Why stargaze? This article is by Francine Jackson, and was published in the May 2019 edition of ‘Sky and Telescope’ magazine.
Recently, a high school student emailed the Ladd Observatory, asking why someone would want to become an amateur astronomer. Eventually, it reached my desk. In his note, he asked for at least two reasons. I gave him six.
- First, just going outside and savoring the night. In addition to the beauty of the sky, you might hear many sounds of nature not present during the day, such as the chirp of crickets or the hoot of an owl declaring its territory. Also, for many the night air has a cleaner, fresher scent of its own.
- Second, looking up, you are immediately gazing back in time. You’re seeing planets and stars as they appeared from just a few minutes to possibly thousands of years ago.
- Third, the constellation patterns are part of our history and that of cultures around the world. Different peoples have connected the stars differently, and the myths they created about them and share with their children are closely aligned to their various societies.
- Fourth, the stars were also, for thousands of years, the only way people had for finding their way around the world. Long before GPS, any adventurers having to travel far form home – and return – had to depend upon their knowledge of the sky.
- Fifth, for many people with high-pressure jobs, peering up and savoring the beauty of the night sky is an incredible way to unwind and let the troubles of the world slip away. A friend who is a retired international pilot emphasized this to me once. While still working he would be gone for several days at a time, and when he returned, the first thing he would do was pull his telescope out of the garage, set it up in his driveway, point it upward, and relax. The world and he himself were now at peace.
- Sixth, many people enjoy being part of the amateur astronomy community. Many of them have little basic knowledge of the subject but want to commune with others and learn about the stars. And sometimes amateur astronomers discover a new object or see something no one has previously recorded, thereby aiding in the advancement of the science and possibly even gaining fame for themselves.
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