History of Astronomy



If the Internet has as many astronomy resources as there are stars in the sky, then think of the Astronomy Web Guide as your map to the best and brightest. Whether you're looking for planetary data, celestial gifts or fellow star seekers, we'll help you navigate the heavenly sphere of astronomy-related sites and tools on the Web.

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History of Astronomy

Astronomy is one of the oldest, most popular branches of science. Unlike practitioners of medicine and alchemy, ancient astronomers needed little more than parchment and their eyes to examine the heavens and keep track of what they saw. For modern practitioners, gaining astronomical knowledge is essential to appreciating the universe and contributing to the study of cosmology. Use the sites below to learn about the history of astronomy.

Insights for the History of Astronomy

  • The Internet is a great place to start astronomy research but for advanced research, visit your local library, museum or astronomy research facility.
  • Beware of sites posted by novices with outdated or incorrect information. As a general rule, the quality of a site (for example, organization and design) mirrors the quality of its information.
  • Educational television networks like PBS and the Discovery Channel have made many excellent documentaries and lectures available on DVD. Most can be purchased through the network's site or on Amazon.com. Some may also be available at your local library.

Top Sites for the History of Astronomy

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Astronomy Pictures

Images from outer space are among the most popular scientific artifacts today, capturing the attention and imagination of people regardless of their interest in astronomy. With the launch of major space-based telescopes in the 1990s, humans are seeing farther and clearer into the universe than ever before, and our catalog of astronomy pictures has increased exponentially. Much of this collection can be found on the Web.

Insights for Astronomy Pictures

  • Online art vendors like AllPosters.com and Art.com have large selections of professional-grade astronomy prints that may be difficult to find elsewhere.
  • Widespread use of digital photography has made it much easier for amateur astronomers to snap and post their own pictures. Browse their Web pages to find new images.
  • If you're looking for a specific image, do a search for it on Google Images.

Top Sites for Astronomy Pictures

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Buying Telescopes, Binoculars and Cameras

Buying telescopes, binoculars, cameras and other accessories is a big investment, and the salesperson at the optics store is hardly going to let you take something home for a night to test it out. Fortunately, the Web has plenty of resources for you to consult before taking the plunge.

Insights for Buying Telescopes, Binoculars and Cameras

  • There's a lot of technical jargon associated with buying a telescope. You can learn what some of it means at Space.com.
  • Before you begin shopping, try attending a local "star party." At these events, astronomy buffs get together with their telescopes, gaze at the sky, and talk shop about astronomy news and equipment. Trying other people's scopes will give you an idea of what to expect.
  • Telescopes, binoculars and cameras are precision instruments that can be bulky. Consequently, shipping can be expensive and risky, so buy from a local dealer when possible. If you buy from an online merchant, make sure it's professional.
  • If you're considering a specific telescope, camera or set of binoculars, type the make and model into a search engine and look for blogs where people talk about it. Hobbyists tend to be fanatical about equipment and enjoy sharing their opinions with peers.

Top Sites for Buying Telescopes, Binoculars and Cameras

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Finding Constellations, Planets and Objects in the Night Sky

Wouldn't it be great if you could actually find something other than the Big Dipper? The Web is your personal planetarium, helping you find constellations, planets and objects in the night sky.

Insights for Finding Constellations, Planets and Objects in the Night Sky

  • Most active observatories and planetariums have stargazing information on their Web sites. Find the site of the facility closest to you, as its information will pertain to your particular swath of the sky.
  • If you print anything to reference in the field, make sure to put a red filter on the light you're using to illuminate it. It can take 30 minutes for your eyes to fully readjust to darkness after a white Maglite blast.
  • When stargazing in cities or suburbs, be sure to use star maps that employ brighter objects as their points of reference, as dimmer objects can be rendered invisible by light pollution. Better yet, pack up the telescope and head somewhere with less luminary static. National parks, which enforce strict lighting ordinances, provide good vantage points.

Top Sites for Finding Constellations, Planets and Objects in the Night Sky

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Astronomy Clubs and Associations

The mantra of believers in extraterrestrial life rings true about astronomy buffs the world over: We are not alone. While staying home with the Zeiss and contemplating the cosmos solo has its charm, plugging into the astro-community and joining an astronomy club or association is the best way to keep up with the latest news, gadgets and gossip. Yes, there is astronomy gossip.

Insights for Astronomy Clubs and Associations

  • Most moderate-sized cities have an astronomy club, and large cities often have multiple clubs. If you can't find one using one of the sites in this section, visit your nearest college's Web site and send a brief, polite e-mail to an astronomy professor or two.
  • Astronomy clubs, observatories and other groups throw occasional "star parties" where members truck their telescopes away from city lights for optimal viewing. Larger regional parties, such as the McDonald Observatory's annual bash in Texas, are typically held in the summer and attract hundreds of people and guest speakers. Typing "(your city/state) star party" into any major search engine should yield positive results.
  • If you're more interested in the theoretical/physics side of astronomy than actual sky gazing, spend some time snooping around the blogosphere. Not surprisingly, people who are interested in dark matter and the "Big Bang vs. Steady State" debate tend to spend a lot of time on their computers.

Top Sites for Astronomy Clubs and Associations

For amateur astronomers ...
For professional astronomers ...
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Astronomy News

Developments in astronomy happen at the speed of light. While scientists scramble to make sense of the data pouring in from space missions and laboratories, journalists and bloggers are hustling to spread the word. This section will help you keep pace with astronomy news.

Insights for Astronomy News

  • There are enough professional journalists covering astronomy news that it is unnecessary and potentially foolish to rely on blogs, many of which are run by uninformed amateurs. If you do read astronomy blogs, be sure to note the education level of the writer.

Top Sites for Astronomy News

For amateur astronomers ...
For more advanced astronomers ...
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Volunteering in Astronomy

In 1995, the comet Hale-Bopp was concurrently discovered by two men: Alan Hale, a Ph.D.-holding astronomer, and Thomas Bopp, a factory manager who did not even own a telescope. This section is for both Bopps and aspiring Hales. Get information on volunteering in astronomy with the sites below.

Insights for Volunteering in Astronomy

  • Museums, observatories, libraries and schools are always looking for enthusiastic, curious volunteers. Their Web sites will often have volunteer information.
  • The biggest way to contribute to the field, of course, is to pursue a career in astronomy. This doesn't necessarily mean becoming an astronaut or peering through a telescope all day. Browse NASA's job page to get an idea of what's out there.
  • If you're a college student considering majoring in astronomy, you'd better have a good head for numbers. In academic terms, astronomy has become synonymous with astrophysics, and pro astronomers spend more time with big math equations than big telescopes.

Top Sites for Volunteering in Astronomy

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Astronomy Gifts

For years, friends and family of astronomy buffs were limited to museum emporia and shopping mall novelty stores for celestial gift ideas. Thanks to the Internet, a variety of astronomy gifts are just a click away.

Insights for Astronomy Gifts

  • Astronomers at all levels tend to be very picky about their stargazing equipment. Make sure you do some research before buying them any sky-watching tools.
  • Mega marketplaces like eBay and Amazon are good places to find astronomy books, DVDs and other media. Keep in mind whether your astronomy buff has a preference for "theoretical" (astrophysics) or "observational" (stargazing) astronomy. For the latter, a sky atlas might be a better choice than a NOVA documentary.
  • Most observatories and museums have gift shops on their Web sites, but the merchandise is nearly always overpriced. As a general rule, only browse here to get ideas, but make your purchase elsewhere.

Top Sites for Astronomy Gifts

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