I’ve always loved astronomy, but it took me a long time to do something about it. I didn’t own a telescope, I only knew two constellations, and I lived in a place so light-polluted that the night sky was grey. I thought that because of my circumstances, I’d never get the chance to look at the stars. Thankfully, I was wrong! As I have learned over the last two years, astronomy is something that anyone can do from anywhere, and I want to share with you just how.
The main problem with astronomy is that it seems inaccessible: to do it, you need a dark sky, a telescope, and a fair amount of knowledge. Any one of those is hard to come by, let alone all three. Luckily for us, though, the astronomy community is tight-knit and full of people who can help you out. That’s why the first step any for aspiring astronomer is to find a group of other astronomers! Astronomy organizations and clubs are valuable resources; they provide information, tools, and a community of space nerds just like you. If you’re a part of one of these groups, all you need for astronomy is a love of the subject.
When you first start out, information is the one thing you can’t get enough of. Through astronomy groups, you can learn about celestial objects, telescopes, star charts, and much more! If you don’t know much about backyard astronomy, this is the best way to learn. Knowledge of the night sky (or lack thereof) is never an issue when you’re surrounded by people who have it in abundance and want to share.
Astronomy groups are also great if you don’t have any tools for stargazing. Many astronomy organizations host star parties, in which amateur astronomers gather with their telescopes to look at the stars. These can last from one night to one week and are super fun! Usually, star parties are open to the public, so if you want some time with a telescope, there’s no reason not to go. In my experience, star parties are a great way to get your toes wet with astronomy.
Lastly, astronomy organizations provide a community. Astronomy is better when it can be shared, and these organizations are created for that sole purpose. When you join an astronomy group, you open the doors to mentors, friends, and colleagues. An added bonus is that these groups often organize trips and events! What’s more fun than driving out to see an eclipse or to visit a dark-sky park with your friends? It’s not going by yourself, that’s for sure.
You might be thinking, “Gee, Katherine, this is great! But where on Earth am I going to find one of these organizations?” Well lucky for you, there are astronomy organizations in all fifty states (excluding DC, sorry folks) and thirty in Pennsylvania alone! I myself am a member of the Amateur Astronomy Association of Pittsburgh and the Astronomy Club here at Penn State.
For my fellow Penn Staters- if you want to get started right away, every Friday the telescopes on the roof of Davey Laboratory are open to the public!