After a half-century (!) of going outdoors and gazing around a few thousand starry nights, I have to admit that you can see plenty these days laid back in the living room recliner.
Yup, armchair astronomers are a growing breed as the 21st Century communications revolution connects anyone with the entire Universe.
Any space or astronomy interest worth their salt will have a social media source. And they are a great way to keep up-to-date with the latest discoveries and new information about anything in the Galaxy—and beyond.
You can read tweets, posts, threads and google anything under the Sun, Moon and stars. Just like our U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, NASA loves to use Twitter! Last summer the American space agency sent the crystal-ball astrologers covering their butts as NASA tweeted that the Sun moves through 13, not 12 constellations (Ophiuchus the Serpent Handler is between Scorpius and Sagittarius).
And on the social media front, there are a few shining stars who monopolize our attention, one of the most popular being second astronaut on the Moon, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
The 86-year-old Buzz has been globetrotting the past two years promoting a human mission to Mars and signing anything shoved under his nose. Following on Twitter the world’s most famous octogenarian is a blast as you can see the fun Aldrin is having in appearances with world leaders, celebrities and lots of kids. After all Aldrin IS the iconic image of a man standing on the Moon, with first moon man Neil Armstrong and their Apollo 11 spacecraft reflected in his gold space helmet.
Moonwalker Buzz has more than compensated for his mental breakdown in 1970s, caused by the spotlight always being focused on Armstrong when the Apollo astronauts were standing side-by-side as their moonship landed on the Sea of Tranquility in July 1969.
In November 2016, Buzz became the oldest person ever to set foot on Antarctica, but was quickly evacuated to a hospital in Australia after getting altitude sickness.
Would Buzz be doing all of this world travel if there wasn’t the instant gratification of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.?
Maybe not. But I sure bought one of his T-shirts promoting his cause to “Get Your Ass to Mars!”
And like all hobbies and interests, Buzz Aldrin is just one of dozens of characters who promote and entertain. Two other astronomy favorites include Bill Nye the “Science Guy” and New York City’s astronomer Neil Degrass-Tyson.
An armchair astronomer who commandeers the magic remote for the television can channel surf any cloudy night for space science shows on National Geographic, History and Weather channels. Stay away from that ancient alien stuff! Ancient alien claims are entertaining, but to me seem to extrapolate a lot from a few threads of factual evidence. And, if you can command that TV remote awhile, don’t forget the NASA channel and those daily live views of our orbiting International Space Station!
Many hardcore telescope observers find comfort when skies are overcast skies by surfing Internet sites like CloudyNights.com or AstroMart.com. Not only can a telescope lover drool over a wish list of used equipment, but there are plenty of astro forums that share the how-to and what-not-to-do! And don’t forget those lively alien life forums to keep everyone’s debate skills up to par.
There are just a myriad of places to surf when looking for astronomy and space news. I suggest you google what you’re interested in: whether the Solar System, exoplanets, buying a telescope, building an observatory, astrophotography or just need a constellation star chart for the month.
And don’t forget a good ol’ stargazing book in your hands while the winter fireplace turns carbon logs into energy. Libraries are a great source of beginner books as well as classics. But so is Amazon, where I’ve bought some of my favorite books for $1 plus the usual $3.99 shipping.
In all my years, I highly recommend the classic by Chet Raymo “365 Starry Nights.” It has a great sky lesson or concept for every day of the year. Other recommendations are sky watching books by David Levy and Terrence Dickinson. For the Space Race there are writers Andrew Chaikin and Craig Nelson, among others. Dava Sobel has written some good astronomy history along with Owen Gingerich.
And for star charts and constellation facts look for Wil Tiron, Roger Sinnott and the classic Norton’s Star Atlas.
Some classic, sought after popularizers of astronomy are also cheap buys on the Internet. Look for any volumes by the great British amateur astronomer Patrick Moore. And there is a unique constellation-finder published in 1966 by H.A. Rey. Sound familiar? He’s the cartoonist of the monkey tales of Curious George!
One area of our information-saturated society that I have only begun to use are the many podcasts of astronomy and space news. Great for traveling with your headphones or in the car—Sirius/XM, IHeart Radio or Internet—you can “get your knowledge on” about the latest interplanetary missions at Mars, Saturn and Jupiter, or learn some hard-core astrophysics about Black Holes.
You can also get spacey entertainment and knowledge from DVDs. I recently listened to the Hollywood blockbuster “The Martian” on CD after reading the book and seeing the movie twice. I was still captivated by the tales of Mark Watney on Mars while driving inside my pickup truck! (FYI, space engineers love the factual accuracy of the book and movie except for one thing: Martian winds would never get strong enough to topple a spaceship over on its side, the reason for the castaway dilemma).
Final resources for the armchair astronomer are the popular monthly magazines, including “Sky & Telescope” and “Astronomy.” These are the staples for the novice to learn the sky and keep abreast of space news events. Good bookstores also have several Canadian and European publications that are worth the money.
The ultimate “armchair astronomer” experience is at your local planetarium, where star lore and star fact are mixed together with a tantalizing visualization of our night sky.
But wait! As I reach in my pocket, I see I have a planetarium program “app” on my Smartphone. One of the best is Stellarium, but there are many to choose from.
Oh, yeah, a planetarium in my pants…
Hey everyone! I’ve got a planetarium in my pants! What a world (and beyond) we live in.