May 2006 Archives


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Or, diary of a novice amateur astronomer, part 1.

I have recently started giving more attention to something I've been interested in for a long time: astronomy. Part of this included being a little more "hands on"; that is, not only reading about it, but also going out there and doing something. Which, in the case of astronomy, means observing.

In my particular case, I am disadvantaged by the fact that I live in the middle of a large city. Not only is my field of view severely limited by tall buildings (and the lack of a backyard), but also light pollution effectively hides from view everything but the brighter bodies (so much so that it is almost impossible to identify constellations; the limiting magnitude from my place is very close to 0).

magnitude is a measure of brightness of celestial bodies; the lowest the magnitude, the brighter the body; Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, has magnitude -1.44; the magnitude doesn't change with time for most stars, but does change for variable stars as well as for planets, asteroids and other solar system bodies
limiting magnitude is the highest magnitude for which bodies are visible in a particular location (and viewing with a particular piece of equipment, if that's the case); for locations away from any light sources ("dark sky" locations), the naked eye limiting magnitude is usually around 6 for most people

In any case, one of my first steps into the observing world (or universe) was joining the Astronomical Society of Victoria (ASV). Apart from monthly general meetings, the society also has several special interest sections that meet regularly. It also makes available to members some observing facilities: a small observatory in the suburbs of Melbourne, a dark-sky site in country Victoria, portable telescopes for limited-time loans and some limited access to the historical observatory located at the Botanical Gardens. There are many benefits, such as a subject-specific library, but probably the best one is the contact with other similarly interested people.

The second step, in a way, was to acquire some observing equipment. I'm too much of a novice to be trusted with a decent telescope, and I didn't really want to spend money with a cheap one (since I don't plan on being a novice for too long, and I'd want a better one very soon). Binoculars, on the other hand, are reasonably inexpensive, easy to operate, portable and very good for beginners. I'll write about how to choose a binocular in the next article.

Now, I started this blog intending to write, at least at some level, about subjects related to software development (hence its title). I even did that, every now and then, and still plan on doing. So, if that's what you look for, don't despair: it will show up. Possibly even with an astronomical inclination.

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