Field of View - July 2021

Astronomy and Learning

By: Don Sell -Guidestar Editor


When you take up astronomy as a hobby, it is almost inevitable that you will start out on a path that will keep you learning for as long as you wish to follow it. When you think about it, this is a very reasonable thing. Astronomy is, after all, the oldest of the sciences, maybe as old as humanity itself.

It’s nearly impossible to look up at a clear dark sky and not wonder at it. We teach children about the solar system when they are in elementary school. Astronomy helps us to know and understand the vastness of the universe and our place in it.  Perhaps that’s why astronomy is considered by many to be a gateway science.

These days, we understand that there are several ways we learn, and that each person has their own blend of preferred learning styles. Some learn by doing. Others learn better when they read and write, or listen to a lecture. Still others must visualize a concept to learn effectively. 

One of the beautiful things about astronomy is that no matter what your preferred learning style, you can easily find the resources you need to learn it the way you learn best. This is because humans have been learning astronomy and sharing their knowledge with each other since antiquity. There’s lots of experience wrapped up in creating these resources, what’s most interesting, and works best to tell the story.

If you learn best by doing, learning how to set up and operate a new telescope can be as rewarding as using it to observe the night sky. Operating that telescope at an outreach event takes learning by doing to a whole new level, as you need to understand your telescope and what you are observing well enough to explain it to someone who has no idea.

For auditory learners, there are also lots of resources. It is possible to find online courses or workshops covering most all areas of Astronomy. Most astronomy clubs invite speakers to talk on various astronomy topics. Long before COVID, HAS started recording these talks for later viewing, and recordings of virtual astronomy club meetings can easily be found online these days.

When it comes to learning and navigating the sky, visual learners are in their element. While I don’t have anything but my opinion to back it up, my guess is that avid visual observers are also visual learners. Seeing and learning patterns is a key skill needed to learn the constellations. From here, building a mental map of the sky is the next step, and completing observing programs, whether from the Astronomical League or from some other source is a continuous learning experience.

If you are like me and learn best by reading and writing, astronomy learning resources abound for you. Books, magazines, and websites that explain concepts in astronomy to the average person are ubiquitous. If you are willing to dig a little deeper, research papers, including those of historic importance to our understanding of astronomy and cosmology are easy to find. If you are interested in a specific area, it’s even possible to tap into the stream of current research through preprint papers freely available from online archives.

Passing along to others what we have learned and are passionate about can also be a satisfying learning experience. Whether its sharing the views of the moon and planets at an urban outreach event, sharing your knowledge of the night sky and observing with a novice astronomer, or sharing your astro-images or sketches made at the eyepiece, all of these activities will enhance and solidify your astronomy learning.

 For me, reading is not the end of the road. I find that once I write about something, I know that I truly have learned it. In order to write, I must assemble all of the concepts and facts I have learned into a coherent story I can tell others. When I get the ideas arranged and written in a way I know that others will understand it, I have the satisfaction of knowing I have helped someone on their own learning path by sharing what I have (now confidently) learned.

How about you? Where will your path to astronomy learning take you?

If like me, you would like to share with others through writing about what you have learned, consider writing an article for the GuideStar. It’s a great place to start!

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