For example, a few days ago at time of writing, an amateur astronomer in
Here’s another example. This year I have been attending a few public outreach star parties. Greeting hundreds of strangers and letting them peer through my telescope at various objects including planets, star clusters, galaxies and nebula and seeing their reactions is a truly rewarding experience. But the sharing of knowledge, even the ability to share that knowledge, is the interesting thing. Often, someone will ask me a question. “Why do we only see one side of the moon”? “How many moons does Saturn have?” “What really is the Milky Way”? I answer them to the best of my ability, and I’ve somehow helped to broaden the public’s understanding of the night sky. Then, I get questions I can’t answer and fumble through. “How many stars are in that cluster?” “Do black holes really exist”? “When will the Sun die?” Almost during every, single public outreach event, I am faced with a myriad of questions to which I have no clue whatsoever, and these are asked by people ranging from the very young (think 6 year olds!!!) to the old, and from all walks of life. The beauty of living and being involved in astronomy NOW is that the information available to you is massive, and it is very easy indeed to note down such questions, go home and get some answers before the next event. Again, another way to empower the knowledge of the public – and yourself!
Taking photos of the night sky is now more dramatically easier than it has been. Sure, there’s some money involved, but for even little money people can now take photos of our stellar neighbors easily and with great results. Digital cameras can be coupled to computer-driven scopes with relative easy, and amateurs who are just starting out can see near-immediate good results with images of the moon, planets and brighter deep sky objects. While I have a nice Digital SLR and a computerized GOTO scope, the very best photo I have ever taken was of the moon, through a 6” Dobsonian using my wife’s point-and-shoot digital camera – hand-held to the eyepiece! That picture now sits proudly on my desk at work. Even with the most basic of tools, most folks these days can capture lovely images of the skies above us at night.
To take imaging technology a step further, the ability to use modern imaging equipment to share your hobby with others either locally or around the world has also made the hobby that much more accessible. At a recent gathering of fellow astronomers, one chap had a 27” TV available which was hooked up to his scope while viewing the moon. It was a great way to share the experience. On several occasions, I have used my modified webcam, normally designed for taking images of the moon and planets, to share views of the moon from my scope here in the
My interests in astronomy stemmed from my grandfather. During family get-togethers at his home in
Yes, this is the International Year of Astronomy. But, I believe this is the People’s Time for Astronomy, and it doesn’t have to be limited to 2009. The telescopes available to the general public, the knowledge available on the internet and through current release books and journals, through to the astronomical community’s sheer desire to share their excitement for the night sky with everyone else makes the hobby accessible and enjoyable as never before. Perhaps we can take even a small amount of the enthusiasm being displayed during IYA2009 and keep sharing this lovely hobby of ours, utilizing the myriad of tools at our disposal.
I look forward to what the future brings…