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Column: Knowledge gained by gazing at the stars

Great Outdoors by James Murray

Having an interest in something doesn’t necessarily make you knowledgeable on the subject.

A case in point, for many years I have had an interest in astronomy but I am far from knowledgeable. I’ve always been fascinated by the nighttime sky. I even own a relatively good telescope. But, do I actually know very much? No, not at all.

I’m pretty much what you would call a fair-weather astronomer. I mostly just like to look up at the stars and wonder to myself what lies out there in the universe.

I also like to look at photographs and read articles in astronomy magazines, especially during the long winters months when it’s cold outside – too cold for a fair-weather guy like me.

Reading magazine articles is also a good way to learn about astronomy without having to spend much money. My preference is one called SkyNews simply because it is a Canadian publication.

This particular magazine provides monthly calendars and star charts, a wealth of sky watching tips, amazing pictures and up-to-date information on new products and discoveries. It is also a way to keep up on things in the astronomy world without actually having to go outside and stand around in the cold weather. So much about astronomy depends on the weather.

Read whatever magazines you can get your hands on about astronomy. It doesn’t matter how old or outdated they are, you can still learn a lot. You will be surprised at how many facts and tidbits of information you pick up.

The library also has a variety of books on the subject that are geared toward the beginner. There’s also the internet where you can discover a vast array of information on astronomy as well as look at some pretty amazing photographic images.

You don’t need an expensive astronomical telescope to begin learning about the night sky. All you need is a little understanding and a clear night. However, once you’ve looked through a telescope everything changes – a whole new world literally opens up, right there in front of your eyes.

About 30 years ago I purchased a used eight-inch reflector telescope. Even though it was old technology, over the years I have seen a lot of things through its eyepiece. I have upgraded several times since that original purchase.

Nowadays, they have computerized tracking/guiding systems for telescopes where you just focus in on a recognizable star and a built-in computer database takes over. It will find, focus in and follow (track) just about anything out there. There are also a number of good, relatively inexpensive telescopes that will bring the craters of the moon into sharp focus as well as let you view everything from planets to nebulae.

The question is how much you want to spend. If you are contemplating purchasing a telescope, remember that astronomy magazines have all sorts of articles and reviews that can help you figure out what kind of telescope and related gear might be best suited to your interests and needs.

This much I do know for certain: as the universe unfolds, astronomers are discovering answers to questions that most of us cannot even imagine.

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