The Astronomy Corner

last updated 2 May 2014

ONCE UPON a time, around the summer of 1998, I got back into astronomy, which requires that I was once there and left. I was there as a young boy, when my father bought me a few books on the planets and space exploration. In some way that I don't quite recall, that triggered a fascination with astronomy that extended as far as fifth grade, when I bought a couple of achromatic lenses from Edmund Scientific and built myself a crude refractor.

Then, for many years, several things intervened. What they were is not important—not to you, at least—but the upshot is that I rarely even gave the night sky a glance. I never fretted over a cloudy or light-polluted sky. I retained all my book knowledge of astronomy, but my connection with the sky was forgotten, and I'd have thought for good.

What brought me back was an article in Astronomy magazine on the Hipparcos satellite and its provocative output: a three-dimensional map of the stellar neighborhood. I had recently written a program for creating SIRDS (Single-Image Random Dot Stereograms), which are an ancestor to those three-dimensional posters that you have to screw up your eyes to see correctly. So it was a relatively simple matter to download a small portion of the Hipparcos database—the brightest thousand stars or so—and produce stellar stereograms. This program led eventually to my shareware PalmOS star atlas, PleiadAtlas.

Once it was complete, I wandered around the celestial sphere, marvelling at the depth-filled star images, not really recognizing any of them, possibly because most of them were incomplete. And then, practically by accident, I brought Orion to bear. Containing many of the sky's brightest stars, it was instantly recognizable. That did it, and once it started, it was barely possible to contain. I think it was less than a month before I ordered my current telescope, a Celestron C5+, and I was on my way.

Portrait of the Web Site as a Young Page

At the time, I worked at a computer science research facility, and got, as a kind of incidental benefit, a high-speed Internet connection, so it was a natural inclination to want to create a web page. That was the start of The Astronomy Corner, which I originally intended to be a "square one" for beginners into astronomy.

This site went on and grew for about a year or so, and it gradually dawned on me that there are so many beginner's sites that I was only providing one more instance, with little added value. So I began to think about what it was that I could publish here that no one else could or would.

Then I remembered that I used to subscribe to Scientific American almost solely for Martin Gardner's monthly "Mathematical Games" column. I admired his knack for injecting humor and poetry into recreational mathematics and the way he didn't merely give lists of puzzles but gave some of the history and depth behind them. Now I am immodest enough to admit that I fancy myself a reasonable writer—perhaps not on the level of a Gardner, but still tolerably good. It occurred to me that here was something that would be a new kind of contribution to astronomy-related web sites.

With that in mind, I created an occasional series, called Astronomical Games. My intention was to write about every month or so, but as I mentioned above, other things have intervened from time to time. The name is an intentional homage to Gardner, who fueled much of my interest in mathematics and the sciences which use it.

Not Enough Time?

As I said, I'm planning on making Astronomical Games a monthly (or so) column with a limited run. I just don't think I'll have time to make it a feature that will last year after year after year, but it would be nice to have a run at it and end up with a dozen or so fun-to-read articles about astronomy and related fields.

In addition, for those times when I (and you, too!) don't have time for a full write-up but do have something to share, I also have a section called Notes from Under Sky, which will be short, one-page articles about whatever strikes my fancy. These won't have the same kind of coherence as the Games, but that's OK, they're not intended to be particularly nourishing, just kind of like snack food for the mind.

The Reference Desk

The only thing remaining from the previous version of this site is the reference page. Let me know if any of the links seem out of date.

Copyright (c) 1999–2014 Brian Tung