How to look up

How to Look Up The beauty of astronomy is that anybody can do it. From the tiniest baby to the most advanced astrophysicist, there is something for anyone who wants to enjoy astronomy. In fact, it is a science that is so accessible that virtually anybody can do it virtually anywhere they are. All they have to know how to do is to look up. It really is amazing when you think about it that just by looking up on any given night, you could see virtually hundreds of thousands of stars, star systems, planets, moons, asteroids, comets and maybe a even an occasional space shuttle might wander by. It is even more breathtaking when you realize that the sky you are looking up at is for all intents and purposes the exact same sky that our ancestors hundreds and thousands of years ago enjoyed when they just looked up. There is something timeless about the cosmos. The fact that the planets and the moon and the stars beyond them have been there for ages does something to our sense of our place in the universe. In fact, many of the stars we “see” with our naked eye are actually light that came from that star hundreds of thousands of years ago. That light is just now reaching the earth. So in a very real way, looking up is like time travel. Everybody knows how to look up. Children first discover the amazing light show on display for free every clear night by just looking up. You can probably remember that very first time you noticed that explosion of stars above you when you were a child. Now it is time to foster that same love of astronomy in your own children. You have to teach them how to look up. While anyone can look up and fall in love with the stars at any time, the fun of astronomy is learning how to become more and more skilled and equipped in star gazing that you see and understand more and more each time you look up. Here are some steps you can take to make the moments you can devote to your hobby of astronomy much more enjoyable. * Get out of town. The furtherest you can get from the lights of the city, the more you will see in the night sky. * Know what you are looking at. It is great fun to start learning the constellations, how to navigate the night sky and find the planets and the famous stars. There are web sites and books galore to guide you. * Get some history. Learning the background to the great discoveries in astronomy will make your moments star gazing more meaningful. It is one of the oldest sciences on earth so find out the greats of history who have looked at these stars before you. * Get a geek. Astronomy clubs are lively places full of knowledgeable amateurs who love to share their knowledge with you. For the price of a coke and snacks, they will go star gazing with you and overwhelm you with trivia and great knowledge. * Know when to look. Not only knowing the weather will make sure your star gazing is rewarding but if you learn when the big meteor showers and other big astronomy events will happen will make the excitement of astronomy come alive for you. And when all is said and done, get equipped. Your quest for newer and better telescopes will be a lifelong one. Let yourself get addicted to astronomy and the experience will enrich every aspect of life. It will be an addiction you never want to break. PPPPP 615

The уwowф hobby

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”. PPPPP 744

Moon gazing

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. 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. PPPPP 642

The universe through a child s eyes

The Universe through a Child’s Eyes There is something about parenthood that gives us a sense of history and a deeply rooted desire to send on into the next generation the great things we have discovered about life. And part of that is the desire to instill in our children the love of science, of learning and particularly the love of nature. Your fascination with the universe and how to explore it as we so often do in the field of astronomy can be highly academic and dry as maybe it was if you took a course in astronomy. But when you get out there in the field at night, your equipment is just right and the night sky comes alive with activity, there is no other experience like it for majesty and pure excitement. And that is the kind of experience we want our children to come to love as much as we do. It’s actually not a big jump from play to learning for children when it comes to learning about the natural world, science and astronomy. Exploration is a natural part of being a child and growing up in a fascinating world and universe. So if we can find ways to take that natural desire to explore and instill a life long passion for astronomy, we will have given our children a truly great gift. So with a few simple family activities, we can instill that love of astronomy in our offspring. Here are some ideas. * Make star gazing part of family life. You already love to go outdoors as often as possible to enjoy the stars. So don’t let that be your private passion. Get everybody into the act. The kids will love it and look forward to those nights as much as going to the circus. * Make each new experience in growing into astronomy a fresh threshold. So the first experiences might be what you experienced as a kid, just laying on your back out in the country with the panorama of the stars overhead trying to take it all in. Go ahead and challenge them to count the stars. It’s a fun exercise and one they will save to use as a joke on their kids when they do this same thing in a few decades. * Take them along the road of learning, introducing binoculars so they can focus on particular areas of the night sky. * Now they are hooked and want to know about why some of the stars are brighter than others. They have no idea they are going to astronomy school and don’t even know it. You can tell them about the constellations as you point out how to find them by keying off the North Star. By being able to find things in that mass of stars and knowing there is such a vast amount more they can pick out, they are ripe for learning from star maps and about how the galaxies work. * Think of their excitement as they notice the changes in the night sky. The phases of the moon and the effect of the rotation of the earth on the position of the planets. Help them find their favorite celestial bodies each night. Before long they will learn to chart the movement of the stars just like the early astronomers did. * Now you will get caught up in the excitement of finding new things to reveal to your excited crew of fledgling astronomers. When you reveal that you are going on a safari to see an eclipse, a meteor shower or the once in a lifetime appearance of a comet, that gift will as big as anything you might spring on them for Christmas. The wonders of the night sky will captivate your children the way it has you for years. And you will have done them the greatest favor you ever could do by making them lifelong lovers of the universe. PPPPP 663

The glossary of telescopes

The Glossary of Telescopes When you enter into any new area of science, you almost always find yourself with a baffling new language of technical terms to learn before you can converse with the experts. This is certainly true in astronomy both in terms of terms that refer to the cosmos and terms that describe the tools of the trade, the most prevalent being the telescope. So to get us off of first base, let’s define some of the key terms that pertain to telescopes to help you be able to talk to them more intelligently. The first area of specialization in telescopes has to do with the types of telescopes people use. The three designs of telescopes that most people use are the Refractor, the Reflector and the Schmidt Cassegrain telescope. * The refractor telescope uses a convex lens to focus the light on the eyepiece. * The reflector telescope has a concave lens which means it bends in. It uses mirrors to focus the image that you eventually see. * The Schmidt Cassegrain telescope uses an involved system of mirrors to capture the image you want to see. * A binocular telescope uses a set of telescopes mounted and synchronized so your view of the sky is 3-D. Beyond the basic types, other terms refer to parts of the telescope or to the science behind how telescopes work. * Collimation is a term for how well tuned the telescope is to give you a good clear image of what you are looking at. You want your telescope to have good collimation so you are not getting a false image of the celestial body. * Aperture is a fancy word for how big the lens of your telescope is. But it’s an important word because the aperture of the lens is the key to how powerful your telescope is. Magnification has nothing to do with it, its all in the aperture. * Focuser is the housing that keeps the eyepiece of the telescope, or what you will look through, in place. The focuser has to be stable and in good repair for you to have an image you can rely on. * Mount and Wedge. Both of these terms refer to the tripod your telescope sits on. The mount is the actual tripod and the wedge is the device that lets you attach the telescope to the mount. The mount and the wedge are there to assist you with a superior viewing session and to keep your expensive telescope safe from a fall. * An Altazimuth Mount refers to the tripod of the telescope that holds the device in place and makes it useful during a star gazing session. The altazimuth mouth allows the telescope to move both horizontally (which is the azimuth) and vertically. In this way you have full range to look at things close to the horizon or directly overhead. * Coma has a different meaning than the one we are used to, and that’s a good thing. The coma is the blurry area on the outer rims of your view through the telescope. How big the coma is and to what extent it interferes with your viewing will have is important to the effectiveness of your telesscope. * Planisphere. A fancy word for a star chart. It is nothing less or more than a detailed map of where everything is in the cosmos and how to find the star you wish to study by keying off of known stars. * Barlow. This refers to a specialized type of lens that you can buy to enhance the magnification of your telescope. These are just a few of the basic concepts of telescope operation. We deliberately picked the ones you have to know to discuss telescopes intelligently. But your education into the more complex aspects of astronomy and telescope design and operation will go on for as long as you are a lover of astronomy, which we hope is for the rest of your life. PPPPP 670

Comets visitors from beyond

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. 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. 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. PPPPP 728

Moon fever

Moon Fever Of all of the celestial bodies that capture our attention and fascination as astronomers, none has a greater influence on life on planet Earth than it’s own satellite, the moon. When you think about it, we regard the moon with such powerful significance that unlike the moons of other planets which we give names, we only refer to our one and only orbiting orb as THE moon. It is not a moon. To us, it is the one and only moon. The moon works its way into our way of thinking, our feelings about romance, our poetry and literature and even how we feel about our day in day out lives in many cases. It is not only primitive societies that ascribe mood swings, changes in social conduct and changes in weather to the moon. Even today, a full moon can have a powerful effect on these forces which we acknowledge even if we cannot explain them scientifically. The most obvious physical phenomenon that is directly affected by the gravity of the moon are the tides of the ocean. The tides are an integral part of how maritime life is regulated and the comings and goings of the fishing world in coastal communities. But not very many people know that at certain times of the year when the orbits of the earth bring the sun and moon into right alignment, there can even be tidal effect on inland bodies of water and even on the solid earth. Eons ago, when the moon’s orbit was closer to the Earth, it was the effect of the moon that caused massive changes in the topography of the land and on continental drift as well. This reflects the powerful effect the moon has had on both human history and on global geographical history as well. You may sometimes wonder where the moon came from. Was it a planet that traveled too close to Earth and was captured in our orbit? Actually, the prevailing theory of modern science is that the moon was the result of a large scale collision with the still developing Earth early in its development which caused this large “chuck” to spin off into an orbiting body. This explains the similarity in composition as has been confirmed by many of the moon exploratory space missions that were conducted by NASA. But this background also highlights another important influence the moon has had on Earth’s development that is seldom recognized and that is the stabilization of Earth’s orbital pattern. Most know that Earth is not round but more of an egg shaped orb. To be blunt, the Earth would wobble. Without the moon’s stabilizing influence, this shape would shift dramatically so the tilt of the axis, that is the polar caps would shift dramatically with each seasonal rotation producing climacteric, changes much more violent and drastic than we are used to. It is possible that life as we know it could not have developed here had the moon not been there to “keep the Earth in line” and continue to stabilize the orbital position of the Earth so our climate could remain stable and mild. A third significant influence of the moon comes from that origin as coming from a collision which “ripped” the body of the moon from the developing core of the Earth. Because of this disruption in how the core of our planet developed, the metals that are usually intact in the core of the planet are actually scattered up and down the geography of the earth in diverse ways. Usually the metals of the planet are all concentrated deep in the core. But because of the collision which took the moon out to orbit, metals that have been crucial to the development of our industrial and technological cultures are readily available and easy for use to mine. This again, is something we can thank the presence of that lovely moon in the sky for. PPPPP 660

The universe through a childтs eyes

The Universe through a Child’s Eyes There is something about parenthood that gives us a sense of history and a deeply rooted desire to send on into the next generation the great things we have discovered about life. And part of that is the desire to instill in our children the love of science, of learning and particularly the love of nature. Your fascination with the universe and how to explore it as we so often do in the field of astronomy can be highly academic and dry as maybe it was if you took a course in astronomy. But when you get out there in the field at night, your equipment is just right and the night sky comes alive with activity, there is no other experience like it for majesty and pure excitement. And that is the kind of experience we want our children to come to love as much as we do. It’s actually not a big jump from play to learning for children when it comes to learning about the natural world, science and astronomy. Exploration is a natural part of being a child and growing up in a fascinating world and universe. So if we can find ways to take that natural desire to explore and instill a life long passion for astronomy, we will have given our children a truly great gift. So with a few simple family activities, we can instill that love of astronomy in our offspring. Here are some ideas. * Make star gazing part of family life. You already love to go outdoors as often as possible to enjoy the stars. So don’t let that be your private passion. Get everybody into the act. The kids will love it and look forward to those nights as much as going to the circus. * Make each new experience in growing into astronomy a fresh threshold. So the first experiences might be what you experienced as a kid, just laying on your back out in the country with the panorama of the stars overhead trying to take it all in. Go ahead and challenge them to count the stars. It’s a fun exercise and one they will save to use as a joke on their kids when they do this same thing in a few decades. * Take them along the road of learning, introducing binoculars so they can focus on particular areas of the night sky. * Now they are hooked and want to know about why some of the stars are brighter than others. They have no idea they are going to astronomy school and don’t even know it. You can tell them about the constellations as you point out how to find them by keying off the North Star. By being able to find things in that mass of stars and knowing there is such a vast amount more they can pick out, they are ripe for learning from star maps and about how the galaxies work. * Think of their excitement as they notice the changes in the night sky. The phases of the moon and the effect of the rotation of the earth on the position of the planets. Help them find their favorite celestial bodies each night. Before long they will learn to chart the movement of the stars just like the early astronomers did. * Now you will get caught up in the excitement of finding new things to reveal to your excited crew of fledgling astronomers. When you reveal that you are going on a safari to see an eclipse, a meteor shower or the once in a lifetime appearance of a comet, that gift will as big as anything you might spring on them for Christmas. The wonders of the night sky will captivate your children the way it has you for years. And you will have done them the greatest favor you ever could do by making them lifelong lovers of the universe. PPPPP 663

The basics of buying a telescope

The Basics of Buying a Telescope There is a moment in the life of any aspiring astronomer that it is time to buy that first telescope. It’s exciting to think about setting up your own viewing station whether that is on the deck of your home or having a powerful but mobile telescope set up to take to the remove countryside to really get a good shot at some breath taking star gazing. The last thing we would want to do is to take away any of the “fun” of your hobby of astronomy because the joy of what we do as star gazers is a big part of the appeal. But unlike many other hobbies, ours is a passion of science, of learning and of discovery. And don’t kid yourself, even a hobbyist with a limited telescopic set up can see some amazing things in the stars. So let’s be sure you invest in a solid piece of equipment that you can continue to grow with as your knowledge and ability as an astronomer grows. But how do we do that? Meet the Geeks. Now we use the term “telescope geeks” lovingly because any of us who are devoted to our love of astronomy eventually become telescope geeks. And these are the type of people who will know exactly how to evaluate your needs in terms of where you are right now and where you want to go as your hobby grows with you. So if you have not yet associated with a local astronomy club, now is the time to do it. Start rubbing elbows with people who live and breathe telescopes. Their input is a hundred times more reliable than what a sales brochure or that salesman might have to say because the “telescope geeks” have been where you are, made the mistakes and are eager to help you avoid those same mistakes. Size Matters In the world of telescopes, the sales people see, to try to baffle us with all the bells and whistles of their hottest selling model. One of the big check points that is often pushed is the amplification level of the telescope lens. While that is a factor that is worth noting, when it comes to a telescope lens, the old phrase “size matters” is a good guideline. Just remember that your telescope lens works best when it takes in the most light it can from the object you are viewing. So the wider the diameter of the lens, the better a view you are going to get. So don’t fall for the amplification level only. Carefully evaluate the lens size so you have the right fit for what you want to do. It Has to Stand on Its Own Feet. If you are going to set up a permanent telescope station, then you can bolt the unit down so it is well supported. But many of us have to take our telescopes out into the country for optimum use. So the stand has to be strong and flexible so we can set up the telescope on uneven turf but still feel secure that this important and expensive piece of equipment is going to stand on its own without fear of it falling during our observation time. We already mentioned strong and flexible as evaluation guides for the telescope stand but add in ease of use as well. You have to be able to set your telescope up and break it down quickly and easily when you are on a remote viewing. You may even find yourself setting up or taking down your telescope in the dark or by lantern or flashlight if you are taking advantage of the great star displays in the late night sky that make this hobby so exciting. These are the basics of what to look for in your new telescope. Finally, make sure the telescope can be enhanced and expanded without having to throw the first unit away and buy something completely new. You want your telescope to grow as your knowledge and skills grow. If your first telescope meets all of these requirements, you are off on the right foot on a long and enjoyable career as an amateur astronomer. PPPPP 707

Look up in the sky!

Look – Up in the Sky! When television was young, there was a hugely popular show based on the still popular fictional character of Superman. The opening of that show had a familiar phrase that went, “Look. Up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman!” How beloved Superman has become in our culture and the worldwide fascination with extraterrestrials and all things cosmic only emphasizes that there is a deep curiosity in all humans about nature and astronomy, even if many people would not know to call it astronomy. Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences of all time. When archeologists unearth ancient civilizations, even as far back as the cavemen, they invariably find art that shows mans unquenchable fascination with the stars. To this day, you can easily get an animated discussion at any gathering on the topic of “Is there intelligent life on other planets?” Many have tried to explain mankind’s seeming obsession with outer space as a result of an ancient memory or as part of mankind’s eternal nature. Whatever the cause, people of every age and every nation share this one deep interest, to know more about the universe that our tiny planet is just a part of. It’s rather strange because the actual conduct of a serious student of astronomy is really not the stuff of high adventure. You will never see a “Raiders of the Lost Arc” or “Jurassic Park” movie made about an astronomer. Excitement for lovers of this science is to stay up all night watching the cosmos through a powerful telescope. But that fact does not seem to discourage the tens of thousands to get into astronomy each year and the huge interest worldwide with the stars, the planets and the universe. There may be no other universal human fascination that does so much to make national boundaries and even international animosity seem to evaporate. Other than the Olympic movement, international cooperation to achieve great strides for human kind in space seems to go forward without interruption even when the nations cooperating in those projects are virtually at war back on the surface of the earth. It is a strange thing to watch as Russian, American and other astronauts work together like brothers on space missions even as their home nations are busily pointing missiles at each other back at home. It almost makes you think that we should put more energy and money into the space program, not less because it seems to be a bond that heals tension rather than creates it. Why is astronomy so exciting even though we have no dinosaurs, moving animals or any real danger to most who are obsessed with the discipline? It may go back to a basic curiosity that all human beings have about their natural habitat and this big mysterious thing out there called space. Maybe it goes back to that old saying at the beginning of Star Trek that space is “the final frontier”. But we all share that ongoing sense of excitement each time we take out our telescopes and gaze directly at the cosmos above us. We feel we are looking at the very dawn of time. And in light of the issues with the speed of light which means that many of the twinkling stars out there are really light from those stars that started their journey to us thousands of years ago, we are in actually looking directly at the past every time we direct our eyes skyward. But we don’t have to worry about ever conquering the final frontier and finding our curiosity satisfied. There will always be more to learn and discover in the world of astronomy. And it is likely that mankind’s curiosity about astronomy is just as limitless as well. PPPPP 633

Bonding with the universe

Bonding with the Universe. As parents, we often worry about what our children are getting excited about. We hope we can guide them to “bond” with healthy things like a love of learning, of family and of healthy social activities. But we also worry they will bond with the wrong people like internet stalkers or the wrong crowd at school. Wouldn’t it be great if we could harness that tremendous energy and desire to latch onto something and bond with it and help our children “bond” with the universe through a love of astronomy? Kids love to get excited about what you are excited about. So there lots of ways you can “spring” the fun of astronomy on them that will jump start them on a long and happy exploration of the hobby of astronomy.

Here are a few to get your imagination going. * Work it into an evening in the backyard. If you know the night sky will be particularly exciting the night of a big family barbecue, plan to have some blankets out there. Then as everybody else is playing Frisbee, just lay out a blanket, lay flat on your back and start staring up into the sky with a binoculars. Like the old prank of staring at a far away spot to get people’s interest, your kids will see what you are doing and what to know what is going on. As you let them take a peek, their curiosity will take off like a wild fire and they are hooked.

* A surprise visit to the country. Sometimes it is hard to see the vast display of stars from within the city. So if you announce that you are going to show them a surprise one night and have them pile into the car, their curiosity will be going wild as you leave the city. When you find that quiet park, field or lake side spot, all you have to do is point up and say “just look” and the magnificence of the night sky will do the rest.

* A special Christmas gift. You can buy your children an affordable and durable beginner’s telescope along with some easy star maps written just for kids. Imagine when they open this exciting gift and want to know how to use it. Don’t be surprised if you are setting up the new telescope in the snow to show them the great things they will see in the cosmos with the gift that Santa wanted them to have. The gift of astronomy.

* Unleash the power of a meteor shower on them. You can keep your eye on the events that are predicted for the sky watchers in your area. When the next big meteor shower is about to explode over your area, watch the weather for a clear night and get your kids excited about what they are about to see. As the lights begin to go off over head and you create fun and interesting narration to this dramatic display, the children will be addicts for life for the great experiences that can be had as students of astronomy. * Plan a surprise event in with something you are already doing. For example, on vacation, you can plan your route on a cross country trip to bring you within visiting distance of one of the great multimillion dollar telescopes in this country. By contacting them ahead of time, you can be sure they are conducting a tour that coincides with your visit.

Just imagine if they can look up at a telescope that is bigger than their house and maybe look through the eyepiece as some amazing cosmic sight, it will be the hit of the vacation. Astronomy is a great activity to introduce on a family camping trip. As the family sits around the fire after a fun night of camping, all you have to do is just look up and go “Wow, look at that!” When those little heads look up, they will look back down changed children, children in love with the stars. Astronomy is a healthy passion for your kids and one they can grow with their entire lives. And there is probably no better gift you can give them than the love of the stars, of science and of nature that is all wrapped up together when your kids bond with the universe through astronomy. PPPPP 736

The amazing hubble

The Amazing Hubble In the history of modern astronomy, there is probably no one greater leap forward than the building and launch of the space telescope known as the Hubble. While NASA has had many ups and downs, the launch and continued operation of the Hubble space telescope probably ranks next to the moon landings and the development of the Space Shuttle as one of the greatest space exploration accomplishments of the last hundred years. An amazing piece of astronomy trivia that few people know is that in truth, only about ten percent of the universe is visible using conventional methods of observation. For that reason, the Hubble really was a huge leap forward. That is for the very simple reason that the Hubble can operate outside of the atmosphere of Earth. Trying to make significant space exploration via telescopes from the terrestrial surface of planet Earth is very difficult. That very thing that keeps us alive, our own Earth’s atmosphere presents a serious distraction from being able to see deeper and further into space. The Hubble space telescope was named after the great scientist and visionary Edward Hubble who discovered that the universe was expanding which was explained by what is now known in science as Hubble’s Law. To truly get a feel for the amazing accomplishment that was achieved with the launch of the Hubble telescope, spend some time on Nasa’s web site dedicated to the project at http://hubble. nasa. gov. There are also a number of sites where you can enjoy some stunning pictures from the Hubble including http://heritage. stsci. edu/ and http:// stsci. edu/ftp/science/hdf/hdf. html. It’s hard to believe how long the Hubble has been orbiting earth and sending back amazing video and pictures of what it is discovering in space. But the Hubble was actually initially launched on April 25th 1990. It was the culmination of literally decades of research and construction which began in 1977. Expectations were high as the orbiting telescope was put in place and actually began to function as it was designed to do. All was not always perfect with the telescope and the early pictures were disappointing. After some study NASA discovered that the reason for the early failures was the curvatures of one of the main lenses of the orbiting telescope. We probably could never have kept this intricate piece of equipment operational as well as we have had we not had the Space Shuttle program to give us a tool to implement repairs and improvements to the Hubble. In 1993 a new lens was installed on the Hubble which corrected the problem of picture resolution that was noted in the early operation of the telescope. Two other repair and upgrade mission have been made to the Hubble since it launched, both of them in 1997 to upgrade older equipment and to retrofit the telescope to extend its useful life through 2010. It’s pretty amazing to think that this scientific and mechanical marvel has been operating now for ten years without maintenance. We can be assured that plans are in the works for NASA to upgrade or replace parts on the Hubble to extend its useful life even further as that 2010 time frame draws closer. It is hard to imagine the science of astronomy or the natural quest for greater knowledge of our universe without the Hubble. While many times those who would not fund space exploration have tried to cut funding for the Hubble, the operation of this telescope is just too important to astronomers and to the scientific well being of mankind and our planet not to continue to use the Hubble, or its next natural successor. We will always need to have a set of eyes in the sky to watch the universe and discover more of its mysteries. PPPPP 629

Radio astronomy

Radio Astronomy For most of us, the idea of astronomy is something we directly connect to “stargazing”, telescopes and seeing magnificent displays in the heavens. And to be sure, that is the exciting area of astronomy that accounts for it’s huge popularity. So to the uninitiated, the idea of “radio astronomy” seems strange. There are two reasons for that. First is that humans are far more visual than audio oriented. And the second is that radio astronomy doesn’t really involve “listening” to the cosmos except to the extent that scientists who use this sophisticated form of “stargazing” do not rely on visual study to conduct their work. To appreciate what is really exciting about radio astronomy, first we have to shift how we view astronomy. That is because to professional astronomers, studying the universe is more about frequencies than it is about visual documentation of phenomenon. This takes us back to Physics 101. Light, obviously, is the physical phenomenon that empowers our ability to use our visual confirmation system, e. g. our eyes to appreciate something, in this case the stars. So when we look up at the heavens, we can see the light emitting from a star or reflecting from a planet or moon. In many cases, if we see a far away star, we are actually seeing it hundreds or thousands of years ago because that is how long it takes for that light to cross the universe and be visible in our sky. That alone is a pretty mind blowing idea. Now light itself is a pretty strange substance. But to our astronomy scientists, light is just another energy that exists in a certain frequency. Now, we tend to think of frequencies when we talk about sound waves. In scientific terms light, energy and sound are just a few forms of the same thing, frequencies of energy that are emulating from a source. Now we get to why radio astronomy is so necessary. The range of frequency that light occupies in the big spectrum of frequencies is really pretty small. To put that more bluntly, we can only “see” a tiny part of the universe that is actually there. Now when you look up in the night sky and it is so overwhelming, when you then that we are seeing just a tiny amount of what is actually going on up there, again, our minds can get pretty overwhelmed. Radio astronomy uses sophisticated sensor equipment to study ALL of the frequencies of energy coming to us from the cosmos. In that way, these scientists can “see” everything that is going on out there and so get a precise idea of how the stars look, behave now and will behave in the future. For some of us who have heard about radio astronomy, we think of it in terms of “listening” for signs of life in the universe. And yes, SETI, or “the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence” is a part of radio astronomy, albeit a tiny part. But of much greater importance is how radio astronomy has empowered serious astronomers (that is those who get paid to do it) to study stars many light years away, to study black holes which we could never see with our telescopes and to gather research and data about the whole of the universe that otherwise would be impossible to know and understand. This is important work that is constantly ongoing in the world of astronomy. It is worth keeping up with and learning more about as we have barely scratched the surface in our brief discussion today. But understanding how important radio astronomy is will only deepen and make more meaningful your love and grasp of this big field of knowledge known as astronomy. PPPPP 625

The night sky

The Night Sky No matter how far along you are in your sophistication as an amateur astronomer, there is always one fundamental moment that we all go back to. That is that very first moment that we went out where you could really see the cosmos well and you took in the night sky. For city dwellers, this is a revelation as profound as if we discovered aliens living among us. Most of us have no idea the vast panorama of lights that dot a clear night sky when there are no city lights to interfere with the view. Sure we all love the enhanced experience of studying the sky using binoculars and various sizes and powers of telescopes. But I bet you can remember as a child that very first time you saw the fully displayed clear night sky with all the amazing constellations, meters and comets moving about and an exposure of dots of light far to numerous to ever count. The best way to recapture the wonder of that moment is to go out in the country with a child of your own or one who has never had this experience and be there at that moment when they gaze up and say that very powerful word that is the only one that can summarize the feelings they are having viewing that magnificent sky. That word is – “Wow”. Probably the most phenomenal fact about what that child is looking at that is also the thing that is most difficult for them to grasp is the sheer enormity of what is above them and what it represents. The very fact that almost certainly, virtually every dot up there in the sky is another star or celestial body that is vastly larger that Earth itself, not by twice or ten times but by factors of hundreds and thousands, can be a mind blowing idea to kids. Children have enough trouble imagining the size of earth itself, much less something on such a grand scope as outer space. But when it comes to astronomy, we do better when we fall into deeper and deeper levels of awe at what we see up there in the night sky. Some amazing facts about what the children are looking at can add to the goose bumps they are already having as they gaze eyes skyward. Facts like… * Our sun is part of a huge galaxy called the Milky Way that consists of one hundred billion stars just like it or larger. Show them that one hundred billion is 100,000,000,000 and you will se some jaws drop for sure. * The milky was is just one of tens of billions of galaxies each of which has billions of stars in them as well. In fact, the Milky Way is one of the small galaxies. * If you wanted to drive across the Milky Way, it would take you 100,000 years. But you can’t get there driving the speed limit. You have to drive five trillion, eight hundred million miles per year to get all the way across that fast. * Scientists calculate that the Milky Way is 14 billion years old. These little fun facts should get a pretty spirited discussion going about the origins of the universe and about the possibility of space travel or if there are life on other planets. You can challenge the kids to calculate that if every star in the Milky Way supported nine planets and if only one of them was habitable like earth is, what are the odds that life would exist on one of them? I think you will see some genuine excitement when they try to run those numbers. Such discussion can be fun, exciting, and full of questions. Don’t be too hasty to shut down their imaginations as this is the birth of a lifelong love of astronomy that they are experiencing. And if you were there that first moment when they saw that night sky, you will re-experience your own great moment when you was a child. And it might set off a whole new excitement about astronomy in you all over again. PPPPP 694

Astronomy binoculars a great alternative

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. * 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. 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. PPPPP 728

The history of astronomy

The History of Astronomy If you have a passion for star gazing, telescopes, the Hubble and the universe and this thing we call “astronomy”, you are far from alone. Of course, we know that astronomy is a highly respected science that has produced some of the most amazing accomplishments of the twentieth century. On top of that, it is a thriving area of fascination and one of the most exciting hobby areas going with thousands of astronomy clubs and tens of thousands of amateur astronomers watching the stars every night just like we do. But did you know that astronomy is one of the oldest and most respected sciences of them all? As far back as before the times of Christ, the wise and thinking people of societies of the time were looking at the stars and finding ways to track and chart them. We who love the hobby of astronomy can chart a proud history of astronomers that tracks across millennia and through virtually every culture in civilization. So for the sake of having some really good trivia to toss around at astronomy club next week, let’s highlight some of the big moments in the history of astronomy. For many centuries the science of astronomy was not distinct from the practice of astrology. For clarity, astronomy is the study of the stars, planets, and the universe with a clearly scientific approach. Astrology is the study of the zodiac signs and how they influence our growth, our personalities and our daily lives. In modern times, we as people of science discount the astrological side and focus on the astronomy of the heavens. But they were one study for millennia before the age of science made them separate. There is historical evidence that astronomy was a recognized science as far back as the Babylonian civilization hundreds of years before Christ. But the study of the stars was not limited to one country. There were similar movements going on in China, India, and Ancient Egypt and all over the Arabian Peninsula. The integration of astronomy and religion is so prevalent that we see it in the Christmas story in which the Magi, Zoroastrian priesthood probably from the equivalent of ancient Syria, followed a star to the Christ child. These astronomers were also astrologers and it was that mixture that lead them to be part of this historic event. The first book on astronomy was written by Ptolemy during the Greek empire. Since that historic publication, the who’s who list of great astronomers charts a path right through the center of modern science including Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Sir Issac Newton, Jung, Michelangelo, Benjamin Franklin and more recently even Einstein and Stephen Hawkings would join that noble list. It seemed that from the renaissance on to this day, virtually any man or woman of intellect dabbled in astronomy at least somewhat and it has always been considered a sign of the learned to know about the universe and things astronomical. Astronomy has had an impact on so many areas of our lives that we really don’t recognize. Many words in our language had their roots in astronomy such as… * Influenza which comes from the Latin root word for influence. This reflects an early belief that the position of the moon and stars may influence health and cause or cure disease. * Disaster which comes from the Latin for “bad star”. * Lunatic which has the root word "Luna" in it which is the Latin word for moon. This highlights the long held belief that is even prevalent today that irrational behavior and even wild and dangerous things happen during a full moon. Astronomy and its interrelationship with astrology has also influenced culture, education and religion to a very large extent over the centuries. In the English language, the first two days or our week, Sunday and Monday are a reference to astronomy as their literal interpretations would be “The Day of the Sun” and “The Day of the Moon.” So if you have found astronomy becoming a consuming passion in your thoughts and what fascinates you about the world we live in, you are in great company as this area of study has been a major part of culture and thought virtually since the dawn of civilization. And it will continue to fascinate mankind for as long as those beautiful stars shine over our heads. PPPPP 734

Space, the final frontier

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. 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. PPPPP 729

Comets visitors from beyond

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. 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. 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. PPPPP 728

Astronomy binocularsцa great alternative

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. * 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. 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. PPPPP 728

Lookцup in the sky!

Look – Up in the Sky! When television was young, there was a hugely popular show based on the still popular fictional character of Superman. The opening of that show had a familiar phrase that went, “Look. Up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman!” How beloved Superman has become in our culture and the worldwide fascination with extraterrestrials and all things cosmic only emphasizes that there is a deep curiosity in all humans about nature and astronomy, even if many people would not know to call it astronomy. Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences of all time. When archeologists unearth ancient civilizations, even as far back as the cavemen, they invariably find art that shows mans unquenchable fascination with the stars. To this day, you can easily get an animated discussion at any gathering on the topic of “Is there intelligent life on other planets?” Many have tried to explain mankind’s seeming obsession with outer space as a result of an ancient memory or as part of mankind’s eternal nature. Whatever the cause, people of every age and every nation share this one deep interest, to know more about the universe that our tiny planet is just a part of. It’s rather strange because the actual conduct of a serious student of astronomy is really not the stuff of high adventure. You will never see a “Raiders of the Lost Arc” or “Jurassic Park” movie made about an astronomer. Excitement for lovers of this science is to stay up all night watching the cosmos through a powerful telescope. But that fact does not seem to discourage the tens of thousands to get into astronomy each year and the huge interest worldwide with the stars, the planets and the universe. There may be no other universal human fascination that does so much to make national boundaries and even international animosity seem to evaporate. Other than the Olympic movement, international cooperation to achieve great strides for human kind in space seems to go forward without interruption even when the nations cooperating in those projects are virtually at war back on the surface of the earth. It is a strange thing to watch as Russian, American and other astronauts work together like brothers on space missions even as their home nations are busily pointing missiles at each other back at home. It almost makes you think that we should put more energy and money into the space program, not less because it seems to be a bond that heals tension rather than creates it. Why is astronomy so exciting even though we have no dinosaurs, moving animals or any real danger to most who are obsessed with the discipline? It may go back to a basic curiosity that all human beings have about their natural habitat and this big mysterious thing out there called space. Maybe it goes back to that old saying at the beginning of Star Trek that space is “the final frontier”. But we all share that ongoing sense of excitement each time we take out our telescopes and gaze directly at the cosmos above us. We feel we are looking at the very dawn of time. And in light of the issues with the speed of light which means that many of the twinkling stars out there are really light from those stars that started their journey to us thousands of years ago, we are in actually looking directly at the past every time we direct our eyes skyward. But we don’t have to worry about ever conquering the final frontier and finding our curiosity satisfied. There will always be more to learn and discover in the world of astronomy. And it is likely that mankind’s curiosity about astronomy is just as limitless as well. PPPPP 633

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