Astronomy and Telescopes
Very Few Hobbies bring a deeper feeling of awe
Astronomy, as a pursuit and passion is as old as the human race itself. If you ever looked up at the night sky you know exactly why. It is awe-inspiring. The night sky is an amazing sight. Here is information about stargazing and telescopes.
What is the Biggest Enemy of Stargazers and Astronomers?
Did you know that during the day the stars are out? You just can't see them. This is because the light from the sun overpowers them. This same principal applies to night time viewing as well. If you live in an area with a lot of night time lights (A city for example) you will not be able to see all that the night sky has to offer. Even with a telescope.
In order to get the most out of stargazing you have to travel somewhere that is very dark. Out to the country or the suburbs away from the city and street lights.
Take the trip. It's worth it! You will be shocked at how rich and alive the night sky is..
Some Things to Look for in the Night Sky
The Moon - One of the most obvious choices and can be rewarding if you use binoculars or a telescope. Best viewing of the moon is during its thin phases when it is just a sliver. This causes the best shadows and most detail.
Stars - Sounds like an obvious answer but with a little bit of experience you will begin to notice how varied they are. Some are white, some blue, orange, red and of course they are of a mulititude of different brightnesses.
Constellations - These are groupings of stars that form familiar looking shapes. Learning the constellations and their history can be a lot of fun.
The Milky Way galaxy - This is the galaxy we live in and it appears as a dim band of cloudy like material that crosses the whole sky. It takes a dark sky to see it but it is simply wonderful.
Planets - Yes, many of these can be seen but they move from night to night and season to season. Occasionally some of the planets will become brighter than any of the stars in the sky - this is common with Venus and Jupitier.
Nebulae and other Galaxies - These are the most wondrous things in the night sky and you will need a good star map to find them but you don't necessarily need a telescope. A dozen different ones are visible with the naked eye under a very dark night sky.
Meteor Showers - (Often called shooting stars) These are showers of meteors that return to the night sky around the same time every year. The rate of the showers can be as little as 10 per hour or as big as 120 per hour!
Comets - These are a bit trickier and don't come very often. And contrary to popular belief you don't watch them streak across the sky. They seem stationary unless you check on them over the course of several evenings then you can notice how they movied. But a really good comet can be quite dramatic because it will show a long tail across the sky.
About the Moon
The Moon is the best and the worst of objects in the night sky.Explore the Moon on your computer with Google Moon
It is the very first thing that draws your eye and you can get some enjoyment out of looking at it with the naked eye - particulary as it goes through different stages. But it is much more rewarding if you observe it with the aid of either binoculars or a telescope. With just a pair of binoculars the moon, and its varied surface, comes to life.
But, if you want to view other objects in the night sky the moon can be quite an enemy. It is a big contributor of light pollution and a full moon can wash out much of the sky making it difficult to see anything. So if you want to view planets, constellations and other deep sky objects you should plan your night when the moon is absent or just a small crescent.
To check on the current phase of the moon or to see its phase on any day in the future here is a great tool that uses a big picture of the moon Moon Phase
The Most Awe Inspiring Picture Mankind has ever taken
Do you need a telescope to enjoy astronomy?
Absolutely not! With dark skies and a good star chart you will be amazed at how many planets, galaxies, nebulae and other things you can see with the naked eye.
Of course having a telescope would be great but if you can't afford that even a pair of binoculars would enrich the experience.
Patrick Moore is one of the most respected Authors and Amateur astronomers he has a great book called Stargazing: Astronomy Without a Telescope
Ever thought about making a telescope?
Really good with your hands? Have some craftsmanship abilities? One of the beautiful things about astronomy is the reward you can find from making and using your own telescopes. Practical Guide to Making telescopes at Amazon
Links to Astronomy and Telescope Resources
- Telescope Nerd
The Telescope Nerd Website. All About telescopes, how to buy them, enjoy them and make them.
- How Telescopes Work
Excellent Tutorial that explains how telescopes work.
- NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day
Fantastic Page by NASA that posts a new picture of the day every day. Beautiful and gorgeous.
Nice Resource for night viewing.
- The National Geographic Star chart
A star chart rich with things other than stars. You can zoom in.
- The Online Star Chart
An interactive star chart by Sky & Telescope
- Telescopes and Astronomy
A brief overview of Astronomy and the types of telescopes.
- Meteor Showers for 2008
An updated list of the best meteor showers for the year.
- Astro Viewer Website
Nice site to help you find objects in the night sky.
Some Common Astronomy Questions
What are Constellations?
Constellations are groups of stars.
But, stars in the sky aren't really grouped together, they just appear to be; and looking at these groups of stars human beings have a long history of imagining them as people and objects. Some of these are Hercules, Orion, The Lion, The big Dipper, the little dipper, the Dragon (draco) and more.
What are Meteor Showers?
Meteor showers are tiny fragments of metal, dirt, stone and debris that enter the earths atmosphere and burn up. Most of these fragments are very small like the size of a marble or smaller and they completely burn up on their way down to earth. Sometimes they are bigger and what is left of them lands on the earth. These are meteors.
What is a planetarium?
A Planetarium is a indoor structure with an artificial night sky. Typically the room has a domed ceiling and there is a projector located on the floor in the center of the room. This projector casts images onto the domed ceiling. Modern day planetariums go well beyond just casting points of lights (stars) on the dome. They are often complete multi media shows. There are also small scale planetariums that can be purchased and used in your home.
What's the difference between a refractor and a reflector telescope?
There are many different telescopes and while they all serve the same purpose (To magnify images) they all go about it in different ways. The Refractor and the Reflector are the two simplest and most common types of telescopes.
The Refractor telescope uses a series of lenses to bend light down the length of a tube. The Reflector telescope uses a mirror to bend light up the length of a tube. They both do the same thing (Bend light so it is magnified) but a refractor uses lenses and a reflector uses a mirror.