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Thread: Getting Started in Amateur Astronomy

  1. #1
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    Post Getting Started in Amateur Astronomy

    Got your eye on that $40 telescope at Walmart? Wait, hear us out first! Fraser and Pamela discuss strategies for getting into amateur astronomy - one of the most worthwhile hobbies out there. ...

    Read the full blog entry

  2. #2
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    When I tried to play it all I got was last weeks episode. I am using Itunes. Anyone else have this problem?

  3. #3
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    Same here. I listen via the mp3 link on the website which is missing for this week. Clicking on the download link also plays last weeks episode.

  4. #4
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    That's because the download link should point to

    http://www.astronomycast.com/shows/AstroCast-061023.mp3

    which it doesn't

    HTH.

  5. #5
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    Got it. Thank you.

  6. #6
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    It's fixed now thanks

  7. #7
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    Hi All,

    Sorry for the link confusion. I flubbed up while typing in the shownotes. The problem should be fixed now.

  8. #8
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    Heartwarming

    It must be heartwarming to know that so many people are quick to contact you when the system hiccups.

  9. #9
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    Sorry, I just needed my fix this morning.

  10. #10
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    iTunes & Episode 7

    I subscribed to the excellent podcasts, but I'm unable to receive episode 7 via iTunes. I can download it as a straight mp3 but iTunes doesn't recognise it as a podcast. Also when I refresh the Astronomy Cast list it is telling me that the URL is wrong, but I haven't changed anything since I subscribed.

    Can anyone help to get this episode via the podcast in iTunes?

  11. #11
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    I can't get it via Itunes either.

  12. #12
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    Okay, it all seems to be working now. Let me know if you're still having problems.

  13. #13
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    Thumbs up

    Got it now.

    Good show this week, as usual. I'm glad you suggested finding a local astronomy club and hooking up with them before purchasing scopes. We (our club) is always fielding questions from people interested in getting a scope, and we encourage them to come on out to our observatory and see what we have to offer, perhaps join our club and hang out with us for a while before getting their own personal instruments. And hey, sometimes they just stick around and use what we have, since our observatory has a pretty good assortment of telescopes and auxillary equipment for the members' use.

    Around Christmas time we feature a page on our website on how to choose a telescope, with many links to sites online giving the latest information.

    Both Sky & Telescope and Astronomy have - on their websites - listings of clubs all over the USA and the world, and so does the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. There is also AstronomyClubs.com.

    The only thing I would take a small issue with is that it's not really "easy" to do astrophotography. I've done it for over 20 years and still don't find it easy. It's a learning opportunity at all times, but the rewards are great.

    Otherwise, keep up the good work. Can't wait until next week's show.

  14. #14
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    Great podcast, I look forward to getting to listen to ep 7 (I thought it was my iTunes having a problem).

  15. #15
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    Thank you. That was a great episode. I bought 20x80 astronomical binoculars with some of my wedding present money. I love using them, but they are heavy. More often than not, I use my eyes or my 7x35 binoculars that sit readily available on a bookshelf.

    I have one of those dinky $15 "telescopes". I don't think I've ever seen anything through it. Someone gave me an inexpensive department store telescope. It took me forever to find Saturn, and by the time I called over the kids, Saturn had drifted out of the field of view. It was very frustrating.

    I'll second the comment about astrophotography being within reach. I have taken photos of planets. You need to have a tripod and a way to have longer exposures. I do planet pictures on automatic. When several planets are together in the sky, you can photograph their rearrangement day to day as I did with
    http://www.spacew.com/gallery/image003799.html
    http://www.spacew.com/gallery/image003828.html

    For example, right now, Saturn is hanging out in Leo. You could take pictures over the course of weeks to show how Saturn moves against the background of stars. Oops! You have to be up early in the morning to do that now, but you get the idea.

    Paying attention to what's happening in the sky goes a long way.

  16. #16
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    iTunes OK

    Everything working fine now, great episode as usual.

  17. #17
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    Another excellent podcast and great advice for the budding amateur.

    The only thing I would add is my general rule of thumb when considering buying a telescope. If the main selling point in the advertising blurb or from the salesperson is the telescope's power of magnification then it is probably best to give it a wide berth.

  18. #18

    The other reason to join a club

    One of the unexpected perks to joining an astronomy club is being stumped by a 6 year old when she ask why a blue star is hotter than the yellow after viewing Alberio, or when an adult, upon looking at Jupiter, ask if it was Io where they found volcanos, and I can't remember the correct answer. Doing the public sessions for the museum, local nature society, etc., has been the most rewarding part of joining our local astronomy society. It is fun, and I've found that showing people the stars fails to disappointed often leading to some very interesting conversations.

    Not only is Astronomy incredible fascinating, it's even more fun to share.

  19. #19
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    Hey, thanks for reccomending binoculars in ep. 7! I never thought of that transitional step-I was proccupied with searching ebay for telescopes. :-) You guys make astronomy so much more worthwile.

  20. #20
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    And here's something to look at with those binoculars ... Comet SWAN (http://cometography.com/lcomets/2006m4.html) has brightened to maybe naked eye visibility in dark skies. I took out my 7x35 binoculars and found it. Definitely a fuzzy comet, but not much tail. Just a smudge. Then I pulled out my 20x80 binoculars and was sure I was looking at a comet even though there still wasn't much tail. Current photos on the page above show only a faint tail.

    Note that comets move, but it's in the western sky in early evening. I looked about halfway between Vega and Arcturus to find it. Arcturus is near the western horizon (follow the handle of the Big Dipper back to arc to Arcturus). Vega is overhead but toward the west. Pull out that planisphere Pamela mentioned to find Vega. The comet is the fuzzy thing halfway between them. At least tonight (26 Oct 2006) it is. And if the comet stays bright, it will be that that general vicinity for a few days.

    While we were out, my daughter also saw a meteor. And we checked out the Andromeda Galaxy. Using binoculars made it easy to get out there and see things.

  21. #21
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    Agreed. Very good in binocs.

    I looked at it a few nights ago, and again last night.

    I went out to our observatory early, observed it in our 16-inch SCT.

    Now for the new “Levy” comet. I was going to look for Faye, but upon going over my old notes I saw that one already.

    But SWAN goes into the log, as my 46th comet observed over the years. But I want more, you understand!!!! MORE!!!!!!!

  22. #22
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    Getting started

    I'm more than happy with my binoculars, in a light pulluted small town in England. The best compromise between light gathering and magnification and price I found were 7 * 50 's, recomended me by an astronomer friend. Also I found a cover CD of Starry Night Sky for my PC; a good cheap piece of planetarium software is great for identifying constellations and bright objects: I also keep cross referring to what I see in the binoculars to the real time PC image; easy to find comet swan that way!

  23. #23
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    I just started having problems with the podcast on my ipod last week. It restarts my iPod every time I try to play any of the episodes of astronomy cast. None of my other podcasts/songs/etc. are having this problem so I'm assuming that the problem is with the podcast and not my iPod. I re-downloaded all of the podcasts but I'm still having troubles with it. Is anyone else having similar problems or is my iPod messed up?

  24. #24
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    I had that problem, and what solved it was unsubscribing from the feed, then re-subscribing through iTunes. Worked like a charm.

  25. #25
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    iTunes 7 has been big trouble for podcasters.

  26. #26
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    Having trouble with iTunes?

    I had this very problem when I first subscribed and there is a solution.

    Within your iPod go to Settings then EQ, this you will need to make sure is set to OFF. This should stop your iPod turning itself off when you try and listen to some podcasts including the great Astronomy Cast.

    I hope this works for you.

  27. #27
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    Thanks--the problem was with the EQ.

  28. #28
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    I went the "join a local astronomy club first" route. I learned that the afforable 13" Dob i had picked out wouldn't fit in my car. I've settled on a 10 inch Dob with a computer push-to aid. The computer is, in my opinion, a must. It helps you learn to navigate the stars, rather than becomes the endless crutch.

    $200 seems a little low for a decent scope. But $200, i'm told, will get you a 6" reflector with a push-to computer on the used market. That would be very cool.

  29. #29
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    Virtual Astronomy - What's yer take on software like Starry Night?

    Thanks for the great concrete advice on amateur astrononomy equipment for beginners.

    I was wondering what your take is on another option you didn't mention -- virtual astronomical exploration via software like Starry Night Pro, which seems to be the market leader & is cross-platform (having originated on Macintosh way back when).

    Their flagship product, Starry Night Pro, is described here:

    http://store.starrynightstore.com/pro6.html

    And then they have a handful of related products ranging from much cheaper packages aimed at kids to more expensive super-duper versions for hardcore stargazers, described on this page:

    http://store.starrynightstore.com/compare.html

    I have no association with the company or vested interest in the product, but being a long-time Mac enthusiast I do know they've been around for a long time and gotten good reviews over the years.

    It seems to me such software wouldn't necessarily replace the more immediate thrill of directly observing astronomical phenomena, but could potentially be a worthwhile augmentation of direct observation and might help inspire and sustain interest for novices, especially kids.

    I haven't personally experienced either real or virtual stellar exploration yet, so I'd be interested to hear Fraser & Pamela's take, or anyone else's, on the value of such software in the pursuit of heavenly revelation. If the consensus is highly positive, you might also want to mention this option on the podcast itself.

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Delysid View Post
    Thanks for the great concrete advice on amateur astrononomy equipment for beginners.

    I was wondering what your take is on another option you didn't mention -- virtual astronomical exploration via software like Starry Night Pro, which seems to be the market leader & is cross-platform (having originated on Macintosh way back when).
    I use KStars (http://edu.kde.org/kstars/) which comes with the KDE environment and is free. KDE is one of the two standard windowing interfaces that comes with Linux, the other being Gnome. KStars has a huge database of stars and lots of cool features, such as the ability to select an object and forward to information and pics about that object on the web.

    To quoute the KStars manual:

    "KStars lets you explore the night sky from the comfort of your computer chair. It provides an accurate graphical representation of the night sky for any date, from any location on Earth. The display includes 126,000 stars to 9th magnitude (well below the naked-eye limit), 13,000 deep-sky objects (Messier, NGC, and IC catalogs), all planets, the Sun and Moon, hundreds of comets and asteroids, the Milky Way, 88 constellations, and guide lines such as the celestial equator, the horizon and the ecliptic."

    The downside for you Windows users is that I don't think it's possible to run KStars unless you want to create a partition and install Linux. Mac users can install KStars but to do so it's first necessary to install an X-Windows server and then KDE. Probably the best way to accomplish this is to install the Fink project (http://fink.sourceforge.net/) then the Fink Commander and from there you have most of the Debian apps ported to your Mac.

    This may sound odd to some people, but I have been wondering why bother with telescopes and things. It's a big investment and once you've seen what you can see, you've seen what you can see. There is a lot more cool stuff out there on the internet. Yes, it's exciting to see something like Saturn or Jupiter but I imagine that one can rent a good telescope for a modest price or visit an astronomy club to do so now and then.

    I had a reflector telescope some time back but I was never really was all that excitied with the results.

    One more thought - it would be cool if we could all virtually "look over the shoulders" of the astronomers doing work on the various telesopes around the world via the internet in real time.
    Last edited by eric_marsh; 2006-Dec-15 at 04:48 PM.

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