#AstronomerStruggles You Ought To Know

Written by Aldrin Gabuya

Al Sadeem Astronomy’s resident astronomer lets you in on some of the unavoidable #AstronomerStruggles that amateurs—and even experts—often endure all in the name of astronomy.

Astronomy is becoming a popular branch of science that is now taken either as a hobby or—if one decides to get serious about it—as a career. Thanks to the efforts of both amateur and professional astronomers who have all been diligent in conducting public outreach activities, sharing splendid photos of different objects in the night sky (e.g. the Moon, planets, deep-sky objects and the Milky Way galaxy),and presenting the latest research through social media and various legitimate and accessible websites.

But not everything in astronomy is as it seems. Behind remarkable research accomplishments and beautiful images of the Universe are a number of hiccups that have tested even the most veteran expert in the field. And most of them could really test your patience—and even your passion for this science. Let me be clear, though: this is not intended for discouragement. Instead, I want to give everyone a little glimpse (and a bit of a heads-up)on what to expect once you begin your journey in space science.

The weather will not always be in your favor

Astronomical observation is a weather-dependent activity. This is why it is essential for astronomers and enthusiasts to regularly check the weather forecast before venturing outdoors and begin with any astronomical endeavor. Once it gets cloudy, windy, foggy, or worst—rainy, there’s nothing for us to do but to pack up all the equipment and try again the next day.

There are instances when after setting up our telescope, clouds would begin filling up the sky—one of the most annoying obstacles for astrophotographers and observers in general. Simply speaking, astronomers prefer a clear, dark, and moonless sky isolated from highly-industrialized areas, which is perfect for a pleasant night of stargazing.

Websites like Clear Outside, Weather Underground, and Dark Sky are just some of the reliable sources for checking the weather forecast in your area.

The Moon will not always be a pleasant sight in the sky

The Earth’s satellite is an enemy for deep-sky observers, Milky Way photographers, and meteor shower watchers. Whenever the Moon is at Gibbous or Full Moon phase, it bathes much of the night sky with light, and thus, reducing the number of stars and other sky objects that can be seen. For astrophotographers, it is a bad idea to shoot deep-sky objects under a bright Moon. The moonlight just washes out the stellar/nebulous background. Also, less number of meteors are observed than expected during a meteor shower event.

Full Moon glaring out the night sky (Image Credit: Alejandro Palado/ Al Sadeem Astronomy)
“It’s not you. It’s the equipment.”

We also experience unexpected equipment issues. Annoying issues like tangled wires, USB connection problems, lagging computer, power supply failures, low camera battery percentage, telescope hardware problems, and anything that you possibly think of—can lead to time wasted just for troubleshooting, when you could have used that time for long hours of continuous image acquisition.

Al Sadeem Astronomy resident astronomer Aldrin Gabuya troubleshooting the telescope set-up (Image Credit: Alejandro Palado/ Al Sadeem Astronomy)
Artificial lights will not always be one of man’s greatest inventions

Light pollution, which is defined as the excessive amount of artificial light in the surrounding, is also a dilemma for stargazers. The cities hold massive populations that entail heavy light usage—light from tall infrastructures, street lights, and even from a neighbor next door—which all degrade the quality of a dim sky, hence fewer stars to see up above. This is the primary reason why people go to far-flung places like the deserts, isolated islands, or mountain tops, where artificial light is way lesser than in urban areas, to appreciate the real beauty of the sky.

Light Pollution in Abu Dhabi Corniche (Image Credit: Alejandro Palado)

It’s still about data—and tons of it!

Contrary to popular belief, professional astronomers spend a huge amount of their time in front of computers, analyzing data harvested from what the huge sophisticated telescopes have gleaned from the night sky, and processing them meticulously through various computer programs. We also come across syntax errors or bugs in the computer code/programs that we have put together, causing terrible malfunctions or producing incorrect outputs. And then that’s another heap of time wasted again for troubleshooting.

Computer Code Error during Data Analysis (Image Credit: Aldrin Gabuya)

Despite frustrating moments in the name of astronomy, observing such marvelous objects in space is a fascinating experience, which propels us more to unravel the mysteries of the Universe. Like every aspect of life, nothing comes easy. It takes patience, commitment, hard work, and overcoming challenges to achieve something extraordinary and fulfilling that could inspire others to get involved in and contribute to the field of astronomy. Keep looking up, wonder, and wander. As the old saying goes, per aspera ad astra (“through hardships to the stars”).