Energize Your Astronomy

By Bill Pellerin
Houston Astronomical Society
GuideStar editor

www.astronomyhouston.org

 

Do you find yourself setting up your telescope and then asking yourself, “What am I going to look at?” Or, have you missed a clear dark night because you can’t think of anything that you want to observe. I hope, in this article, to convince you that by focusing on one or more areas of astronomy and delving deep into those areas that your astronomy ‘career’ will take off. What’s more, if you do that, you will never run out of things to observe.

 

Perhaps it’s time to change how you approach your observing. If you’ve been something of an ‘astronomical tourist’ (someone who looks at objects, says, “how nice”, and moves on) and it’s time to pick your area of interest and do a deep dig into that subject. It has been my observation (pun intended) that those who are most enthusiastic about their observing program are those who really, really understand what they’re looking at and why it’s interesting. These are the same observers who have taken the time necessary to learn about the objects and who understand the object’s place in the cosmos.

 

By Bill Pellerin
Houston Astronomical Society
GuideStar editor

www.astronomyhouston.org

 

Do you find yourself setting up your telescope and then asking yourself, “What am I going to look at?” Or, have you missed a clear dark night because you can’t think of anything that you want to observe. I hope, in this article, to convince you that by focusing on one or more areas of astronomy and delving deep into those areas that your astronomy ‘career’ will take off. What’s more, if you do that, you will never run out of things to observe.

 

Perhaps it’s time to change how you approach your observing. If you’ve been something of an ‘astronomical tourist’ (someone who looks at objects, says, “how nice”, and moves on) and it’s time to pick your area of interest and do a deep dig into that subject. It has been my observation (pun intended) that those who are most enthusiastic about their observing program are those who really, really understand what they’re looking at and why it’s interesting. These are the same observers who have taken the time necessary to learn about the objects and who understand the object’s place in the cosmos.

 

Trust me when I say that you can choose any subject and keep digging into it for life. You’ll never run out of something to learn about. One of our Houston Astronomical Society members, Larry Mitchell creates an advanced observing list for the Texas Star Party. What’s more amazing about what he does is that he does a daytime presentation at the star party during which he discusses many, if not every, object in his observing list. He talks about why the object is interesting, what features are particular to this object, and he does all this from memory. How is he able to do this? Because he has done a deep dive into his subject matter. He’s very enthusiastic about this and his enthusiasm is contagious.

 

A few years ago I bought a book called The Observer’s Guide to Stellar Evolution by Mike Ingilis and became fascinated by it. The idea that I could observe stars and nebulae that would show me the life story of stars was a very exciting idea. I read the book several times, and when I still had questions I communicated with the author via email and I did some more research from other books and from resources online. The result of that effort is a presentation that I’ve made several times called Observing Stellar Evolution and now, my effort is directed to turning this study into an Astronomical League observing program. Every time a get a new Astronomy or Sky & Telescope magazine I look for articles about stellar evolution. (There were recent articles about super massive stars that were fascinating.)

 

Here’s what I want you to know – no matter what you’re interested in, there is a lot more to know about it than you now know. There have been professional astronomers who have devoted large parts of their careers to studying, say, the Orion Nebula. Mike Brown recently wrote a book called Why I Killed Pluto and Why It Had it Coming. The interesting thing about the story is how Mike Brown devoted an extraordinary amount of energy and enthusiasm to the effort to find objects that were similar to Pluto, with the goal of finding a new planet. We all know how this story turned out, but what’s interesting is the degree of dedication and effort that was required to establish the fact that Pluto was not unique. He is so excited about the work that he is continuing to do it.

 

So, here are some ideas for you:

  • Stellar evolution – understanding how stars are born, live and die (ok, that one’s mine)

  • Variable Stars – categories, measurement and estimation (aavso.org)

  • Galaxies – Herschel (history), Arp, types, orientation (face on, edge on)

  • Globular and Open Clusters – finding all of them in the Milky Way, types, ages of clusters, distribution of clusters

  • Carbon Stars – understanding and observing a very interesting phase of stellar lifetimes (AL program on this)

  • Occultations / Grazes – predicting, timing (www.occultations.org)

  • The moon – history, sketching, transient lunar events, impacts, early and late moons

  • Lunar and Planetary – transient events, transits, size, (alpo-astronomy.org)

  • Supernovae – searches, physics of

  • Asteroids – determining orbits, discovering, recovering lost asteroids

  • Meteorites – collecting, categorizing, finding

  • Eclipses – predicting, watching!

  • Comets – discovery, study

  • Double stars – observing (making measurements – separation, position angle)

  • Spectroscopy – performing, analyzing data

  • Advocacy – International Dark Sky Association (darksky.org)

  • Dark Matter / Dark Energy – reading and study

  • Outreach – Public Star Parties (Night Sky Network — nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov)

  • Education – supporting education in schools and in civic organizations

  • Astrometry – measuring the position of objects in the sky

  • Master Observer program – Astronomical League programs

  • Satellites – observing, predicting, listening

  • Radio astronomy – meteor showers

 

There are plenty of other opportunities, but the key idea here is that you should pick a subject in astronomy and make it yours. Make yourself the expert in your club on this subject and get others involved. Make your enthusiasm contagious.

 

Your parents, or a teacher, or someone probably told you, “you get out of this what you put into it”. They were right.


 

 

 

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