my editorial FOR LOVERS OF THE NIGHT SKYAre you a stargazer? An astronomy junkie? Just a lover of the night sky? You're not alone. In loving the night sky a person is never and can never be disappointed. To love the night sky is to love creation, and to love creation purely is a lofty, noble, precious affection. To embrace their love, many people (teens included) study astronomy. And yet, what exactly is astronomy? Instead of getting into a huge definition, to put it simply, astronomy is the study of the physical heavens--a huge, complex scientific field that consists of physics, mathematics, design and beauty. But once you lie on your back in a cool field of grass, staring up into the satiny blackness of the night sky and pondering over the brilliancy of the stars and the innocency of the quiet moon, all of that technical stuff just fades into the background. All you can think about is how exquisitely designed such a beautiful night sky really is. That's why, instead of getting into deep studies of astronomy as to make it a profession, many turn to "freelance astronomy," or just, plainly, studying the night sky as a hobby. To make the night sky your hobby is a commendable step indeed. But where should a person, with little or no scientific background whatsoever, turn to in order to begin this heavenly hobby? Start with books. Of course, as you've probably already realized, bookstores and libraries offer an almost unlimited suppy of books dealing with astronomy. But there are ways to narrow down your search and find only the essentials. Go to Amazon, the world's largest bookstore, and begin your search. Type in "stargazing" or other search words that, according to your personal needs at the time, will bring up books catered to you personally. Of course, your search will probably bring up a dizzying assortment of books. That's why you should check out the Astronomy Book Club. This club brings you the information you need to make the most of your viewing experience. "Join the Club and start exploring the skies today!" But if the 'net doesn't satisfy your reading needs, go to your local library. There you'll find a modest selection of some excellent choices in the astronomy-science field, and you don't have to empty out your wallet to take a few home. If you've already got your books, but you want more information without spending a fortune or a lot of time reading a thick volume, go online for juicy, essential, and sometimes thankfully non-complicated information. http://www.planetary.org/ is "Your connection to the exploration of the solar system and the search for life in the universe." http://www.astronomy.com is an interesting site to visit, as well. "Astronomy" is the most popular English-language magazine in the universe for astronomy enthusiasts, and the site boasts news of universal appeal, "photo of the week," a chance to subscribe to the magazine and buy stuff from the catalog. And as long as you're online, don't pass up the chance to see another unique astronomy-lovers site--http://www.astronomyonline.com, a site that contains antique astronomy texts, Java-based astronomical simulators, the Observer's Checklist to plan a night of amateur astronomy, bookstore, photos, astronomy clubs, and more. All right--you've got your books, you've got your extra information, now all you've got to do is find a good pair of binoculars or a sweet little telescope to use in pursuing your stargazing dream. No need to go out searching. You merely need to make a few clicks online with your credit card and you've got a brand-new pair of binoculars (along with anything else you might need) on its' way to your doorstep. There are two excellent must-see equipment sites: Sky & Telescope's Online Store, an excellent shop that offers "the galaxy's best selection" of astronomy books, software, star atlases, observing guides, calendars, gifts, and more; and Orion at Telescope.com who carries a large selection of high-quality telescopes, binoculars, and related accessories, and boasts satisfaction guarantee purchases, plus sales and web specials all the time. A highly fascinating site where you can not only buy stuff for your hobby, you can also get vital news stories, Orion's free catalog, the monthly sky calendar and today's lunar phase. But a stargazer cannot live by books, facts and equipment alone. A stargazer needs inspiration. And there are plenty of places to go to get that bright ounce of inspiration to jump-start your evening of gazing. How can you get inspiration? By poring over the fruits of astronomy-lovers labor: photographs. Where do you go to see these photos online? Go to http://www.nasa.gov for practically every lovely, interesting and fascinating photograph of the universe except pictures of little green Martians. Nine Planets picture list is a site for references to many pictures of the solar system that can be found on the 'net. And if these photo-rich sites aren't enough for you, before you log-off to grab your binoculars go to the Astronomical Image Library, where you'll find thousands of images of astronomical objects available on the web. In addition to a list, you'll find a kind of search engine that allows you to search for locations of astronomical images. It's an excellent resource when you need to find an image of a particular object and don't want to deal with the full-featured search engines. When you use the above-mentioned sites, especially the photo-rich ones, not only will you be inspired to pursue your new love of the heavens, you'll be amazed at how large and rich this scientific field really is. Curiosity and fascination will propel you further into this hobby, and as you go, whether you're exploring the 'net or pondering the night sky, you'll see that disappointment never comes. This hobby is one that will satisfy, enrich, and enthrall you. Your love for the creation of the starry heavens will only grow.
- Sharon Moeller
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