Astronomy 101

5 Astronomy Tips which are also useful in General life

Astronomy (not to be confused with Astrology) is a beautiful subject. One of the few things which is visually appealing and mentally stimulating at the same time. You see something beautiful in the sky and are wowed by the visuals. You start understanding the science behind the phenomena, right from working of telescope to the fundamentals of planetary motions and in the entire process can’t help but think about existential questions of we as a human race. See, it’s Art, Science and Philosophy combined into one. But before you decide to grab a telescope and delve into this beautiful subject, here are some basics for you. Most of them are pretty common sense, but nevertheless a good reminder. Here we go –


Our Biggest Challenge is our own expectations

This might be true elsewhere in life too, but definitely true in Astronomy. Let’s face it, we are not going to use Hubble for skywatching and we aren’t going to see the visuals like those pretty pictures released by NASA. Not even close. The stars will not look the size of a football, no matter which telescope you use. Size of a pea is the reality and they will still look beautiful and surreal.

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Patience is the key

Astronomy isn’t fast food which can give you instant gratification. It’s like a multi-course meal, best enjoyed at slow pace. You will watch the same object with different eyepieces, each eyepiece showing a different aspect of the same object. It's not a netflix show which you can stream instantly. You need to find the object which may take few minutes to few hours and then track them as they keep moving because of earth's rotation. All these will take time. Be ready for that.

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Bigger is always not better

Normally, the bigger a telescope, the higher the magnification. But you don’t need higher magnification for all objects because higher magnification also reduces your field of view.
Some objects, especially clusters, are too wide to be fit completely in the field of view of a telescope. Binoculars are best placed to view such objects. Take Pleiades (Kritika or Seven Sisters) for example. Its true beauty is explored through a 10x binocular. Remember, a needle and a sword have different usage, so is the truth about magnification.

size does matter


The Universe Doesn't revolve around you

Every celestial object has a will of its own and their availability is a function of its position in the space. For example the moon will not be available everyday of the month and its size will change every day. Its rising and setting time will also change every day and no one can do anything about it. The same is true for planets and stars. There might be a full month when Saturn will rise after sunrise and set before the sunset and hence not visible to us. So plan your stargazing trip accordingly.

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Even the best laid plan can go awry

No matter however perfect is your plan, there is always a bit of uncertainty. You might have seen the sky charts and planned your night perfectly. But what about the weather. Unlike other events, its not just the rains which can destroy your plans. Even a hint of cloud will affect the visibility and ‘seeing’. Leave clouds, even some temperature gradient in the atmosphere (which causes turbulence) can affect the ‘seeing’. If you are travelling specifically to stargaze, take a day or two of buffer. Just like we book multiple safaris in hope of seeing a tiger, planning for multiple nights will be the pragmatic approach.

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