\As*tron"o*my\, n. The scientific study of matter in outer space,
especially the positions, dimensions, distribution, motion, composition,
energy, and evolution of celestial bodies and phenomena.
and if you're coming here you might be wondering. Maybe we should
start with what astronomy isn't.
not the same thing as present day "astrology". Astrology
is an old practice, which has many different levels. I won't pretend
to be that knowledgable about it because I've never been involved
with it, but its clear that there are many different levels of astrology,
from pulling your horoscope from the newspaper to people that attempt
to predict things by positions of planets and stars as they relate
to each other. That's where I'll leave it.
is a big thing.
the study of the cosmos, at all levels. It is the investigation
of life on Mars; using large telescopes to peer back in time to
see galaxies merging; figuring out what Jupiter is made out of;
finding planets around other stars by observing the change in the
star's spectrum as the planets orbit around it; and much, much more.
Ask an amateur (or professional) astronomer what your horoscope
is and you had better run away quickly. :o) It's a common astronomy
joke for the above conversation to take place. When I mention that
I'm an 'amateur astronomer' I most often get either a puzzled look,
or a question about someone's sign. It happens...but that's OK.
Afterwards a firm, but friendly, correction is offered. I swear...it's
an attempt to understand the make-up and the history of the universe.
It covers a near-unlimited number of fields. Basically, if its off
this planet its a study of some realm of astronomy. As one might
imagine that covers an awful lot of subjects, even more than we
know right now. A short list of subjects include:
- Sol (The
- Star clusters
- Galaxy clusters
- Dark matter
- Black holes
Each of those
topics breaks in multiple topics and fields of study. When you throw
in the fact that research is done in the entire electromagnetic
spectrum, including visible, x-ray, ultraviolet and infrared, you
can imagine how many areas of research can be undertaken.
does astronomy mean to me?
Have you looked
up at the night sky and wondered about what's out there? Are there
other life forms? Are we the only ones in this big universe? Is
the Moon made out of cheese? OK, you might not have wondered about
that last one.
For many years
the night sky has captivated me. In recent years, especially during
the fly-by of Comet Hyakutake (Comet C/1996 B2) in 1996, my interest
has culminated in astrophotography, the purchase of my first real
telescope, and my current telescope project (10" Dobsonian).
I consider myself a typical "amateur astronomer". My guess
would be that we all look up in the night sky as kids and become
fascinated with it. It amazes me that more people don't rekindle
that amazement as they get older.
it take to get started?
Not much. You
need eyeballs and/or ears and an imagination and desire to view
(or listen to) the heavens as your ancestors did. Some of the stuff
that the beginner might want when getting started (in order of importance):
- star chart,
map or astrolab
in a local astronomy or space interest club
or small-medium size telescope
- 35mm SLR
camera and a tripod for general astrophotography (tutorial)
This is by no
means a complete list, or even a list of requirements. As noted,
the imagination and desire is the biggest part. The desire to study
the wonders of the heavens is what it takes. The rest can follow.
The biggest recommendation is getting the star chart to start learning
the constellations and after the desire that is the first thing
a wonderous "spectator sport". You'll find that it provides
a sense of awe, and can certainly be a humbling experience as you
realize the immense space and distances involved and the sheer size
of objects that are thousands (or many more) lightyears away and
are big enough to shine their photons on your eyeballs.
Feel free to
ask questions. If I'm able to assist I'd be happy to.