Have you ever seen Jupiter and its moons? Or a distant galaxy far, far away? How about safely seeing the Sun in a telescope? Maybe you have a question about planets orbiting other stars. Or have an interest in space exploration of our Solar System. And if you’ve caught the astronomy bug, how about handling and looking through different telescopes—kicking the tires so-to-speak—to help you determine what kind you might want to purchase?
Well, ask an amateur astronomer this Saturday. And remember, there are no silly questions in astronomy!
There are about a half-million amateur astronomers who want to share those celestial thrills with you and your friends this weekend as it is Astronomy Day around America.
Saturday April 29th you can see these heavenly objects and more, thanks to the volunteer amateur astronomers at Bays Mountain and Bristol astronomy clubs.
Both groups of star-struck stargazers will have events all day to share the mysteries and beauty of our Universe. If weather cooperates, you can look through a telescope and safely see the Sun during the day. Then at night, you can explore the crescent Moon, see cloud bands on Jupiter and the faint fuzzy glow of billions of stars in a distant galaxy.
Astronomy Day is a perfect time to learn a little about the spacey things that are all around us and connect with our ancestors who like you, might casually look up and wonder what you’re gazing upon.
After all, the stars and their arbitrary patterns we see in tonight’s skies are the exact same ones that all humans have looked up and seen.
That’s right. Though moving at thousands of miles an hour in different directions, the stars are so far away that they have not changed their positions in hundreds of thousands of years. So tonight when you are looking at the asterism of Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, or the constellation Leo the Lion, they are exactly the same stars that were seen by painter Vincent Van Gogh, physicist Isaac Newton or a caveman.
Uniquely, no one owns the original when you look up to the sky. Jupiter is yours to ponder, photograph or sketch in its original form, and is easy to see in our eastern skies of Spring 2017. It’s not like you have to fly to the Louvre Museum in Paris to see the original Mona Lisa painting.
That is just one of the many fascinating things about astronomy that makes Joe and Jane America look up at the sky.
When there is a bright “star” lingering on the horizon—like the planet Venus is doing in our Spring 2017 morning skies—or you think you saw the International Space Station fly overhead—who ya gonna call? Why your friend, the amateur astronomer.
Most everyone knows someone who has a passion for stargazing. And they are the ones whom you turn to for an explanation about the sometimes puzzling objects seen in the day and night sky.
I know that I am asked almost monthly by someone who wants me to shed some light on the spacey things seen at night or in the news. Sometimes I’m even asked on Facebook “What is this all about, Mark?”
Which is another paradox about being an amateur astronomer—how can someone know so much about a subject and still be called an amateur?
Well, there are no degrees for stargazing, and those few professional astronomers (less than 10,000 world-wide) are too busy working with files of data acquired from the major telescope observatories on top of mountains around the world.
In fact, amateur astronomers are relied upon by professionals to help with some of the mundane research they don’t have time to perform. Thus amateurs with special telescope and digital imagery are looking for comets, exploding stars in distant galaxies and asteroids near Earth that might hit us someday.
Most of the amateur astronomers you’ll encounter during Astronomy Day are just willing to turn you on to the amazing Universe we all live in.
Seeing an adult’s face react with child-like amazement at their first look at the Moon or Saturn’s rings never gets old for amateur astronomers. Nor do the questions about the North Star, Black Holes or even if there are UFOs.
When a youngster gets their first look at the Orion Nebula or Andromeda Galaxy and ends up becoming obsessed to the point of a science project on astronomy, well, that is truly priceless.
Amateur astronomy might be part of the human psyche from ancient times as nearly everyone has a curiosity to look up and wonder what exactly the stars are made of, how far away they are and if other beings are looking back at us.
Our favorite star, the Sun, is just an average one among the billions in our favorite galaxy, the Milky Way. Just one hundred years ago it was professional astronomer Edwin Hubble who discovered that our Milky Way is not the entire Universe and that other galaxies lay beyond ours. Thanks to his namesake, the Hubble Space Telescope, we have discovered a Universe filled with billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars.
It is amazing to think about. Yet, the humble amateur astronomer can help you sort it all out.
Amateur astronomy is a great hobby with a membership that includes people passionate about many things in nature, including our ecosystem, weather and the animal kingdom.
There are many facets to amateur astronomy and not everyone owns a telescope to enjoy the passion. Binoculars are the best way to start out, but some just enjoy using their naked eyes to trace the ancient constellations of mythology.
Many are armchair astronomers who enjoy the many books and Internet websites that share the newest knowledge and conjecture about the cosmos including the Big Bang of creation, theories of multiple dimensions and hypothesis about the exoplanets being discovered around nearby stars.
Maybe you’re an artist and enjoy putting on canvas artwork of our Solar System bodies, the Universe or humans conquering Mars.
And some, like me, enjoy writing about our starry skies and all it contains—a true gift and passion of mine for more than 50 years.
Amateur astronomy literally has something for everybody with an inquiring mind. You can participate at the local astronomy clubs and stargazing events frequently scheduled by stargazers.
Go out and visit a science museum this weekend and you’ll satisfy that inquisitive spirit. You won’t be disappointed.