Astronomy

What book(s) should I read to get started learning about astronomy?

What book(s) should I read to get started learning about astronomy?


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I'm an undergrad software engineer but I also love physics and math. I'm starting to get going in AI/Machine Learning techniques and I'm going to use NASA data-sets to conduct analysis. However, I am not really acquainted with the pieces that make up the universe. This is a GIANT problem for me! I could browse wikipedia for hours but I don't think that would fit well with my way of learning in a linear fashion. I do not have any background in astronomy, so:

I realize this is probably a bit hard to answer but what book(s) should I read first? What should I read after that? What about after that etc… ?

I love learning and am more than prepared to take the time to work my way through them. Thank you in advance!


Books for Astronomy: For use by novice and avid intermediate astronomy enthusiasts

I don’t remember the name of the first constellation guidebook I owned when I was a kid. What I do remember is the style of book was one that listed a chart of a constellation on every page with a bit of data beneath it, some of the star names and a few other bits. I used it until the pages fell apart and I still used it after that. I learned most of the constellations by that book and using that book I once plotted the 50 brightest stars in the sky as a science project. I still have an old version of the Golden Skyguide, very similar to my first book.

My first serious star book was a 1983 version of The Peterson Field Guide Series, “A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets” by Donald H. Menzel and Jay M. Pasachoff. An excellent book with much detail, numerous extended tables of data and Wil Tirion mag 7 white stars on black charts with a scale about 30mm per 10 degrees, Each 4” x 5” chart, covering about 2 hr 15min RA by 35° Dec., is crammed full of so many stars and deep sky objects that you need a magnifying glass to read it all.

In general, constellation guidebooks are used more by beginner novice sky-gazers. They need a good guidebook to learn their way around the figures of the sky. And they need to learn some objects that might be hidden amongst the stars within the figures. The avid novice and the intermediate amateur astronomer might use constellation guidebooks as a quick reference or as a backpack reference. Usually they already know the constellations, having referenced their detailed star charts on so many nights at the scope. Still, for the seasoned practitioner, a constellation guidebook can be a useful reference and a good one is probably kept around the house, even though most information might be looked up from a detailed mag 8.5 or mag 9 star chart.

Not all of the books listed here are for beginners. In fact, many are not. I took this list and culled out the more advanced books leaving a nice suggested reading list for the novice. I posted that as a separate article, Beginner’s Astronomy Books.

The intermediate amateur not only uses a good set of star charts but also might own a deep sky object reference book. The charts are the road maps to the sky but the object references are the library in which we discover the meanings of the objects we view. No one reference seems to have it all. Where one reference book is found, usually another is not far away.

Likes and dislikes in books are naturally very personally influenced. These are my impressions of books I own and use. There are very many other excellent references, atlases and guidebooks available. I have often read articles by others that include remarks based on info from some books I do not own. I hope someday to enjoy the opportunity to use as many of those as possible. However, for now, I will use and enjoy what I have. Many of these books can be found for far less than list price by going to Amazon.com and clicking on the “available used” icon. I have bought numerous books that way for half price or even as much as 75% off and every one has been in new excellent condition.

My favorites from those listed below are:

Type Book
Constellation Guidebook- for star charts Cambridge Guide to Stars and Planets.
Constellation Guidebook - for Solar System DK Stars and Planets
Star Atlas Sky Atlas 2000.0 2nd edition Deluxe black stars on white
Deep Sky Catalogue – for data Sky Catalogue 2000.0
Deep Sky catalogue – for descriptions Burnham’s Celestial Handbooks
Visual Impact science The Reader’s Digest Children’s Atlas of the Universe
Beginners The Monthly Sky Guide
Phillip's Planisphere

Constellation Guidebooks

Skywatching, David Levy, $13.56, used/new $6.13 Amazon, 6.5x11 soft. Primarily a constellation guidebook. Charts by Wil Tirion. Charts are mag 6, scale is 27mm per 10 degrees and each chart covers an area 4 hr RA by 45° Dec. A fair amount of sky surrounding each constellation chart helps with orientation. Has 100 pages of science, how to, equipment and data tables including nearest stars and brightest stars. Lots of good science with excellent visuals. All sky maps for every month. Several notable objects described in each constellation provide a wide variety, however many would not be found with a moderate telescope. Good charts, but could label more stars and plot more objects. Moon maps and a limited section on the planets. Excellent bibliography and list of resources. Overall a good choice as a constellation guidebook and astro science book.

Cambridge Guide to The Stars And Planets, Patrick Moore / Wil Tirion, $11.96, used/new $1.99 Amazon, 256 pgs. 5x7.75” soft. Primarily a constellation guidebook. Charts are mag 6 + with scale of 25mm per 10 degrees and cover an area 4hrs RA by 40° Dec. All sky charts. Yellow stars on blue with standard deep sky chart symbols on every page. Most constellations include a short tabular list of objects found within. Lots of stars and objects labeled on charts provides for further research. Numerous large very detailed moon charts. Very detailed planetary data including fairly complete lists of moons. Best guidebook planet data! Best Moon charts! Best constellation charts!

The Cambridge Guide to the Constellations, Michael E. Bakick, $19.60, used/new $7.20 Amazon, 320 pgs. 7.5x9.5 soft. A poor reference as star charts or constellation guidebook. Poorly depicted charts. Includes some unusual data not found elsewhere, pronunciations, area of constellations, east/west coordinate limits. Has a long list of named stars. Various lists, but a great deal of useless information. Looking for constellations? Leave this one on the shelf.

The Monthly Sky Guide, Ian Ridpath & Wil Tirion, $13.95, $5.95 used/new Amazon, 64 pgs. 8.5x11 soft. Organized in a monthly layout, this book lists for each month of the year info on planets and meteor showers and one or two prominent constellations. A chart of the chosen constellation is surrounded by a good amount of sky for finding orientation. Each month has an all sky chart for orientation. 20 charts are mag 6, scale varies but the smallest is about 30mm per 10 degrees and is still easily usable, covering 4 hr RA by 75° Dec. Several charts have a larger scale, up to 60mm per 10 degrees and cover an area 3 hr RA by 30° Dec. Also, 6 detail charts have even larger scale and are plotted to mag 9. Charts do not cover the entire sky, but collectively the all sky charts for each month would cover it. This is a great way for a beginner to learn their way around. Offers lots of information, but quite a bit of reading to pull it out. This is one of the books I give to the older kids in the classes I teach astronomy. Excellent charts. Highly recommended!

Constellation Guidebook, Anton Rukl, $11.96, $8.95 used/new Amazon, 224pgs, 6x8.25” soft. This is a pretty good guidebook, printed on nice paper stock. It uses non-standard symbols for the constellation charts, but at least shows the legend on every page. Chart are mag 5, scale is 23mm per 10 degrees, most only covering an area 3hr RA by 30° Dec. However, it has a very useful section of charts for orienting, seasonal charts covering 6hr RA from 60°N to 60°S and polar all sky charts resulting in a full sky map. The constellations are listed in alphabetical order with a few objects detailed for each constellation providing a good variety. Includes many very nice deep sky photos, many which represent what might be seen in a moderately sized scope. A complete set of the constellations and a complete map of the sky. A Very Good choice!

DK Stars and Planets, Ian Ridpath, $15.16, $9.95 used/new Amazon, 224pgs, 5.75x8.5 soft. Primarily a constellation guidebook. Excellent science, highly visual presentation. Charts are mag 5, scale only 17mm per 10 degrees. Most show 3 ½ hrs RA by 45° although some are much smaller. White stars on light blue make charts difficult to see. This book has monthly all sky charts and a section with a good collection of objects presented monthly. Complete data on all the planets. Overall, a good choice, more so for the Astro science!

Find the Constellations, by H.A. Rey $9.95, used/new $6.95, 72pgs. 9x10.75” soft.
No deep sky, just the basics. This book is sketches and drawings explaining the shapes of the constellations, presented for the age group 9-12. Personally, I think this book is excellent but is better suited for an age group maybe 7-9. My son is 12. He has read the 1000+ pages of the four Harry Potter books. This book looks childish to him. It does a good job of showing how to identify where to look for constellations by showing pointers and diagrams. It has a tremendous wealth of information that can be learned by any novice. It’s just presented in such a way that the very young reader can understand it. Good choice for younger readers, but if your child has it, I would encourage you to pick it up and read it.

The Cambridge Star Atlas, by Wil Tirion, $19.95, used/new $14.50, 90 pgs. 9.25x12.25 hard. Star Atlas plotted to magnitude 6.5 with 900 DSO’s. Charts are 33mm per 10 degrees. Scale puts more on a page at one time than Sky Atlas 2000.0. Each chart covers 5 hours Right Ascension by 50° declination. You may want to carefully connect the dots to draw in the constellations. Includes a moon map. Has an all sky index to quick find which chart to use. The benefit of this atlas is the page of data opposite each chart that lists a good selection of objects from that chart with data on size, magnitude and coordinates. A good first Atlas.

Sky Atlas 2000.0 2nd Edition Deluxe, by Wil Tirion & Roger Sinnott, $49.95, used/new $35.00 Amazon, 12” x 16” soft, 26 foldout charts, charts are 21x16” each. Star Atlas is black stars on white background plotted to magnitude 8.5 stars. Star Charts nicely done in color including varying shades of blue to designate the density of the Milky Way. Pretty comprehensive down to mag 8.5 stars. 81,000 stars, 2,700 DSO’s. Acetate overlay grid sheet for determining precise coordinates is very useful. Deep sky objects are plotted to scale, for example, open cluster are shown to size. Scale size of 82mm per 10 degrees makes Orion or Leo fill an 8 ½ x 11 photocopy. You must have a good reference book to use these charts effectively. The charts show you where things are. The references, like Sky Catalogue 2000.0 (recommended) or Observing Handbook and Catalogue of Deep-Sky Objects, give you data about what the object looks like and whether or not you will be able to see it with the scope you are using. There are other charts available with larger scale and more objects plotted. Still I like these charts the best.

The Great Atlas of The Stars, Serge Brunier / Akira Fujii, $34.97, used/new $29.95 Amazon, 112 pgs. 10.75x14.25” soft spiral bound. This is not a star atlas. It is a collection of Sky Photos of constellations with acetate overlays of constellation outlines. A fantastic way to see the sky and learn the shapes for anyone, young and old. Limited deep sky object info is easily excused. 30 exceptional constellation photos. Outstanding coffee-table book! An adult’s book that children will love to look at! I wouldn’t take this outdoors.


Deep Sky Object Catalogues

Observing Handbook and Catalogue of Deep-Sky Objects, by Skiff and Luginbuhl, $28.00, $24.00 used/new, 352 pgs. 8.5x11.5 soft. Book is organized alphabetically. Has Deep Sky Objects only, listed by NGC# within constellation. Has a good selection of objects but many more are not listed. Has 10 greatly detailed sky photos of clusters with star magnitudes listed to use for determining limits of scopes. 2050 objects listed for 68 constellations north of –50°. Includes numerous detailed eyepiece sketches. Provides descriptions of what an object will look like in various size scopes. Must refer to the cross-reference list to get coordinates. Cross-reference is listed in NGC order (RA order) first then other objects in alpha order (not always RA order). Reference includes 1950 and year 2000 coordinates. A brief list of doubles is included in the back of the book. I find many of the descriptions don’t match what I see in my 4”, 5” and 6” scopes. At least you can sit down with this book and read about the DSO’s in a given constellation. Pretty Good reference.

Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion, by Strong and Sinnott, $21.00, $23.92 used/new Amazon, 304 pgs. 8.5x11 soft. Lists every DSO found in Sky Atlas 2000.0 charts. Has DSO’s only. A very disoriented organization for listing objects, sorted alphabetically, i.e. B objects, Be objects, Ced objects, M objects, NGC objects, Tr objects. Some objects are not found in any alphanumeric group because they are listed by their proper name. Objects are not grouped by constellation, although generally most are listed by NGC, so groups are fairly close. It does have a separate cross reference listing showing all the objects listed for a specific Sky Atlas Chart, with coordinates. I find the back and forth a real pain to use, but it provides some info that Skiff and Luginbuhl doesn’t. Still, there are better choices.

Sky Catalogue 2000.0, by Alan Hirshfield & Roger Sinnott, $42.95, used/new $38.71 Amazon, 512 pgs. 9x11.5 soft. This is a real yellow pages to the galaxy. Lists data for all types of objects, including detailed sections on double stars and visual binaries. If a “double” has several fainter components, they will all be listed here. Not a text description type book, just reams of data. All data is listed by RA within object type group, i.e. all doubles, all open clusters, all globular clusters, etc. You can find anything in this book. Use the acetate supplied with Sky Atlas 2000.0 to determine coordinates and you can go to this reference to find DSO’s or doubles with ease. There are far more DSO’s in this reference than there are shown on Sky Atlas 2000.0 charts. Approximately 10,000 double / multiple stars listed, over 500 visual binaries, 500 spectroscopic binaries, and another 10,000 deep sky objects. Indispensable!

Burnham’s Celestial Handbook Volumes 1,2,3, Burnham, 3 volumes for $37.48, total 2,138 pages, 6 x 9 soft. Must get all three volumes, in order by constellation. Has everything, listed by RA within each constellation, many pages of text explanations, b&w photos and detail charts on a multitude of the most interesting objects. The level of detail presented to accompany the many large-scale finder charts is astounding. The text descriptions for many of the better-known deep sky objects or doubles can be several pages long. More than you ever thought you wanted to know about the Universe. Presented in a clear and understandable way, this book explains the science behind every type of deep sky object. If you want a better understanding of the science on the universe, get these books. Coordinates are outdated, but information is invaluable. A must have set!

Deep Sky Companions, O’Meara/Levy, $34.95, 308 pages, 7.25x10 hard.
The Messier objects only, but great detail about each one, including incredibly detailed sketches at the eyepiece for each object. This book provides about two pages of detail on each Messier object. No all sky charts, so you already need to know your way around. Great reference on the Messier Objects.

Night Sky Observer's Guide – haven’t seen this one. Have attempted to find this by Amazon’s used listings and none have turned up available. Tried to order from Sky and Telescope 2002 catalogue, order got rejected. I’ll keep trying.

Binocular Astronomy, by Crossen and Tirion, $24.95, $30 to $60 used, 182 pgs. 8.5x11 hard. Organized by season. Lists about 250 objects visible in binoculars. Has a ten-page set of mag 6.5 star charts, The Bright Star Atlas, in the back of the book, nice for the binocular enthusiast who might not have a separate atlas. Chart scale is 29mm per 10 degrees. This book includes a data table to chart reference for every item identified in the text of the book. Larger size detail charts are included in each seasonal section. A great strength of the book is the outstanding sky photos with deep sky objects identified, making this a great choice for the beginner or avid novice. Some of these sky photos look exactly like the views thru my 10x50s and 15x70s. This can definitely be usable as more than a binocular guidebook and could easily be recommended for the avid novice telescope user. A great reference. Highly Recommended!


Other Astronomy References

The Planet Observer’s Handbook, by Fred Price, $29,95, 516pgs, 6.25x9.25 hard. Includes a great deal of information about each one of the planets. Includes many eyepiece sketches. Data and orbits of the moons. Rotational data for the planet disk. Ring divisions. Far more comprehensive planetary data than any found in the constellation guidebooks. An excellent planetary observer’s reference.

The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, Terrence Dickinson & Alan Dyer, $39.95, used/new $27.97 Amazon, 295 pgs. 9.75x11.5 hard. This is not a constellation guidebook. It is a guidebook to all the things you could learn about astronomy that will make your experience a little easier and a little better. In addition to the many details covered and the multitude of good advice, some excellent detail charts and fascinating photos make this book great cloudy weather reading. It covers everything from choosing telescopes or binoculars to maintaining and accessorizing. Observing advice given in this book should be considered necessary reading. Several detail charts in the back of the book show how to find some of the best objects in some of the more outstanding regions of the sky. This is one of those books that offer advice, tips and instruction for everyone, beginner, intermediate and advanced. Grow with it. Definitely a plus!

The Reader’s Digest Children’s Atlas of The Universe, Robert Burnham, $24.99, $17.49 used/new Amazon, 128 pgs. 10.75x13.5” hard. This is not a star atlas. It is an absolutely stunning presentation of the science of the Universe, Solar System, deep space, stargazing, constellations, planets and a multitude of other astronomical subjects. Open this book to any two page layout and get immersed in the facts, details, how to, people, photos, diagrams, projects, visuals, and data of so many different aspects of Astronomical Science for every age, you will not want to put it down. Not necessary or intended to be read front to back, but opened to a page, as we all do anyway, and it draws you in. Outstanding Presentation! Should be in every elementary school library. Should be used by anyone trying to show astronomy to children. Buy one for your local school today. A children’s book that adults will love to look at. If you get no other book listed here for children, you should get this one!!

Observing Variable Stars, David Levy, $18.95, 198 pgs. 7 x 10.75 soft. Although this is a guide for the beginner, it seems more like a fairly comprehensive discussion and guide to all aspects of variable star astronomy. I confess I do not yet know my way around this book. I have only just delved into bits and pieces. No matter how long we practice this science, there is always something new to learn. Includes many very detailed finder charts. A good guide to variable observing.

Astrophotography for the Amateur, 2nd edition, Michael Covington, $34.95, 331 pgs. 7.5 x 9.75” soft. A complete guide to taking pictures of the heavens. This includes digital and CCD imaging, although I don’t know enough about either of those subjects to comment. I have used it as a guide to take some successful dark sky photos. A tremendous amount of information for the photo enthusiast. Quite detailed, an advanced book.

Phillips’s Planisphere, $9.95, 10”, 4.5” x 5.5” window. This is a high quality fully plastic planisphere with white stars on black background. The plastic will insure longevity and no water or dew damage. Easily visible star and constellation names. Includes star chart Right Ascension hour reference on outer wheel. Back has data on planet locations thru 2009. Comes in plastic sleeve. Just bought myself a new one. Bought the last one in 1981. The Best.

The Night Sky Planisphere, David Chandler, $9.95, 8.5”, front window 5” x 7”, back window 2” x 6”. This is a unique planisphere the only one I’ve seen where the back shows a window for looking towards the southern horizon. The front has some of the names printed face up and others face down. This is a thick paper star wheel sandwiched between a plastic front and plastic back. Blue stars on a white background. Nice unique feature, but should be all plastic.

The Miller Planisphere, $5.25, 5.5” 2.75” x 3.25” window. All plastic. White stars on a blue background. Too small for regular use, get the 8” or 10”. Good for backpacking.

Edmund Scientific Star and Planet Locator, $2.50 ea. 25 for $35.95, 8.5” front window 4.5” x 5.5”. The back has planet locations thru 2006 and the dates of meteor showers. This is a thin paper planisphere that will get easily ripped, but is nice to buy a bunch to give away to kids. Comes with a little instruction book. It works!

Cambridge Starfinder Pack, $19.95, $17.46 Amazon, Includes the Phillip’s Planisphere from above and also a large format wall all-sky star chart and a Moon map. Pretty good deal to get these two maps for only $7.50 more.


As we mentioned above, we humans have spent the last several thousand years advancing our understanding of the stars and the observable phenomena in the heavens. One of the first things you should do to dive into astronomy is to take advantage of that knowledge.

Reading about the stars and the night sky can give you hours of enjoyment, even when it's not possible to see them. If you need a recommendation, check out our list of books on astronomy and astrophysics here .

But this step isn't just for pleasure. It will also end up saving you a great deal of time. If you've never heard before, space is immense. If you have some knowledge you can use to find your way around, you can save hours of time.

It's also during this step that you can start to get some idea for what interests you. By knowing what it is you want to look at when you do decide to get a telescope, you'll have a better idea of which one is best for you.


Stargazing Basics: Getting Started in Recreational Astronomy

Explanations and tips what to look for on starting binoculars/low aperture telescope are well done with practical examples and pictures that help to imagine what you will get and what you will see through it. If you have small or no knowledge on this topic this will help you to avoid mistakes.
Nice introduction to stargazing that will guide you through Review for Kindle version.
Good:
- guide to chose starting binoculars/telescope
- stargazing basics
Bad:
- short for the price
- maps look poor on Kindle

Explanations and tips what to look for on starting binoculars/low aperture telescope are well done with practical examples and pictures that help to imagine what you will get and what you will see through it. If you have small or no knowledge on this topic this will help you to avoid mistakes.
Nice introduction to stargazing that will guide you through basic Solar system objects (planets) including basic facts about where to find them and how big they look (angular size). This continues to very basic introduction to deep space objects which can help to point you in the right direction.
At the end there are 8 basic star-maps, one for each season for north and south hemispheres. However on Kindle they look bad lacking detail or sharpness. At least they zoom-up when you turn to landscape and on large Kindle DX they are barely usable. But you can't zoom to arbitrary size like with PDF.
The book would greatly benefit by including chapter on stargazing from light-polluted areas (urban/suburban) and a bit by extending the chapter on deep-space objects.
Overall good purchase for anyone starting with (casual) astronomy. One star down for maps and rather short (but sufficient) size. If you already have good background on choosing telescopes substract one star. If you already know basics of star-gazing substract another one. . more


When is the Best Time to Get Started With Astronomy?

The best time is of course right now but you’ll soon discover the time of year plays a big part in how much time you can dedicate to astronomy.

In the winter you’ll need to dress warmly and arrange your sky-searching plans around the weather which is often cloudy. The good news is during the winter, the sun rises late and sets early so you get much more viewing time, either in the morning or evening.

In the summer you’ll find many more cloud-free nights and you won’t need ten layers of clothes. Unfortunately, the sun sets so late and rises so early that the only hours available will be in the middle of the night when you’ll probably want to be in bed asleep.

Regardless of the time of year, there is still plenty to learn from study books, charts and online groups.

Astronomy truly is a year-round hobby.


How to get Started in astronomy/astrophysics

Can anyone recommend any books/Videos on getting started in astrophysics/Astronomy Im looking for something cosmos themed. In a list from entry level to more advanced topics.

What I mean by cosmos themed is the way of storytelling sortive how Neil Degrasse Tyson , Stephen Hawking , and Carl Sagan explain the beginning of our universe to the present.

Thanks for any post in advanced.

These are more Cosmos-like:

There are also long term TV series you might really like

When you want to dive deeper than what TV documentaries usually offer, you might want to check out World Science U. Check out the "Space, Time & Einstein" course under Courses, and their new Master Classes.

It's all a really nice project by the World Science Festival, which also have a lot of really interesting talks (look for the hour-long videos).

I would also recommend "The Inexplicable Universe" be added to this list. It's a little more advanced but NDT does a great job with it and you'll learn so much in your first watch or even rewatching it.

Perfect! I am excited to learn more about this

This is great, Thanks for your help.

I'll recommend a class I'm taking on Introduction to Astronomy if you want something more academic. It's a free online class and you get assingments too. The class started on December and ends on March, maybe you'll have to wait until it starts again.

There's always textbooks for Astronomy classes, and they range from intro level onward. I own "Astronomy: A Beginner's Guide to the Universe" and I think it explains things pretty well. Also, although not a book or video, if there are any amateur astronomy associations or clubs in your area check them out. They tend to have a lot of guest speakers, lectures, etc. and many are open to the public at little to no cost.

That's great do you know of one major optimization that had a broad spectrum of clubs?

Looks absolutely fantastic. I will download.

Christopher David Impey (born 25 January 1956) is a British astronomer, educator, and author. He has been a faculty member at the University of Arizona since 1986. Impey has done research on observational cosmology, in particular low surface brightness galaxies, the intergalactic medium, and surveys of active galaxies and quasars. As an educator, he has pioneered the use of instructional technology for teaching science to undergraduate non-science majors. He has written many technical articles and a series of popular science books: The Living Cosmos, How It Ends, How It Began, Dreams of Other Worlds, and Humble Before the Void. He served as Vice-President of the American Astronomical Society, he is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor.

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There are a few Kip Thorne books that Iɽ highly recommend, such as The Science of Interstellar (if you're interested in the film and enjoyed it) and Black Holes & Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy. If you couldn't tell already, I'm pretty into theoretical astrophysics, specifically wormholes, black holes, higher dimensions, stuph like dat.

Edit: If you have an able graphics card attached to your PC, then you should seriously check out Space Engine, this game is what got me so enthralled by space in the first place, and also it's entire simulated universe cube is about 1000 cubic Gigaparsecs. The insane thing about it, is that it's being developed by a single russian guy, who has an amazing vision for this engine of multiplayer combat and hyper-realistic resource gathering along with mainly newtonian physics for space filght.


Radio and Radar Astronomy Projects for Beginners

Radio and radar astronomy are powerful tools when studying the wonders of the universe, yet they tend to mystify amateur astronomers. This book provides a comprehensive introduction to newcomers, containing everything you need to start observing at radio wavelengths.

Written by a mechanical engineer who has actually built and operated the tools described, the book contains a plethora of tested advice and practical resources. This revised edition of the original 2014 book Getting Started in Radio Astronomy provides a complete overview of the latest technology and research, including the newest models and equipment on the market as well as an entirely new section on radio astronomy with software-defined radios (SDRs).

Four brand-new beginner projects are included, including bouncing a radar signal off the Moon, detecting the aurora, and tuning into the downlink radio used by astronauts aboard the ISS. Requiring no previous knowledge, no scary mathematics, and no expensive equipment, the book will serve as a fun and digestible reference for any level of astronomers hoping to expand their skills into the radio spectrum.


February 5th: Getting Started in Astronomy: Then and Now

Description: Andrea and Dave are two amateur astronomers and friends 30 years apart in age with a common bond formed by their interest in astronomy and physics. Dave became an amateur astronomer in the 1960s Andrea in the 1990s. In conversation, they compare the “Galileo Moments” that started them on their individual journeys, the telescopes that were available to them, pop culture influences, the effect of light pollution on their skies, and the “photon” connection of observing through a telescope. Finally, they share their thoughts about the International Year of Astronomy 2009 when they and others helped bring the Universe down to Earth.

Bio: Andrea’s Bio: Andrea Misner was born under the skies of the Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Over the course of her life she has developed a love for astronomy and physics and obtained her B.Sc. in Astrophysics from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. During her undergraduate studies Andrea discovered she had a passion and enthusiasm for learning, which took her to earn a B.Ed. at the secondary school level (Fort Kent, 2008). Andrea is the Past President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – Halifax Centre and now teaches in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Dave’s Bio: Dave Chapman was born in Leicester, England and moved to Canada as a young boy. There, he encountered the dark skies of Northern Ontario and became a lifelong amateur astronomer. He studied physics up to the M.Sc. level (University of British Columbia, 1977) and worked for 31 years as a Defence Scientist, Since retirement, he has returned to his first loves: astronomy and guitars. He is a life member of the RASC, an Assistant editor of that organization’s Journal, and currently lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of � Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Kylie Sturgess of the Token Skeptic podcast, investigating superstitions and the science behind them at www.tokenskeptic.org.

Getting Started in Amateur Astronomy: Then and Now

365 Days of Astronomy podcast (scheduled 2010-02-05)

by David M.F. Chapman and Andrea D. Misner

D: Hello, this is Dave Chapman from Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada…

A: …and I am Andrea. Dave and I are amateur astronomers, both members of the Halifax Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

D: So Andrea what does it mean that we are amateur astronomers?

A: Well, Dave, “amateur” simply means we do astronomy as a hobby and not as a profession.

D: So, Andrea: tell me how you first got started in astronomy. What was your “Galileo Moment” of personal discovery?

A: I was about 15 years old in 1998 standing in back of my parents house looking up at the sky when all of a sudden a meteor—or perhaps some space debris—collided with Earth’s atmosphere, streaking across the sky in red and orange flames over our house. It lasted a good 7 seconds, leaving a smoke trail behind! I saw that and said “Oh this is it…I am hooked. ” That was my Galileo Moment.

What about you Dave? How did you get started in astronomy? What was your “Galileo Moment”?

D: I recall this very distinctly. I was a boy—maybe 9 years old—living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the 1960s. My father took me outside during the winter and showed me the Big Dipper and the constellation Orion, the Hunter. He had been a radio operator in the Royal Air Force and I expect he had a little training in navigating by the stars. I was hooked from that moment on. I read all the astronomy books in the children’s section of the Library and my mother tells me she had to get special permission to allow me to take out books from the adult section. A year or so later, my parents gave me a telescope on my 10th birthday, and a book by Patrick Moore. The telescope was a simple 60 mm refractor with a zoom lens on a wooden tripod.

A: Yeah…that sounds like my first telescope! My mother wanted to see the craters on the moon, so we went to the local hardware store, where my parents bought a 60 mm black refractor on a rickety tripod. We were in awe of this new sleek black ‘scope until my parents got frustrated and it was slowly forgotten, until I picked it up.

D: Yes my telescope wasn’t much, but it really opened my eyes to the cosmos. One of the first things I observed was the Moon, and I still have my observations and sketches from those days. I also looked at Saturn with its rings and Jupiter and the 4 bright moons.

D: Well, I prefer the term “boy scientist”.

A: Let’s talk a little about science fiction and space exploration. In my case, I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and reading a lot of Stephen Hawking. Now Stephen Hawking for me wrote in a way that it did not seem that space was such a high thing, away from me. I read it, I understood it, and it really excited me. It wasn’t beyond my intellectual grasp or understanding. What about you Dave? What science fiction did you follow? What space missions excited you?

D: Well I was a big fan of the short stories and novels by Isaac Asimov and later Larry Niven, who had a lot of correct physics in his work. I also read a lot of non-fiction by Asimov, who wrote a lot about astronomy, chemistry, and life science. I believe I may have learned more from my personal reading than I ever did in school. As far as TV shows, of course I was a big fan of the original Star Trek series. In my day, manned space flight was very new: I recall John Glenn orbiting the Earth in his Mercury capsule and all the soft landings of space probes on the Moon. Of course, the milestone for me was Apollo 11 landing in The Sea of Tranquility on the Moon, and Neil Armstrong’s first words as he stepped onto the lunar surface. That was live on TV on my 16th birthday! That was so great for me!

A: Wow…when I was growing up John Glenn went back into space at the age of 77 years! I remember watching the Space Shuttle Discovery launching on the TV. I don’t think that space flight had the same impact on my generation as the original moon flights did for yours, Dave.

D: One thing I cannot remember so well is light pollution. I recall seeing the Milky Way from the city as a boy, but I may be mistaken. My impression is that light pollution is worse now, with the increased population and overly bright lighting. I feel lucky to live in a relatively small city with dark skies not too far to drive to. What about where you grew up?

A: I grew up just outside of Bridgewater—on the South Shore of Nova Scotia—in Conquerall Mills, where the next door neighbor was a small forest away and any stray light was shielded by the trees. Bridgewater has grown since then putting in more buildings and lights that I am sure affect the skies I once observed under.

D: Well, I hope that people will eventually learn that responsible lighting is not only less expensive to operate, but has less impact on the environment, both from the point of view of chemical pollution and improved night sky transparency. I am very excited about Kejimkujik National Park becoming a Dark Sky Preserve, right here in Nova Scotia!

A: Me too! I think a lot of people have lost their connection with the night sky and the wonders it holds. Some people may not realize that when you look at the night sky you are actually seeing “old light”. Light from the Andromeda galaxy, the closest galaxy to us, takes about two-and-a-half million years to travel to Earth and into your eye at the telescope. People have lost that “light or photon connection” and part of The International Year of Astronomy was showing people the night sky and enjoying the views through telescopes or binoculars.

D: I agree with you: Of all the events we organized for IYA last year, I got the most satisfaction from setting up my telescope on the sidewalk and showing people Saturn, the Moon, and Jupiter. There is no substitute for seeing things for yourself, and the reactions were amazing. For may people it was their first view through a telescope, and they went away very happy indeed.

D: So what I learned from IYA was that the stars are our common bond, not only in the scientific sense you mentioned, but also culturally. All over this planet, people look up and see the same stars, even if they call them by different names, form different constellations from them, and make up different stories about them.

A: Even though not everyone feels a connection towards astronomy and the night sky, we are deeply connected to the universe. The same elements that are in stars are in us. For example, our universe and stars are made out of 90% hydrogen. We are made out of about 70% of water. What’s the H in H2O? Hydrogen. Regardless what we call the constellations or where we live, we are literally made of stardust.

D: We are made of stardust! I wonder if Joni Mitchell knew about that when she wrote her song?

D: Well Andrea, speaking of Galileo Moments, I believe we have used up all our podcast minutes. This has been a great conversation! And Happy Birthday, by the way!

A: Thank you! Absolutely, I hope the listeners enjoyed it. But before we go, we should invite them to visit our website AstronomyNovaScotia-DOT-ca.

A: So this is Andrea Misner…

A: …wishing you clear, dark skies, pleasant observing, and lots of photon connections!


Getting Started: Visual Astronomy released

Getting Started: Visual Astronomy is quite a departure for me as most of you know I am primarily an astrophotographer and spend comparably very little time visually observing. When you are imaging for up to ten hours at a stretch however that still leaves a lot of time for visual observing, so compared to many others around me I do a lot of visual observing. It is all relative. There are a lot of fantastic books on general astronomy and observational astronomy. The one thing that I could never find however is a book that got right to the point on how to visually observe that was easily portable. This led me to do the research and write my own.

Getting Started: Visual Astronomy is a standard sized book just like my others that gets right to the heart of the matter. It is designed to get you up and observing quickly. It answers all the basic questions and some of the more advanced ones as well making sure you know how to use the equipment you have, and what equipment you may be interested in purchasing. From naked eye observations, through binoculars and all the way to the different types of large telescopes, you will find all the information you need to get out under the stars and begin your journey. It even includes a few biographies of important people such as the father of modern observational astronomy, Galileo Galilei, so that you get a feel for the history of observational astronomy.

You can get more information, read the table of contents and introduction and more at the book’s home page here:

Look for Getting Started: Visual Astronomy in both print and Kindle editions from Amazon. The first person to review the book on Amazon had this to say: “This book will help you get started in Astronomy and answers every question you have plus plenty more you didn’t know you had. From buying your first telescope to how to read star maps this book offers a step by step guide on everything. Written in a well structured format that makes the information easy to digest. Well worth the sticker price for the amount of information contained. I highly recommend.”

I hope you enjoy Getting Started: Visual Astronomy!


Astronomy: A Beginner's Guide to the Universe, Books a la Carte Plus Mastering Astronomy with Pearson eText -- Access Card Package, 8th Edition

NOTE: This edition features the same content as the traditional text in a convenient, three-hole-punched, loose-leaf version. Books a la Carte also offer a great value—this format costs significantly less than a new textbook. Before purchasing, check with your instructor or review your course syllabus to ensure that you select the correct ISBN. Several versions of Pearson's MyLab & Mastering products exist for each title, including customized versions for individual schools, and registrations are not transferable. In addition, you may need a CourseID, provided by your instructor, to register for and use Pearson's MyLab & Mastering products.

For one-semester Introduction to Astronomy courses.
This package includes MasteringAstronomy ™ .

With the Eighth Edition of Astronomy: A Beginner’s Guide, trusted authors Eric Chaisson and Steve McMillan bring a renewed freshness and analysis to recent changes in our understanding of the cosmos. As with the other two textbooks in their Astronomy suite (one for two-semester courses and the other, a brief visual book), the authors continue to emphasize three major themes: the process of science, the size and scale of the universe, and the evolution of the cosmos. This new edition ignites student interest with new discoveries from the latest space missions and a new focus on student-oriented engagement.

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