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The American Association of Amateur Astronomers

Frequently Asked Questions 

Questions from the Internet

  1. Telescope Making for Boy Scouts

  2. Astronomy Clubs and Societies

  3. Closest Approach of Mars

  4. Naming a Star

  5. The Largest Astronomy Club in the US

  6. Astronomy Programs

  7. How do I View Things Right Side Up?


Welcome to the Main Menu of  the AAAA's catalog of Frequently Asked Questions.

We receive many requests on a regular basis concerning topics of general interest about amateur astronomy. Our goal is to identify those topics that seem to be asked by the largest number of inquirers, and which are of interest to a wide number of amateur astronomers, and provide reliable and thoughtful answers. 

We will strive to make this area of interest not only to the beginning amateur, but also to the more advanced astronomer who comes across new and interesting aspects of astronomy, but is unable to find answers quickly and easily.

We have already collected information on a wide variety of subjects, as can be seen from the Index of FAQ at the top of this page. We will be adding to this section as time goes on. Those areas that are of larger interest, such as constellations and observing, already have their own sections on this web site.

Please feel free to send us your questions on any area of interest to amateur astronomers. We will answer them as best we can, and then post your answer here as an FAQ.


Ed Flaspoehler, Web Site Editor
American Association of Amateur Astronomers

1. Telescope Making for Boy Scouts

From: BERNARD NGUYEN <bernardnguyen@earthlink.net>
To: aaaa@astromax.com
Subject: Astronomy
Date: Wednesday, September 08, 1999 10:31 PM

Dear Friends:

I'm a Scout Master. I'd like to introduce astronomy to my troop, if you can help, please advise. I intended to give the boys a project to build a telescope. Is it possible and feasible? Thanks for your support.
Bernard Nguyen

Dear Bernard:

Here are the titles of some books that you can order through Amazon.com on telescope making. The first book by Jean Texereau is the current standard reference book for beginning telescope makers. You can also find a lot of other book titles on our AstroMax Book Store.

Texereau, How to Make a Telescope
The Dobsonian Telescope : A Practical Manual for Building Large Aperture Telescopes

The complexity of your project will depend on whether you want to grind your own mirror, or just buy a mirror and build the mounts. You can also buy telescope kits from Stargazer Steve, in Canada.

Galaxy Optics in California sells large telescope mirrors, that are probably out of the scope of your project.

Edmund Scientific Corporation has several good pamphlets on telescopes and telescope making. These books are a bit out of date, but the basic information is good. They may also sell smaller mirrors.

Don't forget to get the Boy Scout's booklet for the Astronomy Merit Badge!

Ed Flaspoehler, Vice President
American Association of Amateur Astronomers

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2. Astronomy Clubs and Societies

Subj: Astronomy Clubs and Societies
Date: 5/18/99 11:43:03 PM Central Daylight Time
From: redfern@jobseast.asn.au (David Redfern)
Sender: redfern@jobseast.asn.au (David Redfern)
To: eflaspo@aol.com


I am a student at Swinburne University in Melbourne Australia. As part of a marketing project we are designing marketing strategy for the marketing of Swinburne's on-line astronomy course to the US and UK.

I wonder if you could tell me how many astronomy clubs and societies there are in the US. Also relevant would be a demographic profile of the members of these clubs.

Do you know where I would be able to find this info for the UK?

Thanks very much, I look forward to your response.

Best regards,
David Redfern


There is no easy answer to this question. The first thing I will tell you is that in the Astronomical League, for which I am the newsletter editor, there are about 17,000 members in 235 astronomy clubs throughout the US. The largest is currently the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas, of which I am a member. It has about 500 members. If you count family members in addition to what is called the "primary" member, the number increases to over 600. The smallest club in the AL, the Blue Ridge Skywatch, had 4 members as of last summer. The average club in the AL has between 50 and 100 members.

The average member of an astronomy club is, according to convention, a middle aged man over 40. However, increasingly, a large number of women seem to be active in astronomy clubs, and often take on leadership roles, like treasurer or secretary. These days, many of these women are also active observers. At least 33 percent of attendees at the recent Texas Star Party, and some of the most well known observers around here, like Barbara Wilson and Amelia Goldberg, just to mention two, are women. Their husbands may have brought them the first time, but they definitely have an interest in astronomy of their own.

There is also a large number of astronomy clubs which are not members of the Astronomical League. The largest I know of is the Orange County Astronomers in California, with a membership in excess of 700. I do not have an exact number. The Amateur Astronomers Association of New York has more than 400 members.

There are several resources for finding astronomy clubs in the US. The easiest place to start is to surf to the links page of the American Association of Amateur Astronomers, which is a page I edit. I have been collecting links for about 10 months, but it is by no means complete! The URL is http://www.astromax.org/Links.htm

Sky Publishing has a great list of clubs, planetariums and observatories. Their URL is http://www.skypub.com.

Kalmbach Publishing also has a list of astronomy organizations in the US. Their URL is http://www.astronomy.com.

Another way to answer your question is to analyze the circulation of the major astronomy magazines in the US. Sky & Telescope Magazine has a claimed circulation of 250,000. Astronomy Magazine claims over 300,000. Both claim that there is not a major overlap in their subscriber base. That means in excess of 500,000 active amateur astronomers in the US, at least the ones who read magazines.

None of these figures count professional astronomers or university students of astronomy.

I have not been able to find any information about astronomy clubs in the UK. However, I do have several links to Australian and New Zealand clubs, or lists of clubs, on my web page. The main organization of amateur astronomers in Canada is the Royal Astronomical Society of Canaca (RASC) The URL is http://www.rasc.ca/

Please let me know what you find out. I would like to know.


Ed Flaspoehler, REFLECTOR Editor
Astronomical League

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3. Closest approach of Mars

Subj: Closest approach of Mars
Date: 2/17/99

In a message dated 2/17/99 2:41:27 PM Central Standard Time, Jeremytkd writes:

Dear Mr. Flaspoehler,

I was reading through the club criteria and came across one that talked about Mars correlation to the Earth, and I was wondering if you could tell what dates Mars would be closest to us.

Thank You,


Mars will be at its closest approach to Earth on May 1, 1999. Its disk at that time will then measure 16.2 seconds of arc, which is slightly larger than it has been anytime since 1990. Throughout May, look for remnants of the Martian North Polar Cap, and for the dark grey markings on the surface of Mars that contrast with the red desert sands.

For more information about Mars and Marswatch, please visit the Astronomical League Web Page, http://www.astroleague.org.


Ed Flaspoehler, Vice President
American Association of Amateur Astronomers

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4.Naming a Star

From: john <mackendl@email.msn.com>
To: aaaa@astromax.com
Subject: naming a star
Date: Tuesday, October 27, 1998 3:09 PM

Is it possible to name a star for nominal fee through your organization?
D McKay

Dear Mr. McKay:

I'm sorry, but the star naming companies are basically scams. The International Astronomical Union is the only organization that names objects officially for the scientific community and it is a professional worldwide astronomical organization for scientists and educators. The star naming companies are there solely to separate the consumer from his money. They offer a slick product if you don't mind doing something just for the fun of it.

Best regards, John Wagoner
President American Association of Amateur Astronomers

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5. The Largest Astronomy Club in the US

Date: 10/28/98 2:22 PM
RE: The Largest Astronomy Club in the US

At last count, I think the Orange County Astronomers in California were close to 700 dues paying members (and their dues weren't cheap either!). They charge 35 bucks a year,  which includes observatory upkeep. They have a wonderful, heavy duty 24-inch scope with top-of-the-line CCD, computer controls, and a nice observatory building under dark skies.

Bob Gent
Astronomical League Vice President

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6. Astronomy Programs

Subj: Astronomy Programs
Date: 98-10-27 09:58:02 EST
To: quad-a@usa.net
From: jkostecka@ucsc-extension.edu

Dear AAAA,

Are there any continuing education programs for amateur astronomers such as community college or University Extension certificate/award programs that when completed give an "Amateur Astronomer Award." I'm doing research on non-degree astronomy programs and any information you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

Jim Kostecka

Dear Jim:

The Astronomical League has a wide range of observing programs that it adminsters for its members. Most require either a telescope or binoculars, but some are just for begining amateurs. All of these programs are self study type programs.

Upon completing any of the programs, and when duly verified, participants receive an official Certificate of Participation, and a beautiful lapel pin. There are programs for binoculars, telescopes, and computers. There is an observing program to meet every individual's interest in astronomy.

You MUST be a member of the Astronomical League, either through membership in an affiliated astronomical society or as a Member-at-Large, to receive certification for these programs.

Observing Programs

Messier Club - 70 object and 110 object levels for the telescope.
Binocular Messier Club - 50 of the best Messier objects for binoculars.
Deep Sky Binocular Club - 60 additional deep sky objects for binoculars.
Southern Skies Binocular Club - 50 of the finest objects in the Southern Hemisphere.
Herschel Club - 400 deep sky objects for the telescope.
Herschel II Club - 400 more challenge deep-sky objects for the telescope.
Double Star Club - 100 of the finest double & multiple stars in the heavens.
Lunar Club - 100 features on the moon for naked eye, binoculars, and telescope.
Meteor Club - observe a series of meteor showers, and record your observations for ALPO.
Solar Club - observe and study sunspots and their cycles.
Arp Peculiar Galaxy Club - CCD image or observe 100 Arp galaxies.
Urban Club - observe 100 objects in heavily light-polluted areas.

You can find out more about these programs by visiting the web page of the American Association of Amateur Astronomers, www.astromax.org. From there, you can also link to the Astronomical League's web page. The AAAA is a member society of the Astronomical League, and as a member of the AAAA, not only are you eligible to earn any of these observing awards, but you will also get your own subscription to the Astronomical League's newsletter, the REFLECTOR, as well as our own quarterly newsletter, The American Astronomer.

Ed Flaspoehler
Vice-President, AAAA

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7. How do I view things right side up?

Subj: Re: [telescope]
Date: 98-10-27 10:06:23 EST
To: quad-a@usa.net
From: scottie@ziplink.net

Dear AAAA:

how do I view things right side up??..I know you probably need more info...but I don't know what you need...help??..


Dear Scott:

If you are talking about using your telescope to view terrestrial objects during the day, you will need to get an erecting prism. Try contacting Orion Telescopes in California, http://www.oriontel.com/.

If you are using your telescope to view astronomical objects at night, this is not nearly as much of a problem. In fact, most astronomers quickly get used to the inverted views in their telescopes.

Please keep in mind that this is a perfectly normal characteristic of astronomical telescopes, and that there is nothing wrong with your equipment.

Ed Flaspoehler
Vice-President, AAAA

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