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Why isn’t everyone an astronomer?


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When I look through my telescope at the incredible beauty of countless stars twinkling against the darkness of the infinite universe, I am genuinely struck by the wonder of it all, by the sheer awesomeness of what I am seeing. I am looking at stars that were created within colossal clouds of gas and dust billions of years ago, some of which will no longer even exist, they will have come and gone in a blink of an eye compared to the cosmological time scale of the universe which is measured not in decades, centuries or even millennia, but in cycles of time beyond our human comprehension.

To be able to look through even the smallest of telescopes, or binoculars, or even just using the naked eye, enables us all to witness for ourselves these celestial marvels, these cosmological creations, there for all to see and experience. I feel that very often that first eagerly awaited look through a telescope, be it of our nearest neighbour the Moon, or a planet, star cluster, nebula or galaxy, can be so impactful as to create a lifelong memory, but even more incredibly it can connect us to the universe in some strange and powerful way that affects us for the rest of our lives, we become astronomers.

 

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When I look through my telescope at the incredible beauty of countless stars twinkling against the darkness of the infinite universe, I am genuinely struck by the wonder of it all, by the sheer awesom

Yeah, I get the feeling that others think I'm soft in the head getting excited by seeing the universe for myself with my very own eyes... there's definitely a stigma that astronomy is for nerdy kids. 

Interesting ! Brummie metal working was so ubiquitous for 200 years it had a nickname, "metal bashing industry" . Best not mention the notorious tool for precision work, the Brumagen screwdriver (a h

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Seeing that sort of reaction of delight and awe happen is what made teaching older primary age children science such a great job. Unfortunately most folk seem to lose the capacity as they 'grow up'.  I've pointed out Venus (as an evening star) to adults before now, and had them say "So what ?" which is just sad.

 

 

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I think people get inspired into different hobbies for different reasons depending on their interests but also their circumstances and what they happen to experience. I got into astronomy by a chance coming together of circumstances.

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26 minutes ago, Tiny Clanger said:

Seeing that sort of reaction of delight and awe happen is what made teaching older primary age children science such a great job. Unfortunately most folk seem to lose the capacity as they 'grow up'.  I've pointed out Venus (as an evening star) to adults before now, and had them say "So what ?" which is just sad.

 

 

It is sad. I have grandchildren aged 18 and 20 and they don’t have the slightest interest in astronomy, not even enough to come and take a peek through my telescope when I am actually outside  using it! I do find it sad, hurtful to be honest.

I can only suppose it’s because I am getting very old, but isn’t 75 the new 50?

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12 minutes ago, Paz said:

I think people get inspired into different hobbies for different reasons depending on their interests but also their circumstances and what they happen to experience. I got into astronomy by a chance coming together of circumstances.

Oh come now! You can’t leave us hanging like that. What chance circumstances? 🤔

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5 minutes ago, Moonshed said:

It is sad. I have grandchildren aged 18 and 20 and they don’t have the slightest interest in astronomy, not even enough to come and take a peek through my telescope when I am actually outside  using it! I do find it sad, hurtful to be honest.

I can only suppose it’s because I am getting very old, but isn’t 75 the new 50?

It appears to me that peer pressure, the need to look 'cool' and the chaotic effects of the hormones that kick in with puberty add up to many teenagers being angsty , inward looking and generally confused, compared with the average under 11 who is still finding the world a fascinating and enthralling new place. Chin up though, Moonshed,, the good news is that the turbulent adolescent brains will settle down eventually, and may come to appreciate your skill and knowledge.

What controls exactly when individual people start to realize that the perspective from those with more years experience can mean 'wisdom' rather than 'past their sell by  date' I don't know. There's been a huge emphasis on youth being the ideal ( leading to cosmetic surgery, botox, plenty of daft 'lifestyle advice' etc etc) in the English speaking world of late, as if growing older was a bad thing and Peter Pan was an aspirational model.

No, growing older isn't bad, it's better than the alternative ... 😀

 

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54 minutes ago, Moonshed said:

Oh come now! You can’t leave us hanging like that. What chance circumstances? 🤔

Someone happened to buy me some cheap binoculars and I happened to look at Jupiter, and unexpected by me I saw four tiny dots in a row and immediately "knew" they must be moons. I went inside and checked on the internet and confirmed that they were.

That was it, I had no idea you could see such things with your own eyes and was hooked. Obviously you can see such things but it's easy to say that in hindsight.

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Sometimes, when I tell my wife that I'm going to observe something, she asks me: "Haven't you seen that already?" :D

On the other hand - she can "observe" TV channel on interior decoration for hours - while I think to myself - "Well, haven't you seen that one already" :D

This just shows how people have different interests and respond differently to things that capture their interest vs something else.

Interesting thing - while I was always interested in astronomy (I even had astronomy lessons back in school) and had multiple chances to participate in astronomy related activities (like visits to local planetarium and using telescope as well as later witnessing Venus transit back in 2004 - my employer at the time was also amateur astronomer and had his own observatory) it was not until I was having a walk one evening and while looking at the stars I thought: "I wonder how much telescopes cost these days?" that I even contemplated doing amateur astronomy.

I was brought up believing that telescopes are very expensive devices - mostly out of the reach of common folk :D. I guess back in the day they were expensive indeed, but luckily things changed and here we are - quick online query showed that telescopes are much more affordable than I thought.

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Yeah, I get the feeling that others think I'm soft in the head getting excited by seeing the universe for myself with my very own eyes... there's definitely a stigma that astronomy is for nerdy kids.  My in-laws like to gently tease me for example ;)

Thankfully as I get older (now 45) I kinda don't care what other people think - you get 1 life, and we're all different. But yup, I'd love to share it with my girls, but they have little interest.  My son is a bit young, but is showing an interest, so you never know! 😂

I always had an interest when younger,  then I came out of a pub in the darkest skies of West Cork, and was just awe struck by the sky as I stumbled back to our accommodation after a feed of pints.  It was late August- milky way majestically arching across the sky.  Fast forward 10 yrs and I've bought my dream scope for a lifetime of observing I hope.  To me its worth it ;)

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Be pretty boring if everyone was an astronomer. It's nice to be in a niche hobby. I'm sure everyone who has a hobby says the same thing, no matter what their interests are. My missus loves crafting for instance and I can't see the appeal of it personally but I can see how passionate she is about it. There you are.

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2 hours ago, Moonshed said:

When I look through my telescope at the incredible beauty of countless stars twinkling against the darkness of the infinite universe, I am genuinely struck by the wonder of it all, by the sheer awesomeness of what I am seeing. I am looking at stars that were created within colossal clouds of gas and dust billions of years ago, some of which will no longer even exist, they will have come and gone in a blink of an eye compared to the cosmological time scale of the universe which is measured not in decades, centuries or even millennia, but in cycles of time beyond our human comprehension.

To be able to look through even the smallest of telescopes, or binoculars, or even just using the naked eye, enables us all to witness for ourselves these celestial marvels, these cosmological creations, there for all to see and experience. I feel that very often that first eagerly awaited look through a telescope, be it of our nearest neighbour the Moon, or a planet, star cluster, nebula or galaxy, can be so impactful as to create a lifelong memory, but even more incredibly it can connect us to the universe in some strange and powerful way that affects us for the rest of our lives, we become astronomers.

 

You've pretty much nailed it there Keith.

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My dad collected antiques and told me he had a few telescopes up in the loft. I asked him if he'd tried looking through them at the night sky.

"I couldn't think of anything more boring", he said!

Someone I know does not like to think how small our planet is in the big scheme of things. It makes them feel we are unimportant. I like to think of it as, we have a big house!

I find it amazing to see a faint fuzzy blob in the telescope, and wonder: "Is there life in that galaxy looking through their telescopes at us?"

Then my wife reminds me I need to clean that smudge off the telescope lens.

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1 hour ago, niallk said:

.....I always had an interest when younger,  then I came out of a pub in the darkest skies of West Cork, and was just awe struck by the sky as I stumbled back to our accommodation after a feed of pints.  It was late August- milky way majestically arching across the sky.  Fast forward 10 yrs and I've bought my dream scope for a lifetime of observing I hope.  To me its worth it ;)

Yes it’s definitely worth it!

I can recall when I was very young (longish story coming up so those with a short attention span may like to flutter away now) we were coming back from a family wedding late at night that sticks in my mind because we crossed the Thames by ferry boat and my dad took me down to the observation platform so I could see the ship’s engine, as a six year old I was very impressed! Anyway, walking home from the train station I became very tired so dad lifted me up on his shoulders and gave me a flying angel the rest of the way home.

Our street was still lit by gas lampposts in those days, as were all the local Romford streets, and they only provided a small pool of light under each one so as we travelled along I could see the dark sky and stars ,then at the next light couldn’t see the sky, then I could again, and so it went on like switching a light on and off. 

That is the first memory I have of actually noticing the stars and being puzzled by them, wondering what they could be all those years ago. After that I was soon home, tucked up in bed and the stars were no longer important to me for the next 10 years, at which point I bought my first telescope, a 4” Newtonian from Charles Frank of Glasgow. Best thing I ever did!

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I think that those of us who look into the heavens above have an insatiable curiosity! 

And with that curiosity is a hunger to learn and where else is there so much to learn than the universe?

Some just dont have the child like curiosity, so they dont understand what we do!

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4 hours ago, Moonshed said:

It is sad. I have grandchildren aged 18 and 20 and they don’t have the slightest interest in astronomy, not even enough to come and take a peek through my telescope when I am actually outside  using it! I do find it sad, hurtful to be honest.

I can only suppose it’s because I am getting very old, but isn’t 75 the new 50?

75 ain't old Keith.  It's all about how you feel and act!

And back to the main theme - what gets me is the sheer scale of it all.  Not just distance, but also time.  Sedna in our own Solar System takes over 11,000 years to orbit the Sun!  

Doug.

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3 hours ago, Tiny Clanger said:

.....What controls exactly when individual people start to realize that the perspective from those with more years experience can mean 'wisdom' rather than 'past their sell by  date' I don't know. There's been a huge emphasis on youth being the ideal ( leading to cosmetic surgery, botox, plenty of daft 'lifestyle advice' etc etc) in the English speaking world of late, as if growing older was a bad thing and Peter Pan was an aspirational model.

No, growing older isn't bad, it's better than the alternative ... 😀

 

“No, growing older isn’t bad, it’s better than the alternative...😀

You hit the nail on the head there TinyClanger, and no mistake!
12 years ago on the 23rd December 2008 I was in a hospital bed in Spain, we had retired there in March that year, and my wife and I were waiting for the results of the many scans and tests they had carried out on my sore and aching body. In came a senior doctor with the usual retinue, I had not seen her before but she spoke a little English, more than my regular one anyway.  She calmly announced that I had cancer, (advanced prostate cancer), it had spread all over my body, here, here, here and here. (She pointed variously to her head, shoulder, ribs, and lower back.) I am sorry, it is too late to fix this, another doctor will see you later and explain to you everything.  The “explain everything” was merely to add that I had a life expectancy of around six months and they were sending me home to die, with a box full of pain killers.

Okay, they were a tad overly pessimistic with the six months 😂 and because of the amazing new cancer drugs I am now taking I am far more likely to die of anything other than cancer!

The point being is that we never know what may be round the next corner, we don’t know when the time will come to “shuffle off our mortal coil”. Once we have future needs taken care off we need to live each day to the full, no point in waiting for that special occasion before opening that special bottle of wine or taking that fabulous holiday, fo it now, while you still can!

Sorry, I’ve rambled on a bit, always happens when I open that special Christmas bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, goes strong my head!

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6 hours ago, Moonshed said:

When I look through my telescope at the incredible beauty of countless stars twinkling against the darkness of the infinite universe, I am genuinely struck by the wonder of it all, by the sheer awesomeness of what I am seeing. I am looking at stars that were created within colossal clouds of gas and dust billions of years ago, some of which will no longer even exist, they will have come and gone in a blink of an eye compared to the cosmological time scale of the universe which is measured not in decades, centuries or even millennia, but in cycles of time beyond our human comprehension.

To be able to look through even the smallest of telescopes, or binoculars, or even just using the naked eye, enables us all to witness for ourselves these celestial marvels, these cosmological creations, there for all to see and experience. I feel that very often that first eagerly awaited look through a telescope, be it of our nearest neighbour the Moon, or a planet, star cluster, nebula or galaxy, can be so impactful as to create a lifelong memory, but even more incredibly it can connect us to the universe in some strange and powerful way that affects us for the rest of our lives, we become astronomers.

Yes, the telescope was a marvelous invention. We have reason to believe that ancient Greek die cutters for coins used "crystals" to see fine details. So, the telescope was really waiting for thousands of years before chance brought it to fruition.  I believe that in an earlier time, some of us here would have been stargazers--but not all. The instruments were new doorways to new understandings and that is somewhat different than just admiring the grandeur of the skies--which we do, of course. For myself, I like to understand what I am looking at. Of course, that rests on the actually looking at. There are times when I will run through a set of targets with my telescopes and then just sit back and look up and take it all in.

1793279709_AbderaHemisobvrev.jpg.7928b094e3eb3d7663a5cb436456eb3f.jpg

Abdera c. 480 BCE. Hemi-obols. 0.33 grams 5 mm.  Lifetime of Democritus. (I was inspired by Carl Sagan's Cosmos, "Backbone of the Night" and pursued ancient Greek coins woth a day's wages from the towns and times of philsophers. I had 50 from Thales of Miletus to Hypatia of Alexandria. After I lost my passion for collecting, I got rid of most of them.)

5 hours ago, Paz said:

I think people get inspired into different hobbies for different reasons depending on their interests but also their circumstances and what they happen to experience. I got into astronomy by a chance coming together of circumstances.

 Life takes us down paths with forks and junctions.  I think that you are saying that we should not just pat ourselves on the back (as much as we deserve it).

5 hours ago, Moonshed said:

It is sad. I have grandchildren aged 18 and 20 and they don’t have the slightest interest in astronomy, not even enough to come and take a peek through my telescope when I am actually outside  using it! I do find it sad, hurtful to be honest.

My other hobby is numismatics. (My daughter is into neither but is an official in a fantasy football league. See above here to Paz.) And, there, too, we have the same complaint. Most people think of numismatics as "coin collecting" but it is far more than that and for the active numismatist, these are artifacts of history. They speak of times and places and people. But we have grandchildren with no interest. One of the ANA presidents called collecting "a gene you do not inherit." It is something ineffable. Sometimes you find it across generations in the same family.  We have the Herschells and the Struves. But mostly, the passion for astronomy is a gene you do not inherit.

617041459_FourAstronomersFaceandBack1.jpg.67cf9c78065e60401453dc84b4dbee8f.jpg

World banknotes are dirt cheap compared to US dollars or UK pounds.  Google "Physicists on Banknotes" and you can find a couple of university sites. I bought a run of a hundred Iraqi 250s at 70 cents each to give out at local astronomy club meetings when we have "Quiz Bowls." 

http://www2.physics.umd.edu/~redish/Money/'

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jbourj/money.htm

So, why isn't everyone an astro-numismatist? We all have our passions and it is hard to understand why others do not share them.

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51 minutes ago, Moonshed said:

“No, growing older isn’t bad, it’s better than the alternative...😀

You hit the nail on the head there TinyClanger, and no mistake!
12 years ago on the 23rd December 2008 I was in a hospital bed in Spain, we had retired there in March that year, and my wife and I were waiting for the results of the many scans and tests they had carried out on my sore and aching body. In came a senior doctor with the usual retinue, I had not seen her before but she spoke a little English, more than my regular one anyway.  She calmly announced that I had cancer, (advanced prostate cancer), it had spread all over my body, here, here, here and here. (She pointed variously to her head, shoulder, ribs, and lower back.) I am sorry, it is too late to fix this, another doctor will see you later and explain to you everything.  The “explain everything” was merely to add that I had a life expectancy of around six months and they were sending me home to die, with a box full of pain killers.

Okay, they were a tad overly pessimistic with the six months 😂 and because of the amazing new cancer drugs I am now taking I am far more likely to die of anything other than cancer!

The point being is that we never know what may be round the next corner, we don’t know when the time will come to “shuffle off our mortal coil”. Once we have future needs taken care off we need to live each day to the full, no point in waiting for that special occasion before opening that special bottle of wine or taking that fabulous holiday, fo it now, while you still can!

Sorry, I’ve rambled on a bit, always happens when I open that special Christmas bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, goes strong my head!

11 bonus orbits of the Sun , and counting ! Ain't science great  ?! 😀 

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4 hours ago, vlaiv said:

Sometimes, when I tell my wife that I'm going to observe something, she asks me: "Haven't you seen that already?" :D

On the other hand - she can "observe" TV channel on interior decoration for hours - while I think to myself - "Well, haven't you seen that one already" :D

With us, it is the attention span. Myself, like many here, I had a telescope as a child and used it up to about age 14 or 15. I also had a microscope. To me, the skills are very similar. But my wife had neither growing up and for years, she insisted that she could not see anything when she looked into the telescope. I think that one shift for her was being at local star party and her running into someone she knew from work-life (same market, different company) and those social circles. So, she chatted with him and looked through his telescope - which, admittedly was a totally different kind than anything else on the field that night.  

So, maybe you just need a magic moment.

 

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1 hour ago, maw lod qan said:

I think that those of us who look into the heavens above have an insatiable curiosity! 

And with that curiosity is a hunger to learn and where else is there so much to learn than the universe?

Some just dont have the child like curiosity, so they dont understand what we do!

And some have no concept of the difference between child like, and childish, and are so bogged down in the drudgery of keeping up with the Joneses that they forget to look up and wonder.

Heather

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4 hours ago, Hals said:

Be pretty boring if everyone was an astronomer. It's nice to be in a niche hobby. I'm sure everyone who has a hobby says the same thing, no matter what their interests are. My missus loves crafting for instance and I can't see the appeal of it personally but I can see how passionate she is about it. There you are.

Well,  yes, that is true. I mean, why does everyone not make their own telescopes? I believe that the diversity of a complex society comes from a fundamental "field-level" aspect of reality. Complexity is spontaneous. So, even if we were all astronomers, we would practice it differently. (For better or worse. Think of how people practice driving their cars differently!) Anyway, my passions are not for observation. I mean, I do go out almost any clear night. But if you do not understand what you are looking at, then you are just a slack-jawed simian gaping up at an incomprehensible universe. So, for myself, observation is like the frosting on the cake of astronomy. I just signed up for a class in astrophysics offered through edX, an online delivery founded here in the States by MIT and Harvard. My class comes from EPFL: Ecole Polytechnique Federale Lausanne. I already worked through two different self-paced books. I had a couple of college classes in astronomy, but, as interesting as it was then, it is all the moreso now that I have more opportunity to find my own way among the stars.

 

Edited by mikemarotta
grammar
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11 minutes ago, mikemarotta said:

Abdera c. 480 BCE. Hemi-obols. 0.33 grams 5 mm.  Lifetime of Democritus. (I was inspired by Carl Sagan's Cosmos, "Backbone of the Night" and pursued ancient Greek coins woth a day's wages from the towns and times of philsophers. I had 50 from Thales of Miletus to Hypatia of Alexandria. After I lost my passion for collecting, I got rid of most of them.)

 Life takes us down paths with forks and junctions.  I think that you are saying that we should not just pat ourselves on the back (as much as we deserve it).

My other hobby is numismatics. (My daughter is into neither but is an official in a fantasy football league. See above here to Paz.) And, there, too, we have the same complaint. Most people think of numismatics as "coin collecting" but it is far more than that and for the active numismatist, these are artifacts of history. They speak of times and places and people. But we have grandchildren with no interest. One of the ANA presidents called collecting "a gene you do not inherit." It is something ineffable. Sometimes you find it across generations in the same family.  We have the Herschells and the Struves. But mostly, the passion for astronomy is a gene you do not inherit.

My dad was a philatelist, so naturally as a child I found stamps I was not allowed to touch boring,  and began to collect coins instead,  I liked that the worn ones I could afford had been in many pockets and purses . I was hooked on UK copper pennies when I found my home city Birmingham, and even my suburb of it, had manufactured some pennies in a few years of the first two decades of the 20th century , identifiable by a tiny 'H' for Heaton's or KN for Kings Norton next to the  date. Heaton's had bought up the machinery from Matthew Bolton's Soho Mint, which led me to find out about the Industrial Revolution , and then the Lunar Society of Birmingham .

There ,  I've gone from coin collecting to astronomy in a few steps !

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4 hours ago, niallk said:

I always had an interest when younger,  then I came out of a pub in the darkest skies of West Cork, and was just awe struck by the sky as I stumbled back to our accommodation after a feed of pints.

I too had my adult astronomy epiphany stumbling out of a pub in West Cork about 6 years ago. Having been used to SE England LP for most of my adult life, the blaze of stars against a sable backdrop that greeted me as I left Bushe’s in Baltimore blew my mind.

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