Astronomy 101
May 5, 2014 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Cosmos has me very intrigued. Assume I know less than a 5th grader. I am looking for: book recommendations for basic astronomy concepts; blogs; podcasts for beginners; good audio books; and documentaries. If you wanted to teach an adult about astronomy where would you start?
posted by morganannie to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time.
posted by jillithd at 11:23 AM on May 5, 2014

I enjoyed Timothy Ferris' book Seeing In the Dark. It's not really a "how-to", but it's a book that shows you just what sorts of things amateur astronomers are doing these days.

Left Turn at Orion is more of a practical guide to finding interesting things with a small telescope.

Phil Plait is worth following on Twitter. He often gives a heads about about what to look out for in the night skies, such as meteor showers, conjunctions, and other interesting events. He's also a noted debunker of junk science, which is nice.

Get yourself a pair of binoculars and a smartphone star chart. I find just being aware of what planets are up and what the phase the moon is in is a big help. Knowing when there's a thin crescent moon to photograph or when the ISS will be passing overhead makes for some interesting nights.
posted by bondcliff at 11:38 AM on May 5, 2014

H. A. Rey's The Stars provides a good introduction to the stars and constellations in both the northern and southern hemispheres. It also simply describes some of the basic mechanics of stars, why they move, and why the constellations change over thousands and millions of years.

Turn Left at Orion is good if you have a small/medium sized telescope and want to find nebulae and the like in the sky. They even have some things to find with a good pair of binoculars.
posted by lharmon at 11:41 AM on May 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Brian Greene - The Fabric of the Cosmos [Book] [NOVA Series]
posted by melissasaurus at 11:57 AM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: StarTalk Radio by Neil deGgrasse Tyson! If you like how he explains concepts on Cosmos, you'll really enjoy his podcast. Some are simple Q&A's, while others feature interviews or celebrity guest-hosts. One of my favourite podcasts.
posted by Nightman at 12:26 PM on May 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Astronomy Cast!
"Astronomy Cast takes a fact-based journey through the cosmos as it offers listeners weekly discussions on astronomical topics ranging from planets to cosmology. Hosted by Fraser Cain (Universe Today) and Dr. Pamela L. Gay (SIUE), this show brings the questions of an avid astronomy lover direct to an astronomer. Together Fraser and Pamela explore what is known and being discovered about the universe around us."
One of my favorite podcasts. It's free, of course.
posted by amf at 12:54 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

And just came across this, in case you can't get enough of Neil deGrasse Tyson (and really, who can't?). He's recorded a series of lectures for The Great Courses.
posted by lharmon at 2:11 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Virtual Star Party, "where astronomers share their view of the sky and you can watch from the comfort of home."
posted by ringu0 at 2:21 PM on May 5, 2014

You have a lot of great recs already, but I'll put in a recommendation for the introductory astronomy course I took at UC Berkeley: Professor Alex Filippenko's Introduction to General Astronomy, which you can find podcasts of here. This is actually the exact semester I took the class, so I attended almost all of these lectures, and they should still be pretty engaging even without the slides and such. (Though you will be missing out on Professor Filippenko's great science shirts and his hilarious Halloweeen costume.)
posted by yasaman at 4:27 PM on May 5, 2014

Best answer: If you wanted to teach an adult about astronomy where would you start?

Learn one thing at a time. Learn naked-eye things first (stuff you can see without binoculars or a telescope). Get a couple of easy books like the H.A. Rey (Curious George!) book and a simple adult guide like

Start by learning how to find the Big Dipper, which is the easily visible part of the Ursa Major constellation. That was easy.

But now memorize the seven major stars in the Big Dipper. Recite them in some order (your choice), chant them, make it an incantation. Pin a picture up on your wall or put the image on your computer wallpaper so you can practice during the day. Now you're a freak because you know seven star names and you can recite them for people.

Learn how to find Polaris (the North Star) from the Big Dipper. Realize that you are now in the Little Dipper. Ursa Minor.

Go back to the Big Dipper and learn how to find Arcturus and Spica from there.

Learn how to find Orion. Memorize the seven major stars in it. Another incantation. Betelgeuse Betelgeuse Betelgeuse. You're up to 17 star names now.

Check out Orion's sword. You're looking at the Orion Nebula, AKA "M42" on the star maps. It's a giant interstellar cloud.

From Orion, learn how to find Procyon, Aldebaran, and Sirius. That's three more stars in three more constellations. You're a monster.

Keep looking up.
posted by pracowity at 6:51 AM on May 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

I forgot a link. It should have been "and a simple adult guide like The Brightest Stars: Discovering the Universe through the Sky's Most Brilliant Stars." That book has lots of very cool readable information (science, history, lore, etc.) about the stars you are most likely to actually see in the sky, even if you live in a light-polluted area, because they are the brightest things in the sky other than the sun, moon, and planets.

I also left off how to find planets: follow an up-to-date (maybe online) guide, because the planets are moving all the time and they aren't in the same place every year. You need to learn some stars as fixed guideposts and then, using an up-to-date guide, find the planets in relation to the stars you know. You'll see things like "Mars is very close to Arcturus this week" or whatever, so which case you would need to know where Arcturus is and then find the bright star-like object near it.
posted by pracowity at 7:31 AM on May 6, 2014

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posted by cynicalidealist at 8:30 PM on May 7, 2014

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