THE RE­WARDS OF VIS­UAL OB­SER­VA­TION

Am­a­teur as­tron­omy is far from be­ing solely a tick box ex­er­cise

Sky at Night Magazine - - DEEP-SKY TECHNIQUES -

MANY NON-AS­TRONOMERS think that the re­wards of vis­ual as­tron­omy come just from star­ing at things that are in­her­ently beau­ti­ful to look at such as Saturn, the Moon or the Orion Ne­bula. Although aes­thetic ap­pre­ci­a­tion is cer­tainly part of it, there are ac­tu­ally only a hand­ful of ob­jects that fit this bill.

For most as­tronomers, there are other re­wards that keep them look­ing on those long, cold, nights; re­wards that trans­form those glimpses of ‘faint fuzzy blobs’ and indis­tinct patches into won­der­ful dis­tant, in­ter­act­ing gal­ax­ies.

Such re­wards will be dif­fer­ent for each ob­server, but many am­a­teurs have de­vel­oped a frame of mind in which some of the fol­low­ing may be ap­pre­ci­ated.

First, a sense of awe: a con­tem­pla­tion of the vast­ness of space or the aeons that have passed, both in or­der to cre­ate the ob­ject as it cur­rently ap­pears, and dur­ing which its photons have trav­elled through space to reach your reti­nas.

Also, a sense of peace: a calm­ing, ther­a­peu­tic ef­fect of be­ing un­der the si­lent and open heav­ens, which puts the chal­lenges of daily life into per­spec­tive.

There’s also the feel­ing of ris­ing to a chal­lenge. De­tect­ing faint ob­jects or see­ing dif­fi­cult de­tail within ob­jects, such as all five mem­bers of Stephan’s Quin­tet or the cen­tral star of the Ring Ne­bula, is im­mensely sat­is­fy­ing and shows that progress is be­ing made as you con­tinue to ex­plore.

For some, star­ing into the Milky Way’s vast­ness is a re­minder of how small Earth ac­tu­ally is

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