Observatories (Ground Based Astronomy)

Once the telescope has been acquired, it may well be necessary to construct a simple observatory or telescope housing. Telescopes are not elegant additions to domestic furnishings, and one with an. aperture above 150mm is likely to be awkward to manoeuvre. Local climatic conditions will to some extent dictate the type of observatory to be built. Almost any kind of weatherproof material (treated wood, aluminium, plastics, or fibreglass) may be used. The main consideration is to protect the instrument from damage when it is not in use, and yet allow easy access on clear nights. It is, incidentally, quite absurd to suppose that good observations can be made by pointing the telescope out of the window of a heated building, as local atmospheric turbulence will affect the image seriously.

An example of a simple and cheap observatory is the run-off shed. Such a shed is in two halves, both of which slide away from the instrument on a rail track. Another arrangement would be a rectangular shed with a flat roof that slides off, or hinges open; unless designed carefully, these can restrict the amount of sky that is accessible. Ambitious amateurs occasionally erect an observatory that is basically a miniature version of the professional domes. Constructing the hemispherical dome itself is not hard, given the extensive range of suitable man-made materials available, which make skilled woodworking unnecessary.

A good telescope brings many interesting and rewarding projects within range, but it is usually even more satisfying to undertake them in conjunction with other amateur astronomers. One way to get in contact with other observers is to join a local or national society. In certain areas of study, especially variable stars, the national societies are often well organized for collecting and sifting the data from amateurs, and publishing it in a form that is suitable for professional researchers. Other activities, such as observing particular planets in detail, can produce more comprehensive results if undertaken by a team. Joining a society will also put you in touch with people of experience and thus enable you to become a skilled practitioner more quickly. Contact with other astronomers either directly or through amateur journals provides an essential stream of new ideas, as well as details of interesting new developments in the night sky.

Once an astronomer is reasonably skilled, more speculative programmes can be considered. Examples of this are nova and comet seeking: nova outbursts and new comets are frequently discovered by amateurs; elite corps have found several of each in advance of the professional observatories. This type of work is demanding, but suits people who want to achieve a degree of recognition for their skills. There has not been a supernova visible in the Milky Way since the invention of the telescope. When the next one does occur, the chances are that a dedicated amateur will spot it first.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *