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digital_davem

The point of amateur stargazing

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Some years ago I asked the same question to Patrick Moore *ahem name-dropper* and was told that since nearly all professional astronomers are looking at deep-sky objects or the planets, that leaves a lot of the sky relatively unobserved. As has already been pointed out, most comets are discovered by amateurs including the one that broke up and crashed into Jupiter a while back. Sir PM was the head of the Lunar section of the British Astronomical Association, and was always interested in Transient Lunar Phenomena, either meteor strikes (rare) or sunlight reflecting off a sheer surface resulting in a bright spot briefly appearing (slightly less rare). Nearly all these observations were made by amateurs.

Going back a few years, It wasn't a professional astronomer who discovered the white spots on Saturn, it was an amateur by the name of Will Hay. If that name rings any bells, he was also a comedian and actor back in the 1930's and 40's.

Is there still a place for amateurs? Definitely.

Edited by BritAngler
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I have had a fascination with space since I was very young - most probably due to TV programmes like Star Trek..  For all of the high definition, high quality pictures of remote nebulae planets etc. none of them compared to my first clear sight of Jupiter and 4 of it's moons through my Heritage 100p telescope, even though it was only a small disc with no GRS visible and only feint bands.  I would always take a view of an object in space with my own eyes, rather than a picture on the internet any day.  

Unfortunately I am unlikely to ever own anything like the light buckets needed to see the majority of the DSOs, so Hubble will have to do.

Fey.

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I doubt anyone would turn down the opportunity to view Saturn through a telescope. Waaaaayy better than looking at an image in a book. 

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There are not enough professional telescopes in the world for all the research projects on the go. Pro-Am collaborations in variable star observation and more recently spectroscopic observations from amateurs is a growing pattern in how amateur astronomy can transform from a personal journey of discovery and wonder to full blown astro and cosmological research collaborations.

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I doubt anyone would turn down the opportunity to view Saturn through a telescope. Waaaaayy better than looking at an image in a book. 

My first half decent scope was a cheap, 2nd hand, 114mm reflector. First night out I looked at a bright 'star' mainly to align the viewfinder and OTA.

Sadly the star was elliptical. I had bought a scope with useless optics!

I put in the other higher magnification EP to how things worsened, and WOW! SATURN!

Everyone who sees Saturn for the first time knows what I mean.

Since then there has been no going back.

Seeing for yourself really does beat looking on a screen.

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Seeing for yourself really does beat looking on a screen.

Exactly.

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My first half decent scope was a cheap, 2nd hand, 114mm reflector. First night out I looked at a bright 'star' mainly to align the viewfinder and OTA.

Sadly the star was elliptical. I had bought a scope with useless optics!

I put in the other higher magnification EP to how things worsened, and WOW! SATURN!

Everyone who sees Saturn for the first time knows what I mean.

Since then there has been no going back.

Seeing for yourself really does beat looking on a screen.

WOW! SATURN! Indeed :). Exactly my thoughts! For me it is that connection to the things I am observing, making them "tangible" in a way (however feint and tenuous) that a shiny Hubble image in a magazine never is. I'll never see the Horshead in full glorious colour the size of an A3 poster but if I can glimpse as a tiny everted vision image with one of my scopes, that will be triumph enough.

Plus I like toys... - its the collecting thing Shane mentioned ;).

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I didn't read alot of the relies to be honest- there are alot so far.

For me, it's the experience.

I can read how to make bread, which is different to making bread.

I see see an image of Jupiter, or I can find and see it.

That pretty much sums it up.

Chris

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You can look at pictures of fish, watch videos of model steam engines and find anagram solvers on the internet.

Does that make fishing, model engineering and doing crosswords irrelevant?

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Lots of good answers above. I'll just add, doing it yourself certainly can be educational. There is nothing quite like experiencing something or working your way through it yourself, no matter how much information is publicly available. To take one small example, I remember my first proper look at Jupiter through a 'scope. Seeing the moons strung out in a line I grasped that i was seeing evidence that they all formed out of the same debris disk around the planet.

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That

There are not enough professional telescopes in the world for all the research projects on the go. Pro-Am collaborations in variable star observation and more recently spectroscopic observations from amateurs is a growing pattern in how amateur astronomy can transform from a personal journey of discovery and wonder to full blown astro and cosmological research collaborations.That

That's interesting - do you have links or any more info?

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Lots of good answers above. I'll just add, doing it yourself certainly can be educational. There is nothing quite like experiencing something or working your way through it yourself, no matter how much information is publicly available. To take one small example, I remember my first proper look at Jupiter through a 'scope. Seeing the moons strung out in a line I grasped that i was seeing evidence that they all formed out of the same debris disk around the planet.

Well, possibly :icon_biggrin:  - but not yet demonstrated convincingly.  One of the interesting things about the current leading theory of planetary formation (the acretion theory) is that no one has yet made it work. How do metre size boulders that hit each other at huge velocities stick together to build planetismals? No one knows, all the models display destructive behaviour at those object sizes, not acretion. It's an ongoing mystery (and area of research). There's an accessible and interesting introduction to the question in this book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Exoplanets-Alien-Solar-Systems-Yaqoob/dp/0974168920/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1453130217&sr=1-1&keywords=exoplanets+and+alien+solar+systems

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Good question.

I'm going to go against most of the opinion here. Contribution to serious science? Declining rapidly. The majority of comets, nova, etc are now discovered by proffessional Sky surveys. The odd one or two discovered by regular stargazers won't add significantly to the dataset.

But.... It is that sense of wonder, that I can sit in my garden with a few chucks of glass and see unimaginable distances. Then I begin to wonder about how it all works. For instance, on observing Cor Caroli α2 CVn, the knowledge that it is one of the strongest magnetic forces in the cosmos, the desire to find out why is almost overwhelming. Something like that may inspire a bright young mind (I fail On two counts) to embark on a glittering scientific career. I certainly think bigger thoughts when gazing through my scope (provided that my feet are warm).

Other times, I enjoy the pretty colours.

Also, nothing puts things into perspective like a night under the stars. Perfect therapy!

Lastly, without amateur astronomers. The Jaffa cake manufacturing industry of the UK would collapse overnight.

Paul

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In my mind stargazing and professional astronomy are so different as to almost incomparable.

I think professional astronomy would be life sappingly boring! 

I'm now in my 5th decade of stargazing and I've learnt a lot in that time. When I was younger I was driven by inquisitiveness. I needed to know how the world worked and astronomy had a lot of the answers. But I think, to a degree, I'm done learning the science. I still keep in touch with whats going on but much of the modern research is so esoteric that it bores me.

Exoplanets? Have I ever mentioned how irritated I get by endless articles about yet another exoplanet being detected (or inferred)? No more exoplanets, Please!! 

I digress... :o

So what keeps me going? I think it's still the wonder, the beauty. To look up at the night sky with just my own eyes and know what it is I'm seeing still takes my breath away. I hope I never loose that.

The night sky has been the only constant throughout my life. An old friend I like to visit when I get the opportunity. I know I've been away too long when I look up and see a bright star in my light polluted sky and don't recognise it immediately, in isolation, just from it's position and brightness.

I'm not inclined to put to much technology between me and the sky. That seems to give stargazing another purpose. The technology becomes the purpose and the universe just a subject matter.

I know there are a lot on SGL, maybe even a majority, for whom the technology is the attraction. Their achievement in producing the beautiful images they share here is just as valid a reason as mine for looking skyward. Their images add to my understanding and I thank them for that.

But each to their own! :)

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Well, possibly :icon_biggrin:  - but not yet demonstrated convincingly.

Have you seen the thread about Strongman Mike's new Galaxy?

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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.cheersgaj

This about sums it up for me. I've laughed out loud with joy at seeing Jupiter and Saturn with my owns eyes. Both were on a solar system poster on my wall as a boy for many years and I always dreamed of seeing them. Now my kids are pretty much grown and I can indulge myself a little I have made that dream come true in just the last few months (Saturn was only last week!) and all from my back garden.

I find observing a calming and therapeutic pastime where I can 'zone out' for a while - and Mrs T don't mind cos she gets the bed to herself for a few hours.

I have also now started taking pictures of those things I see in the sky, more as a memento than to win prizes which again takes the hobby in a new direction

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more as a memento than to win prizes

Good philosophy - makes me realise I need to chill and enjoy results rather than kicking myself over their faults.

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It adds to the sense of wonder that is being a little human spinning around on a rock. Its the least we can give back to the universe to admire it in person. If we would all turn our attention more to what surrounds us than our petty miseries the world might be a better place. Less tech for me, more engagement with the experience.

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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

To be clear, I was talking about astronomy....not breathing  :clock:

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For me as an imager, its the challenge of Man vs Machine vs Nature .... it doesnt get any tougher than that! And if you discover something along the way, thats a nice bonus.

You also cant avoid picking up knowledge about how the universe works and the physics behind it - its a kind of subliminal learning experience  (for me anyway!) :)

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For me, my video imaging is more about understanding how things are done?

I'm pretty much satisfied if I can come a small percentage towards asymptotia.

But I sense I'm not as competitive as some involved in (technical) hobbies... :p

I think I would always rather try to do something *different* from mainstream?

A bit late to start now... But I'm reminded that there are a lot of "other" objects

out there that are *rarely* studied. Could be your route to personal *fame*.   :D

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Gain a heightened sensitivity and awareness for the nocturnal environment

Regard for the level of light pollution and immense appreciation of areas with a purity of sky 

Contemporary opportunities and accessibility in participating, learning, purchasing equipment - through networks of forums, groups, star camps, magazines, clubs, retailers etc 

Reconnect with your childhood (supposing you ever let it go!) that compelling mix of excitement, challenge and discovery 

Visually connecting with the extraordinary, situated in the humble confines of your own backyard or countryside location, embarking on a 'journey'

Discovering how to navigate and comprehend each passing seasonal night sky, much as our ancestors would have contemplated

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For me it's the fact that the sky is so big yet so few people take notice of if - it's like a completely private place that's bigger than anywhere on earth!

Also, when I look through the eyepiece, I can be pretty certain that no one else is seeing that exact same view at the same time. It's sort of like what I see is mine and only mine!

Also I like it that what happens in space, like comets passing by or supernovas, aren't just to be heard about on the news, and that we can actually see them with our own two eyes (well one actually, through a telescope!).

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Despite the progress we've made over the millennia, I still believe what we don't know vastly outweighs what we do know. When we look up at the night sky, we are looking into a vast sea of the mysterious and unknown, full of possibilities we have not imagined and cannot imagine. Who would not be interested in that?

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