Backyard Astronomy A list of resources for astronomical observation in your own back yard.
Observatories Observatories are buildings which house a telescope and where stars, planets and other celestial bodies are observed, usually through the telescope. Astronomical observatories are mainly divided into four categories: space based, airborne, ground based and underground based.
The Ozone Ozone is a colorless, odorless reactive gas made up of three oxygen atoms and is known to be a very powerful sanitizer. It is found naturally in the earth’s stratosphere where it absorbs the ultraviolet component of solar radiation that could be harmful to life on earth.
The Universe The Universe consists of the totality of matter, energy, and space, including the Solar System, the galaxies, and the contents of the space between the galaxies. Current theories of cosmology suggest that the universe is constantly expanding.
The Sun A star that is the basis for the solar system and sustains life on Earth as it provides the source of heat and light. This luminous celestial body, around which the earth and other planets revolve, is composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. It is the largest object in the Solar System.
Morning and Evening Stars Mercury and Venus are both evening and morning stars. That is because they are nearer to the sun than the Earth is, so they can never appear very far from the sun in the sky. Venus is usually visible during the night either soon after sunset or close to sunrise. Actually, these terms nearly always refers to Venus, which is by far the brightest celestial object in the sky after the sun and moon. It can sometimes be seen during the daytime and is named for the Roman goddess. Mercury is much dimmer and only visible for a few weeks of the year. The fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. It commonly appears with a reddish tinge when viewed in the sky.
The Solar System The Solar System consists of the Sun and those celestial objects bound to it by gravity.Our solar system consists of an average size yellow star we call the Sun and the 8 planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. It also includes the satellites of those planets and numerous comets, asteroids, and meteoroids. The whole solar system, together with the local stars visible on a clear night, orbits the center of our home galaxy, a spiral disk of 200 billion stars we call the Milky Way. The planets, most of the satellites of the planets and the asteroids revolve around the Sun in the same direction, in nearly circular orbits in a counter-clockwise direction. As of mid-2008, five smaller objects are classified as dwarf planets: Ceres, Pluto (formerly classified as the ninth planet), Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.
The Moon The moon is Earth’s natural satellite and is a celestial orb which revolves round the earth and whose light, is reflected from the sun to the earth and serves to dispel the darkness of night. A moon can also be a secondary planet or satellite that revolves around any member of the solar system, like the moons of Jupiter or Saturn.
The Constellations A constellation is a group of stars that can be connected together to form a figure or picture There are 88 recognized groups named after characters from classical mythology and various common animals and objects.
Jupiter Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is two and a half times as massive as all of the other planets in our solar system combined. Jupiter, along with Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, is classified as a gas giant.
Saturn Saturn is the second most massive planet, and the most distant planet known to the ancients. The most striking feature of Saturn is the spectacular ring system. Although this feature is no longer unique, since we now know that all the Gas Giant planets have rings, the rings of Saturn are much more elaborate than those of any of the other planets.
The Outer Giants Of the eight currently recognized planets of the solar system, the inner four, from Mercury to Mars, are called terrestrial planets. The outer giant or Jovian planets are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. The Jovian planets are essentially big balls of gas, each surrounded by many moons and rings. They have relatively small, dense cores surrounded by massive layers of gas. Made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, these planets do not have solid surfaces.
The Milky Way The Milky Way is a large, disk-shaped aggregation of stars that includes the Sun and its solar system. In addition to the Sun, the Milky Way contains about 400 billion other stars. There are hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the universe, some of which are much larger and contain many more stars than the Milky Way.
Galaxies A collection of stars, gas, and dust bound together by gravity. The smallest galaxies may contain only a few hundred thousand stars, while the largest galaxies have thousands of billions of stars. The Milky Way galaxy contains our solar system.
Meteor Showers A meteor is a bright trail or streak that appears in the sky when a meteoroid is heated to incandescence by friction with the Earth's atmosphere. A meteoroid is a solid body moving in space that is at least as large as a speck of dust. A shower occurs during a brief period of heightened meteor activity, often occurring regularly in a particular part of the sky at a particular time of year. A meteor shower is generally named after the constellation in which it appears in the night sky.
Asteroids Asteroids are small planets or pieces of planets, most of which are found in the Asteroid Belt, that part of space which is between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Comets Comets are made up of frozen dust and gases, and have been described as large, dirty snowballs with icy centers. A comet is a small Solar System body that orbits the Sun. When it returns close to the Sun, it exhibits a visible and sometimes spectacular coma (atmosphere) or a tail — both primarily from the effects of solar radiation upon the comet's nucleus. It belongs to the solar system, but part of its orbit takes it out beyond the planets.
Chabot Observatory The Chabot Space & Science Center was founded in 1883 in Oakland, California. Situated in a natural park setting, the Observatory provides education about the universe using the latest technology.
David Levy David H. Levy is a Canadian astronomer and science writer most famous for his co-discovery in 1993 of the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which collided with the planet Jupiter in 1994. Levy has helped to discover 22 comets and has written over 30 books, mostly on astronomical subjects. He now lives in Arizona and he and his wife host a weekly radio talk show on the internet on astronomy.
Percival Lowell Percival Lawrence Lowell (1855-1916) was a businessman, author, mathematician, and astronomer who fueled speculation that there were canals and life on Mars. He founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and his work led to the discovery of Pluto 14 years after his death. The choice of the name Pluto and its symbol were partly influenced by his initials PL.
Brian May Brian Harold May, CBE, is an English musician and astrophysicist, most widely known as the lead guitarist of the rock band Queen and author of the band’s mega hit, We Will Rock You. More than 30 years after he started his research, he completed his Ph.D. thesis and graduated at the awards ceremony held in May of 2008.
Patrick Moore Sir Alfred Patrick Caldwell-Moore, CBE, known as Patrick Moore, is an English amateur astronomer who has attained prominent status in astronomy as a writer, researcher, radio commentator and television presenter of the subject and who is credited as having done more than any other to raise the profile of astronomy among the British general public.
Jack Newton Jack Newton is a self-taught astronomer who is now an internationally recognized amateur astronomer and astro-imager. Jack received the prestigious Amateur Achievement Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 1988 and is the author or co-author of a number of books on astronomy. He and his wife operate observatories in British Columbia and Arizona.
Stephen James O’Meara Stephen James O’Meara is an award-winning visual observer who was the first to sight Halley’s Comet on its return in 1985. He also made a pre-Voyager visual discovery of the spokes in Saturn’s B-ring and was the first to determine visually the rotation period of Uranus. He has been honored by the International Astronomical Union by having asteroid 3637 O’Meara named after him.
Don Parker Donald C. Parker is an American retired physician and amateur astronomer, specializing in the research of the Solar System and planetary photography. Many of his over 20,000 images of Mars were used by professional astronomers at NASA. In 1994 the Mars-crosser asteroid 5392 Parker was named in his honor.
Edgar O. Smith Edgar O. Smith, a businessman-turned-astrophysicist, designed the Calypso, the only private telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson Arizona, To create the sharpest possible images, the entire housing rolls away on rails to help the telescope cool to ambient temperature; an adaptive optics system adjusts 1,000 times per second to remove atmospheric blurring.
James Turrell James Turrell is generally described as an artist who works with light and space. He is also a theoretician and psychologist who also has knowledge of physics, astronomy, anthropology, construction and engineering. Turrell lives on his cattle ranch 40 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona. The ranch surrounds the large volcanic cone he's tenaciously transforming into the Roden Crater artwork.
Kingsley Wightman Kingsley Wightman was a math and science teacher at an Oakland, California Junior High when he was hired by the city’s school board to moonlight at the Chabot Observatory as an astronomy instructor in 1948. This began an extraordinary 46-year relationship with Chabot. He was universally recognized by generations of teachers, students and administrators as one of Oakland’s most gifted educators.
Stuart Wilber The Great White Spot, or Great White Oval, on Saturn was named by analogy from Jupiter's Great Red Spot. It is a name given to periodic storms that are large enough to be visible by telescope from Earth by their characteristic white appearance. It was observed in 1990 by Stuart Wilber. He is an amateur astronomer who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Barbara Wilson Barbara Wilson is an astronomer for the George Observatory in Houston, Texas. She is known in the amateur astronomy community for her ability to see dim and distant objects and her willingness to teach others how to do the same.
Glossary of terms (also in back of book)