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astronomy \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.

orion nebulaWhat is astronomy?

Good question and if you're coming here you might be wondering. Maybe we should start with what astronomy isn't.

Astronomy is 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.

cat's eye nebulaAstronomy is a big thing.

Astronomy IS 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's friendly!

Astronomy is 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:

  • Stars
  • Nebula
  • Planets
  • Sol (The Sun)
  • Star clusters
  • Galaxies
  • 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.

marsWhat 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.

What does 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):

  1. star chart, map or astrolab
  2. membership in a local astronomy or space interest club
  3. binoculars or small-medium size telescope
  4. 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 to get.

Astronomy is 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.

Clear skies,


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