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Travel to the Stars: A Guide to Amateur Astronomy

Astronomy refers to the study of celestial objects outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, including planets, stars, nebulae, and galaxies. Astronomers enjoy watching and studying the sky and the abundance of objects that it contains. Amateur astronomers, also called stargazers or backyard astronomers, use astronomy more as a hobby. Scientific research is not generally the main goal of an amateur astronomer, but many will monitor stars and track asteroids. Professional astronomers are scientists who scientifically study celestial bodies, including planets, galaxies, and stars. They are more concerned about sky classifications and phenomena in space. These highly educated individuals typically maintain a PhD in astronomy or physics. While most amateur astronomers watch the sky through portable binoculars or telescopes, the professionals rely on more advanced reflecting telescopes or radio interferometers.

If you are considering getting started in amateur astronomy, there are a few considerations you should make. Before you run out to buy a telescope, check out a couple of basic books on astronomy to learn about the celestial objects in the sky. While upfront information is important, amateur astronomy remains a hobby that is learned over a lifetime. When you feel you’re ready to start, locate a local amateur astronomy club if available. Amateur astronomy clubs offer numerous stargazing activities, as well as provide excellent information on telescope purchasing, sky observation, celestial photography, and any other astronomical interest you may have. There are several tools and materials you will need to become an amateur astronomer. A calendar, wristwatch, and time conversion table are essential for calculating sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, twilights, and moon phrases. An astronomy calculator may also be helpful, as this tool provides the phases of the moon, the next meteor shower and lunar eclipse, as well as the location of the planets. The U.S. Naval Observatory, star charts, messier objects charts and moon maps provides amateur astronomers information on a variety of astronomical data. When you first begin in the field of astronomy, your first telescope should be a quality pair of binoculars. It’s also helpful to purchase a tripod and adaptor. Astronomy tools and equipment can typically be purchased online or through astronomy clubs.

There are limitless benefits to participating in amateur astronomy, especially to those who are truly passionate about what they do. In terms of research, amateur astronomers are familiar with the sky and will typically know right away when a new and fascinating object has appeared. They are able to spot the difference between a planet, artificial satellite, a comet, and a star. They are able to make accurate measurements and determine positions according brightness. Amateur astronomers can benefit in specific areas of research, including long-term monitoring of certain variable stars, as well as discovering new meteors, comets, and maybe even a supernovae. If you are generally interested in becoming an amateur astronomer, the mere amazement created by the vast universe stands as the most important reason for studying the sky. If you feel passion for the many wonders of all that astronomy reveals, amateur astronomy may be the right hobby for you.

Follow the resources below to learn more about amateur astronomy and where to buy the tools and materials needed to start a hobby as an amateur astronomer.

Informative Links:

Vendor Sites:

  • Astromart: Here you will find a large collection of used astronomy equipment for amateur astronomers to purchase.
  • Binoculars: Shop the Binoculars shop for user-reviews and a great variety of online binoculars and accessories.
  • Sportsman’s Guide: Find the Barska and Galileo Chinese-made binoculars and other popular models.
  • Antares Optical: The Antares Optical shop offers telescopes, eyepieces, and accessories for amateur astronomers.

Recommended Reading:

  • The Stars: A New Way to See Them: This hardcover book by H. A. Rey has been named the best guide to learning the constellations.
  • Binocular Astronomy: If you are looking for information on binocular astronomy, this book by Craig Crossen and Wil Tirion is it.
  • Exploring the Night with Binoculars: This book by David S. Chandler may be short, but it contains all the basics you need to know about binocular astronomy.
  • Touring the Universe through Binoculars: This Complete Astronomer’s Guidebook provides tons of information on stargazing.
  • Star Wars: Here you will find the Amateur Astronomer’s Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Buying, and Using Telescopes and Accessories.
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