During the golden age of science fiction films in the 1950s, “keep watching the skies” was a popular refrain. That’s advice that many of us have taken to heart, regardless of our tolerance for monsters in rubber suits and UFOs on wobbly strings.
The stars, and what lies beyond them, has proved to be a constant source of fascination. Whether you’re a newcomer to the world of astronomy or a season veteran, there is always more to learn. This guide will aid you in your interstellar education.
Learning the Astronomy Lingo
If you’re brand new to astronomy, the practice can feel a little intimidating. In many respects, it’s akin to learning a new language – almost literally, when we consider the amount of Latin terms that are used. Your first step will be to master the terminology.
- The Sky at Night Magazine boasts its very own Astronomy Dictionary, providing definitions for any unfamiliar words you may encounter.
- Sky and Telescope offers a similar glossary of terms, as does Sea and Sky.
- For more advanced learning of astronomical jargon, be sure to investigate the glossaries devised by the California Institute of Technology and Rochester Institute of Technology.
Science and Physics Learning for Kids
It’s a great idea to get the next generation of astronomers, whether strictly amateur or aspirational professionals, interested in the night sky. For this to really take hold though, young people need a firm grasp of science and physics. There are numerous online resources that provide this – as well as laying valuable foundations in the STEM fields.
- Science4Fun balances education merit with cutesy fun for young children. The site also has a dedicated section devoted to physics. The similarly named Physics4Kids offers a similar service.
- Study is an ever-reliable resource for online education, and offers a physics academy for young learners. You may also find appropriate lessons at Khan Academy, though many of the courses here are designed with adults in mind.
- NurtureStore offers tips on how to homeschool science to children. Stanford University also provides advice on teaching young learners about physics.
- Common Sense Media offers a range of scientific sources that will benefit kids of all ages. For an even more dedicated summary, take a look at Master’s in Data Science. The latter even breaks down classes into age group.
- To test if your children are paying attention, set them some Real World Physics Problems to solve.
- If you’re looking for a particular focus on astronomy, be sure to investigate the Homeschool Network and Teach Beside Me. NASA even has a special training program of their own for younger learners.
Building an Astronomy Kit
Once you are confident enough to commence stargazing, you’ll need to invest in appropriate equipment. An effective astronomy kit needs more than just a pair of birdwatching binoculars. You’ll need to commit to building up appropriate apparatus.
- The first thing you will need is a telescope. The Planets profiles the best models on the current market. The same site also profiles astronomy binoculars if that is your preference.
- Comfort is also critical while stargazing. Planet Guide offers a summary of the best stargazing chairs to invest in.
- There is no harm in embracing technology while stargazing. Investigate software like Starry Night Pro for your computer, of follow the advice of Digital Trends in choosing an app for your smartphone or tablet.
- Meanwhile, if you want a memento of your astronomy experience, you may wish to take pictures. Professional photographer Dave Morrow offers insights into capturing beautiful images of the night sky.
- How about building your very own observatory? Instructables offers advice on how to do so in a small space, while the Nottingham Astronomical Society profiles a more ambitious project. Avoid falling into any of the common traps warned against by Sky and Telescope, though.
Understanding Stars, Constellations and Planets
Arguably the greatest joy of astronomy is drinking in the beauty of the stars and their constellations. To fully enjoy this activity, you’ll need to know exactly what you are looking at – and where to look. The night sky is a pretty big place, after all.
- Weber State University explains the nature of stars, including why and how they move in the night sky.
- Once you have base understanding of stars, use Space to learn their names and dig into the evolution of the night sky.
- StarDate discusses the major constellations, and the shapes they form. This should aid you in recognizing these constellations while stargazing. Astronomy Magazine has a slightly more basic guide if you’re still a beginner.
- Just knowing where to look for constellations is only half the experience. The Lunar and Planetary Institute discusses the myths and legends that surround star constellations and their importance.
- Naturally, there is more out than just starts. The other planets in the solar system can also be visible with the right equipment. NASA has an overview of each of these, while Nine Planets also goes into greater detail.
Using Your Astronomy Knowledge
For some people, astronomy is purely a hobby. That’s absolutely fine – it is important to retain a passion for a subject, and it’s OK if that means keeping it for yourself. However, you may wish to share your knowledge of astronomy, either for profit or pleasure. There is an array of opportunities to do so.
- The International Astronomical Union explains how astronomical knowledge can be beneficial to everyday life.
- arXiv is a databank and information resource that confirms the importance of understanding astronomy, and how it can inform our day-to-day lives.
- Phys – part of the ScienceX Network – discusses how indigenous populations have embraced and utilized an understanding of astronomy for decades.
- If you’d like to share your knowledge of astronomy with younger people, the Institute of Physics has some videos that will aid you in your education. The Library of Congress and The Sourcebook for Teaching Science also boast a wide selection of further teaching resources for aspiring astronomical educators.
Astronomy-Centric Vacations and Mini Breaks
It’s only natural to want to build a well-earned vacation around your favorite hobby. People that enjoy skiing head to snowy mountains. Those that enjoy surfing and scuba diving seek out the ocean. If you’re a passionate astronomer, be sure to spend your free time in some of the locations with the finest views of the night sky.
- Our old friends at Astronomy Magazine have some suggestions for where you could take a stargazing package holiday, as do Travel and Leisure and Tour Radar.
- If you prefer to remain in the US, Koa lists a dozen of the finest domestic stargazing locations. If you are happy to travel, Smithsonian and National Geographic list further selections of breathtaking international views.
Astronomy in the City
One of the main reasons for taking a trip to a spot of natural beauty is to find an unblemished view of the night sky. Many cities struggle to provide this, thanks to air pollution and artificial light. It is possible to stargaze in the city if you know how, though.
- Britain’s Natural History Museum offers advice on how view the stars – and more – from an urban location.
- Space Tourism Guide discusses how you can get the best possible view of the stars, no matter where you are based.
- Dark Site Finder will aid you in identifying a location with limited obstruction to viewing the night sky. You may not need to travel as far as you think. Compare these results with the global Light Pollution Map to pick your spot.
Summary of Useful Links
If the size of the night sky doesn’t overwhelm you, the sheer number of links in this guide may do so. To make life simple, you’ll find them all summarized below.
- ArXiv – arxiv.org
- Astronomy Magazine – astronomy.com
- Dark Site Finder – darksitefinder.com
- Elemental Science – elementalscience.com
- Institute pf Physics – iop.org
- International Astronomical Union – iau.org
- Light Pollution Map – lightpollutionmap.info
- Lunar and Planetary Institute – lpi.usra.edu
- NASA – nasa.gov
- Nine Planets – nineplanets.org
- Phys – phys.org
- The Planets – theplanets.org
- Planet Guide – planetguide.net
- ScienceX – sciencex.com
- Sea and Sky – seasky.org
- Sky and Telescope – skyandtelescope.org
- Sky at Night Magazine – skyatnightmagazine.com
- The Sourcebook of Teaching Science – csun.edu
- Space – space.com
- Space Tourism Guide – spacetourismguide.com
- StarDate – stardate.org