Chris McKitterick (mckitterick) wrote,
Chris McKitterick

2009: International Year of Astronomy

In honor of the International Year of Astronomy, I hereby vow to post my Astro-Image of the Day at least three times a week, every day if possible! This is in keeping with the IYoA org's mission:

"The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and UNESCO to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky, and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery."

Sense of wonder. Discovery. For me, this is what astronomy is all about, and it's why I find beautiful or exciting space photos (and occasionally try to take them myself) and share them with you. I want to share my excitement about astronomy because it's my first love, a place and an activity and one of the very few means to find peace and sense the numinous. Astronomy is not just the cool equipment (though I love the devices we use to reveal the secrets of the universe!), and it's not just the gorgeous objects hidden behind the veil of light and sky (though it wouldn't be all these things if not for the planets and moons and stars and nebulae and galaxies and so forth); for me, what astronomy is at its heart is the search and discovery and the glorious mix of emotions one feels when first discovering some grand and gorgeous jewel hidden in the sky, or when sensing the vast scale of the universe and our place in it, or when so lost in the act of observing that one feels like an explorer, or returning to the comfort of a familiar beauty often visited, or any of those moments of quiet joy that astronomy brings.

Two things prevent most people from enjoying these things: proper equipment and light pollution. Check out the various dark-sky organizations for information about how you can help eliminate the light that hides most of the faint objects.

If you're interested in the equipment for astronomy, I'm happy to offer advice for telescope buying and so forth. A couple of quick suggestions: For a refractor (lens-type telescope), don't get anything that's smaller than 60mm; for a reflector (mirror-type), you want something larger than 4" - and in both cases, if it costs less than $200 or you can get it at Wal-Mart, it's probably crap and will only frustrate you. Magnification is pretty much unimportant; objective and eyepiece quality and light-gathering power are key to a usable 'scope. Your best bet is to get the best instrument you can afford or just do your astronomy via the internet. A quality pair of binoculars is also a great gateway to the universe, especially for viewing big things like the Milky Way.

But basically, unless you know you're into astronomy, I suggest the best way to get started is to simply seek out dark skies with friends, take along a decent sky map, set up lounge chairs, and maybe scan the skies with your binoculars. If you feel the journey is more important than seeking things, you'll love it.

Tags: astronomy, telescopes

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