Springer

Library of Congress Control Number: 2005938491

ISBN-10: 0-387-30776-1 Printed on acid-free paper.

ISBN-13: 978-0387-30776-3

© 2006 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC

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Printed in the United States of America. (EB/BP) 987654321

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"Daddy, I wanna get a ladder and touch the Moon"

Robert Michael Borgia Age 3

Contents

Introduction ix

1 The Integrated Observing System. Part I: Your Eyes 1

2 The Integrated Observing System. Part II: Your Equipment 19

3 Putting the Integrated Observing System Together 51

4 First Night Out 71

5 Mysteries of the Moon 83

6 Secrets of the Sun 103

7 Mercury, Venus, and the Inner Solar System 119

8 The Enigmas of Mars, the Red Planet 141

9 Comets and Asteroids, the Cosmic Leftovers of Creation 159

10 Jupiter and Saturn, Kings of Worlds 175

11 The Outer Worlds; Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and Beyond 195

12 Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (Now Knock It Off!) 207

13 Faint, Fuzzy Things. Part I: Phenomena Galactica 227

14 Faint, Fuzzy Things. Part II: The Island Universes 249

Appendix A

Object Listing 271

Appendix B

Scales and Measures 277

Appendix C

Resources 281

Index 283

Introduction

For years, the images have blazed through your imagination. They are the magnificent full-color photographs returned by the Hubble Space Telescope and its sister Great Observatories1 of the grand depths of the cosmos. From the "pillars of creation," considered to be Hubble's signature image, to the incomprehensible depths of the Hubble Deep Fields to the intricate details imaged in the surface and cloud tops of Mars or Jupiter, the power of the Hubble Telescope to turn on the public to science is unparalled in the history of modern culture. They also have spurred new telescope sales to unimagined highs. And after years of watching the heavens through the eyes of NASA, you've decided it's time to see it for yourself. You make the trip to the department store and pick up that shiny new "500x" telescope, set it up and soon you're in business.

Unfortunately, the high initial expectations usually give way to disappointment. Instead of seeing the magnificent swirling clouds of gas in the Orion Nebula, you see a pale green-gray cloud with a couple of nondescript stars lurking nearby. The swirling red, yellow and brown storms of Jupiter are nowhere to be seen; only varying shades of gray in the planet's cloud bands, assuming you can see bands at all! And Mars? After waiting all night for the red planet to rise up over the morning horizon, you are greeted by nothing more than a featureless reddish-orange dot. After a few weeks of this, the telescope suddenly is no longer making the nightly trip outside. Soon the scope only gets outside one night a week and not long after that, it becomes a place to hang laundry. It need not be that way for the sky you long to see is out there. You just need to learn how to see it. If you are that person,

1 NASA's "Great Observatories" include the Hubble Space Telescope (launched 1990), the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (launched 1991, de-orbited 2001), the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (launched 1999) and the Spitzer Space Telescope (launched late 2003).

then this book is for you. If you own a larger telescope and feel you have run out of challenges, then you've got the right book too. One thing that many people who do not study the sky don't understand is that astronomy is the one and only science where ordinary people with an ordinary education can make the discoveries that electrify the public and even alter the course of modern science. Amateurs discovered the great comets Hale-Bopp, Hyakutake, West and Ikeya-Seki. Amateurs today are even helping to discover new planets around distant suns. Indeed, with the attention of most professional astronomers focused on non-visible wavelengths, most major discoveries made in visible-light astronomy today are made by amateur astronomers just like us.

The opportunities for discovery, learning and wonder are absolutely endless, but it also takes an enormous amount of work. If you're willing to do it, then please read on. I wrote this book to share with you what I have had to learn through hard trial and (a lot of) error. I hope to share with you so as to limit your frustration, increase learning and most of all expand your joy in this amazing hobby and limitless science. We'll begin in the pages ahead by discussing the critical elements of the integrated observing system. This system has three critical components all of which must work correctly and in harmony for you to have success. These are the observer's eyes, his equipment, and lastly his brain. A perfect scope and flawless vision are useless without the knowledge of how to use it and of what it is you are looking for, what to expect when observing and why that particular object is of such interest. A well-trained mind and a perfect scope are of little use if the eyes are in poor health or are adversely affected by factors external to the eyes or external to the body. Perfect eyes and a well-trained mind will not perceive very much if the telescope cannot produce a sharp image because it is poorly maintained or its optics or mounting are of poor quality. Our first three chapters are about preparing and training the eyes, acquiring the right equipment for your particular needs including some frank advice about how to shop for that first serious telescope, then we will talk about training the mind, the need to gain knowledge and then putting it all together to make observing fun, enriching, and satisfying.

Once you have all the tools in place, we'll go out in the field for a test run and put our eyes, brain and telescope to work. We'll walk through a typical first night in the field by planning and executing an observing session where time can be an issue, both in terms of being ready for a precise moment and making use of time of limited quantity. The first night out can be the most wonderful night of your life as an amateur astronomer, or the night that turns you off the hobby completely. We'll talk about how to make it the former rather than the latter by teaching you to manage your time, your equipment, yourself and perhaps most importantly, your expectations.

Now that you've put it all together, in the next ten chapters,we will take the grand tour of the universe, starting close in with the Moon then making our way further and further out into space. In each chapter, we will do three things. First we'll talk in depth about each object as a physical entity. We'll then talk some about the history of that object from the point of view of the human experience, how did we come to know what we know and why is it important to us? Knowledge is what in turn makes us curious; it is as much a part of being human as breathing. A small primer to arouse curiosity makes us seek more knowledge. That in turn makes us more curious. The desire to gain knowledge is therefore self-perpetuating so long as we can continue to satisfy our curiosity. As long as we can satisfy that urge, then the hobby will remain satisfying and self-fulfilling. Finally we will help manage expectations. You will never see in the telescope what the amazing pictures returned by the Hubble or Keck telescopes can. For this reason, all the images produced in this book are my own. I am a very amateur astrophotographer and I'm still working after many years on mastering the art of image processing (unsharp mask, anyone?). The pictures are far from perfect in many cases because most of what you see in a telescope is far from perfect, not to mention the photographer. The motion of Earth's atmosphere distorts the planets and the nebulae and galaxies are washed out by light pollution. Astrophotography is an enormous challenge, as my own images prove over and over. The pictures more accurately represent what you might see in an actual telescope.

Finally we will challenge you. Each chapter ends with a series of projects that will show you how to do so much more than simply gaze through a scope. You will challenge and train your eyes, learn how to pick the right equipment for what you want to do, how to organize yourself and how to gain knowledge. You will track sunspots, locate the Apollo landing sites, study the geography of Mars, wonder at the remarkable resonance of Jupiter's moons, and discover why Mercury and Venus behave so differently from each other. We'll learn the techniques that amateurs just like you and me use to hunt the sky for comets or rouge asteroids. We'll go into deep space and discover how astronomers learned to measure grand distances in the universe, watch stars brighten and fade both predictably and unpredictably. We'll take the grand view and the up-close view of nebulae, galaxies and clusters and learn from where each type came and what makes each object important to us. Then we will discuss Messier's famous catalog and learn how to earn amateur astronomy's ultimate right of passage, finding every object on that list in one single night.

Ready? Then let's go stargazing!

CHAPTER ONE

The Integrated

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- Part I: Your Eyes

One of the most terrible misconceptions about astronomy that those who are first getting into the hobby have is that it's an easy source of instant gratification. Set the scope up, look through it and be amazed. Astronomy, like many hobbies just does not work out that way. Your ability to be successful and have enjoyment in astronomy is based entirely on your willingness to work at the art-form of observing and the quality of your equipment. If you've ever played golf (I have and I use the word loosely), you will understand this. It takes many years of practice, consistent effort and a willingness to study the game to make a good golfer. A good player also needs the proper equipment. He needs clubs that are the right length for both his body and arms. The clubs must be of the proper flexibility for your game's strengths and weaknesses. Stiff shafts deliver more accurate shots while flexible shafts deliver greater distance. You just do not walk on a golf course and expect to play "all-square" with Tiger Woods. A good golfer is a complete integrated system, the perfect marriage of clubs, player, practice and ability. Just the same, you should not expect to step up to a department store telescope and be able to instantly see all the grandeur that the heavens have to offer on the first night. You need to have the right equipment and you need to have the willingness to learn how to use it and care for it. Your eyes, your brain and your telescope are all part of an integrated observing system. Visual astronomy is an art-form as much as it is a science. Success is based on equal parts of quality equipment, carefully honed skills and good fortune. Astronomy, like any challenging hobby, is very hard work.

About twenty years ago, I had reached that critical mass point in amateur astronomy. My "500x" Tasco department store telescope had basically become a coat hangar in my bedroom. Its 50 mm (2 inch) objective lens adequately showed the disk of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and the phases of the Moon and Venus. But under the moderately light polluted skies of northwestern New Jersey, even the sky's brightest deep sky wonders were virtually invisible to me. Anything fainter than the naked eye threshold was invisible. Though I was twenty years old and working my way through college, I saved carefully and purchased a Celestron Super C8 Plus in May 1986. I was able to turn it into the night sky in time to catch the retreating Comet lP/Halley, just before it disappeared into the cosmic deep for another seventy-six years. This proved to be my first great disappointment. Though it appeared larger and brighter in the new telescope, it still appeared dull and featureless. I was puzzled at reading the descriptions of the comet written by the leading amateur astronomical observers of the time who were using equipment much the same as I was, many in the same general area of the country. They described it as dynamic with many differing features in both the coma and tail that I just could not begin to make out. Why was this? It was because I did not know how to see.

The Apollo-era geologist Farouk El Baz once said, "Anyone can look, but few really see." "Seeing" is the great skill that makes an astronomer successful at the eyepiece. Learning how to see requires a great deal of patience and practice. It also requires some understanding of how the most important piece of astronomical equipment you own works, your own eyes! The human eye is an amazing evolution in biological optics. It is one of the few sight organs belonging to any species that is capable of imaging both faint light and in color. Cats, for example, have extremely keen night vision, but are completely color-blind. What is sometimes difficult to understand about the human eye is that the eye cannot image color and faint light at the same time. First, lets take a closer look at the eye and the way it is built. We will then discuss several important observing considerations and techniques that affect the way the eye works and the way the brain perceives. These factors include dark adaptation, the use of averted vision, light pollution, the condition of both the physical organism (you) and the condition of the atmosphere.

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