Don’t Panic: Your Guide to Exploring Astronomy
First I would like to say, “Welcome to the Universe!” just in case you never got your welcome when you first arrived on Earth. So it looks like you found astronomy and you’ve fallen in love or perhaps you are just curious and would like to learn more. Well you’re in luck because my job is to deliver the good stuff I’ve discovered over the years that has made astronomy beautiful, amazing, and easy to digest and understand.
What you’ll walk away with:
After you’ve gone through this guide you’ll have learned the key areas in astronomy that will help you figure out where you’d like to dig deeper on your own. I’ll provide as many helpful resources as I can and hope that you can suggest your own if I missed something here.
So without further ado come join me and take this cosmic journey through the wonderful universe of astronomy!
It all starts with Carl Sagan:
We begin with the pale blue dot…
Astronomy truly is a character building experience as the late Carl Sagan once said. This is where it started for me and it doesn’t mean you need to start here as well but it’s worth wondering, what does astronomy mean to you? Why are you excited about it? What about it makes you feel wonder and joy?
The pale blue dot is a saying that really began when the famous Voyager 1 spacecraft was passing by Saturn and Carl Sagan suggested to NASA to take a photo of Earth. It was a strange request from NASA’s point of view because it had no scientific value and Earth would be too small for Voyager 1 to extract any real data.
However, Sagan was thinking of something deeper than just science. This was what made Carl Sagan special, the ability to speak of the cosmos through art and poetry. It was so humans could see how small and fragile our planet looked even within our own Solar System. Although, there was one big problem. The only way for Voyager to take a photo was to turn its satellite around and expose the antenna towards the debris flying through space. The satellite dome was the only thing protecting it from being damaged. Nevertheless, Sagan convinced NASA and they were able to take one of the most inspirational and important photos in astronomy. It took $250 million to build Voyager 1 and in turn to give us this poetic photo. I give you the pale blue dot…
The white dot you see on the right is in fact Earth; taken from 6 billion kilometers away. What is absolutely beautiful about this photo is that Earth is shown suspended in a Sun beam. You would never know that everyone you love and everyone you ever knew lived on that pale blue dot.
Credit: NASA / JPL
Where can I start learning about astronomy?
One of the best experiences I had in my life was meeting one of my heroes, Phil Plait. He truly communicates like he’s been friends with you for a long time. What’s even more fantastic is Phil partnered up with PBS in this wonderful collaboration called “Crash Course Astronomy.” I would highly recommend to start with this. It’s a free 47+ video series of astronomy and taught by one of the community’s best teachers and professional astronomers. What I love is that even veteran astronomers can still be wowed by some of the jaw-dropping facts and footage shown in this series. By the end of this video series you’ll be able to ask deeper questions around astronomy and amaze your friends and family with your knowledge.
Resources for Backyard Astronomy
If you want to look up at the night sky and take a tour through the stars then here is a great resource for backyard astronomy. I am actually super excited about this particular resource because it was sent to me by a fellow reader named Skylar! She is legit. Skylar is currently in a summer STEM program and is enthusiastic about science and astronomy. So thank you, Skylar, for this awesome recommendation 🙂
I also got a few other recommendations from Lake Jennings BSA Troop 325 and William and his daughter Sofia. Thank you all for the recommendations.
Resources for Online Astronomy Textbooks
If you’re the reading type then here are some resources to use for free:
Teach Astronomy is a fantastic site that I used when I took a course at university. I thought it was odd to use a site like this for school but after spending some time with it I later realized it was a fantastic free source.
Astronomy Notes is a little light on the web design aspect but it does provide excellent examples and material.
4 Amazing Astronomers and Scientists to Check Out
If you like a good personality or someone who can really explain astronomy or science in not only simple terms but poetic terms then look no further:
Here are 4 amazing scientists that really inspired me and may fill you with the same excitement I have. I’ll post some of my favorite videos by them. I highly suggest you check them out in more detail if interested.
Fantastic Websites to Help You Keep Up with Astronomy
There are many excellent sites that can give you the latest and greatest astronomy news. However, it can be tough to get the cream of the crop or keep your pulse on the news. So here are some resources to make things a little easier.
One of the best sites when it comes to keeping up on your astronomy news. I’ve tried many sites but this one has been wonderful in terms of quality and variety. I just look at the new ticker on the right and check it a few times a day to see what’s going on in the world of astronomy!
Universe Today is one of my favorite sites that has always felt like home whenever I visit it. It’s one of the few sites that brings the space community together with initiatives like Carnival of Space. Definitely check this site out.
Phys.org is wonderful for anyone who wants a little more detail and substance in the articles. I personally love this one as it opens up my vocabulary and challenges me to think more about the subject and details.
Space.com to me is one of the more mainstream astronomy sites. It has all the latest and greatest news and has a higher quality feel than other sites.
Latest NASA News
If you want the latest and greatest NASA news straight from the source then check this site out.