Happy New Year! As this is the season for making resolutions I thought I share one of my resolutions. My “astronomy resolution” for 2017 is to spend more time using my telescopes. Looking back in my log, I did not do much personal observing in 2016 so I would like to do much better in 2017. And, when it is cloudy, I plan to devote time to reading and rereading the astronomy books I have in my library so I can optimize my time when I can get out observing.
That got me thinking about a common question we hear at outreach events. That question is how do I know what to look at? Most astronomers do extensive preparation before observing sessions. Part of this process is to determine what part of the sky will be visible from the chosen observing site at the planned observing time. Once that has been determined, references are consulted to see what objects are visible in that part of the sky. This leads to the compilation of a list of targets that may be found and viewed or photographed.
How can a newer astronomer make use of this approach? Perhaps the best method is to complete an observing certificate program. A number of astronomy organizations, including RASC, offer observing programs where a certificate is awarded for documenting the observation of a predetermined list of objects. The advantage of an observing program is that someone has already picked the targets so the participant’s task is to find them and record observations. Specifically, RASC offers the Explore the Universe (ETU) certificate as an introductory program with the goal of learning the basics of observational astronomy while observing at least 55 objects out of a list of 110. This list has been chosen to include a selection of interesting objects that can be seen with the naked eye or binoculars from locations in Canada.
The ETU program has been enhanced by the recent publication of a book aimed at providing support to earn the certificate; the new book is called Explore the Universe Guide. I recently received a copy and have been reading it with interest. It is well organized and benefits from the work of Brenda Stuart, a member of our centre, who contributed the illustrations. The book starts with some “map reading” skills introducing how to navigate in the sky. It then moves into descriptions of the various targets included in the ETU including the Moon, other bodies in our solar system, deep sky objects, and stars. The text is well written and there are many illustrations to help demonstrate the points being made.
I encourage members to consider working on this certificate program especially those who are newer to astronomy or have never completed an observing list. If sufficient centre members are interested in purchasing copies of Explore the Universe Guide, we may be able to place a bulk order which helps save the shipping charge on individual orders. Please let me know by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in participating in a bulk purchase. The book’s list price is around $19 (including GST) and the individual shipping charge is $7.25.
By the way, there are other observing programs offered by the RASC; the list is located at rasc.ca/certificate-programs.