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Preface

Preface

Astronomy Hacks happened almost by accident. Our editor emailed us one day to say that O'Reilly was thinking about doing an astronomy book and to ask if we knew any amateur astronomers who might be interested in writing it. We sent a one-sentence reply, "Other than us, you mean?"

Of course, once O'Reilly realized that we were amateur astronomers, there never was much doubt about who would write the book. Robert was drooling at the thought of it. Barbara is too refined to drool, but she, too, was excited about the opportunity to write about our shared hobby. We had other high-priority books in progress, but this opportunity was too good to miss. So we dropped everything to write Astronomy Hacks. Writing about computers, our usual day job, is fun. We like computers, and we like writing about them. But we love astronomy.

There is something special about being out under the night sky. We look up and see the stars and constellations, just as our many-times-great grandparents did hundreds and thousands of years ago. The stars provide a link across the generations, from remotest antiquity down to the present day. They establish an unchanging framework that places us in context within the universe.

We look at the Great Orion Nebula, for example, and realize that the light we see tonight began its journey about 1,550 years ago, when the Roman Empire was in its final days. Or we view the Andromeda Galaxy and realize that the photons striking our eyes left Andromeda about 2.9 million years ago, when early proto-humans were just coming down from the trees. And, as we look at the dim smudge of Andromeda and remember that that smudge is actually the light from nearly a thousand billion Suns, we wonder if someone there is looking back at us, wondering the same thing.

So, we jumped at the opportunity to write Astronomy Hacks. We had two goals in writing this book. First, of course, we wanted to convey our passion about astronomy to those many people who have some interest in the stars but have not yet begun their personal journeys of exploration and to encourage them along that road. But we also wanted to "pay forward." Over the years, many experienced amateur astronomers helped us learn the ropes. There's no way we can ever pay them back, but we can pay forward by helping others to learn and enjoy the hobby.

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