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Basic astronomy

  1. Jul 16, 2004 #1
    Well, first off, i founded an astronomy club at school finally, (warren'd be pleased to know that.) It was also supposed to continue through the summer. Its been pretty unsuccesful though. With the exceptions of my boyfriend, my little sister, and a boy who i'm pretty sure 'digs' me, no one has been very interested. We had pleanty of people join here and there, but not many stayed for more than a meeting or two.

    secondly, i also wish to really learn the sky myself. I want to know the phases of the moon, loctaions of planets, names of prominant stars and contellations. I want to learn all the basic stuff, and maybe some interesting trivia. I got to see, for my first time, Jupiter through a good telescope and it was amazing. i couldn't believe that what looked to my eyes to just be one bright star, was this striped planet, bright stripes, and its 4 moons. It was so cool to actually see Jupiters stripes even. It was honestly very cool and the few people i was with agreed.

    Anyways, to the point, there's definetly an interest to learn astronomy, if not in my group than at least in me. I've looked at tons of star maps and i've learned a fair deal of constellations. But i don't know if maybe there's an order to learn things that might be best, or if there's ways of learning that'd work better. Basically just any advice on what i should be looking at and teaching my group would be great.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2004 #2
    It really does depend on what you are interested in. There are many things that you could engage yourself in. For example, you could learn about how stars work (thats a topic I've always found fun). However, to me it seems like you are more interested in observing. If you are willing to spend some money, you could buy a telescope. You could be busy for hours upon hours with a telescope. Or, you could buy computer programs. There are some really neat programs out there which have mapped millions of objects in the sky. I know one particular program that my astronomy/physics teacher has. There are just so many things that you could do with that program. One thing that I found quite fun was looking at the Earth from Mars (now I know exactly what the martians are looking at). Of course equipment and computer programs aren't cheap. This program would cost $150ish dollars (canadian).

    It really is a matter of what you are most interested in learning about. During my astronomy course, my teacher took us through a variety of things. We started with history of space exploration (manned and robotic exploration). Than we moved onto amateur astronomy and telescopes. It was alot of fun learning about the different types of telescopes and their designs. Than we began actual astronomy. We started with stars and spectroscopy. We learned about how stars work and how the evolve. Finally, we moved onto Cosmology. We learned about different galaxies etc. I thought this course was fairly informative and interesting.

    There's also alot of great videos you can watch. Some in particular are the Astronomer's series. There are six videos that focus on a variety of different topics ranging from gravity waves to dark matter to stardust. I really enjoyed watching these videos and you can probably buy them for quite cheap.

    Anyways, the point is, there are a variety of ways in which you can learn. You just have to find a topic that suits you and than explore it however you can.
  4. Jul 17, 2004 #3
    Hmm... well yes, i suppose i'm definetly more interested in just observing myself. I like looking into the sky and just knowing when i'm looking at, and of course why its there. To me, i figured learn whats in the sky first, then learn what its all about, but i don't know if that would appeal to most people. We did start learning about star cycles and we learned a lot of constellation myths too in our club. The main problem was, however, that we don't have an astronomy class, and so our club sort of seemed like a class, instead of a club.

    plus, we meet after school usually, and sometime at night to star gaze. But it makes it hard for all of us to think about the stars and planets and moon when the sun's out and shining.

    Movies might be cool, but is that too much for a club do you think? well, i dunno, do clubs watch movies? the computer program seems like a good idea too. our club can easily raise the cost in one fundraiser. But would it be worth it? i just don't know what to inviest in at all, or how to keep people interested. But since starting the club i've really learned so much already, though i'd bet i'm the only one....
  5. Jul 17, 2004 #4


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    Start with the circumpolar constellations that is The Big Dipper,Cassiopeia, and Perseus which are pretty easy. The little dipper and Cepheus are a bit harder but once you have found the first three, what isn't them is on of the others.

    In the summer the Summer Triangle formed by Vega, Deneb, and Altair is a nice place to start learning some stars, and these stars then lead to Cygnus the swan, Aquila the Eagle, and Lyra. Once you get a few picked out, it becomes easier to find others. Get a star map for your location and time, go out side and start looking at the stars.

    Remember it is the bright stars that are you starting place, look up and find the brightest stars in the sky, these have a name and are part of a major constellation. This is the key to getting started.

    Good luck.
  6. Jul 17, 2004 #5

    Well thanks, I actually already know all those contellations, unfortunately though, my group doesn't. Which raises an other issue... if our club is like a class in that we're all learning things for the first time, how can we have newer members keep up with the older ones? i already know most of the major constellations, and i don't mind teaching others, but i don't want all of the meetings spent with me teaching, i want to learn new things too... so i'm not sure how to go about that...
  7. Jul 18, 2004 #6


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    Once your club gets going, you will find that each member will develop his or her own specialty. Somebody may gravitate to astrophotography, another person will want to do deep-sky visual observations with a Dob', another person might want to observe close double-stars with a decent refractor, while others might drift into cosmology, etc. In any case, you will soon all have some skills and knowledge that you can pass on to the others. Even relative newbies can teach you something. Joe may bring in his scope and teach others how to star-hop to faint objects using only charts and a zero-power finder. Sally may bring in her collection of tectites (I have actually faceted a few into gemstones - the refractive index is low, so they are not great gems, but interesting anyway). You might give a demonstration of how to use constellations to locate nice binocular-friendly targets like M31. You get the idea.

    In my own club, I was the only one that was serious about astrophotography. I brought in 5x7 color photos of deep-sky objects that I took through my 6" APO refractor (including some obvious mistakes!) and discussed simple but critical aspects of astrophotography, such as avoiding guidescope flexure, how to minimize guiding errors, acheiving accurate polar alignment, avoiding vibration, etc. There are literally dozens of topics relating to this one pursuit that would be appropriate for discussions if the skies outside are not cooperative. I tried to choose topics that non-astrophotographers would find interesting or useful. For instance, people who do high-power observations of close double stars would definitely benefit from knowing how to accurately polar-align their scopes, so they don't have to make as many guiding corrections (especially while showing these objects to others).

    Good luck, and try to make it fun for everybody. A little humor goes a long way, especially when folks are nervous about speaking in public. One night my talk was about how to use a camera with a wide-angle lens to capture the tracks of Perseid meteors, and someone asked how big these objects are. One fellow (who routinely puts on programs at elementary schools) pulled a small stoney meteorite out of his pocket and passed it around. I expressed surprise , then stated that I was NOT going to sit beside him when our topic was "black holes". After the laughter died down, one older fellow (who had been really quiet during most meetings) told of a meteor storm he had seen when he was younger, and later he volunteered to give a presentation relating to his observational astronomy. Everybody will have something to share. Keep it informal (non-threatening) but organized and you will have a blast. You may want to consider an outreach program, too. Astronomy can be a rather solitary hobby, and there are probably some older people in your area who have a lot to share. I'll guarantee that there are people you don't yet know (farmers, bankers, surveyors, millworkers, nurses.....) in your area who are deeply interested in astronomy and would be happy to share their experience. Don't leave out the youngsters, either - just make sure that a parent or guardian participate with them.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2004
  8. Jul 19, 2004 #7


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    first let me say - - good job!

    some suggestions...
    (1) keep it fun - - sounds like nights out with binoculars & telescopes - - look for "events" like meteor showers, lunar eclipses, etc.
    (2) invite a college professor (or grad student) to talk to your group
    (3) hook up with a local astronomy club (access to experts & big telescopes)
    (4) field trip! (planetarium, UNH observatory, Stellafane in Vermont, etc.)
    (5) daytime - solar astronomy (e.g., projecting an image of the sun through a pinhole onto paper & checking out the sunspots)

    learning the sky - - just takes practice
  9. Jul 19, 2004 #8
    For whatever reason I ended up TA-ing an intro astronomy lab at my university for about 2 years. I ran the observatory, conducted observing sessions, went to the plantarium etc. However what I really liked about it was learning, I'm not sure what you'd call it, but the astronomy of tides, seasons, time, constellations/mythology.

    Try making different sorts of sundials and test their accuracy, this teachs you a lot about the earth-sun system. Try learning the constellations along with their stories, there are natural groups of constellations (like cepheus, cassiopeia, andromeda, cetus, pegasus, perseus for example) that go well together and fit into a story (depending on the version) that way when you're showing the general public (another thing I really like doing) the sky you can really bring it alive by referring to the constellations as if they were the heros/beasts/etc that legend refers to. Another fun thing to do if you get a telescope is fun facts. Its always neat to tell people how far away something is, or how large a certain star is compared to our sun and what not. I find the information easier to remember if it is incorporated into some sort of scheme. (Many public observatories need volunteer staff, you might try looking for you)

    If you get a telescope get a solar filter too. Wow, they are super fun and you can sit out on warm summer days with a glass of lemonade! But seriously though, sunspots are very interesting and you can/should keep a journal of sketches of the groups of spots that you observe and classify them and try to predict (using science) how they might evolve and see if you can recognize them when (and if) they come around the sun's dark side again after a revolution.

    Yet another fun thing to do with a telescope is to "learn" the moon. Try learn your way around, do you go north or south from the straight wall to get to Kepler?

    I mention these to be cheap (or cheap for a telescope) activites since its easy to become a gear nut and buy all kinds of stuff or conversely to think that you can study the skies because you don't have the latest 5 piece lanthanum eyepiece set.

    Also: you could track the planets and the moon on the ecliptic! etc etc etc... Good luck with your club!

  10. Jul 20, 2004 #9


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    Must see things: the andromeda galaxy, hercules cluster, orion nebula, and the seven sisters through wide screen binoculars.
  11. Jul 20, 2004 #10


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    Do they come HDTV-ready? :rofl:

    - Warren
  12. Jul 20, 2004 #11


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    Duh, wide field. my bad. I had a date with a post grad chick tonite. She told jokes and I didn't get them. Pizza is not always the answer.
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