Thursday, December 16, 2010

The World of Astronomy

Welcome to the wonderful and wonderous world of astronomy. Too few of us are aware of the enormous yet free treasure that lies in the canopy that is just overhead. To remedy that missed lifelong opportunity, this is the first of what will be several articles that will delve into specific areas about astronomy and astronomical objects. My own particular area of interest is in "astrophotography", the practice of photographing celestial/astronomical objects. To aid in illustration, I maintain a photographic website at: http://www.pbase.com/wjshaheen/astronomy. Specifically - http://www.pbase.com/wjshaheen/astro_images_by_subject . Feel free to visit. I also teach a course which I title, "Astronomy Without A Telescope", so-named because it is important, and possible, to enjoy the celestial wonders without the aid of a telescope. The course covers the following areas:
(1) Orientation - Our place on the earth and the resulting motion of the night sky. Visualizing the celestial plane (demonstration using an simple umbrella); Zenith versus celestial north; Celestial versus geographic coordinates versus altitude and azimuth; Discussion of local and prime meridian.
(2) The Earth-Moon System Phases of the moon - Why? Demonstrate moon orbiting the earth - "Moon Eclipses Saturn"; Why isn't there an eclipse every month? Why can I see the moon in the daytime? Why is the moon higher in the sky in the winter than it is in the summer? The 5 degree tilt; The Lincoln story (Demonstrate Virtual Moon Atlas) (Sun/earth/moon side view diagram).
(3) A Sense of the Solar System - The plane of the ecliptic Inferior vs. Superior Planets; Why can't you see Venus at midnight? Retrograde motion of superior planets. Why is Jupiter low in the summer sky but high when it’s in the winter sky? (Use TheSky6 (tm) to compare altitude of Jupiter on 7/21/2007 @ 9 pm to position on 2/21/2014 @ 9pm.)
(4) It's About Time - What is time? ("That which marks the passage of events.") Measurements of Time - Local Mean Solar Time; Universal time (UT); Sidereal (Star) time.
(5) Our Galaxy and Beyond - Earth's Annual View of the Sky. Demonstration using placards with constellations. The First Point of Aries Parallax – parsec = 3.26 lightyears. Celestial coordinate system – Right Ascension and Declination. (Use TheSky to illustrate the difference in RA/DEC between 1950 and the present, to demonstrate precession.)
(6) Astrophotography Without A Telescope - Using a camera with a standard or telephoto lenses.
(7) Resources in Astronomy - RASC Observer’s Handbook; Norton’s 2000 Sky Atlas; 2000 Uranometria2000.0; Burnham’s Celestial Handbook; Binocular observing; TheSky6 (planetarium software provided by Software Bisque - http://www.bisque.com/sc/); Virtual Moon Atlas. See also: http://www.pbase.com/wjshaheen/resources_in_astronomy
Please contact me for further information or to register for the course, held at the Superstition Mount Campus of the Central Arizona College in Apache Junction, Arizona.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you, either comments or questions.

William J. Shaheen
Superstition Mountain Astronomical League
Gold Canyon, AZ USA
http://www.pbase.com/wjshaheen/superstition_mountain_astronomical_league

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