This page copyright 2012 Steve Ford http://geeky-boy.com
and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Hobby Amateur Astronomy
(Picture taken about 4 billion miles away on Feb 14, 1990.)
This page is intended for the enjoyment and education of people interested
in the universe. There are parts of it that are for beginners, other parts
are for people who already know quite a bit about astronomy and want to learn
If you're here about astrology (horoscopes, zodiac, etc) then you're in
the wrong place.
Sfordsez: if you haven't seen my standard disclaimer and copyright at
then check it out now.
We are made of debris of giant stars that explode as super novas.
When a star like ours nears the end of its life, much of the energy generated
at the core is no longer hydrogen fusing into helium. Instead, heavier
and heavier elements are fusing, generating energy. But it stops at
iron -- trying to make elements heavier than iron actually requires more
energy than it releases, so during a star's normal sequence, nothing heavier
than iron is created. Plus, a star like ours gives off very little of its
heavier elements. During the time that a red giant is nearing the end of its
own life, it will do a bit of convulsing, giving off a certain amount of
material, but most of the heavier elements remain near its core.
But when a "giant" star reaches the end of its life, it results in a
super nova, during which tremendous pressures
are generated, forcing the atoms to fuse into these even heavier atoms.
And the explosive force of the super nova flings a good amount of those
heavier atoms out into space.
And it's a good thing too. Without super novas, life as we know it
would not exist. To quote
"Exact needs vary among species, but commonly required plant trace elements
include copper, boron, zinc, manganese, and molybdenum. Animals also require
manganese, iodine, and cobalt." All of those except manganese are heavier
Pages to bookmark and re-visit because they change every
- Astronomy Picture of the Day ("APOD") -
So much more than just pretty pictures, APOD gives explanation,
with plenty of links for more in-depth info. For example, you can see
aurora rings on Saturn.
Most of the good web-based information I've found came from APOD links. And
I love the output from their search function - it outputs the entire
text (with active links) of each matching entry. For example, do a
- Sky and Telescope
- The site contains lots of good info, but I'll point out a few
particularly strong pages:
- Current phase of
the moon - courtesy of the U.S. Naval Observatory. At the same site:
local sidereal time
which can sometimes be useful (e.g. if it's 17:25 LST, it means that RA 17h 25m
is at zenith).
Mostly tutorials on the science behind astronomy, but some other stuff
- Reflections on a
mote of dust - required reading for all human beings. Period.
- Stargazing basics
- this page has LOTS of good articles that I've learned a lot from.
- Windows to the Universe
- University of Michigan's effort to bring science to the masses. Very little
fluency in math and science needed.
- Pity. There used to be a nice little tutorial on the history of our
understanding of galaxies at
ftp://crux.astr.ua.edu/web/goodies/data_resources/galaxies.text but it is gone.
- Big Bang tutorial
- A nice non-mathematical introduction to Einstein's theory of general
relativity and the "big bang" model of the universe that follows from it.
- Sten Odenwald's
writings - Parent page of the above tutorial. Be sure to check out
are pretty heavy for novices like me, but all are
well-written and most are easy to understand.
- Ned Wright's
Cosmology Tutorial - This is a bit heavier than Odenwald's tutorials.
Ned actually brings in some of the math. However, the page referenced
above does contain an interesting "News of the Universe" section. He
also has a Relativity
Tutorial, which is also heavier than Odenwald's.
- Eric Weisstein's
- the single largest collection of knowledge and information that I've ever
seen on the web. This guy should get a Nobel prize for putting it up.
Wolfram hosts his two most-ambitous works:
- Modern Relativity
- David Waite's tutorial on Einstein's theories of relativity. As a beginner,
I felt that in order to get the most out of it, it required more fluency
in math and general physics than I have.
Specific areas that interest me:
- Periodic Novae -
when a binary star system consists of a giant star and a small white dwarf
in fairly close proximity, you can get periodic nova outbursts that result
from a fascinating process. There is also a
- Star deaths -
Hubble photos and great explanatory info on how stars die. This
site has an
index of recent Hubble observations.
- Our Sun's destiny
- another page about star death that imagines we could watch it happen.
Nicely written; this page is a little less heavy than the Hubble pages.
I plan on keeping this section short since I'm not into advertising. But
there are a few products that I feel very good about that I would like
I haven't calculated this out to make sure it's accurate, but I
like it enough that I don't care:
If the Earth is the size of a pea in New York, then the
Sun is a beachball 50m away, Pluto is 4km away, and the next nearest
star is in Tokyo. Now shrink Pluto's orbit into a coffee cup; then our
Milky Way Galaxy fills North America.
as I lay in bed
looking at the stars
'Where the hell is the ceiling?'