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  • Rapt in Awe

    My Journey through the Astronomical Year

    Think of this as a "companion text" to this, the main web site. Not required reading, butI hope you'll find it interesting and helpful.

Resources & Links

Links I use Frequently

What follows includes two basic kinds of resources – books and online. Each is divided into a few broad categories. These links take you to the appropriate section of what is a very long post.

Online resources

This is a good site for a more complete picture of what’s going on with the sun, solar flares – possible aurora – or as they say, anything that’s happening today in the sun-earth environment. I find it a good starting point.
Sky Tonight
This is the home of Sky and Telescope, IMHO the most reputable and useful astronomical journal – though they irritate me at times with their online approach, there is a wealth of astronomy news, observing ideas, and other timely information here of use to both the beginning and experienced amateur.
You need to create a free account here and this site is best known for its predictions of when and where to see satellites, but it also has very useful tools regarding data on the planets, etc.
What you can see with a telescope
This is a very handy calculator that lets you plug in some basic information about your telescope – size, focal length,etc, – and then calculates what you can expect to see – such as the dimmest star, or the smallest object visible to you ont he Moon.  Take the numbers as rough estimates, of course, because there are many variables that can’t be taken into account,  but it is still a good guide.
This is an excellent site that is maintained by James Kaler. He has done more than anyone since Martha Evans Martin to help us see and understand stars as the incredible individuals that they are.
Astronomy Picture of the Day
This is the daily “fix” for astronomy addicts – candy for the eye and mind. Frequently surprising, almost always fascinating, APOD is a good habit to get into – and if it’s new to you and you just want to wander, browse their archives.
Yahoo Discussion Groups
If you’re not familiar with Yahoo Groups, this is the starting point for really learning about different aspects of the hobby. You can get this stuff by email, but I would rather read it on the Web. You need to search a little to find the group that you want, but ones I visit include mallincam, astrovideo, LX90, Obsession, binocular astronomy and several others depending on my interest of the moment. To me such groups are one of the real strengths of the Internet and an incredible resource for beginners and experienced amateurs.
SOHO – the Sun Right Now!
After the Hubble, SOHO has become my favorite artificial satellite and one of the reasons is it can give you up-to-the-moment images of what’s going on with the Sun without any concern about weather. Since the sun changes so rapidly, this is a great way to see if there’s a good reason – or not – to bring out the Personal Solar Telescope.
This is where to go when looking for astronomy news with a space exploration emphasis.

Uranometria, 1603 – Classic Star Atlas  by Johann Bayer –  Uranometria was the first of its kind. It was abig leap over earlier attempts at star atlases and became the pattern for future ones to follow.

as The International year for Astronomy.

There has never been such a year, but this is it and it’s loaded with events.You can bet I’ll be keeping a close eye on it and bringing you news and links that fit well with the Prime Time study program. But explore on your own.

Here’s the main IYA Web site.

And here’s the IYA site that is specific to the United States.

For the new enthusiast

If you’re just getting started, some of the links on this page may give more information than you want. Here’s a collection of links especially helpful to new observers, although Iurge you to pick and choose from the others as well.

Lots of helpful information from McDonald Observatory – very good for planning observing sessions on a night-by-night basis. Start with their Sky Almanack page.

Free Mag 7 Star charts

These are great star charts for binocular and small telescope users and they’re free.  You’ll see more stars than shown here with just about any telescope or binocular, but these will sure help you find your way around when you go beyond naked-eye viewing.

Home Built Astronomy Projects

This guy has some neat ideas for a wide vaiety of projects ranging from how to a junk telescope into a good telescope, make a simple red dot finder – even a nice binocular chair.  I like his simple, common sense, approach to things. Only wish there were more projects.

Knowledge bases


Observing aids

These are sites I consult when planning an observing session, or reviewing what I observed and trying to learn more.

  • <a href=””>Know where you are!For some Web activities and many astronomical ones, you should know your latitude and longitude, or at least the coordinates for a nearby city. If you don’t, go here to find out. (Very useful for the most precise setting in a computer-controlled telescope.)
    Know when you are!Get the correct time right now, right to the second – also very useful in astronomy.
    and know the Star Time

    Go here for a Sidereal Clock. Once you start to understand astronomical coordinates – right ascension and declination – you’ll appreciate how knowing the sidereal time helps you know what’s up in your area on any given night.
    Sunrise-sunset, Moonrise – moonset.

    Sun or Moon Rise/Set table for one year for your location courtesy of the US Naval Observatory.
    Moon phase calendar

    Whether you’re studying the moon or avoiding it’s star-stealing glare, knowing the phase is a must.
    “Your Sky”

    This is an interactive planetarium that you adjust to your location. With it “you can produce maps . . . for any time and date, viewpoint, and observing location. If you enter the orbital elements of an asteroid or comet, Your Sky will compute its current position and plot it on the map. ”
    Messier Objects

    Images and essential data helpful for observing – visuals all from Digital Sky Survey, so consistent.
    Messier Objects Plus

    For a much more detailed look at the Messier Objects – and many other astronomical objects – visit the SEDS site and search for a particular object by name or number. (SEDS is Students for the Exploration and Development of Space)
    Double Star Maps

    100 maps in groups of 10 related with Telrad finder charts and basic data – relates to Astronomical League Double Star Award,
    Transparency is clear, but ‘seeing’?

    Astronomical “seeing” – what is it? Look here for a visual demo and explanation. Then if your mind is still spinning from the technical explanation – mine is – go to this site for a simple and practical scaleyou can use to evaluate seeing on any given night.
    CalSky Astronomy Calendar

    I was enthusiastic when I first saw this, but I now consider it too techy for my uses.

    Absolute Astronomy
    Look up almost any astronomical object.

    The Lunar 100

    Hey – if you don’t have the book – the Modern Moon – go here. Well, if you do have the book, go here. I recommend the book. In nearly half a century of amateur astronomy it was what at last awakened me to the fascination of the moon and the “Lunar 100” is an excellent observing list developed by the author. Charles Wood. Honestly – I’m not a list kinda guy – but if you like checking things off in a systematic fashion, this is a must! Very well done. Go here for the article introducing the idea.
    Lunar Atlas (quick view)

    This I like – very useful tool for planning. observing or identifying what caught your eye in an observing session.
    Lunar Atlases (everything)

    For complete lunacy – oh well, for those who are really into this stuff and need to look at several image resources to find what they want, this is the starting point. (I haven;t gotten to this stage yyet – but one of these days 😉
    Jupiter’s Moons (What’s where, right now!)

    Invaluable utility, very well done. Of course it’s useful only when Jupiter is in the night sky, but then you can have a lot of fun. I like to check Jupiter, mak anote of the moon, and see if by their brightness and position I can determine which is which – then I check my observations against this site.
    Saturn’s Moons (What’s where right now!)

    Just like the Jupiter moon utility and just as useful – especially when Saturn gets into a section of the sky with lots of background stars easily mistaken for moons.
    Minima of Algol

    What gets me about Algol minima is they happen nearly every three days – so you would think observing one would be a piece of cake. Not so. Finding a minima that fits your sleep pattern and the weather – and, of course, the position of Algol in the sky, makes seeing one not nearly as common as you might think. This is a great place to start, though.

    Interactive Messier Object Chart

    Click on the chart – it will take you to a larger, interactive version where if you mouse over an image and wait a moment, you’ll see the identity of that object. If you want more information about it, click on the image of the object. Cool!

    Mind-expanding astronomy sites

    As I’ve said, it’s all about awe. And as Einstein has said – if you’re not in awe of this stuff, you’re dead – or at least sleep-walking. Sorry – but that’s the way I see it too. What keeps me awake is the night sky. (For others it may be something else – there are many, many paths to awareness.) But I want to be out there with the universe raining star beams on me. I want the real experience. Still every once in a while the virtual world turns up something really cool that captures some of the awe. Here are a few site I think are in that league put together by folks who are way out of my league.

    The Universe in Color
    Connecticut physician and amateur astronomer, Robert Gender, has to be one of the best, if not the best, astrophotographers working today – and he does most of his work in his driveway, in a typical suburban, light-polluted area! His site is load with wonderful pictures that are more artistic than scientific, but as such simply awe-inspiring images of our universe. Oh – and don;t miss his essays. He also provides plenty of information about the objects he’s photographed.
    Atlas of the Universe
    Their description: “This web page is designed to give everyone an idea of what our universe actually looks like. There are nine main maps on this web page, each one approximately ten times the scale of the previous one. The first map shows the nearest stars and then the other maps slowly expand out until we have reached the scale of the entire visible universe. ” Good place to start to get a grip on the big picture.
    John Dobson – a real hero
    I like everything about this guy’s life – and I suspect he’s done more to make astronomy accessible to folks than anyone. He also thinks outside the box and while I don’t know how much to agree with, I do find his thinking stimulating. Here a little of what is said about him on this site: “John Dobson is a co-founder of The Sidewalk Astronomers, a pioneering builder of telescopes, and a teacher. His theories in physics and cosmology boldly break new ground and significantly challenge the scientific orthodoxy. John Dobson’s scientific musings are very thought-provoking and, like Einstein’s Relativity, require us to re-examine our view of many things.” uh-huh!
    The Best of the Hubble Space Telescope
    Great collection of Hubble Space Telescope shots can be found here – with explanations. OK – fantastic images like these tend to overload my synapses. I can’t absorb them and my mind tends to shut down. I have to sneak up on them and take them in small sips, not gulps.
    The Solar System
    This site offers a succinct guide to the nine planes  – with links to more details. 

    Solar System LiveWeb-based, interactive Orrery. I like to know where things are – now – and how those positions relate to what I see in the sky, and when I look at the sky, I try to do the mental gymnastics that allows me to see the reality from a different perspective – and this site sure helps. Their description: “You can view the entire Solar System, or just the inner planets (through the orbit of Mars). Controls allow you to set time and date, viewpoint, observing location, orbital elements to track an asteroid or comet, and a variety of other parameters.”Size ’em upI’m always looking on a better way to get a handle on the size of astronomical objects – this site does a wonderful job in that respect. Go there and just be patient. Stuff happens and after a few minutes you’ve had a mind-bending tour.


    (Prices from Amazon.com)

    Observing Guides

    The Stars – A New Way to See Them by H. A. Rey – $9.56 – A classic guide to the constellations with far from classic depictions. I didn’t discover this book until long after I knew the night sky, but reading it I can see why folks like it.

    Turn Left at Orion – by Guy Consolmagno and Dan M. Davis – $17 (Amazon) – Best guide for the small telescope user I have ever found. While very accessible to the beginner, I reference it constantly for my own observing. It is arranged chronologically and for each object provides information on how to find it; a chart of what it would look like in a finder; another of what it will look like in the scope; information about what you see; and a brief, but detailed, description of the object.

    Sky & Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas – $13.57 – Collection of sky charts in a convenient design for using outside and at a reasonable price. I have two copies, one I keep in the observatory and one I keep with my personal observing kit. Frankly, I don’t look at it very often, but when I do need it, I find it easy to quickly find the chart I want.

    Atlas of the Moon – by Antonin Rukl – $29.67 – To me an absolutely essential atlas that I use when planning an observing session, while observing, and after having observed. I keep one copy in the observatory, one in the house. I am, however, trying some new software which may prove more useful because I believe I’ll be able to flip images to fit the reversed and sometimes upside down view through telescopes.

    I have perhaps a dozen other books in this category and each has its special attributes, strengths, and weaknesses. The above are what I reach for first. However, I use the following software easily as much as I use any of the above books.

    Starry Night Pro http://www.starrynight.com/

    There are a wide variety of helpful software tools for astronomy and if these interest you, I urge you to visit “Cloudy Nights” at http://www.cloudynights.com/ and read the reviews there. I’ve tried several of these packages, but I keep coming back to Starry Night. I won’t argue if it’s the best or not – it’s just the one I know and I find consistently useful for what I do. This software allows me to instantly find out what’s going on in the night sky at any date and time and as viewed from any location on Earth. I can print out charts that are oriented to whatever way my telescope happens to flip the view of the night sky. There’s much, much more – too much to cover here.

    Astronomy Fact and Theory

    These are books I can understand. I am not a scientist, nor a physicist, and certainly not a mathematician, so I choose my reading accordingly. Here’s what I like.

    The Modern Moon – A Personal View – by Charles A. Wood – $29.67 – I could never warm up to the cold, sterile, moon. It was near, it was lifeless, and it was an irritating source of light pollution frequently blotting out the more interesting objects I wanted to see. Then I read this book and my observing pleasure nearly doubled. Now on moonlit nights I frequently target the moon and enjoy it because Wood helped me understand both its value and interest. The moon is the Smithsonian Institution of our solar system, carrying an incredibly ancient record – with very little change – some of which we can interpret through simple observation. I read this book and frequently reread selected parts before and after an observing session, trying to understand what I might see, or what I just saw.

    Solar System – by Nigel Hey – $22.76 – Published in 2002, this give you a reasonably up-to-date view of our solar system with plenty of pictures. I say “reasonably” because planetary exploration is going on constantly and no book will be completely up to date. For a more literary treatment of the same topic, try Dava Sobel’s The Planets ($10.40). Sobel includes more history and mythology, mixed with the science in an interesting fashion. Nigel Hey is more – well, down-to-earth!

    Nearest Star – The Surprising Science of Our Sun by Leon Golub and Jay M. Pasachoff – $17.50 – I only read a bit beyond the first half of this book, then it got into more detail than I wanted. But it does serve as an excellent introduction to our Sun and thus to an understanding of stars in general. Believe me, the images we hold in our head from the “twinkle, twinkle little star” days are ludicrous. Stars are magnificently balanced nuclear/gravitational engines that contain more than enough puzzles to fill a lifetime of study.

    The Hundred Greatest Stars – by James B. Kaler – $24.70 – Another favorite author, Kaler gives us a wonderful treatment of a fascinating variety of stars, many of which you see with the naked eye. This book too gives an excellent introduction into understanding what a star is, but also gives you a feel for how much variety there is – and how much we know – about these distant dots of light,

    Smithsonian Intimate Guide to the Cosmos– by Dana Berry – $12.44 – An excellent, readable, survey of where we are today – or where we were just yesterday (2004). The simple truth is, we live in the Golden Age of Astronomy. There are more startling discoveries being made today about the universe than have been made at any point in history since Galileo first pointed a telescope skyward at night. Berry does a good job of painting the new picture with a broad brush.

    The Stars of Heaven – by Clifford Pickover – $14.95 – This guy is crazy. You either love him or hate him. I love him. His book is a creative mixture of science fiction and fact, but you won’t have any trouble telling which is which for Pickover is very explicit. I think it’s a wonderful way to approach a complex overview of astronomy – and downright fun. But as I say, not everyone agrees 😉

    Again, I have another dozen or so books in this category, many of them as good as what’s mentioned above in their own special way. So please don’t feel restricted to this list.

    History and . . .

    Starlight Nights – The Adventures of a Star-Gazer – by Leslie G, Peltier – $13.57 – Incurable romantic that I am, I love this book! Peltier lived the sort of life I once dreamed of living – growing up on a Ohio farm in the first half of the last century, he explored nature on his own, diligently applying a small, mail order telescope to observing variable stars. His little scope was mounted on a discarded grindstone and his observing nights were made less lonely by curious cows who wondered why anyone was in the pasture at that hour. Nostalgic? You bet. But it also is brimming over with the enthusiasm of a dedicated amateur astronomer who made countless useful observation of variable stars and discovered a dozen comets which now bear his name.

    The Friendly Stars – by Martha Evans Martin – See if you can find an original edition published before 1920 – mine is a revised version, but thankfully not too much revised. I got this because this is the book Peltier (see preceding) cut his sky teeth on and I found it refreshingly antiquated in style and content, and yet still very useful. It also gave me one of the basic ideas for this program – to focus not on the constellations, per se, but on the 15 brightest stars we see, and use them as guideposts. I also find it fun to read a book such as this because it gives us insights into what we knew and how we felt about the stars a century ago.

    Seeing in the Dark – How Amateur Astronomers are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe – by Timothy Ferris – Ferris is a superb science writer whose many books I have found consistently excellent. What I learned here was he also is an amateur astronomer and what he does in this book is visit dozens of amateurs who are doing absolutely incredible things in the hobby – I mean incredible. When he says “discovering” he doesn’t mean simply finding out for themselves – he means, in many cases, breaking entirely new ground. Just as this is the golden age for professional astronomers, it is also the golden age for amateur astronomers and we have unprecedented tools available to us at incredibly low prices. Inspiring!

    The Soul of the Night – An Astronomical Pilgrimage – by Chet Raymo – $12.44 – Chet Raymo lives just up the road near Stonehill College, I believe, and his writings have appeared from time to time in the Globe. This is one I’m just starting to read, but I like it so far, and I have read other books by Raymo that I like, so I feel confident in recommending this one. It also fills a gap in this list in that Raymo straddles the gap between science and spirituality, having a solid grasp of both.

    Longitude – by Dava Sobel –$9.75 – Can you believe that a book about longitude could become a best seller? It can if it’s written by a writer of Sobel’s skill! There’s a lot of astronomy in this little book, and it also shows the very practical needs that drove – and sometimes funded – astronomical exploration a couple of centuries ago.

One Response

  1. Hi Greg, I just clicked on pronunciation guide for the first time BIG help


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