5 Fun Ways to Learn about Astronomy

Astronomy can be your first science

Ghost Nebula
The Ghost Nebula is one of countless objects that observers and astronomers have studied via astronomy. Learning about astronomy is as easy as a quick Google search on "astronomy", browsing through our many articles here on Space.About.com, or searching out books and magazines about the topic. NASA/STScI

Interested in stargazing? Want to know more about the stars, planets, and galaxies? It's not as tough as you might think.

People often assume that astronomy is something that super-smart geniuses spend years in college learning to do. That's one way of looking at it, and it's certainly one way to appreciate the stars. But even the wisest astronomy types got their start with stargazing or moon-watching. For people who grew up in the 1960s, the Space Race in the United States focused a lot of attention on the sky. Suddenly, everybody was interested in human missions to the Moon, including Apollo 11 (which first landed two astronauts there). They soaked up books and articles about how to get off the surface of Earth and into space to explore the solar system. 

Today, space programs around the world spur people to look at the sky and see the stars, planets and galaxies. There are many ways to look at the universe. Which one you choose is up to you. Here are some suggestions for ways to expand your interest. 

Astronomy Books

In every age, astronomy books have been a great way to learn the sky. Works  such as H.A. Rey's Find the Constellations are long-time favorites, and are still big sellers  today. Children's books teach people of all ages how to learn the stars and planets, while more advanced books teach the science behind the things we see in the sky. 

Astronomy Magazines

Monthly astronomy magazines cater to both beginners and advanced sky gazers with star charts, stories about deep-sky objects, space exploration, and seasonal "what's up" guides. In the United States, Australia, and many other countries, the two best-known are Astronomy and Sky & Telescope. In Britain, observers turn to Astronomy Now, while in Canada they read Skynews; Astronomy Ireland serves the Irish stargazing public, while Coelum Astronomia is popular in Italy. Spanish-language astronomers turn to Espacio; in Germany, Sterne und Weltraum is the magazine of choice, while Japanese in-the-know stargazers read Tenmon Guide

Media and Software

Popular TV shows such as Star Trek and movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars brought all new audiences to focus on the sky. Star Trek got viewers interested in distant planets such as Vulcan and future societies, such as the United Federation of Planets, were space-faring. 2001 suggested that such a future would start with planetary exploration (with a touch of sci-fi about aliens), and Star Wars takes us to a time in another galaxy where space travel and galactic empires are all the rage. More recently, the TV series Cosmos brought a love of the sky to a whole new generation of viewers.

Nowadays, many people are hooked into the Web and the Internet via their computers, smartphones and tablets. Apps for these devices can help you learn the sky, explore the Sun, Moon, planets, search out exoplanets, and much more. One of the more popular apps for iDevices is StarMap , while users of Android and other devices can use apps such as Star Chart, or the universal app Night Sky (both of which are free) and others. There are a huge number of desktop planetariums available. Just Google the term "star chart software" or "astronomy apps" to find them. Also, check out the article Digital Astronomy for a little closer look at some of the many programs and apps out there. 

Science Fiction Stories and Books

These are often set in space, taking humans out to the far distant reaches of the universe, or to times in the past or future. The genre stretches from young adult and children's books to space operas and terse thrillers for all ages. Many have an astronomy component, such as the Dragonriders series, set on planets orbiting the star Rukbat (alpha Sagittarius, in the same constellation where the center of our galaxy resides). Many people who are now both amateur and professional astronomers recount how a good science fiction book or story excited their imaginations and set them off to pursue astronomy. 

Planetariums, Science Centers, and Observatories

Finally, there's nothing like a trip to your local planetarium, science center, or observatory to kindle an interest in astronomy. Most major cities have at least one planetarium, and they exist in a number of other towns, in school districts, and in many universities. Typical presentations include live star talks, videos, and other shows designed to acquaint you and yours with the wonders of the night sky. Check here to see where the nearest planetarium is to you.

Once the stars are in your eyes, you'll be well on your way to a lifetime of exploration — whether you do it from your backyard with binoculars or a small telescope, or you decide to make a study of the stars, planets, and galaxies your life's work!