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Glenn Chaple’s Observing Basics: Curing the Astronomy Blahs

May 2011: When observing starts to feel like a chore, take these six steps to reignite your passion for the night sky.
Glenn Chaple
Rats! I just stepped outside to check the current sky conditions, and it’s as clear as a bell. Cloudless. Moonless. Ablaze with stars. And I’m upset.

I’m suffering from an acute case of the “Astronomy Blahs.” I find myself rushing through observing sessions lately, grumbling more than usual if I can’t find an eyepiece or star chart, and feeling fatigued upon returning indoors — all classic symptoms of the Astronomy Blahs.

It wasn’t always this way. In former times, I would rush outside in eager anticipation of a night of astronomical adventure. Lately, however, I’ve become overly immersed in the hobby. A once-relaxing pastime has evolved into a dull routine of data collection and note-taking. I go outside because I have to, not because I want to.
 
What should I (or you) do when the Astronomy Blahs rears its ugly head? Here are some strategies I plan to take.

1  Remember, it’s just a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with “serious” astronomy unless it becomes an obsession. I need to slow down and take a deep breath. The universe won’t disintegrate just because I abandon a night’s observing program and take in a Red Sox-Yankees game on TV. The next night I go out, the stars will still be there. Even then, perhaps I’ll leave the binoculars and telescope inside, lie back in the hammock, and simply take in the grandeur of the starry dome above. Ah, it doesn’t get any better than that!

2  Rediscover that love of astronomy. Married couples often return to places they visited as newlyweds in an effort to rekindle the romance in their lives. To relive my astronomical honeymoon, I’ll take the first telescope I ever owned and revisit old friends like the Moon, planets, and showpiece deep-space objects. In the process, I’ll re-experience the wonder and excitement of discovery — the reason why I fell in love with astronomy in the first place.

3  Remember that variety is the spice of life. Assembly-line workers are often asked to take on new tasks to avoid tedium. If I’ve been concentrating so much on Messier and NGC objects that the activity has become humdrum, I’ll shift to something different like lunar and planetary observing.
Attending-star-parties
Attending star parties that focus on reaching a wider audience by involving young people, like this one in Tullahoma, Tennessee, is a great way to get over your Astronomy Blahs and instead catch Astronomy Fever. Billy Hix
4  Take a vacation from the hobby. When all else fails, I’ll take a brief hiatus from astronomy. I like skygazing because it gets me outside in the fresh air. Now that the Astronomy Blahs have kicked in, I’ll concentrate on alternative outdoor activities like fishing and jogging. A few weeks of paddling around the pond or running over street and trail, and I’ll be ready to get back to my telescope.

5  The best cure for the Astronomy Blahs? Get a shot of enthusiasm. The opposite of Astronomy Blahs is Astronomy Fever. Astronomy Fever is a marvelous, highly contagious condition. I’ll expose myself to Astronomy Fever by forgoing my solitary “me, myself, and I” existence and sharing the night sky with others. Inviting a friend or relative over for a telescopic spin around the universe or helping out with a public star party on Astronomy Day (May 7 this year) should do the trick. I’ll get caught up in the excitement these first-timers feel when they gaze upon the Moon’s cratered surface or Saturn’s rings. Because group enthusiasm is infectious, I’ll attend more meetings of my astronomy club and take in an astronomy convention or two. Surrounding myself with other enthusiasts is a sure-fire way to catch Astronomy Fever.

6  Whatever happens, I won’t give up on the hobby! Backyard astronomy has been my lifelong passion, and I refuse to give it up. Should I decide to park the telescope in the garage for a week or two, I’ll maintain my astronomical ties by thumbing through issues of Astronomy, perusing astronomy handbooks, and surfing the Internet for cosmic tidbits. Who knows? I might be inspired to look into a totally new facet of amateur astronomy — spectroscopy, occultation timings, digital astrophotography, etc. You get the idea.

It’s clear outside and I’ve decided to stay in. I’m relaxing on the couch with the latest issue of Astronomy. As always, fellow columnists Bob Berman, Tony Hallas, David Levy, and Steve O’Meara provide thought-provoking reading. Articles and graphics throughout the magazine remind me that exciting things are happening in astronomy. According to “The Sky this Month,” some interesting astronomical events will occur during the next few weeks. I’m already feeling the urge to get back in the game. Goodbye Astronomy Blahs. Welcome back, Astronomy Fever!

Questions, comments, or suggestions? E-mail me at gchaple@hotmail.com. Next month: the cosmic harmony of astronomy and music. Clear skies!
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