October 7th, 2009

Adventures in Amateur Astronomy

Ahhh fall, my favorite time of the year! The cooler temperatures bring relief from summer’s humidity, the leaves change colors to give us a beautiful show, and the nights start getting longer. And for me it’s the most conducive season for one of my favorite pastimes: skywatching!

I’ve long been fascinated by astronomy, and in 2005 my darling hubby helped it become almost an obsession when he gave me a telescope for Christmas. I was thrilled! Ecstatic! Overwhelmed! He and one of his engineer brothers put it together while I read the instruction manual (yes I’m one of those nerds who does read it) and then I became fearful. What if I messed it up trying to collimate it? How the heck was I supposed to aim it and find something? Where did I start?

So I turned to my trusty old standby for research – the internet and CCPL’s wonderful website and catalog! I found a book that became my lifeline called Night Watch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terence Dickinson, written in normal people language and spiral-bound so it can lay flat while you’re gazing. Other helpful books were:

The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide
Discover the Moon
Astronomy: A Self-Teaching Guide
Turn Left At Orion

At this point the only problem I had was that I couldn’t find the planets to take a peek at them. Since they move independently and aren’t in a “fixed” location from our point of view like the constellations are, I was confused. Back to the internet! I found a really cool site with monthly sky maps that showed the location of everything, including comets, and they send me a monthly update via email. I was able to find Saturn pretty easily; however I had a real DUUH moment when I thought I was aiming at Saturn, but it was actually an airplane.

I then decided I needed a mentor. I was still afraid to collimate my scope – aligning the mirrors and eyepiece so you get the best image possible. So I again went to the internet to find local stargazing groups. The Astronomical League has a club locator, which led me to the Delaware Astronomical Society and the Harford County Astronomical Society. Through these clubs, I found a helpful mentor who was passionate about astronomy and sharing it with everyone.

Now that I know a little more about what I’m doing, I still use the resources here at CCPL. Every month I can find out the latest astronomical news with the Elkton branch’s subscription to Sky and Telescope magazine, and I still have my lifeline books listed above if I’m having trouble.

My adventures in astronomy are far from over, and I’m sure I’ll have many more forehead smacking DUUH moments; but I know I have excellent resources to turn to in the library!




2 Responses

  • Jess Posted October 7th, 2009

    There’s going to be an astronomy day at Harford Community College on October 24 held by the Harford Astronomical Society. It looks like a lot of wonderful events. More info at http://www.harford.edu/news/press/AstronomyDayPR09rev.pdf (PDF)

  • Computer zubehor Posted October 10th, 2009

    Thanks Jess for letting me know this. It will be wonderful day out at the campus.