I am an amateur astronomer who takes advantage of the night skies on Schooley's Mountain. After Suzanna Nussbaum's intriguing iPhone photo of the transit of Venus sparked interest, I asked Jason if he thought a routine astronomy column might interest readers. He suggested this blog.
I’m not an expert at locating all the major stars, constellations or deep sky objects. I can’t take the simplest astro-photographs, or even own the equipment that would allow it. However, I am totally drawn in by astronomy's enormous gravitational pull. For the past three years, I've been absorbed with the night sky and all things astronomical. By any standard, that classifies me as obsessive, but still a novice. That's OK. An amateur is someone who does something for the love of it–no points for expertise.
In my first (last?) Patch entry of astral ramblings, it’s appropriate that I provide some autobiographical context. 2009 marked the International Year of Astronomy commemorating 400 years of humankind's magnified view of the night skies. Four centuries had passed since Galileo first aimed the then recently invented telescope to the heavens. Since August of that quadricentennial year, I have unabashedly thrown myself into astronomy and found focus in astronomy outreach, especially getting kids excited about the universe. Shortly after joining the N.J. Astronomical Association (njaa.org) in nearby High Bridge, I began working with their Young Astronomer's Program. I'm also a Qualified Observer at the club's Paul Robinson Observatory at Voorhees State Park providing facility tours and telescope viewing for visitors.
Project ASTRO-Nova participation includes visits to nearby third and eighth grade classrooms, where along with my teacher/partners, we challenge students with age-matched activities that reinforce lessons about things otherworldly. A significant component of my outreach is conducting star parties for civic organizations as well as for friends and neighbors and their friends and neighbors. For me, it's all about the "ooohhhs!" and "aaahhhs!" when youngsters and oldsters step up to the eyepiece and are transcended by the sights. The National Park Service accepted my application to be an Astro VIP (volunteer-in-park) each fall at Acadia National Park on the Maine coast. I am a night sky ambassador for a month at the Schoodic Education Adventure an hour north of Bar Harbor. (http://www.sercinstitute.org/education/schoodic-education-adventure-residential-program)
During the three-day program aimed at Maine middle schoolers, groups take advantage of the park’s islands, tidal pools and forest trails for biodiversity, chemistry, geology and mapping studies. After sundown and a bonfire, they drink in the dark night skies at my scope before crashing to sleep in their bunks.
My aim is to use this space to share random astronomy musings or promote an upcoming, night-sky happening that might be of interest. I'll try to give you a "heads up" to all the major sky events for the upcoming month. My up-front apologies for the ones I know I’ll miss.
For this first column's astro find, I want to share a link with Patch readers to a daily photographic feed from NASA–"The Astronomy Picture of the Day"(APOD). This site provides one picture each day, and only one–no huge data dump. A brief description and photo credits accompany each of the often spectacular photographs. I have the APOD app on my smartphone where each day's picture is the screen background until it's replaced by the next day's photo. How cool is that?
Check it out! The site is easy to use, indexed and lets you retrieve any of their thousands of archival photographs. ( http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html )
Thanks to those of you who stumbled onto this patch of the Patch and persevered to the end. Please give your feedback. Would a continuing astronomy column interest you? What's the right frequency? What topics or space objects interest you most? A tip o’ the hat in advance for your comments.
In reality, anyone can become an amateur astronomer. All you have to do is say that you're an amateur astronomer and then start looking up ... just watch your step in the dark!