What future for casual astronomy?

Astronomically-related chat

Moderators: joe, Brian, Guy Fennimore

mike a feist
Posts: 3303
Joined: Sun May 11, 2008 6:11 pm
Location: Portslade, Sussex Lat 50deg 51min Long 0deg 13mins West
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by mike a feist »

Personally I would never buy a telescope with computer-drive and do not even like equatorial-mountings, although do occasionally take the odd digital-snap of skyscape and of course do use a computer ( when it works-----have been off-line for some time lately!). "Why stand outside when.........you can often observe through the window with small and medium-sized optics". Each to their own I guess but I like to look up and see the Moon, planets and stars and haloes, rainbows, sun and moonsets, and all the other spectacles for my self. maf
Eclipse
Posts: 917
Joined: Wed Mar 09, 2005 7:44 pm
Location: Costa Blanca, Spain 37.963N 0.738W
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by Eclipse »

peteuplink wrote:Took me ages to convert from VHS to DVD :mrgreen:
Betamax FOR EVER !!!!!
Coronado PST with SME-40 double stack H@ filter
G Burt
Posts: 158
Joined: Sat May 02, 2009 2:37 pm
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by G Burt »

I think there's every reason to be optimistic.

We're living through a golden age for casual astronomy where, largely thanks to digital technology, amateurs are producing results comparable to what the professional observatories were getting not so very long ago. We can see better and communicate better than ever before.

Regarding discoveries I'd say the key to success is dedication as much as the standard of equipment. From Galileo to Herschel to the present, a discovery is the occasional reward for a great amount of 'spade work'. T'was ever thus. No doubt, amateurs will soon be announcing exoplanet discoveries.

As for inventions, the best thing UK observers would benefit from would be a cloud filter :wink: . Maybe, before many more years pass, amateurs will have routine online access to space-based telescopes.

I wonder who will be the first SPA member to get into space on one of those sub-orbital flights?


Best Wishes,

Geoff
brian livesey
Posts: 5425
Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2006 11:05 am
Location: Lancashire
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by brian livesey »

When you get that cloud filter Geoff, please consider it a matter of urgency to inform the rest of us about it!
brian
Eclipse
Posts: 917
Joined: Wed Mar 09, 2005 7:44 pm
Location: Costa Blanca, Spain 37.963N 0.738W
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by Eclipse »

peteuplink wrote: Took me ages to convert from VHS to DVD :mrgreen:
You do realise that Betamax is technically the best system!
Coronado PST with SME-40 double stack H@ filter
Cliff
Posts: 6594
Joined: Sat Dec 11, 2004 8:18 pm
Location: Manchester
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by Cliff »

Dear Brian
Feeling a bit less grumpy than usual, I thought I'd stick my nose out again on this topic but trying to enter more into the spirit of the thing.
I really haven't got much idea what the long term future of casual astronomy might be. The currentdismal financial climate not helping me feel optimistic about things.
However, the stars have fascinated people (or some people) for a long time, arguably since people bgan. So it might be that some people will always stargaze.
Nowadays some people seem to be obsessed with stars (but not stricly of the astronomical kind) and some people seem obsessed with modern technological gadgets. So I think it possible the current popularity trend in amateur astronomy is likely to continue up at least for a while.
When I was a fairly active member of local astro societies I was puzzled because only a small percentage of society members seemed to observe the night sky much (if ever at all).
From what I hear now (and have noticed myself to a degree) is that astro societies seem to have increased their memberships a lot in the last few years. What I'm not sure about is - do a bigger percentage of astro soc members observe now - I assume there are more observers even if the percentage I've been talking about hasn't changed much.
Will more people star gaze (on their own?) in future,or will they just attend astronomy soc meetings ?
Will more people just do their astonomy on computers (although PCs seem to be getting a thing of the past ? but I'll swop that for electronic gadgets). MAYBE !!!
On the other hand are people going to experience a period of decline and with it not just an end of the World (or at least "people").
Who knows perhaps the World's population of people (and particularly the UK's will stabilise at a sensible level (no old codgers like me !) and everyone then will be proper stargaxers.
I'm not very optimistic about the future (at least in the foreseeable future) but in a longer term things hopefully will get better - but whether better in a sense that might suit me I wonder?
Best wishes from Cliff
PS - I now feel a bit less anti-WillHay than I did but not a lot - I quite like his comet photo displayed in Patrick's 2013 Year Book though.
mike a feist
Posts: 3303
Joined: Sun May 11, 2008 6:11 pm
Location: Portslade, Sussex Lat 50deg 51min Long 0deg 13mins West
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by mike a feist »

Hello Cliff (and everyone else).
I believe that despite all the hoohah of media excitement eventually everthing will settle down again with general upsurges from time to time when eclipses and comets appear. The division between casual and serious observers is difficult to nail down. For example, I take skywatching very seriously but do not use a very seriously-scientific approach and rarely report anything to the SPA Directorship anymore, preferring simply to share here the observations I make and hear what others of similar interests have seen. I doubt that that increases in membership of clubs and societies will lead to any great increase in observers . However I do not think that really matters. So long as information is available and useful equipment is affordable anyone who wishes to observe can do so.........the complexity and expense of high-end equipment might scare-off some people who might think that you have to spend a fortune, with fancy eyepieces costing more that an affordable but useable telescope or binocular.
Liked you comet - photos Cliff.........maybe you might just be re-inspired later in the year to vemture out crepuscularly when Comet Ison gets as bright or brighter!! regards maf (mike)
Cliff
Posts: 6594
Joined: Sat Dec 11, 2004 8:18 pm
Location: Manchester
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by Cliff »

Dear Mike et al(L)
Last year, a sort of distant relative (ie the other Grandpa, who - lucky for him - lives a long way from us) bought an all singing&dancing (fairly el_cheapo I think) telescope .
Not knowing anything about his apparent interest in astronomy, I only heard about his acquisition several weeks later. I tentatively asked him how he'd got on using it. He answered telling me that he had only tried to use it once - he apparently set the scope up as per instruction manual but the telescope failed to point in the correct direction (or at least not where he thought it should). As far as I know he hasn't used the telescope since - or at least he's never mentioned it ?
A neighbour of ours who knows about my interest in astronomy (and seems a little bit curious himself) recently told me that when on holiday he got friendly with another holidaymaker who had a mobile-phone that showed all the stars that could be seen in the night sky above where they were stood. He knows I don't have a mobile-phone myself !
I couldn't help wondering how many stars they actually identified in the real night sky with the help of his friends mobile phone, but didn't actually ask him.
Still since I've really given up night sky observing myself now, who am I to talk.
Best wishes from cliff
mike a feist
Posts: 3303
Joined: Sun May 11, 2008 6:11 pm
Location: Portslade, Sussex Lat 50deg 51min Long 0deg 13mins West
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by mike a feist »

Morning Cliff (and others) ; After many years of skywatching/astronomy I think that eventually one does need a particular focus for ones observing especially when the cold of the night and ones increasing age come together. I will go outside to observe in full nighttime if there is some really special that I want to see that I cannot locate through the window - perhaps a comet or eclipse of the Moon or occultation or conjunction of planets. Dawn+Dusk (crepuscular) observing mostly of rising/setting Solar System objects, Venus and Mercury, Moon, bright comets etc. is the best half-way viewing time, I think. The stars, constellations and deepsky objects or more or less just the background to follow the passage of the planets etc for me. Although I do observe on every possible suitable occasion, I probable spend half and hour to an hour at a time (depending on the target) and often much shorter time grabbing few minutes here and there to follow a comet or appulse-conjunction. regards mike maf
mike a feist
Posts: 3303
Joined: Sun May 11, 2008 6:11 pm
Location: Portslade, Sussex Lat 50deg 51min Long 0deg 13mins West
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by mike a feist »

The current Sky and Telescope magazine does have an article titled "The Future of Amateur Science" (refering to astronomy) which may be relevant to the original posting title although does not refer to "casual astronomy" as such. maf
Cliff
Posts: 6594
Joined: Sat Dec 11, 2004 8:18 pm
Location: Manchester
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by Cliff »

Dear Mike
As it happened I had already got the April "Sky and Telescope" mag you refer to.
It is the first S&T I bought for a year or more. I got it just because of the Comet Kohoutek article (which I thoroughly enjoyed reading). I only got round to reading the Future of Amateur Science article you just recently referred to after I read your post about - after which I felt reluctant to reply because I didn't like the article. It occurred to me I should read it again properly but haven't got round to it so far. If I get round to reading it again and change my mind I'll let you know !?!
Best wishes from Cliff
mike a feist
Posts: 3303
Joined: Sun May 11, 2008 6:11 pm
Location: Portslade, Sussex Lat 50deg 51min Long 0deg 13mins West
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by mike a feist »

Morning Cliff: I neither liked nor disliked it really, as it was dealing with an amateur astronomy with high-tech expensive equipment unlike that which I enjoy. In the past I might have had a few grumbles about the way the future was envisaged but each to their own, I guess.
The post-Patrick "Sky at Night"programme does seem quite good overall although I am not the only person who fears that it is perhaps being rather dumbed-down and children-orientated and I am not at all keen on someone doing bad impressions of Patrick for laughs either. Things like presenters asking "Are we downhearted because it is cloudy and we cannot see the night sky?" and getting a crowd of youngsters to shout in unison "No!" reminds me of pantomime. regards mike
Tony Markham
Posts: 172
Joined: Mon Oct 25, 2010 5:44 pm
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by Tony Markham »

The S & T article, as its title suggests, is about amateur science rather than amateur astronomy in general.

However, it is actually more narrowly defined than that. It is about the type of work that amateur astronomers can do that is of use to professionals in the short term (if you're on a short fixed term contract, you need to focus on short term events).

Most of the emphasis of the article is on how amateurs can make observations to support the current priorities of professional astronomers (e.g. astrometry of near asteroids , monitoring outbursts of cataclysmic variables, ...) or by alerting professionals to new events (e.g. activity on Jupiter, supernova discoveries, ...). Hence amateur astronomers are to be seen as "assistants" to professionals, although their only "payment" will be the feel-good factor of having supplied observations.

Much of the article is devoted to variable stars. However, although it briefly mentions the large databases of historical observations held by amateur variable star groups, most of this data covers types of variable (e.g. Miras, semi-regulars) currently out of fashion with the short term needs of professional astronomy ... and this raises a dilemma for VS groups - should they give priority to members whose observing programmes meet the current requirements of professionals (thus improving the prestige of the VS group, but risking losing other observers), or should they support all members whatever they observe ?

In reality, the reason that most observers observe is not because they want to make a scientific contribution. Instead, they observe because they like to observe comets, see meteor showers, track down deep sky objects, see stars change in brightness, ...

My only concern about the article is that readers may quickly scan through it and miss the fact that it is not about amateur astronomy in general. The danger always is that such articles can discourage amateur astronomers from making/reporting types of observations that are not currently "fashionable". Amateur astronomy groups and their Observing Sections exist for many reasons and only one of these is to help those observers who want to make a scientific contribution - a much bigger reason is to bring observers "together" and allow them to compare observations/experiences.
mike a feist
Posts: 3303
Joined: Sun May 11, 2008 6:11 pm
Location: Portslade, Sussex Lat 50deg 51min Long 0deg 13mins West
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by mike a feist »

Quoted : "In reality, the reason that most observers observe is not because they want to make a scientific contribution. Instead, they observe because they like to observe comets, see meteor showers, track down deep sky objects, see stars change in brightness, ..."
What more can I add to this...........I agree entirely, Tony. regards maf
Cliff
Posts: 6594
Joined: Sat Dec 11, 2004 8:18 pm
Location: Manchester
Contact:

Re: What future for casual astronomy?

Post by Cliff »

Dear Mike
I read "The Future of Amateur Science" article in April S&T again for a second time and it proved of no more interest for me than the fisst time I read it.
I decided to also read "Remembering Comet Kohoutek (by Dean Regas in that same S&T) again partly to satisfy myself about my earlier initial feelings. I again thoroughly enjoyed reading about Kohoutek, indeed so much I'm half inclined to keep the S& magazine - but I know my other half might not like that !!!
However, S&T page 4 says "38 The Future of Amateur Science - In a roboscope-dominated future, backyard observers will still pay an important role in astronomical research. By Pamela Gay."
The brief note at the end of the S&T article about PLGay suggests PLGay is an astronomer, but doesn't satisfactorily clarify for me whether, professional, amateur or CASUAL.
That got me thinking about "casual astronomy\astronomers" again.
I don't thinK have really changed my previous ideas very much ie thinking the word "casual" needs to preferably broadly used in fairly true sense (and when in real doubt I refer to a dictionary) - which doesn't always prove to my liking !!!!
However,for now I've decided that to differentiate between an astronomer and a casual astronomer as follows.
An astronomer records\logs their observations.
A casual astronomer doesn't keep records of what they look at.
I'm not suggesting that those should be definitive for other people in any way but it helps me personally.
I can now say that there was a time when I was a boy I was an astronomer, then for many years I was a casual astronomer, then I became an astronomer again.
Of course life is never simple I lost all my boyhood astronomical records long ago.
Best wishes from Cliff
Post Reply