Thoughts on the next generation of amateur astronomers

Posted by David Eicher
on Thursday, December 06, 2012

Credit: David J. Eicher
In the huge response I’ve received from Astronomy readers regarding civilizations in the universe (see my brief story on the subject in the January issue), along came an intriguing note. Kevin Marcus, a devoted amateur astronomer and astroimager, sent his thoughts about the graying of the astronomy hobby. Will younger people join amateur astronomy, which seems to be struggling to attract them? Will they care about serious things like scientific topics in a country now fully awash in worshipping constant entertainment?

Kevin‘s letter is terrific. I present it here:

“I was at the Advanced Imaging Conference in California this year with my 15-year-old son. As a speaker there, you’d mentioned something that I noticed while walking around: The age group of astronomy enthusiasts is not getting any younger. I’m still a hair under 40, but even I felt like the young kid at the conference.  

“Sure, comets and all of the other cool and exciting things coming down the pipeline (New Horizons!) will help get another wave of people interested, and that is fine. To a kid, there are too many things to potentially look at and be disappointed — and too few to look at and be excited. Combine that with the competition from today’s iPads and Xboxes, and the notion of staying out at night to hope to glimpse something that might appear to be a blurry version of that grand image online, and . . . well, it’s a dark picture for amateur astronomy.

“Luckily, though, we seem to be nearing the confluence of these two. Amazingly, telescopes are getting easier to use with computerized controls. The software is improving. And with CCD/DSLR imaging, spectacular images are within the reach of the masses. To me, amateur astronomy is evolving into a computer-processing game. And it is within this we will find the next generation of amateur astronomers.”

Thoughts?

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