Amateur Astronomy is the most popular science, for many reasons:
- All the original material of the science is available to anyone who cares to look, unlike almost every other scientific discipline
- A brand new astronomer and an old pro still know approximately the same amount about the Universe: Zero. It sounds discouraging, but it really isn't. Even someone brand new to Astronomy can make valuable contributions to scientific investigation, just like the old pro
- Astronomy is an observational science, unlike almost every other science. You look at things, instead of conducting experiments, so the methods aren't as easy to corrupt as most other sciences. If you try to fake a conclusion, anyone can look at what you looked at, and find you out
- It provides a deep and satisfying connection to our own history. The movement of the heavens have concerned almost every group of ancient humans at least since the invention of agriculture. The star names, constellation names, and the stories about them are thousands of years old. Many of our ancient myths were created to explain the shapes in the sky! (Archaeoastronomy, the study of ancient observatories and astronomical records, is a fascinating discipline, and has accurately dated many of the earliest events in history)
- It's cheap! You can learn the constellations, planets, phases of the moon, and seasons, and follow their changes throughout the year for zero investment. Even very inexpenisve tools like binoculars and a basic star chart open up vast realms of the sky for your curiosity and pleasure
Amateur Astronomers have made, and continue to make, many important contributions to the science
- Most comets and asteroids have been discovered by amateurs
- With the advent of cheap dobsonian reflector telescopes, amateurs are our best defense against an Extinction Level Event. The pros are busy looking through multi-million dollar instruments at obscure stuff, and there are only a few thousand of them. Our best chance of detecting an asteroid or comet on an impact trajectory with Earth (in time to do something about it) are the many thousands of amateurs world-wide looking every night.
- Most of our understanding of meteors and meteor showers come from amateurs. Because thousands of people watch and record their observations of meteors across the globe, we have very detailed information about their behavior
- Amateurs are also the major contributers to our understanding of variable stars and binary stars. These celestial objects change over very long periods, and since there are so many of them out there, there just aren't enough pros to do the job.
- Amateur observations of star occultations have provided very detailed information about the size, shape, rotation period and orbit of asteroids, by combining and analysing everyone's data, as the asteroid's 'shadow' of the occulted star moves across the Earth.
Getting started in Astronomy is easy!
If you are curious, but don't know the first thing about it, start by just watching the major features in the sky
: the moon
, and constellation
s. Pick up an astronomy magazine subscription, or a field-guide, and take a look. The Truth is Out There
If you've had some experience, and want to see more, a pair of binoculars are quite cheap; Typically only costing $US50 or less, they allow you to see far more than you imagine.
If you know you like it, check out Buying your first Telescope, and get one. Very good telescopes can be had for only a modest investment, and with proper care, you can pass them on to your grandchildren
Anyone who would like more details, feel free to /msg me or find my email on my homepage, and ask!