The end of the year is always a good time to examine the events of the year. With 2015 coming to a close, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on my experiences in astronomy over the past 12 months.
I began my astronomical year viewing Jupiter and its moons, Saturn with its moons, and the globular cluster M13 through my shiny new 8-inch Dobsonian telescope, which gave me a new perspective of the cosmos. I have seen these objects before, but with my new telescope, I was able to view them with higher magnification than I could previously. I also kept a log of my finds for several reasons. It helped me keep track of my finds, compare seeing-conditions, and to note any potential changes with or near any of the objects I viewed.
Over the next 8 months, I was able to rediscover another 74 star clusters, galaxies, nebulae, and moons of Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. I had even managed to find Pluto for the first time as well! Though it didn’t appear as much more than a reddish pinprick, it was still exciting to see.
Perhaps my favorite object of the past year that I viewed was the M51 galaxy. Spotting galaxies and the deeper-space objects was the biggest reason I chose to get an 8-inch telescope, and M51 certainly did not disappoint. To see a distant galaxy with your own eyes is a joy all its own. To see a smaller galaxy being swallowed up by another is indescribable.
I was also amazed that I could take some photos using the camera on my smart phone. I was only able to capture planets and the moon, but I was suprised that I was able to get all of the outer planets. Of course, some editing was required to enlarge and brighten some of the images, and in the case of Uranus and Neptune, many (many) tries over several weeks to get a suitable image. It was fun though, and well worth the hassle. My favorite images that I took myself were the pictures of Uranus and Neptune, since they were difficult to take, but also because they are of decent quality considering that I used a cell phone camera and didn’t use any kind of astrophotography setup.
Another image I have taken and grown quite fond of is of the area of the landing site of Apollo 15 on the moon. The Apollo 15 site was the easiest for me to find of the 6 landing sites. No Earth based equipment can give a sufficient magnification to spot the lander or tracks, but it was still amazing to me to find an area where humans once visited and walked on the moon! Hadley Rille, one of the objectives of the Apollo 15 mission can be seen as a thin line just to the right of the small, thinner mountain range to the bottom right of the red circle. To compare, look at the size of Hadley Rille in the image I took and look at the image below of the lunar rover near Hadley Rille taken by Apollo 15 astronauts on the moon:
A big thing I have learned through my experiences this past year is that astronomy is connected to other subjects. The ancient Greeks considered astronomy as a branch of mathematics along with music, geometry, and arithmetic, forming what they called the Quadrivium. In my experience, astronomy is connected to mathematics, physics, and philosophy, which all help us to understand the universe and our place in it.
The connection between astronomy, math, and physics is obvious. But why philosophy? I found that gazing upon a distant galaxy or star-forming nebulae invokes some philosophical concepts, such as everything that is not made of pure hydrogen came into existence due to stars, stellar fusion, and supernovae. Also, wrapping one’s mind around the vast distances involved with the universe, the fact that distant objects appear as they were millions of years ago when the light left the objects and no longer appear the same, nor are they in the same position, and even the fact that everything in the universe is in motion, but all motion is relative requires some heavy duty deep thinking!
Finally, I would like to touch upon some historical components to the hobby of astronomy. It’s easy to forget sometimes that the telescope has only been in existence for around 400 years, with high-quality telescopes only becoming available (and affordable) in the 20th century. Until the 1930’s, we didn’t even realize that “spiral nebulae” were actually not contained within the Milky Way and are actually other galaxies. And until the 1990’s with the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope, we didn’t have clear, high magnification, high resolution images of deep space objects.
It is easy to see the mistakes of ancient and early astronomers when you view some of these objects from your backyard and you realize that they didn’t have access to the imagery or information that we have in today’s age. And while no amateur (or Earth-based) telescope can match the views of Hubble or the other space-based telescopes, it’s still a wonder to see deep space objects from your own backyard. And, standing on the discoveries of all the astronomers who came before, we can understand and have a more deeper appreciation of the objects we see!
So, as we head into 2016, we look to build upon the lessons of the past (in astronomy as with life) and gain an even deeper understanding of our universe. I look forward to seeing more objects and expanding my skill at finding them in the upcoming year. I wish everyone a happy new year, and good luck in life and with your own astronomy adventures!
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