Astronomy

Astronomy can be as simple or as complicated as you want it. You can look at the sky without any equipment or you can buy yourself any number of fancy telescopes. You can watch a YouTube video or you can go to college for your PhD. You can do it for fun, to take pictures, or to collect data. You can do it alone or with others. You can do it in a city (although with the light pollution you're only gonna see the brightest of stars) or you can do it out in the country. You can have absolutely no knowledge or as much knowledge as you can ingest. All you really need is a desire to look up at the night sky.

I'm the kinda person who loves to learn. I started out with just my Celestron NexStar 130 SLT, which is a 130mm Newtonian telescope. I was able to use the computerized mount with the hand controller to locate exact stars for viewing. I was enthralled with the clear views of stars, and soon invested in the Celestron NexImage color burst camera so I could take photos of what I was seeing. I also added a 90mm Maksutov-Cassegrain so I can get a different view of the sky. It's been great for looking at planets in our own solar system.

 

I've slowly added bits and pieces to my setup since then and feel like if I only had a permanent place to set up I'd have an honest-to-goodness observatory going on.

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Once I got my viewing equipment, I got kinda lost deciding what to look at. There were so many options available to me! I spent a lot of time taking pictures of the moon, Saturn, even a couple of nebulae. But being a goal-oriented person I started losing interest in going out to look at the stars because I didn't know where to go from there.

Then I got the bright idea to start looking at stars that had exoplanets in the habitable zone. I still loved aliens, so I thought I'd look for them. I started doing research and found a list of stars with potentially habitable exoplanets on Wikipedia and off I went. The list is great but I got super frustrated that many of the stars weren't even visible from the Northern Hemisphere, and the ones that were weren't of a high enough magnitude to see through my telescopes, either because they were dimmer stars to begin with or they were just too far away. Once I finally found a couple stars I could work with (Wolf 1061 and Ross 128), my next step was to figure out what data I would need to collect and how to record it. More internet research followed, and with that a new revelation.

On a deep dive of the NASA website, I found a section dedicated to exoplanet research. There I not only found the tools I needed to capture and record data, but a whole community of amateur astronomers who were doing the same thing I wanted to do. I headed on over to the linked site for AAVSO-the The American Association of Variable Star Observers. This is a community of amateur astronomers working with NASA employees to observe stars that change in brightness, which could indicate a planet transiting across its orbit. They weren't just looking at already discovered exoplanets, they were looking for new ones! 

So that's how I ended up on my current path. I joined the AAVSO community and am putting together real plans to collect real data that will be shared with both the AAVSO community but also with NASA. My goal-oriented brain is super happy, and my inquisitive side is chomping at the bit to get started. I'll be posting all of my adventures in astronomy and the data I collect on my blog, so if you want to check it out feel free to pop over there.