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Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck
           And yet methinks I have astronomy.
Shakespear, W. (Dec’d.)
It is difficult to comprehend the fact that there are other galaxies besides our own Solar System. Space is truly infinite. In order to bring this into focus and in spite of attending a one day introductory course at the CityLit I still fail to appreciate just what infinite space really means. It remains, therefore, for those interested in studying the heavens and without access to the Hubble telescope to concentrate on the Solar System.
There are two ways to approach astronomy. There are academic courses for mature students offered not only by CityLit but also, among others, by Birkbeck College (www.bbk.ac.uk/planetaryscience ) in London and The Open University (www.open2.net/sciencetechnologynature/planetsbeyond ) and no doubt, many other UK academic institutions.
For those not wishing to commit to the time and expense of a course, full or part time, there are a number of useful yet inexpensive tools which enable anyone to view the stars and planets to gain a better understanding of what is up there, provided always there is a clear night.
The first is a planisphere. This consists of two card discs. One revolves over the other to reveal the position of the stars and planets in the sky on any night of the year. Philips publishes a version for the British Isles which is available from Amazon for about £5.  Another Philips publication, ‘Night Sky Atlas’ is for ‘observers with binoculars or small telescopes’. Again, this is obtainable from Amazon.
A pair of binoculars does indeed allow a more detailed study of the stars but if you want to go the whole way, buy a telescope. There are more advertisements for different types of astronomical telescope in the specialised magazines (The BBC’s ‘The Sky at Night’, ‘Astronomy Now’ etc.) than anything else.  Though these are expensive as they are serious scientific instruments, it is probably better to begin your exploration of the heavens in a modest way before splashing out on something which may eventually end up in the charity shop.
If you missed Professor Brian Cox’s riveting series on BBC 2 this is available in book form and was available at Waterstone’s at the knock down price of £10. It is a very classy production as well as fascinating. For some, this book may provide all the information ever needed.
Anything written or broadcast by Sir Patrick Moore CBE is a joy. His comments can only increase one’s understanding of the universe and enthusiasm for its study. His ‘The Sky a Night’ television series has been running for 50 years. It is both informative and entertaining.
Some daily papers, The Times for example, publish a monthly chart of the heavens which is a modified version of the daily chart found on a planisphere but, is accompanied by an article explaining points of interest in the coming thirty days or so.
May the clouds roll away leaving the skies clear for your observations!
©Julian Nokes                                                                                                                                        
March 20 2011                                                                                                                                                                        astron0311


Julian Noakes, 02/10/2010