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Astronomy

Astronomy is a hobby that has been practiced for thousands of years and has evolved over the years. Learning about the planets and constellations are intriguing facts that astound us since we are children. Getting started is very easy as all it takes is a view of the sky. More advanced users get some of the affordable and terrific equipment available.

Below is a terrific introductory article where you can learn the basics and how to get started. You can help grow our learning community by contributing your knowledge to the article. Just click on the edit tab in the wiki article below.

Use the white subtabs above to navigate the other Astronomy resources. We have a Astronomy forum where you can get your questions & doubts answered, a page with Astronomy how-to videos, a page with the best handpicked links to other sites, and a page with the best Astronomy books and products.

Good Luck and Have Fun!
Duncan Davis

 

Overview


Amateur astronomy, also called backyard astronomy, is a hobby whose participants enjoy watching the night sky (as well as the day sky too, for sunspots, eclipses, and other objects.), and the many of objects found in it, mainly with portable telescopes and binoculars. While scientific research is not their main goal, most amateur astronomers make a contribution to astronomy by monitoring stars, asteroids and discovering comets. Such efforts are one of the relatively few ways interested amateurs can still make useful contributions to scientific knowledge.




Telescopes


Most amateur astronomers will choose from the three most common types of entry-level telescopes; the refractor, the reflector, and the catadioptric.


 



Refractor telescopes


Refractor telescopes are a type of optical telescope that uses a lens as its objective to form an image (also referred to a dioptric telescope). The refracting telescope design was originally used in spy glasses and astronomical telescopes but is also used for long telephoto camera lenses. It is the earliest type of telescope, and although they are still available today and are an economical choice, they are often low power and are larger than other types of telescopes. Most amateur astronomers are looking for more power in a smaller telescope.


 



Reflector telescopes


A reflecting telescope (also called a reflector) is an optical telescope which uses a single or combination of curved mirrors that reflect light and form an image. The reflecting telescope was invented in the 17th century as an alternative to the refracting telescope which, at that time, was a design that suffered from severe chromatic aberration. Although reflecting telescopes produce other types of optical aberrations, it is a design that allows for very large diameter objectives. Almost all of the major telescopes used in astronomy research are reflectors. Reflecting telescopes come in many design variations and may employ extra optical elements to improve image quality or place the image in a mechanically advantageous position. There are many different types of reflector telescopes, including Newtonian ( a simple design popular with home telescope builders) and the Cassegrain (compact but less powerful).


 



Catadioptric telescopes


The catadioptric telescope is actually a type of reflector telescope, but which combine specifically shaped mirrors and lenses in designs that have all spherical surfaces that are easier to manufacture, have an overall greater degree of error correction than their all lens or mirror counterparts, have a wide field of view, take advantage of a folded optical path, or a combination of any or all of these attributes. Many types employ “correctors”, a lens or curved mirror in a combined image-forming optical system so that the reflective or refractive element can correct the aberrations produced by its counterpart, the basic reflector telescope.




‘Schmidt-Cassegrain’ telescopes are one of the most popular commercial designs on the amateur astronomical market, having been mass-produced since the 1960’s. The design replaces the Schmidt Camera film holder with a Cassegrain secondary mirror making a folded optical path with a long focal length and a narrow field of view. This makes for a compact telescope with the clarity of a refractor telescope but the power of a Newtonian reflector.


 



GoTo Telescopes


GOTO telescopes have become more popular since the 1980s as technology has improved and prices have been reduced. With these computer-driven telescopes, the user typically enters the name of the item of interest and the mechanics of the telescope point the telescope towards that item automatically. They have several notable advantages for amateur astronomers intent on research. For example, GOTO telescopes tend to be faster for locating items of interest than star hopping, allowing more time for studying of the object. GOTO also allows manufacturers to add equatorial tracking to mechanically simpler alt-azimuth telescope mounts, allowing them to produce an overall less expensive product.