The Art and Science of Observational Astronomy

Astronomy enthusiast and learning consultant Robert Conrad hosts this one-day course to kick-start your love of astronomy!
Where: Community Room
Time: 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Repeats: July 15 and November 4  
Event Details:

Course Overview:

This one-day course is an introduction look at the art and science of observational astronomy. It provides participants with all the tools to successfully plan and conduct an observing session using either a telescope or pair of binoculars. It was designed with the learner in mind and follows a sequential path from learning how the sky appears to move to finding the most challenging deep sky objects by using the ancient art of star hopping without any complicated GPS driven telescopes. The course will also provide you with resources and planning aids that took hundreds of hours to create and will be an important addition to your observing toolkit. By the end of the course, you will be able to star hop to deep sky objects like galaxies, star clusters, supernova remnants and even objects formed shortly after the Big Bang, 14 billion years ago. In addition, Robert has created a Facebook Group page with more than 480 members that will complement this course. Robert has also made both a telescope and a pair of binoculars available at the library to check out so you can apply what you are learning right away. If you already have your own telescope, this course will provide you with the knowledge and resources to expand your potential observing targets and push the limits of what is possible.

Registration is required, so stop by the library or call 604-935-8435 to claim a spot!

(Please note: registration for the November session opens on October 1.)

Course Objectives:

By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Plan viewing sessions based on an understanding of how the stars, constellations, moon and planets move in the sky over a period of hours, days, weeks, months and throughout the year (including northern/southern hemispheres and at the equator).
  • Identify the 54 visible constellations visible from this latitude and when they are visible throughout the night and over the months.
  • Describe the various types of deep sky objects of interest to observational astronomers such as galaxies, globular/open clusters, nebulae, planetary nebulae, double and variable stars.
  • Identify the most common deep sky objects in all 54 visible constellations.
  • List and access the various resources that are available to learn the night sky (including mobile apps, software, planispheres and sky maps).
  • Perform important calculations such as eyepiece magnification and true field of view (TFOV) for various eyepieces as well as for binoculars.
  • Effectively use various types of astronomical star charts to star hop and describe their relation to the celestial coordinate system (including concepts such as right ascension/declination and star magnitude).
  • Star hop using binoculars and telescopes to find various deep sky objects such as galaxies, open/globular clusters and variable/double stars.
  • Effectively use the software simulation program Stellarium to help learn the sky and to practice star hopping.
  • Chart the paths of visible comets, asteroids and non-naked eye planets such as Neptune and Uranus.
  • Locate various deep sky object catalogs such as the Messier, Caldwell, NGC (New General Catalog) among others.
  • Measure angles in the sky using only hands and fingers.
  • Effectively plan an observing session taking into account visible constellations and when various deep sky objects are closest to the sky's zenith (best time for viewing objects).
  • Locate various online resources for determining yearly, monthly and weekly sky events
  • Sort deep sky observing lists based on object brightness (magnitude), size, number of stars for open clusters and degrees of separation for double/binary stars.


Instructor Bio:

Robert Conrad is a learning and development consultant with PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) and has 20 years of experience as a course designer and facilitator. During the last two years, he has taken his understanding of how people learn and perform to create this course in observational astronomy, another longtime passion of his. As Robert was developing this course over the last year and a half, he has been offering parts of it at the Whistler Public Library once a month as a seminar with great success. For his unique approach to integrating learning & development and performance support with observational astronomy, he has been featured in the Whistler Pique newspaper three times. In addition, he maintains the Whistler Astronomy Club Facebook Group page which grew from less than 10 members to almost 500 in just two years. He adds educational and upcoming sky event posts there multiple times a week (and sometimes daily) that benefit anyone who visits. In the summer of 2017, he offered a 6-week course at Simon Fraser University. Currently, he is the observing director of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Vancouver and is an operator of the Trottier observatory at SFU Burnaby campus.