboard. By turning the wheel to indicate your time and date, the window allows you to see which constellations are in your sky at that moment and where they are located.

Internet Star Charts: The Internet includes many free Web sites that have very good sky chart software applications. If you do not have personal access to the Internet, go to your local library to access these sites. Here are just a few of the many available online. I note these because of my greater experience with them.

Chartes du Ciel / Sky Charts
http://www.stargazing.net/astropc/

Heavens Above, hosted by GSOC
http://www.heavens-above.com/

Sky and Telescope.com’s Interactive Sky Chart
http://skyandtelescope.com/observing/skychart/

SkyMaps.com
http://www.skymaps.com/


End of Part One. Look for Part Two in the coming days.

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