Pictures In The Sky

One of the earliest activities we engaged in when we first got into astronomy is the same one we like to show our children just as soon as their excitement about the night sky begins to surface. That is the fun of finding constellations. But finding constellations and using them to navigate the sky is a discipline that goes back virtually to the dawn of man. In fact, we have cave pictures to show that the more primitive of human societies could “see pictures” in the sky and ascribe to their importance.

Constellations also have been important in culture and navigation long before we had sophisticated systems of navigation. Early explorers, particularly by sea, relied exclusively on the night sky to help them find their way to their destination. In fact, when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492″ and “discovered” America, he could not have done it without astronomy and the help of navigation of the cosmos, much of which is made possible because of the important constellations.

When learning to find the great constellations in the sky, we use the “find one, you found them all” system. That is because the easiest constellation to find will guide us to the rest of them. That constellation is The Big Dipper. Look to the northern sky on a clear night and widen your field of vision from just focusing on one star and it will pretty much jump out at you. In will look like a big kitchen pot or ladle, right side up in the fall, upside down in the spring.

When you have the big dipper under control, you can pretty easily find the North Star. This is the star that those ancient sailors depended on the most to find their way to land. Start with the far edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper, the side that is opposite the handle. There are two stars that make up that side of the bowl. So start at the bottom of the pot and mentally draw a line to the top star of the bowl. These two stars are “pointing” to the North Star. Just keep following that line, curving a bit with the sky and the bright star that you come to is the North Star. You can impress your friends or family if you know the scientific name for this star is Polaris.

The North Star can then take you to The Little Dipper. The key here is that Polaris is the tip of the handle of The Little Dipper and the bowl hangs down from the handle like it was hanging up in the kitchen. Be patient with this one as the stars that make up The Little Dipper are dimmer than The Big Dipper. But it pretty cool once you find it.

These are the obvious starting places but from The Little Dipper you can find the constellation known as “The Swan” or Cygnus. Just use the same system you used to find The North Star but continue drawing that line that started in those pointer stars in the bowl of The Big Dipper. Go about half as far as you went to find Polaris and you are there. You will see a trapezoid of stars about as big as The Big Dipper. This trapezoid forms the tail of The Swan.

That line that we are drawing from the pointer stars is our roadmap to another well known constellation which is Cassiopeia. If you use that line and imagine you are directly under the two pointer stars, you will se a big “W” just off to the left of the line. This is the constellation Cassiopeia, the wife of the king of Egypt, Cepheus, in Greek mythology. There are so many more wonderful constellations to find and a good star map can continue your search.

Like Cassiopeia, all of the constellations have wonderful stories and myths related to Greek culture. It is just as fun to find the star clusters themselves as it is to enjoy the rich culture related to that constellation. For all of the signs of the zodiac, for example, there is a related constellation in the sky. So whether you are serious about astrology or not, its fun to find the constellation that relates to your “sign” (or that of your children) and be able to see how the ancients related to these pictures in the sky.

How To Use A Telescope Correctly

by OpticsPlanet Guest Expert

08/21/13

Number on the Telescope Eyepiece

The number on the eyepiece is the focal length of the eyepiece. It is not the magnification of the eyepiece.

Eyepiece Magnification

The magnification of any telescope eyepiece used with your telescope will be the focal length of the telescope (consult your manual) divided by the focal length of the eyepiece. A telescope with a focal length of 1200mm will yield a magnification of 60x when you insert a 20mm eyepiece into the focuser. A telescope with a focal length of only 600 mm, however, will yield only 30x when used with the same 20mm eyepiece.

Telescope Eyepieces for Beginners

ALWAYS start observing with the lowest magnification eyepiece available until you become skilled in the use of your telescope. This will be the eyepiece marked with the BIG number (longer focal length), not one of the smaller numbers. Again, the number you see on the eyepiece is the focal length, not the magnification.

Low vs High Magnification

A low magnification eyepiece has a wider field of view (the amount of sky you see when looking through the eyepiece) than a high magnification telescope eyepieces. The low-magnification eyepiece therefore makes it easier to “capture” an object you are trying to find in your telescope. Your lowest magnification eyepiece will also give you the sharpest image as well as the brightest image.

Once you have located an object with your low magnification eyepiece, move the telescope so the object is as close to the center of the telescope field of view as possible. Replace the low magnification eyepiece with one of higher magnification. If the object is not visible after you have changed to the high magnification eyepiece, go back to the low magnification eyepiece and start again.

Increasing Magnification

A basic law of optics states that as magnification increases, image brightness decreases. In fact, if you increase magnification enough, an object will become too faint to see. This happens sooner in a small telescope than large telescopes.

Barlow Lens for Telescopes

A Barlow lens is a lens that you use with your eyepiece. A Barlow lens will double (2x Barlow) or even triple (3x Barlow) the magnification of any eyepiece that you attach to it. To use a Barlow lens, remove the eyepiece from the focuser, insert the Barlow and then insert the eyepiece into the Barlow. Remember, though, that a Barlow is best used with low magnification (long focal length) eyepieces. When used with high magnification eyepieces, it may produce more magnification than your telescope can use.

Disappearing Objects in the Field of View

The telescope is not only magnifying the object you are observing in the sky, it is also magnifying the earth’s rotation! The more magnification you use in your telescope, the quicker an object drifts out of the field of view. Manual telescope mounts will require you to continually “recapture” the object by moving your telescope slightly. Motorized mounts move the telescope for you and keep the object in the eyepiece.

Telescope Magnification Use

Use only enough magnification to provide a useable image. When you reach a point where the image has become so blurred as to lose useful detail, you are using too much magnification! At what point this happens depends on the object you are observing, the seeing conditions (atmospheric clarity and stability) and the size of your telescope (you can get more magnification out of a large telescope before images begin to blur).

Observing Expectations from your Telescope

You will be able to see many of the same things you see in magazines and books, but the images produced in your telescope will smaller and less spectacular. The images in magazines and books are produced by large observatory telescopes that take long exposure photographs with special cameras. It simply isn’t realistic to expect a small amateur telescope to produce visual images of the same quality.

Telescope Observing Benefits

There is so much more to that little smudge of light you see in your eyepiece than meets the eye! Spend a little time and effort to learn about the things you see in your telescope and you will appreciate them much more. Remember, that little smudge of light may actually contain billions of stars and its light may have taken many millions of years to reach your telescope.

Besides, much of the thrill in amateur astronomy is seeing the glories of the night sky with your own two eyes. The difference between seeing a picture of Saturn in a book and seeing Saturn in your backyard through a telescope is a lot like the difference between seeing pictures of Alaska in a book and going to Alaska to see it for yourself.

Amateur Astronomy

Amateur astronomy is also about the challenge of finding faint, hard to see objects. This often frustrates the beginner (hence the popularity of computer GOTO telescopes) but it also keeps the die-hard enthusiasts out late into the night. Even if you use a GOTO telescope, you owe it to yourself to learn how to navigate by means of a star map . There are no words to describe the thrill of finally seeing a faint galaxy or nebula after several hours or even nights of looking for it.

Lastly, there is a great amount of satisfaction that comes with knowing your way around the night sky. At a time when many of us feel alienated from the natural world, astronomy provides a way to reconnect to the universe around us.

TELESCOPES

Reflecting Telescope Information

When viewing distant objects through the use of a telescope, the most important part of that telescope is called the objective. The objective is that component of the telescope that has the ability of gathering the light that is available. Obviously, the larger the objective the greater is the capacity of the telescope to gather light which in turn allows the viewed image to be better visualized.

In addition, there are two types of telescopes. One type of telescope is called the refractor telescope and the other is known as the reflecting telescope. The difference between these two telescopes is how the light is captured.

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Refracting and Reflecting Telescope

The refracting telescope obtains the light through its objective that is made out of glass. Basically, in this type of telescope, the glass lens is situated towards the front of the telescope. As the light is captured by the objective, it is then refracted or deflected through a lens which allows for the viewed image to be magnified. Examples of this type of telescopic equipment include scopes that are used on rifles, binoculars and spyglasses.

A reflecting telescope uses a mirror as its objective. This mirror is located towards the distal end of the telescope. In addition, the mirror has a concave shape. The curvature of the mirror allows for the midpoint of the mirror to be the focal point for all of the light that strikes each part of the surface of the bowl-like mirror. This reflection is then captured by the lens to view the item of interest.

Advantages Of The Reflecting Telescope

There are several advantages to the use of a reflecting telescope. The major advantage is that distortion of what is being viewed is minimal. This is because, through the use of the mirror, the wavelengths are all reflected consistently. This advantage also leads to the reflecting telescope being less expensive than the refracting telescope.

In addition, through the use of the mirror as the objective, the support for this mirror can be all along the posterior portion of the telescope. This allows for the housing to be very large which will accommodate a larger mirror. Larger mirrors mean more light which results in increased visibility.

Disadvantages

However, as with anything else, there are a few disadvantages in the use of a reflecting telescope. One of those disadvantages is size. This is due to the fact that these types of telescopes can accommodate larger mirrors. This results in the telescope itself being larger which may prove to be an issue when storing or relocating the reflecting telescope.

In addition, because of the use of mirrors, there may need to be occasional adjustments made so that optimum light alignment is maintained.

The World Of Refractor Telescopes

Refractor telescopes are some of the oldest telescopes available, utilized at around the beginning of the 15th century and still around today the refractor telescope is quite possibly one of the oldest telescopes in use today. Made up of concave lenses that allow the light to be refracted and images to appear bright and larger than looking at it with the normal eye the refractor telescope can greatly aid in seeing stars, planets and moons.

These telescopes are made up of convex lenses and an eyepiece lens similar to binoculars, these refractors gather light and bend it in order to view objects at a distance, which is particularly useful when looking at stars and the night sky Refractor telescopes may seem complicated and are made up of lenses that are concave and refract the light.

The telescope come in a variety of versions; the Galilean telescope which is named after its creator was one of the first versions and was improved upon by Johannes Kepler with the Keplerian Telescope, which is a refractor telescope that utilized a convex eyepiece as opposed to a concave of the Galilean model. The decades and centuries since have observed newer inventions and different lenses, with the achromatic refractors invented in the mid 16th century and later with apochromatic refractors.

Pros and Cons of Refractor Telescopes

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I stated previously that refractor telescopes have been around a long time and with that comes a definite plus since there is a definitive ability to know what the pros and cons of the telescope. These telescopes have obviously come a long was since the 15th century yet the technology has increased to a point in which the refractors have improved yet the size of refractor telescopes pose a problem in the fact that the larger the refractor lens the more chance that it can have defects or begin to sag.

While technology continues to grow and there is no telling where refractor lenses in telescopes will go to in the future one thing for sure is that refractor telescopes have been around for centuries and thus show no decline in their use by many of astronomers. So no matter what telescope you choose to utilize to view the universe or neighborhood, you can not dismiss the value of the refractor telescope and the impact that its utilization has had on astronomy and the search of the skies.

Shooting Stars

If you are a serious astronomy fanatic like a lot of us are, you can probably remember that one event in childhood that started you along this exciting hobby. It might have been that first time you looked through a telescope. But for many of us, it was that first time we saw a rain of fire from the sky that we eventually came to know as a meteoroid shower.

A view of a Meteor Shower and the Milky Way with a pine trees forest silhouette in the foreground. Night sky nature summer landscape. Perseid Meteor Shower observation.

At the time when you see the first one, it’s easy to remember the movie “war of the worlds” or some other fantastic image of aliens entering our atmosphere in droves to take over the planet. But with some guidance and explanation of what was going on, we eventually learned that these showers were not at all threatening or any kind of invasion. For the most part meteoroid showers are harmless, part of nature and very fun to watch.

So what are these strange lights in the sky? Are they aliens invading from Mars? Are the comets coming to start the next ice age? Or perhaps asteroids burning up as they enter the earths atmosphere. The answer to the above questions is no to the first and “yes and no” to the other two.

A meteoroid is actually a small piece of space rubble, usually dust or small rocks that come from either a comet or the break up of an asteroid in space and that eventually plummets toward the earth. We say “toward the earth” because the lights you see are the friction of the atmosphere burning up those small space tidbits and creating a spectacular show for all of us as they do so. A particularly exciting moment to witness is when a meteoroid breaks up or explodes on entry. A meteoroid that explodes is called bolides.

There are some interesting details about the life of a meteoroid that make the viewing of shooting stars even more fun. To be seen, a meteoroid only needs to weigh as little as a millionth of a gram. But the thing that makes them so spectacular to see is the tremendous speeds they reach as they enter the atmosphere. Before burning up, a meteoroid will reach between 11 and 74 kilometers per second which is 100 times faster than a speeding bullet.

We tend to think of seeing a shooting star as a freak event and we associate it with superstition (hence, wish on a lucky star). But there are actually thousands of them every year so it really isn’t that rare to see one. In fact, scientists tell us that over 200,000 tons of space matter enters the atmosphere each year and burns up on entry.

Comets are a big source of meteoroids because of the nature of those long tails. A large amount of dust, ice and other space debris gets caught up in a comet’s tail as it moves toward the sun. Then as the comet moves away from the sun in its orbit, tons of this matter is thrown off into space to disperse. As the Earth moves in its routine orbit around the sun, it often crosses through clouds of this discarded matter which becomes one of those “meteor showers” that are so popular for viewing.

These showers of shooting stars are pretty easy for astronomers to predict so you can get into position to see the excitement at just the right time of night and be looking at the right area of the night sky. Usually the astronomy magazine or site will give you a general time and location to be ready to look when the meteoroids start to fall.

Meteor Shower and the Milky Way with old ruin on foreground

Now keep in mind, this is a phenomenon of nature, so it may not observe the time table exactly. Also note that there is a notation system for where the meteoroid shower will occur based on what constellation is its backdrop. The section of the sky to focus on for the show is called the “radiant” because that is where the entering meteoroids begin to glow or radiate. The radiant is named for the constellation it is nearest too. So if the meteor shower is going to occur in the constellation of Leo, then its radiant will be called Leonid. This will help you decipher the listing of asteroid showers in the publications.

Comets Visitors From Beyond

The one thing we love the most in the world of astronomy is a good mystery. And if there was ever a mysterious and yet very powerful force of nature that we witness in the night skies, it is the coming of the mighty comet.

A bright comet with large dust and gas trails as the comets orbit brings it close to the Sun. Illustration.

The arrival of a comet within view of Earth is an event of international importance. Witness the huge media attention that the Haley or Hale-Bopp have had when they have come within view The sight of these amazing space objects is simultaneously frightening and awe inspiring.

Above all, it is during these comet viewings that the astronomer comes out in all of us. But what is a comet? Where did it come from? And how does it get that magnificent tail?

We should never confuse comets with asteroids. Asteroids are small space rocks that come from an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. While still quite stunning to see, they pale in comparison to the arrival of a comet. Asteroids also have received considerable study by the scientific community.

meteorite from outer space, falling toward planet Earth, dramatic science fiction scene

Not as much is known about comets. As a rule, comets are considerably larger than asteroids. The composition of a comet is a mixture of nebulous, gasses, ice, dust and space debris. One scientist called the composition of a comet as similar to a “dirty snowball” because the composition is so diverse and changeable. The center or nucleus of a comet is usually quiet solid but the “snowball” materials often create a “cloud” around that nucleus that can become quite large and that extends at great lengths behind the comet as it moves through space. That trailing plume is what makes up the comet’s magnificent tail that makes it so exciting to watch when a comet comes within view of Earth.

The origins of comets is similarly mysterious. There are a number of theories about where they come from but it is clear that they originate from outside our solar system, somewhere in deep space. Some have speculated they are fragments left over from the organization of planets that get loose from whatever gravitational pull and are sent flying across space to eventually get caught up in the gravity of our sun bringing them into our solar system.

Another theory is that they come from a gaseous cloud called the Oort cloud which is cooling out there after the organization of the sun. As this space debris cools, it gets organized into one body which then gathers sufficient mass to be attracted into the gravity of our solar system turning into a fast moving comet plummeting toward our sun. However, because of the strong gravitational orbits of the many planets in our solar system, the comet does not always immediately collide with the sun and often takes on an orbit of its own.

The life expectancy of comets varies widely. Scientists refer to a comet that is expected to burn out or impact the sun within two hundred years as a short period comet whereas a long period comet has a life expectancy of over two hundred years. That may seem long to us as earth dwellers but in terms of stars and planets, this is a very short life as a space object indeed.

Scientists across the globe have put together some pretty impressive probes to learn more about comets to aid our understanding of these visitors from beyond. In 1985, for example, the United States put a probe into the path of the comet Giacobini-Zinner which passed through the comets tail gathering tremendous scientific knowledge about comets. Then in 1986, an international collation of scientists were able to launch a probe that was able to fly close to Haley’s comet as it passed near Earth and continue the research.

While science fiction writers and tabloid newspapers like to alarm us with the possibility of a comet impacting the earth, scientists who understand the orbits of comets and what changes their paths tell us this is unlikely. That is good because some comets reach sizes that are as big as a planet so that impact would be devastating. For now, we can enjoy the fun of seeing comets make their rare visits to our night sky and marvel at the spectacular shows that these visitors from beyond put on when they are visible in the cosmos.

Space The Final Frontier

While it was just a TV show, that little speech at the beginning of the original Star Trek show really did do a good job of capturing our feelings about space. It is those feelings that drive our love of astronomy and our desire to learn more and more about it.

The thing that is most exciting about studying the universe is also the most frustrating and that is that no matter how expert we get, we are always just getting started. But if it’s any consolation, some of the most advanced minds in science and from history always felt that way about space. Even the greats such as Copernicus and Einstein looked up into space and felt like they were just a spec in the presence of such infinity.

USS Enterprise

Of course space is not infinite. It has to be finite which means somehow there must be an end to it. But if there is, nobody on this tiny planet has figured out where it is. The only thing that has brought us to “the end of the universe” is our limited ability to see any deeper into space.

But conquering the final frontier of space means more than just seeing more stars and planets and building the biggest telescope we can. There are some mind blowing concepts about how space works that we have ahead of us to conquer. The big bang and the expanding universe alone was enough to set your mind to spinning. But then we have the coming of Einstein and the theory of relativity to set the entire idea on its ear. All of a sudden space is not just three dimensions but the dimension of time becomes exportable and the twisting and maybe even travel through time seems almost possible.

The frontier of space is as much a journey of the mind as it is of distance. When Steven Hawking showed us the mysteries of black holes, all of a sudden, time and space could collapse and be twisted and changed in those intergalactic pressure cookers. If not for the wonders of radio astronomy, these ideas would remain just ideas but slowly science is catching up with theory.

But the brilliance of mathematicians and genius minds like Hawking and Einstein continue to stretch our concepts of space. Now we have the string theory that could revolutionize everything we know about space, time and how the universe relates to itself. We can’t just say, no, we have discovered enough. It’s the final frontier. The Starship Enterprise would not stop exploring so neither can we. Because there is a hurdle still ahead that has a name but no real answer to it yet. It’s called the Unified Field Theory and those that know tell us that when the Einsteins and Hawkings of our day crack that theory, every other theory will fall into place.

These exciting concepts seem some tools to put the enormity of space in context. That may also be the value of science fiction. Not only are science fiction writers often the visionaries of what comes to be in the future but they give us the idea that space is knowable, that despite how big it is and how small we are, we can conquer this frontier like we have conquered others before us.

For mankind, that is often enough. If we can get the vision that we can conquer something, even if it is something so massive, so impossibly huge, it seems that we are capable of anything. And the love of astronomy, maybe unlike any other force on earth, has brought together mankind toward that common goal of conquering the universe. The quest to establish an international space station and to cooperate on spreading our reach off of this planet seems to find commonality between nations that otherwise cannot get along on the surface of the earth.

That alone may be a reason that we must continue to support astronomy locally and the space program nationally. It is something that seems to bring peace rather than war and make us a better people. But more than that it is as though this is what we were created to do. To reach out to the stars may be our destiny. If so then our love of astronomy is more than a hobby, it’s a calling.

Moon Gazing

For many of us, our very first experience of learning about the celestial bodies begins when we saw our first full moon in the sky. It is truly a magnificent view even to the naked eye. If the night is clear, you can see amazing detail of the lunar surface just star gazing on in your back yard.

Naturally, as you grow in your love of astronomy, you will find many celestial bodies fascinating. But the moon may always be our first love because is the one far away space object that has the unique distinction of flying close to the earth and upon which man has walked.

Your study of the moon, like anything else, can go from the simple to the very complex. To gaze at the moon with the naked eye, making yourself familiar with the lunar map will help you pick out the seas, craters and other geographic phenomenon that others have already mapped to make your study more enjoyable. Moon maps can be had from any astronomy shop or online and they are well worth the investment.

The best time to view the moon, obviously, is at night when there are few clouds and the weather is accommodating for a long and lasting study. The first quarter yields the greatest detail of study. And don’t be fooled but the blotting out of part of the moon when it is not in full moon stage. The phenomenon known as “earthshine” gives you the ability to see the darkened part of the moon with some detail as well, even if the moon is only at quarter or half display.

To kick it up a notch, a good pair of binoculars can do wonders for the detail you will see on the lunar surface. For best results, get a good wide field in the binocular settings so you can take in the lunar landscape in all its beauty. And because it is almost impossible to hold the binoculars still for the length of time you will want to gaze at this magnificent body in space, you may want to add to your equipment arsenal a good tripod that you can affix the binoculars to so you can study the moon in comfort and with a stable viewing platform.

Binoculars for Astronomy

Of course, to take your moon worship to the ultimate, stepping your equipment up to a good starter telescope will give you the most stunning detail of the lunar surface. With each of these upgrades your knowledge and the depth and scope of what you will be able to see will improve geometrically. For many amateur astronomers, we sometimes cannot get enough of what we can see on this our closest space object.

To take it to a natural next level, you may want to take advantage of partnerships with other astronomers or by visiting one of the truly great telescopes that have been set up by professionals who have invested in better techniques for eliminating atmospheric interference to see the moon even better. The internet can give you access to the Hubble and many of the huge telescopes that are pointed at the moon all the time. Further, many astronomy clubs are working on ways to combine multiple telescopes, carefully synchronized with computers for the best view of the lunar landscape.

Becoming part of the society of devoted amateur astronomers will give you access to these organized efforts to reach new levels in our ability to study the Earth’s moon. And it will give you peers and friends who share your passion for astronomy and who can share their experience and areas of expertise as you seek to find where you might look next in the huge night sky, at the moon and beyond it in your quest for knowledge about the seemingly endless universe above us.

The Science Of Astronomy Really Is Fascinating

Galaxies, the cosmos, astrophysics, observatories, telescopes: How do we possibly comprehend the reality that the universe is beyond measure, infinite, and endlessly mesmerizing?

We can’t; that’s why astronomy remains so completely fascinating. It’s the things in life we do not understand that most often draw our interest; that’s simply a natural human impulse — to be curious, to wonder and to want to be in awe of something far beyond and outside ourselves.

We know that stars, like everything else, live and die and that there are scientifically “correct” patterns in the remote sky that both perplex and bewitch us. If astronomy fascinates, it is because there exists in everyone a profound empathy with a world that is inaccessible in its complexity. Who among us has not felt, even fleetingly, spellbound by the immensity of this cosmos, this universe?

Modern observatories regularly function as educational centers, providing this feeling of entrancement by presenting the wonder of the cosmos directly to the audience, short-circuiting the intellect for an hour or so and uncovering the wonder at the magic of theuniverse; promoting a sensory, visceral feeling for the human condition and its place in the great book of the cosmos.

Astronomy, the science of stars, planets, galaxies, and black holes, is the oldest science, yet it is the most intriguing because the study of the universe will help answer the most important questions human beings can ask, such as:

How did the universe begin?

What is the structure of the universe?

How will the universe change in the future?

How do the planet Earth and its inhabitants fit into the larger universe of space and time?

Though we may never know the answers to these kinds of questions in our lifetime, we’re always thankful for those who will follow us, prepared, with a scientific brain, to one day provide answers — and maybe more — to humankind.

It’s difficult to understand our own galaxy, and we’re constantly “adding to it,” or discovering new frontiers and small, more distant planets than those we’re already familiar with. The sun, and the concept of the planets just in our galaxy alone, provoke wonder and all kinds of speculation. It’s food for our brain; it’s one of those applications of learning that so enthrall, it doesn’t seem like we’re “studying” anything. It’s an effortless exercise in the Unknown Sphere of the Universe.

What better way to pass the time, to postulate upon, to have an intellectually stimulating discussion, maybe with people you don’t even know yet?

And what about the theories of particle physics that have been developed in conjunction with the standard Big Bang model to explain the origin, evolution and
present structure of the universe?

What about the origins, evolution, interiors, and energy production of the stars themselves? How are they formed? Why? And we’ve all heard of “interacting galaxies,” but just what, exactly, does it mean? It all sounds like, well, a kind of heaven — a place we know exists, but that we cannot quite see or understand.

Then, there’s Newton’s laws, the concept of work and energy, momentum, gravitation, sound and light waves.

If you haven’t felt a slight thrill yet, it’s eitherbecause you already know about these atmospheric wonders, or you’ve been living under a local rock.

So get out there and Observe the Universe! It’s absolutely spellbinding!

The Wow Hobby

Some people sometimes view hobbies as sometimes silly or frivolous pastimes. And it’s true some hobbies are like that. But it is healthy to have a hobby because it diversifies our interests and keeps us active and fun to be with. But many hobbies are for the few that really get into that area of study. Stamp collecting or rock climbing are valid hobbies. But to be sure, these are not hobbies that just anybody will get into.

Astronomy, by contract, that you could say everybody gets into at some point or another. It is safe to say that everybody at some point has looked up at a magnificent night sky and said “WOW.” At that moment, even if was only for that moment, that person became an amateur astronomy hobbyist. They had that “Wow” moment in what can only be described as the “WOW” hobby.

That common experience is what makes astronomy one of the most exciting and popular hobbies of them all. Any hobby has to have a few “wow” moments. Whether it’s hitting that strike in bowling or finding that perfect stamp, there has to be a moment when the bell rings. Well astronomy has many “wow” moments that occur virtually any clear night in the stars. From the coming of an asteroid shower to just figuring out another constellation, there is so much to do and play with in astronomy that you can be a hobbyist your whole life and never get bored.

Besides the excitement of astronomy, another reason it makes a great hobby is that it is easy and cheap to get started. Unlike skiing for example, to just start enjoying astronomy, all you need is the night sky. But there is no end to the levels of complexity and sophistication you can get to as you move along in astronomy as well. So like any good hobby, astronomy is endlessly fascinating and tremendously addictive because there is always more you want to learn and more you can do to make your knowledge and experiences more interesting and fun.

A great side benefit of how many people are into astronomy is that it is a tremendously social hobby as well. This is unusual for a hobby that is associated with a science, that is executed by staring up in the sky by yourself and that is not competitive. But in any town or city, there are at least a few and probably dozens of astronomy clubs and associations that meet regularly to discuss astronomy.

This is the perfect way to introduce a new recruit to the hobby of astronomy. These clubs thrive on sharing their love of astronomy with new members, kids and those just learning how to explore the stars. Most astronomy clubs schedule regular “safaris” to go out away from the lights of the city and get a good night of sky watching done. Going on such an outing with a big group of enthusiasts is the type of experience that will take a passive interest into astronomy and change it into a healthy obsession.

By going out with a group, you can rub elbows with people who know the night sky, can help you learn how to spot the great constellations and how to train your eyes to see the really cool stuff going on over our heads virtually every night. Astronomy is a passion that is shared equally by everyone from children, to college students to serious scholars in the field to even professional astronomers who work at exploring the universe full time. On any given night, you or your child may be sitting next to an award winning professional astronomer who will happily provide a private lesson looking up at the cosmos just for the sheer fun of shared learning.

The great thing is that everything we have talked about here costs virtually nothing. You can get started with your love of astronomy and learn as you go so when you are ready to make some investment in equipment, you have learned from others what is just the right thing for you. Sure, eventually you will want some astronomy magazine subscriptions, a star map or two and binoculars or a telescope. But those things come as your love of the hobby matures. Meanwhile, get out there, meet others who share your excitement about star gazing and get to know a hobby that never stops making you say “WOW”.

Astronomy Binoculars A Great Alternative

It seems from the moment you begin to take your love of astronomy seriously, the thing that is on your mind is what kind of telescope will you get. And there is no question, investing in a good telescope can really enhance your enjoyment of your new passion in astronomy. But don’t be too hasty to keep up with the big wigs in the astronomy clubs that have advanced telescopes. There is another alternative that can give you most of the advantages of a telescope and some extra flexibility and reduced cost to boot.

That alternative is a good pair of astronomy binoculars. Mostly we think of binoculars as the thing you use to see the football game when you have to sit in the cheap seats. But if you do some homework and had a good grasp on what your stargazing objectives are, the advantages of astronomy binoculars over an entry level telescope can be pretty convincing.

Stephen James O’Meara’s Observing the Night Sky with Binoculars: A Simple Guide to the Heavens 

* As a rule, they are cheaper. So you can get a lot of good stargazing at much less of an investment. You can always spend more money later but for now, this may be just the solution for you.

* There are not so many accessories. To own and operate a telescope takes a lot of orientation to how to set up and use the device. Beyond that, tuning it for optimum view and diagnosing it when you have problems can sometimes make the telescope more of the passion than stargazing itself.

* It is much easier to use. If you have not bought a telescope yet, you may have seen telescope owners going through a laborious set up and break down discipline for each use. This is time they are not looking at the stars. The binocular users are happily stargazing as this goes on.

* Binoculars are lightweight and portable. Unless you have the luxury to set up and operate an observatory from your deck, you are probably going to travel to perform your viewings. Binoculars go with you much easier and they are more lightweight to carry to the country and use while you are there than a cumbersome telescope set up kit.

Professional High Powered Binoculars】Binoculars with 20X high power magnification and 50mm objective lens, provides wider field of view at 1000 yards

So give the binocular option some consideration. To make the most effective choice, however, here are a few facts about astronomy binoculars that will help you evaluate which ones are best for you…

Binoculars have two lens sets, one at the end of the eyepiece and a set right next to your eyes. The ones closest to the eye are called the ocular lenses which magnify the image (make it bigger). The ones closest to the sky are called the objective lenses and the size of these lenses will determine how much sky you can see at once. So anytime you are evaluating binoculars, there are two numbers associated with the set. So if the binoculars have a rating of 15-40, that means that the ocular lenses magnify 15 times and the later number is a relative number to how much of the sky you can see. The higher the second number, the more you can see. The explanation is simple. The bigger the lens, the more light it lets in. But be aware that the bigger the second number, the larger, heavier and more cumbersome the binoculars will be.

You will have to balance these two numbers with both your budget and what you want the binoculars to do for you. If you decide to go with a lower power binoculars, you could become frustrated with what you can see and you may have to take your eyes away from the view to get your orientation and consult the star map more often because your range of vision is so limited.

There will also be a temptation to buy a set of binoculars that have zoom functions and other features that will allow you to use it for other purposes such as hunting, whale watching or seeing the football game from the cheap seats. While this is good economy, those functions will get in the way when you are using the binoculars for astronomy. So if you are considering this purchase as your alternative to buying a telescope, our advice is buy binoculars made just for astronomy and don’t take them to the ball game.