THE REWARDS OF VISUAL OBSERVATION
Amateur astronomy is far from being solely a tick box exercise
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