The Evolution of Stardust?

Stardust, the newsletter of the RASC Edmonton Centre, has played an essential role in the life of the Centre and forms a more or less permanent record of our activities. It started in 1954 as a one-page newsletter double-sided, typed and stenographed. In the early 1980’s, it sometimes swelled into a 32-page booklet, prepared on a CompSet typesetting machine producing rolls of developed paper which were waxed and physically laid out on boards, which then went to the printer to be photographed and printed. April issues became funny starting in 1990. Colour sneaked into the digital format in January 2007, prepared using open-source software and digitally transmitted to the printers. Throughout it all, Stardust has recorded star nights, star parties, telescope making, observing techniques, planet reports, meteor counts, optical theory, astrophotography techniques, the space program, Centre finances, news from NASA, findings of space probes, news from other RASC Centres, book reviews, observing reports, meeting minutes, for sale ads and creative ways to spend gaming proceeds for public benefit.

The Internet, in particular websites, e-publishing, blogging and social media, has profoundly changed the way people communicate. Perhaps it is these technologies or perhaps it is the changing demographics of amateur astronomers, but our venerable newsletter Stardust has seen a decline in content for quite some time now. Is the era of a club newsletter over? Possibly yes, in a format and delivery that have their roots in paper. Probably not however, as an edited package of information of interest to like minded people. Easy and instant access to astronomical information from around the world has perhaps lessened the need to collect and package it for our members. But there always has been and there always will be interest in reading about LOCAL astronomical happenings with articles written by our members. Newsletters abound in forms like mini-websites delivered via email and websites powered by blogging and content management systems like Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. Perhaps the time has come for Stardust to evolve its delivery mechanism.

The migration of to WordPress presents an opportunity for Stardust to evolve into a blog, with content curated by an editor but generated by contributors. The post you are now reading is an example of content in a blog powered by WordPress. All such posts become the “newsletter”, not necessarily issued once a month, but issued more fluidly. If you like this idea, look for more posts under the category Stardust, naturally, and consider contributing a post.

If you are wondering what Stardust is looking for, here is what editor Michael Ward wrote in the January 2014 issue of Stardust.

Are you doing some particular research project? Is there some special sub-topic of astronomy that interests you? Share your findings, methods, and discoveries. Let us know what went right, what went wrong, what hardware and software you use, and what other resources you found helpful. What more would you like to do in that area? Do you wish some resource existed that currently does not? Do you want or need help?

What have you seen lately? Or long ago? Why did you choose that target? How did you plan observing sessions? Did this target require any special preparations or equipment? Where do you observe from and with what?

Telescopes, Binoculars, and other equipment
What hardware have you got? What are its good and bad points? What would you like to use? Maybe you just bought a new scope, or binoculars, or camera; why not write a review?

Read a good astronomy book lately? Write a review. Let us know about it. What was good or bad? Did the author(s) cover the topic properly?

Read a good astronomy magazine lately? Let us know about it. Write a review.

There are thousands of websites with content related to astronomy; no one person can possibly keep track of them all. Let us know what your favourites are, and what content they have.

Software and operating systems
There is a ton of astronomy software available these days, for all kinds of things. As with web sites, no one person can possibly try them all. What have you got, what can it do, and what are its pros and cons? By the way, did you know there are versions of Linux (an operating system) that are made specifically for astronomy? Just search.

Seen a good – or, sometimes just as entertaining, bad – movie or TV program with some astronomy-related content? Let us know what you thought of it. What was good or accurate? What did they mess up?

Did you attend a lecture or maybe see one on YouTube? Tell us about it. Who was it, and what were they talking about?

After you visit a planetarium, museum, observatory, impact crater, or travel to see an eclipse, or anything like that, let us know. What was it? Where? Was it hard to get there? What was good or bad?

Last (OK, second last) but not least, photos are always welcome, and photos are a great addition to almost any article. Photos by themselves can be the main subject of an article as well, of course. They don’t have to be multiple LRGB exposures made with expensive hardware and edited with the latest version of PhotoShop. Inexpensive hardware and software can yield good results too. The first astro photos I took were of the gibbous moon with a cheap instamatic film camera, handheld behind the eyepiece. All things considered, a few of them were remarkably decent. And poor photos can be very instructive, as in, if your image looks like this, the problem is X, and here’s how to fix it. Or, maybe you don’t know what the problem is, but someone who reads the article does.

Past issues of Stardust
Finally, you can always consult past issues of Stardust, or any astronomy magazine, to see what other people have done. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean you can’t do it again. Your experience of an eclipse is not going to be the same as anyone else’s, and vice-versa.

Please, please, don’t refrain from writing and submitting because you think you can’t write well. Don’t worry about it; most people can’t. That’s why there are editors.

Don’t be shy, and don’t be too hard on yourself: chances are, other people do want to know what you have to say.

Luca Vanzella