Handbook of Space Astronomy and Astrophysics

Author: Martin V. Zombeck

Published in: Cambridge University Press

ISBN: 0-521-34787-4

File Type: pdf

File Size:  21 MB

Language: English


Yet you don’t have to be a government or university scientist with your eager fingers on millions of dollars’ worth of equipment to make those discoveries. For if astronomy is both ancient and advanced, it is also universally accessible: up for grabs. The sky belongs to anyone with eyes, a mind, imagination, a spark of curiosity, and the capacity for wonder. If you’ve also got a few dollars to spend, a good pair of binoculars or a telescope makes more of the sky available to you. (Even if you don’t want to spend the money, chances are your local astronomy club will let you use members equipment if you come and join them for a cold night under the stars.) And if you have a PC and Internet connection available, you—yes, you—have access to much of the information that those millions of dollars in government equipment produce: images from the world’s great telescopes and from a wealth of satellite probes, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Mars Global Surveyor. This information is all free for the downloading. (See Appendix E, “Sources for Astronomers” for some starting points in your online searches.) We are not alone. No science is more inclusive than astronomy.

Nor is astronomy strictly a spectator sport. You don’t have to peek through a knothole and watch the game. You’re welcome to step right up to the plate. Many new comets are discovered by astronomy buffs, backyard sky watchers, not Ph.D. scientists in a domed observatory. Most meteor observations are the work of amateurs. You can even get in on such seemingly esoteric fields as radio astronomy and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (see Chapter 7, “Over the Rainbow” for both). But most important are the discoveries you can make for yourself: like really seeing the surface of the moon, or looking at the rings of Saturn for the first time through your own telescope, or observing the phases of Venus, or suddenly realizing that the fuzzy patch of light you’re looking at is not just Messier Object 31, but Andromeda, a whole galaxy as vast as our own. Those photons that left Andromeda millions of years ago are landing on your retina.
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