Showing posts with label Amateur Astronomy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amateur Astronomy. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

How to Look Up

Vitebsk amateur astronomical observatory (MPC COD B42) - Photo: Wikimedia
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 an 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 ancestor's 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 furthermost 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 websites and books galore to guide you.

* Get some history.  Learning the background to the great discoveries in astronomy will make your moments stargazing more meaningful.  It is one of the oldest sciences on earth to 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 stargazing 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.


Monday, October 9, 2017

MOON Gazing

Moon Gazing - Photo: Publicdomainpictures.net
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 backyard.

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 another 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.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

ASTEROIDS

There is a lot of exciting stuff going on in the stars above us that make astronomy so much fun.  The truth is the universe is a constantly changing, moving, some would say “living” thing because you just never know what you are going to see on any given night of stargazing.


243 Ida and its moon Dactyl. Dactyl is the fir...
243 Ida and its moon Dactyl. Dactyl is the first satellite of an asteroid to be discovered. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But of the many celestial phenomenons, there is probably none as exciting as that time you see your first asteroid on the move in the heavens.  To call asteroids the “rock stars” of astronomy is simultaneously a bad joke but an accurate depiction of how astronomy fans view them.  Unlike suns, planets and moons, asteroids are on the move, ever changing and, if they appear in the night sky, exciting and dynamic.

Like rock stars, asteroids have been given their fair share of urban myth and lore.  Many have attributed the extinction of the dinosaurs to the impact of a huge asteroid on the earth.  This theory has some credibility and, if it is true, it evokes some pretty startling images and foreboding fears in the current reining species on earth, the human race.

The fact that asteroids are fast moving space debris only makes their movement and activity more interesting and exciting.  Unlike a moon, planet or star, the odds that an asteroid could hit the earth are entirely reasonable and in fact, there are many documented cases of small asteroids making it through our atmosphere and leaving some pretty impressive craters in the earth’s surface.

Popular culture has happily embraced the idea of an asteroid impact.  The idea has spawned many a science fiction story adding the idea that alien life forms may ride asteroids to our world and start a “war of the worlds” situation.  But by far, the most talked about concept that has captured the imagination and the fears of science fiction fans and the general public is of another asteroid hitting the earth that could wipe out life as allegedly happened to the dinosaurs.  In fact, the movie “Armageddon” was based on this idea and the concept that somehow mankind could avert that catastrophe with technology.

But probably the best way to calm our fears and replace science fiction with science is with understanding and knowledge.  The truth is, there has been a lot of study of asteroid activity and the serious scientific community has gained significant knowledge of these amazing celestial bodies.  A number of probes to asteroids have been conducted which have given us a wealth of information about their composition and how we might predict their behavior.

We now know that the majority of asteroids we get to witness come from an asteroid belt that exists between Mars and Jupiter.  It is from this community of asteroids that many of the notable asteroids emerged.  Scientists have gained significant knowledge about the composition of asteroids and separated them into classes including class S which comes of the part of the belt that is closest to Mars, classes C, D and V which are classified by composition and a class called “Centaurs” whose flight patterns take them closer to Jupiter and Uranus.



Some of the probes NASA has conducted on near flying asteroids have performed some pretty amazing studies of these eccentric celestial bodies.  In 1994 the Galileo probe got within 1000 miles of the asteroid Ida and discovered that Ida actually had its own moon.

Other probes have fired impactors into asteroids and even landed on an asteroid to produce some amazing scientific data for us.  There is much to learn about asteroids in our love of astronomy and that knowledge only makes our enjoyment of seeing them in the cosmos even more exciting.

243 Ida and its moon Dactyl. Dactyl is the first satellite of an asteroid to be discovered. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

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.

Full Moon view from earth In Belgium (Hamois)....
Full Moon view from earth In Belgium (Hamois).
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.