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Astronomy Terms - To Help You Study The Universe

Scott Gray
October 21, 2006

While some of the vocabulary and calculations of Astronomy seem daunting, you don't need to be a mathematician to appreciate the wonders of astronomy.

Learning about the universe, or the study of astronomy, can be fun for the individual or for the whole family. With fairly simple equipment, you can enter the world of the most ancient of all sciences the study of the sun, moon, plants, comets, and stars, and their evolution, motion, origins, constitution, dimensions, and distances. Astronomical observation has fixed the dates of historic events, made early navigation possible, taught us how to fix time and date, and enlightened us on the laws of motion and gravity. Learning a few simple terms will help you with this fascinating study.

Observation Instruments
1. You will use a telescope or binoculars for your observation of the sky at night. Both require a tripod that can be adjusted for height to hold the instrument steady.
A telescope will have the best magnification, but is the most expensive instrument.
High power binoculars are next best. Choose those with a magnification of 7 to 10 or better, and an objective size of 40 (wide angle) or better ( e.g., 10 x 50).
Zoom binoculars can be used but are less satisfactory because they show a less clear image at the high magnifications needed for sky viewing.
2. Examples of popular brands of binoculars are Leica, Leupold, Nikon, Steiner, and Swarovski, and are often used by tactical military units that depend on excellent night vision.
3. Look for suitable and reliable binoculars at discount, wholesale, and sale prices on the Internet.

Celestial Terms
Constellation the 88 constellations, or star patterns, are groupings identified and
named about 5,000 years ago by the Babylonians
Galaxy millions or billions of stars bound together by gravitational forces
Interplanetary space between planets
Interstellar space between stars
Meteor or a shooting star the light caused when a meteoroid burns up in Earth's
Meteorite a rock that falls to Earth from space
Meteoroid a small rock orbiting the sun
Milky Way the band of light across the sky produced by billions of stars
orbiting the center of our galaxy
Nebula cloud of interstellar gas and dust
Planet large body that shines by reflected light orbiting a star
Star hot gas held together by gravity
Supernova the blast wave that signals the end of a star's life when its nuclear fuel is
exhausted and the core collapses
Waning period between full moon and new moon
Waxing period between new moon and full moon

Measurement and Brightness Terms
1. Distance
Light speed or velocity the speed at which light travels is 186,282 miles per second
Light-year the distance light travels in one year (also measured as light seconds, light minutes, light days, light weeks, and light months) and is the unit by which the distance between two celestial objects is measured
Star hopping method used to visually find objects in the sky by "hopping" from a position recognized ( e.g., the Big Dipper) to another part of the sky
2. Angle the position angle is the measurement in degrees between North and the object measured, moving counterclockwise
3. Orientation is the position in the sky as determined by the Earth's North, South, East, and West and is measured by the position angle
4. Brightness
This is the intensity of light perceived by the observer or the measuring instrument and is measured in magnitudes
Magnitude is a logarithmic measurement, and the absolute magnitude is the brightness seen from the standard distance of 32.6 light years

While some of the vocabulary and calculations seem daunting, you don't need to be a mathematician to appreciate the wonders of astronomy. All it takes is a pair of binoculars, some warm clothing, and a clear night. A star map set to the geographic location and the season will help you identify stars and constellations, and can be consulted using a flashlight shielded with red cellophane. You will soon be able to see and name the major constellations, stars, and planets, identify and track the movement of satellites, and appreciate the beauty of meteor showers and nebulas. The night sky is endlessly fascinating, and it's yours to enjoy.

About the Author
Scott Gray is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast who loves to provide useful information about the different types of binoculars including wholesale binoculars.

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