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digital_davem

The point of amateur stargazing

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Hi Folks

Given the wonderful equipment and software that is available to us today (compared to, say, 30 years ago), amateur astronomy is more sophisticated and in some ways much easier than it used to be.  It is also much cheaper (although there is still a lot very high priced gear) thanks to Chinese industry and opened up to massively more people than it used to be.

Obviously, when the telescope was invented it opened up whole new areas of investigation and thought to the likes of Galileo and chums. As telescopes and observing improved through the enlightenment period and into the 20th century, theory and observation worked hand in hand to develop current day astronomical and cosmological understanding of the origin and lifecycles of planets, stars, galaxies, the multitude of other astronomical objects, the nature of space, time, matter and energy and ultimately the origin and fate of the cosmos itself.  Heady stuff and still a way to go yet in completing the understanding and coming up with that elusive theory of everything.

But this is all the realm of professional astronomers and physicists; not the remit of the amateur stargazer. 

Looking at my old introductory astronomy books from the 1970s, it seems to be all about gaining a sense of wonder and introducing the ideas of science.  But today the internet gives us easy access to the amazing photos from large telescopes, space telescopes and robotic probes vastly superior to anything you'll see through the eyepiece and a huge range of educational resources free of charge.  Basically, you can educate yourself to quite an advanced level, you can explore the surface of mars, see close ups of the moons of Saturn even details of the geology of pluto without ever donning hat, scarves and gloves and venturing out to the back garden at midnight.

So, what is the point of amateur stargazing in the 21st century? It's not going to advance our knowledge, it's not going to educate you on its own. Is it equipment lust, space tourism, gawping at the sky, is it an escape from the pressures of everyday life, or something else entirely?

Share some insight about what motivates you and why star gazing is important today....

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For me, looking at all the amazing pictures on the internet is incredible, but for all their beauty, they may just as well have been computer generated to me, I would not be able to tell the difference as they are all digitised anyway.

The joy for me is knowing that a minute packet of light has travelled across unimaginable distances and actually hit the back of my eye. This directly connects me to what I'm looking at, so it doesn't matter how dim or indistinct it is, I still find it amazing.

Kit lust is another thing!

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I've always had an interest in space, space travel etc having grown up with the USA and Russian space programmes unfolding and man landing on the Moon.

Stargazing is a further expression of that interest for me, a chance to see a little of the Universe for myself I suppose.

I'm not expecting to discover anything new but it's still a priviledge to be able to see some of these sights first hand.

I've met some great people through the hobby, I've learned a lot and it's been a relaxing and theraputic alternative to work and the other pressures of life.

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Scientific interest and enjoyment.

I dont fully agree that amatuer astronomers have nothing to contribute, they do.

If you look at the number of novae and comets discovered a good proportion were found by dedicated not professionals.

One of the members on this site even discovered an unknown galaxy...not bad.

BTW my  discovery was that of a rather large black hole......in my wallet.

Edited by baggywrinkle
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Wouldn't it be an odd question to ask an amateur musician why he or she played an instrument when they could listen to better players on the internet?

Or to ask someone why they have climbed a hill to admire a view when the same view can be seen in a picture?

Or why they draw and paint when Rembrandt could do both so much better?

Oscar Wilde made an excellent point when he said, 'If a thing's worth doing it's worth doing badly.' It is only things which are not worth doing which are only worth doing well. For me, synchronized swimming comes to mind... 

Olly

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So, what is the point of amateur stargazing in the 21st century? It's not going to advance our knowledge, it's not going to educate you on its own. Is it equipment lust, space tourism, gawping at the sky, is it an escape from the pressures of everyday life, or something else entirely?

All of the above. Plus endless frustration at the never-ending clouds.

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It is a way of having fun, of exploring stuff yourself, even if others have seen it before. Having photons enter your eyes that travelled 3.5 billion years to get there is exciting, even if the view itself was not that staggering.

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My 'other hobbies' are classic cars and model aeroplanes.

I enjoy my MG mk1 1963 Midget with its oil leaks, noise, unreliability, single line brakes, no crumple zones or seatbelts or roof much more than my modern, safe, quiet, powerful Audi

I also enjoy building an aircraft from scratch investing a couple of grand in the process and flying it 

If I were to analyse the above there almost certainly would be 'no point' except I ENJOY IT !

I think we all have a pseudo masochistic streak......

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I think that there is more chance now of an amateur discovering a Comet,Minor Planet, Supernova than ever before.

Alan

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You could also ask the same about travelling the world - I don't need to go the Great Wall of China or visit The Pyramids, I've seen pictures of them on the internet. There is still awe, wonder and amazement when you see them with your own eyes or place your own two feet up them. Exactly the same with stargazing - as amazing as the photos of the Orion Nebula are, I still don't think it beats looking at them through your own equipment from your back garden.

And even though I follow someone else instructions or follow a star map, I still have a feeling of achievement when I actually find one of these faint fuzzies. And I have to say, the lack of available days in the UK makes me appreciate the ones we do get even more.

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Pure wonderment. Whilst what I'm looking at might not be visually exciting, it's hard to look away from those grey smudges when you contemplate what they are conceptually.

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I (and I presume most people) have an innate desire to collect. This is part of both astronomy and owning of equipment I reckon and has been the same through all of my hobbies. Yes, I am really re-doing what others have done but there's a genuine possibility that you might find something new (SN in M82 - maybe a comet or feature on Jupiter or the sun that manifests itself while you are observing). It is also escapism and when I am gawping at something wonderful in the eyepiece or becoming frustrated because the seeing is pants or the transparency will not allow that faint fuzzy to materialise, I am not worried about the stresses of everyday life. The main reason though is just plain old enjoyment. 

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With the internet these days it is possible to 'swim' the great barrier reef, to walk around the tombs of the Pharaohs or to see pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. But that is not quite the same as experiencing it yourself.

I will never forget the first time I saw Jupiter through a telescope ( only about 5 years ago ). I inwardly laughed. Wow. That IS a planet and those ARE moons. And I am seeing it live.

Then the first picture I took of the Orion nebula which was rubbish but I was sure I could do better. And the first time I captured an object I couldn't even see. Wow. And now I've spent so much money that the cost of each picture can be measured in the hundreds of pounds but that is not the point. They are MY pictures. I did it.

I hope that helps.

cheers

gaj

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Like most of the above I do it for enjoyment. It still seems incredible that i can sit in my own back yard with relatively modest kit and see what most people have never glimpsed for themselves.

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I also love sharing. "Yeah, but you can't see the actual rings though can you......" - "Well, just have a look" (he, he, he) (expletives ensue)......

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I also love sharing. "Yeah, but you can't see the actual rings though can you......" - "Well, just have a look" (he, he, he) (expletives ensue)......

Yep - showing others the views really helps you appreciate them even more :icon_biggrin:

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I think I must do it because I love a challenge.

Long, cold nights spent in the middle of nowhere with other like minded lunatics. Sitting in tents with the unrelenting rain lashing down on the canvas as the wind howls around trying to destroy what flimsy cover we have.

Hours spent sitting in traffic jams as one tries to get to and from these  rain soaked, wind exposed sites. Yep I must love a challenge :)

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An amature did discover a galaxy rescently. Ok, so for most of us thats not going to happen but whats wrong with the shear enjoyment of just seeing? I think if I ever start asking myself whats the point of it then I'll probably just stop.

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Stargazing is the same as being a naturalist in the field because you're observing the real thing in its natural environment. Seeing tiny Mars and its surface detail, and Jupiter with its violent, turbulent atmosphere, and seeing them rotate before your eyes is thrilling. Seeing Saturn suspended in space with its incredible and intricate ring system is utterly surreal. Watching the lunar terminator cause the surface features to alter appearance as the shadow moves toward or away from a region offers endless pleasure. Looking at binary stars with their subtle contrasting colours and seeing intricate nebulae and distant ghostly galaxies is truely awe inspiring. But also, being under the stars and out in the cold night air holds its own magic, due to the changing smells of the different seasons, and the sights and sounds offered by the local wildlife all adds to the beauty of this incredible hobby.

As amazing as the taxidermied images of Hubble are, they can never quite match the awe inspiring experience an observer gets from looking at the real thing, as dim or as difficult as it can be. Visual observers love the challenge of pushing their skills and their scopes to and beyond the absolute limit of sensibility. And often they come off successful.

Mike

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An amature did discover a galaxy rescently. Ok, so for most of us thats not going to happen but whats wrong with the shear enjoyment of just seeing? I think if I ever start asking myself whats the point of it then I'll probably just stop.

Personally I find myself alive (through no volition on my own part, it just happened!) and, while I'm alive, I find I prefer to do something than to do nothing - and the more interesting it is the better. Just stopping will come soon enough but in the mean time...

:hello2: lly

Edited by ollypenrice
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I enjoy it. It needs no more justification than that. 

I also find I tend to enjoy things that are difficult, unusual, uncommon whatever. I play the guitar but not strumming chords, anyone can do that. I do the finger-tappy widdley-widdley screamy-bendy stuff becaus you have to feel that. I take photographs but not just photos of my kids, or a tree... anyone can do that. I do indoor sports where the gymnasts are moving 100mph and the light level is very dim so you have really work at it to get a decent shot. I like astronomy but not just 'space or science', anyone can watch that on TV or read a magazine... I like to sit in the garden at -3°C for hours on end staring through a tin tube with a mirror at the bottom and faint grey smudges at the top.

Ah... I think I've worked it out... like many others on this site... I must be an idiot :o:D

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