Whether you are a parent, teacher, student or simply an interested enthusiast, here are a number of interesting sites, podcasts, and social media people for you to draw on as you get going in amateur astronomy.
Podcasts provide an amazing resource – all free. Most are available via iTunes, the original publishers’ websites, or a raft of other podcast aggregators. There are very good apps to allow you to download podcasts to your smartphone for listening when suitable – Podcruncher is my choice for the iOS platform – brilliant app and service. Just don’t bother trying to use the Apple Podcasts app – it’s a total lemon. Good podcast apps also allow you to increase the playback speed up to double normal (Podcruncher goes in quarter increments) and surprisingly you learn to follow it. In fact, it can get so listening at normal speed is far too slow!
Many of these links also have Twitter accounts (where noted), so you can keep right up to the minute!
In Australia there is the wonderful StarStuff, an independent project run by Stuart Gary but sponsored by the ABC, with the 30-minute podcasts at ABC. @abcstarstuff
Canberra’s Steve Nerlich produces Cheap Astronomy, regular 10-minute shows of varying complexity. @cheapastro
Overseas, despite a truly ugly website, the fantastic Naked Scientists from UK’s Cambridge University have a stack of brilliant podcasts on general, science, archaeology, earth sciences, oceans, Africa, great kitchen-friendly experiments, and the monthly 60-minute Naked Astronomy, steered by Ben Valsler.
There are a stack of NASA video and audio podcasts. Of interest are the space telescope ones for Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, plus This Week @ NASA, Universe, Earth…where to stop? You’ll be amazed at how much NASA is doing – for an agency that altogether too many people think has shut up shop!
365 Days of Astronomy is a real mixed bag of 10-minute podcasts – one for every day of the year. And it’s well worth looking back over previous episodes. Following are some specific ones worth checking out.
Teachers could start with four of the best called ‘Wonders From Class’ by Diane Turnshek from Carnegie Mellon Uni. Over four podcasts and with great passion, she describes how she engages and interests her students with the field of astronomy. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Some others for beginning viewing and then a bit more:
Common Q&As about telescope use – from RapidEye Observatory
8 Telescope Tips for Beginners – by Telescope Man
Buying your first telescope – Telescope Man again
Have a plan – by Ed Sunder of flinstonestargazing.com
How to be an armchair astronaut – From Riding With Robots – now there’s a site to spend some time at!
Armchair astronauts exploring the solar system – by Doug Ellison ofunmannedspaceflight.com @doug_ellison
Exploring space with your computer – a guide to computer simulation tools by Bruce Irving of JPL
Moving onto photographing what you see:
Introduction to astrophotography – by Adam Pender
Webcam astrophotography – by Alexander Hobson
Amateur astrophotography for beginners – by Richard Drumm
Astroimaging under light polluted skies – by Robert Vanderbei
Expanding further – into spectroscopy:
Basic spectroscopy for amateurs and Part 2 – by Mark DeVito and Tom Field
And if you’d like to go a bit further, you can subscribe to an entire university astronomy course via podcast – all the learning but no horrible assignments or exams! Here’s one in audio format from Ohio State Uni. There are others too, including video. Check iTunes, or iTunesU, the app for which includes study notes and the ability to record your own notes as you go along.
The Sydney Observatory posts a monthly podcast summarising the night sky viewing for the month – great for Southern Hemisphere viewers and East Coast Australians in particular. They have the added benefit of a transcript so you can print and highlight the key bits as a night sky viewing plan. @sydneyobs
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has a short monthly video podcast, plus there’s a stack of related brain food on their site.
Observing with Webb – another USA podcast by Rod Webb, but many of the sights will be visible here, just in different locations.
Telescope Man – look for the monthly viewing summaries. No nonsense, best viewing tips, with catalogued numbers if you have a go-to scope, but based on Texas. Plenty of other good beginner podcasts too.
Non-podcast observing resources:
The Hayden Planetarium (part of the American Museum of Natural History and headed up by none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson @neiltyson) has a good monthly sky report. You can see a lot of what they discuss, but of course not all. You’ll also find their 3D atlas to the Universe.
Slooh has several large telescopes around the world and you can view the feeds for free. They have guest speakers during regular events. @slooh
Heavens Above allows you to register and enter your location, then get schedules of when key objects will pass over your patch of the sky – from GPS satellites to the International Space Station. Find out why the brightness scale goes backwards, planet and comet locations, and more.
If you just want to focus on passes of manned vehicles like the ISS or Soyuz, then check the RSS subscription for your location at NASA Human Spaceflight.
Stellarium – a free public domain computer planetarium. Free-standing once installed with no need of web access, so you can switch to red mode and take your notebook computer out with you.
Celestia – another free planetarium. This one lets you explore off-planet, and even check out various space missions.
Eyes on the Solar System – NASA’s mission tracking simulator. Go for a ride along with every NASA space mission past and present. A great way to piggy back onto the Mars Curiosity rover and relive her descent to Mars last August!
Non-podcast astronomy resources:
NASA’s Breaking News is a good resource, and has a useful RSS feed – check out Google Reader for how to collate key websites simply via RSS feeds, and Feedler Pro is a great app for viewing your Google Reader subscriptions on iThings. @NASA
NASA also has a comprehensive education section, with specialist information for teachers at different levels, students and a kids club. Too much to list and it seems to grow every time you return. It’s not all about the US either – they have an international Scientist for the Day competition running right now for school students.
It’s hard to go past Space.com for some of everything you want, and great RSS and Twitter feeds. They have a good shop too – from meteorites to kids’ spacesuits, genuine gone-to-space memorabilia to clothing. I mean, you’ve got to look the part for your classes right? @spacedotcom
With broadband, giant televisions with network sockets, and a high definition feed from NASA TV, there’s never been a better time for live viewing rocket launches, spacewalks, and more. Keep an eye on the schedule for education shows too. Be warned though, spacewalks are REALLY long and slow-mo. Some younger viewers will have a short attention span for them. But launches…Phroar! Crank up the volume.
The Square Kilometre Array is the project to build the world’s biggest radio telescope – right here in Australia. And in South Africa. It will be the biggest science project ever in our history. Good video clips explaining the project.
Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait sorts the facts from the nonsense. @BadAstronomer
The Space Tweep Society has great articles, photos and videos from spacefans on Twitter who travel the world to attend Tweetups – key space events like launches – and hang out with other fans who use Twitter to share their experiences with their followers. The travels to Russia are brilliantly recounted.
Registax allows you to stack multiple photos or frames from a video clip to produce a single sharp picture. Free!
Galaxy Zoo is a citizen science website that allows anyone to help the scientists categorise galaxies as seen by Hubble. There have been a number of people credited on scientific journals for the new wonders they discovered on Galaxy Zoo! And now on a spin-off you might help find exoplanets…
Tweeps you should follow:
@NASAKepler – the search for exoplanets
@SpaceflightNow – space news up to the moment, from Florida
@Nightskyonline – Australian amateur astronomer, alerts to sights
@SpaceX – the future of manned missions
@elonmusk – the boss of SpaceX – a real-life Tony Stark
@MarsRovers – updates from Opportunity on Mars
@MarsCuriosity – updates from the Mars Science Laboratory herself
@matt_heverley – lead Mars Curiosity rover driver
@marsroverdriver – Scott Maxwell, formerly driving Opportunity, now Curiosity
@spaceroboticist – Vandi Thomas – there are women driving Curiosity too
@NASAWebbTelescp – the future of space telescopes, being built now
@twisst – alerts of ISS passes over your location
@Aussie_Starman – Mark Rigby, head of the Brisbane Planetarium
@NASAJuno – Juno is heading to Jupiter
@carolynporco – the wonderful head of the Cassini mission around Saturn
@PULSEatParkes – high school students taking over The Dish at Parkes!
And all the other ones named earlier.
Lastly, iPhone and iPad apps are simply brilliant for finding out exactly what you are looking at in the sky.
Star Walk – virtual planetarium, my favourite, $3 – worth every cent!
Distant Suns – virtual planetarium, free
SkyOrb – virtual planetarium, free
Pocket Universe – first off the line with this whole virtual planetarium approach, $2
3D Sun – know about and watch solar flares before anyone else, free
Cassini – find out what this probe is doing around Saturn, free
APOD – astronomy picture of the day – website and iPhone app, free
Exoplanet – the latest on every exoplanet discovered, free
NASA – their own app, and simple access to NASA TV – never miss another launch! Free
Mars Images – what it says on the box, free
ISS Spotter – brilliant way to make sure you don’t miss passes of the Space Station – live maps and smart alarms, free
Mission Clock – don’t miss your dose of roar, $5
Meteor Counter – help scientists monitor meteor density, free, great activity for families.
Anyway, that’s enough for now. But rest assured, it is only scratching the surface. There’s a whole world of astronomy resources out there online for you.